Tuesday, December 23, 2008

belated, as usual

Dad says I should just write a bit, every day, until I'm caught up. Right now it's been so long that it's daunting to try and get in here and cover everything. Today is the last day of work until Monday, and it's pretty quiet. I've still got some Christmas-present-related projects to work on for my personal self, and will probably get some of it done tonight.

We've got a week's worth of good food at home, starting with Italian Sausage Soup with Tortellini tonight. Yum! The recipe has like 170 positive reviews on Epicurious, that's a good enough endorsement for me. And tomorrow night we're doing Austin's favorite rigatoni with (um) Italian sausages and mushrooms. Yes, it's poor menu planning on my part, so many sausage dishes in one week, but really, who cares? I'm also going to make a treat just for us to split on Christmas Eve: jasmine rice pudding. It's a ridiculously elaborate recipe but what else would I do with my time tomorrow? Will report back.

Let's think, what else haven't we covered? Thanksgiving, for one. It was a triumph, as hoped. I think we ended up having 19 people over to eat, and with lots of help we pulled off a major feast. I'm sure I was a high strung maniac in the weeks beforehand, but honestly, it couldn't have turned out better. I was having especial difficulty focusing on a dessert plan, but ended up making Raisin Cream Pie (per Austin's request), Caramelized Apple and Pecan Pie (best of both worlds), and Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Maple Marshmallow Topping. Yum! I'm getting closer and closer to a comfort zone with pies/pie crusts, and the apple/pecan pie came out really amazing. Special shoutout to Austin's mom, who was a HUGE help and also great company the whole weekend.

Then two weeks later we had a massive housewarming party, which also came off pretty danged well. I'd guess we had about 90 people come through the door, including lots of kids and babies! Which is fun. I only ended up making about half of the snacks and treats I wanted to make, but it still went great. VIP to all my kitchen helpers, and to DJB for the BACON WEAVE, which was slightly more popular than even my freaking adorable godsons. What's up with that?

What else is happening? We got the fireplace serviced, and just got firewood delivered on Sunday, but have had two consecutive nights of failed attempts to start a fire. We'll figure it out, it just might take a while. I lost the battle of wills re: a Christmas tree, so we're going without for the first holiday in our new home. But it's fine, honestly. I'm just looking forward to several days with no obligations and a chance to get caught up on some work without distractions. Or, more realistically, play Mind the Blox while halfway watching movies we've seen a million times before. For like 8 hours straight.

Other house updates: kitchen cabinet doors are installed, we got some nice matching towels for the bathroom (thanks, Joan!), and finally found and installed curtains in the living room (thanks, Brian!) so that we can sit in that room in the early morning without going blind. The early stages of the man room are coming together, and we moved the big entertainment center down there and put a much smaller one in the upstairs living room. Brian and Austin hid all the boxes that were cluttered in the office before our party, so that room *looks* finished, even if that is sort of an illusion. Joan also got me an earring holder that is PERFECT in the bedroom and holds literally exactly as many pairs of earrings as I own. I bullied Dad into hanging our new mirror over the mantel right in the middle of the housewarming party. And Kim, god bless her, brought us back a set of matching runner rugs from Ikea for the hallway. So basically little things are coming together, the small details as we settle in. We're hoping to start framing one or two pieces every month, and slowly start getting things hung on the walls, and then maybe we'll be ready to tackle the bigger projects of man room, garage and laundry room once the weather warms up.

I will try to check in again over the next 5 days of sloth. Why wouldn't I? But if I don't, have the best holiday ever, wherever you may be.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fairy Alphabet

I remember this so clearly that I wonder what it must have meant to me when I was four.

Friday, October 24, 2008

attempt at a new tradition

Not that I think I can keep it up, but I'll try starting a new tradition of List Fridays. Cause y'all know I love the Lists.

Things I Still Can't Find in the New House:
- Our plates. All of them. Any of them. I wasted at least an hour looking for them last night.
- My white zippered hooded woobie.
- My deodorant and body spray (I broke down and bought more).
- My favorite little silver dragonfly earrings.
- The kitchen towels

Things I'm Excited About:
- Features CD release show tonight!
- Beautiful weather forecast for the weekend.
- Weekend! Ready to sleep in a bit and spend more time on getting the house settled.
- Apple orchard on Sunday! My favorite event of fall...
- The fact that our dogs have, miraculously, adapted to sleeping on their new beds and not on the new couch!

Things We Need to Do This Weekend:
- Clean out the garage at the old house.
- Take trash, recycling and empty paint cans to the Metro waste center on Trinity.
- Finish painting all interior doors and get them hung.
- Absolutely unpack the rest of the clothes and kitchen.
- Load up the car for a massive Goodwill trip on Monday.

One Important Thing I Already Did This Week:
- Voted! It took 10 minutes at the Howard School yesterday morning. And the big news: my Dad voted too! For the first time in his life. How's that for upholding your civic duty? This morning I was listening to NPR and they said Obama is starting to pull ahead in the swing states, and it make me want to cry with gratitude and hope. And then they started talking about the state of the economy, and that made me want to cry for entirely different reasons. I feel so insulated and lucky working at Emma and owning this great new home that we can still afford. All this terrible news on the radio hardly affects my daily life, other than getting turned down for the HELOC (sigh). But it's scary to start thinking about a future where things aren't so secure. It's an inevitability now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Foolishly, I had the Comcast disconnected Friday instead of, oh, I don’t know, Monday? So at about 7 pm (Friday) tonight we lost television and (horrors!) the internet. So I’m blogging into Word, and will paste and post as soon as my next free moment with wi-fi comes around.

And here it is: Moving Day. Or Moving Eve. It’s 10:30 pm on Friday the 17th and we’re winding down for the night. Tomorrow morning we’ll be packing up a U-haul truck with all of our (voluminous) worldly possessions and heading to 2607 Sandy to start a new chapter in our new home.

I absolutely hate it when people complain about how busy they are or how busy they have been; it’s just one of the least interesting topics of conversation I can think of. But here I go, I’m about to tell you how very, very busy we’ve been. Because almost every night for the last three weeks we’ve finished up our work day and headed straight to the new house to paint, prime, sand, scrub, rip and varnish every inch of the place. The bathroom is coming together amazingly well. Drywall is hung, bathtub is in place, walls are mudded, sanded and primed, and tonight my Dad, the hero, finished placing all of the (one-inch octagonal) tile in the floor. It’s been incredibly exciting to watch the bathroom come together, and I can’t believe he’s done it almost all himself. With lots of help from Austin, plus some from Patrick today. Simply amazing. We picked up a gallon of sky blue (Glidden Falling Rain) paint for the walls, and everything else is white, white, white. At first it seemed like an outrageous undertaking and expense (okay, it’s both) but making the bathroom a room we’re really proud of and love is going to turn out to be so worth it all in the long run.

In the meantime, the rest of the house came together beautifully. Paint is up on all the walls of the main floor. I finished the last coat of yellow in the kitchen this morning, and pulled all the blue tape down to reveal a completely transformed room. The backyard fence was finished Thursday and looks shiny and sturdy. The only major roadblock we’ve come across was revealed on Sunday night when Megan and I, excited to see how everything would look when it was finished, pulled up the carpet in the bedroom to reveal horrible stains on the hardwood floors underneath. I know we shouldn’t have been surprised, and we certainly should have found out for sure one way or the other WELL before a week before moving day, but I was simply heartbroken. Further investigation revealed the office floors were nearly as bad. Two days of discussions later, we decided to undertake a simplified floor refinishing project, and Wednesday night Brandes helped us sand the floors and bleach out the stains. Thursday morning he met me there again and we got woodstain down, then I applied poly that night and this morning and they look REMARKABLY better. Especially the office, where there is only one dark spot left and it’s going to be covered by a bookcase.

So other than the floor drama, which will most likely continue into our occupation of the home because we haven’t even pulled up the carpet in the hallway yet, everything has gone so well. The white trim, while being a major pain the labor ass, makes all the new colors look gorgeous, and this morning while we got things cleaned up it started finally getting exciting, as opposed to overwhelming. There is still so very, very much to be done, particularly to the basement, but the living space is ready for us to move in and start putting our things away.

I spent a lot of time this week picturing where everything would go, and I feel like I have a good game plan for unpacking over the next four days. I took a week off work for the moving, so I’ll have M-T-W there to really get my nesting on. Comcast is coming tomorrow for installation, including our new DVR, whoop! And Sears is delivering our new 25 cubic foot Whirlpool refrigerator in the afternoon, a hulking giant of an appliance, the kind with the French doors on top and the freezer on the bottom. We are hemorrhaging money, to the point where it’s like we don’t even notice anymore, but I know it’s gonna hurt in a month. The HELOC is still stalled in the approval process, mostly because no banks have any money or credit right now, I suppose? But we’re confident it will come through and we can start clearing everything up after that.

Packing up the old house has been laborious and bittersweet. I got a little sad, we’ve been really happy in this house and had many dreams for a future here. We absolutely got a better house out of the bargain and I’m so excited about our new home, but it is always an emotional time, stripping a home down to the walls and turning it into a stranger again. I’ve been lucky enough to have lots of tough-love help in packing (“Are you SURE you want to keep all fourteen of these ramekins? How many ramekins does one person need?!”) with VIP credit going to Jenny, who slogged away about six hours today and left a swath behind her of just-barely-contained possessions in dozens of cardboard boxes. I don’t mean to discredit the contributions of Casey, Megan and Lauren, who managed to box up the contents of the dining room and about sixty percent of the kitchen last night, all while surrounded by as many as five curious and muddy dogs, plus Charlie Murphy, who loves helping and packing and helping with packing.

*Editor's note* As I said, those were my comments from Friday night. It's now Sunday afternoon, and we're indulging in a lazy day before getting started on the absolute wreckage that is our new home. It's a maze of boxes and furniture, all just sort of plopped down willy-nilly, and I'm ready to tackle it with a vengeance. Unpacking is one of my favorite things.

Other than all the boxes, things are settling in just fine. We still need to clean the old house and empty the fridge, and take the remaining contents of the garage to recycling. And my cd/dvd shelves were screwed to the wall and we didn't have the right tools to take them down, so we'll need to rescue those before we close up the old house and give Tony back his keys.

By far the toughest part of yesterday was dealing with the pets. My sisters say we should all be alloted like 10 minutes over a lifetime when we can simply talk to our pets and have them understand. I would have taken three minutes to just explain to Charlie Murphy and Corvinius that we were not trying to kill, maim or abandon them by cramming them into a cat carrier and a picnic basket, respectively (poor Vinius). Jenny and Casey bravely took the lead on this endeavor and drove all three cats, wailing their fool heads off, to the new house. I'm so glad I wasn't in the car because I would have cried the whole time. Mackenzie, shockingly, adjusted quite nicely and was hanging out in the Man Room cool as a cucumber when I went to check on them an hour later (Charlie and Vinius were huddled together behind one of the doors). I suppose Kenzie has moved six or seven times now, while the boys were only brought into the Eastside house when they were still too small to care. Happily, by bedtime they were all three out and about, exploring, finding their food bowls, and eventually snuggled up in the bed with us like brave and forgiving kids. Charlie Murphy, especially, I believe has been extra sweet to me today as an apology for nearly gutting me yesterday in the Dreaded Box Incident. If I wasn't so embarrassed by the state of my belly I'd post a photo of the scratch that runs from my breastbone to my navel. He meant it at the time, but I'm getting lots of blinky eyes and sweetness today to make up for it.

The dogs also adjusted. We brought them over here and left them in the backyard before we went and picked up the moving van, and by the time we got back here with all the helpers and trucks they were pretty frantic. But they've been zooming around the yard and clearly enjoy all the space and shade. Last night proved more difficult; when it was finally time to bring them in for dinner it took much coaching (as expected) to get Bridgette and Mischa up the stairs. But they finally made it and explored the house (as much as they could with boxes everywhere) and spent the night sleeping on their three new dog beds in our bedroom. Then when they woke up at five am and refused to go down the stairs, things got temporarily ugly. We finally coaxed all three of them out at about 7 and went back to bed until ten. We spent some time playing with them outside this morning and I think they are really going to love it here. Hopefully by tonight we'll have made more sense of all the mess and they can get a better feel for the new place (and the new couch on which they are not invited...).

That's my excessively long update. Better get my unpacking groove on. Look for a Special Thank You edition of the Delusions blog, coming up next...

Friday, October 10, 2008

another quick update

One more week of painting, painting, painting done. The living and dining rooms are done (except for the lighting fixtures) and the kitchen just needs ceiling and wall paint. We've got two coats of red in the bedroom and it looks like it's going to take a third. The bathroom is completely gutted and Dad started replacing the insulation yesterday. We still have to paint the office, rip up the carpet in the bedrooms, paint all the interior doors and put up cabinet hardware, etc.

Sunday night we went to Home Depot and made an exhaustive list of everything we need for the bathroom. Bathtub, toilet, vanity cabinet, sink, faucet, lighting fixtures, towel rods, the works. We took the list to the customer service counter where a helpful little lady named Luz entered all of the things we wanted, issued us a line of credit, and arranged for everything to be delivered Wednesday morning. It was an astonishingly easy process. We just kept looking at each other and laughing. It was pretty much the exact opposite of the process we're experiencing with the Home Equity Line of Credit, which has been drawing out for a week and a half now with no resolution. It must be historically the worst time ever to ask for credit, even secured credit. We've got some (financially irresponsible) contingency plans in place, but it would be nice to have that HELOC to make things more comfortable over the next few weeks.

So we're clicking right along, right on track for moving day a week from tomorrow. We took a break last night and stayed home to make shepherd's pie and watch The Office. It's been extra funny this season so far. I can't wait for the return of 30 Rock in a few weeks! Last Saturday night after painting all day Austin went to Jon's house to watch football and I showered, climbed in my favorite pajamas and watched 5 episodes of 30 Rock after talking to my mom on the phone for an hour. It was not my most glamorous Saturday night ever, but perhaps the most welcome one. Oh, and Monday night we went to the Sears Scratch-and-Dent appliance store in 100 Oaks and it was a goldmine. I think that will definitely be where we get our new fridge. They had great prices on massive, nice fridges with only some cosmetic damage. Very exciting!

Oh, I updated my Picasa with more "during" pictures of the house, and also an album of the best of 2008. Check them out!

Friday, October 3, 2008

fair enough

You're right, you're right, I should have updated by now. Here's the breakdown:

Actually, after typing several different versions of the breakdown, I guess I should just sum up by saying that closing took longer than we expected, cost more money than we expected, and probably took a few years off my life expectancy in sheer stress and tooth-grinding. But it's over, we closed last Tuesday (the 23rd), it's possible that we got the last mortgage EVER in this crazy crazy economy. So that part is done; our name is on the deed. We celebrated with sushi after the closing, then spent that afternoon at the new house with Dad coming up with a Master Plan.

And then we started Operation Make This House Ours. It began with a long Wednesday night spent ripping up layers of berber carpet, indoor/outdoor carpet, disintegrating carpet foam and beneath all of that a layer of that green and beige marbled tile like from elementary school hallways. It was hard work but extremely gratifying, and now the Man Room has exposed concrete floors that we will leave unfinished for a while until we're sure all the moisture issues have been solved. The only other major projects we had planned for pre move-in were painting the whole main floor (including trim and doors) and a potential laundry room overhaul (and paying a professional to fence in the backyard). Friday night we drove to Greenbriar and picked up (part of) a new sectional couch that I found on Craigslist. Saturday we met Dad again to talk about the Painting Plan, and somehow over the course of that conversation decided to completely renovate the bathroom.

I don't remember if I mentioned it before, but neither Austin nor I are fixer-upper people. We were not looking for a project house. We don't walk around our house and itch to rip things down. We wanted to move into this new home, put away our things, and start having our normal life again, complete with an outrageous amount of free time and plenty of good home-cooked food. Even after we fell in love with this house, which most certainly needed updating, we figured we could spend a couple weekends with paintbrushes and rollers and be ready to go. A bathroom renovation was not in the grand scheme of things. But after looking at the recommendations from the Home Inspector, and realizing how much we truly, truly hated the tile on the walls and the sink cabinet (and the medicine cabinet. And the lighting fixture. And the weird little gray toilet. And the totally unnecessary striped wallpaper) it was determined that IF we were going to do something about this, now was the time, with three weeks of unoccupation and lots of volunteer labor.

So Sunday morning Dad and Patrick started demolition on the bathroom, while 9 other kind and amazing members of my immediate family (including Badness plus Brett plus Bill, who basically count) picked up screwdrivers and painter tape and trim brushes and fanned out throughout the house. We got a REMARKABLE amount done in that first full day, including a first coat of white paint on almost every bit of trim in the main floor. I was so excited and honored by all the help that I managed to (*mostly*) not freak out at the crashing and crunching sounds emitting from the bathroom. Kam suggested that, instead of having a panic attack every time I walked past and saw gaping holes in the walls, we have a photo of what we want the bathroom to look like (sky blue and white, please) screenprinted on a sheet and hang that over the door.

Progress throughout this week has been a bit slower. Monday night Austin and I got the second coat of trim on the office and most of the hallway, and otherwise realized a major glitch: there is almost no lighting in the front half of the house. Obviously this will be remedied when we install new fixtures and move in with our floor lamps, but in the meantime, painting at night is going to be severely limited. Tuesday some of our loveliest lady friends pitched in and helped me blanket the kitchen with a swath of white paint while Dad and Austin continued their ruthless barrage on bathroom demolition. Wednesday night Austin finished up the demo while I attacked a weird patch of fake parquet flooring in the basement that was apparently attached directly to the concrete floor with Gorilla glue. In 1959.

Then the nicest thing happened: we took Thursday night off. It was a rough week at work, too much to do and an apparent total inability to focus, and I was ready for a break. We made grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup and watched as much as we could stomach of the VP debate. I climbed gratefully into bed at 10:15 and felt completely refreshed the next morning. Tonight we cleaned up the demolition debris. This included vacuuming up an apparent 50 year supply of razor blades - razor blades!- that were stored in the back of the old-fashioned medicine cabinet (this means they just fell through the "safety" slot into the wall), a fascinating and horrifying endeavor. The bathroom is now down to stud walls and once we remove the bathtub (tomorrow) we'll be ready to start building everything back up again.

So tomorrow we're back at it. We'll get as much painting done in the front rooms as we can while there is daylight available, and I think by the end of the day we'll be rolling beautiful colors on the walls. I'm taking tons of pictures and will start assembling them into a before-during-after home improvement diary for those of you following along at home. I didn't expect this to turn into a big life-dominating project for a month. I'd just been thinking, "First we close, then we move." But I think we're doing the right thing, and with every blister this house becomes, more and more, ours.

Friday, September 19, 2008

from Alisha: morning face (past noon really)

1. Take a picture of yourself right now.
2. Don't change your clothes, don't fix your hair...just take a picture.
3. Post that picture with NO editing.
4. Post these instructions with your picture.

My levels of paranoia and superstition are at an all time high. I'm not going to talk about the house until we are the proud owners of keys. With our names on a deed.

Have a good weekend, y'all.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

staring down September

More house updates... the radon test came back great, very encouraging, and a physical inspection by the mold guy seemed to be fine on Tuesday. We went ahead and signed the release form that would tell the selling bank that we were 100% going to buy the house as is, and were just waiting for the official mold test to come back Thursday morning before we sent the form in. Just to be safe. And then that mold test came back pretty bad, reporting 27 times the "undesirable" amount of mold, mostly in the basement, and recommending $3000-6000 worth of remediation and professional cleaning. Yowza.

So we spent most of Thursday in crisis mode, trying to really figure out what this meant and if maybe we should reconsider the whole deal. Casey and Jenny both encouraged us to try to think objectively; that regardless of how much we love THIS house, maybe all the trouble of mold cleaning and painting and fence building and carpet removal isn't worth it, and maybe we were signing up for more than we would have ever originally agreed to. Which is certainly true, we said from the beginning that we weren't fixer-upper people and didn't want a huge project house. But now that we've seen it, and pictured many years of happy life there, and gotten excited about things like red bedroom walls and screened-in porches, it all seems completely worth it.

The whole time we were having this "is it worth it?" discussion, I felt physically ill and just so confused. That awful feeling seemed familiar, and finally I figured it out: I felt exactly the way I did the day they told us Charlie Murphy had feline leukemia. The vet did the test on his first kitten visit, and very vaguely recommended that maybe we should just go ahead and put him to sleep right away, since he had this terrible and expensive disease. And we didn't even consider it, we just scooped him back up and took him home and loved the hell out of him and gave him liquid vitamins in his food and he GOT BETTER. He kicked that disease before he was even full grown, and tested negative on his next visit. Not to mention grew up to be one of the coolest cats ever. And I can't even tell you the millions of times that I have been so grateful that we didn't listen to that vet, whose job it is to give you the bad news and the worst case scenario. And that's what this mold inspector does as well. He has to tell us the most extreme possibilities so that we don't come back to him in a year and say, "You told us this was fine!" And mostly we were just overwhelmed by being told that something really bad was happening that we didn't understand, and then were being recommended the worst case scenario, passing up this house that we love.

Austin talked to Dad about it, and Dad said it was absolutely not a reason to walk away. So we went to dinner and talked it all out, and went to Home Depot and looked at paint chips and got excited again. And Friday morning we told our realtor to go ahead and send over the Inspection Contingency Form, and to tell the selling bank that we do want this house, moldy basement and all. And then yesterday at lunch we met with our lender, signed a ton of papers, gave him all of our tax documents, and had the house appraised for the lending bank. We should have the appraisal back on Monday. Everyone involved is enthusiastic and encouraging, and thinks we should be in good shape to close by Sept. 19. It all feels more real every day! I think I won't let myself get completely excited until we have a key in our hand and our names on a deed, but it just keeps getting better and better.

In the meantime, I'm starting the longest and most exhaustive To Do list ever. And I'm going to roll out on the town with my girls tonight for a little Guilty Pleasures action. And I'm sure we aren't through with crises and home-buying drama, but we're going to keep going with our guts and moving forward, because there isn't really anything else to do.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

sunday, sunday, sunday

Good news! The inspection went well. It was a painstaking process (our inspector was so thorough and meticulous, it was just a marvel watching him work) but the overall diagnosis on the house seemed to be positive. We certainly have our work (and cash outlay) cut out for us, with projects and updates necessary to the electrical, plumbing, insulation, gutters, what could be left after that? But there were no immediate safety issues, and the general foundation/condition of the house is looking pretty good. We are going to have radon and mold tests on Tuesday, and will find out the results of those by Thursday. That's cutting it a little close because we have to turn the contract back into the selling bank by end of day Thursday, but so far, so good.

I think the best part about the inspection was just getting to hang out at the house for a few hours and confirm our belief that it just *feels* good in there. It feels comfortable and like we're surrounded by the place we'll be able to call home. We're coming up with ideas for paint colors, and starting to shape a (very tentative) schedule for painting, carpet rip-up, fence and electrical updates, and then move-in. We're so lucky to have such an amazing support network of friends and family who are willing to help.

I'm still in bed at 11:19 on Sunday morning, and Corvinius is giving me the most outrageous show of affection. I'm thinking that if we needed HIM to help us paint the trim in the new house, he'd totally do it. Because he loves us. And so would Digby, but he'd probably make a mess while he was trying to be helpful. I think we'd give Bridgey a project where she could work quietly by herself but still feel like she'd accomplished something. And maybe let Charlie Murphy just be the team leader for Troublemaking and Enthusiasm. Mischa could help us check all puddles and water receptacles for water content. And I don't think we could ask Mackenzie to do anything. I mean, we don't ask for much now, and we're still catching a lot of attitude.

I know we're pet crazy. But the mere fact that they live here with us really shaped our househunting process. One of the houses we really liked (but was in a very sketchy neighborhood) had the awkward aspect that the door to the backyard was through the master bedroom. The idea that our bed would be the first thing the dogs would encounter when we were letting them in from a muddy backyard was sort of a dealbreaker. Other houses that were otherwise strong possibilities got axed because they didn't have big backyards or weren't fenceable for whatever reason.

And now I love the idea of thinking about where they will all hang out in the new house. I think it's likely that Mackenzie could claim the entire attic as her (lofty) territory, and I doubt she'd get much argument on that matter from the pups. I'm a little worried about the transition of having to have the dogs go down a flight of stairs into the basement before they can go out. Digby, I'm sure, will barrel down headfirst and end up in a pile of limbs at the base of the stairs. He's not afraid of much, nor graceful in his enthusiasm. But I'm pretty sure both Mischa and Bridgette will require some coaching/bribing to get them comfortable with the process of ascending and descending. I'm just hoping that the need for their dinner and their desire to hang out with us will help motivate them to overcome their fears.

Another thought I'm wrestling with is the desire for a dog door into the backyard. That would also probably take some encouragement and time with Mischa and Bridge, but I know they'd get used to it. We just have to find another solution to Austin having to get up in the middle of the night, sometimes multiple times, to let the dogs out. It's more disruptive (to him, not me, I sleep right through it) than having a newborn baby, I swear it. But Austin's concerned that any door the dogs can get out, so can Charlie Murphy, and despite his regular vociferous claims to being perfectly capable of going outside and not getting into trouble, we are just not willing to let him take that risk. David at work suggested trying one of those dog doors that only open to a chip on the dogs collar, but I have a feeling that Charlie Murphy the Wiley would find a way around that.

I've been accused of having homebuying goggles on right now, and I'm sure that is true. I mean, buying our first home is a huge deal, and certainly the biggest thing we've accomplished together, but I can find other things to talk about, right? It's just that most of it sounds so obnoxiously simperingly cheerful that it's rather embarrassing. Work? GREAT. So good, I can't even explain it to you. Life with The Boo? Just super. We're just smile a lot, and are otherwise just having a great time. Yesterday we borderline-crashed a barbecue in Nippers Corner with Jon and Ali, and got to feast on championship worthy brisket and pulled pork until we thought we were going to die. Then a few short hours later (and by a few short hours I mean, literally, two) I met up with some of my favorite ladies for my favorite sushi and may or may not have permanently injured myself by overeating. After that we rolled to the Mercy Lounge for the Bomb show and I spent most of the time holding my stomach and moaning, until the band played and we ran up to the front to dance.

Other than my adventures in overeating, there isn't much to report on the cooking front. I made a pretty killer quiche on Monday, with zucchini, mushrooms and bacon. I forgot to buy Gruyere so I (over)compensated by tossing in every cheese in my fridge. Cream cheese in the filling, layered slices of swiss and mozzarella, and shredded cheddar and parm on top. YUM. We've got lots of vegs from the CSA to roast soon, and sausage links and bulk sausage to find a good use for. I doubt we'll have any problems with that.

In the meantime, I think it's a patty melt and onion ring kind of day. Gold Rush, here we come!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

trying to overcome...

...the crippling superstition of talking about things before they are certain. I don't want to jinx this whole deal.

But the day after that last post, we found three new houses that caught our eye. We went the following morning (Saturday) and looked at them all, and two were nothing special, and one on Sandy Drive was pretty great. Great enough that my heart was racing while we walked through it, and we kept just looking at each other and smiling. And our realtor seemed pleased with everything he could see.

So we went back to Sandy on Sunday, in the morning with Casey and Trent, and in the evening with Dad and Richie. And everyone approved. I think Trent and Casey were withholding enthusiasm a little bit, trying to not get too gushy in case everything fell through like last time. They also seem to think this house is in the middle of nowhere, as well as "too big," as if that exists for a family with six pets. But I think they can see all the things we love about it (I'll detail below, even if I'm nervous to talk about it too much), and when Trent saw the 30 x 15 foot "man room" in the basement, he yelled, "We're moving in!" Dad was leaping about in joy and detailing the treehouses he will build for his grandchildren at this house (uh, Dad? Why not harass my MARRIED sisters about this topic?). Richie also kept stomping his foot like Elijah and declaring that he was jealous. Very wholehearted endorsements from that front.

So we decided to meet with Peter on Monday and assemble an offer. Then he called Monday morning to let us know that he had spoken with the seller's agent (the house is a bank foreclosure, so we're dealing with A Bank and not A Person) who said that the bank was not accepting FHA loans on the house. Uhhh, what? After all the trouble of being told we only qualified for an FHA loan (and therefore weren't eligible to buy our own house that we've rented for three years), we ended up finding a conforming (conventional) loan that would work for us, with only 3% down in a gift form and no requirements about the condition of the house. This was all accomplished during the work day on Monday, so we still got our offer put together and sent to the bank Monday night.

Then we waited and waited. We had requested to hear back on our offer by Wednesday at 6, but the seller's agent didn't seem to think it would happen in that time frame. He did say it was a "pretty good" offer, and hoped the bank would just take it and not draw out the process. Wednesday came and went, and Thursday. Luckily we had the Cheatham County Fair Demolition Derby to distract us from the agony of waiting for an answer. Finally, Friday afternoon after lunch we got a quick email from our realtor: "ACCEPTED!!" Hooray!

So now we have to see the addendums placed on the contract by the foreclosing bank, and approve them. We have to fork over 3% earnest money, which will also be our down payment. We have to line up an inspection and then figure out what our lending bank wants from us. And then we've got to BUY A HOUSE.

A big house. 2025 square feet. With a finished attic, a finished basement, 3 bedrooms, two bath, a huge kitchen with baby blue formica countertops, and a gigantic magnolia tree in the backyard. The living room, dining room and kitchen make up the front half of the house, all flowing into each other with huge doorways. This might be my favorite part of this place. Where we live now, the kitchen is the back of the house, the living room is the front, and there isn't a natural social flow in between. I love the idea of these three rooms feeling like one big area for visiting, dining, cooking, entertaining. The bedrooms are both large, in the back half of the house, with a large bathroom between. We will need to pull up the carpet in these bedrooms before we move in, but there are good quality hardwoods underneath and it shouldn't be a huge project. We also need to paint (as you'll see from the photos) and finish the fence in the backyard so our dogs will be safe and we can just kick them out of the basement door. Other than that, we could happily move straight into the main floor of this house and slowly update/furnish the attic and basement into our own usable space. I think we'll make the second bedroom on the main floor into an office/library, and put the spare bedroom in the attic. And I also think we'll get a grownup couch, and move the Big Brown Couch into the basement, along with the darts and eventually an entertainment center. It needs a good cleaning, it's been empty since May. Otherwise, it's a house where we could live for years, with privacy and big lawns and a covered patio.

I'm just so excited. More fingers crossed for all the contract negotiations to go quickly. With luck we'll be homeowners soon!

Oh, and thanks for all the amazing advice and guidance we've gotten from all of our friends and family. This whole experience has been vastly easier because we know so many smart, experienced people!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Even quicker additional update

So the sellers accepted another offer. We didn't get a chance to counter. We are back to the drawing board.

We went back and looked at our #2 and #3 houses from the previous weeks' searching, and were pretty uninspired. I don't want to suddenly get overly picky, but I also think that we're supposed to "know" when we walk in the door, right? And I didn't know. I feel like I spent a lot of time picturing myself and our selves and our stuff in the house on Wayne, and now I can't see us anywhere else.

So oh well. No other news from here. We had derby practice tonight, which was fun, and then I conned Austin into letting me pick up spaghetti at Pizza Perfect, which was all that I wanted to eat. Now Stranger than Fiction is on, and it makes me crazy happy, so that helps leave this pretty lame day on a high note.

Good night!

Quick update

We put in an offer on a house. On Wayne Drive, near Stratford and Porter. It has been our frontrunner favorite the whole time, and signs are looking good. I'm too superstitious to talk about it yet, so that's all I can give you. We should hear back on our offer by Friday morning (tomorrow!) at 10 am.

I don't even know what to tell you, other than that. It's pretty much all I can think about. I will send pictures as soon as I feel it is safe. Oh, and I finally got to talk one-on-one with our landlord and he was, as expected, so nice and sweet and understanding about everything. I am really relieved that it didn't turn into a combative situation. He's coming by this weekend to look at the condition of the house, and we're committed to give him at least 30 days notice when we're going to move out. So that all feels way better. No bad karma.

That's all I've got right now, folks. Hopefully I'll have even better news for you tomorrow.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I'm glad I don't have to think of a number reference to go with "ten"

Okay, okay, ten days. That's not so bad. It's just rather alarming to think about the shift in The Plan that went down in those ten days. Here's the scoop:

We've lived in this house for almost three and a half years, renting from a very kind if absentee landlord (I'll call him MT). He bought the house for a steal right after the big tornado that damaged much of East Nashville, lived here for a little while and then moved to a farm south of town and rented this house out. He's definitely not a professional landlord, or someone particularly savvy in the real estate world. But he's very kind, and totally hands-off. Most of the time this works in our favor. He doesn't mind about our menagerie at all (he even suggested we get a dog when we moved in, because the backyard is fenced and we're so close to the park). When the tree fell on the house last year, MT let us choose the color of the replacement siding, which was fun, but also let me be the contact person for the contractors and insurance people, which was maybe not really my job.

But we haven't minded, we've acted like we owned this house the whole time, doing most small repairs ourselves, painting, installing ceiling fans, etc. And the plan has been the whole time to buy this house from MT. Two years ago, when the a/c went out in August, the repair company formally recommended that MT replace the whole system, and he said that he couldn't afford it right then but if we decided to buy the house, we could take the cost of a new HVAC system off the selling price. We've just basically been waiting for some sort of motivator to start the scary process of applying for a home loan, gathering a down payment, negotiating, etc. In the last year we've certainly been guilty of not pointing problems with the house out to MT, because we didn't want him to have to fix them, and also didn't want any repairs to increase the value of the house. We'd rather just wait and fix them ourselves as soon as it was ours. This especially applies to the bathroom floor, which is actively rotting out. The a/c system is having major traumas (the previously mentioned pouring of condensation onto the basement floor), and the hardwoods need refinishing sooner rather than later.

So two weeks ago, MT called and wanted me to know that he is considering a move to the east coast, and wants to sell the house before he leaves. He wanted reassurance that we still wanted to buy, and I very firmly told him YES. I told him we'd start the process of talking to banks, and get back to him. He mentioned that he had a friend who is a realtor, and when it came time to put together contracts she was going to help. I said that was fine. We still didn't talk about price, but Austin and I already had an idea in our minds. We had paid for a private appraisal in March so we would have an idea of what to offer, after taking approx $10k off for the HVAC replacement. It seemed like everyone was on the same page, and we were excited to have a reason to move forward with the home buying process, and also pleased that now MT was motivated to sell, which would hopefully make the whole transaction go quickly with minimal negotiation.

So imagine my surprise when a woman called me a week later (last Thursday the 31st) introducing herself as MT's realtor, and letting me know that she had prepared a private listing on the house, just for the purpose of our purchase. She assured me that there would be no listing on MLS, no sign in the lawn, no lock box on the door. The listing was just for our private transaction. What? Why would we need a listing if we were just going to offer MT our reasonable price, and he would just accept and we'd sign some paper? I tried to remain calm and asked her what price was on the listing. She named a number that was $60k more than our intended offer. WHAAAAT?

I told her the amount that the house had appraised for in March, and she sounded distinctly nonplussed. She asked if MT knew about this, and I told her no, we had just arranged for the appraisal privately so we would know any potential pitfalls in the house, and know a range for a reasonable offer. She quickly pointed out that a private appraisal was not the same thing as a bank appraisal, and I told her we were definitely aware of that. She asked what comparables the appraiser had used to determine the price of the house, and I gave her the range that the 17 comparables he had found determined (it was still approx $20k less than her listing price, at the highest end of the range). She said that there had obviously been new sales in the area, and started listing three bedroom sales. I pointed out to her that the house cannot be technically listed as a three bedroom. The room where we sleep doesn't have a closet or central heat and air vents, and you can only enter it through another bedroom (the room we use for a dressing room). Therefore, not technically a bedroom, it can only be listed as an office or a nursery. She says, "Well, that's debatable." NO. It's not so much debatable as real estate law.

Ugh. So I hung up the phone with her, letting her know that we had appointments at banks the NEXT DAY to talk about financing, and that I would contact her as soon as we knew more. Reported all this drama to Austin and my sisters, and we decided to go ahead with the meetings at the banks, and hope that MT would accept our much lower offer and just decide to move on. It seemed to us that his "friend" the realtor had accepted his request for help and then decided to turn the whole transaction into a commission for her, and maybe MT was just being taken advantage of and would be glad for our offer and that would be that.

But that is definitely the moment that the niggling doubt turned into something in the forefront of our minds. I remembered that night we discovered the water pouring out of the a/c system into the basement, and when I was walking back up the stairs looking at the total decay that is our basement, I thought for just a tiny second, "I don't want to deal with this." And the next day, when I was telling a coworker about the situation, he said, "Don't buy that house."

So we went to the banks, and were told, essentially, "Don't buy that house." Bank #1 told us that we basically were only qualified for an FHA loan, based on today's current market and most lenders not wanting to loan to anyone without solid homeowner history. A conventional loan would involve a big down payment as well as matching amounts of assets that we do not have. And in talking about our house, and all the things we wanted to fix about it, Banker #1 started to think that the house wouldn't pass an FHA inspection. He wanted to encourage us to start looking around the market; he said there were tons of great houses in our price range that don't have the problems that our current home does. He was very pleased with our credit scores and histories, and said we qualified for homes way above our price range.

After that meeting I took Austin to work and went looking for Casey. She wasn't at home, but Dad was there, working on her roof. I sat down with him and told him the whole story, and how I was trying to reconcile all this new information inside my head. The idea of NOT buying our house was brand new, and the thought of suddenly househunting was terrifying. Then my dad did the strangest thing: he gave me fatherly advice. In fact, it wasn't just fatherly advice, it was a very firm fatherly lecture. He said that ever since we'd been talking about buying this house, he thought it was a bad idea. He thinks that it will continue to have problems, and we weren't going to want to deal with them. He said that the amount of renovations we would eventually need to do would be disruptive and make life really hard for a while. He pointed out (extremely incisively) that neither Austin nor I are Home Improvement People, we both work full-time jobs, we have neither the skills nor the interest in renovating a house. He said that there are larger issues with a house that has been built out bit-by-bit that would possibly make it NEVER qualify for FHA financing. He said that if we had our hearts set on it, he would be with us every step of the way, but suggested that we get online and start looking at houses in our price range and see how nice they were and how we would feel about them.

So, whoa. All the sudden we were househunting. We met with Bank #2 and it was the same story as Bank #1. Banker #2 heard our story and laughed at the "listing" price on our current house and talked about how much she loves East Nashville and how many great houses were over here right now. She also told us that we qualified for much more expensive houses than we could afford, which I guess is comforting but also terrifying. She walked us through a Good Faith Estimate, including what we could expect to pay in down payments and closing costs, and it was all very educational. And becoming less scary by the minute.

So we went home and got on Realtracs. We went to Leia and Richie's house, where Richie already had MLS listings pulled up for dozens of homes he liked for us. We drove around Rosebank and Inglewood and Eastwood Neighbors and wrote down addresses and got a little lost. The next day we made lists of houses we'd seen online and drove around trying to find them. Monday we hired a realtor and gave him a list of thirteen houses we had seen and really liked. Thursday we got to look at six of them, mostly in the Inglewood neighborhood, and really really liked one of them. Then yesterday we went and looked at the other five on the list (we'd already eliminated two, one that was a duplex and one with a POOL that already had a contract on it, boooo) and found another house we felt great about in a neighborhood we did NOT feel great about. We started to feel like we had a first, second and third choice. Then we went back to the house from Thursday (on Wayne), and met the current owners, who told us point blank that the price was negotiable. The owner is starting a job in Texas on the 25th of this month, and is extremely motivated to sell. We poked around every corner of the house, took a ton of pictures, and even started talking about where our furniture would go.

So now what? Hopefully C & T are coming over today to look at the places we are interested in, especially the house on Wayne, and give us their opinions about neighborhoods, etc. I'm trying to get Dad to crawl out of his hollow and come up to take a look as well, because I don't think we'd buy a house until he got to kick the proverbial tires, inspect crawl spaces, bang on pipes, etc. But after that? Maybe we're going to put in an offer, possibly as early as this week. We got a crazy idea that since these current owners have to be out soon, and we would have to give 30 days notice on vacating our house, we would have a few weeks to make adjustments (paint and rip up carpet, etc) before we needed to occupy the space. It's an exciting thought, and gets more exciting the more we talk about it. I'll post pictures as soon as we think it's a good idea, and I'll keep you posted, in brief, now that I have the full story out.

Wish us luck!

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Here it is, the last day of July. I haven't won any blogging challenges, since I missed two days, but this is indeed my thirty-first post of the month.

So, in retrospect, could I be a food blogger? Sure. Thirty-one posts in which I say the word "food" somehow, that counts towards something. SHOULD I be a food blogger? Nope. I appreciate the mental exercise of daily writing, and the way it documents my life (for my Mom). And I think that I will continue surrounding myself with the topic, because it is the thing about which I most like to think and talk. But on days when I don't have anything to say, about food or otherwise, I'm not crazy about boring you with the things I still think I have to put down on the screen.

Like tonight. There is a lot to talk about, a lot of crazy shit went down between last night and tonight. But I'm not even ready to discuss, and don't want to jinx the parts that could be good or harp on the parts that could be bad until the dust has settled. I'll keep you posted; even as early as tomorrow I should know more. In the meantime, I don't feel bad about closing the computer, washing my face, taking out my contacts, curling up in bed with a Real Simple and making it through three pages before I turn off the light. I get to sleep in a little tomorrow, since Austin and I took a joint day off to take care of things. I do promise to not take a whole month off, like the shock therapy after November NaBloPoMo. I will have more news to share, and I'll keep trying to take food pics as we're learning this new camera.

Sweet dreams out there, blogosphere. Rabbits rabbits rabbits.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The new 20

This is Casey reporting for Delaney because she's in a brown-out. Yep, that's apparently a term folks use for what happens when your power is out enough to make you unable to blog and worried about your many days worth of leftovers going bad, but not like totally out. Sounds scary.

Anyway, she suggested I tell you that she won't eat pizza without ranch dressing. It took me a few moments to figure out that this comment was intended to satisfy the food related aspect of this evening's post. I actually had pizza with ranch dressing for dinner, so there.

I think this should be good enough to keep Laney on her NaBloPoMo. She'll be back with y'all shortly!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sophie Germain

Dark Chocolate and Orange Tart with Toasted Almonds

Well-Loved Recipe

I first tried this recipe in the fall of 2003. I printed it out from Epicurious and made notes after reading the reviews. Among the changes I noted: multiplying the filling recipe by one and a half, taking the crust out of the oven after 9 minutes instead of the recommended 12, and stirring the filling into the ganache before spreading it into the crust.

Chocolate Shortbread Crust with cinnamon and sea salt, already baked

It's not a complicated dessert, really. I would give it an intermediate rating for difficulty. The only real trick is starting early enough. At least two days before you plan on serving it, or you'll be in the kitchen all day. That first time, I decided to make the tart to celebrate Casey's first week of law school, and planned ahead accordingly. I made the dough for the crust two days ahead and let it chill overnight, then rolled it out and baked it the day before.

Filling: chopped toasted almonds, chopped candied orange peel, brown sugar and cinnamon

I also candied the orange peel ahead of time, and let it cool and dry overnight before chopping. The filling is just the candied orange peel, toasted slivered almonds (both all chopped up), plus sugar (the recipe calls for white but I've used brown) and cinnamon. Then I made a ganache, which is so simple that it makes me laugh, and poured a little into the filling so it would hold together on top of the crust. Spread the filling into the crust and pour the rest of the ganache over, then chill overnight. Really, not difficult.

Melting the chopped bittersweet chocolate in the hot cream to make ganache

The night I planned to serve this tart, Trent and I went to a baseball game. The plan was for us to head back to the South Street house after the game, where we'd meet up with Casey, Jenny and Patrick and enjoy the dessert together in celebration. But the ballgame went to extra innings, and we started getting impatient phone calls from C, J & P.

Jenny: "We want to go ahead and eat the tart. We're tired of waiting."
Me: "No, just sit tight. I want us to all eat it together, so it will be special."

Ganache all smoothed out, then a little bit added to the filling to hold it together

Another phone call, ten minutes later...
Jenny: "We're getting really hungry and tired. We want to eat the tart. Stop being selfish."
Me: "Don't be mean! Just be patient!"

Phone rings again...
Jenny: "We aren't waiting anymore. We're going to eat it!"
Me: "FINE. Screw you guys. Whatever." Click.

Filling spread into the tart crust

And then another call, two minutes later...
Jenny (sounds sheepish): "Laney? We love you..."
Me: "Yeah, yeah."
Patrick: "Laney? We love you..."
Me: "Fine, fine."
Casey: "Laney? We love you..."

Finished, with ganache poured over the filling, smooth and shiny. Just chill!

I got home to over a third of the tart (which is supposed to feed 16) gone, and a note next to the pan on the counter:


If you can't read it, it says:
Suggested Names:
1. Holy Fucking Shit Tart
2. Ain't Fuckin' Around Pie
3. Does somebody have to go to law school to get this? Tart


4. Sex Pie All grown up
5. Everybody Loves Delaney (and we're gonna stay up all night thinking about it) Tart
(heart) J, P, C

After all these years, this is still known as the HFS Tart. I brought two to work today, and am feeling pretty good about my status as Most Popular Employee. Who Also Tries the Hardest to Be Most Popular. And Has No Problem Resorting to Shameless Bribery for Affection If Necessary.

Monday, July 28, 2008

far from February

Dad picked me up from work today and took me home so we could look at our impending dooms of home repair. Turns out the prognosis wasn't terrible: fixable hot water faucet, dying-but-not-dead-yet a/c system. No emergencies, just no running water in the kitchen tonight. He'll be here again tomorrow to repair the faucet, and we can hopefully ignore/encourage the air conditioning to just hang in there until we buy the house, at which point we're planning on replacing the whole damn thing. New ductwork and all, hopefully, to make the house more efficient and less, you know, hot.

I was pointing out to Dad that we could live with the a/c system at this level of terribleness, for the time being, because it's always this stuffy in our house, especially in the back. He agreed with me, but then said something like, "But you're my cooking girl. You need a comfortable kitchen."

This afternoon Suz and I were talking about babies, and siblings, and the story she heard on This American Life about girls who were switched at birth. Apparently when they found out, later in life, they realized that their personalities fit in much better with their birth families than the ones in which they were raised. We like to think that our lives are simply an overlapping of influences, but there is clearly something else there. I never really thought that I was born with a personality. I look at Ezra and Elijah and wonder at which points they will be different men, with different goals and ways of speaking. I'm surprised even now at their physical differences, when I mostly just think all tiny babies look the same. I found my picture of Elijah from the day after he was born, and the one I posted here of Ezra, and it's really remarkable the differences in babies' faces.

I think about my sisters and I, and we came from the same places, the exact same ones, and we turned out still very different in our personal selves. Was Jenny born stubborn? (yes.) Was Casey born permanently convinced of her own correctness? (yes.) Was I born prone to procrastination and easy distraction? (ah, yes.) There is the more extreme example of our California cousins, with whom we were raised in total equality, by our parents who are siblings in the most obvious ways, and I swear, those families couldn't be any more different than us.

And this is a silly point to which I'm leading, but how did I get to be a foodie? I know some people don't like that term, but I don't mind it. I don't want to be mistaken for the snob type of foodie. You all know that I will not just eat junk food but I will wallow in it. But I'm a foodie in the sense that I like to think about, talk about and do things relating to food. I'm sure I spent a quarter of my work day detailing my cooking disasters of the weekend (fried corn! that's all I'm going to say! exploding grease-filled kernel torpedoes!) to coworkers, and getting the goods on their own pulled pork and raspberry duck adventures. The friends that I have bonded with at this job, this is what we talk about. My amazing group of book club girlfriends, what do we do when we're all together? We eat. We exchange a month's worth of menu planning emails, and then we all cram into someone's kitchen and stuff our faces while we talk around food.

A few years ago my friend Craig asked me how I became a baseball lover, and I was able to respond to him (in essay form) with the rather precise timeline of my eventual love of the game. Tonight I was peacefully assembling tarts in my kitchen, moving about the motions of simmering cream, whisking ganache, and trying to think back to the time in my life when this started. As a little girl, I loved reading my mother's cookbooks, and eventually embraced my role as kitchen helper. But I don't remember feeling filled with thoughts of food the way I am now. Thoughts of candy? Is that the same thing? I started tackling baking projects, sometimes with Dad: decorating cakes, the baklava incident, salt water taffy that stained our hands blue. In college I was so poor and didn't have a working kitchen until my junior year. After that I started hosting dinner parties.

But I wonder, what did my parents think? Was this some obvious direction I was always heading, or was a fascination with food/cooking just another personality quirk that was revealed as I matured? The way other kids develop a penchant for mathematics or sports? Food is my hobby, my topic, my solace, my celebration. Tonight I reveled in my silent kitchen, my unrushed ballet of spatulas, measuring spoons, taking the lid off the jar of cinnamon with the dull end of a butter knife. Other times I love sharing the act of cooking. Projects like smoked pork butt or thai noodle soup are things that Austin and I can enjoy tackling together. I'm certain that my finest moments with Agnes have happened when one of us was at the stove and the other standing over the cutting board. I'm sure I don't have to explain that my fondest memories of both of my parents have occurred while we were sharing a kitchen.

I'm not quite sure where I'm leading with this, and my attention is waning as the evening draws to a close. I suppose it's not any good to try to identify the sources of my most basic self, any more than scrutinizing my needs for air and water. Is Lover of Food on the Meyers-Briggs test? (Is chocolate an emotion?) When my dad calls me his Cooking Girl, and my mom says I'm inspiring her with my food talk this month, and my sisters and friends are peppering me throughout each day with recipe discussions and ingredient ideas, I can see the bigger picture. Food is the physical representation of my need to take care of everyone.

The tentacles of these relationships run back and forth from Mom to Julia Child; from Dad to the black microwave cookbook, the pages stuck together with decades of toffee-making; from Jenny to the cold sesame noodles I haven't even made yet; from Casey to secret nights of boxed mac-and-cheese and vanilla ice cream with Hershey's syrup. From Agnes to the sledgehammer we used for crushing ice on the patio; from Megan to snapping green beans without a pause in conversation; from Amy to panicked ingredient substitution calls from the market; from Austin to that first flicker of wanting to lick ganache out of his beard. Distant and constant, primal and minute, the web of food in My Life and Family doesn't have a beginning, doesn't have to have come from anywhere. The only piece of advice my mother ever gave me that turned out to be untrue: Food is just fuel for the body. It is not. It's way more than that, and I'm glad for it.

Tomorrow: photo essay on the HFS Tart. That's right, I took pictures. And fair warning: this one involves some R-rated language. In my sisters' handwriting. Sorry, Mom.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

b stroke six

I don't even think I have time to get into all the mishaps today. And all the joys, of course. This morning we had a girlie breakfast dancing-movie party at Lauren's, and it was, delicious. And featured a special guest appearance by Brand New Ezra, the handsomest. It was pretty much a perfect afternoon, in good company, with great food (my contribution: hash brown casserole).

But things started to go wrong when I got home. I had intended to put together the HFS tart for the Emma staff (actually, two. Two HFS Tarts), and had already made the dough for the crusts and candied the orange peel this morning. I would like to think that I can make this tart in my sleep, but truthfully, I think my horrifically hot and muggy kitchen was working against me. I wrestled with a sticky and drippy dough and got chocolate on every item of clothing I was wearing (fortunately, those were all pajamas. I didn't put on pants today). Then finally I managed to get the dough fitted into the pans by basically pounding on it with my elbows, got the pans in the fridge to chill, and tried to shake my frustration off and concentrate on dinner.

The menu: Skillet Chicken Pot Pie, roasted CSA potatoes and fried corn. With no difficulties, I threw the potatoes in the oven, with onion and garlic and thyme, horseradish and Dijon mustard. I thought I was off to a pretty good start. This was probably at about 7:30? Then there was some kind of time suck between 7:30 and TEN, which was when dinner was actually finished. And apparently this time suck involved a bomb going off in our kitchen. Or at least that's how it looked when we went back in there after eating.

Honestly, I'll tell you about the rest tomorrow. I'm up against the midnight hour here, and I can't even keep my eyes open any longer. This way I'll have something to discuss tomorrow evening when I've only eaten leftovers all day. Ugh. I need an extra weekend.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

spacetime dimensions

We finally made it around to the Thai-Ginger Rubbed Salmon with Green Curry Sauce tonight. Beautiful and delicious! And pretty danged easy. As the name indicates, there is a spice rub and a separate green curry sauce. We made rice and a tomato salad (loads of pretty little yellow tomatoes in the CSA box this week) and roasted squash and zucchini with balsamic and pine nuts. The whole meal made tons of food (at least three times more than we could eat, just the two of us) and came together gratifyingly fast.

I took pictures of the whole process, just like I've been threatening to do since the arrival of the new camera, but now that I think about it, Blogger just isn't going to let me share them with you gracefully. Hmm. There isn't a captioning option, right? I don't think just lining up a bunch of photos is going to look very nice. I'll work on this some more and see what I can come up with.

I also had a new disaster to add to my Disaster List. I tried Jenny's damned caramel kettle corn and something went terribly wrong. I made the brown sugar syrup and made popcorn on the stovetop (which is new for me) and when I poured the syrup over the popcorn, as soon as it touched the bottom of the pan it burned. The pan was off the heat and couldn't possibly have been THAT hot for THAT long, but when I lifted it off the pot holder it was resting on, the pot holder was burned. How is this possible? And all the burned parts got distributed throughout the popcorn, so as much as I tried to pick out the edible bits, it was pretty much an epic fail. And I'm scared to throw it all away and see the bottom of my pan. Ready for the Oxyclean miracle trick.

In non-food news, there was a rather large snake in the rose bush/morning glory mess on the front porch this morning. Terrifying.

And something went wrong with the hot water in our kitchen sink tonight, which led us to also discover that our air conditioner has been dumping gallons of water onto our basement floor for god knows how long. These appear to be unrelated issues, and are both things we would sure rather not deal with until we OWN THE HOUSE. Dad's coming Monday to inspect, and I feel like I'm tiptoeing around for fear that something else is bound to go wrong.

Is there anything more disappointing than opening a Netflix envelope to find the disc OBVIOUSLY cracked? Damn. We're never going to make it through the first seven seasons of X-Files at this pace.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Another crazy week, all wrapped up. Busy at work, busy every night, just running on fumes here. After work today most of the Emma staff headed to the Flying Saucer for off-campus Beer:30, which was very fun but boy is that place not conducive to conversation. Towering ceilings, stone walls and tile floors do not an acoustic coziness make. I had those delicious soft pretzels with cheese and mustard sauces. And a pear cider, so pale that everyone asked if I was drinking water.

We walked over to Frist Fridays and fought our way through the crowds from one end to the other, finally locating Casey and Trent and then trying to visit in the middle of the horde. Made it upstairs to go (quickly) through the (beautiful) Tiffany exhibit and then headed east. Finally sat down for dinner at Las Maracas at 9:30, seated across the aisle from Sara and Adam and friends.

This was my first visit to Las Maracas, Austin's second. I had asked about it a million years ago but Megan, who lives very near there, said it wasn't good. They have apparently changed hands since her last visit there, and it was pretty delightful. Austin encouraged me to try Chuy's Special, which was basically the grilled meats from a traditional fajita dish, served on a bed of mexican rice with white cheese poured over the whole thing. With a packet of warm tortillas and some requested avocado on the side, it was pretty much all the things I love about mexican food without all the extra bits I never end up eating. The service was great, friendly, prompt, with a sense of humor. We didn't try any margaritas since I think a single drop of alcohol would have caused me to lay my head down on the table and snore. But I hear they are good...

That's my foodie report for tonight. I can't wait to sleep in tomorrow. I swear to you that this weekend will involve some cooking adventures. I won't have it any other way.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

end of the day

Three important points:

1. The Dark Knight was remarkable. I haven't even completely wrapped my head around it, and I don't think I will for a while. Heath Ledger's performance is spinning around my brain and won't settle down. Aaron Eckhart was note perfect, and so gruesome in his transformation. Gary Oldman for president? I'd settle for VP. Obama/Oldman 08!

2. Today Jenny dictated a recipe for deceptively simple homemade caramel corn, and I seriously considered coming home early to make some before we went to the movie. Now I'm so exhausted after this crazy week and I really want to just close my computer and go to bed. But there is brown sugar and butter and unpopped popcorn just calling my name from the kitchen, and I don't see how I am going to sleep without it. Laziness vs. Desperate Need for Buttery Sugariness: the battle of a lifetime.

3. Much more important: I can't believe I didn't recap my first meeting with Ezra. We went by the hospital early Tuesday morning, and got to spend a little quiet time with Leia and Richie and a happily sleeping, literally perfect baby boy. I am overwhelmed with awe and gratitude for this new arrival and the perfect storm of my life's influences that led me to be friends with this amazing woman and her remarkable husband and eventually get to be a part of their sons' lives. I just can't wait to get to know him, and to see him make that journey from baby to person the way we can see in Elijah right now. And I can't wait to spoil them both so rotten that their parents have to tell me to stop.

I wanna be like Mike

...another fail. At 12:15 this morning, I suddenly looked at my watch while standing in the middle of Mercy Lounge and said, "Shit! I forgot to blog!" Then I was distracted by the jangling rock of Old 97s, and I decided to not be too hard on myself.

But we did cook last night! Austin's famous bratwurst, with caramelized onions, brown mustard and goat cheese (!). Broccoli slaw on the side, and kettle chips, and frozen oreo pie for dessert. It was a rather Semi-Homemade meal (even if I do hate Sandra Lee) but pretty danged delicious. Emily came, which was a nice treat, and Jon too, because he's always hungry. Austin's brats are always amazing, boiled in beer and habaneros and sriracha, then finished on the grill. I couldn't find habaneros yesterday (?!) but we used like a mixed pickled jalapeno mixture and everything still turned out great, if not quite so spicy.

We were going to take pictures of the bratwurst cooking process but... we didn't. My total failure as a food blogger is really becoming apparent.

AND we're heading to see Batman after work, so I don't think I'm going to have anything exciting to tell you tonight, either. Seriously.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

the double deuce!

Tonight at the ballgame I asked Jon Burr what food-related topic I should blog about tonight. He suggested "Cake versus Pie." He says he wouldn't know how to answer. Austin and I looked at each other and acknowledged that we both knew exactly where we stood on that debate, and it was on opposite sides of the divide. I'm a cake person. He's a pie. I don't make a lot of pies because I don't *care* for a lot of pies. I can rarely convince him to try cakes I make, except rum cakes (or any other sorts that are soaked in anything. Tres leches is another good example).

During my second interview at Emma, my cheesecake-making experience at Rumours came up. I repeated my standard spiel about not ever really knowing that cheesecake-making was one of my true skills because I don't really like cheesecake, and why would I have made it? And then I started baking them on request, and it turned out I was really good at it. And I've definitely discovered some unique cheesecake flavor combinations that make them interesting to me, like chai, lemon-ginger, orange blossom and the recent triumph, s'mores. Someone at this interview remarked in a horrified tone that they couldn't understand me not liking cheesecake, and I said I didn't think they were even in my top 25 desserts. Thus followed one of the high points of my life, when someone ASKED ME WHAT MY TOP 25 DESSERTS ARE during a JOB INTERVIEW. I only made it through the top three, but it sure feels good to pretend that anyone cared...

1. Creme brulee (especially the pumpkin creme brulee from New Year's Eve)
2. Chocolate Chip Cookie (but only Dad's, and only when they are less than 12 hours old)
3. Yellow cake with caramel frosting
4. Devil's Food Cake with Seven Minute Frosting (only Grandma's, and really only in my memory. I'm scared to try to recreate it)
5. Shirley Willhite's Strawberry Cake
6. Salted Caramel Ice Cream (thanks, badness)
7. HFS Tart (ask me what that stands for)
8. Tipperary Bon Bon from See's Candies
9. Whole Lemon Tart
10. Turtle Bars
11. Semisweet Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Cream Filling
12. Strawberry Chocolate Chip Paletas
13. Caramels
14. Gulab Jamen
15. Phish Food Ice Cream
16. Dulce de Leche fondue
17. Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse
18. Grilled Peaches on Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
19. 100 Grand Bar
20. Three-Layer Brownies
21. German Chocolate Cake
22. Rosemary Shortbread
23. Rum Cake
24. Sour Patch Kids
25. Baklava

What am I forgetting?

You'll note the total lack of pies on that list. And I would say a pretty small occurrence of chocolate-based desserts, for a girl like me. I would rather have toffee or caramel over chocolate any day.

Monday, July 21, 2008

liquor up

Okay, then, let's talk about my cooking disasters:

-Once I left a batch of Forgotten Cookies (see!) in the oven overnight, as the recipe suggests. Then, you know, I forgot about them. Later the following evening, Austin turned the oven to 450 to preheat for an emergency pizza. Emergency indeed! Forgotten cookies, parchment paper and cookie sheet, all incinerated. Mess!

-I always swear that I have never had a failure from a Paula Deen recipe, but I did try her Caramel Pie and it just didn't turn out. Bland and lifeless, although Austin was a trooper and insisted it was fine. My only Paula-related screwup, to date.

-When I was baking the semisweet chocolate layer cake with vanilla cream filling (yes, that's right, an A recipe from my master list), I thought it was a disaster. The layers didn't rise evenly at all (big crusty rings around the outside, center still almost liquid after almost twice the recommended cooking time) and I only barely got them out of the pans onto the cooling racks intact. Charlie Murphy did not help matters by stalking and effectively ripping pieces out of each of the three layers (what can I say? He has great taste). So the whole thing was extremely hodgepodge and in fact the most ghetto looking cake I've ever presented. The good news is, it was DELICIOUS. Delicious enough to warrant an A, and the Delicious Happy Cake Dance from Badness at work the next day. Nice try, Charlie Murphy!

-That key lime pie from last month's book club never did set up. Not even after being stored in the freezer for weeks. I wouldn't classify it a failure, because it was tasty! But had to be eaten with a spoon out of a cup (with honeydew sorbet and grilled peaches? Ok!).

There are many non-specific situations that I remember from my younger years of learning in the kitchen. I didn't know olive or vegetable oil could go rancid, and had at least one batch of boxed brownies taste bitter as a result. I also didn't know that self-rising flour has an expiration date, a pretty short one, especially in a kitchen as hot as mine. This can produce many an uninspired (hockey puck) biscuit. These are all things I needed to learn the hard way, and I'm pretty hardcore about ingredient turnover in my cook-o-sphere nowadays. Except with jams and jellies, I will keep those things way too long. I hoard homemade preserves.

I've already posted blogs about the pomegranate-berry sauce incident (the near death of my precious Le Creuset) and the blackened apple crumb pie. I did also mention the burned skillet lasagna, which was the unfortunate result of me just not paying attention. I have had a bad habit lately of not setting timers and just getting cocky about my own sense of kitchen timing, which can lead to some mushy pasta and charcoal crostini.

In retrospect, though, I'm certainly my own worst cooking critic. I think my palate is picky enough to the point that I'll decide something tastes "off" when no one else can tell when I'm talking about. I'll certainly have a very lofty idea in my head when I start a new recipe, and rarely is the final result EXACTLY what I was going for.

P.S. Please join me in welcoming to the world my newest godson, Ezra Gore Buchanan. I get to go meet him in the morning, and I don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight from the anticipation!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

animal, vegetable or mineral?

I have a small spiral-bound notebook that was a gift from Amy a few years ago. It is long and thin, with a cord to hold it closed and an illustration of a very tall dark-haired girl in an apron holding a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon. It says "Gourmet Girl" at the bottom. I transformed this binder into my Master Recipe Database. I divided it up into sections using sticky tabs, and I used the same chapter divisions from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks, which I consider to be the most well-organized basic cookbook that I own. It's basically alphabetical by major categories, and it really works for me. Under each section I list all the recipes I have tried (at least the ones I consider a success) and where that recipe can be found. They could be in a cookbook, on Epicurious, or in one of my six recipe binders or two recipe boxes. I can scan, for instance, the Salads section and know where my best coleslaw recipe is (Dark Recipe Box under Salads), or where that spinach and pecan salad came from (The Nashville Cookbook, page 116).

A few months ago, I was apparently bored (?) and went through this little notebook and gave each recipe that I remembered a grade. A letter grade, like in school, from F on up to A+. Actually, I don't think I have any Fs or Ds in there, why would I have written it down in the book if it was that much of a failure? But I might have marked some Cs on recipes that Austin liked much more than I did. I only put A or A+ on dishes that I consider to be Ultimate Classics, foods I will make again and again, things that would be a signature triumph.

So, for your reading pleasure, the A and A+ list from Delaney's Recipe Repertoire:


King's Hawaiian Crab Dip A+
Black Pepper Almonds A+
Slice and Bake Cheese Straws
Herbed Olives
Taco Dip
Spring Rolls

Beans, Rice and Grains:
Parmesan Rice
Rice Cakes
Curried Couscous with Roasted Vegetables
Cheesy Grits

Plantation Tea
Summer Watermelon Situation
Bethany's Mom's Tequila Punch A+
Margarita Watermelon A+

French Toast
Hush Puppies
Hoecakes A+
Stuffing with Cinnamon Bread
No Knead Yeast Rolls
Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread with Orange Pecan or Cinnamon Crisp Topping

Sticky-top Pumpkin Cake with Brown Sugar Sauce A+
Semisweet Chocolate Layer Cake with Vanilla Cream Frosting
German Chocolate Cake
Gooey Butter Cakes
Grandma's Devil's Food Cake with Seven Minute Frosting A+
Triple Decker Strawberry Cake

Two Minute Fudge
Gill Family Microwave Toffee
Caramel-Dark Chocolate Truffles with Fleur de Sel A+

Three Layer Brownies A+
Hello Dollys
Katharine Hepburn Brownies
Orange Brownies
Rosemary Shortbread
Turtle Bars
Dad's Chocolate Chip Cookies A+

Berry Compote
Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse with Balsamic Strawberries and Whipped Mascarpone A+
Pumpkin Creme Brulee A+
Chai Cheesecake
Orange Blossom Cheesecake with Pomegranate Raspberry Sauce
S'more Cheesecake A+

Eggs and Cheese:
Deviled Eggs A+
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Scrambled Eggs with Pepperjack, basil, mushrooms, bell pepper and shallots
Fried Egg and Avocado on English Muffins

Herb-Crusted Salmon with Dill Sauce
Crab Legs A+
Baja Style Fish Tacos
Marinated Salmon in Pepper Crust

Grilled Corn with Parmesan Butter A+

Famous Pork Tenderloin
Beef Stroganoff
Caramelized Bacon A+
Taiwan Salt & Pepper Pork Chops with Sesame Noodles
Austin's Chili A+
Island Pork Tenderloin Salad
Austin's Brats A+
Italian Sausages with Peppers, Onions and Potatoes
Pulled Pork with Vinegar Sauce A+
Rory's Ribs A+
Wheeler Biscuits A+

Mom's Spaghetti Sauce
My Macaroni and Cheese
Cheesy Lasagna
Brandes' Lasagna
Sicilian Pasta A+
Buttered Noodles with Parmesan, Salt and Pepper A+
Baked Pasta
Spaghetti Carbonara
Penne with Sausage and Mushrooms

Pies and Tarts:
HFS Tart (Bittersweet Chocolate and Orange Tart with Toasted Almonds) A+
Caramel-Chocolate Tart with Drunken Raspberries

Poppyseed Chicken A+
Roast Chicken with Rosemary Mustard Sauce
Two Hour Turkey A+
Chicken Parmesan
Skillet Chicken Pot Pie

Mom's Potato Salad
Herbed Salad with Grilled Balsamic Vegetables and Lemon Dill Dressing
Seven Layer Salad A+
Taco Salad
Edamame and Carrot Salad with Rice Vinegar Dressing
Salad with goat cheese, dried cherries, green apple, caramelized shallots, avocado and mustard vinaigrette
Broccoli Slaw

Sauces and Relishes:
Blackening Seasoning
Lemon-Dill Dressing A+
Best Turkey Gravy
Cranberry Relish A+
Cilantro Yogurt A+
Dulce de Leche Sauce (use for fondue)

Soups and Stews:
Spicy Tomato Soup A+

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Onions with Rosemary and Parmesan
Roasted Zucchini with Goat Cheese
Cucumbers with Sour Cream and Dill
Corn Casserole
Famous Roasted Potatoes A+
Roasted Brussels Sprouts A+
Hash Brown Casserole
Peas with Rosemary and Pine Nuts
Sweet Potato Bake
Roasted Root Vegetables
Herbed Summer Squash and Yukon Gold Potato Torte
Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan Butter A+
Oven Roasted Tomatoes A+
Cucumber (Benedictine) Sandwiches
Sweet Potato Chips
Yellow Squash with Thyme, Pine Nuts and Balsamic

Want any of these recipes? I know just where to find them. Each and every one...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

prime one nine

I know you're tired of me making excuses every night for not providing a real post. At least you know tonight I've been busy, at the Roller derby, keeping stats. It was super fun, if a little light on the statskeeping because it was a down and dirty defensive game, and I was watching for offensive assists. After the bout we went to 12 South Taproom for dinner, and I had a really delicious ribeye quesadilla, with blue cheese, mushrooms, jalapeno and mozzarella. Yum yum. Then we came home so I could post a blog before midnight, and now we're summoning the nerve to head over to the rollergirls after party, at (strangely) Limelight. I don't know if it will be the weird thing of standing around not having anyone to talk to but each other, or if it will be a good social exercise (with plenty of alcohol, the social lubricant) and we can start making some hot roller girl friends.

Have I told you about the Best Patty Melt in Nashville? It's at the Gold Rush, which is one of my favorite places to eat in town. We don't go there as often anymore because they stupidly opted to go 21 and up so they could allow smoking, and who wants to smell like that while they eat? Gross. But weekend lunches aren't too busy there, and we managed to get out without reeking too much. I haven't bothered looking at the menu since I discovered the patty melt, cooked medium, with a side of onion rings with Ranch dressing. Delicious! Perfectly crispy bread, good greasy burger, sweet onions, gooey cheese. An excellent batch of beer-battered onion rings, always just the perfect size, nice and crisp, never stringy, easy to eat and dunk in the ranch.

We have a freezer full of meats from the CSA (a beef roast, two pork chops, a whole chicken from this week) and a week full of activities that preclude elaborate meal plannings. I'm trying to at least get it together enough to make a big dinner tomorrow that will leave lots of leftovers, because I ate out for lunch too often this week. It is almost enough to make me daydream about wintertime, with its long stretches of blank calendar days. I can't believe I just said that! All I do all winter is yearn for my balmy summer nights just like the one outside right now. Hazy and muggy, just the way I like it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

old enough to vote

I think I picked the worst month to be a food blogger. I'm eating Ritz crackers out of the sleeve and hanging out with Elijah. I don't have anything glamorous pictures of baking triumphs. I haven't baked at all. I haven't made a cake in AGES. I don't feel like I'm trying anything new. But there are so many fun things to do, and so few nights with nothing on the calendar. I'm just going to have to be cool with that, and pull together some culinary inspiration next week. I swear it.

Deb has been talking about our food phobias, what we're afraid to cook. Here are my thoughts:

1. I have had the same recipe for croissants, written out in pink ink on notebook paper from a magazine or cookbook sometime during college. If you count out the predicted amount of time for each step and add it all up, these should take approximately 13 hours. So if you wanted to have hot croissants with breakfast, you would have to start them at 8 pm the previous night and set alarms for every three hours to stretch, apply butter, fold, stretch, more butter, more folding. I know another option would be to just start them early in the morning and eat them with dinner, but I've just never summoned the nerve.

2. Shrimp and I used to be best friends. If you had asked me my favorite food when I was approximately 8, I would have said shrimp. But after learning the proper way to clean and devein those suckers, I was over it. I am happy to have the option of those handy frozen, pre-peeled, pre-deveined fellas, but honestly, I don't think I'm ever really going to embrace shrimp the way I did when I was young.

3. I'm intimidated by pie crusts. I believe the one from the apple crumb pies from Thanksgiving was ok, but honestly, since I incinerated one of them and the other got eaten up, maybe I didn't even try it. Everyday Food said it was their Best Piecrust Ever, but who knows? I don't feel comfortable handling dough like that, and maybe it's just going to be permanently too hot in my kitchen to ever really accomplish an ingredient that requires ice water.

4. And the same goes for yeast dough. The dinner rolls from last Thanksgiving turned out amazing, I will say. But most of the time, something goes so wrong. I don't know what. The most recent pizza dough was the best example; simply nothing happened. Do I kill the yeast? Is my yeast poor quality? Do I not let it rise long enough, or too long? I know I have accomplished some basic things with yeast in the past, but it is a dark and scary path I haven't yet gotten the gumption to trespass.

5. Walnuts. Only because I used to be allergic to them. I still avoid recipes that call for them, even though I can eat them now, happily. It will be a permanent block in my brain.

I think maybe two years ago I would have listed a plethora of foreign foods that I have most recently embraced. Thai food and Indian food, especially. So that's something, right? Here's to overcoming fears, one cooking adventure at a time...

P.S. Elijah thinks all remote controls are Wiis. I think we'd better go for a walk.