Entries in Fun to the power of x (25)

Friday
Jun082007

But what about the Trek?

Despite all of the Sturm und Drang beforehand, I wouldn't trade the experience of last weekend's Pioneer Trek for anything. None of my anxieties (rain, injury, anarchy) were realized, and all of my prayers were answered.

The 150 youth (ages 14-18) were organized into 10 'families,' with couples like Patrick and me acting as their 'Ma and Pa' for the weekend. The kids were to be dressed in a fairly loose interpretation of 19th-century clothing, the exception being their shoes. Patrick's and my costumes turned out well, by the way. I don't really care for sewing, but I take great satisfaction in my work on my shirtwaist in particular.

All electronic equipment was either left at home or collected by the youth leaders before we began. The State Forest through which we would be journeying had no running water and only the most rudimentary of pit-type toilet facilities. The plan was for the groups to pull the handcarts about 10 miles on a circuitous route before reaching the campsites the first evening.

The 13 kids assigned to us were terrific. We had an even mix of boys and girls, younger and older. They were strong, affable, and funny, worked well as a team, and did not whine at all. After meeting as a family, we decorated the handcart with a banner, then filled it up with everyone's gear. We estimated that it weighed about 1,000 pounds once it was loaded.

We got in line and pulled the handcarts out of the parking lot at around 6:00 Friday evening. We were first in line, which was great; our kids set a pretty quick pace at the outset. I cautioned them to take it easy, since we estimated that we'd be traveling until at least 1:00 in the morning.


The most harrowing portion of the pull took place after about 3/4 of a mile. We turned off the paved road and took the carts down a semi-dry creek bed. This half-mile portion of the trip took about an hour; there were huge rocks and low hanging branches that had to be negotiated. The stony bed was wet, mossy, and very slippery. We all were relieved when we made it to the gravel road at the bottom.

We had frequent water breaks (we had coolers full of water in the carts, and everyone had a tin cup tied to their apron or belt loop). During these, I dispersed contraband homemade muffins and cookies to our boys and girls, since I know that the key to high morale is comfort food. The treats served us well; our group remained cheerful and energetic throughout the night.

In memory of the many women who pulled handcarts across the plains, the girls pulled the carts alone for about a mile, while the men and boys walked silently along the side of the path. Thank heaven for strong, cheerful girls! Our group did very well; I was so proud of them.

We pulled into the campsite right on schedule. The support staff passed out hard rolls and cups of broth, which were devoured in no time. Our family, hunger pangs quelled by my treats, put up no fuss with this meager fare. By about 2:00 a.m., we were all unconscious in our tarp lean-to's.

We woke up early, ate a hearty breakfast, and hiked up to the top of Mohawk Mountain; there we sang some hymns and our Stake President spoke. The hike was about 8 miles round trip, and it was very hot and humid. I was glad to have my sunbonnet as we sat together in the grassy meadow at the summit. After the hike, we had lunch.

Then the Pioneer Games began: relay races, feats of strength, and arts and crafts stations were set up around the perimeter of the camp. The families traveled from station to station in a pretty orderly fashion, then all came together for the Stick Pull Tournament, the Tug-of-War, and the Greased Watermelon Relay. Our friend Tom had been wearing a pedometer since we set out the previous evening; after the games, he informed us that we'd walked a little over twenty miles in 24 hours--half of that, pulling half-ton carts.

After dinner, it was time for the Hoe Down. The youth leaders had hired a professional square dance caller. He turned out to be a miracle worker; his gentle manner won everyone over, and his clear directions had everyone dancing--really doing it--very quickly. All of the kids lined up along the camp road for the Virginia Reel and several square dance sets. Everyone actually had a good time; I was shocked that these kids would be such good sports for so long. Personally, I love folk dancing of any kind; Patrick and I had a blast.

Once the dancing was over, we gathered at our campfires for a devotional and some Dutch oven cobbler. I had eschewed the standard-issue cake mix/SevenUp/canned peaches concoction, choosing to bring my own cobbler ingredients instead. Other leaders soon heard the news and drifted over to our camp for some of ours. If only we'd had some vanilla ice cream to put on top...but it was awfully good as it was.

The kids had a harder time settling down Saturday night. Our family was up until about 2:00 playing a PG-rated version of "Truth or Truth." Patrick and I lay in our sleeping bags cracking up at the questions and answers. Finally, everyone dropped off.

By Sunday morning, we were all more than a little aromatic, despite our best efforts with baby wipes and the masking effects of the herbal insect repellent I passed around. We passed out little journals that the leaders had made and instructed the kids to take an hour of 'solo time': no talking, just scripture reading, prayer, and journal writing. Again, I was surprised at how biddable everyone was. A couple of kids put their heads down on the picnic tables and napped, but I had no problem with that, since they weren't disturbing anyone else.

At 9:30, we gathered for Sacrament Meeting. The kids were encouraged to get up and share their feelings if they felt so moved; for three hours, we listened to some very sweet and sometimes funny testimonies. I know: the thought of a three-hour testimony meeting is a daunting one, but the time passed quickly and there was a lovely feeling of unity present.


After lunch, we packed up the handcarts again and pulled them the quarter mile to the parking lot. Along the last hundred or so feet of the path, the kids' parents had lined up and were waving white handkerchiefs and cheering. We took a few snapshots, hugged our kids, and returned them to their real families.
As Patrick and I drove home, I reflected on how well everything had gone. While I've known individual teenagers who were lovely people, I've had a deep-seated fear and loathing of the age group in general ever since I was one myself. The Trek brought me a healing change of heart, for which I am grateful.

I still wish that there had been at least a portion of our time focused on service. The pioneers whose experience we were trying to evoke were eminently practical yet generous people. The first groups that headed west to Utah built cabins they'd never inhabit and planted crops they'd never harvest along the 1,500 mile trail. They did these things to lighten the burden for those who would travel after them. If I could change one thing about the weekend, it would be to have found a way to infuse this spirit of selfless acts into at least a portion of our time together.

I have several ancestors who traveled across the plains with either the covered wagon teams or the handcart companies. We estimated, however, that this was the case for only about half of the youth at the activity. I now feel that the Trek experience functioned rather like a Seder. The Haggadah, or text for the celebration of Passover, reminds Jews as they rehearse it to one another that they would not exist as a people if God had not led them out of Egypt.

In a similar way, it's quite likely that my religion would not exist without the Westward Movement. Early Mormon history is rife with examples of bitter persecution. To find the freedom to practice the tenets of their faith, the Mormon Pioneers found it necessary to set out into the wilderness to make a new home.

Last weekend, we told the stories of our cultural heritage and remembered through physical hardship those who came before us, whether they were actual relatives or purely spiritual ancestors. I came away enriched and filled with gratitude; all of the participants with whom I've since had communication felt the same way.

Tuesday
May222007

Celebrate good times, come on!

Here's Daniel with his birthday loot. All three of his presents--giant stuffed sea turtle from us, play camera and drill from Ma & Pa--were huge hits. Before I tell you more, let me acknowledge that I am on (in) a Pop Song Blog Title roll (rut).

Big fun was had at Daniel's shin-dig last night. As promised, I'll recount the making of the Chocolate Lace Cake.

As I have mentioned before, I take as my primary source for cake recipes Rose Levy Beranbaum's peerless Cake Bible. I have no use for flimsy genoises which must needs be infused with syrups simple or otherwise. No. Give me instead either the Downy Yellow Butter Cake or the Chocolate Butter Cake: rich, moist, and yes: buttery. Then frost with Rose's Neo-Classic Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. Ice the top with fluffy flourishes, but keep the sides smooth. This is your result:
Then sprinkle edible gold dust over the fresh frosting and blow gently to disperse the dust:

Melt a 3.5 oz. 70% cocoa chocolate bar; load the melted chocolate into a sandwich-size zipper lock bag and close. Cut the tiniest end off one of the bottom corners of the bag; drizzle the chocolate onto a prepared sheet of waxed paper. (Prepare the sheet by drawing a line equal to the circumference of the cake pan; a 9-inch cake pan's circumference is ~28.5 inches. Then draw a line 5 inches long perpendicular to each end of the long line. This is your guide.) Your drizzle should look something like this:
Now you must wait for the chocolate to harden; the time this takes depends on the temperature of your kitchen. You'll know it's ready when it loses its gloss. Don't wait too long; it needs to be able to hold its shape, but still be flexible enough to wrap around the cake. Once it's ready, fold the bottom edge of the waxed paper under so that the chocolate is right on the edge.

Banish all potentially distracting persons from the room. Carefully lift the paper up and set it on the cake plate right next to the cake. Press it very gently to the cake as you wrap it. Then, while reciting childhood prayers under your breath, peel the paper away from the chocolate, easing the chocolate towards its frosting home as you do so. You will then have this:
That photo is not blurry; it is your eyes, which have misted over with pride and wonder at your accomplishment. Put the cake in the fridge so that the chocolate and frosting can set. As little as a half hour later, serve the cake to a suitably impressed audience:

Ta-da!
Other big news in celebrations:

1) This cool writer I know just won a medal--the Best in State Fiction Award! I'm so proud.

2) Four bloggers I (stalk) read daily have recently won The Rising Blogger's 'Post of the Day' awards; Judd clearly has excellent taste, as Radioactive Jam, Bub & Pie, Mental Tesserae, and a-muse-ing are among the best blogs I've found.
**UPDATED: Adriana at What I Made for Dinner is The Rising Blogger's winnner today! Congratulations! And good use of fiddlehead ferns! Yum...

3) Have I mentioned that #1 son Christian got the highest grade in the whole eighth grade on the NY State science test? Or is it just that I am tempted to brag about it every five seconds?

4) Last but most miraculously, I won the Haiku Contest! The competition was fierce, but friendly and hilarious. Here I am, waving to the adoring crowd before walking down the staircase to accept my award:

(Not really. That's me two years ago winning something else. The photo is here mainly to make the fabulous pezmama happy.)

I'll go celebrate all these victories by eating some leftover cake!

Monday
May212007

A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On


If idle hands are the devil's workshop, I should be demon-free for the next several weeks. We've got all kinds of doings on the agenda here at the Perkins Homestead. Here's an update on activities recently past and in the immediate future.

Saturday I had huge success tracking down details about my cousin Albert Vanderveer (above) and his family. When I work on genealogy, I feel like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Lara Croft. Just can't get enough.

My favorite living writer, Mark Helprin, had an Op-Ed published in yesterday's New York Times. Read it here while it's still free. It's so great to read something non-fiction of his that I agree with; he and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Today a certain sweet toddler turns three. I'll be making my famous Chocolate Lace Cake in his honor this afternoon (I'll post photos tomorrow).

What with the cake, the Weed Dragon, the Trek, the book, not to mention Little League, dance, the piano recital, and several Memorial Day social engagements, I'd better get on the stick right away. I'll be back soon!

Saturday
May192007

Our Family Motto


A couple of years ago, Patrick went to a workshop for men at our church which focused on sharing ways for fathers to create and enhance family unity. One featured speaker had brought his teenage son; together they disclosed the steps they had taken in this regard. They had made a poetic Family Creed, memorializing in verse their values. They had a Family Song that they sang together which expressed why their family is great. And they had made up a Family Motto: "H______s Make It Happen." Father and son agreed that these simple things had strengthened the loving bonds in their home.

Now, I think this is very sweet. Good for them. But earnestness sometimes brings out the smart alec* in my good husband, and this incident was no exception. During the workshop, he texted his awesomely brilliant smart alecky friend (not me, a guy friend), writing, "Our motto is 'Perkinses Eat a Lot.'" Whereupon his friend responded, "Ours is 'F_______s Blow Stuff Up.'" (His boys had had many an explosive adventure in the basement slop sink when they were teenagers.)

Our little circle of friends now has mottos like "There's No Problem Ice Cream Can't Cure," "The Fewer, the Merrier," and "S______s Never Ask for Directions." I'm sure these fall beyond the scope of the H_____ family's intent, but they have created bonds of their own.

All this is a very lengthy prelude to telling you that I was musing ecstatically upon our treasured Family Motto just last night. Patrick and I went to dinner in the City with two lovely friends from our congregation after visiting the temple, and our meal was exquisite.

We went to Picholine, where Terrance Brennan's cuisine reigns supreme. We've been there several times before; this sublime restaurant features a cheese cave tended by a full-time fromager, Max McCalman. At Picholine, our turophilia can be indulged to the fullest extent allowed by law. The other food has always been lovely as well. But I wouldn't have rated it as highly as that of, say, Chanterelle or Bouley--until last night. I don't know what Terry's been up to, but he has kicked it up a notch.

Patrick's aunt says that you can tell how nice a restaurant is by how much extra stuff they bring you; Picholine excels in this area. The waiter brought us a plate with a shot glass full of a chilled Cucumber Cumin Soup, a tiny 'tot' of Brandade, and a Mushroom Panna Cotta Tartlet with a Parmesan Cracker. The Brandade was like tasting God's recipe for fish sticks.

After these amuse-bouches, my appetizer came: Frog Leg Tempura with Foie Gras and a Curried Mayonnaise. I will confess that I'd never eaten frog's legs before, but I'll eat just about anything with foie gras in or on or near it. Guess what? Frog's legs don't taste like chicken. They have a sweet, smoky, tender flavor all their own, and I was wishing for about 24 more when I was done. Patrick had a Sea Urchin Panna Cotta topped with Caviar--sweet cream o' the sea.

Oh, have mercy. My main course was Lamb Saddle with Artichoke Hearts Barigoule and Garlic. Succulent, with perfectly balanced, complex flavors. I tell you, Terrance Brennan is a chef like Monet was a painter. Patrick had Veal Medallions with Morels, Peas, and this gorgeous cheese called Brescianella Stagionata. I can't tell you how his was, because at this point we weren't even offering tastes to each other the way we usually do. But it looked fantastic.

Ahhh, the cheeses. We told the fromager that we love all cheeses and asked him to make a tasting plate for the table. He did not disappoint. My favorite of the eight was the Fium' Orbu, a sheep's milk cheese made by a little old man on the island of Corsica. The fromager told us this cheese might die with its maker, which I fervently hope will not happen. All the cheeses were lovely.

Dessert. Folks, I make really good apple pie. My apple crisp rocks (the secrets are to use local apples and to double the topping). So when I tell you that the Warm Caramel Apple Brioche with Apple Salad and Salted Caramel Ice Cream was the best apple dessert I've ever consumed, know that I do not speak lightly. I'm serious; I almost broke down crying at the first bite. My lemon verbena tisane was the perfect complement to the brioche's light richness. Or rich lightness. As you can see, it defied my pathetic attempts at description.

More extras: little trays of truffles, nougats, and fruit gums followed the dessert. Call it 'second dessert.' The grapefruit fruit gum was like a rarified Sour Patch Kid. It tasted like real grapefruit, but it had a big, sweet-sour intensity that belied its baby size.

We left the restaurant pleasantly full, still mulling it all over as we drove home. Our two friends also enjoyed the meal very much, but I don't want to double the length of this post describing their great choices.

Perkinses Eat a Lot. And they love their food, be it a Sloppy Joe or an evening's bounty like last night's. I don't hold with demonizing food, or feeling guilty about it, or talking about how unhealthy or sinful it is to indulge in it. Food is a blessing, a gift from God.

I do not believe food makes us sick or fat. I believe that what is going on in our minds and spirits has far more to do with metabolism or the body's other functions than science can yet measure.

All I am saying is, give peace a chance. End your war with food. Don't worship it, but do savor it with thanks and praise to its Creator. Share it with as many people as you can; let's take the energy we used to spend on ambivalence over food and use it to find ways to feed the world. And if you ever get a chance, go to Picholine and raise a glass in memory of me.

*The fact that P is sometimes a smart alec makes him exponentially more attractive to me.

Sunday
May132007

Queen for a Day


Here are some flowers from my yard for you in honor of Mother's Day. The lilacs make the whole house smell heavenly. I hope your day was as great as mine was!

Mine started off with ambrosial French toast made by my personal chef. Church was lovely: the kids sang and I got appropriately misty. Bonus: all the moms scored charming little boxes of fabulous See's candy! It's hard to get in the Northeast, so it was doubly treasured even as I scarfed it down.

I received handmade items: sweet cards, a beautiful tissue paper corsage, and bright paper lilies that now grace my dresser. My very exciting gift from the family was my very own Weed Dragon! I cannot wait to flame all the dandelions and plantains in the entire yard. It might even be able to vanquish the dreaded ground ivy. I'm raring to go.

In the late afternoon, my personal chef fired up the grill and made his patent-pending Boursin Burgers. I drool at the memory. Really: Patrick makes the best burgers in the universe; even his regular cheeseburgers are better than any others I've ever tasted.

The weather was perfect--cool breezes, warm sun, brilliant azure sky--truly fit for a queen. I'll toddle off to bed now feeling pampered and special. Thanks, guys!