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
- 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.
- 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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
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:
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!
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.