February 28, 2009

Keeping Score

I used to hate board games. I'm not competitive, well, Will would say I am competitive at a few things (sailing mainly, I just really wanted to WIN! Is that so bad?) I never did sports at school, I never do any kind of sports in fact if I can help it. I just don't (generally) car about winning and losing. And I think that's why board games always used to irritate me. But round about the time that Briton was born (which coincided with us having less money) and then even more so when Evie came along (again, less money still) Will and I started playing board games. Usually we play with friends but over the past three or four months we've started playing each other, ALL THE TIME. Part of it is that Briton is now old enough to play some decent games, part of it is that we've finally learned/amassed some good two player games, especially card games. I hadn't played many card games since I was a kid. My Grandma and her friends used to sit around the table at their cabin playing a game called Whoopie! which I can't remember how to play other that when you win you yell WHOOPIE! But now were card game addicts. And since we're constintly playing, I decided we needed a score board to keep track of who's winning and whose the loosing.

And being me, I couldn't just use a piece of paper, I had to make it difficult on myself and make a scoreboard that could hang in our dining room.

I found a really ugly frame that was painted (badly) in flaky gold and housed a equally ugly flower painting with a velvet mat (seriously, velvet?) at my favorite thrift shop. Wish I had taken a photo of it before I took it apart because it was REALLY ugly. But it was the right size and shape and the texture of the frame was interesting. And it was a whopping ten cents. So I bought it, took the painting and the velvet mat out and painted it the green that my dining room is very slowly heading towards color-scheme-wise and added a new back that was painted with chalkboard paint. (Don't ask Will how long that last step took, let's just say I lazed around for a few weeks with a half done project after I badgered him into getting the wood cut to size. Oops) But at last, it's done and we played an inagural game of cribbage last night to christen the board (I won!)

Now I can't decide if I'm ready for another project or projected out.

February 24, 2009

Pancake Day

Ok, I didn't get around to posting on Valentines day because, well, I wasn't cooking. I was too busy chowing down on truffles. I mean, when your husband brings home a box of your favorite truffles and starts eating them himself, you have to dig in and get your share. So in lieu of writing a holiday post then, here is one in celebration of a far more obscure, but no less yummy one. Pancake Day.

Right after we moved to Ireland, I started seeing signs everywhere that said "Remember! Tuesday is Pancake Day!" and for the life of me I couldn't fathom what they were talking about. When the signs changed to "Today is Pancake Day!" a week or so later I gave in and asked. And duh, it was Fat Tuesday. Shows how closely I pay attention to the calendar.

Basically, the Irish version of Mardi Gras involves eating lots of crepes.

All I can say is Brilliant.

And yum.

Since then we have kept up the tradition, because who doesn't love an excuse to eat pancakes? This year it almost passed me by. I wasn't even thinking about pancakes and lent and Easter until I happened to look at my organizer yesterday and realized it was tomorrow!

It's not coming on a great day. For one thing, Briton's school has a big potluck dinner tonight so no pancakes at home for dinner as usual. For another, first grade is assigned to South America. I probably could have fudged it and brought pancakes to the potluck and pretended I was with a fourth grader (lucky ducks got Europe) but who wants to cook that many pancakes, and forget about it with crepes. So we had to settle for afternoon pancakes.

The kids have shown a resistance to crepes lately (why? don't they know how good they are?) so I made a regular batch of pancakes after school and, at Briton's request, my own version of Nutella. I cant buy Nutella anymore. I just eat it. Spoon, jar, heaven. It's gone in two days. But I CAN make a reasonable replacement at home. So today's totally healthy (hahahaha) after school meal was pancakes with chocolate peanut butter ganache, sliced bananas and mini marshmallows. What can I say, Pancake Day comes only once a year.

Chocolate Peanut butter Ganache

3 T chopped semi sweet chocolate (or just chocolate chips)
1 heaping T peanut butter
3 T cream

melt the chocolate in the microwave, stir in peanut butter till smooth, add cream and stir till smooth and glossy.

This ended up making more than we needed for three or four pancakes. I decided to make the leftovers into quick fudge by adding some melted butter (about 2 tsp) a little more peanut butter and enough powdered sugar to make it pretty thick. Refrigerate till solid. Eat. Worry about calories later.

February 21, 2009

CrockPot Pulled Pork

Ummm. Pulled pork. One of my new favorite dinners to make. And yet, every time we have it, I fell like kicking myself for waiting 31 years before trying it because, damn, it's good!

I resisted the crock pot. "Put in on your wedding registry" People told me. "Not thanks!" I thought. I wasn't' going to be one of those stay at home moms who thinks far enough ahead about dinner that I can let it cook all day. No way! Hey, shut up! I'm not! I"M NOT! OK, so what, so I am one of those moms. What did I know. I was young, and stupid. And obsessed with my rice cooker which was, in my mind, the greatest appliance ever. I just didn't know.

Even after all this time of being a stay at home mom (who plans her meals a week in advance, boy, see how far I've fallen?) I've resisted. I had no use for a crock pot. I could make what ever it was in the oven or on the stove. I didn't kneed one more thing crammed under my counter that I didn't use.

And then, this summer, it all changed. I blame it on the pulled pork.

I'm not even a big pork fan. Other than bacon, I really don't like much in the pig department. it might be all those signs for BBQ places in Texas that feature a smiling pig on them, disturbing. Like Porkey's smiling out at me saying "Come on in and eat my sister! She's delicious!"

And then there were the vegetarian years when I didn't eat meat at all. I really wasn't a big fan of the taste, and I never craved meat...so why eat it. That came to a halt abruptly about half way through my first pregnancy when I came home from work sobbing because I needed ribs and I needed them YESTERDAY! What kind? Pork or Beef? Will asked, totally confused but thinking that finally he would be allowed to eat meat again. Poor Texas boy, the things I've made him suffer.

I didn't care what kind. Both, everything, just bring me more MEAT. When the hormones settled down and I stopped being the human equivalent of a T-rex (remind me to tell you about the time Will didn't order the steak at the fancy steak house because he though I wouldn't really ate mine. Watch me, I said. Again, poor Will) I decided that I loved BBQ beef, pork was ok, but given a choice, I'd pick beef.

Then, at a friends house this summer, I pulled the cover off of their crock pot and tried the pulled pork. Heaven. Will was even happier. I'm not exaggerating. The boy at four huge sandwiches and still went back for more. For the rest of the fall he peppered me with the question "Don't' you want a crock pot for Christmas?" No, but do you want one? The truth was, I did want one. BBQ is one of those things I prefer not to tackle at home. It's just so much better out at a real BBQ restaurant. But the pulled pork, well, I could do that.

Christmas came and went leaving us (Will) with a shiny new, fancy smancy, crock pot, and after some foodie blog trolling, I went out and bought a big old pork butt. And it turned out great. Ironically, we had the same friends who started the pulled pork crock pot thing over for dinner the night we christened the pot only to find out that they had actually made theirs on the grill and then served it in the crockpot. Oh well, we were hook already.

Since then we've formed our own version of pulled pork and make it every other week or so. I'm tempted to try brisket, but not yet, I'm worried that it just wont be as good as the pork, and then I'll have wasted a perfectly good opportunity to make my favorite crock pot meal. But maybe one day....

Pulled Pork in the Crock Pot.

3 lb pork but, fat left on
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
Apple cider vinegar

The bight before, mix the sugar and spices and rub them into the pork, pop it into the pot to marinate all night then first thing int he morning add enough vinegar to reach half the height of the meat. I like to put the meat in fat side up. It's easier to take it off later and I have a theory that it soaks a little of the fat through the meat as it cooks. You can throw a chopped onion in here to if you like. Cook it on low till an hour before dinner (or high if you forget and start it mid morning) then scoop off the fat, drain the liquid and shred the meat, adding back about 1/4 of the fat (more or less depending on how moist the meat is) At this point I usually scoop out a third of the meat and refrigerate it for taco's later in the week. To the remaining meat, add just enough of your favorite BBQ sauce to moisten then turn the pot on warm or low till you are ready to eat. Serve with extra sauce, coleslaw (on the bun, not on the side, I like to add horseradish to mine!) and beans. Yummm.

Oh, and the picture is blurry, it's not your eyes. I was just too hungry to make sure I got a good one before I dug in.

February 18, 2009

Half-birthdays and other family nonsense

Today is Briton's third favorite day of the year. His first is Christmas, well, sure, what normal kids favorite day isn't Christmas. His Second is his birthday, again, that's an obvious one. February 18th? What's so special about that? Well, it's his half birthday. The day he becomes closer to the next birthday than the last. And besides that, I make him half a cake every year for his half birthday. Yep, half a cake. And it's funny, I think he almost likes getting half a cake more than he likes getting the whole cake on his actual birthday.

The only problem with celebrating half birthdays is that you have yet another reason to realize how fast they are growing, more remember when's. Remember when Briton called salami "some-mommies?" Remember when he used to look up into the sky every night and exclaim "A moon!" like it was a whole different moon from the night before? Remember when he used to ask for goat's cheese on everything? Remember when we brought him home from the hospital and we had no idea at all what to do with him other than love him to pieces? Being a parent, it's tough. But not for the sleepless nights and the never ending noise. It's tough because it almost hurts when you think about them growing up, about how much you love them, about how soon, they wont run to you when they scrape their knee or want a story read. It's just plain tough.

Happy half-birthday Briton. I can't believe you are 6 1/2 now. I can't believe you ride without training wheels and know what "cool" is and got your first note from a girl, but I'm glad your still my little boy, even if you're not so little anymore.

February 17, 2009


It started so innocently. Honestly, it did.
"Hey, what would you think about a community chicken coop?"
It wasn't even my idea. Sure I may have planted the idea somehow. Will and I had chickens in Portland and I have missed them. Their soft clucking as I worked in the garden, their funny obsession with dandelion blossoms, apparently the chicken version of catnip. I missed having them follow me around and sit on the edge of the sand pit while Evelyn dug away. So when the idea came up, I jumped. Little did I know the controversy it would cause.
A pre-walking Evie with one of our Portland Chicken - Henny Penny

We pulled together four families, found a site that was central to us all in one family's yard, designed a small coop (well, Will sketched about 40 two inch high ideas and I took the one I liked and handed it off to my neighbor who was doing the paperwork side) and submitted it to the board of architectural review. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?

Not right. The neighbors (not those involved obviously, not even really those around us, these were neighbors in the broader sense of "neighborhood") flew into an uproar. Somehow our plan for eight little hens turned into a scandal about having roosters and giant hen houses.

Articles were written in the paper, news cameras showed up, interviews were done, reinforcements were called on to come show support at the BAR meeting. We were in a panic, we were furious! What was wrong with people that they couldn't just LET US HAVE OUR CHICKENS!!!

Our three day old chicks in Portland

And then, as quickly as it began, it stopped.The BAR passed the coop with a unanimous vote and lots of off topic ( they were only supposed to be dealing with the structure, not the facts of chicken-keeping in town) banter about how great chickens were. All systems were go. No one even showed up to object. The fuss, it seemed, surrounded a lack in knowledge about chicken biology. Chickens don't need roosters to make eggs you see, but not everybody knows that. And really why should they. Just because I was lulled to sleep with John Seymour's Guide to Self Sufficiency doesn't mean everyone else was. I suppose it's just another part of the lost knowledge that modern times have brought. People don't just know how to milk a cow, or even sew on a button these days. Which is kind of sad.

Part of me hopes this economic situation we have gotten ourselves into will help people get back to their roots. I keep thinking of wartime Britain, where they dug up parks and front yards and even the moat around the Tower of London to help feed the nation. Pull together, grow your own food, help your neighbor, understand chicken ovulation. But somehow I can't see the Wall Street tycoons who lost everything they had, and everything everyone else had, digging up their manicured lawns to grow food for the masses. A girl can dream though. For now, I'm just excited that the chickens are coming.

February 11, 2009

And now for the dried fig portion of our program


I bought a pound of dried figs two days ago so I could take a picture for this post, but I have no picture, because I have no figs left. Oops.

It's a weird thing to love. And really, love doesn't even cover what I feel for figs. Most people I have encountered in my life have only run into figs as part of a fig newton, which has NOTHING to do with figs in my humble opinion. And I suppose if my grandparents had not had a fig tree in their back yard, I would be amongst the fig newton fig believers. Thank goodness for the hot Californian sun and whomever planted all the fig trees in Redding.

Growing up, I thought it was normal for grandparents to have a wide range of fruit trees in their small urban back yard. I mean, who didn't have access to pomegranates, figs, lemons and grapefruit a few yards from the kitchen door? Really? You didn't? Well, let me tell you, you missed out.

Every summer, when the figs were rips, (conveniently, about the same time as my visit) my grandmother would pick bowls full of the plump green fruits, boil them in sugar and set them on drying racks in the giant solar dehydrator in the middle of the yard. More of them would go straight from the tree into bags in the family room freezer to be eaten all year long. I was rationed to only a handful a day of either fresh or dried with dire threats of "you'll make yourself sick!" Once I'd eaten my allotment I would sneak them out of the freezer and eat them in secret in the laundry room, biting into the sweet frozen flesh of the fresh ones or languidly chewing the icy dried ones. I probably ate at least 20 a day this way, and I never got sick. But I think that may have been sheer will power; I couldn't possibly stand a reduction in my ration and I wouldn't stop pilfering them as often as I dared.

I no longer have access to a fig tree. Someday, when we stop moving around, I'll plant one. Well, I'll probably plant several, the more the merrier. For now I'm reduced to buying them. They aren't cheap, and they aren't nearly as good as my grandmother's, but I buy a pound of dried figs as often as I can afford and sometimes even when I can't, and then spend a happy couple of days chowing down.

And I've passed this addiction on to Evie. Briton informed me years ago that only girls ate figs (what? oh well, more for me!) But Evie loves them. She calls them "Big raisins." Yesterday our conversation went something like this.
"Mommy! I want raisins!"
"You ate all the raisins Evelyn. No raisins."
"No BIG raisins."
"Yes, bigs, big raisins."
"Figs, Evelyn. Say Figs."
"figggggsss...oh,whatever, here."

So now we have two addicts in the house, which is (honestly, it wasn't just me!) why we have no figs for a photo. Sigh, another day and a half till grocery shopping. I hate waiting.

Ah well, I'll leave you with my new favorite breakfast, which highlights figs in all their yummyness

Fig and Quinoa yogurt parfait

1 cup good yogurt - I use homemade vanilla, but any good thick yogurt works. Greek would be great!
3-4 dried figs, roughly chopped
3 T cooked quinoa
1 T granola

In a bowl (or a glass, it looks pretty!) layer yogurt, quinoa, yogurt, figs and then sprinkle with granola. Dive in. Yum.

February 9, 2009

Food Memory

This weekend was one of homesick meals. Or maybe just nostalgic ones. Will and I have had either the good fortune or the bad luck to move many times since our marriage. We have had only twice celebrated Christmas in a house more than once. This year was the first that Briton had his birthday party with the same group of friends two years running. Moving can be problematic, it can also be a great adventure. It has certainly made our marriage stronger, our family stronger as we rely on each other for friendship and companionship while we get our feet on the ground at yet another new town. It has given us a chance to see places we may never have seen by staying on one place. It has also given us lots of places to miss.

Several years ago, when Briton was still a baby, we sat on the pool terrace of a small hotel in Columbia Missouri, where we were living at the time, and discussed this with a group of journalists visiting from Austria. Most of them had, at some point in their lives, lived outside their country. All of them had left the towns they grew up in for the lure of a bigger place, a better job. Will and I were, at that point, four moves into our marriage, and contemplating another. After several glasses of wine, we came to the conclusion that the only real problem with living a vaguely nomadic lifestyle is that once you leave where you are from, you will never really be at home anywhere. This is especially true when you leave your country for another, as we have since found out. By moving to Dublin, we became something not quite, normal. We became expats. And while we would never be “Irish” we would come to blend in and settle comfortably in a very different lifestyle. And then, by moving back, we always had the tinge, maybe even the taint, of having been expats. Of have forsaken our country for another. It’s a cycle that can’t really be broken. We will never be wholly European; even if we moved back and lived there our whole lives. We would always be “the Americans”. But we will also never be “Just Americans” again. None of this is really problematic; it’s just an odd sense being comfortable everywhere, but not quite belonging anywhere.

Similarly, once you leave a place, you always have something to miss. Even if you hated living there, there will be something, some food, some place, some characteristic that crops up in your mind from time to time. You think “I really wish I could go to that museum today.” Or “Boy, I could go for some food from this place right now!”

And that’s how this weekend went for us. We love Charlottesville. We really do. We have great friends, a lovely home, a fabulous neighborhood, and a wonderful school for our children, but there are times when we miss things that we had somewhere else. And for once, I decided to indulge in the homesicks.

It started Friday afternoon. I had been craving a dish from my favorite dinner spot in Portland, Pastini. When Will and I started going there it was just a small neighborhood restaurant down the street form our house. The food was great, the atmosphere was relaxed, and although we didn’t have kids yet, we couldn’t help but notice the unusual mix of excellent adult food and true kids food, things like cheese pizza and pasta with butter and nothing else. Over the years, though both of our stints living there, we have frequented the place. It has now grown into a chain, something I feel slightly weary of, not wanting it to loose the charm that drew us to it in the first place. I can, without even opening the menu, order for my entire family. Seafood cannelloni for Will, Perfectly Plain Pasta for Briton and Evie with a side of Broccolini, and Rigatoni Zuccati for me. I always intended to try something different, but every time we went I worried that I wouldn’t have a chance to go for ages and then I would regret not having my favorite when I had my chance. And so, Friday afternoon, I was idly clicking through the online menu, wishing I could walk down the road for Pastini Takeout when inspiration hit. Maybe, just maybe, there was a recipe online for my beloved Zuccati. And as chance would have it, one of the local news stations had done a cooking segment with the head chef, and there was the recipe, staring out from the screen.

Normally I wouldn’t have messed with something that I know is perfect, but I was out of spinach so I made a few small changes, things that wouldn’t make enough difference to keep me from being satisfied, but enough so that I could whip up what I craved then and there without making an extra trip to the store.

Rigatoni Zuccati
Adapted from the original recipe from Pastini

1 small roasted butternut squash, cut in 1-inch cubes
Rigatoni pasta (the kind with grooves!)
Fresh rosemary
Tablespoon of pesto
The dark green part of two leaves of bok choy, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Olive oil
Two handfuls of mushrooms (I used brown, it would be better with wild)

I microwaved the squash for 5 minutes while the oven was heating to speed up the process, then brushed the juices that had formed in the hollow all over the flesh, sprinkling it with salt and the rosemary before putting it in the oven to finish roasting.

Toss the garlic and oil in a large saucier or frying pan and cook on medium until the garlic just begins to brown. Add the squash (with rosemary), pesto, mushrooms and bok choy and cook for about one minute to meld the flavors then pour enough cream over to make a slightly runny sauce. Let it boil away until it thickens slightly, adding more cream if you want it runnier. Season to taste and toss in cooked pasta. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.

*It’s extremely fast once you get things in the pan so don’t cook it ahead. Also, you have to stir gently, almost folding the ingredients in so that the squash doesn’t just turn to mush. You want it to break down a little, but still have some meat to it.

After an excellent dinner (Will did complain that I didn’t attempt the cannelloni frutti di mare, but really, I wasn’t quite up for that!) We continued on our stroll down memory lane.

“remember when we used to eat at Zell’s on Saturday mornings? Will commented the next morning as we lay in bed listening to our children run like wild things through the house and debating if we really want ed to get up and face the day. Zell’s had been a favorite pre-kids, lazy weekend eatery of ours, also in Portland.

“I could try to make Eggs Benedict. “ I told him, thinking to myself, aha! Another use for my beloved bain-marie!

“Go for it!” He agreed. So while he corralled the kids and made cinnamon toast for them, I attempted my first ever hollandaise sauce. I have to say, it turned out surprisingly well, thanks to a hint my cookbook had about dropping an ice cube in to lower the temperature if curdling threatens, which it did. So we had a second Portland meal in 12 hours while we watched our kids, watching “Click, Clack, Moo!” and sipped coffee (us, of course, not the kids, like they need any more energy!)

But we had one more stroll down culinary memory lane.

I am notoriously lazy on Sundays when it comes to cooking. I always intend to cook a big Sunday dinner. But usually 6 o’clock rolls around and nothing has been started (or sometimes even de-thawed) and I really don’t have any desire to cook anything. Last night, was one of those nights.

“Ugg, I don’t want to cook what’s on the menu.” I grumped.
“Cook something else.” Will suggested
“Actually, I mean I just don’t want to cook.” I continued. “If we were in Dublin, we could go out for a curry.”
“So go get a curry.”

And we did.

It wasn’t great but it was good. There isn’t quite the tradition of fabulous cheap Indian food here that there is in the UK and Ireland. But it was good enough, and I could sit out on our patio (it was a BEAUTIFUL and very un February 60 degrees yesterday) and eat Chicken Korma and Mulligatawny soup with garlicky naan for sopping up the sauce. Divine.

February 6, 2009


I sometimes wonder if I am the only odd soul who reads cookbooks as if they were novels, cover to cover. I love doing this. I'll admit that some cookbooks are better for this than others. I have a Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that seems to have a recipe for almost anything you could ever want to cook. I'm always startled to find a really decent recipe for something in there that I have scoured my other cookbooks for with no luck. Rumaki, Sauce Veronique, Szechwan Beef sitting right along side recipes for Hamburger pie and banana bread. It was my second cookbook ever (my first was the encyclopedic tomb Fannie Farmer, which is on the bookshelves of everyone in our family) but although I've had it for many years and use it all the time, I've never read straight through it, which is why I'm always surprised to find a recipe I need in there.

These days I tend to search out cookbooks that are a good read as well as a good cook. The Country Kitchen by Della Lutes. Her descriptions of her childhood are based around food and interwoven with recipes, written into the text. It makes for a fun, and hunger-inducing read. The only problem is that I read it at night, thinking to myself as I go "That sound good! I'll have to make that this week!" Then I fall asleep and cant remember what it was I was going to make.

Last week a copy of Nigella Lawson's How to Eat arrived in the mail, a gift I'd ordered for someone a few weeks earlier. I fully intended to inscribe the inside of the cover, wrap it and send it off. But then I made the mistake of flipping through the pages to check a recipe. I'm now looking for a different gift.

I love to hear the history of a recipe. The WHY of it's inclusion in the book. I really want to know if it's something passed down from a great grandmother or something that was though up in the grocery store checkout line waiting for the person ahead of them to scan 32 cans of Fancy Feast. (Why do people seem to go to the store just to buy vast quantities of overpriced cat food, I'll never know I suppose). I love to read about variations and options and failed experiences of the author, it make them real. It makes them friendly. Nigella's book is perfect for this. The recipes are listed as they are in most cook books, but the story behind it is there too. Which is why it's in my drawer instead of at the post office.

One of my favorites is a reprint of an old book called The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Child. It's a hilarious read. Apart from being full of interesting (and interesting is usually the word for them, whortleberry pie, anyone?) recipes, it's full of some very unusual bits of advice.

"...We are apt to let children romp away their existence, till they get to be thirteen or fourteen. This is not well....A child of six years old can be made useful; and should be taught to consider everyday lost in which some little thing has not been done to assist other." (true, although I think she was thinking along the lines of scrubbing floors)

"A poultice of elder-blow tea and biscuit is good as a preventive to mortification." (really, well, that's good to know!)

"Pig's head is a profitable thing to buy." (ummm.....)

"Nothing is better than ear-wax to prevent the painful effects resulting from a wound by a nail." (ok, now that's just gross)

It goes on and on.

The problem is, these cookbooks-the one that are fun, enjoyable, to read-are hard to find. Bookstores need to keep them in a separate section, like travel writing is these day. I think the reason I love food blogs so much is that they serve the same purpose as the novel-esque cookbooks. And thank goodness, there are tons of them. So many that it can be hard to find the good ones. But I'm always on the lookout. So here are a few of my favorites.

http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Really, this one is awesome. I cook at least one thing a week from this site.

http://croquecamille.wordpress.com/ Fun and educational, makes me want to travel....

http://fat-of-the-land.blogspot.com/ Just, cool...what else can I say.

http://www.bread-and-honey.blogspot.com/ Everything here is yummy, plus, they are portlanders, so I love them.

http://www.101cookbooks.com/ I only wish I could be this healthy

http://www.tastespotting.com/ I guess this isn't really a blog. But it is SO cool!

February 4, 2009

Thing 1 and Thing 2

They say that comparisons are odious. Especially between children. But I can't seem to help but compare mine. Not in a "Why can't you be like your brother" kind of way though. It's more of a "wow, OK, that's a new one!" kind of way. My two, darling, lovely children, who look startlingly like one another despite the 4 year age difference, are so vastly different that it sometimes takes my breath away.

Briton couldn't wait to get out of diapers and was potty trained before he could really say that he needed to pee and at an extremely early age (20 months!). Evie, who I know very well can hold it and pee on command (because she holds it when she sits on the potty and then pees on the floor smirking at me as I say, "Now don't pee!") Does NOT want to be a big girl and does NOT want to wear panties, not even princess ones.

Briton is game to try most foods and always has been. At two and a half he would ask for goats cheese because he liked it best. Evie eats four things. Yogurt, applesauce, oatmeal and bread. (or any combination of them, but still! And they are all shades of brown....boring)

Briton, at 6 1/2 could care less what he wears. I hand him a bundle of clothes, he puts them on without even looking. Evelyn has been opinionated on this subject for a good 6 months already. She would wear a tutu every day if I let her, (and most days I do, why fight it?) will NOT leave the house without a hat with a flower on it the size of her head and wants to pick out everything I put on her. Today she came downstairs fully dressed. Red and white striped tights. her fluffiest pink tutu-which looks more like a square dancing skirt than a tutu really- Pink glittery tennis shoes. A dinosaur shirt (a show of solidarity for her Brother, no doubt) and a brown, camel hair vest. Oh, and a pink hat with a giant pink flower on it. I think people think I'm crazy to let her wear these things but to be honest, I love it. It's endearing and cute and I know there will come a day when she doesn't' want to be a sweet little tutu girl and I'll miss it, so I let her go out in whatever she wants. Hell, I used to go to school dressed as Princess Lea (the white robe version, not the plasticised bikini version, thank goodness) and I turned out normal, well, sort of normal.

They do both like puzzles, and pretending to be cats. I guess they share some common DNA (besides the looks!)

The most interesting difference between my children though, is in the lovey department. Briton didn't really ever have on. He had a blanket that he sort of loved if he remembered. And at about age three he started carrying around a black and white stuffed cat named Millie, and it was a lovey for a while, but not in the "I must have this or I CANNOT SLEEP!" way. The kid could fall asleep anywhere or stay up all hours and have no problems. He was the ideal child while we were globe trotting. There was nothing that he really HAD to have to be satisfied with life. His sister on the other hand....

Evie has been obsessed with her lovey since she was a few months old. And by obsessed, I mean that the only nights we have spent without it were the (three) times that she LOST it and I had to go find a replacement one. The last time she lost it we were in Washington DC for the weekend and I had to call the company that made them and have them tell me where in DC they were sold. Then I rushed out and bought two so I had a back up. Of course, she found the back up, tucked away on a high shelf in her closet (I have a sneaking suspicion that her brother helped her with that) and now she has to have them both. I should go out and buy a back up back up, but can't deal with the idea that she will start carrying around three at a time. Thankfully they are small, just a little 10 inch square blanket with a lambs head on one corner, so they are easily portable.

Then over Christmas we decided to get rid of the pacifier, which was really not as big of a deal as I had feared, and she started adding to the loveys. It's like the song "There was an old woman who swallowed a fly". She keeps adding things and none of them get taken away. First it was the two loveys. (which, by the way, she calls Yubby ) Then it was a pink blanket and the two lovies. Then the baby doll, the pink blanket and the two lovies. The rabbit, the baby doll, the pink blanket, the two lovies. A pink elephant, the rabbit, the baby, the blanket the lovies. Another rabbit, the elephant, the first rabbit, the baby, the blanket, the lovies.... This morning she came down (fully dressed) clutching TWO baby dolls, the pink elephant, TWO rabbits (which she now calls "rabbit" and "more rabbit") the blanket and the lovies. The bundle is so large she can no longer see over it. And yet, every morning she gathers them up from her bed and insists on carrying them down stairs where she puts them all into one of the living room chairs and makes a nest for cartoon time.

I don't know if it's a boy-girl thing or a first and second child thing or just a personality thing, but it mystifies me that my experiences as a mother to each of them is so different. No less wondrous, just different. And to be honest, I wouldn't have it any other way.

February 2, 2009

You're making WHAT?

So last night, as my children were upstairs doing their best NOT to go to sleep and my husband was puttering around on his computer I decided to make laundry detergent. Right, see, I knew you would say that. Will had the same reaction. But what can I say, other than a E! True Hollywood Story that I'd already seen and hadn't liked the first time and Cambell Brown ( who I am beginning to believe is really a Republican) there wasn't much on TV and I wasn't ready to sit down and read. Plus we were almost out of flour* so I couldn't bake, and tomorrow was laundry day, so really, it was a logical thing to do.

It started as a science experiment that I was going to do with Briton over the weekend. Actually, it started when I went cruising the blogosphere one evening. I think I started out looking for a crock pot recipe for beef brisket but somehow, as blogs do lead to blogs, I ended up reading a recipe for laundry soap. And that's when I thought it would be a fun thing to do with Briton. So during last week's shopping expedition I bought a box of washing soda and a box of Borax so I would be ready. Except, Briton had no interest. I kept offering throughout the weekend, but in an almost teenager-like way he kept turning me down. He had better things to do it seemed.

And this is how I found my self on a Monday evening making laundry soap in the kitchen. The recipe was pretty easy. simmer 2 cups of water on the stove, grate in half a bar of soap (I used Lever 2000, which my creature-of-habit-husband insists is the only soap he can possibly use) then add the soapy water to a bucket with 24 cups of hottish water and stir for a bit. Add 8 T washing powder and then 4 of Borax. Stir a little more and in the morning you have Laundry soap. And really, other than the fact that the first bucket I brought up from the basement had about 10 little holes in it so that when I hauled the bucket full of water out of the sink to mix in the soap, water started streaming out all over the floor (it needed to be mopped anyway), everything went smoothly and I had a (new) bucket full of what I hoped turned into nice thick laundry detergent by morning in sitting in the sink.

And I only tried to put dirty dishes into the bucket three (well, five) times during the rest of the evening.

So how did this strange and bizarre take on my obsessive making turn out?

Really well actually. In the morning it had solidified into an opalescent gel that I could scoop out with an old tea cup ( I have an odd set of old green garage sale teacups that are always in use as scoops around here. But don't worry, I wont switch the laundry soap one with the sugar one, I made sure to used the cracked and dyed blue from Easter eggs cup that I keep waaaaayy back in my cupboard for the soap.) Once I'd scooped a few cupfuls out it broke up a little and got more runny as per the instructions, so I might try dumping some of it into an old Meyers Laundry Soap bottle which would be a little easier than keeping a big bucket on the washer.

The laundry came out very clean, whites almost as white as they are after my bu weekly bleach soak (well, bleach and dishwasher soap soak. Hey! Don't laugh! it works!) and everything smells faintly of Lever 2000 but mostly of nothing at all. So all in all, it's a hit. Who knew? I wonder if there's a recipe for home made Mr. Clean Magic Erasers out there. I love those things, even if they are a little scary. (seriously what is in them that they can get sharpie marker off the wall and soap scum off the tub? But still I buy them. After all, how else will I get 2 year old "art" off the walls?)

* I have to say I'm a little disturbed by this. I bought a five pound bag of flour last Wednesday! I blame the No Knead Bread. Damn you New York Times and Bread and Honey Blog for showing me how to have yummy crusty bread with almost no work at all. So much for a low(ish) carb diet. This, ladies and gentleman, is why I will never be skinny, five pounds of flour in 5 and a half days. Baaaaadddd! We're also out of brown sugar which I swear I just bought. I think I've been baking too much.

The old gray KitchenAid, she ain't what she used to be

When Will and I got engaged, there was really only one thing I knew I HAD to register for, only one thing that I really REALLY wanted. A KitchenAid. Oh, sure, I wanted the dishes and silverware and vases and linens and pots that we picked out from the shelves of Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn. But the truth was we already had dishes and silverware and vases and linens and pots. They were ugly and second or third hand, but we did have things too cook with and eat off of and sleep on. And I did relish in finally having soft new sheets and a teapot that matched my plates, but I loved my Kitchen Aid.

Back then, there was not a KitchenAid in every kitchen, Cuisinart was probably the more prevalent brand. I had come to my passion for the stand mixer through the magic of television, through the magic of the Martha Stewart Show. This was back before she had to change her theme song under threat of a lawsuit,before she had branded her self on towels and pans and couches, before she went to prison for insider trading, before she reemerged with a new show and a new, meaner personality. It was even before she was identifiable by just her first name. We didn't say, "Did you see Martha today?" because people would think "Martha who? Washington? Gunn? Graham?"

But I knew her, and I knew about that KitchenAid. My grandfather somehow understood my intense desire for this bulky piece of gadgetry and bought it within weeks of my getting engaged so I could put it to work right away. And I did. I mixed and made and opened cans with the can-opening attachment. I loved it. I didn't care that it took up almost a third of my minuscule counter top. I didn't care that I could have used my beat up old hand mixer for everything I made in my KitchenAid. I loved it.

Over the years, the KitchenAid has served me well. Without really thinking, I chose the perfect color, e a nice, neutral, gun metal gray model and because of this it has sat on my counter through many incarnations of Kitchen Color Combinations. Chili pepper red, soft pale vermilion, school pencil yellow, it went with them all because it went with everything.

When we moved to Ireland for a time, it was one of three things that I stored at my parents house instead of in our storage unit. My Wedding Dress, my Christmas ornaments and my KitchenAid. The rest could rot if need be. I would miss it, but I could recover, not so with the KitchenAid. I missed it. Mixing by hand because I was too stubborn to buy anything less that my cherished stand mixer while we lived abroad. I pulled it out when we visited my parents to give it a workout.It was amongst the first things unpacked when we unloaded our long stored things at our new home in Portland, easy to pick out form the jumble of boxes for it heft and unbalance, one heavy mixer packed askew in a box of sheets and towels.

I use it almost every day still. My children know how to tilt back the head and add ingredients. Briton knows the whisk from the beater from the dough hook. My husband knows better that to touch it without permission and instruction. But she is starting to show her age. The pin that holds the head onto the body works itself loose every few uses and I have to bang it back in. The chrome and stainless parts are no longer shiny. The gun metal surface is discolored in spots with oily look brown patches that do not come off now matter what you scrub them with. And this weekend, when Evie and I left a thick coffee cake batter to mix, it thumped its way up to the edge of the counter, nearly falling off before I tuned around from the stove and caught it before it toppled.

I should call KitchenAid and find out what to do, but I'm afraid they will either tell me I have to send it in to be repaired, and live without it for weeks, or worse, tell me that it's time for it to be retired, to send it off to Stand Mixer Heaven, where they sit on shiny counter tops and mix nothing heavier than egg whites and Martha Stewart tucks them lovingly into bed each night. And I'm afraid I can't face either prospect. So I will keep on. Keep on banging the peg back in, keep on trying to scrub off the stains, keep on pushing it back as it mixes (and not keep on leaving it to mix while I do other things). The Old Gray KitchenAid may not be what she used to be, but she is MY old gray KitchenAid. And I love her, wonky pin and all.

*** Update***
I think she is mad that I told the world she's showing her age, poor thing. The day after I wrote this I was minding my own business mixing cookies when that little silver knob on the front flew off and hit me in the shoulder. Hell hath no fury like a KitchenAid embarrassed.