31 January 2014

The Fear of Cooking and My New Adventures

I have said on many occasions that TheHusband did not marry me for my domestic capabilities. Stop laughing. You all know it's true. I'm not one to clean the house (hiring a cleaning service has done a lot in keeping our marriage sane). I will do laundry with minimal complaints, but I hate hate hate putting it away (I never said my behavior was rational). I don't care if you put your shoes on the furniture (within reason -- not the dining room or kitchen tables...). And I don't like to cook.

Cooking, in fact, makes me nervous. I've written about this before. The process of finding a recipe, making sure I have the correct ingredients, and actually creating the food brings me no joy. It stresses me out. We eat out or bring in take out (I realize that phrasing is weird, but you know what I mean) way more than we should for the sake of our wallets and our health. I work full time (and not infrequently in the evening and on weekends), so coming home and cooking something at 6 pm, after a full day's work is daunting. To be honest, I like washing dishes better than cooking. You'd think that maybe TheHusband would cook, since I will do dishes without complaint. But he likes cooking even less than I do, and he has even fewer culinary skills than I do (yes, that is possible and actually true. He'd agree.). So that tradeoff is a no-go.

TH and I are firmly in "middle age", no matter what definition you use (and no matter what we wish to think). Therefore, we really do need to take more care with our diet and eat more healthfully (healthily?). A diet consisting of lots of restaurant food is mostly antithetical to a healthy diet, unless it involves lots of veggies and salads. Which ours does not. Also, it is important that ThePinkThing learns to eat well. She likes veggies and salad, and we should encourage that. TheHusband, OTOH, doesn't really do veggies. He's a meat-and-potatoes-hold-the-potatoes kinda guy. And my gluten-hypersensitivity also complicates things. (God, I miss good bagels and pizza. A lot.)

So, on the one hand, I'm scared of cooking, and meal choices in my household are fraught with the minefields of food sensitivities and narrow or conflicting palates. On the other hand, we need to eat more healthful foods, I'm bored of my current menu (and, believe me, I'm being kind calling it a menu), and takeout/restaurant food is more expensive. And I don't have a housekeeper or wife to do this for me. (I've joked many times over the years that my BFF is my wife. I wish it were the truth. She loves to read books as much as I do, likes similar foods, watches HGTV with me, and likes different flavors of Ben and Jerry's so we don't fight over the ice cream. And she is a wonderful cook. But she lives on a different continent, so I can't depend on my wife to fix the culinary problems in my house. But I digress.)

In that prior blogpost, I listed several things that my cookbook-writer aunt suggested I do to improve my (lack of) culinary skillz:
  1. Get a grill
  2. Experiment with soups
  3. Brown the meat before cooking in a sauce
  4. Move beyond potato bread
  5. Buy a small freezer
  6. Try recipes (there are a million-bazillion recipes online)
Out of these six recommendations, I've accomplished one (#3), failed at one (#4 -- TPT really likes potato bread, and I'm now stuck with the GF stuff, so it doesn't matter), kinda done one (#6 -- I have tried a few recipes, really, I'm not fibbing), and not done the others (#1, 2, and 5).

This all leads to Neurondoc's Culinary Adventures (in 3-D?). This week, I've surfed the web looking for recipes to widen our household's food horizons. And solicited ideas on how to make weekday meal prep easier. I don't want to spend the entire weekend buying, preparing, and cooking food.

One of my friends recommended that I drag my crockpot out of purgatory. (Yes, my house house has a purgatory. It actually has several purgatories, most of which are high up out of my reach. This particular purgatory is the only-occasionally-visited cabinet above the refrigerator...) I've found several recipes that I think the three of us will enjoy. I will be cooking some over the weekend. We'll eat the meals (outcomes? products? experimental results?) next week, and I'll report back.

01 April 2013

Girls get to have adventures, too

I found a cool website called amightygirl.com which has "the world's largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls." That's a good thing, because puberty is just around the corner. I'm not looking forward to surviving it a second time, even at once removed. I'm always on the look out for stuff for ThePinkThing (who is strenuously objecting that moniker, since she no longer likes pink, but anyway...). They have book recommendations, which are many and varied. That's all fine and good, but I like knowing what my friends (or their daughters) have read or are reading. And so, I asked the Facebook Mind for book suggestions for TPT.

This request arose from a comment she made after reading two books: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. She wondered why boys always get to have the really fun adventures in books. I remember wondering exactly the same thing, when I was girl and around her age. Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden weren't cool, Little Women was BORING, and The Secret Garden lost me when it got all religious in the latter half. I never got an answer to my question or a list of good books where girls had the adventures and boys were extraneous. Eventually, I started reading my mom's adult SF/Fantasy books and though I still noted the dearth of smart, adventurous girls, I didn't look specifically for girl-centric books.

So I asked the FB Hivemind on behalf of TPT. I got a bunch of cool suggestions from family, friends and friends of friends. I didn't include the ones where the main character is a boy (only girls allowed in this club, dudes), though some of the books have adventures with mixed company. I'm pretty positive that TPT will not enjoy some of them (we can forget Little Women and The Secret Garden), and others are too advanced for her at this point (the Sabriel series and The Book Thief). I read Julie of the Wolves when I was about 10 and was completely freaked out by a specific scene. I know she will be, too, and will hold off on that one for another year or two, though it would seem exactly the kind of book she wants. TPT now has reading material for the next couple of years...

Please note that these were suggestions from a variety of people, and I have not read many of them. Some I've added. Also, my categorization are, perhaps, a bit arbitrary.

A Matter of Magic by Patricia Wrede
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
A Wrinkle in Time (and sequels) by Madeleine L'Engle
Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess by George O'Connor
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison
Girl Genius by Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio
Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell
Holly Vesper books by Lloyd Alexander
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede
The Amulet series by Kazu Kibushi
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Courageous Princess by Rod Espinosa
The Courtney Crumrin series by Ted Naifeh
The Fairy Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, Book 1) by Michael Buckley and Peter Ferguson
The Genius Files series by Dan Gutman (comment from TPT: The main characters in this book are siblings, and the brother is the ringleader, not the sister.)
The Girl Who Owned a City by OT Nelson
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
The Gurgazon series by Ray Fawkes
The Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
The Runaways series (only the ones by Brian Vaughn)
The Sabriel series by Garth Nix
The Strictest School in the World (and sequels) by Howard Whitehouse
The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett
Alana: The First Adventure (and sequels) by Tamora Pierce
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
The Oz books by L. Frank Baum
The Oz graphic novel versions by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (and sequels) by Joan Aiken
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos (and sequels) by RL LaFevers
Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiMillo
Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
Bridge to Teribithia by Katherine Patterson
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright and Joe & Beth Krush
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
The Case of the Missing Marquess: an Enola Holmes mystery (and sequels) by Nancy Springer
The Great Gillie Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
The Wanderer by Sharon Creech
To the Summit by Claire Rudolf Murphy

Anne of Green Gables (and sequels) by LM Montgomery
Charlotte's Web by EB White
Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene
National Velvet by Enid Bagnold
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Rescuers by Margery Sharp
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Trixie Belden books by Julie Campbell

TPT has read A Wrinkle in Time, 10 of the Series of Unfortunate Events books, the first Girl Genius book, the entire Amulet series, the Runaways series, Zita the Spacegirl, Charlotte’s Web, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Little Witch, The Courageous Princess, and Matilda. She’s tried Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, and The Secret Garden and didn't finish.

I've read A Wrinkle in Time (and all of the sequels plus some of her other books), The Courageous Princess, A Matter of Magic, the first Girl Genius book, Charlotte's Web, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Matilda, Harriet the Spy, a whole bunch of Nancy Drews, The Secret Garden, Podkayne of Mars, Sorcery and Cecelia (and its sequels), Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, The Blue Sword (and its prequel), The Harper Hall trilogy (plus the rest of the Pern books), The Sabriel series, all of the Oz books, the graphic version of The Land of Oz, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (and 1 sequel), Thirteenth Child, the Anne of Green Gables series (plus the majority of her other books; The Blue Castle is my favorite), Julie of the Wolves, Little Women (and its two sequels), Little Witch, National Velvet, Pippi Longstocking, The Courageous Princess, The Goose Girl, Eight Cousins, and a few Trixie Beldens.

10 November 2012

Stinkily Evil Mother?

I let my kid eat something that was pretty much the most horrifying thing I'd ever eaten. Does that make me a bad mother?

I have a friend, John the Scientist, who is (perhaps pathologically) interested in (and/or entertained by) exposing his friends to "food" that is just barely on the correct side of edible. Seriously. You can't imagine some of the stuff he's sent to mutual friends, at least one of which required a hazmat suit. I tried stinky tofu with him and survived, as did our friend Nathan. Barely.

So what does it say about me, that I went back to the same restaurant with JTS, but this time I brought along TheHusband and ThePinkThing? Specifically so that TPT could try stinky tofu. Please note that there was no coercion on either my part or JTS's. He is willing to offer the opportunity, but he doesn't push. TPT wanted to try stinky tofu. I'm not sure why. When I asked I got a garbled answer that boiled down to "I want to taste how bad it is." I'm not one to prevent the kid from trying new foods. She's got a reasonably wide palate for a 9 year-old, especially since TheHusband is a "meat and potatoes, hold the potatoes" kinda guy. The other food I had had at Bob's Noodle 66 was reasonably good (though the jellyfish had an odd consistency). So we went last night. Even though he couldn't smell it, TheHusband said "NO WAY", although he did try everything else we ordered. I also bailed on the stinky tofu. Oncewasfinethankyouverymuch.

TPT tried it. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Next time JTS is in town, we will go to a regular old Mexican restaurant. :-)

02 November 2012

Childhood memories swept away

I totally realize that I look back at summer family vacations in Atlantic City and Margate, NJ through the rose-colored glasses of fond memories. When I think of the beach, I don't think about the more beautiful beaches I've been to as an adult, I think of the Jersey shore with all of its problems.

My father grew up in Philadelphia. Atlantic City was the summer play place for Philly residents when he was a kid (and the nearby towns remain so even now). He spent the majority of his summers in Atlantic City with his older brother and mother. They would rent rooms in a boarding house or a small apartment and spend the entire summer there. My grandfather, who worked 6 days each week selling and delivering furniture, would take the train down on Saturday after work, then back on Sunday night or Monday morning.My dad has a boatload of stories about his summers in "AC", including seeing parts of the boardwalk float down New Hampshire Avenue during the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944.

My mom, on the other hand, is from northern NJ. She didn't go to the shore each summer like my dad, and she certainly didn't have the vivid stories that my dad did. North Jerseyans didn't go all the way down to AC for summer vacations; they tend to go to Seaside Heights, Long Beach Island, and other slightly more norther NJ shore towns. That was true when I was a kid -- we were the only family from my town that would regularly go down the shore (never "to the beach") to AC instead of the closer shore towns. But Atlantic City had lures for my brother and me that no other Jersey shore town had -- our grandparents and our cousins. My cousins are close in age to me. Laura is 11 months older, Rob 4 months younger, and Rich 3 years younger. My brother was in the middle there (2 years younger than me). Five kids within 4 years of each other, a mix of boys and girls, a mix of squabbling, teasing, playing and love.

Until they became sick in the late 1990's, my father's parents summered in Atlantic City or Margate, NJ. Initially, they rented a small apartment at the "Biarritz", which sounds much, much more posh in name than it was in reality. It was an old building on Iowa Ave, on the second block from the beach, right near where the Tropicana is now. The elevator was ancient, and endlessly fascinating to two kids from the suburbs -- it had a gate that swung across, and a door that opened out. Not the sliding solid metal doors on every other elevator we'd been on. The place was very small, too small for my parents, brother, and me to stay. So, every summer until 1979, we'd spend 5-7 days at the Ascot motel. Even in the early 70's it was a bit of a fleabag, but it had some great points: it was less than a block from my grandparents' place, it was on the beach block, and it had a pool. A pool! I learned to dive at the Ascot (there are some old home movies somewhere to support this). I learned to play "Marco Polo" in the pool at the Ascot. I'm sure that I ran around the pool (NO RUNNING!!) and pushed my brother in, too.

The beach in Atlantic City was fabulous for kids back then: wide, sandy (duh), with crashing waves that weren't too big. We spent hours there with our cousins -- making sand castles and drip castles, playing in the shallows, "jumping the waves" with our fathers, having sand fights. I remember (vividly) being pinched by a crab on my foot (and crying) and another year seeing my cousin Rob get pinched on his butt by a crab.

Then there are my memories of the food on and off the beach. I remember waiting desperately for the ice cream man to come and getting to pick something out. My favorites were Italian ice (lemon) or frozen chocolate covered bananas. We had plenty of snack food (courtesy of my Jewish grandmother), most of which was unhealthy. The first time I ate Pringles was on the beach in AC (potato chips in a can -- I'd never seen such a thing!). I swear that Pringles were invented just for kids at the beach. My mother fought the losing battle to make us eat something good for us on the beach. I don't ever remember packing lunch to eat on the beach, though. At some point it would become obvious that we (my three cousins, brother and I) were hungry. So we would schlep up to the boardwalk and eat hot dogs or hamburgers and fries or other equally nutritious fare from a shop or stand. Then it was back to the beach for more play. At some point we'd trek back to the Ascot for pool time.

We ate at certain restaurants that each summer. Abe's Oyster House comes immediately to mind. It closed years ago, but I distinctly remember all of us standing and waiting for a table, watching the lobsters in the tank. The White House Sub Shop was a perennial favorite. If there is any food for which I'd go off the gluten free diet, it is a cheesesteak hoagie from The White House.

And then there was the boardwalk of old. Not the boardwalk of now or of last week. The boardwalk of the 1970s and 80s. Shops that sold t-shirts, frozen custard, and knick-knacks. James Salt Water Taffy, where we would always pick up a few boxes to take home (peanut and molasses were my favorite flavors; the licorice ones were avoided at all cost). Steel's Fudge, where simply entering and smelling was glorious. And then there were the arcades. Specifically FunSpot and Playcade, where we played skee-ball mostly, trying to rack up enough tickets to get a good prize, not a crappy one. We'd usually schlep to Ocean City (NJ, never MD) to go to one (or both) of the amusement parks one evening. Then we'd fall into bed completely worn out, only to wake the next morning for more of the same.

Eventually my uncle bought a little house in Margate, on the second beach block, and my grandparents summered there for a bunch of years. It was a house. A house a little over a block from the beach down the shore! We continued the tradition of a week or so prior to school starting with the family at the shore. Amazing how many people you can fit into a house at the shore -- my grandparents had their own room on the first floor. Upstairs were a full bathroom and two bedrooms, one big and one small. Laura and I shared the little bedroom. There was room for a double bed and a little dresser and that's about it. The other bedroom was much bigger and housed my uncle, cousins and brother. My parents got stuck with the couch in the living room. 10 people, 3 bedrooms and 2 full baths -- heaven in many ways, for the kids, at least. We found new restaurants in Margate but still went to the arcades and the White House. And Lucy lived in Margate. We would walk down the beach each summer and say hi. Eventually we grew up and stopped having family vacations down the shore.

TheHusband is from Ohio. He doesn't like the beach. He doesn't have memories of this kind of vacation to lure him to the Jersey Shore. His mental image of Atlantic City focuses on the casinos and the gambling. We've gone down the shore as a family once, when ThePinkThing was 18 months old. She had no cousins to play with. I had no cousins there to hang with. It rained 5 of the 7 days we were there. TheHusband has expressed no interest in going back again.

Now I'm not sure we can.

09 July 2012

Reading vs. listening

I'm partway through the audiobook version of A Civil Campaign -- listening on my way to/from work for the past week or so. This book was amazingly fun on many levels. It was released in 1999, somewhat early times in the world of the internet. Ebooks didn't exist. The sale of ARCs on eBay wasn't quite so pervasive yet.

Baen Books did the unthinkable -- it released the first few (5?, 10?) chapters online for free in the months preceding the official release. The slavering fans waited eagerly for each snippet during that period, eagerly checking Baen's site. (Okay, fine, I'm projecting, because that's what I did...) At that point in my life, I belonged to the Bujold ListServ, back when I had no kid and more free time. The local DC area listees would occasionally get together to discuss LMB books, other SFF books, and any other topic under the sun. We even dragged pseudo-locals to our get-togethers, like Doug Muir, who lived on the island of Saipan at that time, but happened to be visiting family in the DC area. It happened that the local listees met at a restaurant in Northern VA on the after a new bit of the book was released. It was the scene where Miles is discussing Count VorMuir's shenanigans with uterine replicators and little girls (not really as bad as what you might be thinking...). Count VorMuir is a venal, sneaky, self-serving character, and though only a bit player in the book, is quite memorable. Lois "tuckerized" Doug into Count VorMuir, which was especially amusing becuase Doug is none of those things. Regardless of the appropriateness of the characterization, we took great pleasure in making Doug read that scene aloud to the group (10 or 15 of us) in the restaurant. We definitely caused a ruckus by laughing and carrying on.


I loved reading the book and have reread most of it over the years (except for that incredibly painful dinner party scene...). As a book, it is funny, painful, introspective, and filled with subtle (and not so sublte) action. In the book, Lois uses 5 characters as viewpoint characters, with notably different "voices" for each one. I liked Miles and Ekaterin best on the initial read and the rereads, with Ivan third, then Mark, and last Kareen. What has struck me during this audiobook experience, is that I like Miles's voice the least and Ivan's the most. Perhaps because his comments are just so damn funny, or because I just finished Ivan's book.

Have any of you out ther in blog-land listended to a book with multiple viewpoints like this and came away liking one of the other characters better in the audio version vs. the print version? Or even in books with single character viewpoint?

Regardless, I'm very much enjoying getting to and from work right now and am ever hoping for some traffic to make my ride longer...

07 July 2012

Letters from camp

ThePinkThing is finishing up two weeks at sleep away camp -- her first time at overnight camp. She is coming home tomorrow. We got a total of 2 letters and 1 postcard up until today, when we found 3 letters and 1 post card in the mail. Apparently the stationery she picked out needed more than a single stamp and they were rejected (and eventually made it back to her for resending). There were some really funny ones in the bunch today. I've even reproduced the spelling errors, which I find sort of charming. I will say that I'm offended that TheHusband's letters had stickers all over them, and mine had nary a one. Humph!


Dear Mommy,

I miss you allready. it is really fun. The first day was grate, wish you were hear.



Dear Mom,

today I'm going to wher my whit dress for shabot. I cant belive my first week is allready coming to a end.

P.S. The lunch ladys are nice


Dear dad, today we saw a bear in the forest. We allsow saw a rainbow. I hope a bear is not at the bottom of the rainbow.

Dear mom,

I'm writing this pstcard because they have letter writing time. It doesnt count as a letter

Dear Dad,

Yesterday I got to feed gouats and pet a rabit! He was so soft. I only have a week left. and I'm about half way throw Hary Potter.

Love you,


I can't wait until tomorrow, then I'll get the full scoop!

24 May 2012

No room for the kid!

Here is what ThePinkThing's bed looks like when it is neatly made and all of her stuffed animals are on it. Most of the time, though, they live in "The Pit" (the floor between the bed and wall). I like how there are giant germs and a few neurons in the mix.