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Pigs in a blanket

I got my undergraduate degree from the football school to rival all football schools. I’m an Auburn tiger, I bleed orange and blue, and I still keep a copy of the Auburn creed in my wallet. Most fall weekends in the “Loveliest Village on the Plains” were spent preparing for tailgating, tailgating, watching the game, and post-gaming at a bar. I’ll keep to myself how much of this prep work involved jello shots and flasks, but we prepared some real food, too.

Most of us had crock pots, even in our tiny apartments in which we never cooked, so someone always brought some Velveeta-and-Rotel queso and someone else brought Lil Smokies in barbecue sauce. The lazier of us would run to Publix to stock up on every variety of chips we could think of. My roommate would usually make cookies or monkey bread. And someone almost always made pigs in a blanket using the “tiny sausages rolled in canned crescent dough” method.

Pigs in a blanket., uncooked

Pigs in a blanket are addictive. At our tailgate parties, the little hot dogs in bread were the first to go. They are the perfect gameday food: they don’t require plates, napkins, utensils, or condiments. They are tasty hot, room temperature, or even cool. They’re bite-size, so if you don’t want to look like you’re hogging all the food, just hang out near the food table and pop them in your mouth one at a time (as opposed to having to get a plate, make a mountain of tortilla chips, and then spoon several cups of queso onto the chips, making you look like a pig). They are adorable and manly at the same time, unlike cupcakes, which have a similar bite-size appeal but can seem “girly” to men who are concerned with that sort of thing. Everyone likes them (except vegans and vegetarians, but they’re over by the guacamole, so you’ve got less competition anyway).

They even go up-market really well. I was at a very fancy party for D’s work last year, and the passed appetizers consisted of a caprese crostini, polenta triangles, some sort of chicken skewer, and pigs in a blanket. Guess which appetizer was the most popular. About a hundred of us were standing around in cocktail dresses and neckties, holding beverages in real, appropriate stemware, making polite conversation, and eating pigs in a blanket. Pigs in a blanket are never inappropriate– they are the world’s most versatile appetizer.

Pigs in a blanket, uncooked

The crescent-roll method is classic, and I am not denigrating it. But as I’ve aged, I’ve found a slightly fancier, and not really more labor-intensive, way to make pigs in a blanket. The frozen puff pastry makes people think they took more work than they actually did, and the sprinkle of poppy seeds elicits stunned “oohs” and “ahhs” from the bringers of the bags of chips. I’ve made these a few times for potlucks, BYOB-and-side birthday parties, and Superbowls, and they’re always a hit.

Pigs in a blanket, cooked

Fancier Pigs in a Blanket
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes about 60 pigs in a blanket

You will need:
2 pounds mini hot dogs/ Lil Smokies
1 box (17.5 ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg, beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Flour, for work surface

Sesame or poppy seeds, for garnish
Shredded cheddar cheese
Caramelized onions

If using cheese or onions: Cut each hot dog lengthwise about halfway down– don’t actually cut the hot dog in half. Stuff the hot dog with cheese or onions.

If not using cheese or onions: Poke each hot dog a couple of times with a fork.

Working with one sheet at a time, roll each sheet of puff pastry into an 11″ x 14″ rectangle. Cut lengthwise into  7 equal strips, and cut each strip into 4 equal rectangles.

Working with one rectangle of puff pastry at a time, roll a hot dog in the puff pastry and seal the pastry well. Set aside on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. When you’ve completed this process for all hot dogs, brush all pigs in a blanket with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds, if using. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450. Bake pigs in a blanket for about 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

These are tasty fresh from the oven, or if you let them cool to room temp. Perfect for gameday!

I’m in love with small-batch canning.

I made jam out of less than a pound of black mission figs that turned the richest raspberry red and had the most complex, tart and sweet flavor profile I’ve tasted from a jam. The only ingredients were figs, sugar, and some lemon juice. I’ve also made small batches of peach jam with rosemary, with bourbon, and with strawberries. I’ve made strawberry jam with basil. I made pure peach-and-sugar preserves from the last few cups of chopped peaches I had in the fridge.

I also love the tiny, four-ounce quilted jars. I feel like it’s irresponsible and indulgent to use so many, but they make me feel more accomplished. A small batch of jam might yield 2 pint jars, if you’re lucky, but it can give you four or even five of these tiny jars! Since I’m planning on giving a lot of jam in Christmas gifts this year, more jars are better.

They’re also portable– I took a soy-and-sesame sauce to work with me in one of these baby jars, to dip dumplings into at lunch. It stayed sealed in my bag all day without leaking, and made me feel just a little fancier in the middle of the day. I’ve been putting out three or four jars of jam with breakfast, along with sliced cheese, fruit, and toast, and seeing the little cluster of jars gives a simple meal much more ceremony. There’s a sense of eventfulness that comes with having lots of jam options, and these tiny jars make me feel like I can try the new jam I made, have a backup jar in case I love it and don’t want to give it all away, and still have a couple of jars to gift.

The smaller jars, and smaller batches, also free me up to try new combinations. I was leery of the strawberry-thyme combination, but since I was only working with a few strawberries, the stakes were pretty low. At the end of the day, I would only have a couple pints of jam I didn’t really like. I probably wouldn’t add cumin to a huge batch of strawberry jam, but I might be willing to experiment with just a few jars.

I’m so glad I did. This strawberry-thyme jam (I was kidding about the cumin) is just herby enough to make it really interesting, but still pretty sweet and familiar. It’s made with honey and comes together quickly. The instructions say to weigh the honey, since it doesn’t come out of measuring cups easily, but I have a trick (and I don’t have a kitchen scale, so…): Run your measuring cup under hot water for a minute, then measure the honey. The heat from the cup will encourage the honey to slide right out.

Marisa from Food in Jars does a great job of explaining the instructions for this jam on The Kitchn, so pop over there for the recipe and start experimenting!

I’ve gotten massages a couple of time in Austin, and each time I go to the same woman at the same place who puts a few drops of this minty, menthol-y oil on a washcloth she drapes over my eyes. The strong scent made my eyes tingle pleasantly, helped me relax and become sleepy, but didn’t aggravate my migraines, which can be triggered by strong, perfumed scents. The last time I went to see her was to redeem a birthday certificate my dad got me, and when the massage was finished, I poked around the room for a few minutes as I got dressed to try and find the bottle. I finally found it: white flower oil. The next time D and I ventured out to the large Chinese supermarket north of town, I bought my own bottle. The strong association I have with this scent and a feeling of total, loose relaxation means that a few drops in a bath, on a washcloth, or on the shower floor are enough to calm me even on the worst days.

chinese dumplings on a tray

Dumpling-making is another calming activity. The process of chopping many things into small, uniform pieces, mixing them, repetitively spooning the mixture into skins, folding, and lining up on the pan gives me a sense of order and accomplishment. I like seeing the cookie sheet go from holding one lone, intrepid dumpling to being crowded with them. I like sitting next to D while we do this together, watching something we’ve seen a million times because we can’t really watch it, anyway, since we have to watch the dumplings. I like how we fall back into inside jokes, congratulate each other on dumplings that come out folded like professionals made them, and how we make fun of the awkward ones, the ones we over-stuff, the ones that leak and won’t seal and will probably make a mess in the oil. I like hearing the oil pop when D drops the first one into the pot. I like eating one when it’s still too hot, dipping it in soy sauce that’s still reducing on the stove. I like how we say we can steam them, saute them, or bake them, but we almost always fry them, because I like the crispy exterior. I even like how, between the shopping, prepping, folding, freezing, and frying, it takes all afternoon to make dinner.

folding dumplings

Making a massive amount– about 150 dumplings– every few months has become a tradition, a centering activity, for us. I think D and I usually find ourselves drawn to an afternoon of dumpling-making when things have been stressful or hectic but are starting to calm down. Dumplings are a way to commemorate a slower pace; we have the emotional and practical time this weekend to spend several hours making one meal (albeit one that will feed us for days), as opposed to past weekends when we’ve had extra work or other commitments. Making these dumplings together makes me feel closer to my partner– dumpling-making is a team sport, and we are genuinely grateful for each other’s contributions to the big win we have at the dinner table.

deep-fried dumplings

Vegetable Dumplings
Makes about 150 dumplings

You will need:
1 pound soft tofu, diced
1 pound mushrooms (I used a mixture of woodear, shitake, and oyster mushrooms), chopped fine
3 carrots, grated
1 jalapeno, diced
4 scallons, chopped thinly
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. grated ginger
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. black vinegar
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. sambal
1 tsp. sesame oil
3 packages gyoza skins, thawed
Oil, for frying
Dipping Sauce, for serving

Combine tofu, mushrooms, carrots, jalapeno, scallions, garlic, ginger, and all seasonings in a large bowl. Mix well, breaking up the tofu as you go.

Working with one gyoza skin at a time, place about a teaspoon of the mushroom mixture in the center of the skin.

filling in the center of an open dumpling

Wet the outside rim of the skin and fold it, making pleats along each side. (Use  Real Butter has a great step-by-step tutorial of the folding process.) Pinch it well to seal, and set aside. Repeat until the mushroom mixture is gone.

lots of folded dumplings

Deep-frying: Heat about 1 1/2″ vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. The oil is hot enough when, if you stick the end of a wooden spoon in the oil, the oil bubbles up around the end quickly. Working in batches, cook about 6 dumplings at a time in the oil until they are a deep, golden brown, about 7 minutes. Drain them well on a dish cloth or paper towel.

Potstickers: Works particularly well for frozen dumplings. Place the dumplings in a skillet that has been preheated over medium heat. Pour water into the skillet until the water comes about 1/3 of the way up the dumpling. Cover the skillet and cook until all water has evaporated from the skillet and the bottoms of the dumplings are slightly crisp, about 5 minutes.

Freezing the dumplings is easy: Just spread the dumplings out, not touching, on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer for about an hour, and then transfer the dumplings to a freezer-safe container. These will keep for several months in the freezer.

A few months ago, I decided to stop eating food from animals that had been abused. I started paying $7 for a dozen eggs, searching labels for supposedly-indicative buzzwords to indicate a certain level of humanity, and agonizing over whether the pigs that gave their lives for my prosciutto had been treated well or shouted at. But I started compromising, feeling guilty, becoming stricter, feeling deprived, and compromising again. Then I read “The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater,” and it resonated so much with me that I read the whole thing, out loud, to D while he was driving us home. We both laughed, but I realized something.

I’m not a perfect consumer, and that’s ok.

I’m the kind of person who watched Forks Over Knives, Fast Food Nation, and Food Inc., and read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Eating Animals, and did not become a vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, or even a flextatarian. I made some new, loose rules about what I put in my body, but I generally felt outraged for about five minutes and then continued on my merry way.

baskets of strawberries

I try not to buy milk from big brands, and I know that “organic” doesn’t mean “this cow lived it’s life on Farmer Bill’s pastures, eating daisies and soaking up the sun, until it died a soft, natural death,” but I don’t think too much about where my cheese comes from. I eat a lot of cheese.

I generally don’t eat meat from fast-food restaurants, but there are days when I give in to the temptation for a McDonald’s cheeseburger or a taco. I let my cravings be more important than my willpower.

I cook most of my dinners at home, but I eat out most days for lunch, wasting money I could be donating to one of many hundreds of organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry, and ingesting calories I really don’t need. I don’t eat breakfast either, completely skipping the most important meal of the day, when maybe eating breakfast would lead to healthier lunches.

I try not to buy bottled water, but everyone in my household has a real penchant for sparkling water, so we compromise by recycling the plastic bottles. We’ve started buying bottled sparkling water by the case, and seeing your pantry stores dwindle from a dozen bottles to a lonely, single green bottle in a matter of weeks is a stark reminder of how much of the water I drink comes from a bottle. But at work, it’s Sparklett’s all the way, baby.


I don’t generally order coffee from Starbucks, because most mornings I save money by brewing my own organic, fair-trade, locally-roasted beans, but sometimes I want a latte. I try not to drink soda, because it’s bad for you and the bottles are plastic and are killing dolphins, but sometimes I need a soda. That’s a lie; sometimes I want a soda and choose to have one, even though it’s a waste of money, a drain on my health, and bad for the environment. Mostly, though, I drink coffee I brewed at home, local microbrews, and sparkling water from terrible plastic bottles.

I grow a lot of my own vegetables, but I buy broccoli when it’s out of season. Sometimes I really need/ want/ desire some broccoli pasta, or some roasted broccoli, in the middle of June. I don’t grow my own grapes, or buy wine locally, so all the wine I drink has been shipped to me from far, far away. But I’m not classy enough to really like wine all that much, so the beer is mostly local! Except when it’s not.

pouring wine

I know that oil is a scarce and non-renewable resource, and I live in a city with lots of bike lanes, but I don’t ride the bus or bike to work. I feel better because I drive to a park-and-ride and take the bus from there, but there is a bus that would take me from my front door to my office without making me switch buses, but it comes too early and takes too long. It’s inconvenient, so I use gas and drive part of the way myself, to buy an extra twenty minutes in the morning. But I take the bus part of the way. Except when D and I carpool.

The products in my shower weren’t tested on animals, and they proclaim that loudly and proudly on their bottles, but bunnies probably suffered in the making of my mascara. I am never not wearing mascara.

I know that pets aren’t environmentally friendly, strictly speaking, but I have two, and you can’t have them.

Baxter the black cat

I have two tiny mammals, both adopted from a shelter (well, one from a shelter, one from a friend who got her from a friend who I think got her from a shelter), but I have friends who have spayed, neutered, fed, medicated, fostered, rehabilitated, and loved dozens of animals. Having these tiny mammals in my home brings me more joy than you can imagine, but one of them is extremely picky about her litter box. Her prior owner tried to switch her to the environmentally-friendly corn-based litter, and she wasn’t having it. When I got her, I tried again (after all, we’d had Baxter on the magic corn litter for a year, and he didn’t mind). Hermione flat refused to use the box with the corn litter, so it was back to the clay litter, and there are a hundred reasons why that’s bad.

Hermione the cat

The point is this: even though I am not perfect and I could do more, what I am doing is still good. Recycling, cooking my own meals, growing my own food, volunteering, donating small amounts of money to organizations I support, and raising cats who might otherwise not have homes and who bring me joy are good things. Trying not to purchase things that have traveled from far away, that are contained in plastic, or that harm the environment is a good thing, even if my implementation of “try” isn’t perfect. Even if I don’t try some of the time.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. I’m not perfect, but I’m doing my little part, and that matters.

I don’t have a photo of the finished product, because we ate it all.

speck, brussels sprout, and leek pizza

This pizza was born out of a trip to California that D and I took over the summer. We spent a couple of days in San Francisco with good friends (who are getting married oh-so-soon!) and dragged them to a farmer’s market, determined to prove to them that cooking was easy. What we proved, instead, was that our eyes and intentions were bigger than our stomachs, as we lugged several onions, tomatoes, avocados, tortillas, fish, shrimp, and assorted foodstuffs back to their apartment.

When D and I left the next morning for Humboldt Redwoods State Park, we took some of the leftover veggies with us, including several strips of bacon, a bag of Brussels sprouts, and a tiny wedge of parmesan cheese. We rode for several hours along a beach so foggy we could barely see around the sharp curves. We stopped several times for coffee to warm our chilled bones. We joked about how cold and wet we were, about what an odyssey we were on. I listened to a Harry Potter book in my helmet while D made sure we didn’t drive off the cliffs and into the ocean. That night, freezing from rain and armed with a small bottle of liquor, we made pasta with bacon, Brussels sprouts, and parmesan on the little camping stove in our tent. We ate it straight out of the pan, snuggled close and giggling with exhaustion and accomplishment.

Brussels sprout and bacon pasta


{ brussels sprout and bacon pasta, made in a tent and eaten from the skillet }

We still had sprouts left over, so the next night we used them with the last of the bacon and some smoked salmon to make an even more delicious version of the same pasta. I think once we even splashed a little beer into the pan to deglaze and make a simple brown sauce. The smoked salmon was an inspired touch, and had we not eaten it all, I feel it would have made an interesting addition to this pizza. We used the rest of the smoked salmon the next day, on bagels with cream cheese, but it really shined with the Brussels sprouts.

When we got home, we had a small love affair with Brussels sprouts. Although they were woefully our of season, we bought bag after netted bag of them. We deep-fried them and dipped them in a soy reduction. We roasted them and tossed them with garlic and olive oil. And we put them on pizza nearly every night. Now that Brussels sprout season is almost upon us– we put our little sprouting sprout plants in the ground only this weekend– it feels like the time to share this pizza with you.

leek, brussels sprout, and speck pizza, uncooked

Pizza with Leeks, Brussels Sprouts, and Speck
Note: I’ve discovered a secret. I can get a super-thin pizza crust, perfect for serving two people, by making a standard “This will make two pizzas” pizza crust recipe, dividing it into 4 after it rises, and rolling it out really thin. Try it!

You will need:
1 pizza crust (or 1/2 pizza crust, if you want a crispier crust)
6 oz. shredded mozzarella
Brussels sprouts, chopped/ shaved with a mandoline/ sliced thin
1 leek, sliced thin
3 oz. speck or prosciutto
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

I got the best results when I softened the vegetables a little first, but feel free to put them on the pizza raw.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Roll out pizza onto your pizza pan, cookie sheet, or sheet pan. I always use an old 13 x 9 cookie sheet.

Meanwhile, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add Brussels sprouts and leeks, and cook until just tender.

Spread pizza crust with olive oil, and salt lightly. Spread cheese in an even layer. Add Brussels sprouts and leeks. Drape speck over the pizza (it will crisp as the pizza cooks, and then be divine). Cook for about 15 minutes, or until speck is crispy, crust is golden, and veggies are caramelized. Serve immediately.

Last weekend was easy and slow.

Hermione, the brown tabby cat

I took lots of photos of Hermione.


I drank several pots of French press coffee with the $5 French press we bought from a woman having a move-out sale in our apartment complex.

Flowering end of baby butternut squash

Baby butternut squash

I checked on our garden, where we are growing butternut squash like the zombies are coming to take it from us (though the acorn and pumpkin squashes aren’t doing so hot).

rosemary flowers

I watched the rosemary flowers blow in the wind under the sky that didn’t start raining until I was back on the motorcycle.

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