I might have a problem


I’ve covered before my love of thrifting. But recently I have harbored a suspicion that my quaint hobby could actually be a clinical problem.

I’ve been caught sneaking thrift trips. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: Hey, do you have plans tonight? I need to run to Target — we’re completely out of toilet paper (which may or may not have happened due to intentional oversight on my part).

Tim: Uh, sure. I mean, we can’t be without toilet paper.

(we eat dinner, I leave, return in two hours)

Tim: Get lost on the way to Target?

Me: I know! Traffic was so bizarrely heavy for 8pm on a Wednesday! And Target? It was a total mess! And, well, you know, I was just driving right by Value World, so I just ran in for a second.

(At this point, I sheepishly bring in the piles of junk discoveries, eager to win him over to my cause by telling how little I spent after using my 50% off coupon. He is not convinced, and just responds with something completely oblique like where are we going to put all that crap or did you really need another enameled pan we already have five that look just like it.)

The past couple of weeks, my obsession has been fueled to new, dangerous levels. We have a Goodwill Outlet in town — and if you’ve never been to one, I’ll offer a description: a huge warehouse room, where big bins of junk are wheeled out 4 times a day. People literally run to the bins, to be the first to start digging. After my first visit, I stashed a pair of rubber gloves in my purse for future trips. It’s junk, it’s trash. But in there, buried, is sometimes a treasure. They price it by the pound — 69¢.

I think of it like stopping at one of those kitschy mines in the mountains, to pay to pan for gold.

I’ve been subconsciously rearranging my schedule in order to have reasons to drive by the outlet. I might not get in a trip this week, and — no exaggeration — this is causing much anxiety.

And I’m not alone. My friend Erin (her blog brings me joy every single time I read it, she is both magical and real, and has a knack for making everything beautiful) has started a weekly post called Out of the Bin — where she shows a photo of her recent Goodwill find as she first sees it in the bin, and then a photo of the item in her home. She’s the one who introduced me to The Outlet — rumor has it she can go 3 times in one week — and has found (or witnessed others finding) things such as brand-new Danskos and Phil & Ted strollers.

And while I would not think twice about scooping up a $500 stroller to resell on Craigslist, when thrifting I am mostly looking for kitchen goods.

In my 2 trips to the Goodwill Outlet, I’ve yet to be coordinated enough to snap a photo of an item before I grab it out of the bin (if you read Erin’s post, she too might start second-guessing this habit, as it can be risky). But I did snap a semi-before and after photo of a recent thrifting find — not at Goodwill, but at another chain of stores called Value World. First stop is kitchen wares — quirky vintage, high-end pots and pans, old popcorn poppers to use as coffee roasters. I came across a pile of vintage enamelware — 16 pieces in all — for $7.50. Why buy 16 pieces of enamelware? The plan is to fill my kitchen with vintage items that are often better quality than modern-day counterparts, on the cheap. A bonus would be to sell things in my Etsy Store (don’t bother browsing, there are currently no items), and make my millions.

A perfectly logical fantasy from a woman who spends her time donning gloves and digging through other people’s junk.

Next stop, dumpster-diving.

{you can put your weed in there}

Creamed Corn

Homemade Creamed Corn -- so simple, the essence of summer.

How have I never made this?

Seriously, it makes no sense. Straight-up fresh sweet corn, a little butter, cream, salt & pepper. As easy as it gets. Probably the easiest thing to do with corn, aside from just boiling it. But if you’re doing that, you’re eating it off the cob, and then you have to brush your teeth after, so that counts for energy expended, right?

So I was at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, because it’s what I do. I try to have a plan in mind when I go, an idea of what I might make that week, so as not to spend more money than is wise. But I walked up to one of my regular stands — Homestead Growers (good prices, chemical-free, and shitake mushrooms every week) — and they had one end of their table piled high with sweet corn. Pesticide free. I don’t know much about corn farming, but I know that I never see signs claiming pesticide-free on corn at the farmer’s market. My interest was piqued.

I bought a half-dozen ears with no plan (never say I can’t throw caution to the wind).

But the deal with sweet corn (not supersweet, mind you) is that you need to cook it as soon as possible — the sugars start a downward spiral toward starches the minute it’s picked. At last tired of our beloved corn salad, and with no hot grill to throw them on, creamed came to mind.


And one of my very favorite cookbooks came to the rescue. The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook had directions for creamed corn, which I modified very slightly, adding a little more butter and cream, since I don’t think my corn was as fresh as it needed to be to get enough milk from the kernels (I cooked it the day after I bought it, probably 2 days after it was picked).

I stood at the stove and ate it straight from the cast-iron pan, unable to stop while my kids sat hungry in their bar chairs, begging to be fed (of course, none of them were so hungry as to actually eat the corn I served, so don’t go feelin’ sorry for them).

Unfortunately, creamed corn loses its charm when re-heated. But fortunately, creamed corn is fantastic when used the next day to top a pizza, along with crisp bacon and caramelized onions.

Fantastic enough for a second showing. So this Saturday, it’s part of The Plan to buy another half-dozen ears, which will likely be cooked the moment I return home from the market.



Recipe: Creamed Corn

: serves 4 as a side dish
adapted slightly from a recipe in The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook


  • 6 ears freshly-picked corn, husked
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • freshly ground pepper


  1. Standing a corn cob on end in a large bowl, and using a large, sharp chef’s knife, cut the kernels off each cob into the bowl. After removing kernels, “milk” the corn by using a spoon to scrape the remaining liquid from the cob into the bowl.
  2. Melt butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the corn and its liquid, and the cream. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn thickens and no longer tastes raw, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add salt, and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.




Carnie for a day, via Instagram

I worked at an Elephant Ear concession at the Indiana State Fair this week. A story is in the works, but until then, a visual documentation, replete with gratuitous Instagram filters:

Nowhere near my booth. But it's the ferris wheel.


Like a beacon, it calls to me. Come, fry some dough.


Blur filters utilized to protect my family.




An ear in the making.


Sorta like pizza. Only sweeter.


Some ears are drizzled in butter, but powdered sugar icing is where it's at.


And, of course. The cinnamon-sugar.


More for the old than the young.


A line of concessions, after dark, from the door of the trailer.


Last one out hit the lights.


Small batch jam #2, and my femivore failures.


I’m realizing that I have romanticized canning.

It’s like reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, in book club with my second-grader:

“The windows were shining and the pink-edged curtains were freshly crisp and white. Laura and Mary made new starry papers for the shelves, and Ma made vanity cakes.

She made them with beaten eggs and white flour. She dropped them into a kettle of sizzling fat. Each one came up bobbing, and floated till it turned itself over, lifting up its honey-brown, puffy bottom… The cakes were not sweet, but they were rich and crisp, and hollow inside. Each one was like a great bubble. The crisp bits of it melted on the tongue.”

This scene glows for me, with all its talk of crisp linens, shiny windows and shelf papers. Those cakes seem like the most delicious confection in the history of mankind — surely the pastries had power to mend broken friendships in their sharing.

But then there was the whole part about how they had to ride across the country in a wagon. And live in a hole in the ground. And wonder if they would survive the next Minnesota winter. That was the reality of Ma & Pa Ingalls.

With canning, in my persistent optimism (ahem, no comments from the peanut gallery, please) — I just had this vague, quaintly-blurred image of a basement full of home-canned goods. Jams, jellies, tomatoes to get us through the winter. Little labeled jars, all stacked up nice and neat, making me an organized, thrifty, able femivore.

But reality is: massive quantities of fresh produce for little yield (not, by the way, from our lackluster garden), tennis elbow from cranking a food mill, unwanted steam facials from an over-boiling canner, and giant, looming question marks. Are my tomatoes safe to eat? Can you see botulism? If you can’t see it, can you taste it?

It’s enough to make me want to hang up my jar lifter and put my canner on craigslist.

Or more likely, for a day or two, just stick with freezing. I have a deep-freezer, and darnit if it can’t handle a few half-pint jars of blueberry jam.

Which, by the way, is likely more delicious than vanity cakes. I mean, c’mon — who is Laura kidding? Eggs and white flour, deep-fried in fat, with no sugar? No wonder Nellie left in a huff.

(No, I kid — please, no angry emails from my older sister staunch Little House fans. The vanity cakes still sound magical to me, and Nellie was horrid to leave the party like that.)

If you have a shy two-pounds of blueberries leftover, say, from the 20 pounds that you might have purchased from a farm in your zeal for preserving, then this small batch of freezer jam is for you. So easy, and so worth the berries. I have been so taken with this jam, in fact, I’ve decided to try and get a few more pounds so I can properly can a few jelly jars as this year’s infamous teachers’ gifts at winter break.

Just to keep the vicious cycle rolling, like a late-19th century wagon wheel.



Recipe: Small-batch Blueberry Jam

: makes 3-4 half-pint jars of jam
adapted from a recipe in
The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, by Christopher Kimball


  • 6 cups blueberries (about 1 3/4 pounds), washed
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (do not use less)
  • 6 Tbsp fresh-squeezed & strained lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)


  1. In a large stainless (non-reactive) skillet (not a saucepan), combine all ingredients, and let sit for 2 hours.
  2. Have ready a small metal bowl nested inside a larger bowl filled with ice water. This will be used to test the jam for sufficient pectin.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and cook until sugar is dissolved.
  4. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until foamy. Continue cooking until blueberries thicken and start to become syrupy. At this point, stir constantly, until a wooden spoon leaves a trail on the surface of the skillet (or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture reads 220º)
  5. Drop a teaspoon of the hot jam into the metal bowl nested in an ice bath. After a few seconds, when the mixture is cool, run your finger through the jam. If the jam does not run back together, it is ready. If it does run back together, cook about 5 more minutes, stirring constantly.
  6. Ladle jam into warm sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ head space. Cover, and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer to freezer (alternatively, you can water-bath can at this point).



First-week-of-kindergarten Chocolate Ice Cream


My 5-year boy old loves chocolate. When he is offered ice cream, anywhere, he simply asks, “What flavor?” And if the answer is anything but the single word “chocolate,” he passes. Flavors that include chocolate do not make the cut — he’ll just skip the ice cream altogether.

We don’t always have ice cream in our house, but my thrift-store tabletop Cuisinart makes regular appearances throughout the summer. The ice-cream-making scenario goes something like this:

Hey, guess what I’m making today? (as I’m pulling the appliance out from the cabinet — we love the Answered Rhetorical Question game in our house.)

ICE CREAM!!! (three small voices exclaim in semi-unison; the 2-year old is still a bit slow on the visual cues, and so exclaims it only after she’s heard the other two, but the look on her face says she thinks she’s figured the whole thing out by her lonesome, which is somehow insanely adorable.)

Mom, what flavor? (says my son.)

(insert any flavor here that is not chocolate. which is what I end up saying about 80% of the time, because there are so many flavors to make, and who wants chocolate all the time?)

Mom!!! You NEVER make chocolate! (said in the most annoying, Chinese-water-torture-like whiny voice imaginable.)

That is NOT true. I make chocolate roughly 20% of the time, and that will have to do for you, my freak-of-nature middle child.

But this week, my sweet little freak-of-nature started kindergarten. The weight of this change on my day-to-day life is the subject of another blog, one about motherhood and how it is simultaneously exquisitely beautiful and life-draining; but I can summarize and say that it’s a big change. He has done marvelously so far, eager each day to go to school, happy when I pick him up. He seems older, more mature, already (though not too old yet to forgo crawling into our bed at 6:30 in the morning for a good pre-breakfast snuggle — and I’m holding on to that for as long as I can).

To celebrate this milestone, I pulled out the ice-cream maker and gave him the answer he so desires.

This is my go-to recipe for the all-time classic. While I love a good custard-based ice cream, they do require a little extra time and money — five farm-fresh egg yolks do not come cheaply. With some flavors, the Philly-style (i.e., egg-less) version is just as good if not better (I much prefer Philadelphia-style vanilla to French). With chocolate, this is also the case — while not as quick to whip up as mango sorbet, it’s low on the scale of frozen-treat difficulty.

I adapted this recipe from one in The Perfect Scoop — primarily, I reduced the amount of chocolate. The original recipe ends up a bit hard and chalky once frozen — and requires a bar and a half of baking chocolate and an odd amount of heavy cream. I reduced the amount so that one bar of chocolate and a pint of cream will do you — as a bonus, the texture is a little softer and the flavor still packs a chocolate punch.

Approved by the connoisseur — who is, as you might have noticed, not pictured above. His little sister, herself a lover of chocolate, stood in his stead for today’s shoot, as her brother was at school. So selfless of her.


Recipe: Classic Chocolate Ice Cream (Philadelphia-style)

: makes about 1 quart
adapted from a recipe in
The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz


  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 Tbsp unsweetened dutch-processed cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  1. In a large saucepan, whisk together the cream, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt. Bring to a full, rolling boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly.
  2. Remove from heat, and whisk in the chocolate. Stir until completely melted, then whisk in the milk and vanilla until very smooth.
  3. Chill over an ice bath, then transfer to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the instructions.




Recipe Swap! {ps: file away for November}


Back in early spring, when I bought a ticket to my first food blogging conference, I did so knowing that I would be going solo. Meaning, while I recognized some names of people on twitter who’d be going, in addition to some of the big wigs, I didn’t actually know a soul who would be there. Which, I discovered, can make finding a roommate to split the $150/night hotel a bit of a challenge.

The conference website had a page where you could post wants such as these, but I was reticent. I’m old, I’m crotchety, I’m an introvert. What if I landed a super-chatty roommate, or a party-er, or an insomniac who spent all night watching Lifetime movies?* I hemmed and hawed, tried to find roommates indirectly through friends-of-friends — but in the end I just had to bite the bullet and present myself vulnerable on the equivalent of a want-ads page.

I first wrote a girl who didn’t respond (insert feelings of paranoia) — but then my second attempt landed an immediate response from Christianna. A media producer from L.A., I tried to reign in my fears: in her photo she looked not a day older than 19. What in the world would I have in common with a 19-year old? Would she even have a category for the fact that I sleep with earplugs and white noise?

My anxieties completely unfounded, she was a delightful roommate. While her photo was a bit deceiving, in person she still barely looked 30, much less just two years my junior — and while she was probably a bit more normal social than I (translation: actually stayed up past 11 o’clock each night), she never once performed a keg-stand in our hotel room (or anywhere, as far as I know). As a bonus, she didn’t even turn on the television.

On her blog, Burwell General Store, she hosts a wonderful blog hop each month: The Recipe Swap. Christianna found a vintage cookbook at a thrift store, and from it selects a recipe to be reinvented — updated to modern tastes, while still honoring the original spirit of the book, one that encouraged community and fellowship. I’ve been wanting to participate in this swap for months — ever since our first email exchanges. Once, I actually got around to making something — but it was a resounding failure, and I was so deflated I didn’t even have the energy to record the mess.

This month’s recipe was for Sorgham Molasses Cookies: a basic cookie recipe sweetened with molasses, spiced with cinnamon and ginger, spiked with cold coffee. The week I was churning this recipe, it just so happened I was invited to a Cupcake Swap held spontaneously by a friend in town — and since these days I can usually manage to only tackle projects that inherently kill two birds with one stone, and those cookie flavors lend themselves so well to cupcakes, I plunged ahead.

Like eating gingerbread with a cup of coffee, they were successful enough to make the cut. My only caveat being — since they are full of all those fall flavors, it felt a bit jarring enjoying them on a sweltering hot August evening. The cake looks deceptively like chocolate, and since fall spices were the last thing a taster was expecting, the reaction was always one of surprise.

Kind of like me, being surprised by Christianna. Looking at her picture, and filling in my own story of what it might be like to room with her, I was putting her into a box of a season. How glad I was that I was wrong, and how I hope my lesson was learned.

* Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


Recipe: Spiced Molasses Cupcakes with Mocha Buttercream

: makes one dozen

Sucanat is an unrefined dried cane juice sweetener, available in health food stores (also marketed under brand Rapadura) — it retains much molasses flavor, so supports the liquid molasses in the recipe. You can substitute brown sugar if sucanat is not available.


  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup sucanat (see note)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup whole milk


  1. Preheat oven to 350º, and line a standard muffin tin with paper or foil liners.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, sucanat, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Add the butter, molasses, egg, and milk. Beat at medium speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix by hand until no flour pockets remain.
  4. Scoop batter evenly into muffin cups.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a center muffin comes out clean. Remove cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely before icing (recipe following).

Recipe: Mocha Buttercream

: makes about 2 cups, or enough to ice 12 cupcakes


  • 4 tsp instant coffee or espresso
  • 4 tsp warm water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch table salt
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, each stick cut into quarters
  • 1 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to room temperature


  1. In a small cup, dissolve the coffee in the warm water. Set aside.
  2. Combine eggs, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisking constantly, heat the mixture to 160º on an instant-read thermometer.
  3. Beat eggs on medium-high using the whisk attachment until light and airy and cooled to room temperature, about 5 minutes.
  4. Reduce speed to medium and add butter, one piece at a time. The mixture will curdle at first but will become smooth during final mixing.
  5. After all butter is added, add the dissolved coffee. Increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute, until smooth and all ingredients are well-mixed.
  6. Stop the mixer and add the cooled chocolate. Return again to high speed and mix until fully combined.
  7. Can be refrigerated for up to 5 days in an airtight container.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.



Tomatillo-braised Lamb Shanks


Sometimes I freak out about money.

Actually, it’s more like a lot of the time. Until a couple months ago, I was by default the person in our marriage who kept track of day-to-day financial goings-on in our household. Meaning: I made sure the bills got paid, I balanced the checkbook, and I tweaked the budget to fit my liking best meet the current needs of our family.

The problem was, my accounting skills never made it out of the year 1994. I still wrote every single transaction down in our checkbook ledger, and had devised a mind-boggling series of monthly bank transfers between checking and savings accounts that Tim likened to the US Tax Code — my system was so broken and stuck in a mire of paperwork that every bandaid just perpetuated the misery and confusion that enveloped me once or twice a month when I sat down to tackle it.

So we’re in transition. My husband, to save our marriage, has taken over the budget and bank account ledger, and doing it all online, which he swears is a safe and acceptable practice (I’ll believe it when we don’t overdraft our account and our identity is not stolen anytime in the next 25 years — this coming from a woman who uses a smartphone, so some guy at Verizon could know anything about me at any time, right?) But while we’re in transition, I feel like all these dollars, they just fly out of my wallet, and how much is left in my grocery budget, and wasn’t this whole thing supposed to make my life less stressful? Make me less likely to end up in the Target parking lot with a calculator and wad of old receipts clutched to my chest, sucking my thumb in the fetal position?

So this week I decided to bypass the whole spending-money thing, and try and cook only what we had at home.

What I had: lamb shanks, in the deep freezer, from the lamb I split with Emily. I also had tomatillos, from last weekend’s farmer’s market (meaning, I needed to use them fast, or they would rot on my counter). Having no idea whether or not lamb is a meat that shows itself often in Mexican cuisine, I dove in, with my beloved slow-cooker as accomplice.

The result? We found it excellent — a keeper, even — and I put off my shopping meltdown for one more day.

This is a two-step recipe, but in a pinch you could bypass the homemade salsa and just use a jar of your favorite salsa verde (but only if you promise to try your hand at the roasted tomatillo recipe at some point in the future, it’s very different from its jarred counterpart). If you haven’t made the leap to lamb, this is a great cut to try — inexpensive because it’s one of the toughest cuts, it becomes fall-off-the-bone tender when slow-cooked.

We ate this on soft-shell tacos with extra salsa, but it would be delicious over Spanish rice with the sauce spooned over top.


Recipe: Slow-Cooker Tomatillo-Braised Lamb Shanks

: serves 3-4


  • (2) 1-pound lamb shanks, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups roasted tomatillo salsa (recipe follows)


  1. Sprinkle the lamb shanks all over with cumin, salt and pepper, and rub to coat. Dredge in flour and shake off excess.
  2. In a heavy skillet or dutch oven, heat the olive oil on medium-high. When the oil is shimmering, add the lamb. Cook, turning, until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to slow-cooker, and turn on high.
  3. Add water to the skillet, scraping with a wooden spoon, to loosen any browned bits. Let simmer down for a minute, then pour liquid over shanks in slow-cooker.
  4. Pour tomatillo salsa on top of lamb. Cover slow-cooker.
  5. Cook on high for an hour, then reduce to low and cook another 6 hours, or until meat falls off the bone.


Recipe: Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

: makes 2 cups / adapted slightly from The Joy of Cooking, p. 62-63


  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked & rinsed
  • 2-3 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded & chopped
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3-4 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro or Italian parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp sugar


  1. Preheat your oven broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place the tomatillos in a single layer on top. Broil until darkened and softened on one side, about 4 minutes. Turn tomatillos over and broil another 5-6 minutes. Let cool completely.
  2. Place tomatillos and accumulated juices in a food processor along with the jalapenos and garlic. Pulse until coarsely pureed with a few chunks remaining. Remove to a medium bowl.
  3. Stir in the water, onion, herbs, salt, and sugar. If necessary, thin with a little more water.
  4. Let salsa stand for about 20 minutes before serving.


This recipe was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.