Monday, October 10, 2011


Today is my daughter's third birthday.  She is waking up as I type this, and her first words were "I WANT a cookie!"  This is what it means to be three.

I never gave much thought to my mother's experience of my birthday, but now I realize that a child's birthday is like a mini Mother's day (except I don't get breakfast in bed).  My heart and mind overflow with memories of the day she was born, and how excited I was to finally meet her.  The nerves, joy, pain, joy, concern, joy and a truckload of painkillers (emergency c-section) washed over me and carried me through the next three days.  What a day.

I don't plan to talk about that a lot with her today, except how full of joy we are to have her with us and spend our time with her.  It's going to be a blast!

The best part of all is that she shares a birthday with her cousin, who is three today as well!  They were born on the same DAY, not just the same date.  He and his family are visiting us, and I think some fun stuff will be happening.  I suspect there will be trains.  I am A-OK with this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Easy Chicken

Sorry, I don't have a photo yet of the prepared dish.  I'll probably be making it later this week, and I'll be sure to take a picture for you.  For now, settle for a picture of these happy, roaming chickens as a reminder that cheap, hormone-packed chickens are neither delicious nor healthy.  Not to mention (and I cannot believe that I am making this point) that those mass-producing chicken factories are really awful.

Regardless, this recipe will make you as happy as a roaming chicken.

You need:

A covered roasting pan
1 chicken (a small, broiler/fryer is fine).  This recipe can be done from with a chicken that is frozen, but of course it will need longer to cook.
White wine
Butter or olive oil

Preheat to 375F.

Put the chicken in the roasting pan.  I don't intend to insult your intelligence, but take all the bits out of the cavity first.  If you buy several chickens at once and freeze them, take the giblets out before you freeze them.  Save them separately in the freezer for stock making.  We'll talk about THAT another time.

Season the bird with garlic, pepper and tarragon.  You could toss a half of an apple in the cavity of the bird.  That would be delicious.  Pour about a half a cup of white wine over the seasonings and add a few pats of butter on the top.  Or olive oil.  But never margarine.  Curse you, oily-fake-fat.  Curse you.

How long?  That depends.  From fresh, 1.5 hours?  From frozen, I like to start this at least 3 hours before meal time.  It's a very forgiving sort of thing, and you have to leave it in for a LONG time before it is ruined from over cooking.  Once, after a ferocious bedtime with J~, we both fell asleep and this was still in the oven.  It was cooking for 6 hours.  It was... yeah, that was a bad thing.  Never lay down to "just close your eyes" if you have something in the oven.

I would bet that this could be cooked with great success in a slow cooker.  I'll get back to you on that!

This is one of my favorite recipes because it tastes good, is very easy to make, and roasting chickens are cheap!  It's dinner for the three of us, plus lunch the next day, and I save the carcass and giblets in the freezer till I have a few of them and then make a big pot of stock.  But, like I said: that's a story for another time...

Since this is my first post after inviting my friends to check it out on facebook, I'll actually open it to a question: what are your go-to recipes?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Monosodium Glutamate kicks my butt.

    When we were newlyweds, we enjoyed our freedom, dual income-no kid status and frequently ate out.  It was bad news for me for many reasons, but most of all, I noticed that I began to have a weird reaction when eating at places like Applebees.  Places where the spicy, relatively cheap food is SO GOOD that you just can't stop eating.

This is the feeling of guilt you get when staring at the bottom of a bag of Doritos... The "I can't believe I ate it all" feeling?  You with me?

I wouldn't always get sick to my stomach, but my husband would drag my giggly, silly, drunken behind home and tuck me into bed.

Except I hadn't had anything to drink.  Not one drop.

It took me a while to put it together, because I was stressed out with my job and I figured I was just cutting loose and acting a little silly.  I wasn't paying attention to what I was eating.  It was bad news.

Guess what it was?  Our little friend MSG!  Turns out, the stuff ends up in a lot of places, mostly in seasoning salt and other "instant flavor in a bottle or shaker" kinds of places.  It shuts down your body's hunger receptors, telling you that you should eat more, even when you're full.  It convinces you that what you are eating is AWESOME!

But check out all the other things it can do to the body of someone who is MSG sensitive.

It reminds me of the "leakage" that was associated with that fake fat they were putting in chips a few years back.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'll do you the favor of not enlightening you.

Here's the worst part: MSG can be sneaky.  There are lots of words that food manufacturers use to hide the fact that they're using products that will give you the same reaction.  Lovely.

If you have this reaction, speak up!  Don't be shy about asking a restaurant if they cook with these products.  They should be able to verify that their food is MSG free.  Trust me, you deserve it.

The Nutri-Nazi

I've been tooling around with writing a book for my mother, grandmother and daughter.  It shares stories of our experiences and shenanigans.  It needs more fleshing out, but I'm proud of what I've written so far.  This is my favorite story.

The irony, of course, is that since writing this, I realized that I have Celiac Disease.  Read on and you'll see why this is a total kick in the head...

The Nutri-Nazi

Sometime during her forties, my mom developed serious intolerances to many common foods. Though she never had an allergic reaction (hives, swelling, things requiring an epi-pen), it caused her such stomach upset that she was finding herself miserable nearly all the time. I specifically remember the summer of 1997, when she kept Mylanta in her purse and drank it directly from the bottle.

After a most fortunate and providential connection with a chiropractor, she began to change her diet and found some relief. But at what cost? The no-no list included: wheat (and to a lesser degree oats, rye and some other grains), sugar, milk, coffee (YES!), chocolate (I know!), walnuts and tea.

The severity of such a list could only compare to the intensity with which she adopted her new style of life. She completely and immediately eliminated all foods from the list and started to see real changes in her health, mood and general well-being. And, though I was happy to see she was no longer sick all the time, the sudden changes were alarming.

She replaced sugar with a naturally dehydrated sugar beet solid (“it works the same, even in recipes!”), somehow convinced herself that soy milk was just as tasty as the real thing, and bought a juicer thinking she could lure us into the fascinating prospect of beet juice.

During this time, we spent hours upon hours pawing through health food stores looking for good alternatives to the many foods she couldn't eat, some more promising than others. Some, like a particular kind of rice-based baking mix she discovered, turned out to be pretty tasty. Others, mostly things like ersatz-coffee and a chocolate-alternative known as carob, were horrifying to the extreme.

Let's just stop right here and state the obvious: there should never be such a thing as chocolate-alternative. If you can't or don't eat chocolate for whatever reason, go with fruit flavored or vanilla or something. There's simply nothing that tastes like chocolate.

It wasn't that long ago, but so much has changed since then. Today, a trip to most supermarkets will include a “natural” or “health food” aisle (Flavored soy milk!). Plus, increasing awareness to intolerances like my mom's, or the more severe celiac disorder (total allergy to gluten of any kind) has lead to all sorts of alternatives to wheat and sugar. But, when my mom started down her path, her options were bleak. I remember my revulsion when she first made “rice pizza:” a sticky, pasty disc of pure white goop topped with sliced tomatoes, soy cheese and shredded chicken.

“Mmm!” she grimaced, spooning the crust it into her reluctant mouth “It's great! It tastes just like the real thing.”

This new lifestyle challenge strained the boundaries of my mom's creativity, and at times her frustration showed through. Eating out proved particularly challenging. Years before the no-carb craze, my mom was ordering “a hamburger without the bun” subbing pasta with veggies, leaving the croutons behind on her salad plate. Visiting friends was also difficult, and I remember how she used to call ahead to clarify that she would not be able to enjoy the hostess' lasagna and chocolate cake and no, having a wheat intolerance did not mean she just couldn't eat whole-wheat bread.

She soon learned that total discipline to her new way of life was easier than sticking to the rules most of the time and eating the forbidden foods when situations or desire demanded it. This was how I came to call her the Nutri-Nazi. And though she was very generous about making her “specialty foods” separate from the rest of our menu, it was a lifestyle change that we all were aware of. As a family, she encouraged good eating habits in all of us. I didn't realize how pervasive our habits had become until I attended a reunion of my grade school gang of friends and our teacher recalled how I was always avoiding foods.

“Yeah, your mom had all kinds of crazy rules. You wouldn't eat cookies or soda or pizza or anything that kids are supposed to eat. I worried that she was in some kind of cult.”

Since then, the cult-like behavior has mostly faded. Sure, it still comes out in weird little blips she picks up from kooky online articles (“Cats naturally gravitate to the reverse polarity centers of your home”) but she has certainly toned it, and herself, down.

So, don't feel too bad for my mother. First of all, she's the hottest 56-year-old Grandma I know, she loves her way of life and her diet, and she even gets in a little fun at our expense from time to time. If you ever come to our house for dinner and you see a basket of tempting homemade muffins on the table, look out. She'll wait till the second bite is about to go down before remembering:

“Oh, that's not wheat! Yeah, no, sorry. It's rice germ sweetened with cactus flower honey. Tastes just like the real thing, right?”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Keine Zwiebel, bitte!

When I was 24, I chopped my first onion.

My father gets sick when he he eats them, my mother doesn't really care for the taste, and we never, ever ate them at home.  When we go to restaurants, my father (sometimes) politely tells the waitress.  "I am allergic to onions.  Please make sure there are no onions on any of the plates you bring to the table.  If I've ordered something that has onions, tell me and I will order something else."

And then we get a plate covered with leeks or something and he gets pouty.

Anyway, my husband has a German mother and a father whose family is also from Germany.  There are onions.  Lots of onions of all types.

Onions like us Italians use Garlic!

It finally occurred to me that I had never checked to see if *I* was allergic to onions, despite avoiding them in all ways possible up until this point.  So, I went to the source of all bare-bones, here's-what-you-need-to-know-about-x-food cooking knowledge: Alton Brown.

I think it was his episode about making stock (changed my life!), but he showed how to dice an onion, making cuts like lines on a clock, then slicing down for perfect dices.  Genius!  He didn't show you how to peel it.  He assumed you knew how to do that.  How could he expect that someone could be so fresh out of the onion closet as I was?

I knew at least that you have to peel off the dry outer layers of an onion, because that papery stuff isn't for eating.  I knew they make you cry, because anyone who's watched any cartoon ever or this Shakira music video knows that.  But until last night, I had always made a careful one-layer-deep cut in the skin, peeled it off bit by bit, then sliced the onion in half for chopping.

In case your situation is exactly like mine and you've lived under an onion free rock listen carefully:

Chop the onion in half.  Then peel it.

Assuming you have a need for one onion a week, I just saved you about 1 hour over the next year.  You're welcome.

While I was googling around for a photo of Alton chopping an onion, I discovered that he's coming to Pittsburgh in less than one month!  WOW!

I'm wondering if there are any readers out there, and if you've had a head-smacking "Duh!" moment in your cooking adventures lately.  I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Out, damned spot.

Confession: I put off cleaning my bathroom.  I HATE this job.

So, by the time I get around to doing it, it's a big mess.  The only difference this time was that I had run out of my last bottle of anti-hard-water cleaning stuff.  Ugh, I was scrubbing and scrubbing with a hard surface cleaner in the shower, grumbling and mad.  I needed a different plan, and I thought about what options I had.  I had a big bottle of bleach downstairs... eeeew.

I've been using Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap as a body wash for a while.  It has a good lavender smell, the price was good for the quantity, and I put my trust in the people who decide what products go in the health food section of our Kroger.  The bottle is weird.  It's covered with writing, which mostly sounds like emails from crazy people.  Mismatched scripture passages, other weirdness.  It suggests there are 18 uses, including hard surface cleaning and toothpaste... I once heard a story about someone who didn't realize their bottle had spilled, and it ate a hole in the wood finish on their floor.

Why am I using this on my body?  Um... I rinse a lot?
Look, I really like the smell of lavender.

Anyway, I poured a tiny dab of the stuff on my cleaning rag, and scrubbed the shower.  It smelled AMAZING.  It completely cleaned up the soap scum with one or two passes.  It rinsed clean.

Very pleased.  But possibly reconsidering it as a body wash...

NB: I'm not affiliated with Dr. Bronner.  I'm sure he's a fine gentleman, but I want you to know that he (and his company) had nothing to do with me writing this post.  Just me and my dirty bathroom.  Kroger is also unaware that I have written this.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

When good clothes get a bad attitude:

Tonight I begin my transformation into a bird.

My mom is throwing a party with a bunch of friends, one of whom is a hair dresser. We are getting feather extensions in our hair. J~ is getting a clip with sparkly colored hair.

At first I thought better of it. Two perms have happened to my almost waist-long hair, and we have a bit of a split-end situation. I'm worried that if I add feathers to the frizzy, damaged mess, combined with my father's neaderthal-like characteristics (which I have inherited) and all I will need now for my National Geographic centerfold is a lemur-femur poking out of the top of my head.

But you know what? I'm going to go with it. It's been a while since I followed a trend for trendiness' sake, and I'm going to have a little bit of fun.

I have to remind myself that it's not a bad thing to enjoy looking pretty. I'm not especially tomboyish, but I'm at the end of a decade of my life during which it seemed like a good idea to feel ready to go camping at any given moment. In college, I was proud of the fact that I could go from pillow to classroom in 15 minutes. Why was this an inherently good thing?

The fact is, looking pulled together takes a lot of work, and I'm not very good at it. Yesterday, I dressed for an evening of shopping with my husband, and I thought I was looking pretty good. But do you ever have one of those days when your clothes just rebel against you? I was wearing skinny jeans and a tank top with a flowy tunic layered over. My shoes had a "my first high heels" kind of heel. Nothing too extreme, right?  Here's how I slowly fell apart.

7:00- I get in to my car to head for the store.  I notice my shoulder straps aren't staying up.  I pull them up a few times during the drive.

7:15- I get out of the car and notice that the tank top is also riding up in the back.  I stand up straight, adjust the straps (again) and pull the back down and ruche the fabric around my hips.  Lookin' good!

7:30- I am grateful to realize that the jeans that were tight on me last week are a little loose.  I've been trying to lose weight, so I'm happy my body is responding to diet and exercise.  I fix the straps, pull up my pants, readjust the tank top around my hips and look around to make sure that no one at the store is watching me basically redress myself.

7:35- 8:00- That keeps happening.  I am beginning to feel like "What not to wear" is following me around.

8:30- we have to go to another store, and I'm rushing through the mall to get to the new place before it closes.  The tunic is joining the clothing rebellion, twisting around me as my purse pulls the fabric.  Strap, pants, pull down tank, untwist shirt, fix purse, repeat...

9:15- I have to go grocery shopping.  I am late to pick up my daughter from my in-laws, we just spent WAY too much money on a suit for my husband, I am embodying all the things that male stand-up comedians mock when they tell cautionary tales about getting married, and I am pushing a cart with one bum wheel, forcing it to constantly turn sharply to the left, and every garment I am wearing is trying to punish me for the spelling test I cheated on in 4th grade.  Walk ten feet, readjust cart, fix strap, pull up pants, fix tank top, untwist tunic, purse strap.

And this is when I twist my ankle.  Heels?  Who wears heels to the grocery store?

9:30- It was in no way sexual that the path from our entrance hall to our bedroom was a trail of clothes.  That stuff was coming OFF as soon as I got out of the public eye.  Seriously.  I'm never leaving the house again.  Or wearing clothes.