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:


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:


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:


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!


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.

New Year, New Cookbooks, New Brunswick (Except not that last one)

We went around the table on New Year’s Day and talked about our resolutions. George planned to “lie in the grass in the front yard” and Henry vowed to spend less time reading and more time with his family(???). Andy is not a real resolution-y person, but he does want to spend more time on personal video game projects this year and also learn one of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances piano duets with me (imagine I’ve inserted lots of  heart eyes emojis here). I am a resolution-y person. I love it! It’s a time for action! And change! Fresh starts and renewed commitments! I didn’t set the bar too high this year, though. I want to eat more vegetables and go to the dentist. I haven’t been to the dentist in three years, so, it’s round about time for that. So I called this week and made an appointment. That’s one resolution done- I am a god among men. For the other resolution, I joined the JBG CSA, and they’re gonna deliver a giant box of vegetables to my door every week that I will then be forced to incorporate into my meal plan, so that’s definitely gonna work out, right? No chance I’ll let those vegetables grow old and withered in the crisper drawer before eventually throwing them in the compost pile and canceling the CSA delivery. No. Chance. Also, speaking of CSAs we’re in the Blue Earth Farm chicken one too! So I’ll have a box of chicken and a box of vegetables and be all set.

My only other New Year idea is to spend one hour a night doing something productive. Andy has dubbed it (without a hint of mockery, I’m sure!) the “Power Hour.” When the kids finally go to bed I have so many things I should work on and I want to do exactly none of them. I think the hardest part is getting started, especially with the prospect of working on something during all my free-time evening hours looming ahead of me. So I’m hoping this “power hour” idea will help me get a little accomplished every night and also give me permission to not spend the whole night on it. But last night I skipped the power hour altogether and Andy and I made cocktails and played Rummikub (I won, but barely) and Morels (Andy won, again! I have proven to be a remarkably poor fictional mushroom forager). So that was good too.

Here are some things we ate and babies we held and rocks we moved!

Latkes with Apple Sauce and Sour Cream, Hummus, Olives, Pita. I made over a hundred latkes this Hanukkah and only photographed these ones, which I weirdly ate with a lot of hummus. I follow the recipe formula in the link, except with potato starch instead of flour which makes them lighter and crisper and also gluten free.

Easy Alfredo with Roasted Broccoli, Hot Dog Bun Garlic Bread. Andy is a ride or die Mrs. Baird’s hot dog bun enthusiast, so when I came home from Wheatsville with real-bread-bakery-highfalutin hot dog buns a few weeks ago they were soundly rejected and I froze them and turned them into garlic bread instead. This alfredo is the best of all time. And this dinner had broccoli in it so it’s not a total loss.

Creamy Tomato and Fennel Soup, Roasted Brussels Sprouts. This soup is my everything. It is 50% cream. It is exquisite. You can make it with coconut cream instead of heavy cream and then it’s Whole 30 and also still delicious! But obviously not as delicious as the real one.

Grilled Old Ham and Cheese, a Salad. George has woken up every morning for the last six months and asked for a ham sandwich, so I was in the habit of buying a lot of ham. That all ended a couple of weeks ago, when he abruptly switched over to butter and jam sandwiches instead, so Andy and I ate sandwiches packed full of old freshly-expired ham along with a salad. That’s why this picture is here. I am 100% more likely to photograph my lunch and share it with you if it has green bits in it.

Kale Caesar with Broken Eggs and Crushed Croutons. I got the Smitten Kitchen Every Day book from the library and I have really loved it so far. This salad has a super easy cheater’s caesar dressing made with mayo and worcestershire sauce that tastes just fine to me. Also I liked the toasted breadcrumbs and soft-boiled eggs.


Crispy Tofu and Broccoli with Sesame-Peanut Pesto. Also from Smitten Kitchen Every Day, this is the recipe that convinced me to buy the book. It was fantastic and easy, and Henry loved it, declaring it his #4 favorite dinner. A Henry favorite that includes both vegetables and protein definitely earns a place in the dinner rotation.

Roasted Chicken with Miso Butter, Miso Turnips, Fried Rice. I’ve had this recipe for miso turnips, from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy cookbook (which I am a slightly-apologetic fan of), in my head since I first saw it. But I hadn’t seen Japanese turnips anywhere so I hadn’t tried it. A lady at the Buda farmers’ market was selling big lovely bunches of them a couple of weeks ago, so I bought some and slathered them in buttery miso maple slurry. They are wonderful! I doubled the miso butter mixture and used the surplus to spread on a roasted chicken, which was also pretty rad.

Tiny Quiches. Fresh off the high of making three dozen tiny pot pies, I decided to make four dozen tiny quiches to bring to my sister’s ornament making Christmas party. I forgot that quiche crusts have to be blind-baked though, until after I had made the pie dough and the fillings and was thereby committed to this task, so I had to line all these tiny pie cups with parchment and fill them with beans and pie weights and it took an irresponsible amount of time, but the crusts did turn out beautifully. The only trouble was that the quiche shells, once filled with that magical onion confit, held only about a teaspoon of custard, which is not nearly enough. They still tasted good, but the crust-to-filling ratio wasn’t ideal. Not everything should be tiny.

Christmas Party Line-Up. Isn’t Adelaide’s side-eye the best?

We got together again for a no-kids allowed crafting tea party, because my dear friend Amanda was in town! We ended up doing no crafting (we had planned to make tiny embroidered lavender pillows! So twee!) and just ate a bunch of snacks instead. I made this assorted cookies and treats platter and a bowl of black bean and corn salsa and Helen photographed them, which is why they look better than all the other pictures in this post.

Chewy Molasses Cookies, Brown Butter Rice Crispy Treats, Gingerbread Houses, Sea Salt Caramels, Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies. I brought treat tins to my neighbors too because I’m the best person in the world. This is a box of all my favorite things. I made three different gingerbread cookie recipes this month in search of one that tastes as magical as the Sweetish Hill Gingerbread Person cookies. The first one wasn’t chewy enough nor adequately spiced. The second was much too dry. I finally found what I was looking for in The New Best Recipe Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies recipe. It’s not online near as I can tell, so Imma share it here. A good gingerbread man is hard to find! That’s a stupid joke for you.

Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
from The New Best Recipe

  • 3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed (5 1/4 ounces) dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened but still cool, cut into 12 pieces
  • 3/4 cup light or dark molasses
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  1. In a food processor, process the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and process until the mixture is sandy and resembles very fine meal, about 15 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the molasses and milk; process until the dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass, about 10 seconds.
  2. Scrape the dough onto a work surface, divide in half. Working with one portion at a time, roll the dough 1/4 inch thick between two large sheets of parchment paper. Leaving the dough sandwiched between the parchment, stack the dough on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, 15-20 minutes.
  3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Remove one dough sheet from the freezer; place on the work surface. Peel off the top parchment sheet and gently lay it back in place. Flip the dough over; peel off and discard the second parchment sheet. Cut the dough with your preferred cookie cutter and transfer the shapes to the prepared baking sheet. Bake the cookies until set in the centers and the dough barely retains an imprint when touched very gently with a finger, 8-11 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool the cookies on the sheet pan set on a wire rack. Repeat with second sheet of dough.


We also made terrible tiny gingerbread houses! I highly recommend this royal icing, which has rum in it and tastes like it. Speaking of Stella Parks (that’s her icing recipe), her book Bravetart, is coming in the mail today and I’m super excited about it. Homemade nutter butters, potato doughnuts, cakes, cookies, candies, pies. It’s all there, you guys. She puts potato flour in her yellow cake recipe to achieve the moist fluffy texture you get from a box mix! Science! It’s gonna be great.

Update: Oh man, y’all, it came and it surpasses my wildest dreams for a baking cookbook. I’ve seen other bakers recommend using Gold Medal flour (Christina Tosi, for example) and I was dismissive of it- why use that garbage grocery store flour when you could use King Arthur? But Parks explains in the ingredients section that White Lily flour is made of soft white wheat, which works well for tender biscuits, King Arthur is made with hard red wheat, which works well for chewy breads and that both of these are at opposite ends of the “all-purpose” spectrum. Gold Medal is made from both white and red wheat, so it’s a true all-purpose flour. Isn’t that neat? The recipes provide the same degree of attention to detail. The apple pie recipe has you macerate the apples to tenderize them, thicken the juices with a precise amount of a specific starch, and then cook the pie low and slow, because the apples get mushy at temperatures beyond 195 degrees, so the resulting pie is perfectly slice-able and features tender apples that hold their shape without gloppiness. The headnotes are so fun, and so are the notes on the history behind the recipes in the book. I’m gonna read the rest of the headnotes after I finish this post and then I want to make each and every recipe in the thing.

Also I just realized I should acknowledge George’s tongue in this picture. There, I’ve done it!

Speaking of moist and fluffy delicious things, (that transition made more sense before I added my update on the cookbook and acknowledgement of George’s tongue) look at this fat baby! Let’s all bite great greedy hunks out of his upper arms! Also, my mom looks cute! She and my dad were here for Christmas and we ate a lot of food and held this baby and saw Coco and had a good time!

Here’s my dad with the big fat baby!

We spent a lot of time sitting around and admiring the baby.

Chorizo and Green Chile Breakfast Casserole. Aka Southwestern Frittata. I tasted this breakfast casserole at a party Amanda hosted a few months ago- her Aunt Debbie made it and graciously shared the recipe with me. I brought it to Andy’s parents house on Christmas morning and it was just the perfect thing. I’m really into the texture that the sliced corn tortillas add to the casserole, and I’m a huge fan of chorizo, and this is naturally gluten free! It’s got it all.

Chorizo and Green Chile Breakfast Casserole

  • 2 cups chopped mild green chiles (or 1 cup chopped roasted green chiles)
  • 6 corn tortillas, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
  • 1 pound chorizo (the fresh Mexican kind)
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 9 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes or 1 pint chopped grape tomatoes
  • sour cream and salsa verde, for serving

Grease a 9×13 baking dish and line the bottom with half of the green chiles, half the tortilla strips, half the chorizo, and half the cheese. Repeat the layering. Whisk the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. Pour over the layers evenly. Slice or dice the tomatoes and arrange over the casserole. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight to cure. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake, uncovered, for 45-50 minutes, until the filling is set. Serve with sour cream and salsa verde.

Aren’t these the Christmas-iest kids you ever saw? They’re killing it!

One of my big projects over Christmas break was designing and working on a new backyard for the Big Yawp location that will be up and running soon. I use the term “designing” loosely because my ideas are mostly stolen from two places- my friend Amanda, who made a similar plan for my own backyard, and the Wildflower Center. When we started, that yard was just bermuda grass and weeds and poison ivy and invasive plants. After a work party last week, we’ve got all the grass and weeds out and repurposed to create a berm (the crescent-shaped hill on the top of the grass circle in the drawing), invasive plants and poison ivy removed, and trees trimmed. Still lots to do but I think it’s such fun to get to makeover a space and to have so many people pitch in to help to make the work go quickly!

We spent another day moving giant rocks from a pile of free rocks in Buda to the Yawp Backyard, where they will become seats around a fire pit, climbing rocks around a slide set into the berm, and part of the dry river bed along the right side property line. And we looked good doing it (see above). I broke my phone by trying to move a rock and falling over and landing hard on the phone while it was in my back pocket, that was bad. Helen and Jordan brought me a Whataburger chorizo taquito, that was good. And we got to push giant rocks off the back of a trailer with our own strong human arms, also good.

Flour Bakery’s Famous Banana Bread. Y’all, it’s SO fluffy. I had heard that the Flour banana bread was great, but had never tried it. It’s got all the normal banana bread ingredients, but the technique is wildly different. You whisk eggs and sugar for a long time, and then emulsify oil into the fluffed up eggy sugar stuff and then fold in the dry ingredients. (If you have a stand mixer you can whisk the eggs for 5 minutes, if you hand-whisk, it’s 10). This bit of trickery produces a banana bread that is so much lighter than any other kind I’ve tried. It’s great.

Fried Rice with Crispy Kale and Carrots. Anytime we have leftover rice it becomes fried rice for Henry’s breakfast or lunch or breakfast and lunch.

Roast Chicken, Yellow-Eyed Pea Baked Beans, Country Collard Greens, Cornbread. The collard greens and cornbread are both from Melba’s American Comfort, a surprise Christmas present from my mom, and both are the best in their respective categories that I have ever made. The cornbread is of the sugary variety, and is fluffy and buttery and very nice. The collard greens are of the soupy variety and have just the perfect amount of vinegar added at the end for a nice tang. She calls for cooking the collard greens with smoked turkey wings which I didn’t have and will never have, but I did have a big chunk of almost-all fat smoked brisket that I’d put in the freezer to save and add to pots of beans, so I added a chunk of that and it made a perfectly salty, smoky delicious pot of greens. This cookbook is full of indulgences, many of which, like the honey bun cake, are just too rich for my blood. To give you an idea of the level of extravagance, the first entry in the Salads section of the index is “candied bacon for.” But there’s a lot of stuff I will cook too. Her sweet potato pie is supposed to be great. And I made the salmon croquettes for lunch today with a can of Trader Joe’s salmon that’s been kicking around the pantry for half a year or more and I super loved those too. I think it’s a good book.

Country Collard Greens
from Melba’s American Comfort

  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 pounds fresh collard greens
  • 1/2 pound smoked turkey wings or a ham hock or any chunk of smoked meat
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce of your choice
  1. Bring the chicken stock and water to a boil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat.
  2. Wash the greens thoroughly in cold running water and cut off the tough stem ends. Lay the greens on top of one another and cut them into 1/2 inch wide slices.
  3. Put them in the boiling stock/water mixture along with all the remaining ingredients. Stir, reduce the heat to low, and cover.
  4. Cook on low for 45-60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until the greens are tender.

Classic Corn Bread
from Melba’s American Comfort

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups yellow cornmeal, plus extra for dusting the pan
  • 4 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups buttermilk
  • 2/3 cup melted unsalted butter, plus butter for greasing the pan
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, and sugar. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture.
  3. Grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet or a 9×13 inch baking pan with butter and dust it with a little cornmeal. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30 minutes (mine was done in 25, but I started with a hot pan), until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cornbread cool a bit before slicing and serving.


These kids grew these crystals with their own four hands and a couple crystal growing kits. The water was so murky in George’s crystal jar and the crystal formed below the water line, so we were super worried his hadn’t grown. We were all delighted to discover his beautiful crystal lurking below the surface. Thanks for the kits, mom!


George showing off more of his Christmas presents. His dream of owning a second pair of purple scissors (to be used to cut open peanut shells) came true.


Leftover Collard Greens and Potlikker Soup. This was what was left in the bottom of the collard greens pot- I heated it up and ate it as a soup for lunch the next day and it’s up there with the most delicious things I’ve ever made for myself.

Aren’t these a lot of wonderful things? Good cookbooks and fun new recipes and moving rocks and purple scissors and red silk capes and very fat babies? It’s an embarrassment of riches, really, and I’m grateful for all of it. I’m wishing you a New Year full of pleasantries and good food and Whataburger chorizo taquitos.