Thursday, July 31, 2008

Toddler Jed at Camp G-dog

The Grandpa's welcome to Camp Ground-doggie

Cousins

Grandpa Gary and Grandson



Punkin, our kitten from many years ago, still prowls around to visit Camp G-Dog every year. Cute as ever. Drooly, too.

Preparing for the yearly puppet show

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hike up St. Mary's

Yes, an office worker and a toddler chaser, both out of shape and 9,000 feet above their home altitude, CAN MAKE IT TO THE TOP! 9 miles there and back!

Here is our hiking group. Behind us you can see hundreds of miles of mountain range. Beautiful!


The forest fire lookout is still in use. We heard him playing the banjo, an eerie sound at 9,400 feet.
The summit marker.

Here I am walking along the final ridge below the summit.
In the twisted tree forest.
Old Man of the Mountain, Montana.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Very Good Very Bad Day

The day started off well. We knew that we needed to leave by 8:30 AM to catch our flight in Louisville, so we got up early and puttered around the house, remembering forgotten items and tying up loose ends before we fled the state. As expected, we got out of the house at 9 AM, but no big deal. We had plenty of time to spare. La dee da we headed down the freeway, deliciously happy to be free of work and responsibility, excited for our Montana vacation ahead. And then, about half way there, Michael realized that we had forgotten one very small but very important detail.

Louisville is in a different time zone.

We were late.

So it was pedal to the metal except that there were cops EVERYWHERE. Seriously, I have never seen so many cops in the middle of blasted nowhere. And then, twenty two miles of highway construction behind a truck that never went over 45 MPH.

By now we were hyperventilating. We blasted into Louisville, drove frantically around the airport parking lot until we found the ONLY available spot. As I started wildly throwing carseat, luggage, and baby paraphernalia out onto the parking lot, up drove a vision of salvation: a parking lot shuttle that was empty and perfectly happy to wait for us. With joyful relief we threw our goods onto the bus and politely requested she drive as fast as legally possible. We arrived at the gate, ran like mad people for the line, begged some very nice eastern european people to let us go ahead of them, and finally made it to the front. We were two minutes late but figured it would work out. The lady took our number, then smiled and laughed. "Oh, sorry, this is a United flight but actually the first leg of your journey is on U.S. Airways so you will have to go down to their check-in line." AUUUUGH! We ran, we flew, we found an incredibly nice man named Phil who did everything in his power to get us on... but to no avail.

We missed our flight.

Well, we didn't really miss it. The flight was there, there were 15 seats available, and our luggage could make it on, but since the COMPUTER locks you out at 30 minutes til, they told us and the several other groups who were similarly 2 minutes late that we were out of luck. So they had to bump us all to a later flight. Which was then overfull. So they had to give away four extra tickets for free. Now, I am fully aware that it is our fault that we were late, but it seems to me that if you have the choice of letting people who are TWO MINUTES late at a tiny airport get onto a plane, or having to lose thousands of dollars shoving all those people onto a later flight, the choice seems obvious. For crying out loud, who cares what the computer says, just put us on the bleepity flight! Phil agreed, but unfortunately even he couldn't argue with the computer. We love Phil.

OK, so that's the end of my rant. For now.

So no big deal, we just had to hang around the airport for three hours and wait for our flight to Pennsylvania, then to Denver, then to Missoula. (See above rant about idiotic airline procedures. Wrong way, folks!) Phil, bless his soul, had still managed to connect us to the essential Denver flight. So we goofed off for hours and hours and hours... Ate sandwiches and smoothies. And of course my traditional 10 Pound Traveling Muffins that can sustain life for literally weeks. Michael watched movies on his ipod while I chased Jeddy around. The best part about our layovers was the discover of the miraculous Toddler Treadmill.




Usually, I spend all my time at the airport walking up and down and up and down and up and down the moving sidewalks ten thousand times until I'm ready to vomit. But Jed taps into some eternal source of airplane travel energy and will literally NEVER TIRE of this activity until you drag him away from it kicking and screaming. But this is the perfect solution. All you have to do is get on a walking sidewalk, go half way down, then turn around and set down the toddler. His fat legs start going at it, but since you are facing backwards... he never actually moves! So you can sit in one place for hours while he just keeps on running. I really need to get one of these at home. Notice in the background the people walking the other direction. hahaha. They all complimented me on my brilliance.

Also, as a side note, while there we saw the weather and sent up a brief prayer of gratitude, as our original layover was in Raleigh, North Carolina, a city currently being beseiged by a tropical storm. Who knows what would have happened with that.

Once on our flight to Denver, then came the challenge of finagling our way into seats next to each other. Thanks to two very nice men, one from eastern Europe (we had a string of lovely and thoughtful eastern European tourists on this trip) and one from Africa, did some fancy trading so we could all end up next to our spouses. It helps that nobody ever wants to sit next to Jed. :c) So we settled into our new seats.

The third seatmate came and sat down beside us. We had a few friendly hellos and exchanged pleasantries. He'd come from Brussels. We asked what he was doing there. He played in a band. We asked what type. He said it defied genre. We asked the name.

PINBACK

Michael and I both dropped our jaws and the glow of fantacism spread across our faces. To explain, this is like our FAVORITEST BAND EVER!!! Aaaaaaaaaa! He is Zach, AKA Armistead Burwell Smith IV, a leading and founding member of the band.

We were in awe. We were the quintessential star-struck fans. Most of the rest of the flight I spent reminding myself over and over and over "Be Cool!" "Be Cool!" Ask cool questions! Drop cool band references! Act like you do something besides clean diapers every day! Be cool! Don't drool with excitement! Don't hyperventilate! And resist the urge to beg for photos and gush over your favorite songs! I tried to let the poor man sleep but it was rough. Gee, how can anyone resist the urge to slide a glance over at the ipod of one of your musical heroes and find out just what it is he listens to? (Michael, apparently, since he elbowed me in the ribs and whispered violently "DON'T STARE!" Sheesh.) When we stumbled off the plane we were giggling like two humiliatingly twitterpated schoolgirls. Exciting stuff.

So then the last leg of the journey. It was late. Jed FINALLY went to sleep. We were exhausted after more than 15 hours of traveling. We dragged ourselves off of the plane and over to the luggage pickup. We got our two bags. And waited. And waited. And waited... but no car seat. Turns out they lost it. Lovely. Stranded a million miles from home at 1 AM with no car seat. Fortunately, they loaned us a really nasty pet-hair covered seat until they could find ours. They reassured us we would have it by the next day.

It took us an hour or so to get all that sorted out. Meanwhile, Michael went to get our rental car. We'd reserved a mid-level econo car for like 35 bucks a day, fairly reasonable we thought. But then when Michael started drooling over some of the photos of their other cars, the fatigue-frazzled blonde at the desk told him he could just take the one he had his eye on for the same price we'd been quoted. So THIS is what we ended up driving for the weekend:

An Infinity M35 with a 300 hp V6.

Yee hah! Michael hooted and giggled and made all sorts of manly revving sounds. The next few days he was as happy as I've ever seen him. He behaved himself at first but by the day we had to return it he was extremely naughty and gave his wife many a thrill as we passed 7 cars at a time going over 100 mph etc. etc. And to make it all worse (better?) every time he'd accelerate hard, Jed in the back seat would go "OOooooooooo!" and start chuckling too. Geeze, two petrol-heads in the household, I am TERRIFIED for the next 16 years! No, actually, the WORST part was that Michael "FORGOT" to put my name on the driver's list so I didn't get to drive it AT ALL. He is in so much trouble.

So then we drove around for 45 minutes and finally got a hotel and then when we got a room and got the baby settled, the toilet overflowed (without us ever having used it) and flooded the room and then we had to move to another room and then FINALLY AT LAST we all fell into comas and slept like the dead. What a very good, very bad day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Buried Under a Pig!

Find the hidden hog wrastler!





Hog Wrastlin Pictures!





This is a follow-up to the story that Vanessa posted last week about the Hog Wrestling. In every wrestling match there is a team of 4, but in some of these pictures, you'll have to look close to spot the 4th.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hog Wild

Tuesday we finally attended an event that I have literally been anticipating for years:

HOG MUD WRESTLING

Yes, here in Warrick County, hog wrestling (along with the tractor pull, which we will unfortunately have to let wait until next year) is a major highlight of the annual 4-H county fair. As we drove up, I could see a literal sea of pick up trucks and American cars surrounding the completely packed stadium, with even the standing room crammed full of exuberant Hoosiers ready for the spectacle. My mind briefly flickered back to ancient Rome. The applause thundered.

Perhaps at this point you are a sensitive soul, concerned about the welfare of the poor piglets involved. If so, I console you with the observation that as often as not it was the kids being run down under the mud with the pig on top. There is a reason it takes four people go wrestle one pig up onto a barrel.

Before the stands are two fenced in pits, each with a muddy water hole and a tire-topped barrel in the middle. The right is for the girls, gathered in teams of four. There must be forty teams, each with matching t-shirts and thick thighs encased, sausage-like, in impossibly tight short shorts. A personal favorite were the pink "Piglet Princesses" who did their mud-wrestling festooned with tiaras and duct-tape sashes. To the left were the boys, where Michael's team of choice was the 12 year old, fluorescent yellow "Bacon Basherz."

On each side, a team came up to the gate. The boys are poised, leaning forward, muscles taut, ready for the signal to enter. The girls meander to the gate, tentative, maintaining a flattering pose for the crowd. The shot rings out! The boys plunge one over the other in a mad rush toward the squealing object of their pursuit. The girls work as a team, hemming in their pig while lurching about in a blur of puff paint, sequins, and flowing mud. Arms and legs flail. The boys grunt, holler; the girls screech orders to one another. In moments the pig is caught, escapes, disappears beneath the bodies. Soon with a heave, a scream, it's hefted onto the tire and rolled over. TIME!

Interestingly, despite their distinct size disadvantage, the girls who worked as a team whomped upon the boys almost every single time. The boys seemed to enjoy trampling one another under the mud as much as they enjoyed getting the hog, the girls were focused on one thing only: GET. THE. PIG.

Once the pig's been on the barrel, with at some split-second moment its entire body in the air, the team is excused. A broad, ham-faced teen with shoulders as wide as a 1970s pickup lumbers into the pen. Immediately, the previously running and squealing hog is quiet. The boy picks the hog up like it's a small cat, rather than a huge, mud slippery beast, and tosses him back into the pig pen. Another pig is herded into the pen and it all begins again.

In retrospect, few favorite moments:

When a 16 year old beauty queen with fake blonde hair stacked on her head entered the ring, she put on quite the show for the menfolk. Within seconds, the pig ran her down completely under the mud, she started shrieking hysterically, and the fat girl on the team had to heave the pig up all on her own. What a moment to be burned into my memory forever.

Behind me, a neighbor and a preacher rated the hogs. "Well, that ain't much of a pig, but he shore is a fiery little sucker."

Never before have I seen a place where 10 year olds have facial hair. And I'm talking full beard here.

Also behind me, a father watching his boy's team yelled in a moment of excitement, "If them boys don't get it in time, I'm gonna call them sissies for a year!"

A shockingly large preteen girl encased in a tank top and hot pants found success rolling herself onto the barrel with the writhing, screaming hog on top. I couldn't help myself when the thought drifted across my mind.... "They got the wrong pig!"

I really wanted to stay for the adults but this event was unbelievably popular. Even at 25 bucks a team just to get into the competition, there were literally hundreds of teams in line to try their hand at it. We stayed for several hours but eventually had to head home before we got to the 18 and up division. Don't you worry, though. Next year, we are SO THERE and you will see Vanessa throwing them hogs around like they ain't never been thrown before! YeeeeHAH!

Lemon Feta Garbanzo Salad

Several people have requested this recipe lately, so I thought I'd put it up here. A summertime favorite around our home.

LEMON FETA GARBANZO SALAD

Ingredients:
1 cup cooked wheat berries
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1/2 chopped peeled cucumber
2 ribs chopped celery
1/2 chopped red onion
4 T tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
Fresh or dried dill to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Mix all together and enjoy!

To cook wheat berries:
Method 1: Place 1/2 c. wheat kernels in 2 c. water. Boil 10 minutes and let sit overnight. Drain.
Method 2: Place 1/2 c. wheat kernels in 3 c. water. Boil 45-60 min. Drain. Cool under running cold water.

Adapted from this recipe at myrecipes.com

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Dancing King, Live

video
As a side observation, videos of other people's toddlers dancing bore me. But now that it is MY toddler, I find it vastly amusing and gut-bustingly hilarious. So if you are bored, I understand. But seriously, how can you not love that last expression? What a kid!

The Dancing King, Live Part Deux

video

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sushi Bowl

A new favorite recipe from 101cookbooks. I love sushi but I'm too lazy to make it and too cheap to buy it. This is the perfect solution to my dilemma -- deconstructed California rolls!

This meal (aside from throwing the brown rice in the rice cooker and hitting "start" several hours beforehand) took me probably a grand total of fifteen minutes to make. Love it!

SUSHI BOWL

2 cups short-grain brown rice
3 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
2 (4-inch) square sheets nori seaweed
6 ounces extra-firm tofu

grated zest and juice of one orange
grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons (raw) brown sugar (reg. sugar is ok too)
2 tablespoons shoyu sauce (or soy sauce)
2 tablespoons (brown) rice vinegar

4 green onions, chopped
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Rinse and drain the rice two or three times. Combine the rice, water, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, cover, and simmer gently until the water is absorbed, about 45 minutes.

Toast the nori in a preheated 300F degree oven or a medium-hot skillet for a few minutes. Crumble or chop coarsely.

Drain the tofu and pat it dry. Cut the block of tofu lengthwise through the middle to make four 1/4-to 1/2-inch thick sheets of tofu. Two at a time, cook in a dry skillet or well-seasoned skillet over medium-high for a few minutes until browned on one side. Flip gently, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy. Let cool, enough to handle, then cute crosswise into matchsticks (see photo). Repeat with the remaining sheets.

To make the dressing, set the sheets aside. Combine the orange juice lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 1 or 2 minute, the add the shoyu and vinegar. Return to a gentle boil and cook another 1 or 2 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the zests.

When the rice is done, stir in 1/3 cup of the dressing and add more to taste. Scoop the rice into individual bowls and top with the toasted nori, green onions, tofu, avocado slices, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Makes 4-6 servings.

My notes, reflections, and a response essay:

I made the bowl mostly as directed. I did add a lot more roasted nori because I loooooooove seaweed. And it's really fun to watch shrivel up in the pan. I also think next time I would add steamed carrots or some other veggie. Oh, and I used orange juice and lemon concentrate because citrus fruit is so expensive right now and I was already spending a ridiculous amount on the avocado. And I used regular salt, regular soy sauce, and regular rice vinegar. And I cooked it in the microwave instead of on the stove. You get the picture.

This recipe is 100% Michael approved. He said he *might* even like it better than my other favorite rice bowl from the same site (I usually make it with the otsu dressing. It is ravishing and also a fifteen minute meal!)

101 Cookbooks is hands down my favorite recipe site. We've had a few duds, but generally we love just about every recipe I've made from there. Her recipes appeal to me because they are so well suited to my "can't follow a recipe" style. Several people have commented that they didn't like the Peanut Noodle Salad recipe I posted, which surprised me because I make it just about every time we are invited to dinner and it always seems very well received. I looked back at the recipe to see what I may have done differently and started thinking, "Well, I always to add a few tablespoons of fresh ginger. Hmmm, and twice as much garlic. And a bag of asparagus stir fry mix. And a lot more sesame oil with a little honey. Plus a few handfuls of fresh chopped cilantro/basil. Oh, and I almost always use multi-grain rotini instead of soba noodles. And I top it with lots of sesame seeds...." So, essentially, I don't follow the recipe at all. But all of the recipes on that site are perfectly suited to such experimentation. I love how she mentions swapping dressings, or using a dressing for one recipe on another, completely different dish. Her recipes are, for me, more inspiration than direction. And I like that.

I have really been into cooking the last six months and I get so excited over cheap, quick, lovely, tasty and nutritious recipes like this! I want to get a good collection of fast, healthy meals ready because I know once we have a herd of screaming small children running around the house I'm not going to have the energy or time to go searching like I do now. And that I promise is the end of my rambling ruminations and all I have to say for the evening. Happy cooking!

Plum Upside Down Cake

This week in Newburgh all sorts of fruit was on sale for FIFTY CENTS A POUND! Yahoo! I loaded up my cart, including ten pounds of plums to make freezer jam tomorrow...mmmmm... plum freezer jam is Michael's favorite. Now our fruit basket is overflowing with nearly-ripe peaches, nectarines, limes, and both red and black plums. With all that fruit hanging around, I couldn't resist trying out this recipe I found online last week. The photo isn't mine, but even I, the queen of ugly cakes, managed to turn mine out absolutely gorgeous. The plum skins baked in the caramelized butter/brown sugar glaze turn the top a lovely deep pink, and contrasted with the yellow flesh of the plums I used the cake really looked (and tasted!) fantastic.

Click here to see the photo, which was removed by request of the author.

One thing that I didn't realize before I made it was how thin the cakes would turn out. I didn't have any ramekins, as directed, so I just made 2 8" round cakes and there wasn't enough batter to even cover the bottoms of both pans. The nicer cake was only about 1/2" - 1" thick when cooked. At first I was disappointed but actually when we ate it we all agreed that the thin cake made the plum-soaked sweetness go all the way through and it was MARVELOUS. I do think it would be even more lovely in ramekins where the thin cakes would look more petite and jewel-like. Perhaps next time I will try making them in my oven-safe fiesta ware bowls.

We had the cake for our 4th of July afternoon treat and it disappeared in literally minutes with rave reviews from all concerned.

PLUM UPSIDE DOWN CAKE

Ingredients

* 1 1/4 stick butter (10 Tbsp or 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp), softened
* 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp brown sugar, firmly packed
* 4 plums, pitted and sliced
* 5 Tbsp buttermilk OR 4 Tbsp milk plus 2 teaspoons milk and 1 tsp lemon juice
* 3/4 cup cake flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
* Pinch salt
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* Zest of 1/2 an orange
* 1 egg
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* Four 10 or 8 ounce ramekins

Method

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the insides of the ramekins. Melt 3/4 stick (6 Tbsp) of the butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour into the bottoms of the buttered ramekins, dividing the sugar butter sauce evenly among them. Arrange a layer of plum slices at the bottom of each ramekin.

2 If you are not using buttermilk, combine milk and lemon juice in a small bowl (the mixture will curdle), set aside. In a separate bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

3 Use an electric mixer to beat together the remaining 1/2 stick (1/4 cup or 4 Tbsp) butter with the granulated sugar and orange zest. Add the eggs and vanilla, mix to combine. Alternately add the dry flour mixture and the buttermilk (or lemon soured milk) mixture to the batter.

4 Divide the batter among the ramekins. Place the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and put in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until cakes are firm to the touch, and a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center does not come out with raw batter on it. (Might be wet from plum juice.) Turn the baking sheet around half-way through the baking to ensure an even baking for all the cakes.

5 Remove from oven and let cool on a rack until no longer hot to the touch. Run a paring knife around the edges of the ramekins. Invert onto a plate and gently lift off of the plate.

Serve alone or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Makes 4 individual servings.