Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jeff V.

For months Scotty has been talking about Jeff V. when I pick him up from school.  I've been meaning to ask the teachers which kid is Jeff V., so we could maybe invite him over for a play date.  Or so I could just get a peek at him, even.  I'm nosey like that.

On Saturday morning, in fact, Scotty was telling Tommy and me about the funniest thing that happened when he was playing with Jeff V., and that was when Erik popped in from the other room.  "Mia, and Tommy," he said, "I don't know if you know this, but Scotty has an invisible friend!"

Wait.  What?

"His name is 'Jeffy' and they play together all the time."

Wait.  What?  Suddenly, it's all making sense!  He talks about Jeffy in ways he doesn't talk about anyone else.  Jeffy has brown hair, "just like daddy".  And sometimes, Jeffy "stays home to do homework."  I also found out, just this weekend, that Jeffy sometimes sleeps in our van, and that Jeffy (just like Scotty) is not interested in moving to Room 4 next year.  Nope, Jeffy likes it in Room 2.

Now, Tommy never had an imaginary friend, but I think it is so perfectly Scotty that he does.  That kid is so quirky!  I told my brother about Jeffy, and he said, "Oh, yeah, I've played with him over at Mom's house."  Well, that makes sense, because...wait.  What?

Currently, I may be in danger of ruining Jeffy for Scotty altogether.  I am so charmed by the whole notion of Scotty's Imaginary Friend that I think I've been asking too many questions for Scotty's comfort.  I find myself this week saying things like, "What do you want for dinner?  What does Jeffy eat?"  I'm just dying to know more about this fellow!  But I can see that I am asking some questions that put Jeffy into situations that Scotty's never considered before, and this takes him out of the "Jeffy Space" for a moment.  I can see him scrunching his nose in concentration when I ask about Jeffy's stance on team sports, or healthcare reform.  

It's interesting, because Scotty has some sort of...something.  I don't even know what to call it, but he has trouble with his speech.  I'm not sure yet if it's something with his auditory function (can he hear sounds accurately, so that he can recreate them accurately?) (note to self:  make the doctor's appointment, stop procrastinating) or does he have a speech therapy issue (does he need explicit training on how to form certain sounds with the shape of his mouth or the placement of his tongue?) or is it some kind of learning or developmental delay (is he actually thinking unclearly, and therefore speaking unclearly?).  Or is it something else entirely?  He gets really frustrated sometimes when I just can't get the one or two crucial words that he's trying so hard to communicate to me.  In the last year it's actually gotten much better.  I can now understand just about 80% of what he says.   As long as I already know the context that he's talking about.  Sometimes, he'll try to tell me some random story and I'm sweating because I know it's going to be a rough one. 

Anyway, he's terribly bright, by all accounts (not just this biased mama's opinion!) and I'm wondering a little bit if he has Jeffy because Jeffy always understands him, and it's easy to talk to Jeffy when talking with other people feels like work, sometimes.  I think it's nice to have somebody around who always understands you, don't you?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


This is a familiar sight at our house. Just about daily some sort of package shows up at our house.

I am guilty too (at a 5:1 ratio, Erik to me). Here are the totally rad stainless steel straws I purchased. No more plastic straws! I love them, and I even bought a set for my friend Perrin, because I knew he would love them too.

But really, Erik is a professional. Here's what showed up last Thursday:

It was a big day! Top of the line 15 inch Mac Book Pro. with remote, upgrades, and anti-glare screen.  Here he is, telling it to "stay right there" while he gets scissors to open the box.
And here he is, saying "seriously, stop taking pictures". No, seriously.

That night I mentioned that I thought the iPad was kind of cool. This statement would mark the beginning of a two year period where I do absolutely nothing about it, but for Erik...he's just wired different.

He came home the very next day with this. My Precious.

I love it. Too much.  And, starting May One, I'll be taking over the household budget, in it's entirety. Are these related events? I leave it to you to decide.

Monday, April 26, 2010

This weekend was beautiful.  Split almost evenly between baseball and the garden, I am rockin' my farmer's tan and so thankful for some spring before the rains come back this week.  I feel like I'm living in Washington.  :P

Look at all those weeds!  Ugh.  They're only in the wheelie because the green bin was already full!  You can't win with weeds.  You can't even break even.  It's  just a loser's game, but one you have to play.  It's like thermodynamics, I guess.

I'm eventually going to have to tackle that hill back there, and I didn't get anything done in the front yard that I needed to, but the hill requires more than a few days without downpours and the front yard requires me to get off that patio couch long enough to find my pruners.  Someday.  Someday.

I'd also like to take some photos of the gorgeous strawberries I've been harvesting, about a dozen at a time, but that would require that I actually set them down between popping them off the plants and shoveling them into my maw.   Dare to dream.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Counting Cans

I have a cupboard in the garage where I store "extra" know, things I've bought in bulk at Costco, or things I've "stocked up on" because they were on sale.  That sort of stuff.  It's mostly canned foods, too, with some packages of pasta and mac n' cheese thrown in for good measure.  (What would Laurel think?!? ;)

I had the occasion to clean out both the kitchen pantry, and this garage cupboard, over my Spring Break (girls gone wild!  what what!) and let me tell you, it was quite eye-opening.  First of all, I might not have purchased the cans of black beans on sale at Safeway (10 of them!) if I had realized that I was still working my way through a box of 8 cans of black beans that I had purchased at Costco.  Can somebody 'splain to me who exactly needs 18 cans of black beans?  *sigh*

Look at the cute lime green shelf liner I put into the kitchen pantry!

On the other hand, it did compel me to make a black bean soup which was delicious.  I ate it for dinner...breakfast...lunch...snack...dinner again.  I suppose if you wanted a vegetarian version, you could leave out the bacon (why?  why would you do that?) but here it is, somewhat modified from the back of a back of dried beans (yep.  I've got dried black beans too...apparently, I can never have too many black beans): 

Simple Black Bean Soup
1)   Cook a package of bacon in a stock pot.  (I cut the strips up using kitchen scissors.  It was an awesome way to make diced bacon!)
2)  Drain the fat, then add 3 diced carrots, 3 diced celery stalks, 1 diced onion.  Cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3)  Add crushed garlic (to your preference), and 1 teaspoon each of the following:  oregano, thyme, cumin, black pepper.  Stir it all together.  Cook 5 more minutes.
4)  Add a can of chicken broth (15 oz), 3 tablespoons of tomato paste, and 3 cans of black beans (do not drain the beans).
5)  Simmer on medium-low heat for about 30 - 40 minutes.  The recipe was for soaked beans, and to cook 2 hours until it thickens.  But, with the canned beans that come in their own thicker juice, I found that it was ready within about half and hour.

You can add salt and more pepper to taste, but we ate it just like that, with a smidge of cheddar cheese, or you could add some sour cream and chives.  Ooohhhh! Diced tomatoes!  Next time.  Homemade bread didn't hurt, either.

Three down...15 to go.  Wish us luck.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Old-Fashioned Kids

Last night, I made two loaves of bread and I took one over to my neighbors.  I love to cook, and I especially love to bake, but I've lost 30 pounds since October and so I don't eat most of what I make.  Well, most of what I bake, I eat what I cook or you know, what's the point?  Anyway, I love my neighbors, and I send them food just about a couple times a week.

When I went over last night, it was especially charming because I brought a loaf of whole wheat bread, and it was the one thing that they had forgotten to get at the store, and they were just trying to work up the energy to head down off Walton's Mountain to go pick some up.  Lucky coincidence!  I've said many times that one of my most favorite things about cooking from scratch is the ability to avoid the store; I love that I can make tortillas, cookies, bread, granola, etc. and usually faster than it would take me to go buy it.  Certainly cheaper.

Before I left, I remembered that I wanted to ask Lior if he he knew of a place where I could buy a small piece of granite or marble, to put on top of my new table.  I just want to put something there that  I can roll out dough and knead on without destroying the wood table.  It's been working fine, but if there's a castoff from one of his jobs, or a way to buy a tiny amount, I thought I'd just ask.  It's my new policy, after all.

Guess who happened to have a perfectly wee slab, right there in his house?  It doesn't cover the whole table, but it covers just about half, and it's certainly bigger than any pie I'll ever make (sorry, Erik, but it's true) and it's plenty big enough for kneading dough.  Happy day!

When I was there, they were laughing and telling me that they were just the other night talking about how "old fashioned" my kids are.  Oh?  Were they....what?  Were they dressed as hobos?  Were they fishing with bamboo poles?  Were they...whittling?  They were playing outside.  That now qualifies, apparently, as old fashioned!  I kind of know what they are talking about, though.  They're basically the only kids you see running around outside on our whole street.  We live in a secluded court, at the top of a hill, so I know we are totally lucky to have such a fun, safe-from-cars spot for them to play catch, play kickball, and ride scooters with abandon.  Still, it's interesting that it's notable that they are outside.

Still, do I need to even mention that we, as children, were out from sun-up until sun-down on most days?  Up until second grade, we lived at the deadend of a street in Fremont.  Our court was the spot where neighborhood kids tended to congregate, so a pick-up game of hide-and-seek or Pickle was always in the works.  When we moved to the farm in Pleasanton, we'd disappear on our horses or our bikes and we'd stop by the house to get sammies for lunch (eaten on horseback, usually) and off we'd go again.  We were never alone, but we were never with adults, either.

I consider myself to have had an amazing childhood, but there's this other side of this, too.  My brother, Jason, used to ride his Big Wheel (obsessively!  crazily!) and there was this creepy kid, William, who lived at the end of our court.  Jason always did this in "full gear" (my dad rides motorcycles, and we grew up with an abundance of helmets, goggles, and gloves at our fingertips) and one day, William tucked a lit firecracker between his goggles and his helmet.  I could not make this up.  But here's another difference:  the gentleman who lived across the street (I almost wrote "older gentleman" here, but ha!  haha! he was probably about my current age now that I think about it :-| ) was outside and saw this happen.  He removed the firecracker, gave William what-for, and informed my mom.  All the adults agreed that this would have "scared him" but it wouldn't have "hurt him".  I have no idea what information they were basing this on.

(Side note:  When I was in high school, for some unfathomable reason, my friend Mary Kelley and I drove to that old neighborhood and found William, smoking pot, and living in his parents' garage.)

Besides our court, the other popular place to hang out was at the Severin's house.  They were six totally wild kids (the third oldest was my older brother's best friend, the youngest girl was my best friend) and their mom was "a divorcee" (the scandal!), which meant that they were under the supervision of the oldest girl and boy.  Um, they were about 16, I guess.  That was the house where we put Jason in the dryer (that poor kid!) and it was the house where I ran into the brick fireplace.  I was out on the porch with wheat stalks from the field behind our houses stuck to a gaping wound in my forehead (Johnny was a boy scout, and he swore this would stave the bleeding).  Have you ever cut your face?  Blood.  I had to sit on the front porch so we wouldn't get in trouble for getting blood on the carpet.  I still have a scar from those stitches, right between my eyes.

So, when I see people overprotective of their kids, part of me sort of "gets it".  We were not overprotected, and we got hurt, got in trouble, and got bullied once in a while, too.  But there was this other thing...we learned stuff.  Important kid stuff.  Like, we learned which older kids smoked, or were mean, and truthfully, we learned to avoid them or head the other way when we saw them coming.  If we had met these same kids as middle schoolers, we may have thought they were "cool", and made a beeline straight for them.  But, because we met them when we were young enough to think they were...scary, frankly... we weren't so fascinated by them growing up.  I truly think the whole experience was what made us capable of making better choices as we grew up.  My older brother is excluded from this statement, as he was the scary dude you tried to avoid on the street corner, but that's another story altogether.  As for me, all my bad choices were made when I was old enough to know better.  haha!  Totally not even kidding.

So, what the heck? That was a real rabbit hole.  Anyway, the point I wanted to make was, I think it's totally normal to play outside.  What I don't understand is this:
Why do my kids insist on putting their scooters directly inside the front door?  We have a small house, with no foyer at all.  But here we have shoes kicked off and scooters parked, and hello, are you trying to kill me?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

During this Time of Baseball, we spend 3 hours at a Saturday game, 2 hours at a Sunday practice, and 3 hours at weekday-evening game.  That, my friends, is a lot of baseball!  Tommy usually plays left field, so we set up just at the end of the safety fence (since we do have a little one who doesn't understand the "heads up!" command of the errant foul ball).

The weekday game is particularly tricky.  I get off work, pick up Tommy, get him dressed, drop him off at warm-up by 4:30, run and pick up Scotty, head back to the game which starts by 5:30, and wrangle The Monster solo until Erik arrives, directly after getting off work, sometime around 6:00.  We have been running around so much, and working all day, so dinner was nonexistent.

I was already making sure that I had snacks-on-hand and at least a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Tommy, so it was an inevitable conclusion that I would begin to pack a generous picnic for every game.  At 2 hours long and 20 minutes long, virtually every game crosses over some meal! 
Scotty usually makes "dessert" (which consists of flour, sugar, and chocolate chips mixed together with cornmeal ~ what I can say, he's working from whatever he finds in the jars on the counter) and I take leftovers and make a real sammies, which now that I'm writing this seems like the obvious choice!  Instead, for this particular picnic, I put together canneloni, green salads, and homemade bread.  We eat like kings, basically, out of a basket and on the ground. 

It turns out, some of my favorite times have been with the three of us wadded up on a blanket, cheering on Our Boy.

(I noticed a diet Pepsi on the blanket above, and it reminds me that I've stopped drinking it.  Seriously.  People of earth, do you realize what this means?  I don't drink coffee, so diet Pepsi was IT.  I literally drank between 6 and 12 each day.  I know, right?!?  Crazy.  It was really my last vice, and now it's gone.  Farewell, diet Pepsi, I will miss you.  But I will carry on.  Just like when I gave up cigarettes in 1994, getting too drunk to stand in 1996, and high fructose corn syrup in 2010.  What can I say, my path to health has been a long one.  I'll give up sniffing glue next year, what do you say?  The truth is, I don't quit things lightly...I typically drop it like it's hot and never look back.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The One That Goes On Forever

There are so many interesting things in this book, and I find it endlessly fascinating how much of it could have been written today, 35 years later.   
When you start thinking this way, your life can never be quite the same.  If we are concerned with wise use of resources, food, for example - this is a cookbook, after all - appears in a new light.  One of the best arguments for serving whole, fresh, unprocessed foods, like homemade, whole-grain bread, is that this practice conserves what is most precious in food - its nutritional value.  When you refine away nutrients you have to replace them somehow, and a whole industry spring sup to manufacture vitamin supplements, at high cost to you, high profit to them.  Processed foods are not just unhealthy; they are wasteful, even before you consider the cost in elaborate packaging and competitive advertising.  In 1974 we Americans spent 10 billion dollars on packaging, five times the amount that the World Food Council in Rome estimated it would take to stave off famine for nine months.
This was written at a time when about 15,000 people (most of them children) were dying of malnutrition each and every day.  Can you imagine what dollar amount might be attached to packaging and advertising today?  And, at the same time, the number of children dying of malnutrition has reached 41,000...per day.  But the fact is, this "call to arms" issued in Laurel's Kitchen (if you will) embodies so many of the very same health, social, and political issues I am thinking about today.  Pathetic, don't you think?  To think of the wasted opportunities; to have come so far, in so many ways, and yet continue to have so many of the same exact (but now even more exacerbated) problems.

Kelly gave a heads-up that some of the nutritional information has changed since 1975.  You only need count the number of times Laurel's Kitchen maligns The Incredible Edible Egg to know she speaks the truth!  :)  There's an entire section at the back of the book that gives a cross-referenced and color-coded matrix of how make complete proteins.

Oh, my aching head.

But then I read something about beans and corn, and that was enough for me.  Have I mentioned that we are not fancy?  If I waited until I was totally sure about what to do and how to do it, I can promise you that we'd be eating Hamburger Helper and Doritos until the end of time.

Cornbread is so easy to make.  And it just tastes good.  Sue me, but I care.  I make it quickly from scratch using this recipe, which is pretty much exactly like every cornbread recipe ever written:
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Mix together these dry ingredients, then add 1 egg, 1 cup of milk (I use non-fat), and 1/4 cup honey (oh, the honey!!) and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  I fold it all together with a wooden spoon, just until it's mixed, and then pop it in the oven in a greased dish at 350 degree F for 30 minutes.  I now use an 8"x8" glass casserole dish.  I finally found one (I've looked for over a year!) at a thrift store for $3. I think if you're willing to purchase it new, it should be no problem to pick one up anywhere, anytime, but I was willing to wait.
Here's a little tip:  I put all the dry ingredients into a bag (I make up about a half dozen at a time), and when I want to make cornbread I just grab a bag, dump it in a bowl, add the wet ingredients, and cook.  I write on the bag which ingredients need to be added (1 egg, 1 c milk, 1/4 c honey, 2 T oil) and the bake time and temp.  That way, I never have to refer to a recipe.  I can reuse the bags many times, also.  (PS, do you see the size of my honey in that picture above?  Seriously, I love me some honey.)

But see, here we have fresh, nutritional ingredients, and it's such a simple recipe, there's no need to buy a box of mix.  Speaking of which, I bought 25 pounds of dried pinto beans at Costco for around ten dollars.  Twenty five pounds!  I gave the woman who cleans my house about one-third of it, and I still have more beans than you can shake a stick at.  I love how deliberate you have to be when you work with dried beans.  You have to think of it hours ahead of time, even though it's no more work than opening a can.  It doesn't take any energy to soak them, but you can't come home and think, hey, I'll whip up some dried pinto beans in 15 minutes.
The last thing I did, for this particular meal, was I made some whole wheat tortillas.  Totally easy, google it, you won't be sorry.  The kids love to help make these...they roll them out, then pass them to me and I actually roll them out, then we pop them on an extremely hot griddle (do not underestimate the importance of a well-heated, dry surface) for a minute on each side.  Perfectly perfect.  (I can do this in 20 minutes, start to finish, with about half that time spent just waiting, finishing the beans and grating cheese I mean.)

Tommy had ordered a quesadilla for school lunch, and he had thrown it away (thrown it away) because it had beans in it.  Holy cats.  So I made him these.
And he loved it.  I just mashed some of the beans with a bit of water, spread them onto the tortillas, and added cheese.  He's also eaten the beans (not mashed, just plain) with a sprinkle of cheese.  He did it to please me, but both boys have grown to like them quite a bit!
I just ate mine on a plate (no tortilla needed when you have cornbread, though I enjoy them immensely both ways!) and I added some plain Greek yogurt, too, because I like to live dangerously.  (And because I can never eat the sour cream before it goes bad, so this is a fine substitute.)
The four of us can destroy a pan of cornbread.

So, there you have it.  Everything made from ingredients that I bought in bulk, and made from scratch.  And it may look like work (which, compared to picking up a box of Jiffy cornbread, a package of whole wheat tortillas, and a can of beans, it certainly is) but it's such a good kind of work.  And it's only really work the first time I did it.  I'm all about setting up a system to minimize my aggravation in the kitchen, so I spend some energy that first time coming up with the exact right order to do everything.  We've had this meal, in it's entirety, twice...and I've had some combination of bean-leftover for lunch at least five times.  Yesterday, in fact!  So I feel good about the quality of the food, the taste of the food, and, just as importantly given how all this started, way up there at the top, I feel good that I used a minimum of packaging.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Deck or Eight

I'm not good at decorating my house.  I'm just not.  I'm not feeling sorry for myself either, I'm just stating a fact.  Here are some examples.
At some point, there were some family pictures hanging in the hallway.  Not a lot, just a few of the boys, but I think they came down when the construction was going on a couple of months ago.  Instead of putting them back up (a closer look reveals the nails still there, waiting for them!) I see that the boys decorated with a Speed Racer plaque and an original drawing on a scrap of paper.  And that's okay with me.

At one point, this china cabinet was properly decorated with some photos and knickknacks (is that a word?) but they've been squeezed out or replaced by a jar of silverware, plates, and placemats.  This is just the perfect place, because Tommy can easily set the table in a moment's notice.  Function over form.

It's the same issue here ~ function over form.  That little table there?  It's just plopped down in the most awkward place, because it's convenient if you're sitting on that brown couch.  That's it.  It's blocking the fireplace, and I bought it for $2 at a junk shop (Krim Kram's!  Back in 1993 when they were still on 18th Street!  I've since heard they moved to the Tenderloin?) and it's no worse, frankly, than the mini glider next to it that has recently turned into a blanket caddy.

Classic.  This armoire is actually a very nice antique that I got from my parents 15 years ago.  It's not the piece of furniture, it's the gallery of crazy perched on top of it.  There's a sealed cedar box with the ashes of our beloved pet dog, Howard; an art project from pre-school hanging off the side; and a set of origami three-dimensional shapes...dodecahedron, anyone?  When Erik's dad passed away last year, Erik was surprised to find himself in possession of his ashes.  He was so...flummoxed...that he became sort of paralyzed with what to do with them.  I set them on top of the armoire (his dad always liked our house...he said it was homey) and he's been with us, quietly, ever since.  Erik has added to this spot over the year, and I sort of love it, honestly:  a chess trophy and a table tennis trophy, which is SO cute, because his dad won these in tournaments!  Who does that?

So, you know what?  Now that I've gotten to here, I'm sort of glad I am the way I am.  When I first started writing this, I was thinking about how I'm kind of not good at this particular aspect of homemaking called "decorating", but I can see now that I'm pretty good at this other aspect...the one where my family participates in making the home, and I'm not so caught up in a magazine glossy version of what a home should look like that there's no room for the quirky goodness that makes our house so full of love and comfort for us.  It may not be what anybody else would choose, but it's just right for us.

Anyway, here's this other thing.
 I had purchased this wire basket a couple of years ago at a second hand store for a couple of dollars.  It ended up in the garage, not doing much at all.

So I spray painted it a flat black and moved it into our new bathroom.  I don't know...I thought maybe with some hand towels it could be cute?  But remember, I'm not good at this, so please be gentle if this is a stupid idea!

I have it sitting on the counter, waiting until I finally get around to doing something with it.  (My mom bought me those rad blown-glass vases on the wall as a house-warming present when we bought this place almost 12 years ago...she's obviously awesome at this.) 

Finally, there's the issue of these curtains.  I found them as a valance at a second hand store for $1 (hmmm, a theme perhaps?) and I cut it in half and made these two "curtains".  I thought it kind of worked, but Erik told me the "style factor" in the room dropped from 10 to 8 when I put them up.   Jackass.

Standard disclaimer applies (first-world problems, bigger things to worry about, yadda-yadda-yadda) but I'm still curious...any suggestions?  Change, omit, add?  Or just relax and assume that anybody who comes to my house is expecting this sort of hodgepodge? 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hi-Pro Granola

For weeks, I've eaten this exact same meal for breakfast, and I thought it was going pretty well.  Granola (homemade by me), with blueberries, a few tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt, and what I call "a teaspoon of honey" but what is really, actually, at least a tablespoon of honey.  Ahem.

My homemade granola was very simple:  1/4 cup butter (down from a whole cup called for in the original recipe!), 1/4 cup honey (which, again, was probably closer to half a cup...what is it with me and the honey?), and 3 cups of rolled oats.  You know, quaker oats?  Melt, mix, cook.  Couldn't be simpler.

Apparently, could be healthier.  I started using the Hi-Pro Granola recipe from Laurel's Kitchen.  Total drama, if you want to know.  Okay, first of all...

I made a total ass of myself in the bulk section at the Whole Foods in Oakland.  I left there feeling pretty low.  My self-esteem cannot handle the attitude of the employees there.  It took some seriously focused energy to get myself squared away enough to brave the Whole Foods in San Ramon.  (Please to note:  In order to re-align my self-esteem, I did not find it necessary to give myself a pep-talk, remind myself why this was an important mission to the health and well-being of my family, or dust off my college degrees to remind myself that I am an intelligent woman.  No, to set myself straight, I spent about 3 minutes mentally belittling the employees on various fronts.  Don't you think it says more about me, than them, that I would let an eye-rolling nineteen year old on shift between classes at the junior college dictate the mood of my afternoon?  It's exhausting being me.)

But you see all these jars?  They are full of "exotic" (to me) sounding ingredients like soy flour, wheat germ, vital gluten, wheat bran berries, torula yeast, dried skim milk....and a variety of seeds.  Flax, sesame, sunflower.  At the San Ramon Whole Foods (which is near my mom's house) my faith in humanity was restored when I came across a nice young man stocking the bulk bins.  He patiently answered all my questions (do I want hulled or unhulled sesame seeds?  what's the difference between these sunflower seeds?  what does it mean to 'sprout' wheat berries?  does soy flour have gluten?) and kindly directed me to the baking aisle for a variety of items that aren't sold in bulk.  Someday, I will marry him.  haha!

(And yes, I did in fact use my label-maker to print out labels for the repurposed jars.  Totally normal, I swear.)

The book said to "toast the seeds as instructed on the following page" I flipped the page and read through the directions.  I got to this line..."remember, the less surface area exposed to dry heat, the better"... and I thought huh.  Being told to "remember" something implies that it's information I have stored, somewhere, for some reason.  I assure you, that is not the case.  Not only do I have no current schema for toasting nuts, I have to admit that I couldn't even make sense of "less surface area".  God, I hate applied mathematics.  I swear, that was my first thought!  Math, to me, is the essence of liberal arts...truth, beauty, knowledge.  I have no interest in actually using math.  I just like doing math.  Alright, so I never could figure out what that meant (should I spread all the seeds out in a thin layer? or mound them up in the middle of the baking sheet?  is it the overall surface area, or is the surface area specific to an individual seed?) so I just skipped it. 
I put the recipe together, with my untoasted nuts and all, and cooked it for 45 minutes.  In the end, it was nothing like "granola".  It was not crunchy.  It was not clustered in any way.  A taste test revealed that it tasted, literally, like grass.  Grass.  As in, lawn.  I transferred it all to my cereal jar, where I stared at it for a few hours before deciding whether or not it was a failed experiment.  I couldn't tell if I should trust my taste buds...they'd been marinating in butter and honey, after all, and it was possible that I had a highly skewed perspective on what constituted granola in the first place.

In the end, I told myself that I would eat this batch.  Ultimately, I was going to add blueberries, yogurt, and some honey to make my breakfast.  At that point, would it really matter?  It turns out that no, it does not matter!  Over just a few servings, I became completely accustomed to the new tastes and the new texture, too.

In the book, she says "Hi-Pro is concentrated.  A small serving stays with you all through the morning."  I'd have to agree.  So far, I'm the only person in my family who eats it.  Everyone else loved the original recipe (well, no duh!) so I think I'm going to pursue some kind of, maybe take the original recipe and add some of the wheat germ, wheat bran, soy flour, and sunflower seeds.  I'll have to experiment with quantities, I'm hoping it will be a simple way to pile on the healthy stuff.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Laurel's Kitchen

On the advice of both Laurie and Kelly, I purchased a (gently) used copy of Laurel's Kitchen using the Amazon gift certificate Linda sent to me.  (Wow, talk about six degrees....!)

You can get the newest publication, but I went for the original 1978 copy (for about $5!  Bargain of the year, I'm telling you what).  I'm so glad I did!  I can't speak to what changes, if any, have been made in any updated versions, but this one has the original introduction(s).  I do believe that even without the recipes/cookbook aspect of the book, I would have bought it for the colorful, folksy stories that star farm-girl transplant Hippie Laurel on the backdrop of Berkeley in the late 60s/early 70s.  I was completely charmed by the first 75 pages or so of this book!

This book is ultimately about being, or becoming, a vegetarian.   Hmmmmm....that's not exactly on my mind, so much as just eating well, so I don't think that's the path I'm on.  One of the things she talks about in the book is to sort of (lovingly, gently) dismiss 'fake meat' products.  Since she became a vegetarian for both moral and spiritual reasons, the idea of pretending to eat meat doesn't suit her.

But we are a simple folk, with no such moral or spiritual compass, and so I present to you what I like to call the Snausage Pizza.  I found a package of Gimme Lean sausage at Whole Foods, which is made from vegetable protein.  Oh!  Ha!  Gimme Lean...I just realized when I wrote you think it's a play on Jimmy Dean breakfast meat?  That would be funny!

Anyway, Tommy decided he liked sausage pizza, so we've made this Snausage Pizza a couple of times now, and he never even noticed that he's not eating meat.   And it's really tasty, too!  Although, if you're willing to eat chicken, I can't recommend this enough!  I made it for Maia and Lenny when they came over this weekend (they're back from London this summer for good, and I can't wait!!!) and we were all still talking about it 24 hours later. 

I have so much to say about what I'm learning from Laurel's Kitchen that I think I'm going to start a little 'series' under the "Laurels' Kitchen" label.  I'd love to hear other people's experiences, either with being vegetarian, or with making BIG changes in eating habits....

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Scotty's Hobbies

Tommy goes to a Montessori school, and they have a 'wish list'.  I went over to an online Montessori store to buy one of the items off their wish list, where I found their sister-site, For Small Hands.  The prices were actually very reasonable, and so I picked up a few things for the boys to play with.  I love many things about Montessori learning, not the least of which is that so much of the early education is about household play, and the older kids do a lot of work with textiles. 

But it's not just "pretend household" stuff, it's stuff you can really use!  A clothesline with tiny, working clothes pins.  *sigh*  Or, safety knives for cutting vegetables.  :)  Every morning, Scotty comes out to the kitchen and says, "What are you making today, Mommy?"  When I tell him what I'm cooking, he says, "I'm going to make something yummy too!" and then he runs back to his room (where his kitchen is) and whips up a picnic basket full of tasty...fake food....and then we all have to say, "Mmmmm!  Yummy!" and pretend to eat sushi.  Good times.

At the Montessori store, though, they had a baking set that had miniature functioning pans!  And a tiny wooden rolling pin!  And a chef's hat!  Awww, yeaaahhhhh! 

The set even came with scaled down recipes, that made the perfect amount of batter to use the tiny bundt-cake pan or the muffin tins!

The first thing he made was a couple dozen carrot muffins.  He 'helps' all the time in the kitchen, but there was a special kind of pride involved here; he really understood that this was all him, start to finish!

 I'm sorry, but...Pardon me while I swoon.  Those folded hands in his lap?  His tiny feet?   Pressed up against the window, watching his muffins bake?  Where are my salts?

Those muffins were delicious!  Tiny, tiny, bite-sized goodness, and he couldn't have been cuter.

That is, he couldn't be cuter unless you caught up with him while he was enjoying his second favorite hobby...  The doll house.  My boy is so domestic!

 He and I have spent countless hours playing with our house!  We like to set up the whole house, and we're both obsessed with the 'details'...where should this potted plant go?  Which rooms should have the clocks?  Let's make a new blanket for the crib!  Oh, boy!!  Once we have the house just so, we like to think about what everybody is doing.  

Scotty usually puts both babies and both kids in the big play room.  That's a happening spot, to be sure!  He puts Mommy in the kitchen and Daddy is either in bed or on the couch.  Hmmmm.....

After an hour of playing, he usually stands next to me and starts telling me where to put things, and what should be happening.  "No, put that baby in the crib.  Take that one out!  Put the other one in.  Mommy is at the stove, not the refrigerator.  Move the shower over here.  Why don't you put two toilets in the bathroom?  That table is too small.  Put her at the desk."

Once we get to this phase of the festivities, I know it's time to put our toys down for a while.  Last thing I need is a four year old pecking at my neck.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Asking for It

(Blurry) Photo by Scotty

It is very hard (nearly impossible) for me to ask you for help.  I've always been like that.  No matter how hard things get for me, no matter how hard I have to work at something, no matter how much I wish I had some help, those things do not matter because when push comes to shove, I just keep my head down and push through because I don't even know how to ask for help.  (Honesty here:  My inability to ask you for help does not stop me from becoming so resentful that you have not offered to help ~ can't you see I'm suffering! ~ that I ultimately end up demanding your service in a most unkind, embittered way.  I'm awesome, obviously.)

It was Easter weekend when I started to see the light.  The day before Easter, I stopped at a thrift store.  I seriously needed a rolling pin, as the cheap plastic one I'd been using for 15 years finally broke.  So I hopped out the car, said "rolling pin" out loud, and walked into the store...where I found a perfect wooden rolling pin for 70 cents.  Hmmmm.....

Yesterday,  Tommy and I were at the grocery store picking up a few things (including new lightbulbs....$60 on lightbulbs!!!) and I was thinking about how I really wanted to clean out and organize the pantry in the kitchen and the food cupboard in the garage.  (Mission accomplished, by the way.)  I was also thinking about how I had read somewhere that bakeries will sometimes give away food storage buckets, if you ask.  If you ask.  So I did!  You would not believe what it took for me to ask, and she started out telling me no, we usually re-use those buckets, so I smiled and said thanks but then she said, "Well, let me look, because we might have an extra."  And she did!  So I now have a perfect food-quality bucket to store dried beans in the pantry.

My mom will ask you for help.  Except she's not really "asking", if you get my drift.  That woman knows how to get her needs met, let me tell you, I did not inherit this (annoying) trait from her.  And so we come to the table in the picture at the top.  On Easter, apparently buzzing from my rolling pin high the day before, I told my mom that I was looking for a small-ish table that would fit at the edge of my kitchen island.  I needed it to be lower than the counter, so that I could use it for kneading bread and rolling out doughs.  A plain, wooden table, please, that would be great.

She said she sees a lot of those around, and she'd keep her eyes peeled.  Thanks, ma!  Not an hour later, I turned the corner out of her dining room and found the perfect table in her front entry!  It sits behind the door when it opens, so who knows how long it was there before I noticed it? 

"That's it!  That's the table!"  I told her.  And I was so excited that, before I even thought twice, I bleated out, "Can I have that?"  Well, it turns out, I could have it.  I've used it every day since, too!  

It was rainy that day, and it was dark when we were leaving, so Erik said to just forget it and pick it up later.  But my brother, who was well-trained by my mom, followed me into the wet night and loaded it into the back of the van...without me even asking him to.  Love that guy!

Funny about my mom:  Before the table even left the house, she had it replaced with another smaller table, a rocking chair, and a dried flower arrangement.  Holy!  Could you imagine being able to "shop" in your own house like that?    Also:  I asked her where she got this table, and she said, "Oh, you wouldn't believe it...your Grandmother had it in that shed behind her house in Fremont!  It was covered with paint cans, so I asked her if I could take it.  I cleaned it all up, and put these new handles on the drawers!"

She's good.  Did I mention she is not shy to ask? 

Now.  Asking for help is not the same as asking for "stuff", but I do consider these small victories over the last couple of weeks to be a giant leap forward.  Shower me with riches, people.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Swap ~ Part II

I left this bundle on the living room floor, ready to be boxed and taken to the post office in the morning.  It proved to be far too tempting for My Monster.  I was awakened early the next morning by Scotty, shyly standing at my bedside, holding up a small book and a...what is that?  A pencil?  Does he want me to write him a story?  I was still half asleep, coming up slowly, until I realized what he was really holding...then I woke up right away!

"Scotty," I started, "Please put those back, and please don't open any more presents!  Those presents are not for you, they are for mommy's friend."  (the scrapbook glitter pack, 'create' stickers, and the shawl pin!)
The problem was, of course, that no four year old on the planet understands the words "presents" and "not for you" when juxtaposed in this fashion.

By the time I made it out to the living room, My Poor Monster was frantically trying to rewrap the presents he had already opened.  What a cutie pie!  "Thank you, Monster, for helping Mommy!  You are such a good wrapper!"
I made Carmen these for her classroom.  One is a banner with her name on it for her classroom (I edited out the letters that spell her last name, for privacy).  The other is an apron with cupcakes all over it, and the accent fabric there is brown with tiny white polka dots.  I've actually got plans to make a banner for my own classroom now!  I'll put my name on it of course (haha!) but I won't need to make such an apron for myself because Carmen took care of that for me!  For the banner I followed the instructions from Stitched in Time and I used the apron instructions from Bend the Rules Sewing

I need to let you know, should you and I ever participate in a swap together in the future, that I am, apparently, the kind of person who sends you an item that requires ironing.  Ugh!  Sorry, Carmen!  Every time I folded this thing, I had to iron it!  There's no way it came out of that box without needing a steam.  Hopefully once it's hanging up it will stay wrinkle free...

I made these for her.  She likes owls so I made this little clutch using the instructions, again, from Bend the Rules Sewing.  What can I say?  I have limited sewing chops!

I had made Carmen this shawl....and when I was done, I of course had to make one for myself!  Hmmmm.... are you sensing a theme here at all?!?  I keep making things for her that I end up wanting for myself! 

I'm not sure what happened to the orientation on this picture!  But I made these for her home.  They are actually placemats, which I made using my fancy method for crocheting with strips for fabric.  They could also be used as chair pads at the kitchen table, which I think would be super cute.  In fact....I think I may need to make some chair pads for my kitchen table!  ;)

And that's that!  Carmen wrote me the sweetest thank you note, and you can see Big Bunny actually fashioning some of these items over at her blog.  This was so fun to do, but especially because I was doing it for Carmen.  I think if you tallied the number of items I plan to and/or have already made for myself based on the items I made for her swap, I think you can begin to understand how much we have in common!   Including...a deadline for a swap that turns out to be plus/minus 30 days!  lol   Thanks again, Carmencita!