There is something extremely satisfying about yard work. The sense of accomplishment is so straight-forward. There were weeds; now there aren't (at least no more visible ones). I spent a couple of hours cutting back overgrown ivy along the side of our house. Its tentacles threading their way under landscaping fabric and popping up on the other side of the path. Tendrils of sticky, fuzzy vines gripping and choking nearby decorative olive trees. My arm aches from all the yanking, but it was impossible to stop. How could I discontinue the frenzied cutting, pulling and digging when my adversary was obviously not abiding by the length of wood trim that demarcates no man's land from pathway? Chaos reigns. Nature overrides all attempts to create control. 

Satisfaction from seeing my pile of discarded ivy cheered me forward. One tree free of the strangulating ivy, now two, only two more to go. I know my body will pay for this tomorrow. I know, that as in everything, I should set boundaries, but compulsion prevails. And why not? Where else in life do you see the proof of your hard work in such tangible evidence? 

There is also the meditative, quiet space of yard work. There's time to analyze, to daydream, to ruminate, and all occur under the protective spell of physical labor that reminds me that I am not wasting my time. At the end of the hour, there will be visible transformation. My labors will be evident. I will feel vindicated that I have done something. I will have earned my extra long shower, I will have earned my slovenly behavior on the couch. 

I wish that my mind weren't such a whirling dervish of activity. I wish that it were easier for me to just sit and watch t.v. or read my book. Why do I have to "earn" my relaxation time, in order to shut off the self-judgement? Isn't the five days at work enough to garner an actual weekend? This task master behavior has been a long-time companion but has improved over the past year. I have allowed myself more creativity and down time. There is a certain ease to my day that I had never experienced before, or at least had not experienced since I was pregnant. It's hard to remember what it was like pre-babies. I struggled with a post back in June—about pregnancy, lonesomeness and loss—that I just couldn't publish. It caused a drought of writing these past many weeks and consequently I missed my goal of three posts a month. In fact, there was not a single post in June. I guess the feelings weren't ready to be out there. I think writing and re-writing the entry did help me to process some lingering pain, though I wonder if actually sharing via a post may have been even more cathartic. For now, I will leave it as a private journal entry and may try again later. For today, I will sit with my achy shoulder and be glad that I conquered some ivy and then wrote.
 
 
Picture
Sunnyside up!
Was just out for a lunchtime walk when I came upon this flower. I think it's a variety of poppy. A bush filled with sunnyside up eggs--that makes me giggle!
 
 
Picture
Jordan bought these salt and pepper shakers for Franny for Christmas last year. Jordan is the pea pod with her eyes closed, Franny is the one with her eyes open.
Having twins is like having a set of peas. The girls certainly are as close as two peas in a pod. It is the most amazing thing to have twins. When I was little growing up as the only child in the house (my brother and sister are much older), I played all sorts of imaginary games by myself. I was often lonely and always wished I had a sibling my age. When I see the girls engaged in each other's play, mirroring and matching each other's enthusiasm at every turn, I feel so happy that their youth is so opposite of my own. I'm amazed at the closeness of their bond, and just a bit envious, too. 

Most of us spend much of our adult lives searching for someone to be our companion, and in many ways, Franny and Jordan have all ready experienced that kind of affinity. They will surely have many friends in their lifetime, many boyfriends and—dare I say—lovers, and hopefully life partners who will cherish and respect them and who will be the fathers of their children. But from the beginning, they've had not only an ideal collaborator in play but a sister who is intimately familiar with their rhythms, preferences and needs. They have someone to rely on, to cheer them on, to learn from and occasionally to feel in opposition to. Although it does seem likely that my Jane Austen-loving, Victorian dress-obsessed girls will want to get married, it is my hope that their early closeness with each other will aid in their independence from the men in their lives. I hope they might be free from the longing and angst that many of us are familiar with when it comes to relationships. Maybe that craving for connection is not as great when you've experienced a deep attachment from the very beginning? I wish for Franny and Jordan—and all young girls—the courage to follow their ambitions with joy and openness, to engage in meaningful relationships, and to revel in their own unique strength, creativity and intelligence.
Picture
Pea pod serving tray with three pea bowls.
Picture
One of my favorite magnets that's been around since before the girls were born.
 
 
Last Saturday, our family had the pleasure of seeing Les 7 Doights de la Main, a nouveau circus performance collaborative from Montreal, perform their piece PSY. The company name translates to "the seven fingers of the hand" (evoking the French idiom of the five fingers of the hand working together toward a unified goal) and refers to the seven founding members and their unique creative backgrounds that fit together to accomplish a larger artistic collaboration. The result was a thrilling performance of quirky, innovative and high energy talent that combined circus arts, theatre and dance. 

The larger narrative of PSY is therapy, individual neurosis and the psyche as creative juice for life. Each performer engaged in acts of physical feat that represented the torment that their characters felt internally. As I watched awed by each performer's kinesthetic prowess, I meditated on the comfortable predictability of gravity, contrasted with the seemingly outright defiance of its force by the amazing performers. The juggler's pin is tossed and then rhythmically caught over and over, our mind's eye tracing its path through the air. There is a thrill in watching the juggler because we instantly become familiar with the sequential pattern of the tumbling pins, while simultaneously fearing that a pin will not be caught and our fascinated trance broken. The arc that the aerialist makes while pumping her swinging trapeze soothes like a pendulum and makes your heart race as the apex reaches dizzyingly heights. The greatest delight was watching a couple seemingly flout the laws of physics by clinging to an apparatus, the Chinese pole—basically a fireman's pole that stretched skyward two stories above the stage floor. Their feet would scamper up the bar as if it were a notched tree trunk, then at ridiculous heights their limbs would wind and spin around the pole, stopping to elongate their bodies away from this center line. As the couple spoons as if in bed, but stacked one body atop the other, we are lulled into thinking this is easy, when they suddenly loosen their grip and drop from two stories high to inches from the floor. It is spellbinding to see these performers surrender to gravity's pull. How can one be so brave as to let themselves plummet towards the earth? 

PSY was about psychology and the mind's yield to forces beyond us. As I watched, I wondered about the lure of falling. We, as humans, may fear the descent but ultimately we want to fall, to feel. We seek out thrill rides where we are protected by metal enclosures so we can safely replicate this sensation without any daring. When we dream in our sleep that we are losing our balance, toppling down, our minds awaken to catch us before we hit. We jolt awake stunned by our instinctive muscles contracting. We feel tense, but initially the fall felt weightless and a little intoxicating. If we didn't think we would crash, would we have become so panicked? 

We crave falling in love, drawn to another who reciprocates our feelings, and for that brief time we feel so accepted that we can be giddy and silly and uncaring of the outcome, simply drunk with life. I wonder if what we aren't yearning for is that sensation of abandon. These performers embraced this desire, yielding to gravity and confident that their bodies would catch them right side up. We enjoy watching this physical and metaphorical spectacle of arcing ebbs and flows because it tantalizes that wonder in our soul. We want to fall. We want to be that open; we want to no longer care about being judged, by ourselves, by others, or by perceived limitations. We want to skip for joy and to hell with constraints and pessimism. We want to savor whole-heartedness. It is up to us as individuals to perch at the highest heights, leap off believing that we can enjoy the tumult, sometimes cascading, sometimes falling faster than we like, but trusting that our landings will offer enough momentum to arc us back to the summit for another breathless dance.
 
 
These homemade croutons are completely addictive. I named them Elle's croutons because I first made them up when Elle was over for a playdate with the girls (they've designed a model of their dream Parisien apartment and are currently building it together). It was lunchtime, we were having soup and were out of crackers, so I improvised and made croutons. Normally I would have combined olive oil and butter, but I made these without due to Elle's dairy allergy. I love it when a restriction becomes an improvement! My family (and Elle) can eat these in huge quantities, snacking on them like potato chips. 
Picture
Crusty bread sliced into half to one inch squares.
Picture
Heat about 2T olive oil in a pan and sprinkle with about 1/4 tsp kosher salt. Toss repeatedly and drizzle more oil and more salt to taste.
Picture
The more browned the better, and don't skimp on the salt! But be sure it's kosher salt* (see note below) which is milder than table salt and offers a much larger margin of error so you don't have to worry as much about over-salting.
*Special Note about Kosher Salt
When I started using Kosher salt a few years ago, I luckily picked up the Diamond Crystal brand which recently I've learned is the preferred salt in many a professional kitchen. It has a course texture and is much less salty per volume than table salt, and even compared to different brands of kosher salt. Diamond Crystal has a patented method of stacking salt crystals, instead of flattening, which creates a grain size that, although larger, is less compressed and so not as strong flavored. 

Therefore, you can't use equal amounts of table salt when a recipe calls for kosher or koshering salt, and you can't use equal amounts from different brands. Deb from Smitten Kitchen has a great article about salt where she sites Jill Santopietro's article and conversion between different brands and types. I've listed the conversion below for convenience, but you really should read both articles! Ultimately, you can be a lot more liberal when sprinkling with Diamond Crystal without worrying about over-salting.

As for baking, my friend and food professional, Peter Degnan, uses kosher salt for savory and Morton's table salt for baking. This has worked well for me. Thanks, Peter!
Salt Conversion from Jill Santopietro's Research:

1 teaspoon fine sea or table salt = roughly 1  1/4 teaspoons Morton's kosher salt = roughly   1  3/4 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Now, back to the croutons. 

They're best with a quality sweet batard (like Acme's Italian batard or Semifreddi's sweet batard), loads of olive oil and generous sprinkles of kosher salt. It's a great way to use up old bread (extra olive oil is required), but the flavors soak in better with a fresh loaf. 

Equipment
serrated knife & cutting board
Large frying pan

Ingredients
half loaf of crusty bread (we like sweet batards but sourdough would be delicious, too)
1/4 C olive oil, approx.
1/2 to 1 tsp kosher salt, approx. (table salt or iodized salt is too harsh. Course sea salt would work fine)

Procedure
1. Slice bread into 1/2"-1" rough squares. 
2. Pre-heat pan on medium-high heat.
3. Drizzle olive oil across pan to coat (approx 2T) and heat well.
4. Add half of the bread. A single layer is best for better browning.
5. Sprinkle with kosher salt (about 1/4 tsp).
6. While one side is browning, drizzle more olive oil on top of bread (about 1T).
7. Toss to brown other side, sprinkle more salt (about 1/8 to 1/4 tsp).
8. Keep adding more olive oil and salt to taste until well-browned.

Be sure to heat the olive oil in the pan before adding the bread for better browning. I let them brown on one side and then toss while in the pan, adding more olive oil and salt as I go. I'm not sure how chefs codify a recipe. It's so hard to measure exactly how much salt I'm using when I'm sprinkling. So I encourage sprinkling and tasting, rather than getting out your measuring spoons! You can always sprinkle more table side if you find they aren't savory enough.

The saturated pieces taste the best -- first you crunch through the browned exterior, then a satisfying little gush of olive oil. Don't be shy with either ingredient, and be sure not to overcrowd the bread in the pan. I usually make these in two batches, or else there are never enough! Even with two batches, we always want more. Enjoy!
 
 
Picture
Created by latte artist, Kazuki Yamamoto.
A Happy Cat made from a latte? Einstein in foam? The Japanese have such a love of the cute and the whimsy.

See more images from today's NPR article by Maria Godoy, "Masterpiece in a Mug: Japanese Latte Art Will Perk You Up," featuring work by Japanese latte artists, Kazuki Yamamoto and Kohei Matsuno, also known as Mattsun. Kohei Matsuno's website contains a video of him creating his art, literally painting with espresso! And both tweet images of their daily frothy creations. 

Ephemeral art. Totally cool. 



Picture
How can one sip away something this cute? Latte creation by Kazuki Yamamoto
Picture
It's Kiki from Hayao Miyazaki's animated film, Kiki's Delivery Service! I love this film! I think this is a Mattsun latte.
 
 
Oh my gosh! This was so delicious! The recipe is from Smitten Kitchen's Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast. It was everything I love: fast, healthy, full of texture and breakfast-for-dinner! Thank you Smitten Kitchen!

Every time I go out for breakfast, I have poached eggs. I love the delicate white texture contrasted with the warm, gooey yolk, but I find poaching eggs at home to be troublesome. These five minute boiled eggs capture that delightful texture with no hassle! 

My very favorite brunch spot in the world is Tartine in NYC in the West Village. I have so many fond memories of brunches there with friends. While Cate was attending massage therapy school, I would go to her rent control apartment and she would "practice" on me, both swedish and shiatsu techniques. Afterwards, we'd walk down the block for breakfast at Tartine and indulge in the very best hollandaise sauce. On the weekends, they offer Eggs Benedict (with canadian bacon, Dave's fave) or Eggs Florentine (with spinach, my fave) with dark, crusty-browned potatoes, orange juice and coffee. They do booming business with a line that snakes around the block every weekend. 
Picture
Even better than eating outside on a sunny spring day, was being bundled up in winter, waiting in line filled with anticipation. Here's Wendy, Dave & Mike, preparing for our Tartine ritual.
I loved Cate's apartment. It was light-filled and looked down upon one of those rare-Manhattan sights, a neighbor's backyard garden. I remember one warm summer evening, Cate, our friend, Joel, and I, sat out on her fire escape and chatted about the books we were each reading. I had so much time in those days. It never felt like it though. I was always rushing from one thing to the next, but in comparison to my life now, the days were long with vasts amounts of free time. Now the hours, weeks, months tumble by, and I'm trying to learn to better savor each day. I'm attempting to worry less about how things turn out, control only what I can control (i.e. how I respond to the out of control) and to stay present (less regret about the past and less anxiety about the future). I think that's what this blog is about. An attempt to have fun, reflect, be a little creative and an opportunity to practice really tossing things out there.

Last night, the girls were out at a birthday party, so I tried SK's smashed eggs for mine and Dave's dinner, and was richly rewarded with memories of our old Manhattan days. Maybe that's a good formula. Indulging the senses with nutritious and memory-invoking food, blogging about good times with dear friends, and again, remembering to appreciate what I have.
Picture
The ingredients!
Picture
Does everything I love start with shallots?
Picture
SK said to use a "small puddle of water." I'll call this about 2T.
Picture
4 oz. of spinach. Washed but does not need to be dried.
Picture
Just wilted and about to remove to drain in a colander.
Picture
Melt 1-2T butter, saute minced shallots until soft, translucent and fragrant, but before they get brown.
Picture
Add drained spinach
Picture
Add 2T half and half, pinch of salt, a couple of turns of fresh ground pepper.
Picture
Add eggs to boiling water and cook for five minutes.
Picture
Toasted bread thinly spread with dijon mustard.
Picture
Peel eggs under water to remove shell. Be sure to peel away thin membrane, and pat to dry.
Picture
Gushy goodness! Eat with a fork and knife, or just pick it up and eat with your fingers.
Smashed Egg & Spinach on Toast, from Smitten Kitchen

Equipment

small sauce pan
fry pan
fork, butter knife, serrated knife
colander
wooden spoon, measuring spoons

Ingredients
2 large eggs
4 oz fresh spinach leaves
2 slices of hearty bread. I used herb slab sliced in half
2T shallots, minced
2T butter
2T half & half*
1 tsp Dijon mustard
kosher salt & fresh-ground pepper
1T crumbled cheese, such as feta or goat**

*Smitten Kitchen uses heavy cream. I always have half & half for my coffee so I substituted that instead and it tasted great!
**I skipped the crumbled cheese, and for me, it was plenty rich without the extra dairy. 

I have a hard time getting everything to come together at the same time. SK begins the process with boiling the water and then cooking the egg for 5 minutes. I find that's a lot to juggle so I waited to boil my water until after the spinach & shallots were cooked. I think that was a little late, so in the future, I plan to start the water after draining the spinach.

Procedure
1. Mince shallot into very small mince.
2. While washing spinach leaves (no need to dry. Yay!), heat 2T water in skillet over medium low heat.
3. When water bubbles, add spinach. Cook just until wilted. It should still be a bright green color. 
4. Drain spinach in colander, and press excess water out with a fork. Don't squeeze. You want the spinach to retain its shape.
5. Pat dry the pan (though I found the residual heat evaporated the left-over water from the spinach), and melt 2T butter over medium low heat.
6. While the butter melts, start boiling the water for the eggs in a small sauce pan, and slice & toast the bread.
7. Add shallots to melted butter and saute until soft, about 3 minutes or until shallots are fragrant and translucent, but not browned.
8. Add two eggs to boiling water, lower heat a bit so they don't knock around too much, but water is still boiling. Cook for five minutes for a really loose egg.
9. Add the spinach to the saute pan and incorporate. 
10. Add 2T half & half (or heavy cream) and incorporate, simmer for about a minute
11. Add two pinches of kosher salt and ground pepper, to taste. Turn burner off, but it's okay to leave in the pan on the stove to keep warm. 
12. Spread about 1/2 tsp. dijon on each slice of toast.
13. Drain eggs, peel under warm tap water. At five minutes, they are quite jiggly so gently pat dry with a paper towel.
14. Arrange spinach on toast, making a nest with an indented area for the egg to nestle.
15. Place egg in nest, smash with a fork and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, serve immediately.
 
 
Picture
Congratulations bouquets for my babies!
I love the color orange, and we purchased these creamy orange roses for Franny and Jordan for their post-play gift. Last night was their final performance of their school's production of Beowolf.

This was the girls' fourth production, and it's been wonderful to watch them grow as performers and to witness their confidence bloom.

Sending the girls to an Independent middle school was a difficult decision, and the financial strain has been greater than I could have imagined. But the access they have had to the arts, the opportunity for inquiry instead of teaching to the test, and the chance to develop their ability to self-advocate, have been completely worthwhile for our family.

At school, the play is performed three times before the two evening family performances. Once for the 3rd and 4th graders, once for the 5th and 6th graders, and once for the 7th and 8th graders. What a terrific way for these classic stories to come alive for the students. In the fall, the production is always a Shakespearean play. The language is meant to be heard, and it is amazing exposure for both the kids in the play, as well as for the kids in the audience. And for me, too!
Picture
Jordan as Queen Wealhtheow, and Franny as a Shaper (a group of six characters who shaped and narrated the story with text and movement)
There were two quotes from Beowolf that rang so true. The first that Dave pointed out: "Men carve their gods from what is best in them; what is left must define their fears." And Beowolf says: "There is no courage without fear." We all want our own lives, and the experiences for our children, to be smooth and without turmoil. But it is resiliency that is important to learn. There will always be things to worry about, times where we are disappointed or scared, and it is how we acknowledge those feelings and prevail that matter. Truly, it is more valuable to push up against those fears and know that you can come out the other side, stronger and more energized. What a wonderful thing to be reminded of such life lessons while watching your lovely, talented and smart daughters on stage. I am thankful, and filled with love and admiration.

Congratulations, Franny & Jordan, and all the students and teachers involved in Beowolf, for a wonderful evening of theatre!
 
 
Picture
Fresh-baked blueberry muffins, coffee, tangerines & deep purple anemones!
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey is one of my favorite children's books. I love the warm relationship that Sal and her mother have, and the loving relationship of the mother bear and her cub. "Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!" go the blueberries as Sal drops them into her tin pail. We meet Sal again in One Morning in Maine. Her family lives on a tiny and isolated island with a rocky beachfront and soaring trees. Sal's older now and goes digging for clams with her father, when she loses her first tooth. Sal's rite of passage, her parents loving attention while simultaneously teaching Sal how to be resilient and strong, make me long for a more self-sufficient, slower lifestyle with a real connection to my natural surroundings.

One Valentine's Day many years ago -- I think it was as long ago as 2001! -- Dave gave each of us a gift. Jordan got Blueberries for Sal, Franny got what soon became another favorite, Love Songs of the Little Bear, and I received the BBC miniseries production of Pride and Prejudice (the definitive version with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth). All three gifts have woven deep threads into the narrative of our lives.

I guess that's what I think about when I eat blueberries. Family, tenderness, nature. And blueberries in muffins make for even more warmth on a weekend morning. These blueberry muffins, from Baking Illustrated by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine, are my new favorites. These muffins brown beautifully resulting in a firmer, toasty goodness on the outside while still remaining fluffy tender in the middle. 
Picture
Buttering the muffin tin instead of spraying with non-stick spray is really worth the effort. The result is better browning and rich flavor.
Picture
Whisk vigorously until the sugar & eggs thicken.
Picture
Add the just-out-of-the-freezer frozen blueberries (or fresh) to the dry ingredients. This coating helps keep the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of your muffins.
Picture
Whisk the dry ingredients together to mix.
Picture
Add the slightly cooled melted butter in 2 or 3 additions and whisk to incorporate.
Frozen blueberries are convenient and work fine in this recipe. 
Picture
Fold the wet ingredients into the dry.
Picture
Add sugar to the beaten eggs.
Picture
Add the sour cream in three additions. I use a 1/2C measure cup (4 oz) twice, followed by a 1/4C (2 oz).
Picture
The dough is very thick.
Picture
Even though the blueberries have stained the batter purple, the muffins bake up just fine. Bake 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree, pre-heated oven. In my oven, it takes 30 minutes.
Picture
Clean up begins while the muffins bake!
Picture
Golden deliciousness!
Picture
Let muffins cool for 5 minutes, then turn them out on to a wire rack so they don't steam and get soggy.
Picture
Tender and fluffy, with well-distributed blueberries thanks to dusting the still-frozen berries in the flour mixture.
Blueberry Muffins from Baking Illustrated
Makes 12

Equipment needed
1 muffin tin
2 medium bowls
1 whisk
measuring cups & spoons
small saucepan to melt the butter
rubber spatula
soup spoon for scooping batter into muffin tins
wire rack fitted into a half-sheet pan (optional) for cooling

Ingredients
2C unbleached all-purpose flour
1T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1C sugar
4T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter -- melted and cooled slightly
1-1/4C (10oz) sour cream
1-1/2C (7-1/2 to 8 ounces) frozen or fresh blueberries

Procedure
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees, wire rack in the middle position
2. Butter muffin tins
3. Whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl to combine
4. Beat the egg in another bowl until well-combined & lightens in color 
5. Add the sugar and whisk vigorously until the mixture become thick and homogenous
6. Add the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions and combine well after each addition
7. Add the sour cream in 2-3 additions, whisk just to combine
8. Remove the blueberries from the freezer and add to the dry ingredients. Gently toss to cover. *If using fresh berries, be sure that they are well-dried after washing.
9. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, careful not to overmix. The batter will be very thick and that's okay! It's also okay if small spots of flour remain or if the batter is stained a little purple from the berries.
10. Spoon batter into the muffin cups. Ina Garten would use a spring-loaded ice cream scooper for perfectly consistent sized muffins, Cooks Illustrated says to spray your spoon with cooking oil, but I think both are unnecessary.
11. Bake until muffins are golden brown, about 25-30 minutes, turning the muffin pan once for more uniform browning. Insert a toothpick in the center of the muffin. If it comes out clean, they are done, though the tops being brown are really a great indicator.
12. Cool in pan for about 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to keep muffins from steaming. Enjoy warm, though they're good cold, too!
 
 
Picture
Greg's crinkle fries: Fisher-Price, circa early 90s
My nephew, Greg, got these as a gift from his mom many years ago. Greg must have been only four or five, and I was ready to jump on him and steal his new toy. I had always loved fake food and collected things when I was little, but in my early adult years, I practiced restraint. That is until Greg unwrapped these crinkle fries. My love for fake food was rekindled and has never waned again.

My sister-in-law remembered how I coveted these fries, and when her sons went off to college and she was going through old boxes, she saved these for me. For that, they are incredibly sentimental and among my favorite in my collection.

Yes, they are plastic and too uniform and the box is not realistic as a french fry container, but there's something about them that make it work. I'm not sure how I will ever quantify this, but it's like an Andy Warhol -- they POP!