Our Dog, the Creeper

So H-man has officially started solids. After hearing him holler at me every time I tried to eat something in front of him, and having him constantly grabbing at my food and putting EVERYTHING in his mouth, we decided it was time to get the little man started. With Cadence, we tried rice cereal exactly once. She made faces and gagged and absolutely hated it. I took a bite to see what all the fuss was about, and I gagged too. That shit was worse than Malt-o-Meal, and tasted like stale, sweetened styrofoam, so we promptly switched to fresh veggies (steamed and pureed) and Miss C was hooked.

With Henry, we decided to just skip the disgusting rice cereal altogether and just get to the good stuff. His first foray into solids was a spoonful of pureed peas. The kid was immediately hooked. Since then, he’s gobbled up squash, had a few bites of pears (which he hasn’t quite decided if he likes yet), and seems to be developing a love/hate relationship with bananas (much like my own). But sweet potatoes…oh, sweet potatoes. H-man goes nuts for sweet potatoes. He scarfs them down about as fast as Electra eats a bowlful of kibble, and he moans “Mmmmm…mmmmm” the whole time he’s doing it. Stevie and Cadence and I laugh and little H-man just gives us a big gummy grin and then opens his mouth wide and demands another bite.

It didn’t take long for Electra to remember what having a baby in the house means…accessible food. Our dog is no dummy. She’s learned that Cadence is no easy target anymore. Cadence is at an age now where she finds our hound’s food-stealing downright offensive. And even worse for Electra, Cadence will fight back. She knows enough to yell and grab Electra’s collar to pull her down off the counter or the table. And she has even snatched pieces of food right out from under Electra’s nose when necessary.

Electra knows Cadence is no dummy, not anymore.

But now there’s another little human in the house, and he’s short and slow and messy and generally clueless, at least when it comes to Electra’s intentions.

And almost overnight, our dog has become a creeper again–watching, waiting, calculating Henry’s every move, just waiting for a chance to sneak in a lick of his face or his fingers. Electra knows, the only thing better than a puree covered baby is a food-dropping toddler, and well, my friends, those days are just around the corner.

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Elf on the Shelf 2015 – Day 21

At this point, it’s probably getting a little old talking about Electra’s food-whoring ways. But we’re either off our game lately (which is quite possible seeing as everyone in the Romano house has been living in a perpetual state of sleep-deprivation since Henry was born), or Electra is getting a whole lot smarter and more devious in her middle-age.

Lately, it seems she’s hell-bent on total food domination.

She cracked the code on her plastic food storage container a few months ago, figuring out that if she licked the door of it long enough, and nudged it with her nose in just the right places, she could get the door to pop open and reveal the veritable Pandora’s Box of irresistible kibble inside.

Two weeks ago, she managed to stretch herself long enough to reach up over the top of the kitchen counter and snag a bag of chocolate peanut butter cookies that Cadence brought home from her Kindergarten class bake sale.

Last week I caught her trying to nose a box of Dunkin Donuts off the kitchen table, and later crunching away at a piece of gold spray-painted bowtie pasta that she apparently wanted so badly that she found a way to pull Cadence’s preschool ornament down off the Christmas tree to get at it.

Who the hell wants a piece of gold spray-painted uncooked bowtie pasta?

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Electra, that’s who. Note the little ornament made with Fruit Loops all the way near the top of the tree (top left corner).

And just this weekend while I was upstairs feeding Henry and Stevie was down in the basement rotating the laundry, Cadence caught Electra munching away on a candy cane that Electra had stolen off the gift from Cadence’s Kindergarten teacher.

After a whole lot of yelling and a few tears, Cadence managed to wrestle the candy cane away from our hound, clean up the mess, and shoo Electra into the backyard before she came to find Stevie and I to report the crime.

So far, none of Electra’s scores have made her sick, but it’s clear that we need to step up our game if we’re going to keep our dog from eating her way into some serious trouble.

And Cosette and Leo must have felt sorry for Cadence after Electra stole her candy cane, because they showed up this morning bearing a whole bunch of candy cane gifts for Cadence to eat and help hang on the tree.

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Up high. Way high. Where even our persistent basset-bodied hound dog can’t reach them.

Damn dog. If she wasn’t so sweet, she might be in more trouble.

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Elf on the Shelf 2015 – Day 11

Everyone knows Electra is a food whore. And if they don’t know it, they figure it out pretty quick. Most of the time, people think we’re kidding when we tell them they have to keep an eye on their dinner plates when they come over. People think we’re crazy when we leave a long list of instructions for our dogsitters, giving them very specific details on the frequency and amount of Electra’s feedings and treats.

Yeah, they think we’re crazy, right up until Electra pulls a ninja move and steals an entire cheeseburger right off their plates, or they keep feeding her until she doesn’t act hungry anymore (which is right about the time she’s eaten 18-pounds of dog food and the lining of her stomach is stretched so thin it’s ready to burst).

Seems even the elves have figured out how crazy Electra is about her food, so they decided to tease her a bit, and dangle one of her dog treats just a few feet out of reach.

As you can tell, Electra was not amused.

Or maybe she was. She can be a tough one to read.

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The New York Pizza Quest

Once you’ve lived in New York, it’s hard to ever feel totally settled anywhere else. New York is the kind of place that gets under your skin. It’s the kind of place that just sort of seeps in and becomes a part of you if you let it.

I moved to New York in August of 1998 as a college freshman and spent the next nine years falling in love with everything about it from the people to the culture to the food.

When Stevie and I left New York in 2007, we left behind a lot. We left family and dear friends. We left pieces of ourselves. And we left a helluva lot of really amazing food.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s good food everywhere. There’s this dish called Pollo Fundido at a little family-owned restaurant called LB Cantina in Florence, Arizona. It’s a homemade chicken chimichanga topped with jalepeno cream cheese and pepper jack cheese, and it will change your life. No joke. I may have eaten my weight in Pollo Fundido the three years we lived in Arizona, and every time I go back to visit, LB’s is one of the first places I go while I’m there. And here in Lincoln, Nebraska, we’ve got a bunch of really great restaurants serving some seriously amazing stuff. Take the Full Leaded Jacket from this little place called Leadbelly for instance. It’s a fresh hamburger patty served on a homemade cinnamon roll and topped with white cheddar, chili, sour cream, scallions, chopped tomato, red onion, fresh jalapeño, crisp tortillas, and a queso sauce so awesome they actually call it queso awesome. I know, it sounds like some stoners got together after a night of heavy smoking and just dumped together everything they saw in the fridge, but let me tell you folks, the Full Leaded Jacket is so freakin’ amazing it’s damn near a religious experience when you take your first bite of that flavor combination.

And yet, for all the great food we’ve had in Arizona and Nebraska and every other place we’ve traveled in between, there’s one craving we just haven’t been able to truly satisfy since we left and that’s good ol’ New York style pizza.

In Arizona, the first time Stevie called up the local pizzeria to order a large pie, the girl on the other end of the phone started to stutter.

“Um…sir…we sell pizza here.”

It took every last ounce of strength for my dear hubby not climb through the phone and shake her. Instead, he cleared his throat and tried again.

“Uh, yeah, I know,” he said. “I’d like a large cheese pizza, please.”

Luckily the pizza was tolerable. Not great, but not the worst we’d had in Arizona by a long shot.

When we moved to Lincoln, we embarked on what became known as The Great Pizza Quest, meticulously working our way through every pizza place in town, searching for something that could fill the void.

Sadly, it was an utter failure. Sauces were too sweet, toppings too heavy. Real pizza dough/crust was nowhere to be found and in its place, a dense bread that soaked up the oil from the overabundance of cheese and left a puddle on the plate. While places like Yia Yia’s and Momo’s had some really great flavors, the crusts were all wrong. We thought we might have gotten close the first time we ordered from Lazzari’s, but then the sauce got sweet and they started overcooking the pies, and there’s nothing worse than burned cheese and brittle crust.

Well, nothing worse except pizza cut in squares. I mean, what is that about anyway? Stevie got to the point where the first question he would ask when he walked into a new pizza place here in Lincoln is whether they cut the pizza in squares. If the answer was yes, he would do an abrupt about-face and walk right back out again.

Each visit back East only exacerbated our longing for some real, authentic NY-style pizza. And after our visit to New York last summer, where we spent 10 days gorging ourselves to get our fill before we flew back to our pizza-less lives in Lincoln, I decided enough was enough.

If I could teach myself to make Black & White Cookies that tasted every bit as good as the ones in New York, then damned if I couldn’t learn how to make NY-style pizza too.

And so, I set a little goal for myself and I put it right out there on Facebook for everyone to see, hoping that broadcasting it might help make me accountable.

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I’m thinking, after all this time, a lot of folks probably thought I’d forgotten. I mean, it has taken me almost 11 months, but here’s the thing…anyone who knows me well, knows that’s sort of how I operate, at least when it comes to big projects. Back when we were both students, it used to drive Stevie nuts. See, I’d get an assignment in class, say for a 20-page research paper. The deadline would be a month away. For a good 3 1/2 weeks, it might appear to the untrained eye that I was doing nothing. Then, a couple days before the paper was due, there would be a stack of books on my desk and a few scraps of paper with some notes scribbled here and there. Then, the night (or sometimes even a few hours) before the paper was due, I would sit down at the computer and begin to type. Then I would hand in the paper and the assignment was complete. Stevie always hated that I could do so well when it seemed I was always doing things last minute, but that wasn’t really the case. All those weeks when I was doing “nothing”, the idea was growing in my mind, the details marinating. I could “see” it coming together in my head. Every now and then I would jot down an idea or a few sentences that I could come back to later. By the time I finally sat down to hammer it out, it was all there.

So no, I hadn’t forgotten about my great pizza making resolution. And while it may have seemed like the idea was lying dormant, it has been on my mind all these months since I first challenged myself to do it. I’ve been going over the plan in my head, researching methods, reading blogs and articles and reviews, plotting just how exactly I was going to do this and do it right. (I was also waiting for the morning sickness to subside, and then for my aching pregnant body to return to semi-normal after Henry was born, so yeah, it has taken awhile).

By time time I finally purchased the ingredients and mixed up that first batch of dough in my kitchen, I’d spent 10 months making pizza in my head.

And I’ll tell you what, ladies and gentlemen, those were 10 months very well spent, because I’ve done it. Stevie is a self-professed pizza snob–he has no problem admitting it. Being a born and raised New Yorker who probably has pizza sauce coursing through his veins at this point, he is very picky when it comes to any pizza that claims to be NY-style. My first attempt last Friday was okay. The flavor was there, but I’d gotten way too overzealous stretching the dough and it ended up being so thin in the middle that it tore right through. Even so, Stevie declared that very first pizza the best in Lincoln.

But I knew I could do better.

I made another round on Saturday when we were at my parents’ apartment watching the Husker game. Again, the flavor was right, but after stretching the dough too thin the night before, I erred on the side of caution and the crust ended up being a little too thick.

Back to the drawing board.

Monday, I gave it another go, only this time I made the pizza way too big for the peel, and I had to try and cook it on the aluminum pizza pan I’d purchased for serving. The crust ended up cooking too fast on the edges, but was still underdone in the middle, so I had to cut slices and throw them back on the stone in the oven to crisp, which meant the outer crust was way too crispy.

So, I asked Stevie and Cadence if they were sick of pizza yet and when they both said no, I pulled out another piece of dough and went through the process again meticulously with Miss Cadence helping and Henry keeping a close eye on us from the living room.

And tonight…tonight Stevie folded his slice in half, took a great big bite, and gave me two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

And while I’m still planning to keep on practicing until I’ve honed my newfound skills to the point where I can make a pizza in my sleep, I’m satisfied, and pretty damn proud of myself for bringing another piece of New York here to my home in Nebraska.

Mission accomplished.

What’s next?

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Elf on the Shelf 2013 – Day 15

Apparently Cosette was famished after her overnight trip to the North Pole, because this is where we found her this morning…

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And because seeing Cosette reminded me that I had a loaf of Italian bread in the freezer just begging to be thawed, it looks like a little Cap’n Crunch French Toast is on the menu tomorrow morning. Mmm…

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Yeah, looks amazing, right? There’s a reason this stuff is on our breakfast menu every Thanksgiving (and any other day during the year we wake up and realize we can’t possibly make it through a day without it). And just because I’m a nice person who likes to spread all the good I can in this world, here’s the recipe. You’ll thank me after the first bite. 😉

Cap’n Crunch French Toast (as seen on the show Diners, Drive-in’s, and Dives)

Ingredients:
3/4 cup heavy cream,
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups Cap’n Crunch cereal
8-10 slices thick cut french bread or Texas Toast
Butter for cooking

Directions:
1. Mix the cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla in large bowl and whisk until combined.

2. Put the cereal in a large Ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush until cereal resembles cracker meal. Transfer to a shallow dish.

3. Dip slices of bread into the cream mixture until soft but not completely soaked. Let excess liquid drip from the bread, then press into the cereal crumbs to coat evenly.

4. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat, add butter as needed and cook the bread until caramelized on both sides.

Toppings – the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives book calls for topping with whipped cream and fresh berries, which is delicious. We also add a slight drizzle of maple syrup and it was fa-bu-lous!

Enjoy!

Project Life 365 – Day 91 – A Fool

This girl is a pancake-eatin’ fool yo! Seriously, two pancakes after eating 1.5 bowls of cereal (would’ve been two bowls but Cadence got up from the table, left her cereal unguarded, and Electra saw an opportunity…you figure it out).

Some days I’m shocked at the quantity of food this kid can consume. But, I guess it takes a lot of fuel to keep her little motor running in high gear all..day…long. I’ll be honest, there are times I don’t even try to keep up.

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