Loafing, limping

Just thought I should let you guys know that I got really sick of In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite and stopped finding Melissa Clark interesting at all HAHA JUST KIDDING I cooked four more recipes out of it. Sorry, Wells Branch Community Library! You can pry this book out of my sticky dead hands.*

Queso Fresco Quesadillas with Papaya-Avacado Salsa. It's possible that I would like absolutely any combination of avocado, salt, lime, and cilantro, but I ate a LOT of this particular combination. Very quickly.

Baked Flounder Cod with Eggs. One of the best things about Clark's breakfast section is her eat-whatever-foods-you-want-in-the-morning approach. THIS IS THE CORRECT ATTITUDE. Swistle knows what we're talking about.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Loaf Cake. I love me a loaf. Always have, always will.  You can pry this loaf out of my crumby dead hands.

Chorizo with Sweet Pepper and Onion Stew and Fried Croutons. This is heavy stuff. It is not spa fare. It is for places with real winters and also for ME because I LIKE it. It probably goes without saying that you can pry sausage-grease-fried croutons out…from…between my greasy dead knees? I feel like my dead hands are already pretty full. 

Domestic updates: Ivy is two.

Anna is still trying to determine the purpose of this primitive technology.

And I underestimated the toll all that bacon weight would take on me and now my foot is broken. MY DELICATE FRAME COULDN'T SUPPORT THAT PIGGY LOAD.

Or I got a small stress fracture from overtraining about six weeks ago, I can't remember. It's all a blur.

*No you won't, I'll have it back by the fourth, please leave my account in good standing. Thank you.


Pork Mortem

If the end of the Winter Olympics has left you with a world-class-competition-sized hole in your heart, fear not: this weekend kicked off the spring season of the Super Social Food League of Austin, and after a four-month break, you'd better believe we came to play. Then promptly proceeded to get our asses kicked.

You may recall that Regan and (sometimes Emily) and I had a perfect three and oh record at the end of our first round, so I can only blame hubris for the fact that we believed we were ready to take on the 2014 Bacon and Beer Festival after such a long offseason. It seemed a reasonable enough challenge. Bacon and beer! Why spend a Saturday afternoon any other way, really? We went in with hopes and hunger high, keeping a strong focus on the bacon half of the proceedings (this is a food league, if we wanted a drinking league we would go back to playing softball). Three days and four pounds of water retention later, I'm still not entirely sure what happened. Mistakes were made. Let's examine the evidence.

1. We should have camped out the night or possibly week before in order to secure a spot in the front of the line. In our naiveté, we arrived right around the start time of the event, not realizing that the dedication of bacon enthusiasts rivals that of concert-goers and Star Wars weirdos.

2. We should have brought our own table. And trash can. And 15,000 square feet of breathing room.

Behind the scenes exclusive: that sweet black backdrop is my lap.

3. It pains me to say this, but we should not have attacked cups of Amy's Ice Cream the second we walked into the room. I'm honestly not sure how to avoid that happening, though. I know intellectually and gastrointestinally that this was the wrong move, but I cannot say for certain that I wouldn't do it again.

"Bacon bread pudding" sounded cute at the time, but I literally just shuddered while typing those words out.

4. Maybe we should have noticed that there were two large rooms full of food before indiscriminately stuffing ourselves in the first one.

$5 to anyone who can even BEGIN to guess what this is. Hint: it contains bacon.

5. We should have anticipated and cashed in on the "serving food with clothespins" fad that is sweeping the nation.

Just makes that hunk of pig a little more Pinteresty.

"I'm carnivorous and also kind of twee!"

 6. We probably should have spent more time getting to know Dizzle.

Regan isn't actually smiling here, she's just holding back bile.

This guy wasn't smiling either, to be fair. Not him…the one below him.

It wasn't all bad news! I'd have to say the pork belly and grits from Hoover's took first place in my clogged, clogged heart.

In the end, I'd like to believe that Food League is now older and wiser, but we are also changed women. Bloated women. SO READY to take on that raw foods restaurant next time around.

Ivy has decided that the birds most likely want to bathe in mud. Like at a spa? Probably?


You make me wanna be a better pan

I have renewed In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite from my library twice now. I have cooked twelve recipes from it. Despite having explored it so extensively and finding Melissa Clark's recipes to be pretty widely available online, I am still strongly considering purchasing it because I feel it would make my house a better place. Seriously, this book is Helen Hunt and my kitchen is Jack Nicholson right now. FURTHER EVIDENCE:

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon. I love lentil soup. This was an especially nice one.

I can tell, because Dan said "This is good" in that borderline-offensive-to-previous-meals way more than once.

Braised Pork Chops with Tomatoes, Anchovies, and Rosemary. Dan isn't nuts about pork chops, but for some reason I can't stop making them. I guess I figured throwing in the skeevy leftover anchovies haunting my fridge would…help?

Somehow this was good, I swear. Of course, there were no spousal proclamations of such. So…grain of weird little salty fish.

If I'm being honest, I think one of the things drawing me to Clark's recipes is a deep nostalgia for the time in my life when olive oil was the best and healthiest thing in the universe. Remember that? I would totally watch VH1's I Love The Olive Oil. (I also long for the days when that was a current reference that made sense.) I know olive oil is out of favor now, at least in terms of cooking (as opposed to drizzling), but those were simpler times. And she even let me FRY EGGS IN IT! Nice and hot. Tasted like the good ol' days. Two more entries in the Olive Oil Hall of Fame:

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake. Tastes juuuuuust grown-up enough that your kids will only steal about half of your piece.

And Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios. All I can tell you about this recipe is (incoherent mumble, mouth completely stuffed with granola).

Anyway, when I'm not cuddling ITKWAGA, I am making some progress on Cold Mountain, so my goal is to finish that up by the end of the month. Is anyone else reading it? It's pretty great!

Anna has started demanding that the dolls watch Wheel of Fortune with her, as she is obsessed with it in a way that only a four-year-old can be obsessed with something.

A doll-badgering sort of way.

And we're all just really, really enjoying Ivy's third year so far.


Eggs and warmth

I have some good news/bad news regarding In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite and its relationship to eggs. First, the good news: I am 100% onboard with polenta now, and this Buttery Polenta with Olive Oil-Fried Eggs and Swiss Chard is largely responsible. That is a tasty, filling, garlic-spiked bowl of food right there.

Also egg-topped, obviously. The greatest of all adjectives.

And then there is the Deviled Egg Salad Sandwich. Has any food item ever sounded more suited to me than a Deviled Egg Salad Sandwich? Eggs! Bread! Musta--hold the phone…no mustard? No mustard in a deviled egg salad? I'm really sorry to report that this is my first philosophical parting with Ms. Clark, whom I had heretofore considered basically my food-soul mate. (Food-soul. Seems like a thing?)  Instead there is mayonnaise, anchovy, and paprika. I guess it is a more thoroughly "deviled" recipe than my standard, as it contains both mayonnaise and anchovies, which clearly tend toward the "evil" side of  the spectrum. In her defense, it still tasted pretty good, all things considered.

Note the Unrealistic Pioneering Bean Salad on the side there.

At least we're all excited about the nice weather this week!

I mean, kind of.

It does seem a little suspect.

Better hit the garden while we can.


I'm going to go buy some flowers and chocolates for my pillow

Hey, happy Cynical Jokes About The Corporate Nature of This "Holiday" Day! As you can tell, I am actually entirely unprepared this year. It probably has something to do with Ivy's V-Day gift to me, which was making sure I got to see the first half hour (the magical 12:00-12:30 AM block) of this special day while driving around the neighborhood desperately trying to get her to fall asleep. Now, the more attentive of you sentence-parsers out there will notice that I said "fall asleep" and not "fall back asleep" as though she had been asleep at any point previous to midnight, because she had not. She had not.

Anna's gift was to make sure I was up again in time to see daybreak. No crass commercialism in this house! Just thoughtful children who are slowly loving me into a state of delirium.

My Valentine's Day gift to myself was letting everyone have cereal for breakfast this morning. Okay, that's a lie, I made toad-in-the-heart-shaped-hole, but it was joyless and there are no pictures. I recommend you revisit the past three years for some memories of less depleted days. Don't worry, though! I didn't totally forget about you guys! I love you enough to return to In The Kitchen with a Good Appetite and direct you to Melissa Clark's Chipotle-Glazed Roast Chicken with Sweet Potatoes.

It's a really fantastic way to use chicken breasts, particularly if you are fueling up for a 4-5 hour bedtime struggle with your toddler. You're going to be glad you have all that slow-burning energy!

Also, if you receive a Valentine from Anna today, I want you to know how lovingly and painstakingly she handcrafted it.

I'm pretty sure at least one of those adverbs is accurate.


I think they're trying to steal my honey

This morning was about the eighth time in the past month that school has been delayed or canceled due to…I don't know, clouds? I guess? It's pretty cloudy today. As I mentioned in the last post, I have come to accept the legitimate insanity of the weather at this point and am now turning an eye toward accepting the fact that every time it falls below 40 degrees, my beloved city will barricade itself indoors. Fortunately, Anna filled up this morning's two-hour delay with some solid preschool-isms, such as her announcement that the Barbie dolls are looking "very dapper" today and the world-weary manner in which she informed me that per the news crawl on television, tomorrow will be "predictably warm." Of course, while my four-year-old was being four in the best possible way, my two-year-old was being two in the twoest possible way. Just. Really. The very twoest. Still, I give this morning's delayed start a solid B+. See, there's a silver lining to all these QUITE MENACING clouds! (Some of them might actually be BEARS! Think about it.)

The best thing for such a gray and cold…ish day is probably a soup or braise or some all-day crockpot situation, so I apologize for offering you the following, um, raw broccoli salad instead.

Except I don't really apologize, because it is Melissa Clark's Garlicky Sesame-Cured Broccoli Salad and it is way more delicious than raw broccoli salad has any right to be. Truly. I'm pretty sure it doesn't even qualify for Responsibility Broccoli status, due to the 3/4 cup of olive oil involved. That's okay though, I think it's about time broccoli had a chance to be the decadent component of your meal for once. Just throw a piece of Responsibility Grilled Chicken Breast next to it and go to town.

Ivy was the first one out the door this weekend (once the weather was back in the 60-70 degree safe zone, obviously). She just can't abide all the wintertime slacking that goes on around here.

She was also more than ready to venture to the store with me today. Don't worry, she was well-protected. From the clouds.


The good news is, we're past all the fever 'n' ague now

Had she not been subject to the laws of nature and/or had she formed some sort of otherworldly arrangement, Laura Ingalls Wilder would be 147 years old today. I celebrated this fact by revisiting Little House on the Prairie for the first time since grade school and hooooooooo boy it is a different reading experience now, huh? I get that it is beloved, and there are a lot of things that are belovable about it, such as how very happy Laura is about her new tin cup for Christmas. I mean, that's solid gold, for sure. I'm wondering, though, if my nostalgia for the series might actually be more centered on Little House in the Big Woods? Did that one have a lot more fascinating old-timiness and a lot less super uncomfortable stuff about Indians? Yeah, maybe that's the one I was thinking of then.

I think the main problem is that when I first read these books, I was Laura (obviously) and it is pretty fun to be Laura. That is some crazy and exciting stuff for a little girl! What a big hero of a daddy she has! And reading them now, of course, I am Ma. It is so, so much less enjoyable to be Ma. What a difficult and thankless existence! What a seemingly insane person she is married to! I hope that while Laura was sleeping, Ma did a lot more complaining!

Anyway. The real reason I revisited LHOTP is that The Book Lover's Cookbook instructed me to do so in order that I may enjoy some Bean Salad.

First of all, this was a perfectly fine, if slightly on the sweet side, bean salad. But I'm starting to sense a trend in this cookbook of including excerpts that are a little bit misleading vis-à-vis how appropriate the recipe is to the actual story. TO WIT:

Every day they all looked at that garden. It was rough and grassy because it was made in the prairie sod, but all the tiny plants were growing. Little crumpled leaves of peas came up, and tiny spears of onions. The beans themselves popped out of the ground. But it was a little yellow bean stem, coiled like a spring, that pushed them up. Then the beans was cracked open and dropped by two baby bean-leaves, and the leaves unfolded flat to the sunshine.
Pretty soon they would all begin to live like kings.

Okay. First of all, pretty much the only things they ever eat in this book are rabbits, prairie hens, and various things made of cornmeal. Second, I doubt Ma would have a recipe that called for a can of garbanzo beans. Third, there is noooooooooo way they were going to put HALF A CUP OF WHITE SUGAR into a dumb bean salad when acquiring white sugar required Pa to venture forty miles to the nearest town, attempting suicide-by-pioneering-bravado all the way there and back. Not a chance. Fourth, and perhaps most galling, they never ate anything out of that garden because the next day they packed up all their stuff and left in order to avoid being kicked off THE INDIAN TERRITORY THEY WERE ILLEGALLY OCCUPYING, SORRY, SPOILER ALERT. No bean salad, is my point. The recipe for this book may as well have been petit fours.

Next on my list is Cold Mountain. Sigh. At least we're getting potato salad out of this one, guys.

Anna has just been informed that she now lives in a reality wherein one day a week sees temperatures in the 20s and everything in the city shut down due to a paralyzing and politically complicated fear of icy roads and two other days that same week will be well into the 70s and therefore short-sleeve weather. This is maybe our fourth weekly cycle of such. It is our life now. Someday I will remember the days of my girlhood wherein weeks would pass without a single 60-degree temperature swing and I will write a series of wincingly-of-their-time children's books about it.


At least she's wearing a hairnet

I'll be honest with you guys. After Burns Night and Lunar New Year, my supply of theme-enthusiasm was pretty much tapped by the end of last week. I know it usually seems like I have a distressing compulsion bottomless well of inspiration, but faced with a Groundhog Day/Super Bowl combo, all I managed to do was make a bunch of food that was…brown. Well, more beige really. Welcome to my Beige Foods party. It could be really appropriate, I don't know, I've never seen a groundhog up close.

Spicy fried chickpeas.

Healthy homemade cheddar crisps. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I've ever seen a football up close either.

Easy stovetop macaroni, peas, bacon, and cheese.

The good news is, all of the above wildly-thematic recipes are from Library Cookbook #2: In The Kitchen With A Good Appetite by Melissa Clark. Now, I realize I never properly wrapped up Library Cookbook #1, because disorganization is apparently built-in to this year's project, so here we go: Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi is a lovely book full of vegetables. The pictures are appealing, the recipes I tried were largely successful, and I liked having a book of vegetarian items written by a non-vegetarian because there were a lot of good meat-pairing suggestions. Like I mentioned before, pretty much all of the included recipes seem to be available through his column over on The Guardian, so it's easy to experiment and see if you like his style. I did!

You know who else I like? Melissa Clark. I have no idea how it took me so long to find her, but I have been reading In The Kitchen With A Good Appetite page by page, like a novel. Or rather, not like a novel, because I am reading it quickly and with enthusiasm. She's so entertaining and informative and somehow comforting! I wonder why I'm the only one who has ever heard of--oh, what's that, she is super popular and writes for The New York Times dining section? Ah. That makes sense.

Fine, so I haven't unearthed some undiscovered gem of a writer, I have just managed to stumble across a well-known and well-regarded one, but stumble I did. And now I know the very, very best and easiest way to cook fish after many years of using non-best, non-easiest methods. STEAM. I'm telling you. FISH PLUS STEAM EQUALS GOOD DINNER.

Steamed wild salmon with mustard greens.

I try not to overstate things around here, but that is probably the least difficult, most effective cooking technique ever developed in the history of humans or animals.

Unfortunately, some things do still require quite a bit of work, kitchen clean-up being a prominent example. Good thing I have a highly contagious yet enthusiastic helper!

All clean!