Nothing says lovin’ like fried potatoes in the oven.

I’ve never really been in a position to establish new family traditions since I was always the one living close to Pittsburgh. But while going back east regularly is extremely important to us, it’s also pretty necessary that we have new plans in our new home. Luckily, April and I are very good at this, because we understand the essential component of a good tradition: food.

Did you know that until recently I had never made latkes from scratch? True story. I finally have a kitchen with enough surface area to thoroughly trash while doing so, so I figured what the heck. Let’s grate the potatoes by hand, even!

Latkes

Yeah. So that was pretty successful, not going to lie.

Matzoh ball soup, check. April’s delicious brisket – whose one fatal flaw was not being bigger so there were more leftovers, check.

Hanukkah table

(This was about the point where I realized my casual plastic placemats and lack of tablecloth were, well, lacking. Next time I’ll work harder on the presentation. See also: not wearing my jammies to the dinner table.)

Candles were lit. Blessings were sung. Passive voice was written.

And then, dreidel. Popular among the under 8 crowd, especially. There is something intrinsically appealing about counting gold and silver coins.

Jonah with dreidel

Actual spinning is optional, however. (So is knowing the rules of the game.)

We ended the night with full bellies and happy hearts. Seriously. It would have been a Norman Rockwell-worthy evening if not for the soft pants.

decorations

This is why we can’t have nice things, Pittsburgh.

As you may have guessed, it’s been A Month. You’ll find no apologies here for my absence, just acknowledgement that it’s my busiest time of the semester. So I was looking forward to a well-deserved night out with friends last evening.

We joked about me blogging the night; I’m not going to do that. It was a fun, successful blending of groups, even. But I’d like to talk about what happened afterwards.

Pittsburgh, grow up. If you see two men in a car together, they may be friends, they may be lovers, they may be coworkers, they may be partners. They may even be married. GET OVER IT. This is now, this is life. And last night, those were my friends. My friends who had a brick thrown at their car simply because they were two men together inside.

Excuse me? I thought we had worked past this little issue. I thought all of the strides made on the national front regarding DADT, Prop 8 and (hopefully) DOMA were trickling downward. The little things were improving. The majority of people in this country now support gay marriage for the first time ever. But this isn’t about marriage equity, this is about TWO GUYS SITTING IN A CAR!

I’m so angry right now. And a little scared, honestly. It happened in my neighborhood, down the street from my house. That’s not the kind of neighborhood I thought I lived in. It’s not the kind of neighborhood I want to live in. It’s certainly not the kind of neighborhood I want my son to grow up in.

So now, as I head into my big event week on campus, I won’t think about last night as a lovely (and hilarious) evening with friends, a nice reprieve from work and stress, a wonderful visit. I’ll think about it as the night that I was reminded that my hometown can still be quite small-town. And I don’t like that at all.

I expect better, Pittsburgh.

#lobsterbake2011

Last weekend was the annual lobster bake at the mountain house, a tradition started years ago by a group of work friends, which we were not, that grew to include families of those friends, which we are, and for which we are now tremendously grateful to be a part of.

The weather was practically perfect, unlike past years when the event was held later in the fall – yielding gorgeous photos of snow dusted foliage,

almost the same view of the woods from yesterday, with snow

but shivering lobster eaters huddled inside. (That photo is from #lobsterbake2009)

Avi is a big lobster fan, and much like we’ve had to start getting him his own mussels at restaurants (or be very careful with the rationing lest he eat our entire order), he had his own lobster this year.

He did a pretty solid number on the thing, gamely cracking and twisting to get to the meat and asking for help with the really tricky parts.

He almost gave away his entire tail, deeming the meat “too tough”, but we realized he had some thicker bits from the edge of the body in his mouth and convinced him to give the lusciously sweet tail a second try. Remind me again why we did that?

One of the best things about the lobster bake is the rest of the non-lobster food, a delicious smorgasbord of homemade delights and awesome store-bought crap food (Doritos!) that I don’t normally get to eat. In case I didn’t make it abundantly clear, lobster bakes are solidly in the cheat day category, i.e. 100% NOT x diet friendly!

But x diet influenced our day regardless, as I discovered that it’s difficult to go from one extreme to another, though maybe not how you’re thinking. I made chocolate chip cookies to add to the supplemental food extravaganza. Unfortunately, the thing about baking for real after baking like this is that you may not have all the ingredients in the house that ordinarily you’d take for granted. Like, uh, flour. And sugar. Oops.

My adaptation was a roaring success, however. Enough that I promised the recipe (!) to not one but three different people. Here goes nothing.

(Sort of) Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups coconut flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup coconut oil
2 cups dark brown sugar (I may have had to stop midway through mixing to acquire this.)
1 cup sugar (This one, too.)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbs vanilla extract
4 large (good) eggs
1 bar of decent semisweet baking chocolate
oil, spray or butter for coating the glassware

Right off the bat I should note that this makes a lot of cookies. A LOT. But they are done blondie style, so you can control the size of your cuts. They also freeze beautifully.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. I was able to do all three of my dishes of cookies together (more on that in a bit), but you may have to stagger your baking depending on your oven.

Mix dry ingredients (not sugars) really well  in one bowl and set aside. Melt butter then coconut oil into the butter (it helps them combine) and set aside to cool. Stir in brown sugar, sugar, vanilla to the  butter/oil combo. While it continues to cool (seriously, you don’t want your eggs to get funky, do you?) chip apart the chocolate bar. Add the eggs to the wet ingredients, then the dry to the wet. It’s going to be crumblier than your typical cookie dough, but that’s why we do them as blondies. Stir in the chocolate shavings/chips/whatever you managed to do with the bar.

For baking, I used 2 9 inch Pyrex pie plates and 2 small 5×5 glass dishes from Ikea. I baked one of the Ikea dishes at home, then chilled the rest of the dough and took it up to the mountains for the lobster bake. I could have easily fit all four dishes on two racks in my oven, though. There seemed to be no major baking-uniformity issue, either.

Spray or coat the glass dishes with whatever stick-free method you prefer. Press the dough in until the bottom is completely covered – I think most of my cookies were about 1 inch thick.

The coconut taste is so subtle that several coconut-haters were fooled. And the fine texture of the dough due to the coconut flour goes nicely with the irregular chocolate chunky slivers. Seriously, it does!

I recommend East End Fat Gary as the perfect accompaniment to these cookies, but then again, I recommend Fat Gary to go along with pretty much anything. I do not, however, recommend anyone try this at home:

Or else you will be mocked. And subject to inside jokes on The Internet.

What I Love vs. What I Eat, vol. 6: Egg Salad & Biscuits. (No, really.)

(For more on this once-and-future series, see this post. Or find all the harebrained episodes via tag in the sidebar.)

Alternate title: What I’m Eating For Lunch Today (with homemade gazpacho) That Is Rocking My World.

There’s no need for exposition, the food speaks for itself.

We’ll start with the eggs. Plenty of people have done healthier, non-mayo-based egg salad. Most involve mustard and yogurt, but since I’m avoiding dairy the yogurt is a no go. Straight mustard doesn’t lend itself to creaminess very well, and the dijon mustards all have added ingredients I’d rather not use. I decided to go the mustard route but made two changes to get the consistency and creaminess that egg salad should have. I picked a “creamier” root vegetable, and I added an unconventional liquid.

I may have eaten this yesterday for lunch, too, with heirloom tomatoes and brocolli sprouts.

Very simple. Hard boiled eggs, celery, leeks (the creamier root), cilantro (favorite herb, though your mileage may vary), yellow mustard, kosher salt, pepper and…unsweetened almond milk. Weird, I know. But it worked. I made it for a baby shower and even non-x diet eaters thought it was great. I hard boil eggs almost weekly, and this could very easily be whipped up in single serving portions without the vegetables – though I highly recommend them for the texture. Heck, this may even become part of my weekly lunch repertoire.

But alas, with no grains (they’re an x) it is difficult to eat an egg salad sandwich.

I’ve been baking with raw almond flour, garbanzo bean flour and coconut flour. All have their uses, thought nothing really caught my eye as a suitable staple alternative until I came across this recipe on a gluten free site. I made it as written, with coconut oil not butter, and used this chart to convert to stevia powder. I also made my biscuit drops a little smaller, getting 11 to the batch. Ideally next time I’ll get 12. I prefer even numbers.

Guys, they’re so fluffy! It’s amazing. They taste like bready biscuits!

I think the batter itself will be a wonderful base for further experimentation. It’s very subtly sweet, almost like corn bread, which made me think immediately of adding chili powder or jalapeno peppers. I want to punch up the coconut in a future version as well, maybe with coconut extract and flakes. What a find. High five to Andrea Bijou for the recipe.

Soooooo back to my lunch.

Non-dairy egg salad + gluten free/sugar free biscuit =

daaaaamn close to an egg salad sandwich! And with my chilled soup and ice tea, I can eat like the weather is just warming up for summer instead of cooling down for fall.

As long as I don’t open a window or look outside.

But we were on a break!

Dammit, August. I was trying to simplify. Relax. Enjoy the moment. Stop recording life and try living it.

But then you had to go and be awesome, and I have no record of it for The Posterity.

There was great cooking (despite the so-called x diet), family vacations, beautiful beer money (what?!) and of course, Batman. All in a day’s work.

So here’s August:

I’ve been baking, sans gluten or grains of any sort. Raw almond flour is my new favorite ingredient, followed closely by raw, unsweetened coconut. These are delightful, x-friendly and even passed muster with non-x friends at a dinner party.

I also turned these

into these

with the same raw almond flour. Fried green tomatoes a la x. Or something.

Meanwhile, these came

signifying our official “membership” in the Good Beer Investor Program at East End Brewing Company. We were number 21, if I recall correctly. A good omen? Really looking forward to drinking and spreading the Good Beer Cheer (Scott, that should totally be a thing) with these (dare I say?) beautiful beer monies.

Midway through August was vacation time, but before we left for the  beach we had to deal with the snow in Pittsburgh.

As Batman filmed downtown, we were treated to all sorts of vehicle and star-sightings as well as a lovely dusting of prop snow for several days. I missed most of it because I was on campus, but caught a bit at the end. Crazy weather juxtapositioning, since approximately twelve hours after I took that picture, I got to see this

We had a wonderful time at Bethany Beach again this year, due to the fabulous generosity and awesomeness of family. The weather was mostly perfect

and even when it wasn’t, it was beautiful. Exactly what we all needed before the start of the school year(s), since I indeed came right back to this

and this

(Can somebody *please* explain to me the significance of the panda??)

Avi’s hockey practices with his first official team started this month, also. He is very excited.

No really, he is. And we are, too. SHAHA is amazing.  More than worth the lengthy drive to the South Hills several times a week. Also: my hair is so long. Wow. Also also: I was not driving when this picture was taken. But! I can’t wait to see how quickly Avi continues to develop with this sport his whole family loves. His skating skills are really impressive and we can actually see him putting it all together on the ice. So much love!

Yeah, so that was August. I also took my absolute favorite picture of Avi ever (so far) during this month, so even though I’ve shared it with The Entire Internet already, I would be remiss if I didn’t share it again here. He’s so freakin cute, it slays me.

Told ya so.

Bring on September!

“The Sound of Music” Winner

Hooray! I’m on my way to Baltimore, but I wanted to quickly let the ticket winner know that she and her family have 4 tickets to opening night of Pittsburgh CLO’s “The Sound of Music” on Tuesday, July 19!

Kathleen Schultz, come on down!
(I’ll email you with details on your tickets.)

Tickets are still available online (including half price for kids under 13) so hopefully the rest of you will get a chance to see the show as well. Give me a holler if you’re going Friday night – that’s when Avi and I will be there.

What I Love vs. What I Eat, Vol. 4: Fish Tacos & Tomatilla Salsa

(For more on this once-and-future series, see this post. Or find all the harebrained episodes via tag in the sidebar.)

I love fish tacos. My friends love fish tacos. My friends still eat fish tacos (or any tacos, actually), but alas, I do not. Too many empty calories in the common taco delivery system, be it wheat or corn based.

But! (with a finger pointing, I think)

It turns out what I love about fish tacos is the fresh, crisp flavor combinations inside, not outside, the taco. Authentic delivery system be damned.

Oh, the old lettuce trick, you say. Probably skeptically. But take a closer look: thick, crunchy, stalky lettuce with a nice center rib much like a taco shell. Black beans. Fresh salsa (often homemade, but this time Trader Joe’s did the work for me). Scallops. Homemade tomatilla salsa on top.

Wait a second, you cry. Did you say ‘scallops’?! I did indeed. Lightly seared, and perfectly distributing fish (okay, shellfish) throughout my taco.

Tell me more about this tomatilla salsa, you say. Pshaw, it’s easy. And we put it on everything. Every. Thing.

Tomatilla Salsa

6 or 8 tomatillas (Farmer’s Market)
1 green pepper (Farmer’s Market)
1 jalapeño pepper
1 leek (CSA)
1 small bunch of kale (CSA)
About a half T. Of kosher salt

Remove the papery coverings on the tomatillas and boil them for ten to fifteen minutes (depending on size and quantity). They’ll turn a richer green. Immediately throw them into a powerful blender or food processor and smash them to smithereens. Add the rest of the ingredients, or modify to your liking. Garlic and/or onion is good. Additional jalapeño is, too. Fresh cilantro or other herbs, whatever. Blend the hell out of everything, transfer to a container and chill in the fridge for several hours so the salsa can set.

Enjoy with fish (or shellfish) tacos or anything else you eat. Or just eat it by the spoonful. I won’t judge.