Monday, March 2, 2015

Sometimes you just can't bake it

There are times when life is good.

Work is interesting and productivity is high.  Your teenager smiles at you for real.  Your bank account balance is surprisingly fat, and your thighs are surprisingly thin*.

At times like these, one can tackle epic, multi-step dessert recipes with aplomb. Store-bought ice cream?  Caramel from a jar? Puh-lease! In fact, I'll just be making my own damn mascarpone cheese and zabaglione for that tiramisu, thank you very much.

Then there are times when life is just plan f$@%ed up.

People who are supposed to love you are impossibly cruel and the cat barfs on the carpet and despite your best intentions, your email box is the one on the right.

From this posting on Twitter

For those days, and for someone I love very much who is having a particularly cat-barf-y time of it right now, there are these No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Nut Butter Instant Happiness Treats.

I found the recipe online, and made a batch almost on a whim.  But the minute I took a bite, I was immediately transported back to a summer during elementary school.  I'd been sent away to a science and nature camp for city kids with a bunch of people I didn't know and they were all really mean to me.  I hated everything about it...the dingy bunks, the creepy-crawly woods, and the smelly labs, but more than anything, I loathed the girls I was grouped with. I was utterly miserable the entire time, except for one day, near the end of camp, when the cafeteria ladies served these exact same treats at lunch.  I vividly remember the taste and how happy I was, just for a minute, to be eating something so delicious in the midst of that horrible place.  I swear these saved me by making the experience, if not good, at least bearable.

I polished off my treat and thought about how I'd completely forgotten all the hurt, and how nice it was that only the feeling of happiness came back.  Life really is good sometimes.

Believe me, I do not wish the horrors of pre-teen peer ostracism or any other kind of emotional turmoil on anyone**, but just in case, it's good to be able to make your own instant ray of hope out of chocolate, peanut butter, and sugar***.   While you're waiting for the pain to fade away, and getting that inbox cleared out, these will definitely tide you over very nicely.

P.S.  If you are truly having a tough day, I found watching this video made me ridiculously cheerful.  As in, howling with laughter. Via Kottke.

Monday, February 23, 2015

I voted for goat and shumai

Thursday marked the start of the Lunar New Year, and like many other people sitting in the bathroom that morning, I heard the lighthearted story on NPR about the varying English translations of this year's animal.

I, of course, would have left it there, but in the comments on that story, there was a link to a super cool website that is having people vote for the representative animal candidate of their choice.

I voted for Goat.  He's a rebel*.  The creators of the site are making donations on all behalf of all the animals to Heifer International, so every vote really does count.  Go vote, and let me know who you picked!

So I'm now fully in the spirit of the whole thing, and had some time on my hands because it was raining in Los Angeles and we were all confined to our homes**.  I decided to celebrate the Lunar New Year by making homemade Chinese shu mai dumplings and potstickers.***

Pork and Shrimp Shu Mai Dumplings | Cheesy Pennies

Ram they were good.
In fact, they were baaaaaaantastic.
Goat thing this celebration only happens once a year.

I think my husband is going to take the radio out of the bathroom now****.

Pork and Shrimp Shu Mai Dumplings 2 | Cheesy Pennies

Friday, February 13, 2015


Before we can all go happily off to Valentine's Day and declare victory and love and chocolate tomorrow, we have to survive today.  I'm not a superstitious person, but even I get a little nervous about Friday the 13th.

And that was before I looked it up.

This thing is a problem, and not just for Kevin Bacon.

Per Wikipedia, according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day, making it the most feared day and date in history.  They even have a name for this debilitating situation:


The word alone is terrifying*.

So here's the plan. Let's hunker down, stay in, read a good book, and have some super safe soup today.

Book ideas**:

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
The tale of a blind refugee from Paris and a young German radio operator during WWII. Magical.

Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng
Heartbreaking story about the weight of things unsaid in a family.  The writing will grab you and make you weep.

We are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler
Don't read anything about this book.  Just read it.  Wow!

 The Martian - Andy Weir
Pure, sci-fi fun.  I listened to this one and enjoyed every minute.

Ready Player One - Ernest Kline
One massive global live video game for all the marbles.  With Monty Python and Rush references.  What more can you ask for?

 The Silkworm  - Robert Galbraith (actually JK Rowling)
The PI at the heart of this book, along with the very good first one in the series, The Cuckoo's Calling, is a fascinating character, and the mystery keeps you guessing. 

 The Storied Life of AJ Fikry - Gabreille Zevin
I'm a sucker for a good book about a bookstore.  This is one.

 Not My Father's Son: A Memoir - Alan Cumming 
Holy shit what a story!  If, like me, you only know him from Masterpiece Theater on PBS or as Eli Gold, this is an eye opener.  He narrates the Audible version...highly recommended!

A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki
I loved loved loved this book.  Clever, funny, tragic, and above all unique.  The voice of the main character will stay with me always.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan
A harrowing story of a POW in Japan, stunningly well told.

Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty
If you've ever hung out with a group of gossipy parents in kindergarden, this is the book for you. Is it great literature? No. Is it a little heavy handed at times? Sure. Is it damn entertaining? You bet.

Soup idea:

Spicy Turkey Sausage Soup with Kale & Rice | Cheesy Pennies

Creamy, slightly spicy soup full of turkey sausage meatballs, kale and a little bit of nubby rice. Enriched with white beans and incredibly good for you.  Even if the rest of your day is unsettling, this should be 100% risk free.

Let's read, eat this soup, and if we make it through the night, we defy the gods and shout about love from the rooftops tomorrow.

With some crazy delicious dessert after.***

Spicy Turkey Sausage Soup with Kale & Rice | Cheesy Pennies

Friday, February 6, 2015

Good grains and healthy fats

This month, I've been (roughly) following an eating plan that has you rotate what you eat based on a seven day cycle. Mondays and Tuesdays you eat fruit, veggies, protein and good grains, like barley and brown rice. Wednesdays and Thursdays are protein and veggies only. Then comes the weekend, where you get all of the above, plus healthy fats, like olive oil, avocado, hummus, and nuts.

Egg white omelet with smoked salmon and scallions | Cheesy Pennies
My Wednesday breakfast as seen on Instagram
Egg white omelet with smoked salmon and scallions

It's Friday, so I'm giving you a recipe with fruit, good grains and healthy fats.

Oatmeal Coconut Raisin Cookies | Cheesy Pennies

If brown butter were a healthy fat, that is.  

You're terrible, Muriel*.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The word of the day

When my kids were little, whenever my sister was visiting she'd give them a "Word of the Day". We'd be at the breakfast table, and she'd look seriously at my four year old son and eighteen month old daughter and say:

"OK guys.  The word of the day is...FOYER!"

They would stare intently back at her over their Cheerios. She'd continue:

"It's related to the one we had yesterday.  Do you remember?"

My son would leap up from his chair and shout happily:


Then they would spend the rest of the day finding ridiculous ways to use the word FOYER in every conversation.

It was hilarious.  But it was kind of brilliant*.

My sister isn't here right now,  so I'll take over for her.  

"OK guys. The word of the day is...CINNAMON TOAST CAKE!"

Cinnamon Toast Cake | Cheesy Pennies

Crap. That's three words. 
She's obviously way better at this than I am. 

But you should still try to find ways to add Cinnamon Toast Cake to every conversation.  It's kind of brilliant.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Gruel Justice

Remember the time they shot the mass murderer on our roof?

He's going to jail for life.  Nine times over.

I know they have real food in prison, but for some reason, I'm picturing him piteously holding up his bowl, begging for gruel.

Of course, he's a psychopath, not an adorable British orphan, so the resulting institutional outrage will be completely justified.  Beg away, Mr. Stuff-your-roomates-in-the-garbage.

No more for you.

I, on the other hand, will be having a lot more of this in my bowl.

Restorative mineral broth | Cheesy Pennies

It's my take on Joy the Baker's version of the made-famous-by-Kobe-Bryant miracle broth.  Now that I'm crawling back onto the eating right bandwagon, having a steaming mug of this in the afternoons has been all kinds of comforting.

Almost as comforting as finally seeing justice done.*

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

For a truly hype night, bring on the Onion Dip

New Year's Eve is one of those nights that is supposed to be a really big deal, full of champagne and fancy parties and being dressed up and fabulous.   Friends will make clever toasts, everyone in the ballroom will laugh a lot, and there is an off chance that your best friend will show up and propose.

In reality, I find it's a night that rarely lives up to the hype*. Restaurants jack up prices. Bars are slammed with desperately eager fun-seekers. The amateur drunks hit the roads. Hundreds of thousands of crazy people deliberately stand around freezing their collective asses off to watch the clock strike twelve with strangers.

I don't get it.

My kind of New Years Eve involves very little hype. I've had wonderful celebrations that ended at 9:30 pm so our toddlers could turn in, cozy nights at a local bistro with my husband, evenings with cracked crab and vintage wine in a friend's home, pajama parties with my cousin and my sister listening to Casey Kasem counting down the biggest hits of the year, and a memorable turn-of-the-millennium getaway where all but one of the guests came down with the plague at the same time. It was a like a bad British farce, with vomiting, and we still talk about it to this day with some degree of fondness.

Truly, you don't need a glittering disco ball falling from the sky or a big band in tuxedos to usher in the new year. Just grab your friends, open a good bottle of booze, share a great meal, then curl up on the couch or play a rousing game of Celebrity. Toast each other, reflect a bit, vow to be better, and kiss someone you love as the night grows quiet.

Of course, if you still need it to feel like a big, hyped up party, kick the evening off with a bowl of chips and this killer onion dip.

Homemade three onion dip | Cheesy Pennies

All the truly hype parties come with onion dip.

Three Onion Dip on a Chip | Cheesy Pennies