Lifestyles of the Destitute and Obscure

dazzling and interesting on a shoestring

Opening Day– Giants Baseball

Small local folk celebrating Opening Day in their own special little way.

Small local folk celebrating Opening Day in their own special little way.

For Ms. Destitute, the sound of spring is the crack of the bat, the static of the AM radio and the voice of John Miller. Of course, we’re not tailgaters with season tickets (though we do have family friends who are very generous about sharing their tickets—thanks Steve and Karen!) but we express our fanaticism in our own way. DSC_2075

On the San Francisco Giants’ opening day last week, I dressed my smallest baseball fans in their Giants onesies to show their pride at the local playground. Oh, okay, so it’s really me showing where my loyalties lie, and using my children as adorable accessories… but, really, aren’t they adorable?DSC_2078

Since we don’t have cable television, for reasons both of principle and money, we listen to the game on the radio. And since we’re so strapped for cash, we don’t even listen to it on the internet—you have to have a paid subscription to ALL the games in Major League Baseball. I don’t care that much about any of the other teams to make it worth it, even if I did have the money.

So we listen to the radio talents of John Miller, Dave Fleming, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow on KNBR.

Not actual size, but close.

Not actual size, but close.

Ahh, that to me says SPRING! It isn’t just the score and the game being played that make my eyes tear up a bit (allergies not withstanding) but a touch of nostalgia as well.

I can remember lying in the back of my family’s 1972 Buick station wagon (complete with brown naugahyde interior) and driving home from a family road trip with the sound of John Miller’s voice coming through the single speaker. I was born in Virginia and lived there until I was almost seven, and in the early 80’s, John Miller was the radio broadcaster for the Baltimore Orioles. I never became an Orioles’ fan– that would have led to much disappointment and eventual disillusionment– but I’ve always been a fan of John Miller’s voice. It lulled me to sleep in the back of the car, it was the soundtrack to my teenage days of (topless!) backyard sunbathing, and now it keeps me company in the kitchen during my favorite months of the year.

Here’s hoping that the recent World Series champs will make it to the end again, not only because we love our local boys (when did pro athletes all become younger than me?) but because it gives us that much longer to turn on our trusty little transistor and listen to the guys in the broadcasting booth.

Happy baseball, everyone, and GO GIANTS!!

Other fun and Spring-y stuff:
Spring Cleaning

Herbs to Grow Yourself Part. 1

And Part 2

Spring Cleaning

Look at me!  I got a fella who vacuums.

Look at me! I got a fella who vacuums.

Oh, yes, it’s spring here in the land of the destitute. Everything is blooming: the nasturtiums have declared their mission to take over the balcony, and the Japanese maples have filled out so that it feels like we live in a tree house. Our ducks made their stopover on their flight back to wherever it is they spend the summer.  It’s all very lovely.

Our feathered couple observe the resort atmosphere.

Our feathered couple make a stopover on their way north.

The inside of our house, however, is less lovely. Boxes have piled up in the closets, the book hospital where toddlers have overenthusiastically loved a few books has made a mess of my bookcase. My desk has turned into a storage unit, even if I have resigned myself to the fact that I will not be sitting at it anytime soon.  And then there’s the dirty windows, the filthy rental carpeting, the couch sprouting week-old popcorn, and my winter-worn and mother-weary face.

The clutter-pile also known as my desk.

The clutter-pile also known as my desk.

 

 

 

So some spring cleaning is in order. Here’s the list (if you didn’t know already, I’m a list-maker):

  • Master bath
  • Other bath
  • M’s books
  • M’s closet
  • A desk
  • A closet
  • K closet
  • B & E closet
  • B & E books
  • Clean carpet
  • Clean couch
  • Mend couch (it’s vintage and busting its seams)
  • Dust
  • K basket
  • Red bowl on dining room table
  • Wash comforters
  • Linen shelf in kitchen
  • Wash windows
  • Sew B & E curtains
  • Taxes
  • File box
  • Oil change for car
  • Facial for Mommy(even my face needs spring cleaning, and I refuse to see this as frivolous)

 

I am happy to report that as of this posting, the list is about 2/3 completed (note that I crossed those items out—a wonderful feeling), and that my husband is the one that deep-cleaned both bathrooms. Did you know, men, that cleaning the bathroom increases your sex-appeal by 42%? Proven fact. (see picture above for further proof of my guy’s cleaning prowess)

The closets were purged of all clothing that didn’t fit, wasn’t interesting or wasn’t going to be worn. Those items, both kids’ and adults’, went to Macedonia. The discarded baby equipment and some baby clothes went to a center for young mothers.

A few select, fancy and seldom-worn items went to consignment. In order to sort through and re-organize the six boxes of baby clothes that I have (hand-me-downs, leftovers from Big Sis, and a handful of family hand-knits) I enlisted the help of my parents. They came down for the day, card table in tow, and set up shop in my living room to sort, fold, wrangle toddlers and also to run the carpool to school. I couldn’t have done it without them. The living room was completely full of bags, boxes and stacks and stacks of little girl clothing. I could have opened up a consignment shop of my own on the spot. I’m kicking myself for not taking pictures, but you’ll just have to use your imagination and my sparkling description as a prompt.

Twin Who-sits working on their early literacy skills.

Twin Who-sits working on their early literacy skills.

The local high school rummage sale provided us with a new bookcase for the big girl, and an old vintage dresser for the little girls. This enabled us to put the bookcase that formerly belonged to Big Girl into the twin’s room.  And now everybody has room for all their books, the paper/tear-able books are out of little harms’ way and I have an excuse to buy more books.  I love Spring!

 

Running in the Rain and Enjoying Nature

IMG_0299The rain sprinkled my face and the wet chill in the air made me feel alive.  I went running this morning, not letting a bit of rain (thanks, God, for listening to California’s prayers) deter me from a workout and a little freedom.  The sound of rushing water beside me and the honking of Canadian Geese above me– a soundtrack for the morning.  Oh, sure, there was the sound of car tires sluicing the water on the city streets, too, my feet were slapping wet asphalt, and the water wasn’t a forest stream, but the rainwater in the drainage channel.  Still, it was the sound of water and birds, even in suburbia.  Nature’s there, trust me.  You just need to look around.

Almost as cute as my twins

Almost as cute as my twins

As the rain streaked my face and I pondered the invention of windshield wipers for glasses, a couple of squirrels darted across the path in front of me, as if daring me to catch them.  I ran past the Intermediate school, and watched the Canadian Geese (on a stop-over from flying north early or coming south a bit late, I wasn’t sure) necks tall and straight.  The were high-stepping across the wet basketball courts, prancing with their black, webbed feet as if they wished they were  carriage horses.

Northern visitors in suburbia.

Northern visitors in suburbia.

I realize that the Northern California suburbs are not the backwoods of Virginia, nor the majestic High Sierra, but I can’t get there right now.  I love a good, dirty, sleep-on-the-ground backpacking trip as much as the next hippie, but since I’m still performing as the human cow, I won’t be gone from my babies for more than a day at a time.  There’s a backpacking trip in the works (summer 2015) to visit my brother’s final resting place in the mountains, and I hope to get all the kids back to the beach again soon, but right now, we don’t go far from our suburban homestead.

And that’s okay.  There are geese and hummingbirds, crepe myrtle and daffodils to be enjoyed right here within the neighborhood back forty.

We Believe in Christmas

We're pretending we have a fireplace with a mantle.

We’re pretending we have a fireplace with a mantle.

How do the destitute celebrate Christmas? (That really depends on what they believe in.) At our house, we put up colored lights and decorate a Christmas tree. This year, it’s a tiny tree, because it has to be out of reach of four eager, uncontrolled and mischievous little hands. It’s festive, but not terribly fashionable. Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, Ree Drummed nor Elle Décor had any influence on our choice of tree trimmings. Mine and my husband’s childhoods had the most influence—Jim Henson, Kiwiana, the grunge era and a love of jazz and good bass players. There’s nothing on my front door proclaiming, ‘It’s Christmastime and we know it!’ You can’t see our tree from the front window—in fact, you can barely see our tree from across the room. But we know it’s there.DSC_1834

I like to put on Christmas music, because despite the fact that I believe in the original meaning of the celebration (a day, not necessarily historically accurate as the 25th of December, to celebrate the birth of Christ, the Son of God, who was eventually crucified and rose again to save me from my sins and allow me to spend all eternity in heaven with Him when I die) it’s really the only time of year I listen to Christian music. That’s due to musical taste, not an aversion to the message.

Here are a few of my favorite Christmas tunes:
‘Ave Maria’ by Chris Cornell and Eleven (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 3)
The tune is a familiar one, but the voice is unusual for what is usually sung in an operatic style. But being the grunge-child that I am, I love it. The song is a great tribute to the Virgin Mary, who is a minor star in this whole Christmas story, and being a mother, I cannot help but wonder at this young woman who gave birth to the Christ child in a stable, amidst rumors of scandal. What a woman. Chris Cornell’s voice gives the song the kind of grittiness that I think goes properly with such a birth scene.

‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ by Whitney Houston (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 1) This is Whitney Houston and modern gospel music at its finest. This was the kind of music she was born to sing, not sappy love songs for a scumbag like Bobby Brown. Brings tears to my eyes, not least of all because I will never be able to sing this great classic nearly as well.

‘O Holy Night’ by Tracy Chapman (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 3)
This is my favorite Christmas carol, regardless who sings it, or especially the red-headed woman named Anne who used to sing with the choir at church when I was growing up. If she sang this one at the Christmas Eve service, the whole evening was a hit. I love the lyrics to this song, by turns praising and in awe of such an event as the birth of Christ and then tender and sweet. Tracy Chapman’s sweet smoky voice and a simple guitar is all it needs.

bela.fleck.jingleBela Fleck and the Flecktones Jingle All the Way
This is a family tradition that my husband and I adopted all our own, because who doesn’t need a little throat-singing and banjo-playing to shake up the likes of Bing Crosby and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Give me Bela over those ol’ stiffs any day.

john.denver.muppetsJohn Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together
This album (and I mean LP, until it was replaced by a digital version in the new century, though we still have the slightly scratched vinyl edition) is a tradition from by mine and my husband’s childhood. John Denver can’t be beat for writing songs from the heart, and any time I hear ‘A Baby Just Like You’, I get all teary. Denver wrote it for his son, Zachary, thinking of Jesus as an infant and all that must have meant to both His father in heaven and to Joseph. It reminds me of my children and it reminds me of my brother, who was a baby when the song came out. My mother used to change the line Merry Christmas, Little Zachary to fit with her baby son’s name. I insert any or all of my children’s names, even if they’re not so little anymore.
And on a lighter note, the asides of Miss Piggy in ‘Christmas is Coming’, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ are hysterical.

What are your favorite Christmas tunes? Are they family traditions or ones you’ve started on your own?

Eclectic Vintage-Bohemian Style

Our style here in the Land of the Destitute and Obscure is what I like to call eclectic-vintage bohemian.  What does that mean, you may ask.  Good question.  It means that we get innovative, wait patiently, watch ebay, craigslist and garage sale listings with an eagle eye and even get lucky.  As for the rest of our eclectic-vintage bohemian philosophy, even with a tight budget, we follow these loose guidelines to achieve the look:

Buy or Accept it Used:We rely heavily on hand-me-downs for the small people’s clothing options, and since they come from a variety of sources, we don’t worry much about matching.

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If the long-sleeved onesie is polka-dot and the pants are flowered, at least they’re both pink, and if a yellow hat is all we’ve got, then that’s what we wear.  When you’re the size of the average retriever puppy and your skin is that soft and rosy, you can get away with just about anything.  IMG_0526

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your mother dresses you to look like a modern American Inuit in a range of yellow tones, just go with it, be thankful that you are warm and keep a lookout for a toddler teepee love-in. DSC_1784

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handmade Goes With Everything…If it was made with love, it goes with everything, whether it’s a purple cardigan from Grandma or a headband sent from overseas, show your gratitude (and patriotism) and wear it with confidence.IMG_0368

Since I am currently limited in my crocheting and knitting abilities to the two-dimensional, I pair my funky knitted scarves with thin, thrift store silky ones and then I’m both warm and colorful.  Then I decorate my couch with blankets made from hand-me-down yarn.

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Ms. M’s outfit #1


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Outfit #2

Accessorize with Confidence and Freedom:  Whatever you feel your accessory must be, either an Afghan necklace made from silver coins (one of my favorites) or an inflatable butterfly, let your personality shine.  Don’t let the circumstances dictate the level of accessorizing either.  I may only be going to the park, but sometimes I need to wear a velvet top hat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Outfit #3

Even though you may only be sitting down to breakfast, there may be times when a morning tutu and striped beanie need to accompany syrup and pancakes.

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Outfit #4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or perhaps, you may need to don a string of ducks and do your best bellydancing—pigtails optional.

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Outfit #5


Inspire Others:  
Encourage your friends to break out of those fashion constraints—fairies, apparently, sometimes need to wear sunglasses, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wear the Unusual Every Day:  I have jeans with embroidered butterflies, and skirts paneled with old saris.  When I wear them with a simple top, they are a little less overwhelming than some of the combination my eldest puts together, but the outfit remains interesting.  I don’t save a whole lot of my clothing for ‘special occasions.’  I don’t really have those; we don’t go out to fancy parties, and every day is worthy of being special.  All the outfits above (with the exception of the fairy dresses, plastic shoes and ducks) go out—to school, the park, the store.

We splurge every now and then—the big girl gets new rain boots at Target, and I go bonkers on ebay, collecting cute, little used leather crib shoes on my watch list.  I manage to buy a few, too.  The truth is, I don’t need any more clothing, with the possible exception of bras that fit properly.  I can go ‘shopping’ in my own closet and find things I forgot I owned, and pair them with items that desperately need an update.  We manage here to keep our style unique with what we’ve got, because there is no price or monetary limit on creativity.

Just for fun, let’s take a poll. Which one of The Divine Miss M’s outfits was your favorite? Check out the captions for the photo numbers that match.

Homemade Granola from an Empty Pantry

DSC_1580Think the cupboard is empty?  It’s amazing what you can make when you really look around the kitchen.  You can make something out of nothing.  Here’s what I do when I want granola:  Granola is one of the most expensive over-rated items on the grocery store shelf.  Do you know how easy it is to make?  So easy, really.  And the variations are endless.  The only two things you must have are oats and oil—peanut or canola oil is best.

My grandfather used to make his own granola with these basic pedestrian ingredients, but you can swap out the peanuts for almonds or the raisins for cranberries, or any other chopped nut or dried fruit, depending on how fancy you want to get, or what you happen to have on the shelves or in your nearly empty pantry.  Put it on yogurt, eat with your favorite cereal and dairy or dairy substitute or heat it up to make fancier oatmeal.  Plus, when you make it, you get the added benefit of having your house smell all toasty and cozy when it’s cold outside.

Here’s my Grandpa Alden’s list of ingredients for granola:
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped peanuts
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup wheat germ
½ cup bran
3 ½ ounces flaked coconut
½ cup peanut oil
½ cup honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup raisins

As you can see, the ingredients are cheap and healthy, though not for the peanut allergenic.  I made this recipe for my family, and my husband thought the peanuts were weird, because he has a somewhat European sense of breakfast food.  I don’t particularly like flaked coconut, either—it’s a texture thing.  We also happened to have a rather large amount of flax meal, leftover from a pumpkin pie recipe gone terribly wrong.

DSC_1651So here’s what I did to make my own granola recipe:
4 cups oats
1 cup chopped almonds (to replace the peanuts, though they do cost a bit more)
1 cup flax meal
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup canola oil (to replace the peanut oil, since that’s what we’ve got)
¼ cup honey
¼ cup maple syrup (to replace ½ the honey, because we were poor in honey but rich in syrup)
½ t. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped dried apricots

As you can see, any nut or dried fruit can be swapped out, you can add any number of lovely fall spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves) to the dry ingredients and the ½ cup of honey can be traded for any sort of sweet, sticky medium—agave, maple syrup or any combination of what you’ve got, provided it doesn’t get too weird.  The flax meal or bran could be any combination of these or some other roast-able ingredient to add a bit of flavor, health and digestibility.

mix.granolaOnce you’ve got your ingredients all decided on (I always pull everything out and put it on our tiny acreage of counter before I begin, that way I don’t discover that I’m missing something halfway through the process) here’s how you’ll mix it up:
Combine oats, nuts, flax meal (wheat germ, bran, etc.) and coconut (if you like it and have it) and spices (if you choose) in a large bowl.  Heat oil, honey (or other sticky stuff to equal ½ cup) and vanilla to just below boiling—you’ll start to see bubbles form on the bottom of the pan, when you do, take it off the heat.
Pour your sticky stuff over the oat mixture and toss/stir it all to coat the oats and stuff thoroughly.  Spread it all evenly into two (or three) roasting pans (in my Grandpa’s recipe they call them ‘jelly roll’ pans, which just make me think of Leadbelly songs… but I digress).
Roast it all for 30 minutes in the oven at 300 degrees, stirring it up every 10 minutes to have it cook evenly, or until it’s a light brown (or a little darker as I prefer, or if I’m in the middle of changing diapers and forget to take it out in time).  Remove from the oven and let it cool, then stir in the dried fruit.

Voila—your very own homemade granola!

What I Learned This Summer

We were busy this summer.  Here are a few of the things we did:

ImageWe went to a couple summer camps and had a few camp-like days at home—including Stalactite Experiment week (inspired by this awesome magazine called Alphabet Glue), Insect Experiment week, featuring ladybugs and pill bugs (and the gorgeous and rare albino praying mantis below), and Flower Experiment week, which just included lots of coloring. Image

I taught a belly dance class and managed to wait precisely four days after the last class to break my pinkie toe.  And then I began class again in the fall just five weeks later, giving it just enough time to heal.  I learned what it feels like to break a bone—my first.  Like many things in life, it was painful, and then annoying, but I managed just fine and life went on as usual.  Which, I might add, is different then the morbidly popular ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’  Whatever it is could, however, leave you mangled, paralyzed or disfigured beyond recognition—let’s not go looking for pain in search of strength or toughness, okay people?  Pain will come to you as part of life—learn to cope and then move along with grace.
Anyhow, enough of the toe, and philosophies on pain.

I applied for yet another blogging job to add to these two and failed to get it due to technical issues that had nothing to do with my wit, charm, abilities or experience.  So fear not, we still have both feet firmly rooted in both poverty and obscurity and these blog posts will keep on coming.
ImageWe learned that it is better to use a hair clip than scissors to rid ourselves of that pesky lock of hair.  We learned to walk, and we learned that just because we’re not walking doesn’t mean we have hip dysplasia  (thank God!).
We grew a few things on our balcony garden, learned to love nasturtiums and hate aphids (ladybugs to the rescue!) and ate pesto, strawberries and parsley-riddled spreads thanks to our miniscule garden.
We learned how to do more on our bike than just ‘coast like toast’ and now use our pedals, and we learned to put a book down and return it to the library when it sucks… oh no, wait, I’m still learning how to do that.

ImageWe learned new musical exercises to gain manual dexterity and musical flexibility as well as going to a few shows with new friends and old.

This summer we lost a dear friend too quickly, though she had a good run at life and in the end, she wasn’t going to stick around and have people care for her.  She cared for others all her life, people and plants alike, and now she’s in a better place, tending a celestial garden and loving everyone there without judgment or fanfare.  Now we are learning how it is we explain death to someone not yet six years old.

We’re still learning how to drink out of a cup without sending it all down our chins, but at least we’ve decided to drink cow’s milk, which makes it easier on mama.
We’ve spent quality time with imaginary creatures, furry and hairy, including Babe, Mercy Watson, Elmo, Chester Cricket, and Bunnicula and enjoyed their company.  Thanks to the wide spacing of kids, some of them are on their second round of introductions and others will get reintroduced in a few years.

This summer was spent living and learning, and no doubt the fall will be full of more of the same.  Summer is a wonderful season, and we are enjoying this season of our lives.
Okay, class—tell me what you learned this summer.  Type your answer in the comments section below. 

Library Books for Summer

All hail the crazy, lazy days of summer—depending on your employment and child-rearing position in life.  What is summer for?  The beach?  Sure.  The movies?  Maaaaaybe.  But books?  Darn Tootin’!!  Here’s what’s currently trying not to accrue late fees on my library card:

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez— listening to this one as an audiobook; I multi-task my commutes and my runs with some literary interludes.

boyntonOne, two, three! by Sandra Boynton—You can’t go wrong with Sandra Boynton board books for kids, or calendars for adults.  Her quirky cats and dancing hippos can charm the socks off young and old.
This Little Chick by John Lawrence
Little Lion by Giovanni Caviezel
Only You by Robin Cruise—a sweet little surprise/love poem book.

For the bigger kid:
Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows—if you’re not familiar with Ivy and her friend, Bean, you should be, especially if you have kids kindergarten through about grade 3.  Something modern and fun while your waiting for them to get old enough for Harry Potter.
Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White—Okay, this is cheating a little bit (we actually returned this book about a month ago) but this is the best, best, best book for beginning chapter read-alouds.  Yes, there’s Charlotte’s Web, but Trumpet of the Swan is even better.  It doesn’t get nearly enough coverage as its big sister, Charlotte, but it is every bit as quirky, clever, amusing, heartwarming and poignant (and all those other book-describing adjectives) if not more so.  Read it to your kids, or even just to yourself.
josephJoseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback—A great little story with fun illustrations and Jewish culture to boot—excellent.  I am not, however, the first to think so.  It won the Caldecott Medal.
Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman

For future reference, because I know she’s a good writer, and I’ll need something for the big kid once she’s into grade school:
The Runaways by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
by Pamela Drucker—It was time to read another view of parenting, though in truth, it’s a non-view kind of view.

3sistersAll these, because I was in a Gothic kind of mood, and I’m still hunting (not in the literal sense) for a taxidermy crow to grace the top of my bookcase.  Contact me if you have any leads.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen
The Annotated Brothers Grimm
The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger—an illustrated number, not so much for the children.

For research on writing prompts for the Iron Horse Women’s Writing Group (led by yours truly):
Naming the World: and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer
The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron
Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing by Danell Jones

And some others:
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury—Recommended by Uncle Jeremy.  I love Ray Bradbury and hope that I will be able to get to it soon, after all the homework’s done.
How To Behave So Your Preschooler Will, Too!  Sal Severe, MD – Because I liked the title.
It’s Twins!: Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence by Susan M. Heim—Self-explanatory reasons.
Japanese Art by Joan Stanley-Baker—For a school project, sort of and because I couldn’t remember the names of the Buddhist temple guardians (Fudo).

Happy Summer!  Happy Reading!  And be sure to let me know what’s on your list. (So I can add it to mine when I’m done with this one.)

Best New Cooking Show

Only, it doesn’t exist– yet.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIn my wildest blogging fantasies, I dream of hosting a cooking show.  But wait—not just the same old ‘here’s a nifty dip to serve at a barbeque.’  And definitely not ‘let’s watch a professional chef verbally abuse people for your entertainment.’  Let’s imagine a nicer mix of the two.  I’d like to believe that this new cooking show– something friendly, funny and helpful– might make for good ratings.  I’m no television expert—we don’t even have cable—but I know what it’s like to cook and I try to practice my daily acts of kindness and beauty and bumper-sticker philosophy (okay, to a point—some bumper-sticker philosophy just gets ridiculous).

What I want to offer viewers in my new cooking show, is the chance to learn to cook better, while getting a peek inside an American household (we’ll go international, of course, once it catches on) and adding that irresistible flash of hot, charming celebrity.  It would be a whole new category of helpful reality television.  I recommend choosing families from all demographics, geographical regions, socio-economic status, gender partner pairing (tripling or squaring) marital status and generational mixing.  If we’re going American, let’s really represent America.  In the end, it will try to have nothing to do with politics.

Here are the ingredients:

1 family cook and his or her family
1 family recipe (not taken from a chef/restaurant cookbook)
1 celebrity cook/chef (my picks: Pioneer Woman– Ree Drummond, Anthony Bourdain, or Bobby Flay.  If you have any other suggestions, please chime in below.)

ree.drummondDirections:

Invite celebrity chef of the week (preferably, a different one every week for added variety) to a family dinner.  The family cook prepares the meal and serves it to their own family plus chef and any guests.  Everyone enjoys the meal.
Then, celebrity chef and family cook sit down and discuss the merits of the meal and constructively discuss possible improvements.  This would be a nice time to talk about the significance or history of the family recipe.

Finally, the celebrity chef and the home cook make the meal together, implementing many or all of the improvements to the meal.  They all enjoy it together and the family cook has learned from a pro.

Fun, no?

For added participatory fun, let’s vote for our favorite celebrity chef to star in my imaginary cooking show:

Birthday Cake and Baking Mistakes

At our house, a cake baked is not just a receptacle for birthday candles, but a gift of love as well, and so, our birthday cakes are homemade ones.  They usually taste pretty good, offer an activity for creative hands and often provide a few laughs.  Who can say that about a bakery-bought birthday cake?

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My trusty assistant adds just a teaspoon of vanilla… I hope.

We used our tried-and-true 1-2-3-4 Cake Recipe from Alice Waters’ Fanny at Chez Panisse, and as per my little helper’s request, we mixed up some turquoise frosting—turquoise is fast replacing pink as the color of choice for… just about everything.

Humorously enough, I started this post, thinking that this cake would bake and get put together just as easily as the Thunder Cake we made last month.  My cake, however, had other plans.
It mixed up just fine, thanks to the ol’ Scovil hand mixer and seemed to fluff properly when I folded in the egg whites.  In hindsight, however, I vaguely recall thinking that it might look a bit deflated.  But I carried forth anyhow.

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Cake surgery and the creation of Franken-cake

I planned to fill it with strawberry jam for the very specific reason that it was what we had in the house.  At the end of April, even in Northern California, the local, in-season fruit selection is minimal.  Strawberries are your best (almost only) option, if you don’t want to be eating fruit that hopped on a plane to get to your local supermarket.  Kiwis are an option, but I don’t like them, so I feed them to everyone else in my family.  Babies ate their first kiwi today, as a matter of fact.  Fortunately, I loooooove strawberries.  I eat them for lunch, breakfast, dinner, snack and with my bedtime nightcap (herbal tea).  I try not to cry in July when they’re really too pale and dry to be delicious.  I am, however, easily placated by the arrival of peach season.

But anyhow, we made another cake.  And this time, I was going to try and make it pretty, too.  Not beauty pageant, high-maintenance gorgeous, but down-home pretty.  Think more Emma Stone and less Kim Kardashian.  Okay, great.  Now imagine that they are both birthday cakes…
And then my oven limitations and my baking abilities got into the mix with my pretty Hollywood Starlet fantasies and I ended up with Franken-cake.  For some reason, one of the cake pans decided not to cook her cake all the way through.  The other decided to sink in the middle like the Titanic in a sea of icebergs (and Leo DiCaprio when he couldn’t hold on to the wreckage).  It was a sad, sorry sight.  But I was not to be deterred.  I don’t toss food just because it’s ugly—unless of course, it’s ugly because of the gray-green fuzz growing on it.  So I performed a bit of surgery.  I cut off the good parts of the half-baked one and then cut the other in half, for a double half-layer cake—in other words, a single layer cake with jam in the middle.

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Spreading the delicious turquoise frosting.

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Decorating a cake as a team.

Post-confectionary surgery, we needed to frost the cake.  My trusty assistant determined that blue and just a bit of green to achieve the desired turquoise.  Only we didn’t have enough powdered sugar.  As I said before, we were determined to make this cake—it was my birthday cake, darn it, and I was not going to let a simple lack of powdered sugar keep me from my frosting.  Unfortunately, my neighbors are not the baking types, otherwise I would’ve had my five year-old trot over and beg a cup from them.  The technique is fun and old-fashioned, almost always reciprocated and a great way to get to know people.  But luckily, we now own a Vitamix (that’s another birthday story for another time) and I made, yes, made powdered sugar.
Thank you Vitamix and thank you, Internet.  Nifty, no?   So, after my trusty assistant came back to the kitchen after the Vitamix was done making noise, we mixed a little bit of pink and a bit more turquoise, with the pre-determined amount of food coloring.

Together, we decorated it with pink flowers (of course) and had a mini spelling lesson—that’s M-O-M-M-Y.

DSC_1412Happy Birthday to me.  :)

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