Saturday, July 16, 2022

Book Talk: High School Fiction Part 1

Okay! Back to books that are actually physically present in my own home and have been read by at least one member of my family. Part 2 will be the fiction books I bought for the high school library but haven't actually read myself (yet--you know I'm going to be reading most of the books I bought).

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare--This is classified as a children's novel, but the main character is a 16-year-old girl. Children can read it, but I think teenagers would like it, too. I love it, and have read it many times.

Constance, a Story of Early Plymouth by Patricia C. Clapp--This is the imagined diary of the real Constance Hopkins, who was only 14 when she came with her father and stepmother as part of the original settlement of the Plymouth Colony. It's very historically detailed, and supposed to be quite accurate, although I know very little about Plymouth so I can't vouch for that. In fact, all I know about Plymouth I learned from this book, which I have read many times. 

Down the Common: A Year in the Life of A Medieval Woman by Anne Baer--I picked this book up on a whim at my college bookstore and have read it several times in the many intervening years. It's another meticulously researched book that has engaging characters. What I love about it is that although the details of medieval life as obviously particular to the time, the author did a fantastic job of expressing the commonalities of a woman's life through every time period.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden--This book feels so real, it's hard to believe it's actually fiction. I have a copy that I've read many times, and I bought a copy for the high school library.

These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner--Maybe I should have just titled this High School Historical Fiction. I do enjoy good historical fiction. This is good. Excellent, in fact. It is, again, a fictional diary of a real person, a woman who homesteaded in the Tucson area in the 1880s. There are a couple of intense scenes of sexual assault, so I would definitely recommend this for older teenagers, but the overall writing and story are just so engrossing.

The story in the book begins in 1881, which is coincidentally the same year as the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, AZ. (Okay, so this photo of the kids in the cell near the gallows in Tombstone is a bit of a stretch for illustrating this post, but it was the best I could do.)

Deathwatch by Robb Wright-- A. bought this for the boys. The blurb on the front of this book is, "In the desert without food, clothes, or water and hunted by a madman with a .358 Magnum." This did not spark my interest, but my boys LOOOOVE this book. They've each read it multiple times. And then I found several copies of it in the boxes of books that have been taught in classrooms at the school. It won a mystery award in the 1970s, too, so although I can't personally vouch for it, I think I can safely recommend it.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank--Written in 1959, this is described as the classic novel of a post-nuclear apocaplyse. Despite the scary subject, the story is actually quite optimistic in its portrayal of how the survivors, well, survive. It doesn't have anything really objectionable in it, either, and both my older boys have read my old copy so many times it fell apart and I bought a new one.

The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green--There are, of course, many versions of the classic Robin Hood story. My boys like this one. It seems to have been first published in the 1950s, and the language is slightly old-fashioned but not unreadable.

I'll stop here. More to come, though!

What would you add to this list of high school fiction?

Friday, July 15, 2022

Friday Food: And Then There Were Three

A. left last Thursday with the older two for a driving trip to New York, leaving just me and the younger two. And it was really hot, so I cooked as little as possible this week. But still! There is food to list!


Short version: Fried pork, spaghetti, carrots, chocolate cake

Long version: Poppy requested "pork and spaghetti" for this meal, and I was happy to oblige with commodities canned pork fried with spices, and spaghetti with the last bit of a can of commodities spaghetti sauce, the last two frozen cubes of pesto from last summer, and a bit of cream. 

This year's basil is hiding in a row partially under the still-blooming hollyhocks, and looks really good. I think it might like the shade in the afternoon here. I have hopes for lots of good pesto this year.

Our neighbors had a small family birthday celebration for their daughter, who was turning six. They asked us to come so there would be some other children there, and that is where the cake came in. It was a homemade, very dense chocolate cake--almost like a flourless cake, although there was some flour in it--with a ganache poured over the top, and it was very good.

Not to be obnoxious, but it's rare that I eat anything baked by someone else that's as good or better than what I make, so that was a nice treat.


Short version: Leftovers

Long version: There was leftover spaghetti and pork, and also leftover cake. The neighbors gave us the leftover cake because they were leaving this day for a two-week roadtrip. My children were delighted to have the cake. It really was good cake.

And now, do I have a treat for you! When I was at my parents' house, I went through the photo albums and took some pictures of our childhood pictures to show my brother and his daughters when we went up to his house. Quality is less than ideal, but this still make me laugh.

My very curly hair was a trial to my mother for my entire early childhood in the very humid deep south.


Short version: Tuna salad sandwiches, raw snap peas, chocolate pudding pops

Long version: When there are only three of us, I can get by with one 12-ounce can of tuna, rather than three cans. Incidentally, I always eat tuna salad in an actual salad, with the addition of shredded cheddar cheese, pecans, and dried cranberries. I'm not a huge fan of tuna, so I like it better when I can taste a lot more than just the fish.

The lettuce for my salad came from the neighbors' garden that I was watering for them while they were gone. They told me to take anything in it, since it's mostly for their guinea pigs anyway (I was not taking care of the guinea pigs, though), so I harvested one of the two giant heads of romaine.

I thought the snap peas in the garden were done, but they're producing more flowers and peas now. I think maybe because I interplanted them with green beans, and now that the green beans are bigger, they're shading the snow peas. Or something. Nice to have more snap peas, though. The kids love them raw. I do, too. I rarely cook them.

I used this recipe for the pudding pops again, and again I used more cocoa powder than it called for. I made a half recipe, and still got four pudding pops, and man, they really are so good. Waaaaay better than the store-bought ones. A bit of a pain actually cooking the mixture before putting it in the molds, but definitely worth it.


Short version: Beef and bean soft tacos, raw radishes and carrots, more pudding pops

Long version: I made the taco meat--two pounds ground beef and one can of black beans--in the morning before it got hot, then just microwaved corn tortillas with cheese and meat at dinnertime. Carrots from the garden, radishes not.

Being the only two kids at home means that when there are four pudding pops, you get to have a pudding pop for two days in a row. Whee! Crazy how little food we consumed this week with the three biggest eaters gone.


Short version: Pizza, raw carrots and snap peas

Long version: Jack had been asking when it would be cool enough for pizza, and I guess this was the day since it was a chilly 85 degrees. This was the only day in two weeks that wasn't over 90 degrees, though, and I was making bread anyway, so I made the pizza. Just one: half with just cheese, half with some of the leftover taco meat.

The kids ate the vegetables in the garden with me while I was getting basil for the pizza. I love garden-produce season so much.


Short version: Steak, fried potatoes, green salad with vinaigrette, zucchini bread

Long version: I made the zucchini bread because I had two bags of shredded calabacitas (an immature squash almost exactly like a zucchini) left in the freezer from last year, and I'm just now getting the first calabacitas on the plants in the garden. Those two bags had exactly enough calabacitas for the zucchini bread. Unfortunately, it turned out sort of wet. 

I had a completely solid lump of dried brown sugar that turned out to be exactly one cup when I softened it in the microwave. And I needed one cup of sugar total for the zucchini bread recipe. But that was supposed to be half white sugar, and I think maybe the extra molasses in the brown sugar contributed to the extra moisture. I think also when zucchini is thawed it needs to be drained a bit more to make good bread than I drained this.

Oh well. The children didn't notice. And it can always be toasted.

I have to note that it's so weird cooking for only me and the two youngest. I made one New York strip steak that was just under a pound, plus two diced potatoes (baked in the morning while the zucchini bread was in the oven), and it all fit in just one 12-inch skillet. Quite different from my usual musical burners with three big skillets on the stove at once to fit all the food needed.

The salad was exciting because it was the lettuce from the neighbors' garden, plus a cucumber, a tomato, and a carrot from my garden. Again, I just love garden-produce season.


Short version: A harvest feast, tortillas and cheese, vanilla ice cream

Long version: I went out to the garden in the late afternoon to see if there were any ripe tomatoes for my salad, and I came back in with five small tomatoes, about a pint of snow peas, several tiny carrots that were hiding under the peas, and five eggs. I mentioned to Jack that I could make dinner just out of what I had brought in. "Are you going to?" he asked. "Do you want to?" I asked in turn.

The answer was yes. And it occurred to me that really, this was a meal so simple to prepare that the younger two children could do it. And without the older two kids here, I could actually supervise the two small ones cooking without a crowd in the kitchen.

So that's what we did. They washed all the vegetables, snapped the stems off all the snow peas, and chopped everything up. I turned on the burner, but they added the butter to the skillet, and then the vegetables to cook, and then salt, pepper, and garlic powder (a bit too much garlic powder, but these things happen). Then they cracked the eggs into another pan with butter and fried those, taking great delight in the flipping of said eggs.

They served themselves, and they cut up their eggs themselves with butter knives. It was all very satisfying, and they were so proud of themselves.

(Here is where I really wish I had some very cute photos of the two small ones cooking and proudly holding up their plates of food, but I don't, because A. took our shared cell phone with him on his trip. So you'll just have to take my word for it that it was adorable. And that is not a word I use very often.)

I added the tortillas and cheese for them because while I'm fine with just eggs and vegetables, children need something a bit more filling.

We got the ice cream at the tiny store in the village when we stopped in for something else. There is very rarely ice cream there, but there it was. And it was 93 degrees outside. I decided it was fate and bought the ice cream.

A highly satisfactory meal all around.

The three travelers are supposed to return tomorrow, so my kitchen will get a lot busier. As it should be.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2022

A Much-Delayed Answer

Several weeks ago, Natalie left a comment asking what the commodities food is that I talk so much about. And I apparently completely missed that question when it was asked.

I'm sorry, Natalie! I wasn't blowing you off on purpose, I promise!

It's a good question, and I'm sure others have wondered as well, so I'm going to answer it here now. 

Our county has a program funded by the USDA whereby anyone below a certain income level can get free food. I suspect it's the equivalent of a food bank, but since we live so far from any distribution centers, it's just sent to us.

Once a month, anyone in this program gets a big box of food that includes pantry items. We've also seen fresh and frozen meats and other refrigerated things. In addition, there's a box of fresh produce. There's also a dairy box with milk, butter, cream, and so on, but I don't know if they get that every month.

I also don't know if all the elderly people here are below the required income level, or if the program automatically provides the food to anyone over a certain age, but all the older people we know get these boxes. 

We are not signed up for the program, but we get these things secondarily from our neighbors because they can't eat it all. They mostly give us the pantry stuff. A single elderly lady is unlikely to be eating a pound of split peas every month. So we get a LOT of split peas and other beans, along with rice, spaghetti, canned tomato sauce, and canned vegetables.

Some of this stuff just goes to our chickens, because I really am not a fan of canned vegetables and we don't really eat that many split peas.

In addition to our neighbors' extra foods, the lady who distributes the boxes--also a neighbor--stops by after she's done her delivery route and gives us some of the extra things. This is why we get one or two produce boxes every month. I have no idea how this program is supplied, but there's also always something particular she has in ridiculous excess. Last month, that included flats of strawberries and many, many packages of pretty fancy bread from a bakery. 

And when I say excess, I mean she has a pick-up truck bed full of food. Since Covid, the supply of foods for this program has actually increased. Again, I don't know how this program actually works, but I know they always send way more than is used here. And we get the overflow, because otherwise it would just be thrown out.

So there you go! That's what I mean when I mention commodities food.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

T.T.: Living with Less

I love vegetables. I love them so much that I spend a significant amount of time and expend a significant amount of labor to grow them myself, because I cannot easily buy them. 

What that means is that I sort of eat seasonally, whether I want to or not.

Seasonal eating has become a trendy topic in the past decade or so, and I heartily endorse it. It has been pointed out that seasonal eating means you're going to be eating less glamorous things like collard greens and squash in November, not exciting things like fresh tomatoes or raspberries.

But it also means that at some points of the year, you're just . . . not going to be eating many fresh fruits or vegetables.

This is modern sacrilege, I know. We're all supposed to be maximizing our intake of fruits and vegetables--it used to be five a day, but I think that recommendation has increased--but that is just not feasible in a life that doesn't include grocery stores stocked with imported foods.

It is possible to always have something in the garden in most climates if you're willing to use plastic row cover or hoop houses. I don't do that, though, and that means that there are times of the year when my refrigerator produce drawers are almost empty.

This happens in the winter, of course, when I rely more on frozen or canned things from the previous summer. But it also happens, counterintuitively, right now. At about this point in the summer, the spring crops are pretty much done, and the summer crops aren't really ready yet*. It's at this time of year that I'll have maybe half a dozen snow peas one day, one or two small tomatoes the next, one last small cabbage that was later to harvest than the others . . .

But really, we are not eating a lot of vegetables right now. And that's okay. We're not going to have a vitamin deficiency if we can't harvest tons of fresh produce for a couple of weeks.

So I guess my tip here is this: If you're growing a garden to supply your own vegetables (yay for you!), accept the fact that it will not always be a steady and reliable stream of abundance. 

Non-gardeners would probably be surprised that the most bountiful time in a vegetable garden is not summer, but early fall.

Eating seasonally means sometimes just, well, not eating things, and that's okay. 

* Succession planting (which just means spreading out the planting of certain things over several weeks) helps with this, but I am not very good at that. And sometimes, it just doesn't work. The things that are planted two weeks earlier sulk and the things planted two weeks later take off and then everything is still ready to harvest at the same time.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Snapshots: A 360-Degree Walk

I thought it would be fun to stand in the spot I usually turn around on my morning walks and take a photo of the four cardinal directions. So I stood there and turned counterclockwise 90 degrees and took a photo all the way around.

Up the road . . .

The neighbor's pasture . . .

Down the road to our house . . .

And the same neighbor's pasture on the other side (with the old schoolhouse in the distance).

That was fun!

Those pictures were taken a couple of weeks ago, though, and look how green it is now!

Much better.

The garden is starting to evidence its summer sprawl.

The tomato forest continues to advance.

And the potato/calabaza bed is now a thicket. (I've harvested all the cabbages that were in this bed.)

Some good harvests lately.

A good day.

And last, I leave you with an astronaut contemplating the universe . . .

Actually watching the apricot jam boiling. The astronaut's helmet protected him from splatters.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.