Wednesday, May 31, 2017

simple lasagna

At Costco the other day, I sent my younger son to get a tub of sour cream. It wasn’t until we got home that I realized he had picked up a tub of cottage cheese instead. He calls it cabbage cheese, though, and another kid calls it college cheese. With a tub of whatever-you-call-it cheese in the fridge, I decided to make lasagna. I rarely make lasagna, which was evidenced when my younger daughter asked me what was for supper.

“What’s for supper?” she said.


Lasagna? What’s that?” And then, “Oh, is that the long noodles with sauce and cheese?” 



So I guess she knew enough about it to be excited.

I always feel like lasagna is so complicated, what with all the components: the cheeses, sauce, cooked meat, and the noodles. This time, though, it didn’t feel like such a big deal. Maybe because my daughter helped prep the garlic and onions, and I skipped measurements? In any case, the lasagnas—I always make two—came together quickly, and then we had enough leftovers to last us several more meals.

Bonus: when they’re baking, they make the whole house smell intoxicating. My husband walked in the door, took one whiff, and groaned with pleasure.

“I don’t even need to eat it,” he said. “I’d be happy to just sit here, breathing in the smell.”

Which was a slight exaggeration, but okay.

Simple Lasagna

My mother always made her lasagnas meatless, and topped with mushrooms. (The mushrooms totally make the dish, I think.) I added a layer of cooked Italian sausage, which is delicious but completely unnecessary, and I only topped a partial pan with mushrooms since some of my family members haven’t yet fully evolved.

1 pound lasagna noodles
2 pounds cottage cheese
1½ pounds mozzarella cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4-5 cups tomato sauce
2 teaspoons dried basil
4 teaspoons dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons salt
black pepper
2-3 large onions, small dice
8 cloves garlic, minced
a glug or two of olive oil
fresh parsley, a large handful, roughly chopped
1½ pounds mushrooms, sauteed, optional
1-2 pounds Italian sausage, optional

Cook the lasagna noodles according to package instructions. Drain the noodles and then submerge in cold water so they don't stick to each other. Set aside.

If using sausage, cook it on the stove top and then set aside.

If using mushrooms, saute and set aside.

In a large saucepan, saute the onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil. When translucent and soft, add the tomato sauce, dried oregano and basil, and salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes and then set aside.

To assemble:
Grease two 9x13 pans. In each pan, layer: three noodles, 1/6th of the sauce and fresh parsley and 1/4th of the cottage cheese, mozzarella, and meat. Repeat the layers. Place the third and final layer of noodles in the pans. Top with the last of the sauce, the mushrooms, parsley, and the Parmesan cheese. At this point the lasagnas can be covered and refrigerated for later. (Or cover tightly with foil and freeze. To thaw, let set at room temperature for about 8 hours before baking.)

Bake the lasagnas at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until the sauce bubbles in the middle. Let the lasagnas rest at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.30.16), an evening together, in her element, a bunch of stuff, showtime!, down to the river to chill, barbequed pork ribs, fresh strawberry cream pie.

Monday, May 29, 2017

the quotidian (5.29.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Never enough.

Older daughter decided she might like to learn to cook, so: glazed carrots.

Prepping for the week ahead.

For the last time, she cooks: chuchitos.

If he begs long enough, eventually I'll cave: homemade strawberry jam.

The dog takes her responsibilities quite seriously. 

A couple kids here, a couple kids there: slowly racking up the babysitting cash.

One-night stand.

Big washday.

This same time, years previous: butter chicken, the hard part, the quotidian (5.26.15), spicy cabbage, the quotidian (5.28.12), one dead mouse.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

a few fun things

Yesterday afternoon, while topping strawberries, mixing shortcake, and prepping veggies for a giant tossed salad, I listened to several Fresh Air interviews with Terry Gross, one of which was her interview with Hasan Minhaj. The guy was funny, his story sharp, authentic, and raw, so last night after the kids were in bed, I pulled up his newly released show on Netflix. Within minutes, my husband was on the sofa beside me, each of us with one earbud in. I thought we’d maybe watch half of the show, but we ended up sailing right through to the end. Recommended! (Warning: language.) (Bonus: refreshingly not crass.)

Saturday night (or was it Friday?) I forced my husband to sit down on the sofa in our room and watch Manchester by the Sea. Months before, I’d heard Terry Gross’s interview with Casey Affleck and had been itching to see the movie ever since. But I’d read bad reviews, too. People said they hated the ending, cried the whole way through, didn’t think it funny at all, and wished they never watched it. So I was braced. My reaction? I didn’t cry (but there were sad parts), I laughed out loud multiple times, and I loved the ending. Afterwards I just sat there, luxuriating in the fact that I’d just watched two-plus hours of absolute perfection. Enthusiastically—nay, fiercely—recommended!

In other news, I’m finishing up Hillbilly Elegy. I liked it, mostly, but now that I’m nearing the end, I find myself skimming. I didn’t feel it shed that much light on the current political situation. Then again, I spent half of my childhood in West Virginia…

I started Season Two of Master of None, but so far I’m not that impressed. It seems trite. But maybe it gets better?

Oh yeah, and a couple weeks back we watched Hidden Figures for our family movie night and everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, thoroughly enjoyed it. (Another week we watched La La Land. I was not impressed.)

I'm toying with the idea of signing up for Hulu for a month so I can watch This Is Us. Good idea? Bad idea? Have you seen it?

What are you watching and reading these days? Anything so good you feel like screaming it from the rooftops? Or at least the comment section? Do tell!

Photos from a couple weeks back when we hosted an end-of-the-year donut party for concert choir.

This same time, years previous: in which we didn't need the gun, the quotidian (5.25.15), rosa de jamaica tea, deviating from my norm, strawberry shortcake with milk on top.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

snake charmer

The other afternoon, soon after my older daughter headed out the door, we heard a piercing shriek followed by some (mild) swearing. A couple seconds later, she flew back in and babbled a full report: Snake! Huge! You gotta come see!

My husband and I dutifully tromped outside. No snake anywhere. (Which was more than a little unnerving.) But then I spotted it slithering through the grass, heading for an evergreen. When it started climbing, we realized it was after a nest of eggs—the mother bird was stress-hopping about the yard—so we intervened. (Because National Geographic we are not.) Thwarted, the snake headed off through the flower bed.

Can I pick it up? My older son had joined us by then.

No! we said. Just leave it alone.

But I know how to do it. I won't get hurt. Please?

Fine, I said. But if we have to make a trip to the ER, you have to pay us 50 dollars. Deal?

My older daughter got brave enough to touch it, and then my husband, too.

But the best part was when the snake stuck its tail up my son’s shorts (see above) and gave my husband the willies.

And then my son went across the road and tossed the snake into a wooded area, far from our chicken coop.

The end.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.23.16), the basics, more on trash, the reason why, the boring blues, chocolate-kissed chili, Aunt Valerie's blueberry bars.

Monday, May 22, 2017

the quotidian (5.22.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

One of my favorite springtime dishes. Unfortunately, no one else shares my enthusiasm.

Another one of my favorites. This one, the family loves.

A week of lunches.


A new icing that no one liked, probably because I put too much of it on the cake.

Running low: our supply of drinking glasses.

The glories of a summer morning.

Of her own volition.

DIY vaccinations.

Life lessons.

Financial aid forms for the new part-time college (!) student.

 Stressing me out: minutes before the guests arrive, he decides to clean out the silverware drawer.

Big date prep.

The first strawberry pie!
Oh yeah, and Prom, too.

This same time, years previous: sauteed lambsquarters with lemon, campfire cooking, Costco reflections, ice cream supper, Shirley's sugar cookies, the trouble with Mother's Day, the quotidian (5.21.12), through my daughter's eyes, caramel cake.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Last Wednesday, my younger son had the surgery on his broken arm. The kid was so excited! He woke up on his own at 5:15 and insisted upon taking the recommended 2nd pre-surgery shower (that we said he didn’t need to take).

At the hospital, his giddy happiness gradually turned to anxiety-laced cheerfulness. He wanted me right next to him for everything, and when they put in his IV (it took two tries), he had a death grip on my hand.

 But he never stopped smiling! Even when he came out of surgery, all mellow and subdued, he was still pleasant and curious.

What a trooper.

The doctor said the bones had already started to fuse back together. He told me—rather exuberantly, I thought—that it’d taken a bit of tugging and pulling to set the arm, and then he eagerly got out his phone to show me the x-rays of his work. I wasn't too surprised when the kid had a lot more pain this time around.

Yesterday was the follow-up appointment. I couldn’t wait to see what was under all the bandaging.

There's a pin matter-of-factly sticking out of the skin. Eek!

Judging by the x-rays, the inside part of the pin is about 2 inches long and angles back up into his arm, through the break. (His skin is orange, I'm guessing because of the surgery disenfectant.)

Now that he’s pinned, and because there’s already lots of new bone growth, they put him in a below-the-elbow cast which is super nice. Three weeks in this one, and then back to the office to pull the pin (sounds, um .... interesting?), and then a couple more weeks in a removable (hip-hip!) brace.

Broken bones are such an adventure!

This same time, years previous: chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookies, the quotidian (5.18.15), crock pot pulled venison, help, a burger, a play, and some bagels, my favorite things, strawberry spinach salad, cinnamon tea biscuits.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


A few days before Melissa’s birthday, it occurred to me that it’d be fun to have a party for her. And then I thought, Why not make it a surprise party? So I sent out the emails and made the phone calls and then spent the next few days worrying that one of her friends would spill the beans.

Saturday, I got up early to bake the cakes (this and this) while Melissa was still sleeping. That afternoon I got worried there wouldn’t be enough so I made one more. (It’s good I did, too!) Also on the menu: fresh fruit, coffee, mint tea, and a piñata. Because when it comes to a party, sugar is its own food group.

She was surprised alright! She and another friend had been invited to have Sunday lunch at a neighboring house, so they just walked over to our place when the time came.

Walking in the drive, Melissa didn’t even bat an eye at all the people standing on the porch because, as she later recounted, There are always a lot of people at the Murch’s house. But then we started singing Happy Birthday, and she was like, Oh!

We sang (twice), feasted on cake, and busted open the piñata. Kids ran around playing with the dogs and riding the horse and kicking a soccer ball. Spanish was spoken just as much as English, and I got better acquainted with a number of people I’ve only ever greeted in passing. It was a testament to Melissa, seeing all the friends she’s made in the last nine months.

Not until after everyone left did I realized that we’d neglected to open the cards. So we gathered in the living room to watch the unwrapping: a family photo, chips and candies, gift cards and money, books, and a slew of cards.

Over the homemade card from my mother, Melissa totally lost it.

There was the requested ice cream—the promised quiche had to wait until the next day because I am not super woman—and then we had popcorn to go with an excellent movie.

For nine long months, Melissa's friend has listened to Melissa talk about our homemade popcorn, so she was tickled to finally get to help make and eat it.

Happy Birthday, Melissa!

With love,
Your Virginia Family

This same time, years previous: tomato coconut soup, prism glasses, Captain Morgan's rhubarb sours, on getting a teen out of bed, maseca cornbread, people watching and baby slinging, lemony spinach and rice salad with fresh dill and feta.