Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Play Dough

Oh my goodness, this summer has been so incredibly lame.  The weather has been cold and grey and rainy, which is why it is so odd to hear that the rest of the country is going through some sort of heat wave.  And because it has been so awful, Emilia has not spent much quality time with her whale swimming pool this summer.  (Although she was out there a few days ago filling it with dirt and grass and rocks, which nearly made me go ballistic.)

With the whale swimming pool now residing mainly on its side on the deck, we've had to come up with other activities to do inside the house, particularly when it is Leo's naptime and we are both about to start bouncing off the walls.

Rather than bounce off said walls last week (which is never as much fun as one would think), we made play dough.  And not the usual crappy stuff that is easy to whip up in a snap, and then has to get tossed once you're done playing with it five seconds later.  That stuff is not for us.  This stuff, on the other hand, is marvelous.  And I'm really quite pleased with ourselves for doing it.  It was Emilia's idea to begin with, because she was so disgusted with me for throwing out her gazillion little containers.  But really, once it ends up in a great big mound -- of the most unappetizing hue -- and then gets smooshed all over the floor and chairs and such, what does she expect?  What's more is that our play dough is not made in China (seriously -- it all comes out of China these days); nor it is filled with nasty chemicals and the like.  Well, that isn't quite true because you do have to add food coloring -- unless you have beat juice and turmeric on hand.  (Turmeric, yes.  Beat juice, hell no.)

The recipe I usually use is from Southern Sideboards, which is the cookbook from the Junior League in Jackson, Mississippi.  It is easy to make and requires no cooking, but I don't like it in the least.  Although, it is quite excellent to bake up your designs when you are finished, particularly if you've made a nice flower or something.  Anyway, I suppose I resort to it because it is what I have, and besides I like Jackson (who doesn't?).   But it doesn't feel the play dough is meant to, and it doesn't have much of a shelf life.  This is why I was so delighted when I got on Earthenwitch's site and saw her experiments with play dough.  (I love her blog.  In fact, it is probably my fave when it comes to blogs.  There is something so incredibly comfy and cozy and very relatable to it.  But someone needs to tell her to abandon all ideas of dreadlocks already.)  Anyway, Earthenwitch found a play dough recipe from a German site, or maybe it was The Netherlands, I can't really remember, which is easy-peasy and loads of fun.

So while Leo was sleeping, Emilia stood on a chair in the kitchen and helped me measure and stir and knead until we had four balls of colorful dough.  We were both impressed mostly with the green and yellow because the colors were the nicest, but it didn't really matter in the end because Emilia still managed to mash them all up into one great big ball and make 'meatballs for Sweet Pea's dinner.'  (Sweet Pea being her baby doll.)  Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to take half of each color and safely tuck it all in the back of the fridge somewhere.  That way the next time it rained or was miserable out, we had it on the ready -- which was the next day and the day after.

We were incredibly boring with our dough because apparently you can add scent to it and everything.  The lovely lady from whence the recipe comes added lavender to one, honey chamomile scent to another, and fire to another.  I'm very curious about the fire one, in particular.  All I could find was a nasty old bottle of eucalyptus oil.  Who even knows how old that thing is.

Play Dough

1 cup plain white flour
1/2 cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon oil
few drops of essential oils
food coloring

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and stir with a wire whisk to get the lumps out.  Put the pan on the burner and cook, stirring all the while.  I used a wood spoon for this, but use whatever you like.  Once it all comes together and starts to look like dough, turn it out on the counter, let cool a smidge, and then knead a few times.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.  (Recipe from: Guusje's Appeltaart, a rather splendid little site.) 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Spaghetti Carbonara and Three Blind Mice

You know those days when it is almost time for dinner, but you've managed to spend the whole day doing very un-dinnery-planning things?  And so, randomly throughout the day, you wander into the kitchen to see if there is, in fact, that one certain ingredient absolutely essential for the great idea you just had for dinner.   Then, not finding it, you wander back out again, highly annoyed, and back at square one?  This ingredient could be anything from potatoes (tortilla espanola), salmon (salmon), bread crumbs (neapolitan meatballs), lemons (roasting a chicken), or pancetta (spaghetti carbonara).  And naturally just the suggestion of loading everyone into the car to quickly pop over to QFC for, I don't know, quinoa and garlic maybe, makes you want to tell everyone to sod off and just leave you alone already?

I know how it is.

But, alas, this was not the case today.  Because at roughly 3:30 this afternoon I managed to find a package of pancetta in the back of the freezer.  Well, it wasn't quite pancetta.  It was bacon.  But if you slice it just so and squint while eating it -- there you go -- it's practically the same thing.  I settled on Marcella Hazan's Carbonara Sauce recipe, and, of course it calls for white wine.  I could have swore that I drank the lot of it two days ago, but I somehow managed to conjure up a quarter cup -- exactly.  Yippee!!  (I'm not a lush after all.  Shall we have a drink to celebrate?)

I have done a number of carbonara recipes over the years, but (oddly) this was the first time I tried Ms. Hazan's. I generally opt for the one in my Saveur Authentic Italian cookbook, or the one in Michelle Scicolone's 1000 Italian Recipes, the latter being my best and favorite when it comes to all things Italian.  But this was a nice change of pace, really.  And Marcella Hazan's recipe is completely worth the trouble.  What I actually mean by trouble is deciding whether or not to toss that last bit of wine into your pan instead of into your glass.  Anyway, all of her recipes are simple (well, those that I've done anyway), and so incredibly good.  She seems to rely mostly on good ingredients and letting them cook as long as they need.  (A perfect example of this is her bolognese sauce.  You could start making it, go out and have a bite, come home and still have hours to go.)  I do always laugh at the fact though that she seems to think her general audience is a bunch of blockheads.  Her writing style, while quite nice, is incredibly condescending and she will mock you for doing anything except the way she tells you to do it.  This includes opting for a pasta shape other than the one she suggests.  For instance, in tonight's Carbonara Sauce: 'It is difficult to imagine serving carbonara on anything but spaghetti.'  It makes me like her all the more, but it also makes me want to disobey and choose penne (or anything else) that would make her turn her Venetian nose high up in the air.  Because really, it isn't actually that difficult to imagine.  She also orders you to remove the garlic and then toss it out once it has browned and turned mouth-wateringly yummy.  I'm sorry, but I simply cannot do this step.  It goes against my nature to toss out gorgeous garlic that has been cooked to perfection.  And so, because of this, I always leave it in the pan and pretend that I threw it away.  'Oh, whoops!  Where did that come from?!  Er, how very odd to find it on my plate!'

And so, while Michael and Emilia ran around in the backyard (he still in his suit from work with his natty new green tie, and she with her Mary Poppins umbrella), Leo in his bouncy seat in the kitchen, yelling at me for his nightly airing of grievances, and Governor hovering right underneath my feet hoping a slice of seasoned meat and/or cheese would land on top his little head, this is what I made.

Fast forward about 30-45 minutes later, Leo is in his bed, and Emilia is belting out as loudly as she possibly can, the words for Three Blind Mice.  I grew up with this nursery rhyme, which is why I was not surprised in the least to see it in Beatrix Potter's Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes.  Michael, on the other hand, was flabbergasted.  And as I sat and corrected Emilia with the words, (No, no, no, not putcher knife, it's butcher knife... She cuts of their tails with a butcher knife.  See?  Although Beatrix Potter actually says carving knife.  You can use whichever you want, really.') Michael was mildy surprised.  'Hmmm, well, I guess the reason I have never heard it is because I did not come from a violent family...blah....blah...blah...words...words...words... (insert whichever holier than thou things you'd prefer).'  But really, can the man be serious?  He has never heard of Three Blind Mice, yet he is totally down with horrifying the crap out of all of us with March of the Wooden Soldiers every Christmas.  I'm sorry, but that mouse is freaky and clearly not right.  And neither is that stupid Honey Badger which he has also taken a fancy to these days.  But I digress...

Spaghetti with Carbonara Sauce

1/2 pound pancetta, cut as a single 1/2-inch-thick slice, or its equivalent in a good slab of bacon
4 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 large eggs
1/4 cup freshly grated romano cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 1/4 pounds pasta

Cut the pancetta into strips 1/4-inch wide.  Lightly mash the garlic cloves with the back of your knife and remove their papers.  Put the garlic and olive oil in small pan and cook over medium-high heat.  Saute until the garlic is a nice shade of gold.  Remove the garlic and discard (if you are a crazy person...).

Put the pancetta in the pan and cook until they begin to crisp up around the edges.  Add the wine and let it all bubble up for a minute or two.  Then, off the heat.

Break the 2 eggs into the bowl in which you will be serving your lovely spaghetti.  Beat them lightly with a fork, and then add the cheese, a big grinding of pepper, and the parsley.  Mix thoroughly.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta.  Once cooked, drain and then add it to the serving bowl, tossing rapidly.  Quickly reheat the pancetta over high heat, and then pour out the entire contents of the pan into the bowl of pasta.  Toss well and serve.  Recipe from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.  Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

On Heebie Jeebies, Black Eyes, and Geordie Slappers

Ever since the girl was big enough to walk, she has followed me in the bathroom each and every morning to put on makeup right alongside her mama.  She likes to start with mascara -- smack in the middle of her forehead, if you please.  Then she moves on to eyeshadow, just to fill in the spots she inadvertently missed with mascara.  She then finishes with her lipstick, staying (oddly) completely within the lines.  And as soon as she has finished, and I am zipping up the bag to toss back in the cabinet, I say, 'Maybe we should wipe a bit off.  Otherwise you will end up looking like a Geordie Slapper, and goodness knows that isn't good.'

Several months ago I was on that scourge that is Facebook, perusing the statuses of all those that are dear and not so dear, when I happened upon a particular status of my quite dear friend in Scotland.  We'll call her 'Polly Angus' for short.  Anyway, she had written something about her daughter inheriting (via hand-me-down) a pair of Bratz faux leather boots.  She went on to say something along the lines of her daughter now looking like a Geordie Slapper.  This made me laugh (and laugh) so very much, and I immediately fell in love with the phrase.  Seriously, Geordie Slapper??  Just try and tell me that is not phenomenal.  And so, because of this, I have incorporated the name/appellation/term of endearment, or whatever you want to call it, into our everyday vernacular, simply because it is fabulous.

And so, two nights ago when Emilia takes it upon herself to fall out of her bed at about 2:30 in the morning, giving her little self a nice little shiner, I have found myself in great difficulty.  For starters, she has a little cut smack on her left eyebrow.  (In my defense, this was all that was visible the night of 'the incident', which is why I was nearly going ballistic when the girl was wailing and wailing, and nearly waking Leo in her exertions.  'Be quiet!  You will wake the baby!!  If you are that hurt, maybe we should just pack up the car and take you to the hospital RIGHT NOW!'  You know, that sort of desperate thing...)

But then the next morning she woke up with her entire eyelid swollen and discolored.  It looked like a rather spectacular application of eyeshadow just on the one eye.  And the poor girl was miserable. And her mama was miserable.  And her Leo was miserable. The poor little bloke was already slated for his 6-Month-Well-Child-Appointment with the doctor that morning, which meant he got poked and prodded until the cows nearly came home --  three shots and one oral vaccine.  Not to mention all the other indignities he was forced to undergo...  All the while I sat -- and worried -- and fretted -- and worried some more.  The little guy only weighs 14 pounds 13 ounces.  That means that he is in the fifth percentile for his weight.  My dad said this is alright, because if you add Emilia's 97th percentile to his 5th percentile, you end up just over 100 percent, which makes them both totally average.  Anyway, I was petrified that they were going to label him 'Failure to Thrive'.

All the while Emilia was trying to hide her little head because, apparently, come hell or high water, no doctor ain't looking at nothing!  She lost that battle, though.  The doctor looked and said she would be alright, but maybe a bit cranky.  (To say the least...)

The doctor also said poor Leo, while a bit of a Scrawny Ronny, is totally fine and completely healthy.  But that he would also be a bit cranky on account of the nasties they injected into his little body.  I hate vaccines.  And I hate all that business in general.  I tend to fall in line with Nancy Mitford's mother with her general philosophy of relying on 'the good body', and letting things work out on their own.  However, when it comes down to it, how am I supposed to sleep at night knowing that the little munchkins are exposed to all sorts of heebie jeebies that I cannot control?  Hmmmm, I ask you?  How am I?  So, because of that, they are both loaded to the gills with whatever vaccines they have available, and I am spending the rest of my time worrying about scrawniness and a tendency to look a bit like a Geordie Slapper.

Now, if we could only figure what to do with a girl who has refused to go to bed at night unless mama or dada lays down with her for hour on end, then we'd be in business.  She keeps claiming that she is 'having a hard time'.  Alas, she is right, poor thing.  We are all having a hard time.  I suppose this is why I have been spending so much time perusing that damned and blasted early-access-ness of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Stupid Nordstrom.  Who else could convince me that while wiping up piles of spit-up and shitty arses, I may actually need that jacket that looks just like something Coco Chanel would have designed herself.  (Yes, I have refrained from that so far, but not so much from their running accoutrements, face creams, toddler wellies, Little Giraffe blankets, and so on...  I know, I know.)  And now Garnet Hill has added themselves to the mix with their ruinous sale.  Oi.  What is one to do?  Strong liquor?  Maybe.

In the meantime, the eye, while not looking much better, doesn't seem to bother the girl much (unless she sees it in the mirror), and little Leo got his first jar of peas tonight.  I don't think he is a particular fan, but there is no pleasing everyone.  Maybe he will fare better with carrots?  Or butternut squash?  We'll see.    


Saturday, July 2, 2011

On Leo Bambino

I was out for a run this morning, berating myself all the while, about how incredibly lame I have become with my blog.  (I know it is true, you don't have to try and make me feel any better about it.  It won't work anyway.)  And as I started the final stretch, a light switched on inside my head, and I thought, 'Tonya, you idiot!  You're on blasted maternity leave!  You are not supposed to be doing all of these silly things right now, for pete's sake!'  But really, why is it just dawning on me now that I am on maternity leave?  I'm usually pretty quick on the uptake. 

I guess it was seven weeks ago -- to the day -- that it all started.  We got a call out of the blue saying, 'Ummm, HELP!  When can you get over here?!  I'll have a nervous breakdown if you don't say soon!'  And a few hours later, I was pulling back into our driveway, with a little baby pipsqueak in tow.  No preparation, no planning, no idea what was about to befall us, no diapers, nothing.  Just a smiley drooly little guy that was in need of a lot of love.  Shocks the conscience, no?  But there it is, the little bugger had just turned five months and seemed incredibly happy (and dare I say relieved?) to see us.  And while it has been quite the adjustment, to say the least (the very least), it has all gone swimmingly.  We have named him Leo, and it seems to suit him rather well.  (Although he does still answer to 'Marmite' or 'that little buster', as Emilia seems to prefer.)  Actually his name is Leo David, but if you want to make Emilia extremely mad, then simply call him Leo Bambino.  'He's Leo David!'  Or, 'He's just Leo David now!'

Emilia has taken to the little guy like a house on fire, and it has been a delight to watch -- not to mention a shock.  I had her pegged for one of those kids that wants to knock the block off of any little baby usurpers, but it was not the case.  In fact, she took the whole change better than we did.  Granted she doesn't get up in the middle of the night to change his scrawny little bum and make bottles, but other than that, she has been quite the little helper.  And I am surprised how well she has dealt with all the confusion.  I will spare you most of the details, but I will say this: Leo Bambino, while being adopted by us, was already part of the family before.  (I'm thinking of trying to sell the rights to Lifetime Telly, as it has really been quite the drama.)  However, instead of being called brother, he was called cousin.  On top of all that, he is also a twin (identical, no less).  His brother has gone to live with my brother (and his wife and son) in the state next door to us.  And if you thought Leo was a silly sort of name (I defy anyone who says such a thing!), you should hear the name that the other one got stuck with.  I can assure you that my mother is beside herself with the wacky names her children seem to come up with. 

But really, the name Leo is marvelous.  Michael likes it because a million and seven popes were called Leo.  And I like it (which is the reason it ever made it onto the list to begin with) because of the book Adele & Simon.  You know, the little boy that Simon does somersaults and tumbling on the grass with?  Him.  (I've actually written a post on the book before -- all about eclairs and such, but didn't really like the way it turned out, so it has remained in 'draft' form, as blogger likes to do, for some time now...  All in due time, I suppose.)  And the reason we went with David as his middle?  Well, that should be quite evident.  If you've been paying any attention at all, you will have heard mention of Bampa David from time to time.  And there's that settled. 

Anyway, not realizing I've been on maternity leave, I've still been trying to keep up with everything that we normally do.  (Except for vacuuming, et al.)  That means I've still been cooking like a crazy lady, but I've been too damned tired to get on here and tell you what deliciousness I've been cooking.  I'm guessing that in the next month or so I will have gained the desire to live once again and carry on full-force.  Or that is the plan anyway.  Until then, I am trying to make naptimes correspond together (seriously the minute one goes down the other is up, and it is driving me bat-shit-crazy), washing loads of onesies and burp-cloths, making bottles, tripping over all the crap we have all over the house, and vowing I will toss every last bit of it in the trash (just see if I don't!), and trying to explain to everyone and their mother why it is that we have a small little Leo with us, and to stop glaring at me because I don't have pregnancy weight to lose, if you please.  Believe me, I've got enough problems over here right now.

And so, may I present to you, the latest little drooly addition to the family: Leo Bambino!  ('He's just Leo David now!')

**I realize that I am going against my own personal rule of NO PHOTOS OF THE FAM in this post, but what can I say?  My goofy face is already on the side of the screen somewhere and little Leo's face will likely look different next week.  Although, I may have second thoughts later.  We'll see.  Also, the poor guy is wearing Emilia's old clothes in this picture (I told you we had nothing!), causing the girl to look at him and say, 'He looks like a pretty little girl!'  Hmpf!  The pajamas are unisex and are called 'Wish You Were Here' from Hanna Andersson, and I love them.  And I am quite annoyed that they have discontinued them, if you  must know.