Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Cookbook Project - 8/52

This recipe is basically just cheese. Not cheese you make or anything. Cheese sauce. It's taking already-made cheese and turning it into something you can spoon over bread.

In short, it's the perfect winter dinner item.

So it seemed like one of the best times to really showcase Mother Earth Produce.

I've talked about them off and on quite a bit - we get a weekly fruit and vegetable delivery from them. They're based in Western NC but deliver all the way down into Greenville. Just about every Saturday morning, we'll hear our dog start to whine at the window and know that it means Graham is here with the delivery.

He drops off a big blue box, and we bring it in to see what magic awaits us.

They don't just do produce, either - there are lots of local farms and bakeries that you can order different items from.

Cheese is one of those items.

Bread is another.

You see why this seemed like a natural fit.

We picked Happy Cow's 3-year-aged cheddar and Flat Rock Bakery's wonderful sourdough bread to add to this delivery. We volunteered out at the outdoor site that used to be one of my workplaces. It was probably the coldest day we'd had in a long time. We both came home ready to have a really hot dinner. Welsh rarebit was the recipe on hand for the cookbook. It's basically cheese on toast.

I just needed something to pair with it.

Doesn't it seem like tomato soup was definitely the logical choice?

Welsh Rarebit doesn't have an example photo in The Farmers Cookbook, but I suppose it doesn't particularly need one. It's an easy-enough idea, it's just the amounts that have to really be checked. And I figure if literally cheese and bread are going to be two of the three cornerstones of your meal, you should really go all out and get the good stuff.

Hence, adding them to our Mother Earth Produce delivery.

Ingredients - Amounts Omitted
dry mustard
Worcestershire Sauce
sharp cheddar, grated
egg, beaten

So... we had recently gotten rid of our toaster. Basically, the little tray on the bottom that you can pull out to shake crumbs off stopped coming out, and then in a fit of panic one day I decided that meant it was unsanitary and it's gone now. So we don't have a toaster.

So I heated the oven up to a pretty low temperature in order to just toast the bread.

I went ahead and made the tomato soup first - easy enough. Saute onions in olive oil until soft, add in two large cans diced tomatoes with liquid, garlic, chopped basil, a bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Add broth, cover and bring to a boil. Once it had boiled, I put it on to simmer, put four slices on bread on the pizza stone in the oven to toast, and made the rarebit itself.

In a small saucepan, I melted the butter over medium heat. Once it was completely melted, I poured in the beer, shook the Tabasco probably a good four or five times, and added the mustard, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire. I stirred that until it was all really well mixed, brought just to a simmer, and stirred some more.

I opened the oven and turned over the bread, checking to see that it hadn't toasted too much. I also stirred the soup, but it's not like you can oversimmer tomato soup or anything. Mostly it was an excuse to sneak a few spoonfuls when no one was looking. Mmmmmmm soup.

I tossed together the grated cheese and the flour until the cheese seemed well coated. I may or may not have eaten several small pieces of cheese I decided we didn't really need anyway.

I tossed handfuls of the cheese into the simmering liquid, stirring constantly, until the whole amount of cheese was added, and had melted and become very smooth.

I added the beaten egg, stirring very quickly so that it mixed in well. At that point, I immediately removed from heat. Taking the toasted bread out, I put it on a plate next to a bowl of the tomato soup and spooned the cheese sauce over the bread.

It. Was. Delicious.

It was just the slightest bit too salty and I would leave the salt out next time - the really sharp cheddar had enough salt to it already. But we ate our bread and soup and then we ate some more bread to use up the cheese and everything was wonderful and beautiful forever.

It was an awesome meal for a cold winter day after a long day's work. I would make it again in a second, over and over and over again, until I was hugely fat and known worldwide as The Woman Who Only Eats Cheese Sauce...

except I love other food, too.

So I will have to save it.

But it's good to know I can basically get the whole meal, start to finish, in our veggie delivery without leaving my house. If you like the idea of Mother Earth Produce and you're local to Upstate South Carolina or Western North Carolina, you should look at their site and maybe consider signing up. This is in no way sponsored - I just really love Mother Earth that much. Seriously. Although if you drop my name I think I get 10$ off an order, so... I mean... that would be cool.

Also we ate that sourdough loaf in a shamefully short amount of time. I won't even tell you how fast we went through it because I actually am ashamed. A little.

P.S. Links to the Farmers Cookbook in these project posts will be affiliate links. This means that if you click through and purchase, I may receive a small commission for helping you realize how awesome this cookbook is. Please rest assured that any and all commission monies will be spent buying me more books.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

This Weekend I / Currently, I'm

This weekend I
had lunch at SWAD with Jason on Friday when I ended up working from home
it was the best Indian food ever
then had an intense discussion with the cheese lady at the Fresh Market
when she and I disagreed on what constitutes "farmer's cheese"
did my first month of volunteering at what used to be one of my workplaces
(it was magically different and wonderful)
cooked welsh rarebit for The Cookbook Project with tomato soup
the perfect pairing with winter chill
bought too much fish at Publix and then forgot why I bought it
(that's okay, we're good at fish)
drank too many things from Starbucks with coconut milk in them
because it's delicious
picked something up, put it back down again, and promptly forgot where I left it
four times
tried to plan for my outfit for my brother's (casual, outdoors in Texas) wedding
I like these pants - does anyone else like them or am I crazy?
What should I wear?
had brunch at Nose Dive with some friends who also have little ones
and was not wholly impressed. I liked the idea of the grits bar
but grits without shrimp as an included topping
is a crime against southern breakfast
never did a single bit of laundry
despite telling myself I needed to three separate days in a row
I haven't seen my driver's license in three days.

Currently, I'm
drinking Caribou Coffee's Caribou blend and
wishing there was a Caribou Coffee in this state
working from home, again, this time due to
snow that just keeps coming and coming
reading or at least trying to read this book
only it turns out reading is hard with a post-baby attention span
pinning like a million things from anthropologie
which is entirely Sarah and Jo's fault because they forced me to go there Sunday
cooking probably bacon and eggs for breakfast in a minute
because if you have bacon and eggs
you should eat bacon and eggs
considering baking some bread while I'm home today
(take that, bread and milk panic-buyers!)
listening to the baby-babble from a few feet away,
and loving every second of it
going nowhere
except maybe to go play in the snow
with a baby who has never really seen anything like this before
in her life.

and I really do need to do some laundry.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Cookbook Project - 7/52

So I've finished my first week at my new job. All kinds of new terminology, ideas, and possibilities floating around. I'm still incredibly excited by it. In fact, I got to complete a few assignments this week and I may or may not have gone around bragging a little bit to Jason and my friend Sarah about it. Is that sad?

It might be sad.

I'm okay with that, though

It's been freezing cold the last week, so I kind of wish I'd held off on this week's project. I got groceries last Friday after work and decided to go ahead and bake this that night, but honestly I really do wish Id held off. Because cherry cobbler would have been great warm and just out of the oven on a night like tonight.

Oh well.

You win some, you... win some on a different day.

There were issues with this one. The first being that it ended up being a lot smaller than I had thought it would be, so I had to scrap the baking pan I had already pulled out and sprayed with Pam and use a small one. It is definitely only about four servings or less of food. The other problem is that nobody has cherries this time of year.

I swear, the recipe was in the February section of the cookbook! So the placement of the cherry recipes mystified me, because it was so so so out of season. But I had said I would do it, and darn it, I tried.

I ended up having to buy Bing cherries instead, so mine came out much darker than the recipe's version. I also use whole wheat flour for everything. Other than that, it was basically the same.

And completely, entirely unphotogenic. Bear with me, I promise some sort of pretty recipe will happen eventually.

Ingredients - Amounts Omitted
Sour pitted cherries, canned/jarred (I used Bing cherries in a jar)
sugar, divided
almond extract
baking powder
slivered almonds, optional

This was a pretty easy throw-together dessert, all things considered. I put cornstarch, cinnamon, and sugar in a saucepan, poured out the jar of cherries on top, juice and all, and mixed together. The thing with cherries is that they're easy to break if your stir too much, so you just stir really gently to combine.

Heat to a boil, continuing to stir consistently so it doesn't stick. Once boiling, pour into a buttered pan or "small casserole dish". For me, I ended up using one of our smallest baking pans and it still seemed a little big, so really pay attention to how much is in this.

Stick in the oven and preheat to 375 Farenheit. This lets the dish, and the cherries, warm up with the oven.

Combine the rest of the sugar, flour, and baking powder in a small bowl. Here the book tells you to melt the butter and combine with milk and almond extract. When I did this, the milk IMMEDIATELY curdled and I had to pour it out. Now, I realize everyone's first reaction is going to be to tell me that I had to let the butter cool for a bit, and I am here to tell you that I tried it after cooling and I tried it without letting cool and they both curdled. So I threw my hands up in the air and mixed the melted butter in with the flour and THEN the milk and almond extract, and it worked just fine.

Once everything is just mixed, spoon out over the hot cherries in the pan. Sprinkle with almonds, then bake for 25ish minutes or until the cobbler is lightly browned. Serve warm or cool. The book says it serves "4 or more" but I think it's right at 4 as a dessert on its own, maaaaaaybe six if you added ice cream or yogurt on the side.

This was... overwhelming. The cherries were good and the idea was good, but I would get rid of some of the sugar and the almond extract next time. It was definitely too sweet for me, and between almond slivers AND the almond extract the almond taste was just completely too much.

So next time I'll just leave out the almond extract and I'd say probably half of the sugar and I think this would be really good. Although maybe you need more of the sugar with the different kind of cherries. But I'll just eat ice cream with it and that will solve any conceivable lack-of-sugar problems, right?

In short, this wasn't my favorite cobbler recipe ever, but it seems easy to fiddle with, so I'm happy to give it another try.

Next week - Welsh Rarebit! Don't know what that is? Check in next Friday and find out! As always, if you find yourself wanting to take a crack at the cookbook yourself, you can find it here on Amazon or probably just about any larger bookstore.

P.S. Links to the Farmers Cookbook in these project posts will be affiliate links. This means that if you click through and purchase, I may receive a small commission for helping you realize how awesome this cookbook is. Please rest assured that any and all commission monies will be spent buying me more books.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Day 1

See that? That is my driveway.

It's not normally white, but right now it is, completely covered in sleet after hours of it coming down.

When I left work, the cars were just starting to ice up but the road was pretty clean. It still took almost 35 minutes to make a 22 minute drive, but that's only because the cars in front of me weren't driving home so much as they were sort of aimlessly drifting in and out of roads and lanes, and if their random trajectory went past their houses, well that was nice. Otherwise, they were too terrified to either hit the gas or the brake, so they just... coasted.

We all just coasted home.

As a transplanted Midwesterner, I find this uniquely infuriating, because everyone would be safer if they drove faster when the roads were still clean rather than putt-puttin' on their way while the ice builds up.

Work was... brain-draining, but in a good way. It's a whole new industry and something I have never done before (well, I've done bits and pieces but never all together and never in this particular way) so there is a lot of learning going on. I actually am pretty fascinated by digging into the training that I have available to me, because I'm learning about how certain individual things I did know about fit together in order to create kind of a whole third thing I didn't know about. (You'll forgive the vague; like I said, I'm trying to maintain a polite privacy for the company) I completed an assignment today, though, so I felt pretty rockin' on my way home.

We'll see how I feel tomorrow, after a few more training videos and more work on my next assignment.

Audra, meanwhile, is going through what I can only call "yet another growth spurt", in which she eats her own weight it feels like every day (although at least "her own weight" at this point involved all sorts of random foods, not just milk), sleeps only in fits and starts (hence my 3:30 am wakeup this morning) and wants nothing but snugglin', all day and all night.

I made it through Day 1.

Let's see if I'm even able to get my car out of the carport for day 2!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Breath Inbetween

Because the universe has been sending me "you should do this, you are doing the right thing" signs about this job, I've been in a pretty good mood about it overall. For instance - when I did the last interview, every single song that played on the radio station I listened to on the way was playing super upbeat, inspirational music. That radio station is Chuck FM, which is basically random, so I couldn't even blame it on the genre the station played or anything. Then the heat at my last workplace wasn't working and no one was in any particular hurry to come help us fix it. While I sat there that morning with very, very cold hands and no coat it occurred to me that maybe this was a sign that it was good to leave. When I asked about attending my brother's wedding (which will cause me to miss a day of work less than two months after I start the job), my new boss was happy to give me permission to plan to go.

On my final day, my final minute, as I pulled out of my workplace's driveway for the last time as an employee, the Florence & the Machine song "Dog Days Are Over" began to play.

It all seemed very clear, as far as messages from the universe go; I had made the right decision.

Well, the universe may have changed its mind, because suddenly we're about to hit with a winter storm, everyone is doing their usual panic-induced bread-and-milk-buying-rampage at all the local stores, and businesses (and daycares) have already begun to announce early closures, delays, or closings. For my first day at my new job.

So I've decided that perhaps I should stop looking to the universe for signs, because the universe doesn't know what it wants me to do.

Instead I baked a loaf of olive, basil, and sundried-tomato bread, won a $50 credit in a giveaway our veggie and fruit delivery people ran, hung out with a baby who is probably going through another growth spurt and therefore cries literally any time you are not holding her and some of the times you are, drank a lot of tea, and ate some cheesecake with fruit on top from the Fresh Market, which is the Land of Perfect Desserts.

Take that, universe.

... but still be nice to me and let me have a good day tomorrow, okay?


Friday, February 13, 2015

The Cookbook Project - 6/52

For the most part, all the recipes in this project are going to be recipes I haven't tried before. There were only a few things that I had tried out of The Farmers' Cookbook, although what I had cooked immediately became tried-and-true favorites (like the herbed biscuits, which I make at any conceivable occasion where biscuits might be appropriate). 

There are a few recipes, though, that I loved so much I let myself cheat and add them to the list.

The New England Clam Chowder is one of those recipes.

Winter is the perfect time for soup, really. We're not "cold soup" people (Jason refers to gazpacho as 'really good dip') and so we do most of our soup-cooking in the winter, when it's chilly enough that it seems absolutely perfect for it. Which is why I decided to cook the clam chowder a day earlier than I had originally planned.

I've made this soup before, I won't lie.

While it does use more than one pan, it's actually incredibly easy to throw together, very very quick, and a meal in and of itself. At most I'd serve it with soup crackers and a salad. Mostly we just eat it by itself. 

This is probably better in a place where clams are fresh or something, but the canned clams for this recipe are absolutely delicious, so pfffft.

Ingredients - Amounts Omitted
chopped clams in broth
bacon or salt pork, diced
diced onion
diced raw potatoes
parsley flakes

Easy ingredients to have on hand, right? Basically all you have to get are bacon, clams, and maybe potatoes if you don't keep those around. 

First off, go ahead and drain your clams, but keep the broth in a bowl off to the side. I suppose you could choose to use chicken broth and not the clam broth, but then you'd have really sad, pointless soup. So use the broth. It is delightfully clammy. 

(This whole recipe is just my excuse to use 'clammy' in a sentence). 

Use a heavy pan and cook your onions with your bacon or salt pork. We just used some random bacon that was on sale at Publix, it doesn't have to be fancy or anything. I feel like if you're buying bacon to be fancy, you're doing something wrong.

Cook until the onions are tender and have gone mostly translucent. Add diced potatoes, salt, pepper, and the clam broth. Use enough water to just cover the potatoes, if the clam broth doesn't do it. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are cooked through. The book says this takes like 8 minutes, but I felt like it really took closer to 10 or 12 for us. But then I had my potatoes diced pretty big, so just check to see if they're soft.

While your soup is cooking, melt butter in a separate, small saucepan. Add flour and stir until smooth, and cook for just a minute. Pour in your milk all at once, whisking mixture until it comes to a boil. 

Combine your hot milk with the rest of your soup, and add in your clams (remember them?) and parsley flakes. Stir very well.

Heat the chowder just enough to combine flavors and make sure the clams are hot, but not so long they get rough and chewy. It only took a couple of minutes, for us, before it was done. 

One thing we did was not salt when the recipe tells you to. I reserve salting foods until closer to the end of preparation almost always, because Jason and I don't really eat much salt and so we're pretty sensitive to it. Basically any amount of salt a recipe is calls for is almost always too much for us. I felt like, with the bacon, salt could have been added very sparsely and been fine.

The soup was delicious! I bought some whole wheat mountain bread from Publix and we ate the soup with big hunks of that, but normally I'd go with soup crackers. I'm debating next time having some of my homemade bread from earlier in the project. I've got the flour and the yeast, so really I'm only like four hours and a lot of patience away from having bread already!

I would say this soup served about four, like the book says. Normally I find her serving sizes a little on the small side, but this worked perfectly. Don't plan for leftovers unless you double the recipe, though. 

This is a great winter soup, perfect for the chilliest days. It was incredibly warming, and you seriously cannot go wrong with bacon. 

Although I've never had salt pork before...

P.S. Links to the Farmers Cookbook in these project posts will be affiliate links. This means that if you click through and purchase, I may receive a small commission for helping you realize how awesome this cookbook is. Please rest assured that any and all commission monies will be spent buying me more books.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Has Anyone Ever Actually Been Promised a Rose Garden? February Tea Box Express Review

I had a long day on Monday.

I woke up bright and early, because the baby wakes up bright and early. Actually, the baby wakes up pitch-black and early, although I suppose her mood is definitely bright. She went back to sleep fairly quickly, just in time for me to be totally up. So Jason and I shrugged and went about getting ready for the day.

I took her in to the doctor for her six-month well baby visit, shots and all. She was an angel, all cheer and smiles for the nurse and the doctor, and took her shots like a champ. Honestly, I cried more than she did. Then again, I usually do...

So I get her home, and we snuggle on the couch for a while. I put her down to nap and she wakes up only thirty minutes later. So we snuggle some more. She's clearly feeling a little achy and wants nothing more than constant holding in my arms all day long. So... that's what we did.

At some point, the animals also noticed that I was paying attention to a creature who wasn't them, and decided to rectify that situation.

So I spent my whole day either holding/lying down with Audra, with Indy trying to be a lapdog, or one of the cats attempting to insinuate themselves either onto my lap or the top of my head. Audra started running a little fever in the afternoon, so she became even clingier. By the time Jason got home from work I was about ready to tear my hair out from TOO. MUCH. TOUCHING.

But there was one shining bright spot.

My Tea Box Express box arrived!

I was looking forward to February's box, since I knew it would be Valentine's Day themed. Andrea does little sneak peeks on the blog, but I like to be surprised when it arrives so I try very hard not to check. All I was hoping for was chocolate.

And chocolate there was.

This month's box surprised me a little bit, actually. Although I expected chocolate I was pleasantly surprised by the teas - Serendipitea was the brand this time, but it was the teas themselves I was interested in.

There are two kinds. The above is Once Upon a Tea - a rooibois, or caffeine-free red tea, mixed with peppermint, cocoa nibs, rose petals, and more. I mixed it with my usual honey and milk and it was a lovely unwinding tea, for the end of what had definitely been a very, very, very long day. It's a smooth tea, and it's nice to have something chocolate that isn't a caffeinated black tea, so that I can drink it even after dinner. I totally get this as an extension of the theme - it went really well with the chocolate bar, which we'll get to here in just a bit.

I will be drinking this very quickly, I think, and mourning its loss when it's gone.

The other tea is Roses Aplenty, a delicate green tea with rose petals. This I only put the barest touch of honey in. Anything more would have overpowered it. Good green tea really stands on its own, and I would probably not even put honey in it in the future. It would be a lovely waking-up tea, if you aren't in a hurry and are able to curl up on the couch and watch the sun come up. It's a Saturday-morning tea, a quiet tea. I really like it, and I have a feeling I'm going to very slowly parcel it out so I don't run out too quickly.

I am actually not much of a green tea person. Unless it's a very good green tea the grassiness tends to be too overwhelming to me. This tea didn't really have that problem, it had the right delicacy of flavor and was definitely a pleasant surprise. I have already begun to have dreams about there being a quiet morning someday when I can really enjoy sipping it, and not in-between attempts to dodge a baby's flailing, curious hands trying to get their hands on it.

We also received a couple of items from PuurBody - a candle and some lip balm. The candle, as you can see, had an interestingly different wood wick. Its smell, labeled Conservatory, is also unusual - both floral and full of spice. The wax color is kind of a pretty, pastel lilac purple - perfect for spring and one of the very few pastel colors I really like. I only burned it for a few minutes, because it's a small candle and I want to save and use it sparingly to make it last. It's a have-with-a-bath kind of candle, I think. This is a the-grandparents-have-the-baby-overnight-and-I-can-soak-in-tub-for-an-hour candle. The orchid smell is strong but not overpowering and there's definitely some spicy notes underneath. 

The other item from Puur is this Earl Grey lip balm. I've worn it for a couple of days since the package arrived and I like it! The smell isn't quite Earl Grey to me, which may be a downside for some people, but more sort of a mix of chocolate and bergamot. That's due to the oils in it that keep your lips soft. I actually like that it has a little less of an overwhelming "tea" flavor; I had an Earl Grey Tea lip balm that I ended up essentially throwing away because the flavor was so overwhelming.

I like PuurBody's lip balm as well because it doesn't glop on too heavily. 

I'm also excited to see this being an etsy shop and a small business run by a mom of five. I'm always happy to help support small businesses and see them thrive!

I actually went and clicked around the PuurBody shop after trying it on and discovered she has lots of different lip balm flavors, including Kentucky Bourbon. I find that... intriguing.

Others who receive the February box will notice something missing in the photo above, and it's a tea steeper! I... kind of made myself a cup of tea before I remembered to take the photos, and didn't realize the steeper was missing until afterwards. It's actually wonderful. One problem I've had with a lot of our tea steepers (um... all of them so far) is that tea with small leaves (like rooibos or some chai) manages to get through the mesh and so my tea ends up with sort of a leafy sludge at the bottom or tiny leave floating on top.

I used the steeper to make myself both a cup of the Once Upon a Tea and the Roses Aplenty, and it worked perfectly - maybe one or two teensy tea leaf-bits made it through, but otherwise nothing! It's the best steeper I've ever owned. I'm so happy with the silly thing that I've already used it multiple times, if that tells you anything.

And last but not least, what I looked forward to the most...

the chocolate.

Yeeeeeeeah, this was good.

Normally with this kind of dark chocolate percentage you're looking at a pretty bitter chocolate bar, not an exceptionally sweet one. I love bitter dark chocolate, so that's fine with me. But I was actually surprised by how very mild the flavor was! Just the addition of coconut did a lot to counter the bitterness and it tasted dark, but sweet. It was also a somewhat soft chocolate bar in texture. There was a really strong coconut taste and, promising myself I'd parcel it out as carefully as possible, I took two tiny squares and put it in the fridge.

By Tuesday night it was gone.

I'd like to blame Jason, but... I really can't. It was me! It was all me! I admit it!

I'm completely not sorry and I'd do it again if I could. 

All in all, I like this box! It wasn't quite as much my soulmate-in-a-box as the January Scones-and-Clotted-Cream was, and these teas aren't as much my favorite as November's masala chai, but I enjoyed every single item. I'm not kidding when I say I would eat that whole chocolate bar over again with no shame about thirteen times. The fourteenth time, I would probably start feeling some regret. But I make no promises.

Although we're past February's cutoff date, you can always shoot Andrea an email and let her know if you're interested, to see if any of February's boxes are still available! Also take a gander at the shop, where some of the other months are still up for grabs as well. 

Remember, the best way to make sure you get these boxes is to subscribe for the monthly delivery. I'm having a lot of fun being surprised each month, and I'm really looking forward to March - it's my birthday on the 6th and I'm sort of declaring March's box my unofficial Birthday Present to Myself. I'll be a few weeks into my new job and I could probably use whatever relaxation that box has in store for me. 

(Interested in giving the box to someone special? Send them one as a gift!)

*This post was done in collaboration with Tea Box Express. I get a nifty discount on each month's box, I get to try out and write about all the fun stuff I receive. Basically, everyone wins. I'm not even kidding; I have a cup of tea in my hand right now because of this (it's the Once Upon a Tea, if you were curious). If you have any questions, drop me a line or you can reach the awesome folks at Tea Box Express here.*

Monday, February 9, 2015

5 Things - The Looking Forward To Edition

1. This is kind of going to be the Year of Katie as far as book releases are concerned. It seems like every time I turn around, another author I love is putting out new books!

Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning just came out. Neil Gaiman has been in my top five favorite authors for a very long time. I even met him when I was fourteen (see a photo of me meeting Neil Gaiman, in all my adorable little teenage goth glory, in this post). And actually, if you click the link to that post, the photo of me with Neil Gaiman is in the middle of something that is otherwise about me meeting Rachel Held Evans, who also has a book coming out this year, Searching for Sunday!

Then you've got Sarah Bessey's Out of Sorts (I read and adored Jesus Feminist and cannot wait to see what she's got coming up next), Lauren Winner's Wearing God, Shauna Niequist's Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, Jen Lancaster's I Regret Nothing (I picked up her first book, Bitter is the New Black, and basically died laughing from start to finish and now I want to read everything she's ever done), Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Science of Raising Children But Were Too Exhausted To Ask, Don't Put Lipstick on the Cat... throw Joe Abercrombie's Half the World in there and I've got a Wishlist that feels like it's half made up of books that aren't out yet.

(The other half of my Wishlist is made up of Simpsons DVDs I don't yet own.)

I'm incredibly enthusiastic about all this.

Or I will be, as soon as I feel like dropping that much money on books is no longer something to cringe about. So... eventually?

Jason is... probably less enthuasiatic, but he sees the dollar signs mounting as my Amazon shopping cart grows ever more weighed down.

2. So Life is Good.

You probably know of this brand as the people who make the incredibly soft T-shirts with sayings like Happy Hour with a screenprint of a stick-figure roasting marshmallows with their dog over a fire, or prints of mountains, beaches, forests, hiking boots and whatnot. They're a pretty popular brand based out of New England, but they're popular with a very specific set of people, I think; outdoor enthusiasts, Airstream people, rural Midwesterners in general apparently... and me.

They've branched out into items that are quite a bit different than their traditional screenprinted T-shirts, and that striped dress up there is one of them. It looks like it's probably far shorter than I would willingly wear, but I am daydreaming about it with black skinny jeans and a cardigan in the fall and winter, and maybe seeing if I could talk myself into wearing it as it is in the summer.

It just looks incredibly, deeply cute.

I'm looking forward to summer this year, actually, in that I won't be hugely pregnant and therefore miserable right from the start of May on through to August. I won't have to hide in air conditioning just to get my body temperature down to something not horrible!

I... probably still will hide in air conditioning.

I just won't have to.

(P.S. I am also in love with their new Remix Collection, mostly this long-sleeved T-shirt that I have absolutely no reason to ever wear in South Carolina except in January).

3. I realize that we've literally got six months to go, but I'm already starting to get plans together for Audra's first birthday party. First birthday parties aren't really about the baby, but more about the exhausted parents gathering together all and sundry to show off how they totally managed to keep the baby alive for a whole year and give themselves an excuse to eat cake.

I will take that excuse, people.

And I will eat so much cake.

So right now I'm clicking through Pinterest going a little crazy finding all the ideas. So far my favorite is a "sunshine" party, especially since she'll turn one in the hottest month of the year ("Let's get pregnant in November!" I said. "I can handle the heat!" I said.) and sunshine seems like an appropriate direction to go.

So I'm trying to decide just how lazy I want to be, and how much time I'm willing to spend painstakingly putting this party together... or if I just want to snag the Chocolate Moose to make us a bunch of cupcakes and only have to think about the decor.

Some of which I will probably buy ready-made.

I am... not really a Pinterest Mom.

This lady here, though. Her I like. A member of the BabyCenter community, she posted up photos of her DIY'd "You Are My Sunshine" birthday party for her little girl. It has way less pink than the other party ideas I had found, and I like all the DIY stuff and think I could manage not to screw that up.

I'm still probably gonna pay for cupcakes, though. I... I just really like The Chocolate Moose.

4. As I've mentioned before, Jason and I get a delivery of fruits and vegetables each week from Mother Earth Produce, a regional delivery service that drops us off a box every Saturday morning. We are huge fans. It forces some variety into our vegetable-eating (I am not someone who will voluntarily buy collard greens or kale, no matter how delicious they end up being once I've cooked them) and fits easily into our weekly grocery budget.

Well, MEP is doing a giveaway!

They're giving away a $50 gift certificate! There's still time to enter, so if you're local or regional (Western NC might also count - go check out their website to see if you're close enough) get on over there and do so!

How is this part of the "looking forward to" theme, you ask?


I'm looking forward to winning.

So there.

5. So, my brother met this girl.

I mean, he met a girl a few years ago. She's sweet and fun and I am so glad he met her because he couldn't have picked someone more perfect if he tried. I'm not about to tell you a story or anything, it's their story to tell, but I do have exciting news. They're getting married! In Texas!

Which means the Faulks are goin' to Texas!

The only part of Texas I have ever seen before is the big airport in, I think... Dallas? I don't know. It had a train that let us look out and I saw more people wearing cowboy hats during our two-hour layover there than I had ever previously seen in my life. And bolo ties! I counted something like twenty separate bolo ties.

That seems like a lot of bolos.

In any case, I have never actually stepped foot on Texas ground so this will be all new to me. I'm hoping there will be time for me to visit at least one interesting local coffee shop, as is my way. But I'm going to see my brother get married! My new work was generous enough to give the okay for me to miss a day and I am so excited.

And I get to pick out a little dress for Audra to wear! Current thoughts are that little blue lace dress up there from Carter's, or this bluebird dress or this other pretty embroidered dress from babyGap. Anyone have a vote?

Oh, but wait. I don't think I even own anything appropriate for a Texas wedding in the spring.

I get to shop for both of us.

 I am looking forward to 2015. I feel like it's going to be a great year. Not because of the shopping though. Well... kind of because of the shopping.

Of course, I am also completely terrified of dying in a plane crash, hate flying, and have discovered all my phobias that I had started to make progress on have come roaring back now that I have a baby to focus them on.

So this will be fun!

Let's see who loses their mind first, me from terror or Jason from having to deal with me!


P.S. - the links in the books section are Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and choose to purchase, I may receive a small commission based on those sales. I can honestly promise you I will totally just use it to buy more books.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Cookbook Project - 5/52

Finally, I screwed one up!

It only took me more than a month, which I have to admit I found terribly suprising. I was sure that I would screw up the bread, but it stubbornly insisted on being delicious. I kind of screwed up the paprikash but it was still really good, too!

By that metric, though, I didn't really screw this one up either, because it was definitely delicious.

This week's recipe was Scandivanian Sunrise. It's a sweet breakfast treat, the kind of thing you make for a kid on a Sunday morning when you plan to shove them outside to run circles around the house shortly afterwards. It called for something called 'farina', which I had to look up. It's similar to Cream of Wheat.

So I figured I'd just buy some Cream of Wheat, right?


Publix, where we get our groceries, didn't have any Cream of Wheat.

I stared forlornly at about five shelves of hot breakfast cereals, with every single thing under the sun except Cream of Wheat.

Then... I saw it.

A tiny box of farina sandwiched between two different types of flavored oatmeals.

So they didn't have Cream of Wheat, given as the easier-to-find substitute, but they had farina itself! Victory!

What is farina, anyway? Turns out it's like oatmeal, if oatmeal were made of pulverized wheat. It's a little bit like eating paper mache paste, really. Or hot flour.

Hence... the sugar.

Ingredients - Amounts Omitted
For the Vanilla Custard:
Egg yolks

Red Fruit Sauce:
red raspberries or strawberries
red currants, cranberries, or tart cherries

For Final Assembly
farina, cream of wheat, or cream of rice cereal
ground cardamom
custard cream, see recipe
red fruit sauce, see recipe

This one was a little bit more of a complicated process, in that you had two steps to work on the night before, and then make the farina in the morning after the red fruit sauce and custard had set and chilled overnight. So Sunday night, I pulled together the custard first. Or so I thought.

I heated up milk and half-and-half (I didn't have cream) to what I figured was just under boiling, like the directions say. The thing is, "just under boiling" struck me as a terrible vague term and I think this may have been where things went wrong for the custard. Well, that or slightly later than that. We'll get there.

While that heated, I beat together the egg yolks and sugar until they made a kind of interesting-looking smooth paste-thing. Just a little of the hot milk and cream went into this to temper it - otherwise, when you pour the egg-and-sugar mix into the hot milk you're liable to cook the egg and ruin the custard. After adding a few tablespoons of the hot milk/cream, I figured things looked good and poured it in and began whisking quickly and constantly.

Here's where things went a little wrong, the second time.

You're meant to whisk constantly while re-heating to just under boiling a second time. I was very worried about accidentally boiling, and we decided to utilize our double-boiler pan. This, unfortunately, meant moving the mixture a little prematurely into a different pan, than trying to heat it again, and I think it never quite made it to the temperature it needed to be. In any case, we thought things were hot enough, so we stirred in the vanilla at the last second, moved our pa,n and settled it just on top of a large mixing bowl filled with ice water. If I had done everything correctly, cooling the custard cream quickly like that would have started the thickening process and led us to the correct texture.

While that cooled, I started on the fruit sauce. Instead of all red fruits, I used raspberries and blueberries. This was easy enough - toss berries into a saucepan, with a little water, heat until boiling and crush until you've got a lumpy fruit sauce. At this point, you are meant to puree in a blender and then strain through a sieve to strain out all the seeds, creating a smooth sauce.

Instead, we tried to use a food processor, promptly got raspberry-and-blueberry mush everywhere, called it good and moved it right back into the saucepan, seeds and all. Stir in the sugar and cornstarch, bring to a boil, and then remove from the heat and allow to start thickening.

We put both the custard cream and the fruit sauce into the fridge to chill and thicken overnight.

The next morning, the fruit sauce had become essentially a fruit jam with no jar - perfect. The custard cream, however, stayed resolutely thin and milky. We decided maybe trying to heat it up again would help. So while Jason worked on the farina, I got started on re-heating the custard. It did seem to be helping, at first, but while it thickened up just slightly, it never got any better.

We decided, fair enough, we like vanilla milk as much as the next person, let's just see what happens.

Farina cooks very, very, very quickly. Most of the cooking time, in fact, is in the initial boiling of water and salt. Then you pour your serving of farina in. It will look like it can't possibly be enough, but then the farina begins to thicken and you realize you could glue together the Statue of Liberty with what you just did.

Once it was done, we poured the farina into bowls and sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar. Making a depression in the middle, I poured in the custard cream... which meant I just poured hot, vanilla-flavored milk over the dish. I shrugged and threw the fruit sauce in the middle, but obviously that adorable sunshine-thing from the photo wasn't going to happen.

It was delicious.

Very, very sweet. A kind of dessert breakfast, like eating jam on toast but infinitely more filling. I could see this being something a kid might ask for as a special treat. What it made me think of was breakfast on a snow day, before you send your kid out to run themselves ragged in the snow. This is a breakfast you feed a child you expect to be running in circles for at least three hours.

I wish we had snow days in South Carolina.

Maybe I can feed this to Audra before I send her out to play on... um... ice days? Sometimes we have ice days, right? That counts.

In any case, the fruit-and-cream mix was so good we ate farina for breakfast the next two days after that, until we used it up. It's not something I'd do just any time, honestly. This was a lot of effort just for hot cereal and jam. I'd probably just buy jam.


I was kind of impressed with myself just for trying to make it.

Our last two recipes from The Farmers' Cookbook have been very sweet flavors. I'm excited to dig into something savory again. Next week is Clam Chowder, which I think we can all agree is a perfect winter soup! I'm looking forward to it. I won't lie; I've made the clam chowder from this book once before, and it was great then, although I didn't totally follow the recipe. Let's see what happens when I do!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

6 Months

Some things about Audra at 6 months:

- She recently started figuring out how to really reach for me or Jason. She would do it before, but unconsciously. I think within the last couple of weeks it's really clicked in her mind. She'll just leeeeeeeaaaaan out of the daycare ladies' arms towards me when I come to pick her up, and now she's started raising her arms to picked up out of her chair or her carseat.

- On a related note, she tries to 'help' me get her out of the carseat in a number of ways. She doesn't really like being in there, primarily because she finds it impossible to stay awake once the car starts moving and she doesn't like that very much (can you blame her?). So when she knows I'm about to take her out, she'll start wiggling and try to help me get her out of her harness, trying to throw it to the side. Then she tries to push herself up into my hands or holds her arms out. It's ridiculously adorable.

- The daycare ladies call her a joy and one of their easiest babies. They're probably just saying that to make me happy? But she really is just the happiest baby. They were telling me a couple of days ago that she's an easy little girl to figure out - if she's crying, there's a reason for it, and it's probably something that is easy to fix. Either change her, lay her down for a nap, or feed her, and she's good to go. Otherwise, she is just mostly snuggled all day long because she's happy so long as there are arms around her. Then again, wouldn't we all be happy like that all day?

- I seriously thought Sophie la Giraffe was the most overhyped, oddly expensive infants' toy ever... until I owned one. I registered for one because two or three of my friends assured me that she would be so loved and I received one and I thought, okay, let's see... well, they weren't wrong. Sophie is so very, very loved. I completely see why she's worth her purchase price! If we ever lose Sophie, I'm buying a new one, like, immediately. Her little shape is absolutely perfect for gnawing on and if I'm trying to cook dinner and entertain Audra at the same time, Sophie can always be counted on to buy me precious minutes to stir or chop or mix. We have a few other teethers, but it's Sophie she seems to love the most.

- She has begun to 'scoot'! It's a slow, painstaking process right now. Mostly she gets her head up, her arms out and just sort of flails around wildly until she gets somewhere. I'm not sure she has any particular destination in mind, but she'll get there as fast as she can! By going mostly in half-circles!

- We like to practice standing up. I hold her, with my hands under her arms, and place her so her feet are flat on the floor and she's standing 'all by herself'. I'm still holding most of her weight, but she loves standing up the way the grownups do. She just lights up. We practiced standing up at daycare the other day and one of the ladies actually remarked how happy it clearly made her. 

- She loves being tall, too. Now and then Jason will sit her up on his shoulder so she's taller than me, and she's the happiest baby ever. She can't figure out what happened to make her such a giant, but she wants more of that, whatever it was!

- She has definitely regressed to not sleeping through the night as a rule. It's not a huge deal; often we can get her down to only one or two wake ups. I'm not sure what changed, exactly, because she wasn't actually sleeping through the night for very long at any given time. She'll get back there. But for right now, I'm getting a lot done at 5 a.m. when I'm up for the day anyway.

- We are eating solids! While Baby-Led Weaning is still our ideal, we've done some compromising to make things easier on daycare and on ourselves, and do a meld of purees and whole foods. She's perfectly happy either way, but obviously gets much more nutrition from purees. They tell me at daycare that she doesn't fight it, she's perfectly happy to eat, and that she was starting to get frustrated watching the other babies eat food when all she got was milk, so it was really time. Right now she's loving an Apple-Oatmeal with Cinnamon pouch, and we've had no allergic reactions that I can tell.

- That little pink shirt she's wearing, by the way, is from babyGap (of course). I own it in all three colors - they had them on sale for like 4$ apiece and still had her size, so I grabbed them, thinking I probably wouldn't put her in them that much right away since we're still wearing onesies. Welp, turns out once I had lots of T-shirts available, I started phasing onesies slowly out! We still wear mostly onesies, but little grown-up style shirts are growing on me. Mostly because it lets us skip a step in the diaper change madness.

- I know she won't always be so snuggly, so I try to maximize it and not freak out if it changes my plans or timeline. This is sometimes harder than it sounds, as I am someone who puts a lot of stock in being on time and having my plans go the way I've worked them out in advance. Sometimes Jason gets a text message telling him dinner will be late, the baby was hungry and then fell asleep in my arms and I couldn't bear to put her down in time. Or we went to see our friend Jenn who recently had a baby of her own and ended up being significantly later than our original plan because Audra fell asleep and, after a rough night, we needed to let her catch up on her sleep. Mostly, though, it's in the evenings just after I get home. The unfortunate part about both of us having to work full-time is the reality that for a while, we're not going to see a ton of her awake - so we focus on the snuggly naptimes as much as we can and try and get our time in.

- She is so, so wiggly. You may have noticed this set of photos involves a lot more of Audra in various sideways positions, holding the lion, or with Simba moved further away. That's because she wouldn't stop grabbing him and giggling! So I did what I had to do - I took photos of her giggling and gnawing on Simba's soft paws. Somehow, I think I'll survive that horrible ordeal of happiness.

- She definitely reaches for the dog and the cats now. She loves to try and grab at the cats' tails, which doesn't bother Sanna but our older cat is not a fan. I've been surprised, to be honest, by how lovely she has been to the baby, though - she'll just watch her, try to move her tail out of the way, and politely get up and remove herself from the situation if the baby's hands are just too grabby. I do what I can, but I can't always catch those little fingers before they find that fur. Or before Indy licks her. But that's what hygienic wipes are for!

- Her next well-baby checkup is next Monday, along with the next round of vaccinations. I've been putting her in daycare for parts of Mondays, but I'm going to keep her home next week. I think she's going to need some hugs and one-on-one time, and odds are I'll need some time to recover myself. I did pretty well last time, but you never know.

- I was asked by a couple of people if I would change daycares to get one closer to my new workplace once I change jobs, and you know, I really don't think so. She absolutely adores her daycare ladies, and I don't think I could bear to make her part with them. They're so wonderful and happy and they like her so much, and she loves them! It helps the having-to-leave-her-all-day part, that it's gone so well for us right off the bat. Between my friend Sarah being able to take her for the first couple of months back to work and a daycare that is so full of joy, we've really had kind of an ideal start to childcare.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I Want My Hair Back

My hair is falling out.

Sort of.

Postpartum hair loss waited until juuuuuust before we hit the five-months-later mark. It waited until I was pretty sure it wasn't going to happen, that I'd just keep this hair and whatever, hair is hair. I'm a tomboy, I don't care about my hair, right?

Well, turns out I start caring deeply when it's falling out of my head.

For the past month or so, it just shows up places - on combs, hairbrushes, on the back of my shirt, in my hand when I rake my fingers through to get it out of my eyes. I've become protective, not entirely willing to get the trim I need for this haircut to maintain its shape, because I don't want to lose strands of hair that I still have. So the lower part of my hair has begun to curl outward in weird ways as it dries. The part down the middle-ish of my head seems to grow a bit wider every day. I have nightmares about my grandfather's very bald head.

I find myself wanting to take up wearing hats.

I wouldn't look any better in hats.

I do not have a hat face.

In other exciting postpartum news, the baby has decided her wakeup time is sometime between 4 AM and 4:30 every day. She's awake, cheerful and playful, for about forty five minutes, then passes back out so we have to wake her up to get up for daycare later. She seems to time it to be awake for exactly long enough that I can't make it back to sleep for any length of time before the alarm goes off. So that's fun.

I mean, it actually kind of is fun because it's that much more time I can spend playing with her, talking to her, cuddling on the couch, and all those things I pretty much live for right now.

She also spit up on my sweater this morning, but waited until I was carrying her into daycare to do so. Because my baby's got her some impeccable timing.

In her defense, she spit up on her own sweater, too.

I'm not making parenthood sound like a barrel of laughs, am I? Balding, cold arms at work because my sweater's in a ball in the passenger side seat, up at ridiculous times in the morning every day...

If it helps, I also laugh a lot more.

All that cuddling in the morning is probably really good for my blood pressure, too.

And I got to create a little person who comes out more and more as each day goes by, and there's no way to describe how that feels unless you're talking to another parent. There is a fascination in watching this tiny bundle of sleep and cry and eat turn into a human being, to see little hands that could only barely, instinctively, grip my pinkie turn into waving fingers purposefully grabbing at interesting colors or shapes or textures. To see what changes in her each week, sometimes each day. All of that is pretty cool, and it makes up for everything, for every single  moment when all I want is a nap, please God let me nap.

She may not let me nap, but she'll smile at me, and that's just as good.

I kind of want my hair back, though.