Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lovely Links (May 2013)

Lovely Links May 2013 |

1. Our flight was delayed out of O'Hare at the beginning of the month, and walking around we discovered this big urban garden! So cool!
2. My good friend from high school hosted a New Orleans-style shrimp boil. Eating food out of a tarp has never been so good.
3. Mother's Day brunch; crab cakes benedict.
4. My sister-in-law graduated from Notre Dame! Congratulations, Caiti!!
5. Peonies are back in season! They are my favorite!!! This photo looks like a painting, I think.
6. "Hey, Pappi... what's on your face?"

The State Theatre in my hometown, Traverse City, Michigan, was listed among the top ten movie theaters in the world! TC 4 EVER!

Rhubarb frenzy is in full swing; I made these two rhubarb shrubs, and then I took the solids from the cooked one (discard? moi? no thank you) and mixed them into this gelato! I want to make this breakfast cake next.

Loved this post on dressing yourself in story. I'm working to detach myself from things that are unimportant in order to reduce the clutter in my life and home, but some items just hold so much emotion!

Food is so evocative; this post, recreating food eaten while traveling had me itching to hop on a plane and explore. Africa may have to wait, but I am all over halibut cakes.

Has the aesthetic value of food blogs (the photos, cute writing style, frequency of posts) trumped the quality of content and recipes? An interesting read.

A friend of mine from high school wrote a book! It looks awesome and I can't wait to read it to Anne!

Wouldn't this lobster potato salad be perfect to take to an outdoor concert this summer? I'm putting that on my summer bucket list.

Parenting: are Americans doing it wrong?

Bike a Bee! Entrepreneur in Chicago who sets up and maintains hives all over the city... on her bike!

Anne (aka the Modern Mrs. Darcy) has put together an amazing summer reading list. I am so excited to get reading.

Fun, bright summer crafts!! I want to make all the things!

Adding this s'mores ice cream to my to-make list of ice creams. It's getting looooong!

These would make a great fifth wedding anniversary gift (the wood anniversary).

I am looking forward to seeing how this garden tower works out, and I'm desperate to try the homemade recipe for gardener's salve!

Happy June, everyone! Happy summer!!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Garden Update (5/29/13)

Lots of rain lately = less trips up the stairs with a baby and two 2-gallon watering cans. Feeling thankful. I gave everyone on the roof a fish/kelp/bat guano/worm casting liquid plant food today. That was the first time I've fertilized at all (although I started with an organic potting soil that I'm pretty sure came with food in it).

The raspberry bush wasn't supposed to fruit this year, and maybe it won't, but don't these look like little flower blossoms? And aren't flowers just baby fruits? We shall see.


Green beans and zucchini:



Basil that I sowed when I planted this tomato seedling last week are sprouting! I'll wait a couple more weeks and sow seeds in the other tomato pot, in hopes of lengthening my harvest!




And the most exciting development: the peas are blooming!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fresh and Frugal: Roast Chicken

This post is part of an ongoing series called Fresh and Frugal, in which I share practical ways to make it easy to eat well on a budget. Eating well can be thought of from a lot of different angles, from good health and nutrition, to mindfulness about the environment, to supporting local economies. We should be able to accomplish all of this without sacrificing pleasure or breaking the bank, and that is what these posts explore. _____________________________________________________________________

roast chicken

With the mercury rising, our thoughts turn to how to get dinner on the table without the aid of oven or stove. We don't have a grill, so I like to cook in bigger batches once a week. If I'm heating up the oven, I'll roast a chicken, bake a bunch of potatoes, and roast some veggies. These simple staples can be reinterpreted for a week's worth of interesting and delicious meals.

Chicken |
Roast chicken |

I use a very simple method for roasting. I season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper, and stuff with a quartered onion, a quartered lemon, and a few smashed garlic cloves, then rub the outside with about a tablespoon of softened butter and season it well with salt and pepper. I roast it in a 425 degree oven for a relatively short time (depends on the size of the chicken, but I use this as a guideline); the high heat ensures a crispy, golden skin and tender meat. There are plenty of variations, but I find this simple way to be the most conducive to reinterpretation.

Simple chicken dinner |

Dinner #1: juicy chicken, baked potato, and whatever vegetable is in season.

When the chicken is cooled, I remove all the meat and store it in a container in the fridge. I then put the carcass, stuffing and all, in the crock pot with a bay leaf and a handful of rough chopped vegetables (carrots, celery, onion, parsnip, whatever's in the crisper), cover with cold water, and set on high overnight. Strain the stock in the morning, cool, and freeze for another use. The last time I made stock, I had a quart plus an ice cube tray (which I will use one at a time to add to baby food or in recipes that call for a splash of stock).

Dinner #2: Roast chicken sandwiches: toast two slices of bread, and spread one with mayonnaise. Layer some chicken on the mayo, and top with a crunchy piece of lettuce. Season with salt and pepper and top with the other slice of bread.

Dinner #3: Use chicken as a pizza topping!

Dinner #4: Chicken tacos or quesadillas.

Dinner #5: Toss chicken and roasted vegetables with cooked pasta.

Dinner #6: Big salad topped with chicken.

Obviously the number of meals you get from a single chicken will depend on the size of the chicken and the size of your family, but you can see that it's not hard to stretch your food dollar when you start out this way. And at $2.69/pound at Trader Joe's (as opposed to double that for boneless, skinless breasts), buying sustainable meat becomes a real viable option, no matter your budget.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Funny, Beautiful, Interesting, Kind. (Vol. 2)

funny beautiful interesting kind (vol. 2) |

For Mother's Day, Anne and I made these cute little watercolor handprint flowers to send to both of her grandmothers and mine. I put them in envelopes and sealed them, and since I couldn't find my stash of stamps, sent them with my husband to mail from his office. Somehow, the one for my mom slipped out of his pocket on his way to work, and we couldn't find it anywhere! I was really upset, and hurriedly made another one (not nearly as good as the first), and walked to the post office to mail it. Two days later, my mom received BOTH cards! Some sweet, thoughtful person had seen my hand-addressed card on the sidewalk, picked it up, put a stamp on it, and put it in the mail! I wish there was a way for me to thank them for going out of their way to show kindness to a complete stranger!!

What happened in your week that was funny, beautiful, interesting, or kind?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Market Day!

I thought it might be fun, as the market season heats up and I start buying the lion's share of our food there, if I started showing you what I got, and sharing what I hoped to do with it. In the winter I try to shop with a specific list in hand, having plotted out meals ahead of time. But in the summer, I do things the other way around: head to the market (with a limited wad of cash), buy what looks best, and plan meals from there.

This morning's haul:

1 5.5-pound chicken ($21.25)
1 dozen large eggs ($5)
1 pound asparagus ($5)
2.5 pounds rhubarb ($10)
1 bunch (about 12 ounces) rainbow chard ($3)
1 bunch (about 2 ounces) chives ($2)
12 ounces feta cheese (buy one, get one free! At $6)
2 peonies ($5)
1 loaf bread ($6)
1 rhubarb galette ($6)
1 cup coffee ($1)

Grand total = $70.25

My plans:

Asparagus, chive, and feta frittata
Roasted chicken (+ leftovers + chicken stock for the freezer)
Rhubarb shrub syrup
Rhubarb tart
Sautéed chard and fried eggs on toast

What would you make?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Posole Verde

Posole Verde |

There seem to be areas of life that are best left undiscussed, especially if they happen to be going well. Baby sleep comes to mind. Also weather. Seems that as soon as you say, "The baby has been sleeping so well!" or "Well, it seems like spring has finally arrived," you're in for it. It's almost Memorial Day weekend, and instead of heading to the beach, we're just glad we didn't tuck away all the sweaters quite yet.

Posole Verde |

My husband has been really busy at work lately, so I've been flying solo at dinner time more often. The bright side of the situation is that I'm able to branch out of the normal rotation and make some delicious meals he might not enjoy. I find a lot of joy in cooking just for myself. Of course I'll be glad to have him back when this busy season is over (so glad!), but I'm enjoying the ritual of cooking, eating, and cleaning up all alone, in a mostly-silent house, after the baby is soundly sleeping. Chopping, stirring, tasting. Predictable, unlike motherhood. A quiet meditation. A sip of wine, a pause... Listening; is the baby awake? No. (sigh of relief.) A little more salt. I set the table (real dishes, real napkins, s'il vous plait), sit down, breathe deeply the delicious aroma. A gift I give myself after pouring myself out for others all day.

It coulda been guacamole... |

This soup came together almost by accident. I've been making several trips a week to the produce market down the street, just for a few things. It's something to do in the time between nap and bed, a time that tends to drag. I grabbed some dandelion greens, and after trying them in a salad (too bitter!) decided to stick them in a soup. The next time I was there I grabbed a can of hominy. The rest of the ingredients were things I had on hand, lucky me! It turned out so magnificently, I had to share. This soup is bright and fresh, in shades of spring green. Enjoy!

Posole Verde |

Posole Verde

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, membranes and seeds removed, minced
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 29-ounce can white hominy, drained
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups chopped dandelion greens (or kale, spinach, or other dark leafy green)
1 big handful fresh cilantro, chopped
salt to taste

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, jalapeno, celery, and carrots, and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the edges of some pieces are browning and things are getting softer. Add the hominy and stock and stir. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until everything is heated through. Toss in the greens and cilantro and stir, cooking about 2 minutes more. Season to taste with salt. Thinly slice half an avocado and place in a soup bowl. Ladle hot soup over, and squeeze half a lime on top. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro.

Serves 3-4

Adventures in Baby Food

We've begun our entry into the wide world of solid foods, and it is every bit as fun as I thought it would be to share new tastes with my daughter. What must it be like to taste a carrot for the very first time? Carrots, to us, are so commonplace. Ho-hum, a carrot. To her, it is an adventure, a new frontier!

Do I have anything on my face? |

We decided to start giving Anne solids because she had started staring us down while we were eating, and grabbing at food or water as we brought it to our mouths. Other great indicators of readiness are the ability to sit up unassisted, and the emergence of teeth (of which our girl has an adorable pair!). We're making our own food for the most part, because it seemed easier, cheaper, safer, and ultimately much more fun. And the timing couldn't have been more perfect, since seasonal eating will be easy as pie in the next few months.

Getting involved in food prep |

So far, there's nothing she doesn't like. Including a lime (we were looking for a reaction, to no avail). and a spoonful of straight steamed kale (that was so bitter I wouldn't have eaten it). She's won the title of least picky eater in our house.

oooooh kale |

Here's the stuff that has made it easier for us in the baby food-making department:

1. Immersion blender.

This immersion blender (only $30 at Costco) comes with a tiny food processor attachment. Easy. So easy.

2. Steamer basket.

Perfect for cooking vegetables to puree-able consistency while maintaining their nutrients.

3. Plain ol' ice cube tray (with a lid).

You don't need a special silicone one that's manufactured for babies. The lid is nice, to keep things from getting in the cubes of purees, but I pop them out and store in freezer bags once they're frozen anyway; keeps them fresher (and easier to access).

4. Baby spoons. (Baby bowls? Not so much. I just use the smallest bowls from our normal dishes.)

5. A high chair.

One that clamps directly onto the counter or table is an awesome space-saver. Great for travel, too.

6. Mesh self-feeders for soft foods.

A chunk of frozen banana popped into the mesh part of one of these is food and teething soother all in one. Awesome. I've also put an ice cube made out of chamomile tea (supposed to help teething, too) in there for stroller rides on hot days. Baby popsicle.

I tried to do without buying baby cereal, thinking she could probably just eat the oats I bought for myself. Turns out, it's kind of hard to grind oats finely enough to make a baby cereal out of them, and cooked oats get really pasty when pureed. Easier just to buy a box of the baby oatmeal for now. It's great to thicken up thinner purees, and since it doesn't have to be cooked, I'd say it was worth the $3 I spent on it.

Baby oatmeal |

I also really like this baby food cookbook I was given at a shower last summer. It has a lot of good ideas and suggestions for what to introduce when (especially for allergy-prone kids). Mostly, though, I haven't been using recipes. I just take a little bit of whatever I'm cooking and mash it up before I season it. My favorite so far has been asparagus and roasted chicken. It was seriously good.

baby carrots |

Baby Food: Carrots
(12 1-ounce servings)

6-8 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

Set a steamer basket over a pan of simmering water (or if you don't have a steamer, place the carrots directly in the water). Cover and steam for 20-25 minutes, or until very tender. Puree in a food processor or blender, adding some of the cooking liquid as needed to thin the mixture. Allow to cool before feeding or freezing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Garden Update!

Things are happening fast around here. A lot has changed in the two weeks since my last garden update. The weather was crazy, and in the process of trying to harden off my tomatoes and peppers, I killed them. All. Apparently I overwatered them, then put them outside for too long too fast, and then my feelings got hurt, my pride got wounded, and I forgot to water the survivors. So they died too. It was a pretty sad and desperate few days, and here's what I have decided: for now, I'm going to buy starter plants of the ones that need a long head start indoors, and start from seed the ones that can be directly sown outside. The outside plants are doing fabulously! And I adopted a couple of new plants from the amazing garden center in our neighborhood! Let me show you:

Poor guys. *sob*
The tomato graveyard. |

The first arugula harvest!
First arugula harvest |

Peas climbing.
Pea tendrils |

A stowaway! Carrot seed must have gotten blown by the wind.

A newcomer: Black Beauty Zucchini

Empress Green Beans and Nasturtiums

Arugula, just before I dug it up in favor of a tomato, and sugar snaps


Better Bush Tomato (hybrid, supposed to be great for containers), with basil seeds sown all around.

From left: Cherry Cascade tomato seedling and Thai Hot Chile seedling (in the cardboard box); Latham Raspberry bush in the black pot (my Mother's Day gift!); Thai Hot Chile in the blue pot (with cilantro seeds sown in the strawberry pods on the sides), and a Mini Red Bell pepper in the green ceramic pot.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

I just wanted to take a moment today to honor all the women for whom Mother's Day can be so difficult and painful. For those whose mothers are no longer with them; who are pregnant and wish they weren't; who aren't pregnant and wish they were.  For mothers who have experienced the pain of miscarriage or child loss, especially. I am praying for you all today.

A giant thank you to the woman who taught me what it means to be a good mother; I could not do this without your example or your support. And to the tiny girl who made me a mother: you bring joy to my life every day.

Mamma and Me

Anne and Mamma

Friday, May 10, 2013

Carrot Pineapple Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

It's been a week of firsts: Anne's first time on a plane, first time attending a wedding (congrats, James and Julia!!), first visit to the farmers' market. Yesterday she turned six months old, and it was as if she thought, "I am six months old now, and it is high time I started sitting up unassisted like a big girl." You'd think I would get used to the overlapping and constant milestones, but I just can't seem to catch my breath! Every new thing she does is amazing.

Carrot Pineapple Half Birthday Cake! |

Last night, we had friends over for pizza and half-birthday cake. Sadly, the guest of honor is still working on her purees, and won't be eating any cake for another six months, but we thoroughly enjoyed celebrating on her behalf. (I have the burned finger and shattered pizza stone to prove it; did you know you're not supposed to put a pizza stone under the broiler?)

Carrot Pineapple Half Birthday Cake! |

I've started Weight Watchers again. Five years ago, I lost about 20 pounds on the program, and have since gained it all back (oh hey, baby weight). I thought that since I'm still nursing, and I've been working out with Jillian a few times a week (and trying to get to yoga once a week), that the weight would just continue to fall off. But I had reached a plateau, and I wanted to be more intentional. I share this here only because it's the only way I've ever been successful at losing weight, because I can enjoy the above-mentioned pizza, cake, and beer (oh, I didn't mention that?) without any adverse effects by balancing those choices throughout the day. It just helps to have a portion-control guide. Anyway, in case you're wondering, this cake is 15 points per slice, and I enjoyed every little bite.

Carrot Pineapple Half Birthday Cake! |

Carrot Pineapple Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

adapted from Great Cakes

This is a half-cake for a half-birthday. For a regular two-layer cake, double everything, and fill and frost as usual.

For the cake:

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup finely chopped fresh pineapple (about 1/4 pineapple), or well-drained canned crushed pineapple
1.5 cups grated carrot (about 3 medium-large carrots)
1/2 cup vegetable oil

For the frosting:

1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1.5 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pecan halves, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or coat liberally with coconut oil cooking spray one 9-inch round cake pan. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl, and toss together. Set aside. Place the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer, and using the whip attachment, beat on medium-high for about two minutes, until light yellow, thick, and smooth. Slowly add the sugar, beating for about 5-6 minutes until well blended and fluffy. Add vanilla and lemon zest, and stir. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the oil, and then beat for one minute.

With the mixer off, add the flour mixture all at once, and then mix on low just until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a spatula to fold in the carrots and pineapple. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake about 30-35 minutes, until the sides pull away from the pan and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool completely. Remove the cake from the pan and cut in right down the middle. Wrap the halves in plastic and place them in the freezer for at least an hour or two, or up to a few weeks (see Deb for awesome tips on fancy cakes). This step is optional, but since you are applying frosting to the inside of the cake (the cut side), freezing will help the frosting stay crumb-free. Make sure that you leave enough time for the frozen cake to come to room temperature before serving.

Make the frosting: In a medium bowl, combine the butter and cream cheese. Use a wooden spoon to cream until very smooth. Mix in the lemon zest. Add half the powdered sugar, then the sour cream, then the other half of the powdered sugar, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.

Fill and frost the stacked halves just as you would a whole cake, and garnish with a half-circle of pecans; now you have an adorable half-cake!

Yield: 8 slices