Sunday, December 30, 2012

Kill the Gingerbread House

Years ago, Miriam gave me a meat tenderizing tool. Half spikey mallet, half flat hammer, it's been very useful for pounding meat (we call that dish "Anger Management Chicken").

Iain used it to break down the gingerbread house. He especially liked the way the candy flew off with each blow. He had to eat some, just to ensure as little mess as possible.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chocolate Pie

From Wikipedia. Where history is always 100% awesome.

First, let me tell you that Iain is a budding historian. For reals.

Tonight he informed me that Johnny Appleseed liked to wear a pot on his head. [Not completely inaccurate.] He did this, Iain asserts, because in "the olden days" they didn't make very good sunhats.

That is all.

In other news:

Charles's mother makes a delicious chocolate chiffon pie. It's to die for, really. And she freezes it (the recipe makes 3 pies!) so it straddles the boundary between ice cream and pie.

The only problem is that it (and all other recipes like it) call for mixing raw eggs into the ganache and for whipping egg whites for folding into the mixture.

I just can't do that anymore.

Years ago I watched a film about food safety. In it, a mother described her son's dying moments. He begged her for water but she couldn't give him any. He was 3 or 4 years old when he died. The cause? A hamburger eaten on a family picnic.

So...I can't quite bring myself to use raw eggs. I trust my source. I buy local, free-range eggs. But still.*

But we can't do without chocolate pie. I altered the recipe, working from my vague memories of the Chocolate Mousse served twenty years ago at Primerose House in Charleston (SC). That mousse, made by a kitchen savant named Dexter, relied primarily on whipped cream and a simple ganache. In this case, I still used eggs because I wanted the silkiness that egg can provide. But I cooked them in a custard first. While I was playing The Fraction Game, I made the recipe a little smaller. Surely two pies is enough, right?

2 chocolate pie crusts (Oreo crusts, basically - make it or buy it. I bought mine.)
3 cups of heavy cream, divided
A few tablespoons of white sugar
2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks
10 ounces of chocolate (I use Ghirardelli dark chips)
1 Tablespoon of strong coffee
1 Tablespoon of whisky (bourbon! The original called for light rum but we don't have any)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

[Freeze the bowl and beater of your mixer]

First, put the chocolate chips in a big bowl. Big.

Second, heat 1.5 cups of cream in a saucepan over medium low heat. Put the eggs (2 whole plus 2 yolks) into a large bowl and whisk like mad. When the cream develops little bubbles around the edges, use a ladle to stream a little into the eggs. Keep whisking! You're bringing the eggs up to temp so they won't just scramble. Once you've got a couple of ladles into the eggs (now it's a cream mixture you're whisking, looks like a bowl of hot milk), pour all that back into the saucepan. Whisk, whisk, whisk for a few minutes while the eggs cook and the cream thickens a little. Add the coffee, whisky, and vanilla at some point. Add sugar to taste - you're just sweetening it a little. I added 3 tablespoons of sugar toward the end.

Now pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips. Let it sit a bit. Then whisk or spatulize (ie: stir) so the chocolate melts. It takes a little time. When you have a nice ganache, keep stirring so it cools a bit. Set aside.

Get out your (frozen) bowl and whisk attachment (I have a KitchenAid mixer and you should, too. If not, whip the cream as you usually do). Whip the remaining 1.5 cups of cream until it's quite firm.

[Note: recipes often say: but not until it turns to butter. Pfft. I did that, once, on purpose. It takes a lot of whipping and you'll see beads of water start to develop before it happens. So the better instruction might be: don't walk away. Your cream will whip in moments and you just need to stand there and when it starts to look quite solid turn off the machine.]

Once you have your whipped cream, get out a big spoon and eat it.


Plop that stuff into the ganache and fold, fold, fold. About halfway through, think to yourself, "Why am I folding? This is really just going to end up mixed. And it won't mix unless I mix, which isn't folding!" Just keep folding.

When it's a nice, uniform light brown, pour it into the pie crusts. Cover (the ones you buy at the store come with a plastic cover) and freeze.

If you prefer the pie softer, let it thaw an hour before serving. If not, eat it frozen. It's yum either way. Also, you can top it with more whipped cream or with chocolate shavings but I think that's coals to Newcastle.

*In The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (a Christmas gift!) she offers a recipe very much like our family's. She says: buy good eggs and trust them. Intellectually, I know this is a reasonable approach. But emotionally I just can't quite manage it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

How He Sleeps

For many years, Charles collected teddy bears. He received them for his birthday, for Christmas, and for random (meaningful) events (our wedding, for example).

We kept them away from Iain at first. But this year Charles opened the last of the enormo-tubs and let the kid play with whatever he wanted. I dedicated a toy box exclusively to bears so we could clean them up every so often.

My point is: normally the bed has one or two bears. The rest live in a box.

But the other night, after Iain fell asleep, we peeked in to check on him. This is what we found. Every single bear. On the bed. Iain in the middle. Snoring.

Can you see him in there? Look at the blue pillow.

[NOTE: Is he asleep now? At 10:12 on Christmas Eve? Ha! No. Not even close.]

Friday, December 21, 2012


From the bathroom: "Daddy, I love you." Also, "If I had a brother I'd share with him." Sure you would, kid. Sure.

UPDATE: Kid gets out of bathtub and says to me, "Mommy, when are you going to die?" Next Tuesday. Thanks for asking.

Image from here

In other news, I got a text from Miriam. It said, "Waaaddddy Petoooonya!" Miriam cannot spell Waddy Peytona. But I think this means she's nearly home. So hello to Louisville! Corn pudding. Mmmmm.....

UPDATE! Check out this list of Louisville houses of entertainment (bordellos).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Best Thing Evar

Love this series so much.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Reward

Last year, Iain asked for Christmas lights. We said no. We said, "eat chicken." "Eat french fries." He said no.

This year, he eats chicken. He even ate some french fries. Once.

So we gave him lights. It's pretty and romantic, but awfully bright at 3am. Also, that thing in the window is a "ghost leftover from Halloween. In case you wondered. We like to layer our holiday swag.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ok, Stop Crying. Here It Is

I didn't photograph the details. Sue me. But you can see the major changes here. New shower with plain white subway tiles (shiny, not matte). New glass door. New floor (pebbles), new shower heads (each side has a head, a temperature control, and an on/off control). Newly-glazed tub, new teak wall with concealed storage, new mirror, new sink, faucet, and cabinet.

New slate floor, new golden, buttery wall color. New light fixture, new ceiling height in the shower (higher), new towel warmer cum radiator. New towels and bath mats. New can lights in the ceiling. New fan (just as loud - as requested by me - but more effective).

So far, no new trashcan. We have to figure that out. Also, our magnetic, touch-triggered latches are a mixed bag. They work ok on the teak wall, but when you lean in to brush your teeth the doors to the vanity pop open. Didn't think of that. Oh, well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Almost There

Let's talk about shower doors. Turns out, you need up to ten days to fabricate a glass shower door.

"So what?" you say. "You can order it and wait while they do the demo."

No, actually. You can't order it until the tile goes in. You need extremely specific measurements. So the whole bathroom comes out. The walls go back up. The tile sticks to the putty and finally, FINALLY you can measure and then order the door.

Cue ten days. Unless, of course, you've bumped up against Thanksgiving. In that case...hard to say.

So here you see it, nearly done. Floor: in. Tile: in. Sink: in. Tub: deliciously shiny. Teak wall: concealing a nice cabinet worth of storage. I can pile in my half-used tubes of hand cream and 3-packs of toothbrushes (must have fresh toothbrush regularly) alongside the hairbrushes and cans of child-friendly sunscreen. And no one needs to see. Yay!

Also filed under "Yay": the little shelf for shaving (see it in there? Just big enough for your foot), the toilet seat that doesn't slump when you sit on it, the handheld shower head on my side (stationary on Charles's side) so I can wash the dog occasionally...ahh details.

Next stop: completion.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Walls. Not Much Else.

Eventually, the contractor removed the toilet and bathtub. The toilet relocated to the garage (nothing like getting in and out of the car next to your toilet for a month). The tub suffered from orange spots in the bottom - places where the glaze had become too thin. So we sent it away for re-glazing.

In the shower, plumbing, then valves, then floor tile (not really tile but small, grey pebbles in an epoxy grout), then dry wall appeared.

And there it all sat for a week or so. Finally, a gentle nudge ("Hey, so...this was a 2-week job and we're entering week 4. Any thoughts?" I did not make this call. I was grouchy.) brought a flurry of activity.

More on that next time.

Friday, December 07, 2012


It's amazing how long folks can take to tear out walls, tile, toilets and sinks. A week. Srsly.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Bathroom Renovation, Step 1

Observe, a not-too-bad bathroom.

Notice the elegant mini-potty.

So the old bathroom wasn't so bad. But what you can't easily see is the way that every little thing seemed to be just a little wrong/broken/old/peeling/dirty/ugly.

For example, the beadboard. It was painted white, but because of temperature variations it could gap between panels in winter. The gaps reached a quarter-inch width. So the paint tore away and even in summer when the wood expanded and the beadboard closed up the paint looked sort of feathery where it was peeling away.

Also, the tile always looked like cream tile covered in mud. Also, the toilet had a lid made of plastic. When you sat on it there was a five-second lag, then the lid slumped in the center. Ploof! Down you go,    slipping into the depression. It felt like falling into the toilet and every time we sat down with Iain to supervise bath time we waited for that slumpy feeling.

Every piece of hardware and lighting came straight from the cheapest aisle at the Home Depot. Not the nicer things they carry - the $4 light fixture and the $10 faucet. The white circle it on the tub shower head kept falling off. The "hot" and "cold" indicators on the handles fell off. Etc. etc. ad infinitum.

I also hated the decorative tile strip in the shower. That's merely aesthetic. But the disintegrating shower door was a serious issue. It leaked, it wobbled disturbingly, it was crusted with something.

So we tore it all out. Down to the studs. And started over. Same layout (partly to save money, partly because there wasn't anything wrong with the layout), new materials better installed.

More photos to come.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Gingerbread, Anyone?

"Hey," Charles said. "Why don't you build a gingerbread house? It'd be something to do with Iain over the break."

Ok. Obtained kit (it's basically two molds for the gingerbread dough, two pastry bags, and two recipes - gingerbread and royal icing). Mixed dough. Pressed dough into silicon molds. Baked. Cooled. Unmolded.

Then Iain and I visited the toy store at the Grand America Hotel. Aside from its magical displays of robots, dolls, and dinosaurs, the store contains a "Candy Organ." Essentially, it's a dispenser with towering tubes of hard candy and a musical base. You step onto the base and it plays music, then hold your bag under a spigot and the organ pours candy into the bag.

Iain chose yellow ducks, green chocolate balls, blue and white M&Ms, extra-large red-hots, and candy-coated raisins in various colors.

Then we hit Harmon's for peppermints, candy canes, dark chocolate M&Ms, and Skittles.

Finally, we mixed up a batch of royal icing, filled the bag (thank you, pastry set gift received ten years ago - I love to use you), and began to decorate. As you can see, we covered the roof, lined all the windows, filled the eaves with duckies, built and stocked a pond, initiated a snowball fight between our gingerbread siblings, set up a fence (good fences make good neighbors!), and pretended not to notice how many bits of candy disappeared into Iain's maw.

Dad turns out to have impressive piping skills. Who knew?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Send Help

Me: "He's never going to go to sleep."

Charles: "Satan doesn't sleep."

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Two weeks ago I attempted a cookie made from puff pastry. They're twirly swirls of sugar and butter called palmiers.

Fail. Total fail.

This week I found a new recipe on Foodgawker. I had to keep the link open for the entire week before I found time to play with a new batch of puff pastry but...

Success! Beautiful, soft, cinnamon goodness.

You can find the recipe (more of a description) here.

Long story short:
Get a box of puff pastry. I used Pepperidge Farm. Thaw it in the fridge. Lose your patience with that and put it on the counter for 2 hours.

While it's thawing, pour about 2 cups of sugar in a bowl and mix it with cinnamon. You'll have lots of leftover sugar but you need a lot to do this. The leftovers can be used to make cinnamon toast so don't complain.

When the pastry is soft and pliable, pour some sugar on your countertop and lay the piece of pastry (unfolded if it was folded) on top. Pour more sugar over the top and basically pat/rub it in. Try to avoid finger licking.

Once it's covered (I like to flip it over once so I can press more sugar in because the act of pressing sugar into dough is therapeutic enough it ought to cost $300/hr), start rolling in the sides. The idea is to roll the sides like a cigar, starting from the outer edge and rolling toward the center. Roll each of the sides so that you end up with two long rolls that meet in the middle. Think of a twirly mustache. Like that. Ish. Now wrap it in plastic wrap and put it back in the freezer. (THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT STEP DO NOT SKIP IT)

After half an hour (or a week or whatever), preheat the oven to 425F. Slice your roll into cookies about one third of an inch thick. Lay them on a cookie sheet with a Silpat, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes.

The recipe I found calls for coarse sugar and a tiny bit of salt sprinkled on top. I didn't do this but next time I will. My cookies were great, but that extra sugar crunch would have been divine.

Cool them on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a rack.

I know from my previous experience that these store really well. Good for lunchboxes. My box of puff pastry contained two folded sheets. I prepared both, but only baked one (perfect on a single cookie sheet). So I have another roll frozen for later use. Whee!

I guess that story wasn't so short. Anyway, check out the original blog. I'll be reading for more recipes.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Last week Baby Rohan visited. The Dad needed to attend Supercomputing'12 while The Mom needed to experience a fancy hotel in Park City. Parents have needs.

Rohan is perfect. In particular, he's at the perfect age for adult social activity. He goes happily to restaurants in his bucket. He sleeps a lot. He's easy to feed. No one considers his behavior a sign of bad parenting. Basically, he's the ideal tiny person.

I got plenty of baby time. Here, you see him in his mother's arms. But he's a tolerant soul. So I held him a lot. He even pooped on me!

In other news, Iain chose his own shirt this morning, put it on, and then played alone for an hour while we slept later. Whee!

At dinner, though, he asked how long spring lasts. "Three months," said The Dad.

"No." said Iain. "It's fourteen months."

Well, duh.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Where's That Luck???

Remember Iain's Saturday night? He seemed fine on Sunday, didn't he? And by fine, I mean annoying.

But the thing about viruses is...they're patient. They wait until you think you're safe, then POW!

Iain was not fine on Sunday. He was not fine Monday. Or Tuesday. He's fine now.

Charles and I, meanwhile, are proud to have raised a child who shares. He thinks, "Hey, Mom and Dad. I found this great virus at school. I want you to experience it with me!" So proud. So, so proud.

Thus did we come to enjoy 24 hours of illness the specifics of which I will not specify. Let's just say that today I bleached the bathroom. Also, I've done about 20 loads of laundry in 4 days. Also, dramamine is a wonder drug without which no one ought to be.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

How're Your Laundry Skills?

In a heroic effort to gauge our early-morning crisis coping mechanisms, Iain spent last night vomiting into a bucket. And his bed. And his pillows. And his clothes.

He complained of a tummy ache at bedtime, but he does that a lot. Then he threw up in his sleep around 1030. Then again, again, again, again, etc. Eight times, total, by 430 am. We bathed him, stripped the bed twice, mopped the floor and quarantined the teddy bears.

Today, he seems fine. Which is to say: annoying. Demands water, jumps on the bed (frighteningly near my camera), and asks me to fast-forward Harry Potter to the part at Hogwarts (no one likes those icky Dursleys). So far, he's had some water and ginger ale. No food. We'll see where that goes in the course of the day.

In the meantime, wish us luck. We've done 5 or 6 loads of laundry so far. No end in sight!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween 2012

Iain decided to dress up as Will Smith from Independence Day. Technically, Smith plays a Marine pilot in that movie, but Iain chose a Navy flight suit. It came with aviator shades - very cool, he says.

Someone, somewhere, taught Iain that Halloween photography is all about making faces.

Don't look at me.

Also, he filled that little bucket with candy. Filled. He visited 15 houses, learned to say "thank you" and "Happy Halloween" and did not ask a single person his favorite question ("How old are you!?").

Monday, October 29, 2012


Rough night tonight. Iain declared bedtime, girls, stories, and Mom & Dad "stupid!" And from there? Downhill.

His enthusiasm for Legos remains strong, though. He likes to build space ships, submarines, planes, fighters, bombers, and helicopters (with blasters, phasers, and anything else that will blow stuff up), then fill them with mini-figs. See above.

In a desperate effort to keep the Legos under some kind of control, we've transferred them to the TV room downstairs. Now he can play alone, watch TV and play, and leave his thousands of sharp little plastic toys all over the place without danger to our sanity or feet. We'll see if it remains an appealing place when winter hits. For now, it's great. I'm tempted to flit across his bedroom just for fun - enjoying the sensation of safety I get knowing I won't step on a Lego block.

In other good news, he's eating well. Tonight he ate chicken, tater tots, and green salad (with spinach!) for dinner. For dessert he tried a lollipop from his friend Meg's Halloween party. Too sweet, he said. He's moved firmly into the Eats What Everyone Eats camp - no more special meals.

It's a relief. But now he gets a vote. And he's not afraid to use his vote, either. He wants this but not that. Your ideas are yucky. It's this or nothing. Nothing!! As soon as he's old enough to cook the dinner - it's his job.

Pretty cute, though. I'll give him that.

Monday, October 22, 2012

What Color Are Your Eyes?

The other day Iain asked, "What color are your eyes?"


"Mine are Basil."


"Do you mean Hazel?"

"Uh, yeah. That means green on the outside and black in the middle."

I explained that everyone's eyes are black in the middle. Then he said, "I love you I love you blah, blah, blah."


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Did I Mention Mendocino?

People. In Mendocino, there are unicorns on every corner.

Every. Corner.

Also, nasturtiums. Is it the moist air? I guess I thought of nasturtiums as plants that love heat and sun, not cool, misty mornings. But there they are, growing in bustling profusion on every fence and property line.

Also impressive are these dinner-plate sized succulents. People love to cram these into table plantings but they usually take up 3 or 4 inches. Not in Mendocino.

Four feet high, eight or nine inches in diameter, they pop up like weeds. Given the rate of growth for most succulents, I figure these at 10 or 15 years old. Maybe older.

Unicorns, I tell you.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Uh Oh

Iain walked in and asked me, "What's slingshot?"

So I drew him a picture. Here's the forked stick. Here's the rubber band. Here's the rock or acorn and here you are, drawing back the band and shooting the projectile at something.

I cannot explain nor was I prepared for the look of glee on his face.

"It's a weapon," I said.

I think he knew that.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Wedding

Above and below, the view from the wedding. Really.

Just outside of Mendocino there's a state park with a lighthouse. Quite a charming lighthouse, though not a tall one. In Maine, lighthouses tend to be pretty high up. Here, perhaps because of the height of the cliffs, the lighthouse was only a couple of stories tall.

Anyway, they lined up chairs out on the bluff and we all sat there listening to the wind and pretending that we could hear everything being said up front.

Once the happy couple said their vows and walked back up the path, Mother and I walked to the edge for a look. Pretty spectacular, I think.

Below, Mother listens to the service. After, we joined friends and family for cocktails (they had a non-alcoholic bar, too, with iced tea, lemonade, and water), then dinner. Butternut squash soup, green salad, grilled flank steak and poached salmon, polenta (ZOMG!), and mixed veggies. I love California.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

More Mendo

The view from Main Street. We checked out the local bookstore (there are two, but the used bookstore closes earlier so we headed for the one that sells new, deliciously-scented books) and emerged to find this across the street.

And flowers in the garden next to a chiropractor. Thanks to the moist air and cool breezes, the gardens here overflow with soft, delicate flowers. Anything the sun might burn seems to thrive. We saw one house with paving and mulch and I thought, "How sad." I don't think those folks can really expect to keep anything tidy in this climate. Better to embrace the vines and weeds and riotous color than to try to impose an unnatural kind of order.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Sea Gull Inn Mendocino

 Misty, floral, cool and lovely. There's a main house, but we're in the "barn," which is actually a little building that reminds me of the Tiny House movement.

 Above, the view from the bathroom window. There's a house on the other side of that vine, but you needn't worry about it because who could see through the foliage?

Neither of us can escape work entirely. Mother took some calls (and made some calls and then called some people and then some people called her) while I read exams.

Today: the wedding. We have the morning free. After lunch we'll toddle up to the shuttle stop and ride over to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. Then it's partypartyparty until bedtime.