Monday, January 29, 2007

Madeleines: A Cookie Quest

One day last summer, while at our local Parisian street market, I felt my morning croissant wear off. I was hungry and cranky, and had an extra euro in my pocket, so I chose a golden yellow madeleine along with my Sunday bread purchase from the good baker at the market.

I popped it in my mouth.

Then, I melted into a little puddle of gooey joy on the sidewalk.

It was delicate, light, tender. Buttery, sweet, and full of flavor. Unbelievable, indescribable flavor.

If I hadn't been married, I think I would have proposed to the boulanger.

When Flare visited us in November, she brought me a present that included a silicone madeleine pan, one of the things I forgot to get before we left la belle France.

Now, I am on the hunt for the right recipe to fill it. I tried Ina Garten's Coconut version, which despite its great reviews, was disappointing.

So I am asking. Begging. Please. If you have a recipe that will send me back to that dirty Parisian sidewalk, send it my way. As soon as you can. (Maybe it's a pregnancy craving? Whatever. I don't care.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Shop Bop A Loo Bop

Dr. B and I have never been monetarily wealthy, at least according to American standards. He's been a student (ad nauseum), and I've taught in parochial school (which, despite the high cost, doesn't exactly reward the teachers well. Most teachers consider the approximately 30% pay cut their tithe to the church. I didn't attend these churches, so I just considered it having a job and eating on a regular basis.) We spent our meager savings (and more) to take a post-doc in France, and we don't regret it one bit. Except, of course, for the fact that we are still not caught up, despite his good post-doc position here in the US. The move, all the little things, and sporadic subbing combined with sick days, hospital visits, and the need for bigger clothing for me really adds up. (And don't even get me started on the student loans...)

So, needless to say, Dr. B has been a bit stressed about money lately. He is a confirmed worrywart anyway, and these concerns really have been getting to him. Being the bargain-hunter I am, I have been scouring the web, searching for deals, doing research, and trying to find ways to prepare for this coming baby without putting us into more debt. I borrowed a book from a friend, Baby Bargains, which has helped a great deal with the research, telling me what you need, what you don't, which are the best, and what to ask a rich relative to buy for you. (Note: check this one out from the library or borrow it--a new, updated version comes out in April.) I read up on cribs, strollers, monitors, maternity clothes, wipe warmers (not suggested), bottle heaters, humidifiers--you name it, they cover it. I had already been shopping for used items, planning for what I wanted and what we really needed, and avoiding falling into the trap of getting or registering for everything under the sun. Yes, there are certain items I will want, but I am a planner, a bargain shopper, and I don't believe I need every new thing just because the commercials on TV tell me I do.

After a few days trapped in the house while waiting for the school district to get my paperwork done (who knew it would take 2 months to get hired to sub?), I was going stir-crazy. I don't do boredom well. The house was clean. The laundry was done, and ironed. A 3-course meal was on the table, with ironed tablecloth and candles, every night. I had Mr. Clean Magic Erased everything in sight. I needed to get out, NOW.

After supper, Dr. B asked what I would like to do. I told him that I would really like to show him some of the baby things I'd looked at, to get his ideas on them. I was proud of my work, and was really looking forward to sharing this experience with him, but I also knew he wasn't much of a shopper, so I planned carefully. I thought he could handle it, if I just explained things to him as we went along. I'd skip Babies'R'Us, because the big box would be horribly overwhelming for him (he'd just shut down.) We'd look at some cribs and strollers at USA Baby, just to get some ideas. Since that was a bit high-end (though the service was great), I wanted to show him the comparison by taking him into Kids-R-Us's baby section (the big baby store was across town, this was just a little part) and Target. He began to understand some of the comparisons I was making, but regardless, he didn't exactly take it well. He saw the things we "needed", the prices, began adding things up in his head (which, despite his PhD in Chemistry, he doesn't always do very well), and he panicked. Angry, yelling, won't-look-at-me panicked.

"We don't need this! Safety schmafety! This is just the American corporation trying to scare you into spending more money. Bull***t! I don't buy it. We'll just get the cheapest crib at IKEA and that's good enough. Who needs a drop side? You can just bend over. Who cares if it looks nice? It doesn't need to be sturdy--it's a baby!!! She's just going to lie there! (Yes, he hasn't been around many young children. Don't worry, he'll learn.) We don't need any of this crap. Babies have been born for millenia and didn't need no stinkin' bouncy seat. Diaper pail that seals up the poopies like a sausage???? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!!"

I swear, if it were up to him, he'd dig a hole under the kid's bare butt, give them a rock to play with, and call it a day.

We discussed things in the car.

He said, "you're breast-feeding. Formula is too expensive."

"What if I can't? What if there's no latch? What if I get sore, cracked breasts and it's extremely painful?"

He looked at me in horror. He said, "we are going to use the G diapers. Better for the environment."

"What if they don't work?" I replied. "What if they leak liquid poo all over? What if they take seven flushes to flush and back up our entire septic system? Do you like mopping liquid doody off the bathroom floor?"

He grimaced.

I calmly continued. "We need to have plan B's prepared, is all I'm saying. We need to be informed."

I pulled into Barnes and Noble, ordered him an espresso, and let him loose. He headed toward the science book section (AKA the place where nobody else ever goes--proven: you can die of boredom, and no one would find your body for weeks.) I sat at the café table, reading through the book and browsing through magazines.

Half an hour later he returned, and we sat together, discussed his fears (and the fact that we don't have to buy all of this stuff this month and there may be even a few gifts in the future), and pored over some baby name books. We came up with 3 new contenders for a middle name, and actually agreed on one of them. He smiled again. He would survive this.

So, I went back to my original plans. I accepted the offers of clothes and assorted items as hand-me-downs from my SIL, cousin and a friend in town with a 5-month old girl. Grandma promised a special baby dresser my grandfather built 60 years ago. An oak rocker I had found at a garage sale this summer would be a great spot for rocking our little one. My sister's fiancé works for Manhattan Toy and is a great source for lots of educational and colorful toys purchased at cost, I collaborated with an overseas friend, and I scoured Craig's List (Madison). (Garage sales will have to wait--this is Wisconsin in January.) And I found some bargains. My proven Craig's List method of asking a question immediately when I am interested in something (to get dibs) paid off, and I was able to make a couple of new scores.

Last night, Dr. B took a look at the things I had found. A Graco Pack-N-Play play yard (playpen for us 70's babes) with bassinet and changing table, a Baby Bjorn carrier, and a Peg Perego Pliko stroller, that once I had cleaned it up with some upholstery cleaner and Formula 409, looked pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

"You got all of this for less than the cost of the stroller new?"

"Yes. A lot less." A self-satisfied smirk appeared on my face.

"And all these things are top-rated by the book?"

"Uh-huh." I couldn't resist. A grin began to spread.

"Huh. Wow. You're good."

"Dad may hunt big game, but I got that gene, too. I hunt big bargains."

"Well," he sighed, "I suppose that means..."

"Yep. A good crib."

Monday, January 22, 2007

I am so elegant

I'm not much of a royalist, but I had to post this, because every time I look at it, I can't help but burst out laughing. Yes, I love me some bathroom humor.

When I got this from the illustrious Jack, the title was "Did Philip Fart?"

So, what do you think???

(Note: the Queen's expression in photo #3 is absolutely priceless. It must have been really rank.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007


On Friday night, we decided to take in a movie. We lollygagged too long over dinner, so had to go to the 'icky' theater (too busy, sticky floors, low ceilings), but had enough time to stop for a coffee at Barnes and Noble before. Unfortunately, so did about 50 chinese university students, so we skipped the coffee and just read French magazines instead. (Heh.)

This is what we saw. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. Dark, haunting, beautiful, frightening, hopeful. Amazing. Del Toro is a genius. Quick, go, before it leaves your theater! It's worth seeing on the big screen.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Name Game

Dr. B and I had decided on a name for our little girl. Of course, when he asked "what was it again?", he wasn't sure about the middle name we had chosen. "It just doesn't have the right rhythm," he said. "It should have either two syllables, or four. Three just doesn't flow right. Besides, I'd like to have a name that honors your mom and my mom."

"Yeah, honey, I would, too, but my mom didn't like her name, so that's out. Your mom's name doesn't fit right, and I just can't really think of any 'J' names that I really, really like and go with the first name we've chosen."

We pulled out the trusty Mac laptop, hitting baby name websites, and got to work. We'd read off names to each other, and wait for the response--usually either a vehement "no way!" or an "eh..."

"Well, maybe there are some 'G' names that have the same sound," he said. I clicked over to 'G', and went down the list, passing all the ones with the hard G sound, searching for the gentle soft G that would be like my mom and his mom's names.

"Giada!!!" he exclaimed, reading over my shoulder. "That's a beautiful name!"


"Why not?" he said, a glow in his eyes and a grin on his face. "Agnes* Giada Skarphol Brownson. I think it's beautiful!"

"Absolutely not. Never. Uh-uh. No WAY!" I said, beginning to get a little angry.

"But honey, it's really a lovely name," he continued, "and..."

"And nothing. We are not naming our child after the Food Network TV Chef you have a crush on. Forget it."

"But she's really hot!"

"No. Not on your life."

"Well, how about Gia, then?"


(Sheesh. Anyway, if we were going to name our little girl after a famous chef, everyone knows it would be Jamie Oliver.)

Every name I read, he nixed (I think he was holding out for Giada), and I began to get frustrated. He grabbed the computer out of my hands, and I picked up my book off the coffee table and began to read. He was determined to find it, the perfect compliment to Agnes*, and he dove into the task with abandon.

We read quietly for nearly an hour, when he finally slammed the lid down on the Mac, and said, "I give up."

"Brunhilda* is fine. This is too hard. I can't do it."

I smiled, and clicked off the lamp, as we headed up to bed.

Phew. This was much easier than choosing our china pattern.

*Agnes is not the name. Neither is Brunhilda. Keep guessing!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Suzie Homemaker

Saturday, I had spent much of the day cleaning, and was preparing for the evening meal. (OK, I'm lying. I took a 2 1/2 hour nap.) So, yeah, I was feeling guilty and decided, when Dr. B took Lucy for her late afternoon walk, to be ultra-efficient. I would throw laundry in the washer, do the dishes, bake a pie (albeit frozen) for dinner at our friends' the next night, bake some corn muffins, and start the sausage creole for supper. Dr. B came home and headed to the store for me to pick up some ice cream for the pie, and I got to work. I set the oven to preheat to 400 degrees, popped the pie and muffins in, and began soaking the sausage to remove some of its saltiness.

I can do this! I am incredibly effective, and quite the time-manager, let me tell you. Like a well-oiled machine, that's me. Donna Reed, eat your heart out.

I was elbow-deep in dishes when the smoke alarm went off, about 4 minutes later.

What the??? Hrmf. Must have been some cheese or something on the oven floor. Oh well, it'll stop. I thought.

I continued with the dishes. It didn't stop. I took a damp towel, waved it near the alarm, and it quit. Good. Back to the dishes.

I washed a few more things, and it started going off again.

Stupid thing! Man! It's called baking. Duh! It's not the house afire! Ratsfratsafarkinstupid... I opened the front door, and waved the storm door back and forth to clear the "smoke" away from the detector. It stopped.

For a second. Then it started again.

I went to the back door, and opened it to let some more of the supposed smoke out. Lucy ran for it, and headed to the backyard, giving me looks that said, "MOM!!! Make it stop, NOW!!!" Then the upstairs one started going off.

Oh. Now this is just brilliant. Stupid smoke detectors. It's only a pie. It's on a baking sheet, and foil--it's not like it's burning up. The dumb thing was frozen, and it's only been in for 8 minutes. EIGHT MINUTES!!! I mean come on! Hello? You can't burn a pie in 8 minutes. Dumb thing. You'd think these things would work nowadays. They can send a man to the moon... Stupid smoke detectors...

I boiled some water, hoping the humidity would help. It didn't.

For the next 3 minutes, I ran back and forth with the damp towel, trying to clear the air. I waved the front door, to no avail. I waved the back door. Again, nada. Lucy came running in, tail tucked between her legs, shooting me dirty looks over her shoulder. She ran to her bed to hide. I finally opened the kitchen window, despite the 15 degree temperature outside.

The downstairs one stopped.

Just then, Dr. B walked in. I explained what was going on. Then I went to "prove" to him that it wasn't my fault.

And I saw the hanging thermometer inside our, shall we say "dated", gas oven.

It read 600 degrees.

Sigh. No wonder the oven knob is slightly melted.

The pie was nicely browned, so I topped it with foil and turned down the oven, hoping to salvage it. The corn muffins were "black-bottom", and perfumed with smoke, so those went to the compost heap.

I took the pie out of the oven later, but strangely it never bubbled. Because I was afraid it had totally dried out and would also be "blackened cranberry-apple pie", I decided to seek another alternative for dessert. (I like my friends, and I want to be invited again!) Luckily, I had seen a recipe on the food network that really tempted me. And, it involved no baking whatsoever. Perfect.

So I made this, substituting Grand Marnier for the almond liqueur, and making only 1/2 the amount called for. (1/2 the amount served 8 anyway.) I served it over angel food cake with a sauce made from frozen and thawed raspberries and strawberries in syrup, with a little lemon juice. (The fruit this time of year tends to taste like it came from the Cardboard Farm.) A little light whipped topping on the side dressed it up even more (I would have done cream, but the hostess still has a few lbs. to lose from her recent pregnancy. I was trying to be sensitive.)

It got RAVE reviews. Highly recommended.

Anyway, I guess I still have a few things to learn about our kiln oven.

I'm a little scared to cut into that pie. (At least it's not this one.)

Friday, January 12, 2007

René Marie~Thanks,But I Don't Dance

A sample, though not the song I spoke of. Still, quite divine. What a gift this lady has.
Swedish Pharmacy: Ball or Aerosol?

Stupid, but I laugh every time.

Reminds me of when great uncle Melvin asked the waitress to cut his roast beef "real t(h)in, cause I got short teet(h)!"

Gotta love those Scandinavian accents, phoney or otherwise.


Today was the day we had been waiting for. At 19 weeks, I was finally due for my first sonogram. We were both excited, and nervous, and scared, and worried, and anxious, and thrilled, and... well, you get the drift. The night before, as we lay in bed, we hoped and prayed that the baby would be healthy and alive and moving around, unlike the time when we had to go in for a sonogram and there was... nothing. We didn't think we could handle a repeat of that, not this far into the game. I went to sleep, expecting nightmares.

And I woke up, nightmare free, with the René Marie version of "How Can I Keep From Singing" playing in my mental soundtrack. A good sign.

We went in, with me worrying that "I don't have to pee enough!" as we drove there. We arrived, and the technician assured me that as long as I wasn't empty, we'd be fine.

She found the baby quickly, and just as she pointed out the head, our little one moved an arm quickly, throwing it above the head, as if saying, "Hi, Mom and Dad! 'Bout time you looked in on me!" The baby was moving and grooving, wiggling around like crazy.

Alive. Thank God. Alive.

She spent the next half hour taking pictures of all the important things (the 4 chambers of the heart, the spine, the head, kidneys, feet, hands, belly, etc.) and taking measurements while we watched in awe. That was our little baby, right there. Moving. Really moving.

We had decided before that we would find out the gender of the baby. We both want to know, and to be able to plan, and quite frankly we just can't wait! My mother-in-law was pretty sure it was a boy. Her colleague at work disagreed, she was sure it's a girl. My sister-in-law had a dream that I had a boy, and her dreams are never wrong. At least that's what she thinks, but my brother-in-law says her record is really great, after the fact. I had a feeling that I am carrying a girl. Last time, I thought it was a boy, and this time I really feel a girl in there. Dr. B is convinced that he is, as he puts it, "DOOMED to be the father of girls."

So then came the hard part. Finding out, for real, the gender of the baby. She worked carefully, having me move from back to side and returning me to my back again, before finally getting the chance we'd hoped for.

"I think you've got a little girl in there..." she said.

Zizou is a girl! With all the bladder-kicking she's doing, I am pretty sure she's a cowgirl, actually.

I dressed, and returned to the waiting room to await my OB appointment. The next hour was a flurry of bathroom trips (all that water caught up to me), visiting with the nurses, talking with the doctor, and getting a flu shot. I have gained the weight I lost plus one pound, so I am officially in the plus column, though I am still wearing regular clothes, for the most part. Our doctor laughed when I said I was worried that I wasn't getting "big enough" yet. "That will change, soon enough," she chuckled.

We walked down the hall to the lab, to have blood drawn for the Quad test and Cystic Fibrosis genetic tests. As we sat together, we discussed names, who we needed to phone, and generally just basked in the glow of knowing that we had a daughter on the way. Dr. B, being the guy he is, was already thinking about how we were going to talk to her about sex. He is such a worry-wart.

Then I saw it. Right there, on his right temple. About an inch long. His very first gray hair.

He really is a Dad.


PS The due date is still June 6.
PPS We're not telling anyone the name until the baby is born. You'll have to wait!
PPS She weighs about 11 ounces right now. My own little can-'o-pop.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Just Desserts

We're back in Cheezland, and I am slowly beginning to get a handle on things. Because I can now walk (albeit more slowly and with a slight hitch), I am finally able to do things around the house again.

You can imagine that after 3 months, a shipment from France, Christmas, and virtually no cleaning by Dr. B (I don't blame him--he had to wait on me hand and foot) that this place is a mess. It will likely take me weeks to get it in shape, and it wasn't in perfect shape when this all happened anyway, as we were still moving in and figuring things out.

But Dr. B's favorite thing is that I can now go shopping again, drive myself, and cook dinner. We are no longer reliant on his kitchen stylings, and my simple meals make him very happy. He especially loves it when I do them à la française, with multiple courses. This sounds much more complicated than it is--we just have a main dish (last night was frozen pizza with some sliced mushrooms added--really, not fancy!), followed by salad (just leaves with dressing), and some little thing for dessert. This way we get time to talk and spend together, avoid watching TV, eat slower, and don't eat as much because it has time to digest and let our brains know we're full.

The other night, I made a delicious poached pear dessert that took all of about 2 minutes to prepare--just canned pears warmed with orange juice, allspice and nutmeg, honey and brown sugar, and topped with a little sour cream. (I've found that the crème fraiche here is nasty, but Daisy brand sour cream is virtually indistinguishable from the french CF). Yummy. (Yes, I totally stole this idea from Sandra Lee.)

Then yesterday, at the supermarket, I was tickled to find a new product. Yes, it's corny, cheesy, and totally geered toward my demographic, but I don't care.

For the next 6 months or so, the real ones aren't in my future, so I'm going to enjoy this kind. And at 14 cents a serving, how can you go wrong? I made it in wine glasses so it would feel more "adult". Heh. (Dr. B loved it, too.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Shut De Door, Keep Out De Devil

Our annual Christmas trip went well, with minimal fighting due to bad weather driving, ("Slow Down!" "Just go to sleep!" "I can't, I'm too scared!" "Stop yelling at me!" "Well, then, take the cruise control off!" etc.) 2 colds, concentrated family time, lots of food, too many presents, and plenty of relaxing.

When we got to my Dad's on Friday, Dr. B began complaining about the lack of underwear he had with him. I hadn't bought him any new in France, and after we got back to the US I injured myself and hadn't been able to go shopping in over 3 months, so some had worn out. Since he'd been doing laundry, he just kept washing frequently, and it wasn't a big deal, until we were on vacation and he didn't have enough. Rock (my sister) and I headed to Old Navy (his preferred lingerie boutique), picked up 5 new pair for him, and tossed them in the laundry. He especially loved the ones with the robot print.

As we got ready to leave on Christmas Day, Dr. B did all the packing, while I sat and chatted with my grandparents. I still wasn't really mobile yet, so staying out of his way was the best method for 'helping'. We got in the car 10 minutes before our self-imposed deadline for leaving, and made our way down the road, making good time and looking forward to the prime rib dinner that awaited us at his Mom and Dad's.

About an hour and a half into the 4-hour trip, Dr. B let out a loud expletive. Or two.

"!@#E$%^&!!! Oh, crap! My underwear. They're all in the dryer at your Dad's."


I called my sister, and left a message for her so she could return the load to us when we saw her in Minneapolis the next week. We enjoyed our dinner, and I made plans to drive his Dad's car (an automatic) to the store the next day to remedy the situation. I headed out, this time to the Kmart down the road (I didn't want to deal with the traffic that would surround the Old Navy on the day after Xmas), to pick up some undies for him. Hanes were on sale, so I grabbed two packs of three, one being the traditional boxers, and one being the "comfort waistband".

On the way to Minneapolis for the wedding, I decided to check to see how things were working out.

"So, do you like the Hanes?"

"Some of them. The comfort waistband ones are good. They are pretty comfy. But not the others."

"Huh? What do you mean? They're just boxers."

"Yeah, but they're designed for people like your Dad. No-butt people. Flat fannies. For me, Mr. Bubble Butt, they just don't work."

"Oh, so they're Hank Hill boxers, for those with DGS (Diminished Gluteal Syndrome)."


"So, they're too small? I got the medium, but I could buy a large..."

"No! Not that. No. It's just that, well, they pull across the tush, and then, because the front part doesn't have a button, they sort of gap in the center. Things have a way of, um, poking out."

"Like an Advent Calendar!"

He burst out laughing.

With a big grin, he shouted, "MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!"
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