Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Staycation, the Single Parent and the Surprising Ascension of the Domestic Diva

I found myself without my mate for nearly two weeks while Steve traveled cross-country and over the border to British Columbia to visit his brothers, who, much like he himself, have taken up residence in countries far from the one in which they were each born.  Because one of those two weeks happened to be the week before school started for Samantha, a week in which she had no other activities lined up or caregiver other than her sitter who arrives in the afternoon, I decided to make much of it a staycation, in which I stayed at home, worked a few half-days from my company-issued laptop set up side-by-side with my personal computer on my dining room table, and tried to keep Samantha occupied and entertained in creative ways.

Determined to have dinner with my girl every night, a luxury I am not afforded due to my usual work schedule, I cooked casseroles, baked cookies, made hot dogs which we ate out on the deck on a warm, breezy evening, and tried to change things up a bit.  I kept the house tidy, did several loads of laundry, cleaned the kitchen floor (gasp!), and even (bigger gasp) went to the bank to deposit checks and to the grocery store to do shopping, both tasks that my other half usually completes.  I made all of Samantha's compulsory appointments for the week, torturing her with a dentist appointment (more on that in another post), a doctor's appointment (also in another post beyond that), and a visit to the passport office in the post office to start the process of renewing her passport (in yet another post!), which expired nearly two years ago with a photo that had been taken when she was a mere 7 months old.  But the biggest torture of all was taking her, along with her sitter and her son who is the same age as Sammi, to a local orchard to pick fruit.  We had been hoping for peaches, and were disappointed to find that we'd missed them, and that only apples, a few pears and blackberries were available to choose from.     

The last time we went fruit-picking, as well as the time before that and the time before that, you'd have thought I was being unspeakably cruel to my girl, doling out a punishment worse than death.  That a fun outdoor opportunity to actively participate in the gathering of healthy things to make into even yummier healthy things was really more akin to waterboarding, or having one's fingernails removed by force, one at a time.  I thought perhaps age and maturity would change that.
I thought wrong.
Don't let the photos above and below fool you - the kid doesn't even like apples...

This is a much more accurate depiction of her crappy attitude when I wasn't carrying her piggy-back up and down hills, over uneven terrain and in the blistering heat of a perfectly seasonable August day:

And here's the beautiful face of undisguised and unmistakable relief when I told her it was time to go home:

Right.  Thanks, kid.  At least I didn't have to carry her back to the car...

I can't even begin to explain why, but this particular orchard always has a gruesome selection of skulls sitting on a lovely red and white checkered cloth covering the folding table at which you check out.  Perhaps they're trying to pass along the message of what happened to the last creatures that ate the farm's fruit without paying...

So, the question of what to do with the apples?  Peaches would have been easy.  I'd eat them.  I love fresh peaches.  Apples not quite so much.  And Sammi doesn't either, as I'd already mentioned.  And these apples were pretty sour.  I made apple sauce last year after an orchard visit, but I turned out to be the only person who actually ate it, other than the batch I had frozen and then thawed for Thanksgiving dinner at my mother's house.
A quick Google search for how to preserve apples yielded scores of recipes for oven-dried apple chips, which I suspect *may* actually make it past Samantha's lips as a good, healthy snack.  And if not hers, then most definitely mine.  And other than the tremendous amount of time it takes to make them (they need to bake at a very low temperature for 7 hours), the process was painfully easy. 
First, I searched for my over-10-year-old, never-been-used mandolin that I bought from one of those house-gadget-parties at a friend's place (you know, the kind where you feel obligated to buy stuff).   

Then, after coring, peeling and slicing the apples and pears (and wondering how the hell I managed to live this long without ever having used that amazing, awesome, most-useful-gadget-on-the-planet, the mandolin), I gathered a few rubs to add a bit of unexpected flavor to the finished product.  Below are apricot Jell-O powder (because that's what I had in the cupboard), cinnamon/sugar, and cayenne pepper/sugar.  I put the apple slices on silpat and parchment paper-covered baking sheets, sprinkled them with the different mixtures, then rubbed them in quickly with my fingers before putting them into the oven at 170 degrees to bake.  

After the 7 hours was over, I turned off the oven and let the trays remain inside until the oven was completely cool.  Then, voila!

Crispy, crunchy and delicious.  Unfortunately, I think Sammi's not that into them, but I'm going to try her again when she's not expecting it.  Keep in mind, they shrink as they dry.  This small-ish jar is holding about 3 apples-worth.  I have a plastic bag with the broken bits and the spicy ones, since I'm the only one who's going to eat those (and they are sooooo good).

Staycation is over, and life is nearly back to normal now that school has started.  I'm not sure how much of the domestic diva-hood will stick around, but I'm motivated to keep it rolling.  I like it, but bills gotta get paid, y'know?


TUC said...

Ha, that go-home picture of her is precious! The apples slices look yummy, and if nothing else make for a very cool photo of them in a jar. I am not a huge apple fan but I'd go through all of that just to get that shot of them.

CJ said...

Sounds like a wildly successful week!

wendy said...

Claire doesn't like going to pick apples either! Sounds like other than that day you two had a wonderful time! I'll have to try the apple slices they sound delicious!

Jenny said...

Great little post Becca! Loved the pictures, and I think the apple treats look awesome! We have a few apple trees in our yard and I never know what to do with all the apples, this recipe looks cool I'll have to try it!