Dec 6, 2007

Raggedy Grace

We had our first snowfall of the year yesterday, and this is Zane's first snow ever. He licks it up very fast, as if someone is going to snatch it away from him any second. Here is in a rare moment of repose last evening.

You know the Raggedy Ann in the pictures from yesterday? She was such a good sport about that. Well, I was going to give her to a little girl I know, but Will wants to teach her to fly. And he calls her Raggedy Grace. So I guess that's that.

I've got a major deadline tomorrow, so wish me inspiration and sheer doggedness. I need to stop editing myself before I've put a single word on the page, and I must not be so distractible. I'm going to put my laptop computer in the sunroom, where our wireless doesn't work, so I can't Google anything, check on Facebook, Sitemeter, or anything. It's house arrest for me today.

I promise to write about my project sometime soon.

Dec 5, 2007

Due to Popular Demand, Photos and Even More Description of the Toilet

Oh, all RIGHT. And this is totally the last post about the toilet. Here it is, in use and solo. The tank is much smaller than the 1935 tank we had, so now we have room for towering bottles of body lotion on the top. Very sleek, no? This morning we asked
Will if he flushed it and he said, "Yes, three times!!" I'm not sure he gets it. The button on the left is for pee and the one on the right is for poop and pee, or just poop if that's your style. To spell it all out to you, geez.

Another nifty way to save water (I read somewhere that the word "nifty" is in use again, just as I was about to discard it) is to put an empty plastic bottle in your tank. How elegant is that!

I obviously have no clue how to do layout. My first blog pictures, and they are of a toilet. I'm going to cry.

Dec 4, 2007

We Are Now the Proud Owners of--

A Toto Dual Flush toilet!

What? You know not of what I speak? Please. Let me introduce you. It has two buttons on the lid, one for a small amount of water and one for a larger amount. They're used all over the world. It should save us lots of water over the years, although the toilet cost us a little bundle, and the installation took a while, so installation probably costs more than the toilet. "Tricky" was the word Rick the plumber used. So we said farewell to our old toilet, which Rick said was dated September 11, 1935. That helps us date our house back to exactly . . . 1935!

Rick is still up there, cleaning up, I need to leave in a few minutes to get Will and Jack for swimming, so I'm gettin' a little antsy. We cannot sit on this wonder for six hours. Should I post again on how it works? If there is any demand out there, I'd be glad too. Or that may be Too Much Information.

Dec 3, 2007

Media, PA. It's the place to be.

Every time I go to Media in the evening anymore, it is buzzing! It's the social hub of the county. Now there is a new restaurant of a higher caliber than anything else in the town. It's called Azie, and it's very sleek and sophisticated. John and I went on Saturday, and got a table by the front door. While I wouldn't normally choose that table, it was fun for our first visit, because we got to see the constant stream of diners, of all ages, who came by.

By the time we left, at 8:30, the bar was filled and a line was forming. They opened on October 24 to very good reviews, and we weren't disappointed either. Our waitress was a little overly enthusiastic and peppy, but once we were well into our bottle of Sauvignon Blanc she seemed kind of adorable. We shared an order of Spicy Yellowtail Sushi and a Sashimi Salad. Then John got Pan-Seared Diver Scallops and I got the Yakitori Bowl. Everything was delicious, especially the Sashimi Salad. Its vinaigrette was delicate and floral, and the crab, tuna and (one other fish) was velvety and fresh. For dessert I got green tea ice cream, which was a bit gummy, not gummy-old but just like it had too much carrageenan in it. John got a "Fruits Tart" made with a creme anglaise and fresh peaches, mangoes, blackberries, blueberries? He's not remembering it all. I blame that Sauvignon Blanc.

It's not a small restaurant by any means, but each dining room seems intimate. There's a warmly lit upstairs that we could see looking up to a balcony. We'll ask for that next time. And there's another first floor dining room that is busy and Manhattan-ish in some way I can't define.

Before dinner we browsed at Earth and State, and also at Local Home + Gifts. Earth and State (my ampersand doesn't work) has all fairly traded crafts, and Local Home + Gifts is a very hip store (for Media) with the most amazing scented fir candles burning. We were the only people in the store who weren't gay males. If you want to pay more than 20 dollars for a glorious-smelling candle, or if you are looking to pick up a smashingly groomed 30-something gay male with dreamy eyes, this is the place.

Eat your heart out, Main Line and West Chester.

Shoveling a Path to the Clothesline

We're taking a big step here. We're trying not to use our clothes dryer.

We're hanging clothes either on the beautiful clothesline that John and my father in law installed right after Thanksgiving, or on a drying rack in basement. I ordered an extra large wooden drying rack that should be in any day, and I just got some eucalyptus lavender fabric softener. Three sets of solid one-piece wooden clothespins are also on their way, along with a clothespin bag. It's a strange time of year to inaugurate an outdoor clothesline, but we really must give Mervin, my father in law, a job when he comes so he doesn't hog my computer playing solitaire. Also, when I saw the clothesline with cedar posts advertised by the Verm*nt Cl*thesline C*mpany, I simply had to have it. Mervin copied the design from their picture on the web, and bought the cedar locally.

So we're a tiny bit more green. I read that a family will save 100 dollars a year not using the dryer, and a blogger somewhere says she saves 60 dollars a month. I guess it depends on your electricity costs, the size of your family and how you define dirty clothes. Some people apparently just wash everything after one wearing, and even wash bath towels after one day! These are not people who line-dry. When you have to actually hang everything up clothespin by clothespin or hanger by hanger or rack by rack, you begin to set more reasonable standards. My boys just throw everything in the hamper because it's easier, and then I cull. (Of course, a little retraining is in order too.)

Hanging laundry outside, when it isn't too cold, is pleasant, even meditative. Our back yard is very private, which helps. I'm not sure how people around here feel about seeing laundry, not that I care. I do hide certain garments behind big towels, and wonder what that says about me. I guess I do care. Oh, speaking of towels, they end up scratchy, but you can fluff them up in the dryer for 5 minutes if you must. My tactic is to use fabric softener, snap the towels before hanging, and then see if anyone complains about them being scratchy. No complaints yet . . . .

Here is something the poet and memoirist Kathleen Norris wrote about hanging laundry. She lives in North Dakota, where the winters are long and severe. I love this image.

During the unspeakably brutal winter of 1996-1997, with nearly thirty inches of snow on the ground by Thanksgiving, I had had enough by the time the spring blizzards came--another three feet of snow and high winds on the eighth of April--that I set out one morning, ablaze with the warmth of an angry determination, to shovel a path to the clothesline in order to hang something colorful there. As I began to handle the wet clothes, my hands quickly reddened, stung with cold, but it seemed worth doing nonetheless, simply to break the hold of winter on my spirit--and to disrupt the monotony of the white moonscape that our backyard had become. And even though the clothes freeze-dried stiffly and had to be thawed in the house, they had the sky-scent of summer on them. And it helped.

Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women's Work, p.34

Nov 29, 2007

High Birthday Season in the Dream Kitchen

Jack turned eight, EIGHT! on the 23rd, and Will turns six, SIX! tomorrow. How did this happen so fast? I made Jack and the inlaws Spice Layer Cake with prunes simmered in brandy, out of my Mom's Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. It was scarfed down by all except Will, who doesn't like any annoying things like fruits or nuts in his cake. Since Will's birthday is on a school day, I made banana chocolate chip muffins for him to share with his classmates. He doesn't find chocolate chips annoying.

This year we are outsourcing their joint party for the first time ever. With last year's Captain Underpants party, I felt that I was just yelling all the time and no one did anything I said. So this year it's at a local gymnastics center, with a "Survival Island," trampolines, foam pit, and climbing wall. We'll bring our own food, which is the way I prefer it. I must say, it's a relief to have a bunch of boys romping around NOT in our house. We don't have a finished basement or any indoor place appropriate for such a party. And they just won't agree to settle for a dainty afternoon tea.

Random Quote of the Day
At the dinner table today we talked about how sometimes we act our age and sometimes we don't. Will said he would act Daddy's age and he yelled in anguish, "I hate this car insurance!!! And see how my butt's sticking out!!"

Next: The Greening of the Laundry

Nov 21, 2007

Thanksgiving, the Latest Iteration

I'm taking a break after making the Cranberry Sauce and Herbed Stuffing. Next? The brine. Then we, meaning I, pick up the fresh turkey and start the brining. Later this evening? The Spiced Pumpkin Pie and the Orleans Sweet-Potato Pecan Pie.

Tomorrow morning? Stage 1 of the gravy-making. Tablecloth-ironing and silver polishing will ensue. This stuff gets delegated to my mother in law or anyone else who will do it and is old enough. John will put the leaves in the table and be the brinemaster. The boys will play and run around. Zane will look endlessly for tasty bits on the floor. Kato the cat will torture Zane by sitting six feet beyond the pet gate and looking pleased with himself. Finally I'll be making the gravy at the very end and ordering everyone the heck out of the kitchen. We'll eat the meal in no time flat, but cleanup will take two hours.

My brother isn't coming, but he wanted to. His girlfriend wasn't granted custody of her children for this holiday and she's sad, and she thinks she would be more sad spending the holiday with us than if they spent it alone, at the Shore.

My Dad will be here, eating way more than he should and watching everyone else do the work. He has again broken up with his lady friend who I love so much. Since she moved to Seattle, it makes sense, but he didn't have to do it so harshly. It must be hard, after being married for decades in an "old-school" marriage, to negotiate the difficult terrain of courtship, or dating, or romance, whatever you call it--with someone who has grown children and who has seen enough in her two marriages to know she doesn't want another husband.

Jack has a tooth, an upper incisor, that is crooked and sticking out. Right behind it you can see the new tooth shoving the front one out. I want to pull this tooth out so bad. So bad.

Happy Thanksgiving to the world, in all its brokenness and incompleteness.

Sep 30, 2007

Drunken Noodles Detected in Delaware County

I'm pleased to say that, yes, we can now find those big wide Thai noodles, with a spicy sauce, just about one mile from out house. On Macdade boulevard, right across the street from Macdade Nails and a defunct Halloween superstore, is Buppha Thai, with its pristine lavender and white dining room.

I took the boys there Tuesday when John was at class, thinking, how great can it be, it's on Macdade. It was lovely, though, and I wished he had been there to discover it with us. I got Drunken Noodles with Scallops, and the boys got dumplings and spring rolls. They weren't called spring rolls but that's pretty much what they were. Jack and Will thought it was great. Jack brought an A-Z Mystery to read and then he wanted to sit on my lap. He's a little big for that, but I let him anyway. Will demolished his spring rolls and made a big mess with shreds of food on the floor. I tipped well to make up for it.We were the only people in the dining room, but a couple people came in for take-out, at least.

There's an overpriced Thai restaurant on Baltimore Pike and a nice one in Media, but this is really close. Three cheers for Buppha Thai, a spot of hope on a tawdry, faded commercial strip. If you live near here, please patronize this oasis at 500 Macdade Blvd. If you don't, then think good thoughts about it . . . .

Sep 25, 2007

Castration Anxiety in the House

Last week I signed a form agreeing to have Zane, our new dog, neutered. The form used not the bland term "neutering," but rather, "castration." Gulp. There he was, sitting next to me at the vets, panting happily and waiting for more dogs or the vet's fat marmalade cat to saunter in to play with him and admire him. Such a happy, trusting pup. I am the one who feeds him, introduces him to the neighbor dogs, brushes him, talks to him in a tone of voice that irritates my husband, and gives him belly rubs. And now I've consented to have his balls cut off.

Jack asks me why can't Zane be a daddy almost every day. "We could just give the puppies to a breeder," he routinely suggests when I say there are too many unwanted puppies in the world. I minimized his impending surgery and said he would still be he same happy dog (perhaps not on the fateful day itself, Oct. 8, his half birthday). We went on:

J: Well, you're neutered, right?

L: I had my tubes tied after Will was born. I'm not neutered! It's different. Zane is a boy, anyway. He's having his testicles cut off. It sounds bad but it isn't. Sometimes men have vasectomies but that's nothing like having testicles cut off. Centuries ago there used to be castrati who had this done. I don't know why. So they could sing with a really high voice, I guess.

J: I can scream really super high. Want to hear me?

L: No.

J: OK. What's your point?

L: I don't know. I'm just going on and on about castration for no reason.

J: Yeah.

Sep 24, 2007

Happy Birthday, Christopher Zero

My church hosts a luncheon once a month for the local college students, and we went yesterday. My conribution was Spiced Sweet Potato Cake with Brown Sugar Icing (I doubled the spices and added a cup of toasted pecans). Will insisted on bringing candles, as it was Christopher Zero's birthday. Christopher Zero is one of his imaginary friends, you see. He used to be Jack's as well, but I think Jack, who is almost eight, wanted to distance himself from such a childish thing. So I brought a candle for Will's piece of cake, asked for a match from the hosts, and he got to blow it out. One of the students asked where Christopher lives, and Will said eastern Ukraine. Turns out it's an eastern Ukraine on another planet, and that also Christopher was with us in some special sense as well. He can "transport" himself at will. That kid has answer for everything.

Oh, by the way, Will is in kindergarten now. Lilian wondered if I was going to write about that. Since he's in the same Montessori classroom for the third year, it's not a momentous transition. First grade is the big transition for my boys, because that's when they start at the public school. We do, however, have Will take the bus in the afternoon, which he loves. That's his special kindergarten privilege. It gives me a little more time to work and it stops right where I wait for Jack. One of the other neighbor moms was a little shocked that he takes it, since it's a 45-minute ride . . . . I will do anything to avoid the school's gridlock at pickup time.

And Jack? He seems to really like second grade. We don't hear very much about it, actually. He won't tell us anything at all about the girls. I guess it's all pretty old hat after last year, sort of the elementary school equivalent of Sophomore Slump. Now that I think about it, we are all in school. Kindergarten, second grade, Master's in Technology Management, Master's in Fine Arts, and Puppy Kindergarten. All right, the cat is not in school. Maybe we can say that now that there's a dog in the house, the cat attends The School of Hard Knocks.

Sep 23, 2007

Welcome to the Sourdough Lifestyle

It all started innocently enough on a summer's evening in July. My neighbor Hazel knocked on our back door just as I was taking a short break from our Sunday night family movie ritual. She thrust a plastic container on me, and said "Here's some sourdough starter. It's from the 17th century. Don't use bleached flour. You just add three cups of flour to it at night, then in the morning put one cup back in the fridge, add 2 cups of water, and__"

"Wait!," I said, "Let me get a pen!"

I hastily scrawled her recipe somewhere, the proverbial back of the envelope, and made the bread the next day. It was delicious. It is great for sandwiches and makes wonderful toast. And no crumbs! I've made it many times since, although more on the weekends now than on school days, when the bread machine is more convenient.

Hazel did not encumber her recipe with any extra verbiage, so I've added some basic instructions. I also added a little more salt. Here you go. If you live near me and want some starter, give me a holler. I can make some for ya.

Good Neighbor Sourdough Bread

The night before:

1 cup sourdough starter
3 cups nonbleached flour (I get 10-lb. bags of King Arthur's from our local warehouse store)

Before you go to bed, mix starter and flour in a large bowl. Put a damp dish towel, wax paper, or plastic wrap over the top. Set out on your counter.

In the morning, take out one cup of this bubbly sponge and save in the refrigerator; it will last three weeks, according to Hazel.

To the sponge, add:

3 more cups of flour (I've used up to 100% whole wheat)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar (honey also works)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix it together with a large wooden spoon. When it's a big blob of dough, turn onto lightly floured surface. Knead for ten minutes.

Turn dough into lightly oiled large bowl, covered. Let rise for a while (1 1/2 hrs. or 2 hrs., depending on your time frame) until it has doubled in size or until you're tired of waiting for it. Punch down.

Punch down again after it's risen again, and put in one large loaf pan or two small ones. Let it rise enough that it crests a little over the top of the pan, and bake in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes. (I use convection at 350.)


The more whole wheat flour you use, the more dense the bread will be
To share starter, just add the flour the night before, just like you're going to make bread, and then just split up the sponge the next morning in one-cup portions to plastic containers or bags. Be sure to also distribute the recipe! And do save a cup for yourself.

Welcome to the sourdough lifestyle. May the Sponge be with you.

Sep 16, 2007

Raising Zane

There's nothing more boring in a blog than reading about why someone hasn't been posting. It took one email from one of my loyal fans for me to finally get AROUND to this poor abandoned blog. Instead of blathering about how I've been in some kind of fog for a few months, and probably a little depressed and menopausal, I'll just start writing. . . .


Poop. Pee. Teething. It's all happening again in our household. My youngest goes off to kindergarten and I get this urge to get the collie I've always wanted. Coincidence? I think not.

Anyhow, now we have a collie pup. Jack loves him. I love him. John and Will are slightly less enthused. His name is Zane and he is just lovely, a five-month-old sable and white. He is my buddy during the day, quiet mellow, and understanding. He's a great copyeditor and writing coach, but his familiarity with the Chicago Manual of Style leaves a little to be desired. So that, and trying to eat bacon frying in the pan, are his weak points.

Dog lovers, if anyone is reading this, comment away. Dog haters, not so much.

Aug 1, 2007


Here I am, dear readers, at Goucher College for the first residency of my MFA program. We eat and breathe writing. I am making new friends right and left, being mentored by talented and committed journalists, essayists, and storytellers. I'm exhilarated, sometimes tired, and almost always glad I'm doing this.

One exercise we had to do yesterday was to find snippets of dialogue, which we will combine for a group reading near the end of next week. Here is my small contribution, from a conversation I was party to last night at dinner:

Woman: So what do you do?
Man: I’m in insurance.
Woman: Oooh! I used to be on the insurance law beat! I love insurance!
Man: (pause) Are you okay?

Here is a quote I found in today's workshop materials that made me think, "YES!":

The divide is not between the servants and the served, betwen the leisured and the workers, but between those who are interested in the world and its multiplicity of forms and forces, and those who merely subsist, worrying or yawning . . . . The world is full of light and life, and the true crime is not to be interested in it.

from Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice, by A. S. Byatt

While I'm writing snippets, here is an email from Will I got today:

i love a lot and
i mean it we
love you
mommy come back in 2 weeks
yeah and i mean it 123

This is what my time here is like, collecting treasures small and large. I'll try to share more with you as I go.

Jul 3, 2007

An American Vacation

Vermont is so very Vermont, and I wouldn't want it any other way. We stayed at a family resort there for a week, which smelled just like the Vermont inn I stayed at as a child. Fresh air and lake water, with a topnote of woodsmoke.

Jack and Will had a camp program every day until early afternoon, while John and I spent time together, hiking, talking, eating delicious grown-up food, kayaking, bicycling. Every afternoon we spent time with the boys, trampolining, riding the zip line, trying archery, or swimming. Early evenings we'd drop them off again, and then we'd attend cocktail hour, all fresh and ready for another relaxing evening of adult conversation and great food. Then a walk down by the lake before picking up the boys. Again. And again. For a week.

We were so relaxed and happy and in a completely different zone from everyday life. Re-entry is not easy. It's to-do lists and washing dishes and "I'm bored. What can I do?" and me saying, "I told you three times to wash your hands for dinner . . . Do you want your computer time taken away?" But still there's a happy vacation glow inside us, despite the heaps of laundry and piles of mail.

It was not without a cloud. We stopped by at West Point to visit the graves of my grandparents (my family is military, but that stopped with my generation). We saw that my grandfather Marvin (1929-1974, Colonel, US Army, West Point Class of 1925, WW II, Korea) and my grandmother Margaret have two new neighbors just to the right of them, Andrew Ryan Houghton and Phillip Neel. They were young men who had been killed in Iraq. Phillip's grave sprouted new pale green grass and a temporary gravestone. Phillip's gravestone slopes too much to accumulate anything like the pile of tokens left on Andrew's solid marble one. Smooth polished stones, one saying "Thank you," commemorative coins, and river pebbles line the top of Andrew's stone. Jack and Will added small stones to Andrew's grave, and balanced small pebbles on Phillip's. Said Jack, "I'm so sad."

After winding along Stony Lonesome Road to leave West Point, we went to Storm King Art Center nearby, where John and I had taken my Dad shortly after my mother had died. I was seven months pregnant with Jack at the time. We marveled that this time we had two boys with us, running up and down the hills with us looking at the huge sculptures. One of our favorites is a tilted, elongated cube with a similar shape hanging on it along one edge. The whole structure is about 25 feet high, and the hanging part seems so precarious; you just can't see how on earth it doesn't fall. Will and I stood under it for the picture John wanted. Jack didn't want to stand under the looming rusted metal, and said "I just want to go home."

So we're here, ready for tomorrow's bike parades, the town water fight, and a day off from work for John. My father (Lieutenant Colonel, US Army, West Point Class of 1950, Viet Nam) will come and we'll go out to eat. Then the sun will set on America and fireworks will go off in the night.

Jun 21, 2007

Bowl of Cherries

Jennifer has come and gone. The discussion and reading went very well, with a well-informed and inquisitive audience each evening. Jennifer taught Jack and Will how to play "Speed" and Jack taught her a new card trick. We all ate cherries fresh from the farm and spit the seeds out. Now Jennifer is on her train. And I'm tired.

Next adventure? Vermont. Tomorrow. To celebrate John's and my tenth wedding anniversary. . . .Talk to you in July, dear readers.

Jun 11, 2007

Brain, Child Editor Jennifer is Coming Next Week!

I couldn't think of a more ingenious title than that, so I thought I'd throw in a exclamation mark just for the fun of it. Exclamation marks have no calories or fat! And they're free!

No, really, if you are in the Philadelphia area, please do attend the following events:

"An Evening with Jennifer Niesslein." Jennifer is a founding co-editor of Brain, Child, and writer of the newly published book Practically Perfect in Every Way: My Misadventures Through the World of Self-Help--and Back. We'll chat about her book, the magazine, her next project, motherhood, who knows.

It's at 7:30 on Wed., June 20, at Makin' Music, 5561 Pennell Rd., Media, PA. This event is sponsored by the Delaware County chapter of Mothers & More. Copies of the books are available at both events.

Also Jennifer will do a reading at Borders in Springfield at 7:00 PM, Thurs., June 21. The address is 1001 Baltimore Pike, Springfield, PA.

Brain, Child is a refreshing read, sharp and incisive and always relevant. And I'm about 2/3 of the way through the book. She maintains a delicate balance between hope and skepticism that I find engaging. You just want to sit down and have a cup of tea with her . . . no, make that an $8.00 cocktail.

May 23, 2007

Lofty Thoughts

The boys are sitting quietly in the kitchen, reading and drawing.

Will: You know what my destiny is? Dunkin' Donuts.

Jack: Oh. . . . Well, my destiny is to save people from cancer.

Every Girl Remembers Her First Meme

As you've noticed, I haven't been blogging much. Ever since I got the MFA acceptance letter, I've been hoarding my thoughts for some future time when I will be forced to turn in reams of manuscript about . . . something.

Anyway, in trying to catch up with blog reading, I see I've been tagged for two memes, which is a shocking coincidence, since I thought everyone had forgotten about me. So shucks, SugarMama and Anjali, I can't refuse.

First, Anjali's is easy, just five things about me. You know, things.

1. I have been legally blind in my right eye since birth. For me, the biggest E on the vision chart is blurry. But I know it's always an E. You'd think they'd change the letter occasionally.

2. I am an Army brat, and attended ten different schools, not counting college. Public, private religious, private secular, schools for army kids, been there. I've received grade averages ranging from straight A (6th) to C/D (4th and 5th).

3. I was mugged in 1985. Even after the guy whopped me one on the side of my hard head, we played tug of war with my purse because I refused to give it to him. Then my neighbors came out with baseball bats and he ran away.

4. In eighth grade I had a very short male piano teacher who had body odor and wore pink shirts and lederhosen. We lived in Germany, but still.

5. In tenth grade, I was new, as usual, and two girls in my class asked me "Who are you writing your paper on?" and I said, "Sylvia Plath. She killed herself." So they said, "Ewww!" One of the shortest literary discussions, ever.

May 7, 2007

Thoughts While Mulching

Jack helped me mulch for a while Saturday and Sunday, and we had lots of opportunity for conversation.

L: Jack, some day you'll be stronger than me.
J: And taller!
L: And I'll say "Jack, could you lift this for me?" "Jack could you please open this for me?"
J: And I'll say yes, because I could never say no to that!

I'm going to hold him to that one.

A few minutes later:
J: Mommy, you know what Luke said?
L: What?
J: He said that Joe said that he learned on the Discovery Channel that the ocean isn't made of water, it's made of horseshoe crab blood.
L: Really. Does Joe believe that?
J: Yes.
L: Do you and Luke believe that?
J: No.
L: Do you know what I think happened? I think he misheard, or heard part of an explanation and didn't hear the rest, or something.
J: I think their blood is blue, so maybe that's how he got confused.

I now wish I had said, "Tell Joe that the horseshoe crab's blood contains a unique clotting agent that the pharmaceutical industry uses to test intravenous drugs for bacteria. No IV drug reaches your hospital pharmacy without its horseshoe crab test. So if you or someone you love has ever been hospitalized, you owe a lot to the horseshoe crab." Since the internet hasn't been installed in my brain quite yet, I didn't say that. But I had no idea horseshoe crab blood was so valuable. Thank you, University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program.

May 4, 2007

A Big Pizza Pie

Tonight we celebrated John's return from a business trip to San Francisco. Well, actually to San Leandro, but they did go in to San Francisco once. Or Berkeley anyway, good enough. As I was saying, tonight the boys picked a special drink from Mollie Katzen's Pretend Soup. It was delicious! And Mommy and Daddy each spiked their own with a jigger of rum, even better. Here is the recipe. I changed the name from the earnest "Homemade Lemon-Lime Soda Pop Recipe," multiplied Mollie Katzen's amounts by four, and included the rum option for grownups:

Fizzy Citrus Cooler

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 1/2 cups apple juice concentrate (thawed), a whole can
ice cubes
1 quart seltzer or soda water

Mix in a pitcher. Adults may each add a jigger of rum to their glass if it isn't against their religion. Cheers!

We also had pizza, which we have every Friday. I have used the following pizza dough recipe since the early nineties. This makes a big hearty pizza that covers a whole big pizza stone. Or split it in half to make two small pizzas.

Lauren's TGIF Pizza Dough

Scant two tablespoons yeast
1 1/4 cups water
3 cups flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt

Special equipment: Mixer with dough hook, pizza stone. Or knead with your hands and cook it on a cookie sheet. Whatever.

Warm 1 1/4 cups water in a microwave for 30 seconds, until lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast over top, mix gently until it all gets wet, and let proof for 4 or 5 minutes until foamy.

While you're waiting, put the flour, olive oil, and salt in the mixer. When the yeast and water are ready, add them after you've mixed them a little. Turn the mixer on the lowest speed. In a couple of minutes, add more flour slowly if the dough isn't pulling away from the sides of the bowl. You may need to add up to 1/4 cup; do not fear. When it's looking truly doughlike, take it out and knead it a little yourself until it feels elastic, resilient and smooth. (If your mixer starts to smoke or you smell something burning, stop the thing, for gosh sakes.) When you press your finger it, the dough should puff back up a little.

Put a little bit of olive oil in a large bowl and roll the dough around in it. Cover the dough with a wet dishtowel and let sit for two or three hours.

After two or three hours, punch down the dough and roll it out on a pizza stone or whatever you have. I brush it with a thin layer of olive oil, minced garlic, and sometimes pepper if I'm feeling feisty. Then put a bunch of stuff on it, but don't overload it with a lot of wet veggies and sauce because it will be soggy. Going the simple, tasteful route usually pays off. If I do this as one pizza, I bake it at 475 for 16 mins. on the center rack. Watch it carefully through your oven window the first time. Prepare to have to turn off your smoke alarm if you use pepperoni, or if your oven happens to be crusty and filthy.

Remember, pizza dough is very forgiving, don't fret too much about it. Everyone likes pizza, and they'll especially like yours.

May 3, 2007

Questions for the Internet

1. My husband pays $12.00 for his haircuts. Does that mean he should run for president?

2. What happens if you call that "How's my driving" number on commercial trucks? And what if you say "Your driver is doing great. You hired a winner!"

3. How many dozens of books will Rachael Ray write? And (bonus question), is it really necessary to display all of them at once, each one with her face on it, at a fabulous independent bookstore like The Cookbook Stall at The Reading Terminal?

4. Why do cheap toasters work so much better than expensive toasters?

5. Is it ethical for me to be explaining New Yorker cartoons to my seven-year-old?

6. What kind of a world is it where you can buy "meatless meatballs" and not think twice?

That is all.

May 2, 2007

My World, Your World. It's a Deal.

This is the way it works. I spend a little time in their world, then they spend some time in my world.

OK, so you want to go to Jumpers to jump on huge moon bounces, where grownups can't talk because of the loud rushing sound and the incessant radio? And where the grownups' energy is slowly but consistently being sucked right out of them? Fine. But then we go to my world, a coffee shop where I can reboot with a brownie and a cup of black coffee. You can sip your frozen bubblegum-flavored what-exactly-is-that-anyway while I recuperate.

So you want to go to the Wilmington Blue Rocks game when Daddy is out of town? OK, no problem. You want to sit there through nine interminable innings, whine for three of them about how you want a hot dog, and then whine for three more about where is your friend's Dad who got the hotdogs and did he get kidnapped? OK. But then we go to Iron Hill, and have the whole upstairs to ourselves, so Mommy can have her 10-oz. Ironbound and a salad, and you can have your mac and cheese and ice cream. But it's mainly for Mommy. Because it's only fair.

Apr 16, 2007

Two Trolley Geeks Ride the Rails

When I hear about other families traveling to Puerto Rico, Disney World, or the Rockies, I think "We don't get out much." As a family we have travelled to Indiana and Maine, and we've lived in Virginia and visited all the Mid-Atlantic states. Oh, and we're going to Vermont in June.

But let it not be said that we aren't a venturesome bunch. In our first two weeks living here, John and I took the 109 bus to the 69th St. Terminal. We were the only white folks on it, and the quietest ones. It was like a party. Laughter and gossip encircled us. For a whole hour. Yes, that's how long it takes to get to 69th St. from our house on the 109. The only socially acceptable form of public transportation for us white middle-class people to take is the Regional Rail. There's also the Route 101 Trolley, which is more multicolored than the bus, but decidedly lower class than Regional Rail. And cheaper than the train. Many of its passengers are people who can't afford cars, people who are weary, dusty, and hardened by life. When we looked at houses our realtor said we wouldn't want to take the trolley because it "travels through rough neighborhoods."

She has no idea what a rough neighborhood really is. I guess she never rode her bike through the Richard Allen Homes in North Philadelphia on her way to class at Temple University. (Yes, I know that was dumb, and after a rock and then a full soda bottle were thrown at my head, I went back to the good old safe subway. My head is fine; they missed.) What I'm trying to say is I'm not a public transportation snob.

Anyway, Will and Jack, as I've mentioned, are train buffs. Trolley geeks. Bus schedule savants. Will had been begging to ride not just the 101 all the way to the 69th St. Terminal, but also the creme de la creme, the Route 100 Norristown High Speed Line. So I promised him we would do this on Saturday. And lo, that is what we did. We rode the 101 all the way from Media to the Terminal, then got on the 100 and rode it all the way to Norristown. Except for a dissipated old guy in the back, we were the only white folks, again.

More than twenty years ago I had a job in Bryn Mawr and lived in Center City, and rode on the 100 every day. Riding the rails with Will reminded me of those days. Everything looked almost exactly the same, which was oddly reassuring. Will pointed out all the Market St. El cars resting in the sheds. (The line is being renovated.) Fleets of idled buses waited for repairs. As we moved farther from the Terminal, swim clubs, golf courses, Main Line mansions, ancient tiny rowhouses, the Villanova University Stadium, all passed by us. We saw a large quarry near Norristown, shortly before crossing over the Schuylkill River on a high trestle. At the Norristown Transportation Center we even got to see the R6 train at its station, and then rode on a really long escalator.

Then, back to the very same trolley to ride back. The driver had moved to what was now the front of the car, which had been the back. I love the compactness and efficiency of trolleys. They can stop on a dime. Half the seats face forward, half the seats face back, no matter which direction you're travelling. Then at the Terminal we got back on the 101 for another ride. (Each leg of our ride took about 30 minutes.) Will began to flag a little, and started sitting on my lap. Still, he was observant all the way. We drove past Monsignor Bonner High School and its sister school Archbishop Prendergast, and the huge dirt swath promising a new building. We hurtled past Drexelbrook Apartments, where Will's "girlfriend" from school lives, and stopped at the all-important Drexel Hill Junction. That's where you can take the 102 to Sharon Hill.

Finally we stopped at the Springfield Mall before hurtling under the Blue Route and through the woods of Pine Ridge, and then into Media, passing only a few yards in back of the Acme. Then we were at our stop. We got off, my back a little stiff from all the sitting. "Maybe he's gotten that out of his system," I thought. But the next thing I heard, as Will clutched my hand and jumped up and down, was "When can we ride the 102?"

Apr 9, 2007

Easter Postmortem (So to Speak)

I always mean for Easter week to be more spiritual than it ends up being. I only read a handful of my Lenten readings. Could never decide what to "give up for Lent," or to do for Lent. Easter egg hunts don't help. The boys and I went to one at my Dad's retirement community. Let's just say my Dad and I differ as to whether one should give hints about egg location to crying five-year-olds. One of us believes that children should learn self-reliance, and should receive no help. The other of us believes self-reliance is grand, to a point, but that perhaps at Easter time we can teach cooperation and even a little compassion, eh? At the end we had to sit through a drawing for prizes, in which 28 children won giant scary chocolate bunnies. But we didn't win anything. The whole endeavor was decidedly unfun, I thought, although Will and Jack said it was fun later. Children can wrest fun out of almost anything.

Passover is such a coherent tradition, so unsullied by commercialism, whereas Easter has been taken over by that sinister bunny, littering the place with chocolate eggs and pastel-colored tschochkes (Did I spell that right?). We don't do Easter baskets at our house. Someone asked me if the Easter bunny visited our house and I said something like "No, but we went to church." Quite the conversation-killer.

Of course we also had a lovely meal, and here it was, served up for the usual suspects: the four of us, my Dad, my brother, his girlfriend, and two of her three children. Oh, and sometimes I just pick one cookbook to get all my recipes from, you can tell.

Shrimp and cocktail sauce, provided by Dad
Watercress Apple Salad with Peanut Dressing (Gourmet Cookbook)
Cheddar Grits Casserole (Gourmet Cookbook)
Fruit salad (provided by my brother)
Bread (ditto)
Pecan Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (April Gourmet)

John cut each of the two cake layers in two to form four layers, because he did it once before and so now it's his job forever. I decorated the cake with edible orchids, and the visiting children were shocked that they were REAL FLOWERS, not made of frosting or candy. My brother ate a whole orchid. He eats anything. Jack had one petal. The rest of the flowers were only admired from outside our bodies.

So there you have it, a typical Easter at the Dream Kitchen, served up with hope and love, and a sprinkling of guilt and skepticism thrown in. And not a little Passover Envy.

Mar 24, 2007

Sweet Translations

Today a bunch of us from my mom's group went out the new Indian restaurant in Media, Shere- e-Punjab. I guess someone must have read my November blog post complaining of the dearth of Indian restaurants in Delaware County, and decided to take action. I am so powerful. Anyway, really good food, and they vary the buffet dishes enough to keep you from getting bored. For the desserts today, they didn't have my beloved golub jamun, fried milk balls soaking in syrup (!). Instead they had "Indian cheesecake." I wish they had left it at that and not included the Indian name, barfi. Quite the unfortunate nomenclature.

I thought it tasted odd; it just seems that desserts don't translate as well across cultures as savory dishes. Except for golub jamun, which must have a special drug in them. Chinese red bean desserts are unpalatable, to me, as is anything with rosewater, common to middle Eastern sweets. But baklava and halvah work for me, come to think of it, only too well. Maybe my hypothesis should be limited to Asian and East Asian desserts (not golub jamun, of course). I bought some little pig-shaped cakes at an Asian supermarket recently that no one in my family could stomach. They had lotus paste in them, which I have actually liked in certainly very freshly made dim sum (lotus rolls or balls or something). And yet, so many traditional American desserts have survived for decades and sometimes centuries, with only some adjustments in the sugar and fat levels. Indian pudding, apple pie, brownies, etc. I guess that might really be part of the same phenomenon; that homey desserts speak to our ancestral memories, and that's why they don't cross the East-West divide so well.

Because I became a lifetime member of Weight Watchers this morning ( six weeks at my goal weight), I thought I'd celebrate by eating barfi and blogging about desserts. Really, what better way to celebrate? To top it all off, I baked a mango upside down cake tonight and ate two pieces. My stomach protesteth. Here's hoping there shall be no barfi tonight.

Mar 21, 2007

I'm Enjoying My Lobotomy, Thanks for Asking

For Christmas my father gave me a $100 gift certificate to N**dstr*m's, a department store at the King of Prussia mall. "Dad!" I had said, "Thank you so much! But I never go to the mall!" "Guess you'll have to now."

Almost three months later I did go to the mall. I met my friend Bev there yesterday, "at the piano," which is where one meets one's friends at this particular store. At first I was intimidated by the fashionable shoes that were almost all over $200, so we moved to purses. Also very expensive, but I love to touch good leather. I did find a really nice little black and red holder for cards. You know, all those annoying cards for coffee clubs, car wash certificates, charge cards that you technically never planned to apply for but you did because you couldn't resist the discount offered at the time. In short, I bought one more thing to hold all the other dumb things I shouldn't have gotten in the first place. Still and all, it cheered me up for reasons I don't want to think about, and the sales clerk was all, like, "It's so handy! It matches your purse, too."

Next I picked out a funky scarf with different gorgeous fabrics, mostly silk, sewn together in large patches. It was on sale, so I was beginning to feel slightly virtuous again. Then I bought some beautiful drop earrings with pink stones that reflect light in a shimmery, quiet way. Then, I . . . wait. No more money! It's amazing, how quickly you can drop $100 in this store.

I hadn't been to this mall since I was pregnant with Will, so it was almost six years ago. At the time, with my big belly and Jack a toddler, it wasn't especially enjoyable, although I remember loving the "mothers' room" part of the ladies' restroom. I wanted to lie down and sleep on the velour couches. I think my friends and I stayed in that room for more than half an hour. The time before that, I had shopped for bridesmaid's dresses with my two best friends. That was exciting, but we were on a mission, and so "relaxing" is not the word for how that felt.

But yesterday? That was different. We moseyed. We chatted. It felt like we had all the time in the world. We ambled into a Cr*ne's Stationery store, which I never even knew existed. I like 100% rag paper stationery at least as much as I like soft leather. And the beautiful pens! I don't get out much. I bought some lovely robin's egg blue notecards. Someday maybe I'll actually send them. Then Bev and I had lunch at N*rdstr*m's Cafe. So elegant for ladies who lunch. We caught up on some gossip and flattered each other, as one does in these situations. Finally, we strolled one more time through the sunlit, immaculate mall, lined with high-end boutiques and peopled by slim well-groomed smiling humans. And I, I, a self-professed hater of malls, thought, "I love this."

Mar 18, 2007

Only Shamrocks, No Snakes

Yes, I did wear ugly green beer mug earrings. I think I'll donote them to Goodwill, since they do nothing for my skin tone.

It was a lovely party! Lilian and Anjali were both there with their families (Lilian's one son was at home with her parents). I had never met Lilian, and Lilian had never met Anjali. Also attending the party were a few other sad, misdirected people who don't even write any blogs.

Anyway, Lilian made an astonishing oblong pastry that contained heart of palm, a Brazilian staple. It was as delicious as it was beautiful, with a shamrock cutout on the side. Certainly better than the Irish stew I made. The meat was tough and it really needed salt. (The leftovers were much better today, after cooking longer throughout the party, with added salt and, I know this sounds weird, but I dunked my friend O.'s Irish soda bread in it.) Anyway, two families who attended are vegetarian, and after tasting the Rollo de Palmito I was thinking "WHY do we eat dead animal flesh, again?" Fortunately, I also provided a cheese bourek, a dish from Armenian Delight I had mentioned in an earlier post. You can't go wrong with layers of phyllo, cheese, and butter. Lilian also made a delectable chocolate flan with raspberry sauce. By the way, her family all wore a tasteful shade of green, so they have now been dubbed The Very Irishest Family from Brazil, Ever.

Before the guests arrived, Jack and Will were bugging me saying "We don't have anything to DO!" (Helping set up had been deemed "boring.") So I suggested that they plan a play to perform for the guests, about how St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland. They were totally up for that, but then they kept asking John and me for props, items not easily findable or nonexistent, or large, awkward, or breakable. So we had to stipulate that they only use props they could retrieve themselves.

After dinner they enlisted Mira, Anjali's older daughter, to be a snake. Only she didn't seem thrilled to be driven out, with many minutes of the play left over. So she kept standing there and the boys would loudly explain she had been driven OUT. Then Will was a leprechaun who pretended that green Legos were more snakes, and, well, he threw them or something and then the play seemed to be over. Mira came back for the bow and it was quite the success, with much more action and narrative direction than in previous plays, and also less arguing about what the players should say and do. I had to say "Is it over yet?" only once.

Then to prevent complete mayhem we let the kids watch The Three Stooges, which is all my boys watch these days. I'll write a post on that obsession soon. Captain Underpants is so 2006. Then my friend O. came with her husband and kids, to recuperate from attending two obligatory family birthday parties, believe it or not, which we found extremely flattering. Everyone left by shortly before 9:00. So in other words, a late evening for us.

Maybe we'll have another one of these shindigs, where I give everyone a little more notice, and wear better earrings. And no one will have to wear green.

Mar 16, 2007

Uranus and You

Uranus is a tricky word. Suffice it to say that, on Uranus' very own website we are cautioned, "Careful pronunciation may be necessary to avoid embarrassment; say "YOOR-anus, not "your anus" or "urine us." I ask you, how can we possibly avoid saying one or the other? I'm going to avoid all embarrassment and just call it "Saturn." Jack knows there's supposed to be something funny about the name, but he doesn't know what. He'll say "Pee comes out of Uranus," and giggle uncertainly.

Now that he's seven, he occasionally asks questions like "Where do babies come from?" Only it's never exactly that question; it's always something more oblique. And he always asks these questions when I'm trying to negotiate a tricky left turn, or I'm about to answer the phone, or when I'm trying to get him to look for his shoes because the bus is coming in ten seconds. Clearly, we needed some kind of asynchronous communication. So I got him a book called It's NOT the Stork:A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends, by Robie H. Harris. The boys and I were at Borders and I stashed it with the other books I was buying, with the idea that John should approve it first. But Jack asked to see it, and proceeded to sit down on the floor and read the whole thing from cover to cover. (We weren't in a hurry, obviously.) When he was finished, he silently handed it back to me. No questions whatsoever. Yep, I could cross "Tell Jack about the birds and bees" off my to-do list.

A week and a half later, the boys and I were at a local pizza place while John had class. It was quiet in there when Jack handed me the lid to his strawberry milk, and loudly chirped, "Here. Hang onto this for when you want to play sex." "What?" I asked, stalling. He repeated the same thing and my face must have looked blank because he went on, "You know--when a man and woman love each other so much the man puts his penis in the woman's uterus!" (Ouch.) I said, "Oh, yeah. That. I'd love to chat with you about that, but not right now . . . Look, our pizza's here!" So we ate for a couple of minutes, when Will, who had been mulling over Jack's anatomically inaccurate revelation, announced in his querulous high voice, "I don't get it. How can you put your penis in someone's body? That's silly!" Snort. Guffaw.

And no, don't ask me what the lid had to do with anything. In fact, don't ask me any questions at all about this. Not right now. Can't you see I'm busy?

Mar 13, 2007

Meet Jennifer

Eight years ago, John and I moved to an old house in a small provincial city in the Shenandoah Valley. A neighbor of mine told me that a young woman named Jennifer, just up the street, was starting a magazine with a friend, sort of a "New Yorker for mothers." Yeah, right, I thought to myself, knowing the low rate at which new magazines succeed. I soon got to know Jennifer, as she and I both wrote for a local monthly alternative newspaper. I would often see her catching a smoke on her back porch, and we would occasionally walk our babies in strollers together.

Fast forward to today, and Brain, Child has won Utne Reader's Best New Magazine award and has a great circulation AND a great reputation. Dads have been known to devour it cover to cover. It's an eclectic collection of original writing about all kinds of underreported aspects of motherhood. It can be funny, poignant, startling, achingly sad. You just never know.

Now Jennifer has written a book that will be published in May. Please go over to and say hi on her new blog and read about it. She will do a book signing near here on June 21, so mark that on your calendars! (Don't worry, I will remind you later.) She is also on my blogroll.

And, please, I don't want to be the only person commenting on her blog.

Mar 12, 2007

St. Patty's Day Potluck at the Dream Kitchen: A Reader Appreciation Event

Dear Readers,

May I interrogate you for a moment? Thank you kindly.

1. Do you read this blog regularly?

2. Have I ever met you in person?

3. Have you ever posted a comment on my blog?

If at least two of the answers are "yes," then you are eligible to be invited to the Dream Kitchen Reader Appreciation St. Patty's Day Potluck, or DKRASPDP for short. Oh, it helps if you will be in the Philadelphia area on March 17 in the early evening. A pot o' Irish stew, a few of John's "interesting" beers, whatever goodies you can coax out of the Dream Reader Kitchens, and some good crack will make a fine party. ("Crack" means "conversation" in Ireland, just so you know.)

Can't wait to wear my green plastic foaming-beer-mug earrings. All tacky St. Patty's Day getup welcome!

Mar 8, 2007

Sleep Happens

Right now, as I type this, I'm sleepy. Reading to the boys, ostensibly to help them get to sleep, has great sedative power. There I am, misreading the words, mumbling and trailing off during Grandpa Joe's narration of how Willie Wonka had to fire everyone at the chocolate factory for spying. "READ!" begs Jack. Later he says, "Give me the book! I'll read." I know better than to do the latter because he'll be reading aloud, avidly, becoming more and more alert, as I tilt over on the chair, snoring and drooling. Instead, I beg Jack to have mercy on me and stop yelling "READ" louder and louder. Will is usually already asleep, especially tonight since I gave him Benadryl for his congestion.

This is what will happen. At around 4 AM I'll wake up worrying about some minor housekeeping issue that I don't give a rat's ass about during the day. Like "I must sharpen those hedge trimmers before spring!" Or it might be "I must unpack those boxes in the garage!" Once it was, really, "That basket of raspberries in the fridge! We forgot to eat them! And they're moldy!" The sad part is we didn't even have any raspberries. Then after these faux anxiety attacks I'm completely alert, my heart practically pounding. Sometimes I drink a huge glass of water, because that actually seems to have a calming effect after a few minutes. The water in my stomach gives me ballast and I sleep eventually.

During the day, my body waits to snag some sleep here and there. If you ever want to tell me something important in the afternoon that may take a while, pleas punctuate your conversation with staccato laughs or curse words. Or punch me in the arm every so often. And of course, I never ever close my eyes waiting for a traffic light.

Yawn. Good night and sleep well.

Mar 7, 2007

Flotsam, and Some Jetsam for Good Measure

Argh. The longer I go without blogging the harder it is to start up again. As it is with so many things. For inspiration, I'll look out the window. It's snowing. It's also 17 degrees. Maybe school will let out early today? I'm supposed to teach my middle schoolers today at 12:50, so that means I'm squarely in the middle of an Ambiguous Snow Situation. Alright, not so much inspiration there. I'll look at my desk. Oh, here's a tidbit. It's a note the babysitter had written the the other night:

Dear Mr. Jack,

We regret to inform you that today at 7:00 PM you will be arrested. Sorry again.


The Police

P.S. You will get a cookie when you are in jail.

Now I'll take a look in my blog drafts. Oh, here's a new list of search terms that get folks over here to Dream Kitchen (the usual terms are: steel cut oats, Fine Old Dixie Recipes, dream kitchens, and quadrameter)

every pool boys's dream
children's haircuts of the 1940s
dancing "wet dress"
barefoot amish children
A typical mid-1940s kitchen
pictures of girls wearing saddle shoes and white socks
"still wears a diaper"
princess diana lady diana pictures photos
essay my grandmother's kitchen
parsnip cake
armenian boureg

My husband has an intestinal bug. Will has a cold. At least Jack FINALLY has a loose tooth, which he wiggles constantly and is very proud of. I have one of those annoying dry patches on the corner of my mouth.

Note to Jack Frost: Feel free to visit the Southern Hemisphere a little early this year, dude.

Feb 26, 2007

Ms. Hitachi B. Machine, 1995-2007

I got her in 1995, the summer I moved to Virginia to start a teaching job. A bread machine was perhaps a strange thing for a single woman to buy, and I'm not sure what I was thinking, but . . . whatever. She made good bread every so often. When I got married to John in 1997 I took her with me, but she did not get used for a whole year. Just as I was contemplating giving her away, I used her again and didn't really ever stop. We took her with us when we moved to our second house and used her every day, almost, after Jack was born and then Will. Having babies makes you hungry for carbs. And every time my Indiana In-laws came to help, of course they needed to eat bread.

Life was good for Ms. Hitachi B. Machine for many years. She had a position of honor in our household and didn't mind making the same oat bread forever, and the same pizza dough, and never any quickbreads. (You might as well make quickbreads the normal way.) Her glory years were the Swarthmore years, making sandwich bread for Will and Jack's lunches, and pizza dough for the Friday night pizza ritual.

But one day I was browsing at the upscale kitchen store, W-S, and a shiny new stainless steel bread machine caught my eye. She had a convection oven, many more settings, including "artisan," and this one called my name, almost audibly. "Lauren. I'm Q. Z. Nart. Take me home!" Looking back, my big mistake was talking about this machine in front of Ms. H. B and saying things like "Our bread machine doesn't have near that number of settings." Or, in a moment of desparation, "Don't you think our bread machine has gotten noisier?" John was the one to actually say out loud what I was thinking: "We've had this bread machine a very long time. If you find one that you'd really like, why not get a new one?" And I'd murmur, "Oh, no, I'd wait until this one dies."

One night shortly after that, at 2:10 AM, I heard the crash. I knew it was Ms. H. B. Machine right away, even in my grogginess. I took my time walking downstairs, getting slippers and turning the hall light on. Because I knew. That it would be too late.

There she was, lying on her side, door akimbo, a blob of dough flung two feet away from her, just under the range. I picked her up gently. Her door wouldn't close and a plastic corner had sheared off. I sighed. I brushed off the blob of dough and put it in a plastic container, to deal with the morning. I had heard dark rumors of such things, of bread machines moving around the counter during the kneading stage, and actually flinging themselves off the edge. However, this had never happened in 12 years. How strange that it should happen now. Or perhaps I had "accidentally" left her too close to the edge? My sadness is tinged with guilt. A little.

To prove how totally heartless I am, we already have a new Ms. Q.Z. Nart. She is shiny and beautiful, and makes delicious bread. All's fair in love, war, and kitchen gadgets.

Feb 24, 2007

The Manuscript and the Goat

It's a been a big week.

I finally submitted my manuscript and application materials for the MFA in Creative Nonfiction. I FedExed it on Wednesday, two days before the deadline, just as I had planned not to do, of course. I had to tinker with things for a while, but mostly I procrastinated about editing the personal statement, which my writing group had suggested I revise because I was "selling myself short." In the end I didn't even change it that much, mainly because I just didn't think it was worth the agonizing. I wash my hands of the matter now. I'll hear in early April as to whether I got in. The day I turned it in I "celebrated" by going to bed at 9:30. Please, no one let me apply to any more graduate programs in my life.

Then the next day I had to prepare a dinner for nine: my immediate family and my Dad, his lady friend visiting from Seattle, my brother, his girlfriend, and her two-year-old. It was a school night, but it couldn't really be helped. This had been planned for a couple of months, and of course I thought I'd have the application turned in a week before, ha ha. Part of me just wanted to punt and buy prepared food, but another part of me wanted to experiment aggressively with a quirky menu.

So that's what I did. I made a goat stew from meat I had gotten months earlier from the CSA, on a whim. You can use goat in almost any recipe that calls for lamb, so I made a stew from my mother's Spanish cookbook Delicioso! by Penelope Casas. When I started to smell it cooking it seemed a little strong, and I had misgivings, but in the end it turned out delicioso indeed. The cubed meat was cooked in red wine and a little vinegar, and I crushed six cloves of garlic, onion, and red bell pepper to make a paste. That was added in the last 30 mins. of cooking. The stew looked really scant at the end so I served it on couscous. Thank God for couscous, the Divine Extender.

I also made a salad of my own devising from baby spinach, arugula, blood orange sections, and red onions, with a dressing of olive oil, lime juice, and cumin. I bought some Manchego cheese and a fresh ciabatta; that's a rectangular flat rustic bread. We had a red Spanish wine that had been recommended to us by the all-knowing wine guys at Moore Bros. in Wilmington, our new wine mecca. For dessert? Also from the Spanish cookbook, an almond potato cake. It had two cups of almonds and a potato in it, and no other fat other than the oil already in the almonds. Six eggs, though.

Although I didn't pander to anyone's tastes for this meal other than my own, almost to an obnoxious degree, the food received raves. I believe it awakened everyone from their gastronomic torpor. Even the kids seemed happy, with the carbs anyway, if nothing else. (Now I'm all about Spanish cooking, and even got a serious mortar and pestle for the pastes with garlic and herbs.)

Next post: After making hundred of loaves of bread, our 12-year-old bread machine committed suicide, and I have only myself to blame.

Feb 13, 2007

Take Rachael Ray. Please.

I've been itching to write something about the unwatchable Rachael Ray for a while, except I don't want to watch her enough to write it. But she's on the tube whenever I'm at the gym, so I've been able to catch just a few snippets in the locker room. However, very little seems to be about food, it's boyfriends and banter and heartwarming stories but where's the food? It must be later in the show after I leave. When I read in a Karen Heller article in the Inquirer the other week that Ms. Ray has a recipe for Barbecued Succotash, something deep inside of me snapped. And that's even before I learned about Hot Dog Salad or Sangria on a Stick. Anyway, that was it. I'm on the warpath against R.R. and her slummy recipes. I want her off my Triscuit boxes and off the TV. And have I seen huge ads for her show on SEPTA buses? Or only in my nightmares?

Now you simply must read what Anthony Bourdain says about her as a guest writer on Michael Ruhlman's blog. (You need to scroll down, or you could read all his merciless comments on the Food Network's "bobbleheads," if you have the stomach for it.) Sometimes you have to love this kind of writing. Bourdain really bites.

Feb 12, 2007

Water: The Accidental Baptism

There I was, Wednesday afternoon at around 2:10, trying to solve a problem. Once a week, I teach a writing class to middle schoolers at Will's Montessori. We are reviewing websites, and I had gotten us all on our own Wikispace. Here's the problem: I had seriously underestimated their ability to turn it into a party. They had been sending messages to each other during the whole class without my knowledge, even though I had told them I could read everything they sent. Anyhow, there I was, thinking, What Have I Done, and staring at the kids' comments on the screen. I began to hear a slow, rhythmic tapping sound . . . on my open file next to the computer. Dripping, actually. I looked up and saw a brown water line on the ceiling. Upstairs, I saw that it was wet around the toilet.

I wiped it up, and not sure what to do next, flushed. In retrospect? Not such a good idea. The toilet overflowed, and overflowed, and overflowed, with astonishing rapidity and force. Over the bathroom floor, down through the floor and into the kitchen, raining onto my keyboard and monitor as I grabbed the files and anything moveable out of the way. For about fifteen minutes I became another person, Panicked Princess. She unplugged everything she saw. She grabbed a bucket but she really needed about six. She grabbed a towel but she really needed ten. Panicked Princess called 911. She really shouldn't have, but she hadn't seen this much water coming down, indoors, ever. She called hubby, who calmly told her where the valve for the house's water was located. She succeeded in turning it off.

A nice Swarthmore Borough policeman came. (The police here don't have a whole lot to do.) He helped Panicked Princess mop up. He told her reassuring things like "This floor might buckle. You might have to redo it." "Your kitchen cabinets are wet. I hope you won't have to have new ones put in." "Can I see your basement? Oh, look, it's pouring down here, too." Our shop vac/wet vac was in the attic, so I carried it down our narrow attic ladder. Panicked Princess was beginning, slowly, to morph back into Lauren. Deep breathing helped.

Finally, Nice Swarthmore Policeman said, "I don't think it's as bad as it looks. That's just residual water coming down." Lauren was back. Lauren called Will's school to cancel an interview for an article she was writing for them. Lauren called a friend to have her get Will. Lauren called the plumber, and something in her voice, a trace of Panicked Princess, prompted them to put our house at the top of their emergency list.

So, after hours of looking for a clog, they found what was probably a bird's nest at one time, perched on top of the exhaust pipe, maybe? It's all conjecture at this point. Plus, pipes have been freezing around here, so that may have contributed to what amounted to an impressively impenetrable clog.

And the upshot? A nice new high-pressure toilet and a plumbing bill not to sneeze at. Grains and flours had to be thrown out. And as I said, some cookbooks now have slightly wavy pages. But then License to Grill was already doused with water at some point, and Trattoria Cooking was already wavy and scorched. Some people don't believe in keeping cookbooks in the kitchen, or so I hear, and now I know why. My mother's collection is in the living room, because I consider them archival, but otherwise I think cookbooks are to be splattered upon and marked and otherwise affectionately abused.

As for my computer? It. Is. Fine. I normally try to avoid that bloggy habit of using periods for emphasis, so please understand that when I do it, it means EMPHASIS. EMPHASIS!!!! My manuscripts for my MFA application have not been lost. I was supposed to back them up, like John was always telling me, but of course I didn't. But everything is fine. Did I say that? That my computer is fine? Like when Batman's helicopter crashes into the foam rubber expo (we just saw the movie last night), it was just good fortune. For which I'm very thankful.

And my Wikispace problems? I've locked the space and we're now using the school's email to share responses. Because I have no time or interest in policing the students, and the Wikispace was just too, too tempting for the little darlings. That problem, in my mind, was all wrapped up with the other one, how to stop a flood when you're not at the source. Here is what I've learned:

1. Middle schoolers do technology a million times faster and better than 48-year-olds.
2. Each toilet has a little shutoff valve right on the dang thing.
3. If you admit a mistake, students are grateful and everyone can move on.
4. Always know where your water shutoff valve is.
5. The dryest time of winter is the best time to have a lot of water between the floors in your house.
6. Back up your files.
7. Cops can be very nice. So can middle schoolers.

Feb 9, 2007

Water: First in a Series

I don't have time to even start to tell you about the havoc that an ancient bird's nest can wreak when it clogs a pipe that was already mostly frozen. Let's just say my computer has suffered serious brain damage. And my cookbooks have wavy pages. And we have to get a new toilet. Et cetera.

However, I will share an anonymous message I found on a piece of paper in the upstairs hall. It says:

Bath B. horible


Jan 30, 2007

Diana is Still Missing

The Philadelphia Inquirer is still gushing about the city's visit from Prince Charles and Camilla over the weekend. I must say it did seem a bit incongruous for them to be wandering around among the life-size statues of signers of the Declaration of Independence, not the least bit on their guard. We certainly have managed to get over our little spat with the British, as Philadelphians waited in line to spot the royals, take pictures, and shake hands.

I wasn't one of them. Now if Princess Di were still alive, I would have. If Princess Di were still married to Charles, that is. Or, better yet, Princess Di without Charles would have been fine. I confess, I still have my copy of Royal Wedding, by Kathryn Spink. It's one of those coffee table books full of glossy but poor-quality papparazzi shots, along with professional portraits by Lord Snowdon, archive photos, whatever. It's filled with fulsome praise that no one reads. A thrown-together opportunistic souvenir book that made lots of money. The lovely couple prancing in the woods at Balmoral. The dashing bachelor prince looking at the breasts of an African dancer. (Yes, really.) The virginal "Shy Di" before she had an inkling of her destiny as princess, live or dead; mother of two princes; wife, or bitter divorcee. And Diana, Prince Charles at her side as an accessory, wearing The Gown.

At the age of 22, I followed Diana and Charles' courtship with great interest. I watched their wedding live, along with my roommate, on our 13-inch black and white TV. Such a beautiful fairy tale, indeed. And how fleeting. The bulimia, the affairs, the divorce, the recriminations. When she was killed, I was stricken. I had been watching her become her own person, and was looking forward with a great deal of curiosity to see what she would make of herself, what her legacy would turn out to be. And--I'll say it--what fabulous clothes she would wear.

But that was it. There was to be no more. I watched her funeral, live, for hours, with lots of tissues on hand. I can't entirely explain what Diana represents to me, but after watching her wedding with such dedication, it seemed only right to watch her funeral.

At the funeral, a choir sang the hymn that borrows the melody from Holst's "Jupiter" (from The Planets). It had also been sung at the royal wedding. I had always found the melody achingly beautiful, so much so that John and I had a harpist and violinist play it at our wedding, two months before Diana's death. ("The harpist asked us, "Why don't you want Pachelbel's Canon like everyone else?") Strangely, John and the rest of the choir sang that same hymn on Sunday at our church, the day that Charles and his new wife left Philadelphia.

Jan 26, 2007

Notes from the Dream Kitchen

For a second I'll peep out from under an avalanche of self-imposed work to say an unlikely thing, "Thank you, junky entertainment center for kids with the big ugly mouse!" Because tomorrow I'll take Will to a birthday party there and work on my MFA application. One of my references wants to see my application essay before she writes the letter, which is understandable, but that means I need to write the thing. I have scraped together just over 25 pages of manuscript to send in, flotsam and jetsam from the past seven years. I fixed a lot of inconsistencies in "Hawaiian Delight," and need to work on "Blind" and a few more pieces.

I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about whether I should be doing this. It's a chunk of change, but truly the best way for me to get direction for my writing. And, really, I want to have a good portion of a book started by my 50th birthday. As I mentioned before, it's a low-residency MFA, which will be the easiest, and it's only creative nonfiction. I've already been to a conference at this college, back when I was pregnant with Jack, and I knew, This is What I Want to Do. So two kids, one relocation, and a few gray hairs later, I hope to be back. I've ordered the transcripts, so it's really just asking for recommendations, editing my ms. and writing the essay. In other words, almost everything. The deadline is Feb. 23. Oh, and the other thing? Is that if I have an MFA I could teach creative nonfiction, which I may want to do, just possibly.

Here are some completely undeveloped notions about what I want to write about, not in any particular order

--a food memoir, using my grandmother's, my mother's, and my favorite recipes as focal points (like "Hawaiian Delight" only I hope not as sappy).

--a nonpreachy book about home cooking as a practice that liberates you from the "corporate takeover of your larder," as Jean Zimmerman calls it in Made from Scratch: Rediscovering the Pleasures of the American Hearth. Why do American watch so many cooking shows and yet have "no time" to cook? Because they're watching cooking shows? Why do we "need" huge fancy kitchens but eat out more than any time in history? No, really. Why? I'm going to find out. And what happened to dinner parties, anyway?

--a book of essays about the Reading Terminal Market. Not a history of the market, as David O'Neil, the former manager, already did, but a portrait of it. Stories about the life of the market. Maybe a year at the market, season by season, New Year's to New Year's. This would hit a lot of the topics above, of course, and give me a structure to hang them on.

By the way, Nora Ephron is going to write and direct a movie based on Julie Powell's book Julie & Julia, which I wrote about in this blog several months ago. She is probably the perfect person to do it.

Jan 20, 2007

The Train Schedule Fairy

Our boys are now very interested in the Regional Rail timetables and stops. They have now memorized the stops on the R3, the Media-Elwyn line, and are learning the R2 stops. Every day or so the Train Schedule Fairy leaves a new schedule lying about the house somewhere. Yesterday it was the R5.

Oh, and I'm pulling together an application for a low-residency creative nonfiction MFA program . . . . That is partly why I haven't been hanging around the blog that much lately. Also I have two deadlines on Monday, a review of Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck, for my friend Robin's online magazine, and an article for Will's Montessori's parents newsletter. I actually get paid for the latter. If my review of Ephron book is decent, then I'll post it here. dear friends.

Oh. Here's a scene from Macy's this morning: I was in the shoe department, looking for some flat black shoes. And for some flat black boots. Will was with me, and he picked up every glittery pair of high-heeled strap shoes for me to try on. And he would shout over to me, "Wear these! You won't look like my mom!"

Jan 9, 2007

Inchworm in the Winter Sun

On Saturday we had unusually warm weather. I let Will wear a T-shirt and shorts for our walk to the bank and grocery store. We had a lovely time, as the sun radiated good cheer. Will found a gumball from the sweetgum tree in our neighbor's yard, and put it in his pocket.

One of the tellers at the bank asked the lady in front of me if the little boy wanted a lollipop. She looked puzzled and said, "Oh, he isn't MINE!" We all laughed at the confusion and the teller asked me the same question, and I said, "No thanks." Will missed the exchange because he was too busy snapping those rope things that keep the the patrons in an orderly line. The last time I did my banking with Will there was a box of doughnut holes just sitting out for anyone to take. Will immediately availed himself of several before I even had a chance to notice. (His Grammy was supposed to be watching, but I think she snaffled down a couple, too.) You have to watch these branch banks and their attempts to foist sugar on you.

On the way to the grocery store, we stopped in a shop called "The Head Nut," which, because of the name, I had never even been tempted to enter. I had always thought of the store as "The Head Nut," when it's actually "The Head Nut." Because the store sells a lotta nuts, is why, not because it's a head shop, which I really didn't think it was, but in the back of my mind I guess I had felt obscurely confused. We didn't buy any nuts, but I did buy one ounce of ground coriander for 29 cents and a tube of tomato paste. A tube is what tomato paste should always be sold in, not a can. You never use the whole can, so you freeze the rest of it in a little bag, and in two years you throw it out because you don't know what is. O, but the life of most canned tomato paste is a long cold waste indeed.

We then proceeded to the grocery store, where we bought two cartons of milk We rested at a table outside the grocery store before walking back, this time lugging milk in a brown paper bag. This was actually enjoyable, walking a distance and carrying things. We need to do this more often. Shifting the weight now and then, I thought of my carless pre-internet days in the city, when what I bought was limited to what I could carry, a time when weather and the fit of my shoes were paramount to everyday life.

Will exclaimed, "A worm! Look!", but it was a twig. In the next block we did get to see our worm, its shiny gray body contracting and expanding in waves as it progressed purposefully across the sunny sidewalk. For a worm, it was rushing. I set the groceries down and we watched it. Finally it stopped and rested when it reached the end, no doubt relieved to be near grass and farther from the specter of frying in the sun.

Will found another gumball by the same tree on the way back, and he put it in his other pocket. And so, satisfied with the fruits of our walk and warmed by the sun, we arrived home. But this doesn't mean Will accepts this weather. No. He has had me read The Snowglobe Family to him a half dozen times. He wore his snowboots down to breakfast on Sunday. He! Wants! Snow!

Jan 3, 2007

A Thingue about Meringue

You have to admire egg whites. I mean there they are, looking like snot run amok, until you beat them mercilessly and they attain their full glossy glory. If you add sugar, cocoa powder, and yes, a teaspoon of red wine vinegar, you've got Nigella Lawson's recipe for "Gooey Chocolate Stack" well under way, my friend. The egg whites will transform into three lovely meringues (or orangutans, as Will called them).

As for the six yolks that have been divorced from their whites, you beat those (with less dramatic results) with cream, sugar, and milk, and add melted bittersweet chocolate and vanilla and you've begun creating the chocolate creme de patissiere to dollop over the big flat meringues. Like Nigella says, chocolate heaven. I brought this to a New Year's brunch and it was devoured. Even though Jack and Will say they like Hershey's chocolate better than the Scharffenberger's I used, they had no objections to eating this rather adult confection. I found a copy of the recipe here, with no attribution. It's from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, p. 185. I couldn't find pistachios so I sprinkled slivers of honey roasted almonds over the top. If I ever find candied violets, I'd like to use those. I am in love with just the idea of candied violets.

Oh, if you make this? Please be advised that Nigella may be a relaxed cook but when she says to make the meringues eight inches across, she means eight inches. So don't make them nine. Because then the meringues will be too thin and the chocolate creme will absorb them. And also? Please do assemble this layered creation just a few minutes before eating, because, again, the absorption situation. The meringues must be crisply separate and distinct from the creme for maximal mouth feel. (Why am I talking like this?)

We don't eat meringues so much in the U.S. and I don't know why. They are often called pavlovas in Britain and Australia and have a fruit sauce. Nigella's word for the meringues in this recipe is "gungy," British slang for, well, pretty much exactly what the inside of a meringue is like. On this side of the pond we have no slingue to describe meringue. Our loss.