Saturday, September 11, 2010


That's me, breathing a sigh of relief because it was 50 degrees when I went outside this morning. I had to put a long-sleeved shirt over my tank top. And I'm wearing long pants. And socks. And I am NOT SWEATING.

The joy is overwhelming. And I'm not even kidding.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Still a Moron, Still Amusing

I was sitting in the kitchen last night pulling grapes off the stem in preparation for juice-making, when Mia presented me with still more evidence that while she is a wonderful dog in many ways, she ain't too bright sometimes:

Stupid dog with head stuck in container, take two.

And then, after I removed the empty treat box from her head, I put it back on the floor to see if what I thought would happen, would happen. I'm sure you know what happened.

I love her, but she is not going to be admitted to Mensa anytime soon.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Sometimes, in the midst of food preparation, I screw up.

I KNOW. And here you thought I was infallible.

No, I'm afraid I am only human after all. There goes my dream of becoming a deity.


One of my screw-ups this year was a batch of strawberry-rhubarb jam. I've never had a problem with jam before, because I cheat and use commercial pectin. Making jam and jelly without pectin is HARD, man. There are candy thermometers and testing plates in the freezer and something called sheeting . . . forget it. I prefer the pectin: clear instructions, easy timing, reliable outcome.

Except when you don't read the directions. Ahem.

See, what happened was, the MiL and my sister-in-law were preparing to make strawberry jam and the MiL suggested I make my last batch of jam before they got started. Cubby was asleep at the time, so I figured I might as well. But then Cubby woke up and my brother-in-law was trying to entertain him and the MiL and my SiL were racing around the kitchen washing jars and things and I was rushing trying to finish so I could feed Cubby and I had a different brand of pectin (Sure-Jell) from the last kind (Ball) I had used to make the previous batch of jam, so I just started using the method from the Ball brand which turns out to be different from the Sure-Jell kind in the order in which things are added and there's no lemon juice needed but I added some before I read the directions and . . . well. It didn't set.

So I have a batch of runny strawberry-rhubarb jam. However, this isn't really a tragedy, as runny jam is excellent for flavoring plain yogurt, which is the only kind we buy anyway. But I have discovered a new, delicious use for it. I will now share it with you, just in case you, too, have a mistake you wish to turn into a triumph. At least, if your mistake involves runny jam.

I have this book from the library called Well Preserved: A Jam Making Hymnal by Joan Hassol, which has recipes for dozens of jams. In the preface to the recipe for strawberry lime jam, the author mentioned that the recipe was inspired by her dropping a dollop of strawberry jam into lemon-lime seltzer. And since I just happened to have both lemon-lime seltzer and my screwed up strawberry-rhubarb jam, I decided it was Fate showing me a way to rectify my jam mistake. So I tried it.


It tastes like those crazy expensive European fruit sodas, except you can make it less sweet because you control how much jam you add. I added about a tablespoon for a 12-ounce glass of seltzer, but I think less would be better. And I think it would actually be better with runny jelly, because the jam does have some solids in it that don't dissolve into the liquid. If you're one of those people who gets worked up about pulp in orange juice, then this would probably squick you out. I do not have a problem with pulp, however, so I was just fine. In fact, I was delighted.

So next time you have some runny jam, you know what to do.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hello, Sunshine

Before a baby is born, all parents say things like, "I just want him/her to be healthy. Nothing else really matters." And all parents mean it. But all parents also, whether they admit it or not, speculate on what qualities they would like their child to possess.

A. and I, not being the reticent types, DID admit some of our hopes for the coming child before he was born. Beyond the health, I mean, which Cubby has IN SPADES*. A. was hoping for a big, strong boy. I was hoping for a child with a naturally happy disposition.

We both got our wishes.

It occurs to me that I haven't really talked about Cubby a whole lot on this site. Other than to remark on his shocking rate of growth, I mean. But he's more than just a Giant Infant. He's a truly happy child, who is content to play by himself in his station (thanks, Nana!) for a half hour or so at a time, bouncing maniacally and talking to the spinning froggie. He laughs when I bite his ribs, bark suddenly at him (still no fear), and bounce him on the bed. Animal noises never fail to produce a big, gummy grin, especially quacking like a duck. He loves the book Barnyard Dance (thanks, Aunt Tara!). Also Peekaboo. He likes to listen to his sea shanties, the Beach Boys, and "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad."

He's almost outgrown the 12-month onesies. He loves to eat real food (albeit very small bits of it), sitting in his booster seat at the table with the big people. He has never rejected a food yet, not even the first solid food he ever got (yogurt). Beets and yogurt are a favorite.

He is not afraid of strangers at all (yet), and he loves his daddy and his grandma.

He's starting to respond to his name. Something of a miracle, since we all call him different nicknames along with his actual name, so it wouldn't be surprising if the kid got confused.

When he's ready to get up in the morning--sometimes far too EARLY in the morning, but whatever--he thumps his feet on the side of his crib and talks to himself.

Grabbing his toes is the newest funnest thing ever. And the dogs always get a big smile, even when they try to lick his face.

He still only has two teeth, both right next to each other. His hair is thickening up, but mostly in the center, which makes him look kind of like he has a mohawk. And he is a remarkably handsome child. I mean, A. and I aren't ugly or anything, but we're also not exactly supermodels. The sum of our combined genetics is apparently greater than the individual parts.

He rarely cries. I've been told this is not always the case with babies, so I should realize how lucky I am.

I do. Realize how lucky I am, I mean. In so many ways.

That suspicious wet spot isn't pee; he's been practicing drinking from a glass. Obviously, he needs more practice.

* He's never been sick yet. And I am now knocking on every piece of wood in the house, because is that tempting fate or what?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Be Thankful I Didn't Use My Original Post Title

Because my original title for this was "Not Feelin' My Oats." Because it's a post about oatmeal and how I don't so much dig it. GEDDIT?

I KNOW. It's like the worst title ever. Which is why I didn't use it. And yet still felt compelled to confess that such a lame play on words ever crossed my mind.

The subject might be lame, too, but nonetheless, I feel the need to speak today of oatmeal. Because I made some for breakfast this morning, now that it is no longer 90 degrees in our house at six in the morning. Yay! But I was reminded that I, um, don't actually like oatmeal all that much.

Which begs the question, why did I make it, then? Well, because A. likes it. And I sometimes get tired of eggs and can't think of anything else I feel like eating.

Growing up, the only kind of oatmeal we ever had was Quaker Instant. Brown sugar and maple flavor. I liked that. I mean, of COURSE I did. How could I not, seeing as how it's pretty much a way to mainline sugar first thing in the morning. Then A. introduced me to real oatmeal, the old fashioned rolled oats kind that takes a whole TEN MINUTES to prepare.

Really makes you reflect on the impatience of the American public if ten minutes has become so unacceptable for breakfast preparation that a processed instant version of a pretty quick food has become the norm.


So we make the oatmeal plain and then flavor it as we like in our own bowls. Personalized oatmeal! How fun! A. and the MiL will eat it with nothing more than milk. I find that unappealing in the extreme. But I found that the amount of brown sugar and maple syrup necessary to make it taste anything like the Quaker kind is pretty shocking. NO ONE should eat that much sugar first thing in the morning. So I never add enough to make it something I really want to eat. I usually get about halfway through a bowl before I get Oatmeal Fatigue and don't want to eat anymore.

I've tried steel cut oats, adding honey and peanut butter, maple syrup and cream, brown sugar and milk, raisins, blueberries, nuts . . . eh. Some versions are better than others (maple syrup and cream will make anything tasty, really), but I guess what it comes down to for me is that I don't like oatmeal enough to make it a whole meal. It's like a dessert--tasty, but nothing that's going to sustain me. I'm invariably hungry an hour after eating it.

But maybe I'm just missing something. So tell me, duckies: Are you an oatmeal lover? And if so, how do you make your oatmeal so you love it, and so I might possibly love it too? Because I really WANT to like it. Help me out here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Now Hiring

Job Title: Mother

Hours: Constant

Pay: None

Paid Holidays:

Vacation: None

Job Description: The successful applicant must possess infinite patience; an unending memory of songs to sing; the ability to entertain a baby with nothing more than her fingers; strength enough to lift, jiggle, bounce, fly through the air, and restrain a constantly growing child; a capacity to withstand tedium; and a sense of humor that remains intact despite sleeplessness, crankiness, and lots and lots of poop.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

I Live To Serve

Yes, I am but a servant to your wishes. A slave to your recipe requests. Except I never oblige with an actual recipe, but more of a generalized, no doubt irritatingly vague method that requires an awful lot of guesswork on your part. Fun!

So! Yesterday, Haley wrote the following: Can you tell us how you make tomato sauce? When I make it I always use canned tomatoes, but whenever I try to use fresh ones, the sauce isn't very rich; it is more fruity. Since I know you use tomatoes from your garden, do you have any ideas?

Why yes, Haley--I can indeed tell you how I make tomato sauce. Although first I must state a couple of things.


Thing 1: You don't want your fresh tomato sauce to taste like you made it with commercially canned tomatoes, do you? Because it won't. And that's a good thing, in my opinion. If you want it to taste like you made it with commercially canned tomatoes, well then, you should use commercially canned tomatoes.

Thing 2: I don't know exactly what you mean by "rich" versus "fruity." Tomatoes, by themselves, aren't a rich food; they are a fruit, and an acidic one at that. However, fresh tomatoes tend to taste a lot less acidic than commercially canned ones, so my first thought is that you probably need to add some acid to your sauce. Red wine is good if you have some; vinegar works too. Add just a teaspoon or so to your sauce, then taste it. You might need to add more, depending on how much sauce you're making and how acidic you want it. The vinegar or wine should be a complementary flavor, though, not a dominant one.

My second thought is that standard commercially canned tomatoes have a lot of salt. A LOT. So you need to salt your fresh tomato sauce a lot more than you probably think necessary. That helps with the flavor quite a bit.

As to my method . . . well. That changes every time I make any kind of tomato sauce. Although they do all have some standard ingredients and steps.

1) Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add diced onion and cook until soft. Then add lots of minced garlic.

2) Cut up your tomatoes. You will need a lot more than you think you will--they break down a lot. Some people peel them first (30 seconds in boiling water makes the skins come right off). I never do, but then, I grow pretty thin-skinned varieties. Except for this one this year that's either a Jet Star or a Primetime that has really thick skin that's kind of nasty and I will not grow again. Yuck.


How small you chop them depends on how chunky you want your sauce. Also, the variety of tomato you use will affect the texture. If you're using a standard slicing tomato, it will totally break down, leading to a much smoother and thinner sauce. A paste variety will retain its shape and texture a lot more. I think a mixture of the two is good.

3) Add salt (LOTS OF SALT), pepper, the wine or vinegar, and some herbs--oregano, marjoram, basil, etc. Although, if you're using fresh basil, it's better to add some of it later, so it doesn't get cooked to death. You could also add a little bit of hot pepper, if that's your thing. It's not mine.

4) Simmer until it's as thick as you like. Stir in fresh basil at the end.

There's SO MUCH variation to this, though. I hardly ever make a straight tomato sauce like this. Usually, I either make meat sauce (browning the meat first, then adding the onion to it, and proceeding with the above steps) or meatballs (browning the meatballs, then taking them out, proceeding with the recipe, and adding them back for the simmering part). You can add heavy cream at the end, or lots of Parmesan cheese (I usually add this), or even cottage cheese or shredded mozzarella. Meat and dairy are really what make tomato sauce rich. On its own, it's not.

When I used to use commercially canned tomatoes (it's been a LONG TIME, though), I added a little sugar. I don't do this with my homegrown tomatoes. But you can try a little sugar to see if it amps up the flavor a bit. Or add a little diced or shredded carrot along with the onion and garlic for a little sweetness.

I don't normally have mushrooms in the house, but if I did, I would add them. I love mushrooms in tomato sauce. Spinach is also good.

So. Yeah. That's all I got: A collection of random thoughts and vague things I might (or might not!) do in my own kitchen.

Somehow, I do not think The Food Network is going to be calling anytime soon.