Rich, creamy, dairy-free ice cream


I’m sure I’m guilty of a previous tirade, about food items that pose as dairy. With all due respect to my vegan friends, and with all due empathy to those folks, like my son, who are allergic — some things should just either be dairy, or not be at all. I developed this extreme opinion during the three or so months I was completely dairy-free, during my son’s first year of life when we figured out that milk was a problem for him.

Some examples of things that, in my opinion, do little to improve the world of food:

  • soy cheese: Even in my moments of deepest dairy need, I would not stoop so low. It doesn’t come remotely close to its dairy counterpart, and is all-around creepy, when you think about it.
  • soy yogurt: Mentioned this here, but it has an almost chemical aftertaste, a sting, that never leaves you.
  • rice and soy ice “dreams”: A friend heard desperation in my voice one time, and rushed over a carton of rice-milk-based frozen dessert. Let’s just say that I loved my friend’s attempt, but was left with an even larger gaping hole in my hungry, hungry soul.

A couple years ago, when my son turned two, I wanted to make him ice cream. So I attempted a soy-milk-based concoction, banana-flavored; it was a complete disaster. Icy, with no depth of flavor — it was like I took a blender, threw some plain soy milk and a banana in it, gave it a whirl, and stuck the whole thing in the freezer.  My son, ever the sensitive palate, rejected it outright. The quart found a new life in our garbage disposal.

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In my spare time


A typical week for me includes many activities and errands run with two small children in-tow. My 3-year old is in preschool 3 mornings a week, and I work in his class about once every two weeks. My 16-month old is home with me 24/7. I realize that this scenario, in the grand scheme of things, just isn’t that bad. But I manage to do my fair share of complaining about the emotional and physical exhaustion that can plague an introvert like me after being “on” — even with my own ridiculously adorable children — for a large percentage of my waking time.

One of the things that tends to kill me is running errands with both of them. Moms know the drill: take however long you think it should take to get everyone ready, and add half an hour. Then get them in the car, buckling two carseats. Get to the grocery or Target and unbuckle two carseats, carrying one and holding the other’s hand as you traipse through snow to get to the entrance. Shop, all the while saying things like, “No, we’re not buying that today,” and “I know this is taking a long time, we’ll be done soon,” and “Please don’t smash the bananas.” You go back to the car, loading children (buckling two carseats) and groceries, drive home, curse under your breath at random drivers (road rage? what road rage?), get home, unbuckle two carseats, unload two crying children, unload groceries, destroy the kitchen while hurriedly making a healthy lunch for the two starving children, and figure out you forgot something on your list. That thing that you needed to make tonight’s dinner.

All that to say — I do enjoy those rare mornings when I only have one child to take with me. Truly, it makes all the difference in the world. Especially when this particular child is the one who can’t yet talk.

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Lemon curd, and windows of egg opportunity.


I like to think of myself as competent in matters of baking and pastry — I can whip up pie crusts, scones, and fluffy biscuits with relative ease, and have thoroughly enjoyed my adventures in breadmaking, which include recent (as yet successful) forays into the world of sourdough. But when it comes to custards, and eggs, and things that must ‘set,’ I have a rocky history.

It comes down to the directions — the part where pleasantly vague instructions read to me like Beowolf translated into Chinese:

“You’ll know the mixture is ready when it coats the back of a spoon.”

“Remove from heat when a rubber spatula scraped on the bottom of the pan leaves a trail.”

“Heat until thickened slightly, but don’t let the mixture come to a simmer.”

These are directions which only leave me with more questions: What kind of spoon? Should it coat it and then stay coated for ten seconds? How long should the trail remain trail-like? What do you mean by thick — pudding, or heavy cream? Should it simmer? Not simmer? WHAT THE @&%# DO YOU MEAN??????

I have tried twice to make creme anglaise, and both times, while it tasted delicious, I don’t think it was the consistency it was meant to be. Another time, I was baking a pie for a friend of ours; he requested lemon meringue, so I gave it a go. The meringue was beautiful, but when you cut into the pie the lemon filling spilled like soup onto the plate. In all of those cases, I was either under- or over-cooking the egg mixture (or wasn’t I? can’t be sure). What I need the cookbook authors to give me is a temperature. Because, although I can obviously lead myself into a frenzy of self-doubt when it comes to matters of texture, I am also quite well-versed in my ability to stick an instant-read thermometer into something, and read the numbers that result.

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New menu feature

I’ve got a new page on my site: it contains a link to our weekly dinner menus.

Before you ask: no, I don’t really think anyone cares that much what we are eating. I am making our menu public because I have spent many a Sunday night (I don’t know why I chose, in the beginning, to start our menus on Mondays — I’ve always shopped on Mondays, too, which I hear is the worst day of the week for grocery shopping due to restocking from the weekend) staring at a blank page in my notebook, unable to stretch my brain once again around a new and exciting meal plan. That’s when I start thumbing through my past notebooks — usually scanning meals from the same months in years prior (this helps me stay seasonal). And it’s always been helpful to ask friends: what are you guys eating this week?

So, making the assumption that others think just like I do, I thought it’d be fun to share. Since I’m doing our menu anyway, it’s not a huge problem to also update a google spreadsheet (at least I don’t think it’s a problem; let’s see how well I’m doing with it in a few weeks). If nothing else, on a purely self-serving level (is this new?), it might help me stay on top of our menu plans if I know I need to also post it.

If you happen to view the spreadsheet, and see ways I can improve on it, please leave a comment. I’ve never been very good at using them, and usually feel like I create them in ways that are intuitive only to me. If I were more tech-savvy, I’d come up with a way to make them more interactive, where I could benefit from comments on individual weeks — they seem so stodgy right now, in their read-only state. But I’m not; so right now I have complete, somewhat lonely control over the content. And since I’ve been meaning to do this for about a year — and it just wasn’t that hard to do — I am managing to feel good about the accomplishment anyway.

Let me know your thoughts, if you feel so lead.

A hot breakfast, Swiss-style


Way back in the spring of 2002, Tim and I took our requisite newly-married-as-yet-childless jaunt through Europe. We traveled via train through the Rhine River Valley in the western part of Germany, and then made stops in Switzerland and Austria as well. During our stay in the Swiss Alps, we ended up at a hostel in a tiny village recommended to us by Tim’s Dutch cousin, and he swore we would probably the the first Americans to ever stay there.

I didn’t believe it was possible, but I think he was right. The German-speaking hostess could not understand a single word of our English, which lead to some frustrating attempts at communication (I took German in college, but that was at least 10 years ago, maybe even longer, and I couldn’t remember much). But even amidst our language barriers, she managed to understand a deep need in me — either from female intuition, my sluggish appearance, or maybe just hundreds of years of breakfast tradition.

See, we made our stop in the Swiss Alps after at least a week of visiting relatives in the Netherlands and basking on the cool riverbanks in Germany. And during that entire time, we were pretty much served one thing for breakfast: bread, with cheese. Now don’t misunderstand me: I love my dairy and carbs, like just about every other American. But I’m not used to eating white bread and cheese for breakfast, no matter how fresh the baguette may be or how spreadable the cheese. It was a delicious and welcome change, for the first few days — I felt so European — but soon I began to grow weary of the weight of it, and was desperate for something more, I don’t know, whole. And digestible.

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V-day: Sugar? Yes. Dairy? Not necessarily.


I didn’t get around to making lots of cookies at Christmas; we tried cookie press cookies, and I attempted to make them dairy-free. Come to find out, cookie press cookies can be really hard to press (cold cookie sheets and “wrist-twist” included), especially when you’re attempting to do so without butter. The episode was definitely not a snapshot of familial holiday cheer — most especially since the words I was uttering would’ve gotten me a hefty fine if our activity had been aired on network television.

So here we are at Valentine’s Day. I know this because we took our snow day on Tuesday and collectively cut and pasted the cards for my son’s preschool Valentine’s Day party (this activity was actually a perfect snapshot of familial cheer — the 6-year old helping her little brother make cards, check names off the list, etc. — enough to make a mama wonder how she could ever be frustrated with these little angels she birthed). Seemed to me like the perfect time to make cookies — classic, iced sugar cookies, like the ones we did at our friend Caroline’s house last year. But this time, the challenge was to make them so everyone could eat them.

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Dealing with a skinny steer


When we purchased a quarter of a grass-fed cow (my friend Julie says I should refer to it as a steer — that we don’t eat cows, we drink their milk. Thoughts to confirm from any ranchers out there?), we knew we’d be getting some fairly lean beef. In fact, we actually ordered a second quarter from another farm, to compare fat content (we are splitting all this meat with two other families, so no, we’re not planning to eat a whole side this winter). The first farm pastures their cattle on grass right up until they become freezer-filler; the second farm finishes their cattle on grain, to add a little extra fat into the meat.

We have discovered a few things. First, the ground beef from the fully-grassfed animal is quite lean — around 90% — so it’s much better suited for simmering dishes such as spaghetti sauce or beef chili. Do NOT attempt to make a burger with 90% lean ground beef. It will crumble on your bun, and leave you with a desire for more and more beer to wash down the dry-as-bone burger (wait — is that a bad thing?). By the same token, the ground beef from the grain-finished animal is almost too fatty for ground beef skillet dishes; I found myself pouring off several tablespoons of extra fat from the last batch I cooked.

We haven’t compared steaks yet, but I knew the beef roast would be another big test. I cooked one around New Years — it was a massive hunk of meat, about 5 1/2 pounds, from the grain-finished (i.e., fat) cow. I used a simple slow-roast method, searing the outside on the stove in my Le Creuset dutch oven, then transferring to a 250º oven for about two hours, until the internal temp reached 135º. It was a beautiful rare roast — melt-in-your-mouth tender with wonderfully rich beef flavor.

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One of myriad ways you can make your own yogurt


Seriously — have you ever done a google search for homemade yogurt? There are so many contraptions, home-rigged options, and preferences, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere, fills a hot water bottle with milk and sits on it for 8 hours, multi-tasking by making yogurt and cushioning a weary backside at the same time. It can seem daunting and complicated, but it is a simple process: introduce live cultures to a quantity of milk (i.e., add ready-made yogurt to milk), and let those cultures eat sugar and multiply by keeping them at a temperature they love: around 90º. That’s it.

The first yogurt I ever made was soy yogurt. I personally hate the stuff — even when I was dairy-free I couldn’t stomach the off-putting flavor — but when my allergic guy was younger, I was desperate to get any sort of corn- and dairy-free probiotic into his system. Since all store-bought soy yogurts contain corn-based stabilizers, I was forced to go rogue. The process of making soy yogurt was much more complicated than making it from plain cow’s milk; soy requires some sort of thickener, plus an additional sweetener, and it was even more important to make sure everything was sterile — so I was boiling objects in my kitchen for an eternity before I could even get started. Long story short, my son never really took to it anyway, and then we ended up getting rid of soy. But the biggest casualty was my desire to make yogurt; it was such a pain, I didn’t see myself ever doing it.

But I gave it another try at the end of last year. We had starting getting our milk, local and raw, from a cow share program at a nearby farm. I had been spending $3.50 on a quart of plain organic whole milk yogurt at the store, and we were eating a lot of it. My mental cash register (does anyone else’s head ding when making calculations?) figured out that two quarts of yogurt made from our raw milk would cost $2.75.  That’s 39% of the cost of my favorite store-bought brand. I did a little more digging, and came up with a plan that now works quite well.

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A Round Tuit


There was a thing that was constant in my world growing up: no matter what changed in our house, be it pets acquired and lost, furniture sold and bought, or playthings discarded for want of what was bigger, better, and more expensive, we always had a drawer in our kitchen called the “junk drawer.” And — truly — I don’t think its contents changed in 15 years. I remember digging through it on occasion, probably looking for a pen that worked or something else similarly useful, and getting distracted by the things that lived there. Old key chains, the random screwdriver, tacks, dried-up tubes of superglue, scissors, and cheap plastic souvenirs from trips to places such as the only paradise we knew: the still-watered beaches of the Mississippi Sound. The drawer also contained, for my whole life, a kitschy object called a “Round Tuit.” It looked something like this, and told its holder that he could no longer postpone the things he would do “when he got a round tuit.”

I thought about that shiny little disk of a pun this morning, as I set to making my first batch of homemade vanilla extract. I use a LOT of vanilla in my house — it’s in my weekly granola recipe, in my son’s coconut milk tonic, not to mention pancakes, breads, pretty much everything sweet and baked. I use real extract rather than imitation, since the latter always uses corn-based ingredients that will cause a reaction in my little guy. All that to say, I can drop a lot of cash on storebought vanilla. My go-to brand is called Rodelle, which I can get at Kroger for about $12/8oz (vanilla is a commodity, so the market price can fluctuate quickly and severely depending on the weather in a tropical growing season). It has a good flavor that blends well, and is the best price for the quality. But I had always been reading about how easy it is to make — and how cost-effective. I kept saying I’d do it when I got around to it (hence the flashback to my mid-80’s activity of distraction).

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Tuscan White Bean Stew


As requested by Rebecca.

This adaptation was born out of one of those nights when you realize, a bit too late, that you don’t have everything you need to make what you thought you were making for dinner. Thankfully, it ended up being one of the rare times when it all turns out ok anyway, and in fact, was pretty much as good as the original.

The original is this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated — one of my favorite winter soups (how many times have I claimed that?). It is rich and flavorful and comforting (again, familiar adjectives when covering the topic of soup), with a little twist of excitement because of the way it’s served (I’ll keep you in suspense, or you can just read the last page of the book by glancing above at the photo).

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