365 Day 40: Coffee and journal addiction in one…

365 Day 40: New coffee journal (because you can never have too many)

During a recent gathering with some old friends (and often cohorts in road-trip crime), an lovely journal was peeking out from underneath a bag on a chair. I saw the many photos of coffee and the word "Wanderlust" printed on its spine. I couldn't resist being so bold  as to pick it up for a closer look.

This beautiful, inspiring coffee-art journal is part of the Wanderlust journal, postcard and stationery series, printed by Chronicle Books. I use the coffee journal as my "idea book," where I jot down any and all thoughts, sentences and words that could become short stories, poems or blog posts, mostly because these ideas come to me whilst a warm latte is in hand. (Also, the word "wanderlust" is top of mind.")

Do you have an idea book?


Mai Tai wishes and coconut dreams…

Sunset on Poipu Beach, 12.27.08

I curled up with the latest issue of Sunset over the weekend. My husband had already peeked through the magazine and peppered me with "must reads," one of which included a first-person essay called "Travel as tonic" by writer Susan Casey.

Casey visited the island of Maui shortly after her father passed away. Instead of returning home to New York City, she ended up staying in Hawaii. She writes:

"Maybe this is what it all comes down to, all of our wanderings, everything we've set off to see, or do, or find. Maybe travel is as much an interior journey as it is a literal voyage. And it that's true, what we're after is far more than a bunch of snapshots. What we're searching for, really, are ideas about how we want to live."

When we traveled to Kauai for our holiday vacation, my sister and her family were in a small fishing village in Mexico. Upon our return, we spoke at length about how our trips impacted our respective worlds. "Charlene," she said, her tone full of big-sister authority, "these experiences…they were life changing."

Travel, whether it be short distances or across the globe, always has the possibility to unlock hidden doors and windows of your heart and soul. To give you a better understanding of yourself. Or as Casey says (and much more eloquently), travel gives you "ideas about how you want to live."

Yes, my sister was right. Kauai was life changing and when I say that I would like to make Hawaii home, this is not trite. One cannot deny the blissful lifestyle that you quickly succumb to in the tropics. However, Kauai was a time of clarity, focus and confirmation. It fueled a creative process that has driven my days since we arrived home.

We are all eager to return to Kauai, to eat shave ice every day, ride boogie boards and adore warm, balmy weather. We are excited to check out other islands. Yet we have more destinations to explore. (Next up: a return to Italy.)

In my mind, after reading Casey's essay, I now think of our future travel plans — from day outings to weekend road trips and international journeys — as ideas simply waiting for us to arrive. More clues and puzzle pieces for us to discover and uncover as a family, and as individuals. And as parents, we get to witness the awe-inspired moments and adventures of our children. We wonder what ideas they glean about how they want to live. It's breathtaking, really.

But still, my husband asking me to read Casey's article in Sunset magazine made my heart twirl in circles; I have Mai Tai wishes and coconut dreams. Even better? I think he does too.

It's really good to believe in "someday."

Since I'm in the mood to re-live Kauai,  next week I'll be posting a round up of our favorites and tips for traveling around the island.

Test kitchen...

Dispatch from the test kitchen: Shortbread conversation hearts…

Now that Valentine's Day is over, you're probably not all that interested in finding out how hard or easy it is to make shortbread conversation hearts. Just consider this advanced preparation for next year, my friends.

Here's the 10-second sound bite: It's not as easy as it looks.

Seven and I got the idea to make shortbread conversation hearts after checking out a post from Evil Mad Scientist. It seemed easy enough and we decided on one his random days off of school, we would do a test batch of cookies from beginning to end. Only we didn't account for two unexpected events: one, I sprained my ankle and foot and two, our dog thwarted our efforts (more on this in a sec).

We made one batch of shortbread cookies using a recipe from AllRecipes.com and divided the dough to make red and blue batches.

Dispatches from the test kitchen: Short bread

The shape held reasonably well and the cookies were tasty. 

Dispatches from the test kitchen: Short bread

We decided to let them cool before spraying them with Seven's chosen "conversation" phrase: "U Rock!" And here's where our test kitchen project took an unfortunate turn.

Luna Lovegood ate the cookies.

Yes, that's right. She ate 12 cookies filled with butter, sugar, flour and food coloring. We blame this unruly activity on the husband, who was home sick and left the kitchen door opened after instructed to Keep. it. Closed. Dude. But he had a man cold, and you know how that goes. So he was forgiven for being in a foggy haze and I said, "Poor little bunny" while rubbing his forehead. (The last part is an utter fabrication but it's my favorite part of the scene.)

Dog eats cookies and gives us a look much like this one. It's too late in the day to make more. Mama is tired and her ankle is swollen and hurts. We postpone our activity until a few days before Valentine's Day.

The kid and I make new batches of cookies. The batter spread in the oven, losing all form, so we took a smaller heart cookie cutter and made cute one-inch hearts. (I also  stopped taking photos at this point.)

And here's the other ugly part of the story.

We put our cardboard stencil over a few cookies and sprayed them with Wilton Food Color Spray. The spray seeped into the cookies and blurred, making the "U Rock" completely illegible. And our hands? Green green green. For two days.

We aborted the project and decided to just put two cookies in each clear treat bag. Seven came up with the idea to make the labels/cards for the cookies. It was quite an intricate process and I tried to convince him to do something a little easier, but he won. Mostly because the first one he made was for me.


I'm not sure what went wrong in the project; it could have been the recipe or it could have been the stencil not being large enough, or the whacked-out food coloring mist (that sh*t is not bananas). I think it's super cute idea and I'm certain we'll go for it again when we're ready for green stain on our hands.

For now? We'll stick with something less colorful.

random riffs

Seeing my name on Dateline was a little odd (in a good way)…

CPBDatelineNBC Dateline has been running a long feature interview with the octuplet mom, Nadya Suleman, for the past several days. Each interview is more alarming than the next, and if you want to feel any sense of compassion for this mom, it gets more difficult with every single word that comes from her mouth.

What is it about her that makes us so upset? That she seems a little too confident and cocky? That she thinks money is superfluous? 

All of this and more.

I wrote a post last week over at Yahoo! Shine where I put all those questions in one spot. The reporter's credo: Who, what, where, when, why and how? The post ended up being shown, albeit quickly, on Dateline segment called "The most vilified mom in America." Dateline used a screenshot of my post in their story. It made my day to see my work playing out in other spots. But it's still slightly weird to see your name on a television screen.

random riffs

Valentine’s Day prep work…

Seven has the day off school tomorrow; one of the many "teacher in-service" days (or half days) of the month. Out of 20 possible school days in the month of February, he will only be in a full day of class for 12 days. This is a topic I may revisit.

Tomorrow, however, I will focus on the goodness of my kid being home. It's a rare that we are able to share some time alone without little Q. around. 

Seven is into a very deep cooking stage, so we have a test-kitchen challenge prepared for Friday morning. Should everything go well, he will have a very fun Valentine's day treat for his classmates

Someday he won't want to make Valentine's Day cards or cookies or whirly helicopters for school. Someday, giving out Valentine's Day trinkets to his friends will be uncool. 

I'm trying to maintain some sense of mellowness when it comes to making these treats for his classmates. It is, after all, a fabricated "holiday" where stores ooze with attempts to compel us to say "you're loved" in contrived, silly, and sometimes expensive, ways. Kind of like making shortbread cookies with spray-painted messages.

But this Friday cooking project, it reminds me that my kid's seven-year-old heart is deep and rich and full of thoughtfulness. And it's not even February 14th.

A full dispatch tomorrow.
random riffs

25 random thoughts…

I have been tagged a few times on Facebook to complete this "25 random thoughts" meme. I chose to post it here on my blog because folks who are not on Facebook (I know some of those folks exist) can consider themselves tagged.

Here goes.

The rules:

Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25
random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25
people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I
tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you (or I think
you'll come up with really entertaining things).

1. I missed a conference call with Andrew Shue this morning and I'm not happy about it.

2. I was super close to going to culinary school in my late twenties but decided against it for two reasons: one, I read A Women's Place is in the Kitchen and two, I realized cooking was one of my favorite hobbies, not my passion.

3.While I'm learning how to play the guitar, I'm obsessed with playing the drums.

4. I sing while I drive. (I don't care if you see me.)

5. I let my dog sleep on my bed when my husband travels. Shhh, don't tell him.

6. I love tulips.

7. Since we went to Kauai for our holiday vacation, I have spent time every day trying to figure out a way to make Kauai our home. Dear Poipu Beach, I miss you terribly. Thank you for giving me back inner peace. Love, Me.

8. If "Name That Tune" were still on television, I would kick every contestant's ass with my wicked knowledge of music from the 70s, 80s and 90s. 

9.  No, we still don't own a television. But I still know what's happening on "The Young and the Restless." (And I am a Shick fan.) And "General Hospital." (When will Dr. Noah Drake make another return visit? Sigh.)

10. Working on this HBO documentary was one of the greatest experiences in my life because I was able to work with my husband.

11. Number 10 also caused me to one, almost pierce my belly button and two, almost try street luge (my husband talked me out of it. Something about not letting him skydive, blah blah blah.)

12. Whenever I watch the clip posted in 10, I realize how much I love the song "Ride" By Joe Satriani.

13. After watching said video clip, I also start to say, "Yeah, baby, it's time to get sicko." Often.

14. When I got married, I had smokin' arms from weight training with my brothers for two years. Hey arms…mama wants you back.

15. I am Salvadoran and Irish. Translated, this means I do not put up with much and my temper is as fiery as your spiciest hot salsa.

16. Number 15 occasionally gets me into trouble.

17. The book 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny by Phillip Done made me laugh more than I've ever laughed while reading a book.

18. I love reading to my kids.

19. I love finding my boys sitting in a quiet corner huddled up and quietly reading books.

20. Also? I love watching my boys play baseball with their dad. It melts my heart in a way I never dreamed.

21. My kids have inherited little idiosyncrasies from when I was a kid, like sleeping with a million stuffed animals and dunking hot cookies in cold milk. What surprises me is that I've never mentioned these habits to them–they both happened on their own, which is really weird and really endearing. 

22. I want to be involved in building a new house for our family. Not just picking out the details. I want to be a part of the crew that builds it. It's simply in my genes.

23. I have a really difficult time watching movies that include violence and this only started after I had kids. To understand how radical this is for me, you must know that my favorite television show used to be "Homicide: Life on the Streets." (My favorite character was played by Reed Diamond.)

24. I love having our friends over for dinner. I wish we could do it more often.

25. My first official magazine piece will be in the March 2009 issue of Wondertime magazine. Buy it!
Test kitchen...

Dispatch from the test kitchen: Homemade croutons.

homemade croutons.

When I eat salads at a restaurant, the croutons make the dish. The perfect balance of airy bread, seasonings and olive oil (or if you want to be really decadent, butter).

Homemade croutons take less than 20 minutes to bake. And? You can get the kids involved.

Here’s a little homemade crouton 101 in photos in case you want to have your own little test-kitchen project. Trust me, you’ll never buy a bag or box of prepackaged crouts again.


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice one long sourdough baguette* into rounds and then tear up the rounds into rough 1/2″ cubes (a good spot to let the kids help). Toss the pieces into a nice, big bowl. We use our salad bowl because the leftover seasonings can coat the dinner salad. You can use any baguette flavor you’d like, but I favor sourdough bread for croutons, especially sourdough covered in sunflower, poppy and anise seeds.


2. Drizzle the bread cubes with 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Wait! Don’t toss the bread yet! You need to add your seasonings; I use one tablespoon of dried thyme and a teaspoon of sea salt. If you want to play with flavors, try dried basil or dried cilantro. You can also add finely minced garlic for extra kick. Just adjust the seasonings for your taste and health requirements.

3. Okay, now toss the bread and spices as you would a salad, making sure all the cubes are lightly coated — not drenched — with oil and seasonings. Some cubes may have a dab, others fully covered, in oil. Don’t worry; it’ll all work out.


4. Spread bread cubes onto a large, ungreased cookie sheet (and beware of sneaky kids stealing unbaked crouts). Bake for 15-20 minutes. For darker and crunchier croutons, bake for 25 minutes. If you like chewy, restaurant-like croutons, try baking the bread at
300 degrees for about 25 minutes. You’ll get that nice crunch on the
outside but the tender, er, innards.


5. Remove from oven and let cool. Again, beware of little food thieves. The croutons may never make to dinner.


6. Drop 1/2 cup of croutons (or more) into your salad. I usually put croutons and salad dressing in the bottom of the bowl and then put the lettuce and add-ons (in this case, parmigiano-reggiano and pecans) over the croutons, and then toss the salad. I find that it ensures that every bit of that salad gets evenly coated with the dressing (I used a mix of 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vineagar, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and about 3 ounces of freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano).

Try it out and tell me if it works for you.