Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday morning fun, plus a recipe.

“That smells good,” Brian said, inhaling the aroma of freshly ground coffee as he passed me in the kitchen.

“I just farted,” I quipped.

He laughed. “Honey, I think that’s the first joke you ever made!”

Hmm. Note to self: lighten up.

In other news, check out this incredibly addictive and ridiculously easy saltine toffee recipe at The Cozy Nook. One weekend I made this for Brian to take to work on Monday. The toffee came together nicely and tasted delicious. Only problem was, there wasn’t any left come Monday morning.

Make it yourself this weekend. It’s better than good!

Have a great one!


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oh yeah! This was funny.

Way back in November, my family came for Thanksgiving.

(Yes, I am cleaning pictures off my hard drive again.)

Anyway, the entire weekend was a smashing success. The meal, the memories, the moments...

And I had a thought. Since my mom was there to man the camera, I could finally get a "family picture" of Brian, me and Bo. Of course, these things never happen on their own - you've got to corral and cajole people into your photo. And since my husband and brothers and dad were in the middle of Band of Brothers, it took all my corralling and cajoling powers to pull Brian away for the picture.

"Come on, babe," I pleaded. "Let's take our family Christmas picture." My mom stood by, waiting patiently.

"We're in the middle of a movie," he moaned.

"You can pause it. This is the last evening to do this. I really want to get a Christmas picture in front of the fireplace."

"Aww," he whined. "I'm not dressed up."

"You don't have to be. You look fine. Come on."

"Do we have to do it now?"

"Yes. It will take a second. Let's go."

"Hmmph." He got up from the couch and sauntered downstairs to the fireplace.

"Finally," I said. "Thanks."

So we posed, putting Bo on a stool in front of us in front of the fireplace, and we grinned our best Christmas grins. And my mom got to clicking away and, as this sometimes happens when you're using an unfamiliar camera, she was having trouble with the focus. "These are all blurry," she said. "Maybe it's the lighting." She switched a lamp off and turned on the overhead lights. "Hmm, still not great."

Brian's grumbling resumed. "Just hold the camera still," he said.

"Well, I'm trying." She took another. "I'm not sure if they're any good. Oh, Bo looked weird in that one. Let me take another."

"Hold the button down halfway until you see the orange light and then click," I said.

"Let's try this again." She took a few more.

"I'm hot," said Brian. "This fireplace is hot."

"Brian," said my mom, "you're killing me."

"Hang on, babe," said I, impatient. "Just a few more."

"Let me see the ones you have so far," Brian demanded. He clicked through the pictures. "They're fine!" he declared. "I'm going back upstairs." He stomped off.

I scowled at him. "Thanks, honey."

"I think I got some decent ones," said my mom. "But you might want just a couple more. Here, Joel, you take the camera, and I'll step in for Brian."

She made a face. "Why do I have to take a dumb holiday picture?" she grumbled in a low "Brian" voice. Click.

"This isn't any fun, I don't understand why this is so important, grumble, grumble, grumble." Click.

"Do we have to take this picture now?" Click!

"There," she said, laughing. "You can send those pictures out to your friends and family if the ones with Brian don't turn out."

I love my mom. She cracks me up.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blog Spotlight: Bake or Break

(Disclaimer: No one asked me to talk about these blog! If something is in the Blog Spotlight, it's because I love it to pieces, forever and ever, amen and amen.)

Most of my favorite blogs are food blogs, and when I grow up, I want to have one.

I just don't know how they get such great pictures of food. In my experience, no matter how delicious my meal looks, my photos will make it look greasy, gray, or and generally cafeteria-sourced.

Anyway, the following is my favorite food blog ever. So far.

Bake or Break: Adventures of an Amateur Baker

This girl churns out the most amazing stuff. And the greatest thing about it is: there are recipes. Which is, of course, nothing unusual for a food blog, except to me, browsing through this website doesn't feel like looking at a blog. It feels like pressing my nose up against a bakery window and wondering how in the world they make things that look so delicious. And therein lies the charm: it's a bakery window with recipes for every dessert.

Would you take a look at some of these? (All photos are from Bake or Break.)

I have made so many, many things from this blog, and NONE of them have disappointed. Three of our favorites are Dark Chocolate Chunk and Dried Cherry Oatmeal Cookies (Brian's ultimate favorite cookie), Pecan Pie Cheesecake, and - yes, this is a for-real dessert - Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars. Whenever I've got something coming up, a special occasion or a dinner party, I browse through and pick something.

And thus, I am a hero to all those who know and love me.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Plaguing question. Please answer, ASAP.

I don't know if anyone can explain this to me:

Why is it that my husband - who has traversed the desolate terrain of the Alaskan wilderness with nothing but a gun and dehydrated food and a sleeping bag to hunt some of the world's fiercest game, who has been med-evac'd from said wilderness with blood pouring from his face and consciousness waning, and who has defeated blindness-induced depression and loneliness by calling mightily upon the power of God - is taken so completely

when he comes down with a cold?

For the past several weeks, we've both discovered allergies due to the massive pollen this year. I've never gone through so much Kleenex in my life. We've hacked and coughed and sneezed and whined through it together, but I've got to be honest and tell you that I really had it worse. Seriously.

But of course, life goes on! The dinner won't cook itself. The dishes won't spin and dance and rinse themselves and file neatly away into the cabinets! So allergies, congestion, mucus be darned. Drink some water and keep on moving!

And one night, when I dared to lament that we were out of Ny-Quil, Brian shook his head and said lightly, callously, "Ny-Quil only lasts an hour or two. You don't need that stuff. Just use this nasal spray and you'll be fine." So although the nasal spray has kind of an energizing effect, I inhaled it and took a few Tylenol PM and managed. And I did that every night until I started feeling better.

(Here is where my herb- and tincture-pumping mom will look disgustedly at her computer screen and scoff at the poison I used to attack my immune system. Yes, Ny-Quil is not for allergies. I know. But whatever I had, it felt like a cold. So did it matter? And isn't sleep good for the body? Hmm?)

So anyway, I tell you this story to illustrate how sad it was when, a week later, Brian started likewise sniffling, hacking, and whining. But this, my friends, was power-whining, trumpeting-elephant whining, whining to beat the band, to summon leagues of angels for his rescue!

"I hate you a little bit for giving this to me. Yes, you gave it to me."

Hack. Hauck. Hawwwwwk.

"Ohhhhh, auuuuungh." Hawwwwwwwk.

"No, I don't want juice. I don't want water. I want to feel betttttttttttter. Ohhhhhhhhhhh." Hawwwwwwk. Spit. Spit.

"You don't know what I'm going through." Spit. Spit. Hawwwwwwwk.

And imagine my astonishment when, as he was getting ready for bed, he called me from the bathroom. "Maegan," he demanded groggily, "where's the Ny-Quil?" Hawwwwwwwk.

"Babe, we're out! We've been out for a long time!"

"WHAT?! Out of Ny-Quil? How can we BE OUT OF NY-QUIL?! Ohhh-ho-hoooohhhhh!"

"Honey, calm down! You just told me last week that it doesn't even work for you all night!"

"This is worse than what you had. I need Ny-Quil."

So what, you may ask, did the Wonder Wife do that evening for her sick and sorry husband? Why, run to the store, of course, for this Ny-Quil. And in her wisdom, she also bought something new and powerful and altogether wonderful: Zicam. Which worked, praise Heaven! and a few days later, Brian was no worse for the wear.

So the story ended happily, everything considered, except now I am plagued by this constant question: what the heck is it about a cold?


Monday, April 26, 2010


I love reading. I absolutely love it.

Growing up, I read constantly. And I give my mom all the credit for this, since she read to us (I suspect) in utero and until we could read ourselves. And she diligently took us to the library and let us get as many books as we wanted. I’d leave with an armload, slightly embarrassed, and begin devouring them as soon as I got into the car. I hated that our local library was so close. We'd pull into the driveway within five minutes - not even enough time to finish a chapter. But as soon as I could, I’d race upstairs and begin ignoring all responsibilities.

It always astonishes me that words on a page can evoke so much emotion. Many books have made me cry, but the one I remember most clearly is A Time for Dancing by Davida Wills Hurwin. I read this some time in the eighth grade. At bedtime, I asked my parents if I could read for a little bit longer and I think they forgot about me. I stayed up past four finishing it. It’s about two best friends, one blond and one with dark hair, who take ballet together. The dark-haired friend gets cancer. Of course, I became the blond friend and Kathleen was the graceful one who got the cancer. I sobbed and sobbed, and then I read it again, and sobbed some more.

I can only remember one book that made me jump, like a scene from a thriller. It was 1984 by George Orwell. I won’t give away the scene, but when a voice reveals itself to the two lovers, I was so surprised that I dropped the book. That, my friends, is incredible writing.

One of my most recent favorites – and I suppose this is rather dull, considering nearly everyone in the world has read this – is Watership Down. At twelve, I borrowed it from my Grandma’s house one evening and after ten or fifteen pages thought it was horribly boring. Recently, I picked it back up and raced through it like a bat out of hell. The action is so fast-paced and gripping and the characters are so real, and there's nothing I can say about it that hasn't been said a thousand times. When I demanded that my sister read it, Erin looked at the cover and said, “Bunnies?!” Yeah, that was my first thought, too.

After our wedding, I fell out of reading. Well, I should probably say that I fell out of the kind of reading that makes you race through books and stay up late and forget about chores. I read marriage books and self help books. I got out my highlighter. I memorized. And then I started classes again and I bought textbooks. And when I wasn’t studying, I was hanging out with my new husband. And I didn’t think about reading. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.

And then I finished my classes. And we finished building the new house and we moved in and life became quieter. And I googled my local libraries and I finally made time to go and once again I found myself checking out with an armload of books, slightly embarrassed. And I got in the car and didn’t start the engine right away. Instead, I read. And after forty-five minutes, I finally drove home. A couple nights later, when I couldn’t sleep, I sneaked into the bathroom and read for hours, sitting cross-legged on a folded towel and using my cell phone to illuminate the pages so that the bright bathroom lights wouldn't wake Brian.

It was wonderful.

And since then, more or less, I've kept it up, sometimes forcing myself through a book of history or a classic that I feel I should read but have no interest in. (Sister Carrie, anyone? Ugh.) Sometimes I neglect the library because I’m focusing on gardening books or holiday shopping. But then, suddenly, I will crave a book deeply, and I’ll drop everything and go.

A couple weekends ago, my basic chores were done and I decided to ignore my list. I spent Saturday and Sunday reading book after book after book. (Full disclosure: I was reading the Mitford series by Jan Karon, and those books are the literary equivalent of cheddar-flavored kettle-cooked potato chips.) I felt so indulgent, as though I were eating entire desserts at one sitting, a chocolate cake and then a pie and then a caramel flan.

Right now I’m reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. I love it, and if I had to compare it I'd pick To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s exactly the type of book I love to read. Really, my tastes are pretty varied but I generally steer clear of chick-lit or romances unless they are really, really gripping. It's usually because I almost always hate the typical heroine: you know, someone with an “unbreakable spirit” or a “spark in her eye," always oblivious to the fact that all the men think she’s gorgeous. Also, to my dismay, I’m not great with non-fiction. I don’t devour biographies and histories like I’d like to but every now and then I’ll try to muscle one down.

I am almost embarrassed to explain that I love bestsellers and classics the most, but isn’t there a reason why they’ve gotten into that category?

And so I realize this is long, sort of a kid’s report: "Why I Love Reading", etc., but I just want to stress that if you are reading anything good, anything at all, I want to know. And that if I'm reading something good, I'll mention it.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Want to eat.... something other than limes and molasses...

I had a cute blog post idea today. I'll have to post it later, though. Because I am on Day 3 - yes, only Day 3 - of this cleanse, and I am

HUNNNGRY. (Imagine that in the whiniest voice possible.)

And do you know what I have done for the past thirty minutes?

Browsed food blogs.

Fifty, to be precise.

Here is a list of fifty "mommy food blogs", which are actually perfect for us because while Brian enjoys food in great amounts, and is not very picky, per se, he steers clear of all things spicy, onion-y, braised, gingered, international, and pureed. If I should I serve Couscous- and Arugula-Stuffed Acorn Squash, you'd get a whole new meaning for the word DISDAIN!

This is why you'll see so many recipes featuring bread, ham, and cheese. Mild, kid-approved choices, for the win! (Or as Brian corrected me, MAN FOOD.)

And, oh. Oh.

Peanut Butter Pound Cake S'mores Panini with Chocolate Sauce?

Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits?

Apple Oatmeal Cookies?

Linguine with Red Clam Sauce?

And Sunday Casserole with Sausage and Roasted Vegetables?

Why do I ever cook the same dish twice, when there are so many other ones to TRY?



P.S. I'm hungry.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

5 AM: Starting in on a gallon of water and some bentonite clay.

Beau is at his most playful in the mornings. Right now I am sitting at the computer, half awake, mechanically wrestling his toy from him with one hand and throwing it as far as I can, to get a few moments of peace before he's back again, punching me in the side with his giant stuffed hamburger.

I started a detox cleanse yesterday - you know, the one with nothing but filtered water, fresh lemon juice, and maple syrup. Every morning you're instructed to drink a liter of salt water to "flush you out". And it WILL flush you out, believe me, even if it takes 32 hours to do it; that is, it'll work only if you can get the whole thing down without tossing it back into the sink. So again, there's no food allowed (though Stanley Burroughs graciously grants you as much "lemonade" as you want), but I tell you what: the worst thing about it is no coffee.

I cheated, I think, by having a cup of green tea, but what can you do when you're so addicted to caffeine you might as well check into rehab? I figure tea has about half the caffeine, so I'll gradually wean myself off of it throughout the next eight days or so. Thus, be ye prepared for some venting! complaining! moaning! and all-around just general pissiness, if you'll pardon my French.

My theory is that the "toxins" I am flushing out of my body include foul temper, angry scowl, road rage, husband rage, and lack of patience. Because they are all flowing free right about now! :) It's a good thing no one's home.

Anyway, there's no way I can quit. Yesterday, amid my groaning and bemoaning and lamenting the nine days ahead of me, Brian said, "Honey, I'll be impressed if you make it to Day 3."

"Shut your piehole!" I demanded. "I'm doing the whole thing!"

Realizing I'd bitten his head off, I removed it from my mouth and reattached it to his neck.

What can I say? I was hungry.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Please pray.

My prayers are with Kathleen and her husband Caleb - their story and updates are posted at Cale's Recovery. She received a discouraging prognosis of his recovery yesterday. I can't even imagine.

We all know, we've learned, we've seen that God uses these situations to glorify His name, but when it all comes down to it... who wants to be the one to endure? Who would ever ask for such a painful experience? God chose them to reveal his glory. Kathleen didn't choose it, but she is trusting Him anyway.

My heart goes out to Kathleen while I berate myself for being so ungrateful in my tiny trials. I believe the Lord is going to show his power to her and Caleb in amazing ways - ways that I, who have had an easy road, won't ever understand. But I can certainly pray, with fervency and thanksgiving. And I will.

Please, today, please pray that God will do a miracle. There is nothing too hard for God.


Friday, April 16, 2010


"Your blog post yesterday looked like an ad," said my mom. "And it sounded like an ad."

"Well, it wasn't," I said. "I use that stuff all the time. That's my thing, you know. I figure if I like to use something, I'll write about it."


"Plus, I was way out of ideas for a blog post."

"You should have called me," she replied excitedly. "I get lots of ideas for blogs." She paused, then added cheerily, "And had I ever become a blogger, I would be a true proficient!"

"Hey, if you've got an idea, I'll take it," I said wearily.

"Hmm," she said again. "You should write about marriage. I could have some good quotes for you."

I SHOULD write about marriage. MY blog is called 'The Wonder WIFE'. Not 'The Wonder HOUSEKEEPER'.

Anyway, no ads for you all today. But no profundities about marriage, either. I was tired yesterday evening. I walked around the neighborhood in the afternoon heat for what felt like hours, delivering homeowner's association newsletters to residents and hissing at Bo to stop pulling on the leash. I'd been juggling his leash and collar remote in one hand and my big bag full of papers in another, all the while folding newsletters and carrying a tied-up bag of poop that Bo had deposited onto a neighbor's manicured brick landscaping after romping through the forest. Once home, I'd watched the appliance repair man determine that the problem with the leaky dishwasher was not, in fact, with the $25 gasket piece but with a dent in the door that would no doubt cost hundreds of dollars to replace. Then I watched him leave the leaking dishwasher again, with the promise of a later repair, and I wearily handwashed Dirty Dish Mountain.

A shower and a few chapters of a book and some nasal spray and some sleeping aid, and I was out like three baseball strikes. These, by the way, are days that I thank God we are waiting for kids. No one woke me up last night, not a soul, and I slept so deeply that I don't even remember my dreams. Okay, yes, you can call me a lightweight. My day, compared to most of yours, was a vacation. That's okay.

But I'm trying! I wasn't very good about posting on this blog in 2009. In fact, I've already soared beyond the number of posts I had last year, and it's only April. And I don't want frequent posting to be just a phase. So. Trying.

Anyway, whenever I need a blog idea, I go through the cache of photos I've got stored on my hard drive. These are usually things I meant to blog about but never got around to doing it. That's why you see posts about Spring '09 in February '10. Thought you might want to know.

Or, to get an idea, I'll go through the list of "draft" posts I've got stored in Blogger. These are things I started to write and then wondered why in the world anybody would want to read them. (Which begs the question: why would anybody want to read them now, when they're boring AND out-of-date?)


Easy: so I can post nonsense like this. And pictures like this:

Ladies and gentlemen, my Tumor Bread.

Thanks for bravely forging into my tangled mass of thoughts. You've come through to the other side victoriously, and for that, I say: Happy Friday!


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wonder Wife Power Tool: Bar Keepers Friend

I love my kitchen sink. I just love it. When we lived in the apartment, one of the things I hated most was the shallow double sink. Nothing fit inside it. Big cookie sheets were such a pain to clean that I often washed them in the bathtub. Soaking casserole dishes had to sit on the countertop. And since the garbage disposal sat at the bottom of only ONE of the two sinks, any food scraps that fell into the wrong side had to be scooped out with my fingers over the divide.

Yuck. I hated that sink.

And I swore to myself that I would NOT live with a sink like that any longer than I possibly had to.

And then we started building our house. And I searched high and low for the biggest, deepest, stainless steel sink I could find.

And I found it!

It was perfect. In fact, it's so deep that I can throw a mountain of dishes in and conceal them immediately!

The only problem with this is that I forget they're there throughout the day. And that's how this happens:

But don't worry about me. I can wash those up.

Anyway, since I love my sink so very, very much, I try to scrub it out at least a couple times a year week. And I've found that the best thing for this is Bar Keepers Friend. It's an abrasive cleaner with a soaping agent and it works wonders. It easily cleans residue off my sink and gets rid of water spots.

And I use it for other things, too. We've got some steel knives that are absolutely wonderful but tend to rust and discolor fairly quickly. No problem! Bar Keepers Friend. Our stainless steel pots and pans lose any baked-on mess in a FLASH if I scrub them with this stuff. Of course, you wouldn't use it on something that you'd want to polish, because it's abrasive. But for those messes that you want to blast away, this stuff is your friend.

Even if you're not a barkeeper.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Biscuits. There is no more to say.

(Image courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens.)

I don't mean to tread on any toes here, but Better Homes and Gardens is not really my thing. As a spry young newlywed, I got a great deal on a three-year subscription and figured - how could I not love a magazine that will inspire me! Homes? Gardens? That's totally my thing, man! Sign me the heck up!

Well, gotta say - that magazine is not my thing. I mean, it should be my thing, you'd think, but every issue is like walking through a neighborhood that is hands-down better than yours. The women have better hobbies. They make better use of their time than you do and therefore have all these neat crafts decorating their tables. They host way better parties and they have much better decorating savvy than you. Their gardens look waaaaaaay better than anything you'll ever do in your yard. I mean, think about it! The name of the magazine says it all! It might as well be titled, Woman, Thou Art Inferior to These Other Women.

So I always put down every issue feeling guilty. I should be better, I think, so I, too, can have a better home and garden.

Ugh. Yuck. I hate feeling guilty. I deal with enough guilt, both deserved and unfounded. I don't need a three-year guilt subscription on top of that.

And to top it off, their recipes are weird! They're always trying to combine sweet things with savory food and it never looks appealing to me. Cinnamon Roasted Chicken with Pumpkin Sage Grits? Strawberry-Jalapeno Barbecue Ribs? Bread Pudding Quiche with Berries and Bacon? If any of those sound good to you, go right ahead and cook 'em. But I almost never tear a recipe out of that magazine.

Except this one. Classic Buttermilk Biscuits, baby.

When all's said and done, if this recipe is the only thing I ever get out of my three-year Better Homes and Gardens magazine subscription, it will be worth it. I modified the recipe method just slightly, and also tried freezing the biscuits for later. It worked! Thus, I will share it with you, my wonderful readers.

I'm going to use a food processor for this. It makes the job faster and easier, but you can mix by hand if you like. I'll allow it.

So, let's begin! In the bowl of the food processor, toss in 5 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder. (The original recipe calls for homemade baking powder. This is so dumb I will only dignify it with a nasty scowl. It's on my face right now.)

Whir it all together.

Now grab 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons COLD butter. Frozen or nearly so is okay.

Cut it into rough cubes.

Take roughly half the butter and throw it into the food processor.

Process the crap out of it! You want that butter to be decimated. TINY.

Now take the other half of the butter...

And, using short, choppy pulses, cut the butter into the flour until it's in pea-size pieces. These larger chunks will make the dough flaky, while the tiny pieces make it moist.

Grab two cups of buttermilk. If you don't have buttermilk, pour three or four tablespoons of white vinegar into your measuring cup and fill the rest up with milk. Let sit for a few minutes and you'll have a perfectly fine substitute for buttermilk. That's what I almost ALWAYS use.

(Um, do you like my early-nineties boom box? We're in serious need of a technology upgrade over here. Anyway, I was listening to a crime thriller book on CD, which always makes the cooking process extremely enjoyable.)

Dump it into the flour mixture and use short pulses until the dough comes together, as shown below.

See how sticky it is? If it's dry, add a few more tablespoons.

Below, I've squished it into a cohesive mound so that it will be easier to roll it out. To the right, you'll see that I've heavily floured a board to roll it.

Now, you'll notice a lack of a few pictures. My hands were verrrrry sticky, so I just didn't want to ruin the camera. But basically, dump out the dough onto a well-floured board. Flip it over a time or two to get flour on all sides. Use a rolling pin - and extra flour if you need it - to roll the dough out about 3/4" thick.

Now you'll need a biscuit cutter. I don't have one, so I'm using a clean, empty tin can from something I cooked recently.

A biscuit cutter would really be better. Sharper sides, you know, so the dough doesn't get squished too badly. But, oh, this worked just fine.

Now, cut away! Cut the biscuits as closely together as you can. Put them onto a cooking sheet. Any extra dough that you have left over, roll it together again and cut out more biscuits. Try not to do this too many times, because the dough gets tougher the more you work with it.

It's okay if they don't look perfect.

Anyway, if you want to bake them now, go ahead! The recipe calls for 8-12 minutes at 500 F. BUT if you want to freeze them for convenient use later, just pop them - like this - into the freezer.

When they're completely frozen solid, which'll take a few hours or so, use a spatula to pop them off the sheet into a Ziploc. When you want to cook them, take them straight out of the freezer and bake at 500 F. You'll probably have to cook them a little longer than 8-12 minutes, so just keep an eye on them.

When they come out of the oven, brush with melted butter and serve hot. These are so, so good. Flaky and buttery-rich. Not crumbly, but not dense, either - they're perfect. By the way, I forgot to photograph my finished (baked) product. But honestly, they looked like the picture. So if you, too, want picture-perfect biscuits, glean from my guilt-trip through Better Homes and Gardens.

Classic Buttermilk Biscuits
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. butter, chilled
  • 2 cups chilled buttermilk
  • 3 Tbsp. butter, melted

1. Heat oven to 500°F. In large bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Using your fingertips or a food processor, work the butter into the flour until half is well-blended and the other half remains in large, pea-sized pieces. With a food processor, you will want to make this two separate steps.

2. Make a well in center of flour mixture. Add buttermilk all at once. If mixing by hand, use a large spoon to stir mixture quickly, just until it is blended and begins to mass and form a sticky dough. (If dough appears dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons additional buttermilk.) If using a food processor, pulse until just together. Don't over-pulse.

3. Immediately turn dough onto generously floured surface. Using floured hands, work the dough until a cohesive ball of dough forms. Gently flatten dough with hands to even thickness. Using floured rolling pin, lightly roll dough to a 3/4-inch thickness.

4. Using a dinner fork dipped in flour, pierce dough completely through at 1/2-inch intervals. Flour a 2 1/2- or 3-inch biscuit cutter. Stamp out rounds and arrange on heavy baking sheet. Add dough pieces, as-is, to baking sheet.

5. Place on rack in upper third of oven. Bake 8 to 12 minutes until crusty and golden brown. Remove. Brush with melted butter. Serve hot.

(If freezing, freeze uncovered on a cooking sheet. When solid, store in a Ziploc bag. To bake, preheat oven to 500F and bake straight from the freezer, about 15 to 20 minutes (keep an eye on them and don't overbake!). Brush with melted butter and serve.)


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wonder Wife Tip of the Day: How to (possibly) get your butt in gear and clean. POSSIBLY.

Okay, this really isn't a tip as much as a confession.

But there is nothing like the pressure of knowing someone is on their way over to my house for me to get my house in tip-top shape.

Whether it means that the appliance repair man is coming to fix the dishwasher or that Brian's on his way home for his birthday dinner, someone's going to see my house. And thus, my superhero side takes over.

You ought to see me when someone's coming over! I move. I move like a champion. I hone in on clutter and ruthlessly destroy it. I put away clothes, wipe off counters, and sweep so hastily you'd think I was outrunning a cloud of desert beetles trying to invade my soul. Laundry becomes a flock of geese and flies into the washing machine. Smudges disappear from my appliances like ghosts.

And the most incredible thing of all is that my vision - my literal eyesight - actually gets better. I spot dust bunnies underneath couches and ash clumps on the hearth that I'd been blind to only minutes before I found out someone was coming over. I suddenly notice thin films of dust on surfaces I'd thought pristine. Miraculously, when I find out someone's coming over, I find the 'Linda' inside of me. Yes. My mother also has keen dust-vision.

So, anyway. I figured this out. And who knows how long this new phase will last me, but I've found a way to harness this power even when there's no one coming over.

I pretend.

When I feel moody, or blue, or listless, and I look around and feel frustrated by a cluttered house, I set the timer. "There's someone coming over in fifteen minutes!" I tell myself out loud. If I have time for thirty or forty-five minutes, all the better. "Clean, Maegan, clean!" And I will myself to look at my house with that splendid superhero eyesight. How would I want my house to look if someone walked through the door right now?

And you know what? It works. And when the timer goes off, I say, "They're here!" and I stop cleaning. And I sit down and feel better.

And I pour two cups of tea, one for me and one for my invisible guest. And we chat.

Okay, not really, on that last part. I might stay home, alone, all day, but I'm not crazy.

Well, not yet.


Monday, April 12, 2010

The sweet spot.

One particularly good reason to get married is presents.

This one, from Kelly and David, absolutely rocks.

Even Bo likes it.
Only problem is, we don't use it but two months out of the year.

Here in Raleigh, May through October signals mosquitoes, biting flies, and heat so intense Brian literally will not let me turn on the oven. So we don't use this deck during these months. Ever. And we do not touch each other. We spend our evenings three or four feet apart, with a fan for each person, icy drinks close by, and the AC unit performing something like a miracle.

We watch a lot of movies in the summer.

And November through February, the chill in the air calls for FIRE! And so we spend our evenings curled up in front of the fireplace, talking about how great life is.

And all this time, the hammock is lovingly folded beneath the bed, waiting for an invitation to come out and delight us.

Then aah! comes March and April, with their mild days, gentle breezes, and cool nights. And the hammock again sees the light! And we string it up and watch for the leaves to unfurl and spring to come.

For these four weeks, we ditch the house and enjoy the heck out of this hammock. We soak up the sun on warm days and cuddle in it under a blanket when night comes. We look up at the stars and talk about how great life is. And we hope out loud to each other that - maybe - we might be able to keep it up through May.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Chicken Marinara, Version 11895

Take note: this is NOT a low-fat meal. Nor is it low in calories. Nor is it particularly high in nutrition. But.... oh, it's good. One of my favorite meals, in fact. Because - and I might have already mentioned this - it's good.

And easy.

Without further ado, let's begin. (By the way, I made this to feed two people. But the method would work if you wanted to double it or triple it or - whatever. It's the process, people, that matters. The process.)

Start with some cheap grated Parmesan-in-a-can.

Toss a couple of heaping tablespoons into a shallow dish. See below? I probably threw in two and a half of those.

Next, add a heaping tablespoon of flour. (So, about one-third the amount of flour as grated Parmesan.)

Add a healthy pinch of salt...

...and some freshly ground black pepper. You can add more seasonings at this point, if you like, but their flavors will probably be obscured by the sauce.

Whisk it together, and if you happen to have a tiny and adorable whisk like mine, consider yourself lucky indeed.

Set that aside. Now, chop up some mushrooms thinly. I always chop what looks like TWICE as much as I need, because they shrink. (This, below, is six mushrooms.)

(If you don't like mushrooms, you can leave them out. But I must ask... what's wrong with you?)

Now heat a tablespoon of butter in a pan for about two minutes, or until it's turning brown. You want your pan over high heat, because you want to sear these babies.

Throw in those mushrooms and get them in as even of a layer as you can. Let them sit, undisturbed, for at least two minutes, before you stir them.

After two minutes, flip them over and let them sit about two minutes more.

See? They shrink. Anyway, they'll probably need about six minutes total.

Now, let's turn to the sauce. You want plain old spaghetti sauce for this recipe, but make sure it's not runny. I usually make a huge batch of sauce and freeze it in two-cup portions. So this is about two cups. However, when I thaw it, it usually tends to be pretty watery. So I simmer it on the back of the stove for a while to thicken it up.

However you do it, you want the sauce to be hot when you put it on the chicken later on. Nothing's worse than warm, juicy chicken topped with golden, bubbly cheese and cold sauce. Yuck. Don't let it happen.

While those mushrooms are cookin' away, grab two chicken breasts...

...and cut off any fat and cartilage with a sharp knife.

You COULD use them this way, but don't. We're going to flatten these puppies.

Why? Well, for three reasons. The first is that by flattening them, there's more surface area for the breading, sauce, mushrooms, and cheese to sit on. The second is that the chicken breasts will cook more evenly since they'll be the same thickness throughout. And the third is that this process makes them more tender and less likely to taste dry.

So cover with two layers of plastic wrap (you don't want to break one and get raw chicken juice on your tools), and grab something heavy. A jar of pasta sauce, a big can of tomatoes, a meat mallet... those will all work. But my favorite tool for the job...

Is Brian's hammer!

Edited to add: Brian thought this was gross. He was all, "You didn't wash that hammer?" and I was all, "Two pieces of plastic wrap!" And then he made a face.

Now, with what I can only describe as "gentle firmness," pound the chicken breasts evenly until they are the same thickness throughout. Don't obliterate them! You can keep checking with your palm, through the plastic wrap, to see if they are flattened evenly. If you feel the one spot is thicker than another area, just pound it out a little more.

See below? The job is done. It doesn't take very long. Now, excuse me while I run the hammer back to Brian's tool shelf.

Okay, I'm back. And - aww. This makes me miss Michigan.

Anyway, at this point, your mushrooms are probably done. Scrape them out onto a plate for a while and keep your pan over low heat.

Dredge the chicken in the flour/cheese mixture. Use your other hand to press the breading onto the chicken. (If there's a little bit of leftover breading, I sprinkle it onto the chicken once it's in the pan. It usually sticks during the cooking process.)

Now in the same pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter. (This, below, is a little too much oil. But no biggie.)

Crank the pan to medium heat and let it heat up for a couple minutes.

And WHOA! I completely forgot to take pictures of the chicken, cooking in the pan! Forgive me. And trust me when I tell you - cook it for four minutes per side. So eight minutes total, only flipping once.

Meanwhile, preheat your broiler on high.

While the chicken is cooking, stir the mushrooms into the sauce. See how thick the sauce is?

When your chicken has cooked in the pan for eight minutes total, four on each side (again, sorry), place them in an ungreased baking dish. (If I were making this for a crowd - which, I might not, considering that there are easier dishes to make for a crowd, but anyway - I would cook the chicken in batches, keeping the cooked chicken on a warm plate, covered with foil, while the rest of it was in the pan.)

Pile the sauce and mushrooms on top. Please, don't scrimp.

Cover with a handful of shredded mozzarella and throw it under the broiler for a few minutes to let the cheese get bubbly and brown.

(For my broiler, this is three minutes. But every broiler is different! DON'T let it burn!)

When it's done, garnish with a sprig of oregano, serve with a green salad, and call it a meal!

Now, if I had a bunch of hungry little mouths to feed, I would serve this over pasta. I would make extra sauce and toss it with the noodles and some extra cheese and serve it with the chicken. But that's entirely up to you. And either way, I think it would be delectable.

Chicken Marinara for Two (can be multiplied)
  • Approx. 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (in a can!)
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Approx. 1.5 cups of thick pasta sauce
  • About 2 cups sliced mushrooms (approx. 6)
  • 2 handfuls of shredded cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Mix together the breading ingredients and preheat your sauce, either in the microwave or on the stove.
2. Cook the mushrooms over high heat in one tablespoon of butter (add more oil if it seems too dry). Let them cook about six minutes total, stirring every two minutes. When finished, scoop them onto a separate dish and leave the pan on low heat.
3. Meanwhile, flatten chicken by covering with two sheets of plastic wrap and firmly - but gently - pounding with a heavy object until the chicken breasts are the same thickness throughout.
4. Dredge the chicken in the breading.
5. In the same pan, add a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Increase heat to medium and let it heat fully - about two minutes - before carefully placing the chicken in the pan.
6. Cook for four minutes on each side, eight minutes total.
7. Meanwhile, preheat your broiler to HIGH.
8. Mix the mushrooms into the heated sauce.
9. When the chicken is finished, place it in an oven proof dish. If your pan is broiler-proof, you can use that (just turn off the heat a minute early so the residual heat doesn't overcook the chicken).
10. Top each chicken breast with a handful of cheese.
11. Broil for about three minutes until the cheese is melted and brown.

Serve alone, or, if you desire, over pasta with extra sauce. Eat and be merry.

Happy Friday!