Saturday, October 31, 2009

Witches, Ghosts, Goblins....and Highlanders

One of the traditions I love best is the Halloween parade at the Lower School.  JT is in the 4th grade and this is his 7th year in the parade.  In that parade, he's been a dinosaur, a prince, Peter Pan, an Indian, a black cat, an alien, and a Scottish Highlander.  This last costume, perhaps his most extravagant ever, was a joint production of JT''s imagination and his grandma's sewing skills.

Watching the parade around the old copper beech tree is one of the best parts of the day.  This year, Grandma came to see the glory of her creation in motion.  The day wrapped up with trunk-or-treat with his buddies, a festival of trick-or-treating that is the most efficient candy delivery system known to child-kind. 

JT sorted the candy when we arrived home and sternly warned the grown-ups to leave it be.  But, hey, that's why Mama created a bedtime.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Food Friday: Creamed Spinach

I have a great fondness for spinach and earlier this week I wrote about some creamed spinach that I made.  I promised the recipe and here it is.

1 package fresh spinach (I like the baby spinach)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste

Heat skillet on medium-high heat, melt butter and then saute garlic and onion.  The goal is to soften them up, not to brown them.

Add the spinach and stir well to cover with the butter.  Keep stirring as the spinach wilts; it should take 3-4 minutes.

Wilting looks like this:

And then like this:

When it wilts to your satisfaction, pour in the cream.

Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.  This will provide two servings and it can be doubled; tripled, etc as needed.

Tastes amazing, I promise.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bounty From Home

Yesterday afternoon, my parents flew in from California.  Their visit is a highly anticipated event here at Sassafras House ---- JT couldn't wait to talk their ears off and I'm happy to have a full seating at the supper table each night. 

In addition to bringing themselves, they arrived with produce.  There are some beautiful limes from Dad's backyard tree:

And some Calvado avocados (my favorite).  My mother reports they cost just 50 cents.  Information like this makes me swoon with envy.  I see a large bowl of guacamole in our immediate future.

Last night, Grandma, who used to teach the 4th grade, helped out with math homework, a very welcome respite of my regular duties.

And JT got to watch some baseball with his Grandpa.  In all probability,  this means JT will learn some new and handy ways to use profanity.

All is well.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Handy Uses for Your Nine Year Old

My parents arrive in town later this week and, of course, that means we've abandoned our normal slatternly lifestyle and have engaged in the sort of careful cleaning required when one's mother comes to town.  Dust bunnies everywhere have been vanquished.  The playroom is looking remarkably civil.  The wood floors are brightly shining.

Cleaning the light fixtures in my kitchen requires someone to climb on the counter to get the job done.  I knew just who to call for that sort of job.

It's not often that I invite the boy to climb on the counter tops --- in fact he looked a bit incredulous when I suggested that he go ahead and stand up there.  But he quickly got into the spirit of things and mugged for the camera.  He's Super Cleaning Boy!  You may rent him by the hour if you are not equipped with your own.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Local Color edition

The backstory: On the drive to school the other day, we were temporarily behind a shiny black car with a large sticker in the back window which read "Italian Princess."  JT had questions.

JT: What is an Italian Princess?

Mama:  It's an Italian girl from New Jersey.

JT:  But what makes her a princess?

Mama:  Big hair, long shiny fingernails, and an attitude.

JT: You forgot good pizza.  We have good Italian pizza in New Jersey.

The boy makes a valid point.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Final Harvest

About 10 days ago, the weather forecast for the night ahead included a frost warning.  That afternoon, JT and I went out to the garden and picked the last of the onions, carrots, and beets from the garden, heaping them all in the basket.  We grabbed up some flowers for bouquets and then brought everything inside.  For supper that night I served roasted carrots, beets, and creamed spinach; I used one of the onions to make the spinach.

Though the final harvest was a lovely closing to the garden season, I always find the final picking bittersweet.  I'm a little sad to think I won't be marching out there to grab up a tomato for my supper.  But today, I plan to plant some bulbs that will bring flowers for the spring.  In the next few weeks, I'll be getting things ready to winter over and soon enough I'll be looking at the seed catalogs and making plans for the spring. 

And that's the lovely thing about a garden: sometimes there's work to be done and other times there's work to be imagined.  And at all times the promise of growing things makes life richer.

Update: Creamed spinach recipe will appear later this week.  And, sigh, JT would have nothing to do with said creamed spinach. 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Food Friday: French Onion Soup

The arrival of cooler evenings has inspired me to start making soup again. I make all sorts of soups but one of my favorites is French Onion soup. I like this recipe for onion soup so much that I almost never try French Onion at a restaurant.....I know that it won't be nearly as good.

And the very best part of this recipe is that it is so incredibly easy.

2-3 tablespoons butter
4 cups thinly sliced onions.......and thinly sliced is key, so don't mess around here
4 cups vegetable broth (cubes or doesn't matter)
2 tablespoons red or rose wine
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
4-6 slices garlic toast (see my recipe)
1-2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
ground pepper
ground oregano

A note on onions: I usually use yellow onions, though sometimes I mix red and yellow. If you have a red onion on hand, use it. If not, yellow will do quite nicely.

And about the broth: I prefer vegetable broth because it's sweeter; traditional onion soup uses beef broth and that may be more to your liking.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the onions; make sure they are coated in the butter. Then liberally sprinkle pepper over the onions; stir and then add a bit more pepper. Turn heat down to medium low, place a lid on the pot and let it be for 10 minutes. seriously....don't even think about lifting that lid.

While you are waiting, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Grate the Swiss cheese. But leave that pot alone!

After ten minutes, stir the onions and give them a generous sprinkle with dried oregano. Add the 4 cups of broth, the wine, and Worcestershire. Bring to a rolling boil. Then reduce heat, put the lid back on, and simmer for 10 more minutes.

Your kitchen now smells amazing. At ten minutes, ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls. Top each bowl with a garlic toast or two and then the swiss cheese. Place the bowls in the oven and broil until the cheese is melted and bubbling (about 7-10 minutes).

The bowls and soup will be very careful not to burn your tongue. Serves 2-3 supper-sized servings or 4-6 appetizer servings. Yum.

Note: These pictures loaded up easy-peasy.  If only I could figure out why.  Sigh.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Birds AND the Bees?

For a while now, JT has been in possession of the facts of life.  Several pressing questions from him resulted in me laying out the sordid details about how babies are born.  He took the news well, though he remains incredibly skeptical about such an arrangement.  When our talk finished, I issued the standard Mama closing statement, "let me know if you have other questions."

So every once in a while, at moments when I least expect it, he asks for clarification.  One morning last week, as I was getting lunches packed, he asked, "How do cats have kittens?"  So I explained the process but, before I could finish, he said incredulously, "They have sex too?"  I confirmed.  He shook his head.....and then said, "How do they know that's what they are supposed to do?  Because, honestly, Mama, it doesn't seem obvious to me."

So I went with the Mother Nature response: "When they are ready, their bodies tell them what to do."

He contemplated that and then asked the obvious next question" "What about dogs?  Horses?  Cows?  Snakes?"

"They all have sex to make babies," I explained.

More incredulous head-shaking ensued as he wondered who, exactly, thought this insane arrangement was a good idea.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Statement of Southern Legitimacy

My good friend S sent me this link, from a Southern literary journal, The Dead Mule Society, which requires submitters to offer up their statement of Southern Legitimacy along with their literary submissions.  S wondered what my statement might be.  I am not a writer who submits things to journals of poetry or fiction.  But (of course) I loved the challenge of drafting my Southern Legitimacy Statement.  So I set to work.

Being southern means looking for daffodils in February, magnolia blooms in May, and lightening bugs in July, a month that you pronounce as jew-lie.

Being southern means having a front porch and a rocker.

Being southern means having your picture made as in "Y'all stand still while I make your picture with my camera."

Being southern means that when you walk through the door to the steamy outdoors in the morning you expect to have your glasses fog up .

Being southern means understanding the difference between "y'all" (a group of people) and "all y'all" (a real big group of people).

Being southern means you understand that all soda is known as "coke."  From there, distinctions may be drawn, as in "Yes, ma'am, I would like a coke.  I'll have a Dr. Pepper."

Being southern means understanding that macaroni & cheese is a vegetable.

Being southern means an expectation that homemade corn muffins or biscuits will be served hot and fresh with most every meal.

Being southern means eating supper, not dinner.

Being southern means knowing the difference between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey.  And having a preference.

Being southern means there is a fresh pitcher of iced tea on your counter all summer long.  It's called the tea pitcher.

Being southern means you can make fried chicken without a recipe.

Being southern means that grits and cornmeal are staples in your pantry.

Being southern means your baby calls you mama and when that child is a handful you sigh and say, "child, you wear me out."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Household Happiness: Garden Bouquets

Usually, the 15th of each month features a post that I call household happiness.  It's something in my home that I really love.  Last week on the 15th I was yammering on about politics and so I missed my regular  household happiness posting.  But this is my blog and I make the rules, so I've decided that a delayed  household happiness posting is just the ticket to start out the week.  The pictures you see are various flower bouquets that I cut from my garden over the course of the past summer.
The very first garden I planted, on my apartment balcony when I lived in Nashville,  featured a few tomato plants and several pots of flowers.  Each week, I would cut some of those flowers for an indoor bouquet.  Almost 20 years later, my garden is a lot larger but it still includes flowers.  I continue to cut bouquets for the indoors.

One of the parts of summer I enjoy the most is picking flowers for fresh  bouquets each week.  I plant scads of zinnias of all sorts; they are old-fashioned, hearty, colorful flowers which makes for a bouquet that can stand up to rigor of cat attacks.  I plant lots of other flowers as well: marigolds (they are natural pest protection for the garden), cosmos, gladiolas, dahlias, and lilies make regular appearances in the flower beds at my house.

But the zinnias are always my favorites.; their appearance in my home is a sure sign that summer's garden bounty has arrived.  As the cold weather arrives, I will pour over seed catalogs picking out the zinnia varieties that will see me through the next summer.

The seed packets will arrive by December and I'll tuck them into my kitchen cupboard, right next to the vases I use for flowers.  There they will serve as a welcome reminder that spring and summer flowers are just around the corner.

Note: For the past month, I have been experimenting with a new host site for this blog.  It's a long and boring story, but the upshot is that I'm not finding Blogger a great host for photo uploads.  So there is another Sassafras Mama underway, over at  You can find it here.  It's been up for a few weeks, featuring the same posts that you can find here at the Blogger site but with easier (and better photos).  If you're inclined, please pop on over.  Right now it's still an experiment to see which format I like best.  If you have an opinion, please let me know.

And thanks for reading.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Politics Go Local

Though 2009 is an off-election year for most of the nation, that's not the case in New Jersey.  In the Garden State, we've got elections for the Governor and the state legislature.  And, as evidenced by the fact that President Obama will soon be here to campaign for the re-election of incumbent Governor Jon Corzine, the nation is watching.

In a way. that's too bad.  No matter the outcome of the races here, the national news media will likely interpret it as a litmus test on Obama and the Democratically-controlled Congress.  There are some big issues here but much of it is local and not reflexive of national issues.

Governor Jon Corzine is an independently wealthy businessmen who previously served as one of the state's Senators.  Many in the state hoped that the Democrat's seeming independence would translate into some real political independence, at least when it came to taking on the entrenched interests in New Jersey.  We hoped in vain.  He hasn't been a disaster as governor, but neither has he been all that impressive.  He has had some real accomplishments in the area of equalizing school district funding; he's undertaken some decent environmental initiatives.  But on the question of getting the state to give up some of its costly local fiefdoms of power, Corzine has been mostly silent. 

Which is not to say that I will vote for his Republican opponent, Chris Christie.  As a federal prosecutor appointed by President George W. Bush, Christie racked up some decent credentials, taking on political corruption in the state.  But as a candidate he's been less than impressive, expressing a litany of objections to Corzine's ideas and proposals while offering  few nuts and bolts of his own.  Christie's got a prickly style and doesn't like to be challenged (stunning when you consider that he's a Jersey natives...and this is a state with contentious people).  He had a substantial lead in early polls and seemed eager to squirrel that away for a November victory.  Lately his lead has shrunk and the race has gotten highly competitive, largely because Christie didn't bother to capitalize on his lead.

Enter a third party candidate, who joined the race in August in order to express his dissatisfaction with business-as-usual in New Jersey politics.  Chris Daggett is an Independent who has served in state government, mostly for moderate Republicans.  He's got volumes of education experience and a sound environmental track record  (and the endorsement of some environmental groups).  He has defined some good plans for taking on the state's problems (too much local control, insane property taxes, and the epidemic of pay-to-play).  Daggett seems to be the real deal; so impressive that he received the endorsement of the state's leading newspaper.

I'm a liberal Democrat and under normal circumstances would cast a ballot for Jon Corzine.  But I have to say that I'm giving that some very serious second thoughts to that approach this year.  JT is avidly watching the race; he expects to cast a ballot in the 4th grade election at school.   So we'll have plenty to talk about as we watch tonight's gubernatorial debate.  Our vote lies in the balance.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: Climate Change

Today I am participating in the 2009 Blog Action Day by writing about climate change.  I made plans to participate in this event a few months ago and then I started reading to figure out what I wanted to write about.

For the first month, I just read everything I could about climate change.  And wow, there is a lot of good scholarship out there.  And, when it comes to the amount of damage we've already done to our climate, some of scholarship is really scary.  I tend to take what I regard as an even-handed approach to the political world and I believe that forecasts of doom and forecasts of nirvana are equally foolish: I'm a middle-of-the-road kind of girl.  But when it comes to climate change, I just see no reason for moderation.  For starters, the risks of failure are cataclysmic. 

For another, unlike other political problems, we cannot fix climate damage.   And that's the fact that really stands out for me.  Climate damage is permanent.  Under President Clinton, the U.S. signed the Kyoto Accord but it was never confirmed by the Senate.  President Bush further distanced the U.S. from the Accord, thus assuring it fell short of being a complete success.

In December 2009, when the world's nations get together in Copenhagen to once again discuss setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions, the United States must be a player in the process.  President Obama has said that we will be there.  But that's not enough.  Copenhagen will be more successful if the U.S. brings to the international table a real commitment to change.  That means signing the treaty and getting the support of two-thirds of the Senate in order to make our signature binding.

To do that means building Congressional support for a federal cap-and-trade system for limiting carbon emissions.  The Waxman-Markey bill, which does just that, t has already passed the House.  It needs to pass the Senate.  Read about Waxman-Markey here and then go here to contact your member of the Senate and ask them to support Waxman-Markey.  Copenhagen will be here before we know it.  The time to act is now.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Healthcare Plan

Today, the Senate begins the process of reconciling the two healthcare reform bills that have moved through the committee process.  All told, there are five healthcare reform bills in Congress right now; the task ahead is to reconcile these proposals into one bill able to receive majority support in both the House and the Senate.  It's not going to be easy, but it is essential.  As we move into this critical stage, I'm asking my members of Congress to support a plan that includes the following reforms:

1.  Evidence-based care.  We need to end the current system whereby patients demand (and physicians provide) treatments and services that patients do not need.  Evidence based medical care, where physicians recommend and supervise health treatments that have a proven track-record of success, a track-record established by the rigorous collection of scientific data, must be the foundation of our healthcare system.

2.  Electronic record-keeping.  In the Obama stimulus plan, there was a good deal of money made available to hospitals and physicians prepared to adopt electronic record-keeping.  Good.  Better would be the adoption of open-source VA system because it would permit coordination between physicians and hospitals nation-wide. And it's much less expensive.  More facts about open-source record-keeping can be found here.

3.  Ending fee-for-service reimbursement of physicians.  Physicians get paid every time they perform a test.  That creates an incentive to order more tests.  I'm not suggesting that physicians order tests to make more money; I am suggesting that we shouldn't pay physicians on that basis.  I'd prefer a salary system like the ones used so successfully at places like the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic.

4.  Compassionate and realistic end-of-life care.  If we set aside the crazy debate about death panels, the fact of the matter is that Americans are not very good at planning for the end of our lives.  We know it's inevitable and yet.......We must make a greater effort to understand what it is we want out of our final months of life and then lay out that plan with our families.  In my mind, this has nothing to do with the financial costs of medicine and everything to do with the emotional costs of life.  But the reality is that planning for the end of life may very well save people money, at least in terms of avoiding expensive, aggressive, and unnecessary treatment.  It will certainly provide us with peace of mind.

5.  An individual mandate accompanied by a sound public option.  My real preference is for a universal care, single-payer system.  But that is not going to happen in this round of reform.  The next-best-thing is an individual mandate and a public option plan.  An individual mandate will require every American to obtain healthcare insurance.  This will improve the pool of insurance recipients, ensuring that more young, healthy people are paying into the system.  Anyone should be able to buy into the public plan (a distinct help for small employers, who are currently drowning in health insurance costs) and it must be self-sufficient in terms of costs.  That will allow the public option to compete with private insurers on an even field.  At the same time, we must provide significant subsidies to assist low-income folks who will now be required to join the healthcare system.

I'm willing to start reforms incrementally, with the caveat that we immediately cover every child in this nation and that we move quickly to provide a reasonably-priced public-option to get uninsured people into the system at once.  My not-so-secret hope is that a public option plan would prove a success that would transition us into a universal care single-payer system.  Other reforms, like requiring evidence-based care and electronic record-keeping, could be used in a public option plan.  I am confident that they would quickly prove their worth as cost-cutting reforms.  The bottom line is that our current healthcare system isn't working.  We must try something new.  Now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Guiding Philosophy

Last week, the New York Times magazine had an article about playwright Anna Deveare Smith.  Smith is about to undertake another of her one-woman shows, this one about healthcare in America.  In preparation, she has interviewed hundreds of people, famous and not, about their experience in the American healthcare system.  You can read the article about Smith here.

Among the people she interviewed was Representative Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California whom I have long admired.  Speaking with Smith about the need for healthcare reform, Waxman grew thoughtful about the beliefs that drive his commitment to that reform.  From her interviews, Smith distilled a philosophy from Waxman that I find resonant.  It's not the poetry of it that I find appealing; it's the power and the passion of the philosophy behind the idea.

In Smith's script of the time with Waxman, he says:

I think it's a fight we need to have.
And I think the American people accept those values ---
But there are some people on the right who don't.
They look at
At society as a...
In Darwinian terms.
If you succeed in life because you had advantages
God wanted you to succeed
And if you fail
It's you own fault ---
And if it's your own fault
Why else should anybody else have to help you?
And I reject that
I reject that.
It's inconsistent with my values.
I disagree very strongly with it.

Waxman's statement reminds me of a biblical injunction that governs my thinking about my nation and its place in the world: "To whom much is given, much is expected."  I believe that a generosity of spirit and emotion must  govern  our treatment of one another.  And healthcare reform, driven by a commitment to providing universal access to healthcare is an excellent start.  Tomorrow, I'll add my voice to the discussion.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Nobel Endeavor

A single question has been prominent in my mind since President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.  Since when do we commence to snipe and backbite when one of our own has been honored by the world? 

Every morning when I come downstairs, I pour myself a cup of coffee and then look at my computer.  I check my e-mail to look for NY Times updates from the overnight and then I turn on NPR's Morning Edition.  I've been especially attentive to headlines this past week, as the Nobel Prizes are annouced.  I  like paying attention to that sort of thing.  On Friday, when I saw that  President Obama had won the Nobel Prize for Peace, my first thought was "he doesn't need this." 

By that I meant that Obama's opponents on the right would surely reflexively reject the selection of the president for the prize.  They'd complain that the honor was undeserved, unwarranted, and unearned.  And of course I was correct.  Within the hour, the right began to bitterly regret that our president had been made the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace. 

I'm a little embarrassed to admit then my first response was to place the prize in the context of contemporary politics.  I think highly of the prize, not only for the blessing it bestows on people who are working hard to make their world a better place, but also because the prize has the effect of advancing political causes that are meaningful and deserve advancement.  There are many instances of this, so I'll cite just one: in 1984, the Nobel Committee awarded the prize to Bishop Desmond Tutu, a black South African opponent of apartheid.  At the time, apartheid had no shortage of supporters (including our own government).  The Prize gave Tutu and his cause another measure of world legitimacy and it significantly helped to move forward the anti-apartheid movement, especially in terms of world opinion.  In 1993, the apartheid system officially came to an end, and two more South Africans, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, were awarded the Nobel that year.  I'm glad that the Nobel Committee honored Tutu along the way; his receipt of the Prize in 1984 served as a significant contribution to the end of apartheid.

While I can certainly understand a respectful disagreement with the president and his political goals, I've had about enough of the bitter sniping that seems to govern the rhetoric of some of our nation's political leaders.  This crowd (Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, and their disciples) approve of absolutely nothing the president does.  If President Obama said the sky was blue, I've no doubt that they'd disagree.  This is not a debate of ideas or even ideologies.  This is shouting tantrums by ideologues.  And it does not make us better.

Does President Obama deserve the Nobel Prize?  The Nobel committee certainly thinks as much.  A reading of the Prize committee's statement on the award makes very clear that the committee is awarding the prize to President Obama because of the manner in which he has re-positioned the United States as a member in good standing of the world community.    We must make amends for the behavior of our nation during the Bush years.  That Obama brought his so-called "star power" to bear in his speech to Cairo and his trip to Africa is fine by me.  He has begun the process of  mending our frayed diplomatic ties with the world.  It's a noble mission; one we must undertake.  If President Obama prevails, our nation and our world will be better for his efforts.  And if he fails, we'll all pay the price.  President Obama won election to the presidency by persuading a majority of Americans that, "Yes we can."  I would add that we must. 

We must.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

All Politics, All the Time

Regular readers will note that I haven't been writing about politics as much as usual.  Part of that is that the return to school finds me once again talking politics every day, and so there is an outlet for my thoughts and ideas.  And yes, my students appreciate your sympathies.

Part of it is due to my frustrations with the political process these days.  The downside to winning control of government when one is a Democrat is that it's only half the battle.  What inevitably follows is the internal bickering about how much progressive policies we can put in place.  I have not been impressed with Democratic Congressional leadership.  But that pales in comparison to the right-wing juggernaut of criticism. 

I believe that better ideas and policies flourish when there is a real engagement of varying viewpoints.  I have a genuine appreciation for some thinkers on the right (emphasis on thinkers).  Folks like David Frum and David Brooks engage my intellect.  I may not agree with them, but I respect the differences of opinion they offer.  But other critics, those who incite ignorance and complain without offering alternatives, for them I have lost my patience.  It's one thing to disagree with the plans advanced by the Democrats in Congress and the Obama Administration, but it's another thing all together to actively wish for our nation to fail.  It's not just selfish, it's short-sided.  I find it enormously frustrating when politics sinks to this level.  So I've been lying low on politics for the last few months.

This week, that's going to change.  For the rest of this week, I'll be writing about politics every day. 

You've been warned.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Food Friday: Wilted Spinach Salad

My mom used to make wilted spinach salad when I was a kid.  I liked it then and I love it now.  It has a pleasant sweet and sour taste combination and the savory egg and bacon add a mellow taste to the salad.  It's easy to make and packed with healthy spinach (thus the name).  The bacon, of course, is less healthy.  But it tastes great, so I make allowances.

The Recipe:
 10 to 12 ounces fresh spinach, washed and torn into bit-size pieces (you can use one of those pre-washed bags and make it that much easier...that's what I do)
 1/4 cup minced red onion
 2 hard-cooked eggs, grated
 4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons bacon drippings
 1  tbsp. sugar
 3 tbsp. vinegar
 1 tbsp. water
 1/2  tsp. salt
 1/8 tsp. black pepper

Place prepared spinach in a large bowl. Add onions.  Refrigerate, tightly covered.

Cook bacon until crisp; remove to paper towel to drain; set aside. In a small jar or measuring cup combine reserved bacon drippings with sugar, vinegar, water, salt and pepper.   You want the dressing hot, so move quickly.  If the dressing cools, heat it in the microwave.

Toss the grated egg with the greens then pour the hot dressing over greens mixture; toss again lightly. Top with crumbled bacon.

When I made the salad this week, I served it with pumpkin soup and sour dough rolls.  It tasted just like fall should taste.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The JT Spice

Lately, JT has taken to saying, "Dang flab-it, I lost my rabbit."  The phrase is most often invoked when he's made a mistake.  The other day, I asked him just where it came from.  And he explained, "Dang flab-it came from Hannah Montana but I can't just use her line so I added the 'I lost my rabbit''s a little JT spice."

Good lord, I'm not ready for this.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

On Duty

Fourth graders at my school have the opportunity to join the Safety Team.  Team members are responsible for helping their fellow students and serving as leaders within the Lower School.  Last spring, when he was first advised of the opportunity to apply to join the team, my 9 year old told me that it wasn't for him.  He said it was too much responsibility; I suspected it was the specter of possible rejection that caused his application hesitation.  But I said it was his call and I let the matter rest.

This fall,  fourth graders interested in joining the Safety Team were asked to write the principal a letter in which they outlined the ways in which they were prepared to be a responsible member of the team.  To my surprise, JT decided to give it a try.  Consumed by the spirit, he wrote Mrs. R a thoughtful letter in which he outlined the ways in which he was already a responsible 9 year old and could also be a responsible member of the Safety Team.  He submitted the application and then eagerly waited for his interview with Mrs. R.  That interview was last Friday and JT spent the weekend in a fire of excitement.  Would he make the team?  On Monday morning, the news was delivered: he'd made the team!

My boy was proudly wearing his Safety Team badge when I picked him up after school that day and he was filled with the fire of responsibility.  That night, he called Grandma and Grandpa and breathlessly shared the details of his triumph.  We celebrated with some chocolate cake for dessert and I reminded him that I was proud he had taken the risk and applied in the first place.  His pride and excitement was so palpable that I wondered if he would even be able to fall asleep that night.  The next morning, he grabbed a school shirt to wear and then carefully put on his Safety Team badge.

When we pulled into the parking lot at school on Tuesday morning, JT straightened his collar, pulled out his badge, and announced that he was "on duty."  I can't be sure, but I think he was just a bit taller as he walked to class.  

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


For some time now, I've been in the market for a new quilt for my bed.  It's not that I lacked for bedding; far from it in fact.  I rather enjoy bed linens and have built up something of a collection.  On the other hand, new bedding would offer a welcome break with a past life.  I'm picky and wanted to spend my money on something that I really loved.  I'd had my eye on a couple of quilts I liked but the Pottery Barn catalog that arrived in July turned up the perfect quilt.  So now I sleep under the mantle of a new quilt; one that represents a break both figurative and real from a past life that still confuses me.

After some initial concerned sniffing, Tiger has concluded that it will serve his napping needs quite nicely.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tiger and Lucy at 3

This weekend, we are celebrating the fact that Tiger and Lucy have been a part of our family for 3 years.  A few weeks ago, JT was reviewing his memories of happy events and the Monday that we picked out Tiger and Lucy was the very first day on his list.  He remembers it in great detail, starting with my (to him) startling morning announcement that we'd go and get some kittens that day, our trip to the animal shelter that afternoon, and ending with cuddling his tiny new kittens that first night.  I was surprised and pleased that JT could remember so many details with such accuracy.  I know how much he loves them, but I just hadn't realized how much he truly understands why they are so important to him.

Caring for Tiger and Lucy is a joint project.  Each morning and evening, JT checks to make sure their bowl is full of kibble and fresh water.  Because of these kittens, he is learning that loving someone means caring for them in ways both big and small, a valuable lesson.

In the three years that they have stalked our house, Tiger and Lucy have contributed so much to our sense of home.  They greet us at the front door when we return from school in the afternoon; they join us in JT's bed for stories each night; they curl up by our side and on our laps whenever the opportunity arises (and even when it doesn't....I am writing this post with just one hand thanks to Tiger's presence on my lap).  They provide comfort, affection, and laughter in our home.  They may be little and four-legged, but they loom large in our lives.

They are family.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Honeycrisp Apples

Usually my food posts feature something I have cooked.  But today I intend to blather on about Honeycrisp apples.   I do my best to buy local, fresh and in-season produce.  That's a pretty easy practice to follow come fall apple season; there are plenty of local apple crops to choose from.  But no apple can match up with the Honeycrisp variety.

It's a relatively new apple, the result of a University of Minnesota breed made of Macoun and Honeygold apples.  The University still owns the patent and growers must pay the University to get the seeds.  So this apple does cost a bit more in the market.  But let me note here and now that it's worth it.

I've been buying Honeycrisps for the last few years, ever since they first appeared at my local Wegmans.  Seen in my kitchen fruit bowl, this year's crop are amazingly large and as sweet and crisp as the name implies.  Every year, Wegmans sells out of Honeycrisp and I'm always disappointed when the time comes to switch to another variety.  There is no better apple for your eating pleasure.  You should get some......but not from my local Wegmans, please.  Go find your own.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Family Viewing: Live-Blogging the New Jersey Governor's Debate

On the way home from school this afternoon, JT casually mentioned what he had read in the Star-Ledger today.  For the uninitiated, the Star-Ledger is a leading newspaper here in the Garden State.  And my fourth grader was reading it as part of his social studies lessons this year. 

Allrighty then.  No excuses for ignorance about local politics will be tolerated at Sassafras House.  Thus it is that we are sitting in front of the telly tonight, watching incumbent Democratic Governor face-off against two challengers: Republican Chris Christie and Independent Chris Daggett.

8:05 pm
JT's opening observation: "If these guys were a cartoon, Christie would be the fat guy, Daggett the really skinny guy, and Corzine the in-between guy."  True that.

And then JT notes, "They're all bagging on Corzine."

Daggett mentions raising the gas tax (NJ's is the lowest in the nation).  The proceeds could be used to repair our roads.  JT's assessment: "good idea."  That's my boy.

8:20 pm
For the non-Jerseyans among you, Incumbent Corzine is facing a bit of an uphill challenge.  For many Democrats, his failure to reform the Jersey political system has been a disappointment.  And governing in a recession hasn't been particularly easy, either.

Christie was a federal attorney in New Jersey and he has record of prosecuting corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle (and there is no shortage of corruption in this state).  But Christie was a Bush appointee, no asset in blue Jersey.  And he's very conservative, also out of touch with the state.  He led this race for a while, but the August arrival of Independent Chris Daggett, who regularly polls in the 10% range, has closed the window of Christie's lead.

The race has tightened considerably and though Corzine is still behind, it's only by a few points.  Turns out that Christie's support was pretty shallow.

8:25 pm
Christie has been asked to justify his traffic-ticket dodges (there have been a few).  The question: "Is there a different standard for your behavior?"  JT says yes.....Christie says no.

And JT notes that Corzine isn't fit to discuss traffic violations either (Corzine was in a high-profile traffic accident a few years back; it was the result of speeding and the Gov was not wearing his seat belt).

9 year olds have no patience with hypocrisy on either side of the political divide.

8:33 pm
Daggett calls for state employees to accept salary cuts (they already have) and changes to the pension and insurance plans for public employees.  Christie agrees.  Corzine pays lip service to fixing the NJ pension plan.  None of these guys is willing to point out that state employee unions won't just lie back and accept these cuts.

And now we go to questions from the public.  The first one: how will you cut the budget and close our 8 billion dollar budget gap? "That's a lot of baseball  cards," the boy notes.

Christie proposes kicking people out of the state health insurance plan.  JT does not approve.

8:45 pm
And now the topic of abortion comes up.  Because that's what I want to explain to my son on a Thursday evening.   We're pro-choice around here and that's what I explained to JT.

Suddenly talking about property taxes sounds much more appealing.  JT notes that property taxes have been high in New Jersey forever.  He's right.

8:52 pm
Medical marijuana: yea or nea?  Corzine says yup.  Daggett thinks it might be okay.  Christie says he's down with a little pot if safeguards are in place.  JT thinks smoking is bad.

9:00 pm
The debate still has 30 minutes to go but bedtime looms....JT is going to cast his ballot for Corzine.  His second choice would be Daggett and his third choice one of the many other small potato candidates in the mix.  Sorry Chris Christie.

October 1st: Hostas

The hostas are looking pretty tired about now.  The summer was cooler and wetter than usual and much of the garden paid the price (tomato yield was especially unimpressive).  Other plants in my garden are still lush and green, but not the hostas.  They are ready for some rest.  And though I'm not entirely ready to say goodbye to warm summer afternoons, the hostas are a little more in tune with Mother Nature.  They sense a change in the air and are preparing to shut down for the fall and winter.  It's hard to believe that the summer's thick, lush bed will soon be a dried patch of earth.  But that's exactly what's coming.  Before the year is out, I'll likely make a picture of this bed covered with snow.

I think that's what I love the garden so much.  In the rapid growth and then the quiet slumber of the plants is a regular reminder of the pattern of life.