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The return of Suzy Homemaker

Greetings, Dear Readers:

Once again, I have been OBE (overcome by events) and not had much to write about. I think winter may be over here in Houston, darnit. But earlier this evening, I was prowling on Amazon, Half.com and eBay looking for something (never found it.) I also was on Suzanne Somers’ website, because I need to get more Somersweet. I glanced at her section on Cooks Tools, and when I looked at the hand mixer and ice shaver, two words came to mind.

Suzy Homemaker.

For those who are not old enough to remember Suzy Homemaker, it was a line of toys produced back in the 1960s and early 1970s, back when women were still considered primarily homemakers. (There was eventually a doll with the same name, second in popularity only to Barbie. Source: Wikipedia.)  These were working appliances–mixers, blenders, irons, and other everyday domestic appliances–adapted for a kid’s use with adult supervision. I myself had both these items:

SuzyHomemakerMixBlend

And, yes, I used them, along with the iron, when I started sewing. It was the early 70’s. We hadn’t yet been told to take off those aprons (and get splattered with tomato sauce) and be free from our domesticity.

OK, I’ve benefitted in some ways from said “liberation,” as we all have. But bear with me on this one.

Eventually it happened, and women began to shun the finer points of homemaking. Toys of this sort fell out of favor, although were still produced in different forms.

I also had one of these in yellow, which I used with great joy to make itty-bitty cakes (until Mom stopped buying the itty-bitty mix boxes; we didn’t have Amazon.com back then):

EasyBakeOven

Light bulb technology. Worked like a charm. Just make sure you watch it, because there was no timer on these.

Remember, domesticity, we were told, was bad for us girls. REALLY? Guess what? The Easy-Bake Oven is still made by Hasbro, and marketed as the Easy Bake Oven For Girls. That’s what it says on the home page. You can also buy the mixes and accessories on their site as well as Amazon.com.

What I really wanted (but never got) was this one:

SuzyHomemakerStove

Oh, the things I could have whipped up with this bad boy! I was the oldest of four, with two bruiser brothers and a fussy baby sister–I could have cooked for all four of us! But no, I had to stick with what I had. Still, I did OK. Kept me out of Mom’s hair for a while. And, eventually, I started cooking on the regular stove in the kitchen, much to Mom’s chagrin.

I dreamed of one day having the entire collection of Suzy Homemaker appliances. A fully functional kitchen. In my room. Basically, I wanted my own apartment.

These images are from current sales on eBay. If you look on some of the listings, you’ll see how much these now-antique items are going for–YEOW. A lot more than they sold for new. Many of them also work–but it won’t replace your KitchenAid stand mixer, OK?

In addition to what I’ve shown here, there was also a dishwasher. If I remember correctly, there was an entire kitchen assembly, similar to what you might see as a freestanding kitchen in IKEA. (IKEA actually carries three kid versions, too–you can see one here.)

Are you starting to get where I’m going with this? Keep reading. . . .

The term “Suzy Homemaker” eventually became a feminist insult to be thrown at women who did the domestic/child raising thing, but women still did it despite all that. So how did all those “Suzy Homemaker” generation women and girls turn out?

Take a look at the great mixing bowl you can get from the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s. That color is, reportedly, Martha’s favorite, and figures into quite a lot of her collection (as well as packaging and labels) at Macy’s, Kmart, Staples, Michael’s and other stores that carry the Martha name. Heck, it even backs up her website.

It’s the same color as the Easy-Bake Oven and the Suzy Homemaker stove. Are you still wondering?

Today we not only have the Food Network, and it’s digital cable child, Cooking Channel, we have a million websites devoted, in one way or another, to cooking. In addition to very modern home diva Martha Stewart, there is the gorgeous Nigella Lawson, whose book How to be a Domestic Goddess was a best seller, as were others–with good food in them. There’s the movie-star-lookalike Giada de Laurentiis, who also writes cookbooks with easy Italian food. The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, whose cookbooks have tried-and-true recipes that really are foolproof. There are many others, like Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, Rachael Ray, Tyler Florence, as well as others you may not have heard of, like Rose Levy Berenbaum and Barbara Kafka.

And then there’s me, who cooks out of every one of them and loves to eat, as well as write about all this stuff.

Sure, men cook too, and very well–but after all that fuss about cutting the apron strings, we’ve come around again. Fifty years after Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published, launching the second wave of feminism, more women love to hang out in the kitchen again, want the best appliances and cooking tools, buy cookbooks and use them (as well as apps for recipes and videos for technique) and enjoy cooking delicious and healthy meals for their families, as well as have fabulous meals for holidays.

I really can cook, despite what my brother says. Honest.

We’re more sophisticated now–we buy sugar snap peas, free-range chickens and eggs, grass-fed beef, almond milk, agave syrup, and other things our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have. Stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Bed, Bath and Beyond (never mind the myriad of websites) are filled to the rafters with not only sophisticated cooking tools, but endless amounts of home decor for discriminating decorators.

I myself own five French press coffee pots of varying sizes. Long story.

Homemaking is still an art, however you enjoy it, whether you’re a man or a woman, wherever you live.

And hey–men join them in the kitchen to cook, help out or do the washing up. They have their own decorating styles, from the minimalist to the sophisticated “man-cave.” There is now equality in the kitchen, with like-minded spouses. We are again getting suited up, booted up, and into that kitchen to cook–with aprons, people!

There are also a number of blogs called “Suzy Homemaker,” too. Take your pick.

For your entertainment, I found an original Suzy Homemaker video on YouTube. Check it out for some antique marketing. Here’s another, and another. (I really wanted that ice maker thing, too, so I could make snowballs at home for the fam.) Here is a longer one introducing new colors. . .circa 1971.

OMG–I was just a little bitty kitty!

Suzy Homemaker is still around. She never really left. She’s just been waiting to make a comeback. And, she has, finally.

Long live Suzy Homemaker!

Enjoy!

MarthaMixingBowl

COLD!! (Hot chocolate made with almond milk)

Good heavens, it’s been two weeks since I blogged!! My apologies. I’ve been busy, and had obstacles I never thought I’d have. On the up side, I know how to get Microsoft to fix your computer for free, when it’s their fault. You just need a LOT of time on your hands, and more patience than I usually have. (Thank heavens I have the “unlimited airtime” plan on my cell phone.)

Have you started your diet yet? Yeah, me too. No, I’m not on an actual “diet,” just trying to stick with the low-carb thing, not eat late at night, and a little fruit here and there. And a salad when I can swing it. Hey–Jack In The Box and Chick fil A both make great salads. I just don’t partake of their packaged dressing, and sometimes just take the salad home and make some fresh. MUCH better than the soybean oil/sugar stuff.

So, while I’ve been thinking about my next post, I’ve come across two news articles that are actually ON the topic, but I need to do some research elsewhere on it. Seriously. Soon.

Now, let’s talk about what’s on everyone’s mind in the northern hemisphere–it’s cold!! I know this because a) I need more than a t-shirt when I go outside, b) my hands get cold, and c) everybody’s talking about it on Facebook. Like a redhead I know in Los Angeles who CANNOT believe it’s that cold in LA. Poor thing. She has to put on an extra bathing suit to keep warm.

So for the redhead, and anyone else reading this blog, I am putting up a recipe for hot chocolate that was given to me by the nutritionist in my doctor’s office (http://www.woodlandswellness.com.) It’s intended for folks on the yeast-free diet who can’t have milk products, but that doesn’t stop me. I’ve been drinking it for more than 3 years, and I mean EVERY DAY. On days like this, when it *might* get to 50 degrees, twice.

I’ve done the yeast-free diet a few times, and the first time I thought I was gonna starve, since fruit and dairy products are verboten the first month. No cheese? No cream? No butter? AAAHH!!!

One day while on a date in Central Market (we were getting some food after a visit to a museum) one of the deli guys told me about almond milk. I’m allergic to soy, and rice is, well, not yeast-free. Almond milk fit the bill, they recommend it, and I never went back to buying milk or cream (until I started buying goat’s milk for Catmandu, but that didn’t last too long.) You can get it in the fridge case, but it’s also sold in shelf-stable boxes–no need for refrigeration until you open it. I buy it for the long haul most of the time–and I don’t run out like I did with regular milk. I was good on coffee and tea after that.

If you ever stop by for a coffee, be aware that I do not have cow’s milk around, except once in a great while when I’m in the mood for cappuccino. I haven’t tried frothing the almond milk yet. Maybe that’ll be next week.

Hmmm. . .maybe my next post will wait until I talk about almond milk a little more. Great stuff, healthy, allergy free, and perfect for coffee and tea. And hot chocolate.

So I was astonished when they told me about this recipe, and I have not yet stopped making and drinking it. Not even when it’s 100F outside. When I was working, it took the chill off during the summer when the AC is turned to “light freeze/frostbite.”

Oh, look–it’s now 52 degrees, feels like 50. Get out the suntan lotion. . . .

So here goes: into a microwave safe-container (I use the 2-c Pyrex measuring cup) add 1.5 cups unsweetened chocolate almond milk, 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 drop mint extract (I started using a clean medicine dropper, it works) and sweeten to taste.

Heat between 3 and 4 minutes, depending on your microwave.

Amy’s trick is to heat up the actual CUP with boiling water that you will be using to drink it from. I have a couple of latte mugs that work perfectly. Keeps it warmer longer, of course.

Oh, and if you put too much mint in it, it tastes like toothpaste. I have gone as far as to make a second batch without the mint, mix it with the first, and put half in the fridge of it  it to dilute the mint extract that went in. Seriously, get a clean medicine dropper for this kind of thing. Works like a charm.

I sweeten mine with 4 packets of Sweet N’ Low, but you can use stevia, erythrytol, or whatever natural sweetener you like. I have not tried agave syrup in it, so you’re on your own there.

DO NOT use Equal/Nutrasweet/Aspartame, for two reasons: a) it’s toxic, and b) it doesn’t stand up to heat at all. Do not use Splenda for the same reason–it’s chlorinated sugar, and a toxin. If you do, you’re on your own.

This actually makes two servings, but if you think I’m sharing MINE, you’re wrong. Make your own. GRRRRRrrrrrr. . . .

Once you try this, you’ll see why I won’t share. It really is good, and is a much better alternative to the powdered stuff. Sure, I’ve had it, but not in a long time. And until I was given this recipe, I figured I’d never have it again except at the holidays. I haven’t tried to change this recipe, because I’m thoroughly enamored with it.

Try it soon, and you will be too. Stay warm, everyone.

Happy Dining!

Meeting an old friend again

Hello, Dear Readers:

Well, it’s the holiday season and, honestly, I haven’t had much foodie adventure since The Tuscan Turkey got turned into soup a few weeks ago. But it’s OK, everyone loved it, and I just have some cut up Tuscan turkey meat left in the freezer. Well, OK, enough to keep me happy for a while, and make The Soup of Enlightenment if I really want to, but I don’t, since I had it at Thanksgiving, skipping over the big meal to that part.

I will tell you that I was just in Cost Plus World Market, using a $10 coupon to get stocked up on the fantastic Typhoo Decaf Tea from the UK and got me some microwavable steamed puddings–the real British stuff, produced in New Zealand. Really. I guess the Brits like it, but I never asked–but I’m having steamed pudding for Christmas!! (I’ll let you know.) Convenient, and just a little bit, enough to try it once. If I wanted to, I could use Nigella Lawson’s recipes out of her Christmas book, but really, I’m giving myself the gift of peace and quiet this year, and lots of sewing. Not to mention the Doctor Who Christmas Special on Tuesday thanks to a very nice neighbor who is out of town. I did offer to do a carpet cleaning for her while she was out, but she declined. Maybe I’ll just clean her windows before she gets home.

BTW, if you join their World Market Explorer program, you get those $10 off $30 purchase coupons regularly, including one for your birthday.

Oh, and while I was there, nibbling on the sample cookies, I talked to a lady who was going to get ingredients for a cranberry sauce. One of Paula Deen’s recipes from FoodNetwork.com. I love you, Paula, but fifteen ingredients, including Grand Marnier! I was shocked when I read that. She didn’t know what Grand Marnier was, either. I told her that she would have to get it at a liquor store, which are closed on Sunday in Texas, and that it would probably run $35 or $40 a bottle. She had no idea. . .so I told her to forget this one and go look up the recipe for my favorite Cranberry Ginger Relish and make that. Four ingredients, fifteen minutes, and make it three days in advance. Easy, and it’s sweet and warm at the same time.  “Can I get all the ingredients at Kroger?” she asked. Absolutely, including sherry vinegar. It sidles up to you all nice and sweet, then POW! Hits you right in the kisser. Everybody loves it, including me, and I always get requests for the recipe when I make it.

Now I want some, too.

Rest assured that some kind of diet will commence after January 1, and I will ease my way into it over the next week. Might go to a potluck next Saturday, we’ll see, and I’ll bring something good, if I go. Exercise too, Pilates is my preference, with some yoga thrown in for good measure, since walking will be impossible soon. More on that later.

So anyway. . . .

Last week I had my third interview in a different department at a major medical center here in Houston. I’m not going to say which one, but it’s big, well known, and they have great benefits. The interview started about 3:20 pm, and I left the facility at 5:30 pm, escorted by a Texas Medical Center (TMC) police officer. (I rode in the FRONT seat, OK?)  I was lost, and he offered. . .hey, I can trust a guy with a pistol on his hip!  Especially since I had on my suit and a crisp white collared shirt, not to mention sky-high heels. No t-shirt and jeans on this day–I needed to look sharp, and I did.

I believe I will be hired on soon, which means bus rides and walking around a lot. No way I’m driving to work every day.

My TMC copper got me back to the building where my vehicle was, and I checked out–at nearly 6:00 pm! I was very HUNGRY at this point, and decided to get a bite in town since it was high traffic and driving home was a bit of a nightmare. It was also the Friday before Christmas, and everyone is not only getting off work but heading to shop. (Bay Area Boulevard was a parking lot at 1:30 pm.)

As I drove up Holcombe towards Buffalo Speedway, I was trying to remember where I could find a good dinner around there. Hmmm. . .Burger King. No. Some kind of wing shop–no. Taco Bell (which required a left U-turn in heavy traffic)–bookmark for later. Spec’s Liquor Warehouse–no. Some little sushi place–absolutely not. I knew I could get to Rice Village if I turned right on Kirby, but having been there a week before and had much trouble parking, I kept driving.

Then I remembered a little place that used to be there when I worked for Baylor all those years ago. Would it still be there? I started thinking. . .it was by a grocery store, but which one? I knew it was on the left. . .I saw Rice Epicurean Market, but no little place. I kept going, and saw the Randall’s Flagship about a mile or so up the road, along with a Barnes & Noble in the same strip mall. Then my eyes saw what I was seeking–their name on the marquee. It was still there, after all these years, in a city where permanence is fleeting. It was a sight for sore eyes that day.

Prayers get answered one at a time. Gifts do not always come in a box wrapped in paper and ribbon. Trust me on that.

This little place is called Yapa Kitchen-Fresh Take Away. When I worked at Baylor, we used Yapa’s catering for our activities, and everyone loved the sandwiches and lunch boxes they brought us. There was one occasion that for some reason, we had to use a different catering company. (I think someone higher up told us to.) We were very disappointed and made sure we called Yapa after that.

Once in a while I’d go get a sandwich over there if I was driving around or running office errands. Their sandwiches were delicious, unbelievable cookies, and great chef-prepared food in the case. The store is actually quite small, and hasn’t changed since the last time I was there–maybe 2001?  I held the wheel tightly and kept thinking about what I could vagely remember from my days working in the VA Hospital (as a Baylor employee.)

It came flooding back when I walked in the front door. It was pretty much the same as I remember it. Some of the cookbooks look old now.

I gazed in the case and saw all kinds of delicious things. I was thinking about a crab cake, since it wasn’t too expensive (not ready for $25 a pound pepper crusted tenderloin yet, but will celebrate when I get my new job.) I asked if there was anything else to look at. “Well,” the young bloke said, “we have a few sandwiches over here.”  There were four. I saw two chicken salad sandwiches, one turkey with cranberry, and a roast beef.

THAT’S WHAT I WANT.

I grabbed the last roast beef, and asked about dessert. They still had that little case on the side, and I remembered having their delicious creme brulee once. But their cookies were in big jars on the counter, and I got a chocolate chip and a white chocolate/macadamia nut cookie. He asked me if I’d like some horseradish sauce; I declined. There was some already on the sandwich, and it was just enough and just perfect.

That, dear readers, is what hit the spot and scratched the itch on Friday, December 21st at about 6:15 in the evening.

The sandwich, on a really great whole-grain bread, was just as good as I remembered it. Ditto the cookies. Next time I get two of those slightly soft and chunky white chocolate/macadamia nut cookies. Both were good, but I liked that one better.

To the observer (or the guys working the counter that night), it was just a sandwich and cookies to have while I sat at a table and flipped through my magazine. To me, it was like finding an old friend again. No, I didn’t go in all the time when I was there, just once in a while, and it was a nice little refuge, even though they were quite busy during the day. The food was good, the people were nice, and it was just up the street. You can get a delicious lunch or dinner to eat in or take home with you.  I once bought three of their cookies and brought them to someone in the hospital, because I knew they were the best to be had that day, plus they were on the way to the hospital.

And it’s still like that. For this, I was, and am, very grateful.

Yapa is quite a distance for me to go now, since I’ve been in the suburbs since 2002, I’m in town about once or twice a month, and to be honest, I don’t go into TMC unless I have to, as I have for the past 3 Fridays. Should I find myself working back at TMC, I might have the opportunity to visit more often; we’ll see.

If you’re in Houston and find yourself in the Medical Center area for whatever reason, consider having lunch at Yapa; their menus are online, so see what they have and find what you like before you get there. They are located at the corner of Holcombe and Buffalo Speedway in the little building close to the corner. The address is 3173 W Holcombe Boulevard (77025) and you can call them at 713-664-9272.

Warning: While Yapa is a little place worth visiting, it’s not in the big building with Randall’s. Yapa is in the small one-off building in the parking lot. You know the type of building I mean, an auxiliary building. You can see it here–Yapa is in that building on the right, close to the big building.

Thanks for still being there, and feeding this hungry feline when she really needed it.

Happy dining!

Quinoa–have you tried it?

First, a little blog news: I’ve started, but not yet working much on, another blog, but this one on sewing. Yes, yet another sewing blog on the web. Let’s see how many stories about cutting my fingers with scissors, sticking needles and other sharp items in my fingers and hands and pins in my feet I dare to publish on the web for your amusement. Yes, I’ve bled on many, many textiles. But not the fabulous 1996 wedding dress, thank heavens (blood is a bear to get out of raw silk.)

I’ve bled in the kitchen, too, never in food and have never stuck a knife through my metacarpals. There *is* the matter of the air conditioner motor mount through the bottom of one of my feet, barely missing my metatarsals, but I was about 8 or 9, I think. I can still find the little scar on the bottom of my foot. (Never mind which one.)

I’ve had a LOT of tetanus shots in my life. But I’ve never broken a bone. Yet.

Back to the food discussion while I nibble on the leftover dried cherries from the delicious sausage and acorn squash thing last week. . .I need to get more, I want to make it again. Dried cherries. . .YUM. . . .

One of those things I absolutely love is quinoa. It’s a pebbly grain-like stuff that’s cooked like rice and has long been a staple of health food stores and the veggie crowd. But why would Amy like it?  It’s healthy! It’s gluten free! It’s complete protein! It’s a cure for cancer and high blood pressure!

I’m kidding about that last part. BUT–it really is healthy and a complete protein. I love this stuff, and I don’t even care if it’s healthy. I’d put it up there with chocolate for deliciousness.

Well, almost.

There are a number of jokes about being a native New Orlenian; one of them goes, “you know you’re from New Orleans when you start a pot of rice and you have no idea what’s for dinner.” I quit eating rice, especially white rice, many years ago. If you are looking for something to substitute for rice, keep reading.

I discovered quinoa when I made a fancy stuffed poblano pepper dinner for my “new husband” in 1996 or 1997 when it appeared in a Martha Stewart Living issue. (I had to hunt it down at one of the small, far-flung health food stores in New Orleans–they were few and far between.) It had quinoa and walnuts and goat cheese and I can’t remember what else. I’d never bought poblanos in my life, so it was a big deal for me to make it. It was SO fancy, and I when I served it to King of the Road and went to explain it, he said, “don’t tell me what’s in it. Just let me eat it.” I never made it again, and after four years, I stopped cooking for him (we split), but I did remember the quinoa.

A few years ago a couple of recipes showed up in Suzanne Somers cookbook Slim & Sexy Forever. And that’s how I started eating the stuff again (and no husband around to complain about it, either.)

I tell people about quinoa frequently, but a lot of folks have never heard of it or have no idea what it is, even if they are “into healthy things.” Shame–it’s really tasty when prepared properly, and it’s as easy as that boil-in-the-bag white rice stuff,  not to mention healthier.

So, what is it and why should you consider buying some to try? Well, it’s not actually a grain, it’s the SEED of the grain, but it’s sold that way, both in boxes and in some grocery stores in their bulk sections (like my local HEB.)  Let’s let Purdue explain it a bit better than I can:

Quinoa or quinua (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) is native to the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. This crop (pronounced KEEN-WAH), has been called 41 vegetable caviar” or Inca rice, and has been eaten continuously for 5,000 years by people who live on the mountain plateaus and in the valleys of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. Quinua means “mother grain” in the Inca language. This crop was a staple food of the Inca people and remains an important food crop for their descendants, the Quechua and Aymara peoples who live in rural regions.

This annual species is in the goosefoot family and is related to the weed, common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.), canahua (C. pallidicaule Aellen), and wormseed (C. ambrosiodes L. anthelminticum). Possible hybrids between quinoa and common lambsquarters have been observed in Colorado. Quinoa is also in the same botanical family as sugarbeet, table beet, and spinach, and it is susceptible to many of the same insect and disease problems as these crops. Quinoa is sometimes referred to as a “pseudocereal” because it is a broadleaf non-legume that is grown for grain unlike most cereal grains which are grassy plants. It is similar in this respect to the pseudocereals buckwheat and amaranth.

Have you got that? Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Now what?

It’s like this: quinoa is lower on the glycemic index than white rice, and takes a lot less time to cook than the more flavorful brown rice. Watch out, though–if you turn your back on it, the stuff *will* burn on the bottom of the pot, and you’ll have to a) soak it and b) use a liberal amount of Brillo to get the pot clean again. (Never mind how I know that. Brillo is my friend.)

If you have someone in your household who is on any number of diets we have in the US, quinoa may be a part of it (check the diet’s guidelines and, if necessary, your physician to be sure.) Since it’s gluten free, folks with sensitivities may be able to have it. It’s plant-based, so vegetarians and vegans love it. Ancient Harvest has a page with more nutritional information on quinoa.

No, I am not a vegan, vegetarian, or lacto-ovo anything. If you ask me what I like about the holidays, expect me to say TURKEY. Don’t even think of suggesting that other fake-me-out stuff.

Warning: quinoa is, as you might imagine, more expensive than rice, since it’s more of a specialty item. At my local HEB, and on occasions when I go to Central Market, a bulk pound of it is about $3.99; that’s also for organic. (I’ve never bought it boxed.)  I don’t eat it every day, but when I buy it, I’m in the bulk section buying huge bags of it. Since it’s dried, it keeps for quite a while. I have a big glass jar that I use *just* for storing my quinoa supply. I also try to keep it full, so I can have it whenever I want some.

Yes, I want it all the time–but I don’t eat it all the time, honest. Even though I could.

There is also a red quinoa, and I bought a small amount of it at Central Market just to try it. Red quinoa is something like $7 or $8 a pound, and not knowing how I’d like it, I just bought about a half cup or so of it. British cookbook author Nigella Lawson posted on Facebook a picture of something she had in LA with fresh spinach, red quinoa and an egg on top, and boasted how she thought the red tasted better. OK, Nigella says it’s good, I gotta try it, so I did. But I can’t say I share the same sentiment. Maybe I didn’t cook it long enough, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try it again one day after doing a little more research.

Now I’m going to tell you what to do with it. The basic cooking directions are here, but what I’ve been doing is one part quinoa, two parts water, and a chicken bullion cube for ever cup of water used. Oh, YEAH! Boil the water, rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve, toss the cube(s) in the boiling water, then add the quinoa. Cover, turn down the heat to medium, and cook until the water is absorbed.

Do NOT walk away from it, or you will have a mess–and no tasty quinoa to eat.

Giada de Laurentiis’ new book, Weeknights with Giada, has a couple of recipes for quinoa, including one for, no kidding, canned salmon. I can make that one anytime, because. . .I keep buying cans of salmon for emergencies. No garlic, believe it or not, and it’s a bit unusual and quite good.

I also made this Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash last year for Thanksgiving. And for the office luncheon. And for myself. It’s REALLY good, but does fall apart a little when you cut it into slices.

The original Suzanne Somers’ recipe that got me started eating it is called Sauteed Herb Quinoa, and it goes like this:

1 cup dry quinoa

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 shallots, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leave parsley

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the quinoa according to package directions (or see directions above.)

While the quinoa is cooking, place a saute pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and shallots; saute for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the cooked quinoa and the parsley and stir to combine. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve immediately.

If you’re feeling adventurous this weekend, get a small bag of quinoa, or a small box, and give it a try (just don’t BURN it.) You’ll be in for a nice surprise, because it really is tasty and good for you, as well as pretty easy to make.

Happy Dining!

The Hot Mess

So, today was Thanksgiving, and I did indeed bake some Babycakes goodies and made The Soup Of Enlightenment. (YUM!!) I also made some Tuscan Mashed Chickpeas on page 42 of Barefoot Contessa Foolproof. It’s similar to hummus, but no tahini (sesame paste.)  It’s literally two cans of chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) some chicken broth, added to some cooked tomatoes, minced garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.

I also walked for 90 minutes tonight. And did some pushups. Envy me. Especially in a little black dress. (One of these days.)

Tuscan Mashed Chickpeas was one of the samples from the book they served to us in line at Sur la Table when I went to see Ina Garten on November 12th. I didn’t remember it being watery. . .not sure what I did, but I think I might have accidentally a) over-processed the chickpeas and b) didn’t cook the tomatoes long enough. Oh, well–turn the heat up and let it boil out? Yes, in a cast iron frying pan. It worked. Now I have some delicious stuff in my fridge to nibble on with celery. (The book recommends “shards of grilled country bread;” that’s not something I normally have around.)

I’ve heard a new slang term that I think truly describes many a kitchen disaster: The Hot Mess. I was watching the first episode of the new Hot In Cleveland season online (on TVLand.com, OK?) and heard Valerie Bertinelli’s character Melanie use that term to describe her new job situation. What it came from was describing someone, usually female, who is, well, a mess–bad dresser, drinks too much, whatever. Lindsay Lohan fits this description perfectly; so does Britney Spears. A “hot mess.” Bigger mess than the usual.

We’ve all been there, right?

While making my delish Tuscan Smashed Chickpeas, I started thinking about many a “hot mess” I’ve had in the kitchen, and while they were not fun when they were going on, they’re pretty amusing now. . .and better with no witnesses. Like the Thanksgiving a couple of years ago when I was slicing onions to brine a turkey the day before. My aunt called, and I wanted to talk to her, so I did. While using one of those mandolins to slice onions. I forgot to pick up the holder thingy, and when I got to the bottom of the onion, my thumb hit the blade. Sharp blade. Sharp hit. Lotsa blood. None got anywhere else but the two dishtowels I grabbed to stop the bleeding. Didn’t go to hospital, and it healed up all by itself. Eventually.

I did that once before, slitting open the middle finger of my right hand–not my driving finger, thankfully. I was trying to separate frozen sliced cheese so I could make my new husband a sandwich. No, I didn’t bleed on that, either. But I did go through some bandages that week.

A couple of years ago I bought a head of cauliflower because it was on sale, and finally decided to just roast it in the toaster oven on the convection setting. Well. . .it roasted all right. It was burned to a crisp. DARNIT. A whole head of cauliflower into the trash. I set it aside to cool, and I just idly picked up a piece and ate it.

DELICIOUS.

I’m serious–if you don’t like cauliflower, BURN IT! It gets rid of the chalky taste and it’s SOOOO GOOD. That was an accident that turned out good. They don’t all turn out that way.

“Hot mess” would also be a good way to describe the last attempt I made at making gravy from the turkey. I don’t LIKE gravy, therefore, I don’t MAKE gravy. Every year someone *else* has made gravy. I stay away from it, because it truly was a mess the last time I tried it. And they never let me forget it, either.

About ten years ago, I had just moved in with my very good friend in La Marque, TX (formerly known as “ex-boyfriend,” but that’s another story.)  He’s a widower, and we were going to his mother-in-law’s place for Thanksgiving. Me, nervous. A week or two before, I made some sweet potato frites from that month’s issue of Martha Stewart Living for dinner, and they were SO GOOD! We couldn’t stop stuffing our faces! I decided I’d bring them to Thanksgiving dinner.

Of course, expanding a recipe like that doesn’t *always* work. And it doesn’t help that his comment was, “Oh, yeah, that top oven needs to be recalibrated.”

My delicious sweet potatoes were a hot mess. Ditto that goat-cheese and fig salad I brought, with the balsamic dressing. The hostess, a very nice lady, brought me some Wish-Bone; she didn’t realize that I’d already dressed it. And I never did THAT again. . .but at least I tried.

Whenever I cooked him breakfast, it became a game to see if I could get his eggs “over easy” just the way he liked them. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. There was one day that I made a breakfast that, he claimed, stunk up the whole house with the onions, and he had to leave the doors open to get the cooking odors to go away while I was working. That’s when the stray cat got in the house, and my brave feline Kismet ran that cat up the street. Oh, and I never made that one again.

Another time I decided to try a Suzanne Somers recipe for Beef Curry. I admit that I’m not completely familiar with Indian, Thai and Vietnamese cooking, but this looked pretty simple. I found curry paste in my local HEB, and went to town on this 20 minute beef curry.

Let’s just say that HE went to KFC for dinner that night. Oh, that’s a recipe I’ll never try again. Nobody could tell me what curry was hot and what wasn’t, and of course, the one I got was BURNING HOT. I try to be frugal, but this went out. Neither of us could stomach it, so KFC it was that night.

And, believe it or not, we’re friends today. Amazing.

Then there was the day I roasted my own garlic in the oven. I bought one of those little clay bakers, and did not, at the time, own a countertop (aka “toaster”) oven like I do now. Well, after an hour in the oven, the garlic wasn’t the soft, smushy thing the box said it would be. So I put it in the microwave to bake a little longer.

We’ve all done this, right?

A few minutes later, the light is off, or so I thought. The microwave oven was filled with smoke. I opened the door and smoke came billowing out, and the garlic was ON FIRE. Yes, it ignited, and all I could do was grab it with metal tongs and dunk it in some water in the sink. And that was the last time I attempted to roast garlic.

Around 1990 or so, I decided to make something fancy for a family holiday dinner (Easter, I think.)  I still have my first-edition copy of the 1984 Avon International cookbook, still in the jacket, with native-country recipes from representatives from all over the world. I have long had a fascination with Australia, although I’ve never been Down Under. (I do have friends in Melbourne who have long invited me for a visit; one day, I really am going to go.)

So I decided I would make a fancy Pavlova for dinner, a recipe from the Aussie Avon Lady. If you’ve never had one, it’s basically a large baked meringue with fruit and whipped cream on top. Whipped egg whites that are baked and left in the oven for some time after you turn it off. Turns out crispy. You have to assemble it right before serving so that the bottom doesn’t go soggy. It *should* look something like this:

Aussie Pavlova

Unfortunately, mine didn’t. That bottom layer, the meringue, went flat. As in pancake flat. So I chopped up some fruit and took it as is. Over the river and through the woods to the folks’ place. Tasted pretty good. Fortunately, nobody but me knew what it was, and that it was not supposed to be flat. I have since made pavlovas successfully, albeit not for family members.

Do you eat microwave popcorn? No, I don’t–not anymore, for a couple of reasons, namely the toxins that make the stuff taste good. But I admit, I did buy it at one time, oil, toxins and all. I was not at home, and not alone, with a friend of mine and we were going to have some. It didn’t all pop; a significant amount ended up un-popped. So we put it back in the microwave and tried again.

Flame. In the microwave. Any questions?

She swore she would never tell anyone what happened, and she didn’t; she passed away about a year later, but not from the popcorn. There are some things we do NOT try, and they don’t tell you about stuff like that on TV. Especially not cooking shows. Then again, I’m sure there’s a blooper reel from every cooking show on The Food Network. But one it ever got out, I bet Giada de Laurentiis would sue!

Just kidding, Giada. I know you don’t make mistakes on camera.

Speaking of Giada, just earlier this year, when her new book came out, Weeknights with Giada, I bought it ahead of time to get the much-desired ticket to get into the signing. I tried one of her recipes, and, well. . .I screwed it up. Used a garlic-flavored oil when I shouldn’t have, and did something else or forgot something else. . .it was edible, but didn’t taste the way she intended. So when I got to talk to her, I said, “Hi, Giada. I screwed up one of your recipes last night.” Giada said, “Uh, oh, what’d  you do?” I told her. My bad, I know. But it wasn’t as big of a hot mess as some have been. And I made that recipe again, the RIGHT way.

What *was* a hot mess was another Giada recipe, Lamb Ragu from Giada’s Kitchen. The first two times I made it, I didn’t quite get that at some point you turn the heat down. The second time I did that, I took a pink highlighter and went over the line that says to TURN DOWN THE HEAT. Never made THAT mistake again. (Delicious recipe, BTW.)

Oh, and when I cook with tomato sauce, especially a lot of it, my kitchen looks like a crime scene. I am proud of this. Yes, I clean it up, too.

Numerous mistakes have been made by NOT reading the recipe, but for the most part, I over came them. Thank heavens.

I have a brother who will tell you to never eat my cooking, because “Amy can’t cook.” I can, but. . .well, I tried to cook for him a couple of times, Let’s put it this way–he sent me an apron for my birthday that says, “Last time I cooked, almost no one got sick!” He even writes songs about my cooking. Or rather, he re-writes songs about my cooking. Maybe I’ll post the lyrics to one he re-wrote for me, called Amy’s Back in Austin. Maybe I should send it to the group who wrote the original, a band called Little Texas. It’s actually a pretty good tune, even though I’m not a country fan, but I don’t think they ever thought someone would parody it like that.

Why would a brother say such things about his sister’s cooking? After all the fabulous desserts transported over 350 miles to New Orleans for holidays? Well, it goes like this. . .

When I got married in 1996, my friend JS gave me a copy of Martha Stewart’s Quick Cook Menus. I still have it, and even used a recipe from it just recently. Well, I still lived in New Orleans, and my brother, his wife and daughter lived here in Houston. (We’ve swapped since then.) They visited for a week, and I made sure I not only invited them for dinner, but made something fantastic from that book. The Chicken Cacciatore with angel-hair pasta. The salad with the creamy balsamic dressing. The garden soup from that month’s issue of Martha Stewart Living. The raspberry cobbler with the biscuit topping. It was FAAAABULOUS, I tell you.

In my world, it was. The Queen would have been very pleased. But this wasn’t the Queen I invited to dinner.

The next day, I got a call from my brother: “What was in that soup?” Seems that my niece, who was then about 15 or so, was, well, hurling all night. Didn’t affect anyone else, just her. Ahhhh. . .then my sister-in-law tells me that she’s allergic to raspberries. . .but she forgot that she was allergic until after she’d eaten some.

Needless to say, I’ve never cooked for them again, and he continues to write songs about my cooking when the muse visits him.

Others have told me of their kitchen disasters. My good friends in Australia have also had their share of them. The wife, a teacher who graduated from LSU in Baton Rouge, told me that she’d once made a birthday cake for her husband when the beaters broke in the cake. She thought she got all the parts out, but just to be safe, they were very careful when they ate it!

My mother told me one of my favorites–she always baked birthday cakes for kids’ birthdays; ours as well as relatives, since she was the best at it, particularly the decorating part. (Mom also convinced me that I would not be able to bake my own wedding cake. I could have, but. . .it was easier to let someone else bake it.)  For my 17th birthday, I requested, and got, a chocolate rum cake–but no, it wasn’t boozy or anything.

Mom had a stand mixer from Sears, (circa 1975, I think) and didn’t use it every day, so it was in a cabinet most of the time until it was needed. Well, it was nearly May 9th, her own mother’s birthday, and Mom made a cake for her, too. She put all the ingredients into the mixing bowl, turned it on, and out the other end was a big roach! It had been living in the motor case for an indeterminate amount of time, and turning it on rattled its cage. Nothing got INTO the batter, it ran in the other direction. Thank heavens, or one of us would have been sent to the store to get more cake mix.

I suppose the last hot mess was the last toaster oven I had. I killed it. Six years after I received it for a Christmas gift from the aforementioned very good friend, it stopped working, and I bought another one. I really don’t want to be without one, and of course I bought the newest Cuisinart model with the convection setting, timer and exact-heat sensor on it. (On sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond, with a coupon, of course.) I use it more than the one in the stove–you can roast a whole chicken in it! Yes, I do it, too.

That’s enough for tonight. I’d love to hear about your kitchen disasters, the ones you can laugh at now. (Someone losing a finger or toe is NOT funny, really.)  Post them below in the comments. . .if you dare.

Happy Dining!