What’s for supper? Vol. 349: Take that, Fürst-Pückler

Happy Friday!  Today I am knee-deep in Dalekanium. This week, we had our big anniversary party (our anniversary is Oct. 25, but we had a party on the 15th), and now I’m buckling the heck down with Halloween costumes. First I managed to get incredibly sick for 24 hours, but I’m working my way past that now and made some progress on Dalek Sec:

This may look primitive to you, but I think my budget is roughly the same as what the BBC had to work with in 1963, so it’s fine. 

This is for Corrie. Last year, she was Duck from Sarah and Duck, and Benny was Sarah. 

Benny is a little fed up with being civil and well-behaved, and this year she’s going as Classic Green Goblin. More on that later!

So this week, we kinda front-loaded all the good food, and then I collapsed like a bunch of broccoli. We did not, however, have any broccoli. I just don’t like it very much, except one time when I was litle, my father took us to to a Japanese restaurant in New York City, and I didn’t know what to get, so they picked a tempura dish for me, and there was a single piece of each thing. I shall never forget that tempura broccoli.

Here’s what we did have: 

Aldi pizza

Saturday I was busy cracking the whip, forcing my poor beleaguered children to do foolish things like sweep the hallway and clean under the couch cushions even though the guests might not even look under the couch cushions. 

On Saturday I made two kinds of ice cream, the panna cotta, and the suppli.

I was planning pistachio ice cream, and I followed this recipe, which is a copy cat Ben and Jerry’s recipe. I only made one teeny error: I uh bought cashews instead of pistachios. In my defense, “cashew” has an “sh” in it, and “pistachio” has a “ch.” I honestly think that was what confused me. It doesn’t take much, on a good day, but on Saturday I had a migraine and I was more than half zombie. (Did I tell you I finally got a referral to a neurologist??)

My original plan, you see, was Neapolitan ice cream, which is supposed to be pistachio, vanilla, and strawberry, to kinda get the colors of the Italian flag, although AKSHULLY: “The first recorded recipe was created by head chef of the royal Prussian household Louis Ferdinand Jungius in 1839, who dedicated the recipe to Fürst Pückler. To this day, the German name for Neapolitan ice cream is Fürst-Pückler-Eis.”

Soo, I forged ahead with cashews. Take that, Fürst-Pückler. I added some almond extract and, at the last minute, threw in some white chocolate chips. 

The other ice cream I made on Saturday was chocolate, and I just followed the Ben and Jerry’s recipe from their Ice Cream book

Jump to Recipe

They actually have three chocolate ice cream recipes. This one uses both  unsweetened baker’s chocolate and cocoa powder. 

Then I made the panna cotta, and I made my second dopey move. I used this vanilla bean recipe, which I had made last time and it turned out so nice. So I infuse the cream, I make the special vanilla-rubbed sugar, I slowly bring the cream to the right temperature, I bloom the gelatin, I chill the cream, I’m going along, I’m going along, and I’m tasting it from time to time as one does, and every time I taste it, I think to myself, “Wow, it’s not very sweet, is it?” And every time, my entire response to this is, ” . . . . huh.” So I clear out the fridge and pour the panna cotta into styrofoam cups in muffin tins and close the door and feel very acccomplished, because that’s done . . . 

. . . and then I see the bowl of sugar, still sitting there. That’s why it wasn’t very sweet! Light dawns on blockhead. I was in quite a panic, because I didn’t know what could be done; but a Facebook friend clued me in that you can re-heat gelatin, as long as you do it gradually. So I put the sugar into the pot, added one or two of the cups of cream mixture and made a little slurry and heated that a tiny bit, and then slowly added and very slowly heated and stirred the rest of the cream back in, until the sugar was dissolved. Then I put it back in the cups and back in the fridge. Whew. 

Then the suppli!

Suppli, also sometimes called arancini, are breaded, deep-fried balls of risotto with a center of melted mozzarella. We ate them just about every day in Rome for lunch, where you could get them for 1,000 Lire (about a dollar) in 1995, which is when I spent a semester in Rome (Damien’s class was a couple years after mine). 

It’s a time-consuming recipe, but eminently worth it.

Jump to Recipe

I sprang for arborio rice, which I don’t always do, and the risotto came out so mild and creamy, I could weep. I let it chill, added egg, and then formed it into balls with little cubes of fresh mozzarella inside, then rolled them in panko crumbs. They sort of slumped because the risotto was so creamy; but I chilled them overnight and by the time it was time to fry them, they held together nicely. 

Then that was enough for one night. 

Antipasto platters, suppli, fettuccine and ragu, bread, ice cream, panna cotta with berries

Sunday Damien made the ragù using this amazing Deadspin recipe. It was heavy on the veal this time, and it was superb, as always. 

I started the other two kinds of ice cream in the morning: The cherry vanilla (just vanilla ice cream with maraschino cherries thrown in, plus some almond extract and a little of the syrup from the cherries), and the grape sorbet. I had frozen some grape mash from when we processed all those millions of Concord grapes and all week I have been trying to think of a joke for this picture, but I got nothing

Feel free, like if you want to show it to your doctor or something, I don’t know. 

Anyway I managed to make the grape sorbet and the cherry ice cream without incident, and stowed them in the freezer to firm up for evening. Then the only thing I had to still make was the bread. Easy! I can make bread!

Jump to Recipe

I decided four loaves would probably be enough, so I made a big batch of dough, and, because it was a little chilly in the kitchen, I turned on the oven for a few minutes, then turned it off and put the dough in there to rise. 

Then I forgot I had done so. 


I asked Damien

to preheat the oven for me,

so I could bake the bread. 

AND THAT IS NOT HOW YOU MAKE BREAD. I realized ten minutes into it what I had done, and it was definitely too late. The only good thing I could think was that this was the third idiotic thing I had done (first the cashew pistachio ice cream, then the sugarless panna cotta, and now the half-baked bowl of dough), and three is the magic number, so surely I was done being stupid! 

I had a tiny little bit of stupidity left in me, though, so I thought, “Well, as long as I have this dough, it couldn’t hurt to try baking it and see what happens.” So I clawed out the part that was still dough-like and made it into balls and baked it like rolls. 

When I say “like” rolls, I mean . . . well . . . 

In my defense, that’s about what I expected. And I did throw them away! Didn’t even feed them to the ducks. 

By this time, it was starting to smell pretty great in the house because of the ragù, and it was time to sit down and have some fun making antipasto trays. I don’t even know what-all I got. Just this and that, some cured meats and olives and fresh and pickled vegetables and various cheeses. 

and breadsticks, and a bunch of grapes and clementines

and I made a bunch of bruschetta out of store-bought bread, and all the kids came and brought more bread just for eating, and they brought flowers, too.

The suppli fried up REAL nice (I think I ended up with about 30) 

Our friends Sarah, Tiffany, and Theresa came and we all got to just sit around and eat and talk and laugh and it was so nice. 

Oh, and the panna cotta turned out fine! Everyone liked it. I meant to macerate the berries, but I forgot, so I just threw them on top, and it was great. 

So, happy almost anniversary to us. I wish I had gotten more pictures!

As long as I’m going on and on and on, I might as well tell you about my patio chairs. I got them FREE on the side of the road, and then I found cushions at Walmart on clearance, and don’t they look nice?



Leftover pasta and ragu

Monday, naturally, we had tons of leftover food, so I bought some more pasta on the way home and we had ragù again, which no one was mad about, believe me. It’s so good. 

Aldi pizza again

Tuesday was when I had to admit I wasn’t just tired after the party, I was really sick. I dropped Corrie off at school and realized I wasn’t in any shape to drive home, so I parked in the school lot and fell asleep in the car for forty minutes, then crept home and slept most of the next 24 hours. Damien got pizza and managed everything else.

Rotisserie chicken, salad, and leftover antipasto

Wednesday I felt half human, so I just napped a bit and then picked up some rotisserie chickens and cut them up, and pulled the rest of the leftover antipasto elements out of the fridge

and I had a nice little girl dinner 

Do you see how thick they cut the prosciutto, though? I forgot about this. I wasn’t watching, and they cut it like ham! I was so annoyed. I had been planning to make some kind of prosciutto-wrapped fruit slices for the party, but when I opened the package, it was impossible. Oh well. Pickled vegetables make everything better. 

Burgers and chips

Thursday I was like, oops, the person who is me has still not gone shopping this week; so I got some hamburger meat, and we had burgers. 

Look at me, I had sugar snap peas instead of chips. I’m kind of furious at how slowly I’m losing weight, but it is coming off. Slowly. (Don’t ask me how I can eat panna cotta and prosciutto and still be furious about how slowly I’m losing weight. I just can, okay?) 

I have no idea. Noooooo idea. I don’t even know what food is. I should have saved those rolls. 

I would seriously rather eat those than come up with something new for nine people to eat. Take that, Fürst-Pückler.

Oh, you know what? I never said, but the cashew white chocolate ice cream was really good. I may make it on purpose sometime.


Suppli (or Arancini)

Breaded, deep fried balls of risotto with a center of melted mozzarella. 
Make the risotto first and leave time to refrigerate the suppli before deep frying. 


  • 12 cups chicken stock
  • 8 + 8 Tbs butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 4 cups raw rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese

To make suppli out of the risotto:

  • risotto
  • 1 beaten egg FOR EACH CUP OF RISOTTO
  • bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs
  • plenty of oil for frying
  • mozzarella in one-inch cubes (I use about a pound of cheese per 24 suppli)


  1. Makes enough risotto for 24+ suppli the size of goose eggs.

    Set chicken stock to simmer in a pot.

    In a large pan, melt 8 Tbs. of the butter, and cook onions slowly until soft but not brown.

    Stir in raw rice and cook 7-8 minutes or more, stirring, until the grains glisten and are opaque.

    Pour in the wine and boil until wine is absorbed.

    Add 4 cups of simmering stock and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the liquid is almost absorbed.

    Add 4 more cups of stock and cook until absorbed.

    If the rice is not tender by this point, keep adding cups of stock until it is tender. You really want the rice to expand and become creamy.

    When rice is done, gently stir in the other 8 Tbs of butter and the grated cheese with a fork.

  2. This risotto is wonderful to eat on its own, but if you want to make suppli out of it, read on!


    Beat the eggs and gently mix them into the risotto.

    Scoop up about 1/4 cup risotto mixture. Press a cube of mozzarella. Top with another 1/4 cup scoop of risotto. Roll and form an egg shape with your hands.

    Roll and coat each risotto ball in bread crumbs and lay in pan to refrigerate. 

    Chill for at least an hour to make the balls hold together when you fry them.

    Put enough oil in pan to submerge the suppli. Heat slowly until it's bubbling nicely, but not so hot that it's smoking. It's the right temperature when little bubbles form on a wooden spoon submerged in the oil. 

    Preheat the oven if you are making a large batch, and put a paper-lined pan in the oven.

    Carefully lower suppli into the oil. Don't crowd them! Just do a few at a time. Let them fry for a few minutes and gently dislodge them from the bottom. Turn once if necessary. They should be golden brown all over. 

    Carefully remove the suppli from the oil with a slotted spoon and eat immediately, or keep them warm in the oven. 


Jerry's Chocolate Ice Cream

This is the more textured chocolate ice cream from the Ben and Jerry's ice cream recipe book. It has a rich, dusky chocolate flavor and texture. Makes 2 quarts. This recipe requires some chill time before you put the cream mixture into the machine.


  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 cups milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups heavy or whipping cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Melt the unsweetened chocolate. I used a double boiler, but you can use a microwave if you're careful. Whisk in the cocoa and continue heating until it's smooth. It's okay if it's clumpy. Continue heating and whisk in the milk gradually until it's all blended together. Remove from heat and let cool.

  2. In another bowl, whisk, the eggs until light and fluffy. Gradually whisk in the sugar and continue whisking until completely blended. Add in the cream and vanilla and continue whisking until blended.

  3. Add the chocolate mixture into the cream mixture and stir to blend. Cover and refrigerate for about three hours, or until it is cold.

  4. Use the cold mixture in your ice cream machine. I used my Cuisinart and let it churn for thirty minutes, then let it cure overnight.

French bread

Makes four long loaves. You can make the dough in one batch in a standard-sized standing mixer bowl if you are careful!

I have a hard time getting the water temperature right for yeast. One thing to know is if your water is too cool, the yeast will proof eventually; it will just take longer. So if you're nervous, err on the side of coolness.


  • 4-1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp active dry yeast
  • 5 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
  • 10-12 cups flour
  • butter for greasing the pan (can also use parchment paper) and for running over the hot bread (optional)
  • corn meal for sprinkling on pan (optional)


  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, put the warm water, and mix in the sugar and yeast until dissolved. Let stand at least five minutes until it foams a bit. If the water is too cool, it's okay; it will just take longer.

  2. Fit on the dough hook and add the salt, oil, and six of the cups of flour. Add the flour gradually, so it doesn't spurt all over the place. Mix and low and then medium speed. Gradually add more flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is smooth and comes away from the side of the bowl as you mix. It should be tender but not sticky.

  3. Lightly grease a bowl and put the dough ball in it. Cover with a damp towel or lightly cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until it's about double in size.

  4. Flour a working surface. Divide the dough into four balls. Taking one at a time, roll, pat, and/or stretch it out until it's a rough rectangle about 9x13" (a little bigger than a piece of looseleaf paper).

  5. Roll the long side of the dough up into a long cylinder and pinch the seam shut, and pinch the ends, so it stays rolled up. It doesn't have to be super tight, but you don't want a ton of air trapped in it.

  6. Butter some large pans. Sprinkle them with cornmeal if you like. You can also line them with parchment paper. Lay the loaves on the pans.

  7. Cover them with damp cloths or plastic wrap again and set to rise in a warm place again, until they come close to double in size. Preheat the oven to 375.

  8. Give each loaf several deep, diagonal slashes with a sharp knife. This will allow the loaves to rise without exploding. Put the pans in the oven and throw some ice cubes in the bottom of the oven, or spray some water in with a mister, and close the oven quickly, to give the bread a nice crust.

  9. Bake 25 minutes or more until the crust is golden. One pan may need to bake a few minutes longer.

  10. Run some butter over the crust of the hot bread if you like, to make it shiny and even yummier.

At a certain point, all you can do is provide a space

When my kids were little and we were house hunting, the one thing I promised them was that we would find a house where we could hook up a hose. The place we’d been renting before had no hose spigot, and even though we went to the pool and the beach, I always felt like an important part of their childhood was missing.

So we found a house, and we did hook up a hose and filled up a little wading pool. The kids loved it, and they loved the sprinkler I set up and the little water slide we had on the grassy slope. They spent a lot of time out there every summer, gleefully playing as all kids play in a small amount of water.

One month we found ourselves with all our bills paid and a little leftover money, so we splurged on something else I’d always wanted for my kids: A wooden play structure. It had swings and a slide and a climbing net and a little tower with a wheel, and they had endless active time and pretend games, swarming up and down and on and over it; and as they grew, they nailed things to it and painted it and switched out swings and made it more and more their own.

Kids growing up

Several years passed, the kids were getting older, and I again found myself looking for something to make our yard richer for them, more exciting and entertaining, and something to draw them outside and keep them active. We got a trampoline, the biggest one we could find, and it was wonderful. Kids of all ages could use it, from the toddler who got bopped up and down like a piece of popcorn when the other kids jumped, to the teenagers who needed to work off some angst and frustration with a furious solo jumping session in the evening.

The other day, I looked in the shed, hunting for some pruning shears, and I saw so many toys that no one has played with in years. Bikes with silly little miniature wheels. A beloved backyard ride-on roller coaster that we took apart and brought with us in move after move but that hasn’t been assembled for a while. There’s a red and blue playhouse, once in constant, hot demand, and now it’s faded with the sun and occupied only by blackberry brambles and a few spiders.

It’s the same on the porch, and in the attic. So many roller skates and stilts and baseball gloves and bow and arrow sets, games and activities that I gathered and brought home for my kids to try to make them happy, to make them healthy, to make them into well-rounded people who could do a lot of things and knew how to enjoy themselves, and were strong and determined and capable. I wanted our home to be the place they would want to be, and the place they’d want to bring their friends to, so I constantly worked hard to fill their life with everything rich I could manage, and I constantly encouraged them to use them. Sometimes I even insisted they use them.

Have I mentioned that my children are growing up? 

Read the rest of my latest for Our Sunday Visitor.

What’s for supper? Vol. 334: Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high

Happy summer! This is the week that always starts to feel like real summer to me, because the big family party is over and we get going on all the other stuff we haven’t quite had time for, mainly lounging around, eating ice pops, and watching Buffy

I didn’t get a WFS out last week, because of all the running around, so the quick version is: I don’t remember. Probably really easy, fast, boring stuff; except one day we had 

Kielbasa, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes sheet pan dinner with honey mustard sauce

I have stopped consulting a recipe for this meal.  (Here is one if you want, though! Jump to Recipe

I had three ropes of kielbasa cut into chunks, three pounds of Brussels sprouts halved, and probably three pounds of potato wedges with the skin on, tossed with salt and pepper and olive oil and spread on a sheet pan, and I cooked them at 425 for about 20 minutes. I mixed up a sauce from a bunch of dijon mustard, honey, balsamic vinegar or maybe wine vinegar, and pepper, kosher salt, and crushed garlic, then drizzled the sauce on the food

and stirred it up, and slid it back in the oven for another maybe 10-15 minutes until it was a little browned.

Sorry, not really a recipe, but you can just make it according to your taste and then cook it until it looks done. 

I used to make this meal with wedges of cabbage, but the kids vastly prefer Brussels sprouts. I also used to make it with the sauce to dip, but now I do the “cook, then add sauce and finish cooking” thing, and it comes out flavorful and keeps everything from drying out. Great summer meal, easy and hearty. 

And another day we had

Taijin chicken with scallions, mango, hot pretzels

This was supposed to be a NYT recipe, buuut I forgot to buy oranges, and you’re supposed to add orange zest and juice. So instead, I looked around furtively, opened a can of mandarin oranges, smushed up the contents, and dumped it into the sauce. 

The original recipe calls for 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sea salt, 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup orange juice, 1 tsp orange zest, 3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and 1/4 cup adobo sauce, 6 garlic cloves, 2 Tbs. olive oil, and 1 Tbsp Taijin, which is the ingredient that caught my attention in the first place, but which we turned out to have two almost-empty bottles of, along with only a small can of chipotle chiles and only a little honey.

I also broiled this in the oven, rather than grilling it; so it was basically a Ship of Theseus recipe at this point.

But honestly, it still tasted fine. Kinda citrusy, quite spicy. If you like the taste of Taijin, you will like this chicken. It didn’t knock my socks off, but it was easy and tasty.

(I threw in some scallions, as directed, but those didn’t fare very well under the broiler, and weren’t terribly appealing.) For sides, I cut up a bunch of mangoes and served the hot pretzels I was too tired to cook the other day.

A decent if slightly weird meal.

Independence Day Party!

I spent most of last week scurrying around finishing the infamous patio, (which I am sitting on right now, and let me tell you, it is birdy and lovely)

and getting all the other stuff ready for the party, knowing all along that it was going to rain all day. I did have the option to change the party to Saturday, which was supposed to be sunny and hot, but not everyone could make it. Argh!

Eventually I decided it made more sense to have a family party with rain and all the family, then a family party with sun and lots of people missing. It was a good choice! It did rain quite a bit, but we had two canopies and a tarp, 

and my sister brought another giant tarp which two of my brothers-in-law set up like a giant tent. 

Easy for me to say it was the right choice, since I didn’t have to drive home long distance in soggy clothes, but it seemed like everyone had a nice time. I love my family and I’m so glad we get together like this every year. I didn’t put up my father’s monstrous (in size, I mean) American flag, because of the rain, and we forgot to read the Declaration of Independence, but it was still a very good party.

Glow sticks, snappers, sparklers, fireworks, shiny necklaces, and the dog got bossed around by so many little girls, which is his heart’s desire.

Our July 4th menu is not very exotic; we go for volume, rather than novelty. Damien cooked hamburgers and hot dogs, veggie burgers and tofu dogs, and three racks of pork ribs

Jump to Recipe

This year, in addition to the rub he usually puts on them before smoking, he sprayed them with cider vinegar as they cooked. They were done a long time after the rest of the food,

which actually worked out great, because it had gotten a little chilly by then, and we were all ready for a second course, and it was pretty great to sit by the fire gobbling up sizzling, tender ribs

I made potato salad and bought I think 18 bags of chips, and made several big platters of raw veggies. My brother’s BF also brought some delicious spicy peanut noodles, which everyone loved. We had watermelon, which we shared with the ducks, and for dessert, the traditional red and blue Jello cups with Kool Whip

as well as ice cream cups and brownies, which Benny made.

And then candy after the fireworks, to ease the pain of the party winding down. 

Bunch more photos here if you want to take a look.


Monday we were all smooshed into a paste of exhaustion, so I cooked the leftover hot dogs and set out some cold ribs and that was perfect. The town fireworks we were planning to go to got rained out and postponed until July 28, to my great relief. 


Tuesday we went with some friends to The Caterpillar Lab, which we’ve been meaning to do forever. If you’re anywhere in Southwest NH and looking for a way to spend an hour or two, this is an excellent little free visit, fascinating and educational for kids and adults.

We saw amazing things unfolding right before our eyes, on the counter at eye level, and also magnified on a big screen; and the staff was very chill and well-informed and ready to answer questions and chat about what we were seeing. There were lots of things for the kids to touch, and I liked how it was set up in a beautiful way, including a long wooden table set with decorative bottles, each holding a green branch with a different kind of caterpillar living on it, with an informational card on the table. Sort of reminiscent of a Victorian curiosity cabinet, but with things you could handle. A very pleasant and exciting way to spend a rainy morning. 

(I actually have a bit of a moth and butterfly phobia, which I have been working on, but there was nothing flapping around being horrible and out of control, so the experience was well within my tolerance zone. Very different from a butterfly garden, for instance, which is a nightmare for me.) 

Then we came home and played Forbidden Island, which I reviewed here.

Damien bought more meat and cooked more burgers.

We ate late and they were absolutely scrumptious. Definitely starting to get that vacation feel. 

Aldi pizza

Wednesday Benny hosted a tea party, with animal crackers topped with Kool Whip, hot dog ends on toothpicks, and candy, and of course tea

and then we went to the library, and Damien brought home Aldi pizzas. Then I went on the library website and looked up their actual policies, and discovered that, newp, I’m not imagining it, the librarian is actually being a jerk to our family and possibly breaking the law. So we’ll see about that. Humph. (This is why, don’t talk to me about “ohhh, if only WXMYN could be in power, THEN we would see an end to all this terrible CORRUPTION! You give women a teensy tiny bit of power and they will find a way to abuse it. Which is not to say that women shouldn’t have power! Just don’t expect it to magically fix corruption.)

Italian sandwiches

Thursday it was HOT HOT HOT (for New Hampshire), so I finally broke down and put in the air conditioner

Then I couldn’t put off shopping any longer, so I got some sandwich ingredients, and then when I got my other work done, I took four of the kids to the town pond, ahhh.

They swam for a while, and played Parco Molo, and then we had Italian sandwiches, cherries, and cheezy weezies. 

What a lovely spot it is. I opened my Merlin app and it picked up something like twenty different birds. I did some actual reading from an actual book (The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, who is so unkind to some of his characters), and wow has my life gotten easier than it used to be. 

Fish tacos

Moe and his lovely GF and I think Dora are coming by for dinner, and we’re having fish tacos (just frozen batter fried fish fillets) on tortillas with shredded cabbage, sour cream, limes, salsa, and I guess guacamole.

Jump to Recipe

Am I forgetting something? Maybe I will make some lime crema. 

Jump to Recipe

I started some ice cream this morning, but it was so hot in the kitchen, the first batch (made with that Neopolitan trail mix from Aldi) didn’t freeze properly, so I turned on the AC and I’m currently making the second batch (strawberry with a little lime) in the cooler room. 

The ducks are frolicking in the sprinkler

the birds are singing, lots of things are blooming, I’m sitting in the shade in my own yard for the first time ever, and if this ain’t the life, I don’t know what is!


sugar smoked ribs

the proportions are flexible here. You can adjust the sugar rub to make it more or less spicy or sweet. Just pile tons of everything on and give it puh-lenty of time to smoke.


  • rack pork ribs
  • yellow mustard
  • Coke
  • extra brown sugar

For the sugar rub:

  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp white pepper


  1. Coat the ribs in yellow mustard and cover them with sugar rub mixture

  2. Smoke at 225 for 3 hours

  3. Take ribs out, make a sort of envelope of tin foil and pour Coke and brown sugar over them. close up the envelope.

  4. Return ribs to smoker and cook another 2 hours.

  5. Remove tinfoil and smoke another 45-min.

  6. Finish on grill to give it a char.


White Lady From NH's Guacamole


  • 4 avocados
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 limes juiced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, diced


  1. Peel avocados. Mash two and dice two. 

  2. Mix together with rest of ingredients and add seasonings.

  3. Cover tightly, as it becomes discolored quickly. 


Lime Crema

Keyword Budget Bytes, crema, lime, lime crema, sour cream, tacos


  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 3 limes zested and juiced
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt


  1. Mix all ingredients together. 

Recipe Notes

So good on tacos and tortilla chips Looking forward to having it on tortilla soup, enchiladas, MAYBE BAKED POTATOES, I DON'T EVEN KNOW.


One-pan kielbasa, cabbage, and red potato dinner with mustard sauce

This meal has all the fun and salt of a wiener cookout, but it's a tiny bit fancier, and you can legit eat it in the winter. 


  • 3-4 lbs kielbasa
  • 3-4 lbs red potatoes
  • 1-2 medium cabbages
  • (optional) parsley for garnish
  • salt and pepper and olive oil

mustard sauce (sorry, I make this different each time):

  • mustard
  • red wine if you like
  • honey
  • a little olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh garlic, crushed


  1. Preheat the oven to 400. 

    Whisk together the mustard dressing ingredients and set aside. Chop parsley (optional).

    Cut the kielbasa into thick coins and the potatoes into thick coins or small wedges. Mix them up with olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread them in a shallow pan. 

    Cut the cabbage into "steaks." Push the kielbasa and potatoes aside to make room to lay the cabbage down. Brush the cabbage with more olive oil and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. It should be a single layer of food, and not too crowded, so it will brown well. 

    Roast for 20 minutes, then turn the food as well as you can and roast for another 15 minutes.  

    Serve hot with dressing and parsley for a garnish. 

Ben and Jerry's Strawberry Ice Cream


For the strawberries

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

For the ice cream base

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy or whipping cream
  • 1 cup milk


  1. Hull and slice the strawberries. Mix them with the sugar and lemon juice, cover, and refrigerate for an hour.

Make the ice cream base:

  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs for two minutes until fluffy.

  2. Add in the sugar gradually and whisk another minute.

  3. Pour in the milk and cream and continue whisking to blend.

Put it together:

  1. Mash the strawberries well, or puree them in a food processor. Stir into the ice cream base.

  2. Add to your ice cream maker and follow the directions. (I use a Cuisinart ICE-20P1 and churn it for 30 minutes, then transfer the ice cream to a container, cover it, and put it in the freezer.)

How I made a brick patio in just three terrible months!

We just had our annual Independence Day family party, and it was lovely, despite the almost continuous rain. It’s a cookout party, and our house isn’t really big enough to host a crowd indoors, so we assembled our chairs and folding tables under two canopies and a tarp, and my sister brought a giant tarp which my two brothers-in-law turned into a serviceable tent.

AND, we had a patio! A brick patio that I’ve been working on since the beginning of April, hoping to get it done in time for the party. I finished the day before.

Here is what the yard looked like when I first started out.

I used to have some raised garden beds there, but moved them across the yard, and dumped the old tomato plants out of their buckets, and placed them to give me a general idea of where the patio would be.  

I took lots of pictures at every step because I didn’t want to be unpleasantly surprised with how it looked when it was finally done. Every time I made a decision about the design, I took pictures from every angle and stood in different spots in the yard and stared menacingly at it. I really wanted it to fit in the space in was in, and to look complete from every perspective.

That’s the part I did right.

The part I did wrong was . . . every other part. Now I’ll tell you about that! (Guys, this is LONG. Only keep reading if you like DIY stories with lots of pictures.) 

Building a brick patio in your yard is pretty straightforward. You have to dig down several inches all across the area you want to pave, and line the perimeter with some kind of durable edging to keep everything in place. Make the exposed earth level, compact it, lay down a weed barrier, lay down a layer of gravel and then a layer of sand, and then you can put down your bricks, keeping them level. Then you add more sand on top, sweep it in firmly (or maybe compact it again with a machine), and there it is. There are many websites and videos online that give you step-by-step details, but that’s the basic idea.

So back in April, I started collecting bricks. Bricks at Home Depot are about 74 cents each, and they’re made of concrete, which just doesn’t have a lot of character. 

They’re just big, red, friable biscuits in brick shape. The reason people like to reclaim used bricks is because the old ones are made of clay, and they look like they have seen some stuff.

And they feel good. Sometimes they’re almost silky smooth, and they hold warmth or coolness beautifully. They turn an incredible variety of colors — not only red, but pink and purple, orange, tan, white, green, yellow, blue, and black. Some of them are like little islands where you can imagine whole secret histories have taken place. Nothing like real brick. 

So Benny and I drove out to Templeton and bought a load from a guy who was remodeling his house for his in-laws to move in. I paid about 50 cents apiece for them, plus a lot of broken ones, which I thought I would need for design reasons. Loaded them up

brought them home, and trucked them into the backyard with a dolly.

But what would the patio look like? Pinterest, of course, has lots of ideas about patio shapes and brick patterns. I knew I didn’t want just a plain rectangle, because boooo, boring; but the space I wanted to cover was too irregular for a half-circle. So I tried this and that, and came up with some complex and incoherent designs.

I remember my father tiling the bathroom floor and coming up with a design which was very cool, but didn’t quite land in such a small space. It didn’t have enough room for you to see how the pattern actually worked. So I really wanted to get the proportions right. 

Eventually it dawned on me that the St. Joseph garden I was thinking of as a focal point could be re-oriented, and that could become a side garden, and I could put St. Joseph under the peach tree, and the patio could radiate out from that. Then it all fell into place, and I settled on a basic shape and orientation.

At this point, I took a little side trip and started collecting flat rocks from the stream which we are lucky enough to have in our back yard.

I wasn’t really sure if they would be all or part of the design, or if I was gonna have funky rock flowers in there, or if the whole perimeter would be rock, or what. But we sure do have a lot of rocks.

I collected a bunch and then paid a kid to bring them all into the yard for me, because I was starting to get pretty wheezy.

Then, surrounded by boxes of bricks, I finally started to dig. 

The ground slopes somewhat, and I thought I wouldn’t mind if the patio sloped a bit, too, as long as it did so at a constant rate. But you know, as I continued digging, and dumping the clods of earth into the broken wheelbarrow, and trucking them across the yard, and crumbling the soil away from the grassroots because I needed the dirt for my new garden and I freaking hate paying for dirt, I started to lose focus, somewhat, in this notion of how deeply I was supposed to dig, and where. I just kind of kept digging whenever I had time, and life kept chugging along, and it took a really long time and I changed my mind a few times about the shape of the thing, but I just kept digging. But was it level? Newp. 

I realized a little island of green would look nice around the peach tree, and would be very pretty inside a curve of brick, so I fenced off that area with dollar store fencing, and this helped me visualize the whole project. 

The next load of bricks I found was free. These were from a guy on Swiggey Brook Road who couldn’t stand NH winters anymore, and even though his backyard had one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous New England views I’ve ever seen, he said the only thing he would miss was the stately pink magnolia tree that sprawled all over his yard.

I had no idea how many bricks there would be, and there were SO MANY. These ones turned out to have holes in them, and are thicker than standard bricks. But SO MANY. I was by myself this time, and loaded and loaded and loaded bricks until either I or the Suburban was going to collapse like a bunch of broccoli

so I had to leave a hundred or so behind. Drove home, fishtailing like crazy, and Damien and I got those bricks unloaded into the driveway, praying I hadn’t wrecked the car’s suspension.

I can see by my camera roll that, at this stage, I was still taking screenshots from Pinterest and trying to figure out exactly what shape the patio would be. It finally clicked: A sort of . . . irregular half-octagon, with a long end and a curved chunk taken out of the middle side, and also another curve. You know, one of those! 

It had all the elements I wanted: Straight sides, so it would look orderly and wouldn’t be a nightmare to block out; but also not symmetrical, so it would work in the irregular space that it needed to fit in, and would have an organic feel; and with an interior design (rays coming out of a central spot) that was easy to grasp visually, and that would work no matter what size the patio actually turned out to be. (I am thinking of adding a path from the house to the patio in some future year, so I want to make sure it’s expandable.) I got some sticks and some string and mapped out the perimeter.

 I also wanted lights around the patio. I have always loved string lights, and had seen several pretty patios with wooden or metal uprights anchored in flower planters. Those half whiskey barrels are unreasonably expensive, and I didn’t want some cheap plastic thing that would fall apart, so I thought maybe I would knock together some simple wooden planters and build a wooden upright directly into the planter. (I always think I can just quickly knock something together, even though I truly cannot.) Or failing that, I could just buy some plastic buckets with lids, fill them with rocks, cut a hole in the lids, and jam some t-posts in there.

But then I realized a late spring storm had felled several young aspen trees

which would make very pretty uprights, and they were FREE. So I finished detaching them from their stumps and clipped off all but a few branches (Sonny helped with this part, to his immense delight), and set them aside to figure out later. 

And back to digging! I kept it up, a little here and a little there until finally I got the whole thing dug out. 

I used some of the sod to cover the spot where we had a bonfire a few years ago, and nothing has grown since; and it took root very well, and now that’s all green again.

I dug up a bunch of marbles, some kind of strange metal thing,

plus a toy car, an old chain with a fancy hook on the end, and a little white ceramic pig, which has since disappeared again. 

At this point, I had filled the buckets with soil and used duck bedding and planted them with seeds and some lily bulbs that were on clearance. Some of the seeds were marigold seeds I had saved from last year’s garden! First time I’ve ever managed to do that. 

I also decided that I definitely wanted a “ray” or “pie slice” kind of pattern radiating out from the statue, so I tied some strings to the peach tree and segmented the dirt up into wedges.

Then I started calling around for sand and gravel prices, and let me tell you, if you want a woman to buy your sand and gravel, the main thing to do is to not act like she is an idiot who is making you angry by calling you. I’m not kidding, the first guy who didn’t treat me like an absolute pustular moron was a winner. We discussed exactly what project I was doing, and what other people had ordered, and I ordered five tons of 3/8 inch crushed gravel and about the same amount of sand, both of which arrived right away.

Or, what arrived was . . . a bunch of dirt with rocks in it, which was apparently the gravel, and a bunch of dirty sand with smaller rocks in it, which was apparently the sand.

But it was already May 31, and there were now two large heaps in my driveway (and we have a LOT of cars needing spots), and I was still riding on the high of not being yelled at by a stranger on the phone, so I decided it was fine. It was cheap, I have to admit! 

So by this point, I had been dealing with some kind of mystery medical problem for several weeks, and had spent a considerable time at various doctor’s offices, or worrying about my next appointment, and the project had really stalled out, mostly because I was not sure if I was going to drop dead unexpectedly. My hope was to do this project more or less entirely on my own, but after the piles sat there for a while, I just went to the kids and totally played the Wheezing Mother Guilt Card, and got them to bring the gravel down to the back yard for me. 

Then it was really time to settle on material for a perimeter. I didn’t have enough stream stones to go around the edge, and the kids were already mad at me, so I decided pressurized wood was the way to go. We have a lot of scraps of it left over from various I-don’t-even-know-what, old swing sets and horseshoe pits and who knows what. So I pieced together enough to go all the way around the perimeter, everywhere where there wasn’t already rock.

I made an attempt to hold it in place with plastic anchoring stakes, with mixed success. 

So, this is where the integrity of the project really started to slip.

I can’t quite remember the sequence of events, but I think I rented a plate compactor from Home Depot (they didn’t have a Jumping Jack tool, and the other local rental place didn’t even pick up the phone) and compacted the soil, and then I had the kids spill the gravel (or “gravel”) onto the soil, and I made a long screed out of scrap wood 

This struck me as highly amusing, because the number of times I’ve seen “FISCHER PRODUCES ANOTHER LOATHSOME SCREED” is higher than you might think! So there I was, with another screed. Ho ho ho. 

Anyway, I spread the gravel out as evenly as I could, and then I compacted it again. It’s very hazy in my mind now. That machine was super fun to use, though. 

I’m not being sarcastic; it was very satisfying! 

BUT HEAVY. Good lord. Getting it back into the car to return it to Home Depot may be one of the least enjoyable things I have done this decade. 

Then I had all my nonsense in the emergency room and lost a bunch of time, and the dog ran over my lovely compacted soil repeatedly, and  sometimes it just be that way.

But eventually! Eventually I was able to get moving again, and this time I decided I would leave everyone alone and bring the sand down to the backyard myself. The wheelbarrow was now busted beyond repair, and I had to use plastic tubs and a dolly. This completely sucked and I totally understand why I made the kids do it last time. 

But you know I would rather die than admit something is too hard for me twice, so I got that effing sand. 

I came up with many idiotic and inefficient systems for getting the sand dumped evenly over the patio without rolling the dolly wheels over the compacted gravel and ruining the surface. All were in vain. All I can tell you is it sucked, and the ducks heard all about it. 

I kept thinking about how all the articles said you could make a patio in a weekend. I think you really could. If you have a normal person’s yard, and if you don’t have to do anything else at all, and if you can just buy exactly what you need, and if people will deliver your materials right to your work area, and nobody gets sick, and nobody’s mad at you, and people aren’t constantly graduating and having birthday parties and going to the hospital and climbing mountains and having concerts and planting gardens and raising ducklings and so on. But where’s the fun in that? Where’s the romance? Where’s the ha-cha-cha?

So I got the sand on the patio, and again employed my loathsome screed, and there we were. Ready to think about bricks again.

Actually, first I sorted my stones and made a little ring around the statue. 

Here you can see the segmenting strings in this photo. Guess how many times I tripped over them. Guess!

No, more than that! I hurt myself so many times in such comical ways these past few months. I stepped on a rake like an absolute cartoon character. I hit my same thumb with two different kinds of hammer. I accidentally dumped dirt on my own head numerous times. My toenails are purple and my fingertips look like a crime scene. I got sunburned and road rashed, bitten by ants and frightened by toads. BUT, I did not drop dead unexpectedly! Or even expectedly. 

And then it was time to make some design decisions. I was pretty sure I didn’t have enough bricks to do the whole thing yet, but I didn’t think I would be getting any more bricks with holes in them, so I figured I could get that part of it settled. I discovered I had enough hole bricks to make lines between the ray segments, and also all the way around the perimeter. 

Here is where I started to run into my first real design difficulty. I had measured it carefully and staked the strings out so they came out evenly spaced and the wedges were the same size. But when I put the bricks down, it didn’t look right. I don’t know why — probably because the yard is not all flat and right angles and so on — but when it was measured right, it looked wrong. So I moved the bricks around until it looked balanced from all angles, and just had to tell myself to forget that it was in the “wrong” spot. But we’ll return to this later. Oh, we will return. 

Then I started to fill in the bricks. My technique here, as I am just starting out, is what we in the field call “chimpy,” and I hadn’t really figured out how important it is to try to knock the bricks closely together.

I also found, to my intense dismay, that the hole bricks are CONSIDERABLY thicker than the standard bricks. So if I wanted to lay them together and end up with anything like a level surface, I was going to have to either dig a channel for the hole bricks, or else build up an extra layer of sand under the standard bricks. 

Patio how-to sites will tell you to stretch a string tautly along the top of your work area so you can line up the top of the bricks against it and ensure that they are all on a level; but light had already dawned on blockhead, and I realized that I would be lucky if I didn’t somehow hit myself in the face with a hammer or get a brick lodged in my ear or something. So I didn’t stretch any more strings, but just sort of grimly surrendered to the fate of scrabbling out trenches for the holey bricks to sit in.

It was worse than I thought it was going to be. It took SO long and it hurt me knees SO much and there was so much crouching and dragging and lurching and lugging, and I kept putting tools down just out of my own reach so I had to get up and get them over and over again, and it was really hot and I smelled bad. I cannot overstate how hard I made this on myself, for no reason at all.

Luckily, I enjoy this kind of thing. 

I really do. Despite all my complaining and the deep frustration that I fell into again and again, this was a joyful project. I have been waiting for 25 years for the time when I can devote hours and hours, week after week, to a project that’s all mine, just because I want to. I love being outside, I love working with my hands and using my muscles, and I love designing things. It had been a truly punishing winter, and the hours that I spent sitting in the fresh air with the song of the birds and the smell of the wild mint and the rush of the stream, putting a foundation together piece by piece by piece — this was a pure gift. Pure gift. It did not escape me that I spent many hours on my knees, and I prayed many strange prayers. Silent St. Joseph heard all about it. He is a good listener, and there is a reason I put him at the center.

And I just kept filling in bricks and filling in bricks, and I got pretty okay at it. You lay the bricks pretty closely, and then tap them closer together, and closer to the previous row, with a rubber mallet, and then tap them more snugly into the ground. I never did figure out if I should be doing it in the reverse order, so I alternated. Follow me for more useless nonsense.

So then I ran into some more design problems, and realized too late that I was going to have to figure out how to make up the difference between the curved rows of bricks and the straight rows of bricks. Most people would have figured this part out already, but again

My great talent is the ability to sit in the dirt and hit things with a hammer even though I’m really hot. I can do it all day! And that is what I did. 

But then I ran out of bricks, and I thought maybe I could fill in the gap with stones from the stream. I gave it a shot, and it looked okay, but I wasn’t sure.

I was sure that I needed more bricks, though. I bought the next batch from a nice young couple who were renovating their house in Brookline. It had a paved walkway that ran alongside the house. Alongside, but not quite parallel, and it was driving them crazy, so I got a good price on the bricks. These ones were not clay bricks, but they had been in the ground for a while, so they had a decent aged look.

The dude was also very helpful in helping me pack the bricks in a more sensible way, with straps and pallets and stuff, so the ride home was much less exciting this time. 

Unloaded those mofos right into the backyard this time, because last time I unloaded bricks into the driveway, they stayed there for a month. 

I also tried putting a discarded playground slide over the gravel and sliding the bricks over it to myself,

allegedly to save time and energy, and this of course did not work, and was stupid. The only way to get a job like this done is (a) do a tremendous amount of tedious lugging or (b) make someone else do a tremendous amount of tedious lugging. 

Now, several people have asked me, “Didn’t anyone help you with this patio?” And the answer is, of course. Any time I asked someone to help me, they did. Sometimes they were nice about it; sometimes they were jerks about it. Sometimes I paid them and they were still jerks about it. And sometimes I asked Benny and Corrie, and they helped for a little bit, but THEN THERE WAS A FROG

The other problem I was encountering was that the bricks with holes in them were not actually bricks; they were ant condos. About half the holes were completely stuffed with soil that was studded with ant eggs and, more to the point, with their furious ant caretakers. So I had to spend a certain amount of time jabbing the holes with a stick to get the ant dirt out and reminding myself repeatedly that the bricks were free and the patio was my idea and ant bites don’t hurt that much.

But look, progress!

The thing that was taking the most time was removing sand, and sometimes gravel (not to mention convincing myself that there was a meaningful difference between the two, since I had paid a different price for the two materials). In some spots, I had to dig up a LOT of the sand and some of the gravel I had applied so carefully, to make room for not only the big holed bricks, but for the standard sized ones.

Why? I have no idea. I had made some kind of digging or filling mistake, and there was much too much sand on about half the area, so after all that lugging and spreading and compacting and so on, I just had to dig it up and schlep it away again.

I kept my spirits up by thinking about how, when I was done, without proper underlayment, the bricks would very likely just sink into the muck and disappear forever the first time it rained hard, and maybe I would do the same. 

One thing I could think of to cheer myself up was to get more bricks. This batch was free, the remnants of someone’s dismantled chimney in Keene, and they were beautiful, very dark and hardened, clouded with smoke stains. I guess I didn’t take a picture, though.

We picked them up on the way home from PorcFest, the annual Libertarian festival, where we had gone to cover RFK Jr.’s speech, because you never know how life is going to turn out, do you. 

At this point, I had to come to terms with the fact that I had made a grievous mistake with the design somewhere along the line, and when you’re doing a pattern made of lots of little bits, a little mistake turns into a bigger and bigger mistake as you go along. So I fixed it by adding another element to the design; but of course it wouldn’t look right unless I added that same element to the opposite side, also, because the design isn’t symmetrical, but it’s not completely chaotic, either.

Anyway, I kept slapping bricks down and digging gravel and sand out and smoothing it with my board and whacking it with my mallet, and when there was a weird gap, I had plenty of broken bricks to fit in there and whack into place. 

This in itself made the whole project worthwhile. There’s a gap, but not big enough for a whole brick, so you tap-tap-tap one side and get them all a little snugger, and tap-tap-tap on the other and get them in a little closer, and nope, it’s still not big enough, so you find a brick that doesn’t fit but one side almost does, and you wedge in the side that will stay still, and then you SLAM the other side with the mallet, and look at that! That little fucker fits after all.

Hit it a couple more times. Hit it till it’s level. And now it’s not going anywhere. 

But guess what happened? I ran out of bricks.

I found one more lady, also in Keene, who had some bricks. She was cleaning out the damp, weedy space on the side of her garage and felt that I was doing her a favor by taking them away. These bricks were lovely, too — cool, soft, and mossy and many-colored. There were some large white pavers mixed in, and a few half-crumbled bricks with “PRAY” stamped on them, which. 

Some of them were curved!

And now I was really down to the wire. I had toyed with the idea of taking the stream rocks out and planting some creeping thyme or other walkable ground cover in that tricky wedge-shaped spot, but I was just about out of time, and also would have needed to add more pressurized wood or something to hold the bricks in place.

So I just decided to keep smashing bricks in and filling up gaps, trying to keep some kind of coherent pattern but not wigging out about it, and trying to take a lesson from the old bricks I had collected: Enough time goes by, and they look how they’re gonna look, now matter how they started out. Right? 

So then, I, ran out of bricks again, and the time had come to go crawling to Home Depot. Hoooooome Depot. Home Deeeeeeeepot. Dammit.

I lugged over one of those terrible platform carts and loaded it up with 150 bricks, ignored how rude the embryo Home Depot lads were being about my need for bricks, loaded them into the car, unloaded them, lugged them down to the yard, and then, wow, did I really start bricking again that same day? I think I did. Anybody want to arm wrestle? I will win. 

It was pouring rain, so I got a kid to set up the canopy for me and I just kept slapping bricks down and getting them in there. The new bricks looked pretty dumb next to the old weathered ones. If I had had all my materials at the beginning, like some kind of DIY video person, I would have shuffled them all together before putting anything on the ground, and it would have been a normal-looking patchwork effect. Instead, it’s a little bit skin-graft-ish.

But that wasn’t the worst of my problems! The worst was that I FREAKING RAN OUT OF BRICKS AGAIN. Actually, the even worse thing was that I knew this was going to happen. I knew 150 bricks wasn’t enough. But I just wanted to get the hell out of there, so I stopped at 150.

I just did not, did not want to go back to Home Depot, not so soon. So I changed the design again. I inveigled some of my more public-spirited kids into moving a gigantic rock across the yard. It took all three of us almost having a simultaneous three-way heart attack, but we got it onto the dolly, and then I dashed back and forth putting one sheet of particle board and then the other in front of the dolly wheels, so they would have a smoother path across the yard. EXACTLY LIKE GROMMT.


 It landed in a reasonable spot, looking reasonably butt-friendly, and I decided it was the perfect place for a little permanent seating. 

And then I went around the yard finding all the biggest rocks I could lug by myself, and I fitted them in where I could, to take up as much brick-replacement space as I could without it looking too unnatural. Then I slammed in the rest of the bricks to fill up the spaces, and I walked around whacking it here and there and scowling at it, and realizing that there wasn’t even a single unused whole brick anywhere left on the entire property.

And then . . . . it was done. 

I mean kind of.

The brick part was done, but then you still have to get sand in and on and over it, which helps stabilize the whole thing, and bind it together, and keeps the bricks from grinding up against each other and damaging each other, or floating away, or any number of undesirable things.

You can get polymeric sand, which you brush on and then sprinkle with water, and it becomes a kind of glue, and really seals the bricks together. You can do this if you are a MILLIONAIRE. Polymeric sand is like 2 cents a GRAIN. If you are me, you will slink back to Home Depot and buy 12 bags of paver sand, and dump it over the bricks. I knew 12 bags wasn’t enough, but it was all I could stand to buy at the time. 

But first, you will take a little break and have fun doing some AESTHETICALLY PLEASING parts. Just to keep the old enthusiasm up.

First I gathered up all the potted plants I could find, and potted some more plants (I kept rescuing almost-dead, one-dollar petunias from Home Depot, for instance), and arranged them around the patio along with some more rocks, bird feeders, and so on, and also some dumb little picket fence sections I got on a whim. 

And then it was time to follow through with my plans for the lights! The young trees I had set aside were about 3″ in diameter, so I bought a length of PVC pipe that is 4″ in diameter and used a reciprocating saw to hack off four sections, cut flat on one end and diagonal on the other.

Then I put it point-down into the ground, laid a wooden board across the top, and whacked it with a mallet until it was sunk halfway into the ground. I reached into the pipe and gouged out as much of the earth as I could, and then fit the tree into it, and jammed some rocks inside to make it more secure.

And they looked ABSOLUTELY CRAZY. 

But in a way that I thought was fixable. I kept telling myself, This all just used to be grass, and you had a vision! You still have a vision! So I kept going, even though the whole thing looked like someone was having a nervous breakdown in brick form. 

Then, back to sand town. I ripped open the bags and Benny and Corrie helped me work it in between the cracks

We carefully avoided getting sand in the bricks with holes, partially to ration the sand, and partially because I thought it would help with drainage. I knew the whole thing was off kilter, and I didn’t want water to pool anywhere, so I figured it would just run out through the holes.

This part took a long time, because I couldn’t find the handle for the push broom. 

But a friend clued me in that sand is your friend, and if I didn’t fill the holes with sand, they’d fill themselves with water, and then freeze, and then go sproinging off in all directions, and in the spring, I wouldn’t have a patio at all, but only heartbreak. (That’s a paraphrase, but she was right.)

So . . . the next day, the day before the party, I sent Damien to Home Depot, and HE got more sand. And I put the sand in the hole bricks. And also in the cracks between the regular bricks, that I had already filled, but which were now empty cracks again because the sand had filtered down overnight. He also found a push broom handle for me, so I could sweep like a human being instead of a monkey version of Cinderella. 

At this point, you can get the plate compactor again and get it vibrating really good to shake that sand deep down into the cracks. But I had uhhh run out of money kind of a while ago, so I just kept sweeping. My plan is to buy more sand later in the summer and apply more as it gets shaken down. I was just focused on getting the patio functional for the party, which was the very next day. 

I clipped the tops off the trees so they weren’t insanely tall, and put the light strings on. (I had purposely left little crotched branches near the top so I could hook the lights on.)

Corrie filled the St. Joseph statue with sand so it wouldn’t keep tipping over.

I clipped and weeded the surrounding vegetation, and found more flowers 

and plant hangers

and put bird seed and nectar in the feeders

I bought eight little solar stake lights and put five around St. Joseph

and three at the base of the tree lights. I used the cheap sand to fortify the perimeter, and the little collar of rocks in the center.

And finally, I got Elijah to set up a purchase I splurged on months ago: A little propane fire pit.

I love a campfire, but I am 48 years old and sometimes I just don’t want to go tromping around collecting firewood. Sometimes I want to turn a dial and poof, there is fire. 

And here it is! Here’s the finished project:

I completely forgot to put weed cloth down. So, oops. 

Overall, the pattern is a bit of a mess. It’s also incredibly uneven and will just get more uneven as time goes on. And the mismatched bricks are very visible right now

but should start to blend better with time. 

I do think it’s pretty secure within its bounds, so whatever shifting the bricks do, I don’t think they’re going to straight up leave. Right now, when you walk across it, it just feels like walking on a floor: It doesn’t shift or wobble, and you don’t hear that horrible scraping loose tooth sound. So the sand I’ve got there now is doing its job.

And I’m very happy with the overall shape of it. It fits well into its environment, there are lots of spots for me to plant more perennials (and none of the seven buckets of flowers have even bloomed yet, but they will in a few weeks!), and it’s big enough for more than one group of people to sit around and chat on, which feels pretty luxurious. 

Everyone had a good seat for the fireworks at the party.

I love the tree lights! The pipe keeps them anchored and also may protect the wood from rotting; we will see. It has a pleasant, rustic look, and will be very easy to take down in the fall.

I may add some more rocks on the outside so the white PVC doesn’t show as much, but it doesn’t bother me a lot as is. I will probably add some more bird houses to the extra limbs, or maybe a quiet wind chime or something.


Success. Yeah. I did it. I did it!

Thanks, St. Joseph. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 332:  ¿TRES leches?  ¿En ESTA economia?

 Oh, I’ve been a terrible blogger and failed to blog last week. We have just been terrifically busy. A few people mentioned that they were worried I had dropped dead or something, and I’m sorry about that! I haven’t figured out what’s wrong with my stupid body yet, but they have ruled out everything scary and terrible, so I’m just full steaming ahead. I did just do a really neat interview with an artist yesterday, that I can’t wait to tell you about, and I wrote up a thought or two I had about a thing or two about the Pope, so those should be up soon. I appreciate the prayers so much. They are helping. 

Here’s something you might enjoy: I won a couple of awards from the Catholic Media Association: first place for Best Family Life Column (for Parable Magazine) and second place for Best Writing – Analysis (for my feature on annulments for America). Not everybody got a picture along with their announcement, BUT I DID:

I love the desperate little smile, clearly pleading for someone to come rescue me from my own hair. OH WELL. 

My patio is growing. It’s a menace. It’s a farrago. It’s a travesty. It’s Santa Maria in Travesty. And if your life has certain frustrations in it, may I recommend tearing up the sod and replacing it with bricks of different sizes that don’t quite fit together and need to be slammed repeatedly with a mallet until they do fit? I may pave the whole yard. 

Meanwhile, we et! Here’s what we et:

Smoked ribs, fries

On Saturday, I went to my hometown for the alumni parade. I graduated from high school 30 years ago, can you believe it? Of course you can believe it, I’m decrepit. It was a cool parade, though, and it was fun to see old classmates floating by, as well as bagpipes, fife and drum corps, Abraham Lincoln, Shriners, and misc., and my kids got tons of candy, as well as corn and ketchup packets, which one group of alumni were throwing. 

Damien bought and smoked some amazing pork ribs.

Absolutely luscious. 

I spent the rest of the day working on my patio, and by dinner I was ravenous and became a complete hooligan in the presence of those ribs. 


Corpus Christi! After Mass we had a wonderful procession down Main Street, with adoration on the commons

Then I went shopping in the afternoon, and for the life of me I cannot remember what we ate. Something easy, I imagine. Actually I think we just had leftover ribs. 

Clara made a cake for Dora. Here is the cake. 

As Benny said the other day in another context, “Mixed feelings all around, let’s move along.”  

Chicken enchiladas, beans and rice, guacamole and chips, tres leches cake

Monday we had a belated celebration for Dora’s birthday. I also belatedly discovered that we didn’t have any chili powder in the house, which makes a Mexican meal a bit of a challenge; but don’t worry, my caucasicity won the day and I found some old envelopes with orange powder in them, and faked my way through it. 

I sorta kinda followed Pioneer Woman’s enchilada recipe, except I used chicken thighs instead of breasts, and I used flour tortillas because I do what I want. I made some with red sauce and some with green, and they were okay, not my best. I was rushing like crazy, and didn’t buy enough sauce.

I threw together the beans and rice with white rice, black beans and kidney beans, canned tomatoes and diced chili peppers, and probably some onions in there, and then just whatever seasonings I could find. It was again not the greatest, but not bad.

The guacamole was tasty. A decent meal, with plenty of leftovers for people to bring home. 

The tres leches cake was a challenge for me. I have had one (1) tres leches cake in my life, and that was in college, and I all I remember is that it was, like me, white. So I followed a recipe from the Versailles recipe in Miami; but I believe I underbaked it, so when I poured the milk filling over it, it was, frankly, a little sloshy. 

But I went ahead and refrigerated it for the rest of the day, and then made the meringue and spread it over, and served the pieces with maraschino cherries. 

Kind of a blurry picture, but it was kind of a blurry cake.

I had made a double recipe so there was enough cake that I could serve the fully-baked parts and avoid the marshier spots, and there was still QUITE A LOT OF CAKE. I liked it! But my land, that is a sweeeet dessert. Probably I should have a properly-made tres leches cake before I make any judgments, but right now I’d just as soon have tiramisu. 

Chicken salad with strawberries

The plan was blueberries, but I got to the store and discovered I had misread the flyer, and what was on sale was actually blackberries. I consulted with the produce guy and we both felt that nobody wants a blackberry chicken salad. First I was worried I was being annoying by asking him, but then he started going on about how he was “a tactile guy,” so I grabbed some strawberries and got out of there.

A lot of crops were blighted by the late frost here (my peach tree never even blossomed, and they say we lost 75% of the apple crop in the state, which is horrible), but the strawberries are cheap and plentiful and huge and sweet this year. Hooray strawberries!

So, mixed greens, roast chicken breast, feta cheese, slice almonds, diced red onion, and balsamic vinegar. 

Quite good, and very pretty. My photos are all dark and terrible this week for some reason. 


One cheese, one pepperoni, and one garlic, red onion, artichoke heart, feta, tomato, and parmesan.

Damien chaperoned the high school kids and friends at their class trip to Six Flags, and all he got was this halfway decent pizza. 


Irene graduated from 8th grade! Look how delighted she is. 

Kids at home had chicken nuggets and cheezy weezies, and Damien and Irene and I went to Local Burger and had some nice local burgers, and then we dropped Damien off at home to do some more work and I scooped up the rest of the kids to get ice cream (ha, I guess that’s why I said “scooped”) (even though most of them got soft serve).

Cheeseburgers, fries, chocolate cake

Friday we had a belated celebration of Moe’s birthday, and he had requested that I surprise him with the cake theme. I made the King Arthur simple and rich chocolate cake, which always turns out well, and I forgot to make any plans for icing, so I wung it. I threw a lot of unsalted soft butter in the standing mixer and creamed it, then sifted in a bunch of cocoa powder and kept creaming. Then I beat in some half and half and a little vanilla, and then sifted in a ton of confectioner’s sugar and continued mixing until it was smooth and whippy. I already had a migraine, so I went ahead and tasted the frosting, and it was nice. It was like hot cocoa in frosting form. 

I baked a large cake in a metal mixing bowl, and a bunch of little cupcakes, which I frosted and then decorated with caramel creams I had smooshed with a rolling pin. I sort of had it in my head that it would be the turtle holding up the world, but there are only so many hours in the day (and this was a day when I also wrote 1200 words and drove two hours and picked up 600 bricks), so instead I gave him a bed of kiwis so swim on and decided it was fine.

You can see by his face that he has seen some stuff. And Moses was, indeed, surprised. 

Friday was finally, finally the last day of school for the last kids, thank goodness. We haven’t done anything for summer fun yet, except splashing in the pool and not going to school. Just kind of shell shocked still. 

And that was last week! I spent most of my in-between hours fetching, hauling, and fitting bricks, and although I have gone through something like 1500 bricks, I am again almost out of bricks. Here is where I am right now: 

I’m going to finish it by the 4th of July if it kills me. AND IT WILL.

Check in. What’s just about killing you today? You gonna make it? Do you need a turtle cake? Are you holding up the world?  

sugar smoked ribs

the proportions are flexible here. You can adjust the sugar rub to make it more or less spicy or sweet. Just pile tons of everything on and give it puh-lenty of time to smoke.


  • rack pork ribs
  • yellow mustard
  • Coke
  • extra brown sugar

For the sugar rub:

  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp white pepper


  1. Coat the ribs in yellow mustard and cover them with sugar rub mixture

  2. Smoke at 225 for 3 hours

  3. Take ribs out, make a sort of envelope of tin foil and pour Coke and brown sugar over them. close up the envelope.

  4. Return ribs to smoker and cook another 2 hours.

  5. Remove tinfoil and smoke another 45-min.

  6. Finish on grill to give it a char.

White Lady From NH's Guacamole


  • 4 avocados
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 limes juiced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, diced


  1. Peel avocados. Mash two and dice two. 

  2. Mix together with rest of ingredients and add seasonings.

  3. Cover tightly, as it becomes discolored quickly.