Friday, August 28, 2009

Important Safety Tip: Attach your child's dresser to the wall

The twins tried to kill themselves this evening.

It's true.

One month before they turn 2 years old, they tried to off themselves via their dresser. This dresser:
Yeah, it looks innocent, doesn't it?!

Except that it's not that clean anymore and has stuff all over the top, like that trashcan that you see to the right in the photo. Babies like smelly trash, as it turns out. It also has other things sitting on it like wipes, creams, possibly dirty/clean clothing and sneakers. Babies like to wander off with their shoes, you see, and then when it's time to go out? The Great Shoe Hunt begins.

Oh and all of the handles have been removed from the bottom four drawers because short people kept trying to get into the drawers and fling baby clothes all over the place. You know, that's not nearly as much fun to clean up every 30 minutes as you might think it is. Oh, and they'd try smashing each other's fingers in the drawers, just for fun. So off went the handles.

The one thing we didn't do? We didn't attach it to the wall.


Because the entire time Caitlin was small, she never once tried to climb her dresser. Her dresser which is skinnier and taller and more top heavy than the twins. The dresser from which we never removed the handles. Apparently we thought that for SOME REASON the twins wouldn't really think about climbing theirs, either. Especially since they couldn't really get the drawers open without handles. (You can see where this is going, can't you?)

Tonight, while I was downstairs washing dishes and cleaning up the Dinner Blast Zone, Eric was upstairs doing laundry, Caitlin was off doing Caitlin things and the twins were in their room. Safe.

We thought.

Then there was the loud rumbling crashing noise, the sound of babies crying and Eric yelling for me. I dropped the sponge as soon as I heard the loud rumbling and crying and sprinted up the stairs.

I haven't learned to teleport yet, but I'm still working on it.

I leapt into the room to find Eric straining to hold up the dresser. All 6 drawers were open and the twins were laying at its base, crying and scared. I grabbed the other end and started shoving the drawers back in and pushing it back upright. Clearly, they decided that tonight was the night to try to climb Mt. Dresser and were bloody lucky that upon tipping over, the drawers themselves stopped the dresser from falling on them both and crushing them.

That dresser is not light. It is completely full, as well. They could have been killed.

We were lucky.

So fucking lucky that we were both home and that one of us was right there, next door to their room. Incredibly lucky that the drawers stopped it from falling further and that neither one was hurt.

You never know what might happen to your children. You can't be with them every single second of the day. And, let's face it, you'd like them to be safe in their own rooms. First thing tomorrow, Eric is going to install wall anchors.

If you haven't already done so, please go out and get some anchors for your children's dressers and bookshelves (and anything else heavy you think they may consider climbing). YOU may not be so lucky.

Don't let your child become a statistic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fromage blanc

Did someone say "Cheese!"?

Hmm. Must have been me.

Late last Friday, it was time to make our first tentative foray into cheese making, starting with a simple soft cheese: fromage blanc. First we brought the milk to 86 degrees and then innoculated it with the cheese culture which smells just like cheese. Then we ignored it for 12 hours.

I like making stuff that's easy like this!

On Saturday the real work began. We had to drain the curds,
Curd draining apparatus.

by ladling the now curdled mixture into a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a large pan.
I'm not grumpy, I'm concentrating.

Then, tie it up and let it drain for the next 12 hours.
That was it.

I said I liked it easy, didn't I? Tying it up was the hard part. I started with a piece of butter muslin that was a little too small and spilled curds and whey down the counter and onto my foot. Whoops! However, once we worked that part out, we walked away and did other things while the draining took place.

When it was over, our gallon of whole milk had turned into 3 quarts of whey (1 quart has been turned into 4 loaves of yummy bread, so far),
No whey! Yes whey!

and 2 lbs of fromage!
Look ma! I made cheese!

The hard part has been coming up with a good way to make use of the cheese. By itself, it's a bit bland and sour. Sort of like cream cheese. I mixed some up with honey and orange peel and I think it would be great in crepes (which I haven't made yet, probably this weekend). I salted some and added Herbs de Provence, but don't care for the combination. The way I've liked it best is on bread or crackers, plain, with fresh peach jam slathered on top. Yum!

As far as being a first experiment, it was easy-peasy.

This weekend, I'm going to jump ahead and make some mozzarella! I feel a pizza or two coming on!

In other dairy-making news, I made my very own sour cream (looks just like yogurt or buttermilk in a jar, so I didn't bother photographing it) and yet more yogurt (I found detailed directions on yogurt making at the cheese making web site. It's worth a peek, if you're interested in making your own yogurt.). Next up: kefir and clotted cream. Time for tea and scones!

What have you been up to? Something yummy?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tomato Turf Wars

After all that build up at the beginning of the summer, you're probably wondering why I haven't posted any tomato pictures. Well, it's because we've had very few tomatoes.
This is our actual first tomato harvest as of August 14th. Sad.

Cause: mice.

Those little bastards aren't happy with my compost any more. They are munching on all of my Black Krims that are ripe, or partially ripe. I haven't had a single one yet! Then, when that wasn't enough for them, they started in on the Green Zebra and the Romas. I admit, I let it go on for too long. I was hoping that if I left the one they were chewing on still on the vine that they'd leave the others alone. No luck. Those mice were too greedy.
My first ripe Black Krim! Nooooo!

After being depressed by the blossom end rot I've been fighting with and flea beetles, the mice were the last straw.

I'm not willing to share.

It was time to break out the big guns. DEATH was on the line! Tiny little mouse death. (Suburban Correspondent would be proud.)

I must admit, it makes me sad to have to kill them, but they're messing with my tomatoes and around here, that's a killin' offense. Since I don't want them to suffer, I put out standard mouse traps. SNAP! and they're dead. (Except for this one mouse, who was apparently using his foot to test the trap...but we won't go there. Note that Eric* rescued the little guy and let him loose.) I don't want to poison them, because they may crawl off and be eaten by a hawk or owl and then I'd have poisoned them. (And what a horrible way to go for both parties!) I don't want to use sticky traps, because then you're just starving them to death.

Instead, I chose the sharp, swift death.**

Within 24 hours, I had caught 5. This morning, two more. I sure hope the one that got away has told all of his friends that they're no longer welcome in the vegetable garden, because I really don't want to have to keep setting and resetting traps.

But I will.

Don't mess with Hatchet's tomatoes!

* Eric suggested I compost the mice and couldn't understand how I was wasting perfectly good compost material like that. Um, honey? Ewww!. I suggested we could leave them out in the open for a hawk or an owl, but he suggested we probably didn't want to encourage carrion eaters to show up in our yard.

I'm grateful for one thing: at least they're not rats!

** Just so you know, I'm taking full responsibility for my murders. I am the one setting the traps and clearing them out. I mourn each little mouse I kill. However, a gardener's gotta do what a gardener's gotta do. If you have a better idea, let me know. Seriously.

Monday, August 24, 2009


First corn from our garden!
This is the very first time I've ever grown corn, in my memory. I remember selling seeds for Burpee when I was in elementary school as a fundraiser, but I don't remember growing any.

I wasn't sure how the corn would do in our raised beds, tightly packed together, but the truth is, it did just fine!

And let me tell you, it was tasty!

Or wait, I don't have to tell you. The kids will.

Emma shares some bites of my ear of corn. I'm such a good mom. I share.

Om nom nom nom!

Dis mine?


Nibble! Nibble! Nibble!

They liked it. A lot.

I guess I'll have to make room in the garden for corn again next year!

My favorite comedy skit related to corn. It starts at 3:15 and kills me at 4:17. Bobby Lee is hysterical!

Friday, August 21, 2009

First Day of 3rd Grade

On Thursday, Caitlin started school again.

Hooray for school being in session again! Hooray!

I'd like to tell you that our morning getting ready was idyllic and peaceful. Everyone getting ready as they were supposed to, babies happy to tag along and get Caitlin to school on time. However, I live in the real world where no matter how excited your 8 year old is to go back to school, she still doesn't want to brush her teeth or hair. After addressing those issues, we ate breakfast and zipped off to school.

Caitlin, before school in her Rock 'n Roll pose.

I had meant to walk her up with the twins in the carriage, but mornings are pretty crazy as is and we never seem to have the extra 30 minutes to spare. Besides, pushing ~40 lbs of twins and ~20 lbs of carriage up hill is no joke at 7:30 am.

We arrived in plenty of time for the general hanging out with all of the other moms and dads. Caitlin did better this year on the willingness to say hello to all of her classmates (Unlike last year. Wow! Look at how much younger she looks one year ago!), for which I was very glad. After a few more minutes and a few more requests to not read books in class, they all marched indoors and the school year was officially under way.

I noted that this year she now has just as many years left in elementary school as she has completed: three. An odd thought, that. It seems like it's lasting for-EV-er, and yet it's half way over! I also note that in 3 more years, the twins will be starting elementary school. [Heavy breathing ensues.] Not that I'm counting or anything.

After school, I did trudge up the mountainous hill to pick her up, with twins in their gianto-mobile. There were smooches to be had.
Caitlin prepares to eat Logan whole.

And smooches to be withheld.
No smoochies for you!

But she's still my Caitlin.
3rd grade? Already?!

And I had to drag the details of the day out of her.

Some things just never change.

Logan says: All you ladies not to worry about mah smoochies. I gotz plenty more for you. Mmmmwah!

How did your back to school rituals go? Smoothly? Not so smoothly? What's your favorite part?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Buttermilk and Yogurt and Cheese! Oh my!

I said I was going to do it and now I have. In my continuing travels into insanity, I bought Ricki Carroll's book Home Cheese Making, as was mentioned in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Well, first I borrowed it from the library, got a feel for what all was in it and then months and months later, finally bought it. After poring over it for a couple of days I sidled up to the computer and placed my first order for cheese and other dairy making gear. It arrived on Monday and Monday night, late as usual, I made my first batch of yogurt with the Yogotherm from the Dairy Kit and it was awesome! Much better than my previous yogurt. Thicker, too. I think the insulated canister and the longer resting time helped. That 1/4 cup of powdered milk seems to be the key. You have to whisk like mad to incorporate it, but then it's just a matter of heating up the milk to 185, cooling it down to 110 (Next time I'm going to put 110 degree water in the sink and then put my pan in to cool it down. I think I cooled it down a little too fast this first time.), adding the culture and waiting 6 hours, plus cooling time. (As Elisava mentioned in the comments on my yogurt post, you can buy packets of the yogurt culture and keep them in your freezer until you want them.)

OK, so it's not as easy as making buttermilk
(Heat milk to 86 degrees, add culture, ignore for 12 hours.), but --! It's so good! Also, it means less plastic containers in my life. Besides, it's hard to dislike having 2 quarts of fresh yogurt in the fridge which pairs so well with the fresh peach jam. Together they are delicious!

Add in a blue cornmeal muffin and you've got breakfast!

Next up, determining which cheese I'm going to make first. I'm debating between fromage blanc or a really simple buttermilk cheese or cream cheese. Or maybe just some sour cream?

I'm a wild woman, I am.

- - - - -

A friend asked me, not too long ago, when looking over my bizarre collection of cookbooks (e.g. bread making, cheese making, preserving, grilling, slow cooking, complicated Cook's Illustrated cooking) why I was doing this to myself? Life is hard enough and complicated enough with the twins and the 8 year old. If I barely had enough time to keep up with the ordinary housework, why was I adding all of these extra layers of crazy homemaking on top of that? Homemade marshmallows? Really? Why?!

I thought about it for a minute and what it really boils down to is this: I don't get to go out, alone, much at all. I can't currently go back to school. I am not currently working outside the home. This is my way of keeping myself challenged, intellectually, in a way that has big positive benefits for the whole family. It keeps me sane, even though I complain about my messy house and the fact that I haven't weeded the garden for months now. I get to learn new things, muck with science-y procedures (I play with bacteria!) and then I get to eat my experiments!

How cool is that?!

Pretty darned cool, actually.

I suppose I could clean the house from 9:30 pm until 12:30 am instead, but where's the fun in that? Making 2 quarts of yogurt that we inhaled half of in the first 24 hours after it was done was time better spent, I think.

You decide.

While the yogurt is just as ephemeral as a clean house, the yogurt has way more bragging rights associated with it. As an extra bonus, you can give some to your friends.

But only if they get here before we finish it off. Better hurry!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Snack Attack!

While Caitlin was away on her Big Adventure, I promised her that when she got back we'd make marshmallows together once she got home. Yes, marshmallows. Well, that moment finally came last night.
Me and my lovely assistant.

You'll want the recipe, if you want to follow along at home.

After gathering up our ingredients and an impromptu math lesson (Yes, Screamish, you have to know math to be a mom. Or at least learn as they're learning. Fractions again?! Argh!), we started on the stovetop by dissolving our sugar, cornstarch and water together. After it reached 240 degrees, I poured it into the mixer that was holding the softened gelatin (3 1/4 oz packages + 1/2 cup of water). Then we had an impromptu kitchen safety discussion since someone was messing around on the step stool. I didn't really want to wear the 240 degree sugar solution, you see.
Around and around it goes!

After about 15 minutes and with the addition of the vanilla, our mixture now looked like this:
Marshmallow goo!

Are you excited yet? Caitlin sure was!

We then scraped it into an oiled pan and let it set for 4 hours. Caitlin got to taste test the whisk, while Eric and I scraped bits off the spatula. Yum!
Setting up.

Since I can't possibly start any project during normal daytime hours, we started this one right before she went to bed. After those 4 hours were up, it was late.

So at 11:30 pm, I coated the marshmallow slab in the cornstarch/powdered sugar mix and sliced it up using a pizza cutter as was suggested in the recipe comments. I recommend reading the comments, there was some good info in there! I also cut out a few heart shapes, using a small cookie cutter and one bear.
Slicing and dicing.

The pizza cutter worked like a charm after the initial pass, it was just sticky enough that you could coat it in powdered sugar and then it sliced the slab perfectly.

Yes, my heart is soft and squishy.

Eric and I tasted them last night and they were good. Caitlin had to wait until the morning, but she gave it her Seal of Approval. Unfortunately, she ate the first one so fast that I only have the dust on her face to prove it.
Marshmallow monster.

She was so excited about having a hot chocolate with marshmallows that I made one for her and topped it with love.
Food = love.

I have to say, this recipe was pretty darned easy, fun and very tasty. Also, the part you can't tell is how incredibly sensuous these things feel as you're cutting them up and coating them in sugar. They're all soft and pillowy and squishy. You should make some! Just to prove you can. They're no harder than icing, really. Next time I'm going to make them with coconut extract and roll them in toasted unsweetened coconut. Because, oh yes, there will be a next time!

Also in our snacking future: s'mores (Updated to add: Yum! Woo!) and rice krispy treats.

Next time, I'll tell you about my granola bar adventures!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dante's Inferno Gains a New Ring

I swear, sometimes...Motherhood seems like it has to be a new ring in Hell.

There's the hell of repetitive, mindless drudgery. The hell of other people's bodily fluids on your body. But most recently, I spent time in the hell of Math Practice.

And friends, it wasn't pretty.




I think we get punished based on not minding out own mothers when we were kids. So I feel pretty confident that one day Caitlin is gonna suffer as I suffer, with an 8 year old girl and any sort of practice session.

In the mean time...I don't know what I did, but I'm sorry, Mom!

Countdown to First Day of School: Six days.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Small, Medium, Large: What's in a Size?

I ended my first 30 day challenge at the end of July and started up a new one, on a harder mode. I just wanted to check off the fact that I accomplished one of my short term goals: fitting comfortably in my normal clothes.

Mind you, I didn't change my diet. Instead, I was just working out between 20 and 30 minutes for 2 days and then a day off. Even so, I now fit into my regular clothes without that irritating roll you get when you overflow your clothes. I hate that. Hate it.

Strangely enough, I seem to have several different sizes of my "regular" clothes. Even though they all say Size X, I notice that this Size X is a little looser than that Size X which is a little looser than that other Size X. Why is that? If something is supposed to be X sized, why is it that there's a kind of range that every different designer uses? You can't quite fit into the next size down and are horrified by the thought of trying on the next size up.

Down is good. Up is bad.

I don't want to freak out about the number sewed into my pants, but when one designer's clothes are straining at the seams and another's clearly require a belt that's just crazy talk.


Irritating as all of that is, I currently fit comfortably into the skinny version of Size X. This...pleases me.

I am now into the second week on the harder mode and I have noticed a definite improvement in my cardio. I can suddenly run (in place) for longer without sounding like I'm about to lose a lung! Whee! I still hate jump lunges though. I suspect that won't change.

The things that really struck me after finishing the first 30 day challenge is the fact that
  1. weight loss really is all about calories in. You can exercise all you want for 30 minutes but that 150, 175 or 200 calories burned is gone in an instant once you down that ice cream cone. The chocolate one. The one you deserve for working so hard. Whoops!
  2. the challenge is really just to get you into the habit of exercising. Unfortunately we can't just work out, get into shape and then be done with it. Damn you, Entropy! *shaking fist at sky*
  3. if I want to get in better shape even faster, it's time to start reining in the calories. Except that I just made these yummy blue corn meal corn muffins (Thanks Scott & Sierra!). And zucchini bread. And the pizza. It calls to me. Damn you, Yummy Food! *weeps into her ice cream*

So it's time to aim for my midterm goal: fitting into my "skinny me" clothes. Goodbye ice cream!

Goodbye for now. You will be mine again! Maybe...maybe on the weekends.

*Hatchet assumes her brave face.*

Ooh! Related link!
"...the muscle-fat relationship is often misunderstood. According to calculations published in the journal Obesity Research by a Columbia University team in 2001, a pound of muscle burns approximately six calories a day in a resting body, compared with the two calories that a pound of fat burns. Which means that after you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle — a major achievement — you would be able to eat only an extra 40 calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain weight. Good luck with that."
-- Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin,

It's all about Fork Control. Sad, but true.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Pizza Bianca - Hatchet Style

Pizza Bianca, Hatchet Style!

Not long ago, Screamish asked about my pizza makin' skills. I'm here to tell all.

Pizza is not hard. It's actually pretty darned easy, but often seems like so much work that just dialing someone and having them deliver seems like a better option. However, I would like you to think about the difference between fast food and good food. Then think about just where all of those ingredients have been or how they were made. Me? I've gotten a lot pickier about my pizzas ever since I felt really awful after the last commercial pizza I had.

So. Let's begin. The first thing you're going to need is a good dough recipe. As you know, I've been swimming in No-Knead Bread Land since February and it's been good. Yes, they have a pizza dough recipe and forum, as does this guy. Chef John is hysterical and has videos to show you how to really do the things he does, so that's very cool. Personally, I like the AB5M recipe because I like having 4 lbs of dough on hand that I can make pizza or focaccia or rolls out of, should I wish. It works for me and allowing it to hang out in the fridge for a few days also develops more flavor in the crust. Yum.
  1. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Your stone should be in now, if you have one. If you've broken yours like I have, the back of a 1/2 sheet pan works pretty well too. Either way, preheating the stone and oven is key to a crisp crust.
  2. Choose your recipe and make your dough.
  3. Generously flour the surface upon which you will roll out your dough. Flour your rolling pin, too. Don't be afraid of the flour, but don't go insane, either. Roll it out until it's about 1/8th of an inch thick. There are these funky rubberbands you can buy to go on your french pin to help you gauge proper thickness, but I just fake it. If the dough fights you, let it rest for 5 minutes and then roll it out.
  4. Transfer the dough to your cornmeal covered peel or, in my case, to a semolina covered Silpat. Be generous with the cornmeal/semolina flour since this helps you shift the laden pizza off your peel and onto your stone. My peel is broken and can't hold a whole pizza dough anymore. Sniffle!
Oh snap!
  1. Brush the dough all over with olive oil and prick all over with a fork. This is to prevent it from bubbling all over as it cooks. Don't worry if it still bubbles, mine does and it tastes fantastic anyway.

Bubbles in the crust.
  1. Lightly cover with your preferred toppings. On mine: ~1/3 c sliced mozzarella, 2/3 c Asiago, shredded basil, crushed garlic, minced rosemary, coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Don't put too much on or you can't get it off the peel. Trust me.

Looks sparse, but isn't.
  1. Slide it into the oven and bake for 8-12 minutes or until toppings are bubbling and the crust is golden brown and lovely. After removing from the oven, sprinkle the top with 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese. Now you have a lovely three cheese pizza!

You can almost smell it, can't you?
Mmmm! Pizza!

This is way better than store bought and you may even have the ingredients at home, right now! Flour, yeast, olive oil, salt, sugar/honey, water and toppings. You should try it. Really!


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

She's Back!

Caitlin, cucumber grower.

And she's mine! All mine!

She asked me to show you the cucumbers she grew in her garden, by the way.
They were yummy, too!

Her weeks of globe trotting are over. No more dog slobber.
Bonnie likes Caitlin. Yum!

No more trains, planes, automobiles, subways, buses, ferries,


or rollercoasters (Dawn mentioned that they managed to ride on every form of transportation possible during Caitlin's visit.). Now it's back to normal.

They got in late on Sunday and arrived at my house so late that it became Monday. Then I squeezed her so hard that her head popped off, just like I said I would.

True to form, she's bored today. While I secretly bet myself that she'd complain about being bored her very first day back (like this time), she waited until today. Right now, she's sitting behind me and is looking for something to do, but doesn't like the options I'm giving her.

Yeah, she's back. And I'm glad. Must be time to go squish her some more.
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