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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

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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Perhaps you are looking for some last-minute Christmas gifts? Or maybe you just like reading about what other people enjoy. In either case, here are some things that I am loving lately (and just to be clear, I am not getting ANYTHING in return for recommending any of these; I either bought them myself or received them as gifts):

Chef’n ZipStrip Herb Zipper

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Photo from surlatable.com

Okay, I didn’t realize this had such a ridiculous name. But it’s awesome. I got a bunch for people as stocking stuffers last year – including myself – and I use it ALL the time. It’s on sale for $6.36 at Sur La Table, if you have any people who like to cook on your Christmas list. 

Anthurium Plant

 

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Photo from homedepot.com

This summer, I was looking for a red lamp to add to my new office and I could not for the life of me find one I liked. But I DID find a really pretty plant with red leaf-like flowers (in a red ceramic pot) at my local Home Depot. I know, a plant does not have the same functionality as a lamp. But if you think of the lamp as more of an accessory, you will see how the plant fit the bill. ANYWAY. It is an anthurium plant, which seems to be a type of orchid. And it’s super easy to care for: I just put a few ice cubes in it each Monday and it remains lovely and shiny all week long. If you have someone in your life who isn’t great at caring for plants but who loves them AND has easy access to ice cubes, this could be the perfect gift. Okay, I am giving the Home Depot site the side-eye because I did NOT pay $32.99 for my anthurium. I can’t imagine paying any more than $15 for it. Maybe $20. I kind of want to dig through my old receipts just to prove it. Perhaps it is seasonally more expensive. If so, it would make an excellent Christmas in July gift.

Kung Fu Girl Riesling

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Photo from kvintners.com

Riesling is my favorite type of white wine. My mantra used to be, the sweeter, the better. But my palate might be changing or maturing or something (unlikely) and I have gravitated to drier wines of late. Kung Fu Girl is my current go-to. It’s probably what I would call semi-dry, so there is a hint of sweetness there. But it’s crisp and clean and also, bonus, I can usually find it for $10.99 at my local grocery store. I’ve also seen it at World Market, if you have one near you.

Lands’ End Shimmer Down Long Coat

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Photo from landsend.com

We live in an area of the country whose winters include snow and cold temperatures. And I happen to possess the variety of child who loves snow more than anything in life. So last year, my husband bought me a down coat from Lands’ End.  It was longer than I wanted it to be – it came all the way down to the tops of my boots (also from Lands’ End). And I felt like a marshmallow. BUT. It is AMAZING. I can be wearing a t-shirt-weight shirt and jeans, and as long as I have that coat on, I feel NOTHING. I can play in the snow with Carla for hours (or until her face is red and I have to drag her inside). I can even lie down in the snow and make snow angels and feel NOTHING. It’s truly the best. And Lands’ End has really good sales on a regular basis. It’s a bit pricy at $199, but if you get a code for 40% off, you’re looking at a much more reasonable $119 for a really great, really warm coat. Oh. I just now “got” why it’s called “Shimmer Down.” I say “got” because you CAN make a pun on “simmer down” just because the coat is made of down doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

UGG Tasman Genuine Shearling Gloves

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Photo from amazon.com

Speaking of warm, these gloves are the softest, fuzziest, warmest gloves ever. Obviously, you can’t text with them on or anything. But I find they are perfect for driving before your car’s heater has kicked in. Or for, you know, being outside in general. They are pricey, at $140, but I looooooove mine so I think they might be worth it.

Bedford Cottage Eskimo Throw

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Photo from bedfordcottage.com

Perhaps you can tell that it is only 15 degrees here, based on these last three items. Well, I am in love with this faux fur throw, which is currently draped over my legs. It’s super soft and warm, but I also love it because it looks like it belongs on a chaise longue in some fancy catalog and makes me feel like the type of person you might refer to as “stylish” and “put together” and less like the type of person whose living room has seventy five Amazon boxes stacked in one corner and a bright blue toddler-height table with red, green, and yellow chairs in another corner and a giant bear from Costco behind the couch and the detritus of a Doc McStuffins vet station scattered across the hearth and pieces of a menorah puzzle strewn like tiny land mines about the carpet. You can buy it via the link above for $149, which I did not; I got it as a gift. But it’s possibly that you could find it elsewhere for less.

Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle

 

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Photo from amazon.com

I drink tea every day, and this water boiler has made it very very very simple. Just fill and press a button. And there are all sorts of temperature variations, so you can set it to the proper temperature for green tea… or black tea… or oolong… or whatever.  My husband – a coffee drinker – uses it too; on weekend for pour-over coffee. I really like that it maintains a specific temperature, too – just in case a toddler suddenly urgently needs you to come help her find proper socks. It cost $73?!?! Sheesh. That seems… excessive. Although it DOES do a nice job. And I really have no concept for how much these things do/should cost. 

Carole Hochman Ladies’ 3 Pair Ribbed Lounge Sock

 

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Photo from costco.com

I grabbed a three-pack of these socks at Costco the last time we were there (what’s a trip to Costco without grabbing something that you simultaneously NEED URGENTLY and also had no idea you needed/didn’t need at all?) and they are sooooo soft and warm and cozy. They don’t look like much from the picture, but they are cushy and plush and I love them. Also: $5.99.

Laura Mercier Hand Crème Sampler

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Photo from amazon.com

Well, crud. I see this is either $51 through Amazon or not available. My husband got it for me last Christmas, and it was a PERFECT stocking stuffer. I wash my hands a bajillion times a day, so they get very dry. And there’s nothing less appealing than that powdery feeling of dry skin – well, I suppose cracked and bleeding finger webs are less appealing. I think it was, at one point, around $30 at Nordstrom. (And, keeping in mind that each of us is comfortable paying certain amounts for certain things and not for others, I find that $30 seems just on the high side of reasonable while $51 has me shaking my head emphatically NO.) I have just in the past month squeezed the very last glob of lotion from the very last sample and I would enjoy getting this again and again each year. Also, if you don’t want to gift someone ALL of the little lotions, you could certainly open up the box and give one sample to multiple people. Including, perhaps, yourself. Of course, all this is MOOT because it No Longer Exists. But I’m sure there are many other good hand lotion sets in the world.

Scrivener

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Photo from literatureandlatte.com

This may be a bit of a niche idea, but as a (would-be/trying-to-be/hopes-to-be) writer, I use this every single day. I never thought that I would like a writing platform more than I do plain old Microsoft Word. But I LOVE Scrivener. It’s very intuitive and user friendly AND it has a very simple tutorial on how to use it, just in case. It makes putting together your novel (or screenplay, I imagine) very simple. No more scrolling down in a long document, or opening multiple documents. You just create a new chapter or chapter-part inside an outline, and then you can move parts and pieces around with the flick of your mouse, OR read your entire manuscript in one flowing document. Plus, it allows you to assign (and customize) keywords to each bit of text, from which characters show up to things you need to research to plot points and dates – which you can then use to help you organize the manuscript in different ways, like, you can see at one glance every chapter featuring your villain. It’s fabulous and it’s only $45 and I love it so. If only it could do the writing for me…

Matymats Grippy Yoga Socks and Stargoods Yoga Gloves 

Photos from amazon.com

I have newly taken on yoga as part of my at-home exercise routine. Which means I have newly discovered that my feet and palms sweat when I do yoga. What can I say. The body is a mysterious wonderland. These socks and gloves help A LOT. No more sliding around while I’m trying to do downward facing dog or a triangle pose or other horrific contortion of limbs that my body is clearly not meant to perform. Both are about $15, but both come with multiple pairs of socks/gloves, which means I can match them to my sports bra. (No.)

 

Good luck with any last-minute shopping you are doing!

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Join me, won’t you, in aggressively discussing something frivolous and distractible and wholly unrelated to The End of Life As We Know It?

First, thank you for your comments and commiseration and suggestions on my post about What to Do About All the Toys. VERY helpful, and I feel more equipped to face it as a thing to be got through rather than something I can try to control in advance.

Today, we are going Full On Holiday! Carla and I are decorating, and then she and her father and I are all going to a kids’ Christmas concert, and then tomorrow we are going Christmas shopping for our Adopt-a-Family family. Woo!

I bought some peppermint body lotion at Bath & Body Works awhile back, just because I like to smell like vaguely Christmas scented candy during the holidays. A few days ago, I decided I needed a little olfactory boost of holiday spirit and – as is my custom – I slathered my entire self in the lotion. Only to discover that it had some sort of cooling element (the mint, I’m assuming) that made my body feel like it was about to pop ice cubes out through my skin. I’m not recommending it, is what I’m saying. Unless you are uninjured but missing the cold sensation of Icy Hot or perhaps are stranded nude on a ninety-degree island. One with a Bath & Body Works store, or an internet connection.

(Today, if you must know, I went for a years-old bottle of Jingle Bellini which is faintly peachy and not in the least reminiscent of the holidays.)

(We are still talking about lotion.)

My husband and I have idly been discussing the menu for the upcoming holidays, and I am wondering something very important:

What do YOU eat on Christmas Eve? And on Christmas Day – for breakfast and dinner? And on Hanukkah, because that’s relevant too and because it’s the holiday with which I have the least food experience!

My family’s Christmas tradition, as far back as I can remember, has been to eat curried chicken and rice soup on Christmas Eve and then to eat a porterhouse spice roast for Christmas Day. My mom would make the soup, and my father and brother and I would go out delivering our homemade chocolates on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day, after the presents were opened, my dad would make pancakes and bacon for brunch. (I have a vague recollection of having had coffee cake some years, but you haven’t yet lived if you haven’t eaten my father’s pancakes.) For dinner, my dad made the spice roast, accompanied by his homemade Caesar salad and lemony steamed broccoli and my mom’s goat cheese and garlic mashed potatoes. YUM. There is nothing that smells like Christmas the way his spice roast does.

My husband’s family tradition was to go to their country club for Christmas Eve dinner, and then, on Christmas Day, his mom would make a beef tenderloin. A couple of times, in the years since my husband and I have been together, his mom tried to change the Christmas Eve tradition to fondue, but I think we all felt so disgusting afterwards it didn’t really take.

But this year will be the first Christmas we’ve hosted that my FATHER isn’t here to make his spice roast. Why yes, I did make my dad cook Christmas dinner the past three years IN MY HOUSE for MY GUESTS why do you ask?

So my husband and I are dithering over what to serve. Join us, won’t you?

Christmas Eve Dinner:

My parents – for whom the Christmas Eve tradition is soup – won’t be here. So… do we go out? We don’t belong to a country club, so that’s not an option. But I don’t know what I’d cook. Roast chicken?

I don’t know that the soup has sufficiently become OUR family Christmas tradition, though maybe my husband feels differently; I should probably ask him rather than rambling on to YOU. But here we are.

Christmas Day Breakfast:

My husband has made a French toast casserole for Christmas breakfast the past few years. That’s probably what we’ll do again. It’s easy to assemble, and you do it the night before and just shove it in the oven when everyone begins to open presents.

(My husband, who loves anything and anything British, tried for a couple of years to make a Christmas bread for Christmas Day… but no one else ate it.) (I tried it; it was so dense and full of things that I just couldn’t enjoy it.)

Christmas Dinner:

Christmas dinner remains a mystery! Do we try a beef tenderloin? It sounds delicious, but I’ve never attempted it. And what if it’s a big failure? (The idea of making a failed version of my mother-in-law’s traditional Christmas meal gives me the shudders.) Same goes for the spice roast; and I am even less inclined to try that, I think, because I associate it so strongly with my dad. (Although I admit to a strong leaning toward nostalgia, and would love to have it become OUR family tradition as well.)

I do not like turkey, and have already made my one turkey for the year, so that’s out. No one in my husband’s family particularly likes ham, so that’s not a good idea. A pork roast seems… less special somehow. So I guess I am leaning toward beef. But… WHAT?

Hanukkah Food:

And do I need to think about something different and special for Hanukkah? Since the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve this year, I’m guessing I might have to switch up the soup plans for something else. Not that I have any idea WHAT. And I have zero clue how to make latkes. And zero desire for anyone else to make latkes in my kitchen. The last time my mother-in-law made latkes – which were delicious – her house was wrapped in a skein of grease and Fried Smell that was very unappetizing. Can you BAKE latkes?

All this talk about food is now making me think about what else I’m to feed our guests while they’re here. My in laws will be here for eight days. My sister and niece will be here for an unspecified amount of time.

Desserty Things:

I tend to forget about dessert, but I suppose that’s important too. Usually, my father and I make chocolates. But… this year I am not going to do so. I will miss it, but I just can’t handle the stress of hosting all these people and also trying to make artisan chocolates in my kitchen. No thank you.

My husband and I are watching The Great American Baking Competition and one of the challenges was all about cookies and bars. So he has been delightedly scrolling through Christmas bar and cookie recipes.

I think I’d be happy with these faux-Twix bars, which are easy and delicious.  But I’m wondering a) what kind of holiday sweets YOU make and b) what you serve for dessert on Christmas/Hanukkah/etc.

Meals Surrounding Christmas:

Breakfast will be… I don’t know. Yogurt? I guess I’ll get some eggs and bacon and milk just in case… I don’t really do breakfast. My child does, of course, but it’s usually frozen pancakes or waffles or cereal or toast and yogurt. I have lots of THOSE THINGS on hand.

Lunches are not my forte, so I suppose I will do what I always do when we have guests: Get a bunch of cold cuts and fancy cheese and crackers and olives and encourage people to help themselves. There will be bread and PB&J and grilled cheese ingredients. (Side note: I am terrible about estimating what we need, and inevitably wind up with WAY too much food. Bleh. I am not looking forward to that part of things, the part where I throw away a bunch of perfectly good food [and money]. And idea how to get more appropriate amounts – without having to go to the grocery store every day?)

Dinners, I can do. I have already purchased the ingredients for this mushroom and spinach lasagna. I’m making one for a friend, and I thought I might as well make TWO and freeze one to eat while my in laws are here. I’ve made it before and it is, as the website implies, damn delicious. So that’s one night taken care of.

Another night is my father-in-law’s birthday, and we’ll go out. So we’re down to needing meals for six days – two of which I addressed at length above.

I’ll probably do boeuf bourgignon one night – or, maybe, instead, I’ll do a coq au vin (which is really the same thing, but with chicken instead).

And maybe tacos another night, since Carla LOVES tacos. Bonus: they are super easy. Double bonus: They are my favorite.

Aaaannnndddd…. Maybe this pork loin with wine and herb gravy? I’ve done it once before, and it was easy and pretty tasty. Maybe with a salad and some… roasted potatoes?

That leaves one more night. I think we will go out. Two nights out in the course of an eight-day visit doesn’t seem excessive, does it? I hope not, because I may have just blacked out a little thinking about all the dishes I will be doing. Or! I passed a local restaurant the other day that had a sign out front with two irresistible words: ORDER PIZZA. Maybe that’s what we’ll do!

What do YOU like to serve when you have company? Extra points for easy.

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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.
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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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Apps:

Our trip to visit my parents is coming up, and with it four very long flights on an airplane. Carla has a tablet for just this kind of occasion (also for going out to restaurants when her parents cannot stand the thought of cooking/washing dishes), and so I am on the lookout for some new apps. Is it apps? Suddenly that’s making me think of appetizers. Or aps? It’s not apse, I know that. (Although I still couldn’t tell you which is the apse and which is the transept or how they are related except by “church.”)

Carla’s favorite apps include:

Toca Pet Doctor (My husband and I recently got into a nearly-heated discussion about why it’s “pet doctor” instead of “vet.” My husband’s explanation is that the “healing” has nothing whatsoever to do with veterinary medicine. My retort is that nor does it have anything to do with any sort of “doctoring.”)

Toca Pet Doctor.jpg

(Image from Tocaboca.com)

 

Toca Hair Salon

Toca Hair Salon

(Image from appsplayground.com)

 

Sago mini Ocean Swimmer

Sago Ocean Swimmer

(Image from googleplay.com)

 

Sago mini Road Trip

Sago Road Trip

(Image from itunes.com)

 

Dr. Panda Restaurant

DrPanda Restaurant

(Image from smartappsforkids.com)

 

Dr. Panda Airport – I love this one because it requires simple counting and number/letter recognition, as well as understanding of matching concepts. Plus it’s fun.

DrPanda Airport

(Image from topbestappsforkids.com)

 

Sago mini Toolbox

Sago Toolbox

(Image from gabdar.com)

We also have Sago mini Monsters, but I don’t know if she’s ever played it. It seems a little simplistic. And we have Toca Boo, which Carla likes in concept (scaring people while dressed as a ghost), but is a little advanced for her, so she gets bored quickly.And there was a Sago mini Friends app we had on our ancient second-gen iPad, which Carla loved as well.

We are always on the lookout for fun apps for Carla. Especially if they are free or very low-cost. Any apps that your toddler loves?

 

Brushing Teeth

Speaking of apps, I was thinking that it would be SO GREAT if there were an app that was connected digitally to a child’s toothbrush. The image on the screen would be of a mouth with lots of gunk on the teeth. And the child would be able to remove the gunk by brushing his/her own teeth. AND the gunk would come off only after two minutes of brushing. HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE?

Because brushing teeth is becoming a HUGE power play around here. My husband and I have exhausted our collective creativity on the subject. For a while, Carla liked being A Big Girl and brushing her teeth. For a short while, she liked me or her father to brush her teeth for her. For a short while, she would “compete” with one of us to see who could brush their teeth most quickly. For a shorter while, she accepted the dentist’s recommendation that we be the ones to brush her teeth. There were a few days when she would enthusiastically “teach” her baby doll or one of her stuffed animals to brush their teeth by watching her. Of course, my husband or I had to narrate the entire time. There were a few days when she thought it was hilarious for me to brush her teeth while she had her thumb in her mouth. Then two thumbs. Once in a while, she will brush her teeth to a toothbrushing song or video on YouTube. Lately, I have been allowing her to watch Elmo videos while I brush her teeth.

Every day, it’s something new. You never know whether she’ll be game for whatever stupid game you’ve dreamed up or you’ll end up feeling like a teakettle about to boil over.

It’s a NIGHTMARISH ORDEAL, is what I’m saying.

HOW in the WIDE WIDE WORLD do you get a stubborn, control-enthusiast toddler to brush her teeth?

 

Eating (again)

Last night for dinner, Carla had two tablespoons of peanut butter and 12 slices of pepperoni.

I mean.

She can’t SURVIVE like this, right? How is she surviving?

As usual, I served her a meal that had a variety of things. AND, the variety was things that she LIKES and has eaten with gusto in the past. (Read: no guarantee she will ever eat again.) I gave her fish sticks (with plenty of ketchup), cheesy noodles, and cheesy broccoli. But no. She put a tiny bite of fish stick into her mouth and then spat it out. “I don’t LIKE it,” she said, beseechingly. SIGH.

She asked for rice off of my plate, then didn’t eat it.

We THREATENED. She has presents to open from the party this weekend, and we said she MUST eat three fish sticks in order to open them. Nope. Nothing more than the teeny little taste that came right back out.

So. Peanut butter and pepperoni it is.

She used to be GREAT about yogurt. And I felt fine with giving her a (whole milk, full fat) yogurt anytime, anywhere. But now she is finicky and not interested. Oh! That DOES remind me that she and I made some yogurt “popsicles” that I should try and get her to eat.

Breakfast used to be a fair guarantee that she’d eat: a pancake or two, a French toast stick or two, plus some fruit, plus an applesauce pouch, plus a yogurt pouch. Lately? She’ll eat a handful of berries, a bite of a starch… and some Cheez Its.

This morning she had twelve Frosted Mini Wheats (she’s very into counting things; there were 20 to begin with, and it took about 890 minutes to eat the twelve and then we were late) and about a half cup of blackberries and raspberries. And an applesauce pouch in the car.

And that’s the other thing. Meals drag. On. For. Ever. I wake her up at 7:00, and we’re “eating” by 7:15… but it takes until 8:30 to be done. And even then, it’s only by setting timers and urging her to KEEP EATING FTLOG and then we have to be finished even if she’s not done. Dinner time is a series of ups and downs and “I need water” and “I need a spoon” “no a different spoon” “no a BIG GIRL spoon” and “I have to go potty” until we strap her into her booster seat. And then it’s eating nothing and trying small bites and arguing and wheedling and negotiating until finally I set the timer for bath time. And then she wants something else! That she doesn’t eat! And something else! And something else! Until I am ready to throw in the towel and all the bedsheets and a canopy besides.

I know – I know – that EATING is one of the few ways she can exert control over her universe. But it is driving me mad. MAD.

And also nervous. Because how is she surviving? She eats less than a bird.

Do I just… continue along this path – offering good food, then when she refuses it, give her an alternate option? (And please keep in mind that I asked her what she wanted for dinner – between two options – and she chose fish sticks so it’s not like I haven’t tried THAT tack.) I cannot put her to bed hungry. I know it’s an option, and it’s one that we’ve tried. But it just doesn’t work for us.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

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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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