Thursday, July 8, 2010

Salty and Sweet

 . . . the perfect combination.  Last night we enjoyed some of the bounties of summer from our co-op (thankfully harvested by someone more tolerant of the heat and bugs than I am).  Among the dinner selections was one of my favorites - fried okra. 
I wish some progressive movie theater (do you hear me, Alamo Draft House??) would offer this as an alternative to popcorn.  I'm not hating on popcorn, I mean I can eat that stuff even when I'm not hungry.  Fried okra though elevates the "salty" crunchy snacky goodness to a whole new level.  I'm sure the gourmet chefs at the movie theater (i.e., the half-awake, partied-out teens) would probably just screw it up anyway by hiding the okra in a heavy batter.  I like mine with lots of salt and a little corn meal, just the way Mama used to make (and still does)! :-)

The main reason for my post is a "sweet" discovery I made following a creative attempt to come up with a dessert without having to venture out (into the heat) to the grocery store.  Look at this . . . doesn't this photo look ethereal?
  What does it look like to you?  Hopefully bread pudding.  That's what I was going for . . . only I made it with, get this, leftover blueberry muffins.  Yep.  I'm sure that idea isn't original to me, but it was pretty darn tasty.  I made the muffins Sunday or Monday with some co-op blueberries, and what was supposed to make 12 actually made 24.  I just put the leftovers in the frig not having the heart to throw them out.   I filled a greased loaf pan with crumbled muffins - 12 in all (and these are "regular-sized" muffins, not jumbos).  Then I put 4 eggs in a large measuring cup and used 1/2 evaporated milk and 1/2 regular milk to make 3 cups.  I added 1/4 c. of sugar (which you'd vary depending on the sweetness of your muffins), a teaspoon of vanilla, and a few dashes of cinnamon.  After mixing well, I dumped the liquid over the muffins and let it sit for about 15 - 30 minutes (at this point you can add a little more milk - it  should be just below the top of the muffins).  Then I finished the pudding in a 350 degree oven, cooking for just under an hour (until a knife comes out clean).  I served it warm with some melted Blue Bell vanilla  (my lazy creme anglaise).  Of course, with this successful result, I started imagining the possibilities with all the different muffins and additions you could make . . . banana nut muffins with chocolate chips,  carrot cake muffins with walnuts, chocolate muffins with peanut butter chips, lemon poppy seed muffins with dried cranberries . . .
Let me know what you do if you get creative and try a muffin pudding!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Another Quilty Project: 12 Days of Christmas by Moda - Mystery BOM

I fell in love with this Kate Spain fabric, so the Fat Quarter Shop BOM program was just what the doctor ordered (and that would be the doctor who thinks I don't have enough to do already).  Thankfully a quilty friend has bitten the bullet with me, so we have an excuse to get together and sew.  June's block is finished, and I'm anxious to see what the mail will bring next! (Robin, I PROMISE I'm working on Flynn's quilt; I just made the disastrous mistake of bringing my design wall downstairs only to have the frisky new kitties destroy the layout, so I'm struggling with getting it all back in the order I had it in).  FYI - the block really isn't as crooked as this photo would have you believe it is. :-)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Maria Moment

A great poet once wrote, "Whistle while you work." Okay, so she wasn't a great poet, and she probably wasn't the sharpest of tacks in the technicolor box (she was, after all choosing to live with and clean up after seven men, small though they were), but they are golden words I live by. Whistling can put quite a strain on your lips though, and, at my age, I certainly don't want frown lines that make me look like a chain smoker, so I often choose singing as my choice du jour for making the time pass by more quickly, particularly when I'm elbow-deep scrubbing a toilet (and, remember, I have BOYS in my house), or wondering how to get crayon marks off my carpet. Sometimes I actually do it to stay awake at the end of the day when I'm praying with every available breath for it to be the boys' bedtime. Recently I was struggling with exhaustion, watching with droopy eyes as my boys enjoyed the last few minutes before starting our bedtime routine, and I burst into song. Now, I must note that my oldest has more than once in the past requested that I cease and desist such behavior. "Mommy, please stop singing . . . why are you singing?" Thankfully my baby is more of a music connoisseur and enjoys shaking his jiggly thighs and baby booty to my own interpretation of "Bust a Move" or "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" or, on bad days, something from "Les Miserables."

Neither kiddo seemed to be much into "Memories," although I'm sure if I was dressed up like a cat from the play there would have been a different reaction (probably of sheer terror), so I decided to dig deeper into my repertoire. As the day had been somewhat rainy, I immediately was taken back to the lovely thunderstorm scene in "The Sound of Music" where the mother of all mothers, Maria, cured bedtime fears of thunder with a song. Do I dare? Do I dare channel Maria? Yes. I do. "Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens . . . " The audience is listening. "Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens." Huh? "What's that, mommy?" "Brown paper packages tied up with strings . . . these are a few of my favorite things." At this point the baby is hooked. He crawls over to me smiling and sits on the floor in front of me hypnotically shaking his shoulders, roughly to the rhythm. "Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudel; doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles." The oldest? I had him at schnitzel. Okay, so maybe he was driven more by the attention his little brother was getting at his acknowledgment of my singing prowess, but regardless, I now had two boys, "captively" engaged in my singing, sitting cross-legged in front of me on the floor and hanging on my every word. Cue volume control. Now singing at the top of my lungs, which surprisingly doesn't carry the range Maria's does, I whisk the boys off the floor and begin swirling around the room. Giggles and laughter and mommy awake and life is good! "When the dog bites . . ." No Captain Von Trapp to interrupt our playtime, but the clock tolls 8:00. Mama has successfully made it through another child-laden day and hopes the smiles will carry us through teeth-brushing and into dreamland where I'm certain my boys will be dreaming of strudel and schnitzel and wondering what in the heck that is.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Blog, Sweet Blog

Please accept my gratuitous apologies for the lack of posts lately. I must admit a contributing factor is the overwhelming exhaustion (and resulting lack of motivation) I seem to struggle with at managing a home and two boys. I really am in awe of those parents who do this job well, un-medicated, and with sanity intact. Add to my usual challenges the time-consuming chore of looking for a job, and my choice has been to spend the few remaining hours of the day sleeping rather than creating likely incoherent blog posts at 1:00 am. To-date, the job search has not been successful, at least not in a traditional sense. I am, however, officially a freelance writer having published a handful of articles for a local article-mill. Glamorous? Absolutely not . . . but it very well may be the start of the job I've always hoped to have.

My spare time (and I really had to fight back hysterical laughter in response to that phrase) is spent searching for additional freelance opportunities and attempting to publish a professional-looking website, so, as you can see (and are now tired of hearing about), I just haven't made the time for blogging. Because I am officially famous now though and have no doubt will soon be in high demand, I have committed to blogging more regularly if for no other reason than to give potential employers a taste of my creative writing skills (and I have no doubt one look at my personal blog will have people lining up for my services! :-)). Nothing else really to report in my life right now other than having completed my first 5K and continuing training for what I hope will be an improved performance at 5K #2 in September. Some crafty and cooking-y projects are also in the works, as well. That is all for now . . . it is, after all, summer break, and I have a 4-yr old who's just dying to play Scrabble while the mobile-Scrabble-tile-eater is safely snoozing in his crib. TTFN!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sylvia's Bridal Sampler - Aunt Sukey's Choice

Seriously . . . who names their child Sukey? Seems like there's one of those whacky, nonsensical nursery rhymes about a Sukey. The name doesn't even go well in the poem, if memory serves. Anywho, all I can say about this one is it's done.
The angles didn't line up as precisely as I'd hoped, but after the time investment I'd already made, there was no trying to fix that. The colors are good though, right??? :-)

"Sometimes I wake up grumpy, and sometimes I let him sleep."

This morning I should have let him sleep. I anticipated having problems getting my children out of bed when they hit puberty, but I didn't know it would start at four! Mr. Tired came downstairs for breakfast in a whiny mood, dressed in his lint-free navy pants, and proceeded to roll around on the floor (the cat-fur-covered floor) lamenting his lack of sleep and asking whether he had time to play. (Please note he resisted bedtime last night with little regard for our reminders that he would be tired this morning if he didn't go to sleep.) I explained that had he gotten up at the time I asked him to (almost 30 minutes earlier) he would have had time to play, but since he'd chosen to take his time getting up, the playtime window had been closed and it was now time to eat breakfast. "You're mean," he said. Mean, huh? Mean mothers must get up after little sleep themselves (yes, less than you got, dear) to make breakfast for you . . . take the time to chop up the extra veggies you like in your eggs, make sure the fruit options are acceptable for your fruit-picky self, slowly reheat your chocolate sprinkle doughnut in its own oven so it gets warm without melting the sprinkles. "I am not your son anymore," he added. Well, that's a relief. That means I can throw out the carefully crafted lunch I just made . . . yogurt with a separate container of granola so you can sprinkle it like you like to, the exact combination of veggies you requested, lovingly put in a special lunchbox I picked out just for you, all while my own breakfast is getting cold. Phhhhhhtttttt. Suddenly I'm feeling a very deep connection to Bill Cosby, "I brought you into this world, and I can take you OUT!" Pray for me . . . and go ahead and put me on your prayer list for the next 20 years or so . . .

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sylvia's Bridal Sampler - Arizona

45 . . . that's the number of pieces in this block.  Holy cow!  I'm very happy with the way it came out though, especially since this is the most intricately pieced block I've ever done that wasn't paper-pieced, and, yes, I'm making friends with the triangle. 
Going through the motions on this block makes me realize just what kind of commitment I've made with this quilt, but I'm still on board!  Hopefully I'll still be 45 blocks from now . . .

Friday, May 21, 2010

Playing . . .

Yes, I'm playing with my blog to make it a little more "me" and a little less "blogger," so please forgive any weirdness for a while until I get things the way I want them.


Well, I finally did it. I washed the last batch of bottles for my baby and put them neatly away in a box. The dirty bottles have been sitting in my sink for almost two weeks now, and I finally just had to give in and do it. So many times, especially during the winter, I lamented having to wash bottles again, my knuckles cracked and bleeding from all the washing (and the lack of time and motivation to supplement with hand lotion). Now, I just wonder where the last year has gone and wish I needed to wash them again. He's officially graduated to sippy cup land, although more often than not the cups are used merely as an entertainment object - he throws them, Mama picks them up; it must be really exciting for a baby to watch that because he does it over and over again. ;-)  He's crawling too, which means it's only a matter of time before those cute chubby thighs and arms are gone from all the exercise his new-found mobility affords him. I promised myself, after having watched my oldest son grow up so quickly, that I would cherish even the non-glamorous moments with my baby. I know how few of them there are before nature begins the inevitable process of pulling him away and developing the independence that deep down I know he'll need to have.  The love started with just the thought of him, then the wonder of having him growing inside me, the elation of holding him in my arms, and now my heart is full watching him interact with his brother and the world around him. Today, though, I just can't help but wonder whether I've cherished it all enough . . . .

Sylvia's Bridal Sampler - Anvil

Remember I said I hate triangles? Well, now I hate trapezoids too. Sorry for hating on the geometry today, but I really need a piecing lesson, I suppose, for lining these things up. I do think it looks okay, all things considered, and I can always chalk this block up as a lesson, right? I AM loving the colors I chose so far though. They make me happy . . .

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where's the Beef?

As I typed that line, I realized there are probably quite a few blog readers out there (not necessarily reading MY blog, cuz, let's face it, younguns are probably reading something a little more hip) who probably don't even know where that line came from.  Ugh.  I'm really getting old . . . did I mention my 20 year high school reunion is coming up??  . . . anyway, I digress . . . I used to be pretty dedicated to doing regular vegetarian meals.  We don't really need all the meat we usually have in our diet, and having a weekly vegetarian meal at least deceptively makes me feel healthy.  Well, this time of year, especially with all the spring/summer veggies being delivered by our co-op, I find it very easy to just sit down to a colorful plate of yummy grown IN the earth not ON the earth sustenance.  (I must also reluctantly admit I might have been motivated by the lack of meat options in my freezer right now, having too long put off the dreaded grocery shopping chore). 
Fresh green beans, cooked with just a little onion, sliced carrots roasted with a little cinnamon and honey, corn on the cob (which didn't need any topping) and a squash casserole made with yellow squash and zucchini.  I steamed about 4 c. of thickly sliced squash (I really hate it when it's cut so small it's mushy and unidentifiable), then added about 1/4 c. of mayonnaise, 2 eggs, 1/2 c. of crushed Goldfish (really, they're GREAT in this), 1/2 c. of cheddar cheese, and a little dry Ranch dressing mix.  Mix it all together and bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until puffy and set.  No, this isn't the most health-conscious recipe, but there's a little room for increased fat when you're missing the fattiest part of a usual meal . . . the beef. Hmmm . . . think I'm going to Whataburger for lunch . . .

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sylvia's Bridal Sampler - Amethyst

One block a day, so far, so I think I'm staying motivated . . . for now, anyway.  I really like working on a sampler quilt since each block is a different pattern.  I do hope I get a LITTLE bored with it though so I'll be motivated to work on some of the other projects I need to!  This is another paper-pieced block, and I really like how precise things turn out using that technique.  Sigh . . . I guess I should do some laundry or something productive now, huh? Toodles . . .

Sylvia's Bridal Sampler - Album 2

I mentioned how much I hate piecing triangles, right?  Maybe after a few more blocks, I'll get better about lining them up.  I'm pretty happy with this one though, even if it IS a little "cattywhompus" as my Mimi would have said.  Hopefully the sashing in the end product will hide these imperfections. :-)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cue the theme to "2001 - A Space Odyssey" . . .

Another product of a productive "quilty" weekend is an unfinished project from over 5 years ago . . . this queen-size blooming nine-patch . . . and I shall name her "Sunset." :-)  I'm taking a photo now of the top because who knows when I'll find the courage (and, truth be told, the capability) of quilting this puppy, but I'm so happy to have this one done. It survived being moved several times (and I even managed to find all the pieces) and came together in all the glory I thought it would. My friend Robin helped me choose these fabrics (my first batiks), back when she was in Texas and teaching me the craft, so I'll think about her whenever I look at it. Thank you, Robin, and another big YAY for me!

On another note, I also managed to get all the fabric cut and laid out for the Baby Flynn quilt, but I'm unhappy with one of my fabric selections and will remedy that before posting any teaser photos (since I know Robin is one of the few readers I have :-)).

Sylvia's Bridal Sampler - 2 Down, 168 To Go

Yikes! 168??? I'll not look at that number and instead relish the euphoria of actually starting this very long project. I had a very special amount of "free" time this weekend while my husband took our oldest camping, so baby sleep time equaled mommy quilt time. My first accomplishment? Two blocks for Sylvia's Bridal Sampler. First, "54-40 or Fight."
No, the points don't line up, and yes, I've still not gotten the hang of piecing triangles, but HEY. It doesn't look half bad.

Second, "Album 1."
Yes, I'd forgotten how tricky cutting fabric for paper piecing can be (and there are a couple of edges where the seam allowance will be 1/8" when I put together the top) but, again, it looks pretty good! Yay me! Now, maybe I can be inspired by Robin, who with a two-week old baby has still managed to piece two blocks of her own sampler quilt, and stay motivated. Happy Monday everyone!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I hate leftovers . . .

I'm sure I've probably said that before, but I'm going to reiterate it.  I'm not sure at what point I was spoiled so, but I am.  Not having been fortunate enough yet to find that elusive money-growing tree either, sometimes I need to find a way to make myself eat them rather than letting them go to waste.  For me, that requires I dig deep into the little creative spirit that lives somewhere under all the other practical parts of me.  Last week, I made lasagna using some leftover meatloaf.  Last night, it was potato pancakes.  Okay, so that's not really THAT creative, but it was a crunchy alternative to the soft mashed potatoes we had earlier in the week.  To about 3 cups of leftover mashed potatoes, I added two eggs, about 3 T of flour, S&P to taste, and some finely chopped green garlic (which is a "garlicy" green onion I've been getting from my co-op this season).  A little Pecorino or other cheese of your choice is good in these too. After mixing everything together, I just dropped big tablespoons full into a little bit of olive oil to cook.  The result is a perfectly crunchy exterior, with a fluffly, cloud-like center (which the photo doesn't do justice in capturing). 
My oldest son WAS a little disappointed that "pancakes" last night didn't mean syrup, but he and the other two guys at my house enjoyed them.  They were even making little sandwiches with the pork tenderloin in the middle.

Speaking of pork tenderloins, they are just about my favorite thing to cook.  They are so easy and always moist unless you just really don't tend to them at all . . . my favorite seasoning is McCormick's Grill Seasoning (LOVE that stuff), a little salt and pepper, and some coriander.  Coriander's not used a whole lot in most every day cooking, at least in my experience, but it makes a huge difference on these.  I drizzle the tenderloins with olive oil, sprinkle on the seasonings I mentioned, brown them quickly on the stove, then finish them in a 350 degree oven for about 20 - 25 minutes.  Let the meat rest, of course, then pour the pan juices over after slicing.
The photo also shows the last of the braising greens, I'm afraid, as the spring/summer season at the co-op is in full swing now. I'm so excited to be getting all the new produce though!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's Coming! Baby Flynn Quilt, Part I

Baby Flynn, my friend Robin's baby, arrived with perfect timing (on my oldest son's birthday :-)), so I've got to get busy on his quilt. AAAAGGGH, the pressure of doing a quilt for someone as talented as Robin! She'd tell me to hush, undoubtedly, so I'll change the subject and just say I'm pleased with my pattern, which will remain a surprise until it's finished, but here's the first of the teasers . . . the first and best part - FABRIC SELECTION! You can even sneak a peak of little Jemma enjoying new fabric as much as I do. Stay tuned!

Here's a little better photo of the fabrics . . .


Sigh, I can't believe how long it's been since my last post. As a mom, I really don't need much more guilt in my life, so hopefully anyone who reads the blog will forgive my absence of late. One of the reasons for the lack of posts is a painfully sad one - the loss of another kitty, Maggie. This one was my baby, born just a week after my husband and I were married almost 14 years ago. She'd been sick and was only hours/days away from kidney failure, so we had to do what was in her best interest and let her go before she was suffering. I really can't talk about her much yet; I'm still in denial about the fact that she's gone . . . still looking for her in our closets, where she spent most of the last few months, expecting her to be waiting on me outside the shower to have a little "shower water" refreshment, having her nuzzle my hand when I'm typing like I am right now. Maybe she'll get a post like Abby did sometime in the future, but for now, I can't even really look at pictures of her without breaking down.

On a much lighter and brighter note though, we were in a bit of a hurry to fill some of the "furry" void in our house pretty quickly, seeing our little Sue in need of a friend having lost both of her play buddies/snuggle mates in such a short time. So, we searched out a rescue organization, and left on Sunday hoping to adopt a sweet Russian Blue who was a young mother, recently playing mother to two kittens that weren't even her own; we thought she'd be a perfect fit for our family. Sometimes you can't plan it all out that way though, so we ended up bringing home not only the mother, Jemma, but also her son Ballou. They're both very fun to have around and are adjusting well to their new home. We're still working on the "kitty love" with Sue but feel confident they'll all be snuggled up on the bed together soon (except for Ballou, who will undoubtedly be playing with one of the others' tails!).

I've also decided to start looking for a job again, something temporary until my freelance business can get up and running, so I'm busy with resumes and applications and, more importantly, finding a perfect daycare for my baby. So the purpose of this post is, I suppose, to say I'm sorry for infrequent blogging, I'm busy (and will likely be so for the next 20 years), but I'll try to be more regular with my posts, okay?

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Low Down on Lo Mein

The most important thing? It's one of the easiest, quickest, and cheapest things you can make. You just need some pasta, veggies, protein (optional), and a few simple ingredients for a sauce.

I took a basic sauce idea from the Rachel (of the Ray kind) and made it work for what I had on hand. First, the pasta. I had some leftover whole wheat fettucini from earlier in the week (still not sure why I hadn't thrown it out) which wasn't quite enough for my family, so I just added a packet of ramen noodles (yep, that stuff from college . . . I keep it on hand for lo mein, or for a crunchy ramen "cake" to serve under stir fry . . . that's a recipe for another time though). If you frequent an Asian supermarket, you can get some extra-tasty noodles to use in this dish. With cooked pasta in hand, I heated my wok to high, then threw in some small slivers of chicken breast (one breast for the whole family). I seasoned lightly with some salt and pepper and removed it from the pan as soon as it was just cooked. Next, I added a little garlic and ginger (if you don't have fresh on hand, just add some dry to the sauce) to the pan along with some thinly sliced carrots. I put a little water in the pan, covered, and steamed just until the liquid evaporated. This is a good tip for cooking "harder" veggies like carrots, broccoli, or sugar snap peas that need a little pre-cooking. After the steaming, I dumped in some rehydrated shiitake mushrooms (this is a great thing to keep in your pantry), button mushrooms, sliced green peppers, spring onions, and a little chopped bok choy - all stuff just hanging out in the frig. Once the veggies cooked for a minute or two, I scooted them over to one side of the pan, dumped in a couple of beaten eggs, then scrambled them before mixing the veggies back in. Make sure you let the eggs cook a little before you start stirring if you want some nice chunks of eggs instead of itty bitty pieces. All that was left to do is throw the meat back in, toss in the pasta, and dump the sauce on. The sauce is super simple - equal parts of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and water, mixed with a little sesame oil. I added a little Srirachi for heat too. Finis! The sauce is super-versatile though . . . Option 1: Add a little sugar to the sauce, then some toasted cashews or sesame seeds on top of the stir fry. Shrimp would be an excellent protein choice for this one. Option 2: Add a little peanut butter to the sauce, some chopped peanuts and cilantro on top. It's like your own Pad Thai! By the way, the starch from the pasta will thicken the sauce some, so make sure you take that into account when you're making it. If it ever gets too thin and soupy though, you can always thicken with a little cornstarch or lightly flour your chicken/shrimp/whatever before cooking it to thicken the sauce later.

Here are some suggested ingredients for your own lo mein, just so you won't be staring into your OWN frig wondering, "I wonder what I could do with this??" Just mix and match and have fun! Use your "take-out" money for a movie instead! :-)

The Veg:

Onions (spring or yellow)
Cabbage (choy or green)
Mushrooms (any kind)
Green beans
Sugar snap peas
Bean sprouts
Bell peppers
Bamboo Shoots

The Protein:

Beef (even leftover steak)
Pork (how about leftover pork chops??)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

BBQ Halibut

I'm sure all my friends and family on the Gulf Coast are reading this and thinking, "Halibut?"  Sorry, there's not any grouper to be had in the land-locked city of Austin that doesn't cost a ton and require equal amounts of gas to find.  So, I bought what was fresh, wild, and available, okay? :-) 
( . . . and, yes, this photo is of the leftovers . . . it's that "forgetful" thing I have again).

The marinade/glaze was super tasty and easy; I just needed to make about twice as much for the fish I had.  Here's the recipe:  2 T butter, 2 T brown sugar, 2 T lime juice (or more, to-taste), 1 T soy sauce, a couple of dashes of Worcestershire, and 2 cloves of minced garlic . . . oh, and a few grinds of black pepper.  I would probably have opted for a little hot sauce too were it not for the two "noobs" eating with us.  Based on what I cooked last night, this would be enough for about 1.5 lb of fish.  Put all the ingredients in a sauce pan and heat until the sugar's melted.  Pour the cooled mixture over the fish to marinate for an hour or so, then either grill or broil, basting with the leftover marinade (and I think this step is key).  I broiled, since we're out of propane and I haven't been able to really go outside since the snake incident ;-). This marinade would be fabulous on shrimp too, maybe skewered with some veg of your choice and pineapple or mango.  Heck, it would even be good on chicken or pork.  I served the fish with a little lime on the side, some roasted butternut squash, and sauteed spinach.  We had some sectioned pummelo to top it off.  The only missing accompaniment was an extra tall glass of white wine! Toodles . . .

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's okay, honey, Mama just needs a tranquilizer . . .

There are two words that strike fear in my heart . . . and by fear, I mean terror . . . and by terror, I mean they leave me hysterically running Chicken-Little-Style in circles, hyperventilating, crying and screaming.  Those two words are . . . gulp . . . "spider" and "snake."  As of Saturday, almost exactly seven months after moving into our new home, I've now experienced both.

If you don't already know about my "spider" experience, let me quickly share.  Our first night after closing on our new home, we came to the house to drop off a load of our stuff.  As I started to enter the house through the garage, I noticed something dark out of the corner of my eye.  Time and my heart stopped when I realized we had a tarantula in our garage.  Yep, that big hairy spider.  We have photos showing it stretching the width of my large baseboard, but I won't post it here and risk having to look at it every time I log on.  Knowing that my children could inherit my own irrational (are they really irrational?????) fears, I tried to mask my fear and calmly let my oldest son look at it with my husband . . . I was three garage car bays away but ready to bolt inside after any movement; I know those things can run fast!  After their little scientific observation, my sweet husband kindly shooed it out with a broom.  I'm quite certain "Hubert," which is the name my husband gave it, is currently only yards away from my house amassing an army to penetrate my home Arachnaphobia-style.  Anyway, that was our first house-warming guest, and I've been looking for him every day since. 

Fast-forward seven months to Saturday when my oldest son was in the back yard playing.  As usual, I took occasional glances out the window to make sure I could see him and that he wasn't picking up random animal poop or torturing any bugs.  At one point, I couldn't find him, so I opened the back door and saw him on the patio.  As he turned to head up the steps and into the house, I saw a look of terror come over his face, and he ran as quickly as he could up the steps and inside.  All I could get out of him was one word - "snake."  I quickly shut the door (slammed is more accurate) and bolted it.  I was quite certain if the snake scaled the door and made it up to the door handle, it at least wouldn't have a key.  My mind quickly took mental note of all the windows in the house, even those on the second floor (well, if it could make it to the door handle, what would keep it from getting all the way up there?) to remind myself that I hadn't opened up the house.  I stepped carefully toward the window, being sure to stay at least a foot a way, in case it were to leap off the patio (which is ONLY 5 feet or so down) and break through the window.  Then the terror was kicked up a notch to full-on mental incapacity when I didn't see the snake on the patio.  The only thing worse than seeing a snake is knowing one's out there but not being able to find it.  For a moment, I thought my son COULD have made up seeing one, or mistaken some yard trash for a snake, but he assured me it was a snake, it was BIG (which for him was his arm span) and it was black and yellow.

My husband, who was at a local hadrward store when I called him in a panic, came home equipped with the most horrifying piece of literature I've ever seen - a fold-out brochure with full color photos of all the indigenous snakes in our area.  Who needs to know everything that's lurking out in the woods?  Ignorance is bliss, for me.  Ugh . . . nice red Vs for "venomous" next to the ones that would inject me full of venom after I'd fallen down with a heart attack.  Good to know.  My husband stepped outside and didn't see it immediately but then did a quick head jerk (the same one he had when he exclaimed, "That's a BIG spider!" several months ago), and said he had indeed located the serpent.  He asked me to get him a broom (not my broom again, really??), and stuck his head outside to help the serpent find safety somewhere outside our fence.  He's such a nice guy, isn't he?  Guess what.  No snake.  I finally asked him to turn over one of the propane tanks outside (mind you, I was INSIDE with the windows shut making these demands), and the monstrous thing was there.  I'm certain it was 3-feet long, and I began to shriek and tear-up as I saw the thing slithering it's way through the grass, it's head turned back toward the window, staring at me as if to say, "Don't worry, deary.  I'll be back."   At one point my oldest looked at me and said, "Are you crying?" to which I had to calmly tell him no, that his Mama was just not feeling well, having some sort of spastic seizure that would soon pass, and that my psychotic episode was in no way related to the friendly snake outside.  Seriously, I'm nauseous right now just putting "friendly" in the same sentence with "snake."

As it turns out, our newest tenant was (and I stress WAS because I must believe it and every member of its extended family have taken up residence somewhere far far away if I'm ever to go outside again) a black ribbon snake.  Yep, "ribbon."  Seriously?  Ribbons are on birthday presents and happy balloons and in little girls' hair, not something to name a snake.  Sigh.  Now, the torment continues as my son occasionally thrusts the brochure in my face, asking me to look at how pretty the snakes are and how useful that little "V" is for future identification needs.  I just pat him on the head, say, "Yes, dear," and hope any potential fascination he has with snakes is quickly replaced with butterflies.  Mama likes butterflies.  Pretty, pretty, non-venomous, non-slithering,  butterflies . . .

Friday, April 16, 2010


The Quilting Goddess, Robin, whom I've mentioned before is working on a Jane Stickle quilt that has over 200 blocks, or something ridiculous.  She posts a completed block on her blog every few days, and they're always so interesting to look at because each one is different, and many of them have very complex designs.  Having a long-term project like that to work on, with lots of "special" blocks has been something I've wanted to do since I first saw hers, so I've finally committed (and will hopefully not be committed to a psych ward by the time it's all over) to doing Sylvia's Bridal Sampler.  It's a beautiful quilt, and only (and I'm choking at the "only") 140 blocks.  To start this endeavor, I did, of course, have to make a trip to the fabric store (only the very best thing in the world to do, provided you have some assistance with your 10-month old like I did).  Here's where we're starting:
I will undoubtedly have to add fabrics to meet the yardage requirements of this one, but the two on the bottom are my border/binding fabrics (which will also be used in some blocks), and the third one from the bottom is for my sashing, so I at least have those taken care of. I really can't wait to start on this project and am heading to the washing machine with the fabric right away. I hope you'll follow me on this challenging journey, since I know I'll need lots of support along the way. Hear that Robin??? I'm going to have you on speed dial!!! :-)

Fake It Again

Here's another quick "fake it" idea for taking minimal effort to make something that looks special. One of my favorite things to do for breakfast, or even dinner sometimes, is a frittata (that's snooty chef talk for baked "scrambled" eggs, by the way). I love the versatility of a dish that I can put just about anything into, including leftovers, and let the oven do the work for me while I multi-task elsewhere. All you need are some eggs, milk, S&P, and your imagination! Just sautee/brown/warm whatever you want to put in the eggs in a skillet (with or without butter depending on how fatty the contents are), pour in some beaten eggs that have been thinned with a little milk, sprinkle with cheese, if desired, and throw the pan in the oven at about 375 to bake for just a few minutes until the eggs are set (usually just enough time to throw the rest of my son's lunch in his lunchbox).  Here's our breakfast from this morning.  Sorry it looks a little messy; as usual I remembered to take a photo about half way through eating.  Today was a sausage, potato and cheddar frittata.  Potatoes are kind of a luxury on a weekday since it takes a little while to get them nice and crispy on their own.  What I've started doing is chopping them (with or without the skins on), and letting the microwave cook them slightly before putting them in the skillet.  I can ether crisp them up nicely or, like today, let them mash up a little and make a nice textural addition to the eggs.  So, I chopped the sausage and browned it, put the potatoes and a little onion in the skillet for just a few minutes, then turned the heat off.  I added 6 eggs, beaten with about 2 or 3 T of milk, seasoned with S&P (yes, KOSHER salt :-)), sprinkled the top with cheddar and let the oven do the rest of the work for me.  I chose to garnish my frittata with a little of Mr. Bayless (Rick, that is) salsa and had a toasted English muffin (LOVE my BAYS) with a little fruit.  As I mentioned before though, your imagination is the only limit on making these.  I really kinda hate leftovers, unless I can make them into something completely different, so here are some ideas for using them in what will be your new go-to egg dish!

1.  Leftover Tex-Mex:  If you have leftovers from tacos or fajitas, add the meat (steak, chicken, chorizo) into the skillet, toss in some of the peppers and onions, and pour on your eggs.  You can add a tablespoon or so of salsa (unless you have kiddos like me and have to add it after-the-fact), and queso fresco, cheddar, or whatever cheese you have on hand.  If you like migas, like I do, you can even throw in a few crushed up tortilla chips.

2.  Leftover Rotisserie Chicken: Add some red peppers (roasted or not), onions, and swiss cheese.

3.  Leftover Mashed Potatoes (if they're a little chunky, anyway): Add to the skillet with any meat and/or cheese of your choice.

4.  Leftover Spinach:  Feeling vegetarian, you can add spinach, mushrooms, and a little feta or swiss cheese.  This combination is also good with bacon though. :-)  I often have a couple of pieces of bacon leftover after breakfast, so I put the leftovers in the frig to use later in the week for this dish.

5.  Leftover Smoked Salmon: Okay, so I don't usually have leftovers of this just laying around (it usually all finds its way into my tummy with some capers, cream cheese, and bagel chips), but this is a nice "fancy" dish to make if you need to impress someone, or just pamper yourself a little.  Dump your eggs in a buttered skillet, sprinkle in chopped salmon, maybe some blanched asparagus, and a few dollops of cream cheese placed on top.  Sprinkle with some chives if you have them on hand.

Really, the sky's the limit here.  Be creative, try lots of combinations of veggies, meats and cheese (even cottage cheese is a great addition and low-fat protein boost), and let me know what YOUR favorite is!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fake It

Okay, so I've had requests for detailed recipes on the food I've posted.  While I love recipes and often have them as a starting block, it's rare that I find a dish that's spot-on to my taste.  I suspect that's the same for you, if you have more of a love for food than a biological need.  Those changes I make on-the-fly make it difficult to really document what I do, especially since I find my own tastes changing so that I might revamp something I've been making the same way for a long time.  I mention all this because if you feel like a slave to a recipe, you've got to step out of the box and have a little confidence.  You know if something tastes good or not; you just have to practice enough to know AHEAD of time what to do/not to do to make a recipe work.  In case you're wondering, everyone, even those big time chefs you might watch on TV have made things that are bad.  They've just cooked so much (and had the necessary episodes edited) so their recipes are tasty (or relatively tasty, anyway).  To get off my soap box, I'll just give you some simple tips for gaining confidence, wowing yourself (and others) at your own mad skills, and taking just a couple of extra steps to make your usual dinner better.

Here's what I did tonight . . . pork chops with a balsamic glaze, nestled on a bed of braised kale and cheese-crusted polenta.  Sounds hoity toity, right?  Not.  The polenta is pre-made from the store.  Yes, I DO know how easy it is to make it, and I've made it (as you'll see in a previous post), but it's nice to have this stuff on hand for a week-night meal.  All I did was slice the polenta into 1/2-inch slices, place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, topped them with a little mozzarella (only because I didn't have parmesan), and sprinkle them with a little coarse kosher salt to give them a little crunch.  Then I popped them under the broiler until they were browned.  Easy peasy.  Kosher salt - my latest confidence booster.  I've watched for years as "The Chefs" very nonchalantly threw some non-discriminant amount of Kosher salt into their food.  That's a disaster waiting to happen for me . . . BUT I have a little bowl of the stuff next to the stove and am now pretty confident in my ability to gauge the amount different things need.  Of course - it's taken me some time (and numerous salt-cured batches of scrambled eggs) before I got it right, but let me just tell you how big-headed I get when I can play "Chef" and sprinkle the stuff on my food knowing I'm at least not going to OVER salt things.

Now for the pork.  I used to just season the things with grill seasoning, then cook them in a skillet on the stovetop until they were done.  This almost always resulted in slightly dry chops sitting in some charcoal-y bits in the bottom of the pan (that would take FOREVER to clean off).  Now, I put just a little olive oil in the pan, sear one side over pretty high heat, flip them and finish them off in a 400 degree oven.  First of all, I don't have to sit and keep flipping them to avoid "the burn," which gives me more time for other things; more importantly, though, the result is always juicier, and I'm left with some usable stuff in the bottom of the pan.  More on that in a minute.  I marinated four thick chops in (and I'm guessing at these amounts) 1/4 c. of olive oil, 1 - 2 T of soy sauce (this is always a good option for a quick marinade), 2 cloves of minced garlic (fresh is ALWAYS better), about 10 grinds of black pepper (told you I'm guessing), and about 2 tsp of Italian seasoning.   Back to that "usable" stuff in the pan - deglaze, deglaze, deglaze, which if you haven't figured out by now, is just a fancy word for dumping some liquid in your pan.  Once the chops were done, I pulled them out of the pan, put my pan on the stove, and over high heat added just a splash of balsamic vinegar.  It reduced just long enough for me to scrape the stuff off the pan and mix it in.  Perfectly tasty.  The kale was just sauteed for a second with some onion, then braised in chicken stock (and another flourish of Kosher salt, of course), and that was, literally, a 20-minute meal. 

My hubby and I enjoyed a little dish of some sectioned pink grapefruit and oranges (more fabulous local produce from my co-op) that were gilded with just a little Bauchant (which is a very close, cheaper alternative to Grand Marnier).  That's it.  Dinner is served.

Sorry - I feel like I've gone on and on (and I'm sure I have because I'm putting off exercising as long as possible . . . did I mention I'm training for a 5K?  What WAS I thinking????), but all I want to encourage you to do is stay in the kitchen, try things, new things, and chalk any disasters up to a learning experience (just stick with cheap ingredients and have the take-out menu handy until you get the hang of it ;-)).  Now go forth, buy some Kosher salt, and sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle your way into your own little culinary adventure!

. . . and now, I'll leave you with a picture of my favorite fat kitty who, like her Mama, always underestimates the size of the receptacle her big behind will need to fit into.  Love you, Maggie . . .

Paintbox Quiltalong - TGIFFF

Thank God I'm finally freakin' finished!  80 blocks is a lot, for someone like me, anyway (not like my friend Robin who's 9-months pregnant and still churning out a new quilt every day!).  I hate the constant feeling of being behind on something.  Of course, I have multiple UFOs (unfinished objects, for you non-quilty types), which only don't bother me any more because they've been out-of-sight/out-of-mind for so long, but with a quilt-along, there's added pressure.  Enough of the digression into my own guilt though . . . they're all pieced, and that's what matters!  I'll hope to trim up the blocks today and get to work on the sashing next.  I really do love the colors in these blocks, and hopefully you can see them all if my goal of getting a design wall put up this weekend comes to fruition.  I AM struggling a little with the sashing I purchased though; I'm worried it's too light.  I believe the aforementioned quilting goddess Robin said "bleh" or something to that concern - like there's no such thing as "too light," but I don't want to ruin my project by creating a contrast that just doesn't work. 
Here's the sashing with a few of the blocks (I deliberately picked a few of the darker blocks) . . . what do you think?

I really DO like the fabric since it has a subtle design that mirrors some of the fabrics in my blocks.  I don't know.  I know I don't like making decisions.  HELP!!  (BTW - I promise to get my camera connected to the computer so these pictures will be better - my phone just doesn't do these colors justice . . .)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Unchartered Culinary Territory - Southern US/Asian Fusion

There are a few things I pride myself on as a girl (cook) raised in the South . . . knowing that the perfect meal is a piece of cornbread (not sweet!) floating in a pool of mustard green pot liquor, never eating instant grits or mashed potatoes, and never ever insulting my palette by replacing the light and flaky tang of a warm, butter-laden, homemade biscuit with something that comes out of a can. Don't get me wrong - canned biscuits have their place in a sweet monkey bread or even, in a pinch, for pigs-in-blankets on a hurried school morning. Just don't put them out in a bread basket like they're the stars their non-preserved, lovingly-made pieces of heaven are. Since I DO have them in my frig occasionally for the aforementioned acceptable uses, however, I decided to try something unusual with them. I made potstickers. Yep, I know every Asian chef is cringing at that thought (and the fact that, as you can see from the photo, I was a little overzealous with my browning), but they really were a pretty tasty alternative since I was craving potstickers and had no wonton skins. They are definitely not the same texture as a real potsticker. I'd compare it to the bun you usually find on a dim sum cart filled with BBQ pork. It's a little "breadier," which actually made me happy. I couldn't stop eating the things!  I'm even thinking about grabbing a couple of the cold leftovers out of the frig to munch on while I'm writing this post. :-)  My filling du jour was a combination of chopped raw shrimp, rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, blanched cabbage, shredded carrot, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, green onion, and a raw egg. I took a can of Grands biscuits, split them in half, and rolled each half into about a 4-inch circle. Then I spooned the mixture on the dough, folder over and sealed the edges with a little water, and chilled them until dinner. In typical potsticker fashion, I just browned the bottoms in a lightly-oiled skillet, poured some diluted chicken stock on them and covered them to steam until the liquid evaporated. My dipping sauce is just soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili flakes, and a little sesame oil, with some green onions floating on top. TAS-T!!!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Eats

I miss ham. No, that's not a typo for "him" - I really DO miss "ham." It was always a staple at my house for Easter, but my husband's not much of a fan, so we improvised this holiday, thankfully staying within the pork family.  My husband, who's becoming quite the pit master, helped create an achiote/citrus pork butt that marinated overnight in achiote, orange juice, lime juice, cumin, etc. and was slow smoked until it started to shred. Tender, salty, tangy goodness served with a side of similarly-flavored sauce (spiked with a tiny bit of spiced rum).

Continuing the Latin theme, I made rice and pigeon peas  .  It was my first time making sofrito, and I just can't get over what a difference it made for the dish.  The sofrito lent a brightness and slight acidity to the rice beyond what just canned tomatoes would have.  As an aside, I'm really quite terrible at making rice.  As much as I love to cook, making good rice has always been a skill that escaped me.  I rely on my rice steamer to do the job for me instead of risking what is always either a crunchy or mushy result.  Using this recipe (which I actually halved for us) and my sister's suggestions (no stirring after adding liquid, boil with the lid off until the water is level with the rice, cover tightly and cook on low for 20 minutes, then shut off the heat for another 10 minutes before fluffing), I actually made stove top rice that was worthy of first AND second helpings!  As you'll see from the recipe, the rice also has green olives in it (thankfully I had enough for the dish since my oldest son ate half a jar of them), which just added another dimension to the rice too. 

We had to make deviled eggs, of course, and had options for both the olive and pickle camps in my household.  (BTW, the look on my oldest son's face was priceless when I explained to him that the eggs we had so painstakingly decorated the night before would find a final resting place in our tummies.) 

Last, but not least, came the cupcakes.  You'll notice the ones with coconut are suspiciously missing, but I'll deny consuming more than one of them.  While I wanted a more glamorous cake for our feast, giving my oldest the option, he'll choose cupcakes every time, so I at least "gilded" these gems with a cream cheese frosting enriched with some melted white chocolate.  They were lovingly frosted by my husband, then brilliantly decorated by the boy who now thinks Easter is his favorite holiday :-)

I'm Back . . .

I have to apologize to my avid readers (too bad you can't hear my LOL with THAT one!) for the hiatus.  It's been a rough couple of weeks at our home.  We're kitty people and have experienced both sickness and loss in the furry part of our family.  Our "firstborn," Maggie, had major surgery a week and a half ago and is thankfully recovering slowly, although it's been a challenge to keep her medicated and cleaned up and confined during the process.  However, we're feeling the loss of one of our other adoptees, Abby, who we had to say goodbye to last weekend.  She's been struggling for awhile with kidney disease and high blood pressure, but she had some complications last weekend that left us no choice.  Having "real" children now, my own flesh and blood, has certainly changed my perspective on the depth of the love for my pets, but I have to say there's still a pretty big hole in my heart when I lose one.  Just before our first son was born, my husband and I had to make that same decision for another kitty, and it really devastated us.  The difference now is there's really no time for mourning, for remembering, when there are two-legged babies to take care of.  As I was saying my teary goodbye last Sunday, my oldest son (who we purposely kept in the dark about what was going on) was tugging on my leg, needing something for a game he was playing, and the baby was waking up, ready to get out of his carrier.  My husband and I just looked at each other, being very quickly reminded that "life goes on" even when you're losing someone you love.  So, I'm going to take this moment to say "goodbye" and "thank you" to a very special kitty who we are grateful to have taken from living under one of our rental homes and brought into our family.  She endured moves across the country, kitty cancer, and other maladies, always returning to a soft spot between us on the bed at night.  Friends loved to look at her extra toes, and the very lucky ones had their laps warmed by her as soon as they sat down.  I miss having to remind her that my lap was not quite big enough for a baby AND her and feeling her head rubbing against my chin.  So, to you, Abby, playing somewhere happily in kitty-heaven, thank you for being in our lives and making it a happier and warmer place while we had you.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Rough Night

As I smile with delight when my 9-month old starts saying "Mama," I remember all too well how ecstatic I was to hear those words with my first son too.  Phrases like, "I love you, Mama," and "You're the best Mama ever," warm the heart and remind you why you wanted to take on the challenge, albeit indescribably rewarding, of being a parent.  As every parent knows, though, there are also times you'd really rather NOT here your title.  "Mama, Mama, Mama, can I watch a cartoon, Mama, Mama???" or anytime "Mama" is preceeded by the words "but" or "no."  There's also the time in the middle of the night I dread . . . about 1:00 am this morning my poor husband ran to the bathroom, clearly in the "throws" of some sort of stomach illness/food poison.  After making sure I couldn't get him anything, I drifted off to sleep with a last thought of, "Well, I'm glad it's just one of us that's sick."  At exactly 2:45 am, I heard the word - "Mama!"   I struggled to gain consciousness, stumbling to find my pants and glasses, hoping I could make it upstairs before his cries woke the baby.  About half-way up the stairs, I began to flashback to my husband and quickly realized it wasn't just one of us that was sick.  As I hit the landing, I heard the dreaded words, "Mama!  I vomited all over my bed!"  Now, anyone who knows me, knows I can clean up just about anything, but I really have a serious physical reaction to that one - it makes me do it too.  I said a little prayer, "God, please let me get through this," and simultaneously repeated the Little Engine's mantra, "I can do this . . . I can do this . . . I can do this."  My sweet husband actually came upstairs with me and pulled our son out of bed so I could help clean the little guy up.  I kept telling myself not to look at the bed, as if some heinous crime had been committed there; one look at the carnage or one whiff would most certainly send me reeling.  I immediately employed the use of fruity-smelling soap to clean off his hands, arms and face, and held my breath while I carefully helped him remove his clothing and put on clean jammies.  I started wrapping the bedding in a "protective" cocoon (and was ever so grateful he'd hardly eaten anything during the day), then I realized the priority should be to get the little guy back to sleep quickly and deal with the mess later.  As I was getting ready to take him downstairs, I could hear my hubby in the bathroom still waging his gut warfare.  I created a makeshift sleeping area in our bedroom downstairs and safely tucked my baby into bed.  My saintly husband managed to bring down the bedding and promised to hose it off today rather than making me deal with it.  I really don't think I've ever loved him more!!!  Everyone managed to drift off to sleep after both patients made a few additional trips to the bathroom, and after my hubby, in his usual sense of humor, asked me to make him a leftover BBQ sandwich from the lunch we'd had earlier.  Twelve hours later, about $40 worth of BBQ is in the trash, both boys are still in bed, baby's sleeping happily, chicken soup is simmering on the stove, and all evidence of last night's drama is gone.  Guess who cleaned off the bedding??  Yep, I did.  Me.  I honestly don't think my husband could have crawled outside to take care of the mess, and having it lurking outside the laundry room just wouldn't do any longer.  The Mama adrenaline and nothing less than the hand of God helped me with that chore, ladies and gentlemen.  Now, I think I'll reward my Super Mommy-ness with a cup of warm coffee (that's actually fresh, not reheated!) and a little time in front of my new sewing machine.  Maybe everyone will sleep for a little longer, right? :-)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Favorite Holiday

Well, I do love Christmas, watching my babies get lost in the magic of it all, but for me holidays = food, and my favorite holiday is St. Patrick's Day.  Don't get me wrong.  I love the tasty food at Thanksgiving - fried turkeys, dressing and pecan pie - an Easter ham with splotchy colored deviled eggs, but my favorite truly is March 17.  I know corned beef isn't really a traditional meat in Ireland, but since my husband and I are both only part Irish, I don't mind taking a little creative liberty in creating our own tradition.  You'll get to see the full feast when it's prepared, but today I initiated the metaphorsis of plain, boring brisket into the explosion of flavor it will be in just about a week.  If you haven't tried making your own corned beef, trust me, it's worth it.  My Mimi made it years ago, and I haven't been able to go back to the old, store-bought, boiled standby without feeling disappointed.  The corning process really is very easy to do; it just takes a little planning to make sure you've started it early enough.  You start with this rather unattractive piece of meat:

Doesn't my Tupperware marinator look happy to have come out of storage for its once-a-year task?   Next, you coarsely grind a mixture of coriander seed, peppercorns, mustard seeds, and bay leaves, then add a little brown sugar, curing salt, and garlic.  This yields a spice rub that will leave your house smelling fabulous:

Lastly, you lovingly coat every inch of the brisket with the spice mixture and let it hang out in your frig for about 7 days, depending on the thickness, turning once a day.  I'll be baking this puppy, which yields a much more flavorful end product since all that tasty spice rub is crusted on during the baking process. 
Seriously . . . I'm just so excited I'll get to eat this next week (and Mom and Dad, if you're reading, look what you'll get to eat when you're here :-))!  As a sneak peak of next week's post, the menu will be of course the corned beef, cabbage sauteed with onions and Irish bacon, champ (which is a butter-ladened version of mashed potatoes with green onions), Irish soda bread (I usually use my Mom-in-Law's recipe but saw an interesting brown version in Cooking Light this month I might have to try), and, for dessert, a Guinness Cake which is a dense, moist chocolate cake, flavored with a little Guinness (only a little . . . I don't like beer) and frosted with a bittersweet ganache.  Toodles!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Baby's First Polenta

As a girl who grew up eating grits, polenta sits securely on the list of my top ten comfort foods. Tonight, I was able to share a "moment" with my baby. For supper, we had pork chops,  seared in a pan, then finished off in a nest of caramelized onions (quickly "pickled" with a little sugar and vinegar). These onions found a perfect home atop a golden mountain of buttery, cheesy, baked polenta.   Since I AM responsible for the nutrition of my family and therefore could not subject them to just the polenta (which would have been my choice :-)), we had some broccoli and broccoli greens (thanks again, co-op) sauteed with a little garlic and olive oil.

After my baby enjoyed his sweet pea mush and bananas, I decided to let him have a taste. Here's bite number 2: 
Notice he has literally pulled my hand and the spoon to his mouth in an effort to speed up the feeding process.

. . . and here's bite number 5:
  At this point, he's actually given up on my ability to feed him fast enough and has commandeered the spoon in order to savor every last grain of the stuff.  Of course, this happy baby was soon followed by one who gagged himself by sticking the spoon just a little too far down his throat, but Mama  remedied the situation, retrieved the spoon, and comisserated with a little dude who, like his Mama just loves the stuff.  Gosh, I think my arms may even look a little like his . . .

Monday, March 8, 2010

Kids Really Do Say the Darndest Things

So, I was cleaning dishes this weekend, gazing with a lightness of love in my heart at my baby who sat happily playing on the floor, longingly watching his big brother and Papa building something out of tinker toys. It was one of those breaths in time where all is right with the world and you can't imagine a more perfect moment. As my eyes drifted back down to the spontaneously generating pile of dishes, I heard my husband laughing and telling my son to "go show your Mama." It was one of those laughs that left little question something completely inappropriate was happening . . . the kind of thing you really shouldn't laugh about for fear of encouraging the behavior but that nevertheless finds you lacking mature parenting skills and instead giggling like an idiot. Clutched firmly with both of my sons hands was one of the tinker toy rods hovering just below his waist. With a big smile on his face he said . . . uh hem . . . "Look, Mama. I have a long penis!" Yes, I managed to contort my face so my smile looked more akin to horrible indigestion. Score one responsible-mother point for me. I just hope they don't have tinker toys at his school . . .

Viva la Avocado!

It's nice to live somewhere you can get good avocados almost all the time . . . I think we're pretty spoiled that way. The latest creation I used them in (which is another Rachel Ray-inspired dinner) was steak tacos with an avocado salad. These were crunchy tacos, with layers of medium-rare/chili-seasoned steak and the tasty salad (a mix of avocados, butter lettuce, lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, S&P).
Holy cow! My fingers look fat! Sorry, uh the salad would have had some heat by way of jalapenos had I not been feeding my almost-four-year-old. (Of course, my husband reminded me I can always make two batches :-)). The combination of the warm, salty and crusty steak pieces with the cool, creamy, tangy salad is just all that a hungry mouth could want. The yucky looking side is a stand-by at our house - refried beans. My kid loves them, what can I say . . . so what if it looks a bit like something that's already been digested. Anywho, the crowning glory to the meal was a Tres Leches Cake that was surprisingly not too sweet.
I started with an Allrecipes recipe but omitted some of the sugar in the cake and left the whipped cream unsweetened. Per some of the reviews, I also added some soda to the cake and only used half the whole milk (I couldn't bring myself to use half-and-half like some of those crazies did). Let's see, oh, I also poured the milk on while the cake was still hot. It's definitely better a day later (which is why I had an even bigger slice today :-)), so make sure you plan in advance for the perfect custardy, cakey, drenched-in-condensed-milk palette pleaser.  Can you SEE that wonderful juice-of-the-gods it's floating in????  Ummmm . . . heaven.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Ups and Downs

This is a warning/disclaimer to any male readers not to continue reading this post. I'm not man-bashing; I just need to vent about some girl stuff - the "stuff" that usually makes you plug your ears with your fingers and run out of the room saying "la la la la la la la." You've been warned . . . oh, and please know that I'm very much aware I have two sons and that, based on the rather public nature of a blog, there's some potential for their friends to find out about it and possibly use the content as the subject of ridicule. I'm very conscientious of that fact and only hope that when they're actually old enough to have friends that read, this post will be long-archived, and they'll forgive my foray into the world of boobs. There, I said it.

Surely you're familiar with the movie, "St. Elmo's Fire." Like many of the 80s movies, it was full of bad hair and beautiful actors, with a predictable plot unfolding to a great soundtrack. In addition to the music though, the most memorable part to me is the scene where Mare Winnigham is making out with Rob Lowe (who's still hot, by the way), having held a secret flame for him like FOREVER, feeling like she just wasn't pretty enough, and now finding her dreams coming true. He slowly moves his hand up her leg, under her skirt, only to find . . . dum dum dum DUM - spandex. I related to her so much at that moment, remembering (um, still knowing) what it's like to try and play sexy knowing the truth of the jigglies and cellulite that lurk in dark places, waiting to out the sex kitten. One of the things I've never been self-conscious about, however, is my chest. "I'll never need a boob job," I said. "They're the perfect size and shape, even WITH one hanging a little lower than the other." "You go, girl!" Recently though that fantasy was shattered. As Dolly Parton so eloquently put it, "Time marches on, and sooner or later you realize it's marching across your face," or, in my case, across my chest.

Somehow I found myself naked AND in front of a mirror recently, and the shock on my face was priceless. (I'm extra thankful the mirror isn't full-length!!) Literally over night what once were firm melons (okay, maybe large naval oranges), now look something like over-stretched socks with half a lemon in the end. I used to giggle when my mom would forward an Eloise cartoon or some other "way-older-than-me-so-it's-funny" email about the trip the girls make south over time, but seriously . . . it's not funny any more. I'm watching what is literally the uplifting part of my youth slip slowly, or not so slowly, away and am wondering just how much WOULD a boob job cost anyway? It couldn't be that much, and I'm sure I could recover AND take care of a 9-month old, right?? There's no taking back the breast-feeding, or all the "free-breasting" I've done around the house . . . no undoing what gravity and time have done. Sigh. Please . . . let's take a moment to mourn the loss of my rack . . . and say a little prayer that the next time my husband rolls over to me in bed, hoping for a little intimate end to our day, his hands won't recoil at finding my supple breasts secured snuggly, and now PERMANENTLY, with spandex.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thank you for dinner . . . that was a good dinner . . .

These are the words that, upon their utterance, allow me to rest easy in my dining chair knowing the meal I've so lovingly prepared was met with the ultimate praise . . . from my almost-four-year-old.   I must note before outlining the tasty dinner we had tonight that the pressure of having to take photos of my meals and document them here is making me stretch the creativity a little . . . green beans are pretty boring, but green beans with . . . oh, sorry . . . you'll have to wait until you get a little further into this post. 
First up, my herb-rubbed pork tenderloin was quickly browned in the pan before roasting in the oven.  I threw a couple of crushed cloves of garlic in the oil first, then removed them as they started browning, so I'd have some garlic-flavored oil for the tenderloin. 

These are the tasty fried bits of garlic that found a perfect home atop the mountain of cheddar mashed potatoes.  My green beans were quickly sauteed with green onions, a little soy sauce and lemon, and . . . wait for it . . . RADISHES!  I love radishes in salads, but I've never had them cooked, and they're like most root vegetables - they get sweeter when they're cooked a little.  Yum.   You can probably tell from the colorful spoon in the middle of my plate just who got to share my dinner with me. I really do need something other than white plates to make my food look at little more appetizing . . . sorry.

Lastly, I made a slow-cooker pudding inspired by a recent Rachel Ray recipe (yes, she's kind of annoying to me, but I don't think anyone would want to have to watch me on TV as much as that either). It was supposed to be a lemon/banana pudding, but my oldest son isn't partial to lemon, so I just used vanilla and a little cinnamon. The bananas were just getting ripe, so they kept their texture through the cooking process and got this nice caramelization on the bottom that when flipped over break up the otherwise bland color of the dessert. Of course, I was out of whipped cream and had to substitute . . . sniff, sniff . . . my BFF Haagen Daas Dulce de Leche ice cream on the side. As my husband says, that ice cream could make even a bowl of . . . well, you know . . . taste good. The texture of the "pudding" is more like a cakey-souffle. For this girl who likes all things creamy, custardy, and creme-brulee-y, it was the bomb.

TTFN! Here's hoping my next post is a Sewing Room update with my overdue paintbox blocks from last week!

Comfort Food

So, I made these last week in the worst of the throws of my illness, and they were a little better than regular oatmeal cookies because of the secret ingredient. Okay, the ingredient's NOT that secret, but it was a happy substitution I had to make for being out of pecans.  A few weeks ago, I was hurriedly pushing the buggy up and down the isles at the store with the big red dot and circle, with the name that rhymes with 'Flarget," doing one of the most forbidden activities in the shopping world - shopping while hungry. I managed to avoid most of the temptations, but I did swing by the "nut" isle looking for my dill pickle cashews, only to have my eye catch firmly (sounds painful doesn't it??) on the honey cinnamon almonds. THESE, my friends, are the secret ingredient in the oatmeal cookies. I adjusted the sugar a little to compensate for the sweet almonds, but the subtle bits of crunchy, cinnamon-coated almonds made these cookies the perfect calorie-free snack for me on what would have otherwise been a dumpy day . . . yeah, I said "calorie-free" because, like birthdays, calories don't count when you're sick, dammit! Oh, and Robin, I bet you can tell from the picture and my warm accompanying beverage who I'd like to be sharing them with! :-)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Basics

With the house returning to pediatric ward status (and Mama insisting the growing aches and congestion in her own body can NOT be sickness because there's just no time for such things), last night's dinner was a return to the basics, which for me means minimal effort, minimal dishes, etc. We had the perfect roasted chicken (thanks to Ina) that found its way to perfection by resting on a pile of carrots, fennel (coooooo-op), and onions. (** I must add here that I know many people who upon reading the word "fennel" started to feel a gag coming on. I'm not a huge fan of it raw myself, but you're missing out on something fabulous if you don't try it roasted. The roasting process tones down the licorice flavor significantly and yields a surprisingly sweet end product. Try it. You'll like it. Unless you're weird . . .). I served the chicken and veg with Mac-n-Cheese (a request by Mr. Sicky), and some green beans with bacon and red bell pepper. As usual, I didn't remember to take photos until AFTER I'd sat down at the table, but the chicken was something to behold - perfect color, perfect crispness on the skin, and perfect pan juices for dipping the pieces in, even though the chicken didn't need it. All in all, yummies for tummies all around. And now, I'm off to overdose on Vitamin C with a coffee chaser, praying I can just get through the next 8 hours until bed time. Sigh . . .

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


So, I've figured out this whole blogging thing - why I like it. I'm assuming you're like me, having random, semi-interesting thoughts or reminiscences throughout your day but never taking the time to really think about those things because they're quickly over-run with all the other demands on your time. Blogging is a way, or an excuse rather, to capture those thoughts (even if, like me, you might have to do it on paper sometimes :-)) so you can write about them later . . . oh, and more importantly, give birth to them and send them out into the universe where no one can argue with you! I digress, however; this morning I was thinking about a little plaque that used to sit over my Mimi's sink. You've probably heard or read the poem before. The most recognizable part of it goes, "Thank God for dirty dishes, they have a tale to tell. While others may go hungry, we're eating very well." It came into my mind because I was in my usual spot this morning, enjoying my coffee time, staring at the dishes in the kitchen which are taunting me, daring me to get out of my chair and just try to NOT do something constructive. I suspect there are a lot of people, moms in particular, who can relate to my coffee time. It's that time of the morning, after having hit the ground running much too early to get breakfast and pack lunches made, feeding the baby and the cats, finally sitting down to enjoy the meal you made (which is now cold, by the way), only to find that the family you had hoped to spend time with at the table is simultaneously wiping their mouths, shouting the obligatory "thank you for breakfast" and leaving you at the table alone while their own lives whisk them off into different directions. I know this is the plight of many moms, since I've witnessed it happen with most of the moms in my life, but I've learned to make the most of this alone time, at least after breakfast, because there's coffee time to look forward to. For a moment, I can block out the baby who's got to be getting bored of playing with the toys in his high chair by now, the kitty who's nuzzling my arm certain there must be some dairy products somewhere on the table I can share, (the same kitty who just left a nice hairball-induced mess that needs cleaning up to add to my chores for the day), oh, and the DISHES, while I nurse a monstrous cup of coffee until I've drained every last bit of the sludge from the bottom. It's coffee time. This, ladies and gentlemen, is where the magic happens. Whilst sipping my coffee, I answer the great philosophical questions about love and life, solve the world's hunger problem, and calculate just how long the pan that's been sitting on the stove since yesterday will need to soak to get all the grits off without having to scrub. Today this magical time is consumed with thoughts of my Mimi. Maybe it's because my baby reminds me so much of her . . . or maybe it's the aforementioned grits since I enjoyed many grits-related meals with her over the years. Maybe it's because I'm thinking about how many times I watched her wash dishes while I ran off to watch TV and it's making me a little less resentful of the task that awaits. After all, I'm bigger than they are and I can take 'em, no problem. So today, I'm thanking God for my dirty dishes, the food on my table and in my family's bellies, for fond memories of my Mimi . . . and for dishwashers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Food, Glorious Food

Well, Happy Valentine's Day from my happy tummy to yours! The holiday today followed on the heels of a stressful evening for us, having had our oldest son running an unexplained temperature of over 104 degrees throughout the night last night. (Thank you to those parents who sent their sick kiddo to school this week with a special "happy-first-week" present for my baby)! I had a very rare night of snuggling in bed with the little guy, although the imagined, cozy version of that event is much better than the reality of a tossing, turning little dude who likes to talk a lot in his sleep and who has unnaturally sharp toenails like his Papa. Needless to say, between that bedfellow, a husband whose allergies have him snoring this week, and the cuddle cat who literally likes to lay on my face during the winter, it wasn't the restful night sleep I needed. Thankfully there's coffee . . . oh, and more importantly, his fever was short-lived today; he even managed to get a couple of valentines made. He was not however feeling well enough to enjoy today's food. For breakfast, we had strawberry muffins drizzled with white chocolate and a heart-shaped frittata with bacon, red peppers, spring onions (thank you, co-op) and cheese. Yes, I know the heart shape is kinda over-the-top, but really, why have kids if you can't do silly things like that? For lunch, we had what we were GOING to have for supper last night before the house transformed to a pediatric ward - pork chops with an arugula pesto and mashed cauliflower (and, yes, that's a Woodchuck Cider lurking behind the plate that gave the food a happy, bubbly trip send-off to my tummy). I have to say the pesto MADE these chops today. I used arugula (thanks again, co-op), toasted cashews, parmesan, salt and EVOO, and the arugula/cashew combo is something to make your taste buds tingle (I can't wait to use the leftovers with some pasta later this week). The richness and slight sweetness to the cashews married perfectly with the arugula. It's almost 11 pm, and I'm still thinking about it. The pork chop juices and pesto mingled well with the the cauliflower too (COOOO-op) which was tasty too . . . I've made it in the past and wasn't real thrilled with it, but this recipe (adapted from Guy's on the Food Network website) was a great alternative to mashed potatoes. It uses part roasted cauliflower which I think made the difference. This would have been good with grits too. For supper, we were still too full to enjoy the surf-n-turf dinner I had planned, so I'll post photos of that tomorrow night if there's anything noteworthy . . . and now, as the day winds down, I think I'm going to put my laptop away a little early (I know 11 pm's not early, but it sounds better in my closing), see if my hubby will do the same (bye bye WoW), and hopefully have a little time for us to enjoy together before the work-week reality hits again in the morning. Happy early President's Day, y'all (whatever the heck that is)!