Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Drama of the Lego-Gifted Child

There is a battle raging, silently, in my tub. Rather, in a salsa container full of water in the tub.
Scuba Mini-Figure guy is holding a purple crystal, and holding onto a yellow Rock Monster, who has an enormous sword, the size one should not be able to yield in real life. Another giant sword floats in the water nearby, always out of reach of Scuba Guy... and they float like this all night, grappling each other in a mortal combat which Kiddo contrived out of his cool, freaky little head.

"Honey, why are there Legos in the bathtub?" I ask my husband this. Kiddo doesn't like baths, so I know it wasn't just a toy migration for some water play. Joe answers that this was the better option; the salsa container of water was originally on a shelf in Kiddos room. I'm glad there was some logic involved,and glad that we have one of those drain-strainers in the shower, because Kiddo loves to make Lego creations which have to do with water.

The only real problem with this is that Legos neither sink, nor are they entirely buoyant. Which means that Lego boats take on water but Lego Forts full of trapdoors also don't stay righted at the bottom of the sink or tub, but haphazardly float along.

That's not the only place they float. Legos are migrating all over my house. We joke that our parenting style can be, at times, one of benevolent dictatorship, and I have repeatedly banned Legos from the kitchen. I work there, dammit, and if you can't eat it or eat off of it, get out of my kitchen. Really, they are like an invading army. They have the living room, they have spread out to the dining area, which is really just like the living room extended, because our house is a small bungalow and the archway between the two is just a suggestion of separation and who are we kidding anyway?

It has occurred to me, on more than one occasion, that Legos are plastic and plastic is forever and that the Legos may very well outlast me in this house if all goes well and we pass it along to Kiddo.
Let's hope HIS kids are then playing with them and it's not just him at a huge table in the basement, all by his lonesome. (I'll lower the bar and say that if he's part of an adult Lego club, that's cool too. Just so long as he's getting out, right?) I get the feeling that hundreds of years from now, if we haven't plasticized and dumbed-down the human race out of existence, that someone is going to find the artifacts of this activity in the very ground my house currently sits on.

Just because Kiddo is enthralled with All Things Lego and has sung "Everything Is Awesome" in every vocal style possible (including mumble-mouthed and slurred), it doesn't mean we share every Lego moment with him. There was a recent Lego version episode of The Simpsons and my husband asked if I'd let Kiddo watch it. Uh, no. Legos don't make it a kid's show... but I'll bet Legos are a fun indulgence of some of their staff and many of their regular adult viewers. I'm a bit geeky that way, which is why I love the show; where else do you get such literary tips of the animation hat as spoofs of Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled" which somehow morphs into Marge reading "The Rug Less Vacuumed" (a tome meant for my house as vacuums inevitably mean that some sort of Black Hole is existent in the Lego Universe)?

There are some lines I draw in regard to Legos. Like the Lego magazine? Not the Kid's Club, which is already pretty promotional, but the actual catalogs. That publication is not allowed in our house at present, lest we hear the endless strains of "I Want...." It's bad enough that there are the published LEGO Encyclopedias , which are nothing more than really cool, simplistic catalogs as it is. At least those are finite; once printed, they stay the same for at least a while. We don't leave out toy catalogs anyway, lest Kiddo is infected with a bad case of the Gimmes over toys he doesn't even really want.

We have thousands of Legos here in this house. I've spent what feels like hundreds of hours focusing on Legos, building next to him, helping him build structures, even having to restart and reformat the old laptop I had when some Lego building instructions came with a new browser, surprise surprise. (WTH!) But by far and away, I've spent the majority of my contact with the plastic bricks in clean-up mode. I have found them far away behind the couch. I do my best to do a clean sweep before getting out the Kirby, but sometimes there's that telltale "clackety-click-clack" as it is inducted into the vac bag full of dust, hair and other crap. No, I won't open up the vacuum bag for that Lego. Don't even ask.

Add to this, the emotional clean-ups I must regularly attend to when the Legos aren't coming together correctly, when the project isn't going to plan -- mainly because there was no plan to begin with, just an idea. When the lack of engineering experience becomes evident, there can be Exploding Legos, Legos hurled down in disgust at the self and faulty inexperience; the short temper, lack of knowledge and  desperate frustration all hallmarks of childhood in any case. It's hard, then, to reason with someone that their dream structure may not be a reality because, see, over here instead of that one cool brick? you need more support under that next level if the top is to stay on. The architecture of the Lego structures is bound to the same rules most earthly structures are and defying those rules can result in Ice Monster Cave Collapse or Horrible Haunted House Hassles or Variations on Vehicular Vexation.... or, in short, tears.

I remind Kiddo that sometimes, his ideas are just too advanced for his abilities as yet, and that, as he learns more math and geometry, he's going to become a better Lego builder. For all the rhetoric in The Lego Movie about everyone being awesome and special and important, I think what we forget is that to be good at most anything, you have to bring more than creativity and imagination to the game: you have to know the basics of building, period. There's value in knowing the basics, understanding the fundamentals, in being able to translate an idea into an actual physical manifestation of what one wants to make. Just as dreaming aloud does not translate into someone's fantasy home (we take those ideas to an architect, so our dream house doesn't fall down around our ears), creativity alone needs the partnership of  knowledge for ideas to thrive. I'm hopeful that this will happen, but do not expect it too soon.

It's going to be a Lego Summer. I can feel it in my bones. And under my toes! Ouch! 
With steady hands, Kiddo carries his watery creation into the kitchen, Scuba Mini-Guy and Rock Monster. "Mom! See? They are in the biggest battle ever." Holding back the "not in the kitchen!" I bite my tongue and smile. And move the computer off the table, lest the water spill, adding more spice to my life than necessary.  Drama of the Legos indeed!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Almond Cherry Cobbler

I'm in heaven.... or at least my nose is. Just a minute ago I was standing over a big glass pan steaming with cobbler from the oven, still baking itself off and turning golden brown in spots right before my eyes, and breathing in that wonderful scent, heavy with butter, almonds, vanilla, cinnamon and a slight tangy whiff of cherry. The air is delicious in here and since I'm in such a great mood, I thought I'd share the recipe.

Giving credit where credit is due, I found this on AllRecipes and as usual, I skimmed through the most helpful reviews. That's my favorite place to find tweaks worth considering. I followed Chef Jayne's idea of using more cherries and adding the cinnamon and vanilla into the original recipe. And I also bought some slivered raw almonds because they pair so nicely with cherries. Any excuse to add a bit of almond, right? I should also mention that the batter makes something very much like a pancakey-sort of cobbler, so expect that sort of a texture, less of a cakey or crumbly one.

So, while this Almond Cherry Cobbler is cooling, I'll share the recipe:

You'll need:
1/2 cup butter

1 cup flour
3/4 cup white or turbinado sugar
 1 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

3-4 cups pitted cherries
3/4 cups sugar (less if cherries are sweeter, full amount for sour cherries)
1 Tblsp flour
1 Tblsp kirsch or brandy

Handful or so raw sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place butter in a glass 9x13 pan, and melt in oven, about five minutes.
Remove when melted.

In a bowl, stir together dry ingredients for the batter: flour, sugar and baking powder, then mix in the milk, vanilla and cinnamon and stir until batter is smooth. You are now going to pour this batter into the baking pan, over the butter.

 Please note: Do not pour in the batter until the butter has cooled a bit, or it will start cooking the batter as it's poured in. If this does happen, very gently use a spatula to draw the batter toward the edges of the pan-- it's not going to get there by itself. Trust me on this one.

You can use the same bowl again, just give it a rinse and it's time to get your cherries ready. Put them in the bowl, toss to coat with the sugar, flour, and brandy, and then spoon them onto the batter. You won't want to just pour it on; part of the charm of this dish is the cherries peeking out from the depressions in the pastry, so no stirring them together.

Last, take out your raw almonds and gently scatter them according to your taste. I like a lot, I'm also now wondering how to make a marzipan to marble through the cobbler. Wouldn't that be something?

Cook in the oven for about 50-60 minutes and test with a toothpick; when it draws out clean from the pastry, it's done. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fresh Lemon and Rosemary Roasted Veggie Salad

There is nothing that quite says summer like a great potato salad. I love it, but so often the tasty ones from the deli have a lot of raw onions, which isn't the best for many of us. This combination of red potatoes, carrots and red bell peppers is roasted in a covered dish has a great texture which lends it to absorbing the flavors of an easy lemon mayonnaise dressing.

Here's what to do:

This serves two (generous helpings):

Place in a bowl~
4 small-med red potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1-1.5 carrots, cut into coins, half the thickness of the potatoes
1/2-3/4 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 dice

Drizzle with olive oil, season with thyme, salt, pepper and some rosemary sprigs and toss thoroughly to coat. Place in a covered backing dish and cook for about 20 minutes, check for tenderness, stir and then cook until done. Remove from oven and let cool, uncovered, for a few minutes.

Wash and pat dry a handful of fresh Italian parsley, finely chop leaves.

In a non-reactive bowl, add the juice of half a lemon, strained, whisk with a big spoonful of mayonnaise of your choice. Add some salt to taste, some pepper, and stir in with the vegetables and parsley all together. Let sit for flavors to absorb and move to the refrigerator or serve warm immediately. Both versions are delicious.

I tend to eat on the more tame side, so you can also add in capers or roast up some garlic cloves to spice up your version of this. I believe the best dishes are suited to our own taste and pushing our flavors toward things which our own palates enjoy most is very satisfying. Enjoy!