March 31, 2012

March Photo A Day: four and a half

22kitchen sink 23moon 24an animal 25breakfast 26key 27your name 28trash 29feet 30toy 31where you relax
Here are the last of my "March Photo a Day" images just under the wire. I started off strong but I have to confess that as the weeks went on, I didn't keep up. I had a loose sense of each of the topics in my head and every once in a while I would see a sink full of dishes or the cat stretched out on the floor and remember I needed that for this collection, but almost none of them were taken on the actual day intended. "March in 31 Photos" would be a better title for mine.
It was a fun little challenge and initially I enjoyed having an assignment, a word of phrase I needed to capture in a given day. However taking direction has never really been a strength of mine, and I'm presumptuous enough that I started trying to improve the project (or make it worse more likely!)... why can't they all just be a single word? do we really need 'an animal'- just 'animal' is stronger... 'relax' wouldn't be as limiting as 'where you relax'... Then I kept having the impulse to turn it into a puzzle... I'm sure I can get a picture of toy key's that includes feet and some breakfast so that's four off the list... not so much the point!
So yeah, I think I'm done with "Photo a Days" for a bit. Generally capturing details of daily life each week seems to be more fun for me. Still, I love looking at everyone else's daily photos and seeing how so many different people interpret the same subject- it's a marvelous idea!

March 30, 2012

Brownies Keller Style

Chocolate? Are we seeing a theme to my baking here? Yes, it is an addiction. Typically I eat at least a whole portion of a chocolate bar a day. It's like my little end of day reward, but I know it's kind of crazy. I've been trying to cut back which is why I intentionally didn't stock up this week at the grocery store.

Last night I started to feel the panic... I almost sent Big Smith to the corner store at 10:30PM to get me something, anything chocolate. I resisted, but I woke up this morning knowing that I was going to find something to feed the monster. I came up with some cocoa powder and a few ounces of dark unsweetened chocolate and I knew just the recipe to rock my chocolate world. The biggest baddest brownies I've ever had, courtesy of the amazing Thomas Keller. I know my brownies, and these really are awesome. No adapting by me, I wouldn't mess with perfection!

Brownies by Thomas Keller from Ad Hoc at Home:
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 lb (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tbsp pieces
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract
  • 6 oz 64% chocolate, chopped into chip-size pieces *
  • powdered sugar to dusting top
* I used some slightly less amazing chocolate and only 4oz because it's all I had. It was still delicious but it would have been 2 oz more delicious his way!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 inch square baking dish (Keller uses a silicone mold for better edges but I don't own one).

Chop the chocolate and set aside. In a medium bowl sift the flour, cocoa, and salt and also set aside.

Melt half of the butter in a saucepan over medium heat stirring. Place the remaining half of the butter in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter over the remaining butter and stir to melt. The butter will look creamy with a little unmelted butter. Set aside and cool to room temperature.

In a mixer with the paddle, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. Turn the speed to low and add one third of the dry ingredients, then add one third of the butter, and continue alternating adding all the flour and butter. Stir in the chocolate chunks to combine.

Scrape batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake 45 minutes until a toothpick poked in the center comes out with just a few crumbs.Bake for a few minutes longer as necessary (mine took closer to 55 minutes but my oven is typically slow).

Cool in the pan, then flip onto a chopping board. If you want to get nice crisp squares, cut off the edges and eat them like a crazy person in 30 seconds slice the remaining brownies into squares. Dust with powdered sugar and yum!

I did freeze about half of these to enjoy next time the chocolate monster strikes. They freeze beautifully and thaw quickly (and are even good fozenish!). Our family isn't that large so freezing baked goods keeps us from gobbling everything up too quickly. I'm trying to do it more often.

And here is an "out-take" from my photo shoot. Low afternoon light means the food needed to be lower than usual... and anything below three feet is in prime curious toddler territory. I'm not letting him lick the bowl just yet, but soon!

March 29, 2012

Details A3.03

A few images from my mom's last week that I want to savour. It was such warm weather and Little S got to be a boy (not a baby) in the great outdoors for the first time. He took to it like a fish in water. I wish I had (in focus) pictures of him with my mom's big black lab, Blue. They made the most hilarious pair, bonding over their mutual obsession affection for "balls".

Getting a picture of my mother is a true score. She can't stand being in any pictures and I have very few. She would not be pleased to have her likeness featured here, but since computers don't exist to her (or cell phones even), I think I'm safe.

We're back to more typical temperatures for late March here, cold. I can't believe I had on sandals just a few days ago... but I'm looking forward to getting them out again soon. More spring please!

March 28, 2012

DIY: Cardboard Play House

Remember that miniature cardboard house we were working on last week? Well we went ahead and cranked out a Little-Smith-sized version and it's actually been a really great toy as well as hiding place.

I love cardboard. It's strong yet easy to cut through and it's typically made from recycled material and can be recycled itself.This playhouse could of course be constructed from leftover cardboard boxes (yay for re-use!). We happen to have a whole bunch of 30x40 sheets of corrugated cardboard hanging around from architectural model making, so we based the proportions and design of this house on that sheet size. Each sheet is just over a dollar and it takes five to make the house, so it's still inexpensive if you can't get free boxes.

We decided to use a "tab and slot" system to hold together the four walls and roof so that (theoretically) the house can be disassembled and stored flat. I wonder if we'll actually take it down or just wait for it's impending destruction!

The end walls have a series of tabs that lock into place with friction through slots in the side walls and roof. We made the roof out of a single 30x40 sheet scored in the middle and reinforced with a little packing tape so the score doesn't rip.

We made the tabs extra long. We actually like this exaggerated expression of the tabs (doesn't that sound fancy?) and it also make it more durable. The pieces can slide and shift a bit without accidentally coming apart.

It seems like Little Smith loves it. We tried to make openings of different sizes and heights for him to peer out of and he likes to sit in there with his turtle light that makes stars on the ceiling... so entertaining! He has toppled it over twice which is making us reconsider a floor for the next version. That would be much more complicated though so it's going to require some creative thinking.

So far the playhouse has held up pretty well but we're counting the days until Little Smith decides to officially trash it. It is kind of big in our small home, but we made it tall and narrow so it fits in our living room surprisingly well and since it's pretty disposable we don't have to worry about dealing with it forever. I'm kind of attached to it at the moment though, it's just so cute!

If you're in need of a rainy day activity I highly recommend a cardboard playhouse. Whether it's just a refrigerator box with a door cut in it or something a bit more complicated like ours, it's fun for little people to have a special spot to call home for an afternoon.

March 27, 2012

Snapshot: 10

"world's largest truck", somewhere in western canada / summer 2005

I love tourist traps. I always want to stop at every single one. Big Smith is not a fan. I'm still bummed we passed up the "world's largest crab". Do you think it's alive? Maybe it's best that we skipped that one.

March 26, 2012

Fun Little Things: Sippy Cup Love

Sure I don't drink out of sippy cups, but I'm kind of obsessed with them. Maybe it's because Little Smith never really used any bottles and I am always a fan of product design and gadgets. Whatever the reason I think watching my little guy hoist his cup up and chug water or milk is just about the cutest thing ever. I have read some research that suggests it's best not using any cups with valves, but for us that has proven very messy and I'm not terribly concerned about my kid figuring out how to use a regular cup down the road.  

I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm for sippies, but I figure we can all appreciate a good design solution to a tricky problem. Our family has certainly tried out more cups than I'd like to admit, so for those of you in the market I thought I would share a few of our favorites. Without further adieu, I present our best-of-sippy-cup roundup.

Little Smith was slow to take to a cup, again I think it could be related to his lack of exposure to a bottle. He didn't really figure it out until about ten months old and the first cup he was able to use was a small one by Nuby with a handle.

It's a very simple design with a one piece valve/ top. It does leak a bit but I think that is actually what made it so easy to drink from when Little S was learning. It's very light and easy for little hands to lift, but the rubber handle does get dirty constantly and, as with all plastic, it scratches over time. Another downside is that it tends to get "sucked in" at the lid once Little S does some drinking. It doesn't seem to bother him but I am a bit compulsive and it does bug me... just a little!

The few times Little S did use a bottle it was one made by BornFree. When we introduced milk (cow, goat, soy, rice, almond... we like all of our milks here!), we decided to stick with this same brand of cup for consistency. It's nice that it leaks very little, I don't mind water leaking on the car seat but spilt milk is less desirable. This cup is much more like a bottle and it does have a number of parts. There's a two piece valve (same as the one used in the bottles), two piece lid, and a handle. It is cumbersome to clean but I think that is also what makes it so leak resistant. This plastic also seems to scratch less than the Nuby version.

Before Little S was anywhere near ready for it, the very first sippy cup I purchased (in no small part for aesthetic reasons) was this stainless steel number made by Foogo. At first it was too heavy but over time this has become a definite favorite. It's a great size and the stainless steel base means there is less scratching than with plastic. I guess it also keeps his water cold but we serve it room temperature so we haven't really exploited those benefits. It's a moderately complicated design, a two piece valve, single piece top, and optional handle. Despite being advertised at "leak proof", I have found that this cup does leak a bit. It's also very easy to screw on the top slightly askew which has, on more than one occasion, lead to a drenched lap in the stroller or car seat. As long as you are very careful attaching that top, it's a great cup.

We've made a few different attempts with cups that have straws and in general, it just doesn't work for us. Little S is great with a straw when he's "borrowing" some of my smoothie but he seems to get into trouble when he's given a straw of his very own. Some versions have no valves, again that makes for a big mess since he still likes to turn his cups upside down. This version, also made by Nuby, does have a valve so you have to bite down on the straw to make it work. There was a bit of a learning curve but Little S did figure it out. Unfortunately the valve also allows a small amount of liquid to pool in the top of the straw. Little S discovered that he could "flick" that liquid providing endless entertainment and splattering. We've pretty much stopped using this cup since he seemed to see it more as a toy, but we do have several friends who love it so I'm including it anyway for you straw fans. The great part about the design is that the straw flips into the cap so that if you are at a playgroup, where all kids seem to want every cup except their own, they can't easily sneak a sip off a friend's cup. It also probably stays cleaner in the diaper bag and definitely leaks less. I find pulling out the two piece straw difficult for cleaning and I also find the plastic of this cup to scratch more than any of the others featured here. Personally, I don't think it's the most attractive cup (I know- am I really this shallow?) so I didn't mind pulling it from our rotation.

Our most recent addition is this glass and rubber model by Lifefactory. I have several of their water bottles for myself and considered using their baby bottles but found the "nipple" was too narrow to please my breast feeder. When they recently added the sippy option I knew I wanted to give it a try and sure enough, it's a keeper. It's a fairly simple design with a hard mouth piece (this is a more mature step for Little S who has really only tried flexible spouts) and an inner rubber valve that can be removed once he's ready for a faster flow. The rubber coated glass is very durable and won't break, and it also doesn't scratch which I love. It is very heavy which can be somewhat awkward and dramatic when Little S hurls his cup off the table to let us know he's done (a habit I would LOVE to break... suggestions?). It's also more of a bottle shape than a proper cup shape but since I myself drink out of the identical bottle, I think that's okay. Actually for us that's another plus, you can buy a bunch of the water bottles for yourself and just purchase a sippy lid. You could even share without feeling like you're actually drinking from a kid's cup. This is Little Smith's current favorite but it might be due to the fact that it's new and it matches the adult versions, always a draw!

We've edited our sippy stash down to three favorites; BornFree for milk(s), and Foogo and Lifefactory for water (we don't give him juice or other beverages right now). They each have benefits and drawbacks, but all three are easy to use (although I'd wait until over a year for the heavy Lifefactory), durable, and meet my personal standards for cool looking gadgets. I mean... that has to count for a little something!

And as always, here they all are in action. Each cup has definitely been tested thoroughly with some very heavy use.

Hopefully you are now feeling a little of that sippy love! Let me know if you have your own favorites or if there is a good "transition" cup once we decide to go valve-free. Happy sipping.

*I have no relationship with any of these companies, just a cup enthusiast!

March 23, 2012


fighting the urge to sleep with the television

I've been restless. I'm still not sleeping. I do not sleep, stringing together a couple of disconnected hours each night for weeks and weeks... or is it months? I think it is months. I had hoped spending some time at my mom's would give me some much needed rest, but even with the geese and birds and the clear country air my sleep wasn't great.

Instead I was pulled to catch up on my cable. We don't have good cable, and you never know when something really important is going to pop up on Bravo in the middle of the night. Even when my sweet husband finally convinced me to go to bed, I woke up again after a few hours and held my iphone in contorted positions trying to pick up some reception in my mother's very un-plugged house.

I had thought that browsing the internet or zoning out in front of the TV was helping keep me from getting too stuck in my head, but I'm starting to think that these glowing screens are actually the bulk of the problem. I've tried teas and vitamins and various remedies... but I haven't tried legitimately unplugging.

I know it seems easy enough to set myself a night without TV or internet, but I've tried and I always cave... or I get wrapped up in a book or a project that it even more captivating. I don't know how to meditate and it's too early for a family camping trip... and I'm tired. I look tired and just don't feel sharp.

Here's my plan for today; get outside and do as much manual labor on the garden as the kid allows, give myself one hour of internet/TV tonight once Little S is in bed (the husband is going to work late), and then I'm cut off. No screens, no projects... just some music and a few chores. I'll let you know how it goes!

March 22, 2012

March Photo A Day: three

15car 16sunglasses 17green 18a corner of your home 19funny 20before and after 21delicious

This week I ended up *fudging* the actual days of these pictures a bit... I forgot or I wasn't home to capture "a corner of my home" or my cinnamon croissant was so insanely good that it just had to count for "before and after" as well as "delicious". I guess this is more seven photos in a week than photo a day but I'm giving myself a big fat pass.

While we're on the subject, if you ever do find yourself in western Massachusetts and you just happen to be in the itty bitty town of Housatonic, then not only will you be down the street from my "home" but you'll also never stop kicking yourself if you don't stop into the Berkshire Mountain Bakery and get a big ol' cinnamon croissant. It's probably a good thing that they weren't around the corner back when I lived there or I'd have gone cinna-crazy!

I'm still working on getting back into the swing of things after having been spoiled with Big Smith being off of work for a week. It's always more fun with daddy around and nice to enjoy some adult conversation whenever the urge strikes. Good news is that there's only two days until the week-end. Bad news is that I'm sure Big S will be so swamped catching up that we won't be seeing much of him until then. He is missed!

March 21, 2012

Happy Teeth

I've secretly been on a bit of a vacation the last few days. Big Smith took some time off of work and he did a little skiing, we had a quality time around the house, and then we went out to my mom's to enjoy this beautiful weather. Tomorrow he goes back to work (very sad face). I have a zillion photos and thoughts and have also been (mostly) keeping up with my March Photo a Day... but today is just too nice for me to sit here and sift through all of the pieces so instead I'll just mention the one super exciting milestone we hit about a year late.

See that hand Little S has in his mouth in the picture above? That hand has been living in that position and I've been silently hoping that it meant we were going to get some teeth in that mouth... and FINALLY after a full year of what seemed like teething Little S just barely cut his first two teeth!!!!

He's almost 16 months old and trust me, I know it's strange not to have any teeth yet. His doctor told me again and again that it was completely fine, unusual but not unheard of, that he had no other symptoms of problems that "delayed tooth eruption" could indicate and he was just late. Still, when everyone looks at you with their eyes bugging out of their head when you say your little one has no teeth, when all of the other toddlers have a mouth full of chompers, when your kid is also small and everybody seems to have unsolicited advice and opinions... it's hard to keep focus on the fact that They all grow at their own pace, crawl and walk when the time is right, and some even wait until they're16 months old to cut those very first little white teeth.

Little S has stolen my "mouse" and run away with it five times this morning so I think that's a sign that I need to close this computer and get outside. Here's a little glimpse of what we've been up to courtesy of my cell phone and I know I keep saying it but hurray for this weather!