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.