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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The power of babies

The time change (and a sleepover that didn't involve much sleep) has been very grumpifying to our entire household. But this afternoon catching a glimpse of this three day old baby, born on Sunday, completely altered my mood.

Gentle brown eyes, spindly elegant legs, a short stubby tail, long whiskers, a fuzzy bay coat, two socks, a star, a snip giving way to pink, and a total inability to stay still for a picture made my day.

The power of babies.

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Participating in Wordless Wednesday at 5 Minutes for Mom and A Lot of Loves.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Tackling the Los Angeles underpasses

Somehow, in all the years I've lived in Los Angeles I've never had more than a fifteen to twenty minute commute to work or the girls' schools. And those commutes never involved freeways.

Until this year. Now I drive fifteen miles. Which may not sound far. But it involves four freeways, one very badly designed freeway exchange where I have to merge three times and get over four lanes all in the space of less than a quarter mile, and twenty-three underpasses. Yes, twenty-three.

I'm a confident driver. Eight lanes of freeways, multiple merges, monster truck grills in my rear view mirror, rear enders happening next to me (last month), cars on fire (last week)  - none of these bother me particularly.

I credit Toronto's Don Valley Parkway for teaching me well. I drove the DVP's middle lane three or four times every week starting when I was sixteen. Los Angeles drivers are tame after driving with the insane Toronto drivers who run you off the road (or at least give you the finger) if you're speeding slower than 85 miles per hour.

But aggressive drivers have nothing on those underpasses. LA is earthquake country. And something about sitting, waiting, under those underpasses completely freaks me out. Seeing the tragic, horrific images from Japan's earthquake over the last week really drove this freak-out home for me.

Today Caroline documented some of the underpasses. The girls helped me count them as we drove home. They shouted in excitement as each underpass went by.

I didn't tell them the underpasses scare me. That I step on the gas to make the turn onto the freeway so we don't have to sit under the underpass waiting for the next light. That I shift into second and creep along if the light ahead is red so I don't have to pull to a stop under the underpass. That I wait for traffic to move forward beyond the underpasses if the freeway is a parking lot. Which it is so often.

No, I'll keep this freak-out to myself. And continue tackling the underpasses, clenching my teeth and gripping the gear shift tightly when I find myself staring up at steel and cement rafters, the beat of the overhead traffic drowning out my own heartbeat.

What's your freak-out?

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Participating in Tackle it Tuesday at 5 Minutes for Mom.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chocolate soufflé

A story unto itself.

A satisfying end to a Sunday family dinner.

I made this chocolate soufflé from a recipe in my old, tattered copy of Fannie Farmers.

I added more chocolate. Of course.

It's not as difficult as it sounds.

Search for the Julia Child within you. You can make soufflé, too!

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt the chocolate and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in the microwave for 3 minutes at 50% power until it's melted. Stir together and set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook for 2 to 3 minutes over low heat. Gradually stir in the milk. Cook until the mixture is just ready to boil. It will be thick. Add the chocolate and the vanilla.

Beat the egg yolks well. Add a little of the warm chocolate mixture to the egg yolks and stir well. Add the eggs to the rest of the chocolate mixture and beat well. Set aside.

In a mixer beat the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, beating until the egg whites are stiff but not dry. This the key to an amazing soufflé. Don't overbeat!

Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Add this mixture to the egg whites. Gently fold into the whites. It's okay if there are white streaks in the mixture. Don't over fold!

Butter a soufflé dish (I used a 2 quart dish, but you can use a 1 1/2 quart dish). Sprinkle the dish with sugar. Gently spoon the mixture into the dish.

Bake at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes (depending on your oven). Don't open the oven during the first 15 minutes!

Watch the soufflé closely. It can take it 15 minutes to start rising, so don't panic if it doesn't start to rise right away.

Serve immediately with whipped cream.


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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My memorable neighbor Charlie

When I saw the prompt a memorable neighbor from Mama Kat this week I just couldn't resist.

Charlie Sheen is my memorable neighbor.

Now, I'll be honest. We don't live next door to him or even a few doors away. We're not fancy like that. Not that he's fancy, but you know what I mean. However, we do live sort of close to him. We live in a canyon and he lives above us, where other silly Hollywood celebrities reside, on Mulholland Drive.

Here's a picture taken from my canyon.

Do you see where the green meets the sky? That's Mulholland Drive where Charlie(this is LA people, no need for last names) does his thing. And before you go getting ideas that we live in one of those weird houses on the left, we don't.

Charlie has caused me to lose sleep twice in the last year so even though he's not our next door, or our few-doors-down-neighbor, I feel justified saying I'm his neighbor.

No, I didn't lose sleep because I'm obsessed with him and was worried about his erratic behavior. I don't watch his sitcom, or even know what it's about.

I lost sleep because when he drove his car over Mulholland Drive in a drunken stupor and then called the car in as stolen, every network in town had a helicopter over his house which meant every network in town had a helicopter over our house.

And it was three o'clock in the morning.

Here's the thing about canyons. They carry sound. So when coyotes have a party up the canyon it sounds like they're having a party in our backyard. When the people in Warren Beatty's old house on Mulholland have a party, it sounds like my next door neighbors are having a party.

So all those helicopters were LOUD. Really loud. Shutting our 1940s cottage windows did nothing to help keep out the noise.

And the spotlights? Let's just say it's a good thing I've got kids and wear decent pajamas, because our bedroom was lit up like it was a movie set.

Tim gave up on sleep at five o'clock, got out of bed, went downstairs, turned on the TV and then came back up to report it was Charlie before heading out for a morning workout. When I got up at six-thirty there was just one helicopter left.

Charlie repeated the exact same scenario all over again only four months later. The nerve.

Charlie is so manic he doesn't realize us regular people slumming it down in the canyons aren't graced with tiger blood and need sleep. Lots of sleep.

We're getting ready to move. So Charlie, soon I'll be free. Free at last. Of you.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sylvester Stallone's riding helmet

My riding helmet belongs to Sylvester Stallone.

At one point when I worked in Hollywood one of my best friends was an assistant (the film biz's fancy way of saying secretary/ runner/ script reader) at Sylvester Stallone's production company.

My friend had a lot of interesting duties. I used to tag along regularly for day trips to Sly's Malibu beach home to "check it out" and makes sure everything was as it should be. This particular duty included lounging on the beach and taking a dip in the sparkling pool that had SLY emblazoned on the floor. I changed in one of the bedrooms, a shrine to Sly that was filled with framed photos and posters of his holiness and that was painted an unlikely pink.

Another of my friend's duties was was sorting through the fan mail, much of which included gifts -  everything from golf clubs, food, books, pictures to, yup, riding helmets.

I don't know if Sylvester Stallone rides or is even interested in horses. But apparently one of his fans was into horses enough to go to Millers, an upscale equestrian store in Manhattan, purchase a black velvet riding helmet, package it up and ship it out to Sly care of his production company.

I've ridden horses my entire life so as soon as my friend opened the riding helmet he was on the phone to me asking me if I wanted it. (Note to anyone thinking of  buying the perfect gift for your favorite celebrity: Save your time and money. The celebrity will never see it; assistants take everything.)

The helmet didn't fit. It was too small. Who buys a size 6 1/4 riding helmet for Sly? I called up Millers and explained I had received the wrong size helmet as a gift. With no questions asked and no receipt they told me to mail it back COD and they would send out the right size. I had to send two helmets back before the perfect fit arrived. I've been wearing it ever since.

By the way, the pony in the background is Mary-Kate Olsen's old pony, CD.

Such is life in Los Angeles.

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This post is participating in Wordless Wednesday at 5 Minutes for Mom and A Lot of Loves.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

When life gives you lemons: Lemon Cake

Life has taken some interesting twists and turns over the last six months. So I'm trying to adopt a when life gives you lemons, make lemonade attitude.

As it happens, we have three lemon trees. Here's one of them:

It's full of fruit that smells of lemony fresh spring.

The lemons come in all shapes. This one was my favorite pick today:

Its gently gnarled, mature form reminds me of a wise grandmother. As it happens, my wise mother-in-law is visiting from Tennessee right now to help me get our house ready for sale. She brought Southern Living magazine with her and, as it happens, it contains a recipe for lemon-coconut pound cake.

Katie loves the lemon loaf at Starbucks. So when she asked if I would try to replicate it, everything came together: Lemon tree, lemons, mother-in-law, Southern Living, Katie, baking.

I based my recipe loosely on Southern Living's recipe. I omitted the coconut and made it more breakfast friendly because that's when Katie likes to eat it. I added wheat germ, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, replaced the butter with olive oil, and the sour cream with fat-free Greek yogurt.

Here's what we got:

Moist, tender, slightly crunchy (thanks to wheat germ), and full of zesty lemon freshness. Katie declared this the best lemon loaf ever. Way better than the Starbucks version.

Here's how you make it:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons wheat germ

1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3 eggs (replace with egg whites if you're going for lower cholesterol!)
2 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup fat free Greek yogurt

Mix the olive oil and sugars together. Add the eggs one at a time.

Stir together the flour, the wheat germ, the salt, and the baking soda.

Add 1/2 the flour mixture to the oil mixture. Stir in the lemon juice. Add the rest of the flour mixture and then add the yogurt.

Pour into a greased and floured 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for 50 - 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing.

Spoon the lemon glaze over the cake.

If you can, wait to eat the cake until the following day, giving the lemon flavor time to soak through.

Lemon Glaze:
Mix together 2 cups powdered sugar with 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of milk.


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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Snow in Los Angeles

Snow in Los Angeles is a rare event. So Saturday when it started snowing as we were driving home from lunch everyone started squealing in excitement.

Even this gal who grew up in the snow squealed.

Those of you who live in snow, please refrain from laughing.

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Participating in Wordless Wednesday at 5 Minutes for Mom and A lot of Loves.

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