Archive for July, 2009

Pack It Up, Move It Out

We are going on vacation!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How excited are we?  VERY!!! Here’s where we are going:

oh, yeah

Martha’s Vineyard!

All I can tell you is that we are burnt crispy and soooooo ready to see some beach, follow no schedules, eat simple food, sleep in the cool, and wake up ready to do it all over again.

Sadly, to get there, there is the big ramp-up at work to slog through, bills to be paid in advance, house-watchers to talk to, not to mention packing.

Here is the running list of “what to remember to bring:” sheets, towels (beach & bath), food, WINE!!!!!!! (very important as up island where we are staying is essentially dry), clothes for everyone, beach toys, beach umbrella, stroller, a baby gate to keep Magnolia from attempting to scale the stairs in the middle of the night, a flashlight, night light, and presents for Jasper’s birthday.  That doesn’t seem so bad.  But then I remember all the OTHER THINGS: phone charger, sun block, mosquito coils, sun hats for everyone, toothpaste (3 different kinds depending on age), pull-ups, nighttime diapers, swim diapers, life jackets (in case grandma & grandpa sail over), laptop??? (Reception is not great), something to read (hahahahahaha).  I’m sure given a few more minutes I could think of many more things.  Rainy day activities, for instance, like crayons & coloring books, DVDs, etc.

Everything but the kitchen sink has to get shoved into our Jeep.

It’s a little overwhelming.

I got some inspiration from my mom’s July 22nd post over at A View From the Pier.  Her family OF ELEVEN KIDS packed up every summer and drove to their cottage on Lake Michigan.  For the whole summer.  If my grandparents could orchestrate that move, we can certainly get the four of us in order and on the road for two weeks.

The reward:

Squibnocket

Ahhhh…

Boys’ Clothes: Buy European!

CubeTee T-shirt from Du Pareil au Meme

CubeTee T-shirt from Du Pareil au Meme

I used to blog for CafeMom about pregnancy, so I wrote a lot about finding out the sex and how the gender news makes moms feel. I took the news kind of hard when we were expecting our first baby — I wanted a girl, and we found out (very early on) we were having a boy. I have to admit, at first, I was disappointed.

Right after the doctor’s appointment when we found out, we went to look at baby clothes and to fantasize about what lay ahead. We went to Old Navy. Tragic mistake. Their boys’ clothes are a little cuter now (five years later), but at the time it was all miniature football jerseys and dark brown shirts. The idea that shopping for baby clothes would be waaayy less fun with a boy than with a girl only added to my slight gloom about the gender. (Needless to say, I got over the boy thing completely and of course adore our son.)

But the clothes were an issue. Here’s how we overcame it: The secret is to “buy European.”

You have to search out some of these brands, but the ones we loved (and still love — FYI, we lean heavily French here) are:

There’s no need to pay full price for any of these adorable threads — you can find tons of them at affordable prices on eBay.

Where do you shop for kids’ clothes? Any favorite finds for labels or stores?

Recipe of the Week: Birthday Sheet Cake from Rick Bayless

It’s birthday time at our house!  Jasper is turning five and Magnolia is turning three (more on the emotional highs and lows of the passage of time later).

Every year, we vow to NOT host TOO MANY KIDS at the party.  What’s too many?  Well, probably more than 8.  And then, the birthdays sneak up on us, and we panic and end up combining the two birthday parties (the kids birthdays are a week apart), and that, plus family and parents, adds up to more like forty guests.  Oh, martha.

We aspire to the drop-off party, where we tell parents to just leave their kids with us and go out for a nice adult lunch.  Alas, we chicken out every time.  Maybe next year.

So this year’s cake is inspired by the terrifying thought of giving forty guests a sugar high.  It serves 20-24, if you can cut 3 inch slices.  Math has never been my thing, so I’m counting on Melisa to pull this off.  We’re using a Texas Sheet Cake from Rick Bayless‘s Salsas That Cook.  We considered adapting the Bareass’ Flag Cake or her Birthday Sheet Cake shown here (both in the Barefoot Contessa Family Style ), but decided for some Texas memories.

The pros: there is no cooling time before frosting, and it is easy to transport or present (and easier than frosting 20 cupcakes).

The cons: there is alot of sifting

Special equipment: a 18 x 13 x 1 in pan

For the cake:

10 TBSP unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices

1 1/3 cup water

2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 egg yolk

2/3 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 lbs powdered sugar (about 5 2/3 cups sifted)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

For frosting & topping:

8 TBSP unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices

6 TBSP milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pound (about 4 1/2 cups sifted) powdered sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

optional: 2 cups chopped pecans

1) Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter & flour the sheet pan

2) For the cake, combine the butter, water, and oil in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until butter melts, then remove from heat

3) In a small bowl, beat together eggs, egg yolk, buttermilk & vanilla

4) In a large bowl, sift flour, powdered sugar, cocoa, baking soda & salt.  Add the butter mixture and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add the egg mixture and beat for a couple of minutes (you can use a power mixer if you like)

5) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center springs back when lightly touched.

6) While cake is baking, prepare frosting (don’t start before the cake goes into the oven because the frosting needs to be warm when it goes onto the warm cake).  In a small saucepan, combine the butter & milk.  Stir over medium heat until the butter melts, then remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Into a large bowl, sift together the powdered sugar and cocoa. Pour in the warm milk mixture and stir to combine.

7)  When the cake comes out of the oven, let it stand 3-4 minutes, then dollop the frosting over it.  Use a spatula to spread it gently over the cake.  Sprinkle pecans if you choose.

8) Cut the cake into 3 inch squares, and serve

This is what it looks like:

The finished, and decorated, product

Some party-goers didn’t want to wait for the birthday song:

In the end, everyone was happy:

Let’s Get Together (attack of the bloodsucker parents)

Is there a more insincere phrase than “we should get together sometime”? 

There’s a special breed of vampire out there, not nearly as fun as Twilight or as cool as Lestat.  Let’s call them the vampire moms (and dads- no need to be gender specific here).  It’s usually someone who you haven’t seen in a while.  Someone who wants something from you.  Someone who is almost a stranger.  For some reason, to facilitate an exchange of information (or maybe since they have no info to exchange in return for what they are asking), after taking what they wanted from you, they throw out, “we should get together sometime” without meaning it in the slightest. 

Sample exchange:

Vampire:  “Hey!  Wow, long time no see! How are you? Are you still living in Brooklyn? Wow, Jasper is already 5? Last time we saw him he was a baby.   I remember once that you mentioned you had a midwife you loved using.  Well, we are thinking of getting pregnant again, and our O.B. just did not get it last time around, so we wanted to try something new.  Would you mind giving us the name of your midwife to call? “

Me: “Sure, it’s Best-Midwife-Ever at 212-999-9999.”

Vampire: “Thanks SO much, you guys are the best.  We should really get together sometime and really catch up, ta ta”

And then they disappear for another five years until they want something else. What’s up with that? Even though I know the offer is just a throw-away, a tiny part of me thinks, OH YEAH, MAYBE WE SHOULD, while being fairly certain the follow-up call will never come.  Brings out that old high-school feeling (maybe more junior high), that ONE- okay me- is just not cool enough to friend.  Even knowing I’ll never hear from them to set up the get together, I somehow still feel bad when the blood sucker slinks away in the night with the “we should get together sometime” still hanging in the air.

No stake in the heart will probably kill this bad habit, but if you or someone you know is a blood sucker, when you want something, just ask nicely and skip the b.s.

Now on to how I wish people would stop saying hello to me in the hallways.  Dammit, sometimes I just want to walk down the hallway and not deal.

Crankiness factor 10,000.

Goodbye to All That

What? I used to be a baby?

What? I used to be a baby?

We don’t have babies anymore.

We’re heading into the big birthday season of 2009, which means one kid is days away from turning 3 and the other from turning 5. There’s no denying that, at the moment, our baby days are behind us.

Which is why we just said goodbye to all of our baby stuff. A dear friend of mine is pregnant and about to become a single mama so, when she recently came for a visit, we gave her all of our favorite baby and maternity gear — slings, mat clothes, a great baby bathtub from France, activity gyms, a bouncy seat, a beautiful crib bumper, our breast pump.

I’m thrilled my friend will be able to put so many of the things we loved to good use, but, still, I was sad to see it go and the process of going through it all brought up so many memories and emotions. I do love the baby stage.

Should we have one more? Go for a third? On most days, I think we’re done, and I love the symmetry of our little family of four just as it is. But…. We’ll see.

Stay tuned.

What CSA Is, and Why It’s Cool for Urban Families

Radishes!

Radishes!

Whenever I tell a local friend or neighbor I’m a part of CSA (and, for us, local means Park Slope, Brooklyn), they assume I’m talking about the sweet, well-tended little community garden on 6th Avenue. “Oh, yeah, I’ve walked past that garden!”

Nope. This is CSACommunity Supported Agriculture — and it means Chrissy and are part of a group of fellow city dwellers who buy Farm Shares from a farm outside the city in order to get super-fresh veggies and fruit delivered to Brooklyn each week. (Actually, we bought a half-share, so our pick-ups are every other week.)

We opted to get fresh eggs and flowers, too, and the whole thing costs a few hundred dollars for a steady supply of delicious produce that runs from June through the end of October.

Tons of other parents belong to our local group, Greenwood Heights CSA, too, and, while I can’t speak for them, I can say we’re loving it as a great choice for families because:

  • well, duh, it’s local and fresh, of course, but also….
  • the quality of the produce far surpasses what I could find with packaged fruits and veggies shipped in from who-knows-where and on display at my local Key Food or C-Town
  • the variety is fun! We’re all trying (and the moms are learning to cook) things we probably never would otherwise.

So far, we’ve had radishes, garlic scapes (think of them as garlicky green beans), green garlic, Japanese turnips, carrots, kale, peppery arugula, many kinds of lettuces, cabbage, cucumbers, zucchini, basil, scallions, berries, apricots, and more.

We still love our local farmers’ market, too, where many farmers turn up with their goods weekly. But this is kind of different and cool because it’s a real partnership between a specific farm (Hearty Roots in Tivoli, New York) and the people who support it by buying shares.

Curious about CSA? Here’s how to find a CSA farm near you.

Toddler Safety: Kids on a Boat

My turn to drive!

My turn to drive!

Both of our kids’ grandfathers own boats, so in our family, boat rides are a given in the warm summer months. Jasper and Magnolia each had their first ride before they could walk. And boat safety is a whole other animal when little kids who can’t swim are involved. Amps the potential “danger!” factor way up.

So, here, courtesy of Discover Boating, are a few tips on keeping toddlers safe on a boat:

Do a little childproofing — move all potentially dangerous boat paraphernalia (winches, ropes, gear boxes, flares) out of reach of the kids, but accessible to the captain or other people helping run the sail- or power boat in case they need them.

Drop some bucks on a good, age-appropriate life jacket for all kids who’ll be on board — They aren’t inexpensive; we just had to upgrade since the kids are older and weigh more, and we spent $70+ on each jacket. Ouch. But sticker shock beats the heck out of the alternative. Look for a jacket that will turn the child face-up in the water (there’s an extra floating flap behind the neck) and has a handle on the collar. Bring the child with you when you go to make your purchase to ensure a good fit.

Keep everyone hydrated (ie: pack plenty of drinks and bottles!), especially if you’ll be out on a long ride or sail.

And have fun! We’ve been loving our rides this summer (thanks, Grampie!).

Recipe of the week: Pizza Night!

Well, like alot of good ideas, we got this one from a friend.  This friend only allows her kids to watch to TV one night a week (impressive or insane? You decide).  Full disclosure: we are not often ACTUALLY SITTING ON  THE SOFA AND WATCHING NOGGIN WITH THE KIDS.  Usually, we are running around the house cleaning, cooking, etc, and occasionally singing out “what’s going to work? Teamwork!” or “Swiper, no swiping” just so the kids know we are not ignoring them (or maybe it’s so we feel that we are not ignoring them.  Anyway).  So Pizza Night grew out of the novel idea that we would STOP, SIT, and WATCH a WHOLE MOVIE with both kids at once.

First tried it: We instituted Pizza Night at our house this spring, on Saturday nights.  We were pretty religious about doing it up until about June.  The warm weather (okay, only warmish this summer in New York) makes it less enticing to turn on the oven to 500 degrees (the bonus of cooking pizza dough from scratch weekly is that it doubles as an oven cleaner!  Woo-hoo).

Ease of recipe: Very easy, with lots of opportunities for even our 3 year old to press a button and dump flour into a bowl.  As a bonus, you can give your kids a small ball of dough to flatten and play with to keep them busy.

Special equipment: food processor

Reaction: The kids love making pizza, partly because they just plain LOVE pizza (if there’s a kid who doesn’t, I have not heard), but also because it’s interactive, and it’s fun for them to see the dough rise and punch it down.  Plus, they can personalize their own pizzas.

This dough recipe is from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, but there are pizza recipes in every general cookbook, so you can just use whatever one you want.

Basic Pizza Dough (make one very large or two pretty large thin crust pizzas.  Great for leftovers)

Time: about 15 mins to make, plus at least an hour of rising time

1 tsp instant or rapid rise yeast

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour (plus more if needed)

2 tsp coarse kosher or sea salt (plus extra for sprinkling)

1 to 1 1/4 cup water

2 TBSP plus 1 tsp olive oil

1) Combine the yeast, flour & 2 tsp salt in food processor.  Turn machine on and add 1 cup water and the 2 TBSP oil through the feed tube.

2) Process for about 30 seconds, adding more water until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch.  If it is dry, add another TBSP or so of water and process for another 10 seconds. (Note: my dough is often very sticky.  Still turns out fine)

3) Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead by hand a few seconds to form a smooth, round dough ball (Note: don’t over knead).  Grease a bowl with the remaining olive oil and and place the dough in it.  Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until the dough doubles in size, 1-2 hours.  You can cut this rising time short if you are in a hurry, or you can let the dough rise more slowly, in the fridge, for up to 6-8 hours.

4) When dough is ready,knead it lightly and divide it if you wish.  Roll each piece into a round ball.  Place on lightly floured surface, sprinkle a little more flour on top and cover with plastic wrap or towel for 20 minutes or until they puff slightly.

5) Turn over to 500 degrees (you could also do this on the grill for those of you who have no fear of the grill becoming a huge gooey mess- i.e. not this Virgo.  Bittman says to preheat a gas grill to the maximum).

6) Roll or pat out dough into the shape you wish. If using the oven, oil one or more baking sheets, or use a baking stone (put it in when you start preheating  the oven), or put parchment paper on the baking sheet (the last is my preferred choice.  Parchment paper rocks!)

7) To bake pizza: I usually brush with olive oil, sprinkle sea salt and some pepper on it, and let it cook few minutes in the oven before adding the toppings, which the kids can do, except my kids are usually glued to whatever movie of the week we’ve chosen.  Bittman says to grill the pizza, you can slide the dough directly on the grill (I can imagine that! Yikes) or flip it onto the grill with the oiled side down (so make sure you oil it).  You apparently have to move it around the grill to keep it from burning and then turn it, adding toppings.

Serve it up

Yum!

BONUS ADULT PIZZA:

We are really into a white pizza right now!  Straight from the lady we call the Bare-ass Contessa.  This is a variation from her White Pizzas with Arugula in the Back to Basics book.  Make the dough as above, prepare it for the oven by brushing it with a mixture of olive oil & red pepper flakes, then sprinkle coarse salt and pepper to taste.  Let the crust get a little baked so it will be crisp.  Top with fontina, mozz, and goat cheese (again to taste).  Bake.  Serve over arugula or greens dressed with a lemony vinaigrette!  Voila!

I Knew the Island of Sodor Was in Trouble….

Up ahead, there was confusion and delay.

Up ahead, there was confusion and delay.

Okay, Amalah makes me laugh until I cry when she does one of her Thomas the Tank Engine things. I don’t know how she comes up with this stuff, but her take on the Island of Sodor, all the gear — track, trains, tables, bridges, turntables etc etc etc — and the crraaazzzyyy love for that cheeky blue engine that little boys seem to feel is hilarious. But the best part is the night-before-Christmas, putting-the-toys-together, damn I’m frustrated, where’s my glass of wine, oh just forget it madness– those stressful earmarks of engineering a good island–that Amalah gets just right (complete with the grown -up comments).

If Thomas is in any way a part of your home, you have got to read her recent post. After I finished laughing until I was crying, I took a look at Jasper’s train table. Clearly I’ve missed a few shocking developments.

Big Bird after another bender in Knapford

Big Bird after another bender in Knapford

Why I’m Leaving My Daughter in a Stroller Until She’s 18

Magnolia in motion

Magnolia in motion

Our daughter’s a daredevil. Or not that bright yet about the cause and effect of actions and subsequent physical pain. Or both. We go through a LOT of Band Aids and spend more time on the phone with our pediatrician than we’d like.

Not long ago, it was a nasty knee scrape from a fall at the playground. That was on the mend until a rough fall during a run at full speed at her grandparents’ house tore off the big, nasty scab and resulted in lots of gushing blood. Then a day or two after that, she fell right in front of our house and conked her head on the sidewalk. Complete with a terrible, blunt, skull-on-concrete thud.

July 4th weekend she fell head-over-heels over her brother’s bike and busted a lip. Lots more gushing blood. It looked like maybe she’d bitten through her lip completely, so off to the ER we went. Luckily, it wasn’t at bad as we feared, but we did walk out of there with 2 stitches. Ugh.

She’ll jump off of anything — the greater the height, apparently, the greater the thrill. She terrifies Chrissy and me both. She’s not yet 3 and, I swear, the number of falls and bloodcurdling near misses so far — Oh, my God, she almost zoomed into traffic again! — has taken at least a year or two off my life.

Is your kid a fearless daredevil, too? Do you take any special measures (OK, not constant stroller confinement, but something else) to keep him or her safe? Or just hold your breath and hope for the best? If anyone reading has thoughts, please share!


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