August Daring Bakers Challenge

The time has come again to post the fruits of the loins that are my monthly challenge. No, this is not a euphemism for menstruation! It’s the August Daring Bakers Challenge! The challenge this month? Being challenged! Because our instruction was to make chocolate eclairs. Um…that’s not very hard. But lo! There was a lifting of restrictions that thickened the plot. We could deviate from the recipe as much as we liked, provided that it was an eclair that, somehow, incorporated chocolate. Like children left at home with a weak-willed babysitter, or prisoners left unsupervised in the exercise block while the guard left briefly to sexually harass the prison nurse, we did not know what to do with this level of freedom.

In last month’s challenge, we had to break fundamental laws of physics to assemble a cake so complicated that government officials declared a brief state of emergency due to the culinary brain-drain that had to take place to complete the recipe as written. In this month’s challenge we were given carte blanche to come up with whatever our little hearts desired.

Pate a choux is a cooked dough that consists of butter, eggs, and flour. It’s a somewhat disturbing shade of yellow, and after you stir the flour in, it just kind of balls up into a wad of sticky crap. But then it gets put in a pastry bag and piped into long, thick tubes (dough-wieners) on a cookie sheet. The key is to bake them at a high temperature until they just start to brown, then turn down the heat to a gentle warm for the rest of the cooking time. They get left on the low heat until they dry out, which is typically within 5 or 10 minutes of NEVER. Honestly, they hang on to their internal moisture pretty tenaciously. And I don’t have that kind of time, so I did very high heat until golden, then low for 20 minutes until I had to leave for kickboxing class, then I turned the oven off and left them in, hoping the slow heat would sufficiently dessicate them to the point that I could fill them with something highly caloric.
. I made a batch of pastry cream, which tastes like rich, hot vanilla pudding, but is the color of liposucted fat. I added in a liberal plop of almond paste and stirred it up, making a pastry cream that faintly resembled the flavor of marzipan, but was way more subtle and delicious. It is a wonder of the modern world that I did not eat 7/8 of the cream, then use a pastry brush to distribute the other 1/8 over my naked body. That’s how good it was.

In a half-hearted attempt at staying within the blurred constraints of the challenge, I dipped the tops in a Callebaut dark chocolate ganache. They were tasty in the way that you know they contain the quantity of calories normally found in the cooler of a butter factory, but you would eat a dozen of them guiltlessly on the grounds that you may not get another chance. So I gave them to the doctors, and they ate them all with rave reviews. Those guys will eat ANYTHING though, so I’m relying on my own taste-test to determine their awesomenitude.

Also, I have never been able to make a ganache that hardens into a shell. What is wrong with me? Diagnoses are welcome.

Oops, I did it again.

French onion soup. I know I already made this, but I can’t help it. I just love it so much! And this batch was the best batch I’ve ever made. I’m not usually one to repeat recipes. I try to diversify and try new things, largely in part because I don’t use recipes except to get vague ideas of how things should go, and that usually involves 5 or 6 recipes for the same food, with the parts I liked stolen from each. I never write any of these conglomerations down, which is probably why I can’t recreate the same tastes more than once.

Now, keeping that information on the back burner, Chris and I have decided we’d like a butler. This started because Chris gets completely inconsolable when he has to mow the lawn. He HATES it. He always spends the whole week yammering on about his “manly duties” and how he’s going to get up early and show that lawn who’s boss. Then, when the morning arrives, he clumps down the stairs visibly upset from the moment he awakens. He goes outside and mows the lawn, then comes in soaking wet with a storm cloud on his face that would frighten small children. He cannot speak until he’s showered, and if he does it’s crankily demanding where the towels are in a less-than-sweet tone of voice. Once he’s showered, he’ll come down and still look in poor spirits until he’s had a glass of water and flomped down on a kitchen chair. After he completes a soliloquy about how much he hates mowing the lawn, he is in a much better mood. Until the next weekend…

So we’ve determined that we need to hire someone else to mow the lawn for him, thus allowing his weekend mornings to remain free of despair. I countered with the idea that we just get an actual gardener. I love that idea! But only if it’s a really grumpy old man who yells at me about “his” rosebushes, even though it’s MY yard. Then the conversation turned to other auxiliary staff we’d like to have, and the one we both agreed on was a butler. But, even though we are by no means destitute, we certainly cannot afford a butler, nor can we afford the type of estate that would necessitate a butler. Nor does either of us fight crime from an underground lair. It’s a rough situation.

So the solution is that Chris is actually beginning construction on his medical website, which will undoubtedly make him millions because it’s a genius idea, and I am actually going to start writing my *less than traditional* cookbook. While I believe my prose is more than enough to qualify me for a book, I imagine any potential publishers will probably require me to supply recipes. And I have none written down.

The bottom line is that I am going to post a sample article at some point tonight or tomorrow, along with the recipe, and request that you read it and that one of you tries the recipe out, as written, to ensure I’m not completely delusional. Can you guys handle that?

Also, I have the results of the August Daring Baker’s Challenge to post tonight, and a story about the cakes I made yesterday, and how much I hated it. Okay, I have to go assess a list of ingredients, and determine the numeric equivalent of “some” cayenne pepper. I feel like I’m being kept down by the man. At least, I do until I remember that I never have to return to corporate America, and that my book will make me enough money to go totally solar and get “off the grid.”

Empty Nesting

Willie is very sad today, because he doesn’t have anyone to play with.

Today is the first whole day of an empty house. I do not hear children. I do not hear childrens’ television programming. I do not have to run the dishwasher twice a day, and I do not have to read a story each night. Some of those things actually make me a little sad. For example, it wasn’t until the last night that I managed to convince Alia that we could read my old Berenstein Bears books, and she insisted on the “Going to the Dentist” when I really wanted to read “No More Junk Food.” And it’s way more fulfilling to read to a child than to read Berenstein Bears to, say, Chris. But here’s something I don’t have to do, either–eat vegetarian food. That’s right! I’m back on the meat wagon and rarin’ to go.

Here are some observations from the last week:
1)Tofu in curry is edible. It is not as good as chicken.
2)Pasta with pesto is uninspiringly bland without the addition of chicken broth.

3)Vegetarian diets are, by nature, incredibly fattening. Unless you are a huge fan of lentils, chickpeas, or other such things. And I am not.
4)There is no such thing as “Kobe Vegetable.”
5)If my grill is neglected for too long it gets mopey and runs out of propane.

So last night, in a childish showing of rebellion, I countered a week of veggies with meat, meat, meat! An entire LOAF of the stuff, actually. And I saw the meat loaf, and it was good. I coupled the meat loaf with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and made sure to add some chicken broth on principle. Paired together with a delightfully blue-collar sauce of ketchup, brown sugar, and Frank’s red hot, we had quite a meal. We followed it up with cinnamon roll ice cream over milk chocolate/white chocolate chunk cookies.

The cinnamon roll ice cream was a leftover from two nights ago, when I invented a dessert combo that should be recorded in the annals of history. Jazz apple crisp (or as my family calls it, for reasons that I have been assured do not include mental instability, “Apple Crunchy Wunchie Wunchie Woo), served hot, with a homemade ice cream that tasted EXACTLY like cinnamon rolls. I have this baker’s emulsion from King Arthur Flour called “sweet dough.” It’s a kind of citrus-y, vanilla-y, yeast-y flavor extract that makes regular dough taste more like the kind of dough you’d have in a cinnamon roll. I added a tablespoon to the ice cream. Then I put in a touch of melted butter and a heap of cinnamon and sugar and voila! Ice cream that tasted and smelled like the inside of a Cinnabon. When placed with the apple crisp, it was two delicious things making one delicious baby. I imagine it’s a lot like the offspring of the Jolie-Pitt union.

And I was having one of those culinary magic days yesterday. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The ones where everything you make seems to turn out awesome by magic. The kind where nothing can go wrong, even if you make a mistake. Like when I forgot completely about the boiling potatoes while playing with our puppy and then remembered in a panic, thinking I’d have a pot full of dissolved potatoes (this happens to me more often than you think). But no, they were perfectly fork tender and ready for mashing. The same thing happened with the cookies. I lost interest in baking by the second set of trays and forgot. When I remembered and looked–cooked to perfection. And the meat loaf, which I will ONLY eat in the context of having made it myself, was really, really good. And I had put some bizarre stuff in to clear out the fridge. Like carrots. And green chiles. I wanted to call Chris and gloat, but if you speak aloud that you’re having a “can’t go wrong” day, the universe tends to descend upon and bitch slap you into humility. The dog would have eaten the meatloaf off of the counter, or I would have dropped the bowl of mashed potatoes on the ground or something. It would have been bad. But now that it’s all been eaten, I’m free to gloat. It was awesome.
OMG, Rachel Ray is on the television expressively peddling one of her culinary abortions, so I have to go change the channel before I start saying shit like “Yum-O” and having to kick my own ass.

Mother. Of. Ass. This has been the most hectic 2.5 weeks of my entire life. Did you know that children, much like vampires, don’t seem to require sleep? Or that they can run around a kitchen island for 30 minutes without tiring in the slightest? Don’t get me wrong, she’s wonderful, I just had no idea how much attention children really required. I knew that, unlike my dog, it was inappropriate to crate train them (although what is a playpen, really?) but I thought that, like my dog, it would be playplayplayplay SLEEEEEEEEEP. This is not the case. So I’ve been kind of a slack ass on anything blog related (the creation of interesting food, the criticism of the food network, the photography of said food, and the writing about said food).

But here are some stories of fun and folly to hold you over. First: the creation of chocolate strawberry sugar cookies. This was a total fiasco. There are no suggested recipes for chocolate cutout cookies on, so I went elsewhere on the web. This should have been my first clue that it was an impossible feat. If, between Paula Deen and Gale Gand, nobody has attempted a chocolate cutout cookie, it’s probably not meant to be. But, fool that I am, I decided to give some recipe off of a shot. Wrong-o, Kristie! After we made the dough according to the proscribed method, refrigerated the dough per usual, and then brought out the dough to roll, I sensed something was amiss. Mostly because it was a sticky, sludgy, unworkable substance. Also, Alia kept licking the rolling pin, so I felt (in my germaphobe way) compelled to “roll” the dough out with the palms of my hand to avoid direct mouth-to-raw-food contact. I won’t even share a soda with Chris, though, so this is nothing new. What?? I don’t like spit, okay?? I let her cut out the letters for her name using my alphabet cookie cutters. This is the first time those cookie cutters have been used for something other than swear words, so it was touching. I managed to wrangle the sludge onto the cookie sheets and baked them. Halfway through I opened the oven to peek and they had morphed into these ENORMOUS flat melty shapes that in no way resembled the original letters. I panicked. I sneakily made another batch of dough using my own sugar cookie recipe with a touch of cocoa powder while everyone else was busy. I cut out her name and then…BUSTED. Her mom walked in, and probably now thinks I’m crazy for re-doing the efforts of a toddler. But honestly, she’ll never know the difference and these cookies were so much prettier and sturdier for frosting! I have at least a modicum of baker’s pride to deal with here. The rub of this whole thing is that the cookies are still sitting on the cooling rack and have not been frosted. I guess the attention span of toddlers is slightly (only slightly) worse than my own. I have now gotten most of the powdered sugar off of our surfaces, floors and chairs (most of which was my fault) and am prepping for making ice cream with her tomorrow. I don’t care if she eats it–she’s that cute.

While I was attending to the cookie business, I was also trying to prepare meals for Chris’s coworker AND for all of us. The coworker had requested a recipe called Straw and Hay, made to the Cheesecake Factory’s specifications…only the Cheesecake Factory discontinued this recipe some time ago. This was the only directive I received. I found an old menu description of it and some recipes for similar-ish dishes and cobbled together a crude batch of the stuff. And may I say, EW. It’s bacon and sausage and butter cooked with onions and mushrooms (which soak up all of the grease) and then you add two cups of heavy cream and some cheese and pour it over two kinds of pasta. My arteries seized up just making the stuff, and with two doctors sitting at the kitchen table, both of are board certified in internal medicine, I just knew I was being silently judged for my cholesteric fiesta. Not so silently, actually. We were all pretty vocally repulsed by it. I can only imagine how a vegetarian viewed the dish.

We ended up eating homemade samosas, garlic naan, and tofu tikka masala over saffron rice. I prefer the chicken version, but I have to say the tofu wasn’t half bad. Samosas are a lot of work, but taste great and give me an excuse to float things around in my fryer. Saffron rice is always a solid bet, and even the 3 year old ate it when I told her it was “Friendship Bear rice” and that’s why it was yellow. Then I ate a lollipop while she was getting her bath because I am a grown up, I run with gangs, and I do what I want.

Ah, kids.

You know who would make the best chefs if they had the technical skill and manual dexterity to do so? Toddlers. We’ve currently got a 3 year old visiting us, and she’s full of grand culinary ideas that think outside of the box. I just asked her what kind of cookies she wants to make today, and she said “strawberry cookies with chocolate in a shape like a heart with spiky hair.” It sounded a lot like “thwawbewwy cookieth with chocolate in the thape of a heawt with thpiky haiw.” But I get the picture. And it’s BRILLIANT. Chocolate covered strawberry flavored cookies. I don’t know why this hasn’t been done before. It helps that said toddler is basically an adorable genius of epic proportions. So much so that I think it may have given Chris (okay, and maybe myself) a fleeting case of the “baby-crazy,” a term coined by Chris and his friends that used to mean “chicks only want us for our sperm and are all trying to get babies from us.” It was applied EXTRA strongly to women over 30, which was the excuse they all used to date younger women. Why men think that we’re all trying to hunt them down is beyond me, as in my experience guys are WAY more desperate for glimmers of nudity than we’ll ever be, and most single women aren’t itching to garner some stretch marks while they’re still single. Or maybe that was just me? Anyway, now I get to bandy the term around in a semi-positive fashion, hoping to denounce it’s implications of desperation. But that’s neither here nor there.

Also, having a little girl around means I get to make all sorts of fanciful things like this:
It’s a princess castle cake! This was actually Chris’s idea, and he was really excited about it. A multi-tiered princess castle cake with edible flowers, and the promise that we’d “have a blast making it together!” Would you like to venture a guess as to which portion of the cake Chris actually participated in the construction of? None, is the answer I’m looking for. Oh yeah. Two sentences that ended in prepositions IN A ROW. Anyway, he was busy with work and I understand that completely, but the cake still took a long time to make, and tasted great. The bottom layer was white cake with layers of almond pastry cream and raspberry jam. The top layer was chocolate with raspberry filling. The whole thing was covered with vanilla buttercream frosting (the real kind) until the back turrets fell over and I had to support them with fondant. And the flowers were a mix of fondant and buttercream. The little girl, Alia, was very excited about the princess cake and was more than willing to eat all of the fondant flowers that nobody else wanted (because fondant tastes like dick).

She’s also been more than helpful with my ventures into vegetarian cooking. Here she is painting chimichurri on portobello mushrooms for fajitas:

And here she is again with our shetland pony of a puppy, Willie:

I can’t tell if he’s being long-suffering or genuinely sweet in this picture:

I know he’s more than excited to play with her, and thinks it’s extra-awesome that she occasionally drops food for him to snarf faster than we can grab it. Anyway, that’s why I’ve been bad about blogging this week. Tune in tomorrow for stories about Alia’s cookie invention, the Hatch chili festival, and the quest for a recipe I’ve never heard of, can’t find on the internet, yet am supposed to make for Chris’s work colleague. The best part is that it involves cooking bacon, the most fragrant of meats, in the same house with a pregnant vegetarian. I’m hoping I can accomplish this without causing her to be sick. I’m guessing I will be largely unsuccessful.

Como estas?

Yeah, you can call me Rosario. Look what I made. From scratch. Those are chewy, crispy, hot tortillas fresh out of the cast iron pan, and they were the second best tortillas I’ve ever had. The first best tortillas come from a place in San Antonio called “El Jarro de Arturo.” It’s a Mexican restaurant that serves traditional Mexican food, but with a freshness and creativity that takes it from Mexican “food” to Mexican “cuisine.” Lime cremas, chipotle reductions, etc. The food is awesome, but the real deal-maker is the little hut in the middle of the restaurant where they appear to have locked a tiny, elderly Mexican woman. She just stands in there and hand makes tortilla after tortilla in full view of everyone. When they come to your table, they’re crisp on the outside, chewy and soft on the inside. The texture isn’t anything like that tasteless, raw-floury business you get at the grocery store or most restaurants. It’s more like a very flat naan, I guess is how I’d put it. And it’s unlimited. If I had my way, and if I weren’t certain that they’re made with lard, I would just order unlimited tortillas with, maybe, some green chili and I’d GO TO TOWN. I wonder if I’m allowed to talk to the poor, enslaved woman in the hut to ask her if they’re lard tortillas. I wonder if she even speaks English…unlikely.

The thing is, those horrendous pieces of shite that you buy at the grocery store are a total rip-off EVEN IF they tasted good, and they don’t. It cost me, at most, about $1.50 to make these. The tortilla press I bought is made of heavy duty cast iron, and cost $19.99 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I’ve noticed that strictly Mexican cooking tools are cheaper than American ones by a lot. The food is even more pronounced. A can of Goya black beans costs about half of what you’d pay for the Kuner’s one, and the quality is arguably better. Same goes for coconut milk. A Taste of Thai coconut milk (or “choy-choy meeeeilk” as we call it) is, at last glance, $3.29. In the international foods section you can find the same thing for $.99 and it’s better quality. I’ve gotta say, I think manufacturers have caught on to the fact that Americans are profoundly stupid and will pay way, way more for low-quality goods than, basically, any other country in the world. Makes me sad to live amongst fools.

Anyway, the tortilla making took no time, and will only get easier each time. Also, if you want to try to make them without a tortilla press, you can do it with a rolling pin. Cast iron, I think, is a requirement, though. It’s a poor substitute for a blackened Mexican oven, but it’ll do.

Chicken fajitas are a natural pairing, so they were the filling. In all honesty, they were very, very good (learned it from my Momma, with a Kristie spin), but were like the slightly chubby, slightly less busty friend next to the hot, thin one (the tortillas). I mean, yeah, it’s a pretty girl. Yeah, it’ll probably put out (arguably more frequently than the hot girl). But next to the hot girl it’s a clear second place.

Oh, and the moral of this story is that you should really try the less expensive foreign brands of canned things. I promise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if an illegal alien jumps out of the can, well, I’m sorry for that. But you never know, you just might make a new friend. And they just might be willing to spend a lot of time in a hut making tortillas! Win-Win.

Snapped like a pretzel stick

Forget my baking ban. Here are the gorgeous biscotti, which I’m pretty excited about. It’s originally a recipe from Giada deLaurentis, who is the Food Network star with the highest breast-to-body ratio. She makes up for this by having the highest head-to-body ratio as well, making me almost certain that she’s a successful example of a C-section baby. Her mouth is like a modern day Jonah and the Whale, large enough to swallow a raft with a biblical man floating on it. Just huge. But her biscotti looked all kinds of hot, so I decided to give it a whirl. They’re lemon-almond biscotti with a white chocolate dip. I twisted it a little by adding in chunks of that homemade candied lemon peel from last week’s tart. I changed the chocolate up by adding a touch of almond extract to the melting chunks. This was a stupid thing to do, as I had forgotten that introducing a small amount of liquid to chocolate makes it seize up like a virgin at a frat party. So it became completely unworkable, and the only way to fix it is by adding more liquid, so I added cream until it would melt smoothly. The flavor is excellent, but it’ll always be a slightly soft shell, rather than a hard, shiny coating of chocolate. I’m dumb sometimes. It’s because I didn’t bake yesterday. I am punish-ed.

I’ll make up for it, though, in my next venture. You see, we were watching this new Food Network show called “Ask Aida,” and the girl made this pie crust that was a train wreck. She had cracks all over the place, and some holes in the dough that had Chris in quite a state. He kept saying things like “There are HOLES in that crust, Aida. I can SEE them. You put the cherries in that and they will fall out. They’ll fall RIGHT OUT.” Then he had to hide his eyes. I joined in the smack talk, but then realized that I was being a hypocrite in the way that only televangelists are typically hypocrites (no, not sex scandals, I just meant extreme hypocrisy). I’ve never in all my days made a pie crust from scratch. I know. For shame. So I’m going to attempt one right now and stick all the random berries and peaches that are crowding my crisper drawers in it to make some kind of pie for Chris to unload on his fellow…fellows. If I can do better than Aida, and only if, then I will be justified in calling her a whore. If not, then I guess it’s just Maria Menounos. I might have to write a strongly-worded letter.

–Here goes–

Shit. I don’t own a pie plate. I know I used to, but I can’t find it anywhere, and I’ve got a lot of pie-related activity happening in the kitchen. Chris, confirming that he is actually a saint, has cheerfully volunteered to go out and pick a couple of them up while I keep an eye on the stove. This involved leaving a very involved game of Call of Duty 4, leaving the Russians to fend for themselves, and I understand the sacrifice involved in that. He is the most amazing person ever. And I am a pastry-loser for not noticing my lack of a pie plate over the course of two solid years. Ugh. I would have just borrowed one from the little old lady next door, but I know she’d treat me with pity and a touch of contempt for not having my own, and I can’t handle that. I’d ask the nuns who live across the street, but my guess is that pie is a sin. On account of it tasting so nice, and all.

–Back to waiting–

Dude. I own Aida Mollenkamp. I made a whole SLEW of pie crusty things. I’ve got a peach/strawberry/blueberry pie with a sweet crust. The berry filling is oozing out the top and it looks positively gorgeous. It’s gotta cool before it can be cut, but I’ve got a good feeling about it. I dusted the leftover pie scraps with cinnamon and sugar and baked them off. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I probably will anyway, because I am a genius for doing this. These are so EASY and so tasty. Not too sweet, either, which Chris liked.
My baby sister has wanted a challenge on something she can make at home. This is a good start because they are right up mom’s alley. She’d eat these with her coffee, no question. Just get some Pillsbury pie crusts (I’m sorry, young grasshopper, I don’t think you’re ready for homemade pie crusts just yet) and cut them into strips and then squares. Brush the tops with a little bit of unsalted melted butter (just a touch). Then sprinkle lots of cinnamon and sugar on top and bake in a 400 F oven until they just baaaaarely start to get tanned around the edges and crisp on top. It doesn’t take very long. If you overcook them, they don’t have enough sugar in them to taste good and caramelized. If you undercook them, they’ll be doughy in the middle and not tasty. So get it right, take a picture, and send me a review. I’ll be waiting!

While I was making the berry pie, Chris wandered into the kitchen for either a beer or another latte (I wasn’t paying attention) and started just naming pies. “Coconut pie, cherry pie, chocolate pie, chicken pie…” I raised an eyebrow and asked, “chicken pie?” Turns out he meant pot pie, and when I told him I could make them he got all bouncy and excited. Thus the birth of the second pie crust–savory. This pie crust had no sugar, but I put in a bunch of cracked black pepper instead. I made the chicken filling with caramelized onions and peas and carrots just cooked until they’re still a touch of crisp inside. Mmmmmm. I had a tupperware of homemade stock in the freezer, and some fat-free half and half in the fridge, making a thick sauce.

The leftover scraps for this make another great treat! Crackers! I just rolled them, cut them into circles, brushed them with butter, some salt, and some thinly grated parmesan cheese and baked them until cooked through. Again, this could be done with the Pillsbury stuff, just put the black pepper on top with the salt and cheese. I’d also recommend poking an “X” with a fork into each round cracker (or square, if you don’t have a teensy biscuit cutter) so that they don’t puff too much. Easy, tasty, and avoids wasting things.

So, in conclusion, Aida is a whore. My pie crusts are better, I found creative uses for the scraps, and I did them all in less time than it took her. Mine didn’t have any cracks in the bottom, only in the top where I put vents. Chris would be pleased to know that there’s no way for cherries to run out into the bottom of the pan. Phew! Now I’m tired, but happy. So much for a no-bake weekend. I’m so weak-willed. Show me flour, butter, and sugar in any combination and I’m taken hook, line, and sinker.

Lazy Lunch

Okay, first off, I have to say Maria Menounos is a whore. Here’s why; I spent the morning (after a bike ride, of course) tromping around the kitchen with uncomfortable velcro rollers stuck to my scalp because Maria Menounos has been pimping Pantene Pro-V and has perfect hair in the commercials. She claims that she just throws the rollers in, spritzes with the hairspray, and *BAM* perfectly bouncy curls. Now, I didn’t expect to have perfectly bouncy curls. As a natural blonde with very straight hair, it typically does absolutely nothing I want it to, preferring to remain stick-straight (and also tangling at the slightest suggestion that I might be getting ready to set down my brush and leave the bathroom). But I did expect some level of wave or, at the very least, body. So I had to leave my head completely still while trying to assemble some kind of lunch without violating the no-cooking ordinances set out for the weekend. As you can see above, I was tremendously lazy with lunch-prep, and Chris will probably die of scurvy by nightfall. But I knew that my little snack-food spread would be worth it when I finally managed to unroll my hair and find the beauty I was hoping to find.

Does anyone want to venture a guess as to what happened? Okay, fret not. I’ll tell you! I unrolled the curlers to find that my hair was completely straight and useless, with the exception of a hideous little kink where I had been holding the rollers away from my eyeballs with an elastic headband. Awesome, Maria. Way to make me waste my morning with your lies. My hair actually looks worse now than if it had been left alone AND I have to wear the headband all day so I don’t look like a complete fool with my bangs kinked up. Chris thinks this whole thing is the height of hilarity and said he thought the rollers were adorable, leading me to believe that I’ll have a smooth romantic transition into old age. I wonder how he feels about embroidered sweatshirts…

Anyway, lunch ended up being Utz pretzels (a total Pennsylvania Dutch throwback to my childhood and all of our visits to relatives out East) with a mustard dip comprised of Beavers Sweet Hot mustard and a splash of Coors. Chris helpfully finished the beer before dragging a latte upstairs to study. Sometimes things run a little backwards round these parts, heeeyuck. Accompanying that combo we had Triscuits with garlic salami and smoked Gouda, honeydew melon with a honey-lemon drizzle, and sad-looking baby carrots with Caesar dressing. We had leftover dressing from last night’s equally lazy dinner of grilled pita bread and Caesar salad. I think I might need to break the baking ban and finally make those biscotti I’ve been talking about for two days.

Souped up…soup

I ended up getting over my little fussy episode yesterday through a multi-step plan of bitching to Webber, eating Sticky Toffee Pudding Haagen-Dazs (OMFG, I love the stuff), and then making and consuming some poblano corn chowder, as you see here. Listening to Jon Stewart talk about the Russia situation helped as well, as he seems…unconcerned.

The thing about corn chowder is that growing up, we pretty much only got it on Christmas Eve. My mom will probably deny this in a fit of “Well I guess I’m just a terrible mother, then” isms, but I only REMEMBER eating it on Christmas Eve, and I used to get so excited for it. Back then, it was called “Christmas Soup” and had been passed down through the generations from my great-grandma Mary. Back then it was a butter-intensive, bacon-crumble-smothered bowl of glory. I do remember my mom occasionally doing something different, like adding some diced green pepper to make it more Christmassy, and the following uproar that was similar to what you’d see if she had stood on a stool and announced that we wouldn’t be having Christmas that year. So corn chowder was regarded with reverence and awe, seeming to appear out of nowhere on the stove after we’d walk home from Christmas Eve services at church.

There was a brief moratorium on corn chowder after one fateful Christmas Eve that we went (and here’s where the whole thing initially went awry) to a family friend’s house for dinner instead of following our traditions. There was an 18 year old girl there, and I think I was about 20. She was terribly whorish, and between the two of us we consumed enough pink wine to drop a pair of oxen. I was beside myself with grief at the loss of my corn chowder on the one day a year where I expected to get it, so I consumed most of a pan of high-falutin’ catered corn souffle in its stead. On the way home, I suffered from the pink wine and ACCIDENTALLY threw up partially digested corn on the rest of our family members in the car. So it was a couple of years before anyone wanted to see corn on Christmas Eve.

In that time frame, I managed to weasel the corn chowder recipe out of my mother and start making it on my own. It doesn’t just come at Christmas time anymore, and is basically my favorite thing ever. I will grudgingly admit that it isn’t as exciting as the freezing walk home after a candlelit church service to find warm special occasion soup. In that way I suppose I’ve destroyed a bit of its majesty. But in another way, hell, I get to eat corn chowder in August, so I still feel like I’ve won.

Ironically, I have taken the soup whose integrity was aggressively defended by our family against our mother’s innovation, and completely bastardized it. This version has poblano peppers and diced black forest ham in it. It was mighty, mighty tasty, and quite a bit lower in calories (thickened with low-fat milk and no bacon grease). Maybe this is my way of making sure that the stuff I get on Christmas Eve is still regarded as a special thing, unique to that night. Maybe not. All I’m certain of is that if my mom had attempted to put poblano peppers in our chowder, there would have been mutiny to the point where she might have had to spend the night with baby Jesus in the outdoor nativity scene at church, snuggling up against plastic, light-up sheep for warmth.

Berry Eeeenteresting

I’ve let you know previously that Texas-sized (I use the term disdainfully, which you can’t hear from typing, but know it’s there) containers of blueberries are available at the grocery store here. Well, I got another one the other day and started parading a series of blueberry-related treats around the house like a blueberry pimp sticking its blueberry hos on street corners waiting to be picked up by any muffin or cake that walks by and looks interested. And I still have a sack of blueberries in the fridge, just so you know.

Here’s the first blueberry product–blueberry coffee cake with cinnamon streusel. My brother asked a valid question; why are coffee cakes called such? I think the answer is that people traditionally served them with coffee, but I don’t drink coffee on the grounds that it a)tastes like total ass and b)makes the drinkers breath smell like total ass. I’m more of a tea girl, I guess. So this could be called a tea cake. Regardless, it’s dessert that I can call “breakfast” and then secretly enjoy much more than a typical breakfast. This is how I feel about waffles, french toast, pancakes, muffins, doughnuts, et al. I always feel totally jilted when I’m given eggs or something for breakfast because it’s the only meal I can substitute dessert for with impunity.

I liked that idea so much that this morning I did what amounts to a pastry instant replay and made blueberry cream scones with sanding sugar topping. Mmmmmmmmm. I felt like they needed that special “something extra,” so I made a batch of vanilla blueberry whipped cream to serve with them. Again, this appears to be nothing more than cake and frosting, but people would get all kinds of uppity if I just sucked it up and actually ate cake and frosting for breakfast, like I was some kind of repulsive anomaly. Oh well. I sent the extras home to my mother and sister, which is my little version of a humanitarian aid mission to Colorado. It is unknown whether or not the cargo was actually delivered or was confiscated by airport security.

And don’t think the blueberry is the only kind of berry getting stroked and prodded into sweet submission. This week’s grand rounds included a dessert of chocolate raspberry fudge bars with bittersweet chocolate ganache.

Incidentally, I just heard somebody on t.v. behind me say “blueberry mojito.” I feel a project coming on…