Monthly Archives: February 2011

More Writing and Friends

The last year flew by, and now my blog is TWO years old. I feel like giving a party for all my blogging friends, to celebrate. But that kind of thing does not belong to Blogland, so the best idea I can come up with to mark the occasion is — what else? — to write a long and possibly boring blog post.

What did I ever do before I started writing a blog? I wrote long e-mails, and real letters with ink, and articles about this and that which hardly anyone read. (And there was a homeschool newsletter.)

When I started Gladsome Lights I expected it would give me a convenient format for sharing recipes and garden happenings and such like with my longtime friends and family. At the time I did already have a manila folder full of scraps of paper on which I’d written thoughts that might turn into something, if I ever took the time to sit and ponder over them with pen in hand, but the potential was for more thinking with myself.

Suddenly I was connected with people who for various reasons actually take time out of their day to read what I write, or at least to check in and look at my garden or pie pictures, and it’s not just because they are my children or feel otherwise obligated. I’ve always had several real-life friends like this, but there wasn’t an easy platform for sharing. I’ve also had the third kind of friend, the authors with whom I interact, but reciprocity is lacking in that case.

If you are reading this, you might be one of these people who has been wonderfully stimulating to my mind and heart, just by offering occasional feedback. At some level you know me better, from reading my ramblings, than my nearby friends who aren’t the blog-reading type, because it’s a rare personal encounter in which I can find the words to express the things I do in writing.

Of course, words aren’t everything. It might be wise to ease off, and spend less time exulting in the fun of working to crank out a few decent paragraphs every week. But my manila folder has only been getting fatter, and my Blogger drafts folder is virtually overflowing. Reading other blogs of homeschoolers, philosophers, gardeners and homemakers (some of you are all of those together) gives me even more things to think about, to read, to try and to do.

It feels like I’m just getting into the swing of this writing life, and I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon — unless God makes it clear contrariwise. It’s an inestimable gift from Him, this time I have to think and to enjoy all the things I do, and to write. And if you are still reading this, know that you are a gift to me, too.

Sweep away all false things…

St. John the Forerunner

“The sweet work of repentance that is set before us as followers of Christ, is nothing other than the return to reality.”

“How we feel about many things has this same make-believe quality. We find certain styles of clothing and certain products (cars, houses, etc.) attractive and desirable, but often with little more than subjective reasons for our desires. The power of this make-believe is so great that it is well-known that many people “go shopping” to battle depression. It is a strange therapy.”

Read the rest of the article by Father Stephen Freeman here — about the real cause of so much of our grief and misery in everyday life, “a ceaseless struggle with things that have no true existence.”

When I look around his blog I always find plenty to provoke my thoughts in a good direction. I’m assuming his book Everywhere Present that just came out will put a lot of this food for the soul together in one nourishing bowl.

Chinese Tea Eggs

For more than 20 years a photograph of Chinese tea eggs sat in my recipe folder along with instructions for making them. By the time I got around to the project I couldn’t find the original article clipped from a magazine, and was inspired by reading on the Internet. One traveler said that in China a typical hiker will take along a sack full of these eggs the way American backpackers might put granola bars in their pockets.

Probably what stalled me was the thought that making hard-boiled eggs beautiful was only an aesthetic endeavor, and my creative efforts were applied elsewhere. But now I know that the interesting decorations on the eggs instill enough flavor to make them a complete snack without further additions.

I found lots of recipes, with few to many ingredients. The only constant is some tea leaves and salt. The first time I added orange peel, and used what seemed like an extravagant amount of soy sauce, but after perusing enough recipes and eating the results of that first batch, I decided that I could make a nice tea egg while using up some things that I have sitting neglected in the cupboards.

The flavor is so subtle, I’m pretty sure any elaborate recipe and combination of spice would be wasted on me. I don’t see how you could go wrong adding too much or too little of anything, except for the salt. Some spices that were included in many recipes were star anise, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cloves, and ginger root.

I used less soy sauce and more salt, and to make up for the loss of color from the soy, I added more tea leaves, because I had some loose black tea sitting around. Jasmine green tea is on my mind to try in the future. Instead of the cinnamon stick and star anise that I used the first time, I added a simple spice combination that I haven’t needed for anything else lately.

Here is the current recipe:

Chinese Tea Eggs

–One dozen large to extra-large eggs – but however many you can fit in one layer in your pot, they will all get the same benefit of the flavors in the broth. One can make a smaller batch in a smaller pot, and reduce the amounts, but I personally didn’t want to bother with fewer than a dozen.
–enough water to cover eggs
–4 tablespoons soy sauce
–1 teaspoon sugar
–1 tablespoon salt
–2 tablespoons Chinese 5-spice powder
–4 tablespoons black tea leaves (or use some tea bags)

Put the eggs in a pot in one layer, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer for 3-4 minutes. (Most recipes cooked the eggs firm at this point, but the first recipe I read interrupted here, so I am following that practice, though it can’t be crucial, as the eggs will be overcooked by most standards by the end. Yes, they will have green on the yolk!)

Remove eggs from heat and allow them to cool a bit before handling; you can run them under water to speed cooling. Take the back of a knife and crack the eggs as evenly as possible all around.

Put the eggs back in the pot and add all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil again, then simmer for 1-3 hours, adding water if the level gets too low. The color and flavor will deepen with longer immersion. Remove from heat and serve as a snack or as an addition to rice or noodles.

If you have room, you can also leave the eggs soaking in the broth in the refrigerator overnight.

Last time I went on a road trip, I took along a couple of hard-cooked eggs to have when I stopped for lunch. But because I had forgotten to bring any salt to add, I didn’t eat them after all. I know, too fussy. Now that I’ve learned how to make these pretty eggs that have the flavor and just the right amount of salt all locked in, I’ll be more ready for picnics, and have an elegant alternative to the rustic method of salt sprinkling.

Patch of Greens

Swiss chard in foreground, sorrel in back.

You can’t tell now, but I did weed my greens patch after New Year’s Day. The rain brought up more weeds, but also the things I planted have grown bigger so that I can make a good soup with them tonight.

The broccoli rabe has gone to flowering and doesn’t taste very good now. I didn’t end up using much of it. Maybe if I plant some this spring it will produce better before going to seed; but I thought it would have been a good fall crop.

Above you can see some Dino Kale and the rabe flower, plus Red Russian Kale on the far right.

And the washed greens ready to go.