Friday, April 27, 2007

Younce Family Classics: The Definitive List

Every family has a list like this - movies you watched as a family when you were little kids, over and over. And when you became older you realized that you didn't even know what the movies had been about when you were little, you just watched them because your family did. Maybe some became your favorites as adults; others you don't even want to admit ever having seen.

Over the years I've been showing Ed some of the "Younce Family Classics", and he thought he'd seen them all. Then I mentioned one the other day, and he'd never even heard of it. So of course I put it in the #1 spot on our Netflix queue so he could seen it asap. Then we wondered how many other YFC's he'd never seen or heard of. This prompted me to rally the troops and get everyone's input, to compose a definitive list that all Younces agree on. These are not the best movies of all time, just the ones our family watched a lot, for whatever reason.

And here it is:

An American in Paris
Auntie Mame
A Christmas Story
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Donovan's Reef
Drop Dead Fred
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
The Great Race
How to Steal a Million
My Fair Lady
North to Alaska
The Pirates of Penzance
The Princess Bride
Raising Arizona
The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Sting
Support Your Local Sheriff
What's Up, Doc?
Young Frankenstein
Zorro, the Gay Blade

I imagine that some of these, like The Princess Bride, Raising Arizona and A Christmas Story would appear on many family's lists from our generation. But others, like A Funny Thing and What's Up, Doc? may be a little more unique to the Younces. Honestly, it's quite a mixed bag (ok, a little heavy on John Wayne.)

So next time you're wondering what to watch, give a Younce Family Classic a shot - you may be surprised - you may even like it.

What's on your family's list?

Tillamook Casserole

This recipe comes from my Grandma Cummings and is an absolute favorite classic in my family. It's named for Tillamook cheese, the best to use for anything, but of course any brand will still be good. Growing up, this dish was simply referred to as "Casserole" because it's the only casserole we made; it wasn't until I was older and ate over at a friend's house that I learned "casserole" referred to a genre, and not the specific dish my Mom made.

The amounts below are for a round 2-quart casserole dish; you can adjust up or down for your size of dish. You can also try these variations: substitute whole wheat egg noodles, ground turkey or Morningstar veggie crumbles, and sometimes I like to add in a layer of black beans.

Tillamook Casserole

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 pkg taco seasoning, or to taste
2 small or 1 large can tomato sauce
8 oz (half a bag) egg noodles
1/2 bag frozen corn
8 oz (or more) grated cheddar cheese

1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions.
2. Brown the beef in a frying pan; drain grease. Add taco seasoning and tomato sauce and stir to combine.
3. In a greased/sprayed casserole dish, layer: noodles, meat, corn, cheese. Repeat layers.
4. Bake, covered, at 350 for 45 minutes or until cheese is melted and dish is warmed through. Sometimes I broil uncovered for a few minutes to make the cheese brown a little on top but it's a bummer if you forget about it in there...


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pray for Pancakes

Dinner around our house is not a formal affair. Ed is rarely home for it, and Ginger obviously doesn't eat real food, so it's just me and Hazel most of the time. Which means we do whatever we want. Tonight it was pancakes.

In my family, my Dad's pancakes are famous and the best. We had them Saturday mornings if we got up early enough, and now at visits and reunions it just takes a little flattery and begging to get a stack. I spent many years of my adult life frustrated trying to make mine like his, and in the last year or so I've made major improvements. At least I can stand to eat my own creations now. Of course butter and syrup sweeten the deal.

So tonight I dished us up and asked Hazel to fold her arms for prayer. I said a short and sweet blessing, and we tucked in. Hazel scarfed hers down and asked for more, so I served her another, cut it up, poured on some syrup, put it on her highchair tray and immediately returned to my own thoughts. For a minute I didn't notice that she was sitting there looking at me, not eating. Then I asked her what was wrong and she folded her arms and said, "Pray, pray!" I asked her who should say it, me or her. She closed her eyes, bowed her head, and pointed at me emphatically. So I asked another blessing on the new pancake. This repeated for the third. I've decided to read into this very deeply and infer that my pancakes are now SO GOOD that it's worth praying over each one. And I intend to remember this as my children grow up and remind them constantly how much they love my pancakes.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Morning Glory Muffins

For Christmas my brother gave me an amazing cookbook - The Best of America's Test Kitchen: the year's best recipes, equipment reviews and tastings 2007. I'm an idiot and didn't know what America's Test Kitchen is but now I do. These are the guys who do Cooks Illustrated and Cooks Country magazines, and the PBS show "America's Test Kitchen." They have a 2,500 sq foot test kitchen near Boston where two dozen test chefs work full time year round testing and perfecting recipes. Some have been tested 20, 30 or 40 times to get them absolutely perfect. Nice to have someone else do it since I hate nothing more than working hard to chop, puree, fold, and dice, and dirtying every bowl I have only to have a recipe fail.

So every time I flip through the book my mouth waters and I finally got around to trying a recipe tonight: Morning Glory Muffins. I was looking for something to use shredded carrots in, since I have half a bag leftover from making Rachael Ray's "Curry-in-a-Hurry Chicken Salad" (which by the way is really good, especially the mango chutney salad dressing...) a few weeks ago. Sometimes Ed is in a hurry out the door in the morning; it's nice to have muffins around that he can grab and go, so I'm always looking for good recipes to try. And so far the book has lived up to its name. These muffins came out perfect - great texture, not too dry nor too moist, fabulous flavor and extremely aromatic.

Before I give you the recipe let me just mention a few little changes I made to make them my own:
  • left out the coconut because I don't like it
  • 2 tsp instead of 1 tsp of vanilla - Dave taught me the great trick of always doubling vanilla in recipes
  • salted instead of unsalted butter just because that's what I had; didn't notice the difference in taste
  • added a dash of freshly grated nutmeg - I add it to anything I can
  • my oven runs hot so they were done in only 22 minutes
  • instead of raisins I used Trader Joe's "Golden Blend", which has dried golden raisins, cherries, blueberries and cranberries - YUM!

Morning Glory Muffins
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 carrots, peeled & grated (2 cups)
1 (8-0unce) can of crushed pineapple, drained and pressed dry with paper towels
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup raisins

1. Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375. Coat 12-cup muffin tin with spray or line with paper cups.
2. Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast them in the oven until fragrant, about 5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, coarsely chop.
3. Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together in a large bowl.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla until smooth. Gently fold the egg mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold the carrots, pineapple, coconut, raisins, and toasted nuts into the batter.
5. Use a large ladle or measuring cup to divide the batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 25-30 minutes.
6. Let muffins cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then flip out onto wire rack. Cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Let me know if anyone tries them!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Quarterly Addendum

I never did get back to the bank to cash those rolls of quarters back in, and it's just as well. My sister Tona's family of six just came to visit for a few days and they needed $30 in quarters to take the express bus into the city their first day here. If I hadn't had my stash they would have had to take the subway, a much less convenient commute.

They paid me back in bills, which I will apply to my laundry card.

The Big Apple Can Bite Me: Parking Diaries I

Parking in New York City. There's too much - too, too much to say about it. I've got to break it up or it will be so long and boring no one will want to read my blog anymore. But it's got to be said. My friends and family have got to understand the circumstances I'm expected to live under. Those that have visited have an idea. Let me shed some light for the rest of you...

Let's start with parking at home. Later we'll move on to going places, but for now we'll just talk about coming home from them. I live in a neighborhood of Brooklyn where maybe 75% of the population has cars, which is high for NY but we probably do have more street parking and there are streets where houses have driveways. But my street has lots and lots of apartment buildings, so street parking is a premium.

Here are the parameters I have to work with, or rather around: alternate side parking (street sweeping), the night rush, and other restrictions. And let me just clear up any questions - there is not a parking lot for every building. Some have a small parking lot with a long wait list (like years long), but most, including mine, do not. You're on the street, and you're on your own.

Alternate Side Parking
The entire city is apparently street-swept once or twice a week. Every street that allows parking at some time has signs that describe when that street will be swept, and you're not allowed to park there. This was a mind-blowing concept when I first arrived. "You mean I can't park here ANY Friday from 8-10am?!" Outrageous. Totally unjust. Now I don't even think about it. It's second nature to take note of the parking signs when I come home, so I know when I'll have to move the car. In our first NY apartment it was no problem. We lived on a corner - one street had Monday sweeping on one side, Tuesday on the other. The other street was Thursday on one side, Friday on the other. So if it was Monday night, I couldn't park on the Tuesday side because it was going to be swept the next morning, but I had three other curbs to choose from. In our new apartment, every street within 5 blocks is Thursday/Friday sweeping, so come the end of the week you need to really claim your spots carefully. For example, all week I've been parked in a "Friday spot", so this afternoon while the girls napped I snuck out and moved it to the Thursday side.

So what happens if you forget and leave your car where you shouldn't? A pain in the butt, that's what happens. Uniformed people in little striped cars that say SANITATION drive around and give you tickets for $45 and a bright chartreuse sticker on your back window that does not come off without much Goo Gone and razor blades. These are informally called "stickers of shame," and they inevitably draw knowing smiles from onlookers. We've gotten a handful of these. At least the sanitation people have the same attitude toward holidays as other government agencies - take as many as you can. And in New York you gotta take Jewish and Muslim holidays as well as traditional government days. So that's something.

My friend here Corey used to live in an even denser-populated neighborhood of Brooklyn and she would tell me stories of working around alternate side parking regulations. People would go outside the second it was in effect and move their cars to the other side of the street, double parked, and sit in them for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until it was over and move back, just to ensure having a spot. It's not quite that bad in Bay Ridge but still annoying. In Manhattan, oh I don't even want to think about it, but some people make it work. In fact, it's an even bigger part of life for car-owners there. For some, it is life (see The Alternate Side Parking Reader.)

The Night Rush
The most important thing to know about living here, and by "here" I mean our apartment building, and which we learned the hard way, is that if you come home after 4:30pm, be prepared. Have snacks, have stroller, have books, have time. You may be parking far away, and it may take a long time. During the day it's no problem finding spaces within a block. Enough people drive to work that there are lots of free spots. That makes life as a stay-home-mom somewhat livable. I can run an errand during the day and park when I get back (actually, I can't run any errands ever, but it's not because of parking - it's because of incompatible schedules of 2 kids!) But hypothetically, one could run an errand. When we first moved here Hazel and I drove to a park to play and came home around 5. I had to park 4 blocks away, and carry a sleeping toddler, diaper bag and 10 shirts from the cleaners on hangers home...while pregnant. I only had to experience it once to know to ALWAYS take the stroller in the car, just in case.

In general, I don't need to go out at night so it's not too much of an issue. It's not like Ed comes home at an earthly hour and I can go out to do something. But sometimes, on the weekend mostly, we do come home in the evening and the key is patience. I tend to drive around in expanding concentric blocks looking for spots. Ed double parks in a strategic spot and watches like a hawk for people leaving. He tends to get luckier than I do, but we have been known to wait 20, 30, 45 minutes - once I waited an entire hour and finally went and parked by our old place and walked the 15 minutes home. Time of my life gone that I'll never get back.

  • You can't park near a fire hydrant. Nobody knows the exact distance, so everyone eyeballs it and crosses their fingers. And be careful because on streets like ours, packed with pre-war apartment buildings (=kindling just waiting for a space heater to spark) there are 4-6 hydrants per block.
  • You can't overlap a crosswalk. It doesn't have to be a painted-lines crosswalk, just a dipped-curb-at-the-corner. We learned that our first week here with a $115 parking ticket.
  • You can't overlap driveways, obviously.
  • You can't park in front of a church. I'm still figuring this out, but every church, and there are a lot of them, has no parking signs out front.
  • You can't park in front of schools because of the morning and afternoon buses. This is a bummer because schools are big and all that curb space goes open so much of the time.
  • You can't park anywhere near where you want to. This is not a strictly enforced rule, but rather an observation. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if they do enforce it.

Stay tuned for more on tickets, meters, and the Shoup philosophy...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Easter Bunny at Our House

Smiling is a newly acquired skill for Ginger so it tickles me inside every time I see it. She had a nice smiley session Easter morning so I put the ears on her and took some pictures. And besides going to church, which we do every Sunday anyway, that was it for traditional Easter celebrating. I didn't do baskets because honestly the girls are too young to care (and Hazel just got a bunch of stuff for her birthday), and after 5 years of marriage I've come to accept that Ed doesn't care either. I used to make him cool, thoughtful, fun Easter baskets but they were not appreciated to my satisfaction. And of course no one made one for me, are you kidding? Wouldn't even occur to...anyone. So our Easter Bunny visit was brief this year, but about as adorable as could be.

What did the Easter Bunny bring you?

Monday, April 09, 2007

To Anchovy or Not To Anchovy?

Sometimes - two or three times a month - I like to try a new recipe. I get them from cookbooks, cooking shows or the internet mostly. A few weeks ago I saw a good episode of 30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray. I get a lot of good recipes from her show and I like them but I wish she'd lay off the mustard and cumin, two of her favorite ingredients. Anyway, in this episode she made an Italian meatball "stoup" called Zuppa Osso Buca. Looked yummy, I took note. I was especially intrigued by a garnish she made, called gremolata. It had parsley, garlic, lemon zest and a whole freaking tin of anchovies. You chop them all up together and spoon it onto the stew and swirl it in.

I was slightly horrified at all the anchovies. My only experience with them was once in high school. Matt Harpin and I went to Generous George's in Alexandria, and feeling adventurous, ordered a large pizza with anchovies. How bad can it be, we thought. After all, it's still pizza. Please. Fools in our youth! It was totally disgusting and we had to drink lots and lots of root beer to get rid of the taste. But the memory never went away.

We invited some friends over for dinner this weekend and I wanted to make Rachael's zuppa but I was torn what to do about the gremolata. To anchovy or not? When I went grocery shopping I went ahead and bought the tin just in case. I consulted with my mom, what would she do? She said they're like I remember: hairy, salty and fishy. Go easy, she advised. So Sunday afternoon it came time to make the garnish. I chopped up all the other things and added 1/2 of one anchovy, all chopped up. Then sniffed the mixture. Not too fishy. So I added the other half, making a total of one anchovy. A tin contains approximately eighteen.

The stoup was good, the garnish was great. Not too fishy at all. The lemon and garlic were especially super additions to the flavor of the stew. I highly recommend the recipe. Next time I might even be more daring and add TWO anchovies.

Who else has an anchovy story?

(FYI we also had fruit salad, Italian bread and Rocky Road ice cream pie for dessert.)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Quarter of Irony

An ongoing theme you may find here on my blog is what a hassle life in New York City is. Take laundry for example. Most urbanites have three options: 1) send it out if you can justify or afford it, 2) schlep it to the laundromat, or 3) if you are lucky enough to have a laundry room in your building, do it yourself down there. That's what I do. There are three machines and two dryers (don't ask me why, I ask myself every time I'm down there.) And each one takes $1.50 per load, in quarters only. With a growing family we have 4-6 loads per week so that comes out to $50-60 per month. In quarters only.

Quarters play a big part in my life here, being the currency of both laundry and parking. Parking in NYC is, you guessed it, a hassle. That is definitely a topic for another essay, perhaps a series. But between laundry and parking I find myself always desperate for quarters, hoarding them, saving them in a special pocket of my wallet separate from the other change. Rolls seem to disappear into thin air. And listen, obtaining a roll is no small feat. It involves loading the kids into the double stroller and heading out to a bank, waiting in line, sometimes two. Then inevitably the teller is put out at how many rolls I need and has to get the manager to come open a safe or vault or something so they can get more. Then one or both kids start fussing, needs a snack, dropped a toy, etc. Once I tried getting quarters at the customer service desk at the grocery store but it wasn't much easier, and it definitely took longer.

And don't even think for a second that it's an option to throw the kids in the car and just breeze through a bank drive-thru. This is NYC. Don't even think banks have parking lots, much less drive-thru's. No, any errands, from the post office to the library to the bank, are done on foot (or on public transportation but double strollers are not so welcome on buses.) See future article on parking. I just seem to always be in need of quarters, and never have enough to do laundry when I need to. One of the best gifts I received at the time of Ginger's birth was my Dad showing up with a huge pile of quarter rolls. Got me through a month without having to go to the bank.

So when our tax refund arrived I decided to finally get smart and take control of the quarter situation that plagues my life. I went to the bank and got $200 in quarters - that's 20 rolls. I was so happy and proud to have saved myself all the work and hassle of being constantly short on quarters. Now I could go months on that supply!

Then just last week there was a sign on the elevator door, informing tenants that the laundry room has installed a new "Smart Card" system - you use a refillable card, like a credit card, with the machines instead of quarters. No problem, I thought, I'll just put all my quarters in the machine that puts money on the Smart Card. But you guessed it, didn't you? I went down to check out the card machine and it only takes: bills.

So I'll be going back to the bank after all...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Lovely Deseret*: a place of precious memories demolished

DT is coming down. That's Deseret Towers, for you non-BYU-alum, the dorm complex where I spent the very memorable '93-'94 academic year as a college freshman - room 621-T. Of course there are mixed feelings to this news. Yes, it's way outdated and no doubt the class of 2007, who by the way were only 4 years old when I started at BYU, probably deserve better. It's a new era, no pun intended. But it can be a little sad to consider a place of such rich memories torn down like common buildings. It was the setting for the most pivotal year of my life, the year that set the course for my adulthood, and did a damn fine job of it. And yet, it was just the setting. The pivotal-ness was caused by - who else? - the people. Wonderful, amazing people entered my life that year. Here are just a few memories of MY "lovely deseret":

- meeting Michelle, now Younce, one of my best friends and now sister-in-law

- a mysterious midnight walk with Nate S. - I still don't know what he was feeling but it meant a lot to me to be with him as he felt it

- ah, the signature dishes of the Morris Center - lemon pepper cod and the crepe bar!

- the dances, oh how I danced that year!!! thus the origin of my nickname Xanadu, now bestowed on Hazel as her middle name

- late night face masks, frozen snicker bars and E.L. Fudge cookies with Jen

- piling at least 10 people into my sister's tiny borrowed car to go off campus for my birthday

- attending the football games regularly - I even learned the fight song

- a sad string of unrequited pursuits...

- a ridiculous but fierce rivalry with someone who still doesn't deserve to be named on my site

- Saturday morning flag football games - I had to be careful with this one - be present and participating enough to appear fun and athletic to a certain someone, but stay clear of the ball enough to disprove that appearance

- setting up my own barber shop outside the guys' hall

- lacking dates of our own, stalking friends on their dates

- a brief but intense intellectual affair with Isaac - at the end of the year I finally met my match in sarcasm and wit!

- and underlying it all, a spiritual unity and intensity, based on shared testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And a bittersweet knowledge that it would never be like that again - the guys went on missions and the girls moved off-campus and that was it, just left with our memories. Thank heaven for memories!

When my sister Maren went to BYU she lived in Budge Hall, part of Helaman Halls. I always loved that she lived in the same dorm my mom did when she was there in the 60's. I had not considered having the same kind of plans for my girls, but it does make me a little sad knowing it definitely will not happen.

I got an alumni email informing me that bricks from the demolished buildings could be picked up - for free, even! - at the Knight Mangum Building. Of course I didn't make a special trip to Provo to get one - what on earth would I do with it anyway? But it was a nice sentiment and it's funny to think of the people who did go out of their way. At least DT will always stand out in my memory, a bright turquoise beacon up that stupid hill. Does anyone even remember where the KMB is?

(* see LDS hymn #307)

Friday, April 06, 2007

It Takes Two to Tantrum

(Photo: 3/27/07 - Hazel 2yrs old, Ginger 9wks old)

Hazel turned two last week. And something changed. We had a massive public tantrum two days after her birthday - I'm still too traumatized to discuss the details but the point is that she's TWO! I've read enough child development books to understand the physical and cognitive issues behind tantrums, but I was still caught totally unprepared to handle one. I felt confused and totally helpless, with added frustration and embarrassment of strangers and friends watching. As she lay prostrate on the ground kicking, crying and screaming, HELPLESS was my main feeling - helpless to make her feel better, helpless to fix the situation, helpless to communicate with her, helpless to stop the scene. Anger ran a close second - angry at the people watching, angry at myself for not knowing what to do, angry at Hazel for being "so unreasonable"! And then angry at myself for being angry at her when I understood it was all she could do to express her own frustration.

We just high-tailed it out of the situation as soon as we could, sat outside to recover for awhile, then came home. Put on a show for her (what else? Dora...) and called my Mom to help me recover. Took me all day to recover, really. I also ordered several books on toddlers and tantrums and a brilliant children's book called The Chocolate-Covered-Cookie Tantrum. I don't want to stifle or shame her when she has overwhelming emotions, but I do want to get better at 1) seeing them coming, 2) understanding what's going on behind the tantrum, 3) minimizing feeling embarrassed in public so I can focus on my daughter, and 4) helping her work through them. My mom said this is great practice for the teenage years and she's not the only one. Experts say they're very similar. Don't I know it - I don't remember being two but I distinctly remember having such extreme emotions as a teenager I often didn't know what to do with them - too old to tantrum but lacking any other effective outlet I spent a lot of time crying. Maybe I can help my daughters have a little better time of it...starting now.
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