Food and Drink

Old Dogs, New Tricks

A couple of months ago, Vicki told us all about this very fun online cooking class she and her sister took together. And that got me thinking! My sister's birthday was coming up (at the time; it's a month passed now) . . . and maybe I could give her an online cooking class that we could take together! Wouldn't that be fun?

So I got more information from Vicki . . . and started digging around. Now, New Orleans style cooking (the class Vicki and her sister did) probably wouldn't appeal much to my sister. While she likes to cook, that's not really in her wheelhouse. I needed to cast my net a little further. . . and then I found that Sur La Table has a huge selection of online cooking and baking classes.


My sister loves to bake -- so I signed us both up for a 2-session croissant baking class. My thinking was that neither of us would attempt croissants on our own. They're technically difficult and the recipes/directions are totally intimidating . . . so it seemed a class setting might be the best way to learn how to make them. Plus . . . croissants immediately remind us of our travels together (and our shared love for Louise Penny's "Three Pines" book series).

We had our class this past weekend.


It was really fun! The advance materials were good, and we were able to get ourselves prepped and ready to go before the class started. (Reading too far ahead, though, was still totally intimidating! Laminated dough is not for the weak of heart . . . ) The pacing was good, so we were able to keep up with the steps along with the online instruction.


The tips and tricks were invaluable. And for me, the professional tips on rolling out dough . . . worth the price of admission right there!


And by the end of Day 1, we had laminated croissant dough proofing in the refrigerator . . . 


. . . all ready for Day 2. Which was all rolling, cutting, and shaping our croissants. More proofing . . . 


And finally . . . baking!


And, in the end, we each had a delicious batch of croissants!


They were seriously GOOD.


And I feel confident enough to make them again . . . on my own!

My sister had great success with her batch of croissants, too. It was a lot of fun to take the class with my sister. Although we couldn't see each other during the class (neither of us turned our cameras on), we texted and shared photos with each other throughout both sessions. Maybe I'll be able to talk her into another baking class soon . . . French Apple Tarte Tartin, maybe? Or Raspberry Macarons?

You really can teach old dogs new tricks!


Inspiration You Can Eat

You never know when inspiration will strike.

It could be . . . a pattern of leaves. Or the light falling across the landscape. Maybe it's a shadow. Or the way colors work together. A particular texture, even.

Or . . . it could be a simple colander full of fresh blueberries that gets the inspiration flowing!


That happened to me yesterday. I didn't wake up planning to go on a bit of a baking binge, but it happened all the same . . . as soon as I saw those blueberries. (And smelled the fresh nectarines on my counter.) (And maybe it could even be the latest season of The Great British Baking Show. Who knows?)

But, suddenly, I was all in!


First up, pie crust. Then, while that cooled in the fridge, I was on to blueberry muffins. (Which were quite fine, warm from the oven with a glass of Chardonnay out on the patio, I might add.)


But then. . . the pièce de résistance! 

A blueberry nectarine galette. (Kinda like a pie, but more rustic and a little less fussy.)


And that, folks? 
That was dinner!


Inspiration . . . you can eat!

Inspired by My Refrigerator

Earlier this summer, the inside of my refrigerator reached The Danger Zone.  No longer functioning as an efficient storage place for cold foods, my fridge had become home to partially-used jars, uneaten leftovers, and god-knows-what lurking in the far corners.

Something had to give!

I spent a couple of summer afternoons pulling everything out of the fridge, assessing, dumping, recycling, cleaning, and reorganizing.  (It's a shame I took no photos, because the task was Herculean - and would have looked very impressive.)

In the end, I dumped a whole lot of uneaten, wasted food.  Much of it came in partially-used jars.  Things I bought to make a specific recipe.  You know how it goes . . . you need half a jar of some exotic ingredient and a couple of teaspoons of some specialty mustard and almost - but not quite - a whole jar of some sort of marinara sauce.  Anyway.  Being frugal, I always save the leftover stuff -- because I'll just use it next time I make the recipe! 

What always happens, though?  Well ... by the time I make that recipe again, I forget I have the stuff in the back of the fridge.  Or it's been in there so long it's now a Petri dish.  Or I remember I have it . . . but don't have enough, so start the cycle all over again!

So.  There was a lot of wasted food in jars.

There were also quite a few leftovers of uncertain origin squirrelled away in the depths of my refrigerator.  Now, Tom and I have gotten much better at regularly building leftovers into our weekly dinner menus, so this situation has improved quite a bit over the last year or so.  But, still.  Leftover waste -- and plenty of it!

I'm happy to report that my refrigerator is clean, organized, and functional once again!



I remain disgusted by my own food waste -- and I am all the more determined to buy only what we need, use everything I buy, and eat leftovers!

One thing I've stopped doing is weekly grocery shopping.  I used to have a system where I planned out all of our meals for the week in advance (based on what our schedule looked like for the week).  I made a big list based on that meal plan, and I shopped on Sunday afternoon.  Filled the pantry and the fridge every week.  This system worked quite well when the kids lived at home because our schedules were busy and predictable.  Back then, I was working and needed to be super organized.  (Besides . . . I had growing kids always looking for more to eat.)

When it became just Tom and I at home, though, everything changed!  Our schedules were much more apt to include spontaneous dinners out.  We had more leftovers.  We tried more exotic recipes that required more exotic ingredients.  Our lives and eating habits had changed -- but my old system of weekly shopping excursions had not!

To discourage food waste here at home, we changed two things:  First, I let go of the weekly shopping and now make several quick runs to the grocery store to just pick up what we need for dinner.  Second, we've made a commitment to eating our leftovers.

It's been working . . . but there is still food waste.  Mostly from partially-unused jars of ingredients -- so that's my next target!  I'm trying to be more discriminating about recipes I make -- really considering if I need to make something that requires me to buy several exotic ingredients that I wouldn't normally store in my pantry.  This is harder than expected -- because I really like trying new recipes, and the "exotic" always appeals to me.  But I'm working on it.

I decided to try one of the online healthy meal delivery services, too.  (Here's a quick run-down of some of the services out there.)  After doing some research, I signed up with Blue Apron.  Three meals per week.  Fresh ingredients.  Original recipes.  Perfectly proportioned meals -- so no waste.  

Our first box arrived last week.


I was totally impressed to find . . . real, fresh ingredients packed into my box of three-meals-for-two-people.  Everything was pre-measured and packed (when packed) in recyclable materials . . . right down to a single farm-fresh egg!


The recipes are clear and easy to read, and include photos, cook prep/timing details, and step-by-step instructions.  Because everything is pre-measured and included in your box, all you need to do is . . . cook.  (The only things I've needed to grab from my own cupboards are olive oil, salt, and pepper.)


So far, I've prepared two of the three meals - steak and fish, each with a fresh vegetable side dish and some sort of potato. Both have been excellent -- really tasty.

But.  I would also say that both meals have been a bit more . . . fussy and involved. . . than I would normally prepare for a weeknight meal.  Lots of pots and pans and bowls.  Lots of overlapping steps.  Prepping one thing while cooking another.  Yes . . . everything was THERE and available -- but there was still prep and staging and managing to be done.

I actually found it to be a bit stressful -- and I'm an experienced cook!  (I was considering giving a Blue Apron subscription to Erin and Keith -- but decided against it because it would just be too overwhelming for them at this stage of their cooking lives.)

I'm going to give it another try -- now that I know I need to plan my own prep-steps -- because the quality was great.  The ingredients were fresh, the recipes were interesting, and the meals were really good.  I also really like having just enough to prepare a meal for Tom and I.  We have plenty to eat -- and no leftovers.  It really is perfectly proportioned.  And . . . it's super convenient to know exactly what you're going to cook for dinner --AND that you have everything you need to cook it.

How about you?  Have you ever tried one of the meal delivery services?  Do you have any suggestions for avoiding food waste?

Because I want to keep my refrigerator looking like that. 




Recipe for a Successful Thanksgiving


Since Thanksgiving 1979*, Tom and I have been cooking and celebrating our holiday feast together.  (So many years . . . of turkey and stuffing and cranberries and pie.)  

Our tried-and-true recipes show the wear and tear of decades of Thanksgiving use.  (This is the only stuffing I've ever made -- first tried in 1981 and still in the turkey 35 years later.)


We've pretty much got it down to a science by this point.  In fact, our Thanksgiving menu is so entrenched that I dare not change a thing!  From time to time, I've suggested a new sweet potato recipe or rebelled by trying a different cranberry sauce.  Nope.  The family is not having it!  (But, Moooom.  I loooove those sweet potatoes.)

So, as the big day approaches, it's time to fire up the Thanksgiving Machine.


Our "recipe" for Thanksgiving?

  • Plan ahead.  (Order a fresh turkey in early November -- and don't forget to order extra legs!)
  • Stay organized.  (We keep all of our Thanksgiving recipes together in one file, so we know just where they are.)
  • Create a timetable.  (When to do what, from a couple of weeks out until the big day.)
  • Make a master shopping list.  (And shop early enough that the crowds aren't last-minute crazy.)
  • Do what you can ahead of time.  (So much less frustrating.)
  • Enlist help.  (Much easier these days, with so many capable adults.)
  • Stay out of each other's way.  (And watch out for dog-helpers.)
  • Laugh often.  (Because something will always be . . . funny.)

Most of all?  Have fun -- and enjoy the time with family and friends!


* In our earliest years, we did spend a couple of Thanksgivings at our respective "family tables".  But for the most part?  We've been cooking it our way -- and loving it!


This post is part of Think Write Thursday.  Read other posts here, or sign up to receive the weekly prompts here.


A Breakfast to Remember

Welcome to Think Write Thursday -- a blogging joint-venture by Kat and Carole.  Each week, they will release a topic for bloggers to think . . . and then write about.  

This week, Kat and Carole invited us to think and write about the best breakfast we ever had . . . 

Hmmmm.  I've enjoyed many really great breakfasts in my life.  I could tell you about . . . fresh-baked croissant and café au lait in Paris.  Or the traditional Christmas morning breakfast we eat here at my house.  Or maybe . . . Tom's super-delicious fried egg sandwiches.  Or there's any breakfast I've ever eaten at Food Dance here in Kalamazoo.

How to choose?

And then it hit me.  I'm not going to tell you about the BEST breakfast I ever had.  I'm going to tell you about the MOST MEMORABLE breakfast I ever.  (And, as you'll soon see, they are NOT the same thing.)

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When I was a little girl, I hated oatmeal.

Actually, that is probably not a strong enough word.  Because I DETESTED oatmeal.

I would eat Cream of Wheat, and didn't fuss about Malt-o-Meal.  But oatmeal?  I gagged.  No matter how my mom tried to disguise the stuff with brown sugar, raisins, or cinnamon, I just couldn't manage it.  Lucky for me, my mom took pity.  She let me eat Rice Krispies instead.

Then, in 1970 - when I was 10 - Quaker introduced the first instant FLAVORED oatmeal.  Maple and Brown Sugar.  In individual packets.  Just add boiling water.  The kids on the Saturday morning TV commercials ADORED the stuff!  They were so happy -- just sitting there, perky and chirpy, mixing their own Instant Quaker Oatmeal with Artificial Maple and Brown Sugar Flavor!

Heck.  I wanted it, too!  I was absolutely convinced by the ad men on Madison Avenue that DESPITE the fact that I HATED oatmeal . . . I would adore THAT oatmeal!

The supermarket begging commenced.

Me:  Moooom.  Can we try THIS?  (Holding up box of Instant Quaker Oatmeal with Artificial Maple and Brown Sugar Flavor.)

My Mom:  No.  You hate oatmeal.

Me:  Not THIS oatmeal.  It's new.  It's INSTANT Quaker Oatmeal with Artificial Maple and Brown Sugar Flavor.

My Mom:  No.

This went on for several weeks.  I was determined.  Each week, I pointed out the Instant Quaker Oatmeal with Artificial Maple and Brown Sugar Flavor.  Each week, my Mom SHUT. ME. DOWN. with those words . . . You hate oatmeal.

Finally, after weeks of begging and cajoling, I wore my Mom down.  (She was probably having a rough day and was tired to begin with.)

Me:  Can we please, Please, PLEASE get this Instant Quaker Oatmeal with Artificial Maple and Brown Sugar Flavor?  PLEASE.

My Mom:  No.


My Mom:  (completely exasperated and totally worn down) If I buy this, YOU WILL EAT IT.

Me:  Of course, Mother Dearest.  Of course I will eat it!  I will eat every bite and lick the bowl and ask for More, PLEASE.

I had broken her down!  The Instant Quaker Oatmeal with Artificial Maple and Brown Sugar Flavor hit the cart.  I couldn't have been more excited!

And.  Well.  You know what happened the next morning?

One bite . . . and I GAGGED.

Hated it.

Those artificial flavors did nothing to camouflage the taste and texture of the oatmeal that I despised, and the texture?  Lumpy glue.

My Mom, though?  She didn't miss a beat.

Eat your oatmeal.

I didn't.

Eat your oatmeal.

I didn't.

You will SIT THERE until you EAT THAT OATMEAL.

I sat there.

All morning.

Finally, she let me go . . . with that Ultimate Mother Standby BUT YOU WILL EAT IT FOR LUNCH.

Lunchtime rolled around . . . and there sat my bowl of Instant Quaker Oatmeal with Artificial Maple and Brown Sugar Flavor.  She didn't even bother to heat it up.  And it was WAY worse than it was at breakfast.

I sat there.

She watched me from the living room.

My sister gloated.  (She wisely kept a low profile over the whole Instant Quaker Oatmeal thing.)

I sat there.

Saturday afternoon.  I was sitting there with that damn bowl of oatmeal.

The clock ticked.

The oatmeal sat.

I was starving.  But I couldn't gag down one spoonful.

It was a total standoff.

Finally, I noticed that my mom had disappeared.  She was nowhere to be seen.  It was my Big Chance!  I made a break for it and dumped that horrid bowl of Instant Quaker Oatmeal with Artificial Maple and Brown Sugar Flavor down the sink.  And then . . . I went in search of my Mom to show her my now-magically-empty bowl. 

It worked!  She bought it!  I was FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST!

And . . . I have not eaten oatmeal since!


This was one of my Mom's favorite stories.  Later, when I was a little older and she told me her version of the story, I learned that she was completely at a loss for how to get out of this "parenting mess."  She had drawn that line in the sand -- you will not leave the table until you eat that oatmeal -- and she didn't know how to get out of it once she had issued that edict.  She KNEW I wouldn't eat it.  (Heck, she wouldn't eat it!  She tried the oatmeal herself and thought it was awful.)  So . . . after all those hours of The Standoff, she left me alone for awhile -- hoping I would dump it so she could pretend I had eaten it!  Sneaky-sneaky!  As a 10-year-old, I thought I had pulled a Fast One.  But, no.  Not really.


Read about other "best breakfasts" here.  And . . . sign up for Think Write Thursday here.

Memorial Brew

Let me just start out by saying . . . my mom NEVER cared for beer.  

(She did like Baileys, though.  And the occasional glass of white wine.  And sometimes a nice, smooth merlot). 

Tom made it a personal quest to find a beer she would like.  He came close once, with a raspberry lambic.  But it really didn't stick.

Anyway, Tom got it in his head that we needed to brew a beer in memory of my mom.  Because the rest of the family (with the exception of Erin)?  Beer drinkers.

So Tom and my dad (who has never brewed beer before) set out to create a special IPA in honor of my mom.


It's been a good project for this phase of our lives.  Forward-thinking.  Active.  Interesting.  Exacting.  Distracting.  We all need that right now.  (And especially my dad needs that right now.)

Last night was bottling night.



(Tasting glasses at the ready.  Because of course.)



In honor and memory of my mom - Yvonne - they've decided to call this particular batch of beer. . . "YPA."

It should be at its peak . . . right around the time we all gather together for Thanksgiving and my mom's memorial service.

I think she'd be pleased.  And I know she'd raise her glass (of Baileys) in celebration!



Improving on a Good Thing

When we're up north, we like to sit around the campfire at the end of the day (if the mosquitos aren't too bad) with a beer or some wine.  

Some nights, we treat ourselves to these, too.


Over the years, Tom has become a Master at making S'mores.  He perfectly toasts two marshmallows until they're Just Right, and then slams them between two half-graham crackers sandwiched with half a Hershey chocolate bar.



But this year, he found something at the local grocery store that made them Even Better!


Yes.  FLAT marshmallows!

They're a little hard to get on the toasting stick* -- but they make the PERFECT marshmallow for S'mores.  (Quickly, too.)


Technology marches on!



* I think these marshmallows are specifically designed so you can make microwave-S'mores.  But that just seems somehow wrong to me.

Something Sweet

I try to be really disciplined.

And I generally look away when it comes to dessert.


Oh my.

I really love a good dessert!  



(Brian and Lauren's wedding cake.  YUM!)

And sometimes, well.  My sweet tooth wins!

My favorites?

  1. Pavlova - Light and just a teeny-tiny bit chewy and oh-so-perfect with whipping cream and fruit.  (Perfection.)
  2. Fruit tart - Another light and fruity favorite!  (Mmmm.)
  3. Sticky Toffee Cake - Not usually pretty to look at . . . but pretty fabulous to eat!  (Mouth watering.)
  4. Hot Fudge Brownie Sundaes -- Rich and delicious home-baked brownies topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge.  (So. Good.)
  5. Creme brûlée -- With or without fruit.  (I always want to lick the bowl.)
  6. Gelato -- Plain.  Almost any flavor.  (But especially hazelnut.)
  7. Carrot Cake -- With nuts, but please hold the pineapple.  (The cream cheese frosting is non-negotiable.)
  8. Pie -- Fruit pie of almost any kind -- but especially peach, cherry, or apple.  (À la mode, please.)
  9. Lemon bars (or, really, Lemon-Almost-Anything) -- A little bit sweet, a lot bit tangy.  (And always perfect.)
  10. Chocolate malt -- The way to Tom's heart.  (Only chocolate will do for him.  And heavy on the malt!)

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How about YOU?  What are your favorite desserts?


See what everyone else has to say here.  (And prepare yourself for mouth-watering goodness!)


Cooking . . . Mom Style

Mother's Day is Sunday . . . so Carole has us thinking about our Moms this week -- and those favorite dishes our Moms used to make!

Me and mom

My own Mom has never particularly loved cooking -- but she certainly has some specialities! In fact, there are some things my Mom makes that I just can't duplicate . . . even with her recipes.  Other dishes have just become "staples" over the years, and others?  Well.  My Mom's are just BETTER.

Like . . . 

  1. Potato Salad.  Although I have a couple of recipes of my own that are pretty darn tasty, nothing compares to my Mom's.  (She doesn't have a recipe.  Yeah.  She just whips it up.)
  2. Magic Cookie Bars.  I have her recipe . . . but mine never, ever, EVER turn out quite like hers!  (Brian once told me that "Nanny puts extra love in hers."  I suppose he's right!)
  3. Lasgne.  For decades, I have requested my Mom's lasagne for my special birthday dinner!  (It was a very special treat when I was young.  Because lasagne is always a bit of a pain to make.)
  4. "Grass Salad."  Who knows what it's really called, but ever since I was a child, it has been "grass salad."  (Green beans, French dressing, and dill; served cold.)  (It goes particiularly well with lasagne, I might add.)
  5. Pumpkin pie.  I've never even made one of my own!  (My Mom always brings the pies for Thanksgiving dinner.)
  6. "That Salad That No One Likes."  I can't quite remember why it's called that -- because everyone actually DOES like it -- but it has become a staple at our Thanksgiving table every year.  (It's some combination of raspberry jello and cranberries, and it's really quite tasty.)
  7. Mashed Potatoes.  My Mom makes perfect mashed potatoes -- smooth, fluffy, no lumps.  (Yum.)
  8. Blueberry Torte.  This was my Mom's "special dessert" when I was a kid -- and it remains one of Erin's all-time favorites.  (Whenever Erin comes home for a visit, my Mom makes an entire torte -- just for Erin.)
  9. Cakes.  My Mom is a Master when it comes to cakes!  Her cakes always turn out fluffy and even and pretty (from every direction).  She also has "the touch" when it comes to frosting!  (She took cake decorating classes when I was a kid -- and my birthday cakes were always beautiful.)
  10. Comfort foods of my childhood.  Although she hasn't made these for me in decades, I'll always have the fondest memories of my mom making me cinnamon-sugar toast, soft-boiled eggs, and pudding when I was a little girl!

How about YOU?  What are your favorite Mom-dishes?


Find out what everyone else has to say here.


On the Trail

Six weeks ago . . . when Tom agreed to be on a relay team for a run in early April . . . I'm sure he never truly anticipated snow.  Or below-freezing temperatures.

Oh, he knew it COULD happen.  (Because spring is a fickle beast.)  But, really?  What were the chances????


Yep.  There you have it!



And . . . totally committed to running this thing!


The Kal-Haven Trail Run is a 33.5 mile race along the Kal-Haven Trail - a rail trail that links Kalamazoo with South Haven.  Some people run the whole thing on their own, but most people choose to split the course up and run it as a relay.  Here's Tom, above, just about to overtake the woman in orange neon near the end of his 8-mile stretch.  Tom ran as part of a 6-person co-ed team -- with friends of ours from the gym.

I was f-f-f-freezing just watching and taking pictures.  (Good thing I had my Stopover sweater!  Never thought I'd still be wearing it . . . in APRIL.)

After the race . . . best part!  Mexican food (and margaritas!) in South Haven.


And then out to the beach . . . 


for a walk on the pier.  (Where it was so freakin' cold!!!)


(But it was sunny.)

Great day to be on the trail... despite the weather!