Friday, June 09, 2006

Yes Sir!

Sometimes Mama just has to follow orders.

Yesterday was Ian's in-school birthday celebration (kids with Summer birthdays get assigned a day) and I was fully prepared to make him our standard Mexican Chocolate Cupcakes with a number "6" stenciled on the top in powdered sugar: delicious cake, nice minimalist presentation, easy clean up with no frosting all over the faces of small consumers.

But I was quickly corrected and given my orders by the taller of my little dictators who felt so strongly about the appropriate decoration for a birthday cupcake that he asked for colored pencils and (this from a kid who hates art class) he drew what the cupcake should look like.

And so I had to bury these little beauties:
Under this crap:
To get these horrific-to-my-eyes-utter-bliss-to-an-almost-6-year-old:
You may notice that I was a little skimpy with the sweetened Crisco/canned frosting (yes, I offered to make homemade butter cream and yes, I was firmly rejected). Small victory.

The one heartening thing to which I am clinging right now is that Ian still isn't hung up on gender roles and specifically asked for pink numbers on the top.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Summer Reading

It is pretty clear that Summer and the resulting mellowness of brain is here because I am utterly charmed by this series of mystery books:

I'm sure I'd like these in the wintertime too, but they really are the perfect Summer read--lovely characters, episodic writing (so you can put it down, rescue the kid who is dangling precipitously from the climbing wall your husband built in the back yard, and get back into the story without any necessary re-reading), and yet not fluff. There are numerous meditations on significant issues, from morality, to economics, to AIDS. And though it may sound foolish, I feel like I'm getting to know Botswana from the perspective of the three main characters. Mma Ramotswe's pride and love of her country is utterly convincing and is a refreshing break from the usual "superiority" of the West perspective in which I usually encounter any writing about Africa.

Here's a sample of the extremely gentle humor in favorite paragraph from The Full Cupboard of Life, number 5 in the series:

Mma Makutsi, sitting at her desk, looked down at her shoes, as she often did in moments of crisis; her shoes, always her allies, but now so unhelpfully mute, as if to convey: don't look at us, we said nothing. You were the one, Boss. (In her mind, her shoes always addressed her as Boss, as the apprentices addressed Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. This was right for shoes, which should know their place.)

Isn't that a lovely little interlude that shows how many of us look to inanimate objects to support our decision making processes and lend us emotional support? My toaster has the ability to calm me down when I'm having a lousy day--after putting in a piece of bread, I know that I have to stop and pause for a short period, just breathe a little while a mundane piece of bread is being transformed into the culinary glory of a good piece of toast. I swear, the support I've received from my toaster is not one to disregard and it is nice to know that Mma Makutsi's shoes serve a similar purpose for her.

I'm enjoying this mystery series much more than the contemporary "literature" novels I've recently read, among them:
Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad and
Maile Meloy's A Family Daughter.

I'm a bit surprised at my lukewarm response to the Atwood since her project with the book is something I normally love--retelling a familiar tale from a different perspective. In this case, she tells the story of Odysseus from Penelope's view of the wife left behind and the story is told with Atwood's trademark acidic wit. This Penelope is no sweet, obedient, loyal wife, but a keen thinker who has to strategize in order to survive. And I think Atwood's project is generally successful, but for once, I found the harsh humor a bit tiring; I wish there had been more moments of vulnerability, like the ones that briefly appear between Penelope and her maids who she enlists as her spies but which are hung by Odysseus when he returns as co-conspirators with the suitors. Her guilt and tenderness towards the maids is compelling reading, but keeps being buried under the next round of caustic commentary.

Maile Meloy's new novel is a follow up with a twist to her first novel Liars and Saints. In this novel, the main character is Abby who, in a sort of book-within-a-book reference, turns out to be the "author" of Liars and Saints; that is to say, we are to read A Family Daughter as the "truth" of the family events behind those told in Liars and Saints. I thought this was clever at first, but after a while the concept lost its novelty. By the end of the book there were too many characters packed in to keep track of (I kept forgetting the names of Abby's cousins which makes you wonder exactly what purpose they fill in the story other than adding bulk to the clan) and some of the characters had taken on charicature-like qualities. I found myself skimming the passages that were about Clarissa (Abby's mother) because they were so predictable and trite. Ultimately, I thought the book started out well but lost steam and petered out to something I was relieved to have finished, rather than regretful that it had ended.

So I'm off to the library in the next day or so to pick up In the Company of Cheerful Ladies and to continue my friendship with Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, my new summer pals.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Avoiding the 5 PM brain drain

Last week was a particularly bad week when it came to dinner time. Every evening around 5 PM I'd realize that I had no idea what to make for dinner. By 5 PM my brain is fried--numerous keepers of little people refer to the hours from 4:30-6:30 as "the witching hours" for good reason. When trying to ascertain what is in the refrigerator, I usually have to pry my 3 year old off of where she has wrapped herself around my leg and wack the 5 year old's hands away from the chocolate milk syrup for which he is lunging. And then frustration and low blood sugar levels lead to meals that are a hodgepodge of whatever I see first and can assemble or reheat with very little thought (at best).

So this week I am taking inventory--figuring out what is in that big white appliance, digging through the freezer to find out what I've stashed away in one of my hoarding phases and coming up with a list of dinners I could make. Then I can add any esoteric ingredients to the shopping list for the week and not be left swearing up a storm when one key element to a recipe is missing.

Being a person who sometimes gives herself a break, I do not see the following list as a "commitment" to make that dinner; instead the list acts as a defibrillator for my brain when it is flat lining.

This week's possibilities include:

Red Seasonal Salad
Pork loin cooked in milk, kale, sweet potatoes
Red lentil soup, salad, beef kofte with yogurt garlic sauce, pita
Chicken curry with potatoes, raita, rice, mango lassi

and should this week turn out to be more hellacious than I anticipate there's always the back up (a.k.a. Mama's Best Friend):
$5 pizza