24 November 2010

The Middle (The Trenches).

I've not stopped yet today. This is the first time I have put my bottom in a chair (excluding the 12 minutes on a bench at sams to gobble down a room temperature greasy piece of pizza while on a trip to get the kids out of the house, feed the five of us for 8 bucks and no dirty dishes, and see if, perhaps, Sams carries kumquats.

They don't.

Which is a bummer, because I was really looking forward to cranberry kumquat sauce, but I couldn't find kumquats in the greater metro area. I called The Fresh Market and they said they didn't even have them. Granted, I'm not entirely confident in the young woman with whom I spoke, but I wasn't braving traffic to double check her.

But despite its hecticness, the day has been very good.

Very, very good.

I have had limited moments in which I've had to unpleasantly sanctify my children (perhaps this was helped by the older two being gone from 4-7, the 'witching hours' as my mother calls them)

I have gotten a lot done.

And I've gotten to spend a lot of time making a home - with my co-homemaker - Paul's been swarming about me today - washing dishes while I was making cream sauces, and drywalling and painting holes in the walls so we can (finally) hang pictures where we want them to go - while I was, you guessed it, washing dishes.

We started the day with the kids helping me make creamed leeks.
Leeks are dirty.
They are little dirt vessels.

(So, in the picture below you'll see three dirt vessels - the bowl of leeks, and well, you know...)

So, you have to clean them.
This is challenging, but a grand job for kids.

The best way I've found is to chop them into whatever size pieces you want and then dump them in a giant bowl of cold water, and put a 4-6 year old to playing with them. This agitates the dirt off of them. Then drain them and do it again. And if you let the 4 year old take charge of the first two times, you might want to do a secret third time.

Then I sweated the leeks in butter, S&P, and they smelled divine. Especially at 9 am.

Finished the cream leeks, but while they were sweating, peeled and chopped the potatoes and grated the swiss cheese for the scalloped potatoes.

Then I finished the potatoes and stuck them and the leeks in the oven together. Efficiency is my middle name.

Then I switched focus to dessert.

I was planning to make a chocolate hazelnut tort, but I couldn't find hazelnuts for the life of me (Hazelnuts and Kumquats - Darn you!), so I switched to a flourless chocolate tort. I whipped it up (in like an hour... those things take forever), but got snobby and decided I didn't need a hot water bath in which to bake it.

I was wrong.

That happens.
A lot.

Then, we took a break and went to sams. I needed Asparagus.

Because, when I got back, I made the asparagus casserole, pumpkin pie, apple cake, and injected the turkey,

Not in that order, but I'm tired.

I championed efficiency again, and put the cake (in two pans), the pie, and the casserole in the oven at the same time:

And didn't even have to use both ovens.

Tomorrow, both ovens will be in full employ.

I'm pumped about tomorrow.
Obviously, because I get to eat all this stuff.
Twice - once at lunch and once at supper. With two entirely different batches of people.

Yay for Turkey Day.

Yay for my sweet, dear family and all of their help, without whom, none of this would be possible.

And yay for our Father in heaven, to whom we are giving Thanks, after all.

(As far as ingredients used go, I've lost count, but I do know I got to 10 sticks of butter today...)

23 November 2010

The Beginning

I had high hopes to get some Gobble Gobble prep work done on Monday. I won't go into details, because we are not supposed to parade the sins of our children, right? But my children, all three of them, but especially the middle one, stank on Monday. (Isn't it stink, stank, stunk?) or is it stinked? or stunk?

Let's be honest - I was trying to avoid saying that they sucked. At life.

Anyway, they are precious gifts, and I really do believe that. Really.

But they messed up my Monday Preparations.

So, I began in earnest this morning. And the good news is that whatever fungus the children had apparently ingested yesterday seems to have worked its way out of the system of at least the older two. And the youngest, well, he is a baby, right? So he's allowed to be insane sometimes.

So far:

Baked two batches of (different kinds of) cornbread, let them cool, and crumbled them for cornbread dressing.
Chopped a large onion and six stalks of celery and set aside for cornbread dressing.
Rummaged through freezer to find real, homemade chicken broth for cornbread dressing.

Peeled, chopped and boiled sweet potatoes, threw them in the mixer with all sorts of goodies and made sweet potato casserole, which will not be topped until Thursday at 12:23 pm, but other than that topping, it is ready to go.

Made homemade yeast rolls (see photo above), which were a labor of love, but promise to be so, so very good. I'm about to throw them in the oven to half-bake them. (Let's be honest again - I wanted to say halfbaked.). Then I'll cover tightly and freeze them, pulling them out Thursday morning at 9 to thaw before a second-half-bake and browning.

Ingredients used today:

1 onion
5 giant sweet potatoes
1 bunch celery
6 eggs
2 cups buttermilk corn meal
1 box jiffy
1/4 cup oil
2 1/3 cups whole milk
3 sticks butter
1/2 cup ish half and half
1/3 cup ish brown sugar
1/3 cup ish + 1/2 cup white sugar
1 - 2 tsps ground cinnamon
heavy dashes of nutmeg and cloves

I feel okay about where I am in the whole process, though tomorrow will be filled to the brim with much, much cooking.

And dish washing, oh the dern dishes.
Dishes stink even worse than the children did yesterday.

20 November 2010

Where is your mother?

When Ada Bee was yet a small thing, I started using the phrase "You look like you don't have a mother"

I said it when she was looking particularly waif - ish. You know - hair in face, shirt collar stretched too big, stains on various articles of clothing, no socks with her tennis shoes, etc.

Especially the hair in the face. Ada Brooks Forster needs a clip, rubber band, barrette, ribbon or bow. Trust me.

I started saying it, and like many phrases around here, it became tradition -

bull butter
kiss my tail
you're my favorite, oh so favorite
where is your gourd?

It would take too long to explain them all. But they are all tradition, with, "you look like you don't have a mother..." or just, for short, "motherless."

Yesterday, my husband was outside doing something or other, and he turned around and there was Eason.

Just like this.

Let's examine.

Roller skates.
Which are unbuckled. Pink & Purple. And 3 sizes too big for him.
Blue Jeans. No Belt. And they need a belt. As evidenced by the fact that they are falling down and thus...
Red Underwear Peaking out.
White undershirt. Where is the overshirt? No one knows.
Needs a haircut.
And finally....
One single solitary almost-licked-clean-of-the-mint-cheesecake-batter beater.

Paul said, "Look at Eason. He has no mother."

I said, "False. Where do you think he got the beater?"

16 November 2010


This is Eason - dressed up as a Pilgrim this morning at his Thanksgiving Feast. He's a funny kid, and loves to eat, almost as much as I do. Thank the Lord for the Pilgrims. A Holiday entirely about food and thanksgiving - yes sir ree bob.

I love to plan my Thanksgiving menu each year.

A big part of that love stems from my food control freak ness.

I like to plan Thanksgiving because I, alone, hand pick each dish. Yes, I ask around, but I am not beholden to anyone other than I. And, the benefit of hosting it all alone each year, is that I don't have to say "Hey - bring the sweet potato casserole" to anyone and then quiver in my boots that said culinary contributor might put PECANS on top instead of MARSHMALLOWS. Horrors.

But, I also really like to plan Thanksgiving, because my greatest gift of service - and one of my greatest joys (in top five competition with singing Come Thou Fount, handing over a child of mine to be baptized, making out, and the Mississippi State Fair) is to feed people. And yes, I do truly enjoy nourishing them on a daily basis, but I also really, really, really love to lay before those I love a true feast.

And so, I present, the menu for our Feast:

Turkey: We've not decided whether we're going to overnight roast it or inject and fry it, but one thing is clear from our two most competitive suggestions: Tony Chacheres will be involved.

Dressing: My grandmother's Dressing recipe, which involves, of course, a ton of onions, and quite a bit of celery, buttermilk cornbread, jiffy cornbread, and some other yummys.

Scalloped Swiss Potatoes: A modification of a Come On In recipe that has never been a turkey day staple around here, but we love it, and Paul requested it. And when he requests, it means something.

Sweet Potato Casserole: Butter, Cinnamon, a hesitant amount of nutmeg, half and half, etc. And Marshmallows. Ada Brooks has made it clear, for about three years now, that without this dish, she'll not be attending Thanksgiving at our house.

New Fangled/Real Food Asparagus Casserole: I grew up eating, on Tgiving Day & Easter, a 1950s Cream of Mushroom Soup/Canned Asparagus casserole. It has always been in my top three things to gobble. And Paul has always had MAJOR objections. Canned Asparagus. Gross, he says. And, really, he's pretty much right. It's gross. But I just love the creaminess with the 'sparagus. So, this year, I've set about creating one - with a white sauce rather than the cream of mushroom - and blanched, fresh asparagus rather than the canned varietal. I'm doing a trial run on Sunday. I'll be sure and report.

Creamed Leeks. By recommendation of my chef friend, Via. Leeks are the best ever.

White Cheddar, Bacon and Caramelized Onion Mac & Cheese. I know.

Roasted Carrots.

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing and Goat Cheese (I really hope I can find a recipe for this. I'm still taking idears. If I cannot, I'll likely substitute a simple green Walker's house style salad)

Homemade Spicy Sweet Pickles

Turkey Gravy

Spiced Peaches from a Can (My kitsch staple food for Turkey Day. I'm not giving it up. If you open one can the week of thanksgiving, you've been successful, i believe)

Cranberry Sauce - from fresh cranberries, but I don't know whether I use the recommended Cranberry Kumquat Sauce or the recipe I've used in the past - but I'll know on Sunday afternoon, after a kumquat trial run)

Yeast Rolls (I'm hoping to do homemade....)

Pumpkin Pie (haven't picked a recipe yet)

Chocolate Hazlenut Torte, I think

Apple Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting - I made this a month or so ago, and decided to do it for turkey day, because it's my favorite, and it tastes like the holidays.

It's ambitious, but a feast should be, no?

My house is open on Tuesday and Wednesday of Thanksgiving week for anyone who wants to come help. Ada Brooks and I (and Paul & Eason to some limited extent) will be slaving away in pure joy.

Thank the Lord for the pilgrims.

Food Laziness

We arrived home on Sunday afternoon. A dear friend brought over yummy shrimp pizza to feed us. I supplemented with edamame (that ol' faithful standby), shrimp infused cream cheese (a recipe I've been dying to try out of square table. Since I've owned square table for 3 some odd years, this is a bit ridiculous), and a mediocre salad. I wanted a warm-dressing salad. BRAVO! - one of my favorite Jackson restaurants used to (still does?) have a spinach and goat cheese salad with warm vinaigrette dressing. I wanted to replicate it. I searched through cookbooks. I found one. It was mediocre, at best. Oh well.

On Monday night, I was supposed to make birthday cake and Chicken Romano for my mother's birthday. I failed. I was exhausted and a bit under the weather, and my mother could hear that in my voice, so she grabbed burgers from fresh market and Paul threw them on the grill for us. My mother is a dear. I was going to make cake for her, but instead made pie - Pioneer Woman's Apple Pie she posted this week. With Hard Sauce. Let me rename PW's hardsauce, please. It should be called "liquor icing" It ain't sauce, and Hard doesn't cover the flavor. But, don't get me wrong, it's really good all melty on top of hot apple/pecantopped pie. It had great flavor - Ada Brooks actually made most of it, which was fun.

Tonight, I was supposed to make bean burritos, but Paul and I are both tired, and my kitchen was still in need of rehab from the pie/breakfast/lunch/life for the past few days, AND, most importantly, we have leftovers that need to be eaten. So, that's what we're doing.

Tomorrow night, we got to church for Subway.

On Wednesday late night, though, I have to prepare a turkey for overnight roasting for Ada Brooks's school's thanksgiving feast. So..... that counts as kitchen work, right?

Thursday night, we have Fondren Unwrapped, where we will gobble up sample foods from all over the neighborhood business district.

Friday night, it is a dear friend's birthday, and we've got a crew coming to celebrate. We're having lots of yummy food, through which I will redeem this laziest week of cooking ever. I'd tell you about it, but my friend will inevitably read this before Friday, and isn't a birthday dinner in your honor so much more fun when all the culinary delights are just surprises after surprises.

On Saturday, we'll have sloppy joes and mashed potatoes.

On Sunday for lunch, some friends of ours are bringing a turkey over here to teach us how to fry it. I'm whipping up sides - a couple that I'm not planning to have for thanksgiving (Standard Forster Mashed Potatoes, an as yet undetermined dessert) , but a couple more as test runs (Real Food Asparagus Casserole - story to come later & Roasted Carrots & Cranberry Kumquat Sauce).

On Sunday afternoon, at 4 pm, there will be a family decision: Fry the turkey or overnight roast it.... My vote will count for 3 points, Paul's and Ada's for 2 each, and Eason's for 1. Trust me - it's just and fair in every way.

On Sunday night, we're having spaghetti and meatballs. Paul's favorite. Pretty much. Other than me - He likes me a lot. But, in the culinary department, Spaghetti & Meatballs take the cake. (Culinary...take the cake.... ha ha ha).

This is a week of food laziness for me. It is. It really is. I'm embracing it as a welcomed rest period before the Feast of Thanksgiving, which is so very closely followed by the Feasts of 6 weeks of Advent and Christmas.

Christ is coming. Really. Going to be born to the Virgin. Believe, my friend. Believe and Rejoice.

15 November 2010

sinking in - if only a little

I am teaching my children many things. Some successes are easy to measure - Ada Brooks reads out loud to her brothers, therefore I know I've succeeded in the teaching her to read department.
Eason dresses himself in the morning, therefore I know I've succeeded in that department. Collins got mad and threw handfuls of cheerios off of his highchair this morning - I know we still have much work to go in the discipline department with him.

Sometimes it's easy to know.

But sometimes, it's really hard to know what's sinking in and what's not.

And one of the things that's really very hard to measure is how much one's taste is being passed on -

And please don't get on your high horse about your children needing to develop their own tastes. Of course they do, but there must be guidance - you DO NOT want your kids thinking that 80's pop is the highest moment in our musical history, or that bad grammar is cute, or that sponge bob is funny.

Ada Brooks likes cats. I mean, I don't mind the little buggers, but she likes them as a potential design element. Her grandmother bought her a dress with a cat on it, and she will not take it off. I think this is a shame, but I haven't burned the dress.

So, sometimes I worry that my taste guidance, which is largely passive and entirely unorganized, is not being successful. Sometimes I fear she'll grow up to build a house and model it after Graceland.

And then, just when my fears are creeping into my conscious mind - just when she laughs at something entirely unfunny or picks the exact ugliest shirt on the rack - just then, God sends me a moment I can hold on to forever.

Just a few minutes ago, I looked down at my baby girl, in the middle of our lesson on subject-verb agreement (about which, obviously, I was enthusiastic). I noticed she was wearing pants I'd never seen before.

I said, "Ada Brooks - did you bring those jeans home with you from Grandma's?"
She said, "Yes mam"
I said, "Huh. Cool Beans."
She read the expression on my face. She knows me.
She said, "I know, Mama, and do you want to see the truly tackiest part?" and pointed to the zippered side-of-knee pocket with embroidered random colors above it.

She knows.

The taste is being absorbed.

She is listening.

It is working.

She gets it.

Of course, she's wearing them anyway. But, it could be worse. There could be a cat somewhere on them.

08 November 2010

Just to shock 'em.

My children ask to do a lot of things.

And I mostly say no.


Because some are ridiculous

No, you cannot climb up on the roof.
No, you cannot ride the friends' great dane.
No, you cannot see if you can jump from the piano to the living room loveseat.
No, darling, I'm sorry, but a mural is not quite what I want on the hallway wall.

Some are not ridiculous requests, but are just not good for them.

No, you cannot have a marshmallow for midmorning snack.
No, Eason, you my not have your own beer.
No, ada brooks, you cannot be in charge of slicing the potatoes.
No eason, you cannot pour the boiling water out of the teapot into my tea mug.

But, the ones I really hate to say no to are the ones that are not bad requests, but they are just bad timing.

No, I do not have time to make from-scratch hot chocolate right now - gotta get supper ready. (And that's one of your father's six dishes he can make, so let's let him do it soon).
No, we cannot go on a bike ride right now - Collins is asleep.
No, today is not a good day for the park - there are 14 unfolded loads of laundry.
No, you cannot use yellow duck tape to make a hop scotch court in the hallway, because well, it's pretty much never a good time for that.
No, I cannot read you that (fourth) book right now - I have to do my lesson plans for tomorrow.

(Yes, that last one will just break your heart in to a billion pieces. I mean, most of the time, let's be honest, I just give in on that one. Because I'd rather stay up late doing lesson plans than ever turn down a reading of a book to my child. Ever.)

The kids are used to being told no. It's part of life, and it's good that they've learned that early.

But, I also really like that they are spunky enough that they haven't quit asking. They still ask for candy in the grocery store check out, even though I'm pretty sure I've never said yes. Ever.

This morning, during a spelling lesson, Ada Brooks said, "hey mama - can we make some jello?" And Eason said, 'yeah -that's a good idea - let's make jello."

And I said yes.

Sometimes you have to say yes, just to shock 'em.

Ada Brooks said, "Really? Seriously?" (Maybe I'm more boring than I thought....)

And so, curmudgeon, practical me just took 20 minutes out of my action-packed, homeschooling, pot-roast-making, blogpost-writing, Thanksgiving-menu-planning Monday morning to make not one, but two batches of jello.

Lime and Black Cherry.

The last time I said yes to something like this was when we were in the grocery store six months ago and they asked to buy the packets of jello.

Saying no is normal.

Saying yes is fun.

(And please note the obvious. If you say yes all of the time, then it becomes no fun.)

Splash them in there every so often, just to keep 'em guessing.

And, you know, to thrill their little souls. Because that is the best privilege of being a parent. Thrilling their souls.

Thick and Rich as Melted Chocolate Bars

I was walking through Mistletoe Marketplace with one of my favorite people the other day.

I spotted yet another blasted Elf of the Shelf. You may read about it here. There are hundreds of thousands? Millions? of these in American homes. It has won Toy awards. It has been featured on Regis & Kelly, for goodness sakes. And in Southern Living.

The world is coming to an end.

I leaned over to my friend and said, "Grr.... the Elf on the Shelf."

She nodded knowingly.

And about half an hour later, still in the midst of thousands of misanthropic holiday shoppers, she leaned over to me, and said, "Hey - wonder what we could actually do to crusade against the heretical little b**tard?"

Actually, she clearly did not call him such vile things. And she probably never would. But if she was prone to such ugly words, she'd use them on this guy.

And so would I. And I am almost positive that my curmudgeon, scrooge-esque attitude will frustrate some. Anger some. Make many, many folks shake their heads.

But, I plunge ahead anyway. Mainly so that when my children read this blog - you know - when I let them - you know - when they're of legal drinking age - they will know why they should revolt against this seemingly sweet, so completely American holiday tradition.

Because that is what the blasted thing threatens to be come - a godforsaken tradition.

The Elf on the Shelf.

The people who invented this guy seem perfectly wonderful people.
Many sweet, fun, kind people have these things.
Many people who love and uphold the Nicene Creed have these things.
Many people who are generally honest with their children have these things.
Many people I really like have these things.

But all of that is bull butter, and they are all mistaken.


Well, I'm so glad you asked.
(And there is no need to point out that you didn't ask)

The principle behind the Elf on the Shelf is this:

Santa makes a list, checks it twice, finds out who is naughty and nice. Right?

How does he do that, Mama?

Well, this little elf here, that I've placed on our shelf, and who magically moves every night to a different spot, well he watches you all the time, and reports back to Santa and tells him whether or not you little people are being good and following the rules.

At any other time of year, it would be clear that this involves blasphemy, heresy and unhealthy parenting.

Think about it:

If I kept a statue of a wood-nymph on my mantle and told the kids that I had no idea how he moved from the mantle to the piano over night, and that he was reporting back to the forest princess about their behavior, the conservative Christian right winged folks would condemn because of the fact that I'm investing something with 'powers' that is clearly an idol and a false god. And the liberal, social worker type would condemn the behavior because I'd be using fear to control my children and lying to them.

Big Brother is watching you, little one.
Or wood nymph.
Or little tiny red pajamed elf.
Or whatever.

It is all the same thing.

But, the position in response - the position held by all of these kind, sweet, creed-and-Jesus-loving, almost-always-else-sane folks - is this:

"But it's for the Christmas magic!"

And I get that. I get that it is not intended as wood-nymph worship on the one hand - or fear mongering on the other. It is intended, like many a myth, to add mystery. It is the same reason we go snipe hunting, tell ghost stories, visit Disney World.
It is all in good fun, you say. It adds the magic.

Well, here is the deal.
I believe in stories. I believe in them fiercely. I fight for the rights of fiction. I'd march on Washington if they tried to take away my myths.

When I met my husband, he was significantly more well-informed than I - why? - because he read non-fiction (and most of it good stuff) like it was going out of style. But, his spirit was weak and afflicted. He didn't have the magic in him - the magic at which the elf is trying to get. Because he didn't know stories. He didn't read fiction.

We, like many people God brings together, helped each other. He got me a subscription to the Economist, and I put John Irving in his hands.

And of course, the children have helped him. He reads to them each night. And he doesn't read them Time Magazine, though I do catch him with Ada on his lap, spouting facts about trees or planets or woodworking or electricity. But usually not; usually, he is filling their heads (and consequently his) with stories.

And of course I'm filling the same heads with stories all the day long. I'm not just teaching about the Roman Empire, but also reading them the myths about Venus. I'm not just teaching them about Victorian England, but also am reading child-adaptations of Dickens. Ada Bee is learning about the American Civil War - and reading (age appropriate) stories of people in battle, and one day, in 10 years or so, I'll get to hand her Cold Mountain and tell her it is the very best story about that time.

And we'll watch Charlie Brown's Christmas and the Grinch.

I fill the lives, heads and souls of my children with fiction. It should be thus filled.

But they know that it's fiction.

And that is the crux. Surrounding your children with Christmas magic - with all year magic - is very much bound up in surrounding them with fiction. (And don't leave yourself out. Get out your Dickens - you will feel more Christmas-y if you actually fill your head, and consequently your soul, with the stories of Christmas).

My children love a good story. But, Eason doesn't think that the Runaway Bunny actually said to his mother that he was going to join the circus.

But that does not ruin the magic. That is still a cherished story at our house.

Stories are a grand thing.
Lying not so much.

If you are a Jewish or Christian person, and you tell your children that the elf on the shelf is watching them, then you are a) lying to them and b) speaking heresy. You are. I promise. Really. It is heretical to believe that there is 'magical' power outside of God. The elf would either have to be an angel or a demon. Pro-elf-on-shelf-folks: Is it sent by God? The devil? No? Then it does not have any magical, spiritual-realm powers. There is no such thing, in orthodox Christianity, nor to my knowledge in orthodox Judaism, as 'magic' apart from the powers of God and Satan.

If you are an atheistic/agnostic secular humanist materialistic person, and you tell your children that the elf on the shelf is watching them, you are contradicting your own belief system, and providing the roots of belief in the irrational, supernatural. (I personally very much do believe in the supernatural, but if you don't want your children believing in God, you sure as heck don't want to plant the seed with the Elf. Wouldn't you rather them believe in the creative, redemptive Trinity?)

Every Christmas, my children and I read The Polar Express - with vigor. It is a great, sweet, magical story, and it has beautiful illustrations. It was read to me as a child in front of the fire. I have magical, nostalgia filled tears in my eyes during many of its readings here.

It is one of the things I have the hardest time holding off until the beginning of Advent each year. Yes, I want to go get it right now.

And the kids love it. Don't you want to ride on a train that mysteriously pulls up to your door and has 'hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars'?

I do. Heavens.

When Bee was three, she leaned over to me and said, "I mean, Mama, you know, trains actually don't run in front of houses, but I like it" (Yes, verbatim. When your children say things like that, you write them down. Or gmail them to yourself for future searchability.)

Trains don't appear on Christmas Eve. Bunnies don't talk. Wardrobes don't lead to other worlds.

She knows it's a story. And embraces the magic in the story. The very point of The Polar Express is in embracing the magic of the Christmas season. And you should.

Christ is coming. Hang your mistletoe (and kiss your date under it). Decorate the trees. Put Pandora on the Rockin' Holidays mixed station. Get your cinnamon and cloves simmer pot going on the stove.

Do it.

You don't need to have the lies to have the magic. Trust me. Come to my house. Truth and Magic are existing together just fine.

And if you have an elf - let him sit there. Just remember, only God can see into the heart.

In the Westminster children's catechism, it says, "Does God know all things?"

And the answer, "Yes. Nothing can be hid from God."

But, pretty much everything can be hidden from a wooden toy.

06 November 2010

Food 11/5 through 11/14

I buy onions by the 10lb bag at Sam's, and I've yet to have one go bad before I used it.... =)

Friday (1 onion): I tried a new cannelloni recipe. It was filled with ground beef, ground sausage and spinach (among other smaller, less important ingredients), and topped with a besciamella and a tomato sauce. I thought it had great flavor, though it was a giant pain in my patootie.

I also did a blue cheese, bacon and garlic hot dip appetizer, which, if I do say so myself, was amazing. I also did an artichoke and roasted pepper pizza appetizer which I'd give about a B-

Saturday (1 onion): Burgers on the grill for supper! And spinach au gratin. Two of my favorite things!

Sunday (2 onions): Shrimp Creole for lunch; grilled cheeses for supper.

Monday(1 onion): My mother's brisket, mashed taters, carrots.

Tuesday(2 onions): Chicken Enchiladas (We were supposed to have these this past week, but my mother decided she wanted a pot of chili, so she made one, and so I used the chicken for paninis, and used the tortillas for kids' lunches, and the rest of the ingredients would keep. So now I'm making them this week)

Wednesday: Church. Maybe I'll have an onion for lunch.

Thursday: We leave for a conference in Florida on this day. We'll grab lunch on the road (or I'll pack us something), and then a friend with whom we're sharing a house at the conference is making us supper. I just ran through the restaurant establishments in my head of places we might go to grab fast lunch. And what I'd order at each. 1/4 - 1/2 of an onion, though it won't be from my pantry.

Friday (2 yellow onions, 24 green onions): We're in charge of lunch and supper. For lunch, I'm going to take down some black bean soup that I'll whip up one day this week and put in the freezer or fridge depending on how late in the week it is. For supper, we'll have pasta with cream sauce and shrimp - one of my absolute favorite recipes.

Saturday(1 onion): Another couple is feeding us lunch, and we're doing a potluck italian feast for supper. I'm contributing the lasagna. For the kids, I'm doing 'ravioli lasagna' - which involves stacking frozen ravioli and layering it with jarred pasta sauce. But for the grownups, I'm doing spicy spinach and cheese ravioli, but I think I'm going to use the left over italian sausage to beef (or pork) up the sauce.

Sunday: We'll grab lunch on the road back home or eat with Paul's parents in Hattiesburg, depending on timing. For supper, some friends of ours are bringing supper to us - it'll be a surprise!

Monday - well, I will wake up on Monday and be super frustrated that my meal planning is off, so i'll have to go to the grocery store, but... that'll be okay, right? right? right?

Because I'll still have a few onions left in my bag.

03 November 2010

Mama... What does heaven taste like?

George MacDonald, the Scottish theologian and author, once described heaven as "the regions where there is only life, and therefore all that is not music is silence"

C.S. Lewis used this quote in The Screwtape Letters to launch a discussion about Noise.

This is something constantly apparent in my life: That noise is from the devil. Music and silence are from heaven, but noise is from the devil.

Bickering, incoherent television - think Inspector Gadget, the crashing down of yet another lego tower, the jumping from one bed to another (and they're bunk beds), the one-footed roller skating up and down the hall (although that results in much fewer falls than 2 footed roller skating, i imagine), the constant opening and closing of doors, and on and on and on.

There is a lot of music, too. One child reading to another, a marker moving quietly across a page, a baby laughing, an onion sizzling in hot olive oil, wine hitting the bottom of the glass, husband saying my name.

But the noise. Whew the noise.

I have no idea - and neither do you - what heaven sounds like. But we can be confident there is no noise - only music and silence, as George MacDonald put it.

Well, George could hear heaven.

And I can taste it.

As with many, many things in my life, nostalgia is a big part of it.

When I was young, I suffered from many sore throats. And many times, my mother would run to Swensen's and get me a pint of cheese soup. And on Saturdays in 6th and 7th grade - when every tiny bit of independence was like the freedom of your freshman year in college - my best girlfriends and I would get dropped off in the Swensen's parking lot - go to Eckerd's and buy cheap fingernail polish, to Video Library to pick out a movie, and then to Swensen's for lunch.

And every time. Without fail. I got a tuna melt and cheese soup. Half a sandwich and a cup of soup.

It remains what I would pick as my forever meal if I could do so.

Well, when I started cooking, I would every now and again try cheese soup recipes.

And I could never even approximate the flavor and texture of Swensen's masterpiece.

I tried all sorts of methods, all sorts of ingredients. It wasn't a quest - I really didn't imagine that I would ever succeed - it was more of recurring lark.

And then one day I was nursing a three week old baby, perusing the internet with reckless abandon, and realized that my friend Jessica had a blog! With recipes! And one of the titles of the recipes was "Swensen's Cheese Soup."

Of course I didn't believe it.

And then I looked a the list of ingredients, and I started to believe it.

Because only super processed, non-food items could really make something taste as good - and as nostalgia inducing - as Swensen's cheese soup.

I've been making it about once every six weeks since then. I'd do it more, but then we'd be fat(ter). Paul asks for it regularly, and I always pair it with yummy paninis and a green salad or fresh veggie (last night it was sauteed green beans).

Thank you to Jessica White!

I've tinkered with a bit, but just barely... =)

In 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, saute:

5-8 green onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
0-2 stalks of celery chopped.

After the veggies are good and soft, add
6 cups of chicken broth
3 cans of cream of chicken soup. Stir until the soup is blended with the broth.

Stir in 16 ounces of Velveeta.

Yes, that's right. Cream of Chicken soup and Velveeta are the primary ingredients in this soup.
Don't think about it.
Don't talk about it.
Just drink in the joy.

Heat until the Velveeta has completely melted and been incorporated.
Do not. I repeat. Do not. Allow it to boil. It will curdle, separate, and your daughter will make fun of you.

Add freshly ground pepper to taste.

Do not salt.

And if you want to throw some fresh green onions or chives on the top, I won't stop you. But, even if it will make it taste better, just know that it betrays the processedness of it.

Ann Lowrey

01 November 2010

Baby, It don't matter if you're black or white

I have vivid memories of that Michael Jackson song being played at the skating rink when I was small - and me not understanding it AT ALL. By small, I mean around 8 years old. I really had no idea, I don't think.

A few months ago, I got together with some girlfriends for a recipe swap. We started talking about cookbooks we have come to love.

One of my favorite people with whom to cook and talk food, my dear friend Calen said that she found this particular cookbook to be really great. It's called The Ultimate Southern Living cookbook. Well, Calen is a great cook and very discriminating with her praise, so when she says something is great, I say "Where do I get it?"
I googled. Some seller on Amazon had it for 3 dollars.
I purchased.
A 3 dollar cookbook that your almost-as-snobby-as-you-are friend says is great is a pretty dern good deal.

And then, last week, this friend and I were going to make two pots of chili. She was doing traditional, and I was going to do a white bean. I asked her if she knew of a good one, and she once again pointed me to this book.

The recipe in the book is a chicken and white bean chili, but we were on the prowl for a vegetarian option, so I knew I had to mess with it a bit.

Both of our chili selections were hits, if I do say so myself on behalf of both of us, and so I offer this recipe here for

Michael Jackson Chili

Soak, at least overnight, up to 24 hours,
1 lb of Great Northern Beans

Chop finely
2 medium onions and saute them in
1 T of hot olive oil
over medium high heat for 5-10 minutes, until tender.

2 7oz cans of chopped green chiles,
6 cloves garlic minced,
2 1/2 t ground cumin,
1 1/2 t ground oregano.

Cook two minutes, stirring constantly.

6 cups of chicken broth
(or veggie broth - depending on the strictness of any vegetarian guests - if you do veggie broth, you may want to up all seasonings a bit.)

[A note on chicken broth: Don't buy the canned stuff. It's always a waste of money, often over salted and under flavored, and sometimes gives a hint of a metallic taste. Either make your own (I know...I know...but it is true greatness, and I do it sometimes), or just buy decent bullion cubes and make it up. Although it's no higher quality than the canned variety, it is fresher tasting, never metallic, and so very much cheaper. Buy a giant thing of bullion cubes at Sam's, or if you are not lucky enough to hold a Sam's club membership, call me, and I'll get a giant thing for you. It's what I use for every ounce of chicken broth save the rare and precious homemade variety that I do bring myself to making about once every four months or so]

Anyway. Add the broth. And the soaked beans. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 2-3 hours until beans are tender, stirring occasionally.

After simmered thoroughly, add
5 cups black beans
(either soaked and cooked until tender or canned, drained and rinsed thoroughly - I used 2 large cans of black beans, and it was a good amount - I forget the exact ounces on the cans, but I'd like to say 22...).

2 cups freshly grated Monterey Jack cheese
. Yes, I did just instruct freshly grating, but I've started doing it to most of my cheese, and it really, really does make a difference. It melts into perfection so much better, and if you just start doing it, it begins to feel like much less of a burden after just a couple of weeks - just becomes part of your normal prep process.

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt,
1/3 cup cilantro.

Simmer until heated through.

Serve with any or all of these optional toppings:

Red onion chopped
Corn chips
More Monterrey Jack
Sharp Cheddar
Green Onions chopped
More Cilantro