Friday, August 26, 2011

It's a GIRL!!!

I guess I can't proclaim myself an expert on raising girls since I only have the one, but I was one myself, so I think I can take a little from that experience and the fact that I came out alive on this end of 18 and say that I'm at least semi-pro. My first-born and only female child has been on the other side of the country (might have just as well been the universe) for almost 13 years, so when she and my 10 year old grandson moved back to Oregon in September, I was tickled pink. And they are living IN OUR HOUSE....I think that's fitting, at least for now since she has deprived me of her company and my grandson for this long. I will never tire of being a gramma and wish that I had more than one to spoil, side with against his mom, and teach him bad words (it was an ACCIDENT).

We have similarities, she and I; I don't think either one of us leaps into friendship easily, probably in part because of a couple hard hits in childhood, but when someone does crack our hard candy shell, you can pretty much be sure that they'll be front and center at our funeral, crying and laughing harder than anyone else in the room. We have the same snarky sense of humor, and we are both extremely common-sensical - we both like things the way we like them, and God help anyone who gets in the way of that.

On the other hand, my lovely daughter has FAR more patience that I ever did or will have with her child, she is FAR more independent and fearless than me (Holy hand-grenades, Batman - she joined the ARMY), and I think she has a much more creative soul than I do. Sure I like to cook, but because of a LOT of food experience/exposure, I think I know what will work and what won't, but it's really stolen from others. I can pull a rabbit out of my hat, with a sweet cherry and Syrah reduction, roasted garlic, fried sage and Asiago mashed Yukon Golds and butter browned julienned Brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts, but most of the time someone else put it in there. I don't think either one of us knows what we want to be when we grow up, but have vague thoughts that it should involve writing, and/or comedy...and for me cooking for sure. I think it's about time the Food Network acquired a stand-up chef with excellent spelling skills.

She has been gone a looooong time - an average once a year visit from one end or the other and 13 years flew by. She was already so grown up (from 6th grade on), but she matured in that time, found love, a new home, new interests, and even became a mother, all without us there. And never seemed to be scared or worried about anything - she is either the greatest actress of all time, or she really IS that independent....and having a partner who leaves for year at a shot over and over pretty much cements that notion. But family is family, and I think she realized just like I did when she left that she was missing out - you can email, call, even visit from time to time all you want, but it ain't the same as BEING THERE. And in my opinion life is too short to throw that away unless you have a REALLY good reason. And what that would be I have NO idea.

It's different having a kid in the house, adding two more bodies to a one-bathroom home, and doubling the female hormone level...tread lightly, you who leave the seat up, your comeuppance has just doubled. I know that we can't always agree, that there will be bickering and petty annoyances for us all from time to time, but it matters not. On the walls of every cubicle I have had in the last 12 years, I have two midnight blue post it notes I laminated and neatly trimmed with Velcro on the back so they'll stick to fabric walls. Written with a metallic pen and covered with stars and hearts, one says "Queen of the Universe", and the other "I *heart* you Mom, Becky". I see them 5 days a week, all day, every day, I remember exactly where I was and what she looked like when she made them, and they are constant reminders of just how much I missed her.

(Author's note: I started this blog before she arrived, and it was here I had to go find Kleenex) When she was in boot camp, she sent home letters detailing her experiences, and I put them in a binder and read them once in while. She was really homesick at first - I didn't expect that, so it was really hard to read about it. One night she was on a bus with a bunch of other prospective girl soldiers, waiting to go off to the next destination, and she wrote that she started to cry when the girl next to her (who she was sure thought she was crazy) started biting her fingernails and spitting them on the seat in front of her just like I do. It was the closest I came to getting on a plane and flying to that base and telling them it was all a mistake, she wasn't supposed to be there and had to come home with me NOW. I still can't read that without having an allergy attack.

I was told early on I could NOT send goodies from home during basic, and to please not send her anything but letters because you had to do push ups even for those, and they were really mean if someone got a package. I think she moved on to her language training before I was allowed to send anything, and the first was a big box of cookies....her favorite included. I think I cut the recipe out of the paper, but never tried them because they seemed kind of "meh", but she did on a whim and they were wonderful - light, slightly crispy, and so delicately flavored with coconut and vanilla - some things are happy accidents (unless they involve Angry Birds and a potty-mouth gramma...)! Maybe you can put these in your Christmas cookie rotation this em snowflakes, and dream of your world being covered in them when you wake up tomorrow....

Becky's Coconut Crisps

1 C. butter, softened (2 cubes)
1 C. sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
2 C. flour
1/2 baking soda
1/2 salt
2 C. flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, beat butter a little, then add 1 C. sugar and beat until fluffy; add egg and extracts and beat until well combined. Add baking soda and salt and mix, then add flour and beat until combined, add coconut and mix well.

Using a cookie scoop or two spoons, drop by heaping tablespoon onto a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet. I always scoffed at recipes that used parchment paper as "foofy", but after using it found that it really does make a difference, and you don't have aluminum flecks on the bottoms from scraping them off the pan if they tend to stick. Just sayin. Sprinkle tops with sugar (you can use big or regular sugar....I kind of like regular for more of a "sandy" result), then use a flat-bottom glass dipped in sugar to slightly flatten each one. Bake at 325 for 12-15 minutes, not allowing them to brown. Remove to rack to cool, makes about 40 cookies.

And just for the record, I don't think these shipped terribly well....I recently read that you should ship cookies in a tin with bubble wrap between each layer and it made me laugh....those cookies were enjoyed just as much in powder form as they would have been intact, which would be true of anyone who missed a taste of home! I think they would also be delicious if you melted some dark chocolate in a Ziploc, then cut off the tip and drizzled the tops, but then I think that about EVERYTHING - except liver.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!

Our mini Oregon summer is drawing to an end, and I never even got a peelable sunburn - while I know that's good for my health, it's disappointing that it never got hot enough to burn the mildew off the gutters and the back of my calves. I swear our AC unit is pouting...and I never once had to get the kiddy pool I bought my grandson out of the shed to cool off. What a gyp!

Summer was so much fun when we were kids - it meant no school, picking berries for enough money to make myself sick for one day on candy from the Rexall Drug, climbing trees, eating fruit in various stages of dead green to ripe enough to fight the yellow jackets for, playing hide and seek with at least 10 neighbor kids well into the dark, and free swimming lessons at the Wilson High School outdoor pools. We went to the library for the max number of books allowed to check out at one time, then back again every 2 weeks for more, rode our bikes endlessly around the neighborhood and to Multnomah Village and back, made forts out of anything we could find, dropped lit firecrackers down manholes and put them in half rotten apples just before throwing them off the neighbors deck.

We went to the beach to play in the surf and roast weenies and marshmallows over a bonfire, experienced hikes at Multnomah Falls, Kings Mountain, Tillamook Head and Saddle Mountain, went camping at Fort Stevens, Honeyman State Park and Barview near Garibaldi, and played ourselves silly doing anything with anyone who didn't have a care in the world. Why would anyone NOT like summer? It's like a spa for kids - instead of a mud bath, you dug a swimming pool in the back yard and tried to fill it after lining it with a big piece of plastic. (OK, that WAS a mud bath), instead of a massage you leg wrestled with your siblings lying in the grass under the cherry tree, and instead of yoga you practiced crossing your legs and walking on your knees and laughed hysterically at each other when you tried (and actually succeeded) to bite your own toenails. The salt scrub was the trip home from the beach with sand in your undies - I never want a real salt scrub.

Like Peter Pan, I don't wanna grow up, but it's too late - summer is full of jobs to do outside when it's dry and warm, events to attend because that is apparently when everyone wants to marry/party/graduate etc, and take the requisite "vacation" that ends up being far more stressful that just hanging out in the tire swing and throwing pine cones at cars from the roof of the shed until someone complained and your mom yelled at you to get down off there. I miss's just not the same anymore.

My hope is that I can live vicariously through my grandson - if it all works out, he will be here very shortly, and will be as close as he can get - I already told all the geezer nay-sayers that me and Ethan are going tent camping whether they go or not, and I will pretend I am 10 when I'm not busy setting up camp and making sure that he doesn't get so dirty potatoes grow in his ears...we're going to have fun, and he will someday look back and miss it too. I can't wait....

And ooooh baby......there is nothing that screams summer like a bowlful of pico de gallo made with fresh-from-the-garden produce....anything you can get at your local farmstand/farmers market makes it that much better. I prefer to put a twist on my pico, and have developed a heavenly concoction comprised of elements from 3 different recipes, which I personally believe is the best thing I have ever scooped a ridiculous amount of on a chip and stuffed in my chubby little face. Altho pure guac runs a close second, the flavors and textures in this just blow me away. So give it a try, and make sure you have plenty of nice salty tortilla chips on hand - it's just not the same on a stale English muffin.


2-4 ears fresh corn on the cob
2-3 ish lbs. of roma tomatoes*
1/2 onion, preferably a sweet, but yellow or red will work too
1 bunch cilantro - use however much you like
3-100 jalapenos (OK, more like 3-6 depending on size/pref. heat)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed*
2-3 limes, depending on size and your taste
Salt & fresh ground black pepper
2-4 ripe avocados

As you can see, amounts are quite's all based on your preferences and tolerance of any/all of the ingredients. So are you ready? Let's GO!

1. Heat grill, brush or spray corn with olive oil/spray and sprinkle with salt, grill over medium high heat until browned/lightly charred on all sizes, let cool. When cool enough to handle, cut corn off the cob using whatever corn-cutting contraption you have, or just a good sharp knife - lay the corn on the cutting surface, and cut kernels off one side, turn a 1/4, then cut another side etc until you've cut it into a square cob. Then gnaw the rest off it and wipe the corn bits off your cheeks before proceeding.
2. Core and dice tomatoes fairly small - nothing should be much bigger than the beans - and put them all in a colander to drain. Let drain as you continue, watery pico is an ABOMINATION.
3. Dice onion small, throw on top of tomatoes.
4. Seed, core and chop jalapenos finely....if you like it HOT, leave some of the seeds, and if you don't want to spend a couple hours screaming and cursing the day I was born after rubbing your eye, picking your nose, or tending to some other delicate skin on your body even AFTER washing with soap and water therefore transferring hellfire hot chili oil there, use a pair of disposable me. Set aside by itself, segregated from the less lethal ingredients.
5. Wash the whole bunch of cilantro (big bowl of cold water, swish it around vigorously and then dry by snapping it like a whip at the nearest mouth breather waiting for you to open the bag of chips), rip off half and chop the main part of the leafy end in a not too big dice. You can add more if you like....just hold up a sec.
6. Cut lime in half, and get ready with whatever you use to squeeze citrus with.
7. Get a large bowl, dump tomatoes and onion, cilantro, drained black beans, corn and a couple big pinches of kosher salt and some grinds of pepper. Put in as much jalapeno as you dare, then squeeze in at least 2 limes and stir to blend. Give it a taste with a chip and see what you think....too wimpy? Add jalapenos. Can't taste the lime? Squeeze in another half. Want to taste more of the soapy deliciousness of cilantro? Chop a bit more and toss it in. Need salt/pepper? Have at it, but not too much. It should taste so good right now you want to make giant tortilla chips out of whole round tortillas and have a mouth-ectomy so you can fit it all in at once. But there's more.....
8. Dice ripe avocados (to prep it, you cut in half around the pit, smack your sharp knife blade across the pit and twist to remove, then scoop the whole half out with a large spoon you usually only use to dish up Lima beans on your kids plate or eat rocky road ice cream right out of the carton at night when no one else is around. Take half a lime and squeeze a little over the cubes, then GENTLY fold all into the bowl of waiting pico.

! You have just created the perfect food to be eaten immediately....tomatoes lose their flavor in the fridge, and the avocado will turn brown and start to break down, giving the whole bowl and unsavory snot-like consistency and's only recommended to eat right then and there. And if you bring to an event, do the avocado when you unwrap the bowl to serve....and you will NEVER have to worry about leftovers. If they run out of chips, they will dip anything they can scoop with in there - celery, hamburger patties, even Aunt Betty's sugar cookies. And knowing Aunt Betty's baking skills, it can only make them better. I'm going to make this when me and E go camping, and maybe that is ALL we'll have for dinner one night....well that and giant roasted marshmallows, that's a deal-breaker for Gramma.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Naughty is Back...

I have spent a lifetime fiddling with other people's recipes, attempting to improve them, perhaps trying to get by because I didn't have buttermilk or eggs or the right kind of sugar - there are as many reasons as there were abject failures. OK, maybe not quite as many.....but the first I recall was my mom's Creamy French Icing. I was just a teenager, and of course knew everything - she put me to work making the icing for someone's birthday cake, then left me alone while she went off to most likely wrap a present in whatever paper-like material she could find because we never seemed to have the real stuff. I thought it was normal to get a present clad in butcher paper, or a grocery bag that had been deconstructed, then artfully taped to try and hide the creases and the "Piggly Wiggly" logo on one side. But I digress....

As I gathered ingredients, my budding gourmet brain took over when I saw the "Dream Whip" box. Oooooh....who doesn't love whipped cream, and wouldn't it be delicious if I could make her icing even more light and fluffy by adding just a skosh? Sure....SOUNDED like a good idea, that is until I began to incorporate the lovely vanilla-scented plaster of paris powder from the envelope into the cream began to take on an odd look and color and promptly lost it's creaminess AND fluff....apparently it was only meant to mix with milk, and was laughing at me through it's iridescent and oddly vomitous texture. I turned the mixer up on high, hoping against hope that it just needed to be beaten FASTER to become delightful, but my hope was dashed when Mom came back, looked in the bowl and said accusingly "What did you DO?". I promptly replied "Nothing!", with the most saintly look I could muster while fervently praying she would not find the Dream Whip packet underneath the other garbage I tried to hide it under and give me 40 lashes with an offset spreader. Our eyes locked, she knew I was lying, I was attempting not to pee my pants, and still breathe.....after a couple seconds, she must have realized that an inquisition and subsequent punishment would mean she wouldn't have time to make a bow for her package out of some scraps of yarn, a couple twist-ties and the plastic ring thingie that holds a 6 pack together, and she said we would have to re-make it. PHEW.

And sometimes, you just can't fiddle with perfection - there are a few that I can't find fault with, that always satisfy my need for perfection and everyone else's need to stuff their face with a truly inspirational masterpiece. Yah, like the Mona Lisa of recipes....lah de freakin dah. The following is just such an offering - I read it in the paper, and thought it sounded good...and it was from a bakery in a place called Sister's that I had never been to....exotic. It's kind of like a cross between a biscuit and a pastry - it's not very sweet even with the icing, but is a nice homey comfort breakfast served warm with a little butter to go with. Not that I would do such a thing...OK, I had to try a little bite with butter tonight, are you happy now?

Marionberry Biscuits

From the Sisters Bakery in Central Oregon - believe it or not, I drove through the town on my first trip to Bend a couple years ago and DID NOT was full of tourists and I wanted to see what Bend was all about! OK, next time I will stop and see what else this wondrous place has to offer....if these are any indicator, Handsome Stranger will need to bring a really big shoe horn to get me back into the car.

2 C. bread flour
2 C. cake flour (OK, I confess....I've used all regular flour and they were fine)
1/2 C. sugar, plus extra for berries
1/8 tsp. salt
2 T. baking powder
4 T. butter, cold
2 eggs
1/4 C. water
1 C. buttermilk
3 C. fresh or frozen marion or blackberries
1 C. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 T. milk

Preheat oven to 350, spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt and baking powder, then cut in butter until crumbly. In a smaller bowl mix eggs, water and buttermilk with a fork until combined, pour into flour mixture and stir with fork just until combined. Turn out on lightly floured board, separate into two equal parts, and roll each part out into approx. a 6x8 rectangle, using flour as needed (the dough will be a little sticky if you don't use enough). Cut each rectangle into 9 to 11 rounds (about 2.5"), re rolling any scraps to get enough. Put half in bottom of the pan, evenly spaced, then put about 1/3 C. berries on each biscuit. Now a decision....if you want it a little sweeter, you can put 1/2 to 1 tsp. additional sugar on top of each berry-covered's up to you. Then put the rest of the biscuits on top of the berries. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool slightly, then mix powdered sugar, vanilla and milk until smooth and spoon over warm biscuits.

One note I thought I should mention - the second time I made this I thought "Hmm....I think I'll make these on a cookie sheet so they don't all grow together and they'll get more browned crispy edges." HA. It's a soft dough, and when you do that, they still all grow together, they just end up a lot flatter with burned berry filling in the few holes in between. The point of cramming them in a smaller pan is that they bake UP, not and learn. And Handsome Stranger loves burnt stuff, and joyfully scraped all of it off the pan and ate it with a smug look on his face. Love a man who eats your mistakes and still swears you're a better cook that his momma.....

ps, if you REALLY want to know, I ended up with 11 of these beauties, and they are 9 points plus each....WITHOUT the butter. They're not really all THAT good.....