Sunday, June 30, 2013

Puzzle Madness

I received a puzzle as a gift. I lovelovelove jigsaw puzzles but I never get to do them. This is because puzzles require: the entire dining room table, good light, and plenty of time. When do I have any of those things? 

Summer, that's when. So I received this puzzle as a gift. A gift. 

Day one: "the easy part!" Find the edges, put together the frame. Easy, right? No. 

NO. This puzzle has an interior composed of lots of different colors. It's deceptive. You miss the fact that the edges (2 or 3 solid inches of edge) are EXACTLY ALIKE IN EVERY WAY. Kill me.

Anyway, it took the better part of a day to find the edge pieces, pull out the corners, and then (entirely using the process of elimination) build the frame.

I also sorted the pieces into colors using leftover takeout containers. Because when a puzzle is officially Hard As Hell (TM) being anal turns out to be not just useful but essential.

(Above) Day one, midnight: some progress.

(Above) Day Two: a false sense of achievement. I got the saffron, the red peppercorns, the green cardamom, and the paprika going pretty well.

Day Two: Closeup.

(Above) Day Three: Keep in mind that Charles was in California. So I was doing this for several hours every day, with complete silence. Iain was at camp. And yet...see those wide open areas on the sides? It was like watching a slow-moving storm. The bad part was on its way.

(Above) Day Four: Spices pretty much done. Only pain and suffering now. How many more days?

So this is when Charles returned. I continued to work on the puzzle that day. The next day I flew to DC to do a tiny little talk. (No, really. 20 minutes. But I got a great tour of the National Portrait Gallery out of it!) I was in DC for 5 days. I said to Charles, "I'll just leave the puzzle here and finish it when I get back."

Oh, no. No, no, no. I thought maybe another day or two.

Instead, it was an odyssey. I spent a couple of days trying to see patterns in the beige. Huge mistake. My eyes started to cross and I spent one miserable night dreaming about pieces failing to fit together.

New strategy: I sorted the pieces into types. By far the largest set was the basic piece - two roundy bits, two roundy-bit receptacles. But there were about 5 other types. Once sorted, it was possible to move methodically through the potential fits, trying one piece after another.

It took FOREVER.

How long? I started the puzzle on June 14.

Charles returned from LA on June 19.

I left for DC on June 20.

I returned on June 24.

Today is June 30.

So the final count is...12 days or so. Not counting the time I spent dreaming about it. 

Gah. So, so hard. This was not for beginners.

Next I'm making a quilt. Angsty blog post to follow.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Some things only work in some places.

Years ago I spent a week or so reading letters at the Houghton Library at Harvard. Aside from their security procedures ("Strip into this locker. Now turn slowly while we inspect you for stolen documents. Don't act innocent! We know you've got some 19th-century bit of parchment in there!"), the trip was a great success. I found lots of fun things, determined the absolute worst handwriting in the US (George William Curtis), and used the OED to look up the word "Nasty" (quite old, as it turns out).

One night, my mother's best friend Mary Ellen served steamed chicken breast with broccoli. It was totally plain because you were supposed to dip the meat and veg into a simple sauce made of oil, soy, garlic and ginger with green onion floating on the top. Utterly delicious.

I went home. I found the recipe. I attempted the dish. Repeatedly. No dice. At my house it was terrible.

Soooo....remember those gnocchi?

I made some tonight. This time I used the kind of potato he recommends.

But you know the thing about Salt Lake vs. DC? Humidity. In Miriam's house the dough came together. In Miriam's house the pillows cooked up into little cushions of love.

In my kitchen I got crumbly flour. I added a bit of water, eventually. Still not good. I added an egg yolk (after consulting some Foodgawker recipes). Finally: dough that looked about right. But when cooked? Nasty, y'all. Not at all good.

I'll try again, but I suspect that this is like Mary Ellen's dish. It'll work in DC. Here I'm out of luck.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Learning and Growing

I learned to make gnocchi. Miriam taught me. Also, this guy.

Basically, it's a 3-2-1 ratio. Three parts cooked, chilled floury potato (so Idaho, the kind you make baked potatoes from). Two parts flour. One part parmesan cheese. Mix.

Then you add yum: salt, pepper, nutmeg.

Then you roll it out ("like Play-Do!" said Iain), cut it into pieces and boil it. Easy peasy.

Fabio (see above) fries his in a pan with olive oil and chili flakes. I think I'd rather toss mine with brown butter and sage. But whatever.

THE POINT is that I'll be making gnocchi tomorrow. Yurm.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Translate, please

More and more, Foodgawker links to blogs in other languages. Thanks to Google translation services, this works out fine.

Well, mostly fine.

 I was just reading a recipe for potato dumplings. It calls for half a kg of boiled, cooled potatoes and another half kg of raw potatoes.

 The first step? "Wipe the friction." Then you add that to the "crushed" cooked potatoes. So I think "wipe the friction" means grate the raw potatoes. I think. Then you mix them with the cooked ones and from there you get a dumpling wrapper that's soft but not totally mushy.

Or, as Google has it, "Drive the egg, add the flour and potato starch and salt. Production of a smooth dough."

Yeah, that.

[Looks good, though. I bookmarked it for later.]

Friday, June 14, 2013

Report Card Highlights

"Iain is very thoughtful about choosing a good book to bring back to the classroom. Recently he checked out a science book about cockroaches thinking it would be a great story for his teachers to read to the class at rest time.  "

"awkward is actually one of Iain’s favorite words"

"Iain is a child who will hand you a 500 page book on rocket ships and ask “will you read this to me now?’"

"It is fun to see Iain create and illustrate elaborate stories about Ninjas."

I think we have a little boy here, folks.  

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


Iain, eating a delicious chocolate cookie baked by a student. He liked it.

I like history. But teaching is all about students. Today, a student left me a very special gift.

On my conference table there's a wide range of graffiti. Most is pretty tame: "X is hot!" and "I hate Y." But at one end of the table someone carved a nice anatomical term. It pops right off the table. You can't look away. Think "____ Monologues."

When the table lived upstairs, that particular word sat on the far end - away from the teacher. But when we moved the table downstairs, into my classroom, somehow it flipped. I spent the last 2 years looking down at it.

Today I came back to the room (between meetings) to find that a delightful young person wrote me a good-bye note, placed it over the offending word, and taped it down. Problem solved. Table restored to gentility.

Elegance, gratitude, and creativity, all in a single act.