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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Everything's Coming Up Roses

Okay, and clematis. Here are a few shots this morning from my front yard. You can see the garage eco-roof in progress in the background of one of them.

Oh, and the second awaited nephew did finally make his grand appearance last night in the wee hours. Yay! Can hardly wait to see pictures.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I Guess the Cat is Out of the Bag

I must confess: I've been harboring a secret lo these months. In early February, I found myself quite unexpectedly expecting. As no one else expected it either (Number Two is not yet two years old, and was conceived through in vitro fertilization), I was able to keep my secret for quite some time. We started telling people here in town (who would start to wonder about my oddly localized weight gain) about six weeks ago, and I finally surprised my Utah siblings with the news last weekend. So yes, I am going to have a third child, probably some time in mid-October. Shocking!

Then today was my regularly scheduled 20-week ultrasound, and we found out to our delight that Number Three will be a GIRL! So here she is; bid her welcome!


Trip to Utard

As I mentioned, I went to Utah last weekend to see my new nephews. I did get to see one of them:

The other, though, was shockingly uncooperative, and did not make his appearance as scheduled. Here is his increasingly uncomfortable mother (who still has not delivered!):

At a family gathering, we managed to get Number Two's cohort (which includes boy cousins three and ten months older) to sit still with their favorite aunt long enough for a snapshot:

Number Two also enjoyed greatly (as per usual) a bath in Grandma and Grandpa's tub:

Monday afternoon after our return we went to a barbecue at my brother's house. Here are Number Two and Mavis playing catch in the backyard (Number One spent most of his time out of sight in a tree):



I promised Sarah I'd post the link for finding u-pick farms in Oregon. Unfortunately they seem to be in the process of revamping their websites, and a quick look didn't reveal any of the information I used to depend on them for. The info used to be at the Agri-Business Council of Oregon website; it looks like they will be moving the info to a sister website, but the transfer is not complete. The old website used to have lists of farms and what they grew, including phone numbers. Hopefully they'll get this information back up in a useful format and soon, as berry season is hard upon us.

On another note, apparently run-of-the-mill Mormons (at least those with Internet access) would welcome a more unvarnished presentation of church history from official sources, according to an article published Sunday in the Deseret News. Hear hear. And this is completely irrelevant to the point of the article, but I used to sing in a choir with Rebecca Olpin, who is quoted at length in the article. Didn't know she is now working in the COB.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It's That Time of Year Again

The roses are starting to bloom (not for nothing is this place called the City of Roses), and the first local strawberries are starting to appear at the market. Not the best varieties, yet, but still exponentially better than the pretty-yet-woody California imports. The day before Mothers' Day my sister was in town, and for a family dinner I put together this trifle:

I used about three pints of berries, one and a half purchased pound cakes, six egg yolks-worth of pastry cream, a pint of cream (whipped and sweetened), diced roasted hazelnuts, chopped crystallized ginger, and homemade rhubarb-ginger jam. I made it last year without the pastry cream, and it was delectable. Pound cake + pastry cream, though, is just a tad rich. I think if I use the pastry cream again, I'll use a lighter cake, like the chiffon cake I made for the Burns Supper trifle, or even an angel food cake.

The benefit to making the pastry cream, of course, is to have leftover egg whites to make into almond macaroons, which I did.

The most spectacular of my roses aren't blooming yet, but when I get back from my weekend in Utard (gotta see those new nephews!) I'll start snapping. Too bad this blog does not include Smellovision (tm)!


Friday, May 18, 2007

Addendum to Ho Hum.

Mavis pointed out that I forgot to mention how much the boys ate of their Subway sandwiches last week. Both boys had turkey with minimal condiments, on wheat bread. Number One ate 10 inches, and Number Two (age 21 months) ate a whole six-inch sandwich, plus half of a Thai salad roll (!). I tell you, we are really in trouble when they get to be teenagers.

Another big hit with Number Two this week was a jambalaya made with a quite-spicy andouille. The sausage was his favorite part! The recipe was from Cook's a few years back--let me know if you're interested and maybe I'll type it in.

A final note about the chili: make sure sure sure that the beans are fully cooked before adding the tomatoes. The acid in the tomatoes will arrest the beans at whatever stage they are at, and they won't get any softer no matter how long you cook them. It is possible to partially remedy the crunchy-beans dilemma (by adding a little baking soda, an alkali, to neutralize the pH), but it is much much preferable to just avoid the situation in the first place (because the baking soda makes it taste just the slightest bit funny).


It is SO on.

So, e-invitations for my birthday bash have gone out. If you didn't get one but want to, let me know.


Monday, May 14, 2007

The Mormons (dum dum dum dum dum)

Okay, I promised I'd say something about the PBS two-parter on The Mormons. I still have not managed to get around to watching the second part, and if it makes me think of anything new or earthshattering, I'll let you know.

But anyway, I thought the first part was Not So Bad. My friend Jana Riess wrote a review here, and I pretty much agree with her take on it, in terms of what was good and what was missed. Adriana also wrote quite typically thoughtful posts on both parts, a little snippet about the first part buried here, and a longer post about the second part here.

What I found most interesting, though, was not the documentary itself, but Mormons' reaction to it. As I mentioned in a comment on Adriana's second post (if you read that far), I went to Portland Mormon Choir rehearsal Tuesday evening before I had watched any of it. Before rehearsal began, the director asked who had seen it, and about 30 people raised their hands. Then he asked who had liked it, and about two-thirds of the hands went down. The woman who sits next to me said she had found it "offensive." Then he led us in singing "O How Lovely Was the Morning," which tells the story of the First Vision, "so we can remember why we're here." I was pretty sure I wouldn't find anything "offensive," but the first part was even more toothless than I had expected.

Then, the Sunday after the shows was Fast and Testimony Meeting, and a number of people stood up to say things generally demonstrating that they were appalled and dismayed by the show. And at the end of Relief Society, one woman in my ward went on about how she thought there was a lot of anti-Mormon lies in the first part, things that she knew weren't true. Someone pressed her for specifics, and the things she cited as "lies" had come from the mouth of Dan Peterson, BYU/FARMS professor and just about the most conservative Mormon "historian" on the planet. As I observed in a comment on Jana's review, I think Helen Whitney's tactic of leaving off talking heads' religious affiliation so that Mormons wouldn't out-of-hand dismiss statements of non-Mormons backfired, and they dismissed anything that didn't jibe with the invariably-faith-promoting stuff they'd learned in seminary, or anything said by someone who didn't sound Mormon (like Kathleen Flake, who in academic fashion referred to Joseph Smith by his last name only). I set straight the woman in my RS who thought it was all anti-Mormon lies, but most Mormons who reacted like she did don't have a me around to set them straight(er).

The biggest problem is that Official Church History (tm) has long valued the faith-promoting over the factual. After several decades of suppressing anything they thought put the church in a remotely negative light, the run-of-the-mill Mormon knows very little about the nitty-gritty of 19th-century church history. So when they do find things out (because if they do any exploration outside of official church sources, they will), their testimonies are shaken and they FREAK OUT. If the church leadership had a less paranoid approach to the messiness of real history, and difficult subjects like the Mountain Meadows Massacre or pre-Utah polygamy were talked about openly, this could be avoided.

The other problems is that Mormons just take themselves too damn seriously! I talked to more than one person who thought the documentary just wasn't complimentary enough. I don't know what they were expecting--PBS could hardly be expected to run something that was essentially a church PR piece, confirming for Mormons all the things they like to think about themselves: that they're nice, hardworking, and not so weird; that Mormons have Arrived. They have no sense of what a neutral tone sounds like, so anything that's not laudatory or hagiographic is perceived as attacking. It would be nice if Mormons in general were less insular, but I guess I don't see that happening any time soon.

Oh, and happy birthday to Janet and Adriana!


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ho Hum.

We've been having good but not new or exciting or even remotely spectacular food this week, so I haven't felt particularly inspired to post.

Monday we had takeout--Subway sandwiches for the boys and Thai salad rolls for me (Subway and Tara Thai are conveniently located right across the street from each other, less than a mile from our house).

Tuesday we had beef stew. It wasn't really a stew-y day, since it was in the upper 70s and GORGEOUS, but I had thawed beef chuck left over from the chili that had to get used up. I browned the beef (cut into cubes, of course) and some thinly-sliced onion. Then I sprinkled about 1/2 C of flour over it and sauteed for 30 seconds or so, then did the same with a squirt of tomato paste (LOVE that stuff in the tube!). If I'd had some nice red wine, here's where I would have added it. But I didn't, so I didn't. Then I added water to cover, some salt and pepper, and simmered for a couple of hours. A little less than an hour before we wanted to eat it, I added 2 lbs of buttercream potatoes and about four peeled-and-chunked carrots. Just before serving I stirred in the frozen peas and a little balsamic vinegar. We had it with a nice loaf of brown-and-serve Pugliese from Marsee Baking, and the boys devoured it.

Wednesday we had pasta carbonara, which Number One Son adores (we even had it for his first birthday dinner, lo these many years ago now) and Number Two Son does not (yet). Heat a large oven-safe bowl at 200 degrees. Boil a pound of pasta (spaghetti is traditional, but mini penne are easier for the kids to eat) in nicely salted water. Saute a half-pound of chopped bacon with a little olive oil until crispy, then drain off most of the fat. Whisk three eggs with two medium cloves garlic, pressed, and stir into them 3 oz. grated parmesan. Add about 1/2 C white wine (which I didn't have last night--time to buy another bottle) to the bacon, and reduce by about half. When the pasta is done, dump 1 1/2 C (about) frozen petite peas into its pot, wait 30 seconds or so, then dump it all into a colander in the sink and then quickly back into its pot, so it retains some of its water. Pull bowl out of oven and put pasta/peas into it, then dump egg/cheese mixture over the top with 1/2 t kosher salt. Stir/toss until well mixed, and you can see that the egg is clinging to the pasta and not looking liquid/raw any more. Stir in bacon/wine and freshly ground black pepper. If it doesn't seem completely cooked (or if you're particularly paranoid about possibly consuming a tiny bit of raw egg), pop the whole thing into the still-warm oven while you're getting everyone to the table.

Tonight we had veggie risotto with carrots, asparagus and peas, which I could have sworn I had posted about before here. Apparently I did it as a comment somewhere else, dangit, and I don't feel like typing it all in at the moment. We used to have veggie risotto quite frequently, as Number Two loves it, most ingredients are usually in the pantry, and it works with whatever veggies we happen to have around.

My sister squeezed out her fourth child today, a boy. He's fat and adorable (she says, but I'll take her word for it), and by some miracle the lucky mommy got to do all her birthing during the daylight hours. I'm headed their way soon, and I'm looking forward to meeting the little piker!

I'll see if I can work up the oomph tomorrow to post about two things that kind of dominated my week last week: Leslie Bennetts and her book The Feminine Mistake, and the PBS documentary The Mormons.

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Sunday, May 6, 2007

Hearty (tho' somewhat heartburn-inducing)

Yesterday I made chili for today's mid-day dinner. Sometimes I feel like being creative with my chili (adding corn, roasted peppers, fresh chiles, chicken, etc.), but sometimes it's nice to just stick with the basics. I was also thinking about this being Number Two's first chili experience (he's had trouble with cooked tomato products in the past), and wanting it to be a positive one.

So, I made a variation of my mom's recipe, the one I grew up eating.

2 lb chuck, cut into 1-1.5" cubes (growing up it was always ground beef)
2 lb black beans (Mom always used red kidney)
8 med onions, chopped
2 lg cans whole tomatoes (might try crushed next time)
a few T chili powder
a couple T brown sugar
a couple t salt

Simple, simple, simple. I usually do a quick soak of the beans: cover with a couple inches water, boil 5 minutes, let sit for an hour or so. Then change the water, add a t of baking soda, bring to a boil, and simmer until tender (taste more than one bean for this), 20-30 mins. Drain and put back in the pot. Add tomatoes, brown, sugar, chili powder, salt. Saute onions and brown beef and add them. Stir (it will seem overly dry, but don't think you need to add any liquid), then put on medium heat, reducing heat to low as mixture reaches a simmer. Simmer for about a million years (give or take--seriously, this time I think it was 8 hours until I considered it done), until tomatoes have broken down, beef is tender, and flavors are melded. Adjust seasonings and serve with condiments of your choice: grated cheese, sour cream, avocado, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, tortilla chips, steamed rice (brown or white).

One reason this batch of chili took so long was because of the tomatoes. I gave insufficiently specific instructions to my personal shopper (aka Mavis), and he got the first ones he saw, Hunt's Whole Tomatoes. The thing is, lots of commercially-available tomatoes these days (actually, most) contain calcium chloride, which makes them firmer so they look prettier when you open the can. Now, I suppose for some dishes you would be using canned tomatoes that you would want to maintain their shape, but I'm usually wanting them to break down and form a nice sauce, so the CaCl really works at cross-purposes for me. I will look harder for tomatoes without CaCl, and if they prove hard to find I might just have to can some of my own this year.

Today we went condiment-less, because we were in something of a hurry and because I had used the last of the sour cream in the fridge trying a new (to me) recipe for corn muffins. It originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2002 issue, Number 58.

2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 C fine-ground, whole-grain yellow cornmeal (mine wasn't fine-ground, so a little crunchy in the end product)
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 large eggs
3/4 C sugar
8 T unsalted butter, melted
3/4 C sour cream
1/2 C milk

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to combine; set aside. Whisk eggs in second medium bowl until well combined and light-colored, about 20 seconds. Add sugar to eggs; whisk vigorously until thick and homogenous, about 30 seconds; add melted butter in 3 additions, whisking to combine after each addition. Add half the sour cream and half the milk and whisk to combine; whisk in remaining sour cream and milk until combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients; mix gently with rubber spatula until batter is just combined and evenly moistened. Do not over-mix. Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, divide batter evenly among muffin cups, dropping it to form mounds. Do not level or flatten surface of mounds.

3. Bake unti muffins are light golden brown and skewer inserted into center of muffins comes out clean, about 18 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in tin 5 minutes; invert muffins onto wire rack, stand muffins upright, cool 5 minutes longer, and serve warm.

Other than not using fine-ground corn meal, I made this recipe exactly as directed, and they were beautiful. Delicious, too.

Another small food note from this weekend: Saturday we had roast Alaskan Chinook salmon, sauteed pea shoots (yum!) and steamed rice. I had the last of the sour cream-lemon-chive sauce left from the book group brunch, to which I had also added some chopped fresh dill. For the rice, an easy trick that I really like is to stir in some butter and about two tablespoons (per cup of uncooked rice) of finely chopped fresh herbs. It really only works with white rice, which we were having for a change of pace, but it makes it look restaurant-pretty and taste great. This time, I used dill, chives, and a little mint from the garden (another one to grow, dear readers, but only in a pot because it's a terrible bully and spreads like the dickens).

I leave you with a photo of Number Two, who somehow seems to have gotten the helpfulness gene. Nothing makes him happier than helping unload the dishwasher, or fold laundry, or pick up after his brother. Yes, I am a lucky mommy. Oh, and he loved the chili. The leftovers went into the freezer for some day this summer when it's too hot to really cook.

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Thursday, May 3, 2007

Homey on the Range

I used to subscribe to Martha Stewart Kids, and when they decided to pull the plug on it, the rest of my subscription was filled out with Everyday Food. I didn't renew (with all my cookbooks + Cook's Illustrated + Oregonian FOODday + Adriana, I need more new recipes like I need a hole in the head, really), so I only have three issues: April, June and August of last year. I read them when I got them, dog-eared a few promising-sounding recipes, and put them on the shelf. After a friend mentioned the mag at our sons' baseball practice the other day, I thought I'd re-peruse and see if something jumped out. I found this recipe for chicken and dumplings, and it sounded like the perfect balance of comfort and nutrition, and likely to please everyone. With the weather we've been having lately (including a rather spectacular hailstorm yesterday), warm and soothing was what I needed.

What I did differently: I used only about 3/4 lb of chicken, which was plenty for our family; I used about 3 C broth (from homemade chicken stock), since the 14.5 oz called for didn't fully cover the chicken and vegetables; I used fresh thyme instead of dried; I added 1/2 t salt to the dumpling batter; and I added the peas just before serving instead of at the same time as the dumplings (I prefer them to be bright green and not overcooked). All of these changes were enhancements. In fact, when I make it again I'll likely increase further the amount of broth.

Best of all? Everyone liked it. Between the four of us we polished off the whole pot.

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All Substitutions Are Not Created Equal

So I read an article recently (I think in the Oregonian FOODday, but I can't find it online--maybe they don't post all the syndicated articles they reprint) about the popularity of sites like allrecipes.com and epicurious.com, and specifically about how people write comments on the recipes saying how they tried it, and then describe all the substitutions they've made to the recipe, many of which change the basic character of the dish. I very rarely check any of these sites (my four-foot shelf of cookbooks usually turns up something appropriate), but this drives me batty! One time on an (non-food-related) e-mail list I shared a recipe for sourdough waffles, and a woman wrote back the next day saying she'd tried the recipe and how much she liked the result. Then she said how she hadn't wanted to wait the three days for the sourdough cultures to develop, so she'd added some yeast. Okay, you didn't make sourdough waffles. You made yeasted waffles, a totally different animal! You can't say that you made my recipe. I know that almost all the recipes I post here I changed in at least some small way when I made them, but I try to be clear about where I've deviated, and I like to think that the changes I make are small and subtle, and that my execution remains true to the spirit of the original.

Guess this is just one more of the many things about which I care more than the average American. Sigh.