May Flowers and All That

We did get enough rain in April, I suppose. At least, the flowers are coming out in the woods, and it is May. Late yesterday I dug up some wild leeks for dinner (which, if I may say, was a particularly good dinner, even though I had never made it before and, if you are curious, was a sort of mini-calzone stuffed with those leeks and garlic and extra sharp cheddar and dang!) and I found some blood root blooming among the leek leaves. Nearby were several clusters of Carolina Spring Beauties.

Earlier in the morning I walked in the woods to find Golden Winged Warblers (I didn’t find any but I did find a Golden Winged/Blue Winged hybrid!). I found some Garlic Mustard while I was looking for birds; I was hoping to find some of that while I dug up my leeks but, wrong woods.

The flower of the day was Dutchman’s Breeches. First, that name is killer. I mean, who uses the term breeches? Old school, know what I’m saying? But those flowers, they really do look like, well, the puffy pants that one of those historical Dutch sailors might wear. They ain’t roses, but they look pretty cool. They look like spring.

At Least I Can Make Dinner

My daughter said the other day, “We have like three things for dinner,” meaning we do not have enough variety in our dinner menu. This, despite that I just made rice with a homemade Yumm style sauce with peas and potatoes, something I had never tried before, which was, if I may say, even though I made it myself and may be biased or at least have a stake in that particular meal’s success, particularly tasty. Three things indeed.

My son really likes pizza. When my daughter is not around we have pizza at least once a week. What can beat fresh dough that can be garnished with a variety of sauces and toppings and cheeses? I mean, pizza is great, and fresh from the oven? It can’t be beat. So I was going to make pizza, since it has been a couple of weeks since we have had that (I’m sorry did you say three things?). But apparently pizza is one of the three things, so instead I made a pizza wannabe.

I guess you could call it a stromboli. Instead of dough with carefully scattered toppings, I mixed a bunch of stuff together–sauteed shallots and orange bell pepper, chopped spinach, cheddar and parmesan, and goat cheese. The goat cheese was the kicker. I rolled out a huge square of dough, laid out some tomato sauce and spread out the mixed stuff. Then I pulled in the corners and tucked them in to make a square pie. And baked.

And that thing was good. I had never made quite that same dish. I mean, I have wrapped up ingredients in dough and baked it, but never in a square. A square stuffed pizza/stromboli/new thing for dinner. It was hot and savory with a crunchy chewy crust and gooey yumminess in the middle. I may be crappy at other aspects of parenting/husbanding, but at least I can cook up a quality dinner. Dammit. I got your three things. Plus a whole lot more. You want some variety, kid? Bring it.

Wild Leeks Soup

It is the season of wild leeks. That season is short. In the woods, green covers the forest floor. The bright new leaves pierce the dried maple and beech leaves that fell in the fall. When the sun shines through the bare branches, you can smell them.

My son and I popped into the woods late in the afternoon. We each had a trowel. We dug up some leeks. Drive the trowel straight down, pull it back to loosen the soil and shake out some leeks. They are sort of similar to leeks you might buy in a market, but much smaller, smaller than typical scallions. And they are softer, more fragile. We made a small pile, enough to hold in one hand. Bright green on one end, covered in dark dirt on the other.

I washed them in the sink. I collected quite the pile of soil in the trap, mixed with a few dried leaves and grass stems. I had a clean bunch in the end, ready to be made into soup. I cubed several potatoes and sliced the leeks, tossed them with butter and olive oil, and sauteed. I added some water, some stock, some salt and pepper, and cooked it all into a soup.

I also made dinner rolls. I hear yeast is getting hard to come by. We always have a lot on hand anyway, so we are good to go for now. Dinner rolls are like the lazy bread–make some dough and knead it and let balls of the stuff rise in a pan. Then bake it and… fresh rolls, easy and quick. Soup and bread–pretty standard dinner around here.

Oddly, by the time the soup had reduced and gotten thick, it turned a bit green. I mean, the leeks were green but I have never had them turn other stuff green. And this new green was much darker–not the bright green of the fresh leeks. So it had a bit of an off color, but it was dang tasty. Those cut leeks smelled strong before they cooked down so I admit was a little nervous that I had put in too many leeks, but my fears ended up being unfounded.

Our wild leek window is small so I need to dig up some more before they fade away. Omelets? Quiche? Pizza topping? I’ve got lots of options. Especially if I want some green food.

Pancakes for Dinner

I have been cooking dinner pretty much every night these days, what with being home all the time. I don’t have a drive home after working later than I should and then a day’s worth of fatigue to dissuade me. Instead I close my laptop and head to the kitchen.

I used to make pancakes fairly frequently. Saturday morning I would whip up some batter and fire up the griddle and, once everyone was up for the day, I would cook up some pancakes. Maple syrup and berries and bananas and nuts and whatever we had that seemed appropriate to top of them off–that was the extra prep work. But now that our kids are older, they sleep in. Pancakes for breakfast? More like pancakes for lunch.

Since that morning rise time is unpredictable (could be 9:00, could be noon) and since it is rare that everyone gets up at the same time, I just don’t make pancakes anymore. It isn’t as enjoyable to eat them alone and the batter doesn’t last for hours. It is a breakfast that just doesn’t make sense these days.

But we do eat dinner together. And I have been wanting pancakes. So we had a marriage of convenience last night. And that relationship was one to savor while it lasted. I made yeasted batter and while it rose I sliced strawberries and washed the few blueberries we had left and cut a banana into discs. I heated some maple syrup, as well as the griddle and off we went.

We enjoyed dinner. I mean, pancakes are great, especially these yeasted pancakes. I did not make them with buttermilk, which really makes them excite the taste buds, but one has what one has. Dinner together–that works. We pretty much never have breakfast together so this was a bit of a throwback.

I did polish off a half gallon of maple syrup and cracked open the next one–our last one I am afraid. We never got down the road to the sugar shack to get more this spring. I am sure they still have some as their season was cut a bit short. I need to give them a call and set a time to stop on over to get more. Everyone wins with that deal. And it means we can have pancakes for dinner another night. I am sure we will have the chance. We will be stuck at home at least a month more yet.

Colt’s Foot and Wild Leeks

There have been a few crocuses popping up but I’m not sure they count. The first flowers of spring are really Colt’s Foot. They pop out of the leaf litter on the roadside, yellow stars among last year’s crumpled leaves.

In the woods now, wild leeks emerge. There is a place nearby where I can see down and down into the trees as they slope downward to the west. This time of year it is clear of undergrowth. The floor of the forest grows green with wild leeks as they pierce the matted vegetation. Like crocuses they come from waking bulbs.

I will find my way into the woods behind our house, bend down and dig. I will pull some wild leeks from the soil and turn them into soup. I will bake bread and serve them with the soup. We will taste spring in our house.

Today, as the sun rose, the river smelled like more than melted snow. It smelled like earth and rain and new grass. I stood where the river flows under the road. Colt’s Foot bloomed at my feet. A Meadowlark sang, then zipped across the road until it disappeared into the willows.

Are we more attuned to spring this year? Do we notice more now that we have all slowed down? We are afraid, some of us, of what might come. Some of us are afraid of what has come. Spring, however, also comes. The yellow flowers bloom. The green leaves push up from bulbs.

I imagine the Phoebe, broadcasting from the roof of the falling barn, sings about such things. Perhaps, however, I give the Phoebe too much credit. I find beauty in the life that has been hidden, while the Phoebe simply finds insects and carries leaf stems to build its nest. It sings of that.

It is not wrong for me to be afraid. It is not wrong to admire life seeping back all around me. The Snipe, circling ghost-like over the meadow at dusk, reminds me that I can be both, reminds me that the turning of the world is worth my attention, whether I am afraid or not.

Chips and Pickles and Stuff

We have not had to go out much, since we stocked up well before the order came to stay at home. But still, things will run out eventually. We have plenty of staples–flour, rice, beans, potatoes. We have Popsicles in the freezer along with frozen fruits and vegetables. I have more time to cook these days, so those staples come in handy. We are waiting for the right time to bust into the Popsicles.

But we are stuck at home. Right now we are eating more chips than usual and our tastes are flip-flopping all over. One day we want plain chips and one day we want dilly chips. We are snacking more and trying not to snack too much on the chips, but one must find pleasure in simple things, no? Those chips do us a world of good when the stir craziness starts to tingle. And we ran out of popcorn the other day. We eat a lot of popcorn.

We also drink a lot of coffee. Typically I make myself a double shot of espresso to sip on in the morning. I get coffee at the office and sip on that the rest of the morning. But now I make all the coffee I drink, and there are two coffee drinkers in the house, all day. So we put that on the list for this morning’s run to the market.

Some things you need and some things you want. We are fortunate that we can run out and get both. We definitely used to make many more trips to the market. It is kind of nice to have so much to choose from when making dinner. Or when snacking. Now we are making fewer trips, for sure, and we are much more deliberate about it–not just about what we get but about how to be as efficient as possible. We want to get in and get out.

So you can see from this morning’s list that some things might be classified as needs and some things definitely fall into the want category. The pickles? Well, I’m still deciding on that one.

Apple Crisp for Breakfast

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We have one apple tree. The first year we lived in this house it was loaded with apples. Come October we had plenty for pies and jam and whatnot. Last year we had exactly zero apples. Spring frost got all the blossoms. This year we returned to the bounty of that first year.

These are Red Delicious apples. Those are your standard, stereotypical apples. You know the ones. They look like, well, like a storybook apple–red and shiny and tapered a bit at the base. They are terrible. Well, most of them are terrible. I would never buy Red Delicious apples from a supermarket; they are bland and mushy and dry. But these Red Delicious are, indeed, delicious.

These are sweet and juicy and crisp. I took advantage of their current ripeness to make an apple crisp today. I woke early, the only one awake, so I got cracking. I peeled and sliced and stirred and assembled a fine apple crisp. After 45 minutes and a house full of apple odor I pulled a perfect breakfast from the oven.

I know apple crisp is not your typical American breakfast, but if we can eat donuts and danishes they we can eat a fresh apple crisp. And it was, as expected, enjoyable to consume. I only had one bowl, at first, but I did have seconds later in the morning. Hard to resist, that.

I put the rest in the fridge, even though it is tempting to eat the whole dang thing. A guy needs to eat something for breakfast tomorrow, you hear what I’m saying?

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Another Try at a Pie

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Well it looked good. And it tasted¬†good. But it was still too runny. The last time I made a pie it was delish, but just not holding together. The apples were soft. The crust was flaky. But inside, liquid oozed around the apples. Today I tried again with a new recipe (thanks, Mom) but it still didn’t stay together well.

Last time I used cornstarch as a thickener. That makes for a smoother pie, so I’ve heard. This recipe calls for flour as a thickener. It worked just as well as far as I can tell, but did it work well enough? I am just not sure.

My theory at this point is that my lack of patience is the problem. When I took this pie out of the oven I placed it on a cooling rack. I let it sit for about a half hour. I thought that was long enough. But my family was eager to dig in, as was I. So I sliced it open to find it was not all that cohesive. It seemed cool enough–warm but not hot. But I splashed some of the filling onto my hand. That burned.

I may need to approach pie baking differently, give it more time. I had planned to make this one a couple of hours before dinner. But then I took my daughter to the movies with friends. And I made some chili. The pie had plenty of time to bake and some time to cool. Apparently, my cooling time was not adequate.

We only ate half the pie tonight. The rest, at this point, is in the refrigerator. In the morning I will have to see how it is doing. I am sure my children will insist on pie for breakfast. Call it bad parenting if you want but I am going to let them have it. I mean, it’s for science. If it is cohesive enough at breakfast, I will have proved my theory.¬† Thanks, Kids!

Update 10/16: I had some of that pie tonight, about 24 hours after I first pulled it from the oven. It was, granted, pretty cooled in the fridge, but it was also pretty held together. Even after a minute in the microwave it seemed to have no runniness. Inconclusive. But it was still dang tasty!

Pie Time

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Last weekend we picked some apples. If you are not one to frequent an orchard to pick your own apples then you might not know how easy it is to pick too many. One bag is easy to fill, especially when the apples are the size of grapefruits, so it is tempting to fill a second, and a third. Even though there were several of us on this particular trip, adults and youth types, we did not pick too many. Pat on the back for us.

We did, however, pick enough to make an apple pie. I have been using a variation of the same recipe now for years. It is a tasty pie, no doubt. The crust, with a bit of dried mustard and cheddar cheese baked right in, is spot on. It is a good crust. And the filling tastes great–robust apple flavor, not too sweet. But the consistency I just can’t nail.

This recipe calls for two tablespoons of corn starch to thicken the filling. I used the recommended number of apples, and I tried not to add only the humongo ones. More apples means more moisture which means more starch is required to absorb the excess liquid. I know this. So even though the number of apples in my pie matched that in the recipe, I doubled the corn starch. I was going to add only one extra tablespoon but I added two just to be on the safe side.

But the dang thing was still way too runny. I even let it sit a while so it would not flow out just because it was too hot. So, like a late New Year’s resolution, I have decided to just bag this recipe and to find another. This one stinks. I am always afraid I will add too much corn starch and it always comes out runny. Lame, I tell you. Lame. So from here on out I toss that filling recipe into the bin. I’ll keep the crust, but the filling? Ain’t happenin’ no more.

So I am on the hunt for a new apple pie recipe. I have a few in books on the shelf, and I will certainly give the pie recipes in them a try. I guess I will need to just get baking to try a few. Do you have a tried and true recipe that makes the apples pop on your tongue and is just sweet enough? You let me know. I’m game. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Nice Bike Path

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One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to have breakfast at Penny Cluse Cafe and then to ride the bike path north from Burlington. My son and I took advantage of our summer days to do this earlier this week. He slept in later than would be ideal for this particular adventure, but we did it anyway.

See, the place gets busy. We had to go during the week because the weekend? Forget it. The wait can be a couple of hours on a Saturday. Even on a weekday we had a wait close to an hour. We could have gone elsewhere to eat but we were both game for Penny Cluse–even though I was pretty hungry–so we waited. We walked up Church Street and played Pokemon Go to pass the time. My son just started playing so there were lots of fictitious creatures to add to his Pokedex. It was close to 10:30 by the time we took a seat.

By 11:00 breakfast was under our belts, so to speak. If you go there, get home fries. They are top notch, really the most important item of the most important meal. Anything there is tasty as can be so you can’t really go wrong. I tend to get beans with eggs, just because I never have that at home. My son got pancakes and, while he enjoyed them, he ate only one. Filling.

After sating ourselves we rolled down the hill to the waterfront. We rode bikes along the lake. The bike path was improved since I was last there. It is repaved and some of the overgrown asphalt patches are now tidy, with calisthenic devices and decks and railings over which one can enjoy the view. There are some newly cut paths to the water for swimming. It was nice. A nice bike path.

It made me think about livability. A bike path and open spaces and water make a town or a city a place people want to live. Sure, economic growth matters, but if you only think about creating jobs, then people will want, at best, to live in that next town over that is a little nicer. A town with nature and recreation and jobs is ideal. Earning a living is important. Living is important too.

A breeze blew across the water to cool us off. Bikers and walkers and lollygaggers shared the route with us. We rode a ways out and then turned back. The day was getting on. By the time we loaded our bikes back in the van and drove home and unloaded them, it was lunch time. We skipped it–not hungry. Summer is getting on. I’m thinking we won’t have a second chance at breakfast in town before school starts. So I am glad we made it happen.

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