It takes less time to do thing right than it does to explain why you did it wrong.

Sweet Potato Chowder

This has been a crazy week but I promised food and food there will be!

Sweet Potato Chowder
makes 2 big bowls

yum!

Roast 1 sweet potato, diced with olive oil, salt, and brown sugar at 350 for about 1 hour. You can do this ahead of time if its easier. I generally use the toaster oven for this, so temperature is approximate.

In a medium pan, saute 1 medium onion with about 1 tablespoon butter and a little salt. I really like butter, so you can probably cut that down. When the onion is translucent, add 1 cup heavy cream and around half a head of cauliflowercut in to smallish florets. Let that combine for around 5 minutes. Then, add 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth, about 1 cup frozen corn kernels, and the roasted sweet potato. Let it hang out together and get happy for ten minutes or until it seems heated through. If you have a little green onion, use a scissors to cut a few slices over the top. And that’s it! Super easy and super yummy.

I’m a big fan of flexible recipes, so make it your own. Some other things I’ve added that were super good were regular potatoes roasted with the sweet potatoes, bacon (baked ahead of time to crispy and sprinkled over the top), and a little grated cheese.

Do you have a go-to feel-good but quick-to-make recipe for busy weeks? I’d love to get some more ideas, so please share!

Eat Your Veggies, Kid.

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For the first year of our marriage, I was a vegetarian and Matt didn’t eat fruit or vegetables. This is absolutely true. We were young and dumb and super annoying dinner party guests. Luckily, over the years, food gradually became more and more important to us. I started eating meat. He started eating veggies. And now, of course, food and cooking is pretty much at the center of everything we do. When we were still market farmers, I had to be able to give people such a delicious recipe for the giant bunch of swiss chard I was asking them to buy (saute with bacon and garlic, serve with fresh rolls) that they  would come back every week to buy some more. I had to work hard on my culinary skills.

But I winced every time a customer asked my kids if they liked swiss chard, or some other wacky vegetable that normal kids wouldn’t poke with a stick. I’m sure somewhere there lives a mother that has done such a good job with palate training that her kids request things like roasted brussels sprouts for after school snack and declare that their favorite food is cabbage. If you are that mother, good work. I hope to be like you someday. Despite all my best efforts, though, when a customer asked my boy if he enjoyed kale, he would anxiously look around for a place to hide.  ”Why? Is that what’s for dinner? Thanks for the warning.”

It was great advertising for the family business.

 

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I Cook At Home. Mostly.

Pure Food starts at home. Am I right?

Ever since Matty and I got married, I’ve been slowly teaching myself to cook. Things got a bit more urgent in that department when we moved to the country. Living 15 miles from the nearest Qdoba is a far cry from our old house, where we could walk to Thai, Korean, Mexican, and Italian restaurants in about 10 minutes. Also, we ran a CSA and provided recipes for our farm members each week during the summer, so I have to keep on top of my kitchen game.

I’m not always successful. My family knows that if I’ve made dinner rolls, they should be very suspicious of the accompanying meal. Dinner rolls are my go-to standard when I make something new, like cold carrot soup. When Matty asks what we’re eating, and I say dinner rolls, he just laughs. It’s become a code word for adventure.

I don’t always hit the mark with these recipes the first time through. Some recipes never get a second act on my table. The dinner rolls are there so nobody starves if I make something disgusting.

It’s been good for our food budget, this cooking at home thing. And our waistlines. And our overall health. But it’s work, that’s for sure. It takes some creativity. Luckily, the world is full of wonderful food bloggers and websites that have saved me any number of times. I’d like to recommend a few of my favorites:

The Pioneer Woman Cooks

 

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You’re Gonna Need a Knife

256px-Flickr_-_cyclonebill_-_Citrongræs,_chili,_ingefær_og_hvidløg

If you’re going to do much home cooking, you need to buy a decent knife.

And by knife, I mean a single chef’s knife at a store that sells lots of cooking tools and not one in a butcher block from a department store.

Yes, they are more expensive but you will not be sorry.

One of the biggest obstacles to cooking from scratch and eating healthy is time.  No matter how organized you are, it is still easier to have some else make your food for you.

However, when you have the correct tools, your job will be easier.

I’m not big on buying a bunch of stuff for your kitchen.  Things like food processors and mandolins are handy but they are expensive and take up space and you might not use them that much.  You will use a chef’s knife every day. They are meant to be all-purpose and will take care of all your chopping, slicing and dicing needs.

Buying a knife is kind of a personal thing.  You really need to hold them to make sure they feel comfortable for your hand.  You want to make sure that it feels balanced and isn’t blade or handle heavy.

There’s some other stuff you should consider regarding quality.

I have this knife.  It is a 7” Santoku Knife (which means that it has ridges that keep things from sticking to the blade) and I love it so much that I bought one each for my parents and in-laws.  It’s not the most expensive one in the store but it is good quality and they carry them at a store that liberally mails out 20% off coupons.

Unfortunately, just having the knife is only half the battle.  You have to know how to use it.  I got my knife training when I worked salad bar preparation in the food service at college.  Not glamorous, but it paid the bills and I received some life-long skills thanks to a few patient people who took the time to teach me.  Some cooking schools offer knife skills workshops, which would be fun; but if you lack time or money, watch some videos instead.

The cost of a sucker

DumDums from troyerscountrymarket.com

DumDums from troyerscountrymarket.com

On Saturday morning my husband and I awoke to the sound of negotiations and candy wrappers right outside our bedroom door.

We listened for a few minutes and determined that governmental intervention was needed. The older two were selling candy to our youngest son for the price of $1/sucker. Now, our youngest only has about $5 to his name, so there wouldn’t have been too many transactions, but the last thing we needed on a Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. was a four year old on a free-for-all-sugar-high. This wasn’t even high quality candy like Heath Bars or Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, these were the kind of free DumDums that come from the bank.

So, being the oppressive dictator type parents that we are, we stepped in with some price-fixing and quantity control. In our house now, sibling candy sales can now only be made after lunch for the cost of $.10/sucker.

Not to start getting all political, but my husband and I later wondered if this is how ‘the government’ thinks of us ‘little people?’ Do they consider us ignorant followers who need to be protected? They invent programs and services they think we need and then tax us for them.

We definitely felt the need to protect our littlest, but did he really need our protection? Maybe we should have given our little guy the more credit. Looking back at the situation, he was making a decision that he would rather have a sucker than a piece of green paper. The green paper doesn’t really mean anything to him, but that sucker, now that has value in his mind.

The older siblings have a better understanding of the green paper as they sometimes get to spend it at the book fair at their school or in the dollar bins at Target on desirables that I refuse to buy for them. But even so, none of them are probably quite ready for a totally free market system.

So until the youngest gets a little street smarter, the rules stated above still stand and if there are any complaints feel free to whine in your room with the door closed as much as you want.

Lessons learned:

Husband and I – maybe there is a time and place for a little price fixing

Youngest sucker – candy isn’t worth the green paper kind of money, just the little round silver kind

Oldest siblings – when trying to sucker the youngest sucker, pick a better location than right outside your parent’s bedroom

Snack bars made for packing

bars

People told me that babies came with a lot of stuff. This week we went on our first over-night trip with Remy. It wasn’t until my husband and I were re-packing the car for the second time (after repacking and consolidating all the bags and baskets that were meant to go in the car) that I really realized how many things a baby needs. It’s been years since I’ve needed anything more than a tiny overnight bag.  Now, I need bags and bags for this tiny person.

Luckily, I managed to find room for a batch of my own fruit and nut bars. Thanks to my law school friend Whitney, who first pointed me to this idea on shutterbean. I’ve had a lot of fun making these in the last couple of weeks, and so far the combinations have been fabulous. They only take three minutes to make (seriously!) with a small food processor. Here’s the basic idea:

Mel’s mostly natural and delicious snack bars

(makes about 8)

In a food processor, combine:

1 cup your favorite nuts: almonds, peanuts, cashews, macadamia

1/4 – 1/2 cup your favorite dried fruit: apricots, cherries, cranberries, raisins

¼ cup old fashioned style oatmeal

Some spices: salt plus cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg (about ¼ teaspoon)

1/4 – 1/3 cup something sweet and sticky: real maple syrup, honey, agave

Press into a parchment-lined pan. I use one that’s about 9×7. Make another batch and stack in layers if you are feeling adventurous. Pop in the freezer for a bit (a few hours maybe, just to help things stick together). Turn over and cut into bars. Set on wax paper or parchment squares to make eating easier later. Or enjoy right away.

So far the combinations I have tired and loved are:

-Peanuts with apricots, cinnamon, and maple syrup (tasted like an oatmeal cookie! But too sweet for my husband)

-Peanuts with cranberries, coriander, and maple syrup

-Almonds with cherry, cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple syrup

-Cashews with apricots, coriander, and honey

Let me know what you try and how it works out!

Magic Drinks

kodak

ROCHESTER, September 26 — Eastman Kodak Company today announced its intent to stop making and selling slide projectors by June 2004.

“The Kodak slide projector has been a hallmark for quality and ubiquity, used for decades to produce the best in audio visual shows throughout the world,” the company said. “However, in recent years, slide projectors have declined in usage, replaced by alternative projection technologies.” 

One of my happiest and most comforting memories of childhood was our family slide shows. These coveted “movie nights” which generally took place once a year, consisted of nothing more than three simple ingredients: a blank wall in our living room, a Kodak carousel slide projector with my father at the helm and myself and three sisters, huddled on the sofa, pressed together in anticipation like peas in a pod.  My mother, who had seen the slide shows too many times to mention, usually busied herself with other things, occasionally stopping in to comment on a particularly beloved picture. Prior to turning off the lights, my father would announce in a deep theatrical voice “Who wants a magic drink?”

They were always different in taste and made from whatever struck his fancy that night; orange juice with a splash of pineapple juice and grenadine or perhaps apple juice and ginger ale with a jigger of seltzer.  The ingredients were unimportant.  It was the anticipation of what was to be and the lovely ritual of our movie night routine that we cherished.Those magic drinks were just part of the show.

Some days, in the quiet of my mind, I still hear the slow deliberate click of the projector as it advanced from slide to slide alike the images before us, advancing from toddler to teenager. Life in pictures, displayed on the wall of our darkened living room. There was always one slide, without fail, that was turned upside down. This would halt the show momentarily, as my father with a slightly frustrated “tsk” would right the renegade slide. And we were ready to go once again.

 

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The Lemonade Stand

lemonade

Driving leisurely down a bucolic road in town, on a picture perfect summer morning, I am enveloped by a feeling of calm. A much-loved 80’s song is playing on the radio evoking high school memories and a soft breeze billows through my open window. What a glorious day! Nearing my turn for home,  I spot a structure on the side of the road, manned by three tween boys. The lanky figures, which only moments ago appeared motionless, suddenly spring into action as my car nears, hopping , hooting and screeching. They pump their home-made sign high into the air screaming “LEMONADE!”

My first impulse is to pray I don’t know the solicitors which would make it easier not to stop. My second, is to just pull over and buy a cup to save face.  Being that it is such a busy road I opt for impulse one and hold my breath.  But, the dread seeps in as I spot one of the boys is from my son’s 6th grade class and even worse, the children recognize me as well, shouting ”YAY! It’s Owen’s mom, it’s Owen’s mom!!! …LEMONADE.. PLEASE STOP!” One of the boys, normally sullen by nature, is grinning like a jack-o-lantern as he dances a jig toward my car tilting his sign back and forth in rhythm to his steps, his personality transformed by visions of the day end tally. What to do, what to do?  As much as I want to support the boys, it is a hazardous place to stop and I don’t have anywhere to put the glass of lemonade while driving. Stepping on the gas pedal, I smile and drive past, putting it out of my head for the moment.

An hour later at home, my son approaches. He needs me to drive him to basketball practice.  I will have to pass the lemonade stand again to reach the gym. I can get away with passing once but twice?  If I drive in the opposite direction (almost to a neighboring town) I can avoid the stand.   Grabbing my car keys I reason a 15 minute detour is indeed worth another encounter with the lads.

Turning left out of my driveway I crane my neck to catch a glimpse of the stand. Though it is not to be… the long stretch of road is deserted, clear. The boys have closed up and retired home early!  But my relief is short-lived. They are standing in new location on the opposite side of street. The frenetic jumping once again begins as they spot a car, and they can hardly contain themselves as they recognize it is my car, once again.  “Owen’s mom has come back!!!  YAY. YAY!  Lemonade. Lemonade…PLEEEEEEASE STOP!!!” But the terrible thing is that I don’t stop, but once again drive past.  Did I hear something unpleasant this time muttered from the disappointed entrepreneurs? My imagination runs rampant.  Those boys are too a little old to be selling lemonade anyway. I try not to feel guilty but the thing is I do. They are just little boys, well twelve year-old boys.

 

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3 Day Cherry Pie – a new American tradition at our house

DSCN0886I don’t bake a lot, but when an opportunity nearly cherry drops into my lap, I’m not going to pass it up. This week was our 14th wedding anniversary and we celebrated with homemade cherry pie and this is how it came to be.

Day 1 – Notice that it’s only going to be about 75 degrees and invite the kids on a bike ride to their favorite oversized cottonwood tree. It is across an empty field and near a wooded little creek by our house that always reminds me of “Bridge to Terabithia.” There must be some ingenious tweens that live nearby because every time we visit this tree there is something new to discover. We’ve encountered rope swings, tire swings that extend over the creek, we’ve noticed railroad ties in the tree for climbing (too far apart for my kids to reach) and this time there was a shovel and lots of little mounds where these mysterious play makers had built a series of bike jumps in the field.

My kids love to throw rocks in the creek, think about how old the tree must be and generally just screw around in the open area. It is good, clean, outdoor fun and as long as we check for ticks afterwards from the tall grass everyone is happy. On this particular visit, my 4 year old wandered up-creek farther than he has before and then yelled, “Can I eat these?”

 

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Baby led weaning

remy eating

Remy will stuff all of the things in his mouth … its better when they are actually edible.

About three weeks ago, Remy started getting really interested in what we were eating. At first, we thought it was the shiny silverware that was catching his eye. But we quickly figured out that it was food that he was curious about.

I had heard about Baby Led weaning, and Remy was almost 6 months old, so Tom and I decided to give it a try.

Baby Led weaning is not “weaning” in the American sense of ending nursing. Instead, the term comes from the European sense of “weaning” meaning to introduce your baby to solid food. If you wait until your baby is 6 months or older to introduce solid food, your baby is capable of feeding him or herself, and you can skip the puree stage altogether. For more information on baby led weaning, I highly recommend the website http://www.babyledweaning.com, which also includes sample recipes and ideas for introducing food to your baby.

This was very appealing to Tom and I because we love food, and we want Remy to love and enjoy food as well. And, since Remy and I have finally hit our stride with breastfeeding, his solid-food-meal-times can be all about exploration and not at all about nutrition.

 

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Memories Of A Popover Girl

popsMy father always instilled a strong work ethic in me and my three sisters.  I never lacked for a job whether it be putting on a marionette show for a birthday party when I was twelve or waitressing at Rosie O’Grady’s in New York City during college break.  My fourteen year old son recently asked me for some ideas on how he could get a summer job to save up for a computer.  Since sixteen is the legal working age, I was at a loss, but it did bring back some vivid memories of my own past summer jobs as a teen.  I have highlighted below, three that I will always remember.

Popover Girl – Lauraine Murphy Restaurant, Manhasset, NY

“Miss!  watch those tongs! You almost took out my eye!”  I smiled apologetically as I placed the still oven warm, feather light popover, on the angry patron’s side plate and hastily made my way to the next table.  Flashback to age sixteen, on the very first evening, of my very first job. “Murphy’s” as it was affectionately known, was a rite of passage for Manhasset youth. Everyone knew someone who had worked there, whether it be sister, brother or cousin.  Lauraine Murphy was a family run restaurant catering to “the geriatric set.” I still recall the line of walkers and wheelchairs lined up in the lobby.  But it was their popovers that will always be remembered and whose recipe is still rumored to be undiscovered. Sadly, Lauraine Murphy is no longer but the memories of my time as a popover girl remain fresh.

Pros – All the popovers you could devour.

Cons –  During the holidays, the hostesses were required to go from table to table singing Christmas carols. I still recall the beet red face of Cynthia Pierce, frozen in smile, the only one among four of us, singing. One of the girls started laughing which set off a chain reaction. Cynthia however, refused to succumb.  She sang the whole last stanza in solo. I always admired her for that.

Fitting Model – Haseena – I was hired as a fitting model for a small store specializing in traditional Indian clothes such as wrap around skirts and henna tee shirts.  I would stand silently as the nervous tailor draped fabric around me, tucking and pinning aside the eagle-eyed owner who barked orders.

Pros -Discounted fashionable clothes, calling myself a model even though it was a gross exaggeration, and location within walking distance of my high school.

 

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The Soup Thief

soupaDay One – Torture. It is nearing lunchtime and I am missing my daily fix. Surely I can make it till dinner. Or can I?

Day Two – I am ashamed to say that I broke down and drove past the store, but success! did not enter, just circled, three times…

Day Three – The cravings have ceased and I have scheduled an exercise class for the same time I usually case the store, though it is unfortunately directly across the street.

I will get through this with or without the help of a higher power.

I am addicted to soup. There I have said it. It began in those formative years of childhood. My mother a soup lover herself made it a family staple. My son’s kindergarten “All about me” poster highlights “Tomato soup with a touch of milk” as his favorite food. He and his brother still have soup almost daily for lunch. I just heard of a study that claims as an adult, you crave those foods you loved most as a baby and youngster. I have loved soup for as far back as I can remember. Zesty Tomato, the steamy, soothing broth of Chicken Noodle, the silky smoothness of “The Creams”… Cream of Chicken, Cream of Celery, Cream of Mushroom, Chowders, both Manhattan and New England battled for top dog in my dreams. When I was bitten by a Dalmatian as a child, I recall the calming words of my father as we drove home…”we will make you a nice bowl of soup.” Yes, I love soup. So the day I discovered a certain market in a certain area of CT that offered complimentary samples of their soups, I was hooked.

But then it turned dark. What began as a simple game of choice spun out of control as I found myself visiting the store often on a daily basis for a quick sample of the fabulous soup. I could never have just one.

 

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On Becoming a Discerning Eater

a baby sits in a high chair, resting his head on his arm. He is covered in tomato sauce.

I’ve written before about our decision to skip the purees and give Remy whole foods right from the start. I may have mentioned his eating syle: cramming anything and everything into his mouth as quickly as possible. Other parents warned me that this would change. Four months into the eating adventure, Remy is becoming a discerning eater.

A month ago Remy couldn’t get enough apples. This week, he will nibble and push them aside. Last week we offered Remy fish and he reluctantly put some in his mouth before pushing it out with his tongue, looking around, taking another pinch between his fingers, and starting the process all over again. Today, for the first time, he ate broccoli florets with gusto.

I have read in several places that babies and young children have great intuition where foods are concerned, and will seek out the nutrients that they need most. I have read not to be concerned when eating habits change drastically and, most importantly, to try not to react one way or another at the foods being chosen. I have read that foods that are being eaten should be replaced even as piles of perfectly good food go untouched.

 

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On Sparkling Cranberries

sugar coated cranberries on a silver tray

Having a kiddo changes a lot of things (all of the things?) and the Holidays are no exception. My husband and I are not holiday people. We generally do not give gifts, we do not decorate the house, we do not travel, we do not listen to Christmas music unless it is Christmas Day. We do not go crazy. Since at least one of us has been in school for the whole 9 years of our marriage, Thanksgiving has traditionally been a time to study for finals and, of course, to cook while procrastinating studying for finals. Likewise, winter break has traditionally been a time to crash after a hard semester, and to cook all the wonderful things we didn’t have time for while school was in session.

Holiday traditions, it is true, are few and far between in our little family. There are a some things, though, that we have adopted, and one of them is Sparkling Cranberries for Thanksgiving.

Even though I love food, and I hope Remy has many, many wonderful memories around food, I don’t have many childhood connections to any food in particular. My great grandmother made the most wonderful pies – and I don’t even try to compete with those memories. She also made – and taught me to make – a wonderful Cherry-Spice Cake, which I haven’t made in years. (Maybe this is the year!). I suspect that my general lack of fond-food-memories is why I think so much about the smells and tastes that will surround Remy as he grows up. Around the holidays, Tom and I have often made marshmallows and caramels, french toast, hot chocolate, waffles, cinnamon rolls, and all manner of delicious things that can’t even pretend to be good for you.

Sparkling Cranberries at least pretend to be healthy (sort of). Sure, they’re covered in two (or three!) kinds of sugar, but at their core, they’re still a fruit. We’ve made them almost every year since moving to Colorado, and they never disappoint. There are two important rules: they must be started the night before, and they must be served in the gold Fire King bowl.

I have to admit that this year, I’m excited to have Remy try these Cranberries. Even if he doesn’t like the fruit, surely he’ll enjoy sucking the sugar coating off.

 

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My Thanksgiving Day fail: learning the true meaning of the holidays

A tale of two turkeys - one 'fully cooked' one ready to eat.

A tale of two turkeys – one “fully cooked” one ready to eat.

With my father’s Lewy Body Dementia, it has become difficult to take him from his home for long periods of time, particularly while herding young children. He is most comfortable there so, it was decided we should have Thanksgiving dinner at his house this year.

My husband is generally the purveyor of thanksgiving in this family. He loves getting up early in the morning and starting the turkey, filled with his special stuffing. It is a stuffing that my ninety-year-old grandmother declared “the best stuffing I ever tasted.” But, because we were coming from our cabin in Estes with other guests this year, it was not going to be possible to prepare the traditional Hunt style Thanksgiving dinner.

I decided instead to order one of those precooked meals I have heard the grocery stores talking about. I would walk in as we made it to Greeley, head to a counter, and like magic, dinner would be served.  Perhaps it would not the best dinner, but a worry-free, traditional dinner that we could enjoy as a family.

 

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