Birthday Boxes

Ooh, the suspense. What's in the box?

Ooh, the suspense. What's in the box?

What to get someone for their 30th birthday? I’d used up my quotas of photobooks and custom made art prints for awhile and none of my ideas seemed to match up with the significance that seems to get dropped on these deca-milestone birthdays? To add fuel to the fire, the present also needed to work for someone that’s nine months pregnant and a house already stuffed with newborn paraphenalia. And I’m just smart enough to realize this present should probably be more about her and less about the baby. Which brings us back to the original question. Jewelry wasn’t totally jibing with our pending addition and therefor more frugal ambitions. What was a guy to do?

Unlike me, Michelle is not a big hobby person which can present some challenges, but still I could think of a lot of smaller gifts that would work, but nothing that seemed big enough for the occasion. Cruising the online gift shops, I stumbled over Norwood Arts’s countdown boxes. While I didn’t want to do the baby gifts, maybe I could borrow the concept. Use the smaller gifts, en masse and make the presentation part of the experience. For my milestone birthday a few years ago, Chelle purchased tickets for three Red Sox games because she wanted the present to be more of an experience than a thing. I was hamstrung by the pregnancy (an experience in itself) on the experience front, but getting ten birthday boxes to be opened one each day might be memorable.

Seven days in and I think the birthday boxes are a success. I bought a number of sizes and styles from the Container Store, printed up some stickers and filled the boxes with a variety of gifts, some small trinkets, others a bit grander in nature. The best part is that after a long day dealing with a baby banging on your ribs, sometimes having a present waiting at home can help make it all a bit better. That and leftover birthday cupcakes, of course.

Garden Party

Snap peas seedlings with chicken wire trellis

Last year I missed the window for the cool season, early spring planting. I had to spend late March, early April pulling up the grass, building the raised beds in the yard and rehabbing/importing soil. I didn’t actually get any plants into the ground until late May. Sure, like a tone deaf man at a karaoke bar, I tried to give it a go with some lettuce and brussel sprouts anyway. The results were not exactly Martha Stewart and rainbows. The heat just kept a foot on the necks of those plants and they never went anywhere. That corner of the garden was like an abandoned block of Detroit. The one real failure in last year’s garden experiment.

One tiny pea plant

Live and learn. This year, freed from two by eights, brackets and back breaking soil improvements, I could get to the planting early. After last year’s efforts, I only had to work in a little compost, some lime and add a few nutrients (blood meal, bone meal, greensand) before getting the dirt under the fingernails. And really, isn’t that why most people garden? A garden is just a guilt-free, bulletproof excuse to play around in a box full of dark, black gold dirt. The only thing missing from my pre-school fantasy was a tiny steam shovel replica.

Aided by some fava bean and snap pea seedlings from the father-in-law, I planted about three quarters of the two raised beds. I wanted to save some room for some early hot plants. Besides doing a better job of canning and preserving the veggies this year (last year everything came in a flood), I wanted to try to do a better job of progression planting to avoid that deluge of produce for two weeks in August. Other than the beans and peas, I have a row of cauliflower, a row of brocolli, three short rows of mixed lettuce, a half row of carrots and some medium containers of head lettuce, swiss chard and some mixed herbs.

More updates throughout the season.

Cupcakes for Chelle

The beginning of April means Michelle’s birthday which also means starting to plan for her requested strawberry dessert. This year, for the second time in a row, we are opting for the cupcakes over the layer cake. Last year’s cupcakes were quite good. After baking as many cupcakes as I have over the past few years, if one still makes me sit up and take notice, it’s probably worth a repeat. So, after conferring with the guest of honor, we decided to do the vanilla cupcakes with strawberry filling and strawberry studded buttercream. The only catch was that I’d misplaced the recipes that had proven such a success last year.  Continue Reading

3 Irish Soda Breads

Irish soda bread today looks nothing like what my great-grandfather probably ate. He would probably find our version just as puzzling and unappetizing as I’d find his. I’ve come around on soda breads. Take out the caraway seeds, use some raisins post-Nixon administration and put in a healthy slug of buttermilk and you have youself a decent treat. Not something you might make everyday, or even once a month, but something worth making once a year to help your stomach acid staunch the copious flow of corned beef and Guiness during that mid-March holiday. Continue Reading

Homemade Bagels

 I tried the bagel recipe from ABiFMaD this weekend. One of the things I like about this technique is the low level of handling. Dough can be scary. It can be disobedient, slipping and oozing out of one’s grip. Those long strings of protein can have minds of their own. Handle it the wrong way and you find yourself facing some tough questions. Where’s the bread for the stew? Why did it collapse? Why does it look like underbaked snot? I’m still trying to work up the nerve to try another pie dough after the Labor Day incident of ’07.

Continue Reading

My Affair with Fresh Bread

I love bread. In my mind that Atkins low-carb fad was simply old school, Cold War, Ruskie propaganda. A twisted cult existing solely to warp the minds of decent working folks. Who doesn’t love bread? It’s damn near un-American. I mean c’mon, it’s made from amber waves of grain and a double shot of rainbows. It’s a wonderful thing and supermarkets across this great nation are perpetuating a crime against our taste buds with those plastic sacks of bland, uniform masses of preservatives and chaff. I’ll concede in moments of weakness and convenience I’ve bought a sandwich loaf, but I’ve never enjoyed it. Continue Reading

Top 5 Non-Denominational Days of the Year

Nothing beats opening day.

Nothing beats opening day.

The iceberg that has parked itself in my driveway since October is finally showing signs of getting onboard with this global warming trend and the dog has finally shown signs of recognizing that there is grass to pee on beneath that cold, white carpet she desipses. All sure signs that spring is finally decided to yawn, stretch, brush the night gunk off her teeth and get the coffee brewing in New England. She hasn’t deigned to actually make eye contact yet and I’ m still wearning the winter coat most days, but it’s close. So close. Close enough to feel that faint whiff of warm spring air on your neck.


Another sure sign that the old lady is up and moving around in the attic is that daylight savings kicks in this weekend and steals an hour of our sleep. Grumpy on Sunday, but oh the rewards come Monday. That first Monday is one of my favorite days of the year. The very special day when you unshackled yourself from your cubicle, walk out the door at the end of the workday and your flourescent adjuted pupils dilate and burn on contact with pure, natural sunlight. Nature’s prozac. Off the clock and still natural daylight? Hold on while I do a leprechaun dance.

So daylight savings is one. What other innocous days cause me to break out in song and shuffle my feet? Christmas? Thanksgiving? Arbor Day? Too easy. Yes, I’m counting down the days till April 24th, but who isn’t? There are a couple days that come to mind.

2. First Iced Coffee of the Year
The first iced coffee of the year. I don’t order this lightly. For me, the order acts as a demarcation. The final stake in the heart of winter. I’m not fooled by an early Indian summer where the mercury tops 60 in February. That’s a fool’s errand. I’ll bide my time. Study the charts and wait for the day that tickles my taste buds. I’ll know and I’ll watch winter turn to dust with that first cool sip.

3. New England Fall Weekend
Before winter wraps us to her icy breast for a long, long winter nap, New England puts on a gloriously tacky ode to cliches and Americana. Bursts of stained glass colored foliage. Covered bridges and white steeples like a Bob Ross painting. Apple pies, cider donuts, pumpkin patches and Ocktoberfest ales. New England puts on a post card worthy show before packing it in to wait out the winter. I make it a point to set aside one weekend to revel, dance, wallow and induldge in one spectacular fall weekend each year.

4. First Weekend of the NCAA Tournament
The madness. The brackets. The shining moments. The sixth string broadcast teams. The wall to wall college basketball. Crippling gambling addiction aside, that first weekend of the NCAA tournament is a basketball fan’s paradise. From noon to midnight, you can battle butt numbness, the shine from Krzyzewski’s forehead, and seizures as CBS shuttles you around the country to a host of different games. This year with 100% less Billy Packer, I’m looking forward to that first weekend even more.

5. Major League Baseball’s Opening Day
Opening Day as a national holiday isn’t too far fetched. Forget for a moment about steriods, ridiculous contracts, Tim McCarver talking about Jeter’s gams or A-Rod’s completely fake apology and just watch a game. Watch a game when the Pirates and Nationals are in first. Watch that first pitch thwack into that oiled mitt. Watch the first homerun sail over the ad-studded fence into fifty dollar bleacher seats. Watch a game and remember the time you got hit five times in one little league game. Watch a game and remember it’s baseball, Ray. It’s marked the time. It’s part of our past.

A couple other days come to mind and deserve some honorable mention. The smell of that first piece of charred flesh searing in the perfect grill marks on the BBQ. That first fall night with just the right chill in the air and clarity in the stars to make you pile up some wood and build a fire outside for s’mores, meade and that burnt umber smell sticking to your skin. And finally, before the talons come out and sink their cold, icy grip into your heart, that first gentle snowfall is a wonderous sight that sparks memories of snowball fights, sledding and hot chocolate. That soft, cottony memory lasts for maybe six hours. Then that iceberg moves in and takes up residence till March. But, hey, by then daylight savings is just around the corner.