Archive for October, 2009

3 things to do before your house gets broken into

October 27th, 2009

Since having our house broken into, I’ve been evangelizing three things: back up computers offsite, buy replacement-value insurance, and make a household inventory. I hope your home is never broken into, but if it is, too, life will be a little easier if you’ve done these things.

We all know that we should back up our computers, but not all of us do it. I’ve been guilty of it myself more often than not. However, thanks to my husband, I had two backups, using Apple’s Time Capsule and CrashPlan’s family unlimited plan ($5/month)—so I didn’t lose data when my computer was stolen. However, I also got lucky. The people who broke into our house didn’t take the Time Capsule or the Apple Mini with my CrashPlan backup. If they had, I would have been screwed. (My Carbon Copy Cloner backup to an external hard drive, which Jeff gave me for backing up, was months out of date. When the software got wonky, I gave up in frustration. This is what I typically when I have computer problems, much to both our frustration.)

Now I’m preaching offsite backup. My Mozy online backup (2GB free) was incomplete and out of date. I was  also months behind in uploading my photos to SmugMug. (I pay for this service, which retains images at full size. If you want to join, the referral code qq2upFAqbRWVc will give you a $5 discount.) We’ve also bought some 1.5TB SATI drives, so we can take backups to work.

Something else I knew I was supposed to do and never bothered to do: Walk around the house with a digital camera or camcorder and take pictures of everything. Because I never got around to doing a household inventory, I doubt we’ll ever know everything that’s missing.

One thing I got right: We have replacment-value renters’ insurance and had a rider for my wedding and engagement rings (the main policy covers only $1,000 of jewelry) with USAA. If you have a parent who served in the military, you’re eligible to join this financial services organization, and I highly recommend that you do. We also have car insurance through USAA. Over the past eight years, I’ve been in two car accidents and our house has been broken into twice. Each time, USAA has been great. (Because neither accident was my fault, I’ve unfortunately had to deal with other insurance companies, which has not been as pleasant). USAA already paid me for my rings, but as I told the rep, I’ll gladly give the money back if my rings are recovered—about a one in a million chance.

Out of all of this, if you do nothing else, please, please back up your computer. Out of all the wonderful things my husband does for me, at the moment when I heard my laptop was gone, I was most grateful that getting me to back up my computer was one of them.

having our house broken into

October 26th, 2009

In broad daylight, on the corner of two busy streets, our house was broken into three weeks ago. The week after the break-in, the other executive editor in my department was mugged at gunpoint outside her house. This is my first blog since.

I wish I could report that I’ve been writing and baking, but instead I’ve been watching too much TV and eating too sugar, in the form of candy and readymade desserts, a la Marie Callendar. Yesterday, I went back to yoga class. Today, I made blueberry pancakes, rode my bike to the park with Carter, took a nap, and now I’m blogging after midnight, so it’s my first more normal weekend.

The break-in happened the first day back at work after vacation.  I knew it was bad news when Jeff called, rather than IM’ing, me: “We’re been robbed,” he said. “Again.” (A guy broke into our house eight years ago. He’s doing 25 to life, but that’s another story.)

Jeff came home for lunch and found a broken window and a ransacked house. The only lucky thing was timing. No one was home, Jeff didn’t walk in on them, and we had the entire afternoon (which we needed) to clean up, so when Carter came home, things looked as normal as possible. We told Carter simply that some bad guys took some of our stuff and the police came to help, and he’s mostly taking it in stride.

They used our tools to take down the big-screen TV, my kitchen stool to pick and chose from what few wine and alcohol bottles we had on top the refrigerator, and our duffle bags, still out from vacation, to cart stuff away.

The electronics, including three laptops and monitors, can be replaced. What can’t: my jewelry, including my engagement and wedding rings, which were home because they needed to be repaired.

I use my grandmother’s sewing cabinet as a bedside table, and I kept the jewelry I wear in the top two drawers, each about a foot square and a few inches deep. They didn’t just take the jewelry—they took the drawers—along with a jewelry box full of childhood keepsakes, like the charms I collected when my family went camping in Europe in 1975.

Aside from my wedding ring set with my grandmother’s diamond, no individual piece of jewelry had any monetary worth to speak of; it was all sentimental: my grandmother’s crystal beads, my mom’s gold heart locket my great aunt gave her for her first communion, the silver bangle bracelets my mom got in Acapulco on her honeymoon, the sapphire earrings Jeff gave me, the earrings our friend made me as a wedding present…most of my jewelry was gifts from friends and family, all with their own stories.

Their loss is also a story now. I just wish it weren’t mine.

More thoughts to come.

blueberry buttermilk pancakes

October 4th, 2009

Back home and time for Sunday breakfast. Carter agreed he wanted pancakes and even requested that they be blueberry, but he also added, “I’ll just mix the wet and dry ingredients together.” Should I be proud of his baking vocabulary, off-put because he’s curtailing time with me making pancakes, or both?

To be fair, he had just started watching an episode of  Super Why, a PBS Kids show that he discovered on vacation, Jeff recorded for him, and Carter did pause long enough to mix the wet and dry ingredients together. (He rejected my plain metal whisk in favor of the red whisk; kitchen utensils in a favorite color can be  a powerful draw for a young baker.) Plus he knows to not overmix, which makes me proud and also makes for some light, fluffy pancakes.

All of us had seconds, then thirds! Carter had two at a time with cherry jam sandwiched in between.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

1/4 cup butter, melted, plus extra to grease pan, if needed
2 cups flour (I use 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup white whole-wheat flour)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, preferably room temperature (for an egg-free version, substitute 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed and 6 tablespoons water)
2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Optional: Preheat oven to 200ºF. Put in a baking sheet to keep cooked pancakes warm.

Melt 1/4 cup butter and set aside to cool somewhat.

In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix just to combine. The batter will be thick and lumpy. Do not overmix!

Heat a nonstick skillet over first low then medium heat until water sizzles when dropped on it. (If the pan needs to be greased, use the extra butter.) Spoon batter into the skillet using an ice-cream scoop (yields about 16 pancakes) or ladle. Sprinkle the tops with some of the blueberries. Cook for 2–3 minutes, or until the edges are starting to look dry, batter in the middle starts to bubble, and the bottoms are golden brown. Flip and cook another 2–3 minutes on the other side.

Serve or put in the preheated oven on the baking sheet to stay warm until all the pancakes are made. Serve with maple syrup warmed in the microwave, if desired.

Recipe updated January 3, 2012, originally adapted from Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes from The Cookworks, Food Network

cupcake lessons

October 3rd, 2009

daddy's cupcakes

1) Overfilled cupcake batter bubble over and make a mess—as in, “What’s burning?”

2) To rescue a cupcake after its batter bakes over: Trim top to neaten. Cut the cupcake in half; sandwich cherry preserves in the middle. Serve upside down. Feed husband one. Eat two.

3) Sometimes Carter would rather watch TV with Daddy than bake with Mommy, even when baking is his idea!

Those are the lessons I learned when I made cupcakes—Carter’s idea—the night before Jeff’s birthday last month. (It’s Day 11 on the road: a couple of days of business meetings in New York followed by a New England/Canada cruise with the boys. Obviously, I’m way behind on blogging.)

I used a recipe for 48 mini cupcakes but baked them in standard-size muffin tins. When I came up with 11, I know the math and knew I should have redistributed the batter to make 12. But I was tired after a long day, and it was a lot easier to put water in the last cup. (Water in any empty cups helps protect a muffin pan in the oven.)

Most of the cupcakes came out fine (or good enough to camouflage with frosting). Carter helped frost those for the actual birthday celebration.

Carter did all the decorating. As you can see, we pretty much use the same birthday candles for everyone, whether Daddy or Pink Bear, and we’re out of red sprinkles.

I’m hanging out in Newark and don’t have the cupcake recipe with me. I’ll post it when I get home. The desserts on the cruise were beautiful and delicious—and abundant—but I’m also looking forward to getting back in the kitchen with Carter and baking our own.