Thursday, May 26, 2011

Power of the Pancake

Last year when Jamie was still mastering the art of eating solid food, we went through a phase where he would eat just about anything...if it was in a pancake. Who can really blame him? Pancakes are awesome. They can be sweet or savory. Obviously, they are a fabulous way to start the day, but they are just as good for lunch and brinner. And pancakes are just plain fun to make, especially with kids. These days when we have a pancake meal, I am flanked by Kara and Jamie for the whole cooking process. Even when they are fussing over who gets to stir or who can add the blueberries, I love every minute of it.

A box of pancake mix is great to have around. I am a big fan of Bisquick and the Trader Joe's multigrain mix. But if you find yourself out of pre-made mix, there is a 90% chance you have everything you need to make pancake batter right in your pantry. Here is Mark Bittman's recipe for basic pancakes. This is the one I use on a pretty regular basis. It makes a lot of batter; I almost always have leftover for another pancake meal. This is also a really flexible recipe. You can add more or less milk to get the thickness you like. You can easily add wheat flour, oat flour or other whole grains. If you like a tangy pancake, use some yogurt or buttermilk in place of the milk and substitute 1 tsp of baking soda for the baking powder.

Dave likes his pancakes straight up. Kara and Jamie love blueberry pancakes the best. Somehow I made it almost to 40 without putting it together that frozen blueberries work just fine in all manner of baked goods. I recommend keeping a bag in your freezer for the Saturday morning when nothing less than a stack of pancakes will do.

I don't think I have ever met a pancake product that I didn't like. However, one of my most favorite ways to have pancakes is to add corn, a little cornmeal, chopped green onion, garlic and chili powder to make a corn fritter of sorts. Serve them sour cream and salsa. A weeknight winner.

Kara, mouth full of pancake, pronounces them "delicious." (More on the hair accessory next week...)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This Is My Life

At the risk of posting something a little risque...Let me just share some of the precious moments I caught on film last week.

That would be my son trying to open up the cabinet with all of Dave's fancy beer glasses. He was taking a break from messing with my ipod.

Here is the little man making a break for it. Playing inside is for losers. So is underwear. 

I think that these images really say it all about what life is like with a 2 year old boy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

No Fear Fish

Did you know that Trader Joe's sells frozen fish? Probably. I knew they did too, but I had sort of forgotten until recently when I was lamenting the fact that we don't eat enough fish around here. There are several reasons for this gap in our diet. First, fish can be kind of pricey. Second, my kids generally wont eat it. Third, I feel daunted by the task of purchasing sustainably caught fish.

I can't do anything about the first two factors, but I can try to be an educated consumer. To that end, I printed out the Monterey Bay Aquarium's pocket size Seafood Recommendation Guide. They also have this guide as an app for iphones or Android phones which I will have to purchase when I invariably lose the paper version of this guide.

Consulting my little guide, I was able to choose some lovely Haddock in the freezer section of TJ's. I still felt the need to grill the manager about how TJ's acquires their fish, however. She was super friendly and assured me that they do their best to only purchase sustainably raised fish etc. I hope she was for real. But if not, I had my handy dandy guide to help me make a good choice without having to rely on the manager's knowledge and/or integrity.

Once I had my Haddock, it was simply a matter of  defrosting it in the fridge during the day and sauteing it up with a little butter, lemon, salt and pepper. I served it with the remainder of our Cilantro Lime Sauce. This combo would be great for fish tacos too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Leftovers - Good, Better, Best

Let's face it, not all leftovers are created equally. Some things, like cooked fish, will languish in the back of my refrigerator until the stench finally proves to me that I am not going to make some new dish with the remains of Tuesday's sauteed tilapia. On the other hand, extra chicken, steak, pancake batter, or noodles are sure to get "re-purposed" later in the week.

Rice, I believe, is the king/queen of leftovers. Easily made into rice and eggs or a crispy quesadilla or a easy rice salad. Rice salad is a summertime staple in our house as it is simple to make, makes use of herbs and veggies in our garden and doesn't require the stove. It isn't summer yet, but last week felt like a sneak peak at summer, so I thought I would use up some leftover rice and make this side for our dinner.

Here's what you do:
-Take a couple of cups of cooked rice, drizzle with olive oil and a splash of vinegar.
-Finely chop any or all of the following: green onion, red onion, bell peppers, hot peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh herbs.
-You can saute your veggies for a few minutes if you want and add the rice mix at the end to warm it up. Toss with herbs right before dinner.
-Alternatively you can microwave the rice for a minute and mix the warm rice with the veggies to wilt them just a little.

Last week I had the ends of a container of TJ's grape tomatoes, so I took some advice from the Dinner a Love Story crew and roasted them in the oven for about 20 minutes before adding them to the rice. Oh my. So good.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The First Greens of the Season

The lettuce is up! Woohoo! After being a little tardy in my planting and after a very cold spring, we finally have lettuce to fill our salad bowls. Last night we had a delicious and simple salad of greens, green onions (also from the garden) and shredded carrots (from Trader Joe's).

Aside from the fresh from the garden greens, the two things that make this salad are the shredded carrots and the vinaigrette.

You can buy shredded carrots in a bag at the store and they are perfectly good. But you can also buy a Julienne peeler. I happen to have two, oddly. One my mom gave me after I had been coveting hers and one Dave bought me because I had been coveting my mom's. These little tools are great. Instant fancy salad without the fuss on getting out your mandoline.

As for the vinaigrette, the basic formula is 3 parts oil to 1 part acid, usually vinegar, but citrus juice and soy sauce count too. I usually  make vinaigrette in a small mason or jelly jar. Start by adding 2 inches of oil, 1 inch of vinegar and then add any of the following to suit your tastes: mustard, brown sugar, maple syrup, soy, lemon/lime/orange juice. For an Asian variation use rice vinegar and add any or all of the following: soy, hoisin, sriracha, mirin, fish sauce, ginger.

Next time you are contributing a salad to a potluck dinner, make your own dressing too. Homemade dressing is like homemade whipped cream; it invariably impresses folks and has the power to mask a less than impressive salad or dessert. Trust me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bad Mommy

Remember what I wrote about being supermom? Well, in an effort to keep it real, let me explain what I did yesterday...

Monday is laundry day in our house, so before I even had breakfast, I decided to get a load of laundry going. But first, I had to empty the dryer of the laudry that I had been so proud of myself for starting on Sunday night. Imagine my complete horror when I realized that I had put a small box of crayons that were in my pocket through the washer and dryer. This particular batch of now spotted laundry included: Kara's t-ball uniform, my favorite jeans, Dave's favorite shorts and a brand new pair of khakis my mom had just bought for me.

Let me just say from the outset that this "laundry error" could not be blamed on anyone else but me. I alone was dumb enough to put crayons in my pocket, and I alone did the laundry. Also, I should be clear that I understand that spotted clothes are not the end of the world. They are, after all, just clothes. Finally, I also realize that when you are a parent and wife it is important to moderate and control your behavior so as to prevent you from alienating your spouse and terrifying your children.

I did not, however, let any of these facts stand in the way of throwing a huge tantrum. That's right, I had a complete meltdown filled with cursing, slamming of doors, throwing of objects and screaming at the world. It was epic. And when Dave tried to offer some comfort by way of putting the stained clothes into some perspective, I essentially told him to shut up and leave me alone. Nice. It was at that point that Kara started to cry. So on top of my rage at having made such a stupid mistake, I poured on a heaping pile of shame at how I was acting in front of my husband and family.

After Dave left for work, I did manage to pull myself together to comfort Kara and get her off to school. I then spent the rest of the morning wallowing in self-recrimination, trolling the internet for stain removal advice and attempting get the crayon tie-dye off of our clothes. In the light of the day after, though, I can appreciate the "silver lining" to what will be forever known as "Mommy's crayon episode."

-First, I had a wonderful friend, Valerie, to call. She offered comfort and support without judgement. Not only that, she called back to check in later in the day with more wise words that assured me that I had not scarred my kids or my marriage irreparably. (She also offered the very insightful observation that when your husband tries to offer you perspective when you clearly have lost all of yours, it is just the nudge you need to push you over the cliff into a sea of irrationality.)
-Second, I was able to apologize to Kara and Dave and they were gracious enough to accept my apology with their typical kindness and generosity.
-Third, I got the damn stains out of almost everything! I am a laundry goddess! (Except when I am a laundry doofus.) The magic formula? Soak in hot water, Borax and Clorox 2 for at least an hour. Wash with 1 cup detergent, 1 cup Borax and 1 cup Clorox 2.

Here are the variety of cleaning products I used on Monday. A little out of control.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Channeling My Inner Super-Mom

Back in the day, when I had a job that paid money and required me to wear makeup and get my clothes dry cleaned, I was a pretty ambitious woman. I sought out opportunities to impress those with power, and I entertained visions of myself as a Department Chair or Dean of Students or even Head of Upper School one day.

Then I had kids.

I left my paying job and took on the insanely hard job of being a "stay at home" mom. A job that is so absurd, that on any given day I might look in the mirror and think, "What the hell am I doing with my life?" or I might think, "I love this life so much - I can't imagine going back to my old job." While I might be ambivalent about my stay at home status, I feel comfortable in my complete lack of ambition in the world of stay at home mommyhood. I think I am a good mom. And I know for sure that I work hard to take care of our kids and our home. But I know my limits. Yes, I cook dinner most nights. But, no, I will not offer to host the class dinner at our house. Yes, I will go into Kara's classroom to volunteer on occasion. No, I will not chaperone the trip to the zoo.

Maybe it was the specter of Mother's Day coming up, but last week I was "Supermom". First, I baked bread every day. Then, on a Thursday, not Sunday, I roasted a chicken and served up a Thanksgivingesque dinner. I tutored two nights and managed to arrange my schedule so that I didn't miss Kara's t-ball game. I weeded in the yard and mowed the lawn. I worked out twice and did yoga one day during Jamie's nap. I ran about a hundred errands. I baked cinnamon rolls for the teacher appreciation breakfast. I spent over an hour cutting out tissue paper rectangles for a craft (pictured above) I then went to Kara's class to teach the kids. I volunteered to work at the sand art table at the Spring Fair and stayed until the bitter end while Kara ran around in a sugar-induced frenzy. I planted zinnia and sunflower seeds. I cleaned our bathroom for real - not in the half-assed way I typically do.

I am freakin' exhausted. This supermom stuff is for the birds. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed last week. (Despite the poison ivy I got from the weeding - that oughta teach me.) But I also enjoy the weeks where the most I accomplish is taking the dog for a walk. So for all the supermoms out there: Good for you. I will stick with the low-ambition version of mommyhood.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"Five" Minute Bread

After determining that the gluten free diet wasn't really helping my knees all that much and realizing how much I missed bread, I have gone to a GF diet by day and a gluten-allowed diet by night. The only other "rule" is that when I eat bread, pizza or some other gluten-laden product, I make it myself. Needless to say, this caveat in my bread eating allowance prevents me from eating lots of stuff I might otherwise choose. Also, it has inspired me to do a lot more bread baking.

I have had a bread machine for the past 3 years and I have used it quite a bit, but I have to say that the results have been uneven. I have made some fabulous breads, but also had some real duds. Recently, I have used the machine mostly to make the dough which I then bake in the oven. I have also tried the No Knead Bread that Mark Bittman and others have written about at length. It was good, but I wasn't overwhelmed.

Then a couple of weeks ago when I was in the library looking for books on GF baking, I found the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The premise is that, much like the No Knead method, you can make a big batch of bread dough, keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and then bake bread as you need it with great success. The basic recipes can be used for a variety of breads. From one bucket of plain dough you could make, a bagette, pita, pizza dough, ciabatta, boule, bread sticks etc. Choose a sweet dough and you could make brioche, cinnamon rolls, monkey bread, bagels, muffins etc.

Call me a convert. I have now tried four or five recipes from the book and its sequel, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and they have all been amazing. The loaf pictured above was one of the most delicious things I have ever baked. (Sorry for the small pic - I ran down the battery in my camera and had to resort to a picture with my phone. Bad blogger!) If you like bread at all, I highly recommend these books.

A few things to note: The "five minutes" claim is a little deceptive. It does take about five minutes to mix the ingredients, but in order to actually get a good loaf, you need to let your dough rest for 40 to 90 minutes before baking (depending on the temperature of the dough - colder dough = more rest) and then bake it for 30-45 minutes. That being said, you can also use the dough straight out of the fridge to make delicious flatbread  in about 20 minutes not counting the time it takes to preheat your oven. The pita we made was so good, I cannot understand why we don't eat it every night. Kara and Jamie demolished this bread in minutes.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Flensted Mobiles

Seems like this is the season for wedding and baby showers. If you are looking for a gift that is a little different, check out these mobiles from Flensted Mobiles. Flensted is a Danish company, but their mobiles are sold all over the internet. I found a bunch on Amazon within minutes.

Kara was recently given this butterfly mobile. And Jamie got this train mobile as a baby gift from my mom.

It is getting kinda close, but I think a mobile would be a cool Mother's Day gift too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cilantro Lime Sauce

A couple of weeks ago Josh sent me this link to a recipe his mom had made to great success. Basically, it's just roasted potato wedges. But the sauce...oh how delicious. You can read the Epicurious version on the link, but let me give you this shortcut.

-In a small bowl mix a blob of mayo, and equally big blob of sour cream. Chop up some fresh cilantro and throw it in. Get out a lime, cut it in half and zest the half. Squeeze the juice of the zested lime in the bowl too. Salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili pepper. Stir. Dip.

This was so good on the potatoes. Also on chicken. Also on my salad the next day. Seriously yummy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cilantro Saver

A very good friend of the family gave me the amazing Christmas present of a gift card to Sur la Table. If you have never been in one of their stores, let me just say that it is a cook's heaven. So many cool gadgets. A new SLT store opened not too far from us, and I have been considering how to use my gift for months. One of the first things that came to mind was an herb saver much like this one that was Oprah's favorite. Say what you will about Oprah, she has good taste. But before I used up a chunk of my precious gift card, I decided to do a little research.

Turns out that lots of foodie folks on the internet have an opinion about how best to save fresh herbs. Shocking, I know. What I decided to test was the jar of water method. It's complex: Take a jar. Fill it with about 2 inches of water. Take your cilantro, parsley etc. and trim a little off the stems. Put bunch of herbs in jar and store in refrigerator. Enjoy for 1 to 2 weeks.

Here is my cilantro 10 days into my experiment. Pretty good, right? While O's favorite is probably lovely, I pronounce the mason jar of water method a resounding success.