March 21, 2018

Ever have a few weeks when nothing, and I mean nothing, seems to go your way? Yeah, we’re having that at the House of T.

The good news: no major household appliances have broken. The bad news: all of the major household people appear to be broken. Some more broken than others.

Actually, my husband (despite a completely whackjob work schedule) appears to be holding it together by a thread, although I don’t think he’s too thrilled with his role of Official Ringmaster of the Shitshow.

The Official Epicenter of the Shitshow is my first-born, Miss D. So much is going on with her this spring that it’s turned us on our ear, on our ass and everywhere in between. It actually started back here, when she came down with the flu and was down for several weeks. It’s not a big deal if you’re home, quarantined with a yuck-filled scourge when you’re in elementary school. Elementary school kids are notorious germ-bombs, so you cheerfully pick up homework at the front desk and administer as needed. It’s a little trickier in middle school, but manageable with a little finesse and elbow grease. In high school? Especially if you have several honors classes and art classes that require in-class materials/instruction? You. are. screwed.

Miss D. has been underwater since January and it’s been a slow, painful, tear-filled swim back to the surface. We’re still not there yet.

And then she got sick again. And again. Not with the flu–luckily that was 12 days and done–but then back-to-back colds and respiratory gunk. We’ve spent so much cash on TheraFlu and Nyquil and fancy inhalers and throat lozenges that I feel like I should throw coins out the window whenever I pass a Walgreens. “Take my money, BigPharma and LittlePharma! We are completely at your mercy.”

We’re also at the mercy of the all-powerful (and truly terrifying) teenage hormones. Because what do absolute morons hapless parents do when their child is going through a period of insane academic and physical stress? They start her on birth control pills for (admittedly bad) menstrual cramps/bleeding. Why not, eh?

To be fair, we were trying to ease an area of agony for our daughter.

To be fair, my mother slapped me on birth control pills for the same reason when I was 15, and I had no adverse effects, except for turning into a slightly less orange version of HR Puffinstuff two days before my menstrual cycle.

To be fair, we started her on the lowest dose formula of birth control pill.

Our motives were sound and our intentions were good.


We’ve had hysterics. We’ve had tears. We’ve had black sullen sulks that could out-sulk the sulkiest sulker. We’ve had weekends of insomnia and day-long stuporous sleeps. We’ve had weekday mornings so full of drama, misery and stress that we’re exhausted by 7:15 am.

We had a day where she decided to throw 2/3 of her wardrobe into a donation box and kick it to the curb, because “everything I own is dumb and makes me look fat.”


Then she developed painful reflux. She felt like it burned to swallow food or even water. That lasted 2 weeks.

She developed a gripping tightness in her chest that looked a lot like recurring panic attacks to this mama (ahem, not that I have experience with those).

This weekend, we finally just broke.

What do you do when your child changes so drastically over the course of two months?

Well, you pin her down and grill her about school because that’s the obvious answer, but nononono, she assures us nothing is changed there. No girl drama, no friend drama, elevated stress with classes but nothing stratospheric. You contact teachers and they report that yes, she has been emotional (crying during first period, especially) but then after a while, is okay. Seems like confident self and schoolwork is on track. You contact parents of your daughter’s friends and they say: I’ll ask. They ask and nothing comes back as a raised flag.

Most of all, you talk to your daughter, who doesn’t seem to want to talk to you, because she doesn’t like anyone right now. And even though you are the adult here, that is scary and delicate business.

“Can we talk about what’s been going on?”

“I’m just tired of being sick.”

“I know, you are hardly ever sick and the past three months, you’ve been sick constantly. It’s been bad. Besides that?”

“My friends are fine.”

“Okay, good. Seriously, though–nothing?”


“But you say you hate gym class. Did anybody say anything to you? Do anything?”

“God! Mom! No. Gym just generally is the worst, okay?”

“Okay. You seem really off kilter in the morning. I mean, tears and not wanting to eat…”

“I know! But I don’t know why. I mean, I’m sick so I feel crappy in the morning but I don’t know about the crying. I just don’t. I don’t know why.”

*begins crying*

“I’m sorry it’s so hard right now. I’m worried.”

“I know you’re worried and I’m sorry but I just feel really weird and I feel all these things and I don’t know why I’m feeling them but they suck and I can’t help it.”


All this suckage bleeds down.

It bleeds down to the Littlest Minx, who follows her sister with big eyes and bigger ears; she is the quiet little cricket in the room, taking everything in.

She’s always been the quietest thing in the room, but if anything, she’s even quieter.

She tiptoes. She watches. She cannot sleep.

I lock myself in the bathroom for a while. Almost every day.

The dog sits outside the bathroom, wondering, “What the Fuck?”

My husband gets home from work, pours a stiff drink and listens.

We have calls into doctors, we have things in the works, but now we wait.



                                                         ^^But boy, I sure miss this girl.



Vegetable and Orzo Tian

March 14, 2018


If my children had their way, we’d have some form of potato on the dinner plate every night of the week. Mashed, steamed, shredded, roasted, fried–my girls love ’em all. And let’s be honest, I fancy a potato as much as the next girl. Perhaps more than most girls, because: part German, yo.

However, unlike my little loin-flowers, I burn out on the suckers. Some days I just don’t want to face down another plate of potatoes, period. This potato ennui is often seasonal; I’m content to ingest potatoes like clockwork in the winter months, but when things start to warm up a little, I get a hankering for something different. Maybe something containing *gasp* a vegetable or two. Something a little spring-ish.

I use the term spring-“ish” because it’s only mid-March in the Rocky Mountains; I’m well aware that winter isn’t even thinking of quitting yet. But we’ve had a run of lovely, mild weather lately that lulls me into a false sense of springtime security, even though I know better. Still, who can blame me for turning my face up to the sun on a balmy March day? Days like that give me hope that I just might survive winter one. more. year.

We’re definitely not in fava bean or asparagus season yet, so if I want to include a vegetable in my side dish, it’s going to be one of the usual winter suspects: squash, zucchini, broccoli, etc. We’re not even close to tomato season yet, but winter tomatoes are okay to ingest if you bake them or roast them, which is a nice little bit of news. When I saw this recipe for an orzo and vegetable tian, I had a feeling I’d be kicking potatoes off of the menu this week. A “tian” is basically a fancy word for a gratin, which means some form of vegetable in thinly sliced form + cheese, layered and baked to yummy, cheesy perfection.

Sure, I can lull myself into believing that this dish is healthy, with the pretty layers of vegetables and the vegetarian-ness of it all, but let’s face it: the pasta and the cup and a half of cheese called for in this recipe place it firmly in the treat category. Oh, and what a treat this is.

It is so, so good.

It is so good that I’m going to tell you to disregard the serving size indicated, because you’re going to shovel this in like there’s no tomorrow. You’re not going to be able to help yourself. It’s also dead easy and impressive looking and special enough for company or a place on your Easter table (you do realize that Easter is a couple of weeks away, right?)

In case you need that little extra nudge to scoot yourself into the kitchen right now and make this, I’ll let you know that my husband took the first bite of this tian-gratin-thingy and said, “Jesus, what is this? It’s crack.”

He’s right. We couldn’t stop nibbling on it. The tomatoes get roasty and concentrated, the zucchini and squash soften into something tender, and the cheese is both lush and irresistibly chewy around the corner edges, thanks to a quick pop under the broiler at the end. We made a meal of it, which probably insulted the grilled shrimp and the Caesar salad on the dinner table, but too bad.

Worth it.




Vegetable and Orzo Tian

serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side (unless, like me, you make an utter pig of yourself on this)

from America’s Test Kitchen


3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 cup orzo (regular or whole wheat, if it will make you feel more virtuous)

2 minced shallots

3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

salt and pepper

1 zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds

1 yellow summer squash, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds

1 pound plum tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 3/4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley


Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425.

Combine 1/2 cup Parmesan, orzo, shallots, oregano, garlic, pepper flakes and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Spread mixture evenly into a 9×13-inch baking dish. Alternately “shingle” the zucchini, squash and tomatoes in tidy rows over orzo.

Carefully pour the broth over the top of vegetables. Bake until the orzo is just tender and most of the broth is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Remove dish from oven. Carefully move oven rack to about 9 inches from the broiler element and heat broiler.

Drizzle olive oil over the top of vegetables, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle remaining Parmesan over top. Broil until browned and bubbly, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle fresh herbs over top and serve.

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When I think of meals that lend themselves to the slow cooker, I almost always think of a huge hunk-o-meat, like a pot roast or a pork shoulder. Those proteins, tougher than a pirate’s boot, transform beautifully under the low and steady heat of the slow cooker. The hard sinews break down into something so tender after 8-10 hours that it almost verges on magical. Shred that meat, plop it on a bed of mashed potatoes or nestle it in a warm tortilla and your winter dinner dilemma is fixed.

Something you don’t usually think of braising in a slow cooker? Vegetables.

Because why freaking bother? The beauty of most vegetables is that they’re an easy and quick cook on the stovetop or in the oven. They don’t have any muscles to soothe into submission and many vegetables (zucchini and broccoli, I’m talking to you) break down into a sodden mess after the slow cooker treatment.

Well, I’ll tell you why. Not all vegetables are considered equal, and some of them do interesting and lovely things when cooked for hours in a warm bath. Root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, turnips, daikon radish and winter squash do a-ok in the slow cooker. Carrots do well if you’re completely insane and don’t realize that cooked carrots are the devil’s instrument. The thing is, though, I don’t often get a hankering for turnips or radish. I certainly don’t want them as the centerpiece of a meal.

This is why I approached this recipe for braised shiitake mushrooms from Hugh Acheson’s latest cookbook, The Chef and the Slow Cooker, with more than a little skepticism. Since making the effort to go semi-vegetarian about four months ago, I’ve been relying heavily (very heavily) on mushrooms as a stand-in for meat. Mushrooms have an inherent “meaty” texture and heft to them that make them a natural substitute for beef or pork, but I’d never tried them in the slow cooker and I wasn’t really sure I should. As a rule, you need to use some kind of liquid when braising something in the slow cooker, and wouldn’t that make the mushrooms…spongy? Mushrooms suck up water like a thirsty man in the Sahara. This didn’t sound like a good idea to me.

Still. When it comes to cooking, especially of things vegetal, I trust Acheson. He knows his way around a vegetable. So if Hugh says that braising sturdy, hooded shiitakes in a bubbly broth of hearty miso and zippy ginger and tongue-tingling chiles is exactly the right kind of idea, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The hardest part about this recipe is getting your hands on decent shiitake mushrooms and red miso, tasks that proved a little pesky in suburban Colorado.  The local Kroger had no miso paste at all and the shiitakes were sad, wizened little specimens. Sprouts market had only white miso and maybe 4 mushrooms total in the bin. Third time was the charm–Whole Foods had terrific looking shiitakes (albeit at 7 bucks a pound) and red miso, so I was in business.

Sure, it stings a little to fork over 14 bucks for 2 pounds of mushrooms. It does. But I told myself that I regularly pay that much (if not more) for organic, grass fed beef and this is far better for the planet and they were, indeed, gorgeous looking little suckers. Plus, the rest of the meal was dirt cheap. How’s that for justification?

If you can’t find Thai bird chiles, you can substitute 1 seeded habanero or 4 seeded jalapeno chiles for the Thai chiles. Fresno chiles are just too mild in my opinion, but if that’s all you can find, use them and throw in some dried chile flakes or a squirt or two of Sriracha. You can modify and tinker around until you find the right amount of spice for you. If you can’t find red miso paste, don’t make this recipe. White miso just doesn’t cut it here. I speak from experience. You need the pronounced umami funk of the red miso to make this dish sing. If you can’t find Thai basil, regular basil is fine; you may need a little more of it, but that’s okay.

This makes a perfectly respectable supper served over a bed of jasmine or basmati rice. The leftovers are even better the next day, which is something I always appreciate. So go forth and find those shiitakes, friends! You’ll feel good about yourself in the morning.





Braised Shiitake Mushrooms with Thai Basil and Chiles

adapted slightly from Hugh Acheson

serves 4-6


2 tablespoons red miso paste

1/4 cup rice vinegar

3 shallots, sliced into thin rings

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

Kosher salt

2 pounds fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps left whole

3 Thai bird chiles, seeded and sliced into thin rings

2 small red bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced

1/4 cup torn fresh Thai basil leaves

Rice, for serving

Chopped peanuts, for serving (optional)


Preheat a slow cooker on the high setting for at least 15 minutes.

Pour 4 cups water into the slow cooker. Add the miso, vinegar, ginger, shallots and 1/2 teaspoon salt, whisking well to dissolve the miso. Then add the mushrooms and Thai chiles, cover with the lid, and cook on the high setting for 1 hour.

Add the bell peppers to the mushroom mixture, re-cover and cook for another hour.

To finish, add the basil, mix well, taste for salt and season accordingly.

Serve over rice topped with chopped peanuts, if using.


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