Susan’s bathing suited butt went screaming down the driveway with a rooster taking flight behind her. Her speed was impressive. Honestly, I didn’t know she had it in her. My 11-year-old sinister sister-self did not really feel badly for my sister. I was more worried about the tale that she would tell at the dinner table that would more securely seal the fate of my rooster, Charlie. He was an innocent and I was his protector. No matter how much I reasoned with him and his brother they continued to chase and scare the family, guests, everyone – except for me. Continue reading
This summer was different from those in the recent past. I think a couple factors let me categorize this as one of the best ever. First, I am not pregnant and I am not the mother of a baby or a toddler. This very significant fact is bittersweet. Time. It doesn’t stop. Everybody keeps growing bigger and I just picked up my niece who is now a freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She was the flower girl at our wedding!! For the past 11 summers, I have been either pregnant, nursing or the mother of a baby or a toddler. Continue reading
Almost one year ago –
Ella steps to the corner of the mat. Her coach is with her whispering a few last minute bits of advice before the announcer calls her name. She is about to execute her first routine in her first gymnastics meet. The butterflies in my belly morph into the winged monkeys from oz. Darren and the kids stayed at home due to the fact that we had to drive an hour and a half to attend and also due to Liam’s inability to sit for the duration. I chat with a few other parents and text with Darren and Kelsey to express my pent up emotion. I am scared for her. She expressly let me know that she did not want to compete and she only wanted to do gymnastics for fun. She had made the team in the spring and it turns out that if you are going to practice with the team you have to compete with the team in at least one meet. She stands at the edge of the floor ready to fulfill her duty as a team member. I am already proud of her for sticking with it and doing something so far out of her comfort zone. At this point in her life it is common for Ella to say “no” to something new or different or risky. If she cannot predict the outcome with a 95% certainty factor the answer is no thank you. Today, because of her love of gymnastics she is doing something scary and uncomfortable without complaint.
My only wish for Ella as she stands at the edge of the mat is for her to feel good at the end of it. My greatest fear is that if she felt she did poorly, it will be a set back in the other things in life that require courage to put herself out there and take a risk. I want so much for her to grab onto her days and the opportunities that come her way and know that sometimes we win and sometimes we lose and that’s okay because it’s all about being richer for the experience.
She salutes the judges and the walks out to wait for the music. I have not yet seen her do the routine all the way through so I am curious and terrified. She completes some choreographed dance elements and some strength elements. I am a first time gymnastics mom and I have no idea of the routine or for what skills the judges are looking so based on my in-depth knowledge as her mother I would have to say that she did great. She pauses and collects herself for the tumble. I want to scream. “GO ELLA YOU GOT THIS!!” but I refrain and sit there motionless and wordless. She has only landed her round off back hand spring three weeks ago for the first time and then we went on a week-long vacation with absolutely no gym practice. She runs and tumbles and BAM she sticks the landing. She completes the routine and it was beautiful and I hope that she is as happy as I am, but I won’t know because I can’t talk to her until the end of the meet. This is a good thing because I want to say way too much and now I have time to counsel myself into saying very little and letting her do the talking if that is what she wants.
After floor comes bars, then beam then vault. She falls off the beam and can’t get some move on the bar that seems to be important. Her vault is decent. At the end of a very long evening we reunite and make our way to the car. I resist every urge to say too much and simply tell her that she did such a great job and ask her if it was fun. “It was so fun, Mom.” Her usual modus operandi is to not offer up details. I get a lot of one word answers to my probing questions – good, yes, no, not really. Instead of asking her questions, I say nothing listening to my inner counselor who is working overtime. She talks about her routines and emotions and the good and the bad and next time she will do this differently and so on. Next time? Then she says, “You know what, Mom? I am going to stop saying that I don’t want to do things before trying them because that was so completely awesome and I said I didn’t want to do it. And like the hay ride that I said I didn’t want to do when we were in Philly, I ended up doing it and that was awesome too.
I almost cry, but I don’t. I say, “That is really great, honey. I am so happy that you were able to figure that out. I bet it feels so good.” The rest of the way my motherly heart sings with admiration for my oldest daughter and for myself. She is not only growing up, but she is growing up great. She is learning about testing her limits and that awesomeness can come from moving away from her comfortable sure thing into scary and not so comfortable. I know now that she is going to learn this with or without me or maybe even in spite of me. As for me I, I finally shut my mouth and listened. I have a moment of – DUH – why had I not started listening a long time ago. I guess I never really realized I wasn’t listening. I move away from the inner self flogging and enjoy the moment in the car alone with my girl. I had not asked her what she learned or told her what she should take away from her experience. I had let her have her experience and learn from it. I realize how much more valuable this moment was without my voice. We are learning together and this simple fact inspires me to be better – and to listen.
It’s another milestone in my quest to learn more about growing, making and preparing food. A couple of weeks ago, I tackled fresh dill pickles that do not require heating and sealing jars. These are simple enough so that Ella took the lead on this recipe. In addition to the quick refrigerator pickles, on Wednesday, I got together with the village and we canned pickles all morning. The whole canning thing was very intimidating for me perhaps because I did not grow up with it, but my virgin canning experience was actually quite easy most likely because I had some experienced teachers. It motivated me to get some more days on the calendar that will be dedicated to saving my little backyard harvest and beautiful finds at the farmers’ market, like amazing Colorado peaches.
- 2-3 pickling cucumbers or as many as you can fit in the jar
- 5 sprigs of fresh dill
- 2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
- 4 Tbsp white distilled vinegar
- 3/4 Tbsp kosher salt
- Water to top off
- 20 black peppercorns, optional
- Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- Jalapeño pepper sliced, optional (for more spice)
- Cut cucumbers to your preference (discs, spears, or sandwich slices) and add to the jar with all ingredients except the water. Once everything is in the jar, fill to the very top with distilled or filtered water and screw lid on very tightly. Shake the jar up to distribute flavors and leave on your countertop for 12 hours. Shake again and turn upside down for another 12 hours, making sure the lid is screwed on tightly to avoid leakage. These pickles are best to eat after 24 hours. Make sure to store in the refrigerator.
- Don't be afraid to experiment with amounts. The above is a guideline that you can adjust to your taste and desired spiciness.
If you have tons of cucumbers and want to enjoy your pickles for the year to come, it is time to can them. For all the newbies to canning like me with no mom or grandmother to reference you are going to need to buy or borrow a few important tools.
I link to Amazon for all the tools so you can get a quick look at cost and description. I want to stress that though I know how easy it is to order from Amazon, please SUPPORT your local shops when at all possible.
Here are some tips most of which I learned on Wednesday. I referenced the tips below from from the Old Farmer’s Almanac so that I would not miss anything:
- Produce must be fresh when pickled. Avoid using waxed supermarket produce.
- Select the most uniform, unspoiled produce.
- Scrub food well.
- Be sure to remove and discard 1/4–inch slice from the blossom end of fresh cucumbers. Blossoms may contain an enzyme that causes excessive softening of pickles.
- Use canning or pickling salt (not iodized table salt!). Pickling salt has no additives. Iodized salt makes the brine cloudy and may change the color and texture of the vegetables as well as possibly leave sediment at the bottom of the jars.
- For the best results, use white distilled or cider vinegars with 5 percent acidity. Use white vinegar when light color is desirable, as with fruits and cauliflower.
- For crisper pickles, put the vegetables (whole or sliced) into a wide bowl and spread a layer of pickling salt on top. Cover and let sit overnight in a cool place. Discard the liquid, then rinse and dry the vegetables before pickling or canning as usual. The salt helps to pull the moisture out of the vegetables and makes them crisper.
- Sterilize your empty jars. Do not use recycled commercial jars or old-style home-canning jars. They can break in the canning process.
- Use new jar lids for a tight seal. To avoid rust, screw bands should be removed from processed jars that are stored. They can be easily removed after the jars have cooled and sealed, and then reused.
- Always wipe the rim of the jar clean for a good seal after filling and just before putting the lid on.
- Process jars in a boiling-water canner for the correct amount of time (a canner is a large standard-size lidded kettle with a jar rack, designed for heat-processing 7 quart jars or 8 to 9 pint jars in boiling water).
- Label and date your jars and store them in a clean , cool, dark, dry place such as a pantry, cabinet, or basement. Don’t store in a warm spot!
- To allow pickles to mellow, wait at least 3 weeks before using.
My friend April put together a pickling spice that we used with the cucumbers. This recipe can be used in pickling different vegetables, not just pickles.
- 3 tbsp crushed bay leaves
- 3 tbsp fresh peppercorns
- 3 tbsp whole allspice
- 3 tbsp coriander seeds
- 3 tbsp mustard seeds
- 3 tbsp juniper berries
- 1 tbsp whole cloves
- 1 tbsp dill seed
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
- Combine all spices in jar and shake. Use anytime a mixed pickling spice is called for.
Once you have your desired pickling spice, you can start your pickling process.
- 4 pounds small cucumbers
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled, for each jar
- 1 fresh sprig of dill for each jar
- 1 tbsp of mixed pickling spice
- 2 quarts vinegar (apple cider or white distilled )
- 1/2 cup pickling salt
- Slice, spear or leave cucumbers whole. Pack cucumbers into sterilized jars along with the garlic cloves, dill sprig, and mixed pickling spice. In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the vinegar and salt and boil for 5 minutes. Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, leaving 1/4 inch of headroom. Wipe dry the rims of the jars, then cap each with a lid and screw band. Prepare a boiling water bath and process the jars in it for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the bath and set them on a towel on the counter. They will “seal” (you will hear a pop) during the cooling-off process. Place any jars that do not seal properly in the refrigerator and use first.
- See the pictures below.
Finally, since this canning experience was my first please do not hesitate to leave a comment of any suggestions that will make the above process better or just different methods that are also proven or preferred.
Happy harvest, friends!
Summer Family Adventure Part 2
It was on our way from Ruth’s to Jackson that we decided we would break up the trip and stop at Yellowstone Under Canvas. We were kind of skeptical about this whole set up, but also curious so we decided to give it a shot. It is essentially a camp of safari tents and teepees along the Madison River near West Yellowstone. The setting is magical and the only thing that would have made it better was if we were totally alone, but then we would not have benefited from the teepee bathroom with which it came. I have never been to Africa on safari, but I imagined that these accommodations might be similar and Earnest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro kept coming to mind.
It was a simple day of swimming in the river, playing board games, not a lot of sibling infighting and minimal whining. It was kind of like heaven really. Just us being a family without any outside stress to mess it up. No agenda, no plan, no schedule and it just worked. It topped off my cowgirl morning so perfectly that it was absolutely my most favorite day of summer 2014.
The kids tried to claim our bed upon arrival.
Rinsing off the river in the teepee shower.
I was kind of sad to leave this unique setting, but Jackson here we come.
The Tetons. I have been graced by their presence so many times, but they still take my breath away. I always imagine being a Native American living amongst the wildness of it all trying not to get eaten by a grizzly while fishing for my dinner. The peaks of the Tetons resemble a child like drawing of a mountain range very specific and annunciated among the rolling landscape. When they come into view they always remind me to focus on the big stuff and let the small stuff float away and while making me feel lucky that I get to be inspired by their beauty.
The Idaho side of the Tetons.
Our plan was to camp with Darren’s best bud from high school and his wife. The first night we spent in Grand Teton National Park. I could not figure out why people were not standing in line for these campsites. This was our view.
Morning at Camp in Grand Teton National Park. My big girl clearly needs a big girl chair. We used it not too long ago and it was not until this trip that it was clear she no longer fit in the little kid camp chair.
Buffalo in Grand Teton National Park.
Top of Rendezvous Mountain. We road the tram to the top.
The next two nights we spent at Teton-Bridger National Forrest. It was so lovely and off the beaten path.
Our lovely friends that put up with our family chaos and showed us the ropes.
Bacon on the Wilson Grill.
Our departure on a rainy morning. There is nothing more soggy than breaking down camp in the rain.
In my twentieth year I moved out west and, for the first time, paid my own rent and bought my own food. My roommate made me add steamed broccoli to my mac n’ cheese being that we were so poor and our nutrition was limited. I loved it and realized that if I could eat broccoli, I might be able to love lots of other foods that I would regularly reject. As a kid, our mother was super busy with six kids and did not enjoy cooking, which resulted in most of us kids having a very limited diet. After I got married, I started a garden, but if the cooking was elaborate Darren would step up to the challenge in our house. I loved the act of growing our own food when possible and that drove me to learn more about making food. Even now, I am a newbie at growing, cooking and preparing food, but I am determined to learn and pass on some helpful skills to my kids.
Thank goodness for my village. Once a week, through the late summer and fall, we get together to cook, learn from each other and try new things. This week my friend Kate took the lead in sharing her Frozen Fresh Peach Pie recipe. The western slope of Colorado grows amazing peaches. They start showing up at the farmers’ market in early August. Kate is originally from Missouri where pie is held in high esteem. She first made us a frozen fresh peach pie right before the Colorado peaches were in season. We were hooked and decided we all needed to have a taste of summer in the dead of winter.
The goal is to freeze these the fresh peach pie filling in a pie plate and have them ready to fill freshly made dough.
This is super easy. You will just have to perfect your crust for the perfect pie.
Serving size: One pie (Pictures are multiple servings. We froze 19 pies!)
1 quart peeled, pitted and sliced – roughly 4-5 large peaches
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Bring large pot of boiling water to a boil. Score your peaches on round side and boil for 30 – 45 seconds. Cool in a bowl of ice water for a minute or so. Work the skin off the peaches with your hands. It should come off easily.
In a large bowl, cover the peach slices with the sugar and let them rest for about 30 minutes to develop juices. Add the flour and salt and mix well, making sure the peaches are well coated.
Line a pie plate with overlapping plastic wrap. The lining should extend five inches or so over the edge. Place the filling in the pie plate and loosely fold wrapping around the pie filling. Freeze until firm. When filling is frozen solid, remove from pan and wrap tightly with aluminum foil and/or freezer bags. Return to freezer until ready to use.
On pie baking day, simply pop the frozen pie filling into a pastry-lined pan, dot with the butter, and if you choose, sprinkle cinnamon over the top. Top pie with remaining pastry crust and seal well. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until juices begin to bubble through the crust. If you feel the pie is browning too fast, lower temperature to suit your oven, possibly to between 350 degrees and 375 degrees.
The above was the easy part. On baking day the challenge is to get the perfect pie crust. I use an all butter recipe from SmittenKitchen and Kate uses this recipe from Barefoot Contessa. She substituted the vegetable shortening in this recipe with real lard. Yes, lard. and instead of using a food processor she grated the butter and lard into the flour mixture. It was amazing.
Kate baked us a fresh pie so that we could taste the fruits of our labor.
Summer Road Trip Part 1
There is something about Montana. The sky just feels bigger and that is saying something because I am from Colorado, which boasts a pretty huge sky. We finally reached I-90 and headed west towards my dear friend Ruth. She has been my friend since I was sixteen. Back then we both lived in Chester County, PA. She shared with me her wisdom of the world and I babysat her son. We have both managed to move west, a little farther apart than I would like, but still only a days drive. She lives on a ranch in Southwest Montana, a magical place that is alive with a love of the land, the critters that call it home and the energy of Ruth who, at almost 70, can still maneuver a pasture gate from the seat of her horse. We have not seen each other in a few years and for several months Darren and I have been talking about laying eyes on her. So we made it happen.
Reuniting with old friends is one of the greatest things in life I think. It’s a reminder that there are few things more valuable than a friend who loves you through the years and life’s changes. Geography makes no difference and you can pick up right where you left off with a little catch up and fill in the blanks while on the back of a horse or over wine on the porch. We did just that. She got to know my kids again (3 years older) and I got filled in on all the beautiful people in her life. We spent 2.5 days chillin’, making meals, grooming horses, riding horses, collecting eggs, playing with Bull and Crew and swimming and fishing in the river. And in the last hour of our visit something totally perfect happened…
…the cows got out. Three babes escaped the fence line.
As I packed our bags to load in the car, I heard Ruth yelling to get the horses ready. Now I know they did not need me for this little round up, but they indulged me nonetheless. I was in shorts and flip flops ready to jump into the car for part two of our summer family adventure, when Ruth yelled, “Leenie, get on your jeans. You’re gettin on a horse!” Darren was busy getting things ready to hook up the camper and said, “Go have fun, I will take care of this.” Oh how I love him.
I arrived in the barn smartly dressed in my running shoes and skinny jeans (FYI to non horse people – not the perfect outfit for herding cows) and Ruth handed me her personal cowgirl hat and her horse ready to go. Tami, Ruth’s friend and right hand, guided me out to round up the three little cows that were going to top off what had been an already fantastic visit with a little dream come true for me. You see, I spent most of my childhood on the backs of horses. I have managed to experience a lot but never moving cattle and never in Montana. There I was atop a skilled cow horse, complete with appropriate hat (which distracted from my sneakers) in Montana rounding up cows.
Darren chased me with the camera and I was beginning to wonder if Ruth, always being an exceptional host, had let the cows out for my benefit and photo op. I didn’t really care though as I cantered down the field to heard these babies because you have to start somewhere.
As we latched the gate behind the happy babies whose mothers stopped whining, Ruth smiled knowing that those few minutes on the back of her horse taking instruction from Tami where a total thrill for me.
It could not have been a better ending to my reunion with my dear friend. We left each other knowing that now that the kids were bigger the time between visits would be shorter. Darren and I both drove away vowing that, when seventy, we would have Ruth’s same energy and love of life. xo