Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Princess and the Postal Worker

Happy Howl-O-Ween from Pringles the Postal Worker,

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And Carlie the Princess:

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I think Pringles really enjoys wearing clothes. Not sure how I feel about that...

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See his mail bag and sleeve emblem?

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His hat didn't last as long, mostly because he couldn't see. And when he almost fell down the stairs, we decided that was enough of the hat.

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We put on the costumes while it was still daylight out, mostly for picture-taking purposes. And since we had the camera out, I suppose we should show you the pumpkins and mums I've been blabbing about lately. They're thriving nicely, don't you think?

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Once the sun set, the onslaught of (mostly cute but occasionally frightening) costumed kids began. Here we are, waiting for the gadzillion children to arrive and clean out our entire candy stockpile.

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And here are my two little guys, totally zonked after countless doorbells ringing, dogs barking, and all the grabby hands of the little gremlins of the neighborhood.

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Our little princess was tired, too.

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After a while, we had to take turns holding Pringles while the kids came to the door. I am pleased to report that no kids lost any fingers to Pringles at my house this year.

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When I filled up the candy bowl to nearly brimming over the sides, I thought for sure we'd bought enough candy. Here's what we started with:

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The candy reserves were greatly depleted after about an hour. We made the mistake of telling one set of kids to "take as much as you want." The kids (eight-year-olds, if I had to guess the age) got eyes as big as saucers and started grabbing huge handfuls of candy from the bowl. After that, we rationed the candy to one or two pieces per kid.

This was the candy remaining at 7 PM, with still a full hour of trick-or-treaters left to go.

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We barely made it out alive. I think we had maybe 5 pieces of candy left at the end of the night.

After we ran out of candy, we turned off our lights and walked over to what we have dubbed the "Spider House." When we first came to look at our house this time last year, these people had an enormous spider in their front yard. It was back this year.

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See the caution tape and the skeletons? There was also a gigantic spider web behind the huge yellow spider, with a HUMAN BODY wrapped up in the spiderweb. Obviously it wasn't a real person, but the idea was horrifying. I am anticipating nightmares about a giant PVC pipe spider for weeks to come.

Oh, and also, before the trick-or-treaters started showing up en masse, I made what Steven has declared to be "the best chicken pot pie you've ever made."

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I found that to be a very nice compliment, so I'll share the recipe with you. Its from (where else?) Everyday Food Magazine. I made one big pot pie and two individually-sized pot pies. (Look mom, the mini-red-casserole-dishes in play!)

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(Remind me to stop posing for pictures. I look ridiculous.) :)

Chicken Pot Pie, from Everyday Food Magazine, October 2009

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, cut into medium dice
1 large carrot, cut into medium dice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
Coarse salt and ground pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups cooked chicken, cut into 1-inch pieces (1 pound total)
1 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg yolk

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium. Add onion and carrot and cook until onion softens, about 6 minutes. Add flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is pale golden, has a slightly nutty aroma, and is the texture of cooked oatmeal, about 5 minutes.

Whisking constantly, add broth. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens, about 8 minutes. Reduce to a simmer and cook 10 minutes. Stir in chicken, peas, and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Divide mixture among four 12-ounce baking dishes; refrigerate until room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, roll pastry to a 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into 4 equal squares, 1 inch larger than dishes; with the tip of a sharp knife, cut vents into pastry. In a small bowl, lightly beat egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water; top potpies with pastry and brush with egg wash. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Bake until pastry is deep golden and juices are bubbling, about 35 minutes.

Then go check on your dogs to make sure that they aren't trying to bite the miniature Luke Skywalker that just showed up at your door. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

And So You're Back... From Outer Space....

A smattering of randomness for all of you that figured I must have either (a) passed out at my desk or (b) decided to head on back to Italy and become an ex-pat:

1. I've created an unreasonable schedule for myself. It starts like this: "Wake up at 5:00 AM" and it just goes downhill from there. The sleep debt finally caught up with me last weekend and I ended up falling asleep every time I sat down. I finally started to feel a bit more human by Monday morning, but then I slept in again this morning, sort of accidentally-on-purpose, mostly because it just felt better to sleep than to get up and try to exercise at some ungodly hour of the dark, cold morning.

2. When you are somewhat sleep deprived, things like this happen:

Diagram A: I opened a new box of Raisin Bran Crunch this morning.

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Diagram B: And apparently I still need more sleep.

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3. The hubby is growing a beard. I find it quite dashing.

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4. Also doesn't he look so skinny these days? He's running like crazy - 5K's, 10K's, you name it, he's out there plodding out the miles. I can tell he's turning into a "Runner" because he's been talking about things like "winter running gear" and "running playlists on the iPod." We even got that cool Nike+ system where you put a little plastic sensor in your shoe and it measures how far you run.

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5. I am loving the fall weather and the leaves changing, and if I can somehow remember to bring my camera, I will show you my beautiful new drive to work each day, down a long tree-lined road just bursting with fall colors.

6. I am also loving the foods of the season. I made myself some sweet potato soup from this recipe a week or two ago, and it was really delicious.

7. Speaking of delicious fall foods, look what came in the mail! (Thanks mom!) I am going to make us an amazing breakfast this weekend (albeit we might not eat till 1 PM if I keep having this weird sleep-deprived thing going on, but you know, whatever).

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8. Carlie had an eye-scratch issue last week, but she's all better now. Back to her normal nuzzling slightly weird-smelling self.

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9. And gosh we just love her.

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10. And just to round out this Top Ten List of Randomness, Steven and I have scientifically determined that you cannot, absolutely, unequivocally cannot eat 6 saltines in under one minute. You just can't. Try it for yourself if you don't believe me.

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11. Ok, I lied. Its a Top Eleven list now. I promise I'll be back to the blog world more now that I've finally got a computer again that doesn't in some way belong to Steven. (He is so darned particular about his computers, it was easier to just go on an internet-fast for a few weeks.) :) But now I'm back! ("From outer space! I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face, I shoulda changed that stupid lock, I shoulda made you leave your key....")

12. And now that song is stuck in your head. You're welcome.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blast from the Past

Memories are strange things. They come and go with time, and its often the oddest things that can bring back a whole rush of remembrances sometimes.

I started drinking coffee when I was about eleven or so, I'd say. Mostly milk and sugar, with just a dollop of coffee at that point. But there was something so fantastic about discovering the early morning back then. In the weekday mornings before school, when everything was still quiet and everyone else was asleep, I'd pad downstairs in my socks and pajamas and find Dad at the coffeemaker, brewing up his trademark perfect pot of coffee. Dad and Mom have a long-standing tradition where Dad brings Mom her first cup of coffee in the morning. Every morning. For thirty-something years now. Its adorable.

Back from my earliest coffee-drinking days, I have fond memories of snapping open the lid to our faded yellow Tupperware sugar container and pouring unreasonable amounts of sugar into my coffee cup. Then I'd stand there in the kitchen, enjoying watching it get lighter and lighter outside, and I'd chat with Dad about the drama of being in middle school, or perhaps about Dad's marathon-training schedule, or (my personal favorite) we'd talk about all the billions of things I wanted to do when I grew up.

When my brother posted some old family photos on Facebook, I spotted the sugar container in one of them. See it on the counter there behind Matt's elbow? (Also, are my little brothers not the cutest little guys ever? They aren't so little anymore, but they are still quite cute.) (You too, Chris, even though you aren't pictured in this one.) ;)

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After I saw the picture, I mentioned to Mom that I loved that old sugar container. Now, I should tell you that Mom has an incredible ability to Find Amazing Stuff On E-Bay. A few weeks later, a box arrived at my doorstep, and I opened it to find this:

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THE YELLOW SUGAR CONTAINER! With a matching creamer container too!

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Tell me that's not the most amazing E-Bay find you've ever seen. How did she do it folks? I love that its got spouts on both sides -- one side for pouring sugar into your coffee, and the other side for scooping out tablespoons of sugar for baking. Its the most majestic little container, and I love it.

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And every time I flip that little yellow lid open, I'm transported back to the early-morning kitchen of my youth, with a steaming mug of fresh brewed coffee, and the whole day stretched out before me. Those moments were so full of possibility and potential, and there was something so special about knowing the same routine would always be there to greet you in those pre-dawn hours. Same porcelain mugs, same feet-in-socks on a cold tile floor, same sound of the water percolating through the workings of the coffeemaker, and knowing that as soon as the pot finished brewing, Dad would pour each cup with just the right ratio of sugar-to-creamer-to-coffee.

Just for a moment, on those mornings, I felt a little older, a little more sophisticated than my years. And I loved that feeling. The feeling that by the time you got to school and sat in your desk, you already had a leg-up on the rest of the world, because you'd already been up for several hours, chatting with grownups and sipping coffee just like them. It was something really special.

All of that from a little plastic sugar container. :) Memories are strange things, aren't they?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Peach Pies

We're a little beyond "late summer" now, but I still wanted to show you my favorite late summer treat. (Also, I am considering whether to make another batch of these for the folks at my new job. Part of my secret plan to Win-Friends-And-Influence-People involves plying them with baked goods. Its a good plan, no?)

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The week before we left town, I bought too many peaches at the Farmers' Market and had to google around for a recipe to use them all up.

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(Yes, of COURSE I considered just sitting down and eating two pounds of peaches for dinner one night, but Steven objected to that plan. I still think it would have been a viable option...)

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After a little Google-Fu, hoo boy, did I ever find a good recipe for these peaches. I decided to make Peach Hand Pies, from Smitten Kitchen.

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The recipe is a bit time-intensive, especially if you attempt to make the dough, the filling, and complete the pie-assembly and baking all in one day.

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But let me just tell you right now, they are OH. SO. WORTH. IT. (In fact, I may or may not have eaten the leftover filling right out of the bowl with a big spoon while the pies were baking. It is THAT good.)

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The pastry is the real secret ingredient here -- it puffs up just as perfectly as commercial dough would. And, strangely enough, it has sour cream in the pastry dough. Odd, but delicious.

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The folding process got a little messy, and I ended up greedily trying to overfill each pie, with the result that most of them leaked in the oven. But aren't the little fork-marks just adorable?

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You have to brush the tops with egg wash to make them brown nicely. (That's probably why they look a bit gooey here.) You can see my glass of ice water on the countertop. You're supposed to keep your fingers ice cold when working with the dough, and being a southern girl at heart, my house is never really cold enough to be the prime temperature for pie dough. So I end up just sticking my fingers in ice water every so often (and then drying them off before handling the dough) to keep the dough from melting in my hands. I forget where I learned that, but its a neat trick.

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The fork marks were also useful to make sure that the seams of each pie were good and closed.

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Sadly enough, all of my toil with my cute little fork patterns was for naught, because the pies puffed up so much in the oven that the marks weren't even visible after baking.

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But once I tried the first pie, fresh from the oven, I forgot all about fork marks. I forgot about messy filling and time-intensive dough preparations. With that first bite, I think I might have forgotten my name.

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And so, I implore you, if there are still fresh peaches anywhere in your area, you must make these pies. Make them soon. They are worth every ounce of effort put into them, and you will be inventing reasons why you need to take them with you for lunch every day at work and have one at dinner and They're Just Fruit And Bread So Can't I Eat Them For Breakfast Too? You will rationalize your way into having three or four of them in one sitting.

Don't underestimate the power of an individually-sized fruit-filled pie.

(In fact, I bet these would be excellent with some brown-sugar-laden apple pie filling too.... I am sensing a strange need to make another enormous batch of tiny little pies RIGHT THIS INSTANT. Now, where did I put my apple peeler?)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tiny Fruit

A little trick photography for you: Check out this HUGE watermelon from the garden!

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What, you're not convinced?

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Alright, you guessed it. I can only grow miniature versions of things (except tomatoes) apparently.

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But bite-sized watermelons do have their benefits. One of which being that they are very cute and wee.

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Another benefit is that you can eat an entire watermelon all by yourself. How many people can say that? Besides that Kobiyashi guy. And besides Adam Richman from Man v. Food.

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This was the only watermelon I managed to grow this year. I got started way too late with my summer fruit plantings. There are still a couple of canteloupes languishing beneath the pumpkin leaves, but the harvest is pretty much over. It was a good "first garden" summer, and I've got big plans for next year's garden already. In a perfect world, I would have planted some winter crops (spinach, garlic, onions), but since I'm moving the garden into my new garden box next year, I figure I'll just start fresh in March or so.

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The big plans for next year's garden will definitely include watermelon.

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But perhaps I'll try to grow them a little bigger next year. Like enough for two people, at least.