May 31, 2010

Hello My Name Is Ted

I'm Allison's husband, I used to blog around here, and according to Allison it's high time I blogged around here again. So here I go - bear with me, I'm a little rusty.

Allison and I have a daughter, as you may know. Her hair is growing faster than a goose's liver on a foie gras farm, and for the past several months she's basically seen the world through her bangs. She'll be surprised when she finds out Mom and Dad aren't striped. The bangs-in-the-eyes thing isn't really our fault. We try to keep them out of her face with hair clips, but the only thing she loves more than begging for bites of dessert is pulling hair clips out of her hair and handing them to us with this self-satisfied I-just-found-the-ark-of-the-covenant smile on her face.

The point of my ramblings is that we actually got into a little hair clip making frenzy (maybe we'll be able to trick her into wearing them one day). Here's my first attempt:

Yes, that's C. elegans - complete with stylized anatomy.

And here's the clip in action. Oh, and yes, that's a pink camo t-shirt she's wearing - comes in real handy when we're trying to hide her in the children's section at Target.

May 29, 2010

Farms, food, and fotos

Today's post is more about photos than the actual activity. Although for us, the activity was quite fun to do as a family. We went to the local NC Agricultural Festival, which was basically another name for a smaller version of their state fair (which we went to in October). Our biggest draw this time was the fact that they had a petting zoo (with camels! and llamas!) because we happen to have a little girl who has grown quite fascinated with livestock. At one point, we saw her imitating goat sounds, except her imitation sounded more like a dog (she's still quite limited).

Our other favorite part was the food-sampling exhibition. As Ted mentioned, if you're of the entrepreneurial spirit, don't try to break into the BBQ sauce business, at least in the state of North Carolina. It has been there'd and done'd many times over. And most of them were quite good, but I ain't paying $8 for a small bottle of it. Now the blackberry cider drink...that was original. And ridiculously tasty. Especially in slushy form.

There were probably about 100 booths set up in a building with different samplings going on at each one. At least 40 of them were for BBQ sauces, if not more. There was one booth sponsored by a local grocery store chain, and they were passing out their plastic bags for any loot you were going to end up buying. But for the most part, the people I saw didn't have purchased items in there. No, no. They were over at the Malt O Meal booth, loading up FULL BAGS of the company's individual cereal bowls and oatmeals. People, this is not a free-for-all grocery shopping trip. They're samples. Take one and move along. Rednecks... (or, "Mormons"...)

But back to my point. I've been looking at lots of pictures on lots of blogs/online albums/professionals' websites lately and have been feeling a bit of photo envy. Up to now I've thought I needed a much more fancy camera than I have in order to achieve that kind of artistic level, and while that is certainly true, I've also learned there's much more I can do with a little editing software that I've been too lazy or too ignorant to focus on before. So I took a few minutes with a couple of the next 4 pictures to try to make them look a little more aesthetic. If you wouldn't mind, leave a comment and let me know which two you think are the best in terms of the look of the picture (not necessarily the subject matter), so I can know if I'm on the right track. Your input would be greatly appreciated. But not as much as if you showed up at my door with free ice cream. That would send me through the roof with glee.

May 25, 2010

On the cooling rack: Strawberry cupcakes

Remember all those strawberries I couldn't stop gushing over? They have found a new favorite home.

We borrowed Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book from our local library in case it wasn't any good. You know how she's sooooo hit-and-miss with her creations sometimes. But this time, it looks like we, ahem, "hand-picked" a winner. I made both standard size and mini cupcakes, and both were excellent, but here's my note for that: recipe calls for "finely chopped" fresh strawberries in the batter. I didn't have patience for finely chopping the berries, and I knew a food processor would just puree them, so I rough-chopped them. Of course, since those particular berries were so darn juicy, it meant that with the mini size, I really had to make sure the batter got cooked all the way because in a few of them, the cake just around the pieces of berry were a titch underdone. Not enough to stop me from eating most of the ones in the picture below, but just so you're aware. This wasn't the case with the standard size - make as many as you want of those.

Also, she swears by this Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting. To quote her book, "If there is one frosting a home baker should always have on hand, this is it." She backs up that claim by saying it's nice to spread and pipe, silky texture, flavors and colors perfectly, etc. My personal note is that sometimes Martha can get a little too fussy for my taste. But then, that's why she has a show and hundreds of people working for her, and I don't. I followed her strawberry variation of this particular frosting to the letter, hoping I wouldn't screw it up since it calls for basically cooking egg whites with sugar without letting them curdle. I used a double boiler, and made sure my water was only simmering (not at a rolling boil), and I periodically removed the top pan from the bottom while the sugar was dissolving just to make sure it didn't get too hot. Martha suggests using the bowl of a stand mixer over a pot of simmering water, which I would have done if I had a stand mixer, which I don't. So this frosting took me about 3x as long as it maybe should have, but I must say, I was NOT disappointed. I rarely lick frosting beaters, because I have to draw the line somewhere, but I could not be restrained this time. The end result instantly took me back to homemade strawberry ice cream at Laura D's house every Memorial Day and Labor Day growing up. It wasn't as cold as ice cream, of course, but the flavor was spot-on and incredibly delicious and creamy.

Strawberry Cupcakes makes 34 standard size cupcakes
2 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. cake flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
2 1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
3 large whole eggs plus 1 egg white
1 c. milk
2 c. finely chopped fresh strawberries (about 20) plus more for garnish
Strawberry Meringue Buttercream (recipe below)

1. Oven to 350. Line muffin tins. Sift together flours, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
2. Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla until pale and fluffy at med-high speed. Add eggs and the white one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk, and beating until well combined. Fold in chopped strawberries by hand.
3. Divide batter evenly (I use a large cookie scoop), filling each liner three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins if necessary until golden and toothpick comes out clean, about 25-30 min (I checked at 15-20. They were done at 21 min, but my oven runs hot and I also can't stand overcooked cupcakes). Cool in pans 15 min, turn onto wire rack and cool completely. They can be stored in airtight containers at room temp for a day.
4. Frost with buttercream, or pipe onto the tops and garnish with strawberry slices and eat like crazy. note: If you refrigerate your buttercream, you must let it come to room temp before serving. Learned that by experience. Tastes SO MUCH better.

Strawberry Meringue Buttercream (makes about 5 cups, plenty for one batch of cupcakes)
1 1/2 c. fresh strawberries (8 ounces) rinsed, hulled, and coarsely chopped
4 large egg whites
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) cut into tablespoons and allowed to come to room temp.

1. Puree strawberries in a food processor. Combine egg whites and sugar in bowl of a stand mixer set over simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture feels completely smooth when rubbed between the fingers.
2. Attach bowl to the mixer with whisk attachment. Starting on low, whisk until stiff peaks form (mine never became super stiff like a regular meringue. It was very glossy and got firm, but the end result was perfect. I beat with a hand mixer for close to 20 min). Increase speed gradually to med-high until mixture is fluffier and very glossy and bowl is completely cool (about 10 min).
3. With mixer on med-low, add butter a few tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, scrape down sides and switch to paddle attachment; continue beating until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 min. Add strawberries and beat until well combined. Stir with rubber spatula until mixture is smooth. Keep at room temp if using the same day. Can be refrigerated or frozen, but allow to come to room temp, beating about 5 min in stand mixer, before serving.

Kudos, Martha. You make me sick.

The day has come!

I was going to chop off the last second where she clunks into me, but let's be honest. It's pretty amusing.

Sorry about the lack of pants. She had just leaked into them. But this way, you get to see those glorious thighs!

May 21, 2010

Home SWEET Home

Let me tell you what I miss about California:

  • In N Out. badly.
  • My Diet Coke drinking buddies (you know who you are)
  • Janet's organ playing
  • Saladang Thai restaurant
  • Potluck dinners with my college friends and their families
  • Normal-sized bugs
  • The hole-in-the-wall produce store on Lake Ave
  • Being able to call our Altadena home "home"
  • Diddy Reese ice cream & cookie sandwiches
  • A temple that does sessions during the day
  • Year-round herb garden
  • Keeping up with my bad Spanish
  • Settlers nights with my crew
I've written about lots of things here that I very much enjoy, most recently $2.39 milkshakes (and they're big! I can't get over it!). The walking trail near our house has been keeping me from gaining too much weight this pregnancy, the amount of green here is insane, our airport is 15 min from our door (and that's driving the speed limit), and it's so easy to make lifelong friends here because the people are so fantastic.

But until last week, those still weren't reasons compelling enough to put our roots down and call this place home. For last week we discovered pick-your-own strawberry patches.

That's not a stock photo! That represents one fifth of the berries we picked together one afternoon, and I didn't put all the good-looking ones together. They ALL looked that good. Juicy, ready to rupture in your mouth, no white tips or tartness, dark red all the way up to the tops. They are what strawberries were meant to taste like.

So often I have walked right past the display of strawberries in grocery stores because they have seldom lived up to my expectations. I have needed them to make pies and such, but those are only good because so many get pureed or chopped and covered with sugary goodness. Not necessary with these. These are...phenomenal.

Tessa knows the goods when she sees them.

But this is how she really felt. Give. me. that. BERRY!!!!

My favorite Mexican-in-training. Each of those buckets held almost 10 pounds. We filled two of them for $1.35/lb. Worth every penny.

And his little helper (I caught her chomping on half-eaten ones in the dirt):

After washing and sorting them for jam, snacking, freezing, pureeing, desserts, etc, we gave Tessa as many as she wanted. Well, we stopped her at about 25. She could have gone all night. Her bib looked like she just got out of an ER.

This was my favorite. I put her in her high chair the next morning while I went to do something or other. As I walked back I heard the familiar sound of something sliding around on the table behind her (she does it when she gets bored). I grabbed my camera and caught this:

Notice the dribbles down the front. She'd already attacked the flat I left out to dry. Just ate them whole, greens and all.

I already made loads of freezer jam, a very delectable dessert (poorly dubbed "Strawberry Delight" - I shudder whenever the word "delight" is in a food title. It's like naming your kid Chastity and then watching them grow up to be a total skank), and tomorrow I'll post what I concocted today. Just a hint: they made me shudder. North Carolina, you are doing your part in keeping me here.

May 20, 2010

Happy Confederate Memorial Day!

Now before you get all excited to honor the dead of the CSA during Civil War times (yes, they all still freak out about it here, though not as much as I remember Georgia freaking out about it), let me just say that there's not ONE official Confederate Memorial Day, which only confirms to me that the South will never really rise again because, well, they can't get their act together. It's generally agreed that those states which seceded from the Union all celebrate the holiday (at least unofficially), but they can't decide when. For instance, Arkansas and Texas both celebrate it on Jan 19 (Gen. Robert E Lee's bday), which may or may not land on MLK day. Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisiana all observe it on June 3rd (coming up for any natives! excited??) because that was Jefferson Davis's birthday (Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America, for all my California or ignorant friends). Virginia lumps their CMD with their regular MD, which is convenient since I imagine most of their residents might not know about it or give a crap. The Carolinas both observe May 10 (the death of Stonewall Jackson in 1863) and Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia hang their rebel flags on April 26, for it was on that day, in 1865, when the largest surrender (by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston) of confederate troops happened in a mutual agreement with Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman at Bennett Place, NC. I'm totally considering that middle name for a child. Darwin Tecumseh Ochocinco Ririe. Nice ring.

Today is May 20, which isn't any of those days. But Ted asked me today if I wanted to go on an educational outing today, so we went to Bennett place where Sherman and Johnston laid out surrender terms for what basically turned out to be the end of the Civil War, and somewhere on the grounds, Ted saw a sign that Confederate Memorial Day was today. Oh well. Somewhere, someone knows the truth.

This was a cool memorial - built to commemorate the agreement between the North and South.

Gotta do something about those bangs...

In the background you see (to the right) the home of the Bennett family. They were taken unawares when the two generals came to their property to discuss the terms, but they obliged and escaped to the kitchen (bldg on the left) so the two men could speak in private.

The first item of business was the very confidential telegraph notice that President Lincoln had been shot three nights earlier and died the next morning (on April 15 - Ted's bday! Bad omen..). The first surrender terms were rejected as too lenient by the federal government, so on April 26th, the two generals met again and agreed on the disbanding of 89, 270 confederate troops stationed all over the South - the largest surrender of confederate troops of the war. Our guide was a little adamant that the war didn't end with Grant and Lee at Appomattox Court House. These people and their hang-ups...

We further celebrated with BBQ pork sandwiches and fabulous hushpuppies and milkshakes from CookOut - an NC chain that I now wish to cart around with me wherever I go. Almost 40 awesome milkshakes for $2.39 each? Yes please! If the South does rise again, it'll be because of the fat in their food, floating to the top. In the meantime, keep waving those CSA flags!

May 18, 2010

Orange Dream

I swear, I should be in a commercial. Advertisers need to know how much I fawn over some of the food they come up with. The latest, or should I say, one of the earliest num-nums I just had the pleasure of pleasuring over was a simple Creamsicle. The standard orange and cream goodness on a stick. I bought a box of 12 a few weeks ago for $1.88 (I love a good sale) and I've been parceling them out slowly ever since. Today, I shared one with Tessa - her first. Watching her eat it, with eyes growing wide and little-kid "mmmm"s allowed me to remember how much I loved eating them as a kid (and why I'm such a sucker for them even now). The best part was that she got a little cream on her fingers, so rather than getting my growing belly off the couch to get a napkin, I just stuck her fat fingers in my mouth and sucked them clean. Don't gag. You've all done it. Anyway, she just giggled and laughed and giggled some more, and I was taken back to my own summer childhood treats. I think I still have 5 left in the freezer...

Does it make you want to go get a box? I'm not stopping you. You're welcome, Popsicle brand, for the shameless free advertising.

May 9, 2010

Being a mom kicks butt

Last year's breakfast by Ted: crepes and bacon. That's what I'm talkin' about.

I know there are women out there who hate Mother's Day for whatever their reasons (my own mother doesn't like it because she's never handled unbridled and insincere affection very well), but I tell ya, I love it.

We did a little revamping of Mother's and Father's Days this year because of money constraints and to change the focus from feeling like "I gave you a gift - what more do you want?" to "You mean so much to me and I don't just want to tell you, I want to show you." To be fair, we have never been so callous to each other as to have the "what more do you want?" attitude, but I really just wanted the day to focus on service and appreciation more than material things.

Ted did not disappoint.

I consider Mother's Day as spanning the weekend, so Saturday we spent at home together. We had company coming into town (not our own company - the father and brother of a friend in the ward needed a place to crash for the night before his graduation), so I had a loooooooong to-do list written out and after I made a breakfast of bacony eggs and seasoned hash browns (which I finally got right) we started to tackle it. I knew Ted had a Sunday night deadline for future job prospect interviews that he had to focus on, but instead, he took a look at my list and started in on it as well. He took the hardest jobs/projects - cleaning the entire guest bathroom on hands and knees because he knew I'd get major heartburn and poisonous fume effects if I attempted it myself, and tackling the bookshelf in the guest room that had become overrun with all the "stuff" you put someplace because there's nowhere else to put it.

He organized it, then went a step further by putting pictures in books, finding old postcards to put into empty frames, finding nails, hammer and measuring tape in order to hang said frames, putting all dangerous stab-a-kid's-eye-out objects one shelf higher, reorganized all the sewing tools that had accumulated onto the sewing table and moved all computer-related accoutrements to where we keep the computer (usually - it is a laptop, after all). Meanwhile, I switched out all the clothes Tessa's too fat for, put those into bins, and brought out the next batch. No one ever told me about that part of being a mom. I guess I knew babies grow and therefore, their wardrobes must change, but I didn't connect the two with the fact that I would have to do the changing. I think it's my least favorite part of being a mom because every article of clothing requires a decision, which is a pain. But I did it. For Mother's Day.

We washed sheets, made the bed, tidied up the room, brought out towels, stashed the stuff we didn't have time for into Tessa's room, hid the R-rated movies and yarn pile (equally sinful to some), and I finally got to making dinner at around 7pm. The only problem is that I had started brining a turkey boob the night before and HAD to cook it, but since it had to roast about 2 hours, I feared we were going to be eating as the company walked in the door.

I was right.

Thankfully, they were as low-maintenance and kind as can be, so all my anxiety and stress was for naught. Ted is a wonderful sounding board to my stress levels (aka "bitching"), so he heard his share of earfuls yesterday. It didn't help that I was pretty darn grumpy and Tessa had developed a fever and rash from her vaccines the day before.

Ted made breakfast this morning. It's pictured below. It has "Ted's doing" written all over it: orchid that he's kept alive since my birthday (Feb), 10 orange segments all in perfect rows, his mom's fabulous German pancake recipe baked to perfection on his very first solo try, every available sauce in our fridge to put on said pancakes (homemade strawberry jam and chocolate sauce not pictured), BACON (wasn't off the stove quite yet, and actually, that has ME written all over it rather than Ted, but it is my day after all, right?) our fancy silverware, and goblets for the OJ. Oh, but there's more....

See the level of liquid in the goblets? The one closest to you with the overexposed flash is Ted's. The man loves his OJ. Mine looks like it's been half drunk already. This is not because he drank it before I could come downstairs or because he "ran out" after he'd poured himself a hefty glass already. He is fully aware that the one food that gives me heartburn (even when not pregnant) is any volume of orange juice greater than 4 oz. He didn't want to plague my morning, so 4 oz it was. Sooooo sweet.

German pancakes with some homemade strawberry jam and lemon curd was, in a word, heaven. And bacon and chocolate in the same meal? How can you go wrong? I was moaning in deep pleasure with pretty much every bite (what is it about meals you don't have to think about or make that cause them to taste even better?), and before ya know it, we hear Tessa in the kitchen (who was having a smaller version of our meal) moaning with the same intensity and intonation as her mom. Just that alone would have made my day.

But then we went to church. Both talks in Sacrament meeting were fantastic, with special attention given to women who have been dealt sour cards in life situations, and I appreciated the sensitivity that both men used in addressing their remarks. The primary sang (Tessa was riveted) which is always a treat, and my gift from Tessa (other than the moaning) was being fed tiny bites of a PBJ during the rest of sacrament meeting, just like I've done to her oodles of times. And then giving me a very wet kiss after almost every bite.

I taught in Young Women about how we strengthen our testimony through obedience to the commandments. The insight that these 13- and 14-yr old girls have is incredible. They get it - better than I ever did at that age. I related my experience of gaining my own testimony as a teenager and how much strength I've drawn from that experience ever since then, but we talked about how laziness and disobedience can take us farther from what we know or have known is most important. I fall into that category so often. I don't ever intend to flagrantly disobey; I just get lazy. I get discouraged, too, but more often, it's laziness. Building a testimony requires doing, even if that doing is just a desire to do (Alma 32). "Strengthening" denotes an action, so it's only appropriate that our greatest insights and "golden nuggets" (I like to call them) are solely gained by getting off our butts and getting to it. It was a wonderful discussion, and the Spirit was so strong, that it was a shame to see our time together was over for the day.

The rest of the day was just as great. Tessa napped, we ate courtesy of Ted again, and once we stuffed our gullets, we started making phone rounds. My first stop was my "other mother" - the mother of one of my best friends whom I've known since I was 8 and who really has been the main part of the village who had to raise me. She and her family are going through an incredibly difficult time right now, and I've been thinking about her and praying for her every day for over a month, but because of the regular reports I was getting from her blog, from my friend, and from my mom (who is best friends with her as well), I never just picked up the phone and called her myself. Well, today I did, and even though she's the one going through a "rough patch" (and that's putting it soooooooo mildly), she made me so happy. We laughed and cried and talked about boobies. Basically, a standard wonderful phone conversation for me.

And then, my own dear mother. I waited for Tessa to wake up even though she just wants to eat the phone and press the buttons instead of blabber into it, but it was fun to have her there anyway. I talk to my mom all the time, so this was not an out-of-the-blue call for us. We just kind of picked up where we left off (from yesterday) and for the second time, she wished me a Happy Mother's Day, which is an incredible feeling.

Dear Mom,
I understand so much more fully what kinds of worries you were up against, what kind of love you felt for us, and how much we must have driven you crazy. I get why you streamlined your cooking, had a salad at every dinner, and switched to disposable diapers the second they were invented. I never knew about all the behind-the-scenes praying you must have done to keep your sanity, but I know now why you were either reading your scriptures or on your knees whenever I barged into your room at bedtime, why you cling so mightily to wise words and funny moments, and I am honored that you now turn to your own children for advice and a listening ear, even when, to us, you seem to have all your ducks in a row just fine. You've never claimed or given any indication that you think you're perfect, but to me, you are, and I'm so happy that I get to have you as my friend forever.

Dear Tessa,
Your Grandma D is quite a woman. She has raised me to be strong for you. She definitely taught me to be better than I am, but luckily, life is a process and God very mercifully gives us a little time to work out our kinks. I have a lot of kinks, but you don't seem to mind. The one thing I've got in spades (besides kinks) is an undying affection for you. I see little fun parts of your personality coming out, and I see some parts of my own personality that I can only assume will drive me as crazy as I drove Grandma D for so many years. But watching you watch me prompts me to be doing the things that are best, not just "good", because no one can ever expect someone to "do as I say, not as I do." Thank you for keeping me on my toes and for being so easy to love, you sassy little vixen.

Mother's Day 2009. Three months post-partum. Notice bags under eyes (both sets).

Mother's Day 2010. Main differences: we both have more hair (thank you, pregnancy hormones), her head is bigger but hair accessories are smaller, and lactating breasts turned into pregnancy rack. That necklace is following its path just like a river meandering through unmovable mountains...

Dear Undercooked Son,
I apologize in advance. But I promise I'll do my best.
Future Mama

The Cooling Rack

Baked goods are only half the story...