Thursday, May 29, 2014

a new place to play


Hey y'all,

I have some fun news. I am starting a new website where I can share notes about motherhood and my writing process. I don't plan to include specifics about my kids because, as I mentioned in my last post, I am trying to give them their privacy back. But I do want to let you in on what I'm working on now, and I hope it becomes a place to do that. I am also hoping it does not become a place that will, as Stephen King puts in his memoir,"leave me feeling like either a literary gasbag or a transcendental asshole." But you can be the judge of that. So go take a look and tell me what you think! And if you like it, you can sign up to follow along here. I'm also still at the same Twitter and Instagram accounts if you wanna hang out there.

Cheers & xoxo,
~J

Friday, May 02, 2014

some things I wanted to tell you before I go


Every time I try to type the word "blog" today it comes out "glob," which makes me giggle. That I suddenly keep mistyping the word is somehow fitting for what I want to tell you today, which is that I am no longer going to write posts here.

Now that I'm writing this post, I realize you probably already saw this day coming. I could do a whole cutesy "It's not you, it's me" bit, but you know that already. My mom and I have this joke when I want to transition to say something about myself. Instead of beating around the bush, I jump in saying, "Well, that's enough about you, let's get back to me." I suppose that's what a blog is all about, right? Back to ME.

Writing a post announcing the end of the blog does seem overly dramatic in part, but on the other hand I don't like the idea of people coming here expecting more posts when that's not my plan right now. I guess I don't feel sad because I know that whenever I want to, I can start something new. That's the beauty of the Interwebs!

I began blogging in 2005 when I had only just learned what a blog was. I called it Aimless Digressions, and that title truly represented the topics I wrote about, which spanned from what it was like to live in DC to the new camera I wanted to buy. I really enjoyed playing with that new toy for that year or two that only my friend Caroline read the blog.

Then I got pregnant, graduated school, moved to England, had my baby, and moved back to DC all within one year. I didn't write very often then, but in those years that my dad, my mom, and my uncle Joe started reading the blog, I began to find my writing voice and enjoyed keeping my family updated on what was happening overseas and back again. I enjoyed having a digital baby book too.

Then we moved to Boston. I felt lonely in my new role as a stay at home mom to a newborn and toddler--and judged for my choice to stay home--in a new (and freezing cold) town. I wanted a place to talk about motherhood and how it was different from my expectations. My good friend and first reader Caroline suggested I use my free time to write more. So I dusted off the blog and gave it a new name. I am grateful to her for encouraging me find my writing voice.

In the years following that change, I have welcomed old friends here and even met some lovely strangers who have become friends. I've had some great opportunities come my way because of it, like our commercial, and I'm grateful for the writing connections it has granted me.

Though I'm saying goodbye to this space, I do see myself finding another home for my essays on motherhood. Maybe some day I will even work toward that book that is clawing its way out of my hazy memories. So much of creativity is ephemeral, and I am trying to take my time in creating a new space that will define me as well as "the lone home ranger" did for the past 3+ years.

Whatever I write, I know those posts will contain fewer personal details of our lives. Our little girls are growing up, and though I've enjoyed cataloging their beginning days here, I want to give them back their privacy. I decided to stop posting here when Vivi turned six because it seemed like a big milestone.

Thank you so much for listening to my rants, both coherent and incoherent, and for sharing your stories with me. I would love to keep in touch so we can keep chatting about what we're reading, and eating, and whatnot. I have more to say to you! Let's keep in touch on Instagram and Twitter. I will leave the blog up so you (and I!) can come back to use some of the recipes from time to time.

Thanks for the laughs! I will miss y'all.

One more tip:
This stuff smells fantastic. I think it comes from Bath & Body Works. Gitcha some.


Thursday, May 01, 2014

{six}


Vivi is six! My mom came up to celebrate her birthday with us. Vivi is particularly fun to celebrate a birthday with because of how much she loves the event. She talks about and plans her birthday for weeks and even months leading up to it. She is just so excited! It's nice that her birthday is in spring because, for me, it marks the beginning of a change in the weather and even the demeanor of the people around here. Everyone heaves a collective sigh of relief that new life has sprung once again.

As in years past, we incorporated a local farm in the birthday activities. Because her birthday nearly coincided with April vacation week, we were able to sign Vivi, Charlie, and a few friends up for a gardening class. Afterward mom and I took them to eat dessert at one of those frozen yogurt places where you pick your own toppings. When I returned one of the girls to her house, her mom came out and said, "Now you can go home and have a glass of wine." That wasn't her first rodeo, but it was mine. Phew! The sugar shock was so great, it almost seemed like the ice cream intoxicated the girls for a full hour afterward. Much fun ensued, as I'm sure you can imagine.


This year I'm seeing how Vivi's growing sense of self is changing how she experiences her birthday. I was surprised to discover, come birthday morning, that she was disappointed to learn that even planning ahead couldn't make her birthday as perfect as she might have wanted. She hadn't considered that perhaps the weather wouldn't cooperate (ha, what's new?) or that she'd still have to participate in regular life activities--school, swim class, bath time--even though it was her birthday. But being the resilient, happy girl we know and love, she recovered quickly and by the end of the day, she said she had a great time despite those minor setbacks. I came to her kindergarten class and read one of her favorite stories, Bad Kitty, much to the giggly delight of the kindergartners, and then I watched as each and every one of them hugged her on their way out the door. She seems to have made quite the impression on them too.

I'm planning to write a personal letter to Vivi that isn't on the blog this time around. You can check out my previous birthday posts, a few with letters, here: onetwo, three, four, and five.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

{14/52 & 15/52}: mulligatawny

{14/52}: bike trailer season!

{15/52}: sisterly love

The weather lately is wicked crazy. It can't decide whether it wants to be warm, cold, windy (correction: it is always windy), or raining. I feel for the poor weather experts who have to try to predict these doozies. Luckily we have had a few days of sunshine--enough for us to burn even while wearing sunscreen--so my need for vitamin D has finally be satiated.

It rained and was hella-windy today, so it seemed like a good day for soup. I like to tinker in the kitchen, and recently I discovered I love curry in soup. First I tried this curried sweet potato soup, which was completely delicious, even to the person in our household who lists sweet potatoes as the only food he won't eat. Next I decided to try mulligatawny, which was equally delicious.

It would be impossible for me to talk about mulligatawny and not mention Seinfeld. It's a great word and a great episode and a great soup. All great! My first introduction to mulligatawny was in a little middle eastern restaurant called Lulu's in Madison, Wisconsin (it's closed now, sadly). That restaurant offered not just my first introduction to the soup but also my first introduction to Middle Eastern food of any kind.

I learned when deciding to write about mulligatawny that it's actually a product of Anglo-Indian cuisine rather than authentically Indian. Also I learned that most recipes (including the one in my 1950's Betty Crocker cookbook) call for chicken and apples, which is such a strange combination to me. Because, you know, there aren't apples in India.

But perhaps the best part about mulligatawny is that you can make it whatever way you like, with whatever ingredients you have on hand. And it's so much more fun to say mulligatawny than "curried pea soup."

The reason I tried mulligatawny now is that I happened to discover "vegi soup mix" by Bob's Red Mill, and somehow the split peas, barley, lentils, and veggie pasta seemed to cry out for curry flavoring. I happened also to have a coconut curry chicken broth on hand, so I used it, but regular chicken stock or veggie broth would be fine too.

Pic quality isn't great, but yk, does lentil soup ever look good?


mulligatawny
serves 8

Ingredients:
few Tbs. of butter & oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 good-sized potatoes, diced (or whatever other veggies you like)
2 c. Bob's Red Mill vegi soup mix (or a combo of the beans above)
8 c. chicken stock or veggie broth
1 Tbs. curry powder (a mix of coriander, fenugreek, turmeric, red pepper, and onion)
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
salt and pepper (if you have citrus salt on hand, this is a good time to use it)
parsley
lemon

Directions:
1. Saute onion and carrots in butter & oil in Dutch oven over medium heat for 10 minutes, until onions are translucent.
2. Add potatoes, soup mix, broth, and spices (everything except parsley and lemon), and cook covered over medium-low heat for approximately an hour or until the peas have all but disappeared and the lentils are soft. Remove from heat and stir in parsley and lemon juice to brighten it up.



Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Uncle Ronnie's chicken bog {& a list of freezable meals!}

I sat down here to write an update on the Ranger household. But rather than jot those deets, I veered off the path to share another recipe for comforting chicken stew (that makes two in a row).

Because sometimes your pal Jenny--a wonderful friend and beautiful person inside and out--asks you for easy, freezable meal ideas in anticipation of her first bundle of joy, and you must answer the call. Once a boat mate, always a boat mate. So I hope you'll forgive me for sharing this recipe instead of an update today, and I believe you will once you've learned how easy and delicious it is.

Only picture of me (2nd from left) and Jenny that I can find right now. She's the badass on the right.


My uncle that I was telling you about the other day--Uncle Ronnie of the sorghum syrup--is a wealth of information about recipes from the old south. He usually gets the tips from his Dad, who is an even greater wealth of information on the topic. So you can see, I've tapped into a great wellspring of recipes for you folks.

My latest discovery via Uncle Ronnie is chicken bog, a stew from the eastern Carolinas. Perhaps it would sound more tasty if I called it chicken and rice stew, but I prefer to let the title lie as is in all its odd, humble glory. Although the name is quirky and less than delicious-sounding, chicken bog is neither of those things.

A recipe as simple as this one deserves to be left without the decoration of superfluous adjectives, so I'll just tell you it is GOOD. And if you're a soon-to-be mom, you should also know that it is easy and definitely freezable. All you need is time, but if you're anything like I was during the nesting phase, you're spending lots of time rewashing the layette anyhow and can spare a few minutes for waiting and stirring.

Uncle Ronnie's dad dictated few instructions. Mainly he said to cover the chicken with water, simmer until it is falling apart, strain the stock into a container, top the chicken with 2 c. white Carolina rice, pour in 2-3 c. of the saved liquid, and simmer 15 more minutes. You can certainly do it as simply as that, but I added a few fussier ingredients thanks to this recipe by Vivian Howard of A Chef's Life.


Uncle Ronnie's chicken bog
serves 8

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, skin-on and cut into parts
1 onion, quartered
bay leaf
fresh thyme
salt & pepper
2 c. white rice (I can get Carolina brand at the regular grocery)
butter

Directions:

  1. Place chicken pieces in a Dutch oven. Cover with water and throw in the onion, bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme, and 1 Tbs. salt and a few teaspoons of fresh cracked pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer the chicken over low heat for about an hour and a half or until chicken is falling apart. You will have rendered the fat off the skin, and even the breast meat should come right apart if poked with a fork.
  2. Turn the heat off and let it sit covered in its liquid for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces to a cutting board to cool. Strain the stock into a container. Shred the chicken, leaving some big pieces of breast meat, and discard the skin bones. [Note: If you are freezing the recipe, stop here. Put the shredded chicken into the stock, label it with the name and date, and put it in the chest freezer. When you're ready to use it, defrost it overnight in the refrigerator, and move on to step #3.]
  3. Return chicken to the Dutch oven. Top with 2 c. white rice if you're serving 8 people (if you're serving 4, save half for later in the week at step #2, then cook fresh rice at that time). Don't rinse your rice before putting it in, since the extra starch is helpful for thickening. Follow rice directions for how much liquid to add (usually 1:1 ratio). Simmer for approximately 15 minutes until rice is tender. Careful not to simmer too long, for though you want the chicken soft, you want the rice to maintain a bite. Drop in a pat of butter and maybe some lemon juice or parsley if you like it fussy. Just do me a favor and don't tell Uncle Ronnie's dad.

For Jenny & the other moms-to-be out there, here's a list of freezable recipes from the blog:

My one and only piece of advice when it comes to post-baby food is this: invest in a chest freezer! I promise you won't regret the investment even if you don't cook that often. Last I checked, they sell a reasonably large model for around $100 at Home Depot.

Good luck, Jenny! And snuggle that baby. They grow all too fast.
xoxo,
~J

Monday, March 31, 2014

{12/52 & 13/52}: chicken 'n' dumplings


One thing you should know about me is that I love chicken 'n' dumplings.

{12/52}: sickies

And I knew it was time to make a batch when the girls spent a day looking like they do in the picture above. They had a nasty cold all week.

****

Before I get more into my love of dumplings, I'll share a brief story from a recent tot class. [Aside within an aside: when they call a class "jiggle and jive" and then make the moms jump around a lot, are they trying to inspire us to go to the gym more?] We were singing a song, and I had that experience that happens to me so frequently up here where I get lyrics to simple children's songs wrong. Apparently there are often regional differences in the words, which I never knew until having my own littles. It's an interesting experience to slip and slide through conversations with locals, knowing you might mess up even the most basic of childhood rhymes. Playing eenie meanie with Vivi the other day, she says, "That's now how it ends, Mommy! You're supposed to say 'Out goes Y-O-U.'" Or else I might stop singing "Ring Around the Rosie" after one verse, and everyone else continues a second verse that includes words like "buttahcups" and "thundah."

This time it happened, though, I walked away thinking the adapted New England lyrics to, "She'll be coming around the mountain" are really missing out. They replaced "We'll have some cake and ice cream," instead of "We'll have some chicken 'n dumplings," and I simply will not stand for such a variation without attempting to rectify the situation.

****

I love Cracker Barrel. Because I can't untangle their food from my happy childhood memories--of stopping there to eat with my grandparents on our way to Birmingham to visit my cousins, of selecting paper strips of candy to buy, of playing checkers and that weird golf-tee ig-nor-a-moose game, whatever it was called--I know my love is potentially blind. But I don't care; I will go on with my positive view of Cracker Barrel, no matter any evidence to the contrary that comes my way.

Whatever you say about Cracker Barrel's food, you'll probably appreciate their chicken 'n dumplings if you give 'em a try. Some people prefer dumplings to be giant matzo-like puffy orbs, but I come from the school of thought in which dumplings are flat rectangles of dense dough. That's why I call this recipe "Cracker Barrel chicken 'n dumplings," although it's only authentic in that it mostly tastes like their version to me. {Note: I added an alternative way of making puffy-orb dumplings at the bottom of the recipe because I know some people like eating them the wrong other way}.

There are faster ways to cook chicken 'n dumplings than this recipe.


If you want a real shortcut, you can do the 10-minute car-camping version: Put a drained can of chicken, a 15 oz. can of chicken stock, and a little water/flour slurry in a pot; let it come to a boil, drop in cut-up biscuit dough from a can, wait 5 minutes; et voila, dinner is served.

Or you could do the middle-of-the road 30-min approach: Dredge 6-8 chicken thighs and drumsticks in flour. Saute in oil in a Dutch oven until brown. Submerge with chicken stock (2-3 cups), cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare 1 c. of Bisquick according to package directions, drop tablespoons of dough into stew (on top of the meat), adding more stock as desired, and cook 10 minutes uncovered, then cover and cook 10 more minutes.

But I find that even going all-the-way from scratch isn't time-consuming or difficult prep. The part that takes up the most time is cooking the chicken to make chicken stock. Whether you want to roast your chicken first to add a depth of flavor to the finished dish is up to you. If you're pressed for time or simply feeling lazy like I often am, you can just start with raw chicken in the pot. The only thing that changes is your cooking time.

I usually divide the task into two days. On the first day, I cook, cool, and shred the chicken (using the same method described in my chicken & rice soup post), then put it back in the stock and into the fridge overnight to marry flavors.  On the second day, I heat up the soup, add a slurry, season to taste, and cook the dumplings. If you want your kids to get some extra veggies, drop in frozen peas at the very end.


chicken 'n dumplings, the {sorta} Cracker Barrel way
serves 6

Stew Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, skin-on, cut into parts
1 carrot, broken in half
1 stalk celery, cut in half
1 onion, quartered
3 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
handful of black peppercorns
salt & pepper
few stems of flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. whole milk (half & half or heavy cream work too)

Flat Dumpling Ingredients: {see below for fluffy dumplings}
1c. all-purpose flour, sifted
2/3 c. water
large pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Add chicken, veggies, garlic, peppercorns, a large pinch of salt, and parsley into a large Dutch oven or stock pot. Cover with water (approximately 8-10 cups, depending on the size of your pot) and bring it to a boil. Quickly turn the heat down to simmer and let it cook until the chicken reaches 175ºF with a meat thermometer, approximately 45 minutes. {Note: Alternatively, you can let it come to a boil, turn the heat off, and leave it for an hour to an hour and a half if you need to go somewhere during this time.}
  2. Put the meat on a cutting board to let it cool. Meanwhile, strain the stock into a bowl and discard the veggies. Shred the chicken, discarding the fat and bones {Note: This is where I stop for the day if I'm dividing the recipe in two; you can save the bones for another round of stock-making}. 
  3. Make a slurry by whisking together 2 Tbs. flour and milk; set aside. Return the shredded chicken to the pot. If you want a soup, add all the broth back; if you prefer the dumplings to be in a thick sauce instead of soup, add half the broth back (~2 c.) and more as needed. Add the slurry and bring the mixture to a boil.
  4. Combine water, a large pinch of salt, and 1 c. flour in a small bowl. It will make a sticky dough. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll until it is 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 2"x1" rectangles, add to the boiling liquid, and cook for five minutes or until the dumplings rise to the top. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add frozen peas if desired.
alternative fluffy dumplings (via Betty Crocker)

Ingredients: 
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. lard, shortening, or unsalted butter
3/4 c. milk, preferably whole

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Drop by spoonfuls into the boiling liquid. Cook 10 minutes uncovered, then cover pot, turn down heat to simmer, and cook 10 more minutes.

{13/52}: on the mend!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

the salad and the cone

the corn chip joke
This picture alone is kinda funny, but if you click it, it takes you to an even funnier cartoon of a drunk wife's joke.

Because everyone's experience of marriage is different, I usually find it unnecessary to compare marriage notes. Except of course when it comes to purchases of socks and underwear. On that subject, I'm chatty beyond reason. I'll even go so far as to poll the woman who avoids eye contact with me at carpool.

So let's chat, Reader. Here's what I would like to know: When did I become the primary sock and underwear purchaser for my entire household? At some point we must have made the switch, but I have no recollection of taking on the duty. And yet, I'm pretty certain it happened pre-kids, back when we both had jobs and social lives. Is this something you're in charge of in your house?

I mean, what gives? Why the magnanimous gesture that now requires me to stand in TJ Maxx and try to remember whether it's the ones without the mesh or the ones with the mesh? I'm not even going to tell you whether I'm talking about socks or underwear. I should leave something to your imagination.*

Okay, there was originally going to be more to this post than bemoaning the level of detail I've acquired about my husband's personal garment preferences. I'll try to bring it back around. I guess what I'm saying is that my marriage isn't perfect, but it is full of both surprises and predictability. Nothing against surprises, but I'll take predictability any day.

Did you read the Goop article about "conscious uncoupling"? It left the entire gossipy internet wondering why she included a polemic on marriage after the jump. Many have said much already, so I'll spare you a dissection of the nonsensical gibberish on bugs and Russian esotericists. I mention it because part of me is interested in learning about other people's divorces, especially of a couple who seemed so perfect from the outside like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. I'll admit it, I'm curious.

Maybe I wonder about what pushed them over the edge because it seems like it'd be so impossible for us to divorce and still be friends, like Larry & Laurie David. I suppose we might if either of us were as witty and disarming as Larry David. Speaking of, he did a hilarious episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. I loved Jerry's take on why Larry got divorced, and I happen to agree with his notion of setting the mood. If I'm getting an ice cream cone, you'd better not order a salad. We're in this together, socks and all.

*I should probably note that I don't actually mind buying socks and underwear for my husband. But feigning incredulity at my lot in life is one of the ways I martyr myself to get appreciation. I know, I know. I might be the actual worst.

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