Friday, June 18, 2010


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So come along, follow me to my new home.

Save-My-Ass Summer: Grilled Jalapeno Poppers

Ahem. In case you hadn't noticed, the weather's heating up. That means shorts. Mini-skirts. The dreaded swimsuit and the baring of post-winter backside. I don't know about you, but the first exhibition of pasty, stew-fortified winter skin makes me cringe.

So how do we cope? We cheat. We break out the razor, the pedicures. Scan the drugstore aisles for any depilatory that doesn't smell like a home perm. Self-tanner is our friend. Hey, a girl does what she's gotta do.

Gaining weight in the winter is natural right? It's biology in action--fat is nature's Snuggie, n'est ce pas? But when the days get steamy, it's time to display some backside; preferably some that you're not ashamed of.

And yet, I'm not one of those freakazoids who can pull a Paltrow and exist on veggie juice and downward dog for two weeks straight. Sorry. I sort of like food.

We're easing into things moderately here, trying to trade in mashed potatoes for sweet corn, s'mores for strawberries. And guess what? When things healthy are concerned, the grill is your best friend.

Take the other weekend, for example. We had family and friends over for an afternoon of food and water mischief, and I wanted to keep things festive but not heavy. Awesome Stepkid R. was craving something spicy and cheesy, and while his scrawny caboose might be able to handle traditional jalapeno poppers, mine certainly can't.

But thanks to the Flay-man, we didn't have to compromise much. These grilled poppers deliver all the flavor and none of the grease-coma. They're a perfect thing to break out this weekend for your favorite, spice-loving Daddy-O.

Grilled Stuffed Jalapeno Chilis
recipe slightly adapted from Bobby Flay
serves 6

4 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2 oz. soft goat cheese
1 1/4 cup shredded reduced-fat white or yellow cheddar cheese*
2 green onions (green and pale-green part), thinly sliced
few dashes ground cumin and hot sauce
salt and black pepper
12 large jalapeno chilis, halved lengthwise, stemmed and seeded
1 heaping tablespoon ancho chili powder

Heat grill to medium.

Whisk together the cream cheese and goat cheese in a medium bowl until smooth. Fold in the cheddar, green onions, cumin and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Fill each jalapeno half with about 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture; sprinkle the top with ancho powder.

Place chilis on the grill (or use a grill basket, if preferred), filling-side up, and cook until slightly charred and tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.

**Cabot brand or Cracker Barrel reduced-fat, block cheese only, please. Otherwise, just run a few extra laps and use the full-fat stuff.


I don't bake, but if you're feeling like getting your inner Ace of Cakes on, there's some cute Father's Day cake ideas here!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Veg-Head Tuesday: The Spectacular Shroom

Hi Readers! Back from a very restful and completely unplugged visit to beautiful California! More on that after the dust settles...I'll be trying to catch up with you slowly this week, so please be patient with me. I really can't wait to hear what y'all have been up to!

Shhhh...can you hear that? That's your grill, covered in dust from a long winter, catcalling in your ear, saying, "Hey babycakes, it's been too long, don'tcha think? How 'bout going for a little spin, eh?"

Wake up, folks! Dust that dude off! It's prime grilling time--the weather is neither so steamy that you can't fathom heating ANYthing up (even a grill) nor so chilly that you crave a bowl of Guiness stew. It's sweet-spot weather!

Well, at least it is in my neck of the woods.

Don't assume that your grill discriminates, either. Sure, he loves the chicken and the cow and lunchtime weiner, but he loves veggies, too. In fact, the grill is quite the show-off where veggies are concerned.

"Think you don't like vegetables?" the grill scoffs. "Plop 'em on here, honey, and I'll work some veggie magic. I've got serious veggie mojo, Mama, so let me show you how it's done."

That grill might be a braggart, but he's not a liar. Marinate some succulent portabello mushrooms, add some toasty, gooey cheese love, a kiss of herbs, a crunchy breadcrumb topping, and Whammo! You've got an audaciously delicious concoction. With a dish so multi-layered and flavorful, the chicken in your refrigerator will shed a tear, he's so jealous.

Marinated Portabello Mushrooms with Asiago
from Weber's Way to Grill
serves 6

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

6 large portabello mushrooms, each 5 to 6 inches in diameter
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 cups grated Asiago cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Crushed red chile flakes (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients.

Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp cloth or paper towel. Remove and discard the stems. With a teaspoon, carefully scrape out and discard the black gills from the mushroom caps. Place the mushrooms, caps sides up, on a rimmed plate and brush them with the marinade. Turn the mushrooms over and brush again with the marinade. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes at room temperature. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs with the parsley and red pepper flakes, if using.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the mushrooms, gill side down, over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until the mushrooms begin to soften, 4 to 6 minutes. Brush the cap sides with some of the remaining marinade from the plate, turn over, add 1/4 cup of cheese on top of each mushroom, close the lid, and cook until tender when pierced with a knife, 4 to 6 minutes. During the last minute of cooking time, place the bread crumb mixture evenly on top of each mushroom. Remove from the grill, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


For a few brief months, between the move from North Dakota to the Rocky Mountains, we lived in Kansas. Alas, I didn't fit in any better in Kansas than I did in North Dakota. My parents chose a suburb with a concentrated Jewish population--a rather wealthy suburb, at that. We weren't rich. Or Jewish.

As per her usual, my sister made friends within days. Her best friend, Julie Schwartzman, was a smart, pale-skinned girl with jet black hair. Julie was popular and had a bowling alley in the basement of her home, along with pinball machines and skee-ball. I found Julie fascinating, particularly the carpet of black hair that covered her pale arms. I'd never seen a person that hairy in my life. Luckily, Julie's arm hair didn't phase her in the slightest; she even let me play with it sometimes. Nice girl, Julie.

The only friend I was able to wrangle up was a skinny Filipino girl named Maria Vergara who was just as out of place in that school district as I was. Maria had four older brothers who, evidently, thought it important to school her in the finer points in life: whacking the heck out of a tetherball, cheating at cards, and cursing like an old sea dog.

I remember one spring recess, while playing on the teeter-totter with Maria, I did something that apparently vexed her. She spit out a choice epithet and raised her middle finger at me, defiant. I'll never forget that moment, Maria ascending above me on the cracked red seat, finger waving in the air, stunning me into silence.

I came home that afternoon, wide-eyed. "Maria gave me the finger," I told Mama. I think I even whispered the word, I was so shocked. "I didn't know second graders could give the finger."

Mama promptly explained to me that ladies--particularly ladies in the second grade--did not give people the finger, and that Maria's brothers were obviously working overtime on Maria's education.

Luckily, Maria forgave me, and she was my only friend for the brief months I lived in Kansas. Maria's parents were both doctors, and worked long hours, but the one meal I did eat at the Vergara home, I was introduced to pancit. Pancit is a Filipino dish with Chinese influences, and it's delicious and quick. Silky rice noodles, cooked meat, and fresh vegetables are tossed with a savory sauce and stir-fried for just a few minutes. It's perfect for a quick weeknight meal.

Maria and I kept in touch for years--she was a stellar pen pal--and Maria now is a mother of two, living just outside of Boston. I only hear from her once a year now, at Christmas, but her letters are always full of vivid detail, written in her impeccable and beautiful cursive. I look forward to them.

Interestingly, Maria remembers neither giving me the finger nor what it was I did that raised her ire. She assures me that nowadays, she keeps her middle finger to herself.

serves 4

1 (6.75 ounce) package thin, Pad-Thai style rice noodles
4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced/crushed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced/crushed
3 cups diced cooked chicken, shrimp, pork or beef (or any combination)
3 cups shredded bok choy or napa cabbage
1 cup bean sprouts or carrots
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 green onions, chopped, green parts only
Lime wedges and peanuts, for garnish*

Soak the rice noodles in warm water for 20 minutes or until pliable; drain.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a heavy large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Saute noodles for 1 minute. Remove and keep warm. Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in skillet. Saute onion, garlic, ginger, and meat for 1 minute. Add bok choy, bean sprouts, oyster sauce, fish sauce, chicken broth, and red pepper flakes. Cover and cook for about a minute or until bok choy is slightly wilted. Toss with noodles. If desired, squeeze lime over noodles and sprinkle with peanuts.

* The lime and peanuts are my addition; I don't remember them in the original version, but I like the tang and crunch they lend to the dish.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Minted Watermelon and Lemon Ice Pops

We recently enjoyed the first really balmy weekend of the season, and the girls were thrilled. It took them no time at all to rustle up some friends, break out the sprinkler and proceed to pummel each other with water guns. With all of the shrieking and bellowing going on, the neighbors probably wished for earplugs, but kids will be kids.

Late in the afternoon, the gaggle of water warriors heard the quintessential sound of summer: the tinny tinkle of The Little Red Wing. "Ice Cream Man!" they hooted, slamming the screen door behind them and hounding my husband for cash.

Notice that I said husband. There is good reason for this.

Reason 1: I never, ever, have cash on my person. Whenever I open my wallet, I always half expect moths to fly out of it, like in that wizard scene from Fantasia.

Reason 2: I am The Person in the House Who Says No.

If you want a Yes in my house, you go to Daddy.

Now of course, we couldn't just give money to our own offspring. This was the first ice cream man encounter of the summer; you can't just let other kids sit by and watch, long-faced, as Miss M. and Miss D. tuck into their Bomb Pops. We also couldn't expect the other kids to, you know, run to their own homes and beg for bucks. Inconceivable!

Ten minutes and twenty three dollars later, we had some sticky-faced, happy customers.

And truly? I wouldn't trade that first Bomb Pop of the summer for anything, even though that ice cream dude has a Helluva racket going on.

I decided that since summer was officially in swing, it was time to dig out the popsicle molds and get to work. The ice cream maker got a dusting off as well. It's Official: The Frugal Ice Cream Mama is open for business.

Minted Watermelon and Lemon Ice Pops
from Cooking Light Magazine
makes 8

Watermelon Layer:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
2 cups packed cubed and seeded watermelon
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Lemon Layer:
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 teaspoons orange extract

To prepare watermelon layer, combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil; cook 30 seconds, stirring until sugar dissolves. Stir in mint; cover and let stand 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve into a bowl.

Place watermelon in a blender; process until smooth. Strain puree through a sieve into bowl with mint syrup; press with the back of a spoon until extract juice. Discard solids. Stir in lime juice; cover and chill for 1 hour.

Pour about 2 1/2 tablespoons watermelon mixture into each of 8 ice pop molds. Freeze 1 1/2 hours or until almost set. Arrange 1 wooden stick into mixture, being careful not to push through the bottom of mold. Return to freezer. Freeze 1 hour or until frozen.

To prepare lemon layer, combine 6 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil; cook 30 seconds, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour into a bowl; stir in lemon juice, orange juice and extract. Cool 15 minutes; cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Remove molds from freezer. Pour about 3 tablespoons lemon mixture over frozen watermelon mixture in each mold. Freeze 2 hours or until completely frozen.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ceviche for Miss Sunshine

Admittedly, there has been some not-awesome stuff clinging, like a bitchy barnacle, to the four walls of our house. However, we are weathering through and thank-you all so much for your kind words and well-wishes. Your support has been wonderful.

Today I'm happy to share some super-awesome with you. Yep, it's not all thunder and storm clouds over here--we've got serious sunshine, too. Her name is Daniela and she's a student from Torreon, Mexico. She's staying with us until July, touring the state and helping me keep The Minxes entertained. Her twin, Alejandra, is staying nearby, so oftentimes, we're lucky enough to get a double dose of sunshine in our house. The Minxes are over the moon, they're so in love.

Dani and Ale have been craving a few foods from their hometown, and I've been having a lot of fun trying to re-create those dishes. One of their desires has been for ceviche, a salad of raw or barely cooked seafood that's marinated in a spicy citrus dressing. We ordered it for lunch a few days ago at a sunny Boulder cafe; as soon as we took our first bites, we knew it wasn't going to suffice.

"There's too much filler in there," Dani said, squinting at the plate. "You can hardly find the fish."

"Where's the lime?" Ale asked. "It's supposed to taste like lime."

"This isn't spicy at all!" I said. "Aren't there supposed to be chiles in there?"

Hrumph. Clearly, in order to get this right at all, we were going to have to make it ourselves. But, ummm...I've never made ceviche and raw fish kind of skeebs me out.

Not that the fish is really raw once it gets to your plate; the lemon-lime dressing actually "cooks" the fish, so it's really quite safe to eat, honest.

When searching for a go-to recipe for ceviche, I decided that I really couldn't go wrong with Reichl. The woman in charge of Gourmet magazine (may it rest in peace) certainly isn't a hack; she knows good food. I found this recipe for Shellfish Watermelon Ceviche in The Gourmet Cookbook, and it sounded like a winner.

Juicy watermelon, sharp chiles, lightly poached seafood, and a bright kick from orange and ginger? What's not to like?

We scooped up bites of that lusciousness with sturdy, salty tortilla chips and basked in the accomplishment of getting it right. Sometimes, there's nothing finer.

Shellfish Watermelon Ceviche
serves 6 as a first course

1 navel orange
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup diced (1/4-inch) seeded watermelon
1/2 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
2-3 teaspoons finely chopped jalapeno or serrano chile (to taste), including seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound sea scallops, tough side muscle removed from each if necessary, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 pound large shrimp in shells, peeled, deveined, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 pound cooked lobster, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 small heads bibb lettuce, leaves separated (optional)

Cut and peel white pith from orange with a sharp paring knife, then cut segments free from membranes. Chop enough segments to measure 1/4 cup; discard remainder or save for another use. Combine chopped orange, orange juice, lime juice, watermelon, ginger, onion, jalapeno and salt in a large bowl and stir until combined.

Bring a 1-quart saucepan of well-salted water to a boil, then add scallops and poach at a bare simmer until just cooked through, about 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, transfer scallops to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Return water to a boil and add shrimp; poach at a bare simmer until just cooked through, about 1 minute. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water.

Drain scallops and shrimp well and pat dry.

Add scallops, shrimp, lobster, and mint to watermelon mixture and toss to combine, then season with salt. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours.

Serve ceviche with lettuce leaves on the side, if desired (use a slotted spoon for transferring ceviche to leaves).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Grilled Tomato Bread with Proscuitto

I know, I know, you tomato-haters are completely over
the recipes I've been posting lately. I swear, I know better, but I can't help myself.

It's just that I totally got my freak on at the Farmer's Market a week ago, and we've been drowning in the little red suckers ever since. It's like a crimson, seedy orgy over here, I'm telling you.

I could make a big batch of marinara sauce, throw it in the freezer, and put you loathers of all things tomato out of your misery. But it's been Hella Hot over here, and turning on the stove is about as appealing as a trip to the proctologist, so you're just going to have to endure one more post about the love apple. I'll make it quick, okay?

This yummy little morsel makes a perfect appetizer or light lunch. A quick turn on the grill renders the tomatoes tender and melty, and paired with crunchy bread, creamy ricotta and sharp, salty Proscuitto, you have a winner of a dish. Add a cool glass of Pinot Grigio and I doubt that you'll mind the steamy weather one bit.

Grilled Tomato Bread with Proscuitto
recipe courtesy of Bobby Flay
serves 4

1 pint cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
12 slices French bread, sliced 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
12 paper thin slices Proscuitto di Parma
2 lemons, cut in half
* I also added fresh basil, because tomatoes without basil is a crime*

Heat grill to high. Toss tomatoes in oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on the grill in a grilling basket and grill until charred and softened, turning a few times, about 10 minutes. Remove to a bowl. Crush the garlic with a little salt to form a paste and add to the bowl with a few tablespoons of olive oil.

Brush bread with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and place on the grill. Grill the bread until lightly golden brown on both sides, about 20 seconds per side.

Combine the ricotta with a little olive oil in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mound some of the tomato mixture on the bread. Lay proscuitto on top. Dollop with some ricotta mixture and garnish with lemon juice squeezed over the top.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Seven Hours Alone--*Update*

I had seven whole hours alone this weekend. I know.

Actually, the circumstances were complicated and awkward and not nearly as awesome as you think, but I was, indeed, alone for seven hours.

My alone-time began shatteringly early for a Saturday morning: 5am. Oddly, I didn't mind it though, because nobody was begging me for coffee or pancakes or a fried egg or Spongebob. All was pretty good, even at that hour.

I opened the paper, sipped my tea and then realized: I get to think about what I want for breakfast. I'll be damned.

Now I don't know about you, but even on weekends, my mornings are a freakshow. The kids need food NOW and they certainly don't want the same thing, and the cat's meowing for his milk, precariously underfoot, and I need to make the coffee and AIEEE! She'stouchingmemommymakeherquittouchingme...

You know. Like that.

Breakfast is usually someone's leftovers, shoved quickly down the gullet, as I'm running to make sure Miss M. really did hit the potty this time. I always eat breakfast of some sort--I'm ravenous in the morning--but it isn't really something I choose for myself, consciously. At this point in my life, breakfast=fuel. The quicker it gets into the belly, the better. No time to think.

But on this sunny Saturday, I got to choose.

Then I went for a long walk around a nearby lake, keeping company with geese and cows and large canines dragging dogged and harried owners. I walked fast. No need to stop to tie small shoelaces or take a dandelion-picking break or clap for spontaneous cartwheels.

Walk finished, I began the drive home and noticed that the Farmer's Market was open again: a sure sign of impending summer. I detoured, wandered around, found some cute little heirloom tomatoes and bunches of sharp-smelling herbs.

Back home, I realized something. When you're up at 5am, a mid-morning nosh is definitely necessary. Again, I was struck by the notion that I could actually put some thought into this. Eat exactly what I wanted to. This rarely happens.

As I've confessed before in this post, what I eat when I eat alone is usually shameful stuff. Leftovers, odds and ends, cereal. This food is not what I want to eat. It's food eaten out of desperation or laziness--food I don't have to think about, much less take the trouble to cook.

Oddly enough, I'd just thoroughly cleaned my refrigerator, so there wasn't the usual drek sitting in there, begging my parsimonious self to put it out of its misery. Yet again, I was able to stop, consider. I chose some of those little heirlooms with some fresh, creamy cheese and sharp basil. A snack was never nicer.

By the time 1pm rolled around, Awesome Stepkid R. was on his way home, there were weeds in the garden calling, and I didn't want to tarry, so I grabbed a heel of baguette, some herbed butter, and called it lunch.

The point of this story? I dunno. ???

I guess I was just struck at the notion that I no longer really feed myself. I cook, but with others in mind. I rush through my day and never stop to ask, "What do I want? What's going to nourish me, at this very moment?"

And I don't do that because...well, I can't. There's a family to consider. Just feeding myself seems rather selfish. But it made me wonder. What, at this moment, would you eat, if you could, just for you?

And p.s.: Lest you think I was virtuous all day, I will confess to my afternoon snack.

But you know what? Triscuits, lettuce, pepper jack cheese and mustard? Exactly what I wanted, trashy or no. Sometimes a girl just wants what she wants.

**Hi friends, a little more awkwardness and not-awesomeness going on here, so please forgive me if I don't check in with you for a bit. Nobody's diseased or dead, so don't worry about that. I just have some figuring out to do. Thank you, dear readers. You mean the world.**

Saturday, May 22, 2010

For Love of Harriet

I've always suffered mad book-love, even before I could actually read. Mama read to us for hours during long North Dakota winters, and I learned early on that even if you were snowed-in and drop-dead-bored, you could lose yourself in the world of Wonka; be comforted by Charlotte, spinning in a corner of the barn.

For most kids, summer means swimming, baseball, popsicles, games of kick-the-can. For me, summer meant books. Lots and lots of books. Mama would take me to the library twice a week and I'd get lost in possibility, studying shelves and scanning inside covers with ardent fingers. Books took me far away from myself; they made me forget that I didn't have any friends and felt nervous all the time. I could go places without ever leaving the four walls of my room. Books were magic.

One of my favorite books was (and still remains) Harriet the Spy. I adored Harriet--every sneaky, spunky inch of her. The summer I discovered Harriet, I realized that it was okay if nobody wanted me on their kickball team--Harriet would carry me through. And she did.

I loved Harriet so much that I told Mama that I needed to try Harriet's favorite lunch: The Tomato Sandwich. Mama, bless her heart, was happy to oblige.

Turns out, Harriet was right. There's nothing quite so fine in life as a tomato sandwich. To this day, it's one of my favorite afternoon repasts. Sure, things have changed a bit--I don't use squishy white bread and I jettison the Miracle Whip and I add an extra flavor or two--but the essence is still the same.

Once tomatoes are worth eating again, Harriet's sandwich calls to me. It's the first thing I crave when those plump, juicy, red suckers hit the Farmer's Market stalls. I snatch a good baguette, slice into vermillion, and fall in love all over again.

Tomato Sandwich (grown-up version)
serves one

Good crusty baguette, sliced
Best Foods mayonnaise, mixed with a squeeze of lemon and a little garlic
Fresh basil leaves
Spring/Summer tomato worth eating
Generous sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Layer ingredients on baguette in quantities that suit you. Devour. Spend the rest of the afternoon, if possible, lost in a good book.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Drinks with my Archenemy

You heard that right. I sat down and shared a cold one with a person who sends chills down my spine, who offends me at every turn, whose laugh turns my blood to adamant.

This was not easy for me. I hate to admit this, but I'm not exactly the forgiving type. I'm just not.

Which is why I didn't forgive her. I merely sat down and had a drink with her. In spirit. Because, as you well know:

This drink recipe came from her magazine. In a pathetic attempt at excusing myself, I will mention that it wasn't her recipe--it was a guest named Donatella's recipe. Which made things a little easier to swallow.

Actually, things were very easy to swallow, because this drink is delicious and absolutely refreshing. Serve it up at the end of a warm, sunny day. Share it with someone you love...or even an enemy. Your ire will be soothed in record time.

Basil-Gin Lemonade
from EveryDay with Rachael Ray magazine
serves 8

1 bunch fresh basil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups gin, such as Bombay Sapphire
1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice (about 6 lemons), plus 1 lemon, thinly sliced crosswise
3/4 cup triple sec
1 orange, sliced thinly crosswise

Reserve a handful of the basil leaves plus 8 small sprigs to use as garnish. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups water, the sugar and the remaining basil to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly. Refrigerate until cold. Strain into a clean container, pressing down on basil to extract any liquids; discard the basil.

In a pitcher, combine the basil syrup, gin, lemon juice and triple sec. Stir in basil leaves and lemon and orange slices. Serve in tall glasses over ice.

PS: I've been asked to extend the South Park Avatar contest another week--apparently, some of you are having issues saving your handiwork and want some more time to prepare your masterpiece! If you want to try your hand, go to South Park Character Generator!! Have fun! Leave the link to your character in the comments section if you want to play!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Five for Ten: Lust

I must say, I was a little disgruntled with Jen and Sarah when I saw the 4th topic for Five for Ten Again. Lust.



I have been married for nearly ten years! I have two kids! And a stepkid. And Harryboy and Twinkle the Gay Russian Dwarf Hamster. I have to schedule sex with my husband.

Sorry, honey, you probably don't appreciate me sharing that, but honesty is kind of key here.

If your life is so busy that you have to schedule sex with your husband (and yes, oddly enough, it does work for us) how do you conjure Lust?

I don't mean desire. That I can do. Actually, when I know that nookie is on the books, I think about Captain Sexypants often during the day, play music that gets me a little frisky, take time to groom the hedges and hey! If you nurture desire, it will come.

But Lust? Lust is made of more ferocious stuff. Lust, to me, is reckless, sudden, maybe insecure and jealous. Lust can turn on you--when you crave something you can't have, does it take you to a tenuous place?

Lust is hard for me, because honestly? I'm so spoiled that I actually have everything I really want. I do.

I was griping to my friend Kristen at Motherese the other day about my writer's block concerning Lust. "I know," she said. "We're in the small-kid stage of life--lust is hard."

And then she came up with a brilliant idea that she was kind enough to let me steal. A few weeks ago Liz at But Then I Had Kids tagged us with The Plastic Joy award.

You can get the details here, but here's the down and dirty explanation. If tagged, you need to list (and then explain your reasoning) 5 characters you'd like to do the horizontal whiplash with.

Notice I said characters, not celebrities or people. Celebrities are boring. But characters? In books, movies, t.v. shows, comics? Oh, those are good fun!

When Kristen and I were tagged, we were excited, because how much fun is that? And then, of course, we got distracted and didn't get around to it. But we meant to. And now! Poof! Lust falls into our laps!

So, without further ado, I present to you TKW's Lusty Wish List of Yummy Characters She'd Like to Do the Sexy-Time With:

(in no particular order)

~Roger Sterling (Mad Men): I love Roger's snark-sharp wit and easy charm. Nobody throws a wry, well-timed quip like Roger. Sure, he's a cheat and a rascal, but I'm just shagging the dude, not marrying him. Plus, a date with Roger always involves cocktails. You always have me at cocktails.

Favorite Quip:
Roger: (talking to Joan, his mistress) Are we actually gonna get in a fight over a movie? You know, Mona had a dream once where I hit the dog with a car. She was mad at me all day--and I never hit the dog. We don't even have a dog.

~James Bond: Now before you beat me up for this one, I have to say that I'm going to be picky about my James Bond. I'm only making room in my bed for one of them--and it's not the one with the gadgets or the gimmicky car or the cheesy lines or the misogynistic attitude. Nuh-uh. My bed belongs to the James Bond of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. That James Bond is an an-i-mal! A rough, tough, killing machine. That's the Bond I'm talkin' about. A man who would throttle, maim and kill any man who messed with me? Drool and swoon.

~Lloyd Dobler (Say Anything): Lloyd is the anti-James Bond. Sensitive, sweet, a little awkward. But what I love about Lloyd is his resilience and his plucky attitude. Lloyd Dobler thinks he can do anything, and so...he does! He just goes for it. And when good things happen to him, he doesn't question it. He also worries about my feet if there's glass on the ground, which is adorable.

Favorite quote: The rain on my car is a baptism, the new me, Ice Man, Power Lloyd, my assault on the world begins now.

Runner up: She's gone. She gave me a pen. I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.

~Patrick Jane (The Mentalist): Yeah, he's incredibly easy on the eyes. But what I love about Jane? The irrepresible mischief--that sparkle in his eye. You know this guy has something up his sleeve. He also lives to mess with his co-workers' heads, just for grins. This guy is a load of fun. Plus, he's so intuitive, so tuned-in to people's expressions and body's almost like sleeping with a chick. Which I can't say I've done, but hey, this is as close as I can comfortably get.

Favorite quote: Messy women make good lovers.

~Jake Ryan (Sixteen Candles): Gorgeous guy, hot car, heart of gold. What more is there to say?

Favorite quote: I want a serious girlfriend. Somebody I can love, that's gonna love me back. Is that psycho?

And now, I get to do the Honors! Girls, your number is up! I'm tagging:


Naptime Writing

Have fun, ladies! And bonus points if you can come up with a literary character! I felt like the worst former English teacher in the world because I thought and thought about it and came up with nothin'. I SUCK.

~Hey readers, I'd love it if you'd share a character that floats your boat in the comments! It's all in good fun, you know!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Weekend Awesomeness!

Oh readers, it's the little things that make me happy!

I just stumbled upon a website of Supreme Awesomeness and I want to share it with you!

It's your very own South Park Character Generator!

After messing around for a good hour, I came up with this!

Your weekend challenge? Make one yourself and leave me a link to your creation in the comments section below! The person generating the most Awesome South Park Alter-Ego will win a prize! I'll announce the winner on Tuesday!

Have fun--but be warned! Serious Time Suckage Opportunity awaits you!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Memory: Five for Ten


In brown-skinned summers,
You and I, sun-stung
From looking for tomato bugs
Would run to the rickety ice-house
Where Grandpa would teach us
The secret of watermelons.

Dappled-skinned melons were best.
Grandpa would squint, study, pluck
Only the choicest of suspects,
Rap his gnarled knuckles hard--
Knocking for secrets, seeking the sweet.

Crouch-down anxious, we'd wait
As Grandpa clicked his pocketknife,
Cutting hard circle
Into innocent flesh.
His foolproof method only failed twice,
Yielding dry melons
He fails to remember.

Sunset. Drugged with heat and dust,
We bit into crimson--
Let it bleed down our arms, bugs be damned,
Spit seeds into the evening
Shooting at the gray goose that hissed,
Extra points if we plundered backside.
I loved you then.

Sometimes, over your second
Gin and tonic of the evening,
You will throw your head back, laughing
Pearly picket-fence teeth bared,
And for an instant, I see the girl
Of our watermelon summers


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Happiness: Five for Ten

Ah, the elusive little devil that is Happiness. Everyone wants it. Everyone seeks it. Heck, our forefathers declared that it was our right to pursue it.

But what is happiness, really? And why is it that so often, the things we thought would make us happy, when we finally get them...don't? At least not in the ways we thought they would?

I have no answers for you.

What? You think I'm freakin' Yoda or something? You think I have any clue what makes you tick and shimmy with joy? I have a hard enough time figuring out how to make myself happy--I've got no time for you! Do your own reconnaissance!

Ahem. Anyways, Jen and Sarah decided that we needed to write about happiness today, so here goes! And don't forget to check the links over at Jen and Sarah's site--there are some mucho talented writers participating in Five for Ten!


When I pushed two tiny, howling bundles of endless need out of my body, I had no idea that my idea of happiness was going to change. The things I reveled in as a non-mother? Poof! Up in smoke, boy and girls. Things that once ranked high on the Joy-o-Meter suddenly had no significance whatsoever.

You think I'm kidding? Allow me to illustrate.

8 Things That Made Me Happy Before I Had Children

1. An hour-long soak in the bathtub with music, novel, bubbles.

2. Cuddling on the couch with hubs, watching back-to-back re-runs of the X-Files.

3. Ditching plans to cook dinner in favor of Takeout in Skivvies night.

4. Massage with "Relaxation" Lavender Oil.

5. Marathon day of shopping in the spring. Purchases: flirty sundresses, high-heeled sandals, mini-skirt.

6. Sunday mornings at the bookstore, latte in hand, leisurely scouting out the newest offerings.

7. A good, hard, 60 minute workout at the gym. Long shower to follow.

8. Wine.


See what I mean? Those joys are shallow little husks of things. It wasn't until motherhood that I understood what things really bring the happy.

8 Things That Make Me Happy Now That I Have Children

1. A 5 minute shower without interruption/comments from the peanut gallery, such as: "Hey Mama, if your boobs were any bigger, we could play boxing on them," and (pointing southward towards prime real estate) "Harryboy!"


2. Being able to watch a TiVo'd episode of The Daily Show without falling asleep during the opening monologue.

3. Serving and consuming dinner without critiques like: "Piss, piss, piss! I don't like this dinner!"

4. That awesome numby-cream stuff that they give you for your poor, battered pikachu the day after giving birth.

5. Internet shopping. Chez Target. Purchases: skirt with elastic waistband, muffin-top-concealing t-shirts, Spanx.

6. Sunday mornings when you aren't awakened before 6:30 am by any of the following: farting/snoring husband, vomiting cat, bad dream, hacking cough, Pull-up that ate Hiroshima.

7. Working out for 20 minutes (instead of the usual 15) before gym child-care employee tracks you down and informs you that your kid won't stop crying/flailing/shreiking. So they're kicking you out. Again.

8. Wine. Well, okay, not every kind of happiness changed. I'm still human.

Now I know, you're thinking that I'm a grouch and a crank and frankly, I oftentimes am. That's just what you have to live with when you hang with me. I am SnarkWoman.

But even though motherhood has changed me, and has changed my idea of happiness, I cannot say, in the least, that it was a bum trade.

Bath in Peace vs Smell of New Baby? Guess.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Five for Ten: Courage

Two of my most favorite people in the Blogosphere, Jen and Sarah from Momalom, are embarking on round two of their wildly popular Five for Ten series.

If you are interested in joining in or just finding out what all the fuss is about, you can do so here. Or you can just click on the handy little button on my sidebar.

There are tons of terrific, thoughtful voices participating, so I encourage you to hop on over to Momalom this week and check the links!

So on with the first topic of the week--Courage.

Many of you have asked why I write so often about Mama and Daddy but don't tell more tales about my sister. I've mentioned her a few times, like here and here and here, but for the majority of the time, I'm fairly closed-lipped about the subject of my sister (nearly 4 years my senior).

And many of you readers, clever dogs that you are, smelled something rotten. Because I can't keep my mouth shut for anything. Why would I, the girl who always has the flapping pie-hole, be quiet on this subject?

Because talking about my sister makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Sad. Angry. Ashamed. And really mixed-up. Most of all, it makes me afraid.

I'm afraid that when you hear the story of my sister, you will judge me. I'm afraid that you'll think less of me, think I'm a coward, think I have ice running in my veins.

I'm also afraid that all of those above things, when it comes to my sister, might be true.

But maybe after a year of blogging and dancing around the subject, it's time to quit being such a ninny. Maybe I just need to muster the courage to lay it all out there, for you to make of it what you will.

My sister, like many older siblings, was less than thrilled about my arrival. She quite liked being the lone wolf, the center of attention. She sulked when Mama brought me, swaddled and squalling, home one February day. Everyone else saw a baby. She saw an Interloper.

This is, of course, completely normal. What kid doesn't want to be the only game in town? Difference is, most older siblings eventually get over the affront of having to share top billing. My sister never did.

My first clear childhood memory is of a hard shove to the back and a tumble down a flight of stairs. I learned to always hold the railing after that. And no, I didn't tell on her.

I never told on her, even when she locked me in our dank, spider-infested basement for hours when she babysat. I didn't tell when she got into cars with strange boys. I didn't tell when I found two bottles of schnaaps hidden in a backpack in her room. I didn't tell when she came back from a Tom Petty concert with five angry, purple hickeys. I didn't tell when she told me I was weak and stupid and spineless.

I didn't tell on her because I deeply, desperately wanted her to like me. She never did.

Don't get me wrong; she wasn't always cruel. There were times (usually when there was nobody else around to entertain her) when she tolerated my presence. I reveled in those times, when I could listen to her stories and watch her every move, as she primped for a school dance or a date, smitten. I loved studying her as she riffled though clothes, experimented with eyeshadow, carefully painted her toenails. I'd lie on her bedroom carpet, Styx or Journey or Foreigner blaring in the background, as she'd regale me, step-by-step, what had transpired at the dance, the party, the concert.

She fascinated me. She was worldly and daring. She always had a boyfriend, if not two. She sassed back, tossed her glossy hair in defiance. She talked on the phone for hours, in hushed secrecy. And I sat in the corner or in the background, studying her. Watching. Because she was everything I was not. Two girls were never more different.

I've studied her all my life. It's uncanny, if not a little disturbing, to go through old photographs and see myself doing this:

She was the butterfly, I was the scientist. She was exotic, mysterious, changeable.

There were a couple of years in college when we actually got along. My rebellion years. The years where I grew so tired of being silent and responsible and good that I decided to become a completely different person. I became the girl who drank alcohol, experimented with a few choice pharmaceuticals, partied until 4 in the morning, kissed dangerous and unsuitable boys. I told Mama to "fuck off."

My sister was delighted with the transformation. "God, you were always so boring," she'd say, rolling her eyes and taking a deep drag of her cigarette. "I always wondered what the Hell was wrong with you. Mom and Dad's little perfect pet. You were so gross."

I'd smile and nod, peeling the label off my bottle of Coors Light, feeling raw and unsettled.

After a few years, I had to abandon the charade. It was just too hard to be an imposter. Deep down, it was my nature to be a cautious brown moth.

The most compelling reason for my defection: my devil-may-care, daring sister was quickly moving into reckless territory. She started cracking beers at 7 in the morning. "Lookee here! Cereal!" she'd say, waving the can and laughing.

On weekends, she passed out at noon, slept until 4, woke up ready to continue the party. She began craving stronger, more dangerous highs. She showed up late for holiday gatherings, eyes dilated and skittish, chattering with manic verve. For the first time in her life, she wasn't struggling with her weight. I began noticing mysterious, inexplicable dents in her car. Her boss called several times, concerned because she hadn't shown up for work, and did I know anything?

My parents asked questions. I lied. I kept her secrets like I'd always done, partly out of fear and partly because I didn't know how to do anything else. I felt dirty, ashamed. She expected my silence, I'd kept it, and now that things had spiraled deeply out of hand, didn't that make me an accomplice?

Finally, the weight was just too heavy to bear. I did something I never thought I'd do. I confronted my sister. Shaking, I told her that she was off the rails, needed to stop. The results were incendiary. Denial. Lies. Spite. Years and years of buried resentment, now put into words, given life.

"I hate you," she hissed at me, pinning me against the door. And suddenly, with a bolt of clarity, I realized that it was true.

She refused to get help. From that day forward, I was done.

I did not tell my parents much. I never will. Frankly, they'd known plenty for many, many years, just as I had. They aren't blind, and they understand my decision.

I have not seen my sister in over ten years. She has never met my daughters, although she is desperate to do so. I have spoken to her maybe a handful of times on the phone, and she's always sounded loaded, so the conversation is short.

There's been rehab and relapse and rehab again. Wash, rinse, repeat. There's been so much hope on my parents' end, hope that's dashed and kicked to the ground, only to rise again with the latest promise or subterfuge. They sometimes believe her.

I do not. I cannot. I won't. Because I know her. All those years spent watching...I know her better than anyone, perhaps because I spent so many years trying to find a way in, a way to her heart.

She has periods of being clean. People ask me why I don't reach out to her then, let her know how proud I am, try to re-build fences. When they ask me, I don't know how to answer. There are so many things swirling in the mix: anger, guilt, hurt, grief, hope. My final answer is just that I don't trust.

I don't trust her. I don't trust her promises. I don't trust her to do the hard work of staying sober, because she's never done anything hard. I don't trust her not to rekindle hope and then disappear again for days, weeks, years. I don't trust her not to charm my girls, win their open and easy hearts, then shatter them.

Am I hard-hearted? Maybe. Paranoid? Possibly. Unbending? Probably. But I'm also a mother now. And there are things more important than saving a relationship that never did anything but falter.

That I'm writing this piece for Momalom, a blog started by two sisters, is a sad little irony. I envy Jen and Sarah. I envy their bond, their knowledge that they will always have each other.

A kinship like that is something I've been denied, and like a petulant child, I feel small and cheated. I grieve the loss of my sister, but more than that, I grieve for the kind of sisterhood I always yearned for and never had. I grieve for myself, that little girl watching her sister's every move, begging to be let in.

When Miss M. was born, I was bowled over with joy and wonder and most of all, hope. I hope my two little girls won't squander the gift that has been given them. The bond of sisterhood. The beauty of having someone who knows you, marrow-deep, like nobody else. Please let them be gentle with each other. Let them realize that the strings that tether them together are not chains, but gold.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Veg-Head Monday: Zucchini Stuffed Tomatoes

Time to get your Veg On, readers! This recipe features the very under-rated and often villified zucchini. Why is there so little Zucchini Love on this planet?

True, if you try to consume a zucchini the size of a baseball bat (you know, the ones your co-workers bring to work in August when their garden is exploding and leave on the break room table accompanied by a note that says: Free!) you are going to get a tough, bitter result.

No, no, no. Those zucchini are Desperate Zucchini, and really, they're terrible. My parents have neighbors who, every year, grow the Exploding Zucchini Patch from Hell. These neighbors happily munch through ratatouille, zucchini bread and veggie lasagna all summer but by August, they're frantic to get rid of the suckers. They are tapped out. When late summer rolls around, my parents begin to hear the doorbell chime several times a week; when they open the door, they're greeted with a gi-normous bag of Desperate Zucchini. The neighbors aren't even there--they pull a veggie Ring-and-Run. Harrowing!

But little spring zucchini are a joy. Prepared correctly, they're light and delicate and delightful.

This recipe is an oldie but a goodie.

These stuffed tomatoes are hearty enough to make a lovely lunch, accompanied by a crusty baguette and a nice wedge of cheese. And if you have any sense at all, you'll pour a nice glass of wine to seal the deal.

This dish also makes an impressive side for grilled steaks or roast chicken, if you just can't bear a meal without meat (or, like me, you are having your carnivorous Daddy-O for lunch).

You can also vary the kinds of vegetables you use in the filling; if you're a green pepper hater, you can substitute mushrooms, or carrot, or corn, or anything, really.

So grab a few Un-desperate Zucchini and jump in!

Zucchini-Stuffed Tomatoes

serves 6

6 medium tomatoes, seeded, juiced and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 lb. zucchini, finely chopped or grated
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon oregano
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese*
salt and pepper to taste

Core the tomatoes, remove seeds and flesh. Turn upside down and let excess moisture drain out onto paper towels.

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and green pepper; cook until softened. Add zucchini, garlic and oregano and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Remove from heat. Stir in basil, eggs, 2 tablespoons parmesan and salt and pepper to taste. Spoon mixture evenly into tomatoes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake in a buttered baking dish at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.

* I know I rail about this all the time, but use the good stuff, people! Not the green stuff in the can, not the pre-shredded deli variety. Invest in a nice hunk of expensive Parmiggiano Reggiano and grate it on an as-needed basis. I swear to you, once you switch, you'll be stunned at the difference.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

The Happiest Day
by Linda Pastan

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn't believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn't even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day--
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere--
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then...
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.

Mommy Time--do you take it?

All joking aside, please join me (and some other seriously wonderful bloggers) over at Heather's site Brotherly Love this week.

Heather's emphasis this week, in honor of Mother's Day, is the importance of taking time out for ourselves, to take care of ourselves. Because, as my family knows...if Momma Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy.

So take a minute, grab some tea and a cookie, or whatever pleases you, and join me over at Brotherly Love!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Scallops with Jalapeno-Herb Pesto

I don't have a crush on Bobby Flay* (he looks a little too much like Howdy Doody for my taste), but I do have a serious crush on his food. Spicy? Check. Fresh? Check. Inventive? Check.

And, if I'm making a recipe out of his cookbook Grilling for Life, I can add Healthy to the laundry list of things I love.

The original recipe called for an avocado vinaigrette to accompany the scallops, and I did go ahead and make it (it's the pale green pool that's the bed for the scallops), and the dish was wonderful. Still, I don't really think you need the avocado vinaigrette. What knocked me out were the tender scallops and the flavorful pesto. What an explosion of texture and flavor!

Spice Fearers: feel free to tinker with the ratio of jalapenos in the pesto. We used the recommended amount and enjoyed the kick, but you'll still get plenty of flavor out of this if you use, say, two chiles. Grilling them mellows their heat, so don't be scared!

Grilled Sea Scallops with Avocado Vinaigrette and Jalapeno Pesto
serves 6
from Bobby Flay's Grilling for Life

For Jalapeno Pesto:

1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
6 jalapeno chiles, grilled, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine the cilantro, jalapenos, garlic, pine nuts, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil and process until emulsified. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and set aside. The pesto can be made up to 2 days in advance, covered, and kept refrigerated.

For Avocado Vinaigrette:

1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons chopped red onion
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil

Combine the avocado, lime juice, water, onion, honey, cumin, salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil and blend until emulsified. If the mixture is too thick and does not pour easily, add additional water to thin it to a pourable consistency.

For Sea Scallops:

24 large sea scallops
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat your grill to high. Brush the scallops on both sides with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the scallops until crusty, golden brown, and just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side.

Serve 4 scallops per person on each plate. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the avocado vinaigrette over the scallops and top each scallop with a teaspoon of jalapeno pesto.

*Feel free to confess your love for the Flay--or any Food Network crush--in the comments section! I always find it fascinating which star floats the most boats!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Spinach Tale

Oddly enough, growing up, I liked spinach. As in, the green, slimy spinach that was found, in a box, in the freezer section. Mama would cook it and then toss in some tangy vinegar (I think that was the key to this salt-lover's acceptance) and I'd gulp it down happily.

That algae-like spinach is every child's nemesis, so why did I like it? I have no idea. Nowadays, I don't eat that spinach anymore. I eat fresh baby spinach, steamed or au naturel in lovely salads.

Unless I'm at a steakhouse. And then I eat creamed spinach. Which of course, is food of the Gods. But really, you could probably braise crabgrass in a sauce that redolent with butter and cream and it'd taste okay. Cream sauce can vault almost any vile substance to ethereal heights.

Alas, cream and butter don't lovva my ass. Suffice it to say that I rarely allow myself to eat it.

I was grilling steaks the other night and thought about creamed spinach. And then I remembered a recipe from Ellie Krieger for healthy creamed spinach. After a quick run to the store to purchase evaporated milk, I got down to business.

I'll admit, I was dubious. A creamed spinach recipe that contains neither butter nor cream? Hmph. Sort of sacreligeous, in my opinion.

I made the recipe and served it up. The girls, naturally, would not touch it. We ate ours, and it was okay. Just okay. Next time I make it, I'm using cream instead of the evaporated milk. In my opinion, 1/2 of a tablespoon of cream per serving is not at all excessive. And really, it needs that lush note that cream delivers.

But the interesting part comes later. The next day, I turned on the Food Network, and my archenemy, Rachael Ray, was perking it up on the screen. Let it be known that I don't think she's a bad cook. It's her freaking perk that I can't abide. And the weirdo made-up words like "stoup."

Still, she got my attention, because she was making Green Eggs and Ham in cups. With creamed spinach. Which I happened to have left over in my refrigerator, along with eggs and proscuitto di Parma.*

It got me thinking. My girls love eggs. LOVE them. They also happen to love all things salty and pig-fleshed.

Could the combination of the two cancel out the yuck-factor of the spinach?

I had to try, just in the name of curiosity. I DID stack the deck in my favor by encouraging the girls to help me make the dish. I have two very eager helpers in the kitchen, and if I am not pressed for time, I am finding that my favorite times of the day are when they're next to me in the kitchen, stirring or sifting or beating some eggs. It also increases their chances of trying something new by at least 30 percent.

They happily helped out, cooing and marvelling at how cute the little egg baskets were.

~Bunny had to help, too.

~Miss D. thinks that dancing is a crucial step in the recipe-testing process.

~Admit it--they're cute.

Green Eggs and Ham
recipe courtesy of Rachael Ray
serves 4-8

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted in microwave and excess moisture squeezed out
1/3 to 1/2 heavy cream
salt and pepper
dash of ground nutmeg to taste
8 slices ham or proscuitto di Parma
8 eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the extra-virgin olive oil and the butter and sweat the shallots for a few minutes. Add the spinach and stir in the cream, season with salt, pepper and a little grated nutmeg. Cook the spinach, stirring occasionally, until the cream has thickened, 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning to your taste.

**Author's note: I didn't make the spinach Rachael Ray lists above. Instead, I substituted leftover creamed spinach from Ellie Krieger's recipe, which I've included below.

Fold each slice of ham or proscuitto in half and line a nonstick muffin cup with one slice meat (only 8 cups of the muffin pan will be used). Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the cooked spinach into the cups, then crack an egg into each, making sure the egg stays whole. (hint--if you're worried about breaking the egg yolk, crack the egg into a small bowl first, then pour it into the muffin cup. Season the top of the eggs with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven until set, about 15 minutes. Allow the baked eggs to cool in the muffin cups for a couple of minutes before removing them from the pan. Serve immediately.

Verdict: These little egg cups are genius! They're adorable, fun to eat, and delicious! Well, hubs and I thought so. The girls ate the eggs, but not the spinach or the crispy proscuitto cups. I think proscuitto is a little too strongly flavored for small palates.

However, I'll be making these again with some adjustments. I'll use just regular ham for the girls' cups, and I think I'll replace the spinach with some finely diced, cooked potato. THEN I think this family is in business!

Creamed Spinach
serves 4
from Ellie Krieger's So Easy

2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 small shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk (1%)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons evaporated milk
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze all of the water from the spinach. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the flour to the pan and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the low-fat milk and the broth and cook, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Add the spinach and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the evaporated milk and nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

*No, I'm not a snob because I always have proscuitto in my refrigerator. It's called Salt Addict.