March 10, 2014
My apologies for the crickets around here friends. Life and it's unending complications have been in full force the last few weeks. When I had a spare second to work on the blog I found that my energy and motivation had been sapped. I occasionally popped over to Twitter and Instagram but a whole post was too much to contemplate.
I was still in the kitchen, and still reading but nothing was new or exciting. I think as bloggers we feel a pressure that what we write needs to be momentous or timely. St. Patrick's Day is coming up? Get your Guinness recipes ready. Polar vortex? Time for a new soup. New bestseller? Get your review up.
When life gets stressful though what do we cling to? Comfort. Tradition. Familiarity. At least I need those things. A big pot of my favorite tea. A book that's a total escape. Dinners that I've made 100 times. It's easy to convince the blogger part of me that I have nothing interesting to say until I get out of that comfort zone.
And yet here's the thing…I like to think some of you stop by for more than just a seasonal recipe or a timely new book review. So I don't think you'll mind if I change things up around here for the next month or two.
Cooking, writing, reading. These things make me happy and I want to embrace them in this rather frustrating moment in life. I remember reading that when Madeline L'Engle was frustrated or in a temper her family would often point out that it was time for her to go write. She and I might just have a few things in common. It's time I actively sought that comfort rather than just trying to keep up with the high highs and low lows of 2014.
Join me, won't you? I promise there will be good things to read and eat like always. Things might be just a little more capricious around here…and a small shake-up might be just what my little corner of the internet needed!
March 3, 2014
How much time do you spend cooking each week? Do you spend more time figuring out what to cook than actually cooking it? While I'm a strict meal planner for our dinners I tend to ignore breakfast and lunch. There's leftovers and sandwich fixings in the fridge so I'm good, right? I want to share something that's been working really well for us the last few months. I'm taking a few hours at the beginning of the week to chop, cook and prep a number of foods that can be mixed and matched to create lunches and breakfasts for us.
I also like to prep big batches of steel cut oatmeal and chia seed pudding. They are both easy and healthy breakfasts that require almost no work in the morning. Perfect to make before that coffee kicks in!
The next step is prepping lunch stuff. Some weeks I make a soup or salad meant for lunchtime only. This week I'm going to make Coconut Carrot Soup, so I took time to prep the carrots both for that recipe and for snacks. We try to keep lots of veggies that are easy to snack on like sliced carrots, baby tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers. The kids won't always eat them, but if the prep work is done I can convince myself to eat that instead of the cookie or piece of cake I really want. One downside to blogging about food but trying to watch what you're eating is having delicious things in your freezer or pantry all the time!
If I'm making granola bars or pumpkin bread for snacks this is the time I would make that as well. Right now I'm focusing on cutting my sugar intake down a bit (see the aforementioned piece of cake) so there are lots of fruit and veggies available and not so much cookies or cakes.
Once all the chopping is done I start cooking. I usually pick one or two vegetables a week and roast them. This week I chopped and roasted some sweet potato and some zucchini. The zucchini I added into some quinoa to make a salad base. There's a batch of brown rice, a batch of quinoa and plenty of spinach to use if I want salads during the week.
This week I also baked up a few chicken breasts (with just simple salt and pepper seasoning) to add on top of salad, use in a quick soup or to make a batch of my favorite avocado chicken salad.
Now it sounds like a lot of work, but it really takes me less than an hour in the kitchen. I chop anything the needs to be cooked first, so that can be in the oven while I'm working on everything else. I keep all my containers out on the counter while I'm working so I can grab the right size and pour everything in right from the cutting board. I also keep a stash of painters tape and a maker to label and date all the containers. That way I know just how long those veggies have been at the back of the fridge…it really helps keep things from turning into a moldy science project back there!
Now it's your turn! What are your favorite ways to streamline your work in the kitchen each week? Next week I'll share my meal planning tips and tricks.
February 28, 2014
I'm still binge-watching Inspector Lewis, the PBS Mystery! series. Love how the pair of Lewis and Hathaway are reminiscent of duo that Lewis and Morse were but still totally fresh. Now that the Olympics are over I'm forcing my husband to catch up on Sherlock…luckily he didn't take long to get hooked!
Mostly NPR. It's been hard keeping up with the news now that my oldest is paying attention when TV news is on. Since he's not quite 6 there is a lot I'm not ready for him to see on the nightly news. I can catch the basic headlines on my way home from school drop-off and at least feel mildly informed. Someday I'll figure out how to balance of mother to young children and well-informed citizen. Someday!
I didn't crack on the February Reading Challenge (only reading books I already owned). I was surprised the first few weeks how much harder it was for me to avoid the library than the bookstore. Usually when I tell myself that I can't do spend money on something that is all I want to do so I didn't think the library would be the temptation. I think I had enough on my Kindle to get me through the whole month! Either way, it finally made me pick up Bread and Wine by Shauna Neiquist and I'm so glad. It totally lived up to the hype! If you want to see what else I read this month head over to Goodreads.
For my Book Club Bites series this month I paired a Rhubarb Clafoutis with The Paris Wife by Paula McClain. It was such a fun post to write that I'm already plotting what to do for March.
I also shared my simple (and freezer friendly!) pizza sauce and talked about how Pizza Friday is helping me stay sane.
Way back in the middle of the Polar Vortex I made a Lemon Cream Cheese Pound Cake. It made it feel like spring for a few minutes at least :)
2014 has been unsettled and generally crazy so far. I have wonderful family and friends (both in real life and in blog life), but they have been extra fabulous helping us get through this uncertain season. If you were all here I would bake everyone something yummy to say thank you!
Mini-mommy brag moment (sorrynotsorry) that I'm equally grateful for. My youngest, who didn't know more than two or three letters of the alphabet with speech delays last May is starting to sound out and recognize sight words! My little guy has worked so hard this year that it's making me fall in love with him all over again :)
March is a great birthday month in our family, culminating with my oldest son's 6th birthday. Which theme and what kind of cake have been daily discussions for months!
Reorganizing my Pinterest boards. I use it for so many different things than I did when I first started that I need to ditch some boards and subdivide others. The little I've done already is really streamlining my menu planning. I'm possibly just a little too excited to get started on this one!
The Amazon order I'm finally going to place now that the reading challenge is almost over. I'm in the mood for some classic mysteries so I think Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers will be topping the list!
Spring weather! We get a teeny-tiny spring here in southwest Oklahoma so I'm going to take full advantage of the days between cold spells. I can't wait to get some reading time in on our patio while the boys play outside. Bliss!
Joining in with Leigh Kramer for her What I'm Into linkup!
This post contains some affiliate links.
February 25, 2014
Living all across the country has given me a new appreciation for the change of seasons. In California, the first sign of spring was the strawberry stands popping up everywhere (oh, how I miss them!). In Massachusetts, where I grew up, the robins started showing up at our bird feeder. In Oklahoma, the weather begins to waver between hot and cold and the rumbles of thunder return. I love that no matter where we eventually settle when this nomadic military life of ours is over I will remember our time in California every time I go to a farmer's market or think of Oklahoma whenever I see those beautiful/terrifying lightening flashes.
A more sure sign of spring across the country though is the ever so slight change in produce prices. Strawberries and asparagus appear. I begin watching for my ever elusive favorite (rhubarb) and the rest of the produce department just looks brighter and fresher.
Asparagus is one those items that the whole family adores and so we gorge ourselves on it in season. I'll splurge a little past the main season but once fall hits and the prices skyrocket I can't justify it anymore. When I saw the prices drop on it last week I couldn't resist grabbing a bundle. I started the season off with the most basic of recipes but it is a standard in our house. I almost hesitate to call it a recipe! We eat this as a side dish with dinner but I love cutting up the leftovers to have in a salad or pasta the next day.
What is the first sign of spring where you live?
Simple Sautéed Asparagus
One bundle asparagus, ends trimmed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
Lay the asparagus flat in one layer (if possible) in a saucepan. Pour the olive oil over them and then the salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste as you go, my numbers above are for reference. After making this one or two times you'll start just eye-balling the amount of salt and pepper you prefer. Stir together so all the asparagus is seasoned and coated in olive oil and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. You want them to have softened but have a bit of crunch left on the ends. I find that once they become mushy the kids won't eat them.
Serve immediately or save in an airtight container in the fridge to use later.
February 21, 2014
This is the beginning of a new series! Once a month I'm going to write a post about a book perfect to discuss at your book club and match it to a recipe. Sometimes it will be a book I read for my own local book club and sometimes it will just be a book I think would make for great discussion. I'm going to include a link to discussion questions, and other books to read for more information or to continue the theme.
I'm really excited to start with The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, which just happens to be my real life book club's pick for February. This is the story of Ernest Hemingway's early years in Paris as he was beginning his career, told through his first wife Hadley. They had a whirlwind courtship in the United States before heading abroad as newlyweds. They became part of the circle of intellectual ex-pats living in Paris they socialize with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound (among others). McClain brings their relationship through it's complete arc with respect and intimacy. It's heartbreaking to watch each of them struggle with their values and sense of self as they navigate their troubled marriage.
The first thing I did when I finished this book was run to my computer and Google Hadley Hemingway. I needed to see a picture of her and find out what happened after the end of the book. Being inspired to find out more about a subject is one of my favorite parts of historical fiction. I added two books to my reading list after I finished The Paris Wife. The first was Paris Without End by Gioia Diliberto, the non-fiction story of Hadley and Ernest's marriage and the second was A Moveable Feast by Hemingway himself. This was the last book he wrote before his death and he finally tells the tale of those early years in his own words.
To get your own discussion started here is a list of book club questions from Random House.
Now on to what food to serve at your book club for The Paris Wife. I wanted something French, since the city of Paris is almost more character than setting, but I needed to keep it simple. I looked through cookbooks, decided to make a dessert (because, well…dessert!) and then began debating what fit best with the book. Crepes are lovely but more complex than either Hadley or I would be capable of. Then I stumbled on Clafloutis. It is a simple dish- a little bit cake, a little bit custard. It reminded me of the contrast between Hadley and flashy Jazz Age Paris. This is simple and unpretentious.
It is traditionally made with cherries but I wanted to experiment a little. It was the perfect excuse to use the end of last summer's rhubarb in my freezer, something I am very stingy about! I can't wait to try more variations as different fruit and vegetables come into season. The leftovers will be perfect the morning after book club with your coffee!
adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck
3 cups chopped rhubarb (about 1 inch pieces)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
In a saucepan (oven proof preferable) place the rhubarb and sugar and cook over medium-low heat until the rhubarb begins to caramelize-about 10-15 minutes.
In a mixing bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the eggs and whisk until combined. Then pour in the milk and vanilla and stir until completely combined. It will be a very loose batter so don't panic.
Take the rhubarb off the heat and let it cool for 2-3 minutes. Pour the batter over the fruit. Bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes. It is done when a cake tester comes out clean and the cake has browned slightly. It will fall a little as it cools and just before serving dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm.
February 19, 2014
Does anyone else feel like they blinked and now it's almost March? Between the crazy weather changes we have been experiencing and the non-stop activity I'm not entirely sure where February went. The weather changes (77 one day, snow the next) are really throwing me off when I'm meal planning. I try to plan the hearty winter soups and casseroles for those cold days, and take advantage of the warm ones to use the grill or make something light.
On the other hand, I've been digging through my old meal planning notes and rediscovering some gems. This pasta dish from the Barefoot Contessa is one of them. It's done in the time it takes the pasta to boil which makes it a perfect weeknight meal. The kids and grownups alike devour it. It could even work as a dinner party dish…as long as no one minds a little garlic on your breath :)
I swapped the parsley out for spinach to add an extra veggie, but if you aren't a spinach lover add the parsley back in, or switch it out for your favorite fresh herb. I've used cilantro as well with good luck. Different olive oils will impart different flavors in the dish as well, and it can be fun to experiment to see how the taste changes. We were much more adventurous in olive oils when we lived in California, now I'm resigned to the best of whatever I can find in the commissary.
What's your favorite rediscovered recipe?
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
adapted from Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?
1 pound spaghetti
1/3 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus extra to garnish
1 tsp salt
Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta and cook as usual. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the water used to cook the pasta before draining.
In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat and then add garlic. Cook for about 1 minute when the garlic begins to be fragrant. Add in the red pepper flakes and cook for another 30-45 seconds. Pour the reserved water from the pasta into the saucepan and stir together. Bring to a boil, add in the salt and cook over medium-low heat for a few minutes.
When the sauce is reduced by about 1/3, add the drained pasta and toss until it is all coated in the sauce. Take the pan off the heat and add the spinach and parmesan. After thoroughly mixing, let rest for a minute or two so the sauce can absorb and then serve warm with extra parmesan as a garnish.
February 18, 2014
I'm a worrier by nature. My mind inevitably races through all the different outcomes to an event and fixates on the potential issues. Because I'm also a planner, I next launch into figuring out plans A, B, and C. Given that the Air Force is often involved in the potential issues I have learned that it's best to make plans D, E and F as well. Rarely do we need anything beyond Plan A, but it gives me comfort to work out all the different possibilities just in case.
Motherhood has exacerbated this habit in me. I spend a huge chunk of each day making sure the boys are taken care of. Did we remember everyone's winter hat? Are they eating enough lunch at school? Are they getting enough sleep?
I had an epiphany while reading Ginger's blog a few weeks ago. She started a series called a "Happier Healthier Us" and in her first post on the subject equated the way we as mothers neglect to take of ourselves to how we take care of our children. I would never let the boys stay up too late every night or not exercise but I'm full of excuses for why I let myself do this.
I also find myself more likely to make life easier for all of us if I can justify it as good for the kids too. We'll be moving sometime this year (who knows where or when), my youngest started some new therapies and life in general is changing faster than I can blink. I found myself talking to my husband this weekend about how much the kids like it when we do pizza on Fridays consistently and how it would be good to start more routines like this as we navigate all these changes. It hit me a few hours later that it would be really good for me too. That's one meal every week that I know the whole family will eat. I make the dough in big batches so it's always in the freezer. We always have cheese. Why is it so hard to pursue things that make my life easier but so easy to do it when it's on behalf of someone else?
It might seem counterintuitive that I follow up a declaration to simplify my life with a recipe for homemade pizza sauce. After all, that's one of the few organic things I can find here regularly. Why make it?
Well, just like pizza dough, it's a lot easier to make than it sounds. Start to finish it took about 20 minutes and the most complicated thing was chopping an onion. It also made a good amount of sauce, so now I have several pizza's worth of sauce in my freezer.
And of course, it tastes better. This is one of those recipes that every family is going to make slightly differently. I took the basic flavors and played around until I had a combination that was just right for us. You might like it a little sweeter-add a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. In summer, use fresh herbs and tomatoes. Add some pureed veggies to sneak in extra nutrients. Make it work for you.
I feel better already :)
What can you do this week to take care of yourself and add a little comfort to your life?
2 tbsp olive oil
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and black pepper
Pour the olive oil into a saucepan and then add the diced onion and garlic. When the onion has softened, add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, basil, tomato paste. Stir until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste (I used 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper). Simmer for 7-10 minutes until slightly reduced and remove from heat. Use immediately or store in fridge or freezer for use later.
*If you prefer a totally smooth pizza sauce or have a picky eater who doesn't like to see onions you can use an immersion blender at the end.