Monday, March 30, 2009

In three parts

That fateful night, a week ago, when Mr. Handsome decided to indulge in a strawberry smoothie and declare himself the loser to our spending freeze, I was busy doing industrious things, such as paging through a Food and Wine magazine while listening to my brother and his wife and my other brother perform their groovy songs. At the back of the magazine I spied a recipe for coconut brownies. The title did not catch my eye, but the photo did (I am like everyone else, it appears, drawn like a magnet to pictures of artfully displayed consumables): a little chocolate-covered square on a plate, the outline of an almond just visible through the dark sheen of chocolate.


It was that almond bump that snagged me.


The recipe filled an entire page but didn’t seem too complicated, so on a small piece of card stock, the reverse side of which was a form that customers could fill out to inform the cafĂ© of how they were doing and enter in a drawing for a free meal, I jotted down the recipe in my tiniest handwriting, employing all sorts of abbreviations and short-cut instructions while doing my best to remain clear. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing the magazine again any time soon.

There were only two ingredients I didn’t have on hand, the sour cream and the orange rind (optional), but when Mr. Handsome sheepishly headed over to the counter to place his unnecessary order, I did three things: first, my jaw dropped in mock horror, second, I laughed, and third, after taking a couple minutes to absorb the full meaning of my newfound freedom—I could buy new jeans! go out for coffee with a friend! order some books on Amazon! serve my family boxed cereal!—only then did it occur to me how his purchase related to the recipe I was so diligently copying down: “Hey! I can buy the sour cream for these brownies now!”


Which I did, right off, like any deserving little winner. (I skipped the orange zest, though I do believe it would be a nice addition ... maybe next time.)

There are three parts to these brownies: the brownie base, the coconut filling, and the chocolate glaze. The brownie base is fantastically thin and rich, almost like a fudge, but with a bit of a chew to it. The coconut filling is perfect—intensely coconut-y with just enough egg whites and sour cream to tie it together, but just barely.


But the chocolate glaze, while not a complete disaster, was lacking. I followed the recipe to the letter but somehow ended up with a runny glaze that barely glossed the coconut layer—all the coconut pieces were visible, poking through the chocolate. (It was probably because I had used raw cream which feels thinner to me, so when I make this recipe again, I will add only half of the cream, increasing it as needed.) I remedied the runny problem by melting more chocolate and thinning it with the already-made glaze.

In the magazine picture, the brownies appeared to be chocolate-coated on all sides, like individual chocolates. I tried to make mine like so, but found it to be too labor intensive (the chocolate dribbled unevenly down the sides and clumps of coconut kept tumbling into the bowl of glaze), so after a bit of playing around I finally settled on adding the chocolate as a third layer.

And one other thing: the magazine declares that this recipe makes forty brownies, which it does if you chose to so cut them, but I found them to be on the big side. I recommend cutting them smaller (and using more almonds accordingly). I shared plates and tins of these brownies with four other families and we still have about a dozen more in the refrigerator, so if you make these be prepared to make some deliveries.


Coconut Brownies
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, October 2008

For the brownie base:
1 cup sugar
1 stick, plus 1 tablespoon, butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
14 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla

Place the first four ingredients in a saucepan and bring them to a boil. Put the chocolate pieces in a glass bowl.

Pour the boiling sweet liquid over the chocolate, let it sit for one minute, and whisk the mixture until the chocolate has completely melted.

Add the flour, salt, eggs, and vanilla, stirring briefly to combine.

Pour the batter into an 11 x 17 pan (or use an 8 x 8 pan and a 9 x 12 pan) that has been greased and lined with parchment paper (letting the paper extend beyond the edges of the pan just a little, and greasing the parchment paper, too). Bake the brownies at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.


Cool the brownies and then slip the pans into the freezer to chill for thirty minutes, or until firm. While the brownies are cooling and chilling, work on the coconut layer.

For the coconut layer:
7 egg whites
1 1/3 cups white sugar
6 ½ cups (one pound) shredded coconut, unsweetened
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla (or one vanilla bean, just the seeds)
1 teaspoon orange zest, optional

Put a mixing bowl over/in a kettle of boiling water. Put the egg whites and the white sugar in the mixing bowl and beat with a hand-held mixer for about two minutes, until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are warm. Remove the mixing bowl from over the boiling water and continue to beat till stiff peaks are formed, about another eight minutes. Fold in the coconut, sour cream, vanilla, and optional zest. Spread the coconut mixture over the cooled brownies and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and set. Once the brownies are cool, cover and refrigerate. When they have chilled through, glaze with the chocolate.


For the chocolate glaze:
1 pound and 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ½ tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
4 ½ tablespoons light corn syrup
2 1/4 cups heavy cream

Place the first three ingredients together in a bowl. Boil the cream and pour it over the chocolate. (Note: Start with one cup of cream and then add more as needed. The goal is to have the glaze be thickly drizzle-able.) Let the ingredients stand for one minute and then whisk till the chocolate has completely melted. Let the glaze rest for ten minutes before glazing the brownies.

To assemble:
40-50 whole almonds, roasted (preferably unsalted, though salted also works)

If you would like to completely glaze each brownie, covering both the sides as well as the top, lift the brownies out of the pan, using the parchment paper as handles. Set the brownies on a cutting board, slice into pieces, top each brownie with an almond, place the brownie on a fork and holding it over the bowl of melted chocolate with one hand while using your other hand to spoon the chocolate over the brownie. Set the brownies on a rack to dry. Once the chocolate has set (it will still be soft), place the brownies in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.


Alternately, if you simply want the chocolate glaze to be a third layer, stud the top of the brownies with the almonds and pour the chocolate over all. Refrigerate the brownies till the chocolate has set, cut the brownies into serving pieces, and return the brownies to the refrigerator.

The brownies will stay fresh in the refrigerator for at least a week, maybe two. (I see no reason why they couldn’t be frozen, though I did not do so. If you try to freeze them, please report back on the results.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chicken in the kitchen

“Mama! Who killed that chicken?!”

Sweetsie had spied the pasty-white bird, stripped of its Perdue wrapper and lounging lazily in the roasting pan, sitting atop the kitchen counter.

Wow. If that doesn’t make you feel like Mother Earth incarnate, I don’t know what will: your five-year-old sees dead poultry and wonders who done did the killin’. Wow. We are some down-home folks, for sure.


She didn’t notice the pop-up timer thingy, obviously, but if she had, she probably would’ve thought it was some odd body part, like a knuckle bone protruding from the chicken’s pudgy white breast.

I find Sweetsie’s matter-of-fact observation of our dinner’s main course both funny and encouraging: it was alive; it is now dead; someone made that happen; who? My children may be only marginally acquainted with McDonald’s nuggets, but they know that in order for them to eat chicken, someone has to do the butchering, and even without a television to teach them the ins and outs of their universe, they have had their share of real life ups and downs, otherwise known as “science lessons.” We’ve butchered our own chickens (though the PC terminology has now replaced “butchered” with “harvested”), purchased our beef from our neighbors’ (passing their house on our way into town: That’s our hamburger standing there. Hey! It’s EATING that green hose! Well, um, I guess if you bite into a piece of rubber when you’re eating your meatballs at least you’ll know what it is...), shoveled rotted chicken matter (picking out the chicken bones to feed to an uninterested Francie) onto the garden’s plants, disposed of sick and turned-mean animals, witnessed puppy births, witnessed a human birth (only Miss Becca Boo), fed dead pet fishies to the chickens, guarded (and destroyed and built) robins’ nests, endured pet bites and scratches, cried over and buried a dead puppy, gutted and dissected a squirrel, tasted fried locust, helped cut up a deer killed, er, harvested by their grandaddy, and swatted flies and smooshed potato bugs. As a result, my children are nonplused when they see a dead chicken sitting on the kitchen counter.

I take that back—when Miss Becca Boo and Yo-Yo saw the chicken, they yelled and squealed and jumped up and down for joy. They love chicken.


I shooed the thrilled kids out of the kitchen and went about preparing the bird, slipping some pieces of fried bacon into the chicken’s cavity, pouring the bacon grease mixed with brandy over the top, and then slipping the chicken into the oven to roast.

The chicken took longer to roast than I had anticipated, so the kids were plenty hungry when I called for dinner. After they ate their obligatory serving of peas and mashed potatoes and gravy, they had seconds of chicken, and thirds, and fourths, and fifths. In exasperation, I moved the chicken out to the kitchen, but they followed, sticking their hands into the cavity, pulling off the succulent morsels, searching for the wishbone, even crunching into the bones to see what they tasted like.


We’re easily impressed, that’s for certain. And we like our chicken.

Brandied-Bacony Roast Chicken
Adapted from Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson.

The bacon and brandy flavor the chicken in a mild and unobtrusive way, but as Nigella says, “It’s still what it is.” Meaning, it’s still just roast chicken. But! The drippings make the most fantastic gravy, so don’t make the mistake of overlooking them.

one dead chicken
2-4 pieces of bacon, cooked
1/4 cup of bacon grease, or whatever you get when you fry the bacon
1/4 cup brandy (I used triple sec)
the neck and giblets, reserved for the gravy
½ cup flour, approximately
salt and pepper

For the gravy:
Put the neck and giblets in a saucepan, cover them with about a quart of water, bring the water to a boil and then simmer for a couple hours, till the water has reduced by half. Remove the giblets and neck and either save them to add to the soup pot for broth, feed them to the animals, or pick the meat off the bones and cut it up to add to the gravy—you choose.

Put a cup of water in a pint jar, add the flour, screw the lid on tight and shake vigorously for thirty seconds. Pour the flour water through a strainer into the saucepan of hot, giblet-less water. Put the saucepan back on the heat and whisk continuously till it has thickened. Set it aside until the chicken is done, at which point you add the pan’s drippings to the gravy and stir some more. Season with salt and pepper, heat through, and serve.

Yield: at least a quart of gravy, maybe even a couple cups more.

For the chicken:
Put the chicken in a roasting pan, breast-side up. Rub salt and pepper over the chicken and put the cooked bacon in the chicken’s cavity. Mix together the bacon grease and brandy in a little saucepan, heat through, and pour over the chicken. Bake at 350 degrees till tender (or until the little pop-up do-hickey pops up). Transfer the chicken to a serving platter (scrape the rich drippings into the gravy), and serve.

Broth:
Collect all the bones and uneaten chicken parts, cover with a couple gallons of water, and simmer for 6-12 hours. Cool, strain, and freeze the resulting broth.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Happy Pappy!

Ever since I’ve given my father the blog name of The Happy Pappy, I’ve had a niggling feeling that I ought to clarify that title. The definition of a happy pappy is “an old pot-bellied fart who spends much of the day with his apathetic arse parked in a half-broken down rocking chair on his sagging front porch, rocking methodically and spitting streams of tobacco juice at the flies that swarm the maggoty mutts lounging about his feet.”


According to that definition (that I made up) my father is not a happy pappy, or any derivative thereof. So, you ask, why did I give him that name?

Well, it wasn’t really me that gave him that name. We’ve all, my mother and brothers and I, always teasingly (my mother’s teasing sometimes comes with a side-kick of sarcasm: Just because you’re in West Virginia does not mean you have to drop the “g” from words!) called him a happy pappy, mostly because he adored the steep, dark West Virginian hollers where we moved when I was ten years old. And because he’s a homebody who likes to chat with the neighbors, muck around barefoot in his garden, raise a couple steers and a handful of chickens, eat windfall apples, make his own few quarts of maple syrup, and sit on the front porch’s rocking chairs and shoot the breeze with guests. (I had to put the front porch piece in there, though he likes the side porch just as well, I think.)


Those traits aside, my father is nothing like a happy pappy. He rides his bike the seven miles to school and the seven miles back, he reads all manner of scientific tomes, he doesn’t smoke, drink, or chew, and there’s not an idle bone in his trim body.


To better illustrate how happy pappy my father is not, I’ll share one of my favorite stories (adapted from our book) about him, a story that makes me puff with pride to be his daughter.

Damning Four-Wheelers

My father loved our little cabin tucked down between the mountains in Tucker County. He thought it was Eden, and gloried in the jungle woods, pristine waters, and wild creatures—bobcats, fishers, bears, even cougars (it was rumored). The roadsides dropped off sharply into oblivion. Against the black night sky, the stars actually twinkled. The creek roared after a heavy rain, crickets cheeped in the summer, but the silence, otherwise, lay vast and undefiled ... until one Sunday right around lunch time when we suddenly heard a tremendous commotion—the sound of motors—wafting our way from somewhere in the blue yonder, and we dropped our jaws. Jimmy Dove’s place, maybe? My brothers rushed out to investigate.

And then, because it was time to eat, my dad set off to round them up. I finished sprinkling powdered sugar on a gingerbread and putting applesauce in a dish (I have a knack for remembering the mundane) and took off after them.

My memory is fuzzy (used it all up on the story’s edible components, I guess) but I have a clear picture of arriving at the stream just in time to see my enraged father tear into the icy cold water churned brown by the joyriders, slapping it with his fists and screaming, the damn damn damns pouring from his throat, cursing the trespassers’ assault and destruction. He sounded absolutely and positively stark raving mad.

One by one the riders cut their motors and sat there, bobbing stupidly. As suddenly as he had started, my father stopped screaming, turned and climbed back up out of the creek, picked his wallet and keys up from the bank where he’d tossed them, and after a few words with Jimmy Dove, we (him, dripping wet, and me and my brothers, semi-dazed) headed for home.

He was hoarse for the rest of the day. We were in awe.

Because I said I would

I promised you a snickerdoodle recipe, didn’t I? I think I best deliver it now, before too much time elapses and I forget that I ever promised you anything.


One of the first things I did, back when we went on that two week-long dairy free experiment, was to mix up some cookies for Sweetsie, something she could eat while the rest of us ate our milk-infused pastries. I picked through my cookie recipes and chose several that looked like they would be easy to swap out the butter for non-dairy subs, and finally settled on snickerdoodles.


I normally don’t like snickerdoodles because they seem so plain—not soft, not rich enough, just blah. But these, well! Maybe it was the recipe, or maybe it was the butter substitutes (lard and coconut oil), but there was nothing blah about them. With a hint of coconut and a touch of nutmeg and cinnamon, the flavor was simple and elegant and not one little bit dull. And the texture was perfect—thinly crispy-chewy—making me want to crunch my teeth into them, over and over and over again.

Now granted, I didn’t fall in love with them immediately. At first I thought them too greasy and without sufficient kick, but Mr. Handsome said good things about them (and as I’ve already explained, it’s rare indeed for Mr. Handsome to volunteer complimentary information about my cooking), so I reconsidered. Perhaps it was a case of the Cook’s Perspective Problem, I thought—you know, sometimes when you’re the one spending extended periods of time measuring, stirring, and tasting, the final product just doesn’t taste as good to you as it does to others.


And wouldn’t you know, that was the case! By the next day, after the cookies had a chance to mellow and I had a break from the kitchen, all my reservations were tossed to the wind—I was deeply and irrevocably in love with them.

Snickerdoodles
Adapted from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett

These are the ideal cookie to eat alongside butterscotch pudding, or any pudding, for that matter.

I even used the cookies as a substitute for my standard oat-butter topping for fruit crisp---I simply whacked several of the cookies to pieces with a rolling pin and sprinkled the crumbs on top of the fruit---just so Sweetsie could eat some, too.


2 2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 to ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 ounces lard
4 ounces coconut oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 ½ tablespoons light corn syrup
2 eggs
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup sugar mixed with 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon, for topping

Cream together the lard, coconut oil, and sugar. Add the syrup, eggs, and vanilla and beat some more.

Stir together the dry ingredients (flour through nutmeg) and add them to the creamed butter.

Let the dough rest for about ten minutes (to allow it to firm up a bit) before shaping into small balls. Roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar mixture, set the cookies on greased baking sheets, and bake them at 375 degrees for 8-11 minutes—the edges should be lightly browned and the centers should still be pale, but set. Allow the cookies to rest on the cookie sheets for two more minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

These store well at room temperature (probably because of the coconut oil), but they can also be frozen in an airtight container of some sort.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The winner

Remember our little spending freeze that I wrote about back in January? Well, guess what! I won!!! Heeheehee! Hohoho! Hahaha! No surprises there, sorry, 'cause it's not like I have a history of winning, or anything.


Nana-nana-boo-boo!
You lost and I won, for the THIRD time! IwonIwonIwon!


Alright! I'll stop rubbing my strawberry smoothie-loving husband's face in the dirt. I am a nice person, really. I know how to win gleefully, I mean, gracefully.

If you want to read about the purchase (and surrounding event) that toppled my hubby, go here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Getting the juices flowing

Do you ever get in the mood to cook but don’t know what to make so you waffle all over the place, flipping and clicking your way through cookbooks and internet, totally wasting time and accomplishing nothing? I get in those moods a lot, and when I do, then I know it’s time to caramelize some onions.


It really is the best method for getting myself out of the I-want-to-cook-but-I-don’t-know-what-to-make funk. The prep time is quick, the cook time is slow, and the rich smells get your brain juices to flowing and unstick your culinary stuckness.

Even if you don’t need caramelized onions, do it anyway. I learned from Nigella Lawson that you can freeze caramelized onions (she says they make a “gorgeous mush” and suggests freezing them in ice cube trays, but I put mine in little plastic containers instead) and then you have the rich, sweet onions on hand to add to any sauce or soup. (I used a container of frozen mushy onions in a ham and sausage quiche the other night and it elevated the simple pie most divinely.)


Caramelized Onions

Clunk your biggest cast-iron skillet onto the stove and turn the burner to medium-high. Pour in a couple glugs of olive oil (or use several generous pats of butter, instead).

Moving quickly, peel three or four onions and roughly chop them up—you can even leave them in rings, if you so please.

Scrape the onion pieces into the hot oil, sprinkle them with salt, and give them a stir. Once the onions are thoroughly browned (about ten to fifteen minutes), turn the heat down to medium-low and stir them occasionally. They’ll probably be done after about 30-45 minutes.

Divide the onions into little containers to freeze, or use immediately to flavor some savory dish.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's about enough

This morning I had the privilege (ha!) of taking all four of my children to the dentist.

We had to wait for nearly an hour before we were called, which wasn’t too bad since the first thing I did upon arriving was to ask the receptionist if I could put in a video. The kids sat, slack-jawed, till it was their turn and then the two older kids did me proud, acting all mature and calm and civilized (though Yo-Yo did slip a set of Billy Bob teeth into his mouth before sitting down in the chair). The Baby Nickel even followed most of the hygienist’s instructions.

But Sweetsie, bless her heart, was a different story, or rather, animal. As is her custom, she refused to open her mouth and any time a white coat hove into sight she assumed her don't-touch-me posture: lips pressed tight together, head nestled low between raised shoulders, and back turned. The dentist said we should just let it go, but that because this isn’t normal behavior at this great late age of five, he would make a referral to an office where they could knock her out with laughing gas in order to make the whole experience more pleasant, or at the very least, successful.

By that time we were already two hours into the appointment, and I had a few overwhelming negative feelings (such as: NO! NO! NO!) when he mentioned making another trip to another dentist. I assessed the situation. Beauty and The Beast (they had already seen The Lion King in its entirety) still had my children beautifully hypnotized, so I decided that now would be the perfect time to help Sweetsie work through her irrational phobia once and for all.

I sat her down in my lap and proceeded to talk some sense into her little noggin. Then I bribed her. And then we role-played. (I hate role playing, but I was pulling out all the stops). In the meantime the next clients were called, so we had to wait for another forty-five more minutes till Sweetsie could have another go at unclenching her jaw. She had agreed to comply, but by then she was so hungry and tired (and possibly feverish) that when she finally did step up on the stool, she clammed up all over again.

In the car I underwent a (mostly) mental hissy fit. A whole gorgeous morning spent in a basement office waiting for Sweetsie to open her mouth and the task wasn’t even completed! No chores accomplished, not to mention any school work, and company (just family, but still) coming this evening! I hadn’t (and here’s was where I started really whooping it up) even done any writing all week long! My life was in ruins! I could never accomplish anything!

I had to open the car windows and do some deep breathing to calm myself.

When we got home I smelled granola burning because, see, I had forgotten to turn off the oven before going to town. One pan was okay, but in the state I was in I chose to focus, of course, on the pan that went to the chickens.

(And while we’re at it, I might as well mention that last night I made a sponge cake that flopped and so I made another one from a different recipe, spreading a layer of thick blueberry fruit sauce between the layers and topping it with whipped cream and the first thing that Mr. Handsome said when I asked him what he thought of it was that it would’ve been better with lemon.)

At nap-time, illustrating my feelings perfectly, The Baby Nickel had a doozy of a meltdown—it involved vigorous flailing of the extremities and consistent high-volume vocal emissions—before falling unconscious.

Dentists, sponge cake, granola, temper tantrums—they all run together in one big blurry mess. It’s about enough to make me want to move to Australia.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Saving you a trip

When I go to the library I always check the magazine section to see if there are any new (old) magazines stashed away under the shelves. (We’re not allowed to check out the most recent issue.) I look for Gourmet and Cooking Light, and I always skim the shelves to see if they’ve started ordering Bon Appetit since I put in a request for it a few months ago (they haven't---sigh). I also look for Brain, Child and sometimes Mothering Magazine, too. Home Education used to be top on my list, but not anymore now that it’s coming to my front door (thanks, Mr. Handsome).


On my latest trip to the library I came home with just one magazine: Gourmet. Over the course of the next several days I flipped through the glossy pages reading recipes, skimming articles, and staring at the ads. Then, when the kids were all outside (I think it was while they were doing this), I plugged in the copier/printer. (I don’t like to copy things when the kids are around because as soon as they hear the machine buzz to life, Sweetsie and The Baby Nickel are right there, fingers itching to push buttons and yank the papers right out of the machine’s mouth, which, naturally, stresses me out and makes me rush. I prefer to sit cross-legged on the floor, thumbing through the magazine, pondering and printing, at my own poky pace.)


After I've copied all the recipes that I think might be tasty, I unplug the printer, stuff the cord back into the cupboard, throw the tupperware boxes and plastic bags back in the cupboard where they join the cords in roosting atop the machine in a messy jumble, and stack and staple my new recipes---except that Miss Becca Boo used my stapler without permission so it was jammed (I have very good reasons for demanding she ask permission first) and I had to use a paper clip instead.

And then I made the recipe on the first page of my little stack of copied papers: Butterscotch Pudding.


Dah-lings, I’m going to save you a trip to the library and go ahead and type up this recipe right here, right now. Maybe you didn’t make the butterscotch ice cream recipe I posted a couple weeks ago since it involved tempering, straining, chilling, and churning? Well, none of those steps exist in this recipe, except for the chilling part, and I suppose you could skip that step all together and eat the pudding warm, if you are so inclined. I tasted it at that point (of course) and it was delicious.

So, see? No excuses this time around. This pudding is spectacular, as well as being quick and easy—the kind of recipe that every cook needs to have in his or her repertoire. Learn to make this pudding and you’ll be ahead of the game, figuratively speaking.


Eh? What’s that? You’re afraid to make it because then you might eat it all yourself? Well, you do have a point there. That certainly could be considered an occupational hazard. But the good news is that it doesn’t make a very large recipe, only a little more than two cups, and while it would be wise to make sure there are some other hungry pudding eaters lurking in the wings, if you end up doing a solo performance and happen to eat it all yourself, it won’t be the end of the world.

Just try to wait a few days before making yourself an encore.

Butterscotch Pudding
Slightly adapted from Gourmet, February 2009

The recipe called for 1 ½ cups of whole milk and ½ cup of heavy cream, but since I was using raw milk (which doesn’t feel quite as rich to me), I decreased the amount of milk (I was using skimmed) to 1 1/4 cups milk and upped the cream to 3/4 cup.

½ cup packed brown sugar, the darker the better
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup cream
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan. Add the milk and cream and whisk well. Heat it over medium heat, stirring constantly, till it boils, and then boil for one minute still stirring steadily. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Pour the pudding into another bowl to cool, pressing a piece of wax paper on to the top to prevent a skin from forming. Once it is cool, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store the pudding in the refrigerator.


Note: It is absolutely delectable when eaten with snickerdoodles (recipe forthcoming).

Friday, March 13, 2009

I'm all a-buzz

If you like chocolate, go here.

A child's blessing

Now that The Baby Nickel has weaned, he has taken up patting my cheeks (oh, come on, people, my facial ones!) for comfort and security. Maybe they remind him of the now-forbidden fruits? Whatever his reason, he’s certainly not thinking of it—this reaching for my face is automatic.


Every time I pick him up, his hand seeks out my face, flitting lightly over my nose and mouth until it comes to rest on my cheek. Or he could be sitting alongside me (last night we were sitting on different chairs watching a movie) when he absentmindedly reaches over, as though in a zone, and brushes my skin with the back of his hand. (What he really loves is to twiddle my earlobes, but that makes me get all twitchy-irritated, and long-term would probably give me ear cancer, so that’s been nixed, though you can see in the picture below that he's attempting---that pinky!---to get away with it, sneaky little guy.)


Sometimes, when we’re not even in the same vicinity, he’ll seek me out for a cheek-tapping morale booster. I might be sitting at the computer when he comes flying through the kitchen, pausing for a half moment to perform his little laying-on-of-hands ceremony, and then spinning away again.

If he’s feeling fierce in his love, he squeezes my cheeks hard, grits his teeth, and growls.

And when I’m mad as a hornet, scolding him, and he’s crying, tears streaming down his face, even then his hand reaches up to touch my face.

The most cheek-time he gets is afternoons when I sit beside him on my bed, waiting for him to fall asleep. We sing, he reads to himself (not very quietly), I rub his back and tummy, he wiggles and fidgets and then, finally, he burrows his head face-down in the pillow and his arm slowly, purposefully extends up, up, up, hand outstretched as in a benediction until it finds my face. And then, sweet joy!, he sleeps.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rise and shine!

You have a little ball of that five-minute artisan bread dough stashed in the back of your fridge, right? Yes? Good. No? Well then go mix up a batch (not to be redundant, but it's fast---only takes, you know, like five minutes) and put it in the fridge.


Then this evening, pull a little container of cooked sausage from the freezer and set it on the kitchen counter to thaw. Grate a cup of cheddar cheese and a cup of mozzarella cheese and set them in covered bowls in the fridge. Brush a baking sheet with olive oil. Whisk together two eggs and a quarter cup of milk, a generous sprinkling of dried oregano and some black pepper. Put that bowl in the fridge, too. Go to bed.


In the morning, heat the oven to 400 degrees, roll out the blob of forgotten dough (or a hunk of the fresh dough), and sprinkle the oiled baking sheet with cornmeal. Place the dough on the sheet, using your fingers to press the dough thin, spreading it out so that it covers the bottom of the pan and up the sides a smidge.


Sprinkle the sausage over the dough, and then the cheddar cheese over the sausage. Next, drizzle on the egg mixture and top it off with the mozzarella. Bake the pizza for 10-20 minutes until the bottom has browned and the top is bubbly golden.


The variations are countless: sauteed veggies, bacon, caramelized onions, and plain cheese, just to name a few. If you want an eggier pizza, increase the eggs to four and add another half cup of milk, making sure your crust has a nice lip to hold the cheesy custard.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Let's talk

I’m always stumped when people ask me what I do all day, but if they were to ask me today, right now, at ten minutes after two on a balmy Wednesday afternoon, I would have a very detailed answer. So let’s make believe, okay? You ask me, So, what did you do today?

Very good! You did that so well. Now, it's my turn. I say, Oh, not much, just...

*I got dressed, made my coffee, combed my hair, and put on make-up.
*I made oatmeal for breakfast.
*Read some blogs.
*Ate oatmeal for breakfast.
*I doled out meds.
*Mixed up three batches of sourdough bread.
*Stuffed the kids in the car and sped to town, late for my 8:15 Bible study
*Returned with one extra kid, my one-year-old niece, because I volunteered to watch her for the morning.
*Stopped alongside the road to help the kids pull the back seat upright, and to give The Screaming Sweetsie a nose-to-nose lecture.
*Stopped at the pharmacy to pick up meds.
*Stopped again, before even pulling out of the pharmacy’s parking lot, to get back into Sweetsie’s face so that she could hear me say, very clearly, that if she says she’s hungry one more time, she will not be having anything to eat for the rest of the morning.
*Washed my ratty red fleece—it’s still in the machine.
*Visited for a couple hours with a dear friend (for the curious, we discussed body image, books, and dinosaurs).
*Gave The Baby Nickel and Sweetsie baths since they were covered in mud.
*Divided the bread dough into boules, proofed them, and then put them in the fridge (had to rearrange the fridge’s contents before I could fit all the bread in).
*Fed the kids lunch and ate my lunch.
*Gave my sis-in-law two dozen eggs and her kid.
*Put my kids down for rest time.
*Read my book and dozed a bit.
*Made my coffee and ate two chocolate chip cookies.
*Typed this.

And then I say, So, what did you do today? And you say, Oh, not much, just....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We're back from seeing the wizard...

... and my glam mom.


Maybe an explanation is in order? Okay. Here’s the short version (there isn’t really a long version): my mother turned 60 and decided to take up extreme face painting. And hats. Green ones.


And then she made friends with a witch.


Okay, okay. All she did was turn 60 and try out for community theater and land a role in the chorus. She sang and danced. And looked glamorous.


The kids loved the play, except for The Baby Nickel who was tired to start with and left, kicking and screaming, after the first ten minutes. My dad, bless his heart, took him out and held the lunky kid, all 56 pounds of him (really only about 38, but the way dad looked afterwards I think it probably felt like every ounce of 56 pounds, and then some), for the whole two hours. It was the reason Dad was there—Baby Nickel Back-Up—so it wasn’t like we were shirking our parental duties.


Now Yo-Yo wants to act in a play, preferably The Wizard of Oz, of course. (How many of you can say you started your career in the theater after watching your grandmommy dance on stage?) Now, good homeschooling mama that I am, I'm keeping my eyes open for acting classes and children's theater opportunities. And maybe there will even be something for me. I wouldn't mind sporting a pair of ghoulish eyes and a perky hat myself. Might even beat out coffee as a pick-me-up.


Ps. Dorothy was there, too.

Monday, March 9, 2009

This is what I had

Some of you, I’m afraid, think that I eat only butter and chocolate, but that is wrong: I only mostly eat butter and chocolate.


Just kidding! I love vegetables and eat them a great deal. One of my favorite wintertime solo meals (solo meaning, obviously, that no one else in my family likes the food—or is around—and so I eat the meal alone) is sauteed Swiss chard with a fried egg and Gruyere, or Parmesan, sprinkled over.

One of the smartest things I did last winter was to harvest a wash basket load of chard, and wash, chop, and freeze it, not even blanching it. Now, when I’m taking a break from butter and chocolate I just run down cellar, fetch a quart container of the chard, rinse it under hot water and toss it into a pan with some melted butter (can’t quite fully get away from the butter, it appears), or olive oil, a minced clove of garlic, maybe some chopped onion, some generous shakes of salt, and a grind of black pepper. I toss it about for ten minutes or so, turn it out into a soup bowl, top with the egg and cheese, and voila!


I love my solo meals.

Don't look too hard at that picture---you're not going to find an egg, no matter how squinchy you make your eyes 'cause those are meatballs nestled in the chard.


See, the other day when I ate solo, I decided to forgo the fried egg in place of some leftovers, tiny meatballs simmered in chunky tomato-wine sauce. I think it was even better than the egg, if that could be possible.

Meatballs
Adapted from Epicurious

The original recipe called for a mix of ground pork, veal, and beef, but I used all beef because that is what I had. It would probably be more tender with the mixed meat; I plan to find out in the near future.

The lemon is crucial—do not skimp or substitute.

My kids popped these balls like candy, just plain, fresh from the oven. They even took some without asking, risking invoking my wrath and proving the profound deliciousness of these meaty morsels.

2 onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
3 cups bread, torn into bits
3 cups milk
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped, or 2 teaspoons dried
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon lemon zest
4 teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
4 pounds ground beef (or replace some of the beef with pork and/or veal)

Saute the onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Set aside

Soak the bread in the milk for five minutes, strain, saving the bread and discarding the milk (or save for some other baking purpose).

In a large bowl, mix together the soaked bread, eggs, spices, cheese, sauteed onions, and meats—in other words, everything.

Shape the mixture into small balls and place (fairly close together) on a baking sheet that has sides. Bake at 375 degrees for ten minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the meatballs and return them to the oven for another five minutes, or until the meat is no longer pink on the inside and at least one side of the meat has browned. Repeat with the rest of the meat mixture.

Of course, you could also fry the meatballs in an inch or two of olive oil.

Add the meatballs to your favorite tomato sauce and serve over pasta or sauteed Swiss chard. Any meatballs that you don’t use right away (and this makes a lot, so unless you have a dozen children, you will definitely have leftovers) or that the kids don’t snitch, can be dropped into glass jars and frozen.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A warm (winter!) day

It was warm yesterday and the kids lived it up to the hilt.


We’ve noticed the robins are back. A particular one (or two) have been jerk-stepping around out front, probably the same ones that built nests there last year, we've decided. So before lunch the kids went out and built some more nests, to help out our feathered friends.


After the kids had rest time, they went out to play. When I looked out the window I saw they had hauled the rocking chairs off the porch, found the lawn chairs, and then had arranged the seats in a semi-circle around the fire place. They kept talking about marshmallows; I kept explaining we didn’t have any.


And the next time I looked out the window? Swimming suits and sprinklers!


(I later learned they had snuck in the house to get their suits and then changed in the tool shed, preempting a potential maternal no.)

The Baby Nickel shucking clothes:


Hey! I shucked more than I intended!


Puuuull the undies baaaack up.


It’s hard work, taking pants off.


Maybe it’ll be easier if I sit down.


Free at last! Mama, I need my wimming woot.


A leafless, but clothing-adorned, poplar tree.


Folks, it’s March. You would think it was July, the way they were acting.

It all caught up with them then. They didn’t just use the towels to lay on—


they used them to wrap up in.


I guess the sprinkler cooled them off more than they anticipated.


Of course they had to sleep in the tent, too, it being a warm summer night, and all.


Spring is coming, it really is. I even got down on my hands and knees to bring you some evidence.



Summer will be here before you know it, and spring will arrive even sooner. In fact, longer summer evenings are just a day away. Hang in there.