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Archive for March, 2011

Needing a little color

The sun was such a welcome participant in the day today. The spring peepers were were having choir practice, in spite of the 40 degree temperatures, and a walk to the pond was just the thing to do.

The peepers were so excited at the sunshine, they didn’t even pause in their singing when we neared the edge of the pond.

Still, I needed more color in my day. Then, I remembered this!

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Holding hands

I am fascinated with hands.

Big hands. Little hands.

Old hands and young hands. Work-worn hands. Manicured hands.

Katy and Keziah’s hands.

I just couldn’t resist little Kezzie and her dolly’s hands.

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Happy Birthday!

I can hardly believe that a year really has already flown by since we first laid our eyes upon our sweet Kezzie!

We spent the weekend hanging out, preparing for her first birthday party, even shoveling snow, but, the best part was celebrating the first year of Keziah’s life.

Today is her birthday.

Happy Birthday Kezzie!

Katy made special carrot cupcakes for Kezzie’s first taste of cake, much to Kezzie’s apparent delight!

 

 

She grabbed this stuffed teddy bear and hugged it with glee! Life is grand! Enjoy your birthday today, sweet darling!

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It seems that a book has to occasionally sit upon a shelf, gathering dust and spending time before finally being opened. Such was the case with John Ehle’s The Journey of August King. Have you ever done this? Bought a book and then let it sit, perhaps picking it up a few times, then putting it back, distracted by others or not yet ready to read it? A book that becomes hidden on the bottom of the pile or pushed further back on a shelf?

My journey with August King actually began with the movie that I happened upon while surfing channels on a gloomy afternoon more than a few years ago. I was, at first, drawn in by the lush scenery of mountains and rivers that I came to find out was North Carolina, and then by the slow, purposeful story that was unfolding.

It is the story of August King, coming home from the treacherous  journey to town where he trades his season’s grain harvest for a milk cow, a boar, and two geese. August King, a recent widower, has had a good year. The abundance of his crops even allows him to buy fifty pounds of coffee, an extravagance for a farmer in 1815. Along the way, King encounters a runaway slave, Annalees Williamsburg. This changes the course of his journey, and of his life, as he first struggles with whether or not to help her to freedom, an unlawful act with harsh punishments. It changes Analees’s as well, whose harsh slaveholding master, also her father, is on rabid pursuit of her and another runaway.

I will warn you, there are a few moments of brutality, and the language is often raw and cruel and reflect the horrors of slavery: both the physical ones and the ones that gnawed at the spirit of a people. There are brutish men and there are kind folks, played out so beautifully in two children who see Annalee hidden in the August’s cart and do not report August.

Watching this beautifully rendered and atmospheric movie was a moving experience and I encourage you to see it. It is not a fast moving film. It is, however, an absorbing one.

The movie compelled me to find the book,  published in 1971. It took me a while. I was finally able to find it on ebay. The Journey of August King moved from nightstand to bookshelf to box and new house, then, finally, the bookshelves here on the Cutoff. With a pile of books from the library, books to read for our book group, and well, you know how it goes.

Some books are worth the wait. They need to find their own time to shout from the shelves “Read me next. It is time. I have waited so long.”   The Journeyof August King was worth the wait.

Ehle takes the reader along the paths of the woods and the mountains of North Carolina and the voice of August King resonates with the drawl and the timbre and the words and phrases that are often poetic and then make one cringe with the racial tones and slurs of the time. The reading makes one uncomfortable in the treatment of slaves and yet is beautiful to read as we follow his journey, watching him lose all his worldly possessions; his mare and his cow and his geese, then more. With each item that August abandons as he hastens his journey to home and to free Annalees, we see him come closer to redemption and a spiritual awakening. We also see the transformation of Annalees, who gains dignity as her freedom comes closer. It is as much a story of love, though not in the romantic sense, as it is of a man’s journey.

I hope you will find The Journey of August King and read it along your own journies with books. I also encourage you to see the movie. It is so well crafted and acted. Jason Patric plays August King and is remarkable in this role. Thandie Newton is Annalees, and she captures the young girl beautifully. Safe journey, wherever you are.

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We are celebrating the first birthday of a certain little miss this weekend and I offered to bring a cake. I would make it a few days beforehand and freeze it and we would take it up north so that Kezzie’s Mommy and Daddy could frost it. Of course, such an auspicious occasion called for not just any cake, but, a cake made from scratch, so, scratch I did, itching around in my favorite cookbooks, until I came upon an Ina Garten recipe (she never lets me down).

Cocoa powder and buttermilk and freshly brewed hot coffee all thrown into the mix of ingredients – how easy is that?

I decided to used a twelve inch pan instead of two layers for easier cutting and rummaged around until I found one my grandmother used to use to make karidopeta, a most delectable Greek nut cake, laden with a sugar water syrup that I really must make sometime soon. This time, however, it made Beatty’s Chocolate Cake from Barefoot Contessa at Home.

Ina’s recipe calls for the pan to be buttered, then lined with parchment paper, and buttered again, followed with flour. My mother always made her cakes this way. I used to watch her and wonder as a young girl why she did it this way and prefer to use PAM myself these days, but, the recipe called for parchment and butter, so, parchment and butter it was. The cake came out beautifully. Have you ever used parchment paper? There is something that awakened the child in me as I pulled the paper slowly away from the cake. A finality of a cake well baked? Maybe I was just remembering pleasant times with my mom.

Unfortunately, several hours later, as I went to slide the cake onto a cardboard cake round for freezing and transporting, the cake slipped and was rent in half! Sigh! (Well, actually, it wasn’t a sigh, but a few choice words instead as I chided myself). What was to be done?

I cut the “better half” into two large pieces to freeze, and, well, it was ruined anyways, so, I might just have taken a little slice and then Tom might have taken another and, gosh, Jennifer came by and we both ate a few slivers, just to make sure it would taste good. Oh my! This cake is so rich and moist that it really doesn’t need frosting.

Another big, round cake is cooling right now. Beatty’s Chocolate Cake is a keeper, whether whole or in pieces, and I’m mighty determined to get this one up to Minnesota in one piece real soon.

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Pivotal moments

Google image

This is an old story of March Madness that a few have hinted at me telling. Here goes.

I would practice pivoting over and over again when we had the basketball unit in high school. Left foot firm, right foot, step. Something like that and something I could do, which was really very important to a sixteen year old girl who could not do much of anything else in gym class. Grace and physical fitness were not my forte. Balancing on a balance beam? It didn’t happen. Hurdles? I may be the only girl actually capable of snagging her 1960′s one piece gym suit while trying to leap over it, dragging her tail behind her.

I did pretty well at basketball, however, and I could pivot. Basketball was the one activity where the teacher actually pulled me aside.  A watershed moment. She said she was proud of me.

Pride cometh before the fall.

It was years later, in this All-American season known as March Madness. College hoops at its best. Tournaments. Excitement. Unexpected victories. Heartbreaking losses. March Madness reigned as I was deep in the throes of a local campaign and the family room was being carpeted.

Two workers moved back and forth, removing furniture. Paperwork in hand, a speech for a candidates’ forum playing out in my head, and stress building, I went to open the blinds. With a slight rise to get to the window, I used my left foot to step up, twisted the wand with my free hand to open the blinds, stepped back on my right foot, and proceeded to sink into the floor. A flash of pain, then bewilderment, as I realized I couldn’t move. No matter how well I pivoted, my foot wouldn’t budge.

Unbeknownst to me, Tom had pulled the floor grate off of the heating duct. I was stuck, up to my knee. I pivoted, left,  then right, then back again, trying not to panic and laughing at how I must seem! No matter the practice in gym class, the excitement of March Madness, or the fact that two hefty workers kept walking past, paying not a whit of attention to me, I was stuck in the duct, hobbled at the knee, with nowhere to go.

I said, rather meekly “help”.

They kept working. “Help”!

Then, loudly, ” HELP“!

Two astonished carpet layers suddenly stared at me, wide-eyed and uncertain. What do you do when the lady of the house is stuck in the floor you are about to carpet, pivoting, no less. “Oh! Lady!” One tried to dial Tom’s office, but, didn’t understand my instructions. He grabbed his own cell phone, thrust it at me and said “here”. I dialed Tom’s number and rather calmly, considering my predicament, left him a message to please come home. There was a little problem.

The men tried to help me. They brought a chair, but, with one foot in the crawl space and the other on the step, I could only teeter on the brink. They pulled and twisted, to no avail. My leg, stuck to the knee, in a hole in the floor where the carpet would be.

In the midst of the tugging and pulling of my right leg, the door opened, and there was Tom. You can only imagine the look on his face as he opened the door and saw two strangers, kneeling, as if in prayer, at the foot of St. Penelope, patron saint of pivotal moments.

The carpet layers returned to their work and my trusted knight to the garage for foot extracting tools. Then, down he went, to the basement and through the rabbit’s hole into the crawl space. I could hear him moving about, underneath the floorboards, trying to find the devilish duct that had swallowed my foot. A few choice words and out he came – the wrong tools exchanged for the right. My foot was assessed as he carefully removed my shoe, then twisted and bent the duct and whatever else needed to set me free, gently pushing my leg back up to the family room, where it needed to be.

My shoe and small shoe size allowed my foot to fall through without a break. My leg was bruised in a colorful hue but I was still in one piece. The carpet was laid, I gave my speech, and I managed to win, while March Madness played out across the land. The heating duct, forever bent and mangled, grumbled and shook each and every time it forced hot air into the room.

I have often wondered what the carpet layers had to say as they drove out of sight.

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” . . . In almost all climes the tortoise and the frog are among the precursors and heralds of this season, and birds fly with song and glancing plumage, and plants spring and bloom, and winds blow, to correct this slight oscillation of the poles and preserve the equilibrium of nature.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden:Or, Life in the Woods, Spring


We wandered the Little Red Schoolhouse woods on Saturday, soaking in the warm rays of sunshine as we walked around the slough. Birds were chittering and a squirrel darted out then into the brush again upon seeing us in his path. We could barely hear the primal honking of geese so far overhead that they could barely be seen. Unlike their messy cousins, who now choose to winter over in our neck of the woods, these Canadian geese were headed further north.

Walking in the woods on a mid-March afternoon is not always easy as the paths are often muddy, especially after all the snow this winter. The slough was close to the path at some points and will host herons and cranes soon enough.

We stopped for a spell on a bench not as muddy as the one above and the glee club performed; first one, then another, then the entire ensemble of spring peepers, warming up and serenading after the long winter’s sleep. Click here and then click on the voice link on the right to hear these little fellows.

The woods are so interesting this time of year; not yet ready for spring and no longer in winter. Everywhere we looked, we could the swelling of buds, the moss on the trees, and the promise of cattails. I love to see the changes already in place and the things we don’t see, like the fallen trees and the interesting shapes of rotting logs.

Such wanderings always bring me back to Thoreau and his life in the woods alongside Walden Pond.

Next time we walk here, I hope I will find Jack-in-the Pulpit, which surprised me last year. Who knows what flora and fauna lurks in these woods and what surprises will greet us next time.

How about you? Where are you walking about these days and what have you seen?

I loved all the fungi growing on this dead tree which was where the peepers were singing.

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Emergence

With the weather warming, I find myself wandering the grounds once or twice a day, checking for wind and deer damage and to see what is emerging. Though curiosity has me under its spell, I don’t dare disturb the leaves and mulch. Tender shoots are, for the most part, hidden and protected, and Madame March still dips below freezing. Only that which finds its own way is safe above the ground right now.

The force of nature in spring and her determination is daunting. We know that as we continue to see the devastation of winds and rain, earthquakes and tsunami, violence and destruction. Nature can also be a subtle awakening, however, as I discovered upon closer investigation of the carpet of leaves above.

Take a closer look.

It is amazing how strong emerging bulbs are in their attempt to find the sun.

A little further away, I saw another bit of green.

Can you see it? No? Here is a closer look.

 

Finders keepers. losers weepers, I always say.

Enjoy this first day of Spring!

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Heavenly Hash

I have never been a fan of corned beef hash. It wasn’t a staple in our house as I was growing up, although my mother made some for herself once in a while out of a can. My sister liked it. She still does. Of course, Dottie was also known to sneak a bite of dog food whenever she could.  She would show up just as my Aunt Christina was opening a can of Ideal dog food and offer to take it to Punchy, their resident boxer. My cousins and I were on to her, though.  We knew what Dottie was up to. I’m not kidding you on this one, folks, and I have eyewitnesses who will corroborate. Maybe the connection with Ideal dog food tainted my taste buds, but, corned beef hash and my lips never met.

Until recently.

Late one night right around St. Paddy’s day last year, I caught an episode of Alton Brown on the Food Network. I don’t watch him very often, but, when I do I like his quirky approach to food with a little bit of chemistry and a lot of silly camera angles mixed in with some good and easy recipes. This particular episode showed how to make corned beef hash. This wasn’t the hash I remembered as a child. It was made with leftovers from St. Patrick’s Day that looked really good and easy and I gave it a try. Tom and I both liked it, it used up the leftovers and I think it will become a yearly event.

We had our once-a-year hash tonight and I thought you might like to try it. All the credit, of course, goes to Alton Brown and the Food Network. I told Dottie about it today. She said what we both say when one or the other calls and teases about something we know the other one likes. “Stop it. You’ll make me hungry”.

Corned Beef Hash (Alton Brown) Which I adapted to personal tastes.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced (I omitted this as someone-who-won’t be named doesn’t like garlic. I added 1 cup of diced onion instead)

5 cups leftover Corned Beef and Cabbage*

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme**

1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano**

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

* I diced up 5 cups of my leftover corned beef, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes.

** I left this out, as I had no fresh herbs. It was still good.

Melt butter in a 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.

Add bell pepper and onion and saute for a few minutes.

Spoon in the rest of ingredients, press down with a spatula and place a heavy plate of pan on top. I used a smaller skillet and then put a tea kettle on it as well.

Cook until browned, about 10 minutes.

Stir and press down again, about 1o minutes more.

I repeated one more time to make it a little browner.

We smiled through our delightful leftovers tonight, disguised as heavenly hash.

 

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The Rose

When the night has been too lonely 
and the road has been too long
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed
that with the sun’s love
in the spring
becomes the rose.

From the song, The Rose, written by Amanda McBroom

I was humming the song today as I drove home. I had been given this lovely rose.

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