Thursday, August 31, 2006

My birthday was Tuesday

And I'm still recovering. No, I did not go off on some alcoholic binge- I think the closest I got was the vanilla extract in one of the cakes- but my boys screamed pretty much the entire time their grandparents and aunt were there. Forget it- next year is the big 3-5, and that is going to be my excuse to forgo the entire thing. I'll tell everyone I just can't face acknowledging *that age* (but I'm not like that at all) and mark it with something toddler-friendly. Because I cannot be screamed at like that again!

The reason I had everyone come over again was to test out more cake ideas. For some reason, I just couldn't face another layer cake so soon after the boys' party. Last week, the boys slept for over an hour while J and I went to the bookstore, and I found the best cookbook by Dorie Greenspan, who also wrote the Julia Child Baking book a few years back. This was called "Paris Sweets", or something like that, and she had a recipe for Gateau Saint-Honore. If you've never seen or heard of it, it's a confection with a pie crust (pate brisee) bottom that's topped with a ring of cream puffs, which are glued in place with caramel, and then the inside of the ring is filled with a pastry cream/italian meringue mix. And then all of that is topped with chantilly cream, and then covered with chocolate shavings. As complicated as that sounds, it was less of a chore- and much more fun- than the layer cake. I was hoping the twelve year old would nominate that for her party, but sadly no. (Though she did finish it off the next day.) The verdict was that people liked it, but the caramel was "too much". Since I can't think of another way to get the cream puffs to stick to the pie crust, I'm not going to try that again.

The other cake of the night was an ice cream bombe. My mother talks about it likes it's dinner at a ridiculously famous restaurant- legendary, but unattainable- but it's so easy to make. (However, the whole requirement to be kept frozen takes it off the table for the bat mitzvah.) I made a small one that used 1 pint of chocolate ice cream as the top layer, 3/4 pint of coffee in the middle, and 1 pint (don't ask me how that worked out) of triple chocolate (chocolate with truffles). Take one bowl, line it with plastic wrap, put in your first flavor, fudge it into place with a slightly smaller bowl, freeze until firm (but not too long, or you'll have to fight to get the bowl out), then repeat until you're done. I had wanted chocolate chip for the color contrast, but my husband thought I'd like the chocolate truffle better. It was a success. Then I covered the top with whipped cream rosettes. What's not to love? We rounded out the rest of the meal with pizza, a calzone and a greek salad. My husband made this delicious mushroom pizza with a cream sauce I made that ended up tasting like mushroom soup. So good, but unfortunately I only got one slice because my sister K ate 4 before I could grab another. C'est la vie.

Shockingly, we were able to eat yesterday, and for dinner I took a cue from Rachael Ray (I sort of have a love-hate relationship with her) and made tofu-vegetable pot pie with a biscuit crust. That was pretty idiot-proof, I must say. Fry up some tofu, veggies, toss in some flour, put in some milk and vegetable broth, then top with biscuit dough. Bake for 20 minutes, and delicious. My husband and I loved it, and so did the picky boys.

Speaking of which- toddler summoning me. Until my next culinary breakthrough,

Deb in the City

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A day in the rain

As I said earlier, I decided to cash in my gift certificate at Elizabeth Grady for makeup rather than a facial. So while my husband went to get pebbles and light bulbs, I took the little ones on the Orange Line to Back Bay.

Of course that couldn't be uneventful. At Ruggles, I noticed someone on the platform with dogs. Surely he's not getting on, right? Wrong. After we passed Mass. Ave, my daughter noticed the dogs and started freaking out. We both got off at Back Bay and, with some frustration, told him that he wasn't allowed to have dogs on the T. Yes you are, he sniped back, you can bring up to two dogs per person. No, you're not. Yes you are- you should look it up before you say anything. Back and forth, I get on the elevator, he calls me a cow, I'm thinking he's a cliche but instead I call him something unprintable (think toilet matters, but something I could sort of say in front of my six-year-old). We get in the elevator, the six-year-old is blathering away, and then once upstairs I find someone who works for the T. Well, can you bring on a dog? An emphatic "no"- only if you have a disability, and this guy being an ass doesn't count. So if you're reading this, mister, you're wrong. And maybe that's all I should say if I want to keep this faamily friendly.

Fortunately, the rest was uneventful. We made it to Elizabeth Grady and the very nice person at the front desk helped me pick out foundation (Warm), blush (Dahlia), lipgloss (Passionfruit) and a shampoo and conditioner (Green Tea and Cucumber). They're having a sale this month, so all of that came to $100.80, so I only had to spend 80 cents out of pocket (score!). Then, because it was raining, I made the sacrifice and walked the kids over to the Children's Museum. My husband met us there, we saw a play, and then we drove home.

Once home, I put together some yummy veggie burgers (mostly from beans and rice, but also with breadcrumbs, cheese and eggs). I was psyched, but once my oldest got home from camp (yay!), she and her father decided that we needed to order Chinese food. *Sigh* Best laid plans. Oh well- I've got plenty of food for the next few days now.

Alright- babies beckon. Til next time,
Deb in the City

Gratitude

Yesterday, my husband took one for the team and agreed to go to the garden for me. My little stint last week did nothing positive for my ankle, and my husband saw that. He easily agreed to go to the garden and pick some weeds as well as water. Because our six-year-old is so into the garden, he took her as well.

J, as I may have already mentioned, is very fussy. She is also terrified of animals. Yes, I know I mentioned the cat last week. Well, this time the cat actually made it into the garden, and apparently J screamed like she was being killed. One of the owners behind the garden (who may have a plot of his own) did not appreciate that, and finally asked my husband to quiet her because he wanted to read his paper. My husband didn't appreciate *that*, and after a few words the (now presumably angry) homeowner retreated.

The two of them were not happy when they returned, and I sympathized with both. What was really funny was that my husband and little girl both washed in the tub for a very long time considering how messy they weren't, and then my husband washed the bath down with bleach. "Do you know what's in the soil?!?" "You mean besides the compost and manure mix I put in last week?" (Allow me a little literary license, please.) He has not only agreed to go again for me, he has also agreed to put down black garbage bags (to hold back the weeds) and build me a cold frame. I can't wonder, however, if I should get him a Hazmat suit first.

Before they went out, my sister P called to tell me that she and the adorable little V were in town so that her husband D could go to the West Indian festival. They were in Ashland with my mom, so of course we agreed to go visit. My husband wants to limit how much we drive the car out that way, and I totally agree, but he knew that visiting my sister was important. So we went to Whole Foods, picked up some cheese (La Tur, in my opinion, was ridiculously overrated and expensive, but the sale $6.99/lb brie was excellent), some olives, dates, Orangina, wafer cookies and peanut butter cups. We got to my mom's and had a lunch of bread and cheese, fruit salad, juice and cookies. Then we left to meet up with Jazmyn's friend's family who just happened to be headed towards MetroWest that day as well. Unfortunately, they didn't leave JP until we had found a parking space (long story), so the five of us were floating around the Garden in the Woods, trying to control the boys, until they arrived.

After our playdate with them (the boys love destroying things, that's for sure), we visited my mother-in-law, who cleaned like a demon while her husband was away and hurt her back. Then we headed to Toys 'R Us to get a tricycle (we have one they fought over), a potty seat (they're only two, but I can dream), another baby gate and, because J got rid of some toys, a toy for her. That was pretty rough, actually- it was really hard to find a toy appropriate for a six-year-old girl. She had no interest in Barbie dolls (we do have one), but she did want the Barbie guitar ($40) and laptop (over $50, and it didn't work). I preempted "Bratz" (who came up with that name anyway?) and tried to steer her toward arts and crafts, but we couldn't agree. My husband tried to get her into the learning toys but honestly, anything interesting was very expensive. Finally, we went to the clearance section and found a perfectly good guitar in compromised packaging for $10. Done. Now we're trying to keep her brother's away from it, but I consider that a problem of success.

Then we went to Burger King (I know) for a quick takeout of veggie burgers and fries, then off to Starbucks (the land of the evil) to meet with my family. (My mom paid, but I don't feel any better.) My sister K, who is autistic, broke my heart because she wanted to sit near a group of people who were signing. She knows some signing, but of course she didn't participate. That's a whole 'nother blog. Then off to Whole Foods for milk and eggs (conventional), and then home at last.

Today, I'm heading to Newbury Street to cash in my Elizabeth Grady gift certificate and get some makeup. I was going to get a facial while my mother-in-law watched the boys, but I don't feel like dragging her out while she has a hurt back. And it's not loss, really.

And since the boys are screaming now, that's that.

Deb in the City

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Putting food by

Alright, I've been putting this off for your sakes, but it's time. Time to talk about bulk cooking food.

I love to cook, and I don't find the time I spend on it to be wasted. However, there are some times (such as when my boys are screaming at me or when my ankle is bugging me so much it's painful to stand on) when I'm very grateful to have leftovers in the fridge or quick meals to throw together. I've been thinking for years about a bulk cooking strategy (because you can't just do something, everything has to have a *strategy*), and I've started to compile a list of things I want to make on (maybe) a monthly basis.

Here are some:

Pizza dough My boys and six-year-old daughter love pizza, and of course my husband, oldest daughter and I don't object to it either. You can also make calzones and rolls with it. In fact, when I was ready to shoot myself over the amount of times the boys were buying asiago bagels from Au Bon Pain, I made up some rolls from pizza dough, threw in and on some parmesan, and baked them up. My daughters devoured them in fifteen minutes. You can also, per Todd English, use pizza dough as a base for an informal pastry crust by rolling butter into it. That works pretty well, but of course it's not the same as the full on recipe.

Risotto For the record, you don't have to use the italian rice brands, but they are nice. I usually use sushi rice, because that's what I have. Despite my attempts to innovate, I've gotten to a pretty standard recipe: 1.5 cups of rice, 2/3 cups wine, hot vegetable stock (as much as you need- heat six cups to start), 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped celery stalk and salt. Once finished, turn off and add some parmesan cheese (about 1/3 cup). It comes out well, and the reason I think it deserves a regular place on people's menu is that you can also turn it into rice balls the next day or so after. My foodie six-year old likes it when you have a string of cheese in the middle, but it works fine with smaller bits of cheese as well.

Spaghetti, sauce and meatballs Or in my case, fake meatballs. Spaghetti- I mean, what more do you need to say, other than that you can usually find a good price for it? It deserves a place of honor in my kitchen because my picky little boy likes it, and my not-so-picky boy loves it. Also, you can use leftovers in a frittata or fritters. I use the method I saw demonstrated on Martha Stewart's show by the owner of Rao's- name completely escapes me: after you make your pasta (al dente, please), reserve some of the pasta water. After you drain the pasta, you put in a little butter and/or olive oil, some parmesan cheese and then up to a half cup of the water. This gives a little bit of a sauce in and of itself, but you can then add some of your other sauce afterward. As long as it's not a pesto or something else that doesn't like heat, add it to the pasta with the flame still on low so it can work into the noodles.

Tomato sauce can, of course, be used in things aside from spaghetti, such as pizza, beans, toppings for your fritters or anything else you can think of. I like to make it from scratch (using canned tomatoes), but my husband and children have yet to be converted from the bottle.

Fake meatballs are good not only for your pasta but also in subs or on their own. I'm not a big sub person- too messy for me- but my husband loves them, so we've started to add those into our menu more.

Beans and rice Just because. It doesn't seem to get any cheaper than dried beans, and canned beans aren't so expensive either. Tons of variety, although my husband is only crazy about black and will now grudgingly accept red. I like other varieties as well: chickpeas, pinto, pink, lentils, split peas- the list goes on. Just about all of them need to be soaked (except for lentils and split peas) before you cook them, but that can be done overnight with no babysitting. You can do a lot with beans other than the standard beans and rice: beans in enchilladas, beans in quesadillas, beans in soup, beans mashed up as refried beans and beans mixed with rice for your own veggie burgers. You probably could use beans every single night of the week in a different way.

For rice, I like brown rice. Of course you can pair it with it's favorite partner, but you can also turn leftovers into rice balls, turn into a sweet rice pudding (a surprisingly viable alternative to oatmeal) or fried rice or pair it with a stirfry, and of course that's not an exhaustive list.

Pancakes, waffles and muffins Easy to make ahead, but my children consume these by the dozen, or so it seems. A batch of pancakes is gone within two days. They sort of overdosed on muffins for the last few years, so those go a little bit more slowly.

Crepes I know, but hear me out. These are really versatile- you can use them for savory dishes or desserts- and it is all too easy to smear them with some whipped cream and jam for a quick and satisfying breakfast or dessert. They are not that hard to make, although my 11 or 12 inch cast-iron pan is a little bit of a challenge (not insurmountable though).

Cream puffs I made these for the first time yesterday/today, and boy are they so much easier than you would think. If you have a pastry bag, you can pipe out choux paste (which is the easiest dough ever) and pipe in pastry cream (also not hard to make). Hell, if you have a large enough plastic bag or baggie, you can pipe out the dough, bake it, then cut the puffs in half and fill with ice cream for a really yummy and impressive dessert.

Cheese sauce I am out of the closet: I love broccoli with cheese sauce more than anything. I avoid orange cheese whenever I can, but I have to admit that broccoli and cheese sauce doesn't look right unless it's orange. I also love it on pasta (much less unctious than alfredo sauce), and one of these days I'm going to make Mrs. Pepin's recipe for cheese souffle work with this.

Why should a stay at home mom bother making food in advance? Please, don't make me go on (just yet) about the children's activity schedule. Also, a lot of things that I like (ie, vegetables) can be somewhat time consuming *and* don't keep well. So cooking in advance saves time for that as well. Any other suggestions?

Until next time,
Deb in the City

Monday, August 21, 2006

In case you were wondering...

Just wanted to continue a few strands of thought from my last blog. The most unfinished is the garden (in more ways than one). The futility of beginning a garden in the middle of the summer smacked me in the face yesterday evening and this morning, but what kept me from throwing my tools into a corner and storming off was the thought that even this year is not going to be successful in the sense that I'll have a lot of produce to show off, it's a rehearsal for next year. I hope to be full of lessons of what not to do, and maybe uncover a few things that will work. I'll let you know.

As I mentioned, my husband and I went to BJ's yesterday. We practiced more restraint than most people who go there- we didn't get any junk food or things that we don't normally use or need. We got a lot of cheese, butter, garabge bags, diapers, Swiffer supplies, flour, chocolate chips, pasta and tomato sauce, as well as some items I don't remember. The total was $244 and change, and I think we'll be going back in about two months for more cheese and butter, at the very least. It's worth it though- grated cheese there ranged from $2.60 to $3.00 per pound, while at Shaw's the same cheese goes for $3.99 per pound. And the butter was much less than the $3.50 plus we've been paying.

Yesterday we took the boys to a Twins Study at BU. We walked from my husband's office in Back Bay, which usually wouldn't be so bad, but between the ankle and the gardening, I was in agony by the time I was on the train home, so much so that I bailed on cooking and ordered pizza (bad, I know, but I couldn't bear standing that long). So I think, sadly, that I have to dial down my workouts a little bit. I'm trying not to feel too sorry for myself since I spoke to a friend of mine and she told me that she has a permanently overstretched ligament as a result of all of the track she did in high school. I'm not quite there.

See you after my next adventure,
Deb in the City

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Deb... in the City Garden

Finally! Between my husband not being paid for six weeks and my ankle sprain, it took me this long to get back to the garden plot I weeded the first week of July. I finally bought some seed and compost/manure at Wilson's Farm (I LOVE that place), and brought my six-year-old over to prepare and plant, only to find that there were enough weeds that I would need to spend over an hour- AGAIN- taking care of them. If you have any experience gardening, you probably think I'm a moron. You're probably right. Of course weeds are going to grow to impressive proportions in six weeks. The good thing is that though they were tall, they were not nearly as thick or deeply rooted as they were before, when it took me three hours to weed.

The problem was that this started at 6:30, and when I was done I need to spread my manure/compost (and I had pitifully underestimated how much I needed), and then try and plant some of the six types of seed I had. (For a laugh, yes, I decided to start broccoli, lettuce, mint, basil, carrots and onions in mid-August. I know what will probably happen, but I have to give it a shot.) By the time I had spread out and worked through (as best I could) the fertilizer, the light was just about gone. However, my six-year-old was insistent that we plant at least something, so we very poorly planted the mint, basil and broccoli. Having seen how hard that was, she agreed that we should leave the rest until tomorrow. We left, but then she saw a cat and freaked out while I was trying to unlock and relock the padlock. I'd like to say I was calm and rational, but I had a bad mommy moment I'm not proud of. I won't detail here, but I'm sure she'll rightfully hold it against me for years.

As much of a fool as I may feel for starting again (and I'm not as stupid as I sound- I realize I probably won't get more than a few sad little sprouts, but I want to show the other gardeners that I'm serious and should be allowed to return next year), the weather gave a good sign shortly after I got home with thunder, lightning and rain- just what my happy little garden needs. Okay. Maybe this will work out.

And that's all for now folks. Tomorrow I may regale you with our jaunt to BJs, but maybe something more exciting will happen before then ;-)

TTFN,
Deb in the City

Saturday, August 19, 2006

In the city and of the world, and the nearly empty refrigerator

It's not that I've been unmotivated to write the last few days. In the first place, it seemed especially hard to get time away from the boys when I was also trying to get in some time to exercise (I've gained a few pounds, and I want them to go away). Second of all, I didn't want to come here until I did what I'd set out to do in my last blog, namely get some writing in (and I did finally last night, all of a page, while my boys screamed) and create my price book. Having done those, here I am.

But something else has been weighing on me. In a moment of clarity a few months ago (clarity meaning intention met action in my case), I had my husband order me a subscription to Scientific American. Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against Soap Opera Digest, Oxygen or Pilates Style, but what I've found over the last few years is that if I read just those for too long I literally start to feel dizzy. I noticed this years ago when I was into Vogue, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar and all of the other fashion magazines. I used to think it was from the perfume ads (and that may be a contributing factor), but then I noticed the same thing happened when I watched soap operas for too long in the day. It's almost as if part of my brain shuts down and therefore I take in less air. Whatever it is, I seriously get dizzy, almost like I'm hyperventilating. Aside from all of that, I am genuinely interested in certain topics (genetics, plate tectonics, pollution, sustainable agriculture, etc.), and Scientific American is pretty easy for a layman like me. So, taking advantage of my husband's similar interests (although he's more National Geographic) and his constant complaining about my reading materials, I asked him to order me a subscription and he happily agreed.

This week, we received a special issue on energy. The thrust of the articles is that we need to stabilize our energy output at the 2006 rate until 2056, and then after that reduce those levels for the next fifty or so years. A lot of what I've read so far is about transportation and the inefficiencies and potentials. The consumer usages have caught my eye as well. And I am genuinely concerned. Not that I wasn't before, but now I'm having a lot of trouble suppressing it.

Like organic food (which I've sadly forsaken over the last few years), improvements come with a higher price tag. On the one hand, that price reflects the real cost of energy or production, and on the other it saves on energy costs in the future, so the total cost of ownership, whether it's of a vehicle or an appliance, is reduced. And I'm all for it, but most of it I can't afford. I'd love to have a hybrid vehicle (but maybe from the second generation that's due out in the next two or three years), but even if they made one in the size I need, I doubt I have enough money for a down payment now.

So what can I do? As most of you have figured out by now, I'm very into food. I worry about it constantly, and I genuinely enjoy preparing it. In that area, there are a few things I can do. First, I can use my pressure cooker more. Second, I can use my microwave more. (I don't recommend that for vegetables, though, since you can kill off almost 100% more vitamins in the microwave than on the stove, no joke.) And I've started, and as you might imagine, it's not only no trouble, it actually saves me time. Third, I can batch cook more, which is something I've tried to do anyway but now have as more of a purpose.

Other things? I can use my air conditioner less. I'm trying, but my family members are very resistant (but I'll persevere). I can air dry my clothing more. Certainly, I can drive less. Not a problem, although my husband found a way to lower our insurance costs, so now we're going to be holding onto the car, at least for a little while longer.

And other ideas? I'll keep you posted, and I'm open to suggestions.

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It's been a week since the boys' two parties. I *still* have two cupcakes left, a bunch of frosting and a little bit of pastry cream. Because of the big shopping expenditure we had last week, we haven't really ventured out since then except for milk and eggs (how novel!). So this morning I have a very bare refrigerator, and I kind of like it. I feel like it's forcing me to be innovative and efficient (my word today) with what I cook. Last night, we had a microwave (see?) "lasagna" of leftover ziti and ravioli, with tomato sauce (of course) and mozzarella, as well as a big side of broccoli (last of), carrots and onions. We had our shabbat challah, but in the middle I realized I didn't have enough flour. Not so great, but cornmeal substituted really well for about a third of it. This morning, we used the last of the eggs to make challah bread pudding and a cheese omelet for J the elder. Right now, off the top of my head, we have milk, butter, a little bit of mozzarella, a little bit of parmesan, a bean ragout, rice, tortillas, oranges, carrots, celery, raisins, oatmeal, bread, frozen peas and corn, yogurt, ice cream and a little tomato sauce. Oh yeah- and a lot of macaroni and cheese. Hmm. Maybe it's not as empty as I thought!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The toddler proofed home?

As you know, I'm overly smug about having rearranged my living room (and by rearranged, I mean I've put the dining chairs back under the dining table). I'm feeling a little deflated about it after yesterday. Yes, it still looks as good to me as it did before, but my sons are beginning to think of it as part of their playground.

For the record, their sisters never did crazy things like this. When S the elder was little, we had a western-style table and chairs. We had no issues with her climbing onto the table. When J the elder was around one, we used a Korean table. I liked that much better, and while she did crawl on the table sometimes, it wasn't as big a deal if she fell (although of course we still tried to prevent it). We got rid of the table in part because the older S accidentally broke it (but it was easy enough to replace), but more because my husband had to be dragged whining and moaning to sit at it for dinner. Since it was more important for me to encourage a family atmosphere at meals than to have a traditonal Korean setup, I replaced it with a very affordable set from Jordan's. (Snaps to Jordan's by the way; we've gotten very affordable furniture from them- think Ikea prices- but at much better quality. You have to look though.)

Yesterday, little J not only stood on the chair but climbed onto the table. About ten times. We tried time out, but since I didn't tie him up, he giggled and quickly left. Then little S not only climbed the chair to get to the table but walked across the table. Lest you think I'm a negligient mother, this happened when I was in the kitchen while I watched- as in, during the time it took me to go over the gate and walk four feet, S had climbed the chair and walked across the table. I finally made the brilliant deduction that they would stop if I put on the Doodlebops or whatever other Disney or Nickelodeon program they wanted. Readers who are parents might understand why I'd be willing to risk them climbing the table.

Given this, I'm not sure why we bother with toys. As I write, the boys are sitting in this large basket that usually stores our bed linens and using our big blankets and pillows as slides, and they are so happy. Not ideal, but much safer than the small indoor slide I had the grandmas buy for Chanukah last year.

In other news, I finally entered the receipts I've been putting off for two weeks. I wasn't as thorough with the food expenditures, but a project tonight will be making a price book a la the Tightwad Gazette. I've got to have something to keep me busy, right?

Actually, what's been proving very amusing is consolidating some of my fitness videos and DVR'ed Fit TV workouts onto disk. Oh my God, it's like a dream come true. I'm compromising on the recording quality to get more on their. I hope I don't regret that, because I have big plans for the premixes. The ankle is much better, but high impact is definitely off the menu (and since I live on the second floor, this is not a bad thing). I've got five of my favorite workouts, and big plans for cardio, core and strength premixes. So much fun. Of course, this morning, I didn't use any of my video workouts but just did some Pilates and yoga in bed. I felt a little deficient after all of the exercise I'd gotten while, ironically, laid up, but I figured I've got the credit under my belt (no pun intended).

Plans for today: at some point bring up the clothing in storage to review with the girls, then figure out what I need for storage. Make a price book, and somewhere in the midst of that make the oldest read. And, oh yeah, get some writing in when my husband gets home. Pretty doable, eh?

Until next time,
Deb in the City

Monday, August 14, 2006

The joy of accomplishments

My longest absence from my blog. We had a bunch of things going on, but the primary reason was that I couldn't get enough time in my room without the boys that I could meaningfully write anything. Even now, they are in the last stages of sleep in here, threatening to wake up any moment.

However, many things were completed since I last wrote. First, the girls' room is done. Done. We do need to make sure the room is arranged in the most efficient way, but moving furniture is nothing compared to getting out garbage and weeding through possessions. As I said to my oldest, I'm not ashamed of their room anymore, it looks that good. I had to ruin the nirvana this induced a little bit by telling the oldest that she needed to maintain it- 2 to 5 minutes per day, that's all I ask- but even the little fight we got into hasn't ruined my enjoyment. I've been patting myself on the back about this all weekend, because the most important part of getting it done was that the girls did it and owned it.

Second and more importantly, the boys' have turned 2 and had two birthday parties. My husband hates when I cook for parties at home, but I can't order food for a party anymore without feeling fiscally irresponsible. I was so proud of myself for the menus: on their actual birthday, we had pizza (one of their favorites), carrot and celery sticks (S loves carrots), ginger ale, and cupcakes. On the second day (when family was here), we had baked rigatoni (inspired by Everyday Italian), garlic-sesame string beans (the best vegetable recipe ever), garlic bread, cake and ice cream sodas (inspired by Ina Garten). I still have a lot of the two pounds of rigatoni left, but the rest is pretty much gone.

Now the cake, as I probably mentioned, was a run through for S's bat-mitzvah this winter. I had seen in Martha Stewart's most recent baking book a wedding cake that had a layer of white, a filling of (I think) chocolate frosting, a layer of pistachio, a filling of chocolate pastry cream and then a final layer of white. I couldn't sell my daughter on the pistachio, but she loved the red velvet cupcakes served at my sister's shower this year. So I decided on red velvet and white, sandwiching chocolate pastry cream and covered by cream cheese frosting, to get the pop of contrast.

The preparation was touch-and-go. First, the method I used for baking the cakes was what I'd seen on America's Test Kitchen. Instead of creaming the sugar and butter and then alternating dry and wet ingredients, they recommended combining all of the dry ingredients, then "cutting" the room temperature butter in like a biscuit mix. Once combined, then add the wet ingredients. I had tried that before with mixed results- there were pockets of oiliness- but this time I mixed everything longer and the result was much smoother. My red cake was better than my white, but that was because the red cake used cake flour and the white cake used all purpose flour, so now I'll know to substitute.

For whatever reason, the red cake recipe produced more batter than the white, so we ended up with two times as many red cupcakes. Not such a big deal- the really big deal was that the cream cheese frosting I started with was way too runny. When I put on my crumb coat, a lot of it puddled at the bottom (so let's hear it for crumb coats- that would have been a big disappointment if I'd left the frosting until the last minute). I finally wised up and thickened the frosting with more confectioner's sugar, and when I put on the third round of frosting, it stayed on. The cake got high marks, but I know for a fact that it was very good but my six-year-old has requested that for her next birthday, and no one under nine bses you about food.

Hmm. Three tiers. Maybe that's what I'll do for my birthday, but different flavors.

A big thank you to the relatives who came to the boys' party, including my sister and my niece, who flew up to Boston to surprise us. That was the best present of all. And the actual presents were perfect as well. My sister-in-law got us a tinker toy set and a Hebrew alphabet puzzle- why aren't Korean puzzles easy to find?- and my mother-in-law got us Duplo and two child-sized animal chairs (dragon and turtle). I hope she isn't offended that they are not being sat on, because that's just not what two-year-olds do. My mother and sister got us gift certificates to the Children's Place (which we spent yesterday), and my husband and I got them an animal puzzle, a tiger and giraffe, a tractor, a truck and a recorder so there are now two recorders. And yes, dear reader, I happily disposed of some old toys to make room.

Until later,
Deb in the City

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Phase 3

Just a quick blog before I nod off to sleep. The oldest, unencumbered by her younger sister (whom I miss terribly, but I'm glad that she is getting a lot of attention just for her) completed Phase 3 tonight, which was clearing off the items on top of her drawer and in the two little drawers on top of the drawer (yeah, I know that could be more articulate). That does not sound like a lot, but it took her over 3 hours to do. In part because the dust she kicked up set off her asthma a bit, but more because she pored over the unearthed documents and memories for so long. Sheesh. But it's finally done, and from yesterday and today we've got two big trash bags. And tomorrow: the desk, shelf above and the plastic organizer next to it. Yay.

I was able to get some writing done today. I am, shockingly, on page 10 of something I started last fall and then didn't touch for almost a year. If you're interested, that means I've gotten about 6 or 7 pages done in 4 or so days. I'm setting myself a goal of 1 page for now, and I don't kill myself to go over it. I like to get to it. Even with the distractions I intentionally make for myself, it's taking me about 30 minutes to meet my goal. And you know what? Even I have 30 minutes I can pull out of my day.

I had a strange but possibly useful revelation today. Now that the house is more orderly (which, I think, is responsible at least in part for my ability to tackle writing again), I don't want to eat so much. I was desperate with boredom today. I love my babies more than I can put into words, but the children's programming was going to kill me. I realized that I would usually fill the boredom (desperation?) with food, but I couldn't do it. I mean, I nibbled here and there, but most of the time when I thought about eating something, I couldn't get excited. So I didn't. Finally, I was able to read a little bit of one of the Scientific Americans I have, but only after I fended off little S ("What's that?"). That calmed me a little bit, and I'm very grateful that they are letting me read now, even if it's for less than 25 minutes.

Busy day tomorrow with my appointment and going to the Social Security office to change my name. Have to make a shopping list for what I need for the boys birthday party, but I think I'll do that tomorrow morning.

Grateful for another uneventful day,
Deb in the City

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Phase 2 of the girls' room- we're getting there

To my shock and surprise, we're actually making progress, although I did know this was going to be the most intense task of Project Cleanup. Yesterday and this morning, amidst quite a bit of chatting, the girls cleaned threw away the trash on the floor, went through the stuff on the window sill and put away books and clothing. Now, I haven't expected the work with a fine toothed comb, but I can tell by a quick glance that they got rid of quite a lot. This afternoon, before my sister arrived, they went through all of their drawers and got rid of what they didn't want to keep. Not surprisingly, that yielded a lot of clothing for donation. J left with my mother-in-law before S was done, but I went through and decided what J would probably want. So now we have a substantial little pile of clothing to store for J for the next year or two. I'll probably need my husband to bring up all the clothing once that's done so I can rationalize all of the clothes, as well as cull the other "leftovers" before we go school shopping for J.

Tomorrow S (and possibly I) will have to go through the items behind their doors, on top of their dressers, desk and maybe the items on the bookshelf. However, that won't be the end. We'll probably need to acquire some items for storage/sorting. But overall, it's coming along and I'm feeling much more at peace in my home than I have, maybe ever. The bugaboo now is the piled up laundry. The Tightwad Gazette, one of the guides I use as a bible, once noted that dishwashing and laundry are things you absolutely need to keep on top of if you want to avoid chaos. It's true, but even though it's a schlep to the dryer in the basement, the part that really gets me about the laundry is the sorting, folding and storing. It's not a big deal, even with six people, but the boys seem to take personal offense to anything that brings order to their chaos, so it's pretty hard to do when they're awake. Plus now with my injury it's difficult for me to drag the baskets into the kitchen and impossible for me take the clothing downstairs, so I'm even more dependent on my husband (again). But it gets done.

Well, on that exciting note, off to write a few pages before I settle in for some Poirot.

Yours truly,
Deb in the City

Monday, August 07, 2006

Other progress

This weekend I thought was going to be a break in my reorganization efforts but, inspired by the boys' upcoming second birthday on Friday, I decided to take down the suspended high chairs. 30 seconds later, I decided to have my husband do it, because I needed to use enough force that I would have put too much weight on the ankle. That done, I remembered the videos we had watched of my oldest the night before. She pretty much had free rein of the house at their age, and I felt like a foolishly overprotective mom keeping the chairs out of the living room/dining room. Little J fell off of one of them when he was 15 months old, but I have to give them some credit for being able to follow instructions 9 months later. So in came five of the six chairs from the master bedroom (the other one is being used as a computer chair and will be brought in for meals, which is nothing compared to having to cart 4 chairs back and forth).

The boys did pretty well with them, but just as gratifying was the fact that now the corner looks more like a dining area. I still want to move my action box and white board and replace it with pictures, as well as add a tiny (machine washable) rug under the table, but it doesn't feel as urgent. It also makes our bedroom look more spacious because we don't have six stacked chairs in here. My husband even has room to bring up the elliptical machine from the basement if he wants to. I'd use it if I could, but unfortunately I can't for a while.

The oldest and her father have to be out from 12:30 to 3:30. I could start on "the project" before then, but she's still sleeping. I won't be able to get much done if she's here but the boys are awake. So maybe we'll wait until my husband returns? Yes- but I'm getting this started today.

And in other news, I did write on Saturday night. Hurray me! I was inspired and would have liked to have written on Sunday as well, but my youngest sister was here visiting from California and I felt like it was more important to spend time with her. Tonight though, if not before.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The joy of relaxation?

Like everyone else in this country, I find myself bemoaning, to myself or others, that "I never have enough time to myself" or "I wish I could relax". This year, I've started listening to myself more when I whine, and I question whether or not I really mean it. Don't get me wrong: my daughters myriad activities during the year, plus the need to keep my sons entertained, leaves me short of breath most of the time, seven days per week. My oldest, now 12 and a half, is even more prone to complaining about it, although to be fair, she has the most on her plate: one of the most academically challenging schools in the country, Korean school, Hebrew school and membership in one of the best youth orchestras. She spent most of last year busy, stressed out and up late (and I was right there with her, most of the time with a screaming younger child).

I noticed a funny thing around May, though. Hebrew school, bless it, has the earliest finish date, ending somewhere around May. Although not overly demanding, it was about six hours out of her week spread over two days- valuable homework time. I had thought that with one less demand she would be a little bit more relaxed and productive, but that didn't happen. Instead, it seemed like she dwelled even more on her workload in other areas while at the same time taking the six hours or more, goofed off, whether with her iPod, off-limits IM'ing or recreational reading (I know, I shouldn't complain when it could be so much worse) and was just generally spacier. The battles between us to get her to do her work seemed to have intensified, and it was a struggle up until the last day of school. She, I have concluded, needs the pressure to work at her peak. That is not to say that she needs to be up until 3 in the morning, but she needs to have stimulation or she gets bored and lazy.

These last few weeks I have been, to some extent, struggling to find ways to be productive that don't involve any money. Now that the purse strings have loosened (a very, very small bit) and a major phase of Project: Cleanup (thanks Ashley!) is done, I found myself here this afternoon, another little project completed and very, very bored. I realized that usually I fill my boredom with chocolate and sugar, but a late night last night (playing with the birthday present my husband got me- more on that later) and an accidental overdose on chocolate for breakfast courtesy of the otherwise delicious rice pudding from last night left me with no appetite for chocolate or sugar. I don't want to simply sit and enjoy my newly rationalized home; now that there is less physical clutter, I want to use the freed up mental energy and *do* something.

What might that be? More dread, because if I write it then I have to do it. I want to write. I'll say that again. I want to write. I've wanted to write, in one form or another, since I was eight years old, and I've had three stories percolating in me for over 20 years. That is the life span of an adult- that's how old I was when I got married. Last year, inspired by another creative soul I encountered, I intersected all of them with my own life and background, and even though I've done precious little with it this year, I remain excited and developed new ideas, all in my head.

So if I want to write, I have to write. As the reader may have noticed, I can write and write and write about anything, even if I don't know what I'm talking about. I rarely have to worry about writer's block, but I do worry about my characters not staying where I want them to go. (That's not as psychotic as it sounds.) That's the fear that usually keeps me from putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard. But there is always the delete key, so maybe that's not such a tragedy.

So I'm going to do it- I'm biting the bullet and writing on a regular basis. Summer (or I should say August) will be easy enough, and we'll figure it out in September. Stay tuned- I'll let you know how it goes.

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Now, what kept me from boredom this morning was the VCR/DVD recorder combo my husband got for my birthday. I don't think he realized what a monster he's created. Last night and this morning, I copied two of my exercise videos onto a DVD, and after a few tries, figured out how to chapter and create premixes. So cool (and, by the way, completely legal as long as I don't go around selling my creations to anyone- and I won't). I copied Kari Anderson's Angles Lines and Curves 2 and Karen Voight's Core Essentials. They're both compatible in that they're mostly floorwork, but Voight's is more "athletic" while Anderson's has more of Pilates/yoga/ballet feel. They are both now chaptered onto my little DVD-RW, as well as three premixes for a standing flow, lower body floorwork and abs, back and stretch. I had so much fun- I'm going to get my hands on some more VHS (now cheap with the popularity of DVDs) and see what else I can do.

Again, I don't feel entirely sanguine about the purchase, but what made me decide to hold onto it was the thought of freeing up a lot of my shelf space by consolidating VHS to DVD. Of course, the Disney VHS, the biggest offenders, aren't transferrable, but we've got enough other material to make it worthwhile.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Finally out today

By happenstance, my husband and I had a day together with the kids. Long story I won't go into, but by 10:30 we were out with all of the kids, taking the six-year-old to her piano lesson, meeting the grandmas for lunch, letting the boys play inside (rain today after all of the intense heat this week), buying cosmetics for the oldest and returning library books. Which all sounds like letting paint dry, but it was nice to get out of the house and spend time with my family.

When we got home, I quickly threw together some rice pudding (again, more of the Everyday Italian influence on the six-year-old) and put together the oldest's hair and makeup for her play tonight. God, so nerve-wracking. Fortunately, she'll have to do that herself after the play, because I don't know if I can handle that two more times!

No projects today- saving my energy for next week.

My shortest blog ever, not for a lack of profound thoughts, but for the two-year-olds screaming at me. Later,

Deb in the City

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I have officially arrived

That's right- this means that I have gone through the action box and the filing drawer. Not only that, I went through the *files* and in some cases even used my handy dandy three hole puncher that I found earlier this week when I cleaned up the computer desk. And I'm really happy looking around my humble little abode- there's clutter, but it's mostly my children's toys or things they've knocked down, and (when I'm not hobbling around) pretty easy to pick up. I still need to paint (but not this month), I still need doorknobs and I still need to dust (by dust I mean scrub the mixture of dust and oil that have accumulated in the kitchen), but I feel better about it. It's a doable space now.

With one glaring exception. The girl's room. God, I am dreading this little project of mine. And it's not little; it's so large that I can't even be facetious about it. It's big. But that's not what gets me. It's that my oldest is completely resistant to participating in the process of maintenance, and I cannot maintain her room every day. All I ask is that she throw away papers, put away her books and put her dirty clothing into the hamper. I put away their clothing, for God's sake. And she's also a sentimental packrat like my husband. She insists on keeping five of the projects she did in her sculpture class when she was four or five. Argh. So what really needs to be done next week is working with her and figuring out what she does on a daily and weekly basis and how we can make the space work for her. And she needs to accept some responsibility for her own mess. Any suggestions???

A little drama today: the power went out twice, but fortunately the boys slept through most of it. The six-year-old read while I went through the drawer and box, and then once the boys woke up I got them into a cold bath. And then the power came back on, and thank goodness, because I was about an hour away from hobbling down the stairs and into the car to get to my in-laws. But who knows what the rest of the week will bring?

A minor tragedy today: inspired by Jacques Pepin on television earlier this week, I decided to make his mother's cheese souffle. Only problem was that I was lacking in the cheese department. My solution was to substitute ricotta and cream cheese. Big mistake. My kids all refused to eat it, and 30 minutes later I understood why. I think souffle- and eggs in general- are not my friends. I had much better success with the risotto balls I made this evening from the leftover risotto last night. My husband and children liked them, and I, who gets as inspired by food as Nigella Lawson, considered that enough of a reason to make risotto more often. Tomorrow we're going to have rice pudding, per the six-year-old foodie's request, as inspired by Everyday Italian.

No workout yet, but I'm determined. Definitely Pilates, but I'm not sure if I can handle the whole shooting match tonight. Maybe ten movements. I'd love to be able to do yoga, but the postures I really love mostly require some pressure on my ankle, which is not so good.

Tomorrow is the oldest's opening night for her play. I'm so sad that I can't go. She needs hair (umm...) and makeup, and said no lipstick, just gloss. So we'll hit the drugstore as well as the library tomorrow when my mother-in-law graciously comes over to take me and the kids around. Must remember to bring the CVS coupon, and I also have to remember to review some of the insurance documentation in the action box so it can be moved out of the action box. See- it's all about habits and systems.

Tomorrow (maybe): my thoughts on avoiding the great drug of our time, The Container Store.

Yours truly,
Deb in the City

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

And now here we are

Last night was possibly the most trying night of this whole wretched month. To add to everything else, the power went out around 8 and did not return until 8 this morning. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't be enough to gripe about, but it just so happened that we were heading into 100 degree weather. I could have dealt with the discomfort, but the boys were uncomfortable. We seriously considered escaping to a hotel (as we did during the Christmas of 2002 when the power went out), but then we thought we felt a breeze and all of us settled into our bedroom (which for some reason was the coolest room int he condo) to try and sleep. When we woke up at 6:30 and the power still wasn't on, we ended up deciding to trudge to my in-laws. This would have been a problem because they are not set up for twin toddlers, but fortunately the power came back on.

While wondering whether there was a universal force trying to make a point to me this month, I did decide that I now don't pity the kids as much as I did before. Yes, we've been confined for the last few days, but at least we're in an air conditioned apartment. Thank God for small and large favors.

The boys finally napped around 1, and then I set in to tackle the basket and the little drawer. And that took well under an hour. I've got to say, none of these little projects have been as bad as I thought they were going to be. I now have a greater sense of peace in my home than I had before, and the list of people I would feel comfortable having here has expanded. I'm still not happy with the doorknob problem- later, later- and the boys' artistic activities have made it necessary for me to plan on a new coat of paint, but I feel like it's coming together and that it will come to something I'll like.

But is it all a pipe dream? Maybe, maybe, because I now have to make a difficult choice for tomorrow's projects: the filing drawer and "action" box, or the clothing? Yeah, that's not even a choice. The clothing has to wait until both girls can play, and that won't be until Monday at the earliest. I dread this more than I can state, and I'm not sure why. I think most of it is that I'm going to need to buy containers, because plastic garbage bags are a really bad solution for storing clothing. And I need to decide on categories. Do I do it by age? By size? Season? All of it? I have to sort through what the oldest will keep for summer and fall of this year, then store her winter clothing. I also have to take note of what she needs for the coming year (and I really hope that's a small list). The difficulty with her discards is that some of them need to be donated (or tossed) and some of them need to be saved for her sister, who is 5.5 years younger. Naturally, she isn't going to be the best judge of what she'll like in two to three years (she's tall!), and a lot of what I keep will need to be donated anyway, so it feels like a waste of space. For the younger daughter, it's a little bit easier because what she's outgrown goes, whether to a thrift store or the trash. The boys are easier still, and then my wardrobe has been so culled that it's really more a matter of identifying what I need than what I need to discard (although there is that bag of clothing that needs to be dry cleaned). So it looks like I'm looking at a multi-day project next week. Maybe we can get it done by Wednesday? Hopefully I'll be down to or three pounds by then so I can go to the thrift store or wherever without worrying about how I should size myself.

However, I am definitely getting in the way of my goal to size down. Last night (before the power outage) and tonight I made two totally yummy and delicious dishes. Last night I made enchiladas with ricotta, cheddar and black beans in flour tortillas. Roll them up, pour on some sauce, add a little cheese and water, then bake. So yummy. And then today, inspired by an episode of Everyday Italian, I made risotto. So delicious- both times I had to stop myself from eating three or more servings. All evens out (mostly), because my appetite for breakfast was pretty non-existent. Also, I've been keeping up with my Pilates practice, so at least I'm not just eating.

And now I must sign off. Hopefully anyone reading will send me good vibes for the filing drawer tomorrow.

Yours truly,
Deb, Slayer of Urban Dragons

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The dread sets in

A disclaimer first: the lack of walking in my life is starting to take a toll. Please, please, please, someone give me some ideas for cardio that doesn't involve straining my foot. My mood had improved by a factor of 100 since I started regular long walks, and now that I can't do it I am really bummed out. Add to that that my three little ones and I are trapped in the house and I don't know how I am going to make it through this injury.

With those cheery thoughts giving the reader some perspective, let it be noted that today I attacked the kitchen areas (excluding the closet- let's not get crazy) and the bathroom (again, excluding closet- see above). The areas above the microwave and the dishwasher came together quickly, and as a bonus, I found the beautiful silver Tiffany's bracelet my mother-in-law gave me a few years ago but that I'd thought I'd lost. I am not a big jewelry fan, but this bracelet was something I was happy to make the effort to wear. I was very distraught when I thought I'd lost it. But there it was, hiding in this dingy black box with some of the girls things. See- it's all worth it.

The bathroom was about an hour later. There were some medications and over the counter creams and ointments, so I was able to discard a lot pretty quickly. There was more jewelry- don't ask- and a bunch of little hardware. After rearranging the heights of the medicine cabinet shelves, things came together pretty well. They would have gone much more quickly if the boys hadn't demanded things every two minutes, but then life would be too easy.

Here comes the dread: having tackled the bathroom and the kitchen areas, I now must go boldly into the baskets and drawers. It's not that it's hard, just tedious- and there are so many little things to go through. But, strangely, the dread is inspiring; surely now I will deserve a reward for all of my hard work? Maybe this weekend?

As an interlude (and something to keep me alert despite the constant barrage of children's programming), I created a master reference for two Pilates books I have. This would have been fun if the two year olds hadn't been trying to get involved, but it's sort of satisfying. Each of the books have three or four "parts" workouts (ie, your abs, lower body, etc.) and sometimes I just want to go through and do all of it but I'd like to do it in order. So I had my husband make copies yesterday and today, and after cutting and rubber-cementing, I have two charts, one for Brooke Siler's Ultimate Body Challenge and another for Alycea Ungaro's Pilates Promise. I used the former this morning and I'm going to try and use the latter tomorrow. Of course, there are modifications required because of the ankle, but I'm determined to persevere because I've heard so many stories about people using Pilates to help recuperate after an injury.

In other news: my husband bought a VCR/DVD recorder as an early birthday present for me. First, I've got to say that the man gets me great birthday presents: the stroller, the Kitchen Aid and now this. However, I don't know if I'm going to keep it. It's $300 with everything, and I just don't feel good about spending the money. I feel really bad, in fact. The only thing that's making me feel like maybe I should keep it is that the recorder feature will enable us to get rid of our videos, which are taking up a lot of space that could be used for other things. Maybe.

I have to figure out with my husband today what we're going to do about Sam's play this weekend. I wish I could go, but it's not a good idea with the ankle. Just one more thing...