Sunday, November 30, 2008

Facebook Friends

I don't really get Facebook. I signed up on it because my crazy friend Todd invited me, and since I never see him and he makes me laugh, I did it. I kind of forgot about it for a while, and then a bunch of other friends got on it and I started getting all kinds of "friend requests" and "vampire bites" (still haven't figured out that one) and Steve got into it, but still, I don't get it. Here's my feeling: Just call someone up and talk to them, send them an email, or do what I'm doing; blog. It all just seems like a gigantic waste of time, and is making people even more disconnected by taking them one step further from actual, face-to-face interaction. Also, like a lot of people, I don't really know why the Internet needs to know what I am doing and thinking every minute of the day. I think the CIA is somehow involved. I do love some of the friends I have on Facebook, because they are the ones that I don't get to see very often, if ever. Here's a few:

Drew: We met over (can it be) 18 years ago in New England. I adore him and I have often called him the brother I never wanted. He's works in film and is totally creative and knows just about everything there is to know about films. And music, so he's a great conversationalist. I love watching Woody Allen movies with him because he totally gets them and loves them as much as I do. I will always think of him when I watch Broadway Danny Rose, which is one of my all time favorites, because I saw it with him the first time. He also always, I mean always sends me a card for my birthday and really any other major holiday. I'm terrible at that kind of stuff, so I really admire him for it. Maybe one day I can start being good at it too.

Jason: Another friend from New England over 17 years ago, and another brother I never wanted. He is a crazy liberal hippie type from Oregon and is a literature geek just like me. Until recently he was living in the same city as me, so we had a chance to get together once in a while, but he's since left the state. He has a fantastic wife and kids, a PhD in Jewish Literature, but is now in Law School. His wife is also very patient to put up with all the schooling. I love this black and white photo of him; it looks like a shot of one of the of the Weathermen in the sixties and seventies, which if hadn't been an infant at the time, he probably would have been.

Shannon: I met Shannon when I worked in the Salt Lake Tribune advertising department. She was so cool and we had the same taste and she even had a little romantic tryst with one of my friends after she met him at my wedding. Actually, I haven't even seen her since my wedding, more than ten years now. She has been really great at keeping in touch, which again, I'm terrible at. She lives in California and travels like crazy and surfs and does all the things cool girls in California do.

Todd: The guy who started all this Facebook stuff in the first place. I met him at the U of U while I was dating his best friend and room mate Andy. I haven't seen Andy in years, but Todd lives in Idaho and comes into town once every couple of years and we go out to dinner with Cha-Cha and our other good friend Tom. We always make so much noise laughing at whatever restaurant we go to (we all love good food) that I am always afraid they are going to kick us out. I think everyone else in the restaurant thinks we're drunk, and it's always a very good time. Cha-Cha and I call it legal dating while married. Good thing our husbands have nothing to worry about. I'll let you figure that one out on your own, but pictures do speak volumes. If the one at the right doesn't explain enough, just check out the one he posted on my Facebook wall last Christmas:


The other friends I have on Facebook I see on a regular basis, so I won't go into them here, but my point is that even though I don't really get Facebook, I am sorta starting to see the point. I don't know if I would be in touch with any of these people without it, so I'm happy Todd signed me up. But I just want the CIA to know that I'm onto them.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fake vs. Real

I admit it, when it comes to Christmas, I am a purist. I believe that all cookies should be made from scratch, all presents should be wrapped with real ribbons (the person who invented those awful adhesive pop-on bows should be punished the same way as the person who invented Cool Whip), and all Christmas trees should be real.
For the past 15 years or more, I've always had a real tree. Even when I was single and living alone in the big city, I had a real potted tree that went up to my knees and was decorated with one measly string of lights. But it was real. It's mostly due to the smell, but I also love the ritual of going out and picking a tree, especially now that I have kids.
Then this year, for some reason, I started to think about going fake. It has a lot to do with the fact that we are living in a small space this year and aren't going all out with the decor, but ever since beginning the process of designing our house with our architect, I have started thinking a little greener and trying to be a little more environmentally responsible. And I also really hate putting on the lights. And more than that, I really, really hate taking off the lights when the tree is as dry as kindling and ends up a pile of dead pine needles in the carpet that don't really get completely cleaned up until March. I swear a lot while doing both.
I asked my Mom if she still had an artificial tree she could lend me on Thanksgiving, and she told me that she had upgraded to the pre-lit variety and wasn't planning on using it this year, so I could borrow it. Yes! No lights, no swearing, no Christmas-tree-set-up-tension. We brought it home after Thanksgiving dinner, put the kids to bed, and then set it up. Here are the reasons I think I may have been converted:
  1. It took 15 minutes.
  2. It came with it's own stand so we didn't have to go searching for ours, which for some reason never is in the same place twice.
  3. It was free.
  4. I realized that I wasn't going to have to water it, ever.
  5. I realized that I wasn't going to spill the water all over the floor when trying to water it.
  6. Did I mention it was pre-lit?
And perhaps the most fantastic part of it all was when the boys woke up the next morning, all it took to decorate it was finding the box of ornaments. No stress! No swearing! No tension! Just fun! Check it out:

Jack loved putting on the ornaments that look like presents the best.

The only tense moment of the tree trimming was when Max decided once he got up on Steve's shoulders that he definitely did not want to put the star on the top of the tree, but rather wanted Steve to do it while he covered his eyes. I finally got it on in the end.

The finished product. Happy kids, a decorated tree, and a Mom and Dad that were still feeling good enough to go out for hot chocolate and candy cane bagels afterwards.

I will admit that I feel that I'm cheating a bit, and the smell is greatly missed. I did go to Bath & Body Works to buy some fake tree smell plug-in air freshener things, and it's sorta like the real thing. If you're nostrils could squint, it would seem pretty close. But for this year, I think it will work. Next year, when we're in our new house, I may go back to my purist ways. Only time will tell.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cousins, Cousins, and More Cousins! Oh Yeah, And Then There's Those Other Cousins!

I grew up with only two first cousins. I guess to some people this isn't so strange, but where I live, it is. Most people have hoards of cousins here, and Steve even has some cousins he's never met before. I find this utterly bizarre. I come from a long line of small families, and Steve comes from a long line of big families, with some polygamists thrown in to keep it interesting (and confusing).
Since we don't live in the same town as his family, it is always fun for Max and Jack to get together with their many cousins and get to know them better. It was fun this week to have Steve's brother Brian, his wife Holly, and their four kids drop in for a visit. Its so much fun to hear the boys laughing and having fun, and they are totally exhausted afterwards. Here's some photos (special thanks to Janell for unknowingly lending us her yard while her family was out of town):




And then, on Thanksgiving, we got together with my side of the family, and more and more cousins. I spent every holiday with my two cousins (both boys, Ian & Mike, who I still adore), and now their kids and my kids are all spending the holidays together. It looks like even a long line of small families can create quite a hoard of cousins too. But luckily we still all know each other's names.

Steve playing games with Morgan, who is almost three.

Drawing on the sliding glass doors with Lewis, Adian, Morgan, and Tegan.

Jacob swinging in the backyard.

The New Cousin On The Block: Dylan.

Lewis the daredevil on the backyard swing.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving all! Here's another holiday performance by Max and Jack on our sofa. I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this song, but Max learned it at school and has committed it to memory, so, what ya gonna do? I'd like to say that we made the cute hat for Jack, but he actually got it from Storytime at the library. We're going to my parent's house today for dinner and the kids are really excited to eat all the desserts I've been making and to see their cousins. I'm excited that I don't have to host Thanksgiving at my house. We usually do, but since we're living in such a small place this year, someone else had to do it. It feels like being a kid again, which is always nice around the holidays. Now that I've made you read all this, here's the good stuff:

video
Have a great holiday, and if you do eat like pigs, be sure to get a lot of cardiovascular exercise tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

As Un-American As Apple Almond Tart

I don't like pie. I'm not exactly sure why, but there's something about the crust that always tastes greasy to me, and the filling is usually way too sweet. And pumpkin pie, in my opinion, began as a dare, or from people who had absolutely no other options for dessert (here's the real reason). So, as you can imagine, Thanksgiving is not always my favorite day as far as desserts go. Since I love to bake, my family turned over the desserts to me a few years ago, and I took it as an opportunity to mix things up a bit. What I came up with was tarts. I make them a lot in the summer with fresh berries, but I was able to come up with two fantastic cold weather tarts, and here they are.

Apple Almond Tart:

I love the almond paste filling in this tart. It's like eating marzipan with fresh fruit. Here it is as it goes in the oven...

... and through the magic of the Internet, here it is when it comes out. Golden crust, baked apples, all glazed in jelly. It is sooooo good.

Pumpkin Chocolate Tart:

My favorite part of this recipe is putting the solid chocolate pieces on the hot crust, letting them melt, and then paving the entire bottom of the crust with chocolate. This technique is to keep the crust from getting soggy, but it really makes the whole thing in my opinion, and I believe all desserts and roads should be paved in chocolate. Like I said, I'm not a big fan of pumpkin, but this one is really great. Put chocolate with anything and you really can't go wrong.

This recipe is Martha Stewart's, and you can access it by clicking the link above. The other recipe is a hybrid of two others, but since I've been baking all day I don't have the energy to type it all out right now. If you want it, let me know.
I also make my pumpkin cake, which is always a favorite. And to insure all my pie-loving relatives don't stop inviting me to Thanksgiving, I buy an apple and pumpkin pie at Costco and top them with lots of real whipping cream (whoever invented Cool Whip should be severely punished in my opinion). You've gotta give the people what they want.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The War of the Wills

As I've mentioned before, Jack is killing us slowly by waking up at 4:30 AM almost every morning and not going back to sleep. It doesn't matter when he goes to sleep, he still wakes up at 4:30 AM, like clockwork. He never eats much at dinner so I think he's just starving. At this point in time my main hope as a parent is that one day I will actually convince him that eating and sleeping are good things.
He's just got such a strong will, and he is in that phase where he's going to do what he wants, no matter what. It amuses me when I ask him if he wants to do something that I know he wants to do, like have a treat, but his first reaction is no, just because he can never be seen as going along with what I want. He quickly corrects himself, but really, I can see he's dying to say no. It's just how he rolls, and it is exactly how Max was at the same age. I don't know where this "terrible twos" thing came from, because for both my kids it truly was the "terrible threes."
When he got home from preschool yesterday he put his head down on the couch and I could tell he was tired, so I told him he needed to take a nap because he had woken up so early. Of course he started crying, all red faced as if I had just taken away his favorite toy, but I told him we were doing it, end of discussion. I carried him upstairs, screaming all the way, and then sat him in his bed. He said he wasn't going to take a nap. I said he was. I laid down with a blanket and a pillow on the floor by him and told him we were going to go to sleep now, and here is the sequence of events that followed:
  1. Lots of fake crying. You know, the really shrill kind that only a parent can hate.
  2. The negotiations began, trying to tell me he wasn't tired. He could see that I wasn't buying it.
  3. The sweet little "Mommy, can we be done with our nap now?" ploy, complete with the batting blue eyes.
  4. Sitting up with his eyes closed, tipping constantly to the back and side, but always catching himself.
  5. Leaning to one side on his arm.
  6. Finally, this:
The kid never stood a chance, but let me tell you, I find these tantrums one of the most exhausting parts of parenthood. Even more than waking up at 4:30 AM.

Monday, November 24, 2008

And The Kids Like It Too

Here I am with another recipe. I love to cook, and I have made a new vow to do more of it. Now that we are renting and have a much more minimal kitchen than we've had before, I have found that I am cooking less than I should. So, I've turned over a new leaf, and included in this change is eating dinner at the table every night instead of at the kitchen counter. Due to the changes, we're all enjoying dinner much more.
The other night I made what I think may be the only thing I know my kids will eat: Pasta with Salmon and Mint. I know it sounds fancy, but its easy to make and is equally adult and kid friendly. Here's the recipe:

Pasta with Salmon and Mint


  • 1 lb. bow tie pasta, preferably whole wheat
  • 1 ½ lbs. fresh or frozen salmon, skinless
  • zest and juice from two lemons
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • ½ lb asparagus cut in bite size pieces
  • 2 tbsp. butter 
  • ¼ cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. In the meantime, season salmon with salt and pepper and place in a shallow pan with lemon zest, juice and wine. Bring to a boil and then simmer on medium-low heat for ten minutes or until salmon is opaque. Add asparagus and cook for 2 – 3 minutes until tender-crisp. Add pasta and butter to pan with salmon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with Parmesan cheese and fresh mint. Serve.

There's something about the infusion of the lemon juice with the pasta that makes the whole thing taste incredible. The kids prefer it without the mint on top, but it really makes the whole dish for me, so I just leave it off their portions. And if you need any more convincing to try this one, here's proof that (at least my) kids love it:


Really, what more can I say. Kids willingly eating fish and asparagus!
Wonders never cease!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Star Wars Epidemic

I rented the original 1977 Star Wars to watch with the boys when Steve was out of town a couple of weeks ago. They had never seen it, but had been introduced to the whole Star Wars universe through the Lego Star Wars video game. I thought they would enjoy it, and it was pretty fun, except Jack kept asking every ten seconds "When will they do the light savers (he calls them savers instead of sabers) again?" or "When will they show Dark Vader (Dark instead of Darth) again?" It became a little bit tedious, but it was still fun sitting with them watching the movie and eating pizza. In our bed. I washed the sheets right after.
Ever since then, it has been all light sabers (or savers) all the time. Steve even rigged up some made out of paper tubes and drinking straws, and now there are about ten of them lying around our house. Jack is constantly swinging one around, and the other day he turned a stick into a light saber and was watching his shadow against the fridge. I just had to take some video footage:

video

It's a little reminiscent of the YouTube video that was going around a few years ago...



Before it was spoofed by Arrested Development, possibly the most genius sitcom of all time:



The whole thing is just so much cuter in a boy of three vs. a teenager.

Unfortunately, the Star Wars disease is only going to get worse considering what the boys are getting for Christmas. I better prepare myself for breaking up fights with these things for many years to come.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Girls & Gormandise

Last night I had a great girl's night with my friends Trish, Cha-Cha, and Janell. Actually, we didn't get to do much of what we set out to do. We were planning to go to a fun toy store for some Christmas shopping, but due to some bad traffic and too much shopping at the Sundance Outlet, we got there after it closed. We went to dinner and then did a little shopping at Barnes & Noble, but then ended up at our favorite bakery, Gourmandise, which really is a good enough reason to get together on its own. I thought I'd tell you a little about my friends through photos of them and the desserts they ordered:

Cha-Cha & The Peach

Cha-Cha has been my friend for over 13 years and was my room mate for three of them. She can make me laugh more than just about anyone on the planet. She's incredibly patient and has twins, so she kind of has to be, but she was even before the kids came along. She ordered The Peach, which she describes as "A peach shaped donut filled with cream and soaked in booze." Enough said.


Janell & the Millefuille


Janell and I met eight years ago when Steve was finishing his PhD and her husband (also a Steve) was starting his Master's Degree. For a long time we just hung out as couples, but when her Steve got a job at the same University as my Steve, I was over joyed to have her to hang out with. She gives you the impression of being a bit reserved when you first meet her, but she is one of the most fun friends I have, and you know she's a great friend if she would let me do this to her house and still speak to me. She ordered the millfuille, which at Gormandise is amazing. Fondant Icing, lots of flaky pastry layers, and custard. I always require that at least one person gets one so I can have a taste.


Trish & The Chocolate Hazelnut Cake Bar


Trish and I met in our kid's swimming class, and I am so glad we did. I struck up a conversation with her when I heard her Irish accent and because I have family in the UK and lived there, I am always happy to meet people from that neck of the woods. She was so much fun and we so understood each other that we became great friends. She is one of the bravest people I know because 1) she had her first child at 44, and, as if that wasn't enough, 2) she had her second child at 46. She's a great Mom, so friendly and outgoing, and always fun to hang out with. And her husband is also named Steve and is a college professor. It gets confusing at times. Her treat was one none of us had tried before but was amazing chocolate mousse on a crunchy, hazelnut crust. She likes to experiment, and this one was amazing. Sorry the photo wasn't.


Me & The Flaming Heart

What can I say about myself that hasn't been said on this blog before? I can say I am incredibly lucky to have such great friends, and to have a husband who encourages me to get out with them often. My favorite treat at Gormandise is the Flaming Heart cookie. It's actually two butter cookies cemented together with dark chocolate. I love it because it's simple and not too sweet, and Gormandise knows how to do it just right. It's a perfect ending to a great night out with the girls.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Slurpee Fridays

Over the summer I introduced Max to Slurpees. I know, I know, what was I thinking? I rarely had Slurpees as a kid; in fact my Mom only let us get them after doctor's appointments so I had them only once a year or so. Max had to go to the doctor on a hot day and I told him we could get a treat, so I suggested a Slurpee and he was all over it. After that he wanted Slurpees morning, noon, and night. To help curb his addiction I told him we could only get them on Fridays when he gets off school early. I thought he's forget about it, but surprise, surprise, he hasn't, so most Fridays we go and get the guy a Slurpee. He's such a great kid, and doing so well in school, that I just couldn't deny him this little indulgence. Emphasize little, he only gets the smallest one. Did you know you can get a 44 ounce Slurpee? Only in America would we subject ourselves to that much sugar and brain freeze willingly.

Max, pondering life while kicking back with a Slurpee. His flavor(s) choice of the day: BLUE Vanilla (excuse me, since when was vanilla blue?), Wild Cherrry, Banana, and Mango. He likes to experiment.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Save The Pomagranate!

I have just started an unhealthy (or possibly healthy) addiction to Red Mango's new Pom Wonderful frozen yogurt. If you don't know about Red Mango you need to click the link above and check it out, but in a nutshell they are a frozen yogurt chain started in South Korea that spread to the US that actually uses real yogurt in their frozen yogurt. Genius. They have just introduced their Pomegranate flavor for a limited time, but I am asking for help to keep it around because I just had my third one this week, and I cannot give it up. Not only does it taste great, but the pomegranate is no slouch in the healthy food department. To add to the sensational taste of the yogurt, I take mine topped with pomegranate seeds and raspberries. It's truly is amazing.
So, if you want to do me a favor, send an email letting Red Mango know they need to keep this flavor around (just click on the contact link on their website). Come on, do it for me. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That's What Friends Are For, or More Fun With Photo Booth

Cha-Cha, who is an awesome massage therapist, gave me a free massage for my 40th birthday (a truly fantastic gift). She came down the other night to give me my much anticipated massage, and while she was here I told her about the crazy photo of myself I had put in the Banxiety post. In telling her how I did it I realized that she had never felt the joy of warping photos of herself in Photo Booth. I, of course, could not keep all the fun to myself, so we spent the next hour or so trying it out. I don't think I have laughed this hard, to the point of crying, for a very long time. So, to prove that I have absolutely no shame, here are some of the goodies we created during our session. You're welcome.

Cha-Cha has always said she hates her big nose...

and I have always said I have the Forehead From Hell, but this is ridiculous.

Cha-Cha bearing an uncanny resembalance to Ursula the witch from The Little Mermaid.

You know someone is your true friend when you can really look your worst in front of them.

Cha-Cha, Steve and I had so much fun laughing at our crazy pictures, and it took me back to the years Cha-Cha and I were room mates and meeting Steve during that time. Before Steve and I dated we were all friends and would sit around laughing at silliness for hours and hours, so it was a fantastic walk down amnesia lane. Glad to know we still have it in us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pumpkin Cake Dissection

I don't know why, but I've never shared a recipe on my blog. I think I'm supposed to, right? Well, at least it seems like everyone else does, so here's mine for one of our favorite desserts, Pumpkin Cake. I love this cake because it takes no fussing over, and tastes great. It isn't technically my recipe, but it's been modified from it's original version, so I'm calling it my own. We all love it, and Jack especially loves it, or should I say, he especially loves the frosting. Here's the recipe and some photos of how Jack lies to eat his Pumpkin Cake:

Super Easy Pumpkin Cake:


Ingredients:


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 15-ounce can pumpkin
  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
Icing:
  • 8-ounce package cream cheese softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using an electric mixer at high speed, cream together butter and sugar until almost white and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add pumpkin and mix on medium speed until light and fluffy. Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Divide batter equally between two greased 8-9" cake pans. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting layers.

To make the icing: Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Add additional milk if necessary to reach the right consistency. Spread on cooled pumpkin cake layers. Sprinkle top with cinnamon.

Jack starts the process of eating his cake by carefully dissecting the frosting from each piece.

Then, once he has taken off every crumb of cake, he eats it.

And he gets away with this behavior because he is too cute for his own good.

Max, on the other hand, eats all his cake, and Jack's naked cake rejects.