Hello Dolly

Without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to our new girl…

Hello Dolly

… Dolly.

After a week, this is the best picture I’ve gotten of our little white floppy-eared scaredy-cat dog. Along with staircases, doors, and vacuum cleaners, she doesn’t like the big black camera. at. all. But I think there might be a smidgeon of hope, since she’s finally made eye contact with the thing. There are times when I am so very happy for fast shutter speeds!

Dolly Gettin Lovin

We’ve spent a great deal of time on the floor this week, giving belly rubs, scratching ears, sharing secrets, and cuddling and lovin’ and all that fun stuff you do when getting to know a new family member. It’s so interesting comparing her arrival into the house with that of Barclay’s; what a difference kids can make. I thought the four of them might actually make Dolly’s transition a bit overwhelming, but it’s been quite the opposite of my expectation.

Mutual Adoration Society

She adores them, and they her.

We’ve explained to the kids so many times how to slowly and gently approach her, how not to reach over her head or make eye contact or rush at her with open arms while yelling loudly. Wasted breath, every last bit of it. As we’ve removed over-zealous children from the object of their well-intended affection, not only do we get sad eyes from the kids, but Dolly makes reproachful glances our way as she runs right back into their arms for more.

The transition has been so much easier than we could have anticipated. Ten minutes to learn to sit; a sit-stay half way there with three more sessions. She has already applied the sit to the big ole waggy-jumpy hero’s welcome home, all on her own accord without a command when she realized it was the quickest way to get our attention, and has been doing it consistently for the past three days. You could have knocked me over with a feather the first time she did it.

Big Scary Camera

Her rescue name was Dahlia. She was found on the side of a highway beside her sister who had been hit by a car. Her sister eventually had to have her leg amputated, but a home was found for the new tri-pawed very quickly. Our girl waited a few weeks for us to find her. We were going to call her June Carter Cash—Junie for short—as our good dear friends have just adopted an all black Great Dane named Johnny Cash, but it just didn’t stick. Dolly fits—it doesn’t hurt that her namesake musical is a particular seven year old’s favorite—so Dolly it is.

Dolly_Dear

So… Hello Dolly… It’s so nice to have you here where you belong.

Why I Shouldn’t Bake

I, my dear folk, am not a baker.

I have been trying to convince friends and family members for many years that baking is something other people should do but not a skill to which I should invest any further energy. I can cook up a storm, and if it’s going to take a week for certain recipes (heck, I’ll even go a few months if I’m pickling!)… Sure! Sign me up. But I’ve been beaten so many times when attempting to bake, that I’ve finally realized it’s beyond me. I think it’s a good thing to know your limits.

Take for instance, an example of an early attempt to bake a boxed cake. It turns out that 2/3 cup of water does not mean “between two and three cups.” Or the time I added a floral scented trash can deodorizer to a batter instead of baking soda. And I wouldn’t want to overlook how many times I’ve forgotten ingredients: Butter is one that’s often left out, but I’ve also missed the blueberries in muffins, apples in an apple cake, or the baking soda, baking powder, and sometimes, both. It’s just not my thing folks.

But I have kids, and they like baked goods. And even though I much prefer pickles, I get a hankering for something sweet every now and then as well. And now that the kids and I are back to our daily afternoon tea, it’s nice to have a home baked bit of goodness instead of the cardboard cookies that come out of a box.

I decided to hunker down and hurdle my baking shortcomings, and ran to the pantry to grab a few ingredients to make a clafoutis, one of our all-time favorite desserts. It’s a cross between a cake, a custard, and a pancake with fruit. It is really super easy to thrown together, and the results are nearly always stunning.

Clafoutis Mise

So I set the oven to preheat, prepared my pan with melted butter, arranged my prune plums in a beautiful pattern, mixed the ingredients for the batter, poured it in slowly so as not to disturb the fruit, then placed it in the oven ever-so-gently. After I closed the door, I realized I was looking at a bowl full of melted butter that never made it to the batter. Here’s what a clafoutis looks like right as your begin mixing in the butter while letting all the heat out of the oven.

Forgotten Butter

Right. Fun times.

Of course, and hour later when I came down to take it out to set, I realized that when I mixed the butter in the batter, I also shut off the oven. So back it went with the oven turned back to the proper temperature, and off I went to grab the second grader at school while our lovely teenaged sitter watched the little ones. When I walked back into the smoke filled house (eek!), I ran into the kitchen and threw open the door, realizing through the thick smoke that poured out the the toddler has figured out how to turn the oven dials.

And I know you might not believe me, but I took that clafoutis out of the oven, put it on a rack to rest and chill, and that doggone thing was baked perfectly and tasted lovely. Sure wish I would’ve gotten a picture, but it didn’t last long…

I think I’ll stick to steak.

Barking Mad

I’m not sure about you, but I am so thankful that it is Friday. This week was rough.

Barclay Dog

Three years ago this month we moved to the New England coast. We took with us three children (found another while we were here and now there’s four) and our first baby… our sable and white Border Collie, Barclay, who was seven years old then, and is now ten.

Although we all miss home, Barclay has probably had it the hardest since we’ve moved. He has been infected with Lyme disease three times now; we’ve never been able to properly vaccinate him because his levels have never gotten low enough. This past June, he began acting sick again, and even though we had him to the vet the Friday before, that Monday morning he wasn’t able to get to his feet at all. I was devastated. Somehow, I managed to get him downstairs and into the car and to the vet. It was a few hours later we discovered that the Lyme had infected his kidneys, which is rare, and caused them to begin to fail. He stayed at the vet’s for a week, and we thought several times that he was going to have to be put down, but then he would make a miraculous leap forward; a pattern that repeated itself several times over his stay. Incredibly, we were finally able to take him home, where it took at least another two weeks before we felt he was out of the woods.

Any of you who have pets know that “pet” is actually a misnomer; it can not possibly describe the relationship that develops with these creatures. Barclay Dog was our first dependent, our first foray into the world of shared responsibility of a life separate from our own yet belonging to us. He was the only dog at the shelter who wouldn’t come running up to the front of his kennel when someone new stopped by; he was too overwhelmed with all the noise, which explains why this beautiful thing was passed over by so many other families. But get him out and on the leash… he was a whole other creature. Easy to train and eager to please, he had the intellect of a Border Collie, but the calm demeanor of a Great Dane, the greatest couch potato you could imagine. We named him ironically, as we didn’t hear him bark for the first few months we brought him home (rest assured, he has been making up for that lost time ever since).  He is a Border Collie that needs little exercise and will often flip onto his back at the end of our driveway in order to avoid a walk. I would like to say that he is so sweet that he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but the truth is they have always been his worst enemy and he has spent much time in these past years doing his part to decrease the world house fly population. That being said, he is incredibly gentle, and has never shown any agression once to any of our kids. Not once. Nothing but ever-bearing patience to ear pulls and teeth pokes and eye jabs and the occasional pony ride. When it becomes too much, he waits until the kids climb off of him, then slowly rises and walks to the other side of me, still as close as possible to all of us.  He is, in the truest sense, the perfect family dog.

That’s why it was so surprising this week that while our three year old was rubbing his belly he quickly turned, snapped, and bit her.

It wasn’t a bad bite—it barely broke the surface of her skin—but it was sudden and seemingly unprovoked and scared us all. I had noticed that he was spending more time by himself, and was going outside more frequently, but he was still eating, so I didn’t rush to the vet’s. This time, as I drove him to the doctor, I realized that his kidney failure had probably fallen off the edge, and that it was time to make the difficult decision that eventually has to be made. Our beloved vet who was also quite surprised by Barclay’s reaction wanted to check him over as well as run his blood labs, but she shared my fear and suspicion. Dogs with kidney failure do not seem to thrive long after their diagnosis and it seemed that the writing was on the wall.

So imagine our great surprise when once again, Barclay defied the odds, and not only is his kidney function no worse than in June, but it is clear from the labs that he was suffering from a rather nasty UTI. Not only is it easily treated with antibiotics, but it would cause of great deal of soreness and pain on his belly, that was accidentally agitated by our three year old. A few days of the antibiotics, and a few days of rest, and he should be fine.

Relief, sweet relief!

Over the summer, when we realized that Barclay’s time with us was going to be limited, we decided that it might help ease the transition if we had another dog. We’ve always liked having two dogs, and had adopted two older dogs (a black lab that was with us for a year, and Mom’s Westie—Katie—for two years, which was still her dog but stayed with us while she and my stepdad worked all over the US) but the past three years and all the transitions and adjustments have made it difficult to invite another dog to come stay with us. Now that we’ve been in our home for a year, the timing seemed right.

So even though we have four _little_ kids, a senior dog whose health is on the verge, and all the time constraints and responsibilities that come with it all, we went ahead and executed the plan to bring home another family member.

Leash n Things

Tomorrow morning, as mad as it all sounds, we will meet, greet, treat, and bring home our new girl from her rescue foster family.

We couldn’t be more excited!

As a post note, I wanted to mention that of course we also realize that we will need to be extra vigilant with Barclay when he begins to show signs of illness. As I said before, we had noticed he was off by himself more frequently as well as drinking more with many additional visits outside. Next time we have a whiff of something off, then we will immediately schedule some time with our vet. And I’m afraid that any more signs of aggression will force our hand earlier than we would hope. We have too many small children to take any chances.

I’ve Been Painting

Painting Pretty

But it hasn’t been going well.

Play Well Together

I don’t often get my color choices wrong, but when I do, ugh, it takes a while to figure out and fix. There was too much yellow in that first green. Off to the store to try a few more, but this time in sample size instead of a gallon.

I had some pictures of how it looked on the wall, all those ugly big green splotches, and it all made me sad. I like to paint, I seem to be addicted to color, and I don’t like it when the colors aren’t working. But when I started to crop them down to see if I coud get better color correction and work out some white balance issues, they started looking a little bit like pieces of abstract art.

Third Try Frame

I like these much better.

First Third Try

Too bad they’ll all be gone soon.

Abstract 1

Or maybe, not so bad.

Abstract 3

I feel like some sort of project might be in line with these images… we’ll have to see.

Abstract 4

Yes, in fact, this is yet another disaster.

Fiery and Frivolous

A few days ago I wrote a small blurb about my Fall craving for Gabrielle of Design Mom. It involves lipstick. If you’re here because of that post, welcome! Glad you stopped by and hope you’ll stick around a bit to see what happens next.

I should be up front about a few things, before I get started. I really did crave red lipstick. I did buy a tube. And I have been wearing it almost constantly since that weekend purchase. But the truth is, I am not a pro at this and I own very little make-up… very little. As a matter of fact, almost all of my make up fits into one 8oz glass that I use to store it.

My Make-Up Cup

That would be, one Lorac liquid eyeliner, one Stila (?) brow filler, one Urban Decay eyeshadow, one Maybelline mascara, one tube of MAC lipstick, and one extra cartridge of Lancome eye shadows. There are two more tubes of lipstick somewhere in the bathroom, or maybe my purse, or possibly my make-up bag that I use to store useful travel items like, deodorant, hair elastics for the kids, an ear thermometer for the kids, barrettes for the kids, children’s tylenol… you get the picture.

Here’s the other thing I should tell you. I despise having my picture taken. Detest it. Leaves-me-foaming-at-the-mouth type of wrath. But… but… But I’m trying to be better about it because I have kids, and I’m sad when I look back at all the pictures and find none of the kids and me together. Sure, there are tons with Daddy, and Grammy, and Nanna, and Oma, and Opa, Pappy, and PopPop… even a bunch with the Aunt and Uncles. But only a handful of myself. And how should I explain this to my kids when they get older? That I wasn’t comfortable having my picture taken because I was self-conscious? That I was afraid of living up or comparing myself to an unobtainable standard of beauty? That being myself wasn’t enough? If I want my kids to live a life free from unworthy anxiety and expectations, shouldn’t I lead by example?

This is a brief explanation as to why you’re going to see a whole lot of images of me below. Don’t worry, it’s unlikely to happen again anytime soon. But I’m practicing and trying to be resolute about living a life free from unworthy anxiety.

So back to that tube of lipstick…

Russian Red Lipstick by MAC

It’s fiery. And frivolous. And just the ticket to get break up those humdrum days of yoga pants and school routines. I’m particular about my reds. They have to be fire engine-y red, not pink or magenta. I need an orange or brown base because of my olive complection. And I do not like sticky lipstick, as anyone who lived in a windy place with long hair would understand. This tube is worth every penny I paid, and even though I know the hubby will wince to know this, I would gladly have paid twice as much. It’s the right shade, it’s beautifully saturated, it’s light as air on my lips, and man alive! Does it wear well. I apply it once in the morning, once after lunch, and then maybe one more time during the day. That’s amazing!

Plain Jane Mug

The Early Morning Mom Stare

And it let’s me go from this (pre-morning-coffee-how-the-hell-do-I-take-self-portraits-in-the-mirror-shot… please be kind!)…

To this…

Pucker Up

and with a touch of eyeliner and a smidge of brow filler…

My Serious Face

I start to look like I mean business!

Then I do this…

Red Lipstick Slapstick

I Am Surprised Here

Kewl Kid Hair Twirl

… so everyone knows not to take me too seriously.

And just in case you think I walk around looking all glamourous all the time with my fancy red lipstick and my pinky in the air, I bring you me. Holding a squash. A very, very long squash.

Lipstick and Squash

It was difficult to wash in the sink without making a mess or feeling a bit, erm, dirty. And I don’t mean in the soil kind of way.

Russian Red lipstick by MAC. Just the kick in the yoga pants you need to feel less blah and more glam, even when holding a ridiculous (but fabulously yummy) squash.

Pick a Peck of Pickles

Four weeks ago, I ran into the farmer’s market and grabbed a whole lot of pickling cucumbers. I had a fresh cukes, some dill, garlic, salt, and most importantly, a gorgeous crock.

Crock

A few years ago I tried a recipe for crock pickles that used cider vinegar. After carefully tending to them for a five or six weeks, we were all giddy with anticipation… and sorely disappointed. They were terrible. The cider vinegar seemed all wrong, harsh, even bitter. So I was a teeny bit trepidatious when setting up my lacto ferment with the baby cukes this time around.

Garlic

Have you heard of half sour pickles? You might know them as barrel dills or deli style pickles. They aren’t actually “pickled” per se, but are fermented. The cukes, other flavoring ingredients (peppercorns, garlic, and dill head), and grape leaves (the tannins help retain crispness) are placed in a water tight container, covered with a salt solution which prevents bacterial growth that will lead to spoilage, and allowed to ferment with the naturally occurring lactobaccili, which turns the vegetable flesh into a tangy, slightly salty treat. It is the same method used to produce sauerkraut.

Pickles Under Glass

Here you can see the cukes are contained under a glass pie plate and a glass jar filled with the brine solution. You can use food-grade plastics, but glass is non-reactive and  leaves me with no worries that anything may be leaching into my brine. Of course, you have to be super careful with glass; if it should break into your crock, well, you’ll have to throw the entire batch out.

Pickles All Wrapped Up

I check on them almost daily, or at least every three or four days. There is some surface mold to deal with, but otherwise they are pretty low maintenance. You just have to make sure the cucumbers stay under the brine (air is the enemy of lacto ferments!). Finally, after four or five weeks, mine are ready. This week, I have to place them in clean jars with new brine, give a bunch away to neighbors, and place what’s left in the fridge.

I might add that these pickles, along with a nice cold beer, make an excellent dinner! For me anyway… the kids get cereal… and milk.

Worth Waiting For

Home Cured Apricot Lox

Last week all six of us came down with a virus which kept our 5 year old out of his first two days of school and our 7 year old home early on a Friday. I know, I know… the number of viruses that run through our home is not really news worthy. I’ve gotta tell you, I’m sick of being sick. I need our immune systems to step up a bit. I’ve got stuff to do… you know, like write a few blog posts. My mom gets antsy if I don’t get a few posts up a week.

Last week my husband brought home a gorgeous side of king salmon. And even though I felt like death warmed over, I dragged myself downstairs to trim it up, remove the pin bones, and set it in a apricot, fennel, Pernod cure. This weekend we absolutely devoured it. De-VOURED. We couldn’t stop eating it.

The recipe isn’t mine, it’s from Sondra Bernstein’s book The Girl and The Fig, which incidentally, was one of my favorite restaurants in Sonoma. It’s pretty simple. Take some dried apricots, soak them in Pernod, grind them in the food processor with a few fennel fronds, add salt, sugar, and pink peppercorns, smother the filet with the paste, cover it in a clean tea towel or cheesecloth, put it under weight in the fridge and let it alone for a few days.

I have a few things to show you, so it should be a “post-ful.” Hopefully, Mom, it will be  worth the wait.

A Garden Dinner Disaster

A few short hours ago, the fam and I arrived back home safely from a quick trip back to Pennsylvania. Since I did all the driving, once we walked through the door and got the kids some cereal (they only get cereal for dinner when they’ve been really, really good!), Daddy was in charge while I got dinner together. And even though I considered grabbing us both a bowl and a spoon, after walking out back to check on the garden, I realized dinner was at my fingertips.

Garden Goods

Beets, cukes, chives, lemon balm, and thai basil, all ready for some dressing-up. I would like to take credit for the cherry tomatoes, but I can’t as those are from my father’s little backyard plot; my tomatoes aren’t quite ready yet. I am starting to wonder if I might have a case of late summer tomato blight, but I’m not sure that their current condition wasn’t brought about by an unfortunate lack of watering while we were gone. Oh dear.

Noodle Cukes

As I lovingly washed my veggies, then sliced into the cucumber, I thought I could whip up a Thai/Vietnamese summer noodle dish that would highlight the beet greens, herbs, and veg… it would also be quick and require little more stove time that boiling a pot of water. Done!

Nuoac Cham

So I grabbed the fish sauce, limes, garlic, sugar, and chili sauce (I’m plumb out of fresh chilies)…

Noodle Bowl

Soaked, rinsed, and distributed the noodles…

Noodle Finis

Juilenned, chiffonaded, and dressed the greens and herbs on top of the tomatoes and cukes, which were resting ever so gently above the rice noodles.

Doesn’t look so bad, right?

Soap for Dinner

It. Was. Terrible.

I mean awful. Ridiculously disgusting. Bitter, overpowering… soapy! Really… I swear it was like eating flakes of Ivory. So much time and energy and patience wasted while watching and tending to those little guys when I could have just plopped down a dollar at the pharmacy for a bar of soap. The sauce was delicious, but everything else was so over-the-top strong, that both my husband and I cut our losses and ran back to the kitchen for some noodles and cukes (after fishing out all of my dad’s tomatoes!).

Recovery Bowl

I have a feeling that tomorrow there will be a clean patch of dirt where I’ve stripped the earth of the offending romantic-garden-ideal-busting Ivory soap plant. Oh yes, Hell hath no fury like the woman frothing at the mouth from a sudsy leaf!