Food

Don't say I never gave you nuthin

I hoped to write something... writerly for Friday, but the three or four writerly cells in my body are all, "WINE, PLEASE" (they ARE the writerly ones) and it's 10 pm and I still have to fold two loads of laundry and pack a bag to go to my mom's house so: yeaaah. Not so much with the writerliness tonight.

But that doesn't mean I leave you with nothing. Oh no.

Line a 13x9 inch pan with tin foil (hang it over the sides) and butter the bottom.

Cover the bottom of the pan in graham crackers. Don't crush them, just line them up and then fill in the gaps till you have a nice graham cracker layer.

Cook two sticks of butter and a cup of brown sugar till it boils. Pour over graham crackers. Bake in 400 degree oven for five minutes.

Pour some chocolate chips over the top. Wait till they melt. When they're soft, spread them out into a nice chocolate layer.

If you're feeling sassy, chop some walnuts and sprinkle those on top.

Stash in the fridge. Until you can't bear it anymore and must have a bite of 'Easy Toffee Bars' aka THIS MUST BE WHAT HEAVEN TASTES LIKE.

The girl who gave me the recipe added some specifics: 15 graham crackers, 6 oz of milk chocolate chips. But I didn't count the crackers and I used semi-sweet (and way more than 6 oz by the way) because it's all I had. I also probably overcooked the brown sugar and butter and I waited a really long time to bake it because the shorties were being sort of indignant about the lack of attention and needed some quality story/dancing/holding time stat. And after I eventually baked it and spread the chocolate out, some of it got mixed in with the toffee and you know what? IT STILL TASTED LIKE HEAVEN. So much so that I had to chop it all into tiny bite-sized pieces and hide it in the freezer lest I eat the entire pan. Of course, that just means I'm eating them frozen.

I've made about half the cookies I normally make by this point in December, but since I didn't think I'd manage to bake ANY, I'm feeling pretty accomplished. There are days when Phillip comes home from work and the house is a wreck and I fall all over myself telling him how impossible it was to get anything done. And then there are other days when my big kid naps and my little kid doesn't freak out if I put her in the bouncy seat and I can DO STUFF. If I was also able to eat lunch before 3 with both of my hands? THAT WAS A GOOD DAY.

I am looking forward to a weekend of grandparents wrangling the boy, catching up on the stack of magazines I neglected during my Vampire Phase, purchasing some sort of handmade Christmas knick knacky thing at my parents' smallish town Christmas festival and napping while Phillip takes some 'shopping alone time'. Feel free to ask for Phillip's email address if you'd like to send him any Gift Suggestions.


Green Street Cred

I have posted what I hope is the last of my Nap Posts over at Parenting. (The entire internet shouts for joy!)

So, did you know? Seattle Mom Blogs is counting down to Earth Day with a series of "going green" posts. They're asking us local ladies to write about what we're doing to save the [fill in your favorite endangered species]. And while this is a topic I'm actually quite interested in, I have to get something off my chest first:

I am tired of hearing about everyone's Green Street Cred. Do you know what I'm talking about?

"Oh, as soon as I heard about Bisphenol-A I immediately switched to those bottles you can buy at Whole Foods!"

"I always remember to bring my reusable shopping bags."

"Our family eats completely organic."

And my absolute least favorite Seattle-centric phrase: "Why can't people just bike to work?"

Where I live there are green public initiatives, conferences and expos, recycling containers everywhere you look, local food celebrations and houses with cooperative fruit and vegetable boxes sitting on their doorsteps. Organic living is a hot topic among Seattle moms and our governor just signed a law that will ban the sale of certain toys in Washington State: "The law will dramatically cut the amount of lead, cadmium and phthalates, a commonly used plasticizing chemical, allowed in children's toys, cosmetics, jewelry, teething items and car seats made or sold in the state."

As someone who bought Born Free bottles immediately after reading about bisphenol-a, uses cloth diapers and wipes, put biodiesel in her car (until it shot up to nearly $5 a gallon) and has lately started purchasing organic milk for her precious wittle baby, I can't say I don't subscribe to this stuff. I do. It started when I went to China in 2004 and watched my American friend washing her Ziploc bags which she had been using for months. She wasn't doing this to save the earth, she was doing it because you can't find plastic storage bags in China. (I ended up sending her a big box in the package I sent for Christmas!) But it burned a little hole into my brain that rarely fails to remind me of how much I throw away, and how much I could either reuse or just not use in the first place.

I've made a concerted effort to avoid throwaway cleaning products and convenience items. Not always, of course. These things ARE convenient and we keep a pack of disposable diapers for the days I spend at my parents' house, because it's VERY inconvenient to use cloth when you're gone for more than two hours. I try to keep a stash of rags in the kitchen so I'm not tempted to use paper towels for every spill. The city just sent us a notice saying that they'll be accepting more recyclables and compost items and I taped the flyer to the kitchen wall so I'll remember what goes where. Composting intrigues me and if I can figure out an efficient removal system (it's a bit harder when your kitchen is on the second floor) we'll be starting that soon.

I've been replacing my toxic household cleaners with more environmentally-friendly (and person-prone-to-massive-headaches-friendly) cleaners. I'm learning a little bit more about organic and local food. I'm not totally sold on everything having to be organic, but I like the idea of eating and buying locally.

And I can afford to do these things. I can't afford to live totally organic (the organic mattresses my friends were talking about the other day are $1000 and up, WAAAY up) but I can do little things. I have the luxury to be able to consider "green living" and I think of recycling and reusing as good stewardship. I am really interested in toxin-free baby items. We put biodiesel in our car because we figured there needs to be a market for alternative fuel- why not be part of it?

But I don't want to be part of a Green Competition. I don't want to compare green lifestyles with my friends or complain about the number of people who could be carpooling to work. A lot of the new construction in town is advertised as "Built Green" and while I'm sure people value the greenness, I bet a lot of people equally value the green street cred. And it's just annoying. I may use non-toxic shower door cleaner, but I don't think it makes me a better person. (Also, it doesn't WORK. Next up: the water and vinegar solution!)

Anyway. Have I sort of canceled out my own post? "Green Culture is irritating!" "But wait, let me tell you about cloth diapers!" Because that is taking obnoxiousness to a whole new level. (But I love you, Seattle, I do! Whenever I refer to you as "The People's Republic Of" my dad reminds me that I wouldn't last a day in other parts of the country and he's RIGHT! I'll keep you, REI and all!)

And I AM interested in what you guys are doing, if anything. Especially if it can fit into an extremely lazy person's sedentary lifestyle.


I ALMOST forgot to post today

But I didn't! 9:45 pm Pacific Coast Time!

Phillip and I just got home. I ran upstairs saying, "I have to write a post!" and now I am here and I don't know what to write about.

Hmm.

How about how my boy is turning into an interpretive dancer? In church this morning he's standing on my lap looking over my shoulder and waving his arms in front of him, kind of like that weird lady who tours with Bruce Hornsby just to stand on the edge of the stage acting out an acid trip. He's twisting his hands around in front of his face, like he is mesmerized by the amount of wrist fat. It is very strange. I swear, people, every day there is something new. My parents were watching him tonight and my mom told me that he was flapping his arms around while she was feeding him, as if to say, "Woman! My mouth is hanging open! Insert the pureed carrots NOW!" He hasn't done that with me. He also fell asleep on her shoulder at 7:45 and allowed himself to be placed in the crib without a half hour of vigorous annoying rocking. He hasn't done that with me either. Harrumph.

Also? I made butternut squash soup today. From a squash I roasted myself. Now that I have actually done the roasting and soup-making, I have to say it's not quite as difficult as I thought it would be. But still. I am the kind of person who buys the plastic wrapped package of pre-cubed squash and here I am roasting and blending and tasting and adding cinnamon. I am so awesome.

Although I've had better butternut squash soup. I picked this recipe because it had a small list of ingredients (as in, things I already had in my house) and didn't have forty-seven steps. But now that I have roasted my very own squash, I may be able to branch out into multi-stepped cooking. Do you have a good recipe? That will not kill me and/or use every pot in my house?

Speaking of good recipes, Saturday night we went to a Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner at a friend's house and besides the turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing and vegetables and cranberries and pumpkin pie and many bottles of wine, there was butternut squash lasagna. Specifically, this butternut squash lasagna. Oh man. Best thing I have put in my mouth in MONTHS. And this includes the giant handfuls of chocolate chips I've been downing lately. It totally dropped me to 10th place in the Evil Weight Loss Challenge, BUT IT WAS WORTH IT. This baby weight is never coming off. (Although I'm sure the fourteen glasses of wine had something to do with it too. Mmm, wine.)

Okay, I'm now going to see if the goths made it through tonight's episode of The Amazing Race without smearing their makeup. I am totally entranced by the goths. I can't be bothered to cover up the zit on my chin most days- I can't IMAGINE going through life making sure my roots are still pink and my mouth is still lined in black.


Giving in

Last night, because my mother-in-law was watching Jack and I was tired of the computer (gasp!) and there was still another hour before Phillip would get home, I busted out the food processor and - dum dum dum! - made baby food.

Sort of.

I had a sweet potato lying around because I'd planned to make this recipe in my Low Glycemic Index cookbook, but I lost interest because hello, who wants to eat anything that came from a Low Glycemic Index cookbook? I had this lonely sweet potato and it was just lying there doing nothing. So I dug the potato peeler out of the chaos that is our Kitchen Gadgetry drawer, peeled it, quartered it and dropped it into a pot of boiling water.

Then I started to eye the three apples in the fruit basket, sitting there ever since Phillip said, "Can you buy some fruit today?" and I agreed, even though Phillip never eats fruit unless it is cut into neat slices and laid out appealingly on a tray, and even though I was not eating fruit due to the Evil Weight Loss Challenge. (Speaking of, I was kicking ASS in the weight loss challenge, until yesterday when I decided I needed to up my serotonin levels with four handfuls of chocolate chips. And please, no emails telling me that chocolate has nothing to do with your serotonin levels. I won't believe you anyway.)

Without really thinking about it, I peeled and cored the apples and then dusted off Joy of Cooking to see how in the world you are supposed to cook them. Joy of Cooking is not terribly helpful in the baby food department, but going off the applesauce recipe, I decided to just let the apples simmer in a bit of water. Seemed to work.

So I was watching my little pots boil on the stove and congratulating myself on my ingenuity. I had not googled Making Baby Food nor had I cracked open a single How To Make Baby Food book. People kept telling me how easy it was, barely disguising the horror in their voices when they talked about the human rights issue that is jarred baby food. I mostly blew these people off because I was sort of excited to go to the store and stock up on a bunch of little jars. Until I actually went to stock up and saw that Today's Baby eats from little plastic resealable boxes. Genius! But most of all, as you know, Internet, I am lazy. Lay. Zee. I truly did not believe I could be bothered to MAKE baby food. As in, COOK. For someone who will most likely splutter it all over my clothes, my floor and my basket of decorative autumn gourds.

But a strange thing has happened since my part-time work plan flew out the window without even saying goodbye. I've become... economical. Domestic. Housewifey. If I'm not going to be earning any money, the least I can do is start figuring out how to SAVE money. Or at least attempt to use less of it. In some areas, this is pretty easy. Even if we wanted to go out to eat every night, it's impossible. SOMEONE has to be in bed. In other areas it's harder (just because I have nowhere to go doesn't mean I don't want to buy myself new winter boots). But the biggest thing I've been into lately is menu planning and grocery shopping. We used to be a "What are we going to eat tonight?" "I don't know, let's go to the store and figure it out!" kind of family. But now I take inventory of what we have in the house, plan what we're going to eat and shop for (and this is key) ONLY THOSE THINGS. This is hard. But we've been doing it for a month and not only are we saving a little more money, I am COOKING DINNER. I swear, I cook more now than I did before the baby. (Also, Phillip has heaps of leftovers to take for lunch which is where I think most of our money was going last year anyway. Why bring lunch when there's a perfectly yummy deli next door to the office?!)

Anyway, I started to think that making baby food wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

The potato finished first so I dumped it in the food processor, added some of the water and within minutes I had enough sweet potato puree for several weeks. I went to do the same thing with the apples, until I realized the entire bottom of the pan was black. I may be cheap and lazy, but even I won't feed my baby carcinogenic applesauce.

After the baby's nap today I am off to buy some ice cube trays, some freezer bags and a few more fruits and vegetables. The plastic Gerber boxes were cool, but I'm beginning to believe this might be as easy as everyone says it is. If anyone is interested, this is the website I've been using to plan my in house baby food empire. I especially like how they put an exclamation point at the end of every sentence. It makes you feel really good about your domesticity.


Earning some wife points

I was the absolute picture of domesticity yesterday after work. My grandmother would be so proud.

First, I went grocery shopping. There aren't any good grocery stores in my neighborhood, so I usually end up buying a few things on my lunch break at the grocery store near my office. But occasionally we'd get really lazy and spend entirely too much at the Fancy Pants Grocery Store a few blocks away from the house. I loved this store. It was so pretty and clean and had a whole section devoted to cookware and tableware and holiday-themed candles and napkins and other stuff that makes my heart go all pitter pat. But for some reason that store went out of business and we were Without once again.

(Oh man, total tangent here: Last night I dreamed I turned in an essay to a professor who marked me off one point for every instance of random capitalization, resulting in a D minus, and I totally lost it because the professor JUST DIDN'T GET MY 'VOICE'! and I think this is some kind of karmic punishment for my snobby snob snob post yesterday. Anyway.)

Okay, so the grocery store. It was empty for a few months and then! The Asian grocery store moved in. It's not as, shall we say, fancy as my old grocery store. There are no cute decorations and definitely no fun tabletop things to splurge on, but there are rows and rows of soy sauce and instant noodles and unidentifiable animal products in jars and we LOVE IT. It's cheap! It's close! It sells Napa cabbage AND Mochi ice cream AND Cheerios! I picked up a few things for dinner and a box of funky Japanese candy for Phillip (attention retailers of the world: I will buy anything packaged in pink and decorated with either Hello Kitty or anime-style panda bears) and went home.

As soon as I'd parked the car and hung my purse on the coat hooks, I marched upstairs and made what I will generously refer to as Lemon Cheesecake Bars for the Easter Vigil reception at my church Saturday night. I say "generously", because I think they're sort of crap. They're made with a box of yellow cake mix, for one thing, and I don't think there was half as much sugar in the cream cheese layer as there should have been, but in my experience, the General Public will eat anything. And I already have a giant tub of Tollhouse cookies sitting in the freezer for the reception as well. As the General Public seems to think those are God's Own Chocolate Chip Cookies, I don't feel like I've fallen down on the job or anything.

And then? I made dinner. Making dinner is sort of a lost art in my house since I've been pregnant and Phillip has acquired his revolting work ethic. (The other night he came home at eight. Last night he went back to work at ten to PUSH A BUTTON. I will never understand these network administrator types and their wittle preshuss servers.) There's been a lot of fast food for dinner and a lot of "I'll just have cereal tonight" and many things made with eggs: scrambled eggs and toast, egg over rice, Asian noodles with an egg mixed in. But last night I made spaghetti carbonara, also made with eggs, but exponentially more delicious.

I Think This Is How My Mom Told Me To Make It Spaghetti Carbonara

  • Fry some bacon. My notes say 4 ounces but I usually do twice that much. And I cut it into little pieces before I fry it so I don't have to get my fingers dirty crumbling it up. And I toss in some minced garlic to boot. Oh, and this is supposed to be pancetta, but bacon is just as good.
  • Set the oven to its lowest temperature. Stick a bowl and two pasta plates inside to warm up.
  • Boil one pound of spaghetti. It boils faster if you watch last night's Daily Show on the TiVo.
  • Right before the spaghetti is done (8-10 minutes? Sort of?) get out your warmed bowl and whisk together 2 fresh eggs, 1/2 cup heavy cream and a giant heap of fresh Parmesan. My notes  say 2 ounces of Parmesan, but that's ridiculous. I can't believe I wrote that. You want LOTS and you want it to be freshly grated from the scary side of your cheese grater, not the shredded stuff you buy in the plastic tub at the store. You want better cream too, but I can't figure out where to buy that. They've only got the normal stuff in my store and it is not sufficiently heart-attack worthy in my opinion. But that's all right, it'll work. Season with salt and pepper (more pepper than salt, and fresh cracked black pepper) and mix in the bacon too.*
  • Strain the pasta and immediately dump it in the warmed bowl, mix mix mix, and transfer to the two warmed pasta plates. Fast! It won't stay hot for long, unless you are my mother and have quadrupled the recipe and turned yourself into Big Anthony from Strega Nona. Technically this makes enough for four, but it actually makes enough for Phillip and me, plus one helping to take for lunch the next day. We are pigs.
  • Yummy. Best eaten while complaining about your coworkers.

Oh, and I made garlic bread too. Phillip was delighted. His wife! Made dinner! That was ready! When he got home! I may have even worn an apron.

But then the baby started moving a lot (hey! he has good taste!) and that always makes me feel queasy (weird, I know) and Phillip valiantly volunteered to clean up while I lounged beached whale-like on the couch yelling at the Amazing Racers. I can't stand that Mirna person. And this is where my grandmother would be all, "Tsk tsk" because a MAN is washing the dishes and then I would have to make it worse and say, "You think that's something? He's going to change DIAPERS, TOO!"

Tonight, of course, I intend to faint dead away on the couch the minute I get home and, when Phillip calls to say he's going to be late and should he pick up McDonald's on the way home, a small touch of hopefulness in his voice that he will not have to pick up McDonald's, I'll say, "Get me a chocolate shake while you're there."

*Yes, there are RAW EGGS in this recipe. QUELLE HORREUR! If you only knew how much raw cookie dough I've eaten while pregnant...


Eating healthy at Chez Cheung

I made dinner last night. (Well, first I ate a gigantic bowl of Trader Joe's granola in front of Veronica Mars, then I made dinner.) (I've always been too lazy to shop at Trader Joe's because it's a bit farther away than down the street, but we've been shopping there after church on Sundays and I shall never love a grocery store as much as I love Trader Joe's. And this, coming from a girl who grew up with 1960's warehouse-like military overseas commissaries, who now worships the huge and glorious fancy grocery stores of the wondrous United States of America, is saying a LOT.) But anyway. I was going to tell you what I made for dinner. Which is super embarrassing. Because I made baked chicken and macaroni and cheese, but not ANY baked chicken and macaroni and cheese. We didn't have any breadcrumbs or old bread to make breadcrumbs, so I ground up a bunch of TRISCUITS in the food processor, and this is how I breaded my chicken. And the macaroni and cheese, which I was so looking forward to, because oh how I love fake powdered cheese sauce, was SPIDERMAN macaroni and cheese. Phillip, when he was dispatched to the grocery store several weeks ago for the quadruple chocolate ice cream, happened to pick up a few extra things. I noticed he bought three boxes of macaroni and cheese, but I did not notice that the noodles were in the shape of webs and spiders and buildings. He says that he only bought those boxes because they were on sale, but knowing what we know about my husband, do we believe him?

So last night we ate macaroni in the shape of eight-legged bugs and salty Triscuit chicken. I thought about making a salad, but I simply could not be bothered.

Then we called our friend Sean to come over and watch Lost with us, but I told him not to ring our doorbell unless he had first stopped by the grocery store and picked up a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. (Hollered Phillip, "Tell him to get me some chips!")

THIS is why I have gained 400 pounds in the last two months. For shame.

A friend of mine told me that you can buy pre-diced butternut squash at Trader Joe's. So I think I'm going to attempt the soup on Saturday, in the morning when I feel like a normal human being. I want to try the Egyptian lentil soup too, but that might be going overboard. (And really, how much soup can one person eat?) And those of you who used the word "foodie" in your comments- how come you are not sending me recipes? I own about 57 baking cookbooks and none that tell you how to make real food. Obviously I need help.

(I'm actually a little bit relieved I'm going on vacation this Thanksgiving because that means I'm off the hook for making the Thanksgiving turkey like I did last year. Not that we ruined it or anything, but talk about COOKING. Like, getting up at six in the morning cooking. Meat thermometer cooking. Using every dish in your house cooking. Will your grandmother find your gravy acceptable cooking. Equal amounts of fun and trauma.)

Phillip called me last night from the bus on his way home. "I just read your blog," he said excitedly. "What's for dinner?!" Even though I'm pretty sure he was just calling to say that he read my website on his stupid new phone (did you know Phillip has a new phone? You didn't? Do you want his email address? I'm sure he'd love to tell you ALL ABOUT IT. Maybe he should do a guest post! About his stupid new phone! That he can use to read his email! And MY WEBSITE! OOOHHH!) I was still embarrassed that he was so excited about me making dinner (and was still excited, even when he found out what I was making.) It is so sad. Don't tell my grandmother. She doesn't care that I work full time too AND I am currently incubating another human being, she would be rather disappointed to know I am not rushing home every day to cook a pot roast for my husband. Sigh. Do you know what Phillip would do if I were to start making roasts every day? I'm not entirely sure, but I would bet it involves the word DIAMONDS.