Tuesday, August 31, 2010

End of August

In the weeks since I've written, the kids and I have flown, once again, across country to DC. We have watched the weather shift and sung on my parents' porch swing; we've played at the pool with cousins and gathered around the Newcott dining room table together for the first time without Cindy; we have piled in a car with my mom and driven the 8 hours we drove each summer when I was a kid to the mountains of North Carolina to Asgard, Nana's summer house.
I walked through the new house there that my parents just built, and walked down the hill through the house of my childhood that still smells like Nana; I said goodbye again. We took the kids fishing in the pond where the fish, as always, bite faithfully at glinting metal hooks; we drove to town and ran our hands over antique phones and bowling pins; we bought old kitchen tools and played cards that night at the kitchen table. I hiked a trail-less path with my sister, sister-in-law, and brother through thickets of rhododendron bushes and sprinkled my nephew's ashes above the clouds. I learned more about loss, and about holding on to each other. I piled in the car again, with my sister, Silas and Eden and drove all the way east to the Virginia shore.
A hurricane, or several hurricanes, really, are spinning their ways through the ocean, and the waves are rolling the way they do in surfers' dreams. Ben arrived here and is in heaven. We have walked on a wide empty beach, mixed huge pitchers of goombay smash and margaritas; we've hammered blue crabs caked in old bay on the outside table and hauled buckets and chairs to the sand. I've had to, once again, take deep breaths and sort out what matters as I parent and co-parent with family. I've steadied myself on Ben's eyes and had long talks with Eden as she swims in the tub. I've watched my four-year-old boy, the "cautious one," fly to shore on huge waves, cheered on by his father, and have bitten my tongue and let him ride. I've wiped Eden's red tearing eyes over and over as she's blinked away sun tan lotion and watched her dig through bins of princess clothes and barbie dolls in a closet of the rental house, and again, bitten my tongue and watched her mother and love them.

And now I'm being called to stand on the dunes with the rest of the crew to smile into the low sun as we take family pictures, so with hair wet and unbrushed, off I go.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lemon Cornmeal Cake

Yesterday I woke up exhausted, realized we couldn't go to church because of Eden's nasty cold, said goodbye to Ben who flew to New Orleans for work, discovered that our refrigerator was broken (so HELP me -- this just happened), stashed all of our milk, eggs, cheese etc. at the neighbors, put a beer in the freezer (which still worked) to drink the moment it became cold (it was noon), and set about baking cakes for my dear friend Carrie's birthday. Though I ended up with two cakes by evening, I officially became ridiculous when I walked to my neighbor's for the third time to borrow my ingredients. Apparently I was moving only line by line through the recipes. In any event, cakes were made, Carrie was celebrated, and the night was lovely. Here is one of my favorites:

Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Glaze and Crushed Blueberry Sauce
(from Bon Appetit, April 2009)

1 1/2 c packed pow sugar, sifted
2 T (or more) fresh lemon juice

1 12 c flour
1/3 c yellow cornmeal
3/4 c sugar
3 1/2 t b powder
1/2 t salt
1 c buttermilk
2 eggs
1 T finely grated lemon peel
3/4 t vanilla
1/2 c unsalted butter, melted, cooled

Combine p.sugar and 2 T lemon juice in small bowl.
Stir with spoon until smooth and paste-like,
adding more lemon juice by the 1/2 teaspoonfuls if glaze is too thick to spread.
Set aside.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350.
Butter 9" cake pan; line bottom with parchment.
Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, b powder, and salt in large bowl, whisk to blend
Whisk buttermilk, eggs, lemon peel and vanilla in sm. bowl
Pour buttermilk mixture and melted butter into flour mixture.
Using rubber spatula, gently fold liquids into flour mixture until just blended (don't stir)
Scrape batter into pan, spread evenly.

Bake cake until tester comes out clean and cake pulls away from sides, about 30 min.

Immediately run knife around sides of cake. Place rack atop cake and invert cake onto rack,
then invert onto second rack so cake is top side up.
Stir glaze until blended.
While cake is still very hot, drop glaze by tablespoons onto cake;
spread to within 1/2 inch of edge (some glaze will drip down sides of cake -- delicious, don't worry). Cool completely.

Crushed Blueberry Sauce:

3 c blueberries (fresh or frozen, thawed), divided
2/3 c packed brown sugar
2 t fresh lemon juice
1/2 t finely grated lemon peel
pinch of salt

Combine 1 1/2 c blueberries and all other ingredients in a medium saucepan.
Stir over med. heat til sugar dissolves and mixture simmers (~7 min)
Reduce head to med-low and simmer until syrupy, stirring often (~ 7 min)
Remove from heat
Add remaining berries
Gently press fresh blueberries against side of pan until slightly crushed
Cover and chill -- serve chilled or reheat if desired.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Saying Yes (and Mr. Popper's Penguins)

Some days you recognize an impulse in yourself, one that's been there so many days before ignored, and don't like it. The impulse I've been noticing in myself is practicality. Heavy-handed practicality + little children aren't that much fun. Children are not practical; they like to brush their teeth 11 times in a row with their new toothbrushes, they like to paint on their arms and legs more than the easel, they love to dump all of the toys into one bin rather than sort the toys by vehicle and instrument, they love to squish their feet in seaside mud until they are mid-calf. So often before I even think, I say "no" or "don't" or "stop" -- the practical voice. Don't take all of the cushions off the couch again for a fort because you aren't strong enough to put them back on and the living room will be a mess. Example after example. Who knew I was an instinctive nay-sayer? So I am battling it, trying to pause more before answering, trying to spit out yes's, trying to help myself pick my battles (who really cares if the kids are covered in mud for the stroller ride home), and slowly but surely, I'm changing.

Silas and I have been reading Mr. Popper's Penguins. Mr. Popper owns twelve penguins who need the cold, so he opens the windows of his house and lets the snow pour in, floods the living room til there's an inch of water and lets it freeze his furniture into place, and the family wears overcoats all the time. Then Mr. and Mrs. Popper comment on how rosy-cheeked and happy the kids are as they slip and slide with the penguins around the wintry house. A little while later, they move the penguins to the basement, buy a pricey freezer, dig a pond in the floor of the house, order live fish, and eventually move the piano downstairs among the ice blocks to practice their stage act. It's a classic child's fantasy.

As I read, I kept thinking how I'd like to live more like a Popper: flood the entire first floor (or mop it), wear winter coats to breakfast, pull the kids out of school for 10 weeks, use savings to buy a giant freezer for penguins for the sake of fun. Those little fictional Poppers hold loosely to stuff and the assumptions of what life should look like. I like that.

My mom must have been a little Popper-esque. I loved Pipi Longstocking as a girl (the old danish films, not the new ones) and remember once, while watching, pouring soapy water -- a LOT of it -- all over the kitchen floor and skating around on scrub brushes and sponges. I remember sledding down the front stairs over and over on an old crib mattress from the garage. I remember baking, making potions, moving furniture for performances, unzipping beanbag chairs and pouring out the thousands of teeny Styrofoam balls (I did get in trouble for that), climbing an embankment of red clay with my brothers while my mother watched, and having pet after pet -- frogs, fish, snake, lizards, bunny, hamsters, mice, cats, dogs. Sitting on this side of a family, those scenarios feel easy to squelch -- they are inconvenient, or messy, or take a little more work or time or attention. But what if I started saying yes and meaning it? I wonder where we'd be.

I think Ben needs to read Mr. Popper's Penguins, too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

little treasures

I live with four little hands that are always somehow sticky. And always busy. This week, every time I've turned around, Eden has taken more ziplock bags out of the kitchen drawer and is wearing two on her feet and packing tiny toys into a third. Or she is tucking her red shoes into a plastic grocery bag while wearing my red shoes. I wish I could see what they see; yesterday, while I was doing the laundry, this is what I found in the washer:
-a few pennies
-3 plastic beads
-1 small green pom pom
-1 sewing tape measure
-1 orange plastic spider
-1 handful of silly bands
And that was just in one load...

Monday, August 09, 2010

the accidental summer drink and a list of likes

*The accidental summer drink:

A couple of weeks ago, I made "Peach Collins" from a Sunset magazine recipe. Sure enough, it was as fresh and summery a cocktail as I'd hoped it would be. In fact, we could not believe how smooth it was, how invisible the peach vodka became. After a few more sips, I realized the reason was that I had, indeed, forgotten to add the vodka. The result was a perfect afternoon drink.

The Near-Peach Collins adapted from Sunset


  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped ripe peaches, divided
  • 1/2 cup club soda
  • 2 peach slices
  • 1/4 c simple syrup
1. Mix simple syrup, lemon juice, 1/4 cup peaches, and about 1/2 cup ice in a cocktail shaker or plastic cup. Using the end of a wooden spoon, muddle mixture until peaches start to break up. Shake until blended.
2. Divide unstrained mixture between 2 tall glasses. Add half the remaining chopped peaches to each, then fill glasses with ice. Top each glass with 1/4 cup club soda and garnish with a peach slice.
And, of course, if you'd like to make a cocktail, add 1/2 c peach vodka to the end of step #1.

A Summer List of Likes:

*Ben's text today to tell me that at 11AM, it was 8-9-10-11 (aug 9, 2010, 11:00)

*watermelon lemonade -- I have yet to make this myself, but have had it two different places now and cannot get enough

*the sound of hot jars of jam sucking sealed on the counter

*$4 movies on Tuesdays and Thursdays at our movie theatre

*the anticipation of Fall's newness already creeping in -- setting up the pieces for our new rhythm

*a sense of settling peace today after a week of knots and wonderings

*summer tutoring -- hours at an old wooden table talking about Lord of the Flies -- and the little itch to teach again that these sessions have inflamed

*the smell of fresh plum cake waiting in the kitchen (if it turned out, I will post the recipe), and ripe farmers' market stone fruit

*LA portraits of the kids from our weekend away with Ben's dad:

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Eden, who just turned two, will often wrap a scarf or towel around herself and announce she's getting married -- a game that's emerged since she played with her older cousins in June...
Eden, wrapping a scarf around her, under her arms: I'm getting mawied.
What does it mean to get married?
It means... it means you have to grow up, and be a woman.


Silas: Mom what is boxing -- how do you play it?
Well, you wear special gloves and you - you punch each other in the face.
(little laugh). Why is that?
I don't know, that's just how boxing goes.
Well... how do you win?
You knock the other person onto the ground.
(laughing) I definitely want to be a boxer.


Silas and Eden at the table during lunch today:
Silas: When I grow up I'm going to space and am going to be a space ranger with Buzz Lightyear.
Eden: I'm going to be a space ranger, too.
Silas: No Eden, you can't. Only boys can be space rangers.
(me from the kitchen: that's not true, anyone can be a space ranger)
Silas, earnestly: Eden, I am going to space because I am going to be an astronaut when I grow up. That's why I'm going to be a space ranger.
Eden: I going to space too.
Silas, getting heated: NO, you can't go to space!!
(me from the kitchen: remember how big space is?? You can BOTH be in space. And Silas, if you were living in space as a space ranger and happened to come across your sister, you would be happy to see her after not having seen people for so long)
Silas: Ok Eden, you can go to space. But I'm going to fly because Buzz will give me wings like his. You will just have to stay in the spaceship.
Eden: I going to fly, too.
Silas: No, Eden, you won't have wings.
Eden: Yes I will have wings.
Silas: No, you won't.
(me from the kitchen: maybe she'll have her own jet pack to fly around with)
Silas: Ok Eden, you can fly. But if you see two guys in space, don't come over because that's Buzz and me.