Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Wrap-Up, Brought to You by Christmas Smack-Down

The Christmas Smack-Down is called walking pneumonia (or, as they like to call it these days, "atypical pneumonia" which, as my dad helpfully pointed out, is only appropriate). The good news is that I feel pretty well, as long as I don't do anything helpful or productive. Stairs, more than a few minutes of brisk walking, and a little feeble snow-sweeping have all sent me to my bed in the last few days.

The even better news is that I get enough down time to write a blog post! Oh boy! And so I'm going to commit to the immortal brain that is the internet all the things I want to remember for next year's holidays. So, Christmas Wrap-Up:

1) Singing and candlelight are a magical combination. We lit the advent wreath every Sunday evening, and sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The lyrics can be found here. This lovely practice has led to a certain two-year-old wandering around, mutter-singing "an' ranson cappive I-i-isra-rew" in a husky alto. Here's a sweet, if not strictly traditional, rendition by Sufjan Stevens (who is blessed among singer-songwriters for producing Christmas music that everyone in our house likes to listen to).

2) I have discovered The Easiest Recipe in the World (That Can Still Be Served to Guests). It's a delicious roasted sausage/bean/tomato concoction, and it's even easier if you use canned tomatoes, frozen chopped onions and dried garlic bits (heretical? I don't care. A good dinner in four minutes worth of work trumps that kind of heresy). The next day, if you have leftovers, chop up the sausage and dump everything in a pot with a bag of frozen chopped kale and some chicken broth, and you get a super hearty and tasty soup.

3) Silver glitter-glue on brown paper makes elegant giftwrap. It takes a while to dry, so make big sheets of it right before you go to bed so you can monopolize the whole dinner table and maybe some of the kitchen counters. Just draw swirly lines and patterns with the glue bottle, and it'll leave a lovely raised glittery line.

4) Salt dough is a great kid activity, and if you're all crafty and fairly anal, you can make some surprisingly refined ornaments to keep or give away. Here are a couple beautiful examples of what's possible. For the little kids, of course, it's all about squishing and rolling and mashing and poking and just enough tiny little licks to establish that it tastes pretty bad, just like Mama said.

5) I can't cook whole poultry to save my life. Somehow, every single time, I manage to turn out a bird that's overcooked on top and still bloody on the bottom. Between those unappealing strata, there's always a thin band of perfectly cooked meat, but it's awfully hard to carve around. So, that will be my next kitchen challenge to master. And until I've done it, I'm not cooking another whole bird on a holiday. Next year, I'll make a hearty beef stew sometime in November and stash it in the freezer. On Christmas day, I'll heat it up, add some fresh vegetables, and we'll eat it with hot rolls, extra-good butter, and a pie for dessert. Rhubarb, if we see some in the store. 

6) Kids and icing are a classic combination. If you're decorating cookies with people less than a yard tall, Cheerios are a nice option along with (or instead of) sprinkles, colored sugars, and candies. The dry, savory crunch is actually a tasty combination with all that sugar. Other dry cereal would work too, of course. We might tackle gingerbread houses next year, and I can just see a roof thatched with Corn Chex. Royal icing is my adhesive of choice, although I noticed this recipe the other day, that looks like it might be a little tastier, what with the presence of actual butter.

7) Gingerbread makes extra-pretty decorated cookies. I used a recipe from my Great-Aunt Issy, which is spicy and easy. I made a double batch, which made enough for a cookie swap, an open studio party, four Christmas packages, and a good stash left over for the household. There are still two left, and they get better with a little age on them, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to bake them in late November next year.

(from Church Recipe Book, Lennoxville, Quebec)

1 cup shortening, butter or clear bacon fat
1 cup molasses
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. [baking] soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon

Boil together molasses, brown sugar, and shortening.  Cool and add beaten egg and dry ingredients.  CHILL OVERNIGHT.  Roll out 1/4 inch thick on generously floured board.  Use small amounts of dough, keeping remainder of dough in fridge.  Cut in desired shapes, place on ungreased pan and bake in moderate oven (325-350) for 10 minutes. 

[I learned that when "chill overnight" is in all caps, it means that it looks like cake batter when you first make it, and you'll be sure you've screwed it up. Fear not. As long as it's cold, it's nice and easy to handle, and is very hard to overwork since there's so little liquid in the dough to toughen the gluten (thanks to Joe Pastry for that geeky tip), so it's another good parent/kid project.]

8) Don't worry about finding a parking place for church on Christmas Eve. The church is packed, but the rest of downtown is deserted. Do remember quarters for the meter and some care packages with sandwiches and warm socks, because the only people still downtown are Parking Enforcement and the homeless.

9) I have a wonderful family and delightful friends. Cheers, all. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The days these days: two and a half years old

Cleo wakes up at 5:30, sometimes even six. This is much better than 4:30, and it's all thanks to one of those ridiculous gadgets that Parents These Days rely on, and without which generations of children grew and thrived. It is this silly thing, and it has saved us. Saved Cleo from being a tired, out-of-sortsy kid, and saved her parents from being grouchy about experiencing hours of pre-dawn darkness (mostly experienced by her dad, it must be said, but if Dada ain't happy, ain't nobody happy).

So now, the first thing we hear most days is, "The green light is green! Mama! Dada! The green  light is green! It's morning!" And so we begin. The morning routine is what it's been for a while: oatmeal, milk, waking Mama at seven o'clock, and sending Dada off to work in the attic at 7:30.

Once the urgent items (clothing, food, etc) have been taken care of, the first question is, "What day to is?" Which means, in toddler-ese, "What day is it and how shall we amuse ourselves?" Monday is Mama and Cleo Day, Tuesday and Thursday are school days, Wednesday is Dada and Cleo go to the library, and Friday is usually Have Someone Over Day.

Her friends and their parents are an endless source of fascination. She declares several times a day. "I'm named [some friend], you're named [that friend's mother]." Or she'll pick up a rock and declare that it is named Layla (always, always Layla). And she and her dad make up collaborative stories, usually featuring people we know in some kind of conflict or peril. The themes of these stories ebb and flow, persist and change, until they're nearly incomprehensible to people who haven't seen the whole evolution.

"Once upon a time, there was a..."
"A little girl named Hazel, and she was crying!"
"Why was she crying?"
"Because monkeys stole her mama!"
"And what did Hazel do?"
"Pauline was there!"
"Did Pauline help her find her mama?"
"Yes! And they had pacifiers!"

And so on. Some other recurring themes this month are bears who live in caves, the macaroni monster, brushing one's teeth, eating one's clothes, the monkey-catching kit, robot mechanics who fix garbage trucks, frogs who are experts in animal sounds, going to the doctor's office, and a honeybee who can't buzz.

She has an insatiable appetite for this, and as soon as one story is all wrapped up, she says, "Tell me anonner 'tory!" This can get tedious sometimes, but the power of a story to immediately captivate and distract her is a useful tool.

Another thing she loves is going for walks. At any hour of the day-- dark, light, or raining, she'll ask to go for "a yiddle walk" Sometimes she walks happily, but other times we'll get ten feet down the sidewalk, and she'll stop, turn, throw her arms in the air, and say dramatically, "Carry me!" I think her perfect day would be to be carried around the neighborhood, being told story after story after story, with stops at the bakery, the toy store, and the library just to break things up a bit. One new attraction of the library is the bathroom, which is a thrilling destination for a recently potty-trained girl. Part of the appeal there is the automatic flush, which is the height of excitement. Every time we use an unfamiliar public bathroom, it gets the question, "Does it fush automatit-yee?" and there's a moment of disappointment if the answer is no.

Meals are always good for some entertainment, too. Luckily, she still likes sitting in her high chair and watching me cook. There are a few things she can do to help, like stir, grind pepper, dump measuring cups into mixing bowls, and poke the egg yolks with a fork before the serious scrambling begins (sometimes I think she requests eggs for breakfast just because she looks forward to the yolk-poking). She's a good eater, and has recently been parroting our food policy back to us

"I don't want it!"
"Well, you don't have to eat anything you don't want to eat, but..."
"...but dat's what's for dinner"
"Exactly right"

And three minutes later, if I carefully don't pay too much attention to what she's doing, she'll usually be munching happily. The only consistent refusals tend to be texture-related: big pieces of cooked onion, cooked mushrooms, fresh chopped herbs, and any kind of greens, cooked or raw. She has enjoyed lemon slices, raw onions, spicy Indian lime pickle, stinky goat cheese, and kim chee. I know this is the age that many kids start resisting foods, so I'm trying to stay grateful and happy for each good meal, and hope I won't despair if she takes a turn for the pickier. The result of all this cheerful eating (or maybe the cause) is that she's grown like a weed. I was so used to having a baby who was slight and small, hovering around the tenth percentile for height and weight. But now, she's beautifully average! I was so surprised the first time I realized that she was bigger than some of her peers. And she's so sturdy, with strong, fast arms and legs (that get a lot of exercise doing laps around the kitchen island).

In the last few months, I've noticed that the baby that used to live with us is now really, really gone. Cleo is a kid with a developed personality, preferences, habits, and interests. Sometimes I miss my cuddly little baby, but I'm loving this kid who I can hold hands and have a chat with as we walk down the street. In some ways it's harder now, in more ways it's easier, but mostly it's impossible to completely realize that this is a short, fleeting stage too, and before long we'll be on to a whole new kid yet again.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Potty Training

Day One
This is going to be easy! She's a genius, she'll get it right away. I bet there won't be any more accidents after... oh. Well, by this evening she'll have it down for sure.

Day Two
You know, she's always been so stalwart in the face of minor scrapes and bumps. You think there's a correlation between a high pain threshold and having trouble identifying that uncomfortable "I have to pee" feeling? You think she'll be in diapers forever? I mean, she's a genius and all, that's clear, but maybe she'll just be the first incontinent nobel laureate. 

Day Three
That book said we'd be going on outings by now. This is taking forever. 

Day Four
Hey, this isn't so bad. No accidents yet today! And maybe by next week we'll be able to expand the potty proximity radius enough that we can go for a short walk.

Day Five
Those kids still in diapers are a bunch of chumps. I mean, sure, it must be nice to leave the house for longer than half an hour, but she's so accomplished! She's doing great!

Day Six
I can't believe it's only been a week. I can't believe I thought she'd never get it. By next week, I bet we'll be ready for an impromptu weekend road trip! Or we would be, if we were those people. Maybe a nice impromptu weekend Dry Pants Festival at home instead. Sounds good. But I'm not giving any speeches in front of a Mission Accomplished banner yet. Give it a little while.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Days These Days: Retro Style

This is from September, 2010, when Cleo was two. She's now four and a half, and I barely remember most of these details. I suppose that's why we write things down. Using Computer Magic, I have backdated this to appear as if it were posted then, so that it can assume its proper position in the timeline. I do hope this won't make the space/time continuum go all wibbly wobbly.

5:00 am. She wakes up and lets us know what she'd like: "Mama come in here, please!" "I want a bottle of milk in my bed!" "Turn on the light!" and then finally, "I want my bunny pacifier! ...There it is!" and then silence. She dozes off again, or just lies there quietly, and then tries again...

6:00 am. The requests resume, which, if more phonetically spelled, would go like this: "Mama come in heah pease! I wanna bodda' o mowk i' my bed! Tun onnda yite! I wan' my bunny pacifiah! ...Dere da is!" One of us goes in there, opens the curtain, turns on the light, brings her some milk, and she's happy. Sometimes she likes to have her milk in her bed, other days she asks to have "a yiddle cuddle in da chair" We ask her if she had dreams, and she always says yes. These days they're apparently all about bridges and Grandma and Grandpa.

7:00 am. Breakfast. The popular menus include oatmeal, toast with peanut butter, and scrambled eggs. A couple times a week we go to the local bakery for breakfast, and if asked to choose between toast and yogurt, she'll either say, "Bofe!" or, "I wanna past-a-ree!" She's always interested in the other people there (although she clams right up if one actually talks to her), and will ask, "What's dat nice lady's named? Where she goin'?" And she happily identifies vehicles as they drive by: "Dere's a [fiah tuck; schoo' bus, hiccup tuck, cmemen' mixah, tankah tuck, city bus, etc].

8:00 am. Two days a week, it's time for a morning at "school" She's still transitioning to her new classroom (her last teacher was magically wonderful, and her current one is merely adequate), but as long as we're peppy and chatty all way to school, she's fairly happy to stay there, and very happy when we pick her up after lunch. They do things like make muffins, paint, plant seeds, and do collages. I'd love to be a fly on the wall to see the crowd control techniques that must be employed for those activities.

12:00-2:00 pm She. Sleeps! I have a kid who sleeps on her own, in her own bed for more than half an hour at a time! It's a miracle. Her nap is anywhere from an hour and 15 minutes to two hours long. For a while, she was sleeping almost three hours, but she was also waking up at 4:00 am again, so we realized a re-distribution was in order. Now we get her up whenever she stirs after the hour mark, and things have gotten back into a manageable pattern.

2:00-4:00 Dada time! Park-going, fort-building, snack-having fun time. She likes to build with blocks, and if it's an enclosure, it's either a library, a bathtub, or a fort, if it's a line it's a train, if it's a stack it's a tower, and if it's a messy heap it's a parade. Don't ask me to explain toddler logic. The only response necessary is, "What a nice [library/bathtub/fort/train/tower/parade]!" 

4:00-6:00 Mama time! We generally see friends and/or make dinner. One extremely useful toddler wrangling tip that I use a lot: The Choice. It's touted in all the parenting books and websites: "give your toddler the illusion of control by allowing them to make choices" and it sounds like very correct parenting. But what I didn't realize is, it's also incredibly effective parenting! It works like a charm! I feel like I'm getting away with something! "Cleo, would you like to go down the steps by yourself, or shall we hold hands?" When what you mean is, get down the stairs already, and quit dawdling. 

6pm: She hears footsteps coming downstairs and bellows, "Dada! You wanna go fo' a yiddle walk?" And then he arrives in the kitchen, distributes hello kisses, and off they go around the block, looking for worms and cats and sticks and vehicles of note.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Bulk Chicken, Master Recipe

This recipe is the pinnacle of my career as a lazy/cheap/picky home cook. It is tasty, fairly cheap for a meat dish, and unbelievably easy given how nice it looks and tastes. Like most recipes, it could be endlessly varied and changed, so let me draw back the curtain and show you the reasoning behind the recipe, and invite you to do your own tinkering. Here's what makes the difference for me:

1) Boneless chicken thighs. Cheap and tasty, yes, but here are their oft-overlooked Special Features: They are both Fatty and Thin.
Fatty means that (unlike chicken breasts) they're good even if they get a little overcooked (a bonus both to busy cooks and to cooks who get freaked out by salmonella).
Thin means that they will both thaw quickly and cook quickly. If you really get intimate with a boneless skinless chicken thigh, you'll see that it's relatively uniform in thickness once you open it up, and that that thickness is less than an inch. When you lay them out flat in a preheated roasting pan, those suckers can cook through in fifteen minutes.

1) A dryish marinade. Browning is the friend of flavor, but liquid is the enemy of browning. I'm not interested in doing a lot of tedious patting-dry of marinated raw meat, so I kept the wet ingredients down to one: balsamic vinegar, since it's so intense, you don't need much to do the job. Everywhere else, I went for flavorful but dry. I used salt instead of soy sauce, tomato paste instead of canned or sauce, and dried herbs and pepper flakes. With the addition of olives and olive oil, I hit all my marinade bases (salt, acid, sugar, spice, oil), with no extra liquid that would get in the way of browning.

2) Oven browning. When I think of baked chicken, I don't usually think caramelized and delicious. I tend to think soft and pale. But that's not necessarily true. If you use a hot oven and a heavy pre-heated roasting pan, and leave a generous amount of room between thinnish pieces of meat, the liquid that the meat gives off during cooking will have a chance to reduce and caramelize, resulting in the sticky brown residue that is the sign of a delicious meal to come.

3) Double tomato. The tomato paste will get a little browned in the oven, along with the chicken juices and the rest of the marinade. This is a good start. The real trick is in getting that delicious brown goop off the pan and onto the dinner plates with a minimum of fuss and trouble. Here you go: canned tomatoes. They're wet enough to deglaze the brown bits, and they add their own oomph to the sauce when they mingle with the olives, garlic, and herbs. The ones I recommend are Muir Glen Fire Roasted (and when you say BPA, I put my fingers in my ears and say lalalalalafire-roasted. I don't use them often, but when I do, I use these). The tomatoes also pretty up the chicken nicely. I can't be bothered to flip the chicken as it cooks, so only one side gets brown. But it doesn't matter how pale and gnarly the chicken is when it's camouflaged under a little pile of olive-and-herb-flecked tomato. You could, of course substitute many different liquids and vegetables (or liquidy vegetables) for the canned tomatoes.

4) Vast quantities. Chicken thighs can often be bought at a good price if you go for the huge packages, and this recipe works well for that. All the ingredients freeze and thaw well, and there's not a whole lot of chopping or prepping involved (chop garlic and olives, assemble marinade, mix with chicken). Just freeze the raw chicken in dinner-sized batches (this recipe makes about twelve servings, and I usually freeze it in three two-pound batches). Making this one huge recipe is easier than many single-meal recipes I make, and it gets me three almost-done dinners. Yay.
One freezer tip: if you use big gallon-sized plastic bags and press out the air before you seal them up, you can flatten the chicken and spread it out. If you then lay the flattened bags down in the freezer, they'll freeze like big tiles, and be easier to stack in the freezer and way quicker to thaw when it comes time.

5) Completely optional ingredients. I like olives. I like garlic. As established, I like those fire-roasted canned tomatoes. The good news to those of you who are not me is: the success of this dish rests on none of these ingredients. Tinker! Tamper! Adjust! And let me know what you discover.

Tomato and Olive Roasted Chicken Thighs
1/2 cup finely minced garlic (this chicken cooks very quickly-- practically pulverize the garlic, or you'll end up with crunchy hunks of raw garlic. Sorry, unwitting recipe-testers!)
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup roughly chopped kalamata olives (1 10-oz jar pitted olives)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp dried oregano
6 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs

3 cans fire-roasted canned tomatoes

Mix garlic, oil, vinegar, olives, salt, pepper flakes, tomato paste, oregano, and chicken. Let it marinate for an hour or a day (or freeze for later use as outlined above). The directions below are for one quarter to one third of this recipe. To cook it all at once, your best best is to do it in several batches, so that the chicken doesn't get over-crowded in the pan. On the other hand, if you're cooking for twelve, do what you can do and good luck to you.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, with a heavy roasting pan or large skillet in the oven to heat as well. Lay one and a half to two pounds of the chicken pieces flat in the hot pan, and bake 20 minutes. Leave enough space around the chicken so that the juices can brown. After twenty minutes in the oven, remove chicken from pan and set aside in a bowl. Deglaze roasting pan with one can of tomatoes. Cook down until thick. Add any accumulated chicken juices to sauce. Put chicken pieces back into hot sauce to heat through, and serve when ready.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Equal Parts Shrimp and Spinach (read on! really!)

The latest contestant in the Quickest, Healthiest, Easiest Dinner is this:

Shrimp Saag

1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder (or to taste)
1 pound frozen spinach
1/2 cup milk or cream
1 pound shell-on frozen shrimp
salt to taste
1 tablespoon butter (optional)

First, start the rice cooker. Then, dump the frozen shrimp in a big bowl of cold water to thaw. In a medium lidded saucepan, saute the garlic, ginger, and onion in olive oil until golden and fragrant. Add the curry powder and let it toast for a few seconds, then dump in the whole bag of frozen spinach and the milk or cream and put the lid on. Bring to a simmer. While that's heating, drain and peel the shrimp and set them aside. Puree the hot spinach mixture (an immersion blender works great here), and add the peeled shrimp. Cook until they're pink and curled, and then taste. Add more curry or some salt if you like, and if it tastes a little meager, stir in some butter.

The shrimp can, of course, be substituted for at will: leftover meat, canned chickpeas, paneer (where do you get paneer, anyway?), etc.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Heat Wave

A comb made of ice. That's what I need. Can't you imagine it? A re-usable plastic handle, a comb-shaped ice mold for the freezer, and an improvement (quicker! colder!) on the tedious two-step process of running your head under the faucet and then combing your hair.

Until that product comes out of R&D, I'll be running ice cubes over my head, which is surprisingly effective (soak your hairline first, work back from there). However, it's only appropriate for fellow heat-wave sufferers who have reached the point that cooling trumps all other considerations, namely, don't let's look like freaks.

This heat doesn't keep Cleo from wanting to run around outside wearing a fleece jacket. I'm not sure what her goal was with that idea, so I suggested instead that she play naked in the wading pool in the shade, and that was an acceptable alternative. So yesterday, she had an hour-long intensive course in fluid dynamics while I sipped my iced coffee with my feet in cold water. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Vietnamese Salad

Cabbage is cheap, long-lasting, full of good vitamins and fiber, and can be delicious, but it suffers from an image problem. It never looks very available in the market-- it's so pale and hard and undelicious looking and once you've smelled overcooked cabbage, it's hard to forget it. Luckily, it's pretty easy to overcome. Here's last night's dinner.

Vietnamese Salad

1/3 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup sugar (white or brown)
2 teaspoons roughly chopped ginger
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon chili-garlic paste (or some fresh chilies)
juice of one lime

one small cabbage, thinly sliced
one red pepper, thinly sliced
two carrots, julienned
three scallions, sliced
one handful basil, chopped
one handful mint, chopped
3/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

Heat fish sauce and sugar together and stir until sugar dissolves. Add ginger, garlic, chili paste, and lime juice. It will smell awful, but persevere. Blend until garlic and ginger are pretty well pulverized. Mix cabbage, peppers, basil, mint and dressing together. Scatter roasted peanuts over each serving.

We had this with rice noodles and roasted salmon. Delicious and quick.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Baby of the Month is... Mae!

I'm in the part of my life when there are a lot of new babies around. A couple times a year, I'll get the emailed photo of a red-faced little loaf of bread and a mother with the classic thousand-yard stare (softened by a sheen of pride and love). I have not yet forgotten what it felt like to be that woman, so my second thought (after "Oh, yay!") is, "They must be exhausted! I should bring them some food!"

Sometimes I get my act together and do it, but other times I'm just stymied by indecision. What's the right thing to bring? If I don't know them well enough to have their dietary preferences memorized, I'm stumped, and don't feel like I should interrupt their newborn bliss/exhaustion with annoying questions about food. The other factor is that new-baby-time doesn't often coincide with regular-meals time. So I want to bring something that can be eaten right out of the fridge, warmed up or not. And also delicious. And I'm busy these days, so easy is also good. Now maybe you can see how it happens that these babies are often walking around before I can make up my mind about what I should bring their poor parents for dinner.

Well, I finally have a fairly good solution. And I'm immortalizing it here so that I won't forget. It's Peanut-Sesame Noodles with Vegetables. It's vegan, so it takes care of vegetarian, dairy-free, kosher, halal, no red meat, no pork, no shellfish, and lots of other strictures. The only people who can't eat it are people who can't have gluten, people who can't have peanuts, and people who don't like delicious food. I generally deliver it in several containers (noodles, veg, and sauce) so people can always eat the parts they want and not the parts they don't.

And it's delicious, as implied above. For years, I tried to figure out a good peanut-sesame sauce, and they were always too gloopy. And once mixed with cooked pasta, they became both gloopy and sticky. Bleah. But this one cracks the code. The answer? Water. Duh. The sauce is adapted from Smitten Kitchen's recipe here.

Welcome Home Noodles

red peppers
steamed zucchini
steamed carrots
steamed green beans

fresh basil, mint, bean sprouts, scallions

1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 good squirt sriracha sauce

KaMe brand "plain chinese noodles" or similar wheat noodles

Combine all the sauce ingredients and give them a good whiz with an immersion blender, if you have one (and do-- have one, I mean. They're awesome). Let the sauce sit while you cook the noodles and prep the vegetables.

About those vegetables:
You could obviously use almost anything, and this is a great recipe for seasonal adaptation. If you're pressed for time, go through the salad bar at the grocery store, and get all the credit for about half the work.

About the noodles:
The package I had said to cook them for five minutes, but they would have been way too soggy if I had. I ended up boiling them for two or two and a half minutes and they were great. The key is to taste frequently. Soggy=bad. The next trick is to rinse the cooked noodles very well with cold water. This washes all the loose starch off the noodles, the stuff that will turn things into a sticky mess later if it's still hanging around making trouble. So, rinse! Immersing and swishing the noodles in several changes of clean cold water is the best way, but a nice long shower in the colander is better than nothing, and quite a bit quicker. Once they're rinsed, let them drain well, even going so far (if you have time) as to spread them out on a clean kitchen towel for a while, so that they don't sit in that water, absorb it, and sog right up. After they're washed and dried, toss them with a little sesame oil so they don't stick together, and put them in a container (if this is a meal for delivery).

About containers:
We've just made the switch to all-glass in our house, and I think it's a good thing to do for the health of families and planets both, but I still think new-baby dinners are an excellent application for disposable plastic containers. If the new family can just pitch (or rinse and re-use) the things and move on to the next urgent item, everyone's happy. We had someone's lidded casserole dish for eight months after Cleo was born, until she mentioned it to me and I blushed, dug it up, and gave it back. Oops.

Pack up the noodles, sauce, vegetables, and garnish in their own containers, and drop the dinner off with the new family with my heartfelt congratulations and commiseration. If they're having a particularly hard time, include take-out chopsticks, plastic forks, and paper plates and napkins.

PS: Fonts are now fixed! And some grammar and stuff. Thanks, in-house team!

Monday, April 05, 2010


We celebrated Easter by strewing a dozen colored eggs over the back yard and then pointing them out to Cleo and her best friend Levi. They humored us and collected them cooperatively, but didn't understand why exactly these balls were funny shaped and not at all bouncy. Then we had some snacks and ran around the yard and that was Easter.

It's nice that we've had a couple of years to really nail down our various holiday traditions before Cleo starts noticing, because we don't really have a default plan. We come from different traditions, but we do agree that it's important to mark holidays and festivals as a family. We just have to settle the particulars. Luckily, we also agree on some general values: celebratory meals = good; candy-crazed kids = less good; a sense of gratitude and loving-kindness = good; a sense of entitlement and materalism = less good; homemade decorations = good; lots of plastic junk that has to be stored somewhere 11 months of the year = less good. So we've been keeping our ears perked up for holiday celebrations that fit into our style. For future Easters, I think we may incorporate some of these ideas:

bunny treats

Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Days These Days: Nineteen Months Old

Cleo wakes up at 4:15. I wish there were some other, less brutal way to say that, but let's just stick to the plain truth. We've tried earlier bedtimes, later bedtimes, ignoring her, bringing her into bed with us (and all of these things with a reasonable degree of consistency, in their turn). But it seems like the hard-wired alarm clock in her head will not be reprogrammed. Our current strategy is to let her think about the day to come until five o'clock (which she does by alternately crying, sitting quietly, and calling Mama-Mama-Mama Dada-Dada-Dada). It's a combination of denial and resolve. It's not really getting us anything but another 45 minutes of dozing.

At five, her dear, dearest Dada gets up and they start the day. I am happily unaware of what exactly goes on between five and seven, although I know it involves dishes and oatmeal and honey.
"Why do we put honey on our oatmeal?"
"That's right! Because it's yummy!"

Then they come upstairs. The first thing I'm aware of is Cleo saying, "Uppa dairs!" And the answering, "Yep, up the stairs! Let's go get Mama!" And then the feet come running down the hall and the door gets pushed open. They've been practicing saying, "Good morning, Mama!" It's going well, but this morning, she came in and he said, "What were we going to say to Mama?" And she said, very proudly, "Mo', pease!" So I told her how nice it is to say please, and how she's such a polite little girl, and also good morning.

Then I have half an hour to put myself together for the day and have breakfast, and Cleo has half an hour to alternately play and ask for bites of my oatmeal. This girl is made of oatmeal. She likes it not only the Dada way (milk, butter, honey) but also plain, and even the Mama way (butter, salt and pepper).

Then we all brush our teeth together. This is a relatively new part of the routine, partly because we're lazy and partly because she still only has four teeth, and why stress about brushing what's largely still theoretical. She's into it. It took some cajoling and a few days of whole-family-tooth-brushing before she came around, but now she asks to "Buss teef" whenever she catches a glimpse of the Elmo toothbrush (a helpful item in the campaign for dental hygiene).

Then we kiss good old Dada goodbye and he goes upstairs to work ("Uppa dairs! Uppa Dada!" She's working it out.) We often go to the grocery store at this point in the day, because although it's mid-morning in Cleoland, the store is just opening and it's nice and empty. There are usually just enough people that we can have some nice chats and lots of waving. If it's Tuesday or Thursday, there are four and a half hours of school to be had, and Cleo is loving it. Her teachers are delightful, and have that toddler magic all figured out. In other words, they know it's very important that Elmo get his diaper changed, and that we pile all the babies up in the crib so that they can have a nap. It's a wonderful feeling to have some time to myself while I know that Cleo's enjoying herself in a warm, friendly place with people she likes.

After school, it's naptime. These days, that means a bottle of milk (guk), a book (guk), and a pacifier (bab-doot). Hey, we can understand her. Usually. She sleeps for an hour, then wakes up and cries, and then one of us (weekdays=me, weekends=him) will sit in the glider in her room and hold her and she'll sleep another hour. This routine is under the same heading as morning wake-up time: Not Ideal/Not Insufferable, It's Been Worse/It'll Get Better. Since she doesn't seem to mind a dimly-lit room, we can either read or doze as we hold her, and there are much worse things than a quiet hour with a sweet sleeping baby.

Afternoons, we often get together with other kids and parents. Yesterday, I told her we were going to see Jane, Max, and Ella* and she said, "And cheese!" As it happened, she was right.

I'm running out of time (father-daughter music class ends in five minutes), so here's the rest of the day, shorthand:
Dinner: a struggle.
Bedtime: easy.
This kid: the darling of my heart.

*not their real names

Monday, February 22, 2010

Context is everything.

Pea ha papah!
Mo pea ha papah!
More peas and pasta?
[Emphatic nod]
Would you like more fish paste?
No hih pase. Pea ha papah.
Okay, here you go.
[eats by the fistful]
ooooh noooo! papah!
[sound of pasta hitting the floor]
I take it you're done?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Peasant Food, Times Two

It's cold and grey and I'd much rather be rolling around on the floor with Cleo, so I've been making a lot of one-pot hearties. While good and filling and very leftoverable, food like this can sometimes get a little stodgy. So here are two adaptable recipes that welcome the addition of some fresh (or fresh-ish) vegetables.
Red Lentil Dal

one cup red lentils (actually a gorgeous orange, which fades to a sad putty during cooking)
2 or 3 cups water

1 tablespoon oil or ghee (or more)
1 tablespoon curry powder (or more)

subject to taste and availability:
minced garlic
minced ginger
chopped garlic
green beans

Bring the lentils and water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. While they cook, saute the onions in the oil. Once they're soft and browning, add the ginger and garlic. Once they're also soft and browning, add the curry powder. Stir briefly (you don't want to burn the curry powder, but you do want to warm and toast it in the oil), and then add the mixture to the cooking lentils. If the lentils seem too dry, add more hot water. It they seem too soupy, leave the lid off and let it cook down. Aim for an oatmeal-like consistency, and cook long enough that the lentils totally fall apart into brown sludge. It'll be ugly, but tasty and digestible. While the lentils simmer, assess your vegetable options. Add raw vegetables now, so that they can cook. Leftover cooked vegetables can be added at the end, along with fresh tomatoes and cilantro if you have them.

Pasta Fagioli (sort of)

2 italian sausages
1/2 cup tiny pasta
1 can garbanzo or other beans
miscellaneous vegetables
1 pint grape tomatoes
fresh basil
grated parmesan
black pepper
olive oil
lemon juice

Simmer the sausages and beans in water to cover. Once the sausages are cooked, chop them up and add them back in to the pot. Add the pasta and any raw vegetables you want to use, along with more water if necessary. Once the pasta is done, add any cooked veg you have, and heat throughly. Just before serving, mix in cheese, fresh tomatoes, and basil. You probably won't need to add salt, because of the cheese, sausages, and beans, but taste it and see. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice on each serving.