Chocolate Safe Choice

Happy National Chocolate Day!

There were a few options I could take with this one: try and make something from scratch (I had the day off from work so it was a realistic option), make something from a box that we already have, or just eat one of the many chocolate bars floating around our house during the Halloween season.

I debated the first option – looked at the sink full of dirty dishes – briefly considered the third option, which felt like cheating – then decided to make some chocolate chunk brownies from a box that we had in the cabinet!

img_2104

The odds of me screwing this up were very small.  There was even a small chance that I could nail it and make some awesome brownies from this box!

I gathered then necessary ingredients then read the directions, which seemed oddly specific.

img_2106

I forgot to rotate the photo, but it states – very specifically – to stir the batter “50 strokes with spoon”.  Was there really someone in the Pillsbury kitchen who experimented with the correct number of times to stir the batter?!  And what happens if I stir it 51 times – will chaos ensue and the brownies will fail?!

I really wanted these to turn out – I was determined to both surprise and delight Ryan with these brownies – so I decided today was not the day to rebel against the instructions.  It killed my soul a little, but I followed the damn box and stir the mix together EXACTLY 50 times.

And I used a spoon, even though Ryan insists it’s better to use a spatula.

While stirring, the batter turned super thick and basically impossible to stir… I was pretty convinced at this point that I had somehow already messed up the brownies!!!  Also, Mag and Nicky were playing ‘Life’ while this happened and were not amused with Mom’s weird stirring and counting situation….

I plopped – once again the most accurate word to describe what happened – the batter into the pan and thought “huh, that doesn’t look right.”

img_2110

Should brownie batter look like one big chocolate turd?  In my mind, it should have looked like chocolate cake batter that could be easily moved around in the pan.  Instead it was thick chocolate poop.  I spread it around as best I could while simultaneously (mentally) comparing it to something I have found in a toddlers diaper.  It was going well.

img_2113

Through some miracle, or perhaps because I followed the damn recipe for once, they turned out great!  Ryan ate two pieces before I could even take a photo of the finished product!  Between Ryan, our friend Ruth and the kids the whole pan didn’t last 48 hours!

Take that, Pillsbury shit batter!  I win!

 

Just Ignore the Meat

Happy National Minced Meat Day!

Nothing about this sounds awesome.

According to all my googling and Pinterest searching, the only thing anyone uses minced meat for is pie.  Fucking meat pie.  I love pie – I even love chicken pot pie – but there should not be canned meat in my pie.  That’s a crime against pie.

I also have A LOT of questions for the person (or persons) who went through all the trouble of having a day dedicated in honor of minced meat.  Why would you want to eat a pie with canned meat!?  Who created this food?! It’s probably from medieval times or something… but why, with all our modern technology and delicious food creations, would someone still want to eat this?!  It just doesn’t make sense?! I’ve never had minced meat before but just the name sounds terrible!

I searched for a recipe for today that didn’t sound completely repulsive.. and came up with nothing.  I also searched three grocery stores and Amazon for jars of minced meat  – probably a vital ingredient for this day –  and came up empty handed.  No one in St Paul, MN is using this ingredient because it’s a can or jar of meat… and that’s gross.

So I opted to wing it and (loosely) use a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com for home made Minced Meat Pie filling.  The first ingredient in the recipe was “diced, cooked beef” – stew meat is probably close enough, right?

img_2151

Thank GOD Ryan was at D&D for this adventure – he has a long standing beef with stew meat.  Actually, he  has a long standing beef with me forgetting to trim some of the fat from the stew meat… then not stewing it long enough…. I also have a strong feeling that minced meat pie is not on his list of things he wants to eat for dinner.  I’m like 99% on that one…

After I plopped the meat into the pan to cook it (literally… it came out of the package in one big meaty  heap)  – I started to panic at how large the pieces looked.  Is diced the same as minced?  Do I really want every other bite of my pie to have a giant cube of meat in it?!  Why the hell am I making this?!?!?!?

img_2153

So I picked the  pieces out of the pan one at a time and cut them a little smaller (and trimmed some of the fat off while I was at it… Ryan is probably right about that being gross..)

img_2155

I read the next 5 ingredients, decided they sounded like things that shouldn’t be combined with beef and skipped them.

The apples, orange or raisins maybe would have been okay… but sweet pickle juice and pineapple juice?!?! Who created this monstrosity!?!?!?

At this point, I made an executive decision that my pie would be a little more like a minced beef pot pie… which I’ve never made before and definitely don’t know how to make…. but I’ve made chicken pot pie before with mediocre results…

Following the chicken pot pie recipe that I have (vaguely) memorized, I added chicken broth, lactose free milk and mixed vegetables to the skillet.  I’m experimenting with a new kind of plant-based milk that is supposedly made from “the highest quality yellow peas”. It sounds like bullshit and is probably just regular pea juice but it doesn’t seem to alter the flavor of things like soy, almond or coconut milk.

While that was simmering, I attempted to unroll the pre-made pie crust into the pie pan.

img_2158

Then I read the instructions on the box that recommend taking the crusts out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before you’re going to use them so they soften…

After I sorted out the crust situation, I remembered that I didn’t use a roux to make the gravy for the pie and should probably add some cornstarch to the mix to thicken it.  I even remembered to stir the cornstarch into cold water before adding it to the pan!  See, I’m learning!

img_2160

The seasoning from the recipe (the one I was actively ignoring….) called for cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg… all of which would taste delicious in a pumpkin pie, but not in my weird minced meat/pot pie hybrid.  Instead, I used “Savory” seasoning from our ultra-cool spice rack.

img_2159

I have to be honest, I have no fucking idea what is in “savory” seasoning or what makes it “savory”.  I always assume it’s the more savory cousin to “Italian”, but I’ve never actually confirmed this… I tasted some before adding it to the skillet and it tasted neither gross nor delicious – it just existed in my mouth.  So I went with it.

I also remembered that I had some mushrooms in the refrigerator so I threw those in too.  Everything tastes better with mushrooms.

I was afraid of the mushrooms getting too mushy in the skillet so at this point I dumped the whole thing into the pie crust and hoped for the best.  The gravy was still a little watery but it would probably thicken in the oven.. right? Is that a thing that happens?

Next came the only part of pie making that I’m confident I can do: adding the top crust and making a sweet design on top!

img_2163

I got a little over excited while pressing the edges of the pie and oozed some gravy through.. but if you look past that, it’s a pretty decent looking pie.  One might even think it’s delicious on the inside!

20 minutes and several Almond Joys later, it looked like a pie that someone might want to eat!  It totally passed (on the outside) as a pot pie/minced meat pie type thing.  Then I cut into it.

Gravy does not thicken in the oven.

I put my slice on a plate and spooned some of the gravy (let’s face it, it was seasoned meat juice) on top of the slice.  And took a bite.

img_2169

If you ignored the weird, kind of tough and, in hindsight, probably overcooked pieces of meat – it tasted okay!  Neither gross nor super delicious – it just existed.  I actually ate three slices!

Thanks savory seasoning!

*Fun fact: Maggie ate 0 slices.. because according to her “meat pie isn’t real pie.”

I agree Mag.

 

 

Chocobo, Wine and Disappointing Magic

Well, that was a longer hiatus than I planned….

Ryan and I were fortunate to take a (much needed) vacation that was 50% relaxation and 50% Final Fantasy Fan Fest.

That’s right, we spent 5 days in Las Vegas – two of those days were spent at the Paris soaking up all the nerd we could. I lucked out over this break with Food Holidays – they were literally all so easy to celebrate in Vegas and only required setting foot outside our hotel!

The unfortunate part is that I drank a lot on this trip and forgot to take photos of most things….

So instead of a bunch of food photos, here’s a break down of all the weird shit that happened in Vegas (I know, it’s supposed to stay there…) and the holidays that happened around the weirdness.

I should clarify something too: I don’t actively play Final Fantasy at the moment. I did, about 2 years ago, but my need to sleep and the kids need to be parented outweighed my desire to be a sweet White Mage in Eorzea. Plus, I’m really bad at it. There’s so many buttons and dungeons are the worst!!

Even without playing, I still enjoy some parts of the game: talking to strangers over a sweet headset, talking “lore” with Ryan, and being the angry voice in the background when it’s midnight and he’s STILL talking on the damn headset!!!

It’s fun.

I went into the Fan Fest experience assuming that I would be bored out of my mind and would spend a great deal of time at the pool, avoiding all things FFXIV. Instead, it was the highlight of the vacation!!!

On the first day, (National Dessert Day) some guy that everyone called “Yoshi-P” and appeared to be the creator of the game shared some info about a new update that’s happening.

I think that’s what he was talking about anyway…

While none of that mattered to me, being in a room with 1000 screaming fans is incredibly infectious. Plus 25% of them were dressed as characters from the game and it was incredible!


^ Yoshi-P took a selfie (awkwardly) which is apparently a big deal?


This day also gifted me with something magical: a moogle.

I fucking love moogles. Other than Chocobos (more on that later) they are the best part of the game! Not only was there a giant moogle, this moogle danced.

 


Amazing. Simply amazing.

We followed up the convention with what will forever be known as “the night Ryan had the time of his life.” Also known as the Limit Break Radio after party.

Limit Break Radio is a podcast that Ryan listens to… about Final Fantasy. Because he’s that kind of awesome.

In honor of their 10th anniversary (how the hell have they been doing this for 10 years!?!?!) they hosted the weirdest dance party I’ve ever been to in my life. Imagine only the nerdiest, most amazing people descended on a nightclub. 30% still dressed in costume.

With an open bar.

 


It’s hard to tell what’s going on in that video, but it’s a man in a giant wizard costume. Dancing.

I know, I know, he’s not really a wizard but I have no fucking clue what character he is supposed to be. And he looks like a damn wizard.

Needless to say, we partied. Some of us harder than others. I danced, I lost Ryan amongst all the people, met some badass people who were SO unbelievably nice to me – no other dance party will ever compare to that night.


Around 10 am when I woke up, I heard an interesting sound coming from the edge of the bed. It was singing.

“Cause I… had… the time of my life….”

Ryan was singing.

I tried really hard to take a video of this but only managed to capture him flopping around on the end of the bed. I’ll recreate this moment in real life if you ask  – it’s worth it.

Later that day, National Wine Day, we conventioned, gambled, and attended the greatest metal concert of my life.

Oh, and this happened.

 


ITS A GIANT CHOCOBO!!!!

Literally the BEST part of the game. Hands down, no argument could convince me otherwise, I love chocobos. Regular chocobos, fat chocobos, all of them. They are like majestic chickens and quite possibly my spirit animal.

Why am I saluting? I have no idea, it’s what everyone in line in front of my did… so like the joiner I am, I did it too.

After the chocobo experience The Primals, a metal band comprised of the guys who write the music for the game, performed/closed out the convention. A concert of music from the game. Best. Show. Ever.

While taking it in from the back of the room (with the other people who had no idea what was happening), I drank the worst glass of wine I’ve ever had. Including bad communion wine. 

I love wine, like deep down in my soul love it. But there were several things going wrong with this wine. For starters, it was sealed with a plastic Tupperware lid. As someone who loves cheap wine from a box, I thought this wouldn’t matter…. but I’m pretty sure a Tupperware lid does not properly seal a wine container. There was a funk.

The second problem was really more of a personal preference… it was warm. Not just warm really, like above room temperature. That’s probably how wine is supposed to be served, but I’m a cold wine or nothing kind of gal. Red wine, white wine, I like it all straight from the fridge.

I’m classy as shit.

After several rounds of “Fuck you, Titan!” from The Primals, I headed back to the hotel to catch up on sleep while Ryan went out with some of his game friends.

And apparently attempted the worst karaoke rendition of “Ice, Ice, Baby” that Las Vegas has ever heard. If I didn’t love sleep so much I’d be sad that I missed it.

In the morning, Ryan slept it off while I celebrated National liquor day by the pool.


I may have celebrated a little too much… because as the day went on I began to declare that “I just want to dance!” (I also fell asleep in the sun and got a sweet sunburn on half my body…)

Ryan, kindly trying to fulfill my overwhelming need to dance, brought us downtown to Fremont Street. We walked, we listened to a weird Halloween themed band, and then I announced that I ONLY wanted to dance on the strip.

Because fuck it, that’s how I roll.

Since he must love me, Ryan went along with this and ubered us back to the strip. And walked past at least 15 different clubs, bars or other dance options – all of which I deemed unworthy for one of three reasons:

1. The girls looked mean and the men looked douchey

2. They didn’t have karaoke

3. “I just don’t want to dance at this place okay?!”

It was definitely irrational… but in hindsight I think I was trying to relive that first dance party – where there was no judgement or pretense, no weird mating ritual where the men stand to the side and watch as the women dance – determining their conquest. It was just a group of people having fun, letting loose. Perfection.

On our last night, national pasta day, we enjoyed one final Vegas pasta dinner at the Rio before fulfilling Ryan’s childhood dream of seeing Penn and Teller live. We had waited in line for tickets, one of us had on their sequin shorts, we were going to end this trip with a bang!


Then we saw the show.

For an hour and a half we laughed politely, were mildly delighted and somewhat amused. It was cheesy and corny – exactly what most people would expect from a Penn and Teller show. Most people didn’t arrive with 30 years of expectations and anticipation though…

It took all of Ryan’s willpower not to flip out immediately after exiting the theatre.  If we hadn’t been surrounded by a crowd of adults who all seemed blown away by the show he probably would have!  On our way out, we stopped for a photo and autograph from Teller…. who spoke to us…. and Ryan LOST IT!!!  Here are some thoughts he had about the show:

“30 years ago, he caught a bullet in his teeth on live television!!!  They couldn’t even make a real elephant disappear!  Did you see it? He caught a fucking bullet in his teeth on national television.  That’s nuts.  AND they made fun of Chris Angel but they didn’t even mind freak me!  What the fuck!?  And then he talked to us?!?!?!?!?!  That’s fucked up!  He’s like the best mime in the world and he fucking talked to us!  Penn fired a gun and Teller caught the fucking bullet in his teeth with some guys name on it… on LIVE TELEVISION!!!  What the fuck, man!”

I think Ryan may have overlooked a few important things about the show:

  1. It’s a cheesy, corny magic show.  It always has been, it alway will be.  Penn and Teller are not performing death defying feats.
  2. They probably don’t let you bring a real elephant onto the stage in the Rio.
  3. They probably also don’t let you fire guns at people and hope they catch the bullet in your teeth.  The world has changed a lot in the last 30 years….

All in all, it was a life changing trip – I’m so grateful for our time away and our families for watching the kids so we could party like 21 year olds.  img_1999

As much as I loved the warm weather and palm trees, it felt good to land in Minnesota!

For the record, I wanted to see Britney.

 

Maggie’s World

Happy National M&M day!!!

I lucked out with this one – we leave for Las Vegas today and there is NO WAY I could have cooked anything!! Plus, for the first time in weeks there aren’t any dishes in the sink and Ryan would have an aneurysm if I made a mess…

So instead of a cooking disaster, here’s some weird things Maggie said today. Because she’s 16 on the inside.

1st: she insisted that she have “tie-dye” hair because “Grandma will love it!” 

Can you tell she’s excited to spend time with Grandma and Papa?!

2nd: She informed me of all the things that make Grandma’s house more fun than our house.

Mag: Did you even know that Grandma has juice for me?!

Me: Oh? I know you love juice.

Mag: (leans in REAL close and whispers) and treats. She has treats.

Me: Is that a secret?

Mag: No. I just like treats. She has toys for me too! Lots of toys! I just love Grandma’s house!

Me: I can tell!

After some silence she added:

Mag: Oh, and Papa lives there too. 

Sorry, Papa, Grandma and her treats are just too exciting!

3rd: Mag likes to make up songs, which is usually delightful but sometimes turns a little creepy. Here are some lyrics I overheard today:

“Take it in your miiiiinnnnd…. take it in your miiinnnd!”

“You can’t ruuunnn, you can’t ruuunnn like a hooorrrssee… or a zeeeeeeebra!”

“Grandma is coming soooon. SOOOOON!”

…….. I can’t figure out where these songs came from…

Mag and I shared a pack of M&M’s before Grandma came to pick her up. Because mommy has treats too damnit!

Egg White Mesa

Happy National Angel Food Cake Day!!!!

When I started this project just over a month ago, I never anticipated how much time I would spend reflecting on my life and childhood. Food and I have had a long and sometimes complicated relationship – a love-hate thing really – so much of my life and memories revolve around the kitchen table of my childhood home. 

Angel Food Cake is another item that is near and dear to my heart. My mom made this cake pretty regularly, spending an afternoon expertly whipping and folding ingredients together. When it came out of the pan, Tim and I were gifted with the magic of:

The crispy cake bits that got stuck to the side.

If you’ve never had this experience, you are truly missing out on a gift from the cake gods. I’m not sure why these bits get stuck to the pan, but they are amazing. Mind blowing. 

Never throw these away. Trust me.

Going into today, I was so excited to finally, FINALLY, give my kids the gift of the crispy cake bits. It was going to be a life changing experience for them. I was NOT going to fuck this up. 

To increase my odds of success, I asked my mom for her famous Angel Food Cake recipe:


Then realized there might be a problem…

I don’t own a flour sifter. It seemed pretty important to this recipe…. 

I consulted my mom, the cake baking expert, for advice:


……..

Now, I’m definitely not an expert…. but I don’t think a fork is the same thing as a sifter…

I didn’t really know what else to try though, so I went at it with a fork and hoped for the best.


Next came some egg white wizardry. I can recall my mom quickly and efficiently separating egg whites from the yolks. She poured that yolk back and forth between the shell halves like it was nothing. I watched her do this a hundred times – how hard could it be?


Turns out, really fucking hard.


I tried to scoop the yolk out with the shell but wound up puncturing it and oozing yolk everywhere. I got *most* of it out of the whites… probably no big deal, right?

The next snafu came when I realized I didn’t have almond extract. What I thought was a bottle of almond was actually a second bottle of vanilla extract… Why do I have two bottles of vanilla extract?! Who needs that much vanilla?!

So I skipped that… and hoped for the best…

Now for the “mixing”. 


The recipe called for “beating” the egg white situation until it was foaming. Nailed that one. Those egg whites were foamy as fuck!


In hindsight, they may have just been a little bubbly and I got too excited to move on to the next step.

I think at this point I was supposed to add another 1/2 cup sugar…. so I did… then started second guessing that decision… did the recipe mean “add more sugar now” or “add the original 1/2 cup sugar that you definitely didn’t already add because you’re not an idiot”?!?! 

Since I couldn’t undo the sugar adding, I decided to just go with it and move on to the next step:

Stupid stiff peaks.

Why does all baking involve these damn stiff peaks?!?! 

My sister-in-law recently shared a YouTube video with me that shows someone whipping stiff peaks by hand. It was a fairly strong looking dude, which is 100% the opposite of me, but it was still proof that it can be done!

With a slightly inflated mixing ego, I gave stiff peaks another try.


Those are not stiff peaks. After 10 minutes of vigorous thrashing I thought my arms were going to fall off and I gave up. It was some sort of frothy mesa or plateau… so I thought “that’s a form of mountainy rock, right?” and went with it.

Originally I was going to use a bundt cake pan for this because I remember my mom’s pan having a hole in the middle… but I couldn’t find it.

The only other thing I remember about my mom’s pan is that it had tall sides. This led to using a loaf pan with the rationalization that it too had tall sides so obviously it would be exactly the same! 

I was sooooo close to crispy cake bits!!!


I folded together the dry ingredients and the frothy shit, poured it into the pan and thought “that’s probably going to poof up when it bakes.”


Angel Food Cake is not bread. It does not rise when baked.

My mom had a little more advice to share on how to get those awesome crispy cake bits, which I followed fairly literally. She also had some words of comfort which I DESPARATELY needed at this point!




I let it cool, dreamt of those delicious little bits, and attempted to finish a jug of wine/pack for our upcoming vacation while I waited.


A little while later I flipped over the pan and started scraping at the sides of the pan with a butter knife. Maybe I scraped a little too thoroughly because there wasn’t a single crispy bit left on the pan!!!! I felt cheated!!! All that foaming and haphazard mixing and nothing!!!


Just a sad, sad flat “cake”. 

It’s more like an Angel Food bar situation if we’re being honest.

How did it taste? 

Sugary. A little too sugary.

Lazy Noodles

Happy National Noodle Day!

I went into today with big, grand plans of making ramen from scratch. I bought oxtails (and cried in Whole Foods), I moved the damn miso package to the front of the refrigerator – it was going to be great.

Because we’re dirty hipsters, we’ve latched into the ramen trend. I partly blame Ryan’s friend Sam – the hipest of hips – but I also blame the fact that we both fucking love soup. We love it almost as much as our hipster coffee. Creamy soup, broth based, gazpacho – actually, Ryan doesn’t like cold things for meals – but soup!!! And good ramen?! It’s one of the best kinds of soup you can get!

I went back and forth on making ramen broth from scratch or just using packaged bone broth. On the one hand, home made broth almost always tastes better and gives me the ability to control what’s in it. On the other hand, I can’t screw up packaged broth. And it doesn’t involve touching oxtails…

What I didn’t anticipate was just how lazy and burnt out I would feel after working 10 hour days all week. I looked at the oxtails. I looked at the bone broth. I thought, “fuck all of this, I’m making spaghetti.”

And I did

.img_1029

It has taken many years for me to be able to successfully make meatballs without getting the heebie-jeebies.  That’s not entirely true – I still gag a little and apologize to the cow as I squish raw hamburger around – but I can do it without crying now so… that’s a win?  Definitely the cow that went into making these meatballs lived a long, happy life and died of old age – surrounded by cow friends and family.  It was peaceful – Amazing Grace was sung before the butcher arrived.

img_1008

For being so freaked out by touching raw hamburger, I actually make a pretty good meatball. I feel confident enough that I don’t even use a recipe – I just throw shit into a bowl, add some pizza seasoning (it’s basically Italian seasoning, right?) and squish it around with a tablespoon of guilt.  They come out almost perfect every time.

It’s the noodle cooking that I suck at.

I’m not really sure how a grown woman – mother of two – can be so bad at cooking noodles, but I am.  I’m so afraid of over cooking them and having them turn gooey that I typically under cook them.  I’m not even sure if noodles turn gooey when over cooked, but in my head they become gelatinous and slimy.  And I’m not talking “al dente” under cooked like the box recommends, I mean still a little stiff.

Nicky keeps telling me that I should be able to throw a noodle against a wall and have it stick – that’s how you know they’re done – but I have yet to try it.

It’s quite possible that my seven year old is a more capable chef than I am.

Ryan typically “suggests” that I set a timer like the box says….and also that I wait until the water is boiling before adding the noodles…  but I like living on the edge.  I like frantically pacing in front of a pot of boiling water, pulling noodles out of the pot every few seconds and testing their “done-ness”.  It’s like an adventure.

So, we ate really awesome meatballs and mediocre noodles (with jar sauce, just to be safe).

Taco Traditions

Happy National Soft Taco day!

Tacos and I go way back – like back to birth practically. I’m not sure how tacos became such a part of my German-Norwegian-Irish family’s life and traditions, but much of my childhood memories revolve around them.  You’d think we celebrated holidays with sauerkraut and lefse but nope! Tacos. Always tacos.

Every year on Christmas Eve, my family and I would make the 2 hour trek to my aunt and uncle’s house to celebrate with my mom’s family. My parents were saints for putting up with us in a car for two plus hours. In the snow. Without current technology. I think a lot of booze was consumed once we got to Arlington…

Once we arrived, typically  around 7 pm, everyone congregated in the kitchen of the house my mom grew up in and got to work making tacos. Just a bunch of Scandinavian folks drinking and making a food that has nothing to do with our heritage…

I loved those moments. My mom and her siblings turned into teenagers again – laughing, poking fun at each other, telling dirty jokes that I still don’t quite get… and my dad, he was always in his element. He had an ability to make an entire room light up and erupt in laughter. 

I was always underfoot in that kitchen, stealing green peppers and black olives from the table and trying desperately to be in on the joke.

I fucking loved that kitchen. 

After hours of drinking and cooking, someone would announce that it was midnight and officially Christmas! This also meant that it was taco time! Why tacos at midnight? I have no idea. To this day, we eat tacos for Christmas with my mom’s side of the family and I’ve never questioned it. 

Who wants boring old turkey when you can eat tacos?!

Tacos weren’t just a Christmas meal for us, they were also a Sunday staple. Every Sunday after church, my dad would pull the family Taurus into the parking lot of Dave’s Family Foods in Kerkhoven. My mom would run in to grab two important things: taco supplies and a Sunday newspaper. 

At home, Tim and I would fight over the “funnies” while my mom made tacos and my dad settled in for the Sunday football game. E&J cokes were made, tacos were eaten and the whole family gathered in the basement to watch the Vikings. 

So, to honor this day and all that it means for my family I made tacos the way (I assume) my mom did. I never really paid attention to how my mom actually prepared the tacos… I was just in it to eat… 


I’ve tried making taco seasoning from scratch on numerous occasions, but every time it’s just not quite right. I’m a little heavy handed when it comes to cumin (I fucking LOVE cumin… turns out not everyone else does…) so I opted to use a package of taco seasoning. 

It kills my soul a little to do it… there are ingredients I can’t pronounce in it!! But, on top of not tasting like a jar of cumin exploded in the taco meat, it saves Ryan and I from having the SAME conversation about taco seasoning that we’ve had a hundred times…

Literally, six years of talking at each other about how much I like cumin and how, according to Ryan “it’s too much fucking cumin!! Just use a damn package of seasoning!!”


Seasoning aside, tacos are pretty straightforward and hard for me to screw up. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I get a little willy nilly with how much water I add to the meat and the whole thing is like taco soup… but 7 out of 10 times I get it right. Tonight we were lucky and I followed the instructions on the back of the seasoning packet… the presentation got a little… blobby… but they tasted good! Maggie even declared tacos her “favorite food ever”!

Dejavu 

Happy National Taco Day!

Yes, you read that correctly… it’s National Taco Day. The day after it was National Soft Taco Day. Because some asshole thought they needed two separate days. 

I love tacos and everything, they have a lot of meaning in my life, but I only want to eat them once a week. And I only want to accidentally touch my eyeball with onion fingers once a week.

Yeah. That happened. 

I was running late from work so I asked Ryan to dice an onion for me to speed up the process. 

He reluctantly obliged and then *tried* to be extra helpful by “sweating” the onions. In a dry pan without oil. Unattended. 

I’m no kitchen wizard but on the short list of things I know about cooking is: onions on high heat in a dry pan will get burnt and stick to the pan…

I came into the kitchen upon getting home, panicked at the onions and started scooping them out of the pan with a spatula and my fingers. 

Could I have just added oil to the pan and stirred them around?

Sure. But that would have involved thinking rationally instead of being in a panicked state. 

Then I tried to get an eyelash out of my eye. It burned. It burned so bad! 

With one eye closed in pain, I sort of made tacos again. They were pretty dry… and a little cuminy… 

Good news though, I can open my eye again!


Sad, sad taco. 

Thanks Mommy

Happy National Pumpkin Spice Day!

There’s a part of me that really wants to go nuts for pumpkin spice everything.  I love pumpkin pie, I love pumpkin in my dinner – but don’t people get burnt out on all the pumpkin?!  I mean, they make pumpkin spice flavored toothpaste for Pete’s sake!!!!  Who even wants that?!

Anyway…

My mom came to visit today and, because she loves me and is probably concerned for the well-being of my family, she brought gifts!

After reading about the great cheese slice debate of 2016, she gave us a brick of singles.  There’s at least 100 slices in this thing, it should last the next three months!

She also brought along two packages of Jell-o *instant* butterscotch pudding.  INSTANT!! All those years, she was using instant pudding!!  No wonder mine turned out all weird and gooey!  The secret is out now and perfectly lumpy pudding is in my future!

While she was in town we stopped at Super Target, aka Mom and Grandma’s happy place.  The kids picked out anything and everything they thought they could talk my mom into buying (sneaky little buggers!) and my mom bought me some Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea bags because, let’s be honest, I’m not capable of making a pumpkin spice beverage at home… No amount of barista experience can undo the fact that I don’t own an espresso machine.  Or anything to froth milk.  Or pumpkin pie spices.

img_1752

My mommy is the best.

The Day of my People

Today is National Coffee Day.

A day held in reverence by all coffee addicts like myself.

photo-1

In the words of the great Lorelei Gilmore:

“I can’t stop drinking the coffee.  If I stop drinking the coffee, I stop doing the standing and the walking and the words putting into sentence thing.”

My love affair with coffee started young, in the dining hall of Kerkhoven Lutheran Church. Arlis brewed a mean pot of coffee.  These were my first experiences with the idea that coffee brought people together.  This is never more clear than when you see a sanctuary full of Lutherans at 8:55 am on a Sunday.  We’re all looking toward the door – drawn by the smell of coffee and the promise of being able to take off our Sunday suit coats!  The laughter and joy in that dining hall was infectious – large bellied men discussing the weather and the height of the corn stalks in Harold’s fields – little old ladies reminding us that they knew us when we were “this high!” – some of my fondest memories happened around a coffee carafe in KLC.

Some of my saddest too.

I learned in that dining hall that coffee is also the Lutheran cure for grief.

Around those same carafes, as an angsty-grief-stricken fifteen year old, the same little old ladies and full bellied men held our family as we mourned my dad.  They drank cup after cup with us – first sharing in our tears, then sharing in our laughter as loving and humorous stories flowed.  It was fitting.  Our community was built around this church and it’s endless pots of coffee.  We grew up inside those walls.  Those little old ladies – who never seemed to age.  They were eleventy when I was born and are STILL alive today – they were the coffee scented pillars of my life.

I was telling a friend the other day that when I think of my childhood, I think of the smell of coffee and soybeans.

It’s the same for my college days, where my love of coffee became a momentary career.

I was never one of the “mocha-caramel-mask the flavor of my coffee with syrup and whip cream” kind of coffee drinkers.  To this day, I cringe when I hear that order or when I see someone treat their coffee like an accessory.

Coffee is a fucking lifestyle, not something to add to your “Fall Look” or Polyvore.  It does not perfectly match your Uggs.

It kills my soul.

While in college, the very first Caribou Coffee to be opened in Wilma was hiring.  I knew nothing about being a barista, only that my passion for coffee compelled me to work there.  And the promise of free coffee.

It opened a whole new world to me, one that I would likely still be a part of if I hadn’t decided to have children. (Decided or was surprised to find out I was having Nick, you pick.)

Caribou offered me all the opportunities I could have wanted to learn about coffee – I took classes at Coffee College (a real thing at the ‘Bou), I read books, I slurped coffee like it was a fine wine, I was awarded “Coffee Expert of the Year” for our region.  Eventually I took the training to become a store manager and took over my own little ‘Bou.  I was in heaven.

I was working 60 hours a week while going to school – but the coffee was endless and abundant.

Then I found out I was having Nicky.  My ‘Bou lifestyle (and paycheck) didn’t fit with having a family.

When I think about my dream jobs (which are varied and numerous), I often dream of being a barista again.  Only if being a hobby farmer, Olympic Rhythmic Gymnast or world renowned chef don’t pan out.

Sometime in my years at Caribou, I began to drift away from the church coffee loving girl that I was and became the monster that I am today.

A coffee snob.

There, I said it.  I’m a fucking hipster coffee snob.

Thank GOD Ryan is also.

Our relationship has been permeated with coffee the same way much of my life has.  We’ve shared countless cups together – particularly when we first started dating.  We drank coffee at all hours together with Ryan being up all night and Ryan having the magic ability to fall asleep regardless of how caffeinated he was.  He’s still this way, it’s insane!

Ryan had an adorable habit of always spilling one drop of coffee on the center of his white tee-shirt (AKA his daily uniform).  He also had a habit of ordering a medium coffee and a large cup of ice so that he could “cool it down”.

It was a fucked up order.

We were reminiscing about this today and Ryan (a little defensively) had this to say about his coffee order:

Ryan: I don’t know why everyone thinks that’s so fucked up.  It’s not that hard to scoop a cup of ice to go with the coffee.

Me: Why didn’t you just order iced coffee?  Or an iced Americano?

Ryan: Because I want to be able to control the temperature of my fucking coffee!  I don’t want to burn the inside of my mouth when I drink it, I want to be able to vary the temperature. It’s about varying it.

Me: ………

Ryan: Sometimes I want it to be a little warm, like luke warm.  And other times I want it to be cold.  Listen, I was doing this with shitty drip coffee.  It wasn’t like we were getting pour-overs and I was doing it.  That would have been fucked up.

Me………..

Ryan: And I’m not a fucking coffee snob.  I mean, I am.  I like good coffee.  But I’ll drink shitty SA (Super America) coffee all day too.  I’ll leave my mug of coffee out all day and drink it 9 hours later when it’s fucking ice cold.  I don’t give a fuck.

Me: Yeah that’s true, you do drink gross day old coffee sometimes.

Ryan: Yeah.  I don’t give a fuck about shitty coffee, I just don’t want it too hot.

So the mystery of the “cup of ice” has been solved.

And now, present day – still coffee obsessed Gina is a regular at the coffee shop by work.

It’s the kind of place made for assholes like me, who only drink single-origin coffee made pour-over style.  (It should be known that I bought Ryan a pour-over set up for Christmas last year because he thinks he’s a coffee connoisseur.  He’s also the person who introduced me to pour-over coffee.  We’re made for each other.)

This coffee shop (Claddagh Coffee for those in my ‘hood) has renewed the idea of coffee as community for me.  My daily excursion there has brought new friendships, new habits – a new version of that old KLC dining hall.  I’ve shared joys and sorrows with the baristas and have made, what I hope is, a new lifelong friend in another regular.  He’s what I imagine Ryan will be like in 30 years – crotchety, opinionated but lovable as hell.  Claddagh is my safe haven – all that is missing is the scent of soybeans.

photo-4

So today, on this most special of days, I celebrate coffee and all that it means in my life.

Coffee, you are my lifeline, my sanity.

Cheers.

*Fun fact: I drink shitty coffee sometimes too.  Here’s the set up we have going at work right now.  What is that creamer situation?! Who would do that to their coffee!