• Bare feet, raw eggs, and garlic water

    I let my children run around in the snow in their bare feet. Actually, I encourage it. I tell them, “Kids, go outside and run around in the snow. NO! Do NOT wear shoes! What are you, crazy?” And then, because they’re gaping at me, I have to explain, “It’s more fun without them, didn’t you know?”

    The other night Yo-Yo and Miss Beccaboo ran out to collect the eggs in their bare feet, of their own volition. It appears I’ve trained them well.

    They charged down the path to the pen, leaped inside, raided the nests, and plunged back out the door and up the path towards the house. As they got closer to the porch, they started yelling, “Open the door! Someone open the door!”

    By the time they got on the porch they were shrieking, their voices edged with pain, “OPEN THE DOOR NOW! PLEASE OPENTHEDOORNOW! ”

    My mom did the same bare-feet-in-snow thing to me when I was a lass. She only did it to me once, but I remember her dare that snowy night when I was about fifteen. I dare you to run around the house in your underwear! I took her up on it, but I don’t think I got anything from her for it, other than a fit of giggles. Goes to show I wasn’t a very smart lass.

    (My mom had a thing for dares. She once dared our neighbor girl, a sweet child of about nine, to eat a raw egg. Mom said she’d pay her twenty-five cents if she did. The girl took the dare and got the quarter. [Come to think of it, the same girl said her mother wouldn’t let her and her brothers eat the apples we gave them for Halloween. We thought that was totally ridiculous considering we played at each others houses all the time, but in light of the egg incident, maybe she had a valid fear?]) (I sometimes feed my kids raw eggs, too, but I don’t give them money for eating them. In fact, they don’t know they’re eating them ‘cause I hide them in creamy fruit smoothies.)

    On to other topics… like garlic and soup (rocky transition, no theme, so sorry.)

    Oh yes, now I remember the connection between bare feet and snow and eggs. This soup has garlic in it and garlic is healthy. Some people say running around in the snow buck naked is healthy. (When I was a kid—before I was a lass—we had a neighbor, a doctor, who would steam himself in his sauna and then crack the ice in his pond and jump in. Naked, of course.) And some people say raw eggs are healthy. This soup I’m going to tell you about (when I finish with all the preambles) has lots of garlic and some eggs (only tempered, not fully cooked); it’s fabulously healthy for you. If you want to be fanatical about it, I suppose you could slurp it down while soaking your feet in a tub of snow, but as for me, I’ll eat it like a normal person, in a warm house with slippers on my feet.


    I must tell you, Mr. Handsome was disgusted when he heard he was going to have garlic soup for supper. “Garlic water? You can’t be serious!” he pleaded.

    But I was serious. “It’s soup, honey, soup,” I corrected him. “And it has chicken broth and cheese and is absolutely delicious, so just shush up, will you? Geesh.”

    As he hesitatingly took his first bite of soup (he always tastes new food with a great show of hesitation which is totally ironic—one minute he praises me for being a gourmet cook and spoiling him rotten, and the next minute he acts like I’m out to kill him), a look of pained sheepishness crossed his face and I burst out laughing. This was no garlic-water soup and he knew it! I think I might have crowed.


    I thought about this soup for a number of months before breaking down and making it. I thought it seemed complicated what with all the chopped garlic and herbs and the tempered eggs. But it’s not difficult at all; in fact, I’ve made it twice in the last week and it gets easier each time. The next time I’ll probably be able to make it blind-folded.

    Simply throw some herbs and chopped garlic in a pot of broth and give it a leisurely simmer. In a small bowl whisk together some eggs and cheese, add a bit of olive oil, and then, whisking steadily, add some of the hot broth. Whisk the egg mixture back into the broth, heat through, and—voila!—supper is served.

    Don’t make the same mistake I did, hear? Please, hasten to the kitchen and whip yourself up a pot of this soup. It’ll keep you healthy, and it’s a lot more pleasurable than running around in the snow in your bare feet.

    Creamy Garlic Soup
    Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

    This may seem like a lot of garlic, and it is, but it does not overpower. However, if you have a shaky relationship with garlic, you can dial back the amount considerably and the soup will still be quite yummy—like a creamy, herbed chicken broth with a hint of garlic.

    Heidi uses water in her soup, but I use chicken broth; I have tons of broth-filled jars rattling around in my freezer and I seize every possible opportunity to use them up. I think the chicken broth gives the soup depth, not to mention it adds all those wonderful chicken-y nutrients. Cluck-yum.

    1 quart chicken broth
    1 bay leaf
    8-12 cloves garlic, minced, or ½ cup minced garlic
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    14 teaspoon dried thyme
    1/4 teaspoon dried sage
    1 egg
    2 egg yolks
    ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
    1/4 cup olive oil
    Crusty bread, dry (or buttered, or olive-oiled) toast, matzo pancakes, croutons, etc

    Combine the broth, bay leaf, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and sage in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover with a lid, and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard.

    In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and egg yolks and cheese. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking steadily. Add about a cup of the hot broth, a little at a time, whisking steadily. Pour the tempered egg mixture into the pan of broth. Keep whisking. Heat through (do not boil). Check to correct seasonings.

    Tear the crusty bread (or one of the other choices) into a bowl and ladle some soup over top. Sprinkle liberally with more Parmesan before devouring. (Or, more simply, serve the soup in a mug sans the bread, and consume via vigorous slurps.)

    About one year ago: Butterscotch Ice Cream.

  • Food I’ve never told you about: part three

    Continuing on with foods I’ve made but never posted. There are so many! (I think I’ve already mentioned that before, but still, it bears repeating.)

    I kind of like this little series. I work on it when my brain is empty, when I can’t summon the energy to spout off on important, life-changing topics like, like, like… Oh never mind. Like I said, I work on this when my brain is empty. I wasn’t kidding.

    These posts are kind of therapeutic. They make me feel like I was once, a long time ago, productive. It’s a resting-on-my-laurels-type post. Not that anybody gave me any laurels when I first cooked these dishes. But still.

    Enough of the empty chatter. Let’s get on with the food.

    Oh, and one more thing. There is nothing healthy in this post, and almost everything was a flop. If you want to go hang out at some other place in bloggyland, I’ll understand.

    Okay, now where is that “unposted food” folder? Ah-ha, here it is.

    Nectarine Coffee Cake. Too sweet, too gooey, too bland, too yuck.

    I can’t quite tell from where I’m sitting, but I think this is a Sour Cream Nectarine Pie. Or maybe it’s peaches instead of nectarines. In either case, it was no good. Perhaps the sour cream curdled, but I’m not sure about that.

    Peaches in White Wine, with a couple red raspberries thrown in for color and Just Because. I liked it, but not too much. I enjoyed it more when I added a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Then it was like a fruity-wine-y ice cream float. Come to think of it, I really did like that combination. Maybe I’ll try it again next summer.

    What do you think these are? I’ll give you three guesses.

    Taffy? Nope.

    Pickle Spice Taffy? Nope.

    Snot Balls? NO! (That is so gross.)

    Before you go any lower, I’ll tell you what it is: Vinegar Candy. I think it came about after the pickled taffy event. Yo-Yo was repulsed by the sinus-cleansing vinegar smell that infiltrated the whole house, so I informed him that there is a candy that’s made out of vinegar. Of course he wanted to try it. He made it twice; the first time we undercooked it. He ate a bunch, but the majority went to the compost.

    Peanut Butter Banana Pie. Just all around totally disgusting. Period. If you want a peanut butter pie, make this instead.

    Glorified Gingerbread. I made this when I was floundering around trying to discover my shoofly cake recipe. It was certainly no shoofly cake, but it was a very fine gingerbread, better than the one I already posted. But wouldn’t you know, I returned the cookbook from whence it came to the library before I copied the recipe down. Shame!

    Ah, now this. This is a Red Wine Pear Tartin, and it was lovely all around. It was lovely to prepare (a reduced cinnamon-spiked and buttery red wine sauce, oh my) and lovely to eat. In fact, we ate all but one piece in one sitting. There was plate-licking involved.

    Date-Nut Loaf. I first ate this at a friend’s house and loved it, but I changed it up a bit (too much so?) when I made it myself and as a result didn’t appreciate it as much. Instead of dates, I used some of these that I had made and didn’t like (perhaps this is a bad starting place—using something I already don’t like as the foundation to another recipe?) and it just wasn’t the same. I don’t know how I could’ve expected it to be, under the circumstances.

    Date Nut Balls, from a recipe that MAC gave me. These were good. Mr. Handsome adored them, actually. They are addictive—crunchy, chewy, caramelly, coconutty, yum-yum-yummy-yum-yummy.

    Once again, it’s hard to tell what this is exactly, but I think it just might be a Caramelized-Nectarine Pie. I can tell because of the black boot lying there on the deck. I don’t think we liked this. There was too much crust and too little fruit and the fruit there was was bland.

    Sour Cream Rum-Raisin Pie. This was a recent creation. We didn’t like it. The rum was too rummy, the raisins too raisiny, the meringue too meringue-y. But the concept was really neat so I have plans to play around with it. I have twenty-some quarts of raisins in the freezer, so I kind of have to find a good pie recipe. Any suggestions?

    These are the Mini Pavlovas that I told you about. They were delicious.

    Lemon Tea Cookies. I used to make these when I was a kid. Lemon-y and buttery and thin and crispy, these are very good. The dough is shaped into logs and then sliced, and each slice is topped with a sprinkling of sugar-lemon zest mixture before baking. They’re addictive.

    Joy Cupcakes. These come from Joy the Baker. Overall, I haven’t been impressed with her recipes (though the honey-whole wheat cake I got from her has justified all the time I’ve spend skimming her posts), but this one, though a bit too time-consuming, was tasty. The process is simple: make a thin layer of gooey brownie in the bottom of a lined muffin tin (do not over-bake), freeze it, top with ice cream of your choosing (I used mint chocolate chip and butterscotch), freeze, and then top with a creamy ganache and freeze again.

    Chocolate Truffles. I made several kinds, but in this picture you’re looking at rum-coconut. I wasn’t sold.

    Shoofly Pie. This recipe came from The Pie and Pastry Bible and it involved coffee, cinnamon, and nutmeg, as well as molasses. It was quite exotic, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.

    And that wraps it up for today. If you’re the type of person who puts on weight via your eyeballs, I’m sorry. And I’m sorry that you wasted valuable calories on such unspectacular food. Well, except for the pear tartin. That was worth every single calorie.

    Next time I’ll post something with green in it. Maybe.

    About one year ago: Reverse Cleaning.

  • My kind of girl cake

    I made this cake.

    I call it “girl cake” because only the female half of the family liked it. The male half turned up their noses and pushed their plates away. (Not really—Mr. Handsome finished his piece like a real man before thumbing his nose in the cake’s general direction.)

    I wasn’t too surprised that they didn’t like the cake. “It’s kind of complex,” I admitted. (Please note: it’s highly unusual for me to sympathize with family members over their food hang-ups.)

    “And nutty,” Mr. Handsome added.

    “Like women, huh,” I said with a snicker. (Please note: I do not condone sexist comments. That said, I occasionally make them.)

    I started feeling a little doubtful about the cake after watching the boys turn up their snozzes. Was the cake really any good, or was I just enchanted with it because it involved unique prep methods? Were my tastebuds going all haywire on me?

    But then I served it to my sister-in-law and she claimed to like it. I fed it to one of my girlfriends—she smacked her lips appreciatively and then tucked away a second piece. That settled it. This cake was clearly a girl thing.

    You know how some cakes, like some girls, are all glitz and glamour? These are the easy cakes: easy on the eye with their thick, glossy swirls of frosting and easy on the tongue with their copious amounts of butter, chocolate, and sugar. These babes are fun to hang with—they know how to whoop it up good—and nearly everyone falls for them at one point or another; but, after courting them, the ones indulging begin to feel a little empty and maybe even slightly ill, off-kilter from too much sweet and too little substance. When they eventually crash and burn, the fallout can be pretty ugly and the rebound even worse.

    This cake is like another type of girl all together, one that is at first glance modest and maybe even a little homely, but when gently encouraged, she reveals her true nature—complex, nuanced, and … deep. She doesn’t have gaggles of friends, but the few she does have (oh, the luckies!) will remain her friends for life. This cake is like that type of girl, my kind of girl, sweet, wholesome, and exciting in an understated sort of way.

    So maybe the analogy is a little over-the-top, yes? Even illogical? Riddled with weak sentence structure? Ah, well. Seeing as I’m a little over-the-top about this cake, I guess it’s only fitting. I’m not even going to apologize.

    Instead, I’ll offer you a challenge: take this girl cake for a little spin and see if you don’t end up falling in love with her yourself. I have a hunch you might.

    Molly’s Marmalade Cake

    Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s blog

    The only change I made was to use half whole wheat flour and, in retrospect, I think all of the white flour could be subbed out for whole wheat. And then, except for the sugar, this could be counted as a nutritious cake, what with the fruit, nuts, and olive oil.

    I pulled this cake out of the oven a little too soon. I thought it was burning and got worried. I needn’t have—the edges were just fine—and it sank a little, but even so, it was still delicious and didn’t taste underdone at all. Which leads me to believe that it doesn’t require a full sixty minutes in the oven, but a bit more than the forty-five minutes I gave it. Fifty to fifty-five minutes should be perfect.

    1 orange
    1 lemon
    6 ounces raw almonds
    ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
    ½ cup all-purpose flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    4 large eggs
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 ½ cups sugar
    2/3 cup olive oil
    confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

    Spread the almonds on a cookie sheet and toast them in the oven at 300 degrees for about twenty minutes, stirring them every three minutes or so until they are dark golden brown. After the nuts have cooled a bit, put them into a food processor and pulse until they are the texture of sand. Dump them into a bowl and set aside.

    Put the lemon and orange in a kettle and cover with water (they will float, but never mind that). Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat a bit, top the pan with a lid, and simmer the fruit for thirty minutes. Drain the fruit and cool.

    Cut the lemon in half, remove the pulp, and cut off the tough stem ends. Put the lemon rind into the (still-dirty) food processor bowl. Cut the orange in half, remove any seeds, chop each half into several more pieces, and dump the bits of orange in with the lemon rind. Pulse till the fruit is thoroughly chopped up. The resulting mixture will be partly pebbly and partly pasty. It doesn’t need to be completely smooth. Set aside.

    Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them for a couple minutes with a handheld mixer till they are frothy. Beat in the sugar and then add the flours, salt, and baking powder. Add the olive oil, nuts, and fruit puree and beat briefly.

    Pour the batter into a greased nine- or ten-inch springform pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes (see above note). Cool completely. Sprinkle liberally with confectioner’s sugar immediately before serving. (The cake improves with age, so make it a day or two ahead of when you plan to serve it.)

    About one year ago: Caramel Popcorn. I’ve made this two times in the past couple weeks. We’ve taken to calling it crack. One day I even made Mr. Handsome hide it from me before he left for work.

  • The morning after

    The best part—and there are many—about going to the library is the morning after.

    When I arrive home from my evening trip to town with my gigantic canvas tote brimming over with books, magazines, and videos, the kids are usually already asleep, and Mr. Handsome and I get to sort through the loot together.

    The videos and educational books (ie, ones that the kids aren’t allowed to look through because I plan to read them out loud later) are stored up on a high shelf. (Not that they can’t get up there, but still.)

    My reading material gets stored on a lower shelf, and we fill up the book baskets with the remaining picture books.

    The next morning the children come downstairs, groggy and tousled, and I whisper, There are new library books in the baskets. It’s like I switched a magical button. They scurry wordlessly to the baskets, drag them over by the fire, switch on the lamps, grab the ratty old throw blankets, and disappear into the world of pictures and words. There is no fussing. There is no begging for breakfast. There is no bickering.

    I let them lay around longer than normal, mornings after library trips, and I read to them more, too. This last time around I pulled out the stack of read-aloud books and showed them to Yo-Yo and Miss Beccaboo. They were, understandably, impatient to get started, so after our Bible reading (Joshua is a earth-shattering book for my kids; Yo-Yo has decided that the Bible is not a good book after all and that Joshua’s God is not our God) and chemistry element (nickel), I read to them about the history of ice cream, the first seeing eye dogs, how to draw faces in profile, and some prayers and rhymes. Next week we’ll delve into Greek mythology and world religions.

    Tonight Yo-Yo is going out with his mentor to see a play, so I will not be able to read from our evening read-aloud, All Creatures Great and Small. Instead, I’ll be reading the library picture books, something I don’t do all that much anymore. I plan to read until my voice gives out, and then Mr. Handsome can take it from there.

    If we read fast enough, I might be able to justify another trip to the library as soon as next week.

  • Myselves and muffins

    I have got to get these muffins off my brain. They’re taking up valuable cerebral real estate in the space back there behind my eyeballs. I can’t tell you where exactly, since my eyeballs don’t do complete one-eighties or three-sixties or whatever, but all I know is that ever since I made them, I’ve been saying to myself, “Self, you have got to blog about those muffins.”

    And I say back to myself, “Yes, Master Self, you’re right. I do.” And then I go do other incredibly important things like chronicle all the food I’ve never chronicled before and experiment with pancakes (I love pancakes) and scour the toilet.

    Until suddenly I get a zinging pain up my back and it’s Master Self again, pulling me up by my boot straps (though I am wearing strapless slippers), trying to get me to walk in the path of righteousness and muffins.

    “WRITE ABOUT THOSE MUFFINS!” Master Self bellows. “If you don’t, you might forget about them and then where would we be? Huh? Besides, it’s not fair to keep them all to yourself!”

    “Enough already,” I whine, rolling my shoulders in an effort to slacken the taut reins. And then I get a little mouthy. “Have you ever thought that maybe everyone already has their favorite muffin recipe? Or that just maybe, if someone really wanted this particular recipe, they could find it themselves? I—I mean, we—found it, so they could too, right?”

    For my backtalk, I’m rewarded with a throbbing headache.

    And so it goes—guilt and multiple selves don’t make for an easy life—until Master Self wears down Underling Self, and here I am (though I’m not sure which one of me, exactly), writing about muffins. Or at least I will be writing about muffins once I start writing about them.

    I think I might be writing about them now. Yes?

    The muffins being written about are Blueberry-Cornmeal Muffins. When I made them, I put blueberries in six of the twelve muffins; the other six I left plain. We loved both kinds, but the blueberry ones got eaten first—that’s how I know we like them best. (I’m good at connecting the dots, see?) It’s also the reason that some of these pictures are of muffins without blueberries—by the time I got around to taking the pictures, the blueberry muffins were well on their way to our tummies.

    Cornmeal and blueberries were meant to go together. Did you know that? Together they warm the cockles of your heart. Like blue bathrooms with yellow highlights, so cozy and right.

    These muffins are like that. Not like a bathroom, no, but like a yellow and blue bathroom looks, cozy and right. Rightly cozy.

    Or something like that.

    Blueberry-Cornmeal Muffins
    Adapted from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

    I make my own yellow cornmeal from popcorn. Just toss the kernels in the grain mill and flick the switch. Yo-Yo watched me do it today and calls the resulting meal “popcorn flour.”

    You can use all whole wheat flour, if you like. And feel free to use two-thirds cup of either plain yogurt or sour cream—I did half of each because I ran out of sour cream. The yogurt gives the muffins a deliciously tangy flavor.

    ½ cup cornmeal
    1/4 cup whole wheat pastry four
    1/4 cup white flour, slightly rounded
    2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons, sugar
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1 large egg
    1/3 cup plain yogurt
    1/3 cup sour cream
    2 tablespoons butter, melted
    2/3 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

    Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg, yogurt, sour cream, and butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir briefly. Fold in the blueberries.

    Divide the batter into 12 well-greased muffin tins. Bake the muffins at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes.

    About one year ago: I must have been on sabbatical or something because I wasn’t saying a peep. So I’ll just fill you in on cornmeal previously. Let’s see, there’s cornmeal whole wheat waffles, sweet onion corn bake, and Happy Pappy-style cornbread. One of those ought to float your boat. And if it doesn’t? Well then sink. See if I care.

  • Now you know what I’m not giving up for Lent

    I have a new favorite coffee drink.

    I hardly ever make it for myself since it’s rather involved. There’s whipped cream and shaved chocolate and dissolved dulce de leche, so it’s kind of a production.

    I made it for my mom. She liked it.

    I made it for my friend. She liked it.

    I made it for my husband. He liked it.

    I made it for my cousin. She liked it.

    I made it for myself. Again. Today. This afternoon. Because I needed to take pictures of it so that you can make it for yourself.

    You’ll like it.

    Dulce de Leche Coffee
    From Pioneer Woman

    I found dulce de leche in our Asian food market. It comes two ways: in a block and in a can (like sweetened condensed milk). I bought both kinds just to be on the safe side.

    1 ounce dulce de leche
    1 tablespoon Kahlua
    1 large, very strong, very hot, cup of coffee
    lots of whipped cream
    shaved chocolate, lots

    Dissolve the dulce de leche in a little hot water.

    Try to pour the water into the glass, not beside it.

    There. That’s better.

    Add the Kahlua and hot coffee. The coffee has to be hot. If it’s cooling down, reheat it in the microwave.

    Top with a mountain of whipped cream (I usually double this amount, but I ran out of cream). Make the cup overflow. The point is excess. Remember that.

    Top with a blizzard of shaved chocolate. Lots and lots and lots of chocolate. You can’t see it in the picture very well, but there is so much chocolate that I practically had to chew it.

    So now. Go make this and then come back and thank me. I’ll be waiting.

  • Pain and agony

    Our church joins with another local church to produce a lenten devotional—different people reflect on different passages and then all the reflections are published together, each one prefaced by its scripture.

    I mentioned before that I had been asked to write one of the devotionals for that packet. I tweeted that it was killing me. I may have tweeted that more than once.

    Seriously, writing the little 300-350 word reflection was pure agony. I spent hours on it, and I have four word documents to prove it. I was a mess. I first wrote too expansively, then I wrote too narrowly, and then I realized that I had no idea what the scripture meant anyway. I called my friend and forced her to argue out the passage with me. I went on a walk with my sister-in-law and we talked it out from different angles. I called my mother, repeatedly.

    My mother, the Cut-n-Slash Queen, and I struck a deal: she would not look at anything written until the devotional was completed, at which point she would just do a quick edit. That way she wouldn’t get all caught up in my ever-shifting verbosity. Even without any written words between us, our phone conversations were painful. She would, more likely than not, strip my carefully constructed ideas down to nothingness, except, maybe, for one little idea that she thought might have potential. “Write about that,” she’d say. “You might have something there.”

    I talked about my failed attempts at service. I talked about how the most effective service springs from my desires and interests. I questioned the basics—like whether or not there is any point in helping poor people at all. I talked about love feasts versus fasting and sweet rolls versus brown bread. I talked about Zoloft, foster kids, relief kits, my mild eating disorder, and my Fabric Phobia. I started to wonder if I was missing Isaiah’s point all together.

    And it was then that my idea was born: I would write a letter to Isaiah and ask him my questions! Who said I had to have the answers, anyway?

    I’m including the letter here. If you want, you can pretend you’re Isaiah and answer my questions yourself. I would enjoy that. (For background, read Isaiah 58:1-12.)


    Dear Isaiah,

    With all due respect, this scripture doesn’t make much sense to me. I’ve never dressed in sackcloth, I hate fasting, and praying out loud just isn’t my style. Despite the occasional well-planned good deed, I consider myself to be rather selfish. I help other people because I want them to appreciate me.

    Just this past December I made dinner for a local homeless shelter. It was to be our Family Christmas Present For Jesus. My kids helped plan the menu and came along to the shelter to cut the cake and wash the dishes, but I did most of the grunt work. Despite the stress and messy kitchen, I had fun. I even got a little giddy watching the guests scarf down my food.

    Now according to you, our little feed-the-poor event was true worship, but I don’t know about that. I had ulterior motives: I wanted to introduce my children to another sector of our community, and cooking is something that energizes me. And guess what? I got my ego stroked and felt rather proud of myself (in a humble sort of way).

    I’m wondering, Isaiah. In some circumstances, might our good deeds become false worship? Or does the fact that we are helping others negate such wickedness?

    And one more thing: are you saying that community service counts more than one’s everyday moil and toil? If so, I’m in serious trouble because most of my life revolves around hanging up the laundry, teaching my children how to put their shoes away, and resolving innumerable spats with my husband. Isn’t every part of life supposed to be worship?

    So anyway, Isaiah, I’m not sure I catch your drift. But I do know that cooking that dinner was such a blast that I just might have to do it again sometime soon.


  • The logical thing to do, or not

    I had a novel idea: I could, if I wanted, cook food that my whole family actually finds enjoyable.

    I ran this revolutionary idea past a couple other moms and they both stared at me like I was looney, a giant Duh-Lumpus. Other moms, it turns out, make it a point to cook meals that they know their family will like. They think it’s the logical thing to do.

    This never occurred to me. Apparently I’m not logical.

    Let me start from the beginning, three long weeks ago when I made breakfast for supper. We had Farmer Boy Pancakes, a dozen scrambled eggs, vanilla pudding, frozen (and thawed) strawberries, and grape juice. When I called my family to supper (or rather, finally gave them permission to sit down—they had been hovering anxiously while the pannycakes were frying), they came running, each and every one of them wearing a happy face. After the prayer, they attacked the food like they hadn’t eaten in weeks. They ate firsts, seconds, thirds, and fourths and then asked for more! When the food ran out, they rose groaning from their chairs and waddled off, completely sated.

    It got me to thinking: wouldn’t it be nifty if every supper were as pleasant as this one? Instead of the groans and moans and do-I-have-to-eat-this-es and I-don’t-want-this-es and this-makes-me-throw-up-es, the kids would cheer and dig in. It would be so easy!

    If I did decide to cook only family-pleasing foods, I would do it for an extended period of time, like say for a week or two. I could do it, too, you know. My kids are not picky eaters (it’s just that their mother is an excessively creative cook). I could make them macaroni and cheese, pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, baked potatoes with veggies, honey-baked chicken and rice, beans and rice, grilled cheese and tomato soup, roast chicken, pesto, potato soup, hamburgers and oven fries, chef salads, etc. Cooking kid-approved food would sure make mealtimes a lot less stressful.

    Or would it? I made egg salad for lunch yesterday. I thought I was being a good mommy, making my kids a treat that they all adored, but wouldn’t you know, Sweetsie insisted that egg salad made her feel like puke. Well.

    And then I remembered that this is the reason that I don’t cook according to my family’s likes and dislikes—with four little(ish) ones with evolving tastebuds, their lists of acceptable foods are forever changing. I have tried to cook to please everyone (see previous paragraph), but it seems I always end up failing. As a result, I’ve decided it’s easier to assume that no one will like the food and cook food that I find interesting. If they like it, good. If not, too bad, so sad. This is how my logic works.

    (I do cook food that everyone likes … sometimes. I get on all sorts of weird food kicks, but when I notice that my kids’ chubby cheeks look a little hollow, that they have bags under their eyes, their mouths are pinched and their eyes dull, I change my pace and make a big ol’ down-home meal. After they have been sufficiently revived, I strike off on yet another cooking venture.)

    Still, the pancake supper inspired me to try to increase my family-approved cooking repertoire—the goal would be to make new meals that are just variations on their established favorites—so when I spied a recipe for chicken and biscuits on Julie’s blog, I dove in headfirst.

    Except for Mr. Handsome (who loved it, and that was gratifying), the response was mediocre at best, and it was a perfectly delectable meal, too.

    Cooking to please is entirely over-rated, I’ve determined. It’s discouraging and frustrating and a dead-end street. So here’s the deal: I will cook to keep my family healthy and well-nourished and to broaden their tastebud horizons (and to entertain myself), but I will not cook to please everyone (on a regular basis). It’s the same as my parenting philosophy: I do not strive to make my children happy—I strive to love, teach, and nurture them. While their happiness is a pleasant bonus (three cheers for warm fuzzy feelings!), it is not my goal.

    I made the chicken and biscuits again for supper last night, adapting and jotting notes as I went. Everyone ate it, though when I was snuggling with Sweetsie before bed and I asked her what the worst part of her day was, she said “supper.” The best part was playing outside in the snow.

    You know, she didn’t used to like playing in the snow all that much. There’s still hope…

    Creamed Chicken with Cheese Biscuits
    Adapted from Julie of Dinner with Julie

    This recipe is highly adaptable. I’ve made a lot of changes from Julie’s original recipe, and you can make lots of changes from mine. Add more veggies (cauliflower, zucchini, etc), omit the meat, add mushrooms, use a different biscuit recipe, cut out the dairy, play with the spices, etc.

    This last time around, I used provolone and Gruyere cheese (because that is what I had), but I would’ve preferred cheddar.

    This recipe looks complicated, what with its three parts and all, but it’s not really. You can make the creamed chicken ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator till you are ready to assemble the casserole—just increase the baking time by about five minutes if the sauce is cold when you put it in the oven.

    For the vegetables:
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 onion, diced
    2 carrots, diced
    2 stalks of celery, diced
    ½ teaspoon dried thyme
    dash of smoked salt (optional)
    1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
    2 tablespoons sherry
    1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
    2-4 cups chopped cooked chicken

    Melt the butter in a soup pot and add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute for about five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for another minute or two. Set aside.

    For the cream sauce:
    2 tablespoons butter
    1/4 cup flour
    2 cups chicken broth
    1 cup milk
    1 ½ teaspoons salt
    ½ teaspoon black pepper
    1-2 cups cheddar cheese, grated (optional)

    In a heavy-bottomed kettle, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and gradually add the milk, stirring steadily. Add the broth and continue stirring till hot and bubbly. Remove the kettle from the heat and stir in the seasonings and cheese.

    Add the cream sauce to the vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Taste to check seasonings. (At this point, the creamed chicken can be refrigerated till you are ready to assemble and bake the casserole.)

    Pour the creamed chicken into a greased 9 x 12 pan.

    For the biscuits:
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup canola oil
    3/4 cup milk
    1 ½ cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
    2 tablespoons butter, melted

    Combine the first five ingredients. Stir in the oil and milk. Turn the dough (it will still be quite sticky) out onto a well-floured surface and roll into a rectangle, roughly 10 x 15 inches. Spread the dough with the melted butter and sprinkle with one cup of the cheese. Roll the dough up as you would sweet rolls, and cut it into 8-10 pieces. Arrange the rolls, cut side up, on the creamed chicken.

    Bake the chicken and biscuits at 400 degrees for thirty minutes. Take the casserole out of the oven, sprinkle the remaining half cup of cheese over the biscuits, and bake the casserole for another five to ten minutes.

    Let the chicken and biscuits rest for ten minutes before serving.

    About one year ago: Bits of daily life.

  • Odd ends

    And I’m not talking about weird butts, either. I’m talking about odds and ends—I just abbreviated it.

    Odd End Number One: Neck Stretching
    The Baby Nickel is trying to elongate his neck … using a bit of brown paper bag. (Mom, you might want to add this to your Uses-For-A-Brown-Bag list.) He thinks it’s sexy.

    Actually, I have no idea why he was doing this and I don’t think he did either.

    But I did think it was camera-worthy.

    Odd End Number Three: The Basket Head
    Miss Beccaboo has taken to sporting a basket on her head.

    She’s sewn bits of cloth together and loops one end over the upside-down basket and the other end under her chin and then walks around, all lady-like, pretending she’s Eliza Doolittle.

    We’ve just finished watching that movie for the second time this winter. The language and fashion have become a part of our daily life. I’ve taken to calling my children “squashed cabbage leaves,” and any one of us might, at any given moment, start trilling about the rain in Spain.

    Odd End Number Five: A Lightbulb Moment
    Were you, like me, under the impression that Robert Frost wrote only pastoral poems about forked paths and stacked wood and stone fences? Well he didn’t. He wrote a poem about a boy who was cutting wood and sawed his hand off and died. Yep. I read it to the kids, did a double-take, snorted, and then read it again.

    The last line in the poem is “And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.” We discussed the poem (Yo-Yo views poems as long, complicated riddles and often comes up with some pretty haywire interpretations), and I gave a little speech about how our lives aren’t really that important and that when someone dies life goes on because there isn’t any other option (there’s probably a name for mothers like me). And it was at that moment that Yo-Yo burst into song, “There’ll be crumpets and tea without you! Art and music will thrive without you!”

    Eliza Doolittle and Robert Frost, each in their own way, hit upon a universal theme, and my kid made the connection. Bingo.

    Odd End Number Seven: J.K. Rowling
    Mom emailed me the link for the speech that J.K. Rowling gave at the 2008 Harvard Commencement. I was quite impressed. Not only is Rowling a good writer (can I hear an amen?), she’s a fantastic sermon (or speech—is there a difference?) deliverer. I love the British accent, and the points she makes are right on.

    As a side note, did you know that she is the 1062 richest person in the world, as well as the only person to become a billionaire from writing books?

    Odd End Number Nine: Orders
    My coffee order came in.

    Coffee was on the things-that-are-acceptable-to-buy list, if you will remember, and truth be told, that box held orders for more than my household—I just ordered so much that we got to use the box to lug mine home in.

    I also just received an order from Mountain Rose Herbs. These items are completely taboo, but I made this order before we went on the spending freeze and the person I was ordering through didn’t get around to placing the order till much later. Honest.

    I am so excited about my new food toys. The chipotle powder is hot hot HOT and quite delicious (I just may chuck my box of very stale cayenne that I’ve been using for the last decade), the cocoa nibs are excitement waiting to happen, and the salt is smokey and salty, the perfect compliment to meaty soups like this one.

    As for the vanilla beans? They made me happier than happy. If I were Jewish, I would wear the beans as phylacteries, but since I’m not, I won’t. These black, glossy beans are soft and plumb and oh-so-squishable; I want to chew them, but they really don’t taste too good plain. So I did the next best thing, I cut several of them open and stuffed them in jars and topped off the jars with liquor, one jar with rum and the other with vodka. In two months I’ll have my very own extract. I’m so excited! I can hardly stand it! And I still have about ten beans left over—my joy overflows.

    Odd End Number Eleven: The Gospel of Luke
    For the first time this year, our church planned an evening when people could gather to read the gospel of Luke. When I spied the announcement in the bulletin, I immediately wrote it down on my calendar. It would be the perfect opportunity for Yo-Yo and Miss Beccaboo, I thought. They could sit in the presence of the adults and listen quietly as the stories washed over them. Free Bible education was how I saw it.

    So come Thursday evening, we all got showers and ate supper, and the kids grabbed their sleeping bags. I also brought along some Bibles and notepads and pencils, just in case they wanted to doodle while they listened.

    At the house (our church owns a house next door—we use it for Sunday school classes and an occasional homeless shelter and numerous other things), the kids fixed themselves some hot chocolate and then curled up in their sleeping bags on the floor. Yo-Yo fell asleep around the time that Jesus healed a centurion’s servant, and Miss Beccaboo drifted off in the middle of some parables. It was nearly ten o’clock by the time we finished reading the whole gospel, and I had to wrestle them awake and out to the car.

    They wondered later what the point was, since they fell asleep, and I explained that the Bible stories infiltrated their minds while they were sleeping and so that now they fully comprehend Luke, even though they don’t know it yet.

    I believe they rolled their eyes at me.

    But seriously, what could be better than being lulled to sleep by the drone of voices recounting the age-old stories? Reading the Bible for two-and-a-half hours sounds so ordinary, so boring and dull, but yet it felt like a precious gift, a gift to both my children and myself.

    Odd End Number Thirteen: Snow
    I’m sick of it, but as Mr. Handsome so rudely points out to me, there is no point complaining about it. So I won’t.

    But I will say this: I miss seeing the ground. A glimpse of brown dirt would be so refreshing. The whitened landscape is making me lose my mind. Proof? Picking potato bugs sounds romantic. Smacking the dirt with a hoe sounds energizing. I told you—I’m losing it.

    In the meantime, I bundle up and shovel snow.

    While shoveling, I rest a lot.

    Help me, honey! I can’t get up!

    I can see how people might just lay down in the snow and die. I thought about it.

    But then I got back up and carved some out some stairs. Shoveling snow is so boring.

    The kids have done a fair bit of sledding.

    They come flying down the neighbor’s icy drive and thwack-thwack-thwack into the snowbank on the opposite side of the road.

    Once Yo-Yo went up the bank and flipped over the fence into the cow pasture. I wish I’d been there to see it.

    The kids have also taken to jumping out of windows and off of things.

    This jumping-out-of-windows-into-snow is an actual gene (Gene 296) that gets passed from parent to child. I know this because while in college, Mr. Handsome got a bunch of the guys on his third-floor dorm to jump out their windows into the deep snow. He said his roommate went first and then everyone started leaving the building via the windows. He had to do community service as punishment (though he somehow weaseled out of most of it).

    And that ends my odd numbered list. Maybe next time I’ll do an even-numbered list.

    About one year ago: Tortilla Pie.

  • Food I’ve never told you about: part two

    I lied to you yesterday. I said I had gone back through several months of archived pictures, and that wasn’t true. It was more like only a couple; I unintentionally skipped a whole bunch of pics. This could be a long, long process. Brace yourselves.

    And now, for part two out of seven-hundred-and-forty-three food-filled parts.

    Like I said, brace yourselves.

    Basil-Cheese Bread. It’s like a stuffed pizza, with several kinds of cheese (including feta) and whole fresh basil leaves. The top crust is finger-dimpled and then artfully poked with tufts of fresh rosemary, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with coarse salt. Yummy yum yum.

    Snap Pea Cabbage Slaw. With fresh dill. Remember our unfortunate pea event? I was looking for some good recipes. This, unfortunately, was not one of them. It was too bland.

    Yogurt Fruit Pops. I still haven’t found a recipe I’m head-over-heels for, and I’ve tried quite a few. Maybe my expectations aren’t quite reasonable?

    Sun Pickles. A simple dill pickle recipe that cures in the sun for three days. It’s supposed to make a super-crisp pickle. My recipe, however, did not.

    Red Raspberry Pavlova. Teeth jarringly sweet and quite delicious, but I found the huge size to be overwhelming. I later made a bunch of mini pavlovas and we all loved those. The crunchy-chewy pavlovas tasted a bit like toasted marshmallows.

    Italian Zucchini Soup with Brown Rice and Sausage. I made an obscenely huge batch during the height of zucchini season and then froze it. Come to think of it, that’s what I’ll make for supper tonight. I’m not going to be home (two evening meetings and a pizza supper at one of them) and I don’t really feel like cooking, but I know I need to make something nutritious because my children just ate twelve hot dogs and three carrots for lunch and I’m feeling kind of guilty. Zucchini soup will fix everything.

    Dark Chocolate-Red Raspberry Ice Cream. I wasn’t crazy about it.

    Swiss Chard Tart with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts. I think there was some orange zest, too, and it got a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar. It was good, but not good enough. It got a bit moldy before I shipped it out to the chickens. (You know, I’m surprised that I remember so many little details about this food. I could say so much more about each recipe, but I’m not. Aren’t you glad?)

    Strawberry, Rhubarb, and Sour Cherry Crisp. Sweet and tart and incredibly delicious, but the second time I tried it, it didn’t turn out so hot, so I gave up. I may need to revisit this recipe this summer.

    Red Raspberry Juice Preserves. Simmer red raspberries in some water, strain and discard berries, and then thicken and sweeten the reserved juice. I served it alongside this. And it’s good added to smoothies.

    Ginger-Coconut Soup. I still want to tell you about this sometime. It’s just a fancied up chicken-broth, but it packs a punch with garlic, fresh ginger, and a splash of fish sauce. Serve it with toast.

    Coconut Meringue Bars. Dry and tasteless. If you have extra egg whites, make the pavlova instead.

    Zucchini Fritters. With fresh dill, parsley, and feta, and served with sour cream. Delicious.

    Red Raspberry Sour Cream Tart. Nope, too sweet and creamy (yes, this is still Jennifer Jo writing). I’m still looking…

    Twice-Baked Whole Wheat Crackers. I made this recipe up myself (or rather, severely adapted it from another recipe), and I’m rather fond of it.

    And that wraps it up for part two.