Monday, October 31, 2011

Adventures in Paleo Cooking (a.k.a. A Really Complicated Wheat-Free Moussaka Recipe)

This is what happens when I let my husband come grocery shopping with me. Actually, he didn't even come inside -- he waited in the van with our boys while I grabbed a few staples. But when I got back to the car, he was like, "Oh, I just found this awesome recipe on Mark's Daily Apple*, and can you maybe go back in and buy all this stuff?" Then he handed me his phone with the recipe loaded on the screen and sent me off in search of kale, dill, eggplants, onions, Greek yogurt, and a bunch of other crap I wouldn't normally buy.

I wound up replacing the kale with collard greens, because they looked much less scary. I decided to use parsley instead of dill, because I didn't feel like spending $4 on dill leaves. I got the eggplants and onions, forgot the Greek yogurt, and went on my way. So, there are a few substitutions in my recipe, thanks to a combination of forgetfulness and a Beavis-and-Butthead-esque rebellion against using anything called dill weed in my food.

Now. I have to warn you that this recipe takes forever. It was the perfect project for, say, Halloween night when both of us were in the kitchen and trying to distract ourselves from hoovering the entire bowl of candy in the living room. (Have you tried Peanut Butter Snickers yet? They're like whoa.)

The recipe is kind of overwhelming anyway, so I'm going to break it down into three parts: cooking, mixing, and assembly.

You'll need:

  • one skillet, two pots, two bowls, a 2-qt. casserole dish, and a blender
  • olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 2 smallish eggplants
  • 1 bunch of collard greens (about 1/2 lb.)
  • 28 oz. can of peeled whole tomatoes
  • 1/2 of a red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used regular since I forgot the Greek)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/8  tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup parmesan

Are you exhausted yet? Me too! But hang in there. I swear it's worth it.


1. Peel the eggplants and slice them into 1/4" slices. Put the slices in Bowl A and cover them liberally with sea salt. Don't worry. You'll be washing the salt off later. It's just there to suck the moisture out, which keeps it from tasting bitter.

2. Boil some water in Pot #1, then add the leafy parts of the collard greens. Boil those for 3-5 minutes.

3. In the skillet, brown the turkey with olive oil, onion, garlic, cinnamon, and allspice. When it's done, dump it into Pot #2 and set it aside.

4. Look at the bowl of eggplant -- you should see little drops of water on the eggplant. That means the salt did its job. Rinse all the eggplant, then cook it in the skillet until it's slightly brown. Once it's all cooked, put it back in the bowl for now.

 5. Hey, this might be a good time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


1. Drain the can of tomatoes, drain the boiled collard greens, and put them both in a blender along with the parsley. Puree everything together. Dump this puree into Pot #2 with the turkey. Simmer on low for 10 minutes.

2. In a bowl, combine the yogurt, sour cream, eggs, and nutmeg. Whisk 'em until they're creamy.


1. Lightly grease the casserole dish with olive oil. Line the bottom with a layer of eggplant. Make sure you can't see the bottom of the dish -- it's okay if there's some overlap.

2. Pour the meat-and-tomato mixture over top.

3. Cover the meat-and-tomato mixture with another layer of eggplant. Again, make sure you can't see the meat layer beneath it.

4. Pour the egg-and-yogurt mixture over the whole shebang. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top.

5. Cook uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Peek to see if the top is golden yet -- if not, leave it in there for another 10-15 minutes. When the top is golden, it's ready! Take it out and let it cool for 10 minutes.

Golden crispy nom-noms!

If you're keeping track, this whole process will probably take a solid hour and a half. This is less of a recipe and more of a team-building effort/epic kitchen adventure/way to kill time. But HOLY CRAP IT'S DELICIOUS! I'm a carbaholic and I didn't miss the usual layer of potatoes one single bit. If I had a personal chef, I would force him or her to cook this once a week. Maybe twice.

Let me know if you get the motivation to try this! :)

P.S. I'm pretty sure this is gluten-free.

* No, he isn't actually hyperlinked when he talks. But now that he has a smartphone, he might as well be.

Alicia Silverstone says her 5-month-old is potty-trained -- um, for real?

Okay, I just came across this post on Babycenter -- Alicia Silverstone has been all over Twitter bragging that her five-month-old poops on the potty. Yeah, her five-month-old. Apparently she's a proponent of "elimination communication," which is a fancy way of saying you watch for your kid's potty signals and dangle him over the potty. Yay, one diaper saved!

Possibly mid-potty-dash.

Hey, if Batgirl wants to spend her day scrutinizing her infant's facial expressions -- "is he pooping or just staring at a cracker crumb?" -- that's totally her choice. But I can't help but think it's a total misnomer to suggest that the baby is potty-trained. The parents are the ones watching for signals, making the mad potty dash, and wiping up afterwards. Until a kid is old enough to at least utter the word "potty" -- or, I don't know, crawl -- the parent is the one who's potty-trained.

I'll stick with diapers. I have enough to worry about without anyone pooping on the floor because I missed a scrunchy-face. What about you -- have you tried, or would you try, EC-ing?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Maybe this will make me productive.

I'm a serious procrastinator. I have items on my Stickies to-do list that are so old, I've had to transfer them across THREE computers -- no joke.

Sometimes I'll look at an item on there and not even remember what I'm supposed to do. The other day, I noticed a note that said "Jenn conf." Um? I know six Jennifers, four of whom I might actually need to do something with or for. Did I have a conference? Did I need to confirm something? Finally, I remembered that I needed to send my hubby's cousin a confirmation card. Woohoo, my memory serves me again! Well, except that the card is still sitting on my desk, unwritten. I'll do it tomorrow. It's on the Stickies.

But if there's one thing that can cure my procrastination, it's a time crunch -- maybe because I've been working on crazy deadlines for the past 12 years. Which could explain my newfound obsession with this site, which I read about in Tim Ferriss' Four-Hour Workweek (awesome book!) about three years ago and, um, have been meaning to check out ever since.

The site is, and it's nothing fancy -- you type in a time limit, it counts down and beeps when time's up. It's really loud. A few minutes ago, I did a demo for hubby. I set it for 30 seconds, started clicking around the web and managed to get so distracted that when the timer went off -- again, 30 whopping seconds later -- I jumped out of my chair.

But anyway. I've found two fun ways to use it:

1) to limit my FB stalking. I set it for 10 minutes, and when it beeps, I log off. Haha, just kidding. I reset it for another ten minutes. But just like the snooze button on my alarm clock, it eventually guilts me into getting up and doing something productive.

2) racing myself. I've been picking annoying tasks on my to-do list and saying, "Can I get this done in 5 minutes?" Some things I can do in five minutes: follow up on old invoices, check my wireless statement, make a pork roast.

Who knows what boring things I'll accomplish tomorrow!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Breast cancer awareness never tasted so good!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and I'm kind of a breast cancer bandwagoneer this year -- my sister, always the trendy one, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of October. She's doing well (and rocked a tiara in pre-op and recovery) and her "cancer afterparty" gave me an excuse to go buck-wild baking pink-themed cupcakes.

Don't worry, I resisted the urge to make boob-themed cupcakes.

The easy-peasy rating on these is through the roof, by the way. I've never attempted to bake a cupcake from scratch, and I wasn't about to experiment at a time like this -- the woman just got out of surgery and deserves nothing less than the expertise of Ms. Betty Crocker! So you can bake all of these with a few supplies from Target.

By the way, I gave my hubby a batch to sell at a BCA bake sale, and they sold like hotcakes. Wait, I guess it's a bad analogy to compare one baked good to another. They sold like SUPER DELICIOUS CUPCAKES!

CUPCAKE #1: Yellow cake mix, vanilla icing with a few drops of red food coloring, and pink sugar sprinkles.

Sidenote, I applied the icing in a spiral pattern using these nifty cupcake decorators my mom found at Christmas Tree Shop. Getting the icing into the plastic baggie is a two-man job, or a really messy one-man job. But several people asked if I made the icing from scratch, and I give all the credit to the fancy application :) 

CUPCAKE #2: LEMONADE CUPCAKES! Lemon cake mix, vanilla icing with a few drops of yellow food coloring, and pink sugar sprinkles mixed with a dash of Kool-Aid pink lemonade powder mix. When I say a dash, I mean a dash. Kool-Aid mix is potent stuff! I only used a pinch and it still gave the icing a Sour-Patch-Kid quality. 

Speaking of potent, those pink sugar sprinkles left their mark...

CUPCAKE #3: White cake mix with a few drops of red food coloring in the batter, white icing, pink sprinkles. These were the biggest hit of the three. Not gonna lie -- I had two for breakfast the next morning. 

One last note, I use Reynolds foil cupcake liners and I DON'T put them in cupcake tins -- I drop them right on a cookie sheet. I always cook for the shortest amount of time listed on the box for cupcakes -- they finish cooking a little while they're cooling on the tray.

P.S. If you want to contribute to breast cancer awareness without spending a penny, click here -- every click goes towards giving mammograms to women in need. (Fees from the site's advertisers pay for the mammograms.) It's an easy way to contribute and for our family, regular mammograms kept crappy news from being really, really, totally super-crappy news. So, click!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sometimes I feel like Nick Jr. is patronizing me.

I'm not even going to call this a confession. It's just a fact: We watch a lot of TV around here.

I know the two-hour rule, but I don't really care. It's not like we veg out on the couch with a trough of soda and cake. Sometimes we pay attention, sometimes it's just background noise -- but it's usually on. Let's just say I owe a huge debt of carbon-footprint karma.

I know this is supposedly causing some combination of obesity, ADD, diabetes, and brain rot. But I grew up watching Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, and Wheel of Fortune...and Cheers, Married with Children, Newhart, Tracey Ullman, 90210, and ABC's entire TGIF lineup. I watched a lot of TV. Scientifically speaking, I should have grown into a big blob of stupidity, but I actually was smart. The kind of smart that makes you uncool.

So, as someone who feels super-unapologetic about my own TV viewing, I always feel like Nick is pinching my cheeks and saying "there, there" when I hear their show intros. You know the ones: "Blah-blah encourages social development, multilingualism, good hygiene practices, and a thorough grasp of chaos theory." Really? Because I thought it was a show about singing animals.

What's not to love?
A few examples:

THE SPIN: Yo Gabba Gabba encourages preschoolers to move their bodies for healthy physical development; to make music to express themselves; and to share and care by supporting social and emotional development.
THE REALITY: Yo Gabba Gabba has Biz Markie and robots. Cherish this half-hour.

THE SPIN: Max and Ruby encourages preschoolers to explore family dynamics and the diversity of the world around them; and to share and care by nurturing social and emotional development.
THE REALITY: Max and Ruby explores what would happen if your parents disappeared and you were inexplicably left in the care of your naggy seven-year-old sister.

THE SPIN: The Fresh Beat Band encourages preschoolers to make music in many different ways; to move their bodies and dance; and to share and care by nurturing social and emotional development.
THE REALITY: Why do they giggle so much? They giggle at everything. It's like they just got back from the dentist.

THE SPIN: Ni-Hao Kai-Lan encourages preschoolers to explore Chinese culture and language; and to share and care by supporting social and emotional development.
THE REALITY: Kai-Lan's friends are a diverse mix of crybabies, whiny crybabies, and short-tempered crybabies. And you'll learn words like "mooncake," which is useless in any language.

Honestly, I don't expect TV to teach my kids social skills, their alphabet, or new languages. Those things are supposed to be my job. I don't want to leave them on the couch and pretend it's preschool. I just want to sit down with my boys now and then, and watch some singing animals.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How tap water pays for my vacations. (Seriously.)

I have a severe case of vacation-brain this week, since I’ve spent the past few days planning our upcoming road trip. (By “planning,” I basically mean we've bought several pounds of beef jerky and a portable DVD player in preparation.)

And, as usual, I’ll be paying for the trip with tap water.

In the past few years, we’ve been to Salzberg, Amsterdam, Key West, Hawaii, Munich, Montreal, Chicago, Reykjavik, Hawaii, and Disney World. That sounds braggy, but my point is that we paid cash for all of them, and we’re not exactly bathing in dollar bills over here. Exhibit A: Um, I’m a blogger. Suffice to say we have a budget. 

But my main vacation-saving secret -- which is a fancy way of saying my favorite way to be a cheap-ass—is that I don’t drink anything but tap water. Well, that’s not entirely true -- I drink a cup of chai with milk every morning. And all bets are off if I come across a pumpkin milkshake or fresh-brewed root beer, but that’s a rare event. 99% of the time, I’m drinking from the sink. When we go to restaurants, I order tap water. At the gym, I refill a Sigg with tap water. At bars, I volunteer to be the DD, and I responsibly order my tap water. (The exception is airplanes, where everything is free and I always order ginger ale, the only acceptable choice.)

Six people (including the photographer). Five beers. And yet I'm the one doing lame hand signs...

I’ve become kind of a connoisseur of tap water. I like how the flavor is always a surprise. I like that you can tell when your glass is dirty at a restaurant. More importantly, though, I like that it’s FREE.

And that’s where the vacation money comes in.

We go to the local diner once a week. Instead of ordering a soda ($2), I order tap water.
$2 x 52 = $104 saved

We usually go out for one “big” meal with friends on the weekend. They typically order three beers each ($5-ish). You know what I’m drinking.
$5 x 3 x 52 = $780 saved

Instead of buying a case of bottled water every week ($6), I bought a Sigg a year or two ago and have been refilling it ever since.
$6 x 52 = $312 saved

I don’t buy soda for the house.
$2 x 52 = $104 saved

A few times a year, we might go into the city for a birthday party or concert or night out. I usually volunteer to drive, because I suck at getting drunk. (That may sound boring. But for better or worse, I don’t have any inhibitions that need lowering. Drunken me is just a slightly dizzier, sleepier version of me.) Four or five drinks at a city bar can run around $50 after tips—assuming we don’t go to NYC where we need to refinance our house to afford a Jack and Coke.
$50 x 4 = $200

TOTAL = $1500

So without my beloved tap water, I’d be sucking down $1500 in beverages each year. Combine that savings with a little bit of Priceline know-how, and you can pay for 10 nights in just about any city.

Figure in the savings from my morning tea ($4/week as opposed to $4 at Starbucks every weekday), and that’s another $832 saved—enough for a plane ticket or two.

Doesn’t tap water sound a little tastier now?

P.S. If soda or beer makes your world go round, you don’t have to hitch your wagon to this particular star. But keep in mind that any change that saves $25 or $50 a week can add up quickly. Read Tim Ferriss' post on Dreamlining if you need some inspiration. If you have a sneaky way that you cut corners, share it!

Monday, October 3, 2011


Okay, fair warning: This is a two-step recipe. I suppose you could just throw everything in the slow cooker, but it's extra-awesome if you marinate it for a few hours, so I recommend going the extra mile on this one. It's worth it.

Here's what I used. Check the bottom of this post for substitutions if you can't get some Papa Joe's in time, or if you want to make it easier.
  • 1-2 lbs. pork loin (I like boneless)
  • 1 Tbsp. Papa Joe's Salt*
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 Tbsp cumin
  • 3 oranges**
  • 2 limes

Step 1: Marinade. Stab the pork with a grilling fork or any other poking device you have lying around. 

Um, I look like I'm slaying vampires, yuck. I hate when meat looks like meat!

Anyway. Once you've gotten the stabbies out of your system, throw the pork in a Ziploc bag with the Papa Joe's salt, oregano, and cumin. And then squeeze the holy crap out of the oranges and limes. (I was in a perfectly good mood when I made this, so I don't know why every step of the recipe seems like a de-stressing exercise.) Put the mix in the fridge for a couple of hours, or overnight. Whatever.

Step 2: Cook. Dump the contents of the Ziploc bag into your slow cooker and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours.

Just a note, feel free to use less of the Papa Joe's. Hubby and I strongly disagreed on whether it tasted salty. So, adjust to taste. 

I think this would be awesome on a sandwich with cheese, honey mustard, and pickles. Or in a quesadilla. Just sayin'!

* Papa Joe's salt is a mix of salts, pepper, and garlic. It's amazing and does magic things to steamed vegetables -- for example, it makes me eat them :)  Sweet serendipity, their HQ is apparently a whopping nine blocks from my house. But if you're not local, you can order it through their website. And if you don't have time to order it, just mix together some sea salt or seasoning salt, ground pepper, and garlic, so the mixture totals a tablespoon. 

** Feel free to use the squeezy lime and/or regular old orange juice. Not sure why I went so gung-ho with the fresh fruit. I'd guesstimate that 2 Tbsp of squeezy lime juice and 1/4 cup of orange juice would do the trick.