Saturday, October 13, 2012

A good ending

Tonight was a strange sort of night.

Our exchange student of 6 weeks moved out as our time as "welcome family" had come to an end. A permanent house was found for him, in a location he was less than thrilled about. He went kicking and screaming. He's leaving what was essentially a personal dorm room with few restrictions and minimal supervision for a crammed room with 3 other students and a host mom that quickly introduced him to the LINES in the house which he was not to cross under any circumstances. Like the line across the entrance into the kitchen, for example. DO NOT ENTER.


Feeling a little bit for the student, we are now enjoying a tremendous sense of personal relief as we have regained our largest bedroom and can begin to repopulate it with a child and her belongings that have been lingering in various crammed locations for the past several weeks.

So naturally, we went out for dinner. A remodeled Baker's Square reopened across from the old Ford Plant, so we grabbed a coupon and headed out. I'd never been to a Baker's Square, but the line-up of blue-heads and walkers did not disappoint. We got a table smack in the middle of the restaurant, and had one of those really nice restaurant experiences you manage only now and then with little kids. Everyone was happy with the meal, ate a lot, and stayed entertained.

When I say "everyone," I mean at our table AND the tables that all had a nice clear view of us. In fact, 2 old timers complimented us on our nice family (I try to stifle thoughts in my mind that go something like, "Yeah, but you should have seen what such-and-such did 2 hours ago!!" and just enjoy the moment). The real jaw-dropper was the old guy sitting by himself that I noticed noticing us. I wasn't sure if he was watching with disapproval as things were very active at our table while waiting for food, or if he was reliving personal memories. Sometimes you can practically see the video reels rolling in old people's eyes.

And so, as he got up to leave he swept over to our table, dropped something by my husband's plate, and said, "This is for your beautiful family. I have 4 of my own," and hurried away.

What was it he left by my husband's plate? A $20 bill. What made him do that? Lots of stories I can imagine that might inspire a person that way. But the key is to remember it, and to repeat the kindness with another family when I am a blue-haired old lady watching the mayhem of young children over my coffee mug.

So, I'm not planning to post after this, unless it's to announce where to find me now. I have some ideas cooking (ha! cooking!) that I might bring to life one of these days. Or not. Happy cooking either way.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dinner is served

I have no plan. I need to finish a freelance project. I went to bed waaaay too late. One of those days where I want to point everyone to the fridge and say "Have at it."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

136—Cooking for the ever-changing zoo

Mon – Tomato Quiche (still enjoying garden tomatoes!)
Tues – Beef Asado (this recipe is stunning. ADD THE OLIVES, even if just a few. I used kalamatas. Adds a really interesting richness to the dish. So good.)
Weds – Pancakes, by popular demand
Thurs – Out?
Fri – Pizza
Alts – Chip plate; Chinese takeout if it looks like our student is starving to death

We have been in a state of constant human motion at our house lately. Visitors, family near and far, exchange students, kids, all in this stirry soup of changing beds, bedrooms, arrivals and departures, and middle-of-the-night adjustments. Less of a still pond, more of a gently flowing river that kicks up and threatens to slosh over the banks now and then.

So, meal planning this week is less about a solid plan, and more of a dip-your-toe-in-and-see-how-it-feels approach. After all, at almost any moment there might be 4 more people here. Happy cooking.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sweet Morning

Found a decent recipe for no-rise, no-yeast cinnamon rolls, after I couldn't find my usual recipe this past weekend. My 5-year-old and I had fun making these together. For better or worse, he's a pretty skilled cinnamon roll roller.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


It happened! I got to try an Aussie hamburger tonight, in all its glory. In order of assembly:
- bun
- lettuce
- tomato
- burger
- beet slice
- over easy egg
- bacon (heart stopped yet?)
- grilled mushrooms and onion
- thick slice of fresh pineapple
- ketchup on top (or whatever you want)
- optional bun lid

It was fabulous. It should have been photographed, but I was too immersed in the flavor festival to bother getting up, mopping my sopping hands off, and digging out my camera. Thanks, JJJ&J for a great new taste experience!

Friday, September 14, 2012


Mon – Lasagna (Von Hanson's)
Tues – Crock-pot beef roast
Weds – Tomato white bean soup and crusty bread; Sushi?
Thurs – Goulash (kid-requested)
Fri – Pizza
Alts – Chip plate; Chinese takeout if it looks like our student is starving to death

Tried a Fast Chicken Soup recipe from last week. It starts with chicken broth and a rotisserie chicken.  I'm not sure you can go wrong no matter how you make a chicken soup, and this was no exception.

My daughter started violin lessons a few days ago and was practicing a folk tune called "Boil the Cabbage Down." She said the song made her feel warm, but that she didn't like cabbage. I couldn't remember the last time I made it. Tempting to try this week, maybe as a wrapper in some Greek dish or something equally distracting from the very cabbage-ness of it. Or maybe we'll just hum the tune as we pass some lovely heads in the produce aisle.

Also just learned that Wednesdays are $5 sushi day at Lund's grocery store. Might grab some Weds to supplement the soup. Happy cooking.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Chinese exchange student's observations on American food

There are meals that have been barely touched, and others that have been more inhaled than eaten. It's easy to tell what this kid likes. Here are some of Vince's observations on food, a week into his stay with us.

1. KFC is more common in China than McD's.
2. Americans use a lot of sauces.
3. Chinese people eat out almost every meal (home late), so there's a ton of good food available cheaply, at all hours.
4. Teenagers in China like to go to DQ with their friends.
5. "We don't have this in China. It's not exactly cheese...I like it." referencing our tub of Smart Balance "butter spread" he was smearing on his toast (and butter/margarine products in general)
6. His mother's advice: "If you're going to drink soda, drink Sprite. It's not as bad as Coke. Even better, drink water."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Birthday Week 2012

I'm going to start out by saying that this was not a spectacular year of cake-decorating. But truly, the kids didn't really care as long as they had candles to blow out. 
I enjoyed that my daughter threw together a literal napkin sketch for me as I entered the kitchen to decorate. The mountain is the cake, sitting on a glass cake plate. The little dots are frosting. The vague figures under the dots were to be various Littlest Pet Shop characters drawn in frosting.

I was pleased she thought I had that level of skill in decorating a BUNDT CAKE. So what I created looks a little more like a hat a frail little grandmother would wear. No problem. At least the fluff on the Pet Shop character didn't ignite when we lit the candles.

My son's cakes are supposed to be Lego Ninjago spinners, dueling right there on the table. Everyone thinks they look like alien space ships, so at this point I'm going with that. 

Which reminds me. I made a "classic yellow" cake mix for my son's cake. Tell me what the difference is between Classic Yellow, Light Yellow, and Vanilla Yellow. Why do they sell all three of these at my grocery store under the same brand name? I must have debated that for at least 2 minutes before settling on Classic Yellow. It was much better than I expected for a box cake mix. Good thing I didn't go with the Light Yellow. Might have been terrible!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

134--Back to School

Mon – Grandma Barb's Spaghetti
Tues – Turkey kielbasa, potato, garden-veggie fry 
Weds – Hot dogs cooked over the fire, beans, s'mores
Thurs Exchange family picnic
Fri Pizza
Alts – Chicken stir-fry; cod & squash
Love this week of getting back into some sort of sane routine. We have had more fun this summer than you can shake a stick at, and it's time for some serious normalcy to set in.

Monday was no school, enjoying-the-day-with-spouse-at-my-side cleaning like mad. And enjoying free breakfast at IKEA for the last time this summer. Ah.
Tuesday was the 1st grader's first day back and we picked up our Chinese exchange student from the airport.
Wednesday, Vince lights the fire and roasts hot dogs in the backyard fire pit. We learn he is NOT a fan of s'mores. Must not be American.
Thursday is the Kindergartener's first day of school.
Friday will be pizza and movie night, I think.

Happy cooking.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Google Query: What should I feed my Chinese exchange student?

Fortunately, I found quick answers to this search I plugged into Google within an hour of Vince's arrival this evening.

"Vince" is staying with us for a month or two from southeast China. The little movie I just watched online assured me, as a host-mom of a Chinese student, that they eat everything. In fact, she said they have a saying for people from the southern part of China: "They eat everything with legs except the table and chair."

Nice! Maybe this will rub off on my own "Nutella sandwich - honey and butter sandwich - olive oil sandwich" threesome.

I'm off to make some sort of Tupperwared lunch for the kid to take tomorrow. After that, maybe a trip to the grocery store to find at least a couple things he'd find as comforts from home. If he's at all like our Chilean exchange student, it'll be something horrifying and all-too-American like Cocoa Puffs.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Quaker Oats Confusion

For a company the size of Quaker Oats that sells probably more instant oatmeal than anyone else in the world, wouldn't you think they could get their color-coding figured out?

Is "Original" blue, or red? Is "Cinnamon & Spice" red or orange? No wonder everyone flocks to "Maple & Brown Sugar"—it's the only one that doesn't seem to be having an identity crisis!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Week 133—Comforts of Home

Mon – Road food
Tues – Chili (Thanks, Mom)
Weds – Pork tenderloin, sweet potatoes, salad, cornbread
Thurs Pizza
Fri Chicken stir-fry
Alts – Enchiladas; Goulash
Being on the road so much the past month is giving me a renewed appreciation for the ease of assembling a meal with a fridge, stove, oven, microwave, toaster, sink with hot and cold water, and a fresh supply of dishtowels and cloths at hand.

Not that smacking some Goober on a slice of bread from the front seat of the van was all bad either. Happy cooking.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A note on electric griddles

Complete piece of crap griddle: Presto 20inch

Decent, good value griddle that cleans easily, uses a substantial amount of metal that won't shatter and cause bloodshed, nor scoot along the counter every time you flip the 'cakes: Cooks 20inch by JCPenney 

Just thought you should know.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Week 132—Brief stop at home

Mon – Beef-Stuffed Zucchini (Taste of Home)
Tues – Enchiladas
Weds – Grandma Barb's spaghetti
Thurs – Pizza
Fri – Road food (Picnic sandwiches? Lots of eating out in the coming days so it might be nice.)
Home for a few days, then we're road-tripping again. Texas, here we come! Happy cooking.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Australian Hamburgers

My sister sent me this recipe after an Aussie friend of hers made these for Australian New Year (which is indeed in January, not July). They sound really interesting. Good, even. Thought I'd post it now since it's prime grilling season in our part of the world. 
Australian Hamburgers
Toasted, buttered hamburger bun
hamburger patty
grilled onion
pineapple slice
picked beets
and topped off with a fried egg

Was very filling.  No baked beans or potato salad needed!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Week 131—Short and sweet

Mon – Beef stir-fry
Tues – Chicken fingers + sweet potato fries
Weds – Tacos
Thurs – Out w/the Chilean
Fri – Road food
Back from a trip to Iowa for RAGBRAI, leaving in 4 days for a trip to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota for a long weekend at my aunt and uncle's house on the lake. Traditional cultural experiences in 2 Midwestern states within the span of 2 weekends. The kids' heads will explode!

This week, we'll enjoy one last night out with our old exchange student who has been visiting. I'm guessing some good red meat and red wine is in order. Happy cooking.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I need inspiration

Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less

Healthy Snack-Packer

Last week, we decided to take a mid-morning bike ride. I wanted to keep it simple and get out the door in under 30 minutes. Thus, I was delighted when my 6-year-old surprised us all by packing a snack while I got the bikes out and her little brothers ready (shoes, socks, has everyone gone to the bathroom?, let's get some sunscreen on those cheeks!, where are the helmets?).

She proudly presented two tidy plastic containers to me, filled with clementines and mint she pulled from the garden. Yes, mint. I paused a little, thinking, how satisfying will this be to gnaw on a pile of mint? But I didn't want to crush her enthusiasm (I was keeping this simple, right?), so we headed out the door. 

After we had pedaled for awhile (maybe a mile...), we found some swings and good spot to have our snack. To my surprise, everyone snacked on the mint. We have little bits of it out of the garden often, but never really indulged in salad-like portions before. No one commented that it was unusual. Turned out it was a perfectly refreshing thing on an extremely hot and humid day. My daughter ate the 3 clementines almost entirely by herself. The remains of our snack are what you see in the photo.

I was happy that everyone had such a healthy snack, and that my daughter came up with it. Fun to see what the kids assemble as they get a little older. Nice work, Kate!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Week 130—Midsummer Dream

Mon – Polynesian meatballs w/mashed sweet potatoes (Taste of Home)
Tues – Out
Weds – Tacos/burritos
Thurs – Lasagna and salad
Fri – Grill steaks, fingerling potatoes
Alts – Chicken something
As for the "Midsummer Dream": that as I finish planning this menu, the groceries magically appear in the kitchen. I'll go downstairs now to see if it came true. Happy cooking.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hello My Baby, Hello My Darlin'...

Cooked froggies
My mom, purveyor of frog legs
What did you have for your 4th of July family/friend gatherings? Brats on the grill? Some juicy burgers? Kabobs? Not us.

Try frog legs and grilled 'gator. Mind you, we live in Minnesota. Things don't usually get this crazy. My mom inexplicably arrived from Iowa with a cooler full of frozen frog legs and alligator fillets and said, "Let's have a party!"

So we did. 

"Sure looks good. Can't wait for seconds!"

The kids were remarkably sporting.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Week 129—Simplicity Rules the Day

Mon – Extended family picnic/potluck
Tues – Turkey sausage grilled foil pack
Weds – Chicken stir-fry
Thurs – Burgers
Fri – Tortellini, salad, bread
Alts – pizza
Someone asked me how to make a "foil pack."
1. Lay out a double-layer of foil. This is where you will combine your ingredients and cook them. You can assemble these either as individual servings so you'll have 4 or 6 or however many you're making pads of aluminum foil laid out on your work surface, or one or two large ones.
2. Take a ring of turkey sausage (or whatever you like). Cut 1/4-1/2 in rounds. Add onion, a green or red or yellow pepper, and some potatoes all chopped into bite-sized pieces. (The ingredients can vary widely, this is just a suggestion and what I typically have on hand).
3. drizzle olive or canola oil lightly over the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Wrap securely, in a flat shape so it cooks evenly on the grill/fire. Grill on high heat for approx 15 mins.

Of course, you can just fry it all up in a pan for a classic "American stir-fry" too.

Happy cooking.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Food and Love

This evening's dinner: Compliments about the food flowing from the mouths of babes; happy faces stuffed with parmesan, rigatoni noodles, sausage, peas, and garlic bread. We ate, talked, and enjoyed the food and each other. There was only one pea-hockey outbreak which was quickly reigned in. We ended with a small celebration of banana splits which were half eaten—no room for all the pasta that had been devoured.

I was moments from popping a frozen pizza in the oven when we got home at dinner time, hungry from an afternoon at the wading pool with friends. I hadn't brought any snacks, barely making it out the door between wily kids and my darkening mood. I kept thinking: Just get to the park and our spirits will all brighten. No time to pack pita chips! Go!

As I drove home a minivan packed with hungry monkeys, I dedicated myself to a homemade meal and a banana or apple snack while we waited. We made it through the 30 min prep-time, and the meal was better than any frozen pizza could have ever delivered.

Food is powerful.

I went to visit my 95-year-old grandpa last week. I'd seen him the week before as well, and noted that instead of suggesting food from the gas station restaurant that we often have (it's a tiny town and there aren't many options), he wanted a simple meal of noodles and jar pasta sauce. Not exactly homemade, but a step closer than the little restaurant.

So, when I went to visit him this past week, I threw together my grandmother's simple goulash recipe to bring along. At one point there were 8 of us hanging out on his east porch* with bowls of goulash and sleeves of saltines.

Making a meal for him was special for me. It was a simple thing to do, something I've seen my mom do many times for him. It made me really happy to know that I had done something for him, and that we all shared that simple meal together.

Food is memory.

*Note that ordinal points are always called out by my grandpa. It took me all of my childhood and part of my adult life to finally figure out which was the east bedroom upstairs.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Week 128—Grilled

Mon – Picnic sub-sandwich w/fruit and pita chips
Tues – Turkey sausage grilled foil pack
Weds – Fruit Grilled Pork Tenderloin (
Thurs – Rigatoni w/Sausage and Peas (Viva Italia)
Fri – Grandma Barb's Spaghetti
Alts – pizza; brats & beans
The menu, in all its glory! Happy cooking.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Yes, Dear. They're delicious.


These biscuits are proof that the less time you spend cooking, the more difficult Bisquick biscuits are to make.

I have begun doing the lion's share of cooking since children have entered our lives. No names here, but let's just say that cooking skills can get rusty if they're not often practiced (especially in conditions where you are constantly being distracted). It was really funny watching the kids trying to eat these since they're typically a favorite. They each ate 3 or 4 bites, didn't say anything, choosing to leave them "for later."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Week 127—Now that the chicken is gone

Mon – Steak, corn on cob, fingerling potatoes
Tues – Sweet potato pancakes 
Weds – Chicken fingers and squash (never made last week)
Thurs – Grilled chicken and tabbouleh
Fri – Chicken or steak stir-fry
Alts – Spaghetti
I feel ok about cooking chicken again, now that we are no longer chicken-sitting my son's preschool hen. Lots of it on the menu this week, as well as some left-over steak and possibly a breakfast-dinner to save myself a serious trip to the store this week. It's summer. Who wants to grocery shop anyway? Happy cooking.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Abandoned food

At least I discovered it before it melted completely.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

You oughta be in pictures

Don't these tamales look lovely? I picked them up at Trader Joe's to try. Heated them for a little appetizer in the microwave...then proceeded to forget about them until the next evening when I was preparing dinner. 24 hrs in the microwave=tamales fit only for photographing. Bought more tamales yesterday that I hope to actually eat this time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Week 126—Does this mean I have to make lunch?

Mon – Picnic sub-sandwich w/fruit and pita chips
Tues – Chicken fingers and squash
Weds – Shrimp Monterey (Taste of Home)
Thurs Rigatoni w/Sausage and Peas (Viva Italia)
Fri – Mac w/Ham and Cheese Delux(
Alts – Burgers; spaghetti
Just realized that my daughter, who loved school lunch all year long, will probably be expecting me to actually make something now that she's out of school for the summer. Hm. Our mainstay has been butter and honey sandwiches (hey, at least the bread was wheat!), yogurt w/oats, and a piece of fruit. We'll see how that flies tomorrow. Happy cooking.

The Mom Files

Maybe I am a little too thrilled by my 20% savings via coupons at the grocery store last week.

Life priorities have shifted, not always for the more thrilling. What was once "going out money" is now "Ooh! I'll use this to buy paint for my decrepit garage" money.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Freaky Good

Wow. Made the Lasagna Bolognese from my New York Cooks cookbook yesterday, and am still having heavenly memories of its pure Italian deliciousness.

First, I'd like to thank my 2-year-old for performing the miraculous feat of falling asleep 30 minutes before I needed to pick up my daughter from school, staying asleep as I transferred him into my Boba carrier so we could walk to meet her (chest-facing to encourage slumber), then RE-transferring back to his crib once we got home 25 mins later. That gift allowed me to spend the next 2 hours cooking, which is what this recipe required. Not one for my average weeknight.

Both my other kids helped by chopping veggies and then watching a solid hour of a new DVD picked up at a garage sale of some "Ben10" character. I don't care what they say. TV is an AWESOME babysitter at times like these.

This is a recipe I had tried a few years ago and had written in a very average review. "Nice. Too moist--drain meat well before finishing the ragu." I have to say that I was completely off-base. Maybe I didn't use pancetta last time, or maybe I didn't mix some 1/2 and 1/2 in with the skim milk to add some body since it simply calls for "milk." Maybe I omitted the wine before, because I don't often have a bottle of white on hand.

Anyway, whatever it was that made it come together this time has made this a new favorite. We all had multiple helpings, youngest to oldest. Ok, there was one hold-out (waaaaay too much mixing of foods with lasagna), but he made up for it in peas and buttered bread.

[Update: Thanks for finding this recipe online, Sylvia!] You'll feel like a real Italian Mama with 3 pots going on the stove and a nice beaded sweat above your upper lip. That is, if you don't have central AC and you're cooking on a hot summer day as I was.

Speaking of Italian things that are awesome, doesn't this place look fun? Next time you're on Marcel Street in Paris... Maison Momoni! I'm not even sure the taste of the items suits me. I just like how it's all displayed.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Week 125—No more school, no more books

Mon – Lasagna Bolognese (New York Cooks)
Tues – Grill steaks from Von Hanson's
Weds – Grilled chicken kabobs
Thurs – Pasta-Somethingorother a la Buttera (New York Cooks)
Fri – Pizza party
Alts – Groupon to Greenmill
This marks the last week of school for 2 of my kids. Wooo! Summer vacation is exciting, even in the minds of soon-to-be graduated preschoolers and kindergarteners. So, this week we make a nod to the fresh start that summer vacation brings by trying some new recipes.

If you're in a reading kind of mood, check out my friend Julie's blog. She is an inspired and witty writer, no matter the topic. Her most recent post is about thank you notes -- her best and worst ever received. Good food for thought. Happy cooking.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Camping Cooler

Recent camping cooler: cheap beer, milk, salami, yogurt, worms. I'm not sure what else there is to say.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Week 124 — Regrets from the Cookie Jar

Mon – Chicken and cheese quesadillas
Tues – Italian Meatloaf (Deceptively Delicious)
Weds – Steak, potatoes, peas
Thurs – Pizza
Fri – Tacos/chip plate
Alts – Groupon to Greenmill; stir-fry
We've been camping and eating outdoors a lot lately, and I've reached my hot dog/sausage limit. So for cookouts in the near-term, chicken and steaks will be featured more prominently.

Camping this past weekend, my 4-year-old hit the Cupcake Wall, having eaten cupcakes and orange soda almost continually over a 5 hour period at a party on Saturday. By the time we hit the campsite, he purged his overloaded tummy on the lawns of sweet Mother Nature herself, then went quickly to sleep. When we offered him a left-over cupcake 2 days later for dessert, he blanched and quietly said, "No thank you."

We all have an over-indulged-and-tossed-it story somewhere back there. My husband's was a box of Girl Scout cookies he ate entirely by himself in one 15-minute sitting. For me, it was a luxurious and enormous cold glass of orange juice drank immediately after I'd just gotten sick. Rinse, repeat.

I've been sick from food, mostly when traveling, other times when pregnant and morning sick, more times than I can count, but those weren't really from over-indulging. That's its own special nod to the ancient Romans. It does seem to be from the sweet and sugary (or alcoholic), doesn't it? Otherwise restaurants would probably be loathe to offer t-shirts and free meals to those who can eat the 48oz steak platter down to the gristle. Too many misfires requiring major clean-up before they get a real winner. On that note—happy cooking.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Many of us have "ex's" in our lives. This is one of mine. Meet, former lemon. Now an ex-member of our local fridge drawer community. Nice to reconnect with you, but your juicy tartness has grown a bit rancid.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Week 123—Between camping trips

Mon – Chicken fingers
Tues – Spaghetti
Weds – Grilled brats
Thurs – Pizza
Fri – Burgers
Alts – I don't have it in me. Cereal!
Got as close as I could to "not cooking" this week. This means meals that require minimal inputs; certainly no recipes.

We haven't bothered unpacking our kitchen box from our trip 2 weeks ago. I can report with a mix of depression (have I really let it go that long?) and appreciation for the convenience of it all that it is still sitting in my living room, some 11 days later, and I'm now just preparing it for our next camping trip in Iowa this coming weekend. Happy cooking.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Campsite Centerpiece

Back to the theme of "beauty in the kitchen," my daughter collected this centerpiece for our picnic table when we were camping a couple weeks ago. It was a lovely touch in the great outdoors. We had a really fun campsite at Cherokee Landing on the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. There was ample driftwood to support--if not encourage--the first really big beach bonfire of any of our lives. Such a fun evening. Think it was our 13th anniversary that day. Or that day +1. Good memories.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Week 122—Grocery Store Snacking

Mon – Pizza
Tues – Pasta a la carbonara
Weds – Beef stir fry (w/my new favorite Trader Joe's/ "Ming's" General Tsao Stir-Fry Sauce)
Thurs – Chicken fingers
Fri – Grilled brats
Alts – BLTs
Went grocery shopping during the perfect storm of it being, on the one hand, lunchtime, and on the other hand, nearly nap time for the 2-year-old in the house. I prided myself on managing this insane feat by stuffing them with Pirate Booty I selected from the aisles, opened, and fed them until half the bag was gone.

I used to be slavish about not feeding my kids anything in the aisles until it had been paid for. One time I remember grabbing a drumstick from the deli, waiting in the checkout line, then going back through the store to make sure it was all done in the proper order.

Now, I'm much more in the "do what works" camp. Shoot looks at me if you will. I know I'll pay for it, and I also know you will thank me for not dragging screaming kids through the grocery store. Could I be better prepared to begin with? Definitely. But until perfection is attained, you'll have to work really hard to get my attention if I'm shopping at lunchtime with little kids--because I will not be making eye contact with anyone as we snack from the bag of Pirate Booty.

Happy cooking.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What's cookin'

Unless someone makes a plan and gets to the store pronto, this is what's for dinner (and lunch and breakfast) around here this week. Oh, and 4.5 gallons of milk, because someone in my little brain keeps whispering urgently: "we really need milk!"

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Train of Tears

FIRST DRAFT: Train cake with much loved "James" engine on top

FINAL: Train cake with "James" engine in sobbing 2-year-old's hands—generic engine substituted on cake top

Friday, April 27, 2012

Week 121—Birthday and Pre-Wedding Week

Mon – Grilled chicken, salad, peas/corn
Tues – Corn chowder w/biscuits, fried turkey sausage
Weds – Goulash
Thurs Road food
Fri rehearsal dinner (A time to privately toast the fact that we will never have to go through the hell of being the bride and groom again! Joy!)
Alts – Sunday hot dog roast and birthday cake
I like to celebrate people's birthdays on their actual birthdays, even if it's inconveniently located in the middle of a busy week. So it is with some foot-dragging on my part that we've decided NOT to celebrate my son's 2nd birthday in the van en route to Iowa this coming Thursday. Instead, we will celebrate with a proper weenie roast (as he has chosen) in our backyard on Sunday evening.

Happy birthday to you, though it's in a day or two...

It's going to be a busy week! At least the menu is planned. Just heard my husband come home with the groceries. Praise the Lord. Happy cooking.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Gave some veggies a facelift last week. Love to say that the kids were involved, but I pretty much did this one just to entertain myself. Whee!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Week 120—Grilled Rigatoni Wild Rice Salmon Pizza

Mon – Mixed grill (chicken, hot dogs, steak) w/snow peas and Indian side
Tues – Salmon w/sweet potato fries and salad
Weds – Rigatoni Isabella
Thurs – Wild rice soup from cooking exchange w/bread and salad
Fri – Spaghetti w/tarted up jar sauce
Alts – Pizza
This weeks' menu is closely related to last week's menu because a) I am lacking mealtime creativity this week and b) everyone really liked what we ate last week. Thursday is a repeat on the cooking exchange meal since both people made a different wild rice recipe. I'll feel like a State Fair judge that night, weighing texture, flavor, and...whatever else they do. Happy cooking.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Coffee Mugs

Ah, coffee mugs. The slightly more adult-version of a t-shirt collection. They tell where we've been (Circus World), places we love (McNulty's Coffee), places we spend too much money (Freewheel Bike), people we love (corny kid-pictures), and family heirlooms (Disney mug I gave my parents 22 years ago and is now in MY cupboard). 

A few years ago my mother-in-law decided to organize her coffee mugs. She purged all the random ones she had collected over the years, leaving a set that matched the rest of her dishes. You need to know 2 things about this gal: 1) She drinks A LOT of coffee; and 2) she has a lot of people over that drink a lot of coffee. Within a few weeks she discovered the gift that a mis-matched collection of mugs brings: it's easy to tell whose is whose when they're perched around the house full of inky-black energy. I've taken that lesson to heart, and embraced my own random collection.

That snowman cup on the piano? That's mine. I know it's late April, but at least I know no one will confuse my 80-20 milk-coffee mixture for their own.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Week 119—Plan in the Trash

Mon – Spaghetti (shells picked by kids; hamburger added to jar sauce)
Tues – IKEA (kids eat free Tuesdays, and parents don't have to clean the kitchen/dining room)
Weds – Rigatoni Isabella
Thurs Wild rice soup from cooking exchange w/bread and salad
Fri – Road food (Mom, can we get a Happy Meal???????? A greater expression of joy and hopefulness is not to be found.)
Alts – Chicken stir-fry
I put a meal plan together for the week and got groceries early Saturday AM. Then the list got thrown away, and I'm trying to piece together what it is I had planned to make. This week's plan is my best recollection, aided by the fact that we're eating out at least 2x this week.

Regarding the cooking exchange soup on Thursday. A couple friends and I have met a few times now to exchange entrees. We pick something to make, freeze it, and bring it for a meal swap. I've really enjoyed this. I get to try foods that are inevitably prepared differently than I cook, which is sort of like eating out at home. Different flavors, recipes I haven't had before, or variations on how I have made them. Really fun, and such a gift to have meals ready to go in the freezer. It's always a little bit of a scramble to cook in quantity ahead (ok, even if it is only the night before...) but has been so worthwhile in the end. Happy cooking.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Yummy-Creepy. More Easter images.

Thank you, Kowalski's. This was delish, and oh-so-cute. 
Thank you, eldest daughter. This was creepy, weird,  and gave me a good laugh.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ham & Barley Soup

Tried this recipe with our left-over ham tonight. Delish!
Ham & Barley Soup (epicurious)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Menu of Forgotten Items

Most people are probably eating left-overs from family gatherings this week, particularly if you hosted. In our case, we not only hosted, but were sufficiently disorganized as well as completely spoiled by generous guests that we simply neglected to make 2 entire dishes (salmon and creamed corn), and forgot to set out some special cheeses, salad ingredients, and munchies we'd bought for Easter.

So tonight, while I said we'd be eating left-overs, in fact, we had a meal composed almost entirely of "new" items that were lost in the fridge over the weekend. We had salmon, a parmesan + arugula + golden raisin salad with chipotle cream dressing, some nice cheese and crackers, plus a few left-over items.

Side note for those that know I have a kid that has survived on an 80% oatmeal, yogurt, and oj diet for 2 years: he ate some arugula with dressing tonight and asked for MORE. Cool.

Stay tuned for an image later this week, continuing along the "scenes from Easter" theme. It's horrifying and precious all at once. Someone is paying attention to details around here...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Colors

Pistachio cheesecake in progress. A more beautiful shade of green is not to be found.

Black, white, and tan. Chocolatey snack bliss.

16 colorful eggs. I think 116 would not be too many. Always fun!

Left-overs from brunch. Favorite: the earless bunny.
Cream-colored fresh eggs from…

a red-headed speckled hen named Rosie.
Newborn  babies and Easter: two times we will always have colorful flowers on the table.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easter Menu Recipes

Cream Corn Like No Other
Brown Sugar Glazed Sweet Potatoes
Easter Ham
Hot Cross Buns

- cheesecake
- lemon bars
- appetizers (low-prep)

Other meals:
- spinach quiche
- rainbow quiche

- veggie tray
- fruit salad
- broccoli salad
- deviled eggs
- cherry pastry bars
- appetizer

What am I supposed to do with this?

I have an itch to make creamed corn for this weekend's Easter feed. I've never made it, so Googled "creamed corn recipe." This was the result:

Note the prevalence of 5-star ratings. NOT helpful when trying to winnow the field. I guess I'll dive in and pick one for this year, and sample others in the future. Good news would appear to be that you can't really go wrong!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Menu anyone?

I have been cooking these past two weeks...just haven't posted a meal plan. I admit, I have been winging it this week with no planning whatsoever. CRAZY, I know.

So where IS my time going? Let's see:

- busy w/freelance projects
- distracted by getting ready to host a few family members for Easter this weekend
- helping our [temporary] pet chicken find worms in the garden
- spending all my time outside in this gorgeous spring weather, pretending to "landscape"
- napping on the sunny back steps

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Death and New Life in the Kitchen. An Easter Tale.

We've been raising sea monkeys in our kitchen since Santa brought a kit for Christmas. The first attempt never really got off the ground, and after a month we conceded defeat and mailed in to the Amazing Sea Monkey Company for a refill pack of eggs.

The second attempt resulted in a successful hatch. Just as we'd given up on ever seeing the tiny little critters, close inspection revealed Topper, Sinker, Cinco, Tap, and Centro, and a couple others.

Aside: the names were mostly based on the location of a sea monkey at the moment it was being referenced. "Topper" was the sea monkey closest to the top, "Sinker" was the lowest, "Cinco" was the 5th one counted, and so on. They usually shifted enough that we never really needed the full 7 names.

We were enjoying our little sea monkey community, curious about the one with an extremely long tail, wondering how big they would grow.

Imagine my shock when I came into the kitchen for breakfast last week to discover an empty habitat. I have to admit that even as the grown adult in the room, I was fairly disappointed, and immediately began to go through stages of mourning. Denial, anger, loss. It was all there.
Exhibit A: Empty Habitat

An explanation came when I called my husband at work. His reaction: "There were sea monkeys in there?" In efforts to find the source of a slightly swampy odor in the kitchen, he assumed it must be dried sea monkey corpses and stagnant water, and tossed the water. And, of course, the sea monkeys. Apparently we hadn't shared the daytime joys of watching Topper, Sinker, Cinco, Tap, and Centro with the night crew (my husband). Uh oh. My reaction: "Want to talk to Oscar?"

We remedied the whole situation today with a new pet. We made sure we picked one that was big enough for Dad to see. So far so good. Matt's lesson from all this is that when you're in a house with kids, never throw away mysterious containers of water. He tossed a tooth left out for the tooth fairy at his nephew's house a couple years ago. He spent 15 minutes digging through the food disposal drain until he found it. No such luck with the sea monkeys.
Exhibit B: Very Visible Pet Beta

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Honey at Cub in Bear

Mmm. Honey. Honeeeeeyyyyy. 

Practically its own food group at our house. The only food that never spoils. What you're looking at here are two lovely samples given to me by a friendly bee-keeper at my local Cub Foods grocery store. He was stocking the shelves personally with his product, and after finding out we were honey lovers, offered us a sample of his regular and whipped honey. 

This image is my way of thanking him for his tasty gift. He was so excited to have his product at the store. It was a really nice moment of local farmer in the large chain grocery store. Buying local doesn't always require a trip to the farmers market, eh?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cinnamon Girl

Or in this case, boy, for all you Neil Young fans out there. He smelled great all day.

You can also see from this photo that I'm making progress in covering all of my interior home surfaces with plastic.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Week 118--Barking Dogs

Mon – Cube Steak Parmesan (from
Tues – Brats and dogs on the grill, asparagus
Weds – Broccoli cheese quiche
Thurs – Rotisserie chicken for something from "Simply Mexican"
Fri – Road Food 
Alts – pizza
Now that summer is here, I hear what feels like incessant barking through my open windows. 2 neighbors, 4 dogs that all love to bark. Me bitter? Annoyed? Ready to have some fun with some high-pitched sonic device that will make the four-legged furries as crazy as I am? Possibly.

But when it's dinnertime, here's what's happening in the kitchen this week. Happy cooking.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fish Friday Recipes

I've had a couple of successful new recipes this Lent. Tonight was beer-battered fish tacos with an excellent (and easy) white sauce.

A couple weeks ago I went out on a limb and made a tuna noodle casserole. Probably the first tuna casserole of my life, and it went over much better than I expected. What I mean by that is my husband and I ate it, as well as the left-overs. My kids ate the noodles, or none of it, but it's a casserole/hot-dish, which means various foods are touching one another, so that rules out 1 child for sure, and possibly more if they aren't at starvation levels. Which they apparently weren't.

The funny thing about my search for the tuna noodle casserole was reading descriptions of what people described as "like mom used to make" or "with ingredients you have on hand." The recipe that suggested I would likely have all the ingredients on hand had precisely ONE ingredient that I had on hand. The tuna. Other ingredients included a couple different "cream of --" soups, American cheese, and oyster crackers. Strikes 1, 2, and 3.

The recipe that made the cut was, shockingly, from epicurious. How often do you have a) the time and b) the ingredients to make a spur-of-the-moment epicurious recipe? Not exactly my normal week-night go-to at this stage of life. Anyway, the directions fit on one iPad screen and had ingredients that I happened to have on hand. Vitally, the reviews sounded promising. FYI, I substituted wine for the sherry and skipped the mushrooms, subbing in some red pepper. I'm extremely proud of myself for these variations on the published recipe since only about 5 years ago I would have been completely incapable of this type of Bold Move.

So if you're feeling tuna-casserole-ish, give it a whirl here: Tuna Noodle Casserole.