As of October 18, 2013, Pie and Beer has moved!

Click here to go to the new address, or stay here to read posts from the archives.

Monday, July 31, 2006


One of my favorite supper foods to make is a simple pasta sauce from Patricia Wells' Trattoria, one of the few Italian cookbooks I actually use; I thought I'd share my slightly pared-down version here. I made it last night in response to a powerful craving. I always cook up a huge batch of it, because it's so good warmed up for lunch the next few days. Sorry no pictures; battery's dead.
Meat and celery sauce: Finely dice 3 large ribs celery and 1 small onion. Put in a large sauté pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil, the finely chopped leaves of 1 bunch celery, at least 1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, and 1 bay leaf. Sauté over medium-high heat until the vegetables are just starting to get soft, 4 to 5 minutes, then scoot everything to the edges of the pan and add about 1 1/4 pounds lean ground beef to the center. Cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until no longer pink; drain off any excess fat. Season with salt and pepper and stir in about two thirds of a can of crushed tomatoes and about 1 cup water. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes (until the pasta's ready). If it's too watery, uncover the pan and boil to thicken the sauce. Taste and season again, then toss a couple big spoonfuls with penne rigate (Wells recommends rigatoni, but I don't care for it myself). For Mr. Chalmers, who doesn't really eat pasta, I've put it over steamed winter squash or large chunks of steamed zucchini.
The important thing is to take the time to finely dice all that celery—it's all about the texture, this sauce. I haven't tried a meatless version, but I think it would be great too.

I was also craving this yesterday, so we snacked on it while sitting on the front porch with the bug:
Chicken-liver crostini: Coarsely chop 1 pound chicken livers and put them in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon butter, some sage, and some juniper berries. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until no longer pink on the inside (or just barely pink). Mince some capers and 3 or 4 anchovy fillets and add them to the livers. Use a slotted spoon to transfer ther livers to a cutting board; finely chop them and return them to the pan to reheat. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly to spread, add a little broth or water. Season with salt and pepper. Spread on toasted baguette rounds.

Friday, July 28, 2006

DPNs, Ho!

I've decided to finally take the leap and try knitting in the round on double-pointed needles. Of course, I had to pick something with cables, if only to up the needle count to five. I'm doing the "fingerless gloves"—more like wrist warmers—from this season's Knitty. So far it's surprisingly easy, and I only had to start over once. I'm just now getting to the thumb, though, which could well be a mess.

For once I'm using exactly the recommended yarn, Debbie Bliss
Cashmerino Aran, which Courtney kindly picked up for me.

I finished knitting up the drop-stitch shell that I started two states and one baby ago. I'm not bothering to finish seaming it or blocking it, because did I mention it was started one baby ago? Also, somehow I managed to make the front about three inches longer than the back.

Maybe I'll make it into a pillow cover; the ladders would probably
look nice with a bright contrasting color underneath. Or maybe I'll
stuff it into a bag and stash it in the closet.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mad Crafty

More adventures in naptime. While the bug slept for an hour and a half this afternoon I made a changing pad that will fit in my regular-sized purse. (The Chalmerses aren't ones for schlepping baby paraphernelia around, but this will allow us to change a diaper anywhere, anytime.) I can even tuck a couple diapers and a ziplock of wipes inside.

It folds up, business letter–style, and is secured with Velcro. For the inside,
the part you put the baby on, I used a new shower curtain liner—just cut the
bottom off one that was too long anyway.

If anybody has any tips for machine-sewing bias binding on, lay them on me. I can never get the second side to line up evenly with the first, so I just whipstitch the second side by hand. I don't mind doing that for something nice like a garment, but it's kind of annoying for a small, quick project like this one.

In other news, we got our first fruit off the beleaguered fig tree the other day. It was figgy, but not too sweet. Maybe the later ones will be better, or next year's.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Cult of Attachment

I apologize in advance for the sudden (but temporary) shift in tone in this blog, and also for the gross simplifications and uninformed generalizations I'm about to make.

Yesterday, on the recommendation of a woman I met on the Fourth of July, I took the bug to a meeting of La Leche League of Athens, mostly so that she could meet other kids and babies. LLL International is a fine organization with admirable goals and a reasonable overarching philosophy. Encouraging more women to breastfeed, promoting baby- and family-friendly hospital environments, and working to increase rates of breastfeeding in developing countries where the poor quality of the water or the lack of facilities with which to sanitize bottles makes using formula a true risk to babies' health—these are all good things, two of which (the latter) are worth being inflexible about.

However, the disastrous rigidity of the majority of Athens members' views on the best way to breastfeed and to "parent" in general is why I won't be attending a second meeting or donating to the organization. (I suspect that this chapter is representative of others around the country.) The idea that women who don't breastfeed exclusively, for years, without using an ounce of formula or even a breast pump, and parents who give their babies pacifiers and allow their kids to sleep in their own cribs rather than the family bed, are insensitive and downright cruel is absolutely ridiculous. It might sound like I'm exaggerating these women's positions here for rhetorical effect, but in fact a large part of the discussion yesterday was devoted to a surprisingly bitter us-versus-them rant, the upshot of which was that people who don't do things their way—no bottle, no pacifier, no crib, no disposable diapers—are bad parents who invariably raise coarse, troublesome kids.

Breastfeeding is well on its way to becoming the norm in this country: about half of children are being breastfed to some extent at three months—and that's great. But that number won't rise significantly (breastfeeding rates among African Americans are much lower than this) unless breastfeeding is normalized—which I think won't happen until groups like LLL ease up a bit and officially acknowledge that (1) some women find it very difficult or impossible to breastfeed, and even with the guidance of experienced LLL leaders the stress it inflicts on a woman may not be worth it, (2) breastfeeding a little is better than not doing it at all, (3) "nipple confusion" is largely a myth, and (4) breastfeeding can easily be the foundation of any number of widely varying "parenting styles." (Also, it wouldn't kill them to make more than a passing reference in their platform to fathers, and their important role in keeping their children healthy, happy, and well fed.)

One mother at the meeting yesterday had apparently had (and was still having) enormous trouble breastfeeding her now-fourteen-month-old kid; name a problem, she'd had it. The child still wasn't gaining enough weight, and the mom was having to take drugs to increase her milk supply (and not telling her doctor about it). I just wanted to turn to her and tell her to go easy on herself already. She'd done her best, she'd nursed as much as she could, and the immunological advantages after the first few weeks are probably overstated anyway (see Sydney Spiesel's article in March 27's Slate). Nobody offered this perspective, needless to say (and I was too scared to). The guilt that groups like LLL inspire with their hard-line approach can be tremendous. My old friend from high school wrote to me when she heard I'd had a baby and offered one piece of advice: Don't worry too much about breastfeeding exclusively. She confided that because nursing was so difficult for her and yet she was determined to do what everyone told her was the right thing for her baby, she felt as if she'd missed out on the first three months of her baby's life. When she made the very difficult decision to supplement with formula and her baby started to gain weight, she and her husband were finally able to relax and enjoy being parents.

I've frittered away too much time this morning, and I can't think of a way to gracefully segué to this weird phenomenon I've been noticing lately, which I'll call the cult of attachment. This will probably sound entirely foreign to the few people reading this, but many of the women at the meeting yesterday seemed to be most proud of the things their children wouldn't do without them: one woman's kid begs her every night to sleep with her; another woman's nine-year-old daughter sits on the toilet seat waiting for her mom to finish her shower every morning. There was a fair amount of one-up-manship going on in the conversation, with each mom describing how much more dependent her kid is on her than the last mom's. My own mother, of course, was always proudest of the things I could do on my own: walk to the YMCA in Butte for swimming lessons when I was four, for example. Encouraging self-sufficiency, not the opposite, was kind of the practical goal, and some measure of early independence never detracted in the least from the love and affection and respect my parents and I have always shared. Having a child need you is one of the simplest and greatest pleasures there is, I'm learning; but having to earn a child's attention and love, which I'll have to do when, soon, the bug won't seem to need me much at all, is a much more complex and (probably) even more rewarding pleasure, one I'm really looking forward to.

There's a lot more to say about all this, but I can tell I'm getting annoying so I'll stop. I'm annoying myself. Time to make some muffins with the gorgeous homegrown blueberries Courtney gave me!

Before and During

Because I might never get around to painting the mantel and doors blue as planned, and because I've kind of gotten used to the green, here's what the baby's room looked like:

And here's what it looks like:

Yes, the nursery, like every other room in the house, has a dark, sooty fireplace in it that used to be full of birds until we had the chimneys capped (the hearths are too shallow for burning wood—they were used for coal fires).

Lazy Days of Sewing

While the bug plays and naps, alternately, on her mat on the floor next to me, I sew stuff and play with the bug, alternately.

The mat I made has only two layers of batting in it, so I put a sleeping bag down underneath it for extra padding. Her beloved whisk is in the background; I attached a bell to the handle for extra noise.

This is the blouse I made after an unsuccessful clothes-shopping day in Athens; it's too large but very comfortable because of it. The trim is woven, the body is a thin knit. I'm not entirely happy with the band at the bottom (it needs to be interfaced with good knit fusible, which I don't have).

Finally made some throw pillows. Just got some solid brown cotton and two very light pinks and made stripes, like a candy box, to match the walls and the mantel. The pillow covers button in back.

Speaking of the play mat, the dogs have taken to it too. Sometimes the bug'll be playing on it and they'll both plop down on either side of her. Cooper is especially fond of her: he'll very gently lick her feet (when Wagner licks her he's all manic and sloppy about it), and he'll sniff her head. This evening when he settled in next to her, she was on her back and she kept reaching up above her head to grab his ear, and at one point, because she puts everything she can reach straight into her mouth, she started to gnaw on his leg (I stopped her); he doesn't mind any of it. He sleeps in front of her crib at night to make sure she's safe and sound (also it's right near a particularly powerful a/c vent).

That's Cooplinhauer in the back, and Wagnerford on the right. She looks scared here, but she's probably just thrown off balance by the bulk of her own diaper.

Warning: gratuitous smiling-baby picture coming up.

Here's the bug in the fancy dress her grandma made for her, posing on the funky couch.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Reason to Go to Church...or a Good Bar

My mom has made the most amazingly fancy baby clothes for the bug, and I wanted to share pictures of two of the dresses—the green and pink one just arrived yesterday, and I gather it's supposed to be a Christmas dress. These little numbers are almost enough to make me want to take the bug to church or something, show her off. Maybe she and I will both get dolled up to go out to the Transmetropolitan one day soon. Of course, Grandma says these could be worn out in the yard, or to Lowe's. The pictures are not good—it's a dark day here, and my hand is unsteady—but they might get the idea across.

This is a pale yellow cotton dress with white antique lace edging and hand smocking.

The smocking, in white thread, is in the shape of hearts.

This dress also uses antique laces.

More smocking!

My mom's also made smocked shoes (!) and two intricately smocked bonnets. And because I'd have had to iron it first I did not take a picture of the cutest outfit of all, a little blue sailor suit with vintage blue braid trim.

In other news, Wagner must've heard me talking on the phone the other day to my mom about my problems with the new Celeste fig tree, because the next time he escaped from our yard and went to the neighbors' house he brought back some work gloves, a trowel, and a full container of 10-15-10 fertilizer.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Are You In?

According to yesterday's NYT Magazine, sectional sofas are hot. Especially curved ones.

Route 17

In the summer in the South, movies at the drive-in can't start until nine o'clock or so, when it gets dark. Given that that's almost past our bedtime these days, and given Anthony Lane's uncharacteristically humorless pan of it in the New Yorker, we suspected we wouldn't make it all the way through Superman Returns at the theater on route 17 outside Dewey Rose, on the way from Elberton to Bowman. We didn't, of course, but it had mostly to do with the dim projection, which was hard on the eyes. New to the format, we didn't realize that parking off to the side and at about mid-field didn't help us any; next time we'll park up front, among the trucks turned backwards, beds to the screen.

We arrived at about the listed start time, before any of those in the know
showed up and the movie started forty-five minutes later.

Also showing were Click and Nacho Libre, whose screens were closer to the projection booth (a crazy tall Hitchcockian house in the middle of the field) and whose picture quality appeared to be brighter and clearer for it.

I can't even begin to describe the "gift shop" on the main floor of the house except to say
that on offer were a couple dozen paintings done in a high medieval style and featuring
maidens on horseback accompanied by stiff-limbed attendants and exaggeratedly skinny hounds.

Also, I think Superman was just a bad movie, although it's hard to say for certain because I was never quite sure what I was looking at. It was a nice night out in the country, though. The moon was beautiful, it was cool, the bug slept well. The drive home had an exciting Twin Peaks quality about it as we passed logging trucks along the railroad leading back to Elberton, granite headstone factories, and an establishment called Scenic View (no windows) that judging from the overflowing parking lot is the place to go in that neck of the woods on a Saturday night. Besides the family drive-in, I mean.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Watermelon and Feta

Go together like pie and beer, as it turns out. Last night the adults in the Chalmers household went into town and had a gorgeous dinner at the Five and Ten. It was a cool, almost fall-like evening, and the restaurant was air-conditioned within an inch, but I couldn't resist ordering the watermelon and feta, a combination I'd been reading about for a couple months on the Chowhound Home Cooking board, where people have been discussing Nigella's version with black olives and parsley and whatnot. Hugh Acheson's salad was so much better than hers sounds. Try this at home: Layer, Napoleon-like, 1/4-inch-thick slabs of sweet seedless watermelon with slabs of French feta and handfuls of baby arugula tossed in a lemon(grass?) emulsion (I think that's what it was; it was lemony and it was emulsified), sprinkle the whole thing with thinly sliced serrano chiles, and top the stack with a thin curl of spicy and very tangy pickled watermelon rind—just the white part. It was an amazing salad. As Mr. Chalmers said, between bites you forget it's going to be weird.

We also had brilliant briny oysters on the half shell. And pan-roasted mahi-mahi with black rice and a cucumber-scallion pickle; and Copper River salmon with creamy barley and perfectly ripe tomatoes and basil. I drank a very good, very bitter Negroni, and then a pale rosé. After dinner we met a friend at Aroma, the fancy coffee shop and bar across the street, and talked about road trips. Why the Chalmerses ever go out to restaurants or bars without a pocket atlas I don't know, because we always end up wanting to consult one.

The bug, meanwhile, had a fine time at home in Carlton except that her new friend the babysitter had to take her out to the car and strap her into her seat to get her to fall asleep. It apparently worked, though, because she was only up once last night after that. This morning she's alert and happy as she tries to put a flat sauce whisk into her mouth.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Free Range

We might try chickens. As an introduction to livestock management and temporary alternative to goats. We celebrated the Fourth of July in Colbert (pronounced CALL-ber), two towns over, at the home of a colleague of Mr. Chalmers'—the crazy parade went right past her house as it wound through the narrow side streets on its way across the railroad tracks (pausing for a freight train to come through) to the main part of town. She keeps three or four hens, in a temptingly—and probably deceptively—simple set-up.

Just out of the frame: an extension cord, at the end of which is a big box fan
trained directly on the chickens; a small framed painting nailed to a tree; and
Christmas ornaments hung from the fence.

It's just a box on legs with a ramp up to it, a fence, a waterer, and straw. Apparently the chickens lay their eggs in the flower bed next to the front door of the house, as she lets them roam around during the day when she's at home. So far I only envision three problems in approximating this system at our place: hawks (I've seen several huge ones in the last few days), Wagner, and Cooper.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Yesterday, a wonderfully aimless Saturday, Superintendant Chalmers smoked two mullet we got at the grocery store in Elberton, Georgia, Granite Capital of the World. He used hickory, and kept the heat very, very low, and stuffed the cavities with parsley stems and lemon slices, seasoned the whole thing with salt. It was lovely. Lots of smoke flavor, but it wasn't overpowering. I think it was better than the smoked mullet we had at the famous place in St. Petersburg, where they use oak (although the quality of the fish itself was far better in the mullet capital of the world than in the granite). I made a quick variation on a gribiche to go with the fish, but it didn't need it.
Sauce for smoked mullet: Some mayonnaise, finely minced parsley (should be dill), minced hard-cooked egg, fresh lemon juice, minced capers.
The bug liked smoked mullet juice. She made faces at first, but by the third or fourth fingerful she was grabbing my hand to bring it to her.

In the evening we played dominoes.

The most satisfying thing about dominoes is the tiles in this set that my mom and dad
brought back from somewhere in South America: heavy, solid, and loud when you
set them down on the table.

I think it's a game best played by more than two people, so you have more of an idea what the other players are holding. Maybe today we'll try Basra, which is a great fast card game with a lot of rules that I find very hard to remember.

The Wagner containment project seems to have been completed. It's been two days since his last escape. He's now working on a tunnel near the gate, but he's digging in the wrong direction!