Cherry Sweet

I bought sweet cherries at the market recently, at S11’s insistence. She ate most of them, but we bought more, and a cherry pitter to go with them. The cherry pitter is a big deal because I am not one for single-use gadgets in the kitchen. I shun such frippery with zealous disdain. However, after manually removing pits from a few dozen cherries for a fruit salad, I hastily pulled up mobile Amazon from the kitchen and ordered one tout suite. Hooray for the single-use cherry pitter gadget.

Our local discount store had cherries on sale for $1.99 a pound, which- after paying $5.99 a pound at another store- is an enormous bargain. Accordingly, I bought an enormous amount… about 10 pounds’ worth.

Of course, we ate a couple of pounds right off the bat. Hey, we had to test out the cherry pitter.

20150626_110546This pitter is a relatively inexpensive model by OXO, which can be found on Amazon for about $13. I like it because the shield minimizes splattering as the pit is pushed through. (It’s also removable for cleaning.) I also like that the pit drops out on its own, so you don’t have an extra movement to unload it. That’s important when you’re processing a lot of cherries! It pits correctly about 80- 85% of the time (I did have a few that needed extra “help”, especially if the cherry was overly ripe), which seemed like a pretty good percentage considering what a pain cherries can be to process.

Enough about the pitter. I have several projects in mind for these cherries over the next few days.

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I have already turned a pound of them into Candied Sweet Cherries, because I am on a mission* to make all the ice cream recipes in David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, and those are a main ingredient in Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry Ice Cream (page 60)!.

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I have also turned three pounds into sweet cherry jam. This lovely jam, courtesy of PickYourOwn (one of my go-to canning resource websites) uses low-no-sugar pectin and 2.5 cups of sugar. I included the optional lemon juice for a bit of acidity since these are destined for holiday gifts and I don’t want to give botulism to my friends and loved ones. That’s worse than coal.

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Hey, do you see my new jam pot there? I read about it on another canning blog, though sadly I can’t tell you which one (Food In Jars, perhaps?); and since I’m highly suggestible interested in outfitting my canning kit with quality equipment, I gave it a go. It was expensive, but I make a lot of jam every year and I think it will be worth the extra price in the long run. Silly thing, but my favorite feature is the graduation markings inside the pot. I hate guessing how much product I will actually end up with, and found the yield markings to be surprisingly accurate (for this first batch, anyway).

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Tomorrow, I plan to make a different cherry jam recipe, one that uses tart apples instead of powdered pectin. I will probably turn the rest of the cherry haul into either frozen cherries for snacking and baking, or canned ones in syrup for winter fruit.

*Just because a mission seems nearly impossible does not mean it’s not worth attempting!

Florida 2015

We are in Florida for our annual family reunion (a.k.a I-can’t-take-another-day-of-Ohio-winter) pilgrimage. This year, we’re staying in Weeki Wachee, home of the semi-famous live mermaids. Our piano teacher bought a house down here last year and is renting it to us for a very reasonable sum. My brother would probably prefer a location closer to the beach, but the house itself is working out very well for us.

There was, of course, quite a lead-up to the whole vacation thing. It all started with our annual nerd family tradition, the Pi Pie. We make one for Pi Day (which has become a thing!) every year.

Pi Pie

Most years, we actually get out pen, paper, and ruler and calculate the area of our pie, and figure out the area of a slice, and talk about angles and such. This year we were in a hurry to get on the road so we just shoved it in our mouths and called it good (which it was). But we thought about Pi. In America, because we write our dates in a ridiculous fashion that no one else in the world follows (Month Day, Year instead of the infinitely more logical Day Month Year), we got to celebrate Super Pi Day: it was 3/14/15, and of course we ate our pie at 9:26, except it was Central Time instead of Eastern Time because they had Music Federation in the morning.

DH took the girls to Federation Saturday morning while I finished packing the van. They had a music theory test at 7:30AM (!!), then each performed two solo recital pieces for adjudication.  S10 plays piano and her pieces this year were Mini Toccata and At The Carnival. She did her solo around 9. O9 is still doing violin, and played Hunter’s Chorus and Long, Long Ago with our piano teacher accompanying. They were done by about 9:45, and headed home for Pi.

Pi for breakfast

We were in such a hurry to eat the pie that even the photo was rushed. It was a good pie. Apple, of course.

The kids and I finished packing and were finally in the van, ready, to go, a little after 11AM. My goal was noon, so that was fabulous.

On our way to FL

We encountered a bit of drizzle, especially through the mountains of West Virginia, which is my absolutely least favorite part of this drive, but it wasn’t terrible.

Light drizzle but it's West Virginia

When we came out of the tunnel between WV and Virginia, the weather cleared up almost immediately, and it was smooth sailing after that.

Both music teachers called in the afternoon to report the girls’ solo scores. They both got Superiors on their theory tests (“A”), and both got Unanimous Superiors on their solos. Top scores. That was very exciting.

O9 took a shot of Charleston, NC as we whizzed by. That’s the half-way point, so it’s always very exciting to get beyond it.

O9's blurry Charleston

As usual, we stayed in Rock Hill, SC. It’s just past Charleston and out of the heavy city traffic, which makes it a good stopping point. This year, we used DH’s points for a free night at Days Inn. The property was older, but well cared-for, and we got a good night’s rest before heading out the next morning. They even had a little breakfast before we hit the road again.

Breakfast in Rock Hill, SC

Sunday’s drive was pretty uneventful. We got through SC, and crossed into GA for a short while. S10 got a good shot of the Georgia welcome sign.

almost there...

Finally we hit FL. I opted to take I-10 west to 75 S instead of the typical 301 cut-off, which makes you go 25mph through a bunch of speed traps. The shorter route is not necessarily the faster route.

Finally, we made it to Weeki Wachee.

we made it

The house is perfect. It even has a little pool, which we plan to enjoy the heck out of these next two weeks.

scoping out the pool

To celebrate, we played a bit of Scrabble on the lanai. Because that’s what you do when you’re in Florida: you do things out on the lanai.

evening game of Scrabble

scrabble requires pretzels

Tomorrow, my brother arrives and O9 and I go shopping for summer clothes.

The Very, Very, VERY best Oatmeal (IMO)

A few days ago something prompted me to search the internets for a banana curd recipe. Most likely it was the pile of rotting overripe bananas on my counter; it is also possible that the onset of cold weather contributed to my sudden craving for rich, butter-and-egg-enriched custardy goodness. Banana-flavored, of course.

I did find a lovely recipe (which I made, and promptly inhaled, and which you should consider making, too, if you have a pile of bananas, an egg, some sugar and a stick of butter lying around); however, it is not the banana curd I wish to gush about today. No, it is the oatmeal. The banana-curd-recipe author casually mentioned adding said banana curd to her oatmeal, which she claims is the Very, Very Best. I always feel inclined to challenge people when they claim to be good, and even more so when they throw in the superlative. Except….

The segues that lead one to a particular discovery on the internet are usually long, winding, and irretrievable if you happen to close all 36 open browser tabs by mistake. Fortunately, I was able to retrace my steps by going back to the banana curd search, which easily and happily led me to the Very, Very Best Oatmeal. Whew.

Except it’s not.

Now, I am a non-confrontational person, but I’m just going to say right here that I disagree with the author of the Very, Very Best Oatmeal’s eponymous claim for one simple reason: texture. I guess this is where subjectivity and personal preference enter the equation. While she and I both abhor gummy, sticky, soupy oatmeal, I happen to like mine a little creamier, rather than crunchy. And moister. I like moist oatmeal, otherwise I call it granola. And so, with a very small tweak of adding more liquid to the recipe and a longer steaming time, I have found what is, for me, the Very, Very, Very Best Oatmeal (IMO). But I will say that if you tend to prefer your oats a bit crunchy, and drier, then you will love FauxMartha’s version immensely and give her the oatmeal crown, because texture aside, her version is brilliant and may just be your oatmeal epiphany.  Of course, this is not a competition in any sense, just a quest for a tasty (yet healthy and hips-friendly) breakfast. ;)

Very, Very, VERY Best Oatmeal (IMO) (Original Recipe found on FauxMartha)

  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats (I did not try this with quick or instant oats, or even steel-cut, so I cannot report on whether those variations would work)
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp or thereabouts kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/4- 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon, if desired

You will need a deep sauce/frying pan with a lid.

Melt the butter in the sauce/frying pan over a medium-ish (technical term) heat. Add oats and salt (if using) to the pan and stir to coat them with the melted butter. Gently move the oats around until they become fragrant and take on just the faintest bit of color, which takes about 2-3 minutes with my setup.

Toasty oaties

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Because I am lazy, I do not remove the oats from the pan as the original recipe suggests. I just take the pan off the heat, pour on the liquid (go slowly, as it will sputter at first), add cinnamon or other spices (ooh, I bet dried fruit would work, too!) if desired, then return to the heat and stir until liquid comes almost to the boil.

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Cover pan, turn off heat, and let the oats steam in their liquid undisturbed for 20-30 minutes. Don’t cheat and peek early, or your steam will dissipate and you’ll be out of oatmeal luck.

This next photo was taken after 20 minutes of steaming, because I am impatient. You can see there’s a little bit of liquid left in the pan, but they were not the least bit chewy.

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(Tip for other lazy and not-morning-people: do this at night, just before bed; you can uncover the pan in the morning and heat the oats briefly before digging in.)

Oh, and for ultra decadence and tastiness, stir in a spoonful of banana curd, which is how you got here in the first place.

Banana curd!?!

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Like Rabbits

Periodically I will think to myself, “Where has the time gone?  What have I been doing?”  And sometimes I will look here at this blog, hoping it will trigger my memory. Except it doesn’t, because I haven’t written anything in practically four months.  Apparently I have done nothing in all that time.

Nothin’ ever doesn’t change, but nothin’ changes much.

(I was just looking for an excuse to reference those lyrics, by the way.  OK Go is totally my new favorite band.)

Speaking of music, we had a little recital in June here at the house, with the new piano.  O8 and Nelya’s son, T8, played violin pieces.  I accompanied O8 on one of her pieces, and then Miss Tina played a duet with her on the other.  Our friend A9 played a few pieces on piano, as did S10 and I.  It was lovely, though a little nerve-wracking for me.  I wish my hands didn’t shake so much.  Maybe that’s something you just have to get over by doing it enough times to become immune.

But the biggest news is that we now have two bunnies.  S-then-9 got a rabbit back in March, named Bullseye.

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He was a lovely mini Rex but was, as we later discovered, rather elderly, and only lasted about a month.  Just long enough to get attached, it seems. He passed away the day after her 10th birthday, which was quite the bummer.

We found O8’s rabbit, Holly, at an ARBA show in Akron in early April.  She has a hilarious personality and is incredibly friendly.  We love to play soccer with her.

 

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Holly plays soccer

In May, just before our annual Kalahari homeschool trip, we found S10 a new bun at a breeder/4H leader’s barn in Meadville.  This was another mini Rex, but black instead of blue, and a doe.  S10 named her Ebunny.

Umbreon?

Unfortunately, when we went to the 4H -health and tattoo clinic in early June, we discovered that she was, in fact, a he.  S10 felt that she had to rename him/her, so now we have Umbreon (because everything is Pokemon these days).

Umbreon
I totally see the resemblance, don’t you?

So that’s been fun and exciting, and 4H has been a good activity for all of us.  The kids are learning how to be responsible for an animal (always a good thing) and are also learning a lot about rabbits.  S10 now claims that she wants to be a rabbit breeder when she grows up.  Or sooner.

Piano

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When I was about 12, I briefly studied piano with a creepy, bearded guy (not that the beard made him creepy, but it’s the one thing I remember about him, other than his bizarrely long, nicotine-stained fingers and the fact that he had this absolutely awful pedophile vibe). That did not last long, because we moved to another part of town where cheap piano lessons were not to be found (mostly because I was busy doing other things, like speech team and band, but possibly also because I didn’t want to deal with another weirdo trying to look down my shirt while I poked out a scale on the keyboard). I loved the piano, though, and kept playing throughout the years. But I am mostly self-taught, which is not always a good thing. In some instances – piano perhaps being one of them – it is advisable to have a teacher to critique and guide and encourage you.

S9 started taking lessons from a wonderful, non-creepy teacher last March.  Shortly after she began, I happened to mention my own small experience with piano, and the teacher happened to mention that she had another adult student, and it just became obvious that I should become her student, too.  Aside from a desire to improve my meager skills, it seemed like a good example to set for the kids, who are being forced to endure their own music lessons.  I am such a horrible, mean mom, making them do something so awful as playing music.

So the teacher and I started last June.  We began with some easier classical pieces that, after several months of work, I can say are no longer being absolutely butchered at the keyboard but are now, instead, only slightly maimed at each playing. The first pieces were Bach’s Gavotte from the Third English Suite and Beethoven’s Fuër Elise.  At our teacher’s Christmas party I played a version of Peter, Paul & Mary’s Gone The Rainbow.  In late December, I started working on Mozart’s Fantasy In D Minor.  I even accompanied O8 at her violin recitals the last two weekends.  Nevermind that my hands shake uncontrollably when I play in front of people.  If we are never uncomfortable, we are not learning or growing, right?

I still have my childhood piano.  It is a modest spinet, not a super-high-quality instrument, but she’s served her purpose without complaint over the years, and it’s hard to part with her.

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My childhood piano, a Nancy Hart spinet by the Grand Piano Co. We just call her Nancy.

But on Christmas Eve, my husband took us out to choose a beautiful, marvelous new piano, which was delivered two days later.  So now we have not one, but two pianos in our living room.

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Our new piano, a George Steck. We call him… wait for it… George.

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I love that, at any given moment of the day, someone is usually playing something on one of the keyboards.   Even O8, who is not interested in piano lessons at all, plays daily.

There’s no moral to this story, other than perhaps you’re never too old to learn something all over again.

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And that music is for everyone, even cats.

This Winter Can Bite Me

This winter has totally sucked. It’s been cold. It’s been snowy. I have been hibernating since the first snow fell in November, just before Thanksgiving. We never get snow before Thanksgiving. There are still leaves on the ground, under all that snow outside.

Actually, we don’t have all that much snow. Right now, we have ice. A crunchy, sparkly, obnoxious layer of ice. It’s not the worst ice  here in recent memory, but it’s bad enough, and it’s worse than the 6-10″ of snow they were predicting. We got about 4-5″ of snow, then the temperatures warmed up just enough to give us freezing rain instead. Lovely.

icy snow

Most of the schools in the area are closed today. We’ve had so many inclement weather days in Ohio that the legislature actually passed an emergency bill to change the way schools count mandatory attendance: it’s now counted in hours, rather than “days”, so schools can make up time here and there instead of extending the number of days on the calendar.  Homeschoolers have been counting in hours all along, so we’re glad the institutions have finally caught up with us.  Schools are also sending home “Blizzard Bags”, which are packets of worksheets that kids can work on at home.  They count as a full day of school.  I think people should ask the obvious question, which is: if my kid can do a bunch of worksheets and count that as “school”, why do I need to send my kid to school in the first place?  But that’s another topic for another day.

Although it’s near 30 degrees F today, this has also been a frightfully cold winter. We had two days in particular where the wind chill was -35F or lower.  Temps were below zero for two weeks running.  People in Canada and Minnesota are laughing at us, but we don’t care. We’re Zone 5 and proud.  We don’t pretend to be that tough.

Today, I am grateful for weather that is bad enough to keep us inside, but not so bad that we don’t have electricity, internet, or Amazon deliveries.   And coffee, of course.  I’m always grateful for coffee.

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West Coast Day 2: PDX

We had a full day in Portland, OR today.  It started with breakfast at our hotel: sad eggs, unfortunate coffee, unexpectedly decent yogurt.  The kids ate bagels and some strangely colored round cereals.  Fortunately, that was the worst part of our day.

We took the train into town, planning to make our pilgrimage to Powells Bookstore, but detoured up the Yellow LIne to the expo center.  There was a sportsman’s show going on there, and DH thought it would be neat to see.  He offered to split up and catch up with us later, thinking we wouldn’t be very interested, but I insisted we all stay together.  Besides, maybe we would find something at the sportsmen’s show, too.  You never know.

As it turns out, the show was fun for everyone.  DH found a few things, which was all well and good, but the girls and I found a lady selling licorice and roasted almonds!  We bought a bag of flavored licorices (berry, watermelon, coconut, vanilla, raspberry, root beer) and some delicious toffee almonds.  The almonds were still vaguely warm, that’s how fresh they were.  We noshed the rest of the way through the show.  O7 and I wandered off to look at a leathermaker who had some really interesting bags.  S9 hung out with her dad and looked at outdoor equipment and first aid kits.  Then the girls got a little bored, so I took them into the lobby with our snacks and they did cartwheels until DH finished going through the show.

We walked back to the train, the end (beginning?) of the Yellow line, and caught it back into town.  It dumped us off a block from Powells.  We went into the annex building where they keep scientific and technical books.  The girls and I had just stumbled on a great Top Gear book and were laughing our heads off at one of their antics when my cousin B arrived!  He and DH began poring over some engineer’s manual and it became obvious they’d be a while, so I took the girls across the street to the main store so they could browse the kids’ section.  I let them each pick something out, with the understanding that they’d have to carry it the rest of the day (and the rest of the trip- we were all one-bag traveling).  They nodded solemnly.  S9 picked out a journal and O7 chose one of the Warriors books (paperback, thank goodness).  They spent some time in the picture book area until the guys were finished.  Then we went to Henry’s for a bite to eat.

At Henry’s, we had a light lunch and then walked around.  We stopped in North Face and REI to look at more outdoor equipment, then got B’s truck and drove down to the waterfront.  We sat on a bench and watched the river for a while, wandered down past a beer festival to a rocky beach for the girls to scramble a bit, and chased some ducks.  Later, we met B’s girlfriend R at Red Robin near their apartment in Beaverton.  I had a delicious raspberry lime soda with my burger and sweet potato fries.  The girls had spaghetti.  DH went against type and ordered a grilled chicken breast with salad.  B drove us home, which saved figuring out several transit connections, and also offered to mail DH’s book purchases home to us.  We got back to the hotel and i took O7 for a quick swim while S9 and DH relaxed and got ready for bed.