Monday, July 30, 2012

Made it to Maine!

We survived.  I survived.  Lots of posts to tell you all about our (crazy, as usual) trip are coming your way.

Stay tuned!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pioneer Woman: Calzones

Here's my take on calzones:  99% of the time when I have an opportunity for a calzone, I'll pass in favor of the pizza.  It's not that I don't like calzones, especially if they have some creative fillings -- but it's just that when I'm in a situation to order one, I'm also in a situation to order pizza, and I'm almost always up for a good slice of pie!  

Trivia: difference between a calzone and stromboli?  Generally speaking, calzones are cheese-filled and stromboli are meat-filled.  But that's really up to who makes them and what the place considers their rule, and I've had some delicious meat-filled calzones in my day.  Also, calzones have the sauce on the side, and stromboli have the sauce on the inside, like an inside-out pizza.  The biggest difference, at least in a NY pizzeria, is that stromboli are rolled instead of folded.  Either way, you're talking about a pizza-esque sandwich concoction and you can't really go wrong! The easiest way to decide which one you want is to look at the available fillings and decide which matches your hunger the best!

Anyway, I was excited to try this recipe precisely because I never order calzones, despite the fact that I really do enjoy them!  It was also a perfectly-timed recipe to help us use some of our freezer contents before we move.   We almost always have Italian sausage in the freezer, and that would not go bad on a drive to, say, MAINE, but we also had pizza dough, and that would be a big, proofed, risen-dough mess!  

PW:  Calzones

Verdict:  Not bad!  The filling was very yummy and I kept eating it before I filled the calzones!
Make it again:  Yes, and next time as the recipe describes.
Cost factor:  $10-$15 ish?  We used pantry ingredients, but to start from scratch it would be about $10 for the dough and sausage, and another $5 for the ricotta and other cheeses.

This recipe is probably in the genre of what the Food Network would call semi-homemade.  The real recipe calls for using "whole frozen, unrisen dinner rolls," which is a nice shortcut to making your own dough.    Since we made these only a few days before our cross-country move, though, I took the opportunity to use some freezer items and consequently didn't match the ingredients precisely.  For example, I used the Publix pizza dough we'd had in our freezer.  We let it proof for a few hours, but forgot to take it out of the bag, so we didn't get too much "rise" from it.  Whoops. 

Trouble was, that meant that it was incredibly difficult to roll.  And I'm not sure if that's because it was pizza dough versus the dinner rolls, or because I forgot to take it out of the bag.  In any event, here it is, cut into sections -- if you don't already know this, the more you work with dough, the harder it is to work with until it's effectively trash.  So I took the "not-really-proofed" dough and cut it into sections with one cut per section. It was a fun geometry exercise to get the sections relatively equal.  But the rolling?  Well, not so good, boss.

We had Italian sausage in our fridge, and although we had the bricks of parmesan, that will keep quite well on our trip, but we also almost always have frozen bags of shredded cheese.  So again, I used a bag of Kraft "Italian Five Cheese Blend" which has mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, romano, and asiago cheeses.  That, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, some onions and the sausage all get mixed together and although the photo was pretty icky looking, the filling was delicious enough to eat with a spoon.  Which I did.  A lot.  (Also, because we made ALL the sausage we had in the package, but didn't have a lot of dough to go with it, we had a lot of extra filling.  We saved what we didn't use and then heated it and put it on sandwiches -- holy cheesy sausagey deliciousness, batman.  I would make the filling again just to make sandwiches with it again.  Really.)

They sure look ugly, don't they?  And I even threw one dough section out, it was so over-worked and un-rollable!

In any event, you stuff your calzones, brush them with egg, and bake them about 10 minutes.

And you get these!

OKay, okay, they still look ugly.  I know.

Despite appearances, it really turned out to be not a bad dinner at all.  It was also insanely easy to put together, and the perfect kind of meal for those evenings when your time is either split (so you can make the sausage mix earlier in the day and roll the calzones later), or precious (you know, like when you're packing a house to move across the country and you're dreadfully far behind and staring down a deadline!).

The pizza dough was a little too thick -- which we suspected would happen after our proofing/rolling deal -- but they were tasty served with a simple jar of "emergency" sauce we opened and heated up.  (We typically make our own sauce but always -- ALWAYS -- have jars of sauce on hand for pasta emergencies!)  But they didn't suffer at all for the cheat on the cheese, and I might do the same thing again in the future, just because it was so easy.

This was a good pick, and we're definitely going to make it again -- with the correct ingredients and correct technique, next time!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why can't lunch just be lunch?

I'm going to Chick-fil-A for lunch today.  And I'm taking the kids and Mick.  So I suppose we, as a family, are going to Chick-fil-A for lunch today.

Taken from  Right-clicked on Tuesday, July 24.
And it's not a political statement.  It's a statement that I like their chicken and their customer service, and my kids do, too. 

I also happen to support their right to make donations however they see fit, just as I may make donations however I see fit.  There has been a mess in the media and on Facebook lately, and now conspiracy theorists are running rampant about the fact that CFA pulled their kids' meals toys last Wednesday in anticipation that Henson Productions was going to release their statement about CFA's political donations -- and severing their partnership -- last Friday. 

I can't and won't fight the conspiracy theorists.

So, I suppose I lied to you.  I am going to Chick-fil-A today for a few reasons.

1.  I quite enjoy their chicken.

2.  I promised my kids.

3.  We won't be able to easily get Chick-fil-A, nevermind on a whim as we do so often do now, as of Friday.

4.  I support Chick-fil-A's right to make donations as they see fit, within the confines of the law.

5.  I am angry, quite frankly, that Chick-fil-A is being attacked for having a belief and sticking to it.  Their donation to a conservative group is, in fact, no different from any other donation to any other conservative group, or -- dare I say it -- liberal group.  But because that group IS, in fact, conservative, and lobbies against legislation to legalize gay marriage, Chick-fil-A has been demonized.  I don't really have an opinion on gay marriage.  But I do have an opinion on Chick-fil-A's rights, which is to say that they ought to be just as free as anyone else to exercise their rights to make donations as our political system permits.  Just as importantly, if a particular group disagrees with Chick-fil-A's opinion, well, that group is free to exercise its own rights in efforts to at least balance the scales, if not tip them to their side.  That's how our political system works, folks.  It's a democratic republic.  We, the people, have a voice.   If you don't like something, use your voice. Don't demonize a company because it has exercised that same right. 

But today, it's just about the chicken.  I am hungry, and I plan to "eat Mor."


p.s.   If you plan to leave comments that are ugly, please know that this is MY blog and I will remove them.  That's not to make any discussion one-sided; that's because I'm happy to engage in an intelligent discourse, but the bottom line is that if you're new to this blog and itchin' for a soapbox, you've come to the wrong place and you need to seek a forum elsewhere.  I wrote this post to vent, and not to provide a forum for political debate.  I have no intention to provide a forum for political debate, or to turn this blog into a political blog.

If you'd like to have an adult conversation, you're welcome to comment, but know that I am about conversation-ed out on this issue, and I may take some time to reply.  This isn't the hill I want to die on, but I've been pretty upset about this issue, and I need a break. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pioneer Woman: Cherry Limeade

Totally not something we'd typically drink, but I was absolutely game for it.  (Actually, I wanted to make the adult version, but had no one to really sit and sip with -- it's packing time over here so there's not much time to sit and sip, and Mick's not a big fruity-drink kinda guy.)


PW Cherry Limeade

Verdict:  Yummy!  Definitely a nice summer treat, and with a little carbonation to differentiate it.
Make it again: Probably.
Cost factor:  Not bad, as drinks go.  A jar of cherries was the biggest expense.  But it did contain stuff we had to shop for specifically.

OKay.  So the other day in the midst of all our moving and packing chaos, Mick and I took the kids with us to the grocery store.  I told him I wanted/needed to go to Publix.  Now, Mick and I disagree on which Publix is best.  When I shop by myself, I go to my Publix.  It's bigger.  It has a better selection.  Most importantly, I know where stuff is, so I can shop efficiently.  But Mick was driving, and he missed the turn to my Publix, so we went to his.  Grrrr.

This recipe calls for one cup of fresh lime juice, and a 2-liter bottle of lemon-lime soda.  We don't typically drink soda -- or at least, at home.  (I know.  I practically have an IV of Pepsi at times.  But I drink only from cans, and only in spurts.  And Mick, despite his ability to drink 8443549235731 cups of Diet Coke whenever we sit down at a restaurant, doesn't keep DC at home.)  So, we're typically soda-less.  I like Sprite and 7-Up, but we just don't drink it.  I know, I know.  We're weird like that.  Trust me, it's not a health thing.  See earlier Pepsi reference and -- if you know me in real life -- the sweet tea that is attached to me at all times!

All that is to say, we didn't have a soda preference.  7-Up was on sale, so we went with The Uncola.  Mmmmm. 

Problem was, the "bad" Publix didn't have much going on by way of limes.  No, really.  This has been a theme of ours lately, entire stores not having what we need!

This was the only lime in the store, according to Mick.

Being ever-brilliant, my sweet husband did the next best thing, and grabbed a "squeezy bottle" of lime.

 BUT ... dum dum dummmmmm, I didn't pay attention to how much juice it yielded, and if you've ever shopped with Mick you know not to make too many vague "please run and get" requests, or he gets frustrated.  (Much like my future brother-in-law, who, one time in Alabama was asked by Courtney to run to Publix to "get potato salad."  Not knowing which flavor to get, he came back with five pounds of potato salad.  One of each. Just in case.  Totally something Mick would do -- and which he's done with other stuff, but not nearly as funnily!)

Well, don'tcha know that instead of getting the full cup of lime juice, we only got 2/3 of a cup!

Aw, no worries. The recipe called for one cup of lime juice, one cup of sugar and one two-liter bottle of soda.  It was easy enough to break out this bad boy to measure the sugar.

I didn't even have to think "fractions," which actually made me sad, because -- well, because I am me, really -- I quite enjoy manipulating recipes and having to work with bizarre fractions!

Back on track.  I approximated the soda, and used the entire jar of cherries minus the two or five that I may have eaten before I put them in the canister.  I won't tell. And then, I may or may not have said, "oh, who cares" and dumped in the rest of the soda, too.  So we might have been low on lime juice, high on soda.  I can't say it seemed to matter.

I didn't have a fancy pitcher or container at the ready, so I broke out this one -- one I purchased on clearance to turn into a bubbles dispenser for the kids.  (We hadn't yet put it to that use, though.)  Anyway, I bought a red bubbles jug, so you can't really see the pretty color of the limeade.

You'd think with all the beers I've poured in my life that I'd have remembered to pour the soda down the side of the jug.  Nope.  Just a modest bit of head on this!
The addition of the cherries and the lime slices toned that foam right down, and I am happy to say that the limeade was yummy!  The kids, who love all things sweet but don't drink soda, didn't really care for it -- CAM drank a few sips and said it was good, but didn't come back for any more.  I'm thinking it was the carbonation that did her in.  
Mmmm.  No fruit made it into my glass, but this was cold and delicious!
(Wow, my glass looks filthy!  I promise it was clean and film-free!)

PW Version:
Note the pretty serving jar!
Our final product:
Ah, much better with the bubbles all gone!
I'd say it was a success, and I'll add this advice:

Next time:  vodka.


Facebook "Discussions"


Why must I remind myself every six months or so that political discussions on Facebook are inevitably (and almost invariably) a fool's game?!  They regress, almost without question, to personal or ad hominem attacks.  

Somehow yesterday, I managed to get into not one, but two "discussions."  One managed to remain civilized, and had an enjoyable and intellectual banter among a decent-sized group.  I actually learned something, even if my opinion wasn't swayed.  The other discussion was much smaller and has one guy still out there batting in the rain when the ballpark lights are off, insisting on the last word, slinging personal attacks.  At me.

Shame on me for even playing ball at all.  I should know better.

Sigh.  Do any of you guys ever do this to yourself?  How do you not go crazy?!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder -- or Creator

Mick:  Wow, CAM, that's a beautiful rock pile you're making.
CAM (indiginantly):  I am not MAKING a ROCK pile.  I am MAKING a piece of ART!


CAM has a rock collection.  She doesn't call it her rock collection, though, just her COLLECTION.  We have a little tile-mosaic-topped table in a nook in our living room -- we got the table ages ago in the garden section of Target and used it in an old apartment years ago to drop keys and such on when we came in -- and it's become her COLLECTION table.  It's precious to her, and consequently, precious to us.  And we have rocks from everywhere we go ... If I am not aware that she took any, I often discover them when I take the laundry out of the washer and there's a little collection of rocks and pebbles on the bottom of the basin. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Better Mommy? Yeah, Right

I have been snapping at the kids lately.  A lot. More than I would like to do, ever, but since snapping here and there is a given for anyone other than June Cleaver, let's just say that the past few days I've been snapping more than I am comfortable with.  It's tough, though -- moving is quite the process, and every time we've moved in the past we've either been kid-free or had the luxury of two things:  other adults to help so there were more hands on deck, AND a relatively close move so that multiple trips, if necessary, were an easy and not unreasonable option.

Not so this time.

And it's so, so hard, because the kids are both old enough to want to play and be active, and gradually we are taking away more and more of their toys and "stuff." And on top of that, at the same time that our house is starting to have more open spaces as things are packed and stacked, the kids are losing more of their space to play.  Outside toys?  Gone.  CAM's room?  Gone.  WHM's room?  Mostly packed.  Kindermusik stuff?  Packed.  Playroom?  Packed and gone.  (Though we have given them a ton of crayons and free reign to color on the walls.  It's actually awesome, to see their mural and the story they have to go with it.  I have to get that on video before we leave.)  Space to play Strawberry Shortcakes and My Little Ponies and Thomas the Tank Engine?  A huge contradiction.  Because although there is, technically, more floor space, it's not for playing and leaving toys out!

So, it's tough.  And the kids are underfoot just wanting attention and time, and even though I try every day to do at least one fun thing -- cooking, a craft, a play date, what-have-you, and to pause at some point every evening and read together, I still am not as productive with the packing as I want to be.  Heck, as I need to be!  Yesterday I was trying to fold and sort laundry in order to pack clothes and reserve some stuff for the remaining two weeks that we're officially here, and all I wanted to do was fold and sort and pack and watch some tv while I did it.  In peace.  Nope.  And although I didn't lose my mind or anything, I felt like I was constantly fussing at the kids, and I hated it.

The stupid laundry issue took me a solid three days to get through.  It's ridiculous.  I'm finally done with it, and today we've got a play date and some serious errands, but when we get home I hope to pack the master closet once and for all, to check that off my list, and move on to some other major project that needs doing.

Anyway.  Thanks for reading.  If you've moved cross-country with kids and didn't hire a company, what did you do?  Was it easier for you?  Was there some magic you had to keep everyone happy and entertained?

And don't get me started on staying in bed at night.  Last night I actually had to threaten CAM to lock her in her room if she didn't GO TO BED AND STAY IN BED.  (Something I would never do, but which got the point across -- until she came downstairs and so sweetly told me that she figured out that the lock faces the inside and if I locked her in, she could still unlock it...)


Sweet Girl, and Tech-Centric Parents

Sometimes, some of the stuff CAM comes up with is so sweetly innocent.  Of course, it's also funny...

Yesterday she and I were upstairs doing laundry, and she came out with, "Mommy, I wish I had a boyfriend.  A SIX-year-old boyfriend, so he would be BIG and grown-up."

I didn't want to play the boyfriend thing up or down, so I just asked her why she wanted a boyfriend, and honestly, I have no idea where our conversation went from there.  The point is, we continued talking the way we'd been talking up to that point and didn't dwell on the boyfriend thing any more than anything else we'd talked about.

But then I wanted to tell Mick, because that little nugget was so funny.  And I thought it was one of those quotes that's funny enough to put on Facebook.  And I didn't want to holler down to Mick because I didn't want CAM to read anything into my response as to boyfriends being good, bad, or anything else.  So what did I do?

I put the quote on Facebook and sent Mick a text to check my status.

Hey, at least I didn't yell down to him!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Not the Healthiest Pinterest Dinner Ever

Every once in a while, we like to do "free apps" for dinner.  (If you've seen the movie Beautiful Girls, you might get this reference.  If not, first of all, you're missing out, and second of all, Beautiful Girls came out long before smart phones -- we're talking about appetizers.  Sorry for the confusion.)  

Anyway, we had no plans for dinner tonight and had bounced a few ideas around without any firm decision, and then I saw this recipe on Pinterest and sent Mick an email*:

"Not good for us, but good for our souls.  Dinner tonight?"

Then I went to Publix in a monsoon to get the smokies and bacon.  I risked my life for this meal.  (It was worth it.)

And then we ate.

My sister Courtney will be pleased to learn that we pretty much had our dream dinner tonight:  bacon** wrapped in bacon, drowned in butter and sugar, finished with Fudgsicles for dessert.

To explain:

Wrap lil smokies in bacon.  Each smokie takes 1/3 of a strip of bacon.

We like to dress up to cook around here. 
If you don't have time to freeze the bacon before you cut it in thirds, just use kitchen scissors to cut right through the package.  That's what I did, and it worked like a champ (and kept the bacon from sliding, or at least mostly).  You could also take the slab out, lay it on a cutting board, and cut it with a pizza cutter, but the scissors work just as well and you don't have to touch the bacon and get all slimy while you hold it in place for the pizza cutter. 

Lay them all in a baking pan.

Melt a stick of butter with one cup of brown sugar.

It's surprisingly viscous.  Kinda like melted caramel.   Sorry for the photo quality.  You know all those bloggers who say how hard it is to take a photo while you cook?  They're right.
Pour over your bacon-wrapped bacon smokies.

Sprinkle another cup of brown sugar over the top of everything.

Bake 20 minutes at 375, and then another 5 minutes at 400, or until the bacon crisps up.

They could have been crispier, but we weren't waiting any longer. 

Eat Fudgsicles.

Feel sorry for your sister who moved to Florida and didn't get to partake of this sinfully delicious dinner.


* Yes, I send my husband emails from my office to where he sits in the living room.  It's a whole ten steps!  TEN STEPS! And so much easier than saying, "Hey, Mick, would you come here for a sec please?"  Or, "Hey, Mick, how would you feel about bacon-wrapped-in bacon-and-then-drowned-in-butter-and-sugar for dinner?"  Nope.  Email.  And then I holler, "Hey, Mick!  Check your email!" 

**Okay, okay, so lil smokies aren't bacon.  Close enough.

A Study of WHM's Studies

Perhaps my favorite sequence of photos to date.  I had just finished tutoring and was sitting at my desk downloading photos from my camera.  WHM sat down and started "working," which gave me an opportunity to get my camera all set before he noticed what I was doing.  You can tell in the photos where he realizes I'm snapping away and not just playing with my camera.

Showing me his "W" he made.  It's a NUMbuhhhh.


I love Pinterest.  You'll see another Pinterest-related post in just a moment.

Check out this recipe, though:

1/3 cup Nutella
1 cup of milk

Mix with a whisk, freeze as pops.

Oh, yes, we have Mickey Mouse Ice Tups from Tupperware.  The kids love them!

Homemade Fudgsicles, and I kid you not, they are pretty darn awesome.

It's also a REALLY easy thing to make with the kids.  As long as the bowl is big enough to handle splashes, they can whisk to their hearts' content.

Wet hair and a boo-boo on her nose, but the pop made all well in the world.

To think I only just discovered the amazing joy that is Nutella a few months ago!  Where was this all my life?!  Chocolate on my toast?  YES, PLEASE!


Pioneer Woman: Honey-Plum-Soy Chicken

I picked this recipe.  I was so excited.  I mean, it sounds amazing -- slightly Asian flair, sweet and salty, and served over egg noodles.  Looked like it was right up my alley, so to speak.  And the cookbook description was very enticing.  So, let's get to the review.

PW: Honey-Plum-Soy Chicken

Verdict:  Good, but not amazing.  And potentially too salty.
Make it again: With modifications, for sure.
Cost Factor:  A little on the pricey side.  The biggest items are the bottle of wine, the jar of plum preserves, and the bottle of soy sauce.  And fresh plums.  Otherwise, the chicken and other stuff are inexpensive and we usually have them on hand, anyway.  (And in summer, we often enough have plums, too.)

Cell phone photo, sorry.

First of all, a warning:  If you are making this, buy the low-sodium soy sauce.  I must admit that I had some reservations about this recipe precisely over this issue, since I generally find Kikkoman and other store-bought soy sauces to be overly salty. (My favorite is the packets we get with take-out, and incidentally they are each exactly a tablespoon, so if you're ever in a pinch for soy sauce you can use those.  Unfortunately, this recipe called for 20 ounces, which meant an entire bottle a handful of packets wouldn't cut it.  Despite our incredible leftover-sauce collection, that still would have exhausted my supply. And my fingers, with all that tearing!)

Since I had to use 20 ounces of soy sauce and only the regular-style came in a 20-ounce bottle (and the others came in awkward volumes not easily doubled or what-have-you to get to 20 ounces), I had to decide what to do.  I truly stood there for a moment thinking about whether I really needed 30 ounces of soy sauce and wanted to have to measure it, or if the regular one would do it.  In the end, decided that since the recipe didn't specify low-sodium soy sauce, I'd just do regular.


This recipe was really easy and the end result was really good, but I can't lie to you, folks:  it was too salty.  Salty enough that it upset Mick's stomach and gave the kids "the toots."

So, how did it all come together, and what else can I tell you?

First of all, look at that photo up top.  Wouldn't you be enticed by it, too?  I'm not disappointed in this pick, just reaffirmed in my previous belief that if I need to use store-bought soy-sauce, use low-sodium.

Sheesh, have I mentioned that enough?!  Low sodium.  Got it. Move along, Jen, moooove along...

Second, this is a really good recipe if you've got some stuff to do in the afternoon but can periodically check in and out.  You can get the marinade going, step away for a while, come back to chop and brown, and then step away for a few hours.  Once you've got all the ingredients going and ready to simmer, you can leave it virtually as long as you want, and I'd say probably two hours at a minimum.  That worked out well, because I had my very last busy tutoring day on Tuesday, and in the first break I was able to put the chicken in marinade and then come back at breaks to do the other steps.  Then it just cooked while I tutored and dinner was ready when I was done. NICE!

Note:  the recipe calls for plum preserves, and Mick and I were in Kroger and could only find jam.  We went with that rather than trying to hunt down preserves.  I have no idea if it made a difference.  The difference between jam and preserves generally is how much fruit "chunk" you have. (Jam tends to have less chunks and preserves more chunks, but the two names are often used interchangably. It's not as remarkable a distinction as jelly to preserves.  Aren't you glad you didn't ask?!  And yes, I had to look that up.  You're welcome.)

You also need a cup of honey and 20 ounces of soy sauce. You knew about the soy sauce, though.

And you need to chop up some fresh plums.  That's tricky, yo.  I ended up slicing around and twisting them as though they were avocados and then cutting around the pit.  Hint: firmer plums work best for this method.  The mushed parts are where I tried to remove the pit; the nice slices are where I carefully sliced around the pit.  I have no idea if this matters.  I suppose it matters if you want a pretty picture!

You marinate the chicken in two cups of red wine with some bay leaves.  That made for an icky Dexter-ish photo, so I am sparing you.

When the marinating is done (it takes about an hour), you brown the chicken and then throw in some garlic, more wine, and the soy sauce mixture -- soy sauce, plum preserves, and a cup of honey.  Top it off with the chopped plums.

Then you simmer for a while and when you think the chicken's about falling off the bone, you're done.

Your whole house will smell amazing.

Serve over egg noodles with the pan juices as a sauce.

Beware:  our whole house STILL smelled of this the next morning!  This dish was very yummy, and I would have no qualms about making it again, but I won't make it for guests until I master the saltiness.  It bordered just on the inedible.  We all ate all our dinner, but we pitched the leftovers, if that helps you judge.

Three July PW meals down, all of them successes, and only two still to go.  It's a good month!


Monday, July 16, 2012

I may have a problem...

... I am blogging like a madwoman tonight!

You can tell I clearly have too much to do, and this is what I am choosing to do instead. 

Anyway.  Emergency alert for those in my cooking club who are making the Honey-Plum-Soy Chicken:  USE LOW SODIUM SOY SAUCE!!!  This is good -- and I will post at length tomorrow -- but save yourselves and use low-sodium.  Otherwise it actually borders on too salty.

Yes, I said it.  Too salty.

You've been warned!


Really, Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania has some strange and funny town names. 

Who names these places, anyway?

And why, of all things, do these two towns share a sign?


Fourth of July

It rained. 

We didn't do much.

I was struggling with the move, and fighting what apparently were some nasty mid-summer allergies.   I was feeling awful both mentally and physically. 

So, I made this.

I told Mick to stand next to it so Courtney could see how big it was -- I was sending her a picture mail of the wreath. This is his pose for Courtney. 
As Bob said, it was therapy.  It was actually easy to make, fun to make, and everyone loved it!

I need to go back and adjust some of the stripes, but it was fun and easy -- and by the end of the day, we were at least a little festive.  (And it wasn't just because of the Sudafed!)

I hope everyone had a good holiday! 



Remember when I got to go to the Michael's stores' big-spender Mod Podge event

I got some cool stuff to play with, including some "Podgeable Shapes," which are plastic medallions you can turn into just about anything.

I knew right away what I wanted to do with them, but I didn't want to pay full price for an atlas (sheesh, have you priced an atlas lately?  I was not paying that just to cut it to shreds, and I have a LOT of projects that need an atlas that I can cut to shreds.)

That last paragraph took me about a dozen takes.  I apparently can not type the word "atlas" without automatically hitting shift and typing, "Atlanta." Every time.  Even just there.  I have to stop (which is crazy, because I type about 100 words per minute, and I am not joking), focus on the keyboard, and specifically type a-t-l-a-s.

When we were in Maine last week we found -- naturally -- a treasure hunt store, and had to check it out.  And I found not just one, but TWO atlases!

So, what do you think?!

These are the Podgeable shapes mod-podged with atlas cut-outs of places that are special to us.

Here's what I did/you can do:
  • First, wait about a month until you find an atlas at Goodwill.  ;)
  • Trace each shape around the part of the map you want to highlight.  
  • Then, cut out the map part -- try to go just a hair smaller than what you traced, if you can.
  • Apply some ModPodge to the map (I used high-gloss, but it really doesn't matter), and stick the map to the medallion.  
  • Smooth the map to the medallion to eliminate any bubbles or wrinkles, and let them dry overnight (map side up).  
  • If you didn't trim the shapes quite as nicely as you meant to, do what I did:  the next day, I went around the outside of each shape with an x-acto knife just to make sure there wasn't any overhang (you can see in the top left one that I took this photo before I did that).  
That's it!   Easy peasy!

We turned them into, as CAM calls them, mag-nuts.  I like them because they are so personal to us.  I'm sure the collection will continue to grow, too!

I especially like this project because they don't look like "oh, a kitschy Mod-Podge project," which so many things end up turning into.


Miss Fancy-Pants Car Doesn't Have a KEY ...

Really.  I apparently drive a fancy-pants car, and no, it doesn't have a "key" in the traditional sense. 

Consequently, when we parked at  Hobby Lobby last week, my kids asked about the car next to ours, "Mommy, what's THIS thing?"

Poor kids.  It was roughly 100% humidity, and I snapped this photo.  They were HOT.

Don't worry, though:  I showed them the KEY to Mick's truck.

But windows that roll up?  Well, we're not going to worry about that one yet.


Pioneer Woman: Best Macaroni Salad Ever

Let's be honest, folks.  Pioneer Woman sometimes overstates stuff ... just a little.

We've tried a handful of "best-ever" stuff and amazing stuff, and although most of them have been successful, I'm not sure we'd have always given them the same superlatives.

And on top of that, Jennifer over at Come Rain or Come Shine said she wasn't particularly thrilled by this one.

And I'm from NY and I am p-i-c-k-y about macaroni salad.

Eh. Wasn't boding well. 

Throw all that negativity out the window!!

This stuff really is the best macaroni salad ever.  Ree and I are in complete cosmic agreement about how to balance vinegar and mayo, and how much coverage there should be ... what needs to go in it ...

And oh, yes.  Mick and I are thrilled by the introduction of just a modest amount of kick.

This stuff is good, my friends, GOOD.

So.  The review.

PW: Best Macaroni Salad Ever

Verdict:  Indeed, it may well be.  Especially with some of our little twists.
Make it again: Heck to the yes!
Cost Factor:  Not bad.  We did have to shop for it as a specific recipe, so scallions, pimentos, etc., but that's normal for mac salad generally, or at least in this house.

I wish I had taken more photos, but I didn't.  As CAM would say, (and point your finger as you say this), "Sorry 'bout that!"

In any event, there are a few things happening here.

First, the ingredients:

Elbows, pimentos or roasted red peppers (we went with pimentos because I didn't feel like chopping, I knew we'd use the entire little jar as opposed to having a giant jar of red peppers to have to schlep on our move, and because I wanted the saltiness -- whoops, these are pimentos in a jar, not pimentos from olives, dummy), mayo, milk, salt and pepper, scallions, black olives, and spicy/sweet pickles.

In Jennifer's review, she mentioned she used Wickles.  I think I've seen her refer to them before.  I had to buy fabric at WalMart (yes, WalMart -- it was the only stinkin' place to have the kind I was searching for, which is frustrating because then you can't use a coupon), and of all things, I knew that if I was going to find these around here, I'd have a better shot at WalMart than at Kroger or Publix.  Yes, believe it or not, if you want quirky regional stuff, WalMart tends to carry it -- certainly with more likelihood than the regular grocery stores, and we don't live even remotely convenient to a specialty store.  Sure enough, WalMart had them.

Wow, that was a crazy paragraph.

Second, Wickles may be the best thing ever.

We're going to be buying a case of these before we leave for Maine, I can assure you.

And I especially love the story.  It gives me hope.

Okay, okay. Lots of tangents today.  I'm typing this in tiny breaks as I tutor, and you can tell, can't you?!

Now, this is also a slight tangent, but it's worth mentioning:  as I was making this yesterday, I thought to myself how I really don't tend to rate macaroni salads.  I've had some dang amazing potato salads in my day (sadly, my all-time favorite was served at a restaurant in Tuscaloosa that just closed its doors for good two weeks ago), stuff that stays in my memory as "remember the potato salad from ...," but in my little world to date, there's no such phenomenon for macaroni salad.  Mac salad just doesn't tend to wow me.  And I don't mean that cynically -- I've just never encountered one good enough to think "Oh.  Oh, my.  I need this recipe."  I guess it's kind-of like carpet.  You notice it, some is nicer than others, but you don't go around thinking, "you know, the nicest carpet EVER was at ..." So I wasn't sure what to expect with this one, but didn't have high expectations because I just didn't expect it to be on the list of things I rank.  I rank pedicures and birthdays and roller coasters and grocery stores, and even pasta salads, but I don't know that I would ever rank a macaroni salad.  So to call it "best ever" really made me wonder if there was some mojo magic going on.  Does that make any sense at all?

Third thing.  The recipe actually does something a little strange.  It says to make the dressing and then only to use 3/4 of it; the rest is to save for later in case you decide you want more, and otherwise to pitch the extra.  (We used 3/4 of it, and a few hours later I did decide to add the rest.  But I have a theory about this.  I think that however much dressing you add to macaroni salad initially will all get absorbed and you'll go back and think it's dry.  But if you only add part of your dressing and then go back and add the rest after that first dose has had time to absorb into the macaroni, your "extra" dressing actually does get to stay on top.  It works, I promise.)

And finally, the last time we made a macaroni salad recipe from PW, I was careless and cooked -- and used -- the entire box of macaroni when the recipe only called for about four cups.  That was dumb, dumb, dumb, and our salad was dry, dry, dry and bland, bland, bland!  This time I still made the entire pound of macaroni, but when it was done, I scooped four cups of cooked pasta and saved the rest for the kids.  (Actually, Dad, if you're reading this -- I drowned the rest in butter.  Drowned.  And it was delicious!)*

Back on track...

We made this.  We chilled this. Mick and I are the only two people in the house who would eat this, and it's gone.  It was ready around dinnertime last night, and it's now lunchtime today and there is not a bite left.

Not a single bite.

Look at this gigantic bowl of macaroni salad.  Mick and I devoured in in less than a day.

*My dad loves elbow macaroni drowned in butter, served with pan-fried hamburgers.  Maybe it's the city kid in him, growing up in Queens without a grill at his disposal?  Anyway, it's a family favorite and it is both simple and divine.  Simply divine!

PW: Knock You Naked Brownies

I am realizing now as I type this that I never told you guys all about our July recipes!

Is it okay if I am lazy and don't do all that right now?  How about if I just tell you that FIRST OF ALL, this was our month to pick again, and then, (B) we picked TWO things?!*

One of those things was ...


I can't attest to the knocking of people naked, but I can see how these brownies paired with some alcohol might well have that effect.

Holy moly, these are scrum-diddly-icious!

See for yourself:

Enough.  Let me tell you all about how this came together.

Pioneer Woman: Knock You Naked Brownies

Verdict: Very yummy, and very rich.  You can get a lot of bang for your buck with these.
Cook it again: Absolutely.
Cost Factor:  Caramels and cake mix and evaporated milk -- $5 or $6 total?

Years ago, I made a caramel brownie recipe that I recall being very good but very tedious -- and not just for opening the caramels, but also for some of the steps.  Although the brownies were delicious, I never did make them again.  I was excited to try the PW recipe not just because we picked it, but because it's a layered brownie and I've never made those before.  I also, despite this crazy heatwave, have been craving something to bake and this satisfied that.

These are very, very easy to make, and require just a few ingredients.  A box of German chocolate cake mix, a can of evaporated milk, a bag of caramels, and some butter and chocolate chips.  We typically have all but the caramels and cake mix on hand. Oh, and pecans, but those are skippable. 

Note-- the recipe calls for 60 caramels.  The Kraft big bag comes with 50.  We said, "good enough," and even ate a few and it was still perfectly fine.

You take the cake mix and melt the butter and mix them together.

While you're doing that, you have caramel-peeler helpers.  Oh, how much less tedious this recipe is when you have eager little chefs!

She doesn't look happy, but it was about having her picture taken, not about helping.

Your little helpers can also take a meat pounder to a bag of pecans.  Chopped, schmopped.  I prefer smashed.  So did they.

The batter is very thick -- too thick for little hands to help mix, really.  (I'd actually say it's just shy of being a dough.)  You divide it in two and pat half of it down in the brownie pan, and then bake that for long enough for it to set -- about ten minutes.

While it's in the oven, your little helpers have nothing to do, and you, in the meantime, get to stand at the stove and melt the caramels with the evaporated milk.  I found this surprisingly soothing.  I was all alone, standing at the stove, just stirring, and I really think I could have fallen asleep doing it!

I own two double boilers and still managed to forget to use one.  Yesterday was a bad brain day.  I sewed not one, not two, but three separate things backwards, (that's a lot of seam-ripping tedium), forgot my double boilers, made waffles for breakfast and left out an entire ingredient, and generally messed up anything I could mess up.  Oh well.  Thankfully, I didn't burn the caramels.
 Also, you need to take what remains of the batter and press it flat into a shape slightly smaller than your brownie pan.  I did this on waxed paper on the counter and then washed my hands with Thomas soap.  It played a song for me -- the Thomas theme song -- when I pumped it.  This step is not necessary, but it is a nice little bonus.

Then, when the brownies are set and the caramels are all melted, you pour the caramel mixture over the brownie layer, top that with chocolate chips, and then carefully rest the remaining brownie mix -- the part you've formed into a square on a sheet of waxed paper -- on top, and bake the whole concoction.   This would have been a place for the helpers to jump back in, but they were upstairs playing and didn't care to come back down.

laying that second layer back down is actually a little tricky.  Mick and I did it together and kind-of rolled the batter/dough thing into the pan, and it worked okay -- but we definitely almost dropped it. 
 Here's the hard part.  Your house will smell AMAZING.  But you can't eat these yet.

First, they have to cool to room temperature.

Then, they have to chill in the fridge for a few hours, enough to cool the gooey insides enough to actually be able to cut them.  We chilled ours overnight and might have eaten brownies for breakfast.

In fact, they are so good, I'm posting the final product here again for your admiration.

They really are delicious, and absolutely easy enough to do again and again.  I cut these straight out of the fridge this morning -- it was a bit difficult to get that first row cut and out of the pan, but I fought the battle -- and they were still solid enough to cut into tiny squares.  I said earlier you can get a lot of bang for your buck because you could literally cut these into 1/2 inch bite-size pieces and serve them with toothpicks on a cute tray, and they are so rich and sinful that no one would feel cheated.  In fact, that may be my next "bring a dessert" thing next time we have a party!

 *"First of all, and then B..." is and old joke around here, and I'm including it in today's post to make a few folks smile.