Updated on Mondays to Help Start Your Week Off Right!
(and recipes updated whenever I get a chance)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Meal Plan Extravaganza!

I know, it's another Monday without a good blog post.  I'm sorry.  :(

But!  Today I have a somewhat legitimate excuse.  I've been meal planning.  I meal plan on a fairly regular basis (three weeks a month, usually - the fourth being a week of protest during which, if Husband accidentally forgets that I've over-exerted myself with food preparations recently and asks what we're going to eat, I crumple into a heap of frustrated womanly devastation and either cry or yell, "I DON'T KNOW!" until he just makes us all sandwiches), but this time is different.  We're having a billion guests over the next week, and I'm determined not to be caught off-guard this time.

We have guests on a pretty regular basis.  Probably more than normal people, because, being an Army family, we don't get to choose where we live, and, since none of our relatives live at Army posts, we don't ever live near (as in the same town) family.  But we do have really awesome parents who visit us all the time.  I'd like to pretend it's because we're just so awesome, but I'm sure at least part of it has to do with us being the only ones on either side with little kids.  Either way, we have visitors at least once a month (usually more - plus our own road trips to them at least once every 3 months).

So this week.  My mom and step-dad are driving into town (right now!  They might even get here while I'm typing this!!), and they'll stay from today (26 Dec) until Wed (28 Dec).  Then we have a bit of a break until Friday (30 Dec), when Husband's parents and two younger sisters will be driving up.  They're staying until Monday (2 Jan).  But, because that's not enough, my dad and step-mom will also be coming over on Sunday (1 Jan) and staying until Mon (2 Jan).  Then a good high school friend of mine and her husband will be staying with us Tues night (3 Jan).

I know I get a few breaks in there, but those days will primarily be used for any food preparations I can do ahead of time.  Usually, at least one time during a visit, we end up in that frozen, everybody is hungry, no body has a plan, terrible situation.  Like the vultures from "Jungle Book," except about food.  No one wants to be the one to have an opinion, so we just sit around until we're starving to death, and someone finally breaks and orders pizza.

Not this time.  I'm coming in to this prepared.  Hopefully, I'll feel as dedicated to this plan in a couple days as I do now.

Without further ado, I give you my Christmas Visits 2011 Meal Plan:

Mon 12-26 - Dinner - Caprese Baguettes and chips (tomato and buffalo mozzarella with fresh basil on  french baguettes)

Tues 12-27 - Breakfast - Spinach & Bacon Quiche
Late lunch/early Dinner - Pineapple & Brown Sugar Glazed Ham, Bacon & Onion Green Beans, Scalloped Potato & Onion Bake, and Buttery Dinner Rolls

Wed 12-28 - Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls with Vanilla Icing

(Our first guests will leave on Wed sometime, so we'll just be scavenging and eating whatever until the next guests arrive.  Meanwhile, I plan on doing as much prep and goodie baking as possible in these interim days.)

Fri 12-30 - Dinner - Creamy Asparagus Soup and French Bread

Sat 12-31 - Breakfast - Pumpkin Spice Sticky Rolls with Maple Icing
Lunch - Baguette Sandwiches
Dinner - Italian Sausage Lasagna and Buttery Dinner Rolls

Sun 1-1 - Breakfast - Eggs & Bacon & whatever (I'll be getting myself & kids ready for Church, so if other people want breakfast, they can figure it out - also the standard in our house)
Lunch - order out pizza or chinese
Dinner - Bratwurst and Saurkraut Hoagies with homemade fries

Mon 1-2 - Breakfast - Tomato & Basil Quiche

Tues 1-3 - Dinner - Beef Wellington, Buttery Dinner Rolls, and Baked Asparagus
Dessert - Tunnel of Fudge Bundt Cake

Wed 1-4 - Breakfast - Cherry & White Chocolate Almond Twist Breakfast Bread with Eggs and Bacon

It should be noted that all breads/rolls listed above will be homemade (duh).

Also, not to forget the Christmas goodies that I either already have on hand or plan to make over the next couple days:
Sugar Cookies
Russian Tea Cakes
Caramel Popcorn
Eggnog Cookies
Peppermint Bark
Candy Pretzels
Confectioner's Candy
Triple-Chocolate Fudge
Peanut Butter Fudge

There you have it.  It's probably safe to assume I won't have a blog entry for next week, either.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays and has a safe and happy New Year - and please, if you want to get fat, feel free to drop by any time!!  :D

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Day I Defiled My Coffee Mug; or, Coffee Mug, Forever Unclean

I love Thanksgiving.  It's probably my favorite day of the year, because it's a day dedicated entirely to cooking and eating my favorite foods.  Any meal that requires at least two full days of preparation/cooking is particularly awesome in my world.  So when I promised Husband that we could spend Thanksgiving with his family this year, it was a fairly big deal for me.  I do love his family, though, and I knew it would be fun, but I was essentially sacrificing the one day a year I get to eat my buttery soaked apple-bread stuffing baked in the juices of a turkey's internal cavities.  Simply making it myself and bringing it with us wasn't an option, either, as it not only requires an entire turkey in order to taste perfect, but the Thanksgiving dinner was a two-day, 13.5 total hour drive away.  And we would be taking Husband's brand new (to us) Prius, so space was limited.

Not to mention, Thanksgiving with Husband's family is not a small, intimate affair.  "Husband's Family" denotes extended family, not immediate.  Astoundingly, it's actually only his mom's family.  But she has five siblings, and they are all fairly prolific.  We were looking at upwards of a 52-person gathering (give or take some cousins' boyfriends/girlfriends, etc).  There would be more than enough dishes that no one would miss my stuffing (except me), and there would be little to no possibility of me forging out space in either kitchen (Aunt Mimi has two!) to make my stuffing myself.  So I abandoned the idea of having any of my own traditional foods this year.

About a week before we were supposed to leave, Husband comes home from work and tells me about some nasty gastrointestinal bug going around this year.  He had two soldiers come in with it two days ago, four soldiers yesterday, and an astounding six today, all saying they and their families were "vomiting and shitting uncontrollably."  I laughingly said, "wow, make sure you don't bring that one home!"

Oh, silly, naive Laura.  Did you learn nothing from the movie "Scream?"  If I hadn't said anything, we would have been fine.  That's how movies work.  That's science.

Monday night rolls around, and I get woken up at 1:30am by a hysterical Ant, screaming about how his stomach hurt.  I carried him into the kitchen to try and find some medicine for him, when he suddenly started gagging.

"THROW UP IN HERE!!"  I yelled as I held him hovering over the kitchen sink.  He did!

... Then he did again.

Then he slept for 20 minutes and had to again.

I quickly realized the idea of me running to his room to grab him and running with him to the kitchen to throw up in the sink every 20 minutes was not overly practical.  So we found an old ice cream bucket (currently being used for toy storage), and explained how he could just keep it in his bed and throw up in it when he needed to.

It only took about 6 more times of throwing up every 20 minutes before he figured it out.  Now that's what I call a parenting success.

After about 6 hours of the hysterical screaming followed by bucket-puking every 20 min, it seemed like the worst was finally over.

But at 7:30, Husband (who was up getting ready for work, so he was tending to the current scream-vomit-fit) came into the room and frantically woke me up.

"The diarrhea... it started... I... I don't know what to do."

I don't know why he assumed I would know what to do, any more than he would.  I guess because I have a uterus.  I picked up the coated pants and took them to a toilet to wash them out.  Seeing as how I've never had to deal with an excessive amount of shit in clothing before, I'm not exactly sure how I knew what to do, either.  I guess it is because I have a uterus.

Finally, after that last bout, we got about an hour and a half of sleep.  When we woke up, Ant was feeling much better.  And aside from two more (controlled) episodes of diarrhea in the morning and one isolated vomiting incident Tues evening, he seemed to be completely over it.

So the quandary loomed.  To road trip, or not to road trip.  We were supposed to leave Wednesday afternoon, right after Husband finished a half-day of work.  That would be less than 24-hrs after the last vomiting incident.  But I had made a promise to Husband...

We agreed that if Ant made it through the night without incident, we'd go (against the advice of an experienced mom-friend of mine, who has a family rule of "no traveling within 48 hrs of someone being sick").  Of course, Ant had a great night with no bodily fluid interruptions.

I finished packing and loaded the car while waiting for Husband to get home.  As soon as he did, we piled in and took off.  At best, this drive would take us no less than 10 hours and require at least two stops to deal with kids, food, diapers, etc.

We were making good time and everyone was in good spirits when we decided to stop for dinner (our second stop of the trip already) at a Chili's in Springfield, Missouri.  We'd just passed the halfway point of the drive, and things were going great.

Husband and Ant went ahead and got a table while I stayed back to nurse Sweet D and change her diaper.  We joined them afterwards, and Sweet D was in the happiest mood.  She was playing with everyone, banging (quietly) on the table, making insane-o noises, and generally being hilarious and good-tempered.

Then they brought our food, set it on the table, and abruptly, Sweet D started making strange noises.  I turned to see her vomiting.  Everywhere.  A LOT.  But fortunately, it was all just orange juice and milk.  Hardly vomit at all.  Except that it was coating everything.  The table, the highchair, the floor around her, and, of course, all of her.

All the parents out there know the feeling that ensued: that moment where something truly disgustingly terrible happens and you freeze.  Time stands still as you stare, open-mouthed, at the disaster, and your brain stops working.  After a few slow blinks, your brain can usually snap back on and spring you into action.  But that moment is quintessential parenthood to me.  A huge, embarrassing mess of human excretion, and it's your responsibility.

I grabbed Vomit-D and ran out, practically knocking the waiter over as I shoved past him, yelling over my shoulder, "sorry about the vomit; we'll give you a big tip!!"  Hopefully the 40+% tip Husband left him sufficed.

Back in the car, I got Sweet D changed into comfy pjs and back in her seat, complete with a bib in an attempt to catch future vomit-attacks (of which there were graciously few).  Husband and Ant finished their dinners and brought mine in a carry-out box.

Husband joked as I opened my food that he wasn't sure if his stomach hurt from eating quickly, being overwhelmed by the public vomiting, or if he was getting sick, too.  Suddenly the smell of my favorite Chili's food (Buffalo Ranch Chicken Sandwich) started my stomach turning, too.  Surely it was just stress.

I opted not to eat, regardless.  And less than 40 minutes later, I had my answer.

"Okay, I need you to pull over.  Now.  Now.  NOW!"

I undid my seat belt and scrambled to lean out of the car, which is wonderfully low to the ground, thank you, Toyota.  After a few minutes of puking, I felt a bit better.  We drove for another 20 minutes before it happened again.  And again.  And again.

Shortly before the sixth time, we passed a State Trooper vehicle that had just finished pulling someone over. "Oh good, he's probably going to meet us the next time I have to throw up."

Less than a minute later, there I was, seat belt still on, leaning out the side of the car, puking my guts out, when the red and blue lights started flashing behind us.  The cop cautiously approached my side and asked if everything was alright.  We explained the situation, and he laughed at me.  Then he told me we still had at least three hours of driving left to do.  And reminded me that the worst roads were yet to come (Northeast Arkansas has some of the most beautiful, winding, hilly roads I've ever seen - with little to no shoulder room).

The cop, laughing, left me to hang out of the car and feel like death (he did offer to call an ambulance, if I needed one, though).  And off we went again.  For another 20 minute drive before frantically pulling over.

It continued like this until we got into Arkansas.  With the hilly, winding, forest roads.  With no shoulders.  When I felt the urge coming on again, I hollered for Husband to pull over.  But on two-lane roads with steep drop-offs immediately off the road and sharp turns only 20-feet ahead, there is little to no room to pull over for your wife to vomit out the side of the car.  The only option was the intermittent driveways.  But they weren't conveniently located every time I had to throw up.  And I didn't want to throw up all over the inside of Husband's brand new car.  I only had one other option, rolling around by my feet.

I'm so sorry, my beautiful coffee mug.

For the rest of the drive, I had to throw up into my coffee mug while Husband frantically searched for a driveway for me to puke on.

At one point, I sent a text to my friend, professing my dutiful obedience to all her family rules in the future.  If only I'd listened to her, I could be at home, throwing up in my own toilet.  Not on every driveway between Mammoth Springs and Jonesboro.

We finally made it to his parents in right around 12.5 hours.  The exact same drive only takes his dad about 8 hours.  We had to pull over 14 times for me to throw up.  But miraculously, the diarrhea held off until we were out of the car.  Praise the Lord.  (I later learned the same fortune did not grace one of Husband's cousins, who also had the same bug the weekend before Thanksgiving - but he fiance cleaned the car for her, because he's a wonderful man who clearly loves her.  I can confidently say, Husband would not have done the same for me.)

After a terrible night of little to no sleep, and lots of quality time with the toilet, it was suddenly Thanksgiving. And we had about three hours to get ready to drive down to the big family hoopla in Little Rock (another 2.5 hour drive).  I decided I shouldn't go.  Husband swore I wouldn't be contagious anymore, but the thought of being trapped away from a bed and a bathroom again was enough to make me cry.

At the last minute, I changed my mind.  I'd suffered through the whole drive down here, I didn't want it all to be for nothing when I was already this close.  So off we went again.  Miraculously, I slept the whole way.

I was glad to be there, even if I felt pretty miserable.  It was wonderful to see everyone again, and the kids definitely had fun.  The food all smelled delicious... but I was in no mood to eat.  I ended up eating half a piece of pumpkin pie.  Not exactly the Thanksgiving meal I'd anticipated.

Shortly before we left, Sweet D needed her diaper changed.  After getting her in a clean diaper, I realized she still smelled funky.  Or rather, her clothes did.  Because the diarrhea finally caught up with her.  And I'd been holding her most of the time.

I changed her into warm pjs (again), but the smell was still all over me.  Time to go. When you're covered in baby diarrhea, it's usually time to leave the party.

The rest of the weekend was fabulously uneventful.  Husband did a fabulous job driving the entire time there and back, and he (somehow) managed to not ever get sick.  The ride home was full of a lot of screaming and being sick of the car, with multiple stops to try and keep us all sane (including short visits with both my mom and my college German professor), but we made it.  Sometime after midnight.

Ant, who never falls asleep in the car, fell asleep for the last 20 minutes of the trip.  When the car came to a stop at home, he woke up and started screaming.  We couldn't get him to stop.  He walked inside, took his shoes up, went upstairs, we brushed his teeth, put him in pjs, got him in bed - all while he screamed like a lunatic.  Finally, after 45 minutes, he fell asleep.  We still have no idea what he was doing.

The next morning I unpacked all the bags and started laundry.  Our vomit, diarrhea, and germ filled clothes.  One load in, I turned the dryer on.  It clanged around, smelled like smoke, and stopped working.  Great.  Now, over a week later, I'm still waiting on the replacement part to come in and the repairman to come back.  We made a make-shift room dryer out of extra shower rods in the kids' bathroom, combined with a space heater, the bathroom fan, and a lot of hangers.

And now, the plan is to head up to South Dakota on Wednesday afternoon for the weekend.  Because, evidently, I haven't yet learned that I should give road-tripping a break for a while.  Hopefully our clothes all dry before then and Husband doesn't bring home any more terrible germs.  Wish us luck.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recipe: Red Velvet Cake with Traditional Frosting

This cake is awesome.  Especially with the traditional roux-based frosting.  I first had red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and thought it was pretty good.  Then I tried it with the traditional frosting and was blown away.  There's a reason it's the traditional frosting for this cake - it's the perfect complement to the cake.  I usually cut each cake in half long-ways to make a 4-layer cake.  That means you have to increase the frosting by about 50% to have enough - but it's worth it.  Sorry about this terrible picture - I haven't made this cake since I learned how to take decent pictures of food.  Guess that means it's about time to do it again!

This makes a fairly large cake; probably at least 12 servings.

Red Velvet Cake:


2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (sift flour once before measuring, then sift again with the other dry ingredients, as called for in the recipe - if you don't have cake flour (but it's totally worth it, so just buy a box), you can use all-purpose instead, but measure out the 2 1/2 cups, then remove 5 Tbsp from it to get the accurate substitution amount.)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
2 oz. red food coloring (I've also just used 1 oz before, and it worked just as well, or close enough)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg & 2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature (if you don't have buttermilk, you can substitute sour milk instead - put 1 Tbsp lemon juice in a measuring cup, then add enough milk to equal 1 cup, total.  Stir, then let sit for 5 min = instant "buttermilk.")
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans (or three 8-inch rounds).  I usually butter the entire inside (bottom & sides), then use a parchment round (or you can cut parchment paper into circles to cover the bottom of the pan), then butter the parchment paper, then flour the entire inside - I know it sounds like a lot more work, but it ensures your cake won't stick!

Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.  In a small bowl, mix food coloring and cocoa powder to form a thin paste without lumps; set aside.

In a large bowl (bowl of a stand mixer), beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Beat in egg and egg yolks, one at a time, then beat in vanilla and the red cocoa paste, scraping down the bowl with a spatula as you go (watch out, because you're pretty much guaranteed to get red food coloring on at least one thing - I highly recommend wearing an apron!).  Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beat well, then beat in half of the buttermilk.  Beat in another third of flour mixture, then second half of buttermilk.  End with the last third of the flour mixture, beat until well combined, making sure to scrape down the bowl with a spatula.

Make sure you have your cake pans buttered, floured, and nearby.  In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda (it will fizz!).  Add it to the cake batter and stir well to combine.  Working quickly, divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and place them in the preheated oven at 350 degrees.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, but check early (20 min or so) - the cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  When cakes are finished baking, turn the oven off, crack the door slightly, and let the cakes sit in the oven for about 10 min.  This helps keep the tops from sinking.

Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then removed cakes from the pans and let them cool completely.  Then I cut them in half long-ways to make 4 cakes.

Traditional Red Velvet Cake Frosting:


3 Tbsp flour
1 cup vitamin D/whole milk (too runny if you use anything else)
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Cook flour and milk in a double boiler (or pyrex bowl placed over a pan of simmering water), until thick, stirring constantly.  It will get really thick - almost like toothpaste.  Cool.

Cream sugar, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer until as fluffy as possible.  Blend cooked mixture with creamed.

The frosting must stay refrigerated, as it will fall apart at room temperature.

I increase the recipe by 50% if I slice the cakes long-ways.  This is enough to cover the two 9-inch rounds, but not if you have the extra layers in between.  It is enough to cover 24 cupcakes, though.

This recipe also makes great cupcakes - fill liners 3/4ths full and bake for 10-15 min, or until toothpick comes out clean.

I've also tried red velvet cake balls - they were awesome, but almost too rich.  Even for me, and my blood is pretty much made of sugar.  In a not-diabetic way.

And finally, Purple Velvet Cake!  I only had gel food coloring, not liquid, so the color didn't come out as richly as I'd hoped.  Next time I'll hunt down the liquid stuff and get it right.