Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Control Crafts

I still find myself in a strange state of Must Make Stuff. I don't know why. I think the state of having three kids is making me feel really desperate for control. Making stuff means control. The key, really, is finding stuff to make that I can segment into really small bits: sew a hem, kiss an ow-ie, sew another hem; cut a feather, change a diaper, cut another feather; stir some milk, retrieve a fallen toy, stir the milk again.

Yesterday morning, Mattias had a fever. Trixie is teething. I thought to myself that if each kid is sick one day, once every three weeks – which doesn't sounds like a lot – that STILL means I have a sick kid to take care of once every week. Gah. Multiplication by 3! See? That's how I end up desperate for control. If I can't control the kids' sicknesses, then at least I can control other things...

I made a lot of kombucha. I tried to make it look lovely. It was a 20 minute activity, once a week. Always a new flavor experiment. Fritz never liked any of the flavors I made. Maybe because I cared more about how it looked in the bottle than how it tasted. I couldn't (alone) drink the kombucha fast enough. So I moved on.

I made a stack of napkins.

"Napkins?" asked my brother. His voice indicated I sounded crazy.

"Yes. Napkins. With spare pieces of fabric. And the tiniest little hems I can, Depression Era inspired, like Grandma would have made. You know, it's not as easy as you would think: because you want them to be square and neat. The fabric should feel nice and soft, like you want to use it to wipe your mouth. And you have to fold and iron the edges before you sew. The hems need to be consistently sized all around. You think it's simple, but it's minimalist art, really. I'm still refining my technique."

"How many have you made?"

"Like, fifty."

"Uh. Okay." His voice said: Confirmed. Crazy. "What are you going to do with them?"

"Maybe give them as Christmas gifts."

"Oh," he said unenthusiastically. I mentally removed him from my napkin gift list.

Then the weather got cold and I decided that Trixie needed a cape for quick trips between the car and any indoor destination. Even my big baby is so small. Coats and jackets are so bulky to wear in the carseat. And they are too clumsy to easily put on and take off quickly. I determined Trixie needed a cape: a practical, warm cape to take on and off quickly, but couldn't find one with adequate coverage to buy.

"Then make one," said my mom. So I did: micro fleece on one side and some woven dot fabric on the other side. Long. Simpler than a blanket. Faster than a coat or bunting. Reversible.

Some evenings, I folded origami Moravian stars. My brother-in-law was visiting from China with his girlfriend. Every night that week, after the kids were asleep, we would gather around the table. The smart phones would emerge. I don't have a smart phone. But, you know, smart phones are helpful in conversation when you are discussing, say, the setting of The Shining, and need to immediately confirm that the exterior of the hotel was the lodge at Mount Hood Meadows in Oregon and the interior of the hotel was the Stanley in Estes Park in Colorado.

I folded a star while everyone else worked on that confirmation.

"Why are you doing that?" my brother-in-law asked me.

"I guess because it gives me something to do."

"Well, if you ever get tired of it, let me know, and we can outsource it to China."

Noah asked me to make his Halloween costume. Some years in the past, I've made Halloween costumes. Some years I've purchased them. This year I felt REALLY busy refining my Art of the Napkin. There has also been tension between Noah and I over the last few weeks. I wasn't feeling particularly generous in my Making Stuff Spirit towards him. But I made him a costume anyway. Mattias wanted to be the same thing (an owl).

Okay, fine. Sigh. Two Owls. I chopped up my maternity clothes to make the feathers. It was cathartic.

Noah is wearing his costume all the time this week. I think he appreciates this costume much more than any of my other home-made costumes. Maybe he's finally old enough to appreciate it? Maybe he's just happy to see some talents thrown in his direction.

Finally, we seem to have become complete yogurt snobs around here. The price of our fancy pants store-bought yogurt was eating our grocery budget. Somewhat inspired by all that kombucha making, I've started to make our own yogurt. I haven't perfected it yet, but it's headed in a good direction: yummy!

Friday, October 18, 2013


Round One
The weirdest part of having three kids (right now) is when all 5 of us go somewhere together in the car, and then climb out. It feels like a spectacle: one person after the next, emerging from our little car. Clearly this has less to do with being a family of five and more to do with the size of the Volkswagen Jetta. A few people have scooted up next to the car to see just how we are fitting three kids in the back of the car.

Like this:

When I was little, just before the minivan became so popular, big families drove station wagons. Do you remember? Some of the kids rode in the back of the wagon. Some wagons had backward facing seats!

But now there are carseats to deal with. BIG carseats. These big carseats need big cars. This is what the back seat looked like before Trixie joined the boys:

I'm not sure. Possibly, it looked more cramped with two kids than with three.

If you think about it, it's rather crazy that carseats are so huge. Perhaps we equate safety to a big carseat. Perhaps we think about each individual seat, rather than thinking about the overall system. Well, at least, that's how I thought, prior to having three children. A few car companies (Volvo) have built in booster seats! They just flip down, like an arm rest or cup holder console. How cool is that? And how stupid is it that (most other) car manufacturers have a built-in solution for a soda can or arm rest, BUT NOT for children who are suppose to be in car seats\booster seats until they are 8 or 9 years old?? Maybe it's part of a marketing campaign to get us all to buy really big, inefficient SUVs.

After much debate, discussed in these posts, we opted to buy new (smaller, smarter) carseats, rather than a bigger car.

Trixie was initially behind the passenger seat, in an infant seat, so that I could easily take her in and out. We put Noah in the middle because he was the most independent at buckling. But Noah's feet were constantly on the front console between the driver and passenger. There was no where else for them to go.

Between Noah's feet and the passenger seat being pretty far forward, it was the front seats - the adults - who felt cramped. The back seat was (ironically?) not so bad.

Round Two
I don't want to accuse our car dealership of sabotaging our car, but you know what? While we were getting weekly mailings begging asking us to trade in our 4-year-old car for a new one, our 4-year-old car had one problem after the next.

Fortunately, we had an extended warranty. As my dad says,

"You're winning! Even though it doesn't feel like it!"

Um. Right. Anyway.

The last time the car was in the shop for a while, we got a loaner car and I used it as my opportunity to re-arrange all the carseats. It's a mind game to get all those seat belts and anchors attached in the correct order and spot. I moved Trixie to the middle of the backseat because she doesn't stay asleep once the car stops anyhow. I figured we might as well leave her carseat permanently in the middle and get Noah's feet off the center console.

This made it look a little more crowded in the back. But it was MUCH nicer in the front seat!

The boys spend less time jabbing each other and more time holding Trixie's hands since the rearrangement.

The other day, I realized that the car hasn't been in for repairs for over a month. I've stopped plotting about when or where or if we should buy a newer, bigger car. So I guess that means that one little car with three carseats across the back is working out just fine after all. I always feel a little victorious when I manage to avoid upping our consumption of various resources (gas, money, etc.) Whew! (For a little while, anyway.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nusskuchen (Walnut Cake)

Fritz's grandmother in Germany had a garden with three wonderful walnut trees. When she passed away, the garden was rented out, with the condition that the walnuts would not be disturbed and would be left for Fritz's family to collect.

Every year that we lived in Germany, I looked forward to walnut season. Fritz's mother did most of the collecting, but I was always willing to sit and crack nuts for as long as need be. Oh, how I miss lovely, soft, fresh-from-the-tree walnuts. A few weeks ago when some blogger (?) mentioned in a post that walnuts were falling on the roof of her house and waking her up at night, I actually had to wipe the drool off my chin. I've contemplated planting walnut trees, but here in Colorado walnut trees are under attack from the incurable Thousand Canker Disease. In my darker moments, I glumly imagine a world without walnuts.

In the meantime, there's still Walnut Cake to be savored on the weekends when we have Kaffee und Kuchen (Coffee and Cake). This recipe is from Fritz's mother in Germany. I think of it as less-sweet alternative to Pecan Pie. Instead of melting sugar in sugar corn syrup,  the walnuts are mixed with cream and amaretto. Yum!  I'm giving the weight measurements as opposed to cups. If you are in the States, you can think of this as a special opportunity to dig out your kitchen scale. Also, I never wrote down the order in which to mix ingredients. (I'm not sure that even my MIL ever knew that information.) I imagine a more serious baker could figure it out by looking at the ingredients. For me, the cake still tastes delicious, even with my half-baked procedure. Okay, ready? Here we go:

Walnut Cake (Pie?)

1 egg
70 grams sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
125 grams butter
1 pinch salt
150 grams of flour

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Mix bottom/crust ingredients together.
- Cover the bottom of a springform pan with parchment paper.
- Use fingers to spread dough over the bottom of the springform pan. Push dough up about 1" around the side of the springform pan. This dough will be the crust that holds the walnut filling, so make sure there are no holes in it. Otherwise, don't worry too much about this part: the crust is clearly NOT the highlight of this cake.

Walnut Filling:
250 grams of walnut
100 grams of sugar
2 egg yolks
150 grams crème fraîche*
1/4 liter amaretto

- Grind the walnuts. I use a blender to grind them up 1/3 cup at a time. They don't have to be perfectly ground, but the more consistent the size the better.
- Mix all filling ingredients.
- Pour into the prepared springform pan with dough already spread out.

- Bake 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees F. When the top of the walnut filling solidifies and begins to turn golden brown, it's done.


*This is like sour creme, but not as sour and with a higher fat content. I've occasionally found it with the fancy cheese at our local supermarket, but I've also been forced to go to Whole Foods for it.