Monday, November 24, 2008

Tarte Tatin

This week's theme apparently is caramel. We had some apples, we had some pie crust, we had a favorite book: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. But we also had an appetite for something new. I flipped through the cookbook and came to Tarte Tatin. It is a caramel apple tart made upside down in a cast iron skillet. We had such fun with caramel making the pinot noir syrup the other day. And I am deeply in love with my cast iron skillet.

The peeler-corer-slicer is a beloved gadget in our household, but the slices it makes are too thin for the tarte tatin. I used some pliers and turned it into simple peeler.

Clem, Greta and friend, Sasha, peeled 4 apples.

I cored and sliced them into 8ths.

Next we melted 2 Tablespoons butter, added 6 Tbs sugar. Unlike the pure melted sugar which was clear, the butter caramel was opaque, just the color of a caramel apple. When it had lightly browned we took it off the heat, and Clem and I began putting in the apples right on top of the caramel in the pan. They sizzled and began to cook right away.

Then we pressed a Trader Joe's pie crust over it, tucking the edges down and around the apples.

Into the 400 degree oven.

Twenty minutes later I took it out and flipped it over with help from Sasha's mom. I had a bit of trepidation that the caramel would drip out and burn us.
It came out incredibly beautiful and delicious. Hard to believe it was so simple. We made another one the next day. Here is the one from the next day. We ate the first one so fast I didn't have time to take photos.

I asked the kids to describe it using all 5 senses. This is a favorite writing assignment. Once, on vacation, we kept 5 senses journals and everyone wrote a description of the day that included all 5 senses.

Evelyn wrote this on one vacation a few years ago.
I felt the sand between my toes on the beach. I saw a turtle swimming below me. I can't smell anything because my nose is stuffed up, but I wish I could smell the pastries from the french bakery. I heard Greta throwing up in the car. I tasted my cinnamon gelato.

So I asked Evelyn to quickly write a 5 senses response to the tarte tatin and email it to me. She was put out because she is working furiously on her Nanowrimo novel. This is what I got (she laughingly told me that she had used a lot of similes):

It tastes like apple pie, it smells like apple pie, it feels like apple pie, its steaming sounds like steaming apple pie, it looks like apple pie, and it is as hot as apple pie straight out of the oven. O.K.? Evelyn Who Should Be Writing Her Story.

Ok. I guess she has outgrown my writing assignments.

Here is some of what Clem had to say.

It was sour and sweet and crispy and beautiful with a pattern like a star with apples and caramel to make a smell which was like a caramel apple. It crunched when I bit down on the crust. As it sat in the pan it looked like a nebula because it whirled from the bubbling below.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ratatouille and the Abyss

I felt like cooking today for the first time in a couple weeks. Clementine helped me choose the menu out of my new cookbook.

I discovered Mark Bittman this summer through this article in the NY Times 101 20-minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics.

I thought my cooking with the kids could benefit from inspiration and speed.

Here's what we chose:

Salmon with Pinot Noir Syrup
Broccoli with Beurre Noisette

And not from this cookbook:
Potato Gratin
Pumpkin Pie

This menu had two new sauces for me. I can't believe I've lived 40 years without making a beurre noisette. So simple, so good.

The other new sauce was the Pinot Noir Syrup. It is a flavor of gastrique: A sauce based on caramelized sugar. In this case we put a half cup of sugar in a frying pan and heated it until it melted and browned. This is good chemistry fun. Then we pour in 2 cups of pinot noir.

Sizzle! Yikes, caramel turns to rock hard candy, freezing whisk in pan.

Greta (who is 3) wandered through the kitchen and said, "Why are you guys in here cooking like Ratatouille?"

My mom stirred the pinot noir until the sugar redissolved off the whisk and spoon, until it became dark and thick and syrupy. Bittman calls for doing this in the oven, but we had pumpkin pies in the oven, so we did it on the stove, after I talked to my cookbook for a while.

Why are you telling me to do this in a 450 degree oven? Working in an oven is awkward. Are you thinking its easier to set the temperature in the oven? The heck with you. I'm not doing this in the oven. Maybe you do it in the oven because you have a crummy stove? I used to have one that looked just like that. The oven was even worse, though.

A phantom Mark Bittman failed to appear in the manner of Auguste Gusteau and tell me his reasons. Maybe because he's not dead. Worked fine on the stove.

Clem made the gratin. Mmm cheesy goodness. There is nothing like potatoes and cheese. She got the seasonings just right, too.

Earlier Greta had said, "Is today the last day?"
I said, "Before what?" I'm thinking before Thanksgiving.
"Before the end of the earth."
"No! Why?" Wondering how on earth she started thinking about that.
"I want it to end."
Sighs. "I just don't like it."

This probably has to do with that conversation in the car about how the formation of a black hole inside our galaxy could cause a gamma ray burst that would fry all life on earth. Still, it is hard to hear a 3 year old casually wishing for the end of the world.

At three my other two kids were breaking my heart with, "I don't want to die, mama. I want to live forever."

Me, too. Looking up gamma ray bursts I came across this: Ten Ways the Earth Will End. Gamma rays: 1 in 14,000,000. Death of the sun, galactic doom, death of the universe. The chances of these are: not in your lifetime, but inevitable. Sigh. Even if it is billions of years away I try not to think of the eventual death of the universe.

Dinner post mortem: None of the kids tried the pinot noir syrup despite its flashy preparation. But Ev ate salmon, gratin and broccoli, Clem ate gratin and broccoli and Greta ate broccoli.

I liked the pinot noir syrup. Rich, dark and sweet, but with the sprig of rosemary stewed in it, it was just begging to be served with a pork loin. It wasn't quite right with the salmon.

I overcooked the broccoli, but the beurre noisette and a squeeze of lemon were very nice.

Clem and her Gran made the pumpkin pie. It was the Chez Panisse Desserts recipe which calls for half-and-half instead of sweetened condensed milk. It was light and neither as sweet nor as spicy as a conventional pumpkin pie, but delicious. The kids had it with whipped cream.

We had it with whipped cream and a splash of bourbon.

The bourbon gives the pie an edge.
And takes the edge off being forced by a three year old, yet again, to stare into the abyss.

Six ounces of currants from the stems you must sort Or they'll break out your teeth and spoil all your sport

The moment I decided not to cook Thanksgiving Dinner I began thinking of things to cook. The real reason we are not cooking everything is that we are going camping the next day.

The part of me that wants to raise free range kids is very happy about the camping. But I couldn't face cooking and camping.

The girls and I pored over the American History Cookbook and decided to ornament our Thanksgiving meal with the following.

I can't get enough of the old recipes. Dripping with charm but sparing with the instructions.

Cranberry Tarts (1803)
To one pound of flour three quarters of a pound of butter, then stew your cranberry's to a jelly, putting good brown sugar in to sweeten them...

(I was just griping the other day a la Eats, Shoots and Leaves about people these days using 's to pluralize a word and here they were already doing it in 1803)

Eve's Pudding (1790s)

If you like good pudding, mind what you are taught
First take six eggs when they are bought for a groat
Next take of the fruit that Eve did once cozen,

Well-pared and well-chopped, at least half a dozen;

Six ounces of bread - let Moll cut the crust -
And let it be crumbled as fine as the dust;
Six ounces of currants from the stems you must sort,

Or they'll break out your teeth and spoil all your sport.

Six ounces of sugar won't make it too sweet;
Some salt and some nutmeg to make it complete.

Three hours let it boil without hurry or flutter,

And then serve it up with some good melted butter.


Harvest Drink (1885)

The recipe yields 90 8-oz servings or a day's liquid for 10 workers.

Mix with 5 gallons of good water half a gallon of molasses, one quart of vinegar, and two ounces of powdered ginger. This will make not only a very pleasant beverage, but one highly invigorating.

I think we'll cut it, but serve in a pot with a dipper and try to get the trick of pouring a mouthful without touching the dipper to our lips.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

And Here You Are a Writer, Infinitely Original and Endowed with a Sensibility that is Charming though Beyond the Understanding of the Vulgar.

We made Dadaist poems again yesterday. This is a longtime favorite. Sometimes the chance arrangement of words brings insight. Sometimes it brings thought-provoking combinations or funny juxtapositions.

Think dangerous again


Hunting at small claws

The Dada artist Marcel DuChamp said,"a stained glass window that has fallen out and lies more or less together on the ground is of far greater interest than the thing conventionally composed in situ."

I'd like to take this opinion about my house. Shouldn't the clothes, books and toys be more interesting scattered everywhere, than tucked away where they belong?

As an aspiring novelist I ought to have this opinion about the house, the car, the yard. There is simply more information in a wet sandbox with tracks than in a featureless expanse of sand. After all, no one but Edward Gorey wants to set a story in a Featureless Expanse.

The more order, the less there is to describe.

The more order in a life, the less story there is to tell. We're not interested in the guy who gets up every morning at 7am, reads the paper and has buttered toast and coffee for breakfast, arrives at work at 9am sharp, punches out at 5pm and so on, day in and day out, except insofar as his life is a ticking time bomb. If at the end of Chapter 1 his life isn't in smithereens were unlikely to read on. After all, we know what is coming next.

It would take infinitely long for me to describe my kitchen to you right now. Would I start with the salmon on the counter, or the bucket in the sink, or the egg yolk dried onto the plate? Shouldn't this be good and creative? Even though it might be good for me to think so (I might get more writing done), hating the mess is what writing is really about.

It is about taking life and imposing order.

About creating a character whose life has a narrative arc. About distilling the meaningful bits and tying them up with a pretty pink bow of circularity or unexpected irony.

I write this blog because it brings order out of chaos. My house may look like an earthquake hit, my days may be repetitive, my car may be a breeding ground for fruit flies, but here I can make it all have order and meaning. Not too much order. I'm not going to type a string of s's


and have perfect order and predictability and almost no information.

But not too much information, either. Information without order is just what the universe, in all its second-law-of-thermodynamics wonder, gives us plenty of.

I guess I'm part of the vulgar masses: I'll take the stained glass window in situ.

I know a lot of people who knit. I am not a knitter. When I am the only person in the homeschool mom circle at park day who is not knitting people sometimes ask if I knit. And I say things like, "I don't knit. I weave tales." Or, "I do texts, not textiles." Which, the last time I said it, came off as pretty obnoxious. As if I thought texts were more important than textiles. Which is not true.

I just like word play.

And the whole writing/weaving/living thing. The three fates, life is a thread, the thread makes the fabric of our lives, the narrative thread. Writing and knitting are all interwoven and if you don't believe, let me spin you a yarn.

But I have never wanted to knit. And I think I know why. A string is already perfectly ordered. Whether it is stretched out straight or wrapped around a spool, or even in a ball, it is pretty easy to describe. But then you take that thread and go making it complicated!

This is not to say that the complications aren't beautiful.

But the sweater, or even the lowly sock, is still much more twisty and unpredictable, chaotic even, than a simple thread. I mean look at those patterns. Even the description of how to make a sweater can give you a headache, let alone the real-life thing.

If you object to my description of a sweater as chaos check out this New Yorker article on the guy who filled his whole apartment with a homemade computer he built to digitally assemble photos of a tapestry. The tapestry was a living, breathing, twisting, shrinking, expanding thing that did not yield itself willingly to flat photography.

I profoundly admire the work and mastery that goes into making these sweaters and laces and socks, but to be honest, the thing I like best about sitting in a circle of knitters is when they make a mistake and have to take it all out. I just love to see that complexity dissolving effortlessly into a single string.

A knitter knitting an afghan starts with a perfectly ordered string and makes it just complicated and unpredictable enough. A writer writing a novel starts with the chaos and disorder of life and tries to string it all into something that hangs together.

Same goal, from opposite ends.

Both are great to curl up with on a winter afternoon.

Some people write and knit, which could probably lead to all sorts of insights.

But it is not for me. I mean, after all, somebody went through all the trouble of shaving that stuff off an animal and combing and carding it into fibers that go the same direction and washing it and dying it and spinning it.

I just can't face undoing that hard-won order on purpose.

It would be like smashing a stained glass window.

It turns out that, despite what the vice principal of my high school said, after that unfortunate event we won't go into here, I am no iconoclast.

I can't even bring myself to cut up magazines. To make our Dada poems we photocopied the text and then cut it up.

How To Make a Dadaist Poem
Method of Tristan Tzara

To make a Dadaist poem:

  • Take a newspaper.
  • Take a pair of scissors.
  • Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
  • Cut out the article.
  • Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
  • Shake it gently.
  • Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
  • Copy conscientiously.
  • The poem will be like you.
  • And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.
    -Tristan Tzara

Here's your chance to be endowed with a sensibility beyond the understanding of the vulgar. Click on the title to go to an online Dada poetry generator, no paper, scissors or tape required. Just virtually cut and paste something you like into the window and click Go!

I did a few lines from my post.

simple you

But you


any thread me

any chaos

thread moaning, as chaotic even still than any

characterization of

sweater is

about If


chaotic point then thread

Hmm. Better than the original.
Maybe I should take up knitting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Whole Enchilada

We haven't been doing much cooking, or American history, either. But here comes Thanksgiving: the perfect marriage of cooking and American history. We'll pull out all the stops and go for it.

Grind our own corn for corn bread, pull up those volunteer potatoes in the front yard. He, maybe Stefaneener will even help us slaughter a turkey. Yep, we're doing it right this year.

Ok, enough of that. I just ordered the whole enchilada from Whole Foods. Thanksgiving in a box. We'll pick it up Thursday morning.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Looking for Tracks

Ev and Clem had homework for their tracking class. To look for and record signs of animal life in our yard. We got our notebooks and pencils and headed for the sliding glass door.

And this is what we saw. Not only signs, but actual animal life.

Too much fun with the hose this summer had emptied our sandbox. Just before the big rain a couple weeks ago I bought 200lbs of sand and filled it. And we left the lid off, of course.

If that wasn't bad enough, the deer left her calling card. There was a lot more, but it wasn't in focus.

But this brings me to a question.

Why do I bother? Getting more sand, I mean.

We are hopeless when it comes to putting the lid on.
And that is just the start of things. Inside the house, thanks to our cleaner (many thanks), we get by.

But our car is downright dangerous. I inhaled a fruit fly while driving and my lung hurt for a week. I look at those guys with a whole new respect. They can hurt you. If you think that fruit flies imply rotting fruit, you'd be right.

We have not yet grown corn in the seat wells--an inadvertent science project that Diane Flynn Keith, the author of Carschooling, and her family conducted. But we have mummified carrots and cultured a cloud of fruit flies.

I hear it takes 6 weeks to form a new habit.

I want to try this forming a new habit idea. Or maybe replacing some bad ones with good ones. But I am torn. Should I go for cleaning up the dishes right after dinner, or cleaning out the car every day when we get home? Or putting clothes in the hamper? Or putting toys away after we're done with them. Or...the possiblities are endless.

I got started on a whim. We pulled in the driveway today and I asked the kids to each take in 5 things and put them away. Evelyn held her piano bag in one hand and asked if it counted because it had more than five things in it. In the other hand she had an egg.

I am unclear what the egg was doing in the car. Maybe she was trying to hatch a chicken. We could grow corn in the seat well to feed it. Take that, Diane Flynn Keith!

We also found this.

In the backyard, not in the car. But there could be one in there. I'll let you know when we're done cleaning it out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Comedy of Errors

My life is often a comedy of errors, but in this case I am referring to The Comedy of Errors. The one by Shakespeare, you know, the pen name of Christopher Marlowe.

Evelyn's Shakespeare class performed today. She was Duke Solinus. I think her favorite line is, "I think you are all mated or stark mad!"

Greta loves to play 20 questions. Our games are a comedy of errors, all mine:

Greta: Think of something.
Me: Got it. I'm ready.
Greta: No! You have to think.
Me: Think, think, think. Ok, I'm ready.
Greta: You have to scratch your head.
Me: (scratching) Ok, I'm ready.
Greta: Is it an animal?
Me: Nope.
Greta: No, it has to be an animal. We're doing the animal section.
Me: Ok, it is an animal.
Greta: (exasperated) No, I have to ask you.
Me: Go ahead.
Greta: Is it an animal?
Me: Yes.
Greta: Is it extinct?
Me: No.
Greta: I want an extinct animal.
Me: Yes, it is extinct.
Greta: Is it a T Rex?
Me: (changing my strategy) Yes!
Greta: No, it is supposed to be a coelophysis.
Me: Oh, you got it, its a coelophysis!
Greta: No, I have to ask if it is smaller than a T-Rex.
Me: Ok.
Greta: Is it smaller than a T-Rex?
Me: Yes.
Greta: Is it a coelophysis?
Me: Yes!
Greta: I got it!

If I am guessing I narrow it down to a category of animal, say, crayfish, or hummingbirds. But I never get the final question because for some reason I have never heard of the species. If I'm guessing crayfish it could be a Pink West Australian East Marbled Crayfish, for example.

Today I failed to guess the Red-Boobied Hummingbird.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Free Range Kids

Funny how life has themes. Right now the theme is free range kids.

We had a delightful surprise yesterday evening.

A while back we introduced our neighbors, who are new homeschoolers, to some homeschooling friends.

After a busy day hiking, making bows, concocting poisons and exploring with friends Clem and Ev had performed poison oak removing ablutions and Clem and I were sitting on the couch reading when I began to hear...was it screaming? was it laughter?

Our neighborhood is so quiet that any sound merits investigation. I said to Mike, "Do you hear some kids?"

We never hear kids. Except ours. We hear them a lot.

He opened the door and kids poured in.

Our friends and neighbors together, gleeful and bearing a chicken. A few minutes later the moms walked up bearing more chickens. The chickens, unlike the kids, are not free range, because of the foxes and raccoons.

Ev and Clem ran out in their pajamas and played flashlight tag on the court and ran around wild. We moms chatted and had tea.

Clem enjoyed it so much that she asked to walk home with them when they were leaving.

Her friend's mom offered to drop her back on their way home. They set off. But after getting most of the way there, the kids, giddy with the night air, fled their moms back to our house.

They arrived breathless, saying, "We're back!" and "This was the BEST DAY EVER!" Someone had a bloody foot.

And oops.

They had outrun the littlest guy and he was left alone in the dark halfway between our neighbor's house a few streets away and ours.

I talked about responsibility and using good judgment.

Clem said he was "a stowaway" and "we didn't know he was following us."

With freedom comes responsibility I tried to explain.

We resumed our quiet evening. Email popped up in my inbox. A friend had sent me news of a true free range kid. The New York Times reports on A 12 Year Old Food Critic. He dines out on his own and takes notes Zagat's style in his notebook.

This is the logical end for our Homeschooling in the Kitchen. I'll put the kids on the bus to Rockridge to buy dinner every night for a year and they can be the Homeschooling Jonathan Golds of College Ave.

The Nina's Ninas?


Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Child Trap

That is the title of a New Yorker article a friend sent to me.

I skimmed it until I hit this:

Marano assembles her own arsenal of neurological research, guaranteed to scare the pants off any hovering parent. As children explore their environment by themselves—making decisions, taking chances, coping with any attendant anxiety or frustration—their neurological equipment becomes increasingly sophisticated, Marano says. “Dendrites sprout. Synapses form.” If, on the other hand, children are protected from such trial-and-error learning, their nervous systems “literally shrink.”

The tone of the article was intermittently obnoxious.

But I worry that my kids do not have enough freedom. Last night we took a night hike and my sister started telling stories from our childhood. There were the Great Neighborhood Wars against the kid who lived down the street and his friends (we were always victorious). We made ice rafts, swam, crabbed, rowed, sailed, built forts with stolen lumber, played flashlight tag all over the neighborhood at night...all without adult supervision.

We were allowed to roam as far as we wanted and we occasionally got into trouble. Which we relished, or even courted. When a friend and I were taking a shortcut home from school through the woods some big kids on motorbikes tried to run us down. My friend and I dragged a log across the path and I don't know what happened after the crash behind us because we ran like hell. We walked on the frozen river when the ice wasn't hard enough and it kept cracking beneath our feet. Our arch enemy broke up our ice raft with a sledgehammer while we were still on it.

My kids have never had any such neuron-sprouting adventures. They are newly allowed to explore the neighborhood, but they have to tell me they are doing it, and they haven't used their new freedom much.

Evelyn and her friend Sasha would like to be dropped off in the woods for a day and a night to test their survival skills and I am weighing the idea, trying to figure out how to frame it so that I can say yes.

Another tidbit from the article:
As for children's safety, Honoré makes what will no doubt be the controversial recommendation that we stop fretting about it. He quotes Samuel Butler on the subject: "Young people have a marvelous faculty of either dying or adapting themselves to circumstances."

What I am wondering overprotection a fate worse than death?

I just sent all three out to walk to their friends' house in the neighborhood.

News Flash: They came home alive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sudden Oak Death

My oak has fallen prey to Sudden Oak Death. Ok, that is a dramatic way of saying that I have fallen off the novelling wagon.

I diverted my attention to more enduring pursuits such as baking oatmeal cookies and making wrapping paper.


I set out bowls of walnuts, currants and chocolate chips for the kids to personalize their cookies. And afterwards I had bowls of walnuts and currants. Some of the cookies, to my surprise, were leaking hot green goo when I took them out of the oven, like failed radioactive waste containers. I am told it was actually Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans.

You win some, you lose some.


Making the wrapping paper was unbelievably satisfying.

I ordered large art portfolio folders from Amazon. Never mind Sudden Oak Death, the shipping of these folders required the ritual sacrifice of an entire forest. These flat folders, ordered at the same time, arrived in two separate appliance-sized boxes. The empty space was filled up with yards of crumpled brown paper, which did not keep the folders from being bent. I kept the paper. If I recycled it I'd have to do some sort of confession and atonement.

And today we made a whole roll of wrapping paper with sponges and paint. I left it out all day, and as it dried I'd roll up the painted part and unroll the unpainted part onto the table.

There were no rules. Except maybe that the dry part of the sponge goes toward your hand and the painty part goes toward the paper.

I admit that I did more painting than anyone else.

It is kinda satisfying to express your creativity on paper in a way that is meant to be torn up and thrown away.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I am squeezing out my Nanowrimo words 100 at a time. Detail by tiny detail.

I did manage to eke out 1400 words this way while driving to and from a hike in Sunol Regional Wilderness.

We hiked the Indian Joe Creek trail to the Cave Rocks.

Evelyn and I have to have our hobbies so we don't feel idle while on a hike.

She ran ahead to work on boring holes in rocks with her pocket knife and I lagged behind to take photos.

Greta was trying to be in front for a while. She kept saying, "I'm the leader!" and trying to block her sisters with her stick. Eventually Ev, Clem and finally, even Mike got past her. Instead of crying she said, "I am the leader of the way back! And that means mom."

My macro lens forces me to look at little things with as much interest as big things.

I was on a hunt for pale green points and new mushrooms. I also particularly like seeds growing out of cow pies--that whole circle of life thing.

And tracks. And bones. I hit pay dirt with a very clear dog paw print in a cow pie with pale green points sticking up out of it.

Clem found a sheep knucklebone. She had learned earlier in the week how to use one to hold the top of stick in place when you are spinning the stick with a bow to start a fire.

Look how well it fits the hand and there is that indentation in the middle for the stick.

I brought along my notebook in case I was inspired to write 100 words on the trail.

I was. But not 100 words of my novel. I remembered the 100 Species Challenge. I thought we might be close to knowing 100 plant species that grow nearby already. Evelyn read Edible and Useful Plants of the West cover to cover and the kids have taken a lot of nature classes.

The other day in the car on the way to a class they were trying to name every plant as it passed. Eucalyptus, coyote brush, eucalyptus, madrone, coyote brush, redwood, coyote brush, oak.

So I took out a notebook and we began to write down the names of plants we could identify.

I love plant names, ever since I sang parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme as a kid. You don't even have to know what they are to enjoy the sound of their names.

Here is our list: Poison oak, blackberry, bay, sycamore, oak, mistletoe, huckleberry, coyote brush, stinging nettle, hemlock, miner's lettuce, manzanita, madrone, thistle, redwood, soaproot, duckweed, wood fern, sword fern, buckeye, sage, willow, cordgrass, hazel, snowberry, chinquapin, monkeyflower, gingko, pine, sourgrass, mexican bush sage, maple, magnolia, jacaranda, rosemary, wild cucumber, gumball, horsetail, bamboo, palm, cottonwood, aspen, birch, cattail, tule, oleander, holly, eucalyptus, california pepper, walnut, juniper, poppy, forget-me-not, mule ear, lambs ear, ivy, nasturtium, bougainvillea, camilia, yarrow, dandelions.

We didn't hit 100, and I didn't get enough 100 words done to hit my goal for the day. But I did hit a milestone. I cut and pasted my new material into the rough draft. I'm violating both the letter and the spirit of Nanowrimo this year by continuing the book I started last year.

Last year I was a winner.

I hit 50,000. There was a harrowing hour after I uploaded my text and discovered that the Nanowrimo website counted 49,650 and I had to pound out 350 more before the deadline, but I did it.

I've been working on the draft over the last year, except when I wasn't. And even though I've been falling short and not getting in enough 100 word chunks every day, yesterday I hit a milestone: one thousand 100s. In other words, 100,000 words.

So does the acorn grow into the oak.

An oak sorely in need of shaping and pruning. Next month I'll bring out the editing shears.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ancestor Supper

We ate our traditional Ancestor Supper a day late, on Nov. 2, this year. We celebrate our ancestors by eating foods they liked and telling stories about them. On Nov. 1 we were too beat to cook and Mike declared that our ancestors ate Thai takeout and drank Belgian ale.

But we decided to have another go at it on the 2nd. It's a laid-back celebration, or can be.

We got the idea from my friend Maria. If I remember correctly one of her ancestors liked Fresca, so they share a can of as part of the festivities. I like the easygoing spirit of this holiday. The food doesn't have to be fancy, just meaningful.

Last year we invited a friend to join us. He brought a 6-pack of Heineken in memory of his dad. We had a small glass of Heineken each and a martini onion for my mom's dad, Albert Edward Payne, who used to fish the small onions out of his martini, suck them dry and then give them to us to eat.

This year one of our ancestors cooked the dinner. My mom. And she made it fancy. A real feast: roast chicken with stuffing and gravy, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, broccoli, crab cakes, sad cakes, and rice pudding.

My mom's mom, Ruby Payne, as a child in Liverpool, took a baked potato to school for lunch in winter. Mom tells us that in the morning Ruby put the hot potato in her pocket to warm her hands on the way to school. At lunch she'd eat the potato, plain and cold.

It wasn't much of a lunch.

Her stomach must have been empty and her shoes were too full. Walking to school in those tight shoes permanently deformed her toes. I remember marveling at the toes and the story as a child.

As mom was telling the potato story Clementine took a baked potato out of the bowl and gave it an experimental bite.

For my mom's dad this year we had rice pudding. I remember him making it. But mom recalled that he liked to stir it several times during baking so the browned milk skin that forms on the top got well mixed in. I called Clem away from a movie to stir the rice into the evaporated milk. Tonight when I served the pudding (we were too full last night!) she said, "This is the one I helped make, isn't it? Oh, I want some!"

Mom made sad cakes with her 5 grandkids. Pastry dough with currants, sugar and a squeeze of lemon in the middle. I loved seeing the gran hands with the grandchildren hands making a recipe that the kids' great grandma Ruby learned from their great great grandma Maria. Clem and Greta and their cousins, Amelia and Elliot, made their sad cakes with currants. But Evelyn brought home two handfuls of huckleberries from Huckleberry Botanic Preserve.

My friend Maria's grandfather's twin brother helped found Huckleberry Preserve. Thanks, Maria and your ancestors, for the park, and a cherished family tradition. Wish we could have saved some Huckleberry sad cake for you, but it went fast.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Man Ate the Chocolate

Nanowrimo is here, so everyone is typing and scribbling. Evelyn is gloating that she has written 908 words and I have only 769 when I am supposed to have 1,666 from yesterday and be well into today's 1,666.

Even Greta is writing. She dictated this story to her Gran.

The Man Ate the Chocolate
By Greta

There was a piece of chocolate called Hersheys, but it is called milk chocolate. But its name is Hersheys. Hersheys was talking to a pumpkin and a cat bit off his head.

Then a man said to the cat, "Don't eat that chocolate. Because I want to eat that chocolate."

Hersheys put on a new chocolate head and the man ate him all up. He was gone now.

But the pumpkin rolled on and on. The man catched the pumpkin and wen tto his home and carved the pumpkin. It was Halloween! He put a candle in it.

He lighted the candle so everyone could see the alien face. Then he got a plastic pumpkin and went trick or treating. He knocked on everyone's door and he got candy.

They were surprised to see a man. He said, "Thank you and Happy Halloween, Tree House!"

The End

Evelyn set a goal of 12,000 words.
Clementine set a goal of 1,000 words. She wrote 200 today.
As a grown-up I don't get to choose my goal. So 50,000 for me.

And I can't count blog entries.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I Love This!

Greta ran back from the fifth or sixth house and shouted out, "I'm Greta and I'm three and I love this! I love Trick or Treating!"

Candy still is the closest thing to pure joy for her.

Ev and Clem's Aunt Jenny and Uncle Chris sent a box of candy. In it were Pez dispensers and Pez candies. Maybe by confused association with Tic Tacs Greta called the Pez "Lunatics". The four of us were reading in bed and Greta spilled her candy.

"There are lunatics in the bed! I need more lunatics!"

Ev and Clem and I couldn't stop laughing like lunatics. Clem was howling, "She thinks the Pez are lunatics."

"Ok," Greta said grudgingly, "I'll call the lunatics Pegs."

We carved pumpkins at my sister's house and mom came down from Tahoe to Trick or Treat.

Greta was a fairy princess, so in other words, no costume. She told everyone she was the most beautifulest.

Clem was a Nac Mac Feegle. Treat yourself to The Wee Free Men on CD if you haven't already. We are forever grateful to Stefani for turning us on to Terry Pratchett.

As for Evelyn--her Nevermore sign fell apart at Park Day and she didn't get around to making another one. But she still cut a fine figure, even if her Uncle thought her costume was Mainway Novelties' Invisible Pedestrian.

Evelyn's favorite part of The Raven:

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

I was remembering how much fun it was to go to school on Halloween and feeling a little sorry that the kids were missing out on that. But I was told by many moms that kids aren't allowed to wear costumes at school anymore.