Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fruit Ninja

To say that Owen is not very adventurous when it comes to food is putting it mildly.  At five years old, he still eats about seven things.  (How crazy does this drive me?  Very, very crazy.)  But one thing he does love is fruit.  And he is willing to give any fruit a try, because doing so has generally had the positive result of adding something else to his like list.  A month or so ago I was in the grocery store and near that odd section between the fruits and vegetables that has fruits that aren’t common in this country.  Owen and I stopped to peruse and we decided to get a dragon fruit.  We brought it home, looked up “how to cut dragon fruit” on YouTube, and then Owen proceeded to snarf down the whole dragon fruit with moans of ecstasy.

Feeling emboldened, we then went on in successive weeks to try:  star fruit (delicious! Although we added a tiny sprinkling of sugar, like we do to our blackberries); passion fruit (I liked it!  Owen thought it looked too much like a sneeze, but he did try two substantial bites); dragon fruit with white insides instead of magenta (good!); pepino melon (on YouTube they said this would taste like a cross between a cucumber and a honeydew; it did; bleck); pomegranate (not only did he love it but he wanted to bring the seeds in a baggie for a snack on our walk); and horned melon (very odd looking on the inside – basically all wet green seeds – but it did taste exactly like the YouTube video promised, like a banana and a kiwi; Owen ate it with a spoon and relatively with gusto). 

Next up is a mango, which Owen actually had a lot of as a toddler but doesn’t remember.  We’ve told him often that he is like my father, who is also a fruit lover, and one day Owen had me text Pa to ask him if there was any fruit he did NOT like.  It turns out Pa is not a big fan of mangoes, which he found to be too sweet and too sticky.  So Owen already plans to try this mango with a fork, so as not to get any of the sticky on his hands.  He still has an open mind about it though, and is very impatiently waiting for the mango to ripen.

Of course I am hoping that his trying fruit will transfer over to trying other foods.  It hasn’t yet, but a girl can hope.  In the meantime, I am keeping my eye out for an ugli fruit; apparently right now is not the season.

Owen looking melancholy with a bowl of horned melon.
See what I did there?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

September 2017 Book Reviews

Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin.  I liked this mystery so much that upon completion I immediately started reading the second in the series.  It’s one of four books known as the Oland Quartet, since all take place on the island of Oland off the coast of Sweden.  This one was about the disappearance twenty years in the past of a 5 year-old boy, Jens Davidsson.  His mother, Julia, returns to Oland to help her aging father, a retired fisherman, Gerlof.  Gerlof has been trying to solve the mystery of his lost grandson, and the more he discovers, the more he and Julia get caught up in a series of murders and crimes on the island.  The writing is excellent, as are the characters, and it was a treat to follow along with Gerlof’s simple unraveling of several long-past events.  It was all very well done.

The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin.  This also takes place on Oland, and shares a few of the characters from the first book, although they do not play a central role.  A young family has moved to the mansion by the lighthouse on Oland and has started to renovate it, when a tragic death occurs.  Most of the police treat the death as an accident, but Tilda Davidsson, a new policewoman on the island and Gerlof’s niece, has her suspicions.  The chapters alternate between Tilda, to the family at Eel Point, and to a group of thugs who are burgling the summer houses on the island.  It was a good read too; my only criticism was that the Eel Point part of the story contains a lot of ghosts and spirits, which somewhat work in the story and somewhat do not.

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne.  This was an excellent and suspenseful read that was hard to put down.  In a nutshell, it is about a woman Helena, who was raised out in the wild marshland in Michigan by her parents and didn’t discover until age 12 that her father had kidnapped her mother as a teenager and was holding her hostage.  When the book begins, Helena is an adult with children of her own, and her father has just escaped from prison.  Helena decides to use her excellent hunting and tracking skills – learned from her father – to find him before he wreaks more havoc.  The book switches from the present back to Helena’s childhood in the marsh and is really fascinatingly done.

What Happened by Hillary Clinton.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this at first – I thought it would be too painful – but it wasn’t and I am very glad I did.  It was really interesting to re-live the campaign from Hillary’s point of view, and see what her reasoning was for certain decisions.  The book is certainly infuriating, in that once again you see how hard the press worked to make Hillary into everyone else’s criticisms of her, but she is a very funny writer, and of course so intelligent that I read the whole  thing quickly and wished I had bought a physical copy instead of a kindle copy so that I could more easily go back and peruse.  If you are or were a Hillary supporter, I recommend the book.

How To Not Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn.  I have always admired the writing of Jancee Dunn, and although the title made me snort a bit, I was curious to see what she had to say.  And she did not disappoint.  It is basically a relationship book and primarily about communication, and as such I found it extremely helpful, and definitely one of the best of its kind that I have read.  Well, actually, I don’t think I have read any relationship books, but I was very impressed at the usefulness of her advice, and wish I had heard a lot of it years previously.  She is as funny and as down to earth as ever, and the book is a mixture of her own experience, combined with the consultation of experts ranging from marriage counselors to organizers.  It tends towards the gist of how men and women hear things differently and communicate differently, and is basically all about being forthright and direct.  I thought it both wise and entertaining.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina.  Denise Mina is one of my favorite mystery writers and is known for her Scottish noir.  She tends to write series, but this book was a stand-alone and about a true story:  a serial killer named Peter Manuel who was charged and convicted of killing at least eight people in the 1950’s.  It’s an interesting and quick read:  Mina uses court transcripts, but then also gets into the heads of her characters and creates back stories.  The writing is sparse, and she alternates between the trial itself and a night Peter Manuel and another suspect, William Watt, spent on the town a few days before Peter’s arrest.  There is nothing cheery about this book, but it is nonetheless a good read.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Book Reviews August 2017

Waiting For Birdy by Catherine Newman.  This is a book I would have liked to have read before having Owen.  Newman writes of being pregnant and having her second child, while also caring for her three year-old son.  Her writing is smart and funny, so I did enjoy reading it now, but it would have been very helpful advice when Owen was a newborn, as her experience with kids seems similar to mine.  She is wise and sarcastic and very funny.  I recommend it.

Mind’s Eye by Hakan Nesser.  I had this mystery sitting on my kindle for a long time – I think I found it on a list of the best Swedish mysteries, when I was sad for having finished the wonderful Asa Larsson books (so far!  I think there is another one in the works).  Anyway, this one is the first of the “Inspector Van Vetteren” mysteries, and it was a good, if not phenomenal, read.  Van Vetteren is a rather grumpy, curmudgeonly sort, who the whole time he is working on this mystery is dreaming of his upcoming vacation in warm Australia.  The book opens from the viewpoint of one of the victims of the killer, a schoolteacher who wakes up after a night of carousing to discover that he has no memory of what happened the previous night and that his wife is dead in the bathtub.  He is charged with the murder, although Van Vetteren himself doesn’t think the teacher is guilty.  We also get chapters from the unidentified killer’s point of view.  It was entertaining, although I’m not immediately running out to read more in the series.

The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw.  Being in Maine on vacation made me want to re-read this book by Linda Greenlaw about her life as a swordfish captain based in Gloucester, so when I returned home I dug it out of my shelves.  For some reason I was thinking of it as being about the perfect storm events, but it is not about that – but about a swordfishing trip she took many years later.  So once I had readjusted my expectations of the book, I quite enjoyed it.  Because of my tendency to get seasick 3 out of 5 times at sea, the seafaring life is something I enjoy from afar, and on land.  I do find the life fascinating, and Greenlaw is a good story teller.  She’s good at interspersing stories with the details and mechanics of being a sea captain on such an expedition.

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham.  This was a wonderful read!  I couldn’t put it down.  The chapters go back and forth between two women who are pregnant, Meg and Agatha.  Meg seems like she has the perfect life and perfect marriage, but all is of course not what it seems.  Meanwhile Agatha, who admires Meg, is trying to get the father of her child on board with her life choices.  Both women are due around the same time, and when Meg’s son is a few hours old, he gets abducted from the hospital.  It’s a very suspenseful read, and very skillfully written – Robotham does a great job of making each woman well-rounded and real and sympathetic.  I highly recommend!

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.  This is more or less a self-help book about an anti-diet, anti-eating-program eating program.  Tribole and Resch, both nutritionists and counselors, started writing about their way of helping their clients, which was to get rid of all dieting and all eating restrictions, and get people to re-learn their hunger cues.  Their method is basically to eat whatever you want and when you want to do so, while paying attention to why you are eating.  Ideally one should eat when hungry and not for emotional reasons, and their method tries to get people back to that point.  There are no “bad” or forbidden foods.  It was an interesting read with a lot of common sense ideas that are no longer so common.

Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller.  This is a book about bullet journaling – I’m not sure why Miller calls it dot journaling, whether for copyright issues or to take away the gun association – but it’s a how-to to start and keep a bullet journal.  I came across the concept a year ago from a few articles Miller wrote about the subject and was intrigued.  I’ve been using a bullet journal since January with mixed results; basically it has taken me six or so months to figure out how to get it to work for me.  But if you are interested in the concept of bullet journaling – which is a way of using a daily planner to get organized – then this is an excellent book to use to get started.  Miller is a funny and smart writer, and the book is a simple how-to book with good picture examples.  She has a nice, wry and straightforward writing voice.

All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda.  I was a little suspicious of this book when I started it, because it begins on day one, skips to day fourteen, and then starts going backwards day by day.  I tend to be a bit pet peevey about nonlinear story-telling, if there isn’t a reason for it.  (TV shows now use it as a crutch:  not all stories have to be jumbled up timewise, people!).  Anyway, it turns out there is an excellent reason for telling this story backwards, and by the end of it I was very impressed.  The main character, Nicolette, leaves Philadelphia to temporarily go back home to a small town in North Carolina to get her father’s house ready to sell.  Her father has dementia and is now in a nursing home, and her brother, Daniel, wants to sell the house.  Nicolette’s real reason for returning home, however, is that her father sent her a letter saying that he had seen “that girl,” Nic’s best friend from high school, Corinne, who went missing when they were both 18.  So Nicolette leaves her fiancĂ© in Philadelphia and returns home to help her brother and to figure out what is happening.  Immediately after she returns, however, another young woman goes missing.  It is well written and suspenseful, and Miranda is very good at the relationships between the characters. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Owen and the Mixer

I inherited a KitchenAid mixer from my grandmother, Ruth, and use it weekly.  I think she got it in the eighties (or perhaps earlier?), so it’s been a workhorse in the kitchen that has lasted quite well.  In the last year or so, coinciding with Owen’s ability and penchant for helping me in the kitchen with his whisking skills (considerable), the mixer has become a target for Owen’s sibling-less sibling rivalry.  It’s both cutely imaginative, and let’s face it, odd.

For example, If I tell Owen that I am going to start making something in the kitchen, Owen’s first question will be whether or not it is a job for him and his whisk, or a job for the mixer?  And then depending on what my answer is, what follows is either much elation or much angst.  It’s not so much that he likes to help me with his whisking – which he does – but he likes his game of one-upmanship with the mixer.  He’ll then ask me, “What does the Mixer say when it is my turn to do the mixing?”  And then of course he doesn’t rest until I respond, as the mixer, with some sort of expression of unhappiness.

Last weekend while Owen was happily whisking my cherry poppyseed cake batter, I prepared him with the possibility that it would be the mixer doing the mixing for the cupcakes, and the icing, as well as kneading the bread.  He was grumpy about this for a while, but then decided to help me and the mixer by pulling a chair up and offering words of encouragement, including many heartfelt exclamations of, “IT’S THE MIXER’S TIME TO SHINE!”  Which cracked me up.

And Owen loves when it is kneading time and we can use the mixer’s hook.  If I’m not careful, Owen will disappear with the hook and I’ll have to go retrieve it from the living room where it has become a pirate’s digits.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Cooking Frenzy

I planned to take the day off to enjoy the eclipse on Monday, and this extra day seemed to set off a weekend cooking frenzy.  It started with a cherry poppy seed yogurt breakfast cake made on Friday night after work (yum, although the crumbs on top were a bit deflated), continued to the next day with my first time baking bacon in the oven and then making a bacon and onion pie (also good, if a bit white trash – it had a saltine crust [blushes]; Sean thought it needed a layer of potatoes); then on Sunday I made the cupcake part of salted caramel toffee cupcakes and then tried a new recipe for slow cooker cashew chicken (excellent! Would make again); and then the grand finale on Monday with whole wheat bread from scratch that worked well (I’ve finally learned patience when it comes to bread-baking), the icing for the cupcakes, and then I tried a new recipe for a cabbage and walnut salad with lingonberry dressing (tasty if a bit overly crunchy, and it made enough for a small cabbage-eating army, i.e. way too much).


I’ve been going a little cooking-crazy ever since Trump won the election; I suspect it is a comfort food thing, but don’t want to delve too deeply into it, as it is exhausting enough keeping up with the news from Washington daily: one doesn’t want to read all one’s actions in light of what is happening there.

Luckily for our waistlines and food budgets, however, I really only cook on the weekends and not weeknights.  Now that Owen is five, he doesn’t necessarily want my full attention in the evenings, except when he does, which is usually right when I started some recipe that he can’t help with.  So we still rely on a lot of very simple meals on the weeknights, or more likely, meals from Trader Joe’s, which is still a godsend.

A year or so ago I satisfied my OCD by majorly organizing all my cookbooks and loose recipes, and making lists of things to try, and then extensive notes as to what we all thought.  It’s a system that has worked well, except I realized I need to make a list of things that I made that we liked and want to have again, because I tend to make something once and then forget about it.  A cheatsheet is thus planned.

As Sean will tell you, my weak point is side dishes.  I tend to focus only on the main dish and dessert and if I had my way would serve the one thing on a plate at dinnertime.  I’m not good at doing two things at once, in the kitchen, apparently.  I’m working on it!

So in a nutshell:  if you are planning on stopping by for dinner, do so on the weekend, come hungry, and please bring some sides.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Happy 5th Birthday, Owen!

Today is Owen’s birthday, but he doesn’t know it.  We’re celebrating on Saturday, so we decided to just pretend that Saturday was the day, since the anticipation is beginning to wear him down anyway.  We are also trying to get away with one more year of not having a friend party, per se, but just a small family one.  I can’t decide if we are being schmucks about this or not?  As a kid I always had friend parties, although nothing over the top.  In the early seventies one had friends over and played a few games and had cake and ice cream.  All of the parties that Owen goes to now are at a facility of some sort and not in a home.  And he is still at the age when parents stay for the parties; I admit to rather looking forward to being able to drop him off and pick him up. 

I was thinking this morning about how I didn’t really meet Owen on his birthday anyway.  They wrapped him in a towel and thrust the burrito-like package in our direction for a quick look, and then he went up to the NICU while I was sewn back together.  I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed to visit him there until 2:30 a.m. that next morning, although Sean did visit him and sent me a video.

I thought of seeing him for the first time – a large 9 pound 3 oz baby, attached to wires and monitors, and for some reason dressed in a random pair of denim overalls, which we later found out was the only thing they had in the NICU large enough to fit him.  No wonder he was angry.  This morning Owen was in the bed with me and I heard him wake up, thrash around like the bed was on fire before flinging himself against my back and kissing my shoulder.  He then said in a loud voice, “Hey Mom!  I sneaked up on you and woke you up with a kiss!”

A few days ago Owen said to me, “I can’t wait until I turn five, because it is not easy being four.”  I of course had to snicker at that, because probably four is basically as easy as it gets: you are able to communicate your wants and needs, but still have next to no responsibilities.  I remember turning five myself, and I remember, vaguely, my fifth birthday.  I received a blue dress with balloons on it from my grandparents, and I thought it was the prettiest dress I had ever seen.

Owen is very excited about his cake, and balloons, and of course the presents.  He keeps telling me, “You can have THREE pieces of my cake, Mom!”  And I usually say, “but can I have a slice for breakfast?”  And he’ll tell me no, that if I do that, he’ll have to tell Granny and Pa on me.  Fair enough.  J

Happy 5th Birthday, Owen!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Book Reviews July 2017

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.  I am glad that I read this book, but it made me very angry.  I thought the personal aspect of the book was interesting – he’s not a bad writer, and I liked hearing how he made it to Yale Law School and beyond despite a troubled childhood.  What is so frustrating about the book, however, is how Vance distorts his current beliefs to fit into his conservative politics.  So we watch him doing extreme mental gymnastics to try to reach the conclusion that the conservatives in office right now will help his “hillbilly” community, when of course the opposite is true.  He writes of being a seventeen year-old working hard in a grocery store and doing without, and then serving the mythical food stamp-ers who come in and buy steak and fancy chocolates and cigarettes while he is hungry.  But of course he doesn’t acknowledge that earlier in that same chapter his beloved grandmother who raises him has just had multiple back and hip surgeries that were paid for by…wait for it…Medicare.  So it is okay when he uses government help, but not of course the guy buying steaks!  Arrrgh.  And then I admit it bothered me that once he finished Yale Law, he eventually started working at a hedge fund in L.A.  So much for helping his community!  Why not start a nonprofit for hillbilly help?  I mean, seriously?  If not him, and if not democrats and their policies, then who?  Jerk.

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner.  This is the new second book in the Manon Bradshaw series and it was just as good as the first, if not a little better!  Manon has returned to her old job, but since she is very pregnant, she’s assigned to a desk.  Her adopted son, Fly (from the first book) is having trouble adjusting to life in the suburbs and gets accused of a crime.  Manon is not allowed to help out with the investigation, but of course does so.  There are also chapters in the voice of another woman, Birdie, who owns a liquor store, and it is interesting how Manon’s and Birdy’s story intersect.  It was very well written and excellently mapped out.  I definitely think Steiner is as good as Tana French and Denise Mina.

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby.  I really enjoyed reading this book of essays.  Irby is very bawdy and blunt and funny, and is hilariously unapologetic about her enjoyment of junkfood and television.  She has a vicious cat named Helen Keller, a job at a veterinarian hospital, and a spot-on way of viewing the world.  The whole book is funny –even when she is writing about topics that are not – but the second half of the book in particular I enjoyed.  I frequently laughed out loud while reading it, and will definitely seek out more of her writing.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  This is an excellent, hilarious, and poignant novel and I was sad to reach its end.  Eleanor is a woman in her early thirties living in Scotland and whose interior monologue reveals how she interprets the world literally.  She has trouble understanding human niceties, yet also has a sly sense of humor, and it is hilarious to listen to her half-inward reactions to people reacting to her own bluntness.  When the book begins, Eleanor has decided that she is going to marry a local musician whom she does not know.  She sets about planning their meeting, while also working as a finance assistant at a design firm.  She “befriends” the IT guy at her workplace, Raymond, and a series of events ensue in which Raymond tries to teach Eleanor more normal human responses.  Eleanor also has trauma in her past, and slowly comes to terms with accepting what has happened to her.  It’s just so delightfully written, and I loved reading Eleanor’s responses to life’s daily idiocies.  I highly recommend this book.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raising Boys by Laurie A. Helgoe & Barron M. Helgoe.  This is a book about parenting boys from infancy until they leave home, assuming they do, and as such remained a bit general.  That would be my main critique.  The Helgoes have interesting and sensible advice to offer, but in this format they are forced to reign themselves in.  I’d prefer a more in-depth approach on the whole.  I was also uncomfortable on occasion with their declaration of how girls are one way and boys are another.  I think in some instances that is true, but there’s of course a danger in making that divide too pat.  In summary, however, they impart useful advice and I’m sure I will reference it in the future.