Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weeks of Eating Cheap

I am incredibly lucky in that for the most part, we don't have to worry about the grocery budget. Every once in a while, though, we have an unusual bill (usually car-related these days) that makes me frown at the amount I've been spending, and vow to cut back a little bit. Then we have a week in which we try to eat from the pantry (which tends to be kind of overstocked, because I never buy one can of something when I can buy three). Here, in no particular order, are my favorite "cheap week" meals:
  • Pizza. We have homemade dough, mozzarella, and pepperoni already, so kind of a no-brainer. Our oldest recently commented that we've stopped having pizza-and-a-movie nights; perhaps it's time to resume that tradition.
  • Tacos. One of my guilty pleasures is Old El Paso or Ortega tacos. From an actual box. With iceberg lettuce on top. Using ground beef from the farmer's market makes it all right, doesn't it? 
  • Fritatta. This counts as actual food. A half dozen eggs and a few vegetable odds and ends and you have a meal, albeit a rather slim one for hearty appetites. I will probably try to bake some bread or make a simple soup to go with it. Speaking of which...
  • Soups. Grab a butternut squash (cheap and abundant at this time of year), or a few potatoes, or a few cans of black beans for that matter.
  • Chickpea curries. One can of chickpeas, one can of diced tomatoes, seasonings, perhaps some fresh spinach (the only thing you'd need to buy), serve over the starch of your choice.
With no fuss and very little thinking, and one or two "leftovers" nights, there's a week of dinners. Not particularly inspired dinners, perhaps, but tasty and reasonably healthy. My shopping list has a mere 20 items on it, half of which we can probably get at the farmer's market.

Even better would be if I can get myself organized enough to make muffins or something over the weekend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Oh, Beta Readers....

I have ten of them signed up to read.


My takeaway? That the story sounds different enough to be interesting, and that the first scene promises writing quality that will at least not be torture to endure for 92,000 words.

I have also gotten one very honest negative review of that scene. I can live with that. The book has been through two drafts, but this is just the start of its journey.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Third Draft: Done

It ended up being somewhat shorter than I had hoped, once I deleted all of the crap scenes I had moved to the end to figure out later. It is however complete, a coherent story from start to finish with no missing scenes or transitions or bits marked "figure this out later." Now to wait and see if anyone on critters.org wants to beta, and to start researching the next novel.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Blueberry Crumb Cake

Just a day after I said I don't cook much right now, what did I end up doing but cooking dinner for a visiting friend. The dinner was Beef Carbonnade. The recipe from my venerable binder of clippings during my years as a Cooking Light subscriber. It delivered (and yes, the weather was hot and sticky here, but we cranked up the air conditioning and pretended that it was properly seasonal). While making the stew, it occurred to me with a frisson of horror that we had nothing at all to serve for dessert.

Acquaintances who hear about my baking frequently want to know why I'm not the size of a house, and the answer is that I don't often actually eat the stuff. I am someone who wants her sweets in the afternoon, the long desert between my early lunch and 6 p.m. dinnertime. After dinner I am busy making sure homework happened and organizing bedtime snacks, and other than the odd miniature chocolate bar I hardly ever eat dessert then. The exception happens when we have company. Somewhere in my mind it is written You shall serve dessert to your guests or give up all claim to being civilized.

The oven, of course, was going to be busy for the two+ hours it took the carbonnade to reduce itself to a molten deliciousness. So I went looking for something that a) I had everything I needed for, b) did not require chilling time or anything else complicated, and c) could be served warmish, since it would have to bake while we ate. That ruled out most cakes and brownies. I didn't have time to fuss around with batches of cookies. I did have a lot of summer fruit in the freezer....

Dorie Greenspan saved my bacon with her crumb cake. No exotic ingredients? Check. Simple to make? Check. Serve warm or room temperature? Check.

Scrumptious? Check!

5 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/3 c (packed) light brown sugar
1/3 c all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c chopped walnuts

1 pint (2 c) blueberries, fresh or frozen (no need to thaw)
2 c plus 2 tsp all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 c granulated sugar
grated zest of 1/2 lemon or 1/4 orange
6 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c buttermilk

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8-inch square pan and put it on a baking sheet. 
  2. Make the crumbs. Put all of the ingredients except the walnuts in a food processor. Pulse until it clumps and holds together when pressed. Transfer crumbs to a bowl. Mix in the walnuts. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate until needed (up to 3 days). 
  3. Toss the blueberries and 2 tsp flour together to coat the berries. Set aside. 
  4. Whisk together the remaining 2 c flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or another large bowl if using a hand mixer) rub the sugar and zest together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the butter and mix at medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. 
  6. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each. Beat in the vanilla. Dorie says don't worry if it looks curdled. 
  7. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients (in 3 additions) alternately with the buttermilk (in 2 additions).
  8. Gently stir in the berries.
  9. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth it. Get out the crumb mixture. Break it up with your fingers and scatter over the top.
  10. Bake for 55-65 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool until just warm or room temperature.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Things I Did with My iPhone in 24 Hours

  • Read Facebook
  • Make a phone call
  • Read Twitter
  • Read email
  • Read a novel (hi D*)
Thank you for everything, Mr. Jobs.