Archive for April 2007

Chocolate Honey Cake

For my honey, of course, on his birthday.
This is Nigella Lawson’s chocolate honey cake (scroll way down for the recipe), from the chocolate cake hall of fame in Feast. It’s moist and rich, you can mix it all in the food processor, and those little marzipan-almond wing bees are fun to make, like edible play-doh (Wait, says Eli, play-doh isn’t edible?). And they taste good, too.

Children’s Lit Book Group

Libby’s latest column is up at Literary Mama, and definitely worth a read. Here’s a taste:

The girl is entranced by books. One of the first places we see her is in a bookshop, where she slides a ladder around to find and borrow a book she can’t afford to buy, a book she wants to reread. The astonished proprietor (“but you’ve read it twice!”) gives her the book and she leaves, rereading the book as she walks, singing happily.

“Oh, isn’t this amazing/It’s my favorite part, because, you see/Here’s where she meets Prince Charming/But she won’t discover that it’s him, ’til Chapter Three!” She sits by a fountain and settles in to enjoy the book, sheep crowding her at every side, water falling behind her.

I’d never seen myself in a cartoon character before, but watching Belle on the big screen transported me back almost twenty years, to a summer of rereading. Staying at my grandparents’ house in Connecticut, we had only the books left behind by my mother and her sisters. Like the movie’s Belle, I carried my books outside. Grandpop had planted a Christmas tree grove and the trees formed lanes and little rooms, circles carpeted with pine needles and hidden by thick branches. I would carry a book into the cool shade of one of these pine chambers and read, inhaling the musty fragrance of old books along with the sap-infused air of the grove. Disney’s Belle brought that former self back to me, reminded me of who I’d been and who I hoped my daughter might become: an outside reader: taking books outdoors and unmooring their stories.

Read more at Literary Mama!

Fearless Friday

Today, in honor of MotherTalk’s Fearless Friday spotlight on Arianna Huffington’s new book, Becoming Fearless, I’m supposed to write about a fearless moment in my life, or a moment when I started becoming fearless.

First, here are some moments I remember feeling fear:
When I was five, and we’d just arrived in Connecticut from Japan and my unfamiliar uncle reached into the car to pick me up;
When I was twenty-two, and a guy with a finger in the pocket of his sweatshirt mugged me;
When I was thirty-five, and I was in an emergency room with my listless, feverish, 9 month-old baby being diagnosed with pneumonia.

Some more typically frightening things — leaving my public school and going to boarding school in 9th grade; moving across country at 22 with no job and no place to live (that one probably scared my parents, but they were remarkably calm!); giving birth — didn’t scare me at all, and I’m trying to work out the pattern, but I think mostly for me (as, I suspect, for many others) the things you choose are less scary than the things that are imposed or inflicted on you.

Just over a year ago, I started a blog. Before that, I’d been afraid of even commenting on a blog, worried, as we often are, of coming across as too stupid, too trivial, too ordinary. Well, maybe I am all of those things some of the time, but I’m also not any of those things enough of the time that I keep putting it out there. And in a direct line from blogging comes my column, and now a book, and a measure of fearlessness. I’ll write to anybody, anywhere, and ask them to talk to me.

So if you’re reading this blog and have never commented, celebrate Fearless Friday with me and drop me line.

Gougeres (Cheese Puffs!)

These are just easy and good.

1/2 c butter (1 stick)
1 c water
1 c flour
5 eggs
1 c grated gruyere
1/2 c grated parmesan
2 t dijon mustard
fresh black pepper

Preheat oven to 425.
Heat butter and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture comes to a simmer.
Turn heat to low, add flour and stir until mixture starts to pull away from the sides of the pan (about a minute).
Remove pan from heat and add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each (dough will separate at first, but keep stirring and it will form a smooth paste).
Stir in remaining ingredients.
Drop mixture in heaping tablespoonfuls onto 2 greased or parchment-lined baking sheets. (At this point you can freeze them until you’re ready to bake).
Bake until puffed and brown, about 30 minutes. Cut slits in sides of puffs, return to oven and lower the heat to 350. Bake 10 minutes more.

Chard by the Yard

I don’t know what makes me happier: the fact that my little vegetable garden now produces a nearly year-round supply of chard, or the fact that my boys say “Yay, chard!” and gobble it up for dinner.

It’s all very good.

MotherTalk: the food!

I will post recipes as I’ve got time, but here for now is a list of what I served; I should have taken a picture, since it all looked so pretty spread out on the table, but here instead is a picture of the cleared-off table the next morning…

apricot crumble bars
pistachio-cranberry cookies
spiced nuts
cheese gougeres
white bean-pesto spread
cheese, crackers, baguette

MotherTalk with Santa Montefiore

So hosting a MotherTalk is my idea of the ideal evening: I get to stay home and cook snacks and sweets; a group of friends and friendly others comes to my house; a writer arrives and talks about her book, her writing process, the people she meets on her book tour. What’s not to like?

This evening’s MotherTalk, with Santa Montefiore, came the evening after my son’s preschool auction, so several of us were not at our most-well-rested best, but Santa is such a terrific storyteller, we were rapt. She told us about writing her very first novel while working a beautifully-appointed (but apparently not too busy) desk at Ralph Lauren; about fictionalizing real people (and how rarely they recognize themselves); about making the most of her writing time by compiling a soundtrack for each novel (when she sits down to write, rather than read over her last pages to get in the mood, she just starts her music. This apparently works better for her lush historical novels now that she no longer shares an office with her 80’s pop music-loving husband); and about meeting Helen Mirren and Anna Wintour.

We ate and talked and everyone went home with a new book to read in bed, and I’ve got some good leftovers: a perfect evening.

Time To Do Something

I’m not over the shock of the Virginia Tech shootings yet, but my sadness now is tinged with more anger at the sheer needlessness of it. It could have been prevented. And I’m not talking about the Virginia Tech administration, I’m talking about our country’s administration. I’m talking about gun control laws. I’m moved by my dad’s J’Accuse blog post to lobby more strongly, today, right now, for gun control.

And here are some links so that you can, too.

Here’s the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Here’s the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Do something.

A Good Day (with biscuits!)

A bad day can always be redeemed with biscuits, although who’s going to make themselves biscuits at the end of a rough day? Until I learn the biscuit recipe that involves melted butter and no rolling pin (Libby?), not me.

But today was a good day, and that included time to roast artichokes and then, when I saw the beautiful ripe strawberries in our produce box, make biscuits for a strawberry short cake.

2 c flour
1 t salt
1 T sugar
2 1/2 t baking powder
4 T cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 c cold shortening, cut into small cubes (didn’t notice this until transcribing the recipe just now, left it out, and the biscuits came out just fine…)
1/2 c cold milk, half and half, or cream
1 egg

Using a food processor, mix the dry ingredients. Add the butter (and shortening, if you remember), and pulse a couple of times until the mixture has the texture of coarse grain. In a small bowl, beat the egg into the milk (the fattier the milk you use, the richer the biscuit), then add to the mixture in the food processor and pulse again until the dough just starts to come together.

Turn the dough out on to a floured dough and knead just a couple times, to bring the dough together. Now shape it into a roughly 6″ x 6″ square, approximately 1/4″ thick, and roll across the top once or twice with a rolling pin to smooth it out. Wrap in plastic, and freeze for an hour.

Toward the end of the hour, start preheating the oven to 400. Take the dough out of the freezer, unwrap it, and slice with a very sharp knife (so that the biscuits will rise well) into 9 2″ squares. Put the squares on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot, warm, or room temperature.

Mama at the Movies: The Namesake

The first time I was pregnant and poring over name books, I quickly realized that naming a child is the one decision a couple makes that allows no room for compromise. If your favorite name happens to be the same as your partner’s 3rd grade playground nemesis, that’s it; you have to find another option. An old Saturday Night Live skit shows a couple arguing so fiercely about naming their baby — each of them turning the other’s suggestion into a playground taunt — that they wind up divorcing.

The second time around, we had to at least pretend to consider our son Ben’s suggestions, like “Telephone” and “Benna.” Eventually we agreed on two girl’s names and crossed our fingers that these would be enough. But I packed the name books in my hospital bag, just in case. In the pictures of us in the hospital after our second son’s birth, a whiteboard listing various possibilities is visible in the background: Daniel; Josiah; Leo; Elijah. We left the hospital with our red-haired beauty still unnamed, and the hospital staff distressed. “What’s really the problem with filing this paperwork later?” I asked. “Well,” someone finally admitted, “If the baby doesn’t have a name, it makes it harder for us to bill you.”

Well then, I thought, I’ll be rushing right back.

It took us three days to settle on Elijah, three days during which our friends and family — all of whom had seen that whiteboard — kindly kept their opinions to themselves.

This all came back to me when I went to see The Namesake (Mira Nair, 2006) with a friend who is expecting the birth of her second daughter any day. She and her husband haven’t yet settled on a name (although their four year old lobbies hard for her choice by making elaborate drawings of the letter C) and as we waited for the lights to dim I thought of how often lately she and I have sat through to the very end of a film, reading the credits carefully in search of potential names.

Read the rest of the column here at Literary Mama.