Thursday, April 17, 2014

joining the club

When my brother and his wife had their third baby, my other brother and his wife bought them a Costco membership as a baby gift. My brother, the one that got the new baby and the membership and who happens to live right down the road, said he’d let me know the next time he planned to shop there and I could go along and check it out.

I had been to Costco once before, maybe five or six years ago, and I hated it. Hated, hated, hated. It was so hideously monstrous and boxy and everything came in such huge quantities. It seemed like the perfect feeding ground for hoards of gluttonous Americans. I refused to have anything to do with the place.

But then. But then.

Saturday came and my brother and I zipped across town to the club. We had an hour. The store was packed. There were snacks everywhere. I had sixty dollars in my wallet. I spent twice that. I walked out of there high as a kite. I couldn’t stop grinning.

I’m not sure what won me over. The prices were great, yes, but it was more than that. Maybe it’s the stage of life we’re at? A two-container package of peanut butter or five pounds of dried cranberries doesn’t feel excessive: it feels practical. The Kirkland brand is good quality and therefore trustworthy. The store doesn't carry everything, so, crazy as it sounds, it feels like there’s a limit to the excess. Furthermore, I’ve heard that Costco treats their employees respectfully. And then there’s the wine and cheese, happy sigh.

So anyway, all this conspired together to make me reconsider my anti-Costco stance. And then I started with the interviews. I hit up every single person I ran into with a list of questions:

Do you have a costco membership? 
Is it worth it? 
Should I get one?
What do you buy there?

I was on a mission. All that was missing from my barrage was the microphone and tape recorder.

And then two people—two very frugal shoppers, I might add—said that they have a Costco membership because of the eye contacts. A membership costs 55 dollars and they save that much when they get a one-year supply of contacts. That purchase right there pays for the membership. And keeping in mind that, as Margo's father-in-law saysit’s only a savings if you were already going to buy it, there was my ticket.

Up until that point my husband was snooty about my new love affair. But once I explained the contact situation (he's the one who has them), he perked right up.

So one evening we went to Costco and got ourselves a membership.

That night, after we tucked in the children (two of which were screaming because a pre-bedtime shopping trip is A Major Stupid Parent Move) and moved the cheeses, spinach, black olives, butter, almonds, farro, etc from the boxes to cupboard and fridge, my husband and I ripped open a giant bag of chips and I posted this update on Facebook: Got a membership to Costco this evening. Now I'm struggling with feelings of disloyalty to our local grocery store. But man, these Kirkland Krinkle Cut chips (munchmunchmunch) are GOOD. And then I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning to a whole string of comments. Apparently, a Costco membership is the hip thing to have! Tons of respectable folks are card carrying and proud of it. It's a model organization, they say. My intellectual and politically correct sis-in-law (whose British accent makes her sound even smarter) wrote, They pay their employees a living wage, offer healthcare and the CEO only makes a small multiple of the lowest paid employee. Whenever we move back, it will be one of my first stops. Munch away, sister!

So guys, I’m sold. I’m still a little wary—don’t want to buy things we don’t need, let food go to waste, or start over-stocking—but I think we made a good choice.

Your turn! [She jams the microphone in her reader's face and cocks her head expectantly.] Do you shop Costco? Why? Why not? What are your favorite Costco standbys? 

P.S. We ended up getting the executive ($110) membership. It wasn’t what we were planning, but I’m not willing to call it a mistake, at least not yet. I had talked with a friend who has an exec membership and she declared it pays for itself through the money back program. Plus, the guy at the desk said that if we don’t get the money back, they’ll refund it. Sounds win-win to me. (Or maybe I've been snookered?)

P.P.S. This is not a sponsored post, but if Costco wants to give me some grass fed beef, mango salsa, and a large hunk of cheese, I won't say no... Costco? Costco?

This same time, years previous: fun and fiasco, in which it all falls to pieces, my little boy, and mint wedding cake.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

take two: Omri

This lamb is from West Virginia. He has a history and he’s healthy: two important things Oreo was missing. Omri (my daughter named him—can you guess what books we’ve been listening to in the car?) is a twin. His mother rejected him. He’s about 18 days old.

The first night, Omri slept in the big box in the downstairs room. He woke me at 3 am with his (very loud) bleating. I fed him and ordered him back to bed. And the next morning I informed my daughter that he would not, under any condition, be sleeping in the house ever again. Period.

Housing Omri has been a bit of an experiment. At first we put him in the chicken tractor, then in with the dogs, and then in with the chickens. Omri was too big for the tractor, the dog pen has no grass for grazing, and the chickens pasture, while fine, was too far from the house to suit Omri. Every time we left him out there, he's get lonely and cry his head off. So my daughter built him a makeshift pen off the dog kennel. That works for now, but we don’t want farm animals close to the house, so more adjustments need to be made. During the night, he’s been sleeping in the box which has been moved back out to the barn.

Whenever my daughter is outside (I have trouble keeping her in the house), she lets Omri out of his pen and then races around the yard with him and the dogs. If he goes too far, Francie heads him off until she can catch up. But normally Omri doesn’t wander. He follows my daughter around like a third puppy, licking her face, nibbling her chin, his (in-the-process-of-being-docked) tail wagging frantically.

Since Omri is a male, a castration is in the future. Our neighbor will do it for us. (His wife said that when the “what is your gift?” question was raised in their Sunday school class, he answered, “castrations,” so I think Omri will be in good hands.) They say that a wether sheep is the best kind of pet.

Though nobody made any promises about a pet. We’re not actually sure where our daughter’s sheep project is heading. Will she sell them for meat? Will we keep them for grazing and wool-making (in other words, pets)? Right now it’s all about learning, having fun, and taking care of an “orphan.”

For now, that’s reason enough.

This same time, years previous: fun and fiasco, chapter two, the quotidian (4.16.12), banana cake with creamy peanut butter frosting, and in their genes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

crispy almonds

I am all too aware that I’ve only been posting recipes for sweets. Since the beginning of February, there has been chocolate mint chip cookies, chocolate pudding, almond cake, peanut butter and jelly bars, chocolate babka, maple pecan scones, and oatmeal raisin cookies. Oh, and the one exception: roasted cauliflower soup.

This does not mean we’ve been eating only sweets! To the contrary, we’ve been feasting on lentils and brown rice, taco salad, pizza, oven fries, noodles with pesto, salads, green smoothies, and all sorts of veggies from the freezer. It’s just that I do a little more experimenting with the non-necessities. All the old standbys, you already know about.

Except I haven’t told you about my nuts.

When we came back from Guatemala, my younger brother gave us three large bags of nuts: walnuts, pecan, and almonds. I used up all the pecans in baking pretty quickly, but the other two kinds lingered. The children are a bit hesitant about nuts in baked goods, so I mostly used them for salads or snacking.But plain nuts can be a bit dull (and thus the reason I reach for chocolate).

And then I remembered the crispy almonds I used to make. A quick recipe check, and I jumped on the crispy nut bandwagon: I was gonna crisp up both the walnuts and the almonds.

It’s a simple procedure, but a bit leisurely.

1. Soak the raw nuts in salt water over night.
2. Drain the nuts.
3. Bake the nuts on a stainless steel tray at 150 degrees for a small eternity (about 24 hours or two daylight days).
4. Eat.

Almonds are tremendously improved by this soak-and-toast treatment. They become salty (in a gentle way) with a delightfully irresistible crunch.

The walnuts, on the other hand, are less noticeably altered. They crisp up, yes, but more softly (if that makes any sense). The biggest benefit to toasting the walnuts is that they are very easy to crumble using just your fingers. I love crumbling a handful of the walnuts into my morning bowl of steelcut oats or over my noontime salad.

Last week I bought a three-pound bag of raw almonds. In a couple days when the weather is supposed to be a bit chillier, I plan on filling my oven with several trays of soaked nuts. This way, as we head into summer and heavy-duty outside playing, we’ll have a stash of crispy almonds always standing at the ready for snacking.

Crispy Almonds
Adapted from Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions.

The recipe says to use filtered water and sea salt. I use tap water and any old salt. It works.

4 cups raw almonds
1 tablespoon salt

Place the almonds in a bowl. Sprinkle with the salt. Cover with cool tap water. (If you’re worried about the salt not dissolving properly, you can dissolve the salt in a bit of water, pour it over the nuts, and then top off the bowl with fresh water.) Place a piece of plastic over the bowl and let sit on the counter overnight.

In the morning, drain the nuts. Place the nuts on a stainless steel baking tray. (Or line a baking tray with parchment paper—if you don’t, the nuts will stain the sheet and the sheet will blacken the nuts.) Bake the nuts at 150 degrees—I just set my oven to “warm”—for 18-24 hours or until they are crispy, giving the nuts a stir every several hours. (To see if the nuts are done, allow them to cool to room temperature before tasting. Warm nuts = soft nuts = not helpful.)

Store the crispy nuts in a quart jar in the freezer. Because if you leave them on the counter, they will disappear way too fast.

Crispy Walnuts: 4 cups walnuts and 2 teaspoons salt. Same process.
Crispy Pecans: 4 cups pecans and 2 teaspoons salt. Same process.

This same time, years previous: asparagus walnut salad (this would be perfect with the crispy walnuts!) and asparagus with lemony creme fraiche and boiled egg.

Monday, April 14, 2014

the quotidian (4.14.14)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Under construction: a house of his very own. 
(Don't hold your breath.)

The very first Farmers Market purchase.

I finally—FINALLY—got my hands on some farro.

It used to be that Legos were restricted to the upstairs and only on a blanket...

4:00 p.m.

Swoony toesies.

My mother made my father a birthday cake and I got to help eat it.
(Note the burned-down-to-the-nub birthday candles: letting the moment linger 
is one of my mom's many talents.)

No, Jennifer. Just because I'm holding a baby and smiling doesn't mean I want another child.

Spring skies. 

This same time, years previous: fun and fiasco, chapter one, financial peace university, flour tortillas, the value (or not) of the workbook, and chocolate-covered peanut butter eggs.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mr. Tiny

Ever since she bought Charlotte, my older daughter has been planning for puppies. She carefully tracked Charlotte's heat cycles, keeping her kenneled for the full amount of time and then some (about a whole month total). It was a botheration (and my husband tried to convince her to spay the dog and be done with it), but our daughter remained unmoved. She wanted puppies.

According to the pet shop where my daughter slapped down the big bucks, Charlotte is a beagle-Jack Russell Terrier-border collie mix. We can’t see any traces of the collie in her, but the other two shine through loud and clear. Because our daughter is fairly obsessed with beagles, she wanted to breed Charlotte with a beagle. Her determination led her to do bold (and uncharacteristic) things, such as making me stop the car so she could ask a random woman out walking her beagle about whether or not she knew of any good beagle males in the area.

Turns out, we didn’t need to look very far to find a stud dog. Our neighbor had connections to a beagle breeder, so when Charlotte went into heat at the end of March, my daughter called up the neighbor to make the arrangements.

I was a little concerned that this dog would be too big. Charlotte is so small and I was nervous about getting her into a fix. When I mentioned my concern to the neighbor, he said, “Oh, he’s small all right. His name is Tiny.” Which doesn’t mean anything. Some people name their dogs “Bear.”

Ten days after Charlotte went into heat, Tiny showed up at our house. And he was, indeed, tiny! In fact, though he was heavier and more solid than Charlotte, he was smaller than her by a good inch. I started to worry that he might not be able to ... you know, um, reach.

Charlotte was excited. She flagged without ceasing, so eager for his services that she sat on his head:

But Mr. Tiny was timid, shy, and in no hurry. (And cuddly! He’s like a cat, the way he snuggles up in your lap.) He spent the first few hours focused on other matters—mainly, spraying scent and/or peeing on everything. Even the water dish.

We ordered the children to leave the dogs alone, so the younger two kept watch from the porch steps. After awhile, only my younger daughter was keeping vigil.

I was in the kitchen, cooking and watching from the window. Right around the time my daughter got bored and turned away to watch other things, the dogs started making their moves. For the next ten minutes they took turns jumping on each other. My daughter never once looked over at them and eventually wandered out to the driveway where the guys were fixing a water pipe. After a bit she came back to check on the dogs. They had just officially hooked up. She stared at them for a couple seconds and then comprehension hit. I watched it dawn on her face like the sunrise.

She yelled for the rest of the family. By then, the dogs were panicked and yelping. My husband went into the pen to calm them, and when my older daughter hesitatingly appeared on the scene, my husband called her in to help out.

Is there anything more awkward for a pre-teen girl than caring for coupling dogs alongside her father? The poor child was bashful, but hey, this is how puppies are made, so buck up, buttercup. She rose to the occasion and stood by her pet.

We kept Mr. Tiny for three days. The second day we were in town, so we weren't able to keep track of the stats. But day three they hooked up three times. My younger son kept a running count. He said funny things, too, like, “Charlotte’s standing still but Tiny is fidgeting!” and “Well, I guess they figured out it feels good!”

By the end, the kids were matter-of-fact about the whole situation. They were interested but casual, without a trace of embarrassment anywhere. Tip: if you’re having trouble broaching the sex talk with your children, breed dogs. It kinda forces the issue.

So, assuming Mr. Tiny's visit amounts to anything, we should have a passel of pups in about 60 days. A few weeks more, and they’ll go up for sale. Stay tuned!

This same time, years previous: an evening walk, deviled eggs, the things that go on around here, new territory: grief, cream of tomato soup, and my pregnant boyfriend.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

the greening

Like I said, "The good part about having such a harsh winter is that spring will be all the more wonderful for it."

And it’s true. The extended forecast for the next two weeks isn’t supposed to dip below freezing, and with this knowledge, I feel my shoulders relax. With every passing day, the yard and surrounding fields are slowly changing from crunchy brown to fresh green. Buds are nuzzling the air. Flowers are popping up. The tops of the forests are still prickly brown, but there is a haze of green in the undergrowth. It's beautiful. It's Spring.

“She turned to the sunlight
    And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
    "Winter is dead.” 

-A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

oatmeal raisin cookies

My children don’t like oatmeal raisin cookies. They will eat them under duress (i.e. no other options), but only one...maybe. One child won’t even touch them.

This is odd because they pile raisins on their garden salads, and they happily eat all other oatmeal related foodstuffs. They like cookies, too. Or at least some cookies.

Come to think of it, I’ve noticed a collective attitude of snobbishness when it comes to cookies. They appreciate the standard chocolate chip, sugar, and gingerbread, but others? Not so much.


I first started observing this odd behavior while we were in Guatemala, but I chalked it up to too much junk food at school (and thus a decreased hunger for homemade cookies) and not-as-expected textures and flavors thanks to inferior/different ingredients. But now we’re home in our butter-filled fridge and they’re still not enthused. What gives?

I decided to ignore their freak behavior and make oatmeal raisin cookies because they’re classic, because I like them, and because I don’t have a recipe for them on this blog, which is tantamount to blasphemy (not the blog—the lack of cookies). It’s a good recipe. The cookies are caramely from the butter and sugar, crispy on the edges and soft in the middle, lacy with oats, and studded with juicy, fat raisins. The kids are not impressed, but so what.

I suppose I could try to be accommodating and decrease the amount of raisins, change the rolled oats to quick, and toss in some chocolate chips or white chocolate.

But wait—what’s wrong with me? Why am I trying to get my kids to eat cookies?

This is so not a problem. Let them eat carrots. More cookies for me.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Adapted from the April 2013 issue of Bon Appetit.

I’ve gotten into the habit of shaping the chilled cookie dough into logs and then freezing them for later. To bake, I just slice the dough into rounds (some doughs can be sliced while frozen, but others—like the oatmeal raisin dough—need to thaw a little to minimize crumbleage). With no messy scoop-and-plop dough to do battle with, fresh cookies have never been easier! Bonus: this tactic will make you look completely With It. Whenever I pull a stick of dough out of the freezer, my husband gets all moony. Nothing, and I mean nothing, turns him on like a smart-ass shortcut.

2 sticks butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon each salt, baking powder, and baking soda
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups raisins

Cream together the butter and sugars. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, and oats. Add the raisins. Chill the dough for an hour in the fridge. Divide the dough into three or four parts and shape into logs. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in a plastic bag before returning to the freezer.

To bake, thaw the logs for about 20 minutes before slicing, laying the rounds on a cookie sheet, and baking at 350 degrees until the edges are golden and the centers are puffy but still slightly wet looking. Allow the baked cookies to rest on the baking sheet for two minutes to set up before transferring to the cooling rack.

This same time, years previous: answers, quotidian (4.9.12), this slow, wet day, with the fam in WV, asparagus with lemon and butter, and the kind of day.

Monday, April 7, 2014

the quotidian (4.7.14)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Soaking up the color. 

I used to buy big, loose-leaf calendars for the fridge until I got smart 
and just drew lines on a piece of paper.

From the outside looking in. 
Heading out on my morning run, I spied this quiet moment and had to run back inside for my camera.

Multi-tasking: doing math while keeping an eye on her dog.

School lunches.

Because eyeliner shouldn't be limited to just eyes.

Bookish cuzzes.

Dire straits: the wardrobe situation.

Two males, a giant hole, and a fixed pipe.

Saturday baking.

Waiting to be rolled into Russian pancakes along with Feta, mozzarella, and Parmesan.

A brand new bottle for the olive oil. 
(I broke the old one when when I was scrabbling to hide—from the children—the candy I was sneaking.)

Lemon meringue pie always tastes better when eaten while wearing gloves.

Mystery photo.
I doubt anyone will guess it correctly, but then again, maybe it's easier than I think?

This same time, years previous: yellow cake, daffodils and horses, cardamom orange buns, and writing it out.