Wednesday, December 31, 2008

5 Years Ago Tonight...

5 Years Ago Tonight..

..I was pregnant with Charlotte, though I wouldn't confirm it for two more weeks.

..I attended my last adults-only New Year's Eve party at a friend's apartment. Though I'm sure there will be more as the years go on.

..I was the same size as today. My two remaining BC (Before Charlotte) jeans still fit nicely (though they've become painting pants as their styles are a lot outdated).

..My hair was several shades lighter, naturally. I'm still natural, though some days I'm tempted...

..I could go for days without either doing laundry or feeling guilty about not doing it.

..Our largest monthly bill, after the mortgage, was my husband's car payment (at less than 1/3 the amount). Today, it's the daycare bill, at about 95% of the amount. And considering the likely cost of private school tuition, that's not going to change.

..The only surgery I had ever had was wisdom teeth removal. Now I have two c-sections "under my belt".

..My most visible scar was a small ding in the middle of my forehead (brick hearth, age 2). Today, besides the c-section mark, I carry 4 on my heart. One for each of Trystan's surgeries.

..I had no blog, had never kept a journal for more than one lone summer abroad. This post is number 397.

..I had never written more than a few pages that weren't required for school assignments or work, and very little of it fiction. Today, I have completed one full-length novel, and am halfway through a second. With a few other, smaller bits here and there.

..My thoughts of one day becoming a published author were saved for late-night insomniac spells. Today, well, they're not much closer to reality. But I admit them in public. Occasionally.

..I had whole weekends of boredom. Now, I have whole vacations of playdates, museum trips, arts and crafts, and tickling sessions.

5 years ago, I got a goodnight kiss. Tonight, I'll have gotten 3.

Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday Cookbook Series -- New Year's Edition

I have always found that drinking is best enjoyed at home or at a friends' house. No tipping. No smoking. No loud music or migraine-inducing strobe lights. And, when we're the hosts, no driving! Oh yeah, and for the cost of two bar-drinks, you can buy an entire bottle of liquor (and sometimes mixers as well).

We have enjoyed this book for years. We keep it in the wet bar in our basement (you know, that row of countertops where we store all the accumulated junk to dangerous to leave in toddler reach...). Ok, so for most of the last 5ish years my husband has enjoyed this book--I was too busy gestating and lactating to partake. Tonight, the sky's the limit! (er, well, my liver's the limit...and did I mention that all that pregnancy and breastfeeding pretty much killed what little tolerance I had? One, maybe two drinks for me and I'll be passed out cold....)

Happy New Year's everyone! Drink responsibly. (yes, I had to say it. I'm a parent, darnit!)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Booklist Update--2008 Tally

I have finished two additional books in the past week or so.

In Danger by Alison Kent. This one I started back on Election day, reading one of the two novellas it contains. I read the other recently. I'm new to Alison Kent this year, and I find her writing fascinating. Contemporary romance with a very steamy (read: explicit) edge.

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. Amusingly, I finished this one on Christmas night. I know its not new, and no, I haven't seen the movie. It's not really one of his better books and was rather flat. But the idea was good, and I could see how it could translate to the screen rather well. Maybe next year, I'll dig up the flick!

I haven't been counting them, but there are several other books that I'm adding to my tally for the end of the year. One category is non-fiction. From writer's guides to books about Chivalry and Mesoamerica, I've read (or at least partially read) quite a few. These are hard to count because I don't always read every page of a non-fiction work, just skip around to the pertinent chapters/sections.

I've also begun (and not quite finished) several fiction books. One, Brisinger by Paolini, I've just started and will definitely finish. Several I began and just couldn't bring myself to finish. I won't name names.

General Fiction - 9
Contemporary Romance - 11
Sci Fi/Fantasy - 5
Historical Romance - 8
Women's Lit (Chick Lit) - 3
Nonfiction (read or mostly read) - 6
Partial Fiction (in progress or abandoned) - 5

Totals:
Fiction (completed) - 36
Fiction (not completed) - 5
Nonfiction - 6

47 books!
Wow. Good thing I'm not including all the kids books. I'm quite positive that would knock the total well over 100. And lest you think my kids are all animal sounds and baby board books, I will point out that I've read parts of at least 5 chapter books (above the early readers, not quite pre-teen "young adult") including several in the Disney Fairy series and several Magic Treehouse books. I'm not sure whether I'm anticipating or dreading the day that Charlotte no longer requires us to read outloud to her before bed every night.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wii've been good

Merry Christmas! So what I'm a little late. Hold on, the 12 days of Christmas start on Christmas day, so I'm perfectly on time. It's Four Calling Birds Day, didntchaknow :)

This year is proof that even without leaving the metro area, Christmas can be exhaustingly busy. I'm off for two solid weeks, and in week one, I've snagged about two hours of sitting time. Cumulative. The rest has been running from store to post office to store, cleaning, cooking, and driving around. And it's not quite done yet.

Tomorrow is Monday, and daycare is open (and we're paying whether the kids show or not). So, tomorrow is messy-and-dangerous-jobs-around-the-house day. I'm painting a bathroom (after yet another run to the post office). Hubby will be having fun with the miter saw and some baseboard moulding that has been hanging out in our bedroom since last summer when we replaced our bathroom floor. Sounds relaxing, no?

Yes, all that sarcasm is (not) concealing a bit (lot) of envy for people who have nothing to do over Christmas break. I've seen two or three blog posts already about folks who are bored. I'll trade you! Really! Just one day? Please?

In case you didn't guess, our big family present was a Wii. No, not the fit. I haven't had enough energy to wait in line at the crack of dawn somewhere to buy the one and only set that each store sells per week. Maybe by my birthday we'll be able to actually order the dumb things. Anywho.

We have an older Xbox, but decided against the 360 because we just weren't thrilled with the selection of games. Charlotte is 4, and terribly interested in all things computerish and gamish, and buying a system that seems to specialize in violence and black just seemed silly. She's too old for us to keep away from a gaming system, and we're too exhausted after the hour-and-a-half struggle to put her to bed every night to wait until sleepytime to play. The Wii seems to have a lot of happy, child-friendly games, and is active enough that we won't feel horribly guilty for allowing her to play. She's already a pro at baseball, bowling, and is working on a Barbie game.

I like the tennis. And I actually beat my husband at boxing. Multiple times. Seriously, this is a major accomplishment, given that the guy has a supernatural ability to see a computer game once and intuitively guess all of the massively complex maneuver combinations within 5 minutes. Up-Down-Back-Left-OtherLeft-Right-axyz. Now why didn't I try that first? Oh yeah, because I'm still trying to figure out which guy on the screen I'm moving!!!

Our biggest problem is that our package came with 3 controllers. And Trystan wants to play too. And no, he will NOT accept a battery-less tv controller as a substitute. He's short, not stupid :)

Anyway, this is long and rambly, and going nowhere. And I think it's been a while since I posted something like this. Fun :)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series--Christmas Cookies

This week, in lieu of another printed cookbook, I am sharing my two favorite Christmas cookies (that share a single icing recipe).

The first are called Cookie Monster Cookies. The recipe orginated in a Sesame Street activity book when I was a very very small child. Our family has been making and decorating these every Christmas (and many Easters and other cookie-worthy occasions) for nearly 30 years now. We always mix up several colors of icing and cover these with sprinkles or redhots. Note that the batter is quite heavy and well-suited to a stand mixer (or else, to strong biceps!)

Cookie Monster Cookies
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt


Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time until well blended. Add vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter/sugar mixture until fully incorporated.

Chill at least one hour.

Roll dough out 1/4" thick on a floured surface and cut with cookie cutters.

Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes.

Cool and decorate.

Icing (also used for Gingerbread Cookies, below)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
(optional) few drops food coloring


Use less milk or more sugar for thicker icing.

The next recipe is a rich, spicy gingerbread cookie recipe. It's not quite as traditional in my family, but Charlotte and I have been making these together for several years now. She especially likes the step where you add the baking soda. It reacts with the molasses to produce bubbles, like a sticky, spicy homemade volcano :)

Gingerbread Cookies
2/3 cup full flavor molasses (not black strap)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 2 tbsp pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 3/4-4 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt


In a large (at least 4-5 quart) sauce pan, bring molasses, brown sugar, and spices to a boil.

Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (this will puff up, so make sure your pan has extra space!).

Stir in butter 3 pieces at a time until melted. Add egg

Add 3 3/4 cup of flour and salt.

Preheat the oven to 325 and butter cookie sheets.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough, adding enough remaining flour until it is soft (30 sec to 1 minute).

Roll half the dough at a time 1/8-1/4" thick. Keep the other half wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature. Note you may want to wait until the dough cools to almost room temperature before cutting your first batch, or they will be very hard to move to the cookie sheets.

Cut out cookies and bake on buttered sheets 10 to 12 minutes.

Cool on rack and ice with the recipe above (I like to leave the icing white on such a dark colored cookie).

Christmas Cards

How I determine my Christmas Card list:

1) Sort through all of last years' Christmas card envelopes whose return addresses are legible.
2) Hmmm...there are duplicates. Maybe I have a couple of years worth of envelopes in this box.
3) Remove the addresses that didn't have a name. I could send them a card, but I wouldn't know how to address them...
4) Pull out old file box of addresses from wedding invitations. There might be a dozen or so that haven't moved in the past 8 years.
5) Open up three different email accounts, looking for saved messages containing change-of-address notes. Also try Evite.
6) In desperation, try online phonebooks.
7) Plan to hand-deliver a few
8) Ok, so I *know* I've been to some of these people's homes. Oh well. I don't think I have any friends who would feel offended for not receiving a card. Especially the ones who haven't sent us one in the past (or else I would have found their address in step 1).

Also, for anyone who receives a card from us and is wondering about stamp and return-address placement: Charlotte helped.

I did type all of the addresses into a spreadsheet this year. After hand-addressing envelopes. I think I should print it out and stick it into my box, or else I'll lose the file by next year...

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Favorite Christmas Songs

I love Christmas music. Although it was a little startling when one of the local radio stations turned to Christmas back in October, I admit that I've been listening off and on since then. And I have all of our Christmas CD's loaded into my iPod--somewhere around 15-20 CD's worth of holiday cheer.

Here are a few of my favorites. How about you? What are you listening to this year?


  • Oh Holy Night by Josh Groban (Anyone know where I can buy the MP3 of just this song? iTunes doesn't seem to have it and I already own every other song on the CD its on....)

  • The Chipmunks Christmas Song

  • Blue Christmas by Elvis

  • Carol of the Bells by Manheim Steamroller (I danced a Christmas show to this song in color guard in high school)

  • White Christmas by Bing Crosby

  • Little Saint Nick by the Beach Boys

  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Frank Sinatra

  • Happy Christmas by John Lennon

  • The Nutcracker (all of it!) by Tchaikovsky

  • The Ghosts of Christmas Eve by Trans Siberian Orchestra

Friday, December 19, 2008

I have not updated my reading list in a long time. Mostly because I haven’t finished a book in a long time. Long for me. I took almost a month to finish one book. With a sick kid forcing me to spend hours on the couch this week, pretending to be a cushion for him to sleep on, I’ve managed to finish a second.

Courting Miss Adelaide by Janet Dean. This is a Harlequin Love Inspired romance. Talk about a sub-genre that I normally avoid. I don’t read much (any) “category” romance (i.e. the monthly Harlequins that the grocery store carries). And I don’t read inspirational Christian. I am Christian, yes, but not the bible-thumping “the answer to everything is in the Scriptures” type. Actually, I’m Catholic, which is not considered “Christian” as far as Christian publishing is concerned. Anywho. Not to say that this book was bad. It was very enjoyable, actually. And the inspirational part wasn’t terribly heavy-handed or I might have never finished it. I do admit that the main reason I read it is because it is set in Noblesville, IN in the late 1800’s—which is about 15 minutes away from where I grew up.

Mr. Cavendish, I Presume by Juila Quinn. This is the follow up to The Lost Duke of Wyndham. I’d never read Julia Quinn before The Lost Duke, but I will gladly seek her out again. Warning, that this book does not really stand on its own without The Lost Duke. I’d have been lost, or a little bored, without having read the first book. There are too many references, many shared scenes, and a whole lot of context that you’d miss. I would almost say that the two should have been one single volume. But the shared scenes are re-told in a different viewpoint, and I think the story would be missing something without the multiple views. And, of course, there seems to be a huge push in Romance and in publishing in general to get away from longer novels. Sad, really, as I really miss some of the 600+ page historicals I used to read in high school. But then, no one asked my opinion.

Sometime by the end of the year, I want to make an accounting of both the non-fiction books that I've read (or mostly read), and of a couple of fiction books that I've started and never finished this year. I have a couple of anthologies of novellas that I've only read parts of, and at least one book that I abandoned altogether (yes, it was that annoying...and I have its two follow-up books in pristine condition...Ebay here I come)

In the mean time, here's the running totals (both of the books this time went into my "historical" category).

General Fiction - 8
Contemporary Romance - 10
Sci Fi/Fantasy - 5
Historical Romance - 8
Women's Lit (Chick Lit) - 3
Total 34 books

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- Kristi's Own

Instead of my regularly scheduled Cookbook, this week I'm offering up a recipe. I made these cookies for a cookie exchange at work, and am quite happy with how they turned out. The recipe was adapted from an Almond Biscotti recipe (which I also made) in the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Enjoy!

Mocha Biscotti
Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp instant coffee granules
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, or 2oz by weight) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 tsp Kahlua
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Oven to 350. Use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat to line a sheet pan.

  2. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and instant coffee. Set aside.

  3. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and then the Kahlua.

  4. Slowly mix in flour mixture until well combined. Add chocolate chips.

  5. Split the dough in half. Using floured hands, press each half into a 2x13 inch loaf, and place side by side on the sheet pan, allowing a few inches in between.

  6. Bake 35 minutes or until golden and just beginning to crack on top.

  7. Cool 10 minutes on the pan on a wire rack. Turn the oven down to 325.

  8. Transfer the cookie-loaves to a cutting board and slice each on the diagonal into ½ inch wide slices. Lay the slices, cut side up, close together back on the baking pan (you can re-use the parchment)

  9. Bake at 325 about 15 minutes until crisp on both sides. Turn once while baking. Let cool completely.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We were overdue for forced time off...

Back in college, it was common for two roommates to go to the campus health services with the same symptoms, and to receive two different diagnoses.

Over the weekend, we had dinner and playtime with friends. Their son was running a bit of a fever, and Trystan had a slight cough. I'm not super panicky about health issues now (I think Trystan's issues have sort of killed off that instinct in me). He handles colds ok.

Come Sunday afternoon, he woke up from his nap cranky, which is way out of character. Monday morning he was almost warm--not quite running a fever, but if we sent him to daycare, someone would be leaving early to pick him up. He stayed home with my husband, and by afternoon was running a fever. I called the pedi and set an appointment for Tuesday morning.

Driving sucked on Tuesday. Our pediatrician is wonderful, but when we selected her after Char was born, she was 10 minutes away. Two moves later, and its 30 minutes with no traffic. Its worse in sleet. Oh, and my windshield washer fluid is now freezing up when I'm on the highway. Which makes it really hard to see unless I crank the interior temp to 75 and turn the front defrost on high.

Trystan's not a big fan of the doctor's office. I don't blame him. He had a strep test (swab to the throat), ear check, pulse ox reading (small device touching his finger...not the least painful, but he freaked), a breathing treatment (Trystan hates masks), and a RSV test (swab to both sides of the nose).

The verdict: RSV. Respiratory virus that can cause pneumonia. Which accounts for his fever and nasty cough. The treatment: there's not much of one. We got a prescription for oral steroids which can help the lungs, especially as he has asthma (especially when sick). Otherwise, just tylenol/ibuprofin, xopenex as needed, and keep him comfortable. And home. Its contagious through saliva, and dangerous for babies (like at daycare).

He spent the remainder of the afternoon glued to my chest, protesting violently if I put him down to do such selfish things as use the restroom or order pizza by phone. Light diarrhea (that was compounded by his coughing) made his butt raw. That didn't help in the least.

By bedtime last night, he was improving, and willingly laid down in his bed to sleep. He only woke up twice last night. Maybe three times. Better than the every-hour night Monday.

All in all, though, it was a better day than Amanda had. I'm willing to bet that her Little Man's pneumonia was kicked off by RSV (or aggravated by it). I don't know who started this little germ fest, but I'm fairly certain that our sons traded them over the weekend. I'm glad that her son's doing better and getting treated. And I'm happy that I haven't ended up in the ER with Trystan again (I've been there plenty, thank you, and I'm hoping that my frequent flyer points are expiring soon).

Today, it was my husband's turn to stay home again, and it seems that Trystan is improving (I heard a rumor of an actual smile, and perhaps a few minutes of playing!). I'm taking another sick day tomorrow. Hubby's probably taking Friday off. In theory, he can work from home, but not while attached to a toddler (or while aforementioned toddler attempts to pound on the keyboard), so he'll be limited to whatever naptimes Trystan agrees to take, or on asking for babysitting favors.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Faking It

Let’s talk trees. I saw an article in Sunday’s Post-Dispatch that claimed that, despite (or perhaps because of) the current economy, that sales of “real” Christmas trees are up this year over last.

Yes, I put the “real” in quotes on purpose. You see, I’m not a fan of killing trees for decorative purposes. I know that many people disagree (and one of my readers even has ties to a family Christmas tree farm). I don’t wish any harm to family-run businesses, and nor do I wish to ban the practice of cutting trees for those who prefer the organic variety. I just won’t buy one myself.

I just don’t see the appeal. ‘Course, I have reasons to avoid the undead variety. Mainly, I’m allergic to them. That oft-lauded pine fresh scent makes my sinuses clog and my eyes water. Thanks, I prefer my décor hypoallergenic.

Growing up, we almost always had a man-made tree. I fondly remember assembling it every year—matching up branches by colored dots that indicated their row, how my dad had to put on the top section because we were too short. It always looked symmetrical, dropped no needles on the carpet, and was guaranteed to fit in our living room, year after year. No saws, no tying-to-the-roof-of-the-car. So, for me, nostalgia is a manmade tree, that looks pristine from Thanksgiving until Twelfth Night.

One year, we did have a “real” tree. There was much wrangling to make the thing fit (they always look smaller outside). There was much vacuuming. There were frequent reminders to water the tree. And then there were the cats. Our cats loved it. They climbed it. They tipped it over. Multiple times. There was more vacuuming, and ornament reassembly. And lots of sneezing.

The tree we had for like 15 years growing up came with me to St. Louis for a year or two, as my mom bought a bigger-and-better tree (that she’s still using) The stand was broken, and several branches had gone missing, and so I eventually replaced it with a $40 one from Garden Ridge (one with only 3 pieces plus the base—no branch sorting required). That lasted for like 8-10 years until I sprang for a pre-lit one last year (which is just another 3-piece tree with the lights already strung). I still have the Garden Ridge tree, and should we decide to set up two in the house, it would cost us nothing but time (we have more than enough ornaments for 3 full size trees if we really wanted).

So, how about ya’ll? Wood or Metal? Any opinions? Feel free to bash artificial trees. I don’t mind lively debate and good-natured mockery. Especially about such deep, personal, religious beliefs as this.

(I’d stick a poll on my blog, but those darned things always crash the web browsers on the two main computers I use. Completely different computers running different browser versions even. Maybe its just me. Sorry, you must actually comment in order to vote)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An exciting Sunday

A funny thing happens when you actually wash, dry, and fold all of your laundry. You run out of hangers.

Seriously. Well, there are a few of the throw-away kind that come with clothes (the few I haven't managed to break or toss).

And, there are kid-sized hangers left. Mostly because despite my best efforts to toss those crappy store kind (or leave them with the stores), they have established some sort of breeding program in my children's closets.

Oh, and my husband has 47 sweaters. I counted.

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas...

People of St. Louis: You may all rest easy this winter. I have just guaranteed that there will be no snow this year. And possibly next year too.

In fact, I've triply guaranteed it. Both children now own snow pants and boots in sizes that might last even through next winter. And I actually own, for the first time since childhood, a pair of snow boots in my own size bought from the women's section of a shoe store (website).

For years, if I needed to tromp through snow, or (heaven forbid), shovel the driveway, I'd borrowed my husband's boots. They looked silly. They felt silly. Luckly (for shoe-borrowing) he doesn't have large feet--about a 8.5 men's. Which is about 2 sizes bigger than my own 8-8.5 women's. There aren't enough socks in the house to fix that discrepancy properly.

About two years ago, I picked up a pair on a clearance rack that was marked "women's boots", in a size 8. I didn't try them on for some reason. Oops. I'm pretty sure they're a men's size 8, because even with multiple pairs of thick socks, my feet still slosh around in them.

This year, after trudging after the kids through an early snowfall (where Charlotte wore boots that were too small, and Trystan wore tennis shoes with extra socks), and with both children in jeans, I decided enough was enough. Even if St. Louis doesn't get as much snow as Indy did, we still get a couple of good snowfalls a year, and the kids like to play. And my husband is not always home to shovel the driveway.

In case you're wondering, Target had snowpants pretty cheap a couple of weeks ago. Their boots weren't super cheap, but either they'll last an extra year, or we'll be able to pass them along to other kiddos. For me, I found some on Land's End's website. Not that cheap, but my feet don't grow. And I was positive that they were the right size this time!

Now, we sit back and wait to see whether I wasted my money :)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kitchen Conversions

1 pound of butter = 2 cups
1 cup = 16 tablespoons
1 pound = 16 ounces
Therefore,
1 pound of butter = 32 tablespoons

Remember how I bought 4 pounds of butter before Thanksgiving? That's how it comes, from Sam's club. 4 pounds at a time. And, they're not divided into individual sticks, but rather 4 individually wrapped bricks of butter. And for about half the cost of Land O Lakes at Schnucks (and the Sam's quality is comparable or better...which is much better than the Schnucks generic brand, that I won't buy any more). I paid about $8.50 for all that.

Well, I didn't really need 4 pounds for Thanksgiving Dinner. More like 5 sticks (just over 1 pound). But, it was cheaper than the grocery store, and butter can last a while, and we're getting into Christmas Cookie Baking season.

The trouble is, without the individual sticks with their nifty markings that make it easy to measure (cut), I have to actually convert tablespoons and cups in my head into ounces. I do have a kitchen scale, so measuring by weight is no big deal.

Except when I convince myself that 1 pound = 16 ounces = 16 tablespoons, and I double the amount of butter in a recipe. No wonder my blueberry scones are so yummy. And so very very very soft and crumbly.

Oops.

Thursday, December 11, 2008



Today’s cookbook is a yearly series, of which I own three. My older sister bought me my first subscription to Cooking Light magazine several years ago as a gift, and I just keep renewing it. The magazine is wonderful, full of articles on fitness and travel, and of course, food. They have lots and lots of recipes using interesting ingredients, complete with the nutritional breakdown. And, as the magazine name implies, all recipes are designed with healthly living in mind. If you think it’s all dry salads and crunchy granola, you’re dead wrong. Cakes, pies, breads, rich meats. They do everything. But, they try to make the ingredient lists sensible, and they offer reasonable portion sizes, and advice on how to choose ingredients.

The Cooking Light yearly cookbooks are a collection of every recipe from every issue of the magazine during the whole year. It typically comes out around late November, about the same time as the December issue of the magazine. Their indexes are great, by recipe or ingredient. They compile a years worth of menu suggestions into one section, which makes planning easy. While they don’t include the articles on exercise techniques or beauty, they do include some of the cooking features.

I have three of these now, 2007, 2008, and 2009 which just arrived a week ago (they’re numbered a year ahead…2009 has recipes from the 2008 magazines). Yes, it’s doubling-up as I also have all of the magazine issues for the year, but the books are a bit more compact than 12 magazines, and made to last. Last night, we had a chicken pot pie out of the 2007 book, and I have the ingredients for a turkey sausage pasta bake to make in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The cost of food

Its no wonder I think I spend so much on groceries. For some reason, that’s something I’ve been fretting over for a while. If I run the numbers at the end of the month, I’m shocked by how much food we ate. We eat enough to purchase another house.

Gone are the days when we ate in restaurants 3-4 times a week. Long gone. But our family does like to eat, and we try to eat yummy food that’s relatively healthy. And, because I’m a cheapskate who’s terrified by the monthly grocery bill, I try to cook a lot from scratch and not rely so much on mixes and kits and pre-prepared foods.

Also, I went grocery shopping last night, and I have a lot of prices fresh in my mind. So just now, I thought I’d do a little exercise in figuring how much I’m spending on food for today. I’m estimating on some things, as I don’t have all of the packages and prices in front of me

Today’s menu:
Breakfast
Oatmeal with brown sugar and cinnamon - 20cents (Note I buy the generic brand oatmeal in the large canisters, not packets. And most of the cost estimated here is the brown sugar)
Cranberry juice – 50cents (100% juice cranberry/pomegranate blend. I’m picky.)
Breakfast Total 70 cents

Lunch
microwave dinner – $1.25 (these were on sale 8/$10)
grapefruit – $1 (it’s a huge white grapefruit, and I’m going to eat the whole thing)
cookies – 50cents – This is one of my massively estimated numbers. They’re homemade, and my price estimate might actually be high.
Soda – 25cents. It would be higher if bought from the grocery store, but we picked up some at Sams recently
Lunch total $3

Dinner (chili)
1 lb ground beef $3 (another estimate, I buy it on sale and freeze, but this is in the ballpark)
1 28oz can chili beans $1.50
1 28oz can diced tomatoes $1 (I think it might have been cheaper, but close enough)
1 bell pepper $1.50
1 onion 10cents (the bags were $10/10 before Thanksgiving)
Chili powder .25 (another big estimate. I pay by the ounce from Penzeys, and have no idea how much it costs per pot)
Tortilla chips $1.33 (we’ll eat about 1/3 of a bag or so, maybe)
Shredded cheese 50cents (estimating 1 / 4 of a bag at 3/$5)
Water (free)
Dinner total: $9.18. I’m not eating the entire pot myself. My share comes to approximately $2.30

Total for the day = $6

If all 4 of us in the family at the same cost in food, every day of the year, then we would spend:
$6/person/day * 4 people * 7 days in a week * 52 weeks in a year = $8736/year = $728/month.

No wonder I’m freaked about the cost of food. Today’s menu is pretty cheap. No steak, no fancy ingredients. I don’t drink much milk, but the kids do, which would change the cost of today’s meals.

There are a few places I could cut back here: pb&j instead of the tv dinner, a less expensive piece of fruit, make a larger pot of chili using dried beans instead of canned (and use leftovers for future lunches), etc.

There are also easy places to spend more money: boxed cereal instead of oatmeal, add a cup of yogurt (which I frequently do), actually account for the cup of tea and few squares of chocolate I have stashed in my desk :)

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Scenic Route

The projected high temperature today in St. Louis is about five times greater than Indianapolis was when we arrived on Friday. If I ever need a little dose of winter to break up the monotony of fall, it’s only a four hour drive away.

Except when it’s a six hour drive. I’ve probably made the trek from here to the frozen tundra where I grew up sixty times. It’s easy, really, Take I-70 east to Indianapolis. Optimally, to get to the northwest side where I grew up, take a left at the airport, and follow the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (er, 465) to where I-69 begins (it only goes one way from Indy—North). Exit 5 is Fishers.

The trickiest part of the whole trip is to not miss the exit from 70 onto 70 just outside of St. Louis. No, that’s not a typo. Thanks to the spaghetti bowl that is downtown St. Louis, three major highways converge to cross the various bridges by the arch, and once you’re East Side, there’s one small sign and a one-lane exit ramp that allows you to continue west and avoid Chicago. Did I mention that the sign is really easy to miss, especially when you’re distracted by kids or other drivers or just stuck behind a semi? Or reading a book, which is what I was doing. Normally, my husband hates it when I tell him which route to take when he’s driving. But sometimes I’m just as annoying when I fail to pay attention.

About thirty minutes north of the Lou, my husband needed a potty break. He returned bearing a map of Illinois and bad news. We were headed towards the wrong city. We had two options: turn around or re-calculate our route. Either way was likely to add an hour to our original ETA. But what the heck, we were well stocked with sodas, goldfish crackers, and animated DVD’s. We went north.

55 North from St. Louis to Springfield, 72 East from Springfield through Decatur and onto Champagne. 74 continues east from Champagne. And then, instead of sticking to interstates and heading south back to 465, I decided that we could try a state highway. 74 to Indiana 32, all the way east through Lebanon, Westfield, Noblesville, to where it hits 37, just 5 minutes from my Mom’s house.

According to Yahoo Maps, the detour added about an hour and fifteen minutes to the drive. According to our windows, it also added quaint views of old-fashioned small towns and lonely farm houses, decked out in holiday lights. We passed two separate “Santa Shacks” where folks were lined up for photos and free cocoa. Downtown Noblesville is quite picturesque, with the courthouse square and over a century’s worth of archictectural styles in the surrounding residential areas. It’s been a very long time—a decade or more—since I’ve driven around there, and it was fun to see what was still the same, and what was not.

The kids were less impressed by the scenic route than I was. And it will be a long time before I care to watch the Veggie Tales A Snoodle’s Tale again (alas, it was the unlucky DVD that remained in the player at the end of the trip, and we looped it about 4 times over the weekend).

Our route home: 465 to 70 to Lindbergh, with a stop in Effingham for Starbucks. We left the snow back home in Indiana.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- Chocolate

I'm not sure that this cookbook needs a lot of explanation. I will, however, post the link. For once, I'm linking Barnes & Noble, not Amazon. I'm a big B&N fan for brick & mortar, but always hit Amazon online. However, I think this is part of a series that I bought at B&N.

In case you're not convinced by the title and photo alone of the delicious utility of this cookbook, let me list a few recipe titles:

Magic Chocolate Mud Pudding
Pears in Chocolate Fudge Blankets
Chocolate Tiramisu Tart
Black Bottom Pie
Mango and Chocolate Creme Brulee
Chocolate Mint-Filled Cupcakes
Double Chocolate Chip Muffins
Chocolate Cinnamon Doughnuts

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Woman vs Machine

The jalapeño chips called to me. Loudly. From three hallways away.

"I go great with peanut butter and jelly," they said. "And I'm way cooler than that banana."

I held out as long as I could. At least five minutes.

Finally, shoulders slumped in shame, I stuffed a dollar bill into my pants pocket and snuck out into the hallway. Empty. I could feed my spicy-salty-greasy craving without an audience.

"Now equipped with Golden Eye," the sign read. "We guarantee that you will receive your product."

The machine slurped my dollar with a whirr. I punched the numbers. 126. And I waited.

Gears turned. Change fell into the coin return slot. The long metal spiral turned, nudging the green bag forward. And it stopped.

My jalapeños hung in midair, trapped by the shelf above.

No problem, I thought. I will just buy two. There will be more peanut butter tomorrow, which will go nicely with more chips. I strode with purpose back to my cubicle, and found another dollar.

Whirr. Slurp. Punch. And I waited.

Noooo!

Now two bags of chips hung, caught on the shelves, and perhaps trapped by the oversized bag of cheesy corn in the next slot over.

I considered my options. I'm too short for an effective vending machine wrestling match. I couldn't even budge the thing. The dispenser drawer was nicely theft-proofed, so there would be no reaching in with an arm. Not that my arms are four foot long anyway.

I could taste defeat, and it didn't taste like jalapeños.

Studying the problem, I perked. The cheesy popcorn. If I played my cards, er, dollars right, I could have two bags of chips and cheesy popcorn.

Back to my desk. More money. I was out of dollars, and had to count dimes from the bottom of my purse. Back to the machine. Clink clank clunk. 128. The popcorn nudged forward. The bag bulged out of its slot.

And held.

I sucked in my breath preparing to scream.

And then, with a faint rustle of plastic, the two bags of chips fell. They landed safely in the bottom bin, and I clutched them to my chest in glee. Chips!

I would have skipped back to my cube. But I didn't. The chips were spicy. And salty. And greasy. And they tasted heavenly with peanut butter.

As for the popcorn, it hangs there still: a silent warning to all who come after me.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Every parent has a poop story. Blowouts, bathtubs, dinner table announcements from the potty training set....

My mom will tell you about me, a restaurant high chair, and a very kind waitress with a stomach of iron.

With Charlotte, we have a few fond memories. Like the carpet that I had to scrub when she was just a few days old, and when the stomach flu masquaraded as a UTI.

For Trystan...well, Trystan's first 9 months of life is one big poop story (or lack thereof). Imperforate Anus, colostomy, you look it up.

This weekend, exactly one year after his colostomy closure (and subsequent introduction to pooping in a diaper), we have added a new poop story to the menu. This one involves my mother-in-law's brand-new house (the laundry/powder room), a bent-over bare-bottomed baby, and an ill-timed cough. There was mopping. Clothes were changed. Four adults were involved in the cleanup, with a 4-year old serving as the sports commentator. Luckily, we will not be required to paint the walls. I do hope that they sealed the grout on the tile floors (if not, they might be considering it now...)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Just Chill

I am annoyed. At refridgerators. We've been shopping for a new one, and they all suck. Or they're too expensive.

No, our current fridge isn't dead. But it's on life support. Every month or two my husband pulls out a hair dryer to defrost frozen-over coils. We had to repair it another time, a couple of years ago, for the same symptoms. That time, the auto-defroster cycle wasn't working right, so the fridge just quit auto-defrosting and first frosted over, then quit chilling. Like every appliance repair experience I've ever had, it was exceedingly painful to fix--involving the repairmen not showing twice, and somehow ordering two parts. This time, we're not under warranty.

Since having kids, I've been wanting a bigger fridge. This one's not teeny, but once you add two gallons of milk, grapes, eggs, yogurt, and some leftovers, we're bulging at the seams. And, it's a side-by-side, which means that I can't fit anything wider than a 2-liter into the fridge side. Not really, but it definitely won't hold a round platter or a cake box. And, our fridge space is up against one wall, so the fridge-side door won't open very wide, further restricting what we can get in and out. Very annoying.

So, we're lightly fridge shopping. The problem is, if we want a big fridge (around 25 cubic feet), then our options are either another side-by-side, or a french door. The french door ones are tempting--nice, big, wide sections that would hold a large item. But we have the same door problem on the one side, which makes some of the interior drawers in those big fridges not accessible.

What I really want is a 25 cubic foot fridge with a bottom freezer and one large refridgerator door that can be changed to open away from the wall. But no one makes those.

To make things even more aggravating, either we go with another side-by-side, or pay around $1000-$1500 extra for an equivalently featured french door one. And I just can't bring myself to fork over premium money for something that really isn't right for our space.

Of course, I've whined enough previously about renovating my kitchen. Wanting to rennovate my kitchen, I should say. Because the how/when/how much is so far up in the air that it looks like another moon. The fridge-wall-conflict is one of the design flaws I'd really like to fix. And I also hate to pay a premium for a fridge that may or may not work with my (hypothethical future) kitchen layout. If money were no object, I want a huge built-in (like a Sub-Zero or Wolf or Kitchen Aid), at least 48" wide. You know, one of those $6-10,000 ones.

A girl can dream.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Save That Bird!

It's not too late to rescue your turkey from its sterotypical dry boredom on Thanksgiving Day.

Brine it! Seriously. If you've eaten moist, flavorful chicken or turkey from a restaurant, then you've probably had brined poultry before. And when you got home and tried to re-create that yummy roasted taste and ended up with bland rubbery chicken or turkey so dry it could double for cat litter, its because you missed a step.

We've been brining our Thanksgiving turkeys for several years now, after reading about the process in Cooks Illustrated magazine. (I've mentioned them before right? Seriously..if you love to cook and don't care for ads, they're the magazine for you).

Here's the plan for this year:

1 fresh turkey, thawed. Mine clocks in at just under 20 pounds.
1.5 cups of table salt (if you use Kosher, go with 2.25 cups to keep the same percentage of sodium)
3 gallons cold water
2 clean large white kitchen trash bags
1 electric cooler

"Trash Bags?" you ask. "Are you nuts?" Well, let's just say that they don't make ziploc bags that big. If you have a regular water-tight cooler, then you can skip the trash bags. Just sanitize it really good before and after. Ours plugs in and has a cooling fan inside, so I can't just fill it with water. Hence the trash bags.

Directions:

  1. Dissolve salt in the water in a large stew pot. Stir it until the water is clear, with no salt visible in the bottom of the pot.

  2. Open Turkey package. Remove giblets, neck, and cracker jack prize.

  3. Place one trash bag inside another trash bag, and place both into the cooler, opening sides up. Put turkey into the trash bag.

  4. Find a friend. Over 3 foot tall preferably.

  5. Ask your friend to hold the turkey-trash bags open while you pour the dissolved salt-water into the center bag (the outer bag is just a backup in case of leaks).

  6. Squeeze out as much air as possible from the inner bag that's full of salt-water turkey, and tie it shut.

  7. Tie the outer bag shut. Close lid of cooler and plug it in. (If you have a regular cooler, pack it with ice and make sure it stays cold while the turkey's in there).

  8. Wait 6 to 12 hours. I'm doing mine overnight tonight.

  9. Carefully remove the turkey from the brine, rinse in the sink (this is the trickiest part, IMO, those suckers are heavy and slippery), place it in the rack in your roasting pan (you have a rack in your roaster, yes? If not, the stores are still open....). Dry the turkey off with paper towels. Throw that yucky raw turkey salt water down the drain.

  10. At this point you will want to let the turkey rest at room temperature for maybe 30 minutes before cooking. If it's not time to pop it in the oven, then put it in your fridge, uncovered. The air will help dry the skin out so that it crisps up nicely when roasted.

  11. Follow your normal roasting directions. For me, that involves adding thyme, carrots, onions, and celery into the bottom of the pan (to help flavor the drippings for the eventual gravy), adding a little salt and plenty of black pepper to the bird. We frequently "stuff" the turkey with a couple of onions and apples, for extra flavoring from the inside. Brush the whole turkey with melted butter. Roast back side up at 425 for about an hour. Flip the turkey breast side up, turn oven to 325, and continue roasting until the thighs reach 175 (probably about 3-3.5 hours total on my bird).



So, go! Get that turkey brining. And don't forget to thank me tomorrow night!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I have a guilty secret: I don't like to eat with my children.

No! you gasp. It cannot be! But you love your children. And you love to eat and to cook and to feed people. How can you not love to feed your children?

Let me be clear. I have no qualms with feeding the children. Its eating at the same time that's my issue. And its' not their table manners. The 4-year old inside of me giggles when Trystan shovels oatmeal into his mouth by the handful, and can appreciate the art masterpiece that Charlotte makes out of her dinner.

The problem is that I never get to eat! We sit, we pray, and then the aerobics begins. I'm up getting the (milk/yellow mustard/fork) that was forgotten. I'm down on the floor mopping up the overturned bowl of soup before I stick my own sock in it by mistake. I'm cutting food. I'm blowing on food. I'm negotiating what food Charlotte must consume to qualify for the chance to watch a TV show after dinner. This is not to say that I perform these tasks alone, either. My husband generally handles half of the interruptions. And still, I don't get to sit.

And by the time I get to the first bite of my dinner, which is now cold, Trystan's done. Quick, get the baby out of the high chair before he (throws his food/screams bloody murder/wiggles out of his buckle and leaps from the chair)! And he must be cleaned, head to toe, and sometimes stripped (depends on how soggy the outfit got). Then he must be released into the living room to play, a feat which normally fails the first 2 or 3 times depending on (whether the powder room door is open providing access to toilet paper and flushing/how quickly he reaches the cupboard with the forbidden food processor attachments/how yummy Mommy's food looks).

Just as I settle in for a few more bites, Charlotte asks to be excused. And requires coaching on putting her dishes on the counter, and then needs help turning on the water when she washes her hands. By then, Trystan toddles back into the kitchen and begins yanking on my leg, begging for space on my lap, and bites off my plate. If I refuse, then he climbs up anyway, and I have to take him (kicking and screaming) into the living room. And race him back to the kitchen before he steals my chair.

Dinner time was almost relaxing from just before Trystan was born (when Charlotte was 2.5), until...well, until he came home from the hospital and discovered that everytime I sat down to eat, he was hungry too. (I was an expert at nursing at the table).

This, too, shall pass. And one day, when my kids are surly teenagers who refuse to speak in complete sentences, or have so many activities that they barely make it to dinner at all, I will miss these days. Peekaboo under the table. Charlotte goading Trystan into saying "stinky" (the worst word she can come up with). Trystan politely asking for more butter after he downed his last helping, leaving the bread intact....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Prep

I bought four pounds of butter today. Four. Pounds. And they're not divided into sticks--each pound is wrapped whole. I was giddy just adding the package to my shopping cart.

My obsession with butter aside, I have to say that shopping for Thanksgiving fixings is fun. Putting all the food away in our pantry is like trying to stuff an elephant into a coat closet. And I haven't picked up the turkey yet.

After much planning and re-planning, we are having Thanksgiving here, at my house, with my IL's, and my husband's sister, BIL, and their 17 month old twins. Total of 10. We've got the space. We even have matching chairs at the dining room table (for the adults, anwyay). My only regret is that the kiddos aren't quite old enough to eat at the kids table (yep, we've got one of those, too, with 4 little chairs...too bad a 4 year old can't be left to supervise 3 toddlers). Did I mention that this year we were supposed to be spending Thanksgiving in Indy, with my family? Strange the way things work out.

Really, I'm trying not to go too overboard on food. It's way too easy for me. I grew up in a family of 4 kids (with a 5th who came along much later), so every dinner was "big". And now, when I think "big", I make enough food to feed half the county. And I do it all with one oven. (Hah!) (Though I daydream of double ovens and a 6-burner stovetop...No, I actually do daydream about them...)

So, I promise not to feed all four pounds of butter to the group in one single sitting. We must save some for the leftovers.

And, I don't have a Thursday Cookbook Series post queued up and ready to go. Not that I'm sure that anyone's actually reading them. (Actually, I'm not sure anyone reads the blog at all, but I'll pretend that I'm not talking to myself, just in case). I was thinking about posting a few Thanksgiving-y recipes (possibly even for the things I actually intend to cook). Stay tuned.

On second thought, don't stay tuned, just check back--I do not want to be responsible for cleaning drool off the keyboards of my whole 2 fans if they actually stared at the screen waiting for a new post.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- Canning and Preserving


Every spring I have grand dreams of planting a beautiful garden and reaping a bountiful harvest that I can store away to feed my family for the winter. It's a silly dream, for someone who gardens in a 3x10 patch in a tiny suburban backyard. I chalk it up to some latent pioneering gene. It is rumored that my family has an ancestor who arrived on the Mayflower, and others who lived in the wild west (or at least the wild midwest of Nebraska).

In any case, most of my canning produce comes from the supermarket after my garden falters (or becomes a bunny buffet). Canning, at least the "water-bath" method is really pretty easy--you put hot food into jars, put on lids, and then boil the jars. Follow the times on the recipes, and that's really it. So far, I've done apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie filling, pickles, a variety of fruit jams, and some really yummy roasted red pepper spread.

If you're not up for all the boiling, then both the Ball Blue Book of Preserving and the Canning & Preserving for Dummies books have sections about drying and freezing foods, as well as pressure canning. I haven't gotten into the pressure canning yet, mostly because it involves buying a pressure cooker, and I"m already out of room for storing kitchen gadgets. But, it's on my list of things to try. Right after I find the secret to producing a bumper crop of tomatoes in a veggie patch the size of a postage stamp....

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The can-can

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I don't donate to foodbanks very often. I should. As someone who takes great pleasure in both food and feeding people, I ought to get nice warm fuzzies out of contributing. But, I'm also a creature of schedules and habits, and pleas for canned goods always come at awkward times, times when my brain is so jumbled with other concerns that I just don't remember. Seriously, if you ask me on the way into the grocery store to donate, I will have long since forgotton by the time I leave.

Often when I donate, I do what I suspect many people do: clean out the pantry and donate all the odds and ends that I just don't know what to do with (and don't remember why I bought). Many a can of tuna has left our house in that way. (For the record, I don't buy the tuna. Or cook it. Nor do I eat it. So why does it keep coming back? And overstaying its welcome?)

This year, the Boy Scout's Scouting for Food bag arrived on my doorknob as I was preparing a shopping list for a much overdue grocery run. And, I remembered my thoughts about living off a foodstamp budget.

So, I actually added decent donate items to my shopping list. I didn't buy a lot--boxed pie crust mix, pumpkin pie filling (requires only eggs and evaporated milk, and a crust), evaporated milk, and a couple of small jars of pumpkin pie spice. The spices don't go with the pie filling--it's all-inclusive. But someone else might end up with a can of blah pumpkin and have nothing in the cupboard to add to it.

Now, I will still be raiding the pantry for any unclaimed cans of food (I think I spotted some baby food jars in there the other day...that's gotta go!), and if I catch a great sale sometime this week then I might add a little more to my offerings.

I do have one request: could one of ya'll please remind me to actually stick the bag of food out this weekend? It would be really silly (and completely predictable) of me to go to all the effort only to forget to actually donate the stuff...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Booklist Update

This month is a slow reading month. I have two books to report, but I finished one of the two almost two weeks ago. So, I have a whopping one book done in the month of November.

The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones. This was the one that was yanked by Random House for fear of inciting muslim violence, and then published by a company in the UK. It was interesting. I know very little of the area and time period, and even less about the culture, so it was all very new to me. It was not the best book ever written, but I would certainly recommend it to others. Was it worth banning and bombing? Um, not in my opinion.

The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox. This was a quirky paranormal romance with witches that ride Harleys and concoct their magic spells with Snickers bars and twisty-ties. It was fascinating and fast-paced. Some of the action scenes seemed a little brief to me, but then I've been reading a lot of epic fantasy this year, which tend to drone a bit on the fights. All in all, it was a lot of fun, and I'd highly recommend it.

I have actually read another novella as well, half of Alison Kent's In Danger ("The Shaugnessey Accord"). I read that whole story while standing in line waiting to vote. 2 hours just flew by. Will report back once I've finished the other novella, "The Samm's Agenda".

Categorizing these two books is kind of a pain, given the list I already have going. I have a bunch of Jayne Ann Krentz's books in the "Contemporary Romance" category, even though they're paranormal (just not quite as paranormal as Demonslayer). But Demonslayer had way more romance than most of the books in the Sci-Fi/fantasay category. Similarly, Jewel could easily fit into General Fiction, or I could make a case for women's lit.

Oh, heck. The list is for my own amusement. I'll just stick them somewhere and let you guess.

General Fiction - 8
Contemporary Romance - 10
Sci Fi/Fantasy - 5
Historical Romance - 6
Women's Lit (Chick Lit) - 3
Total 32 books

Update 11/18/08: Corrected a silly typo that made it look like I wrote the Jewel of Medina. Ha ha! If only the publisher would make the same mistake and start sending me the royalty checks....

Monday, November 17, 2008

Some are Stripey or Polka Dot...

What do you wear to bed? (To actually sleep in—really, I’m not interested in your collection of nocturnal sportswear).

I’m a PJ kind of gal, but I wasn’t always. When I was a kid, I mostly wore t-shirts—big, baggy, butt-covering t-shirts. Sometimes mine, sometimes “obtained” from cast-offs of the taller members of my family. We were not an overly formal bunch in the mornings, and I’m one of 5 girls, so there was never much worry about showing the wrong parts to the wrong members of your family. Sometime in high school, I discovered men’s boxer shorts at the local discount stores, and started adding those to my nightly wardrobe—the crazier the pattern, the better.

For Christmas every year, my mom always bought us brand new PJ’s. They were the one present we were guaranteed to be allowed to open on Christmas Eve, frequently early enough in the evening to allow time for a pre-wearing wash. She wanted us all presentable for the Christmas Morning photo shoot. It’s a tradition our family still shares, and Mom buys all of us (including the men and children that we’ve added over the years) cozy Christmas jammies every year. I have quite the collection of red and green flannel.

But I think that its only since I’ve had an actual salary to spend that I’ve really gone gung-ho on nightgowns and sleep sets. My pajama drawer overfloweth, and I have to rotate things in and out with the seasons in order to have room to store them all. I’m kind of particular about what I sleep in—preferably cotton (flannel or knit), and it has to have sleeves. Don’t know why sleeping in a tank top bothers me, but it does.

Lately, I’m enjoying a sort of PJ renaissance. I’ve spent enough time pregnant or breastfeeding over the past few years that I’ve had to limit my PJ collection (i.e. long night gowns with no button opening at the top don’t work when you’re nursing, and when you’re the size of a barn, your PJ’s have to be also). But suddenly, I’m my normal size, with no access requirements (let’s keep our minds PG here, please), so I’m digging out all my old favorites from the past—long gowns, Capri sets, flannel 2-pieces, fleece.

So, I’d embed a fancy poll in this message, but 1) I’m not sure how and 2) my computer tends to freak out on blogs with polls. So instead, I’ll just ask. Anyone willing to admit what they sleep in? The buff? Old football jerseys? Tidy Whities?

(Bonus points to anyone who gets the reference in my title...)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- Coffee Drinks & Desserts


This week I have a fun cookbook to share. For someone who avoids most caffeine, I'm strangely obsessed by coffee. I love the smell of it brewing. I love a good Starbucks mocha (decaf). And I love to cook with it.

I found the Maxwell House Coffee Drinks & Desserts Cookbook several months ago at a bookstore. The photo on the front cover--chocolate toffee bars, p.190--always makes my mouth water. And there are plenty more. The book contains background sections about the history of coffee, Maxwell house, and brewing tips.

And then there are the recipes. They are divided by time of day: Breakfast and Brunch, Coffee Break, Lunch, Afternoon Coffee Time, Dinner, After the Show, and Midnight Snack. They cover hot coffee drinks, muffins, scones (one of my favorites), cakes, pies, ice creams, cold treats, cakes and frostings....

Hmm..Cappuccino white chocolate chunk muffins...sounds like a yummy breakfast to me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Returning to Earth

Did you miss me? I haven't had much time to post lately. I've been working "overtime" at work, which for me means that my hours approach 40 (or, occasionally surpass it). There once was a time when I'd barely notice 50 hours in a week. My record was up around 90-100, and I once worked a 23 hour shift. I know, I know, I have nothing on my doctor friends.

Now, though, my scheduled 32.5 already pushes the membrane of my to-do list. Like an already-full water balloon, there is only so much give before things burst. My coworkers put in way more hours than I did, but for many of them, that 60+-hour week isn't quite as catastrophic. There are few in my group with young kids, and fewer still with a spouse who also works full time.

So, the big deadline has passed. I have slept. My family is still intact and the house and laundry piles are recovering. I'm still working on NaNoWriMo, attempting to write 50,000 words of a novel by the end of the month. Believe it or not, that's a pace that is not bad for me--less than 2000 words a day, which I put out in about 1.5 hours (after bedtime, normally). I never said they were good words, btw. Last time I did this, I threw away about half of what I wrote when I revised later.

Even with NaNo, I am looking forward to a little breathing room, at least between now and the holidays. One day off a week, more of them with the kids (yes, I'm a bad mom...I've been known to send the kids to daycare and stay home from work so I can do housework and run errands and be productive). I should get back to my weekly step aerobics, which I've had to skip for a couple of weeks now because of schedule conflicts.

No promises on the blog posts, though. I plan to be a little light between now and December.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Firsts

On Thursday,for the first time ever, I felt a little guilty about sharing a restaurant meal with my kids. We went to Red Lobster with my in-laws. The choice of restaurant was Charlotte's. Red Lobster had an all-you-can-eat shrimp specical, and Char was in the mood for shrimp. The kids menu offers "popcorn" shrimp, but she likes the naked kind with the tail still on. We ordered a mac & cheese for her and her brother to split, and told her she could share a few of mine or her daddy's. Apparently she was hungry that night, because, had we ordered her own portion, she would probably have eaten her money's worth. Yikes. I still don't know where she put it all (hollow legs? The jury's still out...)

And, for another random first, today I bought a calendar before the new year. In fact, usually I buy calendars on clearance racks well into January, or sometimes February or March. Never full price. Never never in November. And yet, coordinating all of our activities is getting to be a tougher job every month. So, when I spotted a nice "family calendar" (one with dedicated space for every family member, for every day), I went ahead and bought it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- Cooking for Two


My apologies for the poor photo. I've mentioned that I'm not much of a photographer, haven't I?

This week I am featuring two books that I use frequently (or used to), but that you'd be hard pressed to find on a bookstore shelf. The first is Betty Crocker's Dinner for Two Cookbook, Copyright 1973. My mother gave it to me when I moved into an apartment back in college. It was probably a wedding gift or early-marriage purchase for her and my father. Given the vintage, it should be no surprise that it doesn't reference a microwave, or chipotle, or "low-carb", or any other modern cooking terms. And yet, before needing to feed two voracious toddlers, I used it constantly. The book has hundreds of recipes in categories like Everyday Favorites, More Dimes than Dollars, Planning Ahead (with main meals and leftover meals paired up), and When Minutes Matter (with few pre-packaged ingredients!).

Sometime in college or just after, I bought an updated book, called Betty Crocker's New Choices for Two (copyright 1995). This book has a lot fewer recipes, but all have much healthier profiles than many in the 1973 book. The newer diet fads--trans fats, and low-carb, etc,--are obviously not covered. But there are heart-healthy options, and low-fat options in every category. Some of my favorites have been the Oven Crisp Chicken (using wheat cracker crumbs in the topping), Easy Pepper-Jelly Chicken, and Cinnamon-Orange Breakfast Puffs (whichs makes 4-5 muffins...perfect for 2).

Flipping through these books is making me a little bit nostalgic this morning. Now that we're feeding four at every meal, I don't often reach for these for inspiration. The recipes and ideas remind me of the early years of my marriage, when it was a struggle to put decent meals on the table for 2 without wasting tons of food or resorting to restaurants.

And now, I feel old for using the phrase "early years of my marriage"...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Rise and Shine

It is time for my semi-annual complaint about Daylight Savings Time. It sucks. And it's stupid. You can't really "gain" or "lose" an hour--you just apply a different label to the same part of the day. Really folks, get over yourselves. Go to work earlier (or later) in winter (or is it summer? I can't figure it out...) if you think it will save you money. And quit messing with the rest of us.

Really, fall-back didn't used to be a problem. But I didn't used to have a 1 year old who can't tell time. Even after keeping him up later 3 nights in a row, he was still up at 5:45 this morning (his old "normal" of 6:30-7am was bad enough). And when Trystan's up, he's up. Wiggling and walking around and wanting to take things off the nightstand or go potty (or at least play in the potty).

Blech. Did I mention that I'm grumpy this morning?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Out of the Frying Pan


The last two weeks have been insane. Utterly. The insanity doesn't end, in my mind at least, until sometime this Sunday evening. No, wait, next Friday. No, November 30th. Aaagh, then it's Christmas season. Yikes.

We have had something going on every night for a while now. Many days, we've been double-booked. Last weekend saw me and Charlotte at a Fancy Nancy Soiree at the local library. If you have a young-reader girl, I highly recommend you check out this series of books. They are adorable and are huge vocabulary builders. I love a little girls' role model who is both stylish and smart :) The photo is of Charlotte and her Fancy Nancy doll, in their fancy dresses (and tiaras) getting ready for the event.

After Fancy Nancy came a Halloween party at a friends' house. Lacking a babysitter (poor planning on our part), we dragged the kids along. They had fun, but 10 is way past their bedtimes, and they both crashed hard when we got home. Sunday we went to a "Day Out with Thomas the Train" with my husband's parents and his sister's family. Again, lots of fun, and lots of exhaustion. We wrapped Sunday night up with a whole-family house-cleaning binge. Both kids did an excellent job of helping (Trystan is a pro with wiping up tables, swiffering floors, and putting new trashbags in cans..whether they need them or not!).

Monday was Charlotte's dance class. Tuesday we carved pumpkins. Again, both kids did a great job of helping. We didn't let Trystan carve (much to his annoyance), but he was a pro at scooping out seeds. Wednesday, my husband plays D&D, and the kids and I stayed home for play time. Thursday I skipped my exercise class to attend a Halloween play at my daughter's preschool. They performed The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything. Char was one of the gloves who went "Clap, Clap".

Today, on my "day off", I snuck in a workout, attempted to package a few things up for shipping (I failed to get them sent), had lunch with my husband, shopped for Halloween candy, cleaned my kitchen and started dinner. I have about 10 more minutes before I leave for daycare to join Trystan's class for their Halloween party, and to bring the kids home for dinner, costumes, Trick or Treating, and passing out candy. And they both need baths.

Tomorrow, Char starts a new session of swimming lessons, and we have another Halloween party to attend.

And, tomorrow is November 1st. For the second year in a row, I have proved myself certifiably insane. It's NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I did it last year--writing 50,000 words of a romance novel (that sits, complete, on my laptop at about 80,000 words now). Surprised? Writing has become a nice creative outlet for me, and it requires a lot less space than sewing. And, it gives me an excuse for reading more fiction (its research, I swear...) And a good reason to go to Starbucks on cold autumn days (they have free wifi, and lots of power outlets for battery-challenged laptops). Feel free to follow my progress on my other blog, Skim Decaf Mocha With Whip. Or not :) Last year, the fiction-writing binge didn't really impact my blogging much. If anything, it enlivened it. This year, who knows.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series-- The Joy of Cooking


There is a theme to my favorite cookbooks so far. If you've read the last two posts in this series, you may have noticed how much I love not only reading recipes, but reading the background information that leads to understanding. I prefer to learn from my cookbooks, not just cook from them.

To continue the theme, for at least another week, I present The Joy of Cooking. There have been many versions of this book, published over many years. The one that I own, as well as the Amazon link above (as far as I can tell) refer to the copyright 1975 version of the text. My book was printed much more recently, but contains the 30-year old text, and is happily absent of microwaves, Splenda, and other more modern ingredients and techniques.

This book is not pretty. There is no full-color glossy food porn. There are no color or glossy pages at all, outside of the rather plain (and photo-less) cover. Instead, each section of the book starts with several pages of expository introduction. If you skipped the recipes and just read the introductory sections, you would improve your cooking skills and knowledge.

And then, there are the recipes. Unlike the America's Test Kitchen book I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, the ingredient lists and instructions are spartan. But there are SO MANY of them. Nearly 5000 of them, according to Amazon's site. There are variations on variations on everything. And so many classics and old-style recipes, the kind our mothers might have made. Waldorf salad, terrines, nary a chipotle or EVOO reference anywhere.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love modern twists on food. But sometimes, you want something tried and true. Or you're tired of Asian fusion, 4-ingredients or less or the cake-mix fix-ups. Or just need inspiration (there must be 30 kinds of frosting alone).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Book List Update

It's been a slow month. Since my last update, I think I've only finished two books:

A Little Bit Guilty by Jenna Mills. This is a short romantic suspense from Harlequin that I picked up (or Trystan did, really) from the sale table at the library for 25c. I wasn't a big fan. The opening chapter was kind of confusing. It was 3rd person POV, starting with the heroine, and it followed her thoughts. I think the author was trying to do a little flashback and a little foreshadowing, but I just got lost. I thought it was a device because she suffers a head injury (with a concussion) early on, but the confusion continued later in the book.

The Third Circle by Amanda Quick. Yes, another Amanda Quick. And another of her Arcane Society books (one of the Regency ones). It was good, much like the rest. And a fast read--finished it 4 days after I picked it up from the New Books shelf at the library.

And now, I really must finish some of the books I have actually purchased (I"m in the middle of 2, and not loving either one).

I haven't been posting non-fiction books that I've read this year. In part, because most of the non-fic stuff is reference that I don't read cover-to-cover. But I'm thinking that I'll do a roundup of everything in that category by the end of December.

General Fiction - 7
Contemporary Romance - 9
Sci Fi/Fantasy - 5
Historical Romance - 6
Women's Lit (Chick Lit) - 3
Total 30 books

Friday, October 24, 2008

My Little Pumpkins


A couple of weeks ago, I posted about our tie-dye t-shirt party. I'm finally posting pictures--at least of our kids in their shirts. Charlotte was in charge of her own fabric-painting, as you can clearly see.


We wore our shirts to the pumpkin patch last weekend. The kids had a blast picking out pumpkins, and Trystan flexed his little muscles and actually pushed the wagon full of pumpkins for quite a while.


No, we didn't buy the giant pumpkin. Three large-sized ones is going to be more than enough to carry. There is an outside chance that a few giant-pumpkin seeds snuck home with us, from one of the many smashed pumpkins laying about. But, the chances of us actually convincing one of these monsters to grow is about nill. A single plant would probably take over the entire back yard, if we didn't kill it. Ah, but we can dream...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- The Cake Bible


Last week, I introduced my favorite all-around general cookbook. This week, one of my favorite specialty ones.

I bought my copy of The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum from a used bookstore, sans dustjacket. Lucky for me, there's another full-color photo of that yummy chocolate cake inside the book.

This book has dozens of wonderfully detailed recipes for baking and decorating all types of cakes. Beranbaum lists all ingredients by weight as well as by volume, a technique that I have found produces superior results (especially weighing flour...). She covers every type of cake, filling and icing that you could imagine, often with several variations. She also details how to size up several basic cake flavors for large or multi-tier cakes (wedding cakes). Not that I've ever had the opportunity to make a wedding cake, but it's nice to know how it works (no, just doubling or tripling a recipe doesn't work!)

But better than the recipes are all of the Understanding sections. The author gives good information on the chemistry of baking, explaining how ingredients work in different recipes (e.g. all-purpose vs cake flour, baking soda vs baking powder, etc), and how she came up with the techniques for some of the cakes. There is a rhyme and reason to the order of opertions in recipes, and I love learning the "why" behind them.

I think my favorite part is flipping through the photo section in the middle, drooling over the chocolate cakes, and the golden cage (made of hard caramel!). And of course, it helps that she has a recipe for a Charlotte! (It's a cake, as well as a princess....)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mmmmm...Donuts


I have serious thing for donuts. So serious, in fact, that I'm quite picky about them. I don't eat them hot. I don't eat them stale (Second day? No Way). And I rarely eat the boxed supermarket kind--you know, the Dolly Madison or Entemans or whatnot. They don't taste stale, but they don't taste fresh either. Now, when I was pregnant with Charlotte, it was a whole 'nother story--I used to eat those mini chocolate-covered donuts by the sackfull. (Apparently, that's one of my husbands occasional guilty pleasures, and darnit if his taste buds didn't possess my soul while I was carrying his offspring....lucky for me, Trystan seemed to share *my* taste buds)

Nearly every Saturday morning, Charlotte helps me make breakfast. It normally involves something with flour--pancakes, muffins, cinnamon rolls, etc. But somewhere along the way, we inevitably introduced her to donuts. There is a very cute family donut shop not far away called Tony's Donuts, that has mouth-wateringly delicious sugar-filled offerings in a quaint, 50's diner atmosphere. We probably eat there once every other month or so. I'm a fan of their icing-filled, chocolate frosted donuts. Charlotte always picks something with sprinkles. Trystan will eat whatever you put in front of him, plus beg bites of everyone else's.

We can't (well, shouldn't) indulge in the real thing all that often. So I found an alternative. I bought this donut pan a while ago (free plug for Cooking.com. I've bought many many things from them over the years!). About the size of a muffin pan, it makes 12 reasonable-sized donuts in the oven. Baked, not fried!

But what about the recipes? I use muffin or quick breads. I have a bookshelf overflowing with cookbooks with everything from banana bread to blueberry to chocolate chip muffins. I just mix up the batter like normal, and spoon or squeeze it into the rings of the pan (for better control, pour the batter into a large-sized ziplog bag and snip off one corner, like a pastry bag). Bake according to the muffin recipe, just not quite as long. The pan doesn't hold a full 12-muffins worth of batter, more like 6, so have a muffin pan handy to hold the excess (or be smarter than I was, and buy 2 donut pans).

If you're feeling indulgent, you can ice or glaze your creations, or just eat them as they are.

Easy glaze: in a ziplog bag, place a scoop of powdered sugar (about a cup). Drizzle in some vanilla (maybe 1/4 of a teaspoon), and a little bit of milk (1-2 teaspoons to start..you can always add more if its too thick, or more sugar if its too runny). Zip it closed and hand to the nearest toddler to mix/shake/mash/throw. After 5-10 minutes, retrieve the bag , snip a tiny bit off one corner, and drizzle over your donuts.

For other flavors, try substituing other flavor extracts for the vanilla, adding instant coffee granules (great on a chocolate donut), or leave the extract out and mix the sugar with orange, lemon, or lime juice. Try adding a spoonful of your favorite jam to the glaze. Warm up your favorite jam/jelly and use it instead of the glaze. Or, dip the donuts in melted butter and then in cinnamon and sugar. Chocolate glazes are always good--look for a basic chocolate cake-icing recipe (or use the canned stuff if you have some leftover). Sprinkles, nuts, and coconut are entirely optional!

Darnit, now I'm hungry again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spam Trends

I'm not sure whether to be happy or offended, but lately I've noticed a trend in my junk email folder. It used to be full of ads for, ahem, anatomy enlargement. Now I'm apparently in the market for Christian dating services.

Then again, I haven't opened any of the messages. Maybe those "Christian" dating services require me to enlarge nonexistant bodyparts first...

Don't cry over spilled milk...


We did our grocery shopping this weekend everywhere except the grocery store. Produce came from the farmer's market at our local pumpkin patch (and was fresh and cheap too). A few basics came from Target. And milk came from Sam's Club on our monthly diaper run.

In case you hadn't heard, Sams (and Wal-mart and others) are carrying a new kind of milk jug. The new jugs are a little taller and more square than a traditional jug, and are supposed to be more stackable and reduce the weight of extra cartons when shipping. In theory, they're better for the environment and potentially cheaper too.

For our purposes, they should work out fine. The jugs are a little skinnier than typical jugs, and they fit tightly in the fridge. That's nice, since we buy two gallons a week (one whole milk, that Trystan finishes solo, and one 1% for the rest of us). I had to adjust the fridge shelf by a little less than an inch to make them fit, but that's not too bad. After all, I run a tight ship in my fridge (which, with foodie tasts and a hungry family of 4 is feeling increasingly cramped). I think they're about the same height as a 2-liter, as I always have to adjust the shelves to fit those when we have them.

They are harder to pour, at least for the first couple of glasses. I think the spout on ours sits a little higher than the jugs in the picture (photo from the net, not from our fridge). Ours might be a slighlty improved design. The plastic seems heftier than the old style, but we recycle all our plastic, so I hope it's not an environmental negative. The weight and design will make it harder for Charlotte to help herself, which she's been wanting to do lately (with a half-empty traditional gallon, she can pour her own drink without spilling).

Overall, I'd give the new gallons a positive assesssment. Not overwhelmingly positive. But slightly more positive than neutral. Were fridge space not so tight for us, then I probably wouldn't care one way or another.

Is anyone else seeing these around? What are your impressions?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Costumes

Mommy guilt comes from many sources. This weekend, its from Halloween costumes.

I like to sew. I've been doing it since I was 11 or 12, when I begged for a sewing machine for Christmas (and actually got one!). I have made many, many Halloween costumes over the years, for myself, my younger siblings, my husband. But to date, I've not made a single one for my children. It's not for lack of desire--I have at least 2 patterns for toddler-sized costumes, and have spent time every year surfing the pattern company websites for ideas.

And then reality kicks in and I chicken out. Why spend $30 on materials that I won't have time to sew, and will need to spend another $25-30 buying a premade costume. I fully intended, once again, to make at least Char's costume. We have 2 hand-me down but very nice costumes that will both fit Trystan (a dragon, and Simba), so there was no need to sew something new for him. Char wants to be Tinkerbell this year. And, lo and behold, I have a pattern that includes Tinkerbell, and goes up to a size 4. Perfect.

I intended to take her fabric shopping on Saturday, but she ended up having a small stomach bug. Shop till you puke is not really my preferred method. I siezed upon the excuse to abandon the idea of sewing her costume. Yesterday, we bought her one at Target--from their toy dress-up section and not the costume section. It was the right size (Target's Halloween aisle was clean out of anything in a size 4). Plus, it looked nicer than the costume section version. It will be a lovely addition to her dress-up box after Halloween.

I've not given up the sewing-for-Halloween idea yet (darn that Mommy guilt that won't leave me alone). I'm thinking she needs a trick-or-treat bag. Now, if only Mommy Guilt came with a time-turner...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Welcome Google Searchers....

It's strange to me that of all the crazy assortment of things that I write about on this blog, the posts that get the most hits from search engines have to do with 1) ultrasound results or 2) collecting a urine sample from a baby.

1) About the urine sample thing. I've now been in the position to experience (as the mother) collections from both boys and girls. Let me tell you, until they hit potty training stage, neither gender is fun.

As I posted a long time ago, for a baby girl, doctors can sometimes attach a collection bag around the genital area. When she pees, it goes in the bag. I think this method isn't the most sterile, so it probably depends on what kind of a test they're going to run--might be fine for a dipstick kind of thing, but probably not for an actual culture (where they watch it for a couple of days and check what kinds of bacteria grow).

For a boy, about the only method is a catheter (unless you're really lucky and catch him mid-pee). The doctor threads a very tiny tube up the ureter (yes, the pee-hole at the end of the baby boy's boy-parts!) and up into the bladder. There is a balloon somehow used through this tube up in tehe bladder to force the urine down the tube and into a waiting vessel. This eliminates contact with the outside skin, and allows less contamination. They will do this to girls, also, if they need to. From my own c-section experiences, the process doesn't hurt, but it feels really strange and annoying, and the baby will probably cry at first. My son Trystan had to have a catheter in place for nearly 2 weeks after one of his surgeries, and there were no bad side effects (swelling or bleeding or anything like that) once it was finally removed. Cringe-worthy, yes, and the worst part is having to watch it done to your baby.

2) Ultrasound results. My son had both a dialated kidney and a 2-vessel cord show up on his ultrasound. I cannot reassure another parent with a similar diagnosis that "its nothing" because its not nothing. It's definitely something. Trystan's story can be found in posts here, here, and here (and probably a whole lot more that I haven't linked--start reading around November '06). In his case, his dialated kidney was caused by one kidney being larger than the other--now at 1.5 years old, he has one good kidney (the larger one), and the other "kidney" is little more than a small amount of tissue that doesn't do much. The kidney was larger because it was doing the job of two. All he needs is one good kidney, so this is the least of our worries with his health (far below even routine ear infections and colds!)

The two-vessel cord (or single umbilical artery or several other name variations) was an early sign of his eventual diagnosis with VACTERL association. Sometime during early development (in the first trimester...probably within the first 4 weeks of pregnancy), something went wrong with development of his umbilical cord. Instead of 2 arteries and one vein, he got one artery and one vein. That made my pregnancy a high-risk one, where I had twice-a-week non-stress tests for the entire third trimester to monitor his heartrate and activity levels. Like most of Trystan's "problems", he sailed right through, strong and active. He does have heart defects--a VSD and an Anuerism in the Sinus of Valsalva. The Anuerism will require surgery, likely in the next year. But neither defect has ever caused him a day of grief so far (lots of echocardiograms, but that's all). And while the heart defects are related to the umbilical cord problem (and to the rest of his symptoms), they weren't caused by it.

If you're a parent facing any of these issues, welcome and I'm sorry! None are any fun! If you feel up to it, stay a while and browse around on my blog. Especially if you're expecting, have scary stuff show up in ultrasounds, and are fearing the worst. I hope you will find some hope here. Trystan is a special kid--smart, funny, absolutely adorable (don't believe me after hearing about all these "defects"? Check out some photos). I should videotape his giggle to share, it's that infectious and heartwarming. Sometimes the best things in life just require a little more effort on our part, that's all.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook


This is the first post of what I hope will be a new series.

I've mentioned before that I love to read, and that I love to cook. Who would have guessed that I own a lot of cookbooks? Smartypants.

I thought I'd share a few of my favorite cookbooks, ones in my own collection at home.

This week: The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

The book is a spiral notebook bound edition with a little of everything. If you're a fan of Cooks Illustrated Magazine (as I am, and will probably mention that again), or the America's Test Kitchen PBS show, then you may recognize many of the recipes.

Their recipes are explicit and detailed, and easy to follow. The ingredient lists are in order of use (a huge pet peeve of mine), and their instructions are clear and detailed. The biggest complaint might be that they're too long! Almost every recipe is a full page long, with helpful photos where necessary. Best of all, everything I've ever made from the cookbook has turned out perfectly the first time.

We regularly browse their lists of pan sauces for chicken, steak, or pork; last weekend we had their rosemary and sea salt focacia with our dinner; the cinnamon rolls are to die for. They cover all major categories, from appetizers to grilling to cakes and steaks. Most of the food isn't frou-frou, just good family favorites.

Honestly, if I could only own one cookbook, this would be the one.