Saturday, March 24, 2018

Fourth Time Around

Yesterday as I was preparing to kick the boys out for their mandatory outdoor time, I thought, "Hey, it's 42 degrees outside and not too windy. I can take Poppy out if I can find something to put over her clothes to keep her warm."

Could I find such thing? Oh yes, indeedy. Brace yourselves for the return of . . .

The Cubby Suit: Take Four

Yes, Poppy is the latest baby to be dressed as an adorable if somewhat ridiculous bear. The MiL bought that suit for Cubby before he was even born

Charlie wore it

Jack wore it

And now Poppy can wear it.

When Cubby saw her, he grinned and said, "Hey, the bears are waking up for spring."

They sure are, my clever child. And so are we.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday Food: Rewind a Bit

It has occurred to me that there is no point in just speculating about what I'm going to be making for dinner on Friday before I make it. You need the hard-hitting facts, not idle speculation, right? Right.  So from now on, I'll just tell you what I made the previous Friday. That way, these posts can be even longer. Whee!


Short version: Eggs in tomato sauce, black beans, roasted bell peppers and onions, cornbread

Long version: I made the tomato sauce with diced onion, mashed-up canned tomatoes, roasted garlic, cumin, and chili powder, spread in the bottom of a Pyrex dish. Over that I cracked many eggs and put it in the oven with the other stuff that was cooking. When the eggs were cooked (hard, because I don't do runny yolks), I sprinkled on some grated cheddar and let it melt on top.

The oven was on to roast the bell peppers and onions. When I say "bell peppers," I never mean green ones, because those are gross. I almost always buy red, but anything other than green is okay.

The oven was also on to make cornbread. I very rarely make cornbread because the recipe I use for all-cornmeal cornbread is from Cook's Illustrated, and is thus a pain in the ass. It does reliably turn out good cornbread, though, as my cornbread-guzzling children will tell you. They like theirs with butter and honey. I prefer maple syrup.

The black beans were canned, but rinsed. I added cumin, garlic powder, and vinegar to them, because that is always what I do to black beans.


Short version: Pork, baked potatoes, carrot sticks with ranch dressing

Long version: A. bought country-style pork ribs. I like those the best cooked on the grill, but the grill is currently doubling as a snow sculpture at the moment.

Dramatic, but not very functional.

I covered them in lots of paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and cooked them in a 400-degree oven until they were done.

The potatoes were enormous Idaho potatoes that A. had also bought. I don't know about you, but I find baked potatoes to take far too long in the oven unless I use this genius trick from my hero Jacques Pepin: Microwave the potatoes for a couple of minutes and then finish them in the oven. Potatoes cooked entirely in the microwave have a weird gummy texture, but if they're just partially cooked in the microwave before finishing in the oven, you can't even tell they were microwaved. And those giant potatoes were only in the oven for 30 minutes.

I have Strong Opinions about baby carrots, and so you will never see them in my house. You will, however, frequently see carrot sticks, especially when I already have ranch dressing made.


Short version: Beef, rice, steamed carrots and broccoli

Long version: I had one big bone-in chuck roast left, so I covered it in salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and put it in a foil-covered pan in the oven at 300 degrees. It stayed there longer than I had planned, as I was pinned in my chair by a sick, snotty baby who finally fell asleep and I was afraid to get up lest she wake up. So the roast cooked for about four hours. It was fine, though. I pulled some of it into pieces and fried them in a pan with olive oil and four mashed cloves of roasted garlic for me and A. Yum. The kids didn't have the extra garlic on theirs.

Rice is rice. Basmati, because that's all we ever have.

When I cook broccoli, I almost always cook carrots, too. That's because I recently had the inspiration to cook them both at the same time in one pot. See, if you put the carrot pieces on the bottom and mostly cover them with water, then put the broccoli pieces on top of the carrots, the carrots boil in the water while the broccoli steams, and they cook for the same amount of time. This is handy, because Charlie loathes cooked carrots, but likes broccoli; and Jack doesn't care about broccoli, but likes cooked carrots. And I like to have both on hand for my salads.


Short version: Tacos, black beans, Mexican slaw, leftover broccoli and carrots

Long version: I used the beef left from the big roast on Sunday to make soft tacos for the kids. I fried it in tallow until it was crispy, then added it to corn tortillas microwaved with cheese on them, plus black beans left over from Friday, and sour cream. We always eat corn tortillas, because Charlie and A. don't do well with (unfermented) wheat flour products. Only certain brands of corn tortillas work for soft tacos, though. Namely, La Banderita. Other brands aren't soft enough and just fall apart if you try to roll them up.

Mexican slaw is something I made up, though I'm sure it's an established thing if I cared to look. It's thinly sliced cabbage, finely diced onion, garlic, vinegar, cumin, and salt. The earlier before eating it's mixed together, the better it tastes. I prefer this to lettuce with taco meat. It adds more flavor, especially when I don't have salsa, which I didn't this time.


Short version: Italian sausage, bell peppers and shallots, potato cubes, green salad, baked apples

Long version: Everything was thrown in the oven to roast at the same time. Well, except the salad. That'd be gross.

We had fancy-pants shallots this time instead of our standard plebian yellow onions because the paper bag in the laundry room that I thought contained heads of garlic instead had all the shallots A. grew in the garden last summer. Based on the tears they caused when I was peeling them even after they'd been in storage for months, they were some potent alliums. Sniff.

I used lard for the fat on the potato cubes this time. This makes me feel very thrifty and virtuous, because it was lard I rendered from the enormous hunk of pork shoulder A. bought some time ago and that I trimmed of quite a lot of fat*. Rendering the fat makes me feel less like I'm just throwing money in the garbage, and it's way better than that nasty hydrogenated Mexican lard sold in the blue boxes at the grocery store. Not as good as lard rendered from one of the family pigs, but still pretty good. It made some damn fine roasted potatoes, anyway.

Have I mentioned that I find winter salad to be a sad and pale imitation of a real salad? Yes, yes I have. I can't wait for garden arugula to redeem this anemic grocery store lettuce. This time I made a vinaigrette dressing (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, whole grain mustard, salt and pepper shaken in a Mason jar) instead of ranch. Those are the only two dressings I ever make, because I am boring and lazy. And because I like them.


Short version: Steak trio, Texas toast, peas

Long version: The last three steaks left from the small cow were a normal-sized sirloin, a small ribeye, and a minuscule eye of round. I cooked them all on my grill pan.

Texas toast is just grilled garlic bread made from very thickly sliced loaf bread. A batch of bread had come out of the oven only a couple of hours before dinner, so I was going to just give the kids bread and butter. But the steaks reminded me of when I went to Sizzler as a kid (remember Sizzler? Yes? You must be a child of the 80s, too) and the greasy toast that accompanied the steaks there. So I filled the remaining space on the grill pan with a couple of pieces of bread spread with garlic butter. I helped myself to a bite of one before plating them for the boys, and I'm pretty sure this version is better than the Sizzler version. The steak certainly was.

After my adventure in the snow, I didn't feel up to making anything more challenging for a vegetable than frozen peas. Also, I started to feel the household cold coming on. I accept frozen peas as my vegetable savior on such days and refuse to feel bad about it.


Short version: Chili, rice, carrot sticks and bell pepper strips

Long version: This time the chili was beef stew meat, though it's just as likely to be venison or lamb in our house. I used two pounds of beef, two chopped onions, a few cloves of crushed garlic, one big can of whole tomatoes crushed with my spoon, half a can of water, a little vinegar, and lots of chili powder and cumin.

A word about browning. Well, many words. People get very intense about the browning of meat and getting every piece seared all over for the fond and the brown bits and the flavor, etc., etc. If I were to brown two pounds of beef stew meat in that manner, I would have to do it in about five batches, which would mean it would take me about an hour.

You know what was happening while I was browning beef? Poppy was on a blanket on the floor, being "entertained" by Jack, so I was dividing my attention between browning the beef and going over to check on her and reminding Jack not to poke her in the face with a pencil or run laps around her until he got dizzy and fell on her.

This is why I only spent ten minutes browning meat. And you know what? It doesn't matter a damn bit. I read in one of the Cook's Illustrated magazines once that you really only need to fully brown about half the meat in a recipe for full flavor. Sounds good to me.

I served the chili over rice for the kids, with cheese, sour cream, finely diced shallot, and black beans as add-ins in whatever combination everyone wanted.

The carrot sticks and bell pepper strips were crudites. Which is the fancy way of saying that I put a plate of them out in the living room before dinner and the kids ate a whole bell pepper and three carrots this way, because they were hungry and that's all there was.

I'm smarter than I look.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

* Should you wish to render fat trimmed from a roast--either pork or beef--just cut it into small pieces and put in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of water. The water keeps it from sticking to the pan and scorching before it starts rendering. Keep it at a very low heat for awhile, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until almost all the fat has rendered out. Maybe 45 minutes for a small quantity. Strain it through a fine mesh strainer and keep it in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

They Never Listen

I took the boys to the dirt road yesterday for some mandatory outside time*. They had so much fun climbing the giant snow banks, sliding on the ice, and throwing chunks of snow at the stop sign that they begged to go again.

So I took them after school today.

This time Cubby made up a game called "Survive in the Wilderness," which involved running around on top of the snow banks, pulling down wild grapevines, and plotting how to build a treehouse like the one in The Swiss Family Robinson.

I was fine with the snow bank climbing, but I told them not to go into the snow in the woods on the other side of the banks. It's too deep, I said. You'll sink in and get stuck, I said. And then I'll sink in when I have to go over the bank to get you out, I said.

I bet you can guess where this is going.

Sure enough, Cubby went over the bank and sank down in the snow, getting his foot jammed under a tree branch so he couldn't lift it out. He yelled for Charlie to bring him a stick, which Charlie obligingly did and promptly got stuck himself.

So then I had to wallow my way through snow up to my waist, shore myself up on a bush so I didn't sink in all the way, dig their feet out, haul them up, and boost them up the bank and back onto the road. And then I had to wallow back, getting stuck myself and having to dig myself out.

When I got back on the road, I announced the walk was over and it was time to go home.

Some day they'll learn I do know what I'm talking about and they should listen to me, right?

Yeah, sure. Fat chance.

* The rule I have lately been enforcing is they have to go outside every day for the same length of time as the cartoon they watch (currently Tailspin) right before bed if they want to watch it. That way, I know they'll get at least 23 minutes outside--which means I get 23 minutes when they are not inside with me--and it often turns into much longer. Clever, yes?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Some Pig

I spent my afternoon sitting in a chair with a snotty, snoring baby on my lap, because that is where she finally fell asleep and I was afraid she would wake up if I got up. I sat there for three and a half hours, getting up only once for about two minutes to let the dog in, take the meat out of the oven, and pee.

I could do this--and Poppy could sleep peacefully in my lap in the living room--because A. took the boys to the circus. It's a small traveling circus that does a performance every year in the school gymnasium. It's apparently a pretty good circus. Last year, Cubby and Charlie went with A. and came home with a picture of the two of them with a python draped around their shoulders.

Better them than me.

This year the python wasn't in attendance, but Roscoe the pig was. In a fun coincidence, today was Roscoe's birthday. He turned five.

He's big for his age.

Jack loved the pig and ran right up to it. Charlie was not such a fan. A. mentioned that Roscoe seems to relish his life as a circus performer, perhaps because of all the spilled popcorn he gets to eat.

I would have liked to have seen the circus, but I probably would have had a similar reaction to Charlie's when faced with a large pig on a pedestal, so I suppose it's for the best that I stayed home.