Monday, January 31, 2011

For the Birds

And the squirrels, too.

Realizing it's been something like 36 days with snow on the ground, piling up higher and higher (I mean, how could a squirrel get to a nut buried in the ground buried in 3' snow?), I put out some bird seed and a dish of water today. I hadn't thought of water, but apparently that's a real challenge for woodland critters in winter. I guess they can't eat snow? I actually can't find a source for that bit of info, but Mama says she heard it. So, you seasoned Yankees, what can we do for our little outdoor friends of suburban habitats when the snow is this deep?

Anyway, it didn't take long for the birds and squirrels to find the buffet.

Or for the cats to get agitated watching them!

SCHOOL!!!!

Mama and the kids begrudgingly got ready for their day today, work and school, schedules and responsibilities. And I felt just a little guilty that their departures meant I could do anything I wanted for 3 hours!!

Just a little.

But, so as not to waste this opportunity (which I expect will be relatively rare this week, with a huge storm barreling this way Tues/Wed, leaving ice that might not ever melt), I'm going to go do whatever it is I do. I think I've forgotten.

Have a good day! Though, I'll probably be back soon . . . .

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Moving Along

With just a dusting of snow on the ground and a bit of a dusting expected this afternoon, we're moving into our Saturday at a leisurely pace, trying to do what we always do. This includes kung fu, Weight Watchers, coffee with my WW buddy Mama Teacher, usually lunch out, maybe grocery shopping, playing at home together, and game night, which was moved to this evening.

We are desperately trying not to talk about snow all the time, even with the "Groundhog Day Storm" or even "BLIZZARD" already being splashed about all the weather sites. With no firm details, what can we say, except "wow, more snow?" But after 7 missed school days, 34 days with snow on the ground (Sis said, "I don't remember what grass looks like!"), it has become something of an obsession.

Gotta break the cycle.

And as one church billboard apparently says, "Whoever is praying for snow, please stop!"

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wondrous One Hundred

Okay, so with all these snow days--seventh today, not counting delays and dismissals--I have no idea when the 100th day of school is.

In fact, until recently, I had no idea it was important. It certainly wasn't when I was in school. But it's huge up here in the Northeast. Is it where you are? I understand that elementary school classes can spend a week on the celebrations.

And today the NYTimes Learning Network blog, my favorite new discovery (and how did I not know about it before??), has 100 activities for the 100th day, including some really fun ones like a list of 100 things you've learned or 100 things you've done in your life or 100-day activity list or a poem with 100 words or a collage of 100 faces . . . .

. . . if we ever get to the 100th day!

Making the Best of It

After an early morning attitude adjustment, we're having a great day:
  • we took a field trip to the stores, before Mama left for work, to get snacks and treats for the day;
  • Sis built a HP Quidditch Lego set;
  • Sis started making class valentines, completing seven;
  • Bud is building an extensive Ninja-inspired Lego set;
  • Sis made chocolate cupcakes (did you know that Nutella is the perfect frosting?);
  • I started reading Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon, a book I picked up on a whim because I liked the title, cover picture, and food writing/memoir content;
  • we will take delivery of my treadmill this afternoon, if they can get in the snow-narrowed driveway;
  • we have Stuart Little to finish and, if we do, James and the Giant Peach to start.
And there's always that snow to play in . . . .

Blue

Like the snow this morning.

Because school is affected again.

Because the winter concert today--their first school performance!--is off.

Because I had to cancel our Groundhog Day Party due to health and safety concerns for parking (there's no parking around here; there are barely streets!) and for walking up to my house (slippery and dangerous at best).

But I'm by myself downstairs, cum coffee, trying to remember what I love about snow. Even if that gets more difficult each day.

Especially because there are showers predicted for today, tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Before Dawn


The house is . . .
quiet, save the cats who began their romp, as usual, around 5 a.m.,
and me, awake to check the weather and school status,
which is closed.
So now I'm up and puttering,
warming sourdough starter for some biscuits when Mama and the kids wake up--
it'll be nice for her to have fresh biscuits before and after she tackles all this snow--
having my day's only cup of coffee alone, quiet, still, instead of the usual, while I gasp at the outside.

The snow, blue in the morning light, is . . .
up to the lowest branches of our pine tree,
over the armrests of our garden bench,
to the bottom of the edge of the dead end sign,
near the bottom of the mailbox,
more than mid-tire on my van, parked right up against the house to prevent such drifting,
over our "Let it Snow" sign, which has been frozen in place all these weeks,
drifted almost to top of my legs against the deck door,
up to the lid of the deck box,
almost to the edge of the deck table,
almost touching the clothesline from the deck railing,
almost up to the underside of the deck,
burying the seats of the swings on the playset,
threatening the tall fire hydrant, which we'll have to dig out.

When we go out later, early and often, I'm sure,
I'll take more pictures,
but for now,
it's dark and still and silent.
Peaceful.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Shivering to Slim

Ah, apparently all this cold and snow could be useful. Research shows now that being cold inside contributes to weight loss:

“When we put people in a 60-degree room, they increase their energy expenditure by 100 or 200 calories a day if they’re in light clothing,” like hospital scrubs, he said. “They’re not shivering. They activate their brown fat.”

Over a period of several weeks, they will have burned an extra 3,500 calories, which translates into the loss of one pound. Wearing a sweater will dilute the effect.

The problem, Dr. Kahn said, is that “most people won’t stay at that temperature for very long.”


Well, we're usually at 65 during the day and I'm in a sweatshirt. Not sure I could drop it 5 degrees and lose the extra layer. Interesting, though.

Sending Love

To three of my favorite women:

  • Mama, whose tendonitis in her right arm is still keeping her from moving it much and whose cold/allergies/flu is going on week #3;
  • Gommie, whose hip hurts to the point of sending her to the doctor today (which, if you know her, is relatively rare); and
  • Mama Teacher, who is suffering with vertigo and migraines amid a lot of stress.


Cranberry Creations

Not the actual berries, the beans.

I had a Rancho Gordo bag of cranberry beans and a bunch of kale and decided to combine them according to a recipe I saw on the NYTimes once. Except upon closer inspection, that recipe was way too complicated (cook beans with a cheesecloth of various ingredients? cook another pot with pierced cherry tomatoes? I don't think so). But I liked the combo of beans, kale, and tomatoes. One of my bean cookbooks had a recipe for a cranberry bean soup with an entire head of garlic. Hmmmm, yum. And so, with a modicum of bean experience, I made up dinner. And surprisingly, it's one of the best bean dishes I've ever had!

The kids had chicken.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Red, White, and Greens with Beans Soup

1/2 lb cranberry beans, soaked in salted water overnight
14.5 oz diced tomatoes
1 head garlic, peeled
half bunch of kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Place beans and their brine in slow cooker. Set on HIGH and cook for 2-3 hours.

Add diced tomatoes, garlic, and kale. Season as necessary. Continue to cook on LOW for 4-6+ more hours.

Mommy Hungry

Home Again

Schools are being dismissed early across the region.

My kids will be here any minute.

It'll be another Lego/arts-n-crafts/baking day.

Terrific Tuesday


Snow
Okay, normally, I count snow as pretty terrific, but regular readers of this blog will note my waning enthusiasm. It reached an all-time low yesterday as we drove through it to get to NYC. Much more than a dusting, we probably got 2-3". And we sat in traffic for more than 2 1/2 hours to get to town. I hadn't thought of it much before, but I think I might be scared of snow. Or specifically, being out in it. I like watching it from inside, playing in it later, but I don't drive in it while it's falling nor walk around outside too much before we're shoveled. You know what they say, "If God had wanted Texans in snow, he would've made bullshit white." I knew I'd gone round the bend when I actually turned to Mama and said, "Well, at least it's unlikely that we'll get into a fatal car accident going this slow." To her credit, she just patted me and kept driving. And we did get there safely with no problems.

Doctor's Appointment
We'd left early because the kids had a school delay and we decided to go to the museum before my appointment. The weather didn't cooperate. We found ourselves in town too early to go the doctor but too late to really go anywhere. So I called the office and they said he'd see me early, special exceptions for out-of-town patients, though there might be a wait. Now, when there's a "wait" at most doctor's offices, it can be a long time. I bet we didn't wait, from entering the office to seeing him, more than 10 minutes. Bless him. He thinks I'm still doing well, gave me three trigger shots to my lumbar area to help with pain, prescribed a muscle relaxer in addition to my other meds, applauded the treadmill purchase (talked bad about ellipticals as unnatural again . . . if only we'd found him before we bought it), bemoaned hormones and the weather, and was all-around encouraging and friendly, especially to the kids who jumped when I squealed at the shots (he didn't let that alcohol dry! And, well, my lumbar spine is very sensitive). Another great visit.

"Dinosaur Museum"
The kids had voted for the American Museum of Natural History since we'd been to the Met the last two times (and the exhibition on the Forbidden City hadn't opened yet), so we headed there next, across the park covered in snow. We always go on Saturdays, so it was nice to have the museum to ourselves, well, relatively, for one of the top tourist attractions in the city. Sis chose to see the bunny diorama and Bud the dinosaurs, so we went to those first. And just happened across the monks, who we hadn't known were going to be there.

Tibetan Buddhist monks. And they were creating a traditional Tibetan medicinal mandala out of colored sand (that's the sand up above). It was fascinating to watch them work, beautiful to see, as they applied minute amounts of brilliant sand layer upon layer in synchronized silence, one monk on each side of the mandala table, no instructions, no model, all from memory and study and teamwork. The kids, at least conversant with Buddhism from their talks with Ma and Gong and visits to temple in Queens, were still surprised to see the red-robed men. And, because Ma and Gong follow a different tradition, curious about the Dalai Lama, whose picture was on the altar next to the mandala.

We watched for a long time, purchased a few children's books on Buddhism and a new set of flags to hang outside, and then headed to the cultural anthropology dioramas of Asian peoples. Where we happened upon a children's activity about to begin. They would be able to make their own sand picture, over the brain logo of a current exhibition, using Tibetan techniques with the help of a monk. Sis and Bud were the only kids there when it started, taking the chakpur, long, tapering, hollow metal tubes and tapping them, with the monks' help, to distribute colored sand on the outline. They concentrated very hard, were very careful and serious, and then became shy when they looked up to see about a dozen curious adults watching them. It didn't deter them long and they went back several times to add different colors, as other kids and adults took turns too. We spent quite awhile traversing between the two stations, the monks working on their mandala and the visitors working on their picture. It was such a special experience.

(Actually, it always seems to be at AMNH, from our wandering through polar tents during an Arctic global weekend, to watching traditional Chinese performers during another, from the Silk Road exhibition to this. While I'm usually biased in favor of art museums, AMNH has done a better job of capturing our attention and delighting (and educating) us with new experiences. )

Fondue
We stayed much later at the museum than expected or intended. And so we decided to stop for dinner on the way home, realizing we'd get home too late to eat, especially because they'd probably fall asleep. And so we stopped for fondue. The kids were cautiously optimistic, since we promised shrimp and chocolate (no, not together) and told them it was "Swiss night." And we all had a great time. They both tried the traditional cheese fondue but then just ate the bread and apple bits, leaving all the cheese to Mama and I, which was fine by us. Then they had chicken, steak, and shrimp in a boiling vegetable broth. Because they've had Korean BBQ, they've had some experience with cook-your-own-at-the-table, though not quite in a soup pot (and Bud wanted to drink the boiling soup, like you would for sukiyaki, so we'll have to do that with Ma and Gong), but we still had some cross-contamination with eating forks touching raw food and impatience for food to be cooked before it was. Bud loved the shrimp, Sis the chicken. I ate all their vegetables. Mama ate surf-n-turf. And then we had room for chocolate! The highlight for both kids because there were strawberries too. It was late, but they revived when they saw dessert and our server was nice to bring extras.

After such a day, you won't be surprised that they slept all the way home. A good sleep after a great day.

Snow.

Yep. Snow.

More snow.

Falling now.

Beautifully.

All over everything.

Including all the snow we got yesterday.

The kids did go to school today.

They won't tomorrow, I bet.

Because there will be 6-10 more inches.

Of snow.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Updates

Bud feels much better today, actually did yesterday once he got home. Sis helped him rally, as long as she didn't ask him about it.

There's snow today. And more than the dusting they said. Now it looks to be 3".

We're going into town instead of going to school because I have a doctor's appointment and we want to get a jump on the driving.

And maybe go somewhere fun if we get there early.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sick Day

I got THE CALL today from school. You know, the one saying come get your kid because he's sick.

Only, I didn't get it.

As I left a meeting for educators at the historical society, where I'd turned my phone down, not off, just down, and checked my 'droid, I saw a message. From the school. My heart sank. I hadn't heard it ring.

The message said that Bud had thrown up and needed to come home.

I can tell myself it had only been about 5 minutes between the message coming in and my getting it. But that's a long time for a sick kid who doesn't know where his mom is.

He looked miserable when I arrived at the school about 10 minutes later, having already called the nurse to say I was on my way. Poor thing. With a completely negligent mom. Who will now always set her phone on high. Though, the nurse said he'd looked better until I showed up, which is apparently common.

He perked up about an hour later, eating some (kow thom, or jasmine rice porridge with soy sauce; some applesauce), playing some (Legos, of course, and the new labyrinth game), though still wrapped in a big purple blanket.

And he hasn't been sick again.

So he feels better, but I still feel awful.

Meatless Mondays: Mistakes

Okay, I'm not very good at organizing around this Meatless Monday thing. But, I suppose it's still in its infancy over here. Case in point: we're having baked chicken for dinner. I bought the chicken on Saturday and didn't get it into the oven in time for dinner on Sunday, owing to the fact that I took an unplanned long afternoon nap (isn't that delicious?). So now it's Monday. We can't have the chicken tomorrow or Wednesday, as we have plans. And it won't keep until Thursday. I also don't want to freeze it. So, chicken tonight it is. And "meatless" some other day this week. It'll be good, though, because I'm making slow cooker macaroni and cheese!

Numbers Game

-1F right now
-13F windchill
16F high for today

But the scariest numbers are the missing ones: no one has even predicted how much snow we're getting, nor exactly when, on Tuesday/Wednesday.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Being Fair

While this could be a post on the challenges of sharing and taking turns with twins, it's actually about the larger picture of sharing and taking turns.

Fair trade.

I hadn't given "fair trade" much thought, though I'm a coffee and tea drinker and a chocolate eater. I don't know why it was under my radar, since I am usually fairly conversant with many green and progressive ideas. Maybe because almost nothing at my usual stores carries the fair trade label, maybe because I knew my habits would have to change, maybe because I didn't think it was important?

Well, it is. And I heard all about it at church last week.

Fair trade is "a set of principles and practices that more equitably distributes wealth and provides producers and farmers with a living wage." Traditional coffee and chocolate farmers, caught in a web of global economics that deny them fair prices and exploit their back-breaking labor, "are unable to make a sustainable living, and face huge obstacles to claiming their human rights including lack of adequate housing, education, and health care." A story was told about a woman coffee grower (I want to say in Ethiopia, but I can't track down the story, one of thousands, I know) who can no longer clothe or school her children, who now must work in appallingly hard conditions to help the family, though they used to be able to hire helpers back years ago when they could get a fair price for their crop; now, they aren't even getting by. It's not just international, either. Small family farmers in this country understand the pressures and difficulties as well. And so a set of principles for fair trade, or "alternative economy," have been established:

  • promote solidarity and the ethical, transparent, and co-responsible relations along the chain of production and consumption;
  • value democracy, participatory ownership, and economic viability based on cooperation;
  • prioritize the capacity building and empowerment of producers and workers who are marginalized by the conventional system of commercial relations;
  • uphold full labor rights, including a living wage;
  • advance equality and opportunity for women, racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, youth, and other marginalized communities;
  • value diversity of cultures, crops, and markets;
  • promote environmental justice and sustainability.
"As a consumer, when you buy fairly traded goods, you express your beliefs about how our food should be produced, and you become part of the process of creating a more just economic system."

(all quotes taken from the UUSC pages on Fair Trade)

And so, I'm changing all my brands. No more Twinnings decaf Earl Grey or Starbucks iced coffee; no more Nestle chocolate chips. And if that means I don't get decaf Earl Grey (well, there is a brand, Choice Organic Teas, but it doesn't have any bergamot flavor) or have to make special trips to find special chocolate chips, I'm willing to pay the price. Figuratively and literally, because as you can imagine, fair trade costs more and can be difficult to find. But like organic, I can see that it's worth it, even if I have to buy less of it. Why should my personal coffee habit cause actual pain to someone halfway around the world? That's a bitter brew. At least the fair trade way, my indulgences can taste good and be good.

Tread Carefully

The exercise curse exists! I posted awhile back, in a post I can't find (nor can google), that I tend to injure myself within a week or two of starting a new exercise regimen, from walking after Memorial Day almost 3 years ago to swimming this summer to the elliptical I got just a week before herniating my disk.

Unrelated? Though I was bound to blow that disk doing something, my physiatrist has confirmed what I suspected: ellipticals can be bad for people with disk trouble (or, as my PT put it, special sensitive people like me. In her Australia accent, "your body just doesn't like fancy!"). The timing was too coincidental in August and I've had pain after using it since then (before I knew it was something I shouldn't be doing).

And so yesterday we bought a treadmill. I've used treadmills at the physical therapist's office and tested it extensively before deciding on one. And I got the doctor's approval, even though walking was already my only approved activity but I wanted to be sure treadmills aren't different somehow. I'm hoping this will solve some of my problems, mainly my inability to exercise when it's cold and icy, like it has been for almost five weeks. Why not a gym, you wonder? Because I can't get there with slippery parking lots and sidewalks. That's right, I don't get out much these days unless I'm with other adults, who can drop me off up front or hold my hand, even in my snow cleats. It would be one of the worst winters in years--it's 8F outside now, with two days of snow, maybe a blizzard, coming around Wednesday.

Come on spring . . . . and hopefully the end of the exercise curse!

Happy Birthday, Lambeth!

May 2011 be wonderful!!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Get Well Soon

Best wishes for a speedy recovery and a pain-free week for Mama Teacher!

The New Game in Town


There's a brand new game for Family Game Night, which was held tonight because last night was date night. I laughingly called it Wizard's Chess, owing to our Harry Potter obsession, but it's not far off:

The little magician apprentices have lost some objects in the magic maze. Now, they try to collect them, before the Master notices anything. However, in the maze, the little magicians always bump against invisible walls. So, they have to make their way through the maze by means of a good memory and lots of skill.

You have to move a character through the board but, you're trying to do so with a labyrinth below the first board. The character is joined with a magnetic ball, so, if you hit a wall, the ball drops and you have to start again.

And the kids loved it! They loved the "invisible maze" created by a double-decker game board and the strongly magnetic pieces. They loved the wizard theme with the magic tokens. Even the way the magnetic balls dropped and rolled when they hit a wall, which was more fun than disappointing.

It's a game even grumpy old game-phobic me likes to play. So it must be magic!


(And yes, that's the box in German, its country of origin where it has won several awards, I believe. We have the English version.)

New Inspirations

I'm concurrently reading two books, Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook and Laurie David's The Family Dinner, both persuasive nontraditional parenting manuals with clear and specific objectives--read more, eat together more--that are preaching to my proverbial choir.

Trelease's book, around for 20 years or more, has amazing statistics and anecdotes about the power and influence of reading to kids early and often, and not just when they can't read on their own. Best of all, there is a long "treasury" of books listed at the end with plot summaries and age recommendations. One thing he asserts is that children's listening skills are way beyond their reading skills, so that you don't really necessarily only want to read a simpler Dr. Seuss to a beginning reader; you want them to read it on their own. Instead, you also want to read more sophisticated picture books (usually written at a 4th grade level, I believe) and short novels to beginning readers to continue to engage their interest and love of reading. And so, already fans of Jack and Annie of The Magic Tree House series, we've begun reading a much older version of the genre, The Boxcar Children. The first dozen or so books were written in the 1920s, with the rest of the 100+ book series penned more recently. So far, the kiddos are intrigued by Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny as they begin to convert an abandoned boxcar into a home following the death of their parents. After that (that being the first in the series not the whole series), we're considering Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web, both by E.B. White and both highly recommended by Mama Teacher. Then perhaps Beverly Cleary's Two Times the Fun (about twins!) and maybe My Father's Dragon or Chocolate Fever. And of course, there's always the Little House books, which we've already started. Trelease does note that kids will gravitate to the familiar, which explains their obsession with Bearnstain Bears and Star Wars and a new interest in Amelia Bedelia and Nate the Great, and we're still doing those too.

It is, as I noted in a previous post, also because of Trelease that we bought nighttime reading lamps which will allow the kids some special alone reading time at night after tuck-in. They beamed from ear to ear tonight as they switched on their little cloud lamps and settled into reading some Star Wars and Chinese New Year books. One of these, a Star Wars pre-reader they actually read all the way through to me the other day, missing only "powerful" and "pilot" because they could guess at the familiar characters and read many of the sight words. But like Trelease advocates, we're still going to read outloud . . . and I can't wait to get to Redwall, Judy Blume, and, of course, Harry Potter!

On another parenting note, I've been skimming Laurie David's The Family Dinner, a new and much-hyped release about getting families not only to eat dinner together but to cherish that time as special. As with Trelease, the reasoning is powerful and the book just as much fun, with recipes, conversation starters, even food-related poetry. We already had a dinner conversation game but used several of the questions from her list tonight. And they liked playing "Mommy Doesn't Like Peas" (or p's, as you try to name what else to serve without knowing, until you figure it out, not to guess words with a "p" in it). Sis got it right away. And though I haven't yet come across a section on "theme dinners," I'm sure there is one, or should be, which is why we had Swedish night tonight (and have had "backwards night" or "breakfast night" in the past--we love theme dinners). I did appreciate the section that talked about do's and don'ts at dinner, my favorite being that everyone is there the whole time, from set-up to clean-up, something we don't usually do but tried tonight to great success. Of course, harder for me is no distractions--because when I often get up to walk off sitting, I usually pass and then, gasp, check the computer. Shame. And, though I'm not sure it is specifically related to anything in the book, I did buy a water pitcher to facilitate drinks (I'm always hopping up to get someone a second or third glass of water--they can't easily reach the filtered water faucet) and real glass glasses so that the kids can feel more responsible and grown up. Both add to the specialness of the table.

Lastly, recipes. I love reading recipes. I don't yet know if any of these are bound for our table soon, even the section on our new "Meatless Monday" event, but I did make a list of what the kids will usually eat without grumbling and came up with more than 18 entrees and 11 sides, much more than I expected it to be. That gave me real hope, especially with the no-sauce, no-casseroles, no-beans, and other restraint, as I try to embrace her suggestion to only make one real meal (and I've found it is much better received if I don't ask for their votes each night or even tell them in advance what I'm making!!) And so, with all of that swirling in my head, I had lots of fun shopping this morning for a week's worth of meals and then putting Swedish night on the table.

That's what's great about reading books like these: your good intentions are confirmed and given new life. And everyone has a good time together in the bargain.

World of Flavors

Last night was yet another date night (yes, that is three is a week!, but now Babysitter goes back to college) and we had Middle Eastern food. A highlight is always choosing desserts, which we sampled and then saved for the kids. The pastries are never labeled, you just pick, but I'm beginning to recognize some of our favorites (the chart is from here)

  • fingers, with pistachios and this incredible honey, so creamy tasting I'd have sworn there was vanilla
  • flowers (or bird's nest baklava)
  • maybe harissa (or namourrah), which is semolina cake soaked in syrup with almonds on top. Sis's favorite.
  • baklava, of course, but as this was Middle Eastern and not Greek, it was pistachio not walnut
  • Bourma, which is a phyllo rolled filled with honeyed pistachios that is then cut in disks so you can see the inside. (not pictured here)
  • Mammoul with pistachios (perhaps also called kanata?). Or maybe it was Osmanlia with pistachios. It's hard to tell from pictures and several languages . . . . One had shredded phyllo on top but wasn't kataifi
But tonight's dinner was actually Swedish, because after our Middle Eastern dinner, we cruised IKEA. And, after buying nighttime reading lamps for the kids (a la Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook) and a water pitcher for the table (a la The Family Dinner), we hit the food section: Swedish meatballs, cream gravy, lingonberries, crispbreads, Swedish cheddar-like cheese, various pickled and creamed fish in jars, Swedish pancakes, elderflower syrup, and some more desserts, including the little almond cakes and the arrack-flavored chocolate rolls. We didn't eat all of that for dinner, but much of it, calling it How to Train Your Dragon, or Viking, food (as opposed to the other Silk Road food.)

We began to brainstorm other foods from around the world we'd like to try. We've done, at home or in restaurants: Thai, Chinese, Italian, Mexican (at least Tex-Mex), Japanese, Korean, Middle Eastern, Native American (at the Museum of the American Indian), Greek, Southern/soul, BBQ, Jewish deli (plus latkes), Indian, "American home standards." The kids want to try French, and not just crepes. We are also considering Spanish, German, and New Orleans night. Mama and I love Ethiopian but think they probably aren't ready for that.

A question for you, Lambeth--what would you serve for English night? Or would it have to be tea? Maybe in honor of the upcoming royal wedding . . . .

The Last of the Tiger Mother

No, not the literal end of Amy Chua, just the end of my repeated references to her on this blog. For now.

But there were at least two more articles that I wanted to include in my overview of the responses:
  • David Brooks's "Amy Chua is a Wimp" was a striking title, and essay, given the relative rigidity and brutality of her approach to parenting, but his argument is that she protects her kids from the hardest part of childhood and growing up: other children.
  • Huang Hong, a journalist in China, writes about the culture behind Chua's "Chinese" parenting, from the glorification of suffering, the status of women dependent on their children, and the tradition of lack of individual rights in China. She also counters, "It is ironic that as young Chinese mothers in Beijing and Shanghai are embracing more enlighted Western ideas about child raising, mothers from Connecticut are sinking deeper into China’s darker past in child rearing."

Friday, January 21, 2011

In Boiling Water

I had seen Mark Bittman's recipe for fazzoletti, "handkerchief" pasta that you can make at home in the food processor, and had wanted to try it. Today was the day.

Except it wasn't.

Though the recipe resembles dumplings in several respects, particularly in the rolling, cutting, and cooking, I messed up somewhere. The resulting noodles were too tough. Did I add too much flour in the rolling? Not roll them thinly enough? Overcook them? Ugh. It had such promise and I was so looking forward to having a nice bowl of fresh noodles for lunch. And more than that, to mastering a skill as impressive as homemade pasta. But the kids wouldn't even taste them and I couldn't even finish a bowl. Disappointment.

Well, Rome wasn't built in a day, as they say, and obviously my pasta skills weren't either.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Fazzoletti with Pesto

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

2 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, rinsed and dried

1/2 clove garlic, peeled, or more to taste

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more as desired

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish

Pepper.

1. Pulse flour and salt in a food processor once or twice. Add the eggs and yolks, and turn the machine on. Process just until a ball begins to form, about 30 seconds. Add a few drops of water if the dough is dry and grainy; add a tablespoon of flour if the dough sticks to the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out of the food processor, sprinkle it with a little flour, cover it with plastic or a cloth, and let it rest for about 30 minutes. (At this point, you may refrigerate the dough, wrapped in plastic, until you’re ready to roll it out, for up to 24 hours.)

2. Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, combine the basil with a pinch of salt, the garlic and about half the oil. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and adding the rest of the oil gradually. Add the nuts and cheese, and pulse a few times. The pesto should be well combined but still chunky.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Divide the dough in half. Turn one half of the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a large rectangle no thicker than 1/4 inch and ideally closer to 1/8 inch, adding additional flour sparingly as necessary. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

4. Cut into squares no larger than 4 inches across. Drop the squares into the water and cook until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, reserving a little of the cooking water. Toss the handkerchiefs with the pesto, some salt and pepper, and a spoonful of cooking water, if necessary, to thin the pesto. Serve immediately, garnished with Parmesan.

Yield: 4 servings.

Mark Bittman

Like Mother, Like Daughter--Second Iteration

We watched Beauty and the Beast for rest time today (more on our current fascination with musicals, both Disney and Broadway, next). And there, at the end, when the Beast dies and Belle cries over him, before he is resurrected, quite literally, by her love, I was wiping my eyes.

And so was Sis.

We used to tease Gommie relentlessly about crying at everything from Hallmark commercials to "Pomp and Circumstance." And of course, I'm now worse than she ever was.

It looks like Sis is next.

Mama's Elbow, Snow Casualty

Too much snow, too many times, and even though we have a snow blower, Mama's right elbow has gone on strike. It started hurting her almost two weeks ago, on the first of the snow days, but the pain never let up. Today, she finally had it checked out: tendeonitis, needing a cortisone shot. Poor thing.

And there's still snow to be shoveled . . . .

In Praise of Snow Pants

Hard to put on
straps and zippers and cuffs
always a late need to go to the bathroom.
Undressed and dressed again.

But with snow pants
anything is possible:
scaling the peaks of the ice planet Hoth
and sliding back down again,
battling stormtroopers with ice bombs,
rising from a major strike undeterred.

Staying outside longer than jeans allow
and heading inside, still warm and dry,
ready to go out again later.

Living in a Snow Globe

It was beautiful snow, falling so silently and gently in huge clumps, covering all the messiness of the last two weeks with fresh, clean whiteness.

But by 8:30, with between 3-4" on the ground, it was done. (Actually, it's apparently 4.5+")

And the kids are still home. The novelty of snow days--our fifth in two weeks--has definitely worn off.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Practice, Practice, Practice

The kids are at kung fu class. They really enjoy kung fu. During class.

But they never ever practice. Ever. And we can't exactly pinpoint why.

We know that neither likes the other to watch, out of a dislike of help. But even when we suggest they separate to practice, they don't. "I know the form," they say. They don't understand that they can know it better. And that by practicing, they'll be able to earn the next belt, which they both say they want to do.

So, what's a parent to do?

Amy Chua, yep, that Tiger Mother again, says:

For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough. . . .

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.
Her daughters' piano practice sessions included the denial of drinks or bathroom breaks, the removal of toys to be donated to charity, and threats of "no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years." In Chua's words, during practice the house became a war zone.

As a self-proclaimed Dog Mom, that is not the route I would choose, for a variety of reasons, mainly out of a belief that respect for my child is tantamount. But I do understand one aspect of it, "nothing is fun until you're good at it." And I believe that Sis and Bud would enjoy kung fu more, both at class and at home, if they practiced some, if only because they'll be happy to earn their next belts and to someday be able to perform the lion dance. But if by forcing them to practice, I take the fun out of kung fu as it is, I also do them a disservice. Especially because I have absolutely no illusions that they will become kung fu masters or believe that it is imperative to their success in life to be kung fu masters; they're five and aren't making any life decisions these days--sure, we're making several of them for them, but this doesn't quite rank up there. My main goals for their kung fu class was that they be introduced to some new experiences: the experience of some kind of sport, the experience of some kind of extra-curricular class, the experience of learning a new skill set, which also includes the culture of attending class--remembering your stuff, listening to the teacher, being with peers, trying something new, and, of course, practicing it.

And even though I recognize that kung fu is not their lot in life, something will be. I believe it is important to give everything a chance, to commit yourself wholeheartedly and completely to what you agree to do, and to respect the experience and those providing it by doing your best. Are they too young to understand that and to follow it through? I must admit, I had believed them too young for such classes and definitely too young for any team sports for this very reason but agreed because we were all interested in their giving it a try. So how far do I encourage them, then? How far do I push them, through encouragement and enticement, so they can get to the point that they are good enough to enjoy it more? What about internal instead of external motivation? How far do I risk them not learning any of those important lessons, but instead receiving lessons on cajoling, forcing, bribing, and yelling, in other words the negative side of my power as a parent? Or do I just need to wait for them to be older so they can understand it all, even the difficult aspects of the actual art of kung fu, like telling left from right!

I don't have answers. No one, besides Chua, seems to, with internet sites filled with suggestions to let kids try for an agreed-upon duration, with set practice times, taking breaks from both lessons and practice, with lots of rewards; all of it sounds rather wishy-washy, just like Chua says. But, we're going with that for now. Our kids go to class, perform there, don't practice at home, and we encourage them when they do, refrain from chastising when they don't, and try to let it be just another activity. At least until it comes time to enroll again. I mean, I will admit that we don't make them practice reading or writing at home, except as it happens naturally in our day-to-day experiences, despite being strongly encouraged to do so, because we don't think it's necessary; in fact, we believe that's the quickest way to ruin school and reading for them. Would I really take practicing kung fu more seriously than the three Rs?

I will add this as a caveat: do you know why I never took piano lessons as a child and to this day can't play an instrument or read music? Because my grandmother forced my mom to. And my mom didn't want to force us, as I understand it. That's what I'm trying to avoid: kids missing out on what can be a wonderful experience if given the right opportunity.

I just don't know what exactly "right" entails.

But I know what it doesn't . . . .

Same Song, Fourth Verse

Here we go again . . . snow tonight and tomorrow, between 2-4" possible. No one believes there will be school.

At this rate, we won't get a summer! (Because there aren't saved "snow days." They're taken out of summer and then winter and spring break. Yes, we get two separate week-long breaks up here. Which is why school goes until late June.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Here at Hogwarts

Well, we've ushered in a new era: the era of Harry Potter.

Yep, even though the kids have neither read the books nor seen the movies, they are now completely absorbed with all things wizard. It started with mild curiosity about Harry Potter because of a mug I've drunk out of for years with Hagrid and the kids on it, the calendar and books I got for Christmas, the fact that Mama and I sent to see the movie, and especially the names of our cats, Albus and Hermione. But it exploded when they built the Hogwarts Castle out of Legos with Mama this weekend and have since been allowed to play with it.

And so they make up stories, knowing that the characters are magic and there are bad guys. In fact, I've explained it in Star Wars terms and have been struck by how superficially similar they are: Harry is Luke, Hermione is Leia, Ron is Han, Dumbledore is Obi-Wan, Voldemort is Vader, Death Eaters and Dementors are stormtroppers. The hero gets help from his friends to protect good and defeat evil while learning more about himself, his parents, and the past as well as experiencing devastating losses in the process, generally.

I've told them the colorful bits of the wizarding world, about owls and Quidditch, potions and the Cloak of Invisibility. But I'm trying not to share the "secrets" of the HP narrative because I don't want to ruin the books for them in advance (and I won't mention those here because at least one of my friends is still working her way through all the books!). The kids are free to make up their own stories based on what they know, which has had some funny results. For instance, in their HP world, Prof. Flitwick is a major character!

I realized this morning that Harry Potter has entered the canon of their play because the house is now different parts of the castle (the kitchen is the Great Hall, our room is Dumbledore's office) and we are now characters. I'm McGonagall, Sis is Harry (yes, she loves being the hero), and Bud is Hermione (who in this case is very interested in astronomy because the Lego castle has a telescope). We've just had Transfiguration class, where the students learned to transform themselves into animals (after learning how to change the colors of scarves and then change the scarves into small animals), and then we were attacked by some Dementors, whom we fought off with spells (which I am half remembering from the book, including "expelliarmus" and "transfiguro," which I made up). Right now, Harry is wandering around in his Cloak looking for the Sorcerer's Stone, a rainbow-colored kooshball, to help us defeat Voldemort.

Must get back to it because we're going to play Wizard's Checkers . . . .

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hat Trick

It's our third snow day in a week.

But that's not why I'm using a hockey term.

Our front yard, indeed all the yards, looks like an ice rink, with slick, frozen rain icing the surface of 2 feet of snow. The trees are even starting to get that beautiful crystalline look, as their little branches become encased in ice.

It's a good day for looking outside, from a warm, dry, ice-free inside. And so, we have Legos to play with, soup on the stove, and bread in the machine.

I Love My Doctor

My doctor called first thing this morning to check on me and we had a long chat. He still believes that I will recover fully; this is only a bump in the road. The cold, damp weather is a major culprit, as are hormones and the elliptical, which might just be too much for me. He said a treadmill is the way to go. And I'll go see my OB about some short-term hormone control. And when I told him that I was pretty depressed about this backsliding, he was so encouraging and reassuring. I'll see him in a week and that fact alone makes me feel better already.

It's Not Just For Crackers Anymore

I received a bag of King Arthur Flour graham flour (aka whole wheat pastry flour) for Christmas, about which I was very excited. And so I've been experimenting with graham breads in my favorite bread machine cookbook, Beth Hensperger's Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook. The first we tried, Graham Bread, was soft and nutty, but not too wheat-y that the kids objected; in fact, Sis asked for another loaf. Though, it didn't take like graham crackers at all, my only previous experience with the flour. Today, I'm making Graham Indian Bread, similar to the previous recipe but with cornmeal added. We'll see how we like it. And then maybe we'll make crackers!

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Graham Bread

1 1/8 cups water
1 large egg
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
2 1/4 cup bread flour
3/4 cup graham flour
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons gluten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast


Place all ingredients in pan. Set crust on medium and program for BASIC or WHOLE WHEAT cycle; press Start.

When baking ends, remove bread from pan and cool on rack before slicing.

Beth Hensperger, The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook

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Graham Indian Bread

1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup graham flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon gluten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Place all ingredients in pan. Set crust on medium and program for WHOLE WHEAT cycle; press Start.

When baking ends, remove bread from pan and cool on rack before slicing.

Beth Hensperger, The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook

Snow Daze

Snow + Ice = No School

Again.

It's not a ton of snow, barely an inch, but the icy sheath covering it is very intimidating. Glad we'll be home and sorry that Mama will brave it for work.

At least we have Legos!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Snow, Snow

Go AWAY!

And no ice instead Tuesday.

Legoland, CT


We are completely Lego-looney over here. It started with a few simple Star Wars sets before Christmas and morphed into a giant Hogwarts Castle for Christmas.

And today, while I walked off back stress, the kids and Mama actually built the huge 1290+ piece multi-building set, complete with little drumsticks, torches, retracting stairs, spinning knights, owls, dementors, Sorting Hat, and a Cloak of Invisibility. Sis put together the Great Hall, which she kept calling a church, being unfamiliar with the story. Bud built the wing with the secret library. They both made all the little people. Mama tried to keep track of it all.

For hours, literally four hours, they followed instructions and manipulated the little pieces, studied the building, and made up little stories best they could. Now it's done and installed on our dresser.

But . . . when they went to get my prescriptions, they came home with more Legos! This time, both Star Wars and Hagrid's Hut!

Backwards

Is it the cold? The lack of my regular walking exercise because of the ice and snow? (Walking at the stores just isn't the same.) Strain caused by the elliptical, which we've decided to exchange for a treadmill (but shopping Friday didn't turn up a good one?)? Hormones? Something else? All of the above?

(But not weight gain!! I'm still maintaining, even adding a bit to, my losses, and am less than I've been in years.)

It is not a good back week. Not bad enough to call in reinforcements, but that's a pretty low standard. I'm slipping backwards, it seems: not sleeping well, waking up tight, achy off and on through the day, more numbness in my right foot, strain on my neck and thoracic spine, reducing activities and outings, even wearing my brace a time or two. I had hoped it would dissipate, but I'll be calling the doctor tomorrow for advice, prescriptions, and an appointment. Because today I went walking and made it only 16 minutes before I could almost not stand upright and had spasms in my lumbar.

Not good. Too reminiscent of September, which should be long behind me as I approach the six-month mark here at the beginning of February.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Update: On a hunch, I called the doctor today. I have an appointment for next Tuesday and a prescription refill today. I'll talk to him later this week about how I'm feeling.

And I spoke to my beloved physical therapist, who is letting me use the office treadmill and was generally supportive and calming.

Call of The Dog Mom

If you follow parenting or cultural trends, no doubt you've seen at least some of the frenzy surrounding Amy Chua, Yale law professor, mom, and author of forthcoming Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In this book, excerpted in the WSJ a week or so ago under the title "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," Chua sets forth a strident antidote to what she sees as wishy-washy Western parenting. While she notes that Chinese parenting can be practiced by all manner of people, not just the Chinese, the cultural basis (or bias)--Confucian dedication to education and family--is clear, as she full-heartedly accepts and desires stereotypes of Chinese children with perfect grades, musical virtuosity, blind obedience (as opposed to their wimpy, sports-obsessed, selfish, even stupid "American"--read "white"--counterparts). Her book (apparently, because I sure am not going to pay to read it) is all about how she achieved that with her two daughters in order to stave off generational decline and uphold 4,000 years of cultural and racial supremacy. And if you want all the details--calling them "garbage," making them practice piano without bathroom breaks for 4 hours (the first hour is easy, she notes), refusing homemade cards from them because the kids didn't try hard enough, and never allowing sleepovers and playdates--check out the links. Though, apparently, at the end she recants somewhat, when the younger one repels.

Now apparently, she's recanting and backpedaling a lot because the internet exploded: more than 5000 people commented on the post with large numbers of posts in the blogosphere as well. These run the gambit from "I hope this sounds the death-knell of Attachment Parenting" to "arrest this woman for child abuse," from "my folks were like that and I'm okay" to "my folks were like that and I was relieved and happy when they died." The NYTimes alone has run several posts and articles: Lisa Belkin's original Motherlode post on the trend, a Room to Debate forum on extreme parenting with experts on subjects ranging from Chinese culture to psychology, guest blogs on imperfect but happy kids at Motherlode, Belkin's recent follow-up "The Tiger Mother Speaks" with excerpts from "Retreat of the Tiger Mother," and Judith Warner's essay "No More Mrs. Nice Mom."Plus similar comments on all of those.

And all I will say, considering my proximity to Chinese parenting and first-generation Chinese-American parenting, is that I'm not a Tiger Mother. I'm a Dog Mom (no, seriously, born the Year of the Dog): affectionate, full of fun, protective, dependable, loyal. I have a bark, for sure, but know better than to bite. Even Mama, who was actually born in the Year of the Tiger, is more of a Dog. Because our goal is not just successful, accomplished, disciplined children but happy, creative, independent, moral, and kind ones, too. Though, in the end, we are all trying to do our best, however that plays itself out (I'm not going to judge Chua's parenting, not knowing her or her kids; besides, she is, in the first place, selling a polemical book and did, in the second, recant). I just wish, especially because I have two half-Chinese children, that she could've toned down the stereotypes.

The Egg-and-Flour Miracles

It's not spring by any stretch of the imagination, but we've been having an egg marathon over here, making several delectable delights featuring a magical combination of eggs and flour. And depending, add butter, fruit, cheese, maple syrup, and/or Nutella, and you have something really special. All the recipes are very similar--more eggs than anything else, sometimes milk, a bit of butter, scant measurements of flour--skillet fried or baked, stuffed or sauced: Dutch Baby Pancakes, Swedish Apple Pie, crepes, and blintzes.

(And since today is Meatless Monday for us, egg dishes are perfect!)

Dreamers of Dreams

To commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we have read President Obama's new and wonderful book Of Thee I Sing and watched a bit of King's "I have a Dream" speech this morning. The miracle of technology, that. Almost 50 years after the speech, the daughter of a woman who grew up in a segregated town with a separate bathroom for the help, just like in the book of that title, can show her bi-racial children living in a lesbian household a speech calling for freedom and equality for all:

". . . . I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Winning Strategy

"Mom," pleaded Bud, "I need five chocolate chips."

"It's almost dinner."

"It's for Sis. She said if I got her chocolate, she'd let me be the gray soldiers."

I gotta tell you, I was so amused by Sis's chocolate strategy that I actually gave him the chocolate!
And yes, then like dominoes, he gave them to her, and she gave him the soldiers.

Hmmmm, parenting by chocolate.

It beats being the "Tiger Mother."

Thoughts and Prayers

For my mom's brother, my uncle, in Austin, who fainted last night and is undergoing tests at the hospital. Best wishes for a speedy recovery and no long-lasting effects.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Return to Normal


The kids are at school.

Mama is at work.

I'm here at home.

Things are business-as-usual.

Well, except for the accumulation of 2' of snow outside!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Stitch in Time

For the first time in at least 5 months, I picked up yarn and hook today. I don't know why, except I knew I wasn't going to bake again today or read much more or type anything (except this post, I guess), and I wanted something to do (see, the kids have self-entertained almost all day, which is practically unheard of!). So I laid a 10-stitch foundation chain to make a little pink scarf for Sis. Sure, it's simple single crochet, with only 6 little rows so far, but it's the most I've tried in a long time. So long in fact that I had to brush up on my SC stitch (and am proud to say I remembered it correctly). And it feels so good. Only doing a bit at a time, while standing, but loving the feel of the chunky but soft pink yarn (not sure what it is, the label long gone as the skein languished in my yarn holder) and the ease with which my big birch Brittany M hook glides through yarn and fingers.

-=-=-=-=-=-

My Simple One-Skein Scarf

With M hook, ch 10
Row 1: sc in 2nd stitch from hook and in each ch across
Row 2: ch 1, turn, sc in each sc across,
Row 3 etc.: repeat Row 2 until scarf is the desired length, fasten off and weave in ends.

Mommy Hungry

A Good Day for Compassion


I didn't watch the televised memorial for the victims of Tuscon's shooting, with President Obama, last night. But I'm reading about it this morning (here and here and here and here and here).

And I am inspired.

“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. . . .

"So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we've shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others. . . .

"The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. . . .

"I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us."

We can all use a little more compassion in our lives, a word I'll use instead of civility, which strikes me now as almost too politicized. Compassion is the act of listening to and for the feelings and needs of ourselves and others in order to connect with each other.

And despite all the focus on talk radio and politicians, the public, national, political forum isn't the only arena that requires more compassion. We've all bemoaned drivers' manners while merging, people's attitudes in parking lots and grocery lines, neighbors' disagreements about yards and mowing. And of course, too much yelling and bossing in the family. But it's not just "them." I know, because I've been both complainer and complained about.

So, this morning, our second snow day, as I stand and read about tragedy and sadness not only in Arizona but all over the world, I embrace my family and re-commit myself to compassion. (But, as for talking to the kiddos about Tuscon, I won't be unless somehow they hear about it; see here.)

And, though we have no rain puddles in the Connecticut suburbs today, we're going to go play in the snow later today. In honor of Christina Taylor Green and with hope and compassion for us all . . .

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Trio of Cozy Treats

Keeping warm and busy these last 24 hours with lots of baking.

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Cranberry Orange Bread

1 orange, preferably untreated
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter, ideally at room temperature, cubed
1 egg
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 cup fresh cranberries, thawed if frozen
½ cup (50 g) coarsely chopped walnuts (I used almonds)
2 cups (250 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325F.

Grate orange zest and set aside. Juice orange and add enough boiling water to make 3/4 cup. Add cubes of butter and stir until melted.

In another bowl, beat egg and sugar until well blended. Then pour orange mixture into sugar mixture and combine.

Fold cranberries and walnuts into batter.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, powder, soda, and salt. Stir into batter until well-blended.

Spread batter into one large, two medium, or three small loaf pans (I greased them first). (I also sprinkled with raw sugar.) Bake approximately 1 hour until top is golden brown.



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Walnut-Raisin No-Knead Bread
Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients
3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup Thompson raisins (I used craisins)
1 2/3 cups water
Cornmeal or more flour as needed

Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add the walnuts and raisins and stir to distribute. Pour the water over the flour mixture, then use a rubber spatula to mix them together and form a soft, ugly dough. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for about 12 hours, until there are bubbles across the top.

Dump the dough out onto a floured, non-terrycloth dishtowel. Let it rest for 15 minutes. Then, using as little flour as possible, shape the dough into a ball by folding the ends in. Turn onto a cornmeal-dusted non-terrycloth dishtowel, seam side down. Dust with more cornmeal, then cover with another towel. Leave for two hours. (That's Santa's rise.)

When there's a half hour left to go of this rise, preheat the oven to 450°F and put a covered, heavy pot in the oven.( I use my 5.5 quart LeCreuset to achieve a well-proportioned loaf.) When the dough is ready, carefully take the pot out of the oven. Dump the dough, seam side up, into the pot and shake it to spread evenly. Cover and bake for 20-30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15-30 minutes, until deeply brown and crusty. Let the bread rest as long as you can before slicing into it.

I store my bread in an airtight baggie, even though this makes the crust soft. To "re-crust" a whole loaf, you can dab it all over with water and bake for about 10 minutes in a 450°F oven. If you're going slice by slice, just toast to rectify the crust.

from Big Girls, Small Kitchen at Huffingtonpost.com

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Mark Bittman's Muffins, Infinite Ways

Makes: 12 medium or 8 large muffins

Time: About 40 minutes

The only real difference between muffins and other quick breads is the pan you bake them in. But those little muffin cups allow for a lot more potential variation, depending on what you do at the last minute before baking.

Anything goes when it comes to varying this master recipe. See the variations below for more ways to spike the recipe. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

3 tablespoons melted butter or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, plus more for the muffin tin

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg

1 cup milk, plus more if needed

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin and line it with paper or foil muffin cups if you like.

2. Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat together the egg, milk, and melted butter or oil in another bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, combine the ingredients swiftly, stirring and folding rather than beating and stopping as soon as all the dry ingredients are moistened. The batter should be lumpy, not smooth, and thick but quite moist; add a little more milk or other liquid if necessary.

3. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling them about two-thirds full and handling the batter as little as possible. (If you prefer bigger muffins, fill 8 cups almost to the top; pour 1/4 cup water into the empty cups.) Bake for about 20 minutes (about 30 minutes for larger muffins) or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before taking them out of the tin. Serve warm.

**Sis and Bud's Variations: We halved the batter, adding a 1/2 cup fresh blueberries and dusting with sugar for Bud and 1/2 cup chocolate chips and topping with more chips for Sis. Perfection.

Banana-Nut Muffins. These are good with half bran or whole wheat flour: Add 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts, pecans, or cashews to the dry ingredients. Substitute 1 cup mashed very ripe banana for 3/4 cup of the milk. Use honey or maple syrup in place of sugar if possible.

Bran Muffins. Substitute 1 cup oat or wheat bran for 1 cup of the flour (you can use whole wheat flour for the remainder if you like). Use 2 eggs and honey, molasses, or maple syrup as the sweetener. Add 1/2 cup raisins to the prepared batter if you like.

Sour Cream or Yogurt Muffins. Reduce the baking powder to 1 teaspoon and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda to the dry ingredients. Substitute 11/4 cups sour cream or yogurt for the milk and cut the butter or oil back to 1 tablespoon.

Spice Muffins. Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon each ground allspice and ground ginger, and 1 pinch ground cloves and mace or nutmeg to the dry ingredients; use 1 cup whole wheat flour in place of 1 cup all-purpose flour. Add 1/2 cup raisins, currants, dates, or dried figs to the prepared batter if you like.

Blueberry or Cranberry Muffins. Try substituting cornmeal for up to 1/2 cup of the flour: Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the dry ingredients; increase the sugar to 1/2 cup. Stir 1 cup fresh blueberries or cranberries into the batter at the last minute. You can also use frozen blueberries or cranberries here; do not defrost them first. Blueberry muffins are good with 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest added to the batter along with the wet ingredients. Cranberry muffins are excellent with 1/2 cup chopped nuts and/or 1 tablespoon minced orange zest added to the prepared batter.

Sweet and Rich Muffins. Like cake: Use butter and increase the quantity to 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick); increase the sugar to 3/4 cup. Use 2 eggs and decrease the milk to 1/2 cup, or more if needed. In Step 2, after mixing together the dry ingredients, cream the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon or electric mixer and in a small bowl beat together the eggs with the milk. Add about a third of the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, then moisten with a little of the milk. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up, taking care not to over-mix. The batter should be lumpy, not smooth, and thick but moist; add a little more milk or other liquid if necessary.

Lighter Muffins. A little more work, with noticeable results: Use 2 eggs and separate them. Add the yolks as usual; beat the whites until stiff but not dry and fold in very gently at the last moment.

Coffee Cake Muffins. Mix together 1/2 cup packed brown sugar; 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 1 cup finely chopped walnuts, pecans, or cashews; and 2 extra tablespoons melted butter. Stir half of this mixture into the original batter with the wet ingredients and sprinkle the rest on top before baking.

Savory Muffins. Cut the sugar back to 1 tablespoon. Add up to 1 cup of cooked minced onion or leek and shredded cheese to the batter just before baking.

Mark Bittman