Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Break

Wrapping presents. Packing bags. Feeding chickens. Paying bills. Cleaning kitchen. Folding clothes. Making lunches. Taking shower. Pausing newspaper subscription.

We take off for the airport in 3 hours. We take off for my family in 5 hours!!

The excitement, exhiliration, and ecstasy that is familial love has gotten hold of me, and if our plane should be cancelled due to this heavy fog, I might be able to run home.

A little heads up: I may or may not be inspired to blog while lounging with my siblings & being spoiled rotten by my parents... I really don't know. In case I've got a mom's amazing comfort food hangover and can't bring myself to type, Tasty Tuesday is canceled and blogging here for the next 15 days could possibly be sporadic, if at all. Spend the time you would've spent reading this blog by cherishing your family, too (especially your husband).

Merry Merry Christmas, dear readers. Please celebrate the whole Christmas Season, beginning on Christmas and continuing with the joy of the Feast of St. Steven, of St. John the Apostle, the Feast of the Holy Family, Feast of the Holy Innocents, Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, a Blessed New Year, and have a sacred Epiphany.
Arthur Hughes

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Secret Talents of Awkward Adolescents

My 11 year old niece has spent a lot of time, lately, wondering what to do with her life. Career options are percolating in her mind most of the day, and possible professions are her favorite topic of conversation.

Wow. I'm so glad I'm not at that age anymore.

But she rejects most of the more ambitious options as being "too hard," or "doesn't pay enough," or plain and simply, "I'm not interested in it." It's good to know your mind and your limits, I suppose.

In her Vocabulary book, there was a blurb about professional mourners. Apparently a few hundred years ago, affluent families with few friends would hire professional mourners to pack the churches and weep at the funerals of their forgotten folks.

My niece has decided that this is her calling in life.

"I can cry easily. I'm good at being dramatic. And funerals usually have pretty good food at the receptions."

What more could you want for in a job?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Easy Cheesy Garlic Butter Twisted Breadsticks

Tasty Tuesday
Grab the button here and come join us, or just link to another site with a recipe you're going to try... or post a recipe in the comments!

For most of my adult life (which isn't terribly long), I've been afraid of yeast breads. Banana bread? No problem. Zucchini bread? Boo ya. Sandwich bread? Uuuuum... why would anybody make that?

When I was very young, my mom made incredible sourdough bread. She stopped making it around the time our dear family friends opened an "old world bakery" and started supplying us with all of the delicious fresh bread we could ever want. So I never learned the skill.

But then I got married. And my mother-in-law makes homemade bread all the time; often with home ground wheat. And my husband's eyes light up when she takes a loaf out of the oven. And... well... I just had to acquire the ability to produce that same light, by golly!

So I set out to make bread. And ouch, my fears were not unfounded! Horror of horrors, failure in the kitchen: something I wasn't really accustomed to, anymore. Brick, after brick, after fallen loaf, after flavorless hockey puck, after denser than a neutron star dead-weight anvil. (For the record, Wikipedia claims a neutron star is as dense as the entire human population compressed into the size of a sugar cube).

Though my husband would eat every boulder I set before him, and graciously nod and remark, "mm hm," while checking to see if his teeth were intact, I soon surmised that the look in his eye inspired from my baking was less the expectant light of approaching culinary comfort than the resigned anticipation of impending indigestion.

But I was determined. While giving myself a pep-talk before another 4 or 5 hour attempt, I came upon a simple recipe. Breadsticks.

"Maybe... oh maybe. The time investment is small, the ingredients are few... aw... what the heck?"

And I made them. And I made 4 mistakes in the recipe.

But it didn't matter.

They were light, and chewy, and flavorful, and airy, and little puffs of cloud that beautifully accompanied my chicken soup. They were incredible!

And then it happened.

"Where did these come from?"

"I made them."

"You made them?"

"Yes!" with an air of playfully haughty defiance.

"These are amazing!"

And thus began my love for homemade bread. Boosted by this breakthrough triumph, I gained the confidence I needed to conquer the loaf. Now, when my husband smells bread when he comes home, there's the joyful appreciative glint in his eye.



So if yeast makes you run in the opposite direction, please give this easy little recipe a try. In about an hour you'll enjoy hot homemade fresh breadsticks. And maybe your husband's eyes will light up, too. He's worth it.

Recipe note: I can vouch for the deliciousness of replacing 1/2 of the white flour with wheat, but I haven't tried more than that.

Easy Cheesy Garlic Butter Twisted Breadsticks

Credit: Image and adapted recipe from Favorite Family Recipes

1½ cups warm water
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. Active Dry yeast (not instant or bread machine yeast)

Sprinkle the sugar and yeast into the warm water and let that sit for 5 minutes. Then add:

3½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp Salt

For brushing/sprinkling:

Melted butter (a few Tbsps.)
Kosher Salt
Garlic powder (not garlic salt)
Parmesan cheese
Fresh or dried Parsley or other Italian herbs (optional)

1. Mix until smooth (if you have a mixer with a dough hook, it's even easier) then let raise for 10 minutes.

2. Roll out dough into a large square on a floured surface. Brush with melted butter, sprinkle with garlic powder, cheese and herbs (optional), and then sprinkle with kosher salt.

3. Fold in half and cut into 1 inch strips (with a sharp knife or pizza cutter).

4. Preheat oven to 400°F. 

5. Twist each 1 inch strip and place on a greased or parchment-lined cooking sheet. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes to raise.

6. Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately after baking, brush with more butter and sprinkle with garlic, kosher salt and grated parmesan cheese.

Serve with marinara, alfredo sauce, or ranch for dipping, or as a side with your favorite soup or pasta dish.

What have you made, lately?

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm Going Home!!

Right is 5:40pm. It's cold, dark, and the earth around my house is covered in snow. My husband won't be home for hours. I just got off of Facebook chat with my sister, telling her I was going to go exercise. I will! As soon as I'm done with this post... and cleaning my kitchen... and... addressing a few Christmas cards.

This weekend... I read up on more crunchy granola "real foods" stuff that I'm too intimidated to start: lacto-fermenting, sourdough, sprouting, and kefir. Ridding our diets of high fructose corn syrup, MSG, trans fats, most soy, most white flour and refined sugar foods, and cooking almost entirely from scratch has been a big enough adjustment, though not without its rewards. I think I'm just about ready to start taking the plunge into phase 2.

This week I plan to... get packed well before the hour we fly home to my family. I also hope to send out our Christmas cards and get some wrapping materials for our homemade gifts. And I could really use few new shirts before flying home... if I only see my family once in a blue moon, they deserve to see me in something better than an over-sized t-shirt.

I am praying for... my conversion. My prayer life has tanked recently, as I've pushed it aside for anything and everything else that's "more pressing." This has got to stop. "Until you are convinced that prayer is the best use of your time, you will not find time for prayer." Fr. Hillary Ottensmeyer, OSB

Something that makes me smile: This week I'm going to see my brother, and my sisters, and my parents... and my husband will be with us all. Does it get any better?

Monday Musings are hosted by Nadja at Patch O' Dirt Farm.

Friday, December 17, 2010

From the Archives

I don't feel like my blog's archives are extensive enough to draw from, but I need to feel like an accomplished and prolific writer, today, and I relived this experience this morning. So let's open the vaults and share this awful adventure anew, slightly edited from the original post of July 18, 2009:

I've been transplanted from city life for a while now, and I've learned many things. One of them is that Little House on the Prairie is dramatized, sensationalized, and romanticized.

While, yes, farm fresh eggs from chickens whose names you know are glorious things...

... you never get rotten eggs from a store!

I have refrained from posting a picture of the noxious thing because, quite frankly, it looks 1/2 as nasty as it smells and the fetid stench nearly caused me to wretch (I don't want a visual reminder of the putridness).

But never fear. Since I've removed the malodorous monster, disinfected my entire kitchen, and air-freshenered all remaining fumes from the foul beast, Clucky will live to see another day.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Our Love Story, Part XIII

Catch up on Parts 1-12 here.

After that little phone call, I didn't hear from Mr. Amazing for some time. It was enough to keep me going on the novena, but not enough to give me any clarity or definite answers. I did know after that Summer, though, that no one on earth made me swoon like Mr. Amazing. Was it love? I didn't know, but I was willing to wait to find out.

In hindsight, my next move was very forward, but at the time it seemed the only practical step. I booked another plane ticket. This time, for Christmas break, "to visit Miriam and Meg." This was it, by golly! He'd make his move or I'd shake the dust of his deserty town from my feet and never look back.

Almost immediately after buying the ticket, I'd wished it undone. Miriam, attempting to intervene in my thwarted desires for romance with her brother, had planned a DANCE at the parish during my visit. NOO!!!! At least Diana wouldn't be there to steal him as her dance partner, but I couldn't dance with him! He was like Fred Astaire on the dance floor, and all of my previous dance partners had ended up on crutches!

After the initial panic wore off, however, and the knowledge that there was no backing out had sunk in, I signed up for dance classes: 3 intense session of East Coast Swing. I was triple step rock stepping in my sleep. I bought a sparkly dress with a swirly skirt and listened to big band swing ad nauseum. I would be so ready for this.

My first semester of grad school trudged by -- I no longer dreamt of being a world-class philosopher. My thoughts were usually occupied with the tall, dark and handsome philosopher of the Northwest. None of my classes interested me. At last finals were over and I flew off to see him... er... them.

When I arrived at Miriam's house, I tried to play it cool and not appear to be looking for him. Miriam, by now, knew of my attraction to him, but the rest of the family didn't yet suspect it.

And then, in the doorway, he appeared!


My heart sank, and my pulse did not quicken. He had a beard! A scruffy, scuzzy beard!! For once, I didn't blush in his presence. In fact, my fervor, once as hot as red flame, was cooled to a tepid breeze.

But then he smiled, and somewhere under that bristly bush was the charmer that made my heart warm and gladden again. But oh, it just had to go.

The dance was scheduled for the night after my arrival. I was sitting on the couch in the back corner of the living room, looking at family albums, when Mr. Amazing came in to seek his sisters' advice.

"The beard... should I keep it or shave it for the dance?"

"Oh, it makes you look so distinguished," offered one. "I really like it, keep it!" voiced another. "Oh, you look wonderful in it!" said another. "It's a great look for you," said his mother.

After all the females had weighed in, he wryly looked in my direction in the back corner. "What do you think?"

Aaah!! What to say?? Voice the unpopular truth that he looks like a scruffy mountain man just come out of the woods for his Springtime bath? or fib and flatter?

My lips didn't hesitate as long as my brain did, though, and I chimed in, "Um, I think you look better without it."

Within seconds I heard the buzz of an electric razor, and I positively gloated.

To be continued...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Guilty Secret

We're less than two weeks away from our wedding anniversary.

It's not our first anniversary.

And... uh... I have a confession to make.

I still haven't legally changed my name.

I introduce myself by my married name, of course! And I sign checks that way. And I have a library card in that name. And I sign all correspondence that way... but... well...

I hate the department of licensing! You wait, and wait, and wait... and get tossed from one line to the next as you fill out Side A of this form and Side C.145 Subsection 29 of this form, to go back to the end of the line, to come back next week with another form of ID. Then you finally get to the end of the mumbo-jumbo and receive a card with your own likeness in the most unattractive mug shot of all time. "$10 please."

Well, I've been challenging myself to get it done for... a long time... but it never happened. So I picked a surefire way to do it: I bought a plane ticket under my married name. There ain't no way I'm messin' with the TSA Agents over nomenclature; I wanna fly under the radar, so to speak.

So, in anticipation of my flight home for Christmas, today I braved the hour and a half wait and officially became a member of my husband's family.

"Do you want to hyphenate?"

I almost did it just to see my husband's expression. 

"Um... no, thank you."

And the picture? Well... it bears a remarkable resemblance to Picture #4.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Individual Artichoke Gratin

Tasty Tuesday
Grab the button here and come join us, or just link to another site with a recipe you're going to try... or post a recipe in the comments!

We received a beautiful deviled egg tray for our wedding and I use it all the time for deviled eggs, but I've been searching for other ways to feature the lovely dish. After tireless sleuthing, I've finally unearthed an appetizer that is worthy of the tray it's served on!

Individual Artichoke Gratin. (Gratins? Help me out here.)

They taste great hot or room temperature and yes, should there be any cold leftovers, they are also very good.

The artichokes themselves are not extraordinary, other than their beautiful presentation. What really makes them stand out is the balsamic mayonnaise dip. Artichokes and balsamic mayo go together like peanut butter & jelly, like butter & toast, like Johnny & June, like... dot and com! They were just made for each other.

So whip your deviled egg tray out of storage and prepare these tasty little appetizers: ridiculously simple but très chez gourmet.

Individual Artichoke Gratin
From Chef John of

2 cans whole unmarinated artichoke hearts (not quartered, but whole)
unseasoned dry breadcrumbs (to absorb moisture)
fresh grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to drizzle

For the Balsamic Mayo (not pictured)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
Balsamic vinegar (a few tablespoons?)

To make the balsamic mayo:

Mix mayonnaise with balsamic vinegar until you can taste the vinegar -- a few Tbsp. If it's too runny, refrigerate it for around 30 minutes, or add a little more mayo (best when made ahead).

To make the artichokes: 

Slice the artichokes in half, lengthwise. Turn upside down onto paper towels to drain (important).
On a foil-lined lightly oiled cookie sheet, arrange the drained artichokes, salt & pepper to taste, add 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of breadcrumbs (to absorb any remaining moisture), spoon on a Tbsp. or so of Parmesan, and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Place 6" under a broiler, and broil about 7 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown.
Serve hot or room temperature.

What have you made lately?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Adorable but Unwelcome Surprise Visitor

We had a visitor recently.

Outside, thankfully.

Right on my back porch! Eek!!

Grossness factor aside, isn't that one of the cutest little puffballs you've ever seen?

It reminded me of the "House Mouse Designs" that a dear family friend used to collect.

But as cute as he is, I warned him in courteous tones that if he stepped foot inside, I wouldn't just be shooting photos.

Bye bye, Fuzzy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cherry Pepper Poppers

"Surpringly simple, but surprisingly delicious: the dark horse winner of the evening." That's how my husband described these little beauties.

They were my favorite appetizers of our recent party.

Two ingredients: cherry peppers, and Italian sausage.

Despite the simplicity, these little pepper poppers pack a peck of punch. Not heat, but flavor, and color.

They're best served at room temperature or even cold. If you serve them hot, the vinegar brine of the peppers is too strong.

Apparently there's a brand called Peppadew sold online and in some "higher end grocery stores" that comes stemmed and seeded, but it only took a few minutes to cut the tops off and scoop the seeds out of these:
So go ahead and bring these to the next party. It's a humble little appetizer that packs a lot of flavor without a whole lot of effort.

Cherry Pepper Sausage Poppers
(Makes about 24 pepper poppers)

2 jars of mild cherry peppers
1 pound Italian sausage (if using links, remove casings)

1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Remove the stems and seeds from the cherry peppers.
3. Stuff about a tablespoon of Italian sausage into each pepper (really pack 'em full; the meat shrinks as it loses fat when cooking).
4. Evenly space the stuffed peppers on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet (they drip, so I wouldn't use a flat cookie sheet).
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the meat is golden brown.

Cool, stab with toothpicks, and serve.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bacon Wrapped... Crackers?

Anything wrapped in bacon is a sure winner. When I saw this recipe on The Pioneer Woman, however, my first thought was, "um... ew."

But I kept coming back to it.

"It just can't be that good. It's a cracker. And it's wrapped in bacon. How does that not just taste like a cracker wrapped in bacon?"

But something magical happens in the oven. And it transforms the cracker into something entirely new. And the bacon isn't greasy awful; it's crisply chewy (squarely round? hardly soft? I can keep going, here).

The cheese, though barely discernible, does offer a slight pungency that balances the other flavors. (How many food snobbery points do I get for that sentence? My fingers feel tainted for typing it.) 

Anyway, my husband really liked them, and that's why I'm posting them. They're really yummy, and best of all, they can be served at room temperature so you can wrap 'em the night before and bake 'em up the morning of the party, or even bake 'em ahead, freeze and reheat before serving.

Bacon Wrapped Cheesy Buttery Crackers

1 package buttery crackers (like Club, but Ritz would probably be good, too)
at least 1 pound thinly sliced bacon (the thick stuff doesn't wrap well)
Parmesan cheese (I used the good kind but I'm sure the green can stuff would work well, too)

1. Lay crackers (as many as you want) face up on a cookie sheet.
2. Scoop about 1 teaspoon of grated Parmesan cheese onto each cracker.
3. Cut your package of bacon in half and carefully, so the cheese doesn’t fall off, wrap each cheese covered cracker in one half piece of bacon, completely covering the cracker. It should fit snugly around the cracker.
4. Place the bacon wrapped crackers onto a baking sheet that has a rack on it.
5. Place in a 250-degree oven for about 2 hours.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cutest Appetizer Ever

What I am about to share with you is a show stopper appetizer. It will be the most commented-upon item of your party menu. Not because it's the most delicious food you've ever popped into your mouth (though it is rather tasty), but because it's so stinkin' CUTE!

My husband, a manly man to the nth degree, actually said, "These are almost too cute to eat."

Indeed, they are.

Meet Huey.

Hi Huey.

This is Hubert.

And Horace, and Humphrey, and Harry, and Hamilton, Harold, Hector, Henry, Howie, Homer, Hugo, Hugh, Hunter...

A word to the wise. Don't name your penguins. It makes it so much harder to eat them.

Trust me.

Except for Bob.

For some reason it wasn't hard to eat Bob.

They are a bit tedious to make, but the appreciative and delighted grins, chuckles, and comments of your guests will make it all worth it.

Show Stopper Penguins

1 can Jumbo black olives
1 can Small (or Medium) black olives
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese
1 or 2 carrots

1. Slice the carrot into about 1/8th inch slices. Cut a V shape notch out of each slice (the big piece of the pie is the feet, the small slice is the beak).
2. Slit one Jumbo olive, lengthwise, and stuff with about 1 tsp. cream cheese (I rounded the teaspoons into little balls, first, and it helped a little).
3. Insert the small carrot wedge into the "x" on a small olive.
4. Line up the head, body, and feet, and secure with a toothpick.
5. Prepare to hear, "Aaaaww!! How cute!"
6. Refrain from naming your penguins.

You can use sliced red or green bell peppers to make scarves. Try them!

(I'm a day late on Tasty Tuesday, as I was making appetizers all day yesterday. If you wrote a Tasty Tuesday post, please link it today!).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Appetizer Week

I feel pretty comfortable in a kitchen. Whereas I sweat bullets while playing the piano in front of other people, I have a bit more confidence behind the handle of a cast iron skillet. Of course I've had my fair share of kitchen disasters, but linguine is more forgiving than Listz, and I take more delight these days in deciphering the difficult passages of Julia Child than of Johannes Bach.

But there are still a few culinary categories in which I draw a complete blank; a lacuna in my epicurean education, if you will.

One such file of fright is... appetizers.


Two words.

Vegetable. Tray.

I can never think of anything besides a vegetable tray. Face it: nobody likes them! When was the last time you voluntarily munched away on raw cauliflower? Does anyone ever eat raw bell peppers dipped in Ranch dressing except at Christmas parties? Is anything more grotesque than a guest walking around with your uncooked broccoli stuck in their two front teeth? Can you daintily crunch a carrot during polite conversation?? Have you ever choked on a celery string in public?

It's just not pretty.

Sure, people feel guilted into loading up their 6" plate with vegetables so that they can justify the fudge, Christmas cookies and pie later in the evening... but spare your guests these trappings of temperance from the beginning, and skip the vegetable tray altogether.

But what to put in its place? Cheese trays are expensive. Hot dips are delicious but awkward on those tiny appetizer plates. 

This week, I will share some different bite-sized, make-ahead, elegant recipes that are best served at room temperature (why compete with your main course for oven space?).

After this week, you'll jump at the chance to bring the appetizer to potluck parties. Just try not to outshine the hostess.

You can thank me with $10's and $20's.

Friday, December 3, 2010

3rd Grade Joke

Overheard in the classroom today:

Why did Silly Billy need another shoe?

He grew another foot. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Late Bloomers

Each of the chickens is maturing at her own pace.

We got 8 eggs today! That's a little less than 1/3 of the flock currently in production, but it's pretty exciting.

I was made for this.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why I'll Never Be A Great Photographer

Great winter photography requires a few components and skills. A good camera. A good subject. A good eye. And the willingness to walk outside of your front door to capture the shot.

But I'm willing to settle for being just a "good" photographer if it means I can take these from my couch by the heater vent, through the closed window, wrapped in a blanket, wearing fuzzy slippers, clandestinely listening to forbidden Christmas music during Advent.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Recipe Call: Fudge, Anyone!!?

Tasty Tuesday
Grab the button here and come join us, or just link to another site with a recipe you're going to try... or post a recipe in the comments! 

I'm on the hunt for amazing fudge recipes. I want to make fudge (and toffee, truffles and turtles), and I really don't know where to start. There is a curious lack of credible sites posting good recipes online; is this one of those secret family recipe things?

Easy 5 minutes microwave varieties? Please. Laborious candy thermometer versions? Yes. Any kinds. I'm open to it all, but for the record I think maple fudge is a crime against humanity.

Thank you.

If you don't have a blog, then please share recipes in the comments of this post.

In the meantime, might I direct you to a Tasty Tuesday entry I tried and loved last week? It's going on our regular meal plan from now on; it was ridiculously simple but outrageously tasty.

Amy Caroline's Parmesan Chicken.

I've made Chicken Parmesan before... breading, then frying, then baking... but this was so much simpler and just as delicious. I added some leftover homemade pizza sauce, and voila! A stress-free, last-minute, throw-together, comforting, yummy dinner. Heaven knows this time of year we need some of those, hm?

What have you made, lately?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Answered Prayers?

Our nine month novena is about to end. We've been praying, amongst other intentions, for twins.

Of the 8 eggs we've gotten from our chickens, so far, three of them have been:

I think the wires are getting crossed somewhere between here and heaven. But it makes me laugh every time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

In A Good Place

I've written a few posts on this blog about the cross of infertility. While I'm deliriously happy in my marriage, the fruitlessness of our union has been a very painful saga.

Recently, I was reflecting on why this is so. I've always been a rather happy person. Why was this one topic so different? It's not in my nature to be sad about my state in life; I've always been content, no matter where I was or what I was doing.

When I was a teenager, I was sheltered and didn't know I was supposed to be defiant, angsty, and rebellious. I never fought with or yelled at my mother, I appreciated our family's rules and limits, and I passed through puberty without too much of a "history" to show for it.

In college I wasn't aware that I was supposed to be miserable without a boyfriend. It wasn't until after I graduated that I found out that the worst day of a college girl's year is supposed to be Valentine's Day. Oops; I missed the memo and looked forward to the day for discounted candy.

But before I got married, I suspected that infertility would be an issue we'd be dealing with. And I started reading. And infertile women are angry. And depressed. And miserable. And shout at God. And scream in their beds with frazzled hair and tear-stained pillows.

Blog, after blog, after article, after book, after blog.

When it came time for it, I was blissfully happy with marriage, but realized two months later, "wait... we didn't have a honeymoon baby... I'm supposed to start screaming, 'WHY ME, Lord???' and turn on the waterworks now."

And I did it. I hyped myself up into a frenzy, and I felt happy being miserable. I was following the pattern that infertile women are supposed to follow.

Secretly, I wasn't actually crushed when the pregnancy tests came up negative. But I felt guilty for not being miserable. "Does it mean I hate children that I'm not depressed? Am I closed to new life? Do I harbor a contraceptive mentality?"

Those were actually the questions that made me fret. Not the childlessness, but the lack of true sorrow.

It came to a head a month ago when Miriam, my dear sister-in-law and one of my closest friends, called to tell me that she was expecting. And I didn't rejoice with her.

I was supposed to be sad, and jealous, and bitter. 

I was supposed to ask God why she, after two months of marriage, was having her first child when I've been married for years with no one to show for it.

She told me that she had called me last because she didn't know how I would react; that she felt miserable telling me she was pregnant. The happiest day of her life, and she felt miserable sharing it with me!!

That's when I started to take a step back. It didn't feel right. It didn't feel authentic. It didn't feel legitimate. I was putting up a mask of sorrow because I thought it was expected of me; and I was hurting my friendships, my relationship with God, and even my marriage.

I love being married! I am so content with my state in life! I'm not miserable! I'm not unhappy!

I'm not saying that I wasn't suffering real anguish here and here, or that the feelings then were manufactured. Women's emotions are impossible to explain. There is something very real to be mourned for here. I would love babies. Should we have children, I'll be happy then, too.

But I'm tired of being miserable that we don't have them now, because I'm too busy being happily married.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


26 hens (+1 rooster). Hundreds of $$. Hours of labor. 15 bags of feed. 5 1/2 months.

2 eggs.

But aren't they pretty?!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

5 Tips for Perfect Homemade Flour TORTILLAS (With Recipe)

Tasty Tuesday
Grab the button here and come join us, or just link to another site with a recipe you're going to try... or post a recipe in the comments! 

***UPDATE January 17, 2011 I've used all butter (when I ran out of lard) and they were delicious! I also did them with 1/2 lard and 1/2 olive oil once, but I didn't like the results as much -- they were crispier and not as tender. ***

Flour tortillas. Oh soft, tender goodness. Oh light, delicate, bready warmth. Oh perfect holder of all things edible: fajitas; tacos; Greek chicken; Nutella; leftover casserole with sour cream (don't diss it 'til you try it); banana, with peanut butter and honey; and even (lightning, please don't strike me)... hot dogs with Cheez Whiz.

Oh flour tortillas, how I love thee.

But you are the bane of my cooking skills.

I cannot count the number of times I have felt like an utter failure because you turned out crispy, or greasy, or thick and doughy, or flavorless, or gummy, or dry.

Until now.

Yes, dear friends, after literally a decade of dashed hopes and failed attempts, in the twilight of September 8th, 2010, I made a perfect flour tortilla. I thought it was a fluke, so I tried it again on October 12, 2010 and was stricken by my repeated success. Could it happen a third time? This morning: yes!!

Tender, light, flavorful, perfectly browned, and freezable! (I've frozen them after rolling both before and after cooking: they taste about the same, with a slight preference for freezing raw).

You see, for 10 years I thought it was about the perfect recipe. I'm sure the recipe has a lot to do with it, but I'm learning it's more about technique.

Here are 5 tips I learned through failed attempt after failed attempt.

#1. Let Crisco be anathema. Mexican mamas don't use Crisco. Crisco is greasy, flavorless, and dare I go into the heart-clogging, artery-plugging, cholesterol-raising, heinous disgustingness that is the hardened hydrogenated polysaturated spreadable manufactured soybean fat? NO! Just say no to Crisco. USE LARD! (If it's in the refrigerated section of your grocery store, it's good. If it's in a tub, then it's hydrogenated just like "vegetable shortening." You can easily make it at home in a crock pot. Ask a butcher at a meat market [not a box grocery store] for grass fed pork leaf lard. They normally throw away this gold. Directions: here.)

#2. By all means, use nearly boiling water. When recipes say "warm water," it does no good unless the fat is melted, and the way to do that is with nearly boiling water. You're not killing yeast here, so get it as hot as you can. I microwave mine for 3 minutes (old microwave).

#3. When it says "knead five minutes," they actually mean it. There is a qualitative difference between tortilla dough kneaded "until combined and smooth," and tortilla dough kneaded for a full five minutes. Don't skimp on the kneading. (I use my KitchenAid with the dough hook and love the results, but I've successfully done it by hand before).

#4. Roll them until they're translucent. Yes, you really do need to see through them. Don't use a tortilla press. A tortilla press is designed for corn tortillas and really only works for them. No matter how much I kidded myself into thinking they were thin enough when pressed, the resulting pitas should have clued me in. If you can't see through it, it's not thin enough. (Yes they'll still taste great and will be good for gorditas, tortas, or carnitas, but they won't be that nice thin "tortilla consistency.")

#5. Use medium heat! Your tortillas will be crispy and black before they're cooked if you use a high heat. Be kind to your tortillas, and use medium heat.

So a brief recap:

  • Don't use Crisco. Use lard.
  • Get the water almost or actually boiling.
  • Knead a full five minutes.
  • Roll them as thinly as possible.
  • Use medium / medium-high heat.
Now, here's how you know when you've mastered it: your tortilla will bubble. If it doesn't bubble (and the first one on the skillet rarely does), it'll still taste okay, but you've not yet reached the pinnacle of tortilla perfection.

I know, because my tortillas never bubbled. And then when I tried the 5 above tips (through trial and error), I thought I'd done something wrong because my tortilla was exploding in front of my eyes.


You, too, can make a perfect homemade flour tortilla.

Now I know you'll be wanting a recipe, and I can say... I've got three or four recipes that are all pretty good. The technique is what matters. But, you've got to start with some recipe, so the one I consistently use nowadays is translated and adapted from Blanca Díaz's magnificent how-to video on YouTube. If you've never made tortillas, watch the video two or three times (and cry when your first attempt doesn't turn out like hers... and then call everyone you know and rejoice on the day when you have mastered it).

Homemade Flour Tortillas
First Seen On and Heavily Adapted From Mangio da Sola

3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
scant 1/2 cup of lard
¾ to 1 cup of very hot water (near or actually boiling)

1. Place the flour in a bowl.

2. Add the salt, baking powder, and fat without stirring.

3. Little by little, pour the very hot water over the ingredients and mix them with your hands (or dough attachment in your stand mixer), measuring the quantity of water until you reach the desired texture. It should be moist and soft, but not sticky.

4. Knead/Mix the dough for 5 full minutes, and form a ball.

5. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel, and allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

6. Cut the dough into 8 pieces for burrito-sized tortillas, or 12 pieces for regular small tortillas, and roll the pieces into little balls.

7. Place one of the balls on top of a clean surface, and press down on it lightly with your fingers.

8. Roll out the little ball until you form an oval. Lift up the oval and turn it to the right 45 degrees, and roll it out again. Turn it 45 degrees again to the right until you creat a circle of the desired size (if this makes your head spin, just watch the video).

9. Place the tortilla on a hot comal, griddle pan, or cast-iron skillet until it forms small bubbles on the uncooked side of the tortilla. Play whack-a-mole with the tortilla (push the air out of the bubbles as they pop up). Turn over the tortilla, and wait until it inflates a bit; continue beating the bubbles into submission.

10. Store the tortillas in tortilla holder, covered container, or wrapped in a towel. You could also keep them warm in a low-temperature oven. These tortillas can be reheated the next day; store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.

What have you made, lately?

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Monday Musings: BLIZZARD Edition

    Right is 5:15pm. I'm thinking about changing tonight's meal plan... and making some bread before my husband gets home.

    This weekend... was great. On Saturday I labored eight hours and almost finished my birthday gifts for "Meg" and "Miriam" of Our Love Story fame. They both have December birthdays. Oooh, how I wish I could show pictures! I'm so pleased with my handiwork! Even if they don't like or use them, I'm happy with how the gifts turned out.

    On Sunday I spent most of the day fretting about playing the piano for the evening "Youth Mass." Stage fright doesn't begin to describe my paranoia about playing in public. I started playing the piano and organ for Masses when I was 12, and did so for 6 years. Almost every Sunday, without fail, I could be found in the bathroom before Mass... regurgitating breakfast. I never got used to the pressure. So, I don't know what possessed me to volunteer to play again. Romanticized nostalgia, no doubt.

    Anyway, it went really well (it almost always does), but having spent the whole day fretting, copying music, practicing... I feel cheated out of a day of rest!

    Some plans for this week... I'm not going anywhere! We are positively buried in... well.. 6 or 8 inches (but it feels like 6 or 8 feet to me!) of snow. I'm from the South. Snow scares the bazookie out of me.

    I'll be huddled inside, drinking therapeutic hot chocolate, wrapped in blankets, and dreaming of Spring if anybody wants me this week.

    If I can find time for myself, I want to... oh, I'll have plenty of time to myself this week. I do not drive in snow. I guess I'll be able to make some more Christmas gifts, to do a lot of baking, and make some decorations for our home; being absolutely confined within these walls during this fierce blizzard of 2010, I've noticed today how sparse it is.

    Some prayer intentions for the week... for an official snow day tomorrow (these darned seasoned Northerners only do 2 hour school delays). But I'd also like to pray for those who do not have adequate clothing or shelter for this weather. And, in utter, complete, and total thanksgiving that my husband's headlong face-down fall from the hay stack did not result in sudden death, or paralyzation, but merely a scratch on the nose.

    Something that makes me smile: snow with sweetened condensed milk, perhaps?

    Or... maybe... a husband who can't resist snowball fights.

    Read others' Monday Morning Musings and share your own with Nadja at Patch O' Dirt Farm.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    More Dating on the Cheap

    Last night, my husband and I read our old e-mails to each other... the ones from before the time we were dating. It was hilarious!! We were able to explain to each other what we had really meant by some of the more cryptic phrases, what had been going through our minds as we read or wrote the e-mails, and at which point we had each "crossed the line" and begun to admit our affections.

    I learned a lot about those dear early days of our love. It was a sweet repast; a lovely date.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Restrained Splurging

    It's been a long time since I participated in Small Successes because, frankly, I could never think of three and I didn't want to make them up. But that's precisely the point of Small Successes: finding them, no matter how small they are!

    1. I'm celebrating my Baptism day today, and made a cheesecake to commemorate the anniversary of my birth into the Church. Normally I let this day slide by, but I missed out on cake for my birthday a few weeks ago, so...

    2. I made said cheesecake two days ago, and have not sliced into it, holding out for today (which is also the day Archbishop Dolan will officially take the helm of the USCCB). This kind of restraint is the stuff legends are made of.

    3. I used up the last of our Bed Bath and Beyond wedding gift cards to buy this tablecloth. I was going to buy something practical, like a set of measuring spoons that doesn't melt when I grab them to stir oatmeal (grrr), but a woman can't live on a budget that doesn't allow for frivolous beauty. I consider this splurge a success.

    Read others' small successes and share your own at Faith & Family Live.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Scene from the Oregon Trail

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010


    Tasty Tuesday
    Grab the button here and come join us, or just link to another site with a recipe you're going to try... or post a recipe in the comments!

    I am so happy I can hardly contain myself. Oh, the power of prayer!! Oh, the goodness of God!!! Oh, the mercy, the joy, the gratitude!!

    Archbishop Timothy Dolan was just elected to be the President of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops!! This is unprecedented (historically, the VP has always been elected president, and Abp. Dolan was not the VP). I cannot express how huge this is; how monumental, and how earth-shatteringly wonderful!

     As one deacon put it: (read the whole article here)
    Archbishop Timothy Dolan loves the Lord and the Church with an infectious enthusiasm borne of a sincere, living faith. Anyone who has been around him for any period of time experiences the obvious, he is filled with the joy of the Lord. He is also an evangelizer, to the bone. He has quickly become a significant personality on the Catholic Channel of the Sirius Radio Network. He is a man comfortable in his own skin, at ease with the use of the media, filled with the Holy Spirit, and eager to share the Gospel, as it is found in its fullness within the Catholic Church...

    Wherever he serves, he is dearly loved by his priests and deacons... He is also a dynamic and inspiring communicator and solid teacher of the truths as taught by the Magisterium of the Church. Finally, he is a true leader, naturally and supernaturally.
    Amen. What a wonderful man to represent the face of Catholicism to our media and country.

    He's promised Dunkin' Donuts for USCCB committee morning coffee breaks, and Häagen-Dazs for the afternoons. A man after my own heart.

    As such, to honor this dear bishop of New York, I'm going to make a NY cheesecake for dessert tonight. I'd urge you to join me.

    (Yes, I know NY cheesecake has no crust on the sides, but I like it with a crust).

    New York Cheesecake
    Recipe from Gourmet, adapted via Smitten Kitchen

    Crumb crust
    1 cup finely ground graham crackers or cookies such as chocolate or vanilla wafers
    8 tablespoons (1 stick or 4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, melted
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt

    Very tall cheesecake filling:
    5 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
    1 3/4 cups sugar
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
    1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
    5 large eggs
    2 large egg yolks
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla

    Cherry topping (optional)
    10 ounces sweet or sour cherries, pitted (frozen is fine)
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    1/2 cup water

    Make crumb crust: Stir together crust ingredients and press onto bottom and up the sides, stopping one inch shy of the top rim, of a buttered 9 1/2-inch (or 24 cm) springform pan. You can fill it right away but I like to pop my into the freezer so it quickly sets while I prepare the filling.

    Make very tall cheesecake filling: Preheat oven to 550 degrees (unless your pan is Teflon-coated, and then do 475 and bake longer). Beat together cream cheese, sugar, flour and zest with an electric mixer until smooth. Add vanilla, then eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated. Scrape bowl down between additions; I cannot stress this enough as if you do not, you’ll end up with unmixed stripes of cream cheese.

    Put springform pan with crust in a shallow baking pan (to catch drips). Pour filling into crust (springform pan will be completely full) and baking in baking pan in the middle of the oven for 12 minutes or until puffed. Please watch your cake because some ovens will top-brown very quickly and if yours does too fast, turn the oven down as soon as you catch it. Reduce the temperature to 200 degrees and continue baking until cake is mostly firm (center will still be slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken), about one hour more.

    Run a knife around the top edge of the cake to loosen it and cool the cake completely in springform on a rack, then chill it, loosely covered, at least 6 hours.

    Make cherry topping (optional): Place all ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, cook it for an additional one to two minutes then remove from heat. Cool completely.
    Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. If you had any wonky baking issues, you might need to trim the cake flat.
    Spread topping (if using) over chilled cheesecake. The original recipe says to bring this to room temperature before serving, but I never have!

    Do ahead: Cheesecake keeps, covered and chilled, 2 weeks.

    Image from Smitten Kitchen

    What are you making?