Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sweets to the sweet.

I forgot to mention this when it happened, and want to put it down before I forget it. I was a t Jessica's a few weeks ago, and we were doing what we do best, which is gossiping about celebrities, making fun of silly baby names, and watching trash TV. This time we were fortunate enough to catch a BACK-TO-BACK episode of some Food Network show about how candy is made.
I think I can single-handedly solve America's addiction to candy: make people watch how it is made. I think the same thing about eating less meat: hang out in an abattoir for an hour or so and then try to choke down a hamburger. ANYWAY, the candy-making was frightful. Gross. Icky. The very words the owner/managers used to describe their "product" were gross. And icky. "Peanut butter plugs." "Special dyes and emulsifiers." And, our personal favorite, SLURRY. Fucking slurry!!! From the Jelly Belly folks. What the hell??? The machines used to MAKE the candy were gross. All in all, we wound down the hour knowing full well we would not only be unable to stomach another jelly bean, but that the word "slurry" would forever cause us hysterical laughter and a gag-reflex reaction.
If yo uever get a chance to watch this show, (I think it is called "Unwrapped") please do so. It is the most beautiful blend of fascinating/horrifying.

Monday, January 26, 2009

War and my living thing

This is my 300th post on this blog. I find that terrifyingly narcissistic, but not terrifying enough for me to quit. Yesterday was my mother's 66th birthday, and we celebrated by going to the Weathervane (the restaurant inside Southern Season) for brunch. Let me say now how much I love the Weathervane: great food, great service, and what is BY FAR the best children's menu around. Flipper and I went to Wellspring on the way there and I let Flipper pick out a bouquet for Smokey. She homed in on roses, a mixture of about 6 different colors. They were gorgeous.
Blessedly, her friend E came over for a playdate, and I say blessedly because Saturday was a day of excruciating boredom for both of us. I should try harder to plan out fun activities to do on the week-ends, just one or two. Anything to get out of the house and be around people besides ourselves for a few hours. But I didn't, and she was bored, and turned into a frightful, unhappy brat until we FINALLY went to bed. But Sunday was wonderful, and as so often happens, I eavesdropped on her play with her friend, and thought about how quickly our ideals crumble when reality sets in . What did they play? WAR. Guns, made out of blocks and these plastic Lego-like buildy things. But as I listened, they weren't really shooting each other and falling over dead, or hiding behind some furniture fort. No, they were TALKING about it. Around and around and around.
"Let's play war"
"Here's your gun."
"No, I want the red one."
"It's already mine."
"Who gets to be the bad guy?"
"No, you."
"No, you."
"Now you shoot me."
"Let's play war..."
Someone should send these kids to the Middle East; any adult conflict would die a rapid death simply by dint of exhaustion from repetitive conversation. It was excruciating. But I was surprised at how uncaring I was with their gun-and-sword play. Back in the Perfect Parenting days, you know, back before I actually HAD a baby, I would have not been OK with anything that smacked of guns and violence. Now, well, I think it's OK. It is their imagination. They are clueless, particularly my child that lives a blissful life unaware of the horrors brought into our homes via the television and the endless new coverage any tragedy receives. I don't know that I believe that playing with a gun made out of a Kapla block is going to desensitize her to murder. I will say that I will never let her play video games, particularly ones that involve the endless destruction of something else, and so this play she's engaging in will probably die a natural death like everything else in childhood. I try very hard not to think everything to death, and even though it is an uphill battle at times, I seem to be winning on this front, even though I go back and forth, changing previously-held beliefs with nary a backward glance, and holding tightly to others. This is one of the hidden blessings of (largely) single parenting: unlike Flipper and her friend, I don't have to talk about whether or not it is or is not OK for the kids to play war. Not that they're really playing war, they're really playing diplomacy.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Let's talk about my upcoming trip, shall we? Because I can't wait. I graduated college in 1990, with no job, no goals, no direction, no...nothing. No surprise. I cashed in some DuPont stock inherited from my grandfather, and bought my dream car, the first car I ever owned. A 1987 Isuzu Trooper, a car that saw me across America and back, to and from many Grateful Dead shows, and almost over 1000 ft drop off in Colorado. They perform poorly in snow.

Then I worked as a canoe counselor at a day camp. In August, I impulsively moved to St. Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia, about an hour south of Savannah and an hour north of Jacksonville. I loved it down there. After 3 months at a real job (one of the last I ever had) I worked as a cocktail waitress at Emmeline's, making some of the best money I've ever made. How depressing. I think I won't think about that too much.

While there, my boyfriend (we called him Satan, a nickname that has stuck) and I drove to Disney World, where we nibbled on same tiny bits of mind-altering paper, and had the best time ever. I also saw more freaked out, crying kids than ever, and promised to never take any children of my own there until they were adults, and can go without me. Anyway, after our fun time hiding from huge costumed animals, and being the only grown ups to ride on It's A Small World, we drove to Fort Meyers, then Tarpon Springs, then up to Homosassa.

There is a fantastic little state park there, where the alligators were fed by stringing live chickens across a wire, and the gators would make this incredible leaps to snatch the poor chickens. We saw the manatees, and I fell in love with the whole natural springs, natural part of Florida that has been largely wiped out everywhere else in the state by condos and more condos. And shopping malls. Over winter break, mid-February, my mom and Flipper and I are going there. Smokey has never been to much of Florida, and cannot wait to see the manatees. She has, blessedly, learned to let me and Sister plan trips, as we both love it and are quite good at it. She prefers to simply give us her credit card to book everything, and enjoy herself. A match made in heaven for a planning, control freak like me. Plus, more than the other members of my immediate family, I love Americana. I have been to the Jell-O museum, I have even been here:

This is our itinerary:
Fly from here to Jacksonville, FL. My days of road trips are long over. Very little could induce me to get on I-95 at this stage of the game. Drive the 45 minutes to Waycross, GA, and spend the night in a Holiday Inn, since none of the B&B's I looked at were child-friendly, or had two beds in a room. Bright and early the next morning, we will go to the Okefenokee, a truly incredible natural wonder, and have a guided tour, eat lunch, and then paddle around on our own.
Small picture of the Okefenokee. I have been there once before, and my only memory is watching an otter destroy a dead fish.

That evening we will head towards the Crystal Coast, stopping in Gainesville or nearby for the night. In the morning we will arrive in Homosassa/Crystal River, where we will check into this place:
a motel whose brethren are rapidly, sadly disappearing, to be swallowed up by more chains. That afternoon we will go watch the alligators and go to this state park, then get to bed early to prepare for what promises to be the highlight of our trip: SWIMMING WITH THE MANATEES. Actually getting n the water with these beautiful sea cows and watching them gently meander along. We are taking a private tour with this outfitter:
They look eager to have a human in their midst, don't they??

Our last day will be spent at what some might argue is the ultimate in Americana: Weeki Wachee's mermaids, a show that has been in existence since 1947. Read about them here:
Try not to be too jealous. Or, scorn us for our tackiness!! Either way is fine with me. I will take a million pictures, if I can ever get the color setting reset to be normal on my new camera.

Scary, is she not? Flipper is going to freak out.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Snow Day and a New Day

Yesterday was Flipper's Very First Snow Day, meaning it snowed enough for school to be closed, and us to be outside for a large part of the day, minus the three hours we watched the Inauguration and the HBO concert J. had thoughtfully recorded last Saturday. I love snow for several things, but the top two are the white-blue glow that fills our homes and the silence. When Flipper woke up I had her shut her eyes and then carried her to a window. Upon opening them, she was genuinely silenced for about, oh, 5 seconds? But the look in her eyes and on her face was a perfect reflection of wonder. Then we went outside for a long walk, she eating snow the entire time, and me guiltily glad that I wasn't at work, even though I was really looking forward to watching the Inauguration with the high school students.

We headed to the lake for sledding, and Flipper loved it, until a careening sled smacked into her and knocked her completely off her feet. Then, tears. Poor Flipper!! I successfully avoided laughing, and we headed off to JoJo's house to watch the proceedings on her massive TV. I've never watched and Inauguration before, and so had no idea that the incoming prez escorts the outgoing one to a helicopter!! Who knew?? Well, actually, the friends I watched it with knew. I loved it, loved how everything the Obamas do is the result of a carefully weighted decision fraught with meaning and yet not particularly heavy-handed. I loved Jill Biden's hot, sexy boots with her short skirt; perhaps she is trying to make everyone forget her little gaffe on Oprah, although I cannot imagine what the big deal is about a choice of jobs within the same company! Which is basically what it is. I loved seeing the mega-crowd, and felt a fair bit of pride at knowing that somewhere in that teeming mass of humanity were a small group-I think 13-of our 11th graders, taken to the Inauguration by the history teacher. I've no doubt they were texting away, trying to hide their cellphones from her watchful eye.

It was great. It seems that when we see "history being made" it is so often some sort of tragic, catastrophic event, and so rarely a happy, joyful one. The times I remember are heartbreakingly sad: someone incredible being killed, like John Lennon, or the sheer shock of watching the Twin Towers fall. And how happy I am that Flipper watched the proceedings yesterday with no concept of what a big deal it is; that she will see many different faces of the presidency in her life than I ever thought possible.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Good riddance.

It's happening. I am preparing to trek to a friend's mother's house to watch Barack escort the idiot to the helicopter that will whisk him back to the village in Texas that lost him 8 years ago. I never thought I would see this happen; I am sure I will feel equally as thrilled when a woman also takes the oath and makes a speech and walks someone else to the helicopter. And...it's snowing!!!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Brief and shallow. Like my pie.

I am cold. And sleepy. I am trying (going) to rouse myself after this and head, no, not upstairs to my bed for a restorative nap, but into the kitchen to cook AND bake. One of my (many) New Year's "intentions" is to cook more, and better, meals, instead of the quick and easy, at which I am so very accomplished. Really. I can get a decent meal on the table in twenty minutes or less. I often wonder if I would spend more time in the kitchen, making more diverse meals if I were cooking for more people than just Flipper and me. Maybe I would if I had a family of four or more gathering for a real dinner every night. Although, I don't do too badly with the two of us. Flipper is with her dad right now, and I am about to fall asleep, and so I am going to make spinach lasagne (with easy homemade sauce) and then a deep-dish Dutch apple pie. Except that I don't actually own a deep dish pie plate, and so it will be a shallow Dutch apple pie. I will eat a slice tonight, and transport the rest to Jessica's house tomorrow for our enjoyment. The pie doesn't have a pastry crust on top, but a streusel topping with chopped walnuts instead. I will report back with an update sooner or later. And a recipe, if it is really tasty. Must go now, as sleep threatens to overtake me....

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Today Flipper came to my office from her classroom wearing a green paper crown with a green "jewel" in the middle. It was "Three King's Day," also known as Epiphany. True to Waldorf style, they honored this old tradition by serving King's Cakes, (tiny healthy "cupcakes") with a colored marble inside; the color of the child's marble designated the color of the crown: red, green or blue. As usual, I am awed and impressed with the ability of the teachers to create a sense of magic and specialness for each child within a larger group. Waldorf is not, in many senses, a religious or Christian school, and yet the traditions, holidays and rituals associated with Christianity and, at times, Judaism, permeate the year. On the wall of her kindergarten classroom is a framed print of a Mary and Baby Jesus painting, which to Waldorf, symbolizes a classic mother-and-child archetype. It is surprising, even to me, that I love this type of thing so much, as me, and the rest of my immediate family, are atheists. But one of the things I feel strongly is missing in mainstream schooling is any sense of spirituality, even though I understand (and support) just why classrooms cannot have Christmas trees (even though my first grade class did) way way back in the day. Below, a picture of Seamus with the crown on. An appropriate caption for him might be "long-suffering." Mr. Long-Suffering and his crown...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Back-to-School Update

Back to school, back to work. I effectively reset my internal alarm clock (the one I've been using since jr. high) and was up at 5:30 again, instead of sleeping in until 6:30 or even-gasp-7:00. Flipper woke at 6:30,and we enjoyed a nice calm early morn, undisturbed by my frustrated pleas to get-out-of-bed, hurry-up-and-get-dressed and so on. We had grapefruit, mine perfectly sectioned, hers mangled by her own hands, and then I left. The high school has a new policy of no cell phones at all during the school day, which means I get to collect them in a sweet little round basket, where they can be picked up at the end of the day. The kids weren't making calls during school, but texting during class. So farewell, cell phones. All the boys' phones were black, the girls were silver and red and cool colors like that. Almost as cool as my new dark purple one. The faculty and staff are not supposed to use theirs during the day, ever. So I put mine away, although it did not mingle in the basket with the others. Since I am a grown-up, mostly.

The painting is moving along. The purple wall is, I must say, incredible. I must also say that when I started it, I was dismayed: it looked awful. But I wasn't about to stop or re-do it another color; after all, I consulted a professional for a reason: because she knows more than me. And now that it is done, and dried (darker), I love it. The foyer and hall are two different shades of yellow, and the other three non-purple walls in the living room are yet another shade of yellow. Nutty. But I trust the color choices now, although I have permanently ix-nayed "Foxy Pink" for my bedroom. I care not about luring men to my bed with the power of feng shui; "Cornflower" and "Ocean Blue" will have to do. I am drawn to the opposite colors for rooms: I like cool tones in the bedroom and warm in the living areas. It is exciting. Will take and post pictures soon. I am glad to say "farewell" to the white walls. Next question: is it possible to paint directly over wallpaper?? Anyone??

Saturday, January 3, 2009

One Wall at a Time...

I am on a home-improvement kick, fueled by Christmas money that I am trying, with little success, to avoid spending. I am also inspired by my new floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, which flank my fireplace. They are incredible. Great craftsmanship, perfect in every way.
I am also motivated to do what I hate the most, and what I am, frankly, terrible at: paint. The whole house is white, with the unfortunate "rose bathroom" and "old lady kitchen" wallpaper. Those will, at least for now, stay. The bathroom in particular was done professionally, and is in perfect condition, and so I am loathe strip it. Plus, I have pink towels that seem to be happy residing amongst rose wallpaper.
Several months ago, Ella's preschool teacher came over and did a free interior design consultation on my whole place. She was a successful interior decorator in Atlanta before she began a second career as a Waldorf teacher. So she came over, toting massive paint books, and we spent about 3 hours poring over colors. She (we) decided on very bright ones: bright purple on sliding-door wall in the living room that leads to the deck, yellow on the others, jade green in the office and stairwell, pinks in my room, and so on. Unfortunately, I hate to paint anything beyond my toenails, but simply cannot pay someone to do it for me, unless they want like 100 bucks a room. Painting is so expensive!! And so I have decided to go slow: one wall at a time. After Ella and I take the damn dogs for a walk, we are trekking out to a small, locally-owned paint store, where I will get a tiny can of purple. It is going to be warm-ish today; perhaps I can even leave the door open to air things out a bit. We will see. I will take pictures and post, as it is a good way to keep me motivated.

I have framed a sheet of utterly bizarre (yet beautiful) wrapping paper that I bought from Cameron's for this express purpose. I love it!! It will hang in my "office." It is in a cheap poster frame, which is good enough. I don't know why I am so enraptured with this paper, but I am. I moved the large black-and-white of Ella to another wall, and am debating the purchase of a Raven Map of our fair state of North Carolina. Then (theoretically) I will slice it into thirds, separating the mountains from the Piedmont from the coast, and frame them individually, but hang them side by side, with a few inches between each frame. One wall in the living room is extremely long, broken by nothing: no window, no door, no nothing. Just a long expanse of white. Raven Maps are incredible, if you have never seen one, check out their website. I will Hawaii too, and frame it for another wall, probably my bedroom. I ask the same question of framing that I do of good cheese: why, oh why is it so expensive??
Bizarre forest creature/mushroom wrapping paper. Taken at this icky angle to avoid flash-glare, because I was too lazy to carry it outside.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Food, glorious food!!

One of the good things that came about over Christmas was a re-awakening desire to cook more eat out less. We've cooked A LOT over the past few weeks: cookies, peanut brittle, pizzelles...culminating in a spectacular (if I do say so myself) dinner party for ten on Christmas day. Sister and I did something I have longed to do for some time: get a food magazine (in our case, Bon Appetit), and make the entire holiday meal featured in the magazine. No substitutions (had to elbow Grampy out of the way on this one) no dropping of this dish or that for some logical reason, just the whole thing in it's entirety, right down to the appetizer and dessert. So we did. Blessedly, my parents managed to let us actually do this; we let them bookend the meal by my dad making the app and my mom the dessert. Counting Flipper, there were eleven of us. The meal, by the way, was incredible. My hat is off to Bon Appetit; everything not only turned out the way it was supposed to, but their timing was impeccable: dish after dish entered and exited the oven, dovetailing perfectly. We sat down to eat just five minutes off our goal of 6:30. We will definitely do it again next year. And so, here is what we served, with a few pictures.
Table set for 11. Sister and I bought that tablecloth for our mom 2 Maui trips ago, in Makawao.

Appetizer: red pepper spread with crostini (this was the only weak link; the recipe called for a spicier pepper to be used, but my dad was afraid the British guests wouldn't like it, so he subbed roasted red peppers instead. It was a touch bland as a result. But a beautiful, rich orange.)

Salad: roasted butternut squash, endive, dried cranberry, bleu cheese. This was a winner; good blend of contrasting textures and flavors, the sharpness of the bleu cheese perfectly cutting the sweetness of the squash. Plus, it was gorgeous to look at.

Main course: a massive beef tenderloin with a porcini/sausage stuffing and and Irish whiskey gravy. Meat terrifyingly huge, we made what the recipe called for but there was a good amount left over. I, of course, did not partake of the meat, but the gravy was really, really good. Thin, not thick and gluey, etc. etc. A winner!! (the meat was the only thing Flipper ate)

Sister prepares to rub garlic mixture on roast beast. Traumatized by the rawness of it all, I had to take over.

Grampy carves the roast beast.

Sides: broccoli rabe with brown butter and roasted pecans (Incredible. I love any form of broccoli, and this was no exception)

Molasses-glazed baby carrots (glaze not thick enough, but they were so cute with a few inches of their green tops protruding)
Yukon gold potato and mushroom gratin (another winner. incredibly rich and satisfying, plus nice to look at as well.. In a wise move, Sister and I gave our dad a really good mandoline for Christmas, and I used it to slice the potatoes. Perfect slices in about 30 seconds)
Chive-and-Cheddar Yorkshire Puddings I made these, and they turned out perfectly, if I do say so myself. Eggy, doughy, puffed magnificently...just gorgeous. AND easy.

Flipper pops the cork of her faux champagne, some sort of sparkling cherry cider drink.

Dessert: chocolate gingerbread cake with coffee whipped cream. (Rich, but not sweet. made with candied ginger and sea salt, every few bites would have a tiny crunch of a salt crystal. Really good)

And that was it. We'll track the progress of this New Year's intention with a few recipes. Maybe.