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.