Marred for life.

I am using the last of my precious winter break Metro time to do some pleasure reading.  Having sated myself on crime fiction, I got Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan from the library (which I thoroughly enjoyed – highly recommended to people who like YA, adventure, steampunk, alternate history, or breathing) and ripped through it in about two days.

Waiting in my pile was a book on writing my wise mother handed to me during her last visit, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  I’m pretty sure she refrained from saying “You’ll love this,” and I think we may have discovered another way around my reflexive filter.  Just hand the thing to me without a deadline for completion.  I’ll happily get to it in my own sweet time.

I have had this book (along with “Writing Down the Bones”) recommended to me at length, and often enthusiastically, which is probably why I hadn’t gotten to either of them before now.*  Predictably, I am loving it.**

As much as I am loving Lamott’s book, one of the charms of getting to read it in the way I did is the scattering of a few tiny post-it notes my mother tucked among the pages.  These notes have cryptic remarks jotted on them which I understand well due to our shared history but might well be written in Urdu for all the sense they would make to a stranger.

Lamott’s book is especially good in one way because it offers you interstitial assignments – they’re not listed as such, but if the reader decided to take them that way, it is very possible to pull literal instructions from every chapter.  In the early going, there is a section on writing about school lunches to break a mental logjam.  Lamott is right when she says that this topic is fertile ground for stories and descriptions.  She herself writes a few humorous paragraphs about the “code” of lunches – what was acceptable and what labeled you as “other” in the eyes of your classmates.  I recognized exactly what she meant, even if the specifics were different when I was growing up.

My lunches, I am afraid, were never up to code.  Mom made lunches that a 40-year-old foodie would swoon over: homemade multigrain bread, real cold cuts (no bologna in my mother’s kitchen), and often bean sprouts.  These were thick, hearty, character-building sandwiches in every sense of the word.  Once, a classmate snatched a tangle of sprouts out of my sandwich, screamed, and flung them away from her as if they were alive.  They stuck to a window high over our heads and remained there for the entire school year, closely resembling the desiccated corpse of a spider.

The other thing I remember about my school lunches were the notes.  Mom’s missives, often illustrated with quirky doodles, were like a quick squeeze of the shoulder or a warm smile.  I remember them as full of love and humor and topical information like, “Christmas Tree decorating tonight!” or “5 more days until vacation.”  Mom’s handwriting somehow manages to be both loopy and strong, so finding this note tucked into the pages of Lamott’s book was like something out of a time capsule:

“Sprouts!  Marred for life.”

I laughed like an idiot on the Metro and didn’t care who noticed.

*See above re: “You’ll love this”
**I only said I have a reflexive reaction to over-enthusiastic recommendations.  I didn’t say it was smart.

The great Julekake lamination of aught-nine.

As with last year, I made Julekake this year.  The big difference is I got off my hind end and decided to experiment.  My grandmother’s recipe makes five full-size loaves at one go.  This is a quantity of dough that swamps my stand mixer and, in the words of my mother, “You don’t knead it, you hug it.”  In other words, it is an incredibly daunting prospect to contemplate for any amateur Julenisse.

Modifying baking recipes is not something I’m qualified in any way to do.  My friend Linsey is an expert in such things, and from reading her blog I know there is seemingly endless trial and error in these experiments.  But I wanted cardamom and dried fruit in a lovely, slightly chewy, perfect for breakfast toast sort of way.  And so I fired up a spreadsheet and commenced to calculate.

My first experiment (five loaves down to three) was actually very successful.  Not enough cardamom, but I was (I believe) understandably cautious: cardamom is pretty pungent.  But the texture was perfect.  And I could get the bulk of the kneading done with the stand mixer and finish by hand.

We stored two of the loaves in the oven.  John’s idea, and not a bad one.  But it is a bad idea to preheat the oven without checking to see if there is anything in there first.  And so, preparing to roast a chicken, John essentially laminated two loaves of Julekake.

So I made two more batches.  Nine total loaves is proof of concept, I think.  And I think I’m finally getting the cardamom calibration correct.

I still won’t make the mistake of thinking that I did anything other than get lucky with my first attempt at modifying a baking recipe.  But it’s nice to have a more manageable version.

Why Twitter is good/bad (you choose)

Free donut day.  I found out in fewer than 140 characters.

Happy Holidays to all

This morning started with some Santa Hat silliness:

Simon, modeling the Santa hat.

Some of the zoo were less into this idea:

"Do.  Not.  Want."

Dash wants nothing to do with this nonsense

And some are game for anything:

Toshie Claus

John got power tools, because he’s been a very good boy this year:

John got TOOLS for x-mas

Brian and I took a walk with Tosh:

Bri and Tosh

And all that’s left is to make and eat a fabulous dinner and wish everyone a safe, happy, and healthy new year:


All the best to you and yours.

Christmas miracles

…or, for want of a dishwasher, the floor was lost. Our old dishwasher was a malcontent, with rusting racks and a tendency to cook food on to dishes every several loads instead of washing it off. Unfortunately, it was also entombed in its hole. A layer of pergo and two layers of vinyl flooring (with an extra subfloor in between) created a ledge over which the grumpy old appliance couldn’t be removed. So, out went all of it:

Out, out, damned pergo

John demonstrates the... unloveliness of our old floor

Pretty, no?

The final subfloor.

I think the disgusting subfloor is rather festive with the tree in the background, don’t you?

Here’s the tree itself in all its glory. I’m sparing you the scene just to the left, which is everything that usually lives on our countertops, relocated to the dining room table.

Christmas tree 2008

John’s got a new subfloor down, and our new flooring should arrive… in time to have a proper kitchen floor by New Year’s.

The chaos in the kitchen wasn’t severe enough to divert me from my desire to make Julekake – Norwegian Christmas bread. Full of dried fruit, walnuts, and cardamom, it makes lovely buttered breakfast toast. I got a good first rise:


A good second rise:


And perfectly lovely loaves:


Let’s hope the Julenisse and the Dala horse are fierce enough to protect the cooling loaves from Dash…

Nativity play

We had a good Thanksgiving.

Some cats had some nice lounging

Sunshine LoLo

Simon bliss

The meal seemed to go over well:

Holiday table

I made a particularly pretty pie:

Pretty pie

And Mom indulged in the creation of a bunch of teeny sweaters – it was like a particularly cute obsession acted out in scraps of leftover sock yarn:

Mom's teeny sweater obsession

And finally, we’re currently sitting here deconstructing the performance art piece that is John hanging lights on the Christmas tree.  It’s rather nice.

One heckuva dinner party

We’re doing Thanksgiving at our house this year – our usual routine is to go to my aunt’s, but she’s had an emergency in her family, so we dropped back, punted, and John’s brining a turkey this very minute.

As the household baker, I am in charge of pies.  Mom and I powered through pumpkin and had the apple in the oven, when I came in to see Dash on the counter and this:

Dead cat.  Dead, I tell you.

Dead.  Cat.  Walking.

You wouldn’t think he was evil, to look at him:

Arty Dash

Anyway, there’s another pie in the oven. Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends, and happy Thursday to the rest of the world.

Thanksgiving still-life

I’m back…

I’ve spent the last week in the great State of Maine (since Milo is busily making himself at home on my lap, I first typed that as the "Great Sate of Maine," and when you consider the amount of good food that was consumed, it’s just as appropriate).

It’s awfully pretty there.

John near Bubble Rock

And we had a very good time. Brother Brian also took some great shots, which you can see here , and we also talked about restarting Literagraphica , which has been on hiatus since Bri’s spent the last year and some doing piffling things like starting new businesses and winning awards and silly things like that. He says he’s got things sorted now, and wants to restart the project, so that’s very cool.  I took a pretty nice shot of him also:

Brian at Bubble Rock

And an arty shot of my own:


That’s pretty much it. We’re trying to get back into the swing of things here – which is always easier if you take an extra day at home before jumping in to real life.  In our infinite wisdom we… didn’t do that.  I’m already really looking forward to the weekend.

Cookies and rain

We’re riding out Tropical Storm Hanna, so it’s been a quiet day, with lots of curling up and reading and listening to the rain thrum on every surface.  A pot of tea became inevitable, and with it, a craving for cookies.  These cookies, to be specific:


These are my mother’s recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (though John prefers his with abominations instead of chocolate.  He doesn’t like chocolate – which is fine: more for me).  Of course, by the time I had made them, the tea was gone, so we just had them with milk.


I’m no foodblogger, but these are too good not to share with anyone who might be interested (Fair warning: I’ve given myself blisters mixing these with a wooden spoon.  A stand mixer is your friend here, or a hand mixer if you don’t have a stand model):

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients :
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup shortening
2 eggs
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
3 cups oatmeal
1 package chocolate chips (or abominations, if you really must.  Raisins or nuts can also be added if preferred)

Directions :
Cream sugar and shortening.  Add eggs, water, and vanilla and mix.  Sift together soda, salt, and flour and add to the mix.  Add oatmeal and chocolate chips (I add oatmeal first, then split the batch and set aside half to accommodate the chocolate/vile thing preferences in our household).  Use a teaspoon to drop rounded lumps of cookie dough (a bit smaller than golf-ball size) onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for approximately ten minutes.  They tend to be fragile when they’re just out of the oven, so I let them cool for a couple of minutes on the cookie sheet before breaking out the spatula and shoveling them on to a cooling rack.

Try to contain yourself for a few minutes while they go from molten to merely hot.  No, really – try.


Food, glonous food.

No, that’s not a typo.  It’s a show tune by way of chopsticks wrapper:


In case you can’t read the text, it says:

Welcome to Chinese Restaurant.
please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
the traditional and typical of Chinese glonous history.
and cultur al.

I first blogged about this sort of thing a very long time ago , but I still love loony neologisms created in the service of signage.

ETA: Rebecca points out that I mistakenly credited them with spelling "cultural" correctly.  Heh.