Sunday, December 30, 2012

What is wrong with me? Seriously.

Because you'd think I could fulfill a simple holiday wish. . . 

As seen at Barnes and Noble.
without turning everyone's Christmas into Night of the Living Porn Cupcakes.

As seen in Jugs magazine.
I know I don't need to remind you about Pinata-gate 2005.

Raise your hand if you nursed until you were three and thought a pair of red pompoms looked just right!

If your child was here for that particular candy-filled-boobs party, again, I'm so sorry.

Otherwise, our holiday has been OUTRAGEOUS. Old friends, really old friends, hard cider, grandparents, ham, jigsaw puzzles, not working, red wine, snow, candlelight, games, movies, snow, ham, egg nog, rum balls, Ben barfing, jigsaw puzzles, music, ham, snow, napping, cat, fighting with Michael about whether the kids need to wear helmets for sledding in the woods because yes, I'm sorry, they do. Like that.

Yesterday I brewed a big pot of vanilla tea, and we all wrote all of our thank-you notes with the snow falling dreamily past our windows like we were in a Normal Rockwell painting of ourselves. Heaven on earth. Our gratitude abounds.

Happy New Year, dear ones. 


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Comfort and Joy (and Love and Peppermint Bark)

If you're a teacher of Birdy's: PLEASE STOP READING THIS RIGHT NOW. And also: I LOVE YOU. (Holly, I'm talking to you.) Because I would really hate to ruin the "surprise" of Birdy's famous chocolate peppermint bark! This is the easiest thing in the world.

Her handwriting still moves me beyond words.
And I'm only mentioning it now on the off-chance that you're tearing your hair out because work, and children, and meals on the table, and every single last holiday thing, and a partner who's like, "What? Is there stuff you want me to do? Just say!" And you're like Aaaaaagh! No! Forget it! You're totally incompetent! But the teacher gifts! Aaaaagh! Not that you would ever be like that. But if you were: 1 1/2 bags of chocolate chips (we used a mix of dark and white) spread on a piece of parchment paper on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Into a 250 oven for 5 minutes. Spread evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle with peppermint candies that your tender, hammer-wielding daughter has smashed into such pulverized smithereens that you wonder if she might need some more outlets for her aggression and also, because the nine-year-old is thinking "Rice Krispie Treats" and "best of both worlds" a handful of organic crisped-brown-rice cereal. Harden in the fridge for 3 hours, cut/break into pieces, package in bags, done.

I also have more elaborated bark recipes here and here. Chocolate Fritos here. Peppermint Patties here. I still haven't made the Bar Bark like I want to, topped with Chex Mix and pretzels and Goldfish crackers, but you know I'm going to.

Our holiday card this year.

Or should we use this one?

Craney photo-bombing what would otherwise be the perfect photo.
Other last-minute holiday ideas from years past:

Happy holidays, sweet friends.

Monday, December 17, 2012

our children

Dear ones, my hearts are with the grieving families in Newtown. And also with grieving you, you who are sending or not sending your kids to school today, who are trying to explain the inexplicable to them, or are longing to keep them innocent. There is not much to say, is there? People's dearest babies. A grown kid whose mind was derailed. Too many guns for the having and using.

There are murmurings of a million-child gun-control march on Washington. If there is, we will be there.

Is this a good time to think about the rest of the world's children? The 27,000 children who die daily from preventable disease and malnutrition? Who are also, in a very different way, victims of a world gone crazy? Maybe not. But maybe. This is the time of year that we donate to Partners in Health. It is the time of year that we decide, again, that we can continue to live without a mud room, that we can deal with mountains of shoes and boots and coats in our kitchen, so that we can stretch and give more than we can afford. Join me, if you can. Maybe then we'll feel like we have some agency, some world-changing power. I don't really know.

All my love to you. xoxo

Monday, December 10, 2012

Total Decadence (aka Potato-Fennel Gratin)

Excuse my flash. In real life, this looks like actual food rather than like something from Madame Tussauds Gratin Museum.

I am bad about posting holiday recipes, and this is because of a certain kind of short-sightedness: every year on this or that holiday, I think, “Oh, I won’t take pictures of this, because it’s already too late to post the recipe for this or that holiday.” The fact that the same holiday will come around again the next year is somehow lost on me. And so you can never know about my Thanksgiving stuffing or my Christmas gravlax. Or, until now, my Christmas Potato-Fennel Gratin. And by “my,” I mean Ina Garten’s. And by “Christmas,” I mean 10 Jews and a ham. (Technically it’s 5 Jews, 4 half-Jews, and a lapsed Catholic, but that doesn’t sound as catchy.)

Oh Potato-Fennel Gratin, I wish I could quit you!
 Last year, I made my Rosemary-Parmesan Butternut Squash Gratin instead, and there was a near mutiny. It was excellent, it was, and everyone could admit as much, but it was not traditional and, therefore, Bad and Wrong. And so I will not be trying any funny business this year. It will be the ham, which I love, because, please—you could baste it with dirt and it would still be delicious. And this, which is like oozy, molten mac and cheese, but disguised as a legitimate vegetable side dish. The fennel melts into the potatoes in the loveliest way and, after their long stint in the oven, you have basically talked 3 potatoes into soaking up an entire pint of cream. Plus, it is rich enough to serve as a main course for any vegetarian daughters you might have. I made it this past week because we happened to have a large bulb of fennel, and what was supposed to be 10 servings fed the four of us with only enough leftover for one person’s lunch. And this was alongside a ginormous pot of short ribs. My thighs’ thighs are rejoicing.

A little cheese never hurt a person! Did it?
Potato-Fennel Gratin
This is adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa cookbook and it is obscenely good and ridiculously rich. Serve it with a side of defibrillator.

2 small fennel bulbs (or 1 large one)
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 pounds russet potatoes (3 or 4 large potatoes)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream (I use 2 cups cream mixed with 2 tablespoons milk, because otherwise I have to buy a quart of cream instead of a pint, and then I’ll just put it in my coffee for a week and be fatter than I want to be.)
2 1/2 cups grated (1/2 pound) Gruyère cheese (We are not big fans of Gruyère. If you’re not either, then use something melty but nutty, like an aged gouda or Parano. I like to use that aged Dutch cheese that we always taste (and taste again, just to be sure) at our Whole Foods: Robusto.)
1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 10-by-15-by-2-inch (10-cup/lasagna-sized) baking dish.

Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Saute the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.

Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them by hand or with a mandoline. (I slice them thin but not crazy thin. As you may know, I am in love with my inexpensive Japanese mandoline.) Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of cheese, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed fennel and onion and mix well.

Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and 1/2 cup of cheese and sprinkle on the top.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly (sometimes I let it get deeply, darkly brown, and it is so good that way). Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.

The ingredients look strangely innocent.

Some onions. . . 

and fennel. . . 

and potatoes. . .

layered in a pan with some cream and cheese. 

But then something happens in the oven.

And you will never be the same.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Winners! (we are all. . . )

Okay, how awesome is this:

I am not afraid of being commenter #1! I KNOW STATISTICS!
Can you see that? It really was 1. The first number I drew. That was AWESOME. Yay for statistics-knowing Swistle!

The other winner is number 233:

Would love this for my very busy 11 year old.
Christy, you've got it.

If you guys would email me your info, I will get those books out! And thank you so much, everybody, for playing along. I laughed so hard at some of your comments, I almost choked. Thank you, thank you, thank you. That was really like an early Christmas present.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

An UNBORED (and unboring!) give-away!

My darlings, we are going to do a give-away of this fantastic book, Unbored, which I spoke of at length in this post. Honestly, even just since writing about it, our love has grown manifoldly, since Ben has now taught himself stop-motion animation via the book's excellent suggestions and advice. I had occasion to mention this to one of the book's authors/editors, Josh Glenn, who then sent me a brilliant video his kids had made that was 1 second of Playmobil seal-rescue action followed by a 30-second blooper reel. Film-makers after my own heart, is all I can say.

When I mentioned that I was thinking of doing an Unbored give-away (using some of the Amazon revenue you guys have generated here by buying so many copies of it--thank you!), Josh asked Bloomsbury, his publisher, and they agreed to match it! So we are going to give away two copies. Just leave a comment here, and we will do the usual: I'll pick a winner at noon on Friday.** Sound good? I was going to ask you to indicate that you're an actual reader here, because contests seem to draw in a lot of stray folks, but then that seems excessively narcissistic, even for narcissistic me. (a) What did Ben once do with a handful of Tampax? b) Why did he think the Grinch was so mean? c) What was Birdy's first word? d) How long do I braise pot roast?*) So we won't do it that way.

* Edited to add: I was kidding. I'm so sorry! The outpouring of anxiety in the comments is crushing! You don't need to wrack your poor brain for my egomaniacal pleasure, I promise.

** And to clarify further (gosh, I really am lame today): this will be a random drawing! So you really, really don't need to flex your credentials in any way.

I also want to mention that I am on the cover of More magazine this month! Oh wait, no I'm not. That's Marisa Tomei. But I do have a nice long story in there about my cat that I'm sure you're wanting to read.

I also have a piece about Strawberry (e) Who is Strawberry?) in the newly resurrected Brain, Child, which is on newsstands now. Hallelujah!


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

recipe for AIR (bad language alert!)

Put air in a pretend salad bowl and eat it with an invisible spoon. Makes 1 serving for someone who ate so FUCKING much in the past week that I am still waiting for some kind of gluttony summons.

Oh, did you want a real recipe? For water? No? Okay. My most recent iteration of Kale slaw, called "Dinosaur Slaw" was in the November FamilyFun and is on the Parents website here (plus, that is the aproned and purple-clad torso of the very lovely Abigail Shirley Newman, aka Birdy). This is so good, you won't believe it: the hot dressing wilts the kale a little (rub it around with your hands, if you can stand to, to wilt it more), and it's all I want to eat right now. Please note, though, that it's sherry vinegar--not sherry, cooking or otherwise (I say this because even the food stylist was confused at the photo shoot). In a pinch, white-wine vinegar is fine. Red would probably be fine too! Also, please note that you might have to sign in there, but it's free. Report back if there are problems.

In other news, we went with my parents to the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it was completely fantastic. Pop art is so great for kids--there's so much to connect to, to be wowed by, to laugh at and wonder over. This Ellsworth Kelly installation, Spectrum VI, was not part of it--we just happened to walk past it--but boy was it right up my alley, like paint chips, but for a giant.

Ben and Birdy are in this picture! But you can't see them because they're camouflaged! 

Did you know that I collect color-sample charts? I do. I have, I think, six of them framed in the house. Some are old. One of them is tiny bags of beads and sequins in all different colors from the amazing Alabama Chanin.

Another is also from Alabama Chanin, and it's the cotton-jersey-swatch card:

Also (transition to this paragraph currently unavailable) I just finished Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman, and I loved it so much. She is like Tina Fey, as people say, but cruder in a way that wholly appeals to me. This is her on the "proper muff"she thinks every woman needs (yay!):

"A big, hairy minge. A lovely furry moof that looks – when she sits, naked – as if she has a marmoset sitting in her lap. A tame marmoset, that she can send off to pickpocket things, should she so need it – like that trained monkey in Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Oh I do love her. And this too, which I lifted from someone on facebook named "Crazy Dumbsaint of the Mind," who kindly gave me permission to put it here:

This is so brilliant and funny it kills me.
Some people here were surprised and angry with me around the election, but the thing is? I'm gentle and loving, I am, and I make a killer cream-cheese frosting and a beautiful holiday banner--but I'm also fierce and and pissed, and a total, unapologetic, old-school feminist with a marmoset in my lap. I know you know that, but it bears mentioning.


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Annual Holiday Games Post

Oh, it's game season! For playing and giving. Money spent on a good game is money well spent, I think: the amount of play value is almost incalculable. As you may know, I’ve been recommending games for the holidays for a while now, so please allow me to refer you to this post, in which I link to all the other places where I’ve described games (and toys and books) in the past. There are also some holiday-gift recipes in the post. More game links are here, hereherehere, here, and here. Holiday books round-up here. For this year, let me start with the crazy gamer games and then move into the more conventional ones:
Seafarers of Catan is another of those games (like Acquire or, kill me, Risk) that does something weird to me, and I can’t pretend it’s good. And by weird I mean testosterone. During a recent game, I got so mad at Michael that I had the humiliating experience of the kids saying, “Mama, Mama, he wasn’t trying to screw you. You have to get over it or it’s really not going to be fun for you.” Sigh. Still, I always want to play. And the kids, who are better sports than I am, love it. Please note that you need to get the original (and very excellent) basic Catan first; this is, as we gamers say, an “expansion.”

It is so not okay to use as the theme of your game the Colonial occupation of an island nation, especially given that the indigenous people who weren’t wiped out by violence and disease were enslaved by the same brutal plantations that this game celebrates. So. If you are up for doing a little thematic intervention about the terrible politics of the game, then Puerto Rico is an excellent game, from the standpoint of gaming: complex, strategic, always interesting. My children are willing to play even given that I have to speak constantly about how offensive it is, so you know it’s a good game.
Chris Perry? Is that you?

I’ve mentioned Bohnanza before—the bean-trading game with bad art—but I’ve never mentioned it in the context of holiday gift-giving, for which it is excellent: easy to learn, fun to play, and not insanely expensive. Also, legumes! You won’t have the added pleasure of Ben’s thinking that the Soy Bean looks like a friend of ours, but you’ll still enjoy it.

It’s a total Chinese Checkers renaissance around here. We’ve been playing with  “super” version rules, which is insanely fun and, if you know the game, really eliminates that boring mid-game congestion that can sap your will to live. Do try to get the version of the game that comes with iridescent marbles. They’re so beautiful I always want to put them in my mouth (Maybe that’s not a selling point?). Our friend Ava, whose family has the same set as us, has named all the colors: Dragon, Gubble Bum, Mustard, Ocean, Fire, and, my favorite, Almond Bath Bubble.

Booby-Trap is also enjoying a renaissance. I once recommended a newfangled version of it on amazon, but look on ebay! 12 bucks will get you the exact version we have, which is both delightful and esthetically pleasing. But if your kids are the sort to argue over potential turn-ending nanovibrations during pick-up-sticks, this is not the game for them.

Wait, this isn't a video game? They told me it was a video game.
This is Perplexus Epic. Do you need a large, clattery, and expensive ball of plastic in your house? Kind of! It’s a 3-D maze and, for us, it’s sort of a compromise—like a mechanical version of a video game, given that the kids don’t do a lot of screen stuff. It seems good for the old hand-eye coordination and logic-development, if you go in for those sorts of things. Plus, it’s great for odds and ends of time and, strangely, social: they watch each other play, even though you can’t begin to imagine why. If your kids are new to this large, clattery, expensive plastic phenomenon, then start with the original, less-epic Perlexus.

A total trip down candy-memory lane, right?
If a large, fun jigsaw puzzle is in your holiday-vacation plans, please allow me to recommend Candy Wrappers. We did it with our friends Meg and Pete over the summer, and I can’t think of one I’ve liked better. Oooh, except for this one, which is delicious in more of a Frank Lloyd Wright kind of way.

Eye Can Art Kits. Full disclosure: the lovely Eye Can Art folks sent us the Layered Wax Drawing Kit to test out, and Birdy loved it. The other kit that’s really catching our eye is the Sumi-e Ink Painting Kit. Ooh, and the cut-paper kit. The quality is absolutely fantastic, and the project we did was very thoughtfully conceived and explained.

That said, it’s a little bit on the expensive side, and you wish there were a little more in the can—ours had enough material to complete two projects—but you could supplement easily with inexpensive stuff from Michael’s.
Can you see how lovely this is? It's got layers of paper and wax and cray-pas, and it's stunning.
They’re offering a coupon code until December 17th: “HOLIDAYKITS12 may be used on our website for $5 off your order at Limit one discount per order.”

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun Another full disclosure: the publishers sent us this book. But I like it a lot or, I promise, I wouldn’t be mentioning it. (For instance, have you heard me recommending an energy bar made entirely of whey? Or a cookbook filled entirely with meatloaf recipes? I didn’t think so.) It’s huge, illustrated, a little campy, a little retro. The kids made a vibrating tongue-depressor harmonica/kazoo from it. They play a game from it called “the game” that is a total mind fuck. They love that it’s not gender-specific. This is from the press release: “Most of its 352 full-color pages are dedicated to activities — the best of the old (crafts, bicycle repair, science experiments), and the new (geocaching, yarn bombing, LED “graffiti”) — for boys and girls to do on their own and with their parents. It's a hands-on, DIY book with contributions from three dozen talented experts in their various fields.” Please note Birdy’s classic sign of approval: the million post-it notes.

Ben modeling a sardine sandwich for ChopChop.

ChopChop: Full disclosure: I edit this kids’ cooking magazine! But it’s so, so great that if you haven’t subscribed, you should! Ben and Birdy cook us whole, entire meals from it. If that’s not worth the $14.95 subscription price, I don’t know what is.

Stripy jar sweater not included.

Cuppow. A final full disclosure: I was not famous enough for these people to bother sending me a press sample, and STILL I LOVE IT ANYWAY. It’s a BPA-free plastic lid that turns a mason jar into a hot or cold to-go cup. Brilliant. There’s a wide-mouth one and a regular mouth one, and I bought them both and plan to buy more as gifts. (Note: Will you feel, dorkily, like you're drinking coffee from a grown-up sippy cup? Yes. Will that stop you? No.)

Also for grown-ups:

 This book is perfect, as I know I've mentioned.

And this book is perfect too.

What are you guys playing, reading, making, giving? And should we do a give-away on Amazon? Of what?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Simplest Butter-Sauced Cabbage

Okay, I hear you, my fellow CSA sufferers luckyheads. Turnips, beets, soups, slow cooker recipes. I am on it. But I’m hearing “cabbage” too, and it reminded me that this is a recipe I always intend to share, even though it’s embarrassingly simple. It’s our go-to cabbage recipe, in fact, even though roasted cabbage is delicious and far more glamorous. 

But this is somehow comfortingly sweet and plain, and the children have always absolutely loved it. In fact, I asked Birdy to hold the dish for my photo, and then she ate all of it, and all the rest of it from the serving bowl too. Ah, cabbage. It’s like potato chips. Only without being anything like potato chips.

Simplest Butter-Sauced Cabbage
The amounts here really depend, as does the cooking time, on your cabbage: how fresh it is, how much there is. But what I recommend is a generous hand with the butter and salt, and then add enough vinegar that you can just start to taste it. Only make this with nice, fresh fall cabbage. Once the cabbage has been stored for a while, it won’t be so sweet and lovely.

Sweet, fresh green or white cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into 1-inch squares
Cider Vinegar
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Put the cabbage in a steamer basket over an inch of boiling water, cover it, and steam it until tender. Check it at 5 minutes, but it will likely not be done until closer to 10 (or longer, it's possible, especially if there's lots of it). You want it to be completely tender to your teeth, but not, you know, supersoft in that gross cabbage-y way.

Drain the cabbage very well, then put it in a bowl and add a nice big knob of butter, lots of salt and pepper, and 2 or 3 capfuls of cider vinegar (I don’t know why I measure it in the cap, but I always do). Toss it well, then taste a piece. It will likely need more salt and vinegar. Add whatever it needs, taste it, and repeat until it is sweet, just barely tangy, saucy, and delicious.
I only used half of it because I didn't realize that Birdy was starving for cabbage.

After my planet sent me down on an abduction mission, I became a handy kitchen device!
Before steaming.
After steaming.
The bottom of my cider bottle has something called a "mother" floating in it. You don't even want to know.
Don't skimp on the butter!