Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Feeling My Limits

This week is a new week. I am breathing more deeply. I am cooking. I bought a new planner. The weather is windy and on the verge of stormy. Yellow blossoms are climbing the hills. California poppies, the color of golden afternoon concentrated and glowing, pepper strips of gardens along the sidewalk. Eden doesn't need diapers during the day. Silas is 4.

After hemming and hawing, I decided not to travel east this week, after all. The decision felt all ways -- heart-breaking and life-giving together. I miss, already, Washington stretching into 70 degree warmth; streets lined with cherry blossoms, a lacy fairyland; walking with my mom under branches raining petals; eating the Tuesday special sandwich from Bradley Food & Bev.; a trip home. And flying for my birthday to New York -- picnics at the park, late night glasses of wine, cousin bliss --

But the decision to slow down for a while was right and needed. So I'm settling into the cloudy moony night, grateful to be home waiting for a baby boy's birth, for Good Friday quiet. Saturday my sister will come and help us tuck eggs into buckets and bushes on the deck. And Sunday, we'll all celebrate the brightest day of the year.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Exhaustion (a week of the potty)

Monday Eden decided she would start using toilet, all day. In Trader Joe's. At music class. At Silas's school. I couldn't find my potty training book; I had no prizes or stickers; I had no interest in taking a newly potty-trained child to New York for a week (we travel east on Wednesday), and apparently none of that mattered -- she was ready. So, it's been a week of M&M's, cheering, singing, buying rainbow undies, and racing to bathrooms everywhere.

I forgot how exhausting this process is, how much of my brain is dominated, how much energy goes into paying such constant attention.

I appear to be in a general state of overwhelm. Everything seems loud and to have huge needs. Needs that are constant. Needs that involve heavy lifting, and running to bathrooms everywhere (including a massage place that had a fountain with colored lights and a smoke machine in the little foyer -- it was the only open store in the strip mall we were driving past).

I can't quite get my wits about me. I'm foggy and the simplest tasks feel mountainous. Ben's been traveling this week, and I've taken the kids out to eat a lot -- desperation dining is the way I'm thinking about it. Yesterday I took them to Carl's Jr. for lunch. I don't eat at Carl's Jr. but we were driving, and there was one, so we went. And $5.75 later, we were sitting on tall red stools eating hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries that I didn't have to make.

There have been many things: I drove to the library to return books yesterday without the books. I went shopping to get Silas a birthday present from my mom because her package hadn't come and later that night found her package that had come days earlier that I'd hidden. I put the hazard lights on and got out of my car WITHOUT PUTTING THE CAR IN PARK, so Eden and the car started rolling toward all the used boats and strollers for sale in the parking lot while I grabbed the door and tried to fish my leg around until I hit the brake. Very gracefully, I'm sure.

I'm pretty sure if someone did a study on exhaustion and madness, they would look about the same. Fortunately, Ben is home tonight and tomorrow is Friday. I am inching my way along til then, while Eden puts cat and star stickers on the wall and happily munches M&Ms.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Silas and the Synthesizer

The week of Zack's wedding, we had a synthesizer in the living room for a few days.
It was as if Silas had just been waiting for a beat to match his moves.
Eden less so.

video

(hopefully this works -- my first video uploaded here)

Silas is 4

Silas's birthday falls in March, the month when southern California is green and blooming, and the wind makes the snow-capped mountains clear. We are still in the years when Silas's birthday party can be a party filled with family friends, and standing together in the sun having second breakfast while the kids run around magically making kites fly in a windless sky made for a sweet morning. Silas asked for a Candyland party for his 4th, so we wore bright colors, used bright frosting, decorated cookie-men with gumdrops and licorice, and sucked on lollipops.
It took Silas hours to fall asleep the night before his party -- the first birthday he has really anticipated. When I went in and checked on him for the 9th time, he was sitting straight up in bed singing (while Eden snoozed in the bunk above).
Silas and his friend racing with their kites, while Eden was "stuck" in the tallish grass.




Saturday, March 20, 2010

Jimi Cake Friday


Friday mornings have become Jimi Cake Fridays. At 7:15 we pull up to our friends' house, and the pancakes are already coming off the pan hot and stacked with a slim pat of butter between each one. Jimi Cakes are thin, almost crepe-like, pancakes, made with extra buttermilk and perfectly browned.

This Friday tradition has inspired me to try a couple of oatmeal pancake recipes I've been wanting to make. A month or so ago, Molly Wizenberg, one of my favorites, posted a recipe on her blog. Her oatmeal pancakes are some of the best pancakes I've ever had -- they really are little cakes in the pan, slightly sweet, buttery, with a soft oat-y texture -- delicious.


Molly's Oatmeal Pancakes


2 cups rolled oats
2 cups buttermilk
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. table salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted but not hot
Vegetable oil or spray, for greasing the pan
Maple syrup, for serving

The night before:
Combine the oats and buttermilk in a medium bowl. Stir to mix. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

The morning of:
Take the bowl of buttermilk and oats out of the fridge. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Add the eggs and melted butter to the oat mixture, and stir well. Add the flour mixture, and stir to blend. The batter will be very thick.

Warm a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat, and brush (or spray) with vegetable oil. To make sure it’s hot enough, wet your fingers under the tap and sprinkle a few droplets of water onto the pan. If they sizzle, it’s ready. Scoop the batter, about a scant ¼ cup at a time, onto the pan, taking care not to crowd them. When the underside is nicely browned and the top looks set around the edges, flip the pancakes. Cook until the second side has browned.

Re-grease the skillet, and repeat with more batter. If you find that the pancakes are browning too quickly, dial the heat back to medium.

Serve hot, with maple syrup.

Yield: about 12 pancakes, or 3 to 4 servings

When I lived in Atlanta during college, one of my favorite breakfast spots was The Flying Biscuit Cafe. I can't even remember their oatmeal pancakes now, but I remember always ordering them because they were a perfect morning comfort food, warm porridge cakes with syrup.

I've made them twice now, and will make them again. A bit less rich than Molly's, they still satisfy the appetite for a slightly sweet, hearty (not heavy) morning bite. Oatmeal pancakes are simply a cozy food, and I like that they kick the pancake into a healthier gear -- adding pecans or walnuts, wheatgerm, or blueberries would all work well with these. And a little coconut or chocolate wouldn't hurt either.

The Flying Biscuit Oatmeal Pancakes
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups organic rolled oats
  • 2 cups nonfat buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Canola oil for griddle

Combine oats and buttermilk in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight. Add eggs and melted butter to oat mixture. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add to oat mixture. Preheat griddle. Spread out batter with the back of the ladle. When bubbles appear, gently flip cakes and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Serve hot. This recipe make about 20 pancakes, serving 6-8 people.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Dad's Granola

For as long as I can remember, my dad's had a yellow recipe box.
It's french's mustard-yellow plastic and holds 3x5 cards,
relatively few, really, considering it's been his box for 30-some years.
The recipes include the ever-guarded Moyer eggnog and dated revisions,
a crab quiche from his bachelor years living in The Glass House,
sangria, SOS, key lime pie, and a recipe for granola. The granola recipe
surfaced sometime in the last decade. I don't know where it came from,
but since it's one of the five things my father cooks and loves,
I figured I'd try it.

The biggest difference between this one and the one I've been making
is the butter. Once you combine melted butter and honey,
you have something near perfection and teetering on dessert.
Eating this granola feels a bit more like eating the top off of a cobbler,
which, of course, is delicious.

Here is the recipe in its true form. I substituted a lot to use what I had.
The beauty of granola is that nearly anything works. Enjoy*

Homer's Granola

2 c rolled oats (I used quick -- makes a crumblier granola, less ideal)
3/4 c unsweetened coconut (I only had sweetened and then used less honey/syrup)
1 and 1/4 c nuts and seeds (I used sliced almonds, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts)
recipe calls for 1/4 c sesame seeds
1/4 c slivered blanched almonds
1/4 c whole hazelnuts, peeled or unpeeled
1/4 c raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 c cashew halves
1/4 c + 1 T unsalted butter
1/4 c honey
1/4 c maple syrup (I only used honey)

-preheat oven to 300
-melt butter, add honey and syrup, pull off heat once simmers, set aside
(I melted butter in microwave)
-in large bowl combine oats, coc0nut, nuts
-combine butter mixture and oats mixture
-spread thinly onto sheet pans lined with parchment or onto buttered pans (I used plain pan)
-bake at 300 20-30+ minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes to ensure even browning
-let cool on rack, store, label, date

voila!

Trying again for the two together (a little more successful than the last attempt)



Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Cost of Silence

Silas looked similar but not quite as covered. This was not exactly easy to get off -- especially the thick purple swipe across the forehead and the all the paint in the hair. In the tub before the water:




'

Monday, March 15, 2010

Speaking of Being Made Only of Questions

Today, as Silas sat on the top of the trashcan eating a hard-boiled egg:

What day are we going to die? What day are you and me going to die?
I don't know. Probably not for a long long time.
But how are we going to get to heaven?
I think Jesus will take us.
But how long will it take?
I don't really know -- these are things we don't know. They're the mysteries. We just know that death isn't the end.
... (more thinking, more questions)
Is the end of counting when we die?
What?
When we can't count anymore, is that when we die?

Spring

I am sitting in my dim bedroom right now. The house is napping. Silas is asleep in my bed feet from me with his blankie right up to his nose, his side rising and falling as he breathes. A talkative mourning dove is somewhere just beyond my closed blind letting her voice slide along the scale. I sit drinking lychee tea. My eyes feel tired.

This weekend I flew to DC alone to visit my friend Annemarie and her 3 week old baby. 3 week old 3rd baby, 3rd girl. Somehow in the midst of the nursing, constant diapering, playing gobbletjr with Madeleine (if you have a 5-7 year old, buy this), snapping barrettes in hair, making turkey sandwiches, praising Claire's Cinderella dress again, throwing clothes in the washing machine, folding the hot ones from the dryer, walking in the chilly rain, and all the other things that come with family existence, we were together. I love that.

Cold rain fell while I was there -- March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. I remember having big snows in March sometimes, and after the winter they've had, I expected the air to be bitter and for Spring to be weeks delayed. But through Annemarie's kitchen window under the grey sky, there were purple crocuses -- dozens and dozens of them beginning to bloom! And little arcing snowdrops opening their hanging white buds.

I love the thaw. How the bony black brown world becomes pricked with color. How you can watch life breathe back down the branches, across the dirt, see it nose up from dead bramble -- green birth.

I miss that here -- the sudden deep breath that sweeps through. The relief. How much winter's end feels like a kind of fresh promise.

On the way home last night, I read Neruda's "The Book of Questions" (his last volume of poetry in which every poem consists only of questions). I folded down the corner of this page:


XVII

Have you noticed that autumn
is like a yellow cow?

And how later the autumnal beast
is a dark skeleton?

And how winter collects
so many layers of blue?

And who asked springtime
for its kingdom of clear air?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Sunshine

Silas, Eden, and I fill a tire swing. It's something I discovered today.
I like our size, the three of us, how we can all fit together on a tire, our knees knocking.
I looked at their faces, scrunched with smiles as we spun, their faces that are looking so much more alike, faces that look to each other now and not just to me, and just as I was soaking
in their squealing, laughing selves, I heard Eden say, "I happy!"

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Guns

I should preface this by saying that Silas is obsessed with guns, putting people in jail, and "bad babies" (which is what he calls nearly every person under the age of two).

Silas's birthday is in 19 days -- yes, we are counting down -- and this year we are going to begin the tradition of him buying a special present for Eden on his birthday, and she buying one for Silas on her birthday. I love the idea. This is an excerpt from our conversation:

me: What will you get Eden for your birthday?
Silas: I will get her a gun.
me: I don't think Eden really likes guns. What kinds of things does she like?
Silas: ... ummmm... She likes Legos. But we have those. What else does she like?
me: She likes dolls and books, and today at church she was holding 3 ponies when I picked her
up.
Silas: oh yeah, we don't have ponies. I will get her a pony. A whole pony set with a gun to shoot
ponies. An air gun.
me: Hmm, I don't think pony sets come with guns.
Silas: Then I will get her a doll set with an air gun.
me: I don't think dolls come with guns either.
Silas: weeeeeelll, air guns are hair dryers. I saw one once.

When all else fails, simple Tomato Soup

All of the family has flown east, and we are back to living the 4 of us. Because we haven't broken down the crib and moved it yet, though, we still all sleep in one room. I kind of love it.

Last night we had some friends over for dinner. I couldn't imagine making anything. I paged through my binder of recipes. Nothing sounded good (I threw a third of them away). I looked in the pantry. Nothing. I could hardly think of mustering the energy to go to the market or pull out bowls and pots in the kitchen.

But then I read a recipe from Chef Geoff's in DC for tomato soup -- simple -- and imagined grilled cheese, a kind of Saturday afternoon meal: soup, crusty sourdough with sharp cheddar and monterey jack, and a salad with beets and black current balsamic, and all of the sudden, dinner felt doable.

Creamy Tomato Soup with Herb Gremolata

I realized today, when I found the bowl of carefully chopped gremolata in my fridge, that I forgot it last night. I served mine with a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh ground salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of croutons on top. Parmesan would have also hit the spot. The gremolata, though, definitely adds some complexity and interest to the flavor. The recipe halved serves 4 comfortably with a bowl left over.

4 28oz cans of whole san marzano tomatoes (apparently san marzano are the best saucing, and
apparently souping, tomatoes, so do go out of your way to find them)
10 oz heavy cream
5 fresh basil leaves
splash balsamic vinegar -- I used a few teaspoons and combined a thicker sweeter balsamic and
a regular thinner one
salt and pepper to taste
herb gremolata: equal parts fresh basil, oregano, and parsley, chopped or put in food processor
with garlic and lemon juice

In a large pot simmer the tomatoes and cream for 60 minutes, covered.
Puree with an immersion blender while adding the basil leaves.
Season with balsamic, S&P

Monday, March 01, 2010

Locked Out

For 10 days, Silas, Eden, Ben and I have been sleeping in a room. We've bonded and awakened most mornings to Eden's little voice calling "Si-wus?" from her crib, which I will miss.

Her bed is right next to the door, and two days ago she found the lock button on the door knob during nap time. She locked it once, and my sister popped the lock open with a needle. Then today, Eden locked the door again, and I couldn't get it open.

I called Ben. I looked for our carpenter neighbor, Paul. I called my friend Allen. No one was around (except Allen, but he didn't know anything about door knobs). Then I got a hold of myself, reminded me that I am a capable, resourceful woman who could free my daughter from the locked room. As Eden yelled and whined and cried, I decided to take the doorknob off of the door. Logical, right?


So I did. The problem was, that though there was now a hole in the door, so I could reach a finger in to Eden (which made her cry more), I still couldn't get the door open. Here is Silas peering through the hole. The plastic bar in the middle was the problem:


I used pliers, a screwdriver, poked around, but still couldn't open the door. As I carried my computer upstairs, I debated calling Ben or the fire department. I called Ben. And in the meantime googled how to dismantle a locked doorknob. I clicked on a few links, found no answers but was reminded that locksmiths exist. While Eden hollered in the background, a local locksmith talked me through picking what was left of the lock and VOILA! there was Eden, eying the hole in the door and frowning.