19 November 2009

Hole hearted baking

I've giggled a few times at the blurb introducing the recipe for a basic yellow cake in my Gourmet cookbook. It begins, "One month, when we ran a story by the food historian Laura Shapiro about the pernicious effects of boxed cake mixes on the American home baker, we decided to provide an object lesson on the virtues of baking from scratch." I love this sentence so much. First, "pernicious" -- such a strong word. I looked it up to confirm just how powerful it is; m-w.com defines it as "highly injurious or destructive: deadly." Deadly! Well, I agree, I suppose; the existence of box mixes convinces people that baking a cake from scratch is much trickier and time-consuming than it actually is, so that mixes are -- OK, fine, Gourmet -- killing potential scratch bakers. I also love that it conjures an image of the American home baker as an endangered species threatened by Betty and Duncan. Dramatic, but, again, I agree there's been damage. As a pancake fanatic, I probably feel even more strongly about Bisquick's (if I were a Gourmet editor I'd insert the word "nefarious" here) power over the would-be pancake maker. Finally, I love Gourmet's generosity and public service mindedness in providing an "object lesson" on the "virtues" of scratch baking. Please welcome, Rev. Gourmet of the Fundamentalist Church of Baking!

I agree with the Reverend on core tenets, but find her elitist and unwelcoming. I much prefer scratch baking myself (but let me be clear: I eat any baked good served to me, whether from scratch, a mix, or a store, with gusto), and I think not missing a lot of boxes and mixes eased our transition to living here somewhat, because I haven't had to modify my cooking much.

Of course the advantage of those cake mixes is that they're designed not to fail. Even when the instructions are followed imprecisely, they turn out OK. Unlike, say, this:

That was my first attempt at a treat for Lily to take to school on her birthday. A crust formed on the cake; its doneness was difficult to determine; I couldn't send a raw cake to school; I had a hard time testing it; suddenly, it looked like that.

Thanks to a very kind kitchen assistant who cleaned as I started anew, Lily ended up taking a plate of some pretty cute butterfly cookies, rather than a heart-shaped cake with a hole in its center, to share with her classmates. But ever since I've had this song in my head: yeah, this one.

A friend sent me a link to Cake Wrecks this week (thanks, Megan!), and I wanted to share my own, less funny, wreck. (This site is hilarious -- my favorites so far: Advice to the new couple, and Curious George.)

16 November 2009

Amiens, amen

We drove to Amiens, France, for the day over fall break, to see the cathedral there. It is the tallest Gothic church and the largest church in France. There's a lot of photos and drawings of the cathedral on a Columbia University website -- thanks, Anne, for sending that link months ago.

I studied this in the art history class I took. If I had taken the course before senior year, it wouldn't have been the only one. "Renaissance and Baroque Art," the syllabus read, but we never made it into Baroque.

My professor, David Goodwin passed away last year, or I would send him a note of thanks.

That four months of study has enriched our travels so much. I don't recall many facts, but I know what we should see.

I remember the names, and so we go and stand in awe of them.

Thank you, Professor Goodwin!

12 November 2009

Let's bowl, let's bowl, let's rock and roll

Looking for ideas for outings the other day, I came across this site, which, if you are in a bad mood, you should navigate to immediately. I prescribe Bowlmaster to cure your ills and have you laughing in no time! Having the sound on is key. The best part is that the narration begins again every time you click on a new page.

11 November 2009

A visit!

Grandpa Al and Grandma Julie (my dad and step-mom) came to visit last month. Hooray! Visitors!

We went to Antwerp, which we hadn't really explored before, and which has a very cool train station.

Our nicer camera broke shortly before their visit so we haven't been taking as many photos, so most of the documentation of their time here is by my dad and therefore, unfortunately, of us, not them.

My dad took all the photos in this post except for the first two, one of which was taken by Matthew, the other by me. You can tell who took which not only because the other person is in the photograph, but also based on the quality of the composition, e.g., Soren was also posing in the train station shot, but was cut off by poor framing.

When we were in Antwerp we went to the aquarium.

Another afternoon we strolled around Chateau de la Hulpe (grounds of a mansion just ten minutes from our house with ponds and lots of trails).

Grandma and Grandpa gave the kids some early Christmas presents, including a 'cooter:

and a dolly.

I wish we had video of Clara squealing in delight and trying to tear the doll away from Matthew as he unfastened the twisties holding it in the package. The girl loves dolls, and Lily has been quite kind to share Larry, Baby Jane Squash, and Willis (formerly known as Squash Two)* with her, but now Clara has her very own. I can't wait to hear what names she gives her dolls!

[*Actual names Lily has given her dolls. In recent times Lily has chosen more typical names, like Gracie and Hannah. But around ages two and three, she was more outré with them, which continues to bring us much delight. Since Clara has been hauling Larry around, I wondered aloud whether I should stop referring to her (yes, her) as Larry and let Clara rename the doll, but Matthew was adamant about maintaining the name Larry.]

They saw Lily in action. Rawr!

Her team is the White Lions. The first day of practice they grouped up and had to pick a team name based on their jersey color. Our little brainstormer apparently suggested this name. Maybe because of what we're always listening to at home -- this song, and of course, this one too.

Dad and Julie even watched the kids and Matthew and I had an overnight in the city. WOOHOO! We were giddy with freedom. (We tried to get a nice picture of just the two of us, but we are so dweeby in all of them that they are not fit for the World Wide Interweb. We look slap happy, as we do in every photo that's just us, and I gain five pounds in my face with aggressive smiling. Instead, here's a shot my dad got.)

Normally I touch my husband when I hug him, but I'm air hugging here because there's pizza dough on my hands.

Clara regaled us with her piano stylings (see one of Lily's dolls in hand)

and continued to give us stern face.

We are so thankful for our parents' willingness to get over here to see us. I've had ex-pat friends talk about the guilt trips they've received from their parents about living far away, and we have never had a hint of that from any of ours. I think they'd prefer us to be closer, but they have been so supportive and excited for this opportunity for us. What a gift that is.

One last thing -- Grandma and Grandma did stories at bedtime, and one night my dad was reading a book about trucks to Soren. Under a photo of a tractor, it reads, "How do you think you get into this tractor?" and my dad said, "The steps!" and Soren corrected him, "In English we call those stairs." I wonder what language he thought Grandpa Al was speaking?

09 November 2009

Birthday girl

Five days old

Five years old

Sentiment is running high at our house today -- five seems old. It's a quarter of the way to twenty.

Slow down, sweet miss!

04 November 2009

Fall Vacation: The Roses and Thorns Edition

(Alternate titles include The Joy and Pain Edition and The Fire and Rain Edition, but I choose roses and thorns in memory of residence life weekly check-ins.) We're halfway through fall break -- the kids have been off school since last Friday. Here are some highlights:

Halloween fun
Roses: Dressing up for a party at new friends' house on the 30th; Lily thinking going to IKEA, playing in Smaland (kids' play area), and eating meatballs and ice cream cones on the 31st is a "Halloween treat"; also:

Thorns: Not getting to trick or treat at all the kids' grandparents' homes and have them marvel at the hilarious cuteness on display, in other words, not being around family members who are nearly as biased as we are in their delight in our children.

Roses: Feeling capable to take all three kids in water safely by myself; Soren gaining confidence; mighty Clara donning water wings, walking unsteadily but fearlessly in water up to her chin, scrambling up a four-foot tall plastic slide in the kiddie pool and getting a faceful of water as she whooshed down, every time -- what is she, three years old?!; Lily doing backflips and bellyflops and generally throwing herself around like a flying squirrel in the water.

Thorn: Two of the four of us urinating on the floor in the changing area afterwards.

Seeing UP
Roses: Experiencing an outing with just the big kids (Matthew stayed home with Clara); lots of firsts: Lily and Soren's first movie theater experience, our first Belgian theater experience (assigned seating! I like it!), seeing a movie with Dutch subtitles for the first time, and all three of us wearing 3D glasses for the first time; letting the kids get little cones of bulk candy, warning them to not eat too much, and then observing their sweet cautiousness and utter lack of over-indulging, so that movie theater treats are lasting us all week and probably into the next.

Thorns: It being scarier than I expected; wishing I had noticed it was not G, but "rated PG for some peril and action." It was far too perilous for both the kids, as one scrambled into my lap and then burst into tears close to the denouement. I put my faith in Pixar and promised, "It's all going to be OK, in just a minute or two! Hang on!"

Organizing paperwork
Rose: Its being (almost) organized; successfully assembling an IKEA file cabinet.

Thorn: Having to look at the IKEA file cabinet's semi-ugliness; driving way too far for a real high(low)light schmustomer schmervice experience at an office "superstore" (this was no Office Max) in the hopes of buying a different one, but ending up purchasing only overpriced hanging folders and a first-generation quality mousepad, and almost killing Soren with boredom.

Kids saying the darnedest things
Rose: One child, after I explain why a sippy cup is called a sippy cup (I am a ridiculous overexplainer to the kids -- I always catch myself in the middle, wondering, e.g., why am I explaining the difference between a sip and a gulp and the etiquette involved?) asking, "Mom, how do you know about everything? . . . Almost everything?"

Thorn: Another child saying, "I love Daddy more than you. Really!" in a chipper, matter-of-fact voice in response to my comment, "I'm so glad I get to have some time with just you!" Oh my word. I cheated -- this one isn't actually a thorn. It makes me belly laugh. Life with kids is so stinking funny.