Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I'm coming back, I swear

I've taken a little writing hiatus for personal reasons, and because I think I'm going to change the direction of this blog a bit.  A little less foodie, a little more philosophy.  No promises on how often I'll post, but I was really excited to get this piece published on OffbeatHome&Life, so hopefully I won't drop off the face of the internet again for a while.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Thank God Hockey's Back

We've all been so much happier now that the Bruins are back.  Pats lost?  Who cares.  They're not sitting in the dark right now.  (Seriously, though, am I the only one who would freak the heck out if I was sitting in a dome with 30,000 people and the lights went out?  I would lose it).  Anyway, hockey.  The B's have been great, and it's so nice to see the kids getting into it.

8am.  30 degrees.  Ready to head out for some shooting practice.

We went ice skating today and Jax is now sure that he really wants to play hockey.  Of course, he's ambivalent about actual skating lessons, but he loves the idea.  And Lea, who was extremely hesitant to get on skates, has, in just three times on the ice, come so far.  It's a fun way to spend a couple of hours together.

They weren't jumping up and down about going skating.  They were doing a Jilian Michael's DVD.  But either way.

It was a good weekend all around, actually.  Friday night we had pizza dinner with friends which is always a good time.  We used to meet for Upper Crust Pizza, which is still my favoritist pizza ever.  But since they closed, we had to get from someplace else.  Old School Pizza in Wellesley was pretty good.  I recommend the buffalo chicken pizza.

Saturday morning we took the kids to a juggling show at the Regent Theater in Arlington.  Unfortunately, only 1/2 of the juggling duo made it, but he did a great job keeping the kids entertained.  

Patiently waiting for the show to start.  The venue could have used a little more heat.

This is the nice time of year where it seems like things slow down a bit - holiday madness is over, but it's not the spring busyness that starts around Lea's birthday.  

And the groundhog saw his shadow, confirming the deeply held suspicions of legions of scientists seeking confirmation for global climate change.  So there's that.

This past week we didn't eat all that much fantastic.  I made this Moroccan Chickpea Stew, which had so much potential.  

But I didn't like it.  I liked it enough to eat it, but not enough to eat the leftovers.  I don't know - it was missing something, but I still can't figure out what it was.  So that recipe's not going up.

But this was pretty good.  The kids found it a little too sweet, so the recipe here reduced the sugar, but if you like your orange chicken the kind of cloying sweet of takeout, add about 1/4 cup brown sugar to the sauce at the simmering stage.

Orange Chicken
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 c. corn starch
1/4 c. cooking oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 c. orange juice
1/4 c. marmalade (or apricot preserves)
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp soy sauce

Toss the cubed chicken in the corn starch until well coated.  Heat a couple of tablespoons of the cooking oil in a nonstick pan until hot but not smoking.  Add 1/2 the chicken and cook over medium-high heat stirring occasionally, until chicken is slightly browned and mostly cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Remove to a bowl, and repeat with the remaining chicken.  

If you need to, wipe out the pan, but no need to clean it thoroughly.  Add 1/2 tsp of oil and saute the garlic over low heat for about 2 minutes, just until softened, but not browned.  Add the orange juice, marmalade, ginger and soy sauce, and simmer until the sauce is reduced by about 1/3. 

Add the chicken to the sauce and simmer until the chicken is totally coated in sauce and is cooked through, about 5 more minutes.  

I served over brown rice, with broccoli and carrots.

This whole post went up during the power outage.  This Superbowl is disappointing in so many ways.  Did you know that in order to win, the 49ers have to score more points?  Thank heavens for all this extra commentary. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cleanse Meals - Tasty I Swear!

For a week starting Jan 3 I went wheat-free, meat-free, sugar free, dairy free, beer-free.  I have to admit, at the beginning (about 2 days), I was hungry all the time.  But then my body got used to it and I really stopped craving bread and carbs and junky stuff and actually started wanting fruit.  Which is weird, because I don't really like fruit.  Vegetables yes, but I'm not really a fruit eater, generally.  But by the end of the week I was happily snacking on clementines and apples and pineapple.  I was glad to get back to eating like a normal person, but even still, I've really found that what I want to eat has changed pretty dramatically.  If you've been thinking about doing "a cleanse" I really recommend it, and I don't think that you even need to commit to a full week.  I felt best about 3 days after I started, and the "wow, I feel better" feeling kind of plateaued around day 4.  

I know that when I decided to do this, I looked online for all kinds of recipes, but pretty much came up blank.  I mean, I found a lot of sites that were like "eat kale!" but that's not all that helpful if you're trying to plan a meal.  And I did eat meals, because I feel like to do otherwise is modeling some pretty unhealthy dieting behavior.  So if you're thinking about trying to reset your digestive system, here are some pretty easy things that were also really tasty.  

Caramelized Onion and White Bean Soup

I have been craving onions like crazy for some reason, and this soup really hit the spot.  It was easy to make and super yummy and really filling.  I actually was sad that I didn't have more. (And sad that I didn't get a picture of it)

1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 carrots, sliced thin
6 c. vegetable broth
1/2 c. cooked leafy green (I used kale, because I had some and, you know, kale)
1/2 can small white beans, rinsed

In a medium pot, saute the onions in about 1 tbsp olive oil over low heat.  Once the onions have become very soft and almost translucent (about 35 minutes - stir occasionally) raise the heat to medium and cook until they are a golden brown.

Add the carrot and garlic and cook about 5 minutes.  Add the broth and simmer over medium heat until the carrots are soft, about 15 minutes.  Add the leafy greens and beans and cook until the beans are warmed through.  

There isn't much to this soup, but it really hits the spot on a cold day when you feel all comfort-foody, but don't want to pile in a thick stew.

Curried Chickpea Patties
These were really really good.  I ate one for breakfast one day.  I resisted the urge to call them "burgers" because then people expect something hamburger-like, which these obviously aren't.  But if you can accept that something yummy and healthy can come in a hamburger shape but not taste like meat, these are the way to go.  
 Pete had his on a hamburger roll 
(and the kids had regular hamburgers.  I know how much I can push it)

2 cans chickpeas (garbanzos) drained and rinsed
3/4 c cooked brown rice (I used the frozen stuff from Trader Joes
1/2 onion
1/4 c frozen peas
1 tbsp yellow curry paste*
1 egg white
 olive oil for cooking

Saute the onion over medium heat for about 5 minutes just so it loses its bite.  Set aside to cool.

Put the chickpeas, brown rice, onion, egg white and curry paste into a Cuisinart, and run until it's a pasty consistency, but still with some chunks of  chickpea. Using a spoon, stir in the peas.  

Heat a generous (6 tbsp?) olive oil in a nonstick pan until hot.  Shape about 1/6 of the chickpea mixture into a patty shape and gently place in the hot oil.  You want to fill the pan but not overcrowd, so decide whether you can repeat with one or two more patties.  Lower the heat to medium and cook undisturbed until the patty is browned on the bottom (about 5 minutes).  Gently flip over and cook on the other side.  Remove from pan and keep warm in a 200 degree oven, and repeat with the rest of the mixture until all the patties are cooked.

*if you can't find yellow curry paste, you can use red, but that tends to be a little spicer, so be careful if you don't like a lot of heat.  As a last resort you can use about 1 tbsp curry powder, but that is going to result in a less flavorful patty.

Lentils and Rice and Fried Onions

I told you I was on an onion kick.  I got this recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison, and just tweaked it a little.  I'm not normally a huge fan of lentils, but when they're hidden under a mess of fried onions, you kind of can't go wrong.

6 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, sliced thin
1 c green lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 c. white rice (I used medium grain, but you could use long grain - anything that has about a 25 minute cooking time)
salt and pepper

In a regular (not non-stick) skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  When hot, add the onions and cook until they are a nice dark brown, about 15 minutes.  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil and add the lentils and let cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.  Add the the rice, reduce the heat to low, and cover.  Let the lentil rice mix simmer until all the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked, about 25 minutes.  

Briefly reheat the onions, and serve it atop the lentil and rice mixture, seasoning generously with salt and pepper.

I served this with a simple salad topped with balsamic, a little olive oil, and beets that came cooked from the refrigerated section.  It came together really well.  While the lentils and rice aren't so pretty (this isn't people-over-for-dinner food) it's filling, delicious, healthy, and cheap.

5 Minute Steel-Cut Oats
This isn't really a recipe, but I guess maybe kinda.  For breakfast every morning I had Trader Joes 5 minute steel cut oats.  I sometimes topped with thawed frozen blueberries and always topped with about 2 tbsp maple syrup.  So good.  I am totally NOT in any way a morning person, but it was worth the 5 minutes to start my day like this

If you've made it this far, congrats.  And you don't have to worry about my getting all preachy about healthy foods.  Aside from a few more fruits and less bread (just because I haven't been wanting it) I'm basically back to normal.  In fact, the day the cleanse ended was Pete's birthday, so we've been eating how he likes which is 
the cupcakes were vegan and so moist and delicious (don't tell anyone) and the frosting was that amazing stuff that I wrote about here

that would be pulled pork, homemade cornbread, collard greens and coleslaw
vanilla cake with &^%* number of candles (and more of that amazing frosting)
Not to mention the delicious dinner out and southern style BBQ feast that my mother concocted for our family celebration.    

So next week's recipes will be a mix of regular ole food and some healthy extras.  But I'm still on that onion kick - we had French Onion Soup sandwiches for dinner tonight (and some amazing brussels sprouts with bacon and walnuts).  Don't knock it til ya try it (and I'll get the recipes up for those next week).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What I Did Over Winter Vacation

Hope you all had lovely winter vacations.  If you didn't have a winter vacation, I'm both sorry and sad for you.  I dragged myself to Winter Break and really used the time to accomplish very little other than fun.  Yay fun!

There was getting ready for Christmas

decorating the tree at home


 our long-suffering shelf-elf, Jay.

Rudolf?  Is that you?

Christmas fun

 All dressed up from xmas eve mass with Nana.

Lookin' good there, punky nephew.
 So many presents!  So exciting!

 Christmas morning with the new Furby and almost-gingerbread house from Santa.

 Ready to play Harry Potter with the robes from Uncle Dan and wand from the FLA Murphys
He even went with the tie.

Gigantic marble run attempt #1 (Thanks Uncle Bob!)
 And knocking over some dominoes (Thanks Uncle John and Aunt Louise!)

We took a short trip to New Hampshire where we chilled in the new condo by Gunstock (available for rent - let me know if you're interested!)

 Snacking on warm chocolate chip cookies.

Getting ready to go tubing.

Almost there...

Warming up with some hot chocolate after our time in the bitter cold.
Came home to lots of snow, so we did some sledding

Thanks for the sleds, Uncle Tim and Aunt Marva!  They've been well used already!
And then had a big party on New Year's Day, per our tradition.  There were lots of friends, old and new, and a good time was had by all (well, I hope!  A good time was had by me, at least).  
Party, party, party!

As for food, there was lots of good stuff.  

I don't have any pictures of the french toast sticks that I made for the NYD party, but they were super good and easy and perfect for a crowd.  I made a ton (enough for 40 people), so I'm going to try to scale the recipe down.

Baked French Toast Sticks
4 hoagie rolls
6 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Prep the rolls - slice each in half vertically.  Then quarter each half (so that you end up with 8 triangular shaped piece from each roll).
Beat the eggs, milk, and syrup together in a shallow dish (I used a 9X11 glass dish) until well mixed.
On a plate, mix together the sugars and cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 and generously grease a rimmed baking sheet.
Dip each piece of bread in the egg mix and let it soak a bit, but not so that the bread is falling apart.  Remove it from the egg mix and roll it in the cinnamon sugar and place on the baking sheet.
When you have used up all the bread, bake for about 25 minutes until the cinnamon sugar has carmalized.  
Perfect as is!  No need for syrup.

Since so much junk was consumed this break, I'm now doing a week wheat, sugar, dairy and meat free to try to reset my system a little.  While it's not the most amazing of diets, I think that ultimately I'll feel better for it.  And tomorrow is a normal dinner anyway - vegetarian chili over sweet potatoes.

Vegetarian Chili

1 medium onion, diced
1 medium bell pepper (I usually like to use half of a yellow and half of an orange)
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (or 3/4 tsp ground cumin)
1/2 tsp oregano
2 cans beans (kidney and black are good), rinsed and drained
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes in juice
optional: 1 medium sweet potato per person

In a medium pot, heat about 2 tbsp oil to medium heat.  Add the onion, pepper and garlic and saute over medium heat until the onion and peppers are soft.  Add the chili, cayenne, and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the beans, tomatoes, and oregano and simmer for about an hour.  This is really easy to make the day ahead.

If you want to bake the sweet potatoes: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Poke holes with a fork in several spots in the potato.  Roast directly on the oven rack for about an hour until the sweet potato is very soft to the touch.  Slice and serve with chili in the middle. 


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Monday, December 17th

I don't want to go to work tomorrow.

I don't often say this.  I love my job.  I love teaching kids.  I love feeling like somehow, in some small way, I am helping to make a difference in their lives.  

But I don't want to go tomorrow.

To be honest, I'm a little scared.  School shouldn't feel like a prison.  It should feel like a safehouse.  And Newtown does nothing if not remind us that even our safehouses aren't impenetrable.  I recognize that this fear is irrational.  That even on Friday, hundreds of thousands of kids went to school and came home safe.  And hundreds of thousands of teachers too.  But 20 kids didn't, and neither did 6 teachers.  And tomorrow, even though I'm not walking into Sandy Hook, I'm walking into a building onto which so many people project their own demons and fears.  And my kids are walking into their schools, and I don't want to drop them off.  I want to hug them and never let go.

I didn't go into education to figure out how to keep kids safe from an armed attacker.  If I wanted to do that, I would have become a police officer or a sniper.  I became a teacher because I wanted my students to know that I believe that they are good at something.  That they can be something.  That I truly believe in their ability to succeed.  But I also know that I don't reach every kid.  Hopefully every kid has someone who does reach them.  But I know they don't.  And I wonder if every kid is even reachable.  By the time kids get to high school, are some of them too sick, too damaged for us to truly make a difference?  And what then? 

And I am frustrated, no, angry, that as I sit here thinking about how to be teacher, social worker, and police officer, there are so many people out there who think that I deserve less.  That teachers are underworked and overpaid.  That we are union hacks out to indoctrinate children against their parents.  I ask: who is on the front lines?  Who catches the mentally ill kids in need of service so that they don't become Adam Lanza?  Who comforts the children who are tormented by their peers and also try to systematically address bullying so it doesn't happen to someone else's kid?  Who locks the door and huddles in the dark during the lockdown to make sure that your children are as safe as they can be?  And who does all of this while trying to instill a love of learning and also get kids to pass the test?  Who tries to catch up the kids who are behind and challenge the kids who are ahead while pitching to the majority of the kids in the middle? 

Tomorrow, I will worry all day about my two kids, who, by the grace of anything that is good in this world, will be safe in their schools tomorrow.  I will leave them in the morning and go off to meet the myriad needs of other people's children.  And I will tell myself that they are safe, and that I am safe, and that tragedy sometimes just strikes.  But what I know is that something is horribly wrong here.  Maybe it's guns.  Maybe it's mental illness.  Maybe it's something else.  But if I, a person who has committed herself to a lifetime of being an educator, don't feel good about going to work, and I don't feel good about sending my kids to school, the system is broken.  I don't know how to fix it.  But it must be fixed.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Winter Soup

It's getting cold out there (sure, it's going to hit 60 tomorrow, but that's just a tease).  And I know now that it's December, that's what it is supposed to do, but that doesn't mean I'm 100% thrilled about it.  The real problem with winter is that it makes me want to eat carbs and stew until I can't button my pants anymore.  I like being able to button my pants.

 Speaking of wearing things, here's my fancy new apron that I got as an early Hanukah present.  
I love it!

But winter also bring good things, like birthdays and the millions of holidays and get togethers that occur around those things.  We just celebrated my father's birthday with a very nice brunch (that I did no cooking for).  

 Helping Bupa blow out the candles on his cake(s)

 We're looking forward to Hanukah and latkes and Christmas and Chinese food : )

 It's a little hard to tell here, but this brave night in the pope hat is busy taking our shelf-elf for a ride around on the motorcycle.  

This picture is appropos of nothing, but it's pretty awesome.  
And yes, she will likely be horribly embarrassed by this later in life.  
I realized the other day that she gets really flustered if I sing in the grocery store.  
Prepare yourself for my vocal stylings.  
Embarrassment is the greatest of the parental paybacks.

We didn't eat both of these this past week, but I had some leftover pictures and so I thought I'd get these up here.  I've been big into soup lately, which is weird, because I don't normally like soup.  Maybe it's the fact that we always eat it with grilled cheese.

French Onion Soup
Seriously, so easy.  Just takes some time.  100% worth it.

4 large sweet onions, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
6 cups beef or vegetable broth
1 generous teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
4 thick slices of bread
1 cup grated gruyere or swiss cheese

Over low heat, saute the onions until very soft and slightly browned, stirring periodically.  This will take about 35 minutes.  Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half.  Add the broth and the thyme, and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Toast each slice of bread, then top of the bread slices with 1/4 the cheese, and broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly (watch it, because it burns very quickly).  Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the cheesy croutons.  

I served it with this really good salad with blue cheese, bacon and chopped hardboiled egg.  The bacon was the precooked stuff from Trader Joe's, chopped up.  Highly recommended for salads and sandwiches.

White Bean Soup
This is an epicurious recipe that I modified to be more pantry friendly and a faster cook.  We had it tonight and it was pretty good.

1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, cleaned and cut into rounds
8 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cans of canellini beans, rinsed and drained
6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 tbsp dried rosemary, crumbled
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream (don't skip this, it really made the soup so much better)

In a medium pot, saute the onion, carrots and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until the onion is soft and almost translucent (about 10 minutes).  Add the beans, broth, and herbs and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Puree the soup, either by using an immersion blender or by carefully transferring it to a regular blender in batches.  Return to the pot and assess for thickness - if you like your soup on the thin side, add a little more broth.  If you prefer it on the thicker side, simmer for about 15 more minutes.  

When you are ready to serve, stir in the heavy cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.

I served with grilled brie sandwiches and salad.

Coming up next - things to do with leftovers/an empty pantry.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sausage, White Bean, and Spinach Soup

This was really good.  We had it for dinner last night, I had it for lunch today, and I'm actually kind of looking forward to having it for lunch again tomorrow.  And I don't normally care for leftovers or soup.  

Sausage, White Bean, and Spinach Soup
12 oz andouille sausage or chorizo (I used chicken andouille sausage), diced
1 small onion, very fine dice
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
14 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 small can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp corn starch dissolved in about 2 tbsp water (optional)
6 oz bag baby spinach
grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

In a large pot, saute the onions over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until they are beginning to soften.  Then add the diced sausage, up the heat to medium-high and cook for about 5-10 more minutes.  (You want the onion to be really soft and translucent, not browned.  If it's starting to brown, lower the heat).

Add the tomato paste to the sausage and onion mix, and stir to coat.  Then add the stock, diced tomatoes and beans.  If you like your soup with a slightly thicker base, add the cornstarch.  If you don't mind thinner soup, omit it.  Simmer, uncovered, for about ten minutes.

Add the spinach a few handfuls at a time, stirring until it's wilted.  Serve topped with Parmesan, if desired.  (We had grilled Iberico cheese sandwiches alongside.  So good!)