living in disarray

Today is the first day of Fall. It is supposed to be 79 degrees here, which is pretty wackadoo.  School has been in session for about 3 weeks, and we have a sort of rhythm  going, “sort of” being the key phrase.

Sadly, we were not very productive in the purging this summer.  There was one very satisfying dump run and pressure-washing of the patio. But no big garage clean out. There are still piles on my sewing desk, in the bedroom, in the closet, in the kitchen. It is becoming hard to deal with, even more so because I do actually make a dent it sometimes, but it never sticks. Yes, we have a small house and not much room to put stuff, but I’m not kidding myself. We could have a 3,000 SF house and it’d still be crammed. So clearly the problem is the amount of stuff.  Only one thing for it. Out it goes. It has to for my own mental health, and let’s be clear, I am by no means a neat freak so if it bothers ME, you know it’s bad.

The stuff is now getting in the way of fun things – I can’t sew obviously, and last week only half of the couch could be sat upon. The other half was covered in laundry. I did just get a killer new knitting bag, a Tom Bihn Swift.  Yes, a new item, but it will let me get my knitting organized, so shut it, you haters.  That is incentive to clearing the knitting mess.

And I finally drug out the kitchen cabinet doors that we took off FOUR years ago, primed them, and hope to paint them tonight.  Granted, they’re still 50 years old so they won’t look brand new, but a lot better than what’s on them now.  While I’m at it, I should empty the cabinets and repaint the interior – we just did a quick coat of latex when we moved in and it’s not wearing so well.

But let’s get to the nitty gritty, lay it all out there. It’s not just my physical surroundings that are making me nuts. I am 44 and the hormones are starting to go a little askew.  Crazy things happening physically, but the worst is the mental. I am normally a pretty easy-going gal, but the last few weeks, not so much. I hate feeling like I could snap at any minute over nothing. I want my old self back. If this is the new me, I may have to move to a cabin in Montana miles from nowhere before I hurt someone.

But since the shoe and yarn and fabric buying options are limited there, I’ll stick it out here a while longer, hoping my new cabinets and cleaned-out house will take the edge off. As well as the IV bag of wine that I will soon have to hook up on a continuous drip.

And if I snap at you, just nod and smile.

fall shortbread cake

Today, I did a bit of harvesting, a few tomatoes and berries and these beauts.

They grow on the tree in the front yard. In years past, they’ve never turned this delicious red color and they’ve been really sour.  No idea what kind they are, either.  This year it looks like we got lucky.  They are really tasty!

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the good stuff to make and eat (this week’s wacky warm weather notwithstanding). So I got out Baking – From my Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, to see what I could do with these guys. I am a sucker for anything involving apples, since it usually also involves ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  There was quite a few options but this one had me at “shortbread”.  The recipe as written uses a cramberry jam filling, but in the notes she suggests apples as an alternative. I made a a few other tweaks as noted below and this is what came out.

It did not suck. Happy fall baking!

Fall Shortbread Cake 

Adapted from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Cake batter:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

1 stick plus 5 tablespoons room temp butter

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla (*I was out, so I used an *ahem* liberal splash of amaretto. Feel free to try some for quality control first.)

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.  In a mixer, beat the butter until soft and smooth. Add sugar and beat until smooth. Reduce mixer to low and add egg and yolk, mix until absorbed. Beat in vanilla or whatever you are using. Add the flour and mix only until incorporated; you may wish to finish by hand to avoid overmixing.  It will be more like a soft cookie dough than a cake batter. Divide into two disks and wrap in plastic; refrigerate 15-30 minutes (or overnight but let sit out about 30 minutes before using).

Make filling.

Apple filling (as I made it)

2 apples, peeled and sliced

3 T butter

About 1/2 cup brown sugar, less if your apples are sweet – mine were on the tart side

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 grated nutmeg

Melt the butter til foamy and add the apples, let them soften for a few minutes. Add the brown sugar and let it thicken a bit. Add the spices and cook a bit longer, but you don’t want applesauce. I happened to have some dried cranberries on hand so I threw a handful of that in too. Preheat oven to 350.

Roll out one half dough and lay on bottom of springform pan. I gilded the lily a little here and spread some of last year’s apple butter on the bottom before I spread the cooked apple filling on top, your choice here. Roll out the second disk of dough big enough to fit the top of the cake and set it on top – mine was slightly too big so I just rolled the edges  and smooshed things together a bit to seal it.  Sprinkle with some sanding or raw sugar if you like.  Bake about 30-35 minutes. Cool. (Or not, if you are impatient like me. A little ice cream would not go amiss.)

Enjoy.

5th grade

The Boy Child started 5th grade yesterday. It was a day we’d been both dreading a bit. He is not as interested in academics as he is in the alternate universe of the Xbox. Last year it was a struggle during homework time, to get him to read, and to practice math facts.  He always wanted to rush through things to get back to his virtual world.  Consequently, he didn’t do especially well on tests at school, which was a cause for concern.

Even more concerning for me, however, was the fact that he said he was dumb or wouldn’t pass 4th grade. It broke my heart. Especially since I had no idea where that came from – certainly not me.  No matter how many times I would praise him for good work or encourage him, it just didn’t click in his head. He put too much pressure on himself to allow himself to see that when he tried, he did better. I would remind him that no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes – we didn’t expect perfection – but nothing helped.

The night before school started, we were talking about this because I could tell he was nervous.  I reminded him that he had done really well with his math facts this summer and that 5th grade was a fresh start. And I told him that last year his PE teacher had emailed me out of the blue, just  to say how impressed she was that he took time to help the special needs kids in his class without being asked.  I told him that you can learn to multiply and be a better speller, but you can’t learn to be a nice person.  And I would much rather he be the kind of person a teacher takes the time to email me about, who is kind to people and pays attention to them. I think somehow that made a difference. He seemed to perk up, like a little of the pressure eased.

When he came home yesterday, he said “school was awesome!” I was a little worried when we dropped him off – the classes are multi-grade now, and not many of his friends were in his class. He thinks that’s a good thing – “less distractions”. He seems ready for anything and full of possibility.

Maybe this is his year to blossom academically. Whatever happens, I am already proud.