Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Maddie Makes My Teeth Hurt

Here she explores the wonders of the concave mirror. In multiples.

I'm starting to see a pattern here, with the facial expression. This is the face her father makes when he's about to say, "No! Don't you see that this PROVES that state power was highly contingent and based in the unofficial exercise of military authority by local power structures?? Don't you SEE that??"

Dad's caption for this photo is: "Actually, Jim, string theory is quite simple."

A Conversation Chez Iain

Ch: So, son, what d'you want to do when your mother leaves tomorrow?
I: French fries!

Ch: Are you sure? What about Krispy Kreme?
I: Oh, yeah. Ok, how about this: we get MacDonald's on the way home (it's on the left), then turn around (which we have to do anyway to get home) and pop in at Krispy Kreme. By the time we get there, we'll be done with the fries and can eat our donuts.

Ch: That's a good plan, son. Allow me to suggest an alternative plan: Sonic. We could get tater tots!
I: Dad, it says right here in my contract rider that I only eat tater tots with a milkshake. So if you're springing for a large milkshake and fries, then that's a good plan.

Ch: One last option: we could get the donuts, then go home and make burgers using donuts as the bun. What do you think of that?
I: I'm on board with that, but only if we make them bacon-cheese burgers. Because you need the cheese to hold it together and you need the bacon's saltiness to balance the sweet donut. Don't you agree?

It's all fun and games while Mom's away...

Ooh, lovely

I must thank William Gibson for the link to the Flikr set showing London's empty streets on Christmas morning. It is the first thing I've seen in a long time that made me think a trip might be fun. The direct address for the blog entry with details is:

That's New (I think)

Over at Paris 2e, there's a funny sign up at the corner of Rue du Temple and Rue Rambuteau.

Those 2 streets were our stomping ground in July, 2007, but I don't remember seeing the sign. Perhaps by gushing about the Bouldogue Cafe we've directed hordes of tourists there, ruining the neighborhood and causing the locals to protest?

Nah. But it's still amusing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


TO: Iain's Parents
FROM: "Them"
DATE: December 30, 2008

Per our last conversation, I realize that I forgot to mention one crucial thing. While the "first foods" handout says "rice" is ok, you should know that giving plain rice to your son will result in rice on the carpet, high chair, dining room table, clothing, hair, eyelashes, walls, light fixtures, paper towel dispenser, windows, baseboards, and framed pictures in your house. Oops.

Also, I'm glad to see you've given in and purchased the 46 ounce jar of apple sauce. When it comes to your son's appetite, resistance is futile.

If you have questions about feeding, please email at

Iain, Meet Iain

Uh...hello. You know, you look kinda familiar. Have we met?

Nice jammies.

Really! You look a lot like someone I know. Who is it? I just feel like we've met somewhere. Are you a celebrity? On TV? In politics? Hey - were you on that show on that channel last year? No? Where have I seen you before?

Oh, and nice jammies.

Would you like a kiss? No? Sorry.

Monday, December 29, 2008

You Can Never Get Enough Pat the Bunny

Remember this, from when Iain was 5 months old?

Here's yesterday.

I snuck up on him from above. As you can see, he has a tasty beverage to go with his reading material.

He's all: "Wha? Mooooooom!"

Free Bird!

Iain's musical career has begun. Now that he can crawl, he likes to investigate the nooks and crannies of the house. So when I found him poking around in the kitchen, I had to reward his exploration with something fun.

Enter the Colander/Wooden Spoon drum kit. It's only a few short steps from here to membership in an iconic rock band, long hair, tight jeans and a long life of models and Grammy awards.

I think he's ready.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

BAM! (I am the Master)

Charles and I are coming up to our sixth wedding anniversary. For those of you who don't follow these things, that's the one where the traditional gift is iron. Yes, iron.

Now, we already own an ironing board. We already own 2 irons (relics of our life before we were a couple. Right - those irons are more than 16 years old. But hey - they still work, and that's a testament to Black and Decker, friends). We already own enough cast-iron cookware to sink this house when the flood comes. We already own a grill and grill accessories. I tried to sell Charles on new cars, but no luck.

So what to do?

Last week we entertained two couples and when I set the table I had to mix and match our silverware. There was the nicer stuff (18/8 stainless I got at Pottery Barn in 1997 - enough for 4). Then there was the pretty nice stuff (spoons Charles bought at Bed, Bath, and Beyond two years ago because we never had enough spoons for coffee and ice cream). Then there was a remnant of the truly dire silverware we had From Before. I'm pretty sure some of that was...liberated from a dining hall or two.

Now, stainless steel is made from steel. And steel is made from? Iron! So we realized we could solve our social problem and our relationship problem by getting some decent stainless steel. I know most people do this when they get married, but since we eloped we didn't expect anyone to send us presents. Some people did, because they're lovely, but we never registered or asked people to send us housewares - after all, by the time we married we were old. We had a lot of stuff.

You may have heard that we're in an economic downturn. Retailers are freaking out. Sure enough, when I Googled "Reed and Barton Classic Braid service for 8" up popped Macy' And what should my wondering eyes encounter there? Service for 12, half price! But wait - there's more.

In my Gmail box was a coupon code for another 10% off. So in the end, what was once $300 plus tax and shipping magically transformed into a total of $170. Plus, I got serving pieces and a drawer-caddy to hold it all. (I don't need one of those wooden boxes for storage. I have an awesome one covered in 70's era contact paper. When you've got that, mahogany really pales in comparison)

Bow down, mortals. I AM THE MASTER.

P.S. Yes, we bought a joint anniversary gift online. We are not romantic people. (My favorite Christmas gift of recent years was a set of 8 plain, white coffee mugs. Charles knew that I really love it when all the mugs are uniform in color and shape. So he went out and bought me a perfect set of lovely mugs. When I opened them I gasped. Our guests that year must have thought I was utterly mad. But this is what we consider romantic.)

You're What??

You're going to New York? You're leaving me with Dad? To eat MacDonald's french fries and watch anime and play video games?


When do you leave?

You Know What I'm Going to Say, Right?

It's obvious, isn't it?

Oh, you need a closeup to be sure? Ok.

Yeah, that's right.!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Thanks, Megan!

Iain got three lovely gifts from Megan for Christmas. Two small books and one BIG book. He also learned, thanks to Megan, how to open gift wrap. Step one, read the card.

Step two: tear off the wrapping. (step three: eat the wrapping)

He took a special interest in the biggest book.

We liked the fact that the BIG book's plot goes like this: Pooh likes honey. He eats too much while at Rabbit's house. He gets so fat he can no longer get through the door. Christopher Robin reads to Pooh for a while, and then everyone pushes and pulls and Pooh gets through. We think this is a plot Iain can sympathize with, since he continues to growgrowgrow and to eateateat.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Roast Beef is Good For You

I'm reading Louisa May Alcott's Hospital Sketches. The introduction, written by the brilliant historian Alice Fahs, includes lots of delicious tidbits. Like this one:

"a typical 'special diet' prescribed for a private with chronic diarrhea:

Coffee, steak, eggs, bread, butter, milk-punch

Roast beef, fish, radishes, boiled cabbage, bread, tea

Oyster soup, raw cabbage, cheese, bread, butter, coffee."

That'll work! Gotta love those Civil War doctors.

New Toy!

Look what Mom got me! It came from Uncle Garner, who sent this email with this set of letters that apparently unlock untold delights at When Mom told Dad she got this, he said "do you hate me?" Ha ha!

Mmm...the stick tastes good.

Ok, I realize this is a really personal subject, so just me leave it at this:

Miriam and Deja were right. I tried Chico's (aka Soma), I tried Nordstrom. Meh.

So I went over to


Thanks, ladies.

Crawling Is HARD Work!

How about put away the camera, lady? I'm working here. I have important work to do. Working. On work.

Like, see - here I am inspecting the foam quality of Juno's new bed. Grandmother made it for her, but I have to check and ensure adequate quality or else it'll just have to go back. Juno cannot be made to lie on an inferior bed. That would be very wrong.

She's grateful. She knows I have her best interest at heart. I'm glad someone appreciates me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

All I Want for Christmas

If you look closely, you can see above that Iain got his wish. One little tooth coming in on the left, and another one starting to break through just to the right. Finally.



We just said goodbye to our friends, who came to join us for dinner tonight. They're both very kitchen-savvy, so we collaborated on a menu. There were Cornish game hens for the protein, and pommes anna, sauteed green and yellow beans, thyme and honey roasted carrots, and a wild rice salad in vinaigrette. For the period before dinner, we munched on shrimp and ate sliced apples and pears with a creamy feta dip plus a few pistachios. Dessert was apple pie with cinnamon whipped cream.

It was all really tasty, and surprisingly easy for me. I'll make all those things again and I will probably solicit the recipe for the wild rice salad for future use.

But for me, the star was a small dish of spanikopita I made.

Spanikopita is Greek spinach pie. It's absolutely delicious, and it includes several things I love (spinach, feta, pine nuts (sometimes) and phyllo). I made it once before, and it was a huge pain in the butt. Tonight, I was winging it, making the recipe up as I went, and it was much, much easier and a great success.

First, I decided to make a very small dish. This is because processing a ton of spinach is a pain in my butt. Plus, this is not something that most people want to eat a ton of.

So here's what I did. I got:

1 very small gratin dish/pie dish (like 6 inches square and 1.5 or 2 inches deep).
2 bags of washed baby spinach.
1 small block of feta (you could get one of those little containers of crumbled feta. My store was out of those.)
4 or 5 small shallots
4 or 5 cloves of garlic
a big handful of pine nuts
A ton of butter
A package of phyllo (aka filo) dough, usually found in the frozen foods section. Thaw it by putting it in your fridge a couple of days ahead of the cooking.

What I did to make the filling:

Take out your small soup pot with lid. Put in a tiny bit of stock or water, and set over medium heat. Push in a bunch of spinach. Put on the lid and let it wilt a bit. Then add more spinach, stirring it up. Eventually, you're cooking all the spinach into a soggy mess. Take it off the heat and let it cool off.

Have a cup of tea.

Cut up the shallots pretty fine (don't be a freak about it), and sweat* them in butter in a small sautee pan. After they're good and sweaty, add the garlic and cook another 5 minutes or so with the heat a little less. What you're making is a buttery, onion-y, garlic-y mix that you'll be adding to the filling. Remove from heat and toss in a bowl and let it cool.

Go back to the spinach. Picking up bits, squeeze the water out. Squeeze hard. Chop it a little just to break up the leaves. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Take about 3 ounces of feta and chop it up into little crumbles. Add this to the cool, squeezed, chopped, spinach. Stir.

Go back to the stove. Heat up a small pan (non-stick if you have it. Your omelet pan is perfect if you have one). Toss in the pine nuts. Toast them. You're just getting a little color on them, then take them off the heat and transfer them into a bowl to cool.

Once everything is cool, mix the spinach and feta with the shallots/garlic and the pine nuts. Put this aside until you need it, or use it right away.

To assemble, do this:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt a bunch of butter. Like half a stick.

Get out the phyllo. Get out a cookie sheet. Lay a dish towel on the cookie sheet, and sprinkle or spray with a little water so it's barely moist. Unwrap the phyllo (it will look like a bunch of sheets of really thin paper) and lay it on the towel. Anytime you're not working with it, cover the dough with the moist towel. If the dough dries out, it will tear constantly.

Take your teensy dish, butter it with a brush. Pull off a piece of phyllo and fit it into the dish. Since your dish is small, you'll probably need to tear the piece or fold it. Do what you like. I folded. Brush the piece with butter so it's wet with it.

Repeat that several times so you have layers of the dough, each one saturated with butter, and your dish looks sort of like a gift that's been unwrapped. There should be dough hanging over the edges, because you're going to fold those in to make the top.

Put the filling in it. Tamp it down if there's a lot. Fold the top bits over, butter, repeat until you've made a little package inside your dish. Butter the top. Basically, butter everything like mad.

Pop that puppy in the oven, and wait until it's done. About an hour, but you'll know because it will be golden and lovely and crispy looking. And you'll enjoy it.

NOTE: there is no salt in this recipe because the feta is super-salty. You can add a little salt to the shallots if you like, but you don't really need it. Add greek seasoning or pepper if you want - it's all good.

NOTE2: You will not use all the phyllo. Not by a long-shot. But you can use it for lots of other things.

NOTE3: Do not worry if you tear the phyllo or if it looks a bit messy when you put the thing together. once it's baked up all golden and tastes like crispy won't be worrying about perfect corners.

*Sweating is where you cook something in fat over medium-low heat so it gets all golden and lovely but not brown. Usually, this is done with onions or another aromatic.

Dear Aunt Miriam

Ooo! What is it?

Look, Juno. It's pretty. Mom has one, and Dad has one.

Aunt Miriam...I can has stocking?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

More Fun in Seattle

As you can see, Little Ben is learning an essential skill: sending email. He finds that having an assistant really helps. You can get her to hold the device and then just dictate your correspondence while you enjoy the vibrating swing. It's good to be the King.

He's also adopting the essential loyalties of his new home. The Seahawks called today to thank Ben for his support. They really appreciate every fan.

All that work and sports can tire a man out. It's still snowing, and no one's getting in or out of SeaTac. Ben thinks this is a good excuse to stay home and sit in front of the fire. A little cuddle with Grandma, a little warm milk, and a man's ready for his next nap. Zzzzzzzz.....

Iain on the Move

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Not that I need anything to stimulate my appetite, but if I did...

Click. Click. Click.


In the past 48 hours, I've replenished Iain's food supply. He now has cauliflower, asparagus, sweet potato, carrot, and broccoli in the freezer. Whew! That should last 2 or 3 days.

Conversation with Iain, ca. 2024:

I: Mom, what's for dinner?
F: One whole side of beef, ten pounds of potatoes, a lasagna, and this bucket of green beans.

I: And?
F: What else would you like?
I: I dunno. Maybe a pie and some ice cream, or a burger to eat with the beef, or maybe some fried chicken as an appetizer.
F: I can thaw one of the chocolate pies in the freezer, son, but I don't have any fried chicken made up right now. How about this ham?
I: That's ok, Mom. I'll just run out for a snack. Be right back.

[Iain heads to the garage.]

I: Hi, Dad, I'm going to run out before dinner.
C: Oh? What for?
I: Just to get a snack.
C: We're eating in about 15 minutes, son.
I: Yeah, I figure I can go out, eat a bucket of chicken and some cole slaw and be back in time for Mom's beef and potatoes with lasagna and green beans. I just need a little something to get me through the next 15 minutes.
C: [sighs] Ok, kid. Just don't leave the satellite transmission device set on that Mars music - you know I hate that.

[Iain departs.]
[end of scene.]

Do Not Look at the Dog Hair

Look what's on our carpet, now. Iain has officially entered the realm of cereal.

We have a household prejudice against Cheerios and Goldfish, so we introduced Iain to Rice Chex instead. As you can see above, not all the Chex make it into The Maw.

Guess how the dogs feel about this?

Iain was bemused at first. His father put a piece in his mouth and he just sat there looking at us.

We've been trying to explain the concept of "finger food" for a few weeks, and while Iain would eat something off of my finger, and he would pick something up off the high-chair tray, he would not connect the dots.

I thought Chex might solve that problem. And, sure enough, once he'd swallowed that first Daddy Chex, he dove right in. He thinks it's just as much fun to get them wet and then rub them into his clothing as to eat them - but whatever.

So long as the mental connection between his hand and his mouth has been made, it's only a matter of time before I can hand him the spoon and say, "have some applesauce, champ."


Sarah over at Oakbriar Farm asked me to dig out the fourth image in the fourth picture folder in my computer. Here it is. Cheery, I know.

This folder relates to my lectures on Reconstruction (2 lectures). Lincoln initiated a program known as Presidential Reconstruction, which focused on a process of re-integration for the southern states and for southerners. His plan is also known as the 10% Plan.

Lincoln's assassination in April, 1865, transferred Reconstruction into the hands of Vice President Andrew Johnson (of Tennessee, Heather). Johnson's approach was too lenient for the Congress, and it led to an incredibly bitter conflict between the Executive and Legislative branches of our national government.

In the end, Congress took over Reconstruction.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Weird Day

1. Not a Crispy Wakeup.*: Iain woke up at 7:20 this morning, so I waited to see if he would go back to sleep. No dice. I went and got him, and at first he seemed ok but then he bugged out. The only thing that calmed him was his bottle, and then he was fussy again when it was time for some solid breakfast. Then, for an hour, he was nothing but net - sweet and smiling all the time.

2. After a good nap, we got all bundled up to go to the store. Iain wore his teddy bear outfit. We installed the carseat in the Passat (it was out because I took the car to campus on Saturday), strapped him in, then realized I'd forgotten the list.

Back in the house for the list. Come out.

Realize I don't have a key to lock the door. Go to the car.

No key in purse. Charles turned off the car, gave me his housekey, I locked the door and returned to the car, list in hand, muttering curses... only to find that we had a flat tire!!

So then we had the pleasure of getting everybody out so Daddy could change the flat in the garage (10 degrees outside), then install the carseat in the Jeep, then we had to caravan to the Goodyear place, then go to the store and then back home. So 11am to 1pm were spent in complete confusion.

3. Post-Nap Craziness: Iain ate his lunch (late), then took a long nap from about 1:45 until 4. In the last week, he's successfully re-trained us to give him one morning nap and one afternoon nap, each of which is longer than his old 1-hour naps.

I put him in his high-chair and he watched me make his food.

[We were basically out of baby food. So this afternoon I made: asparagus, broccoli, and carrots. I'll make cauliflower and sweet potato tomorrow. We only own 3 ice cube trays, which is how I like it, so that's the limit on how much I can freeze at one time.]

Iain hates the Cuisinart, so he cried when it whirred and I had to give him something to play with. Then I fed him his dinner, and when I gave him the (delicious!) broccoli he screamed and whapped himself in the head (broccoli on eyebrow, earlobe, and nose) and totally freaked out. So I put a little sweet potato on the spoon, and more broccoli. He ate about 2 bites of that, then freaked. Two bites, freak. Two get the idea.

Once that was in him, I fed him half a cup of applesauce with prunes and he loved it and ate it all up no problem.

Cue sweetness again. While I cooked and we ate dinner, he was delightful.

4. Bedtime: We gave him a bath, because that's the only way to really clean off broccoli on your ears. Also, when we took off his diaper for the bath, it was full of poo. So he needed a bath. He liked it, as usual, so I figured "oh thank goodness, it's bedtime!"

But no. He screamed his head off so bad for an hour that Charles and I both checked on him. Finally, I had to sit in the room reading while he played in his crib for 10 minutes, periodically looking at me and laughing like a loon, then laying down. Sit up. Lay down. Laugh, laugh, laugh. Lay down. Sit up. Laugh. etc.

Finally, at 8, he slept. Somebody get me a valium.

* a couple of years ago, Charles and I heard a radio story about Japanese nap centers. You pay a little money and take a 20 minute nap. They have them in American cities, too. In Japan, though, the hostess offers you a little espresso right before you nap. In the radio piece, she said it helped you to have a "crispy wakeup" and now Charles and I gauge all wakeups by this measure.

Giving - 'Tis Best

On Tavis Smiley the other day, I heard about this.

What a good idea.

Basically, it's a gift-certificate for charitable giving. You select the amount and the recipient can choose any of the charities listed on the website for the donation. they include lots of charities associated with children, animals, the environment, and various medical-research programs. You can give to education and sports programs, too.

On the 'TisBest blog, the organizers talk about including so many choices (they offer both GLAAD and the Boy Scouts, for example), and the reasons why they give people options that suit differing value systems. It seems to me that their approach is a lot like librarians - they catalogue and organize but let the consumer make the final choice.

The best part is that parents are giving them to children, so that the child can learn how to choose a charity and give money to causes in which he or she believes. This is an important concept that I grew up with and that I want Iain to understand, too.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


This morning I conquered crawling.

So what do you think I reached for first?*

*All our outlets have been baby-proofed since little Callie started walking. Thanks, Callie!

A Chinese Food Secret No One Tells You

For years, Charles and I enjoyed wonderful Chinese food. Either we lived near it (Pasadena) or we could drive to it (Washington) or we could order it up (well, not really ever - but I've been to places where that's possible, like Manhattan).

In several places where we lived, you could neither find decent Chinese in restaurants nor order it delivered. So I tried to make it at home.

On the whole, it was a tale of many downs and only one or two ups. Like my step-monster's chicken-n-dumplings recipe, it existed to taunt me with perfection I could not attain.

However, when we moved to Kentucky I sought professional help. I checked two cookbooks out of the library - cookbooks by Martin Yan (of "Yan Can Cook"). I figured that Martin Yan has been teaching girls like me how to tackle Chinese food for more than 25 years. If anyone could help me, he was the one.

My main problem was that while I could follow a recipe, the result was always bland. Always. Booooring. It didn't matter whether I used a food blog or a book or a recipe in the Times. Boring. I couldn't understand why everything was so under-seasoned and undersauced. Nothing ever had that thick, glossy sauce you get in restaurants.

Martin Yan is my hero. Because his recipes weren't that interesting to me, but his basics were profound. At the beginning of one of the books I checked out, there was a section on the essential Chinese pantry. It made a point I'd never realized before.

This product:
Is not the same as this product:

The former is Japanese soy sauce. Thin, tart, delicious. The latter is Chinese Dark Soy. Thick, sweeter, much more concentrated.

Ding! Ding! Ding! That's the secret I'd been missing. And it made a huge difference. All those recipes that call for 2T of soy plus 2T of sugar plus scallions, stock and cornstarch? They taste good when you use the right soy. They make lovely sauce (see above) when you're using the right product. Stock your pantry with about 8 things that will last forever, and you can throw together a yummy Chinese dinner anytime you want.

So. Tonight I made a chicken stir-fry with snow peas. It took half an hour if you count marination time. It took about 5 minutes if you don't.

1 chicken breast (the whole thing) boneless, skinless. Best if slightly frozen - just because it makes it hard enough to slice thin.

Chinese dark soy
Stock (I used beef)
Sesame oil
hoisin sauce (I used the Soy Vey brand because I think it's witty)
Dry sherry or Chinese sherry (I use dry sherry because I think it's tasty alone)
vegetable oil (not butter - butter will burn at high temps)

Whatever veg you like, plus a nut if you like it (peanut and cashew work well)

Do this:
*Slice the chicken thinly. I like to sort of shave off bits, not cut it into little chunks.
*Put the chicken in a bowl with a splash of the sherry and a couple of glops of hoisin sauce.
*Heat up a cast-iron skillet or other thick, high-sided pan on medium-high with some oil in it (a couple of tablespoons is fine).
*When the oil starts to shimmer, toss in the chicken and stir it around a little so it's all sitting there frying.
*Mix the sauce. In a bowl, combine 2T of Chinese dark soy with 2T of white sugar. Add some stock (a cup at most, depending on how much food there is and how much sauce you want. Don't stress - you can add more stock if you want), then some cornstarch (to thicken. So it depends on how much stock. Try 1/2 cup stock to 2 teaspoons cornstarch. It's not a big deal if you're a little thinner or a little less thin. You're going to have to work that stuff out, anyway, because of differences in the amount of chicken, the pan, the heat, etc.) Add a little hoisin and a dash of sesame oil and some minced garlic and whatever else you like (chile oil, chile garlic sauce, honey, whatever).
*Let the chicken cook until there's no liquid, then add the nuts (they should toast a little in the pan) and then the greens (snow peas, green onion, or canned foods like water chestnuts or bamboo shoots).
*Pour in the sauce and stir it up. At first, it will look watery and nothing will happen. Then the sauce will get hot and will thicken fast. So keep an eye on it. Add more stock if it gets too thick or you want to.
*Eat. A lot of times this stuff tastes better if you let it cool a tad, because it's so hot it can burn your mouth and you literally won't taste the spices.

If you're making rice, I think making more sauce is a good idea. If not, a nice thick sauce is fine.

I know it looks long, but once you get the rhythm it's easy. Basically, you marinate, then fry the protein. Add the other food, then pour on a sauce that is composed of Chinese soy, sugar, liquid, thickener, and flavor elements. Boom - you're done.

You can play with protein, veggies, and spices all you want. The base is the Chinese soy plus sugar plus liquid plus thickener. You can add whatever you want to that.

It's good. Really good. And fast.

And if you were looking close, you may have noticed the price tag on that bottle. That's right: $1.45. It lasted months, too.

Check it out

I'm working on some new tricks.

For instance, see where I am? See?

That's right: standing. On my own. I can't quite get up by myself, but once up I can stand here for a while. And I like it.

Watch out, world!


Beautiful Isla continues to grow apace. Born a bit over 7lbs, she's up, up, up over 8lbs now and growing all the time.

Iain says: "Hey Isla! Hurry up and get some motor skills! We could play. I have good toys and I share."


Years and years ago, Charles and I attended an odd little school in the middle of nowhere. Really - in a part of the state that even historians familiar with the state don't always recognize.

One of my classmates there has started a service with his wife and the concept is pure genius. It's basically Netflix for toys. You join for a flat fee, and for that fee you get to "let" (ie, check out) a certain number of toys per month for your kid. When your little one is tired of it, or outgrows it, you just send the thing back. They wash it, then offer it out again and you pick something new.

The idea is that you can get a variety of toys without having to buy a million things and without filling your house with stuff you no longer want/need. Plus, the toys they carry all fall into that range of educational/wooden/not hideous that I love so much.

We have a big house. Too big, we think. But even with a relatively big house, we don't want Iain to populate every surface and corner with bits of plastic. And for our friends who live in smaller spaces - this would solve the problem of balancing novelty against the practical limits of square footage.

Bravo, Mac-n-Jane - a great idea and a gorgeous website.

Check it out:

[EDIT: Turns out that you can buy the toys if you prefer - and they have great stuff - or you can join RootLets for the rent and return program. Either way, it's a great idea and a great service. And they toys are to die for.]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Short Ribs

On Thursday, we had dinner guests. I needed a recipe for beef, because one of our guests is an accomplished cook who often makes wonderful roast chicken and because I'm a little tired of chicken and pork. Plus, the cook's boyfriend likes beef (a lot), so I figured it would be a hit.

However, we had three important caveats. First, I had no interest in breaking the bank. Second, I had no interest in asking Charles to grill, because it's been cold and rainy here. Third, I had no interest in trying to cook something to a perfect stage of done-ness, because that kind of precision does not lend itself to my personality, especially when there's wine involved.

So I wanted something that needed little supervision, required no outdoor cooking, and was modest in cost. Enter short ribs.

I got the basic recipe here. It's like any other braise: you sear, then sweat, then deglaze, then slowly cook the seared meat in the veggie mix and liquid for a long time at a low heat. Eh voila! Yumminess ensues.

However, I tweaked the recipe a little bit. So here's what I did:

3lbs of short ribs, cut by the butcher into squares (that is, cut between the ribs. They sometimes come as a strip).
Mirepoix (small dice of carrot, onion and celery - 2 cups each according to the recipe. I used 4 large carrots, 4 sticks of celery, and one large sweet onion)
2 cups red wine (dry zinfandel is what it called for, and by some miracle we had some)
1 small can tomato paste
2T flour (I eyeballed this and probably added more. Whatevs.)
Herbs (8 sprigs of thyme, 2 of rosemary that I swear was hit with some kind of gamma rays because it was huge)
A bunch of garlic cloves, smashed with a knife but otherwise untouched.
Beef broth, one large box (32 oz.)

What I did:
-heat oil in a large dutch oven on medium heat (mine is leCreuset enamel-coated cast iron). Season the meat liberally with salt and pepper on all sides. Sear the meat chunks on all sides (get them really brown and crispy). Do this in batches, and set aside the meat as you finish each piece.
-once done with that, toss the mirepoix into the pan and sweat it (cook at a slightly lower heat so it gets brown and yummy). This will take 10 minutes or so. Stir it once in a while.
- add the tomato paste and flour, stir. Cook 2 minutes (I have no idea why it's 2 minutes. But I did it and although it looked terrible in the end all was delicious, so do it.).
- pour in the wine and scrape the bottom of the pot. Put the beef pieces back into the veggie goo, and sort of settle them down in there. Like you, at the spa about to get a pedicure - push the tush down in that seat.
- Add the herbs, garlic and broth. Pour in broth until the meat is nearly covered but not quite. I had to switch to a wider, shallower pot for this, because there was so much mirepoix/wine that my ribs were already in there pretty deep. You want the meat sitting in, but not swimming in, wetness.
- Cover and put into a 300 degree oven for 3 hours.

Ok, now you have good stuff and your kitchen smells fabulous.

Take out the ribs (ha! good luck with that. I used tongs and even then it was a silly task. The ribs are falling apart. Do your best).

Strain the sauce and press on the stuff to squeeze out some of that flavor. Discard the goo that's left. Simmer the sauce (a bare boil) for a while and keep the ribs warm. I did this by putting the ribs in my slow-cooker and covering them. After the sauce was thick and had cooked down a bit (20m on medium?), I poured it into the slow-cooker and let the whole thing sit around warmly while I made the rest of dinner.

So that's not the quickest or the simplest recipe in the world. But the result is really, really good. My only complaint is that for 6 people I should have made more. Like half again as much (I bought 3lbs, if I could do it over I'd buy 5lbs). There was not a speck left over.

Best of all? You don't really need specialized skills. You just need patience and a capacity for doing dishes. In other words: the perfect dish for my needs. And it looks really tasty when it comes to the table all covered in gravy.

On the negative side, don't read the nutritional information on the recipe. I said don't read it! Oh, well. You can always work out tomorrow.

Baby's First Snow

Little Ben lives in Seattle. So for the last few days, he's watched frozen water fall out of the sky. This would be exciting enough for someone not yet a month old, but to add to the fun Mom and Dad decided the little man should experience snow first hand.

Or first paw, depending on how you look at it.

I don't think he's that into it.

Check out that powder! When your baby can make snow angels this early - you know he's going to be a fun person. This just reinforces my sense that 20 years from now (ok, 17. Ok, 16. Look - I'm not letting them out with the car before they're 16.) Iain and Ben will be painting the town red.