Why? WHY!!!???

cookie bar

Why did I do it?  What was I thinking?  It’s me: non-baking-Michelle.  I was persuaded.  Pushed even. 

Carissa of At 350 Degrees practically made me do it.  I mean she signed on to follow my blog so it would be rude of me to not at least try one of her baked demons, right?  And I’m nothing if not polite, right?  (Carissa’s in high school, by the way.  Remember high school metabolism?  Yeah, me too.  A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…)

So I decided on the “amazing M&M cookie bars.”  I actually picked these because I don’t much care for M&M’s (unless they’re in really yummy cookie bars, it turns out…)

So there I was.  Baking.  Yes B-A-K-I-N-G.  And measuring (pretty much) and then next thing I knew… I was tasting.  And tasting.  And… I think you get the picture.

Argh!!!  This is the other reason I hate baking.  My form of willpower is to not create fattening treats in the first place.  I’m unfamiliar with the protocol once the first layer of defense has been breached!

Were they good?  Um, yeah.  Really good.  I will agree and label them “amazing.”  Nobody who is home for any length of time alone should make these bars.  It’s not a good idea and let’s just leave it at that.

My kids all had one in their lunches and all three complimented the production.

“I hope you enjoyed them” I answered, “because I’m never making them again.”

Double P.S. today:

P.S. #1= sorry I didn’t run my usual MWF schedule this week.  I wondered if my blogs were becomming tired, but Teri wagged her finger at me so I guess not…

P.S. #2 = I am definitely blogging about kale tomorrow!!!

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Patience is a Virtue

AKA: why Michelle’ will never create something like you see here.

cookie
(AKA: Ndidiamaka don’t even challenge me, girlfriend!)

Homemade cookies.  Who doesn’t like’m?  And I wouldn’t mind making them either, if only there wasn’t all that measuring and accuracy involved.  And then all that scooping and same-size-making-strategically-placing-to bake evenly type situation going on.  Man does that get in the way of my happy kitchen vibe.

Lucky for me I’m from Minnesota.  I’ve decided that I must not be the only woman from my neck of the woods who has an aversion to the precision involved in good baking.

In the Midwest we make cookie bars, or just “bars” as they’re referred to at potluck gatherings and bake sales.

The premise is basically as follows: take the cookie dough and heave it onto a cookie sheet with an edge.

heave

Press it out till it’s evenly spread.

spread

How deep?  How should I know!?  The whole point here is that we’re cutting corners, thus, I shall not be bothered with details.  (OK though, If I had to give a number I’d say about a 1/2 inch or so–but don’t tell anyone I said that.)

There are actual recipes designed for baking bars (aka: I’m not making this up), but it is possible to wing it.  If your baking time is calculated for cookies, I would add about 50% onto the total and check what you’ve got.  So, if you’re taking a chocolate chip cookie recipe that bakes for 8-10 minutes and morphing it into a chocolate chip cookie bar recipe, you should set your timer for about 14-15 minutes and check.  Depending on how deep you’ve made your bars or what recipe you’re using, it could take up to double the baking time.

Don’t worry though.  The first time you make bars this way, you may have to check back once or twice.  But then you can just make a note of the new “bar” time and you’re set for the next time ’round.

Mix.  Heave-spread-press.  Bake.  Done.

I make cookie bars for my family’s lunches.  Everyone likes a little something sweet after lunch, and this way I control the portions and know exactly what’s in there.  No hydrogenated or multisylabic ingredients that can technically be consumed but are not, necessarily, food.  And of course there’s the added bonus that mommy doesn’t get all irritated while making them.  Yeah team!

I can cut these little honeys into 2 or so inch squares and freeze them for a couple of weeks of post-lunch treats.

Patience may be a virtue, but cutting corners is where it’s at.

DO Try This at Home!

This is Michelle’s kitchen counter on a typical Saturday morning:

Saturday spread

Ahhh…  After my weekly farmers market pilgrimage, I feel ready to start another healthy week with my family.

Routine is the key to my meal planning.  By hitting the same farmers market (usually) I know the vendors, know the prices, know what’s what.

I don’t go to the farmers market to have a Hallmark moment.  OK.  Yes it is more enjoyable to shop outdoors, purchase from local farmers and sample anything I like before I buy it.  But like a lot of mamas of three, I am, uh, kinda busy.  I don’t amble along the market, wicker basket in hand, bluebird on my shoulder.  Often I’m in a bit of a sprint between basketball and soccer games, or maybe a birthday party or heaven-knows-what!

I don’t shove and knock people out of my way, but I cruise along, big cart and reusable bags in front, and get on with my shopping.

I make this weekly trek, out and back, in about an hour.  Another 15 minutes to unload and rinse my pretty produce, and we are set for another 7 days.

And when I look down at the “fruit” of my labor, it makes my heart smile.

Heart raddish

Four Photos and a True Story

I swear I’m not making this up.

Once upon a time there was a five-year-old (give or take) crock pot.  One charming evening I went to open said crock pot from which I planned to serve my family a delicious and healthy meal only to discover (gasp!) that the handle on the lid had broken.

broken handle
Major bummer!  This is my handy-dandy-six-quart-progamable-and-still-fully-functioning-except-for-this-dang-handle crock pot!  It seemed such a shame to toss this handy and still fully functioning gadget just because of a little flaw like this.

“Call the manufacturer!” suggested Mike.

So I did.  It was easy to do as the phone number is actually printed on the side of the slow cooker.  I know.  Weird.

To my disbelief, after only a very short phone tree, a real live, uh, what are they called?  Oh yes: customer service representative answered the phone.  The friendly rep stated, repeatedly “I am so sorry that this happened to you!”  Seriously.  The rep said this so many times that I actually told her that she needn’t be so concerned.  Last time I checked, a broken crock pot handle is not grounds for such heart-felt sorrow.
“I’m gonna make it.”  I told her.  “Really.  It’s true.  All I want to know is if I can get a new handle to screw back onto the lid.”

“Oh my,” she replied, “I couldn’t ask you to do that!” (Cannot stress enough how distraught this poor woman sounded.)  “I think we can send you a brand new lid.  May I place you on hold while I check?”

Eleven seconds pass.  She’s back.   “I’m so sorry,” replied the rep, “But we’ve discontinued that model of crock pot.”  Gasp again (her, not me.)  “And so,” continued the rep “if you’ll please read me the model number on the bottom I’ll be happy to send you a brand new crock pot at no cost to you.”

“What the what?”  Am I on candid camera?  Is it 1952?  Have I been drinking but I don’t recall? (not that something like that has ever happened before.)

Ladies and gentlemen, I kid you not.  I swear the facts described in this vignette are true.  Rival sent me a new crock pot for free and it arrived three days post phone conversation.

new arrival

I unpacked my new cooker so we could check out the newest addition to my gadget family.

Tah-dah!

new pot

You may recall that the title of my post is “Four Photos…”  What else could I possibly photograph?  Would you believe…

punch line

The new lid does fit the old pot.  Just has a fancy new model number.

Whip It Good

whipped cream

This is whipped cream.  I make mine with a few teaspoons of sugar and a little glug of vanilla. 

I suppose, technically, there is calcium in whipped cream, but anyone who’s eating something like this for its nutritional value is really grasping at straws.

At our house we eat it (on waffles this morning) for the smile factor. 

That’s a good reason to eat whipped cream.

 

 

Three Things for This Friday

First off, this is not a pie.  But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Not a pie

Please indulge me as I take a moment to thanks the MOM’S Club of South Pasadena for inviting me to come speak at their meeting yesterday.  Some hip mamas and I talked–briefly–about some of my fave meal planning tips, some lunch box revelations, and basic “sanity maintenance” in the kitchen.  Good times!  (And while we’re on this topic, I was a local MOM’S Club member for five years when my kiddos were little.  Talk about your sanity maintenance…!  Love this organization.)

Also, thought I’d brag about another blog who asked me to guest post for them.  Check me out if you like on the Costa Rica Blog network by clicking on my “press” page above.   If you like.  If you don’t, that’s OK too.  These cool tourism folks liked my “yo hablo espanol” post from last week so we joined forces.

And now  back to our “not a pie” situation.  Thanks for staying tuned.

Beets are in season right now at local farmers markets and, might I say, are super yumola.  They are pictured here surrounded by some lovely fresh cauliflower.  Both veggies proudly gave their life in service to my family’s happy mouths.  Thanks beets and cauliflower!  We appreciate!

I didn’t cook these vegetables in their current set-up, by the way.  They were placed on a cookie sheet with olive oil, salt and a couple cloves of garlic.  Then put the whole shebang into my oven at about 425 for 25 or so minutes.  You may notice that the beets are cut up much smaller than the cauliflower.  As dense as they are, beets need to be tiny if you want both to be done at the same time as it’s neighbors.

And speaking of “at the same time,” they don’t always end their journey that way.  I think this time I got lucky, but sometimes after 25 minutes the cauliflower might be ready.  Just remove that and put the rest back in for 5 or 10 minutes more.

Have a great weekend!

Tourist in My Own Town

Armen shelves

I love today’s post title.  It’s refreshing and healthy to think about looking around at the same old people, places and things, but with a fresh perspective.

The “being from Minnesota” part that made me a tourist in southern California almost 20 years ago has worn thin.  I’m more like a local than not these days.

Lucky for me, I live in a very culturally dynamic part of the country.  Actually, it’s not luck.  After growing up in a town where most of the other people looked pretty much the same way I do (and dressed the same, prayed the same, talked the same way “don’tcha know” :)), raising my family in a diverse community is something for which I sought.

Towns with lots of the same kinda folks are cool in their own way too, but my personal preference is for a hodge-podgy-er inhabitant set up.

In Los Angeles County, a person could likely find pretty any food item on the planet authentically prepared by someone from that part of the planet.  I like that.  It means I can still be a tourist in my own town if I get the hankerin’.

Here in Pasadena, one of my favorite ethnic influences is the Armenian community.  I love the way the written language looks (can’t read a word) and how it sounds both gruff and sweet to my white little ears.  I love the exotic beauty of the people and, of course, I love the food.  LOVE THE FOOD.

The Armen Market: 1873 Allen Ave. (at New York Dr.), Pasadena, CA 91104 (I have searched and searched and cannot fine a website for these guys!) is one of my favorite places to shop as a tourist in my own town.  Remember that Sesame Street song “which one of these things doesn’t belong here?”  That’s me!  But in a cool way when I shop at  places like Armen’s.

The thickly accented friendly foreign-born ladies smile politely at my deeply thought provoking questions such as “What is that?” and “What is this?”

Armen jar

Many of the food labels are void of any written characters I recognize so I gotta ask sometimes!

This market sounds and smells like a food market–not like cheap degreasing agents used to clean floors of sterile big chain super markets.

If you live in a city like mine, and you think Trader Joe’s is the ticket to international cuisine, I really must beg to differ.

As a fixed-income stay-at-home mama with a travelin’ heart, I truly appreciate the variety of food experiences offered to me here in Pasadena.  Armen’s is but one of many places I can “visit” in my own town.

Savory Crock Pot Ribs

crockpot ribs

Well you had to know this was coming.  I mean come on.  What kind of winter menu doesn’t include at least a few crock pot recipes?  Certainly not a menu from a born and bred Midwesterner!

I actually have two crock pots, thankyouverymuch.  One is a 4 quart (pictured here) and the other is about twice the size.  Sometimes I use them both at the same time and I don’t even have to defend myself because that is perfectly OK.

Crock pots/slow cookers have a reputation as being rather unsophisticated.  To this notion I say “pish-posh!”  Actually these gadgets are the hippest cooking tool in town as they allow on-the-go meal planners to prep in advance, walk away for many hours and then come back to a delicious meal and a kitchen that smells like heaven.  Cutting edge, baby.  That’s me.

One of my fave blogs is Crockpot 365 (featured along the sidebar to your right.)  Stephanie Odea has come a long way (I remember when her blog was ad. free) and business endeavors.  She totally cracks me up and tell me this: How can you not appreciate someone with an “unusual obsession with her crockpot but is OK with that?”

I like Stephanie’s recipes because she uses normal ingredients and always gives her family’s (and often friends’) honest verdicts of whatever she “crocked.”  Stephanie is also a believer in substituting or simply leaving out ingredients that she doesn’t have on hand (Amen sista!)

I do step away from some of the “not quite food” items that Crockpot 365 recipes list at times (condensed soups, soda, sometimes sauces) but as Stephanie would approve, I simply substitute or delete completely and happily get on with my life.

Today I am sharing one of my pork ribs recipes (not from Crockpot 365.)  I really should have called this recipe “This One Time” because I don’t really use a single recipe when I make ribs in the crock pot.  We like ours flavored with something sweet (honey, brown sugar) something tangy (balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, orange juice) and something salty (soy sauce, salt)  Feel free to put on your “Stephanie” and substitute away.  You can also check out Crockpot 365 for more delicious crocky fun.

AND… I’ll be Michelle-izing one Stephanie’s posts for my Feb. 26  Hometown Pasadena Mangiamo Post.  It’ll be tangy.  It’ll be easy.  It’ll be yum-ola.

But for now, I give you…

“This Time” Slow Cooker Ribs

Ingredients: 2 lbs. baby back pork short ribs, 3 garlic cloves, 1/4 chopped onion, 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce, 1/3 cup honey, few dashes pepper, sliced oranges on top.

Directions: mix liquids (including honey) and drizzle over meat.  Add rest of ingredients placing the oranges last on top.  The liquid didn’t cover all the meat, so part way through I flipped the ribs over.  Not necessary; just tried it.  Cook in a 4 quart crock pot on low for 4-6 hours or until done.  Serve with rice which is perfect for the extra broth.  Yum!

Note: I don’t always use oranges, but my mom’s tree is still producing prolifically so I pretty much don’t make anything around her without them these days…

PB&A

PB&A

I’ve been experimenting a bit this season with fruits in new culinary ways.  Apples and pears are so divine right now at my local farmers market and at the grocery store.

Last week I whipped up a turkey, provolone, red onion and sliced Bosc pear sandwich for Mike and me.  On his I put some Coleman’s hot mustard and on mine I put some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  On both of ours we gave a thumbs up.  Really nice combination.

My latest fave late breakfast/early lunch depending-on-my-schedule light meal is my newly titled “PB&A.”  On a toasted slice of whole grain bread, I put a light smear of peanut butter and then pile on some fresh, tart and gorgeous sliced apples.  Think apple w/peanut butter meets peanut butter sandwich or PB&J grows up!   (I am, like, so, like, mature now…)

This open-face sammy is super tasty, healthy and easy to whip up/clean up.  Just what a mama-on-the go needs to fuel her day!

Some particulars: Years ago I made the switch from the hydrogenated peanut butters (like Jif, Skippy, etc…) as I had read enough to turn me off.  It was tough at first to acquire a taste for the non-hydrogenated, natural peanut butters.  I used to salt (sounds weird, I know, but it worked) our peanut butter sandwiches until Mike and I got used to the simpler flavor.

Mike was a trooper as you can imagine how tired he gets of the “Honey!  Guess what cool thing I learned to help us be healthier!” type conversations I have been known to start… Now both of us–and the kids who never knew any different–agree that when we eat the more conventional peanut butters it tastes like candy.  Way too sweet.

Do keep in mind, however, that although natural peanut butter is a healthier choice than hydrogenated and is a good source of protein, it’s still loaded with fat.  Sigh… if only it weren’t I’d love to have about a 1/4 inch of it between my bread and apples… but smear is nice too.

Finally, I used Pink Lady apples on this PB&A.  Dessert?  The other half of the apple!

So, Anyway… Yo Hablo Espanol

Spanish sign

I haven’t been keeping secrets, but the fact that I’m bilingual just has never come up yet.  Although I’m from Minnesota, you may have noticed that the “Calva” part of “Calva-Despard” is not exactly Norwegian bred…

It’s Mexican.  My dad’s name is Jose Ruben Calva Pellicer.  See?  Mexican.  He doesn’t look like he’s going to rest up against a saguaro cactus draped in a sarape, but my dad is the eighth child of his Roman-Catholic Mexican family, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico two years before he was born.

I won’t go into the long, loooong, story of how we didn’t exactly speak Spanish in my home growing up (as my mother doesn’t speak it) but I heard it a lot, studied it in school and then finally attended a year of college at the Universidad de Costa Rica where I sink-or-swim perfected my espanol.  (Sign up for a few courses where you have to write college term papers/make oral presentations in Spanish–it’s very motivating!)

Besides learning to dance Salsa, and make banana leaf tamales, Costa Rica was where I fell deeply, deeply in love with beautiful fresh what-is-the-name-of-that-gorgeous-thing produce.

I’ve traveled throughout the entire country of Mexico, visiting family and just generally checking things out.  Once I spent three months zig-zagging from the west to east Mexico.  I visited relatives I hadn’t seen in years and even met up with third cousins of my dad’s sister-in-law-kinda-type-relatives which sounds like a stretch by American standards, but in Mexico we were familia.

I also lived and worked in Madrid, Spain for five months.  In Madrid I learned that there’s no such thing as too much red wine or guests at the dinner table, and that fried calamari sandwiches are the perfect hangover remedy.  I acquired the most eloquent vocabulary of curse words and realized that I like the tropics a lot :), and that big city life is not my thing.  (I also discovered that the word for “mushrooms” in Latin America only refers to unwanted fungus in Spain, but that’s a whole other story… )

English sign

Like most homes, my mother’s culture is the one that defined most of my upbringing, but I’m equally proud of all my heritage.  It was my Mexican heart that pushed me on these rewarding adventures, spurred my interest in becoming a bilingual teacher, and opened my palette to a world of culinary delights.

Today I appreciate living in a place where I hear Spanish, English and a boatload of other languages on a regular basis.  And get out’a here with your multicultural food scene, Los Angeles County!  Baby, I’m home.

My kitchen decor (so that’s why she has blue cabinets…) is a reflection of my language influences, a celebration of melding many cultural practices and love of kickin’ it in the kitchen.  Round here we speak English and Spanish, enjoy a table full of friends and family and eat foods from as many places as I can get my hands on (and are always on the prowl for more.)  Our tongues want to taste it all!

Kids' art

Si quiere, manda me una nota en espanol un dia y podemos charlar!