Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

I have seen Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight countless times at our local bookstores over the past few years.  And it is the oddest thing, really, because every time I saw this book, I thought it was about a family in Newark, New Jersey, who happened to be in the restaurant business.  Odd, no?  And I've no idea where this assumption even came from.  Anyway, it doesn't take place in New Jersey (or anywhere near New Jersey, for that matter).  It takes place in Africa -- first Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), then Malawi, and finally Zambia.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is a memoir written by Alexandra Fuller.  In it she recounts both her childhood, and her family's story, during the war of independence (or the war of liberation, or just simply the war.  I'm never really sure what to call it.)  The Fullers (that would be Tim, Nicola, Vanessa, and Bobo [a.k.a. Alexandra]) are historically from Great Britain, but are very deeply rooted in Africa.  They are also a family of farmers.  Having just read Peter Godwin's When the Crocodile Eats the Sun, I was quite interested in reading a story of an actual farm that fell victim to Mugabe's government.  (I am so grateful that I read Godwin's book first, by the way.  It gave me the background necessary to understand the whys and hows of Fuller's amazing story.)

At any rate, the book begins like this:

Mum says, 'Don't come creeping into our room at night.'
They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs.  She says, 'Don't startle us when we are sleeping.'
'Why not?'
'We might shoot you.'
'By mistake.'
'Okay.'  As it is, there seems a good enough chance of getting shot on purpose.  'Okay, I won't.'

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On the 100th Birthday of Blessed Mother Teresa

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

-- Written on the wall of Blessed Mother Teresa's home in Calcutta.  (It is also written on a t-shirt I got from some yoga studio a few years ago.  However, my t-shirt does not include the bit about God.  Heaven forbid a yogi should get offended by the suggestion of God.  Er, excuse me, I mean Spirit...)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On Controlled Experiments (Starting ... Now!)

I have a tendency to try controlled experiments on myself all of the time.  Nothing major, mind you, just small little things.  You know, like drinking a cup each of red, white, green, and black tea every day.  Or, taking piles of Evening Primrose Oil, Dong Quai, and Wild Yam for an extended period, just to see if it does anything.  Or, laying on the floor with my legs straight up against a wall for ten minutes a day, to see how that works things out.  So you see, it's nothing too drastic at all.  Well, until now, that is. 

I've officially started a controlled experiment on myself (as of three days ago, to be precise), and I expect to sorely regret it at any moment.  I just finished reading this fabulous book awhile ago.  And in this book, the father used to brag that he hadn't bought one piece of new clothing for three years (since his retirement).  As much as it pains me to say it, this sounds like good common sense to me.  I am, quite literally, the only person in this family who needs nothing.  (In the clothing category, that is.)  And because of that, I've decided I'm off shopping for now.  Oh, and as a side-note, this 'off shopping' bit only applies to items placed upon my person.  Well, that isn't quite correct, because beauty products and such are always exempt.  But there you go -- no more shopping for me -- unless it happens to be face cream or a book or something.   Because, let's face it, we don't live in the third world, and shunning beauty products and books would be way too draconian and completely barbaric.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Swiss Chard & Saffron Omelettes

The two things I heard last night as we sat down to dinner: 'That a frittata.  I going to spit it out!'; and, 'This looks marvelous!'   Thank goodness for Michael and his exceptional taste, is all I have to say.  On the bright side, though, I did manage to get about five or six bites into Emilia's mouth before she drew the line.  (She knew we had a gorgeous carrot cake sitting on the counter -- just waiting for us to finish our dinner.) 

Emilia has mastered the trick of blocking my fork by hurrying to get her glass of milk up to her little mouth in lightening speed.  (The twerp.)  However, last night was much easier than the last two times I made these for dinner.  (Yes, I've tortured her with them three times now, alright?)  Anyway, she usually holds to her word, and literally spits out each bite I give to her.  She then proceeds to wail like a banshee in between.  Poor thing.  I know she loathes potatoes and parsley, and what do I do?  Give her (what she believes to be) an extra-large serving of both.

As for the rest of us in the house?  Well, we love the dish.  And, unfortunately for Miss Milia, the recipe has made it into my new dinner repertoire.  I'm sorry, but it really is delicious and quite good for us.  We've been serving it with just a green salad and a loaf of bread.  It is one of my favorite concepts in a recipe -- very simple ingredients put together in an interesting sort of way.  (I really must hand it to Ottolenghi -- he is never ever boring.)  It is nice to start with just a few fresh quality ingredients, and end up with an incredibly flavorful meal. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

Suffice it to say that I've been on a bit of an African kick these days.  Sort of in the manner of a do-it-yourself African Lit. course, only from home.  I can't help myself though.  It is a whole new (and incredibly fascinating) world to me.  I've slowly been making my way down the continent -- first Eritrea, then Ethiopia, and I've just finished my first book on Zimbabwe: When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin.

This book is superb.  And reading it was a complete eye-opening experience for me.  All at once it was educational, jaw-dropping, tragic, and, at moments, incredibly heartening. 

Peter Godwin (who now resides in NYC) is a white man of British and Polish descent, and he was raised in Zimbabwe.  His book is not only his family's story, but also the story of his country throughout Robert Mugabe's rule.  (Mugabe is obviously still in office today, but good grief -- when will that man kick the can?!)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Carrot Soup

Emilia and I stood outside this morning doing our stretches before we left to go on our 'quick run.'  She stood reaching up, up, up to the sky, and making quite a variety of groaning noises.  'I just like Bampa David!' she said, with a great big smile across her face.  I'm not sure if she actually remembers seeing (or hearing) Grandpa David stretch, but I tell her about it every time we are stretching together, before I (inevitably) plonk her into the jogger and we set off on our merry way.

It is one of my favorite things, and it always makes me smile just thinking about it -- David getting out of his chair in the morning to go and re-fill his coffee mug.  He pauses, lifts his arms up, and stretches, making all the appropriate sounds to go along with it.  Miss Milia loves doing this in exactly the same manner.  And even though Grandpa David doesn't know it, I've been telling her that she stretches just like him ever since she was a month or so old.  It warms my heart to no end.

Anyway, I'm just now easing my way back in to running.  I began with a short hiatus (on account of the fact that I just plain didn't feel like it) which quickly turned into four or five months in all.  Shameful, I know.  But I'm back in the game now -- new patella band and all!  In fact, Michael is even running with us on the weekends, and we've even pulled out all of our old yoga and pilates dvds.  It's been great fun doing them together.  Emilia calls it 'yogo' and has actually mastered the downward facing dog.  However, it seems to be best if we do our 'yogo' or pilates after she's gone down to bed.  She likes to jump on you and generally make a nuisance of her little self in our rather small study, where we've been trying to 'get fit.'  Aaaah, good times.  But it does help one to feel better, that's for sure.  I know I've said it before, but running is the best form of stress-management I've ever come across.  It works like a charm, too.  While the other stuff (namely the yoga) is just plain good for you.  And to top it off, it has been nice to spend time with Michael doing this stuff.  (Usually he goes to the gym by his office, where he gets hit on by all the men.)

Monday, August 16, 2010


How odd that less than a week ago the heat kept coming on in our house. And now, for the past three days, we have had a complete surge in temperatures. It's disgustingly hot outside -- and I love it. Yesterday after we got home from church (Emilia was a nightmare, by the way. And the nice lady we always talk to, whose name I really should learn, managed to blame it on the heat. She was right, too. It was hot as hades in there...) we all sat outside in the backyard and had popsicles. Actually we had homemade paletas, more like. And hands down, it was the best popsicle I've ever had.

For some reason or another I've been thinking about our old cabin in California these days. I always do when it warms up a bit here, because the instant you walk out the front door and wander up to our mailbox, the smell of summers in California wafts right into your face. It is the smell of warm pine needles and fir needles cooking in the sunshine, and, oh my goodness, I have always loved that smell. Funny how it always takes me back to our cabin, too.

Summers there as a child were idyllic. We would drive (and drive and drive) the long distance from our house in Wyoming and then we would stay for a month or so. My mom would be the one behind the wheel of the family station wagon, going ninety mph, blasting Ann Murray, and we'd all be eating store-bought danishes -- until we would inevitably break down somewhere. A day or so later, after the car was fixed and loaded up with a few more supplies from Carson City, Nevada, we would eventually roll in to the little town of Arnold.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Runaway Mormon Girl

Runaway Mormon Girl is brought to you by the inimitable Little Lizzie.  This gorgeous bombshell (whom we should all refer to as Elizabeth from here on in) intends to fill her eager readers with tale after tale on all subjects (including, but certainly not limited to): Mormon kitsch, incredibly handy recipes you've always wanted to try, saucy interpretations of anything else that catches her L.A. eye, and, I daresay, a few rather dangerous forays into what she's got hidden in her knickers drawer.  Did someone say homemade edible underwears?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Michael's Ginger & Lime Restorative

All I have to say is consider yourself warned.  The first time my lovely, lovely husband made this cocktail for me, I told him, 'Yum, I could drink this all day!'  It is fabulous and oh-so refreshing.  You can actually feel the ginger warming you up, and the lime cooling you down.  Talk about absolute perfection in a glass.  I'm fairly certain that it will cure whatever ails you.  And if not?  Well then, you'd better have another.  Just to make sure.

Blue Ginger Gimlet
serves 2

3 ounces vodka
2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ounces ginger syrup
lime wedge, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker (or a rather large Kerr jar, like we have), combine all the ingredients.  Add a decent amount of ice, and shake well.  Strain into martini glasses.

Ginger Syrup
makes about 3 cups, which is why we always cut it down

2 cups sugar
2 cups fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices (about 2 large 'hands' of ginger)
2 cups of water

In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar, ginger, and water over high heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer until it has reduced by half and is syrupy.  The syrup should hold the line of a plate.  Strain the mixture and reserve the syrup in the refrigerator until needed.  (Recipe from -- our latest discovery -- Ming Tsai's Simply Ming.  Episode 410.  Airs on PBS.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Quinoa and Grilled Sourdough Salad

It has been a very difficult past couple of days around here.  Emilia seems to have discovered the fine art of throwing fits and testing her limits, and it has been making me absolutely crazy.  I admit that I am not the most patient person in the world, though, and I really ought to work on that.  But, really, I'm at my wits end over here!  And to top it off, my sister has been on a road-trip for the past while, so I've not been able to call her and give her an earful about it.  I already know what she'd say though: 'They all go through it.  It's only a phase, so stop bothering me.  Don't you know I'm busy -- and try dealing with seven of them!  Call me when you've got a real problem, lightweight!' Or something like that anyway.  Besides, I am well aware of the fact that having seven kids will hardly conjure any sympathy for one with a (usually) very easy two year old.** 

So, last night we sat down to a lovely dinner: salmon on the grill and this marvelous quinoa and grilled sourdough salad.  It was divine.  And we ended up eating so much of the salad that we were fit to burst.  That is, Michael and I ate it.  Emilia spent the whole of dinner declaring that she was finished and needed to get down.  It is the oddest thing, the girl loves vegetables, I swear.  But she has drawn the line with a few things: potatoes (even mashed potatoes), cucumbers, anything with parsley on it, lettuce, and anything resembling a salad, particularly if it has dressing on it.  But she will eat broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, and on and on, until the cows come home. 

Anyway, as I've mentioned before, I happen to take vegetables very seriously around here.  So I didn't take it too kindly when Emilia put one bite of this delicious salad into her mouth, and then started gagging like she was being tortured by some mean and nasty person.  I mean, really.  And I particularly didn't appreciate when she decided that the bread chunks were tofu and, therefore, not to be touched.  I suppose, in the poor girl's defense, this salad was loaded to the gills with items on her Do Not Eat list.  But even so, hmpf!

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Mrs. Beeton-esque Beef & Barley Soup

Yes, well, I realize this is more suiting for the dead of winter and all that.  But, despite it being August and all,  it is cold and rainy in our blasted state.  And to be perfectly honest, I'm getting so sick and tired of it.  I've been threatening to go and put up a For Sale sign at the top of our driveway, but that would require me putting on a long coat, a hat, boots, and then tracking down the umbrella, in order to do so.  Besides, we don't really have one of those signs lying around the house.  Maybe as soon as Emilia is up from her nap we can do some 'cutting' and some 'art' and make our own.  (It's really the oddest thing, too, because it was so warm last week.)

Anyway, for some reason or another I've been craving beef and barley soup for about two years now.  My sister made some for us a handful of years ago after I'd gone in for a random surgery, and I remember feeling so grateful.  Beef and barley soup is so comforting and oh-so cozy.  But when I asked her for a recipe last week she said she usually just wings it.  Not helpful.

I searched high and low for a recipe, but I guess that beef and barley soup just isn't in high demand these days -- it's not very fashionable, I suspect.  In fact, in my entire library of cookbooks, the only one that had a recipe at all was good-old Mrs. Beeton.  I figure this is quite appropriate as it does make me want to sit in some thatched cottage in the Cotswolds.  Actually, Mrs. Beeton lived in London the majority of her very short life.  Nevertheless, I still think of pastoral England when I think of her.  Or I think of the grubby London that Dickens wrote so much about.  I can't help it.  What a fascinating woman though!  If you don't believe me then pick up a copy of Kathryn Hughes book: The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton.  I've been slowly, slowly, slowly making my way through.  (Sorry, it's just not in my nature to plow through biographies, no matter how interesting.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Absolute Best Carrot Cake Ever -- No Jet Plane Required

'Do it again!  Do it again!' is what Emilia says every time we are out on the trampoline bouncing around.  She loves to hold my hands (or dada's hands) and bounce in a circle singing, at the top of her lungs, 'Let's go fly a kite!  Up to the highest height!  Let's go fly a kite and send it soaring...'**  And at the end of the song we fall back, landing in a heap and staring up at the sky.  On sunny days, Emilia thinks it is quite hilarious to try to quote something I said to her on a very sunny day not so long ago: 'I don't want the sun on my face!  It's going to make me look old enough to be your mother!'  Now, really, I find that a rather funny thing to say.  But for the life of me, I can't figure out why she does. 

Anyway, while we are lying on our backs looking up at the sky (preferably Michael is right along beside side us) Emilia will point out all the planes that go by.  She is very good at deciphering between a sea-plane and a jet-plane, and every time she hears the latter, she happily exclaims, 'It's going to the airport!  Maybe we should go to the airport, too!'  Talk about a little girl after my own heart.  (I think she was just over a year and a half when she told me one afternoon, completely deadpan, and while holding my purse, the keys, and a Neiman Marcus shopping bag, 'I be right back, mama.'  'Oh, where you are going?'  'I going to the airport!  I going to Georgetown!')

And so, one evening the three of us were lying on the trampoline and gazing up at the sky (Governor was off barking at a squirrel somewhere), and we saw a plane high up in the sky.  Immediately I started singing, 'I'm leaving on a jet plane, I don't know when I'll be back again...'***  Michael quickly joined in, and once Emilia picked up enough words, she started singing, too.  And there we were, the three of us on a lovely summer evening, looking up at the sky and belting out one of the best songs ever.  It was quite nice, if you must know.  Now Emilia calls it 'her song' and randomly sings, 'Oh babe, I hate to go.'

Now then, why am I going on about a trampoline and airplanes and John Denver, you ask?  Well, it's really quite simple.  One of the cheapest ways to travel somewhere is to cook.  Sounds silly, but it's true.  You want to get to know a place, then eat its food.  Of course it isn't the same as actually being there, but it is the best substitute I've ever found. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thursday at SAM

Emilia and I found ourselves in the car this morning on our way to the Seattle Art Museum.  There wasn't any particular exhibit we were going to see, although they do have a few right now that are certainly drawing the crowds.  I think part of the crowds, however, were due to the fact that the first Thursday of every month is free admission.  And this is nothing at which to balk.  The last time we went it cost us over a hundred dollars -- what with parking, admission, lunch, the gift shop, and so on.  Anyway, Emilia's absolute favorite thing we saw today was the cars, all lit up and sparkling from the ceiling.  After that was the green man, and then the mouse.  Most of it she proclaimed to be scary, and I must say, I totally agreed with her... That mouse in particular. 

Right when Emilia saw it she ran right up to it and declared that he was a nice guy and probably needed a big big big hug.  I immediately had to point out that it was not to be touched, and pointed to all the signs telling us just that.  But really, the thing is horrifying and I don't mind if I never see it again.  In fact, why I felt so inclined to take a picture of the thing is beyond me, but there you go.  Now you can be horrified, too. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blueberry Buckle

I stood in the kitchen this afternoon looking out the window and smiling as I watched Emilia eat nearly all of the very un-ripe blueberries off of the bushes.  'Are they yummy or are they sour?,' I called out to her.  'They're yummy,' she declared with a complete look of, 'yuck, these are so sour' right across her little face.  We told her a few days ago that the birds usually get to the blueberries before they have a chance to fully ripen, and I'm thinking she is determined to beat them to it.

It gladdens my heart though, watching Emilia roam around the backyard and exploring all the little things that are so new and fascinating to her.  And while I am the first to admit that I do not relish playing in the dirt anymore (at all), I do have very strong memories of loving it when I was little.  In fact, I can even remember eating my fair share of sour fruit — just because I could, and not because it was particularly good.

I've still been in recovery mode from the strawberry mayhem in our house last month.  And I've tried very hard to shun all thoughts of raspberries (unless, of course, Kari suggests we go... I do like me some raspberries...) and blueberries.  However, as we walked through Metropolitan Market yesterday, Emilia began pointing out the enormous containers of blueberries.  'Maybe we get some blueberries, mama?'  And what could I say?  They were local and dirt cheap.  Done.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cutting for Stone

Alright, here it is, the reason why I've been so incredibly lame and only managed two posts in two weeks: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  It is a magnificent book.  Once I picked it up, I was essentially ruined for all other activities.  The book is well over 600 pages, so that is saying something, particularly since I am a very slow (and very thorough, I like to believe) reader.  In fact, the reason I picked it up to begin with was because I so enjoyed watching my dad read it last summer while we were in Maine.  He'd grab a bag of pretzels and a beer from the fridge, go sit on the deck and have this look about him, like 'Ahhh, ain't life great!'  Still makes me smile thinking about it.

Anyway, I am not going to say much about the plot of the book.  All I will say is that it takes place in Ethiopia (mostly, anyway) in a medical community.  I find it a complete marvel that a surgeon/professor of all things medical can double as a writer of fiction,  but there it is.  Abraham Verghese is an excellent writer, but I suppose this isn't such a rarity.  Wasn't William Carlos Williams a doctor by day and poet by night?  At least I think it was William Carlos Williams.  Blasted over-achievers.

Cutting for Stone is very unique, very eye-opening, and very refreshing.  It is incredibly researched but not weighed down with too much history, because it is woven into an engrossing narrative. It is also filled with surgery after surgery.  I tend to be of a rather squeamish nature, but even I plowed through it.  There were only two parts where I had to put the book down and declare 'yuck.'  And one of those parts involved a cow that was part of a celebration.  (Not bad since I was the rare one not to finish Life of Pi because it made me so sick.)