Mock Pizza Hot Dog Salad

The Secrets of “The Stuff”

 

Mock Pizza Hot Dog Salad

The Stuff on hamburger buns, because we’re classy like that!

Because it’s the holidays and I love you, I’m about to let you in on a horrifying family secret. One that if you are brave enough to attempt for yourself, you will thank me for. In secret!

Okay. When my brother and I were little, our Grandma Benge used to make us something she called “Mock Pizza,” and BJ and I dubbed “The Stuff.” It was cheesy and melty and meaty and indescribably delicious—we couldn’t get enough of it, and we begged our mother to make it. For a long time she denied knowing anything about it, but our will (and appetite) was strong, and we wore her down.

Now usually, when I get to this part of the story, the listeners lean forward, ready to hear about some charmingly rustic, vintage recipe. That’s when I say,

“You take a pound of hot dogs, a pound of Velveeta, half a red onion, and mayonnaise, and grind them into a paste.” Looks of betrayal, panic, and revulsion soon follow.

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What? It’s delicious!

But trust me! Spread this, um, delightful concoction (a cousin to such delights as ham salad) on sliced French bread and put it under the broiler—or, to be super special, spread it on refrigerated crescent-roll dough, roll ’em up, and bake them according to package directions—and you will be rewarded with one of the most delicious treats you will ever be lucky enough to eat! It’s pure alchemy!

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Okay, this photo is a little gross. Just trust me!

The red onion is my innovation (my Grandma Benge used pimentos), but you could make your own adjustments: I imagine pickles, olives, and other add-ins would be very tasty!

The Stuff, aka Grandma Benge’s Mock Pizza

You need:

 

1 pound hot dogs (whatever your favorite is), cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound Velveeta, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1/2-1 cup mayonnaise, to taste

Mix the first three ingredients in a bowl, then run it through the coarse setting of a meat grinder or pulse it in a food processor. You want it to be spreadable but not totally smooth. Stir in mayonnaise to taste!

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The Stuff ready for action! And the apocalypse.

To use: Spread on baguette slices, hamburger buns, etc., and place under the broiler. Broil until the cheese melts and it gets a little browned. Delicious!

Alternately, you can spread refrigerated crescent roll dough with The Stuff, roll them up, and bake according to package directions. Warning: let them cool a little so you don’t burn off the top of your mouth with molten meat-cheese paste.

Add this to your next holiday get-together and delight your guests! Maybe just don’t tell them what they’re eating!

Do you have secret special holiday family recipes to share? Post them below!

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Christmas in Dairyville

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas in Portland

Christmas in DairyvilleHo ho ho! As longtime readers know, I am a big fan of Christmas. The decorations! The family togetherness! The holiday china! Yes, I serve all of our meals on our Lenox Holiday china every day in December–otherwise it would just be silly to collect it, right?

But. There has been a bit of a shadow over this year. As someone who grew up in Portland in the late ’70s and early ’80s, there were some treasured, longstanding traditions that finally gave up the ghost in 2017: Meier & Frank’s (and later Macy’s) iconic Santaland, and the Meier & Frank (later My Macy’s) Holiday Parade.

Founded in 1857 right here in Portland, Meier & Frank was a titan, a chain of department stores whose expansion was inextricably entwined in the development of our very city. But, more importantly, Santaland was amazing. Situated on the 10th floor of the landmark downtown Meier & Frank building, Santaland was a winter wonderland filled with animatronic elves and reindeer, glittering Christmas trees, and gaily wrapped gifts leading to the real Santa (with a real beard) who “remembered” your name year after year. The whole thing was placed smack-dab in the middle of a huge selection of toys and ringed from above with a monorail that gave kids a birds’ eye view of the entire floor.

Meier & Frank Santaland

My brother and me at the Meier & Frank Santaland, 1980.

As the years went by, changes came: the toys thinned out (Toys R Us cornered the market), Meier & Frank was changed to Macy’s, and then when the building was remodeled, Santaland was relocated to the basement, requiring only one escalator instead of the 10 my brother and I scaled each year. The monorail was dismantled with the move, leaving only two stationary cars on the floor for kids to climb on.

But with sales slumping and real estate prices climbing, Macy’s parent company, the May Company, put the building up for sale last year, breaking up Santaland and ending the parade after nearly 20 years.

That was sad enough, but also, I had continued the tradition, bringing my kids there for pictures with Santa! So clearly, priority #1 this year was finding a new place to see Santa and rekindle the Christmas spirit! Here are my discoveries and experiences:

Christmas in Dairyville

Christmas in Dairyville: First off, I don’t know how I lived my life to this point without ever going here. Um, did everyone else know that Alpenrose has an entire “Western town” called Dairyville that includes an incredible “Storyville Lane” that’s like the Christmas equivalent of the Enchanted Forest? Because I did not. This is where we started our journey to make Christmas memories.

Pros:

  • Christmas in Dairyville is free to the public and huge!
  • Storyville Lane is pretty rad–flocked trees, little vintage Christmas houses, live animals.
  • They have face painting, ice cream (it was way too cold), food, and a gift shop.
  • Lots of cool historical exhibits, from vintage pianos (?) to classic old Alpenrose trucks and sleighs.

Cons:

  • We were there for about an hour and a half before we went to find Santa, and found that there was a two-hour wait. (We did not wait, see below.) Next time we’ll go take a number as soon as we get there.
  • The quality of the hot cocoa for sale was shockingly bad: clearly hot water with an inadequate amount of cocoa mix. Alpenrose is an actual dairy, why wouldn’t they offer, I don’t know, milk? Heat their own chocolate milk? It was not good.
Santaland at Oregon Historical Society

My very patient children–especially my son, Sid, thank you–at the Oregon Historical Society.

Meier & Frank Santaland at the Oregon Historical Society: I was very excited when I heard that Macy’s had donated part of Santaland to the Oregon Historical Society. Yes! A place that would cherish and display Santaland and preserve this important piece of history! When I saw that Santa would be there, I bundled my husband and the kids into the car and drove there next.

Pros:

  • It’s free to the public (the Oregon Historical Society is also free to Multnomah County residents).
  • There was almost no wait.
  • Pictures are free–bring your camera or device and a helper will take your picture.

Cons:

  • While the picture on OHS’s website is of the entire Santaland, it’s actually just a tiny corner with Rudolph, a couple of elves, and Santa’s chair. Don’t get me wrong–I’m so happy they have it. But my expectations were a little higher.
  • Unlike the traditional Santaland Santa, OHS’s Santa did not have a real beard.

Santaland at Lloyd Center Macy'sSantaland at the Lloyd Center Macy’s: Soon after our trip to OHS, I learned that the Lloyd Center Macy’s also had a piece of Santaland! Recapturing my Christmas memories was starting to resemble a game of Pokemon–I now have to run around and catch them all. But I needed to return some clothes to Old Navy, so Sarah and I went for a visit.

Pros:

  • Again, free.
  • This was actually a larger display that OHS’s–a little scenescape with the animatronic elves decorating the tree and pushing a gift-laden cart.
  • Near the Frango chocolates display. More nostalgia!

Cons:

  • No Santa (there’s a main mall Santa instead).

Monorail Exhibit at Pioneer Place: Oh my goodness. I am tired just typing this. I then discovered that the monorail cars are on display at the Pioneer Place Mall downtown. I have not witnessed this myself, but I doubt I will be able to resist checking it out. Is it near Hipster Santa? (UGH.)

I’m left with so many questions. Where are the rest of Santa’s reindeer? Or Macy’s 12 Days of Christmas window displays? What will move into the old Meier & Frank building? Is it time to relinquish my death grip on my childhood Christmas memories? My very patient husband–and children–might appreciate it.

Other Christmas treasures I’ve enjoyed this year:

The Hollywood Theatre has been playing Christmas matinees on the weekend, so I got to see White Christmas on the big screen for the first time ever, which was awesome. They will be playing a series of animated Christmas shorts, including Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, 12/23 at 2:00 pm.

Broadway Floral Home & Garden have some really beautiful wreaths for about $20. No bows, but I saved mine from years past.

We drove to three different Christmas tree lots in the bitter cold looking for a decent noble fir, but Fred Meyer ended up having the best option, at the best price ($41.99 for a 5-6 footer). They are extremely picked over, however.

Grocery Outlet Bargain Market has largish poinsettias for $6.99, a real bargain compared to $9.99 at Fred Meyer. Also, extremely cheap cheese, a must for any holiday gathering.

So what are your holiday musts and recommendations? Post them below!

Buy Hanna Andersson Without Breaking the Bank

Hanna Andersson Velour Stripe Dress

Two years ago I plunged into dangerous waters, and I blame my brother. He had a son in September 2015, and, being huge fans of Christmas, we immediately made plans to have our kids take photos with Santa together. “I got Roman some cute pajamas at Hanna Andersson,” he said. “Maybe he and Sarah can match!”

I had ventured into the Hanna Andersson store about a year previously—and immediately fled, because while their clothes are cute, they are generally at least twice as expensive (or more) as Carter’s. I mean, a $65 dress? For a baby? However, their Santa pajamas were so cute. Yes I bought them. And sure, they could have my email address.

This led to the discovery that Hanna Andersson has outlets, where clothes are usually discounted by at least 20%. However, these can be hit or miss–there have been several times where I have been lured in by an email touting $7 swimsuits or somesuch, only to discover that they have maybe one cheap suit in my daughter’s size . . . and a bunch of $65 dresses at 20% off. I love my daughter, but I’m still not shelling out $52 for a dress unless it’s some magic Christmas dress that somehow solves hunger or something.

Hanna Andersson Leggings Purple

Why buy Hanna at all? First, their clothes are cute. Like, super cute. They’re made of organic cotton, they’re constructed really well, and they wear really well. They don’t ever have writing on the butt or sexist sayings like “Math Is Hard” (although I wish they had more rockets and dinosaurs for girls). They look wholesome and like you could probably eat them when the zombie apocalypse comes and get all your essential nutrients (and fiber).

I’ve gotten plenty of clothes from Carter’s that look cute until about the fifth time I wash them, and then they look faded and limp. I’m not a huge fan of shopping–I get overwhelmed easily and start second guessing myself–so my method of doing major shopping for Sarah, who is now three, twice a year works really well for me. And I love how Hanna’s colorful patterns and combinations makes it easy to coordinate everything (again, I get confused!). So my system works really well for me and I wanted to share it!

Hanna Andersson Cottage Pink Playdress

Buying Hanna Andersson on the Cheap . . . ish

So the clothes are generally expensive (see above) and the outlets can be hit or miss (again, see above). Fortunately, I’ve found that Hanna Andersson’s Black Friday Sales are fantastic. This seems to be when they take everything out of the warehouse and go nuts, so there’s a lot to choose from in Sarah’s size, and I can find at least five dresses (I love their playdresses) and five pairs of coordinating leggings for about $200. So . . . I buy Sarah a 10-item wardrobe too, I guess?!? Except my mom and other family members gift her with clothes, too, ha.

Now this is still more expensive than Carter’s or other options. But in Oregon’s rainy climate, Sarah will generally wear long sleeves/pants nine months out of the year, and each of these outfits is worn at least once a week. And if nothing untoward happens (rips, stains I just can’t get out, huge growth spurts), she can still wear them the next year and look great, or I can pass them on to a friend and feel good about it.

Hanna Andersson Leggings Red

This year I missed the Black Friday Sale in the outlets (which generally starts before Black Friday, FYI), but I did squeak into the Cyber Monday Sale last night: an extra 25% off plus free shipping. And then I got a notice that this sale has been extended today and tomorrow (although it does look like free shipping is off the table—if you have a Hanna Andersson store nearby, you can have your loot shipped there for free)! So if you’ve been a little gun-shy about spending Nordstrom money on a toddler who regularly pours soup on himself, check it out! (Note: I am not an affiliate or paid shill. I would happily be a paid shill. Call me, Hanna.)

For Sarah’s summer clothes, I shop online between spring and summer and pounce when the spring clothes are mega cheap (short-sleeved dresses and shorts). Boom, done!

Hanna Andersson Tips: Making Clothes Last

So Hanna Andersson’s clothes are well made from quality materials, but I am still a little weird about keeping them nice and I’ve learned a couple of things to pass on:

  • Be conscious of woven vs. printed patterns. Before you buy, take note of whether the colors are printed, a.k.a. a floral pattern that was dyed into the fabric, or woven, a.k.a. a stripe that was knit from different-colored fibers. (To double check, look at the “wrong” side of the fabric and it will be obvious.) I still buy both, but generally, the woven pattern will stay vibrant longer.
  • Hang them to dry. The heat from the dryer is what breaks the fibers down in clothing and fades the color, so I hang all of Sarah’s clothes on a cheap wooden fold-out rack to dry. They’re still little, so they all fit on one rack! Extra credit: wash them inside out.
  • Use a good stain remover. The benefit of hanging clothes to dry is the dryer won’t set stains permanently, so tricky ones like grease—which often don’t show until your clothes are already dry—are easier to get out.

So that’s my crazy, what’s yours? Anyone else unhealthily obsessed with premium children’s clothes? I could use the company.

Starbucks red cup 2017

Starbucks Red Cups, Zero Waste, and the Meier & Frank Holiday Parade

Starbucks red cup 2017Starbucks red cups are here! And people are losing their minds again! Thank god. I mean, can you imagine how sad Starbucks would be if people weren’t emotionally engaged with their holiday-themed marketing product to the point where they write about how mad and disappointed they are all over social media (and incidentally spread the word far better than an ad campaign could)?

Said ad campaign:


And yet . . . Starbucks red cups are special to me. I admit it. Even though I know it’s marketing, and I know it’s wasteful to buy coffee in a disposable, non-recyclable cup with a plastic lid, just seeing it brings me back to the Meier & Frank Holiday Parade here in Portland. Beginning in the ’80s, my mom would take me and my brother to see this homespun local parade—full of floats, high school marching bands, rodeo queens, and Shriners—and we would cheer and wait to see Santa ride up at the very end, and then we’d race inside to see Santaland.

Later, it was something just me and my dad would do (Mom wanted a break, my brother was living out of state), and then all four of us would go as a family. And as adults, part of the ritual became getting white chocolate peppermint mochas (oh, I am full of embarrassing confessions today) in Starbucks holiday cups. And I would feel warm and cozy and loved, and connected to my family and my city, because we were joining together for a yearly event that we’d done for decades, and all was right with the world.

But at some point, Meier & Frank (a department store with a rich and important history in Portland) was purchased by Macy’s, and after a few years they changed the store’s name. And then it was the Macy’s Holiday Parade (but not that Macy’s Holiday Parade). And then the downtown Macy’s store (still referred to as the Meier & Frank Building) closed this year. Goodbye parade. I even missed its final year, because of kids and rain and life, because I couldn’t imagine that even with the store closing, that someone wouldn’t take on the mantle of this historic, homey, seemingly essential parade. Such is life.

But Starbucks red cups are still here! I figure that much of our modern waste is due to convenience (individually packaged pre-sliced apples?), but so much is due to nostalgia and the kind of emotional connection that can only be forged by the epic collision of personal history and ad campaign.

Whew! This is a long essay to say I figured out a way to participate in this yearly controversy while eliminating the pesky paper-and-plastic waste (mostly): I bought a reusable Starbucks red cup and yes, I broke it out today (with coffee I made at home). It’s not colorable like this year’s model, but I can take it into Starbucks and get it filled with my yearly white chocolate peppermint mochas (no judgment) and I can go visit Meier & Frank’s erstwhile Santaland at the Oregon Historical Society with my brother, and something will be sacred, and something will last, and okay I may be a little stressed out right now.

But my point is, you can reduce your waste without cutting out the rituals and traditions that bring you joy—even if they seem a little silly when you type them down. Next up: how the heck do I get around holiday wrapping paper?!? If you have any suggestions, post them below!

NERD CAMP Wine Tasting and Speed Friending

Help Us Raise 4,800 Pounds of Food for SnowCap Community Charities

NERD CAMP Wine Tasting and Speed FriendingLooking for some nerdy fun where you can make 20+ friends in one night? What if I told you it involves wine and fabulous prizes by local Portland businesses? And—by the way—you can feel good about having all this fun because you’re also helping raise money to buy 4,800 pounds of food for the needy in east Multnomah County, right before Thanksgiving?

That’s right: get tickets now for NERD CAMP Wine Tasting and Speed Friending, November 15 at Pairings Portland! There are two seatings, one at 6:00 pm and one at 8:00 pm, and a total of 48 seats available. Tickets are just $25 each, and $5 of each ticket goes directly to SnowCap Community Charities, where it will buy 100 pounds of food for your needy neighbors. If they sell out, that’s 4,800 pounds of food in just one night!

Plus, they’ll be raffling off fantastic prizes from the Hollywood Theatre, Things From Another World, Red Castle Games, The PDX Broadsides, Hour to Midnight – Room Escape Games, and Stranger Comics!

Here’s how the event works: each seating will start off with a practice tasting to learn how to taste wine properly, and then you’ll be given a nerdy topic to discuss over a great wine so you can get to know your table mates. After each question, you’ll move to another table with new friends to meet. There are six tables and six wines, and you’ll meet more than 20 new friends by the end of the night!

Special thanks to Victory Point Property Group for advertising support. Tickets are limited and this is a great cause, so please buy yours now!

Zero Waste Travel

Zero Waste Travel: On the Road

Zero Waste Travel

Pack your zero waste travel kit before you hit the road!

Okay, so first things first: calling a road trip “zero waste” is a misnomer, since we drove a car and used up a lot of fuel. But when my husband and I went on a weekend trip (by ourselves!!!) for our anniversary, I knew I wanted to at least generate as little trash as possible. And we did pretty good! Here are the essentials I gathered:

  • Backpack. I picked this one up for $14 on Craigslist because one, I’m cheap, and two, there was zero packaging. I was really resistant to getting a backpack for a long time (so dorky!) but I realized that if I’m going to bring gear, I need something to hold it while keeping my hands free. This Black River Camping Company model (some Amazon special from years ago) is great: lightweight, with two insulated side pockets for food and drink, and mesh pouches for water bottles, keys, etc. I’ve also been using this for our day trips to the zoo and the fair!
  • Water bottle. This is a no-brainer, and yet it’s usually something I forget, filled with water and ice, on the coffee table as I drive away. Not this time!
  • Travel coffee mugs. I love my Aladdin stainless steel travel mug (it’s no longer available, but here are some similar ones). The handle is convenient, it fits into my car’s cup holders, and it’s perfect for hot and cold drinks. My guilty pleasure in the summer is getting Starbucks frappuccinos, and this cup keeps them so cold. I found the National Geographic cup (classy!) for my husband–never used, it still had the washing instructions inside–at our local Goodwill.
  • Extra shopping bag. This is essential in case you do any shopping (see more on that, below) or want to bag your dirty laundry. This was a gift–one of those parachute silk bags that actually tucks inside itself to be a teeny tiny bag. Sweet!
  • Snacks. I brought along some La Croix and a container of chocolate almonds I picked up from the bulk aisles of our local WinCo. I could have gone healthier, but I have no illusions about myself and I didn’t want to be tempted by candy at the gas station.
  • Rubbermaid containers. This was in case we had any leftovers to bring back to our room (we didn’t). I used Rubbermaid because one, I had them already, and two, I am not coordinated enough to bring breakable glass with me.

Things I could have used and will pick up before our next trip:

  • Metal straws. Although my cup is great for those frappuccinos, you still need a straw to drink one. Glass scares me.
  • Bandannas/handkerchiefs. To use as napkins, etc.
  • First aid/medical kit. I usually have a small container ready to go with ibuprofen, Band-Aids, Pepto, etc. I did not have one for this trip, and I regretted it.
Zero Waste Travel Snacks

Snacky goodness from the bulk bins!

Other food-related things you can do to cut down on trash on the road are eat at sit-down restaurants with real plates and silverware (bring bandannas!) or pack your own food. But what about the other great pleasure of travel–shopping?

Once you get into the “I-don’t-need-more-stuff” mindset, shopping while on vacation can be a bummer. I’ve accepted that I don’t need most knick-knacks–and neither do my friends. I get my books from the library. So why would I enter the local boutiques and bookstores and waste their time? Fortunately, I found a couple of strategies to amuse myself.

  • Go on a treasure hunt. You see, there are a few weird things I would absolutely buy on sight, if I came across them. For example, a coffee cup that looks like a terra cotta pot. I bought one for my Mom for Mother’s Day decades ago, and when we used to visit the Fish House Inn in Dayville every year, I was delighted to see they had one! I used it for my coffee every morning. The last time we went there it was gone–broken? Stolen? So while I will likely never see one ever again, the search is always fun (do not buy me one).
  • Shop thrift stores. I used to do this all the time when I was young and broke. Thrift stores can be souvenir gold mines, especially in touristy locations, where people are dying to get rid of things they bought after one too many frozen margaritas. Years ago, my best friend found me an old Martha’s Vineyard sweatshirt at the Dumptique–for free. It was much cooler than the brand-new, overly rubbery options at the local tourist traps. Plus: no packaging!
  • Shop local. At the very least, shop the locally owned bookstores, gift shops, and pharmacies where you travel. Use your own bags, refuse a receipt, and support the local economy!

While absolute zero waste travel is impossible, with a little preparation, you can avoid most trash and save yourself some money–and even generate a little extra fun! Who has more tips for me? Post them below!

Happy Monday: I Enjoy Yard Work?!?

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#wokeuplikethis #nofilter

Happy Monday! I am pleased as punch to have some blogging time this morning, but I am a little perplexed. I have been undergoing . . . changes. I understand that at various points of a woman’s life, certain things . . . evolve. But I never thought I would start to enjoy yard work?

Growing up, yard work was a definite thing–that I would avoid. While my mother is a serious gardener (in addition to keeping a beautifully organized home) who knows all the Latin names of plants, I hate worms. And blisters. And getting dirt under my fingernails. Yard work was always like running–I liked the idea of it at times, but as soon as I was standing in the sun sweating, I would start to think, wouldn’t reading be a better use of my time?

Until now, my gardening has been limited to growing essential food: tomatoes, zucchini, basil. Even then, I became overwhelmed with the weeds and volunteer hours of my local community garden and was summarily kicked out after my plot (10′ x 20′ plot of sheer hubris) became a jungle.

But something changed this year. Between us and our neighbors, we took down several ill-advised trees (seriously, someone planted a sequoia in a four-foot-wide space), and my previously shady back yard became suffused with light! Which meant my sad, patchy, weedy lawn (all 200 square feet of it) was much easier to see. And I became obsessed.

I suddenly found myself at Fred Meyer with an armload of products: weed killer! Moss killer! Lawn seed! I feverishly applied each in turn, setting up an old sprinkler and coaxing my lawn back to life. Not only did I start mowing it regularly, but I even edged it–by hand–last Friday. It took two hours! And I had blisters!

And it turns out that taking care of your lawn is like making your bed: the surrounding space suddenly looks 100% better. So I found myself thinking, “I should really rake those leaves,” and “I bet I could weed the whole area while Sarah is napping,” and “Scott should really sweep back here,” (I am not sweeping). And then I started bringing a book and an iced coffee out back and enjoying my back yard. Outside. We had a barbecue this weekend and it was awesome. Could hiking be in my future?!? HA HA HA only under protest.

But apparently this impulse isn’t going anywhere–I’ve caught myself eyeing the fallen leaves and weeds in the front yard and thinking, “Gee, I could clean that all up in a couple of days.” So I guess this is me now. I may even plant some perennials this fall and actually do most of the work, instead of standing back in awe as my mom goes to town!

Well! That was longer than I thought. On to links!

Geekery

The new Thor trailer is out and boy oh boy, if you’re a fan of Walter Simonson’s iconic run, you’re in for a treat!

Speaking of Walter Simonson’s Thor, my podcast with Miles Stokes, THOR: The Lightning and the Storm, is almost complete! The penultimate episode is up now.

Portlanders, there’s another geeky wine event coming up next month! Pairings Portland is throwing a Game of Thrones Wine Tasting Flight August 9-12. Eight wines paired to eight characters for $25!

What are you enjoying right now? Post below!