In the kitchen

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

pasta! pasta!

We have a child that loves pasta. Like REALLY loves pasta. As in when you ask if she wants anything special to eat over the weekend she says, "Pasta." When you ask what she wants for Christmas she says, "Pasta." And when you say you have a surprise for her later she says, "Is it a pasta party?"

Well, the joke was on her that day because it WAS a pasta party. I just didn't think she would guess it. 

I have been wanting to make homemade pasta ever since I inherited my friend Martha's pasta maker five years ago. When we moved I decided not to pack it away with all of my other non-essential kitchen items because this was the year I would make pasta. This was the year the pasta maker joined the ranks of essential kitchen items.

(I mean, when you have a child that feels this way about pasta, isn't it sort of inevitable?)

I researched some pasta dough recipes and randomly picked one that seemed simple (the only ingredients were eggs and flour) and had good ratings. The success seemed to be in the execution. You place your flour on a wooden board, make a well in the flour and then crack the eggs into it, beating them and slowly incorporating the flour until you have a "shaggy" dough. (No you do not use the dough hook on your Kitchenaide mixer. I really wanted to but no recipes I read said that was okay and I wasn't going to be a wuss on my first attempt.)

Let me tell you, my dough was shaggy. It was a shaggy with a capital Shag. No amount of kneading by hand was making my shaggy mess into a cohesive dough. I added another egg in case mine "extra large" eggs hadn't, in fact, been large enough. I looked up another recipe and saw it called for adding water a teaspoon at a time if the dough was too dry. That sounded good so I did that. 

The directions said the dough should be soft and silky. Mine was tough like leather and still crumbling around the edges. I wrapped it as instructed and waited the requisite 20 minutes. I think my dough recipe had some ratio issues.

Turns out 20 minutes can really work wonders. What I unwrapped wasn't exactly supple but it was at least dough. I pressed it into an oval-shaped disc and got ready to roll it through the pasta cranker. 

You take several passes through the rollers, narrowing the passage each time until you have a thin line of dough. Then you can either pass it through the spaghetti or fettuccine setting or you can leave it as a thin sheet and then cut it with the super fun cutters.
I threw together some ravioli and a few random curly q's because they were fun.

But by far the spaghetti was where there real fun was. It was like playing with a Play Dough maker but way better. After all, we were going to eat this stuff!
Maya was as excited as...well, as you would expect a pasta devotee to be.

Honestly, it wasn't nearly as labor intensive as I had expected. For sure, the rolled pasta took a lot longer. But once you make the dough, the spaghetti was super fast. From what I gather, you can  make the dough ahead and keep it in the fridge for a bit as long as you let it come to room temperature before you roll it.

And it was crazy delicious. Ella had hers with marinara sauce but the rest of us loved the simplicity of butter, salt, pepper and fresh Parmesan cheese.

It turns out pasta makers aren't at all expensive. I saw some online for less than $30.00. If I were going to purchase one, though, I would buy one that attaches to the table or counter. I didn't have the three hands I needed to hold the pasta maker so it wouldn't flip over, turn the crank and guide the dough as it came through. It was far easier when I had a helper.

Mother's Day calls for another pasta party for sure. I am going to find a new recipe (there are some that have you add different flavorings- purees or herbs- to the beaten eggs before you incorporate them into the flour). I also really want to try my hand at one of my favorite things to eat, squash ravioli.

For Maya, it will always be about the pasta. She had the stomach flu last weekend and when she finally turned the corner, she asked for pasta. As she gobbled it down, I asked how her belly felt. She rubbed her tubby and said, all satisfied and contented, "Pasta fixes everything."
Gotta love the t-shirt. So Maya.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Maturity has taught me some essential things about myself. Among the long list is the knowledge that I am a creature who needs to be moving my body, ideally in a challenging fashion, every day.

I also need to be outside. Every day. Unless it is freezing or pouring. Then I am happy to be warm and dry inside.  

The mild winter we had here in Maine didn't mute the arrival of spring in any way for me. Every moment of sunshine, every lawn bursting with green, every open window and every chance to be without a jacket has practically had me jumping up and down. 

But more importantly, it has found me outside as every spring does. Cycling, hiking, running or playing with the kids. 

Maya loves to hike so we have been in the woods or up a mountain every chance we get. I think she will go anywhere if we can take Jax.

I wonder if Jax is allowed at the dentist's office...

Maya, with her bestie Abby, at the top of Chick Hill

We got to hike in the Amherst Woods with the Smith's along a waterfall and it was so beautiful. And no bugs yet! This is the best time to be outside.

Who doesn't love dinner outside?

In other news, the girls successfully completed their competitive gymnastics season. It was amazing to watch them find their own groove, to watch them be brave in a crowded gym of competitors and spectators, to master once unattainable skills and nail them when it mattered and to assess which kind of braids hold up best under pressure.  Super proud of our girls.

One of the best things I have done for myself in the past many months was to take an entire day when the girls were at school and hike Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. It was every kind of good of me and was one of those experiences that made my whole life click back into place. 

I am so very grateful to live in the beautiful state of Maine. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

the monkeys in the trees

This weekend we built a treehouse.

Sandi finished a 12 day work stretch on Friday and said, "Wouldn't it be fun to build a treehouse?"

Spring is the time when Sandi and I get the itch for outside projects. Without our house there are no landscaping projects to be done, no gardens to dig out, no rock walls or patios to construct. So a treehouse it would be.

It was going to be a small dwelling and we were going to use the scraps from Trish and Brock's home construction. But that idea lasted mere minutes and, two trips to Lowe's later, we were erecting the Taj Mahal of treehouses.

It is REALLY exciting to build a tree house. 

getting ready for tire swing install

making a treehouse sign under close supervision from Jax

Except when it isn't. 

Ella kept saying, "Is it me or is this taking a LONG time?"  I'm not sure where she gets her timeframe but we figure it took us about 9 hours over 2 days, minus the time it took to get materials. That doesn't seem unreasonable when you are a kid and you get a treehouse this awesome. 

Our brother-in-law Brock made a few guest appearances to torment Maya (he loves to tease her call her "cute" and she loves to growl at him and say, "I'm NOT cute!" which is the cutest thing of all) and loan us various tools.

Sandi and I are at our best when we can work on a project together, especially if it's outside where we are both happiest. 

I am often given jobs were my propensity toward error will be of little impact. Sandi had me spacing, leveling and pre-drilling the screw holes to attach the railing. This was a big deal for me to get this job. At one point when I drilled two holes that were clearly not level with each other,  I called down to her from the trees, "So you know how the Native Americans intentionally leave small imperfections in their artwork as an act of humility?" 

There was a small pause followed by her reply: "Oh, great." 

The girls got to use the drill and they were PSYCHED. Who doesn't love to drill screws? It is so satisfying. 

Brock had a bunch of composite railing slats that he had gotten on clearance and wasn't going to use so we scored big time.  Isn't every treehouse made with composite decking?
I never had a treehouse as a kid. It is the coolest thing. I was sitting with my back to one of the trees that comes up through the floor and as the wind blew, I could feel the trunk shift against my back.

treehouse selfie

Happy kids = happy moms.

It was only 46 degrees on the second day and I was in desperate need for hot coffee. I asked the girls if they wanted to have hot chocolate in the treehouse. YES. They were so excited they offered to pack  a picnic for us.  Ummm...sure.  

They came out with every snack cracker in the pantry as well as a tub of frosting and 4 spoons. There were multiple levels of letting go on my part.

All done!

It was truly one of the best family weekends we have had in a very long time. The kids were happy, helpful and appreciative. It felt like we had really settled into our new (temporary) place now that the kids have a place to play outside.

Our friend Ange said: "Treehouse before real house?"  Yup. That's just how we do things.