Tuesday, December 21, 2010

C is for Cookie, That's Good Enough For Me

The Great Cookie Caper 2010

[Transcripts from interview conducted in my messy home earlier this evening.]
What's the Great Cookie Caper 2010?
MEP: You haven't heard of it? Probably because I named it just now. Four fabulous bloggy friends decided to make cookies and post about the experience on the same day.
Did they all make the same cookies?
MEP: No.
Did they all make Christmas cookies?
MEP: No.
Let's move on. How can I read about all the cookies?
But let's focus on you, MEP. Is baking a specialty of yours?
MEP: I have had some recent successes, specifically my successful execution of the greatest chocolate chip cookie ever, but I don't really think of myself as a super awesome baker. I'm willing to attempt almost anything though, and my boys really like to help in the kitchen.
This interview is getting boring. What were your baking goals for this holiday season?
MEP: Oh, you know, come up with a signature baked good to knock the holiday socks off everyone at the various holiday parties I attend. Sure, I can make a good snow-covered turd and my chocolate-covered pretzels aren't bad either, but I wanted a go-to cookie or candy.
Let's get back to that mention of holiday parties. I thought I heard that you weren't actually invited to any holiday parties that did not involve family or your husband's colleagues.
MEP: I think party-givers heard about the snow-covered turds and were intimidated. Doesn't really matter though as I am still seeking that signature baked good.
Well, let's get to it. What did you make for the Great Cookie Caper 2010?
MEP: I've been slowly building a collection of cookie cutters and had planned to do my research and find the ultimate recipe for cut-out cookies and that icing that you sort of dip them in. Unfortunately, I was soon bogged down by the stress of the season. Playing Santa, trying to get some cards in the mail, packing and traveling, moving that Elf on the Shelf around. I'll share some photos of what the boys and I did instead of making tasty homemade cookies in recognizable shapes.
Go for it.
MEP: First you buy a tube of sugar cookie dough from the grocery store and sit it on the counter because it might feel awfully cold and hard (editor's note: Michael Scott?).
Let your Bub wear his awesome brand-new apron (Team MEP has matching aprons now, thanks to Aunt Shell -- more on those adorable aprons in a future post) while he puts on his gloves (plastic baggies -- Grammy taught him that) and rolls the dough.
You can roll out the dough on a sil-pat if you are afraid that your island is unsanitary (realtor's note: one way to torture any person who might ever live in your home is to install a butcher block counter.)
Choose a few cookie cutters and cut out some festive shapes. Bub chose a tree, a gingerbread man, and a cardinal. Since you let the dough sit out to soften it, it will be challenging to cut out any cookies at all without them breaking. You will remember something in the back of your mind about working with chilled dough. You'll have to make them extra-thick so you can transfer them to the cookie sheet.

If you push them all too close together, some of them will bake together. Note that the cardinal did not quite hold its shape.
Let me interrupt, MEP, things don't seem to be going well.
MEP: Actually, things are not as bleak as they look. Bub really enjoyed cutting out the cookies, and I made the wise decision that the cookies would be iced to order.
Sounds like a good way to continue making a mess in your kitchen.
MEP: Yes, I like to start the morning by stepping in a pile of sprinkles. Anyway, after dinner, I iced the cookies with store-bought frosting then let the boys sprinkle away. They had fun, which is all that matters.
Indeed. I hate to point out the obvious, MEP, but there's not really a recipe here.
MEP: Well, maybe just a recipe for having fun with a few inexpensive store bought ingredients.
Ha ha ha, MEP, you are clever. Still though, I feel cheated. Perhaps you are holding out on us.
MEP: Okay, okay. Feeling a bit embarrassed about the cut-out cookies, I remembered an old favorite that I like to call the Dreamsicle Cookie. Key ingredients are butter, orange zest, and vanilla chips.
Vanilla chips? I've never heard of those.
MEP: Me neither, and I can't find them in any store. I've always substituted white chocolate chips. Anyway, the cookie is easy to make, and when I made them a few years back, my hubby liked them.
Can we have the recipe?
MEP: I'm too tired to type it up right now and don't know what the rules are about posting recipes that belong to others. This one comes from the cookbook of a famous bakery in New York. NTB. If you want it, email me at mep at nottobrag dot net. NTB, but Dreamsicle is my own name for the cookie, not to be confused with the ice cream novelty.
Yes, when I think Christmas, I think about Dreamsicles. Wait, no I don't. How is the Dreamsicle cookie appropriate for this season?
MEP: You know how in the Little House books, Laura and the Ingalls kids are so thrilled to receive a stick of peppermint and an orange for Christmas? This cookie honors that holiday orange. You can call them Half-Pint's Orange Delights if you wish.
I don't wish.
MEP: Your prerogative. I do want to issue a warning that the recipe calls for a tablespoon of orange zest. I didn't have enough zest (pun intended) to come up with that much orange zest, but I still think my cookies turned out beautifully. And, added bonus, these cookies make the whole kitchen smell amazing.
Speaking of your kitchen and of being amazing, we haven't seen an awesome kitchen tip from you in a while, MEP. Not since the great butter wrapper revelation. Have you been holding out on us?
MEP: Well, NTB, but I did come up with a little something that makes baking more convenient. You know how it's so annoying to keep having to go find the flour and then the sugar and then the baking soda and whatnot?
You mean you don't have those staples in beautiful, yet useful, vessels on your counter?
MEP: Those of us who do not live on Food Network sets can make baking easier with an unattractive but practical vessel purchased at their local CVS. I bought this file box with handle. Inside, I store my flour, brown sugar, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Then, when it's time to bake, I pull the whole caddy out of the pantry.
Pretty clever!
MEP: NTB. CVS is quite convenient for most readers if you're looking for a last minute gift. "Here, mom, it's a baking caddy!"
MEP, this post is too long and too boring.
MEP: I know. I'm sorry. I'm tired and slightly overwhelmed by the pressures of being Santa. Also, I feel a little sick to my stomach from eating too many cookies.
Merry Christmas then.
MEP: Merry Christmas to you. God Bless you, every one.
Wait, I think there's time for one last question. What was your daughter thinking during cookie time?
MEP: She's thinking, "Lady, enough with the Puffs. Puffs Schmuffs. I want cookies!"
She's definitely yours.

Have yourself the sweetest Christmas ever.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Da Ordaments

The Monday before Thanksgiving, Bub fell in love with an cute little Christmas tree at Target. Three feet tall. Pre-lit. On sale.
I warmed to the idea of the lil tree as we finished our Targeting. "You and Little Bit can put it in your room," I told Bub. And then, "We'll make all our own ornaments for it!"
My Bub, lover of crafts, lit up. We spent some time that afternoon searching for kid-friendly ornament projects online. Actually, we only spent about ten minutes as I was quickly overwhelmed by thoughts of glue guns, glitter, spray paint, and other ordament fixings.
Yes, I know it's "ornament," but my kids prefer to say ordament so ordament it is.
Bub was distracted from the ordament crafting plan by an urgent desire to visit "his website."
After Thanksgiving, we decorated our big tree and set up the little one in the boys' room. Every time I thought about making ordaments for it, I just felt kind of tired. "Yep," I'd tell Bub, "we're going to make some ordaments soon."
And here's what we did without a glue gun, glitter, paint, clothes pins, or small pieces of felt. You can do it too. If you want.
First we chose a few of our favorite Christmas books . . . like this one.
Then I got out my beloved full sheet labels (awesome for all kinds of crafty and useful purposes, but paper and glue can work for this project too).
We tried to choose a page in each book that featured as many cute and appropriately-sized characters and scenes as possible. Then we used our all-in-one printer/copier/scanner to copy the pages we chose.
Then, we cut out characters and scenes from the full-sheet labels. I say "we," but I did it because I didn't trust anyone else to do this delicate work. Then we pulled the backing off the cut-outs and stuck them on the glossy side of a piece of a piece of poster board. (Again, you could glue your pretty pictures to the poster board).
Then the boys took turns picking pictures so that they each had their "own ordaments."
Then we cut the poster board around the pictures. I let Bub cut out his all by himself because I am breezy and laid back like that.
Next came the part of the project where one's creativity can "run wild" as the boys decorate the back of the ornaments with crayons in carefully selected holiday colors. Note Little Bit's concentration on the task at hand. Pretty remarkable for him, I have to say.

No photos of the next steps, but they are as follows: Make slight crease in top of each picture and cut small slit. Slide cheap silver ornament hanger through slit. Use wire-edged ribbons saved from last year's packages and have mommy tie it around the ornament hanger. Write names of boys and the year on each ornament.
Make sure you have a quality-control supervisor.
Rush upstairs and start hanging the ornaments on your cute little tree.
Like this one of Little Critter (yes, I know, I need a new camera. Please tell Santa.)
Reverse side of the Little Critter ornament. (Remember what I said about telling Santa I need a new camera. Thanks!)
Don't feel like hanging ornaments? Live up to your sweatshirt by jumping on a toddler bed while holding a toy stroller.
Wow, look what my brothers made!
Bub for sure has the ordament-making bug now. I have to say I'm happy to oblige. Maybe we'll print some favorite photos on the labels and turn them into tree flair. He's already mentioned that he wants a Tom and Jerry ornament. The boys could also draw their own pictures or color in some clip-art or coloring page images. If nothing else, we'll have a record of what the kids were interested in in 2010. And, so as not to leave Sweet P out, maybe we can take photos of her and of some of her favorite toys and habits (exersaucing, for example). Perhaps a photo of JJ, our elf on the shelf. Maybe we'll do it again next year and the year after and have a cute little tradition on our hands. We shall see.
The point is we're having fun and these ordaments are easy and relatively low mess, as projects go.
Speaking of projects, did you read the Arthur (featured above) book when you were little . . . the one where Arthur accidentally uses salt instead of sugar in his cut-out cookies. The cookies are way too hard to eat (and probably would taste like crap), but the day is saved when they realize the cookies can be used as ornaments. The book, which we don't have, includes a recipe for salt-dough ornaments. Anybody tried making those? I'm thinking that's one I should wait on for a few years . . .
Any holiday crafting in your corner of the world?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"I want my two hours!" (sans the riding over the cliff)

30 posts in 30 days. I gave it the old college try, but I didn't quite make it. That's okay. Y'all like me more now that you know I'm not perfect, right? Wait, you knew I wasn't perfect before this point?! Fine then.

I also fell short on my Turkey Day Tread and Toss. I stopped treading and tossing about ten days in. Suspect you knew that already. Just weren't enough hours in the day, even for ten minutes of exercise and five minutes of tossing.

There is so much that I want to do every evening: grasp for sanity by attempting to stem the chaos with some tidying and cleaning, exercise, lie on the couch and read novels in the glow of the Christmas tree, sit on the couch next to hubby and catch up on the hours of DVR we have backlogged since he's been working so much, respond to emails, write blog posts, visit and comment on all the blogs I love, start online holiday shopping, figure out what I am shopping for, fold laundry while watching Bridget Jones's Diary, and on and on an on.
I feel like that paperboy in Better Off Dead with his "I want my two dollars!" My refrain, and forgive me if I've mentioned this to you before, is "I want my two HOURS!" The two hours when MEP answers only to MEP
"Yes, MEP, I do want to sit on the couch."
"Yes, MEP, this is the moment to finally walk to the alley trash bin with the broken toy stroller the boys keep fighting over."
"Yes, MEP, I would not mind a dish of ice cream. Just a small one."
"Yes, MEP, cleaning the bathroom while listening to an audiobook doesn't sound too bad, all things considered."
Did you hear me in the back? "I want my two HOURS!"
The boys go to bed slightly later than they used to and Sweet P is fond of waking up an hour or two after she has seemingly settled for the night. End result is that those precious two evening hours are constantly threatened. Indeed, the only way to preserve them is to stay up later than I should. The later I stay up, the less energy I have for the next day. The less energy I have, the messier and more chaotic things get and the more I have to do the next evening. I'm constantly playing catch up.
I know, I know, people have it a lot tougher than old MEP. Believe me, I know that. But still, I want my two hours. Is that so much to ask? Maybe don't answer that.
Tell me instead: how do you spend your "two hours"?

Monday, November 29, 2010

We're off to the "Lizard"

“Live theatre” and “my children” are not phrases that I usually think of in tandem. The possibility that my kids would be roaming the aisles, charging the stage, begging for snacks, or otherwise disturbing others was enough to make me put going to the theatre in the “let’s wait a few years” category.

I was wrong. We don’t need to wait. And neither do you and your rugrats.

A week ago Sunday, Bub and I went on a delightful “double date” with Bub's buddy and his mommy to see Emerald City Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz at the Apollo Theatre in Lincoln Park. I could not have been happier with our theatre experience.

After the thrill of riding together in the same car, Bub and his buddy got to make a special craft when we arrived --snowflake wands that the kids in the audience were asked to wave at a special point in the show. It was so cute to see Bub with his wand at the ready throughout.

The show itself was a winner -- exciting and accessible to two four year-olds who had never even seen the movie The Wizard of Oz and thoroughly, wittily entertaining for adults as well. The adaption was true to the story and spirit of The Wizard of Oz, honoring the music of the familiar film but also pumping it up and having some fun translating it for 2010. The performers’ had great voices and, just as important, great energy.
My favorite was the Scarecrow!

The total length was about an hour, and the fast-paced movement down the yellow brick road was ideal for keeping the young audience members engaged. Case in point: Bub did not ask for a snack or whine about hunger. He did not ask to go to the bathroom. Nor did he ask for a drink (even though you are allowed to bring beverages to your seats--bonus).

Bub did spend the first ten minutes of the show asking me why Dorothy did not have blond hair (not sure where he got the idea that she was going to or supposed to have blond hair). Mostly he just sat, wide-eyed, taking it all in and eager for The Wicked Witch of the West (played in drag, by the way) to reappear. Bub’s buddy was focused on how the Wicked Witch melted and what happened to "his clothes."

I’ve seen the first three quarters of the film The Wizard of Oz many times. However, I found the ending scary as a little girl and seldom watched the last thirty minutes. For me, it was a treat to see the story to its conclusion and from an adult perspective. Yes, there’s no place like home. And, yes, teamwork is important when you’re facing challenges. But the golden brick of wisdom that I took away from this production of The Wizard of Oz is that you already have everything you need, that what you seek is within you . . . especially if you let the strangers and friends you meet along the road help you find it.

Entertainment. Insight. Reasonably-priced parking. Can’t ask for much more on a Sunday afternoon.

Verdict: Live Theatre at Emerald City Theatre = very successful outing, even though Bub was still pronouncing “wizard” as “lizard” when it was over. I’m excited to take Bub to the theatre again and, after this test-run, I think I’m going to go ahead and bring Little Bit next time as well. We’re not expecting any young visitors this holiday season, but if we were, I would be all over taking them to this neighborhood theatre instead of traipsing along the Mag Mile in the cold or maneuvering through a crowded museum in an attempt to give out-of-towners a “genuine” Chicago experience. The Wizard of Oz runs until January 2nd and Pinkalicious runs until December 31st.

Is there a children’s theatre company in your corner of the world? What experiences have you had taking your kids to the theatre?

Disclosure: I was given tickets to The Wizard of Oz by Emerald City Theatre after their marketing director read my blog post about wanting to take the boys to see Pinkalicious. You gotta problem with that?! Also, I can only take credit for the photo of Bub.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What Raffi Said . . .

I am so very thankful for that guy in the back.
Yep, the one with all those kids.
And I'm so "super-duper" thankful for that guy.
And incrediby thankful for that guy.

And delightfully thankful for that girl.

And I am awesomely thankful for this life that I am living and especially for the family and friends with whom I share it. My heart is full.
Watch out, because I am going to quote a Raffi song now:
All I really need is a song in my heart
Food in my belly
And love in my family

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

P.S. -- If you are wondering why I missed posting two days in a row, just know that I am also thankful that the bug going around only lasts 24 hours and thankful that two year-olds eventually fall asleep, even in a strange bed. And, yes, "awesomely thankful" is awkward. Gobble Gobble.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Daily Grind

I'm getting a little weary of blogging every day. I'm not short on ideas so much as I am short on the time and energy to do them justice. For whatever reason though, I don't feel right allowing myself to "skip" since I committed to NaBloPoMo.
Today's cop-out post is a collection of quotations I found in My Notebook.
"The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love and something to hope for." Alexander Chalmers (I don't know who Chalmers is. Do you? I've been meaning to investigate)
"Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." (seen on cover of a lovely journal at Paper Source)

And here are two quotations that I perhaps need to heed right now (both discovered from following @googlebooks on Twitter):
"Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." Abe Lincoln
"A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought." Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey in Gaudy Night

I'm accepting words of wisdom and encouragement.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

None Pets These Days

Bub met his buddy's cat today and told his buddy's mom, "We have none pets." He then added a caveat, ". . . except a pet ladybug."
Years ago before Bub entered the picture, we did have a pet for a couple of months. Misty Lou, my hubby's family cat, stayed with us while his parents were in Florida. Those of you who know me well know that it is/was a big deal for me to share my life and space with an animal.
But things worked out nicely for me and Misty back in 2004. Turns out we both like Filet O' Fish sandwiches from McDonalds and also resting.
A few years later, Bub got to meet Misty and make his own memories. On Bub's end (and mine), those memories are fond.
Sadly, Misty is no longer with us (she passed away a couple of years ago).
Happily, that couch is no longer with us either.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cheap Labor

When I need Bub to help clean up his toys or the couch cushions or the contents of the junk drawer or a quantity of something edible opened without permission, I ask him with varying degrees of niceness and volume.

Bub is often overwhelmed by such requests, protesting, "But that's going to take forever."
"If it's going to take that long, you better start now."
"Aren't you going to help me, mommy?"
And on and on. If you have kids, you know the drill.
Imagine my surprise when I came down from settling Sweet P for an afternoon nap to find Bub cleaning up the toys in the back room with a palpable sense of hustle and, dare I say, excitement. He clued me in right away: "Mommy, daddy says he will give me three pieces of money if I clean up the toys."
"Wow, three pieces! You better keep going and finish up."
And he did. And he was so, so proud.
Hubby gave him three pieces of money that totaled 12 cents.
Bub beamed with pride.
Hubby then threw in a quarter tip for a job well done.
Bub's grin got broader, "Now I've got four pieces of money!"
The larger issue, of course, is that we are meant to be teaching Bub that cleaning up is part of his job as a citizen of this family and that he should do it to be helpful and kind and responsible. Not for candy. Not for money. Yes, I know that.
I also know that 37 cents or less can buy some pretty good cleaning and, right now, I'm going to focus on short-term gains.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bedtime Crimes

Match the crime to the culprit(s).
* Going to bed easily at 7:20 and then waking up an hour later screaming one's head off.

* Running around in circles for 25 minutes straight and then flopping into bed and proceeding to repeatedly scratch the drywall with one's fingernails.
* Lying in bed and alternately saying, "I'm already dreaming, mommy" and, to the runner, "Don't jump up on my bed." As if that booger needed any ideas for what to do next.
* Looking angelic in jammies.

It's almost 9:30 on Friday night. Three kids finally asleep. House a mess. Still haven't eaten dinner. Going to squeeze as much quality MEP-time in as I can before I fall asleep myself.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

T G I (almost) F F

Thank Goodness It's (almost) FRITO Friday!

What's Frito Friday? The designated day when my bloggy friend Heather in Lebanon and I are posting about our experiences with this Sweet, Salty Frito Candy recipe from Cookie Madness.
Background 411 is that sweet and salty is my very favorite pairing for snacks. Typical sweet and salty snacks for me are chocolate-covered pretzels or a mix of peanuts, raisins, and chocolate chunks (avoid store-bought trail mix with its pesky nutritional and calorie information on the packaging--if you make it at home, you can think to yourself, "Nuts and raisins and dark chocolate. A healthy snack, indeed"). Point is that I am a sucker for sweet and salty and thus could not help but be tempted by a recipe for Sweet, Salty Frito Candy (henceforth known as SSFC).
So you're going to check out the SSFC recipe. Then, check out what I have to say about it below. Then, check out my friend Heather's take on it.
I made the SSFC with Bub, one of my two regular sous chefs (the other was napping). I have to say that the first part of the recipe offers many ideal tasks for little helpers: unwrapping miniature Reese's cups, measuring out a cup of Fritos and two cups of pretzels, using a mallet to crush those Fritos and pretzels (opted to skip the recipe instructions about using a food processor for this step), and spreading the mixture into the pan. I should have also given Bub a butter knife and let him cut the Reese's cups into smaller chunks, but control freak mama did it herself.
From there, the recipe--adding brown sugar to melted butter and boiling, pouring that buttery/sugary goodness on top of the salty stuff, and melting/spreading chocolate chips on top--is a little less friendly for sous chefs under age five.
My sous chef did not seem to feel left out.
"Look, mom, it's my own recipe."
Kind of cute how the pretzels look like faces now, right? Too bad the "eyes" tend to fall out when you lift them.
Back to the SSFC though. I followed the instructions and waited patiently for the chocolate to harden (suspect I should have a more culinary word than "harden," especially after watching Top Chef: Just Desserts). Eventually, I broke the candy into pieces and dug in.
Initially, I was all, "Hmm, this is okay, but I wish it were a little saltier." Because, you know, there is not enough sodium in pretzels and Fritos. I felt like I was tasting too much chocolate and was bummed that a few of my pieces were kind of crumbly. However, the pieces where there was plenty of the buttery/brown sugary goodness holding the pretzels, Fritos, and peanut butter cups together . . . those pieces were quite exquisite.
Fast forward to yesterday evening when I realize that there is only one piece left and I still haven't gotten hubby's take on it. Mind you, no one but me ate the SSFC throughout the week (I guess no one knew to look in the Gladware container in the back of the middle shelf of the fridge). It takes all I have to hand hubby that last piece. I don't have a quote for you because he was focusing on a spreadsheet or something, but when I followed up later, he said he liked it but didn't love it since he is not as into "the sweet/salty thing" as I am. Fair enough.
As for me, I will make the SSFC again. I will try to distribute my butter/brown sugar mixture a little more evenly. I may use fewer chocolate chips (I used a teense more than what was called for) and might see how white chocolate chips or a combination of white and chocolate turn out. I also think I might sprinkle some sea salt over the salty layer before adding the chocolate.
For sure, I will only make SSFC again when I am planning to share it with others because even if something is good, you don't feel good about yourself when you eat it all.

But enough about me, what did Heather in Lebanon's crew think? She'll be posting her account on Friday (I published a little early on the Frito Friday's Eve to get "credit" for my 30 posts in 30 days).
Happy Frito Friday, everybody! May your day be the perfect blend of sweet and salty.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Across the Pond

Prince William, son of the late Princess Diana, is engaged to Kate Middleton.

The Beatles entire collection is now available on itunes.
There's a new movie about that one kid with the glasses . . . Harry Potter is his name, I think.

Just in case those bits of news had not made it to your corner of the USA, I thought I'd pass them along. You're welcome.
You can show your gratitude by suggesting Beatles songs for me to purchase with the itunes gift card that's been burning a hole in my pocket. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Playing Favorites

Things might get a little quiet around your Thanksgiving table this year. You want people to connect and converse, but you also want to keep things harmonious and stay away from potentially divisive conversation topics like politics and Coke vs. Pepsi. At some point in the day, you might look around and start feeling disheartened by the football being watched when everyone is meant to be rejoicing in gratitude for those around them.

Let's see, you could shake things up with a game of charades, but those who forgot to wear sweatpants may be feeling too bloated to really get in the spirit. You could get out Trivial Pursuit or Taboo or a deck of cards, but if there are a bunch of children running around (whose kids are those, anyway?), good luck with that.
How about a game where participation requires very little energy-output, there are no "rules" and so no one needs to raise their voice and feel like a bossy butt (who me?), and everyone wins?
That's right, everyone wins. Everyone wins when we learn more about our family members and friends!
Intrigued (and perhaps also repelled by my cheese factor)? If things get dull for you over Thanksgiving, why not play a few rounds of The Favorite Game. It's an oldie, but a goody.
Pick a category and each person names their favorite for that category. Easy as that.

I'll give you some examples:
Color? Green
Color to wear? Brown
Christmas song? "Baby It's Cold Outside"
Cracker? Triscuit
Cookie? Iced Molasses
Board game? Trivial Pursuit
Kids' show? Phineas and Ferb
Plotline on this season of The Office? The Andy/Darryl friendship
Toilet Paper? Scott
Variety of M&M? Peanut Butter
Sport to watch? Basketball
Sport to play? Tennis
Form of exercise? Walking fast
Pro or former pro on Dancing with the Stars? Julianne
Food Network chef? Ina Garten
Small kitchen gadget? Pizza Cutter
Convenience store snack? Fountain Diet Coke and white chocolate Flipz
Flavor of Jolly Rancher? Cherry
Beer? Miller Lite
Herb? Basil
Sugar Cereal? Golden Grahams
Donut? The kind with icing (not pudding) inside
Part of the newspaper? Book reviews (and the ads)
Hot beverage? Chai Latte

Sure, there might be some controversy. I know my hubby, for example, would claim Cottonelle as his favorite t.p., and I can see a debate ensuing with me arguing for the cost efficiency and plumbing friendliness of Scott while he promotes the comfort of Cottonelle.
Sure, there might be some difficulty. People will want to give multiple answers or might overthink things as if their favorites are being recorded for posterity on a gold tablet. You can decide if you want to be breezy and allow for double answers. You can decide if you need to tell your cousin to pick a favorite kids' show in fifteen seconds or else you'll show him the door.
But there might also be some beautiful moments of connection. When you and your husband's cousin's daughter realize you both heart Barefoot Contessa and single-ply toilet paper . . . beautiful moment right there.
You'll have to customize the categories for your group. Make sure to give everyone a chance to come up with a category. Have fun and stay breezy!

If people seem to be in a Grinch kind of mood, you could try The Least Favorite Game:
Herb? Cilantro
Sport to watch? Golf
Flavor of Jolly Rancher? Watermelon
Kids' show? Fresh Beat Band
Games played at family gatherings? The Favorite Game (just kidding)

You get the picture.
Please share any of your favorites or least favorites in the comments. Any traditions to promote bonding and fun at your Thanksgiving celebration?

Monday, November 15, 2010

What?! A German Potato Salad Lesson?! For Me??? Get out of town!

You remember when you were a little kid and you noticed that mommies and daddies and grandparents didn't get as many gifts at Christmas as kids did and it seemed so perplexing that the grown ups still seemed happy and festive as they opened their slippers and boxes of chocolate and small appliances . . . Maybe your mom even told you that all she wanted for Christmas was to have her family all together.

Now, I don't want those with my name on their Christmas lists to get the idea that I won't accept presents because I certainly will, but I am starting to feel like a real adult -- the kind who could just be happy with some new slippers and a good spread of food. Yes, I like stuff as much and probably more than the next gal. I do like presents and happen to be an especially enthusiastic opener/receiver of gifts, NTB. But it's liberating to realize that there's nothing I really need and that the gifts are only the icing on an already-tasty holiday cake. Increasingly, the holidays are more and more about spending time with family, eating, and sharing in the joy, wonder, and excitement of my children.
I'm starting to field requests for lists for me and the family and to put feelers out to discover what those on my list would like.
I was thinking this afternoon though that there are quite a few gifts that would cost little or no money that I would be happy to receive.
Since I started this blog post a little too close to bedtime, I'll just share a few items on MEP's Free/Almost Free Gift List.

MEP's Free/Almost Free Gift List
* Recipe Collection -- I love looking through cookbooks, magazines, and food blogs/websites. A free/almost-free gift I would love would be a collection of favorite recipes from someone else's kitchen. The collection would not have to be fancy or scrapbooked or bound or painstakingly copied onto pretty cards -- any old mish-mash of photocopies of cookbook pages or recipe cards, online printouts, pages out of magazines, and/or word documents would be great. A line or two like "the boys love this" or "my favorite app to bring to a cookouts" or "don't use cheap wine" would be a bonus, but just the recipes (and an invitation to call or email with questions) would be a really delightful, welcome gift.

* Cooking Lesson -- Another free/almost free gift I'd love would be a specialty cooking lesson in a home kitchen given by a friend/family member. I want to know, for example, how to make my Grandma's German Potato Salad. I don't think she can teach me at this point, but I'd love it if my mom and I carved out some time for me to learn this specialty from my mom. Similarly, I've never roasted a chicken or a turkey on my own. I know, I know, "It's so easy, MEP," many of you are thinking. Probably it is, but if someone I knew was an experienced poultry roaster, I'd love for them to walk me through the process. If someone has a culinary specialty they are willing to teach, I am willing to learn. The gift would be the knowledge and the time spent together.

Even though my November posts tell a different story, I promise that there is more to my life and on my mind than food.
There are lots more free/almost free gift ideas that I plan to share in future posts so please stay tuned. You've heard of re-gifting, but how about FREE-gifting!?
Please leave a comment sharing any free/almost free food-related gift ideas. What cooking lesson could you offer and to whom? What are some of the recipes you might include in a collection?
Start brainstorming more free-gifting ideas. I'll post again on this topic a week from today.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


2010 Turkey Tread and Toss Update

It's not too late to join me in the Turkey Tread and Toss leading up to Thanksgiving
* tread--10 minutes of daily exercise
* toss--trash, recycle, or donate 5 items per day

I skipped my arduous ten minutes of tread yesterday, but I've managed to tread and toss the rest of the days.
What am I "tossing"? My clothes, kids clothes, toys, expired spices, and children's books are the main toss categories so far. I'm battling against a pack rat in my Bub though. He regularly picks through the trash and recovers "treasures." Just this morning he was shocked to find a Weekly Reader that I had the nerve to file in the garbage. The trick is keeping the donation pile hidden and taking the garbage out before going to bed at night.
What are your strategies for making time to exercise? Do you have some "toss" category ideas for me?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Toad-ally Photogenic

I'm making some plans to upgrade my camera. We've had our current camera since Bub was a baby. It's still doing its job and is the perfect size for tossing in a purse or carrying around in one's pocket. However, I'd like to start taking higher-quality photographs. Thanks to a Facebook query, I've received helpful feedback on what kind of camera to choose and am looking forward to learning more about photography and capturing more moments.
In the meantime, I thought I'd share the best photos I've ever taken with my current camera.
I had planned to share these pics as part of a post with a general theme of "Can you believe my child loves bugs and critters and stuff? I can't believe it, but it really makes me kind of happy and proud that he has not inherited my disinterest/aversion to critters. Isn't it so cool to see what surprising interests each child develops and to be reminded that they are seldom parental mini-me's?"
Without further summary of a post I'll never write, here's Bub with the toads he caught in Grandma and Grandpa's yard this summer.
No toads were harmed in the taking of these photographs. The "habitats" (NTB, but Bub used that fancy word for the jars) were ventilated on top and the toads were returned to the yard each evening.
Any camera recommendations for me? Do the children in your life have interests and passions that surprise/delight you?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Talk about big-hearted . . .

Bub brought home The Kindness Tree that he worked on at school. One of his teachers recorded his philanthropy: "I was kind when I gave my brother my old, little coat."

You hear that? He gave his little brother his old, little coat. What a kid.

He's also concerned for your health. Don't forget: Always Cover a Sneeze!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sweet Spot

In the lovely and satisfying book Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray, the main character takes a stress reduction seminar at a YMCA where she is asked to visualize a safe, peaceful place.

"Everyone had closed their eyes and gone to their childhood bedroom or a beach in Jamaica or wherever life was simpler. I had no idea where I was supposed to go. I felt embarrassed sitting in my folding chair, as if the people around me would know that I was still in a conference hall while they were all walking down a white sand beach with the sun glinting off their hair. . . . But when I finally closed my eyes and tried, what I wanted came to me with complete clarity. The place that I went, the place that I still go, was the warm, hollowed-out center of a Bundt cake."
--Eat Cake (2003, pages 1-2)

I am ever charmed by this novel and by this idea of the inside of a cake as one's place of peace and comfort.
My new happy place is not exactly the inside of one of the amazing whole wheat chocolate chip cookies that I recently blogged (and bragged) about, but I can say with certainty that I would be even happier any place with one (or ten) of these cookies beside me. After I posted about the cookies, several people asked about the recipe. Thanks to a tip from my dear friend E. . ., I now know that Molly, the renowned food blogger from Orangette, also thinks these cookies from pastry chef Kim Boyce are something special. I feel strangely validated by this fact. So, if you're interested in the recipe, you can find it right here.*
A happy place of mine is pictured below.
Can you imagine anything better than sitting here on one of these bonus, warm November days and enjoying a novel and some cookies? Feeling the breeze, smelling the fall air, enjoying the greenery. Heavenly, right? Right now, this spot seems just as enticing as a beach, perhaps even more. I like to imagine an escape that is still cocooned by my everyday life and world.
I just have to imagine there's nothing better as I don't have many (or any) moments to relax and read on a chaise during my weekday life. My sweet spot vision does not involve an exersaucer parked next to my chaise or the sounds of static on baby monitors.
Also, this sweet outdoor spot does not belong to me or to anyone I know. It's just a place I drive past several times a week on my way to the McDonald's drive-thru for a Diet Coke.
Also, it is right on the alley.
But still, it seems like an awfully sweet spot. I'm going to continue picturing myself there all alone, except for my novel and my cookie for company.
What about you? Where do you escape, if only in your own mind? Do you have a tried and trusted chocolate chip cookie recipe?

*I had trouble linking to the specific post, but if you visit the site, it's the 11/5/2010 post.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cupcakes, Cupcakes, Cupcakes, Cupcakes + BONUS

Thirty posts in thirty days. They can't all be well-crafted and witty.

I have four things to share about cupcakes.
1. Pinkalicious -- Any fans of the children's book Pinkalicious out there? Bub and Little Bit both enjoy this tale of a little girl who eats too many pink cupcakes and turns pink and then red. She can only return to normal by eating green foods. Little Bit asks for the book by its unofficial title, Licious, and likes to point to each pink food item on the page illustrating the doctor's visit and say, "No, no, no, no . . ." Really cute. I always worry that he and his big brother will attempt to replicate the precarious stack of chairs and household items leading to the top of the refrigerator. There's a Pinkalicious musical playing in Lincoln Park right now, and I keep meaning to buy tickets and take the boys or at least take Bub (not sure if Little Bit has the attention span for live theater). For the record, I think Purplicious is okay but find Goldalicious pretty disappointing.
2. Earlier this fall, the boys and I finally tested out the Big Top Cupcake Pan that I "won" as part of the As Seen on TV prize package at Bub's school auction. The boys' decorating job is rather appalling, but I've learned to just let go and let the sprinkles fly, especially for baked goods only meant for family consumption. Note that the pan is also an accessory!

3. After months of "reminders," hubby has finally made it so that my "new" (received in March) laptop could communicate with our printer. Just this afternoon, I finally printed out two groupons previously purchased: one worth $50 at GAP and another worth $20 at The Meatloaf Bakery. I'm expecting to see cupcake-shaped meatloafs there and can't wait to check them out, perhaps while wearing a new t-shirt from GAP!
4. I haven't tried every cupcake spot in Chicago, but that doesn't stop me from answering if anyone asks about it. I'm a fan of Sweet Mandy B's on Webster. I love, love, love the frosting and think they manage to keep the cupcakes from drying out, which is key. I found out this summer that they offer cupcake decorating sessions for kids. Sounds fun and tasty.
5. BONUS! I just thought of a fifth cupcake talking point. Last year for Bub's birthday party, my mom made a bunch of cupcakes and frosted them with white icing. When the kiddies arrived, I had them decorate little boxes from the Container Store big enough to hold a couple cupcakes. Towards the end of the party, we brought out plates of candy and let the kids decorate their cupcakes. Then, the cupcakes went in the little boxes as a favor (except that I also made treat bags because I'm never sure when enough is enough). Assuming your guests are cool with their kids eating sugar, I recommend this party activity. I would not recommend letting young party guests ice and sprinkle the cupcakes themselves (see above).

Off to eat the last oreo cheesecake cupcake. How fitting.

What's your cupcake story?
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