Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy Holidays!

We've been home without internet access for nearly a week now (you'd think our vacationing neighbor would be thoughtful enough to leave her wireless on for our poaching pleasure!) and even though I have missed it, I have also not missed it, if you know what I mean. What do you know--in a week I got emails neither from the MacArthur Genius Grant people (We love your blog! Here's a million dollars!) nor from some old pining-away ex who just wanted to write me a holiday note mentioning how powerfully he still fantasizes about my hot body. Go figure. And I was remarkably able to sit still without that dinging-in feeling haunting me round the clock. But now I wanted to check in and see how everyone was doing, see how the balance of magical/exhausting went for you this year. I hope it all tipped towards the magical.

I also wanted to send you to the new(ish) columns over at wondertime, here. They're both linked from the one page in the new site redesign. Fancy! Also, if I could please encourage you to post your comments over there, that would be awesome! Because they want to see your comments over there! They really really want to! If you run into any kind of trouble, come back here and post, and I'll relay the messages, like the little cyber carrier pigeon that I am.

And finally, thank you to Sarah for reposting that Chex Mix recipe (it's in the comments from the last entry), to "anonymous" for all those viagra links (I should really start deleting the spam, I know), and to everyone who posted a wise nugget about the cheese pumpkin. In the end, I fed the rest of it to our starving garbage disposal, but only because a ginormous turkey needed the spot in the fridge, I swear.

All my best to you and your families for a rich, healthy, and wonderful new year.

xo Catherine

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cheese Pumpkin

Okay, it's as bad as it sounds: cheese pumpkin, like the name of a band that's just trying to be weird by putting two different words together in a gross way. But it was part of our farm share, along with other large and frightening winter squashes, like kabocha and hubbard, and so we took it, and so I spent the better part of the afternoon covered in flour and pumpkin guts turning it into something like empanadas with leeks and thyme and cheese--and yes, they were fine, but believe me: you wouldn't have missed the cheese pumpkin. The kids pressed them flat with their fingers and then finally choked them down but were not buying the whole "pumpkin pie" thing I tried Polyannaing on their small and sorry squash-eating selves. Plus, worse, there is still half of a seeded, peeled cheese pumpkin in my fridge to be turned into--what? Cheese pumpkin relish? Cheese pumpkin meatloaf?

That's why I have no energy to write. I blame the cheese pumpkin. But I wanted to say that wondertime is doing something a little funky with its links--to be fixed soon--but this week's column is here.

You should be able to link to last week's from there--by clicking on last week's date in that right-hand column. I really appreciate you taking the time to look. What with all the eggnog waiting to be drunk. Or "egg mog" as Birdy calls it. Cheese pumpkin nog! Cheese pumpkin Chex mix! Sigh.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

My Bodyguards

I feel about you all the way I felt about my high school boyfriend, who used to lean over menacingly on the subway, all 90 pounds of him, and say to various bystanders, "You lookin' at my woman?Are you? Are you, dawg?" (And these various poor men would back quietly away, instead of answering, "Um, no--I actually wasn't.") Which is to say: I am in love with you. "They thought you looked FAT? They did, did they? We'll kill them. Actually, they're dead. We killed them already." But, lovies, I was kidding. The publishers thought I looked great pregnant. They just thought the book would sell better with that other cover, and they were probably right.

But I'm so glad to know you're ready out there, with the riot gear. We will likely need it one of these days.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

One-Stop Holiday Shopping

And want to see something that maybe I'm not supposed to show you?

Interesting, no? They switched it in the end because they thought my pregnancy made me look fat. No, I'm totally kidding about that. Although they did photoshop the bruises off of Ben's legs because it looked like maybe we'd been disciplining him with a croquet mallet. And I'm not kidding about that. I mean, the croquet mallet part I'm kind of kidding about--that wasn't their exact worry. Not that we were whacking at Ben's shins with any kind of bat or club, I swear.

Don't buy the book because you think you would like it or because a friend is expecting a second baby or because it offers a holiday sentiment (albeit in the form of Ben's commentary on the Grinch's penis). Buy it because you pity me. After two weeks of coughing, choking misery, the doctor grinned and diagnosed me with a "cold." Then I had to sit there trying not to look like a person who is waiting to be prescribed the cough medicine with codeine in it. You can't look like you want it too bad. "Anything for the cough?" I said, casual as a fig newton. And finally yes, yes there was something for the cough. Last night I slept on the bottom of the ocean floor--the sleep of the heavily, heavenly drugged.

I wanted to thank you for the comments you have already posted about this column at wondertime. Over and over again, that "you are not alone" feeling offers me more relief than you could imagine. And Ben's fine now, of course. It was just a heartachey breeze blowing past.

There was this, too, from last week that I never linked to, busy as I was laughing at your suggestions that I make that pinata photo the cover of my "next book." (If you have any more information about this "next book" please do write and let me know!)

I hope you enjoyed a Thanksgiving filled with thanks and with the great and ceremonious unbuttoning of your pants at the dinner table.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another Reason Why I Love You So Much.

Another in a Long Series of Reasons, That Is.

Here I am, thinking I'm going to crack you up--that you're going to be like: "Birthday gift. Birthday gift. Birthday gift. Black brassiere! Ha ha ha." And I thought we'd all have a laugh a little bit at the expense, I'm sorry to say, of the folks who used to give me such a hard time about the dolls, the pink, the whatever it was they imagined we were giving Ben: mascara? crotchless panties? a brazilian wax?

And then instead you all made me laugh. So much. Besides the nursings and the Victoria's Secret outing (both brillian guesses), I had totally forgotten about the accidental boob pinata! What's that expression? You know me better than I know myself. (Note to new readers: it was supposed to look like a heart. I swear. But the red pompoms Ben added later really didn't help. I admit we all felt a little creepy when the kids took a baseball bat to it. But still: Candy-filled juggs! It's the wet dream of every fourteen-year-old boy in America.)

For old time's sake, I offer you this, with my deepest, most grateful affection:

And p.s.: I got the spirograph on ebay--the exact kit my brother and I used!--and it has been a tremendous hit. Not that the bra wouldn't have been a great gift in its own special way.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Three of These Things Have Something in Common

Can you guess what it is?

Are there clues here, or here? No.
But maybe here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Beavers Are Very Sad Animals

Apparently. Because this is the expression Ben is making in every one of our Halloween pictures.

Maybe it's the incessant chewing down of trees, the constant building of dams and lodges, never knowing which are the dams and which are the lodges or what the difference is. Or maybe it's simply that they pity the fearful snakes they run into.

*Note: for your viewing pleasure, I airbrushed in a few extra chins on myself. Just to highlight the difference between Birdy's peach-face and my turkey-neck-face.

For some reason, after trick-or-treating for hours and generating 36 pieces of seasonal candy (but who's counting? Oh, Ben is.), it occurred to Birdy that she would die an immediate snakey death if she did not unwrap and devour her 10-month-old chocolate Santa from last Christmas. And so she did.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Another in the series of non-posts

I know that you guys don't actually have a spare second, what with your incessant brushing of your lips with a toothbrush and also the constant slathering onto your lips of nipple cream and udder cream and heinie cream (thank you for all your great advice!)--


I wrote this.
And also this.

Over at wondertime.

I'm having a hard time keeping up with both a column and a blog, as you have likely noticed, and I wish I were doing better at it. But then again, I also wish that the caulk around my bathtub weren't dark grey and furry. And that Birdy's baby book didn't contain only a one-month photo and a five-month photo. (Is that better or worse than Ben's, which contains about a million pictures of our tabby cat and of me, pregnant--because that's when there's time to d0 the baby book! Before the baby's born!) And that I could figure out a way to get the spices to stick to the Chex without all that yummy butter.

But our gutters are fixed. OUR GUTTERS ARE FIXED. So really, what is there left to wish for? ("You saved my marriage!" I said to the Slavic teenager who fixed them, and he backed away from me and smiled and said, "Voonderful!" and backed all the way into his gutter truck and drove away.) Working gutters, two sleeping children, and a house full of miniature candy bars. Life is good.

Happy Halloween, you dear ghouls and goblins. I'll try to post some pictures tomorrow.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Because I am grateful

And also because, ahem, in all of your fabulous responses to my blog questions, very few of you mentioned "helpful hints" as a reason you come back here and I would like to rectify that, I offer you this pearl: If you have already eaten half a bag of Frito-Lay Naturals Cheetos White Cheddar Puffs Cheese Flavored Snacks, and if you are planning on eating the remaining half a bag, get yourself a pair of scissors and snip off the top of the bag! You will end up with much less cheese dust on your knuckles and wrist. Also, you will be less tempted to, say, put the puffs away, because now there's not even enough bag to rubberband closed, and so you will do the sensible thing and eat every last puff. (Kill me.)

But, now that we're sharing advice like sugar in this neighbor-across-the-fence way, can I ask: when your lips are so chapped that it's like you're wearing another pair of lips on top of your actual lips, and rubbing any kind of balm into them is as effective as, say, spritzing Spray and Wash onto a chain-mail vest to get out the stain on your underwear beneath, what do you do? Can I loofah my lips?

What? You wanted to hear about Ben and Birdy? Oh. There's this. And yes, I took that picture, and yes, that's the yolk of a poached egg decorating her maniac face.
Whoa Nelly!

So, um, holy frijoles! I askedeth and receivedeth. This is fantastic. Thank you. I probably have just about enough feedback at this point, and am so grateful for your thoughtful responses. Please know--even if I can't thank you all individually, or am too delinquent to, and even if I don't quote everyone directly--your thoughts will completely inform the piece I'm going to write.

Don't forget to bring this coupon for your free mojito!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Special Request

Dear Ones,

I''m not writing to ask you to go read this, if that's what you were thinking.

I'm not even writing to tell you how Ben and Birdy were having a quiet conversation in the back of the car last night and when Birdy said, "I know Benny, it is glorious," I didn't even know what they were talking about until Ben said, "Especially when it's so bright and full like this this." I love them so desperately. Even when we got home and Birdy fell to the floor of the bathroom sobbing when I went to brush her teeth because, "Mama, your pee in the toilet is too stinky."

I'm really writing to ask a favor. I'm working on a piece for wondertime about blogging, and I was hoping to ask you a couple of questions, whether you write a blog yourself or read other people's blogs, or both:

1. Why do you keep a blog?
2. Why do you read other people's blogs?
3. In what ways does blogging--writing or reading--affect the way you parent or think about parenting, or how you feel about your kids or being a parent? (Please be both general and specific, if you can.)
4. Anything else about blogging?

Those are my questions. I would need to hear back in the next day or two (I know--I'm such a procrastinator.) Please feel free to post your response here or to email it to catherineATbodiesinbalancemtDOTcom. And please indicate whether it's okay to quote you, and if you'd want to use your real name or a pseudonym.

Then you can come out here to Western Mass, and I will buy you a drink in gratitude.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I want to pretend to complain about how I celebrated my birthday by washing a black marker with all our best clothes (true). Or about how my moles celebrated by growing another eight of an inch. Or how Birdy celebrated by jabbing her celebratory elbow into my grumpy old bosom.

But really I am having such a sweet day. A friend took me running and to a shopping spree at the Salvation Army (Hello, perfect birthday morning!). There were calls and visits; there were flowers and also a bath. Michael gave me a jar of pickled eggs, a wrapped package of locally smoked pork chops, a homemade card of my faced superimposed over a hockey player holding up the Stanley Cup (Hello, Michael's wet dream!), and an IOU for a sewing machine that he's getting for me with my parents. (Will my annual Halloween sewing fiasco now involve fewer expletives and less sewing of my body parts to the children's costumes? Maybe, maybe not. "You can be whatever you like," I've already said to Birdy. "As long as it's a snake or a cat. Which are the costumes we already have. But it's totally and completely up to you. Snake or cat.")

And Ben gave me a little box of marzipan fruits. Ben who was so gracious that only when I asked did he mention that he'd spent his own money. And that is really too much for a crybaby birthday girl like me, the kind of birthday girl who is so lucky and unworthy and happy and sad just like I always am about every single thing, that I have to boohoo into the place where my cake would be if Michael hadn't been so thoughtful as to remember that I don't even really like cake that much. Here's to another year of all of it: I lift my pickled egg to toast you.

p.s. I almost forgot! Please go read this.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I'm having, like, a totally sucky day

Did you keep a journal when you were younger? Because I did, and let me tell you: these were not the writings of a person brimming over with joie de vivre. Why, when I was glad, would I have wasted one glittering second scrawling away about it? I was out in the sunshine making a daisy chain and just feeling the gladness! So the journal was filled with my ceaseless gloom. My ceaseless and deadly BOYFRIEND gloom, if you must know. In college I dated a Russian major who--how shall I put this?--didn't actually like me. It wasn't just that instead of lighting up a cigarette or whispering honeyed words he lept from bed to scrub briskly at his sex parts with a washcloth; it was that he made me feel like maybe I would have to better familiarize myself with the gloomy poetry of the Russian modernists in order to actualize my girlfriend potential. And so my journal is filled with gloomy entries about this endeavor. "Spent day reading Tsvetaeva (sp??). Tried to read on quad where K. would walk by. K walked by. K. said, 'I like your skirt." He didn't mean it probably. Or did he? He didn't want to get coffee with me after dinner, and then later he said he'd had coffee. (With library girl in the eyelet petticoat?)." Like that. (Aside: God help me if Birdy ever does anything but karate chop the knees off of anyone who makes her feel this way.)

Anyways, I mention this now because this is the impulse that blogging seems to reinvigorate in me. In a column, (there for instance--you knew I was going to plug it somewhere) what with the certain amount of words, and the desire for coherence, I feel like I'm trying to say a little bit about something or other. But here. Here. I am inclined to kvetch in sentence fragments. About Birdy's cold, for example. The school should just add it to the memo. "Your child has been assigned: snack duties for the 4th week, a nature worksheet, the third cubby, and the following viral illness: a common cold" I think how it works is that you get one virus, and then you're supposed to trade it in later for another one that your family has no immunity to. Don't get me wrong--I'll take the gagging mucus cough over any degree of barfing. And we are lucky that these kids get sick and then get better--I do not take this for granted a day of my life. It's just that I forgot to memorize my children's summer faces--the way they look without the snot running down them and drying in patches like crusty, virulent slug tracks. I guess I can wait until June.

p.s. If you "tag" me for a "meme," then I will feel very flattered (Who doesn't like to be picked? Especially people like, you know, certain people, the kind of people who were never picked until somebody finally sighed and rolled his eyes and said, "Fine. But she's not batting and you get her next time.") but also a little uncertain about the whole meme protocol. I am just warming up here, so please be patient with me. (But also: Can I kvetch in sentence fragments in the meme? Because this is the experience I seem to be looking for.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

You are the best. Honestly.

I felt like my mom herself had logged on a couple dozen times--what with all the "She's just jealous" honey you poured all over me (after I only fished for it a teeny-tiny shameless bit). Exactly! Jealous! She only wishes she had these scowl lines! She wants a piece of these leaf-impacted and warped gutters that will never be different from how they are until I divorce Michael and move away to a country where they replace the gutters for you automatically as a bonus for just being yourself! What she wouldn't give for water pouring down the side of her house in sheets onto the trashitude of a blue vinyl tarp bungee-corded under the eaves! But you--you guys are a force of kindness to be reckoned with. Honestly.

(Plus, if you ever read the babycenter bulletin boards, then you will agree with me that the hi-effing-larious "pimento cheese" comment seemed suspiciously a lot like our dear old friend "BillyJoe5555." "Carmen" isn't your new persona, is it, BillyJoe?)

Not that I wasn't mortally offended by the suggestion that what I'm writing is "not exactly War and Peace." Really? Well maybe if a very hunky and hard-haunched guy jogs up on a horse with his white teeth and fixes the gutters for me, it will at least turn into "Anna Karenina."

Which is a funny thing to write on little Birdy's first day of preschool. Which is what I'm writing my column about right now. As we speak. Somehow it is getting written. In the meantime, there's this, over at wondertime. This blog is still the best place to respond to those columns, but they are working on a bulletin board over there.

I am sending you good vibes during these first weeks of school. Send them back my way.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I sure hope she finds me here!

I'm really going to miss her. But not as much as I've missed Michael since his unexplained disappearance. . .

Date: 12:56 PM
To: All
From: 3kiddosmom
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Well, I for one, am glad that it is over. I don't dislike Catherine, and I admire one's ability to share their private lives for all to read. But.. enough already. Ya, you have cute kids ( though they dress funny) and you're a good mom, but you're not perfect. And I resent the way everyone responds to you as though you are the Ghandi of motherhood. We all have our own parenting styles, and we all think our kids are perfect, or darn near it. I guess they are truly more loyal fans/ friends than I. I find you hypocritical at times, and insensative to your children's needs by posting EVERYTHING about their lives for all the world to see ( or read). By the way, what happened to you and Michael. He seems to have disappeared....

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bear with me, my friends. While I am entirely accustomed to expressing myself in an 800-word column (see, for example, my, ahem, newest column over at wondertime which used to be called "Naked Crabs," and now seems, er, not to be. . .) I am new to blogging. Mostly, I'm still writing a weekly column, and so I may not post here all that often. And yet. So many of you wrote me here to cheer me on, and I'm thrilled. It's funny--it feels more intimate or something. Like I can tell you here that I'm having a sad week, that an old (but young) friend of ours died on Tuesday, that I cried peeling peaches and groused at Ben while he was playing *solitaire*, for god's sake. And I don't even have to turn it into a lesson I've learned. (The lesson is: People our age get breast cancer. The lesson is: Leave your children alone when they're playing cards by themselves, for god's sake. The lesson is: Love harder, but more easily too.) I will try to write here more regularly, and also more coherently. But please read that weekly wondertime column because they are counting clicks over there, if you know what I'm saying. I'm saying bear with me.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

One Bean Salad (for Becky)

I am sitting here trying to think about how to tell you things you already know. For instance, the way the fall plunges me into the kind of bittersweet nostalgia that makes me feel like I have a permanent lump in my throat, a geode full of tears. The children's hair has grown long, their pants have grown short, they ride their two-wheelers and theorize about death and clap when we stop for ice cream and it is the same old same old. But oh, it gets me every year, this change of season from the bright and buoyant summertime to the melancholy darkening of autumn: the smell of wild grapes in the air, the children leaving us for school, everyone missing everyone else all day long until we are reunited for the blue twilights. I catch them into my lap, press my nose to their scalps, and it is still the only way I know to be sure that I am fully here, now, soaking them in before they flood out of the house on the tides of their own growth and movement. That wild-animal smell of their hair, which I was born to breathe.

Do you know what I'm saying?

Partly, it's because this is the season of Ben's birth, when the ripening of peaches plunges me into memories: of my own ripe roundness, trolling the Santa Cruz farmer's market for the fruit that sustained me: melons and apples and concord grapes, everything bursting with juice and the righteous promise of the nutrients that I could practically feel coursing through the umbilical cord into that big baby. Does it help that we have this gorgeously huge and burstingly pregnant Anni living in the house with us? With her baby due this very month? No. No it does not. Or rather: yes. Of course it does. But it compounds my nostalgia even further, this refracting of memory through the orb of her expectancy.

Which is where the bean salad comes in, because yesterday was Anni's baby shower, which was a potluck, and I brought this salad, which was devoured and adored by a devouring and adoring crowd of Anni's people. Because it's crazy, lip-smackingly delicious. Also because I had picked the beans from our CSA not even a full hour before, when I'd taken myself off to the farm to pick and think, and enjoy the sun and the breeze and the smell of the hot trees and ferns and the wash of feelings that I never have a minute alone to feel. Not that I need a minute alone to feel them, not really. Because it is all around me, even as I'm making the beautiful bean salad, while Ben and his friend Ava creep around the house in black jackets and wool caps, with plastic guns and plastic cigarettes and notebooks full of notes, because they are spies who are spying, and I can hear the tinny rush of their voices through the walkie talkies they're using. They are so big and so little all at once--I don't know how adequately to express this. You can smell teenagerhood on them, literally, but then they're so caught up in their private world of giggling and make-believe. And they've still got the faces of angels.

One-Bean Salad
Serves 8
Total time: 30 minutes (this includes the bean prep)

You could, of course, use a good olive oil here--and I sometimes do. But I've taken to using vegetable oil recently because it keeps the whole thing tasting light and lemony and herbal, rather than strong and olive oily. Totally your call. Also, as always, if the onion is going to keep anyone away here, then skip it--but don't skip the mustard because it really helps emulsify the dressing. Oh, one more thing: lots of herbs are great in this instead of the tarragon: dill is a classic, and basil is fantastic as is marjoram; and even without any herbs it's just delicious.

2 pounds green beans, stem ends removed
Finely grated zest of one large lemon
Juice of one large lemon (a scant 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon each kosher salt, sugar, and Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon tarragon, measured and then finely chopped
1/2 a red onion, finely chopped and rinsed in a sieve under cold water

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then boil the beans until just crisp-tender, around 5 or 6 minutes (although this will depend on the size and freshness of your beans, so start checking them way earlier). Drain the beans and rinse them under cold water until fully cold, then drain again and wrap in a dish towel to dry them thoroughly.

Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, vegetable oil, salt, sugar, mustard, and tarragon. Taste the dressing: it should be tart and zingy, but not punishingly so. Add oil, sugar, and/or salt to balance, need be--or more lemon juice, of course, if it seems too oily (which it likely won't).

In a large bowl, toss the dried beans and the onion with the dressing, then taste again, and add more salt need be. Serve immediately or marinate at room temperature for an hour or two (at which point you should--I know I always say this--taste it again to see if it needs anything else).

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Pimping Introduction

Hello! Is that you? Did you find me here? I'm so glad! If you're coming from babycenter, then please know how grateful I am for those fantastic years. Thank you.

(An unrelated aside: It's funny to be floating around out here in blogland, where I could, say, write the f word if I want to. I will save that particular thrill for a rainy day.)

So, I thought I would just mention some things about where else you might come find me, now the the gig is up over at babycenter. I will miss being there very much, as you probably know. I wrote "Bringing Up Ben and Birdy" for four years, and it is all archived here. All eighty katrillion entries of it. Holy moly.

My new column (please don't expect to be blown away by the newness, if you know what I'm saying, as there won't be any shortage of entries about impatience, Chex mix, and saggy boobs) is called Dalai Mama, and it's over at Wondertime. Please come visit me there. There may not be a comment section up yet, but there will be soon. Also, it's a little confusing, since there's the monthly column I write for the magazine, and then the weekly blog that you have to click on from the home page (wait for it to scroll past in that little scrolling box).

I've also been writing for the Oprah Magazine (more about the boobs coming soon!), and I always write a lot for FamilyFun, a magazine I love and that I'm shy to mention since it reveals the Polyanna-I-made-it-from-craft-foam-and-celery-salt side of my personality. But still.

There is the book, too. You know, that book, Waiting for Birdy, which decorum has kept me from begggggggging you to buy: but my god, please buy it. Pleeeease. Then I can bail Ben and Birdy out of prison when they're teenagers. Plus keep up my Chex mix habit.

And finally: do you need the best massage of your entire life and happen to live in Western Massachusetts? Or do you have a friend here who could use a gift certificate for a massage? Have I got the perfect, hunky, strong-but-gentle massage therapist for you! I'm not kidding you. This is a massage that will change your life, and then you can write to thank me for having been the crash-test massage dummy all these years so that you could get a great massage.

Okay, I've pimped my whole family out. Please be well. More soon.

Monday, July 24, 2006

More camping food! And a food-packing list.

High Camp

Eating is my favorite part of car camping, and I can tell you that I did not feel this way when we were young people backpacking our earnest way across the Sierras. Those were the days of freeze-dried something-or-other that was always rehydrating awkwardly in our bellies because we'd wolfed it down too soon and too fast. Those were the days of too much jerky, too little yumminess, no cold beer, and a dreaded implement we called "the dung trowel." What were we thinking?

Because now we are all about the good camping food--which doesn't mean we're always or ever especially fancy about it. In the ravenous fresh air, a hot dog browned and blistered on its stick is as good a meal as you're likely to eat anywhere. As is cheese melted stinkily on a log near the open fire and served with boiled potatoes and cornichons--our camper's version of the French dish raclette. We fry bacon on thick sheets of foil (crimp the edges up so the fat doesn't run off and catch fire), we roast potatoes and corn in the coals, we prepare various camp classics featuring the word "hobo" in their names, because what could be more enticing than the culinary output of penniless train-riding vagabonds?

We eat and eat, with a kind of righteous ravenousness born of the great outdoors: chips and salsa, crackers and cheddar, sandwiches of goat cheese, cucumbers, and fresh dill. In the mornings we sit with our muesli and our smoky fire-brewed espresso and watch the sun glittering on the pond through the trees. Under the stars, we pop corn and roast marshmallows and gaze sleepily into the flames. One year, on my husband's birthday, we even steamed lobsters in an enormous pot and ate them, dripping with butter, off of paper plates. And when it rains, there are always the clam shacks, where we stall over steamers and fried bellies and onion rings and wait for it to let up. But mostly we cook, and these three recipes here are the ones we return to over and over. If you eat them with a tent and a roaring fire and lots of gigantic clacking beetles nearby, they will be mind-bogglingly fantastic, but here's a secret: you could actually make them at home on your gas grill or in your fire place, and they'd still be good. Excellent, even.

Pie-iron Pizza
Hobo pies make a filling and delicious amusement: two pieces of buttered bread sandwich your favorite contents, then toast over the fire in a long-handled pie iron (Rome Industries, $20) to make the original, low-tech hot pocket. You can crimp any filling you like inside the crisp, delectable pies--cheese, marshmallows and Nutella, peanut butter and jelly, even tinned pie cherries--but this is our favorite:

1 small can tomato paste
Mozzarella, sliced
Favorite pizza toppings: olives, peppers, pepperoni (optional)

Butter a piece of bread, then spread the unbuttered side thickly with tomato paste before laying on the cheese and toppings. Top with another piece of buttered bread, press the sandwich into the pie iron, and toast it over the fire (ideally over hot coals), turning it from side to side, until the bread looks beautifully browned and the cheese is melted. Keep checking, and don't be dismayed if you burn the first one: it takes a while to get the hang of it, but persevere--it's so worth it.

(Variation: Chicken Parmesan Hobo Pies. On your way back from the beach, pick up a to-go order of chicken fingers from a clam shack or restaurant and sandwich them in with the tomato paste and cheese. This is the most decadent and delicious thing--a favorite of kids and grown-ups alike.)

One-pot Camp Couscous
I have been making this meal for twenty years (Twenty years! Because I am a thousand years old!), and my kids refer to it as "The Camp Dinner." You could do this over the fire, but I make it over the same teetering one-burner camp stove we've been using for decades. It's so easy and satisfying and wholesomely wonderful that the truth is I sometimes make it even when we're not camping.

Olive oil
1 onion, sliced or chopped
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Optional spices (such as smoked paprika, cumin, or chipotles)
1 14-ounce can of beans, with their liquid (black and pinto are our favorites)
1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce (I use Hunt's)
1 cup of water
1 cup of couscous
1 or 2 cups sliced or shredded cheese (we use cheddar or Monterey jack)
A large handful of fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped
Hot sauce

Pour a large glug of the olive oil into a pot or skillet over medium heat, then sauté the onion until translucent and golden, about five minutes. Add the zucchini, salt, and garlic, and sauté another five minutes. Stir in the spices, beans, tomato sauce, and water, and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, then sprinkle or lay the cheese over the top, turn off the heat, and cover. Let the couscous sit for ten minutes, stirring once after five, then stir in the herbs and serve it in bowls with hot sauce for topping.

Packing List
A milk crate packed with:
  • Stove and fuel
  • Matches
  • Pot with lid
  • Cast iron frying pan
  • Wooden spoon, spatula, tongs
  • Can opener
  • Pie Iron
  • Metal espresso maker
  • Mini cutting board and knife
  • Half-pint jelly jars with lids (to drink from, measure in, hold bouquets, and store leftovers)
  • Metal or plastic plates and bowls
  • Paper plates (for when you can't bear to wash dishes)
  • Mugs
  • Forks, spoons, knives
  • Heavy-duty foil
  • Paper towels
  • Ziploc bags
  • Wash Basin
  • Sponge and eco-friendly dish liquid
  • Dish Towel
  • Trash bags
  • Oilcloth tablecloth
  • Candle for the table

A large plastic bin packed with:
  • 5-gallon jug of water
  • Coffee and tea
  • Sugar
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Smoked paprika and black pepper
  • Hot sauce
  • Oatmeal and granola
  • Marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate
  • Couscous (premeasured in a Ziploc bag)
  • Canned Beans
  • Canned tomato sauce and paste
  • Bread and buns
  • Peanut butter
  • Jam
  • Ketchup and mustard (if you forget, swipe a few packets from a restaurant)
  • Onions and garlic
  • Chips and salsa
  • Crackers

A cooler packed with ice and:
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Fruit, lemons
  • Veggies (cukes and zukes)
  • Fresh herbs
  • Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Hot dogs
  • Beer and Wine

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Iced Oatmeal Cookies

Sometimes I can't believe that I have become this person--and I mean that in the best possible way. I fold their clean t-shirts and make their dentist appointments and read Farmer Boy and dig splinters out of their toes and kiss them when their school day is done, and I think, "These are my children! I am their mother!" Me. I mean, I am practically a child still myself--at least in my own mind. But I don't think the kids even think twice about it. I don't think they ever shake their skeptical heads and think, "We're onto you and the gappy way you inhabit your mom costume." They see me, and I am their mother, the one with the boobs that have been nursed down to the floor where they drag along righteously, the one with the morning smell and the busy work life and the good dinners on the table and the irritable loathing of loud noises and the affection that twinkles like a whole galaxy of stars lit up across the heavens just for them. The tax forms come, and that word "dependents" always puts a lump in my throat: my dependents! They are dependent on me. I am dependably theirs.

And as rushed and crazy as I can feel packing their lunchboxes (this morning, for instance, when I remembered at 7:40 that Ben had to be at school for recorder rehearsal at 7:45), I also kind of love it. It's like that horrible peanut butter commercial we saw during the Olympics, the one that made me cry, where the mom and daughter are in tears over the phone because boo hoo hoo the daughter is at college and boo hoo hoo the mom sent a jar of Jiff or Skippy or whatever and boo hoo hoo that's her favorite peanut butter and she's homesick. But still. I put a cookie in the lunchbox and it is, plainly and simply, an act of love, and I love to do it. (Of course, now I feel like I'm going to be quoted in some kind of dreadful conservative propaganda literature about how fulfilled mothers feel by mothering, and how right and proper it is, etc. And I'm not saying that at all, as you know, given that I work, like, a million jobs and could write a whole other column about how every day I think, similarly delighted, "I'm working! I can't believe I'm getting away with this!" And I could also write about the millions of times I thought to myself, "Brush your own damn teeth, you parasites!" But still.)

All of which is to say: this is a great lunchbox cookie, and a total "mom" cookie. In fact, Kim Boyce, whose recipe this is, actually compares them to the "Mothers" brand of iced oatmeal cookies--which is just too perfect, given their momliness. They are comfortingly spiced and wholesomely crunchy (thanks to oats and whole wheat flour), and then they've got this sweet and pretty drizzle of cinnamon icing that practically screams "I love you" from your kids' lunchbox. It's like those howler letters in Harry Potter, the kind you take it out of its envelope and it shouts and rants at you--only it's a cookie, and all it wants to say is, "You're mine."

Iced Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 3 dozen
Total time: 1 hour

This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite baking books, Good to the Grain: I use half whole wheat and half white flour (instead of her more complex but doubtless fabutastic whole-grain baking mix), and I make them a little smaller because, well, then there are more of them. If you make cookies often and don't have one of those spring-load scoops, I really recommend getting one; I've had mine for less than a year, and don't understand how I lived without it. Also, a nutmeg grater is a very small and worthwhile investment (unless you need this Peugeot one!).

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg (ideally freshly grated)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled (I actually used unsalted for these!)
2 eggs

Heat the oven to 350 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

In a food processor or blender, grind the oats to a coarse meal that still has some large flakes, around 10 seconds.

Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices, then whisk in the sugars and the oats. Whisk together the butter and eggs, then use a rubber spatula to combine this mixture with the dry ingredients.

Use a cookie scoop or heaping tablespoon to scoop balls of dough onto the cookie sheet, leaving plenty of room for them to spread (I did 9 per sheet). Bake in the upper and lower third of the oven for around 14-17 minutes, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through. When they're done, the cookies should be evenly browned. Cool them on a rack and bake the remaining cookies.

When the cookies are all baked and cooled, use a fork or whisk to drizzle the icing over them, then let them set for half an hour before storing them airtight.


2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
5 to 6 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk together all the ingredients: the icing should be smooth and the drizzling consistency of honey; add more milk or powdered sugar to achieve this. 

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are from Kim Boyce's wildly inspiring cookbook Good to the Grain, and they are made with, um, 100% whole-wheat flour. That's right. 100%.

And they are just insanely delicious. "Well they should be," my friend Peggy said, reading over my shoulder. "Look at all that butter and sugar and chocolate!" Exactly. But here's how I think about it: butter and sugar are like escorts. If what they're escorting into your body is white flour, then okay, it's a total treat, and just have a little and don't worry about it. But if they're actually escorting nutrients? Like here, in the form of all those lovely B vitamins and fiber and essential fatty acids from the bran- and germ-rich whole-wheat? Then, for me, this is a nutritional red carpet situation, everybody glittering and wearing their designer dresses, the butter and sugar standing back while the paparazzi snap pictures.

I don't mean I'm going to serve the cookies for dinner (please, please let me not ever serve them for dinner). I just mean they've got a lot to offer. Rather than cookies that, say, don't have much butter and sugar--but also don't have much of anything good. I would consider adding nuts and dried fruits to up the nutrient quotient even further. And quinoa flakes! Amaranth dust! Just kidding. (I think.)

Okay. Sorry for the whole foods rant. I am--Can you tell?--figuring out about food as I go. But make these anyway because they're so crunchy and chewy, and the whole wheat gives them such a deep, nutty flavor. They are our go-to lunchbox cookies.

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 30
Total time: 45 minutes

In her introduction, Kim Boyce writes: "These cookies are the size of your palm, with thick, chewy edges, soft centers, and big chocolate chunks. It's surprising just how delicious this whole-wheat version of an old classic is." Ditto from me. I am transcribing this recipe almost verbatim; I didn't change a thing. Except for using salted butter without decreasing the amount of salt called for. Which I recommend doing (of course).

Dry mix:
3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)

Wet mix:
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold butter (I used salted), cut into half-inch pieces
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into 1/4- and 1/2-inch pieces (mine was semisweet; I imagine you could just use chocolate chips and it would be fine)

Place 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat it to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Add the butter and sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add the chocolate and mix on low speed until combined.

Scoop mounds of dough about 3 tablespoons in size (I used a scant 1/4-cup as a measure), leaving 3 inches between them. They spread a lot.

Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and back to front halfway through, until the cookies are evenly dark brown. Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment, to the counter to cool. Eat warm or, ideally, no later than later the same day--though they're good for a couple of days.