Tag Archives: lifestyle

Holiday Heartbreak: My Mother’s Bittersweet Broccoli Casserole

I didn’t expect that a casserole would make me cry.

I should have known. It was, after all, my mother’s famous Broccoli Casserole, the one she served every Thanksgiving to an eager table of hungry family members and friends. And seeing as how I hadn’t tasted the mainstay, not once, in the nearly three years since she passed away… well, it was pretty much inevitable that when I nailed the recipe on the first try, my emotions would get the best of me.

Mom inherited the recipe from her friend Mary Pat in the late 1970s. The first year she made it, the story goes, my family was less than enthusiastic. In fact, some of them simply refused to taste the dish. My gentle immigrant grandfather, a man who would eat anything you put in front of him, led this skeptical pack. So my mother, never one to take an insult lying down, stomped around the dinner table, testily spooning out portions of the cheesy, gooey concoction onto every. single. person’s. plate.

The following Thanksgiving, most of the original naysayers nonchalantly asked if she’d possibly maybe be making that casserole again. After that, it became tradition. She occasionally considered cooking it in the “off season,” but she felt it wouldn’t be as special if she made it more frequently.

I agree.

Even after many of our family members passed away and the rest scattered, after Thanksgiving became just my mother, my father, and me, she made a full table of food every November — turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, biscuits, cranberry sauce, and, of course, the Broccoli Casserole.

Cooking became for me after Mom died from a heart attack on the morning of Dec. 1, 2006. She had been a stay-at-home mom throughout my life, and my memories of her usually revolved around the dishes she made and the time we spent in our large, sunny Oklahoma kitchen. When I began living on my own and making my own forays into the culinary world, I’d frequently call her, sometimes two to three times a night, asking about substitutions and measurements, cooking temperatures and times. If a recipe was especially good, I’d email it to her. Sometimes she’d argue with me about certain things, like the oven-fried chicken recipe that called for the chicken thighs to cook for 45 minutes on each side (“They’ll be too dry!” she protested. “Mom, I swear, I’ve made it a million times and it’s great. It’s 45 minutes,” I said. “OK, if you say so, but I think they’ll be dry,” she clucked as she gathered the ingredients. She later called me raving about how moist they were).

It wasn’t until almost two years after her death that I slowly started cooking more for myself and others. It was harder than I thought to not share my hits and misses with my foodie Mom. So when a friend invited me to a 4th of July barbecue back in 2008 and asked me to bring a covered dish, I decided to try out Mom’s Broccoli Casserole.

Initially, my Dad and I were worried that she hadn’t written it down. Sometimes, if she made something enough times, she’d go by sheer muscle memory and periodic taste tests in the kitchen. But a few weeks before the barbecue, Dad and I were sifting through her Ziploc bag of recipe index cards, and we found the casserole recipe — two copies, in fact. I took one home with me, pinned it on my kitchen bulletin board, and began playing guessing games with the cryptic portions.

While not as bad as some of my grandmother’s original recipe cards — a pinch of this, some of that, a little of this, that to taste, whole steps left out — the Broccoli Casserole card left me scratching my head at turns.

“Six frozen chopped broccoli.”

Six what? Six ounces? Six bags? Six pounds? I vaguely remembered her using those little boxes of frozen broccoli, but I couldn’t be sure.

“2-4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese.”

Why 2-4? Why not 8? Or did she mean “two to four”? I brought it to friends and tried to figure it out. I finally settled on 2 pounds of frozen cut broccoli (slight error in judgment — it needed to be chopped not merely cut, and I spent a bit of time after cooking it cutting it down to more manageable pieces while trying not to scald my hands) and 8 ounces of shredded cheddar. I had intended to make the full recipe, but ended up with half. Before it went into the oven, I tasted a bit… and it was dead on.

And that’s when I cried.

It was partially the memory of how it tasted, the memories of childhood Thanksgivings spent with family in Chicago and, later, in Florida with my parents. It was partially the idea that I’d made something that had been my mother’s territory alone, and the notion that she’d somehow watched over me while I made it for the first time.

I didn’t let myself cry for long, and I went about preparing for the barbecue. The casserole was a hit with my friends, and only a small spoonful remained.

The tradition of the Broccoli Casserole carries on, then — and carries through all our family Thanksgivings from here on out (that 4th of July barbecue was the last time I made the dish outside of the fall holiday season).

Fran’s Famous Broccoli Casserole

2 pounds frozen chopped broccoli
1 10.5-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 cups mayonnaise
1/2 box cheese nip crackers, crushed fine
1 package shredded almonds

Preheat oven to 350. Cook broccoli. Put in bowl. Mix soup, mayonnaise, lemon and cheese. Pour into 2 quart casserole. Top with cheese nips and almonds. Cook one hour. Serves 6-8.

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Nursery Nesting

Since I’m an overachiever who’s made it my goal to set up the nursery by 30 weeks pregnant (which would be late November — or, yeah, pretty much Thanksgiving), I’ve been pushing myself — and my husband — to get furniture set up, artwork hung, and finishing touches put on.

We’ve purchased everything we need decor-wise, with the exception of the bobbleheads and the light switch plate (which I really just need to go ahead and order from Wal-Mart since it’s the only place I’ve found it in stock), so now it’s just a matter of putting together the rest of the furniture, and then finish up all the fun decorative stuff. Because it’s kind of hard to hang artwork and put up wall decals when you only have the roughest sense of how big the furniture under and around it will be.

Oh, and there’s that DIY mobile I’ve decided to make. At least I have all the supplies now, thanks to a craft store trip on Sunday afternoon.

But the thrilling thing is that it’s actually starting to look like a nice, pulled-together room. I just might make our deadline yet.

Want to take a peek?

















(That last photo was taken at night, hence the odd discoloration.)

Then there’s the ever-expanding to-do list outside of the nursery, like:

  • Choose daycare Done, scheduled, deposit paid.
  • Finalize maternity leave details — I have 6 weeks paid short-term disability and received 8 weeks of paid maternity leave as a raise, so I need to somehow reconcile how that will work and whether that means they’re giving me 14 weeks, or still 12 weeks as discussed.
  • Figure out how short-term disability works — when do I file the claim? How? And more importantly, when does the chunk of money come?
  • Find out how much it will cost to put the baby on Mister Mister’s health insurance. I currently pay $0 for my health insurance. To add the baby, it would cost $170 per paycheck. We’re hoping it’s cheaper at Mister Mister’s job.
  • Tour the hospital — this is scheduled for November.
  • Register for childbirth classes — also scheduled for November.
  • Make freezer meals for after birth — because cooking will not sound good for quite some time.

And the non-baby-related list of to-do items that has somehow become baby-related, like:

  • Buy a real bed that isn’t sitting on the floor like a dorm room I’ve decided not to worry about this for now.
  • Please, God find some front porch and/or patio furniture from Craigslist, please. Done!

Isn’t being pregnant a miracle? And I don’t even think I’m even technically nesting yet.

P.S. I’m planning on doing a full nursery source list once everything is totally complete and I have better pictures for you, but if you really must know where something is from, just leave me a comment!

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A 9-Month Fashion Victim: Why Is It So Hard to Find Attractive Maternity Clothes?

Here’s the part where I back away a bit from my headline statement. Today’s maternity clothes are way, WAY better than the mu-mus and triangle tops of yesteryear.

Image by Lambert/Getty Images, via The Guardian

I have a few tops and a couple of dresses that are awfully flattering. Some of them came from Old Navy. The rest are from Motherhood Maternity (and are falling apart, but cute).

There are so many tips on there on stretching your budget by forgoing maternity clothes, wearing just your baggiest of tops, holding your jeans open with rubber bands, and the like — and please. I was in maternity clothes at 10 weeks. Wearing regular clothes is like the ninth circle of hell. Actually, wearing clothes AT ALL is like the ninth circle of hell. But if I have to do it, I want to wear something that doesn’t cut off my circulation and actually makes me look pretty and pregnant instead of “I’m hiding my fat” — or, worse, “I’m hiding a pregnancy.”

But this weekend, I stopped by Target for some conditioner and razors (I was going to a party, that’s the only reason I shaved my leg) and decided to try on some maternity dresses. Their Liz Lange line always looks so cute, and I figured that since so many of my maternity tops are now so short that they’re showing off the panels of my maternity jeans, it would make me feel better to have some attractive dresses I could just throw on and breathe in.

The problem is, Target’s maternity clothes suck.

They’re adorable and trendy on the hanger, but once you put them on, you’re reminded that maternity clothes, for the most part, are based on somebody else’s idea of what a pregnant woman wants (distraction from her disgusting body) versus what she actually wants (emphasis on and confidence of her beautiful, human-growing body).

For one, there seem to be three types of maternity necklines — the cowl neck, the crossover top, and the way-too-effing-deep-my-DDs-are-now-hanging-out neckline. For the most part, I get it. Lots of this stuff can be useful after popping out the baby, so a cowl neck makes for easier nursing while a crossover top is often part of a “nursing top” setup. But sometimes, it’s just like, “We’re going to put a bunch of extra fabric and detail up here so that nobody notices that OH MY GOD WOMAN YOUR BELLY IS HUMONGOUS WHO DO YOU HAVE IN THERE, DOM DELUISE??”

Totally cute, right? No. Most of what I tried on had these weird darts visible, like above on either side of the belly, or the pucker on the boobs. That’s not just how the dress is lying — that’s actual DETAIL. One dress I couldn’t find online had darts coming right up onto your rack and ending mid-boob — AS IN, BASICALLY NIPPLES. And the belted dresses were belted so high that half the belt found refuge under my ginormous bosom. Not hot. Also, Target’s craftsmanship is seriously lacking because anything with a zipper on the back ends in a pucker at the bottom, like I have a tail or a really huge hemorrhoid hanging out. So even if the dress was tolerable, I just couldn’t, because of the tail.

What’s with the top on this thing? No, really. Stop. This dress was so horrific. First I had to pour myself into it like frosting into a pastry bag (mmm, frosting), and then it clung to every single lump of fat and finally finished things off with an awkward and nonfunctional crossover top on steroids with a high, unflattering neckline and some cap sleeves that show off my side boob.

Again with the side-boob bearing sleeves, the disappearing belt, and the crossover shit. Side rant: Why can’t you put your clothes on an actual model? It’s so so hard to tell what this stuff looks like on a normal pregnant person (even though the models aren’t really pregnant, but whatever) when it’s just lying there in space with no context to the shape inside.

This top wasn’t at my Target, and if it was, I wouldn’t have tried it on. I just had to say: what the fuck? Is this like, “I’m pregnant, yes, but I want to distract you with pattern so that you don’t ask me if I’m having twins or comment that I look like I’m about to pop at 6 months”?

OK, and then there’s Asos. I have to be fair and say that a lot of their stuff looks cute. It’s way overpriced, and I’ve heard the sizing is weird and the clothes don’t actually look that great on, but there’s some decent stuff. But just browsing through their online gallery was, at times, baffling.

First, sorry, but she’s not pregnant. Right? I mean, whatever. But I’m guessing the statement here is, “I’m supposed to be like a tiger in the bedroom because of all the hormones, but instead I’m like a tiger in your face wanting to rip your head off because your spawn is inside of me and God I hate you right now.”

I don’t even… what? Stop.

From the “babies having babies” collection.

“I jest you not — I’m totally pregnant! And my body is still awesome enough to wear a skintight dress. Swear.”

Again, it’s like — look over here! No, here! No, down there! I’m not even a little pregnant, so stop touching my belly — DISTRACT WITH PATTERN.

And then there’s the fact that my favorite Old Navy maternity jeans have a NUDE full panel. Which is great for wearing lighter tops, I guess, because it blends into your skin. But when your shirts ride up — because, newsflash, Target’s maternity tops are not long enough to last you even halfway into your second trimester — it looks like I’m flashing belly.

All negativity aside, my favorite place to shop for maternity clothes is Old Navy. In stark contrast, the Motherhood Maternity stuff I bought a few months back has already started falling apart in the wash, and cost twice as much as the ON stuff I have. Plus, ON’s clothes are basic and simple, which is really all I want these days. Gap Maternity is another good bet.

But the worst part about the maternity fashion game is that there is basically never anything in the stores, and when you buy online, you have to return online — i.e., pay shipping. So at a time in your life when you’re most uncertain about how things fit and most prone to hating how you look in goddamn everything, you can’t even try on the clothes before you purchase them.

Solid. Thanks, fashion.

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Friday Five: What’s With All the Fat Jokes?

Four weeks ago, after I told an older man my due date (almost five months from then), his eyes bugged out and he asked me if I was having twins.

Yesterday, with three-and-a-half months to go, a coworker told me that I was about ready to burst at any minute.

And Mister Mister doesn’t understand why any of these things bother me.

Onto happier things…

1. This DIY $18 Console Table Tutorial

This is one fetching DIY $18 table. Crafted by the blogger behind Desert Domicile, it just required about $8 worth of wood and a slab of utility shelf (plus on-hand stain, paint, nails/screws, and other tools, so mileage may vary). I love this, and will file it away in my “why I should be craftier” mental bank.

Image via Desert Domicile

2. This vintage rug 

Sold by the Nazmiyal Collection, this rug is from around 1900 — and it is GORGEOUS.

Image via the Nazmiyal Collection

3. This striped entryway

Designed by Design Manifest for a client, this foyer… I mean… stripes, ethnic rug, Malachite box, horsey lamps… and THAT MIRROR. Love.

Image by Courtney Apple Photography via Design Manifest

4. This print

This Matte Stephens print is all my favorite things bundled into one: City prints, midcentury modern design, muted colors… and, naturally, Chicago.

Image via Matte Stephens

5. This art wall

I have a thing for art walls. I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to them. We may have one too many in our own home. But this one has everything I love in a room — classic chairs, rustic table, exotic rug, and tons of unique art.

Image from Elle Decor via From the Right Bank

Apologies for the brevity — I have a rip-roaring headache and an hour and 15 minutes left of work. All I want to do is go home, down my spaghettini and meatballs from last night, and watch Gossip Girl on Netflix until I pass out in a nest of pillows.

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Am I Too Much of a Material Girl?

A couple of weeks ago, Mister Mister told me about a tweet I’d once written that concerned him. It was somewhere around a year into our relationship, and it went something like, “Do you ever have the feeling your life isn’t going the way you want it to, but you have no idea how to get back there?” And of course that would concern him. And I couldn’t come up for a good reason why I would have written that, except that I hated my job with a gut-wrenching desperation that I’ve hardly felt about anything ever, and I was going through some major anxiety that needed medicating.

I’ve felt the need to apologize a lot for that 2-year-old tweet in the days since we talked about it. Just like I feel the need to apologize when I get too wrapped up in the to-do lists and the things I want to buy but can’t afford and the stuff I’m afraid might go wrong someday.

Saturday night, when Mister Mister came home from work and we talked about playing a board game, it struck me that I was feeling pretty good about life. I’d had a productive day that included spending around $400 at IKEA and Target, and putting together stuff to go around our house. I looked around and admired the colors on our walls and the framed pictures I’d so carefully hung, and liked that the place finally felt like home instead of a house we pay for that all our stuff is in. And yes, some of that gratitude came from my husband and dog romping on the bed in the dimmed bedroom. But too much of it came from satisfaction over the stuff.

I’m acutely aware that I spend too much time deriving satisfaction from new dining room chair seats and the way the reading room is finally starting to look pulled together. Why could I not conceive of our house as a home in those early months after moving in, even though the furniture may not have been as coordinated as I would have liked and our walls were bare and all one color I wasn’t fond of? Why did I waste my time striving for a different day, a day when my house would *look* the way I wanted it to, instead of feeling the way that it did? Why did I wait until October — a full 6 months after we moved in — to start planning a get-together for all our close friends to come share our home with us? Was it because I was somehow ashamed that things didn’t look as stylish as I hoped they would? Was it because our walls were beige and our couch too small?

One of the reasons I scheduled a party for late October was because so many people still hadn’t been to our new house, and it seemed like a friendly thing to do. But I said to Mister Mister, “After February, I’m sure I won’t deem the house guestworthy for a long time, with baby stuff everywhere and me with no energy to clean up.” As if there’s a certain shame involved with having baby toys strewn about and the kitchen counters a bit less than sparkling.

Today, I’m striving for the day when I can feel happy simply waking up alive and healthy, next to my alive and healthy husband, with our alive and healthy baby inside of me, and our alive and healthy animals sleeping or roaming about the quiet, morning-lit house. I’m striving for the day when I can feel good that we put something warm in our tummies around dinnertime, instead of the complexity of ingredients therein. I’m striving for the day when I can feel good that we have access to water to wash our clothing, instead of the cost, style, and quality of that clothing. I’m striving for the day when I have time for a long hug and several kisses with my husband, instead of the day when I’m hurrying about fixing everything to look just so for that someday person that might judge me for the disarray of my belongings.

So how do I get there?

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Friday Five: Randoms on a Hot October Day

Seriously, does it seem like it should ever be 83 degrees on October 12? Florida makes me want to stab my eyes out and make ice cubes out of them.

But onto more inspiring things.

1. This list of the 100 books every English-speaking child should know

Termed the “kindergarten canon,” this list by Michael Petrelli, executive VP of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, created a list of books that must be known to every English-speaking child. Without it, they would miss myriad cultural references. I have to admit, I haven’t even heard of many of these! I must really be missing out. But since it’s important for Mister Mister and I to build up Bean’s library, since we’re both avid readers and have been since we were wee ones, this is a very good list to keep in mind.

2. This wallpaper

From Mr. Perswall’s “Expressions” collection of wallpaper, this drippy abstract print would be so stunning on an accent wall in a library, dining room, studio, bathroom… OK, really any room.

Image via Apartment Therapy

3. This sexy navy blue dining room

This is dead sexy. I may have a bit of an overdone crush on navy blue right now — seeing as how our master bedroom and reading room both boast dark blue walls and our nursery is using navy and white for an entire color scheme — but this is just so sophisticated, and the nailhead trim on the chairs and the wall is just… ugh. Love.

Image from Nuevo Estilo via Eclechic

4. These Restoration Hardware mirrors

Shut up. Just, shut up right now. These trompe l’oeil birdcage mirrors are a whopping $199 (for the small one) or $219 (for the bigger one), but are just amazing. They’re featured in Restoration Hardware’s Baby & Child collection, but I could see them anywhere, not just in a nursery or kid’s room.

5. This floor-to-ceiling gallery wall

Just a stunning a personal way to dress up those odd strips of vertical wall space in your house that typically house nothing but an odd arrangement of thermostat, light switch, and outlets. I love how they used different frames in all the same color and a consistent palette for best results. I would love to try something like this in our house, but I fear we might have too many gallery walls as it is. Is there such a thing?

So how hot is it where you are? Don’t even bother to respond if it’s cooler than 75 degrees.

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