Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In Which There Is Sunshine

It's only Wednesday, and I've already had too long of a week. Emotional strain, kids out of school, and a hacking lingering cough that is making me sound like a phone sex operator and which I wish to hell would have the decency to just get bad and then go away.

Mr. Marzipan and I put the kids to bed early last night because they needed it and we really needed it. Then we curled up on our epic couch (21 running feet of L-shaped couch) to watch Chuck. Mr. Marzipan hates to watch TV and movies with me because my suspension of disbelief is horrible and I get confused by elaborate plot points. He has to hit Pause a lot so I can say things like, "How come she's with that guy? I thought the other guy was a bad guy and then they....oh. Because of the raccoon, right? Oh, hey, that guy's using the mass spectrophotometer wrong. This is stupid."

But aside from making no sense at all in this universe or any other, Chuck is fun and silly and the theme is an instrumental version of one of my favorite Cake songs ever. Mr. Marzipan put a pillow on his lap and patted it, indicating that I should lay down. I did, and he drew endless circles on my back as I lay drowsing in the ambient light of the TV, coughing feebly.

When the episode ended, he ordered me to bed. I coughed my way upstairs and curled into a pitiful ball on my side of the bed, which Mr. Marzipan refers to as The Pit because my Sleep Number is 30. He came up a few minutes later, carrying the vaporizer. He filled it with eucalyptus oil and set it on my night table. Then he brought me Ny-Quil and water before climbing in bed next to me. He removed his shirt and rubbed some eucalyptus oil into his skin so that I could lay my head there and breathe it in. It was a very good way to fall asleep.


I talked to my friend Julee this morning.

"You sound better," she said. "Or at least you sound less sexy."


I had a playdate with my friend Mary Alice and her five children. We went to one of those inflatable bounce room places and this total weirdo came up and started talking to Mary Alice about the aforementioned five children, demanding to know whether Mary Alice was "Catholic or something." Mary Alice is Mormon. The woman then told us an elaborate story beginning with how her mother was a nun and then moved on to an IUD and ended with liver failure. She also mentioned Big Love in an attempt to connect with Mary Alice.


But also hilarious.


I came home and there was a message from my mother in law who - in the past ten years - has said maybe five overtly nice things to me. She thanked me for coming to the Seder and told me how much she appreciated it. This is a huge step forward.

Thanks, Heather.


My aunt came over and helped with the kids while I worked in the garden. I'm muddy and bloody and scratched and be-splintered. The afternoon light was warm and buttery, and there were the most delicious smells coming from the hyacinths. I'm going to grill some chicken here shortly and be thankful that I am alive in the world today.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

In Which I Say Goodbye To A Friend

On Saturday morning I received the very unhappy news that a friend of mine - a beloved wife and mother of three - had died very unexpectedly. I thought it must be some kind of sick joke that someone was pulling because there was simply no possible way Heather could be gone. It was incomprehensible to me that the brilliant, funny, kind, gentle person I respected so highly could wink out of existence without warning. She'd been there for me on the days when I believed I had to abandon my children and flee to Istanbul to stay sane and on the days when I was in love with the world and needed to share it. She was so delighted with the lot life had handed her that I wanted to take notes so I could be more like her.

Other than her dazzlingly dry wit and storytelling skill, one of the best things about Heather was her wisdom. She was so refreshingly honest about herself and her shortcomings, but never gave herself enough credit for what a knack she had for presenting advice in a simple, non-condescending way.

Since before my husband and I got married, there have been Ongoing Issues with his family, and I haven't been to a family holiday in almost 6 years. I was planning to skip Passover this year too, but I've been thinking a lot about something Heather wrote about marriage once:

A marriage that demands nothing from you is not a marriage, it's somebody indulging you. Love will get you through anything, but love doesn't mean "feeling affectionate." Love is giving of yourself when you don't feel like it, and I guarantee you that sooner or later, you're not going to feel like it. At that point, you will have to make an effort to swallow your pride, gain self-control, and behave completely unselfishly. Unless you've gained the status of saint, it's going to be hard. This is true of everybody, not just you.
I started thinking about what I have been teaching my children by not going. About what I have been telling my husband about my ability to put his needs before my own when I really, really don't want to. Heather gave me so much over the years I was graced with her acquaintance, and the best thing I can think to do to honor that is try to make choices that I wouldn't be ashamed to confess to her. I admired her so deeply.

So I'm going to dinner.

I was stricken with grief for her family and I was - I am - so angry about it. She was a wonderful friend, a wonderful wife, and a wonderful mother. She loved her family fiercely but never cheapened that love by idealizing anyone, or putting them on a pedestal. And despite my gimlet eye towards religion, Heather's brand of Catholicism always sounded so reasonable to me. I envied her faith because rather than seeming like blind obedience, her devotion to her beliefs came across as the natural conclusion to a well thought out course of questioning. I don't believe in Heather's god but I truly, truly hope that I am wrong and that He exists and has welcomed her warmly home.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In Which There Are Vampires

I need to make a little preamble here. I know hating on Twilight is the Thing To Do among certain people and that it hasn't got the same elitist cachet as opining that Picasso is just so pedestrian, Stanley, and we really need something a little less nouveau riche above the guest bidet, don't you think? If I were a cutting edge hipster I would - instead of mocking Twilight as the literary equivalent of Cheez Whiz - like it ironically and host dramatic readings of it at an ugly sweater party while serving ironic hipster canapes and playing some tunes on the 8-track. So I'm not even a hipster. I'm a run of the mill uptight snob. Which I'm okay with.

Back when I was a teenage girl we read Anne Rice books and they were full of florid purple prose and the most godawful glut of adjectives and lurid emotions on Earth. Which I loved, of course, because I was fourteen and therefore terribly misunderstood in the way of all fourteen year old girls except that I was different and special and there was this seriously crazed part of my brain that wanted to believe Lestat and I would, like, totally have this connection and it would be magical and intense or whatever. So I understand this desire to read about the captivating undead and I get the whole sexualization of vampires and witches and whatever the hell Lasher and Emmaleth were. (And just a note here, Stephenie Meyer - even crazy Anne Rice knew that giving birth to a fully formed human adult is creepy and weird and the creature must be destroyed, okay? I'm just saying.)

But you know, Anne Rice is Anne Rice. Not everyone can pull it off. For the same reason that Lady Gaga can get away with wearing bows made of hair and dressing up as a used tampon at a major musical event but if I did it would not be unexpected to find myself approached by people who think NASA uses microwave ovens to implant subliminal messages into our brains while the meatloaf reheats.

The gag-inducing writing style aside, these Forks vampires are fairly wimpy. They decide to spend eternity in high school. Lestat and Louis were off eating luscious prostitutes and buying chateaux and hanging out with Lucifer. They rocked immortality, my friends. They rocked it hard. Note: Robert Pattinson looks like a total wanker, but this quote from him makes him not such a bad kid: The more I read about this guy the more I hated him, so that's how I played him—as a manic-depressive who hates himself. Plus he's a hundred-year-old virgin, so he's obviously got some issues there.

Also I don't like the way the books romanticize creepy possessive stalker guys who condescend to you and WATCH YOU SLEEP WHAT THE HELL THAT IS NOT ROMANTIC. From what I gleaned about SMeyer by reading interviews and suchlike, she has very juvenile ideas about relationships. These books bug me because the writing is lame and stilted and thesaurus-reliant. It makes me sad that people are going apeshit over this stuff when there are so many amazing books out there.

So, in the spirit of being kind of bitter that SMeyer cannot, in my humble opinion (and also Stephen King's), write for shit and yet probably sleeps on a mattress stuffed with shredded hundred dollar bills, I bring you this list of funny websites that make fun of Twilight. Many thanks to the parenting message board where I am a member for bringing a number of these to my attention.


Why Breaking Dawn Must Be Made Into A Movie
Cleolinda's Recaps
Growing Up Cullen
Chris vs. Twilight
The Onion


Twilight Moms
Buffy vs. Edward
Firelight With Taylor Swift
My Life Is Twilight
Twilight Dildo _NSFW, Reviews Are Priceless
Twilight the Musical

Monday, March 22, 2010

In Which I Bake A Fire Truck Cake

There comes a moment in every woman's life - if she is the mother of a small, fire-truck obsessed boy - when she will be asked to bake a cake shaped like a fire truck. And if this moment comes very early on a Wednesday morning and the boy is sufficiently wide eyed and adorable and her husband is already in the shower and can't intervene, she will say yes.

So, in the spirit of letting others learn from my mistakes, I bring you my step by step Guide To Making A Fire Truck Cake. Please note that I have never taken a cake decorating class. I can't pipe a beautiful rosette, or sculpt a scale-model medieval castle from gum paste. I did not walk to the fire station and take pictures first, so this cake is what fire trucks kind of look like in my head, but would cause you to panic if one like it arrived at your house for the purpose of flame extinguishment. I am a good baker, but a lousy decorator. So this is not a Duff Goldman cake. (Which, incidentally, are beautiful but don't taste so good.) This is a Mom Cake. This is a cake that suffered cake slumpage after being beset by cats and had to then be reinforced with bamboo skewers.

First things first. I recommend using a firm cake recipe for any kind of sculpted cake. I like the Magnolia cake recipes because they're slightly dense. If you want to use a mix, do the thing where you add pudding to make a kind of pound cake. Use 2-3 recipes/mixes per fire truck, depending on how tall you want the cake. I did 3 for each of these. The yellow cake is yellow cake (see what I did there?) and the red cake is chocolate.

I use the Magnolia buttercream recipe for almost every buttercreamed baked good I make. It's very tasty and very easy. The yellow cake is filled with vanilla buttercream and the chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream. (Which I make by replacing some of the vanilla's powdered sugar with cocoa powder.) Both are frosted with tinted vanilla. It took about half a batch to fill each cake and one batch to frost. Make all of the frosting at once (or in two batches, whatever you can do in your mixer bowl) and tint separately.

The yellow frosting was colored with a small amount of Wilton's Lemon Yellow gel coloring. The red frosting took three whole containers of No-Taste Red to color, which is typical for red. The color deepens and intensifies over time, so don't worry if it looks a little magenta at first. And definitely get the No-Taste Red because otherwise your cake will taste like evil.

For the silver, take some vanilla frosting and stir in some black decorating icing (the tube kind) from the store until you have a nice metallic gray. They make black gel icing but sometimes the color goes all weird and you'll need black for the wiper blades and stuff, so I say go for the tube.

Or, if you like, skip making your own and buy containers of vanilla frosting and tint.


1 sheet cake pan
Disposable pastry bags (Ziplocs work okay too)
1 large offset spatula
1 small offset spatula
Electric mixer
Silicone pastry brush
Bamboo skewers (if you have cats)
Cake board (foil covered cookie sheets are great)
2-3 batches of cake batter per fire truck
Roughly 1.5 batches of buttercream total per fire truck Meringue powder
Powdered sugar
Gel food colorings
1 tube black icing
Mini chocolate frosted donuts
Assorted candies


Okay, these pictures are pretty bad, but I was in a hurry.

Step One: Mix up the batter

I mixed the batters separately in my stand mixer, then combined them in a Tupperware vat to mix them all together. It was a lot of cake. You'll probably have to bake it longer than usual if you use 3 batters. If you go with 2, you'll probably have to underbake so it's not too dry. Just keep checking.

Step Two: Trim the cake

After the cake has cooled and you've turned it out of the pan, use a very sharp knife to even up the top and sides. If you like, freeze the cake and do all of the cutting frozen. I had to do that with a Mad Hatter-style cake I made once. It made things much easier.

Step Three: Cut the pieces

The cake is 17 inches wide and after trimming, I cut it into three sections of about 5 2/3 inches wide. One of these thirds was then cut into thirds along the width, each third being about 3 3/4 inches. Behold:

Step Four: Laying out the pieces

The two big pieces are the body of the cake and the three small ones are the cab. I set it up just to see what needs trimming and so forth. Note that I cut out a chunk from part of the top layer of the truck body. That's for that metal compartment on the fire truck.

Step Four: Glue it together

Spread thickly with buttercream and stack everything together. After gluing, I cut a slant from the top front of the cab for the windshield area.

Step Five: Crumb coat

Please crumb coat your cakes. It's easy and you will be glad you did. A crumb coat is just a very thin layer of frosting put on the cake to make the cake smooth when the time comes to put on the final coat. Use a silicone pastry brush (they're like $4 at the grocery store) to brush all the loose crumbs off. Then spread a very thin layer of frosting over the whole cake. Let the crumb coat sit for at least an hour. I covered mine with plastic wrap and left them over night, or you can take this time to make your royal icing.

Step Six: Ladders and glass

I used royal icing to pipe the ladders, windows, and windshields. Do not be scared of this. It is very easy, even for the severely Coordination Impaired such as myself. Royal icing is simply meringue powder, water, and powdered sugar. You beat it in your mixer, glop it into a pastry bag, snip a weensy little hole in the end, and have fun. I love it for cookies because you can flood with it.

I drew a template on white paper, taped it to a cutting board, taped waxed paper over my template, and made all the pieces for my ladder. The ladder pieces need about 6 hours to dry and the windows would do best overnight. You'll know when they're ready because they'll come right off the wax paper. Just be careful because they are fragile. After they were dry , I used more royal icing to glue the ladder together. Let the completed ladder dry over night at least.

If you've never used a piping bag before, you can watch this video here. I don't bother using a coupler and tip for stuff like this. Just use scissors to snip a tiny (really tiny - like 1/8 of an inch) piece off the end.

Note: The picture of the completed ladder was taken with my new camera. Even though I don't know how to really use it yet, the difference in image quality is impressive I think.

Step Seven: Frosting and decorating the cake

Spread a generous layer of tinted buttercream over your crumb coat. If it's sticking, it's probably too thick. Whip a little milk into the frosting until it spreads smoothly. Also, keep a glass of water handy to dip your spatula in and smooth over rough spots as needed. Not too often or you'll sog the cake, but a little is okay.

Spread the silver frosting over the indentation you made between the body and the cab. Pipe a silver border around the base and over the wheels if you like, and use the small offset spatula to make the bumper. Use the mini donuts as wheels and put a dot of silver in the center of each for a hubcap.

Use whatever candies strike your fancy for the rest of it. I used Tootsie Pop Drops, a Rolo, and a licorice allsort for the top. The doodads on the side are mini jujubees, the headlights are licorice allsorts. The red cake has some licorice wheels on the silver part to help disguise the slumpage-induced crack. I got all of the candies from the bulk candy bins at Wegman's. The hose thingies on the side are Oreo cookie straws. I stuck toothpicks into them, spiked those into the cake and, for good measure, used a ledge made of a popsicle stick. In retrospect I would have skipped the ledge because I don't like non-edible decorations on cakes.

Perch the ladder on top, and voila! (Note the enucleated red cake in the background. SIGH.)

At first I considered doing this in fondant, but even marshmallow fondant doesn't taste great. I also thought about doing a lot more detail, like a bi-color top and also making a little door with a shield and a latch on it, but I think this is fine for a 4 year old's party, to be honest with you. He seemed happy, anyway!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Which I Hate Passover

When I was a kid, Passover was all kinds of fun. We spent weeks (WEEKS!) cleaning. We covered the counters in foil and purged the oven of leavened crumbs and filled an allotted section of the kitchen with matza and macaroons and cloudy pink dish soap the color of Bazooka bubble gum. There was Passover lipstick and Passover paper plates and Passover napkins. My sister and I would hang around outside while our mother vacuumed the car, squabbling idly as dust flew around and the air smelled of Windex and illicit crackers. Our chametz (leavened goods) were temporarily sold to Christians, who probably spent at least part of every Easter slicing up the spiral ham and wondering what those wacky Jews were putting in the Manischewitz.

It was kind of like camping indoors for a week. We used different dishes and ate matzafied versions of French toast and pizza. The stores were denuded of potato starch and eggs, Jelly Rings and Temp-Tee cream cheese. The night before the holiday, my sister and I would creep through the darkened house with a candle and a feather, searching for the packets of bread Ma had hidden. The next morning Ma would shoo us outside to munch on donuts while sacrificial chametz burned in a delightfully pagan-esque bonfire.

We'd have the Seders at my uncle's house. My uncle is an Orthodox rabbi and he does not screw around at Seder time. They were 5 hour events, but never dull. Everyone told stories and asked questions. He flung ping-pong balls and toy farm animals to simulate the plagues. We'd all pick a random language in which to ask the Four Questions, and idly flip through the Haggadah to count how many pages of Hebrew and Aramaic lay between us and the charoset. My grandmother and aunt would then serve Jewish Foods of Great Density and Unfailing Deliciousness. The kids would be wiped out after dinner and we'd get poked awake for the Afikomen and chime in halfheartedly to endless choruses of Chad Gadya. I miss those Seders.

But then I grew up. To be an atheist. Well, maybe not an atheist exactly, but any higher power I'm even willing to consider is nothing like the Judeo-Christian god of smitings and complicated laws about childless widows and the sandals of their brothers in law. With two small children of my own and zero theological motivation, Passover is a colossal pain in my ass. But it's important to my husband, so I break out the Passover dishes and buy evil-looking foodstuffs like borscht and jarred gefilte fish. The peanut butter and rice and and cornstarch get tucked away. I make matza lasagna and matza meal muffins and contemplate donating my kidneys so that we can afford boxes of delicious shmura matza at whatever princely sum they're going for down at the shmura matza factory which is probably made out of solid platinum and features an underground garage so no one's Bugatti gets dinged.

Anyhow, I have mixed feelings on Passover as a whole. It's kind of exciting for the kids and while I am not theologically Jewish, I'm definitely a cultural Jew. But I get so frustrated when I go to the kosher grocery store where I went all the time as a kid. I see people in there buying the same kosher for Passover paper plates and napkins and lotions and soap as I did growing up. And they're also buying kosher for Passover bagels and breads and pizza crusts. And to tell you the truth, I think that's pretty hypocritical. This avoidance of chametz is so important to you and your god that you're agonizing over wheat germ extract in the shampoo, but you can't possibly survive for a week without a bagel? It rubs me the wrong way. If I had to say who was doing a better job at obeying the spirit of the thing, I say the victory goes to my atheist matza pizza served on godless cornstarched plates.

Note: To clarify, I do not mean to generalize that everyone at the aforementioned store buys these things. But because it is the only store in the area (to my knowledge) that sells them, I notice people buying them I'm there. So my objections are limited to that cohort.

But this year my mother will be out of town and my father is not having a Seder of his own. My husband will be taking the kids to my in-laws' (where I do not venture) for the Seders and I plan to stay home and have uninterrupted thoughts and watch The X-Files with the volume turned up. I think it will be a very religious experience for me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In Which I Return To Virtue

Because I have decided to lose 9 pounds by our Florida vacation in May, I am back to being virtuous even though there are donuts from my son's class party and these little chocolate covered toffee things my daughter likes and a 5 gallon drum of crack-laced Goldfish and so on.

Trader Joe's is my primary source of groceries. I went grocery shopping on Saturday and obtained an enormous amount of delicious and reasonably priced foodstuffs. When I was a kid I had these fantasies where I'd grow up and eat Easy Cheese directly from the container for dinner and follow it up with a half-gallon of ice cream and, I don't know, gin. Just because I could, I guess. But the fact is that while I enjoyed that in college for a brief stint, in general I feel so good when I eat well. I feel happy and healthy and in control and the fleeting deliciousness of half a bag of Doritos never comes close to the high of the impressed look on my husband's face when I demand that he poke me in the obliques. (That sounds naughty, doesn't it?)

For breakfast today I had a Dannon Light and Fit cherry vanilla yogurt into which I stirred 1 sliced banana and 1/4 cup of Trader Joe's Organic Morning Lite cereal. I had a glass of V8 and a glass of water with this. I always like to eat my meals on actual china, sitting at the table, reading a book or listening to music. I love food and even with two small children, I try and take the time to enjoy my meals. So my yogurt gets dumped into a bowl and I set everything on a place mat. I like taking time for myself. Anyway, breakfast was:

293 calories
1 gram of fat
9 grams of protein.

Went to the gym and did 30 minutes of weights, 10 minutes on the Stairmaster at 72 steps per minute, and 30 minutes on the elliptical at a burn rate of 800 calories per hour. Took some time in the sauna, then had a Pure Protein chocolate peanut butter bar. I had about 50 ounces of water during and after my workout. The protein bar contained:

190 calories
6 grams of fat
20 grams of protein.

Lunch was a magnificent salad, made entirely of ingredients from my beloved TJ's. 2 cups organic heirloom lettuce, 1/4 cup shredded organic pea shoots, three breaded chicken tenderloins (in the frozen section), 1/2 red pepper, 7 stalks blanched asparagus, 1/2 of an avocado, 1/4 serving Crunchy Curls, and 1 serving Parmesan ranch dressing. Is it not beautiful?

395 calories
15.5 grams of fat
23.65 grams of protein

I feel amazing and focused and back on track It's wonderful. When I treat myself well in this way I feel clean inside. I'm not sure how else to describe it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

In Which...Duh.

I went to the dentist this morning (and guess who needs braces?!) and ran into a woman I hadn't seen in three years. "Wow!" she said to me. "You look great. You look totally different! Did you do something to your hair? And your face looks thinner. Have you lost some weight?"

For reference, here's about how I looked the last time she saw me:

And present:

I get that asking people if they've lost weight can be awkward, but seriously. 120 pounds is enough that we don't need to be coy here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

In Which There Is No Water

On Saturday at around 11 AM-ish I was at the gym on the elliptical when an announcement came over the intercom stating that due to some kind of water main issue there was no water pressure at the gym and that this pretty much meant we were all SOL on showers and water fountains. A great and biblical groan rose up from those of us engaged in sweatiness related activities, but I finished my workout and managed to get enough water trickling out of the shower head to bathe myself decently. I gathered the kids and headed home, unaware of the fact that 100,000 people along the Reisterstown Road corridor had no water either.

"We have no water," my husband said upon my return. "This sucks."

It did suck. And it sucked even more than it usually would because every year we attend a fundraising event for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the event was that Saturday night. My parents were coming over to watch the kids, but having someone watch small children with no working toilets is just blatantly mean. So we took the kids over to my parents' house and went to the event (which, by the way, has a Theme of Inexplicable Weirdness every year; this year being "Barn Chic") and then my dad said to just leave the kids for the night. Which we did.

Sunday brought no water. Local businesses were closed, and scouring the news revealed that the water main was hard to fix because - get this - there's a stream in the way. I have no water because there's water in the way of it getting to me. No water Sunday evening, so we all spent the night with my parents which is actually a little awesome because my parents have this lovely shower with 6 different showerheads and this bench thing and I believe it bathes you in the tears of angels.


Schools closed today due to the lack of water, but they're giving out potable and non-potable water at a municipal sportsplex. I have primarily been spending my free time (the gym is closed) eating.


Monday, March 1, 2010

In Which My Daughter Is Fabulous

VirgataGirl and I have been making those knotted fleece blankets to donate to kids at a homeless shelter, and the whole idea of being homeless has really resonated with her. We've been talking about it a lot, about what being homeless means (Mama, they don't have their own rooms? Mama, where do they have their tea parties?) and the reality of it has finally sunk in. This morning I found all of the money from her wallet on my dresser with instructions to donate it. And she told me that instead of receiving birthday presents for her 6th birthday in June, she wants everyone to donate something to kids who don't have anything. We talked about different kinds of charities and she is really putting a lot of thought into this. I am so proud of her and so in awe of this little person I helped create, and how much greater she is than the sum of her parts.