Life's Little Details: Knitting, Sewing, Green Living, Frugal Living and Cooking In A Little Corner of Southern French Countryside.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Happy Birthday: The World Is On Fire

It's been a really busy week around here, though I can't exactly say what I did with the week. Not that it's some big secret. It just doesn't seem to amount to much when taken all together. We were on the tail end of a round of antibiotics with Lambchop #2 for an ear infection caused by a recent viral sore throat. And, as seems to always be the case around here, just when we finish up with one illness another pops up. Actually, it was the same illness, just different people. That's what family's all about - the sharing, right? So, since Lambchop #2 was generous enough to pass on his virus, Lambchop #1 and I had it this week. I had a better time of it than she did (pregnancy immune systems are really something). We're all better now, but the missed days of school add up to a huge amount of overtime for mommy.

Then, I spent the entire afternoon on Thursday preparing dinner. It was a special dinner, and I wanted it to be just right, because it was my husband's birthday. We don't really get to do much for birthdays around here. There are lots of summer birthdays in the family, which means no real parties, since everyone is gone on vacation. I grew up with that. No fun. But, then my family always made the effort to celebrate with cake and all, even if it was just for the immediate family. Growing up with that tradition makes me always want to have a cake for anyone's birthday, whether much else can be afforded or not (and, really, do you ever need an actual excuse for cake?). I've actually been known to bake my own birthday cakes now that there's no one there to bake one for me. That may not happen this year, though, since I'll be bigger than a house by that time and probably ready to burst at the mere idea of baking. I guess we're lucky the hubbie's birthday comes a little earlier, because we had quite a feast.

I asked him if he wanted something fruity or something chocolatey or something else for his cake. He chose fruity, even though he didn't see any fruit that could be baked into a decent cake (or pie). Little did he know that I had several lemons and was armed with a great Cook's Illustrated recipe for Lemon Tart (the French way). I know he loves that pie, so I thought I'd give it a try (ooh, poet and didn't know it). It turned out really well and used so many egg yolks that I had the perfect excuse to make an Angel Food Cake (again, who really needs an excuse?). Just a little warning about putting candles in a Lemon Tart, though - they don't stay up well. It was quite a feat to light and blow them out before they fell over and burned holes in the pie. We were determined, though and tore up the top of the pie with them anyway. By the way, can anyone guess how many years are represented by those candles (hint: he's not a vampire who's 352 years old)?

While that cooled and readied itself for dessert time, I threw a little something else together. Another thing Muttonchop is very fond of is lamb. I do like lamb, but as meat goes, it's one of the more expensive ones to buy, and it's not so great for your health. As a result, it gets left off the menu quite a bit more than he'd like around here. I made his birthday an exception. I went all out and purchased a rack of lamb to cook up. I'd never done this before, and it seems pretty difficult when you look at the end product. However, with the exception of the part where you spend an hour taking fat off the thing and cleaning the bones of meat, it was pretty simple, really. And, boy was it good. I served it with a sauce of Moroccan spices and orange juice over a bed of couscous (compliments of Cook's Illustrated again). And, since I have a bit of trouble serving a meal without veggies, I threw in some ratatouille (French stewed eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes and onions) to round the meal out. It all went quite well together and Muttonchop proclaimed it a success. He even pointed out the fact that we'd have had to pay a hefty sum for a rack of lamb at any restaurant that serves it. So, I was happy with the relative frugality of my splurging on such a fancy meal.

And, as a birthday present, some unknown person has been presenting the area with "fireworks" all week long. I admit it's really quite a sight to witness the firefighter planes swooping low and being lost in the smoke as they release a pond's worth of water in an attempt to douse the fire (you think any fish are thrown in when they do this?). These planes are enormous and really are very impressive, but nothing strikes fear in the heart of a country dweller like driving home from playgroup to see a fire off in the distance. Off in the same direction as their home. And, when they've already seen four other fires in the immediate area in the past four days. I was all willing to believe it was accidental (I'm trusting and naïve that way) the first couple of times. My more jaded husband assured me that most forest fires are not accidents. I hate to say he appears to be right. I also hate to say that the close proximity of some of the fires to our land makes me a bit nervous. When you depend on the land for your livelihood, as we do, fire can be a very serious thing. And, when someone is setting them day after day in all the communities nearby, you have to start to wonder when your luck will run out.

The picture taken here is of a fire on my husband's birthday. It consumed an old local landmark and the greenery around it. The building, which I'm not sure is still standing, is an old sheep barn, I believe. It's now used as a community center for the village our kids go to school in. The spot is probably just a few miles away from our place if you cross the hills and brush instead of taking the roads. My husband recalls planting trees at this site when he was in school in the village. Now, sadly, it appears that my children will have the opportunity to do the same in the coming years.

The first of this week's fires took place in the community that bumps up against the other side of our property. You can see now why I'm a little nervous about it all. I do have to applaud the firefighters, though. I'm sure they're on red alert with one fire a day around here, but they've done a great job of containing these things in what have been horrendously windy days lately. I just hope they can stop the idiot who's setting them, before someone gets hurt or too much is lost.

And, for those of you who don't come here for the food and fires, I'll have some knitting pictures soon enough. This week I quickly put together a little summer shirt for Lambchop #1. I used some yarn I bought long ago at Michael's on a visit to the US. It has been earmarked for this kind of project for ages, but I've never gotten around to it. Don't know why, since it's turned out to be one of the quickest knits ever. Then, I've got a sock that I've started. It's been a very long time since I knitted any socks (and, the first time I've ever actually used a pattern to make them), so we'll see how that goes... I've got lots of gardening and housework ahead of me now, though, so that'll have to come another day.