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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

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Hebrew Songs of Brotherhood and YouTube Songs of Saturday Shorts

When my sister and I were little, my mom taught us a Hebrew song that you sing while holding hands and dancing in a circle, and I never really knew what the words were but I sang along anyway, “ee-nay-mah-tow.” I still love it though, and sing it to the boys sometimes, with my own made up word-sounds in place of the real Hebrew. So, earlier this month, I was digging through the music books piled in our piano bench because one of the kids I sponsored for Christmas listed piano books on his wishlist and we had several that had never been used. Among all those books, I found one that I think Helen got for me years ago called A Harvest of Jewish Song, which I had never really looked through before. I found a bookmark in it and opened it up to the song Hine Ma Tov! It has the real lyrics and the real melody and I’ve spent the past few weeks learning how to play it! I can only play the top part so far though, and I really wanted to play it for Helen on the last night of Hanukkah, so Andy learned the bottom part for me and we can now play it (slowly) as a duet! To steal a phrase from Pop Culture Happy Hour, it is one of the things making me happy this month. Also in that category: watching The Great British Baking Show for the first time (Andy and I just started season 3), reading (I just got my hands on a copy of The Son and before that Molly loaned me and I devoured Little Fires Everywhere), going to the movies after the kids go to bed (Molly and I saw Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, which the more I thought about, the more I did not like, and Lady Bird, which has my whole heart and brought me back to what it felt like to be a teenager more than anything I have ever experienced. The main character, like myself, was a theatre nerd who graduated in 2002. We also had very similar, painfully similar, first crushes. Anyway, it’s great!), and basking in the warm glow of my new nephew, Ollie, who is almost three months now and just the best little sack of warm pudding! Oh and also, I finished the very last of my Christmas shopping today!

Those are the happy things! There is also a list of things that are stressing me the fuck out. Not writing a blog post is on that list. So is not writing a presentation about writing blog posts, which I am supposed to present to a group of 150 retired professionals at UT in February. Gonna really have to step up my blogging game before that to not feel like a total fraud. I have also been neglecting my correspondence with some dear friends and procrastinating on several important projects for Yawp and not eating enough fruits and vegetables. There’s not enough hours in the day for all these things (except for the fruits and vegetables thing, I could probably squeeze that in), after Henry and George (who I love very much!) have gorged themselves on 14 of my 17 waking hours and right now I’m prioritizing the Great British Baking Show and learning how to play the right-hand part of an old Jewish circle song.

Here’s what we did this month!

My kids are weird and I feel that I can best convey that weirdness to you by way of this photograph.

Hungarian Goulash. You don’t stir large globs of sour cream into this stew at the end and somehow it still manages to be exactly what you want from a goulash- tender meat, perfect potatoes, and a silky, paprika-y broth. It’s that Lopez-Alt magic!

Rose and Grace Mini Farm. Here’s some big news for you from the past month. There is a little farm in Austin where you and your children can dress up bunnies. You can brush their fur in their own little apartments, adorn them with bows and costumes, and push them in strollers or wear them in bunny backpacks. The rest of the farm is just as enchanting. There’s a petting zoo and a beautiful playground and a menagerie and a birthday party room and a dance party room. Let’s just all agree to have all future birthday parties at this place, okay?

Cold Sesame Noodles with Celery Salad, Fried Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette. Everybody loved these noodles from Melissa Clark’s fab Dinner cookbook. The brussels sprouts are a dish I made obsessively, over and over for months, until I got completely sick of them and didn’t make them for a year or more. They were so delicious, and the kids loved them too, but, and I’ll warn you before I go on that this is completely repulsive, they made me burp burps that smelled like brussels sprouts and I super hated that. Was it a weird thing about my body chemisty that day? Or will they do that to me again if I make them again? I didn’t like that and I think I’ll probably stop making them for another year or so. I apologize for sharing that with you.

Abbie’s Weird Citrus Curd. Abbie has a tangerine tree that grows copious amounts of a fruit that tastes nothing like tangerines and tastes everything like lemons. Except the skin, which tastes a little like wet dog. She let me steal a bunch and I used them to make lemon curd and it worked. I used the not-tangerine juice and the zest of a regular lemon and that’s my whole story about that.

Grilled Chicken, Apple Panzanella. Another Abbie-related recipe! This is a panzanella she developed in the early days of Food52. I like to toss the bread cubes with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast them until they get crispy before tossing them with the vinaigrette and other things. We have slipped out of the habit of getting together to cook stuff, but that changes in the new year- we’re gonna start it off with a bang because Joanna and Javi gave me a whole pig head and Abbie is my top number one pick for persons who I would like to prepare a pig head with. I’ll keep you updated on that.

Sour Cherry Pies. My neighbor, one of the ones we rarely talk to, smoked a big giant brisket and gave us a huge slab of it, just to be neighborly! His generosity inspired me to be a good neighbor too, so I made him a thank you pie, made our new across-the-street neighbors a welcome pie, and made half a dozen mini pies for Michael, a neighbor who had assembled the most amazing Halloween treat bags for Henry and George and whom I had not properly thanked, and another half dozen for Otto who does kind and generous stuff for us all the time. This was Thanksgiving week and Central Market was sold out of their frozen sour cherries, so I had to find an alternative. I ended up using 8 jars of Trader Joe’s dark morello cherries in light syrup (drained) and it worked out beautifully. The neighbors liked the pies! The new neighbors gave us a bottle of wine to say thank you and the lady who lives there wrote a very nice note to go with the wine, in which she said that it was “glitterally the best pie” she’d ever had which was doubly nice 1) because she liked my pie and 2) because she introduced me to the word glitterally, which would be just the thing for all sorts of situations.

George tests out the salted caramel sauce.

Thanksgiving with my sister! Half the plate is potatoes. It was too much. We had the most lovely low-key Thanksgiving. Andy and Jordan brought the kids to the playground while Helen and I took turns cooking and holding Ollie (NB: we did not cook Ollie). Then we watched Addams Family Values which is my favorite tangentially Thanksgiving-themed movie (you get that super great turkey song, but there’s also lots of family togetherness), then we ate a lot of food.

Pumpkin Gingersnap Cheesecake with Salted Caramel Sauce. While cooking this cheesecake:

Me: Oh no! My cheesecake’s cracking!
George: Should we throw this one out and start again?
Me: Oh no, it’s okay. It’ll still taste good, it just has a little crack in it.
George: I’d call that a big crack.

But it *did* still taste good. I had originally planned to make this cheesecake, but then idly scrolled down to the comments before starting and got freaked out by all the negative ones and went dashing around the internet for a replacement and settled on this one from the Pioneer Woman who got it from a Williams Sonoma cookbook. I almost always crack my cheesecakes.

Roasted Cauliflower, Grape, and Cheddar Salad, Roasted Delicata Squash with Tahini and Lime. This was the meal where I snapped out of my meat+carbs+sugar rut. I made a meatloaf for dinner, cuz it’s a non-rice, non-pasta meal that the kids will eat, so I’ve been making it kind of a lot. But after I put it in the oven I acknowledged the fact that I super did not want to eat it. I wanted a pretty vegetable thing instead. So I got out my Ottolenghi cookbooks and looked through them for recipes I could make with what I had on hand. I came up with these two things. In preparing the squash dish, you have to supreme a lime, and while I was doing it I realized how very long it had been since I had supremed anything. Which sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But to me the memory of doing that brought home for me that I have not been cooking for pleasure very much anymore. I have slipped into cooking the same boring, reliably-eaten things, and it lit a fire in me to try harder. I loved my dinner, the rest of the family ate these vegetables with meatloaf, and that night, I spent an hour combing through Serious Eats to save new dinner ideas to my Pinterest board. I came up with an exciting menu plan for that week too! But Henry got a stomach bug the next day and I just made boring stuff after all.

Santa and His New Lady at Budafest. George, a big proponent of and believer in all things magical, decided that yes he would like to sit on Santa’s lap this year. He practiced his Christmas list while we waited in line, and when it was his turn, he rattled it off carefully and completely: “two bags of weapons, a balloon, peanuts, purple scissors, and turquoise nail polish.” No, he is not picky on the nature of the bags nor of the specific weapons inside them. Yes, he does want peanuts, even though he does not like them, so he can cut the shells open with his new purple scissors. I think we lost Santa at the nail polish request, but he’ll just have to deal with that one. Speaking of rigid expectations for who should wear what, someone put a white wig on this 38 year old Mrs. Clause, please!

Molly spent five of her hard-earned American dollars so we could pose, giddily, for a picture with this very fine owl. It went to charity or something, and we got literally 40 different photos of us with an owl so I think it’s safe to say it was money well-spent.

Tiny Chicken Pot Pies. I wanted to caption this “a million fucking pot pies!”  in reference to Lindsay Bluth Fünke’s diamond cream, but then I couldn’t find a gif for that to explain it to people who did not watch Arrested Development obsessively so I’ve chosen to awkwardly explain it to you here instead, because every time I looked down at this tray, “a million fucking pot pies!” is the line that went through my head.

I needed to make a pot luck dish for Andy’s Toastmaster Christmas party and I knew I wanted to make some sort of one-bite savory pastry and I had all the stuff for chicken pot pie on hand and so I went for it. It took me a long time but I loved making them and super-loved eating them.

Henry’s snowman is my favorite thing in this world. Don’t you just want to punch it in the face?

It snowed here!

Yes, he’s barefoot.

George kicked this pile of day-after snow for a literal  (glitteral? probably not the time) 30 minutes. At some point, a couple teenage boys rode into the park with a mountain bike and skateboard, to practice going down some big rocky hills, and Henry and George wandered over to engage them in a snowball fight. My first instinct was to stop them. To say, hey, those kids are too cool and busy to have a snowball fight with you. But instead I didn’t say anything and decided to just sit on the outskirts and let the interaction unfold without my meddling. I am so glad I did. The teenage boys ended up being great with kids and hilarious and wonderful and they had an epic snowball fight with my boys that lasted for a very long time. George and Henry left the playground rosy-cheeked and beaming with pride that they held their own in a snowball fight with big teen-aged kids. Thank you, random teenagers! I love that you did that!

Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies. I made a big batch of these cookies, which keep very well, to mail to my brothers on the west coast and brought the surplus cookies with me to Molly’s house, where Food52ers and friends-of-Abbie gathered for our annual stocking-stuffing/gift pile-amassing party in support of the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars troop.

Zahav’s Hummus with Pita and Olives. I also made this hummus, because I’d been looking for an excuse to try it and getting together with fancy food lady-friends seemed as good an excuse as any. The recipe is different from standard hummus in a few important ways- you soak the chickpeas in baking soda water and then cook them until they’re falling apart in more baking soda water (this took less than an hour for me). Then you mix them with a tahini sauce that includes a full cup of tahini. You do this in the blender, not the food processor, until it is “ultracreamy and fluffy” which the recipe cautions may take “upward of about 2 minutes” but which took me, with my crappy blender, closer to 10. It did eventually get fluffy though! And it was smooth and lovely without having to peel the skins off the cooked chickpeas.

Look at all these fun stocking stuffers! My contribution was definitely the shittiest- I brought two bag fulls of Halloween candy that Henry and George had donated to the cause from their own ridiculous stashes. I did go through the candy to remove anything that was specifically branded for Halloween and I also stored the chocolate candy separately from the fruity candy so that they didn’t end up tasting like each other. But, yeah, it doesn’t compare to toe socks or a fluffy feather-tipped pen!

We bought gifts for the 22 girls in the GSBB program and for their siblings as well. One of the things I love so much about getting to do this is that we get wishlists from the kids so we know exactly what they would love to get for Christmas, we know their clothing sizes and shoe sizes and favorite colors and favorite snacks and it really feels like we get to make some of their dreams come true.

This year, one of the Girl Scouts had a baby. Her wishlist items were money for food and diapers and our collective hearts broke for her. Having a baby is so hard, was so hard for me, as a full grown adult with money for diapers and all the other stuff you might need or want for a baby. Abbie, that beautiful creature, came up with the idea that all the sponsors contribute to a sort of virtual baby shower, so we could stock this new baby up with diapers and wipes and other necessities. She reached out to her friends across the country, who sent in their own donations, including a beautiful hand-made baby quilt, made especially for this new baby. In the end, we were able to fill a cubicle with donations for her, books and clothes and a car seat and a diaper bag and a pack ‘n play and gift cards and so much more. I hope it helps this girl scout and her family breathe a little easier in these first few months. Thank you to Abbie for your brilliant idea and to everyone who contributed to make the idea a reality.

Here are some of the many incredible women who participated in this year’s gift drive! Thank you to Molly for hosting once again! Thank you all for your generosity and kindness! And a big thank you to Helen for taking our picture! Plus the other pictures from Molly’s house! You make hummus look real good, sister.

Let’s close it up with two other rando things that made me happy this month. The first is something I overheard George saying to himself while standing in front of the pantry looking for a snack:

“I don’t want a snack and I don’t want a meal. I want something between thick and delicate.” He ended up settling on a griddled and buttered tortilla.

The second is this youtube channel, of which I love everything but most notably this, this, and this. Saturday shorts!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Great British Baking Show to watch. Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy All the Things!

Lost Maples and Falling in Love with Cracker Barrel

We’re gonna just blow right past last month, okay? I tried to write a blog post before this one, with photos of all the best stuff we ate last month, and pumpkin patches and Halloween costumes and baby Ollie and adventures with my mom, and I just can’t. It’s too much ground to cover and I just missed it by not writing blog posts in the moment. October brought an onslaught of activities, good ones, but ones that required me to do/build/cook/create things in relentless waves, so it felt like I was just hurtling from one project to the next. This camping trip to Lost Maples was a beautiful break- an obligation-free three days where we hiked around and sat around and went to bed when it got dark outside. I came home feeling good and productive and utterly unwilling to try to put words to the the 40-picture blog post draft that was meant to recap everything we did last month. So, camping! Let’s just talk about camping.

[I had to get up to go pee after writing that mea culpa paragraph and there was a big cockroach in the bathroom and Andy isn’t home because he’s out seeing Thor: Ragnarok so I had to deal with it and tried to jam it to death with George’s potty, which I failed to do, so I went and got my sandal and smashed the thing and then I had to clean it up and so my entire worldview has changed between that first paragraph and all that will come after because everything is terrible. Also my new neighbors are having some sort of party in their garage which involves alternately shrieking and then singing Adele’s Hello in chorus. That’s apropos of nothing, but I thought you should know.]

Lost Maples was a lot less maple-y than I was expecting. There were maple trees there, but there were not big acres-full of endless maples in a panorama of fiery fall colors. We saw them here and there. They planted one on each of the 20 or so campsites, one of which we, callously, I was to learn, used to support one half our hammock. A park ranger stopped by to tell us that they did not allow folks to use maples to support hammocks, which made a lot of sense once I stopped and thought about it. I am a boorish city slicker.

While Andy and I set up camp, the kids explored the woods surrounding our site. George promptly climbed a tree and then fell halfway out of it, catching himself and hanging precariously from a branch. He screamed awfully, which he’s wont to do even when he’s not dangling from a tree limb, so Andy went and got him down while the mom at the neighboring campsite looked on, scandalized. Andy came back and said he thought he’d picked up on some judgment from the lady, which is fair, I guess.

Sloppy Joes. We finally got our fire going, having forgotten any form of fire-starter and finding only damp things for kindling, and used it to reheat a skillet-full of sloppy joes that I had cooked at home the night before.

Bonus shot, with foot. We ate it with Doritos because we are living our best lives, and when George saw me taking this picture he stood up on the bench and lifted his foot so it could be in the picture too. We may never know why.

It was pitch-black by six o’clock. We sat around the campfire after dinner- the kids roasted marshmallows and then we burned a mystical fire and watched that for a little while and then just called it a night. We read to the kids until they fell asleep and then I got to stay up reading Lonesome Dove, which maybe I love more than any book I’ve ever read. I haven’t finished it yet- I’ve still got a couple hundred pages to go- but it is my new favorite thing. I have never seen the mini-series, and after reading this far, I can’t really understand how they ever made one, because it’s all whores and grizzly death scenes, but maybe I’ll watch it when I finish the book. I love Gus so much. In spite of everything that has happened so far, I think it’s so funny and moving and captivating. I want to read lots more McMurtry books after this so will you tell me if you have a special favorite? Anyway, we all slept pretty well except for that time some unidentified night monster tried to chew its way through our tent so it could fall on my face. It was, thankfully, unsuccessful.

Sausage and Egg Breakfast Tacos. Our standard camping breakfast. The dry ice froze the sausage and carbonated the eggs (they got really frothy in the pan before they settled down and scrambled like you’d expect a healthy young egg to do) but everything worked out okay anyway.

There are miles of trails at Lost Maples. Andy and the kids expressed interest in doing the third of a mile, twenty minute long Maple Trail but, but, I said, what if we did the four hour looping trail that would start with the Maple Trail, take us up the 2,200 foot high cliffside past MONKEY ROCK, whatever that might turn out to be, and connected back to the parking lot where we left the car instead? No one but me was overly enthusiastic about this, but I was a relentless and dogged champion for the cause and I won, you guys, I won.

Henry and George’s Simon and Garfunkel-inspired album cover. They don’t actually have an album cover that looks like this, but they could have done. Also, Henry and George have the right relative heights and hairstyles, just saying. At the beginning of our trek, the kids insisted on climbing each and every rock they encountered, and which they mysteriously referred to as “whoppers.”

Us on a bench! I had taken a photo for a lady earlier in the hike, and then she walked past us while we were sitting on this bench and said, “that’s a good picture- do you have a phone?” And she took this photo for us, which I thought was very kind and thoughtful!

I guess this is another Simon and Garfunkel-inspired album cover. A real one, this time.

Bow down before your new monkey overlord. We found monkey rock! And it did not disappoint. Isn’t that the monkey-est rock you ever saw?

About halfway through the hike, things got real. We had to climb up a lot of steep hills and George, who had walked the whole way so far, began to wring his hands at the difficulty of the whole thing. We told him we’d stop as often as he needed to for breaks, but that we were not going to carry him on this hike, because we were also tired and we didn’t want to. Here’s Henry on one such break, while we tried to encourage George with a pep talk and plied him with the M&Ms out of the trail mix bag.

The scenic overlook! We made it! The shots in this post were carefully curated to not show the absolute swarms of other people on the trails with us. There were so many other people, whole giant extended families hiking together while listening to Journey on some sort of portable stereo. So we were less remote and disconnected from society than this sprawling wilderness picture might imply. And look at that mist! It was real moist up there.

I just thought it was pretty.

We found a fern-y waterfall on the other side of the mountain! (It’s not actually a mountain, I just don’t know what else to call it, because calling it a hill feels demoralizing). The heavy mist stole the puffiness from our hair.

We also found a puddle and threw some rocks at it. Also, my kids are filthy.

There’s the fall foliage! It was on the ground.

Jambalaya. After our hike, we headed back to the campsite to laze around for the rest of the sunlit hours. We built a fire and had an early dinner of jambalaya, which Henry said was his favorite part of the whole weekend. We ended the evening with another marshmallow/mystical fire/early bedtime extravaganza and it was warmer that night, so we all slept a little better than we had the night before.

Such a good sport! I think Andy is too practical a person to ever truly and deeply enjoy camping, because why would you drive away from your bed and your food and your shower to sleep in the woods on the dirt? But he never complains and is very kind and helpful and I sure do love him for indulging me in this.

The Holiday Sampler n’ Cinnamon Biscuit Breakfast at Cracker Barrel. None of us had ever eaten at a Cracker Barrel, even though there’s one very near to us in Buda, so we stopped to eat at one in Kerrville on the way home the next morning. Honestly, I fucking loved it. We all did. Look at all the things they give you for breakfast! Every breakfast menu item, I am not joking, comes with a side of biscuits and gravy! Isn’t that equal parts insane and delightful?! This holiday sampler also came with a cinnamon drop biscuit with a double-coating of icing and that was amazing too. Also you get three kinds of meats and two eggs and a slab of hashbrown casserole and a bowl of grits and a dish of fried apples. And it’s 8 damn dollars! And the kids menu is legit. George got a lovely big pancake with his own tiny bottle of maple syrup and Henry got a plate of country fried shrimp with cocktail sauce and a hushpuppy (“It tastes like a risotto ball without the risotto!”) and a side of dumplings. Dumplings! And there are fun games on the kid’s menu too. The waitresses were all real folksy and there’s a general store-style gift shop that sells moon pies and goo goo clusters and giant novelty versions of candy bars, and just the whole thing, top to bottom, was glorious. Have I dropped a little in your esteem? It’s okay. I’ll comfort myself with sweet sweet cinnamon biscuits.

So, you guys, we’re back on track. I wrote a blog post and we’re forgetting about all the other stuff that came before this, and I promise to share some pictures of my glorious fatty new nephew in the next one! Also, please give me all the McMurtry recommendations and Cracker Barrel feedback you have. Thank you! Good bye!