Am I going to saddle you with horse puns? Neigh!

Happy Lunar New Year! Everyone take a minute to figure out what the Year of the Horse means for you. (Though I would argue that "WATCH OUT FOR VOLCANOES" applies to all of us, every year.) Being a fan of the fresh start, I am always pleased to see this new year quick on the heels of the last one, especially since I consider the whole month of January sort of a resolutionary warm-up period. You can't change habits without stretching first, you'll hurt yourself! So here we embark on another new quantified stretch of time, thankfully one that gives us a reason to eat Chinese food.

As you know, I had to earn my Chinese food this year because my self-imposed project dictated that it be so. It also means that you have to earn your pictures of my Chinese food by reading about Book #2: Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah (or by making the very difficult and personal decision to skip this paragraph to get to the pictures). I want to start by pointing out that all royalties from this book have been donated by the author to a scholarship program and that she withstood all manner of terrible treatment in her life and I certainly wish her the best as a human. I should also note that when the phrase "the human will to endure" appears on the front-cover blurb, it is almost 100% guaranteed to be a book that I will not enjoy. And I didn't! Not one single bit. I think most of the problem lies in the fact that I am a hugely self-centered empathetic person and cannot read about other people suffering without making it about me sharply feeling that pain. I mean, seriously Dan, how could you marry a half-French 17-year-old right after I died giving birth to your fifth child? I'M GLAD SHE ENDS UP BEING A SOCIOPATH. Ahem. It's sort of an unyielding downer, is all I'm saying. And I know that some people like to feel sad or outraged the same way some people like scary movies and that is cool with me if that's your thing but reading about child and elder abuse pretty much just makes me feel terrible. Not in a way that spurs me to want to do something about it or even gain perspective on the general pleasantness of my own life, just regular-unproductive-terrible. Fortunately, I had a plate of dumplings in which to drown my her sorrows.

The Book Lover's Cookbook gives us two recipes to go with Falling Leaves. First up is Tianjin Dumplings, which are made up more or less of this pork filling but cooked by steaming rather than frying.

They look nice, right? And they are. Dumplings are delicious, everyone knows this. Let's take a look at the excerpt that goes along with them:

After dinner one stiflingly hot day, 2 July 1943, we were planning next day's menu with Cook. Aunt Baba suggested we have Tianjin dumplings instead of rice. Freshly made with chives, ground pork, and spring onions, these dumplings were a great favorite among us children. We were all shouting out ridiculously high numbers as to how many we could eat. Grandmother developed a headache from all the commotion. She went to her room, lit a cigarette and lay down. Aunt Baba sat by her and narrated a story from The Legend of the Monkey King. Even though Grandmother knew many tales from the well-known Chinese classic, she found it relaxing to hear them told again and again by her daughter.

Now, if you need me to tell you that MINOR SPOILER ALERT Grandmother is dead by the end of the paragraph, you have not been paying attention. YUM, DUMPLINGS!

The other recipe is for Uplifting Rice Noodles with Peppery Meat Sauce. I guess the attending excerpt is "uplifting" in the sense that she meets the man who will become her first husband, but it's also sort of "down-shoving" in the sense that he will be a rotten husband who will beat her and abandon their child.

I did really like this recipe, although it wasn't at all what I first imagined (something more like goulash, maybe?). The Chinese sausage was worth seeking out, as it had an unusual sweetness that would have been hard to substitute for. And I will eat rice noodles with almost anything, including literature-induced depression.

Next up: I will be re-reading Little House on the Prairie for the first time in at least 20 years. Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthday is February 7th, so that's the goal date. Hey, maybe I do like children facing hardship after all? Speaking of…

Guess who has finally been felled by the mysterious snot-and-mild-fever monster?

Didn't stop her from insisting that the peppery meat sauce could use more peppering.

(She wasn't wrong.)

And don't worry if you were up most of the night with your sick toddler and spent all morning eating Chex Mix straight from the bag and this already isn't feeling like the freshest of second-chance fresh starts: tomorrow is the beginning of a brand new month! New month, new us, right kids?


I'm sure it's winter fairly

As I graciously reminded a few of you at the time, Saturday night was Burns Night: my most legitimate excuse for mangling a Scottish accent of aaaaall the year. (Also note how foxy ol' Rabbie looks in that link. Nothing not to like about this holiday.) Turns out my dedication to authenticity stops just a few millimeters (of intestine) shy of actual haggis, so I went with the next best thing and expressed my love and respect for the home of the hairy coo by picking its funniest-sounding dishes. Behold: cock-a-leekie soup, cranachan, and…RUMBLEDETHUMPS!

Yo colcannon, I'm really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Scotland has one of the best mashed potato and cabbage dish names of all time. 

Of course, before I could spend Saturday night having very important thoughts and feelings about 230-year-old-poetry I had to survive Friday's vicious snow attack. I assume Austin's ordeal was the talk of the nation, probably the world, but I want you all to know that we are fine. Safe and sound.

Creating nightmare-creatures, per winter tradition.

Ivy wasn't even deterred from her rounds, brave girl.


Mrs. Nesbitt Goes To A Coffee Party

Anna decided to have her annual mild fever this week. We are not a family of fever-runners by constitution, so any temperature spike is taken seriously. That, combined with whatever on earth is happening with the weather, makes this DAY NUMBER FOUR OF ME BEING STUCK IN THIS HOUSE WITH BOTH CHILDREN. We are starting to get a little bit tired of each other.

Notice that she can't even be bothered to glare at me at this point.

At least the snow (?) today means that Dan is now TRAPPED HERE WITH US. Thanks, whatever on earth is happening with the weather! Earlier in the week, when it was unseasonably warm, as opposed to ungeographically snowing (??), Ivy put on her hat and her lipstick and took her stir-crazy self outside for a while.

As you do.

Oh! And shoes. Sparkly shoes are important when a brief period of being housebound has left you on the brink of insanity.

Maybe just a tad over the brink.

You know what, though? I think it's time to turn this thing around. It's time…for Pippi Longstocking and a plate of muffins! Sorry to bury the lede, but I totally read one of my project books. And made a corresponding recipe. It only took me three and a half weeks to read one book and also it was a children's book written for children and uh oh I am slightly concerned about the momentum of this project already. Ack, sorry, this is the paragraph where we turn things around, I must have gotten distracted by the snow (???) outside my window.

Given that I have a hard time reading things for which I am not the intended demographic, I got on pretty well with Pippi. It helps that I am almost uniformly delighted by Scandinavian exports, Pippi's original surname (L√•ngstrump) being no exception. (Pickled fish products and aquavit being yes exceptions.) Her hyper-ignorance/defiance of social conventions can make for an uncomfortable read for we socially-anxious, but there were usually at least one or two things funny or charming enough to pull me back in. For example, the chapter excerpted in my cookbook, "Pippi Goes to a Coffee Party," would have been one of my least favorites save for two key factors: 1) COFFEE PARTY BEING A THING; and 2) despite finding Pippi's interactions with the ladies mostly tedious, the very last line really made me laugh.

So let's discuss this Coffee Party, yes? The recipe included in The Book Lover's Cookbook is for Pippi's Orange-Cranberry Muffin Cakes and all I can say is, if all of the recipes taste like this I am going to start reading A LOT faster.

It also gave me more empathy for Pippi's cake-gorging ways. I almost struck my plate as if it were a tambourine as well.

Pippi Longstocking: Too young for me and too old for Anna, but I would recommend it to the grade-school set. I feel like nine-year-old Erica would have liked it excepting the distressing chapter wherein she disrupts a classroom. There are schedules to follow, Pippi! Some of us are here to learn!

Cranberry-Orange Muffin Cakes: Recommended to people with mouths.


String those beads, baby

Hey, I survived a weekend of pursuing my weirdly punishing hobby! As part of my energy-hoarding efforts, I had the girls whip up some Two-Potato Vindaloo for me. (They used Plenty, because LIBRARIES, but I am coming to realize that pretty much every recipe in there is from Ottolenghi's column in The Guardian.)

The puppy was only supervising. It's a vegetarian book, you guys, come on.

"Potatoes on top of rice" was the starchiest thing I could imagine. Next time I race I will probably try to make this into a sandwich somehow.

I'm pretty sure my success* on Sunday was due to the Blerch on my back.

*Extremely relative term.

You would think that after such an outpouring of effort I would dive face-first into a pile of burgers and pizza, but that would be so predictable.

In my defense, there were also about two gallons of queso. I'm actually not too confident in my defense strategy.

Anyway, Holly and A'Dell conspired to make me spend a bunch of money on a Clarisonic (I am powerless in the face of a Pretty Woman GIF), so now I have to go try and get Ivy's Etsy shop off the ground so we can recoup some of that.


Little slap, little dash

I'm running a race in two days. That sounds slightly misleading, like maybe I'm trying to win a race because that's what racing is, when in fact I'm just trying to cross a finish line with as little discomfort as possible. (Fun fact: when you type "3m half marathon" into Google, you learn that 3 meters = 0.000142196983 of a half marathon. I think I've learned this about seven times now.) But despite my relatively unambitious goal of making it to lunchtime in one piece, I'm CONSERVING ENERGY like it's my job between now and Sunday morning. You know what takes energy? Well-thought out blog posts. How do I know all the thinking and spelling and such doesn't sap the life-force right out of my legs? I honestly think it might. No sense taking chances, so I'm cutting all the corners on this one.

I made more vegetables out of Plenty. I'm not linking to it for you. Garlic soup continues to not be garlicky enough for me. There is blog precedent for this problem. I'm not linking to it for you.

Fiiiiiiiine, I'm not going to deny you already-transcribed recipes.

The girls made amusingly ambivalent faces at the playground this morning. I half-baked a joke about them being mad at the air quality for trying to fell their mother, you can finish that up in your head if you want.

Okay! Good! I skated through that one with almost no effort at all. I would say I'll be back in fighting form by next week, but, you know, I'll probably be pretty tired. From the racing.


Heart of Sneeziness

Okay, still working our way through Plenty, now with bonus recipe links, here we go! I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to get in on this Smoky Frittata, considering it's just a beautiful slab of mustard and fire and dairy products.

Plus it's measured out in those classy European metric numbers! (It's actually not in the book, so there's my primary endorsement for why you should seek this out in print. MATH LAZINESS.)

After my brief flirtation with the flavors of summer last week, I knew I needed to atone for my disregard of the calendar with some Ultimate Winter Couscous. Nothing more wintery. Unfortunately, it reminded me a liiiiiiiittle bit of the curried couscous with roasted vegetables that almost caused me to have a breakdown. Only in the sense that it was a lot of work with a lot of different flavors and ended up tasting fine but not really as special as you would think. Not in the sense that it made me so unhappy that I will still be thinking about it in three and a half years.

If past blog posts are anything to go by I should really just spend the entire month of August in hibernation.

I've been varying degrees of sick for the entirety of 2014, and as someone who is almost never sick and certainly not for two weeks at a time, this is particularly perplexing and infuriating. I'm pretty sure it's just been a perfect storm of being run down after the holidays + terrible winter germs + OH HEY WHAT'S THIS RECORD LEVELS OF CEDAR POLLEN. I've chosen to focus on this last culprit, as it eases my aching throat to focus blame on something specific. I like having a real, material enemy. That I can kick. To the Wildflower Center!

Fine, I didn't kick the tree. But I did give it a good glare.

Everyone was pretty much onboard with my plan to confront my pulmonary assailant.

Especially since it meant fun times on the giant swing.

And some good sibling bonding.

"Did you see Mom muttering at that tree?"

I've decided to take a break from Falling Leaves because I can only take so much joy and hilarity at a time, so I'm going to skip ahead and read Pippi Longstocking. My reward for Pippi Longstocking is muffins, so I'm feeling pretty motivated. Let's see if my affection for Scandinavia holds up!


So I guess my resolution is to read more books

You know what's perfect for a slow and chilly and slightly superstitious New Year's Day? Eggplant and black eyed pea curry.

I come for the luck, but I stay for the mushy lentils.

At least I assume it would have been perfect for that, I don't know, I didn't get around to making it until January 8th. And thus we begin 2014: The Year of Being Right on Top of Things.

"Things," of course, extend to "new blog projects," which I am less on top of than maybe kind of adjacent to at this point. The working title is Something Something Libraries. Catchy, yeah? I feel like haziness regarding used books is pretty on-brand for me. Anyway, my jumping off point is last year's Cookbook #87, The Book Lover's Cookbook, which I half-heartedly threatened to attack this year and then subsequently failed to think of any better ideas. The Book Lover's Cookbook it is!

The problem with this one is that I'm such a completionist and this one is not really completable in its entirety unless we want to be here until 2025 and we don't, right? We don't. So I've narrowed down a still-long list of things I would be willing to cook that overlap with things I would be willing to read that are also available at my library and I guess we'll just see how it goes. Am I really going to read Les Mis√©rables just so I can make French onion soup? I honestly don't know. I really like soup. At any rate, I'll let you know what book I'm starting in case someone wants to read along. I know a lot of you internet weirdos productive bloggers manage to read like two books a day so you can just toss it on your pile. I have about a hundred-page head start on this first one, which is Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter. I can tell you that so far it is absolutely as fun and cheery as it sounds, so if January has been unnecessarily happy for you I suggest you join me. My goal is to have this finished in time for Chinese New Year at the end of the month. I realize that is more than two weeks away. I am not a fast reader.

Which leads me to the supplemental section of Something Something Libraries (see, it's growing on you): I'm afraid the Book Lover's entries will be few and far between, so while those are in the works I'm going to explore the cookbook section of my library. I got into a bit of a cookbook-using habit somehow, and libraries have cookbooks in them! For free! That's amazing! I feel like I can do plenty of damage two weeks at a time, let's start with Plenty: Vibrant Recipes From London's Ottolenghi.

I went with Socca (sort of a chickpea pancake) with roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions and a zucchini-hazelnut salad. I know this is completely a summertime menu, but it was pushing 70 here yesterday so I thought I'd just pretend we were in the middle of summer in some pleasant, civilized part of the world. It was great.

Seasonality and I have an extremely complicated relationship.

It was hang out on the porch in bare feet weather!

She was pretty ready to come in for dinner, though.

Girl gets hungry.


Now with 100% more uninterrupted meals

You know how sometimes you start a new year and think, This year is okay I guess but I bet it would improve if I managed to somehow send my children away, even if doing so involved driving a total of 700 miles? Me too! So the girls spent the weekend in Mansfield and I spent it in restaurants.

Vegetable pho at Pho Hong. Not sure which direction to take the "pho" pun, since half of you are pronouncing it differently in your heads.

Texas Oysters at Lucy's Fried Chicken. If you're going to order non-fried-chicken-food here, I recommend oysters stuffed with chorizo.

And/or ginger carrot soup.

The Green Belt at Pinthouse Pizza. See all those vegetables? CLEAN EATING IN 2014!

Crispy Chicken Benedict from Kerbey Lane. Turns out, if you visit Lucy's and don't order fried chicken, you will be haunted until you find some. Preferably buried under hollandaise sauce.

Okay, maybe that wasn't the resolutionest of starts, but don't worry, I totally have things under control.

One glass of kale negates one week of nonsense. Nutrition math.

Anyway, I am slowly ramping up New Cooking Project and the girls are back to their studies.

Giraffe Spot Placement 101.

Welcome back, January! My favorite boring time of year. Everyone remember to pick up bananas and peanut butter for Elvis' birthday tomorrow.


On restraint, and how it is hugely overrated

Tuesday night was the 10th anniversary of Dan and me spending New Year's Eve with Garrett and Emily. We were at a wedding one year and in Europe the next, although recent years the most important aspect of our destination has been "somewhere we can round up all the children and stick a movie in front of them," which is slightly less glamorous and tends to mean we just switch off hosting. Fortunately, Emily is my perfect partner in crime when it comes to throwing a genuinely ridiculous shindig appropriate for at least two dozen revelers rather than, say, four. There were two kinds of cocktails and a champagne bar. There were about ten different recipes made, not counting the tray of crackers and peanut-butter-based items we tossed in the kids' direction. We had a secret shared Pinterest board for our four-person party. If you don't have a friend like Emily to enable you in your demented personal-cocktail-party desires, I feel sorry for you. I mean, really:

Sparkling cranberries.

Mocha coconut fudge.

Champagne bar including pomegranate-ginger syrup; not pictured: bourbon, ginger, and orange and ginger-cranberry martinis.

Herbed hummus, although I actually made my hummus because I am not lazy like Martha Stewart.

Antipasti bites.

Potato nests with sour cream and smoked salmon.

Cheeeeeeeeesebaaaaaaaallllllll, and at this point I would again like to emphasize that there were four of us at this party.

English toffee bites.

Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds.

Rosemary-roasted cashews and maple-glazed apple-chicken sausage bites.

Anyway, do not be ashamed to throw yourself a fancy party. It's the best. You're worth it. Probably, I don't know all of you that well.

2013 OUT.

Photo credit: Anna Huff