Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Between Times

We're back from our Christmas stint in Canada, and are looking forward to spending New Year's in Colorado. It's good to be home.

Highlights, in no particular order:
  • Gingerbread house: It's been a longstanding tradition that we construct gingerbread houses from scratch. Usually very large houses with obscene amounts of candy. This year, Mom got a kit (good!) and wanted Anna to decorate it (questionable). I wasn't sure Anna could exhibit enough/ any self control, and was anticipating numerous candy related meltdowns. But she surprised me, and although candy was certainly consumed, the vast majority ended up on the house.  
  • Sledding: This is the first year Anna has exhibited interest in sledding, so we checked out a nearby mini-hill. The first trip she'd only go down once, the second three times, and the third outing saw numerous runs. As for Isaac, he was restricted to a mellow ride in the rail sled. The first trip saw angry faces, the second a frown with scattered smiles, and during the third outing he may have laughed. This has not been confirmed.
  • Teeth: In an attempt to keep up with Anna, Isaac sprouted a "pirate tooth." Top lateral incisor, all alone up there.
  • Christmas Eve candlelight service: Anna and three other darlings danced along the aisle throughout the darkened service. It was magical.
  • Nutcracker: Anna's first ballet. She made it almost to the end. I didn't realize what an odd story it is until I tried to explain it to her. As Jon noted, it's more of a dream sequence than a narrative. Speaking of dreamy nonsense...
  •  Beatles Rock Band: Did you know that it's "I am the egg man" not "I am the ape man" in I Am the Walrus?
  • Jon's B-day, Dec. 23: We went out for a fabulous lunch, and then he went to see Avatar with my brother. A good day, even though it's a tough time to have a birthday. We'll be home for Christmas next year, so I'm hoping we can have an actual party. 
  • Food: Mandarin oranges! Turkey-and-cranberry sauce sandwhiches! Stuffing! Pumpkin pie! Chocolates! More chocolates! Mulled wine!
Lowlights. Not many.
  • Weather: Not! You thought I was going to say weather, didn't you - what with it being Canada in December. A reasonable assumption, especially since last year saw temps hovering between -20 and -40 centigrade. But it was actually quite balmy, relatively speaking.
  • Isaac's non-sleep: I slept in the same room with Little Man and (a) he snores, (b) he knows I'm there, and (c) he doesn't adjust well to new surroundings. All this added up to a decided step backwards in terms of him learning to sleep for long periods of time between feedings. But we soldier on.
  • Illness: Everyone got a bad cold except the kids (!!) and my dad. Jon got it the worst, which was the saddest thing of all.
  • Anna's doctor visit: Did you know that old bruises on one's abdomen can suddenly explode in  size and develop underlying hard lumps? Well now you do.
  • The trip back: This deserves it's own section...
Overall, a good time was had by all. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Geek Alert

With Mom's PC defunct yet again, and our discussions of how she should just get an iMac already, the following ode seemed a propos. I also thought my brother would get a kick out of it.

Sung to the tune of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.
(With apologies to the Irish Rovers, Apple Computers, and the art of song writing in general.)

Mom's Dell got assaulted by an Apple.
As we slept unsuspecting Christmas Eve.
You may say there's no such thing as Steve Jobs.
But as for me and tech support, we believe.

She'd been playing World of Warcraft,
And we begged her "Let it go."
But she'd just slain another dragon,
And so she sat at the computer, eyes aglow.

When we saw them Christmas morning
At the scene of the attack
We found black threads from a turtleneck
And incriminating logos, like a mac.

Mom's Dell got assaulted by an Apple.

As we slept unsuspecting Christmas Eve.
You may say there's no such thing as Steve Jobs.
But as for me and tech support, we believe.

It's not Christmas without the PC
The screen looks cold and black.
And we all can't help but wonder
Should we fix the power supply, or send it back?

Now Mom's shopping 'round for iMacs.
She's so fed up with PCs
And somewhere off in Cupertino,
I know that Steve Jobs is very pleased

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Further Reflections on Cooking

Okay, so I'm a little obsessed with food. It IS the season, after all. You know: love, joy, peace, and sugar.
Cooking is also on my mind since I finally saw Julie & Julia. Very good. At the beginning of the movie I thought "Oh, there's Meryl Streep." At the end of the movie I thought "Oh, there's Julia Child." (Amy Adams was good, but not quite that good.) But beyond the story or acting, I was taken with the idea of a year long cooking project. The discipline of methodically going through an entire cookbook - good, bad, and invertebrate - is very appealing to me. Nothing whisks (hey, that's a pun!) me away more than being able to spend uninterrupted hours in the kitchen.

I imagined going through an entire cookbook of my own choosing (Thai? Middle Eastern? Alice Waters? Vegetarian? No, not vegetarian. Too much cheese.) And then I remembered that I have two little people that some days prevent me from boiling water. So THAT got me thinking even more: Where is the cooking show that shows what it's really like for Moms in the kitchen? The show that demonstrates why a 30 minute meal actually takes 2 hours? The show that explores what to do when you forget to take the crock pot out of the fridge at noon, and it's now 3:30? The show that asks the question: What do I do when it's 5:00, the baby needs to be changed and put down for a nap NOW, but I just dumped pasta into the boiling water? The show that guides moms as they discover they forgot to buy half of the ingredients for the dinner they're making that night?

Then I thought: maybe I should do that show as a series of youtube videos. But before I could mull it over some more the baby cried, Anna needed her milk, the phone rang, the washing machine beeped....

Friday, December 11, 2009

Food, Glorious Food

There is lots of snow on the ground, and the last few days it was quite cold for the Denver region (-15 to -10 C). Felt like winter back home. And homey feelings bring to mind baking.
As summer turns to fall turns to winter there's a progression of foods that I like to make. Early fall brings crisps and crumbles and various muffins. Late fall brings pumpkin in the form of pies and baked good. Christmas brings on the gingerbread (cakes, cookies, yeast breads).
This year I seem to be focused on pumpkin. Perhaps because I've had many half-eaten cans in the fridge (Isaac likes pumpkin puree with a bit of vanilla and spices. At least, he doesn't spit it out.)

The thing is, I rarely follow a recipe as written. I have a habit of amalgamating recipes and improvising when I'm out of some ingredient. Additionally, when I'm baking some goody for myself, I try to reduce the amount of fat and sugar without compromising on taste too much (full disclosure: I don't like as much sugar as most people, so I probably compromise a little more some might like.)
I really like experimenting with recipes. My ideal job would be working in a test kitchen, although admittedly I'm not so great at documentation. So, the downside of my "experiments" is that every time I make something it comes out a little different.
This season a couple of recipes worked out rather well, so I've recorded them below (if for no other reason than to have them handy for myself when I'm up north for Christmas). A victory for documentation.

Maple Pumpkin Custard (low-fat)
Adapted from Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food, The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook,  and a recipe I came across in Real Simple Magazine.

1 cup evaporated milk (fat free)
2 tsp. flour
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
2 eggs, or one egg and one egg white
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
1 1/2 tsp brandy (optional; haven't tried it with the brandy yet, but I think this would be excellent)

Whisk 1/4 cup of the milk and the flour in a small saucepan. Heat over low until boiling, then slowly add the rest of the milk. Return to a boil.
Mix the pumpkin, eggs, syrup and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix the spices.
Combine milk mixture, pumpkin mixture, spices, brandy.
Pour into a pie plate (no crust) and bake at 375 F for about 45 minutes, until the center is almost set.

Pumpkin Scones (reduced fat)

Adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Works

1/2 cup half-and-half (fat free), or evaporated milk (fat free)
3/4 cup skim milk combined with 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Whisk together wet ingredients. In bowl of food processor or mixer combine the dry ingredients (not butter). Cut in (combine) the butter with the dry ingredients, until the butter is pea sized. Make a well in the center of the butter mixture and add the wet ingredients. Mix briefly, just until combined.
Drop batter, about 2 Tbsp at a time, onto prepared sheet. Bake about 20 minutes.
Very tasty with pumpkin-apple butter.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Great Expectations.

So our sump pump just exploded awhile ago, which strangely gives me more time than I expected. We were supposed to head to Target this aft', but are now waiting for the plumber. In the meantime, Anna and I were going to bake cookies (oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip), but she's just fallen asleep on the couch. And Isaac is napping. How long will this domestic bliss last? Dunno, so better type fast.

It's been awhile since my last post. I meant to write something over the Thanksgiving weekend, but had less time than I thought I would. Anna's birthday generally falls on that weekend, and this year it was on the Saturday. We had a great time celebrating her day with some friends and family, and to quote Jon "Things went better than I expected."

I tried to keep it simple: Streamers, balloons, music, stickers, food, treasure hunt, gifts. And the weather was in the 50s, so we got to enjoy some outside fun.

Before - the Spider Web!



Anna Girl is now the big 0-3.

Wow! I think this means something. Couldn't tell you what exactly. It's not that the time has flow (I think we've fully experienced every minute of the last three years. Anna tends to take large bites out of life). It's not that she doesn't seem three (she's seemed three for about 6 months now). Three just seems older. How's that for stating the obvious?  She's not a toddler anymore, she's a preschooler - regardless of what the state of CO thinks (school cut off is Sept. 15). That must be it: she's a preschooler. Let me say it out loud:
"I'm the mother of a preschooler."
 I think I just sprouted another gray hair.

So, the long weekend has come and gone and now the Christmas season is upon us. I've put up a few Christmas decorations, but we're not doing the tree. We'll be at my parents' house for about 10 days and while I like putting up the tree, the though of taking it down again once we're home seems extra sad and depressing. And a huge hassle. We haven't even done the outside lights this year. Chalk these things up as casualties to our "lost year."

[Have I explained the "lost year" to you? Maybe, but I'm losing my memory so I'll explain it again. The lost year is the year post-baby when I get nothing (NOTHING) done and try to have extremely low expectations of myself. So far we're on track. It sounds like a depressing mind set but it's freeing more than anything. If I had known about the Lost Year the first time around I would have been a happier person. Instead, I had read horrible baby books that gave the impression that I'd have my life back within 6 weeks to 3 months. This. Did. Not. Happen.
I am aware that many moms retrieve an ordered (more or less) life in less time than that, but I figure if expectations remain low then I can't be disappointed. I don't mean to be glass-half-empty, but I do mean to be realistic about my own abilities. 'Nuff said.]

One thing I look forward to in the Christmas season is the TV specials. I'm a sucker for Grinch, Charlie Brown, Rudolf, and all the rest (except Frosty). I really like watching them with Anna, and seeing her reactions. It's all so new for her. So far her favorites are the Grinch and "Snoofy." In fact, the soundtrack to Merry Christmas Charlie Brown is one of the few CDs our whole family can agree on.

Anna's a little young for one of my favorite movies, though: One Magic Christmas. Not a lot of people remember this film, and it's not the greatest holiday movie, but I like the realistic aesthetic. Outside is generally overcast, the colors are a little washed out, dirty snow, noisy malls, discount stores, flourescent lighting. There's very little everyone-and-everything-glowing-with-Christmas-lights-and-good-cheer-while-big-snowflakes-fall-gently-to-the-pristine-white-ground-outside-the-huge-house-decorated-in-green-and-red. Granted, Santa does figure into this one (something involving a snow globe and a Christmas angel?) but I don't watch for the plot. I watch because of the lack decorations and glitz. It's not what you'd expect from a holiday film.