She works with willing hands.

White Beans with Ham Hocks

This is the beauty outside my window on the first day of spring here in Pennsylvania:

snow outside

It snowed all day, and it would be easy to whine, “Come on!  It’s spring today!  Where are the tulips and the leaf buds on those trees?  I’m ready for the sun!”

Well, ready for the sun I am, but I won’t complain.  Instead I’ll soak in winter’s last gasp, and make some white beans with ham hocks.  Warm and filling, it’s the perfect meal for today.

Much like my Simple Red Beans and Rice, this is a super easy recipe with only a handful of ingredients.  And although dried beans may intimidate you – fear not, dear ones – they’re easy peasy.  They just require a little bit of time.

Here are the main ingredients:

white beans ingredients

I use dried great northern beans, and I always buy the Goya brand.  Any high quality great northern bean will do.

white beans

Great northern beans are inexpensive and high in protein, dietary fiber, potassium and iron (which is great for women like me, who struggle with bouts of anemia).  And in case you’re watching your girlish figure (because let’s face it – who isn’t?), they are low in fat, calories and cholesterol.

Like most dried beans, great northern beans are best prepared after soaking.  Soaking both (1) reduces the required cooking time; and (2) breaks down some of the gas-inducing compounds in the beans.  Less farting in my house = sounds like a good idea to me.

Throw your bag of beans into a pot and sort through them.  Remove any nasty looking beans, as well as any small rocks or bits of plant material.  (Sometimes this stuff accidentally ends up in the bag of beans.)  One of the reasons I prefer Goya brand is because they do a good job of removing all of the junk and packaging fairly clean beans.

Now cover your beans with a few inches of cool water and let them soak for eight hours or overnight.

beans to soak

If you don’t have eight hours to spare, you can instead use the quick soak method.  Using this method, sort your beans, discarding the nasty ones, and cover the beans with a few inches of water.  Bring the water to a rapid boil and boil on high heat for two minutes.  Now remove the pot from the heat, cover it, and let your beans sit for at least an hour.

These are my beans after soaking:

cover beans with water

Regardless of which method you use, drain the water in which the beans soaked.  This water contains those fart-inducing compounds that soaked out of the beans.

After draining that yuckiness down the sink, refill your pot with enough water to cover the beans by about three inches.  Place your pot on medium heat.

On to the ham hocks.

Now, you’re probably wondering – “what the hey is a ham hock?”

ham hocks

Good question.

Quite simply, a ham hock is a joint in a pig’s leg.  And although these babies look nasty, they are full of flavor.  In Louisiana cooking, ham hocks are traditionally used in beans, collard greens and even cabbage.  And since I have Louisiana blood pumping through my veins, I don’t mind their disagreeable appearance one bit.  In fact, I’ve grown to love their look.  They are beautiful to me.

They contain fat and connective tissue, and a relatively small amount of meat.  You want to buy the smoked variety, and the flavor comes less from the meat and more from the smoked fat and bone.

Unwrap your hocks and plop those pretties into your pot.

hocks in pot

Take two bay leaves and throw them in, too.

bay leaves in pot

Measure one tablespoon of minced garlic and add it to your other ingredients.  My garlic is nestled there in the center of the hocks.

garlic hocks

Locate two medium onions.

2 onions

Dice them and throw them into the pot.

onions in pot with hocks

Measure one-half teaspoon of black pepper and sprinkle it on top.  Now measure one-half teaspoon of salt and add that in, too.

pepper in pot

Stir the ingredients, making sure no beans are stuck to the bottom of the pot, and crank your heat up to high.  You want everything to reach a rapid boil.

Let your ingredients boil rapidly for a minute or two, and then reduce the heat to a medium-low simmer.  Cover your pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar to allow a little steam to escape.

Cook your beans for two to two-and-a-half hours, stirring periodically.  They are done when the meat starts falling off the bone and the beans become a creamy consistency.

At the end you have a few options:

1.  Remove the ham hocks, and eat your beans meatless.

2.  Remove and discard the ham hocks.  Chop approximately one cup of ham and throw it into the pot.  Stir it in with the beans and allow it to cook for 10-15 minutes.  If you choose this method, you can use leftover ham or separately purchase a small ham steak.

3.  I used this method.  Remove the ham hocks and discard the skin, fat, connective tissue and bones.  You just want the meat.  Roughly chop the meat and stir it into the beans.

Taste your beans and add more salt, if necessary.  At this point I added an additional one-half teaspoon of salt.

Remove the bay leaves and serve over steamed white rice.  Splash a little hot sauce on top for some kick.

These beans pair deliciously with cornbread slathered in butter.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

final white beans


16 oz. bag dried great northern beans

3 smoked ham hocks

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp. minced garlic

2 medium onions, diced

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. – 1 tsp. salt

When My Kids Trust Me With the Little Things

Today in the frantic midst of returning home from the grocery store, unloading three little bodies, taking my dogs outside to handle their business, unloading and putting away groceries, and trying to get two of those three little bodies in their beds for nap, my three-year-old approached me with a funny look on his face.

“Mommy, I don’t want to show you what I took.”

“What do you mean, buddy?” I responded.

“I don’t want you to see,” he said.

Although I had a hundred little things to do in that moment, I knew that his words required my immediate attention.

I said, “let’s go look together.”

He ran up the stairs, closed his bedroom door, and stood protectively in front of it.

“Let mommy in, please,” I said.  Remember, we don’t keep secrets from each other.”

Reluctantly, with his head hung low, he opened his door and led me inside.  Disappearing under his bed skirt, he emerged from under the bed with a small, mostly eaten, pack of orange Pez candy in his hand.

“Mommy, I’m sorry I took this.”

He hadn’t stolen it.  It was from Christmastime and he likely found it somewhere in the house and brought it into his room to stash it away.

I had a range of options at that point:

1.  Laugh it off and say “no big deal.”

2.  Discipline him for hiding candy in his room.

3.  Get angry and make him feel guilty.

4.  Hurry past the issue and finish handling my tasks.

This is a minor infraction, right?  A three-year-old hiding candy in their room has probably occurred since candy was first invented.  Back in the early days of our nation, there were probably little pioneer children hiding homemade brown sugar candy under their pillows.

That being said, my children are not permitted to keep food (including candy) in their rooms.  This is a family rule that they know and understand.

I was also in the midst of a frustrating time of day, and my nerves were worn thin from our grocery trip.

Although the four options that I listed above were my immediate, guttural thoughts, I chose a different path.

“I’m so proud of you buddy!” I said.

“I’m so proud of you for telling mommy the truth.  You did the right thing and I’m not angry at you – not at all.”

He locked eyes with me intensely, and said “I’m sorry I ate them, too.”

I hugged him close, and quietly reassured him, “it’s a big deal that you told mommy the truth.  Thank you for that.”

Now I want to pause the story here to clarify something for you.  By the grace of God, I had the self control and foresight to respond to him this way today.  Do I always handle parenting issues with such a cool head?

No way.

I screw up routinely.  Some days I get frustrated, I speak unkindly, I discipline from a place of emotion, and sometimes I even ignore or dismiss my children.  I am perfectly imperfect.  Perfection doesn’t exist, after all.  Not here on earth.  It is a mere farce – an illusion.

I don’t share my parenting stories with you in an attempt to elevate myself to a place of authority or to appear perfect.  I share them with you to encourage you.

I want to encourage you because you won’t always get it right.

But it is my earnest desire – the desire of my heart – that I respond to my children in ways that teach them that they can trust me.

I want them to trust me with the revelation that they’ve been hiding candy under their bed.

When they are teens, I want them to trust me with the revelation that they are hiding pot in their room or that they’ve been viewing pornography.  I pray that my children never have to confess these things to me, but aren’t they the teenage equivalent of a three-year-old hiding candy in his room?

You know the saying: “Little kids, little problems.  Big kids, big problems.”

While they are little, and the risks are small, I want to teach them that they can trust me.  If they trust me now with the little things, my hope is that one day they will trust me with the big things.

In that moment earlier today, I expressed to him my genuine thankfulness that he trusted me enough to confess his wrongdoing to me.  I wanted him to understand that he did the right thing by sharing his disobedience with me.  He already knew that his behavior was wrong – I knew it from his words and demeanor.  But in that moment he was trusting me.  I may not have found that candy for weeks, and he could have eaten the rest of it and hidden the wrapper in the garbage.  But he trusted me, and he told me the truth.

I don’t know what the future holds for my children, but while they are little I want to praise them for trusting me.  Because whether it’s the three-year-old with candy in his room, or the fifteen-year-old with a bag of marijuana under his mattress – it’s a heart issue, isn’t it?

Today my three-year-old showed me the condition of his heart.  In his heart he felt guilty and remorseful.  If I would have reacted in the ways listed above, my actions would have told him either:

1.  The guilt you feel in your heart is an overreaction.  It’s not a big deal.

2.  When you approach me with a heart of remorse for doing wrong, you will suffer consequences.

3.  When you approach me with a heart of remorse for doing wrong, I will get angry and respond out of emotion.  OR

4.  I’m too busy to listen to you.

Will there ever be consequences when my children confess disobedience to me?  Of course – if the circumstances require it.  But in this situation today, the guilt that my precious little boy already felt in his heart was enough for him to learn his lesson.

Today I wanted to celebrate his honesty, when the risks are small.  I may even treat him to something special tonight to reward him for telling me the truth about something little, in the hopes that he will one day tell me the truth about something big.

And that special treat may even be candy – just not in his room.


Do you agree with my approach?  What would you have done differently?


Roasted Baby Potatoes

After making my Corned Beef with Cabbage and Potatoes, I had these pretty little baby potatoes left over.

baby potatoes bag

How could I waste these precious little babies?  They were sitting in my pantry, calling softly, “Look how sweet and lovely we are.  Don’t let us rot.  Enjoy us, please.”

What?  Your food never talks to you?

I planned to throw them into my Braised Chicken Quarters, but then I flaked.  Not to be deterred, I decided to roast ’em instead, which is crazy easy.

Here are the ingredients:

roasted baby potatoes ingredients

First, rinse your potato babies well and place them into a roasting pan.  This is a nine by thirteen inch Pyrex baking dish.

babies in pan

Now drizzle your little babies with three tablespoon of olive oil.  I used extra virgin.

drizzle babies

Some folks would drizzle their potatoes with oil and season them in a separate bowl before throwing them into the baking dish – but why do this to yourself?  Do the oil drizzling and seasoning right here in the baking pan – no fuss, no muss.

Next, sprinkle your babies with salt and black pepper.  This is to taste, folks.  Use your judgment.  Here is what my judgment said:

salt n pepper babies

Measure one-half tablespoon of dried parsley.

dried parsley babies

Sprinkle it on your babies.

Measure one-half teaspoon of dried dill weed.  I love dill on potatoes.  It just feels right.


Sprinkle those babies with the dill.

sprinkled babies

Now measure one tablespoon of minced garlic.  I used my handy-dandy jarred variety.  Add it to your other ingredients.

garlic babies

Regarding my jarred garlic, I like cooking from scratch with the freshest ingredients possible.  However, I’m an unbored housewife and I also value time.  You know that old saying, “Time is a precious commodity.”  Well, it’s true – and in cooking I don’t turn my nose up at anything that helps me save a little time.  Mincing fresh garlic is sort of a pain in the booty, so I often use jarred garlic.  Fresh garlic is always better, but I find that the taste difference is negligible.  Don’t be afraid to use jarred or canned ingredients when they save you some of your precious time.  Take it easy on yourselves, dear ones.

Now get ready to get dirty.

Use your hand to mix your ingredients, coating your potato babies evenly and well.

hand mix

While I’m staring at this picture of my hand, it occurs to me that my hands are looking older these days.  As a little girl I can remember tracing the thick veins that protruded from under the fair skin of my mother’s hands.  My hands are looking more and more like hers, and I think I’m okay with that.  I work with willing hands, after all.  And hands that work don’t stay perfect forever.  But more on that another day…

We’re talking potato babies.

Throw those sweet little babies into a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, take them out and stir them around in the pan.  Now pop them back in the oven for about 10 additional minutes.

These potatoes are cute, easy and delicious.  Yum yum.

final potato babies


baby potatoes (I used Dutch Yellow) – the smaller the better

3 tbsp. olive oil


black pepper

1/2 tbsp. dried parsley

1/2 tsp. dill weed

1 tbsp. minced garlic

The Drop Box Film – My Review

[I watched the Drop Box film last night.  Originally slated to show in select cities nationwide for three evenings only, it was re-shown on March 16th due to an overwhelming response to the film.]

The film opens with the ring of a bell, indicating that a baby has been dropped in the box.  Pastor Lee rushes to the drop box and pulls out a newborn baby, wrapped in thick bunting.  He hurries the tiny infant into his house church, kneels, and immediately says a prayer thanking God for saving the life of this child.  It is a powerful introduction to the passion of Pastor Lee Jonk-rak.

Pastor Lee runs a church and mission in a working-class neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea.  He found this calling after his biological son, Eun-man, was born severely disabled.  Eun-man is unable to sit or stand and requires constant assistance.

After watching the graphic process of Pastor Lee suctioning Eun-man’s airway through a hole in his neck, and then viewing as his caregivers wash and stretch him, it is easy for the following thought to run through your mind:

“What is the point of his life?”

This is a profound question.

But as we learn through the film, the point of Eun-man’s life – his purpose and meaning – is immense and profound.

Because of Eun-man, Pastor Lee and his wife felt called to start taking in unwanted babies, many with profound disabilities.  In 2009, after several infants were abandoned in front of his church, left exposed to the elements, Pastor Lee designed and built the drop box by hand.

drop box definition

The outside of the box reads: “This is a facility for the protection of life.  If you can’t take care of your disabled babies, don’t throw them away or leave them on the street.  Bring them here.”  Psalm 27:10 is also inscribed above the baby box:

psalm 27-10

Were it not for their love for Eun-man, the Lees may never have rescued the now over 600 babies who have been dropped in their care.

Many of these unwanted infants are born to teen and unwed mothers, and many of the infants are disabled.  Throughout the film, we meet several of them.  On-ew has Down Syndrome and was left outside of Pastor Lee’s church in a cardboard box.  She nearly froze to death that night, and she was the baby that prompted Pastor Lee to install the heated baby box.

Gi-ri, whose name means “Victory,” is a lively toddler with a heart deformity.  He is also visually and hearing impaired, and he will require at least two additional, costly surgeries in the future.  We get to watch as the Lees bring him to the hospital for some check-ups, and he interacts with them in silly and playful ways, so full of life.

Ru-ri is an articulate third grader, wise well beyond his years.  He was abandoned at a young age and he is missing fingers and toes.  He says: “I want to inherit my dad’s [Pastor Lee’s] work.  Because if I don’t, my dad’s effort will disappear. I will help and add my own effort, and eventually pass it down to my own child.”

These children are precious.  Their lives are valuable and meaningful.

The director of the film, Brian Ivie, did not start out with the intention of telling a story about the value of these precious lives.  In 2011, after reading a story about Pastor Lee over Ivie’s morning cereal, he surmised that he could make a film about the pastor’s work.  Ivie believed that the story was compelling enough to bring him critical success, fame and possibly a spot at Sundance Film Festival.

In an interview with Paul Yoder of, Ivie said:

When I first started filming, I went to a lot of people with titles and PhDs.  What I began to realize was that everything I needed for the story was in this little 3-story house in the middle of one of the poorest neighborhoods in Korea.  I started off by trying to use this project to glorify myself, and that meant I didn’t care about the movie as much.  But the only way to make a documentary is to love your subjects and not try to control them.  I stopped manipulating the story, and I think that allowed the true story to shine through.

And the true story is one of hope and love.  It is a story about a man who is doing God’s work here on earth.  He is protecting the least of these.

In Matthew 25:35-40, Jesus said:

‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Thanks to God’s divine love and creation of Eun-man, Pastor Lee is protecting the lives of babies who would otherwise be abandoned on the street or left in a dumpster to die.  He is rescuing the most vulnerable members of society – the least of these.

To find out how to support Pastor Lee’s work, visit

Braised Chicken Quarters

I have a serious crush on one-pot cooking.  I heart it in a major way.  That’s why I adore my Le Creuset cast iron dutch oven.  Trust me, I know that they’re pricey pieces of cookware.  But one year Jersey Boy splurged and bought me mine in cherry red, and it won my heart.

red le creuset

I would take one in every color of the rainbow if my pocketbook permitted.  In fact, I’ve been crushing on this shade in a major way:

blue le creuset

Pretty, right?

I cook all manner of food in my lovely red pot, but some of my favorite dishes involve braising.  Braising is a two-step cooking process.  The first step involves searing the meat at a high temperature.  The second step involves cooking the meat low and slow in liquid.  Dark meats containing more fat are the preferred choice for braising, making it easy on the pocketbook, as these cuts of meat are typically inexpensive.  Just look how cheap my chicken was for this meal:

chicken price

And my favorite thing about braising?  It makes you seem like a culinary master.  Seriously, it’s easy, and results in immense flavor.  Affordable, easy, and I get to use my precious red dutch oven?  Sign me up.

Here are the ingredients:

braised chicken quarters ingredients

That’s a family pack of chicken leg quarters, which are one of the cheapest cuts of chicken.

See those sweet little baby potatoes in the picture?  I meant to throw them in with my other ingredients, but then I goofed and forgot.  However, it was a fortuitous mistake because I made yummy roasted baby potatoes instead.  I’ll show those to you in the coming days.

Start by heating your pot on high heat.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil and two tablespoons of butter.  The butter adds flavor, baby.

butter oil

Remove your chicken quarters from the package and place them on a clean plate.  I do not rinse my meat before cooking it.  This is a recent development for me, based on a report I heard not long ago on NPR.

Sprinkle your chicken quarters liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Don’t be afraid to go heavy-ish on the salt.  You are salting your entire dish right now.

salt pepper

Place your chicken into the pot to brown it, two to three minutes per side, working in batches.  I fit in two chicken quarters per batch.

sear chicken

After two minutes per side, remove it from the pot.  This is what it should look like:

seared chicken

While these lovelies are searing, I quarter an onion.

quartered onionAnd here is my chicken after browning:

browned chicken

With your chicken removed, add the quartered onion and a couple handfuls of baby carrots to the pot.

Stir them around a bit and allow them to brown.

browned vegs

See that brown stuff on the bottom of the pot?  That is straight up flavor.  That’s what you want.

Now add one tablespoon of minced garlic.  Stir it around and let it brown slightly, too.

This is what your pot should look like:


Straight up flavor, I tell ya.

Now you’re going to deglaze the pot.  “Deglazing” means pouring in some liquid while the pot is on high heat, and scraping the bottom to dislodge all of the brown bits of flavor.

You can deglaze with either white wine (which would be yum yum) or chicken broth.  I didn’t have an open bottle of white, so I went with the broth.  Pour one cup of white wine or chicken broth into the pot.  It will immediately start to steam and boil.  Don’t burn yourself!

In my early days of learning to deglaze, I gave myself such a tremendous steam burn that I seriously considered visiting the ER.  After calling a physician assistant friend, I decided to forgo the hospital visit, but I spent the night in pain and awoke with a hand full of blisters.  DON’T BE LIKE ME.

After you scrape all of the brown deliciousness off the bottom of the pot, turn the heat down to low.

Now put your chicken quarters back into the pot, skin side up.

chicken back in

Rinse a lemon and slice it like so (leaving the slices sorta thick):

sliced lemon

Place a slice of lemon on top of each chicken quarter.

Now grab four to five large sprigs of thyme and add them to the pot.

thyme sprigs

Finally, add one additional cup of chicken broth and submerge the thyme sprigs.  This activates the thyme’s flavor as the dish cooks.

submerge thyme

Cover the pot and place it in a 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes (or until the chicken is done).  After 45-50 minutes, remove the lid of the pot and turn your broiler on high.  Broil the chicken for 3-4 minutes.  This will help crisp the skin back up.

Place a chicken quarter and some veggies onto a plate and dig in.

final braised chicken

You too will come to heart the affordability and ease of braising in one pot.  Seriously, what’s not to love?


1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. butter

4 chicken quarters


freshly ground black pepper

1 onion, quartered

2 handfuls baby carrots

1 tbsp. minced garlic

1 cup chicken broth

1 lemon

4-5 fresh thyme sprigs

1 additional cup chicken broth

Asian Market Goodies

Since I posted Obaachan’s Sukiyaki a few days ago (now updated with ingredients list), I thought it would be fun to mention some of our favorite goodies from the Asian market.  Jersey Boy grew up eating these little treats, and I’m happy that our kiddies are now enjoying them, too.

These are little rice crackers seasoned with soy sauce and wrapped in seaweed:


Jersey Boy snacks on these like you would popcorn or nuts.

These are another variety of rice cracker with peanuts:

rice cracker

They are called minoya kaki no tane.  They are an amazingly addictive little snack, and good for those folks who aren’t crazy about the idea of seaweed wrapped around their salty little rice cracker.

These are wonderfully delicious little Japanese caramels:

Japanese caramels

They’re called Morinaga’s Milk Caramel, and I honestly think they are some of the best caramels I’ve ever had, which surprised me because I don’t naturally think Japan = irresistible caramel.  Now I know.  And just look how cute he is without his wrapper.  Bless his heart.


Finally, I have eaten this yumminess with Jersey Boy since the early days of our relationship:


Jersey Boy calls this lamen soup.  I have been advised that this is VERY DIFFERENT than the ramen noodles that you may have eaten in your dorm room.  These are authentic Japanese lamen (or ramen) noodles, and are a higher quality than other ramens (so they don’t swell up and get all mushy when boiled).

Happily, they carry these in individual packs at my local Wegmans (in the Asian foods section).  But if I want this whole case of yummy, a trip to the Asian market is required.

lamen case

Just look, these babies are to be treated with care.  “Store in cool, dry place” and whatever you do, “DO NOT USE KNIFE!”  The horror.

There it is folks, you have no excuse for avoiding the Asian market for fear of the unknown.  Pick up some of these little treasures during your adventurous trip to procure your sukiyaki ingredients, and then chow down.

Ode to the Legging

Many debate whether you are a pant,

but live without you I simply can’t.

Sure, I attempt to cover my bum,

with a long shirt or tunic so the look’s not loathsome.

You are at your very best in black,

but I’ll take you in nearly any shade on the rack.

To exercise or to shop, at home or in the work force,

I even wear you to church, but modestly of course.

Oh legging, dear legging, you get me through my day.

Whatever will I do when trends change and you’re passé?

Obaachan’s Sukiyaki

Jersey Boy is one-quarter Japanese (which accounts for the dark and handsome part).  His mom was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and German-American father, and she lived in Japan for the first portion of her life.  These are her parents:


My kids call her Obaachan.  I don’t know the literal translation, but it is some version of grandmother.

Obaachan grew up eating Japanese food, and she makes some yummy authentic dishes.  But one of her favorites, and one of the most common and traditional Japanese dishes, is sukiyaki.

It is prepared in a large skillet and is a delicious combination of thinly-sliced stir fried beef, tofu, noodles and vegetables in a sweet and salty broth.  And although it involves a number of steps, it’s easy to make (which is a bonus for this unbored housewife).

I did a little reading, and learned that although sukiyaki is eaten year-round in Japan, it is best suited for winter and is often shared as part of a large family gathering.  And whenever Obaachan feeds a large group of her family members, she makes sukiyaki.

I asked her to show me how to prepare it, so she made a trip to the Asian market, and came on over.

Here are the main ingredients:

sukiyaki ingredients

Now some of this stuff looks pretty exotic to me, so let’s break it down.

This is gobo (hiding in the back of the picture), which is the root of the Japanese burdock plant.  It is several feet in length and must be peeled before being eaten.  It is crisp and sweet in taste.



These are yam noodles:

yam noodles

Yam noodles are long, thin and translucent, and come packaged in liquid – which, if I’m totally honest, seems kind of gross to me.  But one taste of them cooked in the sukiyaki erased the distaste I initially felt for them.  We’re friends now, yam noodles and I.

This is firm tofu, and this brand happens to be organic:


Tofu is high in protein and this variety has the texture of a firm custard.  It is easily sliced into smaller pieces and takes on the flavor of the ingredients with which it is cooked.

This is sake, which is the Japanese word for “booze”:


Don’t worry, most of the alcohol cooks out of the sukiyaki, so it’s safe for the kids (and for all of you teetotalers).

This is mirin:


Mirin also contains alcohol, but a lower content than sake and with more sugar.  I guess mirin is Japanese for “sweet booze.”

Now don’t let these ingredients intimidate you.  Some of them can be purchased at a regular grocery store in the Asian foods section, but you might need to make a trip to a specialty Asian market for a few of these items.  Think of a visit to the Asian market as a little adventure.  You’ll discover all kinds of interesting little treasures.

But onward with the sukiyaki.  Do not be intimidated, dear ones.  Procuring these ingredients is worth the deliciousness that awaits you.

Prepare the rice first.  Obaachan uses a Japanese rice cooker and this rice:

rice cooker

japanese rice

She uses three cups of Japanese rice, and before cooking it, the rice must be washed.  Place it into a sieve and rinse it until the water runs clear.

Why, pray tell, must Japanese rice be washed?  Here is a good explanation from the Washington Post (excerpted from Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann’s The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook (Harvard Common Press, 2003)).

This is how much water the rice cooker required:

rice water

If I was making this by myself, I would cook two cups of plain white rice in just under two cups of water.  (Three cups of rice was a little much for my family’s five mouths.)  I’m sure that Japanese rice is a more appropriate accompaniment, but plain white rice would do just fine, too.

Next make the broth.

Measure and pour one-half cup of sake into a small to medium-sized sauce pan.

sake in pan

Measure one-half cup of mirin and pour it into the pan.

mirin in pan

Measure one-third cup of soy sauce and pour it in, too.

soy sauce

Now measure a cup of water and add it to the other liquid ingredients.

Finally, measure a quarter cup of sugar,

quarter cup sugarand add it to the pot.  Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring the broth to a rapid boil.  Once it reaches a rapid boil, remove from heat.

On to the beef.  This is the cut of meat we used:

beefIt was a little under a pound.

Obaachan uses a fancy and crazy sharp Japanese knife for this step.

japanese knife

Slice the beef thinly (about one-eighth of an inch) against the grain.  Obaachan typically freezes her beef just a bit so that it slices more easily.

slicing beef

thin beef

Now locate this bizarre root called gobo and use a potato peeler to peel off the outer skin.

peel gobo

You will use one whole root.

whole gobo

Slice it on an angle into one-eighth of an inch thick pieces, like so:

gobo slice

and place the slices into a bowl of cool water to prevent them from browning (much like an apple browns when its insides are exposed to the air).

gobo in bowl

Next grab your tofu and remove it from the wrapper.  Slice your block of tofu once in half,

cut tofuand then slice the opposite direction, making one-quarter inch thick squares.

tofu squaresNow grab the yam noodles, open the package and drain them in a colander.  Try not to gag.  I’m telling you – these noodles will win you over after you taste the final product.  Place them in a pile on your cutting board and cut the pile in half once.

cut yam noodlesGrab six green onions, rinse them, and cut off the ends.

green onions

Then cut them into thirds,

cut green onions

like so:

final green onion

Locate a large skillet.  A fourteen inch skillet or larger is ideal.  A large, shallow wok would work.  But since Obaachan is an old pro, she uses a fourteen inch electric skillet, which happens to be made by Cuisinart.

Heat your skillet to medium-high and add a tablespoon of canola (or vegetable) oil to the pan.  Now thrown in your beef.

beef in skillet

Stir-fry the beef just until brown.  This will not take long.

stir fry beef

Once the meat browns, pour in the broth.

add broth

Now turn your heat down to a simmer.

Drain the gobo and add it to the skillet.

gobo in skillet

Next add the tofu slices (we added about two-thirds of the tofu),


and cover your skillet.  Let it simmer (covered) for ten minutes.

covered skillet

After ten minutes, add the yam noodles.

add yam noodles

Now add the green onions.

add green onions

At this point, Obaachan added an additional one-half cup of water to the skillet.  When I asked her why she said “that’s just the way I always do it.”  Good enough reason for me.

Now crack and add one egg to the skillet.  (This is optional, but traditional.  Plus, it gives you a good barometer to determine when the sukiyaki is done.)

egg in skillet

Cover the dish and let it cook until the egg is done.

egg done

Scoop some rice into a pretty bowl,

rice in bowl

and arrange your sukiyaki on top.

final sukiyaki

This is some seriously yummy food – totally worth the extra effort of tracking down its exotic ingredients.  Consider it an adventure and make sukiyaki this weekend!

Thanks, Obaachan, for sharing your edible tradition with us!


2-3 cups Japanese or white rice


1/2 cup sake

1/2 cup mirin

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 cup water

1/4 cup sugar


1 lb. beef round top steak

1 gobo root

15.5 oz. package firm tofu

14 oz. package yam noodles

6 green onions

1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil

1 egg (optional)

Nana’s Hamantaschen

Last week we received a delightful little package in the mail, with this note enclosed:

nana note

Isn’t it a thrilling treat to receive a package in the mail?  From an actual person and not just something you ordered from Amazon?  It feels quaint and old fashioned, and gives me the immediate impulse to rip it open just like a little kid.

Upon reading the note, I couldn’t quite make out the underlined word at the top, and I wasn’t sure when or why to celebrate Purim, but I knew that I smelled something sweet.

This was inside:


These cookies are adorably intriguing, not to mention completely yummy.  They’re soft (no crunch here) with a pretty little spot of fruit preserve in the center.

I emailed Nana for an explanation, and she rang me up in response.  I missed her call (of course).  I was either in the middle of explaining tooth decay and the need for brushing to a three-year-old or wiping a tiny tush…I can’t quite recall.

Then I promptly received an emailed response, a portion of which I will share with you:

… NO.   You cannot email me the response.  We must get together for a face to face and be real people. (Sorry – that’s my age coming through about my dislike of today’s style of “thumb” and “finger” communication and not enough genuine interaction).  Maybe over something like scones and tea, or Hamantaschen and tea.  I will make a date with you, come to your house, play with my grandkids (long overdue), etc.   

Now you must not infer a negative or disappointed tone here.  Nana was simply expressing her genuine desire to talk with me and actually see my face.  And you know what, the woman is right, no?  What will become of us if we lose the skills necessary to genuinely interact with other people?  I shudder at the thought.

But I digress…

I rang her back and got the scoop verbally, with the commitment to meet for some good old fashioned face to face in the coming weeks.

Nana is Jewish (although the rest of us Raups are not) and she explained that Purim is a Jewish celebration of deliverance.  As she described the story of a powerful and wicked man named Haman who plotted to destroy the Jewish people, the fog of my perpetual mommy-brain lifted and I realized “I know this story!”

It is from the Book of Esther in the Old Testament, so I opened my bible:


Haman was a bad dude.  He was appointed by the king (so he had power and authority) and Haman wanted to kill the Jewish people.  Esther was a beautiful young woman who was married to the king, and she had a secret – Esther herself was Jewish (although the king didn’t know this).  Esther chose to approach the king and reveal her ancestry at the risk of dying along with her people.  She asked the king to spare the lives of the Jews.

Esther revealed Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish people, and instead of the king ordering that Esther be killed, he ordered that Haman be hanged from the gallows for his wickedness.

In Matthew Henry’s concise commentary on the Book of Esther, he says in relation to this story: “We should, every one, consider for what end God has put us in the place where we are, and study to answer that end: and take care that we do not let it slip.”  God put Esther in the place where she was, as queen, to plead for the lives of the Jews.  God doesn’t make mistakes, and he put each of us in the place where we are.  He is in control.

But what does this have to do with those precious little cookies, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you, dear ones.

Jewish lore says that Haman wore a pointy little hat, shaped like a triangle.  The cookies represent that bad Haman dude and his triangle hat.

Nana makes a mean cookie (she being a culinary school grad herself) and I could learn a thing or twelve from her – both about baking, and about good old fashioned interpersonal, relational interaction.  Let not the joy of personal face to face communication, nor the art of baking Hamantaschen become a thing of the past.

Nana was willing to share her recipe here with you, and I will say, these are some tasty little triangle cookies.

Happy Purim!


3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup butter, room temp.

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. fresh grated orange zest

1-2 tbsp. milk

pastry filling of your choice – traditionally apricot, prune, poppyseed (or thick preserves will work)

confectioner’s sugar for dusting


In a medium-sized bowl, combine and whisk the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth.

Slowly mix in the egg, orange zest and vanilla.

Slowly mix in the dry ingredients, alternating with splashes of milk until just combined and moist enough to handle.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface.  Press to roll it all uniformly together.  Divide it into 2 or 3 chunks.

Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour.

Working with one chunk of dough at a time, roll the dough to about 1/4-inch thick.

Cut it into 2-inch rounds (for little ones like I made) or 2 1/2-inch rounds (which hold a little more of the fruit filling).

Place on an ungreased or parchment lined cookie sheet or half sheet pan.

Place a small dollop of fruit filling in the center of each round.  Fold up the dough edges to form a triangle around the filling, and gently press the seams together.

Bake until just turning golden – about 15 minutes.  Remove and let cool.

When cool, dust with confectioners sugar.

Love, Nana

My Perfect Sweet Tea Y’all

[I’m bumping this, my first blog post, to the top today.  I just made myself a tall glass of this perfection and updated my photos and commentary.  Enjoy!]

I’m an unbored housewife in need of caffeine.  Lots of it.  I’m also originally from Louisiana where all tea is sweet.  I grew up on the stuff and I turned out quite well.  I brew and drink at least two pitchers of my sweet tea per day (with a little help from my Jersey Boy).  Go ahead and judge.  I’m okay with it.  Here’s the beauty of my sweet tea – it’s not terribly sweet – just sweet enough with the appropriate counter balance of sour from a fresh quarter of lemon.  It’s simple and divine.  Go brew a batch now.  Here’s how:

Behold my tea pot.  I call it my tea pot because it’s a pot in which I brew tea, not because it has a cute little handle and spout.

photo (53)

Notice how it looks like it’s seen rough usage since the 80’s?  It looks kinda nasty, right? Well, it’s not nasty at all.  In fact, it’s quite clean.  She’s a hardworking little pot and I love her dearly.

Boil four cups of water.  Remove from heat and insert six tea bags to steep.  Please note: I use only Red Rose Tea.

red rose

They give you one of these fun little prizes in every box (for my kids to fight over):


No, I’m not in cahoots with them or anything.  I’m merely an unbored housewife and although Red Rose doesn’t know I exist, I do think I’m their biggest fan.  During a recent shopping trip I bought no less than ten boxes of Red Rose Tea.  (Okay, maybe I have a slight problem.)  Any decent black tea should do just fine.

Find a pitcher or a large jar or whatever vessel you have lying around.  I kind of love this jar.


Measure and pour one and a half cups of cool water into your pitcher.

water in pitcher

After your steeped tea has cooled,


carefully pour the tea into your pitcher…or just spill it all over the place like I usually do.


Find a fresh lemon and thoroughly rinse the outside.  (Yes, I’m a stickler for well-washed produce.)

Slice it in half,

cut lemon

and then into quarters.

quartered lemon

Now squeeze a quarter of lemon into your tea.

Now, some folks would stop here, but for us southerners the next step is crucial.  Find your one-quarter measuring cup and fill it with sugar.  (Yes, the refined, white, evil kind of sugar.  Go ahead.  You’ll like it.)

sugarPour it in and stir until dissolved.  This makes a small-ish pitcher of tea, but that’s just fine because small batches of freshly brewed tea are always best.  You certainly don’t want it sitting around for days.  Not so yummy.  Double the recipe if you need a larger serving.  Go ahead.  I dare you.

Now fill up a pretty glass with ice, pour your tea and enjoy liberally.  Cheers!

final tea


4 cups of water

6 Red Rose black tea bags

1 and 1/2 additional cups of water

1/4 slice of fresh lemon

1/4 cup sugar