Dream Shard Blog: The Scintillating Adventures of Our Household

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Jun '11

Dinner Disaster

My Christmas wish list has a new entry on top: “Personal chef.” Right under it is still “Once-a-week maid service” and “Personal masseuse” and “Shopping time without children whining.”

But tonight “Personal chef” is number one.

I sometimes use this space to vent about my self-perceived lack of cooking skills. But, as John always reminds me, it’s not that I lack talent; I lack practice. Talents can be developed.

So I guess tonight I was practicing again.

I should point out that my two least favorite parts about cooking are 1) the huge amount of time and prep work it takes, and 2) after all that amount of time and prep work (and blood and sweat and tears), finding that my family doesn’t actually enjoy what I spent 20% of my day working on. Which, it seems, happens often.

But tonight I really thought I would hit a home run. Last week we went grocery shopping together (rare) and John picked out two fine pieces of ribeye steak. I looked up a cooking method for the steak online provided on FoodNetwork.com by Alton Brown, a super swanky star chef.

I made rolls from a Lion House mix, which I’d never done before. I was super excited to sort of make from scratch rolls that might actually taste really good.

And then I made sweet potato chips by slicing a sweet potato thin, brushing the slices with oil, sprinkling with salt, and baking for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

I thought with steak John picked out himself and a recipe from a TV star chef to cook it with, and rolls with the brand name “Lion House” on them, I couldn’t go wrong. I knew the sweet potato chips were a wild card, but I knew I, at least, would like them.

After three-and-a-half hours of cooking, it was a total flop. Everything. Nobody, except for me, liked anything.

A Groupon came out recently with a discount on cooking classes in Salt Lake City. It’s far away, and still costs a bit, but I paid for two of them. Talents can be developed. This is my mantra. I might start chanting it for encouragement the next time I attempt dinner.

And now on to some things that actually make me happy…

Carissa greeting me after a night’s sleep.

Carissa showing how tall she is under the table.

And Wesley’s latest love:

This is his Uncle Jon pitching:

And his dad helping him out:


Adventures in Salt Lake City

One day this week the kids and I started an afternoon in Salt Lake City by going here for lunch (with a coupon).

It was bustling. And oh-so-tasty looking.

We got our food to go and ate in the car. I pulled Wes into the front seat (such a special occasion for him) while Carissa snoozed in the back. Wes helped eat the salad.

I ate this gourmet grilled cheese.

After feeding the parking meter we walked to Temple Square.

We paused at the fountains across the street.

Once in Temple Square we talked to many sister missionaries. One from Belgium in particular liked meeting Wesley. She said she has a 10-year-old sister like Wes back home. She and her companion kept trying to give Wes high-fives, but since he was running on a short nap his response was consistent and loud: “No!”

The feeling on Temple Square is extremely peaceful and relaxing. I didn’t want to leave.

I took the kids to an outdoor mall called The Gateway. We went to Old Navy (a special occasion for me). I planned ahead and brought a change of clothes for Wes in case he wanted to play in the dancing water fountains in the plaza, but he wouldn’t budge past the edge.

I was about to head home when I remembered one place I’ve always meant to visit: Tony Caputo’s Food Market and Deli. It’s just north of Pioneer Park as you come off the freeway, tucked away into this lovely little alcove.

They specialize in Italian and southern European foods. They have over 100 kinds of oils, a bunch of mustards and vinegars, plus a terrific selection of fresh meat and cheese. Oh, and did I mention the 325 varieties of chocolate bars? Between the chocolate and the cheese, this place was made for me. I got John some smoked Gouda and a little chocolate to taste.

As we came out I noticed another place next door:

We enjoyed some of this:

And some of this:

And then we came home. A nice day with the kids in the city.

Jun '11


Life slowed down today. We went to the park. Carissa sat on a pink blanket in the shade while Wes played in the playground. He mostly stood and watched other kids. I wasn’t sure why he was watching more than playing, but he seemed content. After a while he discovered a girl from his preschool class. She was with a small group of kids, and they were running around together. He joined in and was finally having a blast, laughing and smiling as he ran after them. It made me happy to see him so happy.

After a minute or two they raced around a giant evergreen tree on the far side of the playground by the road. It’s so big that they all disappeared from view for a few seconds. I saw all the other kids emerge on the other side, but not Wes. I squinted and saw another little boy playing inside the hollow space beneath the branches, and I wondered if Wes was in there, too, but I couldn’t see him.

I left Carissa and walked over (had I known better, I should have run) just in time to see Wes in the street. A man stood in the street next to his minivan, holding up one hand to stop traffic, and using his other hand to push Wes back towards the sidewalk. I don’t know if this man had been pulling out of his parking space along the side of the playground when he saw Wes, or if he had been one of the cars driving down the street. All I know is that I saw my little, unassuming boy narrowly escape what could have been a devastating accident.

When we left the park and drove down the same street where he had been found, I pictured what it would be like for me as a driver if a little kid ran out onto the street from between the parked cars. I knew the kid wouldn’t have a chance.

I pray for my kids’ safety, and today a prayer was answered.

As I took Wes home I thought about how different things could have been. It could have involved a hospital, or much, much worse.

I held him tighter today. I gave him extra kisses. In a split second things could have been different. But I’m so glad they weren’t.

Jun '11

Early Morning Pictures

Mornings are the freshest time, and there is always a ton of things to get done from the get-go.

But sometimes it’s better to pause and snatch a few memories with camera instead. Bed head and all.

Jun '11

Getting Out

The thing with having kids and no (other) full-time job is that you really can make your day what you want, but you have to be willing to do it more patiently and usually at a slower pace, accepting that you’ll probably accomplish a smaller portion than you would if you were on your own, when you have your kids in tow.

I’ve decided that it’s silly to wait around until my kids have had all their naps and it’s convenient to go someplace, because by then the day is better than half gone. So we go when I’m ready to go and take things as they come.

This week we spent a long afternoon visiting Parade of Homes houses. Wes took a nap in the car (within close sight) while Carissa and I ate a rather leisurely lunch at My Dear Lizzie. We (I) had a nice salad and croissant sandwich while Carissa played on the floor.

I didn’t buy any sweets here, but don’t they look good?

Today I took the kids out for lunch and a stroll in the Riverwoods shopping area.

And I discovered the best-kept secret of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate factory. John never wants to go in when we’re in the area together, but since he wasn’t there I figured I’d do what I wanted for once.

Did you know they sell this?

Chocolate dipped frozen cheesecake.

No, I am not making this up. Such heavenly dessert fare actually exists here on Earth. They fresh-dip the frozen slice in melted chocolate so when they hand it to you it’s still wet and takes a few minutes to harden.

It was so yummy.

Jun '11

Ok. This is It. THE Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe.

I stumbled on this article by the NY Times from a few years ago about the secrets behind the best chocolate chip cookies. They interviewed big-time bakers and learned what they did.

The #1 secret revealed was to let the cookie dough rest in the refrigerator for 36 hours prior to baking. It lets the ingredients soak together better, and you end up with a drier, more crumbly dough with richer flavor. They even did a test batch at 12, 24, and 36 hours, and the 36-hour cookies earned top marks.

They also talk about the use of salt and how it works to contrast and enhance the sweet flavors.

So I tried their recipe. I followed it as closely as possible, but I didn’t have bread flour (although I did have cake flour). I didn’t have bittersweet chocolate so I used regular ol’ semi-sweet chocolate chips. And then I stored the dough in the fridge and waited patiently for 36 hours. I felt a little like a pioneer girl waiting for her seeds to sprout and grow into a bounteous harvest.

At just about the 36-hour mark I pulled out the dough and formed it into balls “the size of generous golf balls” as the recipe directs. Good thing the recipe specifies that this is about 3.5 ounces of dough, because apparently I don’t know how big a golf ball is and would’ve made them much smaller. I topped each cookie dough ball with a sprinkling of fine sea salt.

I baked my four test cookies at 350 degrees for 18 minutes.

The result?

I so agree with the article, which stated that cookies baked at the 36-hour mark had “richer, more sophisticated taste, with stronger toffee hints and a definite brown sugar presence.” I definitely tasted the toffee (caramel) and brown sugar flavor. These cookies are heavy on salt. Probably the saltiest cookies I’ve made. But I like it. The taste lingers in your mouth longer, and it complements the sweet toffee flavor. Then again, my favorite chocolate bar is Lindt Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt, so I already knew I liked the contrast of sweet and salty.

You should try it. See what you think.

Here’s a link to the recipe, and the recipe in its entirety.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Jacques Torres
Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
Sea salt.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.