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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

When I left for the grocery store yesterday, I was feeling pretty smug. My freezer is FULL of meat, which is generally the most expensive item on my shopping list, and I’d come up with a meal plan that required only a small package of beef for stir frying. So I was feeling confident that my grocery bill would be nice and low.

Well, it wasn’t. It was, in fact, higher than normal. As I was doing Lamaze-style breathing while the checker scanned and scanned and scanned, my GAWD haven’t you reached the divider between my groceries and the next person’s yet?, I kept soothing myself with this thought: But they’re STAPLES.

I’d hit the trifecta of 1) Lots of fresh fruit at decent prices, and 2) Lots of good sales on Things We Always Need, and 3) Needing to buy more of things we’d either just run out of, or were close to running out of.

The woman behind me had a full cart, too. And it was kind of interesting to see the things that she was buying, in comparison to the things that I was buying. For instance, she had two gallons of milk (I buy a quart every… whatever the lifespan of a quart of milk is), a bunch of boxes of bran cereal, Thousand Island dressing, a big bag of pre-washed spinach, and a watermelon (among other things; I tend not to take thorough notes while poking through someone else’s grocery cart). I would never buy watermelon! I have only purchased spinach a few times! It’s so fun to see how different our lives are from other people’s!

It’s fun to think about what other people consider “staples.” Outside of flour and salt and olive oil, or whatever. Recently, I mentioned that half-and-half is a staple in our house, and Swistle, in the comments, noted that half-and-half is a staple in her home as well. And so I’ve been kind of wondering, what are the staples at YOUR house?

Here’s what they are in mine…

Produce: My husband eats a banana every morning, so I buy those every week. My daughter LOVES fruit, so I buy whatever is in season and least expensive. (Although yesterday I kind of went crazy, buying strawberries AND blueberries AND cherries, and I PLEDGE TO THE INTERNET GODS THAT I WILL WASH AND FORCE MY FAMILY TO EAT EVERY LAST MORSEL.) We eat a lot of broccoli and green beans as sides, so they’re usually on the list. Same goes for iceberg lettuce, which is (probably, I haven’t done any tests) nutritionally meaningless, and yet I can’t quit it. And onions, potatoes, and lemons are super versatile, so I buy them most trips to the grocery store, unless we’re flush with them for some reason.

Dairy: Shredded cheese is totally a staple around here. We eat tacos maybe once a week, and I like to make pizzas for lunch. My husband eats yogurt every day for lunch, so I’m always loading up on yogurt when there’s a good sale. Carla eats yogurt fairly regularly, but then sometimes she’ll boycott yogurt completely, and it’s impossible to tell what the next day will hold, so I buy a lot of the yogurt pouches you can freeze. They are super expensive, so when they are on sale I grab a ton. Half-and-half and sour cream are also staples.

Frozen: Carla, for some reason, loves frozen vegetables. So we usually have a bag of frozen green beans and a bag of frozen broccoli florets in the freezer at all times, and often a backup. She also enjoys the Mrs. T’s pierogis, so when they are on sale, I toss a box into my cart. Same goes for pancakes, French toast sticks, fish sticks, and chicken nuggets. You can almost guarantee you’ll find those things in our house on a given day, so if they are on sale I have trouble NOT buying them. (Which sometimes results in two unopened boxes of fish sticks in the freezer at the same time, so I really need to figure out how to curb that particular Must! Buy! Now! impulse. I think I am what advertisers call “a dream consumer.”)

Meat: We eat a lot of chicken and pork. I get my chicken at the grocery store when it’s on sale and freeze it in two-to-a-bag Ziplocs. I get the pork tenderloin at Costco (unless there’s a good sale). I also get beef at Costco and then grind my own meat for spaghetti, tacos, and chili. Carla LOVES fish. She started out strongly preferring salmon, but she’s branched out into things like opah and swordfish and tuna. So when it’s a good price, I buy some, cut it into small Carla-size chunks, and freeze it. Yesterday the wild salmon was $34.99 a pound and I wish I could all-caps a number because WHAT. So I am glad I still have a piece of more reasonably priced salmon lounging in my freezer for the next time Carla has a salmon craving.

Pantry: Our grocery store is always having sales on canned beans, which means that sometimes my pantry is overflowing with black beans, chickpeas, and dark red kidney beans. We always have a lot of tomato sauce on hand, as well as coconut milk, chicken stock, rice, and taco shells. Carla loves Cheez-Its and Goldfish, so we usually have one or both of those in our pantry. My husband drinks coffee and I drink tea, so we always have those on hand. My husband eats a specific brand of pretzels every day for lunch, and it is now impossible to find them at Target, so I buy two bags at a time just to make sure we don’t run out. Rice Krispies and applesauce are two other must-haves, although I HATE buying Rice Krispies when it’s not on sale, so sometimes we go without.

Spices: The spices I cannot live without are cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, garam masala, cardamom, and coriander. I am constantly buying those things on sale, to the point that one day I discovered I had more cumin than any person could ever use in a lifetime. (I have now gone for several months without buying cumin, which makes me feel a little panicky.)

Condiments: Ketchup is one of Carla’s I-Cannot-Live-Without-You condiment. She also likes maple syrup to an absurd degree; this morning she asked if I could pour some maple syrup into a little bowl for her so she could dip her strawberries in it. Um, no. Then there’s hot sauce, which I count up there with oxygen. Which is how my husband feels about peanut butter, so there’s always plenty of that to be found.

Alcohol: I am the only person in our household who drinks alcohol really at all, so I usually pick up a bottle of Riesling. We typically have gin on hand, for in-law visits and occasional gimlet cravings, but we are OUT of gin right now and I am not interested in replenishing it at this time. If we’re anywhere near having guests, I keep an eye out for wines with high Wine Spectator rankings that are under $10. Come to my house for cumin, stay for the cheap wine.

One of the magical things my mom could always do was whip up a meal out of items just lying around our house. (She didn’t, like, store pasta on the couch or anything. The items she cooked with were in normal food-storage locations.) I suppose, now that I think about it, she probably did meal planning just like I do. But it appeared that she could come home, open the freezer and take a peek in the pantry, and then just throw something together. After many years of buying my own groceries and making my own meals, I feel like I’ve finally reached that point. I prefer to plan out meals in advance (hahahaha – just kidding; I HATE meal planning) (but I do it anyway) (shakes fist at adulthood), but when I haven’t been able to get to the store, or we are just back from a vacation or whatever, I feel pretty confident that I can pull something meal-adjacent out of the items we have on hand. I mean, as long as I have some chicken breasts, a lemon, a potato, and some white wine, I can feed you something pretty delicious, if lacking in greenery.

(Re-reading this, I’m realizing that I am super lucky to be able to buy and stock so many fresh [and otherwise] foods, and I feel a Food Pantry Stock Up trip to the store with Carla coming on, so we can help other people fill their cupboards and bellies, too.)

Okay, now, your turn. Let me peek inside your grocery cart and pantry and fridge. What are the Must Haves and Can’t Live Withouts in YOUR house?

 

Groceries

Don’t be fooled; we had six total grocery bags, packed FULL of groceries. This is just a representative sampling because I didn’t have any other photos to add to the post. For example, I came home with four times the pictured amount of yogurt ALONE. 

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

 

Here it is:

Old juicer

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

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

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

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

Glass juicer

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

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

Juicer 2

And lo! it was amazing!

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

It’s SO easy to use.

But! It is also non-intuitive to use!

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

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

No!

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

Juicer 4

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

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

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

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

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

Juicer 1

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I love pizza but I hate tomatoes.

It’s a pizza paradox.

pizza-3-pizza

Pizza, delicious pizza.

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

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

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

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

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

First you get your ingredients.

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

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

Then you’ve got to make your crust.

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

pizza-1-dough

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

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

Getting back to the sauce.

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

There are four, maybe five ingredients:

pizza-5-ingredients

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

pizza-7-sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pizza-9-sauce

Completely. Smooth. Smooooooooooth.

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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

1-herb-zipper

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

 

2-anthurium

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

3-kung-fu-girl

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

4-coat

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

5-ugg-gloves

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

6-eskimo-blanket

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

 

7-tea-kettle

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

 

8-costco-socks

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

9-laura-mercier-hand-creme

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

10-scrivener

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.
screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-8-39-28-am

Screen shot from nbc.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean.

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

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

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

DEEP CLEANSING BREATHS.

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

Pumpkin cat.JPG

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

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

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

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

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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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