Sassy Stuffed Shells

12 Nov

The time in my life that I most closely associate with the quintessential American childhood is the nearly four years my family spent based at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, NE.  I’m not going to say that Omaha was the coolest place I’ve ever lived.  However, freshly returned from two years in Europe, where we had no Saturday morning cartoons and no trick-or-treating, our tract home in Bellevue, NE was pretty much Norman Rockwellesque to my brother and me.  There were school buses, lots of other kids, girl scouts, and games of Ghost in the Graveyard at twilight.  It was good.

During that time in my life, roughly ages eight to twelve, I had a couple of really close “best” friends with whom I don’t recall ever having any serious disagreements.  Their names were Kristine and Kim, and they lived in the same cul-de-sac a few streets away from me.  We biked, played outside, did crafts, and sold girl scout cookies together.  You know – pretty squeaky clean fun.

 

Kristine, Kim, and me with our girl scout counselor at winter camp in Council Bluffs, Iowa

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Bringing Home the Bakin’

1 Nov

Last week I had the rare opportunity to meet up with my friend Katie and her son Lucas for a play date.  In general, I have a lot of guilt issues because I don’t seem to be able to find people with whom I can do play dates or play groups or play armies or whatever.  In truth, I read too many articles when I was pregnant about “Play Date Etiquette” and was scared off.  It all sounded so tedious and impossible.  Play dates with Katie are, however, a pleasure.  Lucas and William are the same age and Katie and I so rarely get a chance to catch up.  It seems like we can’t even exchange ten words without wiping a runny nose, pulling up pants or shouting at a child who is swinging from the chandelier, but at least we are not feeling like we missed out on proper play date etiquette.

The other super thing about play dates with Katie is that she always makes some delectable treat for us – from scratch.  I showed up this time all harried, dragging my two hyperactive boys, and she had stovetop oatmeal cooking and these amazing-looking pans of cinnamon rolls on the countertop.  I’d have assumed they were frozen, but I saw her applying the sugar icing before my eyes.

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A Different Pot of Beans

16 Oct

I have to start by apologizing because, when I hear Puerto Vallarta, I think of the Love Boat.  I feel bad about that, because I’m sure that Puerto Vallarta has a lot of great things for which it is better known, and I’m hoping someone visiting my blog can tell me about those things.  For now, however, I am going to confirm my reservation for that special-room-in-hell-for-backward-people by telling you all about my family recipe for chili…which is called Chili Puerto Vallarta.

STOP!  I hear the primal screams of chili aficionados around the country rising in my ears.  As any chili cook well knows, the mere mention of this dish immediately invites a throw-down in just about any part of the nation.  Entire feature articles have been written about the various types of chili that are made (with great success) across the U.S.A.  I’m going to come out right now and say that I have no wish to participate in a throw-down.  In fact, I don’t think I really could.  The fact is, based on my observation, Chili Puerto Vallarta is not even really a chili. Calm yourselves, settle your beans, and read on.

Okay, so here’s the scoop.  As long as I can remember, my Mom has been making this meal, and we never, ever get tired of it.  But it turns out that she actually got it from my Aunt Jane, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin and has been teaching art history at the university there since 1963.

Aunt Jane…prior to Chili Puerto Vallarta

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Flex Your Mussels

7 Oct

When my husband and I first met, we lived in Boston and Manhattan, respectively.  So our first real “date” had to be one of those volatile weekend visits that destroy so many fledgling relationships.  He was coming to visit me.  I was racking my brain to think of the best places to take him and the most not-awkward things to do.  First date on steroids.

Of course we talked on the phone a lot, because we were not able to see each other in person.  One night a few days before that first weekend visit, I was listening with only one ear as he told me about his evening.  What I was really thinking about what if I shouldn’t take him to my favorite Belgian restaurant for dinner.  But did he like shellfish?  Polarizing. Continue reading

Don’t Be Chicken

3 Oct

People.  I want to talk about a delightful European breakfast tradition that appears to horrify Americans — and, no, it’s not blood sausage.

When I was very little, my Mom used to make us soft-boiled eggs, scoop them into custard dishes, and serve them with a spoon.  We loved it.  When I got a little older (about the time we were living in Hamburg, Germany) I had my own special egg cup that was painted like a little viking, and it had a felt cozy with blonde braids for a hat.  I understand it was hard to wash, but very cute.  I’m fairly certain we got it in Denmark.

I was surprised, as an adult, to discover that many Americans appear to have never even heard of a soft-boiled egg, much less tasted one.  And when you explain it to them, their reactions range from suspicious to disgusted.

Here’s what a soft-boiled egg is.   Continue reading

Luscious Buns

27 Sep

They are.  Just you wait.

I don’t know about you, but the whole phenomenon of the dumpling was, for a very long time, a complete mystery to me.  I cannot count the number of drunken Manhattan evenings I ended sitting at a folding table in one of those walk-in takeout Chinese places, waiting for my dumplings to come to the counter.  When I moved to Boston and could no longer find the veggie variety (much kinder to the diet) Dan and I started the intimidating task of learning to make our own.

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Breakfast for Lazy Misers

19 Sep

For many years, my mom made egg casseroles for special occasions like Christmas brunch.  Now, I have to admit that this dish needs a PR makeover, because who wants to eat something that sounds as unappetizing as an egg casserole?  I really urge you, however, to give this poor, unappreciated dish a good look, because it is awesome in so many ways. Continue reading

Puppies to Pasta

11 Sep

I want to tell you about my Friday, because I think it’s a perfect example of a day when I had to make choices, left and right, in order to cook and get other things accomplished.  With the budget being tight this month, Dan and I have been making an effort to cook cheaper meals, so I had planned to prepare a pasta sauce we first found online, years ago, and made for my 30th birthday.  At the time, it was a big project for the two of us, which shows me how much we’ve learned in the past eight years, because now it seems fairly simple to me.  I felt  a little like a cheater doing such an easy sauce on a Friday, but it was what Dan wanted, so I planned on it. Continue reading

Presto Pesto

3 Sep

When you want to feel really self-satisfied over a home cooking endeavor, look no further than pesto.  It’s one of those foods that has a sort of glamorous foodie image and with good cause.  Pesto adds incredible flavor to everything from sandwiches to pasta.  It’s expensive to buy, though, and can be overpowering if you use too much.  I think people are a little intimidated by it.

When we finally moved into our own house and I had room to grow as much basil as my heart desired, I went a little overboard.  In the summer of 2006, my backyard looked like it belonged to Cheech and Chong.  What could I do with all this basil?  I just made batch after batch of pesto and froze it in ice cube trays.  For the entire winter, we had fresh pesto (defrosted on the spot) to use in our meals.

Basil Rocks

Basil Rocks

This didn’t change the fact, though, that every pesto recipe I tried appeared to be lots of work and, frankly, a big mess.  It was only this summer when I was too lazy to go to the store that I realized you can make an absolutely kick-ass pesto with only four ingredients.  It really is that simple.  Here’s what you do. Continue reading

Got Garlic? Proceed!

1 Sep

Okay, well, you’re going to need a few other things, but I am positively reeking of garlic this morning.  Luckily, Dan is also reeking of garlic and is working from home (a fortunate coincidence – not a reaction to over-consumption of garlic).  I’m not sure the electrician will be thrilled when he arrives, though.

Last night I improvised a meal that turned out great.  It was cheap, healthy, and fairly simple, so I thought I would share it.

My neighbors graciously told me to go pick all their ripe veggies while they were away this week, so I came home with a basket of mystery peppers and a bunch of tomatoes.  While talking to them online, however, they warned me to “be careful with those long green peppers…we don’t know how hot they are.”  Well…one tentative taste told me that their reckless use was liable to burn our eyebrows off.  With so many of these little buggers to eat, I wondered what I should do with all of them?  I also happened to have some fresh cilantro left over from a weekend meal, plus a half a vidalia onion.  Is it any surprise I thought of salsa? Continue reading

Becoming a Saucy Wench

31 Aug

Yesterday I made pasta from scratch with William — and then I tried to blog about it.  Frankly, the post was boring to read.  I shelved it.  What can I say about making pasta from scratch?

1) Everyone seems to get a pasta maker for their wedding, yet nobody else I know uses theirs.  That’s a shame.

2) Fresh pasta is one of those things that is cheap to make and so superior to the dried kind that you hardly need any sauce at all.  The pasta is delectable and tender.

3) It’s a mess.  Even messier if you decide your preschooler is the next Lidia Bastianich and let him help.   Continue reading

Chicken Sherry (No Extinguisher Req’d.)

30 Aug

For those of you who are fans of the book Julie & Julia or the movie adaptation by the same name, you will no doubt be familiar with Julia’s dish featuring chicken in a mushroom cream sauce.  “Don’t crowd the mushrooms!” Amy Adams exclaims as she gently stirs the bubbling pan on the stove top.

Well, I don’t know from crowding mushrooms on the stove top, because a very similar (looking) dish from my mom’s recipe box called for the mushrooms to be simply tossed into a pyrex dish, drowned in sauce, and baked for about 40 minutes.  If they were crowded, the mushrooms never told me.   Continue reading

Dirty Little Secrets

29 Aug

Inspired by Fran’s comment, I’m going to start by revealing what I learned from my mom.

First, let me say that my mom is my hero in many ways.  Although her own mother did have some delectable Pennsylvania dishes like homemade sauerkraut and apple pie, Mom didn’t inherit any kind of comprehensive culinary tradition from my grandmother, and then she spent her early adult years as a hip single girl working at the Pentagon and in Germany.  I understand she had to wash her dishes in the bathtub at the Amelia Earhart hotel in Wiesbaden for years, so it’s not surprising she didn’t become Julia Child during this swingin’ time in her life. Continue reading

What the Heck am I Thinking, Here?

28 Aug

Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I’ve spent the past couple of years writing a little bit about life every day, in the form of self-centered status updates. Although I think of myself as a somewhat creative person, I’ve always been pretty terrible at the type of writing people usually consider creative.  Like short stories.  Poems.  Even my attempts at novels remain unfinished, mainly because I feel they can’t possibly be good.  In an arguably uncreative way, I seem to only like to write about things that have actually happened to me or to someone I know, so it’s not surprising I took to Facebook so easily.  Through speedily issued statuses, it is possible for me to painlessly share the trials and unexpected satisfactions of my daily life as a temporary at-home mom.   Continue reading