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My dad defies the mold

Happy Father’s Day!

What a swell day. 🙂 I just spent the afternoon with my dad, which isn’t particularly unusual for us, but it was Father’s Day and it was just the two of us and it was lovely.

Even though Father’s Day isn’t for my dad. Or rather, my dad doesn’t fit the dad stereotypes.

I thought about taking him out for brunch at a newish place near me, but I read their menu for today and it was very meat-oriented. Dads love bacon! And meat! With meat! And bacon! Except my dad quit eating meat when I was about four. So instead I made a caramel French toast that he loves, and it yields lots of leftovers, so he can enjoy it for a few more days. Yum!

Perusing ads and Hallmark stores, Father’s Day seems to be about meat and beer and tools and golf and sports and grilling (meat). And maybe neckties and wristwatches. Oh, and cigars. And shaving. (WTF? Who is giving her dad shaving paraphernalia for a present??)

I did manage to find a Father’s Day card that talked about memories of puking on road trips, and that definitely speaks to my relationship with my dad. He has a favorite story to tell about my getting carsick on a road trip home from Canada, in the rain, right before we approached customs. And another version on an airplane. Good times. 🙂

I realized earlier this week that I didn’t have a gift for him – yikes! What to do? None of the above would do for my pops. I mentioned the veggie lifestyle. No tobacco either. He has a beard. He works from home, sans neckties. He doesn’t play golf. Doesn’t really like beer. (He also has an annoying habit of just buying things he wants, although I mostly have him broken of doing things like that around holidays.) I would have to go Father’s Day rogue.

Fortunately, I tidied up my desk Friday afternoon and found, buried in a pile of crap, a page I had torn out of a magazine, reminding me of something I knew would be perfect: a memoir in cartoons by the longtime cartoon editor of The New Yorker. Not only would he love it (and he did), it too seemed representative of our relationship. We have a long history of my dad loving New Yorker cartoons and me not getting them. (Sometimes I get them. Sometimes they’re funny. But sometimes, seriously, what the fuck?)

After brunch and presents we went bike shopping, which morphed into bike clean up and repairing. Us, fix bikes? Don’t be ridiculous! I know dads are supposed to fix things, but my dad taught me the value of having an expert address the situation, whatever that situation may be. Dad gave me the phone number of whom to call when my tree died and needed to be removed, and when the bats became too big a problem and had to be eliminated. And today we packed up our bikes and carted them to the bike shop to get them tuned up, and some tweaks made. We’re a little late in the game this year, but we’ve been busy, and better late than never. Plenty of good riding days ahead of us this summer.

All in all, a pretty good day. I’ve always enjoyed my dad’s company, but since his heart attack last fall I tend to cherish it even more, even though I don’t use words like “cherish”, and today was no exception. I have a number of good friends who have lost their fathers already, and I appreciate how lucky I am that he’s still here.

Happy Father’s Day to all, and to all a good night! Or something like that. 🙂 Hope your day was as nice as ours!

Ooh, and because the recipe is so good and so easy, here’s that, too. It’s one of those perfect recipes you prepare the night before and just throw in the oven to bake in the morning.

Caramel French Toast

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar (although I only had dark on hand and it was just as tasty)
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 6 Tbls. light corn syrup
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups half and half (except I don’t use half & half for anything so I buy a pint and make up the remaining half cup with milk)
  • 1 Tbls. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 12 slices french bread – 1 1/2″ thick slices (But I end up using more like 15)
  • 3 Tbls. sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

In saucepan combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup. Cook over medium heat. Stir until mixture comes to a boil. pour syrup into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Arrange bread slices on top of syrup. Mix together eggs, half and half, vanilla and salt. Pour over bread slices. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Mix 3 Tbls. sugar with cinnamon. Sprinkle over bread. Melt 1/4 cup butter and drizzle on top. Bake 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Eat. Say “yum!”. 🙂

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Interlude and Deliciousness

Once again I’m struggling with bloggy guilt. It’s been too long, but I’m busy and tired and did I mention that I’m tired? Oh, and also, tired. It’s our crazy season at work, but every year it seems to surprise me anyway. And life has been interfering with pretty much everything lately, and we’ll talk about that, but not tonight because I’m not ready yet.  And of course it’s the holiday season so there are three times as many things happening and all at the same time, and there’s shopping to be done and gifts to make and Halloween decorations to put away. (What? I said I was busy.) And tired. The Tide and Drano and soda and toilet paper (read: all the nonperishable items) I bought recently stayed in the trunk of the car for about two weeks because unloading them seemed to be too much effort. (Thank you, Klondike, for unloading all my crap last weekend.)

Aside regarding the Halloween decorations: I put them away, in the attic, all by myself, like a normal human. This is pretty much the first time I’ve gone into the attic for more than a thirty-second dash since the first bat episode almost four years ago. Yay me!

Every year we shut down the “office” (air quotes now since we work from home and the office is virtual) between Christmas and New Year and given the way the holidays fall this year, I’m trying to figure out how many bonus days I can tag on. Two weeks sounds pretty awesome, not gonna lie. 🙂 I’m counting down. Wendy Staycation 2013 is going to be a blissful slugfest!

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Updated….I totally neglected to include the part where I’m not sounding lame! I had tap class tonight – woo hoo! I was TIRED (perhaps I’ve mentioned this) and it’s cold out and I really wasn’t feeling like going to class. But every week, even when I feel less than motivated, I leave class feeling happy and lively and in a supremely good mood. I love spending time with my friend Jon, and it’s great to have a standing weekly time to catch up with him. And the class is FUN. It’s challenging and Miss Donna is really pushing us now to learn more and do more and there still is not going to be a recital so stop asking. 😉  I love it, even when I feel clumsy and like I’m never going to get the hang of something. So YAY, it definitely helped me shake off my slump today.

Ok, now, back to where we were before I remembered that I forgot. 😀

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And because I sound of like a downer, let’s move on to something better, like DESSERT! A few of my Facebook friends asked for the recipe for the pear, cranberry & gingersnap crumble I made for Thanksgiving. It’s SOOOOOOOO delicious, and super-duper easy to make, I promise. And it’s fruit, so come on, it’s like health food. The recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen, but I’ll share it here too, because I hate blogs that just tell you to click through to other things.

Crumble
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons packed dark or light brown sugar (I like dark)
1 cup gingersnap crumbs (About 16-18 store-bought cookies, smashed to bits. You could use a food processor to make really nice, even crumbs, but then you would have to wash it, which is why I never use my food processor for anything. I put them in a large Ziploc bag and pound the hell out of them with a rolling pin.)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon table salt
Pinch of white pepper, especially if your gingersnaps aren’t particularly snappish
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Filling
4-5 large ripe pears (about 2 pounds) (The original recipe suggests Anjou, but I’ve used whatever nice pears I’ve been able to find in the store) peeled, halved, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick (Peeling the pears is the only part of this that sucks – they’re slippery. Enlist someone else to help, then delegate pear peeling while you do all the “hard” work – thank you, Klondike.) (There are a lot of parentheses in this step!)
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Stir together the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, gingersnap crumbs, ginger and salt. Stir in the melted butter until large crumbs form.

In a 1 1/2 to 2 quart baking dish, mix the pears, cranberries, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar and cornstarch together then toss it with the fruit mixture in the pan. Sure, you could do this in a bowl but then you’d also have to wash that bowl and hooray for fewer dishes. (Thank you Smitten Kitchen.)  (I think I’ve also made this in a 9×13 baking dish before, too. There is plenty of crumble to cover a larger surface area, not to worry.)

Sprinkle the gingersnap crumble over the fruit. Set the crumble on a foil-lined baking sheet (in a 2 quart dish, mine didn’t come close to bubbling over but I see no reason to risk it) and bake it for about 45 minutes, until the crumble is a shade darker and you see juices bubbling through the crumbs. See how long you can wait before digging in.

Did I mention that it’s delicious? Because it IS! And it’s so pretty! Look! Pretty!

pears & cranberries, pre-crumble

Pre-crumble topping

Just out of the oven - yum!

Just out of the oven – yum!

Ooh, and I should mention that the Lovely Lettie is the one who put me onto this recipe in the first place, a few years ago when I was doing my annual plea for new dessert recipes for the holidays. 🙂

Let there be soup!

My mom does not cook with a crockpot. There is no commentary in that, it’s just a statement of fact, by way of explaining that I don’t know how to use a crockpot. Most of my cooking foundation comes from what I grew up with, which I assume is true for a lot of us.

When I got married, he wanted to register for a crockpot, so we did, and we got one. I still didn’t know what to do with it. Amazingly, he did. He would throw some things into it before leaving for work, and when we came home at the end of the day, presto, the house would smell amazing and there was a roast with yummy carrots and potatoes. Like magic! During the treaty discussions of The Great War I certainly never made a play for the crockpot; clearly it belonged with him, when he could wrest such deliciousness from it and I had yet to unlock its mysterious charms.

Jump to Thanksgiving night a few years ago. I was chilling on the couch in jammies (duh) flipping through the Black Friday ads just to see what the popular deals were that year. I am not a Black Friday shopper. I don’t get up at four in the morning for anything, certainly not to stand in line at Big Box Nation to get a good deal on something electronic. I used to joke that Black Friday discriminates against night owls – I wouldn’t get up early to shop, but I might stay up late to shop, if there were any reason to. And then lo and behold, I discovered that Walmart (I know, I know – trust me, I only shop there about once every two years) had midnight deals. Nothing too exciting, just something to keep people occupied and in the store till the actual deals kicked in. Including a crockpot for $9.99. Also a coffeepot for $9.99, something else I didn’t have (or have much need for, because coffee is foul, but sometimes I have company).  So I decided what the hell, pulled on clothes (even I don’t wear jammies to Walmart), and ventured out. They were handing out maps showing where in the store to find the deals – crockpots, for example, were on a pallet in the middle of women’s clothing – wha ha? Maybe this is a typical Black Friday tactic to confuse and make people move throughout the store? Whatevs, map in hand, I found the pots, coffee and crock. I picked up a baby crock for another $3.99 – what the hay. I was back in jammies on my couch by 1. Not too shabby.

Fast forward again to 2013. My lovely crockpots are sitting in the basement, still waiting for some action. I have used the big once or twice to warm up things like cocktail meatballs for a party, but that doesn’t count. I want the magic of food that makes itself! Conveniently, one of the recipe enewsletters I subscribe to sent me a recipe for a magical self-making chicken taco soup that sounded like a good first adventure. And guess what – it worked! I threw a bunch of stuff into the crockpot, I left it alone all day, and poof! it made dinner! It was not too shabby, either. A little spicier than I like my food, but I’m a wuss. I don’t eat sour cream (gack!) but I can understand how it would go with this. I froze a large bowl for another day, and took to some over to a friend’s house too. (Finding crockpot recipes for one might be a challenge – any suggestions?) But I like sharing food so I can roll with it.

The recipe comes from allrecipes.com, but here it is for your lazy bastards who can’t do your own internet searches. 😉 In case you want it.
 

Slow-Cooker Chicken Taco Soup

  •     1 onion, chopped
  •     1 (16 ounce) can chili beans
  •     1 (15 ounce) can black beans
  •     1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  •     1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  •     1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer
  •     2 (10 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained
  •     1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning
  •     3 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  •     shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)
  •     sour cream (optional)
  •     crushed tortilla chips (optional)
  1. Place the onion, chili beans, black beans, corn, tomato sauce, beer, and diced tomatoes in a slow cooker. Add taco seasoning, and stir to blend. Lay chicken breasts on top of the mixture, pressing down slightly until just covered by the other ingredients. Set slow cooker for low heat, cover, and cook for 5 hours.
  2. Remove chicken breasts from the soup, and allow to cool long enough to be handled. Stir the shredded chicken back into the soup, and continue cooking for 2 hours. Serve topped with shredded Cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and crushed tortilla chips, if desired.

chicken taco soup
THAT’S IT! TWO STEPS! Presto, soup!!!! (Yeah, my mind is easily blown.)

Next time I make it I’ll try some modifications. No chili beans. Maybe some additional black beans, or another bean. Maybe tomatoes without the chilies – I like my food flavorful, but unspicy.  🙂

If you have any favorite crockpot recipes, please share!!

Oh, and ps, the $10-coffeepot was shit, at least according to the people who were served its coffee. My coffee-fiend father had a spare which now lives at my house.  I don’t know how to use it, but it’s here if you want coffee. 😀

Woot! Spontaneous pie!

Today, January 23, is National Pie Day. Says who? Says the American Pie Council. (I know, right? American Pie Council??) I learned this from the morning newspaper. (Yep, a few of us still read the paper. On paper.)

This is not to be confused with National Cherry Pie Day. (February 20)

Or National Banana Cream Pie Day. (March 2)

Or National Blueberry Pie Day. (April 28 – also, the birthday of our Irish Setter when I was a kid )

Or Pi Day. (March 14 – duh)

Today is a day to celebrate all pie, rather than to discriminate for or against a particular flavor. I’m not even a huge fan of pie – I mean, I like good pie, don’t get me wrong. But I would usually default to a really good cookie or piece of cake versus pie. However, seeing as I am completely susceptible to Jedi and American Pie Council mind tricks, as soon as I saw it was National Pie Day, I knew I had to have some.  (I don’t know why the Jedi want me to eat pie, they just do.)

While I could give you a list of places to find outstanding cookies, and some very good cupcakes, I am not aware of any really awesome local options for pie. Please, someone, anyone, enlighten me if I’m missing out. (If coconut is mentioned in your response you will be automatically disqualified, so answer carefully.)  So this means I was craving pie, with no pie to be had. Clearly, the only logical solution was….make one. Woo hoo, spontaneous pie!

I don’t always have a well-stocked pantry in terms of throwing together a meal, but when baking is the name of the game I usually have the basics, and today was no exception. A quick Google search for some simple options led me to a butterscotch recipe and the only thing I needed was milk, which I was already planning on picking up on my way home from lunch out. Perfecto.  And as long as I had to get milk, I also got a half-pint of whipping cream to top it off.

The recipe origin is Paula Deen, and she annoys the crap out of me, but she’s less irritating on paper than she is on tv. And it didn’t call for lard, so I was willing to give it a go.  It called for a pastry shell, however,  and I prefer graham crackers crusts both to eat (with the appropriate filling) and to make, so I modified. It was also the only way it was sneaking into my day – no time for full-blown pie crust.

Graham cracker crusts are super easy. It can be fun to smash the hell out of the crackers, but today I had a container of crumbs on hand from some prior baking adventure.

Graham Cracker Crust (thank you allrecipes.com)
1-1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter

Mix everything together. Press mixture into an 8 or 9 inch pie plate. I read a little trick today to use the back of a spoon to press the crumbs into the pie plate, and that worked nicely. Bake at 375 degrees for 7 minutes. Cool.

pie crust

Butterscotch pie
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups milk
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 9-inch pie crust
Whipped cream

Paula mixes butterscotch chips into her whipped cream, and sprinkles more on top. That seemed unnecessary to me (although I did have some in the pantry) so I ignored that part.

In a large saucepan combine sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt. Slowly stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. This is boring, and it takes a while. But keep stirring, otherwise it might get lumpy or scorch on the bottom. Be patient, this is what makes your pie luscious. I would suggest that you download Ruzzle onto your phone and challenge me to a game while you’re stirring, but I found it hard to focus on the game and maintain good stirring motion. 😉  It took maybe 10-15 minutes for it to thicken. And you will just know – oh, look, it’s thickening! When it happens, it happens quickly. I turned the heat very low at this point so I didn’t have to worry about neglecting it for the next minute or two. In a separate bowl temper your 2 egg yolks by whisking in a small amount (a few spoons full) of the hot mixture. Stir in the eggs, butter and vanilla, and allow to cook over low heat for a few minutes. At this point, Paula recommends pouring into a dish and cooling in the fridge. My crust had cooled, so I poured the filling straight into the pie plate. The whole thing is in the fridge now, chillin’ like a villain.

Should you want to make whipped cream to top it:
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
Using a hand mixer, whip together the heavy cream and sugar until light and fluffy
(seriously, whipped cream is the easiest thing to make ever)

Um yeah….I’m gonna need to go eat some of that now….the verdict is in….yum!

pie

Happy Pie Day!!