Linguine with sausage, peppers, and tomatoes

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:20 pm

I saw this recipe, and I wouldn’t say I followed it exactly, but it inspired me.  It was your pretty typical pasta + stuff from the garden + some other stuff.

I sauteed up half an onion and half a big red bell pepper in a little olive oil with a bit of salt to get the water out.  Then I took two big, fat (bratwurst-sized) turkey Italian sausage links, microwaved them for a couple of minutes to firm them up, and sliced them in about 1/3-inch slices.  I let them brown up a bit on the first side, then flipped around so the other cut side could get some browning.

Then I threw in a minced garlic clove, sauteed that for a minute, then put in two garden tomatoes, cut into chunks.  The juices from that plus maybe half a cup of dry white wine deglazed the pan nicely.

Then I cooked up about half a pound of linguine, which was enough for Denny and Miles and me.  Just a couple of minutes before serving, I put in a handful of fresh basil, chopped.  S&P to taste, combine sauce and drained linguine, and badabing.


Chicken Fricassee

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:22 pm

Oh man, last week was a total wash.  First I was sick, then Denny was sick, then Miles was.  Tobin floated through the whole thing pretty easily (though he may have had a mild version the previous week).  Regardless, I did zero actual cooking.  I think we scrounged on leftovers or cereal or had takeout every single night.

This week, I’m armed with new resolve.  I saw this recipe on America’s Test Kitchen a while back, and then I caught it again in a rerun, and good ol’ Becky Hayes finally convinced me.

The verdict?  The sauce was really good.  It was a little dryer than I expected, which I actually liked since I don’t like things too gloopy.  I might add more liquid in the future, though, or maybe watch it more carefully so it doesn’t reduce as much.  The chicken came out a little dry, but I think my stove is hotter than the test kitchen’s stoves.  I need to remember that their medium-high is really my medium.  It would be good on beef, I think, or pork chops, or even in a pasta if you’re into that.

Also note:  I halved the recipe, since one pound of chicken is plenty for us.

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thighs, or a combination
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps wiped clean and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon (I subbed parsley because there wasn’t any fresh tarragon at the store yesterday)

1. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Heat butter and oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high medium heat. When foaming subsides, place chicken in skillet and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Flip chicken and continue to cook until browned on second side, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to large plate.

2. Add mushrooms, onion, and wine to now-empty skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add flour and garlic; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add broth and bring mixture to boil, scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Add chicken and any accumulated juices to skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low low, cover, and simmer until instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees when inserted in breasts and 175 degrees when inserted in thighs, 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Transfer chicken to clean platter and tent loosely with foil. Whisk sour cream and egg yolk together in medium bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly stir ½ cup sauce into sour cream mixture. Stirring constantly, slowly pour sour cream mixture into simmering sauce. Stir in nutmeg, lemon juice, and tarragon; return to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.


A better name for it

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:01 pm

Tobin had his 12-month doctor visit this morning.  He did a good job, but Miles was worried about him.  After we picked Miles up from school today…

A:  Miles, do you remember what Tobin did this morning?

M:  He got three shots at his disappointment!


The Tobin Times #12

Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:33 am

My little love,

Oh, what a week it’s been.  I think we need to scrap the entire last week and start over.  We’ve been sick, one at a time, for days and days now.  You’ve actually been the healthiest of any of us, so thank you for your patience.  I started writing this a long time ago, but only now am I feeling sharp enough to finish it.  I didn’t want the final entry for your first year to be the product of a muddled mind.  You’re so bright and curious and excited about everything that anything less would be a disgrace to your spirit.

Last Tuesday I wrote…

We’ve been celebrating for several days already, but today is your true birthday.  When you woke up this morning, your head was on my chest.  I tried to take a picture, but I didn’t realize the flash was on and I disturbed you.  I felt bad about it, but your brother really wanted to see you, so it was okay for you to wake up.  Your dad came in, your brother came in, and we all crowded into the bed together and sang Happy Birthday to you.  Like pretty much every day of our lives, it was ill-tuned, chaotic, warm, and enthusiastic.

You were happy, of course, because Miles was in the room.  I don’t think the song meant much to you, but you seemed to really enjoy the Build-a-Bear he designed for you, and the balloons were lots of fun.  You like cake pretty well and ice cream a lot.

As predicted, you’re a walker now.  You still default to crawling when you want to get somewhere fast, but your walking stretches are getting longer and more confident.  Soon you’re going to be running down the hallway just like Miles.   I am not looking forward to the inevitable collisions, but you’re a pretty tough little nugget.

You’ve begun doing some consistent if not completely accurate signs to express your needs.  You do your own versions of more and all done, and you do the most wonderful, wide-eyed and wide-armed peek-a-boo.  You still do the loud aaaahhh to ask for water, and you really, really want to hold the cup by yourself.  You’ve also done some other funny things that indicate a growing interaction with your world.  You’ll “request” certain songs we sing together by doing actions that go with them (e.g., a pointing finger gesture that goes with “Shortnin’ Bread”).  If I start singing B-I-N-G-O, you clap before we even get to the clapping part, because you know it’s the clapping song.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You’ve been quite a waterbaby lately.  It’s so much fun having a summer baby, because this is just the right stage in your development to let you really enjoy splashing around.  You’ve been to some swimming pools and sprinklers, and you get a face-full pretty much every day when you whip the shower curtain open on me.  I used to keep you trapped in your carseat while I showered, but you get such a thrill out of getting sprinkled that we’ve switched to that method.  I hope the floor doesn’t rot out.

The books in our house are pretty well chewed up.  You’ve gotten a little better on the issue of putting everything in your mouth.  Now it’s only about 70% of things.  It was Miles’s idea to make you a birthday cake shaped like a book, which we had fun doing.  You ate a crayon a week or two ago, which was gross, but it seems like maybe you’re learning about what’s appropriate to put in your mouth and what isn’t.  Maybe?

Photo by Gary Clarke

I can’t say for sure how your personality will turn out, but if the traits you show at one year are indicative, I predict you’ll be jovial, adventurous, flirtatious, and a comedy fan.  You are rarely without a smile, and you laugh a lot.  People we meet in stores or out on walks comment on your expressive face, and you’re a good mimic.  You can whistle better than a lot of four-year-olds.

Intellectually I know that just about every mother loves her babies, and that every baby in a family is like starting over with a whole new rush of startling, overwhelming love.  I know it’s in my biology to treasure you, because you’re my link to the future.  And yet, I often find myself shocked by how new and wonderful you’ve made everything.  You bring out the best in your brother.  You are brave, joyful, and captivating to friend and stranger alike.  Your little eyebrows and mouth make the funniest shapes.  You are so proud of yourself when you take steps or climb to a new (dangerous) height.  You take a few tumbles, but you’re pretty easy to soothe.  It’s usually just a moment or two before you’re off on your next adventure.

Your brother, who tends to be more fearful than you, feels reassured when I tell him he can live with me forever.  It’s true—I would be happy to have both of you here with me as long as you want (though I reserve the right to amend that attitude if one or both of you is still living in my basement in thirty years).  I don’t see that happening with you, though, Tobin.  You’re going to be scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef or touring with your stand-up comedy act or researching your dissertation in Mesopotamia.  I want those things for you, my love, because you have the innards of an adventurer.

I just ask that you don’t go anywhere we can’t iChat AV or FaceTime or Skype or whatever the technology is a couple of decades in the future.  Now that I’ve found you, I could never be completely without you.  Isn’t that funny?  A little over a year ago, you were just a wiggly lump that made my pubic bone hurt all the time.  Now you’re an irreplaceable and utterly necessary part of my heart.

Photo by Gary Clarke

I love you now and every single day until the sun explodes.  Do your best not to be too close to it.



(I’ve Had)

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:30 pm

Miles got sick in the night last night, and after Denny cleaned him up, he tucked him into bed with Tobin and me so he could change the sheets.  The hubbub woke Tobin up, and when he saw Miles, he did a classic double-take and broke into a huge, excited grin.

Today, Miles was recounting the story to me.

M:  …and when he saw me, he thought, “This is the best part of my life.”



Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:53 am

Miles has a kid-sized chair with his name embroidered on it, and he was hoping Tobin could get one of his own for Christmas.

M:  Does Santa know Tobin’s name?

A:  We’ll write him a letter to make sure he knows.

M:  Does he text?



Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:34 am

I ordered a special cake pan for Tobin’s birthday cake, and the tracking information indicated it was out for delivery yesterday.  However, the usual UPS delivery time came and went, and I was nervous that it had been taken to the wrong house or something.  Finally, around 7 p.m., a truck pulled up to our curb and out came the UPS guy with our package.  I was audibly relieved.

Miles, who had recently gotten out of the bathtub and was wearing only his little superhero underpants, dashed out the door after I accepted the package from the UPS guy.  He chased him a couple of steps out the door.

M:  Where have you been?


Steak salad

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:55 pm

I totally forget to make the caramelized onions tonight.  Just imagine I made them.  I blame the afternoon I spent at the Coral Ridge Mall for damaging my brain.  You could totally do this on the grill, too.  I bet it would be good.

Steak Salad with Bleu Cheese and Caramelized Onions

Lay out a bed of greens (tonight I used baby romaine) and whatever else you want on your salad (tonight I used halved little tomatoes from the garden).  Set aside.

Take a flank steak and cut in half if necessary for it to fit in a cast-iron pan.  Pre-heat the oven to 425F.  Heat up your cast iron pan on the stovetop until it’s really hot.  Make sure your steak is very dry, then season it with kosher salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Add a tiny bit of oil to the pan, then throw in the steaks.  Let them sizzle there for several minutes, or until they get a nice crust.  Flip, then let them sit for another minute or two.  Without moving them, put the cast iron pan in the oven until they’re as done as you want them.  I use a remote oven thermometer and leave them in until it reads 135F, which is pretty much medium rare.

When they’re done, take them out of the oven place on a cutting board.  Tent with foil and let them rest for a few minutes.  Return the pan to the burner (medium heat this time) and throw in one yellow onion, thinly sliced.  It may release enough moisture for you to deglaze the pan.  If not, toss in a little wine or whatever.  Deglaze and cook for a few minutes until the onions are tender and a little browned.

Note:  these are not truly caramelized onions.  But this is a weeknight dinner, people.  They’re still good.

Mix up some bleu cheese with mayonnaise and milk until you like the consistency.  This is all just to taste.  Throw in a little salt if it needs it.

Slice the steak thinly against the grain after it’s rested for a few minutes.  Add dressing to the greens, then fan out steak slices and arrange some onions on top.

Serve with crusty bread and butter unless you’re one of those weirdos who doesn’t eat carbs.


Pancake night

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:46 pm

Pancake night is popular around our house.  I make oven-roasted bacon to go with it, and I can barely griddle them up before they’re gone.  It’s also handy because they’re made of things I almost always have around.  I’m going to write the recipe here, because my only copy is getting kind of grody from having things spilled on it.


(makes about 10 6-inch pancakes)

1.25 cups AP flour
2 heaping tsp baking powder
1 heaping Tbsp sugar
.5 tsp salt (or 1 tsp kosher salt)
1.5 cups milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Combine above until mostly uniform, but don’t over-mix.  A few lumps are fine.  Pre-heat a griddle to medium (or about 350F).  Lightly oil it.  Cook pancakes, turning once when bubbles emerge in the middle and the cooked surface is golden brown.



Space cadet

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:06 pm

Miles and I were playing a guessing game in which one of us held one of his animal magnets and the other tried to guess which it was without looking.  Keep in mind we’d been through three or four animals at this point.

A:  I’ll give you a clue.  It lives in warm climates.

M: …

A:  I’ll give you another clue.  It has opposable thumbs.

M:  Is it…an astronaut?


A round or two later, it was Miles’s turn to pick the animal.

M:  I’ll give you a clue.  It POOPS.

The messy mathematician

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:12 pm

We were eating lunch.

M:  I got sauce on two of my digits.


Monthly Miles Memo #55

Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:15 am

My sweet Miles,

I held off on writing this for a few days because I wanted to include pictures from a very special event:  your first school play.

Photo by Denny Crall

I was so proud when your teacher approached me and said she wanted to give you the lead role of Farmer Brown in the Willowwind preschool production of Click, Clack, Moo:  Cows that Type.  You were the only kid in the whole play with a speaking part, and you worked so hard to memorize your lines.  We went over them a couple of times every day, and by the end, you were incorporating your actions.  Much to my surprise, when we showed up for the performance yesterday, the script (or crisp, as you call it) was a bit different from the one your teacher gave me.  No worries, though.  You handled it just fine, saying your long lines perfectly and even ad-libbing a bit.

I don’t know if you can even remember it, Miles, but when you first started school you wouldn’t even talk to any of the kids.  You just stuck by your teacher’s side all the time and watched other kids work and play.  Now you are brave and confident enough to be Farmer Brown in front of all your friends and their parents.  Nice work, little dude.

One fun thing that happened this month was that Mubby visited your class to do a dance activity.  You and your friends had a lot of fun wiggling around, and I think you were very proud to have her there.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Next week you’ll start in Mr. Drew’s room.  You seem a little nervous about it, but we’ve been emphasizing that there are going to be kids who are just starting school for the first time.  You do very well in the big brother role, so you’re primed to help and reassure the new kids who might be scared.  “It’s a little bit new for me, but it’s very new for them,” you reminded me the other night.  I think you’ll do fine, especially since you’ll still have recess with your old friends, and you’ve gotten to a know a few kids who will be in your class.

Sharing toys is still a bit of a struggle at home, and it’s probably only going to get worse as Tobin becomes more attached to specific objects.  Mostly, though, you remain a fantastic big brother.  You are very patient and understanding with Tobin, and you’re patient and understanding with me when I have to abruptly stop in the middle of reading a book to you so I can handle a Tobin situation.

You still love computer games, but you also love imagination games.  You and your dad play Miles and Tessa a lot, which is a game that I think is mostly about exploring in the woods.  Daddy plays Tessa.  You like to play bear cave, and you love it when the little bear cub (Tobin) roars.  Hide and seek has been very popular around here lately, both indoors and out.

At night when we cuddle in bed together, you like to loudly announce when you hear cicadas.  You also like it when I announce their presence.  I don’t do it if it seems like you might be asleep (or getting there), so you sometimes chastise me for not yelling CICADA at the right moment.  You like finding cicada shells and actual dead winged cicadas around the yard and neighborhood, and you’re not squeamish at all about picking them up.  Last night you brought a few dried cicada shells inside and put them into a cup.  “Here’s your new home, little guys,” you said very gently.

We had a mini-vacation to Ames a couple of weeks ago.  Uncle Larry and Aunt Lily were in town from California, and Aunt Suzy and Uncle Joe came from Minnesota, too.  We went to the water park twice, to a movie, to the library, to Castle Playground (as you call the Roosevelt play structure that your progenitors built), and you ate a lot of popsicles.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We also got to see Nana and Papa and other Crall relations last weekend at a picnic.  You had so much fun playing with Papa on a play structure.  I think you about wore him out, but it seemed like he enjoyed it.  Papa convinced a horse in a nearby field to come over and say hi, and you liked petting it (as long as you were safe in Papa’s arms).

We’ve had a fun summer together, Miles.  We put a lot of miles on the stroller with our frequent trips down the path.  The lady at the Flavor Ice stand knows our favorite order.  You’ve played in the sprinkler, with the splort balls we made, and watched movies in the cool, dark basement.  It’s not such a big transition for the summer to end since you were in school the whole time, but I’ll still be sad to see the month end.  Fall has its charms, but summer time with a little kid is pretty much the best.

Especially when the kid is pretty much the best.

I love you, Miles.



The worst possible outcome in the entire world

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:27 pm

We were hanging out in the playroom, and Tobin was strumming his fingers on the air register.

M:  Tobin, don’t do that!

A:  It’s probably okay.  We shouldn’t encourage it, but I don’t think he’s going to hurt himself.

M:  We don’t want him to exaggerate his fingers.


Basic stir fry

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:25 pm

We eat stir fry a lot.  I use a basic recipe that is easy to tweak to make a variety of configurations.  Tonight it was beef with cashews.  I usually use either chicken or beef; I’ve used pork, but usually only for specific recipes that call for it.  Frequent accompaniments are bell peppers, asparagus, broccoli, and snow peas.

I am also thrilled to announce that this was the first family meal we’ve shared since Tobin was born that everyone ate.  I cooked one dinner tonight, people.  One.  This is a big deal for me.

It’s kind of fussy to prep, but it’s very quick once everything’s ready.

Basic sauce (all measures are approximate and can be adjusted to taste or quantity:

2 Tbsp corn starch
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup rice wine or other dry white wine
1/3  cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
a couple of squirts Sriracha
1 tsp sesame oil

Usual suspect additions

Canola oil
1 yellow onion
1 bunch green onions
a hunk of fresh ginger, peeled
several cloves of garlic
any combination of red bell peppers, broccoli florets, asparagus, snow peas, cashews, or other vegetables that seem like a good idea
~1 lb chicken or beef, cut thin

Make the sauce by combining all the ingredients; set aside.  Finely mince the garlic and ginger and combine in a small bowl with about 1 tsp canola oil.  Chop up the green onions and cut the yellow onion into reasonable slices.  Have any other veggies clean and cut and set aside.

Heat up some canola oil in a wok (med-high heat).  Add the yellow onion and any veggies that are going to take a while.  Let them get a bit tender but not overcooked.  Scrape a little clean area and add the oil + aromatics blend.  Saute it up on its own for a while, then stir it all up with the onions and veggies.

Pour contents of wok into a bowl and set aside.  Add the meat to the wok.  If you’re using chicken, add some more oil, and reduce the heat to medium.  If you’re using beef, probably no more oil is necessary, and you can keep the heat higher.

Cook until the meat is done, then add the veggies back and stir to combine.  Re-stir the sauce to get the corn starch redistributed, then pour over the meat and veggies.  Stir while it thickens over the heat, which will take about one minute.

Serve with hot rice, of course.


Summer grilling–brats

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:25 pm

Bratwursts are unavoidable in the Midwest.  I think they’re originally from Wisconsin, and they’re crazy popular up there, but we’re close enough to those cheeseheads to have some trickle-down brat effect.

Denny picked up a package of brats to take to a family picnic last weekend, but strangely enough, nobody had any grills going.  We ate the other picnic staple, fried chicken, and brought the brats home.

We had them last night.  Brats are a pretty simple affair.  It’s traditional to boil them in beer before grilling them, but I didn’t have any beer I was willing to send to such a fate.  I just used water.  If I’d had my druthers, I would have added onions and some garden herbs, but I found myself drutherless.  After they boiled for 10 or so minutes, Denny threw them on the grill to get some color on them.  Ungrilled bratwursts have a creepy white look to them that is not very appetizing.

We had them on whole wheat buns with corn on the cob and sliced garden tomatoes.  Easy peasy.



The arm bone’s connected to the…

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:42 am

Miles was rubbing his arm.

A:  Are you okay?

M:  My arm-ankle hurts.

Don’t worry, he was fine a minute later.


Life in a sauna

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:08 pm

Miles let a particularly long and melodic toot.  After pausing to savor it a moment…

M:  What does steamy mean?


Spaghetti and meatballs

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:43 pm

I don’t usually cook on Friday nights.

After a week of trying to keep Tobin from diving head-first off things while simultaneously enriching Miles’s life somehow, I’m usually pretty tired.  Also, Denny has a late lunch with his coworkers most Fridays, so he’s not hungry at usual dinner time.  We typically scrounge.

However, something went weird with my menu planning this week, and I ended up with a pound of ground beef that I didn’t want to freeze, because it doesn’t make as cohesive of meatballs once it’s been frozen and thawed.  I also had some tomato sauce, the very dregs of last year’s, thawed out, and I didn’t want to refreeze that.

So here we are.  Denny managed to choke it down since it’s his favorite.  I use pretty much the Cooks’ Illustrated recipe, though I typically make 1.5x the recipe, which is enough for two meals for us plus one lunch-sized helping of leftovers.

Here’s the recipe (slightly modified from Cooks’ Illustrated):

Spaghetti and Meatballs

2 large slices sourdough bread, crusts removed, torn into little pieces (you could use 3 slices white bread if that’s all you have)
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/3 cup freshly-ground parmesan cheese
1/4 cup (scant) finely minced parsley
several large cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 egg yolk
2 tsp kosher salt
pepper to taste
vegetable oil for frying (about 1 cup)
tomato sauce of your choice

Combine the bread and buttermilk and let sit until it’s very mushy, 10 minutes or so.  Smash it up into a paste.  Add garlic, cheese, parsley, egg yolk, salt, pepper, and mix.  Add meats and mix with your hands until just combined.  Don’t overwork it or they’ll be tough.  Form the mixture into balls about the size of ping pong balls.  I can generally get 24-25 meatballs out of one recipe.

Pour oil into a large frying pan, until it’s between 1/4 and 1/2 inch up the side of the pan.  Heat over medium heat for several minutes.  To test the oil, put the corner of a meatball in there.  If it sizzles, you’re set.  Add the meatballs and cook for about five minutes.  Regulate the heat as necessary to keep things sizzling but not smoking.  Flip the meatballs and cook about another five minutes, or until they have a nice crust on the outside and are no longer pink inside.

Remove the meatballs and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate.  Pour off most of the oil into a heat-safe container like an empty can.  Reserve the browned bits and about 1 tsp of oil.  Off the heat, pour in your tomato sauce.  Let it warm up over low heat and scrape up the browned bits.

Make your spaghetti.  When you have a few minutes left before the spaghetti is done, return the meatballs to the sauce to warm up.

After you drain your spaghetti, put a couple of big spoonfuls of sauce in with the noodles and stir it up.  Serve with meatballs and more sauce on top.

Very poor gas mileage

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:15 pm

During a visit to the library, we met a mom and her two boys who were from Ireland (incidentally, it came up because Miles corrected her pronunciation of tomato).  During our conversation, Miles asked, “How did you get here?” and the mom explained that they took an airplane.  Later that night, we were telling Denny about the events of the day.

M:  Why did they take an airplane to the library?

Peace, love, and understanding

Filed under: — Aprille @ 5:18 pm

Tobin wants to be where ever his brother is, especially if his brother is playing with the computer.  Miles is mostly very patient with him, but I know it has to be annoying when Tobin mashes the keys and messes up Miles’s games.  He has been doing that a lot today.

A: (rushing in to snatch him) Tobin, please leave your brother alone.

M:  Mom, he’s just a baby.

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