The Thing About Luck

The Thing About Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata.

The Thing About Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata.

In my role as mother and final-sayer-in-what-media-we-consume-as-a-family, I have tried as hard as I can to ensure that the stories we read or watch are as enjoyable for the parents as they are for the kids. Sometimes I am triumphant (Hello Dolly, The Fantastic Mr Fox, A Wrinkle in Time) and sometimes less so (Ice Age 2, Fancy Nancy) but as my daughter has gotten older, I have been very happy to discover lots of books for “older kids” that I would be happy to read on my own (and sometimes I do read ahead a little, but don’t tell anybody…)

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata is one of those books. I discovered it while browsing in Books of Wonder, which might be my all time favorite bookstore, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it only sells books for children. I made the purchase knowing nothing about it save the rave reviews of the store’s staff, the fact that it won a National Book Award, it’s main character is a twelve year old Japanese-American girl who’s family works in Kansas (may as well be Mars) as wheat harvesters, and, well, that this particular volume was signed by the author.

I won’t go into the story in detail, but it’s moving and instructive and funny (there were times when I laughed so hard I had to stop reading and collect myself) and complex and nervewracking and beautiful all rolled into one. And we came out the other end thinking about how a family tries to assimilate it’s original culture into our American style (or not), about first crushes, about struggling with being different, about the many and various ways people find to express their love for each other, and so much more.

In other words, it got us talking about life. Which is the best kind of conversation you can have as a family, if you ask me.

Another thing I really don’t need but totally want, regardless

crystal light bulb

Photo courtesy of Remodelista.com

Q: When is a lightbulb more than a lightbulb?

A: When it is this British full-lead hand-cut crystal bulb by Lee Broom.

Thing is, we actually have a few bare bulb situations in our house that I’m sure wouldn’t mind being taken to the next level by one of these bad boys. And while one might balk at paying $190 for a lightbulb, the price seems considerably more reasonable when you think of it as a light fixture instead.

Available at A+R, along with all sorts of other nice things.

Yesterday, at some point…

okonomi

Last night we had a family dinner date at a tiny (12 seat) Japanese spot in East Williamsburg called Okonomi (by day) and Yuji Ramen (for dinner). This is a photograph of my place setting, with water and sake, before the food came.

One day, I will develop self control and remember to photograph the food first, before I dig in. But for now, you should just trust me and head straight for this gem of a restaurant as fast as your legs will carry you.

By day (9 – 3), they serve traditional Japanese breakfast. In the evenings (from 6 – 11) they serve their own take on ramen, both with and without the traditional broths. I had what was essentially the ramen version of spaghetti carbonara, with huge pieces of fresh bacon from the Meat Hook, and was in heaven. Everything we ate was delicious, and I can’t wait to go back for more.

For dinner on weekends, they do a sit down tasting menu (did I hear the waiter say 12 courses?) that you need to reserve via their website. Or maybe you just call them. It all seemed quite mysterious.

See you there.

Okonomi or Yuji Ramen
150 Ainslie St
Brooklyn, NY 11211

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Yesterday, at some point is a series of photographs that describe a moment I experienced during the previous day (or thereabouts). The posts are meant to be stand alone images, though at times I can’t control myself, and I end up expanding the caption into a more lengthy bit of text. Hopefully the extra information is useful, or at least interesting. If not, feel free to ignore it.

Last night’s dinner: Lasagna

lasagna

Here it is, my first lasagna, in all of it’s cheesy glory.

Yesterday was the first time I have ever made a lasagna. My mother used to make it often, much to our delight. My sister, who’s energies tend to be focused elsewhere than the kitchen, also makes a delicious version which I have enjoyed on several occasions. And yet, for some reason, I have always been a bit intimidated.

Until now.

I found this recipe on Food52 and thought, how could I not want to make a dish called “Birthday Lasagna?” Especially as it features a bechamel sauce rather than ricotta? (There’s something really satisfying about blending the butter, milk and flour into such delicious perfection.) It was a huge hit, everybody had seconds, and I can’t wait to make lunch out of what little remains in the fridge. This dish is going on high rotation.

A brief note before I share the details with you here… I used dried lasagna noodles that I just precooked till they were al dente. I also dumped twice as much mozzarella on top because one should always overdo it when it comes to mozzarella, don’t you think? My slightly altered version is below. The original can be found here.

Birthday Lasagna
(adapted from the version on Food52 by Merill Stubs)

Ingredients:

for the Bolognese

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
Salt
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
Splash red wine (optional- I skipped as we had none in the house)
1 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes, with their juices
1 cup beef stock or water
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

for the rest of the Lasagna:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
Salt
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 package lasagna sheets, cooked al dente
1 1/2 cups shredded fresh mozzarella

To make the bolognese, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy saucepan. Add the ground beef, along with a couple pinches of salt. Brown the meat well and remove it to a bowl using a slotted spoon.

Add the carrot and onion to the pan and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste and cook for one more minute. Stir in the browned meat.

Stir in the flour and then the red wine, if using. Add the tomatoes, stock and oregano and stir well to combine. Raise the heat and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cover the pan and lower the heat so that the sauce is just simmering. Cook until the meat is tender and the flavors have melded, at least half an hour and up to an hour and a half. (Add more stock or water if the sauce starts to look dry.)

While the sauce is cooking, make the bechamel. In a medium heavy saucepan melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour, and once the mixture starts to bubble cook for another 2 minutes, whisking frequently. Don’t let the mixture brown. Whisk in the milk slowly and raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and keep whisking until the sauce turns thick and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the bechamel from the heat, cover and set aside.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. To assemble the lasagna, spread a couple of tablespoons of the bolognese in the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch square baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna noodles, overlapping them slightly if necessary. Spread 1/3 of the bechamel evenly over the noodles, and then spread 1/4 of the remaining bolognese over that. Add another layer of noodles.

Repeat until you have used all of the bechamel. Add a final layer of noodles and spread the remaining bolognese over the top. Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top of the lasagna. Cover the lasagna with a sheet of parchment paper and then wrap the dish tightly in aluminum foil. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the noodles are just tender (test them by piercing the lasagna with a sharp knife).

Turn the oven up to 425 degrees and remove the foil and the parchment. Return the lasagna to the oven and cook for about 10 minutes, until deeply browned and bubbling. Let the lasagna cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Bask in the glory of your accomplishment.

My co-chef, who was not surprisingly very enthusiastic about her job as 'lasagna builder'

For your viewing pleasure, I give you a shot of my co-chef, who was not surprisingly very enthusiastic about her job as ‘lasagna builder.’ Not only is this dish heavenly, it’s a great kitchen activity for the kids.

5 easy pieces for jumping in lakes

Aaaah.... the good old days... pre bathing suit.

Aaaah…. the good old pre-bathing suit days…

When they are really little, kids just need a swim diaper and sunblock. But when they get bigger, bathing suits come into play, for better or worse. I am determined not to be caught by surprise this year (“What do you mean last year’s suit doesn’t still fit?”) so I’ve just done a round of swimwear research and I’m passing along a few of my favorites:

vintage suit sweet william

First off, I have always loved this vintage style bathing suit by Little Creative Factory. So much, in fact, that I am seriously considering buying it again. (My daughter had one when she was 3…)
$78 at Sweet William.

mara hofman for J Crew

I remember when designer Mara Hoffman was just starting out, making all sorts of amazing clothes by hand… now she’s big time, but she still makes great stuff and her kids suits are beyond.
$100 at J Crew

target bikini

I’ve never been one for little girls in skimpy suits, but this striped bikini at Target is the perfect solution when your kids starts insisting she NEEDS a two piece.
$11.99 at Target.

kid wet suit at sweet william

So you surf and you’re hoping your little one will get up on a board with you? Here’s the perfect mini wet suit style bather for the junior surfer in your lives.
$75 at Sweet William, again.

busy bees tank

Or maybe this year, it’s just about a classic solid tank in a great color…
$60 at busybeeskids.com

This week’s Monday, Monday links post comes to you on Tuesday because the cable/phone people were working outside yesterday and my internet was down all day

verizon mess

Here it is, folks. The “state of the art” infrastructure that provides lightning speed internet to my desktop. Oh no wait…

Yesterday felt a little bit like being in some kind of third world country, although evidently The US has some of the slowest (and most expensive for the consumer) internet speeds in the developed world. Go figure.

The Italian army has started growing their own pot. Just one more reason that the Italians are cooler than we will ever be.

And while we’re on the topic of pot, please go to Vimeo and watch a few episodes of High Maintenance. It might be the most hilarious thing you have ever watched on your computer. Or iPad. Or whatever. (ps: The episodes are much better than the trailer, just fyi.)

Oh and while we’re also on the topic of Italy, how about trying out Mark Bittman’s Pasta alla Norma at some point this week?

And then how about some rhubarb almond crumb cake for desert? If you were watching High Maintenance, you might just have the munchies… Plus it’s rhubarb season.

Thank you Apartment Therapy for calling out 30+ items that used to be ubiquitous but are now disappearing from our homes. Like land lines and calculators, both of which I still have, by the way…

Summer vacation is fast approaching. Here are some lovely tips on planting a garden with your kids.

Suddenly, it’s summer…

DIY pops

Nothing says summertime like a triple flavored home made popsicle, right?

And then, overnight, the temperatures rose into the high 80′s (some say we hit 90 this week, but I refuse to believe it). Down jackets are a distant memory. The sprinklers have been turned on in the playgrounds. Summer is upon us.

In response, we are making our own popsicles again, this time with a little help from The Cookbook For Kids, by Lisa Atwood for William Sonoma. We changed the recipe to fit our personal tastes (and what was available at the market) and I’ve copied our take on the formal instructions below in the hopes that you will all become avid pop makers.

For those of you who want to dive deeper into the world of DIY pops, I wrote a comprehensive piece for Krrb that includes links to molds you might want to buy plus lots of recipe ideas.

Oh and if you are looking for a slightly more grown up version (read: frozen drinks on a stick) check out One Kings Lane’s brilliant post with 4 great recipes for the fruity-but-also-alcoholic pop. Oh and also there’s this Strawberry Greyhound poptail from Endless Simmer.

And, last but not least, check out these Blood Orange Pops from The Little Epicurean. Yum!!

Here’s our slightly altered 3 tier pop recipe:

Ingredients:

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen blackberries
1 cup frozen mango
3/4 cup OJ

How to make it:

In a small pan, combine sugar and 1/3 cup water. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves into a syrup. (2 – 3 minutes) To be honest, you can probably skip the whole simple syrup apart and still have insanely delicious treats. We will most likely do that next time, but I have given birth to someone who is a stickler for following directions line for line.

Next, rinse the strawberries with room temperature water. Set aside to thaw. Pour mango cubes into a blender. Add 1/4 cup OJ and 2 Tbs syrup (from step one) Purée until smooth. Divide the mango purée among 6 ice pop molds or 4 paper cups. (we used cups, because my daughter insisted that ours look JUST LIKE THE PICTURE in the book). Tap the bottom of the cups/molds on the countertop to settle the purée. Place in the freezer. After 1 hour, place a craft stick in the center of each cup/mold.

For the second layer, purée the blackberries, 1/4 cup OJ and 2 Tbs syrup until smooth. Pour over the mango purée in the cups/molds and return to the freezer.

Last but not least, blend the now pretty much melted strawberries with the rest of the OJ and syrup until smooth. Pour over the other layers and return to the freezer.

Freeze the layered pops until firm, 2 – 4 hours. To remove pops from molds, dip the bottoms into a bowl of hot water till they begin to loosen (or just peel off the paper cups.)

Enjoy!

Ernest & Celestine

I generally stay away from the “New Releases” section of the video rental sites, being firmly of the opinion that the “new” stuff is vastly inferior to the films from back in the day.

But sometimes I am very wrong.

As I was happy to discover when my family settled down to watch this Oscar nominated animated feature, about an unlikely friendship between a bear and a young mouse. Ernest and Celestine (from the people who brought us The Triplets of Belleville and The Secrets of Kells) has action, suspense, complicated and deep fear and resentment between different cultures (sound familiar?), humor, love and beautiful animation that harkens back to the good old days when people drew. With pens.

With a cast that includes Forrest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, William H. Macy, Paul Giamatti and Jeffery Wright, the movie is as beautifully acted as it is drawn.

This film is one for the library, for sure.

So it’s come to this…

daily meds

Say hello to my daily companions: Copaxone, Chaste Tree Berry, Rhodiola, A “women over 40″ multivitamin, Omega 3, a bunch of Vitamin D, and Magnesium Theonate.

Today I have decided to call attention to the rarely mentioned workhorses of my daily routine. These are not beauty products, though they most certainly contribute to my well being and as such could fall under that umbrella. As could sleep (which rarely puts in enough of an appearance) and delicious food. And travel to exotic places. And spa treatments. And babysitters…

But I digress.

This is a photograph of just the medication (be it a super western injectable, or an herbal tincture) that has been prescribed to me for various conditions by people with certified medical degrees. It is a snapshot of my physical reality. And a reminder, in pill and liquid form, of my mortality. And I am sure I’m not alone here. I mean, I just saw a post about grey hair in A Cup of Jo, for Pete’s sake.

But rather than look at this impressive heap of ingestibles and feel sad or overwhelmed, I take it as a call to action. Both to be thankful that my health is as solid as it is and to motivate myself to actually do some of the projects I have been circling around for years. Because now is the time.

This blog is one of those projects, and I will be forever grateful to all of you people out there for motivating me to post and for reminding me that I am not just shouting into the void.

If any of you have questions about MS, hormonal imbalance, or benign fibrosis give me a shout. I’ve got lots of opinions. Oh and if any of you have found an attractive pill box out there, I’m all ears.

We can get to all of the more fun stuff– creams and oils and superfoods– some other time.

Monday, Monday — or more links about people who make music and things that make noise

joan la barbara tapesongs

I mean, who doesn’t want to listen to this record after seeing the cover? (photo thanks to Brian Eno’s Twitter feed)

Brian Eno just tweeted this link to a six hour MP3 of women making electronic music and I’m listening to it right now.

Speaking of unconventional music, is cricket the other other white meat? Modern Farmer seems to think it might be…

God bless Apartment Therapy for giving us some great ideas for how to store and display our record collection with style, now that we’ve taken all of those LP’s out of the basement…

I hope you have all already seen the incredible James Brown biopic Get On Up. But if you haven’t you must do so. Right. Now.

The people over at Cup Of Jo (because it’s a team of superhumans over there now… not just the inimitable Joanna Goddard) recommend these as the best 7 podcasts to try and I am inclined to believe them.

Gather Journal (which is mostly about food) has some great mixtapes on their website that you guys should check out.

And last, but not least, after much internet research and hoot comparisons, we have determined that we have a Great Horned Owl living on our roof or somewhere very close by. Ah the wilds of Brooklyn…