Today, Matt and his/our friend Greg painted like mad men to get the living room and dining room done before the carpet gets put in tomorrow. That kind of happened a bit faster than we had planned, but when there’s a good deal, your wise to strike. They laid the flooring in the kitchen today and while I don’t yet have any pictures of the work, I can assure you that it’s looking amazing! Tomorrow is the carpet and Matt and I are going out of town to celebrate my birthday with dinner at Lola, Michael Symon’s restaurant!!! Then, on Sunday, it’s back to the grindstone so I can finish the detail work on the fireplace and get our current home set up with a Realtor. All this is leading to a home with double the square footage and 3 times the land… Don’t tell Matt, but I am really, really hoping to get chickens sooner rather than later! Everything is a blessing in it’s own time, but I tell you I am really looking forward to the kitchen. It’s a room my current one could only dream of being and I’m certain the good meals will continue even in a new location!
- 2 1/4 sticks butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 3 cups cake flour
- 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 1/4 cup sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 16 oz. cream cheese (2 packages), softened
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
I felt like the party was a huge success, not only for Liam’s sake, but also in the sense that we didn’t betray who we are just for the sake of a theme or being trendy or doing what’s easy. I’m glad that I was able to find solutions that will last for years and that in the end, it really wasn’t that much extra trouble. My parents spent a great deal of time when we were younger planning birthdays and holidays. I know we never used paper products because I was always doing dishes after each party. But that experience stuck with me. Here I am, 20 years later wondering how I can make an investment that will last for as long as I want so that we can spend the time focusing on the birthday boy (or girl) and not filling our landfills with more junk.
- 2 1/2 pounds of sirloin steak
- 2 onions, sliced
- 2 red and 1 green bell pepper, sliced
- 1 can of refried beans
- 1 Tbsp. Adobo paste
- 1/2 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 cup corn
- 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Tortilla chips
This dish could be used as either an appetizer or a main meal. It could be served as a dip or rolled into tortillas and baked. No matter how you serve it, it’s a winner!
I’ve been sewing a lot lately. I’ve made bibs, a birthday banner and reuseable produce bags. I’m on a roll. I had to pack up my sewing machine so I can get the house ready for Liam’s first birthdaypalooza on Sunday, but after that… What I like most about my little sewing machine is that I can take a piece of fabric that looks as though it might be a waste and turn it into something of value. The birthday banner I made can be used for years to come in place of paper decorations that I would have to throw away. The bibs are obviously useful, but really, how often can you buy 8 large bibs for 3 dollars? Remnants bin my friends!
But that’s not really what this post is about. It’s about the fact that my garden isn’t producing as well as I had hoped. I guess I’m not treating it as tenderly as I used to. That and I don’t have the time I used to. Next year, I’ll be able to get Liam involved, but for now, I’m trying to keep him from eating my weed pile and hoping the dogs don’t hop the fence and destroy my pumpkin patch. Friday mornings, vendors set up their produce, crafts and pottery down by the carousel and sell, sell, sell. I see that I am going to have to make weekly trips. This week, we came away with a 1/2 peck of green beans, 3 eggplants, leeks, carrots, garlic and rhubarb. I’m so excited!
The best part about my trip was that I got to use my produce bags I made earlier in the week. They’ve been sitting in my living room, tempting me every day to take them out for a spin. They were a trial run to test the materials and seam styles. I also tested 2 different drawstring materials. Before I start making more, I’m going to see how they wash up. I loved that none of the farmers had to give me a bag, I walked out of the market with lots of goodies and no waste!
A few years ago, I gave advice to a frustrated mother in my office. She was concerned that her young son would never catch up to his peers with his small motor control. He could barely grasp a pencil comfortably, let alone write his name. The mother was a newly minted American citizen and her English was labored and unsure. She had not been able to communicate her concern to their family doctor and she felt helpless in her desire for her son to succeed in school. As we talked, I suggested that she bring him into the kitchen with her while she cooked. To teach him how to measure out spices, to use a cookie cutter, to shape the bread. It sounded odd, but she did what I suggested and within weeks, she saw improvement. I am a firm believer in getting your kids involved in the kitchen from a very early age, if not to simply familiarize them with good food, but to teach them skills and build relationships.
When your kids are little, you can settle them into a sling or perhaps a Bumbo while you work, keeping them close and involved in their own little way. When they are toddlers, you can give them little tasks to do and by the time they are in elementary school, you could have your own little sous chef. Magazines and blogs and websites are filled with ideas on how to get your kids involved in the kitchen. Grow a garden, take them to the grocery, let them help you with your menu plan, teach them simple knife skills; these are all fantastic ideas, but what about that age where they are no longer content to sit and babble while you cook but are too young to get you the onions out of the bin? I know, there’s nothing out there about that age. Of course, that age is where we are now.
As I type this, my little guy is motoring around the upstairs of our home. He is busy every second of his waking moments. He’s curious and intense. And sitting quietly in the kitchen watching me cook is not top priority to him. There’s been a battle of balance in our home because I’m not willing to give up cooking a nice dinner just because I have a toddler, but I also need to eat something other than pasta and broccoli (although, I’m fairly certain Liam wouldn’t mind). I don’t like the dinner prep to be stressful, so in the last few weeks, I’ve gotten dinner down to a science. I hope this post is helpful to those readers who are coming up on this stage of life with your little ones!
- Be prepared!!! This tip I cannot stress enough. I generally take a few moments the night before and look at what’s in my fridge so I’m not blindsided the next afternoon at 4. If meat needs to be thawed, it’s taken care of then, not in a panic with a hungry child in the background. Being prepared keeps you from running to the drive-through.
- If you have the luxury of a good nap on the weekend from your child, use it. Ask your husband (wife, partner, etc.) to be on baby duty so you can gather your supplies for your week of meals and prep as far as you can in advance. I try to spend a few hours once a month and get meats in marinades, frozen and labeled for quicker dinners.
- If you’re making a meal, make 2. Often, I plan my menu around leftovers. This way, we are all fed well throughout the week and Matt isn’t digging around in the morning looking for a meal before work. If I can, I make enough to freeze additional portions for use later.
- Use that crockpot! Making your meat in the crockpot and then fixing a side later means that even if there is a total meltdown and you aren’t able to get the side done, you at least have a filling meal to eat.
- Serve a snack while you prep dinner. I do this almost every day. Liam eats an afternoon snack around 4 so he sits in his chair and munches while I do all the work that would require a knife or a hot pan. If I time things right, I can usually get dinner into the oven before Liam is done with his snack and then we are free to play until Daddy comes home.
- Make one cabinet safe so your child can pull out the pans, bowls, spoons, etc. and play with them while you cook. My pasta press plates are stored in a case that when shaken makes noise. Liam loves it. We turn on music and he shakes the case to the music and we dance while I make dinner. He also loves to wave wooden spoons around or play peek-a-boo with the onions under the kitchen sink.
- On a few occasions, we have stripped Liam down to his cute little diaper and let him play in the ingredients. I’ve shredded cheese onto the tray of his chair and let him feel the differences between flour and oats.
If I get the time, I like to make as much of the dinner as I can while Liam takes his afternoon nap. I’ve made a deal with myself to not work the whole way through his nap, though. I need that time as much as anyone else to sit back and breathe because as soon as he wakes up, we’ve got stairs to climb, dogs to chase and toys to vroom vroom. I do try to make sure that Liam gets to spend the time with me in the kitchen as much as possible. He already does most of my grocery shopping with me and enjoys the dirt garden. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally gotten to the point where dinner prep isn’t so challenging, but I must admit that I am looking forward to being able to engage Liam a little more fully as I bake and cook. It will be so much fun to do things together!
I love my cast iron skillet. I really like the crust that forms on breads baked in it and the way it keeps the moisture in a casserole. I have a ceramic top stove, so I have to be very careful with how it’s handled and I will forever regret not listening to my mother-in-law when we were stove shopping and she suggested a gas stove. Biggest regret of my kitchen. Anyway, my cousin’s husband told me how he used their cast iron skillet to cook fish on their grill and I was stunned with the possibility! I honestly never even considered that as an option, but am thrilled to have it as something new in my arsenal of summer meals!
Skillet grilled Tilapia:
- 6 tilapia fillets
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp. ground mustard
- 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
- freshly ground black pepper
Turn on your grill and place your cast iron skillet on the heat. Mix together the seasonings and sprinkle over the tilapia. When you can sprinkle water on the skillet and it beads up and fizzes, put a small pat of butter in the skillet to keep the fish from sticking and then place the fillets on the hot surface. Cook the tilapia until flaky, flipping only once to brown each side. (It took about 5 minutes on our gas grill to cook.) Serve with broccoli or green beans and a pasta salad.
Once upon a time, a new mother thought that it would be simple to provide for her child the best food on the planet. She ate organic, sustainable, local foods throughout her pregnancy. Her worst craving was for fresh kale salads. Once that child was born, she nursed him faithfully even when her body stopped producing, caving to feed him organic formula only because he was hungry. When the little baby was ready for solid foods, his mama steamed and pureed and mashed everything in sight. She even tried making her own version of biter biscuits (an epic fail). Little by little, the baby realized that the food on his parents’ plates was what he wanted and suddenly abandoned all purees in favor of whole solids that he could nosh on with his stunning 6 teeth. As he was weaned onto whole milk, the mama realized that it was now time to give him an afternoon snack to tide him over until supper. But what to feed him? The mama didn’t want to hand her son preservatives at every snack, but she also didn’t want to spend the bulk of her food budget on organic snacks!
I was really surprised how many recipes there are out there in cyberspace pertaining to snacks. Healthy snacks, guilty snacks, weird snacks. Most of the healthy ones called for honey, though. Almost every medical resource I have agreed that children under 12 months shouldn’t have honey because they can contract botulism. This posed a slight problem given that the honey is used to hold the rest of the dough together. I don’t like molasses, so that was out and I didn’t want to add another liquid for fear that would make the dough tough. So I abandoned the idea of homemade teddy graham crackers. Then one day, I came across a jar of malt barley syrup. The light came on and I am thrilled to present to you the product of a well-used afternoon naptime for Liam! These crackers have a graham-like flavor, but are crisper like an animal cracker. I love them and Liam always points to the jar whenever he sees it now!
- 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 Tbsp. wheat germ
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 7 Tbsp. butter
- 1/3 c. malt barley syrup (or honey if not using this recipe for a child under 12 months)
- 5 Tbsp. whole milk
- 2 Tbsp. vanilla
Sift together the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into 1 inch pieces and place them in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until fluffy and then gradually add in the milk, vanilla and syrup. Mix in the dry ingredients until dough forms a ball around the paddle. Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap in saran wrap. Chill for a minimum of 2 hours. (I made the dough during a nap and then shaped them when I had time the next day. The dough was still fine to work with and didn’t get tough.) Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut out shapes. Freeze the dough for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool before storing; they keep well for 2 weeks in an air tight container… if your kids don’t know where you hide them!
** I tagged this as a frugal recipe since when I worked out the math, I am saving myself $7.35 a month in graham crackers for Liam. This includes the price of the barley malt syrup in my calculations. It honestly takes very little time out of my day and will eventually be something Liam and I can do together!
** Since barley is non-allergenic to most babies, I plan to play around with the end form of the crackers and use this as biter biscuits for my future children.
This is my second attempt at this dessert and my second recipe. Suffice to say, this one won out. The main reasons for the winning was simplicity of this recipe. Whereas the night before Easter I was desperately trying to get a custard-like filling to not overflow as I put it in the oven, I only had to spend a great deal of time sweating it out over the stove for this to reach the correct consistency. On my previous attempt, the tart overflowed out of the tart pan all over the baking sheet and came out with a harsh burnt top with an entirely liquid center. After an hour of baking. Disappointed does not even come close to describing how I felt about that. No baking was required of this tart (other than the shell) and I am thrilled about that!
Matt and I spent Saturday working at my grandmother’s house. Upon her death, I became the owner of her home, property and all the contents therein. I am completely conflicted about this new responsibility and unsure of our next move. Saturday was spent moving all my aunt’s possessions out of the house and making a vain attempt at creating some order. At the end of the day, I was feeling defeated when I got a phone call inviting us to a 4th of July picnic at a friend’s house. I could taste a lemony dessert as I said we’d be there. This dessert was perfect for the night and I’m debating whether or not I should make this again or move on to something else from my mastery list for my birthday!
French Lemon Cream Tart (Baking: from My Home to Yours by Dorrie Greenspan)
- 1 cup sugar
- the grated zest of 3 lemons
- 3/4 c. fresh lemon juice
- 10.5 oz butter, cut into small pieces and at room temperature
- 1 9-in. tart crust (the book recommends one, but I didn’t like it as well as my usual crust recipe)
Zest the lemons and mix them together with the sugar in a heatproof bowl. Using either your fingers or a spatula, mash the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist from the zest and a little bit grainy. Your kitchen will smell heavenly! Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Heat a pan of water to simmering and place the bowl over the top. Once the mixture starts to feel warm, begin whisking. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees. You will need to whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling. I gave up measuring the temperature and went by the appearance of the cream. When it was thick and the whisk left tracks through on each swipe, I took it off the heat. (Dorrie’s instructions say it can take up to 10 minutes to reach the proper temperature, but because I was using such a heavy bowl, I whisked and cooked for almost half an hour. It was 92 degrees yesterday. I’ll be using a lighter bowl next time.)
When the cream is cooked, remove it from the heat and allow it too cool to an approximate temperature of 140 degrees. Once it has reached that temp, pour it into a sturdy blender and add a few pieces of butter. You will need to add the butter a few pieces at a time until it is all incorportated before continuing. If your blender is having trouble with the cream, which mine did, you can use a food processor or an immersion blender. I used the immersion blender. Blend the cream once all the butter is added for an additional 3 minutes, the cream is light and fluffy. Chill the cream for a minimum of 4 hours before pouring into a baked tart shell. I chilled mine again before serving and topped it with fresh raspberries.
**Notes: The photo in the book shows a cream that is much lighter than mine. While I cannot say for sure, I’m going to believe it’s because of the eggs I used. My eggs are home-grown and have an almost orange yolk to them. Hence the rich yellow of my tart.