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.