Pumpkin Spice Frosted Cookies

It's starting to feel like fall here---despite the fact that it was 90 degrees yesterday. My autumn decorations are slowly making their way onto the different flat surfaces in my house. The mountains are ablaze with color, the mornings are just the right amount of cool (perfect running weather!), and the light has changed to that glimmery shade it will have for the next few months.

On Monday I made these cookies, and Nathan walked into the kitchen. "Yes!" he said. "I know fall is here, because Mom's baking with pumpkin!"

So there's that, too.

This was a new recipe I tried. I altered it a little bit, but I started with this as the base. They are delicious!


Pumpkin Spice Frosted Cookies


2 sticks butter, softened
2 eggs
2 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 cups canned pumpkin
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 cups white flour
1 recipe frosting (on back)
1 cup white chocolate chips
2 cups dark chocolate chips

Cream the butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping between each. Beat in the vanilla and pumpkin. Combine remaining dry ingredients, then slowly beat in. Add the chocolate chips last. Drop onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 13-16 minutes, checking at 12.


2 sticks butter, separated
3 T brown sugar, packed
½ cup canned pumpkin
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
dash salt
1 t vanilla
1 ½ lbs powdered sugar (about)

Brown one stick of butter by melting it over medium heat. Then turn the heat to medium low and let it cook, swirling occasionally, until it is browned. Let cool to room temperature. Cream remaining stick (softened) with the brown sugar, pumpkin, and spices. Pour in the browned butter and cream again. Start adding the powdered sugar one cup at a time, creaming as you go, until the frosting is as thick as you like it. Spread on the cooled cookies.

Here's a PDF with the recipe:
Download Cookies pumpkin spice frosted

What's your favorite pumpkin recipe?

Sweet and Spicy Meatballs---Fast, Easy, and Delicious!

Hmmmmm...Labor Day. I feel like I labored in many ways today:

  • Running. I only did three miles and a bit...but I didn't take any walking breaks. (I've been doing two minute walking breaks after every three songs because of the ankle.)
  • Laundry. Haley was home, and she brought some laundry with her. So I had to hurry. I got four loads finished today! (Except for the socks...they aren't sorted yet.)
  • Creativity. I worked a bit on a scrapbook layout and processed some photos.
  • Yard work. We trimmed trees and rosebushes, and then I worked on the never-ending eradicate-the-ivy project while Kendell mowed the lawn.
  • Emotional. Jake has been going through it. We talked a lot today. We worked through some things. Still working on others. What has surprised me is how much his troubles have stirred up memories of my own adolescent aches...I am learning things about myself as well as him.

So when it was dinner time, I did not want to spend a ton of time cooking. So I made this dish, which is one I don't make very often but is always delicious when I do! It's awesome because it's pretty flexible, and I can usually find one or another of the ingredients in my pantry.

Sweet and Spicy Meatballs

Slightly blurry photo as it was almost dark before we ate!

1 cup ketchup
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
OR two cans of tomato soup
1 cup brown sugar
1 T chili powder
1 tsp hot chili
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp liquid smoke
20 ounces pineapple 
OR 1 cup pineapple
premade meatballs (I buy the kind they sell at Costco)

Stir everything together. Bring to a boil, then let simmer until the rice is done. I always make coconut rice, which is just rice made with 1 can of coconut milk substituted for 1 cup of the cooking water.

Easy, fast, and delicious dinner!

What did you cook for dinner tonight?

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese: All of the Recipe Secrets

A long time ago—maybe even 18 months ago, or two years even—my sister-in-law asked for my recipe for homemade macaroni and cheese. This is because, truth be told: I make a really, really good homemade macaroni and cheese.

Every time I make it I think, I should give this recipe to Cindy. But I haven’t. Not out of this-is-a-secret-recipe weirdness. Or laziness. But just because, mostly? I don’t really follow an exact recipe. Which means sometimes when I make it, I have a whole bunch of cheese sauce left over and not enough noodles. Or a whole bunch of leftover noodles. Or I have to hurry and grate more cheese. (Or even, yes...run to the store for more cheddar.)

But every time I make it, despite its deliciousness, I feel bad for not sharing.

So, I made it tonight, and I thought, OK. This time I’m going to really pay attention and get the measurements down on paper so I can share them with Cindy.

Except at the end I still had way too much cooked macaroni.

Anyway! Here is how you make really good macaroni and cheese. There are several secrets involved, which I shall divulge with abandon. Prepare yourself for deliciousness. But have a lot of cheese grated and ready to go. And don’t be surprised if you make too much sauce or boil too many noodles, OK?

Just go with it!

Macaroni & Cheese secret #1: All of your ingredients need to be room temperature. If not, the sauce will be grainy.

Macaroni & Cheese secret #2: You need mostly sharp cheddar, but different types of cheese are required. I always put blue cheese in mine, and then for the third cheese I’ll throw in whatever other kind I happen to have: Parmesan, Romano, Monterey jack, mozzarella. When I made it today, I’d bought some Gruyere to try; I’ve also used white cheddar, Muenster, and Colby.

(Can you tell I am a cheese fan? Mmmmm.)

About an hour before you want to start cooking, grate the cheese. I have no idea how much I use—several hunks off of the 5-lb block of cheddar that’s nearly always in my fridge. One and a half pounds maybe? A handful of blue. About 3/4 cup of the other cheese.

Spread the grated cheese on individual plates so it can all come to room temperature.

Then measure any combination of milk/half & half/cream that you think your arteries can stand. You want a total of

8 cups milk/cream combo

(can you overlook the slightly-blurry cellphone pics? I was being lazy...)

Then just let it sit for about 45 minutes. When you’re ready to start cooking, first, make a roux with:
6 T butter
8 T flour

In a very large saucepan, melt the butter, then sprinkle the flour on top of it. Stir with a whisk until smooth. Cook this for about five minutes, stirring constantly. I gather it all up in a puddle on the middle of the pan with a spatula, then whisk until it spreads out everywhere, then gather it again. You want it to be a crispy sort of golden brown—if you don’t cook it enough, the flour will give a sort of raw taste.


Start the water boiling for the macaroni. This time I used a 48-ounce bag and then I realized that, yeah...three pounds of elbow macaroni is way too much, even for my family of growing teenagers. Try two pounds.

Once the roux has cooked for awhile, start pouring in the milk. NOTE: Did you forget to set the milk out to bring it to room temperature? Put it in the microwave while you’re preparing the roux! I pour in about 1 ½ cups and whisk until smooth; then I pour in about two more cups and whisk until smooth, then add the rest. And (can you guess?) whisk until smooth!

Now start seasoning. Here’s another secret: to make a lovely, yellow macaroni & cheese, you need more yellow than the cheddar can provide. It’s only cheese, people! Its job is to add flavor (and yes, calories, but whatever). To make your dish yellow, you add turmeric. It adds only a very subtle turmeric flavor but a lovely bright yellow.

I definitely don’t measure the spices. Instead I add some and then I taste and then add more if it needs it. You can start with quite a bit, because you’re working with eight cups of milk. These are my guesses:


1/4 tsp nutmeg (which is another secret ingredient, but it can quickly overpower, so seriously: just dashes!)
1 ½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp dry mustard
tons & tons of freshly-ground black pepper

Keep the heat on medium low and keep stirring the milk sauce. It will start to thicken as it gets hotter. You don’t want to let it boil, or if it DOES start boiling, turn it down quickly, but not too low because you want it warm enough to melt the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Now start adding the cheese. Sprinkle it in even handfuls across the top of the sauce, then whisk until smooth. Start with the blue cheese, then add the second flavor—about 3/4 cup of the second. 20140223_180354
Then start adding the cheddar. But between each bit, whisk until smooth. And don’t add it in clumps, but just an even sprinkling. Start tasting when you’ve added about half of the cheddar. Remember that the flavor will mellow when you add the macaroni, so if it seems strong, that is OK. Continue adding cheese in small amounts until it tastes the way you like it.

Meanwhile, you’ve been cooking the macaroni in the biggest pot. Cook it just till al dente. Drain thoroughly. When the sauce is done, pour about half the macaroni back into the biggest pot. Pour about half the sauce in. Keep adding sauce and macaroni until it is as saucy as you like it. If you have too much sauce for your noodles, keep it in the fridge—it’s good on broccoli or on top of baked potatoes. If you have too many noodles, you’ll eat them tomorrow or the next day in tomato soup, right?

And if you have the exact amount of both, well, you are a better cook than I!

(NOTE: I make a great big batch so that everyone eats enough at dinner and then there are left overs. You can downside if you don't like left overs or you don't have teenage boys who can put away incredible amounts of food.)

Creamy Chicken Soup (A Recipe. And A Story Wherein *I* Mess Up, But it All Comes Out Right. At Lunch.)

Nathan got his braces on this week. (I’d show you the awesome picture he took of himself with the things that hold your mouth open, but I promised I wouldn’t show it to anyone.) He’s pretty miserable and has been living on milkshakes. (Which, come to think of it, is a decent way to suffer through misery.) I wanted to make something for dinner that would be soft but also, you know, more nutritious than cream, sugar, ice cream, whipped cream, and marishino cherries.

I’m not sure what I came up with—creamy chicken soup—really was healthier than ice cream, but it was pretty delicious.

(M&Ms mugs are the perfect vessels for eating soup. In bed.)

So I started making dinner at a normal time. Then Kaleb needed some help, as he had a friend from school over and they made an enormous mess with popcorn. Got that cleaned up, went back to cooking, then his friend’s mom—whom I’d never met—came to get him, so I stopped cooking and talked to her for awhile. Cooked for two more minutes and then Jake needed a ride to work. Once I got home from that, Kendell was just getting home from work, which you’d think would make things easier, but he decided to balance the checkbook so I kept having to stop cooking to answer checkbook questions. Then Kaleb decided he wanted to go to scouts early so I had to arrange that with my neighbor.

I kept getting interrupted so often that I had to push dinner back to after scouts. Kendell and I left for the cub scouts meeting with the soup simmering very gently and the breadsticks ready to put in the oven the second we got home.

You know...home from the scouts meeting. The blue and gold banquet. Where they feed you dinner.

The irony in all of this was that Nathan ended up going to a friend’s house anyway.

So we ate dinner (pulled pork sandwiches) at the scout meeting and kept the soup for tonight. Actually...we ate it for lunch. The bread sticks weren’t awesome because I left them in the fridge for so long. But the soup was still delicious!

Creamy Chicken Soup

Cook four chicken breasts in one can of chicken broth, with a roughly-diced onion, some garlic, pepper, poultry seasoning, and a dash of nutmeg in the broth. When it’s finished, take the breasts out of the broth and let them cool, but keep the broth.

In the pan you are making the soup in, make a roux:

2 T butter
2 T olive oil
5 T flour

Melt the butter, then add the olive oil. Keep the pan on low. Sprinkle the flour into the oils, then stir till the flour into it, creating a smooth paste.

Measure out a total of five cups of a milk and cream mixture (whatever you think your arteries can handle; I do 3 cups skim milk and 2 cups cream). Let sit so it starts to lose its chill.

1 onion
2 stalks celery
6 carrots

Saute in
2 (more!) T butter
2 T olive oil

While they are sauteing, peel and finally dice two potatoes.

Remember the broth you cooked the chicken in? It’s been sitting for awhile now, and the icky foamy floaty stuff has settled to the bottom. Use a slotted spoon to get the onions out of the broth. Scoop them into the blender and put as much of the broth as you can get—without the icky foamy floaty stuff. Blend until smooth. Whisk that into the roux in your soup pan. Turn the heat back on, to medium low, and stir this until smooth. Then add:

2 cans chicken broth

Stir in the onions, carrots, and celery. Bring to a boil. While that happens, sprinkle the potatoes pretty well with white pepper, then saute them, then add to the broth/veggie mix. While the potatoes cook, shred the chicken.

Once the potatoes are soft-ish (so, like, not soft enough to mash, but no longer crunchy), pour in the milk/cream mixture. Season with

3-ish tsp of garlic, or three crushed garlic cloves, or 1 tsp garlic powder
2 T chicken base
3 tsp poultry seasoning
plenty of fresh black pepper

Bring back to a gentle boil (if you boil it too hard, it will probably get all curdle-y and icky). Taste and then adjust the seasonings—quite often I put in a little more chicken base, which is perfectly salty to me. (I don’t like a lot of salt.)

Serve with some grated cheddar, Parmesan, Monterey jack, or Muenster sprinkled on top.

And trust me: It’s even better the next day!

Adventures in Candy Making

Tomorrow we are having a baking day at my mom’s house. By "we" I mean: my sisters and three of my nieces. Instead of, you know, baking something, I decided, "hey! I saw that book about candy making at work the other day! I should make some hand-dipped chocolates!"

Now, before you go all doubting Thomas on me, I’ll have you know that I make caramel and fudge every year.

And in fact, I'm practically an expert at making fondant and soft caramels for dipping. Because I took a class! at a real candy store! And I’ve made them before. One time. Back in 1995. How much could I have forgotten?

Only that it’s harder than I remember?


So tonight, in preparation for tomorrow, I decided to whip up a batch of chocolate nougat, one of chocolate caramel and also a batch of fondant. My first clue should’ve been when I totally made a mess cracking the first egg for the egg-white nougat.

Because it all went downhill from there.

But I persevered. I washed the mixing bowl out and started again, following the nougat recipe exactly. What you do is whip the egg whites while a sugar syrup is boiling happily away. So I whipped the eggs and watched the thermometer in the syrup, and I boiled it to exactly 245 degrees, and then I slowly whisked the syrup into the egg whites.

Seriously. I did it just like the recipe said.

Except (and, ummm, hello, this makes sense because, you know, physics), not all of the syrup whisked itself into the egg whites. Nope. A good deal of it whipped itself into the air and became...whipped sugar. (Read: hard, crystalized sugar. Wrapped in thin amber strands around the beaters. Pretty...but not so awesome in a soft nougat.) But I’d used the last three eggs I had so I just kept going.

And maybe there was something tickling at the back of my mind...something I’d forgotten about candy making?


Meanwhile (back when the sugar syrup for the nougat was boiling), having forgotten how much concentration it takes to make candy, I decided to multitask. I started working on the chocolate caramel.

What you do for chocolate caramel is start by mixing sugar and water, and then just letting it sit over a medium-warm burner until it starts to boil. Then you add some Karo syrup, and you let it cook again, stirring every once in awhile, until it’s at 310 degrees. (That is hard crack stage, which will be important.) Then you cool it slightly, and add in other stuff.

So the sugar syrup for the caramel is bubbling away cheerfully on the power burner of my stove while I’m trying to whisk the sugar syrup for the nougat and only having, well, not very successful success. And it’s bubbling away happily while I’m carefully stirring the chocolate, butter, and vanilla into the nougat (carefully because I’m trying not to knock any of the 1.2 million bits of crystalized sugar into the nougat). And then it’s suddenly bubbling not so happily nor cheerily. It’s furiously boiling, it’s furiously mad, it’s, yeah, it’s burning because hello: I knocked the power burner dial up to high.


So I’m trying to pour (but not scrape because: sugar crystals) the nougat into the parchment-paper-lined pan and the kitchen is filling with smoke. I give up on the nougat, grab the pan full of burning sugar syrup, and start pouring it down the sink, with enough hot water that I think I’ll be, you know, safe. Except the handle to the pan is freaking hot (it’s not called the "power burner" for nothing) and so I drop the pan into the sink and burning sugar syrup splatters all over my hand.

Holy sweetness.

I mean, as sweet as it sounds, a burn from burning sugar syrup? Not so sweet.

So the kitchen smells like burnt sugar and charred flesh. The nougat is a sort of lumpish, brownish mess on the parchment paper. But I still have the cream and the chocolate ready to go for the chocolate caramel, so I just start the sugar syrup over again. In a smaller pan and on the normal burner this time, because all that I did wrong the first time was use too big of a pan and too big of a burner.

Deep breath.

I also decide that the recipe is too small, so I am going to increase it by fifty percent, even though I’m sure learned somewhere that you’re not supposed to double candy recipes. I do it anyway and once it starts boiling it looks exactly right. So I stir it now and then while I’m washing out the mixing bowl, burnt-sugar pan, 327 measuring cups and 5 rubber spatulas. I scrape all of the nougat I can into a ziplock bag; we’ll just see how it is tomorrow. I check the thermometer and stir and make sure that the burner stays on medium. I stir the vanilla into the cream and maybe I groan just a little bit when I lick the spoon.

I stir the sugar syrup and watch it closely.

I reread the recipe and I remember: oh, yeah. I need butter. Six tablespoons! No! Nine, because I’m 1.5ing it, right? So I toss the butter into the microwave and push, yes, start. Instead of soften, and I realize it twenty seconds in, and then I sigh and wash the butter off the microwave tray and start again with a new cube.

I check the thermometer again: 310! So I turn the burner off, and hold the pan in a bowl of ice to stop the cooking. And then I think, wait, this next step is weird, because it seems like pouring cream (which by now is room temperature) into hot sugar syrup seems, well...not very wise. But that’s what the recipe said when I read it the last time, so I pour in the cream, and just as I’m pouring I remember the two things I forgot from my long-ago candy making class:

You have to adjust the cooking temperature for altitude


310 degrees is, remember, hard crack stage. And if you don’t have a thermometer, how do you test for hard crack stage? You drip some of the sugar syrup into cold water and see what it does. At 310, it forms itself into long, hard strands.

Guess what happens when you pour cream into 310-degree sugar syrup?

It totally seizes.

Like a great big lump.

And as a bonus, I had this brilliant, ah-ha moment just while I was pouring the cream in, so I started to stop the pouring by grabbing the metal part of the pan. Yep, instead of the handle. With my other, non-burned palm of course!


So now there’s this big, hard ball of seized sugar syrup sort of mucking up the cream.

And I’m thinking, what a stupid recipe! And then I actually look at the recipe, and I see the step I skipped: let sugar syrup cool for about five minutes. Before pouring in the cream.


But I persevere! Because as scary as caramel is, it’s also fairly forgiving. You just heat it up again. So I pour in the butter, and I stir. I stir and I stir and I stir, and slowly that hard-as-glass sugar ball dissolves in the warm cream and butter. Caramel consistency is achieved at last!

Then I stir in the chocolate (a mix of dark and milk).

And pour the whole gloppy, delicious mess into another parchment-lined dish.

And then I scrape the pan with a spoon and I eat the little leftover bit of chocolate caramel and I try not to swoon.

Because, yum. Despite the burned skin, the sticky floor, the buttery smear on the microwave, and the five dozen kitchen utensils I’ve used—or perhaps because of all that—the chocolate caramel? It’s totally delicious.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring. Definitely not a batch of fondant, as I am exhausted.

Maybe after a night in the fridge the chocolate caramel will be disgusting.

Maybe the nougat will be unusable.

Maybe I’ll just have to run to Wal-Mart to get the ingredients for actual cookies to bake on our baking Saturday.

What I do know is this: It’s all the fault of the recipe book. It’s totally not because I took one class once nearly two decades ago.


I’ll let you know tomorrow how my regular caramel turns out, which I can make (nearly) with my eyes shut. I don’t even need a candy thermometer because I know what color it’s supposed to be when it’s done cooking. Sure, I have to open my eyes to see the color, but that’s OK.

Candy making just requires a lot of focus.

Discouraged Dinnerland

Every once in awhile I get discouraged about dinner. This happens because I have picky kids who aren't afraid to voice their opinions, a husband who won't eat soup because "it's not manly" (thus eliminating an entire food genre), and my own quirks (I don't like fish or seafood...thus eliminating another genre). All the drama makes me blue; the result of said discouragement is that I quit trying for awhile. We exist on bagels and Eggos and cold cereal, bean burritos and scrambled eggs and maybe, if we're lucky, hash browns. Then I eventually realize that my fridge has only condiments, cheese, milk, and some wilted carrots. I take a deep breath and put my big girl pants back on and wade back into the fray.

The past ten days or so haven't been happy food times at our house. Someone who shall remain unnamed said something like "not that again" and, coupled with all the other complaints rambling around in my head, it was just enough to push me into Discouraged Dinnerland.

We ate a lot of tacquitos.

But then Monday came around, and I noticed a recipe on my friend Sophia's blog, and I decided to return to the Land of Cooking. Jake was at work (where he can also eat, as he works at a pizza restaurant), and Haley had already eaten with her boyfriend, but the four of us liked this. The opinions went like this:

Kaleb: ate it with only mild complaining and somehow didn't notice the green onions. (Any actual green food is usually entirely unacceptable.) (His plate was, of course, bereft of lettuce.)
Kendell: decided that he liked it well enough, but isn't sure he wants it once a week or anything. (His opinion tempered by the fact that there's no cheese involved.)
Nathan: One bowl with meat, one bowl without, another with. ("I ate so much my stomach hurts.")
Me: "Must. Stop. Eating. No, just another bite. Wait, one more bite. Holy cow this is delicious." (I ate so much my stomach hurt, in other words.)

So I'm adding this to the rotation!

Asian Beef "Wraps"
(modified from Sophia's recipe)
(also, modify amounts to fit your family. I tripled-ish the recipe; we had left overs.)

3 lbs extra-lean ground beef
1 red onion, diced fine
4 garlic cloves
a bunch of grated fresh ginger
salt and pepper

In a large skillet, cook ground beef with onion, garlic, ginger, and salt & pepper. Drain grease thoroughly. Add:

2 T sesame oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup almond butter (use peanut butter if you don't have allergies at your house)
3 T honey
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tsp garlic chili sauce (this is in the Asian foods section) (also, it's HOT!!!)

Stir until everything is mixed. Add:

5 diced green onions (dice them small enough & no one will notice!)
1 can water chestnuts, drained and diced
1/2 cup diced cashews (or less if you're the only one who doesn't bitc complain about how nuts shouldn't be in any food except caramel, fudge, and ice cream)

diced romaine lettuce
steamed rice

The quotation marks in the title are there because this is supposed to be served as a wrap: keep the lettuce leaves whole and use them like a tortilla. But as I was eating by myself and wanted to read while I ate (without dripping stuff out of the bottom of a wrap onto a library book) (I am STILL dragging myself through Sweet Tooth and I'm only finishing it because it might sully my Serious Reader credential if I didn't), I tore the lettuce into pieces, put them on my plate, and then layered rice, meat, and a sprinkle of cashews on top.

Seriously: delicious.

The original recipe called for ground chicken. As ground poultry gives me the shudders and I had no defrosted chicken but some hamburger, I switched the meat. I think this would be equally as delicious (and much healthier) with diced chicken.

Kendell was doubtful when I bought the big package of romaine lettuce at Costco. (Since I had, alas, tossed out some deteriorating broccoli and asparagus that same day.) Just to prove him wrong, I made Asian chicken salad with the rest of the romaine for dinner tonight. (Well, by "made" I mean "opened up the Asian Salad Kit and stirred everything together.")

Which means that for two nights in a row, no gratuitous carbs have been consumed at my house.

Perhaps we have finally traveled out of Discouraged Dinnerland.

(Just as long as no one complains tomorrow!)

Bacon Epiphany

A few days ago, someone forwarded me a text with an image that read "Twenty years ago, we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, and Steve Jobs. Now we have no cash, no hope, and no jobs. PLEASE don't let Kevin Bacon die."

Teeeeeee. Obviously, my family's penchant for bacon is well known to my texting friends!

I'm actually sort of neutral on bacon. I like it, but not enough to make it very often. My affection for bacon is outweighed by my dislike of cleaning up bacon grease. My kids, however, LOVE BACON. Especially Jake. And Nathan, Haley, and Kaleb, but especially Jake. And probably they have no problem making bacon because I still have to clean up the grease.

And while I do put bacon in my potato salad, I've never fully realized the impact that it can have on a dish until I made this cheddar corn chowder last night. Oh, my. The bacon added just the right richness and flavor and slip. To fully explain how delicious a soup recipe this is, I shall say this: it is worth the mess of bacon grease!

Cheddar Corn Chowder
(adapted fromThe Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten)

5 slices bacon, chopped
1 swirl EVOO
1 sweet onion, chopped fine
1 T butter
1/3 cup flour
freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
3 14-ounce cans chicken broth
1 cup water (ish)
1 tsp chicken base
4 cups diced potatoes (about 2)
3 cups frozen corn
shredded chicken
1 cup milk
1 cup half & half
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Pour the milk and half & half into a measuring cup and let come to room temperature while you cook. In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil. Cut up the bacon (for speed, use scissors!) and drop into the oil. While it crisps (stir occasionally), dice the onion. Remove bacon. Add butter to the olive oil/bacon grease mixture, toss in the onions, and cook on medium low for about ten minutes, or until onions are soft. While they saute, peel and dice the potatoes. Stir in the flour, salt, petter, and turmeric. (The seasonings are to taste. I added about 1/2 tsp of salt—add more if you like things REALLY salty—and as much black pepper as you like. We like a lot.) Stir and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, water, and chicken base and stir, then toss in the diced potatoes. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft-ish. Add extra water if necessary. Toss in the frozen corn (or, if you're fancy like Ina, cut it from the cob, parboil for 3 minutes, drain, and then toss in the corn) and the shredded chicken (I had two breasts' worth, minus what Kaleb snatched while helping me shred). Bring back to a simmer, then pour in the room-temperature milk/half & half mixture and re-simmer again. Stir in cheese to melt. Serve topped with the diced bacon and a little bit of extra cheese on top.

And have your own bacon epiphany!

Looking for Peace in the Midst of Bitterness

(Please note: this is a political post with my political opinions, which are not meant to offend you. I'm just sharing what I think, not judging you for what you think. Politics aside, there is a recipe at the bottom of the post!)

Last night I fell asleep at 9:15. Partly this was the time change catching up to me, but mostly it was because I couldn't bear listening to the election results. But I still woke up with an anxious heart and a troubled mind. Today felt to me, in fact, like doomsday. Or at least, the beginning of the end of something.

I wasn't blind to Mitt Romney's faults. I think he should have chosen a different vice president, preferably a woman. (It's best not to get me started on the Republican perspective on women.) I think he comes from the filthy rich perspective and his environmental ideas are reprehensible. But I also think he is motivated by a moral compass. I don't say that because we happen to share the same religion, but because I felt like he earnestly and truly wanted to make America better.

I don't feel that way about Obama.

I think his environmental policies are better than Romney's (but still need vast improvements urgently). I think the Democratic perspective on women is one that goes along with the 21st century. I think his foreign policy is laughable and will have a world-wide impact for decades to come. Every time he promised to make more jobs I felt like screaming from my frustration—how does government create jobs? His handling of the economy couldn't be worse, and Obamacare? Obamacare will, in my opinion, become the cancer of the middle class.

Sure, the cost will sting a bit for the wealthy, but hello: they are wealthy. They will feel it less than the middle class. I don't believe health insurance should be managed or provided by the government. I think it should be provided by employers and be managed by insurance companies; I think government's role in health insurance should be to oversee (to insist upon) reform. (I do know that there are plenty of people who legitimately need assistance with health care. I have needed it before myself. But I think it should be a temporary thing, not a lifestyle choice.)

I also don't understand why insurance should be free. Didn't we learn in kindergarten that nothing is free? Someone will have to pay for Obamacare, and it will be middle-class people like you and me. People at Kendell's job are already talking about how, when we re-enroll in our health insurance next spring, the price increase will be unbearable. Couple that with the increase in taxes and the lack of pay raises and I am already starting to worry that I'll have to find a different, full-time job. All of which might sound like I don't want to help other people who are less fortunate than me, which isn't true; I do. I just don't think that Obamacare is the direction the help needs to take.

But what bothers me more than Obama's policies is his moral center. To me, it feels like he wants to be president because he likes the power and the fame, not because he wants to shape a strong, contemporary America. To me, the American he's shaping isn't even America anymore. It's more socialist than democratic and much more vulnerable. Couple that vulnerability with Obama's failures abroad (the Benghazi thing, the Israel thing) and it starts to feel nefarious.

I don't trust him and I don't think he has made my life better.

So today was a hard day for me. The ruthless gloating, the news pundits going on and on about Romney and how weak his campaign was. "But he won 49% of the popular vote!" I kept arguing back to the radio, "which means almost exactly half of the population wanted him to win." But mostly, it was the relentless anxiety and the knowledge that I am powerless to change any of these things.

So I searched for something to appease my anxiety. I scrapbooked. I went running. I ate the rest of the cake I made yesterday for work. I wandered around Target and bought some clearance Halloween stuff and some peppermint extra-dark-chocolate Lindt truffles (I am eating one right now as I write this in fact). I put away all of my Halloween decorations and got out all my Thanksgiving ones and repotted three of my plants and reorganized my linen closet and put together a big box of stuff to take to the thrift store and vacuumed the cobwebs off of my front-room ceiling. I listened to Kaleb talk while I cooked dinner.

I cooked dinner.

And, despite the other anxiety today brought (Kaleb's echo for his upcoming appointment with the cardiologist and all the accompanying terror that brings even though he's likely to be just fine), my little efforts at finding peace in my heart helped—a little bit. I don't feel any more optimistic about our future. But I do feel grateful that, for now, I have control of my home and my influence over my family at least.

Here's what I made for dinner. It's become a recent favorite at our house:

Buffalo Chicken Taquitos (adapted from Real Women of Philadelphia)

4 cups chicken, cooked and shredded (about 3 breasts)
12 soft-taco sized flour tortillas
2 cups monterey jack cheese, grated
4 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup Frank’s hot sauce
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles
2 T butter
1 tsp Lawry's seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
2 T vegetable oil

(I doubled this recipe and have some leftover taquitos.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread a thin layer of oil over a cookie sheet. Over medium low heat, melt butter. Add Lawry's and garlic powder. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute. Add cream cheese and stir until melted and completely combined with butter and spices. Whisk in hot sauce, bleu cheese, and milk then simmer for about five minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Combine chicken and sauce. Lay out a tortilla; fill with 1/3 cup chicken and a sprinkling of cheese. Tightly roll up taquito and place, seam down, on the oiled baking sheet; repeat until chicken is gone. Brush taquitos with vegetable oil on the top. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, then flip the taquitos over and let bake until golden brown. Serve with bleu cheese dressing (or sour cream & salsa if you're Kendell).

A Forgotten Summer Meal

When I was a kid, my mother was a domestic goddess.

Amy and mom
(me & mom on my 12th birthday)

Summer afternoons quite often found us working in the kitchen to bottle the produce she'd grown in our garden. We bottled tomatoes, green beans, apples, peaches, and salsa. She also grew plenty of zucchini and summer squash.

During the week or so of bottling tomatoes, we'd have the same thing for lunch. Mom would cut up chunks of yellow summer squash and cook it, just till it was tender, in the diced, juicy tomatoes. Then she'd sprinkle cheddar cheese on top. Eating that meal—I don't know what we called it—is one of my favorite summer memories.

Another thing Mom would make with the zucchini—the big ones that languished in the back of the garden until they were sized like small baseball bats—was grilled zucchini. Not grilled in the sense of cooked on a barbecue, but grilled like a grilled cheese sandwich.

On Sunday, I was facing some fairly severe cooking dejection as what I had planned to make for dinner—coconut chicken curry—had been shot down by not just one but two of my family members. ("Oh. My. Gosh. <insert gagging noises> that sounds disgusting." Just the thing to fuel my excitement.)

Then I saw the enormous zucchini my neighbor had left on my porch the day before. Usually with a big zucchini I'd make some zucchini bread, followed by a zucchini cake later in the week, but as I'm not eating sugar for the next six weeks, that idea was out. What can I make with that zucchini? I pondered, and there, behind the yearning for baked goods, was the memory of grilled zucchini.

I was certain it would meet with the same reaction as the coconut chicken curry had. But I also thought, Hey! I'm the mom here. And then I made it:

Grilled zuccini
And with the very first buttery, vegetable-sweet, crispy bite, I was back there on those summer afternoons, eating lunch on the shady patio of my childhood. My whole life ahead of me.

The great surprise of the whole thing? Everyone loved the grilled zucchini. Well, everyone except Kaleb who refuses to allow anything resembling vegetables to enter his body. Even Kendell, who at first complained I wasn't doing it like his mom used to (wah!) liked it. Jake had his sprinkled with cayenne pepper, which probably tasted delicious. But I wanted to keep it simple and pure, like it used to be.

Grilled Zucchini

1 large zucchini
2 eggs
2 T milk
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
butter for the griddle

Slice the zucchini into very thin rounds. Beat the eggs till frothy, then stir in the milk. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper.  While butter is melting on the griddle, dip a zucchini slice into the egg, then the flour. Cook on the buttered griddle, flipping once or twice and adding more butter as needed.

Don't be surprised if you make some new memories!

the Dangers of Cooking and Reading

(yes of course at the same time)

It was one of those mornings. A good one. All the kids in the kitchen eating their pancakes in shifts because how else can you eat pancakes? Haley was talking about how when you eat something really sweet then you need to eat something salty and I said "yeah, like when you eat caramel and then you have to eat some potato chips," and then she ate a cheese stick to balance out the sweetness of the buttermilk syrup. Jake and Kaleb were talking about Big Miracle and I was asking if the whales died and then they pointed out it was a kids' movie and of course the big miracle wasn't finding a place to bury all those big, dead whales. I took a plate of pancakes to Kendell who groused a little bit about not getting the first plate, you know, the first plate I'd given to Nathan who had to scarf and then go to a church meeting, and I rolled my eyes and came back to an empty, silent kitchen.

So I buttered the grill and I poured the last of the batter and then I started reheating the syrup because I sort of really like to eat my food hot and by then it was only lukewarm. I stirred the syrup and picked up my book (Eat and Run) and read and stirred and thought and the recent pleasant cacophony of kitchen happiness was replaced by my own noisy head. Somewhere between stirring and reading about running and veganism were my thoughts about the morning, like why did I wake up crying last night twice? and all those recent blog posts about the evo conference and while I didn't start my blog to be successful like that, wouldn't it still be cool to be successful like that, to have a niche that others knew about and respected you for? and some more thoughts about arguments and laughing and recognizing the irony of reading about tofu and soy protein while stirring butter and sugar together to pour over pancakes.



I guess it wasn't only the reading that made me forget to flip them. It was the thinking, too. But I missed that golden moment, when the doughy side puffs up and a little bit of steam wafts to your nose and it's a message: flip me right now. I totally missed that moment and remember: it was the last of the batter. I flipped them anyway and ate them with my buttermilk syrup (which was nice and hot) and even though they weren't perfect they were still delicious because pancakes?

Well, pancakes always seem to make despair and discouragement feel just a little bit better.

Even the imperfect ones.

My Pancakes
(everyone has their own way of making pancakes, right? I remember once I made pancakes at my sister's house and her daughter came down to eat and was like "ummmm, I hate pancakes like these, where are the white ones?" and then I forgave her because, well, everyone has the way they like them. I'm not a fan of bisquik-esque pancakes. I like mine a little bit earthier. These don't make an ultra-puffy pancake but they are the right fluff for us.) (Also, this is exactly how I cook them because I was thinking today...one day soon my kids will leave my house and go out on their own and I need to teach them how to make pancakes.) (And one more pre-script: This makes 8 cups of pancake batter, which might be way more than your family needs; remember: I'm feeding two teenage boys!)

4 eggs
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup oil
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinammon
1 tsp baking soda
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2-ish cups white flour

Crack the eggs into your mixer bowl and turn on the whisks and let it whisk away. Put the butter in a 2-cup glass measuring cup and then melt in the microwave. Try to not let it get bubbly, just melted. Pour oil into the butter until you have 2/3 cup combined. Stir with a fork, then slowly pour into the eggs. Add the milks, the baking soda & powder, the salt, the cinammon, and the vanilla. Let the whisks blend everything well. Then add the flours, about 1 cup at a time, whisking just a little bit between additions. I wrote "2-ish" for the white flour because sometimes it might need a little bit more.

Cook on a buttery griddle. Add chocolate chips (if you are Haley or Kaleb), a little extra butter (if you are Nathan), or nothing at all (if you are Jake, Kendell, or me). Serve with buttermilk syrup to everyone except Kaleb, who doesn't like it.

Buttermilk Syrup

1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 T corn syrup
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

Melt the butter in a large pan. (This foams up quite a bit so don't use a little one.) Add the sugar, buttermilk, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. (You can read while you stir if you want. Just be careful not to splash on your pages.) Let boil for about one minute. Whisk in the baking soda---this is when it foams up! When it's all smooth again, turn off the heat, add the vanilla, and stir a little bit more. Let it sit while you make the first batch of pancakes. Try not to drink the left overs.