Friday, September 28, 2012

And the winner is! / + some other stuff

Shelby, "pick me randomly, please." I did! How weird is that? Shelby email me your details, and I will forward them to Storey.

And wow. Thank you all so much for your enthusiastic feedback on the book. I know that Emily is totally thrilled. You really are the most generous people.

In other random news:

Photo taken by my beloved high-school friend (and the fantastic photographer) Ben Marks. Finally I have a picture of his that's not of me with some or other boyfriend of yore.
  • We've been having a total jacks renaissance around here. And let me just say [shrugs modestly]: I've still got it. I can get to tensies and back in one turn. Unless I've had more than two beers, and then it takes some unpredictable number of turns between one and a hundred.
  • Frankie turned two. Two! (For newer readers, Frankie and his mom Anni lived with us when he was a wee baby.) And I celebrated with a lunatic fit of obsessive crafting. I swear, I was just going to make two pieces of bread and a piece of cheese. But then, before I knew it, they were honking at me from the car, threatening to go to the party without me, and I was still in my pajamas, sewingly deranged.

Most of the patterns came via the apartment therapy master list of felt food tutorials.
The bag of chips, right?

  • Oh, but were you like, felt food, whatever, tell me about that pink velvet bench? This old thing? This old thing in perfect condition? That we got by the side of the road in Providence for $20? Score! Even the legs are upholstered. It is truly spectacular.

  • I got invited to be a California Raisin Ambassador! A title that must, apparently, make its own glory, since it turned out not to be an actual paying gig with payment and paidness. Sigh. But it is now my favorite thing to say around the house. "Is that how you talk to the Raisin Ambassador?" and "Sorry, but the Raisin Ambassador is too busy to cut your toenails." Even though I'm not actually the Raisin Ambassador. On account of how I didn't do it. Which is probably just as well.
  • I dreamed that I looked and looked for a bathroom, finally found one, and then realized that I was pooping in a pebbly Zen fountain in a doctor's waiting room.
  • I read two amazing and wildly different books. One is Song of Achilles, which I worry you might have to be a total classics geek to appreciate. Given that I was, like, the only person in my Latin VI class, while the rest of my classmates were busy wearing cool jeans and laughing and going to our senior prom and stuff, this was the novel of my dreams. It's strangely pulpy (the metallic-embossed cover makes it look like a gay, martial, ancient Greek Harlequin Romance) but it's also this incredibly moving and romantic story about the Trojan War, told from the point of view of Petroclus, the lover of Achilles. The fact that I just wrote that like it was a boring book report should not at all dissuade you from reading it. The other book was So Much Pretty, which is about girls and violence and is as inspiring and wonderful as it is horrifying and dreadful. That book has some of the best descriptions of friendship that I have ever read anywhere, and I loved it.
  • I googled "how to make an owl costume for a stuffed animal" (Birdy is going to be Harry Potter for Halloween, so that leaves Strawberry to figure out) and was shocked not to find what I was looking for. But there is a Hedwig costume for kids, which gave me such a pang. I love the child that wants to be not Harry, not Hermione, not even Ron Weasley or Malfoy, but Hedwig. Dying.
Have a wonderful weekend, my friends.


Monday, September 24, 2012

s h o w m e a s t o r y (review + give-away!)

Let me start, as always, with full disclosure:

That sweet house? That’s Emily Neuburger’s parents’ house. That I can see out my front windows.

And that really beautiful gold-framed trio of watercolor pears? Emily's mother painted that. Emily herself is a treasured friend, one of the loveliest people I know, and the talented crafter whose garland-making method I am nearly constantly referencing (from her amazing blog). The fact that she, like my friends Nicole and Debra, has a book newly published by our nearly local Storey Publishing might make you feel like there’s some kind of Western Massachusetts craft mafia brewing. And it should.

That all being said? When the review copy of her new book, show me a story, arrived, I did not get a chance to look at it for three days. 
"Oooh, Birdy, should we do this Word Tag activity?" "Oh, Mama, I'm sorry, I actually already did that one. But I'd totally do it again with you if you wanted!"
Birdy took it and read it cover to cover. Then she marked it all up with post-it notes. Then she started making things from it. 
It's the kind of book from which projects develop and evolve on their own. "I don't think it's the kind of book that cares if you do the projects exactly the way it says too," said the wise Birdy.
And it has been one of the most creatively inspiring objects to come into our home, that book. 

For one thing, it's gorgeous: Emily did pretty much all of the craft styling in it, and everything is just utterly charming and beautiful to look at.  Plus, Emily's beautiful daughters grace many of the pages.
Three of Birdy's story stones. I am so glad we collected that enormous Cheetos' bag full of rocks at Race Point beach in Provincetown! Plus, now that they're used up, we won't keep thinking there are Cheetos and then being disappointed.
For another thing, it's thrifty-minded: many, if not most, of the craft projects use materials you already have lying around (rocks, brown paper bags, scraps of fabric and paper, old magazines and calendars), which I find tremendously delightful. And for another other thing: it's a book for kids of all different ages.
Ben's story stones, including mustache and inchworm.
The thing is, I knew it was going to be a fantastic book, just because of who Emily is (she runs famously wonderful children's craft workshops, among other things). But what I did not know was that it was going to be a fantastic book for my kids. 
Magic Flower Wand.
I thought for some reason that it was going to be better for younger children, and that it was going to require of me a great deal of narrative finessing, which (strangely) is not a great skill of mine, given my tendency to space out. Plus, I get all this weird performance anxiety. "And then the princess said, uh, why don't you like spinach? And the prince said, uh, I actually do like spinach." Zzzzzz. 
Mama's story stones, including pear and mason jar. I gave the mason jar away, and the children were very mad about it. Now I can't tell a story about canning pears by starlight.
It is not like that at all. Or, rather, not unless you want it to be. What it is is "40 craft projects and activities to spark children's storytelling," and there are about a million ways to use it--including creating traditional narratives. We, for example, spent an entire week making story stones (this is kind of Emily's signature project), and it was the most deliciously perfect activity just for its own sake: like creating a series of tiny, framed collages. We loved it. Birdy made hers with storytelling in mind: a night sky, a daytime sky, an ocean, and a series of characters and landscapes. She uses them for storytelling. But Ben sees it as more of a trading game (although I do want him to tell a story about an inchworm impersonating a mustache). Me? I just wanted to make pretty ones. Though I am kind of thinking of turning them into refrigerator magnets. 

I actually had to intercept one of Emily's across-the-street visits to show her the joyful story-stone chaos of our living room. And there was much Groaning and Misery when I finally insisted that we clean it up.
Birdy was home sick for a week, and the book basically took care of her the whole time.
In sum: it is a magical book. Plus, it's been out for, like, 5 minutes, and it's already won some kind of amazingness prize. I hope you buy it. But also, if you want to try your luck first, Storey is graciously sponsoring a give-away! You know the drill. Leave a comment here by noon on Friday for your chance to win a copy in a random drawing. (And for a second-chance give-away, visit the Storey blog.) Yay! Good luck!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pigless Bacon

It doesn't really look like bacon, I know. But it looks kind of good, right?

Here’s why you should make Pigless Bacon: 1) You’re a vegetarian. 2) You’re a nostalgic former vegetarian. 3)Your kids or partner are vegetarians. 4) You’re cheap and/or broke, and you’ve done the math, and real bacon is $6 a pound, while homemade Pigless Bacon is $3.38 a pound. 5) You’re cheap and/or broke and you’ve done the math, and store-bought tempeh bacon is $10 a pound, while homemade Pigless Bacon is $3.38 a pound. 6) You love to make and eat weirdly scrumptious things. 7) It seems sort of healthy. 8) Your friend Maddie (of crack broccoli fame) borrowed some liquid smoke from you because she wanted to make her own tempeh bacon, and you said, like a jealous four-year-old, “I want to make tempeh bacon too!”

Maddie, this one’s for you. And it’s so ridiculously delicious that I almost literally made my self sick on it: smoky and crispy and chewy and sweet in all the right ways. And it works for Birdy, who, like any normal vegetarian, misses bacon. Make it and try saying you don’t love it. Seriously.

They probably make liquid smoke by soaking a bunch of cigarette butts in high-fructose corn syrup. And I don't even care.
Pigless Bacon
Makes 3 PBLTs

This is adapted from the Vegetarian Times, with some notable exceptions. They bake it, and all I can say is that if you’re not going to fry it, don’t bother. I tried baking it, I did—I even sprayed it all over with oil and roasted the living heck out of it—and it just doesn’t get properly crisp. Plus, they add a bunch of non-bacon spices, like cumin, which I don’t understand. And they suggest that the liquid smoke is “optional,” which is crazy, because that’s the whole recipe right there. That said, I am grateful to them for giving me the bones of this recipe to work with.

1 8-ounce package tempeh, sliced into 24 very thin slices
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
Canola oil for frying

Lay the tempeh slices in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Bring the soy sauce, water, vinegar, maple syrup, and garlic powder to a boil in small saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the liquid smoke, then pour it over tempeh slices. Let cool, then cover and chill 2 hours, or overnight or—better yet—up to 3 days.

Heat a generous slick of oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Fry the tempeh slices, turning them frequently so that they crisp up deeply brown on both sides without burning (around 5 minutes total).

From Trader Groovy's.
Unlike some other soy products I know (I'm looking at you, tofu!), tempeh is very easy to slice thin.
I used too small a dish for marinating, but it didn't really matter.
You can fry it all at once, or whenever you want it.
I'm a fan! Ha ha.
You really need more Pigless Bacon in your sandwich than this, but I ate the rest of it already, even though I knew I was going to be taking a photograph!

Google Search Phrase

"goat vagina"

Really? But why? And why here?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Maple Garland

Is that disappointing? Does it sound like it's going to be some delicious, syrupy something--and then it's just leaves on a string? I'm sorry!

Can I please have another maple garland? Oh unless it's just this hippy-dippy shit--and then forget it.
How I have become the kind of person with a banner for every season is totally beyond me. But I have. Maybe it was while I was avoiding figuring out how to replace the bag in our vacuum cleaner? Or maybe it was while I was drunk. Either way, what can you do.

I think there's actually something kind of wrong with the tree that's producing these insanely variegated leaves. (Just to dampen the mood a little.)
A leaf garland is a lovely study in impermanence: it will take you five minutes to make it, and then over the next couple of weeks, it will dry up entirely. And by the time you are no longer in love with it (this takes me a while, because I have a soft spot for decay), why, it's time to put up yoj + trofmoc

Perversely, my bobbin ran out of thread in the middle of the last leaf, which somehow snapped the top thread as well. And I said the f-word as a really long, quiet exhale, which made the children laugh. My next memoir is going to be called Fucking Leaf-Garland Piece of Shit. Oh, sorry! Someone recently complained about the cursing. Don't let the pigeon read the blog!
I am still following my friend Emily's basic garland method over on her lovely redbird craft blog. The only thing different about the leaves is that they're fragile. But if you tear one? It's just a leaf! You could of course sew these together with a needle and thread. Or with just your mind--in which case you wouldn't need any actual leaves, and you'd be spared the entire project! Plus, an imaginary garland is so versatile.

If this weren't the scene at my house, for the THIRD SCHOOL DAY IN A ROW, I'd write more! But I have to run and cram more Tylenol into her feverish little Birdy self. Poor Chicklet.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Melancholy, Episode CXIV (with recipe!)

It is the bittersweet season. The maples are shyly streaked with red, dinnertime needs candles again, the grape smell is everywhere, and the kids are gone, gone, gone. Some of you have emailed to say that you’re thinking of me, remembering how hard September is. Thank you for that—for knowing me so well, for so long. For feeling this with me.

I think this is technically called foreshadowing.
Ben started middle school at the performing arts charter school nearby. I know I often forget to tell you things like that—like what’s actually happening around here. It must sometimes feels like one of those Look Again! books, with a close-up so close you don’t even know what it is: you thought it was the uneven parallel bars but really it turned out to be a katydid’s antennae. 

I write a lot about the heart-flapping thrill when that fat toddler hand reached up to take mine, that same heart-flapping thrill ten years later when it’s a happy middle schooler’s gangly paw reaching out, but maybe you don’t know where we’re actually going, or what it is that’s actually going on. 

Exposition is, perhaps, not my real strength. But it always seems like what we have in common, you and I, is that hand in ours—more than the personal details of whether or not Michael and I are married, whether or not we drive an elderly Subaru wagon with its saggy engine dragging along the ground like an automotive representation of my bosom, whether or not we have sent our kids to private elementary school, whether or not I have done various sleazy things to pay for that school (less pole dancing than eyeshadow-for-sale writing, don’t worry). But then you don’t always know what’s going on.

My tea was a little dry, but otherwise I heartily recommend the Yum-Yum Castle Restaurant.
So: Ben is starting middle school at the performing arts charter school. It’s going to be so great, it is, you can just tell by the positive energy of the kids, the smiles and guitars and piercings and frantic hugging all around. I just drove him to school in the rain, and we had to listen to Aretha Franklin singing “Rock Steady”—but really loud, so that Ben can pick out the piano part he needs to learn. Not bad, as far as homework goes. But part of one day last week was hard for him and oh, I am about as thick-skinned as a soap bubble. I think about that thing everybody talks about—“helicopter parenting.”  That’s not me. I’m more like “velociraptor parenting” crossed with “retired submarine” parenting. I don’t care if the kids make the ski team or play the violin or go to college, and I’m too busy lying on the couch with a beer to hover around pressuringly—but if you interfere with their happiness, I will come at you with claws and teeth and furious, scaly, flapping tail. At least in my imagination I will.

Maybe a puffball that doubles as an airbag will help!
I am, in sum, happy, optimistic, and a little raw. I was renewing my library card over the phone, and the circulation guy was looking at my account, and he said, “Oh, while I’ve got you, I’m seeing that Why Women Have Sex is overdue. Are you ready to return it?” “Not yet,” I said, and he said, “Okay, okay… Why Women Have Sex. It doesn’t look like anyone else has requested it, so you can go ahead and keep it, Why Women Have Sex. If you still need it. And when I laughed and said, “It’s something I’m writing a piece about for work,” he said, serious, “I’m sure it is.” That’s the kind of week I’m having.

I am not recommending that you fry it in butter and eat it. It's a mushroom, for God's sake, and could be poisonous.
Here’s a recipe that makes a perfect, nourishing, easy, unpoisonous back-to-school supper: a rich, unctuous, wildly herbal pasta dish that takes a handful of walnuts and turns them into a divine, lilac-hued cream sauce. My kids love this dish, scout’s honor.

But first, three free-thrills recommendations:

1) The customer reviews of the “BIC Cristal for Her Ball Pen” renew my faith in humanity—and in the fact that the roots of feminism run deep and funny. "Someone has answered my gentle prayers and FINALLY designed a pen that I can use all month long! I use it when I'm swimming, riding a horse, walking on the beach and doing yoga. It's comfortable, leak-proof, non-slip and it makes me feel so feminine and pretty!"

2) I challenge you to watch this and not end up saying “Don’t. Punch. Our car.” a hundred times a day. Also, I challenge you not to binge-watch the rest of them. Episode 4 is our current favorite. (Thanks, Launa. You owe me a million hours of my life.)

3) This song makes me cry. (OMG. Did I link to it last September too? I hope not.)

Pasta with Red Beans and Walnut Sauce
This is based on Red Beans with Walnut Sauce from the incredibly useful Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. My girlfriend Deobrah Madison adds scallions and walnut oil; I add marjoram and pasta. If you don't have or like all these herbs, use an equal amount of herbs you have or like. Crunchy, buttery breadcrumbs would be great on top.

Kosher salt
1 pound whole-wheat pasta shapes (I like bionaturae chiocciole, which I actually do buy from amazon in packages of 6!)
½ cup walnut pieces
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil (or walnut oil!)
Black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
3 cups cooked kidney beans (or two cans, drained)
3 tablespoons each finely chopped parsley and cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil
1 tablespoon finely chopped marjoram

Put a large pot of water on for the pasta and salt it heavily (it should taste as salty as the sea).

Make the walnut sauce: whir together the walnuts and garlic in a food processor, then add the vinegar, oil, black pepper, cayenne, and ¾ teaspoon of kosher salt. Drizzle in 3 or 4 tablespoons of water (or use bean-cooking water, if you cooked them yourself—but don’t bother with the canned liquid) and process until you make a smooth, creamy sauce. Taste it for salt and vinegar, and add more of either if it’s not perfectly balanced.

Meanwhile, cook and drain the pasta and heat the beans a little bit in the microwave or a small pot.

In a large bowl, gently stir together three quarters of the pasta with the beans and walnut sauce and half the herbs. Top with the rest of the herbs and serve. (That last quarter of the pasta is perfect for anyone who wants “plain seconds.”)