Good, Friday

After last week's berry-picking extravaganza, I spent most of Sunday making preserves with the bounty. I soaked the strawberries in sugar overnight, cooked them down with a little lemon juice until the entire house and most of the backyard was filled with delicious stewed-berry air, made a spectacular mess that required the separate soaking of many stovetop components, and managed to get four out of six jars to seal through sheer will. It was a rousing success. I was very proud.

I have not cooked anything since then.

Looks like my Spring Slump is here! Don't know what date you had in the Erica Stops Wanting To Do Anything pool of 2014, but I hope you were close! There are several factors I could blame--5:30 pm swim lessons really throw a wrench in our evening schedule, cooking Weight Watchers recipes for two weeks made me lose interest in food, I'm 90% certain my other foot is broken now, I more or less quit drinking and it turns out that was my lone source of motivation, I've been kind of sneezy. Could be any number of things! (Almost definitely the WW.) All I know is, at some point a small voice in my head said Just return All Creatures Great and Small. You don't have to finish it. You will be able to figure out what's going on in the next book. He is definitely still a vet visiting eccentric characters and relating his experiences with warm humor and gentle exasperation. And I did it. And nothing terrible happened.

Good, said the voice. Now return that Spring cookbook that makes you feel depressed every time you look at it. Take pictures first, though. And I did.

Williams-Sonoma presents Nature's Bounty: more unappealing than ever before.

I know it's hard to believe that I would pass up all these beautiful desserts, but like I said, I'm just kind of in a place right now. I'm hoping they will inspire you guys, though!

Mmm, random garden clippings.

This claims to be a cheesecake but I'm guessing it's really a distant cousin of the Wisconsin Swiss Linguine Tart.

A classic bowl of Seeds and Viscera.

I'd be afraid to serve this one to people lest that pineapple be used as a weapon against me.

Now, pick out something you actually like. Go forth and unslump thyself. You know, next week.

Ivy's still narrowing down her Easter headwear, but I feel like we're getting close.


Remembering the two-week spring of 2014

I intended this post to be about my reluctant acceptance of the arrival of spring and the weekend wherein I crammed several rites thereof and then it was 38 degrees when I woke up this morning so I'm…uh, I'm not really sure what's going on. (We're blaming things on the Blood Moon, right?) Anyway, I finally determined that the only thing to do was to press on, lest the entirety of today's content be pictures of me wearing a sweatshirt and looking confused.

We spent a good chunk of the weekend picking strawberries and being either dubious or enthusiastic, depending on whether we were two or four.



Two and four.

Seriously, Anna will happily pose for and with anything right now.

Literally anything.


It was a good day.



April showers bring dead livestock

Slow reader book update! What I have learned from All Things Bright and Beautiful so far: nothing, because I am still reading All Creatures Great and Small. What I have learned from that: being a vet in rural England in the 30s sounds terrible, animals that spend their entire lives standing around in fields get struck by lightning a lot. Human body count: zero. Animal body count: really quite high. With the lightning and all.

Speaking of, it's time for Friday's How Many Minutes To Make It? LIGHTNING ROUND. Here we go, what say you to some Open Faced Veggie Melts? Will they make their 15 MINUTE cutoff?

Nooooooooooooope. Almost bumped to the next time category, even. Possibly slowing me down: indicating to husband that I am on the clock and need to avoid distraction, husband helpfully chanting "Chop! Chop! Chop!" in response.

In the 20 MINUTE category we have Soba Noodles with Tofu in Ginger Broth.

I'll allow the slight overage because most of that time was waiting for the water to boil and I felt like this took almost no work whatsoever. Possibly slowing me down: I was totally watching that pot.

And finally, representing 30 MINUTE dinners, we have Poached Salmon with Dill Mustard Sauce.

I am again going to forgive the extra minute here because out of all of this week's contenders this tasted the most like real food. Possibly slowing me down: having to persuade the toddler not to drink the bottle of clam juice.

Ah, the toddler. Yes, yes. She is loving her umbrella stroller right now.

Riiiiiight up until we're half a mile from the house in it.


What's with today, today?

First of all, I want to assure you guys that I have not abandoned my Book Lover's Cookbook project, it's just that I've started playing 2048 been really busy. Also, in order to make the scones from All Things Bright and Beautiful I basically have to read James Herriot's entire body of work, because of...mental health. So, scones! Sometime before July, almost definitely!

For now though, I just got to 1024 and have to try again immediately have some stuff to take care of, so let's get back to Make it in Minutes. How many minutes will it take???

Over the weekend, I went with some nice, leisurely 30-minute Peanut Noodles.

That is LEISURELY INDEED. These were actually very tasty, but they were neither 1) faster nor 2) any healthier than your average peanut noodle recipe, so I'm not sure what WW is playing at here. Not accounted for: a full minute of debating whether to bother with chopsticks, warming up a hot dog for the child who proclaimed it "uuuuck peanut buttery," pondering the palate of same frequent-peanut-butter-eating child.

Last night was swimming lessons, so I headed back to the 15-minute section. Chicken Tacos with Salsa Verde Cream.

Our first shorter-than-promised prep time! And I even shredded my own cheese. Good job, store-bought taco shells! Not accounted for: having to inventory my canned meat supply, denying my Austinite child her request for eggs and beans on hers, explaining that tacos are sometimes crunchy.

Hey, Anna wanted me to remind you that April is National Car Care Month.

Apparently she had a broken hyperdrive. Good thing she checked!

I am also informed that today is Be Kind to Lawyers Day. Due to my inactive status with the state bar I'm not sure if I count, but you should probably be civil to me today just to cover your bases.

NOT SURE IF THIS COUNTS AS AN UPDATE IF I ADD IT BEFORE I HIT PUBLISH: It is also Rex Manning Day. This either matters A LOT to you or you have no idea what I'm talking about. I have to go make cupcakes now.


April is the whiniest month

Hoo boy, it has been kind of a week in this house. First of all, we had a mystery cat in the very top branches of one of our trees for almost four days, a situation that I found surprisingly stressful considering my only contributions were to put a plate of salmon on the ground and occasionally ask "Kitty?" (My intrepid neighbor actually climbed up very very very very high in a rescue attempt, but to no avail.) And I know, I know, the have-you-ever-seen-a-cat-skeleton-in-a-tree thing, but I HAVE seen CAT CORPSES on the GROUND. So. Anyway, she climbed and/or fell down at some point Wednesday night. Godspeed, stressful mystery cat.

Also, it was in the mid-80s this week and the beginning of feeling like I can't really take a deep breath and no one is sorry for you when your seasonal depression is off-seasonal.

And mostly, Ivy has thrown all of her energy into her two primary hobbies, which are 1) avoiding sleep and 2) screaming the word "no" at me. SHE'S DOING BOTH RIGHT NOW, RIGHT THIS SECOND. Her devotion is inspirational, in a way. I nearly formulated a joke about the Olympics and a driving-your-mother-to-exhausted-tears event, but I was too distracted by my exhausted tears.

Aaaaaaaaaaanyway! April is swimming lessons month! They happen right around dinner-prep time! To the library for a cookbook solution of some sort! Ah, here we are: Make It In Minutes. Hey, good news for those of you who want to follow along at home, used copies are one cent on Amazon, because it is a Weight Watchers book based on an outmoded points system. No matter, it's only the minutes that concern us here, although technically every dish I have ever made was prepared in some number of minutes. These claim to fall in 15, 20, and 30 minutes categories. Let's see!

I had almost completed my first thought upon seeing "Spicy Hummus with Curried Pita Chips," which was Are they seriously trying to sell hummus as a dinner? when it was overtaken by my second thought, which was YES, SOLD. Prep time claim: 15 minutes.

Actual prep time:

Not bad! I'm reasonably efficient in the kitchen and know exactly where I keep my tahini, so maybe give it a five minute cushion, but it was pretty close. Not accounted for: chopping the vegetables, cleaning the food processor, semi-apologizing to the husband that we are having hummus for dinner.

Pepper-Crusted Flank Steak with Cucumber Relish. Prep time claim: 20 minutes.

Actual prep time:

VERY close. And the first thing said by two different people who walked into the house was "It smells good in here." Not accounted for: psychological recovery from pulling a pan out of the oven that was entirely engulfed in flames. Pretty good start, though. I could get used to this quick whipping up of dinner thing, it frees up tons of time for exhausted tears.

"Hi, I'm Anna and my mother has no idea where to tie on the extra flappy things that came with my dance costume."

On a non-complaining note, the ATX Television Festival made some programming announcements this week, so my obsessively completionist self has started from the beginning of both Bates Motel and Everwood. How am I going to keep these eccentric small towns straight? (Haha, just kidding, one of them is full of murder, but seriously they both have quirky festivals in the first couple of episodes and I think I'm going to have pretty weird dreams this month.)


Lord, what fools these internets be

Okay. Stop right there.

Take a deep breath. And know that you are in a safe place. A fool-free zone.

Well. You know what I mean.

I'm a little bit torn on April Fool's Day. I love a holiday! And I generally enjoy the elementary-school-level silliness that abounds. Most of you probably haven't noticed this about me, but silliness is something I can appreciate on a very deep level. But as a person of moderate-to-slightly-above-moderate anxiety, the whole enterprise makes me extremely uneasy. The beautiful dark circles under my eyes are slightly deepened and I am extra-alert.

Much like a certain very intense Cat Team leader! One whose face-painter tried to mitigate the ferocity of her choice by adding little blue bow to one ear.

Bless her heart.

So I want you to know that everything I present to you today is wholly without trickery. For example, when I say that I wrapped up the March section of Melissa Clark's Cook This Now just in time for April, what I mean is that I made Braised Pork Shoulder With Tomatoes, Cinnamon, and Olives over Polenta last Tuesday and Coconut Fudge Brownies last Wednesday and that the brownies are actually from the April section because the March dessert is an olive oil cake and I just made an olive oil cake last month. Normally I would have glossed over those disclosures in the interest of narrative simplicity and you WOULD HAVE BEEN FOOLED.

Fooled but good.

Not today, though! And now that we've established a level of trust here, I can tell you that you must make these brownies and also that you must leave them very slightly gooey in the middle and you will know that I speak honestly. APRIL WISDOM, EVERYONE. Go forth in the light of chocolatey truth.


I assume they are planning heists, but I haven't asked

Guder mariye! Sitz dich anne un bleib e weil! Just a little Pennsylvania Dutch in honor of today's topic (Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult), hope you Englischers weren't too ferhoodled by it. Here is a nice, simple 1-2-3-4 Cake to ease you into the wholesome world of an Amish dairy farm.

Butter and refined sugar, God's own ingredients.

Except ooooops our particular Amish dairy farm has a MURDERED INFANT ON IT! Don't worry, there's a Big City Lady Lawyer on the case and she has short hair like a boy so you know she's all business. I realize this is a bit upsetting. Here, this bowl of Chicken and Dumplings will calm your nerves.

So, look. Obviously this novel was not my particular cup of unpasteurized milk, and I definitely spent some of the more boring stretches of courtroom plot-rehashing debating which aspect of my person was most insulted by it (woman/lawyer/adult human/fan of character development), but I do have a couple of things to say in its defense. First of all, Jodi Picoult personally contributed the cake and dumpling recipes to The Book Lover's Cookbook with notes about living with the Amish and I genuinely appreciate that. These are, without a doubt, the most appropriate recipe-to-character matches to date. I can clearly picture an Amish family of possible baby-murderers sitting down to a slice of that cake.

Second, there's a chance that, as a brown-eyed individual, I am just feeling left out of Picoult's fetishization of blue and green eyes. Every object of affection has eyes that are blue (like the water) or blue (like the sky) or green (like the water, as seen from the sky) (really). Brown eyes can be seductive too, Jodi! Check it!

"The circles under her eyes were a deep, endless purple, a color he had only seen once before in his life, inside a bowl of his mother's eggplant parm."

Third, about three quarters of the way into the book a character who is splattered with chicken blood is described by another character as looking "like you've stepped out of a Kevin Williamson film," and the 90s specificity of that reference delighted me so much that I pretty much forgave it everything. Plus, there are many, many instances of the world ferhoodled. Priceless.

Next up: a re-read of James Herriot's All Things Bright and Beautiful, mostly because I am pretty confident it does not contain any homicide.

A few days before Christmas, Anna informed "Santa" that she wanted a new stuffed cat. This was news to me, but also an easy request to fulfill last minute, so come Christmas morning, a new stuffed cat there was. "Good," said Anna solemnly. "A new member of the Cat Team." The Cat Team was also news to me. Hilarious news.

Yesterday, the Cat Team gained yet another freshman, and Anna spent much of the afternoon giving her a tour of the house and introducing her to the rest of the team.

My point here is that four is a good age.

Two is also very special, of course.


Mood and mobility

Hey guys, I think I might have been a little too hard on spring last time. Sure the late afternoon light seems specifically calibrated to illuminate every dust molecule in the house, but it's also sort of golden and soothing. Sure it's a pain to dress for the hot/cold temperature swings, but three months from now the swings will be from extremely hot to unbearably hot, so throwing a jacket on in the morning isn't really the worst. Sure a family of birds has set up residence in my oven vent, but maybe it will prevent the girls from…being allergic to birds? What I'm trying to say is, I'm feeling better about the season and also my life in general and also the world at large and hey look at that! I no longer have a boot on my foot and feel as though I'm slowly suffocating from the bottom up! So thaaaaat might explain it.

I'm closing in on the end of the March section of Cook This Now, which works out well since we are also closing in on the end of the March section of 2014. Now, obviously Spicy Black Beans with Chorizo and Jalapeño is a good dish. Partly because it's spicy black beans with chorizo and jalapeño and partly because it is served over rice and I have never had a bad combination of beans and rice.

Not gonna start today.

Make sure and let your eyes linger on those bright spicy colors because next up is...Amish food! I will be finished with Plain Truth by the end of this week, one way or another. It will leave my nightstand. Possibly via my bedroom window. I probably could have finished it already, but I have to stop every two pages to close my eyes and exhale deeply. SERENITY NOW.

Anyway, sorry, let's get back to happy thoughts. Nothing stronger than a bond between sisters!

…possibly excepting the bond between one sister and her pop tart!