Empress of the Everyday

Welcome! Grab some coffee and put your feet up. My aim for this blog is to catalog everything that I find super-cool, or as my son likes to say, “AWESOME.”

A 70s Musical Childhood

Posted by on Jul 25, 2013 in Blog, Music | 2 comments

A 70s Musical Childhood

A few nights ago, I was coming off a huge project that had kept me stressed for well over a week. I was checking email and finishing up at the computer, when what to my wondering ears did I hear but the strains of Helen Reddy singing “Delta Dawn.” It was followed by Mac Davis, singing “Baby Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me.” And the 70s hits kept coming, and I was suddenly happier than I had been in months.

My husband had found the Time-Life collection of 70s hits, year by year, and started playing the songs that even the “classic rock” stations of today won’t play. And as they played, and he and I sang along, our children were astounded to know that we knew ALL the words to ALL the songs played. I chalk it up to hours sitting in my room listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. Not just some of the show. ALL of the show. Every week. Among the gems that got played this night last week were:

Seriously. You’re already smiling, aren’t you? You’re welcome.

What songs of the 70s do you remember with the most fondness?

Summer Melody is a Goodreads Giveaway!

Posted by on Jul 15, 2013 in Blatant self-promotion, Blog, Contest, Fiction | Comments Off on Summer Melody is a Goodreads Giveaway!

Because every summer needs a few good summer reads, I’m giving away 5 copies of Summer Melody on Goodreads!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Summer Melody by Toddie Downs

Summer Melody

by Toddie Downs

Giveaway ends August 08, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Birthday Pie

Posted by on Jun 24, 2013 in Blog, Cooking | 1 comment

Birthday Pie

My son turned 11 last week, and informed me that he didn’t want a birthday cake this year, he wanted a birthday pie. And not just any old pie – the Tom Douglas coconut cream pie that he’d eaten once at Etta’s in Seattle.

Now, for those of you poor souls who’ve never gotten to taste this, Tom Douglas’ coconut cream pie is akin to what paradise must taste like. Rich coconut-ty custard resting in a crispy coconut pie shell, with LOT and LOTS of whipped cream on top, and gentle curls of white chocolate skimming the top.

Lucky for me, the recipe is contained in Douglas’ Dahlia Bakery cookbook, so I figured I could make a boy’s dream come true. (You can find a non-pirated version of the recipe here.) What follows is the story of my pie.

pie21. Make the dough. Normally, this is a cheat step for me, where I thaw and unroll a Pillsbury premade pie shell. But I figured I’d throw caution to the winds and actually make the pastry dough from the cookbook. It’s a fairly standard pie dough recipe, with 1/2 cup of coconut added. Once again, I must extol the virtues of my Cuisinart food processor, because it made creating the pie dough uber-easy. How did those pioneer women get by so many years ago? I shudder at what they went through to make a pie crust. It took most of the morning to make the crust, but only because you have to chill it twice. [Helpful Tom Douglas fact that I did not know prior to this: If you chill the rolled pie dough before baking, it will not shrink in the oven!] My variation on his process: he bakes the pie shell with parchment and dried beans resting in the shell to keep the pie bottom from puffing up. You can accomplish the same thing and reduce baking time by just poking the pie bottom with the tines of a fork.

coconut pastry cream2. Make the coconut pastry cream. This could not have been easier. Combine milk, coconut milk, and shredded coconut in a medium saucepan. The most exotic step involved scraping vanilla bean seed from a pod into the mixture. Then warm the mix to almost a boil. In a second bowl, combine eggs, sugar and a little bit of flour, and temper the eggs so they don’t scramble by whisking a little of the warmed milk mix into the egg mix. Once that’s done, you add the egg mix to the milk mix and whisk it over med-high heat until the cream thickens and keep whisking for close to 5 minutes. Once it’s cooked, transfer the cream to a bowl that is resting over a second bowl of ice water, and stir occasionally until it’s all cool. Once the cream is cool, you can fill the pie shell.

mountain of whipped cream3. Whip the cream. I made a MAJOR variation here. The recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups (!!!!!!) of heavy cream, in addition to some sugar and vanilla. When I whipped that up, it literally took up almost an entire large mixing bowl, i.e. would have created about eight vertical inches of whipped cream on this pie. I can only assume that Tom Douglas is trying to kill us all. I put half that amount on the pie, and shoveled the rest into a Tupperware container for as yet undecided uses. I also don’t have a pastry bag to pipe it, so just lopped it on with a spoon. Hopefully it doesn’t look too much like a Pinterest Fail project…:)pie4

4. Garnish the pie. I’m too lazy to curl white chocolate shavings, so I just sprinkled a handful of white chocolate chips on top of the pie with some extra shredded coconut.

The result? Mmmmmmm.

Why Books and Movies Make Us Cry

Posted by on Jun 3, 2013 in Animals, Blog, Fiction, Movies, Television | 1 comment

Why Books and Movies Make Us Cry

First of all, before I go any further: SPOILER ALERT! This post will talk about books and movies that have made me cry, so you can assume that there is something cryworthy contained within. I will try not to go into specific details, but if you’re super hard-core and don’t even want to know that there’s a chance some book or movie mentioned in the post below may make you cry, don’t read any further.

Perhaps the title of this post is a little grand. I can’t speak for you all, only myself. And I am a huge weeper at books and movies. Massive. To the point where I don’t even bother to get a tissue. I just let the tears run down my face and drop off my chin, occasionally making a swipe at my cheek with the back of my hand. My poor husband doesn’t even have to ask what’s wrong. He knows as we’re lying in bed doing our bedtime reading, and all of the sudden my body is shaking from the sobs I’m trying to suppress. “Geez, it’s one of those, huh?” he’ll say as he turns his light off and rolls over.

So why do I subject myself to this? Crying is not an inherently fun activity. I don’t go around thinking, I want a good cry today. And yet I still read books where, even from the book jacket I can figure out this is probably not going to end well. So why?

The answer is actually really simple. To be so affected by a character in a book or movie or television show that you can be brought to tears if something bad happens to them means the writer  has done a really good job. The writer has written that character so three-dimensionally that the character has become more than an acquaintance. You as the reader or viewer have become emotionally invested in that character, to the point where, just as you would suffer if something bad or sad happened to one of your real-life friends, you likewise suffer and grieve for the character.

Why am I writing this post now? Because (SPOILER ALERTS abound below)…

Game of Thrones was on last night. And something happened in an end scene that readers of George R.R. Martin‘s series have known and dreaded would come for seasons. And not only was it sad, but it came as a surprise, and because we’ve now gotten to know these characters for three seasons, there were elements of utter tragedy (Arya, so close!) that made it hard to bear.

So while crying may not be your cup of tea, the following books and movies have earned my Five-Tissue rating of quality, earning a good, cathartic cry.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Duh. Teens with cancer. You know from the get-go this will be a tear-jerker.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Gorgeous, funny book about a young woman who works as a caretaker for a quadriplegic.

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. The tears come as a surprise in this one, so I can’t say anything more about it, other than that I read it several years ago, and it STILL has stuck with me.

Toy Story 3, directed by Lee Unkrich. Kids growing up and not needing their toys anymore? Please. I’m crying just thinking about it.

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, directed by Lasse Hallstrom. The loyalty of a good dog, even unto death? Recipe for mass tears.

The Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick. The spiritualism of this movie sneaks up on you and then, bam! I inexplicably found myself sobbing to the point where I couldn’t stop.

LOST – Series Finale. Yes, maybe it was dense and wrapped up too easily, but I still thought it was enormously moving. Runner-up episode: The Constant.

Parenthood – Lots of episodes. The one I remember most that undid me was “Clear Skies from Here on Out” in Season 3 where Haddie and Alex broke up. What made me lose it was not the scene of their breakup, but where Alex (Michael B. Jordan) is talking with Christina (Monica Potter) at the door and he’s crying because this is a breakup with this family that he loves, too.  Beautifully acted, and so, so sad.

Calculate Twice, Knit Once

Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Blog, Knitting | 2 comments

Calculate Twice, Knit Once

I did not heed the words of my title (adapted from the woodworker’s axiom “Measure twice, cut once”) and now must pay the price by tinking (i.e. knitting backward) an entire piece of sweater. Oops indeed.

Pierrot Yarns sweater vest

Pierrot Yarns Sweater Vest

I thought I was in good shape. I finally got my knitting mojo back and wanted to start a new project with some beautiful deep green Mission Falls Merino Superwash yarn. And I was intrigued by a super-cute sweater vest in a Japanese pattern. But here’s the thing about Japanese patterns, even the ones that are translated, as this one was. The majority of the pattern is not written in narrative, as I’m used to, but as a graphic. I looked at the graphic of the front piece, figured out how many I should cast on, but since I wanted to make it slightly larger, cast on 6 stitches more. And away I began to knit.Sweater pattern

Halfway through the first part of the pattern, the lacey bottom half, I realized that I hadn’t added the 6 stitches for the button band in my cast-on count. Hence, what I thought was a larger size was now exactly what the unaltered pattern had called for. I muttered an expletive, then figured I’d just try to block it bigger at the end. Onward I knitted.

Now I reached the stockinette portion of the pattern. How many rows did I need to knit before starting the decreases for the armhole? Hmmm. In a blatant brainfart, I guessed around 30 rows. Once I began doing the decreases, I finally figured out what that little chart over in the right meant.

4RE

4-1-3

2-1-2

Oooooohhhh. You start at the bottom. Knit 2 rows, decrease 1 stitch 2x (2-1-2); then knit 4 rows, decrease 1 stitch 3x. What this meant, however, is that I’d utterly bollocksed up how many rows I should’ve knit in stockinette before hand, and now my sweater piece would fit only if my chest were stretched three inches longer.

And so, my errors realized and me being duly chastened, today I shall tink and start again. Pity me and heed these words: Calculate twice, knit once. Especially on Japanese patterns.

 

 

Summer Melody FREE for Kindle 4/22-24

Posted by on Apr 22, 2013 in Blatant self-promotion, Blog, Fiction | Comments Off on Summer Melody FREE for Kindle 4/22-24

Summer Melody FREE for Kindle 4/22-24

For those of you who don’t know a thing about my novel (which is FREE on Amazon for Kindle from 4/22-24!), here’s an excerpt; this passage is when Bonnie is visiting her mother, Elizabeth, who is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s:

How typical that Elizabeth would never remember Bonnie’s name but could somehow recall that Bonnie always brought a food offering. She dug through the detritus of wadded Kleenex and store receipts in her purse and found the bag of orange shortbread cookies she’d made yesterday. Elizabeth clutched the proffered sack with one delicate hand, fumbling with the other to get one of the shortbread squares out. Her fingers were long and spidery, their skin translucent as parchment. She brought the cookie to her mouth with a slight tremor and gnawed on it absent-mindedly, looking off into the distance.

 

She seemed now to have forgotten that Bonnie was even in the room. Every thirty seconds or so Elizabeth would lick a spittled crumb off her lips, habitual as a blink. After a few minutes she brought the half-eaten cookie back down to her lap, although she continued intermittently to lick her lips.

 

Bonnie felt a small thrum of concern ignite deep in her chest. This was new. Never before had Mother lost her focus during the act of eating, heretofore as precious to her as any act of intimacy. She might tune out during a conversation, close her eyes in mid-sentence, but eating? Bonnie examined her mother more closely, looking for changes. It was possible that Elizabeth appeared slightly thinner, but it was hard for Bonnie to say, since she saw her so often. She would have to ask the nurses before she left for the evening. They could check her weight log.

 

Elizabeth was nodding off now, her head cocked over to the wing of her chair. Her eyelids drifted shut for several seconds, then slit open not even a quarter-way as she unseeingly gazed at some moondust before her. They closed again, heavy with the slowed blinks that reminded Bonnie of her children when they were babies.

 

“The eagle has landed,” Bonnie whispered. She rose and stole the slobbery cookie off her mother’s lap. She did not want to wake Elizabeth, but couldn’t stop herself from attempting lightly to dust the crumbs away from her lap. Tucking the bag of shortbread in her jacket pocket, Bonnie smoothed over the lap robe resting on her mother’s legs.

 

What Am I Reading These Days?

Posted by on Apr 18, 2013 in Blog, Fiction, NonFiction | Comments Off on What Am I Reading These Days?

Grace UnexpectedGrace Unexpected by Gale Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For readers who enjoy romance/chick lit with more than a dash of brains and humor, this book will be right up your alley. As much as I enjoyed the primary character of Grace and her main co-horts (Goody, Addison and True), I even more got a kick out of some of the secondary characters, especially Les, the Shakespeare-loving president of the college. A fun, fast-paced read.

View all my reviews

Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson MysteriesLost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A thoroughly fun set of essays by Jon Ronson on topics ranging from impending alien invasion to profiling individuals of different income ranges. What I especially like about Ronson’s essays is that he doesn’t shy away from the knee-jerk automatic reaction; in fact, he often shares the knee-jerk automatic reaction at the beginning of the piece. But he gets into the subject in as objective a fashion as he can, even while he admits to the emotional responses he has during his investigations. This honesty lends a much more authentic and empathetic feeling to the pieces than if he’d cited only facts and figures. A great read.

View all my reviews

Code Name VOIDCode Name VOID by Connie Hansen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Code Name VOID, a debut thriller by Connie Hansen, is wickedly good fun. It has one of the best hooks, bar none, that I have ever seen in a thriller – one SO good that it irks me that I didn’t think of it first. Cassie McKinnon is invisible to virtually all of the population, a trait that makes her an excellent assassin, even if her pesky conscience leads her places even she shouldn’t go. Half the fun of the novel comes from the very practical issues Cassie comes up against in her invisibility; many of us at one time or other have dreamed of being invisible, but few of us have considered the ramifications of it, such as how do you buy food when no one can see you? Possessing break-neck pacing, and Cassie’s own bawdy profanity-laced humor, I did not want to put this thriller down. Now that it’s done, I can’t wait to see what happens next for this character.

View all my reviews

Five Things I Learned at Vogue Knitting Seattle

Posted by on Apr 8, 2013 in Blog, Knitting | Comments Off on Five Things I Learned at Vogue Knitting Seattle

Five Things I Learned at Vogue Knitting Seattle

Yarnbombed pillar at Vogue Knitting Seattle

Yarn art is everywhere!

1. Yarn artists are crazy talented and make me feel like a total slacker.

2. I want to own a yarn store in a big bad way. I can’t afford one and have no time to make one a success, but boy, I think it would be fun.

Multicolor knitted glass bowl by Carol Milne

Knitted Glass (!) by Carol Milne

 

3. I already knew this, but this weekend just reconfirmed my finding – that knitters are supremely nice people. I have yet to meet a rude knitter who makes me want to shoot her the bird when her back is turned.

Yarn artist Ashley Blalock with red wall doily and pink crocheted flowers

Textile artist Ashley Blalock

Vogue Knitting Seattle Marketplace

Vogue Knitting Seattle Marketplace

 

4. Japanese sweater patterns are über-cool, but will require all my concentration to figure out the basics of amount of yarn needed, needle size, etc., because the patterns are, yanno, in Japanese.
5. I need more yarn.

Hazel Knits Yarn Baskets

Hazel Knits Yarn – I covet…

Kale-lelujah! A Praiseworthy Sweet Potato-Kale Au Gratin

Posted by on Apr 1, 2013 in Blog, Cooking | 2 comments

Kale-lelujah! A Praiseworthy Sweet Potato-Kale Au Gratin

Who knew there were so many kale lovers out there? I made this casserole yesterday for Easter dinner, and it was bodaciously good, and a boatload of people have asked for the recipe (adapted from my hero Dorie Greenspan‘s Around My French Table), so here it is.

A couple caveats before we begin:

1. Despite the healthful sounding ingredients of kale and sweet potato, I don’t believe this casserole currently qualifies as heart-healthy fare. Why? Because it has enough cream in it to bring down a horse. I do think you could make a much more heart-healthy version by cutting the amount of cream and adding some chicken or vegetable broth, but I’ll get to that below.

2. The prep work in this goes really quickly IF you have a food processor. [Minor tangent: I got a Cuisinart food processor a couple years ago and I luv it with “love” intentionally misspelled. I go total fangirl over how easy it makes my life. I have no affiliation with Cuisinart (but would be happy to get free stuff from them to review, hint hint). And truly, I had a mandoline before the Cuisinart where I basically cut the top of my thumb off and had to get stitches to put it back on. So, my take on it is that a Cuisinart is cheaper than an ER visit, so everyone should have one.]

Ingredients:

3-4 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled

3-4 leaves of kale

2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 3/4 C heavy cream*

1 C shredded Gruyere cheese**

Salt and pepper

* Possible substitution – 1 C low-sodium chicken broth mixed with 3/4 C heavy cream. The purpose of the cream is obviously to make the dish taste really creamy once it’s out of the oven, but it’s also to provide some moisture to the layers of vegetable so that they cook evenly throughout the dish. That’s why I think you could lighten this up, although you still want to keep some cream to get that creamy taste to the dish.

** Possible substitution – Swiss or Emmenthal cheese instead of Gruyere. If you can spring for Gruyere, though, I HIGHLY recommend it. The Gruyere has a slightly nutty flavor that melds with the casserole like buttah. Mwah! (Imagine me kissing my fingers in a cheffy way right now)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a mandoline or food processor with a spinning Ninja disc, slice the sweet potatoes into thin discs about 1/8 inch thick. Rip the kale leaves off the stem and then tear them up into smaller pieces (bite-sized).

2. Warm cream and chopped garlic together to a simmer in small saucepan.

Sweet potato kale au gratin partially assembled

God bless my Cuisinart

3. Butter or spray cooking spray on a 2 1/2 – 3 quart casserole dish. Lay a layer of sweet potato discs in the bottom of the dish, slightly overlapping them. Salt and pepper the sweet potato. Strew about a third of your kale pieces on top of the layer.  Spoon a couple ladles-full of your garlic cream sauce over the kale and sweet potato, lightly pressing down so that the sauce gets to all the pieces.

4. Repeat your layering process two more times, or until your sweet potato and kale run out.

5. Sprinkle the shredded Gruyere over top of the dish, and if some happens to fall in your mouth on the way, well, that’s the cook’s prerogative.

Unbaked sweet potato-kale au gratin

Unbaked au gratin

6. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 min. The dish is done if you can easily poke a knife down through the layers. If the cheese starts to brown too much, just cover the dish with aluminum foil for the last few minutes.

Sweet Potato-Kale Au Gratin halfway through Easter dinner

Yes, that’s my wine in the background

Voila! It is THAT easy, and everyone will love you forever for making it. Let me know if you make it, and how it goes!

A New Definition of Autism: Extraordinary

Posted by on Mar 21, 2013 in Autism, Blog, Parenting, Video | Comments Off on A New Definition of Autism: Extraordinary

I just watched this woman, Faith Jegede, talk about her life with her two brothers with autism in one of the TED talks, and it’s wonderful. Without sentimentalizing the condition or sugarcoating its challenges, she redefines their lack of “normalcy” into its logical conclusion: that they are, in fact, extraordinary.

The video is pretty short, just 6 minutes. If you have any sort of connection or interest to autism at all, you’ll want to see this: