29 December 2008

my kitchen

over the holidays, i had the chance to cook in three kitchens other than my own. some of these kitchens were better designed and possibly "better" equipped than ours is. but, the fact remains, that our kitchen, however imperfect, is where i want to be when whipping up culinary delights.

carl's mom has a marble rolling pin, that takes all the muscle out of pie crust making. but her food processor leaves a lot to be desired. it may be one of the first models ever made, and while many kitchen gadgets of yesteryear are far superior to the crap that is made today, food processors have improved over the years, and i prefer mine. her kitchen has storage out the wazoo, and counter space galore...but i have to ask where to find things, and all that space is very disorienting.

chuck and hank's kitchen is adorable and spacious, but counter space is scarce, and oddly placed, and they are both minimalists when it comes to gadgets and utensils. i am sure their kitchen is everything it needs to be...for them. but it's not my kitchen.

Eric is is a gourmet cook, with a custom kitchen (it even has TWO sinks!) but i could never find the right pan for the job. that pan was at home. in my kitchen.

in many ways, our kitchen is all wrong. there's a stove where the dishwasher should be (we have no dishwasher), and where the stove and ample counter top space should be, sit the full size washer and dryer. our kitchen is placed where the nonexistent mud room SHOULD be, so bags and hats and keys and plastic containers and jars and every other piece of odd junk gathers on top of that washer and dryer, and drives me INSANE. the space is too narrow, and to make up for the lack of a dining room in this house, someone decided to make a low "breakfast bar," where no one ever eats, or really even sits. if the breakfast bar were standard height counter top, it would be a hell of a lot of prep space. but, as it is, it's a junk collector too--oh, and a place for plants in the winter time.

all that being said, i love to work in our kitchen best of all. i know what we have, and i know where it is. i love our spice rack, the one i made back when i was a cabinet maker. it is massive, with adjustable shelves, accommodating jars of all shapes and sizes. i like how the storage space is organized. i like our bread box that i found for a dollar at a yard sale, and spruced up.

i like our red coffee maker, and our open shelving (installed by me) above our main prep table, stocked with clear jars of dry goods. i even like our prep table. i've been carting that thing around to at least nine different kitchens over the last 11 or 12 years. it's not made of the best wood, but it is solid wood, and well constructed. i think i got it at target for $60. underneath it is more open shelfing, a simple green metal bookshelf. it's something i pilfered from a studio in grad school--left behind by a graduating senior, no doubt, who has completely forgotten about it and is now raking in the big bucks in a high profile architecture firm in NYC...

but, i digress. the long and the short of it is, for all it's flaws, our kitchen rocks. we have everything we need to make the things we like to make. and make them, we do.


it's good to be home.

28 December 2008

brought to you by...SKUUT

bear with me as i plug this product. no, it's not a christmas present. cosmo got this balance bike in june, because that was when he seemed ready for it. i know i have blogged about it before. i am overly impressed with this thing. it was the best $90 we ever spent. it teaches him balance, so he can avoid training wheels when he's ready for a regular bike. it has chunky, inflatable tires, which allow for bumpy sidewalks, gravel, grass, and any other uneven terrain. he rarely falls off of it, because he can easily steady himself with his feet. he has complete control over this vehicle, and can lift the front wheel to go over curbs, or turn around. it makes people do a double take and smile when they see him riding it.

this last point is both a blessing and a curse. at the playground, i feel like the mom of the rich kid, who always gets the latest and the best toy. i always want to tell the other parents who are staring at the bike, that it wasn't THAT expensive. that we don't spoil our child with fancy gifts. that we got it because we thought it would be good for his physical development, his balance, and his confidence. NOT because it's made of wood and sports a sort of euro-hip design. it was a practical gift, NOT a splurge!

on our trip to denver, we were trying to decide whether to bring a stroller or not. we never use a stroller anymore, but thought it might come in handy, moving through airports. cosmo does walk more slowly than we do, and i hate rushing him. i don't mind carrying him, but burdened with a carry-on bag, i can only do it for a short time. it occurred to me that we could bring the SKUUT, and treat it as we would a stroller; just check it at the gate before boarding the plane. we weren't sure if bike-riding would be permitted in the airport, but decided to give it a try.

he hopped on as soon as we got out of the parking shuttle bus, rode it into the airport, through the line to check our bags, all around the food court, through security (well, he had to get off of it and send it through the x-ray machine), down to our gate, and all around terminal b while we waited (and folks, when you miss your first flight, and are put on standby during the holiday season, you do A LOT of waiting). the airport officials were impressed and delighted to see cosmo rolling along, swinging his feet, smiling. we were never hassled about it. we got a gate check tag for it, and left it at the end of the boarding ramp, with the strollers.

i felt like a paid rep for SKUUT (in fact, i feel like that now, as i write this), and like i should have been handing out business cards. dozens of people stopped to ask me where i got it, how long he'd been riding it, and other detailed questions. kids his age stared in envy, and parents wondered how we got it through security. cosmo took notice of the attention, and eventually started showing off. he had the most fun in the denver airport, while we waited for our flight home. he was doing laps around an open area near the seating, and getting lots of exercise instead of being cooped up in a stroller. he had some near misses, but never crashed in to anyone, or anything.

i was happy we decided to bring it. from now on, we won't leave home without it. we brought it on our road trip to texas, and it came in handy at rest stops too. it is so compact and light, and easy to carry, there is no reason not to bring it along. i hate to just go on and on about this bike, but i want to suggest to anyone with a two year old kid in your life, to set aside $15 each month (if you can), for the next six months, and get that kid this bike when s/he turns two and a half (that is the age when most kids can comfortably reach the ground from the lowest seat setting). they can ride it 'til they're five or so. but they probably won't, since they'll be ready for a big kid bike before they turn four.

27 December 2008

note(s) to self:

  1. plan to arrive at the airport TWO hours before the flight leaves, rather than one (in order to allow for unexpected changes of location of park-n-fly lots, and so forth).
  2. ship gifts to family ahead of time, rather than packing them in your luggage.
  3. don't share ideas (such as felted soap) with your crafty, 11 year old, nephew before the holidays (in order to avoid duplicate, extended family gifting).
  4. visit only one set of relatives per holiday season.
  5. be sure to take the compost outside before leaving town.
  6. take hand-held/self-portrait-style family portraits more often.

20 December 2008

last minute

a quick photo blog before we head off to colorado, for our second christmas.

this "local orange" was given to us by sarah bentley, in houston. it made the road trip up to indiana, where it wasn't local anymore, where carl and i savored its sweet juices. thanks sarah.

making xmas cookies for neighbors.

supplies, and our charlie brown christmas tree, with presents.

cosmo made these bookmarks (with mama's help), for loved ones. it's one of those ideas i found in one of the mommy magazines.

and, lastly, cosmo throwing himself into his work again, making a tummy impression in his playdoh.

16 December 2008

one million things

i've got a million things i'd like to blog about from the road trip to texas...like how cosmo seems to have overcome some shyness, and was hugging and climbing on friends and relatives he couldn't possibly remember. how he clung to daily rituals, like taking vitamans, and doing his advent calendar, as a secure structure while we were on the move. how he got to strengthen bonds with nani, justin, aunts, uncles, cousins and papas.

[with nani in the driveway. with justin at the kell house]

[goofing around with uncle D. bedtime story with papa jack]

or, about the cool new architecture we visited in houston: discovery green downtown, and the gorgeous pavilion behind the library on rice campus.

[with chuck at discovery green. $9 snack time at the pavilion]

or, about seeing a new, low slung building (i'm guessing it's a bar), built on the site where my old apartment once sat, before the fire ran us out of there one november day. or about snowfall in houston (!), a vietnamese tofu sandwich in midtown, a handmade scarf, a train ride and a campus bike ride.

[snowfall in front of micheal and taryn's. cosmo in front of the architecture building, where i spent 4 years of my life]

or about the fantasy of lights in wichita falls, and how cosmo got fully and completely indoctrinated into the idea of christmas, and became obsessed with frosty the snowman.

[with santa at the nature center in WF. telling cousin jayna she needs to wait until christmas]

or about the wild child party we threw at chuck and hank's, complete with tickle monster chase, jumping up and down, overturned furniture, broken dishes and hidden shoes.

[lila and clara. cosmo bouncing on the bed with joy]

or, how nice it felt to drink wine and argue about education with my dearest friends, my chosen family.

[uncles chuck and michael. fun with carrie and pearl]

or about pillow fights and couch forts with the grrlz at grrrllville. old friends in new digs (and old), with new babies (or not).

[with chris, michael m. and baby miller. cosmo learning how to hold baby lili]

... a trip that was way too long and way too short, i'd love to write about all of it.

but, instead, in the spirit of the season, i offer a last minute gift idea:

cosmo's aunt jamie and uncle derek gave him a book called one million things: a visual encyclopedia.

this is a book i wish i could give to every child i know. it is filled with images and short descriptions of anything from the human digestive system (represented by beautifully knitted organs), the birth of stars, the velvet revolution, and a fun section in the back full of interesting facts. did you know, for instance, that an army ant can carry 25 times it's own weight? i am completely fascinated by this book, and i think it is something cosmo will enjoy for many years to come. the information is presented in an interesting format, and offers a place to start when a question like "what are germs?" comes up.

with google, wikipedia and you tube at our fingertips, you might think a book like this is outdated. but i believe there is something wonderful about lying on your tummy, on the floor of the living room and pouring over a book like this (as i did our child craft encyclopedias as a child), wondering about the animal that lives in that strange, thorny shell, or what it might be like to do research in antarctica.

i expect a book of this size, scope and quality to cost between $40 and $60, but the sticker on our book says $24 in the US. we've been giving mostly handmade things this year, but if we weren't, and if i had young kids on my shopping list, this is what i'd be getting them.

season's greetings.

01 December 2008

the wonder of consumerism

i have a confession to make. i have subscriptions to 3 mommy magazines. glossy paper magazines that come to my mailbox once a month. i got suckered into buying them by this charming guy who showed up at our door one day, in a suit and tie, on a hot day. he said he was trying to stay off the streets and make something of himself through this job training program that teaches him how to talk to people, and be presentable, and make in-person, cold calls, knocking on doors selling magazines. we had a long conversation, during which he asked me for advice on how i "made it" in this world. i didn't want to tell him that i had gone to graduate school for 5 years, to earn a master's degree in a creative and exciting field, only to end up NOT working in that field (yet). in any case, i agreed to help him out.

he said he'd get more "points" if i got 3 magazines instead of the one i would have preferred (which was priced much higher. i actually can't remember now what it was). to be honest, i didn't want any magazines at all. i would have rather just given some cash to the guy. but that's not how it works. so, i went ahead and ordered wondertime, family fun and cookie. i figured i could just donate them to the banneker center.

two months later, the first one arrives. it's wondertime. i feel a little strange flipping through it, in the comfort of my own home, since magazine reading, for me, is usually confined to the dentist's office. to my surprise, i find some okay articles, and some great ideas. like the women's magazines my mom used to get (women's day and family circle) they're packed with recipes and crafting ideas, and things to do with children. i fit nicely into the target audience--that scares me a little. so, family fun arrives a few days later. it is pretty much the same as wondertime, only slightly less hip (i just discovered they are put out by the same people). it was in one of these two magazines that i first heard about felting soap. in the most recent family fun, i saw a great idea for book marks that cosmo can easily do (with some supervision), and i've tried a recipe or two.

then cookie arrives. from the cover i can see that the target audience for this magazine has a much higher income than than i do, but once i started flipping through it, i was truly insulted. not only was the thing packed with ads for high end children's fashion and pharmaceuticals, but most of the "content" featured more stuff to buy. while wondertime and family fun encourage DIY projects to make your life better, cookie encourages spending money to make your life better. maybe that's appropriate for urban professional moms, who simply have more money than time (most working moms i know have very little of either). wondertime does have a regular feature called "stuff we love," but cookie recently had a fifty page section called "the cookie 100," which highlighted 100 items moms just couldn't live without. it seemed to me like the magazine was one big advertisement. in the current issue, there was a piece on putting together an all purpose holiday party outfit by getting a great blouse, a great skirt, and a great pair of shoes. they had several options pictured for each, including info on the designer, the price tag, and where you could find it. a cute skirt will cost you anywhere from $149 to $995. on the next page you can find a suggestion for a toddler's faux fur coat (to be paired with "thermals or tulle") for $328. remember that she'll get a good 4 months use out of it, if that. what economic recession?

i don't mind the other two (though i won't be renewing the subscription), but cookie? i find it so offensive, i didn't even want to take it to the banneker center. it's packed with the pretty colors and patterns often found in high fashion magazines, so i guess we can recycle them for collages and other craft projects.

in the future, i'll stick to harpers.

25 November 2008

pumpkin pie for dinner?

well, sort of. i made this winter squash galette, and chose pumpkin for the squash. it is savory, delicious, wintery and warming. and, considering the cookbook it comes from, surprisingly simple. if you are comfortable making pie crusts, it is especially easy. you make the pie crust while the squash bakes, chill it while you mix up the filling, roll it out, drop the filling in, and roughly fold over the edges. then bake, and voila! pumpkin pie for dinner! sage, pecorino and winter squash go beautifully together. this author has a squash soup recipe that features this same combo, also incredibly yummy. my neighbor lara has large, beautiful sage bushes in her garden. they are hardy enough to stand the winter cold, and she (thankfully) allows me to snatch a few leaves now and then.

so, without further ado, here is the recipe:

winter squash galette

galette Dough (see recipe below)
2 1/2 pounds winter squash (I used pumpkin)
1 small head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
1 Tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for the squash
1 onion, finely diced
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino or parmesan
12 fresh sage leaves, chopped, or 2 teaspoons dried
Freshly milled pepper
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half, scrape out the seeds, and brush the cut surface with oil. Stuff the garlic into the cavities and place the squash cut side down on a sheet pan. Bake until flesh is tender, about 40 minutes.
Make the dough while squash is baking.
When the squash is done, scoop out the squash and squeeze the garlic cloves. Mash them together with a fork until fairly smooth, leaving a bit of texture.
Warm one tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sage and cook until the onion is very soft and beginning to color, about 15 minutes. Add it to the squash along with the grated cheese and seaon with pepper to taste.
Roll out the dough into a 14-inch circle and spread the filling over it, leaving a border of two inches or more. Pleat the dough over the filling, then brush the edges with beaten egg. Bake until crust is golden, about 30 minutes.

the galette dough

  • 2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 12 tbsps cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water, as needed
1. Mix the flour, salt, and sugar together in a bowl. Cut in the butter by hand or using a mixer with a paddle attachment, leaving some pea-sized chunks.

2. Sprink the ice water over the top by the tablespoon and toss with the flour mixture until you can bring the dough together into a ball. Press into a disk and refrigerate until ready to use (you may want to take it out a few minutes before rolling it, but it will soften quickly).

recipe from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

(p.s. this dish makes wonderful leftovers, and i think most kids would like it.)

23 November 2008

on the day cosmo turned three...

there were
presents (i built cosmo an easel),

friends and family,

more presents,

desserts (carrot cake, chocolate swirl cupcakes),

and prismatic squawker blowouts.

there was
a stray cat,


a pinata (it's supposed to be jupiter),

a bonfire (not pictured),
and a jam session with kid kazooey.

as cosmo was laying down to go to bed tonight, he asked "i'm three, now?" and practiced holding up three fingers.