msLaura: Modern Mama Laura Hamilton + Dan Baker = Julian Hamilton Baker & Adrian Hamilton Baker "When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her."
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Metaefficient

My Pâté de Porc en Brioche

Geek, cook, mother and francophile

Yet more code wrangling...

Chopped Liver

These ever-changin' boobs

The unexplainable

Smart girl won't take back down, saves over 100 lives

Undead Mama with a Chainsaw

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November 30, 2005

Metaefficient

Oh me oh my. I found the greatest website.

http://www.metaefficient.com

This is a geek girl (or guy)'s wet dream come true. It is "a Guide to the Most Efficient Things in the World", which means products that are often times revolutionary, sometimes just interesting, but in some way completely different from what you're used to seeing out there.

Bamboo socks anyone? After reading that bamboo fabric is silky, light, breathable, and one of the softest textiles in the world, I'm ready! Plus, it requires zero pesticides for cultivation.

How about a solar and biodiesel-powered RV? I also found some fully biodegradable diapers on this site too, and they are very cool. I like them a lot.

There are too many cool things to list on this site, but they even have a guide to the best indoor plants for removing common toxic household gases (like formaldehyde) from the air.

Check it out!

November 27, 2005

My Pâté de Porc en Brioche


My Pâté de Porc en Brioche
Originally uploaded by mslaura.
Here it is. Well, I'll give it another go. This time I'll grind the pâté finer, and use unsalted butter, and the aspic will be almost SET when I put it in the hole on top.

Geek, cook, mother and francophile

I'm sitting on a giant bouncy ball in front of my computer right now, wearing a pair of ankle socks, a sundress I bought in Kauai, and a flannel pajama top. I have a cold, and I haven't really slept all that well for the past few days, except for the night before last, when I fell asleep curled up in front of the fireplace in the dog's bed at 9:15pm. Hey, it was available, it was soft, it was warm, and I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. Besides, he's been sleeping in *my* bed for many years now, so it's payback time.

Julian is in my arms semi-asleep. He woke up a few minutes ago screaming his lungs out...apparently he slept on his arm and it got pins-and-needles and freaked him out. So here I am in my crazy get-up, rocking him back to sleep (maybe) while I manually copy and paste each of my 180+ posts into the new blog system. Tiresome. My index finger is killing me from clicking so much, and now one-handed hunting and pecking on the keyboard.

I am brokenhearted. My pate en brioche bit the dust yesterday. Two bad things happened.

ONE: I used salted butter when I should have used unsalted butter. I would blame Julia for this, because she just said "butter" in the recipe. I should have known better, but it would have helped if she had specified. Maybe they only had unsalted butter back in the day when she wrote "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", I don't know. This made the brioche part a tad salty, which would have been OK, except then...

TWO: I added the aspic into the hole in the top of the brioche, to fill the space between that and the settled pate inside. I stirred it over a bowl of cracked ice, as specified, but I didn't boil it first to dissolve the gelatin powder. Julia didn't say anything about that! I'm guessing that's where I went wrong though.

Anyway, the gelatin liquid was nice and savory with beef broth and port, and it looked and felt syrupy, so I poured it in, but then it didn't gell up. Instead, it soaked my entire brioche base, and made a sodden mess. Ugh. It still looked nice, but tasted icky and wet. I saw that it wasn't gelling, so I added in some super-gelatiny aspic on top (that I had boiled and chilled first), but by that point it was too late. The damage was done.

This all happened about 45 minutes before I was supposed to be at the party with my creation. Luckily I decided to cut it open and test it first, which was when I discovered the soddenness of the brioche base. Taste test revealed that cold, mushy, broth-soaked brioche is not tasty at all.

Panicked and already late for the party, I decided to go to Trader Joe's and get some baguettes and pate there. No go, they were completely out of baguettes! So I picked up 5 of their new Tartes d'Alsace, which are spectacular, and three bottles of beaujolais nouveau, parce qu'il est arrive! Still panicky, I headed off to my party.

Well, the francais there couldn't have been more kind. This American woman shows up 30 minutes late to the dinner party, a complete stranger, all flustered, without the food that she was supposed to bring, and they were absolutely welcoming, courteous, and friendly. Complimented me on my excellent French (*blush*), offered me the tray of appetizers, mixed me up a kir, and put me at my ease right away. Anyone with derision for the French, you can kiss my ass. They are NICE PEOPLE. So put away those snide remarks, at least around me.

There were about 5 kids there, playing quietly in the next room. They were big fans of the TJ Tartes, which were as delicious as I anticipated, so at least that wasn't a bust. We had excellent food, wine and conversation around the dinner table on a range of interesting topics until midnight, when the party finally broke up.

Shockingly, the common American conversational topics of shopping, TV shows and recent movies did not come up once. I didn't even realize it until I was on my way home. Instead, we talked about cultural differences, food, travel , parenting, and politics (French, mostly). The usual (and yet quite unusual) conversational courtesies were extended...people posed questions about interesting subjects, listened intently to the answers, and refrained from prattling on ad nauseum about their own opinions and experiences unasked.

I must say, it was very refreshing to be in that company. It was a slight strain on my brain to comprehend everything after not really speaking French for 7+ years, but I did OK, considering. I'm always amazed at how it comes back so quickly.

Well, my butt and back are killing me, and I should wake this baby up, put on some non-pajama clothing, and eat some lunch. No more geeking for now. Oh, new pics are up, check 'em out.

November 26, 2005

Yet more code wrangling...

OK, I've switched over from Blogger to Moveable Type, and it looks like MT is going to work much better. It's even free! BUT I still have to transfer over all 180+ of my old posts, and get my template back looking like it was before.

I've been troubleshooting for Julian's entire nap today, and I finally got a few old posts to show up, but I will have to manually open and change code in each one to get it to transfer. Haven't even started working on the look and feel stuff yet. I'm still publishing with the lame, generic Moveable Type template, which is why this page looks like this, if you're looking at a drab, blue, semi-ugly page right now.

This would be a fun challenge, if I weren't a busy mom with nearly zero free time for geeking out. And now that Julian's up from his nap, my geek time today is over. Sigh.

Now on to finishing up the VERY last step in my Pate en brioche....adding the port-and-beef-flavored aspic to fill in the space between the pate and the brioche. I have to chill it to almost solid, then pour it in through the tiny hole in the top of my creation. So far so good, I think. I hope I don't blow it at this point. Yikes.

November 22, 2005

Chopped Liver

So I completed Phase 2 of my "Pâté de Foie et de Porc en Brioche" last night....ground the meat and made the pâté. Today I'll take the chilled brioche dough, and the partially cooked pâté, and bake them together for the final step. Then chill for 24 hours and taste-test.

I'm concerned that the meat is not ground finely enough. Julia said to grind it on the medium blade of the meat grinder. I only have two blades, big and small. I used big. Hmmmm. Well, I'm only doing one batch first, so if it doesn't turn out I'll do it all finely ground next time.

Let me tell you, that meat grinding process was not pretty. I'm not squeamish or anything, but grinding pork liver was freakin' nasty. It turned into a foul-smelling purplish gooey pulp when I put it through the grinder. I was actually kind of grossed out during the whole rest of the pâté-making process, until I sauteed a spoonful of the mixture to taste and adjust the seasonings at the end. Then it was like, "Oh....yummy!"

That's the thing about French food. If you think about some dishes, they seem somewhat disgusting (not really though, if you compare to McDonald's), but then you taste them and they taste so amazingly good. Snails? Every time I've made snails I've been slightly skeezed out, but then they taste so delicious with all the herbs and butter and garlic, slightly crusty on top in their pretty shells...mmmm.

When I was grinding the pork fat and liver and tenderloin with my fine Czech-made Porkert meat grinder (which broke a world record for meat grinding I'll have you know), I kept imagining that scene from The Wall where the English schoolboys march in a line and fall into a big meat grinder, to be turned into sausages, I suppose.

One interesting thing about grinding the meat...when I put the pork tenderloin through the large blade, it came out with a gross-looking consistency. But then I re-ran it through with the fine blade, and it came out magically transformed, looking exactly like the high-quality ground pork or beef that you buy at the supermarket. Because it looked familiar again, it became appetizing. It's all about your cultural frame of reference, I suppose.

November 07, 2005

These ever-changin' boobs

"Blogger is really pissing me off lately. I can't publish any posts without erroring out halfway through, which is why you may have seen this page with a weird lost bit of code up at the top of the page, or perhaps missing the right-hand column.

I've already written to them several times, but since I'm just a schmo using their free service, I apparently don't merit a response. Aaargh! I'd gladly move over to another blogging editor (and even pay for the privilege) if it weren't such a huge pain in the ass to do so. I have something like 180 posts to transfer over, and that's no chickenscratch. So please Blogger, get your freakin' act together, would you?

But I digress. I'm here today to talk about my bra collection.

When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I was a 34B. My B-cup runneth over, in fact. Ah, the glory days.

Then the girls started shrinking, slowly but surely. By the end of my 20s, I found that the B-cup was just too darned big. So I started buying 34A bras, and they fit me much better. Fast forward to my early 30s, and I was LESS than an A-cup. Not exactly flat as a board, but pretty close. Still, there was something to be said for being able to go braless anytime without repercussions. But it got old altering fancy dresses to fill out the saggy spot in the chest.

Then I got pregnant, and I went from 34A to 34C almost overnight. I bought a few bras at 34C, thinking that I couldn't possibly get much bigger than that. I even bought a few nursing bras in 34 C, thinking that 34C would be my nursing size once the baby was born. A cup size of D wasn't even in my mental frame of reference.

And yet, my boobs just kept on going! Past C to D (where I bought several more bras at Target), and finally...DOUBLE D.

Double D marked a line that I did not want to cross. There were still a few cute and sexy bras at Target in a D-cup, but once you got to DD it was Industrial-Strength-Over-the-Shoulder-Boulder-Holder Time.

Could I not just squeeze into a D-cup still? The extra boob that squeezed out by my armpit when I tried spelled it out for me loud and clear....NO. And not only that, but I was also a 36DD. No more 34. Suddenly my entire ribcage had added a size as well.

My bra collection at this point:
34A
34C
34C Nursing
36D
36DD

I worked those 36DD bras the best I could, then I had me a baby.
Oh Lordy.

E-n-g-o-r-g-e-m-e-n-t.

My boobs exploded 3 days after I had Julian. I had BOWLING BALLS on my chest. Gigantic, hard bowling balls.

Desperate, at 5 days post-partum I put my newborn baby into his fleece pouch and dragged my sweaty, crazy, shell-shocked, traumatized self down to Parenting and Breastfeeding Services at Good Sam.

"Help me! I need help with my boobs!"

The kind consultant followed me into a dressing room and held Julian while I tore off my sweaty shirt to expose my shiny-hard bowling balls.

"Hmmmm yes...those DEFINITELY look engorged," she said.

"Aaaarghhh, heeeeelp meeeeee!" I replied.

So she set me up with the Medela Light Support Bra in X-Large, which is like a stretchy Lycra boob glove, no hooks or clasps or underwire. Then she recommended that I go buy a head of green cabbage and stuff the cabbage leaves into my new bra, using their natural cupped oval shape as a bra liner shell.

You can't mess around with engorged boobs. All those milk glands boost into hyper-super-overdrive production and there's no baby that can possibly keep up with it. You do eventually reabsorb the milk and adjust your production levels to what is actually removed each day. But not before all that milk backs up and inflates your boobs into bowling balls. One false move, a pinching underwire, too much compression...you're looking at mastitis.

When I see bad fake boobs, they remind me of engorgement. My boobs were so full that I had milk backed up into my armpits. My *armpits* were hard and swollen. Ugh.

Once the engorgement went down (several LONG days and nights later), the super stretchy bra wasn't supporting my EEs. I bought the Medium size (my regular size when not engorged), but it wasn't enough support during the day.

I graduated to the Medela Softcup Seamless nursing bra in 36D. It was a little too small, but they didn't make a DD size.

My bra collection at this point:
34A
34C
34C Nursing
36D
36D Nursing
36DD
36DD Nursing
Medela Light Support X-Large
Medela Light Support Medium

I stablized there for a long while, actually until today.

Over time my boobs have slowly gotten smaller. I haven't been a 36 size band since I lost my baby weight. I've been wearing ill-fitting bras that are too big for me for months now. Thre is nothing to make you feel skankier than wearing bad, saggy bras for months on end. Oh, and my panty collection is not exactly brand new either.

So today, I took the advice of my friend Angela. I went to JC Penney to buy some Maidenform bras. I did not buy a $45 bra from Victoria's Secret. I did not buy an $11 bra at Target (which I'm boycotting anyway, sad to say becaue I LOVE that place). I did the right thing and bought a good, reasonably priced bra. Actually I bought six, because right now I have NONE that fit me properly.

I'm almost a B cup now, but not quite. That would complete my collection nicely, but I'm not there yet. It's only a matter of time. And believe me, I'm hanging on to those A cup bras as well.

November 05, 2005

The unexplainable

I have a lot of really good stories to tell, but I have a lousy memory. Part of the reason that I'm keeping this journal is so that I can record things before they slip through the cracks and start fading. So here's an interesting story that I don't want to forget.

The weirdest thing that ever happened to me was a dream that came true, down to the smallest detail.

I was about 17 years old, living in a cottage on the Balboa Peninsula with Charlie Brown (no joke!), my much older boyfriend of 37 . That's a story in itself, but we'll just stick to one story at a time for now.

I had a dream one night. In the dream we went over to Charlie's friend Mike's apartment for a party. Some nondescript party stuff happened, people were milling around chatting and eating and drinking in the kitchen. Suddenly I wondered where Charlie was, so I went walking through the apartment to find him.

I found him in the next room. As I walked through the doorway from the hall I saw him in profile, siting in a chair next to a birdcage. He was feeding turkey to a parrot.

WHAT? I was shocked and appalled. How could anyone on their right mind feed turkey to a bird? Why, it was cannibalism! Disgusting!

"STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!" I screamed.

He didn't see why he had to stop feeding turkey to the bird, so we started arguing about it, and ended up having a huge fight.

The dream ended, I woke up. It was morning. Hmmm, that was one *crazy* dream. I wonder what it meant?

"I had a dream that we went over to a party at Mike's", I said to Charlie.
"Hmmmm", he replied.

Four or five months later, the dream was long forgotten. We were at a party at Mike's house and I was milling around in his kitchen, chatting and eating and drinking.

Suddenly I wondered where Charlie was, so I went walking through the apartment to find him.

I found him in the next room. As I walked through the doorway from the hall I saw him in profile, siting in a chair next to a birdcage. He was feeding turkey to a parrot.

WHAT? I was shocked and appalled.

Wait, was I really shocked and appalled? Yes, but mostly because my dream came flooding back to me and I knew exactly what was supposed to happen next. I even knew what I was supposed to SAY next. And I already knew what Charlie would say back to me.

It was a picture-perfect replica of my dream. The room, his profile, the bird, the turkey in his hand, my perspective on it all. Did Mike have a bird before? This was the first I knew of it. Holy fucking shit!

Rather than say anything, I just stood in the doorway stammering.

"What's wrong?" Charlie asked me.

"Oh my GOD I had a dream about this! This exact moment and situation! You were feeding turkey to a parrot, and then I wondered where you were and I came in looking for you and saw you do it and I was SO pissed and I yelled at you and then you yelled back at me and we're supposed to get in a fight now!"

My mind completely blown, I had no idea what to do next. I felt like I was breaking some universal space-time law by not following through with what I was supposed to say.

But honestly, I didn't give a crap if he fed the turkey to the bird or not. I'm not hung up on cannibalism. It wasn't my bird. What did I know about birds anyway? Maybe it was perfectly OK.

So I just stood there watching Charlie do it, not saying anything at all. I couldn't believe what had just happened. What WAS that? I felt like I was going to be struck by lightning after not speaking the line that had written for me, and not following the destiny of the fight afterwards.

I guess we do control our own destinies. I don't know that anything would have been any different in my life if I had said what I was supposed to say according to my dream. But maybe it *would* have been different somehow. Maybe I avoided a whole negative repercussion that would have been sent spinning into action by my scream. Like "Sliding Doors" or "A Wrinkle in Time". I have no idea, and I have no explanation for what happened that day.

November 04, 2005

Smart girl won't take back down, saves over 100 lives


Yeah! I love this story! A smart, studious girl saved 100 people from being killed or injured by the tsunmai in Thailand by, get this...her knowledge of geography!

Best quotes:
Bill Clinton: "Tilly's story is a simple reminder that education can make a difference between life and death."

Tilly: "I like geography."

Get the whole story here: Tsunami Hero Girl Sees U.N., Meets Clinton

November 01, 2005

Undead Mama with a Chainsaw

Scary Halloween Mama and L'il Helper

Considering that this was a very last-minute Halloween, we had a great time last night.

We carved our pumpkins on Sunday evening, and they came out wonderful. Even the Bugs one that was supposed to be a dog turned out OK.

None of us had costumes, so I ended up throwing together a vampire cape that I had tucked away, a black wig that I had tucked away, and smeared eyeliner all around my eyes. Not a bad result!

After we put our pumpkins out, I was going to trim the bushes in front of the porch with our groovy rechargeable trimmer/chainsaw, and then once I had it in my hand...aha! What a great prop!

I also had a old CD burned of several hours of scary Halloween sound effects, so I set that up playing on semi-hidden PC speakers out front. VERY effective. And then I had candles burning in the front yard all over. Very low-tech, but more spooky that way.

So trick-or-treaters would come to our door and there would be the scary sounds emanating all over the front yard...groaning, chains dragging, screams, howling dogs. No fancy stuff, just our pumpkins lit up and candles burning in the yard. They ring the bell and...

SCARY CACKLING UNDEAD MOM ANSWERS THE DOOR WITH A CHAINSAW! Yes, and it was running too! Well, quietly...after all, it is a rechargeable one. A real chainsaw just wouldn't be practical or safe. Undead moms are still moms, you know. Safety is job #1.

So that was great, because I scared the living SHIT out of quite a few people, even grown ups. Lots of people walked away from our door saying to each other, "Wow, that was scary! That was cool!"

Several people screamed out loud when Undead Mom burst out with her chainsaw, and that made my day.

Plus we had good candy, and I got little toys too...bouncy balls and dinosaurs and mini-Play-Doh cans.

The funniest part was my little helper, Scary Baby. Julian would wait until I had already scared the Living Shit out of the T-or-Ters, then when I put down my chainsaw and came back to offer the candy, he would rush to the doorway and yell "YAAAAHHHHHH!" at the top of his baby voice. Sooooo freakin' funny.

Between the scared screaming kids at the door with their O-mouths, and Julian's Scary Baby routine, the whole evening was one big laugh fest. Oh, and we watched the South Park and Simpsons' Halloween episodes, which were also funny.

So now I have to bitch a little. WHERE were the good costumes? I saw NONE. Seriously, not a single costume was memorable. Most of the kids had on some plastic $2.99 crap under a coat. There was a Star Wars guy with a light saber who was decent, and a kid in a full-head monster mask at the end, but otherwise...yawn.

And the girls sucked worse than anyone, because every SINGLE last one of them was some kind of Princess/Harem Girl, and they all were just trying to be sexy/pretty instead of scary or creepy. There wasn't even a single Vampira type, except for me. No one even looked Goth, for crying out loud!

So bah humbug on that. Girls, you have the next forty years at least to look sexy, but only once a year do you get to be as scary as you want to be. Are girls afraid to be scary now?

As for the Princess thing, get over it. Ain't ever gonna happen, so might as well let you down easy right now. No Prince Charming is going to come and sweep you off your feet to live happily ever after. Get a good education, learn how to be comfortable in your own skin, treat others with respect and compassion, and forget that fairy-tale crap.

Brings to mind one memorable Halloween long ago...my best friend Angela, then-boyfriend Andrew and I went to get last-minute costumes at a rental place. All they had left were a Frog, a Pumpkin and Big Bird.

We dressed up, Angela as Frog, Andrew as Big Bird, and Me as Pumpkin. Then we went to a party. (Did I mention that we were in our mid-20's at the time?)

Well, at the party every single chick was dressed Sexy. There were harem girls, Mata Hari spies, princesses, vamps, vampire... sexy, sexy, sexy.

And there we sat in our round, fuzzy, primary-colored costumes, ostracized by everyone. I mean, NOTHING is less sexy than a pumpkin. I could barely sit down, due to my orange roundness.

Oh, and someone slipped us some *speed* too, which is the Devil's Own Stuff, so we sat there relentlessly grinding our teeth, tremendously anxious, paranoid and freaked out. Angela and I clung to our fuzzy comforting Big Bird consort (Andrew felt OK, whereas AJ and I felt like we had just taken 12 consecutive doses of No-DOZ). Not good. Not good at all.

I don't even remember what happened in the end. I think we went home early as soon as our collective uber-anxiety allowed us to leave the safety of Big Bird's feathery embrace. Speed kills, people. Ugh, I can't believe people ever do that stuff on *purpose*. Horrible.

I guess that doesn't exactly reinforce my previous message of dressing scary instead of sexy, but whatever. My real point is that we all had a good Halloween last night, in spite of being ultra-low-tech and basically unprepared until 30 minutes or so before it got dark.

Julian didn't even have a costume, and he still had fun. You GO Scary Baby! (By the way, yes he DID have pants on during the evening. We had just taken him potty before snapping this photo, and didn't really have our acts together to put his pants back on before our photo op. Ooops.)


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