Saturday, December 3, 2011

Baby Steps!

My daughter can walk!

Sadly, we did not get a video of the official *first* step, because we just don't happen to have a camera trained on her at all times. Her first step, immediately followed by her next few, happened earlier today when she was trying to distract me so I wouldn't realize it was nap time. I was distracted, but not so much that we skipped the nap.

So this is actually like her sixth step and then some. Still pretty cool in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's an Off Schedule Day

Lizzie is a fantastic sleeper. I've always been a big fan of sleep myself, so I'm not terribly surprised my daughter inherited that trait. After all, I spent most of my time sleeping when I was pregnant with her.

I am suddenly concerned the next kid will be constantly sleep deprived...

Not really, of course. If sleeping a lot while pregnant was the real answer, expectant mothers everywhere would spend nine months in a self-induced coma.

We've made getting Lizzie proper sleep a priority her whole life and I think a big part of the reason she sleeps so well is that we keep to a very regular sleep schedule. This not only has the benefit of a well rested, healthy, happy child, it also makes the days more predictable and easier to manage.

Today, of course, is a totally off day. Lizzie had a fever yesterday afternoon and most of the night, her first one ever, and she's still recovering. I'm not sure what she really needs at this point because I have exactly no experience with how she reacts to being sick. Plus, I had an appointment with my OB this morning and had to take Lizzie with me (even if I could have left her with Sarah, I wouldn't have risked her daughter catching whatever bug got Lizzie yesterday), which meant running about. Running about is never good for the schedule. Result: everything is totally off and I'm not entirely sure where to go from here.

Lizzie's normal schedule runs like this:

7:30 - wake up
7:30-8:30 - breakfast
8:30-11:00 - playtime
11:00-1:00 - nap
1:00-1:30 - lunch
1:30-4:00 - playtime
4:00-5:00 - dinner, bath, and bedtime routine
5:00 - sleep

Now, it's not exact. Sometimes she wakes up a little early or takes a half hour or so to actually fall asleep at night. Some days she only naps for 45 minutes instead of the full 2 hours. But in general, that's how it goes.

Yes, really, that's pretty much our day every day. Yes, I know how lucky I am that I have a 15 month old who sleeps 14.5 straight hours overnight and then takes a 2 hour nap in the middle of the day. And I'm still here complaining about being off today.

I suck and you hate me and every parent who reads this post is never going to speak to me ever again. I get it. Hell, I have the super-sleeping baby. I take a little hate in exchange. ;-)

The downside to having a child who sleeps this much and this regularly is that when she's off, it really hits her hard. So here's today:

6:30 - wake up (after a super crap night of feverish irregular sleep)
7:30-8:30 - breakfast
8:30-9:30 - playtime
9:30-10:00 - nap in the car on the way to OB's office
10:00-12:00 - stroller and car seat playtime at the doctor and on the way home (she's a very active kid and does not like to sit still; this did not go over well)
12:00-3:00 - nap
3:00-4:00 - "lunch"

Um.... now what the heck do I do? Normally, if she wakes up a little early, I just ignore it and hope she's back on track by the next morning. If she takes a really short nap, say 30 minutes or less, I start the dinner, bath, and bedtime routine a little early to make up some of the difference. Or if she takes a long nap, I start dinner, bath, and bedtime a little late because I know she's not going to fall asleep again so soon after waking up.

Alas, today is just screwed up all the way around. I'm pretty sure she woke up early because her sheets were totally soaked with sweat from the fever last night and she can't have been very comfortable. No biggie, we just changed the sheets and moved on.

And the nap in the car didn't worry me, because I knew she'd be going down for her nap late if she took one at home at all. I mean, it was entirely possible she'd fall asleep in the car on the way home from the doctor too, meaning there would be no nap once she was home and at that point I was going to be grateful for that 30 minutes of extra sleep she snatched on the way down.

But she didn't fall asleep in the car on the way home, so she took a great nap in her crib once we were home. In fact, as you can see above, she napped for an extra long time. After a three hour nap, I'd normally push her bedtime back by about half an hour to compensate without depriving her of extra sleep she clearly needed.

But cumulatively, I'm at a loss. I mean, she just woke up and had lunch an hour and a half ago. I suspect that if I try feeding her dinner in a few minutes and then put her to bed, she's just going to fight me. It's not like she had a lot of playtime today to wear herself out with. But she was so sick last night and though she's in good spirits today she still looks a little pale. She's clearly got some more recovery to do.

I suppose we could skip dinner, since she's probably not hungry. But I don't want her to wake up hungry at 3AM either. Maybe a light dinner, half a bottle and two cubes of sweet potatoes instead of a full bottle, three cubes of sweet potatoes, and some ravioli like I'd originally planned?

And then bedtime might just have to be a fight. I'm kinda spoiled in that we rarely have to fight with her to get her to sleep. (Yeah, there's more of that hate coming my way. The post isn't even live yet as I type this and I can already feel it.) Or maybe I'm borrowing trouble. Maybe the fever has left her so beat she'll just drop off like normal in spite of virtually no activity all day.

This being a mom thing is tricky. Why don't kids come with troubleshooting instructions?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Divine Yogurt Cheesecake

Yes, that's really the name of this recipe on the Betty Crocker website. It is, possibly, the most accurate use of that particular adjective ever. I used to refer to cheesecake as ambrosia. I have, I think, finally found a recipe that makes that less hyperbole and more downright fact.

In short, this is the best cheesecake I've ever made. It's also one of the easiest and quickest cheesecakes I've ever made, which, to my way of thinking, makes it just about perfection in dessert form.

I made it for our TriMu Thanksgiving Feastivities yesterday and it turned out so much better than I expected that I was almost sad to share it, even with some of my closest friends. Had I "quality assurance tested" it beforehand, I'm not sure it would have been available for the group by dessert time.

1 spring form pan
1 large mixing bowl
1 electric mixer
Food processor or some other means of mixing the cookie crumbs and butter into crumbly goodness.
measuring cups and spoons
1 cookie sheet (the kind with sides, not those flat ones)

1 box vanilla wafer cookies, crumbed
4 tbsp butter or margarine
24oz cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
6oz yogurt (you can use a flavored yogurt if you want to give the cheesecake a hint of some other flavor, but I just used plain so as not to distract from the cheesecake flavor)
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
Cooking spray or a little bit of oil for the pan

Step 1: Heat oven to 300 degrees. Spray spring form pan with cooking spray or coat lightly with oil. Fill the cookies sheet with water and place it on the oven rack just below the center. (The cheesecake is going to go on the center oven rack just above that. Assuming you have two oven racks. If you don't, skip the cookie sheet.)

The cookie sheet of water is there to prevent the cheesecake from cracking while you bake it. I'm not sure how much use this actually is. My cheesecake did not crack during baking. Of course, it then cracked while it was cooling, so...

Step 2: Mix cookie crumbs and butter in the food processor. Hint: you can just toss the cookies straight from the box into the food processor, which will crumb them as it mixes them with the butter. Press crumble into the bottom and slightly up the side of the spring form pan. Refrigerate while making the filling.

Step 3: In the large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add sugar and eggs. Beat again until smooth. Stop periodically and scrape down the sides of the bowl so everything gets mixed properly. Add yogurt and flour. Beat again until smooth.

If you are the type who likes to taste doughs and batters before baking despite raw egg dangers, now would be a good time to do that. Though, I warn you, indulge at your own risk. You may not be able to stop once your start.

Step 4: Pour the filling over the crumb mixture in the spring form pan. Smooth it out gently so it fills the entire pan evenly.

Step 5: Bake on the center oven rack for 1 hour 25 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes until the center is set. Cool 30 minutes.

Step 6: Without removing or releasing the side of the pan, run a knife or spatula along the side of the cheesecake to loosen. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Recipe adapted from: Not much of an adaptation, actually, as the original recipe was damn near perfect all on its own.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Secret Blog Posts Revealed!

You thought I forgot about you all, didn't you? Not an unfair assumption. I've forgotten about blogs before. But not this time. There are posts going back a while that I'm just now publishing today. Because they were regarding a big secret, which I don't need to keep a big secret anymore.

Curious? I thought you might be.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I am thankful for my awesome husband, my beautiful daughter, the tiny little baby that's been growing inside me for these past twelve weeks, my wonderful family, and my fabulous friends. I have so many great people in my life and I love you all.

I am less than thankful for the maternity jeans I had to break down and get out of storage this morning. I don't fit into any of my old jeans anymore, but I don't look pregnant yet. I just look fat. Still, the elastic waistband should be useful this afternoon. ;-)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Super Cheesy Mac and Cheese

I have never been big on mac and cheese. Well, I mean I'm sure there was a period in my youth where I could not get enough of the powdered cheese and pasta stuff Kraft puts out there in its lovely blue box. But in general, mac and cheese has not been one of my favorite foods since around the time play doh and crayons also stopped being a serious contenders for that honor. I know it's practically blasphemy here in America to not like mac and cheese, but there it is.

However, pregnancy changes things. I never really had weird food cravings when I was pregnant with Lizzie--my husband was spared ever having to go on a midnight pickle and ice cream run--but I did start craving foods I'd never really wanted before. Like cheese. If a recipe called for a sprinkling of shredded cheese, my pregnant brain immediately decided that it could be improved by about 100000% by using something closer to an entire bag of shredded cheese instead. I never got to the point where I was just going to eat plain cheese all on its own for a snack, but cooking with excessive cheese became something of a given.

Strangely, this fascination with cheesy recipes did not go away once I had Lizzie and here she is almost 14 months old and I'm still thinking super cheesy is the only way to go. Thus, mac and cheese has made its way back into my life after all these years. My husband, a cheese-aholic from way back, is thrilled.

1 large pot
1 small saucepan
2qt casserole dish
spoons for mixing
some device for shredding cheese and crumbling crackers into crumbs (I used my food processor. You could also just buy shredded cheese and smash the crackers by hand if you want.)

1 box macaroni-type pasta (elbows, shells, rotini, whatever strikes your fancy)
16 oz cheese of your choice (In this case, I used 8 oz of sharp cheddar and 8 oz of pepper jack. The pepper jack gives it a great flavor; a little kick but not overpoweringly spicy.)
16 oz heavy whipping cream
1/2 or so of crumbled crackers or bread crumbs

That's it. This is probably one of my easiest recipes ever. Also, not so much in the healthy category. But I feel like you should have expected that, given the name.

Step 1: Cook pasta according to directions on the box, using the minimum cooking time suggested. You want it to be cooked but not completely soft; you're going to bake it too. Drain.

Step 2: While the pasta is cooking, warm the cream in the small saucepan. Don't cook the cream or boil the cream or anything like that. Seriously, warm on low heat, just enough that it's not refrigerator cold. You should also take this time to shred the cheese and crumble the crackers if you didn't just buy them that way.

Step 3: Mix warm cream, drained pasta, and shredded cheese together. You could theoretically use a separate mixing bowl for this step, but I prefer just to use the pasta pot. One less dish to wash, and we all know I'm all about minimizing the cleaning. Pour mixture into the casserole dish. Top with crumbs.

Step 4: Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until bubbly and the crumbs look toasted. Makes 6-8 servings, depending on how hungry you happen to be at the time.

Recipe adapted from: This recipes is a mangled, pretty much unrecognizable version of Annie's Muenster Mac and Cheese. She has dozens of mac and cheese recipes on her site (seriously, I searched her site for "mac and cheese" and got something like 186 results) and this one is by far the simplest, which is what made me want to try it in the first place. I did make the recipe as it stood once, but Lee and I both thought it was too bland and not cheesy enough. As you can see, I've more than compensated for those issues here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Baby Picture

Apparently, that lighter blob in the upper right
of the dark blob is the baby
Look! --->

We had our second OB appointment this morning and finally got to see the baby on the screen!

(Theoretically. I can't generally tell what I'm looking at on these things.)

Going by the measurements the ultrasound tech took today, they've adjusted my due date again. She was able to take an actual crown-to-rump measurement this time, which is more accurate than the pregnancy sack measurement that was all she was able to get last time. June 8, 2012!

We also got to hear the heartbeat pounding away. Our baby has a heartbeat!

Don't mind me. I'll just be over here, grinning like a fool.

Friday, October 28, 2011

So Much for Secrets

We decided we weren't going to tell anyone about the pregnancy, but if someone asked, we weren't going to lie. We've been visiting my parents for the past week and dancing around the question the whole time, but today my sister came out and actually asked "are you pregnant?". So my parents and sister now know the big secret about the baby.

Staying with them all week long, I'm not really surprised. Pregnancy is a hard secret to keep. I'm actually surprised it took this long for someone to ask.

As my pregnancy has progressed, the dreaded early pregnancy symptoms have started up. I'm not as sick as I was when I was pregnant with Lizzie. With her, I couldn't keep anything solid beyond dry toast and crackers down at all for months and I was so freaking tired I would drop off in the middle of conversations and sleep for hours. If I spent three consecutive hours awake and not puking my guts out, it was a miracle. Everything hurt and it was pretty much the most physically miserable time of my entire life.

This time is not so bad. In fact, I am keeping down most of what I eat and I can go a full four or five hours sometimes without being desperate for a nap. I do, however, still get completely worn out doing almost nothing and I'm going through a full sleeve of saltines every day.

I'm pretty sure the saltines was the dead giveaway.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Halloween Is Too Much Effort

I haven't been interested in Halloween in a long time. I think the last time I actually got into a costume and went trick or treating, I was still in elementary school. Maybe middle school. I don't remember exactly when or why I lost interest in trick or treating.

In high school, we got to dress up on Halloween at work, so I got a costume to wear solely to get out of wearing my lame teal smock. I think I even remembered to wear it to work one year. I did go trick or treating my freshman year, but I didn't wear a costume and it was really more of an excuse to hang out late with my boyfriend and some of our friends. We just walked around the neighborhood and every now and again one of us would go up to a door and try to get someone to give us candy. We weren't even pranksters or troublemakers.

Clearly we missed every possible point of the holiday.

My freshman year of college I put together a crap last minute costume with random bits from my closet and walked around the dorm with some friends of mine. Then some idiot kicked open a door right into one of them and might have broken her toe (I remember she was hurt, but I don't remember the specifics. Hell, I don't even remember which friend. I'm pretty sure it wasn't me.) and that pretty much put an end to our evening.

My first senior year, a coworker made me a really awesome holocaust cloak. I worked the graveyard shift at Walgreens and Halloween morning actually ended up being my last night there. I got to stalk the aisles and scare the crap out of unsuspecting customers at 4AM. It was kind of nice.

Sadly, I don't have it anymore. Oh what I wouldn't give for a holocaust cloak!

Later, when Lee and I had way more free time than we do now and were significantly more careless with our money, we celebrated October 31st with a dinner at The Meting Pot. We called it NaNoWeen and we went there because it was likely to be the last time either of us got to have a long, leisurely meal with conversation not centered around word counts and plot canyons and stubborn characters until NaNoWriMo ended.

Even though we were almost never home on Halloween, I also always picked up a bag of candy at Walmart just in case some stray trick or treaters
happened by. Which they never do, by the way. We've lived in apartments for the last decade. Even apartment complexes where children live don't ever seem to get trick or treaters. I guess all those kids get driven over to someone else's neighborhood or the mall or something.

Candy for me! See, I don't have to go trick or treating. I get a whole bag of candy I picked out myself instead.

Costumed against my will
two years ago
Two years ago, I was costumed against my will by some friends of mine who are far more interested in the holiday than I am. Well, not really "against my will". It's not like they tied me up and painted my face or anything. But I had no plans regarding wearing a costume when I got to Kalayna's house and somehow I left in a wig and cloak.

That is about the extent of my life's Halloween participation, and I think it's totally fine. I'm not opposed to the holiday. I'm not against it or anything. I'm just not interested.

Except now I'm a mom.

Look! I'm dressed up as the
mother of an adorable baby!
I got away with just putting Lizzie in a cute onesie last year, because she was eight weeks old and clearly too
young to go anywhere or do anything festive. People actually appreciated the fact that I wasn't using my newborn to scam a bunch of free candy. Yeah, I was totally just being conscientious. Not lazy at all. I was thinking of others.

But Lizzie is now one year old. It's not like she's going to remember this Halloween or anything. But people kept asking me what she was dressing up as, assuming I had a costume all picked out for her already because OF COURSE she would be dressing up for Halloween.

Um... I confess that I sort of knew we were going to have to start celebrating Halloween and stuff with her, but I figured it wouldn't start until she could actually say the words "trick or treat". Apparently not.

So she has a costume. It's a black cat costume. I tossed out the completely wrong, highly whoreish dress that came with the costume and replaced it with a plain black shirt and skirt. I got myself a hat, wig, and cloak so I can be her witch. We are officially doing the Halloween thing this year.

Then I started looking into what it is people actually do for Halloween these days, because they clearly don't trick or treat in apartment complexes. Apparently people do EVERYTHING for Halloween. For WEEKS. There are events at every mall in town, the parks, and even the zoo. Haunted houses and corn mazes abound. (I seriously don't understand the draw of a corn maze. But then I don't particularly like spending time on farms, so that might have something to do with it.) And apparently no one actually trick or treats on Halloween anymore. Neighborhoods have signs that announce what day and time the trick or treating will take place, because it can't be on the actual day of the holiday anymore for some reason.

Look, I broke down and got costumes dammit. Why does the rest of it have to be so freaking complicated?

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's Official

I had my first official OB appointment for my pregnancy today. I suppose I should say *we*, because the whole family attended this auspicious event. My darling husband is very supportive and wanted to be there with me and Lizzie, obviously, is too young to just be left home on her own for a couple of hours.

The visit was kind of a neutral experience. Some pluses and some minuses, as is the way of most things in life.

I had an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy. I am definitely pregnant. Yay!

But I'm not as pregnant as we originally thought. Calculating from my last period, I should be about 8 weeks along by now. Instead, according to the measurements the ultrasound tech took, I'm only about 4 weeks. My in-laws are coming to visit this weekend and we're spending a week in Florida with my family the week after next. We were talking about telling them all when we saw them, but now we're thinking probably not. It's just too soon.

Too soon, because there's still 8 weeks left in that precarious first trimester when anything can happen and bad stuff usually does. I've been pregnant five times before, counting this time. I have one child. My other three pregnancies ended in early miscarriages, so I'm very aware of this risk. Lee and I don't believe in telling people early anymore unless we have to. Those "Yay I'm pregnant!" calls are great. The "I'm not pregnant anymore" calls that follow a miscarriage are very much not great.

On the other hand, I did get to see a microscopic image of my pregnancy sack at the ultrasound. Admittedly, it just looked like a blob of grey in the midst of other blobs of grey. But it's my baby blob of grey!

My new OB is really nice. I only met with him for a few minutes in the hallway. Apparently, because I'm so early on, they decided there was no need to do a full exam and such on this visit. We're holding off on all that until I come back in four weeks for another ultrasound. Hopefully at that visit, they'll be able to confirm that heartbeat (yay!) and then we'll move forward with exams and labs and everything.

I was a little irritated with the OB nurse at the office. She sat down with us at the end of the visit to get all our particulars and go over how the practice operates for pregnancy patients and stuff. She was perfectly pleasant most of the time we were with her. But at one point she started giving me some serious attitude over how my dates could have been so far off. Hey, I explained when I first called to make the appointment that I have PCOS and irregular cycles. Apparently, she was more inclined to believe I just can't count.

Whatever, lady. Be snippy and look at me like I'm stupid. Ask me three times if I'm sure there's not another period I got in the middle there and just forgot about. (Because when you only get your period a few times a year, they're nice light, restful, painless days that easily just slip your mind. </sarcasm>) I don't care. I got to see my baby blob of grey!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How To Make That Challah

As I mentioned last week, I made special challah for Rosh Hashanah this year. Like most "special" recipes of mine, this means I took my regular recipe, added two reasonably fool-proof ingredients, and called it something totally new.

So I thought I ought to start out this recipe post by giving you my regular challah recipe. I make this bread every week. For some reason, the scent of fresh bread that fills the entire apartment when I'm making challah has come to be my trigger for Shabbat. On weeks when I make challah, I feel better all week long. On weeks when I don't make challah, I feel stressed and tense.

This probably has something to do with the fact that if I have time on a Friday to spend 6 hours making bread, it means I'm not crazy behind and overscheduled. And if I don't have time... well, being stressed and tense all week was probably going to happen at that point even if I did miraculously come up with a few braided rolls.

In any case, here's how to make my challah.

1 small bowl
2 large bowls
1 spoon
measuring cups and spoons
wax paper
cling wrap
baking sheet
parchment paper
wire cooling rack

2 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour, plus extra to flour the counter and your hands
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water
1 envelope yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp oil
3 eggs
poppy or sesame seeds, if desired

Now, before we get into how to actually make challah, I should mention that in most respects this is a very forgiving recipe. If you don't have enough time for all the rising, or you happen to lose patience with the kneading process after two minutes and skip out on the other five to eight, or something like that, you'll probably still be fine.

On the other hand, I have found that the recipe does NOT react well to adjustments to the ingredients. I've tried using whole wheat flour, sugar substitutes, egg beaters, etc to make it a bit healthier, but every time I do something like that, I end up with really bad bread. I've also tried halving it, because Lee and I don't really need that much bread to go with Shabbat dinner when it's just the two of us, but this doesn't go well either.

So you just sort of have to suck it up and deal with real sugar and eggs and a relatively huge amount of dough. One tip I will share is this: if you don't need all the dough at one time, it does freeze well. More details on this in the instructions.

So, on to the bread making fun and excitement.

Step 1: Proof the yeast. (Now I'm going to explain this process because the first time I saw that instruction, I had to do a lot of Googling because I had no idea what it meant. I'm assuming you don't know what you're doing here either.) Put the 1/4 cup of warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water. Sprinkle 1 tsp of sugar on top of the yeast. Try to sprinkle lightly so the sugar doesn't sink the yeast. If it happens, no big deal. I end up sinking mine all the time. But I'm told it should be floating on top of the water for this process. Let it sit for about 10 minutes. The mixture should be foamy at that point. (If it's not foamy, as has happened to me once or twice, I'm not really sure if you're supposed to do anything to it or not. I usually just ignore it and move on and have yet to see any consequence. Subsequently, I'm not actually sure you need to really do any of the things in this step or not, but I've always done it this way so I'm passing it on to you now. In any case, don't worry if it doesn't turn foamy. As I mentioned above, this recipe is very forgiving.)

Step 2: Meanwhile, oil one of the large bowls and set it aside. This is going to be the bowl where the bread rises, but you don't want to mix the dough in it because it'll get all sticky and floury. Also, you'll want to prepare your work surface by covering it with a sheet of wax paper and taping it down. Seriously, this is sticky dough and you will be cleaning it up forever if you do this on a bare counter top. If you put the wax paper down, you just have to toss that in the trash when you're done instead. WAY EASIER. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of flour and put it in a little pile off to one side of the wax paper so you have it available when you need it for flouring the paper and/or your hands. This will save you having to reach into the bag of flour with hands covered in dough or something when you realize you need it later.

Step 3: Measure flour out into the other large bowl and then use the spoon to push it all to the sides, forming a deep well in the center. Add remaining sugar, remaining water, 2 eggs, oil, and salt to the well. By now, your yeast proofing from step 1 should be done. Dump the whole yeast mixture into the well. Stir everything together.

Step 4: Eventually, you'll have to dump it out onto the wax paper because it's too sticky to keep stirring with the spoon. This is where that pile of flour you have off to the side comes in handy. Flour your hands liberally. Sprinkle a bunch of it over the ball of dough and all over the wax paper. Flour is your friend in this recipe. Knead everything together and continue kneading for about 7-10 minutes, adding more flour as needed to keep it from sticking to everything, until the dough is good and elasticy.

Step 5: THIS PART IS ONLY NECESSARY IF YOU'RE NOT USING THE ENTIRE BATCH OF DOUGH AT THIS TIME. Divide the dough into as many pieces as you want. I typically divide it into four parts, because 1/4 of this recipe is more than enough bread for Lee and I to consume at one meal. That way I only have to do the mixing part of the process once every four weeks. If you have a lot of people to feed, you might need it all. If you are cooking for just yourself, you might need even less. Wrap each piece you're not using today tightly in a sheet of cling wrap so that none of the dough is exposed. Then put the wrapped dough into a freezer bag and stick it in the freezer. In my experience, it's good in the freezer for a couple of months, though I don't usually have mine in there for more than a few weeks.

Step 6: Put today's dough in the oiled bowl (either the hunk of dough you just mixed and didn't freeze or a ball of dough fresh from the freezer and unwrapped -- this first rising will serve as a thawing period) and cover lightly with a sheet of cling wrap. If you're using a frozen ball of dough, that cling wrap you just took off the dough works nicely here. Set the bowl aside in a relatively dark, dry area. In other words, don't stick it in the fridge or on a windowsill or something. An unused corner of the kitchen counter will do fine. Let the dough rise for about one hour.

If you're a clean-up as you go type, restrain yourself a bit at this point. The other two bowls, spoon, and measuring cups and such you can clean. Leave the flour covered wax paper on the counter though. You're going to need it a couple more times.

Step 7: Turn the dough out onto that floury wax paper you used before. Knead it for 5 to 10 minutes. Return it to the oiled bowl and cover with the cling wrap again. Let it rise for another hour. Again, do not clean up the wax paper. I know you obsessively clean folks are just going crazy out there with a messy piece of wax paper taped to your counter for hours. Muha. Muhahahahaha. }:-)

Step 8: Prep the baking sheet by spreading a sheet of parchment paper over it. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT use wax paper instead of parchment paper. This does not go well when you get to the baking step. Learn from my mistakes here people. Alternatively, if you don't have parchment paper, you can oil the baking sheet, but I prefer parchment paper.

Step 9: Turn the dough out onto the floury wax paper again. Knead for a few minutes. (If you're not making two braided loaves for Shabbat dinner, you can skip the rest of this step and just form it into a ball.) Divide the dough into two equal parts and set one aside to deal with in a few minutes.

Now, I was going to try to write out instructions for braiding a six-strand challah, but it got all convoluted and I lost track and you likely would have ended up with a really ugly random knot of bread instead of a pretty braid. So instead I'll just present you with the way I learned: this very nice lady named Maya's YouTube video.

Yes, I learned how to braid challah on YouTube. I also learned how to knit there. YouTube isn't all about videos of babies laughing and kittens on skateboards. In any case, if you don't feel like watching the video or going to all that trouble, you can just divide the dough into three pieces and braid it like braiding hair. But I like the six-strand; it's prettier. Repeat the braiding process of your choosing with the other half of the dough.

Step 10: Transfer the braided loaves to the parchment covered baking sheet. Cover loosely with a sheet of cling wrap. Let rise for two hours.

Now, you neat-freaks out there can all rejoice. You're done with the floury wax paper! Throw it out!

Step 11: Mix up the remaining egg. Remove the cling wrap from the bread (you can throw that out now too) and brush the loaves with the egg. Then sprinkle with seeds if you want them. This step (except for the whole removing the cling wrap bit) is entirely optional. I confess, I almost never bother with the seeds. Also, when I'm making bread just for Lee and I, I don't bother with brushing the top with egg either, mainly because I end up dumping most of the egg down the drain that way as I don't really need much for two teeny tiny loaves of bread. But the egg coating does give a crust a nice dark brown color.

Step 12: Bake at 350 for approximately 30 minutes. If you're doing small loaves, it'll probably only take about 20 minutes. If you're making bigger loaves, you might have to go 40 minutes. The trick I've heard about to test the doneness of the bread is to see if it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of it. I think this test sucks, because you have to take the bread out of the oven, pull it off of baking sheet, flip it upside down, and tap on the bottom. All without burning your hands or dropping or denting the bread. I'm not coordinated enough for that. I "test" by looking at it. If I like the color it has turned, I go with it. Without egg brush, it should be medium golden brown. With the egg brush, it should be darker brown. (But... um... not black. Black is not a  good color when it comes to bread. Black bread is also known as a burnt offering, and that's not what we're going for here.)

That's it! Congratulations, you have made challah. Let it cool for about half an hour before serving by transferring it, parchment paper and all, onto a wire rack. (This is a big reason I like the parchment paper instead of oiling the baking sheet. It's easy to transfer, reducing your risk of burning yourself and/or dropping, denting, breaking, or otherwise disfiguring the bread. It's also way easier to clean up, as you just need to wipe down the baking sheet after it's cooled, and you don't end up with extra oil in an already less-than-health-nut-oriented recipe.) Shabbat Shalom!

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I did something special to the Rosh Hashanah challah. Here are the changes:

In step 9, add raisins to the dough before you knead it, using the kneading process to mix the raisins in. Then, instead of dividing the dough into six parts each and braiding it, roll each half into one long rope and coil it up.

In step 11, brush the loaves with honey instead of egg and seeds.

Tadah! Rosh Hashanah challah! L'shana tovah!

So that's my challah recipe(s). I hope you enjoy.

Recipe adapted from: I feel like I should list some wise old Jewish grandmotherly type, the original Bubbie or something, but much like I learned to braid the bread from YouTube, I learned the recipe from, and I'm totally serious about this, one of those glorious yellow and black books I'm so very addicted to, Jewish Cooking for Dummies, by Faye Levy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Here We Go Again

Most of you already know this, but on the of chance that someone reading this blog doesn't, I have PCOS (Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome). This is a complicated condition, with lots of issues and eccentricities, but for the purposes of this blog post, it means unless I'm medically regulated, I have a very... random menstrual cycle.

Don't worry, boys, this isn't a post about getting my period.

It's actually a post about not getting my period.

You see, it all started because I was coming due for my annual exam at the ob/gyn. Regardless of being diagnosed with PCOS and so having a very random menstrual cycle, the following conversation almost always takes place:

OB/GYN: When was your last period?
Me (in this particular case, for example): August 14th
OB/GYN: Are your cycles normally this long?
Me: They vary. Sometimes, yes, they are.
OB/GYN: Is there any chance you might be pregnant?
Me: I suppose there's the theoretical possibility, yes.
OB/GYN: Have you taken a pregnancy test?
Me: No. I don't really think I'm pregnant. I just have random cycles.
OB/GYN: Let's have you take a pregnancy test.

They always make me take a pregnancy test. This is especially true at a new doctor's office, as this coming exam would be since we just moved a few months ago. I've even had general practitioners make me take them periodically. Apparently any woman not in perfect health with a menstrual cycle that runs like a Swiss watch is pregnant. Back in the day when I was having severe fertility issues and had spent years trying and failing to get pregnant, this constant testing was like being smacked with my barrenness over and over again. I used to dread going to the doctor.

I'm not so touchy about it now, but being a practical person, I'm also not really interested in paying however much ob/gyn offices end up charging for a pregnancy test when I can buy one myself at Walmart for $7.99. I'm perfectly capable of peeing on a stick without medical instruction, thank you very much. So, in order to head off this sure to be pricey (as all things at a doctor's office tend to be) test, I went to Walmart and shelled out $7.99 for an over-the-counter test.

Um... Wait... does that say "YES +"? As in "yes, I'm positive you're pregnant"?

Fine. Maybe missing a period isn't *always* because of the PCOS.

I should also note, for those of you who are curious, that my husband was not in Alabama when I took the test this time.

He was in Maryland.

He has requested that, in future, I time my pregnancy tests to coincide with the half of the week when he is actually in the same state.

By the way, did I mention that I'm pregnant!?!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Recipe, Sort Of: Honey-Apple Chicken and Potatoes

I love cookbooks. I have to restrain myself in the checkout line at the grocery store, because I always want to buy all those random little recipe books they have next to the register. I am under a self-imposed ban from the cookbook section of all bookstores. I cannot stop myself from picking them up and after flipping for a few seconds, I go from idly curious to *needing* another new cookbook.

This wouldn't be so bad if I actually used the cookbooks. Unfortunately, I typically lose interest after one or two recipes and then the book is just lying around taking up space in our already too-cluttered apartment.

Most of the new recipes I try these days are ones I find online. Blogging has to be the best thing to ever happen to recipe-aholics like myself. I still lose tons of time looking through recipes for foods I'll likely never make, but at least it doesn't cost me anything but time.

The reason for this recipe addiction is simple. I love cooking and trying new things, but if left to my own devices, I can never come up with anything to make. I know people who can take a look at five random leftover things in the pantry and see a way to throw them together into the most amazing meal ever. I am not one of those people. I look at five random leftover things in the pantry and see... five random leftover things in the pantry.

So I'm always super proud of myself on the rare occasion when I make up my own recipe. This year, I improvised my entire Rosh Hashanah menu. (Admittedly, my entire Rosh Hashanah menu consisted of one dinner for just Lee and I, but it sounds more impressive the other way.)

Before you get too astounded by my culinary genius and creativity, you should know that I pretty much took a few basic things I make all the time and coated everything with apples and honey in honor of the holiday. (Apples and honey are traditional on Rosh Hashanah to symbolize the hope for a sweet new year.)

Get ready for my Super Easy Chicken Dinner recipe. (There are actually *three* recipes in the paragraph below. It's that versatile.)

I found out a while ago that you can put chicken breasts and sliced up vegetables in a glass dish, dump various spices on them, cover the dish with foil, and bake it at 350 for 40 minutes and come up with a very easy and tasty dinner. I'm not sure where I got this idea originally, but pretty much all of my chicken recipes are now variants of this. I've turned this dish into Pizza Chicken (Spices: basil, oregano, minced garlic, crushed red pepper. Add pizza sauce and shredded cheese for the last 5 minutes of baking), Herb-Roasted Chicken (Spices: anything that catches my eye on the spice rack, usually basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and I really wish sage, but alas, my spice rack doesn't actually have sage in it), and now Honey-Apple Chicken (Spices: none, douse with liberal amounts of honey and apple jelly instead).

For the vegetables, I usually just toss in some wedged potatoes and a bag of frozen vegetable mix. Feel free to use whatever vegetables you want. I'm pretty sure you could also use fruit if you felt like it, though I've never tried that. This time, I just did the potatoes because I didn't happen to have any other vegetables lying around. Actually, I meant to do carrots too, but I never got around to slicing them up.

This Honey-Apple Chicken and Potato dish came out pretty well. I would share a picture, but I forgot to take one. Besides, it was all quite yellow and bland looking, being that I didn't add any other vegetables in there. The potatoes actually turned out delicious. I didn't expect to like them, because of all the sweetness from the apple jelly and honey, but they tasted wonderful.

I also made honey and raisin challah for the occasion, the recipe for which I'll put in a separate post later this week. I'm actually kinda proud of that one. People are always complimenting me on my challah, so I feel it deserves it's own post with actual attention paid to the recipe and stuff. And it came out really pretty, so there are pictures and everything.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

At Least The Bots Seem To Like Me

My hit count jumped to 30 in the first 24 hours this blog was live. I was not expecting that. It felt very nice to wake up this morning and be told by Blogger that this new blog of mine had been viewed more than two dozen times. I've had blogs I've actively promoted before and I've only once ever had that many hits in a day. And that day I blogged about something all controversial and had crazy people fighting with each other in my comments.

Of course, then it occurred to me that most of those hits were probably bots of some kind.

At first, that thought kind of bummed me out. But then I realized that, given all the evidence in the science fiction entertainment world, robots will someday rule the universe and we puny humans will be a) batteries, b) pets, c) skeletons in the robot versions of natural history museums or d) sliced up and converted into robots ourselves (depending on your science fictional evidence of choice) this is actually quite good for me. The bots seem to think I'm interesting. Perhaps that means they'll keep me around for entertainment purposes.

On the off chance that any of you are real people, please feel free to do the Google Friend Connect thing over in the sidebar. My "legion" of devoted fans looks kinda lame with just one member. Especially since my legion of one is my husband, and I'm pretty sure he only clicked on it because it looked *really* lame as a legion of none.

Of course, now there's pressure to write something interesting in this space, what with 25 bots, a friend or two, perhaps a few random strangers, and my husband checking in on me.

I had several thoughts over the course of the day about what to blog about. I've read a bunch of books lately, some that I loved and some that I hated and even one that made me cry myself to sleep. (For the record, I'm not usually all that weepy.) I could have done a book review. But that seemed kind of a nerdy way to start out and while I freely admit I'm a nerdy girl, it didn't feel like the right beginning. Plus, I tend to overthink my book reviews and I didn't really have time for regular thinking today, let alone overthinking.

I intended to make Dutch apple squares for Rosh Hashana this week. I planned to bake them on Monday night, and that didn't happen. I planned to bake them on Tuesday night, and that didn't happen either. I planned to bake them this afternoon and thought that then I could blog about baking them, and that really didn't happen. No baking meant no blogging about baking.

I ended up getting pizza for dinner and adding apple wedges to the order. Fried takeout apple wedges that may or may not contain actual apples pretty much sums up how I suspect my "sweet new year" is going to play out, so it actually seems to have worked out.

Happy 5772, by the way.

I also considered blogging about my daughter. She's learned how to stick out her tongue. She sticks her tongue out at me. I stick my tongue out at her. She giggles like it's the funniest thing in the history of the world. I spent most of the day trying to get a picture, none of which came out, but it was fun nonetheless.

Alas, then she fought me at bedtime for an hour and a half before she finally fell asleep, screaming at the top of her lungs like I was torturing her whenever I left her alone and then beating the crap out of me when I went into the nursery to try to comfort her.

Between her screaming and me screaming, I'm surprised none of my new neighbors called the cops. Either I have really understanding neighbors or people screaming and crying for 90 straight minutes is business as usual around here. Not sure how I feel about that.

Needless to say, by the time I sat down at my computer, I didn't think she was all that cute anymore and was in no mood to blog about her.

And so I am left with nothing to blog about, except this rambling post about nothing and everything and I decided that would work. If nothing else, it gives you a pretty accurate snapshot of my day.

So, assuming you're not bots, or that you're bots capable of conversational interaction, I pose this question: who the heck are all of you people? What brought you here to my random new blog?

Come now, don't be shy. I spent my day sticking out my tongue at a one-year-old, agonizing over what to feed the blog bots next, and wondering why all the people of Pontypandy don't just lynch Norman Price already and get it over with.

Seriously, would a village that small need that many firemen if they didn't have a pint-sized arsonist running around?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Oh Look! Another Blog! How Original.

This is probably the 15th blog I've started in the ten years since I first discovered the concept of blogging. I love blogging. I'm an introvert, a writer, and I'm addicted to the internet, so blogging always seems like the optimal thing for me to waste my time doing.

The pattern goes something like this: I get an idea for the perfect blog for me, I spend a whole afternoon playing around with a blogger template, and I boldly blog away. For three or four weeks. Sometimes months. But over time, inevitably, I lose interest in writing about the topic I've chosen. Or I set an utterly ridiculous blogging schedule that I can't possibly keep up with and so ultimately abandon. Or I discover I'm not as witty as I thought I was when fumbling my way through whatever it is I'm supposed to be blogging about and get too discouraged to continue. Whatever the reason, the result is always the same: an abandoned blog floating out there in cyberspace, never to be seen or heard from again.

Except by the random Google bots that occasionally pop up on my hit counter.

So as I sit here and start this blog, you can understand why I'm not terribly optimistic that anything will come of it. I'm warning you from the outset: read at your own risk. It is entirely possible that I will get distracted by a shiny new idea and leave you hanging. Or I will become so boring and repetitive that you want to stab your computer every time a new post from me pops up in your RSS reader of choice. Or I will one day get so frustrated with myself that I delete the whole thing out of spite.

But I'm hoping to avoid all of that this time.

I'm trying something new with this blog. I'm not going to have a focus or a schedule or anything resembling a theme. I'm not going to have features or contests or regular guests. Or any kind of structure at all really. I'm going to write about whatever strikes my fancy, whenever I am inclined to do so.

I read a lot, so there will be many book reviews. There will probably be semi-regular cooking adventures because I try to cook at least one interesting new meal a week for my family and I have *issues* with recipes. Every now and then I write, and random snippets of fiction might show up here from time to time.  I'm also struggling with depression and social anxiety issues and I have a tendency to blurt out my introspective ramblings like the internet is my own personal group therapy session. I knit, very slowly and not very inventively; I may regale you with tales of frustrating knots and extraneous yarn overs. I have a one-year-old daughter I'm fairly certain I'll end up oversharing about, much to her future dismay.

Hopefully at least some of it will be entertaining.