Sunday, November 5, 2017

St. Gladys of the Mincemeat

Today is All Saints Sunday.  "Saints" sounds so Papist and so foreign to my middle-America protestant upbringing that I am surprised to find myself not only knowing when it is but actually dressing for it this morning.  One of the great things about attending church regularly it getting into the ritual of the whole church year and learning that such frivolities of special days and seasons are not just for Catholics.  So this morning I lit a candle for Gladys, my personal saint of pies, and we rang a bell for family friend Jennie who couldn't beat the odds on her cancer prognosis indefinitely.

Gladys is my maternal grandmother, and I absolutely never called her Gladys (or "Saint of Pies" for that matter), just Grandma.  She was a great pie craftsman and I've been wanting to write about her all year, but I keep tearing up every time I do so.  Pie week, spring break back in March, included the anniversary of her death, and the anniversary of our last conversation, about pie.  I'm sure that there were medical issues going on, but from what most of us could tell, Grandma stopped caring about living when her son died in October of 2000, and by spring break 2001, she didn't have much of anything left.  I was fortunate to be able to see her at a home and made some awkward conversation.  The least awkward, most animated, conversation was about pie.

I asked about favorite pies and while she was thinking about it, my Mom answered for her, "chocolate cream, right?"  Suddenly feisty, Grandma snapped, "No, that was [your father's?  your brother's?  your?] favorite.  It is good but it is not my favorite."  Then she launched into a long discussion about how you couldn't get good mincemeat anymore.  She enjoyed mincemeat pies with store bought mincemeat, but that wasn't anything like what they made on the farm to preserve the rest of the hog's head.
Peach was pretty good, too.
Last year's mincemeat, from a jar, in foreground.

I stopped by a grocery store to make her a pie.  They didn't have any mincemeat.  They didn't have any frozen peaches.  There was no fruit in season.  I made a horrible peach pie using sticky peach pie filling and took it to her in the hospital the next day.  I don't know through what love or will she downed that piece of peach pie, but I don't think it was just because Grandpa was force feeding her and I'm pretty sure it wasn't because she wanted more of it.  I'm still mortified that that pie was her last meal, and strangely honored by it.

Grandma's birthday was last week, and I was thinking about her as I was baking chocolate tarts.  I look like her and my cousins look like her and I'm not sure she's ever very far away.  She's been with me today as I look for suet to make "real" mincemeat and will be there on Thanksgiving when I unleash the mincemeat on my in-laws.

Thanks for being around Saint Gladys.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Obligatory Autumn Catch-Up

Or maybe I'll just post a photo of a leaf with galls, Aster and Dianthus with one of their cousins, the tarts I made for a Fall Festival and a ninja and a pumpkin with a moldy carved spaghetti squash.

Somehow, there are no pictures of soccer season, a very long rag-weed allergy season, bed bugs, clogged dryer vents, the 1,000 plants where I expected 300, or even the third grade choir concert.

Yes, one costume is the same as last year, and yes, they have grown (compare here).

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Goopy Pie

Examination of my list of pies baked (previous post) and flipping through recipes for pies led me to the conclusion that I have entirely missed the category of "goopy pies" so far this year.

Ever the amiable sort, The Mister agreed that I should bake him such a pie, one with caramel or fudge, or some such goop.  Looking through Magpie, we settled on S'Mores Pie with a granola crust and homemade marshmallows.

Cake on birthday
Between his birthday, when we shared warm chocolate cake with the kids of the church community, and when I baked his pie on Saturday, we had a chance for bonus goopy pie.

The food bank had a sculpture contest with a food truck festival to promote the new food and resource center.  As we were drumming up support for the crab, we ordered Millionaire's Pie from a grilled cheese food truck, without knowing what Millionaire's Pie entails.  During Year of Pie I order whatever new pie comes my way.

As soon as we bit into the pie, The Mister commented exactly what I was thinking, "Bloat* in pie form."  It was something.

Millionaire's Bloat Pie 
The actual s'more pie was very good.  I was impressed with the homemade marshmallows (candy thermometers and gelatin are rarely things I use and they involved both) and the chocolate filling tasty, but I am unsure if it would be an improvement over chocolate cream with a whipped cream or meringue top.

*Bloat is anything called a salad that include mini-marshmallows, cool whip, marshmallow creme, pudding, or some combination of the above.  I was well into adulthood before I realized this term is not in widespread use.

Marshmallows roasted on gas burmer

45!  (Mister's age, not the President)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Progressing with pie, but not to the fair

One of the unwritten goals of Year of Pie was to enter a pie competition.  Our county fair was just last week, and there was no way I was going to get a pie to the fair on Wednesday after Labor Day, so I set my sights on the State Fair, which includes an live judged pie contest next weekend.  And then I found out that registration was due over a month ago.  So I don't know where or when I am competing with my pies.

In the meantime, I baked with students again last week, and we ended with 6 apple and pear pies, several of which were really good.  So I am succeeding at the written goal of teaching people to bake pies.

I also bought (and ate) Oatmeal Cream Pies on our way home from the eclipse. I don't recall if eating convenience store foods wit pie in the name is a written or unwritten goal, but I am succeeding admirably, and don't need (or want) another Oatmeal Cream Pie any more than I need or want another Moon Pie.

As far as actually baking pies, I think I am exceeding my original goal, and I do need to keep track.

September (7 so far)
Fresh Fig Tart on leftover pastry- just now
With students: two crust apple; apple crumble-top (2); apple lattice; pear, cranberry, raisin, and walnut with plaid lattice; and the extra apples and pears baked together.

August (4)
Two beautiful peach for a church picnic
A weird, crustless, gluten-free peach for the eclipse-watching
Buttermilk for the chemo crew

July (4)
Lemon meringue for Aster's birthday
Chocolate chess and apricot for 50th anniversary celebrations
Apricot with all-lard crust as a house guest

June (9)
Pie party: beet; plum; gluten-free no-bake plumberry; lemon meringue; chocolate chess; coconut cream
Some slightly overdone, a few both overdone and underdone.
All tasty.
Kale Blue Cheese

May 2, April 7, March 8 plus 5 more with students and the official start bastilla in February. 47 pies baked so far.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

(Just a Little Bit on the) Passing of Time

Ten years ago (10!) I wrote (on this very blog) about my elder niece starting kindergarten.  It stunned me then, that she could be that old (or rather, that I could be that old), just as it stuns me now that she is starting sophomore year as a student at my high school.  Ten years ago I wrote that the kid born the day Dirtdog walked into Physical Science S and sat next to me, despite all of the pleading in my head for him to choose any other seat, could legally drink.  Now that kid would be 31.  Had the Dirtdog-Sparkling Squirrel mating happened, and the Dirtdog-Sparkling Squirrel progeny mated at that same young age-- Dirtdog and I would be grandparents now-- OF ONE OF MY NIECE'S CLASSMATES. (Needless to say, Dirtdog, our parents, our fictional progeny, and I are all much happier that did not happen-- but wow-- grandparents of a high school sophomore [which of course, my parents are, but they seem to be better equipped to take their granddaughter to field hockey practice than I would be]).

Sophomore in high school and 50-year-weds (and the rest of us)
Kids are growing up.  Parents are growing up. People married 50 years ago have been married for a very long time.  Time is passing.  Nothing insightful here; every once in a while I just need to step back and wonder how it keeps going by.
First day 1st and 3rd grade

A representative sample of candles

Waiting for the sky to go dark.

1:06 in the afternoon.  About 20 minutes after above photo.
Apropos of not much:  the eclipse was crazy.  We had missed meetings with friends, we had debates about exactly which small country road we should park on, we had cloud cover, we had rain and grumbles about how we could have watched it rain without driving a long way.  And then evening birds emerged in the "twilight" to eat the evening insects.  And it got dark.  Crickets started chirping.  And it got darker. And it was an amazing event to witness with friends on a muddy minimal maintenance road in rural Kansas, even with the clouds.  I'm making my way to totality in 2024 and hope you join us.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Why I Don't Teach Summer School and Why I Am Going To Kansas

Every summer I get asked some version of, "Why don't you teach summer school?" especially if it is known that summer school pays well relative to college teaching overall.

There's a practical work-related reason: As a field biologist I need to do research in the summer should I want to publish original science and have a chance of advancement in my field.  But anybody paying attention knows that I have not been spending most of the summer analyzing data, and in fact have steered clear or my office even when I have been in town.

Sometimes I'll mention needing a break, and anyone who has taught will relate to this, and more so if I mention the other kinds of activities (like re-painting my cabinets or going to the dentist) that I can only do in the summer.

If I mention my kids, most people will gently nod, "Oh, of course, your kids won't be little forever." That's completely true and I love traveling and baking and experiencing day-to-day life with Aster and Dianthus, but honestly I took off on an 8 week road trip (after a two week trip to Ecuador) in the summer of 2007, long before I had kids (and yes, you can read about those trips on this blog), so it is not just my kids.

Part of the reason I don't work in the
summer is my parents and my in-laws.  All four of them are healthy people around whom it is fun to be (that awkward sentence brought to you by my parents' voices in my head who still believe in not ending sentences with prepositions) and that won't always be the case (the healthy part).  As I was weeping about aging the other day, The Mister pointed out, "That's why we aggressively spend time with our parents and make sure that the boys really know their grandparents."  The ability to meet family in Yellowstone or Vancouver or Hilton Head or Tuscon (not to mention at their houses in Kansas and Colorado)  is a great reason not to teach summer school.

But kids and parents are not my main reason not to teach in the summer.  My main reason is because, much as I love my job (and most of the time I do), it is not all I want to do with my life.

I'm still surprised by the surprised reactions I get when I go out of my way to have fun rather than to work more.

My friend J, undergoing chemo to keep ovarian cancer at bay, and her new husband JR, undergoing radiation for cancer all over, get similar reactions when because they have a costume box and dress-up at the drop of a hat.  Some of their relatives act confused by how willing they are to have fun.  Based on conversations with them, they dress up, try new artistic endeavors, re-paint furniture with bright colors and explore herbal cocktails because it is fun.

I'm confused as to why this surprises people.  It's not a secret that our time here is limited and that possessions do not lead to happiness.  That seems to be repeated in most every thoughtful self-help book I've ever seen, not to mention religious practices and, well, common experiences. I am very fortunate to be in a position where I do not need to spend every moment working for survival.  I've been given an opportunity.  I'm not going to squander it.  

My family is driving 389 miles tomorrow in order to see a full solar eclipse on Monday and drive 389 miles back on Monday evening.  I'm really really hopeful that it will be an amazing experience to watch the stars come out at one in the afternoon.  But even if clouds obscure the dark side of the moon as it passes between us and the sun, and there will be another total solar eclipse closer in 2024, it will be worth the craziness of making alternative assignments for the first day of class, because it will be an adventure with friends, and if we are all here in April 2024, then I'll be up for a second once-in-a-lifetime eclipse adventure.

Just today I asked someone to cover my classes then.

[Waterfall images are completely gratuitous, by the way, and since I am up late writing disconnected thoughts, I should mention that they Mississippi kites were lining up and acting very unsettled this morning  (and very loud this evening) perhaps they are leaving early this year.]

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Not being silent

I want to write about cake and pie and squirrels and books I've read, and to brag, just a little, about how great our kitchen looks* now that we've removed, sanded, primed, painted, and re-hung all of our cabinets with freshly toothbrush scrubbed hardware. I still have thoughts about Aster's surgery and a back log of flower images, prairie, garden and mountain.

I don't want to write about racism, violence, and people acting deplorably.  And just because someone shares a nationality, Northern European ancestry and allegedly a religion with me, does not make me responsible for his actions (any more, than say, one of my Muslim students is responsible for ISIL terrorism).  But somehow some expect an Imam to call out every gunman, and the Black Lives Matter organizers to make statements that it is not okay to shoot a cop. If so, then I, a white, Christian, native-born American (as with most of my readers) must publicly and loudly proclaim that it is not okay to drive a car into a group of people intending to murder them.  It is not okay to celebrate slavery (nor is it a slight to your ancestors to suggest that neither they, nor the society they created, was perfect).  It is not Christian, American, or "okay" to proclaim that hate is the way forward to a supreme white society.

I don't have good words for this.
I don't think that is a bad thing.

Here are some other words from fellow, white, Christian, native-born Americans who could not stay silent as they preached this morning: This is a link to a recording of the sermon at our church this morning, "Christian, Get Out of the Boat" and the transcript of the sermon from a former pastor of our church, "It's Time to Break-Up"

Don't be okay with racism.  It is not okay.  Okay?

*Except it doesn't yet look great because we are still rearranging as we return the cabinet doors.