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Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Potluck That Wasn't

Last night was the opening activity of Newton's school year--the back-to-school ice cream social. Last year's similar event was a potluck dinner, and with a starting time of six, it didn't occur to me that this year's wouldn't be. Silly me. So we left our salad in the car, had dessert first (blecchy little single-serving ice cream cups, you know the kind I'm talking about), and then ate what we could of the salad (I was making for a potluck, not for my little family, several members of which are dubious about salads anyway!).

I made a salad I've been craving lately: BBQ Chicken Chop. I first had it at California Pizza Kitchen several years ago, and was so delighted that I wrote down all the ingredients on the paper tape that had secured my napkin around my flatware. This time I made it with homemade ranch dressing. No, for once I wasn't trying to be an overachiever. I had come across the recipe while looking for one for dip to go with crudités. Then I discovered that the bottle of ranch dressing in my fridge was about 3 years past date and suspiciously beige. And then I realized that I had all the ingredients for the recipe. Since I'm not a frequent ranch dressing consumer, I'll probably end up making it for those occasions where nothing else will do.

BBQ Chicken Chop Salad

chopped lettuce (I used romaine and green leaf, about 1 1/2 heads--you need something crisp and sturdy)
5 oz grated Monterey Jack cheese
3 small scallions, minced (I used a bit more than this and came to regret it)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 C frozen petite corn kernels
1 C small-diced jicama
1 C diced tomato (I used red and orange--very pretty with the yellow corn and black beans)
ranch dressing (bottled or homemade)
broken tortilla chips
barbecued chicken, shredded in sauce (I use Lloyd's, that comes in a tub)

Toss everything but the chicken together, then top with the chicken. (If you're taking it to a potluck, take the cheese, chips, ranch and chicken separately and assemble the salad after you get there.)

To make the ranch dressing, I started with a recipe in The New Best Recipe, from the Cook's Illustrated people. I doubled it, which made a bit more than I needed for the above amount (but I think a single recipe wouldn't have been enough). I also made it in the Cuisinart instead of mincing everything by hand, and after it was put together I added more sour cream, about doubling what they originally called for. It's plenty allium-y (especially if serving with the scallion-y salad above!), so err on the side of less with the garlic, scallion and shallot. Here's how I made it:
Ranch Dressing

1 small-medium clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
2 small-medium scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1 medium shallot, chopped (a couple of tablespoons)
1 T minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 T minced fresh cilantro
2 T chopped red bell pepper
1 t freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 t salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C buttermilk
1/2 C mayonnaise
1/2 C sour cream

Process in food processor in order given, scraping down sides of work bowl repeatedly to eliminate large chunks. Refrigerate and use within a few days.


Lulled into Complacency

So, this afternoon we were all upstairs. I was catching up on e-mail, Newton was watching TV, and Cindy Lou and the Wizard were playing. The Wizard wanted a drink, so Newton opened the gate for him to go downstairs. He knows how to get himself a drink either in the bathroom (using his toothbrushing cup) or the kitchen (using the fridge water dispenser), so I wasn't worried. After a few minutes, though, the sounds from the bathroom seemed a little, well, WET. Newton and I both shouted downstairs for him to turn off the water, and he came upstairs shortly after, saying, "I'm all wet." Great.

It was time to feed Cindy Lou anyway, so we headed downstairs to find a LAKE in the bathroom. I handed off Cindy Lou to Newton and mopped it up with some towels. Besides the lake on the floor, water had splashed up on the walls and toilet. Apparently, coming downstairs and finding a sink full of swimming suits and water, the Wizard had decided it would be fun to use the toothbrushing cup as a ladle to scoop water onto the floor. Eeeeeeee!

So, with the bathroom floor dried and the towels hanging over the tub (and the Wizard's wet clothing removed), Cindy Lou and I headed downstairs for some food, only to discover a LAKE in the kitchen. Apparently the water on the bathroom floor had seeped under the baseboard and was coming out around the kitchen light fixture. Fortunately it was not coming out through the plaster! Besides the four-foot-diameter puddle in the middle of the kitchen floor, there was about 3 inches of water pooled in the shade on the light fixture. I popped Cindy Lou in her high chair and ran back upstairs, cursing all the way, to grab some old towels. I spread them on the kitchen floor, then ran down to the basement. Yes, there was a lake there, too, albeit a smaller one. Ugh ugh ugh.

Not my favorite thing to have happen on a lazy summer afternoon, to say the least. Hopefully I won't have scary mold growing inside my walls where I couldn't mop up the water. But I guess that's one problem with having generally-well-behaved children--you get used to not having to worry about where they are and what they're doing Every. Single. Second., so when they do decide to get, um, creative, you're blindsided. Silver lining? We cleaned the shade of the kitchen light fixture, which was quite grimy, and replaced a burnt-out bulb.

Addendum: Last night after I had calmed down enough not to want to strangle him, the Wizard and I had a big talk about the lake incident. When I told him that his bathroom lake had created a kitchen lake which had created a basement lake, he laughed and said, "That's funny." No, I said, that's bad. "Actually, Mommy, it's bad and funny." Clearly my son and I have very different understandings of what makes something funny.


Monday, August 18, 2008


Driving home from church yesterday (a muggy, uncomfortably warm transitional day after three scorchers around 100 degrees--today is still muggy, but much cooler and we are having a thunderstorm), I was kind of zoning out until my reverie was pierced by a panicking Wizard, "Mommy! Say 'Yes we are'!" I told him that I wouldn't say it until I knew what I was agreeing to. He got more panicky, and then exclaimed, "But we aren't in the tunnel any more!" Fortunately there was another short tunnel right after, so we were able to do a repeat: "Mommy, we're in a tunnel!" "Yes, we are."

This is one of many areas in which the Wizard is amazingly different from his older brother. Newton will never repeat himself more than once, and if I didn't understand him, too bad. Nothing like a mumbling proto-teenager to make you feel old and deaf. But he just doesn't seem to have the same need for feedback that the Wizard does. Is this an introvert-extrovert thing? I seem to remember reading that that is what makes the difference between extroverts and introverts, that need for feedback of whatever kind.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Grilled Steak with Peach Salsa

This was a yummy summer dinner earlier this week. Mavis bought a really fat (1.25-1.5") New York steak at the farmers' market. I dosed it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and grilled it outside on my charcoal behemoth to a nice medium (actually a little less rare than would have been ideal, but still very good and juicy). I served it with the sides you see below, all from the farmers' market: multicolor baby potatoes (the purple ones are insanely bright purple inside), sweet corn on the cob, and mixed brassicas (broccoli, romanesco and cauliflower).

I felt the need for something juicy, sweet and savory to put on the meat, plus I had peaches that needed to be eaten, so I whipped up this peach salsa to put on top (we've since also had it on pork--I think it's a little better with the beef). The flavors are more Italian (parsley, basil, garlic) than Mexican (cilantro, lime), so just imagine that "salsa" is in Italian, not Spanish.

Fruit salsas are amazingly easy to make, and make delicious. You need one or more fruits, one or more alliums (onion family--onion, shallot, scallion, garlic), one or more herbs, optional hot chiles, and acid from some kind of citrus. I usually add just a small drizzle of olive oil to help fix the fleeting flavors of the herbs. Whip it all up in the Cuisinart with a little salt and pepper and you are good to go.
Peach Salsa

1 small shallot, roughly chopped
1 sm-med clove garlic
handful fresh Italian parsley leaves
10-12 basil leaves
a little salt and freshly ground black pepper
a drizzle of olive oil (not extra-virgin)
juice of one Valencia orange
2 ripe medium peaches, peeled and cut into chunks

Drop shallot pieces and garlic clove one at a time through feed tube while processor is running. Open top of processor and add parsley, basil, salt & pepper, olive oil, and orange juice. Process until finely chopped and fairly well-blended, stopping to scrape sides of work bowl as needed. Add peaches and pulse until blended--I like my salsa to be fairly smooth, but if you like it chunkier just process for a shorter time, or mix diced peaches in by hand.

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Ten Months Old

All three kids together. At the time I was trying to take the photo, the two younger ones were fussing, so I told Newton to cry, too. Cindy Lou calmed down when she saw the camera (like all babies, she loves gadgets!), and the Wizard couldn't suppress a smile, even as he continued to whine. So Newton's the only one who looks unhappy, but he's also the only one faking it.

More of Cindy Lou in a second, but I love this shot I got of the Wizard. Since starting swimming lessons almost two weeks ago, he's been falling asleep almost every afternoon. Here is where I discovered him the other day after getting Cindy Lou down for her nap.

Fresh from the tub in her Tubby Towel.

She can entertain herself upstairs among the toys for hours. Lately she's taken to holding larger toys between her feet so she can bang on them with her hands.

She still breaststrokes, but occasionally comes up onto knees and elbows briefly.

Here she is standing between Daddy's knees.

Think they could be related?


Monday, August 11, 2008

Aren't I Pretty?

Voilà the Wizard's first ever attempt at drawing a person. I've been a really lazy mama in the crayon-to-paper department, I admit, because I generally avoid super-close supervision of my children and don't like the crayon-to-woodwork results of breaking out the art supplies. So this was the first time I sat down with him and encouraged him to draw a specific thing, instead of just making abstract multicolored scribbles. So, this is my face. The eyes are pretty obvious, I think. The line above them is my hair. The two parallel lines below them are my lips. The small vertical line between my lips is my nose, and the bottom mark is my bum (what a sweet kid to make it so small!). The small dots on the sides are the corners of my mouth.

I can't remember how old Newton was, exactly, when I sat down with him for a similar exercise. His person had fingers and toes in the appropriate number, but I can't remember if it had hands or feet. It's always fun to see how many parts they think they need for the drawing to be complete--I keep asking "What else?" without suggesting anything in particular, until they say they're done.

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Friday, August 8, 2008


When the Laundry Queen and her family were visiting, we took a few days to stay at the beach house of some friends. We hadn't been there before. The entrance to the house is on the side away from the beach, and the main living area is one floor above. When the Laundry Queen and I walked up the stairs, this is the view that greeted us:

Wow. It's a little hard to see in the video, so here's a view of the same scene from the deck:

Oh, the joy of that view! A peaceful thrill. Maybe it's more pronounced for my sister and me, since we grew up here and have many happy coast memories. Anyway, our stay at the beach was fantastic. You can see about a million pictures at my sister's blog, but here are just a few from our camera (plus I took the picture of my sister she's using in her profile).

The Wizard in one of his few happy beach moments (Pen, Newton, Ginger and Bud visible in the background).

Mad photog the Laundry Queen (who snapped about 500 shots in three days!).

After returning to the valley, we had a few more days of cousin fun before they had to leave. The Wizard and Bud played really well together. Here they are enjoying their See's suckers:

Sharing a tub:

Here's the Laundry Queen's whole fam damily, on the morning of their departure:


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Happy Day

The Wizard had a birthday last month, and the weather was perfect for gathering in the backyard. With just family (J&J plus the Laundry Queen and her family), we were already 17, so we figured it wouldn't hurt to invite a few more, particularly if they had kids we thought might get along well with the cousins. We had 15 pounds of pulled pork I barbecued, homemade barbecue sauce, coleslaw (a must, I learned, for pulled-pork sandwiches!), corn on the cob, watermelon, a garlicky-dilly potato salad brought by our friend Frank, and guava limeade mixed up by Auntie J. Birthday cake was red velvet cupcakes with (yellow) cream cheese frosting. Everything was yummy, though the cupcakes were overbaked (too much multi-tasking) and consequently dry. More importantly, the kids and the grownups all had a great time. Sadly, we didn't get any pictures of the eight-person mixed-age bocce match that made my night.

Cousin Rib II did a great job of playing with the younger kids:

Our lumpy lawn makes bocce particularly challenging.

Never has our swingset been so thoroughly utilized.

The Wizard is still working on the whole candles/blowing thing. I don't think I managed to have all three of them lit at any one time--the wind and the birthday boy were too efficient at extinguishing them!

Presents were mostly books, plus bubbly things and a puzzle, much, much appreciated. And of course he matched his older brother's feat of reading his birthday cards aloud (and of course we matched our feat of not capturing it on video!). I'm not sure what the Wizard said to get Rib laughing that hard.

Happy birthday attendee Big.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Photo Mosaic Meme

Too lazy to get to the other posts I have percolating, I turn to memes. This one is from Jana.

Here's the meme:
If you want to play too, type your answer to each of the questions below into a Flickr search. Using only the first page, choose your favorite image, then copy and paste each of the URL’s into the mosaic maker (3 columns, 4 rows)(If you don't have a flickr account, try here--though I found I had to create an account there to make it work easily. Maybe I ought to just set up a flickr account.). Leave a comment if you play, so I can see your results.

The questions:

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What high school did you attend?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. Favorite drink?
7. Dream vacation?
8. Favorite dessert?
9. What do you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. One word to describe you.
12. Your Flickr name (or something close--I don't have a flickr account, and usernames I use elsewhere turned up no results).

If you don't want to play, see if you can guess what all my search terms were.