Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Confetti Party Cake

Happy New Year, Gentle Readers!  I bring you Betty Crocker's "easy and delicious stacked cupcake extravaganza" just in time for your New Year's Eve party.  As I'm sure Betty herself would ask, why just have dessert when you could have an extravaganza?  

You can find the recipe here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dept. of Home Economics: Use-It-Up Soup Recipe

Gentle readers, I lied to you a little bit in the title for this post.  Use-It-Up Soup is more a method than an actual recipe.  I don't know what you have in your refrigerator that needs to be used up; in fact, I'll bet you don't, either.  That's okay, you can go check.  I'll wait.

Got your list?  Let's begin.

Use-It-Up Soup


1 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
3-ish carrots, diced
2-3 stalks celery, diced (aim for roughly equal amounts onion, carrot, and celery)
2 cloves garlic, minced (use more or less to taste)
1 15.5 oz. can beans of your choice, rinsed and drained OR 1/2 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed and drained
1 28-30 oz. can tomatoes of some type: diced, crushed, whole (chop them up before adding)
4-6 cups of water, stock, or combination (depends on amount of stuff to use up and how thick you like your soup)
2-3 potatoes peeled and diced (optional)
Vegetables: fresh, frozen, or cooked, cut to bite size (avoid anything cabbagy, such as broccoli or brussels sprouts)
Leftover cooked meat
Leftover cooked pasta or rice (omit potatoes)
Salt & Pepper
Herbs and spices of your choice


1. Heat oil in soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  When hot, add the onions, carrot, and celery and cook until onion is translucent, 5-7 minutes.  (I season these with a little salt and pepper).

2. Add garlic, saute one minute more.

3. Add beans, tomatoes, water or stock, and potatoes, if using.  At this point, add any fresh vegetables and dried herbs and spices you are using.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally (you want your potatoes and lentils, if using, almost but not quite done when you add the rest).   Add water or stock if needed to maintain soup consistency.

4. If you're using frozen vegetables, give them about 10 minutes of cooking time at the end -- 5 to get the soup back to temperature and 5 to cook.

5. Leftover vegetables, meat, and pasta or rice (if using), and fresh herbs (if you have them) go in for the last 5 minutes of cooking time.  Heat through.  Another option is to put the rice or pasta in the bottom of each bowl and pour the hot soup over it.

6. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.


~ Match your stock to the meat you're using (chicken with chicken, beef with beef).  Chicken stock works well with leftover pork or turkey.
~ You can omit the meat entirely.  The beans, veggies, and starch will still give you a hearty soup.
~ Try out different combinations.  I put some leftover water chestnuts in my soup last week, and to my surprise they maintained their crunch even after 30 minutes of simmering.  They added a fun texture to the finished soup.
~ Lentils need more cooking time than canned beans, so plan to simmer them 30-40 minutes.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree!

Image: Laugh It Out

Merry Christmas to you, Gentle Readers!  May the New Year be filled with all your favorite things.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cookie Sunday Highlights

Time my alarm went off: 6 a.m.

Time kids started arriving: 9 a.m.

Number of cups of tea ingested between 6 and 9: 4

Cookies baked between Saturday and Sunday:
          Snickerdoodles: 2 batches
          Sugar cookies: 2 batches
          Moravian Spice Crisps: 2 batches
          Peanut Butter Swirl Bars: 3 batches
          "Best Ever" Chocolate Chips: 2 batches
          Red Velvet Cookies: 3 batches

Funniest thing that kept happening all day: People would sneak red velvet cookies and then deny it when asked.  They were lying through lips that were stained red.

Reason we made 3 batches of  Red Velvets: See above.

Number of injuries: 3
          1. A burn on my right bicep.  My giant guns have a tendencey to get in the way.
          2 & 3. Army Dude cut left thumb (copycat) and and burned right hand.  Demanded Purple Heart paperwork be submitted through command channels ASAP.

Cutest thing I didn't find until the next day: A poem written by my great-niece Elizabeth.

Number of hours I slept on Sunday night: 10


Saturday, December 17, 2011


This is a cheese slicer.

This is my thumb after meeting up with the blade of a cheese slicer that had some muscle behind it.  Leave it to me to do this two days before spending the weekend baking cookies and doing the dishes associated with baking cookies.

Did you ever hear that saying "if I had a brain, I'd be dangerous"?  Good news.  I have a brain.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Sunday is Cookie Baking Day 2011, so I'm spending today preparing for the big event by napping and carb-loading.  What differentiates this from any other day of napping and carb-loading is that today I have an excuse.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cookie R&D Phase 2

I meant to keep you all abreast of the latest cookie-prep news, but I've been busy Santa's elfing it in my workshop for most of the week.  But fear not, Gentle Readers, cookie prep is in full swing.  A maiden aunt does not shirk her baking responsibilities.

To catch you up, last weekend I made and froze a couple of batches of my special chocolate chocolate chip cookie dough.  I also tested a new cookie: Moravian Spice Crisps.  They came out great -- the same sort of spicy goodness you get in gingerbread cookies, but without all the hassle of gingerbread dough.  (Gingerbread cookie dough is, of course, the stickiest and most difficult-to-work-with dough there is.  But you knew that, right?)

Yesterday I decked myself out in the awesome apron given to me by ny niece and great-niece, and made and froze snickerdoodle and sugar cookie dough.  This completes the make-ahead portion of the operation.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sloppy Joes

Sometimes you just want one.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cookie R&D

I tried out a recipe from the cookbook I got last year for Christmas from my niece Katie.  Then I carefully constructed a Cookie Testing Focus Group based on who I saw over the next couple of days.  I am, as you can see, a woman of science.

The Focus Group included my mom, the Army Dude and an army dude buddy with whom he was headed to one of our country's military bases to do Army stuff (I imagine this consists of camping out, toasting marshmallows, and singing Boy Scout songs), the guy who cuts the lawn, and my friends IT Guy and the Rock&Roll Drummer.

Rock&Roll Drummer shared his cookies with a friend of his that I don't have an online nickname for yet, who would not eat the cookie in front of me in case he didn't like it.  Which has made me completely neurotic, by the way, so the friend without an online nickname should watch it.  I am as good at picking out mean nicknames as I am nice ones.  Just ask my friends about the Evil Snowman of the Apocalypse.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Breakfast of Champions

Saturday Morning Breakfast*

Aaaahhhh, the best part of Thanksgiving: leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast.  Of course I had whipped cream on it because dairy is a very important food group.  I'm all about good nutrition.

*Note: whipped cream topping not to scale.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Humble Pie

The pie crust recipe I have came from my mom with about a hundred disclaimers about how difficult it is and that she rarely gets it just right and not to blame her if I end up eating custard on a brick on Thanksgiving instead of pumpkin pie.  I was certain, however, that I could create the perfect, flaky crust without much ado.  Maiden aunts are born to bake, I told myself.  It's what we do.  It's how we bribe people to be our friends. 

But by the time rolling attempt #3 resulted in a hockey puck, my confidence began to waver.  I abandoned that batch of dough and mixed up a fresh one.  I was beginning to get a feel for the texture, and for how much water I needed to add at the end to bring it all together.  I decided that my mom forgot to mention when she gave me the recipe that it makes two crusts if you know what you're doing

After it rested for a while in the fridge, I rolled the whole ball of dough out into a big circle, transferred it to the pie plate, hacked off what I didn't need, and crimped the edges.  Some filling and an hour in the oven later, I had a pie.  Fear not, Gentle Readers.  I did not throw away all that extra dough; I made pinwheels.  Melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon can solve a lot of problems.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Say Cheese

Ladies, have you ever noticed that men have a listening problem?  It doesn't matter if he's a co-worker, husband, friend, boyfriend, or whatever, a man listens selectively.  The Army Dude is no exception to this rule.

It's like this:

What I say: "A careful analysis of the process of observation in atomic physics has shown that the subatomic particles have no meaning as isolated entities, but can only be understood as interconnections between the preparation of an experiment and the subsequent measurement."

What he hears: "Blah, blah, blah, blah..."

But there is a foolproof way to capture his attention.  Like this:

What I say: "I've been thinking we might want a snack while our Thanksgiving dinner is cooking."


Army Dude: "Snack?  Like what?"

What I say: "Maybe some port wine cheese on crackers..."


Army Dude: "Good idea!"

I've decided to start referencing snack foods and baked goods in everything I say now.  Just to mess with him.

(The physics quote comes from  I have no idea what it means.)


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

It's mobilization weekend here at Old Maid HQ.  Cranberries are steeping in apple cider vinegar and will be a ready-to-drink shrub by Wednesday.  I've spent some time planning both Thanksgiving and Christmas baking so that grocery shopping can be done strategically and with the smallest loss of marbles possible.  I am, after all, an auntie who hates crowds.  And noise.  And obnoxious Christmas songs.  And who doesn't have a whole lot of marbles to spare.

My niece Katie gave me a new cookie cookbook last year, so I spent some time this morning browsing through it.  I like to try at least one new recipe each Christmas, but it's always tricky with a new cookbook because I never know if the finished product wil be what I expect.  This is where some R&D will come in over the next couple of weeks.  Fortunately, it's never difficult to find people willing to taste-test cookies.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dept. of Home Economics: Broccoli Stems

In an email, one of my Gentle Readers said "Up till now I have been throwing the stalks away but now I know what to do with them."  She was referring to the Cream of Broccoli Soup recipe I posted last week, but don't throw those stems away if you aren't a broccoli soup fan.  There are other things you can do with your broccoli stems.

Lightly peel the outside and then cut the stems in matchsrick pieces (also called "julienne;" click here for a turtorial).  When I julienne broccoli, I prefer to slice the stem in  about 1/8-inch circles, then stack two or three circles and slice them into matchsticks.  You get shorter matchsticks that are not all perfectly the same size, but this technique has its advantages.  The first cut (into circles) goes across the grain of the stem and cuts the tough lengthwise fibers into shorter lengths, resulting in a more tender, less fibrous finished product.  They still look like cute little matchsticks, they are just not all perfectly alike.

I'm not bothered by the lack of perfection, my friends.  We do not seek to emulate Martha Stewart here at Old Maid HQ.  Firstly, like my fellow spinster Jane Austen, "pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked."  Secondly, my food actually tastes good.

Once you have your matchstick pieces, you can:
  • Toss them in a stir-fry.
  • Use them in place of celery in soup.  (Make sure it's a strong-flavored soup such as a nice garlicky lentil or a flavorful minestrone.  Broccoli has a strong taste that can overwhelm more delicate flavors.  Experiment!)
  • Saute them with julienned carrots and use as a side dish.  Season with salt and pepper, or finish with a splash of soy sauce or a splash of vinaigrette toward the end of the cooking process.
  • Make the side dish above, adding a few julienned radishes.  They add a nice peppery bite.
  • Freeze the julienned broccoli stems for quick addition later to soups and stir fries.  They go right into the pan frozen.
  • Lightly steam the stems, chill them, and they are ready to be added with other veggies to pocket or wrap sandwiches.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Heart This Kid

Is this cute or what?  It's a card by Emma Seckington, from her Many Moods of Pie series.

I read about Emma in MaryJane's Farm magazine.  She's a 10-year-old after my own heart -- she loves to bake and she draws cute food.  Emma even has her own Etsy shop!  You can purchase sets of her adorable handmade cards (including the pie series and holiday cards) here.
Image copyright: Emma Seckington

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cucumber Shrub

I'm not much of a soda drinker, but I tried Mr. Q. Cumber soda when I had lunch at Keenwah last week.  It was pricey -- two bucks for seven ounces -- but it was also delicious.

My friend took a sip and said "We could make that."  We discussed things like using a juicer and simple syrup.  When I got home it occurred to me that I could try making a cucumber shrub.  I added one peeled, diced cucumber to 2 cups of distilled white vinegar, then proceeded according to the recipe found here

It came out great.  Like summer in a glass.  YUM!

P.S. I just found out that cucumber beverages are trendy.  Of course they are.  I'm hip like that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Broccoli, Explained -- With Recipe!

Peel and rough chop broccoli stems, then store them in the freezer.  When you've got 4 cups, you're ready to make this soup.  The frozen pieces go right into the pot.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
1/4 tsp. pepper (plus more to taste)
Generous pinch of dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chopped broccoli stems
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups milk (whatever fat content you have is fine)
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

1. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat.  When oil is hot, add onion, bay leaf, basil, and thyme to pan.  Add 1 teaspoon of salt and  1/4 tsp. pepper, then saute the onion for 5-7 minutes or until onion is translucent.  Add garlic and saute for about a minute more.

2. Add broccoli pieces and broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.  Cook about 10 minutes, or until broccoli is very tender.  (If you're lazy like me and your "rough chop" is very rough and some pieces are biggish, it might need 15 minutes.)

3. Remove the bayleaf, then puree the soup in batches in a blender.  (Please be careful!  Only fill the blender halfway at most.)

4. Return the soup to the pot, then whisk in milk and sour cream or yogurt while heating gently over medium heat.   Do not allow the mixture to boil.  Whisk the soup occasionally while it heats to fully incorporate the sour cream or yogurt.  Taste and adjust seasonings and serve hot.

Variation 1: Sour cream or yogurt can be omitted if you don't have any on hand.  Soup will be thinner but still delicious.
Variation 2: Omit the sour cream or yogurt and replace half a cup of the milk with heavy cream or half and half if you have some on hand.
Variation 3: Omit the sour cream or yogurt and whisk in 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.  Heat through until cheese melts and soup is hot.
Variation 4: Thinly slice and  lightly steam some broccoli florets as a garnish.  I never do this, but it does make a nice presentation.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lunch at Keenwah

I had heard good things about Keenwah, the newish restaurant on Broadway, but I hadn't tried it until I went there for lunch on Friday with a friend.

My Edamame Hummus Wrap was delicious.  The hummus had a garlicky, pesto-y quality that I really enjoyed.  The wrap also included grilled sweet potato and red peppers, crispy lettuce, and the surprise of crunchy edamame nuts.  It came with a small side salad that was dressed with a simple (and yummy) balsamic vinaigrette.  Delish.

The sandwich was a little pricey at $8, but everything was organic and I imagine it costs a few bucks to grow organic soybeans with TLC and then propitiate their tiny spirits before they get picked.  (Or at least, that's what organic farmers do in my mind.)  It was worth it.  I've been craving that hummus ever since.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


This commercial has been airing for a few months and it still cracks me up every time.

"Seaweed, Jeffrey?" 

It's not just OvenGold.  It's comedy gold.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

I recently heard someone say that candy corn tastes like diabetes and chalk.  I would only argue with one point: it tastes like delicious diabetes and chalk.

Indulge.  You've got the rest of the year to be good.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weekly Soup -- with Recipe!

Once the weather starts cooling off, I make a pot of soup just about once a week.  It's usually something hearty that can be eaten as a main course, and I eat it for lunch or dinner for a few days until either I get sick of it or I run out of it.  If I get tired of it (or for whatever reason, the soup is a few days old and I still have some left) I freeze the remainder in individual portions. 

Your mileage may vary depending on the size of your family and whether or not you like leftovers.  But remember: soup is always better the second day.

Tuscan-Inspired Soup 
(This is a vegetarian version, but you can brown 1/2 lb. of ground beef after the first step.  Drain off any excess fat and then continue.)

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, diced
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced (or more to taste)
1 large or 2 small zucchini, diced
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15.5-oz can canellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
5 C. vegetable broth (or chicken broth, or a combination of broth and water)
1/2 C. dry elbow macaroni, ditalini, or other small pasta (or 1 C. leftover cooked pasta)

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat olive oil in large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  When oil is hot, add onion, carrots, and celery and saute until the onions are clear, about 5-7 minutes.
2. Add garlic and saute for a minute more.
3. Add zucchini, diced tomatoes, beans, broth (or broth and water combination), and Italian seasoning.  Stir. Add salt and pepper (I use about a teaspoon of salt; use more or less to taste).
4. Raise heat to bring soup to a boil, then reduce to simmer.  Simmer approx. 30 minutes or until vegetables are cooked, stirring occasionally.  Add broth/water as needed to maintain good soup consistency.
5. Meanwhile, cook dry pasta in a separate pot according to package directions.  Drain.
6. When vegetables are done, add pasta, stir, and heat through, about 1 minute.
7.  Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve, garnished with a little grated parmesan cheese if you like.

* If the pasta soaks up a lot of liquid overnight, add another cup of broth and heat through.  Alternatively, you could keep the pasta separate and add it to individual portions as you go.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Go-To Tofu -- with Recipe!

I make this tofu dish whenever asparagus is on sale.  It's a tasty, quick, light meal that's good for you.  Serve over rice or couscous.  If you're making a pot of rice, wait until it's about 5 minutes from being done before you start cooking the tofu and asparagus.  I tend to go easy on the heat, but feel free to add more red pepper flakes.

Go-To Tofu (serves 4)
1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound thin asparagus, washed, trimmed, and cut in 1/2-inch slices
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-oz. package tofu, well drained and cut in cubes
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
2 tsp. sugar

1. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet or wok over high heat.  When hot, add asparagus and garlic and stir-fry 2-3 minutes.  Add tofu and red pepper flakes, stir-fry 2 minutes more.

2. Add the soy sauce and sugar and cook, stirring often, 1-2 minutes. 

3. Serve

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mr. Onion Says...

I like Eating Well magazine because it always contains some interesting ideas and healthy recipes -- and that's a good thing, since most of the recipes I come up with contain copious amounts of cheese.

One thing I've noticed, however, is that the recipes tend to take shortcuts.  I'm sure this is to make them user-friendly for the busy home cook, but some things can't be rushed.  To wit: sauteeing onions.  When I made the Eggplant Bulgur Pilaf in the October issue, I followed the instructions.  I put the eggplant in first, never stopping to consider the natural order of saute handed down from mother to daughter since the earth cooled.

I just blithely went ahead, and ended up with chewy onions and not much aromatic flavor in the eggplant.  If only you'd spoken up a little sooner, Mr. Onion.  Lesson learned.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Culinary Quote: My Nephew Cameron

"How zesty is that on a scale of one to zesty?"


Friday, September 23, 2011

Culinary Quote: The Army Dude

"It's an experiment in zesty!"

Image: averagebetty

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mushroom Hunting In Sweden

My friends, I only wish I were hunting mushrooms in Sweden.  This photo is courtesy of the Swedish Yogini who is visiting family at the moment.  It's so pretty, I had to share.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kale Is Cool

Kale is having a moment.  What was once a relic of peasant cooking and Victory gardens is now the darling of foodies everywhere who are finding out what grandma knew: kale is delicious and good for you.

This month's Eating Well magazine had some wonderful green soup recipes by Anna Thomas, the author of Vegitarian Epicure.  I made the Basic Green Soup using kale instead of chard since the soup is designed to work with any combination of greens.

Another change I made was that I added the vegetable broth at the same time as the kale instead of at the end.  Winter greens make a delicious pot liquor that brings a lot of flavor to the party, and I wanted time for it to meld with the vegetable broth.  It just goes to show you: if you want to know about peasant food, ask a peasant.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Not THAT Kind of Shrub

The Foodie recently introduced me to shrubs, which are drinking vinegars.  He says shrubs were developed as a way to take advantage of the health benefits of apple cider vinegar in a more palatable form.  They are created by infusing the vinegar with flavoring such as fruit or vanilla bean, adding some sugar, and then mixing a little of the resulting syrup with club soda or tonic water.

I recently tried a shrub when The Foodie made a batch of rhubarb-raspberry syrup.  The resulting beverage was delicious and surprisingly refreshing.  Now, of course, I'm going to be mixing up shrubs like some kind of ruffled-apron-wearing mad scientist in a lab.  If you want to try them too, you can find recipes here.

P.S. At the Department of Home Economics, I posted a recipe using apple cider vinegar that can help with tummy troubles, along with other information and links about vinegar. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Culinary Quote: Me

"Here's what I've learned about cooking eggs that has improved the finished product. One: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line; and two: cook eggs at a lower heat than you think you need. Well, it's really just the second one."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Recipe: Peasant Pasta with Swiss Chard

I come by my love of peasant food honestly -- my grandfather's birth certificate from Sao Miguel in the Azores says "peasant" right on it. A love of bitter greens and ways to stretch a buck is in my DNA.

I'm posting this for a friend who asks me almost every week at the farmer's market how I cook swiss chard. IT Guy, this is for you.

Peasant Pasta With Swiss Chard
Serves 4 peasants

12 oz. package fettucine
1 large bunch (or two small) swiss chard
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced (or more to taste)
4 eggs
4 oz. fresh mozarella, cubed
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, slice swiss chard leaves and stems in approximately half-inch slices (you can do this while it's still bunched) and then run your knife through the leaves to rough chop. Fill a large bowl with cold water and place chard into it, swishing the chard around to clean it.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions. When it is within 4 minutes of being done, scoop the swiss chard out of the water bath and into your pasta water. Stir. Cook 4 more minutes.

3. Heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Saute the garlic for about 1 minute (be careful not to burn it) and then pour garlic and oil into a small bowl.

4. In remaining traces of oil, cook the eggs over easy, over medium, or sunnyside up (according to preference; you want a bit of runny yolk). Season with salt and pepper.

5. Drain pasta mixture, return to cooking pot, and pour garlic and olive oil over it. Stir. Add parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss well.

6. Scoop pasta mixture onto four plates, garnish with an egg, mozzarella cubes, and a little more parmesan cheese (why not?).

* Note: this recipe is a good way to use up greens that are a little wilted or a mixture of more than one kind of green you may have on hand. You could also make it even heartier by putting two eggs on each plate.

Friday, August 5, 2011

From My Inner Twelve-Year-Old To You


This image made me laugh out loud. It's a real product available for purchase from Bed Bath and Beyond. Rush over to their website and buy one. You know you want to.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

I'm Betty Ready

Gentle readers, feast your eyes on this photo of me rocking the Betty Crocker look. I created it on, and I think it proves I'm ready to join the culinary pantheon of imaginary housewives.

See? I'm WAY cooler than Ms. Boring 1996. Get with it, General Mills. Retro is the new modern!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cereal Killer

During these hot summer days when maiden aunts are subsisting mostly on smoothies and sandwiches, our thoughts naturally turn to food tales of yore.

The Scene: My mother's kitchen, circa 1983. Cereal is kept in a floor-level cabinet so children can serve themselves for breakfast and snacks.

The Players: Me. My sister Rachel, age 6. Our brother Aaron is 13 -- seven years older than Rachel and seven years younger than me.

Rachel: Maria, would you please get me some cereal?

Maria: You can get it yourself. I'll get the milk out of the fridge for you.

Rachel: Can you get me cereal too?

Maria: You can get your own cereal. Open the cabinet and pick the kind you want.

Rachel: I want Cheerios. Get them out for me, pleeeeeeeeease?

Maria: [opening cabinet and pulling out a cereal box] Okay, here you go.

Rachel: Open it.

Maria: Open it yourself.

Rachel: [never taking her eyes off the box] You open it.

Maria: Rachel, you're a big girl! Why won't you do this yourself?

Rachel: I'm scared.

Maria: What can you possibly be scared of?

Rachel: I'm afraid of monsters. In the cereal box.

Maria: What in the world? ... AARON!!!!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chocolate Fountain

During these hot summer days when maiden aunts are subsisting mostly on smoothies and sandwiches, our thoughts naturally turn to food tales of yore.

Picture it: my mother's kitchen, 1985. My youngest sister Rachel (age 8 at the time) asked me to help her make a milkshake. Since I was fully grown and much taller, she stood in front of me while we loaded the blender with ice cream, milk, and Nestle's Quik. As I reached out to pick up the blender's lid off the counter, Rachel pushed a button and started the blender.

Have you ever noticed how, in moments like this, time seems to slow way down? I saw her push the button. I heard myself say "NOOOOOOOOO." I saw the blender's contents fly high into the air, and then splash down upon us. I was still reaching for the lid while flailing toward the off switch.

I surveyed the wreckage. There were chunks of ice cream and splashes of milk everywhere. I was spattered from the chest up and completely clean from there down since Rachel had made a very effective human shield. She was drenched from head to toe, her hair dripping chocolate milk onto the floor. I ran across the kitchen and unspooled a roll of paper towels to mop us off, and then sent her to take a shower and change. I cleaned the kitchen, although I suspect my mother is finding bits of chocolate in odd places to this day.

When I got back from my turn in the shower, believe it or not, the kid still wanted a milkshake.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Verily, 'Tis A Good Oyntment (With Receipt!)

While noodling around the Newport Historical Society website looking for genealogical research information, I found the following "receipt":

To Cure Chopt Lipps &c.

Take 2oz: of Bees wax & cutt it in pieces or bitts & 1

Gill of good Sweet oyl set it over a Clear fire when

Dissolved pour it into a Clear Bason & it will be when

Coal’d an Oyntment good for sore Nipples also any

Thing of that kind.

Try it next time you're grilling burgers and happen to have some beeswax on hand!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Like a Lobster

A friend recently told me that when a lobster outgrows its shell, it moults and then hides until the new shell forms because it's soft and vulnerable.

So for my gentle readers who are wondering why I haven't been updating much lately, the answer is this: I'm not unhappy, I'm not bored, I'm not even out of ideas. I'm moulting. Some of this has entailed going places and seeing new things. Some it has been about doing research and taking on new information. And some of the time, I'm doing what looks like a lot of nothing much -- sitting in the yard listening to the birds, reading, and drawing the yellowjackets that land on me.

I don't yet know what shape my new shell will be once it grows. But I do know this: if I have to take on the shape of a beleaguered office worker again, I'd frankly prefer to be devoured by a codfish.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sweet Potato Oven Fries (with Recipe!)

In the summertime, I want to get through my chores as quickly as possible and get to the main attraction of the season: being outdoors. Cooking, as much as I love it, is no exception. I'm doing a lot more assembling of meals (tossing salads, spooning berries over cottage cheese) than I am actual cooking these days.

Of course, grilling is a great way to cook and be outside at the same time, which is where these oven fries come in so handy. They cook in your oven, leaving you time to toss a salad, grill up some burgers, or take a few more runs on the Slip-n-Slide. Everyone loves them -- adults and children alike -- and they are actually very good for you!

The recipe serves four, but since it's a "to taste" kind of recipe, you can easily make as much or as little as you need. This is one of the very few times I recommend using garlic powder because fresh garlic will burn.

Sweet Potato Oven Fries

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled
olive oil
kosher salt
garlic powder

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare one large or two small rimmed baking sheets by pouring a little olive oil in the bottom and spreading to coat the pan(s).

2. Cut sweet potatoes in 1-inch steak fry sized pieces and place pieces in a large bowl. Drizzle olive oil over potatoes and toss. Make sure you use enough olive oil that all the potatoes are fully coated. Sprinkle on the salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. (I find it's better to season these liberally.) Toss again.

3. Spread the seasoned sweet potatoes on the baking sheet(s), making sure they are in a single layer and are not too crowded. Place sheet(s) in the hot oven and bake approximately 45 minutes. (Tip: I check them after half an hour and give them a little jiggle or turn them over with a spatula.) The fries are done when they are soft when pierced with a fork and are slightly browned around the edges.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Oh Betty, You Disappoint Me

It's late June, the time when an Old Maid's thoughts naturally turn to 4th of July parties. I was hoping that Betty Crocker -- being as American as the marketing of fake celebrities -- would have something to offer in her trusty 1971 recipe card library.

This card looked promising until I realized that the hamburgers contain absolutely no herring. If there's one thing I've learned from watching the Golden Girls, it's that Scandinavians love their herring. (They also, apparently, love swan dresses and Michael Jackson. But I learned that from Bjork.) I have no idea why Betty decided this recipe was Scandinavian. Maybe it's the rye bread and red onion. Maybe it's the use of everything in the pantry to flavor the burgers. Maybe it's the potato sticks. Who can say?

At first glance, this one seemed more like it. Who wouldn't want to sing a rousing chorus of Yankee Doodle if the reward was going to be frosted doughnuts? If you look carefully, you can see that thrifty Betty even used the doughnut holes to make munchkins. That Betty. She thinks of everything. Except:

Potato buds? Really? Now I'm sad.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Celebrity Breakfast

A delicious breakfast of goat cheese stuffed french toast, fruit salad, and jalapeno bacon.

I am definitely stealing the bacon technique.

It's not very often that I get to have a meals with celebrities. I'm all for the idea, it's just that there seems to be a certain lack of enthusiasm at their end. So you can imagine how exciting it was for me a couple of weekends ago, when I visited my friend Monica of 5 Cats Shy and we drove from her home in Atlanta to Chattanooga, TN for breakfast with singer/songwiter and mountain dulcimer player Butch Ross. (If you don't already listen to his music, you totally should.) He even did the cooking.

Breakfast was great, Butch is a really nice guy, and I think I managed not to act like too much of a fangirl. All in all, a very nice way to spend a Saturday morning.