Friday, January 30, 2009


VALMG is on vacation, I hope...? No FFOF today. (Maybe she's too busy with her adorable Pillsbury dough boy giveaway?) But instead I will take the opportunity to update on some of my food discoveries lately.

First, a follow up to yesterday: Now I find that Day to Day on NPR is going away in March, too. (So is News & Notes but I never get to listen to that.) Day to Day was one of my NPR favorites. I love Madeleine Brand's voice and the stories she finds, and it was always a treat when I got to hear her in the middle of my day.

Second, a different kind of Four Foods on Friday, I suppose. This is a catch-up post of some of the recipes we've been making or enjoying lately.

First, the biggest hit with the most people goes to Nikki's Healthy Cookies from 101 Cookbooks. For some reason, it's taken me forever to get to this one, and in fact, I still haven't. But the amazing City Mouse-Country Mouse made these for us when she was here taking care of the boys, with two slight changes. First, she used white chocolate chips; and second, she made it in a smallish (I'm terrible at estimating; 5x7? 7x10?) pyrex dish as a bar. They were a little fally-aparty so you couldn't cut too big a hunk of it (unless you ate it like cake, with a fork) but they were so good, my husband and I pretty much polished them off within 24 hours and I am frankly not sure the kids got any. I should really offer them some from the next batch. Serious banana flavor but oh, my, did we enjoy them. And, I will say, it's a good thing I loved them as much as I did because really, I don't know what else I would do with almond meal, unsweetened coconut, and coconut oil, all of which I was crazy enough to buy for these. (There are multiple possible substitutions, but I'm such a lousy cook, I like to stick to the original recipe before I start fooling around with it so I know if it's a recipe I can actually succeed with and one that I like before I make it. Otherwise, if I make it and don't like it, I don't know if it's because I messed around with it or because it's not a good recipe.)

Second: For the inauguration, I thought I'd try a new recipe from our local paper, via Glorious One Pot Meals by Elizabeth Yarnell. I have my mother's old Le Crueset orange dutch oven, and I love cooking with it, and this was a winner. I'd change a few things: first, I would make it on a day my husband isn't sick (sigh). Second, I would use a bit less cayenne for my tastes (and of course I skipped the pepper). Because my local store only sells organic, uber-healthy chicken, ONE half-breast was the amount called for in the recipe. I butterflied it to make it look more like two servings and also to deal with my paranoia about undercooked chicken. And, what I adored about this recipe: it was a "just right" amount of food. Finally, for my veggie and even vegan friends: skip the chicken and this would still be good. If you are veggie, just skip it. If vegan, note that you can replace milk with water.

African Peanut Butter Stew
makes 2 servings

Canola oil spray or 2 tsp peanut oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
3/4 cup white rice
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon chicken or vegetable broth or water
1/2-3/4 lb chicken breast or thighs
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and sliced
2/3 cup milk (skim is OK) or water
2-4 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
sea salt
3 Tbs peanut butter, creamy or chunky
3 or 4 tomatoes, diced, or one 14 oz can diced, drained
1/2 sweet potato, cut in to 3/4 inch cubes
1 handful fresh spinach or about 5 oz frozen

1. Preheat oven to 450.

2. Spray the inside and lid of a cast-iron Dutch oven with canola oil or wipe with peanut oil. Scatter the onion in the pot.

3. Rinse the rice in a strainer under cold water until the water runs clear. Tip the rice into the pot, add the liquid , and stir to make an even layer. Place teh chicken on the rice. Add the bell pepper.

4. In a measuring cup, whisk the milk, garlic, cayenne, salt, and peanut butter until the peanut butter dissolves. Pour over the chicken.

5. Layer in the tomatoes, sweet potato, and spinach.

6. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, or until 3 minutes after the aroma of a fully cooked meal escapes the oven. Serve immediately.

Third: In other online cooking adventures, I saw on Twitter that a friend was making channa saag for dinner one night and I asked her for the recipe. She sent me to her Google Docs, where she credited HoneyHoney, (formerly?) of http://the This was a great addition to exactly what I'm looking for in the dinner repetoire: an easy dish that comes together with mostly stuff I have on hand anyway. Bonus: I'm trying hard to find more veggie meals for cost, nutrition, and Michael Pollan's reasons. (Pollan on food: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.) It wasn't a total success because my boys rejected it (natch) and I think my curry powder was too old. (But it was the last of the bottle so it will go better next time. And there will be a next time.) Finally, I don't do ghee, so I used regular butter. I'm sure ghee would improve things but it was a bridge too far in reading season. So without further ado, my version of Shelley's version of HoneyHoney's Channa Saag.

Channa Saag

2 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee)
half a large sweet onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 15 ounce can of organic chickpeas
2.5 cups of fresh baby spinach, tightly packed
a handful of fresh cilantro

Seasonings to taste:
curry powder (about 2tsp)--you can mix your own, or find a good prepared brand. Things to look for in a prepared curry: fenugreek, coriander, cumin, turmeric, red pepper.

Possible additions:
a pinch of cayenne pepper (if you like extra spice)
a pinch of nutmeg (possible secret ingredient in savory dishes)
salt (I've never found I needed this)
a bit of lime juice (like the juice from a quarter of a lime) <---said the original. I used more like a half and added more later!

In a medium saucepan on medium heat, saute the onion in ghee until it begins to turn translucent.

Add the garlic, stirring it so that it doesn't get too brown.

Add the can of chickpeas, liquid and all, to the pan.

Add the seasonings, turn down the heat to low, and simmer for about 10 minutes, to let the chickpeas soak up the flavors.

(I mash up the chickpeas here, Shelley wrote, but you don't have to...totally depends on your textural goals.)

Then add the spinach and cilantro. Simmer until the spinach is tender and completely wilted, just a few minutes. Taste the mixture, and adjust seasonings if necessary.

If the mixture tastes a bit flat, try adding a squeeze of lime to brighten it up.

Serve over brown basmati rice, with a bit of yogurt on the side, for those who don't like their moths to tingle. Like many dishes, it's even better the next day.

True, that, about the next day. And Trader Joe's naan and Greek-style yogurt set this off to perfection for me. (I had had so much rice that week, I couldn't make it again.) Thanks so so much Shelley!

Fourth: Hmm, so many choices. The rediscovered sneaky way to get my son to eat fruit: smoothies? The happy surprise of two cookbooks from my aunt in the mail? Or oh, oh, oh, the Splendid Table cookbook?

None of those today, my friends. I'm at the end of my food writing moment, so instead, for any of you who don't also read She Started It, I point you to this fun find from her post today. I just read it today myself but I will be pondering things like homemade broth, given Anjali's endorsement, as Anjali is my sister in the kitchen (among other ways). And, of course, the author is Mark Bittman, who wrote the best cookbook/s I have. I need to digest some of the suggestions (I tried tomato paste in a tube; while I liked it for the squeeze-what-you-need factor, I also found it quintuple the price of a little can of Hunt's, so I just started freezing the leftovers from the little cans instead) but I am so with him on the lemons, I'm looking forward to seeing what the other ideas bring.

As my friend Lauren says, I never promised you a food blog, but it's sure reading that way lately. Sorry--there are other things in my life, just many of them are not bloggable! Happy weekend.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Signs of the Times

On Facebook, I've been tagged three times in 24 hours for the "25 Things" meme. I feel like there aren't 25 interesting things about me that aren't already out there but one of the 18 I came up with was that I adore magazines. And now two of my very favorites, Domino and Wondertime, are ending their runs with their March issues.

Of course I just gave a back stash to the hospital and now I want to go to the emergency room lobby and take them back. That is downright unChristian of me but dang. I always figured there would always be another issue, another day. I signed up for the Wondertime on the Web feature so I wouldn't be pulling articles from the magazine and trying to figure out where to stash them. I saved about 8 articles from the last issue, ranging from How to Have Fun in the Snow with your Kids (most valuable tips: put potty-trainers in pull-ups; push 'em out the door the second they are all dressed, before mittens start coming off--most of you probably figured this out intuitively but for me, they were lifesavers in the snowstorm this week) to the one with magic tricks kids can master. My five year old is desperate to do magic. Well, really, he's desperate to BE magic, because he wants to make his brother disappear. Subtle but important difference. We are trying to help him get the idea of doing some tricks but he isn't quite there; he wants it to be actually magic, not a trick. But the suggested ones in the article were so cute and clever, I was thinking he might be ready for them this summer...and he still may be, if I can find the info by summer. Sigh.

And then Domino! It was such a tease, like Violet in It's A Wonderful Life, teasing, "Why this old thing? I only put it on when I don't care how I look!" You know--"oh, this perfectly distressed table? We found it in the shed of the house when we bought it. In fact, it was the shed. But it was such a pretty color that when it fell down, we thought, how can we keep this incorporated in our lives? And so, you know, it's a table." It was all robins-egg-blue ceilings and over-the-top decor in otherwise unremarkable little New York apartments and low-VOC paint swatches. Even with all that attitude, it seemed more accessible than House Beautiful and less niche oriented than, say, Cottage Living...oh, wait...Cottage Living is gone too.

In these times, these are, as Gwyneth Paltrow would say, very first-world problems. But I love magazines for their portability, their possibilities, and for getting me through the kids' naps in the car or train rides to the city with so much work in my bag, there was no room for a book. And to watch my favorites disappear one by makes me feel out of step with the culture, first of all, that these publications I loved weren't safe in these times, gives me one last little pleasure to look forward to each month, and makes me worry for all those folks who worked there and who are now part of the growing statistics of this latest "downturn." And there are more and more of them; our soft pretzel place; the sporting-goods store where I bought all our sneakers and sports gear since my gym suit in 9th grade, with the sales guy who could just look at your feet and pull down the sneaker that would fit and correct your pronation or heel spurs or whatever else he saw in your walk; the store that sold useful and decorative arts, like stained glass sconces or hand-turned wood bowls or my mobile of the moon and the stars, little pieces of my community, places that the kids and I enjoyed...gone.

But, in the midst of all that, some good news: The Lily Ledbetter Act was passed today. Last year, the Supreme Court was supremely illogical when they ruled for Goodyear and against Lily Ledbetter, who, upon retiring, found that she had been earning far less than male colleagues for the same job. Lower courts found for her; the Supreme Court said that yes, she had been discriminated against but that current law said she could only sue for unfair wages up to 180 days after she was hired, even if she didn't find out about the discrimination until after. That is a decision by a bunch of people who work on government pay scales. In the real world of work, favortism shows through in all kinds of ways in salaries, and I am delighted that there is now an opportunity to address wrongs whenever they are discovered...not just in the 90 days between when your probation ends and when the court thinks you should find out what everyone else in your office makes.

Progress. Hope. And a life with less glossy paper. At least it's better for the environment. Right?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

WFMW--Self-Nourishing Resolutions

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know about my unusual new year's resolutions. While most of the world wants to get organized, lose weight, or something else that often involves the feeling of self-punishment twinned with self-improvement, I go the other direction. Long ago, I saw a great suggestion in a magazine to go with more self-nurturing ideas--it's midwinter, a good time to be kind to yourself.

The year I saw it, our nearest city was host to the Republican National Convention, and due to sheer laziness, there were a ton of completely fabulous restaurants in our city I'd never been to. The idea of all these out of towners trying them first really got my goat, so we decided to try a new restaurant every month. (This was silly, of course; our city hosts dozens of huge conventions every year with out of towners eating in our restaurants; this one just happened to be televised.) But, we stuck to it, and by the time the convention came I was cheerfully pointing visitors to my new favorite spots.

The year my younger son turned 2, my resolution was to read six non-child-related books. That was a good year.

Last year, it was to see a movie a month. That didn't work out quite as well, but we did see a bunch, even if they were mostly Netflix and OnDemand.

This year, I'm taking a cue from my new favorite cookbook: The Spendid Table's How to Eat Supper. I loved reading the book just for entertainment value--they have lots of great asides, taste tests, etc. But one thing they wrote was that one of the author's resolutions is to master a new cookbook every year. One year, it was Mexican, another year, maybe Julia Child, another year, a Madhur Jaffrey introduction to Indian cooking.

I am not in a position to go on yearlong culinary adventures with the developing palates in the family at the table. But I can do a cookbook club for one. I was always interested in trying a cookbook club, where you have a month or two to try recipes from a cookbook, then come together to have a potluck of favorites and discuss. No one I have floated the idea to is interested. So I'm doing my own version. This month, it's The Spendid Table's How to Eat Supper. (I've already loved the aparagus and scallion recipe, and we've tried a few others too.) I have Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Kitchen from the library, but they will want it back before I can finish it. I think next up might have to be Deceptively Delicious, since my one son balks at eating anything that resembles the state in which it grew. And I still have the Robin Miller cookbook that I need to explore more, with her cook-once-eat-twice-without-feeling-like-it's-leftovers philosophy.

So, that's this year's resolution. Why mention it now? Because lots of people have learned by now that their original resolution isn't working out. And I'm flexible with deadlines. It's never a bad time to self-improve with kindness. And finally, I save my "harder" resolutions for spring, and Earth Day, since for me, that's an easier time of year to start something and stick with it.

What's your resolution? Chances are, whatever it is, you'll find a way to help yourself succeed over at Shannon's blog!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

MPM--Fresh Starts

Happy Monday to all! Last week was as crazy as expected, with the large exception of the three (count 'em!) 24-hour bugs that ran through the house. So we didn't stick to the plan as much as I might have liked but we're getting by, now that everyone is better. This week, assuming all is well, should be good starts with a visit from The Best Babysitter Ever, which has had my boys over the moon all week. They can't wait to show her how they swim underwater now, and want her to take them to Dunkin' Donuts, and want to play with her...she'll be exhausted by the time she gets back home! She is very kind to be with us and we (my husband and I) enjoy her visits as much as the kids do, so it's been wonderful to have her back, however briefly.

This week has a few nights out so again, some kind of dine-and-dash things, and I have some new recipes to share...but no time to do so tonight. Sorry! Stay tuned...

Monday: leftovers (or, if we're really lucky, TBBE will have time and energy to make her beloved lasagne)

Tuesday: tarragon chicken and leeks from The Splendid Table, naturally; too-easy rice, from The Splendid Table, and roasted root vegetables from A Year of Crockpotting before my rutabega walks itself to the yard for planting.

Wednesday: Taco night, yes, again.

Thursday: Spinach lasagne rollups, salad.

Friday: Out. My nephew has been the manager for the basketball team all four years of high school, and it's senior night, and he's one of the honorees. So sweet! We're so excited for him. And I am assuming they sell hot dogs, etc. at the game. We'd better hope so, at least, because there won't be time to eat before the pre-game festivities if our schedule holds true to normal.

And, uninspired as it is, that's our week! Next week, I will provide reviews of last week's interesting stuff (African Peanut Chicken, for example) but no time tonight, alas.

Looking for ideas for yourself? Try here, at I'm an Organizing Junkie! Have a great week!

Friday, January 23, 2009

FFOF 64--Not Your Usual Topics

Hmmm. A strange one this week, which should be fun!

Let’s talk about things that might not be quite the usual fare.

#1. What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever made with bread?

Besides duck food and fishing balls? Not much. But my mother's most-requested hors d'oeuvre was de-crusted white bread (she used Strohman's), with mayonnaise, wrapped around gherkin pickles and sliced in to rounds like sushi. Not that we had ever heard of sushi in the hey day of that particular party food.

#2. What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever done with mac and cheese or pasta?

Again, not much, though as Italians, these foods are sacrosanct to us. Oddest thing in our house is without red sauce!

#3. Is there a food you eat other then it is intended?

I don't think so. I do use the grape jelly/chili sauce combo in the mini crock pot for little kielbasas, and I'm not sure anyone ever thought that would work, but I'm not sure that was unintentional. And I'd imagine one could say the same for garlic ice cream, which we had at the fabulous Gilroy Garlic Festival in CA. The chocolate was (shockingly) better than the vanilla.

#4. What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever seen?

Octopus. I can't really get my mind around that as a food. And I like calamari! But the tentacles and suckers...a bit too much for me. And the strangest I've ever received was on my honeymoon...we spent the first nights on an island in Lago Maggiore, on the Swiss coast of Italy. It took planes, trains, and a rowboat to get there, so we were delighted to set our things down and head to dinner. One appetizer was "fish of the lake," described as fish caught that afternoon, flash fried, and served with a garlicky-olive oil dipping sauce. It sounded great--how locavore could you get? And then the bowl arrived. They were fresh and flash fried all right...whole, and about the size of feeder goldfish. I tried a few but the cats at the restaurant ate well that night!

Wanna play? Go see VALMG for this week's questions and other people's answers!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One Last Post with Inauguration Thoughts

In between the concerts and the swearing in, I was having celebration fatigue. I couldn't figure out why I was so peeved, but I felt over-celebrified, annoyed at the administration trashing from people who totally benefitted from the tax structure set in place in the last eight years, and who I'd never seen involved with the campaign before. (I wasn't so bothered by, say, because he was such an early--and visible--supporter. But by the time Justin Timberlake was spouting off on Oprah about the US having "swagger again," all I could think was, where were you for the last 8 years when ALL we had was swagger? I'm looking to some substance, humility, and cooperation for my next administration. What we don't need is swagger.

But I think that was all just covering my soul screaming "GET OBAMA INAUGURATED ALREADY!" because by the time we got to that, I was all misty eyed and ready to celebrate again. For as much as I hear, understand, and often agree with his critics, he is our new president, and as such, deserves our prayers and support. And since his election, I have been nothing but impressed with what I have seen and heard from him. It takes guts to appoint political rivals to high positions. It is so much easier to take the "yes man" road, surrounding yourself with folks who always see things your way. And he has sought out people for positions that will force him--and them--to discuss, negotiate, and pull apart problems from multiple perspectives.

And there is the undeniable joy that comes from a single moment sweeping millions of people in to feeling like true Americans after decades, centuries, of feeling marginalized. Even if it was perception catching up with reality, it was a beautiful thing. Hearing the cracking voices of the elderly, who remembered life in Jim Crow, and "separate but equal," and different bathrooms and water fountains, and not getting to choose any seat on the was powerful. When we were in Ireland, we stayed in a series of about 16 bed and breakfasts. At least half of them had a portrait of President Kennedy hanging prominently in the home's living room or dining room. In the days before the economic Celtic tiger, it was very meaningful for the Irish Catholics to see "one of us" in arguably the most powerful position in the world. As someone whose life was post-Kennedy, I grew up knowing that an Irish Catholic could be president, and was a little amused by the devotion to someone these people never knew who died before I was born. But I think now of how many places will hang President Obama's portrait in places of honor, to inspire them, and I understand, at least a little, the power of that symbol. And I am glad that my boys will grow up in a world where it's not just possible to imagine a non-white president, but where it's reality.

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." I almost wept when I heard that. Even when I didn't love our presidents, I was always proud to be American, and admired our military for the way the top people took responsibility for those they oversaw. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo took that away from me and made me ashamed of my country. Just as profanity usually marks a weak vocabulary, relying on brute force belies a lack of faith in other methods--ones that rely on courage and intelligence. And having birthed an almost eleven pound baby with no anesthesia, I'll tell you this: torture does not work. At all. In the final stages of labor, I was totally willing to promise anyone anything--and I did--to get them to make the pain stop. And even after, curled up in the delivery room, weeping with relief that it was over, all I could think of was that this is why torture is ineffective. I was promising the nurses exotic vacations and hand-delivered letters to the president of the hospital praising their professionalism and compassion if only they would turn on the epidural again. I don't know the president of the hospital. And I don't know where I was going to get the money for the vacations. But I would have cheerfully given them the deed to my house if they would only have made the pain end. Where was I? Oh, yes, torture. There is no need for it outside of 24. And at one point, even John McCain thought so, so my chances of that particular diminishment of my country being ended was high. But it was a beautiful thing to hear, and I was touched that even the 8th graders in the auditorium where I watched burst in to applause when those words were spoken.

As someone who has spent the last few years mostly at home with my kids, it was a lovely sound to hear both the president and the poet talk about parenting in the same breath as paid work.

And my favorite visual? Besides the obvious--the tear streaked faces, the waving flags, Sasha's thumbs-up, the first dance--did anyone catch the cut to Michelle Obama's face when the preacher doing the final benediction referred to the "angelic children?" The look on her face was pure mom. Ninety percent a smile of agreement...and ten percent thinking, "Angels. Riiiight. Angels. I'll remember that next time they skip their homework/don't eat their peas/argue with me about wearing a hootchie Hannah Montana outfit." It was beautiful and real and I wish I had a screen shot of that look.

OK. There are some of my impressions of the day. Now, the real work begins.

WFMW--Unusual Furniture for Kids' Rooms

When we were having our second child, I kept waiting for the nesting instinct to kick in. It never did. So this meant that when we brought the baby home, it was to a nursery that still looked a lot more like a guest room than a baby's room. To be fair, due to laziness on my part, the guest room always retained the childlike decor it came with when we bought the house because I figured we'd have kids eventually. But the furniture still included my grandmother's bed set, among other items, and we just moved the crib right in next to the twin.

I felt a little bad about that until a friend came to visit, and we needed to go to the baby's room. Before I could get out a half-hearted apology for the leftover furniture in there, my friend said admiringly, "Oh, you are so smart to leave the bed in here!" I was so startled I couldn't even ask what she meant but happily she went on. "This way, during those all-night eating sessions, you have a place to rest without disturbing the rest of the house!" And she was totally right. I'd never thought of it, and here it was the best suggestions she'd received from a friend.

The other unusual "best thing ever" was putting a chair-and-a-half in our older child's room. Pre-kids, we had purchased a sofabed and a coordinating chair-and-a-half. We really beat up the chair piece, and once the kids arrived, we needed a different setup downstairs. But our older son loved the big chair, and begged us to keep it. So we moved it up to his room. This has been the best chair for cuddles and snuggles and reading books ever. It's perfect for one parent and two kids (or one kid!) to have enough room for being together without turf struggles. The chair dominates the room but it's totally worth it. A place to read together as a family that we all love? That works for me!

For significantly more creative tips, go see Shannon's page. Happy new year!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Very Essence of Our Democracy

I have an answer I never imagined for the question, "Where were you when Obama was inaugurated?"

The answer: in a classroom in my high school, helping plan post-high-school for our nephew, working with some incredibly dedicated professionals from all over the county.

When the meeting ended, I dashed to the auditorium, where the district's 8th graders were gathered to watch history, and standing behind my band director, who is now my nephews' band director, listened to our 44th president's first speech.

I honestly don't remember where I was for either of 43's inaugurations. (Repression?) For Clinton's first, I was in the common room at my office, with a bunch of baby boomers who were in awe that their generation was in power now. For GHW Bush's, I was there on the lawn.

And for Reagan's, I was in the math classroom of my junior high, watching TV, and exploding with joy and running through the halls with my best friends, screaming, "The hostages are free! The hostages are free!" as they crossed out of Iranian airspace as Reagan made the oath.

One of the things that sticks with me from the election was the story on NPR about the meeting that next morning in Iraq between the American military and the transition team. The Americans walked in and saw glum faces at the table, and found themselves accepting condolences. The Iraqis said they knew that Bush would never willingly hand over the presidency to a person named Barack Hussein Obama. And the original agenda was scuttled as the military explained that in fact, he would. And it would not be a problem, and they would not be called back to quash an uprising while a new election was called for.

This is the very essence of our democracy. Even when it's a president I'm not thrilled with, I love that about our nation. What a blessing we live every four years when the only drama is scripted. There are huge issues facing our country. I know there are millions here fretting that he might not be up to the challenge. I can't imagine why he'd want them. But I'm glad he does.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

MPM--Yes We Can

I am all about this inauguration, I have to say. I am totally thrilled with the huge public events, and with the sense of history being made.

And I need to keep the "yes we can" phrase in lexicon because this week includes a follow up to the vet to have the stitches out, a graduation transition IEP meeting for my nephew, kindergarten registration for my son, swim lessons, gymnastics lessons (new! the boys loved 'em), other classes, a meeting for my nursing moms group, work starts again tomorrow, and did I mention my son's kindergarten registration!? Still working hard on that one mentally.

So this is not a week to really stretch myself cuisine-wise. Heat it and eat it is the order of the week. And so...

Monday: leftovers from last week. Included: tagine chicken (note: I forgot that I usually made this with dried apricots, which I now know I like better, though the prunes were good too), and channa saag, recipe from my friend Shelley, which will follow soon. Beets, roasted vegetables. (I bought a rutabega to try this!)

Tuesday: African peanut chicken, recipe from the paper, will let you know how it is. Beets. Veggies.

Wednesday: Chili over rice or noodles, salad, carrot sticks and celery.

Thursday: Lasagne roll ups, recipe also from the paper. Salad.

Friday: The ravioli recipe I never got to make from Real Simple. This could be my week!

Hope you are having a good week wherever you are. And my sons, the little traitors, are running around yelling "Go Cardinals!" because now red is their favorite color due to Lightning McQueen. This will not end well for them with the Eagles Fan in Chief in the house. Sigh. Off to referee.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Yes We Can

We saw history in the making today. It was too cold to put the boys through the Wilmington speech (and we certainly weren't invited to the teeny crowd in Philly) but the slowdown past a station in Delaware was just right. (And, it was A TRAIN--so that gets me some buy-in from the kids.) Big, big thanks to the people from Dunkin' Donuts who kindly gave my boys donuts (since I didn't bring my purse--too big a hassle to get through security) and the Wilmington News-Journal reporter who gave the boys handwarmers.

And then the train came.

I figured someday in my children's lives, they would see a non-white president. I hoped I would see one, but didn't really count on it. I never dreamed that the first president my kids would actually be aware of might be anything demographically out of the ordinary. I am keeping these things in my heart, and trying to not make a big deal about this to them. I want them to see it as something totally normal, and not worth making a big deal over. It's a thing that is worth celebrating, as I do see it as a big step for the nation, but the real work begins Tuesday. Until then, I'm glad to help our new leader celebrate. (And to wish his wife a happy birthday. Bet she's never had one like this before!)

Friday, January 16, 2009


This week, a theme: Chinese!

#1. Do you prefer to eat Chinese food in the restaurant or to have it delivered?

At the restaurant. We lived two doors down from a Chinese restaurant for a few years and as good as the food was, the odor of the kitchen was enough to make me not want to bring it in my house ever again after we moved. That also coincided with going to one of the very best Chinese restaurants in the country, and really, it was never quite the same for me again. Worth it, but alas, never quite the same.

#2. Do you prefer wonton or egg drop soup?

Wonton. By a mile. I love dumplings in general, by themselves, in soup...doesn't matter.

#3. What flavor fried rice is your favorite?

I like veggie, really. I never quite trust the shrimp or pork.

#4. Describe your favorite item on the Chinese food menu.

For nostalgia? Sweet and sour shrimp. For my tastes now? I love cashew chicken, though I often end up ordering mu shu veggies (veggies in a savory hoisin-based brown sauce, served with little "pancakes" that you make a burrito/taco thing out of) because it's "safe." I almost always like it. But my favorite items remain the veggie egg roll and those little fried noodle thingees that come on the table, dipped in duck sauce.

And I'd be remiss to not mention that Thai has surpassed Chinese as our favorite Asian food in the house. It has a different set of flavors that seem a little brighter to me.

Wanna talk about your favorite Chinese food? Go to VALMG, here, on her spiffily newly designed page, and play along!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WFMW--Condensed Milk Tip

This is a tip leftover from holiday baking, and wow, do I ever feel like I have wandered in to the land of the housewife with this one!

As someone who is tentative at best (and truly awful at worst) in the kitchen, I've been making five-layer bars (recipe below) for a few years now for cookie swaps. You'd think I'd have these perfected, but you'd be wrong. But this time, I did something I've never done before that was a huge help in pouring the condensed milk over everything. In the past, it would come out gloppy and uneven and was impossible to spread., and it really is the top "glue" keeping the cookies together.

In my last round of cookie baking, due to sheer laziness (and being interrupted while opening the can), I stopped opening the can about 80% of the way around and just picked it up and started pouring from there.

Well, now I'm assuming everyone but me knew that this is standard practice because the stuff came out in a gorgeous thin ribbon that made it super-easy to cover the whole thing with no gloppiness or lost areas with the layers falling out due to lack of stick. And for my last batches of Christmas cookies this year, that worked for me!

Do you want something that is actually useful more than twice a year? Try Shannon's blog, full of the best tips on the web. Happy 2009 to all!


1 1/2 c. Kellogg's Corn Flake Crumbs
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick butter, melted
1 c. walnuts, chopped
1 c. (6 oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 c. butterscotch chips
1 1/3 c. flaked coconut
1 can (14 oz) Sweetened Condensed Milk

Measure corn flake crumbs, sugar and butter into 13x9x2 inch baking pan; mix thoroughly. With back of wooden spoon press mixture in bottom of pan to form crust. Sprinkle nuts over crust. Scatter morsels over nuts. Sprinkle coconut over morsels. Pour condensed milk over coconut. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Cool and cut into bars.

Note: you can also use graham cracker crumbs for the crust, in which case, omit the sugar.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

MPM--Dog & Boy Recovery Edition

So, it was a good week last week. Sort of. The boys went back to school, and now the older one's vacation starts this week. (Don't. Ask. He goes to the preschool in the high school and has to wait for the next set of high school kids to get up to speed on child development and lesson planning for the term.) Then on Friday morning, 24 hours after his last school day until February, the stomach flu hit. It was mercifully brief but wow, the timing was something. And the dog had surgery, leading to all kinds of unpleasantness in recovery and aftermath. She can't go up or down steps for at least 5 weeks. We live in a split level. And she weighs 50 pounds. And hates to be carried. And wants to sleep in our bedroom with us. We'll get by. But the week of February 10 will be a big one around here.

So, I'm back to some old, easy favorites this week...

Monday: chili over rice or noodles, roasted baby carrots

Tuesday: Greek chicken burgers, sweet potato fries, broccoli

Wednesday: Rachael Ray Tagine-style chicken, couscous, another iteration of carrots

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: either out to dinner or freezer meal

Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, January 9, 2009


#1. Waffles. Do you usually eat frozen or homemade?

Mmm. Prefer homemade (that's what we had on Christmas) but realistically end up with frozen a lot.

#2. Eggs. Do you buy brown, white, or it doesn’t matter?

Doesn't matter. I try to order them from the CSA as often as possible as I've seen those chickens and know they lead a fine chicken life, wandering around the farm and eating the same veggies I do.

#3. Oatmeal. Do you usually make instant or cooked?

Usually I put oatmeal in cookies! But if it's for breakfast, it's instant. I rarely have time to do the cooked version.

#4. Bacon. Share instructions or a recipe that you use bacon in.

Well, there was my mom's chicken roll-up recipe, which is one of the best uses of bacon I know. But my other favorite is German potato salad. I'm still trying to find the exact recipe my mom used but this one is pretty close.

Hot German Potato Salad


9 potatoes, peeled
6 slices bacon
3/4 cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
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Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 30 minutes. Drain, cool and slice thin.
Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside, reserving drippings.
Saute onions in bacon drippings until they are golden-brown.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, celery seed, and pepper. Add to the sauteed onions and cook and stir until bubbly, then remove from heat. Stir in water and vinegar, then return to the stove and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for one minute. Carefully stir bacon and sliced potatoes into the vinegar/water mixture, stirring gently until potatoes are heated through.

Want to play along? Go visit our fabu host VALMG here and join in!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

WFMW--Holiday Review

Happy New Year everyone! I hope your holidays were good. So here we are, one day after Epiphany, a few weeks after the end of Hannukah, Kwanzaa is over and Diwali is a vague memory. Many of you busy bees are probably done putting Christmas away already. But if you aren't--or even if you are--take ten minutes today to jot down things that worked for you this Christmas and things that didn't. I had heard this for years but never took the advice--in all the green tubs in the basement, how would I find a list like that?

So I wrote a blog post for myself.

In the post, I wrote the things I loved about Christmas 2007 (the Boxing Day solution, the idea I had for the next year's theme for sibling gifts) and the things I didn't (the tree stand was rusting through, the bulb in the light-up snowman didn't work anymore). And, in a stroke of genius, I attached a picture of How We Did the Lights. (Real genius would have been embedding my husband's video of the connections, etc., but one step at a time.) Lastly, I took the best ideas that were new-to-me and wrote WFMW posts about them.

I set publication dates for November. And then they popped right up in my "scheduled blog posts" list right when I needed them.

That TOTALLY worked for me. I loved a blueprint for our front lawn's nuttiness. I loved reading about the successes of the last year. And this year, I've been happy to do the same thing. I just have the post in my "saved" file, and when I think of something else to add (note: need more tissue paper for packing ornaments next year; buy on sale this year) I just pop it in the post. If you want to keep it on your blog but not post it, don't schedule it; just save it (at least on Blogger) and it will stay in your "saved" list indefinitely.

And that, my friends, is working for me. Want to see what's working for other people? Go see Shannon's blog!

Monday, January 5, 2009

MPM--Happy New Year!

Ah, and finally, the holiday clock wound down and it was time to relax with my family and get the house back together. I hope your holidays were however you like them best! I tried posting this last night and it blew up my computer so it's an abbreviated version this week but good recipes to come soon!

Monday: Leftover pizza and cheesesteaks from Saturday's fun; salad

Tuesday: Taco night

Wednesday: Leftovers from Sunday night (beef, mashed potatoes, amazing recipe from my new cookbook, shown below; this is all gone but I'll either make more or substitute broccoli)

Thursday: Spaghetti and meatballs and sausage

Friday: Leftovers or Greek Chicken Burgers (if it's successful I'll post the recipe)

Some of these are under review as the dog tore her ACL equivalent and needs surgery tomorrow, but this is the bones of the week.

Meanwhile, my husband gave me The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper for Christmas; half an hour into the kids' naps, I had a shopping list going. I love the book for the suggestions (results of their broth taste tests, etc.) and the recipes too. This is the first thing I've made. It's really delicious without the sauce but the sauce totally put it over the top. This will be unbelievably amazing in spring but goes well even in winter--and I can make it in my toaster oven, which scores it bonus points in my book. The other winner new recipes of the week were the feta salsa from Smitten Kitchen, and the bleu cheese spread from Half-Assed Kitchen. (For some reason, the blog won't let me connect to the actual recipe; it's on 12-26-08.) Note on the blue cheese: definitely allow time for the flavors to blend on this one!

Spring Grill of Asparagus and Scallion Salad
serves 4-6 (though please note, we served this to four on Sunday and there was nothing left but a little bit of olive oil in the bottom of the dish)
10 minutes prep time, 8 minutes oven time (took longer for me in the toaster oven)

We rarely think of scallions as vegetables, yet they are as flexible as carrots. There's an Asian oneness about pairing these two like-shaped vegetables of spring.
In this salad the long stalks are fast-roasted, then finished under the broiler for a touch of char. That char sets off the cool cream of the balsamic vinegar and shallot dressing.


1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
2 tsp coarse dark mustard
5 tablespoons heavy whipping cream


1 bunch pencil-slim asparagus (1 pound) trimmed of tough ends
3 bunches scallions (20 or so), trimmed of roots and of 1 inch of their green tops
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and fresh-ground black pepper

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or scallion tops

1) To make the dressing, in a medium bowl, blend the shallot and vinegars with salt and pepper to taste. Mix in the mustard and heavy cream. Taste for seasoning, and set aside.

2) Set an oven rack about 5 inches from the broiler. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Cover a large baking sheet with foil. Spread the asparagus and scallions over the sheet, leaving enough room so they do not touch. (Note: mine touched and it all still went well.) Sprinkle them with the olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Roll the vegetables gently to coat them with the seasonings.
3) Roast for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the asparagus is barely tender when pierced with a knife ( you should hear them sizzling). Turn on the broiler and broil for about 2 minutes. The scallions should have some browned leaves and the asparagus should pick up color. If some of the pieces are browning faster, feel free to pull them out and set them aside to wait for the other pieces to finish.
4) Pile the vegetables on a platter, and zigzag the dressing over them. Sprinkle with the chives, and serve.

Really--this was bliss. I can only imagine how amazing this will be when all are fresh. It doubles/triples easily, and scallions are so cheap, if you can get a deal on the asparagus, you have an unbelievably awesome and elegant side dish. I can't wait to try another recipe from here. Highly, highly, highly recommended, and super readable as well, with the taste tests and suggestions for good supermarket brands, etc.

Have a good week!