Saturday, December 31, 2011


Only a few resolutions have been tugging at my brain this year and they are hardly lofty goals. But sometimes a resolution, or what I prefer to call lifestyle change, is what I need to kickstart something I've been meaning to do.

I loved Mighty Girl's resolutions (though I already have the donut one covered. Check!).

1) Read
 I need to read more books even if it means downloading them onto my iPod and listening to them while on the train to and from work. My inner multi tasker hopes that I can knit a few cowls for friends during this time. I gave up knitting about three years ago when sewing became more about instant gratification for me. But it would be nice to do something with all that yarn I have stashed around the house.

2) Find my Inner Fun Mom again
I remember when my son turned three years old, a new world opened up to me: He dropped the nap, became potty trained and suddenly I didn't have to carry a diaper bag around anymore. With that baggage suddenly off my shoulders, a new world opened up to me. I rediscovered sewing, a new exercise regime and our dinner choices opened up thanks to a stand off at the dinner table. If Stella got her groove back with a new boyfriend, then it's safe to say that I got my groove back when I stopped buying diapers at Costco.

In 2012 my daughter turns three. Let the groovy fun adventures begin! 

3) Compliment friends and strangers
At the gym I ran into a woman that I hadn't seen in about six months. Last time I saw her she had a really hard time keeping up with the group in our Bootcamp class and she never came back to class. When I saw her today her body had completely transformed and I did a double take when I walked past her. I walked back and told her she looked amazing and to keep doing what she doing, because she looked great. She beamed from ear to ear with pride and was delighted that people noticed her hard work.

A few hours later, I was at a park when a woman approached me to tell me she loved my new purse. I showed her all the pockets and the bells and whistles and she loved it so much that she took a picture of it so her husband would know exactly which one to give her for her birthday. She said, "You wear it so well, it made me want one!" I was buzzing with pride all day long from her compliment.

New Years Resolution #3: Compliment people. It pays itself forward every time.

4) Send birthday cards
I love receiving mail and this year I noticed how many people are not sending holiday cards anymore. I resolve to send birthday cards to friends and family in the mail. I want to keep up the old fashioned lines of communication with a cup and a string... not texting.

5) Continue the meal planning
This is a cheater resolution for me since I do it without thinking, but it's good to remind to myself that our family seemingly thrives on a menu for the week. I tried to loosen up the meal planning reigns over the holiday by winging it every night and it felt awful. I hate not knowing what I am going to be making for dinner. For some it's a fun thing to create a meal out of what they have in the fridge, but for me it's paralyzing. I need a plan. Period.

I think five resolutions is enough for now. Just enough to stoke the fires of creativity in me and keep a positive outlook for the year. May 2012 be full of light, happiness and joy for us all.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Tale of Two Crustaceans

I've been obsessed with taking our son crabbing this year. It must have something to do with my son's passion for fishing these past two years and his catching our fish for dinner has resulted in some of the best dinners we've ever had. Another benefit of him catching our dinner is that he is guaranteed to eat it and with gusto. I am not going to go hunting for wild game, but crabbing or fishing? I am totally up for that.

My friend Emma's brother, Andrew, offered to take us musseling this past week and we jumped at the chance. First of all, the idea of foraging for my own dinner sounded incredibly appealing and secondly, I have always wondered how to get those mollusks off the rocks. Andrew is a pro and certainly knows his way around the bay, so we studied the tide charts and marched out onto Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay for an afternoon of musseling. The weather was a balmy 62 degrees and the tide was so far out that it took us ten minutes to walk out to the shore break.
I watched the younger children on the beach while the adults and the older kids went to get the mussels. Andrew came prepared with his own digital scale (California law says 10 pounds is the max) and the kids went to work pulling those mussels from the rocks.

The adults scrubbed and broke the barnacles in a tide pool and within an hour we each had about 7 pounds of mussels each for dinner. We cooked them for our Christmas Eve feast using the Barefoot Contessa's Mussels Moulinere recipe from her "Barefoot in Paris" cookbook.

My husband put some serious elbow grease into cleaning these mussels to get the barnacles off, but it was worth every minute and scraped knuckle.
These were the most delicious, succulent mussels I've ever had and we ate nearly every single one. I can't wait to go out there again, because it was one of the best beach experiences I have ever had with my child.

December is also known for crab season around here and I have had my eye on the crab prize since this summer, secretly plotting our next big excursion. As a teenage when I vacationed with family in South Carolina, we would go crabbing off a pier in Hilton Head for blue shell crabs. This one particular pier we went to had so many crabs below that it looked like the entire beach was undulating with skittering crabs. We simply tied a raw chicken drumstick to drop basket and they crawled on in - it was like shooting fish in a barrel.

I still haven't had an opportunity to go crabbing yet in the Bay Area, but eventually we will get around to it. In the meantime, I cooked nine crabs along with the mussels for Christmas Eve dinner and we ate like kings that day.

On Christmas Day we used the leftover crab (I was shocked we had any crab left!) for crab cakes. We ate far too many of these and they were worth it. Sadly I didn't get any photos of the finished product because we ate them too fast. But they were delicious.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sleepover Pancakes

Growing up, whenever I had a sleepover birthday party my mother would make this gigantic puffy pancake for me and my friends in the morning. She loved to make it because all the hard work was done the night before, but we loved it because of its balloon shape and how incredibly generous my mother was with the powdered sugar and the syrup. Years later, a childhood friend told me that she thought we were rich because we had this pancake whenever she stayed overnight. I am not sure what she meant by "rich," but it certainly felt special to have my mom pull out all the stops when friends came over.

There are a number of names for this recipe: Dutch Baby, German Pancake, Puffy Pancake. But no matter what you call it, it's a showstopper. I make the batter the night before and keep it in the fridge overnight. When I take it out in the morning, I let it come to room temperature while the oven heats up. I also preheat the pan in the oven because the pancake is like a popover in appearance and texture and a preheated pan helps give it the puffy balloon effect.

I made this for my kids this past weekend and their eyes were almost as big as the pancake when it came out of the oven. Smitten Kitchen's recipe is spot on and a great one to try out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Extreme Cookie Edition

A few weeks ago I was craving Christmas cookies, so I went through my books, magazines and clips of recipes trying to find the right ones to bake and the choices were overwhelming: Thumbprints, bar cookies, sugar cookies, tassies, drop cookies, coconut, marshmallow, chocolate, pecans... the list went on. In order to have all the cookies that I wanted it was clear to me that I'd have to host a cookie exchange. But not just a regular cookie exchange. No... I just couldn't keep it simple.

I thought it'd be fun to host a cookie decorating party for my kids and their friends... and their siblings... and their mothers who would bring homemade cookies with them for the exchange. Five mothers and ten children ranging in ages from 12 weeks to nearly seven years old. This had potential disaster written all over it.

The week before the party I made the dough from this recipe, part of a feature on how to host a cookie decorating party with children. I have been hanging on to this article for seven years. Now why do you think I thought this sounded like a good idea back then? Because I didn't have kids back then, that's why.

Don't you love getting a glimpse of what an unrealistic person you were before you had kids?

The day before the party I baked over 80 sugar and gingerbread cookies as well as a double batch of  Chocolate Espresso Crinkle cookies for the exchange on the morning of the party. I covered our dining room table with a disposable tablecloth and gave each child their own tin tray with sprinkles in cupcake liners and a Ziploc bag filled with royal icing.

This was the best idea of the party - the disposable trays. I put the sprinkles in mini cupcake liners so it would provide containment and quantity control with how much the kids could dump onto a cookie. I had visions of fist fights breaking out over sprinkle containers, so by giving everyone their own supplies, I think I eliminated a lot of potential tears. I thought of this myself and will be patting myself on the back for it for the next year.

The Swedish Ginger Cookie recipe was alright, but it was not nearly as sweet as I had hoped. However, it bakes up nicely and when decorated with icing, the kids loved it.

The Sugar Cookie Cutouts recipe was very good and is one that I would definitely make again. (Please don't tell this to my family who regards my grandmother's butter cookie recipe as if it were legend.)

I really appreciated the tips in this article about hosting a party. I'll show before and after pictures below, but the author's advice was on the money: Make more frosting than you think you'll need, because kids will pile that stuff on. I had back up canisters of store bought frosting and the younger children ended up using these because royal icing is stiff and can be tricky to squeeze out. Only trouble is that canned frosting, or any buttercream frosting for that matter, will not harden.

I prepared myself for the mother of all messes and just let it happen. One sweep of the vacuum cleaner and it was back to normal. (Did I mention that I am a bit of a neat freak?)

One mother was kind enough to bring Champagne for mimosas and I provided bagels and cream cheese with smoked salmon. We had a civilized time exchanging some of the most delicious homemade cookies while the kids completely went nuts with the cookies. Everyone left after two hours, pleased with their cookies and I got to spend the whole day nibbling cookies rather than eating real food.

Ah well, it's Christmas and I got what I wanted - a variety of Christmas cookies and some fantastic memories. Can't say I'd do this again, but then again, there is always next year...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas wishes

Things I hope I can pull off for Christmas this year:

1) Make a strata on Christmas Eve so we can throw it in the oven on Christmas morning to snack on all day.

2) Have all my ingredients mise en place for our traditional Gingerbread Waffles on Christmas morning.

3) Have all the kids presents wrapped and ready to be put under the tree before Christmas Eve. (Hey a girl can dream, right?)

Things I plan to do between the week of Christmas and New Years:

1) Finish the felt circle garland that I started last year but never finished. Absolutely adorable on our tree (in concept) but I only made it about 6 feet long, so it looks kind of pathetic.

2) Finally (!!) make the yarn wreath that I have been admiring for three years. Who knew Starbucks would be a source of inspiration? I have all the supplies and it just needs to be done. So cute.

3) Make a hanging book display for both kids.

Things I wish I had done this year for Christmas:

1) Get the advent stocking garland up and filled on December 1 for the kids. I usually end up getting it up around the second week of December. This year I didn't get it up at all. Did they notice? Nope.

2) Make snow globes. I saw this idea and want to do one for each of my kids for every year they've been around. It'd be fun to see how they have been growing through the holidays.

3) Bigger cookie exchange next year. This time without the kids and more friends. While I loved the cookie decorating party, I'd rather sit back with mimosas and friends and enjoy looking at the pretty cookies. And have some bacon, too.

4) Salt dough ornaments - I loved making these at Halloween and these would be great ornaments for the kids to make for the tree.

5) Make these for friends next year. I am going to start looking for nice white mugs at thrift stores this year to make them.
6) Bought a rubber address stamp for addressing our Christmas cards. Doesn't seem like non-profits are sending out those pre-printed sticker address labels anymore. Maybe it's because we aren't giving them as much as we used to. Ah well. You give and you get.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dinners for December 18-25, 2011

Sunday: Belgian Beef Stew

Monday: Shrimp fried rice (by request from my son)

Tuesday: Vegetable bean soup with bread and salad

Wednesday: Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with leftover soup

Thursday: We're going musseling! Dinner straight from the ocean.

Friday: Christmas tree trimming party at a friends house with dinner

Saturday: Christmas Eve - Crab feast with this cake for dessert

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stars! They're just like us...

I read about an interview that Angelina Jolie did with Anderson Cooper recently and she talked about her dedication to family dinners, ""We actually have family dinner every night," Jolie explained. "We make a point of it. It's crazy. There's a good five minutes were everybody is quiet and sitting together and then it starts to break off," she joked."

Did I not just write about the sacred 15 minutes that my two children will sit for at our table every night?? I feel like a lucky girl next to Angelina who only gets a mere 5 minutes with her brood of six. Mwahahhahahaha!

Stars! They're just like us!

The Bacon Effect

If there is one thing I have learned from watching many seasons of Top Chef, it's that a little bacon on your dish will win points with the judges. Whenever a contestant seems a little nervous about what they are serving to Tom, Padma, Gail and the guest judge, they hedge the description of their dish with "a little bacon." It occurred to me that if I were to cast my own family in the roles of Top Chef judges, here is how the casting would look like at our table.

My husband, Geoff, is Tom Colicchio. He is a gentle guide in the kitchen. He checks in with the cook, samples a bite, and offers kind words of encouragement and guidance. He smiles when he hears what I'm making and carefully crafts his questions so as not to alarm the chef (me). All similarities aside, Geoff has great hair.

I am Gail Simmons. I tend to love a good glass of wine before and during dinner. I grin happily when greeted by the the other judges and always wonder aloud what is being served for dessert. I pretty much never have a bad thing to say about the food and am there for a good laugh (often at my own expense).

My two-year-old daughter is the guest judge. She is the one you never know where her tastes lie at that moment, or for that matter, that day. She is the judge who picks at her food, finds an errant bone, fish scale or piece of chicken skin and declares the dish utterly inedible. Imagine if Anthony Bourdain, Happy Fun Ball and Wylie Dufresne bore a toddler together, then that would be my 26 pound force of nature: Do not taunt the guest judge. Do not make eye contact with guest judge while they are eating.  

My six-year-old son is Padma Lakshmi. He often utters the final words that will sends a chef into a spiral of failure and despair. While Padma delivers a career-shattering "Please pack your knives and go" blow. My son will say things like "Please don't ever make this again" or "Where is the pasta? We haven't had it.... IN...SO...LONG!"

So in order to avoid criticism with my fellow judges at our dinner table, I tend to think like a nervous Top Chef contestant and wonder to myself, "What will make this dish seem more appealing to the judges without taking away from the intent of this meal?"


Just a little, maybe a strip or two just to set the tone that this meal will have an ingredient that will not be argued with. That is how I pulled off the chicken stew with white beans and tomatoes... and a little bacon for dinner last night.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Timing is everything

When I plan our menu for the week, I take into consideration a few things: Workday schedules with meetings, evening plans or commitments, and what kinds of meals I can do some of the work for ahead of time (i.e. prep vegetables, marinate or defrost meats.) 

A typical workday for me goes like this:

5 AM: Go to the gym (this happens three days a week)
6 AM - 7:30 AM: My husband and I get ourselves and the two kids dressed, fed and out of the house by 7:30.
8:15 AM -5 PM: Work
5:45: Home

A friend once said that for her, coming home from work and walking through the door was like having a gun go off signaling the start of a marathon that she would run till the kids went to bed. I think of her often when I drop my purse on a dining room chair and get started on dinner. My husband gets the six year old started on homework and I try to simultaneously entertain our two year old while cooking dinner. Good times.

5:55 - 6:30 Cooking dinner

Often I have the dinner planned out ahead of time and I'd say that we typically eat dinner at our table at home six days a week. I do try to reserve one night in the week for take out or a frozen something. I need a break now and then. Sometimes I do it twice a week if things are going downhill fast.

6:35-6:50 Eating dinner

That's right, you read this right. 15 minutes. All this work for 15 minutes of quality family time at the table. It doesn't last long (enough) but I love it and I know it will get better. Right now, we have a squirrely two year old whose idea of dinner is eating butter by the finger and a six year old who negotiates bites by the number. Sometimes my husband and I just look at each across the table and raise our eyebrows in that "Remember the good old days?" way. Other times we high five each other over a dinner that went far better than we expected. Like the other day when my son gave us the real skinny on the drama surrounding a few of his friends at school. Those moments, while few and far between, are the ones that I know I am doing the right thing for. But the moments when the two year old whines the whole time about  her socks are the ones when I want to throw up my hands and send them to McDonald's.

6:50-7:30 Play time and clean up the kitchen
7:30         Bath, Books and Bed at 8 PM or somewhere around there

I think about all the time and energy I put into working on a weekly menu plan, buying the groceries on Sunday, organizing meals around evening plans, organizing leftovers for lunches and prepping for the next night's dinner and I realized that I do it all for that 15 minutes where we stop running that proverbial marathon. We sit down and all take a big deep breath and just enjoy the clinking of forks on plates and the stories about school. When I counted up all the minutes of planning, prep, shopping and cooking it came out to about three hours a week in exchange for 15 minutes a night. Hardly a fair trade, but I know this will pay off in the end. It is one unfair trade that I am happy to put the time into for the outcome.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dinners for December 11 - 17, 2011

Sunday: Porcupine meatballs with leftover marinara sauce

Monday: Fried fish sandwiches with french fries

Tuesday: Chicken tomato white bean stew

Wednesday: Crock Pot split pea soup with salad and bread

Thursday:  Roasted cauliflower pasta with parsley breadcrumbs

Friday: Homemade pizza

Saturday: Dinner out with friends

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's a Christmas Miracle!

Anytime we go to Mitchell's Ice Cream, we get ready for a long wait in line, but it's always with the nicest folks who are as happy as we are to get a scoop of San Francisco's best ice cream. During the year, we only go for a scoop here and there but at Christmas-time we throw our waistlines to the wind and buy a 1/2  gallon of Peppermint Candy Ice Cream to eat whenever we want... AT HOME! Waiting for your dinner to finsh cooking? Have a spoonful of ice cream. Wanting something sweet and just don't know what you want... have a bowl of ice cream. Need a drink of water? Have some ice cream. It's that easy.

Talk about traditions. This 1/2 gallon of ice cream is a tradition right up there with anniversaries and birthdays. Yet we always regret it when we finish that huge carton of ice cream. We swear like rehabbing junkies that we'll just get scoops and not a 1/2 gallon of ice cream. Then fast forward 365 days and there we are standing in line with the rest of the city, eagerly buying our 1/2 gallon of fatty, delicious ice cream. If you ever come to San Francisco, please put it on your list of things to do. Well worth the calories.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dinners for December 4 - 10, 2011

Sunday: Flank steak with roasted potatoes and broccoli

Monday: Spaghetti with marinara sauce

Tuesday: Pasta Chickpea Soup

Wednesday: Roasted salmon with veggies

Thursday: Dinner out

Friday: Anniversary weekend away

Saturday: Anniversary weekend away

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I wish more food magazines wrote recipes where you cook the main components for a dinner one night and then use the left overs in a completely different way for dinner the next night. I call these gems "twofers." As in you get two meals for the work of one.

But the problem with many twofers published in magazines is the second meal is often a lame attempt at salvaging leftovers. None of this roast chicken one night and then use the leftovers for chicken tacos the next night. I want creativity and the surprise factor of pointing to Dinner #2 and wondering, "How did you pull this out of Dinner #1?" For whatever reason out there, twofers make me feel like I am getting away with murder when I make something completely different with components from Dinner #1 yet all the hard work was done the night before.

A twofer though has to be two meals which will be eaten by all four members of this family. That is a miracle in and of itself, the very fact that we all have the exact same things on our plates and into our bellies. So you can see how seriously I take my twofers, they have a lot to live up to.

The first twofer I came across was in Cooking Light a few years ago in a recipe for Basic Marinara. I'd definitely be using it for spaghetti one night, but the additional recipe suggestions for using the marinara were really what sold me: Swordfish with Lemony Red Sauce? Wow. That is inspired. Sausage and Pepper Pizza? Maybe. But the one recipe suggestion that caught my eye and was an instant sell for me was the Chicken, Pasta and Chickpea Stew (though I omit the chicken for a vegetarian dinner). I knew my kids would inhale the pasta with marinara and it was a pretty good bet that they'd also eat the stew, too. Sure enough, it was a winner and a regular winter rotation meal for us. And another thing that is great about this sauce is that it takes exactly one episode of "Wild Kratts" for me to do all the prep work. By the time it was simmering in the dutch oven, the show was over and I was feeling smug about completing two dinners in thirty minutes. Take that Rachael Ray!

The second twofer is from Everyday Food and is a chicken dish that involves all the elements of a favorite dinner in this house: chicken, peas, rice and tomatoes. My son would call this a "Winner winner chicken dinner." I love that it makes a mountain of rice for both dinners, and then has you save half for the next night to use in Chicken Fried Rice. While I love these two meals (and so do my kids) there are a few changes I would suggest for a family of three and a half (our two year old eats a sparrow's worth of food). You don't need twelve (12!!) chicken thighs, you only need about seven. And I suggest cooking three cups of dry rice, because if your family is like mine, we eat rice like we drink water around here. My recommended changes are below.

I love a good twofer. I feel like my weekly plan always comes together a little quicker when I utilize them and I get the satisfaction of two dinners for the work of one.

Braised Chicken with White Wine, Tomatoes and Peas (adapted from Everyday Food, December 2008)
  • 3 cups long-grain white rice
  • 7 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (2 3/4 pounds total)
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
  • 1 box (10 ounces) frozen peas
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


  1. In a medium saucepan, cook rice according to package instructions. Spread 3 cups cooked rice on a rimmed baking sheet to cool; refrigerate for Chicken Fried Rice, up to 1 day. Cover remaining rice in pan to keep warm; set aside.
  2. While rice is cooking, season chicken with salt and pepper. In a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Working in batches, cook chicken until browned, 4 to 5 minutes per side; transfer to a plate (reserve pot).
  3. Return chicken and any juices to pot; add wine and thyme. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook, partially covered, until chicken is opaque throughout, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove 4 chicken thighs; refrigerate for chicken fried rice, up to 1 day.
  4. Add peas and tomatoes to pot; cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Serve chicken and vegetables over rice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Off the rails

I know I had quiche on the menu for tonight, but I just wasn't in the mood for it. The weather didn't feel quiche-like to me and I was feeling kind of spunky, if not a touch punchy, about ruffling things up a little for dinner. After all, I had a bunch of organic broccoli that was one day away from heading to the compost bin, some sweet pork sausage left over from Thanksgiving, and a sad half onion - surely I could make this work. What could I do with these ingredients that would make my kids happy about dinner and would only take about 30 minutes to make?

Naturally I started to think of the usual vegetable/meat/pasta triple combination threat that I lean on at least once a week. But I wanted something more. Something heartier... something that I haven't tried to give to my oldest child in over a year because he nixed it so vehemently and something that my 2 year old has never tried. What is this? A suicide mission dinner?

It was certainly sounding like it.

When I announced what I was going to make for dinner when we got home, my husband did a double take and said, "Well it sounds good to me, but will they eat it?" I answered confidently (if not snappily) back, "Sure! Why not? I've always got cottage cheese* as my backup."

So I kicked off my work shoes and got to work. But as I chopped up the onion, I recalled my son's reaction 15 months ago when he ate this very same meal. He looked at me with a dead serious face and said, "Can you promise that we never have to have this dinner again?" Those words hang like a cloud over my head whenever I try to make a new meal for the family. But tonight I felt empowered and I was prepared to duke it out. I rehearsed my "I Am Mother Hear Me Roar" speech for when the inevitable whines and complaints would start. I planned to stomp my feet and scream, "I am SO sick of pasta! I am SO sick of doing the usual thing. We are branching out, people!" Lest you think I only let my 2 year old throw tantrums, I was all set to throw one of my own.

I was ready to rumble.

The risotto came together in a snap. I cooked the sausage (and bits were eaten on the sly by the kids), and the broccoli was tossed into the risotto for the last five minutes of cooking. After I added the Parmesan cheese, I put the dish on the table with a slightly defensive flourish and steeled myself for the barrage of complaints. But everyone just sat there with their bowls, looking pretty happy about seeing a new meal in front of them. Carefully I served the kids first and they tucked right in. I watched my son out of the corner of my eye, he being the harshest critic, and he was fairly quiet while he ate. I tentatively asked if he liked the risotto and he said without hesitation, "Yeah, it's really good, Mom. Like... really, really good" and he continued to wolf it down. After I picked my jaw up off the table, I noticed that the 2 year old picked out the broccoli and some sausage to eat before excusing herself. My husband and I ate ours with sauteed mushrooms on top and I had to put my speech aside and take my tantrum shoes off under the table.

There would be no rumble tonight.

Risotto, of all things, was like a breath of fresh air injected into our dinner. I went off the rails and our dinner survived. I did not have to give a speech or throw a tantrum, I did not have to resort to cottage cheese and everyone was well fed, happy and satisfied. I am a little stunned, a little sheepish about my defensive attitude about this meal going in. But I am so delighted that I can now add risotto to our dinner repertoire.

* Cottage cheese is our fall back food if dinner is not acceptable to the kids, if they cannot stand what I made, there is always cottage cheese in the fridge. It is the only food that I credit for getting us out of the "I will only eat pasta" phase we suffered from from ages 3 - 4 years old. I'd make a dinner and throw the container of cottage cheese on the table and he could have what we were eating or the cottage cheese. He lasted two weeks before caving in and trying something outrageous like chicken. Frustrating doesn't even begin to describe that time in our lives.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dinner Delivery (Newborns not required!)

I was going through some old documents on my computer and I stumbled across an excel document that I created to help organize meals to be delivered to a friend who just had a baby. And it occured to me: How nice would it be to just give a meal to a friend for that night and in return they do the same for you.

Those first few months with a newborn were a blur, but the welcome ring of the doorbell and the greeting of a friend with a meal in hand for my family was the highlight of those hazy newborn days where just getting yourself a drink of water was a feat in itself. The friends would bring these amazingly creative dinners and then often throw in a bottle of wine, a salad, sides and dessert too. I wish I could organize this sort of thing for my friends now that we have toddlers and big kids. Why should we only have a newborn to get a homemade meal? Who said that folks who have older children have their act together enough to get dinner on the table every night? I certainly don't.

I think I am going over this in my head because there are days like today where I really don't want to cook the meal I had planned. I will do it and I know that we will eat and enjoy the dinner, but I just wish I could have a dinner delivered to my doorstep again (and not by a delivery guy!) and then do the same for a friend in return.

Or maybe I am just having a lazy mom day.

Dinners for November 27 - December 3, 2011

Sunday: Turkey Noodle Soup

Monday: Quiche with turkey, broccoli and cheddar cheese (this is the last of the turkey. So glad we are done with this bird!)

Tuesday: Egg and black bean burritos

Wednesday: Bacon and Shrimp pasta (Everyday Food, April 2009)

Thursday: TBD

Friday: TBD

Saturday: Family night out

Saturday, November 26, 2011


This is my first guest blog entry and I am so excited to share it with everyone. Emma created an incredible childrens book database and writes reviews about the books that she comes across on her many trips to the library and around the city. She is also a close friend that I have mentioned here and there on this blog. So you can imagine my delight when she took the time to write about something that I think is perfect for this time of year and one that we certainly hold near and dear to our hearts in this family. Traditions.

For the record, it was Emma who inspired us to make cracked Dungeness crab a December tradition. Now if I can just convince my husband and son to get out there and catch a few crabs at 4 in the morning on the pier in Pacifica, we'd be set for the entire month. Take it away, Emma!

Tradition. It’s one of the things we strive to both maintain and create as we make our way through our stressful, scary lives. The stakes rise after you have kids. You so desperately want to be the kind of person who writes into parenting magazines saying, “Every December, we have a sleepover in the living room the first night we put up the Christmas tree,” or, “My kids and I have made this same cookie every December since the year they were born.” I remember sitting in a baby group when my son was one month old and the moderator asked, “What traditions would you like to create as your children grow?” I was panic-stricken as we moved around the room. I think I mumbled something lame like, “Uh, I plan to make them a great birthday cake every year.” Because that’s the thing about traditions: you can’t predict them. They have to evolve organically, grow by themselves from the messy bit parts that make up your day-to-day life.

With nothing, of course, is tradition more entwined than with food. Again, here I have major tradition envy. I remember my dear friend Amanda, she of this very blog, telling me that their family makes gingerbread waffles every Christmas morning. I think our Christmas morning breakfast is a last-minute pulling-things-out-of-fridge as we drag ourselves from our beds after having been up till midnight stuffing stockings. When she told me, I had a momentary thought of stealing her tradition, but I knew it wouldn’t stick. Again, you can’t force tradition.

I tend to think of myself as more spontaneous (read: disorganized) than tradition-bound, by nature. But of course, when I stop and look closely at my life, I see that we have traditions, too. Because I’m close to them, they may not be as clean and pretty as the two-liners I read about in magazines and on blogs. In all their real-life disarray, here are some of the food traditions that bring joy to my own life:
  • The Bûche de Noël yule log cake that I make every Christmas alongside my mom. Part of the tradition is, every darn year, forgetting which of the gazillion recipes out there we usually use, and frantically paging through cookbooks and trawling the Internet to find the right one. 
  • My husband roasting chestnuts. I love this tradition because he does all the work.
  • The scones my mom learned to make living in Scotland when I was a baby. The scones are more biscuit-like than the bakery ones we’re used to here, and I love how they’re baked in a round and cut into wedges.
  • Cracked Dungeness crab at the holidays, usually just twice because it’s so expensive.
  • My aunt’s homemade yeast rolls. The recipe comes from her grandmother, my great-grandmother, and we have never had a holiday dinner without them. Hot from the oven and smothered with butter, they are, hands-down, the best thing on the table. (Recipe below!)
  • My parents’ food-crazed yellow Labrador Retriever stealing at least one precious food item a year. When my son turned three and my mom baked him a cake in the form of the first letter of his name, guess who wolfed the whole thing behind our backs? Rosie. One Easter eve the dog gulped down ten hard-boiled eggs, shells and all. And one Christmas we bought an expensive Panettone for my aunt who was just back from Italy. Rosie ate it. But it’s okay—the story will last longer than the memory of the Panettone would have.
  • Abalone, mussels, and halibut, all courtesy of my fisherman brothers. Never am I so proud to live on the northern coast of California as when I am with my family table feasting on local seafood, plucked fresh from the brine just hours before.
  • Eggnog, the day after Thanksgiving. Irish coffees on Christmas morning with my in-laws. Wine at any hour with my friends. My brother’s homemade beer. Charles Shaw red (hey, we served it at our wedding!). Rosé with my husband in the summer. A glass of sparkling wine in the lobby of the Hyatt every Christmas season, as my kids go nuts around me. These are some of the little things that give my life a twinkle.
  • And lastly, lest you think me a snob, a bag of potato chips, a diet soda, and a beef jerky on road trips to see Grandma up north. There’s a time and a place for everything.
 What are your food traditions?

Grandma Katherine's Rolls
I'll make the rolls for a dinner with our families sometime. They're so soft and yeasty--basically fresh-baked white bread in muffin form.
4-5 cups flour
1Tablespoon salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1 package dry yeast
1 3/4 to 2 cups warm water
vegetable oil
Sift four cups of the flour, the salt and the sugar into a large bowl. Mix shortening into flour mixture with fingers. Make a hole in the middle, put yeast in, add about half of the water, and mix until dissolved. Add remaining water and mix thoroughly. If dough is too sticky, add a little of the remaining one cup flour. Dough should be quite soft. Put some vegetable oil on top, cover, and let rise in warm place for about two hours. Form into rolls with oiled hands, set into muffin tins, and let rise another 1-2 hours. Bake at 450 for about ten minutes, until tops are lightly browned. Eat instantly with butter!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dinners for November 20 - 26, 2011

Sunday: Braised chicken with white wine, tomatoes and peas

Monday: Chicken fried rice with bok choy (my favorite all time "two-fer" recipe, details to come later this week)

Tuesday: Salmon in parchment with veggies

Wednesday: Noodles with peanut sauce and leftovers

Thursday: Thanksgiving

Friday: Homemade pizza with our favorite no-knead dough

Saturday: Swedish meatballs with pasta from the Time for Dinner cookbook

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mirepoix to geaux

I am patting myself on the back for recreating what Trader Joe's sells already, at least mine is a wee bit fresher. Just because I have limited time to chop the holy trinity for our soup during the week I just did the work the night before and threw it in a jar for tomorrow's use. Mirepoix to geaux.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rainbows and Waffles

Dinner wasn't going to be much to write about because when my husband is out of town on business I lose steam and lust for dinner after the second night. I really try and not give in to a frozen pizza or take out whenever possible, but there are those days when I am fried from work and commuting. But not this dinner... 

Now, this dinner wasn't as inspired as I wanted it to be but there were enough touches that took this dinner from "Meh" to "Zowie!" with my kids. The housekeeper had just cleaned the house from top to bottom and I did not want to do any more damage to the place than the kids can do to it in the two hours before bedtime. I remembered this great idea for using a waffle iron for your grilled cheese sandwiches and let me tell you, you have never seen two kids run to the table so quickly for dinner.

The six year old couldn't believe his luck and the two year old kept yelling "Pah-cake! Pah-cake for me!" They were giddy with joy. It reminded me of how excited I used to get about using my beloved Snackmaster, this little contraption that would toast and envelope whatever filling you put between two slices of bread. To a gangly ninth grade latchkey kid coming home from a harrowing day of high school drama, this was my transport to a happier place. I'd make myself a toasted sandwich after school and sit and watch re-runs of The Monkees till I was able to cope with the homework and the onslaught of phone calls from friends about who said what while running the 10-minute-mile in P.E.
My favorite concoction was to take two slices of Home Pride white bread and scoop some canned cherry pie filling in there and make a mini toasted cherry pie. Both the white bread and the canned cherry pie filling were no no's in our house, so I often bought those items with my babysitting money.

Back to present day, what took those waffle grilled cheese sandwiches to the next level was the Rainbow Salad. For some inexplicable reason my son requests this salad on a regular basis. I get a little tired of it, but I had all the ingredients for it and decided to quickly throw this together. What I love about this salad is all the subsititutions you can make - for red we use cherry tomatoes, yellow is corn, orange is grated carrots, green is either cucumbers, avocado or edamame and purple is purple cabbage. Throw that all in a bowl with some dressing and dinner was totally done. I had a ton of leftovers with the salad, so I ate it for lunch the next day with some diced rotisserie chicken. So many ways in which this was a winning dinner: 1) Minimal cleanup 2) Veggies were consumed without any fuss and 3) The kids think they got away with murder by having a waffle-ized grilled cheese sandwich. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dinners for November 13 - 19, 2011

Sunday: Leftovers with pasta thrown in to appease my two pasta monsters

Monday: Spicy Shrimp with yogurt and naan

Tuesday: Chicken corn chowder with bread and salad (no jalapeno for the kids, but us adults love it with hot sauce)

Wednesday: Fish tacos (my go to dinner that never fails to impress the kids, they love choosing their own toppings)

Thursday: Grandma and Grandpa are having the kids over for dinner. Yeehaw!

Friday: Date night for us, for the kids it will be homemade pizza or Annie's Mac N' Cheese with the babysitter

Saturday: Braised chicken with white wine, tomatoes and peas

Got Books?

My friend Emma was kind enough to ask me to guest blog at her new home on the internets, Emma's Kids Book Database, about one of my favorite books from my childhood, The Giant Jam Sandwich. I love a book that combines problem solving with baking and sewing.

Go over and check it out and while you are there poke around for some great book suggestions for your children. Emma's new database showcases her passion for children's books, which if you were to go to her house, you would see this first hand. She has more bookcases than a library!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

V. Bad!

V. Bad is the kiss of death for any recipe that my mother in law comes across. If you see "V. BAD!" scrawled across the top of a recipe in her enormous collection, then you have been warned, it's VERY BAD.  I wondered why she would save bad recipes and her reasoning was that if she came across it again her notes would warn her not to make it again. I wanted to argue that if it were thrown out of her immense recipe collection then it would be gone for good, but she insisted that the V. Bad description was the Scarlett Letter of the recipe world. Fair enough.

I just came across a V.Bad recipe that I can't help passing along, from my beloved Everyday Food magazine no less! The Busy Day Chocolate Cake is just horrible... rubbery, oily and suspiciously flat. Nothing like the picture which shows an airy cake with a crumbly texture. I could seriously mold this cake into a ball if I wanted to. I should have known something was up when I read the recipe twice looking for the egg that should be in this recipe but is most definitely not. If you read the reviews of the recipe you'll see that the negative comments outweigh the good. My first V. Bad and it feels so right.

Beef Stew for beginners

I really like to use my Crock Pot, but I often find that most recipes don't fit in with the amount of hours I am away from the home while at work. An eight hour crock pot pork verde sounds lovely in theory, but it almost always ends up being a rather disgusting looking gelatinous pork jelly by the time I get home from work that night. However, on the weekends in the winter I pull out my Crock Pot for dishes that only need about four to five hours on a weekly basis. 

What I love about this particular dish is that if you make it for guests (or your family), the clean up is done hours before they come over and you can use your free time elsewhere. I have to admit, I do feel rather smug when I go to the park with my kids at 4 pm in the afternoon with nary a worry about what I'm making for dinner that night because its been cooking away on my counter for the past two hours. What's even better is that I have been told by many that the smell of this dish is amazing... one friend went as far as to say she wouldn't mind having a beef stew-scented candle. Ew.  

Cooking beef stew in the oven is a good way to go for some, but I believe that this recipe was meant for the Crock Pot. I adapted this Everyday Food recipe over the years and it has been a hit with family and friends. Maybe there is a market for that beef stew-scented candle after all.

Beef Stew for beginners
Adapted from Everyday Food, October 2006
Serves 4-6 

2 lbs cubed beef (Side note: I always buy a couple of steaks and cube it up myself as my grandmother taught me to never trust what is in those "beef stew" packages of meat, just do it yourself)
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons flour
2 onions, diced
4 carrots, cut into 1/2 rounds
5 or 6 red potatoes, cut up into wedges
3 garlic cloves, smashed
3/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
2 bay leaves

Mix the beef with the tomato paste, vinegar and flour inside the crock pot so the beef is covered with the paste. Generously salt and pepper the mixture and then put the onions, carrot, potatoes, garlic, thyme and bay leaves on top. Cook on high for 5 hours. Spoon into bowls and serve with a hunk of bread and a nice side salad.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dinners for November 6-12, 2011

Contrary to the lack of meal plans on the blog, I do still plan our dinners every week. I just have been horrible about posting them!

Here is our plan for the week.

Sunday: Roasted acorn squash and with soy marinated chicken

Monday: Roasted salmon with roasted broccoli and brussel sprouts - Everyday Food

Tuesday: Spaghetti with carmelized onions, spinach and parmesan (Source: DALS) Quick update: Both (!!) of my kids inhaled the carmelized onions. Full moon, perhaps?

Wednesday: Cauliflower cheddar soup

Thursday: Spaghetti frittata "pie" with spinach and potatoes Quick update: This meal didn't happen thanks to lovely protesters from Occupy Oakland! Thanks guys! You may have proved your point about the other 99%, but you totally killed my family dinner plans. However, the two year old got what she asked for, "Hangerbers and fwench fwies." Bless you Tower Burger for being there when we needed you.

Friday: Dinner with friends... I'm thinking beef stew given our weather these days.

Saturday: Turkey burgers with sweet potato fries

Mission Impossible: Impossible Pie

The evening started out on a bad note, BART was delayed due to a protest at one of the stations and the kids and I ended up getting home later than planned. This is often the kiss of death for any meal that I have planned because if I get in that door late - even with a husband that will play with the kids and distract them from the kitchen - things go downhill fast. Not only was I on single parent duty that night, but I was late getting home! I soldiered on because there is nothing like a childhood craving to make me dig in my heels a little harder to get what I want.

I have no idea what made me suddenly want an Impossible Pie, but boy did I want one. The Impossible Pie was on heavy dinner rotation in my house growing up and I loved them all. I am sure my mother loved them because it was a throw together sort of dish - take your leftovers, add some cheese to it, put it in a greased pie dish, and pour Bisquick and eggs over the filling and dinner is done. I can even remember the white Pyrex pie plate coming out of the oven and wondering which delicious cheesy filling my mom had chosen for dinner that night.

A little history on how the Impossible Pie came to be. In 1981 the Bisquick company celebrated their 50th anniversary by publishing a cookbook of old and new recipes, including "a pie that did the impossible - formed its own crust as it baked." 
The Impossible Coconut Pie and Impossible Bacon Pie were the first recipes published in that book and homemakers across America quickly adapted the recipe to fit what their families would eat and sent in their recipes (with over 100 varieties!) to the Bisquick company for publication. And this was before the Internet, people! These industrious folks snail-mailed their own variations on the recipe to the company. Now we just blog about it. Crazy. The Bisquick company published these booklets for sale at grocery stores. My mom picked one up during a shopping trip and a regular rotation dish was born in our house.

So flash forward 30 years and there I was craving an Impossible Pie. I walked in the front door at 6:15 PM, flicked the oven on to 400 degrees and quickly got to work. Instead of using Bisquick, I subbed in Trader Joe's Multigrain Baking & Pancake Mix, the measurements from Bisquick to TJ's mix are exact. I mixed in a  combination of Gruyère and Monterey Jack cheeses, leftover chopped chicken and some left over steamed broccoli. I poured the TJ's mix over the filling and popped it in the oven for 30 minutes as promised. I served this alongside a small salad of avocado with cherry tomatoes. The kids loved it. And here I was thinking that they would just push it aside, but they both ate decent portions and I just sat there marveling how just one bite of that pie could transport me back to my childhood kitchen on Shawnee Lane, watching my mom bop around the kitchen while singing along to Alicia Bridges' "I Love the Nightlife" on the record player.

Thanks for the memories, Impossible Pie.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Anosmia and my nose

Congenital Anosmia is something I have lived with my whole life, I have never been able to smell one single thing. Many think that this would affect my cooking or my ability to taste. And they are right to a degree, I certainly am not comfortable with winging it when it comes to cooking (sewing is another matter). I tend to follow directions and ingredient lists to the letter. Parsley and cilantro taste exactly the same to me, cinnamon and cumin are like dust and lemon zest and orange zest are just pithy things that get caught in my teeth. But I can taste sweet, sour, salt, and bitter.

The reason I bring this up is that I just finished reading Molly Birnbaum's book, "A Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way" and it was like suddenly someone finally could put into words what I could not explain for so many years - the complete absence of smell and how tied it is to taste.

A dear friend of mine, Katie, used to be my "Smelling Nose Dog" where she would try and describe a smell to me and I loved hearing her descriptions. The most memorable one was that cut grass smelled like the way you feel when you walk into a forest on a clear crisp day for a hike and the amount of oxygen around you just smacks you over the head. I loved that description so much. But Molly's descriptions blew me away and also humbled me. I realized how much I am missing, but at the same time how much I can taste. I don't think things taste like cardboard - ever. I judge what I taste on texture and flavors that I can discern. A doctor once said I probably taste about 40 percent of what the average person tastes. I can live with that.

Being a congenital anosmic has its downsides, but I really can't complain about them because it doesn't feel fair. That same doctor also told me, "Of all the senses to not have since birth, smell is one that I can imagine one could live without and not feel like you are disabled in some way. Be thankful you have your sight, your touch, your hearing. But no smell? You'll be just fine." Of course I'll be fine. I am fine. But I would love to know why I can't smell, everyone else in my family can. My children can smell just fine. I am just a fluke.

As a child and teenager I thought I was just stupid for not being able to smell. When people would ask, "Can you smell that?" I'd just play along and say yes, I didn't want anyone to know that I was different in some way and certainly with one that they couldn't see. I was worried they would confirm what I had been slowly saying about myself, "I'm not smart enough to smell things." Then one day while babysitting for some kids down the street, the Pop-Tart I had put into the toaster got stuck and started to burn. I didn't smell the smoke for some time and it had started a small fire in the kitchen. I only noticed the fire when the smoke came into the living room and I quickly (and foolishly) threw a jug of water onto the appliance and shorted out the entire electrical circuitry of the house. When the children's mother came home and asked why I hadn't smelled the smoke, I knew the jig was up. I told her I couldn't smell anything, so she walked me home and suggested to my mother that I get tested. A few years later I did get tested and the doctors that I had visited ranged from the one who accused me of lying to get attention, the one who said I probably had a bad cold at the time (I didn't) and then one who was so fascinated by my story that he went and got a medical book and we sat together, looking through it till he found the word "Anosmia." He did a battery of tests on me and confirmed what I had known all along, I couldn't smell a darn thing. Not oranges, not gasoline, not medicine, not flowers, nothing. However, we did learn that peppermint did cause a sensation akin to burning in my nose, so at least I can say I can smell peppermint.

I had heard of people losing their sense of smell from accidents and from surgery and I never understood this lamenting loss they all expressed, this depression they seemed to get into. I guess that is what comes when you lose something you once had. I never had it so it doesn't seem like that big of a deal to me. The only smell I wish I could have is the one of my children, I wish I knew what a baby smelled like - that powdery smell that is often described sounds like heaven to me. Other than that I am fine with what I don't have. I have gone from being embarrased about being different to embracing it and owning it. I can cook, my friends and family enjoys the dishes that I cook and I love to eat. I may not be able to tell the difference between some things, but I have the love for food.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Handmade Halloween - the squid edition

**Updated! My son's costume won a dubious (yet loving) award at SFGate's The Poop. Check it out!

Halloween is my holiday. I can do without the hard boiled eggs at Easter, the roasted turkey at Thanksgiving and the figgy pudding at Christmas... but give me orange and black and pumpkin decorations and I am a happy girl. From October 1 -31 I am in a mad dash to get it all in - the pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin patches, fall festivals, apple picking... the whole thing. It is like I am a manic fall freak for 31 days a year and then I calm down and go back to normal.

This year my son wanted to be a red squid. He decided on this after taking this picture of one at the California Academy of Sciences.

I loved the idea of making this costume and my head was spinning with ideas. I could have gone the whole "cut up a sweatshirt" route, but I knew I could do better than that. So I started searching around on flickr and came across this amazing costume.
                                                    (Photo courtesy of Lucy Lou via flickr)

My son took one look at this and said, "That's it!" Great! (Pause) Now how do I make it?

I searched around and found the original creator's blog and posted a comment about what an amazing costume it was and did she have any advice on how to recreate it? She never replied and maybe that was for the best because I was left to figure it out on my own. Sometimes the best results come from just winging it. By studying the photos on flickr, I could see the construction of the costume and went to work. I drew my pattern pieces on brown paper grocery bags and tinkered with the size of the squid head. I made a mock up with some leftover red felt that was passed on to me from a friend. After sewing it together, I kept thinking it looked sort of off, maybe a little strange. I took a few steps back from the table and it hit me, my squid head looked  phallic. Oh dear. So I ripped it all out and tried it again two more times and on the third try I hit pay dirt and stuffed that squid head with batting.

Knowing my son wouldn't wear it if it were made out of scratchy felt I ordered soft pink and red fleece online. I attached the head to the the rest of the body of the squid which was made by tracing one of his hoody sweatshirts onto the fleece fabric for the arms and body. I then then lined the inside of the tentacles and arms with pink fleece and sewed it together like a traditional shirt. And a Halloween costume would not be complete without the use of a glue gun so I attached the suction cups onto the tentacles and viola...a squid was born.

In honor of Lucy and Nora (the squid creator extraordinaire), my son happily posed just like Lucy did in her squid costume. Thank you to the both of you for such great inspiration. We will likely never meet in person, but you inspired us and we thank you for it.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Every time I see a recipe with the following ingredients, my inner Depression-era grandmother winces a little. I know that I will go and buy the ingredients, but the leftovers almost always end up withering away in my refridgerator. I feel guilty every time I buy these ingredients and feel like a nerd when I tell myself, "This time will be different, I will not let this go to waste this time." And then it dies a slow smelly death in my fridge. Below are the death knells in my fridge. What are yours?

Green Onions

This gets the coveted #1 spot because you can never buy just one or two green onions, they always come in bunches of 8 or 10. I will use two or three for a recipe and then there they sit like the red headed stepchild of my vegetable drawer. Destined for death by neglect.

Ricotta cheese

Every recipe seems to require 1 cup of this stuff and then the rest sits in its container till it decides to turn an unsightly color of green and pink and moves itself to the back of my fridge.

1/2 cut onions

I hate recipes that say to use 1/2 of a chopped onion as my local store does not sell small onions. So I am left with a half cut onion wrapped in plastic that inevitably starts to push itself outwards and separates itself from its layers. I wish I had a time lapse camera in the vegetable drawer to see this happen live.

Runner ups:

Sour cream
Up till recently this would sit in the container till it turned pink (why pink? I do not know). Now I can use up to a cup and half making Mark Bittman's sour cream waffles. Great way to use up the leftover sour cream from taco night. Or just use greek yogurt... same difference.


I would buy a head of celery, use about six stalks and then watch it slowly liquify in my fridge. But since having children, we make good use of celery by making ants on a log.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

SAHM Chronicles: Mommy's Little Helper

I wish I could say that mommy's little helper was an episode of Caillou or a cold glass of Contadino sparkling Pinot Grigio (side note, if you have not tried this delight in a bottle, get thee to Trader Joe's right away!). But sadly the item that gets the most play in my dinners is this

I buy it at Costco and without a doubt it is the most used condiment in my everyday cooking. There are so many great things about this bouillon - it's organic, it comes in a tidy glass jar that can be recycled as opposed to boxes of stock that cannot, and best of all?  You measure out one teaspoon per one cup of water which means that my 16 oz jar yields 96 cups worth of stock. I mean what is not to love*?

*This post was not paid for by the Better than Bouillon folks. Just raving is all I am doing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

SAHM Chronicles: Babysitting swap

It took my friend about four hours to process that I was going to be home for the next 6 - 8 weeks before she suggested a weekly babysitting swap. We did our first swap today where she took my daughter for three hours while I went to the paint store (lofty plans to paint the interior trim of our house while I am on leave) and did a few other errands that are tough to do with a two year old in tow. But the most indulgent part of those three hours? Buying these two magazines

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

SAHM Chronicles: Home again, Home again jiggety jog

Last week my day job disappeared in an instant. My mother in law, our primary caregiver for our children, broke her leg and was unable to care for the kids. After a quick discussion with the spouse, I signed up for emergency family medical leave with my work and am now a full time mom for the next six to eight weeks while she recuperates. At first I had reservations about this designation and was apprehensive about how it would all play out. But after spending my first work free day with my daughter while my son is at school, I am hooked. We walked around the Academy of Sciences (waving hello to their infamous brownies), shared carrots and edamame, watched the jellyfish and inspected some plants on our way out of there. I had time to really *be* with her and it was an eye opener how much little time I get with my kids on the weekends.

I know everyday won't be all sunshine and rainbows with her, but today I fell in love with my children all over again. Color me smitten. Hopefully this blog will get some much needed attention, too! Because you know I'll have all this free time now. ;)

Monday, September 5, 2011

An experiment worth noting

Awhile ago I read this post and was inspired to try the same thing with my son. It never occurred to me to give him money at the Farmer's Market and when we did I fully expected him to come back with bags of Kettle Corn and chocolate pastries. But instead he has blown me away with his thoughtful purchases and willingness to try new foods. Every week he clutches his money, works the booths and inspects various vegetables and fruits. He asks how much things are and does subtraction with his fingers. I never knew that he would get a math lesson out of this, but he is really doing it.

The first week he eagerly took his money and walked around, taking our advice to look at everything before buying. He peeled off one dollar for three honey sticks and graciously gave one to his sister. Then he spied a basket of strawberries for $4, thought about it for a moment and then walked on. He asked where the fish monger guy was and headed in that direction. I quickly told him I'd happily buy the fish for him, but he had already moved on. He settled on a trio of red and yellow raspberries with a basket of blackberries for $7. I am not sure where the remaining $2 went. But who cares? The kid was hooked.

The next week we were on vacation in Sonoma and we went to the Sonoma Farmer's Market, where we again gave him $10. He immediately spied the Kettle Corn and bought a bag, sharing it with all of us. Then  he saw a bread baker with his own fire pit oven on wheels and mentioned he wanted to get a loaf of the XX. He passed by folks making fresh doughnuts, vendors with ice cream scoops teetering on cones and he persevered... the dude was on a mission. He found a cheese table and parked himself in front, sampling every single cheese the vendor had to offer and then he pulled out his money and asked to buy an aged block of Gouda. Seriously? I couldn't believe it. The vendor looked around and asked "Whose kid is this?" and we raised our hands. He smiled, shook his head and said, "Your kid has great taste!" and wrapped up the hunk of cheese. Then, with purpose, my son walked over to the bread guy and bought the loaf he spied earlier and declared that the bread and cheese were to be eaten with dinner.  Amazing! Is this seriously my kid?

This past week he took his $10 and asked a vendor what the prickly vegetables were on the table and she explained they were artichokes. He was sold. He bought three ("So we can all have one" he said) and then bought three honey sticks (again he gave one to his sister), cherry tomatoes and raspberries. Two years ago we tried to get him to eat artichokes, but he hated them. We will have them in the summer, but he always passed on them. As I steamed his artichokes with our dinner, I thought this was going to be the one that didn't make the cut. I set them on the table with a plate of lemon slices, salt and mayonnaise and he got to work. He inhaled an entire artichoke in one sitting!

Thank you, Jenny, for inspiring us to try such a great way to get my son to eat new foods. He is hooked and so are we. I think I am going to get him involved with meal planning next, letting him pick out some dishes in a cooking magazine like Everyday Food.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cutting the cheese

Gross title, I know. But that is what I did today. What do you do when you have to bring a macaroni and cheese dish to a function and the only time you have to make this dish is when your toddler is napping? You cut the mold off the cheese and declare it good to go. My grandmother would have been proud (just don't tell anyone that I did this).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


This past summer I attended two reunions, one for my 20th high school reunion and one for an extended family reunion in Milwaukee. Both were awkward and a little odd at a first, with "What's your name?" being the number one uttered phrase at each event.

The High School Reunion

Let's go back a few years and look at where I left my classmates in 1991. I had long, henna red hair with a roll of bangs on my forehead, wore Doc Martens and sported a mouthful of braces for the past seven (seven!!!!) years. Needless to say I was a dork and I only amplified this designation by dressing up as my high school mascot every week at football games and spirit rallies. I figured since I liked to dance and preferred to be behind the scenes, then doing it in a hideous costume was a great way to not be noticed *too much*. What was I thinking?

Me in the Willie the Wildcat costume, 1990

But a lot has changed in twenty years, folks. I got the braces off, managed to get my hair back to its somewhat blonde state, gained a sweet spouse, a nice job and two lovely children. I feel really lucky in life. But the notion of going to my high school reunion threw me right back into that state of insecurity and self doubt, I was positive no one would speak to me. I figured I'd hide behind a different kind of costume, one that would take attention away from me as a person. So I made a pie. But not just any pie, because that is boring. I made a blueberry SLAB pie, one that can serve about 18 people and whose presentation alone makes folks ooh and ahh. Much like my mascot costume. ;)

And this pie would have been epic had another classmate not plopped a huge pink box of frosted cupcakes and cookies from the best bakery in town right next to my pretty pie. Oh well. I had an absolute blast at my reunion picnic, enjoyed seeing everyone's families and children and ate enough pie to float a boat.

Blueberry Slab Pie from Everyday Food (with my small changes)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Meet my grandmother, the conductor of my dinner train to GuiltTown

There are certain foods that I feel so guilty using in my regular dinner rotation, yet I can't stop using them. This may sound crazy, but when I do use these items I can hear my Depression-era grandmother scolding me from the grave. She came from a very poor childhood and was raised in the Depression, that woman could make a meal out of stones if need be. Towards the end of her life, she lived with my mother and I and we spent a lot of time in the kitchen together as well as grocery shopping since she was legally blind (a slightly horrifying task for a gawky 14 year old to do with her grandmother, but I gutted through it).

  But now that I am a working parent, I have limited time to make a weeknight dinner without these shortcuts -  they are how I deal with being in the weeds with a full time job and small children at home to feed. Her influence runs far and wide with me in the kitchen, and she creeps in so often that I feel like she is the one who drives my dinner train sometimes. She had rules like we could never have chicken more than once a week (too expensive), always ask the grocery man what the best deal is on meat that day and to always look at the price per pound of the meat, not the total cost of a package of meat. I do this day in and day out without even thinking about where these "rules" come from (though sometimes asking the butcher at my local Safeway what is good that day is an effort in futility). I love the way she has influenced me, yet I resent the way she has scarred me from enjoying many of the conveniences that are out there for working moms like me who want to serve a healthy meal, yet lack the 10 hours a day to make that meal.

Organic Frozen Brown Rice from Trader Joe's

I must have walked past this item in the freezer section of Trader Joe's fifty times before finally buying a package. If my grandmother were there with me, she'd say, "Frozen rice? Who on earth ever heard of such a thing! You can make that for pennies!!" Yeah, but brown rice takes over 40 minutes in my circa-1987 rice cooker or on the stove top. So I buy the frozen stuff and it completes the meal in just three minutes in the microwave. I laugh wickedly as my children inhale it without even noticing that it's brown or... (gasp!) healthy! Sorry Nonie.

Morello Cherries (in the jar) from Trader Joe's

When I first bought a couple of jars to make a cherry pie, I could practically hear my grandmother scolding me (if she were alive), "You are buying jarred cherries? You can't find a moment in your day to pit your own cherries? Lazy Elsie Marley!" She canned her own cherries for pies and when she died, we hoarded that last jar of cherries until we felt that the pie we were making was worthy enough. But Trader Joe's has cornered the jarred cherry, in my opinion. They are so fresh tasting and it seems like a crime to use the gloppy, sickly sweetened canned cherries at the grocery store.

Salad Dressing

First of all, I love a nice homemade vinaigrette. I love the fresh taste, the tang of dijon and lemon juice and I distinctly remember my grandmother always had a glass jar in the fridge with her homemade salad dressing - served on iceberg lettuce, of course. But I have since gone the route of convenience and often default to buying Newman's Own Italian Vinaigrette and I feel so darn guilty every time I open the bottle. But I felt truly awful when I was planning on bringing a salad to a friend's house for dinner and I asked her, "What kind of dressing should I bring?" She paused and said, "Oh I never buy salad dressing, so I wouldn't even know what brands are out there." I wanted to call her bluff so badly... like she never notices salad dressing? Just like the way I never notice that Dove Bars go on sale two times a month. Yeah right!

Roast Chicken

On the days where we ate roasted chicken as a family, she always saved the carcass to make chicken stock. But what impressed me more than the rich stock that she coaxed out of a pile of bones, some parsley and vegetable scraps was how she could clean the meat from the chicken, the carcass would be bare and clean of any meat when she was done with it. I never feel like I have done a good enough job with my rotisserie chicken and my husband laughs as I mutter the same thing (out loud to no one in particular) "I know, I know.. I am wasting chicken again, aren't I?" She'd be proud of my chicken bone stash in the freezer though.

Frozen fruit

I was raised to eat what was in season and have fond memories of watching persimmons get riper and riper next to the sink during the fall. Having frozen fruit was never really an option, though I do recall canned pineapple coming out around Easter. Anyways, I always have frozen fruit in my freezer now. Have you tried those frozen mango chunks from Trader Joe's? Divine. Petite frozen blueberries? Delicious! My kids toss frozen blueberries like popcorn into their mouths.

But the one thing I still cannot buy is applesauce. That woman made and canned her own applesauce every single year and it was to die for. Subtly sweet, grainy yet not overly so, perfectly seasoned with cinnamon and was the color of a perfect sandy beach with a lemony after taste. I swore when I ate her last jar of applesauce after she passed away that I would never eat a jar of store bought applesauce and I still haven't. Nothing can hold a candle to that woman... and her applesauce. I miss you Nonie!