29 October 2010

Eleven Into Fifty Minus Nine Equals TWO

Two months left.

2. I pulled out the baby quilt, and realized that I still needed to make border strips. But to make the border strips, I needed a rotary cutter and mat and ruler, so I had to buy them. Then the fabrication of chaps for the girl's Halloween costume took over the sewing area. But I'm ready now! The quilt might could get finished.

3. I made the croissants!

6. I really do want to get my blog printed as bound books, but Blurb requires a huge amount of fussing. Blog2Print is much much easier - but there is no way to get rid of the little line that says "POSTED BY MAGPIE AT XX:00 PM" on every single post. And since I'm the only author, and I don't care what time I posted, it's annoying me. I should just get over it, because I could have all four books (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009) delivered before the end of the year, if I just get over it.

7. I started the sweater! It's a top down cardigan, meaning that I started at the neck. I'm about 2/3 done with the body. It's not a short-sleeved sweater: the sleeves are on hiatus until after I finish the body. I still have to decide it I'm brave enough for buttonholes, which I've never made before. I could punt and put in a zipper instead.

11. So far this year, we've had three potluck parties at the house. Two were for friends and neighbors, the third was a mini-reunion of my college class. I'll have another party in December - hey, maybe I'll have a potluck birthday party! I really like doing a potluck - the food is varied and interesting, and there's a low-key gestalt about it. And it doesn't matter how many people show up - as long as they all bring food, there'll be enough for everyone.

28 October 2010

Unravel and Weave

I knit and daydream on the train. Oh, and I listen to music and eavesdrop on loud talkers and cast my eye over other people's progress through the puzzle, but mostly I knit knit knit and purl purl purl. This is on the way home, mind you. On the way into work, I invariably read the paper, cover to cover, and do the Ken-Ken and some or all of the puzzle. But homeward bound is knitting time, at least until I finish the sweater.

Last night, I had this demented idea that there could be knitting on the Wii - if you can have cooking (chopping and stirring with your remote), why not knitting? The remote could be the  working needle, the nunchuck the left needle.  k2 p2, increase as necessary.  Right? Okay, maybe not.

There was a box on the doorstep when I got home - a Wii game. I opened it and the first word I saw was "yarn". Deja vu? A knitting game? I invented a knitting game in my head and it showed up on my doorstep? No, it's not a knitting game - it's called "Kirby's Epic Yarn" and it has a charming textile theme, all stitches and wool and applique. We haven't played it yet, but "Epic Yarn"? I'm still amused. Timing is everything.

27 October 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Geology of Cape Breton Island

Sights like this make geology tangible. What was the earth thinking?

26 October 2010

Christmas Comes Earlier Every Year

Even though it isn't even Halloween yet, I confess that I've been thinking about Christmas cards, because it's a tricky thing, getting the Christmas card picture just right. I definitely tend towards the offbeat; last year's card had the kid riding a tractor and when she was two, she was throttling Elmo. Let's put it this way: I'm never going to be (read more)

25 October 2010

Let's Review: Chop Chop

Did you know that there’s a cooking magazine for kids, called Chop Chop? I learned of it through a blog post on Mark Bittman’s site, and I was intrigued enough that I emailed them to ask for a sample copy. The kid and I read the issue cover to cover, and talked through all the food. The recipe that she was most interested in was sesame-crusted tofu – which, coincidentally, was the recipe featured in the Bittman post. I was a little surprised that she wanted to try it - it’s not like tofu is a staple in our house. In fact, I think I’ve only bought it once before in my life.

After her homework was done, we set to work making the tofu. Daddy helped her with the 8" chef's knife, teaching her how to keep her fingers away from the blade. [He is standing just beside her in that picture, hands at the ready.]

The recipe was bone simple - cut the tofu into blocks, dip it in sesame seeds, cook it up in a hot pan, and season it with a little soy sauce. The girl did all of the coating of the tofu blocks with the sesame seeds.

Daddy helped her put the blocks in the hot skillet and then he finished off the frying for her. [It took rather longer than the 4 minutes a side that the recipe indicated.]

The magazine is earnest and practical - with lots of recipes, some tips, a few puzzles, and a smattering of nutrition information. It's ad-free because it's published by a non-profit; the issue I received had one page of "sponsor" logos, and a single coupon for some Stonyfield yogurt. In my not at all humble opinion, anything that helps get a kid started in the kitchen is a good thing. Cooking skills are essential if you're going to be successful at feeding yourself real food.

And success! We had tofu for dinner! It was easy to cook, and made a nice protein addition to our plate of stir-fried broccoli and plain white rice.

While we were eating dinner, enthusiastic about the tofu, we all agreed that the girl would have the rest of the rice and tofu for her lunch the next day. Alas, Daddy forgot and ate the leftover rice in the middle of the night. As a result, Daddy had to make new rice at 8:00 this morning, because the proffered jelly sandwich was categorically rejected. You promised me rice and tofu! Do things like that happen in your house?

(No one paid me to write this, but I did get a single issue of Chop Chop for free.)

22 October 2010

Life Long Love of Reading

I like books. I like to read books. I’ve been reading books to my daughter since she came home from the hospital. I read to her every night before bed. Every single night. When she started learning how to read, I’d make her read a page or three to me, and then I’d finish reading the book to her. Now that she can read pretty well on her own, she reads the easy books to herself, and I read the longer harder books, a chapter or two a night, every night.

Towards the end of first grade, the teacher sent home a reading log. It was a simple form – fill in the date and the title of the book, return the form when it was filled in. No pressure, no needless detail.

But now she’s in second grade, and the reading log is now the READING LOG. It’s a comb-bound book with a plastic cover that lives in a special red nylon book bag. Every day, four books come home for her daily “read 15-20 minutes” homework assignment.

They are to fill out their reading logs for books read in school and at home – which means on a twice-daily basis – with an onerous amount of information: date – home or school – book title – reading level – start time – end time – pages read – parent initial.

It’s asinine. Not the assignment to read 15-20 minutes a day, but the damned log entries.

What is the point of the start time & stop time? Does it matter that she reads from 5:15 to 5:30 as opposed to 7:30 to 7:45? If she starts reading a library book on the way home, and gets off the bus with her nose in said book, then what? If she writes that she read “all” the pages in the book, what information does that convey to the teacher? If there aren’t any page numbers, how does she reflect the number of pages read? If four books come home, but it takes 20 minutes to read one, does she have to read the rest of them?

This endless list making turns reading into a chore, and inspires one to fudge because who can remember what time she started in on Poppleton. Busy work is not going to instill a life long love of reading. Isn’t that the point of it all?

Good readers record how many miutes and how many pages they read each day and each night to keep track of their reading stamina and volume.

I want her to read for the love of it, for the joy of discovery, for the ability to lose oneself in another world. I want her to read because it’s wonderful, not because it’s another box filled in on the log. I want to trust her when I ask if she "read for 15 minutes" and I don’t want to have to nag her about recording her stamina and volume in the log. I want her to read because she wants to read.

Can we opt out of the reading log?

21 October 2010


For some time now, the Times has had a weekly column in which a staff photographer picks an old photo and runs it with a little commentary. Last week, I opened the paper and my jaw dropped. Cats. On manhole cover. There's a framed 8 x 10 glossy of that very same photo in my mother's house. When it had run in the Times back in 1970, she liked it so much that she called up and ordered a print.

Did you know that manhole covers could be warm? The one and only time that I've ever been to the Macy*s Thanksgiving Parade, it was freezing and sort of drizzly. Somehow, I ended up standing on a manhole cover, a nice hot manhole cover. It kept my feet warm, though it kind of flattened the soles of my Keds.

And do you know why the manhole covers are warm? It's the dragon under Manhattan. Well, that's what one tells one's child, but actually it's the steam pipes leaking. Yup, 2010 and there are 105 miles of steam pipes running to buildings throughout Manhattan - for heating, cooling and power. Kind of amazing, huh?

So those cats? They knew what they were doing.

18 October 2010

Let's Review: Making Lists

Putting things on lists so that one may cross them off is one of life's great pleasures.

But keeping track of the things I have to do is a chore. My bag is full of little scraps of paper and the occasional notebook. My desk is covered with more scraps of paper. Periodically I try some form of computerized list making - but the programs tend to be too complicated or too messy or too stupid or too ugly, and I give up and go back to the little scraps.

Enter Teux Deux.

It is elegant, simple and clean. It is a free web application, with an optional $2.99 iPhone app. The iPhone app syncs to the web. It is delightful. If you don't do something on the day that you said it was to be done, it moves to the next day. When a task is complete, you cross it off with a tap. It's completely minimal and entirely intuitive.

And best of all? Now that I've told you about it, I can go cross paean to TeuxDeux off my list.

(No one paid me to write this. I bought the app with my own money. I've never even met Tina Roth Eisenberg.)

15 October 2010


It’s hard living with a six year old sometimes. She needs care and feeding, and has an ill-developed sense of proportion.

Last night, we curled up together and I read her another chapter of Betsy-Tacy. It’s nice, this reading aloud that we’re doing these days. It used to be that I read her three books every night, chosen from her many picture books. In the past few months, though, we’ve settled into a pattern where I read her a chapter or two of a long format book that’s a little ahead of her ability to read herself, and she works through a pile of “just right” books before she falls asleep.

After we were done reading, she sat bolt upright in my bed and said "Mommy! I have a surprise for you!" She tossed aside one pillow, then the second, and then burst into hysterics when she pulled up the third pillow. You see, in a misguided attempt to, I don’t know, play princess and the pea?, she’d stuck a lump of kelly green Silly Putty under my pillow. Without its protective egg. Upon which we’d been reposing for a half hour.

Yes. A great sticky gob of Silly Putty was fused to both my pillow and the bottom sheet.

She sobbed and sobbed, in a gasping, wailing, over-the-top fit of remorse and regret. She knew she’d done wrong, both by my sheets that had to be changed, and by the ruined Silly Putty. Lord knows if the kelly green Silly Putty will ever come out of the sheets. As for the Silly Putty? "It was special to me" she said over and over, in between sobs.

I tell you, it was all I could do not to laugh.

All she really needed to do was say "I’m sorry Mommy, I shouldn’t have put Silly Putty under your pillow" – and she did, this morning – but that epic fit over something so ridiculous was pretty stunning.

13 October 2010

Wardrobe Wednesday, at Brunch

Yes. She wore this to the brunch for her grandparent's anniversary, at the insanely expensive Bedford Post.

12 October 2010


So, you'll recall that on my list of things to do by the time I turn fifty was "Teach myself how to make croissants - probably with Julia's help."

That "teach myself" thing was a little disingenuous. I have attempted croissants before, a long time ago. By now, I can't remember what recipe I used that first time out - but it was probably Julia Child's (from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 2).  She was, after all, one of the kitchen gods in my childhood household. What I do remember was that that first batch was disappointing - they were too hard, too crispy, not nearly flaky and airy enough. They probably tasted fine, but the texture was wrong.

So, by challenging myself to "teach myself", I was really meaning try them over and over and over until I get them right - figuring that it was my lack of technique, not a flaw in the recipe.

I think I was wrong. Because the batch of croissants that I made, using the recipe in Baking with Julia, and following it to the letter? Hands down awesome. I mean, the best. I mean, equivalent to anything I've ever bought in a store, bakery, pastry shop, Payard, you name it. My husband concurred. He can't stop talking about them. They were that good.

Do you know how to make croissants? You make a yeast dough, with a little milk in it. You roll out the dough, spread butter on it, and fold and roll and fold and roll. The goal is to make many layers of dough and fat. After the last crumb had been sucked down, I went back and checked the older recipe. Julia in Mastering calls for 1 3/4 cups of flour in the bread dough, with one stick of butter layered into it. Julia in later life calls for 3 3/4 cups of flour and 4 1/2 sticks of butter. In other words, old Julia requires a lot more butter. That has to be a big part of why these were so so very good.

Incidentally, they are kind of a lot of work, but it's the kind of work that doesn't have to be done all at once. There's a lot of resting time - and there's no good reason why the rests can't be longer. I made the dough, and did almost all of the rolling and folding, over two days last weekend. I then bundled it up and left it in the fridge for a week. I cut the dough in half, and formed and baked 12 croissants, and packaged up the remaining half of the dough. It's in the freezer now, 'til we need another croissant feed.

Not that we need any more butter any time soon.

11 October 2010

It is still there, even now...

Sometimes, do you think metaphysics? Read this passage, a passage from an interesting enough book in which nothing happens. Read it through, and think about it.

Within minutes of starting to sing, she was transformed. It was like hearing a girl, dark-haired and lovely as the gopis Krishna had spied on from his tree-top hideaway. I had no idea what she was singing about, could not even tell when the words stopped being words and became just syllables, gliding sound. Her hands reached into the air above her as if the notes were growing there and, as long as they were picked endlessly, over and over, would always be there. Music people talk about perfect pitch, but what her voice made me think of was perfect posture: hair as long and straight as a supple back; bare feet moving so lightly they scarcely touched the ground. Her voice promised absolute devotion; but then the note was stretched further still, beyond this, until you wondered what you would have to do to be worthy of such devotion, such love. You would have to be that note, not the object of devotion but the devotee. Her voice slid and swooped, It was like those perfect moments in life, moments when what you hope for most is fulfilled and, by being fulfilled, changed - changed, in this instance, into sound: when, in a public place, you glimpse the person you most want to see and there is nothing surprising about it; the pattern in the random, when accident slides into destiny. A note was stretched out as long as possible and then a little longer; it continued, somewhere, long after it was capable of being heard. It is still there, even now.

Where’s that sound? Is it still there? Sound is energy. Does a sound wave ever end? Energy can’t be created or destroyed, but it can transfer from one form to another. So, if energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but can only change forms, into what form does sound change when you can no longer hear it?

And, when a tree falls in the forest, does it make a noise?

Note: The book this passage came from is Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer.

10 October 2010

Pulling A The David Cook For Just Give

The estimable Aunt Becky is full of the awesome and the prankdom. First she brought the internet to its knees with that Pulling a John C. Mayer business (and I have no idea who John C. Mayer is, but no matter). Now she's giving away ice cream for Pulling A The David Cook. Pulling A The David Cook, you say? Who the hell is The David Cook? Who names their kid The?

Actually, who The David Cook is is not material to Pulling A The David Cook. What is material is Just Give, more properly the JustGive 10 Year Anniversary Promotion. Here's the thing. You want to Just Give to charity, right? Well, if you Just Give at least $10, via the JustGive 10 Year Anniversary Promotion, Just Give will add $10 to your gift. So Just Give, to the charity of your choice, and the JustGive 10 Year Anniversary Promotion will increase your donation by $10. And because the minimun that you can Just Give is $10, when the JustGive 10 Year Anniversary Promotion gives another $10 - it DOUBLES your gift! Just Give $10, but it's really $20. Win, win.

You might think that $10 is nothing, but it's not. For you, it's a couple of trips through the Starbucks drivethrough, but for your charitable recipient, it's 300 sheets of construction paper, or 40 pens, or 400 bandages. You know, real stuff that people need and use.  And I'm not just saying that. I work for a non-profit and we love every single tiny gift - because though one might seem insignificant, pretty soon you're talking real money.

Just Give $10So Just Give, now. Incidentally, Just Give is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. I suppose you could Just Give $10 to Just Give and they'd give themselves $10. Wait, that makes my head hurt. Pick your favorite charity and Just Give them $10.

Oh, and yes, I did. I just gave $10 to the organization for which I'm on the board, and I emailed everyone on the board to get them to do the same. If they all do, the organization gets an extra $180.

To get the extra $10 given to your charity, you have to use this link:

Other terms and conditions are:
  • Donations made from October 10 through October 20, 2010 qualify for a $10 match.
  • Only one donation per charity per donor qualify for a $10 match.
  • Only donations made through http://www.justgive.org/10year qualify for a $10 match.
  • Charity gift card purchases do not qualify for a $10 match.
  • Only the initial recurring donation qualifies for a $10 match.
  • Donations will only be matched up to the $10,000 total gift.

08 October 2010

Pulling Teeth

The kid had another loose tooth. Every time one gets that way, we joke should we tie it to a string and a doorknob and just pull it out?

Well, I went in to brush my teeth the other night, and discovered a length of dental floss on the sink. The small person doesn’t floss, yet, though sometimes she uses one of those pre-strung plastic gizmos thanks to the dentist who gave her a dragon shaped one. And my tidy husband knows to discard the floss in the trash.

Upon questioning the next morning, it turned out that, yes, she tried to pull her own tooth out. It didn’t work. Did it hurt? I asked. She nodded sheepishly.

Clearly she’ll be taking out her own appendix in the arctic one day.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Yesterday afternoon, the tooth was out and she was more snaggle-pussed than before. At bedtime, we read some of Ivy and Bean, and she settled down to sleep in my bed, the tooth still on my bedside table.

At about 10, I headed upstairs and found her asleep in her own bed, the doorway curtains drawn and tied, the nightlight lit, the tooth under her pillow. I smiled to myself and went back down for a report to her father, and to retrieve a dollar. I slipped the dollar under the pillow, extracted the tooth, hid it in the archival jar of all baby teeth, and went to brush my own teeth.

When I was done, I was horrified to find her back in my bed sobbing where's my tooth? She hadn't been asleep at all, just faking it exquisitely.

I am a heel and the tooth fairy does not exist. Santa Claus is still sacrosanct though. He's not a fairy. The Easter Bunny was not discussed. Is the Easter Bunny a fairy?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

As of this morning, she still loves me, and informed me that if I go to Target and buy fairy wings and a fairy dress, for me that is, I am still allowed to be the tooth fairy.

07 October 2010

Eat Real Food

A couple of months ago, I had a PR pitch land in my inbox, with an offer to send me (on dry ice, I guess) a frozen meal in a bag, the supermarket version of a dish from a mall chain restaurant. I toyed with the idea of accepting the frozen product, preparing it, and snarkily ripping it to shreds, for you, dear Readers. But I decided that I couldn’t live with myself for even having it in my house. I wouldn’t buy it, and I don’t want to eat it, and I don't want to feed it to my kid, and I never eat in those kinds of mall chain restaurants anyway, so why would I want to try it at home? And because I don’t want to give them any undue publicity, I’m not even going to name them.

I did, however, go to their website to check the ingredients list for one of the varieties, their General Chang’s Chicken, just to see.

  • Broccoli
  • Fully cooked crispy battered chicken breast meat [chicken breast meat, water, corn starch, potato starch, soy sauce (water, soybeans, wheat, salt), tapioca maltodextrin, sodium phosphate, garlic powder, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate), egg white powder, ginger, xanthan gum. Fully cooked in vegetable oil (soybean oil, canola oil)]
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Red bell peppers
  • Soy sauce (water, soybeans, wheat, salt)
  • Concentrated chicken broth
  • Garlic
  • Canola Oil
  • Corn starch
  • Ginger
  • Chili paste (red chili peppers, distilled vinegar, salt, xantham gum)
  • Hydrogenated soybean oil
  • Oyster flavored sauce [water, sugar, salt, oyster extractives (oysters, water, salt), modified corn starch, caramel color]
  • Sesame oil
  • Caramelized onion juice concentrate
  • Distilled vinegar
  • Spice

You like that? That label is impossible to read, what with being printed in all caps and full of nested parentheses, which is why I took the time to type out the whole list for you, dear Readers. Yum, yum, yum. Oh, I suppose you could argue that it's not *that* bad, but do I want to be eating chicken that was raised in some god-awful factory farm, prepped and frozen a dozen moons ago, doctored with xanthan gum and caramelized onion juice concentrate, containing more sugar than soy sauce?

Furthermore, look at this picture. Isn't it pretty? Doesn't it look like it's got lots of red peppers in it? Yes, but look up at that ingredients list again: this here General Chang's Chicken has more sugar than red peppers. That's a lot of sugar, and here we could spin off into the whole industrial-food-complex-added-sugars-equals-American-obesity business, but we won't because it's been said in plenty of other places.

What it boils down to is this: I want real food - a fresh chicken from a clean local farm, with a side of broccoli from my CSA. And you should too.

05 October 2010

Scenes from a Weekend, Part 2

On Sunday, I baked.

I made the dough for my croissants (and rolled and folded and rolled and folded and rolled and folded) and it’s ready when I can figure out when to shape and rise and bake them. To have them for breakfast would mean shaping them at midnight, letting them rise for four hours, baking them at 4am, and letting them cool for another couple of hours. Daunting, and it makes you understand that whole "bakers who bake till the dawn so we can have cake in the morn" business.  But it’s got to be done, lest all that hard work and butter go to waste.

While I was rummaging for the croissant recipe in Baking With Julia, I found a recipe for a pumpkin yeast bread – so I made that with the cooked squash we happened to have in the fridge. I, true to form, didn't really follow the recipe - I left out the nuts and dried fruit, and I threw all of the (remaining) ingredients into the bread machine for mixing and the first rise. And then I baked it too hot and the crust was nearly scorched, but, no matter! It's an excellent bread, golden inside and sweetly spicy, perfect for toast.

And then, finally, I tackled the golden pucks. Oh yes I did, and so did De. She emailed me a photo of hers, sitting next to a cup of coffee (which is now up on her blog), while mine were still in the "bondin form a long" stage in the fridge.

They turned out to be a lovely little butter cookie - though nothing like the Financier palet breton that sent me off on this goose chase. It was, however, an oddly tiny recipe - it made precisely 12 small cookies. Perhaps scaled-down recipes accounts for that "french women don't get fat" thing.

So, what have you been baking lately?

04 October 2010

Scenes from a Weekend, Part 1

I had a mess of errands to run on Saturday morning, and the kid had to come with me as her father was busy elsewhere. First stop was the doctor’s office, for lab work ordered by my doctor at my annual physical. The kid watched while I had a blood draw (and wondered when I would get my blood back), while I had an EKG (and helped take the stickers off), and while I peed into a cup (yes, she insisted on coming into the loo with me). Then I went to get a haircut, because it had been Way Too Long, and she curled up on the floor under the mirror and took decorated pictures of me with her DS. It’s kind of nice that she’s now old enough to be well-behaved and interested in my doings, rather than needing to be leashed and/or constantly entertained.

That night, she had a birthday party to go to – from 6 to 7:30. When the invitation arrived, I was who has a kid's birthday party on a Saturday night? As it happened though, W. and I made the best of it with a rack of lamb, herbed potatoes, buttered broccoli, wine, candles and the sterling flatware that we almost never use. And someone else drove her home from the gym. I guess the Saturday night birthday party isn’t such a bad idea – it’s like free babysitting! Well, but for the cost of a present…

01 October 2010

Golden Pucks

The other day, I was on my way home and I just needed a little snack and a cup of coffee. I stopped into Financier, a fancy little pastry shop conveniently located at the top of the subway stairs in Grand Central. Being as they were out of my favorite flavor of macaron, I opted for a little plain cake called a "palet breton". It sent me over the edge - perfectly sweet and buttery, a little crumbly - I sat on the train in a trance, just tasting.

After I was done and had wiped my fingers on the inseam of my jeans, to avoid greasy streaks on the iPhone screen, I googled "palet breton", hoping to find a recipe. Nothing came up in English, and so today I tried again, availing myself of the "translate this page" button that the Google so nicely provides.

I did find one recipe that I think I'll try, and I might just write to Financier and ask them, unless you know of one and email it to me, but I did get some awesome translations, like this one!

Shuffleboard Breton - (courtesy of Google Translate)

Preparation: 15 min
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes

Ingredients (for about ten blanks):
- 1 egg yolk
- 60 g butter salt Ointment
- Milk
- 30 g sugar
- 75 g sifted flour


Blanch yellow with sugar, add butter, and pour one teaspoon of milk.
Add flour gradually, mixing, and form a ball.
Let stand in refrigerator 30 minutes.
Bondin form a long, and let stand 1 hour in refrigerator.
Cut a dozen pucks in the pudding, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Flatten with the palm pucks with his hand, and brush each pallet of milk.
Draw a fork braces on the surface of the pucks, and
Bake for 15 to 20 min at 200 ° C (th 6-7), so that the surface is golden pucks.

Butter salt ointment! Blanch yellow with sugar! Bondin form a long! Cut a dozen pucks in the pudding! I really am easy to please.