Childhood is a wild bird

The first time I took my kids out to hand feed wild birds, it didn’t go well.

I had hit upon the activity out of desperation at the beginning of spring vacation. The kids were so bored, but I had COVID and was much too tired and contagious for outings. We had long since exhausted the charms of reading books via FaceTime, with and without silly filters, and even the kids were tired of TV.

But maybe we could feed the birds together! We could sit in chairs, safely distanced, enjoying nature, being quiet, doing something wholesome and memorable, and did I mention being quiet?

It didn’t go so well. But that was okay. It was pleasant enough just being outside, and I’m a firm believer in the value of unstructured, unplugged time for kids. We thought we might get a nibble or two, but you really do have to be quiet to attract birds, and my youngest is made out of monkeys. The first few times she squirmed or chattered, I fondly and gently shushed her; but I recalled that our goal was to have a nice time together, so before long, I released her, and we dispersed without having fed or even seen a single bird.

We agreed it was fun, though, or at least potentially fun. Apparently you really can train birds to get to know you. I talked about our attempt on social media, and people shared photos and videos of their kids’ success in making friends with these wild creatures.

The idea began to take hold. I started to see hand feeding wild birds as the ideal summer activity. By the end of vacation, I thought, this is how we would greet every morning: We would step into the backyard with a handful of seed, and our feathered friends, who knew our gentle ways, would flock to us like a gang of modern day St. Francises.

A eager twittering grew in my heart. It was everything I wanted for my kids: A break from screen time, a memorable bonding experience, and a naturally contemplative pastime that would sweetly, easily open the gates for all kinds of other goods of the spirit.

The idea took flight. This could be about so much more than birds, I thought…

Read the rest of my essay for Catholic San Francisco here

What’s for supper? Vol. 284: Ghee! Your chicken smells terrific

Gotta quick get this food post in before Lent starts! It was February vacation this past week, and we were pretty busy doing this and that (especially that. OH, the that we did) including Corrie’s birthday party and my first foray into Indian cooking. Let’s begin!

SATURDAY
Bacon cheeseburgers, chips

Damien made supper

while I did a gazillion errands, including checking out a wonderful little store in the area, Keene International Market. It’s not huge but it has an impressive variety of goods, including frozen foods and fresh produce. I had very little in the way of Southeast Asian spices in the house, so I stocked up

I actually made two trips, and the second time I got some saffron and coriander and I forget what else. Always wanted to buy saffron. 

Damien and I were both so excited about the Indian meal we had a few weeks ago. The first great thing about Indian food is, of course, how ridiculously delicious it is. The second great thing, though, is how excited Indian people get when you tell them you’re trying Indian cooking. What a delight! I got so much profuse encouragement and enthusiasm from so many people, including the cashier at the store. Lovely. 

I started marinating the chicken for the main dish, chicken biryani, on Saturday night. The marinade tasted pretty exciting, and we both thought that, if I just added more yogurt to dial down the intensity a little, it would make a fantastic dip. 

SUNDAY
Pakora with tamarind sauce, chicken biryani, naan

Okay. So I started out knowing this was going to be a learning curve. But even so, I had SO MUCH FUN cooking this food. I really took to it, and it felt very natural and enjoyable. That being said, nothing I made turned out exactly right, and some of it turned out . . . pretty wrong. The flavors were all great, but everything needed improvement of some kind or other. But we all liked it so much, I’m definitely going to try again. It was just a super fun meal to make and eat, and somehow seemed to produce family happiness. This may have been because I was so upbeat about it, and my good cheer rubbed off on the kids, but that does not automatically happen by any means, so I think it’s just Indian food magic. 

First, the pakora. I went a little bit rogue and just started stuffing all kinds of vegetables into the food processor. I used spinach, string beans, carrots, red onions, and cabbage.

I ended up chopping everything a little bit too fine, so I ended up with small, fluffy wads of fried vegetable, rather than spiky bundles. (You let it sit, squeeze out the excess liquid, mix it with spices and chickpea flour, and then deep fry it.) Just didn’t have enough substance.

But as I said, the flavor was great (I added salt, coriander, garam masala, and ginger paste), and I liked the tender, vegetable-y inside with the lightly crisp fried outside.  Next time, I will just cut everything more like matchsticks than shreds. 

Next, the naan. I planned to make this recipe, which my friend Tom recommended, but I started too late, so I defaulted to King Arthur. It calls for both regular flour and bread flour, and yogurt, but it’s quite simple, and I thought it turned out well enough, if a little tough. I forgot to brush ghee on at the end, and they definitely could have been more tender, but heck, they looked and tasted like naan, so, thumbs up, white girl! I made sixteen of them.

Where I really stumbled was the biryani. Here’s the recipe again. The chicken part came out divine. In this recipe, you start — well, first you start by marinating the chicken well in advance, as I mentioned above; but when you’re ready to cook, you start by by roasting a bunch of whole spices in ghee

then fry up some onions in it, then add in the chicken that’s been marinating in yogurt and a bunch of spices overnight, and let that cook for a while.

At this point, your house smells like heaven.

Then you add more yogurt and more spices, and then you have to spread your raw basmati rice, add the liquid, and cook the rice on top of the cooked chicken, with salted water and coconut cream infused with saffron and whatnot.

Here I got confused, and I ran out of room in the pot, and I started making substitutions and panicking a tiny bit, because I realized the rice was cooking very unevenly, so I transferred everything to the Instant Pot; but I still didn’t use enough liquid, so it started to burn, and it was just not gonna work out, so I just served it as it was. So the rice was rahther crunchy, which is a shame, because it was expensive!

But all those delightful ingredients and all that layering of flavor was not in vain, because the chicken and sauce part was so delicious that everybody ate the biryani anyway, crunchy basmati rice and all. It was just . . . creamy and fragrant and a little earthy and warming, with lots of layers of flavor. I dialed down the spiciness quite a bit to make it as accessible as possible, because it was already very different from what the kids are used to eating. It was not bland! Just not spicy. 

I also attempted to make some tamarind sauce using a slab of tamarind paste. I more or less followed this recipe, but it juuuuust didn’t turn into something I was excited about eating.

Damien liked it, but I thought it was too tart and too chunky, even after lots of extra honey and some time in the food processor. I’ll just buy a jar of readymade sauce next time, because I’m cuckoo for tamarind. I did buy some mango chutney and some mint chutney and we used all three sauces and just dipped everything in everything.

I believe that’s how you’re supposed to do it. 

Oh, and I also grabbed something called Soan cakes, 

which turned out to come sealed in little plastic cups like fruit cups, and they were so strange! They tasted somewhat like halvah, but sweeter and fruitier, and the texture was kind of . . . splintery? And it sort of melted in your mouth. Several of the kids mentioned that it was like they always imagined pink insulation tasting. 

MONDAY
Pizza

Homemade pizza, but nothing special, just a bunch of pepperoni and olive and whatnot. I was still kind of in a daze from all the cooking I had done on Sunday, and was drained of creativity. 

TUESDAY
Pork ribs, suppli

Lucy wanted to try her hand at making suppli, and after I warned her that it was a fairly complex recipe with several steps,

Jump to Recipe

especially if you’re planning to make the risotto on the stovetop and all, darn it if she didn’t go ahead and make the best suppli I’ve ever had. 

Look how lovely they turned out, outside:

and in:

Great savory, creamy risotto inside, and I did spring for some good fresh mozzarella, so that melted very well. 

For the meat, I threw some salt and pepper on some pork ribs and roasted them, and we just had the pork ribs and suppli for supper, that’s it. A slightly barbaric meal, somehow, but very tasty.  

WEDNESDAY
Chicken fajita bowls

I’m just going to go ahead and quote my Facebook status for the day:

Today after I got some writing done, I had to drop Benny off at her friend’s house and take Sophia for a haircut and pick up a few party things, so I decided to take Corrie with me for fun (????), and we got some groceries and I ran in for a final birthday present and we had to get some fireworks, and then I guess that was too many errands, because she got EXTREMELY ANGRY ABOUT HOW THE REVOLVING DOOR WAS BEHAVING, and had a bit of a meltdown. And this continued for several miles until I realized the shortcut I was taking brought up right past a farm, so we stopped to visit some horses and cows, which calmed Corrie down, but I myself leaned on the electric fence, which was not ideal! Then we picked up Benny and went home, and I got pulled over for various reasons, and made supper, and finally got my boots off, and I was reading to the girls when I heard Corrie quietly say, “oopth.” I turn around and she has . . . a mouth full of broken glass???? Because I guess she found a Christmas ornament and decided to put it in her mouth, and then accidentally bit it? Anyway nobody died and we finished the chapter, and I just

But oopth nothwithstanding, I was fairly proud of the dinner I got on the table, just in terms of sheer minutes-per-raw-food-to-hot-food-ness; and it was pretty tasty, too, if not luxe. I cut up some chicken breast with green peppers and onions and fried it up in oil with plenty of chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and — not cumin, because I used that all up in the Indian food. 

I set some rice cooking in the Instant Pot and heated up some black beans, chopped up some cilantro and scallions, and put out sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, lime wedges, salsa, hot sauce, and corn chips, and forty minutes after we got home, there was a happy little dinner ready. 

The only thing we didn’t have, besides cumin, was bowls. Nobody knows what happened to all the bowls. So we had chicken fajita plates. 

THURSDAY 
Pizza

Thursday was the day we All Got Out Of the House. We tried something new: The Fitchburg Art Museum, which is small but worth driving an hour to see. They have an immersive Ancient Egypt exhibit that was very effective and memorable. I made the kids pray for the mummies, because a dead old man is a dead old man, even if his organs are in a jar.  You can see some of my photos on Facebook. Then we went back to town and did some thrifting/antiquing and picked out some silly stuff (and the owner sized up Benny and Corrie and pointed out the giant basket full of used dance costumes, whoa-ho-ho-ho-ho!), and then, because it was vacation, we stayed out got pizza. 

FRIDAY
Calzones

Yes, after pizza on Monday and then pizza on Thursday, we had calzones on Friday, which was Corrie’s request for her birthday dinner. I ended up asking Elijah to make them

Jump to Recipe

while I finished making the cupcakes for her party on Saturday. She wanted cupcakes decorated with ancient Greek motifs, and filled with Nerds (just like our house, har har har). I sliced the cupcake tops off, used a vegetable peeler with a digging end to gouge out a little hole, poured the Nerds in, and stuck the top back on with icing. My hands have not gotten less shaky over the years, but she was happy with her cupcakes. 

Which is pretty remarkable, considering that she also asked Clara to make her a Greek god cookie birthday cake, so obviously Clara made her one. 

The cupcakes were for her party on Saturday, but the cake was just for the family on Friday.

I know you want to see those cookie gods close up, so here they are:

Everybody says “They are too beautiful to eat!” and that’s probably true, but we ate them anyway, because we are monsters! And Clara just keeps making more outstanding cookies, so we never learn.

Okay, that’s it! I usually keep doing food posts throughout Lent because, as previously discussed, I’m a monster. Happy Fat Monday!

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. 

Ingredients

  • 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)

Instructions

  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!

  3. TO MAKE THE SUPPLI:

    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. 

Calzones

This is the basic recipe for cheese calzones. You can add whatever you'd like, just like with pizza. Warm up some marinara sauce and serve it on the side for dipping. 

Servings 12 calzones

Ingredients

  • 3 balls pizza dough
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 3-4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 egg yolks for brushing on top
  • any extra fillings you like: pepperoni, olives, sausage, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. 

  2. Mix together filling ingredients. 

  3. Cut each ball of dough into fourths. Roll each piece into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. 

  4. Put a 1/2 cup or so of filling into the middle of each circle of dough circle. (You can add other things in at this point - pepperoni, olives, etc. - if you haven't already added them to the filling) Fold the dough circle in half and pinch the edges together tightly to make a wedge-shaped calzone. 

  5. Press lightly on the calzone to squeeze the cheese down to the ends. 

  6. Mix the egg yolks up with a little water and brush the egg wash over the top of the calzones. 

  7. Grease and flour a large pan (or use corn meal or bread crumbs instead of flour). Lay the calzones on the pan, leaving some room for them to expand a bit. 

  8. Bake about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.  

What’s for supper? Vol. 219: Your name on a grain of rice!

WE ARE ON VACATION! All this week we’ve been at the ocean, which we adore.

We rented this beach house back in January, but didn’t know until the very last minute if it would be safe to go. But it’s been fine! We don’t share living quarters with anyone, there has been a good, brisk wind all the time, and we like the boring end of the beach with tide pools and no cool people or entertainment anyway. We warned the kids we’d be skipping souvenir shops and playgrounds and indoor restaurants and arcades and just focus on being at the beach. And it’s been great!

But wait, I guess I didn’t do a food post last week? Here are a few of the more photogenic things we ate last week:

A very delicious pizza with cherry tomatoes and basil from the garden, thinly-sliced garlic, red onion, black olives, and parmesan. Very pretty

and did not disappoint. 

They had a nice sale on steak, so I picked up a few, which Corrie helped to season

and then I broiled them, sliced them, and served the meat on mixed greens with plenty of blueberries, blue cheese, and diced red onions, with red wine vinegar, watermelon on the side.

A wonderful summer meal. This is also great with pears or green apples, rather than blueberries.

We also had sausage subs with fried peppers and onions, and here is a photo of the lovely peppers and onions

Yum.

And then we had Vaguely Asian Meatballs,

Jump to Recipe

quick-pickled cucumbers,

Jump to Recipe

white rice and sugar snap peas. A very flavorful meal, savory and filling but not too heavy. 

***

Okay, on to this week! We keep meals very simple when we’re away from home, so this is more of a “yay, beach!” post, interspersed with a couple of food pictures. Of course there are tons of pics, but I’ll mostly link to my Facebook albums, sorry, lazy person. Four of the oldest kids stayed home for various reasons, so it was just the eight of us this year. And the parakeet, whom we brought for reasons.

(We did not bring the cat, the lizard, or, after much debate, the puppy.)

Corrie packed on Friday. She was very, very ready on Friday. Then she wanted to flip a coin to see if we should go on Saturday, or just go on Friday. She dibsed Friday. 

We did whittle her essential luggage down somewhat from here.

SATURDAY
Pizza

And then it was time to go! We got to the beach house around dinner and Damien went to find hunt up some pizza while we unpacked. We don’t have an ocean view from the beach house, but I am not complaining. This is the view from the grownups’ bedroom:

One of the pizzas was sausage and ricotta, which is definitely going into our rotation. Heavens.

SUNDAY
Deli sandwiches

We slept through the 9:15 Mass right down the street, but made it to a 10:45.  Masks and hand sanitizer and social distancing were all enforced, and the priest announced before communion that we should all remember to keep our masks on until right before we receive, and that if we want to receive on the tongue, we have the right to do so, but he asked that anyone who wants that should go to the end of the line so everyone receiving in the hand could go first. Then he stepped into the sacristy to wash his hands thoroughly and mask up. A good solution. 

Then I did grocery shopping. Then we finally got to the beach! It’s such a good beach. 

Here are a bunch more pics from Sunday.

MONDAY
Fried chicken

We packed a lunch and spent the late morning and afternoon at the beach.

More pics from Monday.

Then we went for fried dough, which is Corrie’s main reason for going to the ocean, but it was wayyyy too hot, so we had ice cream. Dinner was cold fried chicken from the supermarket and I think chips and peaches.

Damien and I popped out for drinks in the evening, but I got spooked by the crowds, so we just got some Heinekens and drank them on the beach under the full moon. 

NO COMPLAINTS. 

TUESDAY
Hot dogs, chips

We were expecting major storms, so we stuck close to the house on Tuesday. In the morning, we investigated the foggy, foggy salt marshes behind the house.

More pics from the marshes and the ocean before the storm.

We also made cookies and played games (I brought Bananagrams, some magnet maze games, Battleship, lots of markers and coloring pages, and cookie and cupcake mix) and read books and watched TV. It got pretty blustery, but we didn’t get hit that hard.

Then when the wind and rain stopped, we went to see how the beach was. Still very windy!

More pics from Tuesday evening.

WEDNESDAY
Steak, corn on the cob, chopped salad, bread, S’mores

Day after the storm and the ocean was still out of sorts. Lots of weird stuff on the sand, including this molted baby horseshoe crab shell,

absolute gobs and gobs of seaweed and a million rocks, and the water was murderously cold. This made for a challenging but exhilarating swimming day.

Guys, I cannot even begin to express how much easier it is to be at the beach when you don’t have toddlers or babies. No one wandered away or got lost. No one almost drowned. No one even tried to get drowned. Damien and I could go out and bob around past the breakers together while the younger kids played on the shore, and then sometimes we could lie on a blanket in the sun while the kids played in the water. No one got hysterical because they had sand in their mouth. No one got hysterical at all, or had some kind of diaper emergency. Everyone was reasonable and had a nice time. I never thought we’d get here, but here we are.

 I even had help pulling the wagon.

Bunch o’ more pics from Wednesday.

The steak that was on sale at home last week was now on sale at this supermarket, so I bought a bunch and Damien grilled them. He seasoned them with salt and pepper, lime juice and tequila, and they were very tasty! The corn was just boiled in salted water, and we had plenty of pull-apart bread to stop up the steak juice. 

We were all fairly exhausted and grumpy by afternoon, but I had been promising S’mores forever, and the coals were still hot after dinner, so S’mores time was upon us. I hate S’mores. They are so absurdly overrated, and the name might as well be “Goods” or “Highly Requested.” What the heck. Then we realized (a) we had no sticks to roast the marshmallows with (and not a tree in sight), and (b) the chocolate bars had already melted in their wrappers. One of the kids wanted to freeze them, but I couldn’t see taking melted chocolate and freezing it so as to re-melt it. So we laid a bunch of graham crackers on a pan, snipped the corners off the wrappers and basically extruded chocolate onto the graham crackers, doled marshmallows onto that, then balanced another layer of graham cracker on that. Then we put the pan over the coals until the graham crackers were burnt and the marshmallows were just barely heated. This is exactly the kind of treatment S’mores deserves, in my opinion. Stupid dessert anyway. S’m’less is more like it. 

THURSDAY
Boardwalk food!

We had a lazy morning and a good swim in the afternoon. There were some ducks or something bobbing around, and I told Lucy that, if she could catch one, she could bring it home. This didn’t work out well when I made the same offer about a frog, but so far we are duck-free. 

Here are several pics from Thursday.

At one point during the day, Corrie became The Head of Knowledge, and foretold that our youngest daughter would have rice and seaweed for dinner, but, failing that, that she would settle for a burger. 

 

She had a burger.

We stopped at home to de-sand and then went out again in search of dinner. It turns out the kids all wanted burgers and fries, so that simplified things. Damien and I had steak and cheese, which arrived without cheese or mayo or anything, but I wasn’t gonna start passing food trays back and forth across the counter. Then we got ice cream.

FRIDAY
Grilled cheese? 

I think Damien and I may pop out for an actual seafood dinner, which is something none of this particular group of kids wants or needs. But we may also answer a deeply adult call to lie around and watch TV. Damien has been working about half-time throughout the week (including virtually attending two hearings as a defendant in a free speech case) and I’ve been gloomily writing terrible things that will never see the light of day.

The great thing about this house is that it’s in quiet neighborhood, it’s a very easy walk from the beach, and there is this wonderful view from the bedroom. Two windows show the church steeple and the water tower, and the other window is the salt marsh, where white egrets swoop around and the brackish tide rises and falls throughout the day.

The ground is dense mud covered with waves and waves of cordgrass, and if you look close, there are periwinkles and little crabs all over the place.
Here are a bunch of pictures of our little trip to the marsh. 
The vegetation looks like coarse weeds at first, but up close, they look more like seaweed. Fascinating place. Some of the channels are natural, but some of them are man-made, and there are complicated sluice gates with floating balls to raise them and, I guess, keep the arcades and stuff from flooding. It’s not far from home, but so very different from home!

However, we did promise fried dough back on Monday, and we haven’t yet gotten any fried dough. The Head of Knowledge doesn’t forget these things. So I think we’re getting fried dough if it kills us. And maybe, if the crowds aren’t too bad, your name on a grain of rice.  

***

Okay, I guess my recipe cards this week are just for the Asian meatballs we had last week, and fried dough you can make at home.

Vaguely Asian meatballs with dipping sauce

Very simple meatballs with a vaguely Korean flavor. These are mild enough that kids will eat them happily, but if you want to kick up the Korean taste, you can serve them with dipping sauces and pickled vegetables. Serve with rice.

Servings 30 large meatballs

Ingredients

  • 2.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed finely
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped (save out a bit for a garnish)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp ground white pepper

For dipping sauce:

  • mirin or rice vinegar
  • soy sauce

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425.

  2. Mix together the meat and all the meatball ingredients with your hands until they are well combined. Form large balls and lay them on a baking pan with a rim.

  3. Bake for about 15 minutes.

  4. Serve over rice with dipping sauce and a sprinkle of scallions.

 

quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

 

Fried dough

Makes about 15 slabs of fried dough the size of a small plate

Ingredients

  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp (half a stick) cold butter
  • 1-1/2 cups lurkworm water
  • 2 cups oil for frying
  • confectioner's sugar for sprinkling
  • cinnamon for sprinkling (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  2. Cut the cold butter into bits and work it gently into the dough.

  3. Add the water and stir until the dough is all combined.

  4. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it rest for 15 minutes

  5. Separate the dough into pieces and flatten each piece into a thin disk with your fingers. If it's sticky, put a little confectioner's sugar on your work surface.

  6. Heat the oil in a pan. You can deep fry it or use less oil and fry it in a small amount of oil; your choice. The oil is ready when you put a wooden spoon in and little bubbles form around it.

  7. Carefully lay the disc of dough in the hot oil. Let it cook a few minutes, just barely getting brown, and then turn it and cook the other side.

  8. Remove the dough, let the excess oil drain off, and sprinkle it immediately with sugar and cinnamon if you like.

  9. You can keep these hot in the oven for a bit, but they're best when they're very hot.

All these kids, and nowhere to go

How are you holding up? Are you okay?

As for us, we’re doing surprisingly well as we head into another of who-knows-how-many-weeks of being stuck at home together. I feel like our family has spent the past 20 years training for an extended period of social distancing such as this.

Working from home, buying in bulk, going long periods without seeing friends, and living our lives with a constant sense of impending doom? These are already our routine, so the past several weeks have just been an intensification of our normal lives, plus the luxury of not having to drive kids into town and back eleven times a day. I told my therapist (via hygienic telemedicine video chat, of course) that we’re actually kind of living my ideal life, minus the obligatory medical panic.

As you Australians head into your enforced staycations, allow me to share some of the things our family is enjoying or planning to enjoy as we find ourselves alone together:

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

 

10 Ridiculous family games that need no equipment

  1. JEBRAHAMADIAH AND BALTHAZAR (also called “Master and Servant”)

Another role-playing/narrative game, but you can sit down for this one. I am not sure why my kids call this one “Jebrahamadiah and Balthazar,” except that (a) it has something to do with the Jeb! flyers we kept getting in the mail when Jeb Bush was running for president, and (b) they are weirdos.

One person gives orders, the other person explains why he can’t carry them out. The answer has to be part of a consistent narrative — you can’t just make up a new excuse for each command.

Here is an abbreviated example. The longer you can draw it out, the funnier it gets:

Jebrahamadiah! Go get me a glass of water.
I would, but I just broke the last glass.
Then go get me a cup of water.
I would, but when I broke the glass, I cut my finger, and I can’t use my hand.
Well, use your other hand.
I would, but when I was searching for a Band-aid for my one hand, I slammed the medicine chest door on my finger, and now both hands are useless.
Then call an ambulance.
I can’t, because, if you’ll recall, my hands don’t work.
Then use the speaker phone.
I would, but when I slammed the medicine chest door, some nail polish remover fell on my phone and now the speaker doesn’t work.
Then just shout out the window for help.
I would, but the neighbors saw me wrecking my phone, and he’s a big jerk, and laughed so hard that he drove off the road and now he’s in a coma.
Well, shout out the other window on the other side of the house.
I would, but when the other neighbor drove off the road, he knocked a utility pole down, and a live wire landed on the house on the other side and now it’s on fire, so I don’t want to bother them.
Well . . . okay, fine, I’ll get my own water.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: From Wikihow Play Charades (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 180: The stupids at sea

Maybe you noticed a dearth of new writing here last week. This is because the Fishers went on a Real Actual Vacation! In 22 years of marriage, the longest family vacation we’ve ever taken was three days, and that involved a yurt, a skunk, a bathroom made of corrugated tin, and another skunk. So a full week in a real house near the honest-t0-goodness ocean before any of the kids move away for good is pretty swanky! I found the place in December, and all this year, I’ve been getting knotted up in tighter and tighter balls of anxiety, so sure it was going to fall through and be terrible in one way or another.

It was magnificent. A nearly perfect week from start to finish. Not only did no one drown, throw up, get burnt to a crisp, get bitten, get lost, or get escorted off any premises, we had no other problems at all. Except one night I thought there was a ghost in my room, but that was my problem. Actually, I threw up once, but that was just a migraine triggered by the unwise choice to eat fried dough with sugar. And also Corrie briefly had fake meningitis, but she got better. 

Some people, upon arriving at the beach, instantly become sun-kissed and  smashing in their flowy cotton caftans, silver toe rings, and sporty sunglasses, and they know how to work the umbrella and stuff, and they don’t get attacked by their own kites. We, on the other hand, look and act like a bunch of giant weirdos, because that is what we are. But we were all there!

I assumed that, for the privilege of living four blocks from the ocean, we’d have to put up with thumping music, clouds of pot smoke, and drunken morons with firecrackers all night, but no! The house was just beyond the fried pickle-frozen daiquiries-overpriced boogie boards-half price baja jackets-your name on a grain of rice-tarot card-freehand henna-Led Zeppelin tribute band tonight only zone, and our block was remarkably quiet and staid. And the view from our bedroom window was a water tower and church steeple on one side, and on the other, this serene, wild-smelling salt marsh, populated only by egrets and cormorants. Amazing.

Since I’ve somehow missed the last two weeks of What’s for Supper posts, I’ll do one now, although we firmly resolved to cook as little as possible, and we never did get around to cooking live lobsters.

SATURDAY
Deli sandwiches

We arrived at the house in the late afternoon, unloaded, dibsed rooms, and headed straight to the beach. Woo hoo!

There is nothing better than the ocean. Just nothing at all. It’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re up to your thighs in frigid, frothing salt water, the breeze is whipping through your hair, the sun is glittering, and the foam really does look like little white horses galloping madly to the shore. Oh boy!

The tide was out and hardly anyone was there. A perfect way to begin. 

SUNDAY
Frozen pizza

Sunday, we made our way to St. Patrick church, two blocks away, which has a gorgeously preserved, 105-year-old carved wooden altar and communion rail. The kids have never been to an ad orientem Mass before, so that was cool, as was my little impromptu lecture about common misunderstandings surrounding it and how it ties in with the final scene of The Dawn Treader. They enjoy my lectures so very much!

Then we came home for a quick lunch and then WENT ON A WHALE WATCH. I delivered all the appropriate warnings about how there’s no guarantee we’ll see anything, and it’s just nice to be on a boat. But we came across a bunch of frolicking dolphins before we even left the harbor, and then we saw SO MANY WHALES.

Humpbacks and finbacks, including two mother-and-calf pairs

just swashing around, flipping their tails, blowing sighing rainbow sprays, and rolling over. Extraordinary! We learned that whales don’t breathe involuntarily, so part of their brain is always awake to make sure they keep breathing. So they go into a sort of half-sleep and slowly, dreamily rise and fall in the water. This is what the mother and calf were doing. 

I cried like a 44-year-old white lady seeing her first whale. 

Not that I’m planning to give birth with the aid of a humpback midwife or anything (I’m not pregnant, also. Sheesh, settle down), I really do understand why people think whales are mystical beings with some special wisdom to impart to humanity. They are so graceful and numinous, and they clearly understand . . . something, anyway. They were both gravely aware of and regally indifferent to our stupid little boat, and they move as if they’re operating in some slightly other reality.

Here’s one especially curious calf. Check out that green glow:

 

NUMINOUS. I highly recommend Al Gauron Deep Sea Fishing and Whale Watching if you’re in the area.

MONDAY
Burgers, chips, broccoli and dip, watermelon

There was a grill in the yard, but it was smelly and weird, so we just cooked inside. We had good long beach day, and the kids discovered riding the waves.

We had a sandy lunch wrested manfully away from the seagulls, who have no respect for a diabetic child’s medicinal pop tarts with unicorns printed on the frosting. Sheesh, sea gulls! 

Corrie made the executive decision that Monday was arcade day. You guys, the arcade has not changed one tiny bit in forty years. Skee Ball is still a quarter. I still suck at Skee Ball. I still don’t understand the thing with the sliding platforms that push quarters around. I have yet to whack even a single mole. It was awesome. 

I also very much enjoyed graciously handing out stacks of quarters to children who desperately wanted another stack of quarters. 

TUESDAY
Rotisserie chicken, veggies and hummus

Rotisserie chickens currently cost less than raw chickens, for some reason.

Two of the teenagers bailed out and went home in their fancy pants teenager car before evening, leading to yet another rekajiggering of sleeping arrangements. Although we had three bedrooms with five beds, a sleep-in porch, and three pull-out couches, and an air mattress, Corrie ended up sleeping on a quilt on the floor in our room, and in the morning, she changed her name to “Puppy Stupendous.” I mean. She’s not wrong. 

She did not especially want to leave the beach on this day. Her protest took the form of repeating, “Hello. My name is Sandy McGoo” over and over and over and over and over again, all the way home. Then when we got home, she refused to hose off because, HELLO, she is SANDY MCGOO, who is SANDY. Using all my powers of We Are All Having a Happy Vacation, I persuaded her that it was at least as much fun to be Lipstick Lady, who takes showers before applying lipstick. I still can’t believe that worked.

Then we found a touch tank that was $1 a head instead of $6 a head. At least we think it was a touch tank exhibit. Anyway, we touched a lot of things.

 

WEDNESDAY
Fried food

We beat the thunderstorms and got in some swim time in the morning. But first we bought some shovels. My goodness, if I had known how much joy could come from being shovel owners, I would have bought them shovels long ago. 

We also got a kite. When I was little, you could get just a scrap of plastic with a stick on it and some string, and you would run and toss it up in the air, and it would catch an air current and you could just sit there and watch it swoop around for hours. Now all they have is these complicated trick kites with multiple tethers and flexible joints, and they go up only to immediately hurtle down at your face at top speeds. We gave up pretty quick, because we were there to swim and don’t need that kind of hostility at the beach. 

We had dinner at the Clearly Just Someone’s House, But It’s By the Water and They Have Enough Chairs Café. The kids had burgers; Damien and I had lobster rolls. One kid had a falafel wrap, which made me wonder if she had gone vegetarian and I, bad mother, didn’t notice, just like I didn’t notice when one kid got a nose ring; but then I remembered she had a burger for lunch. Kids these days with their falafel.

You’ll notice I don’t actually have a ton of pictures. That’s because I LEFT MY PHONE AT THE HOUSE ON PURPOSE. I am working at being more present in the moment and not having the freaking thing on my person at all times, and it felt pretty good.

There were supposed to be fireworks on the beach, but most of the kids were too wiped out, so Damien, Lena, and I headed out, and waited a pretty long time in the surprising August cold before realizing there were no fireworks. I was so relieved. Even though they didn’t want to go, I felt so guilty about seeing fireworks without them. We did go get a cocktail, though, and I didn’t feel guilty about that at all.

Moe got a video of the storm gathering power:

 

THURSDAY
Hot dogs for kids, sandwiches for grown-ups

Beach in the morning, with some clambering around on the rocks and tide pools before the tide came in. Some promises involving shell bits and hot glue were made. Ice cream was consumed. Then the kids went home for hot dogs while we headed out for something other than hot dogs. 

We walked for kind of a long time looking for the perfect restaurant, and finally settled on a place that was made by assholes for assholes. It was basically La Grunta, except with lobster instead of deer. After a bunch of assholes wearing leis and toe rings cut us in line for the Hospitality Hut, we overheard two assholes saying it would be a half hour wait, and that wasn’t even for the asshole deck. So we got the hell out of there and went to a little hole run by Lebanese people who just wanted to make you a sandwich without any bullshit. We got two sandwiches to go and gobbled them up by the water.

We could have gotten closer to the water, but I felt a strong need for a seat with a back on it. 

FRIDAY
Domino’s

Only a few kids still wanted to swim by this point, as we had been in or on the water every day for the last six days. I wanted to, but not as much as I wanted to complain about my sore neck and stress out about what we had done to the rug; so Damien took some kids to the beach and I went to lie down while the other kids packed and vacuumed. Apparently  Benny buried Corrie in the sand up to her neck and then ran away. No jury on earth would convict. 

Then they came home and de-sanded one last time, I dragged seaweed out of the drain one last time, and then I took the little girls to the playground one last time, which was a leetle bit further away than we remembered. Benny was pretty exhausted and melty on the walk home, and she wanted some help for the last few blocks. So Corrie got behind her and pushed. 

Saturday morning we checked out, and then made one last pilgrimage to Ocean Boulevard to eat fried dough and purchase the long-promised souvenirs. This is a good technique if you are feeling a little blue about vacation being over. By the time all the kids have found something they like, everyone will be thoroughly sick and tired of that town and you will be overjoyed to leave. 

I bought myself an artificially-colored capiz shell wind chime made in Indonesia for white ladies who cry about whales, because I’m on vacation, dammit, and that’s what I wanted.

And that’s how the stupids went on vacation! 

What’s for supper? Vol. 146: Tutto il Formaggio

What did we eat this week? Oh, wait till I tell you.

Recipe cards at the end.

SATURDAY

On Friday and Saturday, l’uomo and I went away! We did! It’s our anniversary this month. Twenty-one years, my friends, and it gets better and better. We had three days and two nights at the beach — longer than we’ve ever been kidless together since the day we got married — and enjoyed ourselves immensely. But I’m only gonna tell you about the food.

First night, he had the surf and turf

and I had about a bathtub’s worth of lobster formaggio.

Sharp, creamy, and wonderful. We also had lobster-stuffed mushrooms and lobster rangoon. We, um, we like lobster. I only ate half and then of course accidentally left my leftover package in the restaurant, rather than bringing it to the hotel and then accidentally leaving it in the mini fridge.

We staggered back to our room, with its sweet little ocean view balcony and there were champagne and strawberries waiting for us, plus a lovely little plate of cheeses and fruits

I’m finding it hard to believe that we ate this that same night, to be honest, after all that lobster. Maybe we ate it the next day? I do recall having a hearty breakfast the next day, and then we spent a lot of time clambering around on rocks gawking at tide pools and snickering over the people waiting in line to get into the Social Distortion concert. Someone had written BRIANNA I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU on one of the shuttered souvenir shops. And then there was this:

This has been my approach, as well, and it’s worked well for me. Hey, it’s the off season. And then more tide pools! Tide pools are the best. Look at all those little baby mussels!

We weren’t ready for dinner, as such, but a little light snack sounded all right, so we had some cocktails with a dozen oysters with plenty of horseradish, and a charcuterie board. I didn’t know what that was, but food that comes on boards has never yet disappointed me. This one was exceptionally good, with various dried meats, roast beef, pickled vegetables, sharp and tender cheeses, hot crusty bread, honey, fig paste, and the most amazing mustard.

It seems silly, but I can’t say enough about this mustard. It just transformed everything. Tell me about fancy mustards that you know about! I don’t even know what to search for, but I have a food processor and I want to be a part of this.

I think maybe it was now that we brought the strawberries out? And the other cheeses? What I’m trying to say is, salt air really gives you an appetite. We didn’t drink the champagne, because we never drink the champagne. We now have three bottles of champagne in the refrigerator, left over from last Valentine’s Day and also our 20th anniversary. I honestly don’t know why we keep buying it. If you want it, you can come over and get it. The mustard is all gone, though, so don’t get your hopes up.

Anyway, we had a nice time. Such a nice time. I love that man.

SUNDAY
Vermonter sandwiches

Back to life! Back to sandwiches without even a little bit of lobster in them. These particular sandwiches are a favorite around here. Slices of roast chicken or turkey, slices of tart green apples, bacon, thick cheddar cheese, and honey mustard on ciabatta rolls.

You can toast the whole thing for a few minutes if you like. Yum yum.

MONDAY
Various antipasti; suppli; linguine with ragu; lemon ices; pizzelle cannoli

So, on some random Monday in early October, we have a day off school for no reason and eat Italian food. Fine, it was for Columbus Day. Fight me.

We start with suppli, also sometimes called arancini. These are breaded, deep-fried balls of risotto with a core of melted mozzarella. YEAH, SORRY ABOUT COLUMBUS DAY. I’m so glad you don’t celebrate Columbus Day, because then you don’t have to eat suppli. They’re really not very good. They aren’t the food of the gods or anything. You wouldn’t wet yourself because of how meltingly fabulous they are. Don’t be silly.

When they’re frying, you don’t have to physically restrain yourself from reaching into the hot oil to grab a wonderful golden ball of glory

They don’t rest on the plate, fragrant and smiling, inviting you to break through the tender, crisp shell into the creamy risotto within

and when you break it open you won’t whimper with delight as the mozzarella meltingly swoons across your plate

It’s just food. It can’t possibly be that good, my stars. Get ahold of yourself.

We also had an assortment of antipasti, into which I put very little effort, because making suppli is exhausting, man. I cut several Bosc pears into wedges and wrapped them with paper-thin prosciutto, and that was nice. We also had various olives and marinated vegetables, cheeses, salamis, breadsticks, artichoke hearts, pesto, sun dried tomato bruschetta, and whatnot. Very pretty.

I knew I shouldn’t eat another suppli, but I did it anyway.

The night before, Damien had made his magnificent ragu, which is a tomato-less meat sauce with ground pork and beef, celery and carrots, garlic, lots of red pepper flakes, and tons of anchovies that just sort of melt. We briefly considered grinding up some pancetta, but life suddenly seemed short, so we went with a mere two meats. I haven’t written up a recipe card yet, so I’ll just link to the Deadspin recipe for now. You must try this. It’s so simple and so amazingly good.

Does it look like much? No, it does not.

But it smells and tastes like if pasta went to heaven, and this is who it gets to spend eternity with: ragu. I don’t know where me eating it fits into this cosmology, but there you are.

I had made a desultory supermarket search for cannoli shells, but quickly gave up and bought those snowflake-shaped pizzelle cookies

(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

and topped them with a scoop of simple cheese filling (ricotta with confectioner’s sugar and a little almond extract), shaved dark chocolate, and a few maraschino cherries. Nobody complained! But I forgot to take a picture.

And! I just found out this minute that you can actually make cannoli shells using pizzelle cookies. You put them in the microwave on high for 30-40 seconds and quickly roll them around something round, like a broom handle. They harden right up, and then you can fill them. What do you know! Next year in Jerusalem or what have you.

TUESDAY
More ragu on spaghetti and garlic bread

We had so much leftover food, I didn’t even need to cook more pasta. I just boiled some water and dunked the cooked leftover linguine in for a minute, swished it around, and then drained it. Good enough for the likes of us. We even had leftover garlic bread, which is unheard of in these parts.

WEDNESDAY
Pork ramen and roasted Brussels sprouts

I’ve never had “real” ramen, but it’s on my list, and in the meantime, this is a happy little meal. In the morning, I sliced up a bunch of carrots on the wide blade of the cheese grater and put them in a bowl covered with vinegar and sugar. Then I soft boiled a dozen eggs, and then cooked up some boneless pork chops in olive oil until they were almost done, then sliced them thin and finished cooking them with soy sauce.

When it was dinner time, I re-heated the pork in the microwave and cooked up a big pot of ramen, and served it with the pork, the carrots, the eggs, plus some hot sauce (where did my sriracha sauce go? I don’t know) and sesame seeds and crunchy noodles. Good stuff. So many nice variations for Fancy Ramen Nite.

The Brussels sprouts were actually supposed to be part of the Italian meal, but the very idea of green vegetables had been forced vehemently out of my head by vengeful and jealous risotto god. I trimmed them and cut them in half, then mixed them up with plenty of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted them in a shallow pan. Oh gosh, the crisp little charred leaves on the outside. Magnificent.

Roasting is by far my favorite way to prepare Brussels sprouts. You could add bacon or balsamic vinegar or honey, but it doesn’t really need it.

THURSDAY
Beef barley soup and pumpkin date muffins

It suddenly got chilly and rainy after a weirdly hot and humid week, so I was glad I had put off making soup until Thursday. I do a nice, basic recipe: garlic, red onion, carrot, and beef, then beef broth, red wine, and diced tomatoes with the juice, then mushrooms and barley toward the end. You can make the whole thing in the Instant Pot pretty quickly, if you can’t leave it simmering on the stovetop.

 

I also made pumpkin muffins, the first of the season. These are so fast and reliable, with a cozy, spicy flavor, and you can add all kinds of friendly toppings — oats, almonds, wheat germ, or turbinado sugar. This time, I stirred some chopped dates that were lurking about in the cabinet for some reason.

These muffins always turn out wonderfully tender and moist. I got the original recipe from Allrecipes, but I use half the sugar it calls for, and they’re still quite sweet. We usually have these as a quick bread along with soups, or to put in lunches so I feel like a good mother, but you could increase the sugar (or not) and add cream cheese frosting for a pleasant dessert.

Of course you can use this recipe to make loaves, as well. We do muffins because it’s easier to keep track of carbs that way. Speaking of which: T1D kid has over six months under her belt and we haven’t killed her yet! High fives all around! She’s even running cross country now, the maniac.

FRIDAY
Pizza

We have a birthday! I have made some vague promises of a cake. We shall see.

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. 

Ingredients

  • 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)

Instructions

  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!

  3. TO MAKE THE SUPPLI:

    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. 

5 from 2 votes
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Vermonter sandwiches

Ingredients

  • ciabatta rolls
  • grilled chicken or turkey, sliced
  • crisp bacon
  • Granny smith apples, cored and sliced
  • cheddar cheese, sliced thickly
  • honey mustard sauce

Instructions

  1. Layer all sandwich elements on roll. If you like, toast the sandwich before adding the apple slices and honey mustard. 

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Cannoli filling

Use to fill cannoli shells, or put a scoop on top of pizzelle cookies. Top with shaved chocolate, rainbow sprinkles, maraschino cherries, etc. 

Ingredients

  • 32 oz ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp almond extract or vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients together and refrigerate until you're ready to use it.

Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion or red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 lbs beef, cubed
  • 16 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
  • 6 cups beef bouillon
  • 1 cup merlot or other red wine
  • 29 oz canned diced tomatoes (fire roasted is nice) with juice
  • 1 cup uncooked barley
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot. If using Instant Pot, choose "saute." Add the minced garlic, diced onion, and diced carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and carrots are softened. 


  2. Add the cubes of beef and cook until slightly browned.

  3. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, the beef broth, and the merlot, plus 3 cups of water. Stir and add the mushrooms and barley. 

  4. If cooking on stovetop, cover loosely and let simmer for several hours. If using Instant Pot, close top, close valve, and set to high pressure for 30 minutes. 

  5. Before serving, add pepper to taste. Salt if necessary. 

Pumpkin quick bread or muffins

Makes 2 loaves or 18+ muffins

Ingredients

  • 15 oz canned pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup veg or canola oil
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • oats, wheat germ, turbinado sugar, chopped dates, almonds, raisins, etc. optional

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter two loaf pans or butter or line 18 muffin tins.

  2. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients.

  3. In a separate bowl, mix together wet ingredients. Stir wet mixture into dry mixture and mix just to blend. 

  4. Optional: add toppings or stir-ins of your choice. 

  5. Spoon batter into pans or tins. Bake about 25 minutes for muffins, about 40 minutes for loaves. 

Hilarious family game: Fictionary

Here’s an excellent game for family night, especially if you have older kids home for Christmas: Fictionary. It’s the basis for the boxed game “Balderdash,” but simpler, and the only equipment you need is a large dictionary, paper, and something to write with for each player. It’s best for players at least 8 years old and up, and you need at least four players to make it fun. More is better.

BASIC RULES: The person who’s “it” finds a word that no one is familiar with, and he writes down the real definition. Everyone else writes down a fake definition. The person who is “it” reads them all out loud, and everyone but “it” has to guess which one is real.

Then “it” reveals the true definition. You get a point if you guess the real one, if someone votes for your fake one, or if you’re “it” and no one guesses the real one. Everyone gets a turn being “it” to complete one round of play.

Details: Proper nouns, foreign language words, acronyms, and abbreviations are out. Spell and pronounce the word for everyone, and say what part of speech it is.
If you’re “it,” you can simplify the real definition a bit, as long as you don’t significantly change it. Read all the definitions over silently to make sure you understand and can pronounce everything before reading them aloud. Be sure to shuffle them before reading aloud, so there are no clues about who wrote what.
You can’t vote for your own definition. The person who’s “it” does not vote. If there is one person who is head and shoulders above all the others when it comes to guessing, that person can vote last, so as not to influence the others.

The brilliance of this game is the psychology that goes into it. You have to use your knowledge of the people involved, not just your knowledge of language. And there’s always that one person who doesn’t care about the score and just wants to mess with people.

Here’s some examples from last night:

Smilax:
The real definition turned out to be:
-A kind of oak or bindweed
Fakes:
-A state of disquiet, nervousness
-A smiling climax
-A substrate of xylem in some ferns
-A type of mountain sheep bred in Algeria
-A kind of soap commonly used up until the 19th century, when industrialized factories rendered it obsolete [this one was a joke, as the smarty pants who wrote it thought the pun on “rendered” was too good to pass up]
-wiggly worm

Purdah
The real definition:
-In India, a curtain used to screen women from men and strangers
Fake definitions:
-Disgrace
-Keeping from one another
-A type of ink used commonly in newsprint
-a fog, especially one though to carry illness
-Scottish term for spitting noises
-A very purdy thing

Drogue
Real definition:
-A cone-shaped device towed behind an aircraft as a target
Fakes:
-A unit of measurement equal to two miles
-Boring, dull
-Dreaded, a tyrant
-The feeling of morning dew
-Swamp, marsh, Elijah

At one point, the person who was “it” had to drag one of the less scholarly players into the other room to find out what was meant by “MARGOLD GROWING PLAL.”

Have fun! It’s a good game, and thorough.

What’s for supper? Vol. 106: Thaint Thylvethter, pray for uth

Imagine an introduction here, won’t you? Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Us old folks WENT AWAY TO THE OCEAN. It was, as I’ve mentioned, our 20th anniversary, and we had a quick getaway. It was wonderful.

 

As we pulled out of our driveway on Friday night, my husband apologized profusely and then asked me to read him a letter from the ACLU to the Board of Alderman protesting the unconstitutionality of a proposed ordinance to require candidates to disclose the names of donors who help pay legal fees for an individual suing the city. Then he dictated a news brief about it, and I typed it out and we edited together in the dark as we drove south. This will give you an idea of how hard it is to switch gears into leisure mode. But we did it!

And oh, did we eat a lot. For dinner, the bacon-wrapped scallops arrived at the table still sizzling heroically in the pan, and then I ordered a lovely crab roll with gruyere. Luckily, the band was loud enough to cover the sound of Siri telling me how to pronounce “gruyere” to the waiter. Damien had some kind of good steaky thing, and we had cocktails until our brains caught up with the idea that we were on vacation. The fireplace and jacuzzi didn’t hurt, either.

Next morning, we had brunch out on the terrace with the bay sparkling below on two sides, the seagulls coasting past, and the trees fluttering in a breeze that was just stiff enough to scare away all the other guests, who kept getting their sorority hair in their mouths. I had a bagel with smoked salmon, chive cream cheese, copious capers, and vegetables, and Damien had eggs benedict with lobster, and a bloody mary.

We spent a contented day just wandering around this sweet little town, looking at stuff they don’t have any of back home. A very happy day. We had a late lunch of some beer with a dozen raw oysters. I ordered a cajun seafood bisque and a “tower of garlic bread,”

and Damien had some kind of good steaky thing, and candied bacon, which arrived on some kind of ridiculous bacon gallows.

We even had dessert! I had some kind of pumpkin praline cheesecake affair, and Damien had some kind of cavalcade of chocolate thing.

 

We came home late bearing pizzas, and the kids had cleaned the house like we told them to, and no one was dead. Good deal.  They got salt water taffy.

***

SUNDAY
Cheese burgers and chips 

We had to scramble and get caught up from our leisurely Saturday. We still had pumpkins to carve and costumes to finish, and I had cleverly scheduled two dentist appointments on HALLOWEEN MORNING, and two more the next day! I feel like there was a sleepover in there, somewhere, too. We just pretty much swore off sleeping for the week, and I steadfastly ignored no fewer than six volunteer sign-up sheets for parties. Also one kid suddenly had to be Louis XVI for something completely unrelated to . . . anything, as far as I could tell.

***

MONDAY
Zuppa Toscana and beer bread

Blustery wind and rain all day, and we were one of the few areas that didn’t lose power, so I felt very smart for choosing this cozy meal.

For the soup: I squeezed the meat out of about two pounds of sweet Italian sausages and browned it up with lots of minced garlic and diced onions. Then I added eight cups of chicken broth, some red pepper flakes, and four large potatoes sliced in thin wedges with the skin, and simmered it for a while. Then I filled up the pot with chopped kale, covered it, and waited for it to magically shrink down where it belongs. Then I added a whole quart of half-and-half, and let it cook for the rest of the day.

You can add bacon, and you can thicken this soup up with a little flour if you like, but it’s splendid as is, and so simple.

I made this easy, excellent beer bread again, and it turned out great. I made two loaves, with a bottle of Corona and a can of some kind of summer ale, and it turned out sharp and sour, which I love. This is the breadiest quick bread I have ever found.

***

TUESDAY
Halloween!
Hot dogs and Doritos

Gobbled down quickly as we raced to get costumes on. Here’s the gang this year:

Moe was a hungry vampire:

who nevertheless needs to keep in touch with folks:

Clara was a cheerful vampire:

and Benny was a vampire queen:

with somewhat loose teeth.

Elijah was Dr. Eggman:

Sophia was a fall fairy:

Lucy was Squirrel Girl:

and Irene was Rey:

Corrie was Wonder Woman earlier in the day

but by the time it was evening, she had become a puppy:

This year, I splurged on those fancy individual fangs that stick to your actual canines, but boy, were they a lot of trouble. Benny had lost her second front tooth in the morning, and her mouth was too raw for adhesive, so I got fanged up myself.

They weren’t really uncomfortable, but I sounded unspookily like Sylvester the Cat.

***

WEDNESDAY
Deconstructed pork shish kebab

This is usually one of those “why is this so unreasonably delicious?” meals, but not this time. Either I skipped too many good ingredients in the marinade, or I didn’t let it marinate long enough, but there just wasn’t that much flavor. Or maybe I just have a cold and can’t taste anything. Oh well. In the past, I’ve used this spiedie marinade from the NYT, which is fabulous.

I cut up a bunch of boneless pork ribs into chunks, and mixed them up with chunks of green pepper, red onion, and mushrooms, and spread it all, with the marinade, in shallow pans in a 450 oven until they were cooked, then I charred the edges under the broiler for a second.

***

THURSDAY
All Soul’s Day: Eggs in purgatory and soul cakes

My little joke. Usually, liturgically-appropriate cooking is far, far beyond me. Everyone else is making Divine Mercy Sundaes and stocking up on smoked paprika so they can be sure their homage to St. Engratia is Portuguese enough, and we’re all, “Christ is risen! Pass the gefilte fish.” But this year, I was on top of it.

Eggs in purgatory is just eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce, similar to shakshuka, which I’ve made a few times. It’s supposed to be a good hangover brunch, I dunno. I looked over a few Eggs in Purgatory recipes and made a very simple version. I ended up making about twice as much as we needed, so I’ll give you a normal-sized version:

Brown up a pound of loose, spicy sausage meat in a wide, shallow pan (to make room for cooking the eggs later). Add about 30 oz. of diced tomatoes, several cloves of minced garlic, and about half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and let it simmer for a long time. (You can add all sorts of things: peppers, onions, chili oil, etc. and you can stir in some tomato paste if you want it firmer.) Make about eight shallow indentations and carefully drop an egg into each one. Cover the pan loosely and let it poach for six or seven minutes, until the egg whites are cooked and the yolks are as solid as you want them to be. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese toward the end.

Then scoop out individual portions to serve.

You could add hot sauce or parsley or scallions toward the end, too.

The soul cakes turned out nice, if a slightly odd side dish for this meal. They are not much to look at, but they have a pleasantly old-fashioned, cidery taste.

I used this very easy recipe so I wouldn’t have to fiddle with yeast, which always turns on me. I again used the trick of grating the chilled butter, which makes it very easy to incorporate into the flour. My family doesn’t like raisins, but raisins would go well with these.

***

FRIDAY
Pizza!

Thufferin’ thuccotash, I’m exhausted.

What’s for supper? Vol. 90: We put the “amp” in camping

Hoop de doo! Here we go.

SATURDAY
Meatball subs, fruit

On Saturday, armed with only a sledgehammer, a reciprocating saw, and a thirteen-year-old boy, my husband built a new floor for our gutted murderboat, tentatively named “The No Regerts.”

Still ahead: sealing the wood and dragging it down to the stream. I SAID NO REGERTS. So I thought we could all use a hearty meal.

***

SUNDAY
Beef cabbage stir fry, rice, roasted rustlebutts

Here’s a nice recipe from Budget Bytes I make every six weeks or so. It’s easy and tasty and pretty cheap, and you can easily adjust how sweet or spicy it turns out.

Brussels sprouts were very cheap, so I got a ton and cut them in half and spread them on one of my fabulous new giant pans with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and just roasted ’em up under the broiler.

Corrie recoiled in horror and angrily refused . . . RUSTLE-BUTTS. So let it be written.

By the way, the best purchase I’ve made in a long time those two 15″ x 21″ baking sheets (affiliate link). I measured my oven and bought the biggest pans that would fit, and they make life so much easier. You can just cook everything up all at once, rather than trying to Tetris various small pans in there. They also double as serving trays for parties, and are useful for moving board games intact when we need the table.

***

MONDAY: Camping, day 1
We packed ever so slowly, and then had to go to urgent care for an ear infection, and had to stop to tighten the canoe that wanted very much to become a wild, wild canoe that hops on the nearest jet stream and resettles in Canada, so we didn’t get to the campgrounds until late, and then it turned out the lake was closed because of bacteria.

HOWEVER, the yurts were still airy and cool, and dinner was pork spiedies, watermelon, and Pringles, with S’mores for dessert. The spiedies were insanely delicious.

 

even though I forgot to pack tongs, and Mr. Husband had to make ridiculous BBQ chopsticks with a hair rubber band

I had made the meat at home the night before and packed it in ziplock bags along with the marinade, which leaked all over the inside of the cooler. I also forgot soap.

Faced with these realities, I decided pretty early on that I was going to take a three-day break from believing in cooties, and so what if the baby wanted to paddle around in the puddle under the spigot where I washed not only the pork juice with no soap but also her poopy bathing suit? I don’t want to hop on a jet stream and resettle in Canada! Not at all. Hey look, a yurt! So airy and cool.

I actually spent most of my time putting my feet up and complaining, while my husband made fires, told ghost stories, read Treasure Island to the kids, and grabbed flying children out of mid-air before they burned or impaled themselves.

Oh, and we took turns being fruit ninjas.

and I did get some rare photographic evidence that Corrie’s brain is, indeed, on fire.

***

TUESDAY: Camping, day 2
The kids had their hearts set on roasted apples for breakfast, but they ate most of the apples on day 1, so with a heavy heart I threw a box of Honey Buns at them while Damien went to Dunkin’ Donuts and got us coffees. Just kidding about the heavy heart part. Whatever it was in me that once relished the idea of waking up early and building a fire before breakfast, it’s dead now.

Lunch was sandwiches and cookies on the beach (a different beach, without water cooties), where we swam in the rain. Then the sun came out, so we bought a ton of candy and went to see Wonder Woman. Look, I never said we were good at camping.

Dinner was walking tacos, which taste so much better than is reasonable. I cooked ground beef and seasoned it at home, and we heated it up over our lovely propane stove. Each person got a personal little bag of Doritos, into which went meat, shredded cheese, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and salsa.

We also had grilled corn on the cob. You cook it in the husk over the coals until the husks are blackened, and it comes out so sweet.

For dessert, I couldn’t resist these cute Little Debbie brownies with animal tracks in them.

WEDNESDAY: Camping, day 3
Breakfast: scrambled eggs, bagels, hot chocolate with rainbow marshmallows!!!!
Next time, I’ll remember to pack a real pan. And butter. And a decent cooking utensil. I did, however, remember the salt!

Never, ever forget the salt.

Lunch: Candy.
I would say we had something else, but really we basically had candy. And then we went home. Some more more pleased about this than others.

 

Supper (at home): Bagel, egg, ham and cheese sandwiches. I had to run to the convenience store for more eggs, and since I was already conveniently paying top dollar, I ponied up a little bit more for local eggs. This is one “fresh, local, organic” food that truly lives up to the hype. The yolks are darker and more flavorful, the whites are fluffier and lighter, and it’s very charming to see how many different egg sizes find themselves together in one box.

But lorramercy

I feel like they could wash them.

We’re home again. Cooties are real.

***

THURSDAY
Pork ramen, broccoli

On Thursday, my true love took the sledgehammer we found in the murderboat and smashed up my kitchen, just liked I’ve been asking him to do.

So I made dinner on a dining room chair.

I browned up some sliced garlic in olive oil using the saute function of the Instant Pot, then browned up a bunch of pork ribs. I took them out and sliced them, sauteed them some more, then took them out again. In the same pot, I hard boiled a bunch of eggs, then took them out, peeled and halved them. Then I added water and scraped up all the yumminess that was in the bottom of the pot, and cooked ramen noodles in it with the flavor packets, then added the pork and some chopped spinach. I served the noodles and pork with the eggs, some scallions, sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, and crunchy noodles on top.

Not an especially sophisticated or complex taste, but it was fine and filling. And I cooked it all on a chair! And that’s why people love the Instant Pot.

***

FRIDAY
French toast casserole, I guess? I think Damien and I are going out for pizza. A full week of family togetherness is about enough for now.