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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Sweet corn rules

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Sweet corn does, in fact, “rule”, but this post is the rules according to Robin for sweet corn.  I admit that I’m a bit of a corn snob.  Kyle would say I’m a major corn snob.  I don’t feel this passionate about any other vegetables and now that I think of it, perhaps it’s strange that I’m fanatical about this one particular food.  But sweet corn season is short, and it has the potential to be soooo delicious, so why waste time eating less than awesome corn?  Good corn is sweet and so crisp that it pops and sounds like fire crackers in your mouth as it bursts off the cob.

I grew up in a house where sweet corn season was taken very seriously.  The protocol was strict and now, any other way of eating corn makes me cringe.  My dad had a long commute down country roads, and I remember the excitement when he’d hit the jackpot and find a stand where the farmer was bringing the corn in fresh from the fields as he drove home.  If memory serves me right, we’d polish off several dozen ears between the four of us at dinner.  On the rare occasion we couldn’t finish it all, my mom would make the most incredible corn fritters the next night for dinner which we’d drizzle with maple syrup.  I don’t think I’ll ever attempt to make fritters because nothing could beat my memory of them.

Here are the rules for sweet corn in my house.  Kyle kindly humors me but he’s admitted he can’t taste the difference.

  1. The corn.  The corn has to come from a farm stand and should preferably have been picked within several hours.  We ate some for lunch yesterday that was still wet with the morning dew and I thought I’d gone to heaven.  Small kernels are often sweeter (and less starchy) than big ones.
  2. Cooking.  After husking the corn, I put about an inch of water in my biggest pot and bring it to a boil.  I pop the ears into the pot and cover it with a lid.  I let the water boil and the corn steam for 7 minutes.
  3. Kitchen to table transportation.  This step is critical.  Remove the cooked corn from the pot with tongs and stack them as quickly as possible on a plate.  Immediately cover the ears with a clean kitchen towel to trap the heat in and keep the corn piping hot.  Rush the plate to the table –  everyone had better be sitting and ready.  If your crowd appreciates good corn, this should not be a problem.
  4. Table preparation.  Sneak an ear out from under the towel without letting any steam escape.  Push corn picks into each end and roll the ear in butter.  Put one end on the plate and spin the ear as you sprinkle salt.  At this point in the preparation, my parents split into two very different camps, and each one lobbies for their own method every time they eat corn.  My dad would say the corn is complete with just butter and salt.  My mom also adds freshly ground black pepper.  I side with my mom.  Kyle is a purist and eats the corn “as nature intended” – totally plain with no butter, no salt, no pepper.  Preparation should be done quickly.
  5. Eating.  The corn should still be so hot that the kernels burn your mouth and the steam is rising up into your face.  If you’re not sweating form the heat rolling off that first ear of corn, it’s too cold.
When I was young, my dad would start at one end of the ear and speed-eat down a row of corn, splutter a “ding” (with a mouth full of corn), and move the ear back to his starting point, imitating a typewriter.  My sister and I thought he was hysterical, and we were never able to replicate it because our mouths weren’t big enough to hold a row of kernels.  Now that I’m a mom, I got to test out the typewriter trick on my boys.  They also thought it was hysterical, but have no idea what a typewriter is or that I was imitating anything other than a lunatic.  Their laughter escalated as they started to rub their corn cobs all over their faces and scream out “ding!”  I got the look from Kyle for riling them up at the table, but it’s all part of my grand scheme to make my kids as passionate about corn as I am.
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How do you dress your corn?  Are you pro pepper?  Is there a vegetable you are inexplicably zealous about?

Thank you, garden

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The garden gave us a great anniversary gift.  I found a handful of ripe cherry tomatoes to cook into our favorite meal:  pan roasted garlic and cherry tomatoes with penne.  Woo hoo! they were delicious.

Ten

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State of the garden, July 25 2011

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Today’s harvest was raspberries, zucchini, carrots and a handful of sugar snap peas (that went directly into our mouths).

I need more space!  I finally pulled the ratty arugula.  I had to pull some carrots because they were being attacked by the squash plants.  The squash plants are so big and unruly I can’t even reach the squash to harvest them.  Hence the “cue ball” squash that is the size of Pea’s head.  I need gloves and long sleeves to work around them – I didn’t know they were so prickly!  I’m almost glad that they are now under full attack by every pest and disease that a squash can get.  The undersides of the leaves are covered in squash bug eggs (I watched little ones emerging today, which was grossly fascinating), there is squash vine borer frass oozing out of multiple stems, and at least 20 fruit have succumbed to blossom end rot.  But I already have 19 zucchini in my fridge, so if they die now, I won’t cry.  I am satisfied with their yield for my first try.

The tomatoes are a tease.  The vines are now 8 feet high and loaded with green fruit.  I have to stand on a stool to weave them through the top of the arbor.  They can start ripening any time now.  I am inpatient to taste them.

The garlic was ready to harvest (as far as I could tell with my limited-to-Google knowledge) even though the heads are small.  (I should have planted them last fall instead of this spring, but the garden didn’t exist then.)  Thirty heads have been drying in my porch for a week.  I plan to plant a bunch of them back into the garden in fall.

Can anyone give me a good use for banana peppers?  I have roughly 689 huge peppers that just keep growing.  I don’t know how the plants can even stand up under the weight of the fruit.  They were my on-a-whim purchase for the garden.  I passed a pack of 3 nice sized plants on clearance for $1 as I was buying my herbs this spring and thought, hey, why the heck not?  But now I’m thinking, why the heck?  I like spicy foods, and one thin slice is good on tacos, but their burn lingers for a day on my lips.  Is there some way I could process them into a chipmunk destroyer weapon?  Or maybe let them grow larger and hollow them out for canoes?

Thai Family Reunion 2011

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First of all, Hannah is my hero.  She organized a spectacular weekend in Chicago for families with kids adopted from Thailand.

Second of all, put TFR 2013 on your calendar:  it’ll be in Boston.  If you have Thai kids and if you’re not there, you’re missing out!

Watching 65 amazing kids run around together made me feel so so lucky to have adopted my boys.

Reconnecting with old friends, meeting internet friends for the first time, discovering new friends.  It was surreal to see all these people in the same place and watch their kids playing with mine.  And while the 4 days were a blur of talking with lots of excellent people, I still didn’t manage to meet everyone.  It makes me look forward to the next reunion already.  In fact, we’re already hatching plans because we don’t want to wait 2 years to see everyone again.

Oh, and the kids had fun, too.

Friday we were fortunate to have P. perform a dance she choreographed and play the khim for us.  She did a beautiful job.  Little girls from the Thai Cultural Fine Arts Institute of Chicago also demonstrated some Thai dancing and then taught us a few dances.  They brought traditional Thai clothing for kids to try on and taught lotus flower origami.  There were weaving strips to make fish.  (Youngsters ran around with whole handfuls of woven fish, while the adults I sat with struggled to make anything recognizable.  Apparently this is a skill that is lost around the age of 18.)  Courtney and I had a few craft tables set up with cut-paper lanna flags, and Thai zodiac stamps to decorate fabric flags (which were quickly transformed into headbands by the kids) and hand-made journals.  Between the dancing, crafting, story telling and music, there was swimming and Chicago-style pizza.

Amazingly, despite more than eight inches of rain and some flooding in Chicago this weekend, we stayed dry on Saturday during a lovely picnic with yummy Thai food.  Well, we were all dry except for Pia, who fell in the pond.  (Sorry Courtney.  =P )

Here’s a smattering of photos from the weekend.  We hope to see you in Boston in 2013.

Pea's new friend

Impressively, the teenagers were excited to learn the dances

P. playing the khim

storytelling

weaving fish

stamping journals and flags

lotus flower origami

Jim's hidden talent

cutting lanna flags

journal making

Pea, grumpy as usual

some of the kids

Picnic

blogging buds

Pia and Jesse (aka Tea's competition =) )

snubbed by Pia, Tea found a new friend =)

the Wisconsin contingent

Thanks to everyone who helped make this weekend happen, especially Hannah and Sam, and also to everyone who came – our family had a wonderful time with all of you.  We hope to see you again soon.

Cousin Camp 2011, part 2: the kids take over

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If it were up to the kids, Cousin Camp would consist of only two things:

1. Epic games of four-square (epic in terms of length and intensity, and also in some other way as the kids kept using “epic” as some sort of new slang term)

2. Marathon crayfish-catching sessions

But since it isn’t up to them (or at least I still like to pretend that I am the one running this thing) I asked the 7 eldest cousins to teach classes as part of College for Cousins. I wasn’t sure what to expect from these classes, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised by how much thought and planning went into them.

Cousin #1 and Cousin #6 taught Fencing 101, in which they gave a short history of the sport and then demonstrated how to parry and lunge. Jim had made lovely dowel rod foils for this class, but apparently wood is not the material of choice for fencing foils as they all broke by the end of the course. I audited this particular course and found it to be very educational. Plus, the instructors told me I had excellent lunging form. So I am quite proud. I am also extremely annoyed that I have no great photos of this class. Indeed, the class was so well done that we were taking video most of the time and as a result, have few stills. sniff.

Cousin #2 taught Friendship Bracelets 203, which proved to be an absolute hoot. Did you know that 15-year-old boys don’t know how to braid? Shocking! So thanks to Cousin Camp 2011 and the eldest girl cousin, these boys now know this valuable skill.

Cousin #3 taught Tennis Ups and Downs 101. There didn’t seem to be much planning for this course as the instructor brought all of 3 tennis balls with which to teach. But despite the apparent lack of planning much fun was had by the students as they got to practice serving into the vacant yard next door (formerly known as Robin’s house, which she refused to buy – yes, I too question her commitment to this friendship –  and now appears to have been bought by some other phantom owner). I foolishly offered $10 to the first person who could hit the maple tree trunk in said vacant lot and within minutes two cousins had accomplished this goal. Sigh. The instructor switched things up a bit for the class of little kids and taught, literally, ups and downs. Please note the appropriate footwear and spot-on tennis stance of these cousins.

Cousin #4 taught Intro to Volleyball where she demonstrated how to set, serve and bump a volleyball. Again I was impressed with the thought behind and the framework of the class. I think the kids actually learned something here. I mean other than the obvious: that volleyball is like torture to uninitiated wrists.

Cousins #5 and #7 taught separate art classes. Cousin #5 chose Drawing Cartoons 304. Again, I was amazed at the thought that went into the planning (it appears that I think my nieces and nephews are slackers as I was continually amazed by what they presented). He had the kids choose a sport item (a tennis ball, a football, a bat, etc) and then add a face to it (happy, sad, guilty, angry, etc). He had examples of each face that the kids could copy. One cousin drew a fencing foil with a guilty face after breaking a wooden foil in the class before. The ballerina drew a happy ballet shoe. The volleyball instructor drew a nervous volleyball about to be spiked. Funny stuff. Cousin #7, an expert in this field, taught Intro to Painting Monkeys. He taught the kids step-by-step, from ears on down to the banana held in a foot.

Still more Cousin Camp recap to come! Stay tuned for the next episode where Aunt Courtney is forced against her better judgement to allow rafting down a river and under a highway. The things I do…

Because of course I want another hobby to neglect

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I can no longer remember how it started.  I may have been asked.  I may have been foolish enough to volunteer.  In any case, I’m leading a few little craft projects at a get-together of families with adopted Thai children next weekend.  (I’m making Courtney help me because it’s easy to talk her into crafty things.)  One minor problem was that, while I love looking at Thai handicrafts, I do not know how to make any of them.  Another minor problem was that the projects had to be suitable for kids of all ages (2-teen) and be easy to do in a hotel conference room with minimal supplies. So I searched a bit and found pictures of some beautiful Thai temple flags that had all 12 animals of the Thai zodiac on them.  I thought it’d be fun to do some projects that involved stamping with the Thai zodiac animals. The next minor problem was that I couldn’t find those stamps for sale (if there are some available, please don’t tell me now).

So I did more research and figured out how to carve some myself.  It was ridiculously fun and easy.  Here’s how, in case you’d like to carve your own designs.

Tutorial disclaimer:  I’m self-taught and don’t actually know what I’m doing.  If you have tips, please share them!

Supplies:  Speedball speedy carve (a flat sheet of rubber), Staedtler #1V gouge (used to carve very thin, intricate parts of the design), Speedball lino cutters #1-5 (for removing larger pieces of rubber) I got my supplies here.  It was the only store I found that carried the Staedtler gouge by itself instead of in a kit.

  1. Find an image you want to carve a stamp of.  I found a great series of postage stamps with the animals I needed.
  2. Use photo editing software to convert the image to a 2-color image you can easily carve.  Take out extra detail and background.  In Photoshop, the “artistic” filters “cutout” and “poster edges” both gave my image nice edges for carving.  Resize it to be the size of your desired stamp.  Print it out.
  3. Trace over the outline of the image and all interior details with a sharp pencil.
  4. Place the paper, image-down, onto the carving surface.  Hold it in place and rub the paper with a smooth, hard object (I used the handle of one of the gouges) to transfer the pencil lines to the rubber.  Use an x-acto knife to cut around the image.
  5. With the smallest (or sometimes larger, depending on the section) gouge, cut away all of the interior details.  Remember- whatever you carve away will not pick up ink.  Your image is actually whatever you leave as-is. (Try not to touch the pencil lines with your fingers or it can smudge away.)  Push the gouge away from you to cut the rubber (and keep your fingers away – it’s razor sharp!)
  6. Cut away the outline of the image with the smallest gouge.  Go back around the outline with larger gouges, moving further away from the image.  Eventually you can use the really big gouges to cut away the rubber from the large open spaces.
  7. The finished stamp looks like this:
  8. Apply ink and make a test image.  From this image you can see if there are areas that need to be carved a bit deeper to avoid placing ink on the page where there shouldn’t be any.
  9. To work optimally, the stamp should be mounted onto a layer of foam and wood.  I took a shortcut and skipped the foam.  I used Gorilla Glue to glue the rubber to 3″ squares of oak.
The stamps turned out well.  My favorite to carve was the naga (which is the dragon in the Chinese zodiac).  The coverage by the washable ink  is a little disappointing.  I’ve tried the Michael’s store brand and Melissa and Doug.  Michael’s “Craft Smart Washable” seems spotty.  Melissa and Doug’s Washable ink covers a bit more evenly but is much lighter.  For this project we really need washable ink, but I’m looking forward to trying the stamps with some better inks in the future.
If all goes well, we’ll have cute finished craft pictures to share after the reunion.