Archive for the ‘Entertaining’ Category

What with my daughter’s impending third birthday and accompanying Sad Thoughts About Her Birth (which apparently I will never ever ever get over BAH), and the delightful meal pairing of Sleep Issues, I am feeling rather cranky this morning. Here are the current top aggravators:

— Despite producing many many flowers, my tomato plant has only to this point produced one (1) actual tomato. What is the deal?


— Today I have to return to the car dealership for a second-in-three-weeks visit that will cost an amount with t0o many zeroes. At least I am prepared for what this session will cost. The last time I was there – for an OIL CHANGE – I ended up sitting in the waiting room for FIVE HOURS.


— Due to SOMEONE’S cruel and thoughtless munching on my plants, I have become all too familiar with the smell of Anti-Deer-&-Rabbit spray. I’m sure (I’m not sure; I didn’t look) that the spray is made of something horrendous like badger urine or whatever, so I’m not SURPRISED that it makes me wish my face were pressed up against a sweaty pubescent skunk. But it’s pretty awful, and there’s no way to spray the stuff without smelling it. I’ve tried various methods, like holding my breath (works for maybe 30 seconds which is a sight shorter than the time it takes to circle my yard; induces lightheadedness) or breathing only through my mouth (but then I can TASTE the horrendous smell, which is either worse or just as bad) but nothing works. It just STINKS.


And then the spray nozzle DRIPPED and it did so ON MY HAND.


And then it turns out that a CARDINAL, and NOT a deer nor a rabbit is picking at my zucchini, so perhaps I didn’t even need the stupid spray in the first place.

AND THEN I spotted THIS, out in the middle of my yard. Sending the finger right back at you, Mother Deer. Sheesh. We are not running a drop-in daycare service for unguents over here, LADY.


That white thing the fawns are cozying up to? It’s the remains of a T-ball, broken by an over-zealous at-bat by me or my husband.


— Summer, with all its glory, means two things I HATE: 1. flies, in my house, and 2. near-constant STUFF on my floors: grass and dirt and rocks and other detritus of Having Fun Outdoors.



— I found not one but TWO chips in my favorite blue serving plate. It’s the exact same blue as the ring in my everyday dishes, and it’s perfect for serving grilled zucchini or a pair of pork tenderloins or many other delicious things, and it stands out so nicely among my other serving dishes, which are mostly plain white. But now: two big chips that show the pottery beneath the blue glaze. And, to make matters worse, now I see that TWO of my everyday dinner plates have chips in them. WHO is being so ROUGH with my dishes?! Me, probably, which just makes me feel crankier.



— Speaking of serving dishes and being cranky: My husband is not as gifted as I am in the realm of Sizing Things Up. So I got out a serving dish the other night for the grilled mushrooms and onions, and – since he was the one grilling them, and watching them shrink – I asked him whether he thought they would fit in the dish. He looked at me like I was utterly CRAZY; I may as well have asked if an ELEPHANT riding a BLUE WHALE would fit into that dish. So I put it away and got a larger dish. Are you surprised to learn that the mushrooms and onions barely filled the bottom third of the larger dish? I was, even though I should know after nearly 15 years of Tupperware containers half-filled with leftovers not to trust him on this subject.



— Recently I learned that my husband does something COMPLETELY NONSENSICAL. We were seasoning fish fillets for the grill, and I was doing the seasoning and he was doing the turning-of-the-fish, and I oiled the One Side, and then sprinkled salt on each fillet. And then he had me TURN THE FISH OVER so I could salt the other side, BEFORE PEPPERING the first side. How ridiculous is that? You salt and pepper at the SAME TIME. Is our marriage in PERIL?



— Any time I try to write outside of normal working hours, hours in which my child is at daycare, my child is suddenly and irresistibly attracted to my lap, and her hands are suddenly and irresistibly attracted to my keyboard. She perhaps is less child than cat. Very very adorable and (in this particular instance) very very annoying.



— There is little more frustrating than asking someone for advice with a problem, and having them make a suggestion that does not work for you, and telling them it doesn’t work for Reasons, and then having them make that suggestion repeatedly. And yet I am having difficulty NOT asking this person, who is having difficulty NOT giving me the advice I reject, so around and around we go in a resentful circle.


What’s driving you around Grump Corner this morning?


Read Full Post »

We are having guests over for dinner in a couple of weeks, and they have some food limitations. It is making meal planning a challenge – but a FUN challenge, because I want to find the correct combination of things that will make it enjoyable for them. The limitations are as follows:

  • One family member has celiac disease and cannot eat gluten.
  • One family member cannot eat milk products.
  • One family member is vegetarian.

I keep thinking of The Perfect Food! and then realizing it is totally not perfect. (Mushroom lasagna! I’ll just use gluten free noodles! Oh wait. Cheese.) The best option I have come up with is a make-your-own-sandwich bar, where we provide lots of meats and cheeses and veggies and breads – and include some gluten-free rolls on a separate plate. But… then again, what might a vegetarian eat on a sandwich? Marinated portabellas? I don’t like sandwiches, so I am not really the best person to plan a sandwich bar, I guess.

Maybe what I am talking myself into is, in fact, a big SALAD bar. Then I can completely skip the bread issue by not having ANY and I can include some chickpeas and kidney beans as proteins for the vegetarian?

But I am learning that gluten is a sneaky bugger, and so I will need to be really careful that none of the dressings have gluten. And now I am thinking, sadly, that maybe children will not be as diggety-down with the salad bar as the adults might be. I can picture my daughter eating a handful of cherry tomatoes and then filling her plate with air. She eats air most days, so it wouldn’t be a big departure but I try not to purposely make food I KNOW she won’t eat.

Okay. So we could… grill hot-dogs and hamburgers and some meat-free burgers or portabella steaks. (I read that hotdogs can have gluten, so I will need to be on the lookout for that.) And have gluten-free buns. And gluten-free-mac-and-cheese for the kids. That seems doable, I suppose. The problem is, always, the weather. Which may or may not cooperate. I would rather have an inside-the-house kind of option, I guess. That also ensures that my husband isn’t stuck at the grill all night.

We could do a taco bar… but we did that the last time we had this family over, and I had black beans as the non-meat protein and even though my vegetarian guest was super gracious and didn’t say ANYTHING, I don’t think it was the most satisfying meal. Plus, I have served tacos the last two times we have hosted people (two separate families, don’t worry) and I am kind of sick of them. I want to flex my hostessing muscles, you know?

I was playing around with the idea of a make-your-own-pizza kind of thing, with gluten-free crust as an option… and providing a bunch of meats and cheeses and vegetables and sauces… But I wonder if the absolutely delicious-sounding-to-ME idea of a rosemary and onion and thin-sliced potato pizza would actually appeal to the dairy-free guest. Plus, the logistics of getting everybody’s pizza into the oven at once or on a rotation that wouldn’t mean half of the people are starving makes me feel a little panicky. Possibly I could make small pizzas for the kids and then two large pizzas for the grown-ups? And both could be vegetarian and dairy free? THAT might be fun!

Then we get to dessert. I am planning to make macarons with jam filling, because they tick all the boxes. And I was thinking about buying a few pints of ice cream (we have a local ice creamery that makes vegan ice cream, which is gluten and dairy free) and having some sprinkles (although around here they are called “jimmies”) and chocolate flakes available. The kids would like that, I think.

I really really like this family. Our kids get along. We have a great time together. And it would be so nice if I could gain some comfort with cooking for them, so we’re not always trying to wrangle our kids at restaurants or having to bring in takeout. And, of course, on the flip side, it would be really nice if they could see me as a TRUSTWORTHY host, who would have things they can ALL eat, things that taste decent and are filling.

I suppose the smart thing would be to just call my friend and ASK HER, but I a) want to figure this out myself and b) don’t want to put her in the situation of being all, “Oh, whatever you do will be fine!” and then not enjoying herself.

So: Do YOU have any experience in making meals for anyone with the above food restrictions? Do you have any experience BEING the person with food restrictions? Do you think my pizza idea is totally crazy? HELP.

Read Full Post »

The other day my mind was wandering from topic to topic as minds do, and somehow ended up back in summer of 2000 when I decided I was destined to become a lawyer and my mother (a lawyer) decided that I needed some intervention more data points. So she sent me to California to spend some time with my aunt and uncle (both lawyers) to get a sense of whether or not it was the right field for me.

While I was there – touring their offices and going to court with my aunt’s brother (uncle in-law?) – I stayed at my aunt and uncle’s beautiful house in Beverly Hills. The guest room turned out to serve double duty as a TV-watching room for my three cousins. I have no idea how old they were at the time; whatever ages are known for Peak Rambunctiousness. But I remember very clearly that it caused me a great deal of angst to have them eating snacks and jumping around on my bed.

I am a very private person with a strong sense of personal boundaries, not to mention an introvert who needs – NEEDS – time alone to recover and recharge. And being around virtual strangers all day, learning about The Law in It’s Various Forms (my aunt did some sort of real estate law, my uncle did tax law, my uncle-in-law did litigation – I think; it didn’t really stick; clearly The Law was not my jam), away from home/college/familiar territory and routines meant that I was in severe need of my own space. So trying to grab a few minutes alone in my room, only to be bombarded by three noisy humans clambering all over one another was not especially fun. Not to mention feeling like my sheets would be full of goldfish crumbs or whatever they were snacking on/throwing at each other. Blech.

That experience really defined for me one of my personal Key Principles of Hosting: that your guest should have his/her own space. If I have a guest over, I will not for any reason go into the guest room. This is simple, because our guest room really has no purpose outside of baby clothing repository clean laundry dumping ground Guest Room. On the rare occasions during which we have guests, I want them to feel like they truly have a place to call their own.

(Sidebar: Other people don’t feel this way, I acknowledge. I have been a guest in a home where the guest room has a Working Closet, and the hostess feels comfortable coming in to retrieve clothing from that closet whenever she needs to. Which I get! It is her house! But it still makes me uncomfortable. [However, I also come from a place of not wanting people to be in my bedroom EVER, and this woman is comfortable popping into my bedroom to look in the full-length mirror or to borrow my hairdryer from my personal bathroom without asking.] [There is a hairdryer IN THE GUEST BATHROOM!] [Also, many people BRING THEIR OWN HAIRDRYERS when they travel!!!] [People have different comfort levels and different boundaries and different expectations.] [My blood pressure is rising. Kittens. Birds bathing in puddles. Gentle rain. Babies sleeping with their rears in the air.])

The problem is that we have two bathrooms. I mean, this is great, right? One bathroom for me and my husband, one for our guest. But… the non-master bathroom is Carla’s bathroom.

When we have guests, I have tried to be conscious of the Shared Bathroom issue. Instead of leaving Carla’s foam letters and numbers all over the tub as we do on a normal night, I would put them away in the closet. But our guests were still sharing a bathroom with her.

And maybe that’s… not in line with my Hosting Philosophy? Maybe we should have Carla share OUR bathroom the next time guests stay here (which, at the rate we host people, could be in five years)?

I guess this question just popped out at me when I was thinking back with such displeasure at having to share my bedroom with my cousins. Have I been making guests feel uncomfortable by having them share a bathroom with Carla?

Of course, it probably depends a great deal on the guest. But I think if it were ME, staying at someone else’s house, I would want my own space.

This is why I plan to mainly stay at hotels. But the topic of hotels is a whole different post. (Sometimes it is not practical. At my parents’ house, for instance, where the nearest hotel is many miles away. Or at my in-laws’ house, where they have an entire separate WING for guests and the nearest hotel costs $500 a night.)

I would be very interested in how other people approach hosting and guesting. Where do you stow guests at your house? What’s the bathroom situation like? What kind of expectations do YOU have for your situation when you stay with someone else?

And I have Strong Feelings about other aspects of hosting/guesting, but for now I am trying to stick very closely to Issues of Personal Space.

Sigh. I feel like I should qualify things – like I need to say, “Of course, I know this all sounds spoiled and picky! And if someone is kind enough to open her home to me, I should be gracious and grateful for whatever the accommodations are!” And YES. Of COURSE. My dear friend Ilse has invited me and Carla and my husband to her house this summer, and we are going. But Ilse has no guest room, so we’d end up either displacing one of her daughters or on the floor of the living room, and there’s only one bathroom. That situation would make me so uncomfortable, it wouldn’t be worthwhile. So we already have our hotel BOOKED.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that MY hosting/guesting philosophies are purely a result of MY personality. And I am DEEPLY INTERESTED in how other types of people see and handle the same kinds of situations.

Read Full Post »

Did you know that Thanksgiving is TWO WEEKS away? How did that happen? This year, I am hosting – which I kind of love. Well, let me clarify: I am not really that great at HOSTING, per se. But I love the planning and making of the Thanksgiving day food.

Anyway, my husband is on call, so it is unlikely that he will be in attendance on Thanksgiving Day. Which is a holiday he loves. So my mother-in-law suggested we move Thanksgiving to Saturday (after his call ends) so that he can enjoy the whole shebang, and I thought that was a fabulous idea. Not only does my husband get to ENJOY a favorite holiday, but I will also have an extra two days to prepare. Not too shabby!

My in-laws, if you hadn’t inferred from the above, will be joining us this year. That includes my sister-in-law and my NEW BABY NIECE OMG I AM AN AUNT!!!! We got the girls matching outfits from Hanna Andersen and will be taking many photos.

My in-laws have been invited by some friends of theirs to have Thanksgiving on actual Thanksgiving Day. Those friends very graciously invited all the rest of our group, too.

But that’s where the Thanksgiving Challenge begins.

Let’s make some relevant statements:

  1. My husband LOVES Thanksgiving food.
  2. I am super impressed at my in-laws’ friends’ ability / willingness to add SEVEN ADDITIONAL PEOPLE to their holiday. I… could not do that. I have neither the space nor the hostessing skills for that kind of magic.
  3. My in-laws will likely want to go to their friends’ house on Thanksgiving Day.
  4. If they go, I will feel very weird / rude NOT going.
  5. If we all eat a big Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day, it is unlikely that we will WANT to eat a big Thanksgiving meal two days later.
  6. (Especially me, because I do not particularly like Thanksgiving food.)
  7. If no one is really in the mood for a second Thanksgiving, I do not see myself being in the mood to spend all day cooking Thanksgiving food.
  8. My husband may or may not be able to join us on Thanksgiving Day. We’re going to assume NOT because his specialty sadly sees a lot of emergent issues on big food-heavy holidays.
  9. Also, he will be at the hospital until at LEAST 4:00 anyway, and many families eat early on Thanksgiving Day, so we are just going to cross him off the list of availability.
  10. HOWEVER, if he somehow CAN join us for Thanksgiving Day at the friends’ house, then I REALLY don’t see myself wanting to make a big Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday.
  11. But I won’t know until that time whether he will be able to eat Real Thanksgiving or not, which impacts my ability to plan a meal.

Here are some potential options that I can see:

First Option: All of us decline the invitation from the friends, and spend Thanksgiving Day together watching movies or whatever. Then I can make a nice-ish dinner (I am thinking beef stew).  This would allow for my in-laws to go over to their friends’ house for cocktails or whatever, without staying for the whole meal. Then we have Saturday Thanksgiving as planned, with me cooking a big traditional dinner.

Or! (And this is my mom’s awesome idea…)

Second Option: We could join the friends for Thanksgiving Day and then have a Non-Traditional Thanksgiving on Saturday! My mom thought – and I agree – that it would be totally fun to cook a bunch of things on Saturday that we never normally have for Thanksgiving.

Given my husband’s love for a traditional Thanksgiving and his (much appreciated, on my part) love for MY Thanksgiving concoctions, I highly doubt that we will go with Second Option. (And honestly, I am a big fan of Tradition, so I understand.) But doing a Non-Traditional Thanksgiving sounds so fun!

So today I want to imagine what it might look like if we DID go with the Second Option.

Here is what we traditionally have for Thanksgiving:

  • Turkey: I use a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, which has rarely led me astray.
  • Gravy: Same as above.
  • Dressing: Pioneer Woman’s traditional Thanksgiving Dressing. Nothing fancy, but a good, traditional dressing.
  • Goat cheese + garlic mashed potatoes: This is my mother’s recipe and I love it. I could eat an entire pot of these myself.
  • Candied yams with marshmallows: America’s Test Kitchen, baby. But I’ve re-created it here, alongside my lovely experiments at Charcoal Topping.
  • Salad: Listen, I usually throw a simple salad together at the last minute. No one really WANTS salad on Thanksgiving. They just feel like they SHOULD want it, and I feel like I need something green in there amid the orange and white. But it’s an afterthought.
  • Cranberry sauce: Pioneer Woman’s homemade version
  • Dessert: Pumpkin bars

Here are some things I would love to TRY, if I weren’t locked in to the above:

  • Gravy: Probably not going to veer away from gravy so long as we have turkey and/or mashed potatoes on the menu.
  • Dressing: I hate – HATE – dressing/stuffing. It’s the soft and/or slimy bread. Also: sage. Blech. Just can’t do it. But when I was prepping for my first-ever Thanksgiving-as-Host, I made a dressing that was as close as I’ve ever gotten to something I would eat. It was this one: Pioneer Woman’s Cornbread Dressing with Sausage and Apples

Or what about a dressing alternative? This mushroom bread pudding from The Curvy Carrot seems like it could fit the bill!

  • Potato Alternative: My mom’s mashed potatoes – alongside gravy – is really the only Thanksgiving food I enjoy. So I don’t know that I would want to trade it out for something else. But… What about a fancy macaroni and cheese? I’ve made this one before, and it is delicious: Martha Stewart’s Perfect Macaroni and Cheese.

Or we could do something WAY off the wall – but still seasonally appropriate! – like these pumpkin ravioli from the Pioneer Woman.

And these winter squash gnocchi (from Food & Wine) sound really interesting.

  • Veggie Sides: Thanksgiving is all about the carbs, so some non-carb veggies would be on my list for Thanksgiving alternatives.

I love mushrooms, and these Burgundy mushrooms from Pioneer Woman sound right up my alley.

Speaking of mushrooms, what about these garlic butter mushrooms from Smitten Kitchen?

Or Brussels sprouts! These roasted balsamic Brussels sprouts with shallots from Serious Eats sound perfect for a non-traditional Thanksgiving.

I love broccoli, but it seems kind of ordinary for a special meal… so what about something like these baked broccoli ravioli from Food & Wine?

My mom used to make Waldorf salad at Thanksgiving – a fruit salad with a mayonnaise-type dressing. Here is another take on the Waldorf, from Williams Sonoma. I might substitute the red bell pepper for red grapes – which my mom included in her version.

Or this French lentil salad with goat cheese from Once Upon a Chef sounds delicious.

Or I could go to bread’s more flavorful relative, Savory Pastry, and make these little caramelized onion, mushroom, and cheese tartlets from Brown Eyed Baker.

Or, if pumpkin HAD to make an appearance, PW’s Pumpkin Cream Pie.

Okay, I am now kind of hoping that my husband changes his mind about our Traditional Thanksgiving! There are so many fun things that could work, if you were FORCED to have two Thanksgivings!

Is there anything that you would just LOVE to have on Thanksgiving, but no one else in your family likes it? Or something that you’ve always wanted to try, but not enough that you would oust a traditional favorite for? Is there something that’s traditional for YOU and your family, but doesn’t seem to appear on your friends’ Thanksgiving menus?

Read Full Post »

So there’s this other little incident – no, it’s too small to call an incident… it’s more like a minor interaction – that’s been niggling at me lately. It’s not something I’ve been actively worrying over. More like, every once in a while it will pop into my head and I’ll roll it around a few times before something else takes its place.

It falls into the realm of etiquette, I suppose, or social graces. And it’s not a Big Deal, by any means. It’s just one of those things where I wish I knew the right way to behave, in case I encounter it again.

Anyway: Let’s say you have a group of friends who get together once a month or so at one friend’s house. We do this for my book club (although it’s been a woefully long time since we’ve met), and the host cooks a meal and the guests bring wine. Every guest brings a bottle of wine. Every time. This works GREAT, in my opinion.

But let’s say that YOUR group is less wine-focused. Not to say they don’t like alcohol! Oh no! But there’s a different understanding with this group. Or maybe it’s a lack of understanding. Or I don’t know.

So the host cooks a meal, and the guests bring… whatever they want.

Of course the guests always ASK, “What can I bring?” And the host always says, “Nothing! Just yourself!” But the guests feel (and I am 100% guilty of feeling this way!) like they can’t show up empty handed, so they bring something. Like cookies. Or chips. Or Bloody Mary mix. Or whatever. Sometimes wine isn’t an option!

Let me give you a real-life example. My husband and I were the hosts, and we hosted brunch. So we made a French toast casserole and some other carbs – seriously, there was nothing in the way of meat or fruit or vegetable ANYWHERE, not even eggs – and we had Champagne and orange juice and we were all set. And the guests all asked what they could bring and I said nothing, just yourselves… and then they showed up with stuff.

One guest brought… Champagne and orange juice. Another brought some sort of delicious pastry. Another brought some other sort of delicious pastry. And so on down the line. Seriously, carbs out the EARS.

It is my understanding that the number one rule of hosting etiquette is to make your guests feel comfortable, so even though I’d made enough food for all of us to eat twice, I popped open the extra Champagne and extra orange juice and set out plates and flatware for the additional pastries. The more the merrier, right?

Plus, I am an extremely picky eater. Doesn’t hurt my feelings if you want to bring something you KNOW you will like, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings if that’s all you end up eating.

The non-incident/minor interaction was that, at the end of the day, when the guests had left and my husband and I were surveying the carb carnage of our kitchen, I spotted one of the boxes of fancy pastries that one guest had brought: totally unopened. And it was a store-bought thing, so at least she hadn’t made it with her own two hands. But still, she saw it at the store and thought it looked good; she spent her money on it. And no one even OPENED IT. Ack.

As I roll this over and over in my head on occasion, I usually roll around to feeling like it’s okay, that truly no feelings were probably hurt. I was busy trying to keep glasses full and plates full and babies fed, and I just overlooked that little pastry box and I am sure my guest understood.

But this raises two questions:

1. If someone brings food or a beverage to a non-potluck dinner you prepare, even though you expressly said “Nothing! Just bring yourself!”, are you obligated to put it out?

Listen, I am pretty sure that on the other end of things, the being-a-guest end, etiquette guidelines (which I have…somewhere. I just don’t feel like clomping upstairs and rooting around in my bookshelves to find the appropriate book. Am lazy.) say that you should bring food/wine as a hostess gift and NOT expect it to be added to the menu plan. Your host has planned a specific meal, so you shouldn’t expect that your offering be anything but a gift for the host to enjoy after the fact. That is how I approach bringing things: this wine is for you to enjoy as you see fit. If that means opening it right now, so be it! If you want to save it until later and guzzle it up before you face the pile of dishes your guests created, that’s fine too!

But… I guess I lean toward putting the food out. Because I don’t know that other people have heard of that guideline. Certainly I have been in situations where someone provided wine and was miffed when she didn’t get to drink it during the dinner party. Or even concerned that the host didn’t like the gift.

If the host’s ULTIMATE goal is to make the guest feel comfortable, then I would put the food/wine out even at odds with my own planning rather than cause any potential disappointment or concern or hurt feelings.

It can be frustrating, though, if you have a special bottle of wine you want your guests to taste. Or if you spent all day making cupcakes, and now they have to share the spotlight with a guest’s handmade chocolate truffles or whatever.

Unfortunately, I don’t think you can deter people from bringing things. I have even tried the thing where you give them a specific item to bring: “Please bring a side dish. Please bring chips. Please bring beer or wine.” And they inevitably bring MORE THAN THAT.


Which brings me to my next question…

2. When can I comfortably LISTEN to the host and just NOT BRING ANYTHING?

My husband and I met with our group of friends again recently, and we went back and forth over what to bring. Should he make cookies? No, because what if our hostess made a special dessert? Should we bring wine? Seemed out of place for the meal we were having. What about bringing nothing? No, that seemed wrong – the hostess brought something when she was a guest at our house.

But of course, the hostess had prepared the entire meal, from bread to main course to dessert, and had plenty of drink options to boot. (We ended up bringing store-bought cookies, with the intention to offer them as a hostess gift rather than to expect they get set out with the food. But they were set out with the food anyway.) She certainly didn’t need our contribution. And we see her so often (once a month) that I know we’ll “repay” her for all the time and money she spent.

It just seems pointless and exhausting to keep bringing things that the host doesn’t want.

Of course, it seems LESS pointless if you are the only guest who shows up empty handed. But maybe if you do it enough, at enough houses, you will either get your message across or you will be booted from the group.

Read Full Post »

Oh Internet, I cannot remember the last time I went grocery shopping.

Well, okay, I suppose I can. But it was a reaaalllllly long time ago.

My husband I have been busy. Like the kind of busy where you might contemplate trying to fall down a flight of stairs just so you can have an excuse to rest. (Oh crap. I’m going to fall down the stairs now, aren’t I? Well, good thing I never leave the apartment! In your face, FATE!) (Please don’t kill me.)  And we have just been too plain exhausted to think of things like shopping and cooking and so all semblance of normal meals has gone right out the window.

Yesterday? I had a 100-calorie pack of Cheez-Its and a Diet Coke for lunch.

(My husband, however, had a PB&J sandwich that I made him on Monday! And froze! In the freezer! Per Jen’s genius instructions.) (It was a test sandwich. And as the time of this posting, I have not spoken to my husband to get his thoughts on whether the test was successful enough for us to do a full-scale roll out. But I will report back.)

We have been depending on things like Chipotle and take-out sandwiches and microwave meals and frozen pizza and rotisserie chicken for nourishment. Because anything requiring more than opening a microwave, oven, or our mouths requires too much time and effort.

Aside from Failing at Eating Well, I have gotten very behind in anything resembling Normal Sleep. (Stress keeps me from falling and/or staying asleep. Whoo!) So I keep digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole of So Much Work and Not Enough Energy Slash Wakefulness to Do Said Work. Which you really don’t care about, but I am telling you because it has severely limited my blog activity. In the areas of both blog reading and blog writing. And even though you likely did not notice at all, I am SORRY.

If I may try to swing this unwieldy tangent back to the ACTUAL subject of this blog post… Back when we were only on the front edge of busy and we actually had time to shop and also Make Stuff, my husband and I came across an interesting little recipe in Bon Apetit. It was a recipe for Chickpea Salad with several variations. And the recipe was so tiny and unassuming – just a little sidebar in a longer article, not even a sideBAR so much as a sideSQUARE – and it was written in such a breezy, careless, wholly unthreatening manner that I thought “Yes! We could do that!”

It really was quite charming, Internet. It was the recipe equivalent of that friend you have who can throw on an old pair of faded slacks and a wrinkly shirt and, like, a vest or something and look effortlessly and flawlessly stylish and beautiful, but in a way that makes it clear that she didn’t even have to TRY to look stylish and beautiful, that it took really no effort at all (hence the “effortlessly” descriptor, I suppose), but not in a bitchy way – no, more in a collegial “Hey! This is so easy! You could totally look like you stepped off the pages of Abercrombie & Fitch too!” sort of way.

Now, before I get to the recipe I want to warn that it is for a salad, which means it is cold. And I’m telling you this up front because I decide to eat or not eat some things based on their temperature. Usually I would NEVER eat a chickpea that wasn’t hot and also smothered in some sort of cardamom-flavored sauce and accompanied by naan and some fluffy basmati rice. But the charm of the recipe won me over. And I ate the chickpea salad, even though it was cold, and lo! it was delicious.

So delicious that on a recent trip to the grocery store – not to SHOP, because, as I already mentioned, we do not have time for SHOPPING, but to grab some super-quick pre-cooked or super-easy-to-cook food (we have to EAT even if we are busy) – I grabbed some extra lemons so we could make some more. Alas, there was no basil, so we don’t actually have ALL the ingredients. But that’s okay because, even though this salad is easy (effortless!), we still do not have any time to make it.  (Cheez-Its and Diet Coke – that’s all the “cooking” I have in me, Internet.)

You are probably wondering about the ACTUAL recipe, and are feeling, as you read all this irrelevant back story, that I should just get ON with it. So I shall.

Chickpea Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, and Fresh Herbs

(adapted from Bon Apetit)


1 15-oz can of chickpeas (Bon Apetit would like you to know they are also called garbanzo beans. In case you didn’t know.)

2 Tbsp fresh chopped basil

2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley (Or not. Parsley will not set foot in our home. NO.)

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (From lemons. Even if, as your husband points out, you have a huge Costco-sized bottle of “real lemon” lemon juice in your fridge.)

4 tsp EVOO (Have you ever noticed how Rachael Ray almost always says “Ee vee oh oh” and then specifies “extra virgin olive oil,” just in case you don’t know what EVOO means? Seems to me that doing so kind of negates the usefulness of the acronym, doesn’t it?)

I small garlic clove, pressed

1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped (This is the “adapted” part, as it was not part of the original recipe.)

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Coarse kosher salt (Or low sodium salt. From a jar.)

(It doesn't look like much, Internet. But do not let my poor salad photography skillz or chickpeas' lack of photogenicity deter you from trying this!)



1. Open your chickpeas. We used two cans (and then doubled the rest of the ingredients). Pour them into a strainer and rinse them.

2. Combine your chopped basil (and parsley, if you must), fresh lemon juice, EVOO, red onion, and garlic in a medium bowl.

3. Add grated Parmesan cheese.

4. Toss gently to blend.

5. Add salt, to taste.

Do you see how easy that is, Internet? And it was DELICIOUS. I mean, how can you go wrong with garlic and lemon and EVOO and basil and Parmesan? YOU CAN’T. It’s just not possible.

I could totally see myself making this for company, or taking it to a pot luck, or eating it on the porch this summer while sipping a glass of wine.

Here, verbatim from Bon Apetit, are some variations you can try:

“For a spicy version, add some sriracha sauce. Try swapping out the lemon juice for lime juice and use feta cheese instead of Parmesan and mix in some chopped fresh cilantro and chopped red onion or shallot. For a curried chickpea salad, leave out the Parmesan and add curry powder to taste, dried currants, sliced green onions, and shredded carrots.”

Tastes delicious immediately and even better once it’s been sitting in the refrigerator overnight.

Read Full Post »

Y’all, Thanksgiving is exhausting.

I don’t know if it was the stress of having family over… Or the anxiety about cooking a perfect Thanksgiving meal all by myself… Or the physical exertion from standing on my feet in front of a hot stove all day (yes, I am THAT out of shape)…

But I am STILL tired.

Yet you, beloved Internet, deserve a full and detailed recap, bullets style. So I will persevere, for you!

Also, WARNING, there are a LOT of bullets. Seriously. There are so many I didn’t even count them.

Okay, my OCD won out. There are 20. Without even TRYING.

*Preparations began on Saturday, when I did my first round of Thanksgiving shopping. I wanted to buy the items on my list that wouldn’t spoil/grow moldy/otherwise decay before Thursday. As in NO VEGETABLES. However, when I saw some bagged celery hearts on sale, I surrendered and bought two, hoping mightily that they would not get brown and shrivelly before I had to serve them. Spoiler Alert: They turned out fine.

Shockingly, the grocery store was super busy. Everyone and their brother had a giant cart filled with canned pumpkin and bags of potatoes and turkeys. So I picked a lane and stood patiently in line for 20 minutes. Then I had a Super Awkward Encounter with the grocery store bagger when she looked directly at me and said “This lane is closed.” I think I may have almost fainted at the prospect of joining the end of another long line of 12,000 Thanksgiving shoppers. So I may have glared at her and said, “But my stuff is already on the belt!” And then avoided eye contact with her as I spitefully helped the wheelchair-bound woman behind me load all HER stuff onto the belt.

Turns out, Internet, the bagger was talking to someone behind the woman behind me. She told me this as she was bagging my groceries. AWKWARD. I promise I tried to make up for my grouchfacedness and spiteful conveyor-belt-loading by being extra nice and cheery.

*Sunday I made the stuff I felt wouldn’t go bad by Thursday. This included some spiced nuts.

Hmmm. The spiced nuts aren’t going to win any America’s Next Top Model competitions anytime soon.

Then I added some Lipton Recipe Secrets Savory Herb with Garlic soup mix to some sour cream. (By the way, I can NEVER find this soup mix at the grocery. NEVER. WTF, Internet?) Easy peasy. And super delicious. It’s equally good on veggies and chips.

*Monday, I did my second round of shopping after work. This is when I bought all the perishable stuff – veggies, cheese, bagels, lox, bread products. I’m sure the two extra days between my first round and second round made a world of difference in the freshness of my meal.

Whilst in the grocery, I may or may not have had to ask a Random Dude for advice about which lox to buy. Because seriously Internet? How is a non-lox eater supposed to determine the difference between Irish smoked salmon and Norwegian smoked salmon? Especially because the ingredients are IDENTICAL. Stop screwing with me, smoked salmon industry!

I may or may not have bought two entire bottles of Prosecco. Lesson of the day: Alcohol will not make you less of a control freak.

I also may or may not have purchased an entire small bag of real, full-fat Lays so I could “sample” my sour cream dip.

*My in-laws arrived on Tuesday. They kindly took my husband and me out to a delicious dinner. After dinner, I chopped up the bread for the stuffing.

My mom pointed out that bread comes PRE CHOPPED for stuffing! Did you guys know about that? And possibly tell me about it waaaaay back when I was doing my Fakesgiving extravaganza? That is awesome.

However… My husband really wanted cornbread in the stuffing per my earlier attempts. So, since chopping up bread takes about 5 minutes, I skipped the Easy Cheaper Option and went with the More Difficult One.

*Wednesday, I went to Whole Foods at 8:00 am to pick up my turkey breast, some gravy, and some fresh flowers. Then I had to go to ANOTHER grocery store to get Pepsi One for my mother-in-law. (She didn’t ask me to, but I know she drinks that because it doesn’t have nutrasweet or something, so I wanted to be sure to have some on hand.) (By the way, we now have 10 cans of Pepsi One. Anybody want it?)

When I got home, I cut the very minimum off the stems of the fresh flowers and shoved them haphazardly into vases. Here is what one of the vases looked like:

Then I may or may not have eaten the small bag of Lays chips and some sour cream dip for breakfast.

Then I put in a full day of work.

*After work ended, I made a quick batch of butternut squash soup and a side salad and welcomed my in-laws over for dinner. Keep in mind that this was the first time ever that my in-laws had eaten something I’d made for them. It was… nerve wracking. For all involved, I’m sure.

But my mother-in-law, bless her heart, liked the soup so much that she asked for the recipe! That’s a big compliment. And she helped me in the kitchen by tasting the soup until I’d added the proper level of salt. (My husband and I eat very little salt, so my homemade stuff often ends up being under-salted. It was helpful to have her there to taste test.)

Please keep in mind that my husband was on call. Which means he was at the hospital, where he stayed the entire night, not returning until 3:00 pm Thanksgiving Day.

*After dinner, we watched Letters from Juliet. Which had some beautiful scenery. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Then my in-laws headed back to their hotel, to return the next day at 11:30 am.

*After they left, I did the dishes, chopped all my veggies for the following day, and put everything into storage containers. Then I labeled them things like “veggies for turkey” or “veggies for stuffing” or “garlic for mashed potatoes.” You know, in case I died or was otherwise incapacitated and my mother-in-law had to take over. Yes. Labeling the veggies was absolutely critical

I made cranberry sauce. (See: Going with the More Difficult Option) Then I made my husband’s famous pumpkin bars.

I thought about vacuuming the apartment one more time, but considering it was 2:00 am, I decided against it. To my noisy upstairs neighbors: You’re welcome.

*When I woke up Thursday morning, I hauled my laptop into bed and wrote out my detailed Day-Of Timeline. (Yes, I am a Control Fah-reak.) (In Unsurprising Revelation of the Day, I also had an extensive day-of timeline for my wedding. Which NO ONE FOLLOWED.) (GAH.) I will share it with you if you are so inclined. (My Thanksgiving timeline. Not the wedding one.) (Although you can have that too if you are a masochist.)

While you may choose to roll your eyes at my analitude, the schedule was AWESOME. It kept me totally on track. But more than that, it forced me to read all of my recipes in great detail. Which I am not very good at. (Hmm… Does this shed any light on my past experiences with Crappy Cooking?)

Then I took a shower and got ready. (Yes, that was on the schedule.)

(Man this bullet has a lot of parentheses.)

I contemplated opening some Prosecco to make mimosas… but decided that spending two hours drinking before my in-laws arrived would be detrimental to my cooking skills.

*After NOT drinking a mimosa, I made some candied pecans for the salad.

(Yes, these are different than the spiced nuts I made for appetizers.)

I washed and peeled all the potatoes and sweet potatoes and put them in big pots of water to keep until I was ready to chop and cook them.

Admittedly, I was concerned about pre-peeling the potatoes and sweet potatoes. But, as you already know, I am Super Particular About Weird Stuff. And one of the things I am Super Particular About is peeling potatoes. So I really really really wanted that out of the way.

I’d heard that you could store peeled potatoes in water. So back during one of my Fakesgiving sessions, I peeled a lone potato and put it in a water-filled Tupperware overnight, as a test. The potato was totally fine – not a spot of brown anywhere!

But then I chickened out when it came to Real Thanksgiving. Not only would I be storing the peeled potatoes in a metal pot rather than a plastic Tupperware… But I’d also be storing ALL of my potatoes. I didn’t want to chance Massive Potato Browning of all my potatoes (hello Thanksgiving DISASTER), so I waited until the day of to throw them in water.

Are you getting the sense that I tend to over think things? Just a bit?

*After I’d done all this stuff, I looked around and realized I had nothing to do. I’d planned so well, I had a Big Lull in my day.

My in-laws were set to be there at 11:30, but they were running a little late.

After standing around going crazy with all the Doing Nothing, I decided to get the Washing of the Turkey out of the way. I figured I could wash it, put it in a bowl, cover it with a towel, and then it would be all set to dump into the roaster when I needed it.

So I opened up the turkey, gagged a little bit as I tried to squeeze out the bloody juice (???!?!) into the sink, and promptly had my first panic attack of the day.

When I did my first Fakesgiving practice meal, I bought two turkey breasts at Whole Foods. But they were basically like larger, skin-on versions of the boneless, skinless chicken breasts you can buy at any grocery store. They weighed about 2.5 pounds each and all I had to do with them was pat them with a paper towel and drop them in the roaster.

But for Real Thanksgiving, I’d allowed my husband to talk me into a 7-10 pound BONE-IN turkey breast from Whole Foods.

I don’t know what I expected, but I surely did NOT expect this giant thing that actually looked like a whole turkey. It even had a CAVITY, Internet, which was one of the things I was trying to avoid. (At least it didn’t have any giblets.) (Blech.)

So I called my mom and may or may not have awakened my father because they are in a different time zone and may or may not have hyperventilated a little bit asking what I should do with this stupid thing.

She was very calm and knowledgeable and walked me through it. Bless her heart… She even suggested multiple creative ways I could touch the turkey without touching it. (Making makeshift “gloves” with cling wrap was on the list.) Then I hung up and stabbed the breast on either side with the multi-pronged “turners” that came with my roaster and carefully washed it without a) touching it or b) dropping it.

*When I got The Call that my in-laws were on the move, I set the table and put out the lox, bagels, cream cheese, capers, onions, and lemon slices.

My in-laws got there, we ate some bagels etc. (By the way, I can’t stand lox but I do like an everything bagel slathered in cream cheese and dotted with capers and diced red onions.) Then I banished ushered them to the couch and gave them my wedding album to drool over.

Internet, I thought it would be a delightful distraction. It was… For all of 10 minutes.

However, that was enough time for me to do the dishes and set the table with my “good linen” and my beautiful china.

Then I moved on to the next step on my Day-Of Timeline, which was getting the turkey all set to go in the oven.

I tossed my “veggies for turkey” into the roaster. I melted some butter in the microwave. (Without exploding it! Whoo hoo!) Then I used my (freshly washed) multi-pronged turner thingabobs to lift the (freshly washed) turkey into the roaster. Shortly thereafter, the turkey was safely in the oven.

Once again, I had a Big Lull.

*Per my Mission to Make My Mother-in-Law Feel Useful without Driving Myself Crazy, I asked my MIL to turn my bouquet-o-flowers into some lovely centerpieces.

This is where I encountered Flaw 2 in my plan: My apartment is so small that the ONLY place where my MIL could do the flower arranging was in the kitchen.

She very kindly agreed to do the arrangements and then set up camp in the kitchen. She proceeded to make some lovely centerpieces….

While I sort of stood there and watched. (See above RE: Big Lull)

*After that, things went pretty much like clockwork. I made the mashed potatoes, then the sweet potatoes, then the stuffing.

There was only a slight Sweet Potato Mishap, due to the fact that sweet potatoes are HARD to cut, even with a giant knife. And I may have dropped two sweet potato halves on the floor. One of them I felt comfortable washing (with soap, which my mother-in-law found quite novel [read: Crazy town]) and then re-peeling. The other one, well, I just couldn’t do it. It was too small and my mother-in-law peeled it but only peeled the side that touched the floor instead of the whole thing and she didn’t wash it with soap and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to eat the sweet potatoes if it went in there.

(Side Note of Weirdness: My MIL asked me, straight out, if it would bother me to have that other fallen sweet potato in the casserole. She told me that if it would bother me, I should just throw it away. And she said it in a very calm and kind and totally understanding way. But I couldn’t admit to her that it bugged me! [Why? I do not know! Clearly I have no problem admitting it to YOU.] I let her rinse it and peel it and set it down on the counter… And then I threw it away when she wasn’t looking. And now that I told the Internet about it, she will know all about it. But I’m hoping she will forgive me because she already knows I am wackadoo.)

My husband got home. My mother-in-law helped me adjust levels of seasoning in my potatoes. Which involved many spoons for tasting because I do NOT use a tasting spoon twice until it has been through the dishwasher thank you very much. And my mother-in-law – god help her – was very patient with my weirdness even though we wasted used about 8 spoons in the whole Salting the Mashed Potatoes Escapade.

At some point, she made homemade whipped cream for her chocolate soufflé cake (which she somehow brought on the airplane!).

My father-in-law chilled the wine.

All was good in the world.

*At one point, all four of us were in the kitchen and I had to shoo the men out because it was too crowded, but I did so in a way that was cute and friendly rather than panicky. (At least, I HOPE it was cute and friendly!)

My timeline was keeping me right on track, my mother-in-law was hovering but clearly trying as hard as she could to stay out of my way.

So I asked if she thought we needed candles on the table and gave her free rein to poke through the Assorted Beautiful Candlesticks that we got for our wedding. She picked a pair of crystal beauties my husband’s grandmother got for us and I think the table looked quite fetching.

*And then I made the gravy.

Internet, making gravy is simple. You squish all the veggies from under the turkey through a sieve. You make a roux with butter and flour. You add the drippings plus some chicken stock plus some bay leaves and cook until thickened to the desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. Bada bing, bada boom.

Easy. Super mind-numbingly easy.

(Do you hear the foreboding music yet?)

My directions said to cook the roux on high heat for five minutes. I’d done it BEFORE, following the EXACT SAME INSTRUCTIONS.

But I somehow got distracted. I think my mother-in-law was asking if there was anything she could do, and I was saying that no, I had it all under control, and I was trying to squeeze extra juice from the under-turkey-veggies while keeping an eye on the roux and my mother-in-law VERY KINDLY offered to do the dishes, which was very nice because who wouldn’t give up the dish washing part of Thanksgiving in a heartbeat? and I was looking at the counter which was crowded with Resting Turkey and Sieve with Under-Turkey Veggies and envisioning a scenario where little bits of scrubbed-off food particles were flung from the scrub brush and landing on the turkey or in the veggie mixture, and all of a sudden I turned around and the roux was smoking.

I grabbed it off the stove, in as nonchalant a way as anyone can whisk a pot full of acrid smoke off a stove, and plunged it into the sink and filled it with water.

Which, Internet, was DUMB with a capital D, because that just caused even MORE smoke to pour from the pot and completely take over the entire apartment.

Of course, the fire alarm – which hasn’t gone off EVER since we’ve lived here – started making its ear-splitting shriek of doom. And my father-in-law and husband started coughing and choking on all the smoke and we had to open all the windows and doors and allow the frigid air to come in and draw some of the smoke out.

I maintained my false aura of Intense Calm and Nonchalance and simply started a new roux in a new pot.

My MIL kindly and cheerfully recounted some tale of Entertainment Disasters Past when she burned a chicken or something. I can’t quite remember the story, but I do remember that it made me feel slightly better.

Because it is hard, Internet, to make a whole Thanksgiving dinner with only one little mistake and not feel like a Thanksgiving Failure.

*The turkey came out all golden brown and delicious smelling, and I put the dressing and the sweet potatoes in the oven. My husband carved the turkey, I set out serving dishes full of all the Thanksgiving goodness, and we all sat down to eat.

Yeah, that’s another view of the table. I didn’t include any time for picture taking in my Day-Of Timeline.

It was a big hit. My husband said the turkey was even better and more moist than it had been during Fakesgiving. My MIL praised everything, my FIL gave a very honest run down of everything – the potatoes were buttery, the turkey was delicious, the stuffing was rosemary-y, etc – and everyone had seconds. The only thing that anyone expressed real HATRED toward was the cranberry cheddar cheese I’d crumbled on the salad. And that person was my husband.

*After stuffing my face, I suddenly felt like I was going to fall asleep right there at the table. My in-laws left shortly after dinner and I went to bed and slept until 9:00 the next morning.

We spent the day with the in-laws, going to The Social Network (which I LOVED and my husband was meh about) and then doing a little shopping. My MIL praised my cooking to the proprietor of the store we went to (she’d known him for years).

Then we visited some friends of my in-laws and my MIL praised my cooking AGAIN and asked for the recipe for my turkey in front of her friend and I felt totally pleased and proud.

Also: Tired.

*After my in-laws left on Saturday, my husband had to work on his fellowship applications and I had to work on a big work project due Monday. Sunday, he went to the hospital all day and I worked on my big work project.

I am still tired.

And the good china is still sitting next to the sink. Unwashed.


*Verdict? Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is not difficult but it is EXHAUSTING.

And there you have it, Internet. The big Thanksgiving dinner, for which I spent months preparing and stressing over, has come and gone.

I felt under control (for the most part). The food turned out well. I felt like I was doing justice to the proud Thanksgiving traditions my mom and my husband’s mom have always so admirably and effortlessly tackled.

Best of all, no one died or got food poisoning.

Overall, I’d say it was a success.

But man, I wish I hadn’t burned the gravy.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »