Monday, December 31, 2007


Happy New Year everyone! The baby is in bed and we're settling in for a quiet night of chocolate, champagne, and a 24 DVD. Party animals, I know. See you all in 08.

Lead -- it's everywhere.

Fellow parents: Read this really good piece about lead in your child's toys (hint, it's not just in painted toys!). Scary stuff. And, to look up info on the toys you have in your home, visit Yep, that block in the picture above was loaded with lead, recalled a few months ago and happened to be in my baby's nursery. Fortunately, he never played with it. Sigh.

Reusable Shopping Bags

One of my resolutions this year (and one I intend to make stick!) is to switch over to reusable shopping bags. Now, I've already done this at the grocery store, but when I'm out shopping for, say, clothes, it's a different story. I collect Nordstrom bags like Tammy Fay collects shoes. Time to change that bad habit.

While Christmas shopping this year, I actually brought along my Trader Joes's bags, but felt a little goofy toting the big red grocery sacks around at Macy's. And you know, I think I actually got a few odd looks. I wanted to say, 'hey, don't judge me here people -- I'm sacrificing fashion to save the planet!' Anywho.

So, now I'm on the hunt for a chicer and more functional set of bags -- for non-grocery purchases -- perhaps a type that I can fold down and store in my purse. I recently wrote an article for BeE about a wonderful mother-daughter duo who founded Baggu Bags, and I'm thinking about picking up a set of these. They make great looking ripstop nylon bags. And, the Container Store has some really cute ones too.

Now, on to Resolution No. 2.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Babies and books

My son is 1, and at present the thing he loves most about life is ... books. As in B.O.O.K.S. We have to spell it out when talking in front of him, because if we utter the word he goes bonkers. He loves them that much.

I recently snapped this photo of him sitting in a sea of books that he single-handedly pulled out of the book basket. He picks the ones he likes best whines a little (his way of saying, "pleeeeeeeease mama, read to me") then chucks the others. Now I realize I shouldn't really be complaining about this, but if you're a parent, you know that reading books to your baby over and over again can be kind of time consuming and, well, a bit monotonous -- especially when he wants to read the same book, I don't know, 50 times in a row.

Jason and I have actually taken to hiding the books. We've covered the basket with a blanket and a chair. When he goes down for a nap, I pick up all the books and tuck them away so that when he wakes up, the book-reading madness can be delayed for a bit. We distract him. We show him other toys and games. Yet somehow, Carson sniffs them out, and we end up reading again -- for hours sometimes.

Currently, these are his favorites: Babycakes; Goodnight Moon; Brown Bear, Brown Bear; Truck Book (it probably has a real name, but this is what we call it); Jamberry; I Love You Good Night; Mommy Loves; and God Loves You Just the Way You Are.

Uh oh, gotta run. You-know-who is standing at the baby gate whining with Babycakes in his hand. Here we go again!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Antifreeze mashed potatoes

I spent Christmas in San Diego this year. And as much as I love the wintry weather of the Northwest, it was a nice change of pace to celebrate the season with warm breezes, palm trees, and flip flops.

Now that we're home, I'm reflecting on the trip -- traveling with a baby, the importance of family, my disdain for airports and flying in general, and other important things like Christmas cookies and how I can get my hands on more of them.

And I'm sitting here laughing, as I remember a story my sister told me about a recent dinner disaster. She's an amazing cook, and an even more amazing baker, yet, like me, is not immune to the occasional kitchen blooper. Her latest? Antifreeze potatoes.

Here's how she told the story: Her husband was working on the car recently. Hands covered in antifreeze, he scrubbed up and rinsed them over the potatoes she had peeled in the sink. The long and short of it is that Jessica made the scalloped potato dish she planned, but had a little moment of panic when she realized that there might be trace amounts of a lethal substance in each bite. A few minutes later, and after a bit of Googling, she threw it out.

Apparently this sort of thing runs in the family. My mom once made a savory gingerbread cake, by accident. She added garlic powder instead of ginger.

Have a funny cooking accident of your own? Share!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I survived

So here I am at my desk, enjoying a peaceful evening. I just returned from a quick trip out for a wonderful pedicure and my thoughts have turned to wine and chocolate. Hold on, before you start to get the impression that my life is picture perfect, let me tell you how far I have come. Friends, it's been a YEAR.

Tomorrow is my son Carson's first birthday. And last year at this exact time -- yep, I was in labor. Painful, long and excruciating labor. Anyone who knows Carson knows that he's been, well, a handful. First there was the colic -- which seemed to last an eternity. And it did. Our boy cried the better part of each day for the first five months of his life. We couldn't sit, because he preferred rocking, swinging, jiggling, dancing, and bouncing (oh yeah, burned a lot of calories). Then, there were the sleep issues. For months on end, my boy woke up 3-6 times per night. Believe me, I considered the nights where he only woke three times luxurious. And I'm not kidding. Then there was the daytime sleep issues. Try getting anything done when your kid naps for only 25 minutes (quick meal, bathroom, wipe down the high chair -- and he's up again!). Then there was the constant fussing/intensity. By six months, it seemed that he'd graduated from colic, yet had developed a penchant for whining -- all the time. Every activity brought on a meltdown: car travel, grocery shopping, eating, playing with toys, you name it. Carson just wasn't a happy camper, and neither was I.

And then, somewhere between his 9-month birthday and now, things have kind of come into focus. He's a champion napper (1.5 hours/twice a day tends to be his average). There are days when I never even hear him whine or cry. He's incredibly happy and curious and playful and expressive. And here's the kicker: He SLEEPS THROUGH THE NIGHT, as of this week. And when Jason came home tonight, I actually told him: "You know, I think this was the best day of Carson's life." It really was.

So you can see why I treated myself to a pedicure. And you can probably understand why I'm going to toast this evening. Because it's a huge milestone. Everyone says the first year is hard. Some are even honest and say it like it is: a nightmare. Don't get me wrong. There were lots of moments of joy, too -- and I treasure those -- but this year was hard, perhaps the hardest of my life.

Yet, there was a big pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, and I'm enjoying it right now. I did it, everyone -- I survived the first year. Happy birthday Carson!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Remembering Grandpa

We spent the day at my parents' house today, an early Christmas dinner with my two grandmothers -- both widows. I never had the opportunity to meet my mom's dad, sadly. And my dad's father, Grandpa Mitchell, passed a way several years ago. We all miss him so much.

Saying that Grandpa had a big impact on my life is quite honestly an understatement. He had a huge impact, and I'd like to tell you a little about him.

I think about Grandpa quite a bit these days -- often when I'm about to make a difficult decision or major life choice. He was wise and consistent -- a man who valued family, integrity, hard work. Sometimes strict, but always compassionate. That was my Grandpa.

My siblings and I sometimes find ourselves asking "What do you think Grandpa would have done?" And I especially wonder if he'd be proud of me now. What would he think about my writing? Would he be excited to know that I've just finished a book? But most of all, I'd like him to meet my son, Carson James. (James was my Grandfather's name).

I got a little lump in my throat tonight when my Grandmother pulled out some old photos of him -- an unexpected Christmas surprise sent to her by one of my Grandpa's Marine Corps buddies who he served with in the South Pacific during World War II. I thought about what a blast from the past this must have been for her -- to see my Grandfather so youthful and handsome, years before she had met him. It was kind of like coming across a time capsule -- but so much better. As she showed me these photos tonight, posted above and below, she talked about my Grandpa -- how they met, how she can still remember him standing across the room at that party looking dashing with his dark hair and handsome grin. And even now, her eyes well up with tears when she talks about this man -- a love that endures beyond the grave, and I'm convinced, will continue through eternity.

So tonight, I'm thinking about Grandpa. I wrote his obituary when he passed, and while it was packed with the facts of his life, there wasn't room for the special things I wished I could say. And these are what come to mind:

*Grandpa taught me how to work. And, I don't mean rake-the-leaves work (though I did my fair share of that!). He taught me the value of work (along with my parents, of course) -- the joy of work.

*Grandpa was generous -- both with his time and his resources. He passed out silver dollars like candy (candy we worked for, of course!), and would welcome me into his "office" where I'd watch him work for hours. As a result, I developed a fascination with sticky notes and office supplies at a young age.

*Grandpa cared for the poor. There was always someone that he was helping. Someone who was down on his luck, someone who needed to earn some money -- someone he could help. He tirelessly gave his time, energy, and resources to the St. Vincent DePaul organization. And he has inspired me, and many others, to remember the poor among us.

*Grandpa made the best pancakes. If I close my eyes, I can picture it: Grandpa, cast-iron skillet in hand; Grandma, blending up orange juice ("Orange Julius" she called it); my sister and brothers and I at the kitchen table; the seagulls calling outside the window; the sound of the waves hitting the beach; smiles all around.

*Grandpa loved his wife. He put her first, and made sure everyone knew that was the way it was. Grandpa came first, period. Theirs was and is an enduring love.

We miss you Grandpa, and love you.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Spreading cheer: try it, it's fun!

I was listening to the radio while feeding Carson his breakfast this morning (and if you must know, yes, it was the 24-7 Christmas music station!), and one of the DJs mentioned a really heartwarming story about a woman who was in a long line at a drive-through Starbucks recently. Behind her was a an angry person who was irritated by the long line, and showing the gestures to prove her displeasure with the wait. Instead of getting irritated right back, the woman asked the barista if she could pay for the angry woman's drink. She did, and then drove off. Apparently, a barista called in to the radio station to share the story and add that the angry customer melted when this happened; and she promptly bought a drink for the person behind her -- and the chain of giving continued for a good part of the morning.

So, this melted my kind-of-a-bit-Grinchlike heart (fussy babies, assignments, messy house -- who has time for Christmas spirit these days -- bah humbug!) and I decided to give it a try. So I packed up Carson and went to the nearest Starbucks drive-through. I hovered near the entrance, waiting for a car to pull in behind me. When one did, I inched my way up. Ironically, the woman in the car behind me acted very annoyed by this, as if I'd cut her off. I saw her kind of huffing and puffing in my rear view mirror. Little did she know what I was about to do.

I asked the barista what she ordered (a breakfast sandwich) and then paid for it and drove off. In the rear view mirror, I could see a look of shock on her face as the barista gave her the news. At first she looked confused, then touched. She was smiling.

It's not like I paid her mortgage payment or anything, but maybe I made her morning a little brighter. Funny, the experience actually had the exact same effect on me.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Something to make the season bright

A friend and fellow blogger, Janelle over at Talk of Tomatoes, told me about these sinful temptations, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels, from Trader Joes, and I picked a box up today. Trust me, you're going to love them. While the flavor combo of caramel, chocolate, and sea salt isn't new -- you'll pay a lot less for a box of these, just $4.99, compared to other high end truffles. And, the quality is really -- surprisingly -- good! Smooth dark chocolate, buttery caramel, and a hint of Dead Sea salt. Mmmm. Kind of a a neat idea for a stocking stuffer or hostess gift, eh?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Days I really love my job

There are days when I think being a writer is the most difficult occupation -- the most frustrating, isolating, discouraging occupation -- on the planet. And, then there are days like today when I think, "actually, this is a pretty good gig."

I had good conversations today -- with sources, with editors, with publicists. Things sort of came together seamlessly. And then, this afternoon, one of my favorite editors called to inquire about something. I had been sent some samples of a new ice cream product to try -- something I am writing about for a project. She asked me if I'd tried it yet. I hadn't. So my pressing assignment for this afternoon was: taste the ice cream and get back to her about it. Yeah, I know, tough job, huh? So there I was, enjoying a bowl of ice cream (well, sorbet actually) at 3 p.m. It doesn't get much better than that.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A really tasty salad

Hi everyone. So, this is what we've been eating in my household for the last couple of days. I made a big batch of it because it's a busy week, and cooking isn't at the top of my list (despite last night's souffle foray).

This salad is quite yummy, easy to throw together after a day of writing and baby wrangling --and it's healthy too. You know the drill, I'm too tired to give you a real recipe, so here is the "this and that" version:

Roasted Eggplant, Chickpea and Penne Salad

*Two cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
*Cherry tomatoes, halved (you decide how many you'd like)
*Several cloves of garlic, minced
*Two eggplants, sliced into 1/2-inch strips and roasted in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt (then cut up in bite sized pieces)
*A bit of minced Italian parsley
*A package of whole wheat penne, cooked to al dente
*A squeeze of lemon, and some zest
*A drizzle of olive oil
*A sprinkle of crushed red pepper
*Coarse salt and pepper to taste

Throw it all together and toss in a large bowl. Yup, that simple. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sweet endings

Here are my Meyer lemon souffles. Sweet success (even if they didn't rise as high as I would have liked).

The State-of-the-Kitchen Address

The Meyer lemon souffle is in the oven. Well, souffles, to be accurate. I divided the batter up into six beautiful ramekins. Nineteen more minutes until the oven timer will beep, and I will be in light, fluffy, lemony bliss. I'm crossing my fingers that they turn out -- both because I'd really like to enjoy them, and because it would be a lovely ending to an otherwise blah week of cooking. Here's a brief, and somewhat unexciting, state of food in my house:

*Made a prune cake (yep, a prune cake) recently that was just so-so. Fed most of it to the dog.

*Jason on the prune cake: "Oh, this is alright, but do you think you could make a regular cake sometime? Like double chocolate?"

*I'm trying to get in the mood for holiday baking, but can't seem to find the energy.

*Steamed salmon is our favorite go-to meal at present -- simple, healthful, and satisfying.

*Craving egg nog.

*Was horrified when Jason insinuated that if I were a character on "Desperate Housewives," I would be Bree Van Dekamp. I didn't find this funny. Not even a bit.

*Eating far too much pizza.

*Wondering what type of cake I'll make Carson for his birthday, but I think we'll put a candle in a healthful muffin instead. (He's only going to eat two bites anyway, before feeding the rest to the dog.)

*Was pleased with a recent vegetarian version of stuffed peppers I put together (made with "ground" tofu, instead of meat). I told Jason (ever the carnivore), mid-bite, that this was a meatless meal, and he pretended not to hear me. "Don't tell me," he said, covering his ears. "I'm imagining that it's meat." "Right," I said. "Grass fed beef."

*Carson recently learned how to spit food out of his mouth, and now he does it at every single meal. Spoon goes in, food comes out. I'm dreading the next stage on the horizon: food throwing.

Oh, is that the oven timer I hear? More soon.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Meyer lemons

When I was pregnant last year, I overheard a conversation between two women about wedding cake -- lemon, with vanilla fondant to be exact. Suddenly, it was all I could think about. Cake. Cake. And more cake. It was the beginning of a monstrous craving, which lasted 7 months in fact. Then Carson came, and I didn't feel like cake anymore (and if I did, there just wasn't time to eat it).

Something like this happened today when I was talking with one of my editors (who also happens to be a culinary school graduate and fellow foodie). She told me that she'd visited a farm over the weekend and purchased some fresh Meyer lemons, right off the tree. "What are you planning to do with them?" I asked. "I'm thinking about making a lemon souffle," she replied. That's when it hit me: a pregnancy-grade craving (and I'm not even pregnant).

After we hung up, all I could think about was Meyer lemons -- their sweet scent, mellow flesh, smooth skins. I was borderline feverish. How could I get my hands on three pounds by this afternoon?

I did a bit of sleuthing, and came across a recipe for a Meyer lemon souffle that looked doable. Then, I packed the baby up for a trip to the market to stock up on ingredients (this boy is a trooper -- he's practically been raised in grocery stores and farmers' markets -- I'm betting that his first words will be "wild salmon," "organic eggplant," or "whole wheat flour").

Now I just need the energy to make the souffle. As you know, you never make them half-heatedly. They just won't turn out. They need love and affection, and lots of patience. And I'm much too tired tonight, so I'll just settle for a squeeze of lemon in my tea. It will have to tide me over until tomorrow.

Unleash your inner chef

Ever dreamed of being a cookbook author? So Harper Collins and Chronicle Books aren't banging down your door. Why wait for a book deal when you can create your own beautifully designed hardcover cookbook with just a few clicks of a button? As long as your cool not seeing your byline on bookstore shelves, there is a way to publish your prize-winning recipes: For just $34.95, a company called Taste Book lets you design your custom cookbook's cover, choose a title, and upload your favorite recipes -- along with those from (the folks behind Gourmet and Bon Appetit). OK, so it's a little bit silly -- but you have to admit, it's not a bad Christmas gift idea! Imagine the look on your grandmother's face when she sees her sweet potato pie recipe in print.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas trees, and grumpy mamas

It was raining -- really heavy soggy rain-drops-that-soak-your-clothes-in-five-seconds raining -- this afternoon when we planned to pick up a Christmas tree. Unlike the old days, pre-Carson, when life had kind of a leisurely feel to it, today felt frantic. Naptime was approaching, so we drove a few miles up the road to a nearby tree lot -- not too far away, because when we're in the car too long, you-know-who loses it.

"You stay in the car with Carson," I told Jason, a little militantly, grabbing the umbrella. "I'll go get the tree." It felt weird to pick the tree solo, but it didn't make sense dragging the baby out in the wet, 39-degree weather either. So I ventured out on my own, trudging through the muddy ground like I was on some kind of high-speed scavenger hunt. (And if I sent Jason out, well -- we'd have a Charlie Brown situation on our hands.)

There was row after row of tall trees, fat trees, and sparse trees. But nothing caught my eye. Christmas tree shopping isn't like buying apples and oranges at the market. You sort of have to feel a oneness with them -- and I felt nothing. Finally, I flagged down an employee to help me, and a few minutes later we found it: a tall, stately looking Noble fir. "I'll take it," I said. "And I have a fussy baby with his daddy in the car, so I need to pay and go -- fast!"

We hurried to the cash register, where I was shocked to hear the price of my tree -- somewhere between ouch and oh dear. I set it back. Really, Christmas trees shouldn't rival airfare to Maui. The clerk sniffed and pointed to the area where the cheaper trees were housed, giving me an annoyed look as if to say "Clearly you have no taste in trees."

Thirty seconds later, I return with a slightly smaller, more reasonably priced Noble. I pay for it, they strap it on our car, and we head home. Five strands of broken lights later (along with an hour spent wrangling the tree into the stand, cleaning up fallen needles, and washing sap off our hands) I began to wonder, why do we do this tree thing again? I'm grumpy. I'm frustrated. I'm tired. I'm borderline Ebenezer Scrooge, in the flesh. Then, out of nowhere, I get my answer:

Saturday, December 01, 2007

My new look!

How cute is this business card? My friend Wendi is working on a brand new "identity" system for me. Wen is an uber-talented designer and fabulous photographer (and I should mention that she does darling family and kid photos for very reasonable rates -- something to keep in mind for the holidays if you're here in Seattle). Oh, and keep an eye on my Web site, which is undergoing a similar renovation and should be up soon. P.S. See the "plate" in the image above?

A chicer way to compost

Here is Seattle, we can throw food scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc. into our yard waste containers. A great idea, yes, but it also turns into a bit of an organizational mess in the kitchen. Where do you keep this messy stuff? I've tried a lot of different methods, including Bio Bags, and have been dissatisfied with all. I recently purchased this cute ceramic compost pot (you can find them on Amazon and Storables). The lid is fitted with a charcoal filter (to block out those icky smells), so that's a plus, and it looks great on my kitchen counter.

Time to lose the mummy tummy

I love yoga, but I can't seem to find my way to class these days. It's a goal for 2008. While I've shed a lot of baby weight this year, I'm still horrified by my belly. Eager to kiss these final pounds BYE BYE -- yes, the ones that are still hanging around 11 months postpartum -- I plunked down $14.95 for a DVD that promises flatter abs in three easy segments: Prevention magazine's "Better Belly Yoga." (Coincidentally, Prevention is one of the remaining women's mags I haven't written for -- and it's a goal for 2008 -- such a terrific publication.) I tried the DVD this morning and really liked it. I felt leaner, lighter, and tighter after just 30 minutes. Wow! Now, if I can just stick with this until swimsuit season. Wish me luck!

Gals, now please share: How did you zap those final 5-10 pounds of baby weight?

Friday, November 30, 2007

The secret lives of nannies

A friend and I were out lunching today with our kids (she with her 3 year old and infant, and me with my 11 month old -- it was a sight!), and we couldn't help but notice a chic woman, about our age, at a nearby table with a little boy. She was perfectly dressed. Her hair was done. And her shoes were, well, of the non-mama variety. But here's the thing that really got our attention: She seemed so vacant with this little boy, who might have been about 2 years old. She hardly looked at him as he sat in his high chair and ate his buttered noodles. He babbled on, singing and chattering to her, but she hardly looked at him -- instead preferring to stare off into the distance. Her mind was elsewhere, and she seemed annoyed by him, actually. And when it came time for his faced to be wiped, she did it robotically. Clearly, there was no love in the task.

When we left the restaurant, I asked my friend Katie if she noticed this. And she had. But Katie had connected the dots farther than I had. "Did you see her True Religion jeans?" she said, pointing out the fact that the woman also wasn't wearing a wedding ring and was in too good of shape to have had a baby in the past 24 months. "She's a nanny, not a mommy."

And she nailed it.

I couldn't help but wonder what this sweet little boy's mother would think if she had been a fly on the wall. Sure, the kid wasn't being neglected, or anything close to that. But isn't engaging and communicating with a child part of the job? I shuddered at the thought that some mother out there is going about her day with absolutely no idea that her son is being carted around Seattle by an emotionally unavailable child care provider. I snuggled Carson a little tighter at the thought of it.

P.S. How about this for an idea: You know those "How's my driving?" bumper stickers? Nannies should be required to wear stickers that read "How am I doing taking care of this child? Call 1-800-TELL-MOM." : )

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Neurotic recycling practices

I've been thinking about this subject ever since I mentioned it below -- had to write about it some more. Yep, I'm a neurotic recycler. You may be too if you have ever:

*Crammed a paper coffee cup in your purse, after drinking it, to bring home and put in the yard waste bin (rather than throwing it away)

*Fretted about the fact that the lid to your disposable coffee cup is not recyclable

*Kept other paper, trash, and recyclable items with you while out shopping because there was no recycle bin in sight

*Cringed when you saw someone throw a stack of paper in the trash can

*Gotten a little annoyed (alright angry!) at a house guest who kept throwing plastic bottles, beer bottles -- you name it -- in the trash can

*Dug through a trash can to reclaim recyclable items

*Re-used a piece of plastic Saran wrap too many times for it to be healthful

*Felt annoyed with recycling plants for not finding a way to recycle lids (what's up with that?!)

*Sent recyclables, like yogurt containers and glass bottles and jars, through a dishwasher before recycling

*Worried that your dog might be contributing to the planet's decline (after all, you have to use two plastic bags on walks)

*Felt pangs of guilt for your dependence upon non recyclable items like Ziploc bags

Clearly, I need help. What are your recycling hangups? Share, and I'll add to the list!

Green parenting

Some moms in my area are starting a "Green Parenting" group, and I'm joining. (One local mom was inspired by "An Inconvenient Truth" and was motivated to do something.) I love the idea of finding ways to run a more earth-friendly household while teaching my kids (in my case, just one little guy) how to think green. In our group, there will be toy swaps, idea sharing, and -- hopefully -- lots of encouragement to make positive changes, even small ones, that are better for our Earth. And, as parents, isn't it our responsibility to leave a healthy planet for our kids and grandkids? Are you a mom in the Seattle area who would like to join us? If so, email me. I'll get you the info on our first meeting.

Speaking of green practices, I've been thinking a lot about the things I do and the products I buy these days. And even though I feel good about the "green" choices I make (reusable shopping bags, for instance, and recycling that borders upon the neurotic ... I need to devote a future post to neurotic recycling practices), there are still areas I'm struggling with. For example, how does one survive without Ziploc bags? I know, I know -- they're horribly landfill clogging. But they're so darn convenient! I need to go to a support group for Ziploc addicts. Because really, I can't imagine life without them -- especially with a baby in the home.

Another confession: I'm a paper towel fiend. I use way too many of them. And I feel bad about every single one. Now, in Seattle, these can go in the yard waste bin. But even so, sometimes (when I'm on a cleaning rampage) they find their way into the trash. Sigh. Maybe giving up paper towels and Ziploc bags should be one of my New Year's resolutions ...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pausing to celebrate a really good day

Hi friends. Like many moms, I sometimes focus too much on what's not going right -- the messy house, the teething baby, the husband who forgot to take out the trash, the writing deadline that's stressing me out. I admit, there are many days (too many) when I throw my head in my hands and think 'can life get any harder?'

Then there are days like today -- days that make me feel silly for being so glass-half-empty. Nothing extraordinary happened, really. I didn't get a call from my agent telling me that my novel (which I'm still tinkering with) is being fought over by two major publishers. The article I'm stressing about isn't done. The house is a bit messy. Yes -- these things haven't changed. But, somehow, life just felt in balance today. And I want to pause to be grateful for it.

First, Carson slept in -- till 7:30 a.m. -- and so did I. It felt luxurious sleeping past 5:45 a.m. (my typical wake time). Then, my usually clingy babe played quietly with his toys (with only an occasional "ra-ra" or "ga-ga" while I did a phone interview. I kept thinking, 'is this my child?' Surely, I thought, he'd start screaming at any moment, and I'd have to reschedule the call. Nope -- didn't happen.

And, the day just kept getting brighter. Carson took a monster nap (are you noticing the correlation here between a baby who sleeps well and a good day for mama?). I got a million things checked off my to-do list. We went to gym class, had a coffee date, giggled, grocery shopped, and cooked -- a healthy, yummy dinner (remind me to share my recipe for a fabulous new salad: roasted eggplant, cherry tomato, and garbanzo bean).

Yep, there will always be plenty of things to complain about, worry about, weep about -- but there are plenty of reasons to smile. And today was one of them. I hope your day was one too.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Baby food (that I like to eat)

Let me share my latest obsession: Earth's Best "Very Vanilla Organic Letter of the Day Cookies" -- yep, the ones with Cookie Monster on the cover of the box. I bought these for Carson recently, and of course I had to give them a little taste test.

C'mon, share! What are your favorite baby and kid foods?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Time for a nice long nap

I did it! I survived Thanksgiving. Granted, I'm tired -- really tired -- but what a joy to cook for the special people in my life. For any of you who put on a feast for a houseful of people, you know the feeling that comes over you when the last person has had their coffee and pumpkin pie and all the dishes have been washed. It's then that you feel the urge to slump over somewhere and wake up in 2008, or maybe 2009. Hibernation. That's the word. It's more than tryptophan that's kicking in, it's hostess exhaustion induced by standing in the kitchen from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. -- running from one pot to the next, checking and tasting and stirring and doing what cooks do (man, do I have respect for professional chefs).

Here are some things I learned this year:

*Don't use the bottom of your oven as a "rack." Ever. I don't know when, but on a cooking show this year, someone said you can use the bottom of your oven as a rack when you've run out of space. Uh, NO! I tried this while roasting squash and the parchment paper nearly went up in flames. Luckily, we caught the smoke just in time and didn't burn the house down.

*You can never have too much butter. I thought I had plenty (as in three packages), but nearly ran out. Next year I'm going to buy gallons and gallons of the stuff.

*Enlist help: Don't think you can put on a feast for your entire family by yourself. It's just not possible. Really, it's not -- even if you're Martha. Enlist potato peelers, carrot choppers, dish washers and the like.

*If it's not working, ditch it. I scrapped the pomegranate glaze for my turkey because the bird was looking good as-is. Why ruin a good thing?

*Lemons: Don't stuff them in your turkey; they'll slow the cooking of the hindquarters and throw off your dinner.

*And, don't forget the doggie. They watch you cook the whole meal, like my golden Paisley did, and faithfully wait for a little scrap of turkey. Don't dissapoint them!

So yes, I'm thankful for lots of things this year -- thankful that the house didn't burn down, that the food was edible, that the guests enjoyed themselves, and that my family is happy, healthy and well fed!

Cheers everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Thanksgiving Menu

Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, everything is wintry and warm and cozy, and I love it. My friend Natalie has a theory about this. As rainy and sludgy as it is here in Seattle during these fall and winter months, she says Seattleites sort of let out a big sigh of relief when the weather gets miserable. Sure, we complain about it -- the mud puddles, gray skies, endless drizzle -- but here's her theory: We secretly love it. Finally, we can forgo high fashion for comfy sweaters, cozy up to seasonal ale, and just take it slow, even blow off our social calendars for a few months. I think she's summed up half the people in this city, me included. I am happiest, I think, when the weather is stormy, rainy, and generally overcast. But remind me this in March, OK?

That brings me to Thanksgiving. How are you spending the pre-T-day week? If you're hosting, as I am, you're likely scurrying, cleaning, planning, shopping, and prepping. That describes my week, except I'm doing that with a few writing deadlines and a certain someone saying "ga-ga, ba-ba" in my ear.

I'll be preparing a meal for 12 this year, and I plan to do a very traditional dinner -- but with a few twists just for fun:

Roast Turkey With Pomegranate Glaze
Onion Gravy
Rosemary Sage Cornbread Dressing
Petite Green Beans With Shallots and Toasted Almonds
Black and Green Olives (olives are a staple, my husband tells me, in his family's Thanksgiving dinners)
Assorted Roasted Squash, With Herbed Brown Butter
Spicy Roasted Brussels Sprouts (with Kimchi!)
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Gingered Carrots
Cranberry-Orange Sauce
Dinner Rolls
Green Salad
Pumpkin Pie

So, we have a bit of time before the big day, so please tell me what your star side dish is! I have a feeling this menu will be tweaked a bit before Thursday.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ho, Ho, Ho

I promise, my next post will be more substantive, more delicious, and more inspiring. But for now, I couldn't resist sharing this photo with you. We took Carson to my husband's (very early) office holiday party today, where we "introduced" him to Santa Claus. This was the result:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My 3:30 a.m. wake-up call

My son woke up at an ungodly hour today. My friend Wendi calls this a "cock-a-doodle-do." And, yep, that's what I had this morning: my very own cock-a-doodle-do. When that happens, life is just yucky. In case you're having a really bad day, read this and it will make you feel better. Here's a brief recap of my (early morning):

*Woke up to Carson crying at 3:30 a.m. -- I lay in bed wishing, hoping, and praying that he'd go back to sleep. He didn't.
*3:34 a.m.: The screaming is getting intense and Jason urges me to go in and resettle him. I want to say "YOU GO RESETTLE HIM! I'VE BEEN UP WITH THIS BABY THREE TIMES ALREADY TONIGHT." But I don't.
*4:00 a.m.: After many minutes of rocking, singing, nursing and so on, I lay Carson back in his crib. He SCREAMS.
*4:20 a.m.: Jason pleads with me to do something. He has a big day at work. I ask him to put his earplugs in.
*4:30 a.m.: Carson's screams are getting more desperate. He's crying like he's being tortured or something. But I know he's not. He's just crying because he's dropped his teddy bear to the ground -- like usual -- and wants to get up and play. Nobody is sleeping, so I force myself to my feet -- and start the day.
*5:00 a.m.: Breakfast this early is just plain weird.
*5:30 a.m.: I doze off briefly on the couch while Carson plays with his toys. After a 60-second snooze I awake, frantically. Carson is eating a page of my Food and Wine magazine. I scoop the contents out of his mouth and feel like a horrible mother.
*6:00 a.m.: He's getting fussy, but he won't sleep. So, I turn on public television and we find that an episode of Telatubbies (sp?) is on. Carson is mesmerized. I am horrified (really, this show is borderline psychedelic -- but maybe it's just because I'm exhausted?).
*6:45 a.m.: Time for a nap. I lay Carson in his crib. He protests.
*7:00 a.m. Finally, he falls asleep.
*7:15 a.m.: Finally, I fall asleep.
*7:45 a.m.: He's up again -- ready to start the day for real this time. I grumble and go get him.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Some writerly advice

Freelance writer and blogger Susan Johnston, who runs The Urban Muse, a great blog for aspiring writers, interviewed me recently about my favorite topic (other than motherhood and food, of course): writing! Click here to check out Susan's blog and read what I had to say. Thanks for thinking of me, Susan!

Speaking of writing, do you have a burning question about the freelance life that you need answered? Email me, or post a comment and I'll answer it here.

Ta-ta for now. The baby is teething (how else can I explain the random fussiness?). It's been a long day. No creativity left. Not even an ounce.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Saved, by cookies

So, I got brave tonight and pulled out a cookie sheet. I know, I threw in the towel and gave up baking -- for good, I thought -- but somehow I found a spatula in my hand this evening and somehow I gave way to a chocolate-chip cookie craving.

I tried a new recipe, courtesy of my sister, Jessica (the best baker I know). I'd share it with you, but sorry -- the recipe is top secret. Jessica's not into her big sis divulging her best creations online. Besides, these cookies are valuable -- as in, Jess could make a killing on them. And when she writes a cookbook, I'm sure this recipe will take it's rightful place. Let me tell you why: First, they're light. I know what you're thinking, and let me assure you: They don't taste light. I don't know how she did it, but they're crunchy on the outside and gooey and soft on the inside. A perfect cookie combo -- and the perfect remedy to extricate me from my baking funk.

Ah, it's good to be in harmony with my oven again.

A prune revival

Have you heard? Suddenly, prunes are hot. Whether you call them prunes, or dried plums (I think the latter sounds a little more appetizing, don't you?), the shriveled purple fruit is the latest culinary comeback kid. No longer happy to languish in your grandmother's medicine cabinet, prunes seem to be everywhere -- and in everything. I just saw a recipe in a food magazine for prune cake (mmm!) and then there is that new product, Sunsweet Ones, which I think sounds like a good idea -- especially in light of the recent news about their surprising health properties.

Speaking of plums, each year, our Italian plum tree produces too much fruit for us to use. So our golden retriever pitches in and eats two every morning for breakfast in the summer months. Not this year, though. I intend to beat her to the punch.

So, please share: What are you making with prunes these days? As soon as I can find the courage to bake again (you may remember, I threw in the towel recently), I'm going to give that prune cake a whirl.

Happy (blustery) Monday. It's a windy, rainy mess here in Seattle.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Retiring the Baby Bjorn

All of you mothers and fathers out there, you're going to identify with this post: We reached a big milestone recently. I "retired" Carson's Baby Bjorn. For the last few months, my back began to ache the minute I snapped him into the carrier. But because I couldn't imagine life without the Bjorn, (how would I shop, carry in groceries, do anything without it?) I resisted and hobbled along, clutching my aching back while Carson was strapped in, happy as a clam. But then I heard about a new baby-wearing contraption: the Ergo. This newfangled carrier allows you to wear your baby, well your child, up to 40 lbs. It also has backpack capabilities. So, in short: I ordered it. Carson loves it -- and so does my back.

So, farewell Bjorn. You've been good to us. Here is a tribute to our time with you -- the things I won't ever forget:
*The walk we took around the neighborhood, with our colicky boy in "Bjorn training" screaming so loud the neighbors looked out their windows to see what all the clatter was about.
*The many mornings I strapped my fussy baby in the carrier and paced the floors until he fell asleep for his "nap." Then I would sneak to my computer and quietly answer emails.
*The exploring we did -- all over Seattle.
*The way Carson used to chew on the front panel of the Bjorn until it was soaked with slobber. Ick.
*The time someone stopped to tell me that my baby in the Bjorn was the "perfect fashion accessory." There was no response.
*The many cups of coffee sipped above a baby's head.
*The time the clasp didn't snap all the way, and Carson fell out of the Bjorn, landing in a safe (and soft) spot -- thank God. Yes, it was pure terror.
*The joy of going through life with a baby attached to me.

Here's to you, Bjorn. And, just for fun, here are a few of our favorite photos:

The Bjorn was the morning nap spot for a while.

Baby's first airplane ride to San Diego -- here, getting off the plane and posing with the pilot.

A big boy, enjoying his final days in the Bjorn.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Goodbye, Burt

A few weeks ago at the Whole Foods Market in Seattle, where I sometimes shop, there was a woman giving away samples of Tom's of Maine toothpaste. Someone asked, "Are the ingredients still the same now that you're owned by Colgate-Palmolive?" I have to admit, I was a little shocked. I've been buying Tom's products for years, because I think they're great. Plus, I like the fact that I'm supporting a grass roots company rather than a multi-national conglomerate. And, they're toothpaste is yummy. But when I start to imagine that it's being made in the same manufacturing plant as, well, dish detergent, it's a tad unsettling.

And then, I read in a newsletter this morning that Burt's Bees has taken the same path. Yes, adorable, all-natural, home-grown Burt's Bees. In case you haven't heard, they've just been snatched up for $950 million by Clorox -- yup, the company that hawks noxious toilet bowl cleaner.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I quit

You know the old saying: You can either cook or you can bake, but you can't do both? It's true. Let me explain.

Being partial to cooking, it has always bugged the heck out of me that I have no baking confidence. Zilch. (Well, that's excluding my pies -- I do make a mean pie.) So over the past month, I start baking -- like mad. There were brownies. There were tarts. There were cookies, breads, cakes, and lots of muffins. I whipped and I folded and I blended. I measured, kneaded, whisked, and frosted. There were highs and lows -- some good, and some just "meh" -- but the majority of the things I pulled from my oven were pretty much, well, yuck.

And last night, my baking journey ended -- with a really terrible batch of Hawaiian rolls, which had the exact texture of, how do I put this lightly, rubber tires. (Still, there is one upside to bad dinner rolls: You know who your true friends are when they slather them in butter and eat them without a single complaint. Lisa and Fletcher, you guys are the best.)

So, please make me feel better. Tell me about your baking blunders, that is, if you have any.

Bye for now. Going to rid my kitchen of muffin tins and cake pans.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The thing about baking soda

I have a love-hate relationship with Arm & Hammer. On one hand, baking soda is essential. Where would my cookies and cakes be without it? But I have a bone to pick with recipes that call for copious amounts of the stuff, rendering each bite of cake, muffin, cookie -- you name it -- tasting of aluminum.

The last two things I've made, pumpkin spice bread and chocolate chip cookies (yep, I finally made the Deceptively Delicious recipe for chocolate chip-chickpea cookies), both had this over-the-top metallic baking soda taste. Gross, I know.

So all of you baking experts out there: Can you cut back on the amount of baking soda in a recipe and be alright? Or maybe there's a baking soda brand that doesn't taste like, well, baking soda?

Advice? I think I'll email Dorie Greenspan.

Trick or treat

Carson was a turtle for Halloween this year. He's only 10 months old, so he didn't know what was going on when Jason and I got him all dressed in costume -- complete with a tail and hat. We tried not to let him see us giggle. I'm convinced that dressing your kids up in goofy costumes is one of the bonuses of parenthood. It was priceless!

As the sun set, I put a bowl of candy by the door -- Kit Kats and Reeces Peanut Butter Cups. I have to admit, I felt a little guilty about this. I'm into health and wholesome eating, so part of me felt as though I should have stocked the bowl with fruit leather or granola bars. But, no. Not tonight. For one night of the year, let them eat candy.

Maybe someday Kit Kats will be sweetened with fruit juice, made with organic chocolate, and come standard with 5 grams of fiber. But for now, I'm going to just go with it.

And so we waited, and we waited. [Insert sound of crickets chirping.] There were no ghosts or goblins ringing our doorbell, no supermans or princesses either. And the bowl of candy just sat by the door, looking a little lonely and sad. What happened to Halloween, we wondered? It certainly isn't the event I remember as a child.

Then, just when we were about to turn the lights off and call it a night, there was a knock at the door -- at 8:55! Three pre-teen girls, dressed in costumes I didn't recognize (Madonna, maybe? Brittney Spears?) were on our front stoop, candy bags in hand. And that was it for Halloween.

After we closed the curtains and turned down the lights, I began to wonder if Halloween is morphing into something else. Private parties? Organized shopping-center candy giveaways?

Maybe door-to-door trick-or-treating has gone the way of the buffalo. Maybe. But part of me will always love the personal nature of trick-or-treating -- kids braving the cold to greet their neighbors. And come October 31, I'll be keeping a bowl of candy by the door -- even if it's just for me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Therapy, for writers

Today I met with my writer's group. And let me tell you, I just love these folks. It's a small group. There are just four of us, and we come from all different walks of life. One is a former NYC magazine staffer who is accomplished, vivacious, incredibly creative, and pregnant. One is a seasoned writer who is making exciting and brave new life changes -- breaking into the travel writing market while splitting her time between Seattle and India. Another is a science and technology writer (and seriously, a genius) who we'll say "we-knew-him-when" about someday. And then there's me.

But as different as we are, there are common threads, too. We are all trying to make a decent living doing what we love. We all have big goals and dreams. We are all attempting to make sense of the sometimes-chaotic freelance life. And we are all supportive of one another.

Today's meeting was at my house. We shared stories and ate scones while my son, Carson, played with his toys on the floor (he's feeling better, hooray!). These meetings are like therapy. And if you're a writer without a writer's group, I encourage you to find one. Even if you meet irregularly, like we do, it's worth it. For instance, in a few hours, here's what I came away with:

*A new confidence to plow through my book revisions.
*An idea for a pretty fun nonfiction food book. Yeah, I'm keeping it under wraps for now, sorry!
*A great set of goals for the next six months.
*At least one story idea.
*And, of course, some great media gossip.

P.S. I have an embarrassing confession: I walked around all day thinking today was Halloween. Really. I said "Happy Halloween" to at least a dozen people. I even got the candy ready for the trick-or-treators. But, this afternoon, my sister was kind enough to remind me that Halloween is, um, tomorrow. Then she wished me a Merry Christmas.

Monday, October 29, 2007

P.S. Happy Halloween

A REALLY full plate

I don't want this blog to read like a diary, or worse, a list of what fills my days ("today I went to the market, then I came home, then I made roast beef, bla, bla, bla" -- ack!), but because my baby is sick, and I have deadlines, and I'm tired (really, really tired -- Carson was up almost every hour last night), I'd like to give you the condensed version today. Here's what's on my plate:

*A sick baby boy.
*Three articles to finish, all due this week.
*A headache.
*Pumpkins to carve.
*Dinner to make, and no inspiration whatsoever.
*Baby clothes to wash.
*A book to revise.
*An editor to call back.
*A dog that really needs a walk.
*Interviews to schedule -- for next week's deadlines.
*Sleep to catch up on.
*Did I mention the headache?

What's on your plate? Let's commiserate together.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A meal to savor

Have you ever had a really, really memorable meal -- so good that you woke up the next day and wished you could rewind time for a minute, just to have another bite of the soup, or the fish, or chocolate ganache cake? That's the kind of meal I had last night, and I want to tell you about it.

Brian McCracken, chef and owner of Flyte (private dining in your living room -- or a vineyard, cranberry bog, or barn -- basically whatever you imagine, Brian and his team can accomodate) came by last night to cook for me, my husband, and a few friends. I met Brian via an article I wrote for The Seattle Post Intelligencer a few months ago. In case you're wondering, no, I don't have professional chefs cooking in my kitchen often (or frankly, ever), and yes, I was very excited (and, um, a little nervous -- what would he think of my sub-par stove and messy refridgerator, or the baby's high chair lurking in the dining room?).

Brian -- friendly, approachable, and kind -- arrived, with food, dinner plates, pans -- you name it -- in tow. After we put the baby to bed, Jason and I, and our guests, pulled up chairs and gathered around the kitchen to watch a chef at work, enjoying the first course in the kitchen: Braised Short Rib With Cinnamon Dijon.

Warm and satisfying, we gobbled it down and then made our way to the dining room for the next round: Butternut Squash Soup With Bleu Cheese Monte Cristo. It was a blockbuster combo -- a creamy, autumnal (I love using that word) soup with the crisp, buttery monte cristo. Borderline culinary brilliance.

Next came the Wild Mushroom Agnolotti, sort of like grown-up ravioli in a bed of mushrooms and paired with these beautiful little gelees, which were made of rosemary tea. It was aromatherapy, on a plate.

Before the next course, we sipped a grape soda (yes, grape soda!) that Brian made of fresh pressed grapes and soda water. The rims of each glass were lined with lemon sea salt. It was a perfect rest before the Seared Halibut arrived, which was crusted with celery seed and served with celery puree, braised celery, and celery leaves (are they called leaves?).

Hold on, there's more. The next creation was a nod to Brian's family's cranberry farm in Westport: Pan Roasted Duck With Nutmeg-Spiced Orzo and Smoked Cranberry Cobbler. And trust me, it was as good as it sounds.

And just when we thought things couldn't get any better, sweeter, brighter, and more delicious -- Brian delivered the finale: Black Pepper Chocolate Ganache With Smoked Sea Salt, Caramel and Chocolate Porter. My friend Sally summed it up best: "This is a dessert you could woo a girl with," she said to Brian. And she was right. He wooed us all -- down to the last bite.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A conversation with Allison Winn Scotch

In any given month, Allison Winn Scotch is one of those writers who has a byline in a half-dozen magazines. (Don't believe me? Pick up a magazine and scan. You're likely to find her!). That would be a mere feat in itself, but then she also is the author of two books (one was published recently (see below); the other will be out next year) and is the mother of two small children. All this, and she finds time to keep a blog, Ask Allison, about the publishing world, which is read by thousands of people, both veteran writers and newcomers alike. Oh, and to top things off, she's really nice.

Here is what Allison has to say about time management, procrastination, what it really feels like to publish a book, and some darn good advice about writing:

SJ: You recently had your first book published, The Department of Lost and Found (William Morrow, 2007). What did it feel like to have your "baby" on bookstore shelves, on, and in the hands of readers across the nation?

AWS: I felt, er, ill. Honestly, you don’t really think about how you’ll feel once the book is out there, being judged by (hopefully) thousands of readers, each of whom is forming an opinion not just about the book, but probably about you and your skills as well. I’ve spoken to other writer friends who agree that the actual publication is about as stressful as anything in the process, but the anxiety caught me off-guard. I expected to feel utter euphoria, and sure, there was that too, but primarily, I felt stressed.

SJ: You write for a zillion magazines, are the mother of two, and have just finished your second book. It's the question on everyone's minds: How in the world do you squeeze it all in? Extra shots of espresso? Three assistants? Please share your secrets for successful time management with us!

AWS: Ha! I only wish I had three assistants. Unless you count my dog, Pedro, who spends the day lounging at my feet, I sadly, however, have none. Well, actually, that’s not quite true. I do have a wonderful nanny, without whom, I wouldn’t be able to work. I’ve mentioned this on my blog before, but I do treat my job like any other job, and no one would expect a lawyer or executive to show up to work with her two kids, so I don’t show up to work with mine. True, I do have the fabulous luxury of spending more time with mine than someone who goes into the office, but still, when it’s work time, my nanny takes over. Also, I’ve gotten really good with time-management. I think that any working mom has to. I’ve been writing magazine articles for long enough now that I really know how long each one will take me, and I don’t accept assignments when I’m already feeling harried. I used to do that, and it’s not worth it for me. My mental health suffers, and then everything else suffers: how I interact with my kids, how I treat my husband, how, really, I enjoy my life. So I do think that learning to say no, as well as creating real expectations of how long assignments and other work will take you, are critical. Finally, I also always try to carve out some down time for myself. Which, on paper, might sound counterproductive, but for me, it keeps me ticking. I like to try to get to the gym most days of the week, for example, because that one hour allows me to tune out and rejuvenate. I’m much more likely to return to my computer with renewed gusto if I’ve taken a break and done something that I enjoy.

SJ: Can you give us a quick, sneak preview of your second book? And, when can we read it?

AWS: Sure! Thanks for asking! Time of My Life should hit stores next fall. It’s the story of a 35-year old woman who, from an outside view, has a pitch-perfect life -- a cherubic toddler, a successful husband, a gorgeous house in the suburbs. But despite all of this, she’s haunted by lingering “what ifs:” what if she hadn’t broken up with her old boyfriend, what if she hadn’t abandoned her career for motherhood, etc. And via a freak massage, she wakes up seven years in her past and has the opportunity to do it all over, and see if her new path will grant her greater happiness and lay to rest all of those lingering “what ifs.” I wrote it because I think that so many of us occasionally question the road that we’ve taken, and it’s something that’s so rarely discussed, but in my mind, is completely normal. There’s no shame in looking at our past and trying to learn from it, and using it to correct mistakes that maybe we’re still presently making…and hopefully, readers will find something in the book that resonates for them too.

SJ: When approaching the monumental task of writing a novel, how would you characterize your writing process? Do you sit down and pound out 10 pages a day, then go back and revise? Or, do you take it slower, perfecting each sentence as you go?

AWS: I tend to write quickly and furiously – sort of like a snowball tumbling down the hill, accelerating as it goes. I’ve found that if the writing is painstaking, then I’m probably not doing something right: not fully understanding my characters or not providing them with enough conflict. Which isn’t to say that it’s easy: it’s not. I’ll do just about anything not to start writing. I mean, I can seriously procrastinate my fiction like you wouldn’t believe. So, to ensure that I actually get it done, I set goals for myself – usually a minimum word count for the day, say, 1,500 words, and even though I hate opening up the document and writing those first few sentences, once I get going, it comes pretty easily. And again, as I said, if it doesn’t, that usually means I have to reassess and find out where I’m going wrong.

SJ: In your career, what has been one of the most important bits of advice, on writing, that you have received/read/heard?

AWS: I think that people tend to think of editors and agents as demi-gods, and one of the most important things I’ve learned and been told – through editors themselves – is that there’s no need for reverence. Which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t be treated respectfully…of course they should!! But elevating them on this pedestal does everyone a disservice: it makes you more timid to approach them; it makes you less likely to follow up to a pitch; it makes you less likely to walk away if a relationship isn’t working out; it makes you less likely to enjoy the time you spend working together…well, you get my point. One of the things that I’ve consistently heard from my editors in the past is how so many of them enjoy working with me, and I truly believe that this is because I treat them sort-of like friends. I don’t mean to imply that they’re your buddies: they’re not. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t know about their lives and have some fun banter and enjoy each other. I do and they do, and I really do believe that this is a big reason for my success: I meet my deadlines and write well, but I’m also easy-going (never underestimate the power of being an easy-going writer – I hear that from editors all the time too) and like the company of my editors.

SJ: For me, emailing friends, random Googling, online shopping (and OK I'll admit it, PerezHilton) are big contributors to procrastination when I sit down to write. What are yours?

AWS: Yes, I’m an online shopping whore too – even if I’m not buying, I’ll surf. And I am a total glutton for online gossip. I should go to a Gossip Anonymous group, I swear. DListed makes me laugh like no one’s business, and Television Without Pity’s forums could eat up my entire day. My husband makes fun of me, but in all seriousness, these sites are just a way for my brain to tune out a bit when I need a break. Oh, and yeah, I have a Google problem too. If I’ve ever even passed you on the street, I’ve probably Googled you. For no reason at all. It just kills time in my day when I could be writing!

Deceptive or just delicious? You decide.

Another day of Seinfeld mania. I just ran across this article about Jessica Seinfeld's book, which I've written a bit about here, and I wonder what you all think. Is it mere coincidence that a similar book was published a few months before hers? Or does this scream COPY CAT?

I have to say, I don't think there's a conspiracy going on here. Ask any journalist, author, editor, and they'll tell you this: Good ideas seem to hit the media world in twos and threes and fours. A lot of new writers (and I'm speaking of magazines here, but I think it translates into the book world, too) fear that their ideas will be "stolen." But I've learned that it's silly and useless to worry that your pitches are being snatched. It just doesn't happen. For instance, I've pitched stories to editors, had them pass, then read similar stories printed in their mags months later. Were my ideas stolen? I don't think so. What probably happened is that another writer either beat me to the punch or had a better pitch, source, whatever, or a story was already in the works.

Back to Seinfeld. The book is still on back order. I think the only reasons I'm still eager to get a copy is a.) I have a soon-to-be-veggie-hating toddler, and b.) I'm dying to make those garbanzo bean chocolate chip cookies. I don't know why, but they sound divine. Anyone want to sneak the recipe over to me? I know, I know. Shame on me!

UPDATE: I bought the book, and I love it. Even if you don't have a toddler in the house, the book is packed with fun ideas for mixing extra veggies into your foods. Sure, not really high brow cuisine, but who cares. These recipes are really fun -- and healthful! And, the Aloha Chicken Kebab recipe was beyond good (the chicken is battered in pineapple and sweet potato puree and then breaded before taking a dip in the frying pan. Really tasty!).

P.S. Hello new readers!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Autumn days

It's been a delicious past few days. My parents made a very memorable autumn dinner for us in their new home in Poulsbo, which we devoured on Saturday night (the meal, not the house). First we took a walk along this little country road to a farmstand (I know, it sounds just like Currier and Ives!) where we purchased some pumpkins, a few of them are pictured above, along with some fresh salsa and these amazing old-fashioned canned "dilly beans" (see photo below).

Now on to my mom's dinner. It was a feast! There was homemade applesauce (which had this really yummy and fragrant (almost rosewater-like) smell and taste), pumpkin soup, roasted acorn squash with cranberry relish, salad greens, steak kebabs with grilled vegetables, mashed potatoes, and Bourbon-glazed salmon. And, for dessert: pumpkin pie.

Speaking of squash, I told my mom that I can't remember an autumn season that I have craved squash this much. There must be a nutrient in squash that I'm lacking, because I can't get enough. Poor Jason. He's not so enamored with squash, but it seems to be on the dinner menu at our house quite a bit these days. Last night I was experimenting with butternut squash, garlic, and kale. See below.

Carson, of course, had a grand time crawling all over his grandparents' new house and playing with new toys. Then he slept all the way home, which was a dream, given that he a had a meltdown recently in the car that was just awful -- miserable, actually. In fact, Jason and I have started calling it "the historic fit" -- as in, it-will-go-down-in-history-as-the-wildest-and-most infamous-of-all-fits fit.

Speaking of the devil. There he is. Up early from his nap.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Chocolate and Spinach

I felt a little giddy as I assembled the ingredients for Jessica Seinfeld's brownies tonight. After all, Oprah nearly did a backflip after tasting one and, well, then their was Jerry's "death row" description. I was eager to see for myself. Could brownies made with spinach actually be good?

Really, it seemed insane to add a half a cup of green sludge (pureed spinach) into the chocolaty mixture, and I cringed as I whisked. I remembered the book's title "Deceptively Delicious," and decided I'd be a little deceptive myself and not tell my husband what he was really eating, until after his first bite. After all, I don't have a 3-year-old to fool. Why not have a little fun with Jason?

The batter came together well (though I was struck by how little butter the recipe called for), and I spread it into the pan. While baking, there was a sweet, chocolaty smell in the kitchen, along with something else. Cooked broccoli? Peas? Asparagus? I began to worry.

Thirty minutes later, after the kitchen timer beeped, I ran to the oven -- so excited to assess my experiment that I forgot the potholder and burned my finger. I consoled myself with a warm slice of brownie.

Light and cakey, with a faint vegetable aftertaste (a little like, well, spinach salad), it wasn't the taste sensation I had hoped for. It was mediocre, at best. I cut a square for Jason. "Here," I said. "Try this. It's a new recipe."

He took a bite, hardly looking up from the TV ("The Office" was on, can you blame him?). "Low fat, huh?" he said.

I nodded. "And, they're made with, um, spinach."

He didn't protest or balk or set down his plate. In fact, he helped himself to another.

Hmm, I thought. Maybe Jessica Seinfeld is on to something? I can hardly wait until my son's first birthday. I'll make the recipe for chocolate cake -- with beets, of course.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A conversation with Molly Wizenberg

I recently had the chance to speak with Molly Wizenberg (pictured to the left; photo courtesy of Carla Leonardi), a Seattle-based food writer who has been compared to such greats as M.F.K. Fisher. She's the voice behind the pioneering food blog "Orangette," which has thousands of fans, me included. Molly is busy at work on her first book (to be published by Simon and Schuster next year), a collection of essays and sure-to-be mouthwatering recipes. She was kind enough to pause and answer a few questions:

SJ: You've been blogging for several years. Over which time, many blogs have come and gone. What is your advice to fledgling bloggers about developing a successful, lasting, well-read blog?

MW: First I will say this, because it really rings true for me: more than anything, write what is interesting to you. If you're bored with what you're writing, other people will be bored reading it. Second, reach out to other bloggers. That's crucial -- not only to your blog's success and popularity, but also to your longevity as a blogger. Feeling a part of a community is so important. I've met countless amazing, inspiring people through this ole blogosphere of ours. I would be nowhere without them. Third, keep your eyes open. If you ride the subway or the bus, or if you walk a lot each day, look around. See what's there. See what inspires you. Notice things that are strange to you, or patterns you had overlooked before, or eavesdrop on other people's conversations. (I LOVE eavesdropping. My apologies to anyone who rides the bus with me, or who sits at a table near mine in a restaurant.) All of these things are fodder for good writing and good blogging. Take your camera with you, if you want. It'll help you to notice things. I find that my camera really helps me to open my eyes and see what's around me. And for us food bloggers, I would really urge you to try taking pictures of things other than your food. I love taking photographs of food, but I learn much more from the photographs I take on the fly at other times. It takes a lot of inspiration to continually "produce" on your blog - go out there and find it!

SJ: I had a dinner disaster tonight. The meal sounded good, in theory, but it didn't translate to the plate. I'm too embarrassed to give details (it was really quite bad). While I'm sure yours are few and far between, please make the rest of us feel better about our kitchen bloopers and tell us about one of yours.

MW: Ha! That's a fun one. My friend Sam was just reminding me the other night of a savory clafouti I made for him and Brandon last spring, shortly after I came back from a trip to France with my mom. I'd clipped the recipe during our trip, from one of those little free newspapers they give out in subway stations. It was a basic milk-and-egg custard of sorts enriched with gruyere cheese, and then you stirred in cherry tomatoes, poured it into a pan, and baked it. Well, it was NASTY. I'm not sure if it lost something in translation or what, but it was N-A-S-T-Y. It was pale and rubbery and dense, and it tasted like a very mild, flavorless macaroni and cheese, but nastier. Did I mention that it was nasty? I'll bet you could have taken a wedge out into the driveway and played basketball with it -- it was that rubbery. And the cherry tomatoes hadn't cooked an ounce. They were still raw. Sam bucked up and ate two slices, but Brandon and I could barely make it through one each. It was torture. Sam still likes to joke about it, calling it my famous mac 'n cheese.

SJ: We have to know: What do you eat at the airport? And I don't mean the Sea-Tac airport where we are lucky enough to have a fairly decent selection of options (Kathy Casey's terrific eatery comes to mind), but rather in the middle of the country, say Dallas-Ft. Worth (where I always seem to end up during a layover). When you have to choose between Chilie's, TGI Fridays, and Burger King, do you starve, hold out for airplane peanuts, or settle for a Whopper Jr.?

MW: I have to say, I'm definitely the type to hold out for the airplane peanuts! Or soft-serve ice cream or frozen yogurt. (They've got lots of that at DFW; I know from my layovers on the way home, to Oklahoma.) I don't like going hungry, but I'm also pretty picky. I'm a real stickler about packing food for flights. The only time in recent memory that I ate airport food -- aside from the aforementioned peanuts or frozen yogurt -- was last spring, at Chicago O'Hare, when I ate a slice of pizza. I was desperate, and I'd missed my flight. I love pizza. Even nasty, greasy, airport pizza. But really, it need not take a lot of time or fuss to make food to take on a flight. It need not be a luxury! I just make an extra-large batch of spaghetti the night before, or I hard-boil some eggs and take a hunk of bread. Also, whenever I make pancakes, I throw any leftovers in the freezer. Thawed on the counter the night before, they make a great travel breakfast.

SJ: In your opinion, what are three things every person should know how to cook well?

MW: Well, these aren't all necessarily "cooking," per se, but: homemade vinaigrette, chocolate chip cookies from scratch, a basic vegetable soup -- I could live on those three things -- assuming, of course, there was something green to put the vinaigrette on.

SJ: Can you tell us a little about the book you're working on? And, when can we buy it?

MW: My book grows out of the format of my blog. It's a collection of recipes and the stories that grow out of them. At the moment, I'm working on about 65 recipes (and, by extension, 65 essays), so the final book should hopefully have about that many, give or take a few. The essays are very similar in tone and style to what you see on my blog -- sometimes thoughtful, sometimes irreverent, and always -- I hope! -- delicious. I'm really loving the process thus far. Writing always sort of wakes me up. When I write, I remember all sorts of things that I thought I'd forgotten, and I discover so much that I hadn't seen before. That's really exciting, you know? I hope my readers will enjoy reading this book as much as I've enjoyed writing it! My manuscript is due December 15 [gulp!], and it'll be published by Simon & Schuster next fall, the fall of 2008.

SJ: My prediction: Your book is going to be a huge success. And when Oprah contacts you to be a guest, and cook for her -- on the air -- what will you make for her (and her millions of viewers)?

MW: Oh, eeek! I'd have to build up some serious guts for that! I think I'd make either a shaved fennel salad with lemon, olive oil, and Parmesan, or my "winning-hearts-and-minds" cake, an almost-flourless cake with loads of butter, chocolate, and eggs. Both are an absolute cinch -- confidence boosters for anyone, even the worst cook -- and are completely delicious.

Perfecting life

I really shouldn't complain. Things are going well. The maple tree in my yard is turning gorgeous colors. The market is brimming with squash, of nearly all shades of the rainbow. My son is healthy and way less fussy than he used to be. My husband is wonderful, as usual. And the book is coming together. But, really, life can always be improved upon. So I got to thinking, and here's what I came up with. Of course, in addition to world peace, a solution to poverty, and finding a cure for AIDS, cancer, and all childhood disease, it would be a perfect world if:

*Le Creuset products would all cost less than $9.99 a piece.
*Babies came programmed with the ability to change their own diapers, sleep through the night, and play contentedly.
*Articles and books would write themselves and be brilliant on the first draft.
*The soundtrack playing everywhere would be good jazz.
*People (and babies too) would all start the day at 9 a.m., because that's a more reasonable hour than 6 a.m.
*I had a butler.

Alright, I'll stop there. What would your perfect world look like?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How about some spinach with those brownies?

Hi all. So, I have Seinfeld fever this week. And who doesn't? Jessica and Jerry Seinfeld are EVERYWHERE. There's Jessica's new book, Deceptively Delicious, which I have to admit, I'm kind of obsessed with right now. Her recipe for Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies is already legendary and the book has only been in print for a week (may all of your books be an ounce as successful!). And then there's Jerry's new flick, Bee Movie. Talk about a power couple.

The book is on back order, so I haven't gotten a copy. Have any of you checked it out yet? What do you think?

If you're salivating for brownies made with spinach puree (I know, I was skeptical too, but apparently Jerry calls these "Death Row Brownies" -- as in, the kind of brownies you'd want to eat at your last meal. I guess they're that good) you can find the recipe here.