Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Did anyone else feel that Amanda Hesser threw down a gauntlet with her cookie recipes in last week's magazine? (Edited to include permalink; thanks, Jody!)

I made the "flat and chewy" ones, and I'm going to try "thick and gooey" today. [Edited to add: "thick and gooey" are tasty but not thick. Maybe because I didn't chill the dough long enough. Life's too short.] But I have a couple of complaints already. The "flat and chewy" were too salty: 1 tbs. kosher salt AND baking soda instead of powder. I liked the kosher salt, actually, but in future I might double the amount for baking soda and use powder instead, which is way less salty-tasting. And I think one could easily scant that TBS of salt. I have spent most of my adult life leaving the salt out of recipes entirely, actually. Mark has a condition that requires a low-sodium diet, and when I started cutting salt out of things I got fewer headaches. But lately I've been inching it back into things grain by grain. It does make things taste better, no question.

But, sifting the flour with the kosher salt? Is just dumb. The kosher salt just lies at the bottom of the sifter mocking you.

She also wants you to use a mixer fitted with a paddle. Well, I don't have one. The recipe worked with my ancient Hamilton Beach stand mixer, but I just wondered if I missed something.

Finally, it's really annoying to be told to preheat the oven in step one and then told to chill the cookie dough once it's put together. I'm just saying.

What to read to your kids

Claudia asked for read-aloud recommendations on the very day I found this article in The Guardian: Guardian Unlimited Books | Special Reports | What the top writers say every child should read:

While most of what's here is way too ambitious to read aloud to a five-year-old, I'm intrigued by Philip Pullman's choices. "He did nclude The Rime of the Ancient Mariner among his choices - recalling that it had been a 'mesmerising' experience when a 'wise and far-seeing teacher had, without explaining anything about it, read it aloud to my class when I was about seven'.

Pullman's list has at its heart fairytales, myths and legends as the great stimuli to children's imaginations. Another recommendation, which does not appear on his list, is Kipling's Just So Stories 'for the wonderful rhythms and rhymes and the muscular strength of the language. You don't understand everything as a child but you love the sound of it. Children respond very immediately to the musical rhythmic effects of language.'"

I have never really read poetry to my kids, other than Edward Lear and James Marshall's nonsense stuff. But why not? I'm also intrigued by the Kipling suggestion: I loved the Just-So Stories as a kid, and they seem entirely appropriate for a precocious five-year-old, but you may want to pre-read to check for occasional offensive stereotypes. Or just read them and then talk, which is something we've done a lot as well.

Read the whole piece, or just scroll to the bottom for the lists. Oh, and Rowling is right: Roald Dahl! (Though, again, some very questionable ideology here and there, like those happily-enslaved Oompah-Loompahs. Sigh.)

Monday, January 30, 2006


Bored with the dots. Dots gone. Recipes in the sidebar.

Literary Mama blog book tour, coming Wednesday! Watch this space...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

I think I'm in

Or maybe insane. I think I'm going to sign up for Stephanie's knitting olympics. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to knit, however. I have a bunch of lovely recycled silk yarn that I got for Christmas--maybe something with that? I've already got one project cast on, though, so I can't use that. And the other thing I'm thinking of making with that yarn is placemats, and I hate to think that they would be a challenge. Though they might, if finishing in 16 days is the goal. I certainly have enough yarn, which is key.

I also don't want to buy new yarn. I've got four or five skeins of this (in "Grand Canyon," which is a variegated red) in my stash, and two skeins each of this in blue and purple. And some of this in teal. I think I must have planned yet another funky scarf out of that, and then gotten bored with the whole funky scarf thing.

None of this is very exciting, though that cotton blend is probably enough for...something interesting, right? But what? Oh! I did just buy some really lovely wool/silk/cashmere (in "emporio," which is a rich purply brown) that I intended for a scarf. (I could only afford enough for a scarf.) But then again, a scarf is hardly a challenge. And I deliberately bought yarn that would look good knit up in stockinette (ie, it's variegated) because I wasn't planning to do anything complex with it.

So I'll have to think some more about this. But I definitely want to join Team Wales. I don't know if I have any Welsh ancestry, but Wales was our favorite place during our travels last summer. And the music is fabulous. So that's settled. First things first, right?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday Food #3: chicken/edamame stir-fry

This is really just edamame and rice, dressed up. It's basically an epicurious recipe (sigh. I'm so predictable) but I left out the scallions because my kids won't eat them so they just go limp and icky in the vegetable drawer. If you like them, scatter sliced ones on at the end.

4 tbl soy sauce (I use "lite" soy sauce in hopes that the lower sodium makes a difference)
1 tsp honey
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks or slices or whatever shape you like
2 cups frozen edamame (no pods)
4 tsp dark sesame oil
3-4 tsp minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced

as much rice as you need to feed 4 people; I make 1-1/2 to 2 cups. Brown rice is great, but I make sticky white rice in my rice cooker more often--it's quicker, and this is one of those last-minute dinners. It helps to buy jars of minced ginger and garlic, too, and to have an Asian market nearby selling dark sesame oil for a reasonable price. I'm just saying.

Stir the honey and 2 tbl soy sauce together and pour over the cut-up chicken. Let it sit while you start the rice and toast the walnuts.

Toast the walnuts in a small frying pan on medium heat for about three minutes, shaking the pan or stirring frequently. Drizzle 2 tbl of soy sauce over them, stir until the walnuts are coated, and remove from the heat.

When you're almost ready to eat, heat the oil in a wok or large saute pan. Cook the chicken for about three minutes, stirring constantly. When it is done or almost so, add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant. Then add the edamame and stir to mix well. When the edamame are thawed, toss the walnuts in and stir again.

If you were really on the ball and cooked the rice earlier, you could stir that into the chicken/edamame mess now and call it fried rice. Or you can just serve the chicken/edamame mess on top of the rice (or next to it, if your kids are segregationists) and that's good, too.

My kids pick the walnuts out. But I still think they're worth putting in. Oh, and if we were vegetarians, I think this would be a place we'd use tempeh, which has a nice chewiness to it and would hold up well with the other flavors. But of course we're not, which is why Nick has to worry about who his guardians will be. Sigh.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Stephanie does random Wednesdays, sometimes, but I'm (as so often) a day late, apparently.

There are many reasons I'm glad I'm not toilet training anyone right now. This is one.

My mother can't load my blog on her computer any more. Some kind of weird internet filters. I even changed a few of my links in the blogroll (sorry, Dr. B.!) to see if that was it, but it wasn't. So why doesn't her computer want her to read the blog? (My dad's computer allows her to, so she can still check in.)

I'm actually enjoying my upgrade. I like the little entourage notification in the bottom right corner that gives me a preview of incoming email. I'll probably get annoyed with it before long, though.

But I really like the new enhanced search. Google for my hard drive, how cool is that? Maybe I'll be able to find all those lost recipes now. Somehow TVG and I have a habit of exchanging recipes without putting the recipe name or the primary ingredient in the subject line. Sadly, however, spotlight appears not to want to search my entourage files, where many of these recipes reside. Hmm.

If 8:15 is too early in the morning for me and my students now, in the second week of classes, what will it be like in mid-February when we don't even have the excitement of the new term to keep us going?

Speaking of mid-February, I'm turning 45 then. I want to do something, take on some new activity, learn something, make a resolution...something to mark it. But what? Take up running? (Ha!) Learn to knit things with shape, or changing colors? Begin a book? (Oh, yeah, I've done that...maybe finish a book?) That said, I don't want to put too much pressure on. Maybe I'll just bake a cake.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Nick's thinking about things

Nick calls to me from his bedroom at about 9:45. He's been in bed for forty-five minutes. I go to talk to him.

"I'm thinking about my own mortality*," he says. "I think about what would happen if I went to sleep and didn't wake up."

"That's hard to think about," I say.

"Hard not to, you mean."

Doesn't miss a beat, this kid. So we chat for a while about what might make him feel better. We agree that I'll check on him in a few minutes and see how he's doing. When I come back he has new worries. What will happen if Mark and I die? Who will take care of him? Where will he go to school?

I'm a little worried about this one--should I let him know we've tried to take care of this for him? He's literally imagining waking up in the morning and needing new parents, pronto. He's thought about a few options.

"First I thought about the H---. But then I couldn't go to my same school. So then I thought about my other friends from school, but I couldn't go to the same church."

This surprises me. He's been asking not to go to church lately, after all. But I let it continue. Finally I suggest his actual guardians (well, theoretical, since the wills are...I know! I know!).

"Really?" he says. "Why not M--- or L---?" They're out, I answer, because they don't have kids.

"But...then I couldn't taste meat until I grew up and left! I'm afraid I wouldn't like their food! And, they'd really have their hands full with two other kids!"

(Ah, the food thing. Is it better to be worrying about that than the death of your parents? Are vegetarian guardians the worst thing he can imagine?)

We run through various other permutations: grandparents, friends, other relatives.

"The thing is, Mommy, if you left, SOMETHING would change. Maybe two or three or four things."

I don't point out that if I "left" (his euphemism for death, at this point) everything would change. I remind him instead that we're doing our best to stay. I give him another hug, tell him I love him, promise to check back in ten minutes. In less time than that, he's asleep.

So obviously there's still a lot to process. These are interesting conversations, ones that don't resolve easily. Heaven is not much comfort to the eight-year-old, who has pressing concerns in the here and now. Maybe not much to older folks, either.

We both slept well, though, and are greeting the morning with renewed energy.

I'm off to get this computer upgraded to OX 10.4.something. Wish me luck

*Yes, he really did say he was thinking about his mortality. In the midst of this conversation, I'm noting his excellent vocabulary with maternal pride.

Friday, January 20, 2006

new stuff

Here's my latest column:
Children's Lit Book Group: Why Not Cinderella?

Friday Food #2: creamy chicken soup

My kids don't like soup. I may have mentioned it before; I can't quite remember. I don't quite know what it is, but I suspect it has something to do with the promiscuous mingling of ingredients. My kids are strict segregationists when it comes to food, despite the best efforts of their progressive parents.

Still, they like this soup. Of course they do: it's rich and creamy! And yet I can kid myself that it's healthy, as I throw lots of vegetables into it. And you get a lot of bang for the small amount of cream in it, really you do. And with some nice bread or a salad you have a meal.

4 tablespoons butter
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup shredded carrots (about 2 medium) (I minced the carrots and celery in the food processor; could have done the onion with them...In fact, should have, since complaints about onions in food are in direct proportion to the size of the bits)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
6 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1 1/2 cups half and half (I used half 1% milk and 1/2 cream, as that's what I had in the house)
Dried thyme

2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 tbl sherry

1-1/2 cups penne pasta
1 cup frozen green beans, broken if they are whole (I buy these fancy frozen haricots verts but any green beans would do for this, I think. The original calls for sugar snap peas, which would also be delicious, I'm sure.)
1 cup frozen corn
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Melt 3 tbl butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add celery, carrots and onion. Cook until celery and onion are tender, about 5 minutes. Add flour and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Gradually mix in chicken stock. Bring soup to simmer, stirring frequently. Add the pasta and cook until tender. Add half and half and a sprinkling of thyme and simmer 5 minutes.

While the soup simmers, brown the chicken thighs in the last tablespoon of butter. When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the pan and deglaze the pan with the sherry. Shred or chop the cooked chicken and add it, the pan juices, and the frozen vegetables to the soup. Simmer until the vegetables are no longer frozen. Mix in lemon juice; season to taste with salt and pepper.

This feeds all four of us with some left over, even when Nick has two servings.

I adapted this from an epicurious recipe, by the way. Here's the original in case you want to compare.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

why this is not a knitting blog

Because I keep knitting the same things over and over. I've made the clapotis three times, as I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before. And I've made a version of this spiral scarf at least three times, maybe four. I've lost count. (I've also lost the original pattern link; mine said to cast on 90 stitches.) I also made a clapotis-look-alike this fall.

Because I can only knit things that don't change color, or have any particular shape, or require complicated counting or holding stitches.

Because I am currently trying to finish my third (or fourth) version of said spiral scarf, and I have been casting it off for at least three days. Three days! I worked on it for over two hours yesterday and it's still not done! Granted, I'm doing it in a very fine mohair (oh, it's so lovely!) and I think I may possibly have increased it beyond 1440 stitches up to 2880. Is that possible? I'm not going to count...)

So, it's not a knitting blog. But sometimes I just have to share about my ridiculous knitting nonetheless.

And I must say, this yarn is so lovely, I might be tempted to do it again. Knitting this scarf is a little like those sudoku puzzles--predictable, even boring, but weirdly addictive.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

why we love the books we love

I just finished Charmed Life, by Diana Wynne Jones, and I'm trying to figure out why I found it so, well, charming. It's been around a while, so I'm apparently getting on the bandwagon late. But I think Jones has been rediscovered by kids (and adults) who have gone through the Potter books, and maybe the Narnia ones as well, and want something else. Jones has in common with Rowling the combination of fantasy and humor, which is key, I think, to the success of both. The thing is, I think Jones may really be more original: her book is, like Rowling's, about the education of a wizard who doesn't know he is one, but it came out in 1977. Now, there's no boarding school setting or parallel world (well, there is, but it's different) or unique wizard sports and sweets (as far as I know yet), so I'm not saying Rowling just lifted her story wholesale. Indeed, her genius is to have lifted from a variety of sources and genres and blended them into something greater than the whole. [edited to say, um, that's "greater than the parts," of course. Sigh.]

Charmed Life is short, though it's the first of a long series (6 books, as far as I can tell). It gets the parents out of the way quickly, as such books often do, and focuses on a pair of siblings right from the start. In fact there are two pairs of siblings and part of the pleasure of the book is figuring out why some get along and some don't, what the differences in their relationships are. (I like sibling stories...) The beginning of it reminded me of the Lemony Snicket books (which, of course, came much later) in the casual way in which serious topics are broached and then discarded. Also like Roald Dahl in that--the parents are killed off right at the start, there's a brief recognition that this is sad, and then that's pretty much over with. Though I think the parents will continue to be important in this series, actually.

So what I'm trying to figure out now is: why do I like this book so much? And, why did the Rowling books become such a phenomenon, when this book and others like it (and just as "good" in some purely literary sense, if there is such a thing) did not?

I'll come back to this.

Monday, January 16, 2006

a theology of sleep!

Read the whole thing here:Sleep Therapy - Books & Culture.

"The unarguable demands that our bodies make for sleep are a good reminder that we are mere creatures, not the Creator. For it is God and God alone who 'neither slumbers nor sleeps.' Of course, the Creator has slept, another startling reminder of the radical humility he embraced in becoming incarnate. He took on a body that, like ours, was finite and contingent and needed sleep. To push ourselves to go without sleep is, in some sense, to deny our embodiment, to deny our fragile incarnations—and perhaps to deny the magnanimous poverty and self-emptying that went into his Incarnation."

thanks to Sam for the link

back to work

the first day of the semester, and I am still wondering how this whole 8:15 class thing is going to work out. Oh, your heart bleeds, I know, if you have a real job with real hours. So I'll stop whining.

This morning was fine because I didn't have to take Mariah to her bus--she's off for MLK day, of course, but we are--not. Some of my students seem to have decided to take the day off anyway; it'll be the end of the week before I really know who's in what class, etc. But we'll get there.

In the meantime I am reading the first of the Chrestomanci books by Diana Wynne Jones, and wondering what took me so long? The more pre-Harry Potter fantasy I read, the less groundbreaking it seems. Sigh.

I should have a new column up soon. I'll link it here when it's up.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday Food: Tuna Casserole

OK, there wasn't a groundswell of interest in recipes, but here's one anyway. This is not Kelly's healthy tuna casserole, but neither is it the old can-of-soup variety. My kids would eat this every night if I would make it. Especially Nick.

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk (skim is fine)
1 tsp mustard, optional

1 lb. pasta; shells or fusili seem to work best

1-2 cans tuna, packed in water (or, I suppose, oil, but I never buy that kind. Actually I buy the kind that has no salt added, too.)

1-2 cups frozen tiny baby peas. Or not so tiny ones, if you don't mind them. They seem kind of icky to me, but I like the little tiny ones. You don't need to thaw these.

2-3 cups shredded cheese of your choice. I usually use 2 cups of colby-jack and a cup or so of parmesan or romano, but it depends what I have in the house. Something that melts well is what you're going for, and since you're probably feeding kids, don't bother with really good cheese. I buy bags of shredded stuff and throw them in the freezer, then pull out whatever I have and use it. "Italian" blends work fine, as do "Mexican." Real cheese that you shred yourself is probably better.

breadcrumbs, optional

OK. So you have your ingredients. Turn your oven on to 350 or so (400 if you're in a hurry) and make sure you have a casserole dish that holds a pound of cooked pasta.

Put up a pan of water for the pasta. While you wait for it to boil, melt the butter in a medium sauce pan. Medium heat. When the butter's melted (don't let it burn!), whisk in the flour. When it collects into a sort of pasty mess at the bottom of your pan, add the milk and whisk madly to break up the clumps. (If you heated the milk beforehand this might go more smoothly, but if you just keep whisking it will work with cold milk out of the fridge.)

Keep whisking while you heat the milk to just below boiling. Turn the heat down a bit if you need to. The sauce will thicken up quite a bit. Whisk the mustard, if you're using it, in as it thickens. (I find it makes a big difference.)

If you already knew how to make a bechamel (aka white sauce, aka cream sauce) you could have skipped those last two paragraphs.

When the sauce has thickened take it off the heat. When the pasta water boils, duh, add the pasta and boil it until tender but not mushy. Drain the pasta and run cold water over it to stop it cooking.

Dump the pasta back in the pasta pan. Pour the sauce over it and mix it together. Then add the tuna (breaking it up in the can a bit before you dump it in) and the peas. Mix it all together so that the tuna and peas are evenly distributed.

Put half the pasta/sauce/tuna/peas mixture in the bottom of the casserole. Scatter half the cheese over it. Then the rest of the pasta, and the rest of the cheese. If you like, blanket the top with bread crumbs. Crushed up Ritz crackers or potato chips would be decadent and tasty. Pop the whole thing in the oven and bake until the top is golden and crusty. This will take 15-20 minutes at 400, up to half an hour at lower heat. Since everything was already cooked before it went in, all you really need to do is melt the cheese and brown the top, but if you have to go take a shower or something and need it to be in the oven longer, you might cover the casserole when you put it in, then take the top off and blast the heat up to 425 or so for the last few minutes.

This is, obviously, not haute cuisine. It's comfort food. You could probably leave the tuna out and add more cheese and call it mac-n-cheese, though there are contrary opinions on this one. (That article's from the NYTimes so you may not be able to read it all; the operative phrase is "vexatious infatuation with white sauce, a noxious paste of flour-thickened milk." So, you've been warned about the sauce. My kids like it. I do, too.) The white Moosewood cookbook, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home, has a fancy version with cauliflower, onions, and tomatoes, but my kids won't eat that so why bother? This, they will eat.

[Edited to add: Masha, I don't cook in the mornings; it's all I can do to feed myself before leaving the house at 7 am, and this is just the kind of mindless thing I can do at 5 or 6 pm. But, if you wanted, you could certainly make this ahead and then put it in the fridge. It would just take about forty-five minutes, I think, to heat it up when you were ready to eat. But, really, I assume you know how to make something like this already...]

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Delurking Day

I always feel as if I know all my readers, but maybe I don't! If you feel like it, de-lurk to tell me if you want recipes or if that would just be boring. I'm still not sure about it myself.

what we eat

Becca is tired of making food her kids won't eat. I'm with her on that. My kids are older, and my daughter, at least, has learned to keep her opinions to herself (and, apparently, to swallow food without tasting it), but my son, my son! Even if he likes the meal he finds something he doesn't like to complain about. Last night it was the lettuce. I made this weird, but weirdly delicious, pasta dish--that both kids have happily eaten before, I might add!--and he complained about the lettuce. "Could I just have a plain piece of lettuce and then the pasta and sausage?" Well, no. Because I'm putting it all together in one bowl so that the rest of us can eat it. And I'm mean like that. (BTW, if you make the dish, I use romaine, which is crunchy and doesn't get quite so wilt-y, and turkey italian sausage, so I can kid myself that it's healthy.)

He ate it, in the end, though he picked through his bowlful to eat as little lettuce as possible.

This happens, it seems, every day. And, though I love to cook, I do get tired of it. Especially when I remember that I will have to do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. (Yes, Mark does cook, but I do more of it--mostly because I like to, so don't worry about my traditional housewifeliness or anything, please!)

I am thinking about posting one recipe a week here, things that we have liked, that are easy, that are (reasonably) healthy. And to see if I like writing up recipes, as it's something I've thought a lot about. We'll see if I actually do it. (I don't think the epicurious link actually counts.)

Tonight we are going to try Nigella's chicken nugget recipe, both because I'm still obsessed with Feast, and because--why not?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Mark and I went to see Narnia yesterday. We didn't have high expectations. Mark doesn't like fantasy at all, and I've really burned out on the book after teaching it so often. I used to love the Narnia books as a kid, but of late I've come around to Philip Pullman's way of thinking about them. (Note that his opinions are much more nuanced in this New Yorker article than in the more frequently cited Guardian piece from some years ago...) I was always sorry that Susan didn't get to go to heaven in The Last Battle (my sympathy for her probably has to something to do with the fact that I'm the Susan in my family, the second child and oldest daughter). I didn't catch on to the racism in The Horse and his Boy when I was a kid, but reading it to Mariah several years ago I began to want to edit it on the fly. And lately I'd been especially annoyed by the avuncular tone in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; for example, when Aslan announces that they have to hurry in order to defeat the witch before tea-time. Yeah, right.

Well, there's none of that in the film. When Father Christmas gives Lucy a dagger, he does indeed say that battles are ugly, but he doesn't add "when women fight," as he does in the novel. Susan gets to shoot an arrow in the battle, in fact. The opening of the film is terrific, and demonstrates one of the ways movies can and should depart from books, by showing us what can only be hinted at in print. Where Lewis gives us a sentence in which he notes that the children "were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids," the film shows us an air-raid, and then the children's mother crying as she puts them on the train. It also shows us what bombing looks like, something that gets echoed later in the battle scene.

As others have said, Lucy's entrance into Narnia is especially well done. She looks like a real kid, for one thing--snaggle-toothed and a little dough-faced. And when she and Tumnus first meet they scare each other in a way that feels completely believable. (Again, as others have said, Tumnus is one of the triumphs of the film. He's fabulous.) Tilda Swinton is terrifyingly beautiful and freakish all at once. The landscape is golden. (Why is New Zealand the location of choice for fantasy epics?)

I was sucked in throughout. While I can not help suspending disbelief when I read the novel--mostly because Lewis keeps reminding me that I'm reading a novel--I had no such problem with the film. In fact, I was weeping off and on throughout. (OK, I'm a little overwrought anyway, and I often weep at bad films, but this was different. Take my word.) I could quibble with a few things that I do like in the novel that the film left out--especially the food! (My favorite subject, of course!) But overall, I liked the film a lot, better (in fact) than I like the book.

Yes, that's the heresy: I think the film is better than the book.

Some other time I may want to talk about Christian allegory in general, and my opinions of Lewis's version of Christianity. I'm not crazy about it, to put it mildly--onward, Christian soliders, and all that. The film, contrary to my expectations, seems to me to downplay that angle, frankly. I may come up with some criticisms later. But it was exactly what I needed yesterday afternoon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I'm a little weirded out to be linked here (Jan. 6--I can't figure out how to link to a specific post). Folks, I'm going to try not to write about the Harvey killings any more. It's not my story, and, while I'm still overwhelmed by it, I have nothing to add. If you came here from bluecricket and were upset to find me nattering on about Nigella, sorry.

I'm going back to the kitchen now.


I should really put Nigella's Feast over in the sidebar under books read [edited to add: done!], because it was the best book I got for Christmas, and the only one I've read cover to cover. She's such a fun writer.

I've also been cooking up a storm out of it. The New Year's day pork roast, which I made before New Year's, then the lentils, the breakfast banana ring and the banana pancakes, a big pasta, the biscotti...there may even be more, but that's enough, isn't it? Six recipes out of a new cookbook? (I made the banana ring twice already, too.)

I have been thinking about why it's so much fun to make these recipes. (Even when, as with the big pasta, they really aren't much to write home about.) There's something very inviting about the way Nigella presents herself and her cooking--nothing too elaborate or fussy, just home cooking.

The recipes are well presented, at least for people who already cook. I'm not sure how it works for truly novice cooks, as she tends to assume a lot. She assumes, for example, that you'll be comfortable substituting ingredients. Often she'll tell you about alternatives right there in a sidebar. With the banana breakfast ring, she reminds you that a half teaspooon of vinegar in a cup of milk makes an acceptable substitute for buttermilk--which was helpful to me as I had less buttermilk than I thought in the fridge! In a big encyclopedic cookbook like the Joy of Cooking or Fanny Farmer, there's a table of substitutions, but you need to check the index to find it and then see if the particular ingredient you don't have is actually listed. I like Nigella's way better, though of course if she didn't happen to think of an alternative you won't find it at all.

Becca's already talked about problems with some of the recipes, and I'm sure there are more, but I've still been finding the book out on the countertop more often than in the bookshelf over the last two weeks, and with mostly gratifying results. My winter cooking binge will have to slow down next week when classes start up again, so I'm taking advantage now.

Monday, January 09, 2006

too creepy

They've arrested two men in the killings, and now they're tying another victim to them as well. It's horrible, and yet something of a relief. I hope this is over.here's today's story

Nick is having a hard time with this. He was fine in school last week, but seemed kind of fragile yesterday (nothing too out of the ordinary, but shy and a little weepy when called on it). Today he just plain didn't want to go to school. I told him the killers had been arrested, and that helped a little, but when we got in the car he was weepy again, and so I sat with him for a little and comforted him. We tried to go to school but he so obviously didn't want to be there that I just picked up his homework and brought him home.

He keeps saying he doesn't know why he's crying, and we just keep hugging him. I told him I thought he must be sad about Stella and her family, and he said, yes, but he didn't know why that would make him not want to go to school. I reminded him that he first heard about it there, and he (quite reasonably) responded that then the kids who first heard about it at home might be afraid of their houses. And anyway, the family was killed in their house--but he's not afraid at home.

I know these things aren't rational, and he so desperately wants them to be.

Thanks, all you lovely readers who've sent me your good thoughts and the various links, by the way. I didn't link to the story last week--I just couldn't bear to. I didn't want the story in my cache, really. I've been hitting "clear history" every time I read more about it. But I am hoping that the arrest sticks, that the police are right, and that we pick up the pieces and move on. Slowly.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

We do what we can

Mostly I just don't want yesterday's post sitting on top. While I know the family can't move on, and there are others feeling more grief than I, I need to return to a routine, to fake it for a while. I wondered as I went to pick Nick up at school today, "will I ever feel normal again?" I know I will.

Went to see Syriana today. Neither uplifting nor escapist, but complex and engaging enough to make me focus on something else for a while. It helped. It's a mess of a movie in a lot of ways, and besides being about the intertwining corruption of government and industry it's about how fathers fail their sons, I think. There are a lot of fathers in the film, some who try and some who don't, but all of them fail their sons, as far as I can tell, without exception. Mothers, with only one exception, are strikingly absent from this film's world.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

sick to my stomach

I took Nick into school this morning and noticed, on our way in, clutches of parents talking, a few folks in suits I didn't know, and an air of anxiety. I took Nick to his classroom and retraced my steps. Passing a couple I know, I stopped. "What's going on? People seem...stricken," I said. I didn't know I thought that until the word came out.

They looked at me oddly. I wasn't sure what I saw in their eyes.

"Did you just get back into town?"

"No, but I don't read the paper, I don't watch the news."

A murder. A young family. Two kids, one in Nick's grade. The parents. All dead in their house on New Year's Day.

A group of parents stood in the auditorium. A detective spoke. A school board member (who has a child at the school). Several ministers, one the pastor at the church where the younger child went to day care. Another, a dear friend, husband of a teacher at Nick's school. A couple of counselors. After morning announcements, the principal joined us.

Nick didn't know. He heard it this morning from his teacher. He is spending the day in school as usual--they're "trying to keep the routine for the kids." But the third graders, who knew the older daughter, are being watched carefully this morning. "Grief counselors will circulate through the classrooms, pulling kids out in small groups to talk if they need to." They are doing a writing project, writing about, or to, the girl they knew, drawing pictures, remembering. He knew her, a little, knew the toystore the mom operated. What will he think? What will we say when he comes home? What will we tell Mariah, who already has trouble sleeping, imagining dangers we have never discussed? She will hear, I'm sure--this is not that big a town, and the kids at her school will have heard already. We lived in ignorance for two days, and I want to go back to that ignorance. I want not to know this. I want it not to be true.

Monday, January 02, 2006

a really, really bad mother

I've been blogging since the middle of 2003 and I have never once blogged about a child on a birthday before. For the record, we do celebrate their birthdays--perhaps so well that there's no time to write about it. Or maybe I'm just lazy. Anyway, I was glad to see this year wasn't an anomaly!

Happy Birthday

I am a terrible mother. No birthday post for Mariah, although she turned sixteen (gasp!) almost a week ago. Last Wednesday, to be precise. In my defense, we had six girls over to spend the night, and the following day in-laws arrived. So we had stuff to do.

Anyway, here's to Mariah, age sixteen. Smart, funny, talented, beautiful. We like her friends, we talk about books with her over dinner (tonight: "Should I read The Fountainhead?"), we like a lot of the same movies. She wears my clothes and doesn't return them. She advises me on what to wear (often, things she'd like to borrow...)

I was going to do Becca's five weird things about her, but after booby-trapping the doors every night (she keeps us safe) I couldn't come up with four more. She claims she and her friends are all weird kids who couldn't make it in "regular" high school, but they go to an art school and they all seem fine to me.

I called her "sweetie" the moment she was born, and endearments have come easily to me ever since, though never before. So, though it's belated, happy birthday, sweetie!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

I don't make new year's resolutions; they just make me feel inadequate. I can give something up for Lent--forty days is doable--but wholesale changes in behavior have never, for me, been tied to the calendar. So no resolutions here.

But here's what I want:

  • less time in doctor's offices for all of us, but especially Mark

  • more time with family and friends

  • progress on writing projects

  • a beach vacation

  • one week when we can look around and say, "there's no work to do on the house" (really I want more than a week, but I'm trying to be realistic)

  • more exercise

  • What was good about 2005? Not a whole lot in the world, I'm afraid. But here are a few things I enjoyed:
  • summer abroad

  • Mariah's friends

  • our friends

  • reconnecting with family

  • knitting

  • cooking and baking

  • my $5 espresso machine from the church yard sale

  • caring less about the things that give me stress. (I know this sounds like fatalism, or obscurantism, but right now it's working, so I'm saying it.)

  • I've got fresh bread out of the oven and I'm cooking some lentils because Nigella says they're good luck on New Year's. Right now, life is good.