Friday, January 30, 2009

Comment, and Ye Shall Receive: Recipe Request Answered, Top Chef Discussed

In answer to the request from MEP, here's a link to the pork tacos I mentioned yesterday.
Super easy, really yummy. I enjoyed them just as much the next day. J. announced that they kind of tasted like the gorditas he gets when he has fast food when he's in Mexico for work.
Funny story, I learned via my Facebook addiction to status updates that a friend was making this recipe for the first time the same day I was! Her family also approved.
As for the Top Chef info request, I'm not sure I have much to say. Snoozer is a good descriptor. That football squares things was so bogus, what with all the columns being oats. Stupid. Just call it the "random product placement episode with no real connection to sports/super bowl parties/the guest judges' expertise/or much of anything at all"
The "All Stars" were lame. I love Josie, and I guess Spike and Andrew are good for comic relief, though they get on my nerves. But who the hell is Camille?
Poor Fabio and his cheddar and venison, but actually, those ingredients (and Carla's) seemed the only ones that really celebrated the teams they represented in any genuine way.
Why did the elimination challenge feel mostly like a quick fire and generally a waste of airfare for all those involved? It had this weird rehearsal/improvised feel to it. Can it be that Gail really is the mastermind behind this show, and with her off getting married or whatever, it's all falling apart?
I'll miss Jeff, just as I miss Radhika (though she lists Chicago as her hometown, she's actually originally from Cincinnati), but I have to agree that both suffered from lack of confidence in different ways. Radhika kind of crumpled under the pressure in the last few episodes, you could see it in her face, while Jeff couldn't just pick one thing and let it rock.
I do love Carla, and cannot believe I am now rooting for her to win this darn thing. At least she brings the love, and I don't mean the icky, icky stuff Leah and Hosea continue to make us watch.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Resume for a Snowy Week

Well, after three days of snow and ice, and no leaving the house except for a couple of brief forays to play in the yard, we crossed a line. That is, the line where playdoh colors do not get mixed.
What can I say? I had a weak moment. Normally, I'm so smug about how well O. plays with play doh -- "Oh, I don't mind it, he's really good about not making a mess. I only open one at a time for him. It's one thing he'll really sit and do all on his own." And for the most part, that is true. He knows it all needs to go back in the container with the lid on, or it gets dried out. He loves to make "dinosaur bones" or "animal bones." This means pressing small plastic toys into the dough to make impressions, like fossils, and does involve a lot of "Mom, come here and look at this!" but is generally not too time or attention intensive on my part.
N, lately, has even gotten good at sitting at the small table and mooshing some of it up for a few minutes before eating it. I just love scraping it off of the roof of her mouth. "Nope, the paper towel's still orange, baby, open up again." She's much less good about not making a mess, and I find myself pulling a Kate Gosselin, chasing her out of the kitchen with a paper towel, sweeping up crumbs from the floor in her wake.
But today, I remembered that O. had gotten a candy cane shaped container of small playdoh containers in one of his stockings, and opened it up for him. The dough in one container was not enough for the dinosaur he wanted, so I threw caution to the wind, opened a couple up for him, and said "You can go ahead and mix up some colors of this kind if you want."
He looked at me with this face of amazement, like he couldn't believe such a thing was possible. And glop together black, yellow, and green into a disgusting, camouflage looking lump.
I tried to tell him that we'd only be doing this with just these little ones. But I fear now that I've unleashed the mixing beast, there's no caging it again. I'm trying not to feel sick about it.

Other things we've "accomplished" this week:
  • Mopping the floor, after putting it off every day for no less than three weeks in a row. (this may explain the Kate Gosselin factor)
  • Actually sticking to my plan to grocery shop with actual recipes in mind, even though my grocery run was amidst the "get to the store for milk and bread before the white death comes" panic.
  • A batch of chocolate chip cookies made from scratch
  • An invented berry tart recipe
  • Two recipes from Real Simple magazine attempted: one successful, one not. Shredded pork tacos in the slow cooker gets high marks, "lightened" chicken pot pie not so much. Oh, and stuffed pepper recipe made from a page I retrieved from my stack of ripped out magazine pages was also good.
  • Laundry, to the point that there may not actually be any dirty clothes in this house. Lots in baskets not put away, but all CLEAN. Amazing.
  • Lots of towers built from cardboard blocks, not all of them knocked down prematurely by N.
  • Half a cucumber sliced on O's request for a "vegetable" to eat. I assumed I'd be throwing it all in the trash, but what am I going to do, say no, you can't have a vegetable? He and N. actually downed at least four slices dipped in "white dressing!"
  • N. slept until at least 4:30 AM unattended three of the last four nights.
  • Three days in a row, I walked for at least twenty minutes on the treadmill. Those who know me well know just how impressive this is. New motivation: episodes of My So Called Life on DVD that I've had for over a year now, but somehow haven't found the time to watch.
  • Several games of CandyLand that did not take an hour to complete.
  • N. said "Mama" very appropriately and clearly at bedtime tonight when I pointed to myself and said "Who's this?"
  • Semi-successful recovery from a tantrum over whether or not O. could watch Lightning McQueen before lunch: less than a half hour, and only one trip to the naughty step.
  • Coughs that seem like they may result in lung loss seem to be becoming restricted to the hour or so after waking.
  • Perhaps three, maybe four, of the 18 or so meals/snacks I prepared were consumed.
Somehow, my week sounds much more fun than it's felt. Perhaps we need to lock ourselves in the house more often!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

God's a little busy this morning

From O. yesterday upon waking:

"No, I don't need to go potty. God puts the pee in all the pee-pees. But he was really busy putting it in other people, and he didn't put any in me. So I don't have to go today."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

They're Swimming with the Sea Kittens Now

We've had a rough week on the pet front.
Scout had one of her unexplained anxiety days today, shaking all over, whining, climbing the door, trying to dig her way into the pile of blocks in the corner. All she wanted was to be outside, but it was much too cold for her to spend the day out there. A little benadryl helped take the edge off, but still, not an easy day.
And then there were the fish.
I woke on Tuesday to J's news that Stripey the fish was no longer with us. Stripey's been around quite a long time, for a fish in this house. The only other one that hung on longer was our first goldfish, Leo. Lest you get too upset, we've actually been kind of hoping Stripey would kick it soon -- staying on top of the feeding and the cleaning of the tank seems somehow beyond us.

We're not going to get any awards from PETA for our treatment of fish, that's for sure. I heard this story on NPR on Monday about PETA's plans to rebrand fish as "Sea Kittens", cute and cuddly creatures that shouldn't be hooked through the head for recreation. I really wonder sometimes if PETA wants to be taken seriously. I'm right on board that we need to be taking serious looks at where our food comes from, but come on. Sea Kittens??

Anyway, we had JUST cleaned the thick layer of algae off the sides of our fish tank over the weekend, and also invested in a new fish companion, an algae eater O. named Frog.
So, given O's renewed interest in the tank and the fish, there was no way of letting Stripey just "disappear" and wait for him to notice. When O. woke up, we had to let him know that Stripey had "die-ded." I knew he'd be upset, but hadn't really expected the torrent of tears. I told him Daddy was going to scoop him out of there.
"Is he going to put him in the trash!!!??" was his alarmed response to this idea.
No, no, we'll flush him down the toilet, and he'll go out into the river with the rest of the water, I said.
"But, other fish will EAT him!!!!" he sobbed.
After a few minutes of talking him down from this hysteria, O. then shifted his attention to Frog's loneliness, and wanted to know when we would get another fish to keep him company.
So, off to the pet store we went after I picked him up from preschool. We picked out a "colored" fish (a neon tetra) and one that looked very much like the dearly departed Stripey.
O. christened them "Colored" (something that sounds like 'Cuth' for short), and "Striped" (because Stripey was Stripey, and this one can't be the same). He spent quite a bit of time watching them swim yesterday afternoon and this morning.
When we fed them this evening, "Cuth" wasn't looking so good, no darting movements, staying suspiciously listless at the top of the tank.
I just flushed him.
I'll deal with the fallout in the morning, I'm sure. Perhaps I can reassure him that "sea kittens" don't eat each other.

This One's for Grandma Choo-Choo

O. got a big wheel for Christmas! It was a gift from J's mom, who was thrilled to be able to give him something that her own youngest boy had loved so much as a kid. J and I were excited for him to have it as well, since both of his had worn out the front wheel of more than one of them on our respective sidewalks.
The plan was for J to assemble it on Christmas Eve, so he could at least ride it up and down the hallway of Grandma's house on Christmas morning. Alas, when we opened the box, the little baggie of hardware (screws, and other various assembly bits) was missing. Not anywhere in the mix of instructions, stickers and plastic parts. And so, we had to promise O. that Daddy would put it together when we returned home.
Those folks that manufacture Big Wheel had other plans, though. The instructions gave an email address to contact them, no phone number. J. wanted to just order the missing parts from the website, for $3.99 plus shipping, but I insisted that was ridiculous. We were supposed to have the parts, we shouldn't have to pay for them. It took a week to get a reply to our initial email, at which time we were informed that we would receive our parts in approximately 20 business days. What??? I was outraged, but J. was taking over this issue. I spend enough time on the phone complaining to the insurance company, and had already handled my own week long Christmas defectiveness debacle with Amazon's Kindle department, so I let it go.
Anyway, everytime we got in the car, O. would look mournfully at the Big Wheel box and ask if the screws had come in the mail yet.
Yesterday, well earlier than those pronounced 20 days, the screws arrived in the mail. J fessed up that he had sent a followup email. He broke out the industrial sales jargon, using words like "unacceptable lead time" and "expedite" and got results. He never wants to get involved in this sort of thing at the end of the work day because it's what he does all day long, but now he's proven that he may have to step in and save the day a little more often.
Here's some video and a photo of Mr. Big Wheel himself:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

O(&N)Speak, an update

Recently "overheard" in the Small World:

Last month a terrible intestinal bug that hit everyone in the house except me (hope I haven't jinxed myself, I know I'm due. But moms aren't allowed to get sick, right?). For O, it manifested in a day of vomiting. Sometime in the afternoon, after he had begged for something to drink, I gave him some water, hoping he could keep it down. Of course, he could not.
"Mommy, all that water is making my tummy explode!"

That same day, we had a dead tree cut down in our side yard. It was an impressive display of ropes and chainsaws, but was pretty upsetting to O, and just the sight of the resulting firewood would make him a little sad in the weeks after. "I want them not to cut our tree down."
One day recently, he added: "Mom, the day those men came and took our tree down, that was a bad day." I reassured him that it was okay, we told the men they could cut it down, and that we had been worried the tree might fall on our house or on our neighbors'.
"No, Mom. That was a bad day because that day I was shooting fire out of my mouth."

This is funny in its own right, but is also revealing about a story that O. has consistently told me about a dream he has that when he was a baby he was a dragon that could shoot fire. It's fascinating to me that this could be his way of explaining to me a traumatic memory of his first experience vomiting, which occurred when he was around 18 months old.

Other interesting conversations:
"Do you remember when we were adventuring when the dinosaurs were alive? And the sharp tooth thought you were a rock, and he jumped so high over you? But you weren't a rock. You were a mom. But that was a long time ago."

"I had a dream about my friends and we were in a big string thing. And Spiderman came and we told him we didn't need saved. And there were no holes in the net. So why did he try to save us?"

"Okay. If the lights are on, it's a show. But if you turn them off, it's a movie."

"I like apples without skin on them. That's just how God made me."

N., for her part, has developed into a little bit of a talker.

Among her current favorite words:
  • Nye Nye (night night): This one is almost always accompanied by a request for a kiss. She runs to O., bends down right in front of his face and opens her mouth wide until he deigns to turn to her and share a peck.
  • Bye bye
  • Uh Oh: spoken when ANYTHING is dropped on the ground, signaling the dog to come running.
  • Coat: She often goes to the closet and demands to have her red coat on by saying this repeatedly.
  • Up: complete with outstretched arms
  • All Done: usually to gain release from her booster, now that she refuses to stay seated in her high chair.
  • Baby: this is a new one, but now she has an all purpose name for the growing family of dolls that can be found in alarming poses all over the floor.
  • Cuckoo: I have no idea what this word means, but she says it all the time. I try not to take it personally.
She also has picked up signs for "more," "bird," and something that approximates "gimme/come here."
Animal mania has been passed from first to second born, as a good portion of N's vocabulary is devoted to animal noises. My favorites continue to be those for "horse" (a good spitty raspberry sound), "cat" (a crinkling of the nose as if to hiss ), and "pig" (La La La. As in: "Cows go Moo, Sheep go Baa, Three Singing Pigs Go La La La" for you Sandra Boynton fans).
Although her own words are few, it's clear she understands almost everything that is said in her presence. If you even mention the word "pajamas," she heads for the stairs. At least she's eager for bedtime, even if she STILL doesn't stay asleep all night. Ask if she is stinky, she points to her pants, or goes to the basket where we keep the diapering supplies. At any mention of the car or outside, she appears at your side with a pair of shoes.

It's a dreary month, January. But at least there's plenty to talk about.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Another Top Chef Post (very brief)

Just had to share my favorite quote from this week's episode.

Fabio (fabulously summing up my own feelings on the shortcomings of both this and last season):
"All she is making is scallops. For Christ's sakes, it's Top Chef, not Top Scallop!"

A Year of Books

It's time to retire the reading list from 2008 and start a new one for 2009, so I'll post the whole shebang here to archive:

Reading List 2008
  • I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass
  • Iodine by Haven Kimmel
  • Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
    The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart poetry collection
  • I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
  • Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
  • What Now? by Ann Patchett
  • Good Dog. Stay. by Anna Quindlen
  • The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
  • For Love of Common Words by Steve Scafidi
  • The Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs
  • The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
  • Dinner Diaries by Betsy Block
  • Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand
  • The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted by Elizabeth Berg
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Road to Cana by Anne Rice
  • Men and Their Mothers by Mameve Medwed
  • Look at Me: My Life with Aspberger's by John Elder Robison
  • The Used World by Haven Kimmel
  • Winter Study by Nevada Barr
  • The Rock that is Higher: Story as Truth by Madeleine L'Engle
  • The Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
  • A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
It's a little shorter than you'd hope for a year's worth of reading, but really, I'm amazed I found the time for all of these, given the amount of time blog reading/writing, Facebook, and hours and hours of television usurped. Oh, and you know, taking care of my children and my house.

Over the next few days, I'll share my thoughts on a few of the more recent reads, starting with:

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld:
This is a fictionalized "imagining" of the life of Laura Bush, here called Alice Lindgren Blackwell. At first, the connection to the real life prominent figure is distracting, and sent me googling certain facts to see how they lined up with the authentic biography, but eventually I came to really enjoy the character in the context of the book, and enjoy her life for its own right. Sittenfeld supposedly is a big fan of Laura Bush, got some flack from her liberal friends for writing an essay in defense of her that later led her to write this book. I wouldn't say this book paints an entirely positive portrait of the Bushes, George W. in particular. I did find myself identifying quite a bit with Alice and her choices, and I think that's the sign of a well developed character. Others weren't quite as well defined. Charlie, her husband and eventual president, was a bit too uncomplicated. I guess you could say the same of W's public persona, but what I liked about the book was that she didn't do that for Alice's character. There's a large jump towards the end of the novel that makes the character of their daughter seem even more flat.

I've read all of Sittenfeld's novels, and while this one is in some ways a departure for her, it also has some common elements. There are times when Sittenfeld seems to be overly fascinated with the sordid. I don't want to give away any plot points for those that would like to read the book, but let's just say that there are sex scenes that are far more graphic than I would have liked, especially since the characters are modeled on actual people I have to see on the news on a daily basis. The storyline involving her grandmother also was distracting, not in its subject matter, but in its presentation. Alice is shocked about something she discovers in a way that seemed excessive. On reflection, I'm chalking it up to an accurate representation of the character's naivete and ultimate growth, but it's rare you read a book where there is such a lack of reflective analysis upon such memories from a first person narrator.

Another thing I found interesting about this book was the time period a good chunk of the book was set in. It seemed so odd to me to be reading about figures I think of as so much older than myself coming of age (living as a single, dating people in their early thirties) in the mid to late seventies. Not that there were a lot of references to make this setting distracting, but Alice does date a Vietnam vet for a time, and she is a school librarian, so the books she talks about were appropriate to my own childhood. I don't know why this struck me as it did -- I guess I just tend to think of "history" even of contemporary figures as so much more distant. I need to remember I am getting to be the age where I have a "history" as well, and that the incoming president is really only a decade older than myself, with cultural touch points not that different than my own.

Overall, this was a fascinating imagining of a life I'd wondered about myself. Whether it's accurate or not is a discussion that's maybe not the point, though it surely makes me a little interested in Laura Bush's upcoming memoir and what exactly it may reveal.

I'll try to find some time to share some thoughts on a couple other recent reads in the next week or so!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Eating Well in 2009

For the second day in a row, I had something delicious for lunch. That's not a common occurrence, as usually I am looking for something to magically appear from the bits and pieces of nothing that exist in my refrigerator most days. I'm not a sandwich person, so unless there's something heatable in there, I'm just not satisfied.
There has recently been a good stock of leftovers in there to choose from, thanks to the January issue of Eating Well magazine. If you're not familiar with it, it's a cooking magazine that also devotes itself to articles and news about health, diet and nutrition trends. There's always something of interest in the way of research or a cooking technique, but I'll admit I don't always cook out of it. The recipes can occasionally be daunting in the amount of time they take to prepare, or the extra ingredients they require me to plan ahead to purchase. However, almost every recipe I've made has been a successful one. Old favorites include Lebanese-Style Kafta and Cucumber Tzatziki, Cranberry Curried Chicken, and Braised Carrots. (I couldn't find the kafta or carrot recipes online, unfortunately. They were from 2003 and 2006 issues, so I'm not sure how long they archive recipes on the site)
I don't know if this month's issue was particularly approachable, or if I simply had more time to cook over the last few weeks due to J. being home on vacation, but when I went to rip pages out of the issue to add to my recipe file, I realized I should have just stuck the whole magazine in my cabinet, as I had either already prepared or intend to try so many of the recipes.
Many of these trials are due to the fact that I received an enameled dutch oven as a Christmas gift, and the magazine had a whole section on One Pot recipes designed especially for such a vessel. Think of it as a slow cooker without the "plug it in and forget it" quality. I love my slow cooker, but there are times when it actually works out better for me to assemble a dish around naptime. For those times, these recipes work well.
One that was particularly successful was Ragout of Pork with Prunes, which I made on New Years Day as the traditional "good luck pork" dish (with a side of sauerkraut, of course). Two of the consumers of this dish made skeptical comments about the prunes, which I of course tried to hide during the preparation and failed. The reports of the finished dish, prunes and all, were good. The pork was nice and tender, and the sauce was delicious. I dined on the leftovers for two days after.
From this same article, I also tried Braised Beef with Mushrooms, which was also tasty, though not quite as much as the pork. It took a lot less hands on time to prepare, though, so it will probably get repeated first. J. is not a fan of mushrooms, so he had a few shudders in reaction to this one. However, his complaint was about texture, not flavor, and the fact that he couldn't tell the difference between the beef and the mushrooms in the sauce, and thus got more of the unpleasant texture than he'd like. I served it over noodles and was quite pleased.
Other trials from this issue included Marmalade Chicken, Beef and Cabbage Stir Fry. While these were both tasty, they were really only variations on dishes I already make, and the extra steps/ingredients they called for probably won't make them replace my old standards.
Brown Sugar Beets were an interesting experiment. I've always wanted to buy beets, they are strangely compelling to me with their bright color and all those leafy greens still attached. Or maybe I just have nostalgia for Ramona the Pest pulling that big weed and staining her new dress.* Anyway, continuing the theme of new recipe skepticism, there were many questions about why exactly we were having beets for dinner. Not from my preschooler, but from my husband. I told him to try to be a good model of trying new things. I thought they were scrumptious, but in the end, finished the skillet by myself. I also used the same recipe to prepare carrots, and they too, were tasty.
Still to try: Paprika Shrimp and Green Bean Saute, and Gnocchi with Chard.
The new issue of Cooking Light arrived yesterday. I'm hoping this trend of actually shopping with new recipes in mind continues. And let's hope there is similar leftover abundance awaiting my future lunchtime scavenger hunts.
What about you? Made anything new and interesting lately?

* I just looked this up to make sure I wasn't misremembering, and sure enough: this happened to Ellen Tebbets, also of Beverly Cleary invention, not to Ramona. How can it be that I am so old my memory fails me like this? I was so sure it was in the same book as the question about Mike Mulligan using the bathroom. Sigh.