Monday, August 31, 2009

The Not-So Traditional Birthday Hat

We had the kind of weekend that you can't help but hope for: good friends; time spent with family; several projects completed; some rest; and a birthday party to boot. The birthday party was for one of Audrey's best friends, a now-three-year-old with a penchant for hardware tools and watching Paula Deen. His is the crafty mama who made Audrey the green apron pictured above. Assuming he had already been supplied with an apron by his mama, we thought he could use a little chef's hat to complete the look.

The free pattern can be found at this site, sent to me by a friend (Thanks, Megan!). Audrey, always the eager model when it comes to hats, tried it on for me while busy with her own project in the kitchen, so we could check the fit one last time before wrapping it up with a sweet cookbook. Then it was off to celebrate our young birthday chef. Look out, Cordon Bleu!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 34

I cannot stop the weeks from coming. They keep plowing on regardless of if I think they ought to slow down and take a minute to let the rest of us catch up or at least allow us to hunch over to catch our breath. And so, I suppose that Audrey is right on track and should be voicing opinions that require complex trains of logic. Her memory should be such that she can bring up something I mentioned in passing a month ago. If I could only keep track of what day it is (or the time, or if I have fed the dog) then these tidbits coming out of her mouth would not surprise me. Every time.

And yet, here we go again:

Monday night we had finished dinner and Jason was attempting to clean Audrey's hands with a dishcloth. Audrey was trying to wiggle out of her chair while hiding her hands. Jason explained that in order to get out of her chair she had to have her hands cleaned. Then he said, "You have to think about these things. You need to use this," as he pointed at her head.

She looked at him oddly and said, "My boo-boo?"

Part of our day on Monday was spent taking a walk, during which we passed a Dachshund and Audrey commented, "That dog is little like a mouse."

We also played with alphabet puzzles that day. I have tried to point out the letters on the puzzles before, but didn't think that Audrey was interested. I was a bit stunned when she pointed to the letter beside a picture of a cat and said, "That's a C." I was even more impressed when she pointed to the letter beside an octopus and said, "That's an O."

Excited about this new skill, I pointed to the puzzle piece featuring a rabbit and the letter "R." "What is that?" I asked, pointing to the letter.

"That's a letter," she said. I can't really argue with that.

On Tuesday, Jason was in the office when Audrey asked about his whereabouts. "He's in the office," I said. Audrey looked at the room we were in, waved her arm around in it in a circular motion and asked, "What is this?"

"This is the family room," I said.

"Like in the movies?" she asked. I'm just as curious as you are, what movies has she been watching?

Tuesday night, while on a walk with my friend, Jill, Audrey asked, "Does Jill like honey?" Followed with, "Pooh likes honey." Maybe Pooh has a family room, too.

Wednesday, while recounting a tale from earlier in the week, Audrey asked, "Did I talk backward?" Translation: Did I talk back to you.

Thursday night I had to attend a meeting, so Audrey had a date night with her Dad, running around the backyard and playing with blocks. On Friday morning she was still feeling the glow from her Daddy/daughter night. When I came to get her out of her room she asked (very politely) for me to leave. Then she called for her Dad to come get her. I came back in and explained that he had already left for work. Then I asked if she wanted to get changed out of her pajamas and take the dog for a walk. While she wanted to walk Emmy, she did not want to be taken out of her pajamas, "My Daddy put them on," she said.

We have been enjoying a productive, and yet somehow still restful weekend. We hope you've been doing the same. And while I'm not quite ready to plow on into another week, I can't wait to see just what Audrey will come up with next.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Shout Out to my Working Mama Friends

I received a very sweet message of encouragement from a working mama friend yesterday about what I try to do here on the blog. (Thanks, Angie!). Today, I want to return the favor by giving a little shout out to all my working mama friends, many who have been so supportive and encouraging of my efforts here.

My worker mama friends and I are not all that different. Our days look a little different and take shape in different ways - they each have their unique set of challenges. But our goals are the same. We want to raise loving, well-adjusted children who look back fondly on their childhoods; we want to be a connected wife whom our spouse is excited to see at the end of the day; we want our families (including ourselves) to be healthy; we want an organized house that is a haven to come home to rather than one more obstacle in the way of peace; we want to grow as people; and at the end of the day, we want to have something left.

I was given the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom and jumped at it (not to say that it wasn't an adjustment not getting a paycheck to help my family financially, or that it wasn't hard to read and hear the message being sent out in magazine articles and talk shows at that time that by making this choice I was choosing to become a penniless spinster as the only result of such a decision would be my husband dying or leaving me for a younger model - I decided to take my chances). But I have seen my working mama friends in action and heard their stories. They do what they can to excel at their jobs. Then they come home hoping to provide a healthy dinner for their families, a helping hand with the kids' homework, spend quality time with the kids, quality time with their husband, clean the house, workout, oh, and somehow have something left over that is all their own. In the 5 or 6 hours allotted between work and bedtime. What ends up happening is this: they scrap the workout and put off that project they've been meaning to start for a month, or they go to the gym or finally begin that project and end the day feeling just a little guilty that they weren't somewhere else. They crawl into bed, the next day's to-do list already forming in their heads. I want to head in the direction of the library self-help aisle just thinking about it. My days are full, but by staying home I've tried to limit my focus a bit. The dog has a shot at being walked and the laundry a 50/50 chance of being done.

So to my worker mama friends, I want to say this (feel free to take it with a grain of "she has no idea what she's talking about" - my feet are not wearing your shoes):

Some days I feel as though I've spent the day well. But other days, when I allow the other obligations I've created for myself or the voice that says "this house must be the dirtiest one in America" to take over, I end the day guilt-ridden. Try to cut yourself some slack. Think about the Cheerios moment:

Back when I made time to watch tv, I saw an episode of Oprah where she discussed some shows that had made the biggest impact on her. She mentioned a girl named Kate. Kate's mother had died of cancer. Her diagnosis known a year before her death, Kate's family spent her mother's last year traveling and spending time together as a family. But when asked what her favorite moment from that year was, Kate answered that she had asked her mother to wake her if she got up at night to eat a bowl of Cheerios. Her mother did wake her at 2am that night and they shared a bowl of Cheerios. That was Kate's moment. When I know I have a day ahead that's less then Audrey-focused, I try to remember Kate. I tell myself that Audrey doesn't need me to make a big production to show that I care. Any moment can be special simply because I'm present with her in it. Then I use the time I have. I dawdle for two minutes in front of the lobster tank at the grocery store or let Audrey sprinkle the toppings on our morning oatmeal, because you never know, one of those just might be her moment.

Here's to you worker mamas. Here's to finding your moment.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Summer Picnic Table-Style

Last night, we savored summer right into the evening by sharing a picnic with one of my dearest childhood friends. Our table was bright with the colors of summer and a Caprese Salad with cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden. The playground, just steps away, burst with shouts from children stretching their daylight as far as it would go. Audrey, like any child - more intent on the playground than her plate, joined them, throwing off her shoes as she ran as if a symbol of her liberation. Then it was off for another summer walk, this one under the moon and through the trees. And we all stayed up a little past our bedtime, which is what summer is all about.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Summer Walk

We are taking in the last days of summer. Savoring each one. Step by step.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Not Quite Grandma's

We had a tease of Fall this weekend: temperatures cool enough to inspire thoughts of roasted turkeys. (Of course, it doesn't take much to inspire that sort of mood in this house - a good sale at the grocery store can get us down-right nostalgic for Thanksgiving). Having happened upon quite the sale (and my husband being quite the bird roaster) we celebrated the fleetingly cool weekend in style. Jason requested dinner rolls.

Luckily, my grandmother was a yeast roll-extraordinaire. She made at least three pans of them for every family holiday. By hand. She also raised four children, became a nurse when most adults opt for a mid-life crisis, sewed her granddaughters' prom dresses, and leapt tall buildings in a single bound. (I am sure her children could tell you tales of the time she forgot to pack their school lunches or almost left one of them at the store, but I had the luxury of being her granddaughter and she never made any mistakes with me).

I don't have grandma's Wonder Mama cape, but I do have her recipe, a bread machine, and her nose (whether this helps in the kitchen, I don't know). A little bit of tinkering with the bread machine and her recipe and I've come up with this:

Grandma's Bread Machine Yeast Rolls:

Put the following ingredients into your bread machine basket in this order:

1 3/4 c. lukewarm water
3 1/2 c. flour
5 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1/3 c. plus half of 1/3 c. dry milk
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter cut into small chunks
2 1/4 tsp. (or one packet) dry yeast

Set the machine to Dough Cycle, turn it on, and go do something else for two hours. When the dough is done, flour a clean surface and knead the dough until it is no longer sticky but still elastic. Cut into 12 pieces and shape them into rolls. Place these into a greased pan, cover them with a towel, and let them double in size. Of course, here is where it gets a little tricky. Grandma being a yeast roll genius simply gave the instruction "bake." I baked ours on 375 degrees until they were golden brown on top. Then we covered them with aluminum foil and baked them a little longer just because they looked a bit doughy inside. Once out of the oven, run a stick of butter over the tops to give them that nice I'm-going-to-melt-in-your-mouth glow. You can try to let them cool a bit before breaking into them, but that never works for us.

As I shaped the rolls on Saturday I allowed myself a little daydream about having made the rolls completely by hand and imagined it akin to squeezing one of those rice-filled stress balls for an hour. I thought of my grandmother and all the ways she spent loving her family, big and small. And then I snapped back to reality and rinsed out the bread machine basket. Of course, there is something to making the rolls by hand. These don't taste quite as good as Grandma's. She was one of a kind. But for those cape-less parents out there who trip small anthills in a single bound, they aren't bad.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 33

I find myself amazed these days at the littlest things: a trip to the grocery store or a ride in the car. These used to be mundane tasks - the things I do every week, sometimes without thinking. But lately, I've been seeing these trips through a new lens - the view from the passenger riding in the car seat or shotgun in my cart. And, well, she's got things to say and plenty of questions to ask (such as, what is that net doing in there with those fish?). These little "mundane" tasks will never be the same. Here are just a few of her observations/comments from this week:

Getting Audrey out of the bathtub can sometimes be a bit of a trick. I often resort to games. On Tuesday, I hid her behind the towel and said, "Where did Audrey go?" When she laughed, I replied, "I can hear her, but I can't see her." Then, I got distracted with drying her off, and while I had her hidden, I had stopped commentating on it. Audrey let a minute or two pass and then asked, "Can you talk about it?"

Wednesday, she was "reading" a book to herself. The page she was on had an illustration of feet where the legs were not visible. Audrey looked at the picture and read, "Then she broke her feets. They're not on."

We were returning from an errand-spree on Thursday when Audrey said from the backseat, "I love my Daddy."

"I love your Daddy, too," I said. "He's a good guy."

"He's not a good guy," she said. "He's a man and you're a woman."
I stand corrected.

Audrey awaits the daily arrival from work of that Daddy she loves with much anticipation. On Friday when she heard the car pull in she opened the garage door to wait on him. When he met her at the door she said, "Good job Daddy. Good job driving. Good job driving home."

Today, after a long spell in her playroom, Audrey and Jason came downstairs. "What did you do?" I asked.

"I made food for that man," she said.

Jason and I laughed. He didn't seem to take offense. Sometimes it's good to be the man.

We hope you are enjoying your weekend, taking a little time to do the things you love, or doing the mundane, but in a way (or with a sidekick) that makes it feel new. Who knows, it could just be your weekend to be the man.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Marching On

Still enjoying the activities of summer, yet something tells me change is on its way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Art Sticky-Style

I was perusing my friend Jenny's blog, when I noticed a collage project she had completed with her daughter. The work area set with some full sheets of paper, scraps of material or paper, and a bottle of glue, she let her toddler loose to create in any way she pleased.

I'm not going to lie, we hadn't tried glue yet because, frankly, I was off to invest in a mound of wet wipes just thinking about it (and I'm the sort of parent who usually forgets to pack the wet wipes, doesn't carry hand-sanitizer, and believes strongly in the 5-second rule). My child isn't one to use just a dab of glue per piece. She, ahem, has her own style. But after some encouragement from my friend, who told me about the Ooey Gooey Lady, who focuses on learning through play (which is about the only kind of learning that stuck with me) and encourages glue bottle squeezing for the development of fine motor skills, I was off to the school supply aisle to give this a shot.

And, the project was a success (even if I did start muttering the mantra "fine motor skills, fine motor skills" halfway through). Audrey loved it and was fully engaged until we had to stop. I couldn't help but be really intrigued by the art she created when left to her own discretion. I didn't expect the layering of felt and paper that she seemed to favor. The mounds of glue, well, that I expected.

Her art complete, I whisked it outside to dry, using large rocks or planters to hold the papers down. That still-fresh glue resting on those papers was too enticing to keep close by. But she wanted to check on their progress all day. I see more of these projects in our future. Now I just need to get a picnic table, and make an artist's smock - definitely an artist's smock.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Have Water? Will Dance.

(sprinklers courtesy of Indianapolis Zoo; dance moves all her own)

If Audrey's second year had a subtitle, it would read "Just add water." Pools, bathtubs, sprinklers, hoses for watering, kitchen sinks, a simple bucket - you name it - add water and she's jubilant as only a toddler knows how to be. It might start with the tapping of a toe or extension of her arms, but soon it leads to a running leap or full-blown dance, Elaine Benis-style. The kind you do when no one is watching. The kind that makes you laugh at yourself and others laugh with you. I keep waiting for this water thing to be a phase that she tires of, like so many things introduced in year two. But it's stuck, and I'm glad. As I've gotten older there are a few precious activities that I have never outgrown. That make me smile. That make me dance, if only on the inside. And maybe, just maybe she's found one of her own.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Out of the Garden and into the Sauce Pan

We came home to eight large ripe tomatoes and a basket of cherry tomatoes. I am particularly fond of these homely heirloom ones. The wisps of green streaks seeping from the stem base seem to give these guys some character: tomatoes that have been around the block - weathered. With more almost-ripe on the vine, I decided to try my hand at fresh-from-the-garden spaghetti sauce. Of course, most of the sauce recipes I could find use canned tomatoes. So I had to improvise.

First, I found this website, which shows the process, in detail, of freezing tomatoes for future use in sauces, etc. I followed the instructions to prepare my tomatoes: giving them the hot tub treatment by boiling them in a large pan of water for just a minute before shocking them in an ice bath. Poor guys. This made the skins really easy to peel off before I quartered, squeezed, seeded, and drained them. Then it was time sauce it up: tomato-style.

I found this recipe for Giada De Laurentiis' Simple Tomato Sauce. Of course, it calls for canned crushed tomatoes. I threw caution to the wind and ignored this. I halved the recipe and when it was time to dump in the crushed canned tomatoes, I threw in my fresh tomato quarters. Then I waited. For an hour.

Luckily, I have just the thing to distract one from worrying too much about the state of spaghetti sauce in the form of a two-and-a-half-year-old blond. After a stint of trying to convince her that she had successfully "washed the dishes" (which entailed her climbing upon a stool, scaling the counter, and hanging herself over the sink so she could run water and soap into the pile of dishes I had amassed - with some cherry tomatoes and the wooden tomato basket thrown in for good measure) the sauce was almost done. The tomatoes had cooked down a bit with tomato chunks throughout. This went into the food processor where, after a quick pulse, it thickened into a traditional-looking tomato sauce. Except, it's orange. So it looks a bit more like creamy tomato soup. But, it still tastes yummy. Roma tomatoes are the ones typically used for sauces like this. We didn't grow those in our garden. Maybe they make red sauce. For now, we've got orange. Good thing it's one of Audrey's favorite colors.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 32

We spent last week on a family vacation in Destin, "Soda" (or Florida for those of you who don't speak Audrey), visiting some close friends and a town that Jason called home for a little while. We had the sort of week that gives you sustenance for weeks to come: beautiful surroundings that beacon you to come outdoors, gracious hosts, two date nights out (one at an amazing restaurant on the beach where the photo above was taken), home cooked meals that make you miss your grandma, and conversation that sparks new creative energy.

Of course, the setting was also perfect for some Audrey-originals:

Jason and I found ourselves being serenaded during our 13-hour drive (14 with stops) with a song that went something like this:

"Mommy's going to Soda. Mommy's going to Soda. Mommy's going to Soda. Yes she is.
Daddy's going to Soda. Daddy's going to Soda. Daddy's going to Soda. Yes he is.
Audrey's going to Soda. Audrey's going to Soda. Audrey's going to Soda. Yes she is.
Emmy's going to Soda (yes, the dog went, too). Emmy's going to Soda. Emmy's going to Soda. Yes she is."

Of course, at every stop (gas station, hotel, restaurant) we were asked if this was Soda.

As has been our trend, Jason and I have been taking the rain with us everywhere this summer, including Florida. Several days, we told Audrey she had to get out of the pool because we heard thunder. One day, after just getting into her suit, thunder clapped as she stood at the edge of the pool about to jump. She shook her finger at the sky, looked up, and yelled, "No, thunder! I'm swimming."

While Audrey slept great on this week (always a bonus on vacation), on our last night of the trip she was suddenly afraid of the dark when we put her to bed. Following her bedtime routine, we were about to leave the room when she began crying. "I don't want the dark on," she said, "I want the dark off." Luckily, a night light was all it took to soothe her.

This awareness of the dark continued on our drive home last night as the sky turned to shadow, only this time she decided to be the brave one and thought my husband could use some comforting. "You're okay. You're okay, Daddy. You don't have to be scared," she said.

My favorite description of the week occurred as we crossed the Midbay Bridge to drive home and Audrey looked out the window and said, "There's boats swimming."

Audrey experienced close encounters with several new animals this week, including tiny lizards, and our hosts' turtles with which she became quickly fascinated. But we were surprised one day by a little visitor in the pool - the frog you see below. Jason fished this one out with a net, only to have a smaller one jump in. I scooped that one up in my hands and helped him to the side of the pool where Audrey watched him hop away. I think this act raised me just a few notches on Audrey's cool-meter, as this afternoon she was still talking about mama holding a frog.

But my favorite story of the week involves one of our hosts, David. He came back from a meeting one night and relayed a funny story of an acquaintance (George) mentioning that he thought David had gained a little weight (as the man's wife stood by a little horrified, I'm sure). David laughed and said that "George lost his filter." We moved on from the conversation until a few minutes later, when Audrey said, so nonchalantly that she didn't even bother to look up from the toys in her hands, "George lost his filter." Those little ears are always listening.

As kids go back to school and summer weans away, I hope that you have all had a chance to spend some time somewhere beautiful; to get outside and play like a kid; to eat food worth remembering; and spend time with people who build you up and energize you until your steps feel light and your mind feels fresh. We feel blessed to have spent such a week and have such friends. If only we could bottle them up and hand a bottle to each of you. The world would be a better place. (Thanks, Susan and David)!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Walnuts, and Raisins, and Cranberries, Oh My!

Jason took me to one of his old hangouts, The Donut Hole, tonight for a date night. It's a bakery/deli, and while they have traditional deli-style dinner fare, we both opted for breakfast. I chose one of the specials, Cinnamon Raisin Apple Walnut and Cranberry French Toast (and that syrup you see on top is Maple Pecan Syrup, because it needed a little something, naturally). Seriously. I know, read it twice if you have to. Say it five times fast. Mull it over a little bit and eat two slices (or as many as you can muster before your belly tells you that's all the sweet goodness you can handle - for Jason, it was one bite). You're going to need a to-go box, and a little bit of a walk before settling into your seat for a date night movie.

Cinnamon Raisin Apple Walnut and Cranberry French Toast. Now why didn't I think of that?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sandy Thoughts on a Rainy Day

Today was a bit of a stormy day, complete with a couple flickers of the lights and loss of the internet connection.

Much of our day was spent inside: some in stores, some sharing good food and even better conversation with friends.

Of course, we couldn't help but let our minds - and sometimes our conversation - wander to thoughts of a recent day spent at the beach, when we reintroduced Audrey to waves and sand stretched out like an endless ribbon before our eyes.

We spent our morning running back and forth between the two mediums, creating imprints or piles in the sand before the water rushed up to erase them so we could begin again. At times we stood, feeling the sand packed hard beneath our feet, other times eroding at the slightest touch of a toe, and still other times mounded against our legs, heavy and wet, and at the liberty of the waves. As we all were.

Sometimes, feeling small never felt so good.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Things That Made Me Smile Today

:: Her adventuresome spirit.

:: Time spent with dear friends and the unexpected learning environments they introduce.

:: This one's inextinguishable curiosity.

:: Full-blown magnolia blossoms in a bed of green waxy leaves.

:: A perfect breeze,

:: And someone to share it with.

Monday, August 10, 2009


I love that every abstract picture paints a complete story for a child. I love that when you ask a child if they can paint a dolphin (a skyscraper, an airplane) the answer is always, "Yes. Yes I can," followed by a reaching for the brush. If only we could hold onto that optimism, bottle up that confidence that our efforts will always result in a masterpiece, and hand those bottles out to our adult selves who need to relearn how to finger paint. Here's to you and your everyday art.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 31

I've been a little delinquent this weekend. We've been spending our time catching up with dear friends, so I haven't turned the computer on since Thursday. But there are just a few stories that I have to write down from last week before I forget:

On Monday while returning home from the grocery store, we passed a Chick-fil-a (Audrey's favorite restaurant). She told me she wanted to go in. I said the restaurant was closed (my standard answer when we're not able to go somewhere she wants to). She replied, "But someone just went in."

One evening, Audrey was cooking for Jason in her playroom kitchen. She has a wooden refrigerator that happens to have a small round hole cut into the back. Audrey placed an egg inside of the refrigerator. Jason stealthily slid his hand behind the refrigerator and through the hole to remove the egg. Then he asked her to get it for him. She opened the door to find the refrigerator empty.

She gasped. "Where it is?" (Her version of "where is it?").

Jason again slipped his hand behind the refrigerator and slid the egg inside, this time accidentally brushing the back and making a small sound. The egg securely in place, he asked her to check the refrigerator for the egg. She opened it.

"There it is!" she said, as if surprised. She took it out, closed the door and said, "Where it is?"
Then she reached behind the refrigerator, pushed the egg in through the hole, opened the door and said (with a little gasp for emphasis), "There it is!"

During that same play session, Audrey began pretending. "I'm at the store," she would say. "I'm going to the zoo."

Jason attempted to play along. "Where am I?" he asked.

"You're right there," she said, pointing to him.

We were hanging out at our friends' pool on Saturday. This was their first time to see Audrey swim. Audrey loves the water and fearlessly jumps in from the side and paddles around. Watching her, David said, "You're amazing!"

With an offended look, Audrey said, "No I'm not. I'm not a dog."

We explained that amazing meant that she was fantastic and had done a good job. A couple minutes later she jumped into the pool. As her head broke the surface of the water she grinned and yelled, "I'm amazing!"

After our week away in Dallas it was nice to spend a week at home playing and enjoying the hugs and sweet rituals of our daily routines. It only takes an afternoon with Audrey to see that every day at home is a new experience. As she learns and grows and invites us to see the evolving pieces that make up the sum of her parts, we realize that adventure is right where we are. What can I say? She's amazing.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Catching Up

Lately, my blog has been a little deceptive. I have not been reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini for months and months. In fact, I think it took me all of two weeks to devour it page-by-page. There are some horrific events portrayed in this novel, but one message that struck me is that no matter what the circumstances of our home country (hometown, etc), a national past time (or regional/family one) has a way of uniting us and bringing us back home again when nothing else can.

Of course, reading about the kite tournaments made me want to make a kite with Audrey. I assumed I would write one post about the book and the kite we made. But, we never got around to making a kite this spring. I'm hoping to move it to the list of projects for the fall.

In the meantime, I have still been reading, but have failed to update the "Now Reading" section of my blog. First, there was Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. I was in the cookbook section of the library looking for a cookbook, obviously, when I ran across this one. I had seen posters for the movie so I thought I'd give the book a quick read. And, quick it was. This was not quite what I was expecting. I think I envisioned a little more food/cooking talk and less of a memoir. But, memoir I got, which now seems to be exactly what I should have expected since the writer wasn't someone focusing on cooking before her Julie/Julia Project (for those of you who haven't seen the movie trailers, Julie Powell makes it her mission to make all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year). This is daunting task, enough. But what I found jaw-dropping was all the dirt Powell fits between the covers of the book - from affairs to office politics, etc. Of course, I couldn't put it down as I wondered if any of her friends and family were still on speaking terms with her. Those of you sensitive to cursing or Republican jokes - this is not your book. A professor of mine gave this advice on including cursing in your writing: use it sparingly so that it has an impact when you do use it, or, use it so frequently that after a while your reader no longer notices (the movie Good Will Hunting comes to mind). This book lends itself to the latter option. (My professor gave no advice on the appropriate frequency of Republican jokes in writing).

Of course, what I keep thinking about when I remember this book has nothing to do with the personal dramas depicted or the food, really. What sticks out is a little fact about Julia Child: She didn't go to cooking school and begin the career that we all associate with her until she was 37. I have to say, I love this. I'm all about slow starts and late-found passions. I hate the conception that 37 or 57 or 77 is too late to begin again, learn a new skill, find a new direction. I believe in the slow simmer. I would hate to find all my best flavor extracted by a quick boil. Oh no. I want the slow simmer - to get good and aged and seep in new flavors every once and a while.

So now, I've moved on to Julia Child's memoir with Alex Prud'homme, My Life in France. To be honest with you, it's not a memoir I would have imagined myself reading before. If I had to choose a European cuisine to master, French wouldn't be it. Unlike Julia, my favorite city is not Paris (although, I could eat the pain du chocolat I was introduced to there - essentially chocolate baked in a puff pastry - every day). But after reading that she began this whole process of mastering French cuisine at the age of 37, I'm interested in hearing just how this all came about.

So in honor of Julie Powell's brave experiment and Julia Child's inspiration (and the mountain of cucumbers in our refrigerator), I made Julia's Concombers au Buerre, or Baked Cucumbers last night. While these got rave reviews on the website where I found the recipe, and in Julie & Julia, they were a little too tangy for me (I might have used too much vinegar). Maybe I need to try a different variation.

(Oh, I also read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold while in Dallas. It had been on my list for a while, ever since I learned that the narrator is a deceased character, which seemed an interesting perspective for a writer to tackle. Sebold does this creatively and seamlessly, and I flew threw this book in a week.)

And now we're up to date with my reading - and I still have a mound of cucumbers in my fridge.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When Left to her Own Devices...

I remember the squish of fresh mud between my toes, its easy yield to my palms as I rolled it and turned the newly dug clumps into balls or shapes. Few things seemed to draw me in as a kid as fast as a pile of dirt, an open wood, or a summer day beginning with dew and capped off with a lightening bug chase.

I don't know if these pictures are a reflection of the apple not falling far from the tree or just a reminder that children learn to appreciate all things before we teach them otherwise. Unless I show and tell her differently, Audrey will find art in all things - material just outside our door. She will find beauty wherever she steps - a lesson in every walk.

If I can only pause long enough to remind myself that perhaps I should seek out the voice of a girl who remembers what it feels like to run barefoot up dirt hills, to paint with mud and sculpt with clay, before I answer with the voice of the woman who thinks, "I'm going to have to clean that" - perhaps, I can help her summer days last just a little longer.

And keep the wonder that is childhood alive for the both of us.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rainy Day Fabric

We found ourselves with an abundance of rain today, accompanied by thunder and lightening.

This little guy decided to bravely sit the storm out on our fencepost, letting the rain slide off his back.

We took a different approach to weathering the storm: secure inside with stamps and ink. Audrey got to work with her own stamp pad and ink on blue paper, while I made some custom fabric.

A couple weeks ago I went in search of fabric for a project I've been meaning to get around to all summer. Not finding anything that stuck out at me (for a price I was willing to pay), and itching to try out this tutorial from the talented Geninne Zlatkis that I've been eyeing for months, I decided that this rainy day was the perfect day to create some custom fabric. As luck would have it, I had carved my two stamps using the tutorial last night. Of course, never able to completely follow directions, I used wood carving tools instead of the tools she suggests (because that's what I was able to find on short notice when I decided I MUST make stamps last night) and in an attempt to be frugal, I used both sides of my "carving block" (that was actually a blending eraser) and didn't cut completely around the edge as to not chop off part of the stamp on the other side. Not cutting around the stamp completely made the actual stamping a little bit tricky, so maybe I'll follow directions next time.
I used duck cloth as the background fabric for my stamping and, since this fabric won't be laundered, used regular ink pads (one the Color Box brand she suggests, which did work best) for my color. I was in a foliage sort of mood when I drew my stamp patterns. One is a simple leaf and the other is supposed to resemble an abstract seedling shape, but now on the fabric it makes me think of scissors. I'm still going to call it a successful first attempt. Now if I can just squeeze in some hours at the sewing machine.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summer's Bounty

What do you get when you leave your garden unattended for a week in July? A sinkload of zucchini as big as your femur. Ok, maybe not as big as my femur, but twice the size of Audrey's femur, hands-down. Seeing a sinkful of straight-from-the-garden produce makes me feel blessed. Blessed by the warm carefree days of summer where Mother Nature does the hard work and I sit with my free pass and watch her spectacular show. Blessed that when I do have to get up from my seat to assist in Mother Nature's assembly line, my body is able and willing to do the physical work. Blessed by the vibrant colors, shapes, and tastes - each piece a once-in-a-lifetime to awaken the senses. Blessed by the small pair of fresh eyes and hands at my waist that remind me that adventures are as close as our backyard.

Of course, when I see this same produce out of the sink and and sprawling the width of the refrigerator drawers and shelves in a manner that would make a claustrophobic person gulp for air, I feel a little overwhelmed. This kind of overwhelmed requires a plan. One that sent Audrey and I to the grocery store today in search of all items zucchini-accompaniment-friendly, and me seeking out zucchini-clad recipes new and old. First up: Giada De Laurentiis' Pasta Primavera with a side of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants bruschetta. The pasta is colorful and fresh and has a light summer feel with just a touch of olive oil and cheese en lieu of sauce. (Disclaimer: I lost track of time and roasted my veggies a bit too long, but I do wish there was a little more of a kick to the dish. What can I say, I'm a big marinara girl). And the bruschetta? It was surprisingly not too shabby, either.

Kristin's Fly-By-The-Seat-of-Her-Pants Bruschetta:

Loaf of Italian Bread
Handful of cherry tomatoes (or as many needed to fill your number of slices)
Few leaves of fresh basil
Mozzarella cheese
One garlic clove
Olive Oil

Jason and I had some great bruschetta while in Dallas, so when we came home to find a handful of cherry tomatoes ripe for the picking, we had bruschetta on the mind. While bruschetta is all about flavor for me, it's more about texture for him. He wants his bread to "melt in his mouth" rather than crunch against his teeth. I tried to make both of us happy with this recipe (or course, I left the bread in just a hair too long to reach perfect "melt in your mouth" goodness for Jason, but we were close).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees (my oven was already set to this for the veggies, so that's why I picked this temperature). Put a glub of olive oil onto a cookie sheet. Roll cherry tomatoes in olive oil and spread out on pan. Put them in the oven to roast for a few minutes until they split open. As tomatoes roast, cut desired number of bread slices. Press one garlic clove (or finely dice and smash with a knife to let out juices) and spread a little on each slice. Top with cheese. Tear or slice basil and sprinkle a little over each slice. Cool tomatoes until just able to touch. Dice tomatoes and use them to top bread slices. Return cookie sheet to oven until the cheese has melted. Enjoy.

Round One of Mission: Refrigerator Freedom a success. Time to get out the grater for Round Two. Zucchini Bread anyone?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 30

We made it home from Texas yesterday. The week was a great one.

New sights to see,

New places to make our own,

Great food to eat,

And time to relax and enjoy it all together.

Yes, that's Jason enjoying one of our favorite meals while on the trip at a little place on Worth St. called Esparza's. Did I mention he came along?

Of course, no matter how great the location or nice the break, one of the sweetest things about vacation is coming home again. And, the little one that makes coming home so worthwhile? She was right there waiting for us when we got back with stories of her own week-long adventure (thanks, Mamaw and Papaw!). We're happy to have the weekend to catch up with one another. We hope you're able to spend your weekend catching up with someone you love.