Monday, August 31, 2009

Mimi Monogues: Which one.....will he look like???

With Baby Boy Wagner some 17 weeks away and counting, I've been wondering what this little addition to Famiglia Wagner will look like. And what better place to search than at the beginning.

Above are pictures of infants Rob and Alyssa taken while they were still in the hospital. Given that hospital photography left a lot to be desired back in the day (hey - here's an idea: let's leave hospitals to the medical experts and photography to the grandparents...), you may not immediately recognize them.

That's understandable; if you haven't figured it out, that is Rob on the left, Alyssa on the right. And may I just say BOTH have quite a head of hair there. Note Ayssa with her black hair...she had blonde roots. REALLY!

Now, is it just me or do you see a STRIKING resemblance between these two babies? (Of course, one picture is in black and white and the other in color leading us to deduce that when Baby Girl Hammond was born, apparently color photography had just been invented, but don't quote me on that...)And please! Don't give me that old song and dance that all babies look alike because NO THEY DON'T!

So if you ask me (and I realize you haven't) the guess from "Mimi's" camp is that First-Grandson-Baby-Boy-Wagner will draw on the very best attributes of BOTH parents (but check back in 17 weeks or so for the "real deal" baby photo). Until then, my prediction (based on a heap o' facts) is that Baby Boy Wagner is going to be a little cutie - both inside and out. Because his parents do indeed have those bases well covered :)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Flashback Friday on Saturday: A tribute

My Flashback Friday slipped again. Yes, it is Saturday. But I've been cleaning out my closet (not an easy chore!) - and I stumbled onto this old photograph. That's me displaying a very tiny fish and a very large piece of bubble gum, which is protruding from my mouth. The story of the picture ended up being one of my favorite columns. Although it was published three years ago, the story is timeless. To read about it and see a contest-winning photograph of my dad (taken by my mom), just click on "The Column" link above.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Column: Up a Stream-of-consciousness without a paddle

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you went there? Looked into a cupboard or the refrigerator and don't have a clue why you're looking there? Or maybe you planned your day perfectly...every moment noted and accounted for...put it on a checklist perhaps...only to find that at the end of the day things had gone terribly...well, NOT as planned. That's for sure.

If that has happened to you, I feel your pain. I've HAD that pain. I even wrote a column about it. If you care to commiserate, check it out on "The Column" link above. And while you're there, check out the "rowing club" illustration. I am a CHARTER MEMBER of THAT club! :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday's Mimi Monologues: Long Beach in August

Here we go! It's the return of the Monday's Mimi Monologues...the place for unabashed bragging, loving on, heaping up the praise for my sweet baby granddaughters and the future spot for my yet-to-be born, eagerly anticipated grandson, aka 'Baby Boy Wagner' or the "Little Man."

Grandchildren and Blogs? It's purely a Match Made in Heaven!
* * * * * * *
Last week Mr. H. and I made a trip to Long Beach. Three and a half days. But a whole week's worth of fun. At least. When we got back home on Friday I was exhausted. I was even still a bit tired on Saturday. When I look at these pictures, I can understand why!

Here are some highlights:

Gracie is officially (is there such a thing as an official age when you're this young?) 2 years and 2 months old. Emily is all of 4 and a half months. And don't look now, but I believe we have a peace treaty! Gracie seems to love her "baby" ("Emmy" when she's in the mood to give her baby a name because a 2-syllable name is a little easier than 3). The good news is Gracie appears to have stopped (at least for now) her earlier practice of giving Emily a good swing to the noggin in what appeared to have been Gracie's attempt to knock Emily's block off...
One morning - after my shower but before my make-up - I became the center part of a "Mimi Sandwich" - a very good place to be, indeed!

Just kickin' back on Mommy and Daddy's bed. I tried to get a shot of Emily with her feet in her mouth, her favorite new thing, but my camera was never handy when she popped those tooters into her mouth. Once when Emily was a bit fussy (yes, it does happen, good natured though she is) we gave her the pacifier, which she was sucking for all it was worth. Problem: What to do when you really want to get your foot in a mouth that's already occupied with a "paci" - it translates to more occasion for fussiness!
A little smooch from Mommy :)

Three pretty girls all in a row...

Gracie... Coloring with her crayons - ESPECIALLY the PURPLE crayon - one of Gracie Goose's favorite activities - and very most favorite in all the world color. And check out the 'do - she let her mommy put these cute mini clippies in her hair. She's come a long way, baby!

Sometimes a quiet activity like a bit of coloring brings on a need for a burst of BIG ACTIVITY! Here is "one little monkey jumping on the bed!!"

But jumping on the bed means you have to take off these pretty purple jellies. Do they still call them "jellies?" Don't know, but that's what they'll always be to me. Love the way Gracie's toes kind of "peek-a-boo" through the heart design in those cute shoes!

On the first morning we were in Long Beach, Jim requested that Ashley bake cookies for him to take to the office. (Yeah, sure, Jim - I'll bet that was a private stash for your desk drawer! ok, just kidding) Now most people make cookies on the kitchen counter, which is what appears is about to happen,(see the red mixing bowl?) But no!

Ashley is getting ingredients READY on the counter - but she brought the bowls, the mixer, and all the ingredients down to the floor so the girls could help/watch with the cookie-making process! I have this fun process on video - forgot to take the "stills" - but you get the idea :)

And after the cookie dough is all mixed up? Ummmmmmmmmm....

Miss Emily, assuming her rolly-polly position. Seems awfully serious....

Gracie checking out the fridge - maybe something good in - COOKIES??? Nope, 'fraid not. But maybe some "bock-bock"? (Chicken! you know..."bock-bock" - the sound chickens make!) Gracie is wearing her new "butterfly" outfit we found at a too-cute-for-words baby clothing store in Long Beach. And it was ON SALE. Can't resist that!

Gracie still in her butterfly outfit (you'll really see why "butterfly" next picture). Gracie is checking out what used to be Gracie's - and is now Emily's "office"...and thinking to herself, no doubt...."Hmmmmm...I think I used to work here...."

Ok, NOW you get the BUTTERFLY!

This is one of Gracie's new things...we aren't sure what it means, although it occasionally goes with, "Ohhhhh, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" - this is REAL DRAMA, people!

Emily chillin' on the couch in her new sailor suit...

And now practicing We aren't sure what this face means, but we see it - a LOT!

Now - there's a REAL smile - on Grampy's (Poppy's) lap!

Ashley decided it was hat day...and yes, this hat makes Emily laugh, too :) You can't see them here, but she's wearing little shoes to match. And of course. They tie with a big red bow! What else?!

Gracie is taking her fun hat in stride...who cares if there's a giant red ladybug climbing up the side of her head?!!! Honest mistake, right? She is, after all, wearing a giant flower...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Emily has yet ANOTHER hat - and AHA! She has found Poppy's fist/knuckle...looks like a possible chewy candidate!

Oh, yeah - chew the knuckle, chew the knuckle, chew the knuckle - HARD!!! We could feel her little teeth close to the surface - and sure enough, her first tooth broke through the day after we got home.

Whew! Which hand to chew first? So many chewies, So little time.....................

Oh, no, no, no! She is only FOUR MONTHS OLD! This is way too soon to be up on those legs! But, well, Emily is not one to be stopped. We're starting a pool at the office - What day will Emily walk?

In the evening, the Strombergs take a walk...the girls wear their pjs (and check out the shoes) and here is a new pair of Gracie's pjs in her FAVORITE PURPLE COLOR with her FAVORITE PURPLE COLOR shoes and her FAVORITE PURPLE COLOR tutu that's sewn right onto her PJ bottoms. How cool is THAT!

So as the Strombergs prepare to walk off into the evening sunset, Miss Gracie has found her (apparently) empty baby stroller (Daddy has Miss Emily on the baby carrier attached to his chest). Just time to wave a quick "Bye-Bye, Mimi" - and off they go.
It was a fun-fun-fun trip. But wow! No WONDER I was tired! Bye-bye for now :)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Sensational Stromberg Sisters: A big event!

Yesterday afternoon we got a call from Ashley. It seems that August 22 was a "red-letter" day - Miss Emily has her first tooth! This didn't come as a total shock - in Long Beach last week the Lovely Miss E. was gnawing on our fingers any chance she got. Bring your hand anywhere close to the vicinity of that sweet little mouth and - WHAM! She was working away for all she was worth. And we could feel those itty-bitty teeth so close to the surface.

Way to go, Emily Mae - you're a little rock star! :)

Rent This!!

Last night (our weekly movie night) we rented this film. If you're in the mood for a little light-weight pass time, this is not your movie. But if you are interested in a piece of history - amazing history at that, you've got to see this.

It opens with some actual footage from a dark time in our world's history: Hitler and his awful obsession to obliterate from the earth every last man, woman and child who were of Jewish descent. His despicable SS army, bent on mowing down an entire nation of people, were merciless and seemingly born without a heart.

Now the remarkable part about this movie is that it is a true story. It is based on the book of the same name written by Nechama Tec about four Jewish brothers who escape the Nazis shortly after their parents are massacred on their family farm. The fourth brother is no more than a boy, but the three older brothers assume leadership of a band of Jews who escape the Nazis and fight back from the camps that they build deep within a forest.

This movie will stay with you - probably because the undertaking of leading an eventual 1200 Jews (including children and old folks) to safety from the Nazis was such an amazing feat. The group spent several years in the forest, eventually building a school and other facilities within their hiding place.

It's a violent movie, no doubt about that, as was the time period that was World War II. We probably aren't reminded of this time in history as often as we should be. It was certainly not something we wish to remember except to know that even today such genocide takes place in various parts of the world and we're left to wonder who will stop the carnage. But this era of extermination was probably far worse than anything that's taken place before or since.

To grasp the concept of the snuffing out of six million Jewish lives, think of the entire San Francisco Bay Area. That's roughly the population here. Think of those murdered men, women and children next time you find yourself in a major traffic jam. At a crowded mall at Christmas time. If all of those masses of people stuck on the freeways or crowded into a mall (multiplied hundreds of times over) were lined up and shot (falling into the mass graves they'd been forced to dig themselves) or led into large warehouse-like buildings - thinking they were there for cleansing - but instead were killed by a lethal gas. It gives us some idea of the magnitude of Hitler's atrocities.

And on that last, sad note, I do urge you to rent this movie. It is hauntingly brilliant.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Flashback Friday: Is there an Unkie in the house?

I would like you to meet two guys. A couple of my main men. If I had to choose between them, I could not. That's because they are both super-duper special guys - different in many ways and the same in many others.

In terms of who is who in the photographs, this is Rob here on the right. And that is Jim on the left. (I tried to put them on the same level, since that's how I think of them in my little pea brain, but the software wouldn't let me. Or whatever determines such cypber-stuff that I encounter on my blogspace. Therefore, I placed them in an "artistic" fashion - facing inward. But I digress.)

The reason for a Flashback Friday with this post today is that Rob, here on the right, is my son-in-law. He is also an uncle with three young nieces to his credit: Gracie, 2 years; Emily, 4 months and Carla, also 4 months - and just 5 days older than Emily. And in a few months Rob is going to become a dad.

As for Jim, he is my other son-in-law and the father of Gracie and Emily. And in a few more months, he is going to become an uncle,too. Isn't it neat the way things work out? Yep; I think so too.

Now although I am still fairly new, relatively speaking, (no pun intended there!) to sons-in-law, I am no stranger to uncles. Because when I was a little kid I had the best kind of uncles. Not a bad one in the bunch, and I had plenty of them. Seven of them actually and a lot more if you start counting the "Greats" but we won't here - we'll just stick to the regular uncles for expediency's sake!

But the uncle I knew best and if I was really, really forced to pick (because remember, I had all kinds of super uncles, one even taught me to water ski and another rode me around town on his motorcycle), I would have to say that my Uncle Allen was my favorite because I was closest to him.

Some of the best times that I shared with my Uncle Allen were before I started kindergarten. Some really snowy days I'd get a call from my uncle's wife, my Aunt Ruby - who was also my mother's older sister. She would say, "Gale? Unkie wants to know if you would like to come over for some Rooster Soup." And of course I would be THRILLED because it sure was fun having Rooster Soup with Unkie.

Ok; at this point we probably need a bit of explanation. First of all - I couldn't say "Uncle Allen" when I was a little kid learning to talk. The best I could muster was "Unkie." And it stuck. Forever. And the Rooster Soup? Nope, nothing fancy, just plain old Campbell's Chicken Noodle, which I enjoy to this day because nothing brings back Unkie like that old familiar Chicken Noodle.

As for my unkie, he was not big on show. He was a quiet man. He was tall and lean. Loved to fish and go camping and to our numerous family picnics. He took me with him when he went to catch crawdads in the lake at City Park with my cousin, Alene, their only daughter. He never yelled; never swore (at least that I heard). He worked for the Bessemer Ditch Company, which doesn't sound very glamorous and it wasn't. He wore big old work boots and because I was taking tap dance lessons, he liked to tease me by shuffling his big old clodhoppers on the wooden floor in the dining room - teasing me to pieces about my tapping skills.

Now that I've told you about him, here he is in one of my favorite photos of him. He's where he loved to be - out of doors. The inside of a house just couldn't contain him. And I only had him a few short years - cancer took him when I was just 18. But the 44 years that have passed since then? Those years have not dimmed my memory of him even a little bit.

So I wonder. With these two great sons-in-law, how will THEY stack up in the area of Unkie-dom? Someday will my own granddaughters and grandsons remember the fun and fond times they had with a very special uncle? Something tells me they just might...........

Bye for now :)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Column: Goin' to the Gym! (aka Mimi's House of Pain)

After a really inexcusable passage of time, I knew I needed to head back to the gym. And if you've known me very long, you also know that I can't do much of anything without it becoming one of my newspaper columns...

Now. Is this how you think of the gym? The picture below? Because I do. In my heart I know that going to the gym will be a wonderful, serene experience -- meditational, even. Because the gym is a place to re-connect with your body. To blend and balance the outside world harmoniously with your thoughts and the tidal pull of your bodily rhythms. That's what you're THINKING, right? Yeah. Me, too. Just me and the gym. Taking myself to a higher place.
So I arrive at the gym in my current physical condition - not exactly a well-honed machine, sadly. That's right, my body is more in the condition of last night's cream puff. But no matter. Soon I will be serenely working out, alone in my world, releasing those toxins and the bad karma...filling my lungs with the ether of the universe...all alone...blissfully the lovely gym.
And ok. Here are some of the guys already entrenched in the gym when I arrive and with whom I am about to share "my" gym. On my machines. Lifting my weights. Well, not my weights exactly since I am personally unable (at the moment) to bench press a Clydesdale. So right now I feel a little....well, intimidated.

Ah! No worries, though. Because here comes David; my personal trainer. And this is where the column takes off. To read about my personal House of Pain, simply click on the "The Column" link above. And send me pain pills. Please? Lots and lots of pain pills...Bye for now...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Quick Post Note for Chicken Fricassee

First let me say how thrilling it is to be able to spell "fricassee." Of course don't ask me how to spell it tomorrow because I'll probably have forgotten.

Second, I want to tell you that I re-heated the left over Chicken Fricassee for dinner tonight and (if I do say so myself) - it was MAGNIFIQUE!!!!! That old saw about things tasting better the next day (or the next or the next...) is SO TRUE!

Now. I'd hinted I would make a few changes to the recipe, first among them that I would use skinned but still on the bone chicken next time because of the "ookey" quality of the cooked-in-liquid-chicken-skin. Changed my mind on that. Why not cook it with the skin on (all that chicken fat flavor, don't ya know) - BUT then remove it before serving??

Third, never, never, never, never and I mean NEVER cook a saucy dish like Chicken Fricassee and serve immediately. What happens when those flavors mingle a couple of days? Ohhhh, Mama! It was SO much better reheated. Ms. Julia suggests reheating the dish slowly by simmering it gently in a covered pan, basting the chicken pieces with the sauce occasionally, for a total reheating time of 6-8 minutes. And you know what? The old girl sure knew her way around a chicken. Because that was it! That's all the time it took. Really.

So if you choose to go this route as I certainly will, something you'll need to know is that La Julia recommends letting the whole dish come to room temperature (after cooking) before refrigerating. Saves all that condensation from smothering the lovely sauce. So - seal it up in the fridge and be happy in the knowledge that a couple of days from now you are going to have THE BEST kind of dinner! Toodle for now :)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Julia Project - Chicken Fricassee

Last week, still in a blogging-cooking daze after seeing the movie "Julie and Julia," I mentioned, oh...just in passing mind you....that I thought I was ready to tackle my big fat Julia Child cookbook from where it had been languishing on the bookshelf some 30-odd years. Always intimidated by the great chef of French cuisine, I just assumed my meager experience with cooking up tacos and the like (and hey - I make a pretty mean fish taco), that the thought of tackling one of Chef Julia's recipes of the two-plus page per recipe persuasion was just way - WAY - out there in terms of my readiness to prepare a decent rendition of any one of her creations.

But thanks, in large part, to further education by way of the many acclaimed television chefs gracing the airwaves (cable waves? satellite beams? Oh, heck - I can't keep up with the technology) of the Food Network, I have seen demos of some pretty fantastic dishes. So between the Food Network and now the movie I thought - well, shoot. You only live once, right? Right!

So I bought butter...lots and lots of butter...and a few other ingredients and decided to go for it. I thought a chicken dish was a safe entry into La Cuisine de Julia so I picked up some nice free-range, organic "parts" as well as the other ingredients. Well, almost.

Julia's recipe called for tarragon. But she didn't say fresh or dried in the bottle tarragon. Aha!! Enter my chance to show off a bit and buy FRESH tarragon. Which I did. Or so I thought. Until the moment I was to add this fragrant herb into the pan and realized I'd bought fresh...thyme. Oh,oh. Well now this was quite a little pickle. Do I go with the fresh ingredient and change Ms. Child's recipe - perhaps irreparably? - or pull out the dried tarragon from the spice drawer. In the end I went with the dried. Dang!

But I am getting ahead of myself here. First things first: my nice chicken wouldn't fit into any of my pans, so I did it in batches. Here is about a third of the chicken browning away in about half a stick of butter...yes - REAL butter...hence the nice gleam and bubbly goodness simmering away below.....yeah, I know, this dude had three legs - go figure!
Now...once the chicken was browned, there is a little more cooking needed and at this point the "10 or 20" small fresh onions were added. And although Julia said I could, I chose fresh onions over the frozen ones. I was proud of myself, peeling all those itty-bitty onions - 21 of them, in fact; ok, I can't count, either.
And then, of course, the dad-gummed dried tarragon! But you gotta admit it - tarragon and chicken go together like Angelina and whats-his-face.
Also into the pool went a couple of cups of chicken stock (ok, this was the kind in a box - but hey! it was organic!) as well as a nice French Vermouth and eventually some quartered fresh mushrooms.

Now. Man does not live by chicken alone, so I halved some fresh figs, added a bit of creme fraiche and a pecan and voila! Now, I do not take credit for this lovely little side dish. My good friend Greta served this to our other good friend Rosie and I at her "slumber party" last week - which I haven't blogged about because I am SOOOOO way behind. Whatever. The figs were nummy!

Finally the chicken was done...I spooned it over fragrant Jasmine rice and headed for the dinner table. Ralph said it was "delicious" and I agreed - except there were a couple of minor modifications I'd make if I was to do the dish again. And I mean NO disrespect to the master, Ms. Child.

First, I'm just not a big fan of browning chicken in a pan with its skin all brown and getting crispy only to pour on the liquids, which then makes the skin sort of ookey...Which is a highly technical cooking term. So I think next time I'd choose skinned chicken pieces - but not boned because cooking chicken on the bone does impart the nice flavor and keeps the chicken juicy.

Second, I would definitely reduce the sauce. By removing the chicken when it's done and keeping it warm under a nice tent of foil, I could turn that flame up to the Smokin' Hot setting on the dial and reduce the sauce down by half - at least. You know how those sauce reductions taste...Yes, three little words describe a reduction perfectly: Fab. U. Lous!

THEN, once the sauce is reduced down, the chicken, mushrooms and those beautiful oniony pearls can go back into the pool for a little re-introduction to the sauce before pouring it over - or serving alongside that nice bed of rice. I chose the beautifully fragrant Jasmine.

So the chicken fricassee? All in all: a successful dish. Especially for the first trip out of the chute on the Julia Child Hot Tamale Train :)

Yep - I'd give it a solid...B :)

And if you've made it all the way to the end of this post - Merci! And stay tuned for more "Cooking with Julia" right here in Mushroom City....Au Revoir for now :)