Archive for the ‘family’ tag
We have already passed through the nice, Indian summer portion of fall (temperatures in the upper 70s here last week) and now are firmly in the cold, rainy, and miserable portion of fall. I spent a lot of the last couple of weeks traveling for work, so I didn’t even get to enjoy the nice bits of fall.
Today has been so gloomy and overcast that it has felt like it was early evening since about 11am. In other words, it has been a good day to stay indoors and do chores.
The weekend before last, John and I retired the garden for the year. Despite the fact that there were still green tomatoes on the vine and some of the vegetables were still trying gamely to product flowers, we had had several frosts. And frosts equal the effective end of the growing and ripening system. We removed the irrigation system of weeper hoses and coiled them up in the shed for next year. Ditto the tomato cages. Those were pulled up, cleaned off, folded neatly, and stacked in a corner of the shed. All of the vegetables and herbs, with the exception of the rosemary (which is an evergreen) and the sage (which is also used to colder climates) were pulled up and chopped into the soil, to provide fertilizer for next year. A couple of rounds of fallen leaves have also been shopped up (via the lawnmower) and layered over the fallow garden as well.
We even ripped out and dug up the blackberry and raspberry vines. Those were pretty much a failed experiment. We never got enough berries off of them to make them worthwhile (the birds saw to that) and they were so aggressive that it was a constant battle to keep them from overgrowing the vegetables.
I also brought my houseplants back inside, which I honestly should have done weeks ago. The two Christmas cacti are just fine, but the African violets were pretty frost nipped. One of them has died, but the other might still be able to recover from its extended sojourn out of doors.
The weekend before that (so three weeks ago) we were up in Cleveland visiting with my parents, and celebrating my brother’s newly-minted PhD degree. The parts was a very enjoyable all-day buffet while friends and family came and went. By now my brother has probably moved out to California to join our other two brothers while he looks for a job in industry. (He has no desire to do a post-doc or to stay in academia, and I cannot say that I blame him.)
Right now, I kind of wish that I were out on the west coast as well. Sunny skies, warmer temperatures, and better weather than here.
I just finished taking our Christmas lights and decorations down. They are back in the basement, in storage boxes, waiting until next mid-December, when they will once again be brought out and put up.
Last year John and I did nothing for the end-of-year holidays.
Which is to say that we just stayed home and had our own little cozy celebration. I was in the middle of a year long bout with oral surgery, and wasn’t feeling up to even faking like acting social. So we stayed home. We put up a tree, and had a holiday dinner, and watched “The Thin Man” and “A Christmas Story” (two of the best Christmas movies out there, in my opinion), and exchanged presents, and lounged around, and relaxed.
This year, to make up for last year, we went everywhere. We went to Michigan to spend Christmas with his folks, and we went to Cleveland to spend New Years with my folks. And in between we did holiday-oriented baking and replaced the garage door. (The torsion spring on our old, original to the house, garage door snapped, so we replaced it with new springs. Which turned out to be insufficient to life the heavy, solid wood door. And since it turned out that the old, solid wood, door was falling apart anyway, we ended up just ordering a new garage door.)
We ate entirely too many cookies and cake and chocolate nibbles and holiday breads and rich delicious food.
While we were in Michigan with John’s family we lit the menorah and went to see “Tin Tin” on Christmas Day. We also ate a lot of very delicious food and played a lot of card games.
While we were in Cleveland we went to see my Grandmothers. I seem to have the good luck of always catching both of them on relatively “good” days. We played pool (I lost badly) and Scrabble (I won!). We dressed up (how often do I really get a chance to wear my 1940s blue mink jacket? Not often enough) and went to see the Cleveland Pops for New Years. (It was an amazing show. I had a great time.) And we ate a lot of very delicious food.
A lot of very delicious food was pretty much the theme for the holidays. We are both paying for that now.
Anyway, now the the decorations are put away for another year, the holidays are officially over.
Time to get back to normal.
Grandma always made the best Christmas cookies. Almond cookies and brazil nut cookies, cut out into different shapes and sprinkled with colored sugar.
She hasn’t made those cookies in years, and I missed them.
Then it occurred to me – that I had the recipes (actually, it is great-grandma’s recipe) for those cookies, and if I wanted to have them again so badly, then I could just go ahead and make them myself.
I even had some of her old (very old) cookie cutters that I could use.
Honestly, the hardest part about making the cookies was the ingredients. It was easy enough to find the blanched almonds, but it was tricky finding the brazil nuts. Especially since the most common way of getting brazil nuts around here is in the shell, as part of a mixed nuts arrangement. And I wanted just brazil nuts, and I wanted them shelled. (Since I really didn’t want to spend a lot of time with a nutcracker in order to make these cookies.) I ended up having to go to a health food store for them.
Then of course I had to grind the nuts up into a fine (well, as fine as I could make it) powder to mix in with the flour and the rest of the ingredients… but once that was all done, the rest of it went pretty smoothly.
And the cookies turned out great. They were just as delicious as I remembered.
The best cake ever is the Sunshine Cake that my Grandma made for just about every special occasion. (It is actually great-grandma’s recipe.)
One of the best things that Grandma ever did was to put together three little booklets of all of the favorite family recipes for all of the grandchildren. I make those recipes all of the time.
Yesterday I made (on request) the Sunshine Cake to take as my contribution to a Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws.
Without further ado, the recipe:
- 10, 11, or 12 (I use 14) eggs (In great-grandma’s day, no one worried about cholesterol)
- 1 tsp cream or tarter
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1.5 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla flavoring
- 1 cup cake flour
Preheat the oven to 350.
The prep work on this cake takes the most time. Separate all of the eggs, putting the whites and yolks into separate bowls. Make sure that the whites are in a very large, high sided mixing bowl so they don’t splatter all over the place when you beat them. Sift 1 cup of sugar twice. Sift the cake flour and 1/2 cup of the sugar 3 times. Beat the egg yolks until thick and creamy.
Wait until the oven is completely pre-heated before starting the beat the whites… once you start that, everything goes very quickly.
Beat the egg whites until frothy. Beat in the cream of tarter and salt. Contimue to beat the egg whites until they are glossy and fine grained and will stand up in a sharp point when you pull out the beater. (With an electric mixer, this doesn’t take very long. I can’t imagine how long it must have taken to beat it to that point by hand. I asked Grandma about it once, and her reply was “that’s what children are for”. My Dad can remember endlessly beating the eggs for this cake when he was little.) Gradually beat in the cup of sugar that you sifted twice, along with the vanilla. Gently fold in the egg yolks. (Gently! Don’t mix! You want to preserve all of that air that you just whipped into those whites!) Gently fold in the flour and sugar mixture.
Pour into a two-piece un-greased ring pan. (It needs to be un-greased so that the batter can stick to the sides and not fall, but this makes it really difficult to get out of the pan afterwards.)
Bake for an hour. Resist the urge to open the oven to peek during that time, no matter how good it smells (and it smells good!) or the cake might fall.
Invert the pan to cool. I usually slide the ring over the neck of a wine bottle for this.
Cut the cake out of the pan once it is completely cold. This is the hardest part, and I never manage to get the cake out without mangling it at least a little bit. One of these days I will try cutting some parchement paper to shape, lining the ring pan with it, and see if the cake will still bake like that, and if the paper lining makes it any easier to get the cake out of the pan in one piece and looking nice.
When Grandma made the cake, it always looked beautiful, like she just gently slid it out of the pan. I don’t know how she did it…. other than about 60+ years of practice. I am nowhere near there yet.
Sift confectioners sugar over the cake before serving it.
Confectioners sugar hides a lot of flaws.
About this time a week ago, John and I were on the very last leg of a backpacking vacation in Yellowstone and the Tetons with my parents. We were on day number six of a six day and five night trek around the Tetons. At that time, I was looking forward to nothing more then my first shower in a week.
(The Yellowstone portion of the vacation was a couple of days of “normal” camping and hiking while my Dad got acclimated to the change in altitude.)
When I saw we hiked around the Tetons, I mean that quite literally. We hiked around Grand Teton, Middle Teton, and South Teton.
My parents really enjoy backpacking, and have been going to backpacking trips at least once a year for quite a few years now. So sometime last year I hit upon the brilliant idea that I wanted to try it out. I wanted to see what my parents enjoyed so much about it, and also I wanted to have a chance to share a vacation with them, doing something that they love. So I proposed a backpacking vacation with them.
We started making plans, and John and got the equipment we needed and we started training for it by hiking longer and longer distances with weights (we used lot of 1 liter water bottles) in our frame packs. And I felt ready. There were some things that I felt a bit nervous about, sure, but in general I felt ready.
It turned out that I was not ready.
My parents are machines. John and I were struggling to keep up most of the time. (I can only hope that I am still as active and in share as my parents are when I am their age.)
I learned a lot about myself on the trip. I learned that while I will always enjoy car camping and day hiking in national parks (which I was introduced to by my parents over the course of many many family vacations while I was growing up), backpacking (other then maybe short, overnight trips) will never really be my thing. I like indoor plumbing a lot and I don’t like going for too long without showering or washing my hair. None of these are bad things, but I still kind of wished that I could enjoy the backpacking as much as, and in the same was, as my parents do.
And there were certainly things that I enjoyed.
We saw a lot of wildlife. There was a new beautiful vista around each bend in the trail. It was incredibly peaceful. The weather was gorgeous. I took over 1000 photos, and have (after a week) finally gotten them processed and posted them (not all of them, but a lot of them) on flickr. The Yellowstone photos are here. The Teton backpacking photos are here.
All in all, it was certainly a trip of a lifetime. I am glad that I did it. And my parents are right, there is a feeling of accomplishment and there are certain bragging rights that you get when you complete a trip like this one was.
So thanks. Thanks to John for indulging me, and thanks to my parents for both indulging me and for helping to make everything possible. I sure couldn’t have done any of it without all of you, and I really appreciated it.
Next family vacation, lets all go someplace warm where we can go snorkeling.
Almost a month ago exactly, my youngest brother Kevin and his longtime girlfriend/fiance Christine got married.
They live in Aliso Viejo, CA, so John and I flew out for a long weekend for the event. We stayed at Dana Point, on the marina, and the ceremony itself was just a little way up the coast, at a very lovely location overlooking the ocean in Laguna Beach. It was very overcast on the day of the wedding, right up to about a half-hour before the ceremony, when the clouds all blew out to sea and the bright, bright sun came out.
As an interesting aside, John and I had spent the morning tramping around the Dana Point beach and marina, and hadn’t bothered much with sunblock since it was overcast out. Turns out that you can sunburn just fine through clouds, and we were unfortunately pretty red by the time it came to shower and dress for the wedding.
Initially Kevin had asked me to be their official photographer for the wedding. I spent about a week hemming and hawing over the prospect, before demurring. I just don’t have the same level of equipment that a professional would have, and knew that I would feel terrible if I missed an important shot. When I got o the ceremony location, I was glad of my decision…it was a beautiful spot, but the sun was so bright and harsh that photography was a little bit difficult, and I hadn’t brought any external flashes to provide any fill light to balance out the bright (backlighting) sun.
As a result, I didn’t feel like I took a lot of photos, and I put off downloading and working with them for a while, because I was afraid that the few photos that I had taken would not have turned out very well.
It turns out that one person’s famine is another person’s feast, and the “not a lot” of photos that I took turned out to actually be well over 400 shots. Gotta love digital photography. I remember well the days of film, when you had a couple of rolls of 26 (or 24) exposures, and by golly, you hoarded those exposures and tried to make every one of them count. Because when you were done, that was it. No more photos. Now I have a 12G flash card in my camera and almost never have to worry about running out of space.
Here are some of my favorites.
Because John had to work on Black Friday (the day where you could not pay me enough to leave the house and set foot in a retail establishment) we did not go to my folks for The Day as originally planned.
Instead, we feasted here, and then left for Cleveland as soon as he got home from work on Friday.
Our feast turned out pretty well. We don’t generally do a lot of the “fancier” Thanksgiving stuff… we pretty much stick to the basics.
- Cubed stale or dried bread, enough to fill the body cavity of the bird. (We use home-made rosemary bread)
- 1 stick of butter (We used 2 sticks)
- 4-5 large eggs (Just kind of eyeball it based on how much bread you are using)
- A pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
Melt the butter in a frying pan or wok (I recommend the wok as the high sloped sides make mixing easier) and as soon as the butter is melted, add in the bread cubes. If you are like me, you will add the bread cubes, then notice that you don’t have enough butter for the bread, and melt some more to add in. Fry the bread in the butter until it is nice and crispy and lightly browned all over. Let the buttery bread cool while you beat together the eggs, salt, and seasoning in a large bowl. Add the buttery bread to the egg mixture and mix it all up together. Once it is all mixed up, into the bird it goes. I know that the current wisdom says that you shouldn’t bake the stuffing inside the bird… that it isn’t “safe” or something… but frankly, part of Thanksgiving for me is the stuffing inside the bird. I think that it just tastes better that way and that is the way that my family has always done it. Besides, if you go by temperature readings to determine when the turkey is done (minimum of 161 degrees!) then you won’t need to fret about getting sick from an underdone bird.
The stuffed bird was roasted in the oven according to the Alton Brown method: 30 minutes at 500 degrees (to get the skin all crispy and lock in the moisture) and then turned down to 350 degrees for the remainder of the cook time. As soon as we turned the temperature down to 350, we also tossed chopped root veggies (parsnips, carrots, onions, and as much garlic as we thought that we could stand) into the roasting pan alongside the bird.
John made garlic mashed potatoes.
I made macaroons for dessert. I was surprised at how delicious they were, and how quick and easy they were to make.
- 3 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- A pinch of salt
- 3 lightly beaten egg whites
- A teaspoon almond extract
Mix everything all up together, and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until golden on the edges.
We were going to make stir-fried green beans as well, just to say that we had something that was green and healthy for dinner, but honestly we forgot all about our good intentions until we were already eating. And by then it was too late to stop and make another dish.
There was also cranberry sauce. From the can (because that it the way that John likes it). Leftover from last year. Hey… it hadn’t expired yet, and tasted just fine.
A pretty basic dinner, but a tasty one.
All of the photos from the wedding can be found here, on my flickr site
One of the many family photos – Sabrina and Ted with Carole and Howard. Isn't that a gorgeous dress?
It is still summer here in Dayton – hot and dry – despite the occasional fall smell to the air and the small piles of dead leaves that some of the neighbors have started to rake to the curb. The dead leaves are mostly just dead from the drought, though. There is some color change happening, but not much, not yet.
Ann Arbor, on the other hand, is pretty deep in the grip of fall. When we were there for Ted (John’s brother) and Sabrina’s wedding it was chilly (in the 60s) and rainy. Neither of us had really packed for chilly and rainy. We had packed for hot and dry. The first thing we did after getting there (after checking into the hotel so that I could change into the one pair of jeans that I had packed) was to go to the mall so that I could buy a sweater. (We went back to that same mall during a rainstorm the next morning so that John could buy a fleece.)
When we left Ann Arbor after the weekend, it was about 60 degrees. When we got back home to Dayton three hours of driving later, it was in the low 90s. 30 degrees of difference. Three hours driving due south. That’s about 10 degrees difference per hour driven/70-ish miles traveled. I find it impressive that the difference is so marked. Though shouldn’t be too surprised as it is the sort of thing that makes it possible for John and I to comfortably camp in the Smoky Mountains at the close of October.
With spectacular timing, the weekend of the wedding was also the weekend of the first UM football home game. I think that John and I were the only two people in our hotel who were no only not there for the game, but who had no interest in the game at all. Seriously, when we stepped out of the elevator on Saturday morning, the hotel lobby was awash in a sea of blue and gold shirts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, ball caps, blankets, and more. Seeing all of the football crazed people and the students partying (open container laws be dammed) on the front porches and yards of their houses was odd. You don’t see behavior like that in Dayton. Or maybe that sort of thing is in Dayton, but just not where we live… Eh. It made me glad that I am no longer a student and no longer have to deal with that kind of crazyness.
Besides the wedding (the obvious highlight of the weekend), the trip to Ann Arbor ended up being, for John and myself, a test to see how many of our favorite old restaurants and watering holes we could visit… a quest to eat our way across Ann Arbor. We managed to hit Amer’s Deli, the Arbor Brewing Company, The Blue Nile, The Broken Egg, the Flim Flam Diner, Café Felix, the Jolly Pumpkin, and The Black Pearl. (Upon special request I stole one of the Café Felix drink menus.) Not bad for a quick trip. We missed a lot of the “big” restaurants that we liked (like Café Zola, Grizzley Peak, The Earle, Dolche Vita, and the Southwestern Café, to name a few) because most of our big meals were part of the whole wedding experience package. We also skipped a lot of the pubs near campus (like Ashley’s) because frankly I couldn’t stand the thought of trying to wedge myself in on a game weekend. I wanted to eat lunch at Zingerman’s Deli, but when we walked past in on Friday, the lunch line was out the door, so we passed right on by. We bemoaned the fact that Dayton doesn’t have the same richness of independent pubs and restaurants that Ann Arbor has.
We also stopped in a lot of secondhand bookstores. And art galleries. And we found a very awesome robot store where I couldn’t help but buy a bunch of neat little trinkets and toys.
The day of the wedding was also my Mom’s birthday (I will never forget their anniversary!) and International “Talk like a Pirate” Day. No jokes, however, were made, though the groom was made aware of the humorous convergences. Arrr…
The wedding itself? Beautiful. They got married and had the reception in the Michigan Union.
I hung out with the women-folk before the ceremony, and John hung out with Ted. I got to lace Sabrina into her dress (it had a full corset back) and was informed that people got some good pictures of the procedure. Hopefully, I will get to see some of those pictures.
During the ceremony itself, I manned the video recorder, so I have no actual still photos of the ceremony. Thankfully, the ceremony was pretty short. We forgot the tripod for the recorder and I had to hold it up and as steady as possible myself. Even the lightest recorder gets heavy after a while…
I got to put down the recorder (they only wanted the ceremony videotaped) and got to pick up my camera for the rest of the evening – from the group photos during the hors d’oeuvres hour, through dinner (some of the best wedding dinner food that I have even eaten – I had the steak and it was tender and juicy), through the cake cutting, and dessert, and first dance, and mingling – and I think that I got some good shots.
John’s Mom made the cake, and used the same recipe that she did for our wedding. It was delicious.
I loved the favors that Ted and Sabrina chose – red and white wooden roses. A lot of them ended up being left on the tables afterward, so I picked up enough to make a good-sized bouquet to take home. Flowers that the cats won’t try to eat? Yes, please.
The reception ended at 9pm, and since we were already all dressed up to go out, John and I went downtown to have snacks and drinks and play cribbage at a martini bar.
It was a good weekend.
Photos to come, of course…
I have really got to get better about actually writing about stuff closer to when it actually took place.
That being said…
The family visit to Cleveland for Labor Day weekend was really nice. John and I got in fairly late Friday night and hung out for a while in the kitchen with people before deciding that it was time to crash and heading upstairs.
The main push to visit my folks for Labor Day weekend was to see relatives who live in far-flung locations like L.A. and British Columbia and who don’t come around to Cleveland very often. Mom had everyone, visitors and local family alike, over for a big barbecue dinner on Saturday. So for once John and I just hung around the house and didn’t have to drive around to see anyone. Which was quite nice for a change.
We got to spend some time with Brian and Emily’s son, my nephew Dylan. He is not quite two yet. Honestly, (and no insult intended) it was like playing with a puppy.
Before brunch on Sunday, while my Mom stayed inside and cooked, some of us went outside to visit Alice and Tolstoy in their enclosure. Alice has been in the family for almost 28 years. We have no idea how old she is, since she was an adult when I got her in the second grade (she was a gift for my First Communion.) Tolstoy has been in the family around five years. Alice is an eastern three-toed box turtle, and Tolstoy is a russian tortoise.
Sunday morning, after brunch, my folks kicked us all out. Normally they are all about encouraging us to have some more pancakes, some more fruit salad, another cup of coffee or three, and do you really have to hit the road now? This time they had to be at the airport by noon for their flight (vacation out west), so brunch was earlier then usual, and took less time then usual, and we were out the door and on the road a couple of hours earlier then our usual departure time.
We also left with more food then normal. Since my folks were going to be gone for a week, they pretty much emptied their refrigerator onto the kitchen table (leftovers from the family barbecue, fruit, cheeses, lunch meat, bread, spreads…anything that could conceivably go bad) and my brother Jeff and I (since he lives in town) divided the spoils amongst ourselves.
One of the things that my Mom offered to me to take home was a bottle of rose water. A bottle of rose water that was leftover from a Girl Scout cooking project (baklava, if I recall correctly, and why do I even remember that?) when I was eight years old. I don’t think that she had used it since, just carried it with her from the house that I grew up in to the current house when she and my Dad moved, over ten years ago now. A 25-year-old bottle of rose water. Thanks for the offer? But I am pretty sure that it is well beyond it’s best-if-used-by date by now. I declined the honor of giving it a new home. And if it is still in the pantry next time I am over, it might get poured down the drain.