Friday, December 30, 2011

File this under: I AM NOT A SHORT ORDER COOK

It was a wise woman who once said, "Oh no, little child! YOU WILL EAT WHAT I MAKE OR YOU WILL NOT EAT AT ALL!"

This wise woman held her ground.  She taught her children to eat everything on their plates, and they never complained, and they never cried, and they never, ever, ever had even a little twinkle of complaint about anything.  It was said, throughout the land, that the wise woman's children were THE BEST children of all.  OF. ALL.

Or wait . . .

Maybe it wasn't quite like that.

This is the story of how I found myself cooking two separate dinners.

Let's go back to July of this year.  My darling 9 year old girl, who loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian, was reading her favorite book.  (HIGHLY RECOMMEND!) When, almost as if she'd had a sudden epiphany, said to me, "Mom, I was just thinking.  If I want to be a veterinarian, I probably shouldn't eat animals.  Vets don't hurt animals, they help them."

Well . . . um . . . but, you see . . .

I had to think for a second.  I reminded her that I buy almost all of our meat organic and talked to her about how organic animals are raised in a more humane way.  I told her that God tells us in the bible that animals were given to us for food.  I told her that I am always careful to choose foods that are farmed in a way that causes the least amount of environmental burden, as well as a better life for the animals.  And then I blabbed some more . . .

Then she stopped me, "Mom, it's not that I think eating meat is wrong, it's that I think that I just don't want to do it."

Faced with a sudden dilemma of choosing between explaining myself unnecessarily further (with the overtly obvious intention to push my child toward my way of thinking) and embracing my daughter's uniqueness I just said, "That's fine if you don't want to eat meat, but you still have to eat healthy."

So over the next couple of days, as she dabbled in vegetarianism, we talked about protein and what foods contain it and how much of it she needs.  And I set down a few ground rules.

1. If you're going to be a vegetarian, you cannot also be a picky eater.  This means you must eat beans, brown rice, Greek yogurt, quinoa and lots of veggies.  You won't subsist on a diet of nothing but cheese pizza and veggie burgers. (as fun as that sounds!)

2. If you're going to be a vegetarian you cannot pout and complain when you go out and there's nothing vegetarian for you to eat.  You have to be flexible.  You might attend a party that provides very few vegetarian options.  When this happens, you can not stomp around and behave as if you are entitled to special food.  Carrot sticks are your friend.  If you're not sure what will be available, you can always pack a sandwich.  (If you have to resort to your packed sandwich, eat it discreetly. Don't stand in front of everyone and bark about how you don't eat meat.)

3. If I am going to be buying specialty foods for you, you're going to eat them.  Greek yogurts cost nearly $1 a piece.  I don't want to be throwing these things away because you took two bites and decided you didn't like it. 

4. The specialty foods I buy are not for your exclusive use.  They are for our family.  You don't decide who eats them or when they are eaten.  I remember a church camp out once with a young boy who was diabetic and would have an incredibly awful tantrum any time any person drank a diet soda.  It's not cute when someone acts like a diva, no matter the reason.

After a few days of dabbling, she made the call.  She wanted to be a vegetarian for sure. 

And here I am 5 months later, still cooking a vegetarian dinner - or a dinner and it's vegetarian cousin - every single night.  All in all, it has been a surprisingly simple adventure.  It's saved us some money (meat is pricy!) and it's probably pushed us toward a few healthier choices.  The lovely lady is very confirmed in her decision.  She hasn't wavered, in the slightest.  She didn't even cheat for salami and cream cheese, or bacon, or bbq'd steaks.

Here's a meal that became a favorite of our family over the past few months.

If you want to make it you'll need:

A package of chicken drumsticks (organic)
Salt, Pepper, Garlic, Cumin, Chili Powder, Paprika, White Pepper and Chipotle Chili Powder
Naan (I got mine at Trader Joes)
Falafel (ours came frozen, also from Trader Joes, you can make it from a box mix or from scratch, if you're ambitious)
Your favorite lettuce
Shelled sunflower seeds
balsamic vinegar
olive oil

and a BBQ grill

I started with a package of chicken drumsticks. About two per meat-eater is perfect for our family.

I sprinkle one side of the meat with salt, pepper, garlic and each of these spices. You can adjust the proportions of spicy spices, to not-spicy spices to make it how you like it.

I like to do one side only, so that it doesn't get too spicy.

Now, throw the chicken on a hot grill. I do spice side up, first. My theory was that the spices would soak into the meat while the other side cooks.

Turn it over when a little bit of blood starts to run out. They will take longer than you think they should, if you're not used to cooking chicken on the bone, on the grill. These probably took about a half hour, total. ( says 10-15 minutes per side, too) (prep the other food while it cooks!)


When the chicken was nearly done, I moved it off the grill


and put the naan on the hot grill.  Naan is from heaven.


You'll know it is finished when it has amazingly delicious grill marks:
Keep it warm by placing it in the oven while you finish everything else up.  If you time it correctly, it should come off right when you are ready to sit and eat.
The brown rice I am serving here is from Trader Joe's and is the easiest thing ever. It comes frozen, and just needs to be microwaved for 3 minutes. Of course, you can make your own.

The falafel is similar. Trader Joes, Microwave. You know the drill. 

The salad is the best trick of all. No one will believe how simple it was!

Wash, dry and tear your lettuce into bite sized pieces.  Put the lettuce in a large salad bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and toss again.  Now sprinkle some granulated garlic, a little pepper and a healthy handful of the sunflower seeds.  And toss again.

It's good.  The sunflower seed crunch is magic.

This salad is extra good with cucumber, tomato and avocado, too.

So there it is.


Two different, but the same plates.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pie Redux + Random things I totally love

You may recall that wonderful looking Caramel Apple Pear Bourbon Pie I made the other night. I say wonderful looking, because it had yet to be tasted, when last I posted. 

Now it is all gone - and I wish that it wasn't.  It was wonderful and delicious.  And that's what you need to know. 

I had some concerns that the pie would be too wet and that maybe the crust would be soggy, but it wasn't.  The excess liquid thickened perfectly.  I highly recommend trying something like this.  Take my idea and play with it or make up your own pie recipe.  Take a restaurant dessert you love and turn it into something you can make at home.  It will most likely be delicious!  Worst case?  You'll learn a little something about cooking!

If you're in to wonderful food
Another amazing dessert we experienced this Christmas came courtesy of my sister who *heart*s Pinterest as much as the rest of us.  She made incredibly wonderful, totally delicious, and mind bogglingly simple Dulce de Leche sauce, ALL BY HERSELF, in the crock pot.  It was exciting to be present when she opened it up and we all saw that a couple cans of sweetened condensed milk, and a crock pot can come together to make magic.  Delicious, wonderful magic.  You can find the recipe HERE, if you're inclined to try it.

Break Time
Now that Christmas is over, the kids and I have a goal.  For our Christmas break we're going to be reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret together. When my kids discovered this book in our very most favorite independent book store EVER, Sundance Books, they brought it to me immediately.  I had seen Martin Scorsese on The Daily Show a couple days before that and he'd commented about how wonderful the book was, and how his kids' love for it led him to direct the movie Hugo.  So I was excited to read the book, right off the bat.

Then I opened it.

And then I cried.

I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm not.  My eyes totally welled up at the extreme level of loveliness that oozes from this book.  You NEED it.  You need it right now.

As soon as we're all done reading it, we'll be going to see Hugo in the theaters!  Hopefully this whole plan will come together nicely by the end of this week.  Can not wait!

Speaking of movie trailers
I have a thing for documentaries.  I watch a lot of them and I can't stop watching them and I can't stop talking about them.  The other day I caught up on new doc trailers.  I am now officially excited to see this movie (kind of seems to be akin to Winebago Man) and the feel-warm-and-squishy-all-over trailer makes me excited to see this one, too.  Both have already been released, but since I don't live in a big city, I have to wait until Netflix has them for me to see.

Some day I'll open an art house cinema and you can all come to my place to watch documentaries every Friday night.  I'll make tamales and we'll have Perrier and pretend to be fancy. 

If you want to watch a documentary
I recently watched Senna, which was wonderful.  It is a nearly narration-free, super real, look into the life of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna.  It is available on Netflix live streaming.

The kids and I also watched the 1996 film Microcosmos.  The entire film is shot in extreme close-up, with tiny cameras and tons of time-lapse footage of bugs of all kinds, going about their daily business.  It has very little narration and the kids and I loved it.  (Fair warning, you will see a pair of slugs and a pair of ladybugs getting a little personal at some point in this film.)

The kids put their Grandma money together to purchase a Kinect (we already had the xbox) and we spent our Christmas Eve dancing up a storm.  Just Dance is quite possibly, the most fun game ever.

I hope you all had an amazing Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I have made pie

First, I found some cough drops which offered me some much needed relief. 

Then I made quick and easy bean burritos for dinner.

Then, I set out to make an incredible pie.

Oh, it definitely went down.

4 apples and 4 pears. I had them on hand. The fruit decided what kind of pie I should make.

I let fruit make lots of decisions for me.

One down, 7 million to go

I peeled them one at a time, and let them rest in a bowl of water, with a quarter of a lemon squeezed into the water.

One by one, I peeled them.


Then, I cored them and sliced them, thinly. Just as typical pie recipes instructed me to do.



and back in the water they go.

Sliced, resting in water with lemon

After they were all sliced I put them in a colander over the sink and let them sit and drip until I was ready to use them again.

Then things got a little crazy.

Candy and Liquor - best pie ingredients ever

Well, not too crazy, don't get excited or anything.

I unwrapped about 18 caramels and melted them in a sauce pan with about a tablespoon of milk. This step is undocumented because I was distracted by the molten piece of caramel that jumped out of the pan and landed on my right index finger. That didn't feel nice. But I had to get my weekly burn out of the way, so, there's that.

Once the caramel was melted, I removed it from the heat and stirred in about a tablespoon of the whiskey.

I put the now somewhat dry apples into a large mixing bowl and added about 2-3 tablespoons of flour, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1/2 cup-ish of sugar, a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the caramel mixture. I tossed it all together using two large spoons, and let it sit for a second while I prepared the pie crust.

Now, I'll be honest with you. I did cheat here. I used store bought crust. Which is in no way shape or form anywhere close to home made, but I'm sick. Cut me some slack.

The bottom crust goes into the pie tin, first (captain obvious, to the rescue!)

Bottom crust

and the top crust I cut into 1" wide strips


Using a fork, poke some holes in the bottom of the bottom crust, then add your caramel-y, apple-y, delicious-y mixture. Mine was a bit wet, I left about a tablespoon or so of liquid behind in the bowl, but the majority of it went into the pie.

Now, take the 1" wide strips and select about four of them to go across the pie in one direction, like this
Pinch here, lay flat
Pinch them against the bottom crust to make them stay in place.

Then, pinch the rest of the strips against the other side of the crust, like this
First lattice

Then, using your skills in the folding and unfolding of dough, you're going to make a lattice design.

Start on one edge and work your way across the pie.  Fold the strip farthest to the edge back and lay a perpendicular strip across, underneath.  Then lay the folded back strip flat again, and lay a perpendicular strip over it.  And on and on until the whole pie is latticed.  It's easy to mess up, but also not hard to do.  I actually kind of messed mine up when I was photographing it.  But it's easily unfolded and refolded until you get it right.

fold and unfold

Pinch, pinch
Pinch the dough strip on the far side when you're all done folding and unfolding that strip.

When it's all done, trim the excess dough off the edges and press it all together with the tines of a fork.

Ready for bakey


You can bake the little pastry scraps, for a tasty snack, too! I tossed mine in a little cinnamon and sugar and put them on a cookie sheet right in the oven with the pie.  They take about 10 minutes or so to bake and they're yummy.  Call the kids quickly, before you eat all of them yourself.

Just like momma used to make

Now, bake at 400 degrees for about 45-ish minutes. When the crust was reasonably golden brown I gently inserted a fork between the lattice and tested the fruit for done-ness. It was done.  And out it came!

I have made pie

It sure does LOOK tasty, but I won't know for sure until tomorrow when the family joins us for Christmas Eve dinner.  Mine is happily resting in the fridge now, I'll reheat it before dessert time, tomorrow!  Serve with ice cream!

Friday, December 23, 2011


And not in a good way. 

I've been coughing (to a degree of severity that I'd prefer not to discuss right now, but if you're female, over the age of 25 and/or have given birth to a child at some point, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about) all day, every day, for at least week.  It's a terrible, awful problem and I wish it would go away.  I wish I didn't have to do things and be sick.  I wish that I could hide or disappear for a couple days.  I wish I KNEW HOW TO MAKE IT GO AWAY.

But I don't.  So I'll rest and think about what it feels like to not be sick.  But not too much, because late at night, when the coughing won't stop, daydreaming about feeling better only makes you feel worse.  I know from experience.

Instead of doing anything else, I'm going to sit at the computer and make a Company is Coming on Christmas Eve and I'd Better Start Baking, plan.  I'll draw a graph and everything.  Well, maybe I won't draw a graph. 

My wonderful husband ran to the store on my behalf last night, and procured the supplies I need to make two pies.  I've got 4 apples and 4 pears on hand and my plan is to create a pie of my own design.  I'm thinking Caramel Apple Pear Pie.  Good idea? Yes, yes I think so. 

I've googled and have referenced existing recipes.  I could make my own caramel, but I have a bag of caramel candies on hand, so I think I'll use those.  I'll document my journey.  I'm not making any official promises, but I think this might be kind of awesome.

Friday, December 16, 2011

DIY Quickie

This is a story of how an 8-year-old-child's charming white toy box, turned into a very-grown-up-9-yea-old's ecclectic, bohemian toy box.

First of all we have to talk about HGTV and how it pollutes the mind with IDEAS.  Ideas that just don't seem to go away.  Especially not when a very-grown-up-9-year-old's head is the head full of them.

This particular idea, inspired by an episode of Home by Novogratz, went something like this: Cover something, ANYTHING, with duct tape.  PRONTO.  After saying "No, we cannot cover the coffee table in duct tape" 6 to 8 times daily for several weeks, I gave the go ahead. We could cover an item of furniture in her room with duct tape.

The chosen item was this toy chest:


Our first task was to remove the charming, but pesky wood trim around the lid. I suppose the purpose of the wood trim was to make the toy chest look a little bit like a bench. The problem with the trim was that when one opened the chest's lid, the trim dug deep into the wall behind the chest. The wood was loose and the wall behind the chest was stripped all the way down to bare, crumbling drywall.  To keep this problem from expanding further, the toy chest had to be slid about 5 inches away from the wall. The perfect distance for all your falling-over-in-the-dark needs.

In short - the trim HAD TO GO:

No more trim

Next, we selected the tape to be used:

Duct Tape

The choice belonged to the young lady, and I think she chose quite well!  We purchased the tape at a craft store, but I have seen it just about everywhere.

We decided we would alternate stripes of the existing white wood, and alternating patterns of tape. Working together we held long pieces of tape taught, and lowered them down onto the chest carefully, smoothing from the middle to the edges.  (After the fact I thought a basket weave pattern might have been really neat - but, a day late and a dollar short . . .)

Lay them straight

The tape's edges on the back of the chest don't show, and don't need to be perfectly straight. Little Miss trimmed them all by herself:


The edges on the front and sides, though, needed to be cut a little more precisely. We elected to use a pocket knife to cut the tape.  A box cutter would have worked well, too.

Trim straight!

Finally, we decided we would put an initial on the front of the chest. I made the initial carefully, while the edges of the tape were lightly adhered to the edge of my dining room table. I just trimmed everything up neatly and stuck the letter A right in the middle.

All Finished!

Ta Da!

All done.

The three rolls of duct tape cost us about $12, but there was plenty left for other projects, like these adorable flower pencils!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Christmas Time

Every year I seem to be on the hunt for something I can make A LOT of for cheap, so that I have simple gifts on hands for aunties and Grandmas and wonderful friends. Last year I made a million homemade bath bombs (which is wicked fun and I highly recommend!). Of course goodies are always an option and there's the old home made cocoa mix or bean soup in a jar ideas, too.
But this year, thanks to everyone's new favorite website pinterest I had a bazillion ideas. I ultimately settled on something a little more practical than Christmas normally calls for. Laundry Soap.

Yes, it's true.  I made them laundry soap. 

I found the recipe here, via pinterest.
I personally think it's just lovely:

Home made laundry soap

If you'd like to make some of your own, here's how you do it:

You'll need
1 box of Borax (4lb 12oz)
1 box of Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda (550z) (Google told me that washing soda is baking soda that has been heated to make it more alkaline)
1 large box of Arm and Hammer baking soda (4lb)
3 bars of Fels-Naptha soap
2 containers of oxyclean (optional)

All of these ingredients are merchandised together in the laundry aisle of my local Wal Mart.  I haven't checked other stores but my guess is that you can get them anywhere. 

The prep on this is really simple.  Just grate the soap on a cheese grater.  I found that the larger holes on my grater worked best.  Then, just bring all the ingredients together in a kitchen sized garbage bag, inside of a garbage can or bucket or hamper.  Mix it together nicely with your hands, breaking up any clumps as you go.  Be careful not to accidentally squeeze a handful of laundry soap gratings like I did, they'll clump up tightly and need to be broken up again.  And that's it!  You have laundry soap. 

During my research about this soap I have discovered MANY other homemade laundry soap recipes that use essentially the same ingredients.  Some even use Ivory soap.  One commenter on a soap recipe said that she uses mini hotel soaps that her husband brings back from his business travel.  Not a bad idea if you're feeling super broke.

You only need to use 1 Tablespoon per load.  I've been using this soap for about 2 weeks now (without the oxyclean) and one tablespoon seems to work perfectly.  Other recipes I've seen online call for 2 or 3 tablespoons, but as far as I can see that's not at all necessary.

7 jars this size cost me about $14 to make (not including the jars themselves, which were $3 each, if you're curious).  The jars as shown hold approximately 60 loads worth of soap which works out to about 3-ish cents per load.  The recipe makes 420 loads of soap in total, for about 14 dollars.  I'd say that's like A LOT cheaper than any other soap out there.

Lastly I wanted to ad that I have been using it in an HE washing machine and it hasn't foamed up too much or caused me any problems consistent with non-HE detergent.  It melts just fine in cold water AND it is comparable to Free and Clear detergent in terms of gentleness on skin.  It hasn't bothered me at all.

In other crafty exploits:

I recently found this adorable mobile on Pinterest, which inspired me to create a cute DIY Christmas Card display. I made it completely out of supplies I had on hand, including 3-4 spools of ribbon, a little hot glue, a lamp shade frame and some tiny little clear clips (designed to clip string lights to a tree) that I purchased on clearance at Target at the end of summer.

Something Crafty

Christmasy colors would have been more Christmasy, of course, but this way I can use the mobile year round.  Plus, I already had this ribbon on hand.

Now, hopefully someone will send me some Christmas cards! :)