Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bubbles

Bubbles
"Life is mostly froth and bubble;/Two things stand like stone:/Kindness in another’s trouble, /Courage in our own." -- Adam Lindsay Gordon
Every time Jack walks past my kitchen sink he stops, points up and says “Bubbles.” This began one time when I was carrying him and on a whim skimmed off a handful of soap suds and blew into the mound. As the bits of bubbles scattered, he giggled. Jack’s laughter sounds like bubbles of joy—genuine and full of delight. So, being sensible people, we try to make him laugh whenever we can.
Recently Joe and Andrea went out for the afternoon and left Joey and Jack with us – the delighted grandparents. The usual “bubble” laughter developed into Joey and Jack playing at the sink. They quickly became soaked, so while their clothes were in the dryer, we let the boys get even more wet. Much fun and hilarity ensued.
Now when Jack toddles past the sink, points and says “Bubbles, his expectations are much higher. This week we went outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. Joey wanted to hunt “guanas” by which he means “iguanas” or more accurately the little blue-striped skinks that scamper around the perimeter of my house. We started by searching under the flower pots. Joey looks at the dark, wet patch beneath, “Just centipedes there.” While Jack points and says, “bee,” his word for bugs, specifically ants which in his quiet, quick way he is good at catching. If we found a worm one of the boys picked this up and put it in the plastic container into which we hoped to house a “guana.”
Next we looked under rocks. Jack can say rock and he likes to lay his hand on each one while saying “hot.” Sometimes they are hot from the sun and this he remembers from other hunts in the back yard. Under the rocks we find mainly worms and soon our plastic container has lots of squirming worms, plant leaves, sticks and flowers, both of which Jack can also proudly name.
Over by the steps to the basement stand 3 flagstone steps. I lift one of these up and Joey shouts, “guana!” Jack says “fish,” as my hand shoots out to catch it. I manage to cover it with my hand and after several tries, pick it up and drop it into Joey’s hand. “Fish,” Jack says laughing.
A friend recently worried aloud that she might not have enough funds to buy her grandchildren everything she had in her imaginative mind to give them. It is fun to buy children and grandchildren delightful things, it is a blessing that the Lord provides for our needs. But we make our children and grandchildren rich by spending time with them. At the high school where I teach, one of the seniors was given the privilege of speaking to the student body at chapel. He’s an exceptional person, rich in talent. He described the way that he and his grandfather used to “play” the piano. The grandfather challenged the child, who is now a brilliant pianist, “to make a sound like rain.” One can imagine the hours of creative play; coins plinking in a child’s piggy bank.
My husband remembers that his father came to nearly every baseball and football practice and every game he played as a child and teenager. Though sometimes the “constructive criticism” was hard for my husband to bear without resentment, in the end he gained much. By being there, his father showed him how to live – showed him the value of commitment, of discipline. This gift from his father helped to make my husband both generous and confident. Someone was standing behind him, beside him, someone wiser and genuinely interested, someone who chose to spend time with him rather than any of the other distractions available.
I have some things from my mother that I cherish, but the riches she gave me are these: she taught me to see color, to watch nature and love it, to garden, to sew. She taught me to see, love and create beauty. These skills have made my life rich. I inherited no cash, no single item from my grandparents, but they taught me to cook. My grandmother taught me the skills – the delicate hand needed for handling pastry, the instinct for blending flavors, the ability to stand for hours cooking, cleaning up. My grandfather remembered every meal he ate and described them each with mouth-watering detail – “milk so rich it was flecked with butter… the freshest, red tomato sprinkled with crunchy salt… biscuits so high and hot they looked like volcanoes…” so vivid as to awaken a growling hunger within. He indulged my sisters and me with appreciation, giving us confidence. We would mix peanut butter, syrup, spices and who knows what in a big metal bowl and Grandpa would taste it, close his eyes and sigh. “Did you put vanilla in that, girls? Ummmm.” Every dessert tastes better with a bit of vanilla; this I believe deep in my soul.
Now this week, Joey, Jack and I embellished our lizard’s plastic container with some water, some pebbles, some dirt and lots more flowers and leaves. The lizard looks tinier, its black body slick and blue-striped. The boys are careful with it and when Andrea comes to retrieve them, Jack says “fish” pointing and Joey announces, “I’m going to borrow this ‘guana’ from Grannie’s house.” Andrea admires the lizard and the little temporary home the boys have created for it. But then she reminds them of something they’ve been reading about animal habitats. Won’t the lizard die if taken away from his natural habitat? Joey remembers this concept, nodding his head with a wise understanding that belies his three years. “You let the ‘guana’ out the back door, Grannie,” he tells me, “when Jack and I go home.” I agree to this and suggest that we can look for it the next time they visit. This is a bright and cheerful prospect to all three of us and once again, Jack happily says, “fish.”
Their next visit was spent searching for that “guana.” It had rained; the air felt cold, the grass wet and after looking all over the yard twice, we concluded that the lizard must be still sleeping or waiting for the sun to come out. Inside we trooped, the boys’ hands muddy; Jack has dirt in his hair, Joey a smudge of something along the side of his cheek.
So, we made bubbles in the sink! I set the lovely old kitchen chairs from my mother’s kitchen “toe to toe” so that neither boy could fall off the side. Valerie made them laugh and giggle and shriek with delight by cupping soapy hands and blowing enormous, trembling bubbles. Joey used my sponge as a raft for the plastic people and soldiers. Then Jack needed a sponge raft so he could make his Gi-Joe’s go “ni-night” as he says, kissing each one and lying him down on the sponge that’s floating through the bubbly lake in my sink. What a lovely way to take a nap, I muse, watching the Gi-Joes snooze as Jack repeats lots of his words – “Jo-Joe, ni-night, bubbles.” I understand that he is describing the scene to me and feel that he’s said it all. And by the end of the morning, not only were the boys and their toys clean, but my kitchen floor had been provided with a much needed wash.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Eggs Goldenrod


Eggs Goldenrod
"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."- J.R.R. Tolkien
If you are wondering what to do with all those hard-boiled eggs you dyed for Easter, try making Eggs Goldenrod for dinner, lunch or even breakfast. Here’s there recipe:
The eggs should be room temperature, but if they’re not, put them in a bowl of warm water.
Make a white sauce:
¼ Cup butter
¼ Cup flour
1 to 1 ¼ Cup milk
1. Melt the butter in a medium sized sauce pan. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook this until it is bubbly. Add salt and white pepper (just a little of both). Cook the mixture, stirring often. Slowly add the milk, ¼ Cup at a time, whisking the mixture so lumps do not form. Let the mixture cook and thicken between additions.
2. Take six eggs from your stash of eggs and cut each one in half. Put the yolks in a separate bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chop the egg whites so that they are in little tiny pieces – about the size of… little tiny pieces.
3. When the white sauce is smooth and all the milk has been added, add the egg whites. Cook only to heat them. In the meantime, use a fork to crumble up the egg yolks in the bowl. They should look like the bloom of goldenrod flowers.
4. Recover with plastic wrap and heat these for 40 seconds in the microwave.
5. To serve, prepare toast slices, or use slices of leftover ham or both. Spoon the white sauce with the egg whites over the toast or ham or both and sprinkle the crumbled egg yolks on top. Serve at once.

It’s yummy and different and a great alternative to egg salad, though you probably have enough eggs left over to make both. Enjoy!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Eating Together: Lemon Chicken with Croutons


"This night I hold an old accustomed feast,/ Whereto I have invited many a guest, /Such as I love; and you among the store,/ One more, most welcome, makes my number more."


If you are wondering what to cook for Easter dinner – or for any Spring meal, consider this recipe for Lemon Chicken with Croutons from Ina Garten’s cookbook: Barefoot in Paris. It is absolutely the most tender and fragrantly delicious chicken I’ve ever eaten! I’ve added a few tips to the original recipe.
1 (4-5 pound) roasting chicken -- you may use a Perdue Oven Stuffer, but they require a longer cook time
1 large yellow onion sliced (it is important to get a yellow onion as they are sweeter)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, quartered, seeds discarded
6 cups ¾ inch bread cubes made from 1 baguette or plain white loaf
An hour before cooking begins: Take the chicken from the package, discard the giblets, etc. and rinse the chicken inside and out under cold tap water. Put it in a large pot or bowl and cover with cold, fresh water. Add 2 tablespoons of salt. Let the chicken soak for 30 to 60 minutes. This technique rids the chicken of the sometimes “bloody” flavor and makes the meat instead firm and flavorful. You will be amazed at the difference!
Preheat oven to 425 degrees -- notice how hot! A hot oven quickly sears the outside of the chicken and seals in all the juices!
Toss the onion with a little olive oil in a small roasting pan. Place the chicken on top and sprinkle the inside with pepper. Place the quartered lemons inside the chicken cavity. You may have to cram them in, but you can let one or two quarters rest on the bed of onions. Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast for 1 ¼ or 1 ½ hours or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. You will notice that the onions have browned to a nice dark color. They have carmelized and some may even be a little burnt. This is okay as it creates the flavor in the pan drippings. You will smell the fragrance of the onions and lemons mixing. Let the chicken sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.
While the chicken rests, make the croutons. Don’t skip this part because, honestly, you’ve never tasted anything this delicious. Just wait until you try it! It will change your life! Cut the bread into cubes. Heat a large sauté pan with 3 T olive oil. You will know it is ready when you see waves of heat in the oil. Add the bread cubes and brown them. Keep the heat fairly high and watch the cubes as they burn easily. Your goal is to brown them on as many sides as you can. This requires the addition of more olive oil and it is a hot, intense job well worth the effort! As the bread cubes are cooking, sprinkle on kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. As they brown, move the cubes to a platter. When all the cubes are brown, slice the chicken and place it on top of the croutons. Pour the pan juices over all, including the onions. I usually place the lemons on the side also, just for beauty. Serve extra pan juices in a gravy boat or separate bowl.
The combination of chicken flavoring, roasted onions, the juice from the roasted lemons soaks into the croutons and makes the most amazing crunchy accompaniment to the tender, steaming chicken. Thanks to my sister Stefanie for recommending this recipe. It is now a family favorite. Enjoy!