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July 04, 2003: A happy fourth

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We had the usual gathering of the families at our house today, in the Fourth of July tradition that started the instant (a few years ago) that we all figured out that the backyard of our house is the perfect place to watch the fireworks without having to fight with the crowds. My parents, Richard's parents and youngest sister, and my older sister and brother-in-law and my two nephews all piled into our house for the annual barbeque, hours of chatting, and watching of the fireworks.

Richard and I decided to make those pork fajitas we made for my birthday, but this time we weren't in nearly so much of a rush (phew). Last night we did the main grocery run, and picked up the assortment of peppers and some liquid pectin I'd need to make more jalapeno jelly, plus some beautiful white peaches for pie.

An aside here. When making jelly of any kind, it is vitally important that one read the directions carefully. It is especially important not to add the pectin at the beginning of the recipe, instead of later, when you are supposed to add it, after you have already simmered the goo in the pan for several minutes and run it through the blender. If you do this, your jelly has a much greater chance of actually becoming something resembling jelly, and is less likely to turn into a thicker version of jalapeno syrup.

At least the jelly tasted just fine (if not with a bit more of a kick than I remember), even though it was a bit on the runny side. And I've now got an entire quart jar of the stuff in the fridge. I figure that amount will last us through a few years worth of fajitas before I have to make any more (and try to remember the all-important pectin-adding tip I mentioned above).

Last night I put together the frozen pies, which are perhaps some of the easiest pies in the world to make. You take a small container of yogurt, any flavor, stir it into a small container of cool whip, and then pour the resulting glop into a pre-made graham cracker crust. Cover it, toss it into the freezer, and voila. Pie! I always make mine with peach yogurt because that is one of only three flavors of yogurt I like (Although now that I think about it, next time I should try the orange flavor because that would probably be incredibly good), although my mom swears by the lemon (And for those of you on Weight Watchers, if you use the fat-free, sugar-free yogurt, fat-free cool whip, and the low fat graham cracker crust, it's only 14 points for the whole pie).

This morning I made apple cinnamon sweet potato muffins for breakfast (which are incredibly yummy and incredibly dense) while Richard went off to the store to get the pork. I figure we actually did pretty well for a holiday meal, considering that we only had to do two trips to the store on the actual day (the second was for charcoal and ice). After we ate breakfast, he put together the marinade, and a bit later I baked custard peach pie and cooked bacon and chopped up all the veggies and apples for the fajita filling.

If I look back on it now I suppose I did end up spending an awful lot of time in the kitchen cooking, but it didn't feel like it at all. I think what made the most difference for this holiday meal was the fact that last month we sat down, looked at our finances, and realized that we could finally afford to hire a cleaning service. So now someone comes in every two weeks and vacuums and dusts and mops the floors and makes the bathrooms sparkle and even gets all the cat hair off all the upholstery, including the cat trees.

It still feels a little decadent to leave a check on the table when I leave, and then come home from work to a sparkling house. But it is so worth the money. It's utterly amazing. This is the first time we've had people come over where we didn't have to rush around for a few hours beforehand cleaning the house. It's not that either of us is a slob, because clutter has never really been the issue. It's the fact that we have seven cats who shed an awful lot of fur, and more importantly, that we share a deep and abiding hatred for household chores.

As holiday gatherings go, today was one of the best. The fajitas turned out as delicious as usual, and the jelly tasted just fine, even if it was a bit runnier than usual. There was plenty of time to talk and laugh and sit outside while the two little guys tore around the yard. The city fireworks display was marvelous, if only because the finale was one of the most spectacular displays I've ever seen. And we got to show off the newest changes to our backyard, which include the lovely stone raised flower bed (full of all that dirt!), the wide paths around the pieces of lawn that were put in just this past week, and best of all, our newest set of temporary residents. Yes, the sparrow nest in the climbing roses on the arbor gate is occupied again, and it looks like there are three little balls of gray fluff in this batch too! If they keep at it we may be forced to figure out some way of hooking up a sparrow-cam on that side of the house, if only to get a chance to see the babies grow. I have to admit that I am inordinately pleased that the nest is being reused. Surely this means the curse is fading. I hope.

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