Small Things 12-13-14

Last one of these dates til 2103? *sigh*  It’s been a good decade+ of these, and I’ll miss them.  In lighter news….

1.  The chickens are bitter about the cold weather, and at least one of them (the blue-egg layer) is either refusing to lay at all, or laying in some strange place I haven’t found yet.  She’s contrary enough it could be either way, so it’s a mystery that keeps poking me every day.  Silly birds.

2.  I’m finding the writing hard these days. Got very disheartened during my last round of rejections. I think the finished novel is going to end up getting “trunked” and I’m sad because I really love a lot of things in that book – the protagonist’s constant re-exploration of being a powerful woman – how it affects her choices.  The rights of bloodlines vs. adoptive & created families.  Pregnancy loss and desperation. You know, standard high fantasy tropes.

Ok, not so much. I guess I understand why it’s having a hard time finding a home – not a single sword-wielding king in sight!  But still.  I had hoped.  And it’s hard to walk away from a lot of work and start work on something else.  But I’m trying.  Trying to make the joy be about the writing, not about the finished project.

3.  This month is skidding by, feeling very out-of-control. So much going on with holiday celebrations at home & at the kiddo’s school. The unseasonably cold weather, the snow & ice,  it’s all adding up.  And I have to say that I’m looking forward to January 2 when the world quiets down immensely and we can all just snuggle in for a while.

4.  That said, my parents are making noises about possibly possibly moving out here.  Which would be so much awesome that I can’t even imagine it.  I mean I CAN imagine it, and I desperately want it.  I want my mommy and daddy here where I can go see them and we can go to the movies & eat Sunday dinner together and celebrate holidays together and bring donuts over with the paper on Saturday morning and the kiddo can go spend the night and we can walk our dogs together and I can unload all my unwanted zucchini on them and OMG I WANT THIS!!!!  So keep your fingers crossed for us all, eh?

5.  Finished baby blanket #1.  It’s funny, my two closest friends here are both expecting new babies in the next 5 months. One has gone through a rather epic experience, and in fact, is using a surrogate. The other, her pregnancy has just happened in the way babies just happen for some people. And while once it would have been really hard to see past my own writhing green jealousy to be happy for them, these days I’m so contented with my own little family that the envy has just up & disappeared.

It’s a nice place to be–happy to be making baby gear for others, but even more perfectly happy with my own reading, writing, ‘rithmaticking, hilarious, klutzy, silly, splendid little boy.  We got so lucky with this child, life just gets more & more fun as he gets older.

His teacher wants him to start kindergarten next year. A bit early, since he’ll be 4 for a few weeks–a mid-September birthday–but she feels (& I agree) that he’ll be happier challenged than bored.  And he’s a wise little soul, I think he’ll do fine, even though I can’t quite figure out where his babyhood went.  Of course, one of the three things he asked for, for Christmas, was clothes for Real Bunny, so I guess he’s not a big kid just yet!  But Kindergarten? Really??? Sigh.

And on that note, I hope you enjoy your last sequential date day for a very long time.  I know I will…

Book Review – TAMALES by Alice Guadalupe Tapp

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Ok, you guys.  Christmas is coming.  Cookie time, right? Plum puddings and candy canes and rare roast beasts?

WRONG.

It’s tamale time.  Which, if you live in Tucson or Santa Fe or Moab, or even a lot of southern California is awesomely easy to partake in.  ie: the lady down the street sells them door to door (the best) or from a shopping cart in some grocery store’s parking lot (awfully good), or even at a restaurant or tamale shop (super-convenient & delish.)

New Hampshire seems to have, approximately none of these things.

I’ve spent far too much time trying to replicate Christmas-season-tamales-past, with very little bang for my time/money buck, because I don’t know what I’m doing, and it’s hard to wing something that’s traditionally undertaken by a houseful of people, when you’ve got a hangry preschooler whining for dinner, and “is it SUPPOSED to look like this?” is a valid question.

That has all changed.  This book.  Seriously, this book.

Alice Guadalupe Tapp illustrates & discusses different wrapping methods, different masa types commercially available, and sauces/condiments to complement her tamales. There are recipes for vegan tamales & dessert tamales & nose-to-tail tamales (innards & ‘odd’ cuts of meat.) She’s attempted to make tamale-making a simpler, more forgiving process, offers tons of shortcuts that manage to save time without compromising taste/texture.  Seriously? This is a reference book for those of us who love tamales, but didn’t have an abuelita & a bunch of aunties to learn from.

Out of the 50-odd recipes in this book, I can only find one ‘dessert’ recipe I do not want to try (Oreo-filled, because I’m not a big fan of those cookies), and a couple of the nose-to-tail ones, because I’m not a fan of tripe or tongue.  But everything else?  I’m sold, I’m there, I’m working my way through the book methodically and happily.

So happy holidays to all, and to all, a happy tamale-making experience every night this month if you wanted to (and if I wasn’t the adult in charge of dinner for three people, I think I just might be making them every night for a while.)  Honestly, this is the most awesome cookbook I’ve found in a LONG time.  Anyone on your list who’s a fan of steamed masa should get a copy of this for xmas or solstice or Chanukah or New Year’s or Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate at this time of year.

Tamales, folks.  Happy tamale days to everyone!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Small Things 12-1-14

1.  I really mean to get better about posting here.  Really.  Honestly.

Thanksgiving was wonderful, good times had by all.  But the best part of the long weekend? My own far-away parents told me that they might, possibly, consider entertaining the possibility of moving out here.

I could barely sleep all weekend for the idea.  SO. EXCITING!

2.  December is here, and honestly, I was barely used to it being November. So this?  This December nonsense?????   PFFFFTTT!!!

But seriously, I’m beginning – ok, middling through – the long slog of xmas gift buying/making. I finished the kiddo’s advent calendar last night at about 10pm. (I also  submitted a story for an anthology, which deadline was about 9 hours after I managed to finish it.  Sensing a theme here?) Baby mittens knit (now i have to get GOING on baby blankets.  Three new arrivals between family & friends in the next 5 months.  Knit knit knit! Purl purl purl!)

But it feels like a busy time, because it is a busy time.  School conferences, dentist appointments, all coming in this weird three week period between holidays.  January 2nd can’t get here soon enough for me!

3.  I was able to reproduce my Great-grandmother’s penuche recipe, and what’s even better is that the kiddo LOVES this stuff (I mean, what’s NOT to love? Pure fudgey sugar. Yum!) But it made me amazingly happy to reforge that link to my past.

4.  Chickies survived the bitter, arctic cold of this weekend just fine, thanks to the chicken-sitter & the electric water heater. (Yeah, seriously.) I was more relieved than I’d really like to admit when we got home to the winter-wonderland & realized they were just fine (if RATHER happy to be let out of their pen.  6 X 12 is rather confining when you’re used to being Chicken Empresses of the Universe.

5.  As always, this really was my favorite holiday. I have so much to be grateful for, so many people in my life to love. I hope it was a lovely holiday for you & yours (or at least not too painful, for folks going through a hard time.)  Now let’s all get through the rest of the month, and all will be well.  Yay January!

Small Things 11-10-14

1.  We got back from the convention late last night exhausted, but so happy to be home, and after a very nice conference.  Met up with old friends, and I think (I hope!) my stepdaughter had a good time, too.  Henry ate Filipino food for the first time.  Garlic fried rice – how IS it that I’ve never had this before?  Also Chicken adobo.  What I’ve had before was nothing like this good.  OMG.  Making this soon, and I will KEEP making it, until it approaches the level of good we had in Arlington, VA.  Also had tapas, which was very nice.  I was deliriously proud of my son for trying every single thing he was offered & making a very good meal of it.

Though the blue cheese made him blink his eyes in rapid succession and exclaim, “That was such strong cheese that my eyes are blazing!” He obviously has that turn of phrase a bit wrong, but there’s no way I’m correcting him.  Not til I get it on video.

2.  He was really terrifically well-behaved in general, though the sleep-wonkiness of traveling is catching up with him today. Here’s a shot his sister took – which I find hilarious – of him blowing his nose in front of the monument in DC.

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That’s my boy.  Both of them, actually.

But yeah, today’s been a bit rough.  All that excitement, and today’s just a boring day like any other, only we don’t have outings and treats planned all day long.  Apparently, his father had a word with him, because ever since the little boy apologized for some earlier peevishness, he’s been very concerned that something like, say, the cat knocking over my folded laundry, or perhaps being unable to plug in a power cord on the first try, might ‘completely ruin’ my birthday.  Ahem.

3.  In actuality, it’s been a lovely birthday.  My 45th lovely birthday, though.  Holy crap.  I remember – remember well – when my parents were 45.  This aging stuff just never feels normal, I have to say.  Wearing bifocals, going grey, yeah, ok, but FORTY-FIVE YEARS OLD???

Yeah.  Ok.  I guess so.  At least there’s going to be angel food cake to smooth out the grieving-for-my-lost-youth that I have planned for later on tonight.

4.  A friend watched the chickens, and it was really wonderful knowing they were safe & sound (& getting the chance to run around & eat worms!)  The cat’s been acting like a mad thing since we got home, and I’m pretty sure she gained a pound or two while we were gone.  Literally.  Our previously slender cat is positively rotund.  Happy winter.

5.  Besides making me my cake of choice (and reminding my son to be nice to Momma on her birthday), my darling husband went out and brought home a glorious bouquet of flowers for me – sunflowers, lilies, roses – all my favorites.  I am the luckiest woman in the world to have this man in my life!

 

 

Small Things 10-31-14

1. He is THE FLASH! (Doing a strange, non-aerodynamic pose. Not sure what that’s about.)

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This was the first holiday where he was too excited to sleep the night before.  Ran up & down some perfect, no-car, T or T-ing streets with his best buddy Lyla.  They ooh-ed & aah-ed over the decorated houses. They (mostly) remembered to say both “Trick or Treat!” and “Thank you!” They got loaded down with candy treats he’s not usually allowed to eat, but he got to eat THREE before bed. He had  a blast. (We all did, really.)  Every holiday’s more fun with a four-year-old to enjoy it with.

2.  A nice slow weekend planned to balance out today’s excitement & next weekend’s writing convention in Washington DC.  It’s an anniversary of sorts for The Boy & I.  It’s where we first met in person, ten years ago, and where I realized I was completely head-over-heels in love with this guy I’d been exchanging emails with for so long.  We’ll be going with our son & with his daughter, who’s turned into quite a writer.  Many things have changed, but many things have stayed the same.  I’m still head-over-heels in love with this guy…

3.  His obsession with coloring continues to astonish me. He is happy coloring for an hour a day, as long as I’m there on the floor with him, busy with my own picture.

4.  I have all kinds of ideas for how to improve the chicken coop, & I actually found myself scouting out new coop designs last night.  Somebody stop me before it’s too late!

5.  Seriously, October, you didn’t stay around long enough.  A great month.  I can’t believe it’s only a few hours until November.  Yikes.

Small Things 10-28-14

1.  There is something immensely comforting and grounding about collecting warm eggs from the henhouse on a cool morning.  Chickens really are amazing birdies.

2.  And I just found the most amazing recipe on the NYT food page for Tarte Tatin.  A rustic version that cooks up fast, delicious, and is pretty mistake-proof.  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/22/dining/a-foolproof-tarte-tatin-recipe-from-gotham-bar-and-grill.html?ref=dining  Let me know if it’s behind a paywall & I’ll copy it out because honestly, if you have too many apples lying around – and who doesn’t, this time of year? This is the best way I’ve found to eat them.  A spot of vanilla ice cream & warm apple tart? Be still my artery-clogged heart.

3.  Great news on my dad’s health front, which is letting us breathe a bit easier than we have for a while.  Other family members are still struggling, but good news from my daddy made my whole month.  Whew!

4.  Finally finished The Halloween Costume.  He wanted to be the Flash, which is a pretty basic costume until one decides that felt isn’t good enough & he should be decorated with gold lamé.  For the record, sewing on slippery, slithery, sparkly fabric totally sucks. It looks just fine for a 4-year-old’s costume, but next year, if it can’t be done with a glue gun & some felt, it just aint getting done.

5.  The boy child’s going through a charming phase.  Very solicitous.  Very sweet. And it’s coinciding with a napping phase, so not only do I have sweet child to deal with, I’m also getting a 20-minute snuggly nap in each midday when he falls asleep in my lap.  Every nap, I think “this might be the last one. Oh please, don’t let this be the last nap he falls asleep like this!” I wasn’t super-nostalgic about a lot of stages he’s passed through & out the other side, but this one? This one I’m going to miss like the dickens for the rest of my life, because it’s just that awesome.

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Small Things 10-24-14

1.  I’ve fitted out my mini-office just the way I like it, and I’m quite happy with the results. Was able to use the hutch from my old desk as a short shelving unit, (since it’s a sloped roof/wall) that works perfectly.  Saved me a trip to/shipping from IKEA, so I’m delighted.  Now if I could just keep the kiddo from sneaking in here to steal all my post-it-notes I’d be all set. Need a better hiding place…

2.  Lots of rain to herald the beginning of after-leaf-fall Fall.  The chickens are NOT impressed.  Neither is the kid, to tell the truth.  I don’t mind it so much, but I’m starting to feel guilty for not having put my garden to winter-bed yet.

3.  It’s been a busy month with lots of social activities for the boy-child.  How about this for the best birthday party ever? His buddy’s mom totally wins every mompetition ever for pulling this one off.

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4.  Spent so much time coloring with my coloring-obsessed son that I went out & bought myself a coloring book so I can zone out over flowers instead of super-villains.  He’s become quite good over the last few months, and it’s fun to watch his delight at a perfectly-executed page of coloring–less fun when he gets upset because someone jostled him while he was working on a tricky bit and he colored outside the lines.  I wonder where he gets that perfectionism from?  And also: no, you may NOT color a page in my coloring book.  It’s mine.  And I have to do the whole thing perfectly. Theoretically, coloring is supposed to zen you out and make you a calmer person.  Some of us? Not so much.  But it’s still fun.

5. I’m adjusting to the bifocals, though my eyes still feel a little wonkier than I’d like.  My right eye in particular seems to be having a hard time keeping up with the program.  Getting old? It might be better than the alternative, but it still sucks.

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Small Things 10-19-14

1.  Still coughing, considering actually seeing a doctor and asking, “Short of spending a long weekend in Arizona (which is what finally eliminated The Cough last year), is there anything I can do?” Not feeling hopeful, but really, so very tired of sounding like I have emphysema.

2.  It’s been an utterly glorious fall out there. Even the fallen leaves are technicolor – usually, by the time they let go they’re just brown. The weather seems to have finally rounded a corner, and I think we’re looking at cooler weather from here on out.  Not a bad thing.

3.  I am the proud new owner/wearer of bifocals.  And you know what? They rock.  Granted, they make me look like a somewhat bumbling librarian. But, they’re bright green on the inside, so Henry thinks I bought them so we can be ‘twins’ – though his are blue inside.  They’re a little disorienting at first when I put them on in the morning, and I still can’t really wear them when I’m walking for more than a few minutes, but really, I just need to get used to moving my head more than my eyes.  And the headaches are already better, which is awesome.  And you know what? I can see type again!  And street signs!  Leaves are not just a fiery blur overhead! Needlework!

Speaking of, I’m starting completely over the sweater for myself that I just finished.  Tried it on, and at least 2 of us could fit in here.  *sigh*.  When will I learn?  So, I’m ripping & knitting.  At least I already know the pattern & have my own errata written in the notes, so it’s easy this time around.  Still – two knittings for one sweater is getting to be a theme around here.  Should maybe pay more attention to gauge & measurements next time around…  Ah well.  It’ll be fun to knit this in XS – make me feel downright svelte as well as going a LOT faster!

4.  I let Henry come with me when I got my flu shot – figured it was good payback for his recent vaccinations.  Plus, I wanted him to see me not cry. He thought it was pretty cool, though his eyes did get very big when the needle went in!  (And I was very proud of myself for, well, not crying…)

5. It’s been a busy week – mostly attending to Hen’s social schedule – but I’ve been able to do some just-for-me things, too.  A new friendship, which is something I’ve needed.  And she likes to walk.  And our kids get along. And she lives less than half-a-mile down our street.  It’s so nice to have someone near by to chat with or exercise with or just to bring the kids over and let them entertain each other for a few while we catch up.  I hadn’t realized how much I missed that easy connection.  Also, other friends are making a real effort to get close, which is wonderful. They’re the parents of Hen’s best friend at school, and I’ve always liked them a lot. Plus, they’re only about half a mile the OTHER way down our street.  I feel incredibly fortunate in the friends I’ve been able to find in this small town.  Given how prickly I can be, and how counter to our neighbors’ outspoken politics we are, what are the chances? Very lucky to have found them. This town is finally starting to feel like home (as opposed to just ‘the place we live’)

Small Things 10-15-14

1.  Sick with the traditional “my kid’s back in school cough”.  No biggie, just no fun.  *cough cough cough*

2.  Of course, that got overshadowed by the sudden and rather horrific health catastrophes facing my cousin’s wife.  We’re not close, but I went to college with her. We heard last week that she has a brain tumor. She went in for surgery pretty much immediately, and has been in a medically induced coma for a week now, trying to heal enough to wake up.  Her mother just died a month ago, and life was just settling down enough for Cyndi to take care of the ‘pesky sinus infection she just couldn’t shake’.

And no, we aren’t close – save in age, experience, common loved ones, etc. But damn, I’m completely knocked back by this, reminded – always reminded – to hug my loved ones close, and to weep for hers. If you’re the praying sort, say a word for my cousin’s wife Cyndi and their kids.

It feels like too much of my family – both distant and near – are facing rather huge health challenges right now.  Life feels very fragile and precarious right now.  As it should feel, I suppose.  For it is.  And that is the challenge, of course.  Remembering to LIVE every single day as if your days were numbered – because they certainly are.

3.  That said, my OWN headaches are merely the result of middle-aged eyes finally refusing to do what they’re supposed to do.  Glasses arrive next week – I hope. It’ll be nice not to be squinting at absolutely everything.

4.  Off to Brooklyn for a weekend of fun, family, and food.  I initially mistyped that as ‘faun, family, and food’ which would also be awesome, but not really what’s in store.  No fauns.  Fresh out of satyrs in NYC, though since Comic Con is this week, maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty to rule anything out.  We will, sadly, not be attending.  This is a family weekend.  I might squeeze in a trip to IKEA.  Or eat really excellent Chinese food.  I can almost guarantee that a couple of hundred trips to the park will be in order for the little boy to get his running in.  Cough drops packed?  Check.

5.  I’m writing.  Quite happily, which is a nice change.  Still have the old manuscript out with a few agents, but not feeling super-hopeful that I’ll ever be finishing that story.  So it’s nice that my brain was willing to move on to a new one so readily.  The LDS church was good enough to mail me a copy of the book of Mormon in English, and another in Diné.  Probably the only time they’ve ever filled that particular order for someone in New Hampshire, is what I’m thinking.

 

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Book Review – The New Indian Slow Cooker by Neela Paniz

 

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Ok, so anyone who knows me, knows my slow cooker rarely gets put away in the winter months.  They also know that I lovelovelove spicy food, particularly spicy Indian food.  So when I was offered the chance to review this book I jumped at it.

Neela Paniz is also the author of The Bombay Cafe, so I was intrigued to see what she would have to say in The New Indian Slow Cooker.  Oh my.  I’ll confess, I’ve had this book for over a month now, and I kept putting off this review because “I want to try just one more recipe first!” I think I’ve finally decided that I’m not going to be able to cook ALL the recipes before I write this, but understand it’s not through lack of trying!

The recipes I’ve cooked so far have been perfect – easy to put together, with authentic (but not overly difficult to source) ingredients that make a world of difference. Couple this with an easy cooking method that means I might actually cook my favorite cuisine more often than once a year?  Oh yes please!  I’ve only made two dishes so far, “Cauliflower with ginger & cumin”, and “Brown(ed) Lentils with onions, tomatoes, and ginger.” I have my eye on a half-dozen more, with shopping lists made out for the next time I’m near the international grocery (which is about 45 minutes away,) and I’m looking forward to them much the same way I might look forward to going out to a restaurant where I have not yet chosen my favorite go-to dish because EVERYTHING’S so good.

Other than a few obvious typos like the one noted above (it’s brown lentils, not lentils which are browned–somehow–on the stove), the directions are simple, straightforward, and I really appreciated the separate discussion of ingredients – it made going off in search of unfamiliar ingredients much easier when I had an alternate item to search for (amchur) when I failed to find it labeled with the English translation (green mango powder).  Yes.  Chicken curry with green mango powder is actually next on my list of meals to try.

I also appreciated the fact that despite this being a cookbook specifically for use with a slow cooker, the author includes many dishes/accompaniments where the use of a slow-cooker isn’t necessary or even possible.  Raita, yogurt, chutneys, paneer – all important parts of a meal, and although I already have my own recipes for many of these things, I thought it added to the book’s usefulness that she included recipes for anyone who might not have a shelf full of Indian cookbooks already!

The photography is lovely.  Mouthwatering, in fact. The brief anecdotes never take attention away from the recipes themselves (something I occasionally notice & am annoyed by in otherwise-lovely cookbooks.) and I honestly think I might cook my way through this entire book – something I’ve only done a handful of times.

Go out.  Buy the book.  Locate your nearest import grocery store.  Dust off that slow-cooker (it IS autumn, after all.)

Buy food.  Cook food.  EAT FOOD!!!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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