It was just me and Overly Serious Girl this morning. After running a quick errand and watering the window boxes and buckets (well, the plants growing in them), we adjourned to the air-conditioned basement/work space to accomplish something.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. I suppose sooner is better.
I was rushing.
I’d had a tough day, mentally. I felt like I was too slow. Not holding up my end of things. Not pulling my weight. Incompetent. Useless. It just spiraled. I was frustrated and probably overreacting to my own negative bits of thinking.
Plus, it was Julia’s birthday. My baby. I had to work at 6 in the morning, so I wasn’t there for when she woke up.
I left presents. And a note to Julia.
But it wasn’t the same.
But – cookout with family planned for later, so I had that to look forward to.
Only I wasn’t looking forward. I was looking inward through a distorted lens, I suppose. I stumbled over every frustrating little moment, and made them bigger, probably, than they really were.
Towards the end I was trying to do too many things at once, at least for my level of experience.
There’s a phrase somewhere – I think I read it in relation to learning yoga – not to look to the right or the left, but to keep looking forward. Not to compare yourself to the (possibly more experienced) people around you (who are probably better/more limber/faster/something than you) and focus on your own game. Or path. Or practice. Or work. Or whatever.
I struggle with that.
Anyway, I was doing a lot of chopping (oh yeah, you know where this is going now, don’t you?) – not chopping, actually, I was julienning red peppers and then pea pods. The pea pods were the last thing I had to get through, and then I could clean up and go.
I refused to let myself look at the clock. Just slice, slice, slice. Don’t look til you’re done.
Finally, finally I was slicing through the very last bunch of pea pods. Faster faster faster.
And then it happened.
I sliced my thumb. It was so fast I barely felt it. The pain of it. I felt it more as a crunch, because what I sliced into was most of my thumb nail, almost halfway down the nail. I figure the nail prevented it from being a bloodier experience.
Anyway, I grabbed paper towel and clamped it on my thumb and just stood there for a second.
I was SO MAD at myself.
SO mad. What a supid stupid thing to do.
I held my thumb tightly (apply pressure!) and wondered how bad it was. I wasn’t afraid of fainting or anything like that. I was mostly annoyed with myself and frustrated by the whole day and now THIS.
And I tried to explain how I’d done it to the chef and started almost crying because unfortunately when I’m angry and not in a position to YELL, I cry. It’s annoying. Anyway, I said I’d been rushing, and was about to explain why, but I choked up so I stopped talking, and he just said something kind like “why were you rushing?” or “you shouldn’t be rushing” and of course that made it worse (in my head) because he was being nice and why can’t I be nice to me, too?
I finished up (not the julienning) and cleaned up and headed home, and called my sister to vent, which, of course, helped me feel better.
Until I looked at my thumb again. I hadn’t put a band aid on it at work because it had stopped bleeding when I left. But holding the phone must have pressured the cut open and there was this weird big bubble of blood at the edge of my nail, where the slice started. Pretty!
I drove home, showed Bill, put a band aid on it, did a bit of last-minute grocery shopping, and functioned pretty well without the use of one thumb. And the cookout turned out fine, Julia had a lovely birthday (so lovely she fell asleep on the couch later) and my thumb will heal.
And in the future, I will tuck my thumb under and try not to rush.
If you read this post earlier today, do you remember me mentioning that our dryer is on strike (I thought it was just sick, but no, it’s now marching around the basement holding a sign that says “I’m sick of wet clothes, and I’m not gonna dry them anymore!”), and that I put one of my husband’s tee shirts (the undershirt kind, not the clever logo kind) in the oven because there were a few damp spots left from me trying to dry it yesterday near the fire…
And that smoke or steam or the mists of hell (something like that) came pouring out of the oven vent? And I didn’t know what that was?
Now, despite what you might think, that doesn’t mean Cake of Goat. I don’t think anyone’s invented that one. Maybe a Pie of Goat – you know, like a chicken pot pie, or a shepherd’s pie – exists somewhere…but not Cake of Goat.
No, the cake is made with, among other things, goat cheese. Pretty interesting, huh?
And a bit more appetizing than a cake made of goat.
Earlier in the short Little League season, Alex had a game where he struck out every time he was at bat, a rarity for him. I think two things were at play that day - he was still getting used to the pitching machine, and he was learning to hold his arm, his "back" arm, up higher so he could get more power behind it, and this was still new to him and probably slowed down his response time a bit.
Anyway, he was, understandably, dejected after that game, and we told him that ALL batters strike out sometimes. Every one of them, no matter how great they are. They strike out. Sometimes it's just once in a game, sometimes it's the whole game, sometimes it's a whole bad streak where they're just not doing well at all. But it happens. To grown up men who are professional ball players getting played lots of money to play this beautiful game. And they usually always bounce back.
The main thing is, they keep swinging.
I bring this up not to launch into a poignant story about Alex today, but to share this with you:
Summer vacation started off with both a bang and a whimper. Actually, not so much a whimper as lots of weeping.
Last Tuesday was the last day of the school year for both my husband, the teacher, and my son, Alex, the first grader. Very exciting.
After school, our kids went across the street to play with our neighbor's/friends' son. Bill and I sat in the living room (when it hadn't yet been filled with furniture and stuff) and just hung out and talked, enjoying the relative peace and quiet. The next day would be the big Move Everything From the Second Floor day, to be followed by the whole Sanding and Polyurethaning event, so I think we were just taking this last moment to rest on comfortable chairs with our feet up before the final upheaval began.
Anyway, Bill asked if anyone had fed the lizard and I remembered that I'd asked Alex to, but then he had to go to the bathroom and he forgot, I guess, and so did I. So that would be a no.
By this point, the kids had moved from the back yard across the street to our back yard, so Bill called to Alex from a window and reminded him to get a worm or two for the lizard.
We went back to discussing the game plan for the next several days.
A few minutes later Alex came in, hand behind his back, and said glumly, "Well, no worms. The only thing we could find was this."
And out came the hand, and in it, a very young carrot he'd pulled from the garden.
I cringe, even writing about it now.
Bill told Alex that the carrot wasn't ready to be pulled, and he (Alex) needed to stop showing off in front of his friend.
You know how kids are. They behave differently with their friends around. They cross lines they know they shouldn't. They stop thinking. They walk on the wild side. They pull an underage carrot from the garden.
Bill told Alex in no uncertain terms that he'd better not do that again, and to toss the carrot onto the compost heap because it was no good to eat yet and it couldn't be replanted.
Don't mess with the garden, kids.
So we sent Alex back out to find a worm. We have PLENTY of worms out there, in gardens, in the compost bins. They practically hang from the trees. There was no reason a worm couldn't be found.
A bit later I looked out the window to check on the kids, and I noticed it looked like it was starting to rain. (We've had mostly rain here for oh, most of June, so of COURSE it was starting to rain. Again.) I went out the back door just to confirm it and yes, rain was, indeed, falling.
I called to the kids and said they needed to play inside, and as they arrived at the back steps, something made me look down.
And there, on the driveway, right next to the back steps, were two carrot stalks. No carrots. Just the long, green, distinctive stalks.
I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I picked them up and looked at the three little faces.
"Who did this?" I asked calmly.
Our neighbors' son said he didn't eat any of the carrots. Both boys pointed at Julia, who just stood there, her face a mask.
I flew across the yard to the corner square in our 15' x 3' raised bed. Where the carrots had been planted this year.
And I gasped as I beheld the horror. The carnage. The ugly slaughter of innocent baby carrots.
There were stalks and stalks with little remaining bits of carrot and some entire tiny carrotlings with their little ferny stalks...all of them scattered on the brick walk that surrounds the garden. There were one or two carrots still remaining, and there was a deep hole in the dirt. Oh, this was not good.
(This photo was taken several days after the carrot slaughter. After the casualties had been cleaned up and the ground evened out a bit. But you get the idea. There USED to be a lot of carrots in there.)
The three kids were still standing in the driveway, just watching. I forced my voice to sound nice as I suggested to our neighbors' son that it was time for him to go home, and to look both ways as he crossed the street.
And when I summoned my own two children, my voice was sort of strangled and choked as I planned my speech and tried to banish thoughts of Bill's reaction when he found out. At the moment, he was inside, on the phone, ordering Chinese food for dinner from the really good place up the street.
I don't even remember what I said.
Something about DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH WORK YOUR FATHER PUTS INTO THESE GARDENS? SO WE CAN GROW FOOD? THESE CARROTS AREN'T READY TO BE EATEN! WHY DID YOU DO THIS? DO YOU KNOW HOW UPSET DADDY IS GOING TO BE WHEN HE--
And then there he was, coming into the yard, still unaware of the carrot massacre, but very aware that SOMETHING was very wrong.
"WHAT HAPPENED?" he bellowed.
When he saw what they'd done, he ordered Alex and Julia into the house and up to their beds. I hollered after them to go into OUR bedroom, so they wouldn't step on the area of the floor where the patch job was. They were in enough trouble without stepping on a fresh coat of polyurethane. Julia hadn't committed her sin yet - that would happen the following day. Yeah, it was a good week.
Anyway, to say Bill was angry is to say Everest is a speed bump.
He gathered up the carrot casualties and slammed them on one of the compost piles, swearing and raging all the while.
And the thing is, this story and the Julia-stepping-on-polyurethane-after-she'd-been-told-not-to-go-upstairs episode are SO rare in our house. I'm the one more likely to yell about something. Bill doesn't yell much. So when he does, you'd better dive under the house.
Anyway, into the house he went, and up the stairs. And he gave the kids an earful about his hard work and time spent in the garden, and so on. I went around shutting windows and doors, just so we wouldn't draw a crowd.
He. Was. Angry.
After he was done, he came stomping through the house and went outside to relive the horror and slam some things around out there. I stayed out of his way.
I tiptoed to the foot of the stairs after a little while and I heard two things:
1) Alex sobbing.
2) Julia chattering away and giggling.
And this is the way it's going to be, I think. These are their personalitites, in a nutshell.
Alex takes things to heart. Raised voices are crushing to him, and it takes him a long time to get past it. He will remember this.
Julia...well, she's five, and Alex is seven, so there could be some sort of "the conscience isn't fully developed or even in existence at age five" thing in a child-rearing manual, which might account for her lack of tears. Or maybe she figured Alex was carrying around enough guilt for the both of them. Or she didn't care. Who knows.
But when I went upstairs to check on them, Alex was curled up on the edge of the bed and Julia was basically trying to get him to play with her and annoying him in the process. She wanted to know if they could get off the bed yet. She was clearly unfazed.
And I would bet my pink KitchenAid food processor that she did the majority of the carrot pulling and carrot eating.
Bill came in just about then and flew upstairs for a reprisal of his earlier lecture/tirade, just to make sure Julia, in particular, was getting the point.
Soon after that, he drove off to pick up the food, I set the table, and when he came back, the children were summoned to dinner.
Julia came down the stairs, chattering happily about the food and basically sucking up to Daddy in her very obvious way.
Alex puddled his way into the room and insisted on pulling his chair right next to mine at the table. He wasn't done crying yet.
And all the while Julia kept up a jolly little monologue of "Oh, thank you Daddy for getting this food! I love Chinese food! This all looks so yummy! I'd LOVE some soup!" and on and on and on.
It was nauseating. I am ashamed to admit it, but I glared at her a few times.
Alex stopped crying but didn't want to eat.
Eventually, though, he had a nibble of something and a nibble of something else, and realized that even though the world was about to end, his stomach was growling and the food was good, so he might as well eat.
And the rest of the night was relatively quiet. The kids went to bed early, and we moved on.
But it was not over.
It's one thing to tell your kids "this is a lot of work." It's much more effective to let them discover that for themselves.
And so, over the weekend, the children were introduced to a little thing Bill liked to call Hard Labor.
On Saturday they spent an hour in the 80+ degree heat weeding one of the gardens in the front yard. It would have been longer, but they had their final T-ball game of the season to go to, and we had to stop.
Julia kept saying she was thirsty. Bill said too bad, this is what Hard Labor feels like. You keep working EVEN WHEN you're thirsty.
(No, we didn't deprive them of hydration. Julia just kept asking every thirty seconds in a rather transparent attempt to take a break from the un-fun task at hand.)
So that was Saturday's taste of Hard Labor.
On Sunday we had no obligations, so while I made cheese and jam and bread indoors, Bill and the kids worked in the gardens outdoors.
The first thing they did was harvest the garlic. Julia and Alex took turns.
I set them on a tray on some newspapers to dry for a few days, and Bill and the kids planted new things where the garlic had been. We've now got dill seedlings there, along with bok choy seeds, scallions, lettuce, and...
After that they also helped plant flowers in the window boxes and in the shade gardens, and eventually, after about 4 hours of work (with water breaks, don't worry), they were done.
They worked hard, and I think they have a better understanding of and appreciation for how much effort goes into a square foot of carrots.
Now, there's a funny side note to all of this.
The morning of that same Tuesday when the whole Carrot Saga began, Bill was getting in his truck to go to work, and I was getting in my car to move it out of the driveway so he could leave. He stopped just before climbing in and yelled back to me "There are carrots growing in the lawn!"
I took a look after he'd left and sure enough, little baby carrot leaves were scattered through the grass, right at the edge of the driveway. Weird.
We've had things grow in odd places. We have tomatoes and cilantro that reseed themselves every year and we never know where we're going to find them. This year we've got a pumpkin plant that showed up along the front walk, amid the hostas and irises and tulips, and there are two other squash-family plants and some tomatoes that have shown up where the woodpile was on the other side of our garage. The side where we don't have a garden.
So baby carrots near the driveway? Sure, whatever.
We later found out that Alex's teacher had given all the kids carrot seeds some time ago and without telling anyone, Alex sprinkled them in the grass there.
Kind of perfect, isn't it? So in addition to planting new carrots, Bill and the kids also carefully dug up some of these tiny carrots and transplanted them to the scene of the crime.
And you know, I think they'll be pretty safe there.
Julia had gymnastics earlier today. I'm usually the one who brings her.
I bring her, and I bring a book, and I sit in a corner of the outer room of chairs - they are the hard plastic ones out there, and not as comfortable as the nice squishy ones in the inner room, but I can't take all the mommy-chatter that goes on in there. I know, I'm a mom, but still - it hurts my ears.
So I sit in the outer room, in an uncomfortable plastic chair, where I can read for an hour without interruption.
The outer room is a bit on the chilly side right now. I'm sure it'll warm up as the outside weather warms up, but today turned into a rainy one with a chill, and every time the door opened, a bit more of the relative indoor warmth escaped. I knew beforehand that this would be the case, so I made a pot of coffee before leaving the house and brought it with me in a thermos I bought a few years ago, back when I had a M-F, 8-5 desk job.
Here it is.
I bought this one in part because it's pink and a portion of the proceeds were donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Research. And I also liked it because it had this cool opening.
You take the cap off,
And the next layer has these concentric plastic ring things...well, one ring and an inner disk...
The outer ring has "CLOSE" stamped on it, and the inner disk reads "OPEN."
And so all you do to get access to the coffee is press down on that inner disk, like so...
And that will push the outer ring up at the same time...
And, voila, you have a this clever little mechanism that allows you to drink coffee without opening the entire thermos. The coffee stays hot longer, and there's no danger of you spilling all the coffee all over your computer keyboard at work and getting yelled at by the head of the IT department for destroying outdated equipment.
(Apparently pressing on that little disk also causes spasms in your hand, and your fingers to morph into claws. I really need to have a hand model in my pictures - my own hands are way too camera-shy.)
Anyway, carrying on...
I brought my thermos of coffee to gymnastics, saw Julia into the room with her little friends, and went back to the outer room to claim my corner seat. There were only a couple other parents out there - two fathers who were standing closer to the inner room, catching up on events since last week, but not intending to stay. I put Julia's raincoat and shoes on the floor, took the outer cap off my coffee, opened my book to the current page, pressed down on the "OPEN" disk, and tilted the thermos to my mouth, preparing for the possible scald that would follow.
I had about a split second to think fondly of my home-brewed coffee, how much better it would taste than stale stuff from the nearby donut shop, and wonder if the hot liquid would hit my tongue first or my lower lip.
And then the coffee poured down my chin, neck and the front of my LL Bean sweatshirt in a Niagara-like fall, if Niagara Falls had really hot, brown water.
None of it went in my mouth.
I quickly and quietly (I don't make scenes if at all possible) tilted the thermos UP and surveyed the damage. I was not injured, so that was good. No burns, no peeling flesh. I wiped the coffee from my chin and neck as best I could and, instead of going into the restroom (like a normal person) to maybe squeeze some of the coffee from my sweatshirt or something, I just pulled my jacket closed over the giant brown stain and pretended nothing had happened. I could feel the coffee seep through the sweatshirt fabric and into the tank top I had on underneath. It was very warm.
And that was it. I sat there, doused in Organic, Fair Trade Certified perfume, and read my book. I also took the INNER lid off the thermos and just sipped the coffee through the wider opening. Much safer that way, as it turned out.
See, it's been around a year and a half since I last used the thermos. I'd forgotten that the inner spout thing wasn't for drinking. It was just for pouring.
I know it's blurry, but you can still see where the coffee is coming from. And it's NOT that white part, is it. No, it's not.
Not at all.
Anyway, here's a picture of my sweatshirt, too, just to round out the story. The stain doesn't show up all that well against the purply-blue fabric, but you can see it if you squint. And I also helpfully drew a line around the basic shape of the stain. If you look closely within the outline, you can see parts of the stain.
Looks a bit like Africa, sort of. Okay, maybe not.
Anyway, that's what happened to me a few hours ago today. Thought I'd share.
I thought it would be fun to make English Muffins this morning. I have a couple of sourdough recipes, so I found one and threw the ingredients together, and, in my haste and my distractedness, I neglected to factor in the time needed for the batter to rise. And even when I thought - duh! - that of course it would need time to rise. It's a yeasted batter, dope. (I was referring to me, not you.) Of course it needs time.
But I didn't want to wait. I wanted it to hurry up and get puffy so I could feed my hungry family.
So...I am ashamed to say...I manipulated the batter. I dissolved some baking soda in some water, and folded that into the batter.
And it didn't really do much of anything. It made it a bit more bubbly. I added more water, too, so it would be thinner and, I reasoned, would rise better.
And so, in my stubborn, impatient, stoooooooooopid mood, I proceeded.
I greased some round cookie cutters because I couldn't find Bill's mom's english muffin rings because my pantry is a mess and I need to clean it out and reorganize it very, very soon, I know, I know.
And I started cooking my batter in the greased rings on the hot, greased griddle.
And, if you scroll back up and look at the picture, you can see that they look fine.
So, to check the insides, I started to "fork split" one. Because, you know, that's what you do with English Muffins if you want them to have all those nooks and crannies for your melted butter.
And when I pulled the fork out...
It's all gummy inside.
Now, yes, I could have cooked the muffins longer. But they were already getting too dark on one side.
No...they are gummy inside because they have no lift. I didn't let the yeast work at its own pace.
I was not...patient.
I continued on with the fork, poking and poking and poking and coming out with gummy bits of dough. On more than one muffin, by the way.
Yeah. I know. That's REAL appetizing.
Want a closer look?
Sure, there are some nooks there...
but these things were dense and heavy - not light and airy.
And I have no one to blame but my own impatient, in-a-hurry self.
And so I took pictures of my failed product in order to show you what can go wrong.
I've added a new category - I might also include links to it under the recipe categories.
The category is "Learning from Mistakes" and I'm including it because in baking and cooking - just like in every other facet of life, we make mistakes, and the best thing to do with a mistake is to learn something from it.
You know how on TV those really good chefs hold an onion and slice away really fast? And the hand that holds the onion in place has the fingertips curled under so the side of the blade slides down the knuckles, and no blood is shed?
I really need to work on that.
Oh, I've got the fast slicing down, but the curling the fingers under part...not so much.
I was slicing away at a cucumber and then off came several layers of the tip of my left index finger. I found the bit of skin stuck to a slice of cuke. I tossed it, in case you were wondering.
Now I have a Curious George bandaid on my finger and it's really hard to type.
For example. Here's how this post would have looked if I hadn't looked at the keys and fixed things as I went along:
"You know how on rc rhose eaally good cheds hold an onion and slice away eeally dastr? And rhe hand trhat holds thw onion in place has rthe dingertips cuerled under so ther side od the blade slides down thw knuckles, and no vlood is shed?
I ewally need to woek on thatr."
I think you get the picture.'
In case you don't - here's one:
Learn from me: Work on those knife skills!! Or suffer my fate!
I was up til almost midnight baking, and one of the last things I did was mold the very last of the springerle dough. I had bought a few new molds - and for these I was using a hen and a rooster. Very nice detail in the molds, and in the cookies, when I pressed the dough deep enough.
But I was getting tired (up and in the kitchen since 6:30 or so)...and frankly getting sick of cookies by that point. But - I got them done, placed them in their pans and cleaned up the kitchen and went to bed.
My body hurt. I think I'd spent the greater part of the day slightly hunched over bowls or pans or the oven or the sink.
Alex woke up shortly after I'd unkinked myself and was attempting to relax and fall asleep - he's got a cough, and I looked at the clock and realized he was probably due for another dose of cough medicine. So I (VERY RELUCTANTLY) rolled myself out of bed.
My feet hit the floor and I was immediately brought back to two periods of time in my life - when I waitressed, and when I went to culinary school full time on weekends. That awful swollen-soled pain that you feel after you have spent an entire day on your feet and haven't necessarily been wearing the best shoes, either. (In my case yesterday - no shoes at all...on a tile floor...)
And to make it even better - I felt this lightening bolt of pain shoot up the back of my left leg all the way to my butt. I couldn't move my left leg without feeling it again. Which was going to make it hard to get downstairs to where the bottle of cough medicine was.
And hopping wasn't going to work.
The only thing that worked, until everything finally loosened up, was to turn my feet out and plie. And walk in that position. Knees bent. Feet turned out. Out of our bedroom, down the stairs, to the kitchen.
This morning when I finally got up (Bill got up earlier with Alex - thank you, Honey!!!) my feet still hurt but I no longer needed to walk like a frog on my hind legs.
My first order of business was to bake off the springerle.
And you know what? I burned them. Well, burned half and overcooked the others. They are all in the trash now.
Oh, yes, and the two batches of stollen that I baked came out less than glorious too. I was impatient. It's a heavy dough, and I should have just left it alone so it could rise at its own pace.
But I didn't. So I have 3 1/2 loaves of very dense stollen. Still tastes okay, but I won't be giving it as gifts as I'd planned.
My parents were here for coffee this morning and sampled some. My mother and I had already discussed the flaws and the reasons behind them. My father and Bill came into the room a bit later, and my father said, approvingly, that it wasn't overly sweet.
I remarked to my mother that it wasn't overly airy either. We laughed.
I am glad I can laugh about this. There was a time (probably last weekend) that I would have taken this way too seriously, pulled my hair out and torn my clothes over it.... So if I have evolved in no other way, at least I take myself a teeny bit less seriously than I once did.
Gotta go finish the glazing of the lebkuchen....they turned out fine, at least.