December 2nd- The Triwizard Cup

The Big Geek and I belong to the most amazing gourmet cooking group – we call ourselves “The Ironic Chefs.”  The Big Geek’s parents had long belonged to something that they called “The Supper Club”- I was always so impressed by their stories, but envisioned something slightly different.  We talked it up with some of our friends, and started in early 2002 with three other couples.  We had so. much. fun.  We drank a ton of wine. (or on one memorable night, tequila.) There were only two kids in one family at the time, so we were footloose and fancy free.  I used to research our recipes for days.  And do trial cooking runs.  With stuff like veal.

The group has come a long way in 10 years.  One couple left, and we added three more couples. That’s 12 adults, and now we’re evenly matched by 12 kids.  We have a long and entertaining oral history of mishaps and wonders, funny stories and glorious ones.  Three of us have been to the hospital after cooking accidents. We’ve provided food for each other for showers, new babies, illnesses, and funerals.

Every summer we have an all-family barbeque – kids are invited, and it’s a long day of summer fun.  Every winter, we have a holiday meal – all the couples, no kids, usually a little fancier.  This year’s party theme was a dinner at Hogwarts – so cool, no?  Since I have a favorite trifle recipe, we made it, and called it the “Triwizard cup” and topped it with chocolate frogs. :)  It’s festive, and if you don’t have someone in your house with an allergy, it can be pretty non-challenging to make.

The Triwizard Cup and the Treacle Tarts

Eggnog Tiramisu Trifle

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Tiramisu-Eggnog-Trifle-108981

ingredients

1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar 1 1/4 cups water 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon dark rum 4 tablespoons brandy 12 large egg yolks 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg 4 8-ounce containers mascarpone cheese*
2 cups chilled whipping cream 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder 7 tablespoons Kahlúa or other coffee liqueur 2 6.15-ounce or four 3.5-ounce boxes Champagne biscuits or Boudoirs (about 60 crisp ladyfinger cookies)*
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, finely ground in processor
Chocolate Leaves (we made chocolate frogs instead)

preparation

Whisk 1 1/3 cups sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup rum, 3 tablespoons brandy, yolks, and nutmeg in metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Whisk constantly until mixture thickens and candy thermometer inserted into mixture registers 140°F for 3 minutes, about 5 minutes total. Remove bowl from over water. Whisk mascarpone, 1 container at a time, into warm custard until blended.

Using electric mixer, beat whipping cream, vanilla, 1 tablespoon brandy, and 1 teaspoon rum in large bowl until cream holds peaks. Fold in mascarpone mixture.

Bring 1 cup water to simmer in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and espresso powder; stir to dissolve. Mix in liqueur. Submerge 1 biscuit in espresso mixture, turning to coat twice; shake excess liquid back into pan. Place dipped biscuit, sugared side facing out, around bottom side of 14-cup trifle dish, pressing against side of dish (biscuit may break). Repeat with enough biscuits to go around bottom sides of dish once. Dip more biscuits and arrange over bottom of dish to cover.

Spoon 2 cups mascarpone mixture over biscuits; spread to cover. Sprinkle 1/4 cup ground chocolate over, making chocolate visible at sides of dish. Repeat with more biscuits dipped into espresso mixture, mascarpone mixture, and ground chocolate in 2 more layers each. Cover with 1 more layer of dipped biscuits and enough mascarpone mixture to reach top of trifle dish. Sprinkle remaining ground chocolate over, covering completely. Cover and chill overnight.

Gently press stem end of largest chocolate leaves around edge of trifle. Fill center with smaller leaves. (Can be made 8 hours ahead; chill.)

*Available at Italian markets, specialty foods stores, and some supermarkets.

Chocolate Frogs all around!

December 1- Saltine Toffee Heaven

I wish that I was one of those bloggers that takes beautiful pictures of my food as I am cooking. Maybe a New Year’s Resolution, that one. But I did manage to snap a few pictures with my iphone as I went along…

I found this recipe, and the blog that it came from, though the deeply, deeply addicting website Pinterest – if you haven’t checked out Pinterest, you should. And kiss any of your free time away.

Anyway – the recipe was originally here: http://asoutherngrace.blogspot.com/2008/12/saltines-have-never-had-it-so-good.html

What you need:

Saltines (I usually use 1.5 sleeves in a half sheet batch – 47)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (only real dairy butter please)
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups semi sweet morsels

Preheat your oven to 350.

You cover a cookie sheet with a layer of foil, and then a spritz of cooking spray. Lay the crackers out on the sheet. Eat broken ones (nomnomnom)

Basic Cracker Layout

Cracker Layout

Melt butter in the pot. Add brown sugar. Stir, pretty much constantly, until the sugar bubbles up and your whole house smells like toffee. Resist the urge to lick the spoon- trust me. I sound like Flick when he gets his tongue pulled off on the frozen pole in “A Christmas Story”. I can never resist the delicious napalm.

Dangerous goodness

Pour the toffee over the cracker. I tried spreading it with an offset spatula, but it pretty much spreads itself out in the oven, and then all you have is another toffee covered implement that you will lick and burn your tongue on have to wash later.

And for the love of all that is holy, don’t notice that there is a bunch of yummy looking toffee on the spoon, and use your scrupulously clean finger to scrape it off onto a bare spot onto the crackers. Forgetting how hot it is. And then, in agony, stick the culinary-napalm encased finger into your mouth to ease your pain. Further damaging your already scalded tongue. Please, please- for the love of god. Don’t. do. that.

Beware the spoon of pain!

Bake for 5-8 minutes. Watch carefully – if the saltines get brown, it does not add to the flavor of the dish.

5-8 minutes is a wonderful amount to time to apply ice to burns.

When you pull the tray out, let it sit for 2-3 minutes, and then sprinkle 2 cups of semi sweet chocolate chips over the crackers. Wait about 5 minutes, and when they are all shiny and melty, spread them out with your offset spatula. I usually stick the tray outside to cool, and then break into pieces.

My friend calls these “crack whores” because, like a crack whore, you’ll do anything to get more. Which is true, but less holiday festive- “Hey honey, maybe I should whip up a batch of crack whores to bring over to the Colberts tonight.” Nope. Not festive. Yet secretly, that’s what I now call them in my head. It will be fun when I slip in front of the kids. Yum.

All done, and finally safe to eat!

The 24 Days of….Baking!

Cookies are a BIG deal around here.  The Big Geek is a certified grade-A cookie junkie.  But now, since Alpha Girl is allergic to nuts and eggs, which are key ingredients of most of my well-loved cookie recipes, the last few years have been like starting over…well, from scratch.

When the Big Geek and I were engaged, and in our early married years, christmas cookie baking weekend was a huge deal.  We spent all weekend in the kitchen – baking batch after batch of our favorites, cookies piling up in the dining room, getting takeout because we were too tired to cook anything else.  And on that Sunday afternoon, and for a week or so after, we would deliver cookie plates to our friends and neighbors that were so beautiful and diverse –  we tried to mix colors, flavors, candy versus cookie versus bars.  We’d use pounds of nuts, dozens of eggs, bags and bags of sugar and flour.  It was a great weekend.

Now, of course, we never have a weekend to just spend baking.  Alpha Girl has a trip to the ballet and CCD, the Caboose has swim lessons or a playdate. So, I decided that I would spread out our cooking over the length of the month.  We eat a lot more of our cookies ourselves – in part, because we two are a multitude now, and in part because we always have to bring our own cookies to everything.  So I have to begin early, and restock often.

The Big Geek likes this concept.  Bake early, bake often.

I started updating Facebook with one recipe a day that I am baking, and I think I would like to do it here, too.  I’ll be behind for a couple of days, but watch for (approximately) daily updates on egg free, nut free holiday treats that you can cook with your kiddos (or your geek on a long baking weekend).

Today is December 3rd- so I will have a couple of recipes up soon!

 

On Valentines…

I have started, but not finished, about a dozen blog entries, so you all think I have fallen under a bus.  All twelve of you.🙂

I am sitting at the table with the Caboose, filling out valentine’s for his class.  Since he’s three, writing his name 19 times on little cards is somewhat challenging for him.  (think mom pulling her hair out, going – “No!  Your name is not the number three! you need to write your name. so people know who this tacky piece of disney-worship is from)

My thoughts were drifting back to when Alpha Girl was in preschool, and first did valentines for her class. She went to the same preschool that the Caboose goes to – a lovely, cooperative nursery school here in Mayberry.  No branded toys, very little emphasis on holidays, lots of Montessori-like activities.  It’s wonderful, but Valentine’s Day was an eye opener.  I was less than a month away from delivering the Caboose, who may I remind you was almost 10 pounds when he arrived two weeks early.  So I could barely walk, and it’s new england, so it’s icy and horrid in February.  So Alpha girl and I went out and picked out some cute little pre-made valentines with holographic stickers.  And she wrote her name on each one (she was more advanced at fine motor skills than the caboose, who is hampered by that pesky Y chromosome) and brought them into school and tucked them into everyone’s valentine’s bags. 

That afternoon, she brought the bag home to look through.  Hers was about the only pre-made one in the bag.  There were lots of foam stickers, and some doilies with crayons.  But some people had done elaborate collages, with preprinted messages from their preschoolers, and one woman had even made valentine’s out of pictures of her daughter, beautifully printed in sepia on cardstock,  mounted on a doily with a beautiful heart-glitter wash.  They were amazing.  It must have taken her and her preschooler a day to complete each one (allowing for preschool attention) and weeks to design before that. Here I was, huge and uncomfortable and so sad that I hadn’t thought to do something that girly and beautiful for Alpha Girl.  I was the sucky mom with the store bought card. I had failed coop crunchy 101.

Flash forward a few years – now all that Alpha Girl wants to send is the preprinted cards – cause no matter how hard we work, we can never get the doilies to look like Hannah Montana. And the Caboose wants to do what Alpha Girl wants.  And yet again, I forgot to plan ahead, so we’re digging through the leftovers at CVS while the store clerks are trying to shove pastel bunnies on the shelf right next to them.  And we got Mad Libs with pencils for her, and Disney Vehicles with pencils for him.

And as he’s filling out his cards (they’re due tomorrow, honey – just write your name seven more times!  No, that’s a squiggle.) I am thinking about how yet again I have failed crunchy coop mom 101, but this time I don’t feel bad about it.  He thinks this is fun. Hand making 21 valentine’s is not for my boy, who unlike his sister only has about 10 minutes of crafts in him before he needs to go play with his cars and dinosaurs. And I realize that although the cards may be less thoughtful – I apologize to the little girl who is getting the ” Valentine, you’re a real champ” card- but the process of sitting down and making something special for someone is still just as meaningful.

Now if only the Caboose will write these last seven cards.  No, honey – we don’t pretend to do hara-kiri with the pencils, darling. We write with the pencils. Please?  If not, mommy can probably get tipsy tonight and fake your handwriting….

Resolute

I make a lot of resolutions.  Lots of grand, noble statements that quickly get forgotten in the crush of everyday must-dos.  I have come to terms with how full of sh*t my resolutions usually are, or quickly become. Talk is cheap, no?

 However, it’s hard to let new year’s day pass by without some honest evaluation as to how the year has gone, and what would make the coming year come out a little better. 

So rather, I am trying to bring some “focus” to my life- places where things get blurry and slap-dash, but could use some focus and brighter light brought to bear on them.

Focus One- Balance.  It’s a nice thought, and a noble thing to strive for.  For me, I am not sure how to achieve balance, but I would like to go through my days with more grace and less maria-racing-through-the-abby pandemonium.

Focus: Completion.  I am a project junkie, but I often lack the ability to see things though to their fully wrapped – up end.  Hopefully I can focus on getting things done all the way.  This will help with my general feelings of self-worth.

Focus: Order.  We just purged about a million items from our house- the keys to keeping things in order are in my hands.  I just need to figure out how to drive this crazy thing.  Order could almost be a subset of completion, I think.

Focus:  Health/Energy.  Like everyone else, I would like to eat healthier and work out more.  I know that the more I do these things, the more likely I am to have the energy and grace to work on my other focus areas. However, it’s easier said than done.

Focus: Present.  I get too overwhelmed trying to plan and get work done.  I need to live more in the now for my family and friends.  I would like to be more present in each moment of my mothering this year

Focus:  Greener.  We made great strides in getting our house and lives to be lower impact, but several of those initiatives have slacked off as things have gotten crazy around here.  I would like to get back to being more mindful of what goes in our trash, our lunchboxes, our shopping carts and our mouths. 

I have the tools, and many people whom I admire have the same number of hours in their day as I do.  Hopefully, when I look back at the composite picture from 2011, things are less blurry. As always, there is no way to be perfect, but countless ways to be better…

Bag Lady leanings.

I have a bad, bad habit.  It’s a bad, bag habit.

I have recently been in a crazy, purge everything phase.  My garage looked like something out of hoarders.  My laundry room was virtually unnavigable.  And I seem to be tripping on stuff everywhere I walk – we have waaaay too many toys, and many are ones we’ve outgrown, but momma is too sad to put things away for good.  sniff.

However – there will be 13 people sleeping in my house over Christmas.  13 people who will be tripping over all those toys, and trying to find a quiet spot to catch a breath.  And oh yeah- the tree will be up.  So we really need the room.

So purge I have done – mostly it’s been fun, and therapeutic.  I have found lots of nostalgic things – notes from our wedding, baby pictures of the kids I thought I had lost, my introductory paperwork for semester at sea.  I found seven pairs of scissors I feared were lost forever.  And I threw away or donated vanload after vanload of junk, or stuff that was weighing us down.

I started to notice a trend in my behavior that has heretofore gone unnoticed, or more likely, banished to my subconscious – I like to stick stuff in a bag and forget it. Leftovers from the 1st  grade valentine’s day party project?  Stuffed and left.  Backup supplies from our trip to the beach/the farm/the zoo?  Stuffed and left. I threw away what felt like thousands of half-eaten baggies of fishies.  Recovered countless cans of sunblock. Found enough half-used cups of animal food from Davis farmland to keep a cow happy all winter. 

It’s symptomatic of two of my great struggles.  One –  I hold onto things because I plan to be organized- “I’ll keep this for next time” I think to myself, when in reality, I can’t close the deal. I envision myself pulling out just the right thing to save money/time/an extra trip, when the reality is that it sits in a bag in my car until it gets tossed into a pile of bags in the garage, never to be looked at again.  Two – I can’t finish things.  I love to be the mom who brings a project to class.  I love to be the lady who makes homemade blankets and christmas stockings and quilts for the preschool auction.  The reality?  I grab the stuff, do the project – but then never clean up – the remnants end up sitting in a bag, shoved in a bin- never sorted back out and returned so I can use the components for another project. (hence the seven pairs of missing scissors)

Perhaps this week has been more than purging of things.  Maybe I can purge a bad behavior, as well.  And now, I have literally fifty now-empty reusable totes and bags that I can use for groceries. And not to hide my shortcomings.

The same thing we do every night, pinky…

…look at the mess on the floor and say, “We should really clean this up” and then ignore it and watch Big Bang Theory instead….

And yes, one of us is a genius and the other is insane .  Technically, the Big Geek qualifies as both, but you can have fun guessing which one he is in this exercise…

So, you were wondering how my plans to take over the world/finally clean and organize my house were going?  Now that I have all that time with the Caboose in preschool three days a week.  Many of you were laughing, knowing I was about to find out what you already knew- you can’t get bupkus done in that amount of time.  But still, here’s the update..

1. Nothing is actually any cleaner.  Except maybe Alpha Girl’s room, but mostly because she isn’t around most of the time to make a mess.  And she gets to stay up late on friday nights and watch big kid shows, but only if her room is clean.  Everywhere else is actually worse- I keep starting projects and having to abandon them partway through to go pick someone up or make lunch or some such nonsense.  It’s getting scary around here- which I can get away with for a little bit, as halloween is coming…

2. Fly lady?  The first week, I checked my home routines and tried to get to everything – mostly, I just added another layer of guilt.  “Today is monday, so I am supposed to be getting the family room and kid’s laundry done.  When?  How?  And what about yesterday’s cook ahead plan? ugh.” 

3. I did finish a couple of blankets  – but mostly because it’s cold all of a sudden and I refuse to turn the heat on yet.

4. I haven’t even been out in the yard lately, nevermind trying to do yard work.  The kids keep bringing up random veggies that they find in the garden – which has grown over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, up their hill, through their fence and now back into our yard.  It’s like the circle of life.  Mutant pumpkin life.

5. I cleaned the office enough to get my sewing machine out.  And I sewed a project for the girl scouts.  Nothing else has been done on that front. 

I am sure that eventually I will get caught up and make some headway on my list.  We’re hosting a bunch of things this fall, and I would like to have the house in good shape by then.  Until then, you can find me on the sofa, under my new blanket, giggling at “Pennny…pennny…penny…” and ignoring the mess on the floor🙂