Sunday, September 28, 2008

MPM--Finally, The Start of School Edition

Happy Monday!

This weekend included my first ever bloggy meetup with a group from Ask Moxie. It was really fun and interesting, seeing, for example, Moxie's whole face, instead of just her glasses; and while many of the women didn't look like my mental image of them, once I met them I felt like, oh, ok, that makes sense too. It'll be fun to read the comments section and have faces behind some of the names. Now if Bossy's group can just get back together on a night I'm not carrying the plague (like I was last time), I'll be in business.

This week should be interesting. Among other things, my older son FINALLY starts school. (He feels that way too!) Last week went well, though a bit off plan. We went to one last baseball game before the season wound down on Wednesday, and then Thursday's tailgate was rained out, so we moved indoors and had turkey chili and leek quiche (adapted only very slightly from this month's Bon Appetit. I do love me some leeks!). So I never got to the pork tenderloin last week, hence its reappearance here.... Here's hoping it's good. I'm making extra to take to my mother and father in law. She's having a long-overdue knee replacement on Tuesday, so it's the least I can do. (And totally off that subject--it's an awesome Bon Appetit month--I can't wait to try this quickbread and this dessert. And I've already made the leeks and another thing I can't think of from this issue already. Thanks as ever to the very thoughtful Best Babysitter in the World for gifting me the subscription!)

I've also tried hard to get back in the routine of making Aid for Friends meals. I'm really unhappy with the number of times this summer I threw something away or (less so) fed it to the dog because I was too lazy to fill a tray. I can do better.

So, this week:

Monday: Spaghetti and roasted tomato sauce from some of the last of the summer tomatoes.

Tuesday: Pork tenderloin and either zucchini rice gratin or couscous salad, plus lima beans from the CSA

Wednesday: leftovers, augmented by freezer food

Thursday: I'll figure out something. (Probably ravioli from the freezer with peas and cheese? Something simple that won't have many leftovers.) Because the rest of the week is easy:

Friday: Homecoming at the high school so we'll eat at the game (if it rains we'll go out for pizza)

Saturday: the Light the Night Walk, in memory of my sister-in-law, whose 50th birthday would have been last Thursday, which was the other reason we had nine people for dinner after the football game. She died from lymphoma in January 2005. (Click on the link to learn more. It's pretty cool; they figured out a way to light up the inside of balloons that float and glow in the growing darkness. And it's an easy, stroller friendly walk if anyone wants to join us.)

Sunday: the Media Food Fest! Totally worth the trip, with food from multiple ethnic traditions. And a place to donate things like instant brown rice that I didn't really need for the Robin Miller recipe last week after all. (The chicken was good, if a bit unusual. I don't often think horseradish on chicken. But the acorn squash with the pumpkin seeds was a winner--usually I'm looking for ways to get rid of my acorn squash.)

Meanwhile, the sewer line needs replacing and we are collecting bids for that. Our dishwasher took another turn for the worse so I'm waiting for the next Se@rs sale to swoop in on my cousin's machine for an upgrade. And our TV has finally really, truly lost it. Of course, I have been watching this exact TV so it owes me nothing. Anyone have a 27-32 inch flat screen they love that they want to share information about?

Happy autumn, everyone! And a happy Rosh Hashana to those who are celebrating. If I weren't working Monday and Tuesday, I'd make some honey cake to be with you in spirit. This one sounds so amazing I might just make it anyway.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Getting Ready for Christmas in an All New Way

A few posts ago, I wrote about how I'm trying the new 100 Days to Christmas site, and lamenting how the other Christmas countdowns I've tried leave me feeling like I need a rescue from Martha and Ma Ingalls. But here's one holiday prep I can get behind: Get registered to vote. Learn where your polling place is. Do not delay.

The time is now. On my way to the dentist today I ran in to a McCain-Palin rally and subsequent protesters. I'm kicking myself I didn't get to McCain when his crowds were small. I love voting in my town. The poll watchers and workers are my first grade teacher, the mother of my 8th grade lab partner, my down-the-street neighbor, and the mom of two of the lifeguards I worked with at the pool for several years. I bring my kids, almost always, or at least pictures, and see photos of the kids of the kids I grew up with. I love voting because in my town, it's expected, and at 9 in the morning, my voter number is always over 200. That might be less surprising in a town with more than 5000 registered voters and three precincts. I look forward to voting twice a year (that would include the primaries, obviously, people.) I love voting even though I have a strong history of voting for the people who don't win. This year especially, I can't wait to vote. Partly because I can't wait for the commercials to end. And mostly because, like Jon Stewart, I just look forward to What Comes Next. If you are not in the habit of voting, now is the time to start.

For those of you blogging and supporting Obama, go here. For those of you who are not, I am asking you respectfully and honestly, how do you sleep at night with the words "President P@lin" in your head? Or are you that convinced that the health of McCain will be fine? Maybe having both parents die in their 60s makes me less likely to believe in McCain's continuing health (and I certainly don't wish him ill; I'm just thinking like an actuary here) but I have a hard time understanding what he was thinking on this one.

Anyway. this is Christmas prep I can get behind. Thanks to the 100 Days countdown for the reminder, and Well Read Hostess for the Obama link. (Did I mention that there might be a Dyson on the line on the Obama link? Go see.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

MPM--Not Following Directions Edition

Settling in to September, counting the days until it's time for both kids to be in school. Last week went great for the little guy, though he was totally wiped out. Tuesday was his first day of school, plus Lunch Bunch; then on Wednesday, he went to day care all day; then Thursday, back to school. It was a lot to ask, so I shouldn't be surprised everyone has colds. And every day he mentions playing with someone else, so the social piece seems to be ok...and even today at Day out with Thomas, another little boy from the drop-in (for us) day care recognized him and came over to say hi. "What was his name?" I asked. "Samuel," he said, "Who was wearing the bear in the nighttime shirt." Great description. I should be so lucky with my grownup friends.

Anyway. Veered off course last week, trying the Sloppy Joe Cupcakes from Rocks in my Dryer for the "first day of school" special meal. They were a moderate hit. I'll try again in a few years. My little one is in such a food rut, as much as he did like the biscuit part of the "cupcake," the next night he had a cheese plate.

On to dinners this week. I'm supposed to be doing family favorites, but really, the only favorites in this house are tacos and buttered noodles and I don't think anyone would need a recipe for those. I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else has, though!

Monday: New one for us: Balsamic Roasted Chicken with Acorn Squash; Giada Orzo (not a family favorite but certainly one of mine); green beans. (If chicken doesn't go well I'll switch over to green beans, potatoes, and fennel recipe from The Silver Palate New Basics.)

Tuesday: Chicken curry, rice, broccoli.

Wednesday: Pork tenderloin with mushrooms, Israeli couscous, salad.

Thursday: Tailgate! Our nephew's 9th grade football team from another district plays their first game of the season at our home field. We're expecting about 10 family to come cheer him on. I'm excited to use the "tailgate plug" in my station wagon for the first time ever! Slow cooker hot dogs, orzo salad, Israeli couscous (see the method to my madness?), zucchini rice gratin; various fruit.

Friday: pasta with goat cheese and asparagus

Weekend will include lots of eggs as I thought I was down to one. I was "down" to thirteen...and bought another dozen. Oops.

Also trying to make some molasses muffins, the last of the local corn and peaches, and in desperate search for banana chips to make the cookies I read about here. I'm also desperate to try the cheddar-bacon bread in Bon Appetit this month but can't find dried pears either. On verge of trying to dry my own but that really feels like I'm crossing some line in to obsession.

Come get inspired with me at OrgJunkie's! She's hosting a "my family's favorites" this week. Can't wait to see what others' families eat.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Seems Like It Can't Be...

...but it can!

Certainly the P*ttery B@rn catalog told me so when it came today to mock my house. And every year since I found it, I've been trying to follow the original Holiday Grand Plan, with varied amounts of success. Frankly, I need this much time to get my house ready for the crap festive decorations that come with the holiday. I joined the Yahoo group and everything. But I can't relate to most of the people on that site, who have been canning homegrown fruits and vegetables all summer with little circles of last winter's after-Christmas-clearance fabric tied with neat ribbons on top. Please don't get me wrong. I admire them from the bottom of my heart. But this is not me. Not in this lifetime so far.

So, thanks to OrgJunkie, who had a list today of Christmas prep sites, including this one. (Blog button to come--one a different note, anyone else having issues with Blogger? This weekend, I couldn't add images. Today, it won't let me edit my layout. What gives?) OrgJunkie's post also inadvertently gave me the idea I was looking for for the "group gifts" we now give to all the families of my husband's sisters. (Phew! Not that I've been fretting about this for nine months, since Girlfriend, my almost-SIL, told me she finished everybody's for this year in the after-Christmas sale last year.) So already I feel helped along in my quest for the perfect holiday. By which I mean low-key and unfrantic. I don't need someone to create chores for me ("Today, change all your switchplates to the Christmas themed ones!") or encourage not-really-cute stuff (Reindeer poop as a "cute" idea? That sounds worse than coal to me but I don't have much of a sense of potty humor, I admit.) because it's easy and cheap. I need someone to say, "You know, if you want to do advent calendars, look now, because they'll sell out before the first. At least the ones with the chocolate will." So we'll see how this journey goes. In some ways, it's not starting well; I'm not a notebook kind of girl, despite the solemn assurances that it's the way to Get Organized for Christmas, so I'm not doing today's "get your gear" stuff. But I will set a timer for 10 minutes to start clearing out stuff in the living room (consolidating plants, switching out summery stuff for fall-ish stuff) to acknowledge that it's September. You know, before it's December 24 again and we're flying down Route 13 looking for a Christmas tree lot that's still open. (Not that we'd ever do that. Nope, never heard the Christmas Vigil church bells calling the faithful while we are buying the tree. Not us. Have to look somewhere else.)

Happy 100 Days to go, everyone!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

MPM--Crawling Towards A Routine Edition

Momentous occasion of the week: My three year old starts school on Tuesday! No one is more excited than he is. Alas, I can't even plan a special dinner to celebrate as he has recently completely switched everything he would eat on me again. He used to merely sustain himself from pizza to pizza. This week, I took him to lunch at a pizza place and he drank the milk and had exactly one bite of his slice. We took the rest home and he ate it for dinner, but really, this is a boy who used to regularly inhale half a pizza if we would let him. Avocados are in (again); yay. Rice is out. (Just as well, it's hard to clean up.) And the big news; he has successfully eaten peanut butter twice now so I can stop having panic attacks about that. (As the child of two parents with life-threatening allergies--my mother to bees, my father to swimming fish--this was a source of tremendous concern for us.)

We're also thrilled to have The Best Babysitter in the World back with us for a visit. The boys couldn't contain their excitement this weekend about her arrival, and frankly, we couldn't wait either. We did a deluxe taco dinner tonight and then she and I caught up a bit over making some sauce (gravy) before my Jersey tomatoes went bad (we have had a few that looked fine on the outside but were foamy inside when we cut them...??? never seen that before) and roasting our delicata squash. So this week's menu looks like this:

Monday: Whatever TBBITW decides to grace us with! Or leftover tacos and Moroccan Peach Roasted Chicken. (This was an excellent use for unimpressive peaches. The chicken was a little too soft, almost like a crock-pot consistency, but it was easy, and a hit with my husband at least. I didn't find it very Moroccan and might add cinnamon or something, but then the kids might not eat it so I might just let it be.)

Tuesday: Chicken with figs, rice, delicata squash.

Wednesday: Pasta with roasted tomato sauce, rolls/garlic bread, salad.

Thursday: Whatever is in the box, leftovers, and maybe a pork tenderloin something if there isn't much leftover.

Friday: the big Cousins vs. Cousins football game showdown, so hot dogs for the boys and not quite sure what for me.

And on another note: I have everything I need to make the Smitten Kitchen Pearl Couscous with Olives and Roasted Tomatoes, which sounded great and a super way to use up the Israeli couscous I bought on a whim at Talulah's Table only to discover the same thing at our own Co-Op for less than half the price. However, I got distracted by laundry while bringing the chicken broth to a boil, and, well...let's just say that I'm lucky that the only casualty was the 2-quart cooking pot. I found a 3 quart that I'm working with, and I'll have to use it with the couscous soon because I'm not letting that herb splurge go to waste. I used the thyme already in the tomato sauce, as well as some of my olives, but the mint and the parsley need to find a home pronto. I have got to learn how to grow herbs instead of kill them.

Need some actual inspiration instead of nattering notes on culinary experiments? Try here, at the Organizing Junkie.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Verdict on the Meatballs

I don't know why; maybe with fall comes a new burst of energy, but I really felt like cooking, trying new recipes and other new things, and getting back to blogging this week. (Maybe I have reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder?) The boys and I tried a somewhere-between-gym-and-dance class today and it was adorable, and amazing to watch my younger one totally groove on it and attach himself to the teacher. (And my older, in his usual style, rejected it flat-out at first, watching from the sideline. Then he came over saying, Well, I'll do it, but only the thing that looked cool three moves ago. And then eventually, as a full-on participant, though of course the one who wouldn't freeze when it was time to do so and tried to slam dance the much-smaller kids. Not a terrible thing he's starting school on Wednesdays in a few weeks, I think.)

Today's experiment was the apple-turkey-cheese crockpot meatballs from A Year of Crockpotting. I had everything in the house already (except I used Cr@isins since I wasn't going to the indispensable Tr@der Joe's anytime soon for the unsweetened version), and lots of cooking to do, so this seemed like a good use of time and ingredients.

The verdict? Decidedly mixed, though leaning negative. The most important thing I learned, though, is that my crockpot runs way, way, way hotter on one side than the other. The meatballs on the side on my right were burned to a crisp before 3 hours were up. The meatballs on the left weren't even close to that done. So, thing 1: try the low setting and see if that helps or not.

For that alone, it was worth doing as I'd noticed that this spiffy new crockpot runs much hotter than my old one. (The oldie was only retired because I dropped the insert and cracked it in half.) Now I'm thinking it might only run hotter on one side.

As to the meatballs that were not burned...I'll bet my kids will love them. I don't mean to damn with faint praise, but they were a bit bland for my tastes. Two caveats: I didn't use a green apple (which are my preference as well); maybe the crisper variety and more tart flavor would have amped these up too. And I did use the sweetened cranberries, which may be throwing things off a little. Unfortunately, I am not a good improviser so I can't even guess what else might help. A little poultry seasoning, perhaps? And, come to think of it, mine were definitely not golf ball sized. I live in fear of crispy outsides and raw middles in meatballs, so I lean to the small. I probably should have compensated for that by cooking on low instead.

So, the verdict: might try once more, with Something Else for pizazz, and an altered cooking time. But I will always be glad I made this because--really--meatballs in the slow cooker? Never would have crossed my mind to try this. I know I underutilize my crockpot by only making things that are, it's fair to say, somewhat gloppy or textureless. So, all in all, a successful experiment, even if the actual food result wasn't something I adored. That part is fixable, and the technique part was really valuable.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Brief Update for my Foodie Peeps

Since the food garners the comments, I want to addend:

Yes, MommyChicky, the beets are awesome. Love them roasted.

And we had a slight deviation from the proposed menu when I found this recipe for bacon-wrapped chicken and thought, aha, I have rosemary on its last legs I can use. So I took the past-their-prime sprigs, and wrapped them in under the bacon. Um...yum. Bacon-flavored chicken was a hit with all the boys. Well, one didn't like "the black things" (that would be pepper) but if it was scraped off (or flipped over, ahem) it was fine. It will probably be a slightly healthier replacement of my mother's favorite, which was chicken breast, pounded (I belive her exact term was "whomped") thin, spread with cream cheese (with or without chives), rolled up and wrapped with bacon. Dotting with butter was optional. I kid you not. Excellent if you have very clear arteries and cholesterol, like mine, that is "incompatible with human life" low. (Seriously. My cholesterol is in the 20s. No, I'm not missing a digit. HDL is 29, LDL is 22. Or reversed. I forget. Every doctor freaks when they see it and assume the test was wrong, but it's been remarkably consistent over time.)

I also have all the ingredients for these turkey meatballs from the crockpot so those will join the rotation sometime this week. I always forget, as ground meat skeeves me a little, that it doesn't skeeve my boys at all. By the way, the site this is from (A Year of Crockpotting at is someone's new year's resolution. She's using her crockpot every day this year with a new recipe each day. Wow. I totally admire her dedication.

Since I have figs, I'm hoping to try my adored Two Fat Als site. (Of course, since we're out of red wine, this means a Mother of the Year trip either across state lines or the the scary wine store with my three and four year olds.) And since we have peaches, there's this one too, for Moroccan Peach Roasted Chicken, thanks to one of the bloggers at MPM. (If I remembered who, I'd give the credit. My apologies to the blogger!) My mother never ate cooked fruit; happily, neither my husband nor I have this problem. Though interestingly, the crockpot recipe of the day involved chicken and peaches and she decided hot peaches are meant for ice cream, not chicken. She has an excellent point but I think I'll try it myself.

Finally, in the spirit of Smitten Kitchen's What are you afraid to cook? question, I must note that handling raw chicken gives me the heebie-jeebies. It's a leftover from pregnancy, when the texture of raw meat was beyond what I could handle. However, since it's officially three years since my last pregnancy, I've decided it's time to move on, grow up, and start figuring out how to slice a chicken breast without feeling vaguely nauseous. Tonight's progress: I cut the breasts in half horizontally, to help them cook faster, and it was actually easier than the other way, which is what I'd been doing before and more effective. A nice combo. And was way, way cheaper than buying the "Italian style" cutlets at my favorite butcher.

Anyone else have any strange hangovers from pregnancy? I find that I am still struggling to brush my teeth without nausea in the mornings. This was not a happy remnant of pregnancy but I'd say the little guys are worth it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

MPM--Happy Fall

One of my friends (hi, Lauren!) added a tagline to her blog, "I never promised you a food blog." And I feel like stealing that even though it isn't Filch It Friday because it seems I end up there a lot. But, food is an easy topic, it's a part every day, and cooking is something I'm continuing to learn how to do so it lends itself to blogging.

This week we started off sinfully yummy. It was finally cool enough to consider roasting again, so I cranked up the oven and made a bunch of stuff on 450 degrees. I roasted carrots (peeled, a little olive oil, kosher salt, and parsley) and beets (no tops, wrapped in foil, stuck in a baking pan) and rosemary potatoes (on an iron skillet, with olive oil and rosemary and kosher salt on the bottom). For good measure I made the Smitten Kitchen Rosemary Flatbread which was awesome. It's been a long time since I kneaded anything. I'm not usually a fan of getting my hands dirty (literally, which puts me totally at odds with my sons--especially my older one, who hasn't met a tactile sensation he can resist) but this wasn't too involved or too sticky. (And, it's vegan!)

The piece de la resistance, however, was a new find, thanks to my neighbor. I am such a slave to Acme, our local supermarket, and the place my mother and my grandfather ALWAYS shopped, that it's hard to get me to go elsewhere. But folks have been raving about the ShopRite that opened as part of the reverse W*lM@rt complex near us. (We call it the Reverse W@lM*rt because instead of killing the local economy, it built one. They moved on to several hundred acres of dead retail space in a relatively poor area, and now over 80 stores and businesses are within the three blocks surrounding them.) Anyway, one of my very food choosy neighbors has been raving about their meats; in particular, their filets mignon come from Australia, meaning they are grass-fed, no hormones, and no mad cow. She told me how when it goes on mega-sale, she has them grind one in to meat for burgers and they think she's crazy. (I just wanted her to invite me for a cookout.) This week was finally the mega-sale she'd mentioned, so I got the whole filet. They sliced half in to steaks, and left half the tenderloin for me to roast later. I have not had a great supermarket steak in a long time so I was a little skeptical.

Well. Color me skeptical no more. These things were awesome. I am now sorry I only got one and will be a devoted slave to the circular to find them again.

So, with that out of the way, this week's menu:

Monday: Tacos (with deliberately leftover filet)

Tuesday: Hot chicken salad, roasted beets, iceberg lettuce salad

Wednesday: Open face sandwiches from Robin Miller with leftover filets, provolone, artichoke hearts; string beans; mashed potatoes

Thursday: Whatever is in the CSA box, plus something chicken as well

Friday: probably pizza, as (shockingly) there is no football game to attend.

For more ideas, go check out The Organizing Junkie!

Some Questions Answered

One, at least. The blog still lurches along. I am not posting my menus here though in good weeks, I do jot them down on an envelope so I can shop smart for the week. But I am trying hard to cut down my computer time, and so doing all the links and copying of recipes, etc., is taking too long. Besides, I'm not sure how inspirational anything I make is to anyone else (except for the poppyseed chicken casserole--thanks for the cheers, Lynn!), and it can only be less so with no time to link, etc.

But the latest question answered came via our town paper, which had a photo of some teenagers loading a truck with their uncle's world-class record collection which he was donating to the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra. They are building their library of recordings--all eras, all genres. In exchange for the donation (in effect), they will do an appraisal of the collection for tax purposes, and the records will be cataloged and available for public use. Hurrah! This is what I was looking for, as most of the used record places were either too picky about what kind of music it was (and for some of these things, I wouldn't know!) or too chintzy to make it worthwhile. And while I don't know whether these recordings will be worth the gasoline it takes to drive them out there, I'm comforted that these things might go where someone can use them. And did I mention that they will pick them up and drive them back for me? It'll be six months before the guy is here again but that gives me time to round them all up.

A future post (or series) will be on the Camp Mommy events of the last month with observations on all the kids' attractions we visited in August. I'm still recovering.

And at some point I'll be linking to some great recipes I tried. Tonight's new favorite: Smitten Kitchen's Crisp Rosemary Flatbread. It really was that easy, truly yummy (well, I thought so, but no one else particularly grooved on them. more for me), and would probably be fun with the kids now that I've made it once myself. Also: got to get out my rolling pin for the first time in...ummm...can't even guess how long at this point.

Finally, I was mesmerized this weekend when I should have been doing something (anything) else by the story of NieNie. I don't even remember how I found her blog and her sister's blog, c jane. But the story is: blogging mom of four kids under 6 got in to terrible plane crash; one died, she and husband are in intensive care for burn treatment. Internet rallies 'round. Her blog is beautiful, and it really made me catch my breath to see her lovely face mugging for the camera with one of her kids, and knowing she's in a burn unit right now as they try to rebuild it. So heartbreaking. Apparently I wasn't the only one hooked; even the New York Times Style Section picked it up today. I could kick myself for getting involved in other people's tragedies online; we have plenty of drama here in our own lives (extended family mostly and thankfully nothing this major; just the daily bleah of backed up sewer lines and madly chirping computers that are keeping my photos hostage). But these blogs are really lovely to look at and I am happy for her familiy that they will always have that as a record of "before."