Monday, December 31, 2007

They're through with standin' in line to clubs they'll never get in.

After coloring themselves with their new markers from Santa, Harry announced that he and his brothers had a new look.
"We're rock stars, Mom," he said. "Good ones," he added.
I don't know what that means, exactly, but suggest they call themselves The Unsupervised.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sowing seeds of love

In prison movies, there's often a character with LOVE tattooed on the knuckles of one hand, and HATE tattooed on his other hand. I can usually relate to this guy, because he's obviously spent some time introspecting and searching for balance in life.
The holidays inevitably bring out the yin and yang of the universe, giving and receiving, and this year certainly has presented a swirling mass of feelings to wonder about whilst starting at my knuckles. We had a pleasant Christmas with friends and some family members (LOVE) while other family members have acted hurtful (HATE), causing me to grit my teeth and ponder human nature!
Last night, I went to bed feeling decidedly bitter about the state of affairs, and was then further vexed when Wyatt started projectile-vomiting all over my bedroom. I'm sure I was sneering at midnight, hoping morning wouldn't come too quickly.
But come it did, and with it a package that melted the icy brittle that had formed around my heart.
My friend Jennifer has a sister, Pam, who is a schoolteacher. Her class is made up of 23 fifth-graders who don't have a lot, and every year, before Christmas, Pam and her sister & another friend, Julie, try to gather and put together little gifts for the kids to give to their families. Pam takes a bunch of little items into the classroom, and the children take turns selecting things for family presents. As it happened, in the weeks before Christmas, I had a lot to give away, as I packed up my mom's house. Pam, Julie, and Jennifer bundled up a variety of my mom's belongings, and Pam presented everything to the class so that they could shop. We all thought it would be really nice, and that the timing was great for everyone involved.
This morning, as I shuffled around with my first cappuccino, Jennifer and Julie came over and gave me an 8 x 10 envelope filled with thank-you notes from Pam's class. Having been steeped in a little too much rudeness over the past few days, I was taken by surprise that the kids had been so thoughtful to write to me, especially since I didn't realize that Pam had told them where the stuff had come from. But she had, and reading those hand-written notes was one of the most profound experiences of my life.
Each child expressed happiness, thankfulness, and gratitude. They wished me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and told me what a blessing these "things" of my mom's had been to them. Most of them took the time to tell me what they picked, and I knew exactly what they were talking about. The tea kettle. The doll. The mugs. The wooden owl. The picture frame. And they told me the person they'd chosen to give their gifts to: "My mom." "My nana." "My dad." "My cousin who is nine months old." Card after card -- twenty-three young people expressing how happy they were.
I was blown away.

I sat at the kitchen table, crying unexpected tears of joy, and I felt deep gratitude for what they had given me: kindness and appreciation. I have never imagined a feeling so wonderful, and I felt not only the balance of life restored, but glowing with positivity. My mom's life has been packed up, but not put away. The love that she had in her continues to reverberate like ripples on a pond, and it is gratifying, and uplifting, and it dissolves bitterness.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Peace on earth!

After all of the planning and shopping and wrapping and cooking and running and costuming and driving and sorting of the past several weeks, things finally came to a halt on Friday, with the boys' last day of school.
They had their first sleep-over Friday night, which was super-loud, and we all stayed up very late. Saturday morning, I made a mountain of pancakes for everyone, and then after the young guests left, Troy took the boys to see a movie.
Still in my pajamas, I plunked down in a very comfortable chair and watched, "The Awful Truth," with the incredible Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. And this was my view...for hours. Hours!

A pretty perfect day!
Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Comfort & joy

The approach of the Christmas season probably always brings about a heightened sense of emotion, with so many feelings and memories, not to mention the expectations inherent in the holiday. I've been overwhelmed with a jumble of emotions lately, with a busy pace and an overloaded brain.
In a stroke of what may be cosmic genius, my mom's house sold a few weeks ago, so I have been getting ready for Christmas while also sorting and packing up her belongings. I don't think a harder job exists than to pack up a life; it's almost indescribable. But I'm also lucky to have sold her house in this market, and although this was the task I'd been most dreading, it is a relief to be finished with this last order of business.
They always say that if we didn't experience the lows in life, then we couldn't fully appreciate the highs. Not that we have a choice -- but of course, there is a lot of truth in that sentiment. And so, although I've shed a lot of tears this month, and periodically wondered if my local pharmacy has enough Ativan in stock for me to reach the new year, I know the worst is over.
I've also been keenly aware of how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful family and supportive, loving friends. As I've slogged through December, I've been very grateful for the moments and things that have brought me real joy.
The boys' Jedi training exercises are a continuous wellspring of humor for me.

I love our tree. I sit quietly and look at all the ornaments, sometimes thinking of their provenance, but sometimes just enjoying the simple pleasure of gazing at pretty, shiny things.

It's good to see Winter, an anxious cat, enjoy undisturbed solitude underneath the Christmas tree.

The best: Griffin writing a letter to Santa Claus.

One night, out of the blue, I received a phone call from an old friend of my mom's. She said she had a Raggedy Ann my mom made, and she wanted to send it to me. My mom used to make these dolls for the children of special people in her life, and I was thrilled to get her in the mail days later.

The first thing I did was lift up her dress to see her belly. "I love you."

At my mom's, I found the three little bears and their terrier! These little stuffed animals have been around all my life, and when I was a little girl, I played with them for hours on end. The bear on the far right was always my favorite. Look at his crooked little bowtie. He is also special because he has an articulated head that is controlled by a wire lever in back where his tail might be. By moving the lever up & down or back & forth, you can make him nod or shake his head. I used to ask him a million yes-or-no questions, and make him respond.

Another priceless find for me was this wall hanging, which I remember from my earliest Christmases. Sparkly and charming, you put your Christmas cards in the pouch.

My aunt and uncle sent us a giant box of Lebkuchen. It's more than we can ever eat, I think, but the decorative packaging is fabulous, especially one little box shaped like a house, complete with opening windows and doors where you can see Hansel, Gretel, or in turn, the Witch and her fiery stove.

Now, with most of my gifts wrapped, I am looking forward to Christmas. I just ordered Christmas in Connecticut and can't wait to put my feet up, watch the movie, and eat some popcorn.
Peace to us all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Favorite Things

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
-And these would be the key lines for me, considering my heritage. My kitchen is a room heavily influenced by my mother, who was a wonderful cook, and German (obviously, considering her personality, I'd much rather associate her with Julie Andrews, rather than the Nazis of The Sound of Music).

I did not truly learn how to cook until I moved far away from home -- to California -- where I had to make my own Greek food, and tackle things like preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. That was many years ago, and I've since built my own repertoire, and garnered habits that are special to me and my kitchen.

First of all, I start each day with a cappuccino made by my husband. This is a two-part favorite thing, for it is my cappuccino in a beloved vessel: my NYC ceramic "paper take-out" cup. If you watch any film or TV show (especially involving cops) set in NYC, you will inevitably see someone drinking coffee from a cup like this (the paper version). Or holding it. Or it will be sitting on the chief's desk at the station, or in the newsroom. So this fits in with both my love for coffee and my love of cinema. I appreciate the NY archtype it represents.

This is, of course, Lucky, who is never far from me. If I am in the kitchen, Lucky is in the kitchen. Or parked very nearby so that he does not miss a flying crust of bread or chunk of banana. Or chicken. Or steak. As a Working Dog, he is also very helpful to me, and regularly heeds the call, "Lucky! Clean up on aisle five!" if we spill or drop something on the floor. I don't know what I would do without him.

My latte and cafe au lait bowls. I got the yellow latte bowls at Anthropologie, a great store, and I found the Cafe Au Lait bowls at an even greater store: Watson-Kennedy in Seattle. I always loved the French idea of drinking coffee out of a bowl, but wondered if it was something that the French *actually* did (I wasn't even convinced by Ludivine Sagnier in "Swimming Pool"). However, when Terry one day mentioned she'd just finished her bowl of coffee, I wasted no time in emulating her, and the next day enjoyed drinking my morning cap from one of these white bowls. It makes me feel closer to the Riviera.

This clay baker is something I found, and was going to give to my mother-in-law, Gina, one year for Christmas -- but I was afraid she wouldn't like it. So I kept it, and it became my perfect baker. It just seems to be the perfect size for my style, and I use it all the time, for roasted vegetables, potato gratins, lasagne, enchilladas...everything. One handle is broken off, showing how well-loved it is, and how often it is used. Meanwhile, every time I bring it out when Gina is here for dinner, she remarks on how fantastic it is and how much she loves it. You never know, do you?

This blue & white bowl just came to live with me last week, after I sorted and packed up some things at my mom's house. I have great memories of a wonderful period of life when I look at this bowl, because, although it is (I think) a pasta bowl, my mom used to make a huge salad every night for dinner and serve it in this. She ate a Mediterranean diet of fish or roasted meats, soups, pilafs, and salads, and this bowl was part of her daily life with my step-dad, Manny, who was Greek. This represents, to me, the good times of my mom's life, when she was happiest.

My kitchen serves also as art gallery, and I love to see what my sons are going to bring home each week. This spider piece speaks to me. I love the avant-garde white web treatment on the black paper, but I find the spider, with his googly eyes and fuzzy pipe-cleaner legs, positively charming and irresistible.

This is a Greek icon of Saint Anna, pictured with her daughter in her arms. I'm neither religious, nor Greek, but my mother was Greek Orthodox (by way of conversion) and had these type of Greek icons in her house. This was not my mom's, but was sent to me by Anna, after my mom died, as a tribute to the love between a mother and a child. For a while, I had it in my bedroom, but it found it's true place in my kitchen, which is the heart of the home. Its presence provides me with feelings of love and reassurance.

Ahh, my tray. I pull out this tray whenever I want to take food up to my bedroom, either for myself, or to someone who is ill. Usually, what I do is make a pot of hot tea, and put a teacup and saucer on the tray along with the pot, and a pretty napkin. Then I carry it upstairs and get situated on my bed with a good book, and I pretend I am a British aristocrat, who is served tea on a tray, and that I don't have a care in the world. Then I daydream, in between bouts of reading, about all things English and very Brideshead-y. A well-timed rainstorm leads to feelings of pure glee.

A simple favorite thing: San Pellegrino fizzy water. I am addicted to it. Secondary role played by my red bubble glass. I love bubble (sometimes called seed) glass, and I love the color red. Therefore, the red bubble glass and the fizzy water are the perfect mates for me.

And lastly, my favorite spice: red pepper flakes. Some like it hot, and I cannot imagine my kitchen without this kind of heat. I feel panicky if I don't have red chile flakes in the house.

Thanks go to Mara for the lovely idea of the Favorite Things!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Blueberry swirl

Once upon a time, we had white slipcovered sofas.
I've always loved Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic style, and, still adore that crisp, clean look. But Troy and I just found a photograph of our former living room, and Troy looked at me and said, "Lisa, look at the couch we bought. Were we insane?!"
Interior decorators are always proclaiming the slipcover as the solution to keeping a pretty environment despite the ravages of children and dogs. I'm not so sure. Truth be told, even before we had children and a dog, it was very difficult to keep the white slipcovers white. Coffee spilled, wine spilled, soup spilled. I don't consider us particularly messy people, but by the time Wyatt came along and spit up a few times, things were looking truly shabby, and not so chic.
Now, however, I have found the answer that really works for me: blue and white paisley. I love it. It's refreshing, soothing, and just confusing enough. Add a little Dupont fabric protection spray, and it cannot be defeated, even by four boys, a dog, two cats, and two adults who like to drink dark beverages.
This morning, I found Cooper happily sitting in the living room, eating blueberries. I realized that I didn't bat an eye. The scene, which previously would have freaked me out, did not bother me in the least, and I realized that it's because of the blue & white scheme. But more importantly, I realized that I've finally started to know what's best for me. What suits my life, and what's important to us.
And that, I believe, is what style is really all about.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Some Enchanted Pepper

New Mexico is called "The Land of Enchantment," and is a place unlike any other I've ever visited. It's home to Roswell, which claims to have had more than one alien landing/encounter, and the landscape is truly Western, with vast and wide open spaces, and mountains. All this, and the food is amazing.
Several years ago, Troy and I went to Santa Fe and Taos, to ski. My happy memories from that trip are still fresh and distinct. While the Taos ski valley has a European alpine atmosphere, Santa Fe is all Southwestern. Being a hot pepper enthusiast, I was really excited to try the green and red chiles while visiting. A typical Santa Fe dish would be a perfectly grilled steak, served with red or green chile sauce, and warm corn tortillas on the side. For those who want it all (or can't make a decision), there is the option to order red and green chile sauce with any of your food. That, my friends, is what the natives call, "Christmas" style, and it's the winning ticket.
There is a little town in New Mexico that is famous for its chiles: Hatch. Hatch is a mecca for pepper-lovers, and at the end of every September, harvest time culminates in the Hatch Chile Festival. Whole fresh chiles are roasted over flames, and people stock up on bagfuls of chiles that they freeze for use throughout the coming year. It's truly an event, and these fresh chile roasts take place not only in Hatch, but all over the Southwestern United States, including Southern California. Imagine the scent of the air during this time!
My friend Barbara is a wonderful woman who often half-jokes to me that she loves to feel needed. She's actually serious about that, and so, when she told me she was going to New Mexico to visit her son and daughter-in-law, in September, and asked me if there was anything I needed, it was like the planets had aligned! I said, "Well, if you happen to come upon some fresh, roasted chiles, and can somehow get them home, I would love a bag!"
She immediately accepted this idea as a mission!
Two days later, she called me from her cell phone and told me that she was standing in the County Fairgrounds, watching some guys roast the chiles for me! She said she ordered "hot," and she said the air smelled fantastic. The best-known variety of Hatch chile is called the Big Jim, and it grows mild, medium, hot, or super-hot. Barbara made the perfect choice for me.
I was so excited to hear the news, but I still wondered if she could actually get the peppers back home. In order to fly out of Sarasota at a specific time, Barbara had ended up having to take a route tha trequired five plane changes. Five. Who knew how many security checks she would have to go through, and she not only faced Homeland Security neuroses about food and bags, but also could encounter some nefarious guards who recognized a roasted Hatch when they saw one. Therefore, I calculated an extremely high risk of pepper confiscation (code orange)! I wasn't going to count my peppers until they...Hatched.
In the end, however, no one could stop Barbara, and a few days later, this packed cooler was delivered to me.

Five bags of freshly roasted hot Big Jims! She wrapped them up so nicely in freezer bags and newspaper with ice packs. I transferred them to my freezer.

I was really excited to use them, and decided to make a green chile pork stew. I got a pork loin from Whole Foods, sliced it up, and marinated it in crushed garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stews are my forte, as they are hard to mess up, but I was still nervous about mucking up this pot of food containing the precious chiles!
I sauteed an onion, browned the pork, and then added diced potatoes, chicken broth, a tin of tomatoes, some corn, and the chiles, of course.
I thought polenta would be a good accompaniment, and used my favorite, Bob's Red Mill corn grits (same thing as polenta). It's a high-quality, organic product. Here is the final dish, which, I'm relieved to say, lived up to the star ingredient.

Cheers to the intrepid Barbara, and to the great state of New Mexico, Land of Enchantment for many fine reasons.

The Fast and the Furiously Disorganized

Like Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver," I like to proclaim that, "one of these days, I'm gonna get organizized."
Yesterday I was forced to face how very far from being organized I actually am. I was pulled over for speeding, and when asked to present my driver's license, car registration, and proof of insurance, I discovered a gaping hole in my attention to detail. When peering at my driver's license, the sheriff's trooper began to expose my shortcomings.

Sheriff's Trooper: Is this your current address?
Me: Um, no. I have moved.
Sheriff's Trooper: When did you move?
Me. Ah, about two years ago.

The trooper explained that your driver's license address needs to be changed within 10 days of moving. He also said that, God forbid, if anything were to ever happen to me, he would mistakenly go to my old house.
I didn't bother to tell him that that would work just fine, since Troy's mom lives there now.
While searching for my proof of insurance (which I do have!) and my registration (which I have, but don't know where it is), I discovered a treasure trove of items in the glove compartment. I found hand sanitizer wipes, a car manual, a large bottle of Motrin, a UPS shipping receipt, tampons, sunscreen, a small pack of tissues, lip gloss, pens, and some Chanel No. 5 body lotion. It seems I'm prepared for everything but actually getting pulled over by the police. It was embarrassing. And it only got worse when trooper pointed out that my license plate tags were expired. Argh!
So. Today, I will make a colorful envelope file and fill it with everything a sheriff would ever want. And I will change the address on my driver's license. You don't even have to go into the DMV anymore -- you can do it online!
Oh well, at least I wasn't taken into jail. Although if I had been, I could have applied a little Chanel No. 5 under the cuffs.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Barry's Mom's Balls

When I was engaged to Troy, I was given a revered recipe for an hors d'œuvre called, quite simply, "Turkey Balls."
The Turkey Balls originated in California, and were reportedly an amazing treat. At their very mention, family members raved about how wonderful they were. And then, inevitably, the conversation would turn to...Her.
The source of the Turkey Balls recipe: Shari's former mother-in-law.
A little over a decade ago, Shari had a somewhat brief marriage to a chap named Barry. As a couple, Shari and Barry might have stood a better chance at longevity had Barry's mother, The Dragon Lady, not interfered quite as much as she did.
Made of steel, The Dragon Lady bossed around everyone, and did not like her new daughter-in-law, which she let her know in no uncertain terms. Most intriguingly to me, however, was that The Dragon Lady had a specific code of femininity that called for the wearing of high heels, always. Better to tower over people, no doubt. She wore high heels with dresses, high heels with her bathing suit, and high heels with her apron, whilst scrubbing the floor on her hands and knees. Well into her 70's, The Dragon Lady was very proud of her alma mater, a fine university in upstate New York known for its culinary program, as well as her affiliation with a national sorority. She ruled her roost -- and her son -- with an iron fist.
Indeed, to say that The Dragon Lady and Shari did not get along would be an understatement. Yet one positive thing Shari could say about her nemesis, was that she was an excellent cook. And the Turkey Balls were a stand-out party bite. So, before the divorce, Shari made sure to secure the winning formula for the Turkey Balls. It was one of the few good things she took away from that marriage.
Having bought some ground turkey at Whole Foods yesterday, and feeling the first stirrings of the holiday season, I decided it was time to make some Turkey Balls.
I also suggested to Troy that we think about renaming them "Barry's Mom's Balls." While the name "Turkey Balls" has an undeniable ring to it, I can't help feeling that The Dragon Lady deserves a tribute to that certain spirit she had, which she no doubt now uses to torture other poor souls.
Whatever you choose to call them, they are delicious. Here is the recipe.

Barry's Mom's Balls
1 lb. ground turkey
1 egg
6 Tbl. chopped water chestnuts
1 Tbl. soy sauce
1 Tbl. sherry
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 Cup minced scallions
3/4 tsp. salt
1-2 Tbl. fresh ginger, chopped
2 Tbl. cornstarch

Mix and shape into 3/4" balls (wet hands and use spoon). Brown in butter, put in baking dish, cover with sauce.

A few drops sesame oil
1 Tbl. brown sugar
3 Tbl. pineapple juice
1 Tbl. soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbl. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. ketchup
2 tsp. vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 slice fresh ginger, chopped
1/2 Cup plum jelly

Bake for 10 minutes in a preheated 350F-degree oven.
Serve barefoot.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!


Yesterday we carved pumpkins, an exercise that actually grew more fun as the night went on. It was a learning process for the boys, and I showed them how to scrape out their pumpkins and set the seeds aside. We had a couple of really good scrapers in the group, but Cooper kept taking the seeds from the colander and putting them back into his pumpkin, which was not cool.

We ended up with a pretty good harvest, though, and roasted the seeds after sprinkling them with some Maldon salt. What a great smell that is wafting from the kitchen. Troy put on some fantastic Halloween music, including the creepy theme from "Halloween," which really is scary, and then some fun tunes like "I Want Candy" by Bow Wow Wow. My favorite selection was a song by The Cramps about being a teenage werewolf.

Midway through the activities, I remembered that I had signed up to bring in a treat for Wyatt's class, for their Halloween party. I decided to take the easy route, and I made Rice Krispie treats. But I decorated them with gummy spiders and orange sparkling sugar. I also put orange food dye in the melted marshmallow mix. And stuck some candy corn on top. I'm starting to think that, with kids, sometimes it's all about the bling. Anyways, it was a pretty presentation, not bad.
Yet, however pretty my pan of treats was, it was not nearly as impressive as Troy's Rice Krispie sushi! Look what he made!

He was like the Iron Chef of Rice Krispie treats! He used fruit roll-ups for the seaweed, stuck gummy sharks in the middle for the fish in the rolls; and used Swedish Fish for the sashimi on little beds of rice (krispies). So clever!
This plate was taken in to the teachers, and they loved it!

The boys got an enormous kick out of seeing their Jack-O-Lanterns illuminated on the front porch.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ja! Oui! Right on!

After hearing much ado about Nigella's pork with cider & cream...and gnocchi, I was glad to at last give it a go last week, and boy is this dish a winner!
First of all, it was a near-miracle that I found French hard cider. I was astonished at my luck.

No such luck with the gnocchi, though. One market had them, but they looked so lifeless and ancient in their vacuum-packed netherworld that I decided to pass on them and just make fried potatoes.
I bought pristine pork chops at Whole Foods, and then pounded the hell out of them with Troy's mojito bat to try to tenderize them. You see, I rarely make pork chops because I can never get them to turn out right. They're never tender, always tough. I try not to overcook them, but am consistently discouraged, so I've basically written them off -- and so this was the first attempt in a long time, and I gave it my all (whack!).

While I know this recipe is based upon Nigella's fond memories of eating in Northwest France, I have to say that this recipe really speaks to the German in me. My pulse started to race a little when I saw the potatoes browning, anticipating the meal to come. Despite my mustard hailing from Dijon, it all seemed so German!

Ich war sehr glücklich! I sipped my crisp white wine (Californian, but nevermind) and daydreamed of Autumn in Rhineland.
Once plated, I dug in like Augustus Gloop at the Rathskellar. It was fabulous! Yea, Nigella!

Of course the pork was a little tough. I don't know what to say about that, except that I didn't care too much, considering it was all swathed in the very tasty sauce. Next time, I'll try a different cut.
Viva La Nige.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Random, simple, and tasty.

It's been a busy week or so, and I've got some pics saved up, so here is a mish-mash of pics taken of various dishes.
First of all, I had a weird & fast flu bug or something, and so I was in bed for a day. The next day seemed like a good opportunity to go easy and sort of give my digestive system a rest/detox, so I made some spa-type foods for a little restorative attention.
I've got cucumber water, green tea for the anti-oxidants, a bowl of diced mango, and a fresh salad made of beets and Marta's vinaigrette. I wanted to load up with lots of vitamin-rich and nutritious food.
Once again, Marta Sgubin's vinaigrette:

1 tsp. dry mustard (I use two b/c I like it zingy)
1 1/2 tsps. Dijon mustard
1/4 balsamic vinegar
3/4 olive oil

Marta also adds chopped chives to her julienned beets. It's so simple, but very delicious.

Lots of anti-oxidants for healing.

The next day, I progressed to eggs. I had made some pasta for the boys, and then concocted this cute little dish, which I'm calling, "Egg in a Nest." Note the good amount of pepper.

Once things were back to normal, I moved on to make a lovely concoction based upon Snowy's fig jam, which is made with fresh figs & cinnamon. I did not have large quantities of fruit, only a little basket of figs, and I used honey instead of sugar. What a wonderful and heady fragrance! I think Snowy said it would make the house smell like Christmas, and she was right.

Snowy's Fig & Cinnamon Jam
Makes 750g [12/3lb] jam

1lb/450g ripe figs
2 Tbl. water
1lb/450g sugar
2 Tbl. lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon [ or a little more if you like it, like I do!!]

Cut the figs into small pieces and put in your pan with the water. Simmer till soft then add the sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon. Stir over a low heat till the sugar has dissolved then boil rapidly till setting point is reached [between 104 and 105.5C / 219 to 222F ] if you have a sugar thermometer].
Spoon into hot, sterilised jars and seal.

I hardly made enough to actually jar, but I loved the process of stirring it all into a bubbling blend, and then I served it on sourdough French toast.

While shopping for a birthday present for Troy, I popped into Williams-Sonoma to see if they had any salted caramels (they didn't, tsk, tsk, Chuck!) and was talked into buying some pumpkin bread mix. I guess I was easily swayed due to my Force Autumn project. The girl working was serving her pumpking bread with a little dulce de leche on the side, which prompted a discussion on who makes the best -- Argentina has received the most votes in my unscientific poll. Peru and Brazil may battle for second place.
So I made pumpkin bread, which was actually more like a sheet cake because I baked it in a brownie pan instead of a loaf tin. And drizzled it with caramel sauce. The boys weren't too keen on how this looked, but they thought it tasted good. Still, I don't think I need to make/buy it again.

The caramel discussion had provided some offshoot ideas of Things To Do With Caramel, and our Peruvian salesgirl put the idea of puff pastry + apples and/or bananas + the sauce into my head. I did have puff pastry in the freezer, so, once home, started to fiddle with experiments.
First I did simple apple squares. Glad I used parchment paper, because the caramel sauce really spread while in the oven. It was good, though, forming a sort of lace-like crust of caramel crunch.

Then I made a package of sliced bananas and caramel sauce enclosed in puff pastry. Wow, this was really delicious. So delicious, in fact, that Troy cut into it and disappeared with a hunk before I could even take a picture of the pretty finished product.

And so, as you can see, I slowly morphed my way into Sugarland, and must now go brew a pot of green tea to offset the insidious slide into too much butter and fat. It was fun to experiment, though, and super-easy -- a good thing to remember with the upcoming holiday season. Puff pastry and caramel sauce will never fail you.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Nine Years Ago Today!

I can't believe Wyatt is nine years old today! It's amazing! It is so weird, and funny, to think of what we were all doing nine years ago, waiting for him to arrive!
My God -- he was two weeks overdue, and so I was 42 weeks pregnant! Forty-two weeks! ARGH! I was under the care of a midwife, and had read way too much on the internet, and so made the decision to go "natural" and boy, if I could do it over again, I would have hooked myself up to all the drugs I could get my hands on! Wyatt had to be extracted. We joke now that it is a sign of a stubborn personality trait, but really he's not a stubborn person. Persistent, maybe, but not too bad. I think he would make a good lawyer.
So after 28 hours of labor, and three hours of pushing, with not a lot of progress, someone suggested that "we perform a c-section." At that point, they could have handed me a Swiss Army knife and I would have done the job myself. But at some early hour in the morning, they hooked me up and took him out, and I will never forget the moment I finally got to see that beautiful little face of the boy who had been living in my belly for almost 10 months. The minute we locked eyes, he stopped crying! And I said to him, "Hello! Hello!" It was like meeting my best friend! I kissed him a number of times and then he was off for official stuff, with Troy following closely behind at my paranoid urgings! "Troy! Go with him! Stay with him!"
Wouldn't want him to get switched with another baby!
The grandparents were all there, and had been hanging out at our house, waiting, for so long that shortly after Wyatt was born, they had to leave and get back to their lives!
Troy and I sat and looked at Wyatt and tried to decide: what does he look like? Should we name him Wyatt? Or Alexander? He actually looked more like an Alexander, because he had a very distinct nose. But we went with Wyatt, because we liked it best, and there was an Alex who lived a few houses down who was a real spaz.
And so it was that we took him home, driving about 40 m.p.h. because we were so freaked out about our precious cargo!
I remember he was no bigger than a football, and the first night we were home, it was so cold outside, and I was lying in bed, looking over at him in his bassinet. It seemed so far away from me, and much too cold for him to be in there all by himself! So I picked him up and carefully tucked him into bed beside me, and I remember he fit perfectly in the crook of my arm, and that was how we slept. It seemed like the right thing.
There was a man in our community at the time, whom Troy and I referred to as "Mystic Man." He taught various classes on astrology and topics like auras and stuff, and had a show on the local cable access channel. For our first outing with Wyatt, Troy and I walked up to the Starbucks in our village, with Wyatt bundled up in his carefully selected Italian pram. As we were walking in, Mystic Man was walking out. He looked at Wyatt, smiled, and then beamed at his female companion, saying, "Mm, Happy Soul!"
He is a happy soul. And an old soul. He is so funny and observant, and smart. He makes us laugh like nobody else, with his comments about people and life. We love spending time with him and have been through so much together, learning about how to become a family. I didn't know anything about babies or parenting when Wyatt was born, and I roll my eyes at some of the things I used to do, but it's probably only natural to be a freak to some extent when you're a first-time mother. I hope he won't have to spend too much time on the analyst's couch when he's a grown-up. He's a wonderful boy and he really is special. I wish him nothing but the best in life.
Happy Birthday to my baby.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A cake made with love

Tomorrow is Troy's birthday! I'm making his cake today, because tomorrow we'll be quite busy. Troy loves chocolate, and I've always make him some kind of chocolate birthday cake, but this year, I felt compelled to make him a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

This is my mom's recipe and it's very good. She made it fairly often, and also would use the cream cheese frosting on brownies, which we loved.

Baerbel's Carrot Cake
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
2 tsp. baking soda
3 cups grated carrots
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans are best; walnuts work, too)
a pinch of nutmeg

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 stick (8 Tbl.) butter
1 box confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Mix together all dry ingredients.
2. Beat eggs & add oil.
3. Combine dry ingredients with egg mixture.
4. Fold in carrots & nuts.
5. Pour into three greased 9-inch layer pans (floured & buttered, parchment circles in bottom).
6. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes OR at 300F for 45 minutes (both cooking times work*).

I left out the nuts to avoid any potential controversy with the boys.
*I used 8-inch tins and had to keep them in the oven for at least 10 minutes more. I'm not really a great baker, and I do have a wonky oven, so just use your good sense according to your oven.
In addition to using the recipe from my beloved mom, I pressed the lovely Grater Lady into service to grate the carrots.

Her mere presence makes me smile.

More good vibes emmanating from the kitchen.
I had just enough grated carrots left over to make the delicious carrot salad from Cooking for Madam by Marta Sgubin, so I offer you a spontaneous bonus carrot recipe.

Simply toss grated carrots (and chopped parsley, if you have it) with Marta's fantastic vinaigrette:

1 tsp. dry mustard (I use two b/c I like it zingy)
1 1/2 tsps. Dijon mustard
1/4 balsamic vinegar
3/4 olive oil

I ate the salad for breakfast; it's delicious.
It was fun to whip up the frosting in the KA, as it presents a rare opportunity to crank it up to 10 and let 'er rip. That is, after the powdered sugar is blended in. The recipe makes a lot of frosting, and I used most of it. My mom used to scrape out every last bit from the bowl whenever she made anything, and my sister and I would get so exasperated with her, because when it came time to lick the beaters and the bowl, there was hardly anything there! We always complained and swore we'd do things differently when we grew up, but of course I now usually do things the exact same way. Sometimes I do manage to restrain myself for the sake of the boys.
Normally, I wouldn't use so much frosting, but Troy's got a high tolerance for sugar, and the top of the cake caved in a little.

Next, it was time for the final flourish, in the form of tiny marzipan carrots. These sweet decorations were sent to me by Halloumi, ambassador of good cheer, always sending love around the world.

I hope Troy likes it.

We know the frosting tastes good.