I think this baby looks like Prince George…except for the belly hanging out and the Sears photo studio backdrop. And that backdrop looks like it’s covered in dog hair, right?
Tonight at about 8:30, we had the kids settled in after a long weekend of staying at home, all up in each other’s business (but in a good way). Alone at last! I plopped myself down on the loveseat to watch the tail end of last week’s Downton Abbey before this week’s episode began. G went outside to smoke.
It’s right at the part with the fire in Lady Edith’s room when G comes in from the deck and takes his spot on the couch. We’re following the show in silence when G says, “Do you smell something burning?”
Ha ha, G. Real funny.
So Downton Abbey concludes (I can’t wait for the day that Lady Edith just up and slaps Lady Mary for being a shrew) and we’re watching the little special about Edwardian manners and how rigidly polite everyone was…when G leaps up into the air and starts swatting at his thigh.
The man’s pants were on fire.
And not in a Tony Gillingham way.
After a good 10 seconds of WTFFrenzy, G got himself extinguished. I sat there across the room from him, giving him my best Lady Mary Face. “Now that you mention it, I DO smell something burning. It’s your leg, darling.”
Apparently, he misflicked a cigarette ember and it had landed in the front pocket of his sweatshirt. That was a good, thick sweatshirt because it took quite a while for it to smolder through the pocket, the sweatshirt itself and then through his pants.
Just another Masterpiece Classic evening at our house, watching the denizens of Downton Abbey with just a touch of sizzling thigh hair to perfume the air.
I haven’t written in over a week, but it’s really not my fault. I’ve been trying. I even stuck my head in the oven but to no avail.
There’s a legal concept called “chain of causation” by which a person who appears to be at fault can prove that a chain of events lined up to create the situation…thus removing the fault from the individual.
Here’s what happened this weekend when I tried to write a post.
Last month, I got a copy of 40th anniversary update of “The Moosewood Cookbook” from a publisher in exchange for an honest review. And you can’t review a cookbook without trying some of the recipes, right? So I found the recipe with the fewest ingredients, one that barely took up half a page. French Onion Soup. YUM.
I bought the onions…last month.
Then life happened.
So by the time I got around to trying the recipe, the onions had started to pursue their dream of starting a family, sprouting green shoots that were heading for the sunny window. OK.
So I picked a different recipe…something bakish because I actually had yeast. Again, I checked for a recipe that had fewest ingredients, short instructions, no trips to Williams-Sonoma for special equipment. Focaccia! YUM.
But baking….problematic. Lately, anytime I try to get the oven over 300 degrees, the smoke alarm goes off (thanks to some apple pies, pizzas, and malaise).
I can’t have the smoke alarm going off because my baby hates loud, sudden noises.
By this point, how can I write a blog post without putting my son’s emotional stability at risk? Time to clean my oven.
Historically, I only clean the oven when I’m moving and the security deposit depends on a shiny oven. I’ve lived here since 2003. You do the math.
Soooooo…instead of using the self-cleaning function, I got myself some Easy-Off to really tackle the grime.
Spent so long cleaning the oven that I ran out of time to let the dough rise…so no focaccia. (Am I even spelling that right?)
BUT! Progress. Clean oven, week ahead of me…surely I can knock out some focaccia.
Turn the oven on Monday and it makes a strange beeping noise and flashes F4 on the panel.
After a little Googling of “Kenmore oven F4 error message,” I discover that I’ve got a broken temperature sensor.
Ohhhh…that’s what that long spiky thing was that I was wiggling around while cleaning the grime. Ah.
See how long this chain is and we ain’t nary closer to focaccia or a blog post?
This is why nothing ever seems to get DONE around here. Set off in one direction with a plan and pfffffffffft. I trip all over the great Chain of Causation.
P.S. – While I was cleaning the oven, someone clogged up a toilet and that cost us another $403. I would drown my feelings in carbs, but…FOCCACHIT.
It’s time for my annual humiliation–the night I attempt to bake a simple cream cheese pound cake for the big cake auction: The Thrilla In Vanilla. How hard could it be, you know? It only has six ingredients and a couple of steps. Courtney is making TWO cakes with ganache, chocolate mousse, chocolate curls. Jo has concocted a key lime cake and her famous burnt sugar caramel while also coaching softball. Anna just dropped off three loaves of challah, kosher for Rosh Hashannah.
And I’m giving myself a pep talk.
One year, I pulled the cake pan out of the oven and turned it upside down on the cooling rack. As I gently pulled the pan away from the cake, the entire golden crust stuck to the inside of the pan.
The instructions HAD mentioned that I should butter the pan, but I didn’t think a recipe that contained THREE STICKS of butter needed a buttered pan. I scraped the crispy crust from the pan with a spoon and contemplated just how wrong that idea had been.
The next year, I attempted to make this same cake. I buttered the tube pan then I buttered it again. Mixed up the ingredients exactly then baked it at 275 for two hours. I had gotten a late start so the cake wasn’t finished until after 11 p.m. I was about 27 months pregnant with Carlos that year and was out of my mind with fatigue. After I pulled the cake out of the oven, I thought about how my Grandmama Irene would let her tube pan cool on the neck of a bottle. I fetched an old bottle and set it on the kitchen counter. Verrrrry carefully, I turned the entire cake pan upside down and suspended it over the bottle.
In the 4 seconds that it took me to remember that upside down cooling was for angel food cakes so they didn’t collapse it was too late to save the pound cake.
Hanging upside down is definitely not for hot pound cakes.
In slow motion, I watched the pound cake slllliiiidde out of that heavily buttered pan and smash into a thousand nuggets on the countertop.
This was before cake pops, so there was no saving it. And since it was almost midnight and I was super pregnant, I stood there in the half-dark kitchen and ate my fill of shattered cake.
My favorite travesty with this cake happened the very first time I made it, back when Fartbuster and I were married. The recipe is from a family cookbook that Brett put together many years ago. I followed the recipe exactly. I’ll give you a second to put on your reading glasses and look up there at the recipe. Does anything strike you as odd? I was new to baking, so I added just what the recipe called for–18 oz of cream cheese. Two solid blocks and a little bit of a third. Over a POUND of cream cheese. My poor little hand mixer was smoking by the time I got it blended together.
The cake smelled divine while it baked. I lifted it from the oven and inverted it onto a plate. I let it cool for a few hours and we grew giddy with anticipation at tasting my first homemade cake. When it was time for the tasting, the knife sliced through the crumbly golden crust but then it…got stuck. Like it had hit a dense core.
I pulled the knife out and tried again, with more of a sawing motion. We finally got a slice cut after a little effort. The center of that cake had so much congealed cream cheese in it that it was GRAY. It was a lot like eating PlayDoh, only not as salty.
A few weeks later, when I mentioned at a family dinner that I had made that cake, Big Gay said, “You know there’s a typo in the recipe, right? It’s supposed to be 8 ounces of cream cheese.”
I simply nodded and said, “Yeah, I figured that out.”
Like so much of life, every time I mess up this cake I learn something new. Let’s hope I get a little bit better with every try and ONE DAY…one sweet sweet day…I will get it right!
If you’re close to Athens, come by the Prince One Lobby at ARMC on Friday, Sept 19 from 8 a.m.-noon. We’ll be selling goodies and auctioning cakes for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society!
That never ends well.
The night before, while the rest of us were finishing dinner, Carlos had gotten into the industrial size container of Vaseline still lurking in the baby cabinet. He slicked down his hair (still trying to get that out). He coated the floor in the hall. He wiped it in the fringe on the edge of Mommy’s favorite rug. He painted EVERY doorknob with the goo. Wiped it across his rug and up a recliner. Stuck it in the grooves of a louvered closet door. You get the picture. (PRO TIP: Vaseline makes hardwood floors really shiny, but they’re kind of treacherous.)
So just as I slipped into the elastic waist pants that say “La Dolce Vita pasta special please,” I heard Vivi shout, “Carrrrr-LOS!”
G and I both came running towards the kitchen. Carlos ducked into the pantry and hid behind the dog food bag. Luckily, the wall of lemon scent that accosted our noses warned us not to take another step forward. That kid had used a can of Pledge to turn the kitchen floor into a skating rink of lemony goodness. I held on to the cabinets as I worked my way over to the paper towels. G and I each put a few paper towels under each foot and started sliding around the linoleum to clean up the mess as safely as possible. We both managed not to slip.
Our kids aren’t as smart. I blame myself that they’re not more aware of the side effects of cleaning products. They haven’t had much exposure.
Carlos trotted out of the pantry giggling and promptly slipped on the mess of his own creation, ass over tea kettle. He started crying. Which brought Vivi from the den. More ass, more tea kettle. Two kids down and I’m trying not to laugh but the fumes from the lemony miasma had worked their way into my lizard brain.
After it was cleaned up, Vivi and I went back to the den and flopped on the couch. She picked up her Hardy Boys Mystery, but before she opened it she said, “That Carlos sure makes a lot of messes.”
I, ever mindful of increasing her vocabulary, replied, “Indubitably! He is a little scamp!”
And she answered, “Imagine when he grows up–he’ll be an even bigger asshole.”
Whoops. Seems like I have slipped after all.
My late husband, Richard, taught me how to float in the summer of 2002. Even though I have been able to swim since childhood, I had somehow lost the ability to float. I couldn’t relax the right way in the water so my long legs sank like marble pillars as soon as I tried to float. I had lost that limber trust in the water. I didn’t want to rely on it to hold me up.
One afternoon at his parents’ place, we went down to the pool. They live in a very nice condominium complex, not exactly a starter home kind of joint, so we were the youngest people at the pool by a good 30 years. We waded out into the shallow end for my lesson.
“Just relax your body,” he said. Oh, OK. Gosh, I didn’t know it was that simple. I stretched out my legs and stuck out my arms but as soon as I dipped my head back towards the surface of the water, my legs dropped like a lever.
Richard was a born teacher–he taught skiing to tourists, he taught canoeing to campers, he taught finance to business majors. He tried to break it down into pieces. I held the side of the pool and let my legs float. No problem. Then he held my legs–not in a racy fashion since we were being observed by about 30 Nanas, Bubbies, and Pop Pops. I tried to tip my head into the water but began to thrash as soon as the water touched my head.
Clearly, my head was the problem (this is where my therapist would probably raise her eyebrow and say, “AS USUAL!”). So he promised that he wouldn’t let my head sink. He held me under the shoulders and I stretched out into the cool blue water.
“Now take a breath in. See how you float up?” It worked!
“Now let that breath out and feel your body sink.” I exhaled and felt the water climb higher around me. I started to wiggle in panic. Quickly, Richard said, “Breathe in!”
I floated right back up to the top of the water with a triumphant grin. And a little knot in my neck dissolved. I had learned that I could loosen up a little and the water would catch me. “Now let it out…” He held me while I practiced letting go of my breath and slowly taking it back in. My head still lay on the valley of his forearms, high and dry.
“You’re going to have to let the water get in your ears if you want to float. It will be OK.” He let his hands drop slowly from beneath my shoulders. I felt the cold water tingle up the back of my scalp and pour into my ears. I took a deep breath to bob back to the surface. It wasn’t so bad. I let the breath go and just like that…I was floating. On my own.
Straight above me stretched the clear blue sky. To my right, the open stretch of the Potomac River, with a jet following the path of the water on its descent to National. I floated in a perfectly round and perfectly blue and perfectly cool pool next to a man who loved to show me all I could do. If I just let my brain get out of the way.
I stood up to see the world from vertical again. I gave him a chaste little kiss and said, “Thank you. I’m proud of myself.”
He grinned and said, “Next I’ll show you how to do THIS!” He curled up into a tight ball, squeezing his knees to his chest, and with a long slow exhale of bubbles, he sank to the bottom of the pool. It was one of his favorite tricks.
As I stood there waiting for him to bob back up when he got tired of holding his breath, one of the residents joined us in the pool. Well, she came as far as the third step. In her black maillot and swim cap, she stood in the water up to her thighs, splashing a little water up onto her arms.
And she farted.
I don’t mean “toot toot” like you think a Nana might fart. I mean “BRAAAAAAAAPPPPPHHH!” Like someone stepped on a duck.
Since I had been raised right, I pretended not to notice. We all suffer a little slip now and then and pools can make for confusing acoustics. Who am I to judge?
Richard erupted from the water with a splash and a gasp. “I’m losing my form. I used to be able to stay down a lot longer.”
At that very moment, the woman beside us let fly again. “BUH-WONK!” Richard’s eyebrows shot up and he–having also been raised right–looked ever so casually around to see who had stepped on a duck. It was just us and her in the water. Everyone else chatted on lounge chairs in the shade of the pergola. He turned back to me and gave the straight face double eyebrow raise.
We tried to be nonchalant about it, but we started making our way to the deep end as she continued to toot her own horn. Once we were a safe distance away, I said, “Do you think she thinks she under water and no one can hear?”
Richard said, “No, I think she’s lived long enough that she just doesn’t give a shit.”