Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Jazz apples and Cara Cara oranges

How can I put this delicately? Life with a toddler can get, well, kind of bland sometimes. 

You know the drill: Same old routine, same old grocery store shopping list (bread, whole milk, baby food, cereal, repeat). So, for me, nothing cures the blahs better than a day out with a friend, a challenging writing assignment, a new adventure with my little guy (he's into looking at flowers this week, so off to the park we go), or a few great new discoveries at the market.

Today, during a quick trip to the green market for dinner and a few staples, two things caught my eye in the produce aisle. I recalled one of my editors telling me about Cara Cara oranges -- a sweet juicy orange variety that a lot of people are buzzing about right now. So, I bagged some up. 

And then, among the bins of everyday apples, I came across organic "Jazz apples." These small, almost baby-sized, are supposed to be extra tart and crunchy with a tangy, lemony sweetness. I could almost hear Stan Getz playing somewhere as I picked out a few; I couldn't help but let my mind wander the direction of an apple tart, or maybe a simple crisp (which I've been craving ever since I saw Ina Garten make one on the Food Network recently). 

So, there you have it: The cure for my day of toddler blahs: apples and oranges. Oh, and an apricot croissant. That helped, too.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The truth about motherhood

Hello from San Diego. I'm here visiting my sister, who just had a baby -- her second, an adorable, healthy, and totally mellow baby boy. And it's the mellow part I want to talk about today: Of course, I'm thrilled that my sister has been blessed with an easy baby, but part of me is envious, too.

It's not really because my son, Carson, screamed for the first six months of his life (I wouldn't wish colic on anyone) or the fact that he whined for the next four months. But it's really because in the four days I've been here, my toddler has cried more than her infant. I probably should mention that Carson is 14 months old (AKA: too old to be having newborn-style meltdowns all the time).

In fact, as I'm sitting here typing, I'm recovering from one of Carson's meltdowns, or as my sister, my mom and I have all named it "the meltdown that will go down in infamy." It started in the car, and then continued in the restaurant. He screamed and kicked. He threw food and wailed. He drew a crowd of onlookers, and a few dirty looks. He nearly was the cause of a car accident.

And this went on for about three hours.

I don't know where I'm going with this post. I'm kind of discouraged, kind of tired, and kind of in need of a drink (I know, it's 2 p.m. -- shame on me). I guess what I'm trying to say is that motherhood is not all giggles and cupcakes. Frankly, I believe it's the most exhausting job in the world.

And I'm not going to follow this up with "but it's such a joy and such a blessing." Of course it is. But I think it's OK to just take a deep sigh and be honest about the fact that my son nearly kicked my butt today.

Maybe things will be better tomorrow. (And, just to remind myself, I'm including a photo from an outing a few days ago, to the beach in La Jolla where Carson walked on the sand for the first time.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Interview with "The Opposite of Love" author Julie Buxbaum

Today, I'm speaking to Julie Buxbaum, the fabulous new author of the recently released book "The Opposite of Love." Julie is 30 (like moi, whose birthday is today, in fact!), a first time author who is seeing a lot of success and acclaim for her first work of fiction, and as you'll see, below, an inspiration to people who are thinking about making a big life change in the name of happiness and fulfillment. Here's my conversation with Julie: 
SJ: I'm always fascinated with people who make bold moves. And, from what I know about your story, you are certainly one of them. It had to be frightening quitting your job at the law firm (especially after working so hard for that degree!), and looking ahead to the unknown. How did you justify such a leap? Did you know that when you quit, you'd be working on your book, or did that come later?

JB: I have to admit, I was scared to quit, but I realized that it was something I just had to do. There came a point where I just couldn't handle another Sunday night where I was dreading Monday morning at the office. It seemed ridiculous to spend ninety percent of my waking hours in a career in which I was unfulfilled, when I hadn't even seen what else was out there. I'd always dreamed of writing a book, so when it was time to leave the law, I figured it was my shot. When I sat down to write THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE I made the decision that no matter what happened--if my novel ended up being just a pile of paper that lived in a drawer for the rest of my life--the experience of writing it would be enough. So the fact that I have made a career out of writing feels--to mix my cliches--like icing on the cake and nothing short of a dream come true.  

SJ: In life, I fear these things most: rats, snakes, and evil bloggers (and if I had a book out right now, book critics would probably be on the list, too). Rats and snakes aside, book publishing kind of puts you out there, and I wonder how you prepare yourself for that as a new author. For instance, when you wake up one morning and realize that some snarky blogger has said something not-so-nice about you, how do you deal with that? Roll your eyes and say "whatever," or maybe call your best friend for sympathy? 

JB: No doubt about it, I find it strange and terrifying that my novel puts me out there, especially because writing is such a solitary and personal exercise. When you write, you can't think about what's going to happen years later, when those words are in an actual book on a shelf that someone is going to buy (hopefully!) and read and comment on. When I read anything about the book, the first thing I do is try to learn something from it. Do I agree with what this person says? Disagree? If there is some constructive criticism there, I try to put my ego aside and hear it. If you look at the Amazon comments for your absolute favorite book in the world--the one that you think is a masterpiece--I guarantee there are a bunch of people who have called it crap. The truth is this is all subjective, and I try to find comfort in that idea. 

SJ: When you got your book deal, how did you celebrate? A fabulous dinner out? A pair of (wildly expensive) new shoes? Several joy-filled screams in the street? 

JB: My husband (then boyfriend) took me out for a casual dinner, and I spent much of the evening shell-shocked. I just kept repeating, "Can you believe it? I don't believe it? Can you believe it?" I was incapable of conversation beyond that for a good twenty-four hours. The next day, I visited my local bookstore and checked out where my book would live in the fiction section and who would be my alphabetical neighbors. I remember just staring at the shelf and smiling to myself. Pretty great moment.  

SJ: Now that you're not bustling between the courthouse and the boardroom, what does a typical day look like for you? 

JB: I roll out of bed around nine am, and change from my sleeping pj's to my day pj's. Recently, I've upgraded from full fledged pajama pants (with polka dots) to lounge pants, and for that my FedEx guy is very grateful. I think he was starting to worry about me. I walk about ten feet to my dining room table, which I use as a desk, though there is a perfectly good desk right next to it, because the table faces out a window. When I sit here, as I am doing right this moment, I am easily fooled. Whatever I am doing here cannot be called "work." If I am in the middle of a first draft, I'll write till I take a break for lunch, and maybe an afternoon shower to clear my head. And then it is either back to my desk to keep plugging along, or perhaps, if I'm in need of some human interaction, I'll put on some real people clothes and head to a nearby coffee shop to work for the rest of the day. I try to keep a pretty normal working schedule, but I am not always that diligent.  

SJ: Are you working on any future projects that we can keep our eyes out for?  

JB: I am currently at work on my second novel, but not sure yet when it will be released into the world. I'll keep you posted!  

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Baby's first trip to Pike Place Market

The sun was out today (if you have survived a Seattle winter, you know how exciting this is), so I chucked my normal routine, begged forgiveness from my editors, and played hookie with Carson. We went to Pike Place Market. 

A longtime Seattleite, I am a little ashamed to say that I rarely get down to the Market -- unless guests are in town. There are plenty of nearby farmer's markets, plus every grocery store a girl can imagine, near my home. But today, I had a reason to drive downtown: a stop at Le Panier to pick up Jason's Valentine's Day surprise: a Napoleon. In the process, I found myself giving my 1 year old a culinary tour of Seattle. 

First, we visited the fish market, where a toothless fishmonger played peek-a-boo with Carson, who thought this was great fun. Next stop: produce stand, where we both fell in love with these gorgeous miniature eggplants and filled our bag with other treasures (sweet onions, carrots, heirloom tomatoes, yellow squash, and a few other things that I can't remember right now). 

From there we buzzed over to the original Starbucks. I'll admit, I get a little sentimental about this place, even though I much prefer smaller cafes where shots of espresso are pulled by hand. But there's something special about the very first Starbucks. It's worn and torn, with a certain patina to everything, unlike the shiny new monochromatic stores everywhere else. It's kind of like the management just decided to let this place be, and I'm glad they did.

Carson pointed to Beecher's cheese shop, so we stopped in for a quick look at cheese being made (big vats of curds and way!). I tried to explain what was going on to him, but he was already interested in something outside: of course, a dog. 

After standing on the curb visiting with a friendly looking mutt for a few minutes, we popped in to Michou for lunch (me: a divine chipotle chicken sandwich, and Carson: rosemary lentil soup) and then made our way to the grand finale: Le Panier. 

One loaf of bread, two eclairs, a slice of apricot tart tatin, and a Napoleon later, we called it a day. But, not before I passed the spot where my teenage self was kissed by her then teenage lead-singer-in-a-band boyfriend. In an instant, I was 17 again, at the peak of Seattle's grunge/punk scene, smitten with a guy with a mohawk (yes, you've probably heard him on the radio, and no, I'm not telling you who). I looked down at Carson, who looks more like Jason everyday, and smiled deeply. It was a gift to remember how grateful I am that life turned out the way it did. Besides, I would have made a terrible groupie. 

A flower primer for men

Happy Valentine's Day! My husband surprised me with a gorgeous vase of pink roses this morning, which sent Carson into tears. Roses are a little scary, I guess. 

Anyway, today, I have a message for men: Buying  your gal roses today? Let me pass on a few friendly tips:

*Skip the baby's breath. Really, tell the gal at the floral counter no. 
*Step away from the carnations. That's all that needs to be said.
*A nice, compact round bunch is lovely (think of a wedding bouquet, in a vase).
*Go with one color (i.e., a bunch of orange roses, or a bunch of pink tulips, rather than a mixture of the two).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fear of drug stores during flu season

Disclaimer: I give you full permission to shake your head at me after reading this post. Heck, I'm even shaking my head at me. But I must fess up and share: I absolutely, positively, detest going to the drug store during cold and flu season -- so much so, in fact, that I pull a Bill Murray a la "What About Bob" (you know, when he opens all the door handles with a paper towel?).

But today -- cringe -- I had to go. And when I arrived, the place sounded like a symphony of sickness: 

Cough, cough. Sniffle, sniffle. SNEEZE. 

I hurried.  I held my breath. I Pureled. And then when I got to the checkout line, and turned my head for a second, the cashier was (gulp) holding my son's hand

Noooooooooooo! Don't touch the baby with those germy hands that have probably just rung up the purchases of 321 people carrying the flu! 

This is what I was thinking. Of course, I didn't say it. Instead, I smiled and paid, then booked it to the restroom to wash Carson's hands before he could start sucking his thumb. 

I told you you'd be shaking your head. 

But please tell me you can relate. Maybe just a teeny bit?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mineral makeup hazards?

I love my new mineral makeup. It feels nice knowing that I'm not dousing my skin in chemicals and preservatives every morning. But today I got to thinking: With all the dust flying around (or rather, minerals), is breathing in all those particles during the application process harmful to my health? If you've tried this type of makeup, you know it's a tad messy.

OK, so I've gone from worrying that my makeup is toxic to worrying that it's giving me lung cancer. Forgive me for being a tad paranoid. But, please weigh in on this issue. What do you think?

P.S. I'm typing this, for the very first time, on my new Mac! Already lovin' it, even though I'm a little slow figuring things out. I have to admit, I do miss the ol' right click. Hugs and kisses to Jason for spending the better part of the weekend archiving old files, emails, and doing the transfer. It was a big job, and it's nice to have my very own (and quite handsome!) tech guy!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Cake on the brain

I have a confession to make: I've been thinking about cake -- a lot. Lemon, chiffon, white chocolate, fondant, all kinds, really. I'll be interviewing someone for a story, and there goes the brain: to cake. Here's an example:

Interview subject: "Bla, bla, bla ..."

Me: Hmm, I wonder if I can cut this interview short and bake a chocolate cake before Carson wakes up from his nap? Or maybe I should drive over to my favorite bakery later (Simply Desserts)?"

Interview subject: "Bla, bla, bla -- bla!"

Me: Did he just say CAKE?

Here's the weird thing: Ask anyone who knows me -- this craving is completely out of character. In fact, my mom had to make pies for my birthday parties as a child because I hated cake. (Yep, she decorated them with birthday candles and all!)

I've learned, through researching a new story I'm writing for Health magazine (keep an eye out this spring!), that food cravings can be as powerful as drug cravings. Whoa!

What are you craving?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The family plate

You've heard of the "family bed," right -- you know, when the kids sleep with the parents? While Carson is (thank you Lord) content in his own crib, I think we've got an issue going on with the dinner plate. Let me explain.

Recently, we realized that the baby food days were nearing an end when Carson, our 1 year old, started pointing to my plate and screaming as if to say "hey, give me some of the good stuff!"

Things were going well for a while: We started feeding him more real food, just chopped up and pureed a bit. But as babies tend to do, he figured things out. Carson soon realized that he wanted the food that was on our plates, not in his bowl. (Um, he also seems to want what's in my wine glass, but as they say, Pinot Noir is not for sippy cups.) So, now we (me and baby) eat from the same plate.

But tonight, Carson threw another curve ball: He started pointing wildly at Jason's plate across the table. He wanted what daddy was having -- and he wanted it NOW!

I had to laugh when Jason suggested that Carson would be much happier if we all ate off the same plate, or maybe chowed down together at a communal feeding trough. Quite an image, isn't it?

I guess no one said parenthood was dainty.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What will they think of next?

Have you heard of the new water bottle from Arrowhead? It's billed as an "eco-shape" bottle. The idea is that it uses 30 percent less plastic so it's environmentally friendly. Are you rolling your eyes right now along with me? Better idea: Ditch the plastic bottles for a Sigg, or another reusable bottle. My Sigg, in fact, would probably take a prominent place on my can't-live-without list. Really.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

How do you store bread?

Everyone I know seems to have a different way to store their favorite loaf: in a bag, in the fridge, in a bread box, on the counter -- you get the idea. Personally, I've been thinking about purchasing a bread box, since plastic is not only a problem environmentally speaking, but it also seems to trap a lot of moisture. Soggy bread = gross.

What's your fail-proof method?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Trans fat alert

You're up on the health dangers of trans fats, as we all are now, so when you go to the grocery store, you know to steer clear of products that contain that scary stuff. You give yourself bonus points, even, for spotting products labeled "trans fat free."

But maybe, like me, you didn't know that, by law, a product can still contain trans fat even if it says it doesn't. Yep. I learned by trial and error:

I normally shop at green markets, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's stores, so trans fat is usually not an issue (these stores do not carry products that contain TFs). But, the other day I was busy and was trying to combine my shopping in one area of the city -- so I went to a different store.

I needed tortillas, preferably organic. No luck there. So, I decided it wouldn't kill me to buy non-organic tortillas, as long as I could find a pack that was free of TFs. With no time to read a long ingredient label with a fussy boy in my arms, I grabbed a pack of "Mission" tortilla's labeled "0 grams trans fat."

Then, a few hours later, at home, I read the ingredient label. I was horrified to find the words "partially hydrogenated" right there in black ink (see below for proof) -- on my tortillas. Friends, as you know if ya see "partially hydrogenated" it's code for TRANS FATS.

Nina Planck has a great article about this very topic in the February issue of Bon Appetit. In short, if a food product contains less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving, the manufacturer isn't required to declare it. And not only that, but they can call it "trans fat free."

Can you believe that?

So, say you have three quesadillas. You'll eat about 1.5 grams of trans fat, which is about a teaspoon and a half of trans goodness (fat that researchers say goes straight to the belly, I might add).

Appetizing, eh?

Morals of the story:

*Read ingredient labels, even if the baby is fussy.
*Maybe drive across town to a store that sells quality products.
*Beware of claims on food products.
*Make your own tortillas (they're really good).

Things I thought I'd NEVER do

Funny how being a mom makes you change in ways you never thought possible. Here is my list:

*Minivans: Nope, I don't drive one. Love my Volvo. But I have to admit, the thought has crossed my mind. Dear Lord, help me.

*Ground coffee: I used to be a whole-bean purist, but that darn coffee grinder wakes up the baby.

*Yoga pants and Uggs: My uniform.

*Buying your kid the thing he's screaming for (and won't let go of) at the store: Yep, I'm that mom.

*Using your clothing as Kleenex: I probably don't need to elaborate.

*Elmo: I never could relate, but now, oh I TOTALLY GET IT. Mornings without Elmo, well, they're just not good. (Still, though, I do have some standards: We're a Barney-free household.)

What's on your list?