My (Lamp) Lit Pixar Diet

My daughter Maggie is fascinated by Pixar movies. One day each month we have Pixar Movie Food Day (PMFD), a concept she created and convinced us all to participate in. Maggie creates a day of menus based on a Pixar film and we all indulge, throwing dietary restrictions out the window for the day. To achieve the ultimate event of movie-based munching, Maggie reviews her movie choice of the month, researches possible food options, emails me recipe links and a grocery list, shops with me, and takes the lead on food prep. Unless it gets crazy, I am merely her sous chef. So, if you are interested in creating a fun day like this for your family – here you go! You’re welcome!

In August, we soared to infinity and beyond with gastronomical delights inspired by the world of Toy Story! How, you ask, did we accomplish this feat? Well! With photos ripped directly from my daughter’s Instagram page, here are the details –

BREAKFAST: Apparently, an acknowledgment of Poultry Palace from the Toy Story short film Small Fry was the best choice for breakfast. The photo says it all – chicken patties in biscuits, fries, coleslaw, chocolate milk, and pineapple juice drink (the only thing not Toy Story-ish).

LUNCH: Pizza Planet, from TS1 (Toy Story 1) is the only choice, of course! Is that two small pizzas with a hamburger patty between? Yes. Yes, it is. Along with bread sticks and alien slime (lemon-lime soda with lime gelatin powder). Dessert is a yummy LGM (Little Green Men) parfait – a layer of pound cake pieces and a layer of blueberries topped with yogurt (vanilla yogurt, green food dye), decorated with black icing and edible candy eyes.

NOTE TO ALL AREA 51 RAIDERS: NO ACTUAL ALIENS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS LUNCH!

AFTERNOON SNACK: Cheetos (TS2), cotton candy (TS4), and popcorn (TS3).

DINNER: Celebrating Mr. Potato Head – of course! – we had a Chili Baked Potato. This was an easy item to choose since it is a long-time favorite at our house. The potato is baked, sliced open while hot, covered in chili, topped with cheese (bacon bits, optional), and reheated to warm the chili and melt the cheese. That cute little 6″ cake with pink frosting was decorated by Maggie and inspired by Molly’s 2nd birthday in Toy Story 3. Under that frosting, the cake is gluten-free chocolate – not that anyone cared at this point since the GF goals were blown for the day, but GF flour is all we have in the house.

Aaaand – SEPTEMBER: I must admit that when Maggie said we would be eating A Bug’s Life meals in September, my response was, “Bugs? Uh – wait – maybe not – y’know . . .” so I was very relieved to see that NO ACTUAL BUGS were included in her menu choices. Whew! Bullet dodged!

BREAKFAST: Ants on a Log, each log made from two canned cinnamon rolls (regular size), unrolled, twisted together, baked, iced, and sprinkled with cocoa crispy rice cereal. And our own lovely, healthy version of The Ants Offering to the Grasshoppers, made from oat granola, assorted nuts, dried fruit, sunflower seeds, and fresh blackberries (boysenberries were used in the movie, but we adapt with what we have!).

LUNCH: Inspired by P.T. Flea’s Circus – good times! Spinach salad, banana bug, popcorn, not-boysenberry pie (we cheated and used Marie Callender’s Razzleberry Pie – my favorite!), and candy corn. No carbs at all, as you see . . .

DINNER: Pu-Pu Platter, an assortment of Chinese and Korean appetizers (a bit different from how the movie defined pu-pu platter and we are so NOT going there!). Orange chicken, pork dumplings, two kinds of egg rolls, mini broccoli-beef skewers, and chicken fried rice. I would really like to tell you that we made all this from scratch! Really! That is what I would LIKE to tell you! Truth is these are all yummy prepared foods from the grocery freezer (mostly PF Chang’s), but Maggie and I DID totally rock keeping the little bags of sauces sorted to the right hors d’oeuvre!

For dessert, we made raindrop cake with caramel sauce. The sauce was great because – Smuckers. The raindrop – not so much. We tried it the traditional way with agar agar, but next time we’re going modern and just using gelatin. Pretty sure we overcooked it. Blech (and I mean that sincerely). We had the rest of the Razzleberry pie for dessert. Maggie is determined to try raindrop cake again. I’ll keep you posted.

Root beer was the only choice for beverage, specifically Mug Root Beer. Not sure why. Maggie just left to hang with her sister so I can’t ask. Speaking of my ignorance . . .

I am frequently unclear on the why and wherefore for several menu items, which means I definitely need to give Maggie credit as co-author on this and future PMFD articles. In spite of the fact that I have seen these movies, I do not have the retention level of my amazing autistic daughter. As I typed up the rough draft for this blog earlier, our conversation ran something like this:

Me: Maggie, why did we eat Cheetos?
Maggie: Toy Story 2
Me: What about the cotton candy?
Maggie: Toy Story 4.
Me: Huh. And the popcorn was just for fun?
Maggie: Toy Story 3.
Me: Okaaay . . . So Poultry Palace was from Toy Story 1, then?
Maggie: Poultry Palace was from the Toy Story short called Small Fry.
Me: Of course it was.

If you decide to try a movie food day of your own, just let your kids run with the creativity – so fun! Next month is spooky October, so guess what movie? Yup, you called it! Monsters, Inc. Stay tuned.

Mom’s Meatloaf with a Side of Kitchen Wisdom

Last night, I made five pounds of meatloaf. I’m hoping this will last for two dinners in our family of five, although if we have meatloaf sandwiches at lunch – probably not. This recipe is so popular around here that my husband claimed he married me for my ability to make it. Well, some marriages have been built on less . . .

In the 1960s through early 1980s, my talented mom won or placed in a multitude of local and national cooking contests including two stints as a Pillsbury Bake-off Finalist. One of her best and most enduring recipes is Dilly of a Meatloaf, fondly and everlastingly referred to by the family as Mom’s $500 Meatloaf (the amount she won for creating it). Mom’s kitchen abilities were legendary, and time spent cooking with her was pretty awesome. Since she usually lived nearby, we spent many hours over the years sharing laughter and life while preparing meals for loved ones. 

Mom’s recipe (below) tells just a small part of the story of actually making it. If you have a favorite recipe, I am sure you have some little tips learned from experience that never made it into print. The same is true here. I learned to make this and many other recipes at Mom’s side and my memory has mixed together the recipes with her thoughtful kitchen wisdom. So, just for the moment, pretend you are here making this ultimate comfort food and sharing these thoughts with us – 

1. There is grace. While it is important to come pretty close to the original requirements of this recipe, the measurements don’t have to be precise. Meatloaf is not soufflé! It’s simple, everyday food – glorified hamburger. There is a place for order and precision, but perhaps not right now. This is relaxing comfort food so it should be relaxing and comfortable to make. Enjoy the process.

2. Consider what you are putting into it. Many years ago a lady I know tried this recipe and, rather disgruntled, called to say she did not understand how it won a contest when it didn’t taste good. When I gently asked about her cooking prep, she admitted making it with turkey burger instead of beef, leaving out the eggs and stuffing mix, substituting for the chili sauce, and changing the quantity of onion. We definitely understand the need for food substitutions in our family, so I get it! Recipes, like life, will frequently need to deviate from the original plan and change can often be quite beneficial. But if you decide to change things up, brace yourself for an unexpected outcome and just own it, whether good or bad. If you made the decision, then the blame or credit is yours. And this topic leads us to . . .

3. Balance. In case you were wondering, the changes listed above can actually work, but further adjustments for taste and texture must be made to achieve a tasty, balanced outcome. Mom and I used to laugh about how very seldom either of us actually followed a recipe as written, and we both think the need or desire to sub out ingredients probably made us better, more creative cooks – but we were careful to balance dry and wet ingredients and tried to be thoughtful about seasonings. Maintaining balance can be a delicate task, but leads to a much more satisfactory result.

4. A little fat in your life is a good thing. If  the meat is too lean, the result will be dry; if it is too fatty, the result will be mushy. To make things come out just right, consider how much fat vs. lean is best for you.

5. Go all in – measure and dump all the ingredients in the bowl before mixing. There are times you have to throw all you’ve got in the pot and hope for the best.

6. Be willing to get those fingers gooey! When my mom made meatloaf, she cheerfully mixed up that mushy pile of raw ingredients with her bare hands and I do, too. She said some things don’t come out quite right unless you are willing to get your hands dirty. So scrub up and dive in!

7. In the recipe, you will see that you need to stop in the middle of cooking to add the sauce on top. Before you sauce it up, take a moment to tilt the pan gently and drain off the excess fat that has already cooked out. You will need to drain it again at the end, but it helps if you get rid of what is unnecessary along the way.

8. If you are using deep loaf pans like I do, check the center of the meatloaf before you shut off the oven, just in case the meat isn’t done. Bear in mind that some things take longer than anticipated! I learned from my mom to stick a large spoon or metal spatula right in the middle and draw out a little meat to verify doneness. You might end up with a funky-looking hole in the middle, but you don’t want to bring an unfinished product to the table just because you neglected to check. Finishing well is much more important than looking pretty.

9. Serve your meatloaf with whatever side dishes you prefer, and enjoy without guilt! There are enough things in life to cause discomfort – meatloaf shouldn’t be one of them.

My awesome mom went home to the Lord in 2018 and the many times we shared laughter and lives while cooking side-by-side are some of my sweetest memories. This is the first time I have made the meatloaf since she passed and I wanted to share the moment. I think she would be pleased.

LaVerne’s $500 Meatloaf


Prep Time: Approx. 15-20 minutes

Cook Time: Approx. 60-75 minutes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together:
2    lbs ground beef (we like an 85/15 meat/fat ratio – add a little water if you use leaner meat or turkey burger)
1    6-8 oz pkg of cornbread stuffing, including spices (we use gluten-free)
2    eggs
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce (sweet chili sauce, NOT hot – usually stocked near the ketchup)
1/3 cup finely diced dill pickle
1/4 cup dill pickle brine/juice from the pickle jar
1    cup finely chopped onion
1    tsp salt
1 tsp garlic salt

Place in a 2-quart loaf pan or casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees. Meanwhile, mix the following sauce:
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp dill pickle brine/juice
(You may wish to double this amount if using a wide, flat casserole dish.)

Remove meatloaf from oven after the first 30 minutes, drain any excess fat, and spread the sauce over the top. Return to oven and bake for 30 more minutes or until done. Depending on your oven and the size of your pan (especially if you use a loaf pan rather than a shallow casserole dish), cooking time may extend another 10 to 15 minutes. If you double or triple the recipe and are using loaf pans, count on additional time. Remember to check for doneness before serving.

Enjoy!

When Good Leftovers Go Bad: A Study in Mold and Sanity

Assessing the condition of my refrigerator is a good way for me to determine exactly how busy/blue/tired/energetic/perky/efficient/sane/whatever I have been recently. Like many moms, I get busy and ignore the need for self-assessment so the ability to discern my own emotional state merely by opening the refrigerator is rather convenient. (And I don’t think I’m alone in this – can I hear an “AMEN”?)  If the interior is reasonably clean and the food is relatively fresh, I’m pretty optimistic about the day and can cheerfully and efficiently set aside those pesky concerns about progeny or spouses inadvertently poisoning themselves due to the tendency to grab and snorf edibles before actually observing or smelling said edibles.

However, I think it’s safe to say we can throw any little false efficiency scenarios right into our handy dandy 50 gallon trash today, because I just checked my fridge and discovered that certain no-longer-edibles have taken on entirely new states of being and are now capable of sentience. I paused with the fridge door open when I heard frightening conversational noises, and soon realized that we really need to move the TV out of the kitchen area because my leftovers seem to have become laden with B western dialogue as well as bacteria –

“Howdy, Broc.”

“How’s it goin’, Squashed?”

“Not bad. Gotta move a herd of pasta over to the south 40. Wanna lend a hand? Might have a few stray meatballs to round up, too – they’ve rolled out and gotten fuzzier than a cowpie in spring.”

“Happy to help, Broc, but how ‘bout that popped Tupperware lid over by old man Casserole’s place? We oughta burp that before them bad apples break through and infect the herd.”

“Time to get on it, Squashed! Saddle up that there rotten potato and let’s ride out.”

And then I heard – Star Trek? Seriously?

“Captain!  There’s a mold cluster here that I’ve never seen before!”           

“On screen, Mr. Chickenhov.”

“Great scott! Look at this, Mr. Spritzer! It appears to be . . .”

“Yes, Captain. It’s the infamous Unidentifiable Leftovers Cloud of Death. Life forms in the Cloud are generated spontaneously, behave unpredictably, and are usually deadly. Sliming their enemies is the only known form of communication. It would be illogical for us to survive any contact.”

“Bones!  Do we have a bacteria killer that will purge this thing?”

“Dang it, man! I’m a Doctor, not a garbage man! Get a scrubber and do it yourself!”

“Spritzer and Chickenhov, there appears to be no way around. We’ll have to burn through. Warp speed ahead!”  (Over the com.) “Spitty! We need more power!”

“This is all the juice she’s got, Captain! I’m doin’ all I can!”

“Incoming sludge! Set spatulas on stun! All decks brace for impact!”

*SPLORK*

But you get my point, which is . . . Sheesh – what is my point?  Oh, yes. That a mom’s emotional condition and level of functioning can be gauged and/or assessed by the condition of her refrigerator. As you see here, simply attempting to purge the fridge affected my delicate maternal equilibrium. So, faithful and loving husbands, do your wife a favor:  Check that fridge, check it often, check it thoroughly, and throw out anything evil-looking and anything that speaks (this does not include teenagers foraging in the interior). Don’t forget to wear your protective mask. And do NOT even THINK of eating the dark chocolate hidden in the crisper. EVER.

Small House, Warm Thoughts

“We cleaned the house yesterday. Sorry, you missed it.” Have I said this on a number of occasions? Yes. Yes, I have.

And also this:
“If you want to see us, come by anytime. If you want to see the house, call for an appointment.”

And (with apologies to quite a few of my fascinating friends who – beyond the scope of my comprehension – have discouragingly perfect homes), the patently untrue yet popular saying:
“Boring women have immaculate homes.”

Ever heard comments like this? I’ll bet they came from a family living in a small house. Cramming a busy family of five, two dogs, two cats, and a home business into our 1645 square foot house with one shared common area – a combined living/dining/office/project/kitchen space – definitely creates clutter! But, y’know, as long as it’s creative clutter . . . (cue eye roll).

On the upside, love does grow best in small houses, right? And I must admit that togetherness is probably some kind of blessing for us since we are mostly introverts who might otherwise be inclined to go the isolation route. Hah. No chance. Compromise and cooperation are not options here – they are mandatory life skills. We love each other and – aside from the occasional water, pillow, or tickle fight – we are not particularly fond of conflict, so we do our best to figure it out.

It’s pretty clear in God’s word that we show the love of Christ in us by loving others. We are to pursue maturity not separately, but together. Loving God = loving people. It’s not that we all get along beautifully all the time – not at all! We definitely have our high blood pressure moments. But I think living in a smaller space keeps us working on the issues, fighting for each other, loving each other, forgiving one another, and laughing together. I like to think that we would do all these things even living in a ginormous house, but the smaller home definitely provides motivation.

Now, I’m seriously off to clean. Really. I’m sincerely hoping to have the house reasonably in hand by noon Friday (so, basically, maybe by Saturday evening . . .) and the orderliness should last several whole minutes. If you plan to drop by, better not be late or you’ll miss it.

Sweet, Sweet Mardi Gras

Tuesday was Mardi Gras. There are not a lot of places to celebrate in our area that don’t involve over-21 activities, expensive restaurants, or events that already occurred the previous weekend. But I have a daughter who likes to celebrate EVERYTHING with celebratory food so I looked online and found many lovely King Cake recipes requiring yeast.

Well. That’s not gonna happen. My bread-baking days are over. Maybe. I think. (At my age, I’ve learned to never say never.)

A web search for “easy king cake” netted a delightful recipe using canned cinnamon rolls. Ding! Ding! Ding! Folks, we have a winner! We made a quick trip to our local grocery store and came home with the required items, plus fruit (because something healthy seemed to be called for), breakfast sausage (Deal of the Week: Buy the sausage, get the cinnamon rolls free – what’s not to like?) and, of course, Mardi Gras ice cream. I kid you not. The carton says “Limited Edition, Mardi Gras” and is decorated with people who appear to be playing jazz. I have been quite successful on my diet lately, but I knew right then that Fat Tuesday would not be Dieter’s Paradise.

I usually go light on sugar, but my darling daughter is dieting with me and had strong, profound, and fairly articulate feelings that if we were already messing around with gluten-infested cinnamon-roll based King Cake, we might as well go all the way. She made a reasonable argument and she has high functioning autism, so we take all the good, clear communication we can get. I bought the ice cream because sometimes I’m just a squishy bunny like that.

It all went down much as expected. My hubster came home from work and we had King Cake for snack. I made a celebratory tamale chile bake for dinner, and we had a little more King Cake after dinner with our Mardi Gras ice cream. I consumed the ice cream in extreme moderation because dairy is not my friend, but I definitely consumed enough to form an opinion.

So, what – you are asking – does Mardi Gras ice cream taste like? WELL, if you took a cinnamon King Cake with cream cheese frosting, added something green, something purple, and sprinkles, AND you whipped it with frozen whipped cream, AND mixed in approximately 40 lbs. of undiluted, refined sugar, THEN you would have ONE (and only ONE) gallon of Mardi Gras ice cream. To say it is just a bit sweet is like saying Niagara Falls is just a bit wet. A spoonful would probably be enough to keep your average 3 year old up all night.

My children stay up later than I do; I’m not saying there’s a correlation, but the rest of the King Cake was inexplicably gone by the next morning. I don’t ask questions. The Mardi Gras ice cream languished in the freezer for a day or two before finally succumbing to whatever mysterious force made the King Cake disappear.

I have decided to give up Mardi Gras ice cream for Lent along with any other foods that are in any way reminiscent of cotton candy on steroids.

May God bless you during this season of Lent!

Selfie Time. Be Still My Heart –

WordPress wants my photo. Badly. Every time I log in, they ask. I like to assume it’s because I’m (pick one) gorgeous, charming, aged, not millennial, parent of millennials, rocking the baby boomer thing, incredibly popular, moderately hot, screamingly sexy, or possibly ___ (provide your own adjective).

As much as I would like to take it as a personal compliment, I suppose they nag all their new bloggers so I remain unmoved. I have been calmly searching my technological devices for a recent and decent photo to satisfy the obviously passionate need of my new blog site, and have discovered something weird.

Current photos of solo me are nonexistent.

I have a gazillion photos of my family, friends, events, and scenic views. I have saved memes (“I don’t always drink wine . . . But when I do, the day ends in the letter y.”), saved quotes (“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending” – C.S. Lewis), pictures of our pets (four of them – not four pictures, four pets; we’ll address that another time), and the occasional amazing photos of cakes and cupcakes my youngest daughter has decorated. I am in photos with others, but nothing croppable. Huh.

So I dug through my bathroom cabinet, found and applied my rarely used make-up in a manner my cosmetically gifted older daughter would find utterly appalling (I plan to wash my face before she sees me) and began to take selfies. Many of them, trying to get a good one, Because – wow.

I appear to have aged. What are the odds? I feel a perky and youthful 30 inside, but I promise you that the outside most certainly does not match the inside.

Of course, I am aware that I have white hair. No self-deception there. I once had a friend who whispered that her decidedly graying husband saw only blond when he looked in the mirror. Since I was originally an auburn-level ginger, I could not claim as blond the white strands that started appearing before 30 and created a snow-on-the-mountain effect by 40. Matter of fact, a friend once hauled me into an unlit traveling TARDIS (I kid you not) to shine a sonic screwdriver blacklight on my head. Does my hair, in fact, glow in the dark? Yes. Yes, it does – but I digress. Even though the white was premature, I have apparently grown into it now. And I am a bit surprised and slightly appalled to discover that my eyes and other parts of my face have become riddled with smile lines. Many smile lines, going all different directions. One might even say my face smiles no matter the expression, and not just around the mouth.

And now you know why I appear mildly shell-shocked in my photo. So this is me, in make-up (don’t expect to see that again), wearing reading glasses, taking a selfie. Now, look back to the first paragraph – did you pick an adjective? I most certainly did. After pondering my inside, my outside, and my photos, I have finally decided I’m a hot, rockin’-the-boomer-vibe babe. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.