Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Easter and Since

This year I decided I would put a little effort into at least one holiday. We don't ever end up celebrating at our house, so I don't usually do anything special at home. But I have such happy memories of the great Christmas stockings and Easter baskets my mom used to put together for us, that I took action for a change.

For starters, I cleaned the house. When we were not expecting company. Then I put together some baskets for the boys (Spiderman temporary tattoos, Sesame Street books, pixie stix, robin's eggs, jelly beans) and for the grown-ups (beer, beer, chocolate candy bar with bacon, pixie stix.)  I had planned to hide plastic eggs all over the house (the weather was miserable) but found I only had six. So I snuck into the boys rooms while they were sleeping and hid three eggs in each room. Hiding one in each of their underwear drawers was a stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. They talked about it all day.

I even set the table before bed and put the baskets out at each place. It was totally worth the effort.

We had a semi-fancy breakfast; as elaborate as I could manage before church. And just right, really, because we had a big holiday feast to look forward to later. We had fresh berries and boiled eggs (maybe next year I'll REALLY get it together and we'll color them), sausage, and Shaun's Easter bread, with mango-passionfruit mimosas for the adults and mango-passionfruit juice for the kids. Willem got really fancy and wore his nicest underwear and his new robot T-shirt to the table. I guess at some point we're going to have to make it a requirement to wear pants at meals.

In the afternoon, many of the extended family gathered at Shaun's folks' house for a ham dinner. Shaun must have had camera fatigue, for we only have one photo.  It features me making a deranged face at a baby and lots of people's backsides. Fortunately, cousin Amy took a lot of pictures.

The Wednesday after Easter, I started a new writing class through the Clark College continuing ed program. I enjoyed it, and I can tell that I'm going to learn a lot both from the teacher and from the other students, who are almost all writing already. Mostly it's a place to start writing rather than just thinking about writing, and to receive a lot of encouragement. Also it's two hours out of the house once a week. It's a good thing.

We really have been busy, for us. Shaun was kind enough to make a friend for me at work, and she and I went out for food and drinks in Portland. I had a good margarita and mmmmm coconut prawns at OBA!  The weather was beautiful, so we sat outside and watched the people go by. Then we went to Bar Due, where I had herbed gnocchi with rabbit.  Ah, adventures. Ah, a respite from boy energy. Ah, adult conversation.  

With all of this, we still have Shaun's birthday and our 9th anniversary coming up to celebrate. As soon as the thick layer of tree pollen coating our entire neighborhood washes away, we are going to have a great spring.  I can tell. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The week before Easter, we went to see some friends of ours in a mountain bike race. The venue was Horning's Hideout in North Plains, OR. It was the kind of place I didn't think existed except in movies. Movies about hippies, movies about stoners, movies about coming of age at summer camp. It was fantastic.

The figure-eight layout of the course meant that cars and pedestrians sometimes had to cross paths with the cyclists. Here, Willem almost wandered into the race before we noticed.

It's an archetypal summer camp setting, I tell you.

The boys played with their friend Zoe while her dad and his girlfriend competed in the race. Willem got a little disgruntled about sharing Zoe's attention.

It was the first of the really nice days we've had so far this spring, and it felt so good to be outside to properly enjoy it.

Later that week we went out to the Grandmartins for Burn Day. No, that's not a new holiday you've never heard of. It's the day the Martins burn stuff. And, as long as there's going to be a fire, why not roast some weenies and marshmallows?

Lucky boys.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In The Kitchen

I have a hard time figuring out what to cook for dinner. If it were only me, there would be a lot more meals consisting solely of chewy grains and chewy greens (except for collards, which are OK but for some reason taste to me the way gasoline smells.) 

Here are some of my obstacles...or shall I say...challenges?... to meal planning:

-I find it very boring to repeat a recipe. Unless it's something I love, I am totally unmotivated to make it more than once.

-I am trying to lose weight (lost a quick 8 pounds at the start of the year and have stalled ever since.  I'm sure it has NOTHING to do with the spectacular meals I've enjoyed in the past few months.) I try to stick with recipes that are accompanied by nutrition information so I can keep track of my calories. Yawn.

-I have two young children.  They are willing to TRY anything.  They are NOT willing to fill up their bellies with any old thing.  Sans kids I would eat a lot more soup (they like it but it takes FOREVER to eat) and I would try every wacky vegetable stew recipe that comes my way.

-Fun ingredients are expensive.  (Duh. I know I am WAY too indulgent in the kinds of foods I'm willing to pony up for. Honestly, the "me" of five years ago would be appalled at the contents of my shopping cart.)

-I am sadly lacking in knowledge of basic cooking technique.  I have to rely more than I'd care to on recipes. True, some of my tastiest dishes are the result of me winging it, scrounging for a meal after not having been to the grocery store in two weeks. But that's just me getting lucky.

As I've told you before, in a moment of desperation I subscribed to The Six O'Clock Scramble. And I have to say that a few of my favorite go-to recipes have come from there.  And it is a super convenient way to plan one's meals. But, really, I find about 1 stellar recipe for every 30 duds and ho-hums.  Every time we have a mediocre meal, Shaun looks at me with resigned eyes and asks, "Aviva?"  

A few weeks ago I decided to relieve the tedium and branch out a bit.  As I absolutely love tahini, I decided to try this recipe for Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad from one of my favorite food blogs, smitten kitchen.  It was good, and I absolutely recommend it to those of you who like these flavors (and I know there are some of you out there.)  

A few caveats: I made my squash chunks too small, so they were overcooked and lost their chunkiness, imparting an unwanted baby-food taste and texture to the finished salad. Also, I like red onion, but I found it to be overpowering, even after cutting back on the quantity.  Next time I would soak it first. Finally, the raw garlic in the dressing was a little strong for me as well.  It tasted fine the first night, but made me not want to eat the leftover dressing.  I'd put in a little less than the recipe calls for. Unless you're a big fan of raw garlic.

It was an adventurous week for me.  I also decided to try out a recipe from one of my Spanish cookbooks; primarily because it looked really simple and inexpensive.  It is called Arroz con Acelgas or Rice, Bean, and Greens Soup.  It wasn't until I got to adding the sole seasoning in this soup (apart from salt) that I realized I had never before made a soup that contained none of the following: carrot, celery, onion, or garlic.

The secret weapon in this soup?  Saffron.  That, plus the inclusion of a turnip, had sold me on the recipe.  I love saffron, and I now that I have discovered that Cost Plus World Market sells it for $3.99, I no longer rule out dishes calling for it.  But I am a neophyte in its use.  People like me (meaning folks uncomfortable with ambiguity) should really not be given recipes that call for "a pinch" of anything.  I always find myself adding just a bit more than my first instinct (ESPECIALLY when it's the only seasoning in the recipe!) because it would be a shame to have used some and then not be able to taste it.  Then I add a bit more. Then the dish ends up tasting a little bit like dirt.

So, I ended up with a giant pot of not particularly tasty soup.  But I hate to waste healthy food, so I dutifully ate my share and froze the rest.  I defrosted it this week, and it has been greatly improved by the addition of leftover Easter ham.

Speaking of Easter, I had an even more successful smitten kitchen experience with this Almond Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote.  Particularly the compote.  It was delicious and would be good with almost anything.  And holy smokes, peeling the strings off the outside of the rhubarb stalks released a smell that was the very essence of spring.  I could hardly get over it.

Those are my latest culinary adventures.  I would love to hear what some of your latest successes have been (preferably accompanied by recipes :)

And I'm curious for folks to weigh in on this as well: is it just me, or are garlic cloves WAY bigger than they used to be?  Maybe it's just a western thing, but I feel like a clove of garlic these days yields at least twice as much as it used to when I was a kid.  Therefore I'm always second-guessing how much garlic to use in a recipe if it only gives an amount in cloves. Anyone? Or have I completely lost my mind?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's Easter! Let's Have a Poem.


For joy like this, the only words I know
I've had to borrow from the other side:
knocked out, steamrolled, damn, I almost died,
familiar phrases for some crushing blow 
that brings you to your knees. I've been laid low
by love, ground into dust by heaven's wheels.
Funny how much like this rock bottom feels, 
the tears, the weakness, and the letting go.

My blessing: May you, in your turn, break down
and lose your marbles. May you fall apart,
be smashed to smithereens and blown away,
scattered in all directions. May you drown.
May happiness make mincemeat of your heart;
and helpless, may you wring your hands and pray.

                                                           --Rose Kelleher

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Boise Extravaganza

Let's all pretend that this is not a ridiculously long post. I'm not in the mood for installments. If this is more information about our Boise trip than suits your fancy, you can always skim or skip it, with me none the wiser.

On a Thursday evening (two weeks ago tomorrow) Shaun and I got in the car and drove to Boise for a weekend of remembering what it is like to relax and have fun. Shaun drove, I rode. (Lest you think I'm a total slacker, I did make a three-hour round trip to take the boys to their grandparents' right before we left for Boise.)

We arrived at the Hamiltons at about 2:45 Boise time to find that they'd both waited up for us. So of course we had to stay up and visit. I believe we all lost the battle to stay awake at about 4am. The last time I kept those kind of hours, I was an undergrad, and the major players were a booth at Denny's and a Moons Over My Hammy with a side of ranch.

It's hard to get up after only a few hours of sleep, but do you know what makes it easier? This:

Fresh-as-can-be eggs, perfectly cooked potatoes, and bacon. With mimosas. Cranberry-grapefruit, I think. I was really tired.

After lounging around and doing fun things like looking at shoes online (I was shamelessly unhelpful all weekend), Shaun and I went to BSU with Amanda to help take down her show. It looked fantastic in the space. For more details about it, visit Amanda's website.

Shaun and I went and checked in to our hotel (nice people, comfy beds, good location, aesthetically a bit confused and definitely not luxurious if that's what you're looking for) and took a nap.

Because this was as close to perfect as a weekend can get, after our nap we headed back to the Hamiltons, where the boys hung out with Esly while Amanda and I went shopping for many, many hours. It truly fills some need deep in my soul to have a girl to shop with and give the head nod or shake when one comes out of the dressing room.

By the time we got back, it was dinner time. Magical, delicious, wonderful dinner, which Andrew had been preparing in parts over a few days.

Behold, the salad of blanched leeks, walnuts, and shaved cheese, sprinkled with chives. The vinaigrette was plate-licking good. I will make this salad. It is delicious. Also delicious was the spring onion soup.

In between courses, Amanda made me a pair of earrings. If you don't have friends who make you jewelry and cook you lamb chops, you should find some. Here, Amanda is crafting away while Andrew attempts to keep the smoking chops from setting off the fire alarm and waking Esly:

The main course! Lamb with mint almond pesto, sauteed radishes, with greens, and mashed potatoes. There is no way you can ever know how perfectly these lamb shoulder chops were cooked. I kept thinking about them for the rest of the week.

The lovely and dangerous Negroni. Don't ask.

Filling up on good food and drink in the wee hours isn't very conducive to a good night's sleep, but we took advantage of not needing to be anywhere the next morning and lazed about for quite a while. Shaun and I had breakfast/lunch at Le Cafe de Paris. They make amazing almond croissants, though I do feel they're cheating a bit when they slice them open to add the filling rather than baking it in. While the repast below looks lovely, don't be fooled; it was only about 25% as good as the breakfast the Hamiltons fixed for us. (The croissant excepted. No complaints there.)

After our meal, Shaun and I went to REI to buy me a proper rain jacket, which I've never had. I'd been putting up a fight--rain jackets are all too sporty, and I hate to spend a bunch of money on something that doesn't even look good. But we had a credit to use there and, on top of a big sale, we figured we could get a deal.

It actually turned out to be really fun to shop for a coat with Shaun. He carried hangers for me, hung everything back up, and nodded and shook his head at the appropriate times. At one point a saleswoman came over to help us. She inclined her head toward the jacket I was trying on.

"What do you plan to use it for?"

"Well, we live in Portland," answered Shaun.


Exactly. I ended up with a super nice plain black Gore-Tex jacket that I don't even hate.

Mission accomplished. Time for dinner! Dear Kylee watched Esly so the four of us could go out on the town. We started with dinner at Red Feather, where they sometimes think that they are too cool for school. This may be because they have a giant blue-lit wine refrigerator. I don't know. We had a ton of fun, but I'd have to say that everything Andrew fixed the night before was at least a zillion times better than anything we ate at Red Feather. The wine was good.

We were there for "Earth Hour", so it was particularly dark.

If anyone can think of what Shaun may have said to elicit these expressions in response, let me know:

After dinner, Andrew had the brilliant idea of adjourning to Pengilly's Saloon. Genius.

Pengilly's is old-timey and no-nonsense. It was the place to be. Two guys were playing Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and all sorts of good old stuff. Everyone was 10-20 years older than us. It was not lame, as bars can be. It was fantastic.

The music was SO GOOD.

It looks like I'm very mellow here, showing off my new earrings (which it was too dark to get a good photo of), but I'm mostly just worn out from singing at the top of my lungs and smiling benevolently at the dancing ladies and saying impulsive things like, "I am TOTALLY going to learn how to play that guitar I asked for for my 30th birthday!" It was that kind of night. Quite possibly one of the most fun nights I've ever had.

And then, after a brief visit with friend Kylee, the night was over. We once again took advantage of our kid-free status by sleeping in the next morning. Amanda was kind enough to save our portions of Dutch Baby which we ended up eating at lunch time. No offense to Shaun, who makes a mean Dutch Baby, but this was an exceptional one, even eaten hours after it was made. Such kind friends we have. It was hard to say good bye.

So, why are we smiling?

It's never all bad when the drive looks like this:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Nels's Personal Grooming Habits: "A" for Effort

"Don't you think you should push back my tentacles tonight, after my bath?"

Goodnight, Willem

"Goodnight.  I love you."

"Do you like me?"

"Yes, I do."


"Well, you're fun..."

"And I'm nice?"


"And I'm safe?"


"And I'm sound?"

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Best Description Ever of a Fart Noise

"That one sounded like a spring breaking."

It totally did.

Housekeeping Fail

Every time I start tidying up around the house:

"Mom, when are our friends coming over?"

Every time.