Archive for June, 2008

Not one pirate treasure cake, but two

June 30, 2008

Please welcome my college friend Sarah, mother of about-to-be-four twin boys. She’s here with her gorgeous photos for Best Shot Monday and for a little party-planning therapy.

* * *

Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m a kids’ birthday party planning addict. Honestly, I don’t plan to throw a crazy complicated and over-the-top party each year. In fact, I usually announce in the wake of my twin boys’ birthday party that I am DONE. That, next year, the kids are going to have to be happy with cake and a pizza at home with family and that’s IT. But I always give in and I always get in way over my head.

Case in point: this year, I’m wanting to try to make their birthday cake myself. Worse still, it’s a pirate-themed party and I keep lingering over photos of a treasure chest birthday cake, thinking “it really would be so fabulous to make that” even while the remaining sane part of my brain is shrieking, “what is WRONG with you? Just call the bakery like you always do!”

Let’s look back for a moment.

First birthday party: we had a shrimp boil. The boys both got a little scared when we sang happy birthday to them, and just as they got their cake, it started pouring down rain, making it even more unbearably humid (we live in Mississippi, so really, we know unbearable humidity here).

Second birthday party: Meant to be “just family” but it, um, got out of hand. Plus one of the boys had a massive allergic reaction to a bugbite on or near an eyelid, causing him to look just like Rocky and I do not exaggerate one single bit about this. So those are some charming photos.
Third birthday party: actually quite fun, we had a luau at a candy shop, but we overlooked the sugar high thing and as a result, I am pretty sure we are the reason the candy shop instituted new rules for having birthday parties on-site.

So now we’re gearing up for their fourth birthday party. And, like a fool, I’m back in the saddle. I’ve mailed out the invitations, ordered up a mess of stuff from Oriental Trading Company, and spent an entire weekend downloading Pirate-ish fonts just for the thank you notes. Oh, plus the aforementioned treasure chest birthday cake thing (seriously, y’all, I have been test baking layer cakes for a few weeks to see if I might could actually manage it.).

In my defense, I would like to point out that a book I recently read about the emotional development and well-being of twins strongly recommends giving twins individual birthday parties, and I literally put the book down and laughed for an hour straight. I’m SO not falling for that. Though, perhaps I will make each of the boys a birthday cake. Which, if you’re keeping count, would mean now I may be making two treasure chest birthday cakes.

When Sarah isn’t busy chasing twin boys and planning parties, she is busy dreaming up creative new designs for her Etsy.com shop, Miniblisscakes.

For more Best Shot Monday, head over to Slurping Life, where Melody is guest hosting Best Shot Monday while Tracey is on vacation. I know, so complicated, all this guest stuff. Work with me here.

Food Friday: Strawberries

June 27, 2008

I could give a recipe for shortcake, or strawberry pie. I could talk about strawberry-spinach salad with poppy see dressing, the dish that is so weird that it just somehow works. I could even show you a picture of the strawberry-rhubarb crisp I made last week. But really, this week is all about summer and eating in season, and that’s what I plan to do.

Red, ripe strawberries, warm from the field, and if I can wait long enough to whip it, some fresh whipped cream as well.

Mmmm.

I am taking a little bloggy break over the next week or so, but you are in fine company here, with a host of interesting guest bloggers to enjoy. Please be kind to them and shower them with the same lovely, thoughtful comments you give me. Enjoy this week of summer, and I hope you have a fresh, local strawberry this week, too.

What NOT to read

June 25, 2008

Well, last week I was all full of public service, giving you tips on what to read while eating bonbons in the hammock this summer, all while smiling contentedly at the distant peals of laughter while your children play merrily in the summer sunshine encourage ants to crawl on them “because it tickles me.”

Guess which part of that sentence is true at my house?

You can’t make this stuff up. Henry chases them saying, “tickle, tickle!”

Anyway.

Unless you LIKE weird, fantastical accounts of matricide by a middle-aged, nude life model and mother of two, including a description of the deceased’s genitals, and scenes of sex with young men in cars immediately afterwards (I cannot WAIT to see what my Google searches are going to bring me tomorrow.), I’d give The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold a pass.

Her writing, like in Lucky and The Lovely Bones, is as meticulous and spare as ever. It was the quality of her writing that got me as far as page 63.

But then I thought to myself, time for reading is a luxury, and there is NOTHING luxurious about witnessing the machinations of protagonist Helen’s mind as she…wait for it….decides to put her dead mom in the freezer.

What else should I NOT read this summer? Because I want those minutes back!

Summer is…

June 23, 2008

…birthday parties in the yard, complete with cake and kiddie pool. This was the birthday party of one of Will’s pals, who is clearly excited that he is turning five! His friends are, too.

Happy Birthday, Ian!

Henry came along, and thought he was just one of the gang. I even overheard him telling one of the nursery school crew that he was four. I’m completely serious.

It all went fine until his cake capsized and landed on someone else’s toe. And that someone else ate it off his own toe. Henry was distressed, mostly that someone else ate his cake.

And Will was thrilled to be reunited with his nursery school buddy. Seems they had a lot to catch up on! This is my Best Shot Monday.

Wishing you a summer filled with backyards, cake and kiddie pools. Bring on the sunshine!

For more Best Shot Monday, click on over to Tracey’s.

Food Friday: Splashy Summer Cocktails (and Real Simple photo)

June 20, 2008

When you start seeing photos like this of yourself in national magazines and people start writing about you like this—”Anna’s wardrobe isn’t drab, she loves color!”—it’s time to get out Martha Stewart’s Hors D’oeuvres Handbook and serve something appropriate for the outfit.

However, I can’t POSSIBLY cook dressed like this, so I will have to simply mix up a few of these cocktails and start sipping. Join me? I’ll be on the patio by 5:30 p.m.

Limon (Lemon Drop)

1 cup crushed ice, plus ice cubes for chilling

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, strained

2 Tablespoons superfine sugar

4 ounces vodka

3 sprigs min

Fill glasses with crushed ice and place them in the freezer. Pour the lemon juice, sugar and vodka into a shaker with ice and shake hard for 30 seconds or until the sugar is melted. Pour the liquid over the crushed ice in the glasses. Rub the lip of each glass hard with a mint leaf just before serving, and garnish with a mint sprig.

Fresh Lime Daquiri

Martha says: Tinted sugars of various crystal sizes are an ideal decoration, not only for baking, but also around the rim of a cocktail glass. Select shades that contrast nicely with the drink you are making. To make your own, add just the smallest toothpickful of paste or gel color to superfine sugar, then blend until the color is combined with the sugar and the desired shade has been reached. Anna says: But, of course.

I WILL BE SKIPPING THAT STEP. I DON’T WANT ANY FOOD COLORING, EITHER A PASTE OR A GEL, ON MY WHITE JEANS.

2 Tablespoons light green sanding sugar for the rims of glasses

3/4 cup fresh lime juice (save halves)

1/4 teaspoon grated lime zest

6 ounces good-quality light rum (no Bacardi’s Rum PLEASE. My tenth-grade self thanks you.)

1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon superfine sugar

Pour the sanding sugar into a saucer big enough to encompass the rim of the glass you are using. One at a time, rub the rim of each glass with reserved half of a lime, so that the lip is wet about 1/8 inch into the glass. Immediately dip the rim of the glass into the sugar. Gently tap the glass to remove excess sugar. Set aside.

Add the lime juice, zest, rum and sugar to a blender. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add ice to fil half the blender. Blend on high until all the ice is pureed and the mixture is slushy, about 1 minute. Pour immediately into the prepared glasses and serve.

Mango Cocktail

Martha says: Look for mangoes that have unblemished, yellow skin blushed with red. This cocktail is more delicious with fresh mango juice made in the blender than canned or bottled mango nectar. Anna says: But of course.

4 1/2 ounces light rum

1 Tablespoon superfine sugar

1 1/2 cups mango puree (about 2 mangos)

3/4 teaspoon Cointreau

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

6 ounces seltzer or sparkling water

In a large pitcher, whisk together the rum and sugar until sugar has dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients. Whisk to combine.

Fill four tumblers with ice. Divide the liquid evenly among the tumblers.


Pomegranate Martinis

Martha says: Pomegranate juice is often sold in the produce section of your grocery store. Of course, you can also juice your own, scooping out the seeds and pushing them through a fine-mesh sieve. Anna says: OF COURSE.

5 ounces tequila

1 1/2 ounces Triple Sec liqueur

5 ounces fresh lime juice

2 ounces pomegranate juice

1 Tablespoon super fine sugar

Sugared Rose Petals, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Place all of the ingredients except the rose petals in the shaker and shake hard for 30 seconds. Fill 2 glasses with ice and strain the liquid into them. Garnish each glass with the rose petals.

Sugar Rose Petals

Martha says: The sugared rose petals give these pretty drinks a very special look. Anna says: As if I’m spending my time putting egg white on roses while wearing my awesome outfit.

1 small bunch pale pink edible (unsprayed) one-inch roses

1 large egg white

1 cup of our old friend superfine sugar

Place the roses in a vase filled with cool water while you work. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white with four or five drops water to thin the consistency. Place the sugar in a second small bowl, and place a pair of tweezers and a teaspoon nearby.

Choose petals that are smooth and unblemished (OF COURSE) and, working one petal at a time, dip the petal into the egg mixture and use your fingers to coat it. Cover the entire petal, and wipe off the excess. It will appear as though the petal is lightly veiled in the egg-white mixture.

Using the tweezers, hold the petal, and lightly sprinkle sugar on the petal, sugaring the front and back and tapping off the excess. Allow petals to dry for at least four hours or until crisp and brittle.

Now that I’ve got you good and liquored up and laughing yourselves silly over sugared rose petals, I’ve got a favor to ask of you. I need some guest bloggers to fill in here while I recover from tasting all the cocktails above go on vacation. You don’t have to be a blogger to be a guest blogger, you know. I just can’t be held responsible if you become so addicted to it that you start your own.

Interested? Leave me a note in the comments or send me an email and I will be in touch! Oh, and this would be like in a week, since I am nothing if not Last-minute Lucy.

Cheers!

P.S What the hey is superfine sugar and where do I get it?

Read anything good lately?

June 17, 2008

Lists of great summer reads are popping up everywhere, but of course I forget to write down where they were and what was on them. So tell me, what’s on your summer reading list? What have you read recently that you couldn’t put down? As my friend Melissa said this weekend, if it doesn’t grab her from the start, she’s not going to read it.

I just finished Jennifer Weiner‘s new novel, Certain Girls, and loved it. The boring, ambiguous title doesn’t do it justice, this was a fabulous, funny, heartbreaking, joyous story. Earlier this spring I read the very real narrative of four dramatically different new mothers, Little Earthquakes, and I’m hard pressed to say which one I liked best.

I read, with a heavy heart, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Powerful, sad and ultimately triumphant. Just read it.

I took a long break from Jodi Picoult this year (all that emotion! those ethical decisions! courtroom cliffhangers! personal angst!) but happily came back because her books are just SO good.

I just finished Keeping Faith, and recently read Second Glance, both among her best, I would say.

And in the less highbrow arena, I read Michael Palmer’s The First Patient, which I loved because I am a sucker for presidential fiction and medical fiction, so the two together worked perfectly for me. I end up reading every Stuart Woods pot-boiler that comes along, because they take about one late night (mostly because I can’t put them down) and are always a great read. This spring I read Shoot Him If He Runs.

Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer was another fast-paced clever read. Like I said, it’s in the less highbrow arena, but it keeps me off the streets.

And since it is garden season, I have to recommend The $64 Tomato by William Alexander or, How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden.

And finally,  I just picked up my husband’s copy of Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce and Culture by Taylor Clark. So far, pretty interesting, and best enjoyed with a cup of coffee, of course.

What have you got for me? Tell what you’re reading right now!

P.S. Thanks for all the calls and emails and Twitters about the Real Simple sighting, I finally got to see it last night, pretty fun. Can’t you just see me in those white jeans at the playground? I’ll post a scan of the page when I get a second, because I think it isn’t on news stands for another week or so.

Bunnycakes

June 16, 2008

BEHOLD.

A tree of bunny cupcakes, plus ones that were dubbed rabbit droppings.

NOT WHAT I WAS THINKING WHEN I MADE THEM.

For me?

Mmmm…

I think he liked it!

For more Best Shot Monday, hop on over to Tracey’s site.

Food Friday: A Roundup of Summer Birthday Cupcakes for Kids

June 13, 2008

Poor Henry—he’s been two for a few days and we haven’t yet given him any chocolate cake to shove in his face yet. (I did make good on my chocolate promise and gave him a few chocolate chips before bed on his birthday. “YUMMY!” he reported.)

We celebrated with ice cream and presents this week, and he had cupcakes at school, but we’re focused on Sunday for a combined birthday/Father’s Day celebration and I HAVE BEEN BUSY, mostly just drooling over the choices out there in kid heaven on the web.

Will had a cake full of sea creatures that we made here at home when he turned two, but with Henry, I’m going simple and doing cupcakes. I was leaning towards dogs and cats, but then I turned to the glorious Internet and have you SEEN what’s out there?

Butterfly cupcakes
(We had these beauties at an April birthday party, and creative mom used white yogurt-covered pretzels, very pretty.)

Hedgehog Cupcakes

Should you ever need to know how, here are instructions for making a HEDGEHOG cupcake. Someone, someday will google that and I will BE HERE READY with that handy information.

Flag Cupcakes
Perfect for a birthday anywhere near Memorial Day, Flag Day or July 4.

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

Though even as a child this struck me as being a little redundant (cake inside a cone), they sure are cute.

Clown Cupcakes

If there are any kids out there who don’t think clowns are creepy. These cupcakes, however, are not creepy.

Shark & Beach Cupcakes

I’m so making these. Probably for MY summer birthday.

Froggy Fun Cupcakes

If only I had known about these when Will, dubbed Froggy in utero, turned one. I just couldn’t visualize a frog-green cake, so I opted for the safe, white haven of piped organic cream cheese frosting with egg-free, milk-free organic carrot cake baked into a sheep mold. Hey, we take our food allergies seriously in our family.

Lollipop Cupcakes

These are too sweet for words. Literally. I can think of lots of little ones who would love these.

Fishy Cupcakes

What kid ISN’T a fish fanatic?

Bug Cupcakes

LOVE these. I wish I could make these for Henry, but I don’t want to traumatize him. He runs from flies and bees, saying, “Scary!”

Okay, I need to figure out which ones I’m making and get cracking! Oh, how I love cakes and cupcakes. This was so much fun I think I need to make this a regular event. In the meantime, I have a date with some chocolate buttercream.

Two years already!

June 11, 2008

June 2008, Henry at 23 months

Dear Sweet Baby Henry,

Is this the last time I get to call you that, now that you are a big two-year-old-boy? Your nurses tagged you with that title as soon as we named you, but I’m not sure if the laughing, mischievous toddler that you are today can will tolerate that much longer.

Henry’s hospital name tag

Holding you last night before bed, I was overwhelmed at how far you’ve come in just two years. I love to hear you say your name (Haan-reee!) so I asked, “Where’s Henry?” You foiled me on that one, by laughing, patting my arm and saying, “Right here, Mama!”

You sing with a repertoire ranging from “Twinkle, Twinkle” and “Wiggle, Wiggle” from music class to “ABCs” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” When you begin the spider song, you put your hands in spider position and then wait expectantly for the rest of us to follow your example before beginning the song.

When one of us sneezes, coughs or blows our nose, you interrupt whatever you are doing to say, “Blesh you, Mama!” Or Daddy or Wo-Wo. Your sweet voice makes us laugh as you earnestly repeat everything around you.

You are such an early bird! You wake up, usually before 6 a.m., and insist on going “d’stairs!” Then, nestled in one of our laps and reading books on the couch, you’ll yawn, rub your eyes and say, “TIRED!” (Us too, Henry, us too.) All this from the boy who slept through his first six months of life.

Henry, six weeks old

All of a sudden, you love to eat. The boy who once only ate frozen peas, blueberries and raisins now has a startling affinity for food and lots of it. Your list of favorites are wide ranging, too—pancakes, waffles, vanilla soy milk, black olives, pizza, broccoli, boiled eggs, applesauce, oh, and pork, of all things. Pork tenderloin, breakfast sausage from the local butcher, sliced ham—it disappears when we place it in front of you. You, like your brother, can’t get enough fruit, and you can eat as much of it, if not more, than he can.

After outgrowing a trinity of food allergies (milk, soy and egg), you’ve only been denied nuts and chocolate. Since Easter you’ve been well aware of “CHOCOLATE CANDY, PLEASE, HAVE SOME, WANT SOME, PLEASE, CANDY!” Just the possibility of chocolate inspired your longest sentence to date and guess what—you get to have some for the first time today. Life is good, Henry, and about to get even better.

You love to walk up and down the stairs by yourself, saying “I do it!” if anyone tries to carry you. You’re a skilled climber, and although you can swing your leg up over the rail of your crib, your contented personality seems to mean that you haven’t decided to climb out of it yet, THANK YOU, ALL THINGS HOLY. If we get even another week in the crib before you shimmy over the rail, I’ll owe something HYUGE in the cosmic sense.

Henry, 23 months

You broke my heart a little when you recently stopped calling banjos “banga-boes,” but calling your daily dose of yogurt and blueberries “gogurk and babies” makes my heart sing, and your insistence that applesauce is called “OSS” is fine with me.

When you were a newborn you sometimes got “accidentally” bumped by your brother. And when you began to play together, your brother often thought it was fair game to snatch your toys. I would whisper in your ear, “Henry, the first time you swat him, I will look the other way.” And look away I did, but now I sometimes have to rescue Will. Guess you really are a tough guy—one who is awfully cute when he says, oh-so-contritely, “Sorry, Wo-wo!”

I look at your sturdy body—your round toddler belly, the face smeared with blueberries and oatmeal, your impossibly long legs, your scratched and scuffed knees and the blue play dough under your fingernails—and wonder how any part of you could ever have been so delicate as to fail you. Visiting with one of your NICU nurses a few weeks ago, it took us both a minute or two to find your sole remaining badge of courage—the small white scar near your armpit, leftover from your chest tube so long ago. You were laughing as we turned you upside down and tickled you while looking for it.

Henry, 16 days old

Just recently I updated my notes on the computer for your teachers as you moved up to a new classroom in your child care center. I reread last year’s file in amazement—words like critically ill, respiratory distress, ventilator and preemie swam in front of my eyes and seemed entirely displaced on these notes about a perfectly healthy almost-two-year-old boy.

I deleted all of them.

Henry, 23 months old

Happy Birthday, Sweet Baby Henry. We love you!

And you are not going to believe how good chocolate is.

Love,

Mama

Wheeeee!

June 9, 2008

It’s really hard to get the focus just right on kids who are swinging.

But the good news is that I get lots of practice.

Even after bath and in pajamas, some nights.

Wishing you a swinging day. For more Best Shot Monday, click here.

Food Friday: Best Pasta Salad Ever

June 6, 2008

Sob.

It’s a rainy (of course) Friday. I have two sleeping boys upstairs—exhausted from the dearest nursery school closing ceremony you can POSSIBLY imagine, complete with songs sung so sweetly it made your teeth ache, individual odes to each child and butterflies emerging from their cocoons. Downstairs we have a teary mommy, who just rubbed salt in the wound by reading through her son’s entire teacher/parent journal from the whole glorious first year of nursery school after reviewing photos from today’s events.

I know, I know, it is just NURSERY school, and YES, he is returning for a second year in the fall. Don’t begrudge me my emotional moment, dear readers. It’s why they make sniffle packs of tissues. Beginnings and endings of any kind pack a powerful punch for me, and I know myself well enough to know that a sniffle pack probably wasn’t going to be enough.

(As it turns out it was enough for me, but I wiped Will’s is-it-a-summer-cold-or-is-it-allergies nose about forty times, so extra tissues? Thanks for being with us today.)

However. This is all a long way of saying now that nursery school is over for the summer, it must mean that summer is really here. And with steamy high temperatures forecast for most of the country this weekend, the timing is just right for a big bowl of Picnic Pasta, the best pasta salad ever. (Thank you Raquel, who passed this recipe on to me years ago for a cookbook I edited. It is still one of my favorites in the whole book.)

I know the title above is a bold statement, but I assure you, the best part is that you adapt it to make it what you love, and what could be better than that? Without further ado…

Picnic Pasta

1 pound rotini pasta (I feel virtuous when I use whole wheat or Barilla’s plus), cooked al dente

4 Tablespoons fruity green olive oil

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons dried basil or appx. 1 Tablespoon fresh, minced

1-2 cloves garlic, minced finely

1/2 cup Greek or Silician olives, sliced

1/2 cup carrots, sliced thinly

1/2 cup green onions, minced (I often substitute red onion)

1 cup red bell pepper, thinly sliced

While the pasta is still hot from cooking, drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add black pepper, basil and garlic, mix well. Mix in remaining ingredients and chill before serving.

Here’s where the fun starts. Don’t like any of the ingredients above? Like them all but want more? Your kids like only three things in addition to noodles?

Then try some of these add-ins. I think of an antipasto tray as my inspiration here. How about thin slices of smoked mozzarella cheese, cubed fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed ham or salami, sliced grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced sundried tomatoes, small marinated mushrooms, blanched broccoli florets, chopped roasted red pepper in lieu of fresh peppers, crisp steamed asparagus in one-inch pieces or chopped artichoke hearts. Got any other twists on this recipe? I’d love to hear them.

Hope you have a chance to try Picnic Pasta this weekend. Mine might be extra salty from the emotional outburst, but it will be yummy all the same.

And looking for a good cheap wine to go with it? Got one to add? Click here for Hank and Willie’s Guide to Wine.

Grape Expectations: Your favorite wines

June 4, 2008

Yum. And, as Henry would say, all gone!

The other night at dinner a friend mentioned a great bottle of wine she had just enjoyed, and told me the name. Which I promptly forgot.

And then I remembered another great wine, one that I had the foresight to document about a month ago by pulling it out of my recycle bin in the bright light of day and taking a picture of it with my phone. (Hello, wino!)

Which made me wish I kept a list somewhere of all the good wines I’ve tried and all the ones that people recommend. That last sentence just made both my social life and relationship with wine sound WAY MORE ACTIVE AND INVOLVED than they really are.

So tell me. Do you drink wine? Well, then, you’re a vine one to talk.

What are some of your favorite cheap-but-really-good wines? Red, white, sparkling—give it to us. And favorite names and labels? Like Fat Bastard and Screw Kappa Nappa and Bada Bing—are any of these any good?

Let’s make a go-to list, Internets. Tell your wino friends and ask them to share their favorites in the comments. Because then, you see, we ALL have a list of grape wines. I mean great wines. And some of my favorite lurkers, I just happen to know you drink a lot of wine, so be Reislingable and help a girl out here.

I promise, I’m almost done with the wine puns. But to get you in the spirit the spirit of things, I leave you with this old chestnut.

What did the grape say when it got run over?

Nothing, it just let out a little wine!

Syrah all later!

P.S. The wine above? Marques de Riscal 2008 2003 Rioja Reserva

(Hic! Edited to reflect proper year. Thanks, Stacy, a true wino who just took a vacation to wine country!)

Mmmmmm. If I knew any wine language I would say it is approachable and has legs and things like that. But I don’t, so I say get some and drink it!