Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Cowboy

Sammy's favorite activities all at once: running around wearing Zack's cowboy hat, saying "Ow-boy!"; stealing his pacifier out of the diaper bag (it's supposed to be limited to use during sleeping times and desperate times); and messing with the Christmas tree while saying gaily, "tree-No! tree-No!".

Friday, December 11, 2009

36 Degrees?

Overcast, 36 degrees, misty and generally dreary? It's perfect outdoor playing weather to somebody! I was never an outdoor person as a child, but I guess this is what the natural outdoor lovers among us do - get out there, no matter what the weather! I stepped out with the camera and then made a quick escape back indoors!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A follow-up item from this week's Storytime reading lineup - check out this cute book, A Pirate's Night Before Christmas! The author is one of the librarians at our local branch. Zack told him we loved it and it seems to make his day.

Last week one of the ladies at our church showed us her collection of Night Before Christmas books - she probably has 40 different editions. It was so neat that it made all of us want to run out and start a collection. Zack already loves the traditional words, and this one was so cute too. Looks like it's in stock at some of our local bookstores- I hope to get a chance to pick it up.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Wednesdays are Storytime days at the library. We go almost every week that they have it. There have been a variety of storytellers of the the past couple of years. Sometimes it's really well done and sometimes it's a little flat, but it really doesn't matter to the kids. I think they like the routine of it as much as the content of it. They know the Children's Librarian at our local branch and are happy to see her bring out her Clifford the Big Red Dog puppet.

Until this past week, I'd been keeping Sammy in his stroller for the Storytime. It's the preschool storytime (as opposed to the younger-focused toddler time), and he was a bit disruptive walking around. Sammy was mostly happy in the stroller, still watching the story. But the previous visit, when I let him get down to play after the little program was over, I discovered he was doing some of the motions to the songs that had been in the program. Last week, I finally let him sit on the floor with Zack and boy were they cute together.

Afterwards, we head to the children's section and I let the kids pick out books to their hearts' content (which is how we ended out with 63 items checked out earlier in the fall). I pick books for them too, trying to pull some theme-related items, some non-fiction, and some surprises.

Oh, and I always have a few items on hold waiting for me too. I pick up television shows a season at a time, books for book club, and non-fiction so that I can read and still be a pleasant member of my family!

This will definitely remain a staple of our weekly routine.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Kale Chips

I finally tried something that I've been meaning to make for a while - kale chips. I've had mixed success with kale in the past, so I was really glad that this recipe turned out well!

This is about half a bunch of kale, stripped from stems and torn into 2" pieces. Then I tossed it with 1 tsp. cider vinegar, 2 tsp. olive oil and coarse salt. I baked it at 375 for 5 minutes, flipped the pieces with my tongs, and baked for 7 more minutes.

It does have the characteristic dark, leafy greens flavor, but it also is salty and crip, sort of disintegrating in a satisfying way when you crunch down on it. We ate the whole batch in no time - I definitely recommend it!

Monday, December 07, 2009


Does your family have an Advent tradition? Ours didn't really, but my sister and I found these cute houses after Christmas last year and we decided to start something. Any guesses as to when I set mine up? Yes, that's right, on the afternoon of December 1, in a race to get it ready before Zack's bedtime.

I thought about candies or little toys, but decided there is a lot of candy and toys already flooding the season. These little doors would be exciting just by their novelty, so I decided I wanted to use scriptures, repeating the story so that it would become ever more familiar. Zack is at that age that kids are such sponges, able to remember and repeat everything they hear. Why waste it on his just repeating the text of television comercials, eh? I thought I'd be able to google around and find a sequence of scriptures that I thought was just right but I didn't. I ended up taking from several lists and splitting it up so that we talk about the whole story over the course of the month. The hardest part was getting the printouts folded and rolled up tiny enough to get them into those tiny doors!

After almost a week, Zack is still really excited about it and James and I are enjoying it too. I've put a tiny treat in every two or three days, but I'm trying to emphasize that our focus is on the story. We open a door at dinner, if possible, or if not, at bedtime. We missed one day and did two the next day. It's pretty easy. I'm hoping he'll start noticing that some of what we're reading is repeated in Chritsmas hymns and in church services.
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Friday, November 27, 2009

They're multiplying.

Coffee talk, in honor of Black Friday.

I do love my recycle-themed Starbucks mug, but I'm not sure I really need a whole family of them.

I started with the little one. I was looking for something with a lid that really seals, even for hot beverages, had no handle to get in the way of my car's cupholders, and was pretty. This one has been great for all those requirements. It was the only size they had at the time, though, and it was just so small. Eventually, they added larger sizes and I decided to spring for a larger one - the medium sized one above. That one was really perfect, but in a string of pigeon-brained item losses, I misplaced it. I finally gave it up for lost and bought a new one (then, as you see, I eventually found the lost one). When I bought the third one, I was in the drive-thru and just told them to give me "the large one", thinking I would get another of the same size. Apparently they've added yet another size. Large indeed.

I have to confess that the large one is ridiculously large. It's a vat of coffee. It's laughable to call it "a cup" of coffee.

That's why it's my favorite one.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Minor Emergencies

Don't things change in just an instant?

A few weeks ago we were happily enjoying a birthday party in Zilker park. It was a hot day and the bees were everywhere, but we were having a great time. The kids ran off to play on the playscape. If you have been to Zilker park, you know how hard it is to supervise kids there with the playscape spanning the mini-train tracks and the multiple areas. But, it wouldn't have mattered if we had been standing two feet away when Zack fell - it was just one of those falls that lands wrong. He was playing on the Firetruck and slipped, landing on his mouth on a part of the metal. Two teeth were bashed in, sitting at a 45 degree angle to his other teeth, towards the inside of his mouth. His lips and gums were bleeding and he was screaming bloody murder.

It was a Sunday (of course) so we called through the chain of doctors, nurses and dentists on call for the weekend, reaching a very flippant dentist and then finally giving up and taking him directly to the house of a friend who is a dentist and oral surgeon. Our friend was unbelievably kind and gracious and was able to show him how to gently move the teeth forward (over the course of the next 24 hours) far enough for him to close his mouth. We saw the dentist the next morning, and there was no damage (that we can see) to the adult teeth, but we really can't tell what will happen to the injured baby teeth. They might survive, might turn gray, might abscess and require a root canal, might die and have to be extracted, etc. And they could survive for now and then any of this could happen later.

I was very calm when it happened, but I've thought about it a lot. It's hard not to worry. Zack was a late teether and probably won't get his adult teeth for about two years, so we would love to have him keep his current teeth as long as possible. A root canal or extraction requires anesthesia, which always has the potential for problems. The difference in his appearance is very slight but it reminds me that I just never appreciated his perfect little teeth when he had them.

And now, after hearing the spectrum of reactions (most of them extremely caring and compassionate) from all sorts of people, something from the tiny minority of reactions stands out clearly to me right now: Something may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of life, but when its my family, and my children, and happening now, it's a big deal to me. And when it is your child, it's a big deal to you. I hope this experience can help me remember to be compassionate to others, even (or maybe especially) in the very minor emergencies.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Game Day

As the college football season approaches the home stretch, I'm thinking about all the fun we had getting to go to a home game this season.

A couple of Saturdays ago I took Zack to his first ever University of Texas Longhorn Football game at Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium! A momentous event, to be sure. His daddy was playing in the Alumni band, which gave us an opportunity to buy tickets. Our seats were separate from his, but we ended up getting to sit with him after all.

It was not only Alumni Band day, but also the day chosen to honor Veterans. It was also my first time to be in the stadium now that it seats over 100,000 people. I found the traditions of the game, the pregame show, and all the honoring done surprisingly emotional. It meant a lot to me that every time uniformed military personnel were shown on the jumbo-tron (even just candid shots), people cheered.

I think one reason I'm just a strident convert to UT Football (people are often surprised to learn that I didn't go to school at UT, but University of Arizona - though I'll never waver in my allegiance to U of A basketball!) is the richness and intensity of the football tradition. I love the songs, the band, the flips, the cannon shots, everything. We had a great time. Zack said his favorite thing was getting to play Daddy's trumpet at the game, but I think his first taste of cotton candy had to have been a close second!

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Good to Have Friends

The scale on this photo is not coming through. See that spoon? Its a very large buffet spoon. Meaning that even though it doesn't show, that Turkey Pot Pie is gigantic.

A few days ago a gentleman from church called and said that his business had been so so he'd been doing a lot of cooking and would like to give us a Turkey Pot Pie. He even brought it over. We aren't ill and we don't have a newborn and things are just normal right now, but it was still so nice to recieve a homemade dinner. The portion missing is what all four of us ate for dinner, so we have lots of leftovers for lunches and probably one more dinner!

It's times like this that make me so grateful for the extended family formed by a shared faith, and for the kindness of others.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

My First Risotto

I'm so proud (*little tear*).

I was thrilled that my first attempt at risotto came out well! I used Ina Garten's recipe for Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash from Barefoot Contessa Family Style. It was easy to follow, so maybe that's where things went right. I even sprung for the saffron (I had prepared myself, expecting it to be pricey, but I was still a little taken aback. Although, I have enough for four recipes, so if I continue to use it, it's not that bad). I had chosen not to buy chicken stock, remembering that I had a large container of homemade stock in the freezer, but when I went to thaw it, no stock at all. I had forgotten that I had used that for a giant vat of tortilla soup my mom and I made when she was here. So James had to make an emergency stop on the way home for stock-in-a-box, which I'm sure doesn't have as much flavor as real stock, but it all turned out beautifully. My family was given very clear signals that they should be enthusiastic on the result, and they seemed happy to comply.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Kentuky Wonders

We got to harvest green beans from the garden this week. Picturesque scene, yes? Just to keep it real, let me share James' words:
"We got to harvest over a POUND of the toughest green beans I've ever eaten!"
I think we got busy and neglected them on the vine too long because they didn't quite live up to our high hopes for the homegrown produce! (Or, it could have been the cook. No, no, surely not...)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Just sharing a photo today! Back with more another day.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


My fingernails are stained black, but I'm not complaining! Well, I was complaining. It took forever.

We pulled the basil plants out of the garden this weekend and I pulled off all the leaves, blanched them, pureed them with oil, and put them in the freezer. Most of the steps went very quickly, but taking the leaves off all the tough, overgrown stems was very time-consuming, just because there were so many. The sink was completely full of basil - in the picture they are covered in water but not floating: it's solid packed basil leaves all the way through. They pureed way (way) down so there isn't a crazy amount to store.

I'm excited that we'll have this base for pesto or seasonings in the chillier months to come!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween at our house

I'm loving looking at the Halloween pictures at your houses; I had to share these from ours.

Sammy was a train engineer with overalls and an engineer hat and a coal bucket to put his treats in. It was a nice costume because it was easy to wear and didn't have any parts to cover his face or trip him up. He looked cute, though not very costumed, I guess.

Zack was a cowboy. He had a perfectly adorable fireman costume already but he really, really, really wanted to be a cowboy. I felt like a big sucker giving in, especially since I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of toy guns (our family hunts- I am not anti-gun, I'm just not sure guns need to be toys). Everything besides the guns and the hat was stuff we already had (including the vest, which is a dress vest turned inside out). He has loved this costume so much that I really can't be sorry about it.

Both boys wore their costumes to storytime at the library on Wednesday, then Zack wore his to school on Thursday, then we did the Trick or Treating thing on Saturday. Each day we ended up running errands to which they wore their costumes. And in between, Zack has still been wearing his costume and playing cowboy. He showed up first thing in his morning with his guns shoved in the waistband of his pajama shorts, and didn't let them go all day long. I tried to redeem the gun thing a little by getting a bunch of cowboy books at the library so that we could have a thematically educational experience, but that didn't change that I let my son go to multiple stores with his toy guns. I really had to wonder what alien had taken over my body as he sat in the big part of the basket at Costco and shot elderly men as they snacked on samples (the elderly men were generally amused).

Why is he so crazy about guns? James and I have talked about this a lot. It's not easily explainable from our activities or habits. But then, as far as we can tell, all the little boys are crazy about guns. And look at the really cool movies for adults - they all have guns or something like them. I guess kids have a keen sense of the same thing that everyone else has about what's cool.

Whatever the reason, this cowboy costume was a big hit at our house, and I don't think the fun will pass as quickly as Halloween did!
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Sunday, November 01, 2009


Let the holiday season begin!

(You knew it was already November, right? I'm not sure how it happened, but apparently it did.)

My mom made my three-pound bag of fresh cranberries into one of my favorites: cranberry cookies! These babies are so tasty. And now I have a fabulous supply.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chino Caponata

Do you find eggplant a challenging veggie to cook? I do.

It took me a long time to find an eggplant recipe I really loved. This one fits the bill! Sometimes I even find myself craving the rich smoky flavor. It's from The Occasional Vegetarian by Karen Lee, a cookbook I have consistently found I can count on when I need something interesting to do with a certain vegetable. If only it had pictures too!

I promised this recipe to a friend a week or so ago and then forgot to send it. So, I'll share it here with a recommendation for this excellent cookbook! She also gives menu suggestions including this and her other recipes.

Chino Caponata
Karen says: "My Chino Caponata has been evolving for twenty years. It began as a Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce, took on the influence of a French ratatouille, and I finally named it Chino Caponata when it acquired Italian overtones. Lusty and unbelievably versatile, I use it as an appetizer with Toast Rounds (page 47), as a side dish, a part of a buffet, and as a topping for pasta.
This recipe can easily be doubled, but be sure to fry the eggplant in two batches to ensure proper charring - the secret to its intense, smoky taste."

Yields 3 1/4 cups; serves 8-12 as an hors d'oeuvre or as part of an antipasto, 6 as a side dish [I serve it as a main dish with brown rice, in which case it serves 4]

Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus 1 hour to let the eggplant rest after salting; Cooking time: 10 minutes
1 medium eggplant (approx 1 pound)
1 teaspoon salt
Seasoning Sauce:
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce, preferably homemade
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or other vinegar -- your choice
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons medium-dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon chili oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon peanut oil
1 cup chopped Spanish onion
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, roasted
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon small capers, drained

1. Trim off the ends of the eggplant and discard. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss with the salt and set aside for 1 hour.

2. Rinse the eggplant cubes under running water. Let them drain in a colander for 10 minutes; blot well between paper towels.

3. Prepare the seasoning sauce by combining the tomato sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sherry, and chili oil. Set aside.

4. Place a 12-inch wok or iron skillet over high heat until it smokes, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons of the peanut oil. Immediately add the eggplant cubes. Stir every couple of minutes and press down repeatedly on the eggplant with the back of a spatula to aid scorching. Cook for approximately 5 minutes over high heat until the eggplant is soft and well-charred. Remove the eggplant from the pan.

5. Return the wok to a high heat and add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil. Add the onion and fry, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute more. Add the charred eggplant and seasoning sauce and stir until the sauce has been absorbed, about 1 minute. Add the roasted pepper, oregano, and capers and stir for a few seconds before removing from the heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Can be prepared up to 5 days in advance. Keep refrigerated. Return to room
temperature before serving.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

To the Water

You know how everyone says how your kids will shock you by being so different? Well, in most things, my boys are very similar. Their sleeping patterns have been the same (both as infants and as toddlers), their eating habits have been the same (both in nursing and in baby food and now in table food), they are both entertained by really similar things (like books and buses) and they are both quite social.

But looking through the beach pics from our annual October weekend in Port Aransas has me thinking about how different my boys are when it comes to the water. As a young toddler, Zack was very nervous about the ocean. As he grew older, he alternated between timidity and outright fear. He especially did not like the feeling that waves were continually coming closer to him. I think this year, at five years old, was the first year he was really comfortable running in and out of the shallows, filling up the buckets with water.

Sammy, on the other hand, at one and a half years old was already perfectly delighted with the water. He was most fascinated by the little shell creatures that appeared as the water receded and then burrowed themselves back down into the sand, but he was also tickled that his feet became buried in sand as the water swirled around them. He giggled when the waves covered him to his waist and pointed to all the bubbles. He didn't show any of the trepidation that we expected. It made for a very easy and fun time on the beach!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Let's just ride last weekend's wave, shall we?

This was part of last weekend's scene.

This weekend's scene had bloody noses, scraped faces and knees, teeth knocked back into the mouth and all-together too much bleeding. There were some really fun moments this weekend, but I'm not sure they were captured on film. From last weekend we've got plenty of great beach pics, so I'm going to focus on those for a bit. Now that my mom is visiting, we've got more good fun coming, for sure!
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The USS Lexington

While we didn't have a chance to go tour replicas of Columbus' ships, we did spend a day (or as much of a day as one could expect with an 18 month old) aboard the USS Lexington, a WWII era aircraft carrier which has been converted into a museum.

Zack was extremely excited about seeing the ship. We had really talked it up - partly because we wanted him to enjoy it but partly out of concern that he would freak out about being on a ship. You see, lately he has a lot of fears about things being unsteady. He has never liked any feeling of instability, even as a young toddler - although he would happily climb higher than my head, he would freak out if he was turned upside down. More recently, he's refused to get in a canoe and been afraid his ceiling fan would fall on him. He even asked that we take things downstairs because he thought they were too heavy for upstairs and would cause our house to collapse (not sure what's up with that one). Then, after we read some stories and information about the Titanic, I was just sure it was going to cause our planned Lexington trip to fail. I had this vision of him crying and refusing to go on board (right after we bought the tickets, no doubt) for fear it wasn't "stable". Hence all the talking up of the Lexington. When he talked to his grandmother about the Titanic and the Lexington in the same conversation, I was standing behind him saying, "And wasn't it very safe and very stable on the Lexington, Grandma?" while nodding vigorously out of his view to indicate she should say it was. I guess it worked because he was thrilled with the whole experience.

It's interesting how steep some of the stairs and low some of the ceilings are! But most of the fun was to be had above the hangar deck - the main deck where most of the "museum-y" stuff is - on the flight deck - the top of the ship where planes take off and land. It was a windy day and the winds on the flight deck felt like it might just knock us over. The kids love wind, so they were in heaven running around. They also loved looking around at the planes and trying the simulators - the ship held 200 planes when it was in service! We loved climbing up to the bridge with all its buttons and dials and big wheels, and also seeing the mechanism that catches the planes. The historical information on the ship's namesake and WWII service was spread out through the lower decks and gave a lot of interesting stories about that time, the ship and related vessels. James and I liked the history, but Zack of course breezed by most of it. In every area, he was ready to move on before everyone else, then me (because I'm not as much of a museum-sign-reader as someone else in my family), and then James at the end, craning his neck to read every word before he had to leave one room for the next one. By the time Sammy had enough of everything, we made it through the whole ship. It was a great experience and one we'll want to do again when the kids are older.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Nina

Zack has taken a recent interest in Christopher Columbus. I'm sure what started it. I think maybe he thought the rhyme was fun, but then when a reference to Columbus' sailing showed up in his reference book about pirates, he was drawn in to listening to more information.

We found a variety of picture books about him at the library that we've been enjoying. Columbus is an interesting figure, in that much about him is heroic, and much... well, not so much. It's been a learning experience on the Mommy side of things too. If today had more time in it, I'd like to write more about that. Too bad today is already stretched a little thin.

Anyway, we were at the coast this weekend and discovered that they have full size replicas of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria on display in Corpus Christi. They are accurate all the way down to the forests in which the wood for the ships was cut. They were even built in Spain and sailed here (I think in the 1990s). We didn't have time to go to the museum where you can tour the Pinta and the Santa Maria in dry dock, but we did pop down to see the Nina. It's a lot smaller than I expected! You can see from that "No Trespassing" sign that shows up in both photos that these pictures are showing the whole ship. Not the size of vessel I would imagine for an ocean crossing of unknown length and difficulty! We'll be continuing to learn about this, and maybe we'll get back down to Corpus soon to tour the other two ships.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Still Trying

Just so you know, I haven't given up on the bread mix!

I can't let go of the idea of having a bunch of these in the pantry with the dry goods already mixed and all I would have to do is add a fizzy beverage, stir and bake!

I keep making trial versions; they are good but they still aren't great. I have an idea for the next batch...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Boys and Books

These boys love books. I'm really, really glad. Their grandparents (both sets) deserve a hefty amount of credit for spending time reading with them, but it may be in their blood too. Even the little one is getting in on the book-action.

I'm not sure how well it shows in the picture collage, but sometimes we find Zack has sequestered himself in a little hidey-hole, especially when there's a lot of background noise.

I'm enjoying trying to snap some boys and books pictures. I especially find myself running for the camera when they are reading together. That's a sight to warm a mother's heart!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Garlic-head, that's me

I have a friend, April, who is a toxicologist. She's a lot of other cool things too - like a computer programmer, a great cook and more - but because of the advanced toxicology degree and her interest in the subject, she's got a lot of interesting information about medications and such. A while ago, I thought I was coming down with something and really needed not to get sick. She said to eat a clove of raw garlic - once a day or so - because it has antibiotic and antiviral properties. I eat a lot of cooked garlic, but she said it has to be raw or it doesn't have the illness-fighting effect.

I proceeded to actually chew up an entire clove of raw garlic.

As soon as I did it, I realized one of the other things April is: very funny. I was immediately siezed with the conviction that I'd been had: the garlic thing had to be a trick to convince me to do something crazy like eat a whole clove of raw garlic! I called her and said, "OH, I FELL FOR IT!" I was convinced that I'd been a giant, garlic-flavored sucker. But, it turns out - no joke. The garlic thing is real and scientific and all that. And I think it works. However, it isn't very pleasant.

Well, now all that has been remedied. April, who is also the FrooGal Foodie, has shared one of her recipes that I love. It is for a Lebanese Garlic Sauce (similar to Greek "skordalia" if you happen to be familiar with that - I wasn't). She has been making it for a while and it used to be a hassle - I wasn't willing to try it myself, I just ate hers whenever she made it. But now, the recipe has been perfected and it's super-easy. I made a batch this week and it was not only simple but delicious! The texture is somewhere between that of hummus and mayonnaise and the flavor is sharp in the best possible way.

Here's the problem: I'm eating it all. I started with about one and a half heads of garlic (equivalent to the 22-25 cloves called for in the recipe) and got about a cup and a half of thick sauce. That was Friday night and by Monday snacktime, I had just about polished it off. I've been eating it on veggies and on chips and... well, with a spoon. The only reason it isn't gone completely is that I couldn't bring myself to have none left, so I put the last couple of bites back in the fridge (I do that a lot - drives my mother crazy when she visits). I guess when I buy more garlic, I'll eat those last bites and make another batch.

Garlic has got to be oozing from my pores by now, but it's soooo good that I can't stop. Must be addicting. And even if no one can stand to come near me, at least I should be really healthy.

Check out the Garlic Sauce Recipe, complete with references to scientific studies about antibiotic and antiviral benefits!

Update: I gave the last bites to my hubby who thought he was getting sick (he says it worked), so I immediately made a new batch. But, maybe because the garlic heads were bigger, it turned out way too strong. I thought the first batch was strong, but it was enjoyably so. The second batch, wow. It wasn't working for me. So, after a consultation with April, I added another recipe's worth of lemon juice and salt, more oil (didn't measure, just streamed some in), and blended it again. The texture is still great and now the flavor is right on the money. I'm back to eating it like a crazy person.

Monday, October 12, 2009

We Can Be Taught

(It seemed like a shame to have a pictureless post so I'm including gratuitous cute picture.)

Sometimes I find current events a little discouraging. I've mentioned before that my ideas seem to run opposite to those on both sides of most debates. And too often I just don't know what to think. But, in watching a recent show that had some Vietnam War era flashbacks, I've realized something about this country. We didn't learn a lot of things one would hope for but we did learn something. Nobody is aiming their anger or disapproval at individual soldiers. The times of spitting on a veteran in a wheelchair are gone. The lesson - the shame at what went before and the determination not to repeat it - is etched deeply into our culture.

And that leads me to an encouraging conclusion: We can be taught. Our national consciousness can learn - as a whole, and across the political spectrum. I like that.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Friday Favorite: Kitchen Tongs

For the longest time, I only used a spatula for sauteing. I'm not sure why I got these kitchen tongs - I think I wanted to feel chef-y. I guess it worked, because now they are one of my favorite kitchen tools! I use them for lifting and turning pieces of meat, turning over veggies as I saute, and holding a hot item steady for slicing. They are really practical.

This pair has all the characteristics valuable in tongs: sturdy, scalloped points to help you grip large items, a stay-cool material on the handle, and a locking catch that keeps them closed in the drawer.

If you are adding a pair to your kitchen, check out Cook's Illustrated's Tong Recommendations. It's a good bang for not much buck.

Here's my favorite simple preparation for asparagus. Call me crazy, but I think they taste better when cut before cooking. I have no idea why this would be (ideas, cooking-science folks?). You can definitely avoid a stringy texture by cooking them this way, which is something that tends to turn kids off from asparagus.

Sauteed Asparagus
1 T olive oil
dried thai chilis, to taste (my grocery has these next to the garlic - very inexpensive)
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2" pieces
coarse salt
squeeze of lemon juice and grated Parmesan for garnish, if desired

1. Heat oil and chilis in a large skillet. Cook the chilis a few minutes to let the flavor infuse the oil (leave them whole if you want flavor without heat).
2. Turn up the heat and add the asparagus. They should sizzle and cook without liquid pooling in the pan - that way they will be sauteed rather than boiled. Cook until tender, allowing a little brown (not black) char to form on a few edges of the asparagus. This gives a sweeter flavor.
3. Finish with salt to taste and serve!
Sometimes I squeeze some flavor-brightening fresh lemon juice on top, in which case I add a little grated Parmesan to balance it out.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Happy Fifth!

It is hard for me to process that I am the mother of a FIVE year old!

Zack had a Biscuit Brothers Birthday, complete with concert-ticket invitations, guitar-shaped cake, farm-type food, bandanna-fabric napkins and shoebox banjos. If you don't know the Biscuit Brothers, they have a locally filmed PBS show about a musical farm. It is about elements of music, introduces classical pieces, and has a lot of fun folk music. Zack really loves them. We went and saw them in concert, and then saw them again on location where they film.

The concert invitations were really fun. I was a little overwhelmed with the thought of making them, so my sister designed them for me, then I printed them, embossed the No. 005 (for the fifth birthday) and added perforations to create a ticket stub look. Hey, she'll make them for you too!

We served ham and biscuit mini-sandwiches in a big chicken-wire basket, fruit, veggies and herb dip, and deviled eggs. What's more farm-like than deviled eggs, right? James had the idea to make the guitar strings into the Happy Birthday writing. I really thought that made the cake.

Our craft was just right for a small group. If it had been any more kids, I would have had to do more prep ahead of time, but as it was they did their own while I demonstrated, making one for Sammy. The idea was an imitation of a cigar-box guitar, but without the tobacco smell or power tools. We used shoeboxes with a hole in the front and at the end, plus some sturdy doubled cardboard for the handle. The rubber bands just wrap around the box rather than going up the neck of the guitar. Once we added those bridges (cut from a dowel), the sound was surprisingly good for just some rubber bands.

And the soundtrack for the party was really, really easy to select.

Happy Birthday to Zack!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Huh. I really am obsessed with soup.

But I'm not just obsessed with soup. I'm also obsessed with red peppers. And avocados. At least my interests are broad.

Our new Sprouts has had red peppers and avocados at great prices and the best thing about it is that the quality has been so good. I sprung for a dozen of the peppers and roasted those beauties under the broiler (so that I could do several at a time). Then I peeled and sliced them and froze them away for later. I feel so rich.

I'm wondering about freezing the avocado. You can buy frozen guacamole. Maybe if I peeled and halved them and tossed them in lime juice. Has anyone tried this? Do I need to borrow a vacuum sealer to make it work?

This roasted red pepper soup was so good. Too bad I didn't follow the recipe or even write down what I did. I'll probably never recreate it.

p.s. Yes, that is (another) trial homemade bread mix in the background. It's good, but not fabulous. I shall endeavor to persevere. A tough job, but someone's got to do it!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I command you to do as you please

Zack has learned the secret of getting Sammy to do what he tells him: Wait until Sammy starts to do something, then, Quick! tell him to do that very thing.

At least they are playing together - two boys laughing is a really good sound.

Monday, October 05, 2009

More Fun with Cardmaking

Continuing (a little later than promised!) about card making: I am really enjoying this branch of crafting lately. The projects are small enough to accomplish in one sitting, and depending on how fancy you want to be, they don't have to take that many supplies.

Check out these two projects that Neelam designed and we got to make ourselves.

The first used a great technique of coloring directly on a stamp with markers. That way, in one stamping, we could get multiple colors. The coloring was a little hard to see what should be where - I think I could get better with practice.

The second used an outline stamp and then a blender pen to watercolor inside, plus inking of the edges of a die-cut shape. One think I really liked about this is that the branch by itself looks like bamboo, but it still goes with these graphic flowers. I like seeing unexpected things that look good together.