Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chocolate Cake To Go

The three month long family birthday season has come to an end. I didn't make Monkey Boy's 13th birthday cake--I left that to the good folks at New Seasons given that it had to serve 50 people at his bar mitzvah party. The Dark Lord got a classic chocolate layer cake which was notable in that it was devoured in under 10 minutes by a herd of teenage boys, some of whom had never, or so they told me, had a home baked cake before. I this possible? How sad. I've already promised one of them that I'd bake his birthday cake next year.

The Princess turned six last week and we celebrated with a beach trip. Relatives from both sides of the family joined us at Neskowin where the weather simply refused to cooperate. In short stretch of time the weather went from cool and misty to downright wet and rainy. Our potato chips grew soggy, sand stuck to everything, and we were all shivering by the time we packed it in and headed to my parents' hotel room.

But here's what went right: the birthday cake. I knew I couldn't schlep an iced, layered cake to the beach with any success but the birthday girl had asked from something of a chocolate-orange variety. What to do? Happily, Nigella saved the day with the Pantry Shelf Chocolate-Orange cake.

This cake is admittedly sturdy, but it's also delicious. There's an entire jar of marmalade stirred into the batter making for a cake that's slightly tart and chewy. I added a bit of extra sugar knowing that a 6 year old has slightly different tastes than us old folks, but it still wasn't too sweet.

I suppose one could frost this cake but it's not necessary. A simple dusting of powdered sugar did the trick this time around.

You'll find the recipe here. I hope you give it a try because it's very tasty.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How Rich Am I?

I don't feel rich. Not at all.

A few years ago, when real estate was hopping and my sweetie was bringing home the big, fat checks I felt pretty comfortable. We were finally "doing well". We had money to spare. We rented beach houses, always bought organic, didn't think a whole lot about buying stuff, lent money to friends without worrying about getting it back (though we mostly did) and even put a fair amount away in savings.

These days, the paychecks are far slimmer and the expenses seem to multiply as the kids grow and grocery bills skyrocket along with the cost of gas and utilities. Then there's the ongoing effort to keep shoes on The Dark Lord's feet and make sure his ankles are covered. Man-clothes are a lot spendier than boy-clothes.

And it's almost September. We shell out a large sum for the kids' education in various programs. I'm looking at a three week break (good) which means missing a paycheck (bad). And the brakes just went out on my car. I had to reschedule my first brake appointment when my car wouldn't start due to a dead battery.

Thus I found myself up early to spend an hour knitting and watching CNN in the toxic fumes of our local tire shop's waiting room. Why yes, I was just a bit grumpy and not looking forward to shelling out money I didn't have. I'd given warning at Kateri Park that I might not make my Wednesday morning knitting gig with the residents and even though the car was fixed in time, I considered blowing it off. What I really wanted was to creep back home and make myself a proper breakfast and scowl at the newspaper.

But my conscience, such as it is, got the better of me and I made the trek across town. I was warmly received by Bella (not her real name), one of the few residents who's a native English speaker. She'd brought along Cheryl (also a native English speaker and also not her real name) who was also anxious to learn to knit. We chatted for a while before anyone else joined us.

It was immediately clear to me that both of these women have similar issues in terms of processing challenges and medications. I'm not sure what they take, but it makes them very languid with slightly slurred speech. I'm no psychiatrist but I suspect learning difficulties among other issues. Both are on public assistance, unable to work. It was tough going at first but Bella now derives great satisfaction from both the process of knitting and the resulting objects which she happily gifts to loved ones. I was delighted that she wanted to share this with her friend.

Cheryl asked me quite a few questions about my family, my job, my home. She wondered who was paying me to come across town to work with them. When I told her I was a volunteer she asked me, incredulously, "how rich are you?".

Which kind of floored me, honestly. Because of course I am. I forget that when I can't figure out how to pay for my dental work or when I have to decide between organic vs regular (cheap) milk for my kids. But I have have so much to be grateful for and that hit me like a much needed smack in the face today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Enough Already!

I keep getting these sneaky calls from the Obama campaign (which manage to circumvent my caller ID) that are driving me crazy. Isn't it enough to say he's got my vote? Apparently not. They want money and even after I declare my hard core ambivalence to Obama, they seem to think I'd be a good campaign volunteer and just keep pushing.

And they won't give up when I promise my vote. They keep trying to talk me into that starry-eyed place so many Obama supporters seem to get to. These callers seem to need me to gush and swoon with them and I just can't go there. It's not a popularity contest after all.

Obama is getting my vote because, well, he's not John McCain. Just like every Democratic candidate since I turned 18 who got my vote simply because they weren't the Republican. As tired as I am of the Democrats and their eternal flailing to the center, I know that Republicans are far more dangerous. John McCain would draft my boys and get them killed.

Other than that, I can say that Obama is a great speaker and seems smart enough to surround himself with people who can compensate for his lack of experience like his bold, progressive, groundbreaking (not) choice of Biden as a running mate. Whatever happened to change?

He's got my vote, but not my enthusiasm and I'm not all that sure he can win. Millions of starry eyed college kids and young hipsters can't really compete with the big time Republican donors, rigged voting machines, and mean spirited swift-boating which we all know is coming.

Maybe I'm wrong about Obama. I hope so. I'd love nothing more than to hear "I told you so" from my Obama loving friends two years from now after he's has won by a landslide and had some time to show what he can do. Meanwhile I just can't bring myself to get too excited.

Note to Obama staffers: stop asking me for money. Don't ask me to work for the campaign. He's got my vote along with my fervent hope that he can carry it off...isn't that enough?

Friday, August 22, 2008

from 5 to 6

Such a big jump, isn't it? From 4 to 5 seemed big, but not nearly as big. Five is a big little girl but 6 is a little big girl and that's a whole different thing in my opinion. I went through a year's worth of photos and enjoyed seeing the changes. A big girl, indeed.

Such a big girl that she understands we need to re-schedule celebrations because of a bar mitzvah and a friend's birthday party on her actual day. A day early there was art-making with a small group of friends, and a day after we head to the beach to celebrate with family.

And....opening just in time for this milestone we have a collage installation in our dining nook. She carefully looked through all her collages and chose a few to display, including a number of 3-D pieces which are hanging from the ceiling. It looks remarkably festive. If anyone wants to check out the art of a just turned 6 year old, do stop by.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's for Breakfast

I have this weird relationship with eggs. I think I can't stand them and if you put a plate of scrambled eggs or an omelette in front of me, chances are good I'll have to walk away. On the other hand, there have been a few well loved but rather bizarre egg dishes in my life proving that I don't hate eggs, I just can't deal with them in their simplest forms.

My dad used to poach eggs in milk and serve them over shredded wheat with lots of butter, salt, and pepper. This used to horrify my husband, but now he's a convert as there's nothing better on a cold morning.

In college I frequently made and ate a dish I called SPEGS (slimy potato egg stuff) which involved cracking an egg or two over home fries with cheese and onions and was absolutely delicious as long as the egg wasn't too cooked, hence the slimy part. I know...weird.

When I was pregnant with my second child, a neighbor kept us well supplied with fresh eggs. I mostly avoided them until it occurred to me to hard boil them and make them into into tacos topped with liberal dollops of Mrs. Renfro's green salsa. This I never converted my husband to--he remains horrified to this day. However I once ate a classic dish of hard boiled eggs wrapped in tortillas in Yucatan so I wasn't not completely off base though I imagine no self-respecting Yucateco would have touched my crazy pregnant version.

Lately, in my ongoing attempt to eat more protein, I'm hitting the eggs again. Eggs can give me the same problem that nearly all meats do. I'm not really opposed to eating either, but the smell of them cooking tends to leave me too nauseated to think about eating. Aren't I just about the craziest person ever?

Anyway, the trick for me is to hide the eggs as much as possible. Lately I've been making a big mess in a skillet that has so much happening it's hard to even notice the eggs. I think the original inspiration for this dish came from Joe Esparza who, in the early days of his very successful restaurant, would make migas for me and it was an astounding breakfast. There's a great post here that goes into the nuances of various torn tortilla dishes should you care to dig deeper. We just tend to call the dish tortilla eggs.

My quickie version is rarely the same from one time to the next though corn tortillas, eggs, chiles, and cheese are all required components. Sometimes I like it on the mild side but lately smoky ground chipotle is making me very happy. Late summer additions have included diced zucchini and corn kernels. Though no real recipe is required for a seat-of-your-pants dish like this, my best approximation is here.

This dish has so much going on that the eggs pretty well get lost for me but the explosion of flavors and textures is spectacular. I'm sure you'll find a way to make tortilla eggs your own.

Magpie Meme-a

There's a lot swimming around in my head today but I don't seem to be able to put much into words. Instead, stealing blatantly from this blog (though the author encouraged readers to do so), I'll present what I believe is the first ever meme here at Magpie Ima. I'm sure you all want to learn these fascinating bits of trivia about me.

1. Do you like bleu cheese? Definitely! I love a good stinky cheese!

2. Have you ever smoked? Why yes. But then I quit and now I realize just how nasty smoking is. Yuck.

3. Do you own a gun? Nope.

4. What flavor Kool Aid was your favorite? I never drank KoolAid as a kid. Nor would I now but I do know it's great for dying wool.

5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments? No. But the dentist? That's another story!

6. What do you think of hot dogs? They scare me. What's really in them?

7. Favorite Christmas movie? I can't think of one.

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Coffee and fresh juice.

9. Can you do push ups? Not anymore.

10. What's your favorite piece of jewelry? Currently: my sparkly green Indian bangles.

12. Do you have A.D.D.? I think it's very likely.

13. What's one trait you hate about yourself? I tend to obsess over things way too much.

14. Middle name? Anne

15. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment. Fig tart is a perfectly good breakfast/I need to think about a birthday present for my soon-to-be-six daughter/I want a vacation!

16. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink? Water, coffee, fruit juice

17. Current worry? How to pay for everything that needs to be paid for in the next month.

18. Current hate right now? People who blithely tell me they can absolutely do whatever I need them to do while then going on to do something completely different.

19. Favorite place to be? Home….or the beach.

20. How did you bring in the New Year? Watching a movie.

21. Where would you like to go? India.

22. Name three people who will complete this? No idea.

23. Do you own slippers? Yes I do. Felted clogs made for me by a dear friend. I love them!

24 What shirt are you wearing? A greent-shirt

25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? Eew. That just sounds….eew. Line dried cotton for me.

26. Can you whistle? Yes

27. Favorite color? Bright spring green…or cranberry red… or eggplant purple…… Luckily there's no reason to pick just one!

28. Would you be a pirate? No.

29. What songs do you sing in the shower? Oddly enough, I don't sing in the shower. I sing in the car.

30. Favorite Girl's name? Tovah

31. Favorite Boy's name? Jonah, Isaac, Simon, David

32. What's in your pocket right now? Nothing. Weird.

34 Last thing that made you laugh? A ridiculous Bollywood movie from the 1970's.

35. Worst injury you ever had? In terms of pain, definitely when my hip went out a few weeks ago.

36. Do you love where you live? Yes.

37. How many TVs do you have in your house? 1

38. Who is your loudest friend? I have a lot of loud friends. I'm not sure who would win the prize.

39. Do you have any pets? 3-4 cats depending on whether our wanderer is visiting or not. And a bunch of fish.

40. Does someone have a crush on you? I somehow doubt it.

41. Your favorite book(s)? A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (and about 40 others…..)

43. Favorite Sports Team? I have no interest in sports whatsoever. None.

44. What song do you want played at your funeral? Wild klezmer music.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

First Camera

My little girl has decided that she's going to follow in my footsteps, I guess. Her grandmother gave her a simple digital camera as an early birthday gift and she has been having a great time. I think she has a pretty good eye, actually. She took pictures of everything today.

She even asked me to get her photos on the web so she now has her own Flickr page. Just you wait, she'll be blogging one day soon....

In other photo news, we saw this on the highway today:

The truck that was pulling this giant lion-thing had the name of a plumbing company on its side. I do not see the connection. Very odd.


It had to happen sooner or later but I'm still laughing.

You all know I watch lots of Bollywood movies. Much of the fun of these is the music and dancing. I have quite a few Hindi film songs on my trusty old iPod and find them to be among the best songs for driving around town. And yeah, there's a little dancing involved as I drive (which mortifies my children) but sometimes I just can't help it.

Last night I dropped my boys off with their cousin for a sleepover. Since The Spouse had taken The Princess for a visit to his mother-in-law I had an unheard of Night on My Own. As I drove to pick up a friend I was playing the soundtrack from Om Shanti Om with the windows rolled down as it was beastly hot. There I was at stop light, doing some upper body shimmy when a snazzy blue car pulled up beside me. A young woman, very clearly of Indian descent, leaned out the window, did a double take when she saw my very non-Indian face, laughed, and said "I love this song!". Her companion, the driver, then leaned across her and urged me to turn it up, both of them clearly laughing at me as I drove away.

I felt like such a poser, but it was funny, too. Little did they know I was headed off to a meal of delicious South Indian food. It was the busiest night I'd ever seen at Chennai Masala--it was packed. But the bustle only added to the tastiness of the meal. People think I am crazy for driving something like 30 miles from my home to eat at this place but once I take them there, they totally get it. And, oddly enough, I ran into an old friend I hadn't seen since high school there last night. Apparently she regularly makes the schlep as well.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Another bat mitzvah coming up this weekend and I was determined to hand make the gift. Sure, all the kids like money and gift cards, but this particular young woman carries her knitting in a patchwork bag I made for her sixth birthday. I knew she'd be up for something handmade and I am enjoying the reverse applique T-shirts quite a bit this summer.

I was a bit stuck for inspiration. I had this idea of somehow translating Jewish papercut designs into stencils but got so overwhelmed with ideas that I just let it go. Someday, though, I'm going to reconsider that. Instead I looked to her Torah reading for inspiration and nothing grabbed me. Eventually, though, I looked at the haftorah for her portion and came across a line I loved:

To whom then to liken God? Lift up your eyes and see: The One who created the stars, called them by name, by the greatness of God’s might and strong power each one appears.
Isaiah 40:25–26.

And that's how I ended up with a T-shirt full of stars.

Monday, August 11, 2008

If I were a better writer...

...I think I would have written this which pretty well sums it up for me.

Limping Along

The past few days have been just great. Friday afternoon The Dark Lord and I were at Best Buy where he plunked down a huge pile of cash for a new computer. While I have serious doubts about his ability to self-monitor his computer use, I was very proud of him for saving his money.

While we were in the store, however, I was struck by a vicious, intense pain rather as though unseen gremlins were stabbing me in the hip with huge swords. The pain was astounding and came out of nowhere. I managed to drive us home, crawl into the living room and collapse on the couch. By the time my doctor had called it was too late to see her given that it was late on a Friday afternoon. She prescribed bed rest, ice or heat (whichever felt better) and Valium and thinks it may be sciatica.

Friday night and Saturday were so much fun. This pain was like nothing I've ever felt, and I've pushed out two babies with no pain meds whatsoever. I was too dopey from the Valium to knit or read much, though I did see that the John Edwards story had finally hit the mainstream media. Talk about twisting the knife!

It struck me some time yesterday that sitting in a hot tub might be helpful so The Spouse hauled me over to a friend's house where a good long soak made a world of difference. I seem to be on the mend and can get around fairly well with my sporty new cane, the new must-have fashion accessory. And the Edwards for President bumper sticker has come off the car.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Love Boat

My husband and I were recently offered an all -expenses paid, kid-free 4 day getaway by my very generous parents. It was by no means a private getaway. Rather, we shared a Very Large Boat with my parents and over 2000 other vacationers, ranging from drunken frat boys and their scantily clad girlfriends to creaky old ladies in wheelchairs, all of whom appeared to be thoroughly enjoying their time at sea.

Since I rarely go anywhere or do anything out of the ordinary, this whole experience was quite a production. We awoke very early Friday morning when my parents arrived and the four of us took a taxi to the airport. I haven't even flown for over 10 years so the post-911 experience of being treated like criminal sheep at the airport was new to me. On the other hand, I guess I am still pretty much like a little kid when it comes to flying as that magical point where the plane tops the clouds is still thrilling for me.
We flew to San Francisco and then to LA where a very affable Armenian cab driver drove us to the dock blasting The Gypsy Kings all the way. Definitely the cab driver you want when going on vacation as he was determined to get the party started in his cab!
Arrival at the cruise ship was a great deal of standing in line, showing ID, and going through metal detectors. We were quite exhausted when the very peppy cruise ship photographers started snapping photos which they would later attempt to sell us for outrageous prices.

The photos of the ship gave no real sense of size but standing alongside and looking up I was astonished. There are 12 floors, 2 pools, a fitness center, numerous bars and lounges, restaurants, and hundreds of staterooms. The ship holds over 2200 passengers and 800 crew members. It's rather mind-boggling.
Once settled on the boat, we had our first experience in the bustling and diverse all-you-can-eat lunch buffet at the top of the ship. We weren't the only hungry ones so it was a bit overwhelming but my Nicoise salad was tasty and welcome after little more than airplane pretzels for most of the day.

We left LA at around 5:30 pm. I was up on the top deck at the front of the ship as we left the harbor and had a great view of everything including pelicans. I love those gawky yet graceful birds and these were the first of many we'd see.

Our dinners were delightful. We were seated during the first of two seatings in one of two enormous dining rooms but our window table was cozy and it didn't really feel as though we were eating with 400 other people though I think we were. The food was delicious and I was delighted to find Indian food included in the very diverse menus. One evening we were delighted to look out and find dolphins leaping through the waves beside the boat. Dolphins! A first for me and definitely one of the most memorable of moments.

We spent a few hours in Ensenada on Saturday. This was my first visit to Mexico after living there 20 years ago. We only walked through the waterfront area which was geared entirely toward separating tourists from their money. We picked up some little gifts for the kids and strolled about but it wasn't my favorite part of the trip. I looked everywhere for the big jars full of aguas frescas but there were none to be found. Lots of booze, though. Every little cantina had someone at the door urging us to come in and drink. Judging by the beer and sex-themed T-shirts on display the folks in Ensenada must have a rather dim view of English speaking tourists. I was happy to leave all that and retreat to our floating palace where we retired to deck chairs to read and enjoy frothy, fruity drinks while grubby, skinny kids continued to pester tourists back on land. A very weird juxtaposition indeed and one that wasn't at all comfortable for me.
I had similarly mixed feelings about the very servile staff on board the ship who seemed willing to cater to our every whim. These folks came from all over the world but I noticed that the Caribbean islands, China, India, Hungary, and The Philippines were all amply represented. These folks served our meals, cleaned our rooms, made the food, ran the ship, manned the various shops, and more. In addition, they would creep into our rooms when we were out to tidy up, leave chocolate on the pillows, and renew our linen supply by delivering cleverly sculpted towel creatures.
I am sure these were good-paying jobs for these folks and I was hoping they weren't too horribly abused by either the management or the passengers. I wondered if it wasn't payback from the dining room staff after the final dinner when dessert was served:
One night The Spouse and I dressed up, had another great meal, and danced to salsa and cumbia songs in the Latin lounge until the band quit playing. There were some truly fine dancers there and it was great to watch them strut their stuff. Dancing was followed by a late night stroll on the deck under the stars--very luxurious indeed. The remainder of the trip was spent in very deliberate relaxation as we alternately sat in deck chairs or strolled about taking in the endless view of the ocean. I missed my kids pretty much as soon as we left but it was very nice to have some interrupted time with the man I love.

It seemed to take forever to get home yesterday but we jumped right back in to normal life. It's very hard for me to believe that only 48 hours ago all I had to worry about was avoiding sunburn.