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 Amazon.com, 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.

Monday, October 15, 2007


What's your secret fantasy career?

Mine would have something to do with flour and rolling pins, I think. I'd open a bakery, like two in New York City that I wish were here in Seattle: Billy's Bakery and Babycakes. Not that I'm much of a baker, however. I tend to approach my oven like a kid with a science experiment (Exhibit A: the pie crust I once made with self-rising flour; Exhibit B: the cupcakes that erupted while in the oven). But a girl can dream, right? And, sometimes my baking experiments turn out, well, kind of good. Take my cranberry muffins today, for example. I love cranberries this time of year -- fresh cranberries -- and after picking up a bag at the market I ignored my deadlines and got to work. Halfway through the dry ingredients (and a bit of fussing from Carson), I realized there was no sour cream in my refrigerator, so I substituted yogurt. It was a happy accident.

Cranberry Yogurt Muffins*

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 stick of butter, melted
1/2 cup plain yogurt (full fat, low fat, whatever)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole fresh cranberries
1/3 cup applesauce

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pan with baking cups/liners (whatever you call them!). Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix eggs, butter, yogurt and vanilla in another bowl. Add egg mixture to dry mixture, and fold together, just until blended. Spoon in muffin cups and bake. Check after 20 minutes (should be done around then).

*It occured to me after I finished making these muffins that they'd be lovely with sliced almonds mixed in the batter or sprinkled on top.

It's not easy being green

Meet froggie.

It's funny how you buy your child all kinds of exciting toys -- toys for brain development, toys to engage their imagination, toys to enhance motor skills -- and yet they choose the silliest and simplest play things as their favorites. Take my son, Carson, for instance. This little 2 inch frog, which is really a bath toy that my mom bought my sister's daughter last year and was left at our house by mistake, has turned into Carson's most precious possession. Along with his blue teddy bear, he carries this miniature toad in his right hand, everywhere. We can say "where's froggie" and he'll search the room until he finds him.

How about you? What are/were your child's first favorite toys?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chefs for Humanity

Hi everyone! It's been a busy weekend. I threw a baby shower for my dear friend Sally on Saturday. Lots of fun. On Friday, I interviewed the famed Food Network chef and first female Iron Chef Cat Cora about her work with Chefs for Humanity, a fabulous nonprofit organization that you must read about, if you haven't already. Cat is a kind and talented chef with a deep conviction about sharing her gifts with the world's poor and needy. I was quite impressed. Her latest book, Cooking From the Hip (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), is fabulous as well--great recipes, and fun personal stories and tips throughout. Check it out!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Comfort Food

My day? In short: The baby was fussy (teething?), the book needs more work, and my house just keeps getting messier. Comfort food was in order. But what?

Jason and I recently had dinner at Pair, one of favorite restaurants in the area (just a mile or so from our house), and I had a plate of lovely little Kabocha squash dumplings. I'm obsessed with squash right now, so when I saw a display of Kabochas (it's a Japanese squash with a bright green exterior and sweet and luscious flesh) at the grocery store today, I threw several in my cart -- with absolutely no idea what I was going to do with them. Then, inspiration struck:

Orecchiette with Kabocha Squash, Kale and Cream

3 large cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium to large Kabocha squash
1 bunch of kale, or a little less, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 package of orecchiette
2/3 cup cream (you could use more or less, though; just eyeball it)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the squash in half, remove seeds and the stringy matter. Place cut-side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle a little olive oil on each, and place in the oven. Test with a knife in about 20-30 minutes. When the squash is soft and begins to pull away from the skin, it's done. You'll need to let it cool a bit before removing the skin and dicing into bite-size pieces. Bring pasta to a boil and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, drizzle in a little olive oil and saute the garlic a bit over medium heat, just until it begins to release its fragrance. Next, add in the diced squash, the kale, and chicken stock. Let mixture simmer just a bit before transferring the cooked pasta to the pan. Reduce heat to low and add cream. Let simmer for a few minutes, add salt and pepper (to taste). Then, plate and top with a generous helping of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. We sprinkled a bit of red pepper flakes on ours, too, because well, we put red pepper flakes on everything.

Baby vs. dog

Carson: "Now, how can I get that tail in my mouth?"

Paisley: "They tell me he's a baby, but I dunno, he kind of looks like a nice ham bone."

Office Space

Carson is watching Elmo now. He's crawling around with his blue teddy bear in his right hand (teddy goes everywhere with him now) and he periodically stops to look up at the TV as if to say "what the heck is that?" Elmo is playing the piano and singing happy birthday to a talking cake. Hmmm.

While I have a few minutes, I wanted to pose a question. I read somewhere recently that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they keep their desk/office. Given the fact that my office currently looks like it has been hit by a tsunami, I'm wondering, is there any truth in this? Is a neat office indicative of an orderly life? Is a messy office a sign of a person who can't get their act together? Please say no! So, tell me, what does your office look like?

More later.

P.S. I'm a little embarrassed to say this, but remember the coffee funk? Semi-solved. Seems that I was using a carton of half-and-half that was, um, well beyond its expiration date. I'm still on the search for better coffee beans, brewing methods, etc., but I'll tell you, when I opened a new carton of half-and-half this morning, it made quite the difference.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It was one of those days

The fridge was stocked. Several new recipes were beckoning. But we were tired. We were hungry. And we gave in to the pizza delivery man. Half eggplant primo, half spinach chicken. Can you blame us?

Some thoughts on motherhood

I kind of wish I started this blog months ago. It would have made me sit down and record my reflections on Carson's early days, the dreaded colic, the phantom health concerns, the anxiety about everything, and the joys, too. I like to think I'll remember it all, but I know I won't. And maybe I won't want to, either. To be frank, a lot of things in Carson's first year have been harrowing. But then there are those sparkling moments when you smile, laugh, cry out of sheer joy. These are some of the gems I don't want to forget:

*The day I was going about my morning, coffee in hand, and noticed a Cheerio floating in my mug.
*The first time Carson reached his arms out for me.
*That first smile, though brief (and between screaming).
*His "dinosaur" noises.
*The moment when he first discovered Paisley, our dog, and the squeals of laughter that followed.
*Watching him figure out how to crawl.
*Wild jumping in the Johnny Jump Up.
*Baby Beluga.
*Seeing him use sign language to tell me when airplanes are overhead.

All you mamas out there, what are the "gems" of your babies' first years?

I'm in a coffee funk

The baby is napping and due up at any moment, so this will be quick. I'm sending up a flair, as I need help in the coffee department. When your child wakes up every 2-3 hours at night, coffee becomes a very important topic. Fellow mothers, you know what I'm talking about!

Why is it that every bag of beans I buy these days just tastes, well, bad? Like most Seattleites, I lost the warm-and-fuzzies for Starbucks long ago. And you'd think with the litany of cafes and coffee roasters in this town I'd find a blend to love, but it hasn't happened. I've turned my nose up to Whole Foods beans (bitter and burned), Trader Joes (the last can I bought tasted a bit of plastic, and I really don't want to know why), and the bag of Allegro beans (fair trade and organic) that we ground up this morning wasn't much better. Anyone have any suggestions? I want to fall in love with my morning cup again, not choke it down like medicine. Help!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Juggling it all

Beginning next month, I'm writing a new page/column for Health magazine. This is under lock and key at the moment as the mag is undergoing a redesign and the details about the page I'll be covering is top secret for now--but I can tell you that it will be food and nutrition focused!

And, some of you may know that I signed with a literary agent last year to represent my novel-in-progress. Well, the book is now complete! I submitted the manuscript, all 380 pages of it, to my agent last week. I'll post an update here when I know more about the future of this baby (i.e., whether it is going to be sold soon, or doomed to collect dust for the next century). And, keep up with this blog for bits and pieces about what the book is about and when and where you can read it!

The other morning I swaggered out of bed at 5:11 a.m. Mind you, this isn't when I normally like to rise. I'm not a morning person. If left without deadlines, an alarm clock and a golden retriever, all of which I have, I'd probably snooze till 10 (OK, I'll be honest -- 10:30). But on that particular morning, there was a certain 9 month old baby crying out for me.

And so I got up, dutifully, like I always do no matter when he wakes. But that's not to say I had a good attitude about it. I huffed and puffed and scowled at my husband who was still sleeping--with earplugs, mind you--and made my way down the hall to the nursery. It only took a few seconds for my frown to melt, because there he was--my little Carson--STANDING in his crib, not really sure how he got there or how he was going to get back down. He was stuck. My baby boy who I used to swaddle up in these tight little burrito-like packages, is standing. It was a proud mama moment.

The question "what do you want to do for dinner?" is uttered often in my home. Sometimes it drives me crazy (you try cooking with two articles due, three editors to call back, and a fussy baby in your arms), sometimes it inspires me. Take yesterday, for instance. I felt like Martha Stewart. No, Martha Stewart on steroids. I "whipped up" a batch of empanadas, stuffed ever-so-deliciously with these gorgeous and surprisingly tangy green heirloom tomatoes, ground beef, onions, and peppers. And tonight? I was not feeling like Martha Stewart. We had leftovers.