Monday, December 21, 2009


So it's January 7, and after several good months of about 5 blogs a month, I've seem to have totally lost all discipline. There are reasons for this.

1) It was December. There's snow outside. While you may be thinking, yes, but the snow is outside and the blogging is inside, but it really doesn't work that way. You see, I love looking at snow and playing in snow at appropriate times. It's beautiful and full of delicious sparkle, with excellent entertainment possibilities. I do not like snow when I am, say, returning from dutifully parking my shopping cart in the shopping cart shed (unlike you other, irresponsible shoppers who use the eager little shopping carts, only to abandon them like onion skins in a busy kitchen, for some shivering high school student to wrangle at a later point after they careen around the parking lot for a while). No, I do not like returning from parking my shopping cart, reaching in my purse for my keys and finding myself face-first in a pile of icy snow. It is extremely cold and wet. It turns me off things. Like good moods. And the stupid shoes I was wearing. And blogging. I'd rather brood.

2) I'm was putting on Christmas. Between frantic phonecalls with long-distance loved ones and between repititions of "hang up your coat" and "don't track those boots through the house," I've managed to decorate a real house for the first time by myself. I've been married for three years, but our first house was ugly and odd, and the Christmas tree had to be shoved into a side room where no one could see it. The fireplace was purple... and honestly, a lot of the Christmas decorations had seen better days. Last year, we were in this house but P's office took up most of it. This year, everything is settled. Christmas decorating takes a lot of work!

3) I haven't been feeling so good. Given that I commonly blog about food, the fact previously-considered-delicious smells now make my stomach remember deep-sea fishing in choppy waters off the coast of south Texas, really isn't all that conducive to juicy descriptions recent dinners. "How To Cook Spaghetti and Meatballs That Barely Stay Down" isn't exactly the most appetizing headline.

4) Here's the biggest reason, my most significant distraction, the most important piece of news. Drumroll please...


I found out for at the beginning of December, and can't seem to focus on much else. So far I've making sure to continue paying the bills, sort-of grocery shop and occasionally make witty observations about how unprepared I'm going to be for this new role in my life (you mean I'm supposed to shop? for hospitals? what is this??). Beyond that, I offer no guarantees.

However, have no fear. I have real plans to start blogging again for real! Soon!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Opera, not Oprah

What with HC attending innumerable rehearsals for our local theater's performance of Godspell in addition to her usual guitar lessons and track practice, I've been spending a lot of time in the car lately. I drive to school to pick her up, wait around while she gets her act together (I could get out of the car and get her attention, but it's cold out there, and I find it rather amusing to watch her dancing silhouette through the big glass doors anyway. I can always tell which one she is by her jazz hands and solo dance rehearsals.) I usually takes her a few minutes. Then I drive her to the theater, an hour later I drive back. Occasionally I drive up the 80 minute round trip to get A from boarding school, and drive him to the Marine recruiting station and back. I drive here and there, I drive hither and yon, I drive, I drive, I drive...

Lesson #1: Driving gets boring after a while.

Especially since my cd player is very finicky, which means most books on cd are rejected (and ejected) out of hand for no apparent reason. Harry Potter, ok. Mix CD #4, REJECTED. Doris Day, sure. Young Men and Fire, REJECTED.

Yes, I have a Doris Day cd. Don't judge.

Luckily, my most precious cd in the world is apparently worthy of my snobbish cd player. In fact, I found the cd itself on one of my more boring chauffeuring expeditions.

After trying to make a mental grocery list, failing, and then pretending to be interested in an NPR special report of Cloud Computing, I decided to take advantage of a few extra minutes and pulled into a favorite haunt of HC and me: Goodwill. I know, I know, not exactly Breakfast at Tiffany's material, but who gets cheered up by looking though the window at stuff they can't afford, anyway, when they could wander on over to Goodwill and find some dirt-cheap treasures? Goodwill is excellent. Goodwill is lovely. Goodwill is, well, good.

Anyway, as I was saying, I took advantage of a few extra minutes and did a quick run-through of the thrift shop. Nothing really jumped out at me, but I stopped by the $3 cd rack just in case. While sorting through the stacks of no-name 90s alt rock bands, easy listening and old-news R&B, a rather scruffy young man approached me from the nearby coat-rack.

"Looking for anything in particular?" he inquired.

"Um, no. Just looking around. Thanks." I replied, keeping my eyes on the piles of unwanted music. I could see he didn't work at Goodwill, and really, I wasn't feeling chatty.

"Well just so you know, I look at those all the time," he said, "and there's never anything good." He turned away, apparently irritated with my less-than-engaging conversation.

Just then, I saw it: 50 Most Unforgettable Moments in Opera. My heart sang! My soul leapt within me. 50 Unforgettable Moments in Opera for only $3! Who could pass up such a thing? That's like a nickle a song! I hesitated only for a moment, as I considered that even the moments turned out to be less than unforgettable, what could it hurt? I took my treasure to the counter and eagerly trudged through the grey afternoon rain to my car, anticipation twinkling in every puddle.

In the car, I breathed a sigh of gratitude that my cd player didn't hiccough at my new acquisition. It immediately whirred and up popped the digital display "Track 1". Excellent! One hurdle down. When the first few strains of "O Mio Bambino Caro" drifted through my speakers, I was optimistic. When the first few notes of Kiri Te Kanawa's heavenly voiced followed, I was jubilant. Never anything good here, my foot! This was pure happiness on a silver disc. This was beauty at my beck and call. This, this was opera.

As it turns out, there are not actually 50 unforgettable moments on this particular cd. I only got about 17, since Vol.s 2 and 3 must still be floating around the Goodwill Super Center somewhere. I went back and looked for them, but no luck -- not that I expected it. I can't expect that level of success with every visit. I couldn't handle it.

Now, when I'm driving around, I blast this, my favorite cd, and am rarely bored. On my way to the grocery store, I sing my shopping list to "La Dona e Mobile," and I once had to pull over while I listened Placido Domingo's to "E Lucevan Le Stelle" so as not to crash into oncoming traffic. Other parents look at me strangely as they walk past my idling car in the theater parking lot, and I can only assume that they, too, are moved by the pure gold emanating out of the cracks and crevices of my little SUV.

That, or at the volume I play it, they're puzzled that it's not gangster rap.

Either way, it transports me (while I transport my stepkids), and I sometimes have a hard time coming back to earth. Occasionally HC jumps in the car bubbling over with news and gossip about school or theater practice, I have to pry myself away from a weeping clown to pay attention. Or...(shhhhh) I just smile and nod for a while.

Judging by the newsstands, there are a great many housewives who are going to have some free time on their hands once Oprah goes off the air. I have a suggestions for them:

You want heart-warming? Try La Boheme.
You want tragedy? Try Tosca.

You want something to give meaning to those domestic days that are less than thrilling? Try Opera, not Oprah.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Little Advice, or, Making the Best of Stupidity

Yesterday, inspired by smittenkitchen, I decided to do two new and daring things in my kitchen: 1) gratin 2) greens.

By far the most daring thing was combining the two.

So, in a typical act of preparation I started making a grocery list. Now, I could claim that while I was making said list my puppy had an accident, my husband lost his glasses and fell into a symptomatic cursing fit, my stepdaughter needed geometry help and the butternut squash that was supposed to be roasting in the oven caught on fire, but those would just be excuses. Determined, I stuffed the list into my jeans pocket and got the heck out of dodge.

I would like to pause for a moment to recap:

a. I was attempting something daring and new.
b. I was distracted.
c. Even on the best of days, my memory is that of an goldfish.

Now that we're all on the same page, it may not come as a surprise that while I was supposed to come home with whole milk, gruyere cheese, sweet potatoes and fresh swiss chard, what I actually brought home was no milk, smoked gouda, red skinned potatoes and frozen kale.

Also, I forgot that the list was in my pocket and now I have an entire load of laundry flecked with paper pulp.

(Side Note: No, I was not drunk or strategizing world peace. This is just me. My mother chooses to think of it as "easygoing", probably because if it weren't for flexibility and improvisation, I would have starved to death long ago. My fourth grade teacher, on the other hand...well, let's not get into it. Let's just say she will NEVER be my facebook friend no matter how many times she requests it. Revenge is sweet. )

So, what to do with all these flubs? Roll with 'em.

I decided the potatoes were irreconcilable, so I mooched a ride past the store from C while she got lunch. The rest I just improvised.

You can find the original recipes here. Needless to say, I made a few changes, and it is deliciously wonderful. The smoked Gouda adds a wonderful flavor -- so gooda in fact (get it, gouda?) that C thought I'd used bacon. No, I did not use bacon; this is a strictly vegetarian dish. But I always take bacon as a compliment.

My version:

Serves 12

1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound chopped frozen kale
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 whole milk (or, if you're like me, use 1.5 cups of heavy cream and 1/2 cup 2%milk)
2 garlic cloves, minced (garlic presses are wonderful and save so much time!)
2 tablespoons flour
2 pounds medium red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely smoked Gouda cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Using a heavy pot, sautee the onion in butter until it is soft, and then add the kale, nutmeg and some salt.
2. Combine milk and garlic in small saucepan; bring to simmer; keep warm. Melt 2 tb butter in a small heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in flour. Cook roux, whisking, one minute, then slowly whisk in warm cream/milk and boil, whisking, one minute. Season sauce with salt and pepper.
3. Assemble gratin: Butter deep 9×13 baking dish. Layers as follows:
  • Half of sweet potatoes
  • sprinkles salt and pepper
  • 1/4 of the herbs
  • 1/4 of the cheese
  • 1/4 of the greens
  • sprinkles salt and pepper
  • 1/4 of the herbs
  • 1/4 of the cheese
  • 1/4 of the greens
  • half of bechamel sauce
  • the remaining sweet potatoes
  • sprinkles salt and pepper
  • 1/4 of the herbs
  • 1/4 of the cheese
  • 1/4 of the greens
  • more salt and pepper
  • the remaining herbs
  • Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the gratin, spreading it around as evenly as possible.
  • Top with the remaining cheese.
Bake for about 50 minutes until golden and bubbly. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Ultimately, life throws all kinds of curve balls, even when you're focused and organized. For those of us that suffer from chronic absentmindedness, curve balls are just a way of life.

A little advice:


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Little Advice, or, All Thai'd Up

(Hmm. I seem to be "up"ing a lot in my post titles recently.
Maybe it's a sign.
I did see that movie "Up" a while ago with HC. It was good, but I wasn't aware of any long-lasting side effects... )

The most significant thing about raising a lovely family, in my opinion, is food. When well-adjusted people wax nostalgic about their formative years, you can bet your bottom dollar they mention food more than...more than...well, working toilets or adequate laundry-turn-over rates or being on time for "Godspell" rehearsal.

Which, in my case, is a pretty good thing.

Cooking I can do! (The other stuff I can do sometimes...sort of.)

Once accustomed into the routine of cooking dinner on a regular basis and even throwing together the occasional pancake or waffle, any domestic darling will come face to face with a common culinary conundrum: leftovers. Even worse, some family members I've heard of won't eat ordinary leftovers. They have to be disguised, transformed, reinvented, before they're considered appropriate nourishment. While I can't relate to this type of dysfunction (in our house labeling a doggy bag is no guarantee of victual security) I can at least help my fellow darlings arm up and prepare for battle.

(Side Note: I'd like to address a disturbing situation that has recently come to my attention. Apparently, some domestic darlings don't keep leftovers. This is not good. This is seriously not good. Leftovers save time and money, two things which are of the upmost importance to those running a household. Also, leftovers can provide some inspiration when nothing else does. The eternal question: what am I going to do with that? looms large in the dinner ponderings. It can produce many a tasty meal which might not otherwise come to be.)

In this post I'll try to illustrate how easy it is to use up some leftover pork chops without making them seem like leftovers. In fact, they won't even look like pork chops!

You ready? Here goes somethin':

The first step, if we're being literal here, is to prepare and serve pork chops to your adoring and gracious family. In my case, it was a couple nights ago, I was uninspired, and it was an off-the-cuff unbreaded, fried in the skillet pork chop meal with asparagus, rice and pan gravy. Boring, but sort of yummy. There were two large bone-in chops leftover.

I kept these leftovers in the back of my mind while I planned other meals. Being that the original preparation didn't have any thing fancy goin' on, I was aware that those pork chops could be turned in to just about anything. I was thinking of something involving pasta and a white sauce, barbecue and maybe even a sandwich or two.

Then, while forcing myself to think about our Thanksgiving menu and therefore leafing through some of my cooking magazines, I came across this bad boy:

Thai Lettuce Wraps. Ohhhhyeah.

I play favorites with Thai food on a regular basis: tom kha soup, pad Thai, panang curry...mmmmmmmm. When I lived in Chicago my apartment was above a Thai restaurant. Oh, for the days of waking up to the wafting smell of coconut milk intermingling with lime and chilis...

Here's the original list of ingredients:

2 pounds ground pork
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small shallots, minced
1 large jalapeño, seeded and minced, plus sliced jalapeño for garnish
Juice of 1 lime, plus lime wedges, for serving
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon Sriracha (chili sauce), plus more for serving
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup chopped basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup chopped salted peanuts
1 large head Boston or other leafy lettuce, separated into leaves

The directions are pretty straightforward. Combine the pork, garlic, shallots and jalapeno, and cook together in a skillet. Separately, whisk together all the ingredients listed from lime to chili. Add the mixture to the meat, along with all the rest of the ingredients. Serve wrapped in large pieces of lettuce.

Now, I know you're on the edge of your seat for how I manipulate this recipe. It's really pretty simple:

1. Chop the leftover pork chops into tiny little pieces.

2. Depending on how much there is, use the chopped chops to offset some of the ground pork (I didn't bother. I guess there was just extra pork in mine).

3. Follow the recipe. For some stupid reason involving my lack of discipline in the TJMax food section, I have a jar of dehydrated, chopped shallots which I reconstituted instead of buying fresh ones. They worked fine. I only had one lime and one jalapeno, so I didn't garnish the plates. Besides, my family doesn't really know what to do with garnishes. Once, when P and I were eating sushi I inquired as to why he never ate the wasabi or pickled ginger. Too spicy, I wondered? Too weird? His response: "Oh. That green stuff? I guess I just never took it seriously."

On the other hand, this is the same man who thought wedge salad was supposed to be eaten with the hands, like a piece of watermelon.

4. Serve to your family. They'll never know the history of that pork on their plate. They'll never know it's intricacies, it's dark and twisty path from lame leftover limbo to deliriously delicious dinner.

In some families, that's considered success.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Beefing Up

Why is it that for most people, chicken is a comfort food but beef isn’t? This doesn’t ring true to me. Perhaps because I grew up in Texas and learned early on the miraculous ease and flexibility of cooking with ground beef. Beef: it’s what was usually for dinner.

Is it because a chicken is less intimidating than a cow? If that’s the theory, then the theorist clearly has never been chased by a crazed chicken attempting to peck his hand off to get to the bucket of corn. He also has probably not spent hours watching the long-unmoving ruminant bodies sway across a swath of land, or peered into those warm, lucid brown eyes while rubbing the stiff but soft bovine ears.

I’d take a cow over a chicken any day.

(And don’t even get me started on goats. Fortunately, goats have never been considered comfort food for anyone outside of Ethiopia so it’s really a non-issue.)

Is it because chicken is often less expensive than beef? Because if that’s the reason I better reevaluate my comfort foods list. Right after mac’n’cheese I have caviar and truffles.

Is it because in days of yore, all the warm, cozy, peaceful wholesome places had chickens running around in the backyard? Because I’m not sure that’s even true.

In any event, I need not worry. We now have enough beef to produce many, many moons worth of comfort food.

The obvious practical question here is, why? In response, I have several answers, and I’m sure that other people (C included) could provide several more. Hear me out:

1. It is better for us.
It is better for the cows.
3. It is better for the environment.
4. It was on sale.

With regard to reasons 1-3, I’m a little uncomfortable sounding so granola. I don’t normally buy organic and we’re (clearly) no vegetarians. I don’t drive a hybrid and we occasionally eat instant ramen noodles for dinner. That said, as a gardener, a pet owner and a mother, I can’t avoid the obvious connection between wholesome foods and wholesome beings. As a Christian, I can’t avoid the stewarship responsibility we have to take care of the earth.

I’ve been reading recently about the realities of corn-fed beef and it is pretty sickening, both from an animal-welfare perspective and a human-health perspective. When an animal is made to only (only!) digest grass, (that’s why they have those extra stomachs after all), it seems to me they should be fed … GRASS. Feeding cows corn makes them sick and miserable, and requires them to be pumped full of antibiotics. In turn, we as the consumers are then forced to feed our families sick, miserable and drugged up meat. In this context, maybe beef isn’t such a comfort food after all (although I doubt chickens are much better).

Economics (mostly tax-subsidy policy) has made it so that corn-fed beef is pretty much the only thing normal people can afford on any kind of regular basis.

Which brings me to reason #4: There was a sale!

As a result of all the rain we had this year, the grass grew like crazy, which in turn made the cows grow like crazy and many of them came to weight before they were expected. I worked out that with the price they were offering, it was actually cheaper for me to purchase a half steer from this free-range, grass-fed farm than it would be to buy store bought beef through the winter.

I gave my pitch to my trusty companion C, who immediately agreed to split a half steer with me.

So, as of last Tuesday, I have about 200lbs of happy beef that was raised practically next door!

I even got the offal. What is offal (other than awful)? At our un-adventurous table, it’s going to be the choicest doggy treat on the market.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Puppy Love

Okay, okay. I know last time I blogged, I mentioned that this post would be about the massive amount of beef I currently have residing in my garage deep freeze. Don't worry, that meat is not going anywhere fast.

In the meantime, meet Ulrich, the newest member of our menagerie. He's fuzzy and fat, sweet and lazy, and just so darn adorable that every time he pees on the floor we end up forgiving him.

Ulrich came from a local shelter, where his mother was saved from a high kill pound. His father didn't make it -- he was euthanized for barking after just one night. The next day, Ulrich and his siblings were born. Our local shelter stepped in right in the nick of time: Ulrich's mother was slated to be killed because of "dog-aggression", which would have been the last of the little puppies as well.

"Dog-aggression" apparently means that one dog is aggressive toward another dog, which, quite frankly makes total sense in the context of having recently given birth to 6 puppies. So the rescuers rescued and the little canine family flourished.

Eight weeks later, and here he is!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Stockin' Up

It's fall. Did you know that? Well, it is.

Which means that it's time for harvesting, hoarding and preserving.

Side Note: I wanted a synonym for the word "preserving" that started with the letter "h" but all I could find was "husband", as in "animal husbandry." I'm just not convinced that's an actual synonym for preserve. I mean really? Are farmers in the business of animal preservation? That makes it sound more like a park ranger type situation. Too bad park rangers aren't referred to as park husbands. Talk about commitment to the job.

...get it? Commitment? 'Til death do us "park"?...anyone?... *taptaptap* this thing on?

Anyway, I have tackled this domestic duty head on: the first step is to make tons of chicken stock while the vegetables are still in season and therefore cheap and environmentally friendlier.

C and I have discovered the most amazing recipe for the most delicious stock. After you taste it (or just smell it cooking!) you won't ever buy canned or boxed stock again, and you won't even want to look at chicken bouillon. It will give you chills. It will also cure chills, as any good chicken broth can. It will warm your home, make your husband love you even more than he already does, make your children behave and your flowers will deadhead themselves. No, seriously.

Don'tcha wanna at least try it?!

The first step is to assemble all the ingredients.

Now, I realize that I instructed you to assemble *all* the ingredients, and the photograph does not include *all* of the ingredients. But I trust you can use your imagination. I'm new to the whole taking-adequate-pictures part of my life, having grown up surrounded by photographers, so you're just gonna have to take what you get.

Here's what you actually in-real-life-not-photographed-above need:

  • 1 really ginourmus pot
  • 3 roasting hens
  • 3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
  • 6 carrots, unpeeled and halved
  • 4 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
  • 4 parsnips, unpeeled and cut in half, optional
  • 20 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 15 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 20 sprigs fresh dill
  • 1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

Variations: Sometimes, other parts of chicken are on sale for real cheap. I have made this recipe with one hen and about twenty chicken thighs, or a ton of wings or whatever. I've even made it with one split chicken, some drumsticks and a picked-apart chicken carcass. Also, with regard to the herbs, I think buying fresh herbs at the store is kinda overpriced. I grow a lot of herbs at home, but sometimes I come up short (plus I don't grow dill). Just supplement dried herbs as you see fit. Generally, when substituting dried herbs for fresh, I reduce the amount by about half, more if the dried herbs are ground. Also, I've left out the celery before with no disasters resulting and for various unexplainable reasons I have a superfluity of whole white peppercorns so I use those instead of black, I just throw in a few extra.

In other words, work it as you will, this thing is pretty hard to kill.

  1. Put it all in the pot.

  2. Looks nice, doesn't it?

  3. Turn up the heat real high until it boils. This may take a while, since there is so much crammed in there.

  4. Once it boils, reduce the heat so that it pipes down a little and let it simmer for four hours.

  5. Cool it until it's about room temperature. (Or you can be like me and procrastinate by sticking it in the refrigerator for a day before buckling down and pulling it out again to strain the broth and debone the chickens.)

  6. Strain all the vegetables out and debone the chicken.
Now you have a choice:
  • you can either dump all the deboned chicken back in the broth and make yourself some "sippin' once, sippin' twice, sippin' Chicken Soup with Rice"
  • OR you can make something else out of it (like chicken salad, tacos, enchiladas, stir fry, casserole, etc)
  • OR you can divide it up and freeze it a pound at a time for later use.

The broth is very freezable too. I usually freeze it in two different sizes of container: one set that holds only about two cups and one that holds more like 6. That is what I find most flexible, and therefore useful, for later recipes which require thawing.

Next fall food discussion topic:

Q:Why On Earth Did I Buy All This Beef?
A: Because That Half-Steer Needed Me.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I never understood those women who say that being a stay-at-home Mom is boring. I mean, sure the housework is boring and occasionally being around nothing but kids can get tiresome. I’m sure no one loves every single minute. But the reality is that being a stay-at-home Mom is the most flexible job I’ve ever had. When you think about it, a stay-at-home Mom has as many bosses as she has children, but she’s allowed (encouraged!) to tell them to calm down, mind their own business and say “please”. How many people can say that to their boss?

Recently, my usual boss and I came to the realization that Halloween was quickly approaching (like, within 24 hours) and we were seriously lacking in the costume department. For once, this crisis was not brought on by procrastination or forgetfulness. We really tried! We went all over God’s green earth looking for an adequate and appropriate Snow White costume.

Is it just me, or are there only two categories of Halloween costume these days: toddler and stripper? And they’re the same size.

So while HC went to school on Friday morning, sadly assuming that she would have to wear something fashioned out of an old white bedsheet, I made one last venture out.

We used to have a sewing store out here, but it closed about a year ago and my options are now limited to Walmart, which, by the way, was a TOTAL MADHOUSE. Since when does Halloween get its own shopping surge?

The week before Christmas, sure. The grocery store on the day before Thanksgiving, absolutely. But the day before Halloween?! All you need is a costume and some candy! There is no excuse for so many people to be shopping at one time.

Usually though, even when the rest of the store is packed, the sewing department is tumbleweededly empty. This time, not so.

I squeezed past several desperate looking mothers in order to get a better view of the Halloween sewing patterns. It was mostly witches and pirates, with a few princesses and zoo animals thrown in.

Slim pickin’s.

I reluctantly picked up a boring adult pattern for what was supposed to be Snow White, I guess. I recognized the puffy sleeves and blue vest, but was puzzled by the checked skirt and red hearts decorating her bosoms. Perhaps I can just leave those out, I thought and dejectedly made my way to the never-ending line to cut the fabric.

Wondering how in the world I was going to convince HC that this was indeed the costume of her dreams, I flipped through a McCall’s book and waited for the line to move. Suddenly, there is was:

Hallelujah! I celebrated my find all the way down the checkout line (and let me tell you, that was like half and hour).

Nevermind that my sewing machine hiccoughed halfway through the vest, or that in the process of fixing it I replaced the needle with another needle of the wrong type, and so then the machine malfunctioned and I thought it had bitten the dust, so I went on a three hour tour trying to find the broken part, only to discover that the needle was not the wrong type but just facing the wrong way and could have been fixed in two second instead of three hours. And nevermind that I didn’t have enough bobbins to handle the several colors of thread I needed so I had to load one up, use it, and then unspool it all again so as to be able to change the color, and then repeat. And nevermind that I was supposed to drive into the city that night but instead stayed up until one in the morning pricking myself and cursing the tissue paper instructions without any dinner. And nevermind that…oh, nevermind.

The point is, I finished. And it looked awesome. And HC was delighted.

She even dragged A out to help her trick-or-treat and managed to get him to don a cowboy costume to boot.

(Get it? Boot?)

Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Little Advice, or, Making Friends with the Fridge

As you know, here at Somethin' Impractical I'm here to help. In the field of domesticity, you are not alone. Right there about a half-step ahead of you I am holding you hand, leading you toward the ever-elusive goal of well-adjusted children and an ordered home.

With my bumbling steps to follow, how could you ever get lost?

(Please ignore that white-tipped cane. I only use it for balance. Those? Oh, those are just the three mice I picked up along the way. We seemed to have a lot in common.)

With this in mind, please welcome Important Piece of Domestic Advice Number 2:


To illustrate, I offer the following real life situation:

After starting the laundry, going to church, picking up donuts, helping HC with history homework for 2 hours, driving HC to Godspell rehearsal, grocery shopping, dropping off the groceries, changing the laundry, starting dinner, picking up HC, putting dinner on the table for me and the kids, delivering P's dinner to his office (since it's a deadline night), helping HC on history homework for another hour, cleaning up the dishes, and helping HC with math homework I retreated into the laundry room for a quick respite.

(So, what do you watch while doing the laundry? Soap operas, of course.)

It's warm in there after the dryer's been chugging away all day. The piles of freshly folded towels and sheets form a welcoming backdrop of order on the stage of the very frazzled one-woman show that is my life.

(Side note: When I was a teenager I babysat for a mad woman. No really, she was crazy. You can ask my Mom. Anyway, she once told me that she really liked doing laundry because it was "like instant gratification." I wasn't even an English-Philosophy-double-major at that point and I still had the fleeting thought, "Is it like instant gratification? Or is it instant gratification?" Either way, it was total hogwash because there is NOTHING instant about laundry.

It. Takes. All. Friggin. Day.

At the time I thought it was nice that while most people gripe about piles of laundry to do she had this pleasant outlook on the whole situation. Now, I just remember that she was crazynuts.)

So anyway, there I was deep in my room with padded walls (I have floor to ceiling shelves, you see, on which I stack my cleans) when a hollering voice broke in from upstairs.

"Llama...? Lllllaaaaaammmaaaa?"

Don't be confused. I am not a four legged creature. I am, however, Llama-Llama-the-Step-Mama.

I sighed deeply, and eventually hollered back. "Yes?"

"What should I have for luuuuunch?"

"Um, I don't know HC. That's your job."

"I know, but I don't know."

See, this is a problem. "I know, but I don't know," is a line that in my family comes in many forms, such as "my brain won't work" and "wauuuuugh". That last one is a variation on a theme of non-english that my family speaks to itself and each other. Why use words when you could just grunt and moan? It's not like any of us are writers or anything.

Translation: Please be my crutch for this decision, as I'm too lazy to deal with it myself.

"Have a sandwich."

"I can't find any lunchmeat."

"It's in there."

"I can't find it."

This is another problem. My choices are to either stop folding the warm soft laundry, exit my womb of cleanliness and order, make use of my whimpering quadriceps to climb the stairs and find the ham, or not move, take a deep breath, and keep hollering. Guess which one I chose?

"How about a refried bean quesadilla?"

(make yourself a dang quesadiLLa!)*

"Do we have any tortillas?"

"We have that flatbread at on the bottom shelf. It'll work."

"Do we have any cheese?"

"Is it cheap? I don't know, what do you mean?!"


"Oh. Yeah. We do."

"Well I don't really wanna quesadilla."

"How about some ribs?" (still hollering through the floor)

"Noooo...." (This is drug out more as a verbal wallow than out of disgust. She likes the ribs.)

"We have some fried chicken."

"Llaammmaaa. I don't know what I want."

"Make some tuna salad." (still hollering)


"There are some chicken nuggets in the freezer."

"Yessss! Chicken nugggetsssssssss!"

And finally, as the last pair of socks was being thrown in the to-be-matched-later basket, my mission was complete: crisis averted, child fed, family lives to see another day.

This time, anyway.

*(if you don't get that reference, see here. If you do get that reference and want to watch it 500 times anyway, click there too.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Punch Line

It was a peaceful evening after a wonderful dinner. We were all supposed to be friends, or at least friendly acquaintances.

Then somehow, a recently published autobiography came up in conversation and seriously touched a nerve.

I Saw This Happen

By Wishful Thinking

Grown Man # 1: No, I haven’t read it! It’s a poor book authored by a terrible writer about his non-life.

Grown Man #2: (startled, and irritated) As opposed to who? You?

Grown Man # 1: Well, I’m not writing an autobiography… (short pause, after which #1 leans over the arm of his chair so that his face is right in front of #2s nose. He lowers his voice.) …and if I were you, I’d watch your tone.

GrownMan#2: (laughing) Or what?! You’ll beat me up?

Grown Man#1: (snarling. serious.) I know people. I could pay someone to beat you up.

The End

I was shocked. I was appalled. It was like watching something on television, unreal, unfolding in front of me, except better! This was entertainment at its best -- actually reality! You know, that thing all the television networks keep claiming to show?

Luckily, no fists were fired that night…or hired, for that matter. The two eventually calmed down. I, however, learned a valuable lesson:

Threatening someone with a hit man (get it? Hit man?) instead of just decking them outright really doesn’t pack quite the same punch. And furthermore, it’s not impressive to the ladies.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Brain Food

It's an English day outside, or so P tells me. The snow has melted away, but I woke up this morning to the sound of the gutter trickling with semi-frozen rain that continues on even now. The sky is a silvery grey and when P and I went for our walk around the marshy boardwalk yesterday, the two swans that lived there all summer were nowhere to be seen. The first flushes of autumn have hardened a bit, reminding us that winter is indeed soon to come.

Inside, we celebrated the weather the best way I know how: laziness. Well, not really laziness. My brain was working, my body just....wasn't.

After several hours of thinking, reading and even occasionally talking without getting out of bed, I mustered up all my reserved energy to have a poke around in the kitchen. I couldn't manage anything very complicated, so when HC arrived shortly thereafter she was amused to find me in my too-short "I heart NY" pajama pants and a tshirt, eating a ramen-noodle breakfast.

At 1pm.

Part of the problem is this: being married to P and thereby meeting the people that he knows, I have come to realize that I am seriously historically illiterate. And geography? Forget it. It's quite embarrassing, actually, given how much effort and money has gone into my education. My parents taught me this stuff, surely.

So, on our walk yesterday I told P that something had to be done. I really could not sit through another dinner party pretending to know that Guyana and Ghana were two separate places, that the Swedes once had an empire and that the Po valley is not in Teletubbyland.

(Wait, wait...rewind. Seriously? The Swedes?!)

This morning, ever willing to help, P brought forth the Holy Grail of historical learning aids: The Penguin Atlas(es) of Modern History, by Colin McEvedy. Therefore, instead of worrying about things like "showering" and "breakfast" I got embroiled in the Congress of Vienna. These things happen.

Don't worry though, I'm recovering.

Tonight, I made chicken spaghetti with pesto spinach cream and corn fritters with coriander dipping sauce.

It's brain food. I swear.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Snow Down

Five Reasons Why Snow Is So Great:

1. When it rains, you get wet. When it snows, you have a tiny window of opportunity to brush yourself and an possibly stay dry. This, I think, makes snow a more considerate type of precipitation.

2. My boots. Last July, P and I had to spend a stupid amount of time in a stuffy hotel room in Manhattan. We were just busy enough keep us from living it up in NYC, and just bored enough to wish for something better. One morning, realizing I had two free hours, I made a break for it.

I wandered up and down the streets, window shopping. It was close to 90 degrees. It was sunny and beautiful. It was just what I needed. I went into a few shops. One window had a huge banner declaring: SALE! WINTER COATS INCLUDED.

Not needing a winter coat myself, of course I immediately went to investigate. Lo and behold! There! There were the boots I've been searching in vain to find on sale for two years! Right there! On sale! It was a beautiful thing. And when I brought them home, my stepdaughter HC said to me, "You needed more boots?! When it's hot outside!?"

To which I replied, "Don't worry, it will be cold again." Today, it snowed and I wore my beautiful boots for the first time. My feet rejoiced.

3. We've been wishing for it. Yesterday, I was keeping my pathetic swine-flu infected stepson company. This involved sitting through an entire VH1 special on the biography of Little Wayne. (is it Lil' Wayne? Should Iknow this, since I invested an hour into his biography?) I learned that by the time he was 14 and on tour with his fast-rising rap career, his mother was lonely at home and asked him when he would provide her with a grandbaby. He, being the thoughtful son that he is, impregnated his girlfriend. His mother was ecstatic.

Around this point in the story, there was a commercial break and up popped a wintry scene advertising something...something. I don't remember now. My stepson turned to me with his fever-pink cheeks and said, "I can't wait for it to snow".

I said, "Neither can I."

Today it snowed, and today A went back to school all healthy again.

Coincidence? I think not.

4. Snow is pretty. I had a winter wedding (well, as close as I could get -- Feb 28) in Chicago. I desperately wanted snow. There was snow down the morning we were to be married, but it was not actively snowing, despite my specific request that it do so.

Before I entered the church I looked up to the sky, but no sign of so much as a flake.

From my vantage point in the middle of La Salle Street where P and I had some of our wedding photos taken, all the streets were clean and there wasn't any falling snow in sight.

As HC bustled my gown before the reception I gazed out the window of the University Club, but nothing moved in the air.

Finally, P and I were alone for the first time that day. There were beautiful rose petals on the bed, champagne and chocolates on the nightstand. I was exhausted. But just as I was drifting off to sleep, P looked out the window.

"Look, baby," he said. "It's snowing."

5. I'm tired of looking at my pathetic landscaping.

Sure, I've done a lot of work. Sure, it's going to look great in the spring. But right now? Right now it looks way better with snow on it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Little Advice, or, You Can't Sugarcoat Problematic Punctuation

There has been fretting. And wringing of hands. There has been hemming and hawing, and avoidance of eye contact. There's been worry hanging overhead for a while...a feeling that really, really something should be done about this bothersome item.

But really, what's a little nagging feeling without a helpful dose of procrastination to keep it alive? (and don't tell me the answer is "resolved". I will resent you.)

My problem is this: my title.

I'm calling this blog at the moment Here Goes Somethin': An Impractical Guide to Bumbling Through Domesticity.

And so far, the blog has been funny and cranky and boring and stuff...but it hasn't really been a guide, has it? A guide has responsibility. A guide implies advice, implies tips and education. A guide steers you through jungles avoiding the warthogs and quicksand, all the while chopping little hack-marks into the trees so that you don't get lost.

I have let you down. I have not been chopping little hack-marks. Dropping crumbs, perhaps, but crumbs are really quite inferior to little hack-marks.

We all know what happens to crumbs in the jungle.

With this in mind, I present my first piece of important domestic advice:

They are usually full of children,
likely all in different phases of a sugar high (or low)
and prepared to push you into the oven.

Look! It's almost poetry!

What's that, you say? Candy houses don't live in the jungle but instead can be found in Germanic-variety forests?

Well then, smarty pants, if you know all the answers, riddle me this: would the possessive form of my blog's title, abbreviated to Here Goes Somethin', have two apostrophes before the "s"?

These are the things that keep me up at night.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Perfect Pear

P and I are a rather odd set to some. He's quite a bit older than I am, and often we are mistaken for a father-daughter duo instead of a married couple.

If I had a dime for every time someone mistook our relationship I'd have about... ten bucks.

It's not that hard to see why, really -- Peter has flowing silver locks swirling, in a Beethoven-esque fashion, around piercing blue eyes which are accented by sexy eye-crinkles. He's like a fine wine...that remembers what life was like before the Summer of Love.

On our first date, I was legal to drink by two weeks.

Apparently, when P first came home from on of his several "business" trips to my darling Chicago apartment, C, his trusty assistant (who is now my trusty sidekick when I'm not being her sidekick) got suspicious. Proddingly, she asked him what was going on. He blushed. Ever curious, she pressed on.

"Well, she's very young, you know."

Crystal, a twenty-something herself and undeterred, continued, "Well, she's not younger than me is she?"

Peter hesitated.

"How old are you, again?"

Several months later, I was imported to meet the family. We ticked them each off the list in short order:
  • kids, check.
  • cats, check.
  • brother, check.
  • three nieces and one nephew, check.

There was only one person left on the list, and it was C. When the day finally came, I was timid and C was cautious. We were each polite and standoffish. It was mutual, really. Neither of us really like other people, especially those of the female persuasion. We're both tough and hermit-ous by nature.

We had no idea how much we had in common.

Eventually though, with me safely returned to Chicago, Crystal delivered her verdict: despite all the obvious objections she could raise, after seeing us together, she knew we were the perfect pair.

And here's the proof, straight out of our courtyard garden.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hell's Kitchen

If there's one thing that gets me through in this world (in as much as I get through at all) it's lists.

This morning, upon waking bright and early -- well, bright anyway -- with unusual energy, I promptly made a very impressive To Do list which included the following things:

Kill the fruitflies
Kill the fruitflies
Kill the fruitflies
Finish the laundry
Kill the fruitflies

You may notice a pattern. I said it once and I'll say it again: If Hell actually has a kitchen, it's infested with fruitflies. Those suckers are impossible and disgusting.

Sure, we've been a bit lax these days (weeks) with regard to the immediate loading of the dishwasher . But I have excuses for that: it's no mystery that our dishwasher came special order from Oompa-Loompa land where things are efficient, yet tiny. And what with the waking up at the gruesome hour of 4:30 to get to 7am appointments in NYC (or 6:30 for later ones when I'm lucky) I'm plum tuckered out by the time after-dinner-hour comes around. Unending repetition may be just the thing for Oompa-Loompas, but Sisyphean labor is really not my thing.

I also understand that when we replaced the wonderful bright red tight-lidded simplehuman trashcan with the tidier-but-draftier under-the-counter variety, it may have sent the wrong impression to the clearly very impressionable fruitfly population. Here's the breakdown.

What I thought I was saying:
"Hello, insect population. This is a clean and tidy kitchen. It is a wholesome place. We're kid friendly and very G rated. Please, keep that in mind as you cruise past our viewing window on your way to procreate somewhere else in a galaxy far, far away."

What the fruitflies heard:

"Hey there, sexy. Lookin' for a hot place to settle in and make millions of babies? Fly no further. We've got a 24 hour buffet, dark quiet and stinky just waiting for you. When you only live 10-18 days, you may as well live it up in style. Infest, and multiply!"

As if that were bad enough.

Showing off one of his more charming talents, P poured me a very well-timed glass of brandy as I struggled through dinner preparations last night. He then went back in to his office while I wandered around distractedly muttering about a lost recipe.

My search led me to our bedroom, where, ta-DAAA, the recipe sat on the bed right next to my laptop where I had left it. (Or so it seems. I have the memory of a goldfish.) Relieved, I glanced at my computer screen. As I did so, a plaintive IM popped up from P, featuring a weeping emoticon accompanied by the heartbreaking message, "There are five flies in my brandy."

Disturbed, I looked down into my own glass. THERE WERE TWO FLIES IN MINE!

Let's do the math.

1. P pours 2 glasses of brandy at 7:10pm in the kitchen where 50 fruitflies have taken up residence.
2. P delivers 1 glass to me, and takes 1 glass to the office. At this point there are 0 flies in either glass.
3. P and I walk in opposite directions to extreme wings of the house (note: we were about 73 steps away from each other. For some reason having to do with either testosterone or self-pity, he counts this distance on a regular basis and conveys it to anyone within range).
4. Suddenly, at 7:34, we have 7 fruitflies succumbed to alcohol poisoning.

I hate math, but I can tell you the answer. Fruitflies equal war.

We've stationed a Lysol guard, we've set up a sticky-fly-tape special unit and we're evacuating the area of all possible fruitfly resources.

Do you smell that? Do you smell that?! I love the smell of Lysol in the morning.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Movies

I just came out of the movie "500 Days of Summer" which was pretty cute but not very original. Worth seeing? Sure. But it is really just a John Cusack movie without John Cusack in it. I do love Zooey Deschanel, so that made up for part of it.

Sometimes I come out of a movie (usually one with an especially good soundtrack) and just want to float around in it for a while. You know, like, live in the movie for a few days, or at least a few hours. Not because it is an especially good movie necessarily, but because it is transportation to a different universe for a while. A universe that has the comfort and security of a beginning, and middle and an end which someone has really thought about. Sometimes life just seems like a series of days. Good days often enough, but there's no plotline. One yearns for plotline.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Before. Please God, Let There Be An After.

Wow, it's so overwhelming. I absolutely adore my house, but it is in desperate need of some serious gardening.

Last month, we paid the last bill for our building contractor. That means no more 7am jackhammer alarm clocks; no more strange, dirty men wandering in and out leaving muddy paw prints; not more frustrating conversations with my passive-aggressive contractor; no more frantic phonecalls to the financial planner ("what do you mean we didn't win the lottery?!?!).

So now I can address the pathetic bareness that is my landscaping.

I'm going to start with a list of plants that I like. Then I'm going to sit around and obsess about what my beds should be shaped like for...oh, a decade or two. Don't want to rush into anything. Then, I'll fret over whether I should suck it up and do everything myself (let's face it, in my world, the women do the manual labor) or hire someone to do it for me.

If I hire someone to do it for me, does that mean I'm spoiled?

When people gasp in awe of my gorgeous setting, and ask me, breathlessly, "Did you do all this yourself?" do I still get to answer, "Why... yes." And toss my hair nonchalantly?

Would I be failing at the job of teaching my darling children the value of sweat and elbow grease?

Well, these are the questions. Or at least a taste of the first fifty thousand questions. Aren't you excited??

Here goes...somethin'.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chaos Cookies

One of my many goals in creating a lovely home has been to teach HC independence in the kitchen. Her love of baking really is the cherry on top of many a "Home Sweet Home" kind of days, emphasis on the "sweet".

Last night was no exception. After finishing her first week in public school (as a freshman in high school, no less) HC felt her sugar tooth ache and Tedward was beckoning.

Side note: Tedward is the name HC gave my kitchen aid stand mixer.

I was proud to watch her crack a few cookbooks looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, and measure everything carefully. It has taken some work to fully comprehend the idea that actually *following* the recipe helps the final product. I was impressed when she softened the rock-hard brown-sugar alone, and after keeping half an eye on her steady progress, I was mildly surprised to have her beckon me over to Tedward's side for a look.

"What do you think?" she asked, a bit hesitant.

I peered into the metal bowl and noted the spatula attachment deep in the thick batter. Very deep.

"Seems like a lot of cookie dough for 12 cookies," I mused, reaching for the package of chocolate chunks. It was completely empty.

Indignant, HC defended herself while I inspected the recipe: "I followed the recipe exactly this time!! I double-checked and everything!"

Apparently, that was the problem.

"HC, did you notice it says 'yield: 6 dozen cookies'?"


By midnight we had chocolate chip cookies coming out the ears!

We'll survive. In fact, they're helping us survive. This morning, several were eaten to calm a threatening nervous breakdown by one member of the family, and I had a couple as sustainance while cleaning the house. Several more were shared during a very serious planning and logistics conversation I had with P, and one or two were consumed with milk by A after he returned from his first experience working out with the other Marine recruits.

So here's the question: is the dwindling pile of chocolaty yumness helping keep chaos at bay, or simply a symptom of the chaos itself?

Monday, August 31, 2009


Yesterday, after sleeping poorly, I awoke in a terrible mood. I poked unproductively around the house in a terrible mood. I waited for our afternoon guests in a terrible mood, and spoke to my husband in a way reflexive of my terrible mood. I hosted in a terrible mood, and bid our guests goodbye in a terrible mood. I started dinner in...well, you get the idea.

Instinctively, I boiled some water and poured in the Quaker grits in a slow steady stream. I watched the tiny particles swirl amid the boiling bubbles and gradually sink to the bottom, mimicking the movements of the lighter-than-air milkweed seeds I watched floating and dropping in my parents pasture growing up. The feel of a wooden spoon in my hand as I slowly stirred the smooth thickening, velvety mixture was so familiar, although in my mind it was my mother's hand, not mine. Two cups of sharp cheese, a handful delicate green and white scallion rings, and lots of freshly ground white pepper later, and I was home. (The accompanying bbq chicken didn't hurt. Neither did the wine my darling husband offered as an olive branch.)

Moving from my childhood home in Texas to Chicago for college in no way prepared me for living here in Connecticut. Chicago was both exotic and familiar, a place I idolized and also felt I knew from ancestral vibes I received via my grandfather's reverent accounts of living there. I was a stranger in a strange city, but it was a city which my soul recognized as one of its own.

Connecticut was, and is, an acquired taste for me. I feel guilty about it, because the people I love are here, but it's the truth. The landscape is so beautiful, and my love of all things winter is readily appeased. It's just that what brought me here was not my love of Connecticut, but my love for my new family. I struggle to relate to the culture here, from the architecture to the politics to the daily personalities of the Connecticut Yankees. It can all be very overwhelming, especially when combined with my new roles of wife and stepmother.

And yet, perhaps somehow, Texas and Chicago did provide. Chicago taught me that it's just me against the world: it's a cold winter out there, but it's beautiful and full of adventures. I loved the city. I loved my apartment. But most of all, I loved learning self-reliance.

Growing up in Texas, my mother taught me to love sewing and gardening, and how to (try to) deal with difficult situations with grace. But most of all she taught me to cook!

And while I was still in a terrible mood while I ate the grits, they were delicious.

Carpe Weed'em

So after seeing Julie & Julia twice in a week at the darling independent movie house down the street, I'm officially inspired. I am no less interesting than that Julie Powell! So here goes somethin'.

Yesterday was A's birthday, and after spending several (also Julia Child inspired) hours preparing boeuf bourguignon for the big 18th, I needed a break. So, discarding the apron and hot-pads in favor of gardening gloves and a healthy dose of sweat and dirt, I tackled The Weeds.

The Weeds have been celebrating their 1st Amendment right to assemble in my courtyard like it's their job. Then again...they're weeds. Maybe it IS their job. Maybe. Although I heard once that any plant qualifies as a weed if it's in the wrong place at the wrong time. And let's just say, IT'S THE WRONG TIME.

So while the boeuf minded its business in the oven for a few hours, I took great pleasure in ripping them up, tender little weedy roots and all, and leaving them, wilting and confused, on a pile of their brethren. It was a beautiful thing.

Well, it wasn't actually. It looked like a tornado and come for tea and forgotten to wipe its feet on the way in. I had to stop halfway through the job, right at the point where I stop weeding and start hauling the weeds away, to carpe cake-yuuum. So, while we serenely ate Julia Child's delicious recipe, cheerfully sang happy birthday, heartily wished good wishes, festively offered toasts and relishingly ate HC's delightful Boston Cream Cake, the scenes of destruction and root-shed were only feet away, easily visible through any one of our over-sized windows. Heartless, we were.

This morning I hauled them away to a more dignified location. May they rest in peace.