Monday, August 22, 2011

A Jam-Packed Monday Morning Daybook. . .

This is the picture-thought I am sharing with you.
Saturday scones. I left out 1/2c. flour, so they were
flat, but they were also quite delicious!

Outside My Window. . .

The grey sky brightens (barely, slowly, perceptibly). Soon there will be sun. Another day in the upper 80’s is forecast for today; this has consistently been our temperature of late. The air is just cool enough that it feels nice with the windows open in the morning. A light breeze gently flutters leaves on the trees in my back yard, where falling apples increase their daily pace. The morning ground is often littered with apples—most of them not of eating quality—and I pick them up and discard them. I’ve brought one or two inside to eat, and they’re pretty good. 

I am Hearing. . . 

As always, the hum of the refrigerator, but today it seems more earnest than usual. (Is something wrong?) Soft, lovely strains of Alina barely making it round the corner from the living room. 

The Books That Were Stacked Beside My Bed Last Night. . . 

Music of Silence by David Steindl-Rast. I read this book about once a year (or so). I bought it in 2006 on the recommendation of sweet Ann of the too-long-quiet Mozart and Mudpies blog. I miss Ann’s gentle voice. She inspired me. 

Goat Song by Brad Kessler. I loved reading this book. It is simple, poetic, and lovely, but quite likely not for everyone, particularly those who cannot imagine enjoying the unflinching reality of goat breeding and birthing, milking, and cheese-making as poetry (the author still might convince you!). I found the book a year or two ago on the clearance table at Borders. I opened it to a random page, and was struck by the writing—the descriptions of nature and bundling up against the cold, as well as the contemplative nature of the narrative. You know how the style of certain authors on certain topics “clicks” with you? That was this with me. 

The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann. This book is almost always at hand. I read it for his spiritual and cultural insights, plus his love for family, nature, and the ordinary. Schmemann was very real and down-to-earth and could see straight through spiritual silliness. 

Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros. It’s a sweet cook book to browse and read (and I do love a readable cookbook!). I love this one for her opening essay about family, memories, and food. 

Cooking at Home by Susan Hermann Loomis. This one made my pile last night because I recently read a quote about eating together (families and friends) by Loomis in one of my notebooks, and I wondered if I copied it from this book. Nope. 

Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes. Because it’s intriguing. I like this secular look at the beauties, sacrifices, hard work, and joys of domesticity.

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. I love the writing. I love the insights. I love reading about the aspects of architecture that are dealt with in this book.

My Bible. I should finish this round of Old Testament reading tomorrow or Wednesday morning, and it’s almost sad. Why are endings so often poignant to me, even when they shouldn’t be? I am a silly woman. I’ll just start back in Genesis and read through again. . .

A yellow file folder of articles and posts. Mine and others’. 

I am Thankful. . . 

That I am well. That there is plenty of fresh fruit in my kitchen. And vegetables. And chocolate. That I got to spend one long, lovely day with part of my family on Saturday. That my relationship with my children, and theirs with each other, is sweet.

Somehow this is the only picture I got of my lovely daughter.
It's nice to have my kids lounging on the furniture!

I am Wearing. . . 

I didn’t mean to, but this morning I broke free of my “morning uniform” rut. My hair is still messy, and my feet are still bare, but I am wearing light-colored cropped khaki hiking pants, a white tank top, a light-blousy pink top over it, and new reading glasses. I love these glasses, but wish I had not gotten clear/white frames (I see this color around and like it, but not so much with these glasses, and not so much on me; but it’s fine and better than my old glasses). 

In the Kitchen. . .

 Roman taking thirds.

On Saturday evening, I opened up the kitchen table, extending it as far as it would go, placed a tablecloth on it, and set six plates in front of the six chairs circling the table. (It was a very laid-back, casual affair, with unmatched, but complimentary, plates and glasses.) I moved to the stove, cooked a potful of Romano green beans, and tossed them with butter and salt.

My favorite Romano green beans.
Picked fresh from my sister's garden.

I sauteed some shrimp in butter and garlic til it was bright pink but not overcooked and spongy, then I squeezed in fresh lemon juice and some grated lemon zest, and I added enough olive oil to the pan to make a nice sauce. Meanwhile I boiled a box of De Cecco rigatoni in water that was “as salty as the Mediterranean,” and when the pasta was nicely al dente, I drained it and tossed it with the shrimp. I added a bit more olive oil because the dish wanted a touch more moisture and stirred in just enough (but not too much) grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese. I slid the shrimp scampi into a pasta bowl, cracked pepper over it, sprinkled a super-light layer of cheese on top, and scattered over some chopped parsely.

Monty walked into the kitchen while I was in the midst of cooking. He looked at me and then at the table, grinned, and said, “Just like old times!”

Yep. And I loved it. We sat round the table, Michelle holding Liya (who didn’t feel well), all of us eating and talking. Roman took seconds, then thirds before his parents said “enough.” Jayden wanted to eat everyone’s shrimp. Everything entirely devoured.

It was a good meal with a set kitchen table and my family round it. The first time I have done this in two years. It made me happy!

Oh, and we had our traditional Saturday morning Chocolate Chip-Lemon Scones with coffee earlier in the day. I accidentally left out half a cup of flour. I knew I hadn’t added enough flour when I pulled the dough together and pressed it out, but I didn’t want to knead in another half cup and risk making the scones heavy and dry, so I left it out. I calculated that the ingredients were good—lots of butter and cream and unhealthiness that would make for a delicious, desserty taste—so even if the scones flattened out completely, they would still taste wonderfully delicious. And I was right.

 Click for a bigger look.
Liya liked her smoothie. Roman is sweet.
And Jayden grabbed the sponge to wash his mug. He's super-focused!

And there were smoothies and, in the evening, popcorn.

They taste better than they look in the picture!

I made these “Chinese Green Beans” recently when Aaron was over in the evening. When Aimee saw us eating them during a video chat and wondered what they were, I told her I would get the recipe to her, and I might as well get it to you, too! I love Asian flavors, so this is one of my favorite green bean recipes, from Jennifer Katzinger’s Flying Apron’s Gluten-Free and Vegan Baking Book (Flying Apron is a bakery in Seattle).  I could eat these green beans all day long, and when I make them, I eat mine and want to sneak bites off the plates of everyone else when they’re not looking.

Chinese Green Beans
with options and suggestions from me

3T. sesame oil (not toasted, but you can add a tiny bit of toasted for flavor)
2 shallots or ½ small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ to 1 chili pepper, seeded and minced (or ½ t. garlic-chili sauce)
1 t. grated fresh gingerroot
2 T. tamari (or shoyu)
1 T. brown rice vinegar
2 t. maple syrup
1 lb. green beans, trimmed
½ c. toasted cashews, finely chopped for garnish
1 T. julienned Thai basil, for garnish

--Heat sesame oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, chili pepper. Saute til shallots are light brown and slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Add gingerroot, tamari, brown rice vinegar, and maple syrup, and turn off heat.

--Meanwhile, boil or steam green beans until they are no longer grassy-tasting. I like my green beans really cooked til tender and not crisp-tender (but they should not be at all mushy). I don't like the grassy taste of what I consider undercooked green beans.

--Toss beans with sauce and garnish with cashews and basil.

I am Pondering. . . 

Lots of thoughts are crossing my mind, and some of them stay there for awhile. I suppose these are my ponderings.

One came about on a walk. I had just crested a steep hill and was enjoying the view of the southern hills from there when I heard soft strains of music. I looked off to the left and saw a young woman in a summery skirt and blouse, walking slowly along with her hose watering her flower garden. Just when I looked at her, she glanced at me, and we smiled at each other.

“It’s peaceful,” I said.

And she replied, “I try.”

I was struck by that. “I try.” Because that’s it, isn’t it? True, deep inner peace is a gift from God. We seek Him, we surrender to His will, we set our mind and heart on Him, and we find “peace that passes all understanding.” But outward peace? We try. We create it. And because of that inner pace we have been given, we are both constrained and enabled to make order out of chaos, just like God did and does.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Creating order out of chaos or mess is a God-like act. And this orderliness brings a sense of sweetness and peace: to our home, to our family, to our inner spirit, to our outward behavior. “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” This is why we do our domestic work. This is why we continually battle disorder. This is why we file things. This is why we declutter. Order brings peace and allows for the enjoyment of beauty. Blake’s words have become my domestic mantra: “All in order, sweet and lovely.”

Okay. I think one “pondery” thing is enough for one day. 

Making Home “Sweet and Lovely”. . . 

The garage is almost entirely gone-through. At the opening end of the garage, I have a large stack of things to be taken to the dump or Goodwill, and at the other end are a few items of furniture I can’t fit, or don’t want, in this house. There are also more boxes I need to sort through to streamline what I’ll keep. Christmas things. Papers. Memorabilia. (Who wants the encumbrance of carryiing boxes of stuff through one’s life?!) I’ll go through those few remaining boxes little by little.

My second bedroom—disastrous a few weeks ago—is in tidy order. Instead of creating a huge mess of stacks of papers all at once from the boxes of writings I’ve created and collected, I am working through little bits of each box at a time. This is both more manageable and more enjoyable. I’m in no hurry. I like reading through these old papers. 

I Went. . . 

On a Sunday afternoon hike with Aaron, JoAnne (my sister), and Gene (her husband). We drove to Mt. June, and hiked to the top. At its 4,623 foot elevation, June not a big mountain like the ones we were in last weekend, but views from the top were still pretty, and the walk to the peak through the woods felt cool and soothing on a warm day.

It looks like we're about to enter a fantasy-wood.

Lots of tall trees on this hike.

View from up top.
Toward the place we backpacked last weekend.

Me going back down.

The filtered light was pretty all along the trail.

JoAnne and Gene coming down.

There was a lot of fallen timber along the way.
Most of it was cleared away by chainsaw,
but we walked over this rotted log.

Ferns abounded, too.
It all looked amazingly lush for late August.

 End of trail.

I am Thinking. . .

About the wonders of coconut water! :-)

During WWII, in the Pacific, medics used coconut water as IV fluid. It is sterile, has a natural antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, and it is said to closely resemble blood plasma. It’s actually not identical to plasma, but the fluid worked wonders for injured or sick soldiers who needed it. Medics didn’t even bother to strain the fluid or move it to an IV bag. The IV ran straight from a hole made in the coconut to the arms of the soldiers. It was most sterile this way.

Coconut water has a nice balance of electrolytes and is used by many as a recovery drink after a workout. This is terrific for almost all of us, but here, too, experts say, coconut water is not perfect (they say too low in salt and too high in zinc for a perfect replacement drink for those who are elite athletes or who do extremely intense workouts. . . but some just add a pinch of salt).

And now I’ve found another use for coconut water. They make awesome, natural, pure eye-drops! I awoke the other morning with scratchy, red, allergy-eyes (and some puffiness). I’ve had all-natural eye-drops around before, but I couldn’t find any, so I looked online to see if coconut water might be okay to use. Yes, indeed—recommended even. So, I tried it. Washed my eyes with the stuff, and, sure enough, my eyes were soothed, and the redness went away. I like this. It’s cheaper and even more natural than the concocted “natural” stuff.

A Quote I am Leaving With You. . .

“Simple bourgeois happiness is often despised by activists of all sorts who quite often do not realize the depths of life itself; who think that life is an accumulation of activities. God gives us His life, not ideas, doctrines, rules. At home, when all is done, life begins.”

~Alexander Schmemann


  1. Susan, oh how I love reading your daybooks. Always such a nice mix of love, coziness, wisdom, and all things home.

  2. Your description of Schmemann's journals makes me think you might also enjoy Francois Fenelon's writing. Here is a link: I'm curious--could you post your scone recipe? They always look/sound yummy! Thank you!

  3. Yes, your Monday Daybooks are *such* fun to read!

    I know this may sound a bit strange, but when I read someone's name I like to know I'm pronouncing it correctly in my mind. So I was wondering how you pronounce your granddaughter's name. Is the 'I' in Liya a long 'I'?

  4. I've only gotten as far as your comment about finishing the Old Testament, and how endings are always sad for you. I know just what you mean. I feel the same way. And I loved it when I was doing my student teaching years ago andone of my second graders wrote in her journal for the day, "November 30, 1979 Today is the last day of November. That makes me feel sad." That was all. And it resonated with me. I responded something to the effect that I understood how she feels. Endings make me feel sad too. Actually, endings AND beginnings are always kind of hard for me. I guess I just like the comfortable rut! ;D I do like variety and new things though. Anyway...back to the rest of your post.


  5. And I just love your description of Saturday in the kitchen. It made me happy just reading about it. And it made me laugh out loud too at the things your family said around your kitchen table, perfectly arranged for conviviality and good fellowship. I love the way you describe your how you make the good food. Those Chinese green beans look and sound wonderful. And the Lemon-Chocolate Chip Scones...have you ever posted that recipe? I like the sound of that combination.


    P.S. I feel like you're becoming my friend this summer....and I hope I'm not becoming a bother!!!

  6. And your ponderings are quintessential Elisabeth Elliot, don't you think?

  7. Perhaps this will be my last comment. I've been reading your post in small bits at a time.
    In reference to your first hike photo, I'm always drawn to the mystery of a path that beckons one into a woods. And this one definitely says, "Come on in..." :D


  8. I also enjoy Father Schemenann's journals and writings by David Steindl-Rast.
    Have your read any books by Noreen Vest? Enjoy your listings of what you are reading, since I am always on the lookout for a new interesting read or a reminder to reread a great book. Just reordered John Senior's book from the inter loan library and stocking up on books as we prepare for remenants of hurricane Irene to blow through.

    I've disconnected the Direct TV and learning to spend evenings in quiet alone, while husband is away. He gave the okay after I told him we would save 868.00 a year. Why not spend the money on an experience for concerts, plays, or a trip?

  9. Sounds like a fantastic weekend! Your reading stack books all sound interesting, (Apples for Jam is in my current rotation as well)especially the Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann. I am going to make the green beans for dinner, as my beans are FINALLY ripe! Thank you for the recipe!

  10. Ann was one of my favorite bloggers too...she reminds me a lot of you, my dear. But quieter. *hee*

    Great tip on the coconut water! We always have someone with allergy-scratchy eyes. I'm going to try that.

    love you tons.

  11. I loved reading Goat Song. I even read it out loud to my teenagers(minus one of the chapters:), Susan you are so appreciated. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. love, sue

  12. Thank you, Cathleen! I'm really glad that you enjoy reading them. They've gotten a bit long lately (10 little posts in one!). . . :-)

    Rebecca, thank you again for the recommendation! I do have some Fenelon, so, yes, I like him! (You were right!) :-) I will be happy to post the scone recipe, either later today or tomorrow.

    Hi Michele. Thank you. And my granddaughter's name is pronounced just like "Leah." Lee-uh or Lee-yuh. :-)

    Judi, you are in no way becoming a bother! :-) I enjoy your commments very much, and I actually think it's nice to have some actual conversation at a blog! You say some really great, insightful things in the comments. And I actually like knowing about those dishes (I looked them up and really like them!) and all of the other things you talk about. I loved that you could relate to sadness over endings (and beginnings--me, too!--and my son said that he's the same way). I loved how you told your 2nd grader that you understand instead of saying not to feel sad. And you do make me smile, even laugh, sometimes. So, I'm glad you're such an active part of my blog! Thank you for your detailed, interesting comments, and feel free to say whatever you want! :-)

    mominapocket, I haven't read Noreen Vest, but thank you for the recommendation. I will certainly look her up. Based on what you read, I am sure I will like her! How are you enjoying your evenings without TV? I don't really know otherwise anymore, but I love it. I'm trying not to use the computer much then, either. Quiet evenings offer much!

    Mrs. Fordyce, yes, I remember you liking Tessa! :-) She's one of my favorites. Be sure to let me know how you like those green beans!

    Tonia, I don't know how to take that. . . :-D xoxoxo to you, too! (Hope the coconut water works!)

    Sue, you are the only one I've ever met who has read that book! So fun to know that you loved it, too. And thank you for your nice comment. :-)

  13. Finally made the green beans (my sister bought enough Indian food to feed an army, just finished the leftovers!) and they are fantastic! I didn't have fresh ginger and I only had peanuts, but I still managed to eat half of them before dinner time!Thanks again for the recipe! I am going cookbook shopping tonight at my soon to be defunct Borders (cookbooks are now 40% off) and I will add the cookbook to my list to look out for!

  14. Yay, Mrs. Fordyce, I'm glad you liked the green beans so well! Me, too! :-) Thanks for letting me know.