Archive for August, 2008

First Day of School

Posted by laura on Aug 28 2008 | Uncategorized

 

How could the summer be over already?

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Game On

Posted by laura on Aug 27 2008 | Holiday, Tasty

1 interesting thing that’s happened lately is that we’ve had 2 game nights with 3 families in a span of 4 nights, playing 5 different games – and we haven’t had a game night in about 6 years. Crazy! Here’s how it happened – the first night was with some friends we’ve had since we first moved out here. We were signed on for dessert, and we thought it might be fun to make ‘game night cupcakes.’

 Basically this turned out to be buying and making candy toppers that either looked like or loosely resembled games we could think of. (How awesome are the lego candies that you can build with and eat?!) 

When we set off to the candy store that morning we saw the girls across the street and told them what we were up to. Later that afternoon, as we were assembling cupcakes, the girls stopped by with something they’d found in the city – a long, rectangular, pink marshmallow! It was a lavender marshmallow that they thought might work for some kind of decoration. Next thing we know, the girls (no fools) were thinking that we should have a game night at their house as well. 

 

So on Monday, they came over to our house and we had Game Night Cupcakes Round 2. 

This was particularly good, since on Friday we weren’t able to use the ridiculously beautiful marshmallow they brought over, and so we were able to cut it into cubes and make dice out of it. We went with a pink and white theme – pink dice, white chocolate (diced!), coconut, peppermint sprinkles, a couple of red skittles and chopped red vines. It was like Valentine’s in July. The girls and Hot Wheels did a terrific job decorating, as you can see:

YUM. We made the Moosewood vegan chocolate cake, which is ridiculously delicious.

It may sound like the games were taking second fiddle to all this cupcake preparation, but they were super fun. It was entertaining to play with a spread of ages and abilities in the room – that’s where games like Cranium shine. There’s something for everyone – although I have to say that every time Hot Wheels did a charade, it looked like the exact same thing, regardless of the word. Kind of a rabid race car thing. Very confusing. We’d all sit there shouting stabs in the dark – Cheetah! Bagel! Sofa! Global warming! That was challenging, but at least it made the rest of us feel a bit more confident in our acting skills. 

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Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On

Posted by laura on Aug 25 2008 | Lists

Northern California might not be recognized as the birthplace of rock and roll, but around here people think about it quite a bit, particularly the closer they get to the San Andreas Fault. We’re strongly encouraged to have earthquake/emergency kits in our homes, cars and offices. Heck I practically have one on my bike. 

Fortunately there are great resources available for people looking to get their act together – one of my favorites is 72hours.org. For a list-loving organizational geek like me, this site is heaven! Bold icons! Concrete plans! Checklists!! 

Every summer I haul out all our kits and refresh them, and in the winter I replace a few things like dry goods that don’t last as long. It’s handy that I’m crazy about lists (just like Mum) because I would be utterly lost without them (unlike Mum). I have a whole document that tells me what should be in all the kits and what needs to be replaced when. This year I made it prettier because I’m frankly much more apt to use the list if I like looking at it. It’s just a Word doc, but it itemizes the supplies needed for our household emergency supplies as well as our Earthquake kit and Auto kit. And it has checklists. And pretty colors.

 

So the past few weeks have been filled with canned-goods shopping. Woo hoo! The good news is that over the years I wised up enough to make sure that the food in the kits was actually food that we eat regularly. There are even some treats in there that we don’t eat regularly but love – just because my inclination is that if things are bad enough for you to need to eat your earthquake kit food, they’re bad enough for you to need some serious candy. Just a guess.

It actually took me a few rounds to realize that if we never opened a can of carrots or peas for regular use, they really didn’t belong in the kit. And let’s not even get into the year that someone in our house thought it would be a swell idea to just bulk purchase a six pack of green beans and some terrifying jarred wieners for the kit! That certain somebody very cleverly wienered his way out of a thankless job.

In our garage, we keep our earthquake kit pieces all together under a strong workbench. The main parts are the cooler which contains – shockingly – the food, and a large duffel bag which holds all of our go-bags. (The idea behind a go-bag is that each family member has a bag containing a change of clothes, emergency information, a small snack, water, flashlight, etc.) We keep our camping gear right there as well. Tent, sleeping bags, camping box (which is filled with all the plates, cups, pans, and so on).

 

It is occasionally dispiriting to put so much effort into a product I hope never to use. On the other hand, there is a bit of relief just knowing that if we were to have a big disaster, at least we’d have a few extra supplies to help tide us over.

Plus, every summer I get to eat the emergency candy. 

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The Summer Games

Posted by laura on Aug 22 2008 | Holiday, Uncategorized

 

The Games are ON. 

After a series of crushing defeats, we have finally mounted a reasonable defense against my 8 year old Monopoly Magnate. She’s a quick, impulsive player, but Hot Wheels and I are holding our own by securing the railroads early and then acquiring Park Place and Broadway. She has a few hotels now, though, and they carry some hefty rents, so we have to keep an eye on her. (Looks like she went the ‘Heavenly Bed’ and Egyptian cotton robe route.)

 

 

Here’s Hot Wheels, parked outside our little house on Broadway. It’s a nice place.

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Baking While Sleepy

Posted by laura on Aug 21 2008 | Tasty

Always problematic.

On Sunday, I really wanted to try out a recipe for Lemon Cheescake Squares that I saw on Martha Stewart. Check out the recipe – it looked so nice and straightforward. I’m sure Dopey could have pulled this one off, but not Sleepy. I crunched up the graham crackers and put them in a bowl to make the crust. Then I measured out 3/4 cup sugar. Now, if you look at the recipe, you’ll see there aren’t many ingredients to begin with, and this sugar clearly goes in with the filling. But no, not here in our kitchen. Hot Wheels was baking with me and he asked if he could mix the sugar in with the graham crackers and I said sure! In it went. 

Only then did I realize that we were only meant to put 2 tbsp sugar into the crust. Hmm. I’m really, really depression-era reluctant to waste any type of anything, so I put it all in a zip lock bag and figured I’d deal with it another day. Meantime I had enough material to make the crust, but I’d used up the last of the sugar. Neighbors to the rescue – Tom was dropping one of our daughter’s friends off at home, so I just called the house and asked if they might be so kind as to send 3/4 cup of sugar back with him. One problem solved.

There was another problem with these bars that I can’t chalk up to sleepiness, just inexperience. When I was buying the cream cheese I thought I’d be a tad more healthy and make one of them fat free. In the back of my mind I thought it might not whip up nicely, but what the heck. Well, no one seemed to mind all that much, but these really would have been better without the fat free cream cheese. It’s hard to make it behave.

The next day we had a couple of kids over to play. It was time to experiment with the graham cracker blend. We mixed up somewhat basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, only this time I was out of white flour (seeing any patterns here?) so we had to make do with wheat and barley flour – at this point I was just throwing things in there. (A little cocoa powder? Why not?) By some miracle they came out just fine.

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Disco Neck

Posted by laura on Aug 18 2008 | Holiday, Making, Sewing

Saturday night we went to an old-school kegger that was actually a fundraiser for HotWheel’s preschool. The idea came from an elementary school here in town that throws one each year as their fall fundraiser. Everyone wears a college sweatshirt and it’s some serious fun, particularly for people like me who went to art school and skipped that whole part of the college experience. Some of these people know (or at least remember!) how to party

This year I was smart and skipped the speed quarters (so out of my league) but I was on a winning boat race team. I thought we didn’t stand a chance, seeing as there were three teams – East Coast, Midwest and West Coast. Midwest?! These are Michigan people and I was sure it would be a rout. But noooooo, East Coast all the way, baby. In retrospect, I realize we won because we were started and anchored by BC alums.

The best part of the night is the dancing, though. It was great – and now we’re all suffering from disco neck, as our friends Amy and Andy put it. Fortunately Sunday was freezing and foggy here, so it was a great excuse to stay in and be cozy and recuperate.

I’m making a child/doll pajama set for a friend of ours who is in the hospital, and I’m hoping to finish them up this week.

How can it possibly be the last week before school starts again?! It’s wrong on so many levels. We’re going to make the most of it, though and play like mad. My kids already have the Monopoly board set up on the dining room table, so I’d better get a move on. My daughter is turning into quite the real estate magnate – I’ve got keep my eye on that girl.

 

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Let’s get back to food

Posted by laura on Aug 14 2008 | Tasty

Shall we? This is all about my quest for perfect chocolate chip cookies. Now, those who know me well are full aware that for me, chocolate chip cookies are like pizza – even the bad ones are still good. But.

It’s been bothering me for a while now that no matter what I did – different recipes, different butter temperatures, more and less sugar – my chocolate chip cookies just came out the same way every single time. Completely flat. Let me reiterate – that didn’t stop us from eating them. But it bothered me. What was the secret to cookies of substance? Would I ever make one that I felt was bake-sale worthy? 

Then in July, the New York Times ran a great article by David Leite, who gives a bit of history and talks to some chefs about what they think the secret is to truly spectacular cookies. The end result is a recipe – they daringly titled it Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Jacques Torres), but I think they should have called it the No Utensil Left Behind Cookie. Someone really didn’t want all those poor infrequently-used measuring utensils to waste away in the kitchen drawer any longer. Come out, 1/4 teaspoon! We still love you! You too, 1/3 cup – we see you in there!

I can’t tease, though, because this was the recipe I’d been waiting for. One of the most interesting techniques was chilling the dough for 36 hours, to fully incorporate the wet and dry ingredients. It also calls for a sprinkling of sea salt on top, and I’m crazy about salt on sweet. So it had to be done, and the other week I’d invited a few friends to come over for an arty/crafty night at our house, and I figured it was the perfect time to test a new recipe.

We had 9 adults and 11 kids test these cookies (I made them smaller than the recipe suggests, so instead of their 16 I had about 40 and they still seemed huge) – and they got a unanimous thumbs up. None of the kids disliked the sea salt, and some really loved it. And cue the Hallelujah chorus – they weren’t flat!!! They actually had integrity, beautiful flavor and superior texture. The next day, they were still chewy. The day after that… well they didn’t make it that far. 

Yay, New York Times! You should be getting a thank you note any day now from my friend Amy, since I’ve been whining to her about my lack of chocolate chip skillage for years now. She’ll be so relieved. 

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More bags

Posted by laura on Aug 12 2008 | Reusable, Sewing

 

Been whipping up felt bags for all our little gifties. They’re just so fast to make, and I love that they’re reusable. Lately I’ve been sewing an extra strip of felt along the top and cutting a small handle out of the base layer below – the top layer gives a little extra support and structure. 

Another method that’s worked really well in the past is to cut a couple of branches, about a half inch in diameter, and use them for handles. Just sew a couple of felt loops at the top of the bag to hold them in (I found that it really helps to stitch around the ends of the branches so they can’t slip out.) It’s an incredibly easy solution that always looks nice – particularly with a bird or branchy silhouette stitched onto the bag.

These days, though, I seem to be leaving them till the very last minute and as you can see, the decorations are pretty minimal. Maybe next time I’ll try to get fancy… ha! That sounds like it would involve some advance thought. Better not.


 

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Quest: The Ideal Bookshelf

Posted by laura on Aug 03 2008 | Holiday, Travel, Uncategorized

We keep reorganizing our art/guest room. I’m crazy about this room, but it’s looking more and more likely that it’s a slightly above average room without any magical qualities whatsoever. So, out of my astronomically high list of requirements for the space, it will probably accommodate many of them gracefully, a few more with cajoling, and the last ones – well that room’s going to look me square in the eye and say, “Honey, those are not requirements. They’re pipe dreams.”  

One non-negotiable requirement is a good bookshelf, and because this is our guest room, one thought led to another until it hit me that it would be fun to try to come up with the Ideal Guest Room Bookshelf. What would be the perfect set of books to suit any guest?

It’s a challenge, since really it ought to have something to offer visitors of all ages and interests (ha! looks like we’re back to the ‘lack of magical qualities’ conundrum).

I’m figuring the length of stay to be between one night and one month – anything over that and you’re pretty much a resident, and you need a library card.

 

When I was back in Boston, I really started to think more about this, since I was sleeping in the study at my parents’ house, where there are books floor to ceiling and layered three rows deep all around the room. Cheaters. But what if they had to edit the offerings down to just a few shelves? What would make the cut?

Here’s my first stab at it - 

- Local interest: guides, maps, historical stuff about where we live

- Humor: P.G. Wodehouse, Dave Barry, Nora Eprhon, Gerald Durell, Bill Bryson

- Action/Mystery: Lee Child. Ok, and Michael Chrichton, John Grisham, Agatha Christie – you have to have a good bunch of these

- Science: I love Oliver Sacks and James Burke

- Classics: Austen. Do we seriously need anyone else?

- Fiction: there’s always some great new fiction out and about, so this one has to shift around. There must be some fresh material in there (like Water for Elephants this year). But then I’ll always want some favorites like Sue Monk Kidd, Kaye Gibbons, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, Kurt Vonnegut, Harper Lee…

- Short Stories: Bailey White…(Oliver Sacks works well here too)

- Poetry: does anyone read poetry on vacation? Ok just kidding, I know some people do, and I have something for both of you. I have Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Annie Dillard, Paul Marion…

- History and Non Fiction: I like nonfiction grippers, like Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm

- Children’s: This one is hard – we have a zillion kids books and I love many of them. I guess I’d have a rotating assortment ranging from Curious George up to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, or maybe a bit older. And we’d definitely have some local flavor, like Lissa Rovetch and Martha Weston – authors and illustrators and family. 

Alright I’ll admit it – I thought this post was going to be FUN. I thought it was actually going to be easy. But once I started writing actual authors and titles down, I became incredibly stressed out at the thought of leaving out a favorite writer. There are so many great books out there. How can I not mention Toni Morrison or George Orwell? How can I possibly not name all the books that have meant so much to me? But that’s not what this is supposed to be about.

As my neighbor Michael says – your guest bookshelf says more about you than about your guests, and rightly so. He’s even opposed to anthologies, because he thinks they’re a cop-out. Pick what you think people will like, even though it really represents what YOU like, he says.

My feeling is that the perfect shelf should have some reliables (short enough to read during a visit and dependably funny or exciting or illuminating) and a few new windows. 

When Tom’s parents were here last – they left with having read a Dick Francis and Sandra Dallas’ The Persian Pickle Club. It was fun trying to find a match for them with authors and stories that were new to them. This summer, back in Boston, I re-read a couple of Lee Childs, Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, John Grisham’s A Painted House, Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants, and Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle. It was awesome.

When I was staying at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, it hit me that there’s a hidden danger in having an excellent bookshelf… your guests might very well stay up too late reading your wonderful books and not hear their children when they wake up in the morning. That’s purely hypothetical, of course, but I could surely imagine that it could happen.

But now, please enter our audience participation part of the program here:

What’s on Your Ideal Guest Bookshelf?

Let me know what you think makes a great read for a visitor. All comments will be automatically entered into our Grand Prize drawing.

 

No purchase necessary. Simply submit your top guest bookshelf ideas to Something Like This, Inc. to be entered into our Grand Prize drawing. Multiple entries per person. Employees of Something Like This Inc., its contest sponsor, advertising and promotional agencies and their respective affiliates and associates and such employees’ immediate family members and persons with whom such employees are domiciled are absolutely included in this contest. Heck, we’re pretty sure they’ll be the only entries.

GRAND PRIZE for entry in the Guest Bookshelf Idea survey is free accommodation in scenic Mill Valley, CA for 2 (or more), for as many nights as desired by the winning party. The prize is not redeemable in cash and must be accepted as awarded. Decisions of the contest judges are final – no substitutions will be available. Grand Prize winner must be related to, or friends with, the prize sponsors.  Excellent reading material for the duration of the winner(s)’ visit is guaranteed.

 

 

 

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