Monday, January 31, 2011

Barbies, parties, and freedom, plus mayonnaise

Barbie Blissdom
Anybody connected to the world of bloggers and tweeters has probably heard about the convention that was held for mommy bloggers in Nashville, Tennessee this past weekend (in the same facility that housed the Mennonite National Convention a few years back). I don’t mean any disrespect, but the name of the convention—Blissdom—kept me in a constant state of inner giggles. I just kept thinking of Barbies and pink convertibles. I couldn’t help myself.

Par-tays
I got some good advice back in the sloggy days of yore. Some people suggested I fix myself up some parties. So I did. My outlook on life has improved exponentially. Thank you.

4 - 2 = a whole different life
My parents came to visit for the day and whisked the two littles back to West Virginia with them. The first night the kids were gone, I slept nine hours. The next day we had friends over for Sunday waffles and we actually had prolonged adult conversation while eating our food. In the afternoon Mr. Handsome and I went on a long walk by ourselves. In the evening he and the two olders enjoyed a movie that would’ve made the littles pee their pants. And now, this morning, the sky is lightening and nobody is fighting for prime hot spots on the hearth or curled up next to me on the couch, breathing gusts of dragon breath everywhere and whimpering for food. (Blissdom, for free.)

An egg is just an egg
So okay, not really. I know that homegrown eggs do taste way better (and are healthier) than store bought egg lookalikes. But the way some people crank them up, you’d think a fresh egg equaled salvation or something.

I just finished reading Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl. I really like the woman—I find her refreshingly down to earth—but I think she goes a little (a lot) overboard with food fireworks. The whole book is full of explosions and meltings and deep sighing.

It’s all about her affairs, too.

The thing is, I didn’t catch on to how overboard it was for quite a large number of pages because she was describing food I’d never eaten. Food like brains and caviar and dacquoise. And wines. Wines of all vintages and price tags, consumed at all hours of day and night. It made me feel sloshy just reading it.

But then she started rhapsodizing about fresh eggs. Eggs that—get this—had just popped out of the chicken. “A fresh egg doesn’t taste like anything else on earth ... It’s a real treat; once you’ve had one you can never go back. You should see the color of the yolks! Bright orange, which makes the mayonnaise absolutely golden.” (And um, sorry, but that was Alice Waters speaking there. But it’s Ruth quoting her.)

If these foodies are so insanely happy over a freshly laid egg, eggs that I happen to think taste quite deliciously ordinary, than what’s to say that all their hoity-toity food and all the slushy-gushy wine isn’t just as ordinary?


But about the mayonnaise, Alice is right. A fresh egg does turn homemade mayonnaise into a bowlful of creamy gold.


I’ve tried making my own mayonnaise before, but it’s never worked out. This method is perfectly simple. It takes a food processor and a little patience when it comes to trickling in the oil, but the liquid transforms to solid most charmingly and consistently.


Beware, though: the more oil you add, the thicker the mayonnaise. The last time I made the mayonnaise, it got a little thicker than I like.


Mayonnaise
Adapted from the America’s Test Kitchen DVDs

In the DVD, Julia made this recipe. When Kimball pointed out that she was using a raw egg and that some people would be worried about that, she said, “Yep,” and laughed.

He pushed her. “Don’t you think about, er, aren’t you concerned...?”

“Nope.”

Thanks to that conversation, I am now a Julia fan.

Note: other seasonings that can be added: garlic, soy, chipotle, etc. Whatever is your bliss.

1 egg (fresh, and from free-range hens, if you want the mayonnaise to be golden)
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
dash each of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 to 1 1/4 cup canola (or vegetable) oil

Put all the ingredients, except for the oil, into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine.

Now, with the processor turned on, slowly, slowly, slowly pour in the oil. (I use an ample cup.) This will take 3-5 minutes and your arm will get sore, but persevere. When finished, take off the lid and admire the gorgeous mayonnaise you just made yourself. Taste to correct seasonings before transferring to a glass pint jar and storing in the refrigerator.

Yield: about 1 ½ cups, I think.

This same time, years previous: curried lentils, rock-my-world cocoa brownies, Nana's anise biscotti, cream-topped homemade yogurt, and orange-cranberry biscotti

Friday, January 28, 2011

Go with it

I apologize for flooding you with my moody ups and downs this week. I’ve been so imbalanced—blue one minute, happy the next, and then sick for two days. I’ll try to stabilize things for a little while here so you can recover from reader whiplash. Heck, I need a chance to recover. Living inside my body can be so trying.

Despite all my kvetching, things have been moving along quite nicely (at least in hindsight). It was freezing cold on Saturday so Mr. Handsome couldn’t work on his barn and had to find things to do around the house. He repainted whole stretches of soiled walls.


Talk about giving the house a face-lift. It made the place feel so much cleaner. (He didn’t touch Yo-Yo’s room. Yo-Yo’s room needs more than just a coat of fresh paint.)


Sweetsie helped with the outlet covers.


Nickel was everywhere he wasn’t supposed to be. He made Mr. Handsome get all ruffle-y and hot under the collar. The two of them were like some sort of live slap-stick comedy show.

“Papa, is that wet?”

“DON’T TOUCH THAT!”


“Papa, is that wet?”

“DON’T TOUCH THAT!”


“Papa, is that wet?”

“DON’T TOUCH THAT!”


Et cetera. (There's a reason he doesn't have a shirt on.)

*****


One morning we got out the roll of newsprint paper and the kids spent a couple hours drawing a town (or something).

*****


We had a snowstorm! And we didn’t lose power!!!

*****


There was one wild and crazy night when my kids dressed up and walked on the kitchen table.


They postured.


They flashed.


They smooched.


They were full up to the brim top with themselves and couldn't get enough.

*****

Miss Beccaboo is taking sewing lessons from a church friend. She had her first lesson this past weekend. When she got home that afternoon, she made us all wait out in the hall while she shut herself up in the bathroom to change into her self-made pajama pants. When she came out, she was glowing.


Mr. Handsome got our sewing machine down from the attic (I love to not sew) and set it up in the downstairs bedroom. She loves her new machine and her new, different-from-anyone-else-in-our-house skills. Her lessons are sure to be the highlight of each month.

*****


I let the kids do the unheard of: they watched two movies in one day. More, if you count that I let them rewind and watch the fun parts over and over again.


I was recuperating, Sweetsie had sprung a small fever, and Nickel was draggy.


Yes, I do believe my daughter is wearing make-up.

It was the perfect way to spend a blah afternoon and evening.


*****

The kids had spent the greater part of that morning playing in the snow while I shuffled around the kitchen, cooking up a storm in slow motion. I turned eight pounds of beef into sloppy joe meat, made a chocolate mayonnaise cake, and cooked up some deliciousness for our dinner. (Both the cake and sloppy joes were not for us, much to the consternation of my children. The way they acted, you’d think I never fed them cake.)


After living on a yellow and white diet—eggs, toast, oatmeal, potatoes, oatmeal, toast, eggs—we were in dire need of a real meal. And what I made was a real meal, alright. Green chili with sour cream and green onions and fresh corn tortillas. (And peas.)


Let me tell you, I am totally sold on these corn tortillas. I can’t get enough of them. I like them so much better than the fresh-but-thin locally made tortillas. They’re so comforting, so filling, so satisfying, so real. I’m afraid I’m a bit ga-ga over them. And Mr. Handsome, who isn’t really a corn tortilla lover, is rather fond of them, too.


But about the chili. My friend Gretchen brought us this chili back when Miss Beccaboo was a tiny new baby. I remember the entire meal (green chili, tortillas, sour cream, fresh cantaloupe chunks), it was that delicious. I got the recipe (of course) and made it a couple years later for my aunt and uncle when they visited. My uncle doesn’t like spicy food, it turned out, but politely suffered his way through a bowl of the stuff. I don’t think I’ve made the chili since then—not because I don’t like it, because I do, do, do—but because I don’t usually have stew pork on hand and because my kids don’t like spicy stuff, either.

But I spied a green chili recipe in the latest Bon Appetit (didn’t even look at the ingredient list, though) and it got my wheels a-turning. We’d be going to to the local butcher shop for all that ground beef anyway, so I called in my order (“cubed pork?” “yes, one-inch cubes, please” “huh? one-inch cubed pork?” “yes, cubed pork, like cubes of beef, you know, like stew beef, but just stew pork” “oh! you want stew pork!” “yes, stew pork, please!”), and Mr. Handsome picked it up on his slip-slide-y drive home through the snowstorm, and the next morning I browned up the pork pieces, drowned them in tomatoes, and then braised the whole mess in the oven for several hours.


I can guess your next question: so if it’s tomato-based, why is it called green chili? Well, I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that you’re supposed to put in a couple cans of diced green chilis (I added diced, fresh jalapeños). In any case, it’s a totally red chili but it likes to be called green. Just go with it, okay?


Gretchen’s Green Chili

I’m giving you the recipe as I made it this week. The heat was perfect for my palate, but too spicy for the kids’—dial back or amp up according to your family’s specifications.

For what it’s worth, the original recipe called for two cans of diced green chilis and no fresh jalapeños.

2 pounds of pork, trimmed and cut into cubes
a little olive oil, for frying
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeños, minced
8 cups stewed tomatoes
2 tablespoons chili powder
1-2 teaspoons salt

for garnish: sour cream, diced green onions, fresh cilantro, grated cheese

Heat up your Dutch oven till it’s good and hot, pour in a little oil, and, working in batches, fry the pork cubes. I try to get good brown color on at least two sides of the cubes, though you could be pickier and do more than that. When the pork is browned, set it aside.

Add a little more oil to the pan, if necessary, and add the onion and jalapeño. Saute it for a couple minutes. Add the garlic. After a few more minutes, add the tomatoes, chili powder, salt, and the pork (and any juices that have collected on the pork plate). Clap a lid on the Dutch oven and pop it into a 350 degree oven for 2-4 hours. You want the chili to thicken up a bit, but you don’t want all the liquid to boil away, so keep an eye on it. (Conversely, you can simmer the chili in a crock pot for 4-6 hours, or so.)

Fancy up the chili (more of a stew, really) with sour cream and a bit o’ green, and serve with fresh corn tortillas.

This same time, years previous: shoofly cake, my real name, gripping the pages, ode to the Titty Fairy

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aaaand ... down again

As soon as I wrote yesterday’s post, I got sick. Actually, it was a little later, like at 11:38 in the morning. I felt a tad bit achy and tired, but hoping it was just my lazy bones acting up, I decided to do a workout anyway. About ten minutes into it, I quit. I ached all over. I laid down on the sofa and stayed there for the rest of the day.

And after writing about how I prefer that my kids get sick instead of me, too. How ironic.

The munchkins did a great job of caring for me. I put Yo-Yo in charge of frying up the leftover baked potatoes for lunch, and there were only three minor mishaps: a potato caught fire, Yo-Yo sliced his finger, and Miss Beccaboo poured boiling water over her hand. I didn’t even get up off the couch.

This morning I’m a little better, though still sore and woozy. I’m sipping tea and popping pills and hugging my water bottle (the best invention EVER). I have visions of cooking and am typing these words, so I must be on the mend, right?

Some other reads (since I’m not that much fun to hang with today):
*kale carbonara, a little healthier version of the stuff I love
*a glass of sprite, about teaching kids self-reliance
*the tiger mom (you’ve heard about her, yes?)
*what I'm hungry for
*inspiration: take someone a meal
*I just checked and you can now read my Home Education article online!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On the up and up

Turns out, I needed that bout of fussing. As soon as I wrote that piece, things started looking on the up and up. After what feels like weeks of below-30 weather, we got a balmy day. Cloudy, yes, but almost warm. I did piles of laundry and hung them on the line. Three of the kids went outside (no shoes, even) and played for an extended period of time. Two psychology students from the local university came to play with my little ones. (It’s for a basic developmental psychology class—I let them play with my kids and they give me a break. It’s what I call a win-win situation.) I spent some concentrated time with my older two. I had a nice chitty-chat with my mama. I had a nice chitty-chat with a friend. I made plans to go for a walk and then canceled them in favor of a trip to the library and grocery store. The new Bon Appetit came in the mail and it had a stack of brownies on the cover. Miss Beccaboo came down with a bug and turned into a bug on my living room rug. Maybe it’s not cool to say it, but I kind of like it when my kids come down with a fever and just lay there all lethargic and pathetic-like. They don’t talk, they don’t eat, they don’t fuss, then don’t make messes. Is this taking The Pollyanna Approach too far? Perhaps, but it’s true.



This is where Pioneer Woman and I differ. Up until this point, we are exactly the same, but when it comes to sick children? Not so much. Ree says, and I quote, “...[When you know] that at any given moment, you’d remove any harmful microbe from their body and inject it into yours? That’s when you know you’re a mama.”

Actually, no thanks. I get her point, and I imagine that would be true for me if we were talking about some really serious illness, but for just the common cold? Or a stomach flu? No way, Jose. I much rather it’d be them than me. Little kids handle illness way better than grown-ups. Plus, when I go down, everyone and everything suffers. It’s not cost effective for me to get sick.

Let me just be clear here, serious illnesses are no walk in the park. I’m only talking all nonchalant about non-serious illness. The bad stuff? Heaven forbid. I am not a callous mom. Take this story, for example:

Once Miss Beccaboo had a high fever and couldn’t move her head, and I freaked and tore into the ER. This was back when she was four or five and her temperature was sky-high. Even when the mercury was at the top of the thermometer (!), we still hesitated (I'd made far too many routine-disrupting trips to the doctor only to get the yeah-it’s-probably-just-a-virus verdict), preferring to make several calls to the doctor on call (who didn’t say “come in”). But after a couple days of raging fever, she couldn’t/wouldn’t open her eyes, her body was all stiff-like, and then—horrors of horrors—she failed my touch-your-head-to-your-chest test. (I have several tests to see if an illness is severe: can you stand upright and walk without limping? Yes? Then it’s probably not appendicitis. Can you touch your chin to your chest? Yes? Then it’s probably not meningitis.) That’s when I split for the hospital.

It was a horrible couple hours. The ER doctor, his face tense, hovered. This, his close attention, both terrified and comforted us. White blood counts were soaring. There was a brutal spinal tap. I cried my eyes out in the waiting room, certain she was dying. She lived, obviously, thankfully. It was just (though not “just,” as we learned) a case of pneumonia, one without any of the typical symptoms.

Good heavens. This post has no point. Except to say I’m feeling better. There will be fresh library books to read. I’ll belly dance with renewed vigor. I’ll—


Oh, YES! Now I remember the point. I was going to list off all the ways that my day got better and then culminate with the big highpoint (is that redundant to say “culminate” and “highpoint” in the same sentence?), which is, THE COOKIES I MADE!

(So maybe I was going through chocolate cream pie withdrawal after all?)


After posting my whiny post, I got an email saying that so-and-so was now following me on twitter (not because of my whiny post, I assume). I clicked over to that person’s blog and scrolled down. A picture of peanut butter cookies caught my eye, and the words “This recipe will be my new go-to recipe for when I must. have. cookies. NOW” jumped out at me and smacked me upside the head. I mixed them up right then and there and didn’t even read the rest of that particular post until after I had disappeared three of the gooey, warm, chocolate-y peanut butter cookies.


And then I splatted out this whole post. Sugar makes me prolific. Profound, no. Prolific, yes.

I’ve heard many good things about the flourless peanut butter cookie. While they are quite different from the classic peanut butter cookie (and those cookies certainly do have a place in the cookie choir), these little gems are definitely a keeper. They are like Reese’s Peanut Butter cups that have been turned inside out—mostly sensual peanut butter creaminess with bits of sexy dark chocolate studded throughout.

So now I’ve got a good thing going. I’m on the up and up.


Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from The Craving Chronicles

1 cup peanut butter
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Stir together the first six ingredients. Fold in the chocolate chips. Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. (I put mine on parchment paper, but a greased baking sheet would probably do just fine.) They should still be quite soft and just flecked with bits of brown. Allow them to set up on the baking pan for 5 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.


This same time, years previous: random thoughts

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Grumble, grumble

part one: bah humbug
Lately, I’ve been dragging. I know it’s practically a sin to say it, but—get ready—I’m bored.

There’s nothing new under the sun! No snow, no warm weather, no rain! No games, no books, no movies! No projects, no plans, no ponderations!

It’s just me and the kids, a bunch of sore throats and snotty noses, a constant feeling of tiredness (I’m not one of the ones with a snotty nose, either), a wicked case of un-motivation (because what is there to be motivated for?). The same floors to vacuum, the same belly dance workout moves, the same mouths to feed, the same blog to write on, the same disputes to settle, the same, same, same.

I think I might hate winter.

I think I might be whining.

I think whining is unattractive and boring, so I'll stop now.

The End.

P.S. Maybe I’m going through chocolate cream pie withdrawal?

part two: lemonade
I need a kick in the pants. I need inspiration. I need some chutzpah, some pizazz, some of that old-fashioned pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps umph.

I always tell my kids that boredom is okay. It breeds ideas and creativity and energy.

Ground needs to lie fallow. People do, too, I guess.

I hate lying fallow. It’s boring. (Oops, I'm complaining again.)

But I bet something good will come of this.

Stay tuned. Expect great things. (Don’t ask me what.)

NOW, The End. For reals.

(part three: the little piggy
Don't worry about me. I'm really quite fine. I just needed to wallow a little.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Patting them out

So Yo-Yo and Miss Beccaboo and I went to see The Malcontent. We got to sit on stage, and a shirtless, black leather jean-clad man with rippling muscles got slain right at Miss Beccaboo’s feet. (Though I don’t believe Miss Beccaboo noticed the rippling muscles—that was more my thing. I think she was more concerned about the gigantic sword that was getting waved around right in front of her nose.) To say the least, it was quite entertaining.

I did worry that the kids might be getting bogged down with all the language—it was a little slower and less humorous than some plays. I had trouble keeping straight which duke was which. Plus, two and a half hours (with just a 15 minute intermission) is a long time to sit on hard stools on best behavior, but the overflowing booze-ums, surprise resurrections, and Michael Jackson impersonation did a fine job of keeping them fixated. Back home, over hot chocolate, cookies, and cinnamon toast, we retold the tale to Papa, and Miss Beccaboo begged to be allowed to go back the very next night. No, I said, but we will definitely be going back. For sure, and again and again and again, amen.

In other news, I made corn tortillas. I don’t usually like to make corn tortillas because there is no way I can make them like the Nicaraguans do. I got spoiled on Nicaraguan tortillas and nothing else stands a chance against them.


And in case you didn’t know, Nicaraguan tortillas are different from Guatemalan tortillas which are different from Salvadoran tortillas which are different from— You get the point. And Nicaraguan tortillas from the countryside are different from Nicaraguan tortillas from the city. It can be confusing.


In the northern reaches of Nicaragua where Mr. Handsome and I built our home (out of mud and with our bare hands, might I add), the tortillas were gigantic. They were the size of dinner plates, and thick. Never made from the prepacked maseca flour, these tortillas came directly from a pot of field corn that had been simmered with lime (or ash) and then washed most meticulously with water drawn up from the well. (And we, we of the Kitchen Aids and electric coffee grinders and food processors, we dare to complain that cooking takes a lot of time. Ha! Of all the baldy nerve!)


The corn was ground down (by hand) and then egg-size portions of masa were broken off and laid on—um, I’m not sure what, come to think of it. A piece of wax paper comes to mind, but where did they get wax paper? Anyway, the dough was laid on something and then the one hand started smack-smacking the dough and the other hand guided the edges and, with a quick flick, turned the paper a fraction. Smack-smack, ffipt. Smack-smack, ffipt. Gradually the tortilla got bigger and bigger. A pause to wet the hands, a gentle turn-over of the tortilla, and then the smack-smack, ffipt, smack-smack, ffipt would resume. Several free-hand whacks to finish it up, and the tortilla was ready for the hot comal, or a piece of broken tin, depending on the economic status.


While living with families, we ate those tortillas morning, noon, and night. In the early morning we’d wake up to the sound of the women aggressively palmeando-ing (Spanglish alert!) out the day’s bread. Sometimes they made them twice a day, and other times we just ate the reheated leftovers for the later meals. The dogs got the stale ‘tillas.

I learned to love those country tortillas—the smokey flavor, the almost-crispy outside, the tender-creamy insides, the profound corny-ness. I loved to dip my fingers in the salt bag (in those parts, the salt was quite wet and came in little bags) and smear my tortilla with the sandy grains. I loved to scoop up my red beans and bits of scrambled egg with the thick tortillas, washing down each bite with a swig of sugary coffee. I loved to eat my tortillas with a generous slice of cuajada, the local salty soft cheese. Basically, any way you looked at it, I loved to eat those tortillas.

So anyway, I’ve taken to making myself corn tortillas. They’re different from the Nicaraguan tortillas (no smokey fire flavor, no fresh lime-simmered field corn), and they’re quite different from bought corn tortillas (not thin, not uniform). Plus, they’re not dinner-plate huge.

These tortillas are made from maseca flour, with a bit of salt for flavor and baking soda for heft (though no heft is actually visible, so I don’t know if it’s really worth it to crack open the tin of baking soda that sits perilously high atop a tin of cornstarch that sits atop a tin of cocoa powder) (what? that’s not how everyone organizes their spice cabinet?), and I pat them out kind of like the Nicaraguan women but without the smack-smack, ffipt sound since I lack the necessary coordination, training, and confidence.

However, my humble tortillas are thick, crispy on the outside and a creamy on the inside. Hot from the comal, and with some salt spread on top, I take a bite and chew meditatively. If I shut my eyes, I can almost smell the wood smoke, feel the dirt floor underneath my sandal-ed feet, and hear the smack-smack-smacking sound of a Nicaraguan country morning.

(Oh, darn it. Now I've gone and made myself all melancholy.)


Corn Tortillas

It’s imperative that this dough be wet enough. It should feel like play dough. Add more water whenever you feel like it, and wet your hands frequently.

2 cups maseca flour
1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups hot water

Stir together the dry ingredients. Mix in the hot water. Using one hand, knead the dough while it’s still in the bowl, adding more water as necessary.

Break off bits of dough of whatever size you choose—ping-pong, golf ball, egg—and shape it into a disk. Set the disk on a piece of wax paper and, using one hand as the smacker and the other hand as the guide, smack-pat your masa into the desired shape and thickness, rotating the wax paper and tortilla as you go.

Peel the tortilla off the paper and lay it on a hot skillet, comal, or pan. Let it cook for a minute or two, until the underside is flecked with black-brown spots. Flip and cook on the other side. Stack the finished tortillas in a thick towel. They will keep each other warm and stay soft till it’s time to eat.

Yield: 8-12 tortillas

Serve these with beans and rice, scrambled eggs, or hunks of braised beef. Use them to make quesadillas or a tortilla-enchilada pie.


Tortilla-Enchilada Pie
Lightly fry the finished tortillas, dip them in enchilada sauce, and arrange them in the bottom of a giant pie pan. Top the tortillas with a filling made from sour cream, cheese, green onions, cumin, cayenne, chicken, beans, etc. Finish off the pie with another layer of sauce-dipped tortillas and sprinkle the whole thing with more cheese before baking.


Serve with a flurry of fresh cilantro, and pass the sour cream and salsa.

This same time, years previous: my ten favorite things, capturing the moment, baked Brie, movie night (i.e. how I traumatize my kids)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Decadent

I just made the executive decision to take the two oldest kids to the Blackfriars Theater tonight to see The Malcontent. I am so excited that I can hardly focus on my writing for the few remaining minutes of rest time.

Or maybe it’s the piece-and-a-half of chocolate cream pie that I swoon-gested right at the start that’s giving me the jitters.


They’re happy jitters, though, so I’m not complaining. (Clarification: saying “the piece-and-a-half” of pie is just a more reserved way of saying “two pieces of pie—one small, one large.”)

Yeah, so I made a chocolate cream pie yesterday morning. It was the reason I got out of bed that day. The reason I got out of bed this morning was because I had to—Mr. Handsome was leaving for work. I was dreaming about baby mice being interchangeable with toothbrushes, and something about blue jeans and uniforms. It was time I got up.


The chocolate cream pie would have been made the day before yesterday if it weren’t for Mr. Handsome. He forgot to turn over the piece of paper upon which he had scrawled my dictated-via-the-phone grocery list and so he didn’t buy the Oreos that were needed for the crust, thus letting the whole family down with a thud. We were crushed.

He made things right the next day—the day we would’ve been making the pie if it weren’t for his poor list-reading skills—so finally, yesterday, I got to make that pie. You know, the one I got out of bed for. I wasn’t too thrilled with it, the first couple eats around, but by last night’s taste test (and-a-half, again), I was sold. Today I got even more sold. This pie does some serious rockage.


Chocolate Cream Pie
Adapted (not hardly at all) from the America’s Test Kitchen DVDs

Chris and Julia made a big deal about removing the chalaza—the stringy, white membrane—from the egg yolks. They say if you do that ahead of time, then there is no need to strain the custard for lumps afterwards, since it’s that membrane that causes lumpies. It sounded persnickety, but I did it anyway and it was a lot easier than I thought it’d be. The resulting custard is so blissfully creamy that I have nothing to say, except—get rid of that chalaza!

And one word about the crust: disregard any do-it-from-scratch notions and go for the Oreos. They make a lovely crust, one that softens just a little—by Day Two, it's almost creamy.

For the crust:
16 Oreo cookies
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Put the Oreos in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Dump the chocolate crumbs into a bowl and add the butter. Stir with a fork. Pour the crumbs into a 9-inch pie plate. Using the back of a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup, press the crumbs evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Do not press any crumbs onto the lip of the pie plate (like Chris says to do—it just doesn’t work). Chill the crust in the fridge for an hour or two.

For the filling:
2 ½ cups half-and-half
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar, divided
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut in chunks
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut in chunks
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, cut in chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whipping cream, whipped and slightly sweetened, for topping

Remove the chalaza from the egg yolks (see above) and put them in a bowl. Add half of the third cup of sugar and the cornstarch and whisk well.

Put the half-and-half, the remaining sugar, and the bit of salt into a saucepan and heat it almost to the boiling point. Temper the egg yolks with ½ cup of the hot half-and-half. Add the tempered eggs to the saucepan, return it to medium-high heat, and whisk like crazy. As soon as the custard thickens and just starts to bubble, remove the pan from the heat. Add the cold butter, one chunk at a time, whisking hard after each addition. Add the chocolate and whisk till all the chocolate has melted. Whisk in the vanilla.

Pour the chocolate custard into the chilled pie crust, cover with plastic wrap (pressing it down flush on the custard so no skin will form), and chill for 6-12 hours. (The longer the better, in my opinion).

Top with whipped cream and serve.

Serves a lot—this pie is D.E.C.A.D.E.N.T.

Note: I linked up with Sweet As Sugar Cookies. If you need more sweet inspiration, check it out!

This same time, years previous: on thank-you notes

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Moving forward

Last night I cried because my boy is growing up. There are signs, you know. Things that he wouldn’t appreciate me talking about, so I won’t. But last night the signs caught me unawares. I was shocked. I was thrilled. I laughed and teased and chortled, and then he went to bed and I cried.

I was surprised at myself. I stood on the hearth, wiping my eyes, lips wobbling, telling Mr. Handsome my observations and trying to explain why I was crying. “You can laugh at me, if you want,” I sniffled. “I know this is perfectly ridiculous.”

He didn’t laugh, but he did smile. And then he was quiet, too. Thinking, I guess.

I’m not sure why this new phase of life, this of my first child entering puberty, has turned me into such an emotional basket case. I cried twice yesterday and a couple times today. (And no, I’m not hormonal either. At least not any more than normal.)

I look forward to my kids growing up. Potty-trained, yes! Weaned, yes! Talking, yes! Riding a bike, yes! Reading, yes! Going to camp, yes! I am not inclined to feelings of melancholy. I’m not particularly good at living in the present (I get ants in my pants), but I’m not one to dwell on the past. I live hard and I move forward. I’m always ready to move forward.

Except for now. Now I’m hesitating, unsure. Yes, yes, of course I want my boy to grow into a man. Of course I want my boy to leave home and strike out on his own. Of course, of course, of course.

Then why this profound sadness? I wasn’t prepared to feel this way.

It feels like I’m standing on top of a mountain and it’s downhill wherever I look. Life has been so full to bursting with diapers and dirty dishes, time-outs and arguments, read alouds and snacks, projects and plans—and suddenly, shatteringly, I see that this won’t last forever.


I’m losing my grip on my boy. He’s becoming a man. He’s going to leave me. And I will, slowly but surely, get old and die.

Good grief. All this because my son is hitting puberty.

Once I wrap my head around having a manchild in the house, I’ll probably feel better. The truth is, I’m thrilled.

The truth also is, I’m sad.

This same time, years previous: peanut noodles, on not wanting

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Epic roast

Cooking meat is tricky. At least it is for me, anyway. I never can remember which cut of meat is best for which cooking method, and getting the final product to be tender and succulent seems a hit-or-miss endeavor. To raise my anxiety levels even higher, meat is pricey. It’s not something I want to screw up.


Previously, my approach to cooking large chunks of beef has been to throw together the ingredients and then avert my gaze and hope it turns out okay. It’s kind of like a fellow blogger who allows her kids to sled on ice, a brick wall at the bottom of the hill. When a neighbor asked her if she wasn’t worried about them crashing, she answered, “Oh, definitely... So I make sure not to watch.”

That’s my approach to cooking meat. (And raising kids, too, but that’s not getting discussed right now, despite the fact that I was the one to bring up the analogy.)

I have hustled up some pretty fine beef dinners (this one and this one, for example), but all in all, hunks of beast (as my cousin says) still feel like unchartered territory—wild, unknown, scary, intimidating, unnerving, etc. I’m getting better, though, and last night’s chuck roast helped to boost my confidence exponentially. Today I feel a pressing need to record my method for two reasons: first, so I don’t forget how I did it, and second, so I can better sear the process into my brain—the more I think and talk about the process, the more likely it is to become a part of my cooking repertoire. (I think Point Two is not much different than Point One. I just wanted to drive home The Point, I guess.)

I won’t lie to you—this method is time-consuming and involved. But the end result is swoony, melt-in-your-mouth tender, and so richly flavorful that it’s well worth any amount of sweat and tears. (Of which I did/had neither, but you know what I mean.) Plus, one roast makes a lot of meals, so just consider it batch cooking.


It helps me to break the cooking process down into different components. There’s the trimming and browning, there’s the braising liquid to build (saying I’m "building a sauce” makes me feel soooo cheffy), there’s the braising itself, and then there’s the final sauce. Four parts, more or less. That's not so unmanageable, is it?

The first steps of a good roast will mess up your kitchen and make you stink to high heaven. Grease, garlic and onions, and browning beef will permeate your very pores. (Save your morning shower for after you brown the beef.) But once the roast is set to braise, the heavy odors dissipate and a rich, sexy perfume envelopes your entire home. And you. You become rich, sexy, and heady. Oh, mama mia. It doesn't get much more carnal than braised beef.


Chuck Roast Braised in Red Wine
Method and ingredients compiled from Epicurious, Cook’s Illustrated, and my head

The proportions are for a large chuck roast, but even if I were to make a small one, I think I would still follow this recipe—there’d just be extra sauce, and in this case, extra sauce is a very good thing indeed.

1 6-pound boneless chuck roast
2 teaspoons salt, plus more
1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more
canola oil
6-8 slices bacon
3 onions, divided (2 chopped and 1 cut into slices)
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
6-9 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
4 2-inch sprigs fresh rosemary (or 1 ½ teaspoons dried)
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 bottle red wine (I used a basic [read, cheap] Sauvignon)
2-3 cups water
1 quart chicken broth, divided
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
green onions, minced, optional
mushroom, sauteed, optional

Tip: have all your ingredients on hand and veggies chopped ahead of time. It helps things to flow.

Step One: Browning the Beef
First thing in the morning, set the thawed roast on a kitchen towel and pat dry. Take a sharp knife and trim off all the fat and shiny white membranes that cling to the sides. You’ll probably waste some meat here, but don’t worry—it’s better to waste a little in this step then to serve it and have people turn up their noses because it’s sinewy and tough.

Stir together the salt and pepper and rub it over the whole roast.

Heat two tablespoons of flavorless oil in a large pot that has high sides (for splatter reduction). Using tongs, set the meat in the pot and let it sizzle, undisturbed. Brown it on all sides, about three minutes for each side, allowing it to get a good crispy crust all over. Transfer the meat to a clean pan and tent it with foil.

Step Two: The Bacon
Slice the bacon in half lengthwise and then crosswise in little cubes. Toss it into the hot pan and stir it around till it’s crispy brown. Scoop out the bacon bits and set aside. You won’t need them again till it’s time to serve the dish.

Step Three: Build the Braising Sauce
Toss the two chopped onions, carrots, and celery into the hot bacon fat and saute for 10-12 minutes, or until slightly browned around the edges and soft. Add the minced garlic and herbs and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the bottle of red wine and boil for about 5 minutes to reduce it a bit. Add the 2-3 cups of water and 2 cups of chicken broth and bring the sauce back up to a boil. This is your braising liquid.

Step Four: The Braise
Put the roast into a large oven-safe pot, one with a lid. (I used my crock pot since my Dutch oven was too small.) Scrape all the juices that have oozed out of the meat into the pot. Pour the braising liquid over top. The meat should be mostly, if not all the way, submerged. Clap the lid on top and bake the roast at 325 degrees for 2-4 hours, the longer the better.

Step Five: Build the Finishing Sauce
Remove the roast from the sauce, set it on a plate and tent it with foil. Pour the braising liquid through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to get out all the yummy juices. Discard the solids. Put the meat and strained liquid in a clean pot and set over low heat. Or just lid it and allow it to rest till closer to supper. Or put it in the oven to keep it warm. The important thing here is that the meat is resting in the juices so it’s getting even more moist and tender, if that’s possible. In a smaller saucepan—

Hold it! Hold it! you cry. This is TOO much work, TOO much time, too much EVERYTHING!

Well, listen. At this point it’s about 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and you haven’t done any work in the kitchen for the last four hours. But, if you are sick of the whole deal, now’s the time to stick the meat and sauce into the fridge and let it rest for a day or two. It will only improve with age, and if you really need the break, then take it. On the other hand, the house smells like heaven and you’ve lost half your body weight in drool, so you might want to muster your forces and forge ahead. Bliss is just around the corner...

Now. Where was I? Ah, yes, the small saucepan. In the small saucepan, melt the butter and then whisk in the flour. Whisk in remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and bring it to a merry boil. Season well with salt and pepper. Add it to the meat.

And there you have it. That’s the finished roast with an incredible sauce.

But of course, there are the finishing touches...

Step Six: To Serve, and the Finishing Touches
*Caramelized onion: melt a pat of butter and a little canola oil in a skillet and add the last onion. Caramelize it. (Do this in the morning while you're browning the beef.)
*Mushrooms: saute in butter. (Can be done ahead of time. My mushrooms were frozen and then thawed.)
*Green onion: mince.
*The bacon: don’t forget it!

Place the roast on a cutting board and cut across the grain to make 1/4 to ½-inch thick slices. Place the slices in a serving bowl, ladle some sauce over top and sprinkle with bacon, minced green onions, caramelized onions, and sauteed mushrooms.

Step Seven: Swoon

Leftover roast with accompanying sauce can be frozen for a future feast.

So what do you think: is this method obsessive and anal? Do you know of a better way to cook a roast? What are your tried and true techniques?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Snapshots and captions

You guys crack me up. I laughed so hard I got a headache.

It was so strange to get your captions, read what you wrote and realize I had no idea what you were talking about because my perception of the photos I posted was so completely different from your interpretations.

Thanks for humoring me and giving me a day off from writing. I like being lazy.

Picture Number One:


I just knew I shouldn't have answered the phone! -Mama Pea

Truth: That's exactly what happened.


Picture Number Two:



I keep telling the kids... "Would ya stop plucking the darn chickens feathers and writing with their poo... it's not normal" but they never listen... -Mavis

Truth: Miss Beccaboo got a feather somewhere, took apart a pen, and then put the
ink cartridge in the feather. It fits. She can even cap it.


Picture Number Three:


Homemade mayonnaise. I'm a convert.


Picture Number Four:



Holy Crap I'm getting old... I have to squint and look thru 2 lenses just to see anything... -Mavis

Truth: the above, yes ... plus, I just wanted to show you my dorky new look.


Picture Number Five:



You ate so many French baguettes last week that you can't stand the thought of shoving one more tiny morsel of carbalicious goodness into your mouth. Instead, you stand there and make sculptures with it. -Zoe

Zoe, NEVER!

Truth: bread bowls for broccoli soup. I thought it'd be a nice treat for the kids. You know, a novelty, permission to play with their food, etc. But they didn't like them. Not a single kid liked them. By the end of the meal I was snip-snappy. For dessert there was a stunning lecture on appreciation and mealtime etiquette.

Picture Number Six:



Sadly the well has run dry... Mr. Handsome can no longer bear children... -Mavis

Truth: I just wanted to take a picture of a water drip. I think I took about 30. I never got a good picture of the drop dripping, though.

But Mavis, about bearing children: yesterday some strange man stopped by to ask whether or not we've seen his missing dog. I hadn't, but I invited him inside while I hollered at the kids to find out if they'd noticed any strange dogs running around. The man stepped inside and the kids swarmed---Yo-Yo was over by the stove shooting Mr. Handsome's sneakers off the back of the sofa with a giant rubber band. Nickel and Miss Beccaboo came streaming the stairs. And Sweetsie ducked out of the little fort under the stairs.

The man's eyes got big and he said, "Wow, you've got a whole pack!"

"Yeah," I laughed.

And then, chuckling, "I hope you and your husband have gotten it figured out by now?"

Huh? Did he really just SAY that? I smiled benignly while discreetly scrutinizing him, but he was talking about something else, his comment already forgotten.

I giggle every time I think of that conversation. So rude and funny, all at the same time. I liked him.

Picture Number Seven:


The little kids decided to clean my bedroom by themselves. Part of the cleaning process involved moving some of the potted plants that were on my dresser back to Nickel and Sweetsie's room where they belong. (I had moved them to my room one night a week or two ago when Nickel had a nightmare and refused to stay in his bed unless I took all the plants out of his room.) Sweetsie was the one carrying the pot of trailing whatever-you-call-it out of my room, and as she walked through the door, one of the tendrils caught on the doorknob, unbeknownst to her. Sweetsie kept walking; the door kept the plant. What you see on the window sill are my efforts to salvage some of the greenery.

Picture Number Eight:


Living with these people is not easy... sometimes I have to take a little swig just to make it to lunch... -Mavis

Truth: the fixings for French Onion Soup.

Picture Number Nine:


You thought maybe you'd stash the chips on the floor to fatten up the mice so they don't scurry so fast through the walls at night. -Zoe

Six minus one. (The first bag didn't make it past Mr. H's lunchtime at the Frankferd Farms buying group pickup spot. Didn't he 'fess up?) -Kris

Truth: we do have a mouse.

Truth: It better not touch my chips.

Truth: there were six bags originally, and yes, Kris, Mr. Handsome tore into one of them on his way home from work. They were on special and they are incredibly delicious. Now they've been elevated from floor to top pantry shelf. I'm hoarding them.

Picture Number Ten:


I know this isn't the way Mommy makes grilled cheese but it's the way I do it. -Mama Pea

Truth: Mr. Handsome is tearing into a piece of hot fried chicken. The kids had swarmed him when he first started sampling, so he banished them from the kitchen and then called them one by one to the table to take a taste.

This same time, years previous: Julia's chocolate almond cake, plus chocolate butter frosting, five-minute bread