Flickr problems possible

Hello everyone! Welcome to 2020. All is well here. We recently celebrated another year with Pudding, who is doing great, as are we.

I’m posting to say that the status of Flickr as an extant website is shaky these days. Emails they’ve sent recently seem to confirm that things aren’t getting better.

ALL of this blog’s photos are hosted on Flickr. If it disappears, so do all of Snapdragons’ pictures.

I do not have the time or the heart to manually fix them–and frankly this free WordPress account probably doesn’t have the storage. So if Flickr disappears, so will Snapdragons.

This is your fair warning. If you want to download recipes, tutorials, etc, better hop to it.

So long and thanks for all the fish,
Kat

Eleven Years of Pudding

Just stopping in to say that Pudding is still with us, and today marks *eleven* years since I first took her home. That’s hard to believe. She predates my husband by six months in the knowing and 1.5 years in the marriage, and predates our daughter by over three years.

Love you, kitty cats, even though you’ve taken to sleeping on my head at night. I don’t grudge you the warmth.

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Wild rice soup

I got to thinking about wild rice because I’ve been working on a novel about the Canadian fur trade, which was heavily dependent on the native peoples for pemmican (dried buffalo meat pounded with fat and dried berries) and wild rice, the diet upon which wintering traders depended. The wild rice was harvested by taking a slow canoe along the edges of rivers and streams, shaking the rice into the bottom of the canoe as one went. And that sounds picturesque and wholesome, so I wanted to cook some.

By itself, it’s nutty and chewy. Not bad, if you have some salt, and especially if you have a little fat with it too. But it bothers Sparks’ tummy and the kid won’t eat black food, so it was hard to get through a batch by myself. Thus: wild rice soup, my way. Lemony. Peppery. Full of herbs.

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Flipping through the internet, it seems like most wild rice soups are essentially chowders, built on white sauce. That sounds yummy, but I have psychological issues around eating bowls full of white sauce, so I wanted to lighten mine up. I wanted it to be opaque and rich, but also very much liquid, if you get my meaning. So. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

WILD RICE SOUP

Wild rice: pre-cooked, 1 cup dry measure. You cook it by boiling it in a lot of water for 45-60 minutes, then draining. As you’ll see later in this recipe, letting the rice suck up the soup broth is part of the *thing* here, so don’t worry if the rice is a little under.

Once you have your rice cooked, chop and saute 1 large onion and 2 large carrots, or the equivalent, in about a tablespoon of oil until the onions are translucent.

Here comes the white sauce part: add 4 tablespoons butter, let it melt, then sprinkle 1/3 cup AP flour on everything and mix it up. Then add 8 cups of liquid, composed of at least 4 cups chicken broth (I use Knorr Chicken Powder to make mine) and up to 4 cups milk (I used 2 cups milk, and therefore 6 cups broth). Add a splash of heavy cream: anywhere up to a cup, depending on how rich you want this.

Now let it come to a boil, so it thickens for you. While it does that, you can entertain yourself by adding 2 T dried parsley, 1 t dried thyme, salt to taste, black pepper to taste (and this needs quite a lot of black pepper to taste right–I did two “grind until I’m sick of grinding” sessions), and the juice of 1 small or 1/2 large lemon.

The broth won’t be awfully thick, just thicker than water, if you get my meaning. When it’s boiling, add your cooked wild rice as well as any bits of leftover cooked chicken, turkey, or pork that are seeming dry and unappetizing. This is a great way to use them up.

At this point, you can eat the soup. But because this is a great big pot of soup you probably aren’t going to eat it all right away…and this is when the magic happens.

The wild rice will suck up almost all the broth, leaving you with something that’s less a soup than a savory porridge. And it is delightful, and that’s what is pictured at the beginning of this entry.

Do try it. It’s low glycemic index, surprisingly filling, and soooooooooooo soothing.

Albuquerque

I don’t think I’ve said that my parents moved to Albuquerque.

My parents moved to Albuquerque. We visited them over Christmas, and will go again in the summer. It was Pookie’s first plane ride. What a change for everyone!

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Gardening

Frustration is running high these days. It might be the long, dark, wet PNW winter, but I feel like I’m struggling with a sense of self and purpose. (Or it might, you know, be the whole writing career still being a non-starter, but no one here wants to hear about that, least of all me). Kiddo is in school all day most days, so what do I do with myself?

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Sparks, meanwhile, is worried about pruning things. Spring here comes like a beast let out of a cage. Everyone needs allergy medicine, and the plants–which never go dormant because the winters are so mild, you understand–jump into bloom and bud and stretch out their ever-lengthening tendrils with alarming speed. On our property we have a forest of Scotch broom that needs to be cut down, stands of crack willow that need to be managed before they, well, crack, blackberry patches that are very much appreciated but which need to be managed on a Feed Me, Seymour level, and an apple tree that was badly in need of attention.

So. Chainsaw, pole pruner, pruning saw, machete, bill hook…whatever it takes. And Sparks wanted guidance on what to do with that poor apple tree, because we love it and it treated us well last year, so we want to take care of it.

He began to watch Gardener’s World on YouTube for advice.

He liked it. He told me about it. He dialed up an episode for our evening TV viewing one evening.

And that, boys and girls, was how it began.

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We’re now watching it every night–and coming perilously close to running out of episodes, because only 2015 and 2016 are on YouTube–and I fancy myself an adventurous gardener. We’ve bought a little plastic-covered greenhouse and some fleece tunnels, set up a potting bench beside the barn, and away I go.

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Can I talk about Monty Don for a minute? Let me talk about Monty Don for a minute. He’s the host of Gardener’s World, and besides being a total badass in the garden, he tells you how to do things on the cheap. I absolutely love how he tells you where and how to economize at every opportunity. “Dig a trench and fill the bottom with as much sharp sand and horticultural grit as you can afford…” “I’m cushioning this pond liner with some bits of leftover carpet padding and an old blanket…” “Bare root plants are just as good, and much cheaper…” “Now is the time to take cuttings of XYZ, so you have free plants next year.”

And so I put in an order for seeds for a lot of perennial flowers that I would usually buy as potted plants. $25, and if they grow, it’ll be $700-$800 worth of plants. Where plants tempt me in the garden center, I am buying one and taking cuttings. Besides trays of seedlings, the greenhouse is full of pots with twigs of rosemary, lavender, sage, and roses sticking out of them. And bare root plants! I’ve always bought bare root plants, stuck them in the garden, and never seen them again. This year I have put them in pots in the greenhouse, and while the dahlias and bleeding heart are still AWOL, the hostas and peonies are coming up. SO MUCH CHEAPER THAN BUYING POTTED PLANTS!!!

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Anyway, I’m keeping myself busy while I wait for the weather to warm up. Frost-free date here is April 15. I’m stoked.

Sesame brittle

A while back one of Sparks’ friends, who was in the area on business, spent the weekend with us. It was a total guy’s-fest, and I was left to cook and clean in the house with the kid, which I guess is what you do sometimes when you manage a household and love your spouse and want him to have a social life. But at the end of the weekend I got hugs and thanks and, as a token gift, some of his birthday chocolate. It happened to be a Trader Joe’s milk chocolate bar with toasted sesame crunch in it.

Yowza. Sweets with nuts and seeds get me at a primal level. Add it to chocolate? And toast it? Ay carumba.

So I have had sesame brittle on the brain, and a few days ago I did something about it.

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My fingertips have been crazy dry. They are even cracking. If you have advice about what to do, please share.

Recipes for sesame brittle are numerous on the internet. They all agree that you need

1. Sesame seeds
2. Sugar
3. Honey
4. Water

After that, they branch out. Many call for butter to enrich the brittle, for baking soda to lighten it, for salt to give it sparkle, or for vanilla and nutmeg just because.

I am a purist–and I have vague memories of regretting butter in brittle in the past–so I decided to go simple. The only extra I added was salt, because I value salt in my sweets. I used approximately:

1.5 cups sesame seeds
1.25 cup white sugar
1 cup water
.33 cup raw honey

This was too much water, I think. When you cook sugar the beginning part is about cooking the water away, so really you only need to add enough water to dissolve the sugar in the first place. I think half a cup would do fine for these proportions–and save me about fifteen minutes standing by the stove.

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I toasted the sesame seeds in a dry skillet first. I’m pretty sure this was unnecessary, because they toast in the hot sugar while you’re waiting for Hard Crack. In any case, my brittle is super-toasty.

So: put it all in a pan over medium heat (if you’re adding any of the extras, besides salt, wait to put those in at the end). If you have a candy thermometer, clip it to the side. Cook until the thermometer is between 275F and 300F, or the mixture is rapidly darkening past “caramel” and into “amber”. Then pour it onto a silicone baking mat and let cool.

I’m so proud of myself when I manage to make candy and it turns out the way I intended. It doesn’t happen all the time, you know?

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Internet recipes say that when the mixture is cool, you should cut it with a knife. It is to laugh. I had to go at this with my meat tenderizing hammer. It helped to turn the sheet of candy upside down, so its perfectly flat side wasn’t against the perfectly flat tray while I did it. Helped with breakage and stuff.

Conclusion: it’s good. Burnt and sugary and reeking of toasted sesame. I don’t think I need any of the extras here–though a richer brittle is nice for richer seeds, like peanuts.

As Mimi would say, this recipe gets all ten fingers up.

Six

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Pookie turned six last week (and I am thirty-six, which means the kids graduating from high school this spring were BORN the spring I graduated from high school, and oy vey). She had her first real birthday party since birthday #1, with friends and a pinata and tie-dye colored birthday cake.

Not sure how to process the whole “six years old” thing. I mean, that’s where early childhood is really left behind, isn’t it? Though in a way our move out west was the watershed. Back there, we had diapers and sleepless nights and milestones and endless, undifferentiated days with each other. Out here she’s gone to preschool and now kindergarten, learned to get herself a bowl of cereal or a cup of water, learned to operate the TV (so important!), to count and write and even read a little. In a real way, the early childhood years ended almost two years ago.

But I digress. At six years old Pookie can put together a large, complicated Lego set all by herself. She can count by ones, fives, and tens. She can write me notes in wonderfully phonetic spelling, and read signs with uncanny accuracy. She sings and draws and dances, does “parkour” and sleeps with a growing collection of stuffed animals that include a narwhal, an orca, a cheetah, a cat, two frogs and the rooster Heihei from Moana. She is, as ever, smarter than me and wiser than me. This child is an old soul…which I knew right from the start. She is astonishing.

Love you to the moon and back, Pookie. I’m so looking forward to where childhood takes us.

Soggariffic

November and December were unusually dry and unusually cold. Two days ago that spell snapped. It’s warmer now, and has been dumping rain. This is what it was like all winter, last winter. At this time of year I spend a lot of time thinking about Seamus Heaney’s bog poems, and especially Bogland, and especially the final line: the wet centre is bottomless. I understand what he means.

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Scandinavian refugee grocery

Mimi has three Mondays off school in the month of January, and today was of course one of them. Long weekends mean 50% more entertaining-of-the-child, so today we made the best of it and visited Poulsbo, an ex-Norwegian enclave on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Poulsbo’s Norwegian roots are legit. The town was Norwegian-speaking until WWII and still today has a notable number of surnames ending with -sson as well as the tallest people I’ve ever encountered, anywhere.

No surprise that there is a grocery to cater to them. This place is amazing. I am used to seeing down-to-business Asian markets; every town of any size has them. To see the same sort of thing filled with Scandinavian/Nordic fare, though? Bizarre. Start by imagining Dollar General. Now imagine it’s 1959 in a remote Norwegian fishing village. There you go. I say this with the utmost affection, by the way. I am 4.3% Scandinavian by heritage.

It’s good for a thorough poke-around every couple months, and we have developed a taste for gjetost. But I digress.

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The produce section. Apples, carrots, beets, celery root, and rutabaga.

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The bottled fish aisle. Want lutefisk? They’ve got it. The pub around the corner sells lutefisk tacos.

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The cheese aisle. I thought I was getting the tinned butter in here, but apparently not. Today they were out of Natural Viking cheese, which is my favorite. I know I like MY Vikings natural, don’t you?

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The licorice aisle.

I understand that much of northern Europe loves this stuff.

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The pickle aisle. Because they can pickle that.

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I can’t exploit a store this way without buying something (especially not when a clerk catches me mid-snapshot and pointedly asks if I’m finding everything), so I bought some licorice. I’m 25% Dutch so I figured it should be at least 25% enjoyable.

It was not as bad as the black “licorice” jellybeans of my childhood.

A letter to myself about Christmas

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Dear Kat,

You are writing this on January 10 for you to read sometime around Thanksgiving of next year. Right now you are utterly and completely overwhelmed. You were manic in the month of December. You had a breakdown on Christmas day. Since the holidays ended you have been digging as hard as you can to get yourself out from under the mountain of to-dos, many of which were neglected in favor of the holiday fervor. Suffice it to say, when put this way, this Christmas past doesn’t sound like a success.

So here are your current thoughts about it:

1. You are a Christmas freak in a family of non-Christmas-freaks. Your daughter will be a completely different person next year of course, but this year, she wasn’t into it. She doesn’t want to do things too early, so cool your jets until she’s actually on Christmas break. She doesn’t want too much stuff. She doesn’t want too many sweets. She does–brace yourself–want lots of attention and lots of experiences, so give her that. Gift giving? Try for her stocking plus three wrapped presents. You don’t even have to buy her something big; you know others will likely step up to that job, and even if they don’t, she doesn’t care.

2. Remember all those dreadful lectures about expectations and taking things as they are? Those are for you, dummy. Your kid has never in her life awoken early on Christmas morning or been eager to start opening presents. Don’t expect her to do that. Don’t expect her to be excited about sitting at the table for Christmas dinner either…and that goes for your husband, too. Don’t work hard cooking anything fancy. Just think of simple, tasty, treaty-feeling stuff that will keep everybody fed and relaxed. And those expectations? Evaluate whether asking for them as gifts would intrude on your family’s autonomy and individual enjoyment. What I mean is, when Sparks asks what you want for Christmas, consider saying “I want us to stay up late watching Rare Exports on Christmas Eve,” so he knows that you’re anticipating that, and is ready to stay up late.

3. Don’t try to schedule Christmasy activities with the kid (except The Nutcracker, because this year she was crazy about The Nutcracker). Don’t fuss about decorating cookies or a gingerbread house unless she indicates that she is ready to do it NOW. If you want to do a project like that, start doing it, and let her join if she chooses. Don’t let her boss you around and don’t you try to boss her around. You tossed a perfectly good gingerbread house kit this year because it got caught up in your power dynamics. Let. It. Go.

4. I know it sounds awful, but try to keep up with housework. Try to keep the house as tidy as possible, because Christmas goes off like a bomb. The New Year is a great time for major organizing and housecleaning, but girl, you only have so many hours in the day, and housecleaning isn’t the ONLY thing on your plate.

5. Are you still writing? Because right now you couldn’t care less about writing. Has that book sold? Because if it hasn’t, maybe you need to reevaluate the whole thing.

Love, Kat

Nine years of Pudding

Just a note from the seemingly endless morass that is winter break:

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It is our ninth Puddingversary. Nine years ago today I brought her home from the humane society. She was about three then so she’s about twelve now. She’s skinny and sleeps a lot, but since the great cross-country drive a year and a half ago, she has seemed like a more trusting kitty. Like that whole ordeal finally got it into her head that we’re keeping her. So in addition to the lap-sitting and toy-chasing and nap-taking, she now allows belly-scratching and picking-upping, which were strictly verboten in the early years.

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Luvya, Pusskins. Hope there are many more years ahead.

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The rocky beach

This beach was the first place we began to go when we moved here. I have the pictures: us in our sandals and work clothes, spattered with Kilz primer, looking exhausted but so delighted to be here. Saltwater! Mountains! Rainforest! We can pick around this beach and find crabs, snails, starfish, seaweed, oysters, and mussels.

Now that Mimi is in school we don’t go as often. I’m still happy every time we do, though.

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That, my friends, is a wild oyster.

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Hi crabbies.

Solstice

The winter solstice is coming on, so I made a visit to one of my very favorite places. I call it the “church in the woods,” though the placard says it’s only a theater. Whatever. I know it when I see it. It’s buried in an aspen forest on a very short bit of trail. The light in that forest is special, somehow. Golden. When you pass under that gate, you know you’re entering a different place.

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I didn’t have much patience for Solstice celebrating in the Midwest. I’ve said it somewhere recently, though I don’t remember where (maybe to Sparks) that back there, you have Christmas and then you have five more months of winter. Here, on the other hand, winter is all about light. At midsummer it blazes from full sunrise by 5am to lingering dust at 10pm. Then it slips away. Bit by bit. At midwinter it isn’t full light until after 8am, and dark around 4pm. Baby, you’d better believe the Solstice means something here, and it must mean even more in the higher latitudes my northern Europeans ancestors came from.

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So goodbye, Holly King. Hello, Oak King. Winter’s back will be broken by the end of January. We’ll plant radishes and lettuce in February.

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Christmasing

Oh dearie me. This year as soon as Thanksgiving was over, I hit the ground running: tree, cards, cookies, gifts, wrapping, mailing. I did this because someone at Pookie’s school district hates Christmas only slightly less than they hate parents, and decided the kids should be on winter break for a full week before Christmas. So I had to get the shopping and wrapping for her, at least, finished early.

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So I have Christmased hard, and I am FINISHED except for cooking Christmas dinner, and Pookie is on winter break right at this very moment. And I am coming down with my annual Christmas Plague, whoopie. Pookie had it last weekend–a fever and congestion on her snow day–and I’m sneezing and fighting it off for the third day in a row. Fingers crossed that I win!

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OMG this tree. Am I right?

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Christmas Pudding ❤

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Poulsbo: God Jul

There’s no shortage of cute little towns around here. Poulsbo is a Norwegian town on Liberty Bay (that’s on the east branch of Puget Sound) that was Norwegian speaking until WWII and is still really, really into the Norwegian thing. They call Liberty Bay “the fjord” and every December, they have a Viking celebration complete with guys dressed up in horned helmets and the St. Lucia bride.

Last year it was raining and we didn’t go. This year it wasn’t, and we did. Unfortunately they did NOT trot out the Viking longboat this year (whhyyyyy noooooot?!?!?!?!) but it was still a roaring good time. I like bonfires.

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We arrived early in the cutey historic downtown district to enjoy looking in the Christmas windows. Poulsbo is ALL about Christmas.

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Waitaminute. That’s not Norwegian. And I thought authentic haggis was banned in the US.

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This bakery is one of the highlights of any visit to Poulsbo, but it’s especially nice at Christmas.

And then there were Vikings. Torches aloft, they marched down the waterfront boardwalk and into the waterfront park, where they circled the firepit and recited the story of the year–the darkness, the coming light. Then they lit things up. Yay!

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And the St. Lucia bride showed up with helpers to hand out saffron buns. Just like Kirsten.

Snow day

It snowed real snow in the Pacific Northwest last night. About three inches where we are. I know that isn’t much–I lived in the Midwest for thirty years–but it really and truly blanketed the world, provided wonder and fun, and will obligingly be gone by tomorrow morning.

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See? Perfect snow.

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Pookie’s school was canceled, which turned out to be a-okay. The cold she’s been nursing all month turned into a fever by noon. I would have had to pick her up from school anyway. By the time she started to feel bad we had gotten our playing-in-the-snow finished, so we spent the rest of the day playing old computer games and watching movies. Really, a very nice day.

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