July 28, 2009

Wine & Pie

The Land of Limbo belongs exclusively to the separated-but-not-quite-divorced. And it is a strange, strange place. One of the strangest things about it is that you firmly believe you're stuck there all by your lonesome. This is ironic, because you know for a fact there's at least one other resident - that being the person to whom you are now not-yet-unmarried. Not that you want to talk with him about it, even under the most amicable of circumstances.

Which is how we come to wine and pie. And yes, there's a recipe in here ... two actually. Keep reading. We'll get to them. ("What?" you gasp. "She's talking about food? I totally forgot she did that.")

I am fortunate enough to have a large number of friends who love me to pieces and have been looking for an excuse to show it. One of these friends, when he saw me heading off into Limbo Land, realized he had two other friends who were living there too. He introduced us to each other. And now the three of us are also friends, tied together by the strangeness of our circumstances and by the fact that we happen to like each other. Our kids like each other, too. Coolness all around.

Last weekend, we got together with two other Limbo Land residents for an evening of wine, pie, and catharsis.

It was not all about the dessert. We kicked off the evening with a MiddleSouthEasternAsian smorgasbord that included homemade tahini hummus, spicy chick pea masala, green salad with feta, and a fragrant cinnamon beef and chicken and rice dish. There was also a big mess of tabouleh made with such dedication and commitment that every single leaf of parsley and mint was chopped by hand. I know this because I did all that chopping myself and my forearms still ache ... yes I own a food processor ... clearly I was not in my right mind. The tabouleh could have used a good bit more lemon. But it wasn't bad, considering I was winging the recipe from memory because the dog ate my recipe cards. That, however, is a story for another day. Tabouleh recipe is below (and if you can figure out what it was missing - I suspect it was more than just the lemon - please share).

All that food? It was just the appetizer. The whole point of the evening was wine and pie. You put those two things together and you have something magical. Hence the catharsis. Give anyone enough sugar and alcohol and they'll have epiphanies they didn't even know they needed.

For me, pie comes once a year at Thanksgiving. I make an apple crunch pie that I found in an issue of Family Circle waaaaay back in the mid-1990s and have made every year since. It's the only pie I make.

In honor of wine and pie night, though, I ventured outside of my apple-y comfort zone and made a strawberry-rhubarb pie. With fresh rhubarb. I've eyed it at the grocery store countless times and never done a damn thing with it. But it's good stuff, that rhubarb. Pretty and pink and tart. Recipe is below.

My pie was served side-by-side with our hostess's Hershey Bar pie, a decadent mash-up of almond Hershey bars, marshmallows (I think?), Cool Whip and two other ingredients that I really wish I could remember right now. Even my kids liked that one. And they think pie is for sissies.

Gotta tell you - it's worth living in Limbo Land just for the food.


The Dog Ate My Tabouleh
  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 bunch of scallions, green parts and all, thinly sliced
  • 2 bunches of parsley, chopped fine (take my advice and use the food processor)
  • 2 packs of mint (about 1/2 c when chopped - hey, if you drop it in the food processor with the parsley, you'll really be cooking!)
  • 1 seedless English cucumber, peeled (mostly) and diced
  • 4-6 tomatoes with actual flavor, seeded and diced
  • The juice of 4 lemons. I only had 2. Use 4. Or more. Lemon is good.
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Cook the bulgur according to package directions, drain (I squeezed mine out in a kitchen towel) and cool. Mince the garlic, then plop it in a cup and pour the olive oil over it. Set it aside to give the oil a chance to get all infused and garlicky (I squeezed in a lemon, too, though I'm not sure that added anything). Do allllllll that chopping. Or processing. Your call. Mix the parsley, mint, cucumber and tomatoes in a big bowl. Fluff the bulgur with a fork and drop it in. Squeeze in the lemons, add in the olive oil and garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix it all up, then let sit for an hour or so to let the flavors blend.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (The Cheater's Version)
  • 4 c trimmed rhubarb, sliced about 1/2 inch thick (about 1 1/2 lbs if you're buying it fresh - though frozen will do)
  • 1 lb (16 oz) strawberries, hulled and cut in half (my diva cut the strawberries - girl's got mad skills with a paring knife)
  • 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c cornstarch (though I'm thinking tapioca might work better)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • One refrigerated Pillsbury pie crust (that's the cheating part - if you want to go whole hog, find a good two-crust recipe and make it instead)
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the first eight ingredients (everything through the salt) in a big bowl and mix gently. Place one pie crust in the bottom of your pie pan and spoon the filling into it, spreading it out evenly. Lay out the other pie crust on a floured board and slice it into 1/2 inch strips. Lay the strips across the filling in a lattice pattern. Trim dough ends even with the overhang on the bottom crust, then fold strip ends and overhang under, seal, and crimp. Brush the yolk and water mixture over the crust. Sprinkle with sugar. Transfer pie to baking sheet and bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temp to 350 F, cover pie with foil to keep crust from overbrowning, and bake for 1 hour 25 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool. Enjoy with Cool Whip, wine and friends.

July 20, 2009

Eating the Toothpaste

I used to eat toothpaste. Crazy, I know.

This goes under the category of "good girl breaks bad." When you are a chronically good girl - the kind who stays out of the R-rated movies, never takes anything stronger than ibuprofen, and always, always keeps those dratted elbows off the table - well, you need to find a way to rebel.

So, I didn't brush my teeth. And I lied about it. Lied like a rug. To the point of wetting my toothbrush, smooshing toothpaste onto the side of the sink, and eating the minty-fresh Crest. All that trouble because I knew my folks would check.

Frankly, it would have been far, far easier just to brush already.

(And before you get too grossed out, I was like 9 at the time.)

So, as a former toothpaste gourmand, I'd really like to know why toothpaste for kids has gotten so darn complicated. Used to be there was just one choice: the aforementioned minty-fresh Crest.

And now?

Kids' paste is no longer pasty. It comes in a rainbow of colored gels, all filled with sparkly silver flecks. Because, of course, children are irresistibly attracted to shiny things.

Kids' paste no longer tastes like mint. It tastes like watermelon and bubblegum and chocolate (yes, chocolate). It never, ever tastes like mint. Ew, mint.

And the packaging? No more plain white tubes for today's kids. Oh, no. Their packaging is covered with every major character ever created, from Dora to Spider-Man to SpongeBob. And it comes in kid-friendly containers that stand up tall and squeeze from the middle and never actually empty. Big huge coup for the toothpaste companies, mind you - Look, it's easy! Look, you'll never get it all out! Here, buy more!

With all this hype, are my kids any more interested in brushing their teeth than I was?

Nope. They eat the toothpaste, too.

July 12, 2009


I have always believed in my heart of hearts that ice cream is God's gift to dessert. It is the perfect treat. Sweet but not too sweet, blessedly compatible with chocolate, and it even has some honest-to-goodness nutritional value mixed in with all the fat and calories.

As of this weekend, I'm in the market for a new dessert.

My wonderful au pair has been running the kids ragged all summer. Long neighborhood walks, trips to the park with a soccer ball, and hours and hours at the pool. All three of them are brown as berries - and yes, that includes my redhead. My water-phobic oldest is learning to swim. And my diva, already a fish, has actually grown gills. The kids are active, active, active.

As a result, come the weekends, they are utterly fried.

This past Saturday, I tried to get them out of the house. I tried to take them to the pool. I tried to take them to the park. Nope. They wanted to sit at home and sleep and snack and watch TV. Can't say as I blame them. But me, I work from my house. I sleep at my house. I am always, always at my house.

I needed to get out of my house.

So I resorted to a bribe. I promised them a trip to Maggie Moo's. Like me, they'll do pretty much anything for ice cream.

Maggie Moo's is cool - one of those cold marble places where they mix up a bunch of stuff and put it into a cup. My little guy went straight-up chocolate with M&Ms. Good choice, though I'm still trying to get the stains out of his white T-shirt. The two oldest, though - they have really odd taste in ice cream, I gotta say. Both of them picked this sickly sweet, bright blue, cotton candy flavor. And then they mixed it with mint. Yes, mint. Oh, and the add-ins. My oldest added Reese's Cups and Heath bars. And my diva, she put in peanut butter and white chocolate chips.


And then they had dinner. Meatballs. Apples. A little pasta.

By the time the three of them headed up to bed, my diva was looking somewhat green around those new gills. Then, as I was turning off the light and saying a hushed good-night, she exploded, sending a sea of bright, neon blue vomit all over her bed. I rushed her into the bathroom, where the explosion just kept coming. The poor thing was sobbing and retching and sobbing, all at once.

This is where the single mom thing gets really tough. I had to leave her sitting there. It's the last thing you want to do when your baby is sick and crying. But they all share a room. My boys were exhausted and needed to sleep, and it smelled awful, and cleaning up was going to take a very, very long time. So, in the space of about 30 seconds, I dashed into the bedroom, stripped the bed, spritzed some air freshener, said good-night and closed the door.

Then I rushed back into the bathroom. By then there was blue everywhere. In her hair, all over her pajamas, on the floor, the tub, the cabinets. The poor girl had nothing left. She was just standing there, miserable and wet and stinky. I put her gently in the shower, and while she washed, I disinfected everything. When the blue was gone at last, my diva crawled onto the futon in our playroom, snuggled up beside me and fell fast asleep.

It was over. No middle of the night wake-up calls. No post-breakfast nausea. Other than having to listen to my boys enumerate in great detail and with great glee all the contents of their sister's blue spew the next morning, it was over.

But, as God is my witness, we are never having ice cream again.

July 9, 2009

Martha's Cupcakes

Next month - in fact, on the very first day of next month - it's my little guy's birthday.

He's very keen on the idea of his birthday. I think mostly that's because he wants presents. And he wants to be the center of the universe, even if it's just for a day. With three kids in the house, trust me, that doesn't happen very often.

So every night he asks me if it's his birthday tomorrow. He knows August is coming, but he doesn't quite get the when.

And this year his birthday is a little more complicated than usual. That's because this year, for some reason, my little guy is refusing to age.

I've tried to explain to him that he will turn four on his birthday. He says no. Vehemently, with full on pouty face. "I'm not gonna be four," he grouches at me. "I'm gonna stay three again!"

It's hard to disagree with him. I'd have been perfectly happy to stick at 32 for a decade or so. Not possible, of course. So I'm trying to convince him that older is okay. And I think I've found the perfect bribe.


I decorate cakes for fun and frolic. My kids' birthdays are a special treat because I get to pull an all-nighter, run a Harry Potter marathon on the portable DVD player, and get crafty with fondant, colored nonpareils and run-in sugar. Few other things make me as happy.

The kids love the cake thing, too. At least once a week, they will pull out all my many cake books and create fantasy celebrations in their heads. It reminds me of the Sears catalog, back in the day. My Oma used to call it the Wish Book (I think everyone else's grandmother did, too), and my sister and I would spend hours building a wished-up life complete with furniture, glamorous outfits, and - um - tools.

My little guy, though, is less about the cakes of late. Nowadays he's all about the cupcakes. He loves Dede Wilson's Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes (oh, and I do, too - her Italian meringue buttercream is lightly sweet, all natural and utterly delicious). He'll sit with that book for an hour at a time, flipping the pages and sighing with cupcakey joy.

But today - oh, today! I have found the Holy Grail of cupcake books. I was at BJ's, doing the warehouse thing. It's tedious and annoying, so I treat myself to book browsing while I'm there. This evening I was rewarding myself with a fruitless hunt for the new Nora Roberts novel when I spotted it ... Martha Stewart's Cupcakes. Oh oh oh oh oh!! Gorgeous. Tasty. Inspired. Now, I can make my own chocolate faux-bois! I can make little fondant monkeys! I can create a tiny cupcake forest of meringue mushrooms! It's a cornucopia of cupcake creativity.

I think it'll be enough to convince the little guy that he does, in fact, want to turn four. Because if he turns four I will make him any cupcake he wants. In fact, I will make him two dozen of them. And I won't make him share.

I'd turn four for Martha's cupcakes. Wouldn't you?

PS: For kicks, check out the Cake Wrecks blog link on the right. Daily posts of absolutely abysmal cakes, with occasional highlights of a few stunning concoctions. If you're serious about your caking, try 52 Cupcakes.

July 2, 2009

Spaghetti Hands

An old and dear friend of mine has recently published a book. A real book. Actual literature. His name is John Pipkin, and his book, Woodsburner, is really quite good. Well thought-out with intriguing characters, a compelling story and some beautiful turns of phrase. Not quite finished with it - life in limbo leaves not enough time for reading, so I'm only about a third of the way through. But it's been fun so far.

Earlier this week, John was in town. I took two nights out - mid-week, mind you - to go see him and his family, hear him read his book, and catch up on the last 14 years or so.

My kids were flabbergasted. Mom going out on a weekday? Mom actually leaving the house??? That's like SpongeBob doing a cameo on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Inconceivable.

So intrigued were they that they took time out of a tasty dinner of spaghetti and peas to grill me mercilessly on where I'd been and what I was doing on my two nights out. I felt like a teenager who'd just missed curfew facing her disbelieving parents. When I told the kids about John and his book, they demanded to see it. It's like I'd just said I was late because the car got a flat. They had to check that blown tire for themselves to be sure it was real.

I brought the book downstairs, but of course I wouldn't let them touch it. Pretty, pristine dust jacket meets spaghetti hands. Not good. The kids were duly impressed by the book all the same. Lots of oohs, lots of ahs. They liked seeing my friend's picture and his signature on the inside. My Aspie seemed particularly struck by John's name. He said it over and over: "John Pipkin John Pipkin John Pipkin." Cool name. I get it. I used to call him Pipkin most of the time myself, just 'cause I liked saying it.

The kids wanted to play after dinner, so I put the book on the stairs and forgot about it until bedtime. Promptly at 8:30, I marshalled the troops and sent them up ahead of me. They charged upstairs, my Aspie leading the way.

He took one look at the book and started hollering. "Don't touch The Pipkin! Don't touch The Pipkin!"

This struck me as inordinately funny. Really wish I could tell you why. (Though I suspect it has something to do with Remington Steele.)

Anyway, all three of them gave that book an extremely wide berth, which is hard to do on our stairs. I may have made that point about keeping their hands off just a little too clearly.

John's a parent, too. He started the book the week before his son was born. He wrote between 4 a.m. feedings and a boring job that paid the bills. Now he's a published author and a good dad to boot. Even his wife agrees. So buy the book, read it, love it - and feel good about supporting one of the hardest working fellas I know.