Sunday
Jan212007

Cat and Mouse




Right now, Daniel is obsessed with his Baby Mousie costume. He wants to wear it most days; fortunately, he hasn't insisted on wearing it to church. It's an extra layer of clothing, nice on freezing cold days like we've finally been having.
Goldberry is very tolerant of the kids' displays of affection.

Friday
Jan192007

Winter Games


Christian got a great game for Christmas. The object of Carcassonne (photo above) is to build a medieval landscape using tiles that have roads, farm, cities, and cloisters on them, scoring as many points as possible for claiming and completing the various items. Friends have told us that the game can get quite cutthroat, but we (and I'm trying hard not to be smug about this) really enjoy the cooperative alternative. Helping each other build an aesthetically pleasing country (with no square holes in the topography) has been more fun than scoring at someone else's expense every time. The game suggests that it is for ages 10 and up, but even 5-year-old Tess can play with a little coaching.
Patrick and I are big fans of Settlers of Catan as long as we can play with our friends Herb and Elizabeth. They are both smarter in general and better at this particular game than we are, but are so kind and apologetic as they win that it's fun and instructive every time. We can only play three or four times a year; Settlers requires a significant investment of time. Fortunately, their kids and ours can amuse themselves together quite well when we get together.
Karen and Ron introduced us to Pick Two. This game now rivals Big Boggle as my favorite game ever, and it's way more fun than Scrabble (no more interminable waiting for someone to set down a word). Apparently, it's now being marketed as its own game, but all you really need is a set of Scrabble tiles (I like playing with three sets at a time).
Turn all the tiles face down; each player draws seven tiles. Turn them over all at once and begin building your own crossword puzzle, freestyle, right on the table--no board needed. Scrabble word rules apply. When you've used all your tiles, shout out, "Pick two." Each player chooses two more tiles to add to their own puzzle. When all the tiles have been taken, the first player to use all his/her tiles wins. You can keep score if you wish, subtracting the values of the unused tiles from the losers' scores, but we never do this. A potentially hilarious option is to require each player to tell a story using all the words in his/her puzzle. Our kids love this game; it's quick and challenging. We're happy to help James and Hope with their construction, but Tess is happy making up her own words.
I love to sit with the family around the table, everyone glowing in the lamplight as they concentrate on the play at hand. What do you do when it's too dark and cold to play games outside?

Thursday
Jan182007

Strange Dreams


I've always found the phrase 'strange dream' to be redundant. Aren't dreams strange by definition? I've never had one that wasn't. Take Monday night, for example. I dreamed about Sir Philip Sidney, and he looked exactly like his portrait. Why would he, of all people, appear on the stage of my slumbering brain? I have no idea, unless my subconscious was trying to remind me of the couplet most often quoted from his writings:

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
'Fool' said my Muse to me, 'look in thy heart and write.'

Yes, yes, milord; I'll get back to it straightway.

Saturday
Jan132007

Tonnerre mes chiens!*



It was James's turn for CIA Night last night. He'd chosen to make Jambalaya, always a crowd pleaser. I promise, he didn't really use the green spoon for tasting--only for stirring.
Unfortunately, I've never been to Louisiana. Most of what I know about the Cajun culture has come from my long-distance love affairs with Queen Ida, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Donna the Buffalo. The rest has come from eating at restaurants in Manhattan. Many years ago at Harglow's (now closed), I tried Jambalaya for the first time. Love at first spoonful--slow-cooked rice with tomatoes, onions, and peppers, studded with tender morsels of shellfish and andouille sausage--what could be better on a cold January night?
We used the Cook's Illustrated recipe, but modified it quite a bit. For one thing, we added small red beans, because Red Beans & Rice is my second favorite Cajun dish, so why not combine the two? I'm sure it was very up the bayou of me, but it was delicious. Just so you know, Applegate Farms makes a kickin' Chicken and Turkey Andouille--highly recommended.
One of the many terrific things about James is his gift for mimicry. We all adore Luis, the child prodigy chef featured on the Noggin channel. Luis was born in Guatemala but lives in Australia; he can't be more than six or seven years old, but he's a brilliant and enthusiastic cook. James does a perfect impression of Luis's endearing accent, and assumes his persona ad libitum whenever he's in the kitchen.
The Jambalaya turned out great. A bonus is that Jambalaya, like so many other slow-cooked dishes, is always better the next day--and we have plenty left over for dinner tonight!
* Tonnerre mes chiens = literally, thunder my dogs, or Holy Cow!


Friday
Jan122007

Sock and Scone



Perfection. I'm always reaching for it, nearly always falling short. Perfect writer? Hardly. Perfect knitter? I wish. Perfect wife and mother? Lamentably, not even close. But when I do attain perfection in some tiny corner of my life, it makes the reaching in all arenas easier to continue.

I tasted perfection twice the other day--a rare occurrence indeed. I made a batch of scones on Wednesday morning; this is a recipe I've been tinkering with for over a decade. The original recipe--called "Dried Fruit Cream Scones"--came from The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. I've changed it enough by now though to call it my own, even by the strict interpretation of my copyright lawyer husband. I've made it frequently enough to have gotten it into the category of "Very, Very Good" for a long time, but a new twist (sour cream instead of my usual buttermilk) the other day brought it into a flawless state.

Chocolate (or Peanut Butter) Chip Scones

2 cups flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips (or peanut butter chips, if you like)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix the first four ingredients together well; add the chips. Add the sour cream and the melted butter; mix only until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake for 15 minutes.

Full credit goes to Shauna for suggesting years ago that the scones were great with dried fruit (when I want to go that route, I use chopped dried cherries and apricots), but that they'd be outstanding with chocolate chips. Pure genius, Shauna--thank you for once again dramatically improving the quality of my life.

I can't stress how easy these are--such delightful payoff for very little work. Of course, perfection in the realm of food carries a degree of subjectivity about it, but give these a try and see what you think.

The other instance of defectless excellence was my first-ever full-sized finished sock. I grafted the toe Wednesday evening, wove in the two ends, and presto! Completion. I'm sure a discerning judge at a County Fair might find fault with it, but what a thrill it is to put on something that I made to fit my own foot exactly. Impeccable comfort. Can't wait until the other one is done.

Failure frequently looms large in my life; I try to be patient with its bitter presence, as I know that there is much to be learned with each new mistake. How pleasant is the contrast then, once in a great while, to savor perfection's rich flavors.