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Bread Bonanza

Our baking friends next door at Against the Grain just spent the day baking baking baking (this isn’t unusual, seeing as they are bakers) in order to bring a car full of bread to the folks at McPherson Square who are the DC contingent of the Occupy Wall Street movement (they don’t do this part every day).

As a small business, they want to show support for the movement and for the people who are there trying to make a change.

I was coming home just as they were piling into the car to head west with bread (our front porch is actually on their driveway).

That’s ninety 5-pound miches heading across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge right now – for anyone who’s interested in an intercept to score 450 pounds of the most excellent and delicious bread this side of the, what the heck, Pacific Rim. It’s that good.

Of course, you’ll have to bust through this pack of heavies first.

And they’re ready to rumble.

I have no doubt that their work will be well-received.

(Except for all those people with gluten allergies, I guess. They’ll just be mad.)

Rally rally rally! The bonanza is on its way!

Faulkner's Pumpkin Farm

Those of you who are feeling sorry for Robbi may take comfort in knowing that my trip to Kansas City is not a vacation. Rather, it is an opportunity for Robbi and me to work in different states while someone takes care of our children. As such, I worked today while Grandpa John and Grandma Judy took Alden and Kato to Faulkner’s Pumpkin Farm.

Apparently, Faulkner’s was fun. A lot of fun. For example, there were wild animals.

There was an enormous sandbox filled with corn kernels.

There were bucking broncos made from oil drums.

And a croquet-like game involving brooms, rubber balls, and wickets in the shape of scarecrows, animals, and such.

Apparently, Kato was not particularly good at this game.

There was an obstacle course made from old tires…

…and hay bales. Apparently, Kato was very good at climbing the hay bales.

Even if he had to take a bit of a breather on the other side.

And, of course, Faulkner’s Pumpkin Farm had pumpkins. Lots of pumpkins.

A good time was had by everyone—except for me. All in all, it was one of the most enjoyable outings I’ve ever missed on account of having to work.

Musing

As Matthew recently pointed out, the way these family trips work is that the family goes somewhere fun, and Robbi stays at home working at all hours on some tortured byzantine project while forgetting to eat and sleep. This particular family trip is all about me designing a new website for our new children’s book press (awesome name to be revealed later). We don’t know when it’s actually going to launch, because, well, everything depends on how much I can get done this week (did I mention I’m also trying to illustrate 3 or 4 books at the same time? No? Silly me!). But just so you know, we’re on it. It’s happening!

I am trying out the new Adobe product, Muse, to design the front page, as we want it to do something more complicated than I can figure out in WordPress. Muse is in Beta right now, which means it’s free, but also means that there isn’t a lot of documentation of how to make things work (which is why I love WordPress – excellent forums and tutorials and people who know what they’re doing). So, I’m kind of hacking around blindly, but for those of you who do print design but are afraid of the web, I think it’s a pretty intuitive tool. That said, those of you who are all about web are probably steaming about the way that Muse mangles code and makes what you do look like it’s not important. And that said, whoah lordy am I glad I don’t have to be writing code (so much) this week. Because, you see, I mangle it even more than Muse does.

So, that’s what I’m up to.

Because web stuff really taxes my addled little brain, I really have to focus in order to figure things out. And this is the part where I forget to eat. I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday and was told I had actually lost weight since my last check-up. You wouldn’t know this to look at me.

Though I didn’t get a slap on the wrist, I was firmly told that it’s a trend that should not be allowed to continue. Which means that I am on the lookout for quick, easy, calorie-loaded meals that I can eat at my computer. Any suggestions? Yesterday I found a recipe for “Dutch Baby” (thanks, angrychicken!) and decided I’d make the version mentioned in the comments with apples on the bottom. It’s basically a sweet version of Yorkshire Pudding (which we have at Swanson Family Christmases where it has been dubbed “Who Pudding” to go along with the “Roast Beast”) – buttery, fatty, delicious.

It puffs up in the oven like a popover, so you have to eat it right away. I especially like the crispy bits around the edges.

Though I’m sure it’s jam-packed with calories, I have to say it’s not much of a meal. Best served hot, I basically snarfed the whole thing down before even leaving the kitchen, and though it was 1am when I ate it, I found myself peckish again at 3. Sigh. So, any recipe suggestions would be great. And then there’s also the fact that I live next door to a bakery.

For those of you who are interested, the recipe is as follows:

1/2 C flour
1/2 C milk
1/2 C egg (the recipe called for four, but I had enormous ones, so only used two. Someone in the comments had said to use equal parts of all three, so I measured out the eggs first)
2 T butter

Preheat oven to 425. Put butter in cast iron skillet or pyrex baking dish (mine was an 8″ square). Put it in the oven until the butter is melted and hot and the pan is also hot hot hot. If you’re having apples on the bottom, slice them, sprinkle them with sugar, put them in the hot buttered pan and bake until they’re a little tender (5 minutes or so). Add cinnamon or whatever you want to season them. Mix the flour, milk and eggs into a batter. When the pan and butter are back to hot hot hot again, pour the batter into the pan and immediately return it to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes for a softer pudding, or 25 for something a little crispier. Top with sugar and lemon or syrup or jam or whatever.

Yum, yum, yum. And SO easy.

And for those of you who have gotten this far without passing out from boredom, here’s a little sneak peak at a piece of our new identity:

“A two-headed jackass,” you say? “That has got to be you guys!”

Right you are. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hiatus

Yesterday afternoon, I packed up the kids and flew to Kansas City, leaving Robbi and Billie Jean King to fend for themselves in the barn.

Alden and Kato are seasoned travelers.

As is Monkey, of course.

The reasons for our travels are twofold. On one hand, we’re here to visit with Grandpa John and Grandma Judy. On the other hand, Robbi plans to spend the next eight days designing the web site for our new children’s book press, a daunting task requiring heights of concentration impossible to achieve when Alden, Kato, and I are underfoot.

And then there’s Kansas City itself, land of opportunity, land of bounty, land of non-stop fun.

Land of fountains.

Land of escalators.

Land of goodness and light. A wholesome place, where people wave at one another when passing on the street and families make pudding together at night.

As for those of you back east, I issue the standard request: should you happen to see Robbi wandering around the streets of Chestertown in her nightshirt, leaning against walls and mumbling incoherently, please give her a cookie and point her toward the barn. The poor girl always forgets to eat when I’m gone. I’m doing my best to remind her, but for the most part, I’m far too busy eating ribs.

Did I mention that Kansas City is also the land of ribs?

Vol 32 in the Mail

Subscribers, be forewarned: Idiots’Books Volume 32, Avoid Disappointment and Future Regret, was sent out yesterday. Those of you living in the general environs of Chestertown should have your copies today.

We’re really excited about this book and will tell you all about it in days to come. But for now, we’ll give subscribers a chance to take a first look at it.

Spoiler Alert: This book does contain a werewolf. Two, actually.

What Really Matters

Here’s the problem with us: we’re great at taking pictures of the commonplace and ordinary (the daily life of babies, trees, the stuff in the check-out line in the supermarket), but we often forget entirely to document the rare and wonderful.

For example: we spent last weekend in New York. The occasion was having been asked to speak at Welcome Table Press‘s symposium In Praise of the Essay, Practice & Form. We were speaking on form, specifically on the “visual essay,” a form we knew absolutely nothing about (though, apparently, practice, to the tune of 6+ books a year).

The point is, it was our highest-profile speaking gig to date, and by far our biggest audience. Did we remember to take a picture of the amphitheater or the crowd of 125 laughing essayists? Did we take a picture of our faces on the 20-foot screen at the front of the room? Did we capture the precious moments with the legion of famous writers that surrounded us.

Friends, we did not. Instead, we took photos like this one.

There we are, disgruntled at the end of an otherwise spectacular day, because we forgot to take a single photo of the good stuff.

One could argue that it’s better this way. That we were simply too busy living life to the fullest to take a bunch of photos. That what really matters is the essence of experience and not appearances.

To this we say “hogwash.” We all know that life is about taking provocative photos for you, reader, and posting them here. It’s all about you.

Since we have nothing else to offer by way of evidence that we were actually at the Essay Symposium, let me offer you a few slides from our presentation. The argument went something like this:

Matthew is a writer.

Robbi is an illustrator.

For the most part, we have a good time.

But when asked to present at the Essay Symposium, we were confused.

The process of figuring out what in the world to say to a room full of essayists was a daunting and thankless task.

Until we realized that the essay is a generous, welcoming form, willing to embrace even the likes of Robbi and me.

At which point, we felt so good that we jumped on a comet and raced around the solar system for a while.

In actuality, our argument was slightly more nuanced, but these were the high points. Maybe someday we’ll figure out a way to put the whole thing online.

In spite of the stunning lack of visual documentation, we had a great time at the symposium, exploring an entirely new corner of the literary universe, trying on a new set of shoes, meeting a bunch of amazing people, and once again having occasion to ask ourselves what in the hell we are doing.

May we never find the answer.

Cabbage

Who knew it could be so de-lovely and delicious?

Keeping Up with the Joneses

For the first two years that we lived in the barn, we had no sink in our living space. I had to haul buckets of water up from the utility sink downstairs. I felt sturdy and pioneering, like my hero Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Then, when Alden was born, we decided it was time to “get modern.” We installed a kitchen with a real-live sink and felt pretty darn good about ourselves.

But inevitably, satisfaction turns to sour complacency and eventually to festering envy. This has been our grim reality for the past few years: the dreaded sink-side dish rack.

I have never had a dishwasher. And I’ve never wanted one. In fact, I’ve always enjoyed washing dishes. For me, there is something satisfying in taking a heap of dirty plates and turning them into a neatly stacked row of clean ones. But Robbi and I started to realize the sheer amount of time we were devoting to doing the dishes and decided that it might be better spent reading to the kids or just plain relaxing. And so, after much research and deliberation…

To make room for our new 18″ Bosch dishwasher, we had to remove a cabinet. It took every bit of handyman instinct I possess, but I managed to liberate it.

The process of getting the dishwasher into its new home involved more shenanigans than I care to recount (or you care to read, most likely).

But eventually, the task was complete, and we took a moment to revel in the bells and whistles.

But our moment of consumer bliss was short-lived. We were faced with the reality of buttons.

Which ones to push? And in what order? I was tempted to use my sheer masculine instinct, which has never before led me astray. But Robbi, the constant doubter, insisted that I consult the manual.

Here I am, under duress.

As it turns out, operating a dishwasher isn’t quite as complicated as I had thought. Apparently, you push the “start” button and shut the door. But not before inserting one of these bad boys into a little bin with a sliding lid that snaps neatly into place with a satisfying click.

For any of you who don’t yet have a dishwasher (there must be three or four of you out there?), liquid soap is a thing of the past. And that little red number is a “Pre-Soaking POWERBALL” that “bursts into action to help soften the toughest food residues like baked-on lasagna and dried-on oatmeal for easy removal.”

There could be no more perfect product for our household. Baked-on lasagna and dried-on oatmeal is just about all we eat these days.

Who knew that washing dishes could be such fun?

Inertia

It’s a drear and rainy day in Chestertown. Apparently, Kato is not going to get out of bed. My bed, that is.

I’d give a lot to go back to that state of kid bliss for just five minutes. No responsibilities or commitments. No urgency, no deadlines. No other plan for the day than a trip to the playground, a bowl of mac and cheese, and an afternoon nap.

On the other hand, he can’t just open the fridge and make a sandwich any time he feels like it. I have that, at least.

Baking With Fräulein Behr

I’ve recently been craving cake. Delicious, moist, chocolatey cake. To quote one of Alden’s favorite lines from one of her favorite books, a “lovely light luscious delectable cake”. I actually had a very particular cake in mind, a chocolate cherry custard delight that my host mother in Germany used to make called “Donauwellen Cake”. Oh it is so delicious! Vanilla cake marbled with chocolate cake sprinkled with sour cherries layered with custard topped with chocolate. It was my favorite. And I had lots of delicious cakes while I was in Germany. No joke. LOTS.

Though I had gotten the recipe from my host mom when I left 18 years ago (ACK!) it was all in grams and metric, so I never actually tried making it, and now it is lost somewhere in a box full of Germanabilia. So, I went online and searched for a recipe. The picture on allrecipes.com looked right (lace doily and all).

So I went to it. I mixed the cake batter and spread it into the 13″x18″ cookie tray (the kind with edges) that the recipe called for (though I was snidely skeptical while I did it. This couldn’t possibly be the way one made this cake). It didn’t occur to me to document this momentous event until I got to the cherry-dropping part.

After cherry-dropping, one has to bake the cake and let it cool before putting on the custard layer.

And so we waited.

And waited.

(I never actually told Iggy that she wouldn’t be getting any cake, poor girl.)

Finally, everything was cool and we could get to the custard. Making custard is one of my least favorite things to do, because I never successfully make it without it getting burnt and making everything taste like an ashtray. So I went the easy route and used an alternate custard made out of pudding.

It went on smooth. And was delicious.

The custard then had to cool completely in the fridge before putting the chocolate topping on. I somehow managed to clear a shelf in the fridge (which promptly ignited a campaign to clear the fridge, and we are now not allowed to go shopping again until everything in the fridge has been eaten – I’ll let you know how that goes).

Unfortunately, I neglected to check the clearance on the condiment shelf in the refrigerator door.

I actually have a photo of Matthew licking the custard off of the door, but it is so disgusting I can’t even put it up here.

So then it was wait wait wait. I had to wait so long I fell asleep and didn’t get back to it until the next morning. Which was all about melting chocolate and mixing it with butter. How bad can that be?

Not bad at all.

Kato and Alden were very attentive while I poured the chocolate layer out onto the cake.

I thought they were trying to learn the ways of the amazing baking german Hausfrau, but apparently they were just waiting like hawks to get their spoons into action.

Alden at least had the decency to use a utensil that had already been dirtied.

All that was left was making the “waves” in the top of the cake, and then putting it back in the fridge to cool.

It looked just about right. I could barely contain myself for the twenty minutes it took for the chocolate to set.

And then… it was finally time to have some cake! I have to say, it looked pretty good.

But the taste – the taste!

The taste, was, actually, not so good.

Matthew made a face that was even worse than this one, but I couldn’t take the photo because of the stinging of the tears in my eyes.

It was terrible. It couldn’t be helped with milk. Or ice cream. The custard, cherries and chocolate were good, but the cake tasted like chalk. I looked over the recipe and don’t think I missed anything. Matthew looked over the recipe and agreed. This was not how this story was supposed to end.

It actually would have ended with a photo of me throwing it into the trash if Dad hadn’t come over and felt sorry for it and taken it home to eat in small bites with lots of ice cream.

And so, I am recommending that no one follow the recipe for Donauwellen cake on allrecipes.com.
It.
Was.
BAD.

Also, Nina, ps if you are reading this, please send me the actual recipe if you have it. I will suffer those metrics to have just one more bite of the real thing.