How I learned to cook

Before I get into how I learned to cook, I thought I’d point out that if you’re reading this somewhere other than on my site, like a reader, you might be missing out on seeing our lovely new family photo in the header. We recently did a mini photo shoot with the talented and lovely Whitney Loibner, and I’m thrilled with how the pictures turned out. I highly recommend a mini shoot if you have toddlers– 15 minutes was about all my kids could handle, and we were outta there and off to get pancakes as a treat in no time. And if you have a talented photographer like Whitney,  you’ll still get plenty of great shots in a short amount of time.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog programming:


I’ve kind of become notorious among my friends for Instagramming my food. One friend joked that whatever we have on Friday night, they have on Saturday. Others have joked about their dinners being “one-upped by the Orsborns.” Another Instagrammed her dinner last night and said I inspired her to do so. For all the hating posting food pics can get, most of my real-life feedback has been that my friends like my dinner posts and don’t want me to stop. Thank goodness, because I wasn’t planning to! (There’s a reason I joke that my Instagram brand is “all the things you hate:” kids, food, drinks, selfies, pets.)

Another question friends have asked is when I’m going to teach them how to cook. While I would like to occasionally host some kind of cooking party where everyone walks away with a couple freezeable dinners, that’s not really in my plans anytime soon, either. But what I can tell you is how I learned to cook.

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the verdict is in: meatballs are changing my life

The Friday Night Meatballs themselves.

The Friday Night Meatballs themselves.

I wrote back in September about the Friday Night Meatballs movement– it all started with a piece on Serious Eats that promised to change my life with pasta. The idea was to create a standing casual dinner party that would create community and serve as a social outlet, a sort of secular sabbath. I of course loved the idea immediately and was eager to give it a shot. I didn’t even allow myself to be deterred by the fact that I had never made meatballs before. That first FNM was such a hit that we decided to keep it going, and now, as I type, my house smells like garlic and tomatoes because I have my red sauce simmering on the stove for our FOURTH Friday Night Meatballs. (Some bloggers write posts ahead of time. I just sit down during nap time and write what I can.)

Hosting tip: always drink wine while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

Hosting tip: always drink wine while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

The FNM table all set and ready to go. The cheese stands alone.

The FNM table all set and ready to go. The cheese stands alone.

I knew from the start that although a weekly FNM sounds nice, it wouldn’t work for us, because Jon isn’t always off on Friday evenings– and I really think doing it on Friday is key, because it’s not a “school night” and most folks are off the next day, so the FNM can be relaxed, a nice way to ease from work week to weekend, and no one is in too much of a hurry to leave. Last time, we had four toddlers playing so happily together that we let bedtimes be damned and allowed them to play until almost 9 while the grownups chatted. So, for us, FNM has become more of a monthly than a weekly gathering, and that’s fine too.

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learning to love…guacamole

I7338661312_63d3beb6dd_z‘ve made no secret about the fact that I find truly picky (adult) eaters pretty annoying. Having a few dislikes is normal for anyone, but picky eating has always seemed to me to be a symptom of a larger lack of adventurousness or total control-freakery, and it just gets on my nerves. I’m even annoyed by my own dislikes. Blueberries, mushrooms, and avocado have long topped my list of dislikes, and I’ve often wished I could just *like* these things. I make it a habit to try things I think I dislike on a regular basis, just to see if maybe I was wrong and I really try to like them. I’ve learned to like mushrooms in most things, as long as they aren’t the main focus of a dish, but I still don’t like blueberries in anything except pancakes (yes, this is different than in muffins, and no, I will not eat a blueberry muffin, no thanks). Thank God my temporary postpartum dislike of coffee disappeared after a couple of months.

The weirdest thing has happened with avocado. Continue reading


To all the folks who may be new around here thanks to yesterday’s Freshly Pressed feature: welcome! You may notice I’m writing about food today and not current events: that happens a lot. Day to day you might find food, parenting, DIY, current events, pop culture, feminism, politics, literature…something for almost everyone, I guess!

Now back to your regularly scheduled MMMMonday, a weekly roundup of all things tasty in my world.



Can I start by admitting a Pinterest FAIL? Have you seen all those “never grow green onions again!” pins that advise just putting the root ends in a glass of water and letting them regrow? WASTE OF TIME. I tried it. I mean, I grow veggies and herbs. We used to run an urban garden. I put my green onions in a glass of water on my windowsill. Two weeks of my kitchen smelling vaguely of onions and swamp water (that water got FUNKY), and only two of the bunch had grown at all. I think I’ll just keep spending the 75 cents for green onions when I need them.

I wanted a roasted chicken but didn’t want to heat up my kitchen. Enter: slow cooker. I filled the bottom with red potatoes and a few cloves of garlic, put a chicken on top, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and Cavender’s, added a few lemon slices, and created deliciousness that didn’t require a 400 degree oven. The Pinterest component is the side dish. I used oregano instead of basil, because my basil has died/fried, but the oregano is still kicking. Really tasty!

I did not expect to love this dish like I did. It’s basically an Asian noodle bowl, but the “noodles” are spaghetti squash. It’s also full of kale and broccoli, so it’s super healthy. The one thing I did differently was use peanut oil instead of grapeseed oil in the spicy peanut sauce, because I don’t keep grapeseed oil on hand.

I sometimes joke that my Colorado-native hubby had to marry a Southern girl just for the okra, which is one of his favorite foods. This recipe was different than my usual fried okra, because they’re sliced sorta like fries, and are just fried in the oil solo, no batter or cornmeal or anything. They’ve got an Indian sort of spice thanks to garam masala, and I really liked it for a change of pace. I might experiment with the same flavor profile in an oven-roasted version.

I’m a pickle fanatic, and I definitely prefer the ones you can only get in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. These come as close to those as any homemade version I’ve tried, and since they’re a refrigerator version, you don’t have to worry about canning or sealing or botulism or anything. So good!

This recipe isn’t a new one, but it’s a fave. Tarts seem fancy to me for some reason, but this one isn’t too complicated, I swear. The interesting details: you spread a layer of dijon mustard before layering in the tomatoes, goat cheese, herbs, and a drizzle of honey. The flavors are amazing together. You should try it!

OK, no recipe for this one. I basically just made a mint julep, and since I had some strawberries on the verge of going bad, I muddled some in along with the mint. A nice combo!

So: what’s cookin’ for you this week?

MMMMonday (on a Tuesday)

Welcome to MMMMonday…on a Tuesday.

You see, what had happened was… Claire was sick yesterday, and while hanging out in the ER (no worries, just an infection, she’ll be ok), I tried to post my MMMMonday post from my WordPress phone app. And somehow all the pictures posted, but none of the text. What follows is my recreation of that text, though surely it was better the first time.

I didn’t actually cook much “new” stuff this week because I couldn’t be arsed to go to the grocery store. Which means I did a lot of pantry-staple cooking. My pantry stocking borders on Doomsday Prepper. I feel antsy if I don’t have plenty of dried pasta, rice, canned beans, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, onions, garlic, butter, and olive oil. Those ingredients plus odds and end vegetables can be combined to create veggie fried rice, pasta with simple red sauce, and black beans with coconut rice, all of which made an appearance on our table this week.

Eventually I made it to the Farmer’s Market and restocked us a bit, and I still managed to try a few new things I had pinned. Check it out:


These lime bars from the A Beautiful Mess blog were delicious. Can’t wait to try the grapefruit version.


I make a lot of hummus, but after finding some beautiful eggplants at the farmer’s market, I decided to try my hand at baba ghanouj. It’s a little more labor intensive than hummus, because you have to roast the eggplant, but it’s very tasty. I made homemade pitas to go with it, and even Etta was a big fan.


I used some of the aforementioned farmer’s market eggplants along with local squash and zucchini to make a gorgeous layered ratatouille, which I served over whole wheat pearl couscous alongside some leftover local hanger steak from a cookout with friends. A very tasty way to eat some of the summer’s best veggies. Would be delicious with a poached egg or some goat cheese on top.


I wanted something special to serve with my odds-and-ends veggie fried rice, and was inspired by this salmon recipe. For my version, I just brushed some thawed frozen salmon with a beaten egg, sprinkled with salt and pepper, covered in black sesame seeds, and baked for about 15 minutes at 400. It was flavorful and had a nice crunch!

What about you? Tried any recipes (or other projects) from Pinterest lately? Have any pantry-staple recipes you use when you need to grocery shop to share? What ARE your pantry staples?


I’d say I’m addicted to Pinterest, but that would imply a problem. Really, Pinterest is a big solution for me. I used to have folders upon folders of bookmarked recipes, but I only ever used less than half of the saved sites, because scrolling through filenames isn’t very inspiring or appetizing. Pinterest has changed all that, because I can scroll through pictures instead of filenames. I have 17 food-related pinboards alone, each representing a “genre” of food, like “TexMex/Mexican/Latin,” “Pasta,” and “Breakfast.” I usually loosely plan menus weekly, which for me means picking out 4-5 dinner recipes, a lunch or two, some sort of snack, and maybe a special cocktail or popsicle recipe. I’ll sit down in front of my computer, open up my boards, and pick say, one “Pasta,” one “TexMex,” one “Asian/Middle Eastern” and one “Vegetarian” dinner, scrolling through the pictures to see what looks tasty to me. Then I’ll pick one or two recipes from “Salads and Sides” to have for my lunches, and something from “Appetizers and Snacks” to munch throughout the week. My husband isn’t home for dinner one or two nights a week, and on those nights I eat leftovers, and we usually go out at least once a week. I usually don’t eat breakfast, or if I do, I make some sort of scrambled eggs or a homemade Egg McMuffin.

Many criticize Pinterest for being all inspiration, but very little action. While I do have some purely aspirational Pinboards (I mean, I don’t wear most of the outfits I pin), most of my food-related pins are actually in the queue to try someday soon. I thought it might be fun to actually share the things I cook from my pinboards, and give you the links and let you know how things turned out. I’m calling this feature MMMMonday.

Here’s what I’ve tried recently:

This salad served as my lunch a couple of times this week. I made a few changes to the recipe, namely leaving out the peanuts, adding sesame seeds, and adding a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil to the dressing. Next time I might cut down the dressing a little bit, as the salad was slightly swimming. I’ll definitely be making it again.


I wanted to make a special meal to mark my husband’s first day in his new job, so I turned to classic Southern cuisine. The fried chicken is a recipe from one of my favorite Charleston restaurants, The Glass Onion, and even though it only sat in the buttermilk brine for a few hours instead of overnight, it was still flavorful and juicy. The okra was inspired by this recipe, except I sliced it, tossed it with olive oil, cornmeal, and Cavender’s Greek Seasoning before roasting. A flavorful, healthier alternative to full on fried okra. The tomato salad was served with a Southern Living recipe for a cucumber basil ranch-type dressing, which was a definite keeper. I even ate the cucumbers in the dressing by themselves for a snack later. Omitting the cucumbers altogether would yield a tasty dressing for other salads, too.


This green hummus is a super healthy snack, chock full of protein-filled chickpeas and nutrient-rich greens like arugula, spinach, and cilantro. I didn’t change a thing about the recipe, and even Etta loved it smeared on a tortilla. I prefer to dip veggies, myself.


This dinner was inspired by a sausage and spinach stuffed shells recipe. When my grocery store didn’t have shells, I decided to turn it into manicotti. My changes were adding a little tomato sauce poured over the manicotti before topping with shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese.


This meal was amazing. I followed the instructions to bake my squash instead of frying it, and it was still crispy and delicious. For the salsa, I used a whole jalapeno, added more cilantro than called for, and added a diced sweet pepper. I also don’t think charring the corn really added all that much to the taste, and would think canned or thawed frozen corn would serve just as well. Another thought: if you don’t want to use panko crumbs, cracker crumbs would be a good substitute. I served the tacos with black beans cooked from dried beans in the crock pot for the first time, which was so easy and cheap, I’ll be ditching my canned beans habit very soon! In the future, I may use this panko-crusted oven-frying method to make veggie “fries,” while playing around with seasonings.

No Pinterest Fails this week! What about you? Have you tried anything you saw on Pinterest lately? How did it turn out?

Feeding Miss Etta


I’ve posted a little bit about feeding my girls, but after a few comments on Twitter and Instagram about Miss Etta’s eating habits, I thought it might be helpful to go ahead and write a more detailed post about my semi-Baby Led Weaning table-food-eating one year old.

We started introducing solids in the form of purees around 6 months, but from the start, Etta wanted little to do with being spoon fed. She likes to do things by and for herself, and the whole thing was largely a very messy battle with her wanting to control the spoon, and very little food winding up in her mouth. By about 9 months, she was still mostly not eating food, so we decided to try “Baby Led Weaning,” which I had mostly heard of on mama message boards. Basically, Baby Led Weaning is giving kids pieces of food that they can feed themselves. I never read the books on the subject, but there are many, as well as websites, so feel free to seek that stuff out. We just started giving her steamed hunks of sweet potato and carrot, about adult finger sized, and from there eventually wound up graduating to just feeding her foods.

These days, my entire fridge is full of little tupperwares of Etta meal components. Then her meals are basically just multiple choice problems. Breakfast is usually fruit+grain+dairy, and lunch and dinner are protein+veggies+grain, with an occasional dairy item thrown in.


  • No sugar added applesauce (the only ingredients are apples and apple juice, but I may start adding cinnamon to give her some flavor), served in a Yummi Pouch.
  • I buy canned/jarred fruit a lot, and either give it to her to feed herself in chunks, or puree it in my Ninja Blender and serve it to her in a Yummi Pouch, often adding oatmeal baby cereal to it. We like peaches, pears, pineapple, and mixed tropical fruit in juice (not syrup).
  • Fresh fruits like pears, sliced into wedges she can hold and gnaw on. Hunks of banana or mango, sliced berries, and clementine segments have also gone over well. I’ve even bought frozen berries, thawed, and served them to her, though they were a huge mess. In the future, I may restrict berries to purees in the Yummi Pouch so she looks less like an extra from a zombie flick.



  • We are big fans of toast+spreads, both for breakfast and dinner. Toast is usually a halved multigrain English muffin or multigrain bread. Spreads include guacamole, butter, hummus, jam, pumpkin butter, tahini, almond, and peanut butter. I cut the toast into strips of about adult finger size, and she goes to town. 
  • Tortillas, spread with any of the above spreads, or as a cheese quesadilla.
  • Earth’s Best baby crackers or graham crackers
  • Veggie pastas, like the kind with spinach and tomato in it, either plain or tossed in some simple tomato sauce (this is messy). Bowties and Penne seem easy to hold.
  • Spinach and cheese raviolis, cooked and cut into quarters.
  • Rice
  • Mashed potatoes, though this is a messy proposition and usually necessitates a bath as she smears it in her hair.
  • Roasted potatoes.
  • The occasional French fry.


  • BEANS! Etta loves beans. I buy organic canned beans (I admit, I’m not stressing about BPA in canned foods at this point, though I buy BPA free items whenever possible), and she likes kidney, pinto, black, and garbanzo beans. I just rinse them and keep them in a container in the fridge. She gets a handful at a time. Hummus on toast, as mentioned above, also counts as a serving of beans. Warning: you will see the bean peels when you change a poopy diaper. Do not be alarmed!
  • Cooked chicken, shredded or cubed. She usually only gets this if we’re having chicken for dinner.
  • Fish. So far she’s just had salmon when we were having it for dinner, but she was a fan. She loves flavorful stuff.
  • Scrambled tofu. She loved scrambled eggs until we had a pretty strong allergic reaction, and she likes scrambled tofu almost as much, particularly flavored up with chili powder and cheese.


  • Frozen mixed veggies have been a staple. They’re easy to steam in the microwave and store in a tupperware, and she gets to try a large variety. I often add butter or olive oil and some sort of spices or herbs, because I’ve discovered through serving her bits of our meals that she really loves flavor. Peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, zucchini, squash, butternut squash, edamame, and lima beans are all easy to get in the freezer section.
  • Sauteed, steamed, ora roasted fresh veggies are great too– whatever we’re having for dinner, she often gets some. Zucchini seems to be a fave.
  • Halved cherry tomatoes. She loves these. The acidity often irritates the skin on her face and hands though, so I can’t give them to her as often as she’d like. She noms all the goodness out and spits out the peels.
  • Weird stuff, like hearts of palm from a salad we had, are always fun for her to try, and she often ends up loving them.


  • YOGURT. I make homemade yogurt, and she eats it in a Yummi Pouch.
  • Cheese. Cubed cheddar, jack, or mozzarella are easy, as is pre-crumbled goat cheese and feta. She loves them all.

When I have several of the above components, meals just become a simple matter of pulling out the containers and giving her a little of each category. Any time I don’t think she’s eaten a lot of the food, I give her a pouch of yogurt or apple sauce to round out the meal and fill her up. So far, she’s pretty willing to try just about anything, and she’s not very picky. I will be sure to update with a new post once we’re further into toddlerhood!