Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A better breadth of butter

Two failed butter dishes, rejected because they were so annoying, and I finally get it. I realize why so many butter dishes here are long and skinny. Long and skinny in a way which makes no sense when you're trying to accommodate a normal sized pat of butter.

But of course, it's because I'm buying European butter. The American stuff comes in 'sticks'. No, I'm not kidding. A pat of butter is made up of two sticks. I realized this the other day when my glance fell on some Land o' Lakes 'butter' (horrible crumbly stuff) - and put two and two together when I read a recipe that called for 'a stick' of butter.

It's madness! Butter shouldn't come in a stick! It's firm, but not hard enough to be a stick. It's not soft either though, by the way, which makes it very difficult to smush into a measuring cup when a recipe calls for a cup. Which is another thing: why measure it in a cup? Well it turns out that a cup is 2 sticks, or a pat. So it's actually not that difficult. I suppose it's easier than using measuring scales which are apparently beyond the nous of the American home baker. Took me a couple of recipes to figure the stick thing out but I'm pretty sure life would be easier over here if we all just used a proper, precise system of weights when baking.

Anyway now I know, so I no longer have to work out what a stick or a cup of butter looks like. And thanks to TLOML, we have a lovely new butter dish of just the right proportions.

The one on the top is the old one, perfectly shaped for a stick of butter but look how a real pat of butter splays out over the edges. The one on the bottom is the new one, showcasing what is probably half a stick but could just as easily be a perfect pat. Peace is restored in the toaster/ bread bin/ butter dish corner of the kitchen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Earning a day at Disney

Believe it or not, P has never been to Disneyland. She must be the only five year old in Southern California who hasn't. As it happens, I haven't either. People look surprised when I tell them that - it's like saying you've never been to London, as a Brit (same cultural significance) - but given that I moved here in my thirties, it really isn't so strange. Before that my closest Disney option was Eurodisney, and there are about a million better things to do on a trip to France than go to Eurodisney.

And so it is that we are a pair of Disney virgins. I could go to my grave without ever visiting, but P would be a deprived child if we let this situation go on much longer. Up until recently she's been content playing on broken slot machines at Redondo Pier, but we think it's time she saw what a real amusement park was all about.

She's of an age now where kids chat - at least, I assume that's how come she knows about Shimmer & Shine, because it certainly didn't come from our house - and I'd hate her to miss out on something all her buddies get to enjoy. Wait till her schoolmates find out we only have one TV. They'll think she's a complete freak. It's not only caving to peer pressure. I also know she will absolutely love the experience.

So we told P that once she was five she'd be old enough to go to Disneyland. And hope none of her friends told her they've had a SoCal Family pass since they were toddlers. She turned five in February. So what's taken so long?

Well, once we decided we should take her, we decided we should make the most of it. Hence, the sticker chart. The road to Disney, for P at least, was paved with good deeds. For every good deed, she earned a sticker, and once she has a sticker in every spot, we will take her to Disney. As you can see by the state of it, P has got properly invested in the chart, adding her own titles and pictures. She spends a lot of time counting the stickers and the empty spots.
 In case you're curious - ooh, you'd get a sticker for that - she gets stickers for being helpful, kind, brave, curious and adventurous. Aka tidying up after herself, eating vegetables, and generally being compliant. It's really not that hard.
We've enjoyed two months of extra helpfulness, and an incentive for her to do things that are challenging. She's only a few stickers away from the big reward now. I'm pretty sure she'll love it easily enough for us to add some extra empty spots into the next sticker chart. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Kitchen pioneer

The early settlers in the Americas had to be pretty resourceful. An unfamiliar land, with different flora and fauna, required them to be canny about what to hunt, what to eat, how to store supplies for long winters, how to make a bolt of calico make dresses for all the girls in the household, and so on.

And so it is with me. You'd think one can get all the specialty foods imaginable in a world city like LA. Actually you probably can, but not in the bubble of the South Bay. Maybe Koreans, or Mexicans, can find all the ingredients they need at the local H-Mart, if not the Vonns. But us Brits are a tiny minority. The only specialty store for British food is the lame-oh King's Head which is fine for wine gums and hobnobs but not for proper food (plus driving to Santa Monica is the equivalent of 'going to town to buy calico' in terms of effort). It's a culinary desert, at least where British baked goods are concerned.

Not only do I need to make my hot cross buns from scratch but I have to make the raw ingredients too. I cannot buy candied peel - say for Christmas cake or hot cross buns - for love nor money. Nor can I find stem ginger for proper ginger biscuits either.

So I've learned to make them. It turns neither are particularly difficult. It's a bit of a faff, as in it takes longer to make candied peel than it used to take me to walk to Sainsbury's and buy some. But not much longer. And the results aren't as good - not as neat, or sugary - but they aren't bad. They'll do. Same goes for the end result, really:
Not quite as good as the kind you get in the supermarket. But better than nothing.
I'm my very own pioneer woman, it turns out! And P is working alongside me learning not only just how to bake from scratch, but actually using weighing scales (because that's how British recipes are written), which takes 'from scratch' to a whole new level in this country.

Unlike the Starck lemon squeezer, the scales are not just for show

Now if only I can figure out how to make a proper granary loaf I'll be quite content.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Jack Junior

We've added to our family. Not in that way, gosh, when will people stop asking?, that ship has sailed for goodness sake. No, with a much less effort (albeit less rewarding) addition: a small black cat.

Meet Jack Junior. So called because he looks a lot like Jack Senior (RIP), only rather slimmer. For now, anyway.

I'd like to say that welcoming Jack into our home was the fruition of many months of planning and the fulfillment of a long-held dream of P's. But no. We decided to get him as we were driving home from lunch and talking about the bad night's sleep we'd had - hearing what we suspected was a rodent in the walls of our house.

I'd like to say that I carefully researched cat adoption facilities to find the best one. But no, we just went to the one that was still open as we got back into Hermosa after 3pm on a Sunday afternoon.

I'd like to say that we chose Jack carefully from a large cast of options, or that he 'chose' us with some sweet friendly gesture. But no. The choices we were faced with, 20 minutes before the cat adoption place closed, were either Jack, or a pair of cats that had to be adopted together because they were siblings and one of them was going to go blind so needed the other one to take care of it. I know. Don't forget, we were looking for an emergency mouse catcher - not a special needs burden. Sorry. But also not sorry.

I'd also like to say that he hunted or scared away the suspected rodents. But no, we got the pest control people in for that. In fact Jack has proved entirely useless in that regard.

But he is very very good at other important things. P absolutely loves him, and he tolerates her petting him very nicely. He snuggles with us while we're watching Netflix. And at night he curls up in a ball at the end of the bed.
So, it may have been a whim but it might just be the best whim we've ever acted on. And we may not have had a second child but as a family we are replete with contentment.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Winter sports

I didn't want to be the kind of woman - certainly, the kind of mother - who goes to the ski resort and just hits the spa. But then again, I never wanted to go to the ski resort at all. Always in search of sunshine and beaches, I never saw the appeal of snow-based holidays. I only tried it to please TLOML. And it makes more sense when you live by a sunny beach, then a snowy mountain is a bit more appealing. So I snowboarded - between tumbles and sprawls - slowly down a few green runs a handful of times during our pre-parenthood days. I quite enjoyed it, as it happened.

But I've never done it since. The last couple of times we've taken P up to Big Bear I've had the excuse of work, or it being handy to have someone to carry the clobber, so I've been able to avoid putting myself out there. Or rather, down there falling on my ass in the snow again.

Well, now I've run out of excuses. P officially likes skiing. This year she did a full day of ski school, and liked it. She was ready to tackle a few runs with TLOML, going up in the chair lift, snow ploughing her way down the nursery slope effectively independently (with reins on her boots, she's not a prodigy or anything). And now I have to decide - am I going with them? Or am I the mother carrying the bag and holding the camera at the bottom of the slope?

I signed up for a 2 hour snowboarding lesson as much as anything to prove that I don't have it in me, I am the kind of mother who goes to the mountain and doesn't go on the piste. But at least I could say that I tried. Unfortunately I was just capable enough to stay upright, link a few turns, and get to the bottom without incident. Albeit extremely slowly. Honestly the video clip of me looks at times like a still: except for my flailing arms I'm barely moving. Still, I made it.

The next day, off we went for the family mountainside fun. It was raining - and I hoped that would put TLOML and P off.

No chance. She's got the bug. Up we went. And down we came... P and TLOML moving easily three times as fast as me.

Now I have a new choice to ponder. Is it worse to be the mum who goes to the ski resort and just hits the spa? Or the mum who goes to the ski resort and keeps her 5 year old daughter waiting at the bottom while she moves extremely slowly down the nursery slope? I guess I'll either have to raise my game, or start exploring those spa options.