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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lost in Translation II

Cindy Lou got that big number board book from the sale books shelf at Powell's. Reading it with her yesterday, I noticed a sticker on one of the early pages, talking about numbers of body parts. The body part is fingers, and the sticker says "10 ten," just above "10 ten toes." What on earth was it covering up, I wondered? I peered closely at the sticker in good light, and was able to figure out that it was covering "9 nine." Nine fingers!?!?!? What the?!?!?! Who the heck wouldn't catch that?!? A lightbulb went off over my head, and I turned to the copyright page. Yes, just as I thought: printed in China. Apparently not enough English readers in the print factory that day. Can you imagine opening your huge container of books you've ordered, and discovering they all say "9 nine fingers"? Someone surely got fired over that one.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Braggalicious Meme

I'm approaching 60%. There might be a few more I've actually done, but my memory is a little fuzzy. I tried to err on the conservative side where I wasn't sure.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band

4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain

9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight

22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you're not ill
24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied (in general)
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person

39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo's David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt

43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight

46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater

55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check

68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square

74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person

80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible

86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox

89. Saved someone's life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby

95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Happy Joy Joy

So, we had our first Christmas in our own house, and it was great! We maintained some of the family traditions I grew up with, like NOT getting up early, getting dressed before breakfast, having a blanket over the living room doorway to hide loot, eating breakfast together, doing the dishes, and then walking in youngest first. We didn't have the set menu I grew up with (frozen peaches, bran muffins and cheesy scrambled eggs), instead opting for sourdough waffles with buttermilk syrup (we did still have frozen peaches because I had some on hand). The kids got up at their normal time, between 7:30 and 7:45, and we went in to start opening presents around 9 am. Those of you with predawn gift-opening traditions may shake your heads, but I LOVE this tradition and love even more that Newton wants to keep it.

As I mentioned, our presents from Mavis's parents usually come from the countries they have visited each year, and this time the handicrafts of Mongolia, Kazakhstan and El Salvador were best-represented.

Newton's Santa presents were mostly sports-related.


Cindy Lou got wooden stacking rings.


Grandma Rhino checking out Newton's new basketball shoes (practice starts January 20!).


Cindy Lou liked Newton's new basketball better than most of her own presents.



I got a really awesome present from Mavis.


Loot.


Cindy Lou's new purse from Grandpa Artsy-Fartsy & the Rev Running Nut, with dolls from Kazakhstan and El Salvador from Grandma Rhino.


The Wizard working with Grandma Rhino on his new puzzle (100 pieces is just right!).


The Wizard got an easel from Santa. Judging from how much time he's spent with it since, it's his favorite present.


This cap from Kazakhstan was a gift from Grandma Rhino to Mavis. It fits me and Newton, but looks cutest on the Wizard.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Lost in Translation

Every year, Mavis's parents send/bring Christmas gifts they pick up on their world travels. This year, Grandma Rhino went to Kazakhstan and Central America, and Grandpa Artsy-Fartsy and the Reverend Running Nut went to Mongolia. A gift for Newton was a wooden puzzle from Mongolia. Here's what it says on the instructions:
This game is a unique vitamin to develop intelligence & thinking and it has significances to develop more thinking of old people and prevent previously early ageing and intellectual impoverishment as well as expanding intelligences of youths and teenagers.

Warnings: It is not required any powers and levers when pieces together and assembles all kinds of this game.

1. If can assemble this game within 5 minutes, you are genius

2. If assemble it within 10 minutes, you are simple

3. If assemble this game more than 10 minutes, you should develop your intelligence with assistance of this kind of the game starting this moment.

Best wishes!

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008


We're having weather-related difficulty in getting our Christmas cards out, so here is the picture some of you will be receiving in the mail at an as-yet-undetermined future date:

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bûche de Noël

We had a lovely Christmas Eve. My family traditionally does the big meal on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. I planned a simple menu, and farmed out most of the side dishes, so I could concentrate on dessert. And what a dessert it was!

But first . . .

Here are the boys, decorating makeshift paper-bag Christmas stockings so Santa would have some place to put the small amount of candy he was able to purchase at Fred Meyer on our wild snowy four-wheel-drive ride on Monday. I have the materials to make wonderful stockings for the whole family, but haven't yet gotten around to putting them together. You know how it goes.


Here is the grownup table, decorated with pine cones, velvet cord and bows, and red glass votives and bud vases, the vases filled with snippets of fir.


And here is the kid table, complete with kids (oldest nephew Rico was sitting with the grownups, along with his sister). Don't you just love how proto-teenager Newton refuses to smile for pictures? Grr. Hope Santa puts a little piece of coal in his stocking for the sour puss he's got in every picture lately.


Finally, here is the bûche! I didn't take any pictures of the process, because frankly there were about ten times when I was convinced that it wasn't going to work. But it did, more or less. I followed Julia Child's instructions in The Way to Cook, baking a French sponge cake in a jelly roll pan, and filling and frosting the cake with a chocolate mousse based on an Italian meringue. I also used the meringue to make the mushrooms. (I did skip the caramel veil.) Next year I'll make a different cake (there wasn't enough of this one to balance out the mousse), but the mousse was pretty divine. And having it based on meringue (though it didn't taste at all meringue-y) meant not having to make a separate meringue for the mushrooms, which I think are essential. If anyone's interested in the meringue/mousse instructions, let me know and I'll edit this post to add them.



Hope your holiday food is delectable, too! Later this week I'll try to make (and post about) the most fantastic latkes. This year my experiment will be adding a little red sweet potato and seeing what happens. Mmmmmm. I'll also make my Split Pea Soup from the hambone left from today's dinner (which also included Mormon classic funeral potatoes and roasted green beans with shallot and lemon zest and pecan-pumpkin seed rolls, none of which were of my making).

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Make It Stop, Make It Stop, Make It Stop!

So, if you don't live here in the PRP you might have heard something on the news about how we're having our worst winter weather in forty years. Well, I haven't lived here for all of the last 40 years, but it's certainly the most snow I can remember. We've missed two weeks of church, most of the last week of school before winter break, and the last bit of our Christmas shopping will remain undone. It started just over a week ago on Sunday, December 14 (one day into our thankfully-short stint of furnace-free living; by the time the furnace was repaired Monday at dinnertime it was 45 degrees in the living room). We got all excited, and Newton did some sledding, and we started taking pictures. For the first week, although lots of stuff was canceled, there wasn't really all that much snow accumulation, just cold temperatures that kept any of the 1-2" we had gotten from melting. (Our street, thanks to its status as the neighborhood sledding hill, was burnished to a high sheen.) That changed starting last Saturday, when it snowed ALL DAY, piling up 8 inches of powder. It even drifted a little, unheard of for here. The boys went out in the middle of the day, in the steadily-falling snow, for more play.



And here are our backyard composters (they stand about hip height):


Saturday night late, the snow turned to freezing rain, so the 8" of powder got a 1/4" shell. THEN it kept snowing, and snowing, and snowing. Pretty soon we had about a foot total, and the composters looked like this:


Winter Wonderland? Um, yeah. We've been unable to drive out of our neighborhood since Friday afternoon--basically no streets were plowed. Yesterday we called on friends for help, and one super helper came and picked me up in the afternoon to run errands in his Land Rover. Then we were able to go to a party yesterday evening by having another friend pick us up in his tricked-out jacked-up diesel suburban with gnarly chains. Cindy Lou was the only one dressed up for the party, since she was the only one who was guaranteed not to have to tromp through the snow:


Here are more shots I took today of our street, yard and house. I'll probably have to update tomorrow, since it's now predicted that we'll get another 3-5" starting tonight around midnight. I heard that the streets are now plowed to within a block of our house, so there's a good chance our guests will be able to make it for Christmas Eve dinner (stay tuned! I'm making a bûche de Noël, because I am just that crazy), and maybe even a possibility that someone will be able to pick up my mother-in-law at the airport (assuming her plane can land). Oy.










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Thursday, December 18, 2008

My New Favorite Sugar Cookie Recipe . . .

. . . appeared in FOODday recently. They call it "Master Butter Cookie Recipe," and present variations that can be made using the same basic dough. However, having made just the basic cookie, I don't think I'll ever feel the need to make any of the variations. Buttery, crispy, light, melt-in-your-mouth goodness! I'll cut and paste it here since they aren't always available forever on the Oregonian's website. I'm set to mix up another batch tonight, so I'll try to get some good pictures. Mmmmmm.

Master Butter Cookie Recipe
from Oregonian FOODday, December 2, 2008

Ingredients

* 4 C all-purpose flour
* 1 t salt
* 1 t baking powder
* ½ t baking soda
* 1½ C unsalted butter, at room temperature (3 sticks)
* 1⅓ C granulated sugar
* 1 egg
* 1 T vanilla
* ¼ t almond extract

Instructions

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg, vanilla and almond extract. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix well.

Divide the dough into two portions and shape into 2 rough rectangles. Wrap each rectangle in plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. (Dough can be frozen for up to one month.) [After 24 hours in the fridge, I needed to leave the dough out for a while before I could roll it out.]

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Roll one rectangle of the cold dough between two sheets of parchment paper or wax paper to ⅛ inch thick. [I roll my dough on a pastry cloth] Remove top layer of paper. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible. Reserve any scraps of dough in the refrigerator while working. If the dough becomes unmanageably soft while rolling, transfer it to a baking sheet and pop it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up. [This was a pretty firm dough; I didn't need to re-refrigerate any scraps at any point during the rolling-and-cutting process.]

With an offset spatula, transfer cutouts to a baking sheet, spacing at least a ½ inch apart. Bake until just set and very lightly browned on the edges, 10 to 11 minutes. [I baked a little longer, 14 minutes on insulated sheets, until they were golden around the edges and on the verge of coloring more. Divine browned-butter flavor!] Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining rectangle of cold dough. Combine reserved dough scraps and repeat all steps.

Edited to add: Here are some pictures I snapped from my second try with the recipe. I made two batches, tinting one with red gel food coloring before adding the flour (I always add the coloring then, to insure against overbeating while trying to mix color into a thick, floury dough). I omitted the almond extract in the white batch, and replaced it with 1/4 t peppermint extract in the red/pink batch (I didn't want the almond to fight with the peppermint in the candy canes). I topped the mint cookies with ground peppermint candies, which melted in the oven, making extra-crispy mint tops. These cookies are divine. I call the minty ones buttermints, because they are buttery vanilla-y luscious, not very strongly minty. They were a huge hit at the party I took them to this evening.




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Holiday Prep

On a recent family night, Newton and I put together and decorated this gingerbread train kit we got at a white elephant exchange:


If you look carefully, you can see that our train is decorated very much like the one pictured on the box. That is thanks to Newton. Pretty much any deviation from the picture was my doing.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yes You Can Make Pita Bread (Really!)

Our church Christmas party was "A Night in Bethlehem." We were supposed to come in "Biblical" dress, and the food was Middle-Eastern-ish. I signed up to bring pita bread, because I knew that was the best way to ensure that my family and I could eat pita bread that was not flat and dry and utterly appetite-wasting.

Making your own pita bread is a snap IF you have two items: a decent food processor and a baking stone. You can do without the first of these if you don't mind kneading by hand, but if you don't have to hand-knead you can have finished, soft, delicious pita bread in ONE HOUR.
Pita Bread
makes 6-8 6-7" pitas
adapted from Cook's Illustrated, Jan/Feb 1999

1 pkg (2 1/4 t) dry active yeast
1 C warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 T olive oil
2 t sugar
1/4 C plain yogurt
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 C whole wheat flour
2 C bread flour (or higher-protein all-purpose, like Bob's Red Mill or King Arthur), plus extra as needed

1. Sprinkle yeast over warm water in bowl of food processor, and let dissolve for a few minutes.


Add oil, sugar and yogurt and pulse a little to mix. Add salt and flours and process until smooth, about 15 seconds, scraping sides of bowl as necessary.


Keep processing, adding flour, until dough is soft and satiny and pulls completely away from sides of bowl, about 30 seconds (or turn dough out onto floured work surface and knead 12-15 minutes).


Put dough in medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in warm, draft-free spot until dough doubles in size, 30-45 minutes. (At this point, dough can be punched down, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerated up to 2 days.) Before the dough is completely risen, put baking stone on lowest rack in oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees for at least a half-hour.

2. Turn dough onto lightly-floured work surface, and, if it is sticky, sprinkle lightly with flour. Divide dough into 6 or 8 equal portions with a chef's knife or bench scraper. Roll each portion into a ball, then roll with rolling pin into a four-inch circle (the picture below shows two batches that I mixed up in succession).


Let rest for 10-15 minutes, then roll into a 6-7" circle.

3. When oven and stone are fully heated, carefully and quickly place a few dough rounds directly on the baking stone (I do three at a time on my round stone), and bake for 3-6 minutes, until bread is puffed and golden brown on the bottom. Pause between batches to let oven return to 500 degrees (they don't cook as quickly or puff as dramatically at lower temperatures). Transfer to a wire rack to cool, and spray with a little olive oil if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

I'd highly recommend both of these. Sorry for the dearth of pictures.
Pan-Roasted Pear Salad with Frisée, Goat Cheese, and Almonds
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Nov/Dec 2007

I doubled this and mixed everything in the bowl (instead of assembling on plates) for ease in serving on a buffet. If I'm making it for a smaller group I'll do it as recommended in the recipe.

3 ripe but firm Bartlett pears, quartered and cored
2 1/2 t sugar
salt and pepper
2 t + 2 T olive oil
4 T balsamic vinegar
1 small shallot, minced (about 1 T)
1/2 medium head green leaf lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into 1-inch pieces
1 head frisée, similarly prepared
4 oz crumbled goat cheese
3/4 C toasted slivered almonds
1/2 C pomegranate seeds (optional)

1. Toss pears, 2 t sugar, 1/4 t salt, and 1/8 t pepper in medium bowl. Heat 2 t oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add pears cut-side down in single layer (I nestled them a bit to keep the side flat against the bottom of the pan) and cook until golden brown, 2-4 minutes. Gently tip each pear onto second cut side; continue to cook until second side is light brown, 2-4 minutes longer. Turn off heat, leave skillet on burner, and add 2 T vinegar; gently stir until vinegar thickens and coats pears, about 30 seconds. Transfer pears to large plate and let cool to room temperature. Cut each slice crosswise into 1/2" pieces.


2. Whisk remaining 2 T oil, 2 T vinegar, 1/2 t sugar, and shallot together in large bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper. Add lettuce, frisée, and cooled pears to bowl; toss and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Divide among individual plates; top with cheese, nuts, and pomegranate, if using. Serve immediately.

Roast Cauliflower
adapted from "Parisian Home Cooking" by Michael Roberts (courtesy of MWR)

I've now made this three times: once with a large head of white cauliflower, once with a large head of romanesco, and once with three small heads of orange and green cauliflower (2 orange, one green), broken into florets. Unless you really like chewy cauliflower, I'd recommend erring on the side of more steaming/parcooking than less.

1 lb cauliflower
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t salt
1/2 t freshly-ground black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
mustard vinaigrette (optional)

1. If using one large cauliflower, steam for 10-20 minutes or parcook in microwave.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

3. Combine the oil, butter, lemon juice, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small saucepan over low heat, swirling until just melted.

4. Place the cauliflower in a dutch oven, baste with butter mixture, cover with lid, and roast for 30 minutes, basting occasionally. Remove cover and continue to cook until a knife can easily be inserted into the core. Serve hot or at room temperature, with the vinaigrette, if desired.



The Perfect Mustard Vinaigrette
adapted from "Parisian Home Cooking" by Michael Roberts (again courtesy of MWR)

1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 shallot, minced
1 T dijon mustard
3 T white wine vinegar
5 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t salt
leaves from 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
freshly-ground black pepper

Whisk together the first four ingredients, then slowly add oil while whisking, then thyme, salt and pepper.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hangin' with the Wee Girl

You can expect a regular flurry of posts, as I catch up from a round of sickness chez nous. Here are some pictures I shot of Cindy Lou just before Thanksgiving.






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