Thursday, August 31, 2006

We'll always have Paris.

I kept telling Wyatt what a memorable trip this was for the two of us. Such a special time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Who cut the cheese?

After our whirlwind day w/Julie in Paris, we ended up getting a baguette, a wheel of Camembert, and some macarons and eating on the bed at the hotel while talking about our day. I'd bought a bottle of red wine at the Bon Marche market, and we cracked that, too. We went to bed early, and then hit the ground running the next day, leaving half the cheese and bread wrapped up on the little table in my room. When we returned later that afternoon, we wrinkled up our noses while walking down the hallway to our rooms, thinking, "Eww! What a stink!" and thinking our neighbors had been indisposed for quite a while. When Wyatt and I opened the door to our room, we realized that we were the culprits of the was the leftover Camembert that had gotten really nice & runny. Pity the other hotel guests.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Ma nouvelle chapeau

Here is the lovely hat I bought in Aix, as modeled by Cooper. It looks so much better on him, topless.

Monday, August 28, 2006

August 20th - Notre Dame

For my Mom, Baerbel.

There is common theme I notice in my life: my "best-laid plans" often go awry. This was no different, despite my honorable intentions, as my planned moments of solitude and reflection were, um, shared with about 50,000 other visitors to Notre Dame. I lit a candle for my Mom and sat down, and did cry a bit. My tears were stopped by my inability to block out the jabbering of the woman sitting behind me, who was droning on and on and on despite my shooting her my best, "Quiet, please!-I'm-trying-to-have-a-moment-here" look. I gradually became agitated enough that I was propelled to flee the cathedral, bypassing the serenely smiling missionaries on the way out with my surly thoughts of, 'yeah, yeah, peace be with you, too.' and raising an eyebrow at the tourists who were sneaking in through the out door.
Notre Dame is an amazing, awesome place, and the sight of all the shimmering candles are enough to stop you in your tracks, thinking of all the souls who have come to light a tiny wick of a representation of their thought, their memory, their wish. There are so many of us. However, in August, on a Sunday, I should have known better -- it's no place for solitary reflection! It doesn't matter though; I think of my Mom every day, and I honor her memory every day, no matter where I am.
We left the fray and, fortunately, for us, ran straight onto the Île Saint-Louis and smack into the line for Berthillon ice cream. Wyatt & I chose caramel, and it was fantastic enough to be soothingly distracting. And our spot by the Seine was relatively quiet & peaceful.

And we did get a ham sandwich at the end of the day.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The beautiful escape

All my life, I've been a movie buff, and I've found, through the years and some of the hardest times, there's nothing like a great movie to temporarily take you out of yourself. Movies truly are magical in how they can take you away; transport you to another reality, and for just a little while, take your mind off all your cares. There have been times when I've walked out of the theater completely transformed from how I felt when I walked in. The power of a good comedy, a good story, a great romance -- I love everything about the cinema, including the popcorn.
I don't watch much television, but about a week ago, when I tuned in to hear about the news in the Middle East, and also record a Sesame Street episode, I managed to wander over to the Turner Classic Movies station, and "Cleopatra" was on, with the stunning Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton. I'd never seen it before, and I always thought it was supposed to be a campy extravagance, yet I didn't find it to be silly at all. I enjoyed the drama and pageantry.
The next day, I felt I was on to something -- and I was! I turned on TCM and -- what luck -- "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" was just starting. Now this, I've seen, but really had not revisited since I was a kid (myself). The minute the titles started rolling and the music played, I was transported back to my life in the '70s.
I remember my dad singing, "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," and although I was a young girl, I can remember the impact this film had on popular culture. Seen from my perspective now, I can really appreciate the charm, beauty, and acting of Paul Newman & Robert Redford, and the wonder of the movie and why it was such a success -- I can fully understand just what the hoopla was all about. Great film.
Part of my family lore is that, when I was about 9 years of age, I fell ill, and while I was in bed at home, I happened to catch, "This Property is Condemned" with the enchanting Natalie Wood and Robert Redford. The problem for me was that the movie was shown in two parts, so although I was feeling perfectly fine & recovered by the end of day one, I feigned illness on Day 2 so I could watch the conclusion! My Mom was on to me, and we laughed about that forever in the years to follow. It was our inside joke. If I were down with a cold or flu, she laughed and asked, "Lisa, is Natalie on?"
I have no qualms about going to the movies alone, and once when the boys were driving me up the wall, I arranged for a break and although I had no plan, I ended up at the local art house, watching, "In America." The combination of the story and my post-partum hormones had me sobbing into my tissues in the dark, just trying to maintain slightly so that the folks around me didn't call management and have me carted away. It was so sad! But what a wonderful story!
Lately I get easily distracted and I hardly have the concentration to read, nor do I even make time to watch my pre-selected dvds from Netflix. So I'm very happy to have stumbled upon TCM in these recent days. Yesterday, "The Bad News Bears" came on, and I was riveted. When I was a kid, I played on the worst softball team in our community league.
Our West Oakland Bank team was worse than the North Valley Bears, and as a girl I remember seeing this movie and relating to the kids' total defeat. Yesterday, I just laughed my ass off at the field scenes, and realized what a great actor Walter Matthau was.
When a movie comes on that is the right story for you at the right moment, it's akin to having someone grab you by the shoulders and sit you down physically. I've been grateful to once again be magically transported to another place and time this past week; journeying back into times I've known, and times I've only dreamt about. And deep into places of my heart.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mein Wunderkind.

It's no secret that Harry has been my most challenging child. He is demanding and sometimes grumpy. It's not uncommon for him to either wake up in a bad mood, or sit and badger me with his caveman-like request (grating whine) of, "Juice. Juice. Juice!"
When Harry was born, he cried out like a wild animal -- like a Tasmanian Devil. He has never been much of a sleeper. He goes to bed late, wakes up early, and keeps us at attention all the live-long day. He has earned the nicknames, "High-Maintenance Harry," & "'Orrible 'Arry." If my adrenal glands are burnt out, it is probably because of him.
It may not go without saying, so I'll say it: Harry is extremely loved & loving, even if he is a natural-born curmudgeon. He's clever, has a quirky sense of humor, and when he hands out sweetness and light, it is overwhelmingly rewarding. Because he can be such a pain in the ass!
One of the hardest days of my life, almost a year ago, was the day of the funeral for my Mom. Utterly beat, I returned to her house, where the boys had been with a sitter. When I opened the door, I could hardly focus for my exhaustion, and when I immediately heard Harry shout, "MOM!" and looked up to see him run like a streak across the room to give me a hug -- words can hardly describe what that meant to me. Right then & there I forgave him every hardship he ever put me through.
Now, he is learning to speak, and he has a lot to say, but the thing that amazes us most, seeing, as you know, how my Mom was German, is that he does not say, "My." He says, "Mein." "Mein house." "Mein foot." "Mein book!" "Mein head."
Ach du liebe!!
It strikes me as so profound -- where does this come from? Why? And what are the odds of this happening? It's sad that meine Mutti is not here to be with us and go through this, b/c she would think it was so hilarious and would no doubt have some funny and quirky comment.
I know how she would have appreciated this new development in mein Sohn, and I am grateful to him for surprising me again, and for making me laugh...always when I least expected it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Kitchen gadgets with poor timing.

Have you ever heard of a chocolate chipper? It's a kitchen tool for breaking up blocks of chocolate into little chips for baking. Straightforward enough. Julie brought it to my attention, and I found one to take to her next week. However, upon its arrival here yesterday, it took me all of about 5 seconds to decide that I'll have to mail it to Julie. The thing looks downright dangerous! There's no way I'm packing it.
The chipper is solid! It looks like a scary, medieval weapon, and is heavy. Sharp, stainless steel prongs & a hardwood handle...I have a feeling it could really freak out the security personnel to see that image while scanning my suitcase. My suitcase would never make it to France, I know it -- especially in light of our pitstop in Frankfurt. My apologies to Julie for the delay, but at the risk of not having clothing for a couple of weeks, I think she'll understand!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lookin' for some action (figures)

Love is in the air at my house. The boys have been accruing these action figures over the past year or two, and suddenly, I find we have a whole sub-community living with us! But, as in our immediate family, the males greatly outnumber the females. And so, like in a hostage situation or something, I've quickly bonded with these women, and I feel the urge to steer them around in a motherly sort of way. I feel compelled to do a little matchmaking.
My homegirls there are Dr. Light, and Hawkgirl. I know them on a purely personal basis. Dr. Light -- obviously she's educated; Wyatt says she's a Japanese scientist. Great! I just know I like her black & white color scheme and she looks like a crazy kitty-cat in that outfit. She's got brains AND style. Rerr. Hawkgirl -- again, I don't know that much about her skills or powers. Clearly, she's accomplished & can do some sort of flying. But what struck me, when we first met, is how her lipstick (Lancome Matte Bordeaux, perhaps?) coordinates with her boots, as well as her boy-shorts. Plus, I like her pointy mask, and she's got arms like Madonna. Who wouldn't want to date these women?
So, I surveyed the prospects, and there is such a variety! But I have to admit I quickly ousted a few contenders, like Aquaman (get a haircut), and Superman (eh), and zeroed in on the two who seemed the best-suited (so to speak) to the ladies. It was pretty clear that The Green Lantern and Batman were the studmuffins of the group.

Look at them. I think there's a little magic about to occur. The Green Lantern is psyched!! But, if things don't work out, waiting in the wings we have many more men willing to go out to lunch -- and it's just lunch, we're not saving the world here -- including Wildcat, Dr. Fate, and the Green Arrow, a chivalrous throwback to Robin Hood. (I'm going to advise the girls to stay away from Lex Luthor: semi-powerful but, unfortunately, a jerk.) I can't wait to see what develops. It's like they always say: you can take the girl out of Metropolis, but you can't take Metropolis out of the girl.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A dreamy gift

Dear Anna sent me a great surprise in the mail: Tessa Kiros' cookbook Twelve. I love it!! I am a complete Italophile, and months ago, stumbled upon my dream house, in Venice: it's Lord Byron's former aparment on the Grand Canal. I have a photo of this magnificent palazzo, and I obsess: when can I move in? How can I come up with $11 million? How?And so, I will be taking this book with me, and Anna & her family are invited to stay with me as soon as I get the key. Yes, because while practically everyone we know is swooning over Tessa's new cookbook, Apples for Jam, our noses are happily buried in Twelve, which is dedicated solely to Italian food, hurrah! It is very beautiful, as Tessa's books are, with authentic recipes organized around the seasons, and pretty, color-saturated photos of glorious Tuscan food (Tessa & her family live in Siena.) For days now, I've been staring at the luscious-looking Mandorlata con fichi, fig tart with almonds. I gaze at the picture, and then the recipe, and then read more recipes, and then pause to daydream of the countryside and also think of the upcoming holidays...which the Italians celebrate so well. For now, however, I snap back to the reality of summer, and gladly take advantage of the current avalanche of figs, which, like Lord Byron's apartment, are back on the market.
Tessa says you can substitute any nuts you like for the almonds. Since I did not have almonds, I preferred to make this w/hazelnuts, rather than wait another day. The tart base is a blind-baked sweet pastry crust, over which you swirl apricot jam. Next, lay down the trimmed & sliced figs, the nuts, a sprinkling of sugar, and finally, an egg yolk beaten w/a bit of milk poured over it all. That's a blueprint for a classic rustica tart. The fragrance of the bubbling jam and the heated figs, nuts & pastry was heavenly -- perfuming the house.
The flavor is delicious: velvety, jammy, chewy, and crunchy textures all blended together; it melts in your mouth. My thanks to Anna!Please --now that you know my intentions, don't mention the apartment to anyone, I would hate to be outbidded & have to cancel my big housewarming party. Worse still, we'd have to go shack up with Clooney in Lake Como, and believe me, we do not want to do that, he is very grumpy lately.

Food file: the egg and I

"Shh, I'm not telling Randy, he's afraid of chickens... and the Pope's big hat, but mainly because he thinks there's a chicken under it."
-My Name is Earl

Chickens kind of freak me out, and I think having them is against the bylaws here, but if this weren't the case, I might be tempted b/c I love eggs. I often rely on eggs for meals -- they're quick & versatile. At the right time, an omelette is a perfect dinner, and I rank "eggs in purgatory" up with all the best comfort food. Yesterday, I made a very quick spinach pie using pretty much the traditional ingredients of eggs, cheeses, fresh spinach & green onions + puff pastry -- frozen, from Pepperidge Farms. I haven't made "real" spanakopita using filo dough in years, b/c I felt under too much pressure to work quickly to brush & butter the filo dough before a.) it dried up; and b.) Wyatt woke up from his nap. I am no longer sent into freak-out mode with such concerns. This is very good!
The second egg dish here is from -- Judy Rodgers (Saint Judy). Eggs fried in bread crumbs! Hello?! What a great idea! It's fast, easy, and tastes great -- almost as if your normal toast has been magically crushed & incorporated into your eggs -- eureka! You just heat up bread crumbs, drop in some olive oil, then the eggs, cook them as you like, and then transfer them to a plate. Then you put a teaspoon of balsamic or red wine vinegar into the hot pan, sizzle it and drizzle it over the plated eggs, and toss a little fresh thyme over it all. I know it's not picture-perfect, and that is b/c I had the burner up high and had the challenge of cooking the egg whites before the bread crumbs burned. Judy SAYS to throw those eggs in the second you see the bread crumbs coloring, and I wasn't really listening. It was, of course, very tasty, despite the messy appearance.

Mario Batali's recipe for Eggs in Purgatory

Speaking of porchetta

Look at this cute miniature pig, lounging on a farm in South Devon. Just trying to relax in the heat. Aw.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

My education from Judy the foodie

The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers is blowing my mind. I feel like I'm beginning a Ph.D. in cooking under the tutelage of Judy, she's so intense & and has amazing depth & breadth. She is a foodie extraordinaire, and I can see she deserves all the kudos she receives; she's a very talented chef and smart restauranteur. My head is spinning, as I just finished reading her instruction on the early salting of meat, poultry, and fish.
I've had the pleasure of eating at Zuni, and I only wish that, at the time, I had known more about the behind-the-scenes process. This book provides a thorough glimpse of the thought and preparation that go into the creative dishes served there, and I'm fascinated, if not a little stunned! Judy is well-taught and well-travelled, and her recipes are based on a classic French tradition/platform, while also reflecting the highest aims of Italian and Californian cuisine. Her instructions are so precise and clear that she manages to impart confidence to even the crazily ambitious recipes...I just need more time. Upon the recommendation of Rachel, who encouraged me to buy this cookbook, I made the Mock Porchetta for dinner. Judy has figured out a way to condense the whole Italian extravaganza of the pig roast into a on top of root vegetables in a homegirl's oven. The pork shoulder or butt (spare the comments) is butterflied and stuffed with a mixture of salt, pepper, capers, lemon zest, parsley, sage, rosemary...and no, not thyme, but garlic & fennel seeds. (I used fennel pollen b/c it's what I had.) Fabulous! I'm so happy to have found a new cut & way to make pork as the antidote to the ubiquitous flavorless boneless pork loin. Really spectacular and once you're down w/Judy's methodology, it's simple.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


First, let me say that the reason this blog is titled, "The Chambermaid" is two-fold. Nigella has been known to casually throw out this sentence: "When I was a chambermaid in Italy..." which is great, b/c it's just such a visual. Nigella as Chambermaid! As Rachel said: "I'm thinkin' Nige was a chambermaid for about 10 minutes." She's just too glamorous! Yet the reality is that I am often, indeed, acting as chambermaid here at Chez Testosterone, so it was with a wink that I chose this name. Oh, that, and that every name related to myself on Blogger was already taken. So, that makes it a three-fold reason. But I digress. My pic on my profile was actually one of the beautiful Jeanne Moreau, the French actress who starred in the 1964 film, "Le Journal d'une femme de chambre," or, "The Diary of a Chambermaid." As Celestine, the newly hired maid who works in the country for "a strange group of people." ha.
But anyway, when Paola emailed me and told me I looked like a '60s fashion model, I confessed that, unfortunately, this was not me, but Jeanne Moreau, and then I wondered if perhaps I was violating some sort of blogger etiquette, or at least being misleading. (But I must also clarify that I did not go to college in the '60s, P.) So... over there is my new pic. That's me, and you can see I am no Jeanne. But I do indeed work for a strange group of people, in the country.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Dog, be not proud.

I'm embarrassed. Look at what my dog does while I'm out of town. First of all, let me just say that Lucky is NOT one of those humper dogs. He has never humped a human, he is not a crotch-sniffer. He is a good dog. He doesn't even chew shoes up anymore. But when he gets together with his family, suddenly, this humping thing will break out from nowhere when you least expect it, and I hit his butt to make him stop and then look at him like, "What the hell is wrong with you??" But you see, dog humping, I'm told, is not sexual. Well, I'm sure in some cases it is. The real-kind cases. But no, it is a domination/power assertion. Pack-dog mentality: the humper is in control. Okay, I don't want to think about this much more. But yeah, here he is with his mother, Daisey, the blonde with the red collar; and his brother, Kosmo, the next blond. You can see who is in control. (Clearly, not me.) It's such a disturbing visual, so let's just think of it as a Labradoran conga line, and move on.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

And then...there's Cooper.

Lunch. First of all, I'd like to point out that he started out DRESSED. I know Ilana thinks the boys never wear clothes, and, indeed, most of the time, they don't. But today, Cooper was dressed for lunch, and he ate a pretty good take: a bowl of pasta with peas; cottage cheese; raisins; milk; and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich WHICH resulted in him having PB&J all over his face, hair, and limbs. So, when he appeared to be done feasting, I sprung him from his high chair, wiped him down, and stripped him. I then turned my back for a moment to talk to Rachel, and, seconds later, saw this. That's Harry's bowl of pasta that Cooper grabbed off the table (Harry had left, don't worry) to scarf. Moose!

On duty!

Griffin has been down with a stomach bug today, and so I've had a lot of cleaning up to do. Two sets of bed linens (mattress pads included) and towels, + a bath and washdowns for the little guy. Sometimes I think we should have designed this house to have slightly sloping concrete floors with metal drains in the middle. Water hook-ups & retractable hoses with powerful spray nozzles in every room. But nevermind, the important thing is that he is feeling better now. He's a cheerful little sick person. I took him up some graham cracker scraps that I dug out from the pantry, trying to think of something mild for him to eat. They were from the tail-end of the box, and all broken and jagged, but I had no more, so put them on a Spiderman plate for him. And he exclaimed, "WOW! GRAHAM CRACKERS! THANKS, MOM!" So easy to please! He's been easy-going from the day he was born, what a sweetheart.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Happy little vegemites are we!

We're happy little vegemites as fun as fun can be,
We love to eat our vegemite for breakfast, lunch or tea.
Our mothers say we're growing better every single week
Because we love our vegemite
We all adore our vegemite
It puts a rose in every cheek!

So tune on up and sing along!

"Happy little vegemites are we," was a song in Australia, according to Cakes, and although I'm not familiar with that tune, I can relate. Cakes is great! Her Cakes-radar honed in on my Vegemite crisis, voiced on, and she sent two tubes to us in the mail, all the way from Oz. I was thrilled to get the package, all wrapped in string and official, and Cooper dived in like he'd hadn't eaten this yeast extract in 39 days. But who's counting. We have become total vegemite addicts, and we all have our ritual and certain method of spreading on hot toast. Mostly, we're mixers. We mix it up with butter in a porcelain jar until it looks the same color as peanut butter, and then, on the advice of Coby -- my original (not to be confused with aboriginal) Vegemite dealer -- spread it to the far corners of the toast. It tastes great! And Coby tells me it's loaded with "good stuff," like B vitamins, so I even feel kind of holy when I eat it & serve it forth. But really, I am addicted.

Oral-B Samurais

Always busy, Harry and Griffin got my toothbrush out of my duffel at the hotel, and they started running around with it as though it were a sword. There were lots of sound effects & lunges, and at one point, Griffin sheathed it underneath his shirt, at an angle between his shoulder blades. Kind of like Sean Bean in "Lord of the Rings."The toothbrush went from our room to the hotel lobby to the lounge area to the staircase to the sidewalk outside. It was used for about two hours of battle. At last, as we were standing by a garbage can and the little warriors were winding down, I retrieved it and said, "Oh good, a garbage can!" I tossed it in. They both looked at me and ernestly asked why I threw it out. Why? I responded that I didn't think I wanted to brush my teeth with it anymore, and that airport security probably wouldn't let them through with such a weapon. Acceptable. I have to say, I love having sons, I think they are so funny & cool.

Sterilization program

Today is all about cleaning. The boys were totally grody from hot city living + jet dust, so they got the Karen Silkwood treatment this morning. (I thought it would be cruel to dunk them in last night in their sleep.) I contemplated burning Cooper's blankie, because it is completely stinky and was literally dragged through the streets of Chicago as well as O'Hare airport. However, it is his favorite, so I tossed it into the washer with extra soap, some bleach, and pressed the "SANITARY" mode button.