Wednesday, April 30, 2008


You will notice that I have not commented on the preschool open house we went to this weekend.

It was great.

I don't want to talk about it.

I can't.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever

I'm biased because they're my Bammie's recipe (Gommie's mom--yep, weird names on that side of the family.)

We made them yesterday in honor of Gommie.

And for once, Sis ate more cookies than dough!

That's an unqualified success.

Just don't ask me a). why there is a teaspoon of hot water or b). how she got 100 cookies from a dough that I can only make 60 with!!!!

Note: bags of chocolate chips used to be 14 oz!!!! 12 works fine too.


Mom’s Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

The best-ever moist and chewy chocolate chip cookie. I’ve been making these for years—they can be individual cookies or one large cookie (with chocolate chips sprinkled and spread for frosting, which we’ve served at our holiday parties). These were the first cookie I made with Mama and I then taught her brother how to make them (how to make any cookies with the double spoon method, the triple tray method, etc.—they don’t have an oven) But it never makes 100!

Makes 100

1 ½ cup sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening

¾ cup brown sugar (firmly packed)

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 eggs (Eggbeaters also work)

1 teaspoon hot water

1 cup nuts

2 cups oatmeal (quick or regular; uncooked—old fashioned regular are best)

1 teaspoon vanilla

14 oz. chocolate chips

Cream shortening until soft. Add sugars gradually, cream until light and fluffy. Add eggs (1 at a time), beating after each. Add vanilla and hot water. Sift in dry ingredients. Add nuts, oatmeal, and chocolate chips. Bake at 375°F for 8 minutes.


Pomp and Circumstance

I graduated from PT today. I feel better than I have in the 10 weeks since the flare-ups began, though not quite as strong as before that. But I'm getting there and it was a good time to transition to "wellness," which allows me to use the PT place as a gym, with the therapists there to answer questions or suggest other stretches and exercises.

In truth, my reactions to this last day of therapy was very mixed. I was excited to pick-up my wellness enrollment forms, but then cried in the car from relief. And fear. It's been a long road since I threw out my back last summer and started therapy for that and my diastasis (torn abdominal muscles) in the fall. The last 10 weeks--after 5 weeks of constant reinjury--have been the hardest. I've learned so much about myself and my body, some discouraging, some enlightening, most revelatory, like why the hems of my skirts are never straight, why I can't do certain yoga moves involving balance, why I've always limped. But also that I'm a good starter and a lazy finisher.

Which is why it's amazing that I'm finished with therapy. In fact, after the last "road to wellness," I didn't do anything to celebrate today, not sure it would actually happen (I'm going to get cupcakes to take to my first wellness visit on Monday). For awhile, it felt like I would be in it forever (I'm sure my friends thought so, with the way I'd mention it constantly). It was comfortable, which is probably exactly why it's good that I'm done. But I'm scared--what if I hurt again? Is this the best I will be? It's really coming face-to-face with a chronic problem, one that promises (possibly) arthritis in my hips, orthotics, and who knows what else. What I do know is that I need to keep strengthening my core and that will help all manner of things. I can't fix the dysplasia or diastasis but I can lessen their impact.

So, in the end, it's been a great six months. I've learned so much, gotten stronger, and made some great friends.

And I guess, I hope, with those three things, I am ready to move onto the next phase.

"Wellness" sounds good.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Time Flies

It was less than two weeks ago that we knew Gommie was coming. It was less than a week ago that she came. And now she's heading home.

We had a great week.

We shopped at a local market, picking up a cart full of produce, which we almost managed to finish while Gommie was here--baked spaghetti squash, zucchini fries, salad, mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, and tomatoes straight from the packet.

We had two picnics in different parks, enjoying sandwiches and strawberries, slides and swings, and the wonderful spring weather. Buddy liked throwing dandelions into the pond and thought it was funny that a duck kept trying to eat them. Sis mastered the up-and-down bridge.

We visited our new school and went to a fun birthday party. We shopped for clothes and ate ice cream at the dairy farm. We had new haircuts, with Sis in the taxi cab chair and Bud in the police car chair. Everyone likes the haircuts--"he's such a boy," "she's just like a doll." Oh, well.

We went to Old Sturbridge Village, where Sis loved to ride in the horse-drawn wagon and Buddy loved listening (and dancing) to fife and flute music. We churned butter (and tried some) and planted cranberry bean seeds. And I learned how to yarn sew. We tried on costumes and played house.

In the mornings, Gommie woke the kids up with "You are my Sunshine" and at night she bathed them, read stories, and tucked them in with a kiss and our family handshake. They often played outside on the "pirate ship" and made "fairy pools" with the (very cold) water from the swimming pool. Buddy did lots of counting and Sis "baked" numerous pies. There was dancing, skipping, chase, hide-and-go seek, and many renditions of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "East Side, West Side (Sidewalks of New York)," "Let's Go Fly a Kite," and other Gommie standards.

Gommie marveled at all the talking. Buddy likes to say, "Wait a second" and "sure;" Sis likes to give specific instructions. Sis is a climber; Buddy is a dancer. Gommie noted, "They sure like to test you." Luckily, there were not too many fights nor too many timeouts. There were lots of hugs and cuddles and "uppy-ups." We talked to Pop everyday and also to Aunt Banana.

There were date nights, help with yard work and laundry and dishes, lots of downtime, free babysitting, lots of Starbucks, and many gifts of toys, books, and clothes. Good conversations too--about weddings, visits, family, compassion, listening, books, the economy, and politics. We bought our tickets for our summer trip for my sister's wedding and measured the kids for their special clothes.

And we took pictures of it all.

Goodbye, Gommie. And thanks for a wonderful week!


Oven-Fried Zucchini Sticks

1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

3 medium zucchini

water or milk

1 cup fat-free or low-fat spaghetti sauce

cooking spray

Preheat oven to 450°F. Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Place bread crumbs, cheese, and garlic powder in Ziploc bag and shake well to combine all ingredients. Set aside.

Cut each zucchini lengthwise into 8 pieces; cut each piece again in half lengthwise. Fil a pie plate with water; then dip each zucchini stick first in water, then into bag of crumb mixture. Shake until zucchini are coated on all sides. Place on cookie sheet. Repeat with rest of sticks.

Bake on cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes or until brown and tender. Serve with warm spaghetti sauce.

Note: Use 1 medium eggplant, sliced into thin rounds, instead of zucchini.

Eating Expectantly

Yarn Sewing

Supplies: 2 different color yarns, piece of fabric (I'm guessing about 18 count Aida), needle, heart-shaped cookie cutter, pencil, fabric glue

Seam the edges of your fabric (glue works). Trace the shape of the cookie cutter on the fabric seam-side up.

Tread your needle with about 18" of yarn for the interior of the heart. Working along the edge, make stitches perpendicular to the line about 1/8" long (needle should never end up on underside of fabric--I think this is a whipstitch??) . Catch tail of yarn under stitches (as in cross stitch). Leave a loop by not pulling yarn all the way through. Every 3-4 stitches, use needles to adjust size of stitches so they are all the same. Continue until you fill in the heart. Use the other color to work the outside of the heart (you can follow the contour of the heart, create lines, even using a staggered running stitch for a more varied look). You will work over the seam.

In the end, you'll have a pretty stiff piece of work, rather like a yarn coaster. Apparently, yarn sewing (which kind of looks like latch hook when finished, but loops not loose) was used to protect and thicken other fabrics, be it knitted mittens or store-bought hearth rugs.

And if these directions don't make sense (which I'm not sure they do), get to Old Sturbridge Village and pay $5 at their Hands-On Craft Building--it's fun! And you get to take it all home to finish.

Whale of a Tale

After dropping Gommie off at the train station, we went for a drive in the rain to see the ocean.

Admiring the big waves, Buddy said, "A whale made the big waves. A big whale."

I suggested that maybe it was lots of whales.

And Sis suggested they were humpbacks.

So we sat there watching the humpback whale waves.


It's been another rough week for various friends of ours--goodbyes, deaths, sadnesses. And today's dreary weather, while matching the mood of many, doesn't help.

For my own part, my mom left today to go back to Texas. It's always hard to say goodbye, but it gets harder now that the kids understand.

Or partially understand. Because as Gommie's train left--yes, Gommie, we were in the parking lot watching because they wanted to see you get on the train--Sis just said, "Okay, we'll see her tomorrow then."

It'll be a lot of tomorrows.

Hugs to everyone this week. Hopefully the sun will shine soon.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Of Seders and Oranges

Our Seder was last weekend, an annual event on our church's calendar. I had never been to a Seder before going to our church's a few years ago and I still wonder how different a real one is (though, finding the quintessential Seder would be about as easy as finding the typical Christmas, no doubt--everyone does it a little differently).

But I'm always so impressed by the structure of the Seder, particularly the Haggadah (which for those of you who have never been to a Seder is the text which is read at and which organizes the evening--there are hundreds of different ones, with different stresses and themes). The Haggadah we used this year was compiled by our director of religious education and included all the usual, I assume, readings and songs--from the Four Questions about how and why Passover is celebrated, to the opening of the door for Elijah, the drinking of water from Miriam's cup, the dots of wine for the 10 plagues, the eating of parsley and bitter herbs and boiled eggs and matzahs in haroset (depending on your background, an apple/honey/walnut or apricot/almond/citrus mixture), the hiding and go seeking of the afikoman, and the singing of Daiyenu and Let My People Go. And, of course, the oranges, in honor of gay and lesbian rights, from when one of the earliest ordained woman rabbis was shouted down with, "A woman belongs in the pulpit like an orange belongs on the Seder plate!" The focus was specifically peace, freedom, and justice, in keeping with the UU principles. But it was short (only about 40 minutes beginning to end) and easy for newbies to understand.

Here is a ritual--a dinner, or two (some families have Seders the first two nights of Passover--can you imagine doing Christmas twice? Oh, the preparations!)--designed primarily to educate the young in their faith--to school them in the meanings of their traditions and in their history. I can't think of a Christian holiday that has education as its central focus. In fact, I have trouble imagining a Christian holiday that is still, well, Christian. Imagine if most families celebrated Christmas, or Easter, based on its religious meaning? I can't even fathom how we would connect Easter Bunnies to the crucifixion (yes, yes, I know about the appropriation of pagan symbols) or Christmas presents to the nativity (because it's all gotten beyond a few gifts to the baby Jesus). But the way we celebrate these holidays today has nothing to do with passing along a religious tradition, faith, or dogma. Don't get me wrong, I love the way our family celebrates--it's very much about passing along a family tradition, and, at least in our house, conveniently not about Christianity at all.

Even looking at secular holidays--4th of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day--the meaning of those is forgotten or lost amid their modern-day trappings (picnics and sales, primarily). We don't really talk about the Revolutionary War or Armistice Day anymore. And when we do focus on the history and meaning of a holiday--Thanksgiving--we get it all wrong with Pilgrims and Indians.

And so, I like sitting down at a meal with friends and being reminded of the history of a tradition, even if it's not one of my traditions and it's not specifically my cultural history. There are lessons in it for everyone.

And so I'm making this tradition one of ours, complete with oranges.


Ivy's Noodle "Coogle"

12 oz medium width noodles, cooked and drained
1/2 cup small curd cottage cheese
4 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large package cream cheese (8 oz)
2 cups hot milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick butter, melted in milk
3/4 cup or more Frosted Flake or other cereal, crushed

Preheat oven to 350F.

Place noodles in 9 x 13 pan. Beat together all remaining ingredients. Pour over noodles. Cover "coogle" with topping. Bake for 1 hour. May be served hot, warm, or cold.

Lowfat substitutions will work (but if you change everything it will taste different)


We had another date night and it was as if I walked into the pages of one of my food magazines or onto a Food Network special. Mama had heard of this cafe in SoNo that focuses on chocolate, Chocopologie, and we decided to go for date night with Gommie babysitting.Just reading the menu online had us salivating and restricting our food intake for days before the date. And I fully intended to have dessert for all my courses. And I did.

Chocopologie is in the cutesy urban area of SoNo that is trying so hard to be Connecticut's version of hip NYC. It's young, lots of restaurants, loud music--but so clean, lacking in traffic or car horn sounds or sirens, and devoid of curiously questionable people that you would never mistake it for the real thing. I'd say it was safe but with so few people off the main part of Main Street, I doubt it's as safe as Time Square at midnight. The restaurant itself has a several tables upfront, the counter, and a long gallery for viewing chocolate production during the day. I'm not sure what you'd call the decor--it's some kind of chic, but not ultra-modern. I'm not up on decor terminology.

But I can describe the food. Which is funny, because my first dish--chocolate truffle beignets--left me speechless. These hot doughnuts came out with a fondue fork, but the batter wasn't chocolate as I'd expected, but regular Cafe Du Monde dough--only filled with melted chocolate. And something else. Was it honey? Nuts? A liqueur? I couldn't place it, so I asked. Pistachio. Pistachio truffle. They take one of their high-end truffles, wrap it in beignet mix, and fry it. I think it's the most amazing dessert I've ever had. Even Mama ate two of them and she's not a huge chocolate fan.

She was eating a croque monsieur with french fries. And truffle oil mayonnaise. Now, I will blow my cover as a foodie (which you'll remember I never claim to be--I'm not adventurous enough) when I say I've never had truffle anything before, of the fungal not cocoa variety. But I might be a convert. The earthiness mixed with the tartness of the mayo and the salty-crunchy of the fries was the perfect counterpoint to my chocolate.

Oh, and we were drinking chocolate too--Mama got a frozen hot chocolate. We've had one before, at Serendipity 3 in NYC--but that is a sweet sugary huge kid's version. This drink is the adult's version--dark chocolate flavor, not too much sugar, just the right size. Really quite perfect (even better slightly melted so that the ice isn't so obvious).

Then we moved on to dessert! What they call the chocolate love--a plate with four small chocolate desserts--a rich, flavorful and not bitter chocolate ice cream; a warm "molten" chocolate cake; a delicious chocolate mousse that was so smooth it was almost chocolate butter; and a chocolate Napoleon with little florentine cookies and ganache (the chewy cookies overwhelmed the ganache and were the night's weakest point). Wow.

Then--and I know you're thinking, "then?!"--I had their Chocopologie coffee with lavender foam. It was like eating Provence. I eventually just spooned the foam off the top, too full to drink the mocha coffee (even though it was delicious too). I just couldn't believe the foam. I'm sure it's just lavender-steeped milk made frothy but it was the essence of lavender. Though it's no molecular gastronomic trick, I couldn't help think of Ferran Adria and the foams you hear about.

So, we ended the night by purchasing a t-shirt, which I am wearing right now that says "Chocolate Lover" (and which I had the audacity to wear to my WW weigh-in today, which could've been worse but wasn't good), and several truffles to indulge in over the next several nights--rosewater, lemon, Grand Marnier, orange rum, pistachio, violet.

We even got the babysitter a little something!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Language and Perception

There is an article in this week's NYTimes about colors, language, and perception, and I was fascinated to learn that English is one of the few languages to distinguish between blue and green. For instance, apparently, Russians do light and dark blues but not green. (Is this like the word "snow" and the Inuits, with all their names for it, except one word like "snow" since they perceive it as different precipitation when we do not??)

In our Chinese class we learned blue yesterday, "lan se." We already knew green, "le se" (I think that's the Pinyin). "Se" is added to all the color names (unless the color is being used as an adjective, I think). So I guess they differentiate the colors too. Or has English influenced them?

Anyway, sometimes the kiddos get confused. Yesterday, Sis identified a tree as "green se" and the water as "blue se."

I'm fascinated by how they learn language, especially because they pronounce it better than I do, even if they are slower to remember new words.

We only need purple and then will have the whole rainbow!

(Hmmm, do people see the rainbow differently? Does the gay flag confuse the Russians?)

It All Adds Up

As I've said, Buddy loves numbers. He was very excited at Chinese class yesterday when we got to count--he'll do it on his fingers, in English, and in Chinese.

But we went past five! It took awhile to explain the concept of seven--one hand of five plus one hand of two. But he got it and was fascinated. "What's six? What's eight?" We went through all the numbers up to ten and he spent the rest of the day saying "seven is five and two."

My goodness, the boy can add!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blog Admin

Just a note to my faithful readers that Gommie is coming to town and so posts will probably be erratic or entirely absent until her departure on Monday. Not to worry, I'll be back.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sleep Deprived

We're off again.

Buddy is sound asleep on the floor in a pile of loveys. He fell asleep after reading a story with Babysitter--just rolled over and fell asleep! Probably because he woke up at 6 a.m. ish, which is more than an hour earlier than usual.

See, they napped on Saturday on the way home from Mystic (that was lots of fun--Sis loved riding the horse-drawn carriage, while Buddy loved playing cook in the galley of the children's museum). Then they went to bed late, woke up early on Sunday, went to bed on time on Sunday, and woke up early on Monday. Just where we were last week at this time.

Except last Monday, as you will recall, was miserable and today was pretty good. In honor of No Television Week, we didn't watch a thing until rest time at 1 p.m., a near record for us. Instead, we played chase downstairs, we played hide and go seek upstairs, baked butterscotch cookies, played outside, and painted. Buddy really likes our Fairy House under the pine tree--today we added a magic circle of white rocks, a Fairy guardian (a fairy lawn decoration I had--black silhouette of a dancing fairy), and flowers. In fact, Sis and Buddy really enjoyed picking all the wild violets in our yard--"the best bouquet in the world!" (thank you, Franklin). Our motto, though, was leave some for tomorrow, which mainly worked. This afternoon, Babysitter was here while I went to PT and, well, now Buddy is asleep on the floor while dinner (meatloaf) cooks. Sis is awake, waiting for dinner, which means she'll be trying to fall asleep just as he wakes up.

So, tomorrow we'll be off again. But hopefully, it will be another good day like today.

Number by Colors

Sis loves to organize things, as I think I've noted before. Right now, colors are her favorite common denominator. For example, she likes her plates, cups, and bowls to match, or at least be in the same color family. But more extreme, I found her organizing M&Ms by color the other day. We were putting them in Rice Krispie treats and I turned around and found a line of oranges, a line of reds, and so on. And that's not the only time it's happened: this morning, she picked flowers by color--first, the purple wild violets and then the white wild violets and then on to the yellow dandelions. She's partial to green and to purple but will organize by color regardless. Even when she's coloring. We were decorating a card for a woman at church and she pulled out all the shades of blue in the box and lined them up. I'd love to say she'd lined them up from darkest to lightest, but she didn't.


(I was partial--and still am--to the rainbow. And no, it's not just a gay thing. I've loved rainbows for years. And didn't know the symbolism.)

Inch by Inch

Our yard is a mess. I'm convinced the neighbors, whose lawns are immaculate--and poisonous, with large carbon footprints--bemoan the state of our yard. There are weeds, sticks, long grass, dead patches, untrimmed bushes, old leaves, toys.

I'm going to talk about all but the last one because I think toys are perfectly normally for any family's yard.

I don't particularly like yard work. It's the one thing I totally underestimated about owning a house. I don't like to get hot. I don't have the back to do a lot of picking up, weeding, or the like. I happen to like wild violets and dandelions and clover and ivy. And fall leaves. And bushes in natural shapes. We don't use any chemicals on the yard or plants. We don't waste resources by doing any watering of the grass. And I don't like the gas-powered lawn mower, with its noise, smell, and carbon footprint (our people-powered rotary lawn mower can't handle our bumpy and stick-strewn yard).

And this week in the paper I actually read a defense of my kind of yard. Kent Pierce, of Connecticut, a plant and pests expert, noted, “I’m 51, and I remember that for kids in the ’60s, lawns were really spectacular, interesting, amazing places. There were cool weeds, flowers, clover, dandelions. And there were butterflies.” Well, I'm a kid of the 70s, and while we had an interesting red berry bush in the backyard, it was mostly ChemLawn.

I aspire to an interesting yard. We already have several of those things (plus a great rock wall), including the butterflies--a yellow one was flitting around this morning. As was a great big bumblebee, several squirrels, a cardinal, a blue jay, two robins, and several sparrows. I haven't seen our little bunny in several months, or the turkeys, but I liked their visits (rumor has it there is a three-legged fox, but I haven't seen it). And we'll have more butterflies because I bought the kit where you order the larvae and grow, then release, your own. We just needs some more flowers for them.

Which takes us to gardening. I don't know how to garden. The plants we put in don't seem to survive our neglect or the winters. We have several patches of blossom-less tulips and daffodils. Though, some daylilies, which I was convinced weren't going to make it, seem to be coming back. Let's see if they bloom. And the hostas never go away. I don't like them much but they're hardy so we got some more from a friend.

And now everywhere I turn, I'm being encouraged to plant food. If I can't keep daffodils and tulips going, won't I kill lettuce and zucchini? I'm not even sure how to make seeds sprout. We stood in the seed section of the local store recently and were so overwhelmed and unsure that we left without buying anything. Michael Pollan's exhortation to plant a garden to combat climate change is a powerful idea, but now we need someone to take those of us with no garden experience (those of us who grew up in the immaculate lawns of the cheap-energy without guilt era) by the hand and help us out. We've looked at books but they are complicated and advanced. We're going to start small, with containers for a few vegetables.

We just need to start.

And mind you, while we focus on getting some food to grow, the rest of the yard will just become messier.

And I think that's great.

Vote Update

We have one vote for Peanuts and two votes for Southern. So, today, I will try Southern nicknames out and see if I can live with them.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

New Nicknames

I'm considering changing the nicknames I use in my posts. Here are three possibilities. I'll let you vote, consider the results, and then probably stick with the cumbersome DD/DS/DP nomenclature. But let's give it a try. You may vote via comment or email.

Let the best nicknames win!

DD= Lucy
DS= Linus (apropos because of the loveys)
Mama=Peppermint Patty

Thomas the Train
Mommy=Mommy Hatt
Mama=Mama Hatt

Southern (I actually use these)

Fun in the Spring

Here we are painting a picture. Together.

DS loves to vaccuum. Here he is feeding the dustbuster cheerios.

Enjoying the spring-like weather by swinging . . .

And baking "Mixed Berry Blueberry Pies." Together.

Friday, April 18, 2008

It's Ok Now

DD this morning, upon seeing me: You are Mommy again.
Me: And that's good.
DD: Yes.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We Apparently Have New Pet Bunnies

DD had the most bizarre dream last night. And we know because she told DP when she awoke from it last night.

At 11:30 ish, DD woke up calling for us. DP, designated night mama, went in. DS asked DP if she had food, an unusual request even if she didn't eat much dinner. She then said, "The bunnies want food."

DP tried to get her to put her head on her pillow, but DD said that there was food on her pillow. So, DP flipped it over and DS laid down.

This morning she reiterated that the bunnies didn't have food because they spilled it on her pillow.


180 Degrees

It's been almost a complete turnaround here at Chez Twin. Thank goodness for sleep. I can totally tell that the twins feel better and are not as sleep deprived. We've been having a great time these last few days and I so hope it continues.

A few examples:

Today we built a fairy house out of sticks. It started as a Lincoln Log building but then became a lean-to with a bark roof. DS wandered the yard looking for accessories, "What else do we need?" We made a front walk with leaves, a fence with sticks, rock furniture, and even dug a swimming pool. DD was in charge of fairy food, collecting dozens of mini-pinecones for snack. We worked out in for quite awhile. And then, even when we were done and back inside, DS kept wanting to look at the fairy house from the back window.

Yesterday, we went fishing. From the front step. DD supplied us each with sticks for fishing rods. We also paddled with these, singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." We caught trout, halibut, and octopus. DS ate a whale. And then DD went swimming with the turtles. In fact, they've named the rock that is partially visible next to our driveway (and does look like a turtle back)--it's "Franklin." Guess what show we're watching now. Then we went to the island to have a picnic. Of goldfish, of course.

There was a scary point yesterday, though, in the backyard. There was a bear. Polar or brown, depending on the child you asked. In the big bushes in back. At first it was fun. "I see the bear. I see his eyes," said DS. But then he believed himself and started to get scared, crawling into my lap crying. DD tried to reassure him and was going to go check on the bear, but only would take 3 steps towards the bushes. So I did the bear dance. Know it? You stomp around, claws raised, singing, "Bear, Bear, go away, DD and DS want to play. Grrrrrrr." It works for tigers, too.

And just when spring hits, we were inside an igloo today, with our scarves and hats. The igloo itself was made out of a rainbow blanket draped over the coffee table and some chairs. We all crawled in and out making snow angels, getting "BRrrrrr" as DD said, and crawling back inside.

More polar bears: we have this great big bush (that was much bigger when we bought the house and we trimmed it back to find the sidewalk) that has been pretty barren for months. And it has this wonderful arch, making this space under the branches that can fit several people. And when it was snowy, a few times this winter, we played polar bear cave and hid in it. The snow is gone and there are little buds on it now but it is still the polar bear cave. And now we're climbing it. DD hoisted herself up and even walked across the low branch, so proud to be climbing the tree by herself. DS wanted to follow and so she helped him, "Put your foot here. I'm right behind you. It's okay." And hew as so proud when he made it up on the branch, "I can see leaves. And flowers. And squirrels. And the bear. And you."

And baking. We're always baking. Real baking. Pretend baking. Both yesterday and today, we were making pies in the sandbox. DD called them "Mixed Berry Blueberry Pie." I love the name. And she carefully placed rings of tiny pinecones on top of the mound of sand. DS helped her make them--he was in charge of the crust. He liked putting cherries on his pies, made from white garden rocks. Yum, I've never eaten so much. I think we're going to have to make real pies soon, with berries we pick ourselves. They loved picking blueberries last year, even if DD would fill her pail and then dump it on the ground, not quite grasping the concept.

We've also been playing a lot of hide-and-seek. Not the usual game though. I count, they hide and giggle, and I find them because they pop out at me. DD always hides under the window next to the couch; DS changes places some but rarely stays in them through the ten count. Then we start again. Or it's my turn to hide and they go around pretending not to find me until they do and we all laugh.

I hope spring lasts forever.

You are Somebody Else

I got my haircut this evening. I've been feeling frumpy--not in a fat way (though, I'm not much skinnier, but my stomach is thinner thanks to all that PT--and to my friends who said so!), but in a dowdy, slovenly, lazy way. I mean, I wore yoga pants and a mediocre sweatshirt (not even one of my nice ones) to playgroup yesterday. And I didn't look that good today!

But I got a haircut, or more of a trim. I was letting it grow out because I don't like the layers but it had gotten out of hand. And so I went and came home, to this:

DD: You aren't my mommy.
Me: Yes, I am. I just got a haircut.
DD: You're somebody else.
Me: Is that good or bad?
DS: Good.
DD: Bad.
Me: Well, I'll be Mommy again in the morning.

Because, you know, it always looks different straight from the salon. And even I thought it looked poofy and fluffy.

Change of Pace

There is no vanilla in these crunchy cheese cookies. There's not even any sugar.

But they're one of DP's favorites so we made them this morning, grating the cheese together by hand.

Well, they watched.

We won't bake everyday, though we have this week. With butter $1 a stick, it's a pricey hobby. But no worse than going out and spending money on gasoline. Besides, it's a great activity and we all enjoy it.

Which is exactly what we need on Thursday, when every other child we know is in daycare (or with a babysitter at home) and we have no one to play with.

Except ourselves.


Crunchy Cheese Cookies

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cups flour
8 oz. shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup Rice Krisipies

Preheat oven to 375F.

Mix butter, flour, and cheese. Flavor with Tabasco (we use 5-10 drops). Add Rice Krispies and mix. Using a teaspoon (and more likely, your fingers), place mixture on cookie sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt while still warm.

Museum docent

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's A Thing

I'm having a vanilla thing. Must be because I bought a big bottle of Penzey's single strength vanilla extract. And it tastes so good.

I have never made pound cake. I like pound cake, but I wouldn't say it was a favorite, mainly because it tends to be dry. And I've only really had the frozen stuff out of the box. But I have long read, most recently in an article by James Villas in Saveur, about the glories of pound cake. And how it is a Southern thing, mainly. Now, of course, the cake--originally made with a pound each of butter, flour, and sugar, I believe--can trace its lineage back to England. Or France. Or Italy. Probably in the eighteenth century. Of course, we don't often weigh the ingredients anymore, but the name has stuck (much like 1-2-3-4 cake, which is, I think, 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, 4 eggs. That'll be next. I like trying "historic" recipes).

Anyway, Villas claims that in the U.S., Southerners understand the cake better than anyone. We can argue about whether Texas is truly Southern (yes, yes, I know, it was a Confederate state, but culturally, well . . . no one in the other Southern states thinks of Texas as one of theirs. It's like Connecticut claiming it's part of New England. Sure, officially, but that's about it.), but regardless, I have wanted to try my hand at the cake. If only to attest to my "Southern" (didn't I just say Texas wasn't very? Don't look for logic here) roots.

And so today, I made pound cake with the kids. Vanilla pound cake from King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion (note: I didn't use Villas's recipe because I didn't want to use almond extract in the batter and like to follow a recipe perfectly the first time). Their favorite part? Poking the holes in the cake at the end so I could drizzle in the glaze. All I can say is wow.

I made it this morning and it's gone. DS licked most of the batter off the spoon and bowl, and had a piece from the middle. DD devoured both ends. I saved a piece for DP so she could experience the vanilla-ness. And I swiped half a piece at playgroup. Otherwise, it's gone.

And it didn't even "age"--or even cool!--the way it's supposed to.

Maybe next time. And there will be a next time.


Vanilla Pound Cake

1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed (I had dark)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 3/4 cups flour (or cake flour--I used regular unbleached all purpose King Arthur)
4 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugars, salt, vanilla, and baking powder until smooth and fluffy. Add the flour and mix well; the batter will be almost like paste. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition; the batter will be quite fluffy.

Spoon the batter into a lightly greased 9-10" tube pan, 9-10 cup bundt-style pan, or 9 x 5" loaf pan (this is the one I used). Bake the cake for about 45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes, while you're making the glaze.

Bring the sugar, water, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Turn the warm cake out onto a rack. Poke the cake all over with something long and thin, like a cake tester or ice pick. Slowly drizzle or brush the glaze over the cake, continuing to brush until all the glaze is used. Let the cake cool fully before slicing. Serve with sliced fresh fruit, if desired.

King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Rich are Different

. . . because in Westport, the Happy Meals come with handiwipes.

Try These

I just finished a 16 oz bottle of pure vanilla extract from all the baking with the kids and was rinsing out the bottle so DD could have it for her kitchen, when I noticed the Vanilla Butter Cookie recipe on the back. So we made it this evening when they wanted dinner early and it wasn't ready.

Ohmygoodness, these are divine. I hope there are some left to take to our playdate tomorrow.


Vanilla Butter Cookies

1 cup softened butter (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I used my new bottle of Penzey's single strength)
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg; beat well. Blend in vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour and salt; add to creamed mixture.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10-12 mintues or until golden brown.

Makes 3 dozen.

McCormick's Pure Vanilla Extract label

Monday, April 14, 2008

Compassionate Presence

This post is dedicated to two women at church who are in crisis: Miss D, who is battling complications from lymphoma, and S, a young woman who had surgery today on a tumor. Peace to them and their families.

"Working Definition of Good Spiritual Care: The ability to be compassionate in the face of pain, with the courage and willingness to stand in the presence of suffering, offering a radical hospitality toward those who are in despair." --interfaith handout at workshop

I am a coordinator of pastoral care at church, a new role into which I have only just recently stepped. As a pastoral caregiver, I support the minister in her outreach to congregants by organizing meals, rides, visits, errands, and sending cards. The group (there are two of us) is new and we're working out exactly what we should and can do, as there has not been much of a system in place. I'm interested in this work for several reasons, one of which was the great care and love I received from friends at church when I was pregnant, had the twins, and later had surgery. So, for the last three weeks, I have attended an interfaith caregiving workshop to learn how to offer compassionate presence to people in crisis. This mainly involved an in-depth discussion of listening, the act, or the gift even, of being a present, engaged listener.

I thought I was a good listener. My mom is a great listener, though when she told us as teenagers about "active listening"--with its "I" messages and reflective or rephrasing talk ("I hear you saying that . . .")--we thought she was, um, annoying and teased her about it. But it worked. And works. She's the person you call if you need to talk--no judgment, no interruptions, lots of sympathy and empathy. And I've always wanted to be just like that.

But I have some bad listening habits, as I learned, mainly in my head when I listen--the rushing to figure out what I'm going to say next, trying to solve the problem while the person talks, identifying to such an extent that I don't hear their details. But at least, I don't usually say these things. Which is a good step in the right direction, as I also learned.

Short of repeating the whole class in writing here, I would just say that I learned so much. We learned how to implement listening techniques: with our hearts (being present, being attentive); with our bodies (by making eye contact, mirroring body position and voice tone, using touch); and with our own words (by repeating or mirroring what we heard or allowing silence). We discussed the importance of leaving ourselves out of the conversation, except as a way to connect with the recipient--this is the core of being present for them, for their sake. We learned ways to draw out people's feelings, encourage their own exploration of difficult topics, how to utilize and appreciate silence. We shared our own experiences with being heard, and not heard, and the needs and feelings involved. We considered how we could be "wounded healers," when our own experiences echoed that with which we were faced. Many of the concepts presented in the training drew from two different paradigms: radical hospitality, or the usually spiritual notion of generously and unselfishly giving of oneself in an inclusive and welcoming way; and nonviolent communication, and its understanding of needs and the resulting feelings when they are met and not met.

And the last session, because this was an interfaith training, focused on the "holy." Mind you, this word was used because the majority of participants were UUs (and how odd is that?); if it had just been Christians, no doubt, they would have used "God." But we learned what a minefield religion can be in a caregiving situation and how to include it without infringing on others' beliefs--this intrigued me. We talked about food, meditation, art/music, readings, touch, gifts like my prayer shawls. We even talked about how to pray with someone. Though I'm not sure I see myself doing this, it was fascinating to learn about constructing a prayer. And so here it goes, my prayer for our new caregiving ministry:

"We came together in these weeks to learn how to serve others in our community. We talked, we shared, we learned, we listened, we were inspired. We hope that we can take these lessons through our congregation and bring the gifts of presence, the gift of this radical love, to our friends and fellow churchgoers in need and in crisis. Thank you for giving us this space, this time, to learn. Blessed be."

Day is Done*

Dinner: grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit cocktail, ice cream, jelly beans.

Bathtime: with bubbles. And DD had a full array of mixed berry pies, strawberry shortcake, tea, and, um, vitamins for us.

Storytime: a sweet British book of months which title I can't recall.

Bedtime: our new addition to the good night ritual: "1-2/I love you. 1-2-3/You love me." Shake hands to the rhythm and repeat.

Good night.


*I hope. By the way, it's best to read these posts "backwards," starting with Today's Big Blow-Up.

Is This What Winning Looks Like?

They have both fallen awkwardly and absolutely asleep watching "Chinese Disco." DD is sitting up leaning over the arm of the couch, face buried in Shirt. DS is on the floor on his back, with his elbows behind his head and his lovey in his mouth, snoring away.

Let's Get Physical

It is hard to parent.

It is harder when you have no physical power.

I can't pick up my kids, to love or to discipline them. I can't put them in timeout if they won't go willingly. I couldn't put them in their room to nap until they went on their own. When they fight, I can't get them off one another easily. I can't get them into their carseats unless they help.

Sure, some would say the lack of physical power is healthy, that parenting shouldn't be about physical power and coercion. Might doesn't make right. And intellectually, I absolutely believe and aspire to that.

But sometimes, when you can't reason, or rationalize, or convince a two-and-a-half year old, you need to be able to move them.** And I can't do that right now. And they know it.

And I'm losing.

**I'm not talking about hitting, spanking, shaking, dragging, pulling or other physical violence here. I don't do that. I don't think it's right. Ever. I'm not a relativist when it comes to physical violence. I'm mainly talking about picking up an unwilling child, which I can't do.

I can't even pick up a willing one.

Elapsed Time*

Exactly 14 minutes before there was an injury.

Plus another 2.5 minutes for timeout for the perpetrator.

And a few minutes to post about it as electronic therapy.

The day goes really slowly in such small increments.

*It helps if you read this series of posts backwards, starting with "Today's Big Blow-Up."

I've Locked Them Up

In my continued blow-by-blow of this difficult Monday, I admit that I have locked them in their room. I left the Little Bear book on CD going. And I have the monitor on.

Oddly, I can hear them but not the CD. But I'm not going upstairs to check on why that is.

Because no one is crying or injured.



N.B. Just in case DCFS reads blogs, I will note that "locked" is hyperbolic. There are no working locks in this house, except on the external doors.

They just can't get out.

A Low Point

After we got home from playgroup, where we vacillated between entertained and exhausted, DS decided he wanted to play at my feet in the kitchen while I made lunch. And so he got out several of my pots . . .

. . . and proceeded to fill them with crumbs of food and who-knows-what that he found on the floor.

Reversal of Fortune

Well, after much crying--me in the bathroom, DS outside the door, and DD sprawled on the living room floor--we have all calmed down some. Maybe that's what we needed.

And we baked cookies for playgroup (and will freeze half for church).

A family that bakes together stays together.


Chocolate White Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) white chips

PREHEAT oven to 350° F.

COMBINE flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels. Drop by well-rounded teaspoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until centers are set. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Nestle White Baking Chips bag

Today's Big Blow-Up

Well, it's Monday morning after a week of being sick and we're all cranky and tired. The tv is already on and I have no hopes of an engaging, active day.

Especially because the one attempt at play the kiddos made ended in a feud.

DD and DS were fighting over what kind of pretend cookies they were making in the play mixer: DD wanted orange-juice flavored and DS wanted cinnamon.

The mixer is in time out, the kids are all cried out, and I'm hiding in the kitchen.

Happy Monday.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Easter Solstice

People who visit my house often marvel at the amount of toys. On the porch and in the living room, there are blocks, bricks, Lincoln Logs, puzzles, a play kitchen with dishes and food, baby doll stuff, FP Little People things, dress up clothes, a work bench, and tons of musical instruments and books.

But there are not toys in the kids' room. That's right. There are two toddler beds, a dresser, and a bookcase with books, plus the stuffies in their cribs. But no toys. Why? Well, because we spend most of our day downstairs since it used to be too much to haul them up and down. Because toys in the bedroom might interrupt bedtime--as distractions, as agitators, as weapons, as something to crawl up on.

And tonight I had a real glimpse of what life without the downstairs full of toys would be like. And it would be fine, good even. Tonight the kids played Winter Solstice after bath, decorating their beds with loveys and pajamas and blankets, talking about snow angels, even chiming in for the song (you need to have seen Little Bear to understand, probably):

"The night is long
the snow is deep
Mommy loves the winter
Mama loves the winter . . . "

"And I do too."
"And I do too."

They helped each other decorate, crawling in and out of both beds, DD taking particular care to help DS. And they laughed, so happy that it was Winter Solstice.

And DS then said it would soon be Easter Solstice.

Even though the play was tv-inspired (it's my favorite episode), they adapted it to the materials at hand. And played together. Happily. Making it up as they went along.

It's not that I'm against toys, obviously, but I liked the way they played without them. And I'll certainly keep that in mind the next time we're buying toys (come summer birthdays). Open-ended, sturdy, long-lasting toys (perhaps with fewer pieces and parts). Though, that's a lot of what we have.

But it still might be time to clean up and out the downstairs some . . .

Friday, April 11, 2008

Quips and Quotes

DD now insists every time that I say "little" that she is a "big girl."


DS has discovered "why?" He loves it. I can't even think of a single example right now because it happens so frequently. I usually cut him off after three.


DS is constantly counting on his fingers, up to five. But today he was perplexed--how do you do "6"? So I showed him but he was not interested in using both hands. I'll just have to teach him how to do it in ASL (which only uses the 1 hand).


DS is also into "yet," as in "is it ready yet?" and "are we there yet?" And he repeats this almost as often as he says, "why?"


DD is always very concerned about which McD's we're going to eat at--brown roof or red roof. I didn't know there were different ones. But she's absolutely right.


Actually, they both like to "picnic" at McD, getting takeout and eating it in the car. Unless we're at the red roof McD, and then they like to eat inside.


"Pay out" is "check out." And everything always costs "twenty dollars." Even a single plastic carrot. I'm glad someone else checked us out at Target today or it would be too costly to take them shopping. As it was, we came home with more markers and chalk than strictly necessary.


There is a feud at the "Mermaid Bakery," i.e. our bathtub at night. DD wants to "bake" cupcakes while DS insists they are muffins.


Difference of Opinions

Today, we went out for the first time this week. Nothing like a little retail and fast food therapy to make us all feel more, well, American, er, I mean, human.

And the kids were marvelously well-behaved. At Target, they played hide-and-go-seek in the children's clothing section up front, after asking if they could (can you imagine--they asked if they could run off?!). It was pretty contained, mainly because I said they had to hide together and because another woman was keeping a very close eye on our proceedings and kept pointing out where they were. They came as soon as I said the game was over and then helped out with the shopping (we needed eggs and poster board, and I had promised rice krispie treat makings).

Because I'm still not picking them up, and because we only got the 1-seater cart, they hung off the outside. Most shopper-women smiled, knowingly. But one grandmotherly woman went into hysterics at me. "That is very dangerous."

And instead of noddingly politely and telling the kids to get down, or even just moving on, I replied, "Yes, well, it would be more dangerous if they climbed in and out of the cart and since there is only 1 seat there isn't anywhere for them to sit, is there?"

Stunned, she meekly asked if they were twins.

Yep, I was the badly behaved one at the store today.

And just to illustrate how differently people see things, right after this encounter we saw a mom pushing one cart with one child and a grandmother pushing another cart with the . . . same child. Yep, more twins. The mom stopped me--twin moms always recognize each other!--and was astounded at how well-behaved mine were, how they didn't run off.

She didn't care about how dangerous it was. Because twin moms have a whole 'nother standard!

I've Got Mail

It's been a banner day or two around our household as far as packages go. I love getting mail, especially packages, but I rarely look for them anymore. Back when I was what we would now call a tween (I was just a "kid" then), I had about a dozen pen pals and got letters and packages regularly.

Yes, a dozen: a few relatives (mainly my dear Aunt P); three friends from the Star Wars fan club; a pen pal in Greece through the International Pen Friends Association (I'll include her name here, Martha Bitsopoulou, in case she ever finds me--we got separated after years of correspondence and even two trans-Atlantic visits); friends from summer camp counseling; and finally a few friends who had moved away. And this was before email.

I had boxes of different cards and sheets of stationery, rubber stamps, stickers, return address labels, my own embosser. I'd write notes sitting on my bed with my lap desk (either my rainbow one or my blank of wood one from, get this, Vacation Bible School, during the one year or so I was a Southern Baptist. I should post about that sometime.)

But high school, then college, grad school, and beyond decreased both my correspondents and my correspondence, so that today I'm lucky if I mail Christmas cards and birthday notes. Though, I'm okay enough on email (somedays).

But I still love to get mail. I get excited when it's magazine week (all dozen of my subscriptions seem to arrive the same week, creating quite a backlog; I wish it were more spread out). I like my mail from England, often with interesting articles or info about places I'd love to visit (Lambeth, I really liked that page with the cooking things--the train cake mold is cute, and I can get it here). My Aunt P still writes me real letters frequently and I love to send her beautiful handwriting on a card. My mom and dad's cards now go to the kids but I like watching them get excited about mail so we always make a big deal of it, especially because they can now recognize (7 times out of 10) which name is theirs (mind you, they share 3 letters. And no, not "D").

And this week I've gotten a ton of packages: 4 from a friend in Chicago who has sent along some of things from the estate of our friend who died of breast cancer--some books, an afghan I'd made for her partner (the partner kept the afghan I'd made for the woman who was ill), and a poster about ways to subvert the patriarchy (this last will be framed and go in our bathroom, the only dykey thing in the whole house--and our dear Chicago friend loved theme bathrooms! Hers had fishing and fish.); then we got a new battery for my laptop, just today, which will hopefully improve its performance (and let us do webcam with Gommie again); also, my Pampered Chef stuff showed up (okay, technically it didn't come in the mail, but it was delivered to my house); and, finally, my church cookbook starter kit came (I'm heading up the church cookbook, no surprise, right?). I think there was one other one but I can't recall. I just know there have been a lot--it's practically like Christmas with UPS, DHL, and USPS coming to the door.

I might have to start sending more real mail--that's the best way to get some--because, as much as I like getting email, real mail, especially packages (even if I've paid for them), is best.

Writing on the Pages

I don't like to write in books, generally. DP still teases me about the fill-in-the-blank millennium book that I just couldn't bear to write in. Hmmm, maybe that's why I haven't finished (or even progressed well) on the baby books.

In K-12, we weren't allowed to write in books. Maybe that's where I get it. By college, when I owned the book, I could sometimes bring myself to highlight, but that's about it. I like pristine copies of books--no folded pages, no writing, no bent spine. Which is contradictory, because I (intellectually) love the idea of a well-read, well-loved book. I guess I just don't like the way they look. Maybe that's because most of the books we're talking about are cheap paperbacks that get ratty before they are loved, not good hardcovers with gorgeous bindings and endpapers that can stand the test of time. But I'm not sure I'd write in those either.

Which is why it's odd that I'm writing in a cookbook, our Greatest Cookie Ever Made Book. I've inscribed it (something I rarely do with gifts because you never know if they're going to be returned) and started to make notes on the pages we've baked from, like a scrapbook for the kids, without all the extra paper and effort. I noted that DD likes butterscotch no-bake cookies, and that we all liked putting sugar sprinkles on the sugar cookies. Hopefully, we'll work our through the book.

And cover the pages with words describing the fun.

But I write in the book when the kids can't see--I really don't want them thinking they can write in books.

So we'll all have the same neurosis.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Day Three

Well, no fevers this morning, just coughs and drippy noses (and a sore throat for me). But we're still home and inside.

A kind and sympathetic friend brought over her son's Cars video today. Several people had told me that DS would like it because he likes trains and trucks and such. Well, neither of them made it through the opening credits.

So we made cookies instead. I was hoping for the easy boil-on-the-stove variety but DD had her heart set on frosted sugar cookies. And since she's been disappointed a lot recently (she keeps thinking Gommie is showing up today or tomorrow), I gave in.

We tried a new sugar cookie recipe from our new Greatest Cookies Ever book. It made 2 dozen. In batches (and fits and starts, since it really isn't an easy kid activity), we rolled them out and made hearts and stars. Some got colored sugar sprinkles, some got jam (strawberry and apricot, for DS and DD respectively), and some were plain for icing later.

There are now sprinkles all over my floor, a full bowl of lemon-flavored yellow icing on my table, and a plate of uneaten cookies calling my name. DD decided she liked them plain--no sugar, no jam, no frosting, though she ate the confetti sprinkles on the side. DS, as per usual, didn't eat any baked ones (they had shared dough from bowl scrapings).

Now their back to the tv, which is fine--cookie baking took up a good hour plus, I think. Now, I just need to clean up (which is why I'm blogging instead).

Maybe DP will want to watch Cars tonight.


Sugar Cookies

1 stick butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375F.

Cream the softened butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.

Add the egg and vanilla to the creamed butter and sugar. Blend the ingredients well.

Mix the dry ingredients in another mixing bowl. Add this dry mixture to the wet mixture. Blend it well. You have dough!

Chil the dough for (at least) 15 minutes, and then rool and cut the dough. Place the dough on the greased cookie sheets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Allow the baked cookies to cool before decorating or eating them.

Rose Dunnington, The Greatest Cookie Book Ever

Aunt J's Cookie Icing

powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon extract (we used lemon, optional)
2-3 drops food coloring (optional)

Combine sugar and milk to desired consistency. I like it thick so it doesn't run (probably 1/4-1/2 cup milk to 2-3+ cups sugar). Add extracts and food coloring, if desired.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It's That Time of Year Again

No, not March Madness . . . .

Girl Scout cookie time!

For most of my life, the advent of GS cookie season has been a big deal. First, as a brownie, then junior, and then cadet, I sold cookies. I remember that we'd get a glossy bi-fold brochure with colored graph to sell cookies to neighbors. Thin Mints, peanut butter sandwich cookies, sometimes an oatmeal frosted, Trefoils (those shortbreads in the shapes of girls' profiles), lemon cremes, later Tagalongs and the ever-popular gooey Samosa. I understand that there are 3+ GS bakeries in the country and that the offerings vary slightly, but I haven't noticed too much change from South to Northeast, or over time.

Except that cookies are now $4 a box!! And I remember selling them for 75 cents. I swear.

For every box of cookies sold, we earned rewards. Each year had a different animal theme. I strongly remember the panda bear year and worked so hard to get beyond the patch (either 50 or 75 boxes sold, which is what I usually did), to 100 so I could have the mini stuffed animal.

The sale would start on a Saturday morning and girls were not allowed to start before then. I sometimes headed out with a friend but usually went alone. Selling in pairs doesn't really work. I was allowed to go to neighbors we knew and people in the nearby area. There was no selling at grocery stores then. And we didn't have a church. Dad didn't like to take the sheet to work because, as boss, he felt that it pressured his employees. But some of them always asked about cookie time and bought a few boxes. Mom and Dad bought the remainder I needed to get the patch or stuffed animal.

Thin mints were my favorites, though I did go through a Samosa and Tagalong period for awhile. DP still loves Samosas but I'm back to Thin Mints. DD loves the trefoils (only because we haven't given her any others yet) and I even bought two extra boxes at church this Sunday to ensure our supply for awhile. Because now, you can buy cookies after they've been ordered, not just as advanced orders. And no one, no one goes to the door anymore. It was a lean period when I didn't know any Girl Scouts--I bet I went for a decade while in college and grad school without any cookies. Once we started going to church, though, the supply line was reestablished.

And eventually, it's fun to think that DD will sell them. She'll take the sheet to church and neighbors to solicit donations--do they even still do rewards? Our house will be filled with colorful rectangular boxes for distribution and we'll buy more than we need. They freeze well, though who ever really lets boxes linger? And I know there are lots of websites and even official handouts on how to cook with cookies (like trifles or Thin Mint crusts), but I like my cookies unadulterated. They're too rare to waste on crust.

One day, I'll reminisce at length about Girl Scouts (and mourn the fact that DS will not have such an experience, as Cub/Boy Scouts are a sexist, homophobic, theocratic lot, at least officially)--I was one for years, from brownies through to being a camp counselor for a GS special needs camp. I loved the uniform, the badges, going to summer camp, the songs, the arts and crafts.

And of course, the cookies.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


The kiddos are sick. We knew it was coming. DP has been coughing and miserable for a few days. And the kids coughed a lot Sunday night. But last night took it to a new high. And they awoke with fevers, obviously exhausted and miserable.

We're missing Chinese class and have canceled two playdates (today and tomorrow) already. And we won't go to school tomorrow either. Probably not playgroup on Thursday. It's going to be a long week.

Especially because I woke up with a sore throat too.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Kumquat Queen

Do you like kumquats? Have you ever even had one?

I first had them candied for Chinese New Year last year but didn't know what they were (because, hey, when it's been candied, how bad could it be?). This year I found out. They are so citrus-y.

And when fresh, uncandied, they are extremely sour. At least the inside pulp is--the exact opposite of an orange. Because the outer skin is sweet. DD ate the pulp; I ate the skin.

DS ate strawberries.

I'm going to see if I can find how to candy them myself. Who wants to wait til next year?


Hi slowfoodgrrl. I've not seen candied kumquats around town, but have made them before for use in a cake. They're easy to do. The recipe I have calls for 5 cups of sugar and 2 pounds of kumquats and has both sliced and whole kumquats.

Cut three quarters of the kumquats into 4 slices each. Combine 5 cups sugar with 3 cups water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. When the sugar has dissolved, add the sliced kumquats, return to a boil and allow to simmer for 8 to 10 minutes or until kumquats appear translucent. Remove from heat and allow the fruit to cool in the syrup for 30 minutes. Remove kumquats with a slotted spoon. Add the whole kumquats to the syrup, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 1/2 hour or until kumquats begin to collapse. Allow to cool in syrup for 30 minutes. Strain and reserve syrup.

New Billboard #1

by DS, on guitar:

"Will you be my family?
("faster, faster")
My family, my family!"

Let Them Eat Crust

What is it with the crust of bread? Is there some kiddo gene that identifies it as poison? I spend half my mornings dealing with crust. See, I have one who abhors it and one who only eats it. Can you guess which is which?

Yep, DS wants his jelly sandwich sans crust, while DD goes out of her way to eat the crust (as opposed to the seeds, which I have to cut off the top) first. And no, they won't split one sandwich because they like different jellies.

I understand this is just one of the standard toddler food issues. We have another: the anti-sauce stance. DD won't eat anything that seems to have sauce, i.e. spaghetti and meatballs, any kind of casserole. Though, she must have gravy on her baked chicken or mashed potatoes. Gravy is not sauce, regardless of the regional Italian dispute about the meanings of those words.

We also don't like using one plate for the whole meal. This hasn't actually been called a "no-food touching" rule but that's what it is in essence. Except instead of just co-existing on the same plate without touching, food must be on separate plates.

How in the world is that an evolutionary safeguard? What Neanderthal was worrying about plates? I mean, I get that evolutionary biologists believe that toddlers become picky because in the past, when they were free-range, they needed that instinct so they wouldn't eat the deadly red berries. But crust? I don't think there were many baguettes back then.

Actually, I think I understand the crust thing: have you eaten the crust of plain ol' whole wheat bread recently? It's bitter. And kinda toothsome. It's fine if your mouth is big enough to get some of the rest of the bread in there, with fillings, but otherwise, it's not great.

Well, except to DD.

There's always one.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Miss is as Good as a Mile

Today was paint-your-own-train day at our local craft store. So, after the zoo and then lunch (at the "bear restaurant"--DD's request, as she remembered the manager once gave them packets of Teddy Grahams), we headed to "arts and crafts."

But DS fell asleep, his first nap in, well, like a month. So DD and I went in while DP waited with him. We got inside, walked up to the craft table, and were handed the second-to-last train they had. Oh, whew, we had just made it. But DD hadn't--the last train was given to the child behind us (mind you, this was 30 minutes into a 2 hour event and there were irate moms and sad children behind us)--we couldn't procure one for an absent child, which is totally understandably.

DD painted her little wooden car green, pink, and yellow. I added a face and her name. And she was happy but shy. At least she got one--she loves arts and crafts and had been talking about the trains since we left for the zoo.

But all's well that ends well. DP went into the store when we were done and picked up a Trevor train that DS had wanted. He can't paint it, but he didn't wake up empty-handed.

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Wow, it's lovely today--sunny, mild, not too windy--and this after a wet, foggy night and morning. So, we headed to the zoo.

DD is scared of peacocks. Doesn't like that they roam the zoo freely, doesn't like their caterwaul cry, really doesn't like how they spread their colorful tail feathers and shake them. She talked about the peacocks on the way over. DS tried to comfort her: "The prairie dogs are nice. The otters are nice. The tigers are nice. And they will be happy to see you." This last bit from a new nighttime story we read, Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep. Then DD asked us to please quit talking about peacocks. We did, DS kept telling her that they were nice.

We got to admissions and were given peacock stickers (which are supposed to encourage kids to be nice to the birds). We've gotten them before and have told DD that they actually ward peacocks off. All she need do is wear her sticker and say, "No peacocks!" and she'll be fine. Which she was. Though DP and I have a fine-tuned system worked out as we maneuver the zoo. "12 o'clock, moving to 1, in the trees." "Yep, hey hon, let's go that way instead." Until DS chimed in, "there's a peacock!" But we soon had DD distracted by the tigers. Whew, a close call.

And then the darned turkeys appeared. Fluffing their own tailfeathers. Bother. Hadn't prepared her for turkeys, which aren't usually there. Luckily, otters are very enticing and we got away, albeit with DD in arms.

We heard the peacocks as we left but by then we were safe and she was very proud to have survived the peacocks. Especially because it meant she had ridden the carousel, twice. But she took the sticker off her jacket as soon as we cleared the entrance!

Friday, April 4, 2008

String Theory

Today was art group and we painted with colored glue and string on paper plates. There was lots of creativity, from little string sculptures to using the string as ad hoc paint brush. I should've taken pictures. Next time.

To make colored glue, pour about 3 tablespoons of white glue into a bowl, add about a teaspoon of paint (washable is preferrable--some "recipes" call for food coloring, but this can be bad for clothes). Stir until combined. More or less paint will change the color.

Another trick with paint for this summer: add dishwasher liquid to thin (about 1:2 parts dishwasher liquid to paint). Then you have window paint. It will wash off with a hose or the rain.

Thinking of You

Just wanted to let Mommy Goose, Geek, and little Goose know that we are thinking of you and glad that your grandad is doing much better.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

End Quote

Today, while making Blueberry Orange Bread for playgroup, DD spilled some flour on the floor.

"Oh, what a mess," I said.

And DS explained to his sister, "We're making bread, not a mess."


Blueberry Orange Bread (pretty good, though not at all sweet really)

Dry Ingredients
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries (fresh, frozen, or drained canned)

Wet Ingredients
1/4 cup honey
grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup oil

Do NOT preheat oven.

Combine the dry ingredients and stir to blend thoroughly.

Beat together the wet ingredients.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until the dry ingredients are moist. Spoon into a large (9 x 5") well-greased loaf pan (I used a 9" round) and let it stand for about 15 minutes.

Bake at 350F for 1 hour.

Let the bread cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan.

Note: I dusted the pan with sugar and spread sugar on the top for crunch. The authors note it is good hot but better the next day.

Howard Early and Glenda Morris, Quick Breads

If Looks Could Kill

I think DD is a lot like me. Yesterday at school, she spent playtime arranging all the large plastic animals in pairs, just like a little Noah-ette: two lions, two giraffes, two elephants, two horses. All lined up side-by-side in a row on a tabletop, looking out over the playroom. She made sure the babies were next to the parents and would re-orient the whole line if she found another matching animal. The girl likes organization.

And then an older girl took two horses and a baby elephant. You should have seen the look. But of course--this orphaned a baby horse and left childless elephant parents. It took all my self-control not to get involved, except to calmly, maturely state that the toys were for everyone and we had to share, even if the older girl should have asked.

DD did just what I would have done in the same situation: said nothing, and glared.

Actually, that's what I did, too.

It doesn't work.

So DD calmly put several animals in a basket and took them away to feed them.

Very mature.

Better than what I was ready to do, had I been younger and shorter: grab them right back!

So much for being the adult.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

O, Reader! Where Art Thou?

Didn't anybody see/get/laugh at my April Fool's Joke?

Hint: I haven't ever seen David Letterman.

Oh, well, I tried.


I love those questionnaires that you get via email from your friends and are supposed to answer and send back. I think it's the narcissist in me. So, I'm posting a conglomeration of the "favorites" questions here, and answering them. And I'm answering them for DD and DS. And you, my friends with blogs, I ask that you put the questions on your blog and answer them. Those of you without blogs can post answers to the comments or send them to me privately.

Tag, you're it!

(And no, DP won't be playing. She doesn't like these. I'd be tempted to answer for her, and probably could quite accurately, but I won't.)

Book: right now, I'm enjoying The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton
Movie: hmmm, all time: Gone with the Wind
TV show: I like Top Chef right now
Song: right now, Natasha Bedingfield's Unwritten--it always seems to be on when I need inspiration
Musician: Indigo Girls
CD: Cher's greatest hits always makes me happy
Color: purple
Number: 12
Food: Chocolate. Dark chocolate.
Flavor: see above. Though, I also love cardamon or rose flavors in things
Animal: cats, panda bears, koala bears
Day of the Week: Saturday or Sunday
Flower: rose, lavender
Ice Cream: mmmm, Haagen Dazs's sticky toffee pudding or B&J's Black and Tan
Magazine: I'm enjoying Brain, Child's essays on parenting right now
Restaurant: Bloodroot
Toy/Thing: my computer, my crochet hooks
Poet: I'm seeing the wit of Dr Seuss more now; otherwise, I like Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Author: Jane Austen, followed by George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell; modern-day, Sarah Waters
Thing to do: cook with the kids, Sunday drives with Mama, adult time with friends, blogging, crochet
Place to go: Old Sturbridge Village, Mystic Seaport, Hancock Shaker Village--all the local history museums
Saying/Words: "Mama's home!"

Book: The Bear series, by Jane Chapman
Movie: Monster Inc
TV show: all Little Bear, Dora
Song: the "bubbly nose" song, or Cobbie Cailliat's "Bubbly"
Musician: Laurie Berkner
CD: Laurie Berkner CDs or Raffi
Color: green
Number: who cares!
Food: Snap Peas, lollipops,
Flavor: vanilla or chocolate
Animal: cats
Day of the Week: Saturday or Sunday with Mama
Flower: snow drops
Ice Cream: chocolate (with candies)
Magazine: I'll take whatever mom is reading
Restaurant: Friendly's for the ice cream, 99 for the popcorn, Duchess for the hot dogs, and McDonald's for the happy meals
Toy/Thing: chef's set with apron, hat, mits;
Poet: Dr Seuss, especially Green Eggs and Ham
Author: Eric Carle
Thing to do: cook with Mommy, arts and crafts (paint, handstamping)
Place to go: local playspaces and museums, "parties!"
Saying/words: loves to talk about her "favorite"

Book: Mother Goose nursery rhymes,
Movie: not usually interested in movies; Nemo is okay
TV show: Little Bear or Ni-hao, Kai Lan
Song: "Shakalaka Baby" from musical Bombay Dreams
Musician: Laurie Berkner
CD: zydeco instrumentals
Color: doesn't really matter
Number: 3--love to count and esp to make the number 3 with fingers
Food: strawberry yogurt or ice cream, blueberries
Flavor: any fruit
Animal: BUGS!
Day of the Week: weekends with Mama
Flower: Mommy likes roses
Ice Cream: strawberry
Magazine: whatever Mommy is reading
Restaurant: Ruby Tuesday's for the salad bar or Longhorn for the fried onions
Toy/Thing: Mommy's recorder flute, drums, actually any musical instrument
Poet: Mother Goose
Author: Eric Carle
Thing to do: play music
Place to go: backyard, to the sandpit or swingset; "drive" the car; feeding the ducks at the farmer's market
Saying/words: "no, thank you" (after being asked to do/not do something)

Red-Light Recipe District

Did you know I am a recipe whore?

I'm sure you've noticed. I love recipes. If someone makes something that I like, or even just mentions something promising, I want the recipe, I need the recipe, I must have the recipe.

I'm sure it's annoying to people, but my friends usually humor me and send along the recipe (no little task because they usually type it all over again and email it to me). This is much appreciated.

I don't do it to "steal" anyone's signature dishes. I think it's like collecting souvenirs. I don't even always use them, but store them in my cookbook cum scrapbook for the memory of it. Though, some of them, like the cutlets in the previous post, I make right away and add to my repertoire.

Of course, being a recipe ho, I am also very willing to share recipes. I figure it's good karma. Pay it forward, you know?

So, if there's some recipe of mine you'd like, don't be afraid to ask.

Just be ready to share!

Another Winner

We have another winner on the dinner front. Before tonight, there were two reliable standards: baked chicken with rice, gravy, and peas, and meatloaf (with a variety of flavorings, the most popular being ketchup).

Now we have a third: chicken cutlets.

I should start by saying I had never made a chicken cutlet before tonight. I like them, well enough, especially on a hero with cheese from delis in NYC. But I hadn't tried, mainly because I figured sauteing them would be a mess.

But you can bake them.

At the Pampered Chef party on Saturday, the consultant, demonstrating the trays, mentioned that she made cutlets all the time. So I asked her how. Her answer is below.

And tonight, with a few alterations, I tried it. And both kids liked them. Not as much as baked chicken with gravy (the gravy being the big selling point), but more than recent meatloaves. So, definitely a do-again.

Whew, I needed something new. And it's another 30-minute meal, great with steamed veggies.


Another J's Chicken Cutlets

Never made chicken cutlets?! OMG! I live on them! And so easy...

I buy the thin sliced cutlets. Simply:

(1) Rinse them in water (pat dry).

(2) a. My addition: In the first bowl, I started with a seasoned flour dip, as per the PC catalog recipe

b. In another bowl place an egg and a tiny bit (1/4 cup?) of milk; stir so egg breaks and mixes with the milk.

(3) In the third bowl place bread crumbs (J uses 4 C; I used crushed corn flakes for the crunchy effect).

(4) Coat the cutlet in the flour, then the milk/egg combo, and then coat in the bread crumbs.

I bake approx. 1/2 hour on 350 or you can fry them in a skillet. If you get thicker cutlets, just check them after 1/2 hour to gage how long they need.

And, you will see after trying to finagle long cutlets in a bowl, how great the trays can be! In addition, I bake my cutlets (as does yet another J) on my stone - they stay juicy and taste amazing!

Lastly, for a twist, follow the steps above, but prior to baking, roll 'something' in the middle and stick a toothpick through - and it still bakes the same. My favorite is fresh mozz and roasted red pepper. Other J uses ham and husband likes cheddar and broccoli.

J, the PC consultant

What You Don't Know . . .

It's a good thing that the kiddos don't know what "burned" is, because their grilled cheese sandwiches today were. And I just smiled, didn't say a word, scraped off the black bits, and cut them into hearts with my pretty cookie cutter--voila! Yummy lunch.

Knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Pie Served Here

Last night, we watched the movie Waitress, about a small town, pie-making waitress who becomes unexpectedly pregnant by her awful husband and how she transcends her unhappy state. Once you realize it isn't a romantic comedy of the usual kind, you know she won't end up with the OB with whom she begins an affair. Indeed, looking back, it was patently predictable, from the death of her grumpy beneficiary to her declared independence from men (both husband and lover) on the birth of her daughter. The only unexpected thing was her anti-pregnancy, anti-motherhood stance which was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise mother-obsessed popular culture. Now, as many of you know, I had a difficult and relatively miserable, though entirely wanted, pregnancy. I was very glad when the babies were born, if only because I was so relieved not to be pregnant anymore. Those first 3-6 months of twins were very hard and I'm sure we seemed like grumpy moms. Even though our situation was different than the waitress's, it was refreshing to see something besides angelic, beatific pregnancy and dreamy, romanticized thoughts of motherhood. But this movie is a fairy tale (I'm not being sarcastic, I'm talking genre)--with the heroine held captive by a evil man and difficult circumstances and, in the end, despite all her protestations, she saves herself, through motherhood.

I loved the pie! I liked her creativity with pies, from ingredients to titles ("Bad Baby Pie" or "Naughty Pumpkin Pie" or "I Hate My Husband Pie"; her devotion to pies, an art passed down by her mother; her love of pie, and dreams to win a contest and open a pie shop. It reminded me of a more cheerful celebration of pies, Humble Pie, a great treatment of an author's devotion to pie and its role in community. Both the book and the movie made me want to bake pie. Now, I make a decent apple pie, pecan pie, and berry (either blue or mixed) pie, but with storebought crust. Which, in my heart, I feel is cheating. I would love to perfect my own crust. And then make my own fillings. Perhaps even with great titles, like "It Was Raining Today Pie" or "We Were Out of Ice Cream Pie." I think it would be such fun. Especially, if like the last scene of the movie, I made them with my kiddos, sharing the love and joy.

Maybe motherhood saved me too.

"Baby don't you cry,
gonna make a pie,
gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle.
Baby don't be blue,
gonna make for you,
gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle.
Gonna make a pie from heaven above,
gonna be filled with strawberry love.
Baby don't you cry,
gonna make a pie,
and hold you forever in the middle of my heart. "

--Adrienne Shelly (who acted in, wrote, and directed the film and was murdered before it was released, I think)


We all remember the question, "is she walking yet?"

Then "talking yet?"

Now, "potty-trained yet?"

We're not potty-trained. Someday, DD goes in the potty. But usually only once. And never more than a day or so in a row. She'll even outright say she wants to pee in her diapers.

Of course, several of our little (girl) friends are potty-trained now--I should note outright that DS isn't even considering it, nor are any of our little (boy) friends. But I'd be happy if only 1/2 of us were potty-trained. I know better than to force the issue and make it something we have to argue over.

But I am so ready. And I am ready for her to be ready.

But we're not.


Celebrity Sighting

Well, just when I thought there weren't any famous people here in Connecticut (though, I've heard that several of them live here), we saw someone today: David Letterman.

Yep, after Chinese class, we met DP for lunch at a diner down in Greenwich that is popular with moms and kids, and in the booth behind us, there he was. With his son. DD kept turning around to talk to the little boy and when I turned around to apologize, well, no mistaking who he is (though I don't watch the show--on much too late for me. I used to watch some, when I lived in Times Square and it was down the street, per se). Anyway, it was just really casual. We exchanged a few words about kids and eating habits. Nothing else.

Wow. Funny that I never saw him in NYC, though my sis almost went to a taping of his show during the big blizzard of 96. I did see others: Jerry Orbach (L&O), Al Pacino, Steve Martin, Jackie Mason, Bill Cosby, hmmm, never women. Wait, didn't I see Julie Andrews in a baseball cap? Yes, yes. Couldn't I have bumped into Glenn Close (born around here, I understand) or Meryl Streep (oh, wait, she used to live in CT)? Oh, well.

But it all might make me watch the show again, just for kicks.

Nothing Specific

I don't have a pre-composed (or at least considered) post for this morning. It's rainy, for the second day, and we're about to head to Chinese class. And hopefully meet Mama for lunch.

Yesterday, the older woman two doors down was taken away in an ambulance because of trouble breathing. I hope she's okay. We used to be friends--she was wild about us in the beginning, "her girls," she called us, seemingly no problem with having lesbians down the street. But having children was another story. How could we bring children into a world without a father? Her own husband suddenly died when they had a 3 and 2 year old and she never remarried. She hasn't spoken to us since we told her we were pregnant, but we've been hearing for two years the things she thinks about us now (through mutual friends). It varies from disgust to sadness to regret. She's apparently had breast cancer in the last two years (which is what killed her daughter 3 years ago). And is not doing as well as hoped. And, so, even though she doesn't talk to us anymore, I hope she's okay. I think she'd die if she even knew I knew she was ill.

Otherwise, my back is twinge-y but better than it could be. We'll see how it survives a long commute and sitting on the floor this morning.

Which reminds me to get. So we aren't late. The rain will make it an even longer drive.

But that will give me some time to compose my next post. Possibilities include: Indigo Girls, potty-training, and art.