Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween firsts and lasts

I am far too sentimental of a person not to have a hard time saying good bye or letting go. As I mentioned in this post here, this is Buddy's final year in our sweet elementary school. I have been very involved over these years with our PTO as I try to lend a hand where ever and whenever I can. That has become much more difficult these days with a little napper, squealer, and otherwise get under your feet person. I was so happy to be able to celebrate Hallween over the weekend at Buddy's very last school Halloween Monster Carnival since Halloween itself will be on a school night this year. This carnival is the talk of our little town and is always a huge hit. The parents who organize this event each year, knock it out of the park and I am always in awe of their effort and creativity. While I am heavily involved with parent organized events over there, this is the one event I have not been involved with so I can shout from the roof tops about what a wonderful job these parents do without feeling like I am giving myself a boost at the same time. Seriously. It rocks and those parents are freaking awesome.

Once the sun went down it got cold. I mean really cold and our little Tigress, who was dressed as a tigress, was shivering up a storm. I decided she would escape with SweetPea and me to the warm car for the next event of the evening. As I buckled her in, she gave me a look like, where are we and why do I feel like this?. Yes, this little Southern China beauty has never felt close to freezing temps so this was a big shock to a little body. 

In addition to our last Monster Carnival, SweetPea had her very first school dance the same night. Cici and I drove her over, walked her in, and after discussing pick-up procedures she disappeared into a sea of brightly colored characters goofing around sporting big ass smiles. As I drove away, I thought to myself, did I really just drop my daughter off at a dance??

By the time we got home, all the in's and out's of the car while trying to buckle her in over a puffy tiger costume had driven Cici over the edge. I don't blame her. She had had it. But a warm cup of milk along with a little dinner helped smooth things out for her and she spent the rest of the evening cracking us up. She even stayed up past 9:00 pm so she could hear about her sister's first dance.

The night was a huge success for everyone and I was thankful that the next day was Saturday and I didn't care who's costume was lying in the middle of the living room floor.

So happy Halloween everyone. Hope you get lots of treats and fewer tricks tonight. If you live in the Northeast, Mother Nature has given us the biggest trick of all with the snow. Hope your snow boots go with your costume!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Favorite Photo Friday: Beach Time on a Fall Day

Thought I would join in Lisa's fun over on The Long Road to China this morning by posting a few of my favorite photographs. As you know, Cici and I recently had a little beach photo session and it yielded so many cute photographs that I kinda need lots of excuses to share them! I love pointing my camera at this little girl with her big brown eyes and gorgeous face.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Quick treat to make with the kids

Tis the season for sweets. With Halloween coming up fast I have candy on the brain. It seems my three kids are all set for costumes with a WHOLE five days to spare between now and trick-or-treating. If you and your goblins are all set to spook the hood and are looking for something fun to do over the weekend, here is an easy treat to make. It takes virtually no time, little prep and is something you can hand out to your neighbors and friends as they come round on Monday night.

Making lollipops, especially when a friend is over, is always a huge hit. Here is a foolproof way to make something pretty and wow your kids in less than 30 minutes.

Original Jolly Rancher Candies
Lollypop Sticks
Small Clear Candy bags

Preheat oven to 200°
Line cookie sheet with foil as flat and wrinkle free as possible.
Lay candies out in a pattern you like.
Place in oven gently and melt.
Keep watching until the candy is fully melted and connects.
Remove from oven and immediately roll a stick into the soft candy.
Watch your kids smile!

Pin It

For Christmas I am thinking about doing just red and green lollipops! I mean really, who doesn't love a Jolly Rancher?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ginger and a timesaver!

When we lived in Paris for two summers there wasn't much eating out going on for our family of four. In addition to the trials of living in an already expensive city, trying to stretch euros converted from dollars, wasn't easy. Therefore, it was critical to find apartments with suitable kitchens for cooking (because despite what you might imagine, not all French people like to cook) and ones that were close to shopping and markets. We lived in three different Parisian apartments over the course of two summers and all of them were fortunate to have great food markets located close by. Cooking with food you buy a few times a week from open air markets is a bit of a thrill for someone who likes to make and eat food. But there was no way we could get by without regular grocery store runs.

As a lifelong francophile, I was acutely aware of the different grocery and department stores that dot the city of light. But when we arrived that first summer, I noticed there was a store I had never heard of called Picard and as I peered through the windows it became clear to me I needed to investigate. Picard sells only frozen food. And I chuckle when I tell you this because I don't frequent the frozen food section of my own grocery stores so it seemed odd that I would be so intrigued by one that sells exclusively frozen food. I find that I end up spending more money when I buy already prepared food than if I construct it myself. So really, I'm just being cheap.

Picard stores are generally small, very quiet, and have both chest and stand-up freezers to hold their products. They have some of the most interesting frozen food I've ever seen and one week when the lamb chops were on sale, I discovered they also have very good flash-frozen meats. But after busting my butt during summer number one to find stock, broth, or concentrate but could only find bullion cubes, I discovered in our local Picard early in the second summer something called Fond. We often refer to the caramelized sugars and proteins on the bottom of our roasting pans as fond and those bits are what we scrape up when we deglaze a pan with wine or stock in the process of making a sauce. Picard sells little white bags with frozen 1oz cubes of fond in various flavors. Some in basic stock flavors and others in complicated, already made sauces. I started using these as I needed stock but I quickly realized that all I had to do was toss one in after I removed meat from a roasting pan and in minutes I'd have a terrific sauce for my dish.

The reason why I am telling you all this is because I am starting to see good little frozen gourmet short-cuts in our grocery stores here. While I have not seen the magic fond cubes, I suspect they might exist on this side of the Atlantic but that I just haven't found them. What have found, and have fallen in love with are Dorot's frozen seasoning products. In particular, I am loving absolutely adoring, their frozen crushed ginger cubes. I love using ginger but peeling those gnarly little suckers and then either slicing, dicing or crushing the stringy material is so time consuming. Each Dorot cube measures 1 tsp and they are so easy to pop out of the container and toss into your pot.

A few of my new favorite recipes call for ginger so this makes getting those meals on the table that much easier on our busy nights. Do you have a favorite time-saving food product?

Monday, October 24, 2011


Cici's first time in the sand.

We decided to squeeze in a little end of the season beach time before SweetPea's 3:00 PM soccer game yesterday.  The dog needed to run and the mild temps combined with an overcast sky made me want to take some pictures.

Cici does come from a seaside town in Southern China but I am pretty sure that this was the first time her toes touched sand. She's not so sure about the feel of grass or pavement on her bare feet but she loved the feel of the soft silky sand. 
Dad and the big kids were watching the dog run around the great big beach, making new four legged friends, and dashing in and out of the water. 
Unfortunately when we got SweetPea to the field, we realized her 3:00 game was really at 2:00 pm. Whoops! But we had a really nice time at the beach so I don't feel too too badly.

If you want to see more cute entries on this week's them of Let them be little visit i heart faces at the link below!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Neverending Onions!

All week we've been enjoying the onions I caramelized last weekend. We've been using them as the star ingredient in some meals and just a quick enhancer in others.

Yesterday our weather started out all gloom and doom but by mid-day, blue sky and sun were out in full force. By late afternoon we were having some unseasonably warm weather and it made me want to fire up the outdoor grill one last time before the weather really turns cold. So I ran out and grabbed some fat steaks and made a quick pile of mashed potatoes. Simply grilled steaks flavored with fresh cracked pepper and sea salt topped with a heap of caramelized onions, served with luscious mashed and a salad was a perfect dinner for my soccer playing, busy day surviving family. I had intended to save some potatoes to reheat for the baby today but they didn't last. I think bowls and spoons were licked.

 And now I am nearly to the bottom of my 5 lbs of caramelized onions. I will probably be able to toss them in a quiche over the weekend and perhaps one more dish and that will be it. I could freeze them but frankly I'd rather eat 'em.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chalk Paint and the Quatrefoil

There is nothing like staying home with a baby who crawls around your living room to make you notice all that is wrong with your house. Much to my husband's dismay, I've started once again with the, things must change around here mantra. New furniture, new curtains, new rugs are all happening and happening fast. There is also nothing like having a baby around to help you get totally decisive with what must stay and what must go. I just don't have time to waffle over things I once loved and can't decide if their time is up. I am pulling the plug on much of what we have around here, it is just finding the replacements that has been difficult. I am not without a limited budget so I have some constraints on what I can add to this little house of mine. I also have a habit of figuring out what I want before I start shopping and then I get frustrated when I can't find it. Which is how I end up in the oh I'll just make it situation so often. And it's not like I have all these mad skills for making things, I just have a pretty good knack for figuring things out and fudging it until it looks right.

I have a few projects in mind on which I have been tempted to use Annie Sloan's chalk paint. There are two things to know about chalk paint, it is very different than regular latex paint and it is damned expensive. With shipping it was nearly $50/quart. But it comes in a color called Paris Grey so really, I had to give it a try! Chalk paint is a latex based paint that is useful when going for an antiqued look because it sands really easily. I had seen some pieces done by this chic online whom I admire and then when I read this, on the Annie Sloan website, I was totally intrigued:

This is THE paint to use for the painted French and Swedish look on furniture where the paintwork shows a patina of history. The paint is soft and easy to patinate taking wax to give it a beautiful mellow and protective finish. The colours have been inspired by European 18th century furniture and have been made bright and rich, bearing in mind that they will be darkened with wax. Like all annie SLOAN paints none of the colours except Graphite contain black pigment, allowing for combining colours, further mixing and layering without the paint dulling.
For Floors - use a roller to paint the floor. You may need one or two coats depending on the colour of the wood or concrete and the colour of the paint. Light colours will need more coats generally. Varnish with Hannant's Extra Strong varnish.
For a Blackboard that's not black! - apply three coats of paint to wall or wood. Allow to dry overnight. Clean with a slightly damp cloth
For Garden furniture - paint over wood, metal, matt plastic or terracotta and leave to harden overnight before exposing to rain. No need to varnish or wax Matt walls - use on walls for a completely matt effect but remember this is best for anywhere that is not going to get a lot of wear and tear.

On a practical note, the woodwork NEEDS NO PRIMING, NO PREPARATION as it will stick to almost everything -old waxed pine, melamine and varnished wood included. Knots on new wood need to be sealed with Knotting solution. Great coverage but does depend on what you are painting,but a rough guide is 13 square metres. The paint allows walls to breathe and is a simple eco friendly water based paint. Wash brushes out in water.
 Annie Sloan is based in the UK and is sold here in the US through stockists. You will need to head to the website to find a stockist in your area. I don't have one within easy driving distance so I ordered my paint from the closest stockist to hopefully save a few shekels on shipping.

I ordered the Paris Grey color because I fell in love with that blueish grey color you see all over France. It is on everything from very refined pieces in the city to beautifully weathered pieces in an old farmhouse in the country. It is also the color you see so often on Swedish Antiques which I began coveting years ago.

My first project would be a test piece since I had no clue how this well this paint applies, dries, sands, and then finishes. I found a mirror at Marshalls with a black/brass finish, missing one glass spacer, and a few chips in the mirror. But it was a loose quatrefoil shape so it had some character. And it was on clearance for $35. PERFECT!

The quatrefoil is one of my favorite shapes. It so easily pairs with pretty much everything. I love it as a stand alone piece. I love it in a running pattern. This and any kind of lattice, I just can't seem to get enough of. It originates in Gothic times as a decorative shape adorning architecture. It is supposed to represent a flower or a four leaved clover with its four seemingly overlapping circles. My mirror is what I'd call quatrefoil-esque as it does not employ the exact form of a quatrefoil because the circles are interrupted with scrolls.

So eager to start my project, I forgot to take a before picture!! But you can see some of the black finish that was part of the original mirror. The paint went on really easily and dried lightening fast. I applied two coats in under an hour and used so little of my paint. From what I had heard, Annie Sloan's chalk paint goes a long way, making the price per quart a bit more palatable! I sanded the piece giving it the patina I wanted that afternoon.

I applied the finish wax the next day. I will write more about the wax and how to apply that in my next post about my adventures with chalk paint.

Here is the finished mirror....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Leftovers Pizza

On busy school nights I love to have dinner ready and waiting by the time everyone gets home so all we have to do is grab a seat at the table and catch up.

With Caramelized Onions in the fridge and pizza dough in the freezer, I decided to whip up a few pizzas in the afternoon before school pick-up. For the kids I made a simple marinara, prosciutto, basil from my garden, and mozzarella pizza. For the big people, I used a bunch of stuff I had left over from the soup & sandwich night. I used the Mornay Sauce as base, topped it with creamy goat cheese, red grapes, prosciutto, caramelized onions, shredded gruyere, and a little bit of the moz I used on the kids pizza.

I baked them at 500 degrees until the crust was done and the cheese was starting to brown. Easy right? Totally.

I then let them come to room temp and stored them in my cool oven until dinner time. Then I just cranked that oven to 300 degrees to warm up the pizzas. Once they were done, I topped the goat cheese and onion pizza with some spicy arugula. Yum!

Serve this up with a small side salad and some fruit and it is an easy hit on a busy weeknight!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Stretched Dinner: Carmelized Onions & Gruyere Cheese

Caramelized onions go a long way in the flavor department. While they take some patience and time to make, they are super simple and warm up a brisk fall day.  I like to caramelize in big batches and store the onions for use during the week.  Honestly, food becomes dreamy when you add in caramelized onions. You can refridgerate the onions for up to 1 week and you can freeze them for several months.

I decided to caramelize 5lbs of onions yesterday to use over the course of this week. They are such a versatile ingredient and they take even a basic meal to a whole new level, making them great to have on hand.

To caramelize the onions, I chop them in half-moon slivers and while many people like to cut their onions very thinly before caramelizing, I don't. I like to cut them about 1/4" thick. Melt 6 TBS of butter in a heavy bottomed pot (cast iron is best) and then add all your onions. Stir to coat the onions with the butter. If the butter doesn't coat all your onions you can drizzle a little olive oil on them. I then sprinkle some salt over the onions to help them release their sugars while they begin to cook. I then cover the pot and cook over very low heat to allow the onions to sweat for a bit. I sweat the onions for 20 minutes and then take the cover off. At this point I stir the onions, scraping up the brown fond on the bottom of the pan. At this point you will need to watch your onions to make sure there is enough heat to caramelize the onions but not too much causing them to burn. You will want to continue to scrap up the bottom of the pan and distribute the flavor throughout the onions. Cook the onions until they are a rich brown color and smell heavenly.

With this huge batch of onions, I have a ton of options open to me for dinners over the week. As the leaves and the weather start to turn, I find myself craving soups and warm sandwiches. First up must be Soupe a L'Oignon. While this soup will be a huge hit for my husband and I, my 8 and 9 year old kids will not be thrilled with it. Since Soupe a l'Oignon requires crusty french bread and gryere cheese, I am going to stretch the ingredients to make croque monsieurs for the big kids and a simple grilled cheese for the baby. The big kids will have a no-thank-you helping portion of the soup.


2.5 lbs caramelized onions (I just used about half of what I made from the 5lb bag)
7 cups beef stock (I prefer low sodium)
1 cup of a dry white wine
1 TBS dijon mustard
Packet of thyme and a fresh bay leaf
2 TBS Brandy (optional)

With the onions already done, the soup will only take 20 minutes or so to make. Add all the liquid to your pot, whisk in the mustard, tossed in the herbs and bring it to a boil. Then add your onions and reduced it to a simmer. Let it cook for 10 minutes at which point,  you should taste it to know if it needs salt. The beef broth is the biggest variable when it comes to the salt in the soup so I would advise letting the flavors marry a bit, taste it and then add salt if you need to. Whether you've made your own, use a concentrate, or buy it in a box or a can, they are all going to have different amounts of salt. I buy low sodium concentrate so I can control the salt. Occasionally when I have the time, I make my own stock. Add some fresh ground pepper to taste at this point. Let the soup simmer 5-10 more minutes or until you think the flavor is right.

Now about that Brandy. You should add the brandy at the end but if you are cooking for kids as well as adults, you may want to skip the brandy. What I like to do is add a few drops of brandy to the adult's bowls before I ladle in the soup. This way, we get the flavor and the kids don't get the alcohol.

While your soup is simmering, cut 1/2" thick slices of crusty bread and then use either a large round cookie cutter or your serving bowl to cut out a round shape of bread that will fit into your bowl. I like to give my bread a quick toast so it doesn't get soggy too fast.

Once the soup is done, ladle it into your bowls, gently place your bread on top of the soup, add a mound of grated gryuere cheese and put under the broiler to melt. You will want to be using oven save bowls for this and have them on a baking sheet so you can turn them around in the oven to help them cook evenly.


These are super simple! (recipe for 3 or 4 sandwiches)

6-8 slices of crusty bread
3-4 slices of ham
thin slices of gruyere cheese - enough for each sandwich
Mornay sauce* recipe below
Grated gruyere cheese for the top

Start by toasting your bread under the broiler. While you may be tempted to just stick them in your toaster, you really want them toasted on only one side. Watch them carefully so they don't burn. Once toasted, place ham, and a layer of sliced gruyere cheese on a non-toasted side of 3-4 of the slices. Cover the sandwiches with the other half of bread, toasted side up.

Now to make the Mornay Sauce. 
I am pretty sure traditional Mornay sauce uses a gruyere or other kind of swiss cheese. Since the CM has so much gruyere in it already, I use parmesan in my sauce.

2 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 grates of fresh nutmeg
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt
Fresh ground pepper

Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat, add flour and whisk until it turns light brown, and thickens to look a bit like wet sand. This is a roux. Then add milk and whisk over higher heat until it thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Take it off the heat and stir in your cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Assemble your sandwiches
Spoon the mornay sauce onto the tops of your sandwiches. Don't drench them. But just cover the tops. Then add grated gryuere cheese, slide under broiler and let the cheese melt all over the sandwich.

For dinner the kids had Croque Monsieur sandwiches with a small no thank you helping of the soup. SweetPea ate most of her soup claiming it reminded her of her time at French Camp this past summer. Buddy, needed some, let's say, encouragement, to eat even a few bites of his. But he did. My husband and I had a nice big bowl of the soup with a arugula, endive salad with walnuts and a sherry and shallot vinaigrette.

** word to the wise- Soupe a l'Oignon is even better the next day so this is a fantastic make ahead meal.

At the end of the meal SweetPea said she missed Paris. That this meal reminded her of being there. I am so glad food can trigger such good memories for her as it certainly does for me. Ahhh, Paris.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Stretched Dinner: A family time-saver for food lovers

My passion for cooking when I was younger stemmed from my love to please and entertain people. I wasn't always a great eater so I am not sure I can claim that my desire to know how to make hollandaise sauce at the age of 15 was out of a need for a delicious bite of food. But watching people at my table enjoy the food I made has always been a great love of mine. At some point in my mid-twenties my cooking became more of a passion for what I wanted to eat. Not what I wanted to make for others.

These days it is no longer fancy dinner parties I use to flex my culinary muscles. I'm cooking for kids now. When my two eldest children were little I remember feeling flummoxed by having to make a toddler meal and then a grown-up meal 2-3 times a day. It got frustrating and exhausting.  I was so grateful when they got older and we could all eat together as a family when dad got home from work and we could all eat the same things.

Thank goodness I no longer need to see those smiles at my table to feel good about my food because so often I get the you made what for dinner? We are a two-bite rule and if you're hungry enough, you'll eat it kind of family. I don't feed my 8 and 9 year old kids fois gras, I don't make heavy sauces, but I don't make tacos either. (and for the record I happen to love a good taco) For the most part we sit down to a family dinner at.the.table each night and spend 45 minutes or so catching up on the day over a hot meal. A meal, that much to my husband's dismay, has made my kitchen look like we were either robbed or bombed. I want my kids to stretch the limits of their palates and learn to enjoy food. I also would like my kids to understand what food can do for them and also how it can work against them. But I also want my soccer playing/homework doing kids to eat enough that they don't crash on the field or at their desks.

When we got home from China I realized that I was back in the land of 4 pm dinner time. A world where multiple meals are made for several different groups of people. I feed the baby her dinner at 4:30, and then immediately go into dinner prep for the rest of us while she plays in her PJ's before her 6:30 bed time. All the while I am juggling homework questions, reading through school paperwork, or dealing with a last minute PTO task.

In an effort to streamline the...
getting dinner on the table
finding time to answer homework questions or change that diaper
continuing to feed the kids healthy food that they enjoy but which also expands their palates each day
and oh yeah, satisfy the foodie in me....

I have come up with what I call the Stretched Dinner. It's not a new concept by any stretch (yes, I had to go there) of the imagination because it incorporates tactics many busy parents use to get dinners on the table. What it does do though, is allow for you to bring good food to the table and keep everyone happy. I have been using it for a few weeks now and I am happy to say that I've been stretching ingredients to keep my 1 year old as happy as her 8 and 9 year old siblings. And at the same time, putting sophisticated enough food on the table to satisfy their parents.

I will be starting to throw Stretched Dinner ideas into the rotation here at PickleChatter for those of you struggling to feed baby, big kid, and yourself without dropping to the floor by 8:00 pm each night.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A rainy day project

Well, I have lots of them.

Things like chalk paint, wallpaper, and fabric have been ordered. Sewing machines and finishing wax will be put to good use to spruce up this neglected house. I will show them all to you one by one over the coming weeks.

But for now I'll show you some cute footage of Cici on her first swing.  I shot it with my iPhone and edited it up with some other gonna-make-you-smile footage for a short and sweet movie to warm up a rainy Thursday.

And now I'm off to slice onions -waaah- so I can caramelize a BIG batch for a few dishes I've been craving.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A long and beautiful weekend

The wait brought on too much mystery for me to ever feel comfortable in the present. There are times when I feel grateful for the long wait for Cici though. Our family of four got to experience some pretty incredible things, many of which would have been very difficult with a baby. But the thought of when and who was omnipresent for 5+ years and it made its mark on who I was.

Family time feels different these days. For so long we'd do things over long weekends or breaks from school and I'd wonder how it would be with a baby. Now all the wondering is gone and we are just living. It feels good. And it frees up so much of my brain to do other things.
Over this past holiday weekend we decided to head to Vermont to get ready for the ski season and enjoy the foliage and the gorgeous weather. The three day weekend was full of apple pie making, beer-fest enjoying, dancing to live bands,  big kids running around the resort on their own feeling oh-so-big and of course it felt so complete because we were doing it all with a baby in a backpack! We are finally the family of five I'd been dreaming about and I wonder when the novelty of it will wear off!

There are lots of families with a connection to China at the resort we frequent and it is so nice to wander around and chat with people who are reliving their experiences with China adoption when they see Cici - a new baby! The thing about the wait is that new babies from China are not so common any more. There are fewer and fewer of them arriving each year so I love stopping to talk with parents or grandparents of school aged girls from China who are chomping at the bit to tickle Cici's feet. As you can imagine, she gets an incredible amount of attention when we are out. Her cuteness CANNOT be ignored! A close second is the amount of attention Parker the chocolate labradoodle- gets while we are out. People are mesmerized by his color and general cuteness. That is until he offers to show them his special skill of barking for very long stretches of time. He is still a pup which we always need to explain. He is also need of a trainer - one who isn't me.


SweetPea continues to be a huge help with her baby sister. And if I ever thought I needed this baby just to complete me, I was dead wrong. She completes SweetPea in ways I never imagined. A sister is such a blessing and I am so glad I have given one to my eldest.

The weather was so magical this weekend that I think it went to SJ's head. He discovered there was a North Face Race to the Summit. He signed up as fast as he could. Sunday morning we all fled the house earlier than we normally would have on a longweekend morning and enjoyed the mountain as the sun began to warm up the resort. He was told to factor in 1 minute for each year of age. He was spot on at 43 minutes. So now you know his time, AND his age. Sorry sweetie - it's out. And yes, he's older than me ; ) I'll always be the younger woman!

As the race took off, I realized I was standing with all the other moms with strollers.  I got a chuckle out of the unison of voices yelling, good luck daddy or go daddy go! The two big kids took off running to explore and have fun while Cici and I searched for coffee. We then took refuge under one of the big white tents which are usually great places to take pictures because of the diffused light.  

This is one of my favorite faces. This is her giggle-smile face. I'm so happy and aren't I darned cute face. We see it often.

How was your long weekend?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The secret's out...

By January 2007 we knew something was amiss with the speed and ease of China adoptions. People with July 2005 log-in dates (LID) waited a WHOLE year for their child match and 6 months later things looked worse, not better.

But the time the first anniversary of our LID rolled around, people in the IA hood were talking two years for a child match from China. Some lunatics in the community were even whispering, three. I was beside myself. I am NOT going to wait three years! That's absurd!

This week marks the 6th anniversary of this fateful post. Yes, six years ago we decided we were ready for a third child but the universe had other plans. Over the course of the wait, through all the ups and downs, I looked for signs. Were we on the right path? Was this meant to be? Every time we got Chinese food I'd rip open my fortune cookie hoping for some sort of message that indicated we were meant to get this child from China. I even formed a secret group with friends. No, not like a oh don't tell anyone secret group. A group that met to discuss the theories behind The Secret - a practice, that Oprah had been touting was how she got everything she wanted. And let's face it, that woman certainly got everything she's ever wanted. Some people in our group wanted happier marriages, some wanted better jobs, some wanted a different house, and I wanted my baby.

The basics of practicing the secret is to tell the universe exactly what you want and the universe will give it to you. The when and the how is not really up to you so being patient and grateful are key elements to practicing the secret. There are lots of different ways to communicate with the universe but they all involve the power of thought and intention. Many followers of this theory use what they call visual boards to help bring the specifics of their desires to their thought each day. Some of us in our secret little group little secret group decided to make visual boards for ourselves, myself included. I bought cork boards and hung them in our bedroom and tacked up all that I wanted the universe to hear. After about a year, I decided that the boards did not help the already ailing design state of our master bedroom and moved my visual board online. I have another website, mostly private for friends and family, where I post pictures and home video for those living afar. On this site, I made pages for each member of our family with up-to-date information about new developments in their lives. On my page, I wrote down a list of 5 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. I will be 39 (holy crap she told us her age!) in November and as of last spring I had been able to cross four of the five items off! I am sure you can all guess that now, finally, I can cross off that very last thing I wanted to do before I turned 40!

On this site, I also made a page for Cici. I included all the information about our timeline, the process we had to endure to adopt from China, and then I put up my own little digital visual board just for the universe. I included some guesses about her birth date, the province she'd be from in China, and after lengthy searching through a gazillion images on the internet, I included a picture. I went through countless photographs of little asian girls and downloaded the one that spoke to me the most. That picture has been up on my website since the summer of 2008. I was so drawn to her big eyes. I wanted her to be mine.

When we got Cici in China, there was something about her that was so familiar to me. I couldn't place it. She looked so different from all the other babies in our match group and she quite frankly, looks very different to me than any other Chinese baby I've seen through all my years of following China adoptions. And then it dawned on me, I thought for a moment that she looked like the baby I put up on my digital visual board. So I pulled up the website in our room at China hotel and I was awestruck.

Over the years, I changed the dates but never the location nor the picture.

Over the years, I've had what I call little secrety things happen. But this one has made me a believer.

And finally, as I mentioned in this post, on her first birthday I served everyone chocolate dipped fortune cookies. Being the busy cook and hostess, I didn't have a chance to eat mine that night. And being the food-aholic that I am, I love chocolate for breakfast so I ate mine the next morning. After the big kids went to school, and the tigress went down for her nap, in the quiet of my kitchen, I opened this.....

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


For years I would have classified myself as not much of a baker. Don't get me wrong. I love sweets.  But the savory side of the culinary world has always had a stronger pull on my palate, which may be, in part, due to the kitchen in which I was raised. Growing up our family had a kick-ass muffin recipe which everyone loved, cheese cakes appeared from time to time, and chocolate cookie batter rarely made it in scoops to a sheet pan. Brownies were always made from a box, pancakes from a mix, and cakes, hum, cakes were bought. Preferably from Alden Merrell. But my mother was known for her curry dishes, lemon garlic salad dressing, and something our family affectionately calls chicken and peaches. There just simply wasn't much baking going on.

Spending our first summer in Paris sparked an interest in me to bake. After all, who can resist all the yeasty and sugary creations this city produces on every corner and several places in between. No other country can top France in a competition to produce incredible baked goods. In fact, rarely have I had even a simple baguette outside of France that rivals the delights of it's skinny loaf. This was especially puzzling to me  when we returned home after 3-months of Parisian pain and I could not find a single breadmaker who could pump out a baguette that was simple, tasty, fresh and not weapon-like. Well except in Fairfield, CT where there is a wonderful pair of French bakers at Isabelle et Vincent. But these bakers, and I assume their ingredients as well as their secrets, are imported. Why though can't we replicate the french baguette, I wondered. The challenge started to consume me and I realized that if I was ever going to tackle a good loaf of bread, I should first become a baker. So I've spent quite a bit of time baking more than I ever have and have enjoyed every minute of it.

When we arrived back in Paris for our second summer, I was on a mission to take as many baking classes as I could. Who else could teach me better than the French? Last year I never found a place that was offering the kinds of classes I was looking for, at a time that was convenient for me, and in an environment I liked. I prefer classes that are less about a recipe and more about technique. There is always a nuance to creating something that books just can't convey. It is rewarding to learn the basics of something and then be able to tweek and change it to suit your desire.

The Macaron class at La Cuisine Paris was so fabulous that I decided to see if I could attend another class. Luckily, I was able to find a sitter and signed up for an afternoon Eclair class. I dropped my kids off with their new sitter at the playground in Le Jardin du Luxembourg and I scooted over to a 3-5 pm class just up the street. It could not have been more convenient.

We learned the basics of Pâte á Choux and I had a great revision on Crème Patissière. We learned the technique of piping the dough and then filling these delicious creations. A few people dropped out of the class at the last minute so we were fortunate enough to be just three students. As a result, I really made a batch of these goodies all by myself. It was a fabulous hands on experience. We made chocolate filled éclairs with a chocolate Glacage topping and apple flavored ones with a caramel topping. I also asked the chef if I could make a few round ones just to see how they'd turn out.

Monday, October 03, 2011

A smelly 8 year old boy

Sweetpea outside our holiday apt in Caux, France. France = wine. right?
My poor husband reached through my 8 year old son's school backpack over the weekend looking for his water bottle and found something miserable. Apparently something soft and squishy. Yes, my 8 year old does have a lunch box. Will he use it? No. Lunch goes into it. Lunch barely gets eaten. And then lunch ends up at the bottom of his backpack where it goes unnoticed until it stands up and announces itself.

Armed with a bottle of 409 and a bottle of Febreze, dad removed the offending remains of a lunch from definitely WEEKS ago and disposed of it in the garbage. I hope the 409 did a better job of disinfecting (until I can toss the whole thing in the wash next weekend) than the Febreze did of removing the odor. A stench followed Buddy around as we left for school and it feels as though it has left a permanent odor in my car.

Now back home I realize that the garbage is wreaking with the smell from all the paper towels used to clean the backpack so the bag has got to go. But each time I open the garbage drawer, while I find myself recoiling from the smell, I also find something appealing about it.


What could be appealing about rotting food?

Well it was a bag of rotting grapes. And now I realize that the garbage, my car, and my 8 year old son now smell like the cellars of a vineyard. If you've done any wine tasting or touring, you've certainly encountered the distinct smell of fermenting grapes. SJ and I spend as much time touring vineyards all over the world as possible, and happen to love that smell.

When we were teenagers, my younger brother (now an MD) brewed beer in our basement while he was in high school under the guise that it was a science experiment. Yes, it did fly with my parents. Also doctory sciencey people. Perhaps Buddy will start making wine. Will that fly with me? Sure. It's science. Right?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Boo Boo turns 1

I need to stop comparing how I did things the first time at the raising-a-baby rodeo with how I am doing things now. I had all these grand plans for Cici's first birthday but quite frankly there was not a chance in hell it was going to happen. I had visions of a big party with all our friends in the back yard under twinkling lights. There would be Chinese lanterns strung from the house and gorgeous food on the buffet table. But somewhere between getting home from China during a hurricane with children starting school imminently and trying to surface from under the weight of my PTO life, I realized this party was just not going to happen. About two weeks ago I started to wonder why I was having such a hard time pulling it together. I thought back to my other two 1st birthday parties and between the custom made cakes in the shape of bathtubs with rubber duckies or a 3-D barn with animals and the sit down luncheon (for 15 one year olds) I started to feel guilty that I was having trouble pulling this off. And then it hit me.

The girl has no friends.

Ahhhh poooooor Boo! Seriously. She has no friends. By the time the first two turned one, they each had a gaggle of friends that we met with once a week for play groups. But we've only been home a month with Cici and frankly I have not had the time to get her into anything that might generate a friend or two. I mean really, she naps all morning, we then have lunch and when that is over, we have maybe an hour to get 1 thing done before we have to run for the first of our two school pick-ups. And then once the big kids are home, we are off and running to after-school activities.

Now that I have analyzed why she is friendless, and really, I'm okay with the reasons, I begin to wonder when the heck we are going to find the time to get her some friends. Oh gawd, am I going to have that kid who is clearly lacking social skills? The one who bites in preschool???? No probably not. She has a great relationship with her big brother and sister. She plays and laughs and shares toys with them. She will be super social. Her siblings will teacher her all the right things. Oh shit, maybe she'll be that kid who says inappropriately sophisticated things in Kindergarten and horrifies all the mothers' whose eldest child is in her class! Okay, I am getting ahead of myself.

Back to her turning 1.

We had a perfect little celebration with family. We hung lanterns in the air. We had twinkling lights on the table. We ate homemade Moo Shu Pork and Curried Thai Cod and Shrimp for dinner and of course had cake for dessert. The big kids dipped fortune cookies in chocolate, decorated them with sprinkles, and then put three in a little pink Chinese take-out box for each person at the table. My fortune cookie had a crazy fortune in it which I will show you in another post!