29 December 2009

More Birthdays

Julie did it first. And I filed it away for my birthday. Because I want more birthdays, for me, and you, and you, and you too. And because this year, this birthday, is my first birthday without my mother.

If you're paying attention, you'll notice that it's four days after Christmas. Because I was born four days after Christmas, the vast majority of the people that I have known kind of lump Christmas and my birthday together - so yeah, I get gypped - a dearth of cards, a paucity of gifts. My mother, though, always remembered. She always set aside birthday presents, and wrapped them in non-Christmas wrapping. She knew - after all, she birthed me.

I'm not asking for gifts. I'm not even soliciting for the American Cancer Society, or any of the myriad organizations out there doing good work in cancer research. But I am asking you to stop and think, think of someone you know who died too soon, who didn't get more birthdays, because of cancer or for any other reason. That's present enough for me.

25 December 2009

The Christmas Cards

When the girl was two, we sent a picture of her in shades, holding a life-sized Elmo in a death grip.

When she was three, we sent a picture of her naked on the beach, coyly looking over her shoulder.

When she was four, she was in an undershirt and a crown, with a devilish expression on her face.

And this year - the seventh Christmas card since she was born - she's riding a tractor.

We're all about the untraditional card.

Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year to you and yours.

(PS - to forestall the anticipated question, zero, one and five were lovely photo cards of our dear child, but in a much more traditional vein.)

24 December 2009

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String

Ribbon, yarn, string. Tissue, kraft paper. Cardstock. Old paper patterns.

Armed with a paper cutter, scissors, whimsy and a hot glue gun, I wrapped every single present this year without buying any supplies - and they all had a thematic coherency.

The wrapping was beige, brown, ecru, taupe, cream, buff, tan, and khaki - a neutral palette of saved sheets underlaying the recycled red, green, gold, silver and white ribbons. For the tags, I typed everyone's name enough times into columns in 36 point type, picked a random handful of nice display fonts, and printed out sheets of buff cardstock. A pass through the paper cutter and the hole punch, with a little piece of red crochet thread - bang zoom, tags.

One set of (mailed) packages had non-standard orange and brown ribbons, only because I know that family of recipients not to care that Christmas is Red and Green. The family's set of presents was, however, internally consistent and complementary.

And Santa? Santa wrapped in red/green/white/silver/gold wrapping paper, paper that we already had, or that had been carefully saved last year; the packages that will mysteriously appear overnight will be in magical colorful paper, not the buff/brown/ecru that the human parents used.

Ribbons can be reused over and over. And why spend money on wrapping paper? It's just going to be torn off. It's about the giving, not the wrapping.

23 December 2009


I don't know when I learned the word upcycle - but it wasn't long ago. However, I love it - it's what I like to do! Take something with little intrinsic value and transform it into something new. A quilt made of scrap fabric, a knitted hat made of odds and ends of yarn, a wool sweater felted and remade into a bag. It's a particularly thrifty version of craftiness: there's little or no need to purchase raw materials.

For years, I've been collecting pieces of scrap paper - pretty bits torn out of catalogs or magazines. The things that appeal to me have pattern, color, texture - no text, no figures, no illustrations. They're architectural details, oriental rugs, grasses, paisleys, shimmering seas. Finally, I got around to buying some Mod Podge and began transforming everyday objects.

I took a handsome turquoise and blue chocolate box, covered the top and bottom with a wallpapery pattern, added some rectangles of oriental rugs, and ended up with a gift box for a handmade scarf.

I covered an old stool with rough squares of leafy greens and distant landscapes, added a name in blue block letters cut from the undulating roof of a Gehry building, and produced a personalized step stool for a not-yet-walking baby (which I wrapped before I took its picture).

And the little wooden box that had once held a tasty wheel of Epoisses got a new life with some (different) oriental rugs.

There is the danger that I will découpage everything in sight.

22 December 2009


The child spent yesterday afternoon at her grandparents' house. While there, she helped make Christmas cookies, and brought home a little ornament that her grandmother gave her. When we got home, she asked to go down to the cellar "to wrap something". She insisted. I escorted her down to the cellar, she glommed onto some scrap red taffeta and wrapped up the ... little ornament that her grandmother had just given her. "I need a ribbon" so I found her a piece of green ribbon - "red and green, it's the Christmas colors!" - and she made a label out of paper and affixed it with enough tape to fix the space shuttle. Then she put it under the tree.

I thought that was the end of things, until Friday anyway.

We sat down to do her homework: fill in some blanks, do a word search, read a book (her out loud to me), read another book (me out loud to her), write a sentence about the second book*.

And then she asked "Can I open a present?" At this point, the only presents under the tree are two that came by mail, one that she brought home from school, one that she wrapped using fabric and a needle & thread (and I have no idea what's in it, except that she told me it's edible, and I hope that means it isn't perishable because it's been there for days) and the two that we bought and wrapped for Daddy before the snowfall on Saturday. In other words, hardly anything, and she knows that no presents are to be opened until Christmas.

Indulgent and perspicacious mama that I am, I said yes, and she proceeded to open the present from Grandma that she herself had wrapped an hour before. We said "Ooh what a beautiful ornament", and she went to bed clutching it in its box.

Her excitement about Christmas this year is palpable - so much more so than ever before. It's rather magical.

* "What was interesting was that the egg didn't go back in the book", in case you wanted to know.

21 December 2009

Once Upon A Fruitcake

Remember the dear fruitcake? Someone from Grandparents.com contacted me not too long ago, asking for a "holiday disaster" story. In a fit of madness, and with the caveat "This may not be what you were looking for", I sent them links to the fruitcake tale and the fruitcake reveal.

And they put it up on their site, but with a stock photo of an intact fruitcake, not my well-aged one. She did say "Have a wonderful holiday and try to make your keepsakes nonperishable from now on!!" Point taken. But perishable keepsakes are more the funny, don't you think?

18 December 2009

Whine / Anti-whine

I lost a necklace last night. I think it might have snapped off when I picked up the whining cranky child.

I’m playing Bob Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart at my desk.

I feel very bah humbug about Christmas at the moment.

All of the presents are bought; almost all of them are wrapped.

I hate this pair of jeans I’m wearing – they are the wrong shade of blue.

My new favorite substance is Mod Podge; I told my husband that I was going to decoupage everything in sight.

It may snow this weekend, and I have to go someplace.

I love the down coat I got last winter.

The whining cranky tired child made us miss the second act of Hansel & Gretel.

It looks like the whole opera is available on the Met’s website, so we can watch the second act at home.

Whine, whine, whine.

Do you have a whine, or an anti-whine?

Post title & concept filched from Phantom Scribbler and Wednesday Whining.

16 December 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Incongruities

Why yes, there are wire ties and a popsicle stick holding the tree topper in place.

And yeah, there's a gin label on my wine bottle, just because I'm odd that way, or maybe it's wishful thinking, because (see above) there are wire ties on my Christmas tree.

I think I'm not winning any Martha Stewart awards this year.

15 December 2009

How To Sew A Button

I had the usual two grandmothers as a child. One was a lovely, but distant, woman – given to proper hats and an occasional foray into gardening. I can’t remember any domestic feats of hers, beyond making mashed potatoes in an electric mixer, which I knew was wrong even as a child. Her husband ruled her and the household, and it’s him that I remember roasting the Thanksgiving turkey, and making (read more)

14 December 2009

Antimicrobial Lint

In the category of now I’ve seen everything: I got an envelope in the mail (at the office) with an "antimicrobial" lining.

The girl looked at my copy of The Dread Crew and asked me "Is that about Jack Sparrow?"

This morning, there was a five year old boy on the train - on his way to see the Rockettes. When we got into the tunnel, he asked his mother "is this the basement of Grand Central?" She replied "no, it's the tunnel". He then asked "is it the tunnel of love?", to laughter all around.

At least the antimicrobial envelope came from a hospital. One wouldn't want to be getting MRSA by opening mail from doctors, right? If the Con-Ed bill starts coming in antimicrobial envelopes, I'm going to start worrying.

12 December 2009

Naked Mondays

Oh, this is excellent. If you tweet about Mondays and naked Christmas trees, you get odd retweets and replies.

11 December 2009

Let's Review: Science

"Hank and Patrick watched as one bright star moved across the sky."

I was reading to the girl the other night, reading a charming book called What Happened to Patrick's Dinosaurs? At the end of the book, as the brothers watch the night sky, my girl interrupted me to tell me "a shooting star is not a star, it's a meteor". "How do you know that?" "From the science DVD."

I'd recently gotten her a copy of the latest kid release from They Might Be Giants (thanks to a hat tip from Cool Mom Picks). It's called Here Comes Science, and if you buy the physical CD, it comes with a DVD with cunning videos of all of the songs.

And you know what? It's excellent. It's got songs about blood, and songs about elements. They cover evolution and paleontology, and Roy G. Biv turns out to be the guy at the end of the rainbow.

They play with language, so there's one song about the sun that begins:

The sun is a mass
Of incandescent gas

and another that starts with:

The sun is a miasma
Of incandescent plasma

And the song that taught my daughter about meteors is a lovely little ditty that turns into a clever round.

The whole shebang is a great package - fun for kids, enjoyable by parents, and slyly educational. What more could you want?

Disclosure: I bought this record with my own money and no one paid me for this review.

10 December 2009

The Other Side of The Great Interview Experiment

When it rains, it pours?

Somehow, my guest post for Ree and my Great Interview Experiment interview by TC both went live yesterday. Want to see me interviewed about various and sundry things, like blogging and free time and vacations and parenting? Visit TC at I Have Things.

The usual blathering will resume tomorrow.

09 December 2009

Being Anonymous Even While House-Sitting

The great and powerful Ree, a/k/a The Hotfessional, is in India, and I'm house-sitting. Please visit me at her house today, where I'm not making curry or speaking Hindi or making bad jokes about bodacious tatas.

08 December 2009

Pregnancy ≠ Nine Months

You know what really gets my goat? Okay, well, lots of things, but one of them is when someone whines that pregnancy is ten long months, OMG, because they've concluded that 40 weeks divided by four-weeks-in-a-month is ten.


Let’s do the math.

One year = 12 months = 52 weeks.
¼ of a year = 3 months = 13 weeks.
¾ of a year = 9 months = 39 weeks.

Now, gynecologists have perpetrated the myth that pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. But that’s only because they assume that most women don’t know the date of conception, but that most do know the date of the beginning of their last menstrual period (LMP). For convenience, therefore, gynecologists start counting the pregnancy from the date of the LMP. But the date of the LMP is generally understood to be about two weeks prior to the date of conception – two weeks in which one is most definitely NOT pregnant. You aren’t pregnant until you’ve conceived.

So, take the 40 weeks, subtract the two weeks in which you aren’t pregnant, and you get 38 weeks of actual pregnant time. The careful reader will note that 38 weeks is LESS than nine months. Ta da!

07 December 2009


My father lives in a little farmhouse, up in the middle of nowhere. He bought it from some people who'd gotten it from her aunt, and the aunt had been in the house for a long time.

The aunt was apparently something of a character. There are still people in the valley who remember when the house was painted entirely pink, and Hazel drove a pink Cadillac to match. At some point, she changed over much of the downstairs to yellow - there was yellow cotton shag carpeting everywhere when Pop moved in - but the chandelier in the dining room is still pink glass. Outside, there are hot pink tiny roses planted along the rock wall, interspersed with wild orange day lilies - around about the Fourth of July, when they're both blooming, you could be blinded by the vibrating pink and orange.

Hazel was the kind of modern woman who didn't use her husband's last name - and had a career to boot, as a painter of some skill. Once upon a time, the story goes, her husband was in the hospital, after a heart attack or some such. Hazel arrived for a visit, and gave her name to the nurse. The nurse escorted her into the room, and announced her: "Mr. Carter, your girlfriend's here." Mr. Carter sighed "Millicent" and Hazel turned on her heel and left.

When he finally got out of the hospital, and arrived home, he went upstairs to use the bathroom. Imagine his surprise when he discovered a naked woman in his bathtub. He asked Hazel about her; she snipped "That's Millicent".

Neighbors ask if she's still in the bathtub. If visitors haven't been to the house before, they're escorted up to see the lady in the tub and the hand painted hollyhocks on the bathroom walls. Children are particularly titillated. I've never actually taken a bath in the tub; the paint is a little flaky and we've not researched the proper conservation technique for bathtubs painted in a fit of pique. Luckily, there's a shower elsewhere in the house.

Ah, Millicent.

06 December 2009

Snow Duck

The nice thing about having an independent six year old is that you can dress her up in snow pants and send her out into the backyard for hours with no supervision on a Sunday morning after the nice first snowfall of the year and she comes back hollering "Mommy, I made you a snow duck" and carries said duck into the kitchen, wet boots and all.

duck made out of snow

05 December 2009

Cell Phones For Domestic Violence

The other day, BlogHer threw a party in NYC. It turned out that that same day was also "It's Time to Talk about Domestic Violence" Day. I learned about this from someone I met at that holiday party.

Today, in an effort to clean house and do the right thing, I googled to find out how to get rid of some old cellphones that were kicking around.

In a flash of synchronicity, one of the first sites I found was for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Bang zoom - the phones were in a postage paid box waiting for my mailman - to be either refurbished for use, or recycled. Out of the landfill, and repurposed for good.

04 December 2009

Fisher and Chickpeas

I was taught at an early age that one should never ever write in books, or dog-ear their pages. In college, I wrote in books of necessity, especially for English classes. But after I stopped reading for a grade, I stopped writing in books again.

Until recently.

I don’t like to write on the pages, because it’s too hard to get back to what piqued my interest unless I also dog-ear the page, and that I just can’t do. Instead, I write on the back end papers, and include the page number. My notes are decidedly cryptic, like the following from the back of the M.F.K. Fisher anthology that I just finished:

p. 203 Railroad (sat upon sandwich)
p. 213 Matzoh
223 Tomato Soup
229 Regional
298 “In Nice, Snacking in the Flower Market”
311 Sugar shaker “little star-shaped holes”

A Stew or a Story is a mish mosh of short pieces that Fisher did for various magazines. It was compiled a couple of years ago, not by her, some fifteen years after her death. As such, it’s of uneven quality, not like the uniformly sparkling and acerbic work released during her lifetime. I was finding it quite a slog for a while - as you can see, the first note I made was about page 203.

But matzoh, spread with butter and spices, and warmed through in the oven? That sounds divine. So does the “Railroad”, a picnic dish of her devising – in which one removes all of the insides of a loaf of French bread, leaving nothing but crust, spreads the crust with butter, layers it with ham, wraps it in a dishcloth, and invites a guest to sit on it 15 minutes before serving. A pressed sandwich!

Tomato soup proves to be her comfort food, when served just so in a particular little jug, with a dash of cinnamon. She waxes rhapsodic about local eating, a locavore well before the term was coined. She buys a sugar shaker for her father, at an antique shop in London – I read her description of the “top with a dainty finial…star-shaped holes…unscrewed neatly for refilling” and wondered in recognition – I’ve seen sugar shakers and not known that that’s what they were.

The moment that sold me on the book, though, was when I came across a 1986 New York Times Magazine piece called “In Nice, Snacking in the Flower Market”. Somewhere in my house, I am quite sure that I have that very piece ripped out of that very issue of the magazine. I know I ripped it out; I think I still have it; I know I never tried to make socca. It’s a sign. I will now try to find some chickpea flour. MFK Fisher wants me to.

And I think she’d approve of my small cryptic notes on the end papers of her book.

02 December 2009

Wordless Wednesday: My City Child

Dancing on the Lincoln Center fountain
Dancing on the Lincoln Center fountain, in the rain, on Thanksgiving Eve.

(Edited to add: it occurs to me that this is the second picture this year of the girl in a fountain IN THE SAME DRESS.)

01 December 2009

Charity vs. Democracy

Maybe you've heard this. Chase Bank is giving $5,000,000 away via Facebook . Sounds great, right? All you have to do is vote for your favorite charity, and tell everyone you know. Actually, in the first round, you can vote for 20 favorites, so you can horse trade with your friends.

It's crowdsourcing philanthropy! A new model for the new social media! Charity by the people!

But the problem is that it’s a popularity contest that rewards those organizations with the greatest social networking savvy and not those with the greatest impact and/or efficiency of operations. Arguably, a small organization with terrific grassroots skills but mediocre delivery of a dubious service could win a million bucks - and then fritter it away on pizza and airplane tickets. There's no vetting, no due diligence.

Forgive me for being a deeply cranky cynic, but this whole thing just looks like Chase spending $5,000,000 to make itself look good by tossing some spending money at a handful of charities. Sure, the top vote receiver will get a cool million, but 106 organizations out of 500,000 will split $4 million (the last million will be doled out by ”a special Advisory Board led by prominent national philanthropists...to the nominated charities of its choice").

Keep in mind here that Chase got $25 BILLION in bailout money last fall - $5 million is chump change.

This isn’t philanthropy, it’s marketing. And what’s more? They’re making the 300 million Facebook users do all the work.

30 November 2009


The last time we were at my father’s house, the girlie spotted a “sushi maker” – namely a handful of boxes from Sushi Chef, including short grain rice, a bamboo rolling mat, and several sheets of nori. Since then, she's repeatedly told us that she wants to make sushi, mostly because she likes the sticky rice. [Occasionally, she eats the insides; she claims to like crab.]

After we arrived at his house the other day, she discovered some antique popsicles in the freezer and announced that she wanted to make popsicle sushi. Sure, why not? Live large. Holiday weekend and all that.

We made some sticky rice, I flattened it out between two sheets of plastic wrap and we stuck it in the fridge for a while. Then we rolled it up - the nori, the rice, and the popsicle (stick and all).

We couldn’t cut much of it, what with the stick still in the middle, but we got off a couple of slices – which looked stunningly like tuna rolls - and she ate every scrap of the rest off of the stick. Strawberry popsicle, sticky rice and nori.

People, we’ve invented something.

29 November 2009

The Thanksgiving Table Cards

The girlie wanted to make place cards for Thanksgiving dinner, so I dug up some ancient index cards, folded them in half, and cut them to size.

I wrote out all the names for her, and she set to work. Of her own volition, she added "Love" after everyone's name - which meant that one card was marked "Mike Love". Alas, no, we had no Beach Boys at the table.

Somewhere during the course of the meal, someone unfolded one of the cards and discovered my tidy microscopic handwriting on the back – they’d originally been notes for a college art history class – yes, a hundred years ago. Because of the way the cards had been cut, the notes were rendered into some obscure haiku-like poetry.

Life size, dark granite
Surrogate body
No motion, no time

Middle Kingdom

26 November 2009

Thirteen Things, and Thanks

There are some things in this world that I just don't understand:

  1. Scented antiperspirant
  2. Flavored coffee
  3. American cheese singles
  4. Artificial sweetener
  5. Football
  6. American Idol
  7. Mashed potatoes from a box
  8. Aluminum siding
  9. Fruit-flavored toothpaste
  10. Polyester sheets
  11. Uggs
  12. Cosmetic surgery
  13. Margarine

On the other hand, I am thankful for butter, and good coffee beans delivered by mail, and freshly laundered cotton sheets, and bare feet, and garlic mashed potatoes, and excellent cheese, and cinnamon toothpaste, and iTunes piped through the house.

Oh, and you.

I am thankful to have all of you in my life. Happy Thanksgiving.

23 November 2009

When Smart Technology Backfires

I don't really use the Amazon "Gift Organizer" but I did set it up a couple of years ago, and made a list of the people for whom we "must" find gifts for Christmas, and once in awhile I do actually add something to one of the lists as a kind of aide-mémoire. But some of the people? I've never actually put anything on their list.1

What Amazon does in that case is make some random suggestion - Here's the most wished for camera. How about a Kindle? Here's the most gifted in Gourmet.2

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the Gift Organizer the other day and discovered that it was suggesting the Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator for my nephew.

Obviously, Amazon does not realize that Tiny is FOUR.

1 Not because I don't love them, but because I buy in lots of other places, like the thrift shop, and I make things, and, well, even though it likes to think so, Amazon doesn't sell everything.

2 Can I just say how much I hate that use of "gifted". It's "I gave you the book", not "I gifted you the book". Argh.

20 November 2009

Monkey Bread, Redux

What is monkey bread anyway?

There are myriad variations. Some are rich and gooey, others are more austere. Some cheat by using refrigerated biscuit dough. Some are baked in a flat cake pan, some are done in a tube pan. Most recipes have you make dough balls, which then get dipped in water or butter, and dipped in cinnamon sugar, and layered in a pan. But some skip the dip in favor of a pouring on of melted butter, others use nuts, and one version I found includes a package of dry butterscotch pudding mix.

In 1976, the New York Times said "the basis of monkey bread is a butter-rich yeast dough that is rolled out, then stamped with a diamond-shaped cookie cutter. The thin diamonds are layered into a ring mold and baked. When reheated in the oven, the leaves flake apart and can be pulled off and eaten, dripping with their own melted butter". While that’s kind of intriguing, rolling out yeast dough is a pain in the neck.

I think almost any bread dough would do. My recipe makes a slightly rich dough – it’s got one egg in it – and the final result isn’t hugely sweet and sticky.

If you want more exhaustive discourse on the history and evolution of monkey bread, visit the rather fascinating Food Time Line. If you just want to make some, here’s my recipe.

19 November 2009

Let's Review: Baby Alive

For heaven's sake, does anyone really need a doll that pees? I thought they'd gone the way of all things, but apparently they've made a reappearance. Someone gave my daughter a "Baby Alive Better Now Baby" for her birthday, and I'd like to rip its little molded plastic hair out. For one thing, it only came with ONE disposable diaper. [The packaging said there were supposed to be two - it is possible that the second diaper got thrown out because the packaging was that kind of insane frustration of hard plastic and wire ties that drives parents to drink.] For another thing, the diapers are DISPOSABLE. Meaning, once they get wet, you're supposed to throw them out. Meaning, you're supposed to buy disposable diapers FOR A DOLL. This does not fall into the category of ecologically correct toy.

I have firmly instructed the girl that no more water is to be "fed" to the doll - because I will not buy disposable diapers for a doll.

It could be worse. There's a more expensive version that pees and poops and whimpers, and requires special food and batteries, which was a runner-up in the 2009 TOADY awards:

Want to stamp out your preschooler’s pesky imagination? Try Hasbro’s Baby Alive Learns to Potty. Some version of Baby Alive has been around since the 1980s, but thanks to animatronics the 2008 version does everything. Really everything. In addition to talking, gurgling, eating special Baby Alive food and drinking Special Baby Alive juice, this is the only TOADY award nominee that actually poops. Baby Alive Learns to Potty comes with two packets of food and two diapers—which aren’t reusable when “messed.” In addition to squelching your child's creative play, you'll get big bang out of adding Baby Alive’s food and diaper costs to the family budget!

At least I'm not alone in being such a curmudgeon.

Disclosure: My kid got this as a birthday present, and no one paid me for this review.

18 November 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Red

My mother, in 1956. Her lipstick matches her apple.

17 November 2009

Great Interview Experiment: -R-

Great Interview ExperimentYo, people! In a fit of madness I signed up for Neilochka's Great Interview Experiment, and ending up interviewing -R-, who writes And You Know What Else, and can't be summed up in a tidy sentence, but does offer up 100 things about herself. Here's a few more things about R, with her answers in italics.

1) Do you go to your college reunions? Why or why not?

I am guessing my college had a five-year reunion, but I'm not really sure. Obviously, I didn't go. I won't go to the ten-year reunion. I mostly had a small group of close friends when I was in college, and I only keep in touch with one of them, so I don't think I would get a lot of the reunion. Plus, I would have to travel all the way to Texas.

2) Why'd you start the Blog Share project?

I think Lara (of Red Red Whine), Stefanie (of Stefanie Says), and I joked about trading blogs so we could write secret posts. A while later, I had something that I really wanted to write but didn't want easily traced back to me, so I started the Blog Share. I'm really glad I did. I have read both really touching and really hilarious posts because of it.

3) How many cars have you owned? If money were no object, what would you buy next?

I have owned a Hyundai Accent, Nissan Altima, Volkswagen Passat, and Mazda3 - four cars. If money were no object, I would probably buy a BMW 5 series.

4) Tell us about some treasured object in your house and tell us why it's special.

I think one of the things I most treasure is a quilt my grandmother made me when I was a baby. It is a yellow twin-size quilt with little girls in bonnets in each square. It was the quilt I used on my bed growing up, and if I have a daughter, it will be hers.

5) How'd you come up with your baby's name?

I think H and I talked about baby names when we were just dating. Maybe we started talking about names when one of H's nephews was born? Anyway, we started listing names, and had completely different taste. We each HATED the names the other one mentioned. One of us said the name Warren, and it was the first one we both liked, and it's the name we ended up using six or seven years later.

6) What's your favorite thing to eat?

French silk pie. I don't think I've had any for over a year! I will have to rectify that soon.

7) Put your iPod on "shuffle" and list the first five songs that come up.

  • Television, Television by OK Go
  • New Way Home by Foo Fighters
  • Where Is My Mind? by The Pixies
  • You've Got to Hide Your Love Away performed by Pearl Jam
  • Gone by Kelly Clarkson

I love that R's treasured possession is a quilt, and I'm amused that I don't know any of the songs on her playlist. And I wish I knew where I'd put the recipe for French silk pie that a friend gave me umpteen years ago...

16 November 2009

The Monkey Bread Birthday

So, because the girl turned six last week, we threw her a birthday party. And, like all of the other parties we’ve had for her, we had it at home. Because, to me, that’s what you do. I realize that I’m swimming against the current here – in the several years that the girlie’s been going to other people’s parties, only one other kid has had parties at home. All the others – and she seems to get invited to a lot of parties – have been at commercial venues of one kind or another: bowling alley / gym / beauty parlor / ice cream shop / Burger King / pizza place.

Last spring, at a fundraiser, I bought a gift certificate to a place that does cooking classes for kids, thinking that I could use it for her birthday. When I called up to discuss it with them, it turned out that even with the gift certificate, it was going to cost me way more than I wanted to spend. But because I liked the idea of a cooking party, and because we love to cook, we made our own party – which I am going to relate in mundane detail, in the hopes of convincing more people to party on at home.

apronsI ordered plain white kid-sized aprons from Dharma Trading, along with fabric markers. In advance, we stenciled each kid’s name on an apron using fabric paint. When the kids arrived, they decorated their aprons.

Then, they went outside for an egg and spoon race championship, complete with real eggs and a bracket chart (and, yes, we made them run uphill). Luckily, we had unseasonably wonderful weather – but pin-the-hat-on-the-chef would have been the rainy day back up. [While they were outside, we set up the table for monkey bread making.]

egg spoon race

monkey bread makingBack inside, they donned their aprons, rolled up their sleeves and “made” monkey bread. I’d made a huge quantity of the dough the day before. Each kid got an 8” cake pan and a lump of dough, and they shared several bowls of melted butter, and of cinnamon-sugar. We’d had the foresight to put a drop cloth under the dining room table, otherwise I think the rug would be on the curb now. They made dough balls, dipped them in butter & sugar, and filled up their pans.

After a good hand-washing all around, the girlie opened her presents. [While that was going on, we re-set the dining table for cake.]

Lastly came singing and cake, singing complete with "cha-cha-cha", and chocolate cake with raspberry fluff icing. The cake recipe came from The Cake Bible; the icing was Julia Child’s italian meringue with a couple of blobs of seedless raspberry preserves beat in.

The small guests went home with an apron, a monkey bread ready for the oven, a recipe card* and a wooden spoon.

Lest you think we did this all without help, think again. The girlie’s grandmother – a once schoolteacher – helped out with apron decorating and monkey-breading. Several parents stayed and got pressed into service. All the grownups got wine & nibbles for their troubles.

And I collapsed into a fragrant, unctuous bubble bath.

Yeah - it's a lot of work. But it was a whole lot of fun.

*If you want the recipe, let me know and I'll email it to you.

11 November 2009

Things Learned From My Mother: Thrift

When I was a little girl, sleeping in the wrought iron bed with brass finial balls that is now my daughter's, I slept under a quilt that my mother had made. It wasn't anything complicated, just 4" patchwork squares. She quilted a lot, my mother. She made pillows, and clothes, and blanket-like quilts out of old wool suiting backed with fleece. The summer before I went to college, we made a quilt together. Mostly, I made it, with her guidance, but I think of it as something we did together. Again, it was nothing fancy, a rail fence pattern made with 2" x 6" rectangles, shades of blue anchoring each patch. It's not even quilted, but merely tied with white wool - a tie at each four square meeting.

That quilt is now on my daughter's bed, that self-same iron bed I'd slept on when I was her age. Because it was made from fabric scraps of many vintages, including fabric from my childhood, and from my mother's, some of the pieces are failing. Every so often, I cut a handful more patches, iron the edges, and contemplatively appliqué them into place. If I'm feeling fancy, I'll do a little crazy quilt embroidery in a contrasting color, but mostly I'm just trying to fix the holes and keep the decay at bay.

Over the weekend, I realized it was beyond hand-sewing - there were far too many holes, split seams, frayed patches. Someone else might have thrown in the towel and headed for a department store for a cozy new comforter; I headed for the sewing machine. Casting tradition to the winds, I machine-appliquéd new rectangles, and machine-darned some of the seams, sewing all the way through to the backing.

Even as I was doing it, I questioned my sanity. But I have to keep fixing that quilt. My initials are on the corner, and my initials are the same as my child's (though I see some broken stitching in the "M" which I ought to address). It's her quilt and mine, and my mother's too, and it wraps us in memory and thrift.

10 November 2009

Now We Are Six

The A. A. Milne poem titled The End is obligatory upon becoming six:

When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three
I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

Happy birthday, clever little goose.

09 November 2009

Stigma // Taboo

"The In The Know Short Film Competition sought to eliminate the stigma of infertility and encourage couples who have struggled with infertility to share their stories and lend support for other couples hesitant in openly discussing their journey."

I know. Who'd a thunk it? An infertility film festival? But I was there the other night, as the guest of the very lovely Mel, Queen of the Stirrup Queens and The Land of If, who happened to be one of the judges. We had drinks and snacks, we saw the three films that made the finals, and Mel and I talked about the ballet.

But go back and read that opening paragraph. Stigma. A few of the speakers at the event used the word "stigma", and it rattled me, enough so that I had to look it up in the dictionary, because there is nothing better than pulling a redolent dusty dictionary off the shelf for some aimless archeology.

Stigma: 1. a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation


Stigma: In sociological theory, a stigma is an attribute, behavior, or reputation which is socially discrediting in a particular way: it causes an individual to be mentally classified by others in an undesirable, rejected stereotype rather than in an accepted, normal one.

Being infertile does not disgrace you, it doesn't detract from your character, it doesn't mark you in any way, it doesn't make you into an outcast. However, it is something that people don't generally talk about, a taboo subject.

Why is that? And what can we do? Talk about it.

After my husband and I got married, we stopped using birth control and started trying to have a baby. And whenever anyone asked, I coyly deflected the question of "when are you going to have kids" with "we have cats". I did this so successfully that when I told people I was pregnant - eight years into the marriage - they said "we thought you didn't want children". If I had talked about it, perhaps someone would have suggested a medical investigation sooner - because I just didn't realize that yeah, your fertility decreases as you get older. In retrospect, I was an idiot.

Besides the happy production of a child, the experience of doctors and needles and dildo cams and surgeries and so many blood draws it's amazing that I'm not anemic made me hyper-aware of other women struggling with infertility - almost as though I developed a sixth sense for it, an intuition. And once you start talking about it, it's there, and there, and oh, there too. It's everywhere. It's one in eight couples.

Reading infertility blogs was my gateway into blogging. After reading for a while, I started writing, and while I'm in no way an "infertility blogger", having come to blogging after my fertility treatment days were over, I still feel a resonance there, and it's how I met Mel in the first place.

Incidentally, there's a fine irony in the phrase "stigma of infertility". One of the definitions of "stigma" has to do with something at the very core of conception - the release of the ripe egg from the ovary.

"A stigma in mammalian reproductive anatomy refers to the area of the ovarian surface where the Graafian follicle will burst through during ovulation and release the ovum."

Infertility isn't a stigma, and it shouldn't be a taboo.

08 November 2009

In Which We Mock The Supermarket

There is a simple joy in going to the supermarket with my husband, but without our child. It's calm. There are no pleas for this (No, we are not getting Dora fruit rollups), or that (No, we're not going to buy Gogurt). And we can pause to contemplate the absurd, like "milk flavoring straws".

You drink your milk with this product, and it tastes like Oreos? For twenty five cents a straw? Are those crumbled Oreos glued to the inside of the straw? I am mystified.

Or how about Pirates of the Caribbean bubble bath?

Come on, everyone knows that pirates don't bathe. And when they get smelly? They jump in the sea and swim around the ship. They don't take bubble baths, and they certainly don't want to smell like "Mariner Musk".

What got me thoroughly grossed out, though, was a small stack of plastic containers of freshly cooked pumpkin. Not processed, in a can, like solid pack pumpkin (which I've been hearing is in short supply for the coming pumpkin pie holiday). Nah, this is like the store decided to repurpose the unsold Halloween pumpkins by cooking them, and scooping the flesh, and packing it.

No expiration date, and it was shelved over by the dairy department, not in produce where you might expect. I think I'll stick to apple pie, thanks.

04 November 2009

I've Spawned an Auteur

If you give a kid a camera, she's going to want to make a movie.

03 November 2009

Foreign Phrases

The Bloggess is in Japan. Her Japanese is, apparently, lacking. My foreign language skills are mediocre, though je parle un peu Français and ich spreche ein bißchen Deutsch.

The only thing that my husband knows how to say in Italian is "your eyes are the color of my Ferrari" (which, if you think about it, is damning with faint praise, since a Ferrari is nearly always red). I can say "you're dog shit" in Chinese, but that's it.

And once upon a time, my sister got off an airplane in Brazil having memorized only one phrase out of her guidebook, from the going-to-the-doctor section, namely "please remove your trousers and underpants", which wasn't much use when she got pulled aside by Brazilian immigration because she didn't have a proper visa.

Please, tell me the odd phrases that you know, in your choice of language other than English.

02 November 2009

Savory Sweet Potatoes

I know I've said this before, but one of the things about the CSA is that it is strangely liberating to have no choice in what you get. You must cook the sweet potatoes, even though you'd never have bought them in the first place. So you try to find a way to like the sweet potatoes (or fill-in-the-blank with your own personal bête noire).

Yesterday, when faced with a need to make dinner and a need to address the largish bag of sweet potatoes, I turned to Twitter/Facebook, and asked for help.

twitter screen shot

The replies poured in. Apparently people have strong feelings about sweet potatoes. Go figure. However, there’s no consensus! Lots of people want to turn them into something so sweet that it might as well be dessert:

  • Brown sugar, but not a ton, butter, and cinnamon if your tastes go that way.
  • Add butter and brown sugar, LOTS.
  • With pecans and brown sugar. Tastes like candy.
  • Marshmallows baby, marshmallows.
Then there was the mashed and/or fried contingent:
  • Two tone potatoes (complete with a link provided by Thordora)
  • Mash & add some fresh lime juice--brightens them up. Or sweet potato latkes.
  • Mashed. Or make 'em like baked french fries in the oven.
  • I love sweet potato fries.
  • Sweet potato fries, made with olive oil in the oven, plus salt.
  • Sweet potato fries. Why does anyone make fries with regular potatoes?
There were a bunch of outliers:
  • Pie 'em.
  • Roasted together with various other potatoes and balsamic vinegar.
  • I make a savory gratin: thin slices, some crumbled sausage and seasoning between layers, pour white sauce over, top with bread crumbs, bake covered except the last few minutes.
  • Roasted with olive oil, sea salt and brown sugar.
  • I always love them in a casserole. No marshmallows, but with walnuts and bourbon.
  • Sweet potatoes are nice in stew. Or candied.
  • Go to Japan and get a roasted sweet potato from the yaki imo man! Delish!!!
But Midlife Mama had a whole mess of suggestions:
Roasted with rosemary, red peppers, and regular potatoes. Or cut into "fries" and roasted with a spicy mix--chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, salt. Or sliced in rounds, layered in a shallow casserole with leeks also sliced into rounds and lots of butter (sweet potatoes anna). Substituted for squash or pumpkin in breads, muffins, cakes. Then again, I love them, so anything is good.

I riffed on her first idea, and came up with something that even the husband liked - earlier he'd been insisting that sweet potatoes would make him gag. I peeled and chunked some white potatoes, some sweet potatoes and an onion. I chopped up some garlic, and a sweet red pepper. We still have rosemary in the garden, so I minced a spring of it, and tossed everything together in a baking dish, with a glug or two of olive oil, and some kosher salt. It went into a 350° oven for about 45 minutes, at which point I tossed in some chopped cooked bacon that was in the freezer, and baked it for another 15 minutes. We ate it on top of some toothy polenta that I'd found at the Greenmarket last month, with a green salad alongside. And it was good.

01 November 2009

Let's Review: The Prima Princessa Nutcracker

A big part of my childhood was seeing the New York City Ballet Nutcracker every couple of years. For me, it's the ur Nutcracker: the sets, the costumes, the choreography, the specifics of the plot. I love the movie of it that was made in 1997, even though Macaulay Caulkin should have been left on the cutting room floor - all he does is mug for the camera - but I guess they felt that they needed a "name" "star" for a theatrical release. I digress.

The child has been captivated by the Prima Princessa Swan Lake that I brought home from BlogHer, so I was happy when they offered to send me their new release: Prima Princessa Presents The Nutcracker. I'm happy to report that their Nutcracker is equally as charming as their Swan Lake.

Again, there's the animated fairy as narrator - intercut with pre-schoolers dancing around on the lawn and in the snow, serious young ballet students from the School of American Ballet demonstrating steps like passé, glissade and sauté, and clips from the San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker.

You get the flavor of the ballet's story, in a kind of Cliff Notes way. I was interested in seeing the bits of the SF Nutcracker - the differences between it and NYCB were fascinating to me (the mouse king gets done in by a mousetrap, Mother Ginger has a pet bear). There's a little education going on - you see ballet steps as demonstrated in a classroom, as attempted by the little ones, and in the choreography. And while the DVD is likely to appeal to little girls, the producers were careful to include male dancers: there are little boys cavorting around, and boys demonstrating steps in ballet class, and plenty of men in the stage production.

I was disappointed that the credits didn't identify any of the dancers (or if they do, I completely missed it) and I couldn't find that information on the Prima Princessa website. But I'm the kind of geek that wants to know who's who - most people probably don't care. (I'm guessing that all of the SF Ballet footage was from their fairly recent DVD of The Nutcracker.)

The verdict from the five year old? "I love that movie."

Disclosure: I got a free copy of this DVD from the producer. If you buy it on Amazon, it'll cost you about $11.49. No one paid me for this review.

30 October 2009

The Nightgown

She went off to the undertaker in a nightgown. A soft cotton-knit nightgown from Lands' End. Heather grey, with a henley neck and a handful of buttons and long sleeves. It hung to below the knee, and had side slits at the hem.

I'd bought it for her around the time she started sleeping in the living room. All of her other nightgowns were cotton flannel, and harder to get on and off; the stretchy knit was easier. Over time, though, both side slits tore farther up the seam. All of that pulling and rolling and tugging - to change the diaper, change the bedding, get her positioned in her bed just so - took its toll on the fragile seams, already weakened by the slit running up from the hem.

She went off to the undertaker in a nightgown with ripped seams. I wonder, did they take it off, that nightgown? Did the funeral home send it off to St. Vincent de Paul? Or did she go to the crematorium in that nightgown?

It was one of the last things that I bought her.

27 October 2009

Stories that Stick

Books. I surround myself with books. There are books in every room in the house, save the bathrooms, because I think reading on the toilet is wrong. There's a pile next to the bed that'll hurt if it falls over, there's always a book in my bag, and my Amazon wish list (which is more like an aide-mémoire) is longer than my arm. I compulsively catalog books read via Good Reads because I like making lists, and I like spending time on my couch dipping into long ago read books as though meeting old friends.

Some number of times in my recent wanderings in cyberspace, I've come across the meme that Sweet/Salty Kate started in connection with the imminent release of her pirate book, The Dread Crew. Reading these posts is kind of exhilarating, and daunting. Huh, I never read that, it sounds great. And, yes, I loved that book. But, no way, that's a terrible piece of dreck.

So you know I had to do the meme:

1) You are facing an epic journey. You may choose one companion, one tool and one vehicle from any book or film to accompany you. Or just one of the three. It's up to you. What do you choose?

As companion, I'd take Stephen Maturin (from the Patrick O'Brian books), because he's smart and sensitive, and a spy and a doctor, and he plays the cello in his spare time. As tool, I'd take the alethiometer from The Golden Compass - after all, it tells the truth. The vehicle would have to be one of James Bond's cars as breathed upon by Q.

2) You can escape to the insides of any book. Where do you go, and why?

To the estate of Malplaquet, in Mistress Masham's Repose. The heroine is an orphan, doing battle with her evil governess and a dastardly cleric, with the help of the kindly cook and a distracted professor. There are Lilliputians! And maps for endpapers! It's magic.

3) You can bring one literary character into your current life. Who do you choose, and why?

Lord Peter Wimsey would be fun to hang out with. He's smart and rich and cultivated, and he drives a fine car.

4) The 27th Kingdom is my go-to book. I could read that book fifty-seven times in a row without a break for food or a pee and not be remotely bored. In fact I’ve already done that but it wasn’t fifty-seven times. It was sixty-four.

5) Of all the literary or film characters that made an impression on you as a kid, who was the most enviable?

I wanted to be Claudia, in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. She runs away, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and then solves a mystery.

6) Of all the literary or film characters that made an impression on you as a kid, who was the most frightening?

I read The Crying of Lot 49 when I was 16, and it terrified me. And I can't remember why. I sort of want to re-read it and see if it's still terrifying, and I sort of want to let sleeping dogs lie.

7) Every time I read A Room With A View, I see something in it that I haven’t seen before.

8) It is imperative that The Dread Crew be made into a movie. Now. I am already picketing Hollywood for this—but if they cast Hugh Grant as Johnnie Golden, I will not be happy. I will, however, be appeased if they cast Peter Stormare.

9) A Suitable Boy is a book that should never be made (or should have never been made) into a film.

10) After all these years, the gynecological instruments scene in the book/movie Dead Ringers still manages to give me the queebs.

11) After all these years, the wedding scene in the book/movie The Philadelphia Story still manages to give me a thrill.

12) If I could corner the author Charles Palliser, here’s what I’d say to him in one minute or less about their book, The Quincunx: But what about Johnnie's inheritance?

13) The coolest non-fiction book I’ve ever read is Water in the lake. Every time I flip through it, it makes me want to put a book in the freezer and add mindful whimsy to my life.

Here's hoping that Kate's book is a story that sticks!

26 October 2009

Honestly Honesty

Nora thought I might have something interesting to say.

  1. There's a "flat cat" on the shelf in my office. She's been with me in every office I've worked in, for more than 20 years.
  2. I came with only two wisdom teeth. They're dormant and non-threatening. I like to tell my husband that I'm on the cutting edge of evolution, because we don't need wisdom teeth.
  3. My daughter asked me last night if I ever wore shirts that weren't either black, or white. Rarely! I pointed out that I'd had a grey shirt on last week, but then we discussed that grey was a mix of black AND white. So, she might be right. Is it because of children that people decide to dress more colorfully? I am wearing a green sweater today. With a white shirt and jeans.
  4. I do have a pair of red shoes.
  5. After breakfast, and before getting dressed, I like nothing better than to crawl back into my still warm bed with a cup of coffee, just for a few minutes, alone.
  6. The only team sport I have ever done was crew, and it wasn't even real crew. It was in college, and it was intramural crew, in bargelike training shells. But the feel of slipping across the water, pulling, pushing, all in unison, was magical and exhilarating.
  7. Sharks patrol these waters.
  8. There are two suction lizards on the tile walls of our shower. I get sad when one falls off and gets scooped up into the bucket of the girl's bath toys - I think it's lost and gone for ever.
  9. I feel banal today.
  10. But perhaps I am a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.


23 October 2009

With My Friendship For This Reason

Great gems sometimes drop into my lap, like this letter that arrived in my office yesterday, from an autograph seeker in Spain (seeking someone else's autograph, not mine).

It reads as though it was badly translated by a robot, so to amuse myself, I stuck it into Babelfish and translated it from English to Italian and back again. Herewith:

Me a lot and series a great relative honor that has the company/companies and that it designs nell' accumulation of the artists of the dance, thus attached he it corresponding paper so that I pray me that it compliments. Un' illustration its has dedicated un' image to me. Thanks a lot for that reason and to attend its news much pleasant he salutes with my friendship.

You could do it all day long, like some demented electronic game of Telephone. I did wend my way through to German, back to English, to Russian, back to English again.

With thanks are much its pleasant communications themselves in order to ensure much [gostepriimsva] it with my friendship for this reason i.

With my friendship for this reason. It's the found poetry at the end of the exercise.

22 October 2009

Thursday Thirteen In My Pants

When Alejna commands you to add pants to everything, one must obey. More specifically, her edict was to append "in my pants" to a random selection of song titles obtained by using the shuffle feature in iTunes. So I did.

  1. Speeding Motorcycle In My Pants (Yo La Tengo)
  2. I Cried Last Night In My Pants (Junior Kimbrough)
  3. Heart of Stone In My Pants (Rolling Stones)
  4. Shine On Harvest Moon In My Pants (Leon Redbone)
  5. April After All In My Pants (Elvis Costello/Anne Sofie von Otter)
  6. So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright In My Pants (Simon & Garfunkel)
  7. Love Is For Strangers In My Pants (Luciana Souza)
  8. Because The Night In My Pants (Bruce Springsteen)
  9. Freight Train In My Pants (Peggy Seeger)
  10. Big Yellow Taxi In My Pants (Joni Mitchell)
  11. Private Idaho In My Pants (B-52s)
  12. I've Got To See You Again In My Pants (Norah Jones)
  13. The Valley In My Pants (k.d. lang)

The performing artist is in parentheses. The composer/songwriter is not listed.

A pants-less aside: It is a frequent frustration for me that the performer is supreme in the iPod metadata - while the composer can be included in the "info" panel of iTunes, that information doesn't flow over to the iPod. So, while I have two copies of April After All on my iPod, one by Elvis and Anne, and the other by Ron Sexsmith, there's no way to know that the song was written by Ron Sexsmith and and, therefore, that the Elvis/Anne version is a cover. Although I do know it. But I digress. Though while I'm at it? Freight Train was written by Elizabeth Cotten. And The Valley was written by Jane Siberry. In fact, only six of the above songs were written by the above listed performers. Which six? For bonus points, discuss the history of #8.

If you want to play, consider yourself tagged, in your pants. You can skip the singer/songwriter/composer performer discussion.

21 October 2009

Wardrobe Pink Wednesday

Stripes and flowers and ruffles and ears. Pink goes with pink, right? This outfit, sans kitty ears, was what she wore for picture day at school. And I'm sure that she would have tried to wear the kitty ears for picture day, except they only just came in the mail from the pinkalicious Painted Maypole!

20 October 2009

Why do we get disturbing thoughts?

Why oh why did someone visit my blog early this morning using the search terms "review best pomegranate juice" and then, instead of leaving a comment on a post that’s two months old, send me a 532 word email about research done in Israel on the benefits of pomegranate juice?

What is it with Amanda Hesser and her twins? Just today, someone was looking for "'amanda hesser' twins preschool" – I hope they aren’t planning to stalk her, not that they would have found any information on my site. And it’s not the first time – according to Google Analytics, Amanda Hesser is one of the top ten searches that land on my blog.

Four of the top ten searches are for Lava Girl costumes. And I’m terribly sorry, but our Lava Girl costume doesn’t have anything to do with the Lavagirl character. Kid told me she wanted to be Lava Girl, and described the costume she wanted. She’d never seen Lavagirl, I’d never even heard of the character. But apparently, a lot of people want to be Lavagirl for Halloween.

Checking Sitemeter this morning, (because of the pomegranate email, I rarely bother unless I want to try and pinpoint a recent comment), I found that three of the 100 last visitors reached my blog because they were looking for information on the price of a colonoscopy, or how much insurance would pay. That’s sad, and speaks to the incredible lack of transparency in the health care industry.

And if you're wondering about the post title, it was another Google search. Go figure. Why do we get disturbing thoughts, anyway?

19 October 2009

Monday Mission: Nonet

Beige grains in the old green Mason jar
In suspended animation
Await warm water and food.
Feed them the miller’s wheat,
Flavor them with salt.
Knead, rest, rise, bake:
Crusty joy,

This post has been a Monday Mission, this week's mission being to write a post in the form of a Tanga or a Nonet. I think I'm done writing about bread, at least for a while.

16 October 2009

The Staff of Life, part 2

The close reader may well have wondered why I made two different loaves of bread the other day. One was the crusty little boule that accompanied our soup and salad dinner; the other was a basic sandwich loaf for school lunches and toast breakfasts.

I can, and do, make a nice plain white bread by hand, with the usual kneading and whatnot. But more often, I rely on a shortcut - a homemade mix done up in the bread machine.

The recipe is pretty basic - the only non-dry ingredients are water and butter. In assembly line fashion, I measure out all of the dry stuff (flour, salt, yeast, sugar, powdered milk) into one quart plastic containers. Usually I batch up four quarts at a time, in addition to making a loaf right then and there. The mix gets stored in the fridge - which isn't completely necessary, but yeast keeps longer at cold temperatures. (I buy yeast in bulk and keep it in the freezer.) When it's time to make a loaf, I just need to add water and butter. Most of the time, I use the bread machine only for the knead and first rise - because I don't love the way it bakes the bread. It's easy enough to plop the dough into a bread pan for the second rise and bake it in the oven.

Why bother? Because it's cheaper than buying supermarket bread, and it's not full of ingredients that I can't pronounce.

15 October 2009

Turn Down Your Thermostat

Did you know that is Blog Action Day, and that this year's theme is Climate Change? I'd forgotten until Ilina posted a list of simple ways to be more environmentally conscious. Her list is pretty comprehensive, but she forgot one thing: turn down your thermostat in the winter. She's forgiven, though, because she lives in the south.

We haven't yet turned on the heat in our house - partially out of frugality, partially out of energy consciousness - even though the early morning outside temperatures have been in the 30s, and it is decidedly chilly in the house. (There hasn't yet been a frost.) Last year, we made it to the beginning of November; the other day, my husband quipped that we should aim for the first of December.

Once we do deign to put the heat on, we use a programmable thermostat that keeps the heat at 55°F at night and during the middle of the day. For the morning and evening rush, the temperature spikes up to 64°F. On weekends, we compromise at 60°F during the day. Yeah, it's not toasty warm in the house, but move around! Wear a sweater!

Tonight, I'll probably dig out the second duvet - I layer a newish medium weight one with a worn out thin one to get a nice winter weight down comforter.

And I'm not going to turn on the heat until I have to.

Edited to add - Apparently, it's snowing big juicy clumps at home. At work? Just rain. Perhaps we won't make it to the end of the month...

14 October 2009

Wisdom and Knowledge

There is something magnificent about the (biblical) slogan above the entrance to the RCA Building, also known as 30 Rock or the GE Building. Alas, wisdom and knowledge have been denigrated and are no longer held in esteem. When wisdom and knowledge are again admired, will stability return?

13 October 2009

The Staff of Life

I spent yesterday puttering around in the kitchen, making two different loaves of bread, a pot of squash soup, toasted squash seeds (as a garnish for the soup), and a plum cake. I could go on and on about the mediocre soup, the awesome seeds, and the excellent cake which the child wouldn't eat. But I won't. I need to proselytize instead.

On a hunch not too long ago, maybe as a result of a stray comment from Mad, I bought a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It's seriously easy, and seriously wonderful. The basic recipe has four ingredients (flour, water, salt, yeast). There is no kneading, and no special equipment is needed. The five minutes a day part isn't hyperbole. And, as I said to my husband last night, there's no reason to buy bread ever again.

You could run out and buy a copy of the book - but if you don't want to spend the money, you're in luck! The good grey lady ran the recipe and it's available on the internet - for nothing! (Is it any wonder that newspapers and book publishers are struggling?)

In essence, you make a big batch of wet dough, let it sit for a while, yank off a piece, tidy it up and let it rest, and then fling it into a hot oven. The leftover dough goes into the fridge until you're ready for another loaf. That's it. A perfect crusty little boule.

What are you waiting for?

Tangentially, "the staff of life" popped into my head as the right name for this post and because I am wont to do so, I googled it. The phrase, that is. Luckily for me, I found a blogger who had tried to chase down that phrase already, because I was getting lost in the biblical and the Latin and the Hebrew. It's confusing, the staff of life.