Friday, July 29, 2011

Pet Peeves: The Children

I adore them. They conspire to drive me crazy.

I love my children as much as you love yours, which is a lot. A ton. Infinity tons, really. But there are a few, just a few, things they do that drive me up the wall.

1. Making the same sound over and over. I don't know why it's fun to say a word or make a noise repeatedly and loudly. I always think to myself, "Don't say anything. They will stop soon" and they never do, then act totally surprised when I finally yell "CUT IT OUT!"

2. Calling me from the next room. They had not one single word to say to me the entire time I was sitting right next to them, but the moment I cross the invisible line to the next room, it's "Hey Mom!"

3. Continuing to call when I don't answer. Here's a perfect example: I'm in the laundry room upstairs, and Sean is in the kitchen downstairs. He wants to know if we have turkey. "Mom!" I hear him of course, but why would I scream a conversation from the laundry room to the kitchen? But instead of then coming to find me, he keeps calling, "Mom! Mom! Mom!" for the next 3 minutes, in which time he could have come up to the laundry room, gone back, and made himself a delicious turkey sandwich.

4. Putting the shoes next to the closet. The entrance to our house from the garage (where we usually come in) is exactly 12 inches away from the shoe closet. That means that you need to take exactly one step in the door, open the closet, and throw your shoes in. One swift, graceful motion is all it takes, yet the kids can never seem to remember the part where you have to open the door and instead throw the shoes onto the floor directly in front of the closet. No partial credit, people.

5. Watch those knees/elbows! This is more of a little kid thing but my 8-year-old still doesn't think twice about using my ribs as the resting spot for his elbow when he decides to get up from the couch. He also tends to just roll upside down and flail his legs at random intervals, usually in the middle of a board game or while watching television. This always ends up in a cat tearing out of the room and/or someone being kicked in the face.

6. Where's the turkey/lettuce/cookies/tortillas/raisins/etc. It's right there, on the second shelf, behind one other thing that you never bothered to move. I wish I could say it gets better but my husband is just as bad about this as the 8-year-old.

And of course I wouldn't trade them for the world, and even as I write this, I can't imagine them growing up and not needing me for the little things anymore. But being able to laugh at our children is really why we had them in the first place, right?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Back of the Tub: Kraft Ricotta Cheese

I had a bunch of ricotta cheese left over from the pizza earlier this week and decided to make the recipe on the back of the container. I wasn't sure whether I'd blog it because it is basic to the point of ridiculous, but my kids loved it and I had to laugh when Max declared it "the best thing I've ever eaten."

Here's the gist of the recipe: dump ricotta cheese in spaghetti sauce. The end.

Parmesan Bow-Tie Skillet
3 cups bow-tie pasta, cooked
1 jar (14 oz) spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup Simply Kraft Reduced Fat Ricotta Cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Combine pasta, spaghetti sauce, ricotta, 1/2 cup mozzarella and 2 Tbsp. Parmesan in large skillet. Cook on medium heat 10 minutes or until cooked through, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses; cover. Let stand 5 minutes or until mozzarella is melted.

Janet's Notes: I used macaroni because I didn't think bow-ties would stand up to 10 minutes of cooking after they'd already been cooked. I cooked my pasta just to the raw side of al dente and then reduced the cooking time to about 5 minutes. Nothing needs to be cooked, just heated.

If I had spent two hours on this meal they'd have hated it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Wilder Life

Knowing how much I love the Little House series (I have read all nine books no less than 20 times throughout my life), my friend April told me about a book called The Wilder Life. It's written by Wendy McClure, another Laura Ingalls Wilder-obsessed fan who decides to visit all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder historical sites.
Coincidentally, a couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to win this book in a giveaway sponsored by Ponderings blog. Hooray and thank you!

I finished the book realizing that I'm not really much of a fan at all, compared to some people who have spent serious portions of their own lives researching Laura's life.

The first few chapters of the book were the funniest--my two favorite parts:

"There were a host of other things from the books that [as a child] I remember I wanted to do, too, such as:
  • Make candy by pouring syrup in the snow.
  • Make bullets by pouring lead.
  • Sew a seam with tiny and perfectly straight stitches.
  • Have a man's hands span my corseted waist, which at the time didn't seem creepy at all."
My family totally didn't get why this was so funny and never will. Their loss.

The other part that made me snort with laughter was when Wendy met other Little House fans but then discovered that they were actually fans of the TV show, not the books.

"More than once, a friend or acquaintance has gushed, 'you mean you're a Little House fan too?' only to discover that we have two very different sets of memories. One of us is thinking of the time Laura taught a calf to drink from a bucket. The other is thinking about the Very Special Episode when some kid named Albert got hooked on morphine."

The rest of the book was interesting and amusing, but really, you have to know a lot about this series to appreciate most of the references to specific people and incidents that the author mentions. Which I do, and which I did. If you're a fan, I recommend it. If not, skip it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Best Chocolate Cake EVER

Elise's first fondant experience--not bad!

Max's cake for Papa and Grandma.

Shirtless wonder makes a cake!

Everyone has a few "specialty" recipes, and this is one of mine. It is frequently requested for potlucks and birthdays, and it really is the best chocolate cake I've ever had.

The best part is that it's all done in one bowl--dump everything in, stir it up, and pour it into the pans.

I prefer ganache to the cocoa frosting. Ganache sounds fancy but it's just cream and chocolate melted together. Make it a little thick to frost in between the layers, and thin it with a little more cream to pour over the top and sides of the cake. Super professional looking, and super decadent.

I think this kid's got a future in cake decorating!

This time I made it in small pot pie pans, so the kids (who have been watching way too much Cake Boss) could try using fondant.

If Oliver Twist gave you a cake, this is what he'd look like.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Whitestone Pizza (Plus Two)

Elise got a craving for Whitestone pizza the other day and once she mentioned it, I did too. This is our favorite kind of pizza: no tomato sauce, just olive oil, basil, and garlic brushed on the crust, then topped with mozzarella, parmesan, and dollops of ricotta. For the boys who are not really fans, I made regular sausage pizza and for kicks, made one more using leftover veggie burger crumbles and some chopped veggies. This last one was actually really tasty and I'll make it again.

Elise's Whitestone Pizza

Use your favorite pizza dough or crust. (We made our own dough in the bread machine, and par-baked it for about 5 minutes in a 425 degree oven.) Brush on olive oil, chopped basil, and a couple of cloves of minced garlic.

Top with cheese and bake for an additional 7-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted. But you probably know how to bake pizza already.

Trio of Za: Sausage/mushroom, Whitestone, and veggie-veggie (veggie burger crumbles with roasted vegetables)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pet Peeves: The Grocery Store

Ah yes. The grocery store. If driving there doesn't get your pet peeve ire up, then an hour of shopping will.

Janet's Top 5 Grocery Store Pet Peeves

Parking the cart. Why oh why do people stop their carts in the middle of the aisle (usually at an angle so I can't get around them) and then either just stand there for no reason at all or float off to browse the shelves?

Samples. The sample table is the bane of my grocery store existence. Especially at Costco, where people abandon their double-wide carts anywhere and stand there, waiting for those chicken nuggets to be done so they can eat half of one for free. If they were selling them for 5 cents each, I guarantee nobody would buy one.

Cutting the line. This one is courtesy of my friend Macie, who hates nothing more than when she's standing in line, a new checkstand opens up, and the people behind her rush over to get in first. A little consideration, people!

Standing too close. And speaking of standing in line, do not breathe down my neck and do not bump the back of my legs with your cart. Standing closer does not mean you will be done faster. As my daughter says, "Respect the bubble!"

Be ready.
When the checker has completed your order, that is not the time to start rummaging in your purse for your store card and then start thinking about how you'd like to pay. This sounds sexist, but when choosing a line I try to pick the one with the most men in it, because they rarely have a store card and they nearly always pay in cash.

I know I said 5 things, but I just remembered one more that I really hate:

Checker and clerk social hour. I don't mind if you guys chat a little, but when you completely ignore me to have an entire conversation about what you did last night, how tired you are, or worst of all, how disgruntled you are at your job, it's completely rude.

Have I covered them all? Do you have others to add?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cigar Box Recipes: Fresh Cherry Cobbler

This latest installation of Momer's Cigar Box comes to us from Abbie, my great aunt and Momer's sister. Aunt Abbie lived to be 101 years old. She lived in a retirement home and she told my dad that every time someone would walk by her room, she could hear them whisper, "That lady in there is 100 years old!"

Aunt Abbie and Beowulf

When I think of old-timey recipes, I always think of everything being wholesome and made from scratch but it cracks me up how many of my grandma's recipes use things like Crisco and Bisquick. I don't use that stuff so I found a recipe for a pancake mix from scratch.

Abbie's Fruit Cobbler
1 can sour cherries or other fruit (I used 1 lb. pitted fresh cherries)
1 cup sugar or sugar to taste
1/4 c. flour
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Cook until thick, about 5 minutes. Pour into baking dish. Put topping on top with spoon.

1 1/2 c. pancake mix
1/4 cup Crisco
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup milk
Mix together.

And here's where the recipe I looked up a cobbler recipe online and it says to bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes. Turns out 350 for 30 minutes is perfect.

Janet's Notes: I had to laugh when I took my first bite and the topping tasted like pancakes. Is that how Bisquick tastes? Next time I'll use a biscuit dough. Adjustments to the recipe--I added 1/4 cup of water and cut the sugar to 1/2 cup because I used fresh cherries and substituted 2 Tbsp. cornstarch for flour because isn't using flour a little weird?

p.s. I'm not the gadget type, but have you ever used a cherry pitter? They are awesome!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ugly Duckling: Refinishing a '70s Coffee Table

$6.99--was I robbed?

I'm starting a new feature here at This is Beige. I'm calling it "Ugly Duckling" and it is inspired by the thrift store next to my daughter's swimming lesson. I have 45 minutes to kill three times a week so I decided to try to find the ugliest item I could find and challenge myself to making it cool, or at least not as uncool.

It's pretty dinged up.

8-year-old Max went with me and immediately spotted the winner: a $6.99 coffee table that screamed "Choose Me!"

Why don't you make yourself useful and dust it while you're there?

The first thing I did with this table was saw off the legs, which are made of turned wood and look antique-y. Better already. I then grabbed my trusty can of black spray paint, the essential ingredient in most of my budget remodels, and painted it.

The top of the table has some pretty deep scratches so I needed something to put over them. I found a cool technique where you paint the back of a piece of glass and it makes a really cool looking tabletop/tile/backsplash. I went on eBay and ordered a round disc of plexiglass but when it came it was black! Stupid seller! So I went back to the listing to complain and the word "black" was written all over the description. How was I supposed to know? Stupid seller.

Should I do something with these weird side pieces?

So I've now got a black disc; put it on the table and it actually looks better. I'm posting this now to ask for your help: what do you think? Good enough, or does it need something more?

Why do you guys keep doing this?!

Has it become retro or is it still just dated?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Veggie Burgers

Better 'n beef!

You'd be surprised at how many really great recipes come from cookbooks for kids. I know this because I keep bringing them home from the library, hoping one (just one!) of my kids will catch the bug and we'll be one of those families you see in magazines, where the kids are happily peeling carrots and the parents are looking over fondly from the stove where they're stirring the spaghetti sauce. Not happening.

So I usually end up perusing the cookbooks myself and trying a few of the recipes that look interesting. My favorite veggie burger of all time comes from a book called Cooking With Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass, given to me for my birthday in 2000 by my friend Jen. I have tried millions of veggie burgers recipes since then but always come back to this one.

The King's Favorite Veggie-Burger
1 cup fine textured vegetable protein (TVP)
1 carrot, scraped
1 large mushroom, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 small red sweet pepper, chopped roughly
1 garlic clove, squashed
Cooking oil spray and 1 Tbsp. cooking oil
2 egg whites and 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup hot water
In food processor, shred one carrot. Put a knife attachment in the processor bowl and add the mushroom, onion, and pepper. Turn on the machine and run it until the mixture's all ground up.

Pour 2 Tbsp. of cooking oil into a saucepot. Add the garlic and cook on a low heat. Add the contents of the processor bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook for 10 minutes on a low heat, stirring every few minutes. Put the TVP in a small bowl and add the hot water. Stir and cover. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Textured Vegetable Protein, or TVP. I get it from the bulk section of our local Whole Foods-type store.

Add the TVP to the saucepot and mix well. Take it off the heat and mix in the eggs and breadcrumbs. Let it cool. Form into 4 burgers and refrigerate for at least a half-hour.

Spray a non-stick frypan with cooking oil. Over a medium-high heat, cook the burgers for 5 minutes on each side. Serve on toasted buns with ketchup.

Janet's Notes: The only criticism I have is that these burgers tend to fall apart when you grill them. Be gentle or try baking them like I did this time. I cooked them in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes and they came out perfect.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Laura Ingalls Wilder Recipe: Tomatoes with Cream and Sugar

I bought this Little House Cookbook with such high hopes of making all the recipes just like Ma but really, they're not that great. What did I expect, gourmet flaky crusts from a family who was just scraping by with no grocery store for miles? I don't know but have since come to my senses. Here's one that seemed pretty good but kind of disappointed me. Doesn't my glowing review make you want to try it tonight?

Ripe Tomatoes with Sugar and Cream

Red-ripe tomatoes, garden fresh
Parsley, lettuce, or wild sorrel, a few leaves
Medium cream
Sugar in bowl

To peel the skin, insert a fork in the tomato's stem end and plunge the tomato for 3 seconds in boiling water. Or rotate it next to an open candle flame until the entire surface has been seared. Without removing the fork, peel off the skin with a knife. Cut the tomatoes crosswise in slices and arrange on a platter with some greens. At the table, each person adds cream and sugar to taste.

Janet's Notes: In my opinion it's not necessary to peel the tomatoes. So a simplified recipe is this: slice tomatoes and pour cream and sugar on them.

The verdict: Eh. Not bad but the sugar on the tomatoes did not really work for me. I thought it would because tomatoes are naturally kind of sweet, but I prefer salt.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Working Mom's Guide to Summer Survival

Summer vacation: hooray!....and ugh. When my stay-at-home mom friends talk about how great summer is because there is no schedule and they can just relax, I smile and nod but inside I'm a mess of mom guilt. When I think summer I think, "How am I going to get my work done?" I don't want the kids to have to sit around and "be good" while I work and their friends go to the beach but realistically, I run two small businesses that both tend toward the "when it rains it pours" variety. And while I am beyond grateful to be able to work two jobs that I love at home, I've had to make a few adjustments in my schedule to make a day at the beach, or even an impromptu 3-hour game of Monopoly, a priority.

Janet's Summer Time Management Tips
The crockpot is your friend.
Chili and spaghetti are two kid favorites that are easy to make in the crockpot. Start them in the morning before the kids get up and you can cross dinner off your to-do list.

5-minute family clean up. You all know that picking up the house is an endless chore, but family clean up time has done wonders for my sanity. Once a day (usually after dinner) I delegate the rooms (little guy and Dad in the living room, the two big kids in the family room, and I'll take the downstairs bathroom and kitchen counters) and set the oven timer for 5 minutes. When I yell "Go!" we all put away stuff as fast as we can and stop the moment the buzzer sounds. OK, so I do it as fast as I can and everyone else takes their sweet time. Still, by the end of 5 minutes, the mail is usually sorted, bathroom mirror is wiped down, and most stuff has been thrown in closets (that's a project for another day), and we can relax in a semi-clean living area.

Get up early/go to bed late.
Believe you me, I have tried every alternative before resorting to this. I am neither a night owl nor an early bird--I like to go to bed early and sleep late but that's not really working for me lately. I have started setting the alarm clock to ring at least two hours before the first kid gets up in order to get a jump start on work so when little Mr. Sleepyhead stumbles downstairs, climbs onto my lap, and says, "HHHHHHello Mom" with his terrible morning breath, I am genuinely happy to greet him.

Move the computer out of your main living area. When I bought a laptop, I got into the bad habit of bringing it down to the kitchen so I could check my email every 45 seconds to see if I got an order from my Etsy shop. This has turned into a borderline obsession, so I moved my computer back upstairs into the office. When the kids get up, I set it to hibernate and then don't check it again until after lunch, when I let the kids play a video game or watch a TV show for an hour or so while I reply to emails and work a little. After Vince comes home from work, I disappear for a little while again to check emails and work some more, and then get the rest of the day's work done when the kids are asleep.

Lunches. If you read this blog regularly, you've heard me complain about feeding children in the summer, children who are never hungry at the same time and never want the same thing. I was longing for the days when I would pack a lunch and send them out the door, and not having to think about food for the next 6 hours, when a bolt of lightning struck. Why can't I pack lunches in the summer as well? So the night before, I do the regular chips/sandwich/fruit thing and label the bags with their names. When they're hungry, I direct them to the frig and I'm done. Summer gives us some good options, like packing a salad for Elise who's a vegetarian and gets pretty sick of cheese and crackers during the school year. I can even box up leftovers that wouldn't last half a day in a backpack, and if I have to warm them up in the microwave, it's a piece of cake.

Prioritize the work. I've gone from a really well organized planner (December birthday party--check!) to working under a "what needs to be done today" mentality, which very often turns into "what needed to be done today but I can technically get away with doing tomorrow." It is a little Scarlett O'Hara but it's just until fall, right?

If I said these tips have made my summer completely carefree I'd be lying, but incorporating them has given me some sense of control over the day, which helps my attitude, which helps my patience level, which results in me being a nicer mom with happier kids.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Shameless Plug: Helldorado Clothing

So through the miracle of Facebook I'm once again friends with my old friend Dustin. We met many years ago when we both worked at a restaurant together, where I was a subpar waitress and he was a busboy with a bad attitude. He has since given up his table-clearing career to focus on clothing design.

Dustin's company, Helldorado, recently set up a booth at an auto show near me, so I went to check it out. It's clothing just this side of inappropriate, but with a good dose of self-deprecating humor. Just like Dustin, actually. Don't know if I could pull it off at the PTA meeting, but I think it's great nonetheless.