Archive for August, 2009

Back to School

Posted by laura on Aug 31 2009 | Fun, School


The guys did go back to school last week. I contemplated making a run for it, but decided I’m not cut out for a life on the lam. So they went, and what do you know – it was really fun to see everyone again. Both kids have great teachers this year, and nice classes.

Hot Wheels was highly suspicious heading in, but he skipped out of the classroom at the end of the day and said, “That was great!!” We also found out over the weekend that he has a new best friend, but he can’t remember her name. Honey seems to have turned into a parochial school girl – she just sighs over her blue zippered cardigan and her ‘caramel’ pants. She’d probably give anything for a blazer and pleated skirt ensemble. Helloooo Nancy Drew!

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Posted by laura on Aug 26 2009 | Fun

School starts tomorrow. Needless to say, I fully intend to take my summer receipt in for a refund, because we were so blatantly shortchanged. It wasn’t even subtle; once I make the final count I’m sure we’ll be at least 18 days shy and let’s not even talk about the weather. Looks like the recession’s impact is wide and deep this year.

Oh I know, the start to school is filled with promise – good teachers, friends, office supply stores (I could just stand in them all day and inhale the potential), sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, and if you’re lucky, a certain zippered cardigan you’ve been wishing for and your grandmother found for you. All very good. It’s just hard to let go of the ease of summer, particularly the unexpected visits, meals, adventures. Although I’d love it to continue into the school year, summer just seems to own the impromptu in a way that makes the other seasons a little jealous.

Last week we had a tea party with our visiting family and the girls across the street. Because it was summer, we had the time to unfurl the tablecloths and take down the old teacups, and make an afternoon of it.



We’ve also had many dinners at the park this summer – we’re close enough to one park that has open fields, picnic tables and climbing structures, which makes it a natural choice for picnic dinners. It even borders a creek that’s just right for exploring. Does it get better than that? A couple of weekends ago, we hit the park with the cousins and our friend Pam, who was visiting from the east coast. We brought in pizza and these Indian burritos we can get in town (picture your favorite Indian food wrapped up burrito-style in a big piece of naan) – mmmm.

Pam and her family were out this way for a week or so, and it was such a gift to have an evening with them. Her kids were charming, which is remarkable since their parents had basically marched them across the city and back the day before and they should in all rights have been collapsed on a sofa somewhere, moaning. They certainly didn’t get much rest here, as it was basic mayhem with all the kids running around, but it was lovely of them to swing by and we were sorry to see them go.

A couple Sundays ago, our friends Amy and Andy rang to see if we could all have dinner at their house, and we jumped at the chance, not only because we love them so, but because Amy can turn any meal into a feast. Even her laid back, last-minute meal is a celebration. Here’s a fuzzy phone shot of the appetizers that night:


Ok – so on the dish at the bottom – those are all carrots, you guys. I have to confess that even living in this cornucopia of a state, I’d never had a yellow carrot before. Amy makes a killer white bean dip that is heaven with veggies. And above that? Those heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil made their way into the most heavenly bruschetta.

Don’t you love recipes and meals that are really simple but seem like more when you put them on the table? This is my current favorite – grilled bread dinners. You take a nice loaf of bread – a wide, hearthy bread – cut some good thick slices, brush with a little olive oil and pop them on the grill. When they’re all grilled, you can pretty much put anything on them and it will taste fabulous. That night at Amy and Andy’s, we had grilled vegetables and bruschetta on the bread, and it was fantastic. I’ve also had an appetizer where the hot bread was rubbed with a cut clove of garlic and then a cut tomato, which left a film of tomato on the surface of the bread. Topped with some sea salt and maybe a little basil if you like – joy. But you could just as easily do tapenades, fish, cheeses – I’ve even had grilled bread with chocolate ganache and I’m still daydreaming about it.

Speaking of food, I got to see Julie & Julia on Sunday. Holy smokes. I expected it to be good, but Meryl Streep had me from the very first scene. She’s a delight to watch. I could have done with just the ‘Julia’ side of the story, much as I admire Amy Adams, but it was still lots of fun. So call up a friend, see it, and then eat!

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Posted by laura on Aug 19 2009 | Fun, Holiday

We’ve had a busy couple of weeks here. The cousins are all having a great time together and we’ve just run from day to day, trying to cram a year and a half apart into a few weeks’ visiting time. Not easy, folks, but we’re doing the best we can.

We spent an overnight at the hostel up at Point Reyes, which is right up the road from Limantour beach, where Tom and I got engaged. We scored a perfect weekend there, which is a feat considering how unpredictable the coast can be here in the summertime. I don’t have good photos of the hostel, but here’s one shot of the bunkhouse that our party shared:


We had this building to ourselves at night – it had two big rooms that each slept ten people in bunk beds, and one common room filled with couches. The main hostel building had the typical huge shared kitchen with 543 rules but 1 very lovely hostel worker who explained them all to us quite nicely. There are some really nice shots of the place up on their website, and I’d highly recommend a stay there. We spent one beautiful afternoon on the beach, then went up to the hostel for a big dinner together, and then back to the beach at 9:30 for a bonfire and stars and smores. Gorgeous.

The next morning we found out that the local raccoons had a blowout party on our cars during the night. They didn’t get any snacks, but it looked like they’d had a terrific time just prowling around on the roofs and sliding down the windshields. I don’t have good photos of the evidence, but maybe you can see the prints in this shot (if you can look past the sun spots and tree reflections and even my hand & camera, that is):


That morning we took a two mile hike down to the beach – a beautiful, relaxing walk on another sunny day. A seal swam in to check out the kids playing in the surf, and we managed in an overnight to feel like we’d been away for a week. Tom loved this sign in the parking area at the beach:


Nice shot, Tom!

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Joan’s Revenge

Posted by laura on Aug 12 2009 | Fun, Holiday, Making, Uncategorized

Back in Needham a couple weeks ago, my cousin Eileen pulled me aside. “I have to tell you,” she murmured, “we have issues with your neighbor Joan.”

It all came down to the ridiculously lovely birthday party Joan put together back in June for her daughter, in which she combined readily accessible decorative materials to great effect. As much as I empathized with the response, I wasn’t buying it. After all, this was a teacher talking, and I’ve been in her classroom. I’ve also been in her house where they do things like make their own maple syrup, but that’s a story for another pancake.

Let’s just say, this post is aptly named, as it will describe an afternoon at Eileen’s home. We were invited over for an art day, and after playing in the back yard and having the most incredible home-made pizza for lunch (thank you, Kevin), the kids dove into these projects:

Colored Rice

I’d never seen this one before – what a cool idea. The kids each had cups of raw rice with a little vinegar added to help the coloring, and they were able to mix in food coloring to make the rice whatever colors they liked.


The end result looked like this:


photo by Eileen

photo by Eileen

In the end, the tray reminded me of a quilt. My understanding is that then you bake the rice for a while to fix the colors, but then do you need to boil it? Eileen, you’ll have to fill us in – how did the rice turn out in the end?

Paper Stained Glass

Next up, the kids each made a paper stained glass window project. Each one had a sheet of contact paper taped sticky-side up to the table. There were piles of tissue paper scraps, and they arranged the colored tissue into designs on the contact paper.


When each design was complete, a second sheet of contact paper was smoothed on top with awe inspiring finesse by the parents. Check out the finished windows:


I loved how some of them looked like a gust of wind had just lofted the colors into a swirl. Beautiful.

Foamy Thing Sculptures

Ok they’re called Nuudles – it took me a couple searches to work that one out. They’re cornstarch-based noodles that look a little like packing peanuts, but they’re biodegradable, and if you moisten them they stick together to make cool sculptures. Here’s what ours looked like:

photo by Eileen

photo by Eileen


Yes, they even got to make necklaces, but I won’t show you any photos of that because I’m afraid your heads might explode. Talk about taking it up a notch, eh??? I can hardly wait to see the expression on my kids’ faces the next time they want to be all creative and I pull out our sorry mixed up box of crayons. Let’s see who has issues now!

In all seriousness, though – thank you Eileen and Kevin for such a terrific, happy day at your house. We had a fantastic time. And I’m very sorry for not getting your car seat back to you before your trip up to the amusement park. We were having too much fun joyriding around Needham with it.

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Posted by laura on Aug 02 2009 | Fun, Tasty

Don’t know if you could hear it from where you are, but our Australian family arrived on Friday morning, and it’s been a lot of noisy fun since they arrived. The first day we only had about two hours with everyone awake simultaneously; the rest of the afternoon the cousins did their best sleeping koala imitations in various rooms of the house, draped deeply over furniture and even each other. At one point our niece was sleeping half on her aero bed and half on the rug like she’d just spilled out of a basket of laundry. It was sweet and soporific.

On Saturday, there were games and walks and swims and homemade pizza that was heavenly. Keri introduced us to a new recipe – she thin sliced butternut squash and roasted it with some olive oil and cumin until it was soft and delicious. Tom made his thin crust pizza dough and then Keri topped it with the roasted butternut, pesto, feta, a little fresh mozzarella and parmesan and some sautéed mushrooms. Wowee. It was incredible. She also put together this beauty:


This one had a tomato base with the same squash and cheeses, but it also had some arugula, just for kicks. We loved it.

Last weekend, Courtney and Russell stopped in with their daughter Ducky (the perfect baby) for a visit. Maybe it’s not fair to call her the perfect baby. Not because of the perfect, mind you, but because of the baby. At one and a half you’re not really a baby anymore, but although she’s walking, ‘toddler’ seems to imply at least two years, don’t you think? ANYway, this girl is stunningly beautiful and sweet and good natured and we all want to keep her. Example: we were sitting in the kitchen getting caught up when Ducky wandered in to see us. She was headed straight for her mother when at the last second she veered and held her arms up to me. I kid you not. And the fact that I was sitting closer to the snacks had nothing to do with it.

We had a great visit, and at one point Russell told us that he’d had success making these blueberry scones from Cook’s Illustrated. We looked to see if it was in my fancy new baking book from those folks but no luck. However, it was online and I tried it out yesterday morning. It looked a little intimidating on the first read-through, but once I stopped panicking, I realized it wasn’t so bad. The coolest part of the whole thing was – now hold on to your (chef’s) hats, everyone – you take frozen butter, grate it, and then just toss it into the flour instead of cutting in regular cold butter. I know. Earth-shattering. Here’s how they came out:


They were a bit flumpier than the ones in the pictures online, but they tasted just fine. I’d been thinking of subscribing to Cook’s Illustrated, but it turns out their website is subscription based, so I can get all the content there and save the paper. There’s such a wealth of information around each recipe: how-to videos, ingredient comparisons and definitions, extra instructions. They don’t just tell you how to do something; they tell you why. Now I must come up with something stunning for dinner. Where’d I put that phone?

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