Meatloaf with a Twist

We are subscribers and big fans of the Six O’Clock Scramble, which is a service that provides five menu ideas each week that are fast, easy, relatively healthy and kid-sympathetic. You can save recipes in a recipe box, search the entire archive, and even create grocery lists.

One of my favorite features is that each meal comes with a side dish idea. This doesn’t seem that big a deal, except that before the Scramble, we were always buying random vegetables with the intention of using them as a side dish, and never doing so. The yearly subscription isn’t cheap, but considering how much less food we throw out, I think we come out ahead.

Today’s recipe idea came to us from the Scramble: meatloaf baked in muffin tins. They cook in about half the time as regular meatloaf and are just fun to eat. And if you tend to overdo on this iconic comfort food, the individual servings make it a little easier to regulate yourself. Another bonus for our crowd: some of us like ketchup on top; others don’t. With meatloaf muffins you can make a few of each. And they reheat easily.

I’m not going to post the Scramble recipe because it’s a no-no, but here’s a comparable recipe from Cooks.com.

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My Foolproof, Go-to Potluck Dish

I’m home with the kids this week for staycation (i.e. the one week of the summer that we have no childcare). We’ll be out and about, swimming and doing fun DC stuff, so to keep things simple I thought I’d make this Food Week at the Blue Room, and post some favorite simple recipes.

I’ve already made this twice this summer at two separate church picnics, including this weekend’s retreat at the lake. So easy. So traditional for potlucks. So WASPy.

Frozen Cranberry Fruit Salad
(a variation on Ambrosia, which often has coconut in it… to which I say No. Just no.)

1 20 oz. can pineapple tidbits
5 medium sized firm bananas, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 16 oz. can whole-berry cranberry sauce
1/2 cup sugar
4 oz. whipped topping (half a tub)
8 oz. plain yogurt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Drain pineapple juice into a medium bowl; set pineapple aside. Add bananas to the juice (nice technique; the citrus juice helps prevent browning). In a large bowl, combine cranberry sauce and sugar. Remove bananas, discarding juice, and add to cranberry mixture. Stir in pineapple, whipped topping, yogurt and nuts.

Pour into 13×9 inch dish. Freeze until solid, Remove from the freezer 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

From the Cedar Hill Vegetarian Cookbook, Volume 2. Cedar Hill is a beautiful retreat center in north Georgia. 

Friday Link Love

Some things I enjoyed or found thought-provoking this week:

Stephen Colbert Gives Up Catholicism for Lent (video)

“Is this how Unitarians feel all the time?”

What’s Your Personality Type… For Play?

For many adults, however, it’s surprisingly hard to know how to have more fun. If you don’t know what to do for fun, a good question to consider is: What did you do for fun when you were ten years old? Because that’s probably something you’d enjoy now, whether walking in the woods, playing with your dog, making things with your hands, taking pictures, playing basketball, or dancing around the living room.

I’m an 8 with a smattering of 5 and 7.

Giving Up a Breast for Lent

Jan Edmiston is always outstanding, but this blog in particular spoke to me.

We randomly give up chocolate and coffee for Lent, but taking up the cross and following Jesus seems to be more about finding the cancers in our lives and giving those up – which is a much bigger deal. Imagine really giving up gossip. Giving up racism. Giving up living for the sake of appearances. So hard.

Jan is moving away soon… I’ll miss her so much when she leaves!

The Strangest — and Maybe Best — Grilled Cheese You’ll Ever Make

Mayo instead of butter? Nuts grated with a microplane? I can’t wait to try this one.

What We Can Learn from Procrastination

Great stuff on how our brain works. Special bonus: what’s wrong with the Netflix queue and how instant streaming can help.

Songs for Lent

I like this little collection of music, based on the stations of the cross. I wrote off any music labeled as “Christian” a long time ago because I decided I didn’t like it musically. Mike Birbiglia understands what I mean… (video). I much preferred to be a sleuth for the Spirit, looking for messages of redemption in so-called “secular” music.

That’s still my default position, but I should not be so categorically minded.

Anyway, this stuff is haunting and lovely. Thanks to my friend Troy Bronsink for the recommendation.

– – – – – – –

And finally, a request—keep me in your thoughts, prayers, heart, or whatever you’ve got. My book contract with Chalice Press stipulated that the manuscript would be due next March, but for a variety of reasons I won’t get into here, I’ve moved that up to October. It’s very doable, but still: o_O

I’ve never used that emoticon before. It’s a good inaugural use of it.

Friday Link Love

A smattering of stuff I ran across this week:

D-I-Y Chocolate Gifts for Valentine’s Day

Homemade malted milk balls, peanut butter cups, and more. I am pretty “meh” about Valentine’s Day but this post could make me a believer.

Tackling a Science Project with GTD

It’s enough to overwhelm the children and the parents. Instead of letting the stress get to me, I decided to apply the principles I learned from Getting Things Done and show my daughter that projects don’t have to give us headaches.  Here’s what we did.

This was a timely post for me, since Caroline finished her “Pueblo Project” this week. We used some GTD principles in the planning of it. Thinking about it in those terms helped us get it done without much last-minute stress and helped redeem the project in my mind (I was grumbling loudly to myself about it).

Being able to plan one’s time is an important life skill, even though being able to mold Model Magic onto a cardboard box isn’t.

How the Internet Gets Inside Us

From the New Yorker, an interesting (long) overview of recent books about the Internet and its effect on our brains, social lives, and psyches. He divides the books into three basic approaches: the Never-Betters (technology is GREAT!), Better-Nevers (the Internet is destroying our lives), and Ever-Wasers (the Internet is no different than any new technology). I disagree with Gopnik’s placement of Hamlet’s Blackberry in the Better-Never. I think he is an Ever-Waser. Otherwise, great article. Money quote:

The digital world is new, and the real gains and losses of the Internet era are to be found not in altered neurons or empathy tests but in the small changes in mood, life, manners, feelings it creates—in the texture of the age. There is, for instance, a simple, spooky sense in which the Internet is just a loud and unlimited library in which we now live—as if one went to sleep every night in the college stacks, surrounded by pamphlets and polemics and possibilities. There is the sociology section, the science section, old sheet music and menus, and you can go to the periodicals room anytime and read old issues of the New Statesman. (And you can whisper loudly to a friend in the next carrel to get the hockey scores.) To see that that is so is at least to drain some of the melodrama from the subject. It is odd and new to be living in the library; but there isn’t anything odd and new about the library.

On the other hand…

Fighting a Social Media Addiction

This link is from last year but I was reminded of it recently. College students were asked to abstain from social media for 24 hours.

“In withdrawal. Frantically craving. Very anxious. Extremely antsy. Miserable. Jittery. Crazy.”

“I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening,” one student said. Another student had to fight the urge to check e-mail: “I noticed physically, that I began to fidget, as if I was addicted to my iPod and other media devices, and maybe I am.”

I take social media Sabbaths pretty regularly, and I get so much out of the practice, but I’ve experienced the twitchiness that can set in. I suspect that these students were simply asked to abstain without being given any tools or strategies for dealing with the “withdrawal.” That is the key. For example, instead of fiddling with my iPhone at a particularly long stoplight, I look out the window and intentionally notice five new things about my surroundings. It’s a small exercise in vision and discernment. It’s not enough simply to unplug. Or perhaps I should say, it’s difficult to say No to technology without a bigger Yes driving you.

Brown Sugar Shortbread

Last Monday while I was home with Caroline and James (Margaret was on a trip with my mother), I got the urge to make cookies. I grabbed one of our quick recipe cookbooks and found this favorite recipe for brown sugar shortbread. Yes!

This is a great recipe to make with kids because there’s lots of ways for them to be involved. Of course there’s the usual measuring and pouring, but Caroline also liked cutting up the butter into chunks, and James enjoyed running the food processor as we counted eighteen one-second pulses. They both enjoyed pressing down the dough with a flat-bottomed measuring cup. I decided to score the dough myself rather than delegate to Caroline—something told me she would want to make the cookies HUGE. Not that I blame her.

This recipe is super easy, requires simple stuff you probably already have on hand, and is sooooo good.

2/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1 3/4 cup (8 3/4 ounces*) all purpose flour
1 cup packed (7 ounces*) brown sugar
1/4 cup (1 ounce*) confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting the cookies
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2” pieces

Preheat to 350 degrees. Spray a 10×15 jelly roll pan with cooking spray.

Process the nuts, flour, sugars and salt in a food processor with a steel blade until uniform, about 3 seconds. Sprinkle the butter evenly over the flour mixture and pulse until it resembles coarse cornmeal, about eighteen one-second pulses.

Dump mixture into the pan. Use the flat bottom of a measuring cup to pack the dough into the pan and smooth the surface. Use the back of a knife to mark the dough into [number of squares of your choice].

Bake until deep nutty brown and fragrant, 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Use a knife to cut through the shortbread and make individual cookies. Cool the cookies for 10 minutes, then pop them out of the pan and transfer to a wire cooking rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar (we don’t do this–they seem sweet enough to us) and serve.

*Seriously, who measures flour and sugar anymore? Kitchen scale=life improving thing. Especially as the designated dishwasher in our house.

New Books

Here are some books I’ve recently finished, some I’m currently working on, and one I gave up on:

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes, Stephen Sondheim — Robert gave me this for Christmas after I delivered the most unsubtle hint in the history of hints. This book is charming and enjoyable for diving into at the end of long, busy day. (And I use that verb intentionally—the book is ginormous.) But it’s also a wise and witty collection of thoughts about writing, poetry and the theater. His candor about other lyricists (and his own work) is MOST entertaining.

Rising, Falling, Hovering; C.D. Wright — This is a book of poems I ordered with a gift certificate; it just arrived today. One of my perpetual intentions/practices is to read poetry, and this one’s been on my wish list for several months. I think I originally saw this book reviewed in the Christian Century.

Saving the Seasons: How to Can, Freeze, or Dry Almost Anything, Mary Clemens Myer and Susanna Myer — This may end up being one of those purely aspirational purchases, but I am fascinated by canning. We have a great farmers’ market here between April and November, and I’d love to learn to put stuff up for the off months.

Another book I’ve ordered and am waiting on is The Yarn Girls’ Guide to Simple Knits. Time to ramp up the knitting again.

From a Mustard Seed: Enlivening Worship and Music in the Small Church by Bruce Epperly and Daryl Hollinger —  This book is a quick and easy read and helped me see that I’ve gotten into a bit of a rut with my worship planning and especially hymn selection. I am pretty musically inclined but I struggle with how to share that, and how much. Robert and I just joined our church’s choir which has been fun and has given it a welcome boost. And I enjoy teaching new songs to groups, but I’m always aware of not wanting worship to be the MaryAnn show. The book helped me see how to work more effectively in partnership with our organist/choir director.

I also finally broke down and got The New Yorker on Kindle. It’s a kinda pricey subscription, but I think it will be worth it. This is part of my intention to read more news via print than online. Internet news sites have their place, but if that’s all you read, it’s too easy to get jerked around by the pointless kerfuffles of the day. I really like TNY on Kindle. I’ve read it for years but have never liked how the cartoons, poems and tidbits are sprinkled amidst the articles. I like the cartoons, I like the tidbits, but it always took me out of the flow of the story to stop and read them. On the Kindle, everything has its own section, and navigation is a breeze.

And as for the book I gave up on, yes, I added another book to the Shelf of Shame: [big deep breath] Pride and Prejudice. Not only do I, a former English major, have to admit that I never read P&P in college, but I just could not get into it this time. Maybe if I hadn’t tried to read it during Clergy Superbowl Season I might have had better luck. It started strong, but I found myself totally not caring. There were witty bits, admittedly.

It’s a little disturbing. I’m trying not to universalize the experience into some frantic OMG-the-Internet-has-destroyed-my-attention-span-and-ruined-me-for-the-classics thing. I’m still perfectly capable of sustained… wait, what’s that over there?

Buttermilk Pralines

By Facebook request.

Year in, year out, this is our “it isn’t Christmas without them” confection. My mother used to make these for our family’s annual Open House, a huge affair with upwards of 100 people coming through the house in one December afternoon. I loved the brown sugariness of these treats, but as a child I wasn’t crazy about pecans… so I’d find the least-adulterated ones and sneak them back to my room to eat. I still like a high candy-to-nut ratio.

Robert and I have these down to a science. The first few years we botched more batches than we got right. We were at a distinct disadvantage living in Houston, not the best climate for candy-making. I remember taking a walk around the block after one particularly frustrating failure. We take our candy seriously.

The first time I make them each year I remind myself of the recipe, just in case. But we basically know it by heart.

1 cup brown sugar
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup buttermilk (low fat is fine; we’ve never tried fat free and why should you?)
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 cup pecan halves

1. Line the counter with parchment paper, or wax paper with paper towels underneath (otherwise the pralines will melt the wax paper onto the counter, causing the pralines to break when you pry them up. Of course this causes all the calories to fall out, so do whatcha gotta do.)

2. Combine all ingredients except the pecans in a 6-qt saucepan using a wooden spoon. Cook to the softball stage (240 degrees), stirring constantly.

3. Remove from heat and stir in pecans. Keep stirring for a minute or so, then spoon candy onto parchment/wax paper in small puddles.

Honestly, the only tricky part of this recipe is knowing when to pour. Pour too soon and the first few will be sticky caramel. Pour too late and they sugar up in the pan (although they still taste delicious). You basically want to pour when the mixture is juuuuuuuust starting to lose its glossy sheen.

Makes about 3-4 dozen, depending on how big you make ‘em.