Monday, June 27, 2011

A break in the clouds

In spite of feeling like my kids bicker nonstop, there are days where they play together for hours on end. The past couple days have been an absolute dream. I savor this break in the thunder clouds and do my best to soak up the comradery. I'll need the good memories to draw upon when the sibling love gets scarce.

Of course, what gets their jive juice going isn’t normal, calm, inside-the-box play, like building towers out of blocks or a jolly game of Parcheesi.

Or, say, simply swinging on our industrial quality swing set, oh no. That would be way too...normal.

The kids have to go and mutilate the set by removing extemporaneous swings and importing a huge slab of wood until they end up with a seesaw and merry-go-round hybrid.

The kids pad the board with mounds of old winter coats, arrange themselves just so (balance is key), and then order the Baby Nickel to spin them.

They scream a lot, and I have to keep yelling out the door at them to STOP SCREAMING. I HATE screaming. It ranks right up there beside whining and clock alarms. Yelling is fine, I say. Screaming is not. And then I walk away and the screaming starts up again. Perhaps it’s an uncontrollable side effect of spinning?

They like to just hang out on the board, too, dozing in the sun like the sloths I sometimes wish they were.

Eventually they tire of spinning and/or balancing and move on to making one enormous swing.

It serves dual purposes.

Purpose Number One: a perch for eating popcorn.

Purpose Number Two: a swinging stunt platform.

The younger two lay on their backs and pump the swing with their legs while the older two hang from swingless chains and do their thing.

As I was typing this, the swing set morphed into yet another structure.

They added a ladder and some old canvas and, voilĂ !, a tent was born.

Tomorrow our family heads in five different directions. When we return, the swing set may be a thing of the past. Or not.

In any case, it was a great diversion while it lasted.

This same time, years previous: beef empanadas, one whole year, reasons, lemon donut muffins, weird, honeyed apricot almond cake, brown bread, simple granola, fancy granola, French chocolate granola, oregano, garlic, and lemon roast chicken with asparagus and potatoes, and a sketchy character. Whew!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Two bad things

Or, to be more accurate, two new bad things. Because it’s not like there weren’t any bad things in my life until these two bad things came along. For the record, my life is full of bad:

bad hair (my baby’s—it looks like someone took a machete to it)
bad language (oops, did I just SAY that?)
bad behavior (only my kids’)
bad weeds (naughty, naughty weeds!)
bad communication (my husband’s specialty)
bad memory (all mine)

But now I have two new Bads to add to the list. That I’m in love with them makes it all the worse.

Bad Thing One: thinned down dulce de leche for my iced coffee, oh yes!

(But can it be called “thinned down” if it’s half-and-half doing the thinning? Hm, I must think on that.)

1. Open a can of ducle de leche and take out a large glob.

2. Heat the glob up in the microwave for a few second, just enough to help it relax.

3. Whisk in some half-and-half.

4. Whisk in more half-and-half.

5. Whisk in more—

6. Yeah, just keep whisking and adding till it’s the consistency you want, which would be creamy and pour-able, kind of like Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

7. Store the now very skinny dulce de leche into a jar and put it in the fridge.

8. Every afternoon when you pour your iced coffee concentrate into a pint jar, add a hearty glug to go with.

(9. And if you’re feeling particularly wicked, top off your pint with a scoop of leftover whipped cream that’s been getting all lonely in the back of the fridge.)

My little dishwashing boy pounced upon the sticky bowl, and in the midst of giving it a good tongue washing, he happily announced, “Mom, I’m in love with dith!”

Bad Thing Two: chocolate peanut butter cake.

It’s all my mother’s fault. When she was here this past weekend, she brought the pre-assembled fixings for a chocolate cake and then baked it up in my oven since hers is on the fritz. The plan was to take the cakes home with her, but she made a little one for us to eat right then and there in honor of Father’s Day, and in spite of my warped and hole-y measuring cups (Jennifer, this is ridiculous!) and the unappealingly smeared-on icing (thanks to one little girl), the cake was really good.

And then my mother said, in an off-handed sort of way, "You know what I’m going to do with one of these layers when I get home? I’m going to ice it with peanut butter frosting and then drizzle a chocolate ganache over top."

And then she smacked her lips at me.

I played it cool, genteelly nodding my head at her, but truth is, she did me in. I had to have a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and chocolate ganache.

So I made myself one. Because I’m practical like that.

The formula: this chocolate cake (but I used regular cow’s milk instead of coconut milk) PLUS this peanut butter frosting PLUS this chocolate peanut butter ganache from Smitten Kitchen (recipe follows) EQUALS a chocolate peanut butter cake that totally, totally, totally meets The Persistent and Persnickety Peanut Butter Chocolate Craving.

Bake the chocolate cakes in two round pans. Each cake goes a long way, so freeze the extra one or give it away. (I gave it away.)

Spread the cake with the peanut butter frosting. Really lay it on. (I’m struggling with Icing Application Regret—I should have been much more generous.) Set the iced cake in the fridge to set up—it needs to be rather firm so that the ganache won’t push it all around.

While icing the cakes, do not neglect your tasting duties!

Pour on the ganache. Use a knife to push it (artfully) over the edge. Store the cake in the fridge. Cut off slices as needed.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache
From Smitten Kitchen

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
½ cup half-and-half

Put the chocolate, peanut butter, and syrup in the top part of a double boiler and cook until melted, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat and whisk in the cream. Spread over the cake while still warm (but not too hot).

This same time, years previous: lemon ice cream with red raspberries, slushy mojitos, in honor of Father's Day: the giant green slug, a public service announcement about peas

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Real simple

What I said on Monday (but posted on Tuesday) was really true: I had no idea what to make for supper.

So that afternoon I went to my routine dermatology appointment, and while waiting for my name to be called, I picked up a Real Simple magazine to leaf through and there amongst all the glossy pages and coordinating colors I spied it: our dinner. It was on a two-page spread that listed off ten ways to cook eggs, all of which were real simple. Of course. (Or, of course not. Because they listed quiche as one of the simple dinners and I do not count quiche as "real simple." It involves grating cheese and sauteing vegetables and making a crust and beating eggs and measuring things. This proves that the real simple mag editors have no handle on reality whatsoever, thank you very much.)

However, the recipe I zeroed in on did indeed look simple. True, there weren’t any greens in the meal (except for the fresh herbs and two tablespoons of herbs don’t count for a vegetable serving in my book), but that didn’t bend me out of shape too much. A meal without peas or spinach or green beans wouldn’t kill anyone. (I hoped.)

So after the doctor gave me a once over and an entire box of free medicine—whoot!—I hopped into my bunged up minivan and sped home to whip up my real simple supper.

While the water boiled for my eh-spaghetti (helpful hint: read it with a Spanish accent), I bustled outside to collect my herbs—basil, parsley, chives, thyme, and oregano. Back in the kitchen I minced the aforementioned green things along with a couple cloves of garlic. After that it was mostly a real simple (but kind of chaotic) process of assemblage that went something like this:

1. Saute the garlic, add the herbs and give a stir, toss in the eh-spaghetti and a little pasta water. Set aside.

2. Fry some eggs.

3. Assemble: plate pasta, top with fried egg(s), sprinkle with grated Parmesan and black pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.

4. Eat.

Moral of my tale: go the doctor when you don’t have any idea what to make for supper.

Spaghetti with Fresh Herbs and Fried Eggs
Adapted from Real Simple magazine

Enhancement suggestions: oven-roasted tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, sauteed zucchini, peas, etc.

1 pound spaghetti
4-8 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup assorted fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano, chives, thyme, etc.), roughly chopped
4-8 eggs, or as needed
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and black pepper

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions. Drain (reserving about a half cup of the pasta water) and set aside.

Saute the garlic in several tablespoons of olive oil. After a couple minutes, add the herbs and cook for 30 seconds or so. Add the pasta and toss to coat. (If it seems a little dry, splash in some of the pasta water.) Cover with a lid to keep warm and set aside.

In a separate pan, fry the eggs, making sure that the yolks stay runny.

Plate the spaghetti, top with an egg or two, a hearty drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of cheese, and salt and black pepper to taste. Dig in!

This same time, years previous: a driving lesson

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not a problem

Written yesterday afternoon...

I’m in a cooking slump. Part of it, maybe most of it, has to do with the fact that my two oldest have split for my parents’ house and I’m left with the two littlest (and a niece, but now she’s back at her mom and dad’s so it really is just me and my two littles), and after cooking for four or more kids, a five and a seven-year-old just feel like absolutely nothing. When a hunk of bread and a carrot will meet the need, what IS the point, huh?

I didn’t feed them bread and carrots for lunch. I made a pesto pizza with leftover dough, a splat of pesto, and some odd cheese ends (and oven roasted tomatoes for my part). If they get hungry this afternoon, I have four hotdog buns banging around (in an airy sort of way) in my bread drawer that they can have. The kids will probably get all excited about them, too.

See? Why cook?

But I do need to come up with something for supper. Mr. Handsome will come home tired and hungry and I have a pretty good hunch that hotdog buns just won’t cut it.

So that’s that problem.

On the other hand, these scones are not a problem. They were a problem at first, mostly because I hadn’t yet discovered them and was busy experimenting with other scone recipes and failing miserably and getting all grumpy about it. But then I discovered these and my problems were solved.

I made them for our family gathering and they were the first ones to disappear. I made them for our PA gathering and sister-in-law Kate has been politely hounding me for the recipe ever since. (Kate! Your day has come!) I baked some up yesterday afternoon and sent the majority home with my mom because their oven is on the fritz and my heart goes out to anyone who does not have access to a steady stream of baked goods.

But now I’m kind of regretting my spurt of big heartedness because I just ate the last scone and really want another one.

Orange Cranberry Scones
Adapted from House of Annie

To make these even more orange-y, submerge the craisins in hot orange juice for 20 minutes. Drain thoroughly before proceeding.

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons white sugar
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter
1-2 tablespoons orange zest
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup craisins
½ cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons orange juice

Mix together the flour, baking powder, white sugar, and salt. Using your fingers, a fork, or the food processor, cut in the butter. With a spoon, stir in the cream and zest. Add the craisins and knead lightly to combine. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for a couple hours. (At this point you can freeze the disks.)

Cut each disk into 8 pieces and bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 12-18 minutes.

Make a glaze by combining the confectioners' sugar and orange juice. Drizzle it on the scones while they’re still hot.

Yield: 16 delectable scones

Monday, June 20, 2011

What I got

The other evening I settled into the Amish rocker, drew the computer onto my knee, and clicked over to As soon as the speakers started making noise, the kids surrounded me (and soon husband, too). Thus awkwardly assembled, we together watched several talks*—one about focusing sound, another about illusions, and yet another about buying second-hand clothes.

The talk about thrift shopping was delivered by a color-and-fashion loving woman who had traveled to the Ted Dot Com place (wherever that is) with only seven pairs of underwear and then spent the week thrifting for clothes and photographing her daily outfits which she then used to illustrate her talk. One of the nuggets I gleaned went something like this: if you think you look good in an outfit, you do. If you don’t think you look good, you don’t. I’m not sure I completely believe that, but the gist of it is probably mostly true.

In any case, I decided to go thrifting for clothes.

Now let me say this: I hate shopping for clothes at thrift stores. It requires absolute concentration, abundant time, and lots and lots of Fabric Touching. I hate Fabric Touching, especially fabrics of the stale, stained, and stinky thrift store sort.

But I like the idea of thrift shopping for clothes (I already love thrifting for everything else), and that color-and-fashion jiving Ted woman done did go and get me all pumped up.

So on Saturday I arranged myself a block of time and plunged in cart first. I attacked the racks like a woman possessed, pulling off anything and everything that interested me, no matter how mildly. I even sifted through the wedding dresses and evening gowns! The sign on the changing room door said there was a three item limit which I promptly disregarded (because how in the world are you supposed to mix and match with only three things?)—I had well over 30 items tossed hither and yon. When I finally resurfaced, gasping for air and hair all disheveled, I was shocked to realize I was completely out of time.

And money. I spent over fifty bucks (which is a heck of a lot of money to dish out in a thrift store), and this is what I got.

1. A slinky black fringe dress.

I dig this dress. It’s super comfortable and makes me feel like Pocahontas in a heels-and-evening-gown sort of way.

2. A short stretchy black dress.

But I’ll wear it more like a tunic top, probably with leggings and boots. It’s a good first layer to any number of combinations.

3. A long brown sweater.

I spied this right as I was getting ready to leave and had to ask for the changing room key yet again. It’s soft and warm and will go well with a pair of skinny jeans and cowboy boots, neither of which I have. (But that is just a minor inconvenience.)

4. An old Navy fleece vest.

Because I wanted a fleece vest and I love dark blue.

5. A light-weight blue denim shirt with brown rope belt.

I’m not sure I’ll actually wear this, but I decided it was time to try my luck with the belted look. And the shirt itself is so comfy. Maybe paired with a brown skirt and those cowboy boots I don’t have?

6. A Lord of the Rings Princess Dress.

Just look at this dress, people! It has poofy sleeves! A fitted waist! A twirly skirt! (I tested it in the changing room.) I kind of doubted I’d ever wear the dress but the little girl inside of me forced me to buy it anyway, and when I got home my little real-life little girl stole it right out from under my nose.

I haven’t told her yet, but I think it’s destined to be hers.

7. A red jumper.

Because every homeschooling mom needs a jumper dress, right?

Um, no. Real reason: because it’s super-soft (I’m realizing I have a thing for soft clothes) and has funky little metal hook-y thingies for fastening the shoulder straps. Not sure what to wear under it—a white blouse?—but I’ll probably pair it with some boots. Those cowboy boots...

8. Workout clothes.

Short, flow-y black pants for belly dancing or for bumming around the house, and a cover-up shirt for the same.

9. A black corduroy skirt.

All-purpose. Warm. Sturdy. And the belt loops have character.

10. A little red velvet dress.

I’m not a fan of the Christmas Look but kind of doubt I’ll have any other option when I put this number on. I should probably just stick a candy cane in my mouth and get it over with. Giant jingle bells around my neck would provide a nice accent, no? Ho-ho-ho.

11. A gray lacy-like sweater.

It has the potential to dress up many an outfit.

12. A red tee.

Nothing much to say about this, expect that I’m beginning to realize I’m drawn to red. (And black, but I knew that already.)

13. A black tank.

It fits really well—no gaping around the arms. (I hate when shirts gape around the arms. Makes me feel insecure and socially inept.)

14. A black purse.

It’s almost exactly like the one I have now, but bigger so I can carry more junk, yay!

So to summarize: I bought a bunch of winter clothes at the beginning of summer and half of it isn’t what I’d normally wear but I’m really excited about it anyway.

Next step: to accessorize with flair. I’m thinking hats, scarves, chunky jewelry, and lime green tights.

By any chance, is this new behavior pattern indicative of an early onset mid-life crisis?

*I love this website. It’s made up of a lot of quality talks delivered by people passionate about what they do. Informative, inspiring, fun, etc. (Note: not all talks are appropriate for Little Eyes. Use discretion.)

This same time, years previous: cold-brewed iced coffee and cold-brewed iced tea (I've been making the coffee a half-gallon at a time), cabbage apple slaw with buttered pecans, sour cherry crostatas, how to freeze spinach, strawberry margarita cake, and Swiss chard rolls

Friday, June 17, 2011

This particular Friday

Mr. Handsome crunched his truck out the driveway and I woke up just enough to register that I had a splitting headache. When I woke up for good a little while later, I lay quite still for a few minutes trying to recall what was on the agenda for this particular Friday. Ah, right. Another blank day. Yeeeesssss.

Next thought, Hm, what do I want to cook today?

And then, Oh dear, how am I going to occupy the kids?

By the time I had dressed, tiptoed downstairs, and started my coffee, a plan was brewing. This day I would be extravagant. I would be generous. I would have fun with my kids.

I informed them of my plan over breakfast (fresh sourdough bread straight from the oven, granola, left over baked oatmeal). First there would be jobs, then an art project (with paint!), then we’d make ten-layer bars, and then a science movie. I was pumped; the kids were agreeable.

After a flurry of sink, toilet, and shower scrubbing, dish washing, and toy picking-upping, we settled down on the kitchen floor with bottles of tempera paints, old newspapers, watercolor paper, and masking tape.

The idea is one of my pinterest finds (if/when you want to join, I’d be honored to send you an invite!), and the kids thought it was super-cool.

Miss Beccaboo liked to invent textures.

One of the finished pieces, pre-haircut.

Then we made the pan of candy-like bar cookies. (Recipe also from pinterest, but I’d heard about it years ago.)

They’re not my favorite and the kids mostly didn't like them (which cracks me UP), but we made them together so they served that purpose at least.

While the bars baked, we watched a National Geographic movie about Africa’s Stolen River. Animals died and got eaten and there were too many drawn out setting sun scenes, but it got us through till lunch: cheese and spinach sandwiches, tuna for some, and salad and roasted beets for me.

And thus concludes our Friday morning.

How did you pass this particular June morning?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Smothered in sauce

When we were up in Pennsylvania last week, Sister-in-Law Kate made us an enchilada feast. Three giant pans of ‘ladas equals a feast any time, any place, anywhere, don't you agree?

Actually, I’ve never really been an enchilada fan. Sure, I liked them, but I didn’t need them. I preferred to serve my beans straight up, tortillas on the side for scooping. The wrapping, saucing, baking, and cheesing required for enchilada-ing just seemed like extra steps I didn’t want in my life.

That’s all changed, now that Kate fed me her enchiladas. It’s not like her enchiladas were fancy or anything—just ground beef and beans wrapped up in tortillas and smothered in a sauce—but the sauce! Oh my word! I couldn’t get enough of the sauce—sweet, spicy, rich, creamy. Deeply and profoundly comforting, that sauce was.

So yesterday, after a volley of emails with Kate, I made the enchiladas for my houseful of hooligans, I mean kids.

Or maybe I do mean hooligans. Just look at them.

The night before yesterday afternoon (when I made the enchiladas I'm telling you about), all the kids were outside running around when it suddenly got really quiet. Mr. Handsome peered out the window to see what was up and reported that all the kids were ON THE ROOF OF THE BARN picking mulberries. Out he went to order them down to the ground, and a little later they appeared in my back yard waving foam swords and looking like messes on legs.

(Which reminds me of a nugget I gleaned from pinterest: the definition of boy: “Boy, n. 1. noise with dirt on it.”)

So anyway, I fed these stinky, tired ('cause they were up till midnight, picking-sour cherries-to-help-them-stay-awake, the sillies), mulberry stained boys (plus my younger kids, too) these enchiladas for lunch. They were mighty happy about their lunch. And so was I. I had thirds.

This is not a complicated recipe. Unlike other recipes I’ve tried, there is no frying of tortillas and then dipping them in the sauce prior to rolling, thank goodness. Simply put a layer of sauce in the pan, top with the filled tortillas, and then smother them in another layer of sauce.

And just a word about this incredible sauce: I’m pretty sure it’s the butter that makes it sing. Or maybe it’s the beef broth? Perhaps the chili powder? Really, I’m not sure what it is, but the combination of a rich roux thinned with broth and flavored with tomato sauce and chili powder is enough to leave such a taste sensation that enchiladas will be your new favorite comfort food for years to come, hallelujah.

Kate’s Enchiladas
Adapted from my sister-in-law’s recipe

Make these with store-bought ingredients or all from scratch—you can’t go wrong either way. (Though I am partial to the toothsomeness that comes from homemade flour tortillas.)

Also, this recipe, aside from the sauce which yields enough sauce for one 9 x 13 pan of enchiladas, has no real measurements.

For the sauce:
5 tablespoons butter
½ cup flour
1 ½ cups beef broth
2 cups tomato sauce
1 tablespoons chili powder
½ teaspoon salt

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Whisking steadily, add the broth. When the mixture is thick and bubbly (keep whisking!), add the remaining ingredients and heat through.

For the enchiladas:
*some ground beef that’s been fried up with some chopped onion and green pepper and a sprinkle of salt
*a couple cups of cooked, drained beans, black, red, or pinto—add these to the meat mixture
*a stack of flour tortillas (I made a double batch and had some left over)
*3-4 cups grated, good melting cheese (Monterey Jack, cheddar, provolone, Colby, whatever)
*optional garnishes: fresh cilantro, sour cream, green onions, chives, fresh tomatillo salsa, black olives, etc.

Spread half the sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan.

Fill the tortillas with some meat-and-bean mixture and some of the cheese. Roll them up and place seam-side-down in the pan on top of the sauce. Repeat until the pan is full. Spread the remaining sauce over the enchiladas.

Cover the pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the enchiladas are heated through. Remove the foil and sprinkle with the remaining cup or two of cheese. Bake, uncovered, for another 10 minutes.

Serve with the optional garnishes.

Note: these can be assembled ahead of time and frozen. Simply thaw at room temperature and then bake. Leftovers keep well, too.

This same time, years previous: my boy children, old-fashioned vanilla ice cream