Thursday, February 27, 2014

a cookie interlude

a cookie interlude

this is happiness.  this is the cookie.

This is the result of many, many, many experiments with the classic chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I tried all my favorite authors: Ree Drummond, they ate them, and then scorned them.  The Martha’s, hers were better, but they GOT BORED! (you read it right) with them, Williams Sonoma—marginally better, but I ended up throwing some out because they were stale—can you tell my kids are cookie snobs?, even Bobby Flay’s throwdown cookies which required two different types of muscovado sugar.  Crazy.  I was ready to give up, then the heavens parted and I was granted a reprieve.

I have been following a site called Food 52.  On it they feature just about everything, recipes, cool tools, you name it.  So one day I saw the recipe for THE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE , by an enormously talented pastry chef by the name of Phyllis Grant who writes a food blog.  (If you click on the orange letters, it’ll lead you straight to the link for the site, PG's recipe featured on Food 52 or the item I mention.)

This recipe has saved us.  The children go through about 3 ½ dozen every two weeks!  I’m just happy we’ve got cookies, and our jar is never empty. So here is my step-by-step of this recipe which, as Phyllis says, “is deeply rooted in the Toll House tradition”—and yes, before you ask, I tried that one too.  (This is my altered version of Grant's recipe--her ingredients are different, they include nuts.  We feel we're nutty enough without them in our cookies.)

The ingredients:                          

1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
tsp baking soda
2 sticks of unsalted room  temperature butter
2 eggs
2 cups and 2 TB flour
½ tsp kosher salt
1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
½ cup white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

First things first.

  Preheat your oven to 375° and don’t trust it.

Buy an oven thermometer.  Trust me on this.  Your oven lies to you.  It says one thing and cooks at a different rate.  It makes your cakes fall, your chicken under cook.  They are between $5-15.  Mine has been vetted by Cooks Illustrated, and it has (so far) held up longer than any other one I’ve had (and it's less than $5).  You need one.  GET ONE!

STEP 1: So preheat your oven to 375° (and make sure it is at that temperature before you bake.)

 STEP 2: Next, sift together your flour, baking soda, and salt.  (I do this on a piece of wax paper.  It’s nifty because then I can use it as a tube to feed it into the dough mixture.  You’ll see, I’ve got a picture of it.)  Set it aside for now.

STEP 3: Set up your cookie sheets with parchment paper (I like this better because I can get more cookies on a sheet.)  

STEP 4: On medium speed on your mixer—which is about 4—attach your paddle attachment, and cream the butter and sugars together until light.  THIS TAKES 4 engrossing minutes people.  Do.Not.Shorten.

Then scrape down the sides. 

STEP 5 & 6: Add an egg.  Mix for 5 seconds.  Scrape.  Add the second egg.  Mix. Scrape.

  STEP 8: Add the vanilla.  Mix for 5 seconds.  Scrape.

STEP 9: Add the flour in 4 batches, stopping before the final batch. 

Roll up the wax paper
and tuck in the ends on one side.
Instant flour funnel!

STEP 9A: Take your flour and add in a bit, set the mixer to “mix” so that it incorporates well.  Stop.  Scrape.  9B: Add a bit more.  Stop.  Scrape.  9C: Add some more.  Stop.  Scrape.

STEP 10: Now add the whole bag of chips.  All of ‘em.  It will be fine.  Also add the last bit of flour. Mix until you see no more flour.  If the chips crush, totally fine.  It’s all good.

STEP 11: Take a cookie scoop and scoop out even amounts on the parchment paper. 

[Scoops are practical tools, and not that expensive.  If you are reluctant to buy it, use a tablespoon.  You want the dough to be around the same amount.]

Leave some room for the cookies to spread.  I can get a dozen on a sheet.   

STEP 12: Place the sheet pan in the oven.  And here now, only ONE sheet at a time.  
One tray at a time!
It's too hard to regulate
temperature otherwise.

Then set your timer for about 8 minutes to start.  And wait around your oven.  Hang out.  Flip through a magazine you never get time to read.  Read a few pages of the novel you want to finish for your book group.  Play on your kid’s DS. Have a cup of tea, I'm digging the OE's TeBella's Golden Monkey lately. Whatever, just don’t leave yet. 

not quite done yet.
Check at 8 minutes.  If it isn’t brown around the edges go for another 2 minutes.  Then another 2 until they are brown and cooked.  For me and my oven, it’s 13 minutes, but I check this at the start of every single batch.  You never know if the oven is off that day. 

STEP 13: Remove.  Allow to cool and then transfer to a cookie rack to cool completely.  (The gadget I have here is a fish spatula, it’s incredibly bendy and lightweight.  And great for delicate things like fish, cookies, and pancakes.  Pick one up with your scoop.  Mine’s by OXO.)

Now you will have adoration, praise and promises of chores done without a second admonition.  It’s priceless.  You never know what you’ll fuel.

Go forth and bake happily.  I’m here if you’ve got questions. 

Oh and one last thing, for my friends who are gluten-free, there’s a great flour that’s been developed by Chef Thomas Keller called CUP4CUP.  It’s amazing.  You can use it just like all-purpose flour.  You can buy it on Amazon or Williams Sonoma.  Cheers!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Balloon's Edge and the Fear of Falling

The Balloon's Edge and the Fear of Falling

“But how do you find the balloon’s edge” he asked me so small and yet so big at once.

“What do you mean?  Do you mean the end of the balloon?” I am thinking hard here, because even though he is no bigger than a minute, he is smaller than an hour and twice as fast.  I am thinking dimensions, helium, loss of flight, weighted down by oxygen. 

“How do you know the edge of what it is to be a balloon?”

Well you might as well of asked me what the constancy of a tomato can is in the middle of the Pacific for all I knew how to answer this question.

Before I could come up with something even perfunctorily profound, Jake was off and running to trip up his old mother’s psyche once again. And it is a glorious thing to see, because for him, for four, everything is possible.  And answerable and even better, I’m here to give him an answer, and I am THE answer lady. But between you and me, I’m not so sure what the edge is of the balloon.  Of what it is or what it isn’t (and this isn’t going to be some existential “sound of one hand clapping” kind of deal), but honestly, I think it has a lot to do with what we perceive of what we can be, and what we actually find we can do.

It would be awful incarnate for me to dash any dream that grows out of his brain, wouldn't it?  To tell him he "couldn't" do something.  It's my own fear that does the reeling in, yet it always seems to do more harm than good.  I do it with all of the musketeers, this hemming of ideas, most recently to his older brother, Sam who was going to a birthday party just the other day.  We got the present and the card and he was just about to pass out from the anticipation of it all, then he came up to me with a tightly folded piece of paper, almost artistic in the pleats, and said,"I want to give this to M."  I was worried, I looked at it and it was a drawing with his friend's name and his own hands traced.  Giving of self.  Too much, I thought, he'll be laughed at and it'll all start again.    "Sam," I say, "I don't know if he needs this, I mean, we have a card..." but wouldn't you know in that very moment, Sam swallowed hard and his cheeks burned bright.  I was crushing him, his heart says he can do this and it's the right thing and the drawing was a thing of beauty, his very self on a sheet of scrap paper.  He was so willing just to let himself be, and show his gift of loving to a child who had formerly been, well, not very nice to him.  "Okay," I say, "you're right.  He's your friend, I'm sure he'll love it."  The clouds I created parted.  I didn't stand in the way.  Whatever his gift is, this Samshine of mine, it has to play out the way God has intended.  

So many times, I think about the things I wanted to do or thought I could do and was just afraid to.  Maybe I was told I couldn't, or that I wasn't good at it.  Maybe I was afraid of being laughed at or labeled.  It could've been a combination of all of it.  The thing I didn't realize was that although it seemed that solid blockades were being placed in those paths, in actuality, they were just cobwebs.  Dusty spaces that the (tor)mentor had placed there because they were afraid to go where I was planning to head.  For glory's sake, I don't want to board up the imagination of what the boys think they can be.  

You know, right here, this blog you’re reading?  Well, this was no easy thing for me.  There are days I sit down to write worried and witless.  It took a lot to get me here to release my ideas of ‘isms out into the Internet ether.  Unlike social media, there are no controls, no ways to make sure your words get into a friend’s hands.  No way to know for sure if you’re really being able to line match up perception and reality.  Books are different creatures.  You write in relative isolation and then

Camomile Hixon Glitter Art

off you are into the brave world waiting for edits and critiques and rewrites and then more reviews.  It’s cessation and then complete debauchery.  That seems to be it from this small view of my desk anyway.  But at this point, this point, I am starting to get what it was about.  What it’s supposed to be about anyway.  Do what you’re good at, and it’ll get better and brighter and even more glorious.

Everyone told me that I should be writing.  Why wasn’t I writing?  I needed to be writing.  I gave a lot of reasons why I wasn’t: I was too tired, not enough hours in the day, I didn’t know what to say, maybe no one would be interested in anything I had to say?    But I was protesting too much, and too loudly, like a child who really needs reassurance of what he can do.  I knew exactly where the edge was for me.  I knew how high I could go.

“God’s gifts of grace come in many forms. Each of you has received a gift in order to serve others. You should use it faithfully.” 1 Peter 4:10

There it is, as plainly as anything ever was.  You know that thing you do—the thing that you love that comes so easily to you and fills you with joy?  Something where your steps are sure, your stitches are even?  It’s a gift.  And the other part of it is, when you use it, however you use it, it will be blessed and strengthened. 

It feels and sounds so simple.  Strengthen and train what grace has given you so that you can share it. Instead of trying to do so many different things and feeling like you are falling right off the edge of the world, just give in to what you love to do.  Is it singing?  Is it dancing?  Is it painting, is it reading?  Is it just being there, present, and actively listening for the story you know is there.  The compassion you keep?  The kindness that you sow?  You are doing it, you're great at it. It's time to let the world in on it. I'm not saying the acting out of it is easy, it never, ever, ever is.  But you are gifted, it's in the moments that you are in the quiet and you smile.  Even if that is in the breath of your baby or the silent tread of your own heart, it's in you.  You can do it.  You are doing it.  Find a way to share it.  Exercise it and you'll see, saying "yes" to what you have been born to do and graced with will show you doors opening one after another, domino doors in reverse.  That's what I've found.  Every time I wanted to stop, another step on the path would be laid for me.   

we're cheering you on!

So, how ‘bout it?  Where’s your edge?  Get in the mood to find it,  and share it here, let's just start figuring out where it is--you’ve only got the rest of your life to explore the answer.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

winner chicken dinner & breaking bad

winner, winner, chicken dinner!

There are such perfect days for all sorts of reasons.  But yesterday was probably one of the best—because my son was so happy.  He got to see his best friend from home, for the first time in 2 years.  And after such a buildup, I got the camera ready for the epic reunion…but in true guy fashion, they looked at each other and basically said, “S’up?”  Anyway, exhausted, hours later from an amusement park, the last thing I wanted to do was cook. 

Oh, how I wanted to order in.  A thousand prepared meals ran through my brain like snapshots on a menu.  But it isn’t in the budget.  It’s just not.  So, I did the next best thing, I made something quick with what I had.  I had cherry tomatoes, I always have garlic—but I had nothing thawed.  So John grabbed some chicken breasts from the store and here we have the easiest chicken dinner for two you’ll make.  And it costs about $10 total.

Basic ingredients: 1 lb boneless chicken breast, balsamic vinegar, cherry tomatoes, unsalted butter, 3 garlic cloves peeled, olive oil, kosher salt, and ground black pepper.

Step 1: using a mallet or something heavy, pound the chicken as thin as you can.  (About ½ in.)  On another cutting board, slice the garlic thinly, place in a bowl.  Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper.

 Step 2: Rinse and slice grape tomatoes in half.  You will also need about a TB of unsalted butter.

Step 3: Using a large (12 in shown here) nonstick skillet, pour about 2 TB olive oil and add 1 TB butter on medium high heat until melted.  

(ç It’ll look like this.)

Step 4: Sauté the chicken on medium heat for about 4 minutes a side.

Step 5:  Once the chicken is finished, remove to a small plate and pour out all but 1 Tb of oil.  Add garlic and sauté moving quickly so the garlic doesn’t burn.  About 1 minute.  Then add tomatoes. 

  Step 6: Sauté garlic and tomatoes together, moving quickly.  Add a tsp. butter to the sauce in the pan.  Then add about 3 TB balsamic vinegar. Combine.

Step 7: Add chicken back in to pan, with any juices.  Stir.  Then, take off heat, spoon balsamic reduction over the chicken by tilting the pan.  Add tsp. sea salt or more to taste.

Step 8:  Plate with some salad and you’re all done!  Super easy, super quick and super duper inexpensive. 

 Breaking (into) Bad

So we’re just at the beginning of the Breaking Bad phenomenon.  Just started the journey with Walter White, and I’m just…gobsmacked.  I could understand the beginning, the everyman, the sad everyman Walter was.  Down on his luck, his life anything but what he wanted or intended, but seemingly honorable.  Child on the way, child with special needs, a wife that ruled the house.  I got it.  I understood that.  But within the first season, you can see him emerge from a sleep so deep and dead that I don’t think this is a transformation.  I think this is a guy who was placed in suspended animation for a long, long time.  Whatever catalyst it is—and I don’t think it’s the cancer.  I think it’s the cooking.  Chemistry, complex reactions, almost Jekyll-like in their restorative power, are what wake Walter up to what he was and what he can be. 

It’s shocking.  The subtlety that Bryan Cranston brings to this role.  I don’t think this is a journey the character takes, it seems it was the road that was always inside him.  A demon that was waiting to wake up.  And it’s scary.  He shows little affection for his loyal sidekick, played heart achingly by Aaron Paul, and I don’t think that’s an accident either.  I don’t think Walter has much in him, his lost possibilities are forced so way down deep inside with such rage that it literally eats him alive, the hatred of it all.  The effects of it had me reeling.  Because while you can see and understand the lost nature of Jessie, the lost nature of Walter is far more corrosive and sinister because it speaks to dreams unrealized and unspoken.  Of a life lived with rage on the sidelines, and that explodes in really, really horrible ways.  Just as easily he could have been awoken by a movement that was wrong in nature, in him is a hurt he needs to unleash.  And there are a lot of unwitting victims in the way.

It really reminds me of what I read about the Unabomber once.  There was a history of a 3 foot trench being dug around his house.  In the middle of the night.  When it was cold.  But it wasn’t the Unabomber.  It was his brother.  The one who grew up healthy.  And I wonder, what was the difference?  What made one go one way and one another?   Where is pain located in these people who were kids once who also hurt, maybe even worse?  When was the switch pulled that a lack of realization of dreams meant that everyone had to be forced to participate in the shockwave aftermath?  So much misery because of such pain. 

If there is anything redemptive in such a portrayal, I think it is this realization.  That there is a way to locate and stop the pain before the hurts sink deep into the skin, past the tissue onto the actual physical makeup of the person.  Does Walter White find it?  Does he even want to?  That’s going to be an interesting set of questions to unravel, indeed.

Have tea with me!

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Socks, Sense & Subscriptions

A Word About Socks… 

“Hey, uh, Sam—are you sure about those socks?” my husband asked our middling child.  “Yep!” 
Well, honestly, that made me take notice, I opened my eyes wider because tea hasn’t been had yet, Sam’s socks are pulled all the way UP, to the knee.  It’s a statement all right.  

“You’re sure?” I ask.
“Yep!” grins, a little wickedly, I might add.

So this may seem strange to even mention, all kids go through phases, but for Sam, this is pretty momentous.  It wasn’t that long ago that this child was looking through the lens of the bystander, longing for fitting in and for someone, anyone, to be his friend.  To stand out, by fashion or any other convention would’ve been unheard of.  Just a few months ago, I posted this on my facebook page about him:

A brave (brief) history...

He brought me long scraps of paper this morning, torn carefully lengthwise from what I sensed was a tire ad. Names were written in pen, deliberately spaced on the blank spots. “What are these?” “Bookmarks for my class.” “But, Sam, they are strips of paper—they don’t look like bookmarks?” Sam started to cry. “B. brought bookmarks for everyone in the class yesterday.” I nod. “But I didn’t get one.” “Is B. your friend?” More tears, “yes.” “Did K. get a bookmark?” I ask, (K. is Sam’s friend in class.) Sam nods, more tears. “Oh, Sam, did everyone else get one?” “No.” “Well who else didn’t?” “I don’t remember, but I thought I could make some for everyone.” 

Does your heart hurt yet?  Mine does. 

My middle son Sam is probably the most sensitive child I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. Everything known or unknown hurts him horribly. It takes Sam a lot of courage to ask to play in a game, “Hi _____ can I play soccer too?” “No Sam, the game already started.” Most children would shrug it off; Sam moves to a corner outside, sits down and cries quietly so no one will hear. Sam is a watcher, and he’s painfully shy. He’s already been picked on, and he’s only 6. His teacher handled it appropriately and strategies, that Sam doesn’t remember, were discussed. In Sam’s world everything is very deliberate. He processes things literally. If something must be done, or a certain shirt worn, it just has to be that way. 

So his corresponding hurts are large and painful. I wish he could see how important he is, this sweet, shy, sensitive kid. “Sam,” I say, “you are…” “Spectacular,” he whispers. But this morning, he doesn’t believe it. All he knows is that he is not liked; in his mind, for some reason, other kids don’t want him to be their friend. Sam doesn’t get invited to birthday parties. He often plays by himself because it is hard for him to ask to join in a game, and he is often forgotten when careless invitations are thrown in the wind at recess. Do I think this was on purpose, this bookmark gone awol? No, I don’t. I think kids usually remember the other kids they play with, nothing more and nothing less. And I’ve told Sam that to make a friend, you’ve got to be a friend. Thus these homemade bookmarks and the tears, if, Sam reasons, he can bring B. and everyone a bookmark, he will show them he loves them and that he sees them. 

He is trying. He is trying. He is trying.  

John steps in saying, “Sam, this weekend, we’ll buy drawing paper and make really nice bookmarks for everyone.” Sam nods, pretty bravely, and goes to put on his shoes that he hasn’t learned to tie yet. Then I say, “Sam, come here, I want to give you something.” I go into my room and slip something out of a book. “Here,” I say, “can you read it to me?” It is a sturdy bookmark, with pressed native Wethersfield flowers on it, thickly laminated. It was a gift from my friends this past Christmas. “Friends are flowers in the garden of life.” “This is your special bookmark because you are very, very special Sam.” I wrote his name on the back and I remembered my devotional this morning, “The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God will have you put together and on your feet for good.” 1 Peter 5:10 (MSG). We all have hurt spots. All of us; acknowledging it, allows us to see it and once it is seen, it can be dealt with. “Will you take a picture of me with it Mommy?”

Go get ‘em Samshine.

who would've thought a bookmark can hold up a whole little person?

And flash to the present!

So yeah.  Yeah, this is big.  And awesome.  The reason for the turnaround?  A lifting up of confidence, and a generous, caring teacher who, when I notified about what I saw happening to him, immediately made time for a conference, began watching and as sure as I am writing this, began a program of assertiveness and conflict resolution in her classroom.  His steps became more sure.  There was more joking than quiet.  A party invitation came.  Sam is starting to show his rays. She believes in Sam.  I believe in Sam; now Sam believes in Sam.  Some days are better than others still, but we’re getting there.  And here’s the proof. 

hot legs--watch out!

And what’s more, the popular kids are getting on it.  How do I know?  Because his super cool, super smart, and super stylin’ older brother changed his socks this morning too.

"imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"

 I have never been more happy about a '70s fashion resurgence in my whole life, (and that's even with the admittance that I have a fondness for huge sweatbands à la McEnroe and Richard Simmons, that sexy guy.) 

Hey, have tea with me!

Hey, and thank you, all of you, who are reading this and want to read more.  You make me feel giddy and lightheaded in all the right ways.  Like when you take a bite out of a piece of birthday cake, eat a strawberry ice on a really hot day--you’ve given me more than one “this is the best day ever” moment.  Thank you.  If you want my musings in your inbox, subscribe up at the right. 

My genius and amazingly talented friend, Karen Serrie, did all the gorgeous graphics for this blog and the comment section is now working, so comment away friends!  I'd love your feedback.  Cheers!

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Lights Are OUT...and I'm home.

So here I am, first blog post!  I’m a mother to three crazy fun boys, a wife to a really smart, good looking, broad smiled guy, I read books, cook a lot, and I get kidney stones.  (You’ll hear about that later, sorry.)  Writing helps me make sense out of the world.  I’m so glad you came to see me, and I’d love to know more of your story.  In the meantime, hang with me, and we’ll talk over tea like grown-ups, and I’ll tell you all of mine.   

The lights are out and I’m home.

These are the yearning years I think.  When your children are small, and so demanding of your time: “Hey, do you want to play tea set with me?”  “Mommy, wipe my bum bum!”  “Look, I just learned how to make a whole liter of Daddy’s soda explode!”  Or even in the still and quiet, as they are busily plotting the destruction of the house or creating their own space ships readying them for intergalactic battle.  My gaze, my line of focus, is always downward. 

I profess to you that I am yearning for downtime.  Time at the computer to write.  Time to read as the library queue has gotten heavy indeed.  Time to think. The space to go to the bathroom by myself.  But lately, just lately, I have considered that these yearning years are going to extend and extend on, and the yearning for alone time will be filled with yearning for those requests to see and be seen by my children.  Because soon my approval on a project won’t be the ultimate in satisfaction for them.  Because my presence at a tea party won’t be required.  Soon, ever soon, the space on the refrigerator won’t be the coveted spot for a drawing. 

The lights above, I just noticed, are out.  And not just one mind you, but a whopping three as you can see. 
But my gaze has not been focused upward, it’s been down towards still forming hands and exquisite dreams that I’ve been privileged to witness. 

“What in the world do you possibly do all day that you didn’t notice the kitchen lights are out?”  A friend asked me, not unkindly.  In the moments to respond, many thoughts came to mind: I picked up the missing Lego piece that completed the castle, I helped form the number 6 explaining the curl ended just once, I debated the merits of competing galaxies with a intrepid 8 year old, I saw a first grader figure out how to build a car on his own without his brother’s help, I did the washing and made pizza from scratch while letting a preschooler man the controls.  “Well, I guess I just was busy minding the down,” I said, “instead of the up.” 

So you, friend, I’m here to tell you, whether up or down, sideways or forward, you’re doing a pretty stellar job.  Because even though staying in the moment seems so clichéd, it’s all we’ve got.  

manning the controls

i've got one named after me!  better that than a tattoo!

until next time...with love from my crazy crew and me.  cheers.