The Gleeful Gourmand: March 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

We Don't Have Cooking, But We Do Have Babies!

I know I’ve been remiss in posting lately, but a lot of…er…stuff has been hitting the fan here at The Gleeful Gourmand home. It started with me being diagnosed with Lyme Disease a couple of weeks ago, and then Liam coming down with a horrible stomach virus that he still can’t seem to shake, then me getting said virus, and then finally being told that I do not, in fact have Lyme Disease, or any other kind of disease (thank God!). It’s been a confusing, stressful mess over here and very little cooking has been going on, unless you count opening a package of Saltines and dumping a can of chicken noodle soup into a pot "cooking."

However, there is a lot to celebrate as Liam continues to get better and we get back to normal. In the middle of all this, Savannah and Delia had their 9-month checkup, and we were pleased to find out that they’re doing really well. Delia came in at 16 pounds, 8 ounces, and Savannah came in at 17 pounds, 11 ounces. She’s in the 90th percentile for height (28 inches) and 25th for weight; and Delia is in the 50th percentile for height (27 ½ inches) and 15th for weight.

Savannah, a.k.a. Savannah Banana, a.k.a. Savannah Smiles
Those are some long, lean girls! These days they are exploring their first finger foods (Baby Mum-Mum’s Rusks – they’ve got no clue what to make of them), and Savannah is finally sitting up unsupported! Delia still has a hard time sitting upright without support, but I’m encouraged that both of them like to get up on their hands and knees and rock back and forth. I think crawling will be just around the corner for them, which is pretty cool. They both also say “Mama” and “Dada” and also “Hey.” Savannah has also said “Hi, Dada!” a few times.

Delia, a.k.a. Deels, a.k.a. Deli-boo
It’s been difficult for me to let go of preconceived notions of what they should and shouldn’t be doing at this age. Liam was such a “Textbook Baby,” meaning that when the book said he should do something, he did it, right down to the day, with the exception of walking on his own (14 months). But that was hereditary, as I didn’t walk on my own until 14 months either. Still, I’ve had to toss the books aside and just enjoy the girls as they are. Not as 9-month-olds, or on their Corrected Age (7 ½ months), but just as babies, doing whatever the heck they’re going to do, and knowing that they will eventually catch up to their peers. Would it make my life so much simpler if they could both just sit up together (as opposed to rolling down the hall, or under the tables)? Sure it would. But we’ll get there.

In the meantime I’ve got two beautiful girls who love to smile and laugh and grab my hair with iron-like vice grips. They have fun senses of humor, and will basically laugh at just about anything, which makes us feel like we’re a lot funnier than we really are. Delia especially seems to take particular delight in people sneezing. Sneeze in front of her and she will dissolve into a fit of hysterical giggles. Sneeze again and she will scream with appreciation and guffaws. I’m serious. There is nothing funnier to her than people sneezing. Makes for easy entertainment during this allergy season.

So that’s all for now from The Gleeful Gourmand. I promise to be back very soon with some Easter menu ideas and some recipes for fun spring dishes!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Raise A Glass To This Irish Dessert!

Even though today isn't technically St. Patrick's Day, the whole family packed up and headed over to my mother's for a big celebration complete with corned beef and cabbage, boiled potatoes, and Irish soda bread. Paired with plenty of Guinness, and wine, we all had a wonderful time.

Buck and the girls get their Irish on.
For dessert this year, I wanted to try something different. Many times in the past, I've made these Irish Cream Brownies, which are excellent. I searched through cakes and puddings, mousses and cupcakes, and finally came back to the first one I hit upon: Stout Floats with Cocoa Syrup. I was very intrigued by its simplicity, yet richness in flavor. The only hesitation I had was that my Mom hates beer. But even she was willing to take a chance. I made the syrup and whipped cream this morning (both very easy - and the syrup can be made 3 weeks ahead!), and instead of ice cream I used Stonyfield's After Dark Chocolate Yogurt (because I'm lactose intolerant, and it's only 100 calories, woot!). I don't care for Guinness all that much, and I LOVED this drink. It was so rich, and so delicious. My Mom...wasn't a fan, but it seemed to be a crowd pleaser nonetheless.

Chocolatey, Guinnessy, creamy goodness.

You can find the recipe here at Bon Appétit's website. Some notes: You really do need a long spoon to mix everything together. The drink is at it's best when all the different flavors are combined. I also used Guinness Draught, just to err on the side of caution when it came to bitterness. Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Best Restaurant Review, Ever

Viral. Spreading like wildfire. I bet those are two phrases Marilyn Hagerty of Grand Forks, North Dakota never imagined would be applied to her review of The Olive Garden. And yet, mainstream sites and foodie blogs are all a-twitter this week because of it. City Pages called it "the greatest restaurant review ever written." So what's all the fuss about? The fuss is that it's an unintentionally hilarious, straight-forward account of the grand opening of the first Olive Garden ever in Grand Forks. 

And it contains gems like this: "At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water." She's like the Ernest Hemingway of of food critics: to the point and pulling no punches. 

It was way too easy at first to smile at her review in a of "Bless her heart" sort of way, and also bless Grand Forks's heart too, for having just opened it's very first Olive Garden. But that got me thinking: There are a lot of places in America like Grand Forks where the best restaurant to open in a long time is an Olive Garden. She may seem like a simple writer, but I think that's exactly what her audience (the ones who regularly read her column) wants and needs. They need to know what the place is like, if the food is good, and what it costs. She relates all of that brilliantly, with a no-nonsense approach. 

The Olive Garden is sort of a joke now to foodies. But Marilyn Hagerty reminded me of what it was like here in Richmond when I was a kid. I'll be honest: It wasn't the great food city it is today. Restaurant choices were far and few between, and if you wanted a wonderful dining experience, you had to drive about a half an hour into the city to get it. When The Olive Garden first opened on the Southside (that's South of the James River for you non-Richmonders) it was a big deal. Our closest brush with fine Italian dining up until that point was the local Pizza Hut. It was really, really good. I will never forget that it was there that I tried calamari for the first time, and learned what it was. I also learned that I hate calamari, but that's neither here nor there. The food was delicious, satisfying, and you left feeling like you had had a really nice dining experience. It was a big deal.

The Olive Garden is also kind of a joke in our house. My husband hates The Olive Garden. But he was born and raised in L.A. and can't understand why this silly chain restaurant still holds a a special place in my heart. Here's the truth: Although I've had the privilege of eating in some of America's most exceptional restaurants, sometimes when I see commercials for the O.G., I get a twinge in my heart and an overwhelming need for all-I-can-eat breadsticks and salad.

So I say, good for you Marilyn Hagerty. You wrote a great review, and you told your audience exactly what they needed to hear. You don't care what anyone thinks of you and your writing, and I for one think that's a marvelous thing.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Heaping Slice of Nostalgia (with cheese)

Possibly the most awesome cookbook ever.
I'm a nostalgic person, and have been for as long as I can remember. Here's my brand of nostalgia: I love family traditions (mine and everyone else's), retro 80s commercials, antiques (but strangely have never been antiquing), and old movies, and old music. Really old music. On my XM/Sirius lineup I have 80s on 8, 90s on 9, The Blend for harmless Pop music, The Spectrum (my favorite), Margaritaville (second favorite), and um, 40s on 4. And I actually listen to 40s on 4 quite a bit, much to the delight of my husband (he loves mocking me for this). In fact, if you asked him, I'm pretty sure he would say that I'm the most nostalgic person he knows. However, I would like to disclaim that I don't actually wish I lived back then. I don't wear clothes from that era, and I don't really think it was any better than it is today. Frankly that's a good thing because back then women wore hats a lot, and the truth is I look really goofy in hats.

All of this leads me to this: The Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book, circa 1955. This was my mother's first cookbook, and when I was a kid, I used to love to peruse its pages. Oh hell, I still love to peruse its pages! It's literally falling apart, but it's so happy. And bright. There are delightful drawings of young cooks (both male and female, though it does skew towards girls), and the real photos of kids look so...50s. There's no other way to describe it. They look like they're having the time of their little lives, and not at all demented, like some 50s photos can come across.

So. Darned. Happy!
It's broken into sections of beverages, breads and sandwiches, candy and cookies, desserts, main dishes, and vegetables and salads. Most of the recipes are really great and fun (I'm not a fan of the Saucy Spaghetti in which you mix canned spaghetti with canned sausages). They're all very to easy to follow, with minimal ingredients. It's the perfect starter cookbook for a kid. In fact, the very first recipe I ever made without anyone helping me at all was from this cookbook. I had made cookies with my mom plenty of times, but on her suggestion, I got it into my head that I really wanted to make something on my own, with no one's help or intervention. I made the Apple Crisp, which took just 5 ingredients. I remember being terrified the entire time, worried that I was screwing some part of it up, but determined to make it great. It turned out really well, and I know that it launched my love of baking. Though I was totally baffled at their advice that "Your Dad will flash you a pleased grin if you give him a wedge of his favorite cheese to eat with this dessert." I'm pretty sure my Dad was equally baffled when I handed him a slice of pre-wrapped American cheddar with his plate.

Regardless, I was thrilled when my mom gave me this book to keep a few weeks ago. It was like greeting an old friend, and I was just as charmed now as I was back then. I can't wait for the day when Liam and the girls can read, and we can make the recipes together from this book. I hope it holds up until then, and maybe one day I can pass it on to them. With any kind of luck, one out of the three of them will geek out with nostalgic love just as I did.