Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Dear Reader,

This New Year's Eve finds me sick to death of holidays, coming down with a cold and feeling appropriately reflective.  On the first day of this decade I woke up at 6 PM with a crashing hangover, ordered a pizza from Domino's, watched Jurassic Park on television and went back to sleep.  So many horrific things have transpired in the years since, to be sure. But so many spectacularly awesome things, too.  Things I could never have imagined on that day, even if I had gotten out of bed.  I met my husband, got married, had children and published a book.  Tonight I will celebrate, not with all-night parties fueled by gin and irresponsibility - that's kid's stuff.  Tonight I will be with my family and copious amounts of champagne, because now I am a grown up and can't get a sitter.  Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve 2000

New Year's Eve 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa's Favorite Christmas Cookies for Know-It-Alls And Their Families

Dear Reader,

This recipe comes at the request of Erin, who is visiting her family in Ohio.


Santa's Favorite Christmas Cookies for Know-It-Alls And Their Families

You probably already know you will need:

4 1/2 cups of flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 stick butter
1/4 tsp. each cream of tartar, baking soda and salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup milk (as needed)

Chocolate filling:
16 oz. milk chocolate
16 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
large can evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Sugar comes from the sugar cane and your body changes it into glucose.  Certain varieties of chicken can produce up to 300 eggs per year, but we only need three.  Beat them into the butter and sugar.  Add vanilla, which was originally harvested by the ancient Totonaco Indians of Mexico, but now either comes from Madagascar, Indonesia, Tahiti or Mexico.  If you have been to these places, provide family with points of local interest or aspects of their culture.  In a separate bowl mix together  dry ingredients including Potassium bitartrate, more commonly known as cream of tartar, which is a byproduct of winemaking.  Mix dry ingredients into wet.  Add as much milk as necessary to roll into a dough, divide in two and wrap in plastic wrap.  Put it in the refrigerator.

In the top of a double boiler mix the ingredients for the chocolate filling.  Chocolate, which comes from the Cacao tree, was disovered over 2,000 years ago in the tropical rainforests of the southern Americas.  But everybody knows that.  The chocolate chip was actually invented by Ruth Wakefield who ran the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts.  Massachusetts became a state on February 6th, 1788.  Steve Smith, the drummer from the band Journey, is also from Whitman, Massachusetts.

Roll the dough out to the size of a baking sheet.  Pour on the chocolate and then roll out the second piece of dough, to make the top layer - like a pie crust - and put that over the chocolate.  Brush with an egg wash - another interesting fact about eggs is that a chicken egg has about 17,000 tiny pores on its surface.  Also when you boil a duck egg, the whites turn a bluish color and the yolks reddish-orange, which is really gross.  Emu eggs range from medium green to very dark green and weigh 3/4 pound.  They are mostly yolk, and very mild in flavor.  Place in a preheated oven set to 350.  Cook for about 20-25 minutes.  Wonder where the heck everybody went.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Damn Ham For Angry Family Dinners

Dear Reader,

There are, of course, many differences between the traditional Hanukkah and Christmas feasts, but perhaps the most notable is ham.  This year my sister, who has boldly stormed out of restaurants all across this great nation and a few in Europe, and evokes the passion of Christ in her tears and tantrums to cap off the festivities, is coming to my house for dinner.  So here's something for Christmas!


Damn Ham For Angry Family Dinners

You will need:

Half smoked ham
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
1 cup brown sugar
whole cloves
3 Tbs. honey
1 can pineapple rings
Maraschino cherries

Preheat your oven to 325.  With a large knife score skin of the ham, then quickly hide knife from youngest sister who has been drinking gin all day and ranting about how someone threw away her prom dress.  Hope she does not notice that you are now decked out in the finest Jessica McClintock the early 90's had to offer.  In a sauce pot, mix together mustard, brown sugar and honey.

When brother arrives with his three perfect and perfectly annoying children, count seconds until he enters kitchen to tell you a better way to make ham.  Tell him he's a big ham and to get the hell out.  When he says to watch your language, tell him that language is inanimate and cannot be watched, stupid, and that he should watch his own kids who are now pouring candle wax on the cat.  Smear sauce over ham.

Every time Mom takes a drink, entertain yourself by sticking a clove into the ham.  Stop if you can no longer see the ham under all the cloves.  Place pineapple rings over ham and stick a cherry inside each.  Secure all over with toothpicks and stick in oven for 12 minutes per pound.

Invite Dad and his girlfriend over for drinks and a fun round of The Blame Game.  No family dinner would be complete without one good storm-out and this would be your chance!  Seize the spotlight with your tears and hoarsely wail about your thirteenth birthday party when all your presents were bought at CVS and wrapped in newspaper.  Run to the driveway, grabbing a pillow as you go just in case they throw things at you when you return, or alternately, nobody comes to get you and you have to sleep in the car to prove your point.

When ham is ready, remove from oven.  Strategically leave near Mom so she can hit Dad over the head, getting the whole business over with so you can go to bed.  If Mediator or Interventionist has arrived, bring them with you to get them on your side.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Very Last Word About Gingerbread, I Promise

My son thought that our gingerbread house needed a neighborhood, so he made a store to go with it.

He wanted it to say, "Trade Your Unwanted Jewelry For Cash" but it wouldn't fit.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Gingerbread Part II

Dear Reader,

     I touched yesterday on the seemingly insurmountable task of making a gingerbread house in which I have been mired all week.  I'm happy to report that, with a little tweaking, I have finished the job!  Here's how it went down.
     I don't have cupboard space for a standing mixer, and my husband goes mental if there is stuff all over the counters, so every year I make gingerbread dough using a hand mixer.  And every year, I blow it out, the dough being so thick, the mixer starts to smoke and then just conks out.  But thanks to my Black and Decker Power Pro mixer, this year did not find me making a late night run to Rite Aid for a replacement.  Even through the three batches of dough needed to replace all the walls that kept breaking.
     The recipe I followed is from the original Martha Stewart Entertaining.  I adore her, but let's face it, I am no Martha Stewart.  Her recipe creates what she calls a "Gingerbread Mansion" and it is supposed to look like this:

     The first problem I encountered was evident upon removing the front piece of my mansion from the oven. 


And another CRACK!

     I thought that, perhaps, the crack would improve once I put in the windows, which I did with the aid of a Google search for how to make gingerbread house windows.  I used butterscotch, and Martha should really try it, as her method of boiling sugar and pouring it onto a sheet and then affixing the windows with royal icing is not only stupidly time consuming, but downright dangerous.

Alas, the cracks were only made worse by the addition of the glass.

     So I remembered what Martha advised in the introduction to her recipe:
      "Except for the exterior shaping, a memorable gingerbread house calls for last minute decisions and spontaneous invention."
     I heeded Martha's advice and made what seemed only reasonable with all my cracked pieces.

A gingerbread crack house.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gingerbread Hell House Part I

Dear Reader,

I am not able to write much at this time, as I have spent the past five days making gingerbread.  Way back when my children were really little, I thought it would be fun to make a gingerbread house.  If you have ever taken on this thankless and tedious and arduous task, you know what I'm talking about.  A word of warning to those of you without children, or whose children are very young:  think long and hard before initiating any activity that threatens to become tradition! Last night, at half-past midnight, my head pounding and eyes watering from inhaling noxious clouds of allspice and molasses, I had a vision wherein my daughter, now grown with children of her own, asks me to come over to make gingerbread houses with my grandchildren.  I weep as I tell you I fear I will be making these houses for the rest of my life.  The irony is that the houses I make aren't even very pretty.  Now I must rush back to the kitchen where three walls are sliding all over each other with royal icing, and I have to stand there, holding them, arms shaking, until it dries or I throw in the towel and get out the duct tape.

More on this tomorrow...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

O! F*#?ing Christmas Tree!

Dear Reader,

I am fortunate to have very high ceilings in my apartment.  That means we need a big Christmas tree, which would be fine if we lived in the country, but we live in New York City, and a ten-foot tree costs upwards of $200.  A little absurd for what is essentially a glorified and very temporary houseplant.  I have a sister that lives in Connecticut who tole me about this thing they have there called a "Tree Farm."  It turns out that you can go to this farm, and not only chop down your very own tree, but take a little hayride and have some hot chocolate to boot!  All for just $40!  So, sometime last August, when cold weather was but a fond and distant memory, I told my children that this year we would chop down our tree.  Like pinoeers!

Usually in a family there is one designated "tool person," the go-to guy for fixing broken toys, assembling the IKEA furniture, etc.  In my home that is me.  Stupidly, early on in our relationship, I must have picked up a screwdriver or adjustable wrench, and sealed my fate without even realizing it.  I paved the way for my husband to look at me blankly when something requires assembly, giving him a free pass, as though he were incapable of following the illustrated directions that came inside the box with the pieces of the new lamp.  It's my job.

Years ago my grandmother gave me some advice that she herself was given by her mother-in-law.  My grandmother had gone over to her in-law's house and found her mother-in-law up on a ladder, cleaning out the gutters while her husband stood on the ground, telling her she was doing it wrong.  My great-grandmother reportedly climbed down and said, "Never let them know how much you can do, or you will be doing it all your life."  Of course, this wisdome didn't come back to me until it was too late.

My husband was all for the tree farm, at first.  After all, he wouldn't be the one hacking the thing down.  I did a Google search and found a farm in Easton, Connecticut, and this past Saturday, the coldest day of the year, we drove up there.  It turns out that Easton is pretty much a Christmas tree choppers Mecca.  Every car getting on the Merritt Parkway at Exit 46 had a tree tied to the roof, and some had two.  If anyone knows what the second tree is used for, I would love to know.  Backup tree in case one flies off the roof on the way home was my assumption.

I found the place easily enough, and pulled into the ice-covered driveway, skidding to a stop next to a family that clearly finds employment as models for the L.L. Bean catalog, happily tying up their tree, snow crusting the father's beard, and lightly dusting mother's.  I asked, "Is there someone that helps you chop the tree?"

They had a good laugh at that.  From what I could gather, we were meant to hike up this mountain, hack down the tree with a saw we were to have provided ourselves, and haul the thing back to our car.  My daughter, in her sparkly pink Converse, and my son, already complaining loudly, "I'm in danger of getting hypothermia, people!" weren't going to make it.  We got back in the car and drove up the road to another farm.

This one was nicer, with little warming huts and a hayride and some big oxen lowing behind a fence.  They also had hot dogs and cocoa.  Families in brightly colored parkas roamed the rolling hills in search of a beautiful Douglas fir or Blue Spruce.  Perfection.  Except that for some reason my husband hadn't brought thought to bring a hat and the sun was starting to go down and my son was again complaining of hypothermia, so the mission was declared "a nightmare."

I didn't want this whole exhausting journey to be a waste.  I just wanted to get a stupid tree, strap it on the roof and go home.  So I told my husband to wait with my son in the warming hut, grabbed my daughter and jumped on the hayride up the hill, thinking I would find a tree, chop it down and be done with the whole dirty business in less than twenty minutes.  I would save Christmas!  Except that on this whole entire farm there was not one tree over eight feet.  And an eight-foot tree in my house might as well be in a pot on the end table.  We got back in the car with lots of talk about how we should have just paid the stinking $200 and gotten the tree on 24th Street.  They deliver!

My daughter on the freezing cold hayride.

The next farm had not only the hot chocolate and hayrides and oxen but also pre-cut trees.  Hallelujah.  They even had one that was exactly ten feet.  We told the guys to tie it up and got the kids some hot chocolate.  Then we spent about an hour trying to figure out how to tie the thing securely to the roof, a task everyone else seemed to accomplish with no more difficulty than tying their Timberlands.  I had visions of the driver behind us on the Merritt Parkway being impaled on our White Pine, or a great gust of wind plucking us off the Henry Hudson Bridge and dumping us in the river.  My hands were raw from using excessive twine.

The tree, tied to the roof.  The boy, recovering in the car.

We made it home and even fit the tree in our building's old and crappy elevator.  Fitting it in the old and crappy tree stand was another matter.  After much cursing, and sending the children to go play computer games to shield them from all the cursing, and further discussion of how we should have just had the thing delivered by the guy on 24th Street who would also set it up for us, I ran down to see that guy on 24th Street.  I explained that at that very moment, my husband was standing in my living room, holding a tree that was in serious danger of bursting into flames being in such close proximity to the steam coming from his ears.  He sold me a bigger stand, and everything seemed okay.  We called the children, got out the ornaments and put on some Christmas music.  But the thing about a White Pine is it's sharp.  Really sharp.  It's needles may as well be hypodermic.  My son, now fully recovered from his hypothermia, declared that he was going to have to ask Santa for some Band-Aids.  Merry Christmas.

The effing tree.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tuna Noodle Kwanzaa Challah Baby Jesus Bake

Dear Reader,

Let's face it, the best part of the holiday season is the receiving of gifts.  Other than that it is expensive, fattening and exhausting.  Everyone knows that a good way to assure yourself lots of gifts is to host a holiday party.  It stands to reason that the more people you invite, the more gifts you will receive.  So make your holiday party as inclusive as possible.  This delicious meal is sure to become a new tradition in your home and will allow you to include absolutely everyone in the occasion!


Tuna Noodle Kwanzaa Challah Baby Jesus Bake

You will need:

2 cans tuna
1/2 box elbow noodles
1 sweet potato, diced
4 1/2 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. flour
1/4 cup sherry
1/4 cup cream
1 1/2 cups milk
5 slices day-old challah
Kwanzaa candles
Tiny baby Jesus

Some time in December gather all your friends round for a holiday party!  If they ask what they can bring a safe bet is to request booze or candles.  Make sure to have a Christmas tree, a Menorah and a Kwanzaa bush.  To be cost efficient and eco-friendly, just get a small fir tree that can serve as both O Tannenbaum and the bush.  Quick note: Avoid singing carols in German!  Place Menorah on top of tree.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Drain tuna from cans.  Cook noodles according to package directions.  Blanch sweet potatoes in boiling, salted water, then drain and combine with cooked noodles.  Tell holiday stories about freedom from tyranny and oppression and the joy of kindness!  In a saucepan, melt butter and add flour to make a roux.  Pour in sherry, cream and milk, stirring until the mixture has thickened.

Put challah in food processor and pulse to make breadcrumbs.  Toast them in a pan with a little butter.  Mix all ingredients together, calling friends around to witness in the form of tuna,  the symbolic coming together we all do during the holidays, and pour everyone a drink.  Tell Kwanzaa celebrants that they are the sweet potatoes.  Tell your Jewish friends that they are the Challah, sprinkled over the top.  And for your Christian friends, take a little baby Jesus and hide it in the casserole.

Bake for thirty-five minutes, then top with Kwanzaa candles, decorate with Dreidels and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.  Tell guests that whoever eats the baby Jesus wins the special prize!  A beautiful embossed set of Al Hijra* cards!

*Islamic New Year

Friday, December 11, 2009

House Arrest Hanukkah

Dear Reader,

This time of year is difficult for people that are alone.  Never mind the fact that I often wish during the holidays that I were alone, for some, it is quite painful.  In particular for Josh who wrote me this letter:

Dear Heather,

This past year really stunk for me.  At this time in '08 I was making s**tloads of cash, and now I'm totally unemployed for pretty much the rest of my life and all because my former assistant was a total stoolie!  And now my MBA from Wharton is useless!  Nobody is coming over this Hanukkah, and it really sucks to be me.  Can you help?  And it has to be on the cheap.


Of course I can help you, Josh, and maybe earn you some good behavior points to boot.  Happy Hannukkah!

House Arrest Hanukkah

You will need:

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and grated
1 large onion, grated
4 eggs
Two handfuls herbs
1 Tbs. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Aquaphor Lotion

Invite over the last remaining friend you have, your probation officer, to help celebrate.  If he balks, tell him the Ghostbusters box set just arrived via Netflix.

Rub Aquaphor Lotion under your ankle monitor to relieve chaffing.  Soak potatoes in water the way you soaked all the clients at your former hedge fund.  Drain and mix with grated onion.  If the onion should make you cry, leverage your tears and cry over your lost wealth at the same time.  Press between two paper towels to wring out any moisture left in them, then blow your nose.

Tie a rope around your waist (not your neck!), anchor it to the bed and reach out the window to the herb garden.  Grab a handful of chives and a handful of parsley.  Hoist yourself back in.  If you get stuck, don't ask for help!  You're not supposed to be out here!  Crack the eggs into a bowl and combine with chopped herbs and potato mix.  Season with salt and pepper.  Note that your hair now contains far more salt than pepper due to lack of access to Frederic Fekkai.

Heat oil in a non-stick skillet and pour some over ankle - that chaffing!  Drop heaping spoonfuls of the mix into the pan.  Smoosh it down with a spatula the way your face would be smooshed down into your pillow every night had you gone to prison like you deserved.  Turn over and fry other side until golden brown the way you would be turned over in the prison shower.  Repeat with remaining mix.  Eat with sour cream.  Give thanks for Ghostbusters.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I'll Kill Her

Dear Reader,

If you have bought my book, Eat Your Feelings, Recipes for Self-Loathing, you know that the book contains a list of appropriate music to accompany the eating of the feelings.  I thought I would share with you another song, one of my favorites.  If you have not yet bought the book, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Want to know what I got for my birthday?

A few of you asked what my kids gave me for my birthday, so I thought I would share.  My husband took them to a store called, "Everything In Store $2.99" so they could buy me something with their own money.  Which they did.

They bought me jewels.  What appears to be a basket full of crabs is from my son, who is seven.  The girl, my five year old, got me the playboy bunny, natch.

Moving Day Mozzarella Panini

Dear Reader,

I received an emergency message from my friend Wendy:

I just finished packing up my SUV to be shipped cross country-- ready to relax before a flight in the AM-- then I got a call from the shipper saying NO PERSONAL ITEMS IN THE VEHICLE.  I am now sitting amongst them in my dining room... WaahHHHHHHHHH! Heather, what do you suggest I eat for my being cranky, exhausted and mmmmaaaad!!?

Oh boy Wendy! I feel your pain.  Moving is fraught with pain, both physical and emotional.  Especially if you are moving an entire family, and doubly so if you are the sole person orchestrating this move. While I am not moving any time soon, the threat of a potential move at some point in my distant future prevents me from collecting too much crap in my house and in my life.  I am a fan of throwing stuff out.  Of course I am talking about things and not people.  People should only be thrown out if they really deserve it.  Wendy, for you I prescribe a Moving Day Mozzarella Panini.  Enjoy!

Moving Day Mozzarella Panini

You will need:

balsamic vinegar
40 oz. beer of your choice.
ciabatta bread

Begin by sorting personal items into piles according to how necessary they are to your life.  Birth certificates would be very necessary, whereas the year's worth of your subscription to The New Yorker would not.  Don't kid yourself, you're never going to read those old issues and you only ordered it so people would think you're smarter than you really are.

Slice mozzarella to fit nicely onto your bread.  Spread one side with tapenade the way you tried to spread some twenties on the movers to let you pack all that stuff in the car.  Place cheese over tapenade.  Thinly slice tomatoes and dry them off on a paper towel so as not to create a soggy sandwich, which, as you have packed away all your plates, would be a big pain.

Drizzle balsamic vinegar over tomatoes and top with arugula and other slice of bread.  Fire up the panini press your sister-in-law got you for Secret Santa and which has been idling on Craigslist since January.  When it is nice and hot, place sandwich inside and squeeze the way you squeezed your entire houseful of furniture into one truck for the cross-country move.  Cook until cheese is melted and bread is toasty.  Enjoy with icy cold beer, then toss everything in the dumpster and walk away.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Eat Your Feelings Party at Mom's house!

Dear Reader,

Last week I was in the good old town of Kansas City for some book events and was fortunate enough to spend a little time with Mom, on account of that's where she lives.  Mom thought it would be a fun idea to invite some of the neighborhood ladies over for an Eat Your Feelings Party and she was right!  We had a blast and I have the photos to prove it!  She served Valentine's Day Party Ryes for Divorcees, Hamburger Casserole For When Nobody Loves You And Never Will, and Manic Depressive Brownies. Yum!

The essentials of good snack food:  pork products and cheese, await assembly.

Aforementioned cheese and sausage will soon find a home atop these tasty party ryes for the:

 Divorcees!  Okay, so they're not all divorcees, but they liked them anyway.

Paula from Rainy Day Books in Kansas City was on hand to sell books.  Hi Paula!

And it wouldn't be Mom's house without a great big bottle of wine.

These ladies were having so much fun their photo was all blurry. Or maybe the photographer had dipped into the wine.

Here I am distracted by the-

Rowdy bunch in the corner.

And voila les Manic Depressive Brownies.  Bravo, Mom!

If you spotted your mother in these photos I know what you're getting for Christmas!