Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Back to Work

So summer was awesome.  We swam at the lake, went to Storyland, played on playgrounds, had a family reunion in Maine, went to the Ecotarium,  had a different family reunion in New York, went to the beach, went on a Duck Tour, mini-golfed, ate enough ice cream to sink a ship, swam in several pools, did some art projects, saw friends, and managed to get in a trip to the dentist.  

And now we're back at work and school and adjusting.  

So I haven't been cooking-cooking as much as I would like.  Tomorrow I'm going out with a friend (horray!), but Pete and the kids are having night-before french toast.  I would tell you the recipe for that one, but then I'd have to kill you, and that would be sad.  

But starting again next week there will be some recipes up here, and a lot of them will be stuff that can be prepped the night before (or even a couple of days before) and then stuck in the oven for dinner.  It's a real lifesaver for the school year.

Good luck to you and yours as we gear up for fall.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Second Best is TOTALLY Good Enough

The kids at the Lowell Spinners.  It's not Fenway, but at least we got to a game this season!

I was reading an article on women who chose to bottle feed instead of breastfeed (a choice which I fully support, by the way) and one of the snarky comments on Facebook was something along the lines of “well, I guess if second best is good enough for your kid...”  For some reason, in spite of all of the other unsupportive comments attached to the article, this one stuck out for me.  Because, you know what?  Second best IS good enough for my kids.  And I’m willing to bet it’s good enough for yours too.

I mean, think about it.  Parenting is like the Olympics.  Only instead of trying to medal in one event, you’re trying to medal in them all.  I want my kids to be smart (scholarship anyone?).  But I also want them to be happy.  Oh, and healthy.  And I want them to be kind, and do their chores without complaining, and get along with each other, and care for children and animals and the environment, and and and and...If they consistently do these things, they’ve won the golds.  All of them.  

But man, is it a lot of work to realize those Olympic dreams.  The cooking, and cajoling, and reminders about please-and-thank-you, and bickering between themselves and with their friends, and and and and...If they get a silver, I’m going to go ahead and be pleased that they medaled.  And I’m going to feel ok about giving myself a silver in the “My Kids Turned Out Just Fine” competition (there’s always room for improvement).  I don’t hear a lot of Olympic announcers saying “Sure, the floor routine was great, but how can she do on slalom canoeing?”  Turning out well rounded kids in the truest sense means placing in more than one event, and that is no easy feat.

The truth is, we all make choices.  Someone’s second best is someone else’s top score.  I believe when we can embrace second best, we can be a lot happier because we can realize how much we’re doing right.  For example, this morning we woke up in a second best house in a second best town.  We could have scrimped and bought a tiny fixer-upper in a town that has a slightly better school system.  But we wanted a big yard for the kids to play in, and we didn’t want them to always be the poorest kids in their class.  TaDa!  Second best it is.  And we could have bought a house with a nicer kitchen and a spare bedroom, but then we’d be farther away from work.  And again - second best!   

We have so many second bests - dogs from the pound instead of the purebreed, clothes from Target instead of Hanna Andersen, frozen peas instead of fresh, Disney Princesses instead of the Paper Bag variety, Graco carseats instead of the Britax, it’s all been an exercise in compromise.  But they have pets they love, they’re not cold or unshod, they play endless imaginary dress-up games, they are harnessed in according to the law and reasonable standards of safety.  

Of course there are times when gold is the only acceptable standard.  Every single time we get in the car, seat belts are buckled.  Every single time they bike off the driveway, helmets are on.  99% of the time, fresh produce is pesticide free.  But those are my first choices, not yours.  I’m not saying parents should never shoot for the gold, but if you don’t sometimes embrace the silver (or, hell, bronze), I’m pretty sure you’ll go batty.  It’s just not realistic or healthy to only accept the best for our kids, because there simply is no objective perfection.  The only thing we have to do every single time without fail is make sure our kids know we love them and we’re doing our very best by them.  We gold in that, our kids will (silver) medal across the board.  And that second best is more than good enough for me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Walk in the Woods

We're nearing the end of summer, and we've managed to cross most stuff off our fun summer to do list. Hiking, however, lingered until yesterday.  There's a great state park about 3 miles from us.  If you haven't been to Callahan State Park and you live in the area, you should absolutely go.  That goes double if you have dogs, since the whole place is very dog friendly.  

There's two entrances, and we normally go to one of them (helpful, huh?  I just can't remember which one.  The North one?  The West one?)  I'll look it up.  Okay, I think that we go to the Millwood Street entrance. That side of the park has some wooded areas, some open fields, and a great little muddy pond that dogs love to swim in.  Not our dogs, mind you, as they don't really like other dogs and I'm not about to bring them someplace where they're going to be stressed out and get in a fight.  That would be bad doggy parenting.  Anyway, this time, we decided to try the other side of the park.  It was okay.  Much more wooded, and the paths weren't marked as well.

It was as steep as it looks.  

We didn't intentionally color coordinate the lunch bag and the outfit.  Swear it.

Most importantly, I learned that if you can't really read a trail map and have a poor sense of direction, don't go hiking someplace new with your children.  We had to give up and turn around after about 45 minutes of my saying "I'm pretty sure we're headed in the right direction."  But we didn't get hopelessly lost, and we did see some frogs, a snake, and got to pee behind a huge rock.  Everyone wins.

Then we got well earned ice cream at Gerards, which thankfully reopened.  Again, if you live around here, go.  And go early, because they close at 6 and the BBQ is really good.  

So we were hot and tired and I wanted an easy dinner.  Grill!  Possibly the best thing about the grill is that there are almost no dishes to do after cooking.

Given that, we grill a lot in the summer.  But you can only eat so many hamburgers before you want to change things up.  These are a little healthier, easy to throw together, and look nice on a plate.

Greek Turkey Burgers
(There has got to be a bad history teacher joke here about Greece and Turkey, but I'm not making it)

1 lb ground turkey
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup frozen chopped spinach
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
10 black olives, chopped (optional)
1 egg, lightly beaten

rolls, lettuce, tomato, and whatever else you like on a burger for serving.

Place all of the ingredients for the turkey burgers in a large bowl and mix with a fork.  Try to make sure that everything's well incorporated, without making the turkey too mushy.  It's a fine line.

Form the mix into patties.  I made 6 patties, but if you'd like a slightly more substantial burger, make 5.  Make the patties only about 1/2-3/4 inch thick, because you want them to cook all the way through without being charred on the outside.

Preheat the grill to medium, and make sure your grates are well oiled.  When the grill is hot, place the burgers gently on the grates and let cook for about 6 minutes without disturbing them.

Gently flip the burgers and let cook for another 6 minutes.  Check to make sure that the turkey is cooked all the way through.

Place on rolls and top as you like.  I served with orzo and a salad.  

Healthy and yummy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A perfect marriage.

Not talking about mine, (although my marriage is quite lovely, thank you).  I'm talking about a perfect marriage.  The marriage of "noodle" and "cake," where the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.  Crispy on the outside, pleasantly squishy on the inside, tasty throughout.  We were all generally in agreement on this point.

I served this with extra tofu, but it would have been better with a vegetable stir fry.  Next time.

Chinese Noodlecake with Tofu
2 packages of fresh Chinese noodles (wheat, not rice)
about 6 oz shredded carrots
1 small onion, finely diced
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger (or that jarred stuff that's amazing)
1 package smoked tofu, finely diced
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp cornstarch
vegetable oil

In a large (12-14 inch) nonstick pan on medium heat, sauté the carrots and onions with the ginger until they are soft, but not mushy.  Set aside.

Ignore the fact that this is a regular pan.  I was trying to multitask.

Turn up the heat to medium-high, put about 1 tbsp oil in the pan, and cook the tofu, turning infrequently, until it is browned and slightly crisped.  

You have to cut it up really small, or it won't mix with the noodles.

As it is cooking, mix the soy and hoisin sauces together.

Mix the vegetables back in with the tofu, and top with the hoisin-soy mix.  Coat well, and remove from heat.

Mix the cornstarch with about a tablespoon of water, and stir well, making sure there are no clumps.  Add more water, a few drops at a time, until you have a mixture that is slightly thinner than maple syrup.

Cook the noodles according to the package directions, making sure not to overcook, and drain well.

In a large bowl, toss the noodles with the tofu-vegetable mixture, and quickly toss to coat with the cornstarch (I used two forks to do this).

Heat the nonstick skillet over medium-high heat again, and coat with a generous tablespoon of vegetable oil.  Place the noodle mixture into the pan and gently press down to make the noodlecake even.

Cook on medium-high heat for about 7 minutes, or until you can easily slide a spatula under the noodlecake and lift it up gently.  

The trick is in flipping the cake over - place a regular dinner plate on top of the pan and flip.  It should be inverted onto the plate.  Put another tablespoon of oil in the pan, swirl around, and then gently slide the noodlecake back into the pan, uncooked side down.  Cook for about 7 minutes.

In an ideal world, one in which I have a gas stove, this wouldn't be so unevenly browned.  Alas, electric it is.

Invert back onto the plate, cut into wedges, and serve.  

Here we are, with extra tofu and more cucumbers for color.  Strongly recommend a quick veggie stir fry instead.  

In case you were wondering, which you probably weren't, which is cool I guess, if we're going to roll that way, the Ecotarium was awesome.  Tomorrow I'll share with you the fantastic not-raw-egg take on pasta carbonara that we had for dinner afterwards.  Bacon and carbs, what could be better?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Damn Book

In here is a recipe for Tandoori Chicken and Indian-Spiced Creamed Corn.  Just scroll on down.

I've been cooking.  And kid-ing.  And all the usual stuff.  But I haven't been posting.  Mostly because I've been too busy reading the 5th book in the Game of Thrones series.  And I'm annoyed because I don't even like it all that much.  I'm just about at the middle, and we're starting to get back to the characters that I care about but seriously, Danaerys?  Don't care.  Yeah, yeah, you're kind and everyone wants to take advantage of you and blood of the dragon yadda yadda.  How about hanging out with three people whose names I can keep straight?  And while I'm at it, how about everyone just holds on to their original name for more than one chapter?  Just tell me what the hell is going on with the Stark children and I'm good.

I'm the most annoying character ever, and yet I just won't die!

I'm sorry to people who actually have some kind of life.  You have no idea what I'm talking about.  

Otherwise it's been good stuff.  Quick one night trip with some friends to the beach, and that was great.

We hit the indoor pool while the rainbow came out,

Dining at their own table,

Beach day.

Day two of ice cream.

The way home.  Think they had fun?

Tomorrow the plan's to hit the Ecotarium.  I've never been; I hope it's fun.

So I said that I was going to update about waffles and apples, but I wasn't super crazy about the waffles.  Instead we have Tandori Chicken with Indian-Spiced Creamed Corn (served with naan and sliced cucumbers).  It was good and easy.

Tandori Chicken
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 small container plain greek yogurt (I like Fage)
about 2 tbsp tandori seasoning*

Cut the chicken into about 1 inch chunks.

Stir the tandoori seasoning into the yogurt and mix well.  Stir the chicken into the yogurt mix and make sure it's thoroughly coated.  It can sit anywhere from 15 minutes to overnight.

This is me, forgetting to take pictures as I go and attempting to make it up after the fact.

Heat a grill to high heat and make sure it's well oiled.  

Thread the chicken onto 4 skewers and cook, turning once, for about 7 minutes per side.

Umm, raw chicken.
Serve either on or off the skewers.

*I really like this one that I got at Whole Foods.  That said, I kind of want to punch myself in the face for using a spice by a company called "Urban Accents."

Indian-Spiced Creamed Corn

I know that in an ideal cooking world all corn dishes are made with corn fresh off the cob.  I never like to spend the time and always cheat and use frozen corn.  

Good enough for me!

1 12 oz package frozen corn, thawed
1 small onion, diced fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
about 1/3 c 1/2 and 1/2
4 tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp garam masala spice mix*
olive oil for sauteeing

On low heat, saute the diced onion and the minced garlic until the onion is translucent.  

Add a little less than 1/2 the package of corn, and set aside.

In a Cuisinart or using a hand-held blender, puree the rest of the corn, adding 1/2 and 1/2 to your desired thickness.

I took like 9 pictures.  There was no way to make this not look like sludge.

Mix the corn and onion mixture with the pureed corn and place in a greased 8X8 baking dish.  Top with a splash more 1/2 and 1/2 and put in a 350 degree oven until it's warm (at least 15 minutes, but it's forgiving.  If you'd like to make it before putting the chicken on the grill, that's probably ok.  Just check to make sure it's not too dried out before serving).

As it heats, mix the garam masala and the butter.

When serving, top the corn with the spiced butter (you can do this on individual plates or on the whole dish, depending on the taste preferences of those with whom you are dining).

I'll get better at remembering "plating" pictures.  
I just lied to you, internet.

* This does not have to be Urban Accents brand.  Ugh.  I'm suffering from inadvertent-hipster self loathing.

Look what I found as I was uploading pictures for this post.  Looks like someone got his hands on my camera.  Sherman Klump, is that you?*

*ugh, more self-loathing.  I can't believe I just referenced one of the worst Eddie Murphy movies ever.  This needs to stop.

Alright, this was good.  It's been fun catching up.  And tomorrow I'll post the noodlecake with tofu recipe that was also super easy and everyone liked.