Going Gluten-Free, Front Yard Makeovers, and Meat and Tacos and Meaty Tacos

I just quit that CSA I joined in my eat-all-the-vegetables January zealousness. The reasons are threefold. Number one: I signed up for the big box, the one for a family of four, because I cook for a family of four. It slowly dawned on me as the weeks went by that having four people in your family is not the same thing as having four people who are willing to eat a lot of weird vegetables in your family. I was the only one who was reliably willing to eat the stuff, and I was cooking a lot of different meals to account for the anti-vegetable faction of my family. So I looked into going down to a little box instead of the big box, but the little box is like all radishes and turnips and dandelion greens, and I want the fun stuff, not the box full of turnips. Reason number two: Andy’s already having to give up a huge swath of the foods that he loves on account of his celiac diagnosis, and I want to be able to cook him stuff that I know he’ll like in this transition period where he gets used to his new diet, and there’s no overlap between foods Andy is excited to eat and things that come in my weekly CSA box. Reason number three: there have been SO MANY recipes I’ve wanted to try while I’ve been CSA-ing and just didn’t feel like I could because that would involve buying vegetables from the store and forsaking some of the vegetables in my box. Because, literally, to get through the box we I had to eat multiple CSA veggies at every meal. So I decided to stop getting the box and to make more of an effort to just go to the farmers’ market instead. Then I can buy the vegetables I’m excited to cook, for recipes I’m excited to try.

We’re still sort of flying blind on the switch to a gluten-free diet because we haven’t had a follow-up appointment with the GI doc yet. We had originally planned to keep a few gluten-y things in the house- bread for kid sandwiches and pasta for kid lunches, but quickly realized the possibility for cross-contamination (through the toaster, the sponge, etc) was just too great. So we’re a totally gluten-free household now. This has been relatively okay. Andy has been very kind and grateful for the meals I’ve been making him, sweetly proclaiming that they’re every bit as good as the gluten-full versions I used to make. The kids called bullshit on the GF noodles we’ve tried, though Andy and I thought they were pretty great. We’ve found breads and cookies that will do just fine, and learned that Andy needs to have reliable and delicious and substantive GF snacks around, especially for when he gets hungry at work or when we’re away from home, so he’s stocked up on meat sticks and Lara bars. We have discovered to our horror that most gummies are made with a wheat-based glucose syrup (Andy’s favorite Sour Patch Kids, the ones he eats when his blood sugar is low and he needs quick sugar, are mercifully still okay). And mostly what the switch has boiled down to is that I’ve cooked a lot more meat and potato-y type stuff in the past few weeks.

Something bringing me joy in the last few weeks is a partial front-yard makeover. I love makeovers and moving furniture around and everything that makes something mundane feel new and fresh again. Also, I think it has been established that I get the itch to start a new big house project every spring. Do you wanna see some pictures?

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In the foreground- I ripped up all the grass on the side of our house and moved my raised beds to the front yard, which gets so much more sun and which is out of the reach of those menacing backyard chickens. I filled the area around the beds with pea gravel and planted and mulched a simple strip of Mexican feathergrass next to the beds (not visible in this picture) because my friend and incredible garden designer Amanda said the relative calm of a bed filled with one type of plant would be better next to the chaos of the hodgepodge of vegetables in the raised beds. In the background, Andy and I, with a whole lot of help from Otto, our extraordinary neighbor, built and stained that new front porch/deck thing, and I installed new landscaping edging in the circle around the tree and filled that area with pea gravel too. It feels calm and soothing over there and I’m so happy with the change. I’m going to plant a few bamboo muhlys on the far edge of that circle to make it an even more enclosed and protected space, which will have the added benefit of serving as a screen to block the view of the neighbors’ cars.

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We planted dill and fennel in our herb box in hopes of attracting swallowtail butterfly caterpillars and it worked! We have a dozen or more of them feasting on the dill and parsley and fennel and growing exponentially bigger every day. This morning, when we woke up, Henry said, “Let’s go check on the caterpillars!” and I said, “Oh yes! Let’s! Oh wait, I’m not wearing a bra.” And Henry said, “How could that possibly stop you?” I took the time to go put a bra on anyway, and I’m glad I did, because no less than two neighbors stopped by while we were out there to look at the caterpillars too and I was already wearing my favorite sleep leggings which are, let’s face it, disintegrating, and have huge holes along the inseams, so the bra added just a touch of class to my otherwise frazzled and unkempt morning look. Also I really have to trim that cilantro because it’s bolting.

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Caterpillar close-up just for funsies. Sorry for using the word ‘funsies.’

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Not part of the makeover but I just love the California poppies I planted in my hellstrip a few years ago. They bloom every spring and I love the way they match the trim of the house. And they’ll be a good source of nectar for our swallowtail butterflies!

Anyway! On to the food. Here’s some of the hot hits from our first fledgling weeks as a gluten-free family.

Steak, Collards, Mashed Potatoes. Andy’s ‘sorry you have celiac’ dinner. My mom bought these steaks for Andy at Costco, a 4 pack of big fat ribeyes, after I got sticker shock and couldn’t go through with the purchase. That always happens to me at Costco. I did buy a big giant bag of jerky that was only ten dollars though and on the merits of that alone I am considering getting a membership. Maybe I could buy cashews there too? Rice? I’m not sure what else. Probably mostly just a lot of jerky.

Carnitas with Guacamole and Tomatillo Salsa, Black Beans, Tortilla Chips. The tortillas and salsa and chips are from Tortilleria Rio Grande #2 on William Cannon. These corn tortillas are miles and miles better than the El Milagro ones I buy at the grocery store, and the chips and that salsa are my favorite things too. We ate through two pounds of the tortillas no problem, but now that we have to pay really close attention to cross-contamination, I don’t think I can buy them anymore because they are almost certainly cooked on the same conveyor belt where the flour tortillas are made. I gotta learn how to ask that question in Spanish and then go ask that question in Spanish because it would be really extra great if these tortillas could continue to be a part of our lives.

I went canvassing for Beto, who is the dreamiest, dreamiest Senate candidate ever. Did you know he’s not taking any money from PACs or corporations or special interests? That he’s imposing term limits on himself? That he is visiting every one of the 254 counties in Texas, many of whom have not had a visit from a Senate candidate in generations or ever? And he listens to people and is smart and funny and just the opposite in every way of ole Teddy Cruz. Even so, I hate canvassing and wouldn’t have done it except that Molly signed me up for it and I had to. And it really wasn’t so bad. Nobody got mad at us or threatened to shoot us! We met some great people and saw inside some wacky houses and met one guy who was super high and a couple people who “don’t believe in voting” (yeah, okay) and gave out buttons and did it all using a new canvassing app that’s pretty swell. So thanks, Molly! Our plan is to get deputized as voter registrars and canvass in our own neighborhoods several times between now and the election. Gotta get on it!

Smoked Salmon. Oh yeah- add this to the list of stuff I would buy at Costco if I had a membership- big sides of salmon that I can cut into single servings and hot smoke with maple syrup and apple wood chips. This is my cut of a side of steelhead and a side of salmon that I split with my mom and Christy. I ate it for breakfasts and snacks and ran out too quickly.

Gluten-Free French Toast. Gluten-free bread has come a long way since the last time I tried it. Although I still don’t think it’s great plain, once you toast it or griddle it or dip it in egg custard and fry it, it’s just fine. We like the Udi’s Soft White and the Little Northern Bakehouse Millet and Chia loaf and Cinnamon Raisin loaf.

Dandelion Green and Bacon GF Quiche. The kids wouldn’t touch it, but I thought this was pretty good, even if the dandelion greens are a little more bitter than I’d like. I sent a few slices to work with Andy and ate the rest myself, reheated in our new magically quick and wonderful and not covered in bread crumbs toaster oven for breakfasts and lunches.

Cobb Salad. One of our favorite naturally GF meals. I serve it with a tahini dressing (tahini + grated garlic + lemon juice + salt + water to thin it). And none of these facts are very exciting but I didn’t want to cut this picture out of the post because it is proof that we are eating some vegetables.

Bulgogi Beef, Crispy Roasted Kale with Tamari. Honestly the carrots have been the most relentlessly oppressive CSA item of all. I have literally 7 pounds of them in my fridge right now because we just couldn’t keep up. This meek little pile of carrot garnish in the corner of this bulgogi plate constitutes 1/6 of one carrot, and it was plenty enough for me.

Henry’s Beloved 15 Bean Soup, GF Cornbread. I just replaced the AP flour in the linked cornbread recipe with GF AP flour and it was great! Like real-life cornbread! The soup is something that Otto turned us on to, and almost every time we go to Otto’s house for a visit, Henry asks him if he has any. This time he had a bag of it (the mix of 15 dried beans) in the pantry and gifted it to us. I cooked it up with some smoked sausage and brought Otto the other half of the finished soup.

Food Lab’s Buttermilk Pancakes, GF. These were like real pancakes too! Through the miracle of science and xanthan gum, good pancakes can continue to answer the call of what to eat for dinner when I haven’t planned anything. Christy was telling me about the magical two ingredient egg + banana pancakes that they like even better than regular GF pancakes, so I wanna try those too. I just don’t have any old bananas lying around at the moment.

Pasta with Fried Lemon and Chile Flakes. This is Bionature GF spaghetti, which the very kind blogger behind The Weekly Menu turned me on to- it’s really great! Side note- her post about gluten-free restaurants in Austin gave me life after Andy’s diagnosis. We have reservations to eat at ATX Cocina for our anniversary dinner next month and I am awfully excited. But beyond just the pasta being good, I loved this fried lemon pasta recipe from Melissa Clark. Let’s put fried lemon slices in everything.

Migas Tacos. I’m just guessing here, but when it comes to giving up specific foods, I’d bet that Andy is most unhappy about having to say goodbye to flour tortillas. I did make him a batch of gluten-free flour tortillas, which he keeps in the freezer and eats with peanut butter of all things for a special late-night snack. But for our everyday run-of-the-mill now served on corn tortilla tacos, a couple of tweaks have made them seem a lot better. First- instead of just steaming the tortillas (too soggy) or griddling them (too dry) I have taken to heating them in a little bit of good salted butter. They get soft and pliable, but have better structure too, from being crisped in spots in the hot fat and they taste better too, from the added fat and salt. The other tweak is to make a quick fresh salsa by pulsing tomatoes, cilantro, white onion, and a little garlic in the food processor with lots of lime juice and some salt. This is bright and lovely and makes for a joyful addition to any taco.

And lastly, we went on our annual adventure to Sherwood Forest Faire! The bird show remains the highlight for me of every trip there, even though the presenter’s spiel is virtually identical from year-to-year. I love seeing their big old owl fly around. And this raven was new and enchanting this year- they trained him to take money out of peoples’ hands and put it in a donation box, and this was equal parts thrilling and terrifying for George.

All thrills and no terror on the carousel ride. But shortly after this, George got mopey and wanted to be carried everywhere, so we did, but eventually we realized he had a fever and we had to go, poor kid.

Before the fever, while George was still just okay to be carried around, Henry ate all the gluten at the fair.

And then managed to hook a ring on his lance on this super fantastic jousting roller coaster ride. I love the steely determination in his face in this picture.

The fair was surprisingly great for gluten-free eats. Highlights included the sausage on a stick and the most delicious and refreshing vegan pineapple soft serve of all time.

It’s late now and I’m out of things to say and a storm is rolling in and I’m gonna lie in bed and listen to the thunder and fall asleep. Thanks for all the love and help with our new gluten-free diet. Happy spring and rainstorms and poppies and pineapple soft serve and all the other lovely things to you.

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Lament for an English Muffin

Andy has celiac disease. We found out on Thursday, when he had an endoscopy to confirm what a blood test he got a month before had indicated. Backing up. Andy has Type 1 diabetes, which he was diagnosed with when he was 14. He’s seen the same endocrinologist since then, but that doctor moved to a private care model a few months ago, where you have to pay $1500 out of pocket to keep seeing him, so Andy switched doctors. In his first appointment with the new endocrinologist, she asked him if he had ever been tested for celiac disease, since it, like diabetes, is an autoimmune disorder. He said no, he didn’t think so, but that he didn’t think it would be possible to have it because he eats gluten all the time and feels fine. She did the test anyway, and three of the four markers for celiac came back positive. So we scheduled an endoscopy to confirm, and Andy was encouraged to keep eating his normal diet, because switching to a gluten free one can make celiac harder to diagnose. (Side note: Do you remember the cinnamon rolls I made last month? At the very end of the post? I made those for Andy after he found out about the blood test indicating celiac, because they’re the recipe he picked to try out of my new Bravetart baking book (I really picked the wrong time to get a fun new baking book) and I didn’t know if he’d be able to eat stuff like that for much longer. When the kids and I showed him the cinnamon rolls they said, “We’re sorry you have a disease, Papa” so they’ll forever be “sorry-you-have-a-disease cinnamon rolls” in my mind). After the procedure, the gastroenterologist walked by Andy’s recovery bed and said, “I definitely see signs of celiac. You should have your children tested too.” and just kept right on walking. So I guess we’ll have to set up a follow-up appointment with someone to get answers to the trillions of questions in our heads right now. I feel so bad for Andy, who is such a bread and meat guy. He’s happiest with a hot dog on a cheap bun, a hamburger, a slice of pizza. I’m sad for me too, because it means giving up a lot of the baking projects I have long been fantasizing about. I’ve been wanting to build a cob oven to bake sourdough bread, and pizzas, and pies for so long. I was scrolling through Instagram and someone’s picture of homemade English muffins made me so sad. Because even if I took the trouble to make them, in a house where we really shouldn’t even have regular flour around anymore, I couldn’t share them with Andy, not ever again for the rest of our lives. It probably seems dumb and trivial just reading that here, but honestly it breaks my heart to not get to share that stuff with Andy. There will be no great American sandwich tour, like we’d planned on taking just as soon as the kids were old enough to not make a drive across the country sound completely miserable. Eating at restaurants, at potlucks, at holiday meals will forever be difficult. Yet, at the same time, I am so utterly grateful that Andy switched doctors, and that this new one thought to look for celiac. With no symptoms, this could have stayed undiagnosed for a long time, during which time Andy’s body would absorb less and less nutrients and become more susceptible to developing cancer. It’s a huge gift to know this early and to be able to do the right thing to keep Andy, and possibly the boys, healthy. So for now, we’re eating gluten-free meals. We kept some regular pasta in the pantry and a loaf of white bread in the freezer for the kids, who love buttered noodles and toast with jam, but maybe (probably?) we’ll lose those too. I’ve read that people with celiac are better off not eating grains of any kind, so maybe we’ll transition to that eventually. It’s a lot. I’m so behind on a blog post too, and had so many other things to share here- how our CSA box subscription is going (spoiler- I’m up to my eyeballs in large radishes and turnips), how my presentation about food blogging went (pretty good!), why I didn’t write another epic post about breakfast tacos in Austin this year, and our trip to Portland to play in the snow and see my family. I’ll try to hit the highlights below. Here’s what the last month looked like.

We went to Portland and built this creepy snowman. And we went skiing for the first time. And just before that, I sprained my ankle. We had just pulled into Timberline Lodge, and I got all the warm weather stuff on the kids and we hiked up the snowy hill next to the parking lot and played for 20 minutes, but it was way past lunchtime and we needed to eat, so I called the kids to come back to me. Henry was at the bottom of a big hill, having ridden the sled down there, and it took him a million years to drag his feet through the snow to the top of the hill. His glove came off in the process (I spent much of my time in the snow fixing errant kid gloves (the other kind of kid gloves)) so I headed over to meet him to fix it and as I was leaning down I said “Don’t let go of the…” right when he let go of the sled. So it started to slide back down that big hill, the one that takes so long to climb up, so I lunged for it and the snow buckled beneath me in a weird way and my ankle rolled to the wrong side and I missed the stupid sled after all and as I was walking down to it, I realized I had really hurt myself. My ankle swelled up and bruised and it hurt to walk on that day. It’s the very ankle that is relaxing in this picture with the creepy snowman. Anyway, my mom got me ice and gave me ibuprofen, and it felt a lot better in the morning.

That night, we ate dinner at the super fancy restaurant in the lodge. This probably should not have been attempted with two kids who aren’t great in restaurants anyway, who were adjusting to Pacific time, and who were exhausted from running through snow drifts for hours. But we got through it, and probably it was even worth it because I got to eat a really delicious salmon with ‘nduja butter. Also, aren’t my parents cute? Henry took this picture of them, during one of the brief and shining moments when he and George weren’t lying sprawled out in their chairs, moaning about how tired and hungry they were.

Boy did these kids hate skiing. George said, “I fell down a thousand times and I had to be helped back up again every time.”

My mom and I did pretty okay though! We both made it through our first-ever skiing attempts unscathed, and my ankle felt fine, locked into that tight, rigid plastic boot. And clearly, we looked good doing it.

My brother Cameron moved with his family from Humboldt in California up to Portland to help open this new chain of ramen restaurants. The kids and I were out with my mom one day around lunchtime and realized we could go check out Cam’s new restaurant. We drove to the location where we thought he would be, but we were wrong- he was at another location 10 minutes away. The kids were starving and finding a parking spot at this location had taken 15 minutes so we just ate at the non-brother ramen location. It was delicious! They put a smoky charred tare on top that’s really great. Also while here, a lady walked into the single-occupancy bathroom while I was peeing (I thought I had locked the door but I had not twisted the lock far enough) and the kids were just in there standing around waiting for me, cuz they had already peed, and we were all really surprised when that lady opened the door. What just popped out of my mouth was “No thanks!” and she was like, “Ack! You didn’t lock the door!” and it was all super awkward. I avoided eye contact with her on the way out of the bathroom and did enjoy my ramen very much and sorry I shared this story with you. It was probably unnecessary.

We basked in the brilliance of these wonderful cousins, Jack and Leon, who are both kind and beautiful people. I wish we got to see them more often. Huge thanks to my parents for showing us a magical, wonderful time.

Bo Bun Salad. It’s in Gwyneth Paltrow’s book, It’s All Easy. That’s such a good cookbook, you guys. Forget all the other stuff you know about Gwyneth and check it out from the library and make this salad- the dressing is glorious- and lucky for us, it’s gluten free, so it can continue to be a part of our lives. The hot pink thing is pickled purple daikon, which turns a lurid pink when you pickle it. I loved it on this salad, but when I opened up the tub the next day to use some more on leftover chicken tacos, that pickled radish smell was not good, not good at all. I don’t know what that’s about. I have so far received 6 of these giant daikon radishes from my CSA box, along with a heap of black Spanish radishes and watermelon radishes and it’s just too many radishes. I can’t keep up. I think they keep in the fridge for a long while, so that’s good, and I’m going to put some daikon in kimchee when I get my hands on some cabbage, but that’ll probably only take care of 1 of my 5 remaining daikons. So let me know if you want a giant radish.

Ramen with Blue Earth Farms Pork Belly and Marinated Soft Boiled Egg. All the best ramen shops in the country use Sun Noodles ramen noodles, and I just discovered that you can buy them frozen at Asahi and they are spectacular.  To make ramen, I first make chicken/pork stock in a big pot with its lid on in a 300 degree oven overnight. The whole house smells thickly of chicken stock when you wake up the next morning, and a lot has evaporated, but what is left in the pot is dark and concentrated and dreamy. When I’m ready to make ramen, I flavor the stock with tamari, sesame oil, and scallions. For the pork belly, I rubbed a pound of pork belly chunks with equal parts salt and sugar, and let them cure in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I put them in a 450 oven for an hour and absolutely incinerated them. It was too hot for too long and mostly what was left was charcoal. But in the very center, when I scraped all the black stuff off, there was something that resembled meat. So we ate the meager portions of not-destroyed pork belly with that gooey egg and perfect noodles in a rich stock and savored it.

Faux-tisserie Chicken, Roasted Carrots with Honey and Rosemary, Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Something I’ve gotta work on- a meal doesn’t feel like a meal to me if it doesn’t include a starchy/carb-y thing. This plate is missing something. It should be enough, I know. It’s so privileged and even a little gross that I could say that this beautiful local chicken, raised by my sister-in-law and her husband, roasted for three hours until it’s meltingly tender, these vegetables grown in my own town, organically, and delivered to my door step once a week, are not enough to satisfy me. But that’s where we are. I think I just have a mental block about this because I subsisted on buttered noodles and chocolate chip cookies for so much of my life that the rich, heavy feeling of them has become entwined with my conception of ‘dinner’. Do you know the book A Hole Is To Dig? It’s a charming book of clever little definitions (“A lap is so you don’t get crumbs on the floor.”), and the definition about mashed potatoes illustrates my feelings on this subject exactly: “Mashed potatoes are to give everyone enough.” I’m gonna rewrite the definition of dinner in my head to include meals without starchy carbs. Yes I will, yes I will.

This is a giant bacon and kale Korean pancake, called jang deeok. You make a thin batter with flour and water and gochujang and then you mix in a ton of chopped kale and bacon and serve it with a sauce made with vinegar and soy sauce. I liked everything about it except that the bacon goes in raw, and it doesn’t get crispy, and I felt a little like maybe I was poisoning my family by serving them a meal with almost-raw bacon in it. If I was gonna do it again I’d cook the bacon first.

White Bean Stew with Rosemary and Garlic. I first blogged about this recipe, as you’ll see if you care to read about this bowl of beans enough to follow the link, back in 2012, when Instagram filters still came with optional quirky borders. I’m just saying I’ve liked this stew for a long time and I bet you’ll like it too.

My yin and yang offering to Yawp’s Valentine’s Day party. I made a platter of crudites with ultra creamy hummus and beet chips, and a platter of girl scout cookies, with an addition of homemade trefoils frosted with royal icing from BraveTart. The beet chips are also from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook and they are, as of this writing, the only way I have found that makes eating beets enjoyable (for me!). My CSA keeps sending them to me, and I tried making citrus and beet salads out of roasted beets and they’re just too sweet and dense and weird for me. I honestly hate them. The kids didn’t like them either but decided to force some down after hearing that eating them could make their pee turn red. Alas, neither kid ate enough to produce that magical red pee. But beet chips are a whole other story. They’re sliced as thinly as you can get them with a mandolin, tossed with olive oil, salt, and chopped rosemary, and baked for 20-30 minutes in a 325 degree oven. They shrink up a ridiculous amount but what is left is crispy and salty and delicious. I just pull the sheet pan out of the oven and eat my way across it.

Dai Due Tacos from Fareground. I’m so glad Andy got to try these flour tortillas before he was banned from gluten forever because they are the most delicious tortillas I’ve ever had. I love the wild boar al pastor and the venison barbacoa tacos too.

Voodoo Doughnut. Since we were living it up downtown with all the gluten-y things, we walked up to Voodoo Donuts too, and stood in that line for a long time, and then ate some donuts. The kids barely dented theirs- they preferred to use their fingers to scoop out all the jam inside- but Andy liked his Butterfingering donut (their name, not mine) and I enjoyed my witchy donut- a chocolate cake one with a pentagram piped on top. But they were no better than any other donut from any other place and you have to wait in a half hour line to taste them so I’d say I wouldn’t recommend it.

This looks super weird, I know, but I loved this dinner. Andy and the boys ate regular hamburgers, but because I have an oppressive amount of CSA vegetables to get through every week, I ate my burger salad-style, with a big blob of guacamole and some roasted sweet potato discs and it was honestly fantastic.

The chicken, aside from looking like a decomposing thing I dug out of the yard, tasted great, but I did a terrible job on the collards and an even worse job on the rutabaga and potato rosti. I simultaneously burned and undercooked it. It was one of those dinners where I could tell things were going badly while I was making it and I just wanted to throw everything away and eat peanut butter toast for dinner instead. I soldiered on though, and only the rosti turned out to be inedible.

The leftover chicken and leeks made for a glorious filling for some hand pies for a dinner a few nights later.

I have heard so many good things about Six Seasons, but I just couldn’t get into it. What’s wrong with me? Will you tell me quick if there’s something you loved from this book? Because my copy is due back at the library in a day or two and I’d love to cook more from it before then but I’m feeling uninspired. Anyway, back to my story- I needed a quick dinner, and so I made this offensively green kale sauce to serve with fusilli. George refused to touch the stuff, but Andy and Henry and I all ate it and had the same feeling about it- it tasted far better than we expected it to, but after a few bites we had no interest in eating any more of it. I ate mine anyway but everyone else wandered off to the pantry to figure out something else.

How about we close out this blog post with a lighthearted hiking story to make up for all the doom and gloom and bad dinners? The boys and I have been using Mondays to hike and explore new playgrounds. So two Mondays ago we set out for an exploratory hike at Mary Moore Searight Park. It was such a beautiful day, and we brought our big old dog along and relished the feeling of the warm breeze on our faces as we wandered around the huge network of trails. And then we thought it was about time to wander back to the car, and we took the path we thought would lead us there and we walked forever, on and on, and finally came out in a neighborhood. Which was definitely not right. I had intended to just wander and explore, but at that point I really had to pee, so I got out my phone, searched for the playground at Mary Moore Searight in my map, because we had parked near it, and then headed off toward the red dot the map helpfully provided us with. When we finally got there, it turned out that that red dot was in the middle of nowhere, I don’t know why, and at that point I really really had to pee and George had decided that he could not go on and things looked real bad. I thought, we’re in the middle of nowhere, maybe I can just pee behind a tree here? But literally as I was thinking that some random lady walked by and was like, “Nice day for a hike!” and so I gave up on my peeing in the woods idea. I had the bright idea to look at the satellite view of the park on my map and find the playground that way, and then we were only 10 minutes (10 adult-hiking minutes, not whiny/exhausted kid-hiking minutes) away from the bathrooms and our car. George wanted to stop for a rest every 30 seconds because he was tired and I was angrily rushing him along because I had to pee and it felt like we were all going to murder each other there in the woods, ten minutes from where we wanted to be. But then we made it to the bathroom, and then to the car, and everything was right with the world again.

I talked so much about pee in this blog post. How odd.

Thanks for listening to my tales of woe and urine. Next time, we’ll embark on the new gluten-free chapter of this blog/our lives. Wish me luck ❤

Fish Cakes, Fish Cakes, Eat Them Up, Yum

I’m on a plane with my children! We’re flying to Portland, sans Andy, who had to work, to see my parents and family and snow. The kids are sitting next to me in the warm glow of TV’s warming glow, watching The Emperor’s New Groove on an old portable DVD player like little slack-jawed angels. So I get to do whatever I want! I’m gonna write this thing and read more of The Son and stop doing both of these things 400 times to take one or both kids to the bathroom. Henry’s super excited because the last time we flew on Alaska Airlines they had a coconut curry and rice (rice!) meal and he loved it and they’re serving it again this time. My dad said he heard somewhere that your body doesn’t digest stuff well when you’re above a certain altitude, but that information didn’t stop me from gorging myself on Beecher’s cheese and old grapes and biscoff cookies.

Switching gears here. I was staring out the window at home, before we left on this trip, looking out at my backyard and hating my chickens. They haven’t laid any eggs in about two months, their coop is ugly, I have to replace the fence around the vegetable garden because the old one is falling down and the chickens got in and scratched up all my beet and radish sprouts, and their poop is absolutely everywhere. And the dog eats it and everything is terrible. But I have so much invested in the chickens- the whole backyard is designed around them and we bought that automatic coop door that opens with the first light of day and closes as soon as the sun sets, when all the chickens have come back in to roost, and built a big fence around their coop to keep dogs out and it’s all so much money. I couldn’t just get rid of them. That very same day, my neighbor, Otto, who gave me the chickens and the coop two years ago cuz he was sick of them, stopped by to bring the birds some snacks (he’s the best!) and he said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about it and I think I will get chickens again.” I was like, okay, this is how this is gonna go down- you’re gonna take back these chickens and your coop and all the fencing and this is going to be the best thing of all time for both of us. I am thrilled about this turn of events. It’s like getting my whole backyard back. I won’t have to hound the children about putting shoes on every time they go outside. I won’t have to wash chicken poop off feet or shoes or anything else that comes in contact with the ground. I can put a Beto for Senate sticker on my car and not worry about whether the good ole boys at Callahan’s who put the hen scratch and layer pellets and pine shavings in my car will hate me because I won’t have to buy hen scratch and layer pellets and pine shavings anymore! I can have raised beds with pretty paths and no fence around them! I can’t plant all the pretty little plants, like silver pony’s foot, that I’ve tried planting before and were immediately destroyed by these maniacal chickens. I won’t have to shake rats out of the chicken feeder! They can just live in the compost pile like they did in the old days and we can all go about our lives. It’s unfathomable to me, from where I am now, to think that I will ever want chickens again, but this is the second time I’ve sworn off chickens and I’m capricious so if I ever float the notion of getting chickens again, please remind me that they’re terrible and I hate them.

As it turns out I only got the intro written on the plane, before the movie ended and the kids couldn’t agree on another movie and I had to put away the DVD player and be a parent again, but hey! It’s better than nothing.

Here’s what we ate this week.

Sizzling Beef Bulgogi Tacos, Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing. Carrot ginger dressing looks gross and tastes exquisite. And it’s a nice January-type of thing that makes you feel excited to eat a salad. Both recipes, the dressing and the beef bulgogi, are from Smitten Kitchen Every Day. The linked recipe for carrot ginger dressing is almost but not-quite exactly the recipe in the cookbook. Close enough. I’ve made the beef bulgogi tacos twice now, once with ground beef, once with ground pork, and neither time did I serve it in tacos, because I didn’t have tortillas to spare and I always have rice. But both times my family went crazy for it. We’re a little burned out on our old ground pork standby, Crispy Thai Pork, and this Korean-ish version felt new and different and tasted fantastic.

Sizzling Beef Bulgogi Tacos or Not Tacos
adapted very slightly from Smitten Kitchen Everyday

  • 1 pound ground beef or pork
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • one 1-2 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Asian toasted sesame oil
  • red pepper flakes, gochujang, or sriracha
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once it is hot, add the ground meat and use a spoon or spatula to break it up, cooking the meat until browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Drain any excess grease that has collected. Add the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, and sesame oil to the pan and let simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes, gochujang, or sriracha to taste.
  2. Serve over rice with scallions or cilantro and sesame seeds, or in tacos with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, scallions, and kimchi.

Salmon Croquettes, Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing. I feel super good about myself when I take the time to make a real lunch instead of just eating the buttered noodles or quesadillas the kids are eating. I’ve had these super easy salmon croquettes for lunch twice in the past week- I love them! I halved the recipe and used a single small can of salmon and I ate the whole skillet full of croquettes all my myself.

Salmon Croquettes
adapted very slightly from Melba’s American Comfort

  • 1 (14 oz) can pink salmon
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon diced red bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon diced scallion
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • canola or olive oil
  1. Drain the salmon, break it up, and pick out any skin or bones. Combine the salmon, egg, mayonnaise, red bell pepper, scallion, garlic powder, black pepper, salt, and panko bread crumbs. Shape the mixture into 6 patties.
  2. Put a couple glugs of oil in the bottom of a cast iron skillet and heat over medium heat. When hot, fry the croquettes for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.

J.T. Youngblood’s Fried Chicken with Braised Greens and Mashed Potatoes. We spent the day doing landscape work for the new Yawp location, in what we refer to as a “work party” but is actually just work and no party. You need snacks for a party and I didn’t bring snacks. I rushed out the door to get to Yawp on time and just grabbed a super sad bag of Wasa cardboard crackers to choke down between moving giant rocks and installing landscape edging. Anyway we were out there all day and skipped lunch and went and ate huge platters of fried chicken and root beer floats and it was the best thing.

Tortilla Soup with Shredded Chard. This is a ton of work for a weeknight, with soaking chiles and frying tortillas and chopping and blending and simmering and it’s completely infeasible for me but the end result is truly wonderful, so I’ll probably keep making it anyway.

Milk Bar Life’s Lemon Bars. I picked up Milk Bar Life from the library and decided to try these lemon bars, which are semi-homemade because they use a boxed lemon cake mix instead of making a lemon curd and your own shortbread crust like my favorite recipe from The Everyday Baker. Henry and I tasted the batter and he said, “It tastes like lemon play-doh, but in a good way.” This was accurate. The baked bars tasted pretty much the same and were good in their own way but I like my old hard-to-make ones better.

Kid Chef Miso Shrimp Skewers with Asian Cucumber Salad. One of Henry’s Christmas presents from my parents was this cookbook from an author who develops recipes on Food52 and who I like on Instagram. In fact, I like everything about her work except the name of her blog, Licking the Plate, because I don’t like to imagine people’s tongues licking plates. This is a fantastic kid’s cookbook with lots of appealing recipes (Henry put sticky notes on 15 or more recipes he’d like to make), though it’d be even better with more pictures.

Henry chose these miso shrimp skewers as his first recipe. I don’t really like shrimp and I’ve never cooked them, but this was his call so we went for it. It took an hour and a half to put all of this together, and it was completely exhausting. Henry really wanted to do everything himself, with no help of any kind, which he explained included any added instructions from me about how to hold the knife or anything. Yeah, no. You can’t use my knife if you’re not gonna listen to me tell you how to use a knife. We got through it and honest to God, the shrimp was delicious.

BraveTart Brownies, Gluten Free. I made these birthday brownies for my niece and gave her a latch hook rug kit which proves conclusively that I am out of touch with kids these days. I hope she likes it anyway! The brownies are intensely rich, but very nice.

Fried Egg, Crispy Kale, Hash Browns. If you have forgotten to make a plan for dinner and suddenly find yourself in need of one, let me remind you that eggs and hash browns are a thing you can call dinner. With optional pile of kale.

Salmon Croquettes Again. The fish cake so nice I ate it twice. That sounds coprophagic but I super don’t mean it like that. It was two separate, totally normal incidents.

Quick Sausage, Kale, and Crouton Saute. I loved it. I took one bite and I thought, “This is the most fantastic meal of all time. It was so easy and it tastes great and I love it so much.” And then I looked up expectantly at Andy, who was finishing his first bite and he gave a half-hearted “yeah- it’s pretty good!” And I remembered Andy would never give a glowing endorsement to a meal that contained kale. Listen to me though, not him- it’s fantastic.

Chicken and Rice, Street Cart Style. This recipe is another one from the Smitten Kitchen Every Day cookbook and is not available online, but this Serious Eats recipe looks similar. I’m really into this Smitten Kitchen cookbook. I’ve liked everything I’ve made from it so far and it’s given me a new set of easy weeknight dinners that have gone over well with the kids and Andy too. They all loved this one- Henry for the rice, George for the chicken, Andy for the meat + simple carb combo that will win him over every time.

After dinner, Andy and I joined our team (Immoral, Illegal, and Fattening, or IIF for short) remotely to compete in the Mystery Hunt! It’s a weekend long, punishingly challenging event where teams race to solve a suite of 150 or so puzzles (not jigsaw). To give you an idea of what the puzzles were like, here are a couple of the more straightforward (and also indelicate!) puzzles we worked on. Spoilers ahead for the 1% of people who read this blog and also do the Mystery Hunt and also want to go back and solve the puzzles you didn’t get a chance to work on during the actual hunt.

Mass Aid

Screenshot 2018-01-14 23.08.16

Upon first reading of the clues it seems like you wouldn’t be able to identify many of the answers they’re looking for because the clues aren’t specific enough, and the numbers after the clues aren’t enumeration (data that tells you the length of the answer you’re looking for), but then you start googling and you come up with a couple answers and you see that there’s a common thread here:

Screenshot 2018-01-14 23.09.44

They’re all shit-related. The Green Day album is Dookie, the “miniature, standard, or toy” clue is Poodle, the problematic type of matter is fecal and so on! Then you can use those numbers listed at then end of each clue as an index into the answer words, so for the first clue, you’d take the second letter for the answer “DROPPING” and get an R and when do the same thing with the other answers you get the phrase:

READ FIRST LETTERS SHIFT APTLY

So then you read the first letters of the clues themselves and shift each letter by, what else, number two, so the U in ‘unclasping’ becomes a W and when you do the same thing to the rest of the clues, you get this phrase:

WRAP ROUND APPROPRIATE PENCIL

So then you say, aha! That’s what that phrase at the bottom of the puzzle is for! And if you print out the puzzle and cut out that string of random letters and wrap it around a #2 pencil and read down the sides you get the solution:

PLEASE ASK HQ FOR AN INFO DUMP

And we did it! We called the Mystery Hunt headquarters and asked for an info dump and that unlocked more puzzles and you repeat that process of solving and unlocking and solving and unlocking all weekend until the winning team solves all the puzzles and then it’s over.

Wanna see another one? Whether you answered yes or no, you’re gonna!

Potlines.

Screenshot 2018-01-14 23.09.09Screenshot 2018-01-14 23.09.18

So you open up a webpage and it’s full of random images. And much like with Mass Aid, you start googling, and you realize that the images are all cluing the names of different cannabis strains. Then someone notices that the icon at the top of the puzzle matches the logo of a website all about cannabis strains, called Leafly. And *then* you find that the images that are on the same line as one another share a parent strain. And once you identify those parent strains you can take the number of cooking pot icons between the two pot children and use them as an index into the name of the parent strain and doing that gives you the phrase: ANSWER RECREATIONAL USE. And you call it in and it’s correct and you move on to the next one. Repeat all weekend!

They’re not all this easy. Andy and I spent hours bogged down trying to solve a meta-puzzle (an answer linking a set of puzzles) that involved building a 3D paper soccer ball using hexagons from a Settlers of Catan-ish game board and pentagons with phrases containing stolen words and we got nowhere with it. But on the whole, it’s a super fun weekend.

BraveTart’s One-Bowl Cinnamon Rolls. We ate these perfect cinnamon rolls for breakfast and worked on puzzles all day and had ourselves a pretty great weekend.

And I’ve done it! I wrote a blog post on my phone, next to my (mercifully) sleeping children on an air mattress in my parents house and now I’m gonna read my book and go to bed, cuz these kids are exhausting and when I parent them without Andy around it means I have to go to bed at 10 o’clock and sleep for 9 hours.

Good night and good luck! I don’t know what the luck is for, but use it as you see fit.