Friday, June 26, 2009

photo friday: blue crabs

Photo Friday: An opportunity to share some of what is beautiful and wonderful about life.

I love crabs. They are probably in my top ten foods. The funny part is I don't think I had ever had steamed crabs until I was 19 years old or so. Growing up in NYC, they weren't part of our repertoire of foods. I had plenty of other great food, like knishes, stuffed grape leaves and salami to die for but New Yorkers don't do crabs, at least not when they are in New York.

Crabs in Maryland are just not crabs; they are Maryland Blue Crabs (although sometimes they are Louisiana Blue Crabs or South Carolina Blue Crabs, depending on how the season is going). I know locals who swear they can tell which river the crabs were caught in. I'm not so sure about that, but I do know a good crab when I taste one.

When I first learned about Blue Crabs, I wondered why they are called that since they are obviously red. That's because I had only seen them just before I was ready to dig in. Blue Crabs really are blue before they are steamed (sorta like how lobsters aren't red either until they are cooked).

What makes crabs even more delicious is Old Bay seasoning. Old Bay was born in Baltimore and is as Maryland as the Chesapeake Bay. I think you could put Old Bay on anything and I would eat it. I am of the apple cider vinegar and Old Bay school of eating crabs. I like to dip the meat in vinegar and then dredge it in Old Bay. Yum-o.

There is an art to picking and eating crabs. This truly separates the casual crab eater from the die hard. Many people find it too messy or cumbersome to pick the meat. (These are the folks who eat only claws or even just crab cakes.) I approach it like a reward for my efforts. I am a patient person. There are always rewards for enduring.

We had crabs for Father's day. This is one of our family traditions. Countrymouse's perfect day is a day at the beach followed by lots of crabs (and other food) and beer. It's an easy day to plan and every single one of us looks forward to it, so it's always a hit.

Monday, June 22, 2009

boys to men

I had an epiphany of sorts this weekend. Countrymouse and I have talked for weeks about how this summer/fall will be a pivotal time in our family dynamic. Pup #2 leaves in just under a month for Army basic training and Pup #1 will be leaving to participate in a Christian outreach program with our ministry the end of September. That will shrink our day-to-day household to just 5. The three pups left will all be in high school this fall, and you know how teenagers are... here, there and everywhere. Countrymouse and I already find ourselves with unexpected (but welcomed) *free* time.

In spite of all this, I think I still have been thinking of the pups the way I've always thought of them. There's Pup #1 & 2, they are the *big boys*. Pup #3 is the middle boy; sometimes I think of him as a *big* boy and other times he definitely one of the younger guys. I always think of Pups #4 & 5, the twins, as the *little* boys. I've stopped using that term, but in my mind they are still the *little* boys.


I looked at my boys this weekend and it struck me. They are all young men. I took this photo yesterday at Fenwick Island State Park in Delaware. It was Father's Day and Countrymouse wanted a photo of them all together. He, like me, realizes the bittersweetness of the next few weeks while they are all still safely in the nest. It's a tricky thing to balance all these emotions. I've spent almost exactly half my life being a mother. During the past 22 years, I've had my arms safely around my pups, my little sphere was sanctified from the outside world. That's about to change. These are good changes. But they are hard changes.



Sunday, June 21, 2009

fathers day 2009

The first man I ever loved.


The last man I'll ever love.



Both of these men are the *fathers* in my life. The first, my own father and the second the father of my children. My love for them is very different but equally as deep. I am who I am today because of the impact these men have had on my life. I can't imagine my life without either of them.


Happy Father's Day.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

blueberry margaritas

I had big plans last night. It has been a long week and I thought it'd be great to chill and sit outside and just enjoy the evening. Well, you know what they say about best laid plans?? I came home to a barricaded kitchen.

If you look, you can see the painter's tape blocking the far entrance. All the doorways are like this. We were given strict orders to not step on the tile for 24 hours. No problem. I'm willing to go stay in a hotel until this project is done if it will help expedite things. We started this phase of renovations in September 2007, I am more than ready to be finished. Not since pup #1 was born 11 days late have I waited so breathlessly for something!

So, what does that have to do with blueberry margaritas? Well, that had been my plan last night and they are kinda hard to do without a kitchen. So I will share them with you and wait until I can be the gourmand/mixologist extraordinaire once again until I enjoy one of my own. Blueberries are so very good for you. You can get your quota of booze and antioxidants all in one glass! Can't beat that! Really, here in Maryland blueberries are just coming on and they're popping up everywhere. We even had a small portion in our weekly CSA distribution. The grocery stores all have them on sale right now, so there's no excuses. It's fun to incorporate fresh seasonal ingredients in what you're eating and drinking. It has become very trendy on the bar scene to feature drinks made with fresh ingredients.

So try a blueberry margarita for me this weekend. The only thing blue I'll be drinking this weekend will probably be Blue Moons, since they are pop-and-go. I'll definitely be toasting y'all with a blueberry margarita just as soon as I'm able.


Blueberry Margaritas
2 ounces blueberry puree (see note below)
2 ounces tequila
1.5 ounces orange liquor (Grand Marnier or Triple Sec)
1.5 ounces fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
fresh blueberries for garnish
sugar or coarse salt (optional)

1. In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients, except blueberries, with ice. Shake thoroughly.
2. Run a cut lime along the serving glass rim; place glass rim in sugar or salt , if using.
3. Pour shaker contents into glass. Garnish with fresh blueberries. Serve immediately.

Note: For blueberry puree, pour one pint of blueberries into blender. Puree on high until liquefied and smooth. Depending on your preference and the sweetness of the blueberries, add a little sugar and puree again.


Bonus: You can use this basic recipe to make any *berry* margarita. If you're picky, you may want to strain the puree if you're using something like raspberries or blackberries.

Extra-extra bonus: This is for The Love of His Life, who will not drink tequila due to a very eclipsed weekend in Mexico during her youth but will suck down rum like it's water! (I keep good company!)

Blueberry Mojitos
10 mint leaves
10 blueberries
3/4 ounces simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces light rum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
2 ounces chilled club soda
Garnish: mint sprig and lime

1. In a cocktail shaker, muddle the mint leaves, blueberries and simple syrup.
2. Fill with ice. Add the rum and lime juice and shake well.
3. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass, top with club soda and garnish with mint sprig and lime.



Enjoy!

Friday, June 19, 2009

photo friday: sha na na

Photo Friday: An opportunity to share some of what is beautiful and wonderful about life.

Okay... before anyone questions my sanity, I'm feeling a bit nostalgic this evening. My idea of music today does not even almost feature men running around in glam rock gold lame outfits, especially ones that could pass as Billy Crystal's brother.

I adored Sha Na Na when I was in high school. They consumed all my time. My best friend and I never missed a show, knew all their songs, had all their albums, practiced all their dance routines, saw them live every chance we got and even assigned which Sha Na Na our friends could have a crush on! (That part sounds so Mean Girls.) It would have been inconceivable to share your Sha Na Na with anyone you knew! My guy was Johnny. He's on the right in the above picture in the light jeans and track sweatshirt. I loved all things Italian even back then, so I got one of the two obviously Italian guys in the group. My friend got the other one, Jocko (in the wine satin shirt). I thought Jocko was cuter (taller and chunkier) but Johnny definitely had more talent, so I was okay with it. Never mind that Johnny Contardo was born in 1951... and that put him at 28 when I was 16... fantasies are wonderful things.

For all their corniness, Sha Na Na holds a real place in music history. They performed right before Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969 and was included in the Woodstock film. It is thought their appearance at the festival and on the film helped catapult the 50's nostalgia craze. Younger folks will remember them from the movie version of Grease. They were Johnny and the Gamblers, the band that preformed at the prom. My boy Johnny was the front man. (Have I ever told you I saw that movie more times than I care to remember??) I first discovered them on television. Their variety show ran from 1977 to 1981 (coincidentally the same years I was in high school.)


Their music was good. I developed a real appreciation for the music of the 1950's. Sha Na Na put out bunches of albums and as their popularity grew, they even included original (non-50's sounding) songs on some of them. Johnny Contardo released a couple of solo albums, Changeover was the only one I got my hands on. (This was back in the days of vinyl.)

As a Photo Friday bonus, I am including a video of Sha Na Na singing Those Magic Changes (which is featured in Grease.) By the way, Johnny received a Grammy nomination for the soundtrack for Grease and the album went platinum.





Tuesday, June 16, 2009

kitchen floor

My kitchen floor project has begun.  I am so excited.


When we moved in we labored countless hours removing the old vinyl floor.  This is much harder than it sounds.  It took lots of chemicals and lots of sweat and something that looked like a long-handled spade.  The in-between floor was good, but it wasn't really want I wanted.  When we took down a wall to make the kitchen bigger and I couldn't get vinyl to match our present floor, the decision was made for me.  


The black and white vinyl you see in this picture is the in-between floor.  The new floor will be Italian ceramic tile.  It's lots of earth tones.  I'll post a photo when it's done.


I think the real issue with my floor is trying to make it flat.  It will never be level (remember, the house is a 100 years old) but it must be flat so the tiles don't crack, etc.  They ended up just cutting the old floor out and are starting from the original floor on up.  The gray matter you see here is a cement like substance that will seal and even out the floor.  We used it when we laid the in-between floor.  It was used in this go-around because you could actually see through the floor boards into the basement.  Yikes!  

I actually stepped in this goop accidently.  It was so nasty.  Sorta like thick mud.  I wasn't the only one who stepped in it...


Wonder which of the Italians left their mark?  It's kinda cute except there's about half a dozen of these walking down my hall.  My wine bar is currently sitting in the same hallway, so I will tackle the paw prints once the stuff is put back in the kitchen.  

Every day there's a little more done.  I'm waiting for the day I come home and actually see tile.  I might even crack open a bottle of champagne!

Monday, June 15, 2009

community supported agriculture

We picked up our first CSA share last week.  Yay!  (We've had a rainy spring, so that has pushed back the start of the distributions.)  I was so excited!


Every week we pick up a crate of fresh produce.  Your distribution depends on what has been harvested and how much there is.  It's like Christmas!  

I love the whole CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) concept.  Like any venture in agriculture, there are no guarantees.  As long as you realize this potential before joining a CSA, it's a pretty sweet deal.  Yes you pay for your produce, but you'd do that regardless.  I would much rather support a local small business (in this case, owned by friends) then supporting a mega-chain grocery store.  

I like any situation that benefits both parties.  Some people would call this a win-win situation, but I call it a bless-bless situation.  Local Harvest talks about the mutual benefits of CSA:


Advantages for farmers:
  • Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
  • Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm's cash flow
  • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow
Advantages for consumers:
  • Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
  • Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
  • Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
  • Find that kids typically favor food from "their" farm – even veggies they've never been known to eat
  • Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown
Knowing my participation helps the farmers and is good for my family is almost as rewarding as getting to eat our goodies!

Even though we are CSA members, we are still tending our humble garden. As I've mentioned, this is our first year as gardeners. I believe we have over-planted our little bed, but things are still doing fine.

In our parts, the locals will tell you you've done good if you have ripe tomatoes by the 4th of July.

I think we might just make it!  



Saturday, June 13, 2009

peanut noodles

I haven't been to the market since the weekend before Memorial Day... that would be just about a month ago now! Yikes! We've picked up the odd gallon of milk and that kinda thing, but needless to say the pantry is looking pretty barren. I knew we were in trouble earlier this week when we were out of breakfast cereal. With 5 pups running around, this is something I can always count on being there.

Even having said that, the plan is to go to Sam's Club tomorrow afternoon to do a mega fill-up. So that means today, is sorta what we call catch as catch can. There are plenty of frugal writers on the web that encourage us to eat out of our pantries and freezers, and my family does this for the most part. My mother, however, is a food hoarder. When her own 5 pups were all home, times weren't always easy, so I think, in part, this is a response to being able to provide well for her family (even though it's just my father and her now). The other part is that shopping is my mother's hobby. Now, I understand this... I am the Goodwill Queen, but my mother can't rationalize spending money on her house or herself, so she buys food, something she can justify. We all have our quirks.

Being the resourceful mouse that I am, I made pancakes for breakfast. No one has asked for lunch so far, so I'm dodging that bullet. We have some ramen left, so that's probably gonna be my suggestion... or maybe scrambled eggs. My mother picked up a pork loin for me the other day, so we're having that done on the grill for dinner. (My mother knows I won't go to 3 or 4 different grocery stores to take advantage of their sales and this gets under her skin probably more than anything else I do. I just don't have the time or inclination. Which brings us to our current arrangement. She tells me what the killer deals are at the different stores she's going to. If there's something I want, she picks it up for me and I pay her for it. This works because I get to benefit from the sale and she feels like a) she's taking care of my family and b) she's standing in the gap for me and my spend thrift ways.)

I'm going to make an awesome salad with our CSA share mixed lettuces. (More on that to come.) I wanted to make a few sides salads to go with dinner, so I boiled up the last 5 potatoes I have (2 red skin and 3 Yukon Gold) for potato salad. That won't go far with my crowd. (A lot of time, the pups scatter on the weekend. Tonight 4 of them will be here, so it's dinner for 6.) Don't ask me why I decided to Google "Peanut Noodles" but I did. I thought that might be a different salad I could spring on the pups. They all like peanuts and noodles, so...???

I love peanut butter but hate peanuts. The recipe I made used peanut butter (of which we have 2 1/2 jars). I really liked it. I think I would add more ginger next time. I didn't have any cider vinegar left, so I used rice vinegar, thinking it kept with the Asian flavor. I think it may have been too delicate. I also substituted udon noodles for the spaghetti the recipe calls for. You can use any kind of noodle. I ended up eating a big serving of it while it was still hot. I am hoping it will be just as good cold. I'll definitely make it again, for myself if no one else.

I liked it enough that I am sharing it with you here. Hope you try it.

SERVINGS: 4


INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces spaghetti
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced (white parts only)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes


DIRECTIONS

  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until done. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, combine oil and onions in a small skillet. Saute over low heat until tender. Add ginger; cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. Mix in peanut butter, soy sauce, water, vinegar, sugar, and red pepper flakes. Remove from heat.
  3. Toss noodles with sauce, and serve. Ready in about 25 minutes. (Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 15 minutes)


Friday, June 12, 2009

photo friday: the italians

Photo Friday= an opportunity to share some of what is beautiful and wonderful about life.


These are my "babies", Mia and Massimo... The Italians. (Not their awful pedigree names... I changed them as soon as I got them!) They are lilac point Siamese. Mia (on the right) is about 2 and Massimo (aka Mo) is 18 months. They have very different personalities than the other cats I've owned. I got them from a breeder who was down-sizing her cattery. Poor Mo had been kenneled most of his life. Both of them are still "coming around" when it comes to petting them and such. We've made a lot of progress with them since October, when they came to live with us. Countrymouse is not much of a pet man, but I think he even has a soft spot for them. Like me, he'd love to be able to sit and pet them. Other than the whole touching thing, they are pretty acclimated. (How's that for a positive spin??) In any case, they make me happy. Mo is my favorie. He will let me pet him more often than Mia, but with both of them, it's always on their terms. I'm on the lookout for a boy-girl pair of all black kittens to add to our pride. They will either warm the Italians hearts or be their own little pride. We'll see.

Monday, June 8, 2009

going to the birds

I live "in town"... now granted, it's a small rural town (population 2600), but we live on one of the two main streets that intersect the town.  In spite of that, I have seen a few awesome things in the past 24 hours.

Countrymouse and I were sitting in the yard after a round of yard work yesterday afternoon when we spotted a Bald Eagle flying over our yard.


In 1940 Congress passed the Eagle Protection Act because there was concern the Bald Eagle would become extinct.  When we were in elementary school, Congress went a step further and passed the Endangered Species Act of 1973. We both grew up thinking of the Bald Eagle as this rare and never-seen bird. (The Bald Eagle has made a strong comeback and was removed from the endangered species list in June 2007.)  In fact, I can remember going to the Bronx Zoo as a child and seeing the Bald Eagle display. These were the only Eagles I had ever seen until moving to Maryland. I have seen other Eagles over the years, but I was especially tickled to have seen one above my yard. (And truth be told, I still have a little bit of that 10 year old in me that is shocked to actually see one.)

Earlier this afternoon I walked out on the front porch to check on the new front steps project and was amazed to see a Hummingbird feeding on one of my Hibiscus plants. Based on where I live, my guess is it was a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.


I have never seen a Hummingbird at this house before. Needless to say, I was excited. I am always reading that Hummingbirds are easy to attract and you can even get them to eat out of your hand. But the truth is, everyone I ever speak to never has any luck. A Saturday morning out on your local yard sale circuit will produce a nice collection of Hummingbird feeders.  Seems like everyone starts out thinking it's a good idea but quickly looses hope.  I know.. I've been there.

Here are some pointers to help attract Hummingbirds at your house.



Me, I am going to hope I see my little Hummingbird come back for seconds.

Once I got too close to the Hummingbird, he flew away.  I hung out on the porch for a couple of minutes, hoping he'd return, but he didn't.  I wondered if I went inside and looked through the window, he'd come back.  He didn't.  As I was peering out the window, the Robin's nest in my Dogwood tree caught my eye.

I knew there was a nest in there, but I couldn't see it from the ground or even while standing on the porch.  The vantage point from my living room window was perfect, however.  I watched the mother Robin feed two of her chicks.  A few minutes later the father returned to the nest with more food.  A happy Robin family!



This is the second Robin's nest I've seen this spring.  Robin's typically have 2-3 broods each season and are one of the earliest birds to breed each season.  We have lots of Robin's around here, but I really enjoyed just watching them interact.

I don't always appreciate where I live, but times like this brings the wonders of small town living rushing to the forefront of my mind.  These birds were each different and unique and my seeing them was a happy accident each time.  I consider each one a tiny little blessing.





Tuesday, June 2, 2009

renovations

As I've mentioned, we live in a hundred year old Victorian. I actually enjoy older, funky homes, so that part of things doesn't slow me down. It's just all the *tweaking* that's necessary to make it the way I want it that I could do without. (Although, I do think I secretly enjoy the creative outlet it provides.) This requires a lot of time and a lot of money. I am very thankful that we a) can do the work ourselves, b) have been blessed with folks who are willing to lend a hand and/or c) have enough connections that most of the stuff we've paid for has been less than the going rate. The time and money part of things ebbs and flows (well, the money part mostly ebbs). There's a lot of energy tied up in the renovations too. Of all these things, I find this to be the most dear. I have lots and lots of desire, just no get-up-and-go most days. East Coast Sister is a good task master. When she visits she usually puts a burr to our hineys. It's a good thing, because that's usually what I need to get going.

We've started a pretty major round of renovations recently. This is the biggest endeavor since our first round of renovations when we bought the house 3 years ago. We actually have several projects going on at once. This might sound efficient, but it is stretching the limits of my sanity. What was first on my wish list is supposedly in the works, but hasn't started yet.



We took down a wall and made our kitchen larger about 18 months ago. Part of this required raising the floor in the *new* part. We've been living with a sub floor ever since. Who knew flooring was so dang expensive?? (The part I may not have told you is that we are paying for all our renovations in cash. Hence the whole ebb and flow thing.) We've picked out the tile and are on the *schedule* (whatever that means). I am believing that it will be done at least by my birthday in September.

Another big project is replacing the rest of our upstairs windows. Of course, the old windows are 100 year-old single-pane glass. I don't even want to tell you how this impacts our heating bills. We replaced the very needy ones that first summer, but are revisiting the remaining ones this go-around.


I returned from London to find 13 replacement windows sitting in my dining room. Well, it was actually only 12. Countrymouse had gotten one in while I was gone. He's gotten all the windows replaced in our room (hooray!) and is now moving on to the others.



In a house this old, there is always the unknown *issue* that can develop in an instant. Countrymouse says it's like pulling a loose thread on a sweater. You never know if the whole thing will unravel. We still have some old (real) plaster walls. The big concern with some of these windows is that the whole wall could come down. Uh-hmmm, good times.

Speaking of unraveling, EC Sister and I went out last weekend to buy supplies for sangria (it's what we do). While carrying the 9-liters of fluid up the front stairs, they decided they had had enough.



I didn't get hurt, but I was glad the sangria was on hand.

The old stairs were poured cement that were probably 25 years old. I didn't like them and we had talked about replacing them, just not now. They were cracked pretty badly, so it didn't take much to do them in. Countrymouse had a blast finishing the job with a sledgehammer. (Boys will be boys.)

We are also putting carpet in our bedroom (another sub floor we've been living with). I made a bold decision and chose a color called Alpine White. Yikes! I keep second guessing myself, but it was the one I liked all three times I looked at the samples. I keep telling myself it's a bedroom, how stained-up can it get?? We have a lovely coral color on the walls and our furniture is cherry, so I think it will look good. I was going to say, "we'll see", but the truth is the carpet is paid for, so it is what it is. (I do think it will look good.)

The other big project we'd like to accomplish this summer is to replace our front door. The current door is not the original and doesn't fit as well as it should (another energy drain) and there aren't any keys for it! The original front door had a window on the top half. I actually prefer a 3/4's light, so I think we may go with that. Doors are another one of those things that cost way more than you think they should. For what we want, we are looking at $1500-$2000 and that doesn't include installation. (I'll be calling those folks who are willing to lend a hand.) This is the last item on our list, so I am not sure if it will happen, but I'd really like to tackle this too.

There are always the sundry little projects that we are involved with, like landscaping and such. We are replacing the lattice on the front of the house and repainting the backstairs. The list goes on and on.

Speaking of changes, I thought this might be a good time to show you how well my little garden is growing. Remember when it started?


This was taken May 1st. Look at my garden today (June 2nd).


I'm pretty tickled. I have at least 2 tomatoes growing and everything else is thriving. I wasn't sure if anything would grow in this location, so it's pretty cool.

Overall, this is a summer of changes for us. I'll keep you posted. I think it will be good, it'll just be the enduring that will be tricky.