30 March, 2009

take your butter out to play

These simple and wonderful butter cookies are perfect. They are sweet, but not too sweet. They have a great crunch and are fantastic tucked into a dish of ice cream or gelato. They are even good with wine, though some may disagree with me there. Unfortunately, these are also delicious dipped into a jar of Nutella. Who needs a spoon?

This recipe comes from Carol Fields' The Italian Baker, a book I love so much the spine has been broken for many years now. The real name for them is Buranelli, butter cookies from Burano.
These cookies are very similar to some I ate in Venice, dipped in fresh & local strawberry wine. Unbelievably good.

1 stick + 2 teaspoons butter, at room temperature. salted, unsalted, whatever. I personally like these just a bit salty. It adds to their je ne sais quoi and more-ish (to borrow a phrase from Nigella) quality.

1 cup + 3 Tablespoons sugar

5 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons
a teaspoon or so of fresh lemon juice
3 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt. If you have used salted butter, you may reduce the amount but, as I said, I like them a bit salty.

Cream the butter & sugar well, then beat in the yolks one at a time. Mix in the vanilla and lemon zest & juice. Whisk the salt into the flour and then add the flour mixture a bit at a time until all is well-blended. This is a stiff dough, though if you have trouble rolling it into snakes, you may tip it all back into your mixing bowl and add just a bit more lemon juice. But keep in mind it is a shortbread cookie, so it isn't meant to be moist.

Preheat your oven. This may take some perfecting on your part. The book says 375F. I bake them at 325F., partly due to the altitude here. Perhaps you should try 350F. for starters and see how that works for you. These brown rather quickly on the bottom of the cookie, before they brown at all on the top, so watch out for that. To correct for this, place your racks in the upper third and/or center of your oven. And don't let this warning put you off. These are hella-easy to make, and the kids can help.

Prepare 2 cookie sheets with butter or parchment liners and start rolling. Break off hunks of dough about the size of a small walnut and roll it into a ball. Then roll the ball between your hands to form a snake around 4 inches long. Arrange your snake on a cookie sheet so that it forms an inverted S. Then do that many more times until the dough is gone. You can place them pretty close to each other on the sheets, as they don't spread out very much during baking.

Bake them until pale blond and a bit puffed and crackly on top. This will take between 16 and 25 minutes. You want them to be a nice rich brown on the bottom of the cookie, so that they have a great crunch and a caramelized flavor on the bottom. Remove them to racks to cool.

These keep for quite a long time (undecorated), at room temperature in an airtight container. After they are cool you may decorate them, if you wish, with melted chocolate chips. I like to use the microwave, tempering the chocolate by removing the bowl when they are about 75-80% melted and then stirring until the chocolate is completely melted. Spoon the chocolate into a sandwich bag, snip a tiny hole in it, and drizzle. Or just use a spoon! I also mixed up a tiny bit of powdered sugar and water to make a thick paste and painted eyes on them with a toothpick. Have fun, and send me photos!

29 March, 2009


Sorry about the unannounced change of cyber venue. I just want a square inch of internest to myself, is that too much to ask?


In other news: The snow is melting due to intense solar pressure to do so. We had to close the curtains in the dining room just so I could eat at the table this morning without my eyes melting. Which would be really messy. And so much harder to clean up without eyes.

27 March, 2009

We are now officially on Spring Break

We had another inch or so of snow accumulation last night, totalling around a foot, give or take an inch. We do have some drifts which look to be a few inches deeper, though. Apparently this was enough to prompt school closures again today, so the girls are thrilled. Mr. Man had to do more shovelling today before he could leave for work. Thankfully (thanx, monkey!) he also shovelled the back deck & stairs so that later, after the sun comes out, the girls and I can go play in the deepest snow in the backyard. Later today I will post some photos of the snow-day cookies:
Lemony Serpents!

Oh, and have I mentioned that L. lost her first tooth? And pulled it out by herself? FINALLY! It was barely hanging in there, having been loose for weeks. By the time she worked up the gumption to yank it, it had assumed the position of an unstable diving board.

26 March, 2009

snow day, for real

Today was our first actual snow day, where everything closes and people try to just stay home. The schools are closed (We went there, only to find our principal standing in the driveway smiling and waving people away) and Mr. Man's office is closed. He is working from home and monopolizing the computer, but at the moment he is shoveling snow. So I'm taking my chance to post some photos.

R. wading through the backyard. In the foreground you see, no! Not a giant acorn, but a large flower pot containing a small, dead-ish rosemary plant covered in 8-9 inches of snow.

The lumps under the snow on the bench are 2 birdhouses.

This is our new raised bed which Mr. Man constructed last weekend. It has no soil, but lots of water. I think it measures, on the inside, 6x20 feet, or thereabouts.

Our backyard.

Snow bricks

A taste of Spring Break a few days early.

As I type, the sun is trying to break through, and the snow has stopped. We may or may not get some more today or tonight. Either way, this is the most snow we've had in a single storm since we've moved here, so it is exciting. And the change in routine is fun. It is nice to realize that all those things I felt like absolutely had to get done today are on hold. So what will we choose to do? Watch The Incredibles and make cookies. Watch Into The Woods and make enchiladas. Drink beer. Watch the squirrels dig for the peanuts I threw into the yard yesterday. Play games. If our mail carrier makes it here with our Netflix envelopes, we'll drink another beer and watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And drink a toast to Mother Nature.

Happy Spring, ya'll!

20 March, 2009

Happy Spring!

Today promises to be cloudy, grey and not very inspiring. But Google's salute to Spring and Eric Carle's plucky caterpillar brought some beauty inside, and put a smile on my face. The above link directs you to a brief Telegraph UK story about Carle, and here is an excerpt.

He said his childhood – he moved from the United States to Germany at the age of six – has been influential in his work.

"When I was a boy, my father would take me on walks across meadows and through woods. He would lift a stone or peel back the bark of a tree and show me the living things that lived underneath. These were very magical times and I think in my books I honour my father by writing about small creatures and the natural world. And in a way I recapture those happy times we had together."

Some of my fondest memories as a Mother are the countless times I read this book with R., and later with L. I can't imagine raising little children without this perfect treasure of a book.

p.s. Both girls have requested Stomach Cakes for their birthdays this year. I don't know if I can bring myself to say Yes. Or No.

19 March, 2009

Extreme Sheep LED Art

The clever people at The Viral Factory in London (who brought you the Samsung cute baby animal video) have produced another good one. Yesterday Vincenzo, who works there, sent me the link. SFW, and kids.

16 March, 2009

status report

Okay, The Amnesiac is getting good. I resent being forced to stop reading simply because the kids must go to school, or the bathroom needs cleaning or the fish need feeding. WHATEVER. It has its hooks in me. It isn't the most beautifully-written book, or the most meaningful, or the most whatever-the-hell I normally look for in a book. Certainly not. Nonetheless, I just need to know what the hell happened to this guy, in THAT HOUSE.

Friday afternoon, my girls stayed after school for a soap-making class. After we got home they presented these to me, all beautifully wrapped and tagged.

Sometimes it is really good to be Mama.

This last weekend we had a brief taste of Spring, and it tasted mighty fine. Fine enough to get us thinking about gardening again. Mr. Man has decided that despite my protests about not enjoying gardening in this here state, we need more room to plant. So he is going to build 3 new raised beds, which I will fill with plants. At this point in the year, when I have been so good about eating seasonally (is that right? seasonably?) the thought of fresh tomatoes and basil nearly makes me swoon. I don't even care if we grow anything else. Once the farmers' market opens, I will be all about the asparagus and peaches. Those are my food groups: tomatoes, basil, asparagus and peaches, supplemented with garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and a grill. Heavens, I feel feverish. I can almost taste the tomato yum, which won't actually be in my mouth again until at least June. Even then, only if I buy the tomatoes and basil, rather than waiting for mine to ripen. Which I will, being unable to hold out any longer. Actually, now that I'm salivating (and since Mrs. Kennedy pointed out that article saying eating local doesn't really do as much good as we'd hoped) I may have to break down and buy the goods sooner than Summer.

Holy Nathan, I have no willpower.

12 March, 2009

Hi There!

I guess adding 45 minutes of exercise x 4 days a week = no blogging for 9 days. If that doesn't add up it's because I'm too tired for maths.

I haven't really been living anything very blogworthy lately, but here are a few things I've lingered over.

That stuff up there under the way-too-much cilantro pile is the lamb. It was yummy! We ate it for 2 days, and then froze the rest. It truly was enough for a feast.

1. I recently stumbled upon a little gem in Boulder: India's Grocery. The guy who owns the place (Raj) is adorably informative and friendly. He steered me toward these spice mixes which he guaranteed I would like. I tried the Mutter Paneer, and it was good! I also made, without a mix, Aloo Gobi and Lamb Maharaja from Feast, although I'm glad I have the earlier edition because I hate the cover of the one I just linked to. Anyways, the guy at the Indian Grocery also recommended some Onion Kulcha, and it was the best ever I swear. I'm going back for more so we can have it with Peter Berley's Red Lentil and Sweet Potato curry.

2. A couple of days ago I made Jenn's recipe for lemon curd which is yummy but quite a bit more tart than the one she made during her visit here. She had brought her home-grown Meyer Lemons, and they were considerably sweeter. Note to self: next time use less lemon juice, or more sugar, or Meyer Lemons. I'm gonna put it into a dessert I think. Maybe a trifle or a tart. Or blintzes. It cries out for some cheese or cream to balance the sharpness.

3. R. worked up this little brochure several months ago and I keep forgetting to tell you about it. Thank Nathan I prevented her from copying and distributing this thing. Otherwise it looks like I'd only ever have Sundays off.

4. Just finished Dorothy L. Sayers Strong Poison. So very delicious. I'm now reading The Amnesiac by Sam Taylor. I'll report my finding on Shelfari.

5. As if this post couldn't get any more mundane and boring (can you tell how hard I'm trying to conjure something to write about, without revealing any of my inner thoughts or feelings??) let us now turn to the topic of Winter. Although I still love snow, and I'm sure I'll see a bit more of it sooner rather than later, I guess I am ready for Spring just so that my skin can stop being so very dry all the time. You see, when we first moved here, we had to learn all about new things. Like dryer sheets, which are completely unnecessary in Austin but are vital to have here, what with the abundance of polar fleece and the dearth of humidity. What is even more important for health and comfort? Moisturizers. Regular lotion just doesn't cut it. We've turned to heavy-duty hand creams. Here are some of the jars/tubes we have lying around the house at present. I've done the research so you don't have to.

1. Weleda Skin Food. It is ok, I guess. I like the way it smells and I think it probably is a bit nourishing, but it stays greasy forever. And we can't use it on the girls' hands (which are even more chapped than mine or Mr. Man's) because IT BURNS!

2. Aveeno Intense Relief Overnight Cream. This is good and rich, soaks in quickly, doesn't burn as much. But the plastic tube is not recyclable and it is damnably hard to get the last little bit out.

3. Carolla's Beeswax: This is a local product, purchased when I was desperate to find something the girls could use without crying. It is mostly olive oil, has just 4 ingredients, and one of them is water which doesn't really count. R. says it smells like acorns. Sounds good, right? But it doesn't seem to be strong enough to combat the drying powers of Winter here.

4. Burt's Bees Honey & Shea Butter Body Butter. This stuff smells delicious, and L. loves it. It is pretty moisturizing, but if you don't want to smell like baklava, walk away.

5. Alaffia Shea Butter Unscented Body Cream. This is my current favorite, and R.'s as well. She says it smells like coffee, and it does contain traces of coffee, but I don't smell it. It does have a natural fragrance, and to me it smells a bit citrus-y and woodsy. This stuff stays a bit greasy for awhile, but really soaks in and makes your thirsty skin feel better. I'm still searching for the perfect one. I'm impressed by the shea butter formulas. But that shit is expensive. I'm open to suggestions. If you have a hand cream that won't break the bank and won't burn the kiddies' chapped mitts, do tell. If you have one that is the bomb but cost $28, keep it to your luxurious and creamy self.

03 March, 2009

Awfully Big Adventures

Fraggle Rock

To begin to sum up my long weekend we have to go all the way back to last Thursday morning. The school's Science Fair took place that day. I had volunteered to help by working during the morning or maybe afternoon, and ended up staying all bloody day working at a frantic pace right up until school let out at 3 p.m. At that point I was so thoroughly drained of energy that I plugged the kids into Kung Fu Panda so I could have a nap. How do busy working parents do it? Oh right, the money inspires one.

Anyway, the effort (large group, of course, not nearly mine alone) was well worth it as the Science Fair was a huge success. We had so many volunteer judges from the community (including some parents of our current teachers who are retired teachers and scientists) that the judging portion of the thing was finished more than an hour ahead of schedule. It was wonderful to see how it all worked behind the scenes, as I'd never before witnessed that part. Plus the project R. submitted, along with her partner & classmate Ella earned an "Outstanding Achievement" certificate, the highest honor. This was due, in part, to my relinquishing control and just allowing the girls to work at a second grade level. They had a firm grasp of their subject (Static Electricity) and apparently performed admirably in front of the judges. Brava!

There was no school on Friday , so we played around the house and killed time until 4 p.m. which was the appointed time to go to L.'s classmate's house for a birthday slumber party. I was a bit nervous about this, as it was L.'s first sleepover. But seeing as how R. had also been invited I thought L. would probably be fine knowing her sister was nearby. Of course the girls had a magnificent time. The Birthday Boy (Max) lives in a big, charming and comfortable old house on a farm with loads of animals. It is impossible NOT to enjoy being there. Max even has a pet mouse named after L. And this is the farm where Bluejean the lamb lives.

You know what a night without kids means, besides not sleeping well because the kids aren't there. Date night! Mr. Man and I had a wonderful sushi dinner in Boulder at Sushi Tora. Yes it was delicious but it will take us quite a lot of Locavoring to offset the carbon footprints of fish flown in from Tokyo every damn day.

I needed to pick the girls up kind of early the next morning (8:30) because of tight scheduling at the farm. However, not before we used the zip line and played with the goats before we left. Later that day I stepped out for awhile to go see Slumdog Millionaire. That was emotionally exhausting but worth it. And when I arrived home I found that not only had the Roku arrived, but Mr. Man had already hooked it up for me. Yea! What was the very first thing I wanted to watch? This scene. Not the whole movie, just this song but with a bit more at both ends than we see in this clip, to set the song up and finish it out nicely with Nicky welcoming Fanny in his stateroom. Yea, Roku!

For supper that night I tried out a Peter Berley recipe for a red lentil and sweet potato curry which was deelish with roasted cauliflower florets and Brussels sprouts.

Sunday started out kind of lazy, with brioche french toast and bacon and some lounging. At about 10:30 we decided to get the hell out of the house. We'd never been to Rabbit Mountain so we headed out for a hike. The rocks and bluffs there are fascinating, and really stimulated the thwarted geologist in me. As usual on hikes of any sort, L. was alternately a delightful trail side companion and a high-maintenance pain in the ass. However, I realized during the hike that I have kind of learned how to handle her at these times. Not that I could always turn her mood around, rather that I could mitigate her bad attitude enough to make the atmosphere just a bit more pleasant for all involved. I also encouraged R. and Mr. Man to walk ahead of us. No sense in everyone being doused in the rottenness, right? And during these times, there is always an ebb and flow of good and bad moodiness. She did have some fun, when she wasn't moaning about being tired, or wanting to walk everywhere except on the trail, and then getting thorns stuck in her ankle because she'd left the trail. And, as always, she asked "We're gonna die out here, aren't we?". Even though, for once, we were hiking a trail with a more-or-less constant stream of other hikers/runners/dogs/mountain bikers. Anyhoo, here's a little slide show of our outing.

It wasn't until we were preparing to leave the mountain of invisible rabbits that Mr. Man learned (by reading the small print on a sign) that it used to be known as Rattlesnake Mountain. Yikes. It turns out Marketing works. I can't imagine us packing up the kids for a pleasant little family jaunt up the side of Rattlesnake Mountain. We chose not to share the alternate name with the kids, just in case we ever want to go back there.

When we got home we were all pretty tired. So we fired up the Roku and the TV and watched Enchanted together. And we were! Enchanted, that is. Even Mr. Man liked it. The movie was just the right blend of parody and sincerity. A pretty good weekend, right?

02 March, 2009

Yesterday, L. and I were thumbing through this book of mine. After looking at many gorgeous, glamorous and feminine portraits of Marlene ("She's so fancy!") we stopped at this photo.

I asked her "How do you like this one? What can you tell about her from this picture?".
L. answered "Well, she smokes. And she's a Magician."