Saturday, September 29, 2018

Friday Family Fun: Party On, Wayne

Instead of a thrilling descent into a wild canyon or a long drive to the beach this Friday, we drove twenty miles to the park in the next village over for a birthday party. Cubby and Charlie were the ones who were technically invited, but of course we all went. It was at a park; it didn't matter.

They had a wonderful time. A bunch of kids had brought scooters, so there was much scootering on the basketball court. There were hot dogs and chips and lemonade and cupcakes. There were goody bags with a superhero theme. And of course, there was a pinata*. Pinatas are de rigueur--or whatever the Spanish equivalent of that would be--here for children's birthday parties. I have taken note of this for future parties for my own children, assuming I ever actually have one. Wouldn't want to let everyone down.

Our new house was on our way home, so we stopped there to let the kids run wild through the empty rooms. I remember doing this myself many times as a military child. It was always exciting.

Less exciting for the parents, I now know. A. and I spent the whole time wandering around talking about the possibility of installing a dishwasher and how to paint over tacky fake paneling.

Well, I talked about those things. A. mostly talked about how much space there was in the attached shop for his tools and where he could plant garlic.

We have different priorities.

I'm sure I'll talk more at length about the house in the coming weeks, but briefly, it's a 1970s single-wide trailer--heLLO, classy!--with a substantial addition to make it into an actual house. For the past fifteen years or so it has been lived in by an older man living on his own. To say the interior design is dated is being generous.

Now, I am not an interior design person. My eyes glaze over when people start talking about "spaces" and paint colors and accent walls or whatever. But even I, low as my standards are, take issue with this living room.

Even a cute baby in the middle of the floor can't make this room attractive.

The first order of business is going to be closing off that pass-through to the kitchen that Cubby and Charlie spent the whole time leaping off of. The guy who built the addition was a little obsessed with pass-throughs. This one is going to become a partial bookshelf. It can't be a full bookshelf because it would block all the heat that needs to get from the woodstove in the kitchen to the living room.

Jack was totally enamored of the old-school wall phone with extra-long cord. He spent the whole time talking on it (it is not connected), winding it around the baby--who kept crawling after him to grab the cord--and stretching it out to make an obstacle for Cubby and Charlie to jump over.

Wild times in the ugly living room.

Charlie was particularly disappointed that we couldn't just stay in the house from that moment on. Why, he asked me, can't we just move in now?

Why? Because Mommy has to paint over that paneling ASAP. Living with that would surely cause me irrevocable mental anguish. Luckily, our two big Oriental rugs will nicely cover up the hideous brown carpet. 


After an hour at the new house, I remembered that I had sourdough on the counter and it was surely an erupting mess at this point, so we rushed right home.

As I suspected.

So that was the fun yesterday. To be continued with another trip to the new house today so A. can unload all his tools and things from the Honda and the trailer he drove back from New York a few weeks ago. Including . . . the huge chest freezer! Let's hear it for a meat stockpile!

Leaping off of shelves and setting up the chest freezer. It's gonna be a good day.

* Yeah, that should have the Spanish "n" with the little squiggle over the top, but the instructions for doing that in Chrome were like a page long, so . . . no. Sorry. It's a gringo pinata for you.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Friday Food: A Cucumber a Day

A week in which we ate cucumbers every day, and I valiantly soldiered on subduing cucurbits despite losing my sense of taste by Thursday.


Short version: Scrambled eggs, pinto beans, leftover rice, cucumber/tomato/menonita salad

Long version: I would have been happy just eating pinto beans for dinner, but I made some scrambled eggs in deference to A., who does not eat beans. Cubby and Charlie ate at school before their play, so I only had to scramble nine eggs instead of fifteen.


Short version: Ground beef and potatoes, creamy cucumber salad

Long version: I had planned on hamburgers, but the log of ground beef I took out in the morning was not thawed by dinnertime. Luckily, ground beef can be thawed incrementally in the skillet by browning it and flipping it periodically to scrape off the browned and thawed layer from the frozen core.

It can also be thawed in the microwave, but then you have that nasty half-cooked gray meat situation, and that I avoid whenever possible.

Though it can be thawed in the skillet, it cannot be made into hamburgers that way. Thus, I made this thing again with potatoes and paprika and so forth. Forgot tomatoes this time, though. Bummer.


Short version: Underwhelming chicken and rice, zucchini, cucumbers

Long version: I was feeling uninspired by the chicken drumsticks and thighs I had taken out to thaw, so I searched for an interesting recipe for chicken and rice. I found this one for arroz con pollo, and made it. Loosely.

I didn't have all the ingredients--namely, bell pepper, beer, and Spanish chorizo (I used the Mexican kind, which isn't cured)--but the taste wasn't the problem. The problem was the method. There wasn't enough liquid. Cooking rice on the stovetop with anything on top of it always results in sticking rice. If you try to stir it, the rice is no longer submerged in the liquid, resulting in some grains that never cook all the way.

I had to add more liquid and cook it about twice as long as the recipe stated, and then it was all kind of gluey. Tasted good, and I'll probably use that combination of flavors again, but I'll cook the rice in the sauce first, brown the chicken, and then add it to finish cooking on top of the rice in the oven. An oven is a much better way to cook the rice than on the stove, which creates the hot spot on the bottom that guarantees sticking.

I didn't use the parchment paper layer right on top of the chicken either, instead making a layer of zucchini on the top.

That layer didn't cook all the way, either. Fail.

The cucumbers were for those who don't eat zucchini. And to keep chipping away at the multiple bags of cucumbers in my crisper drawers. Rafael's been by a lot lately.


Short version: Leftovers, fried eggs, tomato and cucumber salad

Long version: Everyone got to choose some combination of leftover potatoes+ground beef, the gluey but tasty chicken and chorizo rice, pinto beans, and fried eggs. Everyone also got the salad.

And then, while I was putting Poppy to bed at 7 p.m., the three boys ate almost an entire loaf of bread with butter, jam, and peanut butter. And then they had apples. So I guess that was Dinner: Round Two.


Short version: Chorizo and ground beef tacos, pickled carrot and cucumber ribbons, pinto beans, pan-fried sweet potatoes, sick-boy soup

Long version: I had some uncooked chorizo left from the other night, so I added it to a small amount of ground beef (a little over a pound, which in our house is not enough) to make taco meat. It still wouldn't have been enough if Cubby hadn't had a sore throat and refused tacos.

For him, I made soup out of chicken broth, mashed-up pinto beans, some of the gluey chorizo rice from the disappointing chicken dish, a little of the taco meat, and sour cream. It was surprisingly good. Cubby ate two bowls, and A. and Jack finished the rest of it.

See? It was serendipity that the rice ended up so gluey; it's the perfect soup thickener. Just remember, kids: Everything happens for a reason.

Someday I'm sure Cubby will appreciate a mother who can make soup appear out of nothing when he suddenly announces he's sick. Sure he will. Because children always appreciate their mothers.

I added ribbons of cucumber to the carrot ribbons for pickling this time, because I can't let an opportunity to use cucumbers pass me by these days. They were good, too.

Look! A cute baby!

It's always the right time for a baby photo.


Short version: Italian sausage, sauteed zucchini and garlic, roasted potatoes, tomato/cucumber/menonita salad

Long version: In New York, with its extensive Italian population and food culture, Italian sausage was a staple of my quick-cooking dinner options. Here? Not so much. I didn't even see any in the refrigerated meat section at the grocery stores I had been to. I was surprised to find some in the freezer section of the very small grocery store in the next village over, and I was excited to have Italian sausage again.

I should have known better. It was not good sausage. There are just some things I have to leave behind in New York forever, I suppose*. Boo.


Short version: Leftover sausage and zucchini, scrambled eggs, rice, tomato/cucumber/menonita salad

Long version: Can I go to bed now?

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

* Yes, I could start making my own, but stuffing sausage casings is pretty high up on the list of Kitchen Things I Wish To Avoid.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Real Estate and the Unwell

Yesterday, A., Poppy, Cubby, and I drove two hours to a title company in a (very small) city to close on a house.

A. was the only one who didn't have the current nasty cold that's sweeping the boys' school. That's why Cubby was with us instead of at school. It worked out, though, as he perked up enough to help watch Poppy for me during the hour it took us to actually get everything signed and done.

As a reward, we got him a double cheeseburger at Sonic. He ate the whole thing, and then collapsed for the two-hour drive back home.

I collapsed when we got home, which is why you're getting this brief and not particularly interesting post instead of my usual clever wit.


So. Just signing in today to let you know we bought a house ten miles up the road from our current rental. I'm sure I'll post pictures at some point, but currently all I want to do is hide in my bed.

Wit and pictures later. For now, tissues.

Over and out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Mystery Solved

One of the things that always amused me about the MiL was her habit of giving me the Latin name of whatever plant we were talking about at the time. I was impressed by it, but it was wasted effort for me, because I would never remember the Latin name. I barely remember the common name most of the time.

I appreciated it nonetheless, however, because that's a sign that the person you're talking to has a very in-depth knowledge of plants. The Latin name is the way real horticulturists differentiate between different varieties of the same general kind of plant, or clarify when there are many plants with a similar common name. And the Latin name is the same in any language.

I am not a horticulturalist, and my knowledge of plants and their Latin names is woefully lacking, but I know the MiL at least is going to be happy I've figured out the Latin name of Rafael's calabacitas.

Here are Rafael's actual calabacitas on my counter, with a pen for scale.

The confusion here came from the fact that calabacita is a Spanish word meaning literally "little squash." That does nothing to clear things up.

The key to solving this admittedly minor mystery was when Rafael referred to them as "Mexican squash." I did a Google search for that, and an image came up that looked like his. I clicked on it and . . . bingo.

Rafael's calabacitas are cucurbita argyrosperma. They are also known as cushaws, silver-seed gourds, and Japanese pie pumpkins.

You can see the confusion.

I found it very interesting that they are apparently cultivated specifically for their seeds in some cases, which are ground up and used like flour. Rafael had mentioned eating the seeds to A., but didn't give any specifics. I'm not sure I'll go to the trouble of making seed flour--seeing as I have other food sources than the limited native ones here--but its good to know.

It seems to be a very versatile squash. As Rafael noted, it's eaten both at the immature stage like zucchini, then when mature as a winter squash. It's used as a medicinal plant, and the seeds can even be used to extract oil. Though I should imagine that last one would be a bit labor-intensive.

So there. I've figured out the official name. Although they'll always be calabacitas to me. Sorry, MiL.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Communal Bath

The master bathroom at our rental house is rather absurdly large. I could've done with less bathroom and more bedrooms, but it does mean there's plenty of room for a party whenever someone has a bath in there.

Wouldn't want to be lonely, now would we?