January 21, 2011

Rose-Colored Bifocals

Back in the days when I had time to read - so much time, in fact, that I was reading for a living ... if you can call incurring thousands of dollars in student loans a living. Which, you know, you can't. So, uh ... yeah.

Anyway, back then, my eyes were on a steady diet of Chaucer and Virginia Woolf. It was grad school. It was an English lit program. I read. I read a lot. And my eyes forgot how to see far away.

So I wore glasses, and I kinda liked them. They gave me that sexy librarian vibe. Or so I thought. Possibly that was all in my head.

The glasses were a fleeting thing, though. I wore them for about three years, after which my eyes learned once again that life can happen at a distance.

Twenty years of nearly perfect vision later, I'm buying glasses again. See, about a month ago, give or take, I got lost. This is not unusual. I get lost so often that my sweet and thoughtful fellow got me a GPS for Christmas - one that talks to me from time to time just to remind me I'm driving, and believe me, the rest of you are grateful that it does. But this particular lostisode was pre-Christmas. Pre-GPS. What's worse, I knew where I was going. I didn't get lost because I was lost. I got lost because I missed my turn. And I missed my turn because I couldn't read the street sign.

Dangerous much?

So I went to the optometrist. I plonked down a ridiculous sum of money. And now I'm soon to be the proud owner of a brand spanking new pair of glasses that the much younger woman at the shop told me were fashionable but not flashy. I have no fashion sense. She smiled at me and said I looked great after saying a few times I didn't. So I decided to trust her. 

You want to know the best part? They're bifocals. Or, rather, progressives, which is a nice, modern way of saying bifocals. Apparently I can't see close up, and I can't see far away. I can see in the middle, though. I guess that's something.

Bifocals. Feh.

I don't feel like a sexy librarian anymore. I just feel old.

You think maybe they'll make them with rose-colored lenses?

January 16, 2011

Cinnamon Buns

This is not a post about vomit, though it wants to be. There was a time when I thought all my posts would be about vomit, and aren't we all lucky that didn't happen? But this post does start with vomit, and that's as good a place to start as any.

Oh, actually I guess it starts with Sarah McLachlan, because that's where I was for a small chunk of Monday, watching her perform. Fortunately, she does not sing about vomit, though she does tell birth stories on stage, which is what I'd do if I were a famous singing person. She played a good, solid three hours, so I got home late, watched an episode of something to settle my brain, and then went up to check on my kids. My diva, my lifetime solid sleeper, was awake.

"Mommy, my tummy hurts."

We were up for another two hours. I'll spare you the details.

The next day she had a fever, and she kept that fever holding steady right on through Friday. Her teacher sent her work home so she wouldn't fall too far behind. But really, who wants to work when you're sick? We'd get a page out of her, then a fair amount of complaining, then another page. We got her through a few math sheets, and one writing sheet, and she was clearly done. But the work mountain wasn't much smaller.

So I bribed her.

She had one assignment - a read-and-summarize assignment - about bread-baking. So I pulled out my gorgeously stunning Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking book, and I said, "You do that last summary and learn about baking bread, and then you can pick any bread you want out of this book, and we'll make it this weekend."

And we did. She did her assignment. And this morning I baked my first yeast bread, with the best possible helper a home chef could have. She loves to bake, this girl. She also loves cinnamon rolls. And who wouldn't?

With great praise to the editors at Williams-Sonoma, who wrote this fabulous recipe. (Also, buy this book. It's teaching me to bake. It's awesome.)

Cinnamon Rolls

For the dough
2 packages (5 tsp) active dry yeast
1 c (250 ml) whole milk, heated to warm (105-115 F / 40-46 C)
1/2 c (125 g) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
5 1/2 c (845 g) all-purpose flour (plus extra for the work surface)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground mace
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 c (125 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the filling and egg glaze
6 Tbs (90 g) granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
About 1/4 c (60 g) unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
1 large egg, beaten

For the vanilla glaze
1/2 c (60 g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, sifted
1/4 c (60 ml) heavy (double) cream
1 tsp vanilla extract (essence)

The book has instructions for you to work by hand or by stand mixer. I have a stand mixer - the pride and joy of my kitchen - so that's what's typed out here. And if you want the sticky buns variation that looks utterly to die for, well, you'll have to go get yourself a copy of the book. Did I mention that the book is awesome?

By STAND MIXER: To make the dough, in the 5-qt (5-l) bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes (mine never really got foamy, but we'd measured the temperature of the milk precisely and set the kitchen timer, so we went ahead with the recipe, and it turned out just fine). Add the granulated sugar, eggs, flour, salt, mace, orange zest and butter. Place the bowl on the mixer, attach the dough hook, and knead on low speed. Add a little more flour as needed (we didn't need it) for the dough to come away from the sides of the bowl after a few minutes of kneading. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5-7 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl.

Form the dough into a ball, transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

To make the filling, in a small bowl, stir together the granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. Line a half-sheet pan or rimless baking sheet with parchment (baking) paper.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Cut it in half with a sharp knife. Lightly dust the surface of the dough with flour. Roll out one half of the dough into a 10-by-16-inch (25-by-40-cm) rectangle. Brush the surface of the rectangle with half of the melted butter, then sprinkle evenly with half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Starting at the long side farthest from you, roll up the rectangle toward you into a log.

Cut the log crosswise into 8 slices each 2 inches (5 cm) thick. Place the slices, cut side up, in a circle, side by side and barely touching, on half of the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough, melted butter, and cinnamon-sugar mixture, arranging the rolls on the other half of the pan. For crisper rolls, space them evenly on the pan.

Cover the rolls loosely with a kitchen towel and let them rise in a warm, draft-free spot until they have doubled in size and are spongy to the touch, 30-40 minutes. Alternatively, place the rolls in the refrigerator and let them rise slowly overnight (that's what we did).

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 F (200 C).

If you have refrigerated the rolls, let them come to room temperature for 30-40 minutes. Brush the rolls lightly with the beaten egg. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a roll comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.

Just before the rolls are ready, make the vanilla glaze. In a small bowl, stir together the confectioner's sugar, cream and vanilla until the sugar dissolves completely and the mixture thickens slightly. Let the rolls cool slightly in the pan on a wire rack, then brush on the glaze while they are still warm. Pull the buns apart and serve warm.

January 8, 2011

Puppy Dog Tails ... er, Tales?

So this is my week.

On Sunday, I committed to an exercise program and a healthier diet. I spent three straight days following same.

On the evening of the third day, my diva developed a pre-adolescent meltdown of Mount Pinatuboian proportions. For those who don't remember Mount Pinatubo, it's a volcano in the Philippines that in 1991 exploded in what was to be the second biggest volcanic eruption of the entire 20th Century. The ash caused a global haze that gave even us east coast Americans glorious sunsets for months afterward.

Dealing with said volcanic meltdown led to one minor overindulgence in M&Ms Wednesday night (mine), followed by an even greater meltdown the next morning (hers), which meant no exercising for anyone. So I tried to exercise at night, which proved to be stupid. I pulled something.

Really, exercising does not appear to be my thing.

I took today off. My left shoulder hurts. My now sciatically challenged backside hurts. And I'm tired. Not that I'm going to let this stop me. Fitness is pain! (Right?) But I am disheartened.

So, to cheer ourselves up and put a stop to the pre-adolescent meltdowns that are interfering with the Healthy Happy Sleeping-all-night Family Plan, we adopted a dog. Because a little unconditional puppy love goes a long way toward addressing girlish insecurities. And while we did not adopt him solely to cheer up my diva, the sight of my grumpy, hurting girl laughing and smiling out loud (yes, that smile was so big, it was audible) did clinch the deal. It helped that the boys were smiling, too.

His name is Oswald. We met him today, on the first anniversary of the passing of our beloved Moose. He comes home on Sunday.

January 3, 2011

Living the Hottie Life

My San Francisco sweetie, awesome fella that he is, thinks I'm a hottie. And he tells me so, which I very much appreciate. I do, however, have mirrors in my house. And a scale. And skinny jeans that haven't fit since kid number three first made his presence felt. And while they all like me well enough - I'm a cheery gal, after all - they're a little too honest in the "hey, babe, you've let yourself go" department.

It's January, so I decided to listen. You'd think I'd listen when it's swimsuit season and I'm all exposed and everything. Not me. I decided to listen in the dead of winter, when I can hide all my rolls and flabby bits under flannel and fleece and thick wool sweaters.

I know how this works, though. It's not enough to decide a thing. You have to do it. And you have to do it right now.

So I did.

Today, I made healthier choices. I drank water. Lots of water. I ate a high-fiber, whole grain English muffin with some all-fruit spread on it for breakfast. I had plain yogurt and a pear for a snack. A baked potato with veggies and cheese for lunch. Salmon, spinach, and a bit more potato for dinner, with a half cup of blueberries for dessert. And a handful of M&Ms. Because life isn't worth living if it doesn't include chocolate.

But that's not all. I got moving. I took an actual, honest-to-goodness lunch break and exercised. Which I don't do. It's been long enough that by the end of the DVD my body was screaming at me, "Wait! Are you actually moving? Don't do that. Hey, stop that! Did you hear me? I said STOP!" And just to show me it was serious, it made me all woozy and nauseous, right at the end when I was meant to be stretching. And then it said, "I told you so."

Yeah, that was fun.

And that's when I realized I needed partners. Because there's no way I'm doing that again unless someone makes me. So I enlisted the kids. I gave them permission to wake me up (gently, mind you - I'm still not a morning person, even if they are). My oldest keeps a clock both in his head and on his wrist, so he's the Owner of the Schedule and is in charge of Waking Up Mom. Then we're all going to head down to the living room and do my little DVD workouts together. Which is a very good thing. Because today the only person in the house who can do a full push-up is my five-year-old, who was born with six-pack abs and eerie, Herculean strength. It's time to bring the rest of us in line.

After I shared this news with my kids, my oldest - I really do need to come up with blog names for these kids - said, "I know, Mom. You want to lose weight. All those New Year's resolution people want to lose weight."

But that's not it, and I told him so, very clearly. I want to be healthy. I have three little people to see into adulthood. I want to take them for hikes and bike rides and canoe trips on the Potomac. And, in 20 years or so, I want to play catch with my grandkids. If one workout - one puny little beginner's workout - can make me woozy, then I'm not going to get there.

I also want my kids to be healthy. I've been teaching them about diet, about proper nutrition and portion control. I feed them fruit and veggies and whole grains in ever increasing varieties. I pay for and drive them to sports, and I cheer my heart out when I watch them play. But I don't live that life myself.

It's high time I did. Because you don't teach by telling. You teach by showing.

I also wouldn't mind getting into a bikini again at least once before I'm 50.

Wish me luck. I had similar plans last year that were derailed by a bursitis in my hip and a change in the kids' scheduled visits with their dad. This time, though, I've got helpers. So stay tuned, and let's see if we can't make this actively sedentary family just a little bit healthier.

January 2, 2011

Sleeping into the Sunset

It's been 16 days since my last blog post.

You know what I've been doing? Aside from working, raising three kids, managing Christmas and New Year's, and - oh yeah - dealing with a resurgence of head lice (which, fortunately, struck over the holidays when the risk of contagion was low and the time available to nitpick was high).

I just distracted myself. Wait, what was I doing? Oh, right!

I've been sleeping. S-L-E-E-P-I-N-G. Which deserves every capital letter I can find.

I meant to be on vacation, so the sleeping thing would have maybe made sense. Except for, you know, the raging insomnia. But that vacation didn't work out quite as I planned, and I wound up working. I did my work the easy way, though. Started late. Kept it to the daytime. Didn't bring out the computer at night. And you know what happened? I got tired. I got tired, so I got up off my sofa and I went to bed. I made myself horizontal by midnight every single night. Well, except Christmas Eve. But that's only because I was tracking Santa with NORAD and couldn't go to sleep until he was finished.

I'm well rested. Which means I'm not blogging. And I hope it doesn't offend you if I hope for more of the same in 2011. I'd call it a New Year's resolution, but I'm not so good with those.

Since I'm awake now, though, I proudly present my 2010 Done List.

In the past year, I have ...
  • Said good-bye to a beloved friend - our dog, Moose, who passed away in January. We still miss her. 
  • Survived the 80+ inches of snow dumped on our area last winter. With help.
  • Got my kids eating real food, at a real table, with real manners. They put their napkins in their laps and only talk with their mouths full when they have something really important to say.
  • Saw my diva into - and then back out of - vegetarianism. Along the way, she learned there's not a veggie grown that she does not love. Even better - she dragged her brothers kicking and screaming into the veggie madness with her. Now I can serve broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, brussels sprouts, peas, corn, cucumbers or carrots ... and everyone eats them. Last week, I introduced sauteed spinach and lima beans - on different nights, of course - and got nothing but yums from the peanut gallery. Hats off to Veggie Girl, because I'm pretty sure none of that would have happened without her.
  • Fixed my plumbing. And my car. And my lights. And my computer. And my microwave. I got jiggy with the home repairs.
  • Made new friends - a few who actually live near me (yay!), and one who lives with me. I've had lots of great au pairs, but only a few have become true friends - and the one who's living with me now is among the best of them. 
  • Hired a boy. That's right - our next au pair is a fella! And he's got the URL to my blog, so if he's reading this - we're pleased as punch that you're coming, and the kids can't wait to make you play soccer with them. Every. Single. Day.
  • Got my oldest into the Right School, with the Right People. Which means he's now attending a school where every single person on staff understands Asperger's Syndrome and not only accepts my son but loves him for exactly who he is. So far he's brought home straight A's and a girlfriend and a few best friends who call him just to chat and sometimes to invite him to the movies. His joy at getting on the school bus every day is palpable. (And, a nod here to the local middle school, because they did everything they could to support him and make sure he got where he needed to go.)
  • Left my heart in San Francisco. And brought some yummy chocolate home.
  • Saw my redhead off to Kindergarten. And only cried a little. And now he's reading. Kindergarten is magic.
  • Knit stuff. This year I finished - yes, I said finished - my knitting Olympics project and a handbag, plus the three hats and a scarf I just gave as Christmas gifts. And I finished those last four on time. Barely. But it counts.
  • Picked hundreds of nits from the heads of various of my children. And thanked my au pair for doing the same, for them and for me. (Ew.)
  • Wrote another 57 blog posts. Which seems to be about all I'm good for in any given year, seeing as that's the exact number I wrote in 2009, too. 
Happy New Year, folks. I walked out of 2010 with a smile and my rose-colored glasses decidedly intact. I hope that you can say the same.