Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer 2016

Oh, my darlings. The summer is upon us! I hope that this means, in your house, some time for fun and games, and not just a big, hot slog through an impossible scheduling nightmare shadowed by a terrible feeling that the world is going to shit. Fingers crossed.

Here it means that we never see Michael, because he is picking berries. Strawberries first, and then, in a little while, blueberries. 

This is Smitten Kitchen's perfect little Raspberry Buttermilk Cake, but made with strawberries. Easy and delicious.
He's been making chocolate-covered strawberries and they are so gorgeous and good.

He shows up somewhere with a box of them, shrugging, like, "Oh, these old perfect things?" and everyone is stunned into gorging. Here's his recipe: Melt 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. Dip the strawberries into it. Chill on a parchment-covered tray.

You can dip banana slices instead and freeze them, and then you make these
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But honestly? If you live near a Trader Joe's, just buy them. They are $1.99, and so, so good.

Another June thing, while we're at it: pickled radishes. So easy, and so good to add to your nachos, quesadillas, and salads. Thinly slice some red radishes and put them in a mason jar. Bring to a boil 1/2 cup each white vinegar and water with 2 teaspoons of salt, and pour this over the radishes (double or triple it if you've got a lot of radishes). Done! They're excellent after a day, but good immediately. They smell very, very bad. Like, peculiarly bad.

And before we move on to the kindss of summer fun you don't put in your mouth, one last thing: the kids got miracle fruit tablets in their Christmas stockings this past year, and they are so much fun.  They have some weird compound in them that obliterates the taste reception of sour on your tongue: after you eat one, sour things taste strangely sweet. It's not a cheap thrill by a long shot. But you can make a really fun afternoon of it by setting up little dishes of tart things (lemon and lime wedges, plain yogurt, cheddar cheese, orange juice, strawberries) and then having a tasting party. That's what we did.

Okay, onto the fun and games. First up:
Kubb. We got this game one or two years ago, after playing it at a friend's house, and it is completely delightful. It's a lawn game, and you're basically trying to knock over wooden pieces with other wooden pieces, and we are forever mailing the link out to people who've played with us and want to get it. It's simple and fun and always hilarious. It's also weirdly expensive, and I truly believe that if you had a penchant for sanding, and access to some lovely hardwood, you could make it yourself.
Hands to the head: The universal Kubb sign of "I knocked over the king by accident!" What I really wish I had a photo of is my mom flinging a piece into my dad's shin and the ensuing purple lump. It's not the safest game!
More outdoor fun: we got Michael a Log Flume water jousting set for Father's Day. 

I will report back after we play with it, but I think we're going to like it a lot. We were inspired to get it because another current outdoor favorite thing to do is jousting. This is a great idea we got from friends, who made a jousting pole for each of their four children. 
Michael copied their design, using PVC pipe, pipe insulation, and upholstery foam covered in fabric. If you can hit someone with a huge, padded stick and not end up laughing hilariously, then you might be made of stone. It is an especially fun thing for large groups of teenaged boys to do, even if someone's weird mom comes out in her nightie to take a turn, cackling like a crazy old lady.

Lest you think we are all about the great outdoors, we also have some indoor game recommendations for the summer. The children above are playing the beautiful tile-laying game Lanterns, which is a current favorite of ours. 

It's a matching game crossed with a set-collecting game and, like all good games, every time you play it you feel like you're finally hitting upon the one true strategy--only to find, the next time you play it, that you weren't. It's super-pretty too, and not as hard to learn as some board games (how's that for some abstracted relativism?).

Another great game we've been playing is Cathedral. It's in the game family of Quoridor and Quarto and Gobblet--the games we refer to as "the wood games," as in, "I don't know. Maybe one of the wood games?" when someone asks you what you want to play, and there are only two of you playing. I extra-treasure this game, and if you're the dear lovely person who gave it to me at my reading in Wentham, then you know why. [Heart.]

More summer fun, at least for me, is this book:

I have mentioned Alabama Chanin's books before (here, for example), because I love her ideas and patterns. Also, even though she no longer officially recommends it, I still sew everything from fabric I cut from vast thrifted t-shirts. This wrap skirt, for example, I made from two double XL t-shirts. (Total cost: $2.)

The cat hair and flour dust are my own additions to the design, but all the little fancy stitches and beading and applique and reverse applique is well-described in the book. I've been sewing by hand again, and loving it so much. One thing, though: the book comes not with paper patterns, but with a CD. She recommends taking it to a copy shop to print out the patterns you want to use, but I (cheaply) have been using Adobe's tiling option, which means that the patterns prints as 16 or 20 or 36 pages that you then have to trim and tape together. I don't mind doing this, for some reason, but I don't imagine everyone will feel that way. Improv Sewing is another favorite of mine: a less fussy book that is full of great, inspiring ideas for sewing clothes from thrifted fabrics.

And, for actual reading, I have gotten way, deep into the Elena Ferrante books. I'd tried the first one a year ago and put it down again. Maybe it was too soon after the death of my own brilliant friend? Or maybe the style--like your obsessive friend who tells you about the guy who made her latte, only it takes her four hours just to describe how he winked at her or maybe didn't wink at her--wasn't striking me right at the time. But now I'm all in. I'm saving the fourth book for the trip we're taking in July.

Birdy DEVOURED Keris Stainton's book Starring Kitty. What did you love about it? I said, and she said, with annoying but enthusiastic vagueness, "Oh, everything." Keris's books are not widely available in the United States, but they should be. 

Okay, my loves, your turn. Summer recipes, games, books, activities? Shoot!


  1. I am all about the summer cold brewed coffee. I put a cup of regular grounds in
    My French press, fill with water and stir, then leave it overnight. The next day I plunge the plunger and decant the elixir into a quart jar. I then make iced mochas with a squirt of Hershey syrup and then half elixir and half almond milk plus ice. I apps love the cinnamon iced tea fro the Yummy Life blog - so so good. You'll catch me playing corn hole or bocce outside and Pandemic or Roll For It inside. Super big travel plans start next week - I love summer!

  2. Thank you for all the game recommendations--we will check them out. We love the jousting, too, and "swordfighting" with "swords" made from PVC pipe,pipe foam, and Duck tape. Lately I've been playing Patchwork, a 2-player board game that is easy to learn but sufficiently complex that there is no single best strategy for winning--or at least I haven't figured it out yet. Good for about age 10 to adult.

  3. I ordered Starring Kitty for my own girl just now, after briefly checking with our library system and finding NOTHING by this author. I admit I kind of HOPED not to find it, so I'd have the excuse to order a book from the UK.

  4. Anonymous11:56 PM

    We don't have AC and it has been a scorcher, so I am all about the salads right now: Amish broccoli salad, sesame noodle salad, egg salad, fruit salad... I have been squeezing in some reading (Shanghai Girls, A God In Ruins, The Accident), gardening, and we have been playing a lot of backgammon. -- Rebecca

  5. I have found some of my favorite books through your recommendations, so thank you! Books for you: anything by Julia Glass (most have overlapping characters), All the Bright Places (YA), and The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. I also really liked The Bone Clocks. I'm still thinking about it a couple years after reading it. For Birdy (and you): anything by Rebecca Stead, but especially When You Reach Me, anything by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and the Austin family series by Madeleine L'Engle. For food, I made the Pioneer Woman's strawberry oatmeal bars, but used homemade strawberry sauce from the strawberries in the garden instead of jam, and coconut oil instead of butter, and they were inhaled. Also, salad rolls, and taco salad with cilantro lime creamy dressing (and taco flavored doritos).

    1. I have been trying to remember Zilpha Keatley Snyder's name for weeks now. I loved her books as a kid but can't quite remember the titles correctly to look them up so Thank you!

  6. Anonymous1:09 AM

    Definitely feel the hot, nightmare, scheduling slog-must change it. Goal this summer- everybody learns to type with all fingers- inc me.
    Other goals- make more throwies and light up the neighborhood, walking around it late one night when it is dark- we did it last year. Arrange playdates for the kids- hard for me because really just want to keep them close and mine and have them all to myself, and slow down time to a standstill- at least for the summer.
    Made a successful tofu pad thai in 15 mins.
    Want to introduce my youngest to Joan Aitken, and re-read it myself.
    I second Pandemic.
    Need to learn to love the permanent layer of sand everywhere from the car to inside the beds- otherwise it turns me crazy!
    Need to make mango fro yos :)


    1:07 AM

  7. I feel like Ferrante's first book is necessary for giving us the setup for her life and for everything that follows, so for anyone who says they gave up after the first book, I think, "Noooooooooo! You have to read the second one!" This is so the opposite of how I feel about the Twilight series. A few years back Roxane Gay posted this recipe somewhere, and it always reminds me of summer:

  8. Anonymous10:06 AM

    My daughter (Birdy's age) and I just read "Under the Persimmon Tree" by Suzanne Fisher Staples. I loved it (my daughter liked it but wasn't as enthusiastic as I was, but I really did love it).
    How I wish we played more board games in my family! Maybe I'll have a learn backgammon this summer. I remember really liking that as a kid.
    This summer I also want to:
    Eat dinner on the porch or outside lots more.
    Go to a drive-in movie (never have done this with the kids)
    Have some sort of ongoing handwork project for the kids to turn to when they're "bored"
    Make lettuce wraps
    Make raspberry jam
    Go to place where they roller skate your take out order to you right in your car (this and the drive in make me sound like I am spending way too much time in my car!) --Cathy K

  9. I read about 25 pages of the first Ferrante and then put it down. My Italian MIL loved the series and recommended it to me (but she read it in Italian, so who knows?). Since both you and she are so rave-y about it, I will try again. I think with different expectations I can do it.

    My kiddos (almost 13 and 10) and I all read and LOVED a new-ish YA non-fiction called "I Will Always Write Back," about a seventh grade girl who becomes penpals with a boy in Zimbabwe. I think Birdy would really love it. We also recommend "The War that Saved My Life." It's a British WWII novel that we also all loved.

  10. alison7:51 AM

    LOVED!!! •"My Son's Catalogue of Grievances" at The Washington Post
    Hated some of the commenters :[

  11. Made cherry preserves which turned out insanely delicious (and no one else in my house likes cherry preserves, so they're all for me)!

    We've been playing Crazy Faces from the EeBoo mini-card set. We like all 5 card games inn the set, but it's particularly hilarious when my 5 year old cracks up over the Crazy Faces photos. Also, my boys are still enjoying Monument Valley (per your recommendation), and have you and yours tried the app/puzzle game called The Room (Fireproof Games)? My older son and I found it addictive.

    Been reading Jane Austen with utter abandon -- Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon. So very funny and interesting.

    Have already been to Children's Fairyland in Oakland and planning some beach adventures. Plus took my 13 y.o. to an early matinee of Now You See Me 2. That was fun...

    Thank you for all the recs. Lanterns sounds particularly intriguing!

  12. I read the first Ferrante book too, and was not a fan. I was given three of them as a present and exchanged the second two for other books and the bookshop people were stunned as NO ONE HAD EVER RETURNED those books before. I am regretting it a bit now though! I'd highly recommend the thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.

  13. Big hit at our house this summer-the BORED box. My hubby is a SAHD-he took the popular meme about being BORED (Been creative? Outside time? Read a book? etc,) and put the letter at the top and an activity for that letter at the bottom. They all went into a box ( the BORED box) and now the kids get to draw from the box, and Dad is committed to do any activity they draw. Make Homemade Pizza? Off to the grocery store. Paint a picture? Let's get done newspaper on that table. They are LOVING it! (Ages 14, 12 and 8- but you could make the activities appropriate for any age).

  14. Catherine, Glad to hear you are enjoying Cathedral. It was such a pleasure to hear you speak and to meet you in Wenham. Hope your dinner at The Clam Shack was fun.

    Two more game suggestions that we have been having ever so much fun with of late: CodeNames (especially fun if you are teamed up with someone who also thinks quirkily!) and One Night, Ultimate WereWolf. These are not in the strategy realm, but absolute fun family/group games. Happy Summer! Michele

  15. Oh oh I can't wait until my kids are old enough for "real" board games! We are inching ever-closer but not quite there yet. I'm ordering the flume jousting kit for my husband's birthday, though.

    Re. Kubb, I feel so dumb that I didn't pick up the Marimekko for Target set on deep discount a few weeks ago when it was still in stores! You can get it on eBay for about the same as the recommended set, though, if any readers are particularly swayed by patterns.

    We just got home from 2 weeks in France and I am struggling to unpack and to summon the energy to cook dinner at all, but your lettuce wrap post put me in the mood for something along those lines. The other thing I love to eat in summer is watermelon salad with lime, mint, and feta. I could eat that for dinner every night.

  16. Tara Bennett6:00 PM

    Last summer, I was really into making picked radishes and I had just made a fresh batch and took them to work for lunch. Somehow the jar got knocked over in the fridge and spilled and the smell was awful! I was working as a sub in a new office so I didn't know the other nurses and they all started freaking out about the smell. I remember one of the nurses saying "who would bring something that smelled so bad" and they started cleaning out the fridge -- I was so embarrassed, I ran into the kitchen and grabbed my jar, into the parking garage and threw the whole thing in the trash and sat in my car and cried. It was not one of my finer moments. They might smell terrible but they are still one of my favorite summer treats.(I just don't bring them to work!)
    Happy Summer!

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