Downton Abbey season premiere, part two

(Reblogged at the Austin Chronicle Screens blog)

The second half of Sunday’s Downton Abbey premiere was actually episode two for the season, but ties up and/or carries through many of the plot lines from the first episode. Picking up where the first half left off, seemingly the morning after Cora shit-canned Nanny West for abusing Sybbie. Cora praises Thomas in front of LG for alerting her to his concerns about the Nanny. (Which we all know was not coming from a place of good intentions because Thomas.) “I just had a hunch that she wasn’t quite all Sir Garnet,” he smirks smugly. We’ll come to realize that now that he’s got Cora’s ear, shenanigans will ensue.


Lady Mary is masterful in mauve

The bulk of the episode centers on Mary’s post-Matthew life. Clad in an elegant mauve dress, she arrives at the tenants’ luncheon, where Branson gives up his seat so that she may take her rightful place at the table, which becomes a through-line for this episode’s plot. A box arrives from Matthew’s office, including a letter he had written before their holiday trip to Scotland. The letter states that he intends Mary to be his sole heiress and that he will have a will drawn up before the baby is born.

Now the question is to whether the letter is legally binding. In the meantime, Mary expresses an interest in taking on a more involved role in managing the estate and LG very obnoxiously smacks her down — at dinner, no less — attempting to put the ignorant little lady in her place. Violet correctly assumes, and says as much, that LG hopes that the letter isn’t valid because heaven forfend he have to share control of the estate with a woman.

Violet suggests to Branson and Mary that the former instruct Mary in the daily running of the estate, necessarily behind curmudgeonly LG’s back. This turns out to be a good plan, as word comes back that Matthew’s letter is legally binding and Mary owns half the estate. Let’s all brace ourselves for a protracted power struggle between Mary and LG, especially over how to pay the death duties. As Branson astutely puts it, “You won’t keep her quiet, not now that the bit’s between her teeth.” Ah, the woman-as-horse metaphor. Gotta love it.

Edith: Clad in a hideous red and black dress (she seems committed to deviating from the purple color palette of Downton Abbey when she’s in London), Edith reckons Mr. Gregson needs to meet the family, the rationale being that he’s “nearly German and nearly divorced.” Before catching the 3:00 train, she invites Mr. Gregson to an upcoming house party, and also finds it increasingly difficult to decline his invitations to “stay a little longer,” if you know what I mean. (She later arrives late for dinner, which makes me wonder whether she actually did stay for a little afternoon delight with Mr. Gregson.)


Ugh. This lady.

The Edna Problem: Anna spies Edna and Thomas chatting in the hall and advises the former to keep her distance from Edna. Honey Badger Edna don’t give a dang. Edna ruins a blouse of Cora’s, and Thomas helps her out by cooking up a story that Anna was the culprit and was bullying Edna out of jealousy because she’d been hired into a more senior position. Ugh, why are they basically making Edna’s character into O’Brien 2.0? That’s not interesting.

The Charlies: Carson is still not interested in having anything to do with Charlie Grigg, who is still under Isobel’s care. Isobel manages to get Mr. Grigg a position as a stage door keeper at the opera house in Belfast. Turns out that Carson had been in love with a woman named Alice who broke his heart. Mrs. Hughes, who found out that Alice had left Carson for Mr. Grigg, reckons Carson should make his peace with Mr. Grigg so that he’s not walking around with an open wound. This must have hit home, because Carson arrives at the train station to see off Mr. Grigg, who informs Carson that Alice is five-years dead, but had professed her preference for Carson and had been a fool to leave him. The Charlies part as friends.

Poor Molesley: Anna spots Poor Molesley working as a blacktopper. He confesses that he owes money all over town, to the tune of 15 to 20 pounds. This upsets Anna deeply, and she says as much to Mr. Bates. Bates approaches Violet and asks her for money for Poor Molesley, then forges Poor Molesley’s signature onto a fake promissory note. At tea later that evening, Mr. Bates “repays” a befuddled Poor Molesley 30 pounds, which pleases Anna but also confuses her.


Bored Lady Rose is bored.

Cousin Oliver Lady Rose: Lady Rose wants to go to a thé dansant in York and asks Anna to accompany her. They go, Rose pretends to be a housemaid and attracts the attention of Sam, an under-gardener from a nearby estate. Ugh. Boring. We get it, Rose is a rulebreaker, y’all.

Dowager Countess Zinger Count: 3. To LG: “When you talk like that, I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper!” To Bates, when he refers to Poor Molesley as Mr. Molesley the Younger: “You make him sound like a Greek philosopher.” To Mary and Branson, when she’s told that she still must refer to Branson as Tom: “I see I’m beaten, but oh how I sympathize with King Canute.”

Downton Abbey recap! Episode 1

(Programming note: If you want to see this with prettier pictures and having been edited a bit, please visit the Austin Chronicle‘s screens blog.)

When we left our beloved Downton, Matthew had just perished in a car accident, leaving behind Mary and newborn son George. As such, the opening moments of season 4 of Downton Abbey are cold, dark, and melancholy.


Someone’s packing, leaving notes on a mantelpiece. Meanwhile, a baby cries as a nanny bustles down the night-darkened hall. Mary lies in bed, awake. The dark figure exits the Abbey quickly, suitcases in hand.

The title card appears over a shot of a misty morning at Downton Abbey. Where is my beloved DOG BUTT? That is a damn shame. I hope the traditional title sequence isn’t gone for good.

Mary is sitting on the edge of her bed, not doing anything. Anna goes to an empty room in the servants’ quarters, switches on the lights, and discovers the two notes on the mantlepiece. It appears O’Brien has exited stage left. The household staff does the 1922 version of #obrienpeacedout, gossiping in the foyer and halls.

Lady Grantham is shocked, but Lord Grantham isn’t. “Sneaking out like a thief in the night. Fits O’Brien to a T,” he grumps. [I grew up a church kid and it always makes me giggle when people are described this way, because it’s the way the bible describes Jesus’ return. So, in my feeble brain, O’Brien = Jesus in this scenario. Which I’m sure she’d appreciate.] Cora is pissed because Lady Flintshire ganked her lady’s maid. Edith thinks it’s disgraceful, too. Boo-hoo. Your servant is now someone else’s servant.

Mary stares glumly out the window, as Anna offers her a purple shawl to wear on a potentially chilly walk. Mary wants the black one, as she’s committed to her widow’s weeds. Nanny brings in baby George and wants to know whether Mary would like to join them for a walk. Mary says no, kisses her son and says, “poor little orphan.” Nanny leaves and Anna says, “he’s not an orphan, he’s got his mother.” (Technically.) “He’s not poor either, come to that,” Mary replies. Sheesh, lady. Emotional vampire much?

Violet approaches Poor Molesley’s father (who I believe is the groundskeeper) outside; they exposition that it’s been six months since Matthew’s death. Also, Poor Molesley, who was Matthew’s valet, has been unable to find new employment. Out front, Thomas greets Sybbie in her stroller, sparking a power struggle between himself and Nanny West, who doesn’t want him touching the children without her permission.

Branson and LG are walking the estate. Seems they owe taxes on Matthew’s death and LG wants to sell off land to pay it off. Because the way he ran the estate was going so well before Matthew took over. If nothing else, this episode reinforces what an arrogant boob LG is. Also, we are told through exposition that because Matthew died without a will, Mary has a one-sixth interest in the estate, while Baby George owns the rest of one half, making him majority co-owner with LG.

Carson tells Poor Molesley that the gravy train is up and he’s got to hit the bricks. Meanwhile, Edith is going up to London to see Michael Gregson, Cora is supportive and LG is not (shocker!). 

Lady Rose (Lady Flintshire’s daughter) wants to advertise in the town for a new lady’s maid for Cora because she has a guilty conscience. Edith visits Isobel, who is in the same fog of grief as Mary. “You see, when your only child dies, you’re not a mother anymore. You’re not anything, really. That’s what I’m trying to get used to.” Oy vey. Do you not have any books?

Carson gets a letter that makes him grumpy, which piques Mrs. Hughes’ curiosity. She plucks the letter out of the wastebasket after he leaves the room. (This storyline reinforces my notion that Mrs. Hughes loves Mr. Carson, but I’m too lazy to write any slash fiction about it.)

We see in the post office that Edna Braithwaite (the housemaid who tried to seduce a recently widowed Branson in the 2012 Christmas special) would like to respond to the advert for a lady’s maid (who needs to be good at doing hair, apparently). Nothing good will come of this.

It’s Valentine’s Day, which gives us an opportunity to revisit that ridiculous love rectangle of Jimmy-Ivy-Alfred-Daisy. Ivy and Daisy both receive anonymous cards — who sent one to whom?!? We may never know. (J/K we’ll totally know in a few minutes.)

Mary skulks down the stairs in black, as Edith ascends, reading her Valentine’s Day card (Edith’s card is like four times the size of the servants’ cards because rich people). The exchange between the two sisters is awkward, and Michelle Dockery’s version of playing grief is, basically, to be as wooden as possible and stare off into the middle distance always. No eye contact for widows, no sirree! She and Edward Cullen should hang out.

Mrs. Hughes visits a workhouse and finds Charlie Grigg (you’ll remember him from the first season as Carson’s former partner in the song-and-dance business who tried to shake Carson down for money). He’s in a bad way and has reached out to Carson, who is “very busy,” for help.

Edith arrives in London, where Michael tells her he can get a divorce in Germany. Does she want to come with? Because that’s a great idea, given Germany’s world reputation post-WWI.

Violet is visiting Isobel and they’re talking about Isobel’s lack of purpose in life. Poor Molesley arrives and asks for his old job back, but Isobel demurs, claiming that she doesn’t need a butler as, “these days, I’m just an old widow who eats off a tray.” “Just because you’re an old widow, I see no necessity to eat off a tray,” Violet retorts. (And there’s our Dowager Countess Zinger Count initiated: 1) Violet has now taken it as her project to help Poor Molesley out.

Mr. Carson is mad at Mrs. Hughes for reaching out to Mr. Griggs. An electric mixer has arrived in the kitchen downstairs. Daisy and Ivy are excited about it, but Mrs. Patmore worries that gadgets like these will soon make her redundant. More twittering about the Mystery of the Anonymous Valentines. NO ONE CARES, Y’ALL.

Another battle between Thomas and Nanny West. Exposition about interviewing Edna for the lady’s maid position — they’re interviewing her in Ripon because she can’t get away due to caring for an aunt. Branson wants Mary to take an interest in something, while LG thinks she should focus on feeling better. Yes, because marinating in your misery is just the ticket to recovery, you paternalistic boob.

Mrs. Hughes wants Isobel to take in Mr. Grigg. At first Isobel resists, saying that she’s not strong enough in her present state. Mrs. Hughes cuts her off, saying, “But you are. If you could just set aside your grief and use that strength for another’s good.” And that’s Isobel’s lightbulb moment.

Similarly, Branson approaches Carson to help bring Mary back into her life. Meanwhile, Daisy is making a mousse with the new mixer. Mrs. Patmore instructs her to make a soup to have on standby in case it doesn’t work out. More turf wars between Thomas and Nanny. Carson approaches Mary. Thomas, up to his old manipulative shenanigans, puts a bug in Cora’s ear about Nanny West, planting a seed of concern that she’s neglecting the children. Cut back to Mary’s room, Mary is going all ice queen on Carson, telling him he’s overstepped the mark in approaching her about working with Branson to run the estate.

At dinner, a discussion of whether Mary should attend the tenants’ luncheon becomes the linchpin for her to melt down over Matthew’s death and her reluctance to come out of her grief-cave. She leaves the table in a strop (and rightly so, really, because the family kind of did a group sticky-beak into her business, even if it was well-intentioned). Violet shuts down further conversation about private family matters in front of the servants by complimenting the mousse. “I suppose [Mrs. Patmore] hasn’t bought it in,” jokes Cora. Oh, irony! We haz it.

Poor Molesley is having an existential crisis. His dad gives him a pep talk. And because the upstairs folk are JUST LIKE the downstairs folk, Violet pops into Mary’s room to give her a pep talk. Mary worries that all the good that Matthew saw in her was only in his imagination. Violet says, “you have a straightforward choice in front of you. You must choose either death or life.” Violet thinks Mary should choose life, then gives her a gentry-style hug (which translates into an arm awkwardly draped across a shoulder).

Mrs. Hughes tells Mr. Carson that Isobel is taking in Mr. Grigg, because it’s the right thing to do and a tasty way to do it. Violet and LG talk in the foyer, LG crapping on paternalistically about how it is their job to keep her safe from the world. Violet disagrees, stating that it is their job to bring her back to the world. “While I will overlook Mary’s poor judgement, I find it hard to overlook yours. GOOD DAY SIR.”

Oh, and she wants Edith to come to luncheon on Friday to help make things a success. “We are selling Poor Molesley to Lady Shackleton,” she explains. “As a servant?” Cora asks [HERE’S THE SETUP, FOLKS!]. Violet pauses. “No … as a Chinese laundryman.” Zing! (Dowager Countess Zinger Count: 2)

Jimmy got Ivy drunk at the pub. Mr. Carson and Isobel talk about how she’s taking in Mr. Grigg — seems she’s a bit perkier to have gotten in touch with something beyond her grief. Lady’s got a purpose now! Hooray!

Cora interviews Edna, and offers her the job, particularly on the strength of a glowing recommendation from Mrs. Hughes from her days as a housemaid at Downton. “But what about your aunt?” Cora asks. “My aunt?” asks Edna, forgetting her lie. She didn’t want to do the interview at Downton because she knew Branson and Mrs. Hughes would kibosh the prospect. RED FLAG, CORA. Oh, never mind. Cora’s not the sharpest knife, is she?

Violet’s butler is threatened by Poor Molesley’s presence at luncheon, and is a hilariously genteel boor, menacing Poor Molesley through clenched teeth. He, of course, sabotages Molesley during the luncheon, providing some comic relief in an otherwise bleak episode.


Edith is back in London and meets Mr. Gregson at the Criterion wearing a dress that is decidedly va-va-va-voom (and therefore un-Edith-like). The strapless bodice is beaded to suggest a peacock, while the flowing green chiffon skirt has a slit up to the knee. Her hair is folded into soft finger curls — the stylists are deftly communicating Edith’s evolution into a modern woman with this look. Please also note that this is a break from the purple color palette worn by the upstairs women at Downton Abbey. To hit this point home, she says, “It feels so wild, being out with a man, drinking and dining in a smart London restaurant. Can you imagine being allowed to do anything of the sort five years ago, never mind ten?” Apparently, it wasn’t done for ladies of a certain status to eat in public in the fin-de-siecle. Interesting.

Gregson can get a divorce in Germany. “You’d join the most hated race in Germany for me?” says <strike>Jan</strike> Edith. Gregson reckons he’d become an Eskimo in order to marry Edith. This calls for a kiss! In public! SCANDAL!

Mrs. Hughes is shocked to learn that Edna has been hired on as lady’s maid, but can’t be forthright with Cora about why it’s not a good idea. Cora isn’t impressed. Daisy dithers about the Valentine’s Day card to Mrs. Patmore (seriously, how long has it been since Valentine’s at this point?). Mrs. P makes Alfred confess to Daisy that he sent Ivy a card, and Daisy is confused about who sent her her card. Mrs. Patmore tells Daisy that she sent her the card because she didn’t want her to be left out. D’awwww. “I might not have a follower, but at least I’ve got a friend,” replies Daisy. D’AWWWWWWWW.

Branson, Mrs. Hughes, and Branson discuss The Edna Problem. They determine that there’s nothing they can do but keep an eye on her. Sure. We’ll go with that. Also, O’Brien’s departure has left Thomas without a foil, which deprives the plot of its soap opera machinations.

Cora takes the opportunity to lurk in the hall and watch Nanny West, observing her fawning over Baby George, who is fussing. “There, there, my precious boy. Don’t let that chauffeur’s daughter disturb you any more.” Then, hissing at Sybbie, who is cowering in her corner crib, “Go back to sleep, you wicked little cross-breed.” GAME OVER. Cora storms the castle, ringing for Mrs. Hughes, dropping some ice-cold real talk on Nanny West: “I want you to pack tonight and leave first thing in the morning. Please put Master George back in his crib. You are not to touch the children again.” Mrs. Hughes arrives, confused. Cora, the portrait of chilly patrician rage, explains that Nanny West is leaving in the morning and could you please find her a maid to sleep with the children and a bed for Nanny West? “Your values have no place in a civilized home,” she seethes to the nanny. Mrs. Hughes, god love her, is utterly gobsmacked.

Mary and LG talk a bit about Edith’s relationship with Mr. Gregson. “Is it serious?” LG asks. “He’s not bad looking, and he’s still alive, which puts him two points ahead of most men of our generation,” replies Mary. She asks if she’s wanted at the tenants’ luncheon, but LG doesn’t think it’s necessary, because he wants to manage things in his own way. Here’s where you can see a little crocus poking through the frost of Mary’s soul. She starts to head up to bed, but instead goes to see Carson and apologizes for shutting him down when he was trying to help. Mary says she’s spent too long in the land of the dead, then collapses in tears and has a good cry in Carson’s arms. Finally some real acting from Michelle Dockery. Carson says that Mary is strong enough to the task of what’s ahead, but Mary reckons LG doesn’t think so. Carson says Mary owes it to Matthew to see his vision through, and that he believes in her.

Mrs. Hughes hears a great crash from the kitchen. Mrs. Patmore is attempting to use the mixer, but has broken it in the process and is fretting mightily that her inability to use it means she’s stuck in the past. Mrs. Hughes dons an apron and helps her friend clean up the mess. “Who needs sleep?” We pan out on them gossiping about Nanny West, confessing that they never really liked her, and so on.

Okay, that’s it for episode one! Stay tuned for episode two!

Meal plan: Week of 01/05/14-01/11/14


A work in progress

It’s meal plan time! This week, I’m attempting to balance my needs as a practicing Weight Watcher (so, lean proteins, whole wheat pastas, brown rice, lots of veggies) with the varied palates of my family (and oh, are they varied — the rainbow of pickiness among these people is vibrant indeed). I’m also delving into my new copy of Best Lunch Box Ever for the BK’s lunches, as he goes back to school this week. I’ll probably make some sort of wholesome treat to go in his lunch — perhaps some oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies?

Sunday: Dinner out with my folks

Monday: Chicken tortilla soup from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker cookbook

Tuesday: Coconut curry noodles with tofu
BK’s lunch: kiddie cobb salad, crackers, fruit

Wednesday: Grown-up Tuna Noodle Casserole
BK’s lunch: Annie’s stars, crudite, fruit

Thursday: Shrimp fried rice
BK’s lunch: Turkey and veggie dagwood sandwich (from BLBE), veggie straws, maybe the jewel box fruit salad from BLBE.

Friday: Baked salmon (perhaps this one?), whole wheat couscous, veg of some sort
BK’s lunch: BLT rollups from BLBE, chips, applesauce

Saturday: Leftover bonanza OR dinner out.

What are you having this week? What types of wholesome desserts do you pack in your kid’s lunchbox, apart from fruit?

Oh hai! Happy 2014. Let’s read a book.

[Insert obligatory language here about neglecting the blog, etc. etc.]


There are changes coming to this blog not soon, but now. How soon is now? Now is now. 

I turned this blog into a food blog a little over four years ago, when I had hit a pretty low point in the dissertation-writing process. I didn’t want to run the risk of whining about my project and pissing off my advisors, and I needed a non-academic outlet. So, I started posting recipes and meal plans and other food-related bloggy goodness. 

But then I kind of lost interest in food blogging. Partly because I felt (and still feel) like food blogging has gone about as far as it can go, and partly because I do a lot of writing about food in my professional life (both here and in the academic realm. Oh, and I guess in the book, too). 

As such, I’m branching back out in terms of the content of this blog. There will still be food-related posts, but I’m also interested in writing about the movies I’m watching, recapping Downton Abbey again, and embarking upon a project that will probably either blind me or drive me insane. 

You see, I can only name about three or four books that I read last year. For someone with a lifelong love of books (not to mention a PhD in literature), that’s an abysmal record. So, the goal that I’ve set for myself for 2014 is to read a book a week. That’s 52 books over the course of the next year. I have watched the tide of contemporary literature come and go, time and again, over the past couple of years but haven’t had my head above water well enough to keep up with it. Along those same lines, there are gaps in my literary education — I’m naming no names of the Major Books I haven’t read — and I intend to fill those in. There are lots of food titles I’m looking forward to reading, plus books by my friends, and poetry. Ah, poetry! You are the biggest gap in the reading list of my life. 

I’ve got a big stack going, plus a running list of books I plan to purchase or check out from the library. Every Wednesday, I’ll check in here about the book I just finished. I am open to your suggestions for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, memoir, and essay collections that you think I should include. 

Here’s my January syllabus: 

Jan. 1: Failure and I Bury the Body, by Sasha West (who’ll be reading and speaking at BookPeople on Wednesday, Jan 8!)

Jan 8: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson (a book club book)

Jan 15: Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (upon the recommendation of Bill and Dena’s daughter Ella)

Jan 22: Homeward Bound, by Emily Matchar

Jan 29: Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell

Keep checking back and feel free to read along with me! And send in those suggestions! 

Baked Sunday Mornings: Good Morning Sunshine Bars


Life has been hectic of late, forcing me to curtail my baking projects. Even my meal plans have fallen by the wayside, although I’m working on getting back on that. As usual, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and am looking for ways to simplify and slow down.

Lucky for me, this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings project was a very simple recipe, requiring very little actual cooking and minimum cleanup. We are a peanut butter-and-chocolate-loving family, as well as a cereal-dessert-bar-loving family, so this one was a no brainer.

Hoo-boy, are these things rich! A cup of brown sugar and a cup of corn syrup create a thick sauce, the sweetness of which is tempered by a cup of peanut butter. (Thank goodness I used natural, unsweetened peanut butter, otherwise these bars would put anyone on the fast track to DIABEETUS.) I cut the pan into about 16 bars; I think I’ll go back through and cut the larger ones in half because in the case of these treats, a little goes a long way.

I think these bars would be great to bring to any upcoming holiday potlucks; I plan to send a *tiny* square in the BK’s lunchbox once or twice this week. My husband didn’t care for them (he’s not a sweets guy), and I’m counting Weight Watchers points, so the bulk of them will go to work with my guy tomorrow.

Check out the other Bakers’ experience with this recipe here. There are a lot of cakes and highly involved projects on the bake-along calendar for the next few weeks, so this may be my last Baked Sunday Mornings post for a while. We’ll see where the day takes us!

Meal Plan: Week of 11/3/13-11/9/13

beef stew

I write this on Monday afternoon, perhaps one of the crappiest Mondays in recent Mondays. I mean, it’s like the Universe is saying, “HERE’S THE MONDAYEST OF ALL MONDAYS. PLEASE DO ENJOY.” And yes, the Universe writes in all caps because sometimes the Universe is a dick.

Let’s start with the good news first, though. First piece of news is that tonight is my book launch party! I am so excited about it, especially since it kicks off an avalanche of events between now and the end of the year. I am so thrilled that the book is taking on a life beyond my kitchen table, where the bulk of it was written. People seem really excited about it, which is very gratifying indeed.

The other piece of good news on this Monday is that I’ve had a paper that I’m really excited about accepted to the Popular Culture Association’s national conference, which takes place in Chicago in April.  It’s about Orange Is the New Black  and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The bad news is that my car is apparently a death trap and it’s spending the night at the mechanic’s and I’ll have to pay a pretty hefty ransom tomorrow to get it out. This on top of us having to shell out one large to the plumber last week when our 22-year-old hot water heater failed. Also, LK is really sick, and I’m really worried about her. (Every fall, her allergies and asthma go berserk. October was very quiet, but the snot really hit the fan last night.)

I know, I am going all Job on y’all. I don’t mean to. Let’s talk about food. Fittingly, before all of this crap blew up, I had planned a comfort food-heavy menu, as the forecast calls for gloomy skies and snuggly temperatures for the bulk of the week. I’m really going to have to work for it at the gym over the next couple of days, but these are some of my favorite fall dishes and are totally worth every calorie/Weight Watchers point.

Sunday: We had pie and other treats at a preview event for Royer’s Pie Haven, so we came home and had veggies and cereal.
Monday: Goulash and roasted broccoli.
Tuesday: Casserole Queens chicken pot pie with a drop-biscuit topping instead of the puff pastry sheet.
Wednesday: Beef stew (recipe below). This is one of the husband’s favorites. I just made it a few weeks ago and when I asked him what he wanted from the slow cooker on Wednesday, this was his request.
Thursday: Husband is in charge of dinner, as I have a book event. Maybe leftovers? But probably tacos.
Friday: Husband will be at Fun Fun Fun fest, so the kids and I will have dinner at Phil’s.
Saturday: Husband at FFF, kids will want McDonald’s, but I will try to steer them toward homemade pizza. But probably tacos.

Mom’s Beef Stew
Recipe adapted minimally from Not Your Mom’s Slow Cooker

10-12 small Yukon Gold potatoes, halved
4 large carrots, cut into 1- inch chunks
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon chile mole pipian
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1- 1/2 pounds stew meat (I buy it pre-trimmed and cubed to save time)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
1 large onion, cut into a total of 6 or 8 wedges
1 large rib of celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick
6 to 8 medium sized mushrooms, cut in half
2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of ground cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small bay leaf

  • Place the potatoes and carrots in the slow cooker.
  • Place the flour, mole pipian, salt and pepper in a Ziploc bag. Toss half of the beef in the mixture, shaking off any excess, and transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining meat.
  • In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Add the meat and brown on all sides. Once the meat is brown, transfer it to the to slow cooker.
  • Add the onion, celery and mushrooms to the slow cooker, nestling them gently among the chunks of meat.
  • In a separate bowl, stir together the broth, tomato paste, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and cloves. Pour into the cooker. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the bay leaf and cover. Cook on LOW for 8 to 9 hours or HIGH for 4 to 5 hours.
  • When it is time to serve the stew, discard the bay leaf and ladle the stew into bowls. I like to serve it with hunks of crusty bread.

Meal Plan: Week of 9/29/13 (and other things)

I am crazy busy this week, with a glut of papers to grade and freelance deadlines and meetings and whatnot. This weekend was incredibly busy with family and birthday stuff, so I kind of threw together a meal plan on the fly. I say all this because I really want to process the Breaking Bad series finale here, but I just don’t know if I have the time. I’ll see if I can dump something at the bottom of this post.

OH! And Barb K has still not claimed her prize, so if I haven’t heard from her by the end of the week, I’ll draw another winner.


Sunday: My birthday party, so chips and salsa, charcuterie, cheese, crackers, green bean pate brought by a friend, wine, and the amazing cake pictured above. That cake, made by Kendall Melton (pastry chef at Contigo), was a total fetish object at the party. It consisted of supermoist chocolate cake, perfect peanut butter buttercream, and was topped with candied cashews. Incredible. I may have the one remaining slice for lunch. :)
Monday: Sloppy joes, sweet potato fries, broccoli. (I’m the only one in the house who likes sweet potato fries, so I’ll probably throw some regular potato fries in there.)
Tuesday: Coconut curry with rice noodles and tofu.
Wednesday: Leftovers (we’re still miserable at leftovers, and I’m throwing away too much food).
Thursday: The BK has baseball, so I will charge The Husband with feeding himself and the boy. LK and I will dine out with friends.
Friday-Sunday:  I’ll be covering ACL fest, so I’m not sure what the meal plan is for the weekend.

Ok, here is what I will say about the Breaking Bad finale [SPOILER ALERT]: My heart was in my stomach the first time I watched it, and I was so anxious that it didn’t really sink in. And then I watched it again, listening very closely to the closing song (“Baby Blue” by Badfinger), and I’m devastated. Yes, much of it was inevitable and unsurprising — just like we knew Hank wasn’t going to make it to the end, it was also clear that neither would Walt walk off into the sunset. But that final scene was so profoundly devastating, to think that after everything and everyone who was sacrificed in Heisenberg’s wake, Walt died alone with his one true love: an unfinished batch of his blue meth. He forfeited his right to say farewell to his son, his baby daughter would never know him, his genial boor of a brother-in-law paid with his life, and his protegee spent months as a meth slave (and I really hope that Jesse made it to Alaska or Portland or whatever and is making a fortune with his artisanal wooden boxes). So much ruin and misery and in the end we see that he always loved the meth and making more than he loved his family, friends, and community. And that, to me, is deeply, deeply sad. So I don’t see it as a victory that Walt went out on his own terms because, on balance, his terms were crappy. And that is why Breaking Bad is such a devastating morality tale.

(And now I’m crying again. Which means it’s time to grade papers.)

Baked Sunday Mornings: Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

Here I am, finally jumping back into the Baked Sunday Mornings sandbox, and there’s no better time to do so than a.) on my birthday and b.) with some of my favorite cookies.

I love goodies with brown butter in them. I think brown butter can elevate even the most mundane dessert. I also love snickerdoodles. So, this recipe from Baked Elements should be a no-brainer, right?


You would think so, right? But these are … not my favorite. They’re not BAD — in fact, they’re pretty tasty and pleasantly chewy. However, I had some problems with the cook time that I feel compromised the final product. The recipe says to bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until they were set (but to give them a couple of extra minutes for less chewyness, but don’t overbake them!).

My oven, I think, runs a bit cool, as things tend to take longer to cook than most recipes indicate (except when they don’t). I didn’t want to overbake these, but they were vey much not ready to take out at 10 minutes. I let them go for 13-14 minutes before pulling them and … they had raw spots in them yet. UGH. (See the pocket in the top cookie in the photo? Raw spot.) I wonder, too, whether I should have brought the dough close to room temperature before baking off the cookies; it was quite firm after a few hours’ chilling.

Again, these aren’t terrible, but they don’t have the consistency that I look for in a snickerdoodle. I have adopted Smitten Kitchen’s recipe as my go-to when I want snickerdoodles. They’re crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inside and, well, perfect.

Be sure to check out all the other participants’ thoughts on the brown butter snickerdoodles here.

We have a winner!

The winner of the Cake Boss flower cakelette pan is …. 


Congratulations, Barb! I will email you for your mailing address so that you can receive your prize. 

Thanks, everyone, for participating! I hope to be able to offer another giveaway soon. 

Have a great weekend!

Meal Plan: Week of 9/22/13

This week is the crazy. I can’t even begin to tell you how busy it will be; shall try to do so by glossing each night’s meal entries.

A programming note regarding last week’s meals: We REALLY LIKED the chicken tamale casserole. The Husband even asked for leftovers of it for his lunch the next day, which is unheard of. I might make a thinner “tamal” layer or double the enchilada sauce, though, because it wasn’t as saturated as I would have liked/was expecting. The slow cooker bolognese was a little too runny and greasy. The runny part was probably my part because I was in a hurry and I didn’t let the liquids reduce as much as I should have in the prep process. It was greasy because the recipe didn’t include a “drain fat from hamburger meat” step and, while I paused and thought, “hm, maybe I should drain this fat … but the recipe doesn’t say to do that so maybe it’s incorporated into the flavor.” Pro tip: if you make that recipe, drain the fat from the beef. The slow cooker balsamic chicken was a failure in that while the instructions said to cook the breasts on low for 3-3.5 hours, but because I had two extra kids in my house and was distracted I cooked them on HIGH for 2.5 hours and they were dusty, nasty chicken jerky. Gross. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. You’d think I’d have a grasp on that by now.


Why not bookend a week with pizza every now and again?

Sunday: Dinner at Bufalina with friends. VERY GOOD PIZZA.
Monday: Beef daube provencal with egg noodles (I teach, BK has baseball practice)
Tuesday: Sandwiches/leftovers/cereal (BRING ON THE CRAZY. BK has baseball, LK has swim, then dance, then soccer.)
Wednesday: Pork tenderloin with sauerkraut from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook (actually maybe a quiet night)
Thursday: Trader Joe’s fish nuggets or Mandarin chicken (We finally got a Trader Joe’s in Austin!!! And there was much rejoicing. BK has baseball, LK has swim, plus we have a big PTA thing at school, which we may or may not attend.)
Friday: Dinner with friends at Umami Mia. (#pizzaresearch)
Saturday: We are hoping to have a babysitter so that Husband and I can go out on a date for my birthday (I’m thinking dinner at Arro, maybe a movie, hopefully some browsing time at BookPeople). The kids will have … something.


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