Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wonder Mom Powers Activate!

Anya was racing through the house, clambering onto our bed and jumping as high as she could shouting, "Super Anya!" and Alex, laughing joyously, joined her, exclaiming, "Super Alex!"

I knew that they needed superhero capes as soon as possible.

Georgia over at Puking Pastilles has a fantastic tutorial on how to make reversible capes for your little superheroes. I let the kids pick their favorite colors and drew up a simple "A" logo for them (though she has templates for Superman, Batman, Obama, and a couple of Superwhy! characters on her site). I picked up less than $10 of materials from the fabric store (and could have gotten away with less if I had been more organized about what felt and fusible webbing I already had in the Horrible Mess Craft Box). The whole project probably took less than 2 hours of working time, including the time it took me to try to remember how to use my sewing machine. And honestly, you could hand stitch it pretty easily. I played it fast and loose with the pattern and just used her tutorial as a guide, then drew up a pattern on a big piece of paper from the kids' easel, but you can also check out her etsy store and buy a pdf of the exact pattern with three sizes.

They've been wearing the capes constantly since I finished them, and the experience has re-inspired me to make more awesome stuff for imaginative play. Anyone have any favorite ideas?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

To All the Roller Girls I've Loved...

I was inspired by a friend's FB post about getting reacquainted with one's neglected blog, and although I've posted and raved all over these Internetz about my awesome roller girl, I'm going to do it here too.

Anya dragged out my old rainbow roller skates and with a delighted giggle and a wave of a dismissive hand when I cautioned her to be careful, balanced on one foot and climbed into the huge old things. Her arms out for balance and nary a stumble, she roll-walked across the living room, singing out, "Roller skates! Roller skates!" Here's some shots of her during the 45 minutes of roller skating that ensued- for those of you with toddlers, marvel at 45 minutes of ANYTHING!

Sure it's cool, and we always knew she was a crazy-coordinated little monkey, but her joy in those roller skates stirs a crazy happiness in me.

I remember my first pair of skates, black with purple laces, wheels and stoppers, so beautiful they made my heart hurt a little. My older sister who was the sun and the moon of my universe skated all the way to Berkeley High, speeding down from the North Berkeley hills and coasting all the way there. I skated in circles around the house, waiting for her to get home, hoping she would let me into her room and brush my hair and braid it so tight it brought tears to my eyes and let me watch her peer into the mirror critically and try on on earrings from her crazy beaded, feathery collection. She used to string little rubber animals at the end of 2 inch long beaded strands dangling from hooks and wear them in her ears and she was so cool and so beautiful I felt the way I did when I looked at my new black and purple roller skates.

While I waited for her to get home I would skate in circles on the hardwood floors of our big old house, my father was "taking a nap", sleeping off the Xanax and the crushing depression and the liquor and the pain and the rage; my mother was typing, always typing, clinical journal articles about the horrors of how people rule and crush and govern one another, books and papers always spread out around her like a fortress, she murmured, "You'd think it was boring. You wouldn't understand." when I skate up to her hopefully questioning. So I skated in lonely circles, living room to dining room to hallway to living room, my cool purple wheels thrumming against the floor and echoing through the wide cold house. My sister is breathless when she flies into the house, and she smells like cocoa butter and smoke and warmth. She admires my purple and black skates and notices my purple shirt and tells me to hold still while she yanks on my hair to pull it out of its bedraggled ponytail. I follow her wherever she goes and she is laughing on the phone and I hope that means that her friends are coming over, Carolyn has a voice and laugh that make the sun shine and Molly is so kind and beautiful I have suspected that she is actually one of the Greek goddesses we learned about, walking the earth in mortal form. But this time my sister is getting ready to leave, and I think about sneaking into her room after she's gone, weighing the heady bliss of sitting at her mirror opening the cocoa butter and inhaling the deep sweet smell while pretending to wear the dangly pig earrings that I covet, weighing that potential joy against the risk of making her angry and being shut out of her presence if she catches me. When she tries to leave the house I sit on her foot and wrap my arms around her leg and make her drag me to the door while I plead with her to stay. She alternates between guilty apologies and irritated frustration and finally pries me off. So I sit on the floor and lace my skates tight and start skating in slow circles around the empty house.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Days Cooking

Long days since I was here last. It's been snowing here and I am overwhelmed by the thought of writing about parenting my two year olds. I will ease my way back by writing what is easy and comes naturally, in the warmth of the kitchen.

South American Pork and Tomatillo Stew has become one of my favorites recently. It is a lovely dish when you are puttering at home, with no intense periods of prep work, just occasional check-ins of the stew/braise. You can make it without the meat and with veggie broth if you are serving vegetarian or with chicken if you do not eat pork.

Put your heaviest dutch oven over medium-high heat and add just a tiny bit of oil (depending, of course on what sort of pan you are using). I use a pork loin, a couple of pounds, though you could easily use a cheaper cut of meat like the butt/shoulder I just don't like the extra fat and connective tissue, and cut it into rough 1-inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper and toss into the pan, taking care to only fill the surface of the pan about 2/3 of the way so that the meat will brown nicely. If it is overcrowded the meat will steam and boil in liquid released, and will not get the browned slightly crusted exterior we want. Let the meat brown on all sides, then remove it to a large bowl while you brown the remaining batches.

While the meat browns (and it will brown better if you don't fuss with it. If you are the fussing type, these tasks will give you something to do so you aren't so tempted!). Chop an onion, I prefer sweet Vidalia onions, but a plain brown onion is fine. Take a dozen or so tomatillos and husk them. I like to rinse them under hot water to remove the husks, as there is a sticky-waxy coating on the skin that cna be a pain. Chop them into chunks once they are husked. Press some garlic, a clove or two or four, depending on your tastes. You can chop some tomatoes or used canned diced (make sure they have no added spices). If you like spicy, seed and mince a jalepeno or other hot pepper. All of these are the for the next round of browning.

Transfer the browned meat to a bowl, add a swirl of oil to the pan and add the vegetables. You can build a slightly tastier version by adding the tomatillos first, letting them brown slightly, adding the onions and letting them brown slightly, then adding the garlic and pepper for 30-60 seconds before adding the tomatoes, but if you are rushed or there are children hollering or deadlines to be made or you just can't be bothered for multiple steps you can just add them all together. Let them cook for a while till the onions are soft and the flavors have melded- this is forgiving, 5 minutes will be fine, but 15 minutes won't hurt.

Next pour about 1/2 to 3/4 of a beer in - I've tried all sorts, use what you have and experiment! Then add a cup of orange juice and a cup or so of chicken broth. It's very easy to make and freeze homemade chicken stock, but Swanson's Low Sodium Chicken Broth in aseptic packaging is good too. Then add the pork back in and some salt and pepper- not too much salt, because the beans will add salt at the end, but you want a bit to flavor the meat as it stews.

Cover and cook on low for about 1.5 hours. Longer is okay. Forgiving.

While the stew is working its magic, you can start preparing the rest of the stuff to go along with it. I usually serve this with basmati rice (not authentic, but the nutty taste of basmati is just delicious with these flavors); a bunch of add-ins the eat along with the stew: sliced avocado, roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and fried plantains or bananas. On the side I like to make an orange and red onion salad. I find that basmati is best when sauteed in a bit of butter and pressed garlic, then add water and salt and cover first with a clean kitchen towel and then with the pot cover (to soak up the steam so that it doesn't condense on the bottom of the kid and drop back down, which will encourage stickiness). For the add-ins just slice the avocado and drizzle with lime juice and salt, and buy your pepitas already roasted and salted. For the salad, slice the oranges and red onions into thin rounds and dress with a bit of olive oil, lime juice and salt and pepper. Chop some cilantro to add to any of it for those who like it- I love it, but some people think it tastes soapy and they won't like the dish if even a bit is added. Slice the plantains or bananas the long way about 1/4- 1/2 inch thick, pop a mixture of butter and oil into a pan and add the slices when the butter is done foaming, cook till you get a nice deep caramel brown color. You can dust with a bit of sugar and salt for an extra bang if you like. Do the avocado at the last minute, right before serving since it will go brown. But let's get back to the last part of the stew before I get any farther ahead of myself.

Check the meat. When you poke a fork into it does it almost fall apart into separate pieces? If not let it cook some more, with the lid off now to evaporate some of the water and concentrate the flavors. If it is tender, give the broth a taste. Is it intense and delicious or is it a bit watery? Cook with the lid off for a bit. Add a can of black beans with their liquid and try again. Adjust your seasonings: for flat tastes try adding salt, for muddy tastes you can add a bit of lemon juice, for watery tastes you can let it get more concentrated with longer cooking.

Serve the stew over the rice and encourage your eaters to try the add-ins. A perfect bit is one that combines the tender pork, a nutty crunch of pepita, the rich smooth avocado, and the intense broth soaked rice and maybe a little burst of orange from the salad. Yum.