*whirlwind weekend.

This weekend was a flurry of activity, a nonstop exercise in ... well, exercise, both accidental and not. (Some people run marathons; I spend four hours cleaning the Woodside. This is the natural consequence of only attending to your household mess quarterly.)

Friday night I sat on a top-notch baby.


We sang the ABCs and read thousands of books and played ring around the rosie until her tía decided it can be injurious to all fall down that many times. Her tía's joints are not what they once were.

Saturday, we went for a big breakfast and a trip to the park.


She was way happier about it than that!


There we go.

We climbed stairs.



We played peek-a-boo.


We walked, big steps in our favorite shoes.




And, of course, we sat. (All that walking can be very tiresome.)




We showed off our very best manners. (This move, thumb of one hand to palm of the other, is how Dat Booger says "please.")


After that, it was time for a nap, so I returned to the Woodside to vacuum the dust off the vacuum and otherwise have a serious self-intervention on the subject of slovenliness. Let's just say I put away some Christmas presents. Ahem.

I scrubbed as many inches of the homestead as possible before my body saw fit to remind me of just how old I am, which is somewhere between not-getting-carded-anymore and menial-household-tasks-will-result-in-partial-paralysis.

And then I bought myself flowers.


A big bunch of 'em.


Just because.


*miso hungry.


I. am. so. funny. SO funny, in fact, that I stole that joke from someone else. Rather unabashedly, in fact. Miso shameless. Miso ridiculous. Miso hilarious. If mido say so miself.


It's Friday. You didn't expect sanity here, did you?

Today's bout of absurdity is sponsored, though, brought to you by my lovely coworker M, who trekked to the furthest reaches of our fair suburbs to bring me white miso. I needed 4 tablespoons; I now have 2 pounds. You're probably going to see it show up here a lot as I attempt to work my way through the remainder.

Aw, shucks.

I adapted this from a recipe I found at Momofuku for 2, which refers to chicken ramen as "my kind of trashy comfort food."

A note to my legions: Trashy is swiftly becoming a theme around the Woodside.

It's ultimately a breeze to put together, but there are elements that need individual attention, so it requires more focus than I'm generally known to assign a task (read: any). Here they are in finer detail:


What you can't see, at the bottom of the bowl, are the ramen noodles. I used pre-packaged dry ramen, the kind that comes molded into a brick with the foil packet of poison (also known as the "seasoning mix," responsible for ramen's bad reputation, which contains—wait for it—1,200 mg of sodium). That went into the garbage. Spooned on top are shreds of rotisserie chicken, quite tasty but looking awfully pallid here, blanched spinach, buttered corn, a (too-)soft-boiled egg, thin slices of raw onion, and pretty rolls of green onion—because they make everything look lovelier, and because there were some in the refrigerator.

The miso had an earthy smell I didn't expect; one of the listed ingredients is, sort of ominously, "alcohol," and the best way to describe it is that it made my chicken broth smell a bit like beer. The original recipe suggested tasting the broth for seasoning and adjusting accordingly because not all miso is created equally, apparently. Not having a firm idea of what my miso broth was supposed to taste like, I mostly blundered along blindly. I was instructed to soft-boil the eggs for 6 minutes, but as you can see that wasn't really long enough. I love a silken, runny yolk, which in this case partnered up with the buttered corn for some terrific richness, but these were definitely collapsed centers as opposed to wobbly ones.

(Note: I did as directed and ran the eggs under cold water for a few minutes directly after boiling, and they did peel more dreamily than any other boiled egg I've ever attempted. It must be said, though, that not-quite-firmly-boiled eggs are a delicate business.)

This recipe didn't really have a failure potential, because it combines so many of my favorite things—soft eggs, chicken, noodles, and deep, can't-quite-put-your-finger-on-it flavor—but the real surprise for me was the effect of the raw onions. There are people in my life who will run girl-screaming from the room if they catch sight of a raw onion, but these added necessary crunch, that beloved bite, and a really unexpected sweetness.

Still, as I've wandered this culinary labyrinth lately, like the unmotivated mouse I am, I do find that I'm accidentally learning a thing or two. And as I prepared to make this meal, there was something nagging me in the back of my brain: The flavors seemed a little too mild for me. Delicious, yes, and variously sweet, salty, rich, and bright, but something fell flat in my first virtual taste. And my first real taste confirmed it. This recipe really doesn't need any improvement, and it would be just right for many people, but for me, it needed a squeeze of sriracha to tie it all together. A spritz of lime juice might do it, too, if you don't like spicy foods, but there was just a tiny voice in the expanses of my tangled brain that whispered, "acid."

At least I think that's what it meant.

This really is comfort food at its best, which is trashy, and I know I'll think of it the next time I'm sick, or cold, or tired, or just craving a big bowl of my favorite things.


Chicken Miso Ramen

8 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons shiro miso (white miso)
2 (3-ounce) packages ramen noodles (any flavor), seasoning packets discarded
4 eggs
2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn
Kosher salt
4 cups spinach leaves
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
2 green onions, chopped
Sriracha (optional)

1. Place broth in a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat; stir in miso until thoroughly mixed and heated through. Reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally.

2. In a medium saucepan, cook noodles according to package directions. Drain, and divide among 4 serving bowls. Add water to pot, and bring to a boil. Place eggs into boiling water; cook 6 to 8 minutes, according to preference. Drain, and run under cold water until cool; peel and slice in half.

3. Sauté corn in butter in a small skillet, stirring until kernels are heated through.

4. Meanwhile, add water and kosher salt to medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cook spinach just until wilted and bright green; drain.

5. Arrange chicken, sliced onion, spinach, and corn over noodles in serving bowls. Top each serving with miso broth, and then eggs and green onions. Stir in sriracha, if desired. Serves 4.


*ode to ego.

As a rule, 23.99 out of the 24 hours in a given day my mind is moving 100 miles an hour—as evidenced by last night's non-sleep, which left me with my shoulders possibly permanently attached to my ears—tackling the urgent problems of the second: will I ever pay off my credit card debt, did I remember to leave water out for the dog, does this odd eyebrow twitch signify some dread disease, am I really wearing yoga pants (with a hole in them) to work?

Things like that.

The exception to this rule is when I'm asked what I would like to receive as a gift. "What do you want for your birthday?" "What do you want for Christmas?" These are the questions that bring my tiny brain to a screeching halt. And yes, I do think it's because I have much and want for little, and because I have a clinical aversion to clutter (which does not extend to my ability to tolerate mess). So I do understand that not being able to think of something one wants/needs is not high on the list of World's Worst Problems.

It's not a big bowl of fun for the momster, though.

But this year, I had a notion—that if I am not going to ever learn how my camera actually works, it might help to have some help. I asked for the Lowel Ego lights, a setup that can roughly approximate pretty ambientness even in the dead of night. Remember this disaster from two days ago?

That was my dinner under kitchen lights. This is my dinner on Ego:


RIGHT?! Like midday in July.

Last night's dinner was an invention of sorts, though I obviously don't take credit for the concept of the twice-baked potato. (That was Einstein's idea, clearly.) I used Alton Brown's rules for the perfect baked potato, though I usually find it takes about 15 minutes longer than he suggests to get crispy skins and fluffy, yielding insides. He recommends canola oil, which I didn't have, so I used sunflower oil, which I inexplicably did. I liked it because it does the job—making that peel cracklingly delicious—without imparting any real flavor at all. That's the job of the kosher salt, which you'll notice I sprinkled liberally.

The beef portion is a hodgepodge—the seasonings change based on what I have in the larder, the broccoli stays the same. (Because broccoli and cheese and potatoes are so very, very fond of each other.) The recipe is based on what's pictured here, but the first time I whipped these up they were altogether different. Both delicious, though, which is a testament to flexibility! and versatility! and fearless abandon! Just don't put anything weird in there, and you'll be fine. I think black pepper would have been a nice addition, but alas, my grinder is broken and I didn't have any of the ground stuff on hand. This recipe serves two, but there will be plenty of beef-and-broccoli mixture left over. Just cook up some rice the next day, et voilà! Tomorrow night's dinner.

The salad was K's Trashy Salad, minus the trashiest aspect (the bacon) because I forgot it. My guest for the evening, J, doesn't eat tomatoes, so hers was really just K's Trashy Bowl O' Lettuce. To each her own! The important thing is to keep the ingredients coldcoldcold until serving, for maximum crunchyyumminess.


I hesitate to even give a recipe for it, because it's abjectly absurd, but as this is undeniably the home of abject absurdity, I will. And because I'm just giddy with d'lights. (HAR!)


Beef-and-Broccoli Twice-Baked Potatoes

2 baking potatoes, washed and dried
Sunflower oil
Kosher salt
1 pound lean ground beef
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons flour
1 (14.5-ounce) can fat-free, low-sodium beef broth
Hot sauce to taste
¼ cup ketchup
1 (14-ounce) bag frozen broccoli florets
½ tablespoon butter
½ cup shredded Colby Jack cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350. With a fork, poke 8 to 12 deep holes in potatoes. Place in a bowl, and lightly coat with oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Place directly on oven rack, in center of oven, and bake 1 hour, 15 minutes or until skins are crispy and insides are cooked through.

2. When potatoes have about 20 minutes left to cook, season beef with kosher salt, garlic powder, mustard, and cumin. Brown in a deep skillet over medium to medium-high heat until no longer pink. Sprinkle beef with flour, and cook 1 minute. Stir in beef broth, hot sauce, and ketchup; bring to a boil, and stir in broccoli. Reduce heat, and simmer until broccoli is heated through.

3. When cool enough to handle, cut potatoes in half lengthwise, and scoop out flesh, leaving enough of a border around sides and bottoms so that skins don't become flimsy. Transfer skins to a baking dish or baking sheet.

4. In a small bowl, mash potato flesh with butter and enough milk to get a fluffy, creamy consistency. Stir in kosher salt.

5. Spoon beef-and-broccoli mixture into potato skins, and top with mashed potatoes and shredded cheese. Bake or broil 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden. Makes 2 servings.


K's Trashy Salad

1 small head iceberg lettuce, coarsely chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
4 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
Light ranch dressing to taste

Combine first 3 ingredients, and chill. Stir in dressing just before serving. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

If you whip these up in your own kitchen, let me know how it goes!


*mea culpa.

Sometimes a photo is bad, and it makes you cranky. I haven't stopped thinking about that awful picture from yesterday's post since, well ... yesterday. I'm irritated by the focus (or lack thereof), the light (or lack thereof), and the color (or lack thereof).

It didn't capture anything I wanted to capture, or communicate what I wanted to communicate, and so it is a photo PHAIL.

But then sometimes a photo is bad, and you love it.


It's blurry and dark and gray, and it took this moment—when that mom rolled her love for that baby into a big bundle of giddily giggling fun—and snagged it right out of the sky. I could look at it all day.

Oh, and this one, too.


For similar reasons.


*mmm, soup.

Yes, you heard correctly! I'm back, though tentatively so—I don't like to put "pressure" on "myself" to be "not lazy"—and I mark my triumphant return with:


Well, a really terrible photo. That's just incredibly disappointing, isn't it? Note to self: Find way to make new photo lights received for Christmas portable.

All the more so because, frankly, this was one delicious dinner. LSis was suffering bitterly from the latest bout of childborne illness. (I did not get it, because I have the immune system of a vegan triathlete, and/or am pickled by tequila.) She requested something comforting (Mexican), flavorful (Mexican), and spicy enough to clear her aching head (Mexican).

When cooking for the J family, there are certain considerations that must be weighed. (Note: This is namely LSis and the BiL; the equation shifts if I also want to feed the sometimes-adventurous but also sometimes-unpredictable 15-month-old, the sometimes-suspicious but almost-always-game 11- and 13-year-olds, or the vegetarian 19-year-old.)

1. There must, without exception, be meat. No one will be fooled by other proteins, such as beans, eggs, or cheese. If there is no dead animal, there is no dinner.
2. There must never, ever be mushrooms.
3. It helps if there is an element that is eye-wateringly, mouth-searingly spicy.
4. If there is soup, it is imperative that there is a carbohydrate—bread, crackers, tortillas—for dipping.
5. If possible, dinner should be hot. Salads are side dishes, not entrées.
6. The cook must make allowances for salt, ketchup, and ... other surprises. (I discovered this the hard way when I made Frank Stitt's Bottega Café macaroni and cheese, and BiL ate it between Triscuits.)

But having a framework is helpful, I find, particularly when one's approach to menu planning is to stare at foodgawker while her brain turns into a pinball machine. I've been experimenting a lot more with Asian flavors lately (fish sauce, sesame oil, my beloved sriracha), but—though a coworker has been kind enough to offer to bring me some miso tomorrow (squee!)—I find that when it comes to what-one-can-find-in-one's-regular-Winn-Dixie, Mexican foods never let me down.

BiL, he of the Triscuits, loves absolutely nothing more than a bowl of soup. It is without fail, and in any flavor, his favorite food. When it comes to the classic tortilla soup, he has a proclivity for the inclusion of arroz (rice, mixed in) and plenty of lechuga (lettuce, tossed in on top in intervals until the bowl is empty and the belly is full).

BiL, it turns out, has stumbled onto something genius. The cool lettuce plays well with the jalapeños and spices, and because the elements of the soup are smooth and silky, it adds a welcome crunch. The rice makes things hearty and satisfying, without any of the did-I-just-drink-my-dinner? conundrums that follow a liquid meal.

The fun part about the soup recipe (adapted from My Gourmet Connection) is the inclusion of toasted crushed tortilla chips, which give a thicker, richer consistency and also have the distinction of being among my favorite indulgences. (I recently discovered that these Hint of Lime Tostitos have no more salt than the regular variety, and while I have a hard time believing that, it fits quite neatly into my things-I'm-happy-to-blindly-trust paradigm.) I didn't have dried oregano so I opted for dried "Italian seasoning," and while things took a scary olfactory turn for "pizza" rather than "enchilada" in the beginning, it all mellowed out just fine in the end. I also omitted the lime zest because my Microplane was safely at home in the Woodside kitchen; it was delicious without, but I imagine it would add even brighter flavor. I sprinkled some black pepper in at the end, but I found this needed no additional salt. All a matter of preference, but even BiL didn't pull out the table shaker. The Winn-Dixie was completely out of cilantro, but it would be a nice topping if you're into that sort of thing and, you know, don't think it tastes like soap.

The rice (adapted from the genius that is Homesick Texan)is a revelation of sorts—so few ingredients, such rich flavor. I was sorry LSis and BiL didn't get to taste this on its own, because there's a simple intensity that made me do a small, nerdy kitchen dance. The original recipe calls for cilantro, which of course I didn't have but would be a nice addition if you're spooning it out with simple grilled chicken for a weeknight dinner. Also, Homesick Texan says you can adjust the amount of cumin to taste, but I really recommend going with the full tablespoon. It's just such a good friend to the tomato paste. I used basmati rice, because that's what was in the cupboard.

Oh and try this with chilled iceberg on top—I promise you it's worth it. (Thanks, BiL!)

Chicken Tortilla Soup with Mexican Rice

1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced
1 cup finely crushed Tostitos Hint of Lime tortilla chips
4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1½ cups tomato sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon Frank's Red Hot or other hot sauce
¾ pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts/cutlets, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn
⅓ cup half & half
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Mexican Rice (recipe below)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
Sour cream
Lime wedges

1. Heat olive oil in a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeños, and sauté until softened. Add the crushed tortilla chips; toss and lightly toast until fragrant.

2. Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, spices, and hot sauce, and simmer about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken, and simmer 5 to 7 more minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

3. Add corn and half and half; reduce heat, and stir in cheese. Add lime juice and salt and pepper.

4. Spoon ½ cup Mexican Rice into serving bowls. Ladle into serving bowls. Ladle soup over rice, and top with a dollop of sour cream and a few pieces of fresh tomato. Serve with lime wedges. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Mexican Rice
1 cup rice
2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt, to taste

1. Place first 3 ingredients into a medium pot; bring to a boil on high, stir once, and cover. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.

2. Remove from heat and keep covered 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat; add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until just about to brown.

4. Add garlic, and cook 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and cumin, and cook 1 more minute. Mix into cooked rice.

6. Stir in lime juice and salt. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

It strikes me as suddenly very clear that I need to find out how to format fractions for this forum. I'm on it; I swear! ETA: Done!


Hey, guess what?


I'm back.



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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.