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!)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thankful: the Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

I haven't been blogging because I've been a little sick of cooking.  And I've been knitting like a crazy person.  But that's a post for another day.  

We have been eating.  There's been

Goat Cheese and Pesto Quiche*

and tonight we had really good  
Sausage and White Bean Soup
(I'll post the recipe for this one tomorrow)

*want the recipe?  Let me know and I'll post it.

I also "discovered" Nobscot's Cafe, which on Monday has $3.99 burger night, with any burger and fries for that price.  If you're in the area, worth a trip.

I made up for the lack of meaningful cooking with Thanksgiving.  I love Thanksgiving - lots of eating and no religious obligations.  And I like the cooking part of it too.  In fact, this year I made everything.  We had all kinds of good stuff.

 She was dressed up as a pilgrim.  That would be a paper towel bonnet on her head.

Frosting the gingerbread cupcakes.

 He took off his pilgrim outfit.

 The "before" turkey picture (roasted with rosemary butter).

The "after" picture.

 Stuffing, roasted beets, parsnips and carrots, and creamed spinach with blue cheese topping*.

My plate.  Not the best picture.

Also served was mac n' cheese, roasted brussels sprouts and pearl onions in mustard glaze, boursin mashed potatoes, and biscuits*.  
Oh yeah, and there were people at the table too. 

Dessert featured the gingerbread cupcakes from above, a pumpkin pie that I forgot to take a picture of, and this raspberry trifle that Lea helped make.

And of course this Thanksgiving got me thinking about last Thanksgiving.  Last Thanksgiving my father couldn't come to dinner because he was in the hospital with MRSA, and he was really really sick.  Pete had chemo that Wednesday, so he wasn't feeling so hot (to say the least).  And the stress of it all was finally catching up to me and I developed a really fun case of paralytic illius and had a horrible stomachache and basically couldn't eat anything other than Lipton noodle soup and yogurt for the three weeks after Thanksgiving.  Last Thanksgiving kind of sucked, although I have to say we made the best we could of it.  

This Thanksgiving was so much better.  Everyone was here, everyone was healthy.  I know people say that you should be "thankful for your health," but that is a really hard thing to do.  How can you be thankful for something that just should be?  I am thankful that the people I love so much aren't feeling badly, and I am so grateful that they're still alive.  But I am also acutely aware that health is not something that you can take for granted.  It's here one moment and then it's gone.  And then, hopefully, it's back. 

I am a worrier, and when Pete was sick it was really hard not to get ahead of myself.  Lots of "what ifs" pile up when your husband has cancer.  Even though he was responding to treatment and the prognosis was (and is) good, there are so many ways that things can get derailed.  Finally I started saying to myself, "No one is going to die today."  And it made me able to focus on just that one day and be grateful for it.  A little morbid, perhaps, but it kept me from going insane.

This Thanksgiving I said it to myself again.  "No one is going to die today."  And I could be thankful for that.  Every day I can get up and say that with a reasonable degree of confidence is a good day.  So I guess that's how I'm thankful for health.  If someone's going to be here tomorrow, relatively comfortable and participating in life, that's a good day.  There's a lot about life that hasn't gone the way I thought it would, but I try to be thankful nonetheless.

I think that this was the really long winded, old person way of saying YOLO, but hopefully with a little more perspective and more impulse control than the average teenager. I mean, seriously?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Weather and Birthdays and Voting - Oh My!

First of all, FUCK YEAH, AMERICA!  Yesterday the country said, "I think actually we will have a little equality, thank you."  It's safe to be a vagina-having person again.  Racism died a little.  We move forward.  Halleje-frikkin-ulla!

All that said, it's safe to say I was panicking just a smidge when polls closed and no numbers were in.  My coping mechanism:

 Things went good quickly, though.  I didn't have to polish it off.

Other things have been good too.  We survived Sandy without too many problems.  Lost our power for a little over a day, need to replace part of the fence, and lost the apple tree from our backyard.  It could have been much worse.  
(It could have been this - our next-door neighbor's house)

But the kids still got to do Halloween, as power was back on in the neighborhood and Framingham didn't postpone.  

 yum.  Pumpkin guts.

I think that my carvings stayed very true to the artists' intentions.

Although we didn't eat this on Halloween, we totally should have, because the kids said it looked like a plate of bloody hair.  Okay, that doesn't make it sound so appetizing, but it was really, really good.  

It's epicurious's Farro Spaghetti, Beets and Brown Butter recipe, but with the following tweaks:
I used regular pasta.  I skipped the poppy seeds.  I served with the beet greens that were sauteed in butter.  If you're a beet fan, I highly recommend it.  (And it's fun to look at, to boot!)

So after Halloween was Jax's birthday party.  So much fun.  

We played "Pin the Nose on the Witch"

 Birthday boy goes first!

Some were more successful than others.

There was a remarkably durable pinata

 It was a costume party (he's not always dressed like batman)

Of course, when all the kids had had a turn, and there was still no candy, Uncle Fred had to step up.

 And still, no candy.  So Pete took one for the team.  
I swear that thing was made of specially reinforced cardboard.

And we had a fantastic balloon fight (boys v. girls)

The girls ended up winning, even though the boys got some extra help 

Of course, Pete had to jump in too

Then there was cake

 They weren't sideways when we ate them. 

 All in all, a remarkably successful party, if I do say so myself. 

So when you factor all that in, plus the insanity that is work, and the stupid <grumble grumble, grr> CFP, we've been doing a lot of easy dinners.  There's been good stuff though.  Like

Stuffed French Toast and Cooked Apples
(french toast)
1 loaf sliced cinnamon raisin bread
cream cheese
6 eggs
1.5 cups milk
butter (for cooking)

4 large apples
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp apple pie spice mix (or just cinnamon)

To make the french toast:
Spread a slice of bread with a generous layer of cream cheese, and top with another slice of bread to make a sandwich.  Repeat until you've used up the loaf of bread.  
Beat the eggs and milk together until uniform in color throughout.
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the butter.
Dip the sandwiches in the egg mix and soak until the bread is saturated, but not falling apart.  
Cook each sandwich over medium heat for about 5 minutes per side, or until nicely browned and cooked through.  Keep warm in a 200 degree oven.

To make the apples:
Slice the apples in about 1/4 inch slices, leaving the skins on.  Heat the butter over medium heat, and then add the apples to the pan.  Add the sugar and spice and reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft, but not mushy (about 15 minutes).  

Finally, tonight we had

Stacked Enchiladas
16 corn tortillas
1/2 can refried beans
1 red pepper
1 medium red onion
2 cups cooked shredded chicken (leftover rotisserie?), tossed with about 1 tbsp taco seasoning
3 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, monterey jack, "mexican blend," whatever)
enchilada sauce or salsa

First, prep the pepper and onion: slice each into 1/4 inch thick slices, and saute over medium high heat until soft, about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.
Grease a large baking dish (4 tortillas should be able to lay flat across the bottom without overlapping - you might need two dishes).
Spread one tortilla with about 3 tbsp of refried beans.  Top with another corn tortilla.  Sprinkle a little bit of cheese, then place 1/4 of the pepper and onion mix.  Sprinkle a little more cheese, and top with another tortilla.  Place a little more cheese, top with 1/4 the chicken, and top with a little more cheese.  Place the last tortilla.  Repeat until you have 4 stacks.
Top each stack with a generous coating of enchilada sauce (or salsa) and top with a little more cheese.
Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, serve hot.  

So there.  In the past two weeks, we've hosted parties, survived a hurricane, and made some really really good political choices.  

Oh, and I tried my hand at making bread.  Not bad, if I say so myself.

Tomorrow, more work, more food, no political ads, good politicians.  Should be alright.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

New Format, Good Eats.

We're in the grove now, I think. 


 (This is my "I'm so happy to be grading" face)

Having fun.

 At CocoKey Indoor Water Park with Grandma.  She took us to celebrate Jax's 5th birthday!
 Happy Birthday Jax!

 Aren't we cute?

Getting ready for Halloween.

 My favorite witch, ghost and cowboy.
And me as Carmen Miranda.   

(I think that, since I have nowhere near the time to post every day, I'll just do a round up of what we ate during the week from now on.  Of course, that makes the posts incredibly long, but we'll live with it.)

Roast Chicken with Lemon and Thyme and Roasted Potatoes

I used this epicurious recipe with these changes:
*I mixed about a tsp of honey with about 3 tbsp butter and some lemon zest and placed it under the skin before roasting.
*I skipped the lemons on the top.
*I quartered 6 medium red potatoes and a large onion and placed them around the chicken before cooking.  

I served with rice pilaf and frozen peas.

I forgot to get an "after picture" but, aside from the lemons, I swear it looked just like this:
Roast Chicken with Rosemary, Lemon, and Honey

Pumpkin Pancakes with Buttered Walnuts

I used this Martha Stewart Recipe and it was awesome.  No changes.  I did double it. The only thing that I added was this:
chop 1/4 c. walnuts
saute over medium heat in about 3 tbsp butter (preferably salted) until fragrant. 
Serve atop the pancakes with maple syrup.

Prosciutto and Brie Sandwiches with Fig and Eggplant Jam

Ok, so I made the fig and eggplant jam last summer and had it frozen, and I can't remember exactly how I made it.  So if you want to make this sandwich (and I highly recommend that), you can make

Prosciutto and Brie Sandwiches with Apricot Thyme Jam
(serves 2)

1/2 baguette, sliced in half and then halved again in the other direction
1/4 lb prosciutto
4 oz brie, sliced
4 tbsp apricot jam, mixed with 1/4 tsp thyme leaves and a pinch of salt

Spread each of the four quarters with the jam mixture, then top with 2 slices of prosciutto, and then a quarter of the brie.  Bake at 375 for about 8 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly melty.

I served with roasted broccoli, a small salad, and the dijon version of these wicked good potato chips.

This was a very good "eat after the kids go to bed" quick and grown-up dinner.

Spaghetti Pizza
For when you want pizza, but want it fast.

1 box of spaghetti, cooked and drained
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
2 cups of tomato sauce
8 oz mozzarella cheese
pizza toppings of your choice (we used pepperoni)

Mix the egg and the Italian seasoning, and toss the egg mix with the pasta until it's evenly coated.
Spread the pasta in a large, greased pizza dish, or 2 8X11 glass pans.  Spread it until it's close to flat and press it down with a plate. 

Tossed with egg and ready to be cooked.

 Generously spray it with cooking spray and broil it until the top is browned, about 10 minutes.

Yummy and browned.

Remove from the oven and top with the tomato sauce, cheese, and pizza toppings.  Bake at 450 for about 15 minutes.  Slice as you would a pizza.

I said "shoot, I forgot to take a picture."  
Pete said, "Say it was so good it came out of the oven partially eaten."

Ok, this isn't really a recipe so much as a hint.
If you want seriously kick-ass chocolate cake or cupcakes, use the King Arthur Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Mix.  It's worth the extra couple of dollars.  It always gets raves.  Even though we're not gluten free around here, it's far and away the best cake mix out there.
And then you can top it with this decidedly un-gluten-free frosting.  I don't even like frosting, and I ate this by the spoonful.  It's worth the cooking and cooling time.  Seriously. 

Yes, covered up in bad lighting these look like deviled eggs.  
But they were mini chocolate cupcakes with white-yellow-and-orange frosting 
(to look like candy corn). 

All in all, life goes apace.  At this present moment, I refuse to worry about the upcoming hurricane/tropical storm/heavy rain thing that's bearing down upon us.  I'm going so far as to charge all of my devices, and I bought a new book for the Nook.  Anyone read The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window?  Sounds interesting.  I almost got Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore.  What about that one?