Tag Archives: Family

Taco Rap!

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you’ve probably seen some pictures of my baby nephew. You may have heard that his oldest sibling, my fabulous niece, designs my headers and solves my technological dilemmas. But today, we’re here to talk about my other nephew (the middle child), and the results of some dinner inspiration I received from one of his Play-Doh art projects.

This is my nephew, Will. He is a champion big brother, an aspiring alto-saxophonist, and a smart cookie.

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He is also, apparently, a sculptor and/or aspiring restauranteur. I found this plate of Play-Doh goodies in our pantry the other day, complete with price tags.


I’m not sure how long it has been there, but I hope these hot deals are still available.


I think the “Brat Semi” is like a bratwurst, but just half of it. For the calorie-conscious. I do not eat wursts of any sort, but you gotta admit that’s a nice price.


The peas are a little more expensive, but they are world famous, and probably organic, too.

Here’s the one that really intrigued me:


Doesn’t a taco rap sound good?? I thought about writing a rap about tacos and performing it via video post, but ultimately decided against that (because I know my own limits). Instead, I made a slightly healthier version of the taco salad my mom always used to make, and then I put it in a tortilla. This is not an exact recipe–it’s more like a series of suggestions–but here’s the gist of what went into this delicious creation.




First, I made some dressing. The taco salad of my youth had a dressing made of equal parts mayonnaise and Western dressing, with a liberal sprinkling of chili powder. I swapped out the mayo for some blended raw cashews (sooooo creamy and delish), and added a little lime juice for pizzazz. The measurements:

  • 1/2 c. raw cashews (I think they’re easier to blend if you soak them in water for a few hours first and drain before using, but it’s not a necessity)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1/4 c. Western dressing
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder

Put all of the above in a blender and let it run until completely smooth. (This may take awhile because of the cashews, and you will need to stop a few times and scrape down the sides of the blender.) Add a bit more water if you want to thin it out.

I also made taco-seasoned tempeh, to replace the ground beef in my mom’s old recipe. I don’t eat a lot of tempeh, but occasionally I use it in things that would typically have some sort of ground meat in them. The texture is similar. I crumbled an 8 oz. package of tempeh, and browned it in a skillet with a little olive oil for about 10 minutes, adding the following seasonings as it cooked:

  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • about 1/8 tsp salt
  • a few dashes of cayenne pepper


I spread a healthy dollop of the dressing on a tortilla, sprinkled on some of the tempeh, and topped it off with lettuce, bell pepper, tomato, and chopped scallions. Oh, and Doritos. Do NOT forget the Doritos–they are the key to success.


That’s it for today, comrades. If you want to write a rap about tacos and leave it in the comments, that would be super cool. Bye for now!

(P.S. I’m really very sorry if you happened to get multiple notifications about this post via your email subscription–my blogging software is all screwed up. And my niece had to go and start 8th grade, so I have nobody competent here to assist me.)


Pickles for P.E.O.s

You know who really knows her way around the kitchen?


My Grandma Neva, that’s who. (Did you think I was going to say Ina Garten? Also a good answer.) Grandma Neva always brings her contributions to family dinner in a big basket, and everything that has ever come out of that basket has been just plain legit. I want to emulate her in cooking (and in just being a great lady in general), so sometimes I wear one of her old gingham hostess aprons while stirring things. She has also been published (several times, I might add) in the Jefferson IA P.E.O. cookbook series.


Oh, are you not familiar with P.E.O.? Let me explain: it is a club for ladies who are passionate about civic engagement, educational attainment for women, and light refreshments. We have meetings in living rooms, give scholarships, etc. My grandma is a P.E.O., as is my mom, so it was preordained that I too would join when I came of age. The club started in Iowa in 1869, but now there are chapters all over the place. Also, it’s one of those clubs where, when you get initiated, you get to find out secret things. And I LOVE SECRETS. That’s all I can tell you. Perhaps I’ve already said too much.

My grandma’s best contribution to the P.E.O. cookbooks, in my opinion, is her recipe for “Crisp Pickle Slices.” It appears in the volume pictured above, but I don’t think you’ll find one of these on Amazon, so I’ll break it down for you right here. First, you need a really big bowl. Like, three times the size of your head.


And get out your box o’ canning supplies.


Slice up the cukes and supporting-role veggies, toss with canning salt in the giant bowl, and cover the whole mess with ice for 3 hours. (My mom has always used the slicing disk on her food processor to slice the veggies. My grandma used to do it by hand–feasible, but it’ll take awhile.)



When it’s time to get to canning, drain the cukes really well and put them in a big pot with the vinegar, sugar, and spices. (The amount of sugar in this recipe looks kind of insane, I know. But it makes a lot and it’s not like you’re going to drink the pickle juice, right? Who does that? I would certainly never do that…) At this point you also need to sterilize your jars and lids by boiling them for several minutes. (This is important! If you don’t sterilize your jars don’t come suing me over your botulism!)


Boil the bejeezus out of those jars and lids, and meanwhile, heat the pot of pickles just to boiling, stirring occasionally. They’ll change from a happy green color to a more muted, pickle-y color. Then take out the jars one-by-one, fill ’em with pickles and juice (a wide-mouth funnel is helpful here), and screw on the lids. Use potholders and tongs as needed, people–this is hot stuff! When the jars seal properly, there will be a little “pop” sound as the lid goes down. Once the jars are cool, press on the lids to see if they still have some give in them. If you get one that does, you’ve gotta refrigerate it, my friend. Eat that one first, because those pickles will not stand the test of time.


I’m going to type out the recipe below, just as it appears in the cookbook, plus the helpful hints my mom has written in with pencil over the years. Give it a try, and have yourself a splendid weekend!

Lovingly in P.E.O.,


Crisp Pickle Slices

  • 4 qts sliced medium cucumbers
  • 6 medium white onions, sliced
  • 2 green peppers, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 c. coarse salt (pickling/canning salt)
  • 5 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 2 tbsp mustard seed
  • 3 c. cider vinegar

“Do not pare cucmbers; slice thin. Add onions, peppers and whole garlic cloves. Add salt and cover with cracked ice; mix thoroughly. Let stand 3 hours. Drain thoroughly. Combine remaining ingredients, pour over cucumber mixture. Heat just to a boil. Seal in hot sterilized jars. Makes 8 pints.”

Notes: We usually use about 16 cups of sliced cucumbers, and end up with about 10 pint jars at the end.

Quinoa for the Toner

Happy Father’s Day to this guy!

That (as you may have guessed) is my dad, Tom, more commonly known to those in the immediate family as “the Toner.”  Why?  Well, many years ago his nickname was “Tommy Tutone,” (80s musical artist that brought us that “867-5309” song), which then evolved to “Two-toner,” which then became “Toner,” often preceded by “the” to account for the fact that he’s Kind Of A Big Deal.

Besides reading She Sings at the Table in his spare time, Dad is also a school-administration superstar and a culinary force to be reckoned with.  He taught me all about the infield fly rule, attended more piano recitals than any person should ever have to, and bought me my food processor.  So….thanks, padre!

Although he often shies away from my hippie food and gravitates toward dishes that involve more bacon, the Toner is a big fan of my Honey-Balsamic Quinoa Salad.  I made him a batch today, in between bouts of bar exam study, and now I will of course share the recipe with you folks.

Honey-Balsamic Quinoa Salad (serves one dad for lunch for one work-week)

  • 1 1/2 c. quinoa, cooked according to package instructions
  • 1 c. quartered cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4-5 sliced scallions
  • 1 c. sugar snap peas, chopped
  • one cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • about 1/3 c. sunflower seeds
Dressing (this will make a little extra–delish on a salad the next day):
  • 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste (don’t be too stingy–remember this has to season the whole salad)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp honey
Cook the quinoa according to the package instructions.  Meanwhile, make the dressing, by combining ingredients in a blender or mincing the garlic and whisking the ingredients if you’d prefer.  When the quinoa is done, and still warm, put it in a large bowl and pour over most of the dressing.  Chop the vegetables while the quinoa cools.  Add the vegetables and sunflower seeds to the quinoa, stir, and add more dressing as desired.
Have a good week, friends!  I will be making flashcards and weeping.  (I’m just kidding.  Sort of.)

Dam to Dam + Pleasantville Pig Out

Today was one for the ages, folks. I am exhausted. But before I collapse, a recap:

My alarm went off at 4:25 this morning (which really made me mad, because I was having a dream in which I inexplicably knew how to tap dance flawlessly). My dad drove my mom and I downtown so we could board a bus to the Saylorville Dam, the starting point for the Dam to Dam 20K. I did not have a great feeling about this race from the start, because I thought our numbers were kind of ominous:

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Those were not great years in American history, you know? But anyway, we both finished…nobody fainted, threw up, tripped over their own feet, etc. I did not finish with any great speed, but, unlike the last time I ran this race, I did cross the finish line before they ran out of participant medals! Progress. When we came home, I immediately collapsed on the floor, until my mom made me get up and shower. Because there was more to do!

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After I drank my weight in Gatorade, we made our way to Pleasantville, IA, for the Pleasantville Pig Out Cook-off, dressed in our official barbecue team t-shirts.

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I named the team–it is an homage to my parents’ short-lived 1970s musical venture, the Tall Dog Band. They were all the rage in rural west-central Iowa, as I understand it, but eventually decided to focus on their less glamorous but more fulfilling jobs as educators. (Also–regarding the Homer Simpson quote–I would be your friend if you brought me a salad, just so you know. I happen to love salad.)

Things were hopping at the Tall Dog BBQ tent when we arrived, and we were immediately called into action to help serve samples to the masses. Today’s offerings: smoked pork loin with a maple chipotle glaze, smoked chicken thighs with a prosciutto, shallot, and mushroom stuffing, and gator fritters. (My dad ordered alligator meat online for the occasion. This guy plays to win.)

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It was so much fun…..I love feeding people. And clearly, I come by that naturally. I had a great time hanging out with my whole family….including (CELEBRITY SIGHTING!) my Grandpa Elmer and my Grandma Neva, who made the trip all the way from Jefferson, my hometown.

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Once we ran out of samples and judging was finished, my mom and I ducked into Smokey Row, an adorable coffee shop on the town square, for a veggie sandwich. I also ate a cookie the size of my face, because, you know, I’m an endurance athlete and I needed to replenish my carbs. Then I wandered around the festival a bit–it was fantastic! Classic car show, hot-dog eating contest, bags tournament, an appearance by the Iowa State Fair Queen–it was everything a small-town festival should be.

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Once votes were tabulated, we gathered for the results in front of the Pleasantville Grocery. Everyone was on pins and needles. (Well, OK, not everyone.)

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They announced second-prize winners in each of the four categories (beef, poultry, pork, and miscellaneous) first. No Tall Dog Barbecue. Then, they announced first prize winners in each category. Again, no Tall Dog Barbecue! Finally…..they announced the overall judges’ choice award, and IT WAS US! The grand prize was a whole processed hog. This prize, in and of itself, did not particularly excite me, given my vegetarianism, but let’s be honest, folks–I like winning things. And after a day of working hard and slinging samples in the heat, I think my dad and brother deserved some accolades 🙂 Here they are before judging (with their serious BBQ faces on) and after the big win:

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Many thanks to the judges for volunteering their time and to Brandon Bingham, festival organizer extraordinnaire! It was a great event.

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Have a lovely Sunday, friends! I need to learn some laws 😦


Greetings, friends!  I’m enjoying the long weekend and trying to rest my brain, because next week my studying for the bar exam begins in earnest.  Our review class is starting with Torts.  Torts has always been a difficult subject for me, because…well…it makes me think about tarts and then I tend to lose focus.

As I mentioned at the end of the last post, I just picked up some tartlet pans with a gift card I had at Williams-Sonoma.  (A tartlet is like a tart, but without proximate cause.  No, I’m sorry, that was a legal joke and I’m ashamed of myself.  Actually a tartlet is just a miniature tart.)  I was so excited about these new pans that it was even harder than usual for me to not shriek like a 12-year-old with Bieber fever while inside Williams-Sonoma.  Last night I used them for the first time.  Taste-wise, the reviews were mixed and I will definitely be doing some more recipe research….but they were pretty much too cute for words.

I was perfectly happy with the crust—I used this Post Punk Kitchen recipe for that part of the project.  My only alterations: Earth Balance instead of olive oil,  and I mixed the dough in my food processor instead of by hand as the recipe suggests.

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When the tartlet shells were baked and cooled, I filled them with a vegan custard (adapted from this recipe on Oh She Glows) and berries.  Honestly, I thought it was good, but my tastes have been moving away from stuff that’s very heavy on dairy and eggs lately, so I don’t think I’m the most reliable reporter.  My family all agreed that they liked a tart I made last summer using this more traditional pastry cream recipe better.  But, if you’re feeling adventurous, or if you’d like something a little lighter (or, if you happen to be a vegan), here’s what I did for the filling:

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Vanilla Vegan Custard Filling (for 6 4-inch tartlet pans)

  • 1 c. almond milk
  • 4 tbsp agave nectar
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1.5 tbsp confectioners sugar

Whisk the cornstarch and confectioners sugar together to break up lumps.  Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until well combined.  Microwave on high, stopping every 60 seconds (or whenever it looks like it might bubble over—watch closely!) to whisk out any lumps.  Repeat until thickened, and keep in mind that the custard will thicken up even more when chilled.  Refrigerate until cooled off, then whisk again to make sure it’s smooth, and you’re ready to assemble!

Decorating these made me so very happy.

Baby Neph and his family were over for dinner, and he gradually picked every single blueberry off the leftover tartlet (prompting my brother’s remark: “I’m not changing his diaper tomorrow”).  He has always been a fan of blueberry-themed snacks.

It has been a weekend of my favorite pastimes and my favorite people…

…so I guess I might be ready to learn about torts tomorrow.  Have a great week, everybody!

P.S. Next weekend is going to be very exciting—my dad is entering a barbecue contest and there will be MEAT on my blog.  This may never happen again, so be sure to tune in!  I’m also running (or maybe jogging and walking/crawling) a 20K, so…we’ll see how that goes.

Commencement, merriment, and avocados

Hey look—we got our law degrees!

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Somehow, in between all the cookie baking and general tomfoolery that made these past three years so wonderful, I got the job done.  And so did all of my brilliant, wonderful, hilarious classmates that I already miss like crazy now that I am moved out of my apartment and back in Des Moines, where I’ll be for the summer while studying for the bar exam.

I am excited about whatever will come next…..but I’m also a little sad.  I have always loved being a student, and law school was just so much fun.  Fortunately, we had all kinds of family over to my parents’ house tonight for a graduation barbecue, so I couldn’t spend too much time being nostalgic.  There was food prep to be done!  My brother who lives in Colorado is here, as is my cousin who lives in Florida, so it was an extra-special family fiesta.

My parents made lots and lots of delicious food, but my favorite was a new dish that I have dubbed “Avocados de los Abogados.”  (Two semesters of Spanish, thankyouverymuch.)  This is essentially a zippy little corn salad that you can throw together the day before, stuffed inside half of a lightly grilled avocado.  Yesterday, my dad grilled two ears of corn.  It was not grilling weather, but we’re brave.

Then he sliced the corn off the ears and mixed up the salad, while I took photos and offered moral support.

Tonight, while grilling various meat-stuffs for the carnivorous family members, he grilled the avocados for just long enough to soften them a bit and get those sexy grill marks.  Then I filled them with the corn salad, drizzled a little lime juice over the whole situation, and took this glamour shot:

We used 6 avocados, and the following ingredients for the corn salad (all measurements except the corn approximate):

  • 2 ears of grilled sweet corn
  • 1 c. quartered grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • pinch of cayenne pepper or chipotle powder
  • lime juice, squeezed over the filled avocado halves before serving

Tomorrow I am checking out of my cozy little Iowa City apartment.  It was a happy home for three years and I will miss it…..but I comfort myself with the thought that wherever I move next will have more counter space (to accommodate the KitchenAid stand mixer I dream of buying when someone actually hires me to do some lawyering).

Have a good week, everybody!  And—if you happen to be a member of the IA Law class of 2011…..CONGRATS!

Maple-soy marinated veggies

One more (very simple) recipe before spring break is over.  My brother and sister-in-law and their wonderful kiddos got back from spring break in Florida today, and we fired up the grill for the first time this spring.  Oh, by the way, do you want to see something adorable?  Check out baby nephew at Disneyworld:


I made a marinade for grilled portabella mushrooms and asparagus using my tiny bottle of maple syrup from VT.  Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1/8 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 clove garlic

My mom bought one of those Magic Bullet things today and blended the ingredients in that, but you could also mince the clove of garlic and just whisk everything together.

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I used 2 portabella caps and one good-sized bunch of asparagus.  To prep the veggies, break the stems off the portabella caps and use a spoon to scrape out the black gills.  Chop off the bottom third or so of the asparagus spears and discard.  (The bottom is usually kind of tough.)

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Leave the asparagus long if you want to place it directly on the grill, or chop it into smaller pieces if you’re going to be using a grill pan.  Then put the portabellas and asparagus into a pan and pour the marinade over them.

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Put the pan in the fridge for a few hours, and stir every now and then to make sure every veggie gets a chance to soak up some flavor.  Then, fire up the grill.  Cook the mushroom caps for about five minutes on each side, and the asparagus until crisp-tender.

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I love grilling nights on the patio with my family!  The prospect of having many more this summer makes studying for the bar exam sound much less painful.

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Finished product:

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My dad grilled some meat for the carnivorous family members, so almost everybody was happy with the meal.  My older nephew, however, had to head to the pantry.  He only eats one thing:

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Have a great week!  It’s back to school for me.