Kosher? Oh, sure!

A few years back, Cheese, M.D. and I were invited to a Memorial Day barbecue at a friend’s parent’s home in Hoity Toity-ville, Maryland. The invitation boasted a backyard pool, a perfect summer day, a child-inclusive affair with food enough to feed a small army. I was still wholesome enough at this time to believe that this would be a really fun day.

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Like any polite party guest, I asked my friend Beth (the inviteur) “What can I bring?” As expected, she replied, “Just bring yourselves, we will have so much food.” Whether it was subliminal female distrust or the cynical assumption that this was a test, I went against her recommendation. After all, Beth’s parents would be judging my presence and worth by the food I brought to their home, right? I felt the extra pressure, too: the host and hostess were established and prominent pillars of our professional community.

aurora-manchego-cheese-kosher-1S-2808.jpgJust how big are these big wigs? If Cheese, M.D is $4.99/lb white American, then these two are Spanish Manchego sheep’s milk cheese: rare, sophisticated, $134.92 for a 12 oz wedge. And, while the opulence of this delicacy is quite clear, I missed the memo on one thing: This particular Manchego cheese is kosher.

I am from the Northern Midwest. Unless the Scandinavians ate it, General Mills packaged it, or it came buttered in a 13 X 9 inch “casserole dish,” I probably had not tried it. And since Kosher Scandinanvian fusion food is far from a perfected art, the whole concept of the “separate but equal” food philosophy was unknown to me. I was raised on the corner of Roman Catholicism and lite Lutheranism, living amongst the descendants of Vikings.

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Tater Tot Hot Dish: beef, tots, cream of something soup.

I venture to guess that I did not know Jewish people existed until roughly the age of 13, which was when I transferred from public school to a fancy shmancy private, college preparatory school. (Private school. I know. I’m guilty. Associated hash tags include ‘afflue58925390nza’ ‘sweet16Jeep’ and ‘ican’teven.’ But, don’t worry: I graduated from high school with enough baggage packed in overpriced luggage to keep any therapist… paying for their own child’s private school tuition).

Back to my Jewish immersion private school experience: all of a sudden, I had days off in September for no obvious reason. We all wore uniforms, but some boys got to wear little hats with clips (I often wondered if they borrowed the hair fasteners from their sisters, or if they too shopped at Claire’s). In the spring, I had to the option to partake in matzah at lunch, but wondered why anyone would voluntarily eat that stuff. By the time I left high school, I had an extremely superficial understanding of cultural Jewish practices and academic Judaism. And, this really didn’t change until I moved to the East Coast at the age of 22. Unbeknownst to me, Baltimore overfloweth with members of the tribe. This naive little shiksa was in for a wake-up call.

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Taco dipppp…. we’re not worthy….

I arrived at the Manchego McMansion with my secret food weapon: Aunt Shirley’s Taco Dip. I consider it the Cupid’s Arrow of appetizer dishes.  One hit and guests will swoon over you AND the layered goodness. Picture bobbing Emoji heads with hearts for eyes hovered around -you guessed it- the 13 x 9 inch casserole dish.

I entered the expansive kitchen and locked eyes on an even more expansive picnic feast. The taco dip contribution really was redundant, but that wasn’t the point: I was trying to kiss ass. I set down my dip to accompany the large spread of food and energetically extended my hand to greet Dr. Mary, the hostess.

H: Hello! I’m Hadley, thank you so much for having us over! I have really been looking forward to meeting you and the rest of your family!  I have heard so much about you, this is a lovely home! Can I help with anything?!?

(I know what you are thinking – Bambi, this is why your mother got shot. Take it down a notch.)

-cont’d…

M: So glad you could join us, Hadley.

H: I brought a little something to share, I hope you like it.

I pointed proudly to Aunt Shirely’s Taco Dip. However, I quickly presumed that Mary had a spotted a rat on her table given the look on her face.  She almost knocked me over in her urgent attempt to get my food off of her table. Breathlessly, she said:

This is dairy.

Holding my dip like she was holding a diarrhea diaper, she placed the dairy delicacy on the far end of a separate buffet table, isolation status from all other food. With the same agility, she dashed to her double sink and began her surgical scrub.

I am not sure how many times my friend Beth had to run this type of interference, but by the way she scurried past me, my guess: not that many. Her breeze as she passed me carried her whispered words, “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.” Beth tried to assuage her practically sanitized mother by rubbing her shoulders from behind her, repeating, “It’s ok, Mommy, it’s ok, no big deal, right? RIGHT?” Mother Mary turned and looked at me with the level of affection you show your fat jeans.

M: Yes, of course. No big deal. If you’ll excuse me, I have to attend to my parents.

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Original Resting Bitch Face: Jasmine? No. Dr. Mary.

Mary whisked passed me and a layer of frost settled on exophthalmos and open mouth alike. This was a first.

Despite my shock, horror, and embarrassment, I was able to thaw my brain quickly enough to make sense of Beth’s 2-minute tutorial on “keeping kosher.”

  1. It’s not just about Hebrew Nationals and salt. Who knew?
  2. Meat and dairy do not mix. You either eat a meat meal or a dairy meal. That’s it.
  3. Meat and dairy are so repellent of one another that they do not touch anything in common. Each deserve their own sets of plates, cutlery, dishwashers, and times of day for consumption.
  4. These rules are derived from a passage of Scripture that is especially important to strictly observant Jews. Don’t ask me which one it is.

As Beth coached me, my gaze fell upon the table full of picnic food. The untrained eye would not have noticed, but it all became clear: a dairy-free feast. Burgers, no cheese. Chicken sausages, not pork. Veggies with hummus, as opposed to creamy dip dressing. Angel food cake with strawberry sauce, hold the whipped cream.

There was no room for Aunt Shirley’s taco dip on the this Jewish table, literally and figuratively.

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My faux pas became clear and so did the next order of business: remove the dip from the premises. I turned to the buffet table to grab and run. However, Cheese, M.D. and friends had other plans to make the dip disappear. Four additional hungry medical students, all Jewish but (happily) not Kosher observant, were elbows deep in the taco dip. Ten hands gripped tortilla chips and were scooping layers vigorously into their open mouthes, muffling words of praise. No sooner had Aunt Shirley’s taco dip made its offensive entrance as it had made its timely exit.

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Kosher? Who knows, because they are not for nibbling.

Lesson learned: when attending an affair hosted by Jewish friends, play it safe – bring flowers.

Best of luck out there,

H.H.

Aunt Shirley’s Taco Dip

What You’ll Need

A can of refried beans (I use the spicy or the vegetarian variety)

Block of cream cheese (8 oz)

Sour cream or plain non-fat Greek yogurt (8 oz)

Taco seasoning packet

Jar of salsa (~ 12 oz jar)

Bag of Mexican finely shredded cheese (2 cups)

9” x 13” glass or ceramic baking dish

What You’ll Do

1.     In a bowl, use an electric mixer to blend cream cheese, sour cream, and taco seasoning.

2.     In the dish, assemble the dip in the following layer order:

  • Bean base layer
  • Seasoned cream cheese/sour cream layer
  • Salsa layer
  •  Shredded cheese topping

3.     Serve immediately with tortilla chips or other dipping goodies, but let’s best honest, chips always win.

  • Make ahead of time, but refrigerate until the party starts.

Oversharin’ Sharon

There is one good thing about living in a condominium complex where senior citizens occupy super majority status. It is not their hyper-vigilant attention to the condominium rulebook. It is not their selfless appointment as informer of the condominium rules to the general public (i.e. me). old-people-catagoryIt is not the weird smells they leave in the elevator. It is the fact that in a crowd of curmudgeons, you will find a few cheeky seniors who are both disinhibited enough to say raunchy things and can still hear well enough to get to enjoy the audience’s reaction.

Case in point, I entered the condominium elevator and came upon an elderly couple, both of whom were dressed well enough to be attending the bat mitzvah of a future investment banker. In my weakness for old-fashioned romance, as well as my general affinity for being corny, I engaged them in a little elevator small talk.

Hadley: Well, don’t you both look lovely! Are you having a date night?

Wife: Why, yes we are, we are celebrating my husband’s 90th Birthday tonight.

Hadley: Wow! What a milestone! And, you look pretty darn handsome for turning 90 today.

Husband: Thank you!

Wife: Yes, and he looks good naked too.

[silence]

Hadley: Well… lucky you! Have a good evening.

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“I’m sorry… what?”

Good gods, the doors opened and I was able to exit stage left. I am fairly certain that after the doors closed again, I stopped in the hallway and looked back at the elevator to say to myself: Did that just happen?

Luckily, I come across enough elderly folks in my professional life that very few blatant admissions of honesty ruffle my feathers. But, that evening, I was off the clock. And, I got blindsided with visual of this 90-year-old gentleman in his actual Birthday suit plus/minus his hearing aids.

Three things I took from that exchange:
  1. Don’t underestimate an old broad who is also a Member of the Tribe.
  2. Old people know when you are kissing their ass, so just, don’t.
  3. When I’m an old broad, I will maintain the where-with-all to say inappropriate things to young people to make them feel uncomfortable.

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While I didn’t get this cookie recipe from Oversharin’ Sharon, I did happen upon it by befriending my wily senior citizen neighbor, Debbie.

Debbie is the kind of woman who would make a dream-come-true mother-in-law if her sons weren’t so unattractive and boring. She enjoyed the company of my dog and had a lot of relevant synagogue updates to share. An example, but first:

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and initiate your New York accent.

Debbie: Can you believe that Rachel and Theo are spending that kind of money on their daughter’s custom chuppah? And don’t even get me started on the shegetz she said yes to, oy vei. I overheard them whispering about it when I was sitting shiva at my friend Andrea’s house. The kugel I made was a hit, of course.

H’s inner voice: Ok. A) Don’t know these people. B) … what?

Best of all, Debbie liked to drop off goodies for that “cute doctor husband of yours.” (Cheese, M.D. bats 0.850 with the elder lady population). After I tried her warm cookies and my taste buds promptly exploded with glee, I was glad I didn’t wait until Cheese, M.D. got home to share, as he is a cookie hoover.

When I asked Debbie for the recipe, she passed it on with the title, Leni’s Cookies.

H: Who’s Leni?

D: Oh, just my friend who gave me this recipe years ago. She didn’t have a name for them.

H: Well, in my cookbook, they’re going to be called ‘Debbie’s Cookies.’

D: Yeah, they better be.

What’d I say? Old broad from the Tribe. They don’t play.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses for an official photograph with the other Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington
Case in point.

And to be clear, these cookies, they don’t play.

Debbie’s Cookies

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Photog by moi

What You’ll Need

Hot oven (350 F)

1 stick of salted butterroom temperature (8 Tbsp)

½ C white sugar

½ C brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1 C all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

1 C old-fashioned oats

1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ C milk chocolate chips

What You’ll Do

  1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda. Set aside.
    1. Tried this whole wheat flour because I was trying to be healthy. They bombed. Use all-purpose white flour.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to combine butter, sugars, and vanilla until fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined.
  3. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and electric mix until just combined.
  4. Add oatmeal and chocolate chips and beat on low until just combined.
  5. Drop formed cookie dough balls onto parchment paper. Size with your TBSP spoon.
    • I usually get about 30 cookies as long as I am chewing gum when I make these.
  6. Bake 10-11 minutes.

Hopefully, by now, you know what to do after they come out of the oven.

– H.H.

Sister Shortbread

When you are going through childhood, you assume your reality is everyone’s reality. Moms erect gingerbread houses with soup cans at Christmas time so you can load the roof up with icing and Frosted Mini Wheat shingles. Dads make waffles on Saturday mornings and sing really loudly in the car. Every Sunday, the kids are obnoxious and mouthy about going to church until Mom yells, “GET in the goddamn CAR! And you made me take the Lord’s name in vain on the way to church!” No? Just us? Alright, then.

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And then there are your siblings. Or, in my case, my younger sister. I assumed everyone with a sister realized they had a built-in best friend and playmate for life. What could be easier? I remained naïve until third grade, when I was walking in line behind one of my classmates. He greeted his passing older brother by saying, “Hey, retard.” Astonished, I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, the R-word. And, that wasn’t nice to say to his brother.” I know, I was Bambi.

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Santa… No… This can’t be true…

(This same boy would later ruin the illusion of Santa Claus for me. I cried. A lot. But now is not the time to get into the sob stories of senior high school.) Let’s just say, some jackasses are born, some are made. This kid was both.

The concept of sibling cruelty was completely lost on me. Not to get too Hallmark Christmas Channel on you, but for the most part, my sister and I were completely happy companions. Different but very compatible, each other’s best audience, and in constant pursuit of making one another incontinent with laughter.

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One of my favorite games to play with Sister was Hadley’s Restaurant. Sister didn’t care much about food, but enjoyed watching TV and being served. I would seat her at the kitchen table, and with my tablet and pen necklace, take her lunch order. The 8-year old would have her usual: a peanut butter sandwich on white bread, tortilla chips, Gushers, a Capri-Sun. I would happily prepare the plate, prepare my own plate, and serve the lunch. In what would become our classic dynamic, she would eat half her lunch, get bored, and leave the table. I, on the other hand, never left food on my plate and was sad when I finished my sandwich.

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Now, we are both adults and these fundamental food philosophies still exist: I live to eat, and Sister eats to live. And, maybe I should have bitched less about going to church, because the Good Lord has afflicted me with the stretch marks that come from handling a bag f Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. Sister eats Chipotle burritos like the Coneheads eat grinders, and is asking the salesgirl, “Do you have this in a 2?” Infuriating and a therapist’s fodder, I know.

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Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Chipotle burritos. This food example encapsulates my and Sister’s food preferences to a ‘T.’ And, describes what I believe are the two camps of basic taste preference: Camp Sweet and Camp Salty. If you don’t know where to fly your flag, we can play a game. It’s the DUFF version of the sexy college game Would You Rather? Otherwise known as:

Would You Rather Eat?

For breakfast: a ham & cheese omelet OR chocolate chip pancakes.

For snack: chips and guacamole OR greek yogurt with granola

For dessert: a beer OR a Frosty

If you are washing down your eggs and guacamole with a Corona, you are sitting in Camp Salty. If you are housing a gigantic stack of pancakes, but still feel the need for that Frosty later today, waddle on over to Camp Sweet.

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Camp for those who can’t decide.

Of course, we all want to eat all of the things. Depending on the lunar cycle, the monthly cycle, what pants you are wearing, etc. That’s not the point. The point is: inherent taste preference is binary and goes one of two ways. Case in point, when Sister and I finish a lunch date and decide to walk it off by going to lululemon, without fail, the conversation goes like this:

Sis: You know what I could go for right now?

H: Sour patch kids?

S: Yep.

H: You know what I could go for right now?

S: A chocolate chip cookie?

H: Yep.

Re-route to lululemon via CVS and we’re good to go.

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It’s true, Sister and I may sit in different taste camps. Let alone, we sit in different camps when it comes to style, hobbies, aggravations, coffee, and most other things. And, on a daily basis, we see different oceans. But, I can easily say: nothing is better than when we are together, and everything is better when we are together. Our synergy makes the punch line funnier, the storytelling more magical, and the hours fleeting.

If I had to a pick a cookie mascot, one that best represents Sister and me (and I should because this is in fact a food blog), there is but one choice:

Salted Chocolate Shortbread

I salivate as type the words. This cookie is unexpected, unusual, and delightful. The texture is divine, and the sweet-salty combination will knock your slippers off. (Are you not wearing slippers? There’s your first problem). This cookie is where the campers from Sweet and Salty have their end-of-the-summer inter-camp mixer and they end up playing spin-the-bottle. Everybody wins.

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“Lay one on me, Stephanie Tanner.”

So, the Salted Chocolate Shortbread gets the honor of being associated with Sister. And, she gets the honor of being associated with a cookie worthy of your attention. Therefore, she will now lovingly be referred to as: Sister Shortbread

 

Salted Chocolate Shortbread

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Receipe adapted from browneyedbaker.com

What You’ll Need

A hot oven (325° F)

11 Tbsp salted butter (room temperature)

2/3 C brown sugar

¼ C White sugar

1 tsp Vanilla extract

¼ tsp salt

1 ¼ C all-purpose flour

1/3 C unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp baking soda

Parchment paper

What You’ll Do

  1. Mix together the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder; set aside.
  2. Beat the butter until it is soft and creamy.
  3. Add brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla, and salt. Beat for 2 minutes.
  4. Turn off the mixer and add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture.
  5. Pulse the mixer 5 times: 1-2 seconds each time. Follow-up with beating the dough for 30 seconds on low speed. The dough will be crumbly.
  6. Pour out the dough on a clean and dry working surface. Separate the dough into halves and roll out into two logs
    • Cheese, M.D. offered this insight: “That looks like a giansables_choco_GF_prep-3t turd.” If your log looks like a turd, you are doing it right.
    • I aim for logs about the diameter of a poker chip.
  7. Wrap your dough logs in plastic wrap and freeze for at least one hour. Again, longer chill is better, but this is the speedy version.
    • The fact that the logs have to be chilled is not actually important to the cookie itself. It just makes it a lot easier for the baker to handle and cut the shortbread.
  8. After an hour, or when you have semi-solid to solid chocolate logs, remove from the freezer, and remove the plastic wrap. Cut your cookies to be a half-inch thick and place them on the parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.
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    Pencil eraser = 1/2″ thick
    • I normally am too aloof to ascribe to these fussy details, but I ruined a batch of these cookies because I cut them way too thin and they got singed. Just remind yourself what an actual half-inch looks like, and err on the thick side when you cut.
  9. Arrange your cookies 3×4 on a standard cookie sheet and give them each room to expand as they bake. Sprinkle with salt.
    • Again, it is not like me to fuss over these annoying details. I like to pack my cookies close together. But these shortbread spread out quite a bit. The aforementioned ruined recipe was not only burned, but all touching each other.
    • I give my shortbread a little three-finger Mockingjay “love press” before meagerly salting each of them.

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      We love you Katniss!!
  10. 12 minutes on the middle rack of the hot oven.
    • Middle rack? Spread out? Certain thickness? I know. So high maintenance. Ain’t nobody got time for that. But, you actually do have time for it. Because, these cookies are a taste and texture dream come true. And, I promise, this is the most “Kardashian” I go in terms high maintenance recipes. Because they are so worth it. The cookies. Not that band of plasticized misfits. Ain’t NOBODY got time for that.

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Tips

  • When they come out, the cookies won’t look done. Trust, they are.
  • I like to slide my entire sheet of parchment paper onto the cooling racks. I have demolished plenty of hot cookies in failed attempts at transfers. This way, the cookies don’t continue to cook on a hot cookie sheet, and can cool without risk for destruction. Try, and be amazed.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days, but good luck making them last the night.
nobody-got-time-for-that reading long posts aint nobody got time for that
Thanks for sticking with us.

Happy diabetic coma.

-H.H.

Cheese, M.D.

Shonda Rhimes and Meredith Grey preached eternal wisdom when they coined the phrase: “She’s my person.”

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This concept resonates with everyone, whether or not you have been lucky enough to find “your person.” When you are exploring a new city by way of gelato stands, cleaning up dog diarrhea at 3 AM, and doing mundane adulthood tasks (that no one told you about when you are a kid) – your life experiences feel somewhat incomplete without that person going through it all with you. Your person always makes life better. And hopefully, they feel the same way about you, too. If not, hello Glen Close in Fatal Attraction.

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LOVE MEEEEEE!!!!

I met my person 11 years ago. I looked across the grassy knoll of the college quad and approached the guy who was manning the root beer kegs (yeah, you read that right). One crooked smile coupled with his self-deprecating slouch and I was done for. The sequela known as “cute guy at college becomes husband” is an enchanting fairytale, though not exactly a linear series of events. But, I digress. The important thing: I met the person who actualized the phrase, “my other half.” He thinks I’m all right.

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So, blah-de-blah, enough with the romantics. If you wanted to read soft erotica, you’d be at the grocery store pretending to browse the magazine section. This is supposed to be a food blog. And, it is. But it is also a literary venue. So, in order to communicate the magnitude of today’s food message, I call upon the literary tools you dumped promptly after exiting your SATs: The analogy.

Hadley: her Husband

All food: _____

Remember that useful SAT tip for solving analogies: make a sentence joining the two words to figure out the answer.

Hadley’s person and one true love is her Husband.

So…

All food’s person and one true love is…. CHEESE.

Voila. See? I knew you were a genius.

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Cheese. Is there any other food that can be featured successfully and seamlessly with each course of the meal? I think not.

Wine? Obvi

Apps? Always

Soup? Necessary

Bread? Is the Pope Catholic?

With fruit? With veggies? Over dinner? As dessert? With your port?

From a cow? From a goat? From a wheel? From a can? Grilled? String?

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Yes. Cheese. A thousand times over cheese.

If I practiced idolatry, I would sacrifice hot baguettes and crush families of crackers before a tower of cheese. Magnificent as an individual and the magnificent food soul mate.

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You are a wise one, Honey Boo-Boo.

So, let’s close the circle with a twist you weren’t expecting. Remember, earlier how I said that hopefully when you find your “person,” the imprint is reciprocal? Yeah, that’s the goal. I recall the above analogy and some obscure algebra property to bring it home.

Hadley: her husband

All food: cheese

Husband: _______

I know what you’re thinking: Ooo! Pick me! I know!

Husbands’s person and one true love is Hadley!

Right? It’s Hadley!

Alas, it is not. The answer, again, is cheese. CHEESE. Husband’s person is cheese.

They fall for it every time. (Remember from high school, when in doubt, always pick C. For cheese.)

While cheese hasn’t necessarily been the secret to our marital bliss, it may be the reason why Husband marched through four years of medical school and three years of residency like a dedicated band geek. He barely broke a sweat.

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Like any wonderful husband, he credits me with his successes. I accept that credit on behalf of the real honoree: Mom’s macaroni & cheese. In his first year of medical school, I would make homemade mac & cheese for Husband the night before his big exams. Carbohydrate loading for the geek’s marathon, if you will. He always always earned high marks, so we attributed it to the “good luck mac & cheese” and a faithful tradition was born. (It should be mentioned that Husband tried to institute other “good luck traditions” for the nights before his exams, as well. Those were promptly dismissed. Boys.)

Thus far, every set academic and professional benchmark has been cleared using the bricks of hard work on his part, filled with a mortar of macaroni & cheese. So, Husband will now affectionately be referred to as: Cheese, MD.

— H.H.

P.S. I got you a present! You can now subscribe to your favorite foodie humor blog via e-mail. Adapted from Beyoncé: “On the left, on the left.”

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Mom’s Mac & Cheese

2 C dry macaroni

1/2 C butter

(Please don’t dishonor cheese or my mother by using anything but butter sticks) 

2 Tbsp flour

1 ½ C milk

(The fattier the better. When is that not ever true?)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 ½ C white American cheese

(I buy a block of cheese from the deli, about 0.5 lbs. Some have objected to this choice of cheese. I reply, “Are you not an American?”)

8 x 8 baker’s dish (prepared with cooking spray)

  1. Oven to 350 F.
  2. Cook macaroni as directed.
  3. In a separate saucepan, melt down butter and then add in the flour. Stir until the flour is totally combined.
  4. Add milk to butter mixture slowly, stirring constantly.
  5. On medium high heat, continue stirring until liquid starts bubbling and becomes a white cream sauce. Should take about 5 minutes.
  6. Add salt & pepper. (I don’t measure. The only way I live dangerously.)
  7. Placed strained macaroni in baking dish. Pour sauce over the macaroni and use a spoon to distribute it evenly.
  8. Shred white American cheese block for 1 ½ C of shredded cheese. Sprinkle shredded cheese over macaroni.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbling and delicious looking.
  • My mother covers her dish with tin foil for the first 25 minutes, and removes the tin for the last 5 minutes of baking. She is a much more conscientious than I.  It’s worth mentioning because it browns the mac & cheese nicely at the end.

Now we’re cookin’ with butter!

There are a lot of things a little lamb from the Midwest learns when she moves to the big city. Not THE big city. The one where little girls dream of becoming some combination of Carrie Bradshaw and Idina Menzel. I wasn’t that lucky. Another big city. And, I was too naïve to realize what I was getting myself into when I agreed to relocate to this big city: Baltimore, Maryland.

Excuse me… Baltimore? Bitch, please!

That was seven years ago. In recipe speak, I’d describe my time there as three parts happy, one part soul-crushing, and a tad moldy. It’s the kind of place that you describe to your family back home as “not that bad.” I learned a lot of life lessons and a lot about human nature by spending a quarter of my life and the formative period of my twenties in “The Greatest City in America.” (Early 2000s attempted campaign slogan to re-brand the city. Those ad execs were later fired).

One of the most powerful lessons I learned was this: if there is anything that unites folks South of the Mason Dixon line (besides a soft preference for the Confederate Flag), it is food. In it’s hay day (still researching for that exact time period), the Baltimore food scene was a sweet and savory fusion of Chesapeake crabs covered in Old Bay seasoning, fried chicken and an ice cold Natty Boh. Ah, the good old days.

Today, however, Baltimore fusion food is crabs from Indonesia, Popeyes, and again, a Natty Boh. Except, this time, it’s in the style of Edward Fortyhands.

How ’bout dem O’s?

Nevertheless, you can’t take a love of soul food out of the Baltimorean, a point reinforced by my friendship with one of my administrative secretaries: Denise.

Denise is an absolute ray of sunshine and sweeter than honey. Her cubicle was positioned directly outside of my office door, leading me to question her place in academic medical clerical work on a daily basis, but that’s neither here nor there. She is 4’10’’, nearly a senior citizen, and a self-proclaimed “strong black woman!” In food parallels, Denise personifies a Little Debbie’s chocolate cupcake in every way: squatty, a real treat, and mostly made of sugar and air. We forged a fast friendship over our shared love of food.

On a near daily basis, when Denise and I would work together on administrative issues, our conversations would frequently go like this:

H: Denise, were you able to schedule that test for my new patient?

D: Don’t be trippin’ Hads, I gotchu, baby, I gotchu!

H: Ok, thanks. Did I tell you that Mrs. Johnson missed her appointment again?!

D: YOU’RE JIVIN’!!! You are STRAIGHT jivin’!

H: I know! I’m going to call the patient, you call her daughter. I will put in her orders, and you can reschedule her tests.

D: Now we’re cookin’ with butter, child! …And, when are you gonna bake Momma another chocolate cake??

You think I am joking, but I assure you I am not. Denise is truly a character and an authentic Marylander, and to this day, I find myself using her signature phrase:

“Now we’re cookin’ with butter!”

I love this phrase. It is intrinsically charming because of its wholesomeness, and it always evokes a smile. The analogy embodies something that everyone knows and holds to be true: good things happen in the kitchen when you start with a stick of butter. Sweet or savory, main course or dessert, it is the foundation for magnificence. With the exception of a large glass of vino, nothing else can universally improve a meal like the addition of a dollop of soft, warm butter.

Have I made this and Julia Chid’s first tenant of the kitchen clear? Butter begets greatness! And for the love of all things good and pure, do NOT poison your food with margarine. Just, please don’t. If you want to eat plastic, just go and eat some Legos.

If you’ve stuck with me this long, you are due a reward! And it is one of my favorite cookie recipes of all time, full of buttery goodness, of course.

Martha Stewart’s Snickerdoodles

Her annoyingly beautiful and perfect cookie picture, not mine 😉

2 ¼ C all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking soda

½ tsp coarse salt

1 C (2 sticks ie 16 TBSP) butter (room temperature, salted)

1 ½ C + 2 TBSP white sugar (separated)

2 large eggs

2 tsp ground cinnamon

Parchment paper

** full disclosure: Martha calls for unsalted butter, but I absolutely prefer salted butter. Martha’s instructions are also excessively fussy for my taste, so I simplify here.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. With an electric mixer, combine room temperature butter and white sugar (2 C) for 3 minutes until white and fluffy.
  • Using your stand mixer, if you have one, is very nice for this recipe because who wants an arm cramp?
  1. Mix in eggs and fully combine.
  2. On low speed, gradually mix in flour mixture.
  3. In a small bowl or a flat plate, stir together cinnamon and remaining white sugar for the coating.
  • I usually double or triple this part of the recipe – who doesn’t like a lot of sugar coating?! Or, I’ve been known to just dump McCormick’s Cinnamon Sugar right on a plate. It’s all about the easy, people.
  1. Shape small balls, roll them in the cinnamon sugar, and space them 3×4 on a baking sheets that you have lined with parchment paper.
  • Martha calls for 1 ¾ inch balls spaced 3 inches apart – ok, Martha, relax.
  • Parchment paper is no joke. Your cookies don’t stick AND you won’t have to wash your cookie sheets afterwards. At least I don’t. Parchment paper for the win!
  1. Bake cookies for 12 – 15 minutes. Look for golden brown edges!
  • Martha would like you to rotate your cookie sheets 180° halfway through. I say “Martha, were you this high maintenance in prison?”
  • This should make about 20 cookies. I usually get 15 because the cookies have a hard time leaving the batter stage.

— Hadley

So there I was…

The day I realized that my lunch box was bigger than my purse. And, I regret to admit that it was not only bigger, but also heavier than my purse. If you must know, I was carrying a standard size Longchamp bag that day, okay? You get the picture.

This would not have been so bad if I had been attending my first day of kindergarten, where the kids all carry empty backpacks. Or, if I was setting sail on an escape raft from Cuba Syria somewhere presumably lovely but full of “hangry” politicians and religious zealots.

We made it because white girl packed us lunch!

No, alas, I was going to work. It was 9 AM. I would probably be leaving by 6 PM.

I had garnered quite the reputation for my lunchbox at work. It quickly became akin to the Mary Poppins carpetbag. But for sugar and carbohydrates. As I would enter my clinic, you could regularly find my co-workers transforming into spoiled lunch box squatters. They’d follow me into my office and ask, “What’d you bring us today??” I created high-maintenance little food monsters and it was all my fault.

Now, backstory: bringing baked goods to share with whoever was in my company had been a perennial habit of mine. Regardless of the setting: work, parties, class, friend’s homes, just because; it was always my first instinct. It was my thing. But I never realized it was a “thing.” I just did it. And, it didn’t take many months of serving up my best baked goods to the Squatters for them to formulate and share their unanimous opinion: “You do realize your future children are going to be fat and get juvenile diabetes, right?”

So, what is this large lunch box about and why has it inspired me? It’s basic and uncomplicated.

  • I love to eat.
  • I hate feeling hungry, and I plan to avoid it.
  • The screen saver of my mind is planning the nutritional intricacies of my next meal
  • I assume everyone else in my life identifies these facts as fundamental and motivating. So, I am just helping.

I know what you are thinking: “What self-respecting woman isn’t looking forward to her next foodgasm? What makes you think you have a different perspective on eating chocolate chip cookie dough directly out of the package? You’re probably just another basic white girl with an annoying food blog. Your name is probably Whitney. Your dog’s full name is Pumpkin Spice Latte. You just wanna dance.

I don’t disagree: the reflex to publicize our every waking decision and thought on social media is obnoxious. It’s self-fulfilling and purely image-driven. I put in a moderate-sized effort not to participate. And, I resisted for as long as I could to join the league of food bloggers, despite encouragement from the Squatters. Why? Because I am just another food-obsessed white girl who loves to bake, cook and eat. Who wants to read about that?

What finally led me break my vow and start this blog was my frustration with the current culture of food blogs. The word that comes to mind is ‘inauthenticity.’ It’s all: coifed chefs with less than 15% body fat and their “cute but chaotic families;” a “crazy busy life” but enough time to take perfect photos of perfect-looking food with perfect fresh ingredients; pristine graphic design coupling the self-deprecating cook with a magnificent organic dinner for twelve. It’s inspiration, but not really because it feels completely unattainable in your own life.

Yes, I generalize. And, yes, I sound like a miserable cynic. But, this is my beef with today’s food blogs. They always left me perturbed and never wanting to participate in the public forum of food discussion. It all felt manufactured and fake. Until… wait for it… NOW.

This is where My Lunchbox is Bigger Than My Purse was born. Now, I can’t speak to the actual authenticity of other food bloggers and their love for food. What I can speak to is my mission for this blog: a place I plan to talk freely about using expired milk in recipes (and not telling the dinner guests); eating a Nutella and peanut butter sandwich over the sink; throwing out handfuls of fresh herbs from the garden because who wants to fuck around with making trays of cilantro ice cubes?

And, because food and compulsively feeding others makes for a large following of friends and opportunists, I will probably feature some of the other characters in my life, too.

It’s the ugly, unflattering, uncool side of food OCD. Written by a woman (and her inner fat girl) whose lunchbox IS in fact bigger than her purse. And she will continue carrying luggage-sized lunch boxes, even when her blogging privileges are revoked and/or when blogging is no longer a thing.

— Hadley Homemaker

(Oh, right, and I picked a really cutesy and charming food blog penname to drive home my point.)