Wordless Wednesdays

Friday, December 31, 2010

There's a New Kid in Town

There's something new in my kitchen. I'm still pinching myself. Allow me to introduce you to the newest member of my kitchen staff:

Why, hello there.

Can it be?

Why, yes; it can.

Unsure. Pensive. Is this real?

Why yes; it is. Let's get closer. Let us...investigate.

Insert Homer Simpson drooling sound *here*

Happy Mary.

Her name...is Clotilde.

Clotilde...you and I are going places. We'll travel the world in our kitchen!
Thanks to my sister Meg for taking all the pics. I love cooking and baking with you. Heck, I just flat-out love YOU.
Merry Christmas...to me.
And there is nothing more to say.

Friday, December 17, 2010

And now for something completely different...

It is officially three days until Christmas, and while I've been doing some Christmas baking here and there, I have not gone completely Martha Stewart and most likely will not until my wee ones are a bit older. However, I am immensely enjoying the holiday season and being able to move around (read: not painfully pregnant). Thus far, I have made:
1) Neiman-Marcus cookies.
2) Burnt-sugar almonds.

Hmm. I must have a thing for hyphens.
Oh, and:
3) Spritz cookies (little green Christmas trees and purple snowflakes! I am so cool!!)

And that's all, folks!!

Har-dee-har-har. Not really. The Neiman-Marcus are a bit of a tradition for me. My mom received the recipe in a forwarded email from a friend when I was about 14 or so, and they came with such a glowing recommendation from said friend that we decided to try them after our next grocery store run. When you live 20 minutes from any grocery store, you never, EVER, go out on a whim just because you're positively DYING to try out a new recipe. Nope. You compile a massive list. You wait. And sometimes you wait for a long, long, time.
Or so it felt like a long, long time to an anxious 14 year old.
The blessed event finally came, and off we went to our beloved Woodmans (it's a family thing).
Then, we made the Neiman-Marcus cookies.

And we haven't stopped making them since.

At least for Christmas. But seriously, folks. If I had to describe the Neiman-Marcus cookies, I would describe as the ultimate double-chocolate chip & pecan cookie. They are oh-so soft and chewy, and ya'll know how I feel about soft cookies vs. crunchy: http://skarymop.blogspot.com/2010_02_01_archive.html

Now, after all of this tantalizing teasing, I won't be able to post the recipe today. I really need to re-write and re-organize it before I can share it with you. All of the ingredients are completely out of order; it's mayhem, simply MAYHEM, I TELL YOU!! I really have no idea why I've put up with it for so long. All I know is that this year is the last year I shall ever make the famed Neiman-Marcus cookies following an incredibly disorganized recipe. AND THAT'S A PROMISE.
The Burnt-Sugar Almonds were a triumph from the Tasty Kitchen Blog, via Pioneer Woman:

These are just delicious. They smell so incredibly divine whilst cooking that you just might faint from the wonderfulness of it all. These bad boys are also very simple to make, but there's only one little problem with them. I tried to package them for gifts. It just didn't work. The almonds never made it past my living room. I ate them. My sister Megan ate them. I gave two bags away- one to some friends who just had a baby, and one to my brother and his girlfriend. And then...I ate the rest. Like I said...a bit of a problem. SO my unsolicited advice would be this:
TRIPLE the recipe. Really.

And now for something completely different...

One little thing I just love to do throughout the year is make new and exciting culinary discoveries. For example, in August of 2009, I discovered Trader Joe's Creamy Salted Peanut Butter, and my life has never been the same since. And then in October of 2009, I discovered pumpkin donuts at the little bakery a few blocks down from my house. Yes, I live within walking distance (with three kids in tow, no less!) from a great bakery. No, I try not to think about it, if I can help it. I decided it might be fun to share my top three culinary discoveries of 2010 with ya'll. And so, without further ado, here are my TOP THREE CULINARY DISCOVERIES OF 2010!!!!! (insert intro music from 2001 Space Odyssey *here*)

This, my friends, is Lyle's Golden Syrup. I needed to buy this for a flapjack recipe (a British cookie; not to be confused with the American pancake), and I can't sing its praises enough. Think of a burnt-carmel-ly tasting syrup. Think...*gasp* CREME BRULEE...yes. I see you nodding your head. You get it. Think of all the possibilities. I like to stir this in my oatmeal. I like this with peanut butter (Trader Joe's, of course). I like it...on a spoon out of the jar. I...like it. Alot. Try it! You'll find it with the rest of the syrups in your grocery store, provided your grocery store is as cool as mine. And now...

...introducing Maille Dijon Orginale Mustard. Oh. My. Stars. This makes my nostrils tingle in the most astounding manner. I made a dijon-mustard vinaigrette using this gem of a mustard, and I will never use American mustard again. Well, maybe on a burger. MAYBE. BUT...this is truly the finest dijon mustard I have ever laid a taste bud on. TRY IT. And last, but certainly not least...

Lemon Curd and Greek Yogurt! You must be so confused right now. Allow me to elaborate:
1) Grab a bowl.
2) Plop some Greek yogurt in the bowl.
3) Plop a small dollop of Lemon Curd into the yogurt.
4) Stir well.
5) Taste. Scream. Pass out.

Now, I can't take credit for this gorgeous snack. My dear friend Sarah informed me of this glorious happenstance of a culinary triumph. Sarah is ALWAYS reliable for a good old fashioned glorious happenstance of a culinary triumph. And for this, (and many, many other reasons) I do love her. But really; you must try it. It has become a favorite treat of mine. And if you haven't tried greek yogurt yet, then SHAME ON YOU. Just kidding. I'll forgive you if you hightail it to the grocery store RIGHT NOW to buy some greek yogurt. I'll wait.


What; you haven't gone yet? Well, all right, then. AND THERE YOU HAVE IT...a taste of a great cookie recipe to come, and my top three culinary discoveries of 2010. Well, I'm spent. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and may you have a wonderful, peaceful time with loved ones. Eat good food, and treat each other well. :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On handling Stress

Today's post will be short (everyone, go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief). Today I am quite stressed out for a number of reasons:

1) The church I attend puts on a Ladies' Cup of Christmas Tea every December, and I am hosting a table for 8. This is my 3rd year of hosting, so you'd think I wouldn't be stressed out at all, but nope. Because life is life, there are a few other elements added to the mix that causes my stress level to soar at an alarmingly high rate of speed.
2) Element #1: I played piano for a wedding yesterday. 'Nuff said.
3) Element #2: David woke up at 4:00 am this morning with the stomach flu. Now, stomach flu is never fun, but I had to go to my church this morning BECAUSE I WAS PLAYING THE OFFERTORY. So I went, played, and went home. Don't ask me what I played. I think (hoped) it was something Christmassy. All I remember is sitting down at the piano, watching someone else's hands play, and then thinking,"Whoa. What just happened?" I was not exactly what you'd call "focused" today.
4) Because I've been up so incredibly early today, I feel...sick. And THAT makes me nervous. Now begins the what Steve and I call the "waiting period." Yup. Waiting to see who gets the flu next...*screams*.

I've been slightly stressed out to begin with before the flu hit, but NOW I am definitely stressed out. Yes, yes; I know I'm whining. Just bear with me for a few wee paragraphs, okay?? Sheesh.

Things I tend to do when I'm stressed out:
1) Cry.
2)Wring my hands.
3) Pray.
4) Bake something. Anything.
5) Clean my bathroom. (Hey. Even if everything else gets overlooked, the bathroom needs to be cleaned. Or at least mine does. I live with 4 males, 3 of which are potty-trained)
6) Dance a jig. Or two.
7) Listen to a tremendous amount of "Mary Music".
8) Moan about how I'm never getting involved in anything again.
9) Dream of starting life anew as a farmer.
10) Pray.
11) Dream of being a hermit.
12) Turn a few triple salchows in my living room, just for heck of it.
13) Cook something edible.
14) Cry.
15) Scrapbook.
16) Play piano amidst the soundtrack of my life (wrestling, shouting, roaring boys).
17) Practice a few time steps in my kitchen, just for the heck of it.
18) Read lots of travel guides to anywhere except Wisconsin.
19) Call my sister Meg while I'm driving to Woodmans for the fiftieth time this month (the mecca super-grocery store in my city. I am quite sure I couldn't live without it).
20) Pray.
21) Dance one more jig.

You know...the list could go on and on and on and on and on...whoa, getting a little carried away here. MY POINT:

I will feel much better on Tuesday. :)

P.S. I have no idea how to turn a triple salchow, nor will I ever. I just thought it sounded cool.
P.P.S. I DO know how to dance a time step. A triple one, even!!
P.P.P.S. I...I...what was I going to say? Oh yes; I will takes oodles of pictures at the Christmas Tea and post them as soon I return from Mars. I hear it's lovely this time of year. Happy Sunday to you all, and to all a good afternoon.

Monday, November 22, 2010

17 Easy steps to making pumpkin muffins

It was a glorious afternoon; so full of promise, so full of inspiration and delight. The two younger boys were down for their afternoon naps. David was happily playing on his own (miraculously enough). I was filled with a burning, unquenchable desire to make something that bellowed in no uncertain terms "FALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!" Now hear this: I am well aware that Fall is well on its way out and Winter is crouched at the door like an evil, rabid moose, but until Thanksgiving has come and gone, I will prolong my favorite season as long as I possibly can. This desperate effort is manifested in many forms. Sometimes it's raking up whatever wet, sludgy leaves are left on the yard, and saying heartily,"Have at it, boys!" Then the boys stare at the 1-foot pile of sludge in front of them, and because it's dirty and gross, they jump right in. Sometimes I scrapbook 3 different layouts about Fall, The Pumpkin Farm, and Jumping In The Leaves simply because:
1) I own the best autumn-themed scrapbooking paper in the entire world, and no one will ever convince me otherwise.
2) I can!!

BUT...the most logical effort for me to prolong my precious Fall season is to bake.
Of course.
So let's get back to that glorious afternoon, shall we??
It was an Epiphany of Epiphanies. I was beginning to run out of ideas. I had already made pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin dip. I still had quite a bit of pumpkin puree in my fridge. As my sweet Daniel likes to say, "Oh, what to do, what to do??" AND THEN...*trumpet fanfare* I had it. PUMPKIN MUFFINS. Oh yeah. To the MacBook, Batman!! I already had a pumpkin muffin recipe I was less-than enthusiastic about. So I went to my beloved Pioneer Woman for wise counsel, and of course, she came through for me. SO...ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I bring you EASY STEPS TO MAKING PUMPKIN MUFFINS!!!

1) After being inspired to make the aforementioned muffins, ignore the laundry that desperately needs folding.

2) Add food coloring to a sink full of water and fill with plastic toys for David.

3) Happy Boy. :)

4) Mix flour with spices. Inhale. Thank the Lord, for He is Good.

5) Cut half a stick of butter into small pieces. Give in to that incredibly rebellious feeling.

6) Wield the instrument of righteousness. Best. Pastry Blender. Ever. (Crate and Barrel, my friends!)
7) Ahh. Fresh pumpkin puree.
8) Look at the time. Panic.

9) David asks if he can help. I say,"Sure, Buddy." David shrieks,"OH, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!" I need to take these kids out more.
10) Inwardly lament over the massive pile of very small plastic toys that are now taking up my entire drying rack. I try not to sweat the small stuff (emphasis on "try").
11) I like to call this one "Uncle Nate".

12) Uh-Oh. Looks like Darth Vader got the best of Uncle Nate. "You have much to learn, young Skywalker, er, Uncle Nate. MUAHAHAHAHA!!"
13) Taste.

14) Yummy!!
15) Forget to take pictures of the finished product.
16) Kick yourself for forgetting.
17) Eat the dang muffins anyway.

And there you have it. 17 easy steps to making pumpkin muffins! And, OH, my friends; they are so very good. As they were baking, they filled my house with all the delectable, spicy aroma you'd expect from any self-respecting pumpkin muffin. And I love it when my house actually smells good. Most of the time it just smells like, well, BOYS. A word of wisdom: Trust Pioneer Woman. I got a little crazy and decided to use whole milk rather than the evaporated milk that the recipe called for, and while the muffins were positively delicious, their shelf life was a bit lacking. They became a tad mushy within a day, and I think they would have held up better had I obeyed the recipe rather than giving in to my own foolish flights of fancy. "Foolish Flights of Fancy"...what great alliteration!! *ahem* ANYWAY...here's the linky-dinky-doo:
Now GO FORTH...and make the most of what very little Fall we have left before that giant, rabid Moose called Winter knocks down the door and eats us all. Can you tell I'm not a huge fan of Winter? Oh, well. Here's a pre-emptive "HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!" to all of my readers out there. I really appreciate all of the feedback I receive, and I love sharing my little moments of culinary chaos with you. Thank you. :)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Reflections on 4 years of motherhood

David turned 4 years old on Tuesday. He is my firstborn; my introduction into this crazy thing we call "Parenthood". He is my favorite firstborn son. He is...
...A very small maniac. Don't let those beautiful brown eyes fool you. This child is hard-core, ultra-intense, passionate, all-out, and of course, brilliant. Hmm. Goodness, he reminds me of someone. Who could it be...oh, of course. ME. Minus the brilliant part. David not only looks like me, but he has inherited my intense and passionate personality. The only thing he didn't get from me is his flair for the dramatic, because I am not dramatic at all. Not one iota. Nope. No drama here. *falls on the floor from suppressed laughter* David also is quite sure that he is a superhero. Not any one in particular, but he definitely feels the need to "Save the Day".
He is like his father in that aspect. Steve definitely feels the need to save the day. Alot.

I love how David lines up his cars.

I love how David builds his "really, really HUGE towers".

I love that he loves to get dirty and play outside with his bulldozers and other outdoorsy toys.

I love how he always wants to help me in the kitchen.
Yes, he's wearing a Starbucks apron. I had a short stint at Starbucks in college. This is why I'm addicted to Chai Lattes. Moving on...
Yes; I love all these things about my David boy. But what I love the most is that I learned how to be a mommy with David, and I am still learning every day. For some reason, God saw fit to bless me with three beautiful boys, and for this, I am inexpressibly grateful. Here is a little ditty I wrote about motherhood when David was about 2 months old:

A Young Mother's Prayer

Oh, Lord God,
I thank Thee for the gift of motherhood.
Nothing is so sweet as the clinging of a tiny hand.
The burying of a little head upon one's shoulder.
The first smile.
The steady gaze into mommy's eyes.
These are the things that really matter.
Help me in motherhood, Lord.
Help me to put You first so that I might be worthy of the task before me.
Help me to nurture the relationship between my husband and I so that our children will be confident in our love.
Help me to encourage my husband so that he might be worthy of the task before him.
Help me to be patient with my children so they might be patient with others.
Help me to choose my words wisely so that I might illumine and not darken their minds.
Help me to be selfless so they might learn what it means to be self-sacrificing.
Help me to train them up in Your way, Lord, so that they will not depart from it when they are old.
Help me to be aware of my actions, knowing that little eyes are upon me at all times.
Help me to do all for the glory of God, and not man.
I thank Thee for this blessed privilege.
May my husband and I raise children for Your glory and honor.
In Jesus' blessed name,

Happy Birthday, Buddy. You are my gift from above.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On a Rather Frightening Tin of Chocolates

WAIT!! DON'T LEAVE!! COME BACK!! I'm alive; really, I am. I just had the exceedingly frustrating experience of a computer behaving badly for about a month, only to realize (as the first two days of our vacation pictures spiraled into the black abyss of cyberspace) that our ill-fated computer had a virus. A very, very bad virus. Basically, as my dear brother told me (and he's the resident expert on these things), it was only a matter of time before things blew up in our face. And blow up it did. But as I sit here typing this on my brand-new MacBook (I shall never, EVER return to the world of a PC), I do not wish to dwell upon my losses. I shall move on and attempt to put behind me the technological nightmare that has been my life for the past month. The hours of frustration...the wailing and gnashing of teeth...the feelings of utter stupidity and hopelessness...oh, wait; I'm supposed to be trying to move on. Okay. MOVING ON...I have just one question for you:

Are you ready for a rather Gruesome Tale of a Rather Frightening Tin of Chocolates?

I mean, really ready? Really, really ready?

Because this tale is not for the faint of heart, and it is not what you might expect it to be.

Very well; if you insist.

It all started with Customer Service Appreciation week at Steve's office. Do NOT be fooled by the benign nature of those words. For four days, employees had the chance to play a game to win "free stuff" (Steve's words) from the Customer Service Department, provided by various vendors. It seemed harmless enough, and hey; it's not like my house is overflowing with toys, crayons, coloring books, and trains (Can you sense the facetiousness??). Bring on the junk!!
Day One: Steve brings home a FedEx plane. The boys were delighted.
Day Two: Steve brings home a small FedEx truck. The boys were, well; delighted.
Day Three: Steve brings home a little something for me. Oooh! A tin of Belgian Chocolates! WOW! I totally cannot WAIT to dig into this bad boy!
Day Four: Steve brings home a giant laminated map of the world. We spread it out on our obnoxiously huge dining room table (I still have yet to find a tablecloth large enough for this monstrosity of ours), and we have a fantastic time with the boys, pointing out different countries and trying to pronounce as many names as we can. THAT was fun.
Now, before we go any further, let's look back at Day Three. Yes. The Tin of Belgian Chocolates. It was so very sweet of Steve to think of me during Customer Service Appreciation week, and I could not wait to dig in.
Seems harmless enough, right?
"Oooh, how cute," I cooed as I tore off the ribbon (which was already in the trash when I snapped this picture).
Please ignore my archaic kitchen counters.

Let's take another look.

Oops. Sorry. This is my eldest, who is convinced that he needs to Save The Day. All Day. Every Day. He is truly a kindred spirit.

*hee hee hee*
Ahem. Back to the Tin of Chocolates.

How innocent. How beguilingly innocent.

Let's open it up, shall we?

Oooh, this looks promising. It smells positively delightful; a delectable aroma of almond, hazelnut, and, of course, CHOCOLATE waft up to my eager nostrils. Wow. Eager nostrils. That's really gross. Anyway...what you don't see in this picture is a nifty little pamphlet that was placed in the box so you could read about the chocolates. I glance through hurriedly, more concerned about pigging out than learning at the moment. After all, it was just some old weird story about this guy who was in charge of this boat in Brussels, and if you couldn't pay your toll, he'd chop off your hand and throw it in the river.

You'd think something would have registered in my head after reading that. But no; I was still more concerned about the gluttonous feast awaiting me than some goofy Belgian legend, which ended with another guy chopping off the hand of the original hand-chopper-offer, and nobody in Brussels ever had to pay a boat toll ever again. Hurray for the Belgians!! The river was getting kind of nasty, after all, with all of those pesky hands floating about. Wait a minute. What? I stopped and thought for a second. Why are there multiple images of hands printed on the front of this tin? What could this possibly mean? I thought a bit more, and it dawned upon me the instant before I lifted the corrugated foam which so gracefully disguised the mayhem underneath. I drew a in a short, sharp breath and let out a small scream...


Yes; there before my eyes sat a TIN OF CHOCOLATE HANDS!!!! Have you EVER seen anything like it??? Maybe I just lead an incredibly sheltered life, but CHOCOLATE HANDS??? Seriously? Let's take another look!!

There they are.

On the bright side, they were quite delicious (although it took me a couple moments to get up the nerve to eat a chocolate hand), especially this little number:

What we have here is white chocolate with a chocolate hazelnut cream filling. Now, I am usually not a fan of white chocolate. At all. Too sweet, too waxy, and an imposter on the chocolate front. BUT...when combined with chocolate hazelnut, it's a match made in heaven. Or Belgium.

Isn't the detail work impressive and disgusting at the same time? Every fingernail, every knuckle...those chocolate artists in Brussels must be very proud.

Here's my dainty paw alongside the chocolates to give you some perspective. Yes; I have unusually long thumbs for having such small hands.

And there you have it. A Tale of a Rather Frightening Tin of Chocolates!! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much I enjoyed writing it. And now, time to embark upon a quest for recipes that focus on combining white chocolate and chocolate hazelnut! I'll keep you posted...and if any strange man wielding a rather large machete tries to convince you to take a boat ride with him, do the smart thing. Stay home, and eat chocolate. :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A smattering of thoughts

As I wrote my title, I wondered almost immediately,"Is 'smattering' really, honestly, truly a word??" And then I decided that due to the fact that I am recovering from the flu, I simply do not care enough to make an effort to grab my 25 lb., ancient dictionary (seriously, folks; it's from the 1940's) and embark upon a quest to discover the validity of the oh-so-effective word, "SMATTERING". The bottom line: I like it. So it's going to stay. The word "smattering", that is. And my ancient dictionary. Oh, never mind...

Right now...

1) I am desperately praying that my computer will properly upload my 174 photos, most of which are our vacation photos from August. I have making sad, fruitless attempts all week to accomplish this seemingly simple task; and yet, something always seems to go wrong at the end of the "importing" process. And it's making my armpits itch really bad, which is what happens when I get really nervous or surprised. So far, we are on photo #29 of 174 photos. May the Lord preserve my sanity, patience, and ever-so-itchy armpits.
2) I have been cooking and baking up a storm, and quite victoriously, I might add! Here are my most recent victories:
One itty-bitty suggestion: use the chicken base. The recipe says it's optional, but I had to triple the salt to get the taste I was looking for, and I don't think I would have had to do that if I had been functioning as an intelligent human being and used the chicken base. Oh, how I do so long to function as an intelligent human being these days...but I digress. Here's another:
This is so good I could scream. No, really. It's that good. I ended up adding a bit more sugar to the curry dressing- I like it a little on the sweet side. I must warn you, though: this recipe makes a TREMENDOUS amount of salad. I have spent the last week pawning off 2-cup ziploc containers to three different friends of mine, and I STILL had enough for 3 lunches for little ol' me. Now that's ALOT of Curried Chicken Pasta Salad.
And now for some dessert...


Really, this is my favorite discovery of all. I have already written of my great admiration for Molly Wizenberg, and this recipe is one of her many delightful and terribly yummy recipes. We could be friends. I just know it. These "cookies" have the teeniest hint of a slightly burnt caramel taste, somewhat akin to Creme Brulee (sorry. Too lazy to use the proper accent marks.). Another bonus: these are SO incredibly quick and easy to make. I mean, like the speed of light quick. Almost. Nearly. Well, I make these with my two older boys (3 and 2 yo), so I think that qualifies as a quick and easy recipe.
You may notice that the first two recipes I have posted are from none other than Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman. I have several things to say about Ree:

1) If you have not heard of The Pioneer Woman, please crawl out from under your rock and go to www.thepioneerwoman.com. Now. Okay? Okay. She is just wonderful. Her recipes are so very, very good and her blog is outstanding. I read it every day, and that is no exaggeration. She makes me laugh, smile, and her recipes fill my tummy with yummy food. What more could a mother of three children(all under the age of 4) possibly want?

And there you have my smattering of thoughts. Here's an update on my photo upload situation: It's official. I'm going to have a brawl with my computer. So while I wrestle around with said computer, why don't you go whip up yourself a delectable batch of flapjacks? You won't be sorry.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Variation on a Theme of "It's been one of those days".

It's been one of those days.

I went to bed at a positively ridiculously late hour. Bad Mary. Bad Momma. BAD MOMMA. *slaps own wrist*

I woke up to a Dark, Dreary, Rainy day. Every once in a while, I love a good Dark, Dreary, and Rainy day. But not today. Definitely not today. On the bright side, my perfect infant slept in. Again. Like I said, he's perfect. For now.

David and Daniel (aka Terror and Mischief and also the Loves of My Life) started roughhousing at about 6:19 am. This is normal.

I drank two cups of tea in a one-hour span of time. It was good and necessary.

We all sat around like blobs for most of the morning. We let the boys outside for about 20 minutes before lunch because they were on the verge of spontaneous combustion, and I always have a sense about these types of things.

The elder "punched" (his own words) the younger with a stick.

Lunch was a mass conglomeration of confused leftovers. And yes; leftovers can be confused. Very confused. Steve had leftover macaroni and hamburger casserole. I had a turkey sandwich and corn on the cob. The boys had hotdogs and nectarines. Can you feel the confusion? I can.

At about 12:30 pm, I was still in my pajamas. Steve left to attend a surprise party for one of our friends. I was a bad momma and put on "Lady and The Tramp" for David so I could take a shower and get out of my smelly pj's. Which, to everyone's relief, I did.

After naptime (which for David means rolling around on the floor and couches and whining,'I'm so tired, Mommy' and then I respond,'Well, buddy, why don't you lie down on the couch or Mommy and Daddy's bed?' to which David responds,'NOOOOOO!!!') the boys and I set off for the aforementioned surprise party. We then proceeded to enter into a completely different dimension; one of happy, joyous, well-behaved children, cooing babies, good adult conversation, and an amazing pizza with fresh basil and tomatoes. I have to find the portal for this dimension again! If you find it, please let me know. Thanks.

We went home. The portal slammed shut with a vengeance, and the boys melted into a screaming, sobbing mess all over my dirty kitchen floor. Early baths. Early bedtime.

It was 7:00 pm. The dishwasher was finally emptied. It only took me 12 hours! I'm so proud of myself!

Today is not a day for writing about fine food. I just had Burger King for dinner with a Raspberry Ginger Ale, and now I plan on feeding my perfect infant and plopping my sorry frame into bed. I am tired. Deliciously tired. And yes; I think one can feel "deliciously tired".

So there. This has been a Variation on a Theme of "It's been one of those Days." I am reminded that I am so very, very human. on days like today. Early bed time for this momma. And an early walk to Starbucks tomorrow. :)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A triumph!

A triumph! A triumph! An absolute triumph! Okay, I'll stop babbling like a complete idiot and expound upon this great triumph of mine. My triumph...chocolate peanut butter pie. Oh yes. Oh baby. After the Tale of a Most Sad Curry, I was tired of trying new things on the cooking front and decided it was time to blow my own mind with my baking skills. I must pause here for a brief moment. I love to bake. I love it so very much. Baking is a science; a sure thing in a most unsure world! In fact, I'm going to make yogurt-cinnamon muffins as soon as I finish blabbing about my peanut-butter engulfed triumph. But I digress! Yes, I would rather bake than cook almost any day, but because I do not wish to gain 50 pounds a month, I refrain (just barely) and try to bake only once a week. Sigh. Sigh again. ANYWAY...

Once upon a time, my friend Rachel was hosting a ladies' get-together at her home, and I volunteered to bring a dessert. It is not often that I get a chance to make a super-crazy-fancy-awesome dessert, because Steve doesn't care for rich baked goods. His yearly birthday request? Rice Krispie Treats. DON'T even get me started...my baking talent just withers away, year after year...so when I get an opportunity to make a dessert or an appetizer; well, you KNOW I'm going for that dessert option! SO I wrestled with my decision on what exactly to make. Pistachio layer cake? Meh. Peach tart? Maybe. AND THEN...it hit me. A cold pie. A 1950's diner style icebox pie!! YES! It's been a scorcher of a summer after all, so something nice and cool would fit the bill nicely. And so I purchased and assembled the ingredients, and experienced a most miraculous time warp in that I was able to prepare the crust BEFORE we went to church, along with making something edible in the ol' crockpot and even getting out of the door on time. Like I said, a most miraculous time warp. All I had to do was make the filling when I got home, and you know what? It was as easy as pie. (Sorry. I simply could not resist). The only part that made me want to temporarily expire was whipping the heavy cream by hand before folding it into the peanut butter filling. I always approach whipping things by hand with the greatest of gusto, and I start whipping with the utmost enthusiasm. 2 minutes into it, I began to get a little cranky. 5 minutes into it, I am wishing to temporarily expire. Then chemistry takes over, and VIOLA!! I have a gorgeous bowl of hand-whipped cream, and once again, I love my life. I proceeded to gently, oh so gently, coax the smooth, rich, toffee-colored decadence into the cooled pie crust and smooth it until it was worthy of a cover shot for Martha Stewart Living. Or so I'd like to imagine! I carefully put the pie in the freezer, and that was that! SO easy. And the flavor!! SO incredibly rich and creamy, and not at all overly sweet. It was a perfect balance of sweet and savory, and had a delicious, peanutty, slightly salty taste. But I must warn you. This pie should come with a "Parental Advisory- DO NOT OVERINDULGE" label. Because, my dear friends, that is exactly what I did, and I was not a very happy camper that night. So rich, so very rich...be careful. Be very careful. Here's the link:


Despite my slightly unhappy ending with this pie, I am already dreaming of making it and indulging in it again...just not overindulging. Moral: A change of pace is good, and yes; you CAN have too much of a good thing. :) Happy baking!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

On Sundays and a most sad Vegetable Curry

Today is one of those days when I feel as though everything is going in fast motion, and I am just a sad little jumble of atoms and molecules, hanging on for dear life, and screaming, "WHOA, THERE!!! HANG ON A SECOND, PEOPLE!!!" Why I feel this way; I really can't say. I'm going to chalk it up to the fact that it's Sunday, and Sunday has this magical way of flying away from me at an incredibly high rate of speed. Sundays used to be a most wonderful day for me. Wake up, get ready for church, have a leisurely breakfast with my Steve-O, which almost always consisted of scrambled eggs with the teensiest amount of cheddar cheese snuck in (Steve hates cheese in his eggs, but I can't eat scrambled eggs without it- THANKS, DAD.), brew myself a cup of tea, most likely Plantation Mint or Constant Comment (Hey- I get adventurous with my tea in the afternoon, so no rude comments about my uninspired choices for my morning fix. I need stability in the morning, not some fly-by-night troubadour who's going to leave me barefoot and pregnant- hypothetically speaking, of course), toast (dry for Steve, cream cheese and raspberry jam for me), and just enjoy some major quality time in our sweet little haven of an apartment, and later on, our lovely home. Ahhh. Yes. Those were the days. We'd stroll out to the car, never in a hurry or rushed in the slightest. We'd drive to church and arrive with at least ten minutes to spare. We'd sit in the pew and look the through the bulletin together, and comment to each other on various things we thought were worth commenting on. Hymns, sermon, then BOOM, off to our weekly Sunday lunch of Chipotle. Let me just stop here for a moment. I miss those weekly Sunday lunches at Chipotle more than I could even begin to express. We were so very spoiled back then. Then we'd drive home, all full of chatter. AND THEN...The Weekly Sunday Afternoon Nap. Hmm. Wait a minute. I'm not so sure now whether I miss the weekly Chipotle more or the Nap. Oh, well. So, yes; my Sundays used to be the highlight of my week. AND THEN...*fully diminished seventh chord ensues* something happened. Something miraculous. Something wonderful. Something terrifying. Something glorious. Something stressful. Something life-changing. Yep. You guessed it. We became PARENTS!! Yes. We have the great privilege of being parents to three marvelous and delightful boys, and it has been a learning experience, to say the VERY least. Although I loved being a new mommy, and I was (and still am) madly in love with my first-born son, the shift in the Sunday Dynamic was almost more than I could bear for a while. First, there was no sleeping in. EVER. I now have completely embraced this fact of my life as a mother; this cold, hard, fact that I will not sleep in for the next 25 years, and the world will somehow magically not end because Mary Johnson didn't catch a few extra zzzz's. 'I'll sleep when I'm dead' has become my motto, but it hasn't always been this way for me. Besides the sleep factor, there was the whole "packing for baby" issue. How on earth could one tiny being encompass such a extraordinary need for such a ridiculous amount of...of...STUFF????? Even if I packed the diaper bag the night before, I still seemed to have to throw in about 34 extra things before we could leave for church. Or anywhere, for that matter. And another thing...why is a diaper bag called a "diaper bag" when diapers take up the smallest percentage of space in said diaper bag?? This is something I will most likely never understand. SO...by the time I nursed David at 6:00 am, played with him for a little while, laid him down for his early morning nap at 7:00, made a sad attempt at beautifying myself for the day, made ANOTHER sad attempt at making something in the crockpot that wouldn't taste like a giant orb of nothingness, nursed David at 9:00, left for church at 10:00 (if we were lucky), got ourselves situated in our usual pew, left the service halfway through to nurse again, stumble back into the service in time to sing the final hymn, gather all of our artillery and head back to the van, drove home with scant conversation, stumbled into the house for a stodgy glob of what were hoping was sustenance of some sort *pant pant pant* , I was exhausted. Beyond exhausted. SO exhausted. I would sometimes lay on the couch and marvel at how exhausted I was- I didn't know it was possible to be so exhausted and not die from it!! So naturally, my Sunday experience began to sour, and pretty quickly, I might add. I began...to loathe Sundays. Yes. I know. How horrible is that? Nevertheless, Sundays were no longer the idyllic island of relaxation that they used to be, and I had some massive adjusting to do. So adjust I did. The days of weekly visits to Chipotle were over, for financial and practical reasons. Okay. Fine. So what?? That's what a crockpot is for, right? And while we're talking about crockpots, let me just say this: I am quite sure Crockpots were invented for Sundays. For lunch after church, to be precise. Okay, now that I've got that off my chest, back to Sundays. Thus began a long couple of years of experimenting with my crockpot to make a lunch that didn't taste like a giant orb of nothingness. It was NOT easy, my friends. But eventually, after much trial and error (mostly error), I garnered a small handful of what we now refer to as "Regulars"; crockpot dishes that my crew and myself have deemed worthy to be consumed on a once-a-month basis. And our top favorite "Regular" is a little something called "Lean Cowboy Beans", or, as I tell the boys, "Sweet Beans". "Sweet Beans" are a triumph each and every time. Super-comfort food, whether you need to be comforted or not!! And even if you don't think you need comforting, once you taste these yummy little beanies, you will realize how desperately you are in need of comfort, and you'll tuck those bad boys in like there's no tomorrow. Perhaps I exaggerate slightly. Perhaps not! At any rate, here's the recipe and my usual useless comments to go along with it:

Lean Cowboy Beans adapted from "Fix it And Forget It Lightly"

1 lb. ground turkey
16 oz. can baked beans, undrained
16 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. ketchup
2 tblsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cider vinegar

1) Brown meat.
2) Combine all ingredients in a crockpot sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
3) Cover; cook on high for 1-2 hours.


Now isn't that easy?? I'm usually not much of a "can of this, can of that" gal, but this is indispensible to our Sunday survival, and it certainly couldn't hurt to give this a try. I have made a few changes from the original recipe, which I found to be a bit too sweet. SO I simply added a bit less sugar and cider vinegar (shhhhh...don't tell Steve!!!). So there you have it. A tried-and-true crockpot recipe that's actually healthy and doesn't taste like a giant orb of nothingness. If this won't save your Sundays, well, then nothing will. And now...


I shall now commence with a tale of a Most Sad Curry. As I mentioned on my previous post, I was going to attempt a Vegetable and Chickpea curry in my crockpot. So I did. I will cut to the chase. IT WAS AWFUL. I won't bother devoting a great deal of space to this sad tale, since it really was terrible, but yes. It was the epitome of a giant orb of nothingness, and after a few bites, we told the boys to stop eating, and then Steve went out and got a pizza. It was quite strange taking a bite of food, and yet not really tasting anything except a starchy aftertaste. YUCK. The only positive thing I can say about it is that is was a delightful little jumble of colorful veggies BEFORE it started cooking down. And then it crashed. And burned. And that's all I have to say about that.

What is the point of this massive rambling of Sundays, crockpots, exhaustion, and Sad Currys?? I'm actually not quite sure, other than this: Life is full of massive adjustments. Embrace them as you would an adventure, and don't be afraid to acquire new skills. Like making some WICKED good beans in your most-likely-majorly-underused-and-darkhorse-of-a crockpot!! Go forth... and give the darkhorse a try. :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Back in The Saddle Again...

I'm back!! I had a beautiful baby boy, and we named him Lucas Nathan. Lucas because, well, I just like the name Lucas, and Nathan for my older (and only) brother. He is a wonderful, marvelous baby (but aren't they all??), and I am once again hopelessly and irrevocably in love. Ahhhh. :) The purpose of this particular blog entry is simply to get back into the mode of blogging, so forgive me as I stray from my usual verbose format and simply make a list of what shall be known as "Randoms". And now, ladies and gentlemen (you know who you are), here are 17 random thoughts that have been occupying my cranial space for the last couple of days!! *trumpet fanfare ensues*

17 "Randoms"

1. Tomorrow I shall attempt a new recipe in my crockpot! It is a Vegetable Curry that I found in a "Fitness" magazine form the library. I am a bit leery of the combination of curry and coconut milk in the crockpot, but we'll give her a whirl, and I'll post about how epic of a failure/success it turns out to be.
2. Is it wrong that I really, really like the smell of my scrapbooking glue?
3. I want to go to Cleveland right now. Namely, Shaker Heights.
4. I've discovered I need to make a dessert on an average of about every week and a half, based upon personal cravings.
5. I have laundry that has needed to be folded for 3 days now. Tonight, it's on!
6. TV has never been so awful.
7. If I could choose one superpower, I would fly.
8. I bought mint-chocolate roasted almonds at the grocery store today, and the thought of eating them is frankly kind of distracting me right now.
9. I can't wait to start running again on Thursday.
10. Elephant scrapbooking paper or polka dots?
11. Ratatouille must be made before summer's bounty of fresh produce becomes a fleeting memory.
12. I loath my hair, but not my haircut.
13. Steve needs to share his Reese's Pieces with me.
14. I do not care for sideburns.
15. I find marionette puppets so incredibly disturbing; I can't even begin to express it. This most likely stems from watching too many "Twilight Zone" episodes with my dad.
16. Why do I find 3 children easier than 2? It's inexplicable.
17. And last of all...

Onward with more culinary adventures!! Stay tuned for the continuation of "The Epic Adventures of Skarymop & Co."!!! :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On lemons, summertime, and a brief hiatus

My mind is filled to the brim tonight; I can barely even focus enough to write, which for me, is most bizarre, seeing as I've made it one of my missions in life to multitask until my arms fall off or my hair falls out, whichever may come first. HOWEVER; I do believe I am allowed a measure of grace in this instance, because as of sometime tomorrow, I shall become a mommy for the third time. YAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYY!!! As I write this, I am officially one week overdue, and, well, let's just say this hasn't been the peachiest of pregnancies, so when I say,"Stick a fork in me; I'm done," you know that I am in earnest. I've pretty much gotten over my disappointment in my body and its severe lack of instinct in the due date department, so now I am just super-stoked about Baby and the fact that I am nearly done being pregnant. YESSSSS. Now that I have shared those tidbits of information, I must now make haste and finish this entry for several reasons:

1) I'm on my husband's laptop, so I've got about a 20-minute window of time until our wireless decides it doesn't like me anymore and stops working.
2) Hmmm. I guess that's my most pressing reason. ONWARD!!!

So let's talk about summertime. And lemons. And why they are synonymous to me. For some inexplicable reason (as most of my food associations are, well, inexplicable), I have always become overwhelmed with the urge to indulge in the most lemony of desserts once the weather warms to a most comfortable mid-70's. Enough of heavy pies and dense cakes. I want brightness of flavor to come marching onto my palate with all the boldness of a LION. RAWR!! *ahem* For some time, a certain lemon bar recipe has tempted me, and finally, on Sunday, I decided that since I was two days overdue with no immediate respite in sight, I might as well have one last culinary hurrah while it was reasonable. And so I made this:


They are wonderful. And if you understand my love for lemony indulgences in warm weather, well, you will just have to try making these some time. It was quite thrilling grating 1.5 sticks of frozen butter with my box grater- a new adventure for me! Trust me, you want to try these.

And now...another item of business. Due to the fact that I am having a child tomorrow, I shall be taking a small hiatus from this here blog. My problem is this: it's not that I don't like to cook after I have a child. In fact, it is one of my greatest stress-busters, as I have said before. But alas, people insist upon showering us with great food during the first few weeks after Baby comes, and I simply have no reason whatsoever to exert myself in any culinary way, shape, or form. Hmmm. Perhaps I'll try more frivolous things, like this double-layer chocolate cake I've had my eye on for a while...HA!! I'll try to restrain myself and do a little something called, "REST". :) Keep cooking and baking...and until I'm really, truly ready, I shall content myself with simply dreaming of that double-layer chocolate cake.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On confessions, redemption, and great ribs

I promised to report back on my attempt at homemade barbeque sauce, and even though this is ridiculously tardy, a promise is a promise, and I am a woman of my word.

Verdict: The Sauce is STILL the Boss. I MUST CONFESS, I hate having to eat a massive slice of humble pie on my blog. As the saying goes, confession is good for the soul and bad for the reputation. Or something. It's much more embarassing than I thought it would be, but I must be honest and man up. Or woman up. So here's my little tale of woe about mediocre pulled pork sandwiches and just plain nasty homemade barbeque sauce:

It was a beautiful day. The kind where you just knew that everything you set your hand to would be a glowing, vibrant, smashing success with no glitches whatsoever. At least, that was my general vibe as I swaggered into the kitchen that morning with a massive 7 lb. pork shoulder roast. I prepared the rub. Check. Rub adminstered to the dead pig. Check. Wrapped in plastic wrap to self-marinate all day. Check. Dashed off to handbell practice (with the obligatory once-a-week Starbucks stop on the way, of course). Check. Dashed home, removed plastic wrap, and stuck the roast into the oven. Check. Everything was going swimmingly. A little TOO swimmingly. The roast was supposed to take at least 6 hours to cook. Because I have an evil oven on steroids, it appeared we were going to eat dinner approximately 2.5 hours earlier than usual that evening. No biggie, I told myself. I'll just start the barbeque sauce now!! This was it, folks. The moment I had been waiting for all week!! I assembled all of the ingredients. It was time for some inspiration- yes! The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars was now blasting in my kitchen (David Bowie, I will always love you). Putting the sauce together was not difficult, even though the recipe totally LIED when it said I only needed a medium saucepan. After I finally pulled out the largest pot I own, I started to become a little bit...well, nervous. The roast was starting to smell a little more burnt as I worked the get the stupid sauce to simmer. As "Lady Stardust" blared in my ears, I cranked up the heat to high, pulled the roast out of the oven, and breathed a sigh of relief. The roast looked AWESOME, smelled great, and needed to sit a good 20 minutes before I could begin the process of "pulling". SO I fussed over the sauce for a few more minutes, and had a most disheartening epiphany: This was NOT the sauce I had been dreaming about. Not even close. It was not tangy-sweet; heck, it wasn't even close to sweet. It was too thin. And most importantly...IT DID NOT PASS THE NOSTRIL-TINGLING TEST!! I was not a happy camper at that point. Things were not looking good. All I had was an entire dutch oven filled with some fancy ketchup, and an upstart roast that just HAD to cook fast. Well, being the stubborn woman that I am, I was NOT to be daunted! Fine. So the sauce was just flat-out gross. Maybe it would magically transform upon my palate after it was combined with the pork! Yes! OF course. So, with great vigor, strength, and enthusiasm (and a little more David Bowie), I began the arduous process of what is known as "pulling" meat. I must pause here for a moment. What can truly be said about pulling meat? Allow me to enlighten you. PAY SOMEONE ELSE TO DO IT. That is all you need to know. Now, I thrive on making life as complicated as possible for myself; in fact, I love the aspects about my life that make other people run away screaming, "I would NEVER do that!!" (examples: cloth diapers, homemade baby food, and no cable TV. It's the TV part that usually gets 'em). So for me to make up my mind to never, ever, EVER attempt something of a culinary nature ever again, well; you just know it had to be AWFUL. Now, I must give credit where credit is due. The pork itself was delicious! And tender. And oh-so-flavorful. It truly was a great roast. Naturally, I went right ahead and destroyed it by adding the barbeque sauce, which was smugly simmering in the most mocking way as I poured it onto the shredded meat (1.5 hours of pulling, just in case you were wondering). Well, dinner totally stunk. The kids would have no part of the pork sandwiches after just one bite. Steve made a heroic effort. I couldn't even finish mine. I think we nuked some hotdogs for dinner. I actually can't remember. Or perhaps I just blocked it from my mind. At any rate, there is no need to prolong this confession any longer than necessary, especially since it's already too long. The one nice thing about confessions is that afterwards, there's usually a good story of redemption just around the corner. And that, my friends, is precisely where I intend to lead you.
So after my domestic disaster, I laid low for a few days and stuck with some basics. Bean and Cheese Burritos. Pasta and Texas Toast. Stir-fry. You get the idea. AND THEN...the day before Mother's Day, Steve turned to me during breakfast clean-up and said,"I'm going to make you ribs for Mother's Day." Just like that. I was slightly hesitant at first. Although we have long since mastered the art of ribbing, it is, and always will be, a most messy affair, and I wasn't quite sure I was up for the extreme mess only a week after I had my crash-and-burn session with the pulled pork. But after Steve literally BEGGED me, I finally gave in (after he assured me that he would clean up every single thing he touched during the prep process). So after a HORRIBLE Mother's Day lunch at Panera Bread, which culminated in both boys squirting nearly their entire yogurt tubes on themselves AND the floor and one child telling me he hated me, Steve set off for the butcher shop for some fresh baby-back ribs. I've got this thing about baby-back ribs: If you're going to spend that kind of money on meat, make it count. Go to a butcher. Get it fresh. Not this "Fresh-from-frozen" garbage. Anyway, after toodling around online for a few minutes to find just the right recipe for a rib rub (hee hee- that sounds hilarious), Steve went to work in the kitchen. The kids were napping, and so was I. I awoke to the most delightful aroma-isn't that one of the greatest sensory delights known to man?? Waking up to the delectable scent of two slabs of baby-back ribs (with a Kansas City rib rub) slowly cooking in the oven...mmm. Perfection. It was time. Steve fired up the grill, I steamed some broccoli and poured potato chips into a bowl for some sad excuses for side dishes, and the boys played happily in the yard while Daddy grilled and somehow managed not to mutilate each other. During the last 10 minutes of grilling, "The Sauce" came out. Let me just say this: I am more devoted to "The Sauce" than I ever have been. In the future, it's going to take alot more than a few longings for North Carolina to tempt me to try another homemade barbeque sauce. And that's for sure. Back to the grill! Steve proceeded to generously slather The Sauce (how else does one slather, other than generously??) all over the ribbies, and then it was show time. Well then. I have just one word to describe our dinner that night:


All was restored at that point. I no longer felt like an inept mother. We all ate until we could eat no more, and then I had just one more rib. I felt I could move past my culinary failures of the week before, and all because of the redemptive nature of our Mother's Day dinner. It's the small things, my friends. It's ALWAYS the small things. And although there's something sticky under my chair right now, and I am so pregnant that I can barely move, I think there's something to be said for attempts to redeem a lousy situation. Here's to never giving up trying to make things better, and here's a few recipes that you probably can't live without:

Ribs- recipe from my Mom, Deborah Skop
1 slab of fresh baby-back ribs
I can of sauerkraut
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sweet Baby Ray's Original Barbeque Sauce

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread sauerkraut in a 9x13 pan; place ribs on top. Season generously with salt and pepper, place in oven, and bake for 1 hour. Take ribs out of oven, then grill for 15 minutes (medium heat). During the last 10 minutes, reduce heat slightly, and generously slather barbeque sauce onto ribs, and grill until hot and bubbly. Serve, and prepare to bask in many compliments. You may serve the sauerkraut as a side dish, or (as I do) be nice and wasteful and toss it. It's really more of a conduit for moist ribs more than anything else.


Ay, there's the rub...


A word of caution: DO NOT apply the entire rub to the ribs!! It will be chalky in texture. You will use about half the rub for two slabs of ribs. You may refrigerate the remaining rub for one month. Can great ribs really be so simple? Yes. The best and most beautiful things are always simple. :)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On contentment and barbeque sauce

I must warn all readers up front- I'm not exactly what you'd call "inspired" tonight. Nevertheless, I shall try and make a go of it.

Today has been hard because I don't feel very well physically.

Today has been hard because I always feel a wee bit depressed when the weather is gloomy.

BUT MOSTLY...today has been hard because I am struggling with a little thing called "CONTENTMENT".

I have tried time and time again to "bloom where I am planted", and thanks to God's grace, patience, and everlasting love for me, I feel as though I have come a looooooooong way in that regard. I am now at the point in my life where I can accept the fact that I just might live in Kenosha for the rest of my life, and it wouldn't be an utter disaster. But every once in a while, I get bit awfully hard by the travel bug, which leads to getting bit by the curiosity bug, which leads to hours of poking around on the internet ( I prefer to call it "research"), trying yet again to find that "perfect" place for us to magically relocate to. Well, after the fruitless hours have been spent, I inevitably crash into a severe funk when once again, I am enveloped with an overwhelming feeling of A) having wasted my precious time, and B) being completely, hopelessly, and utterly TRAPPED. Now, Mom; calm down, I love to make it sound so much worse than it really is. But yes; I do feel quite blue today. I am also WAY overdue for a date with my husband, but that's beside the point. Kind of. ANYWAY. Tonight I want to write about one place that continually calls me back...the land of pristine sweet tea...gorgeously green mountains...the best fried chicken I've ever had (besides my dad's)...wonderfully warm weather...and barbeque sauce. Sumptuously cider-y vinegar-y barbeque sauce, flowing in a dazzling mess down my chin, enveloping me in its sweet, tangy, and simply intoxicating aroma, sending that lovely tingly feeling throughout my entire nasal passages (too much?)... Yes, my friend; I am speaking of the one and only Carolina-style barbeque sauce. North Carolina, to be precise. I love North Carolina. I would move there tomorrow. It's as simple as that. However, due to a little thing called "Life", the Carolina dream is going to have to wait for a little while, but that's okay. More time to "research"!!! HA! *ahem*

Anyway...after procrastinating for many years, I have decided to try my hand at homemade North Carolina-style barbeque sauce. I have one (and only one!!) reason for my seemingly nonsensical procrastination:

1) I have been, since childhood, severely and irrevocably in love with Sweet Baby Ray's Original Barbeque Sauce. "The Sauce is The Boss" slogan emblazoned across the back of the bottle is no falsehood. I have never really had much of a desire to try anything else, so I figured, heck; why fix it if it ain't broke???

And that's really the only reason. Oh, believe me; I have read through many, many homemade barbeque sauce recipes, only to wonder to myself,"Could it really possibly be even one iota better than "The Sauce"? I highly doubt it." But lately I have been finding myself longing...longing...for something to remind me and bring me back to my beloved old North Carolina. And since I cannot afford to take three vacations in one year, I shall make do with an honest attempt at something culinary (naturally!!) to bring me back to the land of nostril-tingling barbeque sauce. However, I will not be able to attempt this until the weekend, so ya'll are just gonna have to WAIT for a report back on whether I experience triumph, or agonizing defeat. Until then, here's a delightful recipe for some superb burgers starring "The Sauce" as the star ingredient:

Mary's Splendid Burgers
-Makes 3 big 'uns.

1 lb. ground chuck
2/3 c. Sweet Baby Ray's Original Barbeque Sauce
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

-Place chuck in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, and using your hands, mix well. Do not overwork the meat. Form into three large patties, making a slight indentation in the center of each burger so as to avoid the DREADED BURGER BULGE!!! After performing bulge control, place burgers onto a platter and whisk them out to a gas grill preheated to medium high. Grill burgers for 5 minutes on one side, and DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT poke, prod, squish, touch, or tamper with the burgers in any way, shape, or form. After resisting the urge to meddle, flip burgers, then proceed to grill for 5 more minutes for a perfect medium-well burger. If you like your burgers a little more on the gross side, you may reduce grilling time to 4 minutes on each side. If you like your burgers burnt, then I'll let my sister Angela know that she has a few kindred spirits out there after all.
This recipe doubles and triples beautifully. I have sucessfully prepared these for a group of 12, and there were many compliments to the chef (just being honest!). Now go out and grill, and don't give me any of that "But it's only April!!" garbage.

And because a perfect burger needs a perfect beverage, I present to you the greatest culinary epiphany my husband Steve has ever experienced in his life:

Steve's Sublime Sweet Tea
Bring 6 cups of water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Turn off heat, then add:
4 Lipton tea bags
1 Bigelow "I Love Lemon" tea bag

-Steep for 2 minutes.

Then add:
1 Bigelow "Constant Comment" tea bag.

-Steep all 6 bags for 2 more minutes, then remove from pan. Then add:
1 tsp. no-pulp orange juice
1 1/2 c. sugar

Stir well; then pour over a standard-size pitcher filled with ice. Stir, and enjoy!

Steve has a tendency to have these kinds of epiphanies when I'm gone. This particular concoction was hatched while I was away at handbell choir practice one Saturday morning. I came home, and Steve handed me a glass of said concoction. I proceeded to drink liquid sunshine, and it filled me with all of the reminiscent delight of a lazy summer afternoon. You simply must try it. Oh, a word to the wise- remove the tea bag tags BEFORE you put them into the saucepan, and be sure to turn off the heat BEFORE placing the tea bags into the pan. There were a few charred remnants of tea bag tags on the stovetop after Steve's culinary experimentations. You can put two and two together about what happened there...

I could go on, but I simply haven't the strength! I leave you with two things:
1) Remember- I'll be reporting back about the results of my attempt at homemade barbeque sauce over the weekend!
2) Remember one of the greatest things about cooking: You may not be able to travel the world, or live in your "dream" location, but you can always bring a little bit of world into your kitchen one great recipe at a time. Be content, but always stay curious about the world around you. :)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

On responsibility and fine cheese

GASP. I'm blogging again! It's been too long, and I am realizing how much I love this. Ever since I have started this blog, I have been noticing a gnawing feeling of responsibility toward said blog, like the feeling of caring for a small child. Well, it's definitely not as intense as that, but there's definitely a feeling of "I AM NEGLECTING THIS POOR DEFENSELESS BLOG, AND I NEED TO STEP UP AND BE THE MOMMY *ahem* WRITER OF THIS HERE BLOG!" And that's kind of how I've been feeling lately. A sense of responsibility. And wouldn't you know it, this sense of responsibility has spilled over into my slight obsession with food. Cheese, namely. Fine cheese. Gruyere, to be very specific. One may ask, "What on earth does Gruyere have to do with responsibility?" Well, I AM SO GLAD YOU ASKED, because I shall now commence with my introduction to this fine fromage.

Once upon a time, Steve and I were in a book group. Well, I am still in a book group. A different one. Well...it's a long story, and even though I am a little too gifted at telling long stories, I shall resist this time around and get to the point in my usual round-about fashion. So, yes. The book group. Off we went to our friend's home, and of course, I was fascinated with what was being made for dinner. An open-faced chicken cordon bleu!! How progressive is that?!? I watched as Carissa (the wife of the lovely couple who was hosting that night's discussion) spread honey dijon mustard over the chicken breasts, then place two leaves of fresh spinach on top, followed by a thin slice of honey ham, and then crowned with a generous sprinkle of Swiss cheese. Oh yeah. You know I brought that recipe home that night! After Carissa so generously printed out an extra copy for me from Epicurious (my introduction, by the way, to that glorious website!!), I noticed the recipe said to use Gruyere. What. The. Heck. Is. Gruyere. "Well,"said Carissa,"Gruyere would definitely be the best. But I just couldn't bring myself to buy it this time." Which, of course, me being the cheap half-Russian Jew that I am, I completely understood. And then I knew that Gruyere and I would have a long way to go before we could reconcile our economic differences. It was just too bad! After the episode with the open-faced chicken cordon bleu, I began to see Gruyere pop up EVERYWHERE in the foodie world. I would peruse my stack of library-obtained issues of Bon Appetit, and there it was! In nearly every issue, Gruyere would pop its pricey little face into mine at least once or twice. I was starting to get seriously annoyed. So, I did what every responsible self-proclaimed foodie must do. I made open-faced chicken cordon bleu, and I took my cheap self to the grocery store and BOUGHT A SMALL WEDGE OF GRUYERE. It nearly killed me. I took it home. I opened it. And then...I smelled it. Hmm. I was highly suspicious. So suspicious, in fact, that I took the coward's way out and bought a pre-shredded bag of Swiss cheese. I consoled myself by reasoning that, hey; at least it was Sargento Swiss cheese. Who was I kidding? I was a coward!! And so I let that beautiful wedge rot in my fridge, and I did not think or speak of Gruyere for 3 years. Every time I saw a recipe that used that loathsome rot, I would automatically substitute Swiss cheese without giving it a second thought. It was a code. Gruyere=don't even bother, or Gruyere=Swiss. UNTIL...

One fateful day, I was perusing Bon Appetit, looking for some inspiration, when I stumbled across the most charming article on homemade mayonnaise that I had ever read in my entire life. The author? None other than Ms. Molly Wizenberg, the new darling of the foodie scene and recently published author of "A Homemade Life", a wonderfully touching memoir of her family, life, and her decision to leave academia to pursue her passion of great food and great cooking. Yes. I had found a most kindred spirit in Ms. Molly, and I knew I had to read more of her delightful writing. And so I did. I devoured issue after issue of Bon Appetit, scouring the pages for her column, and I read. And read. And cooked. And read some more. Then I visited her blog, "Orangette", and found it just as delightful and inspiring. And so it went for well over a year, and THEN...her book was published, and I packed my boys into the van, and off we went to Barnes and Noble in pursuit of said book. I went. I found it. I bought it. Me, the half-Russian Jew who will wait AGES for a book to come to the library so I can read it for FREE, bought a brand-new, RIDICULOUSLY expensive book at the most superbookstores of superbookstores. I must have lost my mind. I voraciously read as much I could while the boys played with the train table in the children's section (someone needs a gold star for that idea), and when I realized it was dinner time, I panicked, then called Steve to plead with him to pick up a pizza on his way home. So much for good cooking. Anyway, I read the book in 2 days (a small miracle for a mommy of two boys under 4), and proceeded to feel empty inside when I was done. So I read it again, this time putting sticky tabs on all of the recipes I wanted to try, and started out with lemon ginger scones. A smashing success. Banana Bread. Ditto. AND THEN...it was time to try Bouchons au Thon, literally, "Tuna Corks", an outstanding little meal to which my boys fondly refer to as,"Fish Cakes", because they are baked in a muffin tin. I studied the recipe; it looked extremely simple. But lo and behold, there staring up at me from the list of ingredients, was none other ONE ENTIRE CUP OF GRUYERE, SHREDDED!! So it had come to this!! At that moment, I knew. I knew it was time to do the responsible thing, shed my fears from the past, and emerge forth into a shining new era of foodie-ism. It was time to grow up. It was time to really, truly give Gruyere an honest try, stink and all. And so...I did. I bought a small wedge of Gruyere from Trader Joe's, and sallied forth into my beloved kitchen with a gallantry I had not yet known. It was time. I opened the wedge. I sliced off the most petite sliver imaginable, and proceeded to eat it. Such cheese. After about 10 more petite slivers, I finally got started on the actual recipe. As the Bouchons baked, they gave off the most heavenly of rich and nutty aromas, and browned beautifully on top- you just knew it HAD to be the Gruyere. We devoured each and every darling little "Fish Cake", and I knew, after all these years, that Gruyere and I had finally reconciled our differences, and I had taken full responsibility for my self-proclaimed foodie-ism and faced one of my worst culinary nightmares head-on.

So where does that leave us? Whether it's Gruyere, boning a duck, balancing your checkbook, being honest with yourself, poaching figs, or setting a pan of Bananas Foster on fire, my message is this: face your fears. They may not be as scary as you think.

Oh, and because I'm not a tease:

One thing about the recipe:
Feel free to substitute high-quality sour cream (such as Breakstone's or Daisy) for the creme fraiche. Unlike Gruyere, creme fraiche is NOT everything its cracked up to be (my apologies to creme fraiche enthusiasts out there). So there you go. BE FEARLESS!! And always, always be responsible for the things you consider to be important.