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Holiday, Crap 4

Posted on December 30, 2010 by crankycheryl

How was your Christmas-type holiday?  Did it knock you off your ass as it did me?

I was completely sleep-deprived after being up until midnight making the school cupcakes and cutting out cardboard for crafts and school holiday parties.  Then after said parties, after we had fought our way through a couple of stores, I started getting their piles of stuff from school holiday mishegas separated and organized.  There was a small pile of wrapped gifts.  Five of them:  four for their dad, and one for their grandmother.

I’d love to tell you that I beamed at them and patted their little heads.  That I admired their wrapping paper and packed the presents off to their various destinations.

Instead I saw bright red and found strange sounds coming out of my mouth.  My eyebrows shot up until they were nearly in my hairline and I said in one of those pseudo-non-hysterical screeches, “Oh, okay.  None for me.  Heh heh. Heh.  That’s really great.  Great.”   My heart started pounding and a furious closed captioning sort of turned on in my brain, displaying things like, “After waking me up three times a night every night for years?  And whining all day?  And the nightly horror of homework?  And how I stay up nights worrying about you on the nights that you don’t happen to wake me up?  And how I do all this crap for you and have never once actually throttled you or thrown you out a window and Im a short order cook and buy you cases of nitrate free hot dogs and organic macaroni and cheese and I CAN’T EVEN HAVE A PIECE OF CRAP ORNAMENT FROM SCHOOL? REALLY?!”  And then I slumped up the stairs to cry which is where I stayed, asking Greg to handle dinner.  I cried for hours.

Somewhere around then I had to admit that 2010 has been a pretty tough year.  But still, I’m not sure how I ended up crying over this.  I was raised in a wholesome iconoclastic atheist Jewish rabble-rousing home.  I don’t really know where this sort of low-rent Martha Stewart tendency of mine comes from, or why I seem compelled to create some kind of a perfect holiday.    I hate the consumerism.  And I don’t think I really want endless things crowding our small home.

But what I especially don’t want is to be the person who actually cares, who seeks some weird kind of approval from my own children.  I know that I’m the one who’s here for them, not them for me.  I know I’m supposed to be a monolithic entity to them, one who doesn’t make them feel like they have to nurture me.  I know I know I know.

And I’ve recovered, having spent some uncomfortable time reflecting, realizing how my heart just isn’t pure.  How there’s no way I could have had this reaction if I let my real values guide my parenting.   Doesn’t that seem true and right – that when we act with truth and integrity, we’re not looking for the recognition from others, but being guided by our own inner compass.

And looking forward to the clean slate of a new year of life, that’s what I’ll be promising to do in addition to all the usual smaller goals.   Like making good on my promise to slow our lives down, to laugh more, to listen and make time for quiet.   And making space to forgive myself for our imperfect and fractured lives, my disorganization and impatience. And I’ll try to remember to not look for gold stars or glitter-covered, glued-up whatever as a reward.

But maybe you could stop by next December with a nice bottle of red wine and box of tissues, just in case.

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Thank You Cookies 0

Posted on December 17, 2010 by crankycheryl

These are the cookies we make to give our letter carrier, garbagemen, firefighters and our other year-round helpers.   And when Z.’s teacher asked his class to bring in something from a family holiday tradition, these were the first thing that came to mind.

They are chewy and fudgy, somewhere between brownies and cookies, delicious and chocolate-y and very addictive, which is why I only make them once a year.   (Though, full disclosure: 5-year old “Stewie” in Zander’s class didn’t like them because he doesn’t like fruit with his chocolate.)

Whatever, kid.

Herrick Family Thank You Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food Black Forest Cookies

Makes 36

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners and set aside.

2.   In a medium bowl, whisk together:

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, spooned and leveled
  • 2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
3.  Place in a large glass or otherwise heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water and stir until melted and smooth:
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

4.  Remove from heat, then whisk in separately and thoroughly:
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 T. molasses
  • 2 large eggs
Whisk until smooth.
5.   Whisk in flour mixture just until combined. Fold in:
  • 1 package (about 12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks
  • 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries or tart cherries
Cover well and refrigerate until firm, 30 to 45 minutes.
6.   Drop mounds of dough (equal to 2 level tablespoons) about 2 inches apart onto prepared sheets. Bake just until edges are firm, 11 to 13 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 1 to 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Raspberry Rewards 3

Posted on November 06, 2010 by crankycheryl

One hesitates to mention alcohol consumption in consecutive posts.

But the last of the fall raspberries are around, and maybe you too are having days like the one I had this week.  It was a beaut that included such gems as knocking the brother to the floor, the stealing and breaking of beloved toys to the point of tears, the delightful dinner comment, “What are these carrots made of – garbage?” and a sniffling, sobbing, “Well I can tell you don’t want me any more,”  after spilling purple latex paint all over the floor and I found myself sputtering strange syllables.

Friends, by the time bedtime came I was ready for a drink.

And there on the counter were the berries I had found still clinging to the vines when I had gone out to start putting the garden to bed.  Maybe you’ve got some still hanging around too, and here’s a nice little gift you can give yourself at the end of a rough day.

CrankyCheryl’s Raspberry Rewards
Yield:  4

1.  Place in a bowl and press firmly but gently with the back of a wooden spoon:

  • 1 c. fresh raspberries (organic)

2.  Add:

  • 1/4 c. vodka
  • 2 T. whiskey or bourbon
  • 3 T. maple syrup

Stir well and let sit for 30 min. – 1 hour.

3.  Put 2 ounces in the bottom of a small glass with ice cubes, top with seltzer, spoon in some berries, and serve.

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Children of the Corn 4

Posted on August 25, 2010 by crankycheryl

Is it just me?

Wouldn’t you expect that your children and their two friends could stay at the petting zoo and playground for two minutes while you ran to get them a bottle of water since the poor little darlings were thirsty?

And if they had to run wild in the minutes you were gone, surely you’d think they could continue on with the petting zoo animals, or climbing the wooden tractor, or running across the wide, safe, open field.  What child of reading age would cross an acre, pass the “CLOSED” signs, and enter the corn maze?

This place, by the way, is a big old actual maze with paths that swirl around in traditionally confusing and re-doubling ways.  It wasn’t terrifying at 3:00 p.m., but I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be there after sundown.   I’ve seen the horror movies and I know what goes on.

Still, you and your younger child yourselves entered the forbidden rows, yelling for the trespassers and were at last reunited, after telling the offending three children that they were in TROUBLE and had ONE MINUTE to find their way to where you were (because if you tell people to do something impossible while YELLING, the laws of physics will change to accommodate your wishes), and then the farmer showed up to yell at them too.

So there we were with glaring adults and big-eyed children.  I was waiting for the finger-pointing and the meltdown and I was ready to dish out some Very Serious Consequences.  But that was when E. said, “Listen.  It’s my fault.  I went in and they came in to get me out.  I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed.”  The farmer looked at me and I think realized they were in much more trouble on the homefront than they were with the farm.  He asked, “So now you know you did something wrong?  And if I had a cable across that row you wouldn’t have gone in?  We want to make sure you’re safe, you know.”

I don’t know what you would have done but for me it was to give the children a hug.  And then we shared our first cider donuts of the season sitting around a picnic table talking about how to decide what’s allowed and what’s safe, about how smart it was to stay together and keep each other okay.

In the end it was one of those golden moments when our children show us the beautiful people they’re becoming, even if there’s plenty of crazy along the way.

And then we went home to make a dinner of our first 2010 local apples, some good Cabot cheddar, and a pile of crackers, since I had no energy left for cooking.  On the way, E. said, “Mommy, you know it’s not really my fault.  They should have signs showing how to get out of that place!  Can you believe there was only one picture of the whole thing?!”

Indeed.

And now that we’ve recovered I want to share with you this pure summer harvest celebration of a recipe that we enjoyed last week after a much less adventurous visit to our CSA farm.  It was Z.’s idea to mix, “corn … and cheese … and broccoli and water … and I’ll stir it all up!”  I’m sure he was thinking something more mudpie-ish, but to me it sounded like chowder, and that’s what we made.

Cheesy Corn Potato Chowder
About 6 servings

1.  Remove the kernels from:

  • 3 ears fresh corn

and set aside.

2.  Heat until rippling in a large sauce pan:

  • 2 T. butter or olive oil

3.  Adjust heat to medium-low, and add:

  • 2 cups diced potatoes, with peels unless you really hate them
  • 1/2 cup sliced carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until carrots are softened, and onions are starting to brown gently.

4.  Stir in and mix very well:

  • 1/2 t. salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour (substitute your usual thickener if you’re going for gluten-free)

Then pour in, 1/2 cup at a time, and bring to a simmer while stirring.

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup water

5.  Stir in and cook at a low simmer just until broccoli turns bright green, about 3 minutes:

  • 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (I use Cabot 50% reduced fat cheddar)
  • 1 cup finely chopped broccoli (or substitute spinach or chopped chard)
  • the reserved corn

Heat through, and serve.

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Why Not a Savory Smoothie? 3

Posted on July 21, 2010 by crankycheryl

I like the nutrition and transportability of a breakfast smoothie, but I don’t always want something sweet first thing in the morning.  I started making these during the heatwave a couple of weeks ago, and have been pretty breakfast-happy with them.   They’re healthy, creamy and tart, and have enough protein to keep me reasonably satisfied until lunchtime.  Plus not having fruit or sweet things in them means that the boys never, ever abscond with my cup.

Savory Super-Green Smoothie
Makes 1

  • 1 c. plain lowfat dairy or soy yogurt
  • 1/4 c. soy milk, whey from yogurt, or milk
  • 1/2 ripe avocado
  • handful of spinach or lettuce
  • 1 T. tahini
  • 1/2 t. spirulina powder
  • 1 T. green olives or your favorite salsa
  • 3 or 4 ice cubes

Stir, blend & repeat until nice & smooth.

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Birthdays & Cupcakes In Spite of It All 1

Posted on July 06, 2010 by crankycheryl

This video this is supposed to be funny, like stupid ha-ha.

But maybe because it’s late, or maybe because a birthday makes a mom notice how fast time passes, I think it’s right on.

Friends, readers, loved ones, thank you for being here – whether it’s your birthday or not.  And it’s cool if you didn’t get a promotion or a new degree or cure anything or finally make a perfect meringue.

I’m just glad you didn’t die this year. Really: nice job with that.

Thanks for not jumping off a bridge in spite of these crazy oil-spill, immigrant-hating, war-mongering, Fox-news-yelling, unemployment-up-the-wazoo days.  In spite of all that’s going on in your own life that might have made it tempting.

And Z., my baby, my brilliant bubbly little shining birthday star. Thank you for coming into this world and being here with me.  Happy birthday.

Let’s have some silly cupcakes and give the whole thing another whirl.

(The fabulous Abby Dodge’s Emergency Blender Cupcakes, with Italian Buttercream Frosting, with candy-coated sunflower seeds and snipped licorice, peach gummy rings, and fruit leather.)

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We Made Mozzarella! 3

Posted on July 03, 2010 by crankycheryl

It was an early summer day and there in the cheese section was a bright and cheery box of ingredients put together by Ricki the Cheese Queen.  It was about $25, said it made 30 batches of mozzarella and/or ricotta and I had a little extra money and couldn’t resist.

So I got some milk, invited friends over and off we went.

We thought the boys would love making cheese, but the process turns out to be a lot of cooking and then touching hot things.  Instead they turned out to be more interested in this:

So we mom-types got a look at the ingredients in the box …

And then, repeating to myself, “pay attention, pay attention, — ooh look, a glass of wine! — pay attention,” we got started.

We learned this is really important before you start:

  1. You can use raw (if you’re a fan) or pasteurized – but not ultra-pasteurized – milk.
  2. Get thee some chlorine-free water, either by buying filtered or letting your chlorinated water sit uncovered for a few hours to let the chlorine evaporate.  I don’t know why this matters but the Queen hath spoken.

We dissolved 1/4 rennet tablet in 1/4 c. of that chlorine-free water.

Then mixed the citric acid in with 1 c. more chlorine-free water.

Then we poured the milk into a big stainless steel pot, stirred in the citric acid, and heated the milk to 90F.  First it looks like this:

And then before I knew it, it looked like this.  This was definitely the first time I’ve ever been excited to see curdled milk, and the first time I can remember ever considering that “curdled” doesn’t mean “went bad” but does in fact mean “form curds as if to make cheese.”  Awesome.

Then it was time to stir in the dissolved rennet.  Ricki’s instructions say to stir with “an up and down motion,” and I have no idea what the hell that means since I’m pretty sure that stirring means something that happens in a circular fashion.  So I stirred, making sure to sort of fold the top part of the stuff into the bottom part of the stuff and hoped that was good enough.

Then it was time to cover the pot, leave it alone, and wait five minutes.

After 5 minutes, it was supposed to look like a custard, with the liquid (whey) separated from the curds.  It didn’t look like custard, and the whey was pretty milky looking (apparently not desirable), so the lid went back on for 5 more minutes.  Then it looked better.

We were supposed to next cut the curds in a sort of grid fashion, but ours were not so solid that they were really able to be sliced, so we stirred it around.

Then the pot went back on the stove to stir and to heat the proto-cheese to 115F while stirring, then stirred it off the heat for a few minutes more.

There is no picture of this.

Then Her Majesty said to “drain the whey” off of the curds, which seemed a little crazy because the whole thing was mostly liquid.  We poured it over a strainer instead.

Next a big pot of water got heated to 185F, and then the curds get dipped in and stirred around.  This was super-exciting because they quickly start to melt and look an awful lot like mozzarella.  Then there’s more dipping and folding and dipping and folding and stretching, some adding salt and herbs and before we knew it we had some cheese.

There’s no picture of this because I was dipping and folding and adding salt.  But look:  video!

We thought, “Why not bocconcini?”  so after it was thoroughly cheese-like we started forming those.  They were hard to get round and it was hard to make them without lumps and bumps and seams.  But by then we were on our second glasses of wine so we pressed bravely ahead.  We mixed up some garlic and olive oil and kosher salt and Annie chopped up some basil from the garden to marinate our little mini mozzarellitas.

And we threw together some edible flowers and greens and currants and thawed some biscuits from the freezer and turned it into dinner.

It was lovely, and I’m happy to report that every day since then Z. has asked for homemade cheese.  And it will most definitely be coming.

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Massive Cookies & Extreme Library Gratitude 4

Posted on June 30, 2010 by crankycheryl

I don’t know if our librarians could possibly know how much the summer reading program saves our sanity.

How positively alluring and magnetic we find that weekly day at the library, amidst the chaos of the disrupted schedule, the dinners with friends that stretch on into the night while mommies sip wine and can’t bear to call children in before sunset, the watergun fights and overtired, mosquito-bitten warriors on endless quests.

Library day.  So we gather whatever books we can find to return, bring in the boys’ reading lists from the past week and we toodle down the hill.  They perch on chairs and gesticulate wildly while they describe the horrible things their favorite characters have done on that week’s pages.

While there this week, E. excitedly found a past favorite, “Wild Boars Cook.” Oh, the boars (Horace, Morris, Boris & Doris) are horrible creatures, beautifully drawn and full of badness.  While in this sequel book they are neither bathing in toilets nor breaking toys nor farting, they are in the kitchen making a “massive pudding,” with ingredients I’ll leave you to discover.  Plus the book ends with a recipe for a massive cookie, and we made our version of it.

Massive Cookie
Adapted from “Wild Boars Cook”
Makes 1 cookie, about 12 servings

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream together until very well blended in a medium bowl:

  • 1/2 stick (4 T.) butter
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 3/4 c. sugar

Sift over the top of the butter mixture:

  • 1/2 c. white flour
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. baking soda

Stir thoroughly.  Then mix in:

  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Grease a cookie sheet, then form dough into shape of a large cookie.

Bake for 15 minutes, then have one of your little boarlets carefully sprinkle over the top while you stand there nervously with potholders between your child and the pan.  Or maybe just do it yourself:

  • 1/2 c. m&m type candies
  • 1/2 c. gum drops or jelly beans

Bake for 15 minutes more, or until golden brown.

Cool, cut into wedges or whatever shape you like.

Have any great kids books with recipes you love?  I’d love to hear about them since, ahhhhh, our next library day is coming soon.

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Homemade Pop Tarts 5

Posted on June 23, 2010 by crankycheryl

It is day 5 of summer vacation and I have already threatened my #1 son with juvenile detention if he doesn’t stop hitting his brother.

Homemade sugary treats with purple sparkles!

He wanted to know if he could eat hot dogs if he went to kid jail.  No hot dogs, I told him.  No good food at all.

For breakfast!

Homemade Blueberry Pop Tarts
adapted from King Arthur Flour & with inspiration from Smitten Kitchen
makes about 9

Whisk together:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 T. ground flaxseed
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Use 2 forks or a pastry cutter to work in:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pats

Whisk together:

  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Add oil-egg-milk mixture to flour mixture and stir briskly until mostly incorporated.  You can knead it a couple of times if you like.

Divide the dough in half and shape each a rectangle.  Chill in the refrigerator for 10 or 15 minutes, then roll out first one rectangle and then the other to a rectangle about 1/8″ thick measuring 12 x 15 inches (use a cutting board or baking sheet as a guide).

While dough is chilling, prepare filling by placing in a small saucepan, stirring well and heating to a boil for one minute:

  • 2/3 cup blueberry jam
  • 1 t. cornstarch dissolved in 1 T. water

Let filling cool.  Lightly oil a baking sheet and set aside.

Removing dough from refrigerator, use a sharp knife or a pastry wheel to cut 9 approximately same-sized rectangles.  Repeat with second rectangle of dough.  Brush outline with:

  • beaten egg

then place a tablespoon of filling in the center.  Put another piece of dough on top, then press and crimp edges with a fork and poke a few holes on top for ventilation.  Put each on the prepared baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 350.  Refrigerate pastries for 15 – 20 minutes, then place directly into oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until lightly golden.  Remove to rack to cool.

If you really want to be able to prepare these in your toaster, you probably should stop here.  But if you just want them to enjoy them without the actual use of a toaster, go ahead and make some sugar glaze and then top with colored sugar or sprinkles before eating them all in a carbo-loading festival of self-loathing and -pity at your horrible parenting surprising your little angels with them for a special breakfast treat.

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Stuffed Grape Leaves: Further Encounters with Weed-Eating 2

Posted on June 10, 2010 by crankycheryl

So at last I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the truth is that I’m liking it so much that I’m a little bit embarrassed.

I was sure that I was going to find it a total snoozer, and roll my eyes at all the stuff I already know.  Like I need to be taught how to eat locally and why it’s a good idea?  But reading it is like talking to another localvore friend, one who’s clever and funny and self-deprecating and good-hearted, and not as “preachy” as I’ve heard the book described.

Maybe that’s why I took it a little personally when I read the passage about how my new BFF’s year of eating locally was going to mean growing food and buying from local farmers.  And ABSOLUTELY NOT going to include gleaning weeds by the roadside because she didn’t want to fit some low-class stereotype.

Ahem.

I like collecting weeds, and I’m okay with knowing that my sons will grow up to be mortified by the habit.  It’s okay because one day they’ll appreciate my boundless creativity and thriftiness.  Of course by then I’ll be dead and my ghost will be hovering over the heads of their wives or husbands saying things like, “Really?  You’re too good for that?  You’re just going to throw out the peel and those greens and not even make soup out of it?  And what the hell is that thing you’re wearing?  You call that a shirt?”

But here and now my target is grape leaves (well, grape leaves plus eight uninterrupted hours of sleep and maybe paying my bills on time for once).  The vines are absolutely everywhere, and I’m gearing up for a big harvest and preservation.

And in the meantime, I’m preparing lots of dolmades with the fresh ones.  They’re a quick snack or meal, taste great, are gluten- and dairy-free, and easily made vegan.  Come on by and join me among the weeds.

Stuffed Grape Leaves
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
About 40 rolls

Pour 2 cups of boiling water over:

  • About 40 large grape leaves (or 2 small jars if you haven’t gotten the fresh wild ones around).

Let sit for 1 hour.

In the meantime mix well together in a large bowl:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (locally, humanely raised)
  • (if you want a vegetarian version substitute 2 cups dried lentils plus 1/3 cup of water for the meat)
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (your choice – I used oregano and thyme)
  • 1/3 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 T. salt (don’t skimp)
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Line a large saucepan with several leaves.  Then roll the remaining leaves by placing a leaf on a small plate or cutting board, vein-side up and with the stem facing you.  Put a heaping teaspoon of filling about an inch above the leaf’s bottom.  Fold over the left and right sides, then roll from bottom to top and place in the pan with the flap-side down.  Roll the rest of them and place in concentric circles in the pan, building to a second level as necessary.  Save a few smaller grape leaves aside.

Drizzle over the top:

  • 3-4 T. olive oil

Pour in:

  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 2 cups stock/broth or water,

Place remaining grape leaves on top, and cover with a small plate (this will ensure that all the stuffed leaves are sufficiently submerged).  Cover the pan and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the rice and meat/lentils are cooked.  Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature – which is how much Mediterranean food tends to be eaten.

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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