I told you boys like pink food.

Billy the Kid’s Pink Cookies

I had a hankering for chocolate chip cookies last week. Since Billy the Kid has requested them each of the last ten times I’ve baked, I thought I’d win an easy point by letting him think it was his bright idea. “What kind of cookies should we make?” A pause and a hilarious pensive finger to the lips were followed by: “pink cookies!” I took a second to process a mental sad trumpet sound bite, then hopped on-line looking for any easy sugar cookie recipe. If I wasn’t going to get my chocolate chippers, my heart just wasn’t going to be in it. The oreo-stuffed monster-god still fresh in my mind, I started at BeckyBakes, and found this recipe for iced sugar cookies. I’ll admit the icing won me back, and both BK and I were soon groaning over the four-hour chill time. (I added two drops of McCormick red food coloring once the butter, shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla were combined, and added two drops more to the icing to get this particular pink).

Of course we weren’t about to use any remotely Christmas-related shapes this far into the new year, so out came the bin of 101 cutters that Santa brought us, temporarily forgetting the difficulty a three-year-old has with deciding between even two of anything. The project now involved multiple days. We finally filled two cookie sheets (you’re an adult now; act like it) with five Spring/Easter-related shapes after some hardcore negotiating, and Billy went AWOL as soon as they hit the oven, regaining interest only once the final iced product was ready for consumption. I was dangerously cranky from being marooned by my sous chef, denied chocolate chippers, and faced with cleaning flour off of everything, so it was fortunate for everyone involved, including Becky, that they were surprisingly worth the effort and agonizing patience I had invested. A hint of lemon really does elevate the old girl to a new class rank. Having tried about a hundred different sugar cookie recipes, I was impressed in spite of my grim expectations, so much so that these are now my standards, though I was never completely content with my previous go-to.

A note on the quantity produced: the reasonable, slightly health-conscious (as in, what will keep me from dying this year) adult in you will appreciate the modest batch-size; the plump, sugar-addicted ten-year old girl in you who just learned how to make half a batch of vanilla cake batter to eat raw in an emergency snack-attack will curse the measly yield even as she gloms down the first dozen. I discourage you from inferring any whisper of autobiography in these last lines.

Teeth. Jealousy. Shanks.

More Italian Than Not Chicken Parmesan

It’s not the incessant and simultaneous wails of two teething babies that have driven me to enact a semi-weekly 5:00 cocktail hour (consisting of two shots of amaretto), but more the straining required to hear the tiny, inappropriately quiet voice of a certain toddler over the racket, and ultimately realizing that the urgent refrain is none other than the jaw-clench-inducing “what are you doooing?” It’s become part of Monk Jr’s routine, and every time I change a diaper or feed a belly (activities which infuriate whoever isn’t receiving the attention), Billy the Kid is right there, inaudibly inquiring about the nature of my distraction from El Dicta-toro. “Well, what do you think I’m doing?” I ask in a sweet but pretty obviously condescending tone. And what do you know, BK offers the correct answer every time.

It’s Friday, and I have nothing left for anyone. No energy, no functioning brain cells, no sympathy. Teeth hurt? Yeah, I’ve been there, too. But guess what. You get Orajel, Tylenol, and eventually teeth. Bored? Why don’t you head down to the basement and see what/who you can rustle up. Hungry? Next scheduled feeding, how about drinking more than an ounce instead of looking around frantically to make sure your sister isn’t happy? Today’s snow was the literal icing on the proverbial cake. The only thing that induces more guilt in me than not taking the underlings out into the world at least once a day is taking them out under sub-par driving conditions, and putting their tiny lives at a slightly higher risk than usual. My serious need for some contact with civilization: denied.

The death of such a bastard of a week should be observed properly, with a seam-splitting meal involving cheese, a casserole dish, and meat, that will have us all unconscious and transported out of the hell that has been February 21 through 25 (with a brief respite on the 24th spanning the length of Jess D’s visit). For those who need it spelled out: Chicken Parmesan. In spite of my insecurities about preparing cuisines of nationalities to which I have no relation, I found a promising recipe on Simply Recipes, a site that has yet to disappoint me (well played, Ms. B). Aside from a smidge too much heat from the red pepper flakes, this is what I hope for whenever I order Chicken Parm at a restaurant, though I haven’t been able to find it outside of Providence’s Federal Hill.

Speaking of Federal Hill, my father, the venerable Mr. S, alerted me of an interview with the locally famous Baby Shanks Manocchio, in which the former Patriarca family boss (and serial restauranteur extraordinaire) was asked about the nature of his name. It turns out that his original nickname was Baby Shacks, an allusion to his success at finding continual transitional housing with charitable women, but that the erroneous “Shanks” eventually replaced “Shacks,” some assuming it referred to his stature, others convinced he must fashion a mean shiv. When asked for the final word, Manocchio offered the entirely unhelpful “what does it really matter?” Seldom does my heart pine so achingly for my state.

Remember when “America” was synonomous with “exotic?” Neither do I.

Charlatan Cookies

I wondered what would happen if Jess D and I ever got together and did some baking, and now I know: five extra pounds and some blood sugar tests. She posted this link from BeckyBakes to my Facebook page several weeks ago, and I had the same initial impression as the author, a Bart Simpson-like shudder at the conceived marriage of a home-made and a store-bought cookie. We agreed that they’d either be awesome or inedible. Unfortunately for our waistlines, they fall into that can’t-have-just-one category, which would be fine, except that they’re gargantuan.

I decided to attempt the recipe with mini-Oreos instead, aiming to achieve a three-inch diameter at most, but what is meant to be a cookie-covered Oreo became more of a “surprise cookie,” suggesting that the original is perfect in its enormity, rather like Jeff Garlin.

We have to stop eating like this.

Really? Malta Short Ribs

Like many Americans, we don’t watch TV anymore; we watch laptop. We have a Roku box hooked up to the TV, to which we stream our Netflix account and Amazon On Demand purchases, but since I spend most of my day in the living room, I like to move into the office for a change of scenery in the evening. Ultimately, Billy the Kid has a wall-mounted flat-screen HDTV, and his parents watch the majority of their programs huddled around a 17″ computer screen. Of the handful of shows we follow, the most painfully awaited each week is, without a doubt, Top Chef.

We are obsessed with Top Chef, and by we, I mean Mr. P. I deem the Bravo reality show solid (and hunger-inducing) entertainment, but in the absence of cable television, my husband has redirected the zest he would have invested in football toward competitive cooking. I usually draw or decoupage for the beginning of the show, focusing in mainly when a final dish is plated or a winner/loser announced; my husband not only ranks his favorite seasons and players/chefs within each season, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of each, but also validates his appraisals through sites like this. Wait for it…there’s even more.

I had never heard of short ribs before I started watching the show, but it quickly became clear that the rib/plate/chuck combo cut could either open new doors for contestants, or windows out of which to throw them. While watching a back episode from Season 4, in which the particularly brazen Richard Blais wins Round I of the finale (held in Puerto Rico) with his Pork Ribs with Malta and Soy Glaze, I searched online for a similar recipe, and found one that looked fairly reasonable on this visual trainwreck of a site. I’ve typed out the recipe below, since the contributing chef seems too distracted to actually get all his ingredients into the dish. To his credit, his ribs are absolutely delicious, and so succulent you can leave the knives off from the place-settings. But really, can there be true redemption from such abhorrent self-editing?

3 lbs short ribs (by definition, beef)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 packet Goya Sazon
1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 cachucha peppers, minced (or any small, mild peppers)
1 12-oz bottle Goya Malta
1 1/2 C beef stock
1 small can Goya Spanish-style tomato sauce
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Set your oven to 350. Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high, and dry the meat off on a paper towel. Rub the ribs with salt and pepper, then brown them on each side for 4 minutes. Remove them from the pan, add the onions, and cook for about 4 minutes, until they start to soften. Add the peppers and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then add the tomato sauce and cook for 2 minutes more.

Return the ribs to the pan, add the Sazon, cayenne pepper, Malta, and beef stock, and stir it up until combined. Add salt if you didn’t adequately cake your ribs prior to browning, and cook the whole thing for another 3 minutes, then cover the pot and stick it in the oven for 3 hours.

These were superb with Puerto Rican-style white rice, and I have a feeling they’d also pair well with boiled Russett potatoes. Unfortunately, I’ll never know, since I now have a tilde in my last name.

Twins, buns, and a promise of ribs.

As poor, patient Billy the Kid strains to hear the baby-appropriate Care Bears movie over the girls’ wails of outrage, I’ve braced myself with a rare shot of amaretto and snuck into the office for ten minutes of off-the-clock. I freely admit that I don’t care for babies. I love my children furiously, and I can heartily appreciate the beauty of an unrelated sleeping infant, but to me, the first six months of an individual’s life is the most miserable phase for everyone involved.

Before BK came along, I had held a total of three infants over the course of my life, and I’m counting my little brother when I was five. Mothering was not something that came naturally, but I figured it out. I was completely unprepared, however, for my two simultaneous miracles, and I’m glad that I did absolutely no research into what to expect, because nothing could have prepared me for double teething, double stomach bugs, double baby-boredom, incongruent sleep/nap patterns and feeding schedules, and the general level of anger constantly directed right toward me. My one assumption could not have been more incorrect; I figured that my girls would come out of me with an already-developing bond, and that they would divert each other for hours, cooing at one another and holding hands, unwilling to be separated. In short, I thought baby-distraction would be easier with two than one.

Not the case. Within the first few weeks, it became clear that my twins deeply resented each others’ existence, and all attempts to bond them failed miserably. If a sleeping twin heard the other sucking on a bottle, she’d wake up screaming, even if she had eaten within the hour. If one felt the other within reach, frantic clawing and shoving would commence immediately. The most unsettling manifestation was that one’s crying would soothe the other to sleep.

I suppose that this dynamic is due to several factors, the first being that they grew in two separate sacks within the womb, and both came out under the illusion they were singletons, and entitled ones at that. Second, I’ve never been much of a Dairy Queen, and I’m sure the first month’s competition for food had them constantly on edge. Now, finally, at a little over four months, they’ve started making eye contact and interacting, and I’ve counted three smiles at one another so far this past week. Might things be looking up at Chez Miserables?

I wrote the above paragraphs several evenings ago. All three of my wards are now sick with a cold (the blue bulb is working overtime and not winning any fans), and the girls’ teeth are poking through. Add to that one case of diaper rash so sinister that it necessitated a visit to the pediatrician. A detailed visual description of an angry bum is not, evidently, adequate information for an allotment of the coveted prescription bun-cream. At least the good Doctor Y assured me that I was not at fault for the unfortunate event through any negligence or sub-par wiping, but that the culprit was the acidity of “sick poop.” I now see how silly it was to look forward to an exchange with another adult after my recent quarantine.

At this point in the evening, the only thing I’m holding onto is the fast-approaching dinner of Malta-Glazed Short Ribs that’s just finishing up its three-hour cooking time. You tried to break me once again, day, but as always, I’m keeping smug superiority alive and well.

I also enjoy cream-colored ponies and crisp apple streudel.

Porker Schnitzel

Each winter I inevitably start a torrid affair with a particular dinner, and by the time the ground begins to thaw, neither I nor Mr. P want to eat it ever again. It took several years for us to warm back up to pork chops fried with onions, and then there was the dark nothing-but-casserole period a while back. Presently, nothing can to fill my existential void save for pork schnitzel (Schnitzel Wiener Art).

My parents, the jet-setting Mr. and Mrs. S, spent several years early in their marriage teaching at a boarding school in Germany (which, of course, was run in a converted medieval castle, and their living quarters were the tower). My father had been working there for a year before he spent a vacation back home in the US and then reappeared at the new term with a new bride. He had previously developed a penchant for the schnitzel served two doors down from his place/the tower at the Anker Bar, run by the cheerful Annie and mischievous Hans, who, having lost his ring finger down to the second knuckle in WWII, took delight in scrutinizing the face of a patron shaking his hand for the first time as he wiggled the stump good-humoredly against an unsuspecting palm.

My father, a creature of unfaltering habit, would have a schnitzel for dinner, and another for dessert. Upon the newlyweds’ first visit to the Anker, Annie took my mother back into the kitchen and taught her how to make the schnitzel Herr Smith enjoyed, so that the young bride might better please her new lord and master. The ever-gracious Mrs. S stifled all smart remarks and I subsequently grew up eating professional-tier schnitzel at home. It’s my ultimate comfort food, and my comfort tank’s running on E these days.

Nothing conveys comfort like hammering the crap out of some pork, coating it with starch, protein, and more starch, then frying it up in a nice half inch of hot oil. Take heed; without lemons, you will not be able to move after consuming this meal. I was out of lemons and made do with some bottled juice, and now I’m looking at an 8 PM bedtime. While I wish I could boast about my homemade green beans and spaetzle, I use the frozen Bird’s Eye package (but follow the stove-top directions, not those for the microwave), and while I’m disclosing, the wild rice is Uncle Ben’s. I buy it by the six-pack from BJ’s and hide it in the back of the pantry. Mr. P won’t say exactly what Benjamin did to him, but I’ve seldom seen him hate someone with such elan.

6 boneless pork chops, fat trimmed, pounded until you can almost see through them
1/2 C flour
2 eggs, beaten, in a shallow bowl
1 C breadcrumbs, on a plate
salt and pepper
2 lemons, sliced into thin rings
1 lemon, quartered, for squirting
vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter

Heat up about a half inch of vegetable oil over medium-high in a wide skillet (I believe my mother uses butter, but I live for the crunch). Combine the flour, some salt and some pepper in a medium bowl, then spread it out on a plate. Dredge a pounded chop through the mixture, coating completely, then in the beaten egg, dripping off any excess, then lay it down in the breadcrumbs. Cover up every millimeter of that bad Larry with crumbs, and immediately place it into the piping oil.

Repeat with two more chops, or as many as you can fit in the pan while maintaining personal space. Do not get all the chops ready first; this is not an assembly line. Fry the pork for 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and fry for 2 to 3 more, depending on how much pride you took in your pounding. Transfer the cooked pork to a plate lined with a paper towel, add enough oil to the pan to get back to half an inch, then cook the remaining chops.

Once round 2 is complete, transfer the pork to the stand-by plate, and add the butter to the pan, still over medium heat. Cook this heavenly sludge for a few minutes and drizzle it over the schnitzel once it’s plated. Follow the drizzle with a squirt of lemon, and arrange a few lemon slices on top. Go ahead and treat yourself to some boxed sides — tell em Mrs. P said it’s all right. But just this once.

This is a few of my favorite thing.

Chocolate Covered Popped Corn

Will wonders never cease, it’s winter in New England and it’s snowing. A lot. As I scroll through the endless Facebook griping, I’m reminded of this past summer, sitting on my porch in the stifling August heat, contemplating my edema-induced upside down piano legs, as my father would say, begging gods and nature for my promised Goreian deep freeze, or even just the tip-over of a truck carrying liquid nitrogen in which I could dip my sausagey toes. So forgive me my utter delight with 1) my now permanently non-incubatory midsection, and 2) our current weather. You know, the snow. In winter. But for anyone who views shoveling as a treat-worthy activity…

This recipe for a weapons-grade deceptively light “snack” hails from allrecipes.com, but I found out about it through one of Mr. P’s lovely coworkers. While enjoying the tin-full she thoughtfully gave him/us during the holidays, I directed him to bring me either the recipe or her head, and I received the link within 24 hours. The sludge with which you coat the popped corn is well worth the fillings you’ll sacrifice as you snack on whatever quantity doesn’t quite make it into the pan. I had planned on shipping the maiden batch to my debonair brother, C, but looking at the remains this morning, I realize that’s just not going to happen. Perhaps if I double the recipe, eat half, and quickly drive to FedEx while still uncomfortably distended to ship the rest…

The only ingredient you probably don’t have is corn syrup (I keep it on hand, but I know that’s a lot to expect of everyone else). Do not attempt to make your own corn syrup; this enigmatic substance is synthesized in factories for a reason. I recommend using a microwavable popcorn, but get one that’s unsalted and unbuttered. Then proceed to add as much salt (disturbingly omitted from the recipe) as necessary. You’ll have to constantly taste — quel horreur! Do yourself a favor and don’t make plans for your first round, nor for your evening.

As a postscript, Mr. P pointed out to me that his lovely coworker used kettle corn in her version, not regular popping corn. Mr. P’s contribution was given due consideration.

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