Wordless Wednesdays

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Word on French Toast

It's Saturday, and I couldn't be happier. After a rather trying week, I am all ready to settle in to the stomach flu this weekend, since my two younger boys kept us up all night with a stomach bug of their own. No signs of it yet, but I'm waiting. Just waiting. My guess is that it will hit me at about 10:25 am on Sunday morning, simply because I am supposed to play piano for church this week. That is my prediction, and I'm going to stand by my prediction. On that lovely, comforting note...

Let's talk about French Toast!!!


On Tuesday night, I was preparing one of my favorite brunch dishes of all time: Peach French Toast. I was preparing said dish for my local MOPS group meeting (where, incidentally; I believe we picked up the aforementioned stomach flu, go figure), when I realized something:

I love this dish.

I love it for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because:

1) It has to prepped the night before.
2) It is so ridiculously easy.
3) It is so ridiculously delicious. Beyond delicious. Delectable, sweet, and rich beyond all of your wildest breakfast dreams. Decadent.

Are you dying for the recipe yet? Fear not; all in due time. But first, I must speak earnestly with you about french toast. Friend to friend. Complete honesty. Here we go:

I have never been a big fan of french toast.

As a child, I didn't loathe it. But I certainly didn't love it. My mom had all of the basics needed to produce a yummy french toast. Milk, eggs, cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and maybe a little vanilla. She used our sandwich bread, which was a good, respectable bread. But it just never sent me to the moon. Ditto for restaurants. I never had a french toast at a restaurant that thrilled my soul. But things were about to change. Oh, were they ever.

About a year ago, while studiously perusing through one of my favorite cookbooks, I stumbled across a most intriguing recipe for French toast that called for...wait for it...prepare yourself...using FRENCH BREAD for FRENCH TOAST!!!!

It was a revelation that was practically beyond the processing abilities of my mind. French bread for French toast? Why had I never thought of this before? I mean, REALLY? It just made sense! Besides the fact that the entire recipe was incredibly simple, I was so fascinated and intrigued that I simply had to try it as soon as humanly possible. I dashed off to the store for a French baguette. I followed the recipe exactly except one little thing...Molly Wizenberg swears by cooking the French toast in hot oil. Alas; I simply cannot bring myself to try that just yet. It has something to do with three small boys under the age of five running around the kitchen in circles, yelling,"I'm hungry? What are we eating? I'm hungry! What are we eating?" I find the idea of cooking batter-infused slices of bread in a sizzling cast-iron skillet a bit too terrifying at this point in my life. One day...one day. In lieu of the hot oil, I fired up my faithful electric griddle, slathered it with embarrassing amounts of butter, and went to it. Wow. What can truly be said of making French toast the way it was meant to be made?

You. Will. Never. Go. Back.


I mean it! To this day, I have never made French toast with anything but French bread. And that goes for the illustrious, most glorious, most beguiling Peach French Toast. Here's a handy tip: French bread freezes incredibly well. Toss a loaf into your freezer here and there, and you'll never be without the ammunition for a most effective French Toast. And so, without further ado, here is the recipe for Peach French Toast.

Peach French Toast from Danielle Cooper (thanks, Danielle!!)

-Start the night before!

1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons water

1 can (29 oz.) sliced peaches in light syrup, drained

5 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (at least 2%. Don't you DARE use skim!!)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
12 slices of day-old French bread (the soft, inexpensive grocery store brand kind)
Ground cinnamon

-Bring brown sugar, butter, and water to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, and please, whatever you do, don't be an idiot like me and stick your finger in the pan for "just a little taste". Burning. Much burning. Stir the sugar and butter mixture often while simmering. Pour into a 9x13 pan; top with peaches. Arrange the slices of bread over the peaches. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, and vanilla; slowly pour over the bread. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
Remove from fridge 30 minutes before baking. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Uncover; bake for another 25-30 minutes or until bread is golden brown. Serve with a big spoon.

See? Easy peasy. I promise this will be an absolute hit at your next brunch/luncheon. Enjoy, my friends, and remember: French Toast made with French Bread= The way it was meant to be!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vermont, Part II

It's eerily quiet right now. All three boys are napping, which almost NEVER happens, so I find myself not quite knowing what to do when such a blessed event occurs. Shall I sleep? Shall I bake three different kinds of granola bars? Shall I blog? Shall I wash the kitchen floor (HAHA)? Whatever shall I do? Well, today I have decided to make good use of this time, skip the nap, make myself an insanely strong cup of tea, and catch up a wee bit on this here blog. I could begin to expound on how tired I am because I'm 11 weeks preggers, and how I'm starting to feel less like tossing cookies and more like baking them, but hey. Let's be realistic. No one wants to hear the many tales of exhaustion from a pregnant gal, so let's cut to the chase and finish off this excruciatingly long-winded and drawn-out tale of our most paradoxical vacation to the Green Mountain State, shall we? Very well.

The first item I need to address:
A few people have asked me if the tale of our journey home includes children barfing in the car. I can most gratefully report that NO, no child emptied the contents of their stomach while we were on our way home. Thank. GOODNESS. And now, with that out of the way...

Vermont, Part II

After sleeping for about 4 hours, I gave up on trying to get back to sleep, got dressed, and started packing the car at 5:00 am. I was a driven woman. I was ready to face the land of cheese and bratwurst once again and bid farewell to the beautiful awfulness that is Vermont. The big boys woke up about 5:30, and I proceeded to put them to work. What else can you do with a 3 and 4 year old at 5:30 am when you're trying to pack for a 1,000 mile trip home? I'll tell you. NOTHING. So David and Daniel helped me pack up the van, and before we knew it, we were on our way home. We stopped for breakfast in Middlebury (I still love Middlebury), and I took over driving until we reached the New York thruway in Albany, NY. During my stint of driving, three major highlights occured:

1) Taking the Fort Ticonderoga ferry and seeing the clouds from Hurricane Irene. Creepy. Weird. Glad I was heading into New York. The ferry was fun, and the boys loved it. I would totally do it again.
2) Driving through a small portion of the Adirondacks. Gorgeous.


3) The Mysterious Mound of Manure.

Yes, you read that right. The Mysterious Mound of Manure. While waiting for the ferry, we got out of the car for a minute just to stretch our legs and watch the ferry come back from the NY side. We had been driving through a great deal of farmland (read: tractors on the road everywhere), so our tires were pretty full of the most aromatic fertilizer. Nothing seemed amiss to me until we started to walk back to the van, and my left leg started feeling...WEIRD. Kind of cold and wet. I looked down, and to my horror, there, smeared across my calf (and slightly across my cropped yoga pants) was THE MYSTERIOUS MOUND OF MANURE. Okay, so it wasn't really a MOUND, but it sounded good. "What on earth?!" I exclaimed. And then my dear sister Meg said,"Yeah, I was wondering what that was." GEE, THANKS, MEG. So I spent 5 minutes of our 7-minute ferry ride scrubbing my leg (and yoga pants) with a baby wipe. To this day, I have no idea how The Mysterious Mound of Manure found its way onto my unsuspecting left calf. It shall be a mystery until the day I die, and when I get to heaven, you can bet one of the first questions I'm going to ask God will be "Lord, how did the Mysterious Mound of Manure find its way onto my leg?" And then...AND THEN...I shall know. Oh, and I highly doubt I'm actually going to remember to ask God about the MM of M. But it's nice knowing that if I wanted to ask Him, I COULD. And that, my friends, is the strange and bizarre account of The Mysterious Mound of Manure.

Take five.

Anyway, we managed to make it through the rest of New York and Pennsylvania fairly unscathed. Daniel did his usual screaming for the final 1.5 hours of the trip, but we sallied forth, and before I knew it, the mountains were gone, the roads were wide and open, Ohio stretched out before us, people were rude...and I was so very happy.

We checked into our hotel. Boy, was it nice to be in a hotel. Am I shallow and weak for saying that? If I am, then SO BE IT. We ordered a pizza and some potato skins, and I must say a word about pizza in Ohio: we have NEVER been disappointed. EVER. This is coming from a Chicago girl. We set things up picnic-style on the hotel room floor, and everyone gathered around the pizza box to eat. We watched footage of Hurricane Irene whilst eating (appetizing!), and were horrified to see that the very river in Vermont that we had been swimming in the entire week was severely flooded. Like halfway up the trees flooded. It was really shocking to think that we had escaped by mere hours. While Steve, Meg, and I were talking about the storm and such, David had decided that he'd had enough of this storm business, climbed up onto one of the beds, and growled,"HEY! This isn't my pillow!" and proceeded to fling it across the room, where it landed...square in the middle of the pizza box. On top of the pizza. Thankfully, the pizza survived, but it was truly amazing how one thing after another just seemed to keep happening. I think I went to bed at 8:30 that night.

And I slept.

Kind of.

Well, it was a step up.

And then I awoke with a burning desire to engage in two stereotypical suburbia activities:

1) I. Wanted. Starbucks.

2) I want to drive around and look at beautiful homes. Which meant only one thing...

We were taking a mini-detour through Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Have you ever been to Shaker Heights, Ohio? It's really an amazing little place. The homes are truly the most beautiful, well-preserved, older homes I have EVER seen in my entire life, the neighborhoods are absolutely gorgeous and very walkable, and it is the most beautiful, well-organized little community I've ever known of. The homes are ridiculously affordable (no, really; they ARE), and there are breathtakingly beautiful little parks EVERYWHERE. It is such a perfect little oasis, and you'd never know that downtown Cleveland is only 8 miles west. Shaker Heights is one of those places that I vowed, years ago, that I would return to, JUST to see if I felt the same way about it. And so, off we went to Starbucks and Shaker Heights. I think I was feeling a tad bit sorry for myself with the way everything had turned out, and I just wanted ONE thing to work out for me. We drove through a few neighborhoods, and I could feel myself falling in love again. But two blocks later...whoa. Not exactly the place we wanted to be. What started out as a "mini-detour" turned into nearly an hour of driving through the worst parts of Cleveland because there was major construction on the road we had planned to take out of Cleveland. And as gorgeous as Shaker Heights is, I realized a few things:

1) I was lucky enough to get to go back, "just to see". A lot of people never get that chance.

2) It's beautiful, but it's not the place for me.

I was fortunate enough to be able to close that chapter of my life. As difficult as our vacation was at times, I was aware of the privilege of being able to go back and satisfy my curiosity, so to speak. I was able to cross New England and Shaker Heights off my "list" for good. And THAT, my dear friends, was truly an amazing feeling. Closure! There's nothing quite like it.

The remainder of our trip was thankfully uneventful, and when I saw the Chicago skyline, I actually teared up a little, which I found quite startling. And no, it's not because Chicago is my home. But when I see Chicago, I know that I'm *almost* home. "Darn you," I said to Steve. "You're slowly wearing me down and making me love this area." He just smiled.

And laughed.

And roared.

And guffawed.

And honked his horn at the guy cutting us off.

Yep. We were home.

And so closes our most epic adventure yet. Thank you for sticking with me through my sporadic posting, and stay tuned for more (slightly tamer) adventures of Skarymop & Co.!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pictures of Vermontness

Since we just completed our first full week of homeschooling two children, I've fallen off the blogging trail a bit. I am so terribly ashamed of myself; I can hardly bear it. I fully intend on getting back on track, right after I give myself 54 lashes with the wet noodle and kick myself around the house. It should be quite a sight! I am planning on selling tickets to this most exciting display of self-flagellation. Not. Really. Anyway...

Here are some pictures of Vermontness to tide ya'll over until I get around to Volume II of our epic adventure in Vermont.

This is a view of the cottage from the backyard. That's the driveway snaking around the bend. I always felt like I was going to tip the van every time I pulled in. Cool!

This is my absolute favorite picture of the interior. It was just so wonderfully airy and light-filled. Definitely the nicest cottage we've had the pleasure of staying at. The big boys loved taking their meals at the kitchen island. Us boring adults and little Lucas ate at the dining room table. In case you're wondering, that's Daniel in the picture, and he was running laps around the island. Boys. What's a young mama to do (besides hug him and tell him I love his squishiness)??

Here we are getting super stoked for a little wagon ride at Shelburne Farms. I have to say, Shelburne Farms was truly the most gorgeous farm I have ever laid eyes on...

Yeah. Beat that. The architecture was amazing. I will be posting more pictures of our visit to Shelburne soon! The kids had an awesome time playing with the farm animals and pretending to drive the tractor. My personal highlight was splurging on a lunch that was prepared with foods grown right there on the farm. I had the focaccia of the day, which consisted of perfectly carmelized onions and baby golden beets, arugula, and goat cheese on the most perfect square of focaccia I have ever laid a taste bud on. It was...heavenly. Really.

This is one of my favorite pics of our entire vacation. My sister Meg captured this moment of the big boys and I playing in our own personal swimming hole. More pictures of the swimming hole coming soon!! We hiked down (it was a little precarious, but we got used to it) almost every single day and played and splashed until we were numb with cold. Ah, New England. The water was so clear and the boys just totally got into the spirit of adventure, which, of course, thrilled my soul. When David first ventured into the icy-cold water, he clenched his fists and roared to the world,"I'm gonna stick my face in this water!!!!" And he did. Ah, yes. So very proud of my little city slickers.

So there you have it! Some Vermontness to tide you over until I get my act together and finish telling the tale of our epic adventure. I might get a bit philosophical. I might get emotional. You just never know. One thing I know for sure: Despite the challenges we encountered during our vacation, one thing remains the same. I love traveling for many reasons, but mostly because of how much you learn about yourself and others while traveling. It is an epiphany of, well, EPIC proportions. So sit tight, and I will share more tales soon!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Vermont, Part I

We arrived home safely from Vermont on Sunday evening. We missed Hurricane Irene by a few hours, but we could see some of her vicious clouds as we rode the Fort Ticonderoga ferry (quite fun, by the way!). Nevertheless, we escaped the fury of the storm as we slowly made our way home. So how was my vacation, you ask? I'll tell you.







Flat-bread pizza. Yes.

Carsick every time I stepped into the car. No.

A leech on my foot. (it was tiny; no big deal, really)

No sleep. No sleep. No. Sleep.

Gigantic bathtub. Yes.

Getting water stuck in my ear approximately 5 seconds after stepping into the tub. No. (It's still there, by the way. So please remember, I'm not deaf. I just have a small reservoir of water in my head. Just talk loud, and we'll get through this together.)

Lucas getting an ear infection and having to go to a random walk-in clinic. No.

Fantastic cottage with a truly awesome kitchen. Yes.

20 hours in the car each way. No. No. No.

Everyone surviving and making it home in one piece. Yes.

As you can see, it was truly a paradoxical vacation. I feel as though I need to elaborate a bit on the above statements. And so, I shall. And now...it's time for a regularly scheduled warning:

*Warning: The following tale will be long. Quite long. It shall be punctuated with rabbit trails specifically designed to make zero sense whatsoever. This shall be an outpouring of my soul on the event to which we refer to as "Vermont". I am falling asleep already, so I do not blame you if you do the same. I ate greek yogurt before writing just to boost my morale, energy, and courage, but I'm still waiting for these virtues to burst forth with all the ferocity of a young squirrel. I don't think it's going to happen. End of warning.*

We are not quite ready to get started.

Rabbit Trail #1:
You won't ever see me complain on Facebook. Ever. I will occasionally report on unfortunate events that occur in my household, but whining? Complaining? I won't do it, I tell you. Why, you may ask? I am an ardent believer in NOT airing one's dirty laundry on Facebook. It's one thing to reach out for the occasional sympathy, but constant complaining and whining about life is not exactly a good way to endear one's friends. But my blog? That's a different story. While I try to remain optimistic and rise above bad days, etc., this is, after all, my blog, and if I wish to take the time to expound upon my horrifically wonderful vacation, then that is exactly what I shall do.

Okay, now we're ready to begin.

Are you ready?

Good. Because I'm not.

We shall start with Traveling Day One. The funny thing about our entire trip is that the driving part really was not all that bad. Really! Granted, I have absolutely NO IDEA what we would have done without my sister Meg assisting us with snacks, discipline, DVD players, drinks, referee-ing, etc., etc., etc. Oh, wait. I know. WE WOULD HAVE DIED. Anyway, traveling was the least of our problems throughout the entire Vermont experience. We made it to Westfield, NY on Day One with no problem, other than being seriously pooped. Westfield was a very charming town with lots of older, beautiful, well-kept homes. I really liked it. We had dinner at a local family-style restaurant, and I had a fantastic cup of clam chowder and a perfect BLT. Life was good. Our little motel was clean (that's all I ask), but I COULD NOT SLEEP. How is that possible? I had been up since 4:00 am, and on the road since 5:30. How on earth could I not sleep?? The tenant next door decided it was a good idea to watch TV ALL NIGHT, and so my random moments of drowsiness were punctuated with muffled TV shows. I was having all of these horrible, paranoid thoughts of a psychopath killer busting through our door and taking us out. What on earth?? Somehow we managed to eat some dry cereal and get back on the road by 7:00 am. I fell asleep almost instantly. I am quite sure I snored. Much.

Fast-forward 12 hours on the New York Thruway...

Vermont. We made it, we made it! Daniel screamed almost non-stop for the last hour of our trip, but that's normal for him on long trips. The cottage did not disappoint. I promise I will post pics soon, but I lack the strength, perseverance, and patience for that tonight. Onward. I made pasta for dinner that first night. Easy. Yum. Boy, was I looking forward to bedtime. Except...

I did not sleep. Again.

And the boys woke up at the crack of dawn. Naturally.

I tried. I really did. I made a sad breakfast, and then we drove one mile to the local general store because we were too lazy to walk. We bought some basics, went home, and I proceeded to make a second breakfast because:

1) We were starving.
2) We were starving.

After breakfast #2, I passed out. Somewhere. Was it the couch? Was it the bed? I don't remember.

Fast forward to a time when I was upright and functioning.

We had a few fun days. Bopping around Bristol, VT. Very nice bakery and cafe. Being surrounded by the Green Mountain National Forest was relaxing and beautiful. I learned the power of napping in an Adirondack chair. We had a wonderful visit to Shelburne Farms. The kids milked a cow, held chickens, petted sheep, goats, and calves. And washed their hands many, many, many times. We made daily visits to our swimming hole. I loved that little place. I loved exploring the little waterfalls with the boys and helping them catch their first frog. I took many, many great pictures. Things were looking up.

Then Lucas began acting...weird.

This is the perfect child, you understand. No whining, no crying. Almost ever.

Besides the fact that Lucas decided it was just as good a time as any to start growing a mullet, he began to fuss and cry almost constantly.

Rabbit Trail #2:
Dear Mom,

I just wanted to thank you for never, ever styling my hair in a mullet. As a child born in 1983, I can't imagine the pressure of society as nearly every boy and girl was sent to school sporting a mullet. I am so thankful I have absolutely no childhood pictures whatsoever of me with a mullet. Thank you for resisting one of the most ridiculous fashion fads known to mankind. I am forever indebted to you.

Love, Mary

End of Rabbit Trail #2.

Long story short, our poor wittle Lucas developed an ear infection. He seemed to have bounced back one fine day, so we decided to take a risk and head out to Burlington, Vermont (which I LOVED), but after lunch at Boloca (such a lovely Cajun burrito!!), he developed a high fever, so it was off to a random walk-in clinic for us. Thankfully, an ear infection was most certainly not the end of the world, and Lukie responded quickly to his medicine. By the time we got Lucas's situation resolved, we had two days of vacation left. We headed back to the cottage, exhausted.

And then...

David woke up with a raging fever.

Daniel woke up puking.

Needless to say, that day was a wash. I mean, quite literally. I did a tremendous amount of laundry that day. Thank goodness for a washer and dryer at the cottage.

Rabbit Trail #3:
It was an absolute luxury to me to have a washer and dryer at the cottage. The washer was fast, flashy, and quite brilliant. It also played a charming little tune when turned on. But the dryer seemed to be somewhat impaired. I could wash three loads in the time it took to dry one load. Over two hours to dry!! I was slightly exasperated by this. There were many piles of wet clothes in the laundry room while I waited for the dryer to complete the impossible dream. Alas. Convenience always has a price.

End of Rabbit Trail #3.

It was quite the time. I felt awful for dragging the kids halfway across the country, only to have all of them get sick. I still hadn't slept very much at all, so I think by the time Friday rolled around, it is possible I might have been legally insane. Cool! I wonder what it's like to be illegally insane...but I digress.

And so, with three sick boys, and hurricane roaring up the coast, and my poor sister stricken with a random attack of vertigo the night before we left, we packed up our things, tidied up the cottage, and left Vermont very early on Saturday morning with our proverbial tails tucked between our legs. Life just stinks sometimes, and there ain't a darn thing you can do about it, other than to move on, and just keep moving.

You'd think with Vermont behind us, things would settle down a bit. Well, that is partially true. We were riding high on the adrenaline of "We're going home! We're going home!!", but there were quite a few crazy hijinks on the way home. But you know what?

You'll have to come back tomorrow to find out what happened. :)

Thus ends Vermont, Part I.