Monday, January 31, 2011

Weekending with the Family

This weekend we were invited to our first ever preschool friend birthday party. In other words, we had to go to a birthday party that did not involve any of our friends. This had the potential for being super awkward. Or super boring. Or super awesome? What if we had to go to Chuck E. Cheese? What if a trip to Build a Bear was somehow involved? What if, god forbid, an actual clown would be there? I entertained a variety of frightening scenarios as we prepared to RSVP to the event.

But when Brent made the call, he discovered that it was a causal get together at the kid’s house and when he asked what we could bring, the hostess simply replied, “Beer.” Music to our ears- this was going to be our kind of kids’ party!

And so we arrived on Friday night with the two kids spiffed up in their button ups and a growler full of beer. And it was a classic Eugene experience, meaning it turned out that we knew just about everybody at the party and spent much of our time playing the old “You look familiar. Where do I know you from?” game. It was also a classic Eugene experience because the vegan cake was, of course, from Sweet Life and I started thinking that if they wanted to do a Eugene parody show, a la Portlandia, this party would be a great pilot episode.

It turns out that the only social awkwardness at the party belonged to Jack. He is kind of shy and sometimes it takes him awhile to warm up, and I’ve hesitated to write too much about this before because I don’t want him reading this in ten years and knowing that his mom worried about him being such a weirdo. But let’s be honest here, the kid is kind of weird. He stood around for the first hour or so with his hands in his pockets observing the partygoers’ shenanigans from afar. The other kids were running amok and destroying various parts of the house as preschool age invitees are wont to do. Meanwhile Sawyer ransacked the place along with the rest of the kids and managed to eat an entire plate of sliced tomatoes during the thirty seconds that he was left unsupervised near the food table.

Eventually Jack joined the pack of wily four and five-year-olds and by the end of the evening he was running through the house on a sugar-fueled high with the best of them, but still, the fact that he has to be cajoled into being a kid and doing kid things sometimes bothers me.

Sometimes I wonder if Jack is a grumpy old man trapped in the body of a preschooler.

Jack’s quirkiness manifested itself in another way this weekend when he got hold of a chore chart that was passed on to us by a well-intentioned friend. The concept is simple: a variety of “chores” are labeled on the chart and you get to spin a little knob when each job has been completed. I think that for any other kid, this thing might work like a charm, but for obsessive compulsive Jack, it created a monster. For two days his life centered around the chore chart and it was just like that Frog and Toad story where Frog loses his list of things to do for the day and then can't do anything. Or was it Toad who lost the list? Anyway, getting dressed is not on the chore chart and so Jack attempted to spend Saturday in his pajamas until we finally convinced him that getting dressed fell under the category of "using good manners." All day long he looked for things to do that would grant him access to the coveted chore chart knobs. He tidied his room, fed the chickens, and he even set the table. So the chore chart definitely has its advantages, if you have the patience for it. But then Jack woke up on Sunday morning, surveyed the chore chart lying innocently on the table, sighed as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders announcing, "I have a really big day today. So much to do on my chore chart." Also, the kid has been begging me for homework, since, you guessed it, "do your homework" is one of the chore chart chores. I think this is all very weird.

We went hiking and picnicking at Mount Pisgah on sunny Sunday.

I had drinks with some girl friends on Saturday night and the concept of "family time" came up in the conversation. I can tell you with absolute certainty that there's no better way to spend a Sunday. Throw in some loaves of bread, a super score on some fabric, a few minutes to work on a birthday project, and a big pot of soup and I'm happy as a clam.

Jack and Brent found this little guy croaking away in the backyard. This springy weather has us scheming up some new garden projects for the summer. More chickens, and herb garden, possibly a fire pit? I dream big.

Brent dug out the mint patch. I was sad to see it go (yes, I know it's only mint, but I loved that mint!) but happy to make room for some raspberries. Digging out the mint yielded bunches of wiggly worms that were just right for little hands. Unfortunately for those worms, these little hands enjoy feeding them to hungry chickens who began greedily circling the mint dig site hoping for a treat.

Here's hoping you were all out and about finding ways to savor this spectacular spring preview, that more BYOB style birthday parties will be in our future, that I get my herb garden, and that Jack can give the chore chart a well-deserved rest.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Acid Washed Jeans, Silver Spangled Hamburgs, and Bribery Through Chocolate Chips

So apparently the big trend these days is to have backyard chickens. It would be cool if I could tell you that we got our backyard chickens before the big backyard chicken trend of 2009, because then we could claim to be so cool that we do the cool things before they become cool to everybody else, but that would be a lie and I'm working on being a better person these days, you know. (Three birthdays remembered! I'm three for four!)

But no. We heard about uber hip urban chicken farmers getting chickens and we wanted to become uber hip urban chicken farmers, and so we jumped on board that backyard chicken bandwagon and here we are today: uber hip urban chicken farmers. Well, the uber hip part is questionable, but we do have chickens and I am happy to tell you that they live in our backyard.

It's always nice when the cool stuff is affordable. And when it makes sense. Unlike those ridiculously priced acid washed Guess jeans I HAD to have in the seventh grade because OH MY GOD EVERYBODY ELSE HAS THEM AND SO I MUST HAVE THEM TOO! CONFORMITY RULES! That kind of a trend is pointless. But chickens in your backyard? Now that is a useful trend.

And it even kind of seems like it's cool to be poor these days. (Thank you economic recession!) Or at least to be frugal or less extravagant or green or whatever you want to call it. And let's hope this trend continues so we don't have to shell out big bucks for our kids' designer jeans.

(For the record, I paid for my uber hip acid washed Guess jeans with my OWN money that I slaved away to earn by babysitting the neighborhood ruffians because my parents steadfastly refused to indulge my materialistic preteen tendencies and balked at the hefty $30 price tag on those jeans of my dreams. $30 for a pair of jeans?! A STEAL by today's standards! My god, I must be getting old.)

(But really, can you put a price tag on being cool? I would have totally paid way more than $30 to become cool in the seventh grade. Sadly, my Guess jeans did grant me the upward mobility in popularity at Hamlin Middle School that I had hoped for. Oh well, look at me now- I have backyard chickens!)

But even though we have these two lovely birds living rent free in our backyard, we still have to buy eggs. Hazel, the fine fowl appearing in the above picture, is the only one laying right now and we're lucky to get an egg every other day. I guess Ruby is taking a break from her egg laying duties, but hopefully she will resume her production this spring because having a chicken that doesn't lay eggs is bordering on that pointless trend business that we were discussing earlier.

We eat a lot of eggs. A lot. I never knew how much I liked eggs until we had our chickens. Fresh eggs are so much different than grocery store eggs. They are richer, tastier, and- I have no scientific evidence to back this claim up but- they make me feel good? I dunno. I just feel full and satisfied after I eat these eggs. And the kids like them, too. Win win!

But our lazy chickens just can't seem to keep up with our egg needs (fortunately I have access to backyard chicken eggs through my work, but still...) and so we are considering adding to our flock this spring with a pair of Silver Spangled Hamburgs. Anybody have any thoughts on this particular variety of chicken? Many of you probably think that chickens are chickens, but the uber hip urban chicken farmers among you will quickly insist that some chickens are far superior to others. I really don't care, as long as we get some damn eggs.

Especially when my backyard is overgrown with various species of fungi. Then I just want to hide out in my house and make cookies. And you need eggs for those.

We drag the kids outside to play rain or shine. I am totally willing to wash muddy jeans and spray down boots after a day of fresh air playing. I think it's good for us all.

A lot of you have talked to me lately about my confession that the kids seem to despise each other. I will stay the course. One friend advised me to assume that they will eventually become friends and proceed under that assumption. I like that one. That I can do. I was a little discouraged this week when I asked the boys to hug each other and they just couldn't make it happen. I'm really not sure what the barrier was here, but they seemed to be trying and yet it just didn't work. They were like two opposed magnets- once they got close to each other it was as if some invisible force pushed them away. I even bribed them with chocolate chips to no avail. I had the camera ready and waiting for the big hug to happen... this would have been THE Kodak moment of the freaking year for us...

So my kids will not hug each other, not even for chocolate chips. Let me tell you something about these kids- they will do virtually anything for chocolate chips! They will act like monkeys! They will fetch your slippers! They will eat spinach! They will jump up and down and sing the Chocolate Chip song! But they draw the line at affectionate physical contact with each other. SOMEONE TELL ME THAT IS NORMAL. Evidently they are freaks.

But I am trying to be that new and improved version of myself, so instead of closing this on why I believe my children are total weirdos, let's look at a beautiful picture of the winter moon! Like I said before, the fresh air playing is good for us all.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The New Year's Resolution That Will Probably Fail. Alternate Title: A Healthier Approach to Carrot Cake (but not so healthy that it tastes bad!)

New Year's Resolution #1: Eat more yogurt. Simple, very doable, and totally unmeasurable, as far as goals are concerned. But seriously, yogurt is pretty important and I'd like to make it at least until 90 before I become a hunchback. Also, I am pretty clumsy and I won't want to be breaking my hip every time I fall down when I get old. So go calcium!

New Year's Resolution #2: Here's the tough one. I want to become someone that I'm not. I want to totally reinvent myself as a brand new person. I want to become one of those thoughtful people who always remember your birthday and send thank you cards without fail. Do you know people like that? Those thoughtful and considerate people of the world? Well, I want to become one of them. I have a lot of work to do.

We're now halfway through January and it turns out that January is actually a really big birthday month in my family. Who knew? (I"ll tell you who knew: my in-laws!) I married into a family of EXTREMELY thoughtful people who would NEVER miss your birthday and who are experts at wrapping presents. EXPERTS! (Have you ever seen me wrap a present? Pathetic. I once watched my sister-in-law wrap a present and it took at least twenty minutes of dedication, patience, and skill- I seem to recall that a ruler was somehow involved? But when she was finished it was stunning! The color coordination! The tying of the ribbon! The perfect amount of tape! My god I could never do that. Sigh.)

But I can at least try to acknowledge people's birthdays, so that's my goal. My resolution for 2011. I HEREBY PROCLAIM THAT I RESOLVE TO REMEMBER YOUR BIRTHDAYS! In other words, I will attempt to send you a card. Or a maybe a text. Or maybe a facebook message. I am a work in progress here, people. Let's not set the bar too high.

As I said before, January is a big one for birthdays, plus we're all coming down from the Christmas high and some of us have zero creativity left and/or are totally broke... Birthday number 1: my mother-in-law. That one would be easy, I thought. We would invite her over for dinner at our house. Piece of cake! But then I realized that I had already screwed this up because I had invited other people over that night. Curses! But everyone was flexible and it all worked out fine in the end. I even made a delicious cake that I'll tell you about later. I attempted to coerce Jack into making her a birthday card. He made her a birthday paper airplane instead. Whatev.

Birthday number 2: my sister-in-law. Hmmm. This one would be trickier. I certainly couldn't wrap anything and this birthday greeting might require a stamp and/or possibly a trip to the post office. Things were getting dicey. But I managed to pull it off! Birthday number 2 commemorated! (SPOILER ALERT- Tracie I remembered your birthday! Yes, that's right! Me! Your birthday! I did it!)

And I got really excited about this- I was two for two! Maybe this whole birthday acknowledgement thing wouldn't be so hard after all. I started to get excited about all of this- so many birthdays to celebrate! So much joy to spread! Where to begin? I needed a calendar, and then I needed a source. Ah, facebook, that creepy and yet wonderful tool of voyeurism. So I sat at the computer and filled in the calendar with birthdays, all the while humming a little birthday tune and thinking about all of the glorious ways I would surprise my loved ones on their birthdays. And then I realized a terrible thing. I had already forgotten Mishaun's birthday. DAMMIT!

(Mishaun is my other sister-in-law. Well, practically my sis-in-law. Soon to be my real sis-in-law? Nick?)

On the plus side, I did remember to eat my yogurt this morning. In other positive news, I handed the camera to Brent as we strolled through our neighborhood the other day.

Those are not wrinkles. They are laugh lines. In case you were wondering.

I'm super excited to tell you about my friend Sarah Sedwick and her awesome still life paintings that are currently on display at the Maude Kerns Art Center. We went to the opening reception and I was totally amazed by her work. Wow. Ugly confession- I thought still life would be boring- it's totally not. Jack was equally impressed and he even brought along a piece of his own artwork to show. He was clearly influenced by her work- the next morning he climbed up to the breakfast table announcing that he wanted to draw a picture and promptly drew his own still life rendition of an apple.

Check out her blog here. I am always so inspired when I see my people creating things. I have friends and family who are artists, chefs, seamstresses, writers, and musicians and I find the whole realm of creativity to be so powerful and motivating. I am constantly finding outlets for my creative side through sewing and cooking and writing, but seeing Sarah's artwork makes me want to try my hand at painting. But who knows if I will. I mean, I can barely wrap a birthday present.

After the art show we took the boys out on a Euphoria chocolate binge and made a family date night out of the evening. An evening which tragically ended in a leaky diaper and some serious past-our-bedtime grouchies. Oh well. It was still worth it.

The next day, long after I had encouraged and praised Jack with his apple still life picture, I caught myself saying no to Sawyer when he asked to paint. He's just so messy and spastic and really seems like more of a gross motor skills kind of guy so we rarely let him near the paints. But I then I wondered if perhaps he is just a Jackson Pollock instead of a Rembrandt, so I decided to give it a whirl. The paint lasted for about two minutes before he began to shampoo his hair with it.

And now back to my artistic side: Grandma's birthday dinner menu included broccoli cheddar quiche, seasoned red potatoes, green beans, and carrot cake.

It was all good, but the best part was the cake. I adapted a recipe from and it goes a little something like this:

Healthy is a Relative Term Carrot Cake

1 3/4 c all purpose flour
2/3 c whole wheat flour
2 t baking soda
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/4 t salt
2 large eggs
1 c brown sugar, loosely packed
1/4 c olive oil
3-4 c grated carrots
2/3 c buttermilk
1/2 c coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 c raisins

(Now I know some of you are wondering why I'd go and ruin a perfectly decent carrot cake by adding in those raisins. Trust me on this one. I'm not one for putting raisins where they don't belong- I would NEVER let a raisin even touch my cinnamon rolls, for example, but in this cake they totally work.)

Oven to 350. Butter your 9 by 13 inch cake pan. Whisk together the dry ingredients (except your sugar, raisins, and nuts, of course) and set it aside. Beat the eggs, brown sugar, and oil until smooth. Add carrots, mix. Add buttermilk, raisins, and nuts, mix. Now add the flour mixture in batches to the carroty stuff. Mix until fully incorporated. Bake for about 30 minutes and let the cake cool completely on a wire rack before frosting it.

I toyed with the insane notion of halving the frosting recipe. DON'T DO IT! Just run an extra mile this week and call it good.

Not Particularly Healthy Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 c powdered sugar
1 t vanilla

Whip it all up in your mixer. Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla together first and then add enough milk to attain a spreadable consistency. I dare you not to lick the spatula. Pretty sure it can't be done.

Well, I have carrot cake to eat and birthday cards to make. Steve! I haven't forgotten you (yet). So here's to those New Year's resolutions. Ooh, and I am pretty sure there's a serving of calcium somewhere in that carrot cake.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes and the Myth of Brotherly Love

I grew up eating the Krusteaz whole wheat just-add-water pancakes. We used to drown those little cakes in about a cup of Mrs. Butterworth’s (high fructose corn) syrup just to make them somewhat edible. They get soggy if you do it that way, but it’s better than eating them in their original state of blandy dryness. Half the time they were burned, sometimes they were undercooked, and generally they just weren’t very good. (My mother was a lot of things, but gourmet pancake chef was not one of them.)

Brent, on the other hand, grew up eating fluffy and delicious pancakes. His rose colored childhood memory recalls that the pancakes were melt-in-your-mouth fluffy little cakes o’ sweetness that were NEVER undercooked and ALWAYS fluffy. The fluffiness is key. Without fluff, there can be no pancake, or so says Brent.

Now I should take a moment and explain to you that Brent is very honest. As in painfully honest at times. As in he will tell you if your pancakes do not live up to the high pancake expectations that he developed during his childhood without batting an eye. (He will also tell you if your new haircut sucks, your shoes are ugly, etc. It’s not that he’s rude, he won’t ask you what the hell happened to your hair or why in the world you would possibly be wearing those hideous shoes, but if you ask him what he thinks he will answer candidly. I’d like to say that I find his honesty charming, but that’s not always the case. Especially when your haircut sucks or you have ugly shoes. I’ve learned over the years not to ask for his opinion about things unless I can handle the truth.)

I couldn’t handle the truth about the pancakes. Even when I got the “secret family recipe” from his mom and followed the recipe with EXTREME PRECISION, he claimed they just weren’t the same. I suggested that perhaps the pancakes of his youth and been idealized beyond the point of pancake reality. He disagreed.

And so I soldiered on in my attempt to recreate the Perfect Pancake, partly because I wanted to taste the Perfect Pancake for myself to see if in fact such fluffiness and delectability could be achieved in a pancake, and partly out of stubbornness. If there was a Perfect Pancake out there to be had, it would be mine. MINE, I tell you!

And then I found it. The recipe for the Perfect Pancake. Now I will share it with you, in spite of Blogger's weirdly inconsistent line spacing issues that are slowly driving me CRAZY:

Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes

2 c flour

2 T sugar

2 t baking powder

1 t baking soda

½ t salt

2 c buttermilk (shaken)

2 eggs

¼ c unsalted butter, melted

I won’t insult your intelligence here. Stir it all together without over mixing. If you can, let the batter sit at room temperature for a few minutes before cooking. Serve with fruit or real maple syrup.

(I’d love to give credit for these pancakes to somebody, but I’ve had this recipe on a scrap of paper in the cupboard for the last year or so and I have no idea where it came from. So please don’t sue me if it’s yours.)

I love these pancakes so much that sometimes I hope for a snow day just so we can have pancakes for breakfast. I have been known to drag small children to the grocery store in my pajamas before the light of day if we are out of buttermilk. These pancakes are TO DIE FOR. Even Brent (Mr. Honesty) agrees.

And so I found myself wishing for a snow/ice delay or cancellation this week because I’ve been craving some pancakes and I always feel like pancakes are a way of marking some sort of special occasion such as a birthday or an unexpected day off. (Beth? Are you there? This is your fault for posting something on facebook about pancakes from scratch. And I’m sorry, but your friend who suggested the Batter Blaster is totally high. As if!)

So the weather did not cooperate and in fact I had to actually get myself OUT of BED EVERY DAY this week and get DRESSED and go to WORK and SHAPE MINDS and INFLUENCE the FUTURE of OUR COUNTRY and so forth. Ironically, one of our topics this week in 8th grade was unnecessary capitalization.

Despite the hardship that my employment sometimes inflicts upon my personal life, I was able to bring the joy of Perfect Pancakes to our family breakfast table this week. And they did not disappoint, because they never do. (Even if you sneak a little whole wheat flour in from time to time.)

All I had to do was mix up the dry ingredients the night before and they went together in a snap. And it was all so perfect! There we were, our little family, sitting at the table in our pajamas and enjoying a very special strawberry compote that I’d made to accompany our pancakes.

And then Jack ruined it all.

He wanted the green plate and I had given him the purple plate. Sawyer, blissfully ignorant of this apparently DIRE situation, was devouring his pancake in the messiest way possible from the coveted green plate while Jack began to wail about the injustices and cruelty of the world. This took awhile to straighten out and involved some tears and the threat of a time out. Then I looked at the clock and realized that I’d have to finish the rest of my pancake in the shower.

I’m so over the fighting. These kids squabble over the most trivial things possible. Often the bickering turns from a minor tiff into a monumental (and sometimes violent) battle culminating in a dual time out. It’s a lot of work to be the sheriff in town around here. I’d rather sit around and eat pancakes.

I’ve heard about siblings who actually seem to like each other and even sometimes play together. I can’t even imagine. I’m pretty sure my kids hate each other.

When we found out that Sawyer was a boy, I distinctly remember one of our friends, who has a brother two years his junior, saying how wonderful it was to have two boys, how lucky Jack would be to have a brother so close in age, and how his own brother was one of his best friends. From then on I imagined that my two boys would be happy little playmates, sharing clothes and toys and friends.

Brotherly love. Ha.

I’d settle for just getting along.

Some of you don't believe that they fight. I present to you photo evidence. These are the sewing pictures that you didn't get to see.

I may be a gourmet pancake chef, but I sure as hell don't know what to do with these two...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Recipes Right Here! This is the One! Look No Further! Creamy Tomato Sauce! Blueberry Buttermilk Cake!

Could the recipe feature of this blog possibly be any more disorganized? I find myself searching this blog on a regular basis for recipes that I know I've posted or linked to and then I get distracted by ridiculous pictures of fatface baby Sawyer or Jack's curls (OMG!! They are totally coming back. No more haircuts!!). And then there's that whole business of having the old blog and the new blog and it's all just a just a recipe for disaster. For recipes, that is.

If I had been smart, I would have labeled the posts with the recipe name thus enabling Google searches to aid in this organizational nightmare. But I am not smart. Or at least, I'm sometimes not smart enough until it is too late.

I think I need to add some sort of side bar (?) perhaps something clickable near the masthead (?). Do I sound like I know what I'm talking about here, because I totally don't. All I know is that convincing my tech support (hi Brent!) to make this happen for me is going to require a boatload of pumpkin cookies and possibly a birthday cake. Sigh.

But really, this recipe thing kind of gets me down. I love to cook and I love for things to be tidy and organized (It's the Captain Jaggery in me. If you were one of my seventh grade students, you would understand). People think that I am tidy and organized, but really it's all a ruse. I masquerade as someone who has their act together, but it's pretty easy to see through that facade when you picture me in my bedhead and bathrobe on a Sunday morning cursing at my phone because I can't find the post with the link to Waffles of Insane Greatness, or wigs as we like to call them around here. Don't eff around with these, just go right ahead and double that bad boy. They'll get eaten.

And then there's that whole issue of plagiarism and public domain and what can you copy and what's under copyright and blah blah blah leagalese mumbo jumbo and whatnot, so I'm often hesitant to actually write out the recipes that I find and use and so I decide to just link it because I don't want to be sued by some disgruntled pastry chef. (Lawyers in the family? Advice?)

I'm pretty sure this is all a moot point, though, because from now on whatever I cook comes from this book:

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is my new cookbook of insane greatness. You really should run right out there and pick up a copy, immediately if not sooner. I've already made the whole wheat bread (twice!), the black beans (it's all about the secret ingredient!), blueberry cobbler, and I've bookmarked about a hundred other recipes to try out. The thing I like about this book is that you don't have to have a lot of really random and obscure ingredients in order to make the recipes, like you'll find in a lot of vegetarian cookbooks. It's all a bunch of relatively simple, hearty food.

Speaking of simple and hearty, I present (not from the book, no copywrite infringements here, this one's from my kitchen)....

Creamy Tomato Sauce for Pasta

olive oil
3 ish cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
basil, oregano, salt and pepper to taste
16 oz (give or take) fresh tomatoes, chopped (I used tomatoes we froze last summer, but I suppose plain tomatoes from a can would work if fresh tomatoes aren't available. Though I've heard you're not supposed to eat canned tomatoes EVER, or you will DIE a SLOW and PAINFUL DEATH. But that could just be hype. Still, why take chances? And tomatoes are so easy to freeze- just chop them and throw them into a jar and voila! Ready for the freezer. So on second thought, screw canned tomatoes. Buy fresh, freeze them, or cook something else instead.)
half and half
cream cheese

Saute onion in olive oil for 5 minutes or so over medium heat. Add in the garlic and continue to cook for a minute or two. Toss in the tomatoes and seasonings and let the whole thing cook down (uncovered) for 10-15 minutes until it all looks nice and saucy and your kitchen smells like Italy. Lower the heat and stir in an ounce or so of the cream cheese, then add enough half and half (a few tablespoons ought to do) until your sauce looks slightly pinkish but not sickly. No Pepto Bismol pasta here, no siree. Serve with penne and plenty of freshly grated parmesan.

This makes enough for our family of four, but could easily be doubled if you like your pasta really saucy or you have a crew to feed. So I guess almost everything I cook comes from the book.

Sawyer in the kitchen with Mama. Not very helpful, as I'm sure you can imagine.

Jack's interest in sewing has yet to wane. I let him use the chalk marker roller thingy (Liz?) and he was smitten. This bought me some time to do something that I have always wanted to do and yet was too stupid to figure out that it was all right there all along under my nose the whole time.


Let me explain. For the last few years we have not used napkins. Partly because I think paper napkins are wasteful and an unnecessary expense, and partly because I did not have any cloth napkins. We eat a lot of messy foods in the house and we just suffer through the drips and crumbs like the napkinless martyrs we have become. Totally gross, I know. So anyway, we were at one of our neighbor's houses for dinner (I brought the blueberry buttermilk cake- recipe in a sec) and in the middle of dinner someone discovered that they didn't have a napkin (the horror!) and so our host just waltzed right over and pulled a cloth napkin from a giant stack of cloth napkins that had THEIR OWN CUPBOARD! OMG! So jealous! I decided right then and there that I needed to get some cloth napkins and possibly a Special Cloth Napkin Cupboard, because seriously, those are some mad organizational skillz right there and I do so love a well organized cupboard. And then I realized, I had all of the fabric scraps I needed to make my own cloth napkins! So I did! No photos, because really, how lame would I be if I actually showed you pictures of my homemade cloth napkins? Okay fine, I just forgot to take some. The truth will set you free?

Now all I need is the special cupboard. Brent?

The boys made pizza for their friends. I opened the wine bottle for ours.

And because I am a one trick pony, I served the blueberry cake to them, too.

Blueberry Buttermilk Cake

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, soft
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp raw sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup blueberries

Mix butter, white sugar, egg and vanilla in your mixer until fluffy. Combine flour, baking powder and soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Set your mixer on low and add in dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Mix just until combined. Spoon batter into a buttered cake pan (I used an 8 inch round one) and sprinkle blueberries on top then add your raw sugar for a sweet and crunchy topping. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes. Add a few minutes if using frozen berries.

Incidentally, if you do come to my house for dinner, there are only a few items on the menu. Chances are you will be served pizza and blueberry cake. But at least now I have cloth napkins! And maybe soon I'll even have a special cupboard to put them in. Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

If I can't even come up with a conclusion, you certainly can't expect a title: Alternatively Titled: New Year's 2011

Many, many, maaaaany, many years ago (about 5 to be exact), we used to stay out all night a fabulous and swanky Dinner Party Event Soiree Extravaganza Ultimate Drink Smack Down for New Years. In fact, I think I'm still hung over from one of those parties (Laura, you know what I'm talking about!).

Is it New Years or New Year's? Or could it possibly be New Years'? They all look wrong to me, but what do I know, I'm just a middle school English teacher. I think it wants the apostrophe. I could be wrong.

Anyway, this year it was the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer party at Lily's house with drinks, dinner, dessert, and a Rudolph pinata. Yes, you read that right, a Rudolph pinata. I am friends with some talented people.

I think the look on Lily's face says it all. Rudolph must die.

Speaking of death and animals and such, I ate meat. Did you hear me? I said I ATE SOME MEAT! Oh, you didn't know that I was vegetarian? Well, let me tell you a bit about my eating habits: they are weird. I'm not a true vegetarian. I'll eat meat if there are no other options and I'm trying not to be the pain in the ass high maintenance dinner guest that I truly am. However, if you serve meatloaf with a side of bacon, it just might conjure up that hangover from New Years 2005 (or would that be New Year's 2005?) and that would be unpleasant for all of us. So yeah, meat's not my thing. If we could afford to eat organic and humanely treated animals we would. But we can't, so we don't.

Or, we didn't until our friend Jeremy went hunting and I grilled him (bad pun- so very bad. I blame my father for instilling in me an appreciation for bad puns) about the chase, the weaponry, the blood, the last breath, and the butcher of his elk. I decided that this particular elk had lived a pretty good life and that if elk steak was what was for dinner, I'd be eating. Besides, when you show up for New Years dinner and this guy is cooking, you really can't say no...

Actual animals were harmed in the making of this meal. An entire house was almost burned down as a result of this meal. The pressure was on, I had to try it...

And it was delicious! Well, the first few bites were, anyway. I nibbled a bit and savored the meaty goodness as it melted in my mouth and satisfied some primordial craving that I never knew I had. But after awhile my stomach started to feel heavy and the meat didn't chew as easily and pretty soon I was spitting chunks into the garbage.

So I think it's probably back to the pseudo vegetarian lifestyle for me. I think that unless I grow the balls to kill the animal myself, I probably have no right to eat it. And it doesn't look like I'll be growing balls anytime soon.

Speaking of gender reassignment: Jack is sewing! We gave Lily a toy sewing machine (that had my ovaries quaking) for Christmas and Jack really had a hard time letting the gift out the door, so I bestowed upon him my Singer that's been collecting cobwebs in the closet for the past few years (I sew on a New Home- my mom's old machine- in case you are a sewing geek like me and enjoy knowing these things). Most people will tell you to take the needle out or sew on paper or at least supervise your kid the first time he/she takes the helm of the machine. I just let him go and off he went. Jack is very cautious and has seen me stab my finger with a sewing needle enough times to be afraid of the poky parts of the machine.

Note a very sleepy Sawyer in the background.

I'm trying really hard to be excited for January and February, but it's hard. The post holidays let down is kind of a bitch and those two months can be long. So I've been attempting to focus my attention on the fun winter things we can do while we wait for spring to make its welcomed appearance.

Like Jack drawing a still life of his pirate ship. (Do I seem like I am bragging about Jack's artistic talents? Because I totally am. Seriously, the kid can draw. Sure, he may plateau in kindergarten, but for now- Look! My kid is an artist!)

Or warming up with hot chocolate after a chilly bike ride around the block.

Testing the birdbath to see if the water really is frozen. It was.

Getting clean clothes wet and dirty. Ruining shoes.

Learning the important concept of pedals.

Attempting to use the potty. We've had some success...

Keeping our feet warm in the most logical way possible.

Playing Cooties with whoever is willing.

Trying to recreate the Irish coffees we had in San Francisco. I don't think we have it quite right yet. We need a few more trial runs...

And Brent's well earned escape to Willamette Pass for a day of sunshine and snowboarding.

You would think that I would be thrilled by Jack's interest in sewing. Let me tell you, I am thrilled, but am also starting to wonder if I've created a monster here. He now wants to sew ALL THE TIME. No really. ALL THE TIME. It is a good thing that I have unlimited supplies of thread, a box of hand me down fleece (thanks Nona!), and endless patience for this new hobby of his. Here he is tracing fabric for a pillow.

And the finished product! (A gift for Lily. Awwww. Sweet? Weird? Hard to tell...)

And I'll close this by telling you about our trip to the Cascades Raptor Center where we saw owls and magpies and falcons and...

Bald eagles! Man, they are so majestic and regal and just plain bad ass.

The turkey vultures were pretty rad, too, but nothing holds a candle to the bald freaking eagle. So I suggest you go to the CRC so that you too can bask in the bald eagle's glory.

You see that glory there? That's what I'm talking about.

And I have no real conclusion to this, so I guess I'll just sign out with one more shout out to my dead homies... Oh wait, I mean my old drinking buddies, people who give me fabric (and thread racks!), and the bad ass bald eagle. (Should I be capitalizing bald eagle? Bald Eagle. Does that look better? God, I'm starting to bore myself here.)

(Bad puns, misplaced or omitted apostrophes and questionable capitalization? This post really sucks, Miss English Teacher Know It All. (At least I don't correct people's text messages)).

(Can I do the double parentheses like that? Where does the punctuation go?)


(Yikes. Now I am having some sort of schizophrenic argument about grammar right here in front the internet and everyone. Interesting. Nowhere to go from here except down.)

And so I'm out. No really, I think this post is done. Let's put this one to bed.

(Happy New Year!)

Just looked it up: it's New Year's, in case you were going to lose sleep over that one. Or correct me via text message. 'Cause that's just not cool.