I Just Want to Lie on the Couch and Read a Good Book

Hurricane rains, and it’s ridiculously steamy here in Southern Ontario considering the autumn leaves already rotting on our sidewalk. It feels like we’re living in the middle of a tropical jungle, not waiting for that nice killing frost that will put a happy and natural end to my food gathering and preserving efforts.

I feel tired today and not ready to start up a brand new week. That dreaded Sunday evening feeling. Spent most of the afternoon preparing food, including a superb grape/rhubarb cobbler using the cooked grape pulp leftover after the juice was strained for the jelly-making. This has to be one of the simplest desserts to bake, with the basic cobbler topping coming from my Joy of Cooking: 1 and 1/3 cups flour, 2 tbls sugar, 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, mix together, then cut in 5 tbls butter (approximately) and add 1/2 cup of milk. This makes a biscuit dough that you can cut or shape to lay over the sugared fruit of your choice in the 8×8 greased pan. I used the grape pulp, plus some frozen rhubarb, added 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tbsp flour. The biscuit dough needed a bit more flour to make it easy to work with. Bake at 375 for 45 mins. Eat plain or with milk over top.

So don’t throw out your grape pulp! Except this only worked because the grapes I used were next thing to seedless. Too many seeds would have made the pulp inedible.

I also baked cookies for school lunches, and made supper. And did piles of dishes. And spent 45 blissful minutes on the couch reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which I recommend highly. I keep picking it up at bedtime and then being unable to stop reading and as a result getting to sleep way too late. The kids didn’t know what to make of mommy reading on the couch. F was sure I was reading the hymnal and kept wondering why I wasn’t singing the book.

To update on the grape jelly: it appears to be jellying! Thanks to Nath for commenting on the last entry and letting me know her saskatoon berry jelly took two months to turn to jelly. I was certain I’d failed and would be using the pretty purple liquid as grape syrup for pancakes, or something, when I happened to pick up the jar I’d stuck in the fridge (half-full; I ended up filling 5 and 1/2 half-pint jars) and saw that the liquid was gelling. I literally ran up the stairs calling, “The jelly is jellying!” This qualifies for high entertainment in our house, I guess, because the kids and Kevin were just about as excited as I was. They should really inform you of this timelapse jelling effect somewhere in the recipe. I had the candy thermometer out, to ensure I’d reached prime jelling temperature (220 degrees, in case you’re interested; hmmm, I guess that’s Celsius), and kept lifting the wooden spoon staring at it with faint hope of seeing some “sheeting” action. Kevin was hauled in to evaluate: “This looks like dripping to me–does it look like dripping to you?” “Yes, it looks like dripping.” Finally, thinking I’d misunderstood the instructions, I just gave up and poured the hot syrup into the jars.

Long story, not short, I’m afraid.

I write these posts in the kitchen, and am beginning to suspect that’s skewing the content. I should be running a kitchen show. A kitchen show for people who want to learn how to cook from someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing.

That’s my time. Baby CJ’s livid in the living-room, and the kids are still upstairs pattering about on not-so-innocent little pittering feet.

Casual Canning

Alright, so I’m trying out the casual canning thing, putting to use those just-in-case lids. Last night I spent about two and a half hours making two canners of grape juice–14 quart jars. Grape juice should be put into larger jars, but I’m working with what’s kicking around the basement, and we can dilute it later. This necessary canning was put into motion by Nina’s spray-free local grape offer, and her suggestion that canning grape juice is particularly easy (which it is, in the realm of things canned). You wash the grapes, scald the jars, drop a cup or so of washed grapes into said jars, add a bit of sugar (1/3 cup, in my case; I would have preferred to go sugar-free, but couldn’t find a google or Ball Book answer on whether the sugar brings important preservative qualities to the mix). Pour boiling water over grapes and sugar, leave 1/4 inch space, screw on lids, process for 10 minutes. Repeat. Till jars run out or weariness overtakes you. It was the latter last night. I couldn’t believe how many grapes were still left by midnight.

Woke this morning, having dreamed of jars and grapes all night, resolved to fill the rest of the quart jars in the basement; but even after achieving this, the grape piles had scarcely abated. So I looked up some grape jelly recipes; I’ve got loads of half-pint jam jars. It looks easy … Take three-and-a-half pounds of grapes, wash, remove stems, toss into pot with 1/2 cup water, crush, simmer for 10 minutes, strain out juice. That’s how far I’ve gotten this morning. My Ball Book recipe calls for clarifying the juice over a 24-hour period, but I’m skipping that step. Next up, I’m going to boil the juice (about 4 cups) with 3 cups of sugar (!!!) till it gels, then pour into the hot, sterilized jars, and process for 5 minutes. Makes about 4 jars, apparently. But how will I know when it gels?

Ah, when it “sheets” off the spoon. All is made clear.

Dubious gelling intelligence aside, when this stage of the project is complete, at least I’ll have cleared the counter and fridge of grapes. And anything with that much sugar will appeal to small children regardless of texture. And the grape juice jars look particularly pretty, all jeweled fruit and rich-coloured juice. But I still have the Saturday chores to get to … the vacuuming, the bathrooms, the general pick-up, the odds and ends Kevin wants a chance to get to. Nothing pressing, however.

Except maybe a cup of coffee. Yes, be it resolved: while the jam gels, and the baby naps, and Kevin and the kids “clean” the basement, Carrie shall enjoy a cup of coffee.

I must also report that canning definitely feels more casual this second time around. I’ve got the tools, I know the timeframe. I’m realizing it would have been almost as easy to have canned my homemade ketchup and saved some room in the freezer. One person could can a heck of a lot just by setting aside two to three hours every evening during the peak harvest season. I’m not saying it would be fun or anything, and let’s not bother to calculate the time-cost, but a lot could get stuck into jars quite efficiently during those 2-3 hours … if one had the inclination and the fortitude and one’s children were not early-risers and one didn’t have a baby waking to nurse all night long. I’m a night owl anyway, so I foresee this as a future occupation. Late-night canning.

Covetous

I’m beginning to suspect that having babies has become a cool enterprise. Seven years ago, when A was an infant, there wasn’t all of this positively delectable (and useful) baby gear. Now I feel covetous, though it seems impractical to invest in a Swedish-built gorgeous high chair that converts to an ergonomic chair as the child grows (oh, but doesn’t that sound practical? baby CJ could use it till he leaves home). Not cheap, I must add. The baby carriers, the slings, the wooden toys, the darling leather bibs (okay, I just got that one, today, in fact; it attaches around the baby’s neck with magnets, can be wiped after every use, and hangs on the fridge between meals).

I know a lot of it seems excessive. Babies outgrow things quickly, and don’t care whether they’re chewing on a fabulous handmade sock puppet or a dog toy from Zellers; but in all of this excess, I sense a growing movement away from disposable and cheap and breakable, to the well-designed and durable–not to mention tactilely and visually appealing. Today’s selection in cloth diapers and accessories seems indicative of the fringe becoming mainstream, in a good way.

Which is how I’m justifying my covetousness … see, this stuff will really last! (Note to self: that justification only makes sense if one actually needs said “stuff” in the first place. Sigh. Thanks for the reminder, self).

Okay, F just ate one and a half pita pizzas for lunch and baby CJ tucked gratefully into his bowl of rice cereal, and we’re heading toward puzzle time and naptime. Baby’s not sleeping much at night (without simultaneously nursing), and I’m wondering how long it will be till we make a big change in our sleeping arrangements. Could be awhile yet. I’m surviving quite handily on cups of coffee and long moments of staring idly at things, and still seem to have the requisite amount of parenting patience; and it usually takes a drastic downturn to push me to make a big transition like this would require.

Writing Day

Always leaves me foggy. Today I was pleased by what got written, but almost felt distressed when I was done–not by the fact that my time was up, but because I hadn’t spent that “lost” time with the kids instead. It almost seems like a waste to spend these hours in an imaginary world when my actual family is actually doing and being and experiencing their youngest years. It’s funny, but the story I like best that I wrote this spring is about the passage of time. Sometimes it feels like that’s all I’m really writing about. About time past, and passing, hurrying us along and away from where we are this moment. And here I am, missing out on what’s hurrying past because I’m so busy writing about it.

And now I’m writing more, instead of responding to the game the kids have started playing spontaneously: something to do with cleaning the house??? Is this possible? AB: “Whoa, your house is really dirty!”

Then again, by writing about it, I also get to keep it, at least a few shreds …

AB to her brother: “Do you think this is the dirtiest house we’ve gone through?”
Good grief–I know it’s messy in here, but has it gotten that bad?

The problem is that once I get going writing, it’s so hard to turn it off. I need a little switch in my brain that can be flipped … ok, done thinking, now just BE. Writing is intensely private and requires such interior concentration that it takes time, maybe even hours, to crawl back out again and be properly engaged with this house and the needs of these little people populating it.

Will now turn away from the glowing screen and attempt re-entrance into the afternoon.

First Solid Meal

Baby CJ’s been studying us as we eat for the past couple of weeks. Because he’s often strapped onto our torso with the sling, it’s almost as if he’s an extra body part, and he’s awfully close to the food as it’s lifted from plate to mouth. His little head swings and his eyes grow wide, and his mouth opens as the food enters–someone else’s mouth. I may be projecting, but he looks kinda … hungry. Or at any rate fascinated. I had planned to wait till he was a full six months to introduce any kind of solid food, but after observing this hungry baby phenomenon for the past couple of weeks, I decided to give feeding a try. It is an awful lot of extra work. Breastfeeding is so simple, basic, fast, and by this point, not at all messy. We’re old pros now. (Breastfeeding at earlier stages in a baby’s life can sometimes be none of the above). It seems like whenever we get the hang of something, life invents another challenge.

So F and I headed uptown after school drop-off this morning, and bought a box of organic rice cereal. We came home and I pumped some milk while baby CJ worked the other side, and then we dug the high chair out of the attic, and mixed up a tablespoon of cereal with some breastmilk, broke out a bib, strapped him in, and proferred the spoon. I’ve done this a few times before, and the result is often disappointing, as I warned F (who was extremely excited, and imagined herself wielding the spoon). The tongue comes out, the facial expression says “disgusting” and the bowl’s contents eventually work their way onto every surface surrounding baby, including baby’s outside; with absolutely nothing swallowed. Both A and F refused solids till seven or eight months. But somehow, they didn’t look quite so hungry.

To F’s delight, baby CJ had no qualms at his first taste. He’s still working out the tongue and the swallowing, but he took in a lot more than expected. He cleaned the bowl, and then sucked the tray. Most went in. I’m proud of him, and glad that I tried feeding, since he’s clearly ready, but also know this will complicate life. The baby food grinder is out of storage once more, there will be extra bowls and spoons and bibs to wash, and a careful menu to introduce over time, as we watch for potential allergies. But he wants to be one of the gang, and he’s working so hard to get there. Babies. Their instinct is to grow up! No wonder people are always delighted to catch sight of an infant–they’re rare. We spend a vast proportion of our lives large and unportable and complicated–and, let’s face it, not nearly so cute.

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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm mother of four, writer of fiction and non-, dreamer, contemplative, mid-life runner, coach, forever curious. I'm interested in the intersection between art and spirituality. What if the purpose of life is to seek beauty? What if everyone could make art?

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