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Archive for the ‘Deliciousness’ Category

Apparently I am new to this WordPress thing, because I wrote a post last Friday and thought then to post it for you today, which would have been, at that point, the future, but instead it somehow posted in the past, as in, on the 18th of April. If you were unable to follow that mess of commas, I don’t blame you.

If you want to read about and/or roll your eyes at my complete inability to function in a situation involving other people, mosey on back to the 18th and take a look:

It’s Just Ham

But if you would prefer a new story, I have one. Unless I have already shared it here. I don’t think I have; it happened Pre Blog. But I’m not going to look it up because lazy.

In any event, the story begins like so:

I eat a lot of jalapenos. They go well with nachos, burritos, stir fries, chili, guacamole. Yum. So I would call myself an experienced jalapenan. Jalapenian. Jalapeno buyer. Procurer of jalapenos. Why won’t my computer do the fancy ~ above the Ns?

Jalapeno 3

My cutting board looks a little worse for wear, this close. I suppose one could say the same about my face, though. 

All this is to say that I know better than to purchase a jalapeno with a hole in it. I carefully inspect my jalapenos before I buy them, to ensure they are Hole Free.

Caterpillar 1

Caterpillar 2

Instructional manual about how to choose caterpillar free foods.

So when I pulled a jalapeno out of my crisper yesterday, I was surprised and a little perturbed to find what looked like a hole in the skin of the pepper. Maybe it was a little weakness or bruise that was causing the skin to sink in on itself. Not well defined. But I was suspicious anyway.

Because many years ago, before I knew to check for holes, I brought home a large beautiful jalapeno and cut the top off and a CREATURE crawled out.

It looked something like this:

butterfliesandmoths.org

Photo from butterfliesandmoths.org                                                                                         Please believe me when I say I looked at so many photos of caterpillars that I now have a permanent Being Crawled On feeling about the head and neck.

 

 

 

Listen, I am well aware that fruits and vegetables do not magically come into being in a sterile refrigerated room. No. They grow outdoors with critters and crawly things. So I am not fazed by a fruit fly corpse in my red leaf lettuce. Nor am I squicked out (too much) by the occasional spider web on a grape stem. This is why you WASH YOUR PRODUCE.

Furthermore, I am not normally creeped out much by caterpillars, just in general. But to have one fling itself – okay, perhaps the verb is closer to “ooze” than “fling” – out of something I was about to EAT, onto my clean kitchen counter… Well, that resulted in some shrieking. I think my then-boyfriend was home at the time, and rushed to my rescue, i.e., disposed of the thing. Either that or I entered some sort of caterpillar-induced fugue state, because I have no recollection of the events post caterpillar emergence.

Back to yesterday. Somehow, I convinced myself that the maybe-hole was not a real hole, but a dent… I mean, I am cautious, but I am also not going to throw away a perfectly good jalapeno without at least giving it a go. So I cut the top off the jalapeno.

Alas! I didn’t cut far enough into the cavity of the jalapeno. There was still a semi-transparent layer of jalapeno flesh blocking my vision. But one half of the veiled cavity was empty but for seeds, while the other half was very dark and full of… something.

Listen, I don’t need to see another caterpillar emerge from a jalapeno. Nor do I have any desire to cut into a DEAD ONE. So I dropped the entire pepper into the disposal and… disposed.

I got a new jalapeno and moved on.

Jalapeno 2

New trend in photography: off center, worn-out cutting board, old knife.

Although… I am still bracing myself for a zombiepillar to crawl out of the sink drain.

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We use a lot of citrus around here – I like lemony flavored dinners and limey flavored drinks – but our current juicer wasn’t really cutting it for me.

 

Here it is:

Old juicer

I searched Amazon, Sur la Table, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Target, and couldn’t find this for sale anywhere, so maybe I’m not alone in thinking this could be improved upon.

I mean, it’s FINE, but it tends to get seeds in the food and it requires some elbow grease to extract juice, so it’s not PERFECT.

So the last time my husband and I were at Sur la Table (for a hot! date!), I asked if we could look at the juicers and see if there were any better options.

I was thinking of something like this, where you can use gravity to aid in the juice extraction process.

Glass juicer

Glass Citrus Juicer, $12.00 (photo from Sur la Table)

But instead, during the course of our hot! date!, we got to see THIS juicer in action.

Juicer 2

And lo! it was amazing!

So even though it was $14.99, we bought it. And it is my new favorite thing EVER.

It’s SO easy to use.

But! It is also non-intuitive to use!

If I had bought it on sight rather than after seeing a demonstration, I would never have guessed how to use it properly. And the website is no help. There are multiple photos, including a somewhat disturbing one of juice falling from the juicer, but not ONE showing how you put the fruit into the juicer.

I would have put the cut lemon or lime into the bowl of the juicer with the rind nestled down in the little bowl all snug, and the pulp facing up. So that when I squeezed the arms of the juicer together, they all fit together in a nice nested fashion, and that the emptied-of-juice lemon ended up looking like a little empty bowl at the end.

No!

Instead, you put the lemon in round side UP, and pulp side DOWN. Like so!

Juicer 4

I do know this is a lime and not a lemon. Also, it’s not a FULL lime. There are limits to what I will do for a post.

At the end, you have an inside-out lemon. And lots of delicious juice.

A real live chef showed us this method, so I am choosing to believe that this is The Best and Proper Way to use it. Although I haven’t tried it the other way. So perhaps it works equally well if you put the lemon in round side down.

It is – and I am not being compensated at ALL for this opinion (call me, Sur la Table) – FULLY worth the $14.99. In fact, I plan to buy one for each family member at Christmas. Okay, I also now see that there is a very similar version on Amazon for $8.95. Whatever. I don’t regret a thing.

Perhaps you do not use lemons and limes as frequently as I do. I still recommend this tool because it is AWESOME.

Juicer 1

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I love pizza but I hate tomatoes.

It’s a pizza paradox.

pizza-3-pizza

Pizza, delicious pizza.

Yes, yes, I know there are white pizzas and green pizzas – and I do love me some pesto, don’t get me wrong – but my True Love is traditional pizza with red sauce. I like it not only as a pizza base layer upon which all other toppings rest, but also as a dipping sauce for my fully-cooked pizza.

But. The sauce must be completely smooth. COMPLETELY. SMOOTH.

If I get a single tomato seed in my teeth, the entire pizza-eating experience is RUINED.

So my pizza preference is to make my own. And I have perfected my pizza-making methods, including my pizza sauce. And now, dear internet, I share it with you. You know, if you care about smooth sauce.

For the tomato lovers out there: my husband could eat chopped up tomatoes (HORK) on his pizza and still enjoy himself, and he also enjoys my sauce.

First you get your ingredients.

My favorite pizza has mozzarella, pepperoni, and mushrooms. Sometimes I throw on some sliced onions or green peppers, if I’m feeling fancy.

So, you know, assemble whatever you like to throw on your own pizza.

Then you’ve got to make your crust.

I don’t care to make my own dough, so I buy it pre-made. My local grocery store carries a brand called Papa Sals that I really love. I’ve compared it against the pizza dough that my local Italian bakery sells, and it’s got everything I like: it makes a nice crisp crust with a good chew and a nice mild flavor. It’s very easy to knead into a pizza shape. And, most importantly, it last a LONG time. I tend to make little pizzas for lunch, using an eighth of a crust per pizza, and the dough lasts an entire week. (And what dough I have leftover, I roll up in baking-spray sprayed cling wrap and freeze.)

pizza-1-dough

Papa Sal’s, best pre-made pizza dough on earth. Or at least best available in my local grocery store.

(Disclaimer-y deviation from the post at hand: I was in line at the grocery store once, buying my Papa Sal’s dough, when a fellow shopper asked me how long it lasted. I told her a week and the grocery store checker frowned and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that” as though I was suggesting the woman lick the inside of a trash can lid or something. And to be fair, I am no food scientist. And also the dough does get limp and weepy at some point. So I guess even though I have eaten week-old dough and I am still here, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing it yourself.)

Getting back to the sauce.

It’s the easiest recipe ever. Takes 10 minutes, tops.

There are four, maybe five ingredients:

pizza-5-ingredients

You have no idea how much money I spend on Penzey’s and Hunt’s every year. So. Good.

  • Hunt’s tomato sauce: I usually get two of the 8 oz cans because my grocery store doesn’t carry the larger size in the low-salt variety. Why low-salt? Well, I prefer it anyway, but also the seasoning for the sauce has salt in it.

 

  • Water: I fill up each tomato sauce can about halfway with water and swirl it around. So let’s say 8 oz of water to be specific about it.

 

  • Penzey’s pizza seasoning: This is a combo of fennel and oregano and basil and other things that combine into sweet sweet pizza goodness.

 

  • Sugar: I put in maybe a teaspoon? I’d err on the side of less sugar. I have over-sugared my pizza sauce before and it is Not Pleasant.

 

  • Cayenne pepper: totally optional, but if you like spice, it adds a really nice extra heat to your pizza.

Combine all these ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring it to a simmer. I turn it to medium and then go collect my pizza ingredients and usually by the time I’ve peeled and washed a mushroom or two, the sauce is beginning to bubble. Then turn it down and let it gently simmer for about five minutes, just long enough so that the sauce is warmed through. Seriously. That’s it.

pizza-7-sauce

This is the sauce in a pot as I am stirring in the seasonings. That odd silver pole in the middle is the handle of a spoon. What? I never purported to be a photographer.

You might want to taste test it, just to make sure you’ve got the right balance of seasonings. I find the best way to taste the sauce is to dip a slice of pepperoni in it. And then maybe another slice, just to make sure. Yum. Pepperoni. But any pizza topping should do the trick. Or I guess you could, like, use a spoon or something. To each her own.

While the sauce is simmering, I usually throw my crust into the oven — at 425 degrees — for a few minutes, just to help with the crispening process. Technical term. If I’m making a teeny just-for-me pizza, I do three minutes; if I’m doing a big for-the-whole-family pizza, I give it five minutes.

Then once your crust comes out, you slather it with the sauce you just made. Add your cheese and pepperoni and whatever else floats your pizza boat. And toss the whole thing in the oven for about twelve minutes (for a small pizza) to twenty minutes (for a big one), or until the cheese is all melty and your pepperonis are nice and crisp.

(Pro tip: I like to pre-bake my ingredients. I put sliced veggies on their own tray to dry out in a hot oven for a few minutes, which helps prevent a soggy pizza. And sometimes I’ll put the pepperoni on the raw crust when I pre-bake it for three to five minutes. That way it gets nice and crispy when I cook it for real.)

This recipe makes enough sauce for your pizza and dipping sauce and more to refrigerate. I have left mine in the fridge for… a long time. A few weeks, I’d say. But again, your results may vary and I am not recommending that you do or not do anything.

Except I do recommend that you eat pizza. Pizza is delicious.

pizza-9-sauce

Completely. Smooth. Smooooooooooth.

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Last night as I was pacing the kitchen, waiting for the broccoli to become “tender-crisp” without plummeting over the edge into “muddy yard waste” I found myself rummaging through the pantry, looking for sweets.

We have a not insignificant amount of Halloween candy leftover from, you guessed it, Halloween, and the miniature gold-edged bag of tiny Haribo gummy bears caught my eye. They were delicious, by the way. I eat them orange first, then yellow, then red, then green, then white. There are far too few white gummy bears, in my opinion.

haribo-gold-bears

Image from haribo.com

I haven’t had a gummy bear in, what, a billion years? No, I can pinpoint it exactly: middle school. Because the instant the first gummy bear broke on my tongue, I was plunged back to the days when, instead of taking the bus home, I would walk to my mom’s office. What a walk, for an 11- to 13-year-old – two miles by car. It must have seemed like a thousand miles by foot. First, I’d cut through the residential area around the middle school, then walk through the park, then up past the cemetery. Then I’d cut through a grassy area that ran behind the football field, cut down a steep hill via some meandering paths that may well have been cut into the hillside by water, then head north through more residential areas to the small business district in the center of town. That’s where my mom’s law practice was, and she’d let me do my homework in the basement law library as long as I was quiet and respectful to the other lawyers.

Now we get to the candy part.

Her office was next door to a donut shop, and for some reason it sold gummy bears in little cellophane bags, cinched shut by red tape. I think you could get an entire bag for a dollar. Maybe it was even less. (Past Me did not know to make a note of it.) All I knew was I had a couple dollars in my pocket and wanted to spend them on candy. I’d sometimes buy a donut and a Sprite instead, or too. Occasionally I’d meet a friend there, and she’d have an Italian ice, which sounded exotic but tasted too much like soda water for my taste.

The law office basement also housed a sort of break room, where I mixed myself coffee and powdered creamer and packets and packets of sugar. Sitting between the sink and the coffee maker was a box of various delights – chips and candy bars and trail mix and the like – that could be your very own by shoving 50 cents or a rectangled dollar bill into a slit at the back of the box. Some days when I didn’t get the gummy bears, or they didn’t fill me up, I’d buy a Butterfinger. Or a Fifth Avenue Bar. I was always suspicious of the Watchamacallit, the confection with the tantalizing commercials that didn’t sound all that great on the package description.

watchamacallit

Image from thehersheycompany.com

In the summer, I’d sometimes spend days at my friend K’s house. We’d ride our bikes or roller blade or giggle over boys. There was a convenience store a few blocks from her house – not that everything wasn’t a few blocks from everything else – and it sold candy by the penny. You could 100 Swedish Fish or 100 Sour Patch Kids for a buck. Which I did, as often as possible.

sour-patch-kids

Image from troyerscountrymarket.com

Is that where I discovered Zotz? Hard candies that exude a sour fizz when you reach the middle. I know I experimented with the chocolate Charleston Chews. And fell in love with Laffy Taffy – and discovered that I despised its cousin, Airheads. Put a king size grape Laffy Taffy bar in the freezer and you had a delicious melt-in-your-mouth snack for days.

Never one for chocolate, I would gorge myself on Pixie Sticks and Lemonheads and Alexander the Grape and the sour apple version of that candy. And also: Jolly Ranchers. Candy corn. Those little wax bottles of sugar water. Lik a Dip, or whatever ridiculous name accompanied the candy spoon you could dip into various packets of flavored sugar.

alexander-the-grape

Image from oldtimecandy.com

Gum was my second choice, after candy: Hubba Bubba and Big League Chew and Crybabies and Fruit Stripe and all the pungent flavors of Bubblicious in the world. (Snappin’ Sour Apple was my jam back then; during car trips, my dad would yell at me to stop blowing bubbles because it stank up the car.)  I loved Blow Pops best of all: the perfect combination of hard candy and bubble gum.

bubblicious

Image from retrocandy.com

In high school, a bunch of kids went through a phase where those sour caramel apple lollipops were “in,” and I must have eaten one every day. Oh! And my best friend and I spent our entire freshman year eating Peanut Butter M&Ms for lunch, alongside our cafeteria-made nachos (chips with a mucousy layer of nacho cheese).

At some point, I became obsessed with these teeny candies called Tart n’ Tiny. (Oh look! You can still buy them online!) And then there was the friend-of-a-boyfriend who got me hooked on Chewy Sprees.  High school was also the site of a chewy peach ring period in my life.

In college, my then-boyfriend (now husband) brought me some candy from Europe that looked like fried eggs: the yolk was a jelly candy, the white was some foamy concoction. I’ve been trying anything that looks similar ever since, but haven’t come across quite the right consistency or flavor.

These days, my go-to candy fix is Haribo mini rainbow frogs, which I can get at the local branch of World Market. Sometimes, I’ll go for Nerds. (Especially on top of vanilla ice cream.)  Sour patch kids are still pretty great.

haribo-mini-rainbow-frogs

Image from haribo.com

On the rare occasions I’m interested in chocolate, I choose Skor bars. Or Snickers. Maybe Reese’s peanut butter cups. Or peanut butter M&Ms.

It is a wonder that I still have all my teeth. (And that I’ve had but two cavities.)

 

When I was on my little gummy bear time machine, being transported back twenty-plus years to middle school, I started thinking about how strange memory is. Encounter something out of the blue – something you’ve truly been distanced from – and the experience is transformative. The past ripples in front of you so vividly you might step back inside and resume your years ago life.

But go seeking that thrill of memory? And it fades.

I eat sour patch kids all the time, and they certainly played a much bigger role in my candy-eating childhood than gummy bears did. But because I never stopped eating them, they have lost the tinge of nostalgia.

When my husband and I first moved in together, and had to cook for ourselves, I whipped out all the recipes that I’d grown up with. My mom’s chili, her fried chicken, her mulligatawny soup, and on and on. At the time, it was akin to bringing a piece of my childhood into my adult home.

But now, we’ve made those same dishes so many times… and put our own spin on them, to make them fit our particular tastes, that they are almost unrecognizable as My Mom’s Meals. I think if I were to go to my mother’s house and ask her to make mulligatawny, it wouldn’t taste right. And it wouldn’t taste like childhood. Because I’ve worn it out so much.

Have you ever tried to preserve the past? I have. Years ago when we were still dating, I spritzed a stuffed animal with my husband’s cologne, so I could drink in his scent when we were apart. That elephant just smells… neutral, now. (Well, and it’s now been incorporated into Carla’s collection of plush critters, so who really knows what it smells like.)

I kept the bottle of shampoo we used the first time we (the nurse) bathed Carla in the hospital when she was a newborn. But after a few sniffs, the feelings that used to walk hand in hand with that particular scent, the images of us crowded around a squalling, incredulous infant as a nurse gently washed her skin, have faded.

The songs I’d listen to in the car on the way to work when I was pregnant – they no longer bring back that bursting sense of joy and possibility and fear and wonder and anticipation that they once did.

These tastes and scents and sounds of the past: overuse has corrupted their connection to the memory.

Holding onto things you love, things you enjoy is one thing. But holding onto the past is impossible. Those flickers of time long gone are fleeting. And that’s what makes them so delicious.

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Well, now that the World Series is over, I can refocus all of my Sports Stress on the election. It’s like a stress sandwich, with nothing delicious in the middle. So yay. Here are some random things, from my tired brain:

  • I went to Target the other day, and the cashier totally Kristen Wiiged me during check-out. “What’s ‘Thai sweet chili sauce’? Is it spicy?” and then, “Well, I KNOW sriracha is spicy!” and, “Looks like someone is going to be a princess for Halloween!” and, “Love that color nail polish!” and, “Oooh, what’s this? A top coat? And you have coupons for both!” I don’t have a problem chit chatting with the cashier, and I am sure it is DELIGHTFUL to see the variety of things that strangers buy each day, but it was mildly uncomfortable to have her COMMENT on it.
screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-8-39-28-am

Screen shot from nbc.com

  • One thing the Target Lady did NOT comment on? My taco shells. I bought two boxes and all but SEVEN SHELLS were broken.
taco-shells

WTF? Did someone at the store shake the box as hard as possible?

Carla actually EATS tacos, so we have them at least once a week. And I have never — NEVER — seen such a thing. I mean, in the one box, not a SINGLE SHELL was whole.

Well, I can bright-side my way to nachos for lunch, at least.

  • Halloween was SO FUN this year. Carla is at the perfect age, I think. She got really excited about dressing up (so much so that the hours between the end of her school day and six o’clock when trick-or-treating began took forever) and she was really pumped up by the idea of candy. She understood the concept of going up to people’s doors and holding out her little pumpkin. She didn’t really succeed in saying “trick or treat,” but she DID say “thank you,” so there’s that.

One thing I loved was that she would rummage around in people’s candy dishes, searching for the Perfect Candy. And some of them would helpfully choose something for her, and she would shake her head and say, “No, I have that already.” It was kind of adorable. Also a little bit embarrassing, but I’m choosing to believe that people felt more charmed than annoyed.

We made it all the way down one side of our block before she decided that she needed candy NOW. Instead of going up to the door, she sat down smack in the middle of one our neighbors’ driveway and started searching through her pumpkin to find something. To prod her along, I pulled out a bag of M&Ms and fed her one at a time after each house, kind of like training a puppy to heel. So she would dutifully march up to the door, collect her candy, and then turn around and open her mouth like a baby bird eager for a worm. We went through a bag of M&Ms and one roll of Smarties.

Our neighbors were so kind and generous. We have a great block, and most of the homes had full-size candies. And one of our neighbors was HIDING the good candy for the kids she recognized from our block, so when Carla finally made it to her house, she invited us in and gave Carla three full-size items. It was just so sweet. It made me feel giddy with the goodness of human kind.

  • The one negative moment this Halloween was a comment that I got about Carla’s costume, from someone who knows us well. Carla was a princess this year; last year she was a superhero. She chose both costumes, without input from me or my husband. Just, last year she was really into the superhero, so she wanted to dress up like that particular superhero, and this year she really wanted to be the princess.

Anyway, when Carla told this person what she was going as for Halloween, the person turned to me and said, “It’s nice that she’s interested in more feminine things.”

I mean.

First of all, gross. Second of all, what? Thirdly, REALLY?! Fourthly, why is anyone evaluating anything about the costume choices of a three-year-old? Fifthly, it makes me mad because – for a minute – it made me want to rip the princess costume off of Carla and dress her up like a lumberjack complete with beard and muscles (ALTHOUGH A LUMBERJACK COULD BE A PERFECLTY FEMININE PERSON TOO OMG) just for spite, and then THAT makes me mad because why? Why shouldn’t I just be delighted by whatever Carla wants to pretend to be, whether it’s a firefighter or a dragonfly or a ballerina or a freaking bowling ball.  Why should some stupid comment make me want her to be or feel or do anything other than what she wants? WAY TO RUIN HALLOWEEN, PERSON.

I don’t even care to unpack all that upsets me about that comment, or why it’s so gross and demeaning, or how it’s a symptom of a larger, more insidious problem in society, or how sad it makes me feel that Carla is going to have to face crap like this her whole life.

So I’m going to write it down here and be done with it and move on.

DEEP CLEANSING BREATHS.

  • My husband carved a cat pumpkin this year. That was fun. When it was dark outside, and the cat silhouette was back lit by the little flameless candles I put inside, it garnered a lot of compliments from trick or treaters. Carla and I did the messy part, taking the top off and scooping out all the guts and seeds. Then I roasted the seeds. Carla did not care for the seeds. My husband was eating some later in the week, and I overheard Carla say, “WHY do you like those Daddy?”

Pumpkin cat.JPG

  • Now that Halloween is over, I suppose I have to put away my Halloween decorations. I am not particularly good at decorating for holidays, but I really come through for Halloween and Christmas. I have some cats on pumpkins that I love, and a cool ghost, and a little ghost family for the bathroom. And this year I also found (at Target) a bunch of inexpensive multi-colored pumpkins with glitter stripes and polka dots. There are other things, too. I don’t really feel ready to put all the stuff away yet. Maybe this weekend.
  • I love how so many people go All Out with their Halloween decorations: zombies and ghosts and witches hanging out in their yards, pumpkin path lights, spiderwebs overtaking their shrubbery, graveyards sprouting from their lawns. I love it. Carla and I went for a walk a couple of weeks back and found a street where nearly every house had Halloween decorations, and it was so fun to point them out and discuss them together. I think it also went a long way toward making the holiday fun for Carla rather than scary. She seemed delighted by one neighbor’s human-size trio of glow-eyed witches and by another’s mechanized skull hanging from a tree. I’m glad it doesn’t freak her out.
  • I suppose now that I have to get rid of Halloween decorations, I can concentrate on Thanksgiving décor… But I don’t really HAVE any Thanksgiving stuff, aside from a fall-themed runner and maybe a non-jack-o-lantern pumpkin that I can keep using. I’m not sure what I WANT, in terms of Thanksgiving décor. But I really WANT it. Do you have any Thanksgiving or fall-type décor that you just love? Why can’t I stop typing décor?
  • And that makes me feel all giddy about Thanksgiving! I love this holiday! I can’t wait to pull out my Detailed Thanksgiving Timeline and start preparing for the meal. My parents are coming out for Thanksgiving this year, which should be super fun. I wonder if Carla will eat ANYTHING?
  • Of course, thinking about Thanksgiving gets me all excited about Christmas and Hanukkah, which I bet are going to be FANTASTIC, Carla-wise, this year. She is really going to “get” the whole idea of Santa Claus and I know she loved lighting the menorah last year, so it will be even more interesting this year. I think she’ll be able to look forward to things in a way she hasn’t before. SO FUN. I have some tentative gifts picked out for a few people, but now I can start gift-hunting in earnest. I also really want to get a tiny tree and some Christmas window clings for Carla’s room – she loved having her own Halloween decorations, so I think she’ll really enjoy Christmas ones, too. I have already put on the calendar our local Christmas tree lighting and food bank donation day, as well as our local menorah lighting. Maybe we will try to do a Santa Claus visit this year, too, if Carla is up for it. So those are fun things to look forward to.
  • Speaking of gifts (which I was, a while ago), my father-in-law AND father both have Major Birthdays this year. My father-in-law is first. And I am wondering, what the hell do you get to commemorate a major birthday for men who have EVERYTHING? Everything I think of seems either lame or completely out of the realm of possibility. Ideas? Anyone?
  • It’s a little hard to imagine Christmas with the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having. I mean, we’ve been sleeping with the windows open and it’s NOVEMBER. On the one hand, this is awesome and I don’t want to waste it. On the other hand, I really want to wear the new vest and boots I bought, and I have a bunch of cute sweaters that aren’t being worn. So get with it, Actual Fall. At least the trees are super beautiful.
  • It’s so hard to believe that this nice weather is actually happening that I haven’t really been taking FULL advantage of the warmth. When it’s not raining, that is. I feel like I should be going for long walks outside with Carla. We have gone to the playground, a LOT, so that’s good. And she’s been playing in the back yard a bit, which is great. Okay, I suppose we also decorated pumpkins outside, and we’ve done chalk drawings on the driveway, and we did our Halloween Decoration Tour. So we’re not completely failing. But I kind of feel like I should go full on It’s Still Summertime, and put the patio cushions back out and fire up the grill more often. My parents got me a meat grinder for last Christmas, and so far I’ve only been using it to make ground beef for tacos and chili.

Freshly ground meat is SO GOOD. But the clean up is a little gross.

When really the BEST use would be for hamburgers. I think what’s holding me back is that it’s usually so dark by the time my husband gets home, that grilling isn’t particularly pleasant. We have a light on the grill, but it’s not particularly useful. Hmmm. Perhaps a really powerful, useful grill light would be a good candidate for a Christmas present??

All right, Internet. That’s all I have for today. What’s going on with you?

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It was so much fun thinking about and planning for dinner with our friends who have some dietary restrictions. You had so many helpful suggestions on my post about it, and I now have a stuffed-to-the-brim folder of delicious-sounding meals. Okay, it’s a digital folder, so I don’t know that it CAN be stuffed-to-the-brim, which is a little unsettling. Suffice it to say that I have a LOT.

One of the most useful suggestions was to simply TALK to my friend. NGS noted that she wouldn’t feel comfortable having me cook for her gluten-free family member, because the allergy is so severe. So that really spurred me to find out about my friend’s comfort level.

Over coffee, I said, “I really want to be able to cook for your family. What would you be comfortable with?” Even though I was a little anxious about the conversation, it was perfectly fine. The vegetarian family member eats fish, which was a huge relief, and everyone else eats chicken. And she was fine with me using the grill for everything – and if there was a concern about gluten being on the grill itself, we could put one piece of chicken in aluminum foil to protect it.

What we ended up with was:

  • Grilled swordfish with mango salsa
  • Green bean and jicama salad
  • Green salad with assorted dressings
  • Gluten-free macaroni and cheese (Annie’s brand)
  • Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (Immaculate brand)

The mango salsa is my own “recipe.” I dice four mangoes, two red bell peppers, a quarter of a red onion, and douse the whole thing with lime juice. I also add jalapeno – which would of course vary based on your heat tolerance – and a handful of rough-chopped cilantro.

The green bean and jicama salad is super delicious. It’s adapted from a recipe in Thrill of the Grill, which makes little sense to me because NONE of it is grilled.

Jicama salad 1

It’s the perfect dairy-free, gluten-free salad. And it’s also perfect for hot summer days, because it’s cool and crunchy and tangy. If you, like I am, are always looking for mayonnaise-free salads to bring to picnics and barbecues, this is an excellent choice.

Here is the recipe:

Jicama salad 2

As you can see, my “adaptation” consists of leaving out the horrid, horrid tomatoes.

Three important things:

  1. In my opinion, it’s critical to make this the day that you are going to serve it. The blanching step helps keep the green beans their beautiful fresh green. But by the next day, they turn the brownish-green of canned green beans. They are still crisp and delicious, but they don’t LOOK it.
  2. It is really, really important to salt and pepper this salad. It helps tremendously with the flavor.
  3. This makes a TON of salad. Since we didn’t use any tomatoes, I used a pound and a half of green beans, and one largish jicama. The recipe says it serves 4 to 6 people. I think it would safely serve about 10 people.

Of course, I fret and fret about an evening with friends after the fact. I did have a momentary panic when I realized that two of the food items had cilantro. But what can you do AFTER the food is already made?

Jicama salad 3

I looooooooooove cilantro.

Everyone SEEMED to enjoy the food. At least, they ATE it. (Well, Carla didn’t eat anything except one of the cookies. But I anticipated that. As soon as our guests left, we fed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.) So I’m hopeful that it went well.

And I feel much more confident about inviting this family over in the future. PHEW!

Next time, I think I will make this mushroom-and-pea-risotto (h/t Sistomax!) (whoops! Sistomax was directing me to this one, with artichokes, that ALSO sounds delicious!) and maybe these salmon kebabs (we could do chicken kebabs for the non-fish eaters). We have made the salmon kebabs in the past, and they are so pretty and delicious.

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Much of this week has involved in medicinal baking. Baking is excellent for occupying one’s mind. And it has the delightful side benefit of producing delicious medicinal treats.

First up was cupcakes for Carla to take to school. I did end up using the Test Kitchen recipe I mentioned here and it seemed fine. Here’s where I have to admit that I’m not a big cake person. I’d rather eat tacos.

To top the cupcakes, I made the frosting from Sally’s Baking Addiction, and again: seemed fine. Not as vanilla-y as I was hoping (even though you can see the little black vanilla specks in the frosting), but acceptably sweet and frosting-y. My husband on the other hand – for whom cake tops the list of all foods, well, maybe tied with ice cream for second place with peanut butter coming in first – said that the frosting was the best I’ve ever made.

For the filling, I did make the blueberry filling from Mother Thyme. It was perfect: sweet but not overly so, and the cornstarch made it nice and thick so there was no seepage.

 

Nothing makes cake more palatable (in my opinion) than filling it with something delicious. Which is why I cut a little well in 48 miniature cupcakes, filled each little well with blueberry sauce, and capped each one with its own personal cake hat. Then I topped each cupcake with a daub of frosting and a blueberry.

Third birthday cupcakes 1

The frosting doesn’t quite cover up the filling well in this photo, but whatever. STILL TASTY.

 

I overfilled the first batch of cupcakes, so they became my “test batch” (i.e., the ones that I have been eating for breakfast). But the Test Kitchen recipe made a TON of batter, so I had enough to make two entire trays of mini-cupcakes. The second batch was perfect, so those were the ones I sent with Carla to school.

I think they turned out pretty cute.

Third birthday cupcakes 2

Turns out that I bought way too many blueberries. Way. Too. Many.

The next baking project was, of course, the cake.

The cupcakes were a success; I should have just copied exactly what I’d done, but in cake form. Right? Well, turns out I didn’t have enough baking powder to make a second batch of the Test Kitchen recipe. Baking powder is one of those ingredients I just ASSUME I have enough of, you know? And the Test Kitchen recipe calls for A Lot of baking powder, so it’s really kind of a fluke that I didn’t have enough. All that said, I DIDN’T have enough. And I really didn’t want to go to the grocery store, so I thought, the frosting from Sally’s Baking Addiction was great, so why not try the accompanying cake recipe?

The first issue I ran into was that Sally’s recipe called for all-purpose flour, and I had spent something like $8 on two boxes of cake flour, so I was damn sure going to use THAT. But it turns out there is a difference between the two (surprise), and in order to use the cake flour, I had to use MATH.

MATH. Whilst baking.

(I do not care for math.)

Cake flour is less dense (or something; I sort of skimmed the science part of it) than all-purpose flour, so you need to use slightly more cake flour if you’re substituting. Two tablespoons extra cake flour per cup of all-purpose flour, to be exact. Of course, the recipe didn’t call for straight cups of flour, so my Cake Math involved fractions.

Once I got the math figured out, I really got going. The batter turned out exactly like Sally promised – nice and thick (and very different from the Test Kitchen batter – I know they are Different Recipies, but they were SO DIFFERENT: melted butter vs. tablespoons of room temperature butter; GREATLY different amounts of baking powder; baking soda vs. none; etc).

But Sally’s recipe was for cupcakes, and – even though she’d provided a helpful note for converting to 9-inch cakes (which I admittedly didn’t read until AFTER the fact) – I was using 6-inch cake pans.

So I turned to the trusty Wilton website, which has all sorts of conversions for different sized pans. For my size pan – 6-inch round, 2-inch deep – it said use two cups of batter. And I got barely two cups into one pan, and then there was… about a cup leftover for the other pan.

SO I HAD TO MAKE A SECOND BATCH OF CAKE BATTER.

Finally I got the cakes in the oven, and they puffed up WAY too high and then the tops cracked. Which according to my panicked googling, was from either 1) too hot an oven 2) opening the oven while it was cooking 3) overfilling the pans or 4) over use of a rising agent. (I am going to go with option 3, which means that I didn’t actually need to make a second batch of batter. SIGH.)

Well, I’m not going to say that WASN’T helpful, but it didn’t do much in the way of preventing the cracking as it was happening.

The cakes were cooking and cooking while still being all gooey in the center. Sally’s recipe specifically said that the cakes should be pure white and NOT turn golden brown, but the outside of my raw cakes was DEFINITELY golden brown. I was in a CAKE PANIC, let me tell you.

As my ruined cakes were cooking, I began on the frosting. And realized that I was out of powdered sugar.

So as soon as the cakes were out of the oven, I ran to the grocery store. While there, per my husband’s wise counsel, I got enough ingredients for the Test Kitchen cake recipe as well, just in case the Sally’s cakes were inedible. The only thing I didn’t get was more vanilla beans. I got my previous beans from Penzey’s, which sells a tube of THREE Madagascar beans for $8.99. The grocery store had two beans for $14.89. No thank you. Penzeys4Lyfe.

I returned, loaded down with powdered sugar. I removed the cracked cakes from their pans, washed the pans, and loaded them up with Much Less of the remaining batter.

After that, things went better. The second cakes were perfect. Normal, flat-topped, pure white. The frosting turned out just fine.

I cut the tops of the cracked cakes and tasted them; to my relief, they tasted perfectly fine. If you’re keeping track, this means I had FOUR cakes.

So I made a game-time decision to use three of them as the layers in my cake, rather than trying to cut any of them in half. It was a good decision.

As Alison suggested, I spread each layer with a thin coating of frosting to make sort of a barrier between the cake and the filling. Then I spread a nice thick layer of the blueberry filling from the previous day’s cupcaking. Per Holland Wax (a REAL cake baker!), I tried to make a little “dam of frosting” to hold the blueberry filling in, but I think my frosting was too loose at that point to dam well. The filling was nice and solid though; by that point, it had been in the fridge overnight and had a nice heavy-jelly consistency, so the dam wasn’t entirely necessary. (The frosting barrier probably wasn’t necessary either, but hey – more frosting!)

Once all three layers were stacked, I went to work frosting the whole cake. It was going well until I got to a part where the filling had oozed out a little, and then I got filling mixed in with the frosting which gave part of the cake a purplish tinge. That’s when I decided to put the whole cake in the fridge – along with the frosting – and take a shower.

When I got back, the cake and the frosting had tightened up a bit, and I was able to finish frosting everything without any more filling incidents. Then I decorated the top and sides and added some blueberries and candles. And some more blueberries. I can’t stress enough how many blueberries I have in my house at this time.

The finished cake wasn’t perfect, but it was cute. Carla exclaimed, “It’s so CUTE!” when she saw it, and the whole family seemed to enjoy eating it. So I will call it a success.

Now I am tired.

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