Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Usual Look Back

Time for the standard evaluation of the past year's goals, and the setting of some for 2011. I think one goal must be to keep better track of my goals, since after August the whole enterprise went by the wayside. So did a lot of other things. When I wrote these out at the end of last year, I didn't expect to be having a baby.
  • Financial -- Blown in a big way, what with moving and buying the van. We did pay off one of the credit cards, and an another unexpected event (my company being bought) should allow us to pay off the other one.
  • Health -- Also blown, given that I quit exercising in July. 
  • Food-Related -- Hit or miss, and I can't entirely blame pregnancy for this one. My energy level did suffer a lot from our crazy summer and autumn.
  • Writing -- I didn't get done what I wanted to, but I did get a lot done, including a second NaNoWriMo win. 
  • Reading -- More hits than misses.
  • Birthday observance -- Started well, then lost it over the summer.
All of which misses the point of the year, unexpected as it all was. Miriam is the sweetest baby one could wish for. The move was exhausting and difficult, but we're glad we did it; we like our new place, and our new town, and my new commute. We got rid of a lot of stuff we didn't need any more, and got some new things we've been needing for a while. I might not have been tracking my cooking well, but we have eaten well much of the time.

My hopes for 2011 are for recuperation and exploration.
  • Financial -- The emergency fund needs to be replenished, we have three college educations to think about, and of course we still hope to buy a house someday.
  • Writing -- Empire goes out to agents in February. If no one likes it, it goes in the drawer, under a rock. I'll also be working on a proper draft of last year's NaNoWriMo project.
  • Do Things -- This is a new one. I want to get out and about in New England, to see our friends, and to take advantage of the wonderful resources of this region.
  • Food -- I'll shoot again for at least one new recipe per week, and a blog entry for it. I hope to spend some time on ways to make my kitchen more efficient, to smooth out our weeknights as much as possible.
I would like to make exercise a goal, but experience tells me that rarely works with nursing; there's only so much time in a day. I'll work on my eating habits and see how the weight loss goes.

I've also been hearing about the 365 project, which sounds like it would be fun, but I'm not so good at forming new habits unless they fit into a particular time slot.

So that's it, and there's nothing too ambitious on the list. May 2010 go out in peace, and the new year be all that you wish for. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Retail Therapy

During the long, long week and a half we spent waiting for Mimi to arrive, and the long, long days I spent having contractions that didn't get anywhere, I must confess to having vented some of my frustration by shopping. I splurged at Penzeys,

indulged myself at amazon.com,

and after our daughter finally decided to join us out in the world, reached an agreement with my mom in which we would split the cost of a new, 6-quart stand mixer as an early Christmas gift--replacing the smaller one that has been used pretty darn hard for the ten years I've had it, and which spews flour all over the place every time I start it.

I don't think I'll be getting anything else for Christmas now, but I'm going to have a lot of fun!

Today is the next-to-last market of the season. The temperatures have gotten sharply colder. It's time to snuggle down and think warm thoughts, turn on the oven, dig out the hats and mittens, and buy root vegetables.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Kind of a weird week here

I woke up at 2 a.m. on Tuesday feeling crampy. This being exactly how labor started with JJ, we figured things were getting underway. We kept on thinking that for the next couple of days, but as I am posting this on Saturday, still babyless, you can infer that this was not the case. It's been pretty exhausting and frustrating; having an occasional contraction seems like a cruel tease on nature's part.

What with trips to the hospital and fretting, I didn't end up doing nearly as much cooking (or anything else) as I was planning to last week, but these new recipes made it in before things got stressful:
  • Chicken fried rice with bok choy -- Excellent. I even got L to eat some of it, by keeping the various pieces separate for her consumption.
  • Bo nuong cha (about halfway down the page)-- A lot of trouble to make and to eat, but totally yummy; a keeper
At least the false alarm gave us a chance to get things sorted out at home; the baby's room has been cleared of moving boxes, the clothes are washed, the car seat installed. Yesterday I went in for my trifecta of appointments: ultrasound to check fluid levels (fine), non-stress test to make sure the baby's doing okay (fine), general -purpose appointment with one of the midwives (fine, though they have a whole new batch of them who all seem terribly young).

We made it to the market this morning regardless--a bright, chilly day after yesterday's storm, the first one that has really felt like autumn to me--and made the rounds. I have been trying to buy some meat there every week, stocking up the freezer, but I am a bad locavore, since I have not yet been able to bring myself to pay $25 for a chicken.

Back at home, we had what is becoming our traditional post-market lunch of fresh mozzarella on focaccia with sliced tomato--quite possibly the last tomato of the summer. I am planning next week's menus, and feeling more than a little grumpy about, well, everything. I am going to try to put that grumpiness to some productive use this afternoon, but we'll see.

No links this week because most of these are improv to at least some extent:
  • Zucchini fritatta; squash soup
  • Braised chicken and root vegetables; mashed potatoes
  • Pizza
  • Pasta with beans and broccoli
  • Something in which I can use Thai peppers (so cute I had to buy them) and bok choy
  • Calzones with chard and....?
It would be nice to get some baking done, too, but I've been saying that for weeks now and haven't managed to do any.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Return of Supper Club?

Me being me, one of the first things I did after we moved was go hunting for people to cook with. Having no luck with Meetup.com, I went back to the good old Cooking Light forums and found an old post for a group in the area that was looking for new members. A couple of emails later, and the arrangements were made for a meeting at the end of September.

Every group has slightly different customs, and of course lots of them try to change things up a little bit with every meeting. The host for this one picked an herb theme. I offered to do an appetizer, on the theory that a) I don't get many chances to make those and b) if I ended up missing the dinner due to baby's arrival, I wouldn't be deleting an essential part of the meal. Once we had all settled on a course, the host sent out randomly selected herbs to be part of each person's dish; mine turned out to be rosemary.

A wonderful, easily available herb. Yay. As the weeks went by, I did some searching. I found plenty of recipes that sounded good, but they tended to have one thing in common: they were really easy. I didn't necessarily hope to knock everyone's socks off with gourmet flair (alas, this is not the Noble Pig), but I was anxious to show that I do like to cook and would be a committed member of the group. So I decided I would do three different dishes; none of them would be difficult, but the variety might be nice.

I did all of my shopping on Saturday; alas, no rosemary at the farmer's market, but I did find some fresh at Stop&Shop. Sunday dawned mercifully cooler than the previous day (late pregnancy does little to enhance one's ability to appreciate unseasonal warmth--I would rather it snowed tomorrow than hit 85 again).

The cashews were first. Five minutes' work, if that, and they smelled fantastic. Next up, the dip. Again, five minutes, and the food processor did nearly all of the work. The bread was the only thing that required anything resembling effort, and that not much. I haven't made bread in ages.

Everything was well received, but the bread made the biggest splash (someone wanted to know where it had been purchased!). In addition we had butternut squash ravioli with sage, brown butter, and hazelnuts; a dish of chicken, mushrooms, and tomatoes with tarragon; an orzo salad with tomatoes and oregano; and cookies made with basil (which was... interesting). I met a bunch of the group and had a very pleasant evening; most of them have kids and one is due any day now, so there was plenty of built-in conversational material there.

I'm not likely to make any meetings arranged for October, but we'll see how things go after that.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Last week, this week menus

Closing in on the end of this pregnancy (2 1/2 weeks to go, more or less). Tthings are going well. We've been shopping for baby things, we got the van inspected, and the baby's room is slowly taking shape (though it does still have the curtains the previous tenants left, which are black). We think we have a name.

I haven't bothered to pack a bag for the hospital; previous experience suggests that labor is proof against pretty much all distractions, that you may as well go home in the clothes you arrived in because you still look pregnant, and that the baby will be professionally swaddled the whole time and oblivious to any adorable outfits you attempt to impose.

Last week's recipes turned out thusly:
This week should include:

Tonight, assuming I don't have a baby, I'll be meeting with a new supper club for the first time, but I'll try to blog that separately.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Menus for a new week

As usual, I bought things willy-nilly, or perhaps giddy would be a better word, buying whatever caught my eye. Now this week's market jigsaw is nearing completion:
  • Sunday: Eggplant and fig caponata, an old favorite I make every summer when there's good eggplant to be had. Red Potato and Tomato Gratin, a new one from a source I am coming to like more and more. Some sort of pork tenderloin to go with.
  • Monday: Spiced Kuri Squash and Chicken Stew, which I didn't get to last week. Good thing squash keeps well.
  • Tuesday: North Woods Bean Soup. I'm tentatively designating Tuesdays as "Lydia's Choice" night, and this is a recipe she usually eats. 
  • Wednesday: Mushroom and Fettucine with Red Pepper Flakes. I found this blog a few weeks back, and this will be the first recipe I've tried from it. I am very curious about their wine, and will be keeping my eyes open for it once I'm on a more relaxed regime there. School open house is this night, so best to do something simple.
  • Thursday: Tacos. Take it easy.
If I can get my act together, I'll put together Couscous Salad with Chickpeas and Tomatoes for lunches, to use up a few more veggies.

I will be tucking extra chard into a number of these recipes, and I have yet to find a place to use the bok choy - perhaps alongside the curry, in a pan-Asian nod? - and the daikon - pickle it? - but this is the overall shape of the plan.

Baby is very stretchy this morning, making her mother very uncomfortable, and creating a distinctly lopsided bulge in my belly. At this point, one occasionally feels like a balloon about to pop.

Last week's reviews

We bought a minivan. After all these weeks, plus an additional two hours of paperwork, we went back to the first dealership and bought the first one we had looked at. I think it will serve. The sales guy was gushing over our credit scores, which I like to think are so good precisely because we buy less than we can technically afford in areas like vehicles. We'll go pick it up Tuesday.
Next, some notes on last week's new recipes.
I didn't get around to the squash curry yet; maybe tonight. Yesterday I filled my bags to bursting again, so this morning I'll have to sit down and work out what to do with everything. This afternoon we're going shopping for baby stuff--finally. I'll be 37 weeks on Tuesday, so in a little more than a week, she'll be welcome to show up just as soon as she likes.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Still crazy after all these years?

    On Thursday D* and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. It's been an eventful decade for us (the rest of the world goes without saying)--two moves, two layoffs, two children and all of the changes they brought, and will continue to bring us for many years to come. This year has been more eventful than most--as D* says, "Surprise baby is surprising." There have certainly been difficult times, but on the whole we reckon ourselves blessed, or lucky, in that the good times have far outweighed the bad and overall things have kept getting better.

    We spent yesterday afternoon car hunting, with little to show for it. Hardly anyone seems to be selling what we want. We set aside our disappointment and made our way back to Cambridge. A brief stop at the Wine & Cheese cask (where I confided in the teller that I would kill for a margarita and received a sympathetic look), a mosey down to Harvard in the cool afternoon air, and then we enjoyed a wonderful meal at Dali, a place we last visited while I was pregnant with Lydia (some day I'll get more than a sip of sangria, dammit). Some day we may be able to take the kids out for dinner and they'll actually eat something, but on this occasion they were being babysat by their saintly grandparents, so we had anchovies and baked goat cheese and prunes wrapped in bacon and rabbit and seafood ravioli and... I'm starting to feel stuffed again. And then we had dessert.

    We also made it to the Union Square market in the morning, and came back with a fridge full of vegetables, so I am happily spending time now doing the jigaw-puzzle-like menu arrangement that must follow. This is what I have so far (subject to change, naturally!). 

    Spicy Oven-Fried Chicken
    Fingerling Potato Salad with Leeks and Fennel

    Open-Faced Jerk Vegetable Sandwiches
    Roasted Tomato Soup

    Pan-Roasted Pork Chops with Cranberries and Swiss Chard
    36 weeks!

    Spiced Kuri Squash and Chicken Stew

    The latter half of the week will be improvised, and next weekend will be another busy one--if we haven't gotten the car sorted out by then, we'll have to change strategy in order to get it done with, because we really can't waste much more time on this. Should probably also buy a few baby clothes and stuff!

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Overdue Post: Vacation Wrapup

    Life continues to be crazy; so what else is new? Still settling in, have started car hunting, and there's all the joys of the third trimester with which to cope. I have been spending a lot of time reading other blogs and being generally envious of other peoples' time and energy. But I wanted to post about our vacation before it falls entirely out of my thoughts. The paucity of pictures is due to my failure to pack the battery charger for my camera.

    8/14 Saturday: We drove up in the morning. L melted down on arrival, got over it and spent most of the day playing with her grandma. JJ spent most of his time on the sand pile, a remnant of last year's landscaping and leveling efforts. Dave's mom made dinner, we had pie and ice cream to celebrate his birthday, and lit sparklers out on the dock after it got dark. We had to move L's bed--she had first said she wanted to be upstairs, then changed her mind, which I pretty much expected was going to happen. JJ didn't even wait for lights out, but snuggled down and went to sleep, one exhausted little boy.

    8/15 Sunday: Food shopping at Moulton Farm and then the grocery store in Center Harbor was followed by a quick lunch, and then hitting the beach with the grandparents before they had to head for home. Left Dave alone to relax and write and stuff. Later on, Dave's uncle took the kids for a boat ride. I am told that L used the words "accelerate" and "turbulence" during that. For dinner we had tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese, drizzled with olive oil and sea salt; corn on the cob; steak with a pan sauce of shallots and red wine. Dave told me that if he was ever sent to prison, memory of that meal would sustain him. The man knows how to give a compliment!

    8/16 Monday: Rain moved in, so we went to Fun Spot for a couple of hours. Dave took L for a canoe ride, which she liked a bit too much, and did not want to stop. Didn't do much in the afternoon; the kids watched DVDs on my laptop. Dinner was an improvised pasta salad with green beans, cherry tomatoes, more mozzarella, olive oil and lemon juice. Strawberries and ice cream for dessert.

    8/17 Tuesday: Got a lot of writing done, made pancakes. Another gorgeous day, so we went to the beach again for the morning. Journal says, "Cicadas all day, crickets all night." In the afternoon Dave took the kids to the library. A late trip to GPC for ice cream capped the day.

    8/18 Wednesday: Was declared "the worst day ever" by our overly dramatic daughter, who got up much too early, refused to eat breakfast, and spent most of the day in A Mood. Not actually a bad day by any objective measure; played on the dock and the sand pile, went to Meredith in the afternoon. Made the usual pilgrimage to Innisfree Bookshop, did our bit to keep the place in business. Stopped by Oglethorpe and spent an imaginary ten thousand dollars, and then Lee's chocolate store to spend a few real ones. Dave and the kids went to the GPC playground for a while--more writing time for me!

    8/19 Thursday: More beach time. L spends all her time in the water, enjoying the kickboard Grandma got her for her birthday, and trying to make friends with everyone remotely her own age. JJ doesn't trust the lake, will only go in up to his knees, and that with much coaxing; he prefers to play in the sand. I took L to the quilt shop, where we found some nice things, and she got to practice apologizing for breaking a dried eggshell they had in a display. I bought a couple more patterns to add to my "some day I will have time for this" collection. The first of our friends arrived for their weekend visit, the first time in ages we've been able to arrange a get-together.

    8/20 Friday: Windy and chilly in the morning, but nice later on, though far from hot. Our other friend arrived at lunchtime. We went to the Old Country Store. L wanted to go to the library (the Moultonborough Library has a wonderful kids' section); the plan was that the guys would return to the cottage, but they got wrapped up doing a jigsaw puzzle and we all ended up staying for a while. Played with the kids; L had one of her wands and went around soliciting wishes from everyone. After dinner we had a fire and made s'mores, which L called "smears." It was absolutely wonderful, seeing old friends and my own family, everyone having a grand time. I took JJ off to bed, and everyone else played Trivial Pursuit, with L assisting.

    8/21 Saturday: Quiet morning, uncertain weather, another visit to Fun Spot in the afternoon. We played mini-golf on the decaying course, and I got a couple of games of pinball in. Lee Wah's for dinner--it's pretty awful Chinese food, but you can't mess with Tradition. More Trivial Pursuit in the evening.

    8/22 Sunday: Our one friend had to catch the bus back to NYC in the early morning; the rest of the time was occupied by cleaning, a trip to the dump, and so forth. Traffic was horrendous, but we made it home eventually and collapsed into our beds.

    I didn't exactly feel rested when we got back, but I did feel good. It was a great vacation, and I feel enormously fortunate to have such wonderful people and places as part of my life.

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    One Step at a Time

    August appears to be doing as I wished, and speeding past in something of a blur. We are still not fully moved in, but the pieces are sorting themselves out, very slowly. We got the TV stand earlier this week, enabling the unpacking of another handful of boxes. The process has been slowed by a week on vacation, about which I hope to have more to say shortly (though not much to show, alas, since I forgot the charger for camera, and indeed have no idea where it is right now).

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    What Was Missing

    Walked out of the apartment this morning into air like a damp dishrag, and nearly missed the bus--I am not yet used to the fact that waking up ten minutes later may actually impact my morning. A single cricket serenaded my hasty progress.

    But it was a lovely weekend. Saturday began with a trip to the Union Square farmer's market, where I bought--oh, lots and lots of things, and felt ludicrously happy and very much an urban dweller. L asked for a snack, was offered a ground cherry by a man working at the stand we were in line for; she wouldn't try it, so I did, and found it surprisingly sweet. I bought her a stalk of broccoli, which she nibbled at for the remainder of our stay at the market (yes, she likes raw broccoli, at least as much as she likes anything that resembles real food). There was South American flute music, and lots of people had dogs, and some of the eggs I bought are green, not to mention huge. Lunch was a caprese salad and slices from the cutest little watermelon ever. I wish I'd written down the name of the tomatoes I got, because I actually found them okay.

    In the afternoon we headed over to the Mystic River Reservation--which is a lot bigger than I realized, looking at it on this map. Maybe next summer I can start running again. The background sound was a strange, constant meld of traffic and cicadas.

    On Sunday my sister-in-law and her husband joined us for lunch. I had promised L cookies, so after putting the dough in to chill, I made a corn chowder that looked reasonably good, and indeed it was so. Any excuse to use my belated birthday present:

    For some reason, most of what I've bought for the new kitchen is red, I don't know why, though a straightforward interpretation would suggest energizing change.

    After lunch the kids dragged everyone else upstairs--I heard a fair amount of LEGO clatter--while I cleaned up a bit and got the dough out. L ventured downstairs while I was rolling out the first bit, and very soon everyone was back in the kitchen, wielding cookie cutters shaped like dinosaurs and decorating the results as soon as they had cooled off.

    It was exactly what I have spent the past few years feeling that we've been missing from our lives--casual, minimally planned social contact, in which people can come over on short notice and feel free to linger, because they don't face an hour-plus drive home from our place, and I can relax and putter and feed the people I love without making into a laboriously planned Event.

    The place is still coming together--I don't think we'll be fully sorted out for another month, but we unpacked a bit more, hung up the shower curtain I like so much instead of the ugly one the previous tenants left, shoved some out of season stuff into the storage zones, and Freecyled a ton of moving boxes and packing material. We have filled another box with books we might be able to part with. There's a lot left to do, but every incremental improvement in the entropy level does good things to my stress levels as well.

    In the late afternoon on Sunday, the kids watched a video while I sat at the kitchen table and leafed through old cooking magazines, cutting down the stack (am I ever going to make that? what was I thinking when I turned down that corner? do I like this entire issue enough to keep it, or can I pull out a few pages and recycle the rest?). It was pleasant and restful and productive at the same time, even if reading about fall recipes makes me want to hurry the seasons forward even more.

    Supper was an adaption of a pork and bok choy stir fry I found after a brief online search. I had a ton of bok choy, beautiful little plants from the market, so didn't use any other greens. I also found that I didn't have any cornstarch or hoisin sauce--I have some restocking to do. It was good anyway.

    And now it is Monday, and it's going to be 90 degrees again.

    Thursday, August 5, 2010

    Lost Summer

    In a recent IM conversation with a friend I referred to this year as a "lost summer" for us. She pointed out that a new apartment and a baby aren't exactly a loss, and of course she's correct, but that wasn't quite what I meant.

    It's just that between the apartment hunt, packing and unpacking, and preparing for the baby, this summer has left us with precious little space for "now." Every spare minute is occupied with the future, getting ready for things to happen and wanting to the time to pass faster so that we can get on with adjusting our lives. I'm not really comfortable with this suspended state, with long-term waiting.

    The weather has made it worse, a summer of sky-high temperatures and humidity that would be uncomfortable even if I wasn't pregnant, and which currently have me longing for fall more than I recall ever doing in my life. I tend to feel guilty about not living more mindfully a lot of the time, but this summer, I am giving myself permission to wish the days away, to focus on a time (not as far away as it seems, I try to convince myself) when we will be doing instead of preparing.

    Just this once, August can't go by quickly enough.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    ...And More Progress

    Said farewell to Mom this morning after a busy, if not actually whirlwind, visit to help us settle into the new place. Which is not to say that we went out and did a lot of things, because we didn't, but the time passed quickly.

    Sunday we did indeed go out shopping--Home Depot for keys and shims to keep our bookshelves from toppling (the floors in the new place are, um, not exactly level); Target for a vast miscellany of things, including an umbrella stroller (finally) and what turned out to be our housewarming present--all new towels!; and Bed Bath & Beyond for the things we couldn't find at Target.

    Monday D* had a major dental appointment in the morning. I am drawing a complete blank on the afternoon; I suppose we just spent it unpacking. For dinner I made stuffed 8-ball zucchini, inspired by this post from Tea and Cookies, one of the best blogs going. I added mushrooms, and it made for a nicely substantial meal. I also did my first baking in the new place, a mint brownie recipe I have never tried before. They turned out okay despite the fact that I almost forgot to put in the eggs (had to scrape them out of the pan and stir those in), but are in no danger of displacing my usual go-to recipes.

    Tuesday morning L had her annual checkup, and the acquisition of the vital paperwork to allow for enrollment at her new school. In the afternoon we went to the Aquarium, as I figured we should try to do at least one "event" during the visit. The place was packed with summer tourists escaping the heat, and the visit was a little hectic, but I think we all had a good time. Getting home, unfortunately, took forever, as there was construction on 93 causing an insane backup and spillover onto the local roads. The kids were patient (OK, L was patient; JJ fell asleep). Once we finally got back, I pulled some tortellini out of the freezer and whipped up a sauce with canned diced tomatoes, an emergency "recipe" I am happy to have.

    The new place is coming together. I am impatient for our furniture to arrive, but the kitchen is almost totally sorted out now, which means I can relax in it. The books are finding their way toward an arrangement, though we are almost certainly going to have to store or get rid of some of them. There's a ton of miscellaneous things left to do, but progress is visible, and I think that the place is going to suit us very well. I'm even getting used to the stairs.

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    Making Progress

    Yesterday had its ups and downs, but much progress was made.

    The first outing was to the Union Square farmers market, near our old digs in Somerville. They didn't have a market when we lived there, but the past few years have obviously been good for it--the place was packed and obviously thriving. After the disappointingly tiny Medford market, with its two whole farms present, I was dizzied, not sure where to start. Amid intermittent meltdowns from L we provisioned ourselves with summer bounty, bolstered it with a few staples at Stop N Shop, and headed for home. Lunch was one of those minimalist summer market meals--a focaccia round sliced up and halved, filled with tomato, hand-made mozzarella, and basil leaves the size of my hand. Not to wax rhapsodic or anything, but it was damn good. I don't even like fresh tomatoes normally.

    After lunch, Mom and I took the kids to the park, which is only about six blocks from our new place. Everything went fine, despite a disappointing absence of other kids. It was a perfect afternoon, sunny, warm, and breezy--I hope for their sakes they were all at the beach or otherwise outdoors, because anything else would have been a horrid waste. Every few minutes a jumbo jet would cruise overhead on a landing trajectory.

    The kids played happily for a couple of hours, got thoroughly filthy, and seemed content when I announced it was time to head home. I carried J on my shoulders while L and Mom followed along. We were nearly home when L found a rock in her sandal, took off said sandal, then ran to catch up with me, and, one-shoed, tripped, skinning both her knees. She was quite fine about it until she we got to our driveway and she realized that she was bleeding, at which point the hysterics started. One would think Bactine a tool used by the Spanish Inquisition, but a Band-Aid and ice cream sandwich were soon applied.

    The kids settled down with a movie, and Mom and I went to work attacking The Pile (mostly Mom, I must confess). We found a half-dozen boxes that can go right into storage--clothes that will await the next child to grow into them, CDs that I've ripped, but find myself reluctant to get rid of, just in case my laptop and external hard drive both spontaneously combust on the same day.

    One major triumph: by dint of much box-shifting, Mom unearthed the remainder of my baking supplies--the actual ingredients. As soon as I put the flour away, I realized that I was going to have a storage problem. I just have too much stuff, even for a kitchen this size. Some consolidation and perhaps thinning will have to take place.

    The next task was to give the kids a bath. Much as I like our new whirlpool tub, it's difficult in my present condition to do much leaning and bending, which means that the only practical way to bathe the kids is to get in with them. Fortunately, it's big enough to accommodate all 3 2/3 of us. The bath was the occasion of the day's second trauma, when L headed upstairs for fresh clothes, slipped, and split her lip open on one of the steps. Further hysterics ensued, but were short-lived.

    Dinner was a simple dish I make in the summer when I don't have any better ideas: onion and garlic sauteed in olive oil, add squash, broth, and your protein of choice (chickpeas for this occasion, but I often use those Al Fresca chicken sausages), serve over pasta.

    Today, Day 2 of Mom's visit, we have some shopping to do, and I hope to finish getting this kitchen sorted out. Perhaps I'll even bake something, and post a picture. I've been reading many wonderful food blogs lately, and am envious of the degree of photographic skill shown off on many of them. My little point-and-shoot hasn't gotten much exercise lately.

    It's 5 a.m., I've been awake for ages (though my sleep was solid while it lasted), and I think I'll try to get some writing done.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010

    Hoping to Come Back Here Soon....

    Everything is still rather blurry and busy, but now that the move is behind us I am finding--much to my relief--the desire to cook, to think about food, possibly even to write about food, coming back. Slowly. So I have some hope that once we are more fully settled, I'll be able to act on this returning itch.

    Saturday, July 24, 2010

    We made it!

    Thursday was hectic, as all moving days are. Dinner: Bertucci's (again!). Yesterday was slightly less so, but still really busy. I am focusing on getting the kitchen unpacked. Visited our new grocery store, a Stop N Shop not far away. Looks like a nice place. The furniture store delivered the frame for L's bed (the rest of her stuff won't get here until Thursday) and the cable guy came by to set up our internet service. For our first cooked meal in the new place, I made chicken with Penzey's lemon-pepper, cauliflower, and couscous. So far the move's only casualty has been a coffee mug. The Bigfoot guys did a great job.

    Today we are headed back to Worcester to clean the old apartment. Not exactly looking forward to it, but it has to get done. If I can unearth the rest of my kitchen stuff, I am hoping to bake something tomorrow.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Almost There!

    What a week it has been, and it's only Tuesday. To recap, with product placement:

    On Saturday we drove in to "the city." A quick stop at the Harvard Book Store to unload a few more books, and then we were off to examine our new apartment in more detail than we had before, including measuring rooms and such. After lunch at Bertucci's we headed out to Natick and the fabled Jordans furniture store, so many of whose radio ads I have heard over the years. We had never been there before, and were somewhat floored by the sheer showmanship of the place. In short order we found a couch, a TV stand, and a bed for our daughter, then retreated from the sales onslaught. More packing followed.

    Sunday morning was the last day for church in Worcester. I cleaned the oven, did laundry, and packed. In the afternoon, one of my co-workers visited to pick up a bookcase we are offloading on her, and then we headed back to Rotmans (which is a lot quieter than their competition) to finish our furniture shopping, which consisted of a mattress and dresser for L. More packing.

    Monday I took the afternoon off. Stopped at Petco to get a new litter box for Jasper, drove home, took L over to the store to pick up her cake, and did more packing. In the evening was her birthday party at Pump It Up. It was a short guest list, but the kids all had a good time, with only one episode of tears (when one child wanted a balloon that someone else had already picked out). By the time it wrapped up, we were all pretty well exhausted. Drove home through a sky that threatened to unleash a thunderstorm at any moment but never did, though it was a gorgeously dramatic frame for the sunset.

    Tuesday has been pretty quiet, but then I'm at the office, doing normal things, wondering if I'll manage to finish up the kitchen packing tonight and if I'll need to take another half day tomorrow.

    I am so, so, so ready for this to be over and done with. I want my life back!

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    Countdown: The Final Week

    Last night I made chili without a recipe. I didn't even really think about finding one, just threw a bunch of things that seemed right into a pot, based on memories of the first chili I ever made. Ground beef, onion, green pepper, chili powder, cumin, a can of tomato puree, and some kidney beans. It turned out just fine. 

    A week from today we'll be moving into our new place, and starting the business of learning a new town and sorting our lives back out from their current boxed state. The moving company has been around to give us an estimate. The packing is going well. We are excavating things that were shoved into a closet when we moved into this place, and throwing a fair number of them away, or giving them to the thrift store, hoping to avoid last-minute craziness as far as possible.

    We'll be leaving some furniture behind when we go, some of the unfinished pine we picked up cheap in our first Boston years, and replacing it with what I continue to think of as "grown-up" furniture. Last night I packed up the baking ingredients--two entire boxes' worth.

    27 weeks pregnant and things seem to be fine. She's an active little critter, just like her siblings. I got my packet of preregistration paperwork for the hospital, and started making a list of the things we'll need to get.

    Last but not least, today is my daughter's birthday! 6 years ago we were well into the second day of labor, with five hours still to go before meeting her. It's been a wonderful time, full of adventures. Yesterday while I was working at home, I tried to assuage her disappointment at not being able to spend time with me by suggesting that she write me a letter. "Dear Mommy, I love you. Love Lydia."

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    Goal Roundup: June

    Well, that went by in a blur--as expected. It was a busy month, to say the very least.
    • Financial: The savings account is expected to suffer as we put the initial payment on the new apartment, replace some furniture, and prepare for Baby. On the other hand, we may be credit card-free by the end of the year, which would be pretty awesome.
    • Health: Travel and illness interfered in the first two weeks. Since then, back to walking in the morning when I'm in the office.
    • Food: See above. Too busy and/or exhausted to do any real planning or much cooking worthy of the name. All of my bakeware is now packed. It will be August before things settle back down in that realm. Not expecting much from myself until after Baby.
    • Reading: Interesting Times, Lords and Ladies (both while sick); All Things Bright and Beautiful (reread from a long long time ago). Nearly all of our books are packed, but I left out a few just in case.
    • Writing: Have added a few lines of dialog to the current scene, but otherwise this has been sorely neglected as I try to get things done at work.
    • Birthdays: Missed my grandmother's. Bad. :( 
    So not great, but not unexpected; moving and baby-growing are tiring activities. We'll be spending July packing and then doing the move, so I may not even bother with the tracking.

    Right now, I really want to lie down and take a nap somewhere. If only.

    Sunday, June 27, 2010

    Chicken with Kale and Wild Mushrooms

    Yesterday we packed up the cookbooks, and most of the metal bakeware (the cookie cutter collection may need its own box...). It was a long, tiring day, fraught with annoyance over the past week's unreliable--meaning mostly absent--hot water supply and our landlord's efforts to get it fixed. The kids are watching a lot of TV these days while we pack. I was happy to get out for an hour by myself and visit the grocery store, where I bought a bunch of veggies and things pretty randomly. I already had chard from the Thursday market, and I was thinking vaguely of mushrooms. I came home and plugged search terms into Google and came up with this:

    Chicken with Kale and Wild Mushroms

    One thing about getting more experienced is that I rely a lot less on recipes than I used to. Which is not to say that I don't use them, but rather that I am better now at identifying the places where it's possible to go a slightly different route and still get to an acceptable place. I wasn't about to blanch my greens separately (for one thing, we were running out of clean pans) when I could throw them on the mushrooms for a minute. We don't have any decent wine right now, but a sauce of all chicken broth would do all right.

    The one thing I forgot was the lemon juice, which probably would have helped; I found the flavor a little dull. Next time I might try throwing in some herbs, too. It wasn't a particularly ambitious meal, but it's the first we've had in a while that wasn't takeout or put together in a state of advanced exhaustion after a bad commute.

    Come Tuesday I'll be 25 weeks along with Baby To Be Named Later, who has already developed a nice strong kick. Three of those weeks will be consumed by preparing to move, much of the next month by settling in to the new place, and then school for our newly minted first grader. October will be here before we know it.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010

    A Big Step

    The first major item on the summer checklist has been resolved: We have a new apartment! Signed the lease last night on a lovely place in Medford. We'll be moving next month, and I hope we'll be happy there.

    Regardless, it's a major load off my mind to have it reduced to the relatively simple logistical problems of the actual move. This is much better than the major strategic decisions--not to mention the physically exhausting process of tracking down agents, locking down appointments, and driving hither and yon to see the places. It's exciting to be able to look at a calendar and say, "In X days I will be free of this commute." We told our current landlord that we're going to be leaving; a little sad after all these years, but our family is about to outgrow the place--it could be argued that we already have--and I'm more than ready to be done with the drive.

    The farmers markets are open here at last, but my company's policy on working at home has changed somewhat, so I'm not sure if or when I'll make it to the Worcester market, in between everything else. I have been stopping by the one near the office, but there's a limit to what I can buy there without going into serious advance prep with coolers and such. I look forward to learning more about the markets in our new town!

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Trials and Tribulations

    This has been one of those periods in which the good things arrived sandwiched between the really unpleasant.

    It started nearly two weeks ago, on Sunday, when we were supposed to drive into the city to look at a few apartments. Every single appointment ended up canceled or postponed until Tuesday. On Tuesday I went to the office early so I could head out and see the two places I had managed to reschedule. After spending twenty minutes stuck in an inexplicable traffic stoppage, I found that the first was in appalling condition and the second, despite being a duplex, was actually smaller than our current apartment.

    Then I got lost trying to get to the highway. Did I mention that it was raining? I found myself thinking that maybe we should just stay put after all, forget the whole idea of moving.

    The following morning we set out to visit my family in Pennsylvania. The trip itself went fine; everything was lovely and the kids behaved themselves to an astonishing degree. On Thursday we went to Presque Isle in the morning, then out for dinner with my grandparents (Olive Garden--Erie doesn't offer a lot of options). It was at about 2:30 the following morning that things really and truly went south, as I woke up with a vague feeling of all not being well. By 5:00 it was unequivocally established that I was ill (I blamed the restaurant, but later events seem to have cleared them). I spent the day on the couch with a can of ginger ale, package of saltines, and a Terry Pratchett novel while D* and my mom took the kids out.

    Saturday I seemed to be improved, so we headed down to our college reunion. Had a lovely time, though I was very tired; it was nice to see people, to gripe about the changes made to the campus (and those that should have happened, but haven't). Around 9 that night I either relapsed or went into a delayed Stage 2 of the bug. Bad night. Sunday I was still a mess, and we had to drive down to Butler to see my seldom-visited paternal grandmother. I sat in the living room with my Gatorade while everyone else ate lunch, unable to contemplate the smell of anything edible. Then we continued on to Pittsburgh.

    On arriving in the hotel parking lot, JJ threw up. The temptation was strong to turn around and head back to my mother's place and thence home, but having tossed his milk he seemed chipper enough, so we decided to see how the night went. D* took them out to a nearby park while I rested. JJ threw up once more, and so did I, before bedtime, but the night passed uneventfully after that, and in the morning everyone seemed to be doing okay. We went to the zoo as planned and had a fine old time of it, started our homeward trip that afternoon, enjoyed a lovely night's stay in Buffalo (and how often do you hear that?), and enjoyed an uneventful drive on Tuesday. I kept exclaiming delightedly about feeling more or less normal again.

    Wednesday, JJ vomited again, but again it seemed to be an isolated incident, and it was hard to say whether he was really sick or just having some aftereffect of all the travel and excitement. Then our remaining cat, Jasper, was acting a little odd in the afternoon, and seemed to be having some trouble walking when he got up from a nap, so I made an appointment for him and blew a bunch of money on blood tests that showed nothing wrong that we didn't know about.

    Thursday, JJ seemed to be more clearly under the weather. The cat seemed to be fine. I went to my OB/GYN appointment; I haven't gained much weight with this pregnancy yet, but I started off with some to spare, and the baby appears to have weathered my little gastro-intestinal adventure handily.

    Friday, 4:30 a.m., L asked for a drink of water, and two minutes later was heaving.

    Needless to say, I hope, I haven't been doing much cooking, and indeed food of any kind has not played much of a role for most of us in the past week. Still, the farmer's markets are opening, and in a fit of optimism, I am nevertheless making appointments for more apartment viewings this weekend. Sooner or later, things have to start going better.


    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    Goal Roundup: May

    Not the best month for this stuff--way too much going on. Still, here's the progress: 
    • Financial: Lost some ground, think we're back on track now. 
    • Health: Missed a couple due to schedule problems.. Walking outside when the weather is nice, walking on the treadmill. Only gained 2 pounds at my OB checkup, so must be doing okay there 
    • Food: Sans inspiration, sans energy. The few new recipes I've tried haven't turned out well. It's been a T&T month for us.  
    • Reading: The Great Divorce (new), Before They Are Hanged (new), The Truth (reread), Going Postal (reread), Making Money (reread). Literary comfort food to go with the literal. 
    • Writing: Done through Chap 13, I think. Got some more crits on the first four chapters, mostly minor stuff. Struggling with lack of time/energy as work is really heating up. 
    • Birthdays: One birthday observed
    Apartment-hunting is consuming a lot of time and energy and so far has produced absolutely nothing. Still, I started packing anyway. Being 21 weeks pregnant is taking up the rest of the energy.

    Saturday, May 15, 2010

    5:30 AM

    "What are you doing?"
    "Making sure the erasers are okay."
    "Can I go to the bathroom?"
    "Sure." "Now go back to bed."
    "But the sun is up."
    "It's 5:30. The sun gets up early in the summer. People need to go back to sleep."
    5 minutes later, "Mom! What was that noise?"
    "Probably birds."
    "I think it was trees moving back and forth outside the window."
    "Could be. Go back to sleep."
    5 minutes later, "Mom!"
    "The sun's rising."


    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    Where Does the Time Go?

    I had a vague thought this morning that I hadn't blogged for a while. I had no idea it had been nearly two weeks! Time goes by awfully fast when you're apartment-hunting and pregnant and trying to finish a novel. The only new recipe I've tried in the past couple of weeks turned out badly, so I don't want to blog it. Instead, a quick up update on Empire -- I've made it through chapter 8 in the latest bout of restructuring. This is about 1/3 of the way through the book, and the point at which things really start going badly--shadowy threats manifest, poor decisions are made. Fun times.

    Friday, April 30, 2010

    Farfalle with Chicken, Tomatoes, Caramelized Onions, and Goat Cheese

    It's been a while since I posted a new recipe here, let alone a new recipe that blew me away.

    At least, I think this is a new recipe. D* says we've had it before. I don't remember if we did. In any case, I haven't blogged it, so it's probably been at least two years since I made it, if I did.

    I wish I knew why this dish was so entirely awesome. Was it the basil, even hydroponically grown? The goat cheese, which melted all creamily into the nooks of the pasta? The fact that I was really, really hungry? I have no idea. But it was good.

    Farfalle with Chicken, Tomatoes, Caramelized Onions, and Goat Cheese

    I made it pretty much as written, except for using grape tomatoes. I left them whole, and even though I don't generally care for tomatoes, I loved their sweet bursts of flavor in this. I am looking forward to making this again in the summer, when fresh ingredients should make it even better.

    Goal Roundup: April

    Another pretty good month.
    • Financial: Savings to plan. Paid off my student loans (alas, the bottle of champagne I was planning on will have to wait until After Baby). The car is half paid for, as of this month. Used the month's extra paycheck to kill a big chunk of credit card. Go, us.
    • Health: Seems to be the month’s dump goal, but given that I'm pregnant and feeling lousy, I am giving myself a pat on the back for getting to the damn gym three times a week, even if it's just to walk.
    • Food: I did try four new recipes this month--three from Fine Cooking, which are on here somewhere, and another one I should blog this weekend if I can get my act together. 
    • Reading: Mistborn; Plato’s Republic: A Biography (audio); The Court of the Air; Persuasion (podcast).
    • Writing: Very, very little progress, but I am still grinding forward, and I've had a few ideas this past week that should be good for the story.
    • Birthdays were at least a day late in all cases, but I did send the cards.
    May will probably be a wash, as we'll be busy apartment-hunting, getting rid of crap, and eventually, packing, which takes way more time than it ought to.

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    To Do

    Drink plenty of water.
    Cook and eat nutritious, homemade meals.
    Get eight hours of sleep.
    Earn a paycheck.
    Blog insightfully.
    Value friends and family.
    Read work in your field.
    Read work outside your field.
    Comment insightfully on other blogs.
    Research current/future novels.
    Research agents.
    Research publishers.
    Attend conferences (for career).
    Attend conferences (for writing).
    Critique others' writing.
    Write some more.

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Where Have I Been?

    Not having a ton of time/energy to cook, for the most part. The morning sickness is diminishing, but I am regularly feeling overwhelmed by the rest of my life--like this blog is just one more thing to do (badly).

    Sunday, April 11, 2010

    Three New Ones from Fine Cooking

    After a dry spell, last week saw a burst of energy in which I tried three new recipes from the latest issue of Fine Cooking, a magazine of which I am increasingly fond:
    •  Tilapia with Scallions and Black Bean Sauce -- Instant keeper. We loved this one, and it was quick and easy to make. I don't really like tilapia all that much, but this is a good use for an increasingly common and popular fish.
    • Chicken Noodle Soup with Lemongrass -- I still haven't found lemongrass around here, but even without it, this is a good soup. I'd make this one again.
    • Chinese Egg Noodles with Five-Spice Pork -- The dud of the week's efforts, alas, this was okay, but not something I'd make again -- at least not without significant tweaks, the first of which would be to eliminate the bacon. This turned out on the greasy side.

    I don't know if this blog is having an identity crisis or what. I don't seem to have the time to make a proper go of it--work, kids, writing, reading, to which will soon be added apartment-hunting and moving. Too many hobbies, not enough hours. I hate to abandon it, though. I suppose if nothing else I can keep it as a record of the few new things I try these days.

    This next week is going to be full of veggies after a weekend that's been mainly carbs, but they're tried and true ones for us. I want spring!

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Easter Menu 2010

    We had a busy, busy Easter Saturday. And Friday, for that matter. L was off school, but I had to work, and D spent the entire day running around as a result. Saturday morning was spent cleaning (the kids helped by behaving wonderfully and, in L's case, attempting off and of to help). Saturday noon D's parents arrived amid the usual shower of gifts.

    We spent a good chunk of the afternoon outside, enjoying the amazing weather. Another chunk was spent playing ancient arcade games. D earned a ton of daddy points by driving out to Home Depot to find seed starter cups, which I have been unable to find anywhere nearby, so that L and I could plant radishes and peas. I have no ideas regarding their long-term fate, but I thought L might find it fun if we can get them to sprout.

    Dinner was around 5:30. I didn't really do appetizers this year, and there wasn't really any time in which we would have eaten them!
    • Loin of Pork with Fennel (Barefoot Contessa at Home)--I didn't want to do ham again, and I love fennel, so I had high hopes for this dish. Alas, I wasn't entirely thrilled with how this came out. I couldn't get a good reading on my thermometer and ended up overcooking it a trifle. The stuffing was good, but I think it could have used some more oomph; possibly I didn't use enough thyme. I would consider making it again, but with adjustments; perhaps a marinade?
    • Artichoke, Leek, and Potato Gratin--This went over well. My husband loves artichokes; I can take or leave them, but I thought this was quite good, if not exactly exciting.
    • Simple carrots
    • My usual salad
    As usual, too much food was consumed by me. It being Saturday, D had to leave for church a bit after dinner, and everyone was still too full for dessert, so I sent some home with them.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Goal Roundup: March

    Wow, that went quickly! It's been a pretty good month for the goals.
    • Financial: On track.
    • Health: Managed to fit weight-lifting in three weeks out of four, made it the gym despite weather and feeling lousy.
    • Food: Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. This goal slipped a lot this month; part of that is due to the Shaws strike. We're trying to respect the picketing, so I've been cooking from the pantry more than usual, shopping at unfamiliar stores, and sticking to "tried and true" menus. I'll be trying some new things for Easter this weekend, though.
    • Reading: The Blade Itself (new), The Story of the Stone (reread), The Salmon of Doubt (reread), The City and the City (new). I've been listening to a podcast of Persuasion at the gym and a book about Plato's Republic in the car. Feeling good about this one.
    • Writing: Re-revised the first two chapters based on crit group feedback and continue to struggle onwards. My original goal of having a draft of Book 3 at this point in the year has been abandoned; changes in book 1 are likely to ripple into 2, so not much sense getting that far ahead now.
    • Birthdays: None this month.
    The rain has ended, and though it's still overcast out there it's distinctly warmer than it has been. Forward into spring!

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Two Sweet Breakfast Treats

    And yes, I have to dig out my digital camera, which is currently lurking somewhere at the bottom of my purse. I am just not good at the photo aspect of blogging.

    Anyway, a couple of recently tried recipes that I wanted to make a note of.

    Cranberry Lemon Muffins
    1/2 c butter
    1 c sugar
    2 tbsp lemon juice
    1/4 tsp lemon extract (opt)
    2 eggs
    1/2 c buttermilk
    2 c flour
    1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 tsp lemon zest
    1 tsp vanilla
    2 c cranberries, thawed if frozen, chopped in half
    Demera sugar for topping, opt.

    1. Preheat oven to 350. 
    2. In a bowl, cream butter and sugar. 
    3. Add egss, buttermilk, 2 tbsp lemon juice mixed with lemon extract (if using). Batter will curdle. 
    4. Add 2 c flour through lemon zest. 
    5. Carefully stir in cranberries. 
    6. Divide batter among muffin tins. Sprinkle top with Demera sugar. 
    7. Bake 20-25 minutes.
    I think this is probably good recipe, but I messed up by making them in jumbo muffin tins. I am used to quickbread-type muffins, and these are extremely delicate, cake-style -- most of them did not survive depanning. Next time I will use normal tins and liners, just in case, and there will be a next time, because these are quite good, worthy of any breakfast bread basket.

    Lemon-Poppy Seed Scones

    • 3 cups all purpose flour
    • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    • 1 large egg
    • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    • 1/3 cup (or more) whole milk

    1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Position rack in top third of oven. 
    2. Mix flour, 1 cup sugar, poppy seeds, baking powder, lemon peel, and salt in processor. 
    3. Add butter and cut in, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse meal. 
    4. Whisk egg and lemon juice in medium bowl to blend. Add to flour mixture. Using on/off turns, process until moist clumps form. 
    5. Add 1/3 cup milk. Using on/off turns, process just until dough comes together, adding more milk if dough seems dry. 
    6. Using floured hands, gather dough into ball. Flatten into 8-inch round. Cut round into 8 wedges. 
    7. Transfer scones to large baking sheet; brush with milk. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
    8. Bake until scones are golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. 
    9. Transfer to rack and cool. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)
    This is an old one I clipped out of a Bon Appetit about a thousand years ago and had only made once for some reason. I didn't add enough milk at first, and then I ended up overworking them a bit. I definitely need practice on my scone-making, but they're excellent. More of an afternoon tea thing than breakfast maybe, because they are relatively sweet.

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    6. The Blade Itself

    The first relatively new fantasy I have read in what feels like forever. I kept putting it down for some reason, but I finally finished it last night. Definitely an interesting book, though I didn't find it flawless.

    The characters are the standout feature of this series for me so far. The setting is fine, the dialog is mostly very good, very occasionally slides into didacticism, the plot I'll get to later in this post. The action scenes are, as one of the blurbs promised, excellent. The people are occasionally frustrating, but on the whole they reward patience.

    They are not uncomplicated, and that is a very good thing and, I think, difficult to pull off. Logen is easily the most sympathetic of the main characters--the barbarian warrior grown philosophical and somewhat ashamed of his life's path--but that past can't be disowned, and by the end of the book we've seen just how well-deserved is his epithet of "the Bloody-Nine." His little band are somewhat heavily painted with the Noble Savage palette--violent, dangerous men, but who at least live according to some code--and therefore rather show up most of the Union characters. Logen appears to be the only main character who possesses something like a normal sense of humor, which goes a long way toward making him likeable.

    Jezal is the hardest for me to put up with; he's vain, shallow, and arrogant, and his only good quality seems to be that he's occasionally aware that he's lacking in quality, which gives one some hope that he'll improve over the series. (This morning I listened to a few chapters of Persuasion on the treadmill; he would have fit perfectly into the Austen milieu of petty, self-obsessed nobility.) Making his love interest a much more interesting character is a bit of a dangerous move, but it does give him something to strive for, and just when you thought his associate West was all Boy Scout, he goes and proves just how wrong that idea was. I'm hoping that Jezal will interact more productively with the other characters in the second book, perhaps grow a sense of perspective.

    Glokta is downright fascinating. The smartest character in the cast (with the possible exception of Bayaz), he's an extremely ambiguous figure at this point. The slight softening of his character at the end of the first book was entirely surprising, but it's difficult to take him at face value, and one wonders whether emotion ever has a chance of trumping his survival instinct. His repeated wondering about his own motives got under my skin; for someone so keenly perceptive about humanity, and so evidently self-aware, to not be sure why he's doing what he's doing seems out of place to me. I expect that eventually we'll get an answer; I just hope that it lives up to the long tease. The deftly drawn internal politics of the Inquisition are one of the best parts of the book, I think. I also hope that at some point we get to see someone beat the living daylights out of Severard.

    Maljinn is introduced later than the other viewpoint characters, and though it seems like she will have an important role, is something of a cypher at this point. I was surprised when she showed up, the book up to that point having a strongly male cast. I don't need female protagonists to enjoy a novel, and the society is reasonably realistic in its androcentrism, so I wouldn't have minded either way. I did find myself at one point wondering what GM allowed such a blatantly munchkined-out character into the campaign; so far her role has been to kick copious amounts of ass and be hinted about mysteriously.

    There were a few things that niggled at me. Around 3/4 through I found myself thinking that he was being a bit too heavy-handed setting up the socio-political situation in the Union (see TV Tropes), to the point where at one point I sighed and went Yes, I remember that history class from my sophomore year. Get ON with it. Another niggle has to do with the map. There is no actual map in this book, but there is an extensive canvas and, as The Tough Guide to Fantasyland promises, we are obviously going to visit every. Last. Corner. of it. (The Tough Guide is hysterical, btw, and useful if you have ever thought about writing fantasy.)

    The third problem is the plot. There is an insane amount of stuff going on here, and my fear as I finished up this volume is that it's all going to spin out of control. There's a double threat from the north in the form of Bethod and the Shanka, and from the south in the form of the Empire and this Prophet who is evidently their motivator. As presented so far, it's dubious as to whether the Union is worth saving; the lords are abusing the peasantry and oppressing the rising merchant class, the merchants are conniving against everyone, and the peasantry are being shipped off to be slaughtered by the northern aggressors. The Inqusition is running its own schemes. There are evil magic-users all over the place (I love the concept and portrayal of the Eaters), and they seem to know more about what's going on than we do.

    Then at the end there's the whole mysterious business with Bayaz and the Seed, and suddenly most of the main characters are going off on a sea voyage that seems to be only loosely connected to what has happened so far. Half of this would have been enough to keep most people busy for three books. I'll have to pick up the next one and see where this goes.

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Honey Vanilla Pound Cake

    Must apologize for the neglect around here. I've spent most of the past couple of weeks engaged in yet another rewrite of the novel's first two chapters, following the latest set of crits, and for some reason it was a much more taxing project than normal. I have also been feeling under the weather, and haven't had a lot of energy left over for cooking; it's been a time of "tried and true and easy" recipes in our household.

    Also, there's a strike going on at our local grocery store. Fun times.

    Last weekend, however, I made a determined bid to return to my kitchen. I made two kinds of muffins, sandwich bread, meatballs, and a pound cake, in addition to calzones for dinner. It is the pound cake I will address here, since it was a new recipe.

    Despite its pedigree (Cook's Illustrated by way of Ina Garten--which may explain the unusually finicky directions) I found this okay, but just that; it's not going to dethrone Rose Levy Berenbaum's as my go-to. Perhaps I just don't like the taste of honey all that much. The crust turned out a tiny bit sticky, too, which I found more off-putting than I would expect. A week later, some of it is still hanging around my kitchen, which is not the sign of a major success.

    I suspect that this would pair well with fruit, once that's available, and would certainly be willing to give it another try to find out, but I won't be in any big rush.

    1/2 lb unsalted butter at cool room temperature
    1 1/4 c sugar
    4 extra-large eggs, room temperature
    2 Tbsp honey
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    1 tsp grated lemon zest
    2 c sifted cake flour
    1 tsp kosher salt
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the bottom of an 8x4 loaf pan, line with parchment paper, grease again and flour. 
    2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light. Put the eggs, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest in a measuring cup but do not combine.
    3. With the mixer on medium speed, add the egg mixture one at a time, scraping down the bowl and allowing each egg to become incorporated before adding the next one. 
    4. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, add it slowly and mix until just combined. Finish mixing with a rubber spatula and pour into the prepared pan.
    5. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, turn out onto a baking rack, and cool completely.

    Sunday, February 28, 2010

    Goal Roundup: February

    It's that time again!
    • Financial: We had to get the car fixed, which wiped out last month's progress, but an unexpected bonus at work put us back on track and then some. A
    • Health: Lifted weights.... once. D
    • Food: The Cake Book (multiple), 100 Great Noodle Recipes, Fine Cooking Soups and Stews (multiple). Though I fell behind on blogging, I managed to get caught up. A 
    • Reading: Bicycle Diaries; Making Money (reread) B 
    • Writing: Joined a second virtual crit group. Replotted much of Book 1. Resubmitted the first two chapters to critters. A
    • Birthdays: Only one this month, but it was observed A
    And now I really must go clean the fridge, since I'm all caught on the blog....

    Fresh Ginger Spice Cake

    This was another office birthday effort, and alas it is likely to be the last one. The group is getting bigger, and I find myself lacking the time and energy to put together something appropriately impressive pretty much every month. Maybe some day I'll be back in a place where I can do that, but right now I feel like I'm not being fair to some people.

    Unfortunately, I can't say I was thrilled with this cake, the first less than stellar result I've gotten from The Cake Book. Everyone claimed to like it, and it all disappeared, but it's not really to my taste (of course, it wasn't my birthday, either). I was dubious about it the entire time; the baking method is certainly like nothing I've ever made before.

    My boss (who is English) seemed to think it was just fine, so it may be that it it fits in with a more European style; my own term of description was "primitive." You could have made a cake like this 200 years ago, though probably not with fresh ginger.

    2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp ground ginger
    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/3 c finely chopped crystallized ginger
    1 c unsulphured molasses
    3/4 c firmly packed light brown sugar
    2 large eggs
    1/3 c peeled, finely chopped fresh ginger
    1 c unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
    1 c water
    1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
    2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Place the crystallized ginger in a small bowl. Add 2 Tbsp of the flour mixture, and stir to coat the ginger pieces. 
    3. In a large bowl, whisk together the molasses and brown sugar, breaking up any lumps. Whisk in the eggs until well blended. Whisk in the chopped fresh ginger. 
    4. In a small saucepan, combine the butter and water and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and whisk about 1/4 cup of the butter mixture into the molasses mixture until well blended. Whisk in the remaining butter mixture. Whisk in the flour mixture until just blended. Whisk in the crystallized ginger. Pour the batter into the pan. 
    5. Bake 50-60 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes.
    6. Remove the sides of the pan and invent the cake onto a rack. Peel off the parchment paper and reinvert the cake. Let it cool completely. 
    7. Dust with confectioners sugar before serving (I used whipped cream).

    It is very, very dense and moist, and the flavor of ginger sings out loud and clear. If you know someone who likes that, and who doesn't expect a lot of sweetness from their cakes, this might be worth a try.

    Garlicky Tortellini, Spinach & Tomato Soup

    Since it's the last day of the month (already!) I guess I'd better catch up here. Two recipes today, the first of which is this lovely little soup, an excellent addition to anyone's repertoire. It's easy, and like many soups, can be put together largely out of pantry-friendly, low-cost ingredients. And it tastes divine, even with dried basil.

    Can't ask for much better than that.

    2 Tbs. unsalted butter
    6 to 8 cloves garlic, chopped
    4 cups (1 qt.) homemade or low-salt chicken broth
    6 oz. fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
    14 oz. canned diced tomatoes, with their liquid
    10 oz. spinach, washed and stemmed; coarsely chopped if larger
    8 to 10 leaves basil, coarsely chopped
    Grated Parmesan cheese
    1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. 
    2. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 min. 
    3. Add the broth and bring to a boil. 
    4. Add the tortellini and cook halfway, about 5 min. for frozen pasta, less if using fresh. 
    5. Add the tomatoes and their liquid, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook just until the pasta is tender. 
    6. Stir in the spinach and basil and cook until wilted, 1 to 2 min. 
    7. Serve sprinkled with the grated cheese.

    From Fine Cooking

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Spicy Thai Beef Curry

    This week's new recipe isn't actually from a book, but from one of those heavy magazines Fine Cooking puts out every now and then, when it thinks I'm not spending enough money or something. This was a very quick and easy recipe to put together. All of that coconut milk does make it on the indulgent side, though! It also cuts the spice considerably--I only used one tsp of curry paste and probably should have used two.

    1 Tbs. vegetable oil
    1-1/2 lb. beef sirloin tips
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 2 medium-large)
    1/4 cup finely chopped fresh ginger
    1 to 2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
    1/2 cup low-salt canned chicken broth
    1 13-1/2-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
    1 Tbs. fish sauce
    1-1/2 cups frozen sugar snap peas
    1 large lime, zest finely grated and fruit cut into wedges
    1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

    1. Heat the oil in a 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the sirloin tips with salt and pepper and sear the meat in batches until nicely browned on two sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
    2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the shallots to the pan and cook until just tender and lightly browned, 2 to 4 min. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 min. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Stir in 1/4 cup of the broth, scraping up any bits that are stuck to the pan. Add 1/3 cup of the coconut milk, stirring until the curry paste has blended in completely. Stir in the remaining coconut milk and broth. Add the fish sauce.
    3. Increase the heat to medium high. Return the beef to the pan (along with any juices), stir, and simmer until the meat is just cooked through, 8 to 12 min.
    4. Take the pan off the heat. Remove the meat and transfer to a cutting board. Stir the sugar snap peas into the sauce and cover the pan. Let the meat rest for 1 min., then slice it thinly across the grain; return it to the pan along with the lime zest. If necessary, return the pan to medium heat until the peas are thawed and  heated through.
    5. Portion the curry into four warm bowls, sprinkle with the cilantro, and serve with the lime wedges. Serve over jasmine rice.
    We spent a quiet pre-Valentine's Day out at the Worcester Art Museum, then had dinner at local destination restaurant The Sole Proprietor while Grandma and Grandpa watched the kids.

    I am working my way through the crits I've gotten for Book 1, making some changes to the story but nothing heavy--yet. The second half will probably need more work, but I am still thinking about what I can do to punch up the plot. The revised first chapters are back in the queue at critters.org, and I hope to be getting feedback in early March.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    Rich Marble Pound Cake with Chocolate Glaze

    Yet another one from The Cake Book. Why yes I do like pound cakes. They're not fussy and they are awesome. This one is a little fussier than most because you layer the batter to get the marble effect, but that's not a big deal, and it does look fantastic. While making this I tasted the chocolate batter and actually said "Oh my God" out loud. It's good.

    3 c cake flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 1/2 c granulated sugar, divided
    1/2 c natural (not Dutch-processed) cocoa powder
    6 Tbsp water
    1 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
    1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    5 large eggs
    1/2 c whole milk
    1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. 
    2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
    3. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 c of the sugar, the cocoa powder, and water until smooth. Set aside. 
    4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until very creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in 2 cups of sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and  beat until well-blended and light, about 4 minutes. At medium speed, beat in the vanilla, then beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. At low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk in two additions and mixing just until blended. 
    5. Add 3 c of the batter to the cocoa mixture and stir until blended. Spoon 1/3 of the plain batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer. Spoon 1/3 of the chocolate batter over the plain batter and smooth. Repeat, alternating layers.
    6. Bake the cake for 60-70 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. 
    7. Invert the cake onto the rack and cool completely.
    8. Glaze the cake.
    Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze
    3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
    1/3 c heavy cream
    1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    1. Place the chocolate in a food processor and process until finely ground.
    2. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove from heat an add the chocolate. Stir until melted and smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer the glaze to a small bowl. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and let cool for about 10 minutes before using.
    Makes 2/3 cup, enough for the cake above.

    Saffron Scallops on a Bed of Noodles

    This was a spur of the moment selection, and I am happy to report that it turned out very well indeed. It is a simple recipe that takes little time to give you extremely flavorful results. I found mine enhanced by a sprinkling of sea salt at the table.

    This is also my "cook from a book" recipe for the week, from Cara Hobday's 100 Great Noodle Recipes. I bought it remaindered, almost certainly more than ten years ago, so it's not something you're likely to find on a shelf these days.

    1 tsp saffron threads, lightly crushed
    2 Tbsp warm water
    8 oz medium egg noodles
    2 oz butter
    16 large scallops
    1 scallion, finely sliced
    3 tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and chopped
    3 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
    pinch of salt
    1. Combine the saffron and warm water, and leave to infuse.
    2. Cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain well and keep warm.
    3. Melt the butter in a pan just large enough to hold all of the scallops. Stir in the saffron liquid. When the butter is medium-hot, add the scallops, scallion, tomatoes, and chives. Cover and cook over moderate heat for 7 minutes. Season with salt.
    4. Serve the scallops and sauce over the noodles.

    4. Bicycle Diaries

    There is a distinct shortage of famous people in this book. Maybe if you're part of the art world you'll know more of the names (are there any famous artists these days?). It's a fun little ramble of a book. David Byrne is a fairly standard-issue US liberal, so I didn't come across much by way of philosophy that I found startling, but given all of the musical and other projects he's involved in, he does have a unique perspective. Since I've never been to the vast majority of the cities he talks about, I found plenty of interest, particularly the ones outside the US.

    I always feel a bit sheepish when I read screeds about the unsustainable nature of our car-based culture; yes, I know, I'm part of the problem.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Had to Update the "About Me" Again

    We lost another cat -- Cicero died yesterday, peacefully and asleep. We'll miss him.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010

    Goal Roundup: January

    The year is off to a good start:
    • Financial: A (met goal)
    • Health: F (Maybe I should forget about this one…)
    • Food: A (Barefoot Contessa. Flavors of Tuscany. Moosewood Daily Special. Another Barefoot Contessa)
    • Reading: A (Castle Perilous. What We Eat When We Eat Alone. Iorich)
    • Writing: A (Lots of feedback coming on Book 1, have started revision; Book 3 up to 48k words.)
    • Birthdays: A (Family birthday duly remembered)

    3. Iorich

    I hate to say this, but I am starting to wonder if Brust is losing his touch. I liked this one a lot better than the previous book (Jhegaala), but it felt rushed and a bit sloppy. The plot was okay to my mind, and it was nice to see Vlad back in his element, to meet up with characters we haven't seen in a while (I am fond of Kiera, though I almost wish Vlad had never found out, as I'm getting tired of the winking). I was astonished and somewhat peeved to find that we have skipped eight years in what I think of as the mainline continuity. We do finally get to see Cawti and young Vlad, though in a somewhat perfunctory fashion.

    Perfunctory is also the word I want to use to describe the ending to Iorich. I think it would have been more interesting if Vlad had screwed it up, to be honest--had gotten the wrong guy, or something like that. For all of the years and the weird things he's been through, in this book he seemed to be operating on an autopilot keyed to the first couple of books; I'm not seeing the growth I would have expected to see with such a time lapse.

    There is a lot of snappy dialog, lots of bits that I liked, and things move along briskly to a happy ending, but as a whole work...? I am starting to worry that Brust has no idea where to take the series at this point. There were Vlad's early years, and those were fine, and then his life sort of fell apart and we got into the whole massive meta-plot with the gods and the Jenoine and the Great Weapons, and then... well, I have no idea what happened, but we seem to be back in a new stasis, forward in time.

    Vlad has been on the run from the entire Jhereg forever now (and yet manages to spend this book running around Adrilankha without a major problem), and has now managed to piss off the Left Hand as well as the Right. He's in a completely untenable position, it's getting a little old for this reader, and I'm not sure the author has a plan to get him out of it.

    Of course, he also has a Great Weapon, which has yet to do anything, so far as I've noticed. It does, if I remember the early years of the series correctly, offer Vlad a hedge against the fact that the Jhereg wants to destroy his soul, and I will be quite interested to see if it is ever so employed.

    Basically I enjoyed this book, I just wish that we would get some kind of resolution, or even discernable forward motion, on... something.

    Barefoot Contessa Seafood Gratin

    For this week's "cook from a book" goal recipe, I turned once again to the Barefoot Contessa and somehow landed on this as something that would be different from my usual cooking, and somewhat fun to make. I was planning to work from home that day, so I would have the extra time to fuss in the kitchen.

    I suspect that for most people, this is one of those "use every pot you own" type recipes--I certainly used most of mine, along with an army of prep bowls. The result, however, was probably the best thing I have made in months. This was, to my mind, restaurant-quality stuff. Maybe not the French Laundry, but a decent restaurant.

    I made a fair number of changes. I don't like shrimp, and for only two of us 1 1/2 lbs would have been way too much anyway, so I used bay scallops and cod.  I wasn't about to go looking for fresh tarragon in January; instead, I sprinkled some herbes de Provence among the bread crumbs. And I don't own any gratin dishes, so I used a relatively small baking dish.

    It was amazing. I took a picture, which I will add to this post at some point.

    The only other thing I want to mention is that this is really, really, really rich. So if you're making it for a dinner party or something, make sure dessert is on the light side!

    1 cup seafood stock or clam juice
    1 cup heavy cream
    1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons good white wine, such as Chablis, divided
    3 tablespoons tomato puree
    1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
    8 ounces raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut in half crosswise
    8 ounces raw halibut, cut into1-inch chunks
    8 ounces cooked lobster meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
    7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
    1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    Kosher salt
    Freshly ground black pepper
    3 cups julienned leeks, white and light green parts (2 large)
    1 1/2 cups julienned carrots (3 carrots)
    1 cup panko (Japanese dried bread crumbs)
    1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
    2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
    1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 cloves)

    1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place 4 individual gratin dishes on sheet pans. (If recipe is doubled serve it in a 14 by 9 1/4-inch oval gratin dish.)
    2. Combine the stock, cream, 1/2 cup of the wine, the tomato puree, and saffron in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and add the shrimp. After 3 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the shrimp to a bowl. Add the halibut to the stock for 3 minutes, until just cooked through, and remove to the same bowl. Add the cooked lobster to the bowl.
    3. Continue to cook the sauce until reduced by half, about 12 minutes. Mash 1 tablespoon of the butter together with the flour. Whisk the butter mixture into the sauce along with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
    4. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saute pan. Add the leeks and carrots and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until softened. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of wine, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until tender. Set aside.
    5. Combine the panko, Parmesan, parsley, tarragon, and garlic. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and mix it into the crumbs until they're moistened.
    6. Divide the seafood among the 4 gratin dishes. Strew the vegetables on top of each dish. Pour the sauce equally over the seafood and vegetables and spoon the crumbs evenly on top. Bake for 20 minutes, until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbly. Serve hot.