Wednesday, June 29, 2011

“Miracle Max, Iced Tea, and a Dad-Shaped Velociraptor: How Movies Made my Life”“Miracle Max, Iced Tea, and a Dad-Shaped Velociraptor: How Movies Made

*I thought I might mix things up on here with an essay now and again. This is an old one from one of my college classes, tweaked a little bit, but I might throw some new ones in too!

“Miracle Max, Iced Tea, and a Dad-Shaped Velociraptor: How Movies Made my Life”

The story always gets told. My mom starts it with a reference to iced tea. Or, my dad begins the familiar tale when someone mentions Harrison Ford. Either way, we are all annoyingly familiar with how Dad scared Mom one night when we were watching Indiana Jones, and she threw iced tea all over him. By now we can practically feel the anticipation as he waits at the top of the stairs, tensing with each creak of the steps; we can hear her shout of surprise and feel the swift retribution of the icy tea pouring down his back.
Or, there’s the tale of when I was little and I used to watch Peter Pan. I would never go down into the dark, spidery basement by myself unless I was watching Peter Pan. I would sit there, all alone on our dusty and faded tan couch and forget about spiders while I watched John, Michael, and Wendy discover Never, Never Land. I’m told I could be heard all the way from the basement, through the kitchen floor, crowing along with Peter. That one’s a favorite for “tell tales on Emily and try our best to embarrass her in front of her friends” night.
If there’s nothing else to talk about, there’s always the story of how when we were kids we were watching JurassicPark III and at the end Dad scared us out of our wits by launching through the door with a thunderous crash and landing on the couch, screeching like a velociraptor, his brown eyes momentarily wild and red. That’s always a good one, although my respectable father is possibly less fond of that than others. It seems that every time I turn around a story being told revolves around family movie nights.
My family has always had a deep bond. We went camping together every summer, nearly tearing each other apart by the end of the week; my dad read to each and every one of us when we were little; we frequently went on picnics, roller skating, and countless other family activities. But, our favorite by far has always been when we would get our bowls of chunky salsa and bags of chips, grab a cold Dr Pepper, crowd onto the couch, and watch a classic movie together. That taste of fresh, spicy tomato salsa, the satisfying, salty crunch of tortilla chips, and the beautiful sound and scent of a fizzing Dr Pepper being poured over clinking ice always makes me smile.
Some would say that watching a movie together isn’t real “family time.” After all, you’re just sitting in the same room, staring with dazed expressions at the same flashing screen. But I have found that those movie nights weren’t just a group of people sharing the same air, but instead that through those shared experiences we were deepening our familial relationships. I suppose it all started because my parents enjoyed media themselves. We were just gradually each inducted into the tradition as we arrived.
One of the ways we did this was simply through inside jokes and family stories. The number of laughs we’ve shared over spilled iced tea and dad-shaped velociraptors is a priceless gift. It also makes watching those movies again all the more meaningful. Even if it is a ridiculously cheesy and categorically impossible plotline (i.e. Jurassic Park III), it gains an intrinsic value that makes it more treasured than the newest thriller.
Another way these special movies deepen the family bond is through a shared taste in entertainment. My parents picked the movies we watched when I was young, so those movies shaped my own tastes. The Princess Bride contributed to the fairy-tale, fantasy inclination. The dashing and daring Westly, with his curly blond tresses and eyes “like the sea after a storm”, beautiful and devoted Princess Buttercup, and comically quirky Miracle Max all made “w-ove, twue w-ove” seem good and perfect. Adventurous Indiana Jones formed the fascination with action and an imperfect but prevailing hero. And we mustn’t forget Mission Impossible and Sneakers, which I blame for my present obsession with modern shows glorifying espionage and clever gadgets.
Those were all of my mother’s favorite movies. My father is responsible for the Star Wars aspect of my movie experience. Although, he always seemed more interested in the documentaries on the boxed set of the trilogy than the actual movies. Oh the agony, listening to George Lucas dryly explain how they made the starship models seem life size, or how they shot this or that scene, or how he wrote the stories in the first place. After that, anything seemed like Oscar material. No wonder we always enjoyed them.
As I grew older, started spending more time away from home, and eventually moved away, I took these memories with me and incorporated them into my own life. My friends and I always watched movies when we got together. Of course, they had a little bit of different taste than my parents, so I got introduced to more movies and genres. My roommate and I developed a fondness for romantic musicals and plays, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Much Ado about Nothing being prime examples. Something about strapping, red-headed farm boys bursting into song and dance, and star-struck lovers spontaneously declaring their undying affection with flowery, poetic speeches tickled our fancy.
Of course, when the boys were around we had to watch much more manly things. Popular flicks, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, and The Lord of the Rings are usually the films of choice. Or, if in a more comedic mood, dumb-humor movies such as Napoleon Dynamite and Loaded Weapon kept us all rolling and quoting lines long afterward. It’s fairly safe to say, even, that most of our conversations revolved around randomly inserted movie quotes, each conversation becoming almost a contest to see who can have the most appropriately quoted line.
Now, my husband and I treasure movie nights. A few moments at the end of a busy week to just relax and enjoy being with each other. We have our favorites too: Harry Potter, and Iron Man, and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Ultimately, simply just sharing memories with people deepens relationships. One of the most awkward and uncomfortable things is not having any sort of common background and experiences. Having those evenings of laughter gives you something to talk about the next time you’re together. After all, how can you have a deep and meaningful friendship without memories?
Now that I have a daughter, these values are ones that I hope to pass on to her someday. I look forward to movie nights, introducing her to Westly and Buttercup, Indy and the world of adventurous archaeology, Ethan Hunt and his impossible mission, and perhaps even a George Lucas documentary or two (if Grandpa has any say in the matter.) I’m sure we’ll even develop our own family favorites along the way. I just hope that they will learn to laugh at inside jokes, to link the smell of fresh chips and salsa and the fizz of a just-opened pop with family, and to treasure each moment we spend together making memories.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Confessions of a Cheese-aholic, Part Two

Perhaps you recall my previous forays into the realm of exotic cheeses. You can check those posts out Here, Here and Here. It's been quite awhile since then, but my penchant for fantastic cheese has not waned in the least. If anything, it's gotten much more powerful. I can't walk into a grocery store without checking out their cheese section. And if there's nothing to stop me, I'll spend ages there.
I'll be honest...I really don't know anything about cheese. So while I may pretend to be some posh, snooty cheese connoisseur, all I really know is what I've tried and what I like (or don't like!)
I know I love Chevre goat cheese, Brie, aged Gouda, fresh mozzarella, and Tillamook cheese curds. I know I don't like Gruyere or Tilsiter. I know I'm dying to try Mimolette, smoked mozzarella, Humbolt Fog Blue, and a million other cheeses. And that's about as extensive as my knowledge is. But that's why it's so fun! Every time I try a new cheese, I learn something new! : )
I discovered Whole Foods a few months ago, but hadn't had the chance to go visit yet. But, I had visited their website, and their cheese section (of course) enthralled me. I finally got the chance the other day! I spent forever just browsing the section, eyeing the massive wheels of parmigiana-reggiano, fingering the little wedges of Mimolette, and salivating over the rounds of five different blues. Aaah.
The best part of bigger cheese sections, I've found, is that they often have a little basket or two of smaller wedges of cheese. I imagine these are the leftover bits from cutting the cheese. The wonderful thing is, they're usually only a dollar or two! This means I can try all sorts of fun cheese, without spending hardly anything at all! And, if I don't like it, no worries. Happiness!
So, after much deliberation, I chose two of the little beauties. I was particularly drawn to the Bries and such. I haven't had a brie in so long! Preggo= no soft cheese, due to the possibility of bacteria. So, I ended up choosing two soft, "Bloomy" cheeses. Bloomy refers to the soft, white rind found on most creamy Brie type cheeses. See, I did learn something!

The first one I snatched up was a Triple Cream St. Andre. I've had my eye on this one for a very long time. Triple Cream just sounds so decadent and rich. Mmm. The sign called it "one of the most luscious cheeses in the world." Yum. Here is a description of it that I found online:

"with a reputation as a blend of the perfect brie mixed with equal parts of thick, sour cream and whipped sweet cream. St. André is made from cow's milk and enriched with pure cream. St. André is also fairly rare. Containing no less than 75% butterfat for every 100 grams of cheese, St. André is commonly agreed to be 50% richer than the average Camembert. This cheese is a favorite for cheese boards!"

Sold! I haven't tried it yet...I'm saving the best for last!

The other little sample I picked was a double cream Brie, Fromager D'Affinois. It looked so soft and smooth and buttery. It was practically oozing in it's packaging.

" Fromage d’Affinois may remind you of a triple-creme, so loaded it is with silky fat. But that texture is achieved by "ultra filtration," which breaks down the fat molecules in the milk in order to further disperse them through the paste. The result is a thick, nearly whipped spread of tangy, milky goodness."

This one I have tried! And- it. is. so. good. It's very rich and creamy, and very gooey! I think that a gooey cheese is just so much different! It just wraps itself right around your tongue, then slowly melts away. I immediately thought of sour cream as soon as I tasted it. It's sweeter than traditional Brie, and I actually found the mild rind quite enjoyable, while with a regular Brie I tend to cut it off after a bite or two. I could eat a lot of this cheese. Sweet and buttery, with a bit of tang. Fabulous.

Sigh. I do love cheese. I think that someone should start a grilled cheese only could be called something "cheesey" ;) like "The Big Cheese" or "Say Cheese!"
All the sandwiches could have really kitschy names for the sandwiches like
"The All American"-traditional, american grilled cheese on white toast
"The Billy Goat Gruff"- Chevre goat cheese, basil pesto, and sundried tomatoes on pita
"The Easy Briesy"-Brie and apples on wheat berry bread
"It's So Gouda!"-Gouda and bacon on sundried tomato bread
"The Babe"- Blue cheese and steak on a hoagie (get it? Babe the Big Blue Cow?)

Clearly I've spent way too much time thinking about this. : )
But I would eat there all the time!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Top Ten

Please read this with humor, as it was written. : ) God is good, and we have not truly wanted for anything, and have really enjoyed writing this little joke! I’m sure many of you have gone through exactly the same things.

Ten Sure Signs that You Are *Definitely* Poor

10. You use coupons, not to save money, but to eat.

9. You eat tuna for supper four days out of seven.

8. You eat pancakes for another two.

7. You get invited to someone’s house for dinner and have to weigh the cost of a meal against the cost of gas.

6. You rip your wet ones into thirds and only use one third for wet diapers.

5. You wear your jeans until the holes become inappropriate, and then you wear longer shirts.

4. Your “Things To Buy When We Have Money Again” list includes things like paper towels and meat.

3. Your idea of splurging is 99 cent night at Popeyes.

2. You think of somewhere fun to go, but can’t either because “We don’t have any money.” or “I’m afraid our car won’t make it.”

1. You stop buying paper napkins and use hand towels instead, and claim you are “going green.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Creme Brulee French Toast and Some Kickin' Hashbrowns

Creme Brulee French Toast. Homemade Hashbrowns. Maple Bacon. Doesn't that just sound like the perfect breakfast-for-dinner? Yea, I thought so. A friend shared the recipe for Creme Brulee French Toast awhile back, and I knew right away that I had to try it. You see, my husband and I are kind of Creme Brulee addicts. We are actually planning a creme brulee party with some friends in the next couple of weeks...won't that be fun! Anyway, I really wanted to try this toast, and I had some King Hawaiian Sweet Bread on hand (it was the first time we had tried it...really tasty!) so I figured that would be a great bread for this recipe. The basic concept behind the toast, is that it's more of a bread pudding/custard like texture (the Creme) baked in the oven, with a caramelized sugar topping (the Brulee.) Mmm.

It turned out pretty good, but not quite as perfect as I was expecting. It ended up being a little soggy (my fault I'm sure...I halved the recipe and probably ended up with too much custard for the bread I had.) My husband said that the sogginess wasn't too bad, but that it lacked flavor. I thought the flavor was pretty good, but I don't like traditional french toast too much, and I don't care for maple syrup really at all, which is probably where french toast gets most of it's flavor. We both agreed that we loved the caramelized sugar top though! Nice crunch, good flavor, and just different. Over all, I think I would prefer it over original french toast (especially if I can figure out the sogginess issue), and I think my hubby would say he would like it if I can figure out a way to infuse some more flavor. Some ideas coming to mind...brown sugar instead of white, extra vanilla, maybe a touch of cinnamon or nutmeg...or even some maple flavoring. I also left the orange liqueur out of mine, so maybe that makes a difference. So, room to experiment! : )

We had Maple Bacon on the side. I have discovered Hormel Black Label Maple Bacon and I loooove it. My very favorite bacon ever. I like to bake mine in the oven for about 20 minutes at 420, flipping halfway through. It cooks it evenly and makes it easier to avoid burning it. Just watch it closely after about 15 minutes! I've burned it in less than five minutes before. But tonight's was perfect. I love perfect bacon.

I discovered a few weeks ago how very easy it is to make your own hashbrowns. Just shred a peeled potato, slap a handful into a skillet with your leftover bacon grease (oh yea, I just went there. It adds soo much more flavor!!), flatten with a spatula, sprinkle salt on top, wait until the underside is nice and brown, then flip it over and salt again. Perfect! I believe "restaurant quality" is the phrase my husband used. : )

Overall, I think it made a great meal. I like having two savory items paired with one sweet one. It helps balance out the sweetness. Let me know if you try the toast, and how it works out for you! It's definitely something I'd like to try and perfect.

*excuse the poor pictures...I was snapping them quickly (in bad light) with a baby in my arms... :)

Crème Brûlée French Toasts (from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 6 servings

1 loaf unsliced white bread, brioche or rich bread of your choice
1 1/3 cups whole milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier or another orange liqueur or 1/4 teaspoon orange zest
1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2/3 cup granulated sugar

Cut bread into 1 1/2-inch thick, generous slices; a 9-inch loaf should yield 6 slices. Whisk together milk, cream, eggs, sugar, salt, liqueur, and vanilla extract, if using. If using a vanilla bean, halve it lengthwise and scrape the pulp into a small dish. Whisk vanilla bean with one tablespoon of custard, then whisk in another and a third tablespoon, then pour the vanilla bean-custard mixture back into the main batter. This avoids having vanilla bean clumps that don’t disperse in your batter. Don’t you hate that?

Preheat oven to 325. Arrange bread slices on the smallest rimmed tray that will fit them in one layer (encourages maximum absorption) pour custard over slices. Allow them to absorb the custard for 30 minutes, turning the slices over at one point to ensure they’re soaking it up evenly. [Do ahead: You can also soak them overnight in the fridge. No need to flip them if so.]

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer custard-soaked slices to prepared sheet, arranging them with a smidge of space between each to avoid making one French mega-toast. Flipping them halfway through if you wish, bake French toast slices for 30 to 35 minutes, until a slim knife inserted into the center of a slice and twisted ever-so-slightly does not release any wet custard. Keep warm until ready to serve.

To caramelize the tops: Either leave toasts on their baking sheet, or transfer to a serving platter. Have ready a small offset spatula and a potholder or trivet to rest your caramel pot on.

Melt remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a small, heavy, completely dry saucepan over moderate heat, stirring with a small spoon or fork until fully melted and the color of honey. Move it over to the potholder or trivet you’d set up and working quickly, spoon one generous tablespoon caramel over your first slice of toast, spread it thinly and evenly with your offset spatula and repeat with the remaining toasts. Because your caramel will continue to deepen slightly in color (veering towards almost-too-toasty) as you work, it’s best to work quickly but carefully. Let no fingers or forearms be harmed in the melted sugar’s path and should a single drop land on the counter or on your towel or on the rim of the plate, do not swipe it. Just leave it until it cools.

[Hot water will melt all hardened caramel and make your clean up job easy. Simply soak your pot/spoon/spatula and all will melt off.]

Serve with fresh berries and if you’re feeling extra fancy, loosely whipped cream. We don’t find that it needs any maple syrup.

Alternative top-caramelizing method: A really obvious question here would be “But would the broiler work?” The method would be to sprinkle each toast with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and let the broiler do the torching for you. However, my broiler doesn’t work. Never has, so I cannot test this. But, if it’s anything like my attempt (explained in the post) to use a blowtorch, I’m not feeling overly confident about it because the unevenness of the toasts leads to edges singeing before the sugar fully melts. But if you try this method, please report back in the comments as to how it went. I’m sure plenty of folks would prefer to avoid melting sugar.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Using-What-I-Have-In-My-Fridge/Pantry ...*er*... Applesauce Bran Muffins

I remember my mom making these muffins when I was a kid. I also distinctly remember not liking them. Pretty much at all. Hm. But, I had some raisin bran in the cupboard, and that's what came to mind. The reason it came to mind, was that this particular brand of raisin bran has a tendency to settle. So, when you're pouring out your morning (or midnight, as often is the case around here) bowl, all you get is flakes. Eh, not a fan. And the funny thing is, I don't even like raisins. Unless it's in raisin bran. I think it's the healthy crust of sugar they dose them with. Yea, probably that's it. Anyway, to fix this, I scoop out the first five or six cups of just bran cereal. Then we're left with raisin rich cereal. Aah. But, the dilemma becomes, what to do with the extra bran?
And here we are. I thought that maybe since I've grown up, and my palate has refined somewhat, I would actually like them. And, I'm pretty sure my mom made the with the raisins still in the cereal, and I really. don't like cooked raisins. They get all swollen and mushy...yech. So, I tried it! And guess what? They were sooo good! They were sweet, tender, with a nice crispy top and a good hearty feel to them. With all that bran, they have to be healthy, right? And simple! No crazy swollen raisins or other things to complicate them. I have a sneaking suspicion that the raisins were the only problem the whole time.
These would make a great breakfast, snack, or side for any meal.
You could make them with the raisins (if you're that kind of a person...) or some other dried fruit if you so desire. This batter keeps in the fridge for two weeks. I made a dozen right away, and probably have enough left for two or three more dozen. I ate mine with a generous pat of butter and a cold glass of milk. Yum. Score one for Mom!

Applesauce Bran Muffins
(adapted from this recipe)
  • 1 cup Boiling Water
  • 5 1/4 Cups Bran Flakes, Divided
  • 2-½ cups White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2-½ teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • ¼ cups Vegetable Oil
  • 1/2 cups Applesauce
  • 2 whole Large Eggs
  • 2 cups Buttermilk
  • 3/4 cups Brown Sugar
  • 3/4 cups White Sugar

In heatproof bowl, pour boiling water over 1 3/4 cups bran flakes. Set aside until cool (roughly 30-45 minutes).

While cereal mixture cools, combine flour, baking soda and salt into a large mixing bowl.

Add vegetable oil and applesauce to the cooled cereal mixture. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk and sugars. Add this to the flour mixture and combine. Stir in the remaining dried cereal and, finally, add the water/bran/oil mixture to everything and combine well.

Place batter in large plastic container, cover, and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Lightly spray or grease muffin cups and fill in as many cups as desired. Batter can sit in the fridge for up to two weeks. Fill cups with approximately 1/4 cup batter and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Hm. This may be kind of cheating...but what is the point of a blog if you can't post whatever you want, right? Right. Anywho...we have discovered a fabulous deal at Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits (which we looooove!)
We first fell in love with Popeye's several years ago, when we were visiting Pittsburgh, PA and needed a quick, cheap place to eat. We've been hooked ever since! They have fabulous, affordable fried chicken and TO-DIE-FOR biscuits. I could buy a dozen of their biscuits and eat them for a meal of their own. Mmm.
Anyway, we found a fantastic, budget friendly (very!) deal on Tuesdays.
Every Tuesday they have a special of 99 cents for a leg and a thigh. Sounds like a pretty cheap and delicious meal to me! Throw in a few biscuits for each of us, and we can have dinner for just over four bucks. Only two if we have the self control to skip the biscuits...but I can't. Do I ever love their biscuits.
Tuesday suppers are officially taken care of indefinitely!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Better Corn Bread

Just a quick post today! You all should try Paula Deen's recipe for Hoecakes.
So.So. GOOD. It's like fried little clouds of corn bread. Crispy, buttery, fluffly...try it with butter and honey. Mmmm.


  • 1 cup self-rising flour (*I actually used pancake mix for this)
  • 1 cup self-rising cornmeal, or from a mix (*I just added a tsp. of baking powder to my cornmeal)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
  • Oil, butter, or clarified margarine, for frying


Mix well all ingredients, except for the frying oil. Heat the frying oil or butter in a medium or large skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter, by full tablespoons, into the hot skillet. Use about 2 tablespoons of batter per hoecake. Fry each hoecake until brown and crisp; turn each hoecake with a spatula, and then brown the other side. With a slotted spoon, remove each hoecake to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Leftover batter will keep in refrigerator for up to 2 days.