Thursday, December 28, 2006

17 things...

...about Mariah:

1. She laughs when I try to be cool. (She rocks!)

2. She looks great, no matter what color her hair is.

3. She's brave enough to try different hair colors.

4. She gets amazing grades.

5. She's modest about that.

6. She can sing. Like an angel.

7. She finds books for me to read.

8. She reads the books I find for her.

9. She's patient with her brother. Mostly.

10. She's terrific with other people's kids.

11. She's the best babysitter on the block.

12. She loves chocolate almost as much as I do.

13. Nonetheless she can be restrained about it.

14. She has great friends--ones I'm happy to have over as often as they want to come.

15. She seems to be willing to hang out with her parents.

16. She can drive a stick shift.

17. She's seventeen today, and this hardly scratches the surface. Happy Birthday, again!

Happy Birthday

Mariah turns 17 today, which is a greater shock to me, I think, than it is to her. Just this past week she has gone on her first college visit, driven an unfamiliar car, calmed her brother's night-time fears, and generally acted like the grown-up she is becoming. The night she was born she seemed calm and deeply curious--she lay in Mark's arms and drank in the world around her with her blue blue eyes. She is still curious, though perhaps not always calm.

She'll get a birthday with her godmother and family this year, as well as with grandparents; I'm glad she can do that, though I know she also wants a friend-birthday, and we'll probably try to make that happen as well. Before that, though, there will be creamy pasta with mushrooms and a very chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream--the girl has good taste, I'll give her that.

This is the first time I've ever blogged on her birthday, but it shouldn't, probably, be the last: happy birthday, Mariah!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

now it can be told

I meant to post an "after" picture to match up with the Christmas Eve one, but with two dogs (my brother's) and two kids under five (my sister's) in the house, we made sure to keep the under-tree area pretty clean as we were opening gifts. It took hours, though, I tell you. And everyone is very happy now.

What I can show you today is my Christmas knitting.

Clockwise from top, just left of noon:

A maroon alpaca scarf for Mom, knit in a simple eyelet pattern I sort of made up.

A sideways knit scarf for my brother-in-law out of Paton's Rumor, an alpaca blend.

Slacker scarf for my older brother, out of a nice wool whose name I can't remember. Yes, I did finish it on the drive.

Edgar, for Mariah, out of a lovely hand-painted yarn. I finished that one Christmas eve.

A multi-directional diagonal scarf for my sister out of another lovely multi-colored yarn.

[edited to add:] Missing from this picture (inexplicably, because it's in an earlier shot, without the incomplete items) is the ribbed alpaca hat I made for Mark. It looks exactly like the one in the pattern, though, amazingly. I used the same colors and everything...

And in the middle, cupcakes from One Skein for my nephew, the hit of Christmas. So much fun. I can't wait to make more.

There was real baking, too, over the past couple of days, but that's for another time.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Friday, December 22, 2006

one last Friday food

I made these rolls for Thanksgiving and a friend asked for the recipe, so here it is for posterity (or however long this thing lasts...)

Brown and Serve Rolls

Mix together:
1 cup warm water
2 envelopes (4-1/2 tsp.) dry yeast
let stand for 5 - 10 minutes

Stir together in a large bowl until shortening melts:
1/2 cu soft shortening (I used butter)
2 cu hot water
1/4 cu sugar (brown or white; I used brown)
1-1/2 cu powdered milk
1-1/2 tbl. salt

Add to the large bowl and beat together:
the yeast mixture
1 slightly beaten egg
6 cu flour (I used unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 cu toasted wheat germ

Once the dough begins to come together, turn it out on a floured work surface and knead for ten minutes, adding as much as 3 cu flour.

Place the dough in a large buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 1-1/2 hours. Punch the dough down and let it rise again for 45-60 minutes. After the second rise, shape the dough. I rolled it out to about 1/2 inch thick and cut small circles with a biscuit cutter, brushed each circle with melted butter and folded it in half, placing it fold-side down in a large glass baking dish (also buttered). You can find other techniques for shaping in any good encyclopedic cookbook (ie, Joy, Fannie Farmer, etc.). Once all the dough is shaped, cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and a tea towel and let rise until double--30-45 minutes.

Bake at 275 for 40 minutes.
Leave in pan for 20 minutes, then remove and let cool at room temperature. If desired, wrap and freeze some or all of the rolls at this point. When you want to bake them, thaw first, then bake at 400 for 7-15 minutes, depending on how big you've made them.

My recipe says it makes 8 dozen but I cut the rolls bigger and ended up with 4-5 dozen. Still more than enough for a feast!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

the year in blogging: 2006

As seen on The Republic of Heaven and Raising WEG: the first line of the first post of each month:

I don't make new year's resolutions; they just make me feel inadequate.

Today's my day on the Literary Mama Anthology blog book tour.

It's the first day of Lent and I haven't decided what, if anything, to give up.

I have a confession to make. I was a mean girl.

We had a quiet weekend.

I should probably preface this recipe by noting that, at the end, I will just tell you to grill the chicken and leave it at that.

Did I already mention going to see The Break-Up while we were at the beach?

He shares a birthday with Francis Scott Key and Herman Melville.

We've had no phone or internet at home since yesterday afternoon, and no power on campus today, so I'm feeling a little out-of-touch.

[my lovely sister] Is in yesterday's NYTimes.

The headless wonder heads out for the night...

After all the posting last month I'm taking a brief break to work on some other stuff.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I almost titled this post "why I am amazing," but my early training in modesty kicked in and I had to change it. Still, I'm feeling pretty good. The grading is almost done (and I haven't yet resorted to this technique--alas, exams submitted online can't be thrown up OR down the stairs!), and I've made lots of treats today as well. (Baking is a wonderful procrastination technique.)

Here's the Christmas baking list. (Not all were made today...but I'm not sure I should admit how many were.)

Pumpkin Rocks (I threw caution to the winds and used dried cranberries, walnuts, andchocolate chunks.)
Mocha Butter Balls
Speculatius (Danish nut cookies from the old New Joy of Cooking [1953])
Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies (I'm pretty sure that's a TimesSelect link; sorry if it doesn't work for you. The recipe is from the NYTimes Magazine, 11/5/06, and it's really good. I didn't do the fussy roll, chill, trim, cut, bake routine; at Mom's recommendation, I just rolled the dough into logs, chilled, then sliced and baked later.)
Elevator Lady Spice Cookies
Amaretti (adapted from Donna Hay's Modern Classics, Book Two) (These are about the easiest cookies ever: almonds, sugar, a little flour, vanilla, and eggwhites. I added cocoa powder, too. Quick and tasty.)
Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti (also Donna Hay)
Chocolate Truffles (Silver Palate Cookbook)

I haven't yet tasted the biscotti or the truffles, and the pumpkin rocks and mocha butter balls are almost gone. Still, there are enough for some gift trays and for us to keep some, too.

But now I'm beat.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Christmas Miracle: a tale in three acts

Wow, where did that last week go? (Don't answer that...the piles of papers on my desk tell the story.)

I've been wanting to tell this story since it happened, but it's been too busy until today.

Our heroine, rushing as usual, decides to make a quick Target run on the way home from campus. It is a Thursday in December, mid-afternoon. The list includes band-aids, toilet paper, and compact fluorescent light bulbs; should be a quick in-and-out, with no Christmas shopping involved.

In the way of such things, though, it is not all that quick. The parking lot is crammed with other shoppers who in fact are Christmas shopping at 3:30 on a Thursday. And the clothing aisle emits its usual seductive aroma of inexpensive impulsivity. Despite the two pairs of jeans and two t-shirts that join the rest of the shopping list items in the cart, however, our heroine makes it through the store before 4. (As usual she skips trying on anything, trusting to Target's generous return policy.)

Purchases made, she returns home uneventfully, puts together some cookie dough to chill and bake later, cooks and eats dinner with supporting cast (spouse and younger child).

After dinner our heroine leaves for choir practice. Eldest child has an unexpected ride home from school--where she's stayed late for her own choir rehearsal--so the evening's plans have eased. Halfway through rehearsal our heroine reaches into her bag for her palm pilot, to check a date for an upcoming event.

It's not in the bag.

The palm pilot is not only the repository of all date- and place-related information. Its case is also a wallet, containing credit cards of untold spending limits and over eighty dollars cash, following an ATM run the day before. This is serious.

The bag is floppy and things sometimes fall out of it. Maybe the palm pilot is on the floor of the car.

It's not.

Our heroine returns home after choir practice, ca. 9 p.m. A frantic search for the palm pilot throughout the house ensues. It is unsuccessful. Our heroine is dangerously agitated, slamming drawers open and closed, stomping up and down stairs. The supporting cast (now represented by spouse and older child, as younger child is already in bed) backs away. This can't end well.

Realizing that she last used her wallet/palm pilot case earlier that day at Target, our heroine makes a desperate phone call. After waiting through a long recorded message and explaining her problem twice (once to the operator, and again to Guest Services), she is told to call back in thirty minutes, when the person with the key to the lost-and-found drawer will return. Assured that coming in to the store during the thirty-minute waiting period will not hasten the return of the keeper of the keys, our heroine hangs up and commences upon a tirade on the decline of western civilization, as evidenced by the failure of Guest Services to procure a key when needed. The supporting cast makes comforting noises but keep their distance.

Thirty minutes is long enough to roll and bake the chilled cookie dough. When the cookies are in the oven, the time appears to be up. Savvy now to the workings of the Target phone service, our heroine presses "0" at the appropriate moment and requests a connection to Guest Services, which is provided.

"Hello? My name is Our Heroine, and I think I left a black leather case--with a palm pilot in it, and some money--in the store, earlier today?"

"I think you did, honey. Let me check. Hold on."

Miraculously, Guest Services does not subject our heroine to holiday--or any--music on hold. On her return, she asks for a name again, then fills in first and middle when she hears the last name. The palm pilot is found! It would be too much to ask for anything to be left in the wallet; our heroine doesn't ask.

Target is open for another hour. It is ten minutes away. Our heroine rushes out the door, leaving instructions with eldest for cookie-removal. Guest Services has the wallet/case and more endearments. Our heroine doesn't usually answer to "honey," but it seems just right in the moment. She leaves, proffering grateful thanks. Once back in the car, she looks inside: all the money is there. The cards have not been moved.* A Christmas miracle, indeed.

The jeans and t-shirts don't fit and will be returned at a later date. The cookies are fine. All is well.

*In case you're worried that someone did get numbers and security codes from them, don't be: there's a fraud alert on my accounts anyway as a result of UCLA's recent data security breach.

Monday, December 11, 2006

ant or grasshopper?

From yesterday's New York Times comes the word that guilt fades while regret at missed opportunities grows. In other words, I should be out Christmas shopping and having fun now instead of sitting at my desk trying to start grading? Or, hmm, would Christmas shopping not be fun enough?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

welcome, happy morning!

No, it's not Easter, nor yet Christmas yet, but weekend mornings, especially in the winter, are indeed happy. This morning Nick crept into our room at about 7:30 with the idea that we should have chocolate muffins.

Why, yes, we should.

Monday, December 04, 2006

blog break

After all the posting last month I'm taking a brief break to work on some other stuff. A paper, a column, some grading, that sort of thing. I'll probably pop in and out but I'm not expecting to be very present here for the next month or so. We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


I've just cleaned up the sidebars a bit. You can still find all the recipes just by clicking the label "recipes" over there, and you can find my reading and viewing lists over in the commonplace book (which I will try to update more regularly). Otherwise I'm hoping it all still makes sense. I still need to put labels on some old posts--surely there's more than one about knitting!--but all in good time.

lazy daisy cake

Last year for my birthday I received this great little cookbook: Lost Recipes. Marion Cunningham is also the name behind Fannie Farmer, and she has a nice touch with homey recipes. I made terrific biscuits from this book the other night, in fact--maybe I'll post them later.

I've been intrigued by Lazy Daisy Cake for a long time--I think I probably first saw it in Fannie Farmer, as a matter of fact. A quick cake with a broiled topping seemed like such a good idea! But I'd never made it.

Until last night. Mark and Mariah were very late coming home, dinner was made, and Nick and I decided we'd keep it warm and wait for them. I could, I suppose, have knit a few rows on a Christmas something, or graded a paper or two, but this was what I did instead. It was a good choice.

Here's what you do:

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour (or spray) an 8-inch square cake pan.

Beat together two eggs with one teaspoon of vanilla. When the eggs have thickened slightly, add in one cup of granulated sugar. When the mixture is thick and has lightened somewhat, stir in a blended mixture of one cup all-purpose flour, one teaspoon baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. In a microwave safe cup, add one tablespoonful of butter to 1/2 cup milk--microwave until the butter melts. Working quickly, add the hot milk/butter to the egg/flour mixture. The batter will be very liquid. Pour it into the prepared cake pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.

While the cake bakes, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Add 3 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 tablespoons cream, then mix in 1/2 cup chopped nuts. When the cake is done, spread this topping on top and run the cake under the broiler for about a minute (not two, as I did!). Let cool briefly then cut and eat.

(And now, I believe, I have indeed posted something every day for a month. If not here, then on the other blog. So it can be done!)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Missing the bus

As I'm sure I've posted about before--but am too lazy to link now--I drop Mariah at her school bus stop every morning at 7. Or, soon thereafter. The time has been slipping all fall, and now if we leave the house by 7 we figure we're doing all right. In fact we often sit and wait at the stop for a few minutes even so.

But this morning the radio commentator noted that it was 7:10 as we were pulling away from the house, and that made me nervous. There are more cars on the road at 7:10 than at 7, and we didn't hit the lights right, and by the time we got to the stop there were no kids waiting, no other cars, no bus. So we turned around and headed out towards the other bus stop--15 minutes away, across the river. (The geography here makes it so that we're actually about equidistant between the stops, but there's a toll and a river between us and the second stop, so we always go for the first.)

We made it to the second stop just behind the bus. As we pulled up I saw one of the kids we carpool with getting out of her dad's car, and laughed: apparently the long weekend had delayed them as well. And before I pulled away two more kids (siblings) who usually take the north side bus jumped out of their car and ran to get on the bus as well.

Break's over.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I love Thanksgiving leftovers... much that I made a Thanksgiving dinner for us tonight. We had a lovely, elegant meal with friends on Thursday; everything was delicious, and we all had lots of fun. I brought home the leftover hickory pie, but the rest stayed there--as it should. That meant no turkey leftovers, no stuffing, no gravy, no sweet potatoes in my refrigerator.

So last night I put a pie crust in the fridge, and I rolled it out and filled and baked it this morning: pumpkin pie, ready before church.* I peeled and chopped sweet potatoes and nuked them long enough to mash, beat in eggs and butter and sugar and milk and vanilla (avert your eyes, all you lovers of savory sweet potatoes) and topped with pecans and brown sugar and butter and flour: sweet potato casserole, ready to bake.

Then after lunch I went on a bike ride with Nick and Mark and various other folks to celebrate the birthday of one of Nick's friends. It was a great day for it, and a couple hours of exercise was just right for this weekend.

Back home, I put a turkey breast in the oven, then chopped onions and apples and sauteed them up to add to cornmeal stuffing. There were still rolls in the freezer from Thanksgiving so those came out to thaw. I toasted almonds and cooked green beans and pulled the leftover cranberry sauce out of the fridge.

Turkey breasts, of course, cook quicker and more evenly than whole turkeys, so in about two hours it was done and I had gravy going while the stuffing and sweet potato casserole and rolls heated up. And now we've eaten our fill and there's--hallelujah!---enough left for a couple more dinners, and maybe a lunch or two as well.

*I maybe should have waited until I was a little wider awake: following the recipe on the can of pumpkin, which was (I'd checked earlier) exactly the same as the one in the Joy of Cooking, I was fooled by the tiny type and used 1/4 cup of brown sugar where in fact 3/4 was called for. Even with my glasses on this just didn't register with me. The pie was fine, though--not as sweet as usual, but still fine.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

hickory pie

This is pecan pie, New England style--a family tradition in my family, where my dad shells hickory nuts every fall/winter and makes maple syrup early every spring, thus supplying the basic ingredients. You could make this one with pecans if that's what you have, though.

I got the pie crust recipe from the New York Times. If you've seen my peach pie recipe (or even if you haven't) you may note that this one has more butter than usual. A lot more. And you know what? It's really, really, good, and easier to manage than the other one. So you can choose, but know that this is good.

Here's what you need:

for the crust:
10 tbl. very cold butter (up to 3 tbl. can be shortening if you prefer; I think I actually only ended up with 8-9 tbl. in all, 2-1/2 of shortening and the rest a very nice Irish butter).
1-1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2-5 tbl. cold water

for the filling:
5 eggs
2 tbl. melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup brown sugar
1-1/4 cups maple syrup
2 cups hickory nuts (or pecans)

Cut the butter/shortening into 1/2 inch bits. Pulse the flour and salt briefly in the food processor, then add the butter/shortening. Pulse until the butter is in pea-sized or slightly smaller pieces. Add water slowly through the feed tube until the dough starts to come together. Dump it out of the processor, form into a ball, flatten into a disk, and wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate until you are ready to make the pie. (Overnight is fine.)

Roll out the pie crust* and fit it into a 10 inch pie plate, preferably glass or pottery. Place the nuts in the crust.

Mix together the eggs, butter, syrup, vanilla, and sugar until the eggs are beaten and the sugar is mixed in, but the mixture is not yet frothy. Pour over the nuts in the pie shell.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 and bake for another 35-45 minutes, or until the top puffs up. (If the crust looks like it's browning too fast, cover it with a narrow ring of aluminum foil or one of those things designed for that very purpose. Hmm, that looks like a useful gadget!) Cool and serve with whipped cream.

*Rolling out a pie crust used to scare me to death. They didn't hold together, they stuck to things, I couldn't get them the right size. Then I bought a pastry cloth and rolling pin sock, et voila! Much easier. (The more butter thing helps, too!)


On this Thanksgiving morning, I am thankful for:

The quiet of a holiday morning, when I am the only one up. (Because we're being thankful here I won't go on about the conditioning that has me up at the same time--o'dark-thirty--every morning.)

The thanksgiving feast we'll eat later today, most of which I won't prepare.

The friends with whom we'll eat it. And the many friends we won't see today, too many to link, some known only in cyberspace.

The foods I will prepare, including sweet potatoes anna and hickory nut pie (recipe tomorrow if it turns out well).

Family, both scattered and close (and including, of course, un-linkable family).

Knitting. (One Christmas project down, many to go!)

Tae kwon do.

Butter. (See foods, above.)

Robin Williams's Barry White imitation in Happy Feet. (While I'm on Happy Feet, how did George Miller go from Mad Max to Babe and Happy Feet?)

My students, and the syllabus design (mine!) that means most of them didn't turn papers in Monday for me to grade over the break, so that I can, instead, do this.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

weekend report

Christmas knitting has begun. And that's all I have to say about that. (No peeking!)

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Nick started studying tae kwon do, a Korean martial art, about two and a half years ago. At first it was a once-a-week after school class at his school: little kids in the basement yelling and kicking. It was actually pretty fun to watch them all work on their patterns, but we weren't sure it would last.

When that class ended, though, he wanted to find another one. He'd tested for his first belt at that point, gotten over the jitters of being in a big room with strangers and working through his routines, and he was ready to do more. So we called around and found a class only a few blocks away. Perfect!

We didn't know quite how perfect. While the first class had taught him some basics, in the new class he was getting real discipline. I knew I'd love this class when I saw the teacher get his small group of boys to sit cross-legged and meditate for a few minutes after stretching and before beginning their practice. (I still wonder what goes through their heads at that time.)

Nick quickly advanced, earning a new belt about every three months. He memorized complicated patterns of kicks, punches, blocks, chops, and turns--sometimes as many as 38 moves in a single pattern. He focused his sparring techniques. He (mostly) kept quiet when the teacher asked, stood, bowed, and addressed him as "sir," and helped the other kids. He broke a board or two.

After a while I started noticing adults in the class. Apparently parents of the kids had asked if they could take the class rather than just sitting and watching, and the teacher agreed. (Actually, to be more accurate: moms of the boys in the class joined up. Although there's one small girl in the class, and more recently one adult male, there's an interesting gender dynamic going on that I'll analyze another time.) So this summer, I joined too.

Pause here to remember that I'm not an athlete. I have no storied past as a runner or swimmer or softball player to regret. I started taking yoga classes about seven years ago and had recently fallen out of the habit. I don't like to sweat. But I was feeling the lack of exercise, and it seemed like time to start something new. And I was a little frustrated at work, and I thought maybe a more active, aerobic exercise practice than yoga would be a good release. Maybe I'd even learn how to break a board.

So far I'm nowhere near Nick's level--like most of the other parents in the class, I lag behind my son, which makes for an interesting dynamic: the sons outrank the mothers, but the mothers are bigger and stronger than the sons. We used to laugh when we first started sparring--it seemed so silly, trying to hit someone else! But now we don't. We practice our spin moves, our kicks, our punches, and we ki-ya (shout) as loud as the kids when we have to. We take our tests and advance through the ranks. I know three patterns now, and my kicks are getting more focused and stronger.

And yesterday, when I tested for my orange (third) belt, I broke a board with my foot. Didn't hurt a bit.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thanksgiving recipes, #2: Garlicky Cranberry Chutney

It looks like I don't quite qualify for NaBloPoMo because I'm posting on two different blogs. Ah, well. I didn't sign up in time, anyway, so I'm really just doing it for the glory, not the prizes. Or something. (I'm on the list anyway...scroll down from that above link, if you care!)

And I am really trying to post every day, just to see if I can. So here's today's effort, another Thanksgiving recipe. You need to know that my family thinks cranberry sauce is one of the vegetables on the Thanksgiving table. Or two or three of them, actually. We do usually try to provide something green, but there's lots of the red stuff: often three or four varieties. My dad likes cranberry-orange relish. Others like Mama Stamberg's cranberry-horseradish concoction--something I have to confess I have never tasted, though it certainly looks pretty. Then some plain whole-berry sauce (but I said "plain," so skip the orange zest!) is nice, and I even really like the jellied cylinder that comes right out of the can and can be cut into neat round slices.

But my own favorite is this garlicky chutney, loosely adapted from a recipe Susan Stamberg posted along with the horseradish one (in fact if you scroll down from the above link you'll find her version). Here's how I do it: easy and delicious.

1 12-oz. bag cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

1-inch fresh ginger (or 2-3 tbs. chopped ginger)
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tbs. sugar
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt (or less)
ground black pepper
1/2 cup toasted walnuts or pecans (optional, but I think they make the dish)

Combine the first three ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until the berries pop. Let cool. (If you're in a hurry, just use a can of whole-berry sauce here.)

Cut ginger into paper-thin slices, stack slices and cut into really thin slivers (or, use the pre-chopped stuff in the jar, as suggested above).

Combine ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar and cayenne in a small pot. Bring to a simmer, then simmer over medium heat until there are about 4 tbs. of liquid left. Add the cranberry sauce, salt, and pepper; mix and bring to a simmer. Simmer on gentle heat for about ten minutes. Cool before serving. If desired, stir in 1/2 cup toasted nuts, just before serving.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Thanksgiving recipes, #1: sweet potatoes anna

I think we're gathering with friends this year for Thanksgiving, so I'm starting to think about the various fabulous sides and desserts I can bring. This one has been a family tradition on my side of the family for over a decade now, I think: I just tracked it down in an email from 1999, at which point we'd been making it for a while. It is for those people who prefer their sweet potatoes savory--I have another terrific sweet potato recipe for a more dessert-like concoction--and it does take some time, but it's well worth it. Here it is:

Sweet Potatoes Anna

5 sweet potatoes, peeled
2 leeks, whites only
6 tbsp butter, melted
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Slice potatoes very thinly (1/8"); cut leeks in half lengthwise and slice those thinly as well. Butter a round, shallow 10" baking dish. Arrange a layer of potato slices in the pan in overlapping circles. Brush with 1/4 of the melted butter, top with half the leeks & thyme, s&p. Repeat with another layer of potatoes, the remaining leeks & thyme, then a final layer of potatoes. Brush the top layer with melted butter. (Yes, you are using a lot of butter. It's worth it.) Cover the pan with foil, and weight it with a heavy skillet to bake for 30 minutes. Remove the skillet & foil, baste with the remaining butter, and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes and then turn out of the baking dish onto a plate before serving, and prepare for compliments.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

weekend update

That title still makes me think of Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin, which I guess dates me, but so what? This was a quiet weekend--with the teenager out of the house most of the weekend the rest of us spent a lot of time quietly reading. There were things we could do (and we did a few, like go to the library and to a concert on campus) but mostly we were quiet. And we caught up on sleep, which was nice.

I did, of course, bake. With, I have to say, somewhat mixed results. I was intrigued by the no-knead bread in last week's NYTimes--I have a long love affair with no-knead bread, after all. But this one used less yeast and sat around a lot longer. In my case, about 20 hours. In the end, I was frustrated: the bread did not rise anything like as high as I expected, it stuck to the kitchen towel I was raising it on, and it didn't brown up in a lovely way. It did, however, make a more than edible loaf of bread. I'm thinking that maybe he really meant it when he called for "instant yeast," since that's the only deviation from the recipe I made. (Believe it or not!) And in some ways it was fine that it didn't rise up very high because I don't actually have a casserole big enough to bake a bigger loaf in. So we'll see if I try that again.

I also decided--because we had two pears, and because it seems to be pear baking season--to try this pear upside-down gingerbread. And it is very tasty, I must say, even if you bake it in the toaster oven because the regular oven is already full of pork tenderloin and roasted vegetables and bread. The toaster oven does, you will remember (a bit too late) bake a bit faster than the regular oven, so the cake may be a little, um, burnt on top--but that becomes the bottom anyway, so who cares?

All in all, a perfectly fine weekend, rain and wind and all.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

November 11

is not only Veterans' Day, and/or Armistice Day, it's also Corduroy Appreciation Day. On account of the 11/11 looking like corduroy wales, naturally.

Friday, November 10, 2006

the names of the trees

I don't know most of them. The big tree on our corner is an elm, one that so far hasn't succumbed to Dutch Elm disease. It's already lost most of its leaves. When I park the car on that side of the street I drive on top of a thick carpet, almost up to the curb. They're wet and springy and and slippery. What's left on the tree are brown and dead-looking.

In front of the house the crape myrtle still has most of its leaves. In the interior, among the multiple trunks, the leaves are still green, tipped with light yellow. Moving outward they turn more yellow, then gold, then orange, then almost red at the tips of the branches. This tree is only about as tall as I am; a few years ago it was taller, but there was an accident on our corner and a car ended up on top of the tree, pushing it down to the ground. Amazingly, it has come back, with more trunks than before.

In the backyard the dogwood still has leaves and they are a dark, burnished red. No matter how bright the sun they don't really catch the light as the red maple leaves do; they look dull but rich.

A block or so away there's a stand of gingkos. Their leaves are so yellow they look, from a distance, like flowering trees with blossoms as bright as forsythias. In the late afternoon, when the sun is low, they look lit up from within and below, glowing a deep bright golden yellow.

There are a few more I know but not many. And I can't quite capture the colors when I photograph them; that late, low light just doesn't come through in my pictures. They look almost on fire, some of them, and as I drive down the street away from the sun the remaining elms and their younger, newer cousins, whatever they are, lean across the street making a canopy of flaming color to drive through. I wish I knew all their names.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I'm just asking...

why is it that my box of 100% organic, whole wheat pasta had an extra layer of (non-recyclable) packaging? Normally the pasta is just inside the box; this time there was also a plastic bag inside the box--one that I had to cut my way into (no "easy open" here) and then discard.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

new column

check it out here, and leave me a comment!

And, then, go vote. Or, you know, vote first. The column will still be there when you get back.

(And, yes, this post is a duplicate of the one at my other blog. I'm busy today, ok?)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

must be the weekend

because I've been baking. Every other meal, I think, since Friday evening: casserole that night, (Nigella's granola) muffins the next morning, biscuits with dinner Saturday, (pumpkin) muffins this morning, and flatbread with dinner tonight. It's madness, but no one complains.

This morning's muffins, below, are shamelessly ripped off from Susan, who got the idea elsewhere. Yum.

BTW, this recipe is basically what I did, though I only just discovered that. I actually made mine from a recipe for pumpkin bread from a falling-apart paperback cookbook, The Art of Cooking for Two, that I always just scoop into muffin cups instead. So I didn't do the nice cinnamon-sugar top, but otherwise it's really almost the same, except that I used a cup of brown sugar rather than the 1-1/4 called for, and two cups flour (one each white & whole wheat).

Saturday, November 04, 2006

another thing about fall

in Virginia... you can go pet the alpacas here. Who knew so many people were raising (and showing) alpacas? Much cuter than sheep, and bigger...

edited to add a picture, just to prove cuteness (not my picture--and, actually, we saw even cuter ones!)

Friday, November 03, 2006

fall in Virginia

If I earlier disparaged the fall colors in Virginia, I now retract that false and erroneous statement and give you this:

Thanks to H for reminding me.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

where I'm not

I'm not at all sure I'm going to blog every day during November, though there are those who would encourage me to try. I'm definitely not writing a novel this month. Still, if I were going to post every day this month, I might do it this way, with pictures.

Here's someplace I'm not, today. It was lovely; I'd go back in an instant, and I get why Wordsworth wrote "lines" while he was there. I was inspired, too (but not to poetry).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Very Scary

The headless wonder heads out for the night...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Roasted Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges

My, was this good. I made it up as I was going along, but I think I can recreate it reasonably well here.

Preheat the oven to 425.

Take three good-sized sweet potatoes, scrub them, and cut them into wedges. I split them vertically, then cut each half into three wedges, then cut each wedge once horizontally, but you can do what works for you. Dump them in a bowl with some olive oil--enough to coat them but not so that they are sitting in oil.

In a small bowl, mix together a tablespoon of brown sugar, a half teaspoon of cumin, a half teaspoon of cinammon, a dash of cayenne (more if you like things spicy and your family won't object), and a quarter teaspoon of salt.

Toss the sweet potato wedges with the spice mixture. Not every surface will be coated; that's ok.

Spread the wedges out on a rimmed baking sheet, with one cut surface down if you think to arrange them. Put them in the preheated oven.

After about ten minutes, stir them around so that a different cut edge is down.

After another ten minutes, stir them around again. If a surface is browning, turn the wedge to another surface. They will be softening up by now and browning nicely.

You get the point. Turn them every so often and they should be done in about 35-40 minutes.


This will serve three people who like sweet potatoes, by the way. We have one who doesn't so we were fine. Add another potato and more spices if you need to, but try not to crowd the baking pan.

picking apples

I'm feeling a bit too busy to blog, so here's a picture from last weekend in CT. Pickings were actually a little slim at the orchard--late in the season, after frost and high winds, many of the apples were either damaged or on the ground. But we managed to find enough to bring some home, and last night we ate some fried up with pork chops. And roasted sweet potato wedges, which now that I think of it are good enough for a recipe entry. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Apparently I'm registered with the wrong party

So, if you haven't taken it already, here's the Applebees Quiz. I'm a 10 on the 12-point scale, which puts me well into Red America, somehow. I think this may be because I have been known to shop at WalMart, drink a Dr. Pepper, and buy a local brand of bottled water. Though, really, often the choices were a case of flipping a coin: I don't really buy bottled water (but if I did it's the cheap stuff); I don't really drink soda, and between Pro Wrestling and Monster Trucks I'd choose, um, a mammogram instead. I mean really, either one sounds like torture. I got the quiz from Stone Court, and so far the folks taking the quiz through their site are almost all coming up red despite their claims to blue-ness. So I'm not sure how useful it is.

(By switching Saab to Audi, Dr. Pepper to Sprite/Pepsi, local water to Evian, WalMart to Whole Foods and USNews to TVGuide, I got it to put me in the "Tipping" Tribe. And when I switched bourbon/scotch to gin/vodka (which for me is a weather-related choice, not a political one), Monster Truck to Pro Wrestling, Coors to Bud, and auction site to dating site, it moved me all the way over to blue. Since most of these are really "none of the above" answers, I may just not fit the categories at all.)

Fall in New England

We spent the weekend in New England, which certainly does fall right. We can get good colors in Virginia, some years, but they don't seem to have quite the vibrancy of New England's sugar maples. This was the first time in years I'd been in New England in the fall--it's a tough time of year to travel, but we had a family event that brought us north and it was well worth it. I didn't take these pictures--my brother did--but they'll give you a sense of what we saw.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

bread pudding

I meant to make a pumpkin bread pudding the other day, but it turned out I didn't have canned pumpkin in the house. I always have canned pumpkin--I buy it up in the fall when it appears in stores, and shelve it. It's always there--just as there are always cranberries in the freezer, bought up against some future shortage. Apparently I slipped up last year and didn't lay in quite the pumpkin supply I had expected. So, chocolate bread pudding instead, and it was pretty tasty, I have to say. This is not a dessert I grew up on -- or, if it is, I have somehow forgotten it. But it's certainly one I'll repeat while the days are cold and damp and it's a comfort to have the oven on. Easy, delicious, and thrifty--what more could you want?

Here's what I did:

Dug in the freezer for the half-baguette I knew was in there. It was. Pretty stale, and not very big, but there nonetheless. I let it sit out a while to thaw, then broke it into chunks and dropped them into my 3-quart (or so) casserole. That didn't look like enough bread, and Mark had brought some big sub rolls back from his camping trip with Nick, so I ripped one of them up and put it in there, too.

Then I melted half a stick of butter in the microwave. Most bread pudding recipes seem to want you to butter the bread, but I didn't see that happening with the chunks I'd just thrown in the casserole. So I broke three (well, really, two, but that wasn't enough and I added another one later) eggs into the same container with the butter, then added three cups of milk, and whisked it all together. Oh, with about half a cup of brown sugar and a teaspoon or more of vanilla. It was a big container--a one-quart pyrex measuring cup, as a matter of fact. I probably should have mentioned that earlier.

So then I poured all that nice stuff over the bread and let it sit there for a while as the oven preheated to 350. (What really happened is I had only two eggs and two cups of milk and the bread absorbed it all, so I added another one of each and it looked much better. But you can skip that step.) Just before I put it in the oven I threw a handful of chocolate chunks into the casserole as well, trying to push most of them down under the bread/milk mush. At this point I was pretty skeptical, I have to say. It looked like strata. In fact, of course, it was strata, with sweet instead of savory fixings. Who knew?

Then I baked it for about 40 minutes. Towards the end I turned the heat up a bit to brown the top.

While the pudding baked, I made a caramel sauce by melting a stick of butter in a pan with a cup of brown sugar, then whisking in half a cup of cream when it was all melty looking. I poured half the sauce over the hot pudding and let it soak in before we ate it--and if I make this again I'll probably only make half a recipe of sauce, since I don't have any vanilla ice cream to pour the sauce over. But that's easily fixed, of course.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

fall break

The fall study break is two days in October with no school. That's it, just a slightly longer weekend and some time to catch up. We need it, too. Mostly so we can finish things that we've started.

Like these:

These are felted clogs for Nick. See how big they were before? (Pear for scale.) I hope they fit--I measured them against his sneakers.

I also finished this yesterday. The cool part is I started it yesterday, too. I love quick knits.

Monday, October 09, 2006

bullet points

I don't think well in bullet points. When people ask me for quick summaries I inevitably end up with paragraphs. I start outlines and part-way through realize that I'm writing out the material, not summarizing. Nonetheless I'm time-limited today and I'm going to try for bullet points for a quick weekend update.

  • Cooler weather means dinners in the oven, and dinners in the oven means cream sauce. Or so it seems. Creamy cheesy chicken bake (thanks, H!) on Friday, chicken pie (leftovers from Friday, with veggies, more sauce, and a crust on top) on Saturday, and tuna casserole on Sunday. Time to exercise more.

  • Rain. It rained all day Friday and Saturday. I literally didn't leave the house on Saturday. The roof, however, did not leak, and the Jetta didn't, either. Praise be!

  • If you've got to stay in all weekend there are worse things to do than watch MirrorMask, a Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean movie that evokes Coraline quite nicely without in any way recreating it. Nick, who often finds movies too scary to watch, enjoyed it just as much as Mark and I did. (Mariah was out and missed the fun...)

  • Of course, you can also watch baseball right now, so I did that, too.

  • Sunshine on Sunday meant we actually did get to the Fall Fiber Festival. What, you didn't know about the fall fiber festival? I'm not quite sure how I found out, but once I learned there'd be sheepdog trials, I had to go. Come on, you remember Babe, right? Mariah kept chanting "Baa, Ram, Ewe!" as the dogs were trying to herd the sheep. And, yes, it was terribly muddy. But Nick learned to spin on a drop spindle (we'll see how long it takes him to make me some knittable yarn), and we bought yarn, and we walked around in the sunshine. A good time for all.

  • It's midterm time, so I'm now officially a grading machine. See you in a while...
  • Monday, October 02, 2006

    my lovely sister

    Is in yesterday's NYTimes. I almost never open the Business Section, so I'm glad she let me know.

    Friday, September 29, 2006

    stuck in the mud

    You've Changed 8% in 10 Years

    You've hardly changed in ten years, from your lifestyle to those very retro clothes.
    And unless you were really ahead of your time, you probably need to acquaint yourself with the modern world!
    How Much Have You Changed in 10 Years?

    Saw this on Raising WEG. OK, so I did have a child in the last ten years--not a question on the quiz--but otherwise, truly, much is the same. (But why doesn't the quiz care about my fabulous new refrigerator?)


    So now this blog is in beta, too. I'm told the commenting issue has been fixed--let me know if you see anything different.

    [edited to add more detail, in response to Mom's comment]
    So: blogger has two different interfaces, now, and I'm testing out the new one (thus, beta). My understanding is that at some deep level it's very different from regular blogger in how it manages posting, but as far as I'm concerned the difference is that it's easier to edit and change the layout, and that I can add labels to posts, which can help with searching out old posts later. Or that's the theory.

    this isn't really Friday food

    Because I'm not doing that any more. But last night I made this tasty dish of stir-fried beef and vegetables (I added snap peas and haricots verts to the red bell pepper) and everyone liked it. In fact Nick, who has been unreasonably picky of late (sweet potatoes! Who doesn't like sweet potatoes?) ate a second helping.

    three chocolate-covered espresso beans

    and a cup of tea, taken late in the afternoon, conspired to disturb my sleep from about 2:30 until 6, when I had to get up anyway. I know this about myself: caffeine doesn't keep me up, it just disturbs my sleep. But those espresso beans tasted so good!

    Monday, September 25, 2006

    How not to start the work week

    1 a.m. The house is dark; everyone is asleep. I become aware of several things at once: Mark is moving next to me, there's movement upstairs, and some horrible noise has broken through my sleep. Out of bed, I hear it again. It sounds like a child being tortured: a high-pitched scream of pain.

    Before I can begin to imagine the possibilities that the sound holds, I flip on the downstairs hall light. I shout: "What is it?" Mariah comes down her stairs--I register, then, that she's not hurt, that she didn't make the sound.

    And as I hear it again I realize that the sound that woke me was slightly different, involved hissing and scratching. As I hear it again I see Anna the cat leaping at the front door, fur pointing in every direction, tail fluffed, hissing and--yes, that's her--screaming at the black cat on the front porch, who is on the other side also leaping at the door, at Anna. A cat fight, with a door and a pane of glass in between the combatants.

    Mark goes down and shoos both cats away from the door. I make sure Nick is all right (he seems, in fact, to have slept through it all, though he looks up groggily at me when I ask him if he's ok). Mariah goes back to bed. It's over by 1:05.

    Friday, September 22, 2006

    Friday update

    • Nick is learning to play the saxophone. Twice a week he goes early to school for "band practice"/group lessons. He got the sax (a rental) Wednesday, and learned how to make noises with it yesterday. To all my neighbors: I apologize.
    • Nick, by the way, does not apologize. He announced at dinner last night that passers-by were stopping to listen to him when he was demonstrating his prowess for our neighbor. We did not correct his impression, but I'm afraid they may have been looking for the goose that was being strangled.
    • Mariah is taking voice lessons but we are not privy to her practicing. Again, I apologize. That might be nice to listen to.
    • It is the autumnal equinox and the weather is appropriately crisp and cool today. But I hear it's warming up again tomorrow. It's hard to get dressed these days.
    • The sky this morning looked like the sky on a summer afternoon just before a thunderstorm: dark overcast with bright light at the tops of the trees and buildings. Lovely, but a bit ominous.
    • So far fall classes are going well for everyone. Mariah loves her government class, Nick is full of information about the history of Virginia, and I'm all children's lit, all the time.

    Monday, September 18, 2006

    what is up

    I'm working on a fellowship application lately--or should I say, I am working on a fellowship application? Get the difference? I've spent the last five years or so working hard to rid my academic prose of its stiffness, its stuffiness, its (let's be serious) unreadability. Though I always thought I wrote conversationally, the years in graduate school and beyond had an effect, and when I first tried to sell some non-academic writing I got smacked down, hard, for my pretentiousness. Over the years I've tried to adjust, and I think I've been reasonably successful.

    So anyway. I'm applying for this fellowship, and the person who advises me on such things tells me to avoid contractions in formal prose. I've been teaching writing for 20 years and I've never told a student to avoid contractions.

    But audience is everything, and if she says formal contractions won't fly, out they go.

    You'll be glad to know this equanimity took at least an hour of me growling at the keyboard and refusing to remove my apostrophe. But it's like parenting, this writing gig: you have to pick your battles, and the apostrophe was starting to look a lot like a meal Nick didn't want to eat--not worth this fight, even if I still want to hold to the principle.

    OK, so the analogy is strained. But you get the point.

    blogger hates me

    I have just tried three times to update my viewing list (for the record, we watched "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" two weeks ago, and it's well worth watching) and every time, blogger tells me it doesn't know who I am, despite the fact that I have just signed in.

    Watch this post disappear, too.

    Maybe it is mad at me for getting a beta blog as well? But I thought they wanted me to!

    Monday, September 11, 2006


    Becca's going to think I'm copying her; but really, who better to imitate? I'm blogging about my reading here. It will take a few weeks, I think, before I really get moving on it, but at least I've made a start.

    new column

    Here's my latest: on Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, and 9/11.

    Friday, September 08, 2006

    The Last Friday Food for a while

    It's that season of the year when summer food seems too light, not quite substantial enough, but we are not yet ready for the soups and stews and casseroles of winter. It's a hard time, cooking-wise, for me. I'm busy at work, the kids are busy, we all need to eat, but nothing seems quite right.

    Luckily we can still fire up the grill. Here's a marinade for grilled chicken thighs that works every time. If you slice up some grillable veggies (maybe a late-season zucchini or two, an eggplant, a couple of red peppers) and brush them with olive oil to grill alongside (really, you'll need to start them first) you'll have dinner in no time. Especially if, like me, you delegate the grill-work.

    Marinade for chicken thighs (enough for 6-8 boneless skinless thighs; also works for breasts, bone in or out, but the thighs are more flavorful and juicy).

    5 minced garlic cloves
    1 tsp. kosher salt
    juice of two lemons (1/3 cup)
    grated zest of one lemon (2 tbl.)
    3 tbl. chopped fresh rosemary
    2 tbl. olive oil
    1/2 tsp. sugar

    Mix together the minced garlic and the salt and rub it all over the chicken. (Messy but worthwhile.) Mix the rest of the ingredients together and pour over the chicken; marinate for at least an hour, or up to a day, covered and in the refrigerator.

    When it's time, get someone to grill them. Yum.

    Wednesday, September 06, 2006


    Well, it took six days, but we now have phone & internet at home again. When so many didn't have power at all, and when in the scheme of things our problems are so small, it seems churlish to complain, but just believe me when I say I have not been fun to be around the last few days. What this says about my internet addiction I don't care to examine, though I will say that I do increasing parts of my job online (course management software, online course reserves, etc., etc) so part of the issue was that I was feeling hamstrung about work. And, then, the other part.

    Blogging will no doubt slow down for a while anyway. It's the kids' first week of school (praise be!) and my second week of the semester, and there is a lot going on. This will be a busy fall, mostly in ways I'm quite looking forward to, but that will necessarily cut into my internet time. And that may not be a bad thing at all.

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Do I still exist?

    We've had no phone or internet at home since yesterday afternoon, and no power on campus today, so I'm feeling a little out-of-touch. I'm in a cafe with free wireless this morning so I can update and check e-mail and all. But I'm about to head back to our digital-free-zone at home, hoping that we'll be reconnecting later in the day. Wish me luck!

    (And if you came here this morning looking for a recipe, my apologies... As usual at the turn of a season, I'm tired of all the food I've been making for months but haven't quite shifted into the new mode. Maybe next week.)

    Monday, August 28, 2006

    Why Hemingway Is Chick-Lit -- In These Times

    Why Hemingway Is Chick-Lit -- In These Times: "“When women stop reading, the novel will be dead,” declared Ian McEwan in the Guardian last year. The British novelist reached this rather dire conclusion after venturing into a nearby park in an attempt to give away free novels. The result?

    Only one “sensitive male soul” took up his offer, while every woman he approached was “eager and grateful” to do the same."

    Click the title above to read the whole article. The take-home message: women read to "experience other ‘minds in action’—which is another way of defining ‘empathy’." Or maybe the take-home message is, the novel is already dead, since men don't care about it. (Shades of the nineteenth century, when novel-reading was derided as an effeminate pastime, as Chaudhry points out.) Men, by the way, do read: they just read non-fiction, according to the article.

    I want to think about this more, especially since when I teach children's literature women are (slightly) less likely than men to have an interest in fantasy, which most people think of as the polar opposite of non-fiction. Hmm.

    Friday, August 25, 2006

    Friday Food #29: Microwave Chocolate Cake

    This is a fabulous recipe stolen from a blog I keep forgetting to link to, but love: Now Norma Knits. I think I saw it when she first posted it, but didn't make it for a while. Frankly, I was skeptical: microwave cake? It just didn't sound...right.

    Well, it isn't really cake. Or, it is, but if you think of it more like British steamed pudding you might be closer. The main thing is, it's quick, it's chocolate, and it's dessert in under fifteen minutes. Not only worth a try, but worth saving the recipe. I have lightly edited this, but if you click the title you'll get the original.

    Norma's Microwave Chocolate Cake

    1/4 cup good quality cocoa powder (I still have some Valrhona left...mmm!)

    2/3 cup hot water, divided in two 1/3-cup portions

    3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

    1 cup sugar

    1/2 teaspoon baking soda

    1/4 teaspoon baking powder

    1/4 teaspoon salt

    1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Norma swears this makes the cake, but I've left it out both times I made it and everyone was still very happy. I just get a little nervous putting cayenne in things for the kids, who seem to have an unerring instinct for all "weird" ingredients.)

    1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

    1 egg

    2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Grease or spray a round microwave-proof baking dish. My 1-1/2 quart Corningware casserole is perfect for this. A glass pie plate would do, but it will spill over the edges a little.

    Line the dish with plastic wrap.

    In small microwaveable bowl, mix 1/3 cup hot water with the cocoa powder; microwave on high 45-50 seconds or until slightly thickened.

    In medium bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add oil, remaining 1/3 cup water, egg, vanilla and chocolate mixture. Beat by hand until batter is smooth and well blended. Pour into prepared dish.

    Microwave on high 5-6 minutes, until cake begins to pull away from side of dish. Some moist spots might remain but will finish cooking on standing. Let stand 5 minutes; invert onto serving plate. Peel off plastic wrap and devour.

    You can get eight decent-sized portions out of this: we ate it two nights in a row. It's good hot, room temperature, or cold. The other night we had it with raspberries--perfection! (Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream would have been good, too, but that would have required going to the store, and the whole point of the cake was how quick and easy it, no ice cream.)

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    quick and easy

    OK, say you made ricotta cheese. Or bought some, for that matter. And say you have some peaches. (They are so good right now, I am buying them every time I go to the store.) And say you saw that recipe for grilled peach pizza, but the whole pizza dough on the grill thing seems like too much work. Frankly, everything seems like too much work right now. It must be the last week before classes start. But I digress. We were talking about peach pizza.

    If you don't feel like starting the grill, you do this instead. You toast a couple of flour tortillas (those are a staple in our house, handy for so many meals), and you spread the ricotta and the peaches on them instead of on pizza dough. And then you bask in the compliments. Amazing.

    (Yes, I did put the toasted pumpkin seeds on, and yes, Nick did pick them off.)

    Monday, August 21, 2006

    may it always be so

    Mariah is driving these days.

    Deep breath.

    She has a permit, not a license yet, and is driving around town pretty easily now. It took a while for her to get comfortable behind the wheel because our cars are both stick shifts, but she's now got the hang of shifting and not looking down at the gearshift while she does it. (That does tend to cause a little lane drift, we've discovered...)

    So today she drove on the highway for the first time. This is from her e-mail to me after she came home (no, I wasn't there for this momentous occasion. I have an irrational aversion to witnessing members of my family endangering themselves, so I decided to come to work instead):

    "My first merge was the hardest, but the guy in the lane I needed to be in changed lanes for me."


    Friday, August 18, 2006

    Friday Food #28: Grilled Eggplant "Pizza"

    This is an epicurious recipe, like so many of mine. I haven't made it yet this year but whenever I have it is a surprise hit: a surprise, because I'm the only person in the family who will admit to liking eggplant or will actually buy it in the grocery store. But this is so good and, really, so easy. This recipe makes enough for two for a main dish or four if you have something else to eat along with it, maybe pasta salad or a big green salad and some bread. Or, just buy another eggplant and some more tomatoes and make more.

    1 1/3 cups shredded four-cheese mix or pizza cheese (for this one, don't use fresh mozarella, as it's too moist to work: you need dry little shreds of cheese)
    2 tablespoons Italian-style dry breadcrumbs (plain ones are also fine)
    1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
    1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices (lengthwise slices are, of course, bigger than widthwise and so you make fewer "pizzas" this way, but you can of course slice it any way you like and it will work)
    8 ounces plum tomatoes, thinly sliced (3 or 4 tomatoes, I think, depending on how big they are)
    1/4 cup garlic-flavored olive oil (plain olive oil works just fine)
    2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    Stir cheese mix, breadcrumbs, and 1/3 cup basil in medium bowl to blend. Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Sprinkle eggplant and tomatoes with salt and pepper. Brush 1 side of eggplant slices with some oil. Grill, oiled side down, until bottom side is tender and grill marks appear, about 3 minutes. Brush second side of eggplant slices with more oil; turn over and top grilled side with tomatoes, then cheese mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Drizzle with remaining oil. Cover and grill until tomatoes are tender and cheese melts, about 7 minutes. Transfer eggplant slices to plates. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.

    Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    five cookbooks

    OK, so Caroline didn't quite tag me for this, but she certainly laid down a little challenge. So I'm taking on last summer's cookbook meme, because, well, I can.

    Total Cookbooks I Own: 42. Clearly I'm a slacker. (115, Caroline? And without unpacking them all?) I do also have half a shelf full of old Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, and Food & Wine magazines that I haven't thrown away, and an overstuffed binder of epicurious printouts and various recipes ripped from magazines or the backs of boxes and bags.

    Last cookbook I bought: I try not to buy them much, though I welcome them as gifts. So I have to confess that the last one I bought was at least two years ago, and it was the South Beach Diet Cookbook. I actually made things out of it, too. The last one I received was either Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone or Nigella Lawson's Feast; I'm not quite sure which was first.

    The last food book I read: I've read it before, but I just re-read Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, which I love. I don't know if I'll ever make one of the recipes, but she just says such sensible things, like this: "When people enter the kitchen, they often drag their childhood in with them. I was brought up on English children's books, in which teatime and cottage life play an important role. These formed my earliest idea of comfort: a tea table in a cozy cottage." While I can't myself recall a tea table in a cozy cottage in any of the books I love from childhood--Alice's mad tea party is more like it--I do know what she means about childhood, food, and literature being intertwined. One of my favorite food books, after all, is Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy.

    Five cookbooks that mean a lot to me:

    Peg Bracken, The I Hate to Cook Book. This was the first cookbook I ever cooked something from. It was crazy cake, and it went rather badly (I used Nestle's Quik instead of unsweetened cocoa, and may have subsituted salt for the sugar as well), but I went back and did it again and it came out fine. Peg Bracken makes me laugh while I cook, which is always a good thing.

    Suzanne Dunaway, No Need to Knead. This one taught me that I could bake bread. And there is nothing so satisfying as being able to serve home-baked bread at a dinner party or potluck.

    The Art of Cooking for Two. This is a tattered old paperback that my father gave me the first Christmas or birthday after I graduated from college (along with another cookbook, Sweets for Saints and Sinners, by Janice Feuer--both are now out of print). I suspect both came in some kind of QPB special. The Art of Cooking for Two was great for me starting out, as the recipes really did work, they tasted good, and you didn't have to keep eating them for days on end. I love leftovers now, but when you're living on your own they do get old fast. I still make banana bread out of this cookbook, though not much else.

    New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant. I didn't have the classic first Moosewood cookbook until it was out in a 10th anniversary edition, but I had this white one years ago. My copy has tape along the spine, stains on many of the pages, and is the source for more than one of my Friday food contributions. (For example, something like this, something like this, and I think also this one, which in their version has cauliflower and tomatoes, not tuna and peas.) I alter the recipes recklessly because they are the kind of basic rule-of-thumb recipes that one can alter and still succeed with. Everyone needs a cookbook like this.

    The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and The Joy of Cooking. Peg Bracken refers to "your big encyclopedic cookbook" throughout The I Hate to Cook Book, and she usually means one of these two. Most families seem to prefer one or the other; as far as I know, we were a Joy of Cooking family--that's the cookbook Mom kept the lists of Christmas cookies in, that's the one Caroline has in three editions, etc. But someone gave me a Fannie Farmer paperback soon after I got my first apartment, and I cooked from it until it fell apart. I think it's still on the shelf in all its tattered glory, but I now have a hardcover as well. I use them both, usually consulting both on various basics (pie crust, buttermilk biscuits, crisps and crumbles, how to boil an egg) until I have a sense of the parameters, then I improvise.

    Saturday, August 12, 2006

    here they are

    This morning's peach biscuits, just out of the oven. Yes, they look lumpy, but they taste good. According to Nick "they're a little bit like pie. Crusty on the outside, but soft because they soak up the juices inside. They're a little floppy."

    Friday, August 11, 2006

    Friday Food #27: Peach Biscuits

    Nick is like his cousin Ben in waking up on weekend (and other!) mornings with a yen for baking. Hmm, wonder where they got that? One morning a couple of years ago, we had fresh peaches, and I saw no reason to bake. After all, fresh peaches on cereal are one of my favorite breakfasts. But Nick insisted, and even came up with an idea: "how about peach biscuits?" After we got over my desire for shortbread (real New England peach shortbread, with biscuits and whipped cream), we invented these.

    You'll notice that I don't roll and cut out the biscuits. That would be hard to do with the little peachy chunks anyway, but I never do. They are lighter if they're handled less, after all, so if you don't mind the lumpy tops of drop biscuits, go ahead and make all your biscuits this way. (If you leave the peaches out this is really a perfectly fine biscuit recipe.)

    2 cups flour
    1/2 tsp. salt
    2 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1 tbl. sugar
    1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
    1 cup buttermilk (or, 1 cup milk left to stand 10 minutes with 1 tbl. vinegar or lemon juice)
    1 cup chopped fresh peaches (chop into bite-sized pieces)
    Optional: sugar & cinnamon

    Preheat oven to 425. Grease or spray a large cookie sheet.

    Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar in a large bowl. Quickly stir in the butter and buttermilk to make a wet batter (sort of like muffins, though you want to get the lumps out). Fold in the peaches.

    Drop by quarter-cupfuls onto the prepared baking sheet. If you like, sprinkle the tops with sugar & cinnamon. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and crusty.

    These are best consumed as soon as they've cooled enough to eat them. They're ok reheated, but much much better right out of the oven.

    Thursday, August 10, 2006

    The Book Meme

    I've seen this in a couple of places, though there seem to be variants out there. So here's my version.

    One book that changed your life: Might as well get the embarrassing answer out of the way right at the beginning. Honestly, I have to answer Gone with the Wind for this one. It was the first book that ever made me cry (make of that what you will--I was in the eighth grade), I read it in a two-day reading binge that I can still remember, and it somehow formed a lot of my ideas about success and failure for many years. It is no doubt deeply ironic, then, that I ended up living in the capital of the Confederacy.

    One book you have read more than once: This is hardly fair, as I have such a terrible memory that I have to re-read everything I teach, and I teach a lot of literature. I'm going to say Charlotte's Web, though, as I've recently decided it is the perfect novel (and I tell my classes so, every year).

    One book you would want on a desert island: Well, I've never read the bible cover to cover, and it would certainly occupy me for a while. But see below.

    (Sam's addition to the list) One book you wish had been written and would want on a desert island: Hmm, how about: How to Get Off a Desert Island ?

    One book that made you laugh: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird has me shaking with laughter every time I read the bit about the school lunch. I can't even read it aloud to a class, though I've tried. I'm not quite sure what this says about me. Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books have also made me laugh out loud, because I'm a nerd.

    One book you wish you had written: This one's just too hard. Diana Wynne Jones's books often fill me with envy because they seem fun to write and almost, but not quite, within my reach; the Fforde books combine all my favorite genres and make use of the kind of useless knowledge that seems to rattle around my head; Marilynne Robinson's Gilead just had me lingering over every page wishing I knew how to do what she was doing.

    One book you wish had never been written: Mein Kampf and The Da Vinci Code are both good answers to this. But, you know, it's not the writing that really matters, is it? It's the publishing...

    One book that made you cry: See above (sigh). I'm not sure it would now, though. Charlotte's Web. Bridge to Terabithia. Love that Dog. I'm pretty easy, really. Name a tear-jerking sentimental Victorian novel and I've probably cried over it, too. East Lynne? check. Jane Eyre? check. The Mill on the Floss just makes me mad, though, and I'm pretty sure Little Nell's death left me cold.

    One book you are currently reading: G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

    One book you have been meaning to read: There are stacks of them, all over the house, in the library, on the wishlist... Right now, though, I have to say The Hauerwas Reader. And, um, Proust's In Search of Lost Time, though that may have to wait for the desert island.

    I'm not tagging anyone else, since that never seems to work, but do take it on if you're so moved. It was kind of fun--and kind of humiliating, to tell the truth.

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    More on An Inconvenient Truth

    Caroline's got a great take on it here: Mama at the Movies: An Inconvenient Truth.

    You should also take this quiz. If everyone lived like me, we'd need 3.4 planets. Time to go unplug that cellphone charger, and find someone to carpool a little more often.

    malteser-ish cake

    We had a great birthday party for Nick on Saturday. Five boys met us at the Science Museum, played in the exhibits for an hour (note to self: that could actually have been longer), and went to see the IMAX movie, Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag. This wouldn't have been my first choice. We had thought we might check out Superman Returns (also playing on IMAX) but at 2 hours, 34 minutes, that seemed like too much PG-13 violence for Nick, if not for his friends. But one of the big draws of the Science Museum is the opportunity to see an IMAX movie. So, they saw what amounted to a recruiting video for the Air Force--though as such, it did stress the difficulty and danger of the job, so it could have been worse. It was hard for me to get into the cool effects of the movie, though, as I kept thinking that any of these boys could be in the military in 9 years. That was scary.

    But not, apparently, for them. And then we came home and had cake (see above) and presents, and they all went home without killing each other or fighting over the Legos, so all was well.

    As for the cake, it was not really the Nigella chocolate malteser cake, as you can probably tell from the picture. (Here's what it's supposed to look like.) But, as I mentioned the other day, I couldn't find Horlick's (OK, I didn't look very hard) and I wasn't sure I really had any malt fans in the house anyway. So I substituted chocolate ovaltine for the small amount of Horlick's in the cake (and scanted the sugar, as Ovaltine is a lot sweeter than Horlick's), and I substituted unsweetened cocoa for the Horlick's in the frosting. So instead of a chocolate malt buttercream I had a plain chocolate one.

    The kids seemed to like it fine. It's certainly not the best cake I've ever baked--the cake part was a bit dry and since it was neither malt-y nor particularly chocolate-y it didn't really thrill me--but it's gone now. So the whole thing still counts as a success. And it's a year before Nick has another birthday party.

    Sunday, August 06, 2006


    It was 74F this morning on my back porch. I ate breakfast out there, drinking hot coffee for the first time in two weeks, reading the paper and enjoying the morning cool.

    Friday, August 04, 2006

    Friday Food #26: Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

    I've had an ice cream maker for several years now, but I rarely make ice cream. Last summer I'm pretty sure I never even made it once. But lately it's so hot (I know, I know, it's boring to whine about the heat) that I can't bear to do anything in the kitchen. And yet, I must. For example, Nick had a birthday. Oddly, this required pie rather than cake. (Well, he's asked for a cake for his party, which is Friday. He wants Nigella's malteser cake, which I've agreed to make despite Becca's lukewarm recommendation, and despite the fact that I have yet to find Horlick's malted milk powder in Richmond.) So, OK, I made a pie. With peaches and raspberries, both from the freezer. (Dad's raspberries from last fall, peaches we picked last summer.) Then there was half a bag of raspberries left after the pie was made. And, well, I had to do something with them.

    And I had gotten the ice cream maker out a few days earlier to make Nigella's baci ice cream from Forever Summer. As soon as I made it I remembered that I'd made it once before and it was, amazingly, too rich. It was like frozen mousse, not ice cream. A fine thing, I guess, but not what I expected. And this is the experience I keep having with the ice cream maker: I make something that's fine, good even, but not exactly what I expected. (Umm, not only did I make it before, I blogged it--and I liked it better the first time!)

    So anyway, where was I? Back to the ice cream recipe. Sorry.

    Nigella also has a recipe for raspberry ripple ice cream in Forever Summer, but I decided to simplify my life a little bit and use the custard technique I found in the latest Gourmet (which I bought after Becca recommended it) instead of following Nigella precisely. Which actually struck me as a very Nigella thing to do, you know?

    So. On with it.

    Here's what you need:

    4 large egg yolks
    1 cup whole milk
    1 cup cream
    1/3 cup granulated sugar
    1 tsp. vanilla

    2 cups frozen raspberries
    1/4 cup sugar

    Here's what you do:

    Whisk the egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar together until the mixture is light yellow and comes off the whisk in ribbons. Heat the milk to boiling. Pour the hot milk slowly into the egg yolk mixture, then return the mixture to the pan (Nigella wants you to clean it first, so I do, but no one else seems to care) and heat it slowly until a thick custard forms. Stir constantly as it heats. As soon as it seems custardy (like hot pudding), take it off the heat and whisk in the cream. Add the vanilla and cool the mixture to room temperature, then chill it in the fridge.

    While it's chilling, puree the frozen berries with the sugar in the blender. Push the pureed mix through a sieve into a container that can go in the freezer. (Nigella adds some syrupy balsamic vinegar, but I didn't have any and didn't know how that would go over with the kids.) Put the raspberry mixture in the fridge for now, but remember to stick it in the freezer while the ice cream's working in the machine. You want it to get thick but not frozen solid, in other words.

    OK. When the custard is cold, pour it into your ice cream maker and let it do its thing. Mine takes a good forty minutes to get something even remotely resembling soft-serve ice cream; yours may go faster. In any event, when it starts to look like ice cream, get the raspberry puree out of the freezer. Layer it with the vanilla ice cream in an airtight container--three layers of each, starting with ice cream. Use a wooden skewer to swirl the puree through the ice cream to make it look pretty, then set it in the freezer to harden up. Mine takes three or four hours, but it's actually better the next day. (After that, eat it fast before the ice crystals form.)

    I would try more ice creams, but I already have eight egg whites in the fridge and no one here is a big meringue fan. (Not to mention that in this weather they'd be tricky...) So I'm looking for whole egg recipes only now. But this is really tasty.

    Thursday, August 03, 2006

    boredom and the dog days of summer

    Everyone has already commented on the article about boring kids, so I probably shouldn't even enter the fray. But being late to the party has never stopped me before, so here I go anyway. The thing is, this is hardly a new thing to say. Susan Maushart managed to get at it a little bit in The Mask of Motherhood, for example. (And I think I managed to mention that little bit when I reviewed the book years later.) I think Helen Simpson has the best fictional depictions of the occasional moments (or, ok, depressingly long stretches) of boredom that come with parenting in her fabulous book of short stories, Getting a Life.

    The Daily Mail article is, of course, annoying because the author can send her nanny to do the "boring bits" instead of simply sucking it up the way most of us do. So there's a class problem here: is it ok for poorer women to be bored so we can be fulfilled? I don't really think so. But the boredom, she is real.

    Andi's take on this is not quite the same as mine, perhaps because we define the word "boring" a bit differently. For her, as she says, "life with small children, or even big children, can be tedious, repetitive, and exhausting... but I only WISH I had the time to be bored. Being bored means there's nothing to engage you, nothing to do, nothing to consume your time or occupy your mind." That's a great way to think about it...but to me, "tedious, repetitive, and exhausting" often does equal boring. But that doesn't mean it's not a necessary part of life.

    Here's the definition of boring for me: being commanded to watch your kid play, but not really participate. This used to happen to me all the time: "play blocks with me, Mommy," Nick would command. So I'd get down on the floor, ready to engage, pulling out blocks to build some fabulous creation, and Nick would say "No, you can't have that block! No, do it this way! " And I would be reduced to watching, frustrated because there were things I could be doing (reading, writing, preparing for class, building a fabulous creation), but his need for a witness stymied those while not, somehow, allowing me to participate fully, to engage, to occupy my mind (to go back to Andi's words). There wasn't fear in there, there was simply, mind-numbingly, boredom, tedium, exhaustion. And no nanny to send in to do my shift, either.

    Watching soccer games was another intensely boring part of parenting, one that is thankfully over for us. Talking to other parents on the sidelines was not so boring, so there were compensations there, but I will not lie and say I enjoyed it or found it engaging. And that's ok. I did it, as I've done other boring things in my life (practice scales on the piano, read certain academic books, pay bills, clean house), because they were (and are) necessary. On occasion I can surrender to those necessities and do them with a certain amount of grace, but most often I grit my teeth and just get through it. Attitude does matter, of course, but sometimes just showing up is good enough.

    Andi is, of course, absolutely right when she says, "When she says she's bored with her life as a mother, I think what she really means is that she is scared of what it means to surrender to it. This "boring" is a provocative-sounding label to give a problem that is too scary to name when you're in the middle of it -- the huge identity shift that happens when you become a mom, and the crazy-making emotional, psychological, cultural, and political contortions women -- and only women -- are still expected to make when they enter the world of motherhood." There's certainly a great deal of truth to this analysis--which is, again, much like what Andi's already said in MotherShock and what Maushart says in The Mask of Motherhood (hey! is packaging those two together!) and what Anne Lamott says in Operating Instructions. Which is also to say, again, this is not a new issue by any means. Why is it that we have to keep hashing it out instead of trying to do something to, oh, I don't know, alleviate the boredom? And why do we have to keep publishing provocative articles to stir up yet another storm of mom-bashing? (Tell me dads don't find fatherhood boring on occasion. Frankly, I think we expect them to.)

    So what's my point? We're in the boring days of summer right now. It's beastly hot (but you know that), and there are hours to fill that shouldn't be filled with TV or videos, but can't be filled with scooter-riding or other outdoor play. Thankfully, Nick has reached the stage where he can (mostly) entertain himself. He may claim he's bored, but a book or a piece of paper and some colored pencils can usually alleviate that, which means I can get on with the things I need to do. Sometimes I'm with him, sometimes I'm not--and, since he's now nine, that's OK. I may miss the cuddly days of earlier childhood, but I really don't miss the boredom. And I'm willing to call it that.

    [edited to add: why do British writers get to say their kids are boring? I think it's actually some kind of strange self-deprecating humor.]

    [and edited again to add, Miriam already said this more concisely.]