Friday, May 23, 2008
We took a breakfast picnic to a lovely island in the Potomac yesterday morning. This island is on the small side with a few trails scattered about. In the center there is a Theodore Roosevelt monument with fountains and huge statues and it feels like something out of Tolkien. There's lots of wildlife and if it weren't for the airplanes overhead on the approach to Reagan you would never know you were so close to a city.
Our dinner was fried fish. Eric's birthday was in March and for his birthday dinner he requested fried fish. I agreed--it was his birthday--but dreaded both the eating and the cooking. I'm not good at frying stuff and I've never had fried fish I liked. I did, however, have a good recipe and the results were amazing. I liked it so much, in fact, that we decided to do the same thing for my birthday. Mostly I'd completely failed to plan any food at all for dinner and fried fish is pretty easy to do in a pinch if someone is available to run out to the fish market. Eric was available to do this so fish it was.
For dessert I made a strawberry tart. I'm allergic to most kinds of fruit but I can eat berries and I've been wanting this dessert for the last week. Its from my favorite cookbook, of course, and the crust is a shortbread. I made a custardy vanilla cream to go over the crust and then just sliced plain strawberries on to the top. I tried to arrange the strawberries in some artistic way even though I assembled the dessert only about ten minutes before eating it. I wanted a nice picture and I need to work on my food presentation skills. In the end I just sort of crammed the sliced strawberries anywhere they'd fit. I asked Eric to get two cartons of berries and only used one but in his birthday zeal he bought me a container of mascarpone, knowing my love for high-fat dairy products. I might think of another yummy dessert using that because it would be wrong to just dip the berries in the mascarpone and eat them all that way. Right?
After dinner we watched the first half of a movie of the life of St. Rita of Casica whose feast day happened to be yesterday as well. We really enjoyed the first half and I'll post a review once we finish the movie this weekend.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Around the same time the dishwasher broke an awful odor overtook our kitchen. It was a distinctive rotten-lettuce smell and it seemed to be coming from the refrigerator though I always had a nagging suspicion that it was dishwasher related. After a few weeks of horrible stinkiness Eric and I took an evening and emptied the refrigerator. All the food was inspected and wiped down. The shelves and drawers were removed and washed. Everything was neatly replaced. The smell persisted. Our ice took on the smell and was too gross to use. Our cheese and butter took on the smell. And I kept thinking, I hope that the smell isn't really, somehow, the dishwasher. Every once in awhile I'd open the unused dishwasher and see a roach scurrying away. We didn't bother complaining to our landlord about the dishwasher because Eric is convinced that we are going to lose our entire security deposit because so many things in our apartment are broken. Our apartment is beautiful but it was renovated on-the-cheap. The cabinets are falling apart, the plaster crumbles if you stare at it for too long, and mold grows on our walls because the original brick walls can no longer breathe properly. The dishwasher really seemed to be the least of anyone's worries.
I'm embarrassed to admit that we put up with the fridge smell for a couple of months until a couple of weeks ago we got the brilliant idea that maybe the smell was emanating from our jar of homemade fermented garlic. That might seem like a no-brainer to an outside observer but we had smelled the garlic lots of times and it didn't smell a bit like the rotten-lettuce odor that had overtaken our apartment. We pitched the garlic and sanitized our garbage disposal and the smell disappeared. My mom was due to arrive the next day so it was with intense relief that I found myself living in an odor-free apartment again.
We started in on several days of torrential rains that day and by the next afternoon a new odor had arisen. This one was much, much worse than the rotten lettuce smell. What could it be? My mother is as sensitive to smells as I am and confirmed that the smell was quite foul, indeed. Oh, no, I thought. It is the dishwasher. I'd meant for weeks and weeks to scrub it out with baking soda and vinegar and dry it thoroughly and I'd been putting it off because I'm afraid of meeting roaches and now it was going to be awful. I was trying to come up with a creative and not overly-manipulative way to talk Eric into doing it for me when he casually suggested that I run the dishwasher just to see . . .
It worked like a charm and, oh, did it stink. I ran two consecutive sanitizing cycles and had a sparkling clean appliance again. And the smell persisted.
We decided by the end of the weekend that an animal had sought refuge from the days of steady rain by crawling into our wall and had then died in our wall. That's what it smells like. It's been a little over a week and the odor is finally gone and I can finally write this without convulsing in disgust.
As for my new dishwasher, well, I have mixed feelings. I'm not really sure if my improved dishwashing habits are the result of a method that works better for me or just a more improved character. I used the dishwasher for the first time last night and it saved me a lot of time and stress. I'm such an all-or-nothing person. Maybe this will be good for me.
Monday, May 19, 2008
This past weekend our parish held its annual, enormous yard sale to which we donated a large box of lovely toys—I’m so glad all that stuff is out of here. I sort of intended to go but then got to enjoying my lazy Saturday morning. By the time I decided to check it out there was only one hour left and on my way out the door I noticed that a house on the next corner had a sale going on. I wandered over with low expectations and was just about to leave when the home owner mentioned the books on the porch. I browsed a bit and all my frugal, decluttering vows disappeared. I called Eric who was home with sleeping children and started reading him titles. I boxed up fantastic, hardback books—some we’d been looking for for a long time and paid. I ran back home and sent Eric to pick them up and I think he found five or six more in the process. It’s hard to resist books at yard sale prices. Never mind that we have absolutely no place to put these books. Our shelves became officially full when Eric cleaned out his dissertation office on campus. In fact, there was already an unshelved stack of theology titles on his “desk” in the back room. We cull our library pretty regularly but this is a recurring problem for us.
By the time I got to the parish yard sale there were a mere thirty minutes remaining. The selection was dwindling but the prices had dropped to $1/bag—anything you could cram in a plastic grocery sack cost $1. I snagged a CD and three books, including a lovely illustrated guide to trains and an illustrated King Arthur which Joseph has already spent a good deal of time devouring. I also got these two jars.
I never seem to have enough glass jars around even when I save nice-sized ones from the store. I buy in bulk pretty much anything that can be bought in bulk and it all needs a place to go. We bought a whole lot of glass storage jars when we moved here and discovered all the critter problems.
And can I just interject, because I don’t brag enough about my husband, that Eric installed this shelf on a brick wall many months ago and it still hasn’t fallen down. He even decided to put those jars up himself while I was out and it still makes me happy every time I walk into my kitchen. They are just cheap IKEA jars but I like them and these two at the yard sale are part of the same set so I picked them up. The smaller one is providing a home for some of my coconut. My coconut stash is sort of an example of bulk-buying gone bad: I got fourteen pounds of the stuff a long time ago. I’ve been storing it in the chest freezer which does not motivate me to use it any faster. But now it finally has a jar even if the jar itself has yet to find a home. The tall jar is tinted blue and is too tall for any of my cupboards. I was a little worried about the blue, actually, because I don’t like to see my food through colored glass. I don’t even like blue freezer bags. But I filled it with granola and the blue seems a bit muted once there is food inside.
Its granola season again. I buy oatmeal in bulk, too. Usually 25 to 50 pounds at a time. Eric was highly skeptical the first time I bought that much oatmeal but we really do get through it. We eat oatmeal hot quite often all through the winter and every day during Lent. Then when the weather heats up I switch to making granola. I love cold cereal, I confess, but I’m firmly convinced that breakfast cereal is completely useless as a source of nutrition. When I’m pregnant a bowl of crunchy cereal drowning in cold milk is about the only thing that staves off morning sickness so I resolved to find a way to make myself yummy, crunchy cereal before I’m pregnant again. I have a high ideal of soaking all our grains a la Weston Price but I’m very bad at following through on my ideals. This winter I remembered about half the time to soak our oatmeal overnight. I had a recipe last summer for soaked granola that was, frankly, a major pain. I burned the first batch I made in this kitchen (love gas stovetops, hate gas ovens) and gave up for the season. As I was ramping up for granola making again Eric gently announced that he does not like my granola. He generally loves the food I make so I wasn’t offended but I decided to set out to improve my granola this year. I’m sort of tweaking one thing at a time and, so far, I haven’t tried a soaked batch. I’ve learned to only cook the oats and then add everything else in afterwards. And I’ve learned to use a combination of wet and dry sweetener and some salt. The batch in the jar right now is oats cooked with coconut oil, raw honey, sucanat, salt, and vanilla. After cooking I added cocount, almonds, crystallized ginger, and dried pinapple. Very yummy. Maybe I’ll give soaking another try with the next batch. Anyone out there have a fantastic granola recipe?
Sunday, May 18, 2008
We've just come off our first ever observation of the Ember Days. The Ember Days are an old liturgical custom that went out in the sixties along with a lot of other stuff when the liturgical calendar was revised. The Ember Days are three days of prayer and fasting at the start of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. The days are actually determined by the liturgical calendar but most years they fall quite close to the actual starts of the seasons. This year was an exception with Easter coming so early. The Ember Days are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the first Sunday in Lent, Pentecost Sunday, Triumph of the Cross (September 14th), and St. Lucy's Day (December 13th). The Ember Days are typically seen as ways to sanctify each season, pray for the agricultural events of the coming season, and ordain priests. They aren't celebrated very widely anymore.
The fasting issue is a bit odd in conjunction with the modern calendar. In our old Catholic dictionary a fast is described as one full meal in the afternoon along with a few ounces of bread at breakfast and 8-10 ounces of food at lunch. Not too rigorous. Only those aged 21-59 were required to fast and even those were exempt in case of illness, the need to do very hard work, pregnancy, etc. But even that sort of a fast is really difficult for me and in the old calendar (according to this same dictionary) every day in Lent was a fast day. Fridays, additionally, were days of abstinence, meaning that no meat could be eaten. In the new calendar the only fast days in the whole year are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Abstinence from meat is required on Fridays during Lent.
Combining that new practice with the old practice of the Ember Days means, then, that the Ember Days end up being far more rigorous than Lent and I wonder if we'll find ourselves revisiting our Lenten practices next year. I struggled a lot with fasting this past Lent even though the rules are easy and it was only two days. I haven't fasted in years because of pregnancy and breastfeeding. The Ember Days were hard, too. I'm glad that the three days are broken up. We observed the one meal and two snacks rule on Wednesday and Friday and used leftover Lenten soup for our one meal so that even that was light and penitential. We broke the fast with Saturday's Lord's Day supper which, this week, was a graduation party.
It was a great experience. I do well in voluntary situations. I'm not exactly proud of that but I chafe against the "rule" of fasting during Lent even though I see a lot of benefit in following imposed rules. The voluntary observance of the Ember Days was quite motivating for me. And I did it. I don't think I even cheated on Wednesday when I gave the kids oatmeal cookies for tea time. I drank my water and read their story and survived until dinner time. It was instructive, too, to see how little food was required when I was mindful about it. I have pretty big blood sugar problems and I tend to either not eat or eat too much simple sugar and then crash. I don't often feel hungry I just start yelling at people. I've "coped" with this over the last couple years by sort of developing an "I have this sickness" mentality and just eating all the time in an effort to maintain balance but all I've really maintained is my postpartum weight. On fast days I knew that my quantity of food would be limited so I was more careful about what I ate and I took extra care to not give in to hunger and take it out on the kids during the day. I hope that more frequent times of fasting and prayer can help me with a better attitude towards food.
I'm hoping that we'll gradually find other traditions to associate with the Ember Days--special prayers, special foods, seasonal activities or crafts. And I'm looking forward to how this will impact our next Lent.