Wednesday, July 25, 2007

working hard...

...on a paper. Back in a while. I've got a few recipes I want to post, and things to say about summer and kids with jobs, but not now, not now!

Friday, July 13, 2007

one great cake

Here's the cake I baked for Caroline's birthday. It's a very rich, very delicious chocolate layer cake with ganache instead of frosting (and then candied flowers, just because). I got it from a cookbook I picked up at the library: Dave's Dinners, by Dave Lieberman. (I live under a rock, so I haven't seen his show on the Food Network, but the book had pretty pictures so I checked it out.)

Here's how you make the cake:

3 eggs
1 cup whole-milk yogurt (I used 3/4 cup non-fat and 1/4 cup full fat Greek yogurt)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350.

Beat the eggs, yogurt, and melted butter together in a large bowl. Add the vanilla, then gradually beat in the sugar.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then mix them into the wet in two steps, alternating with the hot water.

Divide the batter between two greased and floured (or just sprayed with cooking spray) 8 or 9-inch round pans. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until set. (This took about 27 minutes in my oven.) Allow to cool fully.

For the ganache:
Bring one cup heavy cream to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from stove and whisk in 12 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate (Dave used semi-sweet; I had lovely bittersweet callebaut). Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is thick and creamy. Allow it to cool.

Put one layer on a large plate and pour ganache over it, spreading with a spatula and smoothing to cover sides. Set the other layer on top and repeat. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Happy Birthday, Caroline!

My little sister is 40 today! Go wish her a happy birthday!

(Photo coming later; my internet is down and I'm using a borrowed computer on a poached wireless connection...)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Eight Things

Jennifer tagged me with this one--which seems potentially fun, though also potentially embarrassing. We'll see.

First, the rules:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.

2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

So now here goes with the eight:

1. The last two letters of my last name are also my first two initials. This was true with my birth name and is still true of my married name. I tend to scramble names and words and find others in them, so I guess it's not surprising that I discovered this weird dorky fact.

2. When Mark and I bought our house the mortgage broker asked us to add up all the years of schooling we had, starting with kindergarten. When I came up with 24 (Mark's was 26!) the broker said, "Wow, y'all been in school longer than I been alive!" which tended to increase our confidence in him. Right.

3. I didn't eat a bagel until I was 14, or a burrito until I was 24. However, I had eaten both sushi and liver before I was ten. (And I'm not trying liver again, just so you know.)

4. I went to boarding school when I was thirteen. I sometimes suspect my pleasure in the Harry Potter books comes from a sort of boarding-school nostalgia, though we were sadly lacking both ghosts and potions.

5. I can't imagine sending my children to boarding school. But ask me again when Nick's thirteen.

6. I didn't get my license until I was almost twenty, and I didn't really drive until I graduated from college. When I got my first job, I bought a car with a stick shift after about two lessons, and had to figure out how to get it home. Now I can't imagine driving anything else.

7. I used to speak Japanese relatively fluently (for a 12-year-old). I have also studied Spanish, French, and ancient Greek, but I am nonetheless embarrassingly monolingual. When Mark and I went to Quebec on our honeymoon we were slightly ashamed to be American, and tried to speak our lame French, but everyone answered us in English.

8. When Nick was about three he lost a button and went automatically to his father to sew it on. He had no idea I knew how to use a needle and thread, and I am rather sorry he learned. (His father is still superior to me as a button-sewer-on, though I can do it in a pinch.)

OK, those are my facts. And I'm belated in doing this, so most of the folks I meant to tag have already done it. But looks like a couple of you are left:

Caroline (but you don't have to do it on your birthday!)
and anyone else who can come up with eight fun facts!

Friday, July 06, 2007

random bullets of catching up

  • I think I may again be competitive for bad mother award--who else takes her kid to the library and won't let him check out books? Twice? (I saw the librarian looking at me as I was telling Nick that no, we'd agreed we were just there to return books, not to check out, and I really felt bad...)
  • In my defense, it was the second (and third) time we'd been to the library (three different ones) this week and he still had plenty left to read. And I'm tired of hanging around the graphic novel section finding all the "how to draw anime villains" books.
  • We are all (knock wood) recovered from our malaise, but only Mariah is really making use of her good health. She's been working non-stop, baby-sitting and bagging groceries. I expect to be hitting her up for a loan soon.
  • When she wasn't working Mariah took Nick to the movies, as I mentioned before. They went to see Ratatouille. Unfortunately Nick decided it was no good so they left before it was over. I'm still not quite sure what he didn't like about it--this is a kid who has sat through Valiant (recently!) with pleasure, after all.
  • Mariah "treated" Nick to the movies but then had to borrow cash from him. She had deposited all her paychecks in a new bank account and didn't have an ATM card yet. (I know, a likely story!) Maybe I need to be working Nick for a loan rather than Mariah.
  • Nick is a saver, Mariah a spender. When Nick was about three I brought two large cookies home from some kind of campus event. When I picked the kids up from school/daycare I distributed them. Mariah's was gone before we got home; Nick's was in his lap, still uneaten. Both Mariah and I found this behavior somewhat disturbing. But then again this is a kid whose Hallowe'en candy often lasts until Easter (at which point it has to be thrown away).
  • We had a wonderful trip to the beach yesterday. Mariah was working, but the rest of us drove out to visit an old friend who was staying there with his family. It was a lovely, low-key visit: mostly sitting on the beach or jumping in the waves and talking. His daughter is a year older than Nick and gets along with him beautifully--it was really nice to see them taking turns on the boogie board, digging in the sand, building a sand-castle.
  • I am now half-way through my re-reading of Half-Blood Prince and am confident of being ready for the new one when it arrives. Nick is working his way through Order of the Phoenix and I think he's going to make it, too. I get it first; Nick next if he's finished with #6, otherwise Mariah. If he does get it before her, she's allowed to take it at night after he's gone to bed if she promises not to mess with his bookmarks.
  • What does it say about us that we have absolutely no routine for the summer, and it is impossible to set up a workable chore schedule, but our reading schedule for Deathly Hallows is already set in stone?
  • I have been blogging for four years as of today.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

the indignities of (middle) age

I went to a new(ish) little farmer's market today and it was lovely. But getting there, well, that's another story.

I had given my last $10 to Mariah so she could take Nick to the movies (more on that in a later post) and figured I'd just hit up a cash machine before I got to the market. Stopped at the first one on the way and--no dice. "Your transaction has been denied. Contact your financial institution."

This happened on our trip two weeks ago and I figured it was because I forgot my PIN. That is, I forgot the order of the numbers in my PIN. I know it, sort of, but sometimes it takes me a couple of tries to get the numbers in the right order. Fine.

After three tries I figured maybe the ATM was locking me out, so I went in search of another one. (Hope springs eternal...) I got to the next one I remembered, a little closer to the market--and the ATM was out of order. Fine, again.

This time I headed away from the market, towards a reliable ATM, one that I use all the time, one that always has money for me. But when I got to the parking lot I thought maybe I should, well, you know, contact my financial institution. Since that's what the machine told me to do and all.

So I called the number on my ATM card and started moving through the voice menu. Luckily many of the choices include "I forgot..." "I forgot my account number," "I forgot my member number," etc. The automated voice was remarkably forgiving.

"That's OK," she would say, "I"ll just need to get another piece of information from you."

Luckily I could remember my zip code, my husband's birthday, and my social security number. But at this point the voice system broke down anyway, because "change my PIN" didn't work for me. (I think you're actually supposed to know your old PIN. But if you did, why would you want to change it?)

It might be worth noting at this point that I have long had a terrible memory. Because of my terrible memory, I have many passwords and PINs logged into my palm pilot. Alas, I stopped carrying my palm pilot recently because it's very hard for me to read the entries in it without reading glasses. (Encroaching age, weakening vision. Let's not talk about memory.)

So, to recap: I'm still in the parking lot, talking to the machine that won't let me change my PIN. At this point I have a breakthrough, and say to the machine "talk to an agent," although it has not yet offered me this option. I am almost immediately connected to a human being who verifies that, yes, I am locked out of the ATM system because of multiple log-in efforts. "Did you forget your PIN?" he says. He is not amused by my total failure to recall even setting a "voice password," let alone remember the password, though he does ask for different information that I am in fact able to provide. He fails to agree with me that remembering the numbers out of order is not the same as forgetting the PIN, but he does help me reset the PIN to something I (think I) can remember. Half an hour after my trip to the market began, I was on my way again with money in my wallet and only a little bit of humiliation to temper my pleasure at the lovely vegetables.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Zucchini all the time...

I don't have a vegetable garden overproducing zucchini, but I've been on the receiving end in the past. I've never really minded; I like zucchini, and there's a lot you can do with it. Bread, muffins, pancakes, stir-frys, pastas...the list goes on. Lately, though, all we do with it is grill it. Three of us like it best that way and Nick will eat it if pressed.

Still, I'm always interested in a new zucchini recipe. Recently my mother sent me this one from the NYTimes for zucchini carpaccio--thinly-sliced zucchini marinated in olive oil and lemon and layered with pistachios and avocado. It looked delicious. Alas, though, we have no pistachios or avocados in the house. So I did a little research on epicurious and found these variations, one with mint and another with arugula. Alas, I didn't have those in the house, either, and in our current lethargic state grocery shopping is not high on my list of things to do.

So here's what I came up with instead--it's not quite a salad, because I've recently decided that salads make great pasta toppings (ok, maybe not coleslaw), but you could certainly leave out the pasta and make it as a salad as well.

Zucchini Pasta

3 small zucchini, very thinly sliced (I used a vegetable peeler)
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
about 8 basil leaves, more if you have it, thinly sliced
about 1/4 cup shaved parmesan or other hard grating cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup pine nuts
1 lb. pasta (I used gemelli)

Whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. Spread the very thinly sliced zucchini on a plate (it can overlap) and sprinkle the basil over it. Pour the olive oil/lemon juice mixture over that and sprinkle with s&p to taste. Let sit while the pasta boils.

Once the pasta is done to your liking, toss it in a large bowl with a little olive oil. At this point either toss the zucchini with the pasta or divide the pasta into individual bowls and top with zucchini. Top with shaved parmesan and pine nuts (toasted or not, as you choose--I left them untoasted and they were lovely).

This is generous for four and could really probably serve six if you also had a green salad. It's a nice light dinner for a hot night. Even Nick didn't complain.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The House of Lethargy

While Nick's been getting over pneumonia, I think the rest of us have been succumbing to the bug that bit him. The pediatrician, when she saw Mariah, called it mycoplasma--all I know is, it's kicking us, hard. Nick is at the stage of thinking he's better and overdoing it, then crashing. (Today's a crash day.) Mariah refused to believe she was sick and threw a birthday party for a friend on Thursday--necessitating a trip to the doctor on Friday. The pediatrician mentioned at the time that I might want to call in for a prescription as well, as my throat was sore and my energy completely drained. I waited until today to fill it, but finally gave in when I woke up too early for the third morning in a row, unable to sleep for the pain in my throat. Mark started coughing yesterday and has uncharacteristically spent most of the day in bed.

A houseful of sick people is no fun. I'm glad there are no babies involved, though--no one's too terribly needy, so we're all just lying around watching movies, reading the paper (I've already finished the crossword puzzle, for a miracle!), knitting, and napping. It's a lovely day outside, and I wish we could enjoy it more, but it could be worse.