bye bye mullet

There hasn’t been a day since Jackson was born that he hasn’t been called a girl–despite wearing all blue and despite me telling people that he is a boy.  It goes like this every. single. time: Fellow Harris Teeter  grocery shopper: “She’s beautiful.” Me: “Oh, it’s actually a boy, but thanks” And then, as if I’m in denial about my own child’s gender, the response is always, “well, she’s just adorable.” I smile, knowing that my frustration is better spent on the incompetency of the deli meat counter.

The goal was to wait until he was a year old for his first hair cut. Despite him being called a girl. Despite the mullet. Despite the fact that his view of the world was limited to seeing his own bangs. Despite needing anti-frizz products after being outside for 30 seconds of our city’s raging humidity.

But on a sad, sad day this past Saturday, I caved. Ninety seconds was all it took. Bye bye mullet. Bye bye bangs. Bye bye baby Jackson.

I will admit that, unlike getting to the end of a bag of white cheddar popcorn, it’s not all bad. Now I can see his beautiful eyes and his too-cute smile, and there is remarkably less hair for smashed avocado to get stuck in. His hair will grow back, the number of times he is called a she will diminish (hopefully before he is potty-trained and using public bathrooms in this state), and it likely won’t be the last thing I cave on.

 

 

 

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A baby on the move

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All of a sudden, my eight-month-old newborn can crawl. And eat. And pull up. I clearly did a horrendous job of posting since he was born, so ill fill you in pretty fast: he ate, he spit up, and he slept. (And in between, he had his first smile, first babble, and first laugh. He rolled over, sat up, and stole our hearts forever. There were trips to the beach and the mountains and outings to grandparents’ houses. Simply put, the best 8 months of my life.) But the fact that i can now run multiple errands a day is FASCINATING. I truly thought it would never happen. But I also thought that it would never happen that I would miss those cyclical days of nothings. Some days I just force his head on my chest as if he is going to magically fall asleep like he used to rather than push off like Buzz Light Year for the remote control or cell phone nearby.

Now that he crawls, I feel like I have a best friend–and a dog. The best and only type of dog I will ever have. My favorite thing to do is to leave the room and hear him start crying. I immediately say his name repeatedly–and maybe throw in a few snaps and “here boys”–and make him come find me. The pride in his eyes and the smile on his face when he finds me is what I can only imagine first-generation college graduates feel on graduation day. I clap and sing and let him bathe in first-born pride. Other times, I let him explore. I genuinely love letting him explore. Not so that I can finish the chapter of the book I’m on, but to see what he finds interesting. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he will find shoes to suck on. If it’s not shoes, then it’s cell phone chargers–or cords.  It’s quite baffling why they make toys in every combination of the rainbow when all they want is black remotes and dirty shoes.
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I know I glossed over a lot, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I even felt like I had a free second to do anything other than sneeze one day, shave my legs the next, and maybe clean a toilet the next. We are finally getting our nap times figured out, and I hope to use that time to write more frequently. Until then, I’ll be singing Raffi and talking in high-pitched voices way too often.

Homemade Ice Cream

There are some foods that bring you back in time. Maybe it’s a meal you have every year for your birthday or every year at Christmas. I have both of those things– beef stroganoff for the former and spaghetti (followed by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) for the latter. But the most poignant transport in time is homemade ice cream, bringing me back to the Fourth of July. Like the peanut butter balls, this family tradition comes with a lot of griping about what a pain-in-the-rear it is to make. It started with my grandfather back in the 1960s with a hand-crank ice cream machine. My mom remembers having to crank the machine when she was only a few years old–must have been around the same time she had to walk 6 miles to school. About 20 years ago, they switched to an electric machine in what may be the most delayed adoption of progressive technology ever. Either way, the recipe and pain-in-the-rear comments haven’t changed. Switching it up between banana, strawberry, and peach is the extent that we step out of the culinary box. That is, until a few weeks ago.

My sister was throwing us a gender reveal party, and I decided that homemade ice cream would be the perfect way to celebrate. The contents are hidden until right before you eat, so there would be no way to know what “it” was until we served it.
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Truth be told, I couldn’t wait for our strawberry ice cream, as I just knew it was a girl. We had strawberry-banana ice cream a few weeks prior for the Fourth of July, to which I commented, “hmm this is a little too sweet, let’s just do strawberry for the reveal.” We had talked about what to do if it was a boy– peach ice-cream with blue food coloring, but viewed it more as a hypothetical situation in which we would never know the results.
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The day of the reveal came, and it turns out that it wasn’t a hypothetical situation after all. We had BLUE ice cream. WHATTTTTTT?!? Of course my first thoughts were, “is my baby boy going through gender-crisis in utero from me calling him a ‘she’ so often? I know transgender is cool right now, but please just be a boy! Get that testosterone pumping little man. If wine can transfer to his blood, so can protein powder, right?”IMG_4139
Shock aside, we can’t wait for our baby boy to arrive in early December. We can’t wait to find tractors and trucks with him, play golf with him, and dress him in the cutest Jon Jons ever. Most importantly, we can’t wait to serve him homemade ice cream every Fourth of July and create even more traditions together as a family. We love you Baby H!

Italian Sausage and Pepper Burgers/Sandwiches

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I love sandwiches. My mom hates them. Probably because I made her make me a sandwich every single day of middle school and high school. And I required my sandwiches to be toasted due to the unfortunate fact that I was born with an un-toasted sandwich bread gag reflex. Since high school, I have remarkably learned to make them for myself. And have realized that I never fully appreciated the amount of love it took for my mom to do this for me. Packing lunches (especially sandwiches) is what Michael and I have termed “The Dreaded” in our house.  And sometimes weekends are celebrated soley because we don’t have to do The Dreaded.

 

Naturally, my love for sandwiches has grown exponentially now that I’m pregnant and cannot eat deli meat. #ALLIWANTISASANDWICHDAMMIT.  I’d do The Dreaded on weekends if it meant I could have a sandwich. Even more telling is the fact that my dreams have switched from blue Gatorade waterfalls to quench my drunken thirst to dreams of deli sandwiches.

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So I have resolved to get creative in my sandwich-making. This includes the Italian Sausage and Pepper Burgers from Katie Lee’s Endless Summer cookbook. While technically a burger, I  convinced myself it was a sandwich. I mean, it fits my definition of the quintessential sandwich: a sauce, melted cheese, meat, peppers/onions/pickles, and toasted bread. Also, it deeply troubles me to call anything a burger unless it is on circular bread, and my bread was not circular. Verdict: call it a burger or call it a sandwich but call it amazing.

 

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They were so amazing that I actually had a night of sandwich-less dreams. Instead, I found myself dreaming about a week in Santorini. I told Michael this and he threw away every piece of bread in the house so that I would go back to dreaming of sandwiches. Not the response I had hoped for.

Recipe:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
8 ounces hot italian sausage (remove casings)
8 ounces sweet italian sausage (remove casings)
8 slices provolone cheese
4 ciabatta rolls, lightly toasted
1/4 cup pesto (gotta use homemade)

pickled banana peppers

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent and the pepper is tender, 8-10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.

Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high. Combine both sausages in a bowl. Form into 4 patties. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until cooked through. Top each burger with some of the onions and peppers and two slices of cheese, cover the grill, and cook until the cheese melts. spread the rolls with pesto, add the burgers and banana peppers, and serve immediately.

Charlotte Tip: the best sandwich I have had recently is the Beef Short Rib Baguette from Cafe Monte (with caramelized onions, provolone, and arugula salade).

Speed eating shrimp and grits

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the only problem with shrimp and grits is that they disappear too quickly. in general, i am a fast eater– a fact that i hate but openly admit. if i admit it then it’s not a problem. i try to combat this by chugging glasses of water right before i eat so that i am physically too full to eat fast. most of the time though, i forget to do this and am done before the blessing has started. it is especially bad with casseroles, pasta, grits, soups, etc. basically anything other than massive hunks of meat. i mean, there’s minimal, if any, chewing. what’s the hold up?

As was the case the other night when I made gouda grits with smoky brown butter shrimp from How Sweet It Is. Per usual, Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi took over my body. For those of you that don’t dream about winning Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and staying as skinny as he is on a daily basis, he is a professional speed eater. No dreams are dumb dreams. 

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As a lover of all shrimp and grits, this one was spot on.The crisp corn gave the perfect little crunch and the shrimp provided me the opportunity to not only chew, but to have my mind blown at the flavors. It was the (massive) amounts of gouda mixed into the grits that rendered all efforts to eat slowly useless. I paused once– to think if it was possible to make a quantity large enough to swim in–but other than that, it was go time.

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Try it yourself if you don’t believe me.

Again, taken from How Sweet It Is:

Gouda Grits with Smoky Brown Butter Shrimp

Serves 4

TOTAL TIME: 35 MINUTES

ingredients:

gouda grits
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup quick-cooking grits
8 ounces gouda cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 ears grilled sweet corn, cut from the cob
2 tablespoons freshly snipped chives

shrimp
1 pound raw peeled and deveined shrimp
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed

directions:

gouda grits
Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once boiling, add the grits and whisk constantly until they are fully mixed into the stock, about a minute or two. Reduce the heat to low and cover, stirring once or twice more, until the grits are thicker and creamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the grated cheese, salt and pepper. Taste and season more if desired – this will depend on the salt in your stock and cheese.

shrimp
Pat the shrimp completely dry with paper towels. Once it’s dry, season it with the salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder and cumin. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter. Once it’s melted and begins to sizzle, add the shrimp in batches (don’t overcrowd it!) and cook on both sides until pink. The butter will brown as the shrimp cooks and you can whisk it occasionally to prevent it from burning. When the shrimp is finished, stir in the garlic (I stir a little in each batche of the shrimp) and cook for a second then place the shrimp on a plate. Repeat.

To serve the grits, spoon them into a bowl and add the shrimp on top. I like to drizzle any of the butter in the pan on top too. Cover with spoonfuls of grilled corn (you can toss it in butter, salt and pepper!) and a sprinkling of chives. Eat immediately.

Adult-ish Furniture and Art: Part 1

Somewhere along the way of transitioning from post-college-yet-still-act-like in-college to sort-of-adults, we find ourselves in need of furniture. Like, real furniture. And real artwork. Like, real artwork. But this often comes with the realization that our budgets are more conducive to splurging on the 3rd nicest glass of (house) wine on the menu than they are for buying chairs for our living rooms. Few days go by that my friends don’t ask, “where can I get a cheap [insert piece of furniture]?” We want to find modern/chic/vintage/sturdy/versatile furniture and artwork all for the small price of an air mattress that, up until this point, has been our most important possession in our nomadic lives of renting houses on VRBO that sleep ¼ of the people actually on the trip.

It has been a little over a year since we closed on our house, and there’s no other way to put it than to say it has been a process. I am usually Anal Alice when it comes to unpacking and getting things set up. I want it done yesterday and damnit it’s going to be done yesterday. But I’ve learned that I just gotta lock up the inner Alice telling me to buy the first side table, painting, or chair that I see. Gone are the days where I can leave those hideous, highly questionable (i.e. WTF was I thinking?) purchases in the apartment dump as I pull away.

As evidence that I practice what I preach, my parents gave us a sideboard for our wedding gift–you know, to store all of our china and crystal that we use ever so often that its all still in the original packages. Our wedding was December 29, 2012. I got the sideboard last week. Besides assuming they were still paying off the bar tabs and the Liquid Pleasure bill from the wedding, I didn’t want to push for it because I didn’t know what I wanted. However, I knew that I wanted something that could store the china and crystal without having it displayed in the open–because let’s face, on a given Saturday night, there’s a chance that the post-college-yet-still-act-like in-college comes out in the best of us. I also wanted something unique, but not too unique that it wouldn’t work in the open floor plan.

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Alas, I found the perfect one at Cotswold Marketplace. The bamboo with the acrylic knobs and glass top was the perfect solution. It was well-made, unique, and reasonably priced. It says I’m not your average wood blob sideboard while still being timeless. Ammi right, or ammi right?

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Local furniture shops for the adult-ish budget:

1) Sleepy Poet
2) Nadeau
3) Cotswold Marketplace (warning, some stuff is pure-adult budget, but gorgeous enough for a splurge)

Conquering the cast iron skillet




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The three words that scare me most in life are not heights, airplanes, and death. rather, they are cast iron skillets. I dream, often, about my great-great-great grandmother’s perfectly-seasoned cast iron skillet that has been passed down from generation to generation. I dream, because this is so far from reality. In fact, I’ve never seen any one in my family use one.

I guess it’s similar in the sense that I want to drink sweet tea all day long–without gaining weight–and eat undercooked bacon and flaky, buttermilk biscuits all day long–without gaining weight. Similar, but not exact. Because 90% of the time, I associate cast iron skillets with  love, family, and greasy goodness. The other 10% is pure fear. Was i beaten with one? Did it join forces with my straightener and catch my house on fire? 
 
My first attempt proved these fears right. It was a Friday night, and we had decided to stay in and cook some steaks on the grill. The problem though, besides not knowing how to grill, was that the propane tank ran out in the middle of the grilling process. Easy fix, I thought. Let me just crank up my culinary-badass notch to high and I’ll sear them on the cast iron skillet. But along with that notch, I also cranked up the stove to high. “It’s all about the sear.” “Make sure the pan is hot enough.” It’s Food Network 101, right? WRONG. Within seconds of putting the steaks down, they turned into the Great Smokies. Smoke billowed out of the pan, up to the ceiling, and straight into the smoke detector. The fire alarm started blaring. Michael started jumping up and down screaming with his hands on his head. I laughed, not knowing what else to do. It just so happens that our smoke detector is at the highest point of our kitchen–probably 18 feet up. Vertically challenged as is, we also don’t own a ladder. So here we were, alarm blaring, Michael buffoon-ing it up in the corner, and me laughing in the other corner. Eventually, after opening every door and window in the house, the alarms subsided. And then, in what turned out to be the planes, trains, and automobiles of cooking, we put the steaks in the oven. And I was told to never use the cast iron skillet again.

I followed that rule…until last night. I had found a recipe in Food & Wine Magazine that I just had to try, so I decided that I was going to conquer my fear once and for all. I had a new confidence, primarily because Michael was still at work, but also because we changed the location of the smoke detector.

The recipe began with cooking the potatoes. I was a little thrown off by the fact that the potatoes were green when i chopped them. Like wtf, was Dr. Seuess writing a sequel, “Green Potatoes and Sausage”. I carried on. But then all the skins started to burn on the bottom. Oh shit. Still, I carried on.
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Next was the peppers and onions. The saving grace. Those babies were cooking perfectly, even loosening some of the stuck potato skins. They were so beautiful that I was sad to add the chicken and sausage, for fear that their beauty would be lessened. But no, they meshed together beautifully like Ken and Barbie.
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*Side note: When a recipe says to sauté chicken, I automatically add about 49 minutes. I swear Harris Teeter hand selects the slowest-cooking damn chickens out there.

Last came the sauce. At this point, I was adding liquid to the skillet, so I knew I was home free. So I popped the biscuits in the oven, poured myself a glass of wine, and basked in the glorious sight of a successful skillet dish.
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Post eating, alas I can say that my fear of the cast iron skillet has been conquered. And I shall prevail in making it the well-seasoned skillet that I can pass on my great-great-great grandchildren. In between that time, here’s to many more “smoke-detectors” going off and fears conquered. Let’s just hope one of us is always laughing.

Spicy Chicken-and-Sausage Hash (from Food & Wine Magazine)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 lb. baby Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 lb. breakfast sausages, casings removed
One 14.5 oz. can chopped tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. hot sauce
1/2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
Biscuits, for serving

1) In a large cast iron or non-stick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the potatoes and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, 7-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a plate.
2) Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet. Add the onion and the bell peppers, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken and the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and horseradish and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the potatoes until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper and serve with biscuits.