Saturday, December 24, 2005

All finished

The presents are complete and wrapped. The food is prepped for tomorrow. The house is clean. After the boys are in bed Dan and I will do an hour long yoga set and then fill the boy's stockings before drifting off to bed. For once in my life there isn't anything last minute that needs to be done, no worry that someone won't get a completed gift. It's a lovely feeling, though somehow strange. I'm so used to being up late Christmas Eve, scrambling to finsh something gift-ish for the next day that it's almost tradition. Have to admit, I could get used to this.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas, almost crunched

Woot - I'm just about done!

  • Finish knitting the Twisty Turns wrap for my sister. Block said wrap.
  • Finish the One Skein Wonder for the wee blonde curly haired one (and why on earth is that taking so long?)
  • Stare sadly at Dan's *almost* completed hat and hope that the last skein of Decadence arrives by Saturday so I can finish it in time. (The Decadence arrived on Thursday and I'm all finished!)
  • Buy knee and elbow pads for the boys to go with their new Razor scooters (shhhhh!)
  • Tell my dad that we're moving to Portland (this is a biggie - he's going to freak in a rather spectacular way and I have to handle it carefully, but do it before Christmas. Yeah, I'm calling him today.) (This went much better than I would have thought. He's not certain about the move and whether he'll get to see us much, but seems to be taking it well so far.)
  • Coat the Praline Chantilly (dessert for Sunday) with chocolate glaze.
  • Do the same with the layered dessert I made up for Dan's birthday dinner tonight.
  • Make chimichurri sauce for Dan's birthday dinner tonight.
  • Clean the house as best as can be done with two whirlwinds of chaos. Make a batch of Grandma's rolls for Sunday's dinner.
  • Caramelize apples for the salad course.
  • Get to the store Friday Saturday and buy salad greens and broccoli for the dinner.
  • Make beef stock for the jus to go with the roast on Sunday.
  • Wrap presents.
  • Make spiced nuts to nibble on Sunday.
  • Make lentil soup and bread for lunch on Sunday.
  • Make meringues and chocholate cookies for the small fry.
  • Make mashed potatoes for the preschool Christmas party on Friday.
  • Do at least an hour of yoga.
  • Finish getting stocking stuffers for Dan and my sister (the boys are covered, and yes, we do stockings for grown-ups!)
  • Sleep. (looks like this one is definitely happening this year!)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Real life knitters!

Yesterday I drove out to the Los Angeles Farmers Market and this is what I saw. Knitters! Lots of them, all sitting and talking and well, knitting. Knitters in the wild, I tell you. Something I never, ever see out in my neck of the (out in the middle of almost nowhere) woods. One woman wandered over, watched all of us for a while, then asked if we were a knitting circle. It was a bit difficult explaining that most of us had never actually met before, though many knew each other online, at least sort of. The really funny part is that while much of the group was tagging along with Lauren, there was a completely different group of knitters who just happened to also be out in front of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf when our group arrived. What are the chances of two unrelated knitting groups showing up in the same random public location at the same time?

Stomachs were grumbling, so several of us branched off to go find food, then it was off to the Knit Cafe with Jen (had a great conversation about Los Angeles en route as we drove down Melrose Place). This is where I realized just how few people I really knew there, even through blogs. This is probably a good thing, since I would have been much more intimidated had I had any idea of who anyone actually was. I mean, here was a luscious knit store filled with incredibly talented, cool, gorgeous knitters...what the heck was I doing there? I worked on Christmas presents and tried hard to blend into the woodwork a bit. Got to see a few things I haven't ever seen in person, like spinning (fascinating to watch) and an actual ball winder and swift in action.

Afterwards a much smaller group walked down to Mel & Rose, a small store/deli with a mind-boggling array of candy, liquor, and other random gift items. Somehow we all ended up oggling the chocolate aisle (yes, there was a whole aisle devoted to premium chocolates) together, and everyone grabbed something to drink and chocolate to nibble while we all talked. Got to talk more with Lori, Julia, MJ, Andrea, and Lauren (and meet her boyfriend - definitely a keeper!) while we all knitted. What a great group of people. I really enjoyed talking with everyone and getting to know people outside of words on a page and pictures on a screen. All in all, it was a wonderful day. Many thanks to Lauren for putting it all together, and all the knitters who made it well worth the drive.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Proud mama time

Last night was Winter Carnival for the local YMCA preschool and after school programs. There were raffle tickets, a spaghetti dinner, a slightly *too* enthusiastic announcer (who was nonplussed when asking about holiday traditions and I offered up "making this!" and held Dan's almost completed scarf aloft), plays and songs by all of the children, and a rather young, slender Santa Claus who could barely keep from laughing. Good times were had by all, but the highlight of the evening was when all of the littlest ones nervously lined up on stage and sang. Decked in red and black, with Santa hats of all shapes and sizes, the preschoolers were uncertain at first, but warmed up and had a great time as they sang. Arden was placed dead center alongside his best friend: both are not shy in any way, shape or form. Arden boogied with a grin on his face to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", becoming (marginally) serious while ringing the bells for "Jingle Bells". There was just something about watching him up there, so earnest and full of joy, that made my heart sing as well.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Quick Sangria recipe

I served this with the tamales last weekend. Wanted something light and fruity to go against the rich fare served, and this was perfect. I will be making it again many, many times.


Makes 8-10 servings (leave at least 2 servings per person)

4 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cups dry red wine
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lime juice
lime, sliced thin
lemon, sliced thin
orange, sliced thin

Combine water and sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Alternatively, pour everything into a juice container with a top that seals and shake away. Add wine and juices and chill in the refrigerator at least one hour before serving. Pour into a pitcher and add sliced fruits. Serve over ice. (I set out a nice looking bowl with ice and a large spoon)

More knitting

First, another finished scarf and hat set, this one going to my mother in law. I know, I know... it looks just like one I finished last week, but they are a little different - see? This set is a little more refined, and the hat isn't huge (my mother in law has a normal amount of hair, unlike my sister in law who sports a gorgeous mane). The moment I finished adding a fringe I started on Dan's hat and scarf. Same yarn, but in a rich chocolate color. Oddly enough, it's a little softer than the blue. I can only imagine the dyes are different or some such thing. But soft and warm are perfect for Dan, the cold one of the two of us. Why is that, anyway? Every couple must have one warm person and one cold person, if only to balance out the universe in some way. At least that's my theory.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Weekend Cookbook Challenge

Yes, I realize that it's Tuesday. But the ever kind hosts of Weekend Cookbook Challenge have extended the deadline of the first challenge to December 15th, so all is well. The idea for this one is to pick out the cookbook I've had the longest and make a recipe from that book. This isn't my first cookbook (it was a spiral bound community cookbook that has long since fallen completely apart, a gift from my aunt when I was ten), but the first I purchased on my own as an adult. Back in 1990 I was living in Pennsylvania by myself with few friends and no family nearby. At the time I loved to raid my local Penn State library for anything that seemed interesting, especially cookbooks. Anything to avoid homework. I found World of the East Vegetarian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey during one of these basement library crawls, the copy reinforced with layers of clear tape that showed what my librarian friends like to term "years of love". I loved everything I tried making from it and kept renewing my loan again and again. Samosas, somen noodles, spiced basmati rice, baklava, it was all delicious. I think I had it for almost three months when someone else requested my copy. It was a sad day when I had to return it, and I vowed to get my own soon. It took a while to get the $25 together to buy it, but about a year later I proudly marched into Barnes & Noble and got my very own copy. Now it's falling apart, the pages only barely held together, full of notes and love. Need to get me a new copy soon.
The next part of the challenge was more difficult: finding a recipe to try. I've had this book for so long, it was hard to find a recipe I hadn't made before. I chose Chapchae, a Korean noodle and vegetable stir-fry that I often grab as a snack over at the asian market. Full of garlic, sesame oil, a hint of soy sauce, and thick, chewy noodles, it isn't a lot to look at, but the end results are quite satisfying.


Serves 2-4 (2 as a main dish, 4 as a side)

2 ounces thick mung bean or yam noodles
2 Chinese dried black mushrooms
1/3 pound tender spinach leaves
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small zucchini, julienned
2 medium sized mushrooms (I subbed red bell pepper - don't like fresh mushrooms), cut into matchstick pieces
2 large Chinese cabbage leaves
4 green onions
4 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 Tb. dark sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tb. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Soak the noodles in 6 cups of water for 30 minutes, then drain and set aside. Soak the mushrooms in 1 cup hot water for 20 minutes. When soft, cut off any hard stems and slice fine.

Blanch spinach in boiling water for a minute or so. Drain, then run under cold water. Squeeze as much moisture out of the spinach as you can.

Cut away the tender, curly part of the cabbage and discard. Cut the thick core crosswise into thin strips.

Cut the green onions into 2 inch sections. Quarter white sections lengthwise to make narrow strips.

Mix all the vegetables in a bowl, separating the spinach leaves.

Heat vegetable and sesame oil in a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds. Add the vegetable mix and stir fry for 3-4 minutes, or until vegetables are just tender-crisp. Turn heat to low. Add the noodles, soy sauce, sugar, and salt. Stir well and cook for 2-3 additional minutes. Taste for seasoning (I ended up doubling the soy sauce, sugar and salt).

Monday, December 12, 2005

Knitting, meme, and a recipe

First, the knitting. I've been clicking needles merrily (and not so enthusiastically) almost every possible moment for the last few weeks, trying to get Christmas presents finished in time for, oh, say, Christmas. Not doing terribly badly, but I have to get moving if everything is going to get done. Clockwise from upper left: One Skein Wonder in stash yarn of some sort for a wee five year old, plain ol' mistake rib scarf in KnitPicks Decadence, and Twisty Turns from Warp Style in KnitPicks Andean Silk (the color is a gorgeous burgundy that refuses to photograph properly). Also in line are a scarf and hat for Dan. Already finished a scarf+hat set for my sister in law and the hat that goes with the blue scarf, and both the Twisty Turns and One Skein Wonder are pretty far along. I'm switching between projects as I get bored or tired but sticking with things-that-must-be-finished-by-Christmas. And as reward for my dilligence, I got a copy of Knitter's Handbook and some gorgeous Cherry Tree Hill Supersock as birthday gifts this last weekend. Karma, baby!

On to the meme. I was pegged by B'Gina over at Stalking the Waiter and I've really been thrown for a loop. How on earth to narrow down my very favorite foods? It's a bit like picking a favorite child - each has their own special traits that make them unique and wonderful. I'll do my best, though.

So here they are, my Top Ten Favorite Foods (in no particular order):

  • Asparagus - In the Spring, when slender stalks can be had for less than a dollar a pound, I go a little crazy. I have been known to steam a pound, top it with butter and a little salt, and call that dinner. Wonderful, heavenly stuff.
  • Pistachios - Anything with pistachios and I'm instantly addicted. There's something about the flavor, the color, the crunch that pulls me in every time.
  • Fresh, ripe, peaches - I can't think of many things better than a perfectly ripe peach, juices dripping down my arm as I bite into it.
  • Fresh bread - Something about the smell of bread, right out of the oven, and then the taste and feel in your mouth. There's really nothing like it at all.
  • Indian food - All right, I know that's a whole category and not a specific food. But I could eat Indian dishes every day and night for the rest of my life and be blissfully happy. Can't even come close to pinning down anything specific.
  • Rice - I eat rice in some form almost every other day. It's so simple, a perfect foil for almost any other dish, yet satisfying all on it's own.
  • Tea with milk and sugar - One of my favorite small indulgences. Rich, sweet, warm, and the perfect start or end to the day.
  • Steak - There are days when nothing will do except meat, preferably meltingly tender and flavorful.
  • Perfectly scrambled eggs - For me, this means cooked long and slow so the eggs are creamy and almost custard-like. Each bite practically dissolves in my mouth.
  • Toffee - In general, I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I can pass up cookies, cake, just about anything...except toffee. Once I found pistachios covered in toffee and chocolate at Bristol Farms and just about died happy right then and there. Sadly, they don't make them any longer. Though perhaps I should be thankful, since I could not stop eating them AT ALL.
Last, a recipe. I'm working from notes and trying to piece together everything I did, so tamale recipes are going to come one at a time. First, the one sleeper of the night, Tamales Dulces. These were made up as a last minute answer to "what the heck are the small fry going to eat if they don't take to tamales?" I made up a sweet masa, then grabbed a bottle of cajeta (a sweet, thick caramel made from cooking milk for a long, long time) to dollop in the center before steaming. They came out sweet, but not cloying at all, with a rich, warm texture that was hard to put down.

Tamales Dulces

makes approximately 3 dozen small tamales

3 cups masa harina
1 cup lard (Yes, lard. No, it won't taste the same without it.)
2 cups water
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
corn husks
cajeta, dulce de leche, or caramel sundae topping (in a pinch)

Soak the corn husks in water for at least two hours before filling the tamales. Drain, then pat dry.

Beat the masa until light and fluffy. Mix the masa harina, water, sugar, salt, and baking powder together, then mix into the lard. Beat again until mixture is light and all ingredients have combined well.

Fill each husk with a small amount (perhaps 1/4 cup) of the sweet masa, then add a spoonful of cajeta in the center. Make sure to enclose the cajeta on all sides with the masa or it will leak as they cook. Steam the tamales for approximately one hour, or until the masa is set. Best served warm.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Full and happy

The last guest is gone, there are piles of empty corn husks covering the counters, and bags of tamale love in the freezer. It was all so incredibly good. Even better than the food was seeing friends and spending time together while elbow to elbow in masa.

Pictures and recipes to come, though here's a sneak peek:

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Where in the world...

...are you? Yes, I found one of those map thingies to play with, too. Come on over and give me a wave, why don't you?

Check out our Frappr!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Many simmering vats later...

Today has been a day of large pots and things cooking for a long time. Pork, bay leaves, salt and pepper simmering for a long time. Pork fat rendering for a long time. Fresh corn tamales steaming for a long time. Small boys steaming for a long time (this last involved not cooking but tempers).

Pork has been shredded, pork fat rendered, fresh corn tamales steamed, tempers (mostly) cooled, and drinks (for the grown-ups) poured. Tomorrow more cooking and hopefully less steaming.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Eight years ago

....I married my very favorite person in the world. I still feel fluttery and excited when he comes in the room, and we still hold hands and kiss in public. Things are deeper, smoother, more well worn and comfortable, but underneath is a fire that shines so bright it eclipses everything. The best gift I ever got was Dan, my partner and my soul mate. I can't wait to see what the years to come bring.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Preparing for a Tamalada

Next Saturday Dan and I are having a joint birthday party. He was born right before Christmas a year before me, which makes right now my favorite time of year since I'm two years older for a few weeks. Fun to pinch his cheek and utter, "oooh, what wee little one!" Yes, I am easily amused. Anyway, we're getting a bunch of friends together and making a mess load* of tamales together. After that comes out the Princess Cake, something completely non Hispanic in any way. Hey, it's our birthday party, and the cake sounded really good.

I got the tamale recipe from Chef Pedro, guru of all things edible back at my old hospital job. He made tamales around Christmas time that were just amazing. Managed to get him to share a very loose recipe, though most of the specifics I'm having to figure out as I go along. More fun that way since I like a good challenge.

Just finished simmering four pounds of chicken thighs and legs with some salt, pepper, and bay leaves. No other seasonings, as per Chef Pedro. They smell delicious already! Waiting for them to cool so I can shred the meat. The broth has been set aside to flavor the masa dough later.

I'll cook up some pork as well tomorrow. Then off to hunt for corn husks, lard, ancho chiles, corn, masa, and marzipan (for the cake).

The menu for Saturday:

fresh corn tamales with chiles and cheese (vegetarian and made up before people arrive so everyone can munch a bit)
chicken tamales with ancho chile
pork tamales with ancho chile (thinking of coloring the masa for these with some paprika so they're easy to tell apart)
moroccan carrot salad (lots of garlic, parsley, and lemon juice - should go well with the tamales)
roasted green onions
red and green cabbage slaw with oranges

Princess Cake

*mess load = fantastically large amount, similar to ass load but more acceptable in polite company

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Last night, while I was cooking dinner, my youngest jumped off the top of the couch down to the lower cushions. Getting up on top of the couch is strictly against the rules. The boys got quite a lesson in why that exact rule exists.

As A was jumping down, his foot got caught and he hit face first against the edge of the coffee table. Split his eyebrow right open. Poor little guy was screaming and crying, saying how much it hurt, while Dan held him and tried to comfort while I called the pediatrician. The office has late hours, so we grabbed a teether from the freezer (keep several of these on hand for bumps and bruises) and some gauze to keep pressed against the wound, and packed into the car. I sat between the boys so I could help hold the ice pack and hold his hand, since it still hurt quite a bit.

Got to the office where we were ushered into a room pretty quickly. A was very still and quiet, still hurting. The doctor took one look at the gash (almost an inch across) and told us to go to the ER for stitches. So back in the car we all went, Dan driving ever so carefully over the bumps in the road. At the ER A wanted me to stay with him, so Dan and R stayed outside and got paperwork done while we waited for a bed. Got a room and soon after a doctor came by, took one look at the wound, exclaimed, and come back with suturing supplies. About half an hour later a different doctor came in, looked at the wound, looked at the tray, then whisked it away and came back with completely different supplies. Guess everyone has their favorite set up. Meanwhile, I held A's hand and talked to him quietly. He kept telling me how much it hurt, which broke my heart. I kept wishing I could do anything at all to make it all better besides simply being there.

The doctor and a nurse came back into the room. Then the really hard part: the ever dreaded shot full of lidocaine. I held A's hands and tried to soothe him, but he kept screaming and yelling, "It hurts! Oh, it hurts so much! I want to go home now!" I simply held him and comforted as best I could, but it was so hard to let someone do something that caused him so much pain. Finally the numbing medicine kicked in and he grew quiet as the doctor started stitching. Smart doctor - he told A he was just washing everything, that it wouldn't hurt, and that he'd go home very soon. A didn't even know he was getting stitches and was relieved that the pain was finally gone. Once everything was done I told him that he had stitches that would hold everything together so it could heal.

He thought about this and then seemed satisfied. "I got six stitches! I have to show everyone at school tomorrow!" Suddenly the fear and pain was forgotten, to be replaced with something new and exciting. Much like when I first labored and gave birth to him almost five years ago. Love you, sweetheart. Hoping this is the last time you get stitches, but know that I'll be there if you need me again, any time.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas least from the output of knitted gifts so far. This scarf is a long awaited thank you for Ryan's Speech and Language evaluator, a wonderful woman who deserves something really special. Made from Silky Wool in a simple lace pattern, it should do nicely in warm Southern California weather. I'll wrap it in tissue and send it off tomorrow.
These are for my sister in law who lives in San Jose. It actually gets cold there, so something warm and fuzzy will be a big help. The hat was made like Susan's pattern but subbing my own top down shaping (K1, M1 all around, then K2, M1 all around, then K3, M1, etc. until it's large enough). Knit up in Decadence, they came out really soft and luxurious.
OK, I had to try them on. Had to. May well have to knit up a set for myself after I'm done with Christmas presents. Now, on to the next scarf and hat set for my mother in law, then one for Dan. Meanwhile I'm almost a quarter way through a Twisty Turns wrap for my sister. Mindless knitting to make up, but the end result looks to be really nice.