A little tarty


Pretty fancy, no? From concept to table, this dessert was made by Little Six. I still have no idea what inspired him, but for a couple of weeks he couldn’t stop talking about a mysterious dessert called a “tarty.” He proposed a few variations (some of which involved several layers of chocolate cake topped with pudding, frosting, fruit and sprinkles), but he seemed very happy with the streamlined version we settled on. We, the taste testers, were happy, too. As promised, here is the recipe.


Makes 5-6 individual tarts

For the crust: Put 20 chocolate sandwich cookies (Oreos) and 1/4 cup melted butter in the food processor. Process on high until finely ground. Divide the crumbs evenly among the tart pans and press evenly around the base and sides. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling: Follow this recipe for Pastry Cream (don’t leave out the whipped cream at the end). When thoroughly chilled, fill each tart crust with pastry cream and smooth with a small spatula.

Just before serving, top each tart with fresh berries, sliced bananas, and toasted almonds.


Happy New Year!

If it’s above zero, we play outside.

Though the Polar Vortex has come and gone, we’re still surrounded by drifts of slushy snow, and the laundry room is strung with banners of damp Smartwool socks. We had a lovely Christmas and New Year, with a good balance of celebrating and relaxing with family and friends. The kids were home from school two extra days because of the aforementioned weather, but now we are clawing our way back into some semblance of a routine.

Girl shovels driveway while boys push each other down in the snow.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of the home-related things that have been on my radar lately.


  • Thanks to Mom and Dad’s Christmas generosity (and a very good sale), we will soon be snoozing in front of Netflix while reclining in a pair of these stressless recliners. My aching back is so excited!
  • Possibly my favorite Christmas present was a lavender-filled microwaveable shoulder wrap. That, a cozy new throw, hot tea, and The Goldfinch have kept me warm lately. Turns out the space heater we borrowed does a mighty fine job of heating the family room–until it blows the fuse.
  • Sewing project I finished over the weekend for the family room: this DIY floor pouf made from Ikea cotton rugs. I made something similar a couple of years ago, but the dimensions were wrong and the burlap I chose was not durable. Super easy project (I skipped the zipper and stuffed it with rags)!
  • Miss Eight and I have settled on a nightstand for her room (that wobbly three-legged decorator table isn’t cutting it). Inspired by the millions of Ikea RAST dresser hacks, we are planning to paint it white and then apply a rainbow of washi tape stripes to the drawer fronts (possibly sealed with Mod Podge).
  • Home Depot purchase I’m most looking forward to: Grout Renew (for the kids’ bathroom floor tiles)
  • Next make-do-with-what-we-have DIY: Restain (darker) the orangey oak corner media cupboard that we moved from the family room to the foyer. New hardware, too. Former game cupboard to backpack/library book/karate gear storage–that’s the plan, anyway. Our cubbies in the hall closet just aren’t big enough anymore for three kids and their school & activity gear.


  • Successful meal of the week (that cooks itself while you are out of the house): Crockpot rotisserie chicken and baked potatoes (using the “delay start” feature on the oven). Cross my heart, it only takes five minutes to prep the chicken, and one minute to stab some potatoes and program the oven (400 degrees, to start 45 minutes before we got home). First person home makes a salad and microwaves a veggie. (If it makes you feel better, there was somebody home while the oven was on.)
  • Little Six has become obsessed with a recipe he invented called a “Tarty.” No joke–he has brought it up at least half a dozen times a day for the past week. Some kind of cake/tart hybrid, it includes chocolate, pudding, “any fruit you like,” and possibly sprinkles and/or frosting. We finally tested this recipe over the weekend, and it was a winner. Recipe coming later this week!

Kid stuff

  • MacGyver couldn’t have done it better: We made a ping-pong table out of half an armoire, two closet doors, and a portable ping-pong net. When it’s too cold to play outside and the batteries are all dead in the Wii remotes, there’s always the basement.

I hope the New Year brings you all the time, money and energy you need to accomplish all your goals. Or at least a few of them!

Family room gallery wall

After looking at this blank wall for a couple of weeks, I finally got out my hammer and hung some art.

Based on that photo, the white paint seemed like a dubious choice. But as soon as I hung the first frame, I was relieved. The white paint is the perfect backdrop for this rainbow collection that my three artists have created at school and at home. Before I consolidated them here, some of the paintings were hung in other parts of the house, and some were languishing in the basement file cabinet.

We spend so much time in the family room, and it’s finally beginning to be a room that feels homey to me.

If you’re curious about how much effort it takes to hang so many pictures, I can promise it didn’t take me more than a couple of hours (that includes time I took to frame some pieces). I used this Apartment Therapy post as a loose guideline, and laid all the frames out on the floor until I had an arrangement I liked. I also measured the wall to make sure everything would fit. I did shuffle a few pieces from my original layout as I went along, but I pretty much started at the left and worked my way across the wall, just eyeballing the spacing between frames. My handy Hang & Level allowed me to speed through the nailing and hanging.


Now I need to find something to hang in those empty spots in the foyer and powder room where I stole paintings to put in my gallery wall!

Fast forward

Maybe it has something to do with the shorter days and longer nights, but it feels as if each day is scrolling by in fast forward, each frame only on the screen for a fraction of a second.

palette cake

And so for the past few weeks, there hasn’t been room in the day for blogging. Holiday preparations, celebrations, birthdays, school and work have more than filled our days. We made another big step in our family room makeover. The Hub and I shuffled the furniture around (my arms still ache–those sofas are heavy!) and I took most of two days to paint the walls and trim. On Little Six’s birthday, we picked out a Christmas tree and did a little decorating.

DIY Tip: How to Hang Stockings Above a Fireplace Without a Mantel

Thread clear picture wire or fishing line from eye hooks mounted on either side of the chimney breast. Stretch the wire tightly and hang the stockings with S-hooks or wire ornament hooks.

The paint felt so very…white as I rolled it on the walls, but I’m happy with the decision. Everything feels bigger and cleaner. Sometime after Christmas we hope to replace the orange oak shelving with taller, wider white bookcases and put a pair of slim but comfortable chairs in front of the fireplace. I plan to stain the coffee table a darker color (and give Mr. Six a big piece of oilcloth to protect the table while he’s creating).

I’m looking forward to filling this blank wall above the sofa with a gallery of the kids’ artwork. I have old frames to fill and a few new ones from Goodwill. I may steal some from other parts of the house and consolidate it here. We’re hosting a Christmas party in a couple of weeks, which gives me a deadline for the project.

You may have noticed that I abandoned my Monday Menu posts for the past few weeks. I’m getting bored writing them, and I suspect you may be bored reading them. I’m still meal planning, but I’ve been visiting my blog archives and stealing meal ideas from past years. Sharing my menu each week has been a wonderful way to develop the habit of meal planning, but I’m going to take a break from writing about it, at least for a while.

I do hope to share a recipe and project or two with you before the year’s end. In the meantime, I have some more decorations to put up. It’s sunny and a balmy 17 degrees, so this may be my chance to hang that string of snowflake lights on the porch.

Cleaning out the refrigerator

Yeah, so I’ve been meaning to clean out the refrigerator for, like, MONTHS. Maybe a year. I really can’t remember. In my defense, there were no festering science experiments lurking in its depths (we are pretty good about rounding up the bits of food and lost containers every week or two). But we had company over the weekend, and the embarrassing state of the fridge finally sent me over the edge.

Then I saw this motivating video in my Facebook feed this week. How timely! A refrigerator makeover for under $100! I prefer free makeovers, so I didn’t buy any supplies–though I’m tempted to snag one more set of containers next time I’m at Ikea. I wouldn’t mind those dry erase labels that they talked about, either (Hey there, Santa!).

My fridge before looked pretty much like the one in the video: stuffed with stuff, in no particular order. I didn’t even snap a picture of it. I emptied the fridge of all its contents:

That’s where this story takes a wrong turn. You thought you were watching HGTV, but now you’re in a weird indie horror film, or maybe an episode of Dexter.
It took me nearly an hour of scrubbing to get rid of the evidence. I heated up the kettle and drizzled boiling water to loosen the sticky mystery spills–I really could have used some rubber gloves. Then I spent another hour reinstalling the shelves, sorting and repackaging food.
My big addition was a piece of shelf liner to help keep the wine bottles from rolling around. I even reorganized the condiments in the door.

From crime scene to clean, well-lighted place. A happy ending, don’t you think?

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

Thankfully, yesterday’s storms passed over us without any damage to speak of–just some chairs and garbage bins toppled over. For a time, I worried that the heavy wind and rain would prevent some of the musicians and audience from making it to our concert, but things had settled down by show time and there was a good crowd in the church. Today I’m determined not to get sidelined by post-performance depression (it’s totally a thing, at least according to Google), so I’m catching up on the laundry and trying to get myself organized for the week. I even started my Christmas shopping (online, naturally)!

This week


Last week

  • Sausage, Potato and Apple Bake (a classic busy-night, no-mess meal)
  • Fish sticksAsian Winter Slaw (swap with Jen). The fish sticks were fabulous, but I’ve had better slaw. 
  • Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes (quick pan sauce), salad. A great way to use up cherry or grape tomatoes. While the pasta cooks, heat olive oil and several cloves of sliced garlic for a couple minutes, then add halved tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook gently until the tomatoes wrinkle and start to burst. Stir in some chopped fresh basil or parsley. Toss hot, drained pasta with the tomato mixture, adding more olive oil if necessary. Pass the Parmesan.
  • Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes. I didn’t really follow a single recipe. I used lean ground beef (break it up really well at some point during the cooking), onions, garlic, diced tomatoes, a chopped roasted red pepper, a little brown sugar, a few squirts of mustard and ketchup, a bit of cider vinegar, oregano, chili powder. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serve on toasted buns with cheese.
  • Cincinnati Skyline Chili (from Jen). I’d never tried this version of chili before, but now I’m a fan! The kids loved it, too.

Homemade Fish Sticks

I wasn’t sure homemade fish sticks were going to be worth the trouble, or the $8.99 a pound for fresh fish, but happily, my reservations were unfounded. They were absolutely worth the minimal effort. You know how frozen fish sticks out of a box become shriveled, dry and…stick-like if you leave them in the oven a little too long? Now imagine the exact opposite: tender morsels of snow-white cod, a light and crispy panko crust–succulent flaky fish goodness.

Here’s some more good news: if you invest the time (and let’s face it, money) in preparing a bigger batch, you can freeze half of it now to whip out and fry another day. (Also, an 8-year-old may volunteer to mop the greasy kitchen floor if you pay her in quarters so she can buy lollipops at school to support shelter dogs. Just so you know.)

Homemade Fish Sticks

adapted slightly from Bon Appétit

2 pounds fresh, wild-caught cod fillets

1/2 cup flour

2 eggs

2 Tbsp. water

2-3 cups panko bread crumbs

a neutral oil for frying

Set up your breading station: Put flour, eggs whisked with water, and panko each in its own shallow pan or dish. Slice cod fillets horizontally into strips about 1-inch wide. Toss the cod into the flour pan and coat each strip thoroughly. Dip them into the egg mixture, again making sure to coat all sides. Finally, toss them into the panko, pressing extra crumbs into the sides if necessary. (If you are freezing a portion, lay the breaded fish sticks out on a baking sheet, cover with foil, and freeze for a couple hours, or until they are solid. Then transfer the frozen fish sticks to an airtight freezer bag or container.)

Heat 1/4 inch of oil on medium-high in a non-stick skillet. Fry the fish sticks in small batches until golden (about 3 minutes per side). Drain them on a paper-towel lined platter or a wire rack set over a baking sheet. If necessary, keep the fish sticks warm in a 300-degree oven until ready to serve.

Quick Tartar Sauce

Stir together in a small bowl: 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 2-3 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish, and 1 tsp. Dijon mustard.

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

Apparently the only blogging I can keep up with these days is my weekly menu plan. Getting through November is not for the faint of heart. Am I experimenting in the kitchen? No. Am I whipping though exciting DIY projects? I am not. I have gotten everyone to the dentist (last one today!), plus new tires for one car and a new fuel pressure sensor something-or-other for the other car. This week revolves around multiple chorus rehearsals and all the kids’ regular music and sports activities, flu vaccines, and a dinner party. I’m some 15,000 words behind on my crazy writing project (or in a glass-half-full view, I’m 3,500 words further along than I was last month). There are rumors of impending snow tonight and we haven’t raked a single leaf yet this fall. I just put “Rake leaves: 1:30-2:30” on my calendar for today. No kidding.

But enough about my calendar–you have your own busy week to consider. We ate out several times this weekend as we traveled to Indianapolis for the 100th birthday celebration of our favorite great-aunt, so I’m ready to return to cheap eats at home this week. I will have to run to the grocery this morning, but I might be able to get through the “10 Items or Less” line (we’ll ignore the grammar issues in grocery signage for now).

This week

Last week

  • Cevapi (we buy them ready to grill at our local market), pita, tzatziki, salad. I need to learn to cook the cevapi at a lower temperature so they don’t dry out. 
  • Peas and ham, cornbread, fruit salad. The peas and ham dish was not a huge success at our table as a main course. “I’m not saying it’s bad, but it would make a better side dish at Thanksgiving,” is how Mr. Ten put it. Miss Eight said, “I like split pea soup better.” I’m willing to try it again–as a side dish–and leave out the cinnamon.
  • Pasta with Guiltless Alfredo Sauce, chicken and vegetables (swap with Jen). Though I have no trouble with butter and heavy cream once in a while, this is a flavorful but lower fat alternative–it must be the garlic! No complaints about the zucchini, sugar snap peas and carrots that I added, either.

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

Once again, it’s one of those weeks when there are too many activities each day to fit in the squares on the calendar. This morning I’m sitting at the car dealership getting that “check engine” light checked out and hoping the car will be ready in time for me to pick up Little Five for his dentist appointment. At least they have free wifi and comfortable chairs in the waiting room!

Anyway, this week is all about quick or make-ahead dinners–anything I can cook early in the day and reheat in between karate class and choir practice. And though we’re not going completely meatless, we’re not making meat the centerpiece of most meals, either. I know it’s healthier, but honestly, I’m mostly motivated by cost. It’s a good thing, because I’ll be sitting here again for car repairs later this week!

This week

Last week

  • Spaghetti al Tonno (quick uncooked tuna sauce in the food processor). Another cheap, quick meal to have in your repertoire. In the food processor: Can of good tuna in olive oil, handful of walnuts, lemon juice, 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, parsley, olive oil. Stir into hot spaghetti and thin with a little pasta water.
  • Tex-Mex Meatloafoven fries, salad. I didn’t have any chorizo this time, and I missed it. The sauce is fabulous, though. I only glaze the meatloaf with a little of the sauce, and then heat up the rest and serve it on the side–it’s too spicy for the kids, even though I only used one chipotle pepper.
  • BBQ Pulled Pork PizzaOne last meal out of that bag of pulled pork! 
  • Green Bean, rice and almond salad, Bread and Garlic Soup (from The Family Meal by Ferran Adrià) (swap with Jen). The salad was yummy–makes a great filling lunch, too. We loved the soup…I’ll have to post the recipe soon. In the meantime, you should make some homemade chicken stock and put it in the freezer!
  • Chorizo Sweet Potato Chili (from Jen). I liked the chorizo in the chili, but it was a little too spicy for the kids–we had hotdogs, too. 
  • Peanut Butter and Hot Fudge Pudding CakeMr. Ten mixed up this cake, which is designed to be baked in the slow cooker. If you’re hesitant about letting your kids use the oven on their own, this is a great recipe to give them some independence in the kitchen. We used natural peanut butter and it was plenty sweet. In a 6-qt. Crock Pot, it took 2 hours–he made it right after school and it was ready to eat in time for dessert.

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

We hung the bicycles back on the garage ceiling (except for Miss Eight’s–as long as it isn’t snowing, she’s riding her bike), mowed the lawn for maybe the last time, stowed the patio furniture in the shed, and put soup on the menu three times in one week.

In many countries, a soup course is an everyday part of dinner, but here in middle America, it’s a little weird. Not that fear of a little weirdness ever got in the way of dinner at our house, but I am cold and the mere thought of soup warms me up. Soup is ideal for making ahead and reheating later, and can be incredibly frugal. That bread and garlic soup on this week’s menu? Didn’t have to buy a thing. The ingredients are bread, garlic, olive oil, paprika and chicken stock. I made chicken stock (in the crock pot) from a frozen chicken carcass. There are always bags of slightly stale good bread in our freezer, and garlic and olive oil in the pantry. Making something delicious out of scraps always gives me a little thrill. That’s probably weird, too.

This week

Last week

  • Black Bean and Chicken Quesadillas. I like using the giant burrito size flour tortillas to make a couple large quesadillas that I can slice and serve to everyone at once.)
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs (from the freezer), Wilted Escarole Salad. This might be the first time I’ve bought escarole. It’s perfect for a hot dressing because the sturdy leaves don’t wilt too quickly.
  • Lentil SaladRoasted Eggplant and Olive Spread, pita, green salad (swap with Jen). I also dug a small container of falafel out of the freezer. I didn’t follow the recipe above, but just made Baba Ganouj from the Moosewood Cookbook. 
  • Stromboli, kale salad. A giant pizza roll, according to Mr. Ten. I used this pizza dough with a little bit of whole wheat flour. It worked great, but would have been easier to work with if I’d chilled the dough before rolling up the stromboli. I baked it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. A fun twist on pizza night!

What are you eating this week?