Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hey, they are not kidding.

I love popcorn and have developed a precise methodology involving heat, steam, shaking, and the perfect oil/corn ratio in the pot, finishing with a light drizzling of unsalted butter and a sprinkling of salt. The perfect hot bowl.
However, last night there was no time for that, and I wanted a snack fast, so I snagged one of Troy's microwavable kettle corn packages (yuck. See how desperate I was?). I cavalierly tossed it into the microwave oven and hit the POPCORN button (life's a breeze, isn't it?) and continued chattering away to Troy until I heard the familiar DING DING DING of the microwave chime.
Imagine my crestfallen facial expression when a handful of popcorn fell out, trailed by a stream of dark yellow liquid.

What the?!
Oh no, I'd done it! I'd failed to follow the directions!

Yuck! Not just microwaved kettle corn, but muddled microwaved kettle corn! I'd always kind of wondered about this big warning on the flat package. It's hard to imagine that one side could make such a huge difference, but, as we see here, it does. As Dominick Dunne might say, there is an art to placement.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Revising the idea of a bad day

Last night I happened to watch, "Apocalypto."
Holy hell.
From the first scene, it's an intense, extreeeeemely violent and bloody movie. After watching poor Jaguar Paw go through a few days, I said to Troy, "Wow. Kind of makes you feel like you shouldn't complain about the worst day you might have."
Indeed, I don't have to chase down a tapir for dinner (nor eat it's balls); run for my life while arrows are being slung at my back; or birth a baby au naturelle (I've learned that's not for me) like Mrs. Jaguar Paw.
Whenever I watch any historical show and consider how people may have lived before modern times, I'm always grateful to live in the here and now, with access to Advil.

And so, as much as I would like to complain about today, which is being devoted to the battle of wills between Harry and myself over his potty-training, I won't.

Read a movie review of "Apocalypto"

Read what a Mayan scholar says about "Apocalypto."

And yet another Mayan scholar, archaeologist Dr. Smith, says yes, it really was that brutal."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Capuccino art VI

It's a ghost! A chubby, startled ghost!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Two for the Road

Cooper turned two this month, and had a nice, low-key day befitting someone with a pre-K social life.
If you ever need the perfect gift for a child under 5, just get him a bunch of balloons.

They are always the highlight of all the presents. Although Cooper got some toy versions of things he's constantly trying to snatch from me & Troy, namely: keys and sunglasses. (He seems eager to leave the house for some reason.)
After much debate, I ended up making him a very simple cake from a really great cookbook my Mom gave me when I got my first apartment. It's called Easy Basics for Good Cooking, and is published by Sunset. Sunset is a wonderful West-Coast publishing company that puts out a magazine by the same name, and this particular cookbook has a recipe for everything you really could want without getting too fancy. I first learned how to make risotto from this book, and that was before I knew we were supposed to pronounce it rizz-OH-toe.
Back to the cake. It's simply called "Yellow Cake," and I iced it with cream cheese frosting. The thing is, when we were eating the cake, Troy remarked that it tasted like Bisquick. Well...that's no lie, it did. That is to say, the cake tasted like a pancake. A giant pancake. And why shouldn't it? When you look at the ingredients, you can see that it basically is a pancake in cake form.
So, if you like the idea of eating a Pancake Cake, then you will love this recipe.

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (now you know I didn't do that)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened (1/4 lb.)
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375F, mix above, pour into prepared pans, bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Instead of cream cheese frosting, why not go all the way and make a buttercream frosting laced with maple syrup?

1 box (1 lb.) powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
4 to 6 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoon pure maple syrup

Beat all ingredients until light and fluffy. Frost your cake.

The day ended on a dramatic note. First, Griffin tied the balloons to himself in his ongoing effort to fly. That did not work. Wyatt then tied Dr. Light to the balloons, and the boys launched her off the front porch. They were laughing and thought it was great until they saw her float above the neighbor's rooftop and head East, turning into a speck on the horizon. Then the tears started flowing, and I had to jump in the car and try to race down Dr. Light and the balloon bouquet like a hot-air balloon ground support unit, a nearly impossible mission. The local skater dude had a good laugh when I stopped to ask him if he'd seen a bunch of balloons sail by. Meanwhile, during the drive, I had to listen to Griffin's bizarre scientific theories about flight, and several false sightings of Dr. Light. We eventually packed it in and went home, and I told the boys that she was no doubt heading over to Cape Canaveral for a shuttle launch. Or maybe she wanted to cross the Atlantic. In either case, it was a stunning exit. And, as is always the case with balloons -- they were fun while they lasted.
Happy Birthday, baby!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ahh, Mother's Day

Just when I thought Kentucky Derby day was my favorite of the year, it has competition: Mother's Day.
I was awakened by the sounds of clattering in the kitchen. My wonderful Wyatt was downstairs preparing me breakfast. He brought up peanut butter toast and a bagel on a tray -- breakfast in bed! He said he tried to make me lemonade, but that the seeds kept falling in the glass, and when I asked him why he didn't fish them out with his fingers, he said "Well, you tell us not to touch other people's food." Got it. I explained some exceptions and other alternatives. But I was so touched. We chatted and I ate my delicious toast, and then everyone else woke up and swiftly tried to scam my bagel.
Harry: "A doughnut!"
Cooper: "Bagel!"
Lucky: "Sniff sniff, sniff sniff sniff!"
Me: "Back off!"
Troy brought me a hot cappuccino with half a flower in it (cappuccino art IV, no camera), and then I was showered with cards (one with some fine penmanship from Griffin) and books and a giant phalaenopsis and -- best of all -- an abundance of affection.
And then I was left to lounge in my jammies and quietly read, snack, email friends, watch a little tv, and host sporadic pop-in visits from my sons, while Troy cleaned the kitchen and supervised everything.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Both ends burning

It's been a sad week, with the fires in Griffith Park, Florida, Georgia, and most recently, the beautiful Catalina Island. I'm relieved to hear that they think the Griffith Park fire was not arson (that's what I last heard), because it's easier to accept a fire when it's at least a part of nature. Still, it's surreal -- such a waste and such a shame. And I feel sorry for the animals, who are surely stressed. These pics show what it looks like around our house, the smoke coming from inland brushfires. It smells like there is a bonfire in the backyard, and visibility is low.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Five things about me.

Wow. Tagged by K-J to list five things about myself -- who knew it would be so hard to come up with 5 things?! I've sat here thinking, "Eh. That's not really interesting. Nah, that's not important. Uh. Um..." So, I really don't know what kinds of things I'm supposed to say here, but here's what I came up with.

1. I don't like talking on the phone. There are exceptions, but mostly, talking on the phone drives me nuts.

2. I love salt bagels.

3. It took me eight weeks to name one of my sons. People were appalled. And then, several months later, I changed his birth certificate to add another middle name, which doesn't really fly in America. It's a problem on forms. The IRS is all confused.
Why, you may wonder, did I do this? Because I had a billion decisions to make before his birth, since we moved late in my seventh month of pregnancy. When the baby was born, the name we'd chosen didn't seem to fit right, and then my brain just froze. But I didn't want to be pressured into just putting down a name because of The Rules, so I left the hospital without naming him.

4. I'm a good mimic, but am kind of shy, so can usually only do impersonations for my husband. However, I can raise one eyebrow, flare my nostrils, and wiggle my ears separately or simultaneously, and I will do this for anyone, especially children. I call it the "Facial Symphony."

5. When I'm in public, people tend to think that I work wherever I am. Or that they know me. Like, if I'm in a bookstore, or a clothing store, people approach me to ask me questions about finding things. And usually I answer them, which makes me feel like I should work there. Or, in the other case, they look at me and squint their eyes and cock their heads and say, "You look really familiar to me."

There you go ~ five things. And now we shall move onward to tag Ms. Vonsachsen at Tea for One, Ilana at I Love Risotto!, and Claudia at What's Eating Claudia?.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Ball Jar

Here we go,
Here we go,
Here we-here we-here we-go.
-Run DMC

I'm done freaking out.
Since January, we have been at a crossroads, trying to determine the next step for our family, and what that would mean. Where we should live, what we should do.
It's a very serious consideration, and we have discussed the pros and cons of our leading options: stay here in Florida, move back to California, or, in third place, move to Seattle.
Like Jack Keroac (or not), Troy hit the road and mulled it all over, and for a while it seriously looked like California was the winner. But it's not.
There will be no barefoot sunset walks in a little vineyard, no tilling of terroir, no white duck quacking around the tiny farm of fantasies.
We are staying in Florida.
After months of brainstorming, debating, and researching, we are starting a rum company. Correction!: a micro-distillery.
For rum.
I really could not foresee this for myself, and maybe that's what I get for not having a life plan. But nevertheless, the starting gun has been fired, and Troy has begun making lists of Things To Do.
After deciding to go forward with our plan, Troy said, "The first thing I need to do is find an attorney."
And last week, he did.
Because a business involving alcohol requires lots of legal advice and strategy. There are a lot of rules and laws about alcohol, and you wouldn't want to step out of line. No.
So he found an attorney, a guy in Miami who specializes in matters of alcohol, and used to work as an inspector for the ATF, which apparently isn't the ATF anymore, but rather the TTB. I'll have to Google that.
[Two minutes later.]
Ah: Tax & Trade Bureau.
The name will be filed, licenses will be applied for, and "office" space will be found for a still. Acquiring the still is the focus of this week, and apparently the Germans make the superior equipment. Currently, our kitchen looks like a science lab, a series of Ball canning jars clutter the counter, all containing mixes ranging from fresh bananas to vanilla to horned melon (Troy sees good marketing potential in that one).
Good thing we know a few rum drinkers, because it's too much for us to sample on our own, even as parents of four boys. I think we'll be hosting a lot of tastings between now and the official launch, which should be in about 6 months.
It may be crazy, but I believe in following your gut, and my husband's is filled with distilled sugar cane. I may not get a charming white duck, but maybe I could adopt a parrot who says interesting things, like "Yo ho ho."

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Any Given Saturday

I really wanted to go to a Derby party this year, but I don't know the Lee Brothers, or anyone else who was having one, so all signs pointed to my kitchen. I ordered a big Smithfield ham. When it arrived Friday night, I realized that I over-ordered, because there was enough ham to feed everyone at Churchill Downs plus the Queen and her entourage. But that's okay, there are a million uses for leftover ham.
The Lee Brothers have earned my undying admiration for their wonderful and spirited cookbook, which not only gave me my entire party spread idea, but fail-safe recipes for everything.

I made their deviled eggs, which contain curry powder, Texas Pete pepper sauce, and are sprinkled with finely chopped scallions and/or cracked black pepper and/or crispy crumbled bacon.

Also, I made pimento cheese, clam dip, and riffed on their idea of pickled shrimp to have peel & eat. I meant to make their cheese straws but I ran out of time, and I gave up the idea of homemade biscuits when I realized that I did not have buttermilk and refused to go to Publix again. I figured this would happen, and had two back-up tins of biscuits, and decided that every hostess should have a tin of these in her fridge for eliminating pre-party stress. I was getting really stressed out about a half hour before party time and had difficulty opening one of the tins and started whacking it against the countertop really hard, and it felt so good! Totally snapped me out of that brewing surly mood! I felt refreshed and invigorated. While I am sure homemade biscuits taste better, and you could make an argument that a fine ham deserves a better biscuit, the issue is not something I'll ever lose sleep over.
(Too much ham.)

I made mint-infused simple syrup for the mint juleps and a big jug of delicious iced tea (not overly "sweet tea") made with Irish Breakfast tea.

The bourbon for the mint juleps had to be Maker's Mark, Kentucky's finest, and instead of capping the juleps off with seltzer, I used fizzy San Pellegrino. Very good! Oh -- I also made water chestnuts wrapped in bacon, the '70s-American version of the devils-on-horseback suggested by Mannix. My mom made these scrumptious tidbits for her cocktail parties and it was always a thrill to be able to sneak a few.

There was a rush of fast conversation as our friends arrived seven minutes before the most exciting two minutes in sports. Since our friend, Frank, loves Champagne, we popped the cork on some Veuve Clicquot and scrambled up to the T.V. to pick our horses and lay down the money. Harry picked "the blue horse," which was I'mawildandcrazyguy, and I picked AnygivenSaturday because he looked beautiful.
And they were off! The winner was Street Sense, and surprisingly, the unbridled (cough) jubilation of jockey Calvin Borel at the finish line was worth every penny I lost. Still, Harry should have collected the pot, but Troy dismissed him on the grounds that he had not put in. Technically, no one put in, because none of us were carrying cash, so I disagree. I later gave Harry a dollar for his win. I'll hold the rest in trust if I ever collect.

That said, I should have won the pot, but after the Champagne and a mint julep, we all forgot about it because we were too buzzed and intently focused on the shrimp and ham.

Here's Frank, who owes me money, with Cooper, who apparently lost his shirt and his pants.

It would be hard not to have a good time at a Derby party, for all the combined elements -- you've got a lively environment, friends, an awesome spread of food but no constricting sit-down affair, beautiful animals, money changing hands, and a signature cocktail. And pearls are not out of place.
Now, you know I wasn't really going to dress up in my house -- it's too hot, I'm busy running around, woo woo. But I did don Troy's Tilly hat for about 3 seconds for y'all.

This could easily be my new favorite event.
Next year, I will start the party earlier, make the cheese straws, and suggest my guests bring cash.