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?