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 gl├╝cklich! 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.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Nigella Express U.S. premier

Finally, this morning, I got to see "Nigella Express," Nigella's show in support of her new cookbook.
My thoughts on the first show:
-Those were some big Cornish hens!
-Nigella was so cute and cheerful.
-I thought the family dinner with Nigella's father was quite sweet. Lord Lawson is a man after my own heart, opening the red wine and offering a generous pour. I loved how complimentary he was toward his lovely daughter.
-Good to know you can get cleaned squid frozen in a bag. There are certain things I don't want to prep.
-I like the Wonkiwear. Nice shapes.
-Nigella knows her bourbon: Maker's Mark, made in Kentucky, is the finest! Look for the signature red-wax-sealed bottle top.
-Somehow, I missed seeing the 6-inch heels during the caramel croissant pudding section. Must rewind.
I'm so happy to see Nigella again, it feels like getting a visit from a favorite friend.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Field Trip to Mote Marine

Today, I chaperoned on a Kindergarten field trip to Mote Marine Laboratory, which is an aquarium of sorts in Sarasota. I say "of sorts" because it's a significant research facility and also houses various sea creatures that get into trouble in the real world. They stay at Mote to rehabilitate. Additionally, I learned today that this is the leading shark research lab in the nation, where immunologists study the resistance to tumors and cancer inherent in sharks, skates, and rays.
This is a shot looking down into the big shark pool.

Here is an ancient moray eel who has been at Mote for ages. I felt so bad for accidentally having my flash on when I took this picture!
Isn't she gross, though? Man, I would freak if I ran into her under the sea. I think someone once told me that she's blind.
(She kind of looks like how I felt this morning when the alarm clock went off.)

Ah, there, that's better. Here she is in the dark.

Inside in the cool, dark aquarium, I was fascinated by the jellyfish, particularly the Comb Jellyfish, which have lights running through their somethingsomethings.

Here the Comb Jellyfish almost looks like a space creature!

More jellyfish...

The seahorses really captured my heart. Look at these creatures, they're amazing. They curl their tails around the sea plants and also hook tails with one another.

There is a raised pool full of shells and what I'll call "sea odds & ends" that you can pick up and touch as long as you keep them under the surface of the water. This is a horseshoe crab. It's got 10 eyes, and can fold it's body along a 90-degree flap. The brave volunteer lady flipped it over to show us it's spidery legs, which were thrashing. No way I was touching that.
We get a lot of them behind our house, but this is the first I've heard about the 10 eyes and undercoating.

Here's the big shark pool. This gal is feeding them. You can view the sharks from up top, or from the ground level. There are other interesting fish in the tank, too, like Grouper and Tarpon. The Tarpon is a pretty fish; it's big and looks like it's made of silver.

I can't remember what kind of shark this is, but I thought this was a good action shot of him sweeping by.

Finally, there is a little tiki hut covering a pool full of stingrays (stingers removed) that swim 'round and 'round and you can reach out and touch.

This evening, I asked Griffin, "What was your favorite part of the trip?"
Oh well, I'm glad I'm getting to re-live Kindergarten.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

My Pagliacci

The boys and I have been discussing potential Halloween costumes ad nauseum. What exactly does ad nauseaum mean? That you're feeling so sick of the topic you feel nauseated?
Well, I do.
Three of them have changed their minds every day, sometimes multiple changes per day. I feel like I need to follow them around with a pen and notepad.
"What's that, sir? Scratch Spiderman? You want to be The Flash now? Okay."
The fourth individual, Cooper, refuses to wear clothes, period, so I'm not going to focus too much on persuading him to wear some sort of enveloping costume, or he'll freak. He can go as A Baby.
Last night, during our bedtime confab, I held them in conference and was like Henry Kissinger, working toward a final agreement. Although Halloween is not until the 31st, time is running out because the boys have a big school production next week, and they have to wear their costumes. Well, except for Wyatt, who has been cast as a giant squirrel. Harry's teachers asked that we parents steer the children toward circus-like costumes, or cute classic animals, so that everything looks congruous for their big number. Therefore, since Harry announced he wanted to be a Werewolf for Halloween, I figured I would have to buy him an additional costume for the musical.
Today, I took Harry and Cooper to Target, and found one clown costume, one Obi-Wan, and one Anakin Skywalker. Perfect! I was relieved and happy, that is until we got in the car and started to drive home, and Harry started badgering me about the Werewolf costume. Harry is a child, but he is also a professional badgerer. When he grows up, he should consider a career in law enforcement or government torture; he'll be able to crack the most hardened criminals. He gets an idea into his head and then won't let it go. To say it's "challenging" would be a lie; it is annoying as hell. After 20 minutes of being harassed, I thought my head was going to explode, which would have been a spooky pre-Halloween experience.
I tried to stay positive. I just kept driving, and thinking, "Looks like I picked the wrong week to detox."
We made it home intact, and Harry put on his clown costume. He has been wearing it all afternoon, and it's really hard to get upset with him when he's yelling at you with that pointy hat on. He looks funny!

That said, I now completely understand why so many people think clowns are scary.
I'm probably going to have nightmares tonight.

Baby knows best.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Some crazy cliff

"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be." ~Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye.

My dog rescue pursuit may have started out on a spur-of-the-moment click, but it's turned into a real journey.
The adoption process to rescue a terrier through this one particular (and well-organized) group is a lengthy process. It's not like adopting a baby, but it's more involved than buying a puppy. This weekend we had a home inspection, and I think I was more anxious about being judged than I realized. I was nervous leading up to the visit, and feeling like I hoped everything would go well, and hoping the kids -- whom I can only control up to a point -- would be on their best behavior.
They were, and everything went well, and the woman who visited us couldn't have been nicer. I received word that she filed her report about us, and felt even more relief that we were getting through what I believed to be a very important step in the process.
And then, this morning, I went to look at the picture of the dog I really had my heart set on, and saw the words: ADOPTION PENDNG. I unexpectedly started to cry.
I've been feeling really emotional all day, and I keep asking myself why. Why? I mean, I know everything will work out one way or another. Digging a little deeper, I have to admit that the whole experience of seeing all these dogs in need of homes has been really sad. There are a lot of stories about mistreatment and neglect, and you look at some of the pictures of the dogs arriving at the rescue, and they're all matted and sickly. Then you see pictures of them after they've had some love and care for a few weeks, and they look practically brand new. The process has touched a nerve in me and reminded me of the disparity between how things are and how they should be in so many areas.
There are so many situations in the world that are unfair -- and a little group of terriers represents just the tip of the iceberg of everything that needs fixing..all the innocents we'd like to save.