Monday, May 31, 2010

First anniversary giveaway

This giveaway is now closed.

Happy Memorial Day! I hope you're having a good day, enjoying the freedoms defended by those we honor today. We spent a glorious day at Wingaersheek Beach. Well...glorious once Pretzel Boy recovered from the shattering news that he was forbidden to boogie board there.

So here I sit, sandy and salt-watered and possibly a touch sunburned. But what a day! Catching a tiny live starfish. Clambering over rocks and through tidal pools. Finding the most enormous (alive) surf clam. Beautiful. Even with the haze that we later learned was from forest fires in Quebec. Really. We're that close to Quebec? In Austin, we'd suffer from wildfires in Mexico. Now it's our northern neighbor.

I'm running late so I'll cut out the blither blather. To celebrate the first anniversary of A Bluebonnet in Beantown, I'm giving away a Wüsthof serrated bread knife and birch cutting board set.

Yes. My other giveaway was a knife. No. I don't have a thing for keen-edged objects. Well, I guess I have a thing for good knives and other well-designed and useful kitchen gadgets. Maybe I am a bit foodie.

The 6" bread knife is laser cut from a single piece of high-carbon rust resistant alloy. The blade's scalloped edge allows for an easy cut without crushing or tearing. The handle's ergonomic pebble grain finish is smooth and slip resistant. The cutting board, 12 3/8"L x 6 3/8"W x 1/2"H, is a handy size for bagels or small loaves. The board is finished with natural oils for a satin finish. Made in Germany. Retail value is $60.

How to enter:
- Leave a comment here, telling me what is your favorite kitchen gadget or utensil. This qualifies you for one entry.

How to gain additional entries:
You must submit each additional entry as a separate comment.

- Add this post to your blog: "Enter a great giveaway for a Wüsthof serrated bread knife and birch cutting board set at A Bluebonnet in Beantown (" linking to this blog post for three extra entries. Please provide a link to your blog.

- Tweet this giveaway for one additional entry per tweet. Please provide link. (Once daily)

- Contest is open to the residents of the U.S. only. Sorry to my international readers. You must be 18 or older.
- This contest ends on Monday, June 7, at 10:00 pm EST.
- Winner will be announced Thursday, June 10.
- Any entries after the deadline will be deleted.
- Only one person per household may enter. By entering, you agree to forfeit your prize if it's determined that you entered under more than one name/email.
- Winner will be chosen at random via generator.
- Winner has 48 hours to respond by email or another winner will be chosen.
- Leave your email address in your entry.
- If you don't leave your email address in your entries, make sure your profile is public.
- Please comment on this post only when entering.

Thank you all, my readers. I appreciate the time you take out of your day to visit my blog, and I hope you find the smiles and chuckles, information, or inspiration that you hoped to find. Good luck!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Idyll at Castle Hill

Castle Hill. Just the name brings back memories of an old Austin favorite, now sadly closed. Castle Hill Cafe off Lamar Blvd. You are missed.

But this Castle Hill. This inn and resort in Newport, Rhode Island. Our place to create new memories. From the minute you drive past the little gatehouse and are greeted by name at the front desk, you feel coccooned by comfort and privilege.

The 1874 main mansion built as a summer cottage for Harvard marine biologist, Alexander Agassiz, sits on a 40-acre peninsula. We chose to stay in a beach cottage, a bright, airy space with its own deck and a stunning ocean view.

The cottage with its interior white-painted planks and beams was perfectly beachy. The view unparalleled. But the bath. Oh my word. The bath. Easily four times the size of our tiny master bath at home. With an enormous jetted tub and separate shower. The delight of showering without banged elbows or concussions. Frabjous joy, that bath!

Every detail from the L'Occitane toiletries to the Frette bedlinens to the Perrin and Rowe and Grohe fixtures bespeaks luxury. Every afternoon, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and icy bottles of water are placed in your cottage. The evening's turndown service leaves a tiny gilt box of chocolate from a local chocolatier.

The complimentary breakfast is no sad buffet of cold cereal, oily pastries, and congealed scrambled eggs. Not at all. Served in a room with panoramic views of the water, this week's menu items included lobster hash, eggs Benedict, and a couture french toast. With a miniature fruit smoothie and slice of banana bread. The complimentary afternoon tea was a lavish spread of savories and sweets with crustless sandwiches, scones, biscotti, fresh fruit, and clotted cream.

We enjoyed one dinner at Castle Hill's restaurant. This was the only meal for which jackets for gentlemen were gently encouraged. Otherwise, attire was quite casual. Not flip flops and shabby tees casual, but polo shirts and chino capris. During this meal, the kitchen didn't put a foot wrong. Every flavor. Every texture was perfection. Their interplay delightful.

In the evenings, we sipped cocktails, on crisp white Adirondack chairs dotting the manicured green lawns. We watched the sun set, casting rose-gold glimmers across the rippling water. Sailboats glided past, noiseless in the breeze. We sat on the private beach steps from our door, watching the surf tickle our toes. Or we walked on sun-dappled, wooded paths to the historic lighthouse on site.

All our stresses. Work, renovations, last year's cross-country move, children. These simply melted away. Bliss.

(Very important note: This bliss would be impossible without Grammy and Pop. Who flew from Texas to feed, wash, chauffeur, and love the littles while their parents went to play. For this and much more, many, many thanks.)

A very relaxed blogger

Friday, May 28, 2010

Two anniversaries and a giveaway

I've just returned from Newport, Rhode Island, where my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary. More on that in later posts.

On May 31st, I'll celebrate a different sort of anniversary: the first anniversary of my blog.

Two anniversaries marking two personal journeys. I was married straight out of college. I hardly understood what it meant to be an adult, never mind a married adult. Together, my husband and I learned how to be grown-ups, how to manage the daily details, how to weather storms, how to celebrate joys.

A year ago on Monday, I wrote my first blog post. My blog has charted both my family's experiences in New England and my own journey as a writer and photographer. My first entries featured photos taken with my iPhone. I had no idea what blog stats were or if I should respond to my comments. In short, I was clueless. I'm still learning and developing my voice and my images. Just as my husband and I, after twenty years, are still learning and growing as a couple, as parents, as partners.

To celebrate my first year blogoversary, I'm planning a giveaway. Tune in on Monday, May 31st, to see find out more about it. I hope you'll like it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blue Hills

While Pretzel Boy and Will wheelied and flew over ramps and had much boyish bicyclish fun, the girls and I explored the Blue Hills Reservation. It's hard to believe that Blue Hills are so close to Boston. Seven thousand acres with 125 miles of trails to explore. It makes me want to lace up my boots, grab a water bottle and gorp, and go.

We circled Houghton's Pond, winding our way through shaded trails, walking on felled tree balance beams, and peering into the pond for fish.

I stumbled across the tiniest sproutling growing out of a felled tree trunk. But darn! I need a macro lens.

We ended up at the Houghton Pond beach. The girls promptly shook off their shoes, rolled up their pants, and splashed into the tea-colored water. We all ended up damp and sandy and happy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pretzel Boy wins!

Mr. Picky will now and forever be known as:

Pretzel Boy

This was Pretzel Boy winning the limbo contest at the 15th annual Blue Hills Mountain Bike Discovery Day this past Sunday. We had gone on a last-minute whim. What a blast! Guided trail rides, a bike obstacle course, and bicycle skills contests, all hosted by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Blue Hills TrailWatch, and the New England Mountain Bike Association.

Pretzel Boy won a very nice Camelbak, donated by Dave's Bike Infirmary. He was so flushed with pride. That Camelbak didn't leave his side for the rest of the day. I'm surprised he didn't sleep with it. It went with him to school today.

And as a mom, my heart sang right along with his. You see. He's one of those kids. One of those who, for whatever reason, never finds his or her niche in mainstream sports. Their shelves are bare of soccer (or baseball, basketball, football, hockey, tennis, swimming) trophies. Except maybe for one or two small momentos from the peewee leagues. So for him, this was the buzzer-beating shot. The game-winning touchdown. The ace down the line for the game, set, match. He'd never felt that rush of victory before. It was new, and it was sweet.

Ride on, Pretzel Boy.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mosaic Monday

Spring blooms from one of my very favorite Boston spots: The Arnold Arboretum. Such a peaceful place to take a stroll and get lost in your thoughts. Also fun to bring the littles for a rousing bike ride. I last visited a month ago when the lilacs were just bursting into bloom. The scent of lilacs blanketed the air. Amazing.

Lilacs are so foreign to me. A result of growing up so far south. This spring was a gentle reminder that I'm new here. Unfamiliar flowers blooming from what had been frozen branches and earth. Tulips proudly bearing their bejeweled colors. Lilac branches laden with blossoms, gently nodding in the breeze. This spring was one of discovery. Learning what bulbs populated my house's garden beds. Discovering new colors and scents.

I found an old friend at the Arnold Arboretum as well. The familiar shape of the Texas redbud pulled me to it. A welcome reminder of my old home.

I love finding the more exotic examples of flora at the Arboretum. Like this one with the unassuming blossoms and beautifully sculptural leaves.

Or this threatening-looking specimen with its branches like a dinosaur's claws.

This is my first time participating in Mosaic Monday. Thanks to the little red house for hosting. I'm learning so much about New England and about blogging. It has been...and I hope will continue to amazing journey.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


You've heard of an e-reader. Now comes the revolutionary e-feeder.

The iSpork

Available in Wi+Fi
Wi-Fi plus 3G for unlimited roaming while dining

The best way to experience food. Hands down. Or up. With its built-in accelerometer, the iSpork always knows which way is up. You'll never miss your mouth again.

It's hard to believe we could fit so many ideas into something so thin. A spoon. A fork. Imagine being able to eat anywhere or anything. Soup to steak. All with one device. iSpork has a 6.5" length with remarkably precise Multi-Touch tines. And at just .3 ounces and 2 mm. thin, it's easy to carry and use anywhere.

Thousands of apps made just for iSpork. With more coming every day. You'll find thousands of apps on the App Store specifically designed for iSpork. The current top-seller, iConductor, enables you to conduct a virtual orchestra using your iSpork. (Warning: Do not use iConductor in close quarters as unintended lacerations may occur.)

iSpork with Wi+Fi plus 3G. The best way to stay connected. Now you can take your cuisine with you wherever you go and enjoy superfast scarfing speeds on iSpork. Enjoy dining anywhere, even in areas without Wi+Fi.

A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price. iSpork.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The young 'un

The young 'un got a mite riled when she heard about the old dog's blog post. She told me all about it.

So this is Portia, all of two years old.

She doesn't look ill, does she? But she is. Last summer, we learned that Portia has congenital malformed kidneys. They filter very poorly so toxins end up in her system. Plus she has to drink a lot. Which means she has to visit the doggy w.c. a lot. Last summer, the vet thought she may have about a year to live. Portia doesn't know this.

She loves to run. And bark. And snuggle. And give big doggy smooches. Full of doggy breath because we're bad pup parents and don't brush her teeth. She once stole an entire tray of Trader Joe's croissants left to thaw on the counter. She felt very, very bad that day. It doesn't stop her from trying that again.

Her best frend is our postman. He slides her a doggy treat every day through our mail slot. When she sees him coming, she races to the front door and bounces as high as she can so he can see her.

I hope your weekend is filled with treats (though maybe not the doggy kind).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Whole wheat banana muffins

Recently I saw this recipe from fellow Boston-area blogger, Michele at FoodieMommy. She inspired me to take a leap of faith and incorporate whole wheat into my baking. (I've been wanting to do this for ages, but had always been afraid of clunky unkid-friendly results.)

My sous chefs loved helping me with this recipe. Especially the banana mashing. My little hooligans appreciate the art of destruction in culinary preparation.

The recipe was very easy to follow. The results? I baked 12 muffins. Less than 1.5 hours and a playdate later, only 3 muffins remained. Not one child questioned the muffins. Mr. Picky loves, loves, loves them. So do I. They are lightly sweet. Fairly moist. Not chewy or gluey or heavy. Just right.

Whole wheat banana muffins
(From FoodieMommy)

3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed (or frozen bananas, defrosted)
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tbsp espresso or strong coffee (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups of King Arthur's White Whole Wheat Flour (I used this) OR 1 1/2 cups of white flour and 1 cup of wheat flour, mixed.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, espresso and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour, mix until it is just incorporated.

Pour mixture into a prepared muffin tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin. If it comes out clean, it's done. Cool on a rack.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

This old (leaky) house

A sight no one wants to see.

Which inexorably led to this.

Which (resignedly) led to a call to a general contractor. What happens next? Tune in to the next episode of This Old (Leaky) House.

Kitchen sink

What's in a name? That which we call a sink
By any other name would clean as well.

And not get chipped.
Or spotty.
Or be too loud.
And fits in a 36" cabinet.
And is large enough so I can soak my biggest pan flat.
And fits accessories like a colander so I never have to worry about putting clean pasta in a sink with dirty dishes.
And looks appropriate in a vintage English Colonial with a dash of industrial kitchen.
And doesn't cost a blipping fortune.

That's not too much to ask, is it?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Dijon vinaigrette salad dressing

All this talk of lettuces reminds me that we have some fresh baby spinach in the fridge. Spinach salad with bacon and Great Hill Dairy blue cheese tossed in this dressing might be my idea of a perfect spring meal. It inspires me to scale the highest heights of sheer gluttony. By the way, Great Hill Dairy's raw, unhomogenized blue cheese made in Marion, MA, 50 miles south of Boston, is an incredibly fruity, flavorful, palate-delighting blue cheese. You can buy Great Hill blue at Russo's.

Will's Dijon vinaigrette salad dressing
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3/4 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pinch salt
1 pinch black pepper
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Whisk the mustard, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper together in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream to make an emulsion. Whisk in the balsamic vinegar. Can be made ahead and refrigerated until needed.

Note: If the garlic cloves are large, use a half clove.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In season

One thing I love about New England is its four seasons. In Austin, seasons went something like this: summer, super summer, and fallwinterspring. So for me, this is a profound shift in the way we live. The rhythms of our days are now so influenced by the seasons. The freeform, barefoot summer turns to brisk fall with neverending leaf-raking. The dark, too-short days of winter are for skiing and sledding and shoveling snow. And for huddling under a throw with some tea and a book.

Now that it's full-fledged spring, we're swept up in springtime activities. Sunday afternoon featured the Newton Community Farm seedling sale and Bike Newton's 3rd annual Rally & Ride.

I feel so fortunate to have a working farm nearby, especially in a town that's so close to Boston.

Throngs of people milled about tables laden with seedlings. The crowds thrummed with happy anticipation. Perhaps they were thinking of this summer's muskmelons or fresh pesto. The farm folks were very organized, and had plenty of people to help and answer questions about varieties.

Purple mizuna. Isn't it lovely? Our yard has very few beds (if any) that get full sun so we concentrated on lettuces. Mmmm...spring mix from our garden. What a concept!

A bounty of beautiful heirloom tomatoes. I did say we don't have full sun, right? But we bought tomatoes anyway. We live in hope.

The world's tiniest oregano. My son insisted. Our children also insisted on a popcorn plant. I'm not even sure what you do with fresh popcorn. I'll figure it out if it actually produces something.

There was even a play area for the children with toys and a tree swing. On the way out, children could plant seedlings if they wanted.

Afterwards, we went to the Bike Newton event. Food, live music, booths, and a three-mile bicycle ride with Newton Mayor Setti Warren. What a fantastic turnout of enthusiastic cyclists...young and old on bicycles of all shapes, colors, and sizes, including a tandem bike, recumbent, bike trailers, and trail-a-bikes. Spring fun in New England.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

An old dog

A perfect afternoon for a nap.

Breezes and birdsong flow through my open windows. Such a beautiful spring day. It invites you to lie on the soft, springy grass and pick out fantastical cloud-shapes floating above. Inside, the wind stirs my hair, and I can hear the susurration of the breeze in the leaves. A kind of rhythmic ocean sound.

As I sit writing, this is what I see out my window.

And at my feet sleeps Siren. She turned fourteen last month. Her eyes are clouded, and her fur has returned to the cottony state of puppyhood. She is sometimes confused, but she is as loving and brave as ever.

Siren is indomitable. As a puppy, she had a severe heart murmur. She almost died on the operating table. Soon afterwards, she damaged a growth plate on her leg leaping joyfully off a table. One bone stopped growing, contorting her front leg. A specialist recommended surgically breaking that bone to straighten the leg. Another painful surgery. The leg never did straighten. Now on many days, her leg hurts too much to bear weight. You'll never hear her complain. My stoic, sleepy old girl.