Saturday, October 16, 2010

10/16/2010 Birthday Dinner

Some friends of Dave's started a tradition of taking him to Benihana for his birthday in college. I've been so-so about maintaining that tradition, but I wasn't going to miss it this year -- finally, the kids are old enough that it's not a major pain to bring them, or have to get a sitter. We've taken them to Benihana one other time, and they all said they loved it, and got a kick out of the chef's tricks.

Tonight my goal also was to give Dave a birthday card -- but not just any card. A birthday card that tells him that his gift this year is a weekend performance driving school, at a track north of San Francisco. Two friends have done this before, and are signed up this year too, but Dave is always reluctant to leave me with the kids on my own for the weekend. So I gave him a BIG shove, in the form of a registration for the event and a hotel reservation -- all he needs is to pre-tech his car, make sure he's got a helmet they'll accept, and then he can blast away around the track! (Oh yeah and decide if his tires will cut it or if it's time for new tires.)

Opening his card before dinner.

The egg rooster and onion volcano are always a big hit.

The boys were so-so on eating the actual food tonight, but they were very excited about ice cream afterward. I wasn't excited about staying at the restaurant any longer than we had to, so Dave took the boys to Safeway to buy ice cream, after dropping me and Katrina off at home where we got ready. She set the table and had everything all ready for ice cream and sat patiently waiting for the guys to get home with the goods!

Our birthday evening summed up in cards.

Dave's actual 44th birthday is Tuesday Oct. 19th, but this was a fine way to kick it off!


Friday, October 15, 2010

10/15/2010 Carnival Night

The boys are at the CDC tonight, for "Carnival Night." It's a Parents Night Out thing, with classic games like bean bag toss, balloon pop, Knock The Clowns, ways of winning tickets to earn prizes and such.

Worked perfectly, because it turns out a friend is in town from the East Coast, and I finally picked up on a major hint to invite her and her local sister and her husband to dinner. Oh goody! I get to make grownup dinner!

And without the boys in the picture. I do love my sons, but they can make life very unpleasant for all. Katrina, on the other hand, might not do as well at a Carnival Night thing until 10:30, and she's actually pretty fun and cute to have around. Dave put her to bed between dinner and dessert, and for once, all worked out as planned.

Speaking of planning, I shopped and did most of the cooking the day before, picking dishes that could be made ahead of time and reheated. That worked really, really well. I also made dessert the day before, picking up on how Food Network shows always make the dessert first. Which is my preferred order anyway.

I'm especially proud of my Lemon Tart. This turned out absolutely perfect! It's my first tart.

(Pictured with the recipe behind it, from the Williams-Sonoma Pie and Tart book.)

I bake a lot, but not pies or tarts since they don't travel well and are harder to serve to a random group of people. Most of my baking is in pre-cut things that can be eaten without a plate and fork, so this was a nice departure. And a perfect grownup dessert -- light and tangy and pretty to look at.

Oh dear, the boys are home now and Julian is shouting threats in his little-boy voice, "You'll be sorry Dad, you'd better give me back my ball!" Well, it was a very nice evening. And there's still some lemon tart left -- I'm on my way!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

10/14/2010 Cook night

I love Ina Garten. Not just her recipes and calm style, but her emphasis on making things ahead so you can enjoy a party.

Tomorrow, we're having some grownup guests for dinner, so tonight I did the Ina thing: getting things ready in advance. Turns out, that's still a lot of work! I made Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic (Ina), Moroccan Couscous (Ina), Kale with Balsamic Shallots (brother-in-law Ryan), and a Lemon Cream Tart (Williams-Sonoma). I also bought bread and a salad (TJ, TJs!), and have the fixings for an attractive tasty appetizer of mini-crackers, brie and hibiscus flowers (friend's food blog, Cook.Play.Explore.)

Though tonight was a lot of work, it was also a lot of fun cooking because the element of stress is removed -- it doesn't have to be done in the next 35 minutes. I did enjoy pulling everything together, finding ways of keeping it simpler, and basking in the wonderful smells from the kitchen -- the roasting vegetables for the couscous were so good! It's really time to revive my food blog.

Tomorrow night is good timing: the boys have Carnival Night at the CDC and will be out of the picture. We'd planned on a quiet evening with just Katrina, and will still have that -- only with more grownups and more wine, and a whole lot of good food!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

10/13/2010 Spy night

Since Burn Notice doesn't start new episodes until November, I have to get my bogus- Hollywood-overdone-spy-story fix some other way. The Bourne series of movies started OK with "The Bourne Identity," disappointed with the sequel "The Bourne Supremacy," and now the tiebreaker will be "The Bourne Ultimatum." Usually Hollywood-type thrill movies are barely tolerable, but these are slightly above that.

The first movie was redeemed by Franka Potente, who played his funky girlfriend (made much more ordinary in her brief appearance in the 2nd movie). She starred in a truly good offbeat German movie Run Lola Run. Too bad she's not in the 3rd Bourne movie, but I'll just have to suffer watching Matt Damon instead.

Rare to be thinking "movie" on a weeknight, but, I need it.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

10/12/2010 Conferences

Teacher conferences today!

Dave and I had back-to-back 20 minutes with Julian's teacher, then Gabriel's teacher. I was mortified that part of Julian's conference involved discussing Gabriel's behavior. Unfortunately, their classrooms are near each other, so Gabriel comes over and messes around in front of Julian's class in the mornings -- despite strict instructions to go straight to his own classroom. Julian's teacher has had to order him away, as recently as last week. ~FUME~.

Anyway, overall Julian's doing fine. His main issue is concentrating in class; he's Mr. Social and talks to people and doesn't get his work done. Unlike his older brother, he responds to measures his teacher takes, mostly missing recess or free-play time to complete his work. Julian hates that, so improves quickly. His teacher confirmed things we already knew about Julian (we didn't ask, she volunteered): he loves to read, his reading is excellent, and he's very interested in anything having to do with science. He resists writing and coloring, the latter of which I don't worry about, but the writing....he's going to have to step that up.

On to the 3rd grade classroom. Quite the contrast. Gabriel's teacher doesn't have the luxury of merely withholding recess to get him to re-think his behavior. He's doing a lot better than in the beginning of the year, but the standards of independence and good behavior are much higher in 3rd grade. Like us, she believes Gabriel could be doing much better especially in math, which he claims to like but messes up a lot with sloppy erratic work. He drags his heels about writing and does the bare minimum, even though she believes (and I agree) he's actually a very good writer. He does the bare minimum for much of his work, including for things that she knows he's capable of doing much better. Lately in class she's been putting together competitive teams, and Gabriel responds well to that. Classroom behavior and transitions, he's bottom of the barrel. She warned us that he really needs to get over that for 4th grade, when there will be 30 kids in the class. He has his moments of shining bright, and others of falling flat. She even suggested putting together a behavior contract again to gather information to consult the district's psychologist.

Even more than what the teachers say, I come away struck by how different I feel in each meeting. In the meeting with Gabriel's teacher, much experience has taught me to brace myself, to prepare myself for cringing, for thinking of ways to improve matters, against all odds. In Julian's meeting, it's a relative breeze. He's much easier to guide and correct, and he really cares about his schoolwork, despite the distraction from socialization. Even though Julian is one of the kids in her class that requires a fair amount of energy ("Boys!" the teacher chuckled), it's downright amusing next to the serious challenges that Gabriel poses. And there is a long-running pattern with Gabriel's resistance, starting in kindergarten. Gabriel, for all his talents, has such a strong independent personality and is so immune to social pressures and intimidation that's it's very hard to make small corrections that any 3rd-grader needs. Julian is much more responsive and able to consider consequences.

I've already started getting nervous about how to handle all three kids in school next year, but something tells me that teacher conferences for Katrina will be a total ray of sunshine.


Monday, October 11, 2010

10/11/2010 The Bear and the Fish

Gabriel finished his homework and reading at the CDC today, and was happy to have some playtime at home.

To my surprise, he spent it playing piano. Just before dinner, he bounced in to tell me excitedly that he'd finished a song -- not only the music, but the lyrics too. He couldn't wait to show me, and did so after dinner.

The tune is a blues one that he's known, and the lyrics are based on the childhood taunt "Jack and Ja-ane sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G..." But still, I'm proud of him that he put this together and practiced it -- and performed the singing too! Even when I went through my own piano obsessions as a kid, I never ever composed anything or sang to it. (Frankly I don't think his future lies in vocals but I saw no reason to point that out.)

Interestingly, he turned on the piano's metronome while playing. "That's my drummer," he explained matter-of-factly. Well, lucky kid -- so happens he has an uncle who's a drummer. It is SO time for these guys to jam together. "Jam? What's that?" asked Gabriel. Wow, it really is time.