Part One

As you all are well aware, Anthony and I have six kids between us. I brought four sons into our marriage, ages seven to fourteen.  Anthony brought a son (Thing 1) and a daughter (Thing 2), ages nine and thirteen.  

We never expected blending our families together to be easy.  It never is.  We lived 2000 miles away from each other and while my divorce was amicable, Ant's was anything but.  

Anthony and his wife had a relationship devoid of warmth and intimacy.  His wife had an explosive temper whose primary targets were Anthony and his then ten year old son.  Ant did what many of us do when we are in an unhealthy relationship;  he kept his head down and tried not to give his wife any reason to blow her top.  Anthony played the part of supportive husband and father, coaching hockey on top of a full time job with a one hour commute.  His wife continued to be a stay at home mom long after their children were both in school.  They had a comfortable life and even though Anthony was unhappy the rest of the family seemed satisfied with their lifestyle.

Ant's son had been a challenging and unhappy child from a young age.  Life is confusing when you live with a mother who seems angry and unpredictable. Anthony countered her intense and critical style of parenting by being nurturing and expressing unconditional love and optimism.  Ant was the go-between for his wife and children, always trying to calm the waters and keep everyone happy. With no love or affection toward each other, Ant and his wife turned their attention, resources, and energy toward their children.  Their home was a place where their children's schedules and desires took priority over everything else.  It was a combination that would ensure that no one would really be happy.

As Thing 1 matured his outbursts became more frequent and violent.  He resisted his parents' authority at every turn.  Getting dressed, cleaning up, showering, brushing teeth and wearing weather appropriate clothing, were all viewed as battles to be won.  Complying was seen as defeat.  He broke things. He began having difficulty getting along with friends at school and on the ice.  

Rules were not made for Thing 1.  When coaches called him off the ice to give other players a turn he wouldn't come, and when he did he would mouth off to coaches.  If they benched him for being disrespectful Thing 1 would escalate, once refusing to leave the hockey rink with his father.  He was unable to take responsibility for minor mistakes such as forgetting something or missing a shot.  Everything and anything had to be someone else's fault.  He lied.  A lot.

Thing 1 visited a social worker and two psychologists, and although he (and at times his mother) were not always cooperative, they suggested that he was suffering from Oppositional Defiance Disorder.  Here's the catch; if you have a child with ODD it is likely that you bear some responsibility for it.  Children develop ODD for a variety of reasons including their natural disposition, but it is generally recognized that inconsistent discipline is the hallmark of ODD.  Here we had an overbearing mother and an obliging father, a particularly toxic combination.  Guess who points the finger at whom?  Darren didn't learn to brush off responsibility on his own.  His own mother had perfected the art of deflecting blame.  I am not a professional but it was clear that both of them suffered from an inability to say, yep, I did that, and I'm sorry and I'll try to fix it. Somewhere they learned that taking responsibility was admitting defeat and that must be avoided at all costs.

Certainly someone has to do something, right?  Ant recognized that as an adult it was time for him to reflect on how his behavior was effecting both Thing 1 and his wife.  Perhaps he was the problem.  The ex refused to go to couple's counseling so Ant went on his own.  From her point of view he was the one who needed fixing, and Ant was willing to give it a try.

As many of you have undoubtably heard, something happened yesterday.  Something awful happened.  Something Anthony and I have lost sleep over many times.  

Anthony was scheduled to return home yesterday. He was turned back at Customs and Border Patrol in Vancouver, BC.  For the past several months he has entered the US using the Visa Waiver Program, a program which allows residents of certain countries to enter the US for 90 days without applying for a visa.  There are guidelines for how often you can use the Visa Waiver Program before having to apply for a proper visa, but there are no set rules.  Anthony and I had worried that he might someday be turned back at the border but for the past year he has entered and exited the US without CPB giving him a second glance.  I assumed that they could just tell how amazing he is and welcomed him to our country.

Yesterday was different.  When he was asked if he worked in the US he replied that he had not.  And he hasn't.  Ever.  Unless you call being my unpaid personal assistant "work."  The CPB officer must have Googled Anthony's name and found that he is a writer for the blog Awesome Mitten.  Anthony has volunteered as a writer and editor.  It's a hobby. Every month he contributes a monthly 500 word essay about family outings in Michigan.  He could not prove that he was not being paid for writing.  Obviously CBP officers have no idea how hard it is for anyone to get paid for writing.

An CPB officer phoned me and asked the following perplexing questions:

Q.  Why haven't you applied for a K-1 fiancé visa?  
A.  His divorce was finally final two weeks ago.  We were hoping to fill out the application together when he visited Michigan.

(This is the part where I started hyperventilating and crying.)

Q.  Why haven't you married him already?  
A. Um...because we can't get married until he is granted his K-1 visa.  Which I am applying for.  Right this minute.

Q.  When are you getting married?
A.  Errrrrr.  When the K-1 visa comes through. 

Q. Where do you have to mail the visa application?
A.  Detroit.  Maybe.  I'm not sure. 

So now things are kind of up in the air even though Anthony never got in the air.  (har har har)  Anthony was told that he should apply for a B-2 tourist visa.  The wait for an interview to receive one is 28 days.  Our hope is that he is granted a visa in time to visit over Thanksgiving and Christmas.  

I'm gathering paperwork and evidence of our relationship (seriously?) in order to apply for a K-1 visa.  The application process takes at least four months.  If you've seen Green Card you know how sidesplitting, heartwarming, and confusing the application process is.  And seriously, aren't we exactly like Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell? 

So I'm asking you to take good care of my sweet Ant.  I am surrounded by family and friends and he is alone, in a tiny apartment, in a city he was ready to leave almost two years ago.  

I know we will get through this.  When we are old we will look back on this time and remember how damn romantic it all was.  

But still, I hate it.

I love to pick, eat, and preserve fruits of all kinds. Most summers you'll find us in an orchard or berry patch at least once a week. I am fortunate to have a neighbor who sells fruit from his brother's orchard near South Haven. When he has an over-abundance he starts sending it down to my house with the boys. That is how I ended up with a few freezer bags full of plums. I don't care for fresh plums. I find their skins bitter. (Stop yelling at me, plum lovers.) So I tossed them in the freezer with absolutely no idea what I would eventually do with them.

Well. Last summer was for the most part a bust for those of us who like to pick fruit, so it goes without saying that I'm scraping the bottom of my larder fruit-wise. Lo and behold, the lowly plum. Sigh.

I came up with a recipe for plums that produces a luscious and sweet-tangy sauce, with nary a skin in sight.

Sweet Summer Plum Sauce

4 cups of plums, halved, washed and pitted
1 cup of sugar
6 cardamom pods
1 stick of cinnamon
6 whole cloves
6 allspice berries
black pepper

Toss the whole lot in a heavy pan and bring it to a simmer, adding a little water if necessary. Simmer for 30 minutes. After this, I leave the pot to sit at room temperature, overnight if possible. This does something to cooked fruit, like allowing some of the moisture to move back into the fruit. I also think that it gives time for the whole spices to imbue more of their flavor into the sauce.

ANYWAY, press the lovely, spiced, syrupy plums through a food mill or a sieve. Scrape the pulp from the bottom of your sieve into the plum syrup.

Now, how to use this gorgeous condiment! This morning Anthony and I stirred it into warm oatmeal. I'm betting it would be delicious with plain or vanilla yogurt. Or over vanilla ice cream. Or pound cake. To make the sauce more savory add balsamic or rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, garlic, and ginger. Then use it as a base for a barbecue sauce, or even a glaze for chicken wings or tiny Asian ribs. Or use it as dip for fried chicken fingers or shrimp.
My family has made summer sausage every Christmas for at least 40 years, and every year I ask myself why I only make it around the holidays.  The recipe came from my Sicilian great aunt, Fran.  It is inexpensive, delicious, and versatile.  When I was a kid we ate it with cheese and crackers, but now I use it as a homemade substitute for hard salami on pizza, in sandwiches and omelets.  It also fits into Paleo and low-carb diets.

*Note:  This recipe calls for 1 pound loaves, but I usually shape mine into smaller half pound loaves.  Up-a to you-a.

Fran's Homemade Summer Sausage

5 pounds hamburger (DO NOT get very lean ground beef.  You'll be sorry.)
5 teaspoons Morton's Quick Salt
2 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
2 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. (We've begun making ours in 2 gallon, zip-loc storage bags.)  Cover tightly and refrigerate 24 hours.  Mix.  Refrigerate another 24 hours.  Make 5 one-pound loaves.  Bake at 225 degrees for 6-8 hours, turning after 4 hours.  The outside will be mahogany brown and the inside will be pink throughout, just like store-bough.  Don't worry.  It's done.  There should be no trace of blood or softness. 

(Try a few slices warm from the oven.  Heaven.)

Allow the logs to cool a bit.  You can wrap them in foil at this time and tuck them in your fridge, or toss the whole lot of them into a zip-loc bag.

I've given up making resolutions. I lecture myself daily on how I need to lose weight, exercise more, eat better. Making a resolution to do so probably isn't going to work. Instead I resolve to learn something new every year. One year it was learning to bake bread. Another year I learned how to cable knit. I usually try to pick something that I've been interested in for some time, something that seems overwhelming or difficult to me.

This year I am going to learn how to bake croissants. My friend Mark made some gorgeous croissants, and while the folding and kneeding and folding scares me, it is time for me to give them a try. Plus, I love eating them!

I also plan to master scones and crumpets. I'm living with my sweet Irishman and feel like indulging him.

My non-culinary goal for this year is to read at least one book a month. This will require me to PUT DOWN MY DAMN PHONE. I used to be a ravenous reader, but between fiddling with my phone, going through my divorce, and taking up knitting my reading has been pushed aside. I'm in the middle of "The Casual Vacancy" by JK Rowling. I've been in the middle of "The Casual Vancancy" since October. It's time to fix that.

So. What do you plan to learn this year?
When Ant told me he'd listened to a story about bacon jam on the radio I was intrigued.  Only at the holidays can I really justify cooking something this decadent.  It was completely worth it, and I plan on making another batch.  Men and boys will lie at your feet in worship.

I've adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart's Slow Cooker Bacon Jam.  If you don't trust me, go ahead and make her recipe.  I'm sure it's outstanding.

  • 1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 medium sweet onions, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup packed white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup brewed coffee 
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Place the bacon in a cool Dutch oven and cook it over medium heat.  (Starting the bacon in a cool pan ensures that you will render as much fat as possible from the bacon.)  When the bacon is cooked and beginning to crisp drain the fat from the pan, reserving it for some other amazing use.  I leave the bacon in the pan, Martha removes it.  I figure if you're stewing the final mixture for a few hours leaving the bacon out at this point doesn't do much.
  2. Add the onions and the garlic to the pan, cooking on medium low, stirring frequently until the onions are softened and translucent.  
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, mixing well.  Cook, covered, on very low heat or in a very low oven, stirring every half hour.  
  4. The jam is done when it coats the back of a wooden spoon, maybe even a little thicker.  You be the judge.  Just don't let it scorch.
  5. Use an immersion blender to puree the jam.  I found that using an immersion blender left the jam with some satisfying bits of bacon and prevented it from looking like canned cat food.  Check and adjust the seasoning.

There are a few ingredients I would love to add, but I'm famous for tinkering with perfectly good recipes, so you might want to ignore these suggestions.

First, I love the flavor the coffee adds, but I think it might be worth substituting a stout beer for all or some of the coffee.  Might I suggest a Founders' Breakfast Stout?  Also, I think the bite of some mustard seed, dry mustard, or prepared whole grain mustard would not be amiss.  I'd add that along with plenty of black pepper.  Also, I think adding bits of dried cherries or cranberries would make this spread more attractive.  I'd toss those in with the sugar and allow them to stew with the whole mess so they are tender and luscious.  *drool*

Serve this with pretzels or crackers, alongside a terrific, sharp, wet, cheddar cheese and some fruit.  Use it as a glaze on meat, and for heavens sake, make sure to try it with green beans.  Or cooked carrots.  Or Brussels sprouts.  Or smear it all over baked brie en croute.   Throw a dollop of it into a baked sweet potato.  Spread it on a grilled cheese sandwich.  Lawd have mercy. *crosses self*
I pulled a fresh picnic (a hunk of bone-in pork shoulder) out of the freezer this morning and was unsure what I wanted to do with it.  I've had enough Tex-Mex lately and I wasn't interested in the typical pulled pork.  I was hungry for porky pork, no cloying sauce or cumin to muddy things up.  I wanted velvety roast pork I could eat with mashed potatoes or noodles, something that made good gravy.  Here's what I came up with.

Simple Sunday Pork Roast

1 4 pound pork roast from the shoulder (a picnic or Boston Butt roast)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons honey mustard
3 tablespoons whole grain mustard.
garlic powder
2 cups white wine

Rub the outside of the pork roast with the mustards.  I squirted them directly on the roast and brushed them all over.  Settle the roast in a Dutch oven, fat side up.  Sprinkle it liberally with garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Gently pour the white wine around and under the pork.  Do not rinse the spices off the pork.  Braise the pork in a low (275-325 degree) oven for at least 6 hours.  Add water if the pan begins to dry, but I expect you will have plenty of wonderful pan juices.  

When the pork is fork tender gently lift it to a serving tray.  Place the Dutch oven over low heat.  Thicken with flour...or don''s up to you.  Taste for seasoning and serve.  I like serving this with mashed potatoes, noodles or polenta.  Crispy kale is a wonderful accompaniment.
Sometimes a Friday Fill In is all I can muster after a busy week.  I really do enjoy them.

1. Discussions are only as good as the ears listening to them.

2. I'd rather wave from the couch than say goodbye. (I am horrible and awkward at goodbyes.  I hate them.)

3. I think it's time for all of my sons to sleep in their own beds.  I haven't minded a shared bed too much, as we've muddled our way through the divorce, but I do hope to share my bed with someone else eventually.

4. My ringtone puts a smile on my face. Seriously, it's Yakety Sax, the Benny Hill theme song.  How can that not make you smile?

5. Maybe sometime I will grow up and like onions (no time soon).

6. My boys and my sweet Ant give me strength.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to getting to bed early. Tomorrow my plans include dinner and a movie with my sister and her kids.  Sunday, I want to sip coffee with my sister and listen to the kids play.  I plan to head home early and get ready for a busy week full of preparations for Ant's visit!  

  • Growing up we had this side dish at many holidays.  It's one of those dishes that is so easy you start to wonder why you only have it on special occasions!*  I love it with ham because I think ham and Swiss cheese are MFEO.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • dash of grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated onion
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 cups drained cooked and well drained frozen green beans, French cut
  • 1/2 lb Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups corn flakes
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • Melt the two tablespoons of butter over low heat and saute' the grated onion until fragrant.  Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and sugar.  Stir to combine.  Gradually add the sour cream, mixing until smooth.  Add in the drained green beans and the Swiss cheese.  Combine all well and pour into a buttered casserole.  Mix cornflakes with the melted butter and sprinkle over the top.  I am the first to experiment with alternate toppings, and I'm sure Durkee fried onions would be lovely on this, but I have to say that the crispy, buttery corn flakes are it for me.  Anyway, cover and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, uncovering for the last five.
  • *I've never added meat to this casserole, but I think it would be an interesting way to use up leftover chicken or ham.  It would be like a variation on Chicken Divan.