OK, I’m trying to stay on top of this reading a book a week this year, but I haven’t counted in a while. So let’s see where we are:

Crush It!
Just Tell Me What to Say
NurtureShock
Brain Rules
Persuasion
Emma

Currently in the middle of:
Slaughterhouse Five
You’re Not the Boss of Me
The Master Switch

Wow, if I can finish two of those this weekend — or all three by the end of next week — I’ll be on track for the year! Great news.

I recently signed up for GoodReads, and it’s been fun already to start connecting with friends to see what they’re reading. I need the good suggestions to keep me going. My to-read list is pretty short right now, so I need to start finding some more titles.

I am an honest-to-goodness freak about food safety. I am incredibly particular about how I handle and cook meat and egg dishes in particular. I’ve even been known to throw out my favorite leftovers if I realize I’ve let them sit on the counter just 30 minutes too long before refrigerating them.

And so for years, I have not made my favorite childhood dessert — lemon icebox pie. Because the recipes I’ve found for it all called for raw eggs. Try though I might to convince myself, I knew that the 15 minutes in the oven to brown the meringue weren’t enough to cook the eggs in the pie underneath, as well. [Though they are enough to make the egg whites in the meringue safe.]

That’s why I was so delighted to stumble across this article from the Louisiana Extension service — it tells you how to adapt traditional recipes with raw eggs for today’s salmonella-laden world.

It may be December, but I’m thinking I’ll give lemon icebox pie a try next week. It’s been way too long!

I’ve been thinking about food a lot this summer. If you’ve read this blog very long, you know that I spend a lot of time figuring out how to please a very picky 10yo vegetarian at the table. And perhaps it was the media blitz surrounding Frank Bruni’s new book Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-time Eater [no, I haven't read the book yet], wherein he talks about his love affair [and tortured relationship] with food — but at any rate, I’ve spent a while considering how much I enjoy food. I love growing it, thinking about it, preparing it and eating it.

I love no holiday more than Thanksgiving — a gathering of family and friends, careful preparations and a groaning table.

And I have been thinking about how this feels like a very positive part of my life, this love of food and sharing it with my friends and family. And I notice that the 10yo — honestly — could care less about food. She eats every day, but much more because she is hungry than because she likes food, per se. She’s a fan of Cheetos like any other 10yo, but her food cravings and desires don’t go far beyond that.

There’s a part of me that can read all that and say, OK, probably a healthy thing. Why on earth would you be concerned about a child who eats when she’s hungry?

I’m not really. But I wonder about what created this love of food in me, and I wonder if there’s a way to consciously share that. I enjoy thinking about how to make better tasting, more nutritious meals for my family. And in this day of instant anything, that seems to me like an enormous gift to them.

I’ve already been spending a lot of time on my garden this year. I’ve been transplanting a few hardy herbs out of my vegetable garden and into the flowerbeds to make more room for veggies this summer. I’ve got such a large scheme in mind for the flowerbed that I’m pretty sure I’ve lost my head. But nonetheless, I’m proceeding like this is all going to work.

You can see photos of where I am so far in my 2009 Garden set on Flickr. Mostly, it’s a lot of dirt. But you can see some of the herbs I’m moving around, and my garden plan for the year.

The main things that have happened so far:

  • I’ve moved all the remaining herbs from the vegetable garden into a flowerbed.
  • My awesome yard guy Phol Huy came out last week and doubled the size of my two backyard flowerbeds.
  • He also tilled up the vegetable garden and incorporated compost in the garden and the beds.
  • I’ve started some parsley from seed inside. Or at least, I’m trying to. Parsley is notoriously hard to germinate, and it takes forever, so it will be another week before I know if I’ve screwed up somehow.
  • I started some larkspur seeds in the flowerbed today.
  • I set some sweet pea [flowers, not vegetables] seeds to soak overnight. We’ll plant them tomorrow.

Here are other upcoming events I’ve already planned. I show some plants growing through the summer — like carrots — that will likely bolt. When that starts to happen, I’ll take them off the calendar until cooler weather. But it’s hard to predict in advance how any seed variety will handle the weather.

UPDATE: Darn it, I keep forgetting that I can’t use iframes on WP.com. I guess now I finally have to get WordPress running on http://www.fixinsupper.com so I can install a plugin that will let me show you my calendar. Back with you in a day or so….

My friend Busymom has a thing for toffee. I’m thinking not a week has gone by since Christmas that she hasn’t mentioned toffee. And frankly, I’m mad at her. Because that means I can’t stop thinking about toffee, either.

Well, you know the best thing to do when you have a craving is just to give in to it. Only once we’ve eaten our way through the toffee forest can we emerge safe and sound on the other side.

So when the hubs needed some treats to take to school on Friday, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make these toffee bars. [Sidenote: He forgot and left them on the counter at home, so my apologies to all the teachers at Hunters Lane. We've now eaten your toffee. On the bright side, he hadn't left enough OUT of the box for us here at home, so forgetting to take the box with him means his life is not in danger, either.]

This recipe is incredibly easy and still tastes great. It’s adapted from the toffee bar recipe in the Junior League of Nashville’s Notably Nashville cookbook. [Shameless plug: I'm in the Junior League, even though I rarely write about it here. And this is a great cookbook. Lots of easy party dishes in particular. Get your own via our website. Purchasing a cookbook supports our efforts to aid women and children in need in Nashville.]

Toffee Bars
15 graham crackers
2 sticks butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. chopped walnuts
1 c. chocolate chips

Grease a cookie sheet then arrange the crackers in a single layer. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the brown sugar and walnuts. Stir constantly. Cook til it boils for 1 min. Pour the mixture over the graham crackers and spread to the edges of them. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

When you remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the bars and spread the chocolate. Cool completely and then break into small pieces.

I learned today that my friend Reggie Crowder passed away on Sunday. Reggie owned Dee’s Q, the neighborhood roadside barbecue stand that I’ve loved for 4 years. If I remember correctly, Reggie told me once he opened Dee’s in August of 2004. I saw it for a few months on my way home every day, before I finally tried it. And it was love at first bite. I quickly learned why: Reggie grew up in the next town over in West Tennessee, and he cooked his barbecue just like I remembered it from home.

Nashville’s a bit of a hybrid barbecue town. You can find a little bit of everything here. I have the pleasure to have known many kinds of barbecue, thanks to friends and relatives who live all over the barbecue states. So I’ve had your brisket, your vinegar-base, your heavy, sticky sauce. And while I don’t even often turn down mustard barbecue [but really, South Carolina, is that right? I think not.], my love remains the West Tennessee barbecue of my childhood. A bit of sauce, but not too saucy. Tomatoes and vinegar in the sauce, but not too much of either. You should be tasting the meat here, not the sauce.

So once I happened up to Reggie’s stand, I came back again and again. I even ate barbecue a few times during my two vegetarian stints [first things first, people], and I’d stop by just for some of his fried okra, too. My whole family loved Reggie and his barbecue, even the ones who live out of state. I guess the home-folks connection helped, but the barbecue was critical, too.

My dad and I saw Reggie in the late fall, and he told us he’d had quadruple bypass surgery last summer. When he died, Reggie was 45. Just bad luck in the gene pool is all you can say there, I guess. He was doing well when I saw him this fall, but I understand from a friend he’d been back in the hospital recently.

I just hate this. Reggie was one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet. And he was living his dream with Dee’s Q. I don’t have anything profound to add here. I’m not one to go around saying how this is God’s will or whatever. I think the universe is random and capricious, but most days I’m glad to be part of it. Today’s not one of those days. I am grateful to have known Reggie Crowder. Peace and good barbecue to you, my friend.

Previous posts on Dee’s Q:

More people who love Dee’s Q

Today we made real progress on the garden. By “we,” I really mean Phol, my awesome yard guy. Today Phol arrived and cleared out the garden and doubled the size of my two main flowerbeds. Tomorrow he’s tilling everything up and adding compost.

I did make some small progress. I started some parsley seeds. Parsley is notoriously difficult to start from seed, but you know that just made me more anxious to give it a try. Plus, I have a recipe addiction that absolutely requires flat-leaf parsley.

Later this week, I’ll post the whole gardening calendar I’ve laid out. If I stay on schedule, by the end of the month, I’ll have a number of spring plants under grow lights in the laundry, trellises in the garden, and I’ll be well on my way to salad.

NSFK, but still, the funniest thing I’ve seen in ages.

Hat tip to Jim Reams.

I’m a cookbook collector. I can own that. I’m also a simplicity freak [converted packrat, the worst kind] who makes fun of everyone she knows who collects, well, anything. But I can admit upfront that I have this one weakness. I’m particularly prone to getting cookbooks that fall into the “bible” category. I have The Silver Palate. The Joy of Cooking. How to Cook Everything. The Moosewood Cookbook. The Best Recipe. The New Best Recipe. A Mediterranean Feast. You get the picture.

Many years ago, I bought the Italian bible: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Frankly, I don’t use it as much as I should, but it’s my go-to for sauces in particular.

I’ve made Hazan’s alfredo sauce approximately a zillion times. I’m an alfredo fan, and it’s a quick sauce to make, as well. A 10-minute gourmet dinner.

But I have never in my life made that sauce as well as my 9yo did Sunday night.

The recipe itself is simple:

1 c. heavy cream
2 T. butter

Melt together over low heat until slightly thickened. Add:

2/3 c. grated Parmesan Reggiano

Stir til melted. Season with salt, pepper, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.

Boom. That’s it. And yet I’ve gotten this sauce wrong more often than not. After I tasted the 9yo’s version, I immediately knew why.

I love, love, love my Microplane graters. I have one for zest, nutmeg and Parmesan sorts of things, and a larger one for softer cheese. Ever since I’ve owned them, I haven’t used any other kind of grater. I used to use a Zyliss grater for Parmesan all the time. It produces a thicker grate–so the finished product is denser than it is with the Microplane.

[Yes, we're about to dive off the culinary cliff, in which I demand recipes with weights and measures.]

I had the 9yo use the Zyliss to grate her cheese, because there’s no way to slice off half your arm, like there is with the Microplane. End result? I’m guessing her sauce had 2-3 times as much Parmesan as mine usually does. And the result was to-die-for.

You could certainly achieve the same result with the Microplane, just by using lots more than 2/3 c., or by packing it down [how much??], but the best thing would be to know how much cheese we’re actually talking about. Saying 1 c. of something solid really tells you nothing. Liquids are more predictable when you’re measuring volume. This is why your cereal is measured by “weight” and not by “volume.” 12 oz. of cereal = 12 oz. of cereal, but 12 oz. of the exact same kind of cereal might be 2 c. or 3 c., depending on how it packs into the measuring cup on any given day.

So, next time we make alfredo, we’ll use the Zyliss and weigh the result. Then we’ll know exactly what we’re dealing with in the future.

I recently wrote about my journey parenting a vegetarian. We had an interesting situation come up last night, and it reminded me about a tip I’ve been practicing unconsciously — but that seems so critical now.

We were having hamburger patties with sauce [really ridiculously easy, but still tastes and feels homemade], and the 3yo said, “You didn’t give [the 9yo] any meat.” Now, we’ll ignore for the moment his stunning lack of observation, since his sister hasn’t eaten any meat for 2/3 of his life.

I responded, “The 9yo normally doesn’t eat meat. If she ever changes her mind about that, she will let us know. In the meantime, get to work on your dinner.” [The 3yo is such a social beast that the vast majority of our mealtimes are taken up by my telling him to shut up and eat already.]

I went on about my business, but a couple of minutes later, the 9yo grabbed the spoon, served herself some meat and said, “Well, never mind being vegetarian. I can have meat if I want to every once in a while.”

HA!

I don’t know that she’s going to change her mind about the whole idea, but the incident was a great reminder for me that we spend a lot of time telling kids who we think they are — when we should spend our time supporting them as they explore their choices.

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