Not My Mama's Breadpudding

March 31, 2011

I love bread pudding. It ranks right up there with tapioca on my list of sweet, gooey, comfort that you can eat with a spoon. I grew up eating a lot of bread pudding. My mama has a reputation for her bread pudding. Most of the time it is the traditional combination of stale bread, raisins, sugar, eggs, milk. But other times, especially during our annual beach trips, my mom's bread puddings take on a life of their own.

My mother is the queen of saving and re-using items. That ingenuity and creativity has served her well in making art, but it is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to bread pudding at the beach. You see, when you have a beach house full of people, you have lots of left-overs. By the end of the week my mom has usually assembled quite an interesting collection of food items to add to the dreaded always surprising bread pudding...half-eaten bowls of cereal, old grapes, apple chunks, limp pasta, and perhaps even a random piece of broccoli. Yes, my mama's beach house bread pudding is quite unique and always memorable.

Earlier this week, while flipping through one of my well-loved Barefoot Contessa cookbooks,I stopped at the recipe for croissant bread pudding and it hit me that I had never made bread pudding for my own children. I don't know why. It seems like such an easy, kid friendly dessert with a direct connection to my roots, and yet, I have never done it. And then I came down with a horrible case of strep throat (which is still causing me problems). Suddenly, my desire to make bread pudding shifted gears from nostalgia to a desperate need for comfort at its most extreme: something warm, soft,easy to swallow, and full of vanilla sweetness. And that's exactly what this recipe is. It's not my mama's bread pudding recipe, but it brings me just as much comfort and makes me smile to think of her beach house puddings. Click here for the Contessa's recipe (FYI, I cut the recipe in half for our family of four). I'd give you my mama's recipe but it is a well-guarded family secret and that is probably for the best.

A Storybook Village and Alphabet Glue

March 29, 2011

You know that question about having dinner with a famous person? Well, over the past couple of days Camille and I have been having a similar, but perhaps even more entertaining discussion. Here's the question: if you could create your own village full of your favorite characters, who would you want to be your neighbor? And what would their house look like? 

It all started with Annie's new and fabulous on-line magazine, Alphabet Glue. It's a delightful concoction of everything we love: books, book related crafts, book inspired gardening, bookish games, lists, and even a library scavenger hunt. This an amazing resource for families, teachers, librarians, and book lovers of all ages, but even more than that it offers the kind of inspiration that you get from reading a really, good book. You know what I am talking about, right? One of those books that stays with you, nudges itself into the little nooks and crannies of your brain, creates little sparks of inspiration where there previously hadn't been anything, and works its way into conversations with friends and's so good you just have to tell everyone. Yep, that's what Alphabet Glue feels like to me.

And Camille's storybook village is the perfect example of that Alphabet Glue magic. About a week ago, Annie kindly sent me a copy of the magazine and while gobbling it up, Camille and I became fixated on the tutorial for storybook character houses. We used the template for building the first house. A lovely purple house for Ling and Ting. The template worked nicely especially with oil pastels on the colored card stock, but halfway through the construction stage Camille began to list all of the other favorite characters she wanted to live next door to Ling and Ting. So to move things along a bit, I dug out a few small boxes from our recycling bin to use as "pre-fab" homes. We covered our table with scrap paper, glue, buttons, stickers, and spent the next two days in a creative frenzy. And that's how Camille's village grew to include an old woman with a magic pasta pot, a grumpy amphibian, and spunky thing-finder.

So here's my question for you and/or your kids? If you were to construct a storybook village, who would your fictional neighbors be? Post your answer in the comment section and perhaps you will be one of two lucky winners to receive the first edition of Alphabet Glue. Winners will be announced on Saturday, April 2nd. And if you don't win, don't be disheartened. Head over here, buy your own copy, and before you know it you will be thinking, talking, and creating books. Alphabet Glue is sticky like that!

March List

March 28, 2011

Sorry for the recent lack of blogging. I blame it on a combination of internet issues and the string of sunny days which drove us outside every day, all day. We needed that. So before March officially ends here is my March List:

Ching Chong: "You destroy the power that racism has by turning it into something positive" Jimmy Wong in a recent NPR interview. Listen to the interview, watch the nasty rant that inspired the song, and then play the song over and over again.

Book Decor: What's not to love about this?

Backstep: about dancing, parenting, and stepping back

School for Hackers: truly hands-on learning

Kiki and Coco in Paris: to make you smile

The Way We Get By and Will They Know Me Back Home?: Both so powerful in their own ways. 

Lego Quilt: so very wee wonderful

Training Wheels

March 23, 2011

A few weeks ago she excitedly asked to take the training wheels off of her bike. One successful ride and then she refused to ride again. The feeling scared her and she insisted on only riding her tiny, old tricycle. This past weekend she asked to have the training wheels put back on. She's happily riding again.
She'll let us know when she's ready to try taking them off again. She approaches life differently than Noah does and that's ok.

Pockets Full of Rocks

March 21, 2011

Things are a bit off-kilter around here these days. I am engaged in a strange dance between guilt, worry, denial, distraction and everyday life. It started with the sad news from Japan and now has shifted a bit to Libya (if you look on a map you will see how close we really are). In general, I feel like we live in a fairly idyllic little bubble and I want that. I want to create a safe and happy existence for my children, for myself, for Adam.

I haven't really seen any televised newscasts since moving overseas and I think that's a good thing. I don't like having my mind cluttered with disturbing images and sounds. They lodge themselves in my head, in my nightmares and they make my heart race. I try to read the New York Times and listen to NPR on a fairly regular basis to stay abreast of world events, but in general my day to day focus is very narrow and close to home. Until events that are close to my heart happen and then I enter into a battle with myself....the compulsive need to read any and all articles I get my hands on, staying up too late worrying, tossing and turning when I do eventually get to bed. The worry then transforms into antsy energy wrapped in guilt. It's an unpleasant little concoction that leaves me feeling guilty about not doing more and yet desperately craving the mundane tasks of every day. And the icing on top of all that is the overwhelming desire to keep my kids safe and ignorant. I know that for some families it may feel right to talk about these events (especially the Libyan situation) in detail with their kids, but for me it just doesn't feel right.

So that's where I have been lately. 
Well, that's where I've been internally. 

Externally, I have been doing dishes, enjoying a night out with friends, shopping today at Ikea, ignoring Noah's desperate pleas to bring his DS on the bus, making apple tea for the kids, and spending most of this afternoon doing Perler beads with Camille. Doing those everyday tasks that reassure me that life at this moment is ok. More than ok. And yesterday, we had one of our Sunday adventures which led us to a rocky beach. That walk on the beach gave me more relief than anything else in recent days. Waves gently tapping the shore, pockets full of rocks, sand in our shoes, and exhaling, lots of exhaling.

For Japan With Love

March 17, 2011


March 14, 2011

While cleaning out closets this past weekend, I came across a beautiful pack of origami paper. I remember getting it shortly before we left Japan (2006) and in a rare pack-rat moment of glory, I was very glad I had stashed that paper away. I spent most of this afternoon folding paper cranes and thinking about Japan. My heart was so sad and heavy, but as I started to fold and crease the little sheets of paper I was transported back to my first time in Japan (1996). I was sitting on the floor of a chilly classroom, surrounded by a small group of students, and we were folding cranes. A thousand cranes which we eventually laid upon the steps of the local peace memorial. A thousand tiny multi-colored cranes. An offering of peace from an American teacher and her Japanese students in a small village in Southern Japan. 

The next time I attempted to fold a thousand cranes was when my room mate in grad school was dying of a horribly aggressive cancer. I enlisted the help of other students and we attempted to fold as many cranes as we could. We boxed them up and sent them to Holly. A desperate plea for recovery, but it was too late. 

And today in Sicily, Italy I stood at my kitchen counter and started to fold little cranes. Blue and white cranes. Feeling fearful, helpless, and so far away as my fingers began to transform the little squares into individual birds filled with wishes for hope and healing. It's not much, not much at all, but it was what I did today.

A Week of Colors: Black

March 11, 2011

I have to be honest, I was kind of dreading "black". Black isn't really my color and I was kind of stumped by it, but that's why I like these kind of mini challenges. It prompts me to stop and look a little more closely at the daily details that fade into the mess of every day life. And that's exactly what happened with "black". Making a cup of tea this morning, I suddenly saw the black in the stove top, in the tea kettle, in my reflection...and it just clicked. One of those funny "aha" moments which prompted me to pull out my camera, plop down on the floor and take pictures of myself reflected in the oven door while waiting for the water to boil. Thanks for the Week of Colors, Francesca.

Week of Colors: Green

March 10, 2011

Green succulents and a green box. I pulled the box off of our bookshelf with the thought of photographing it with something else, but then I opened it and discovered the birds. The birds are magnets made with scrap wood by a folk artist in Jacksonville, Florida. He sold them each year at the annual garden club sale and I loved adding to my little collection. It was such a nice surprise to find that we had them here with us in Sicily. Since I hadn't come across them when unpacking, I assumed we had left them in storage. I like surprises like that.

A Week of Colors: Yellow

March 8, 2011

Yellow Mimosa flowers to celebrate today's Festa Della La Donna. Observational drawings thanks to some inspiration from Dawn. And a mix of purple, green, and gold in honor of Mardi Gras. 

A Week of Colors: Grey and Pink

March 7, 2011

Pink tissue paper flowers taped onto driftwood by Camille. Dirty dishes in the sink. Gumbo on the stove. The soft light of a grey March day coming to a close. Grey and pink in Sicily.

Jumping in a day late, I decided to join Francesca for her Week of Colors.

Black Crayon + Water Colors

March 4, 2011

 "Rapunzel Fairy" by Camille and "Attack of the Volcano Monkeys" by Noah (inspired by one of his favorite books). 

Our weekend weather forecast looks pretty dreary, so I am looking forward to watching this with the kids, baking hamantaschen, attending a local production of Annie, playing Mastermind (anyone remember that original game box? read this), napping, reading and have a nice lazy weekend. Hope your weekend is also relaxing with some bursts of color and interest! If you've never tried drawing with a black crayon and adding watercolors, you should try it.

From Tampons to Lasagna

March 3, 2011

When I unwrapped a frozen lasagna a few nights ago, I was reminded of those annoying, motivational tampons from last year. Only this time I was greeted with chirpy words plugging the "possible" benefits of family dinners. Sentences like this: "Families who eat together might have children who get better grades".

What is wrong with our society that we need these messages on lasagna and tampon wrappers? How pathetic that someone thinks we need reminders on the crappy, frozen lasagna to gather the kids round the table. How sad that some families really do need concrete reminders to sit with their children instead of their screens each night.  And how screwed up is it that our world has become so paranoid and litigious that the wording has to repeatedly include "might" or "may". Is the lasagna company so terrified that someone will take issue and sue them if family dinners fail to produce honor scholars? And what's next? Garbage bags extolling the virtues of de-cluttering and reminders to throw out expired food items?  Toilet paper with inspirational quotes? (which reminds me that I actually did enjoy those tea bags with quotes...anyone else remember those?)

But who am I to judge the slogans on plastic wrap? After all, I am the tired, lazy mama who chose to feed my kids pre-packaged, plastic wrapped food. Perhaps instead of reading about the benefits of family dinners, those packages should have more practical messages: "Chemical-leaking plastic wrap! Proceed with caution since this processed, plastic- enclosed meal might lead to bad outcomes for your family." Or at the very least, this cautionary sentence: "Warning! This frozen lasagna will lead to an excessive amount of needless pondering, guilt, groaning, and blog ranting". 

Urban Hiking in Florence

March 2, 2011

So in addition to seeing lots of museums, we climbed lots of stairs and did a bit of urban hiking. Our first big hike took us from the Uffizi Gallery, across the Arno River, and up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. We took it slowly. Stopping to admire the Ponte Vecchio bridge in the distance; dashing into a little market to pick up fresh fruit; noticing the water line marker from the 1966 flood,
 and turning the final stretch of our hike into a stair climbing race. When we finally emerged at the top of the stairs, we were greeted with this spectacular view of the city.
 It was worth every step to see that. We joined the strange assortment of locals, students, tourists, vendors, and even a group of chanting French monks in joint admiration of the sun drenched day and the beautiful city in front of us. After lounging in the sun and enjoying some well-deserved gelato (one of the true joys of hiking in Italy!), we then hiked all the way back. 
Our second big hike was the Duomo, that majestic structure which dramatically punctuates the Florence skyline. 
 Just a few steps away from our apartment, we had the daily views and the ringing bells to entice us, but really the motivation to climb it came from reading this book with the kids. Bravo, Pippo Brunelleschi! 
His creativity, his brilliance, and his determination despite everyone's doubts resulted in an awe-inspiring creation. And his success is still breathtaking....literally (over 400 steps to the top!) and visually. If you are up for the climb, it is worth it for both the interior and the exterior vistas. There is a limit to how many people can climb at one time and there aren't any reserved tickets so if you want to do this, arrive early in the morning or anticipate a wait.
Two wonderful "hikes" with our kids in Florence. Next time we'll head towards the beckoning green gardens of Boboli. What are your favorite urban hikes?

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