My favorite things

I have a little guy who is teething right now, our house isn’t really all that fun.  All the tears from today and last night were ironic given that I have a post to finish that talks about cooking with a baby in the house.  I’ve been working on myself and my “mama zen” levels and coming to terms with the simple fact that my life is no longer organized and predictable.  I love, love, love my life, but it’s a daily adjustment.  

Every morning though, I wake up in eager anticipation of my homemade iced mochas.  My nifty reuseable cup is bright enough to perk up even the toothiest of mornings!

My hydrangeas are the absolute best they have ever been this summer.  I wasn’t too sure about them when we bought the house, but every year, I am blown away by their blooms and variety of colors.  The colors range from a magenta pink to a sweet blue.  The smallest one is a deep purple and was a gift from my mother’s funeral.  I think she’d be amazed with my plants.

My absolute favorite thing of today was seeing the pile of neatly folded diapers on my freshly made bed this morning.  

And Vito… faithfully following me everywhere so I’m never alone in whatever I have to do.  He tollerates all the poking and smacking and drooling from Liam just so he’s sure that he’s endeared himself enough to get an extra treat or two.  Given that he finally got Liam to laugh today just by sniffing him… he can have the whole box of treats!

 

Strawberry shortcake

It’s the very beginning of berry season here.  I’m beyond excited.  Excited in a way that I should probably be embarrassed about.  But I’m not.  In fact, as I type this, I’m messaging with a friend to try and get a load of people together to take the patch by storm next week.  I’m gearing up to fill my freezer once again and I am excited!  Last week, while I was at the market, I found local strawberries on sale for an excellent price, so I snapped some right up.  They weren’t very big, but they were so sweet and juicy that I had to make shortcakes.  Paired with some freshly whipped cream and my most recent attempt at a plain vanilla ice cream that didn’t contain only heavy cream as the base, it made for a wonderful end to dinner.  Shortcakes are essentially a sweetened biscuit, which I was thrilled to learn are rather simple to make.  My only down fall in this experience was realizing that I don’t own a biscuit cutter and had to use a mini tart pan in it’s place.  Biscuit cutter is now on my list of things I “need”!  I won’t lie, I didn’t make up my own recipe, I used the one from Martha’s book.  Honestly, there are somethings I don’t mess with and anything involving cutting in butter is one of those things.  You have to know your limitations.  Mine don’t involve any on strawberries, though.  You can never get enough!

Monday night dinner muse

There is a picture that hangs in my kitchen with a painting of a small farm.  Around the border of the picture, there is a quote by Charlotte Bronte:” If we had no winter, Spring would not be so pleasant.”  I don’t know that I have realized the truth of this statement more than I have this year.  While Fall and Winter will always be my favorite months, I have honestly appreciated the early part of my garden season this year.  I have thrilled in planting my seeds and picking the weeds far more than ever before.  Perhaps it’s because this year isn’t an experiment, I know what will grow in my neat plots.  Perhaps it’s because I am anxious to fill up my freezer with goodies to enjoy on a drab evening in January.  Perhaps, it’s because I have someone else to enjoy dinner at the table this year.

Every night, I put dinner on the table and Liam in his high chair.  While Matt gets Liam his bib and a spoon, I walk out to the deck and pick a salad.  I love sniping the tender leaves of kale and the sweet bib lettuce from their respective boxes.  As I pull up each delicate head of lettuce, I shake off the dirt and the memory of a friend horrified by the realization that lettuce grows in the dirt.  A quick rinse washes away the soil, but not the insult of that dinner guest, who after realizing that lettuce doesn’t just grow in neat rows, encased in cellophane, refused the salad.

Tonight, I made a quick potato, goat cheese and chive frittata.  Liam couldn’t eat it fast enough.  As he grabbed handfuls from my plate, I settled in with my kale.  Matt doesn’t really appreciate my love for this green, so I only plant one box at a time.  There’s something special about homegrown kale.  The seeds I planted yield a sweet, tender leaf that’s more open and flat than what I buy in the produce section.  I wonder if Liam will like it.  He might.  I craved it so strongly for the first 3 months of his pregnancy, I had a dream that he was born green.  He wasn’t.  As my little family sat around the table, I realized again that I have the awesome opportunity to teach my children about good food choices.  I have a friend (the same one who was repulsed by my lettuce) who thinks that family dinners lead to eating disorders and pressure to clean your plate.  I don’t agree.

I love to sit down to the table at the end of that day with my little family.  Our table sat in my great grandmother’s kitchen for years, moving only when my great grandfather gave it to me, 13 years ago.  We have napkins, lemonade and a glowing candle.  Matt and I talk about our days; me stopping the conversation to mention that Liam’s tooth finally came in today.  It makes a total of 8.  All the more to chew with!  I wonder out loud when he will be interested in salad.   Liam interjects with a loud babbled declaration and we determine to take a walk after the dishes are cleared.  I realize that it’s grocery week and I need to do a menu.  I ask Liam if there’s anything he’d like to eat.  He points to the empty plate and I go get him more frittata.  His mouth full, he babbles happily and then gives me a cheesy grin. 

 

To make Jamie proud

I couldn’t tell you the exact first time I ate a chicken nugget.  Usually, a new food experience sticks in my brain like cement, but this one apparently didn’t rank very high in my memory.  Which is fine.  I do know that while I was pregnant, I was desperate for a source of protein that wasn’t either beans or heavy meat.  I needed something lighter, but that would still count as part of my 100 gram intake on the Bradley diet.  I then discovered that a chicken nugget (standard size) was worth 5 grams per nugget.  If I ate 5 on a salad, I had reach 1/4th of my goal for the day!  It was during this time, that I purchased at least 1 bag of nuggets each grocery trip.

Life was good, I was loving my nuggets until Jamie.  I’ve always like Jamie Oliver and when he was scheduled to have a prime time show on nutrition in our school systems, I was all over it.  I watched each week and cried along with him as he battled the overwhelming lack of concern by consumers and parents.  He kept harping on the chicken patties and nuggets that were served and I wasn’t certain why.  For sure, they have tons of preservatives in them, but honestly, it does say “white meat” on the bags, so what else could there be?  And then he showed how they were produced.  I gagged.  The day before I had purchased a brand spanking new bag of nuggets and they were in my freezer condemning me.  They have sat in that freezer for a good 2 months now.  I can’t bear to throw them away, but there is no way I will be eating those things.

The good news is that after an exhaustive search, I have discovered about 947 different ways to make your own chicken nuggets at home.  Everyone has an opinion and personal tastes, so I took what I saw and played around.  What I came up with worked for us.  But if you are short on time, the quickest method for making your own seems to be to simply chop up a chicken breast, bread it and bake it at 400 degrees for 12-14 minutes.  Since I had read that the dark meat made the nuggets juicier than the plain white meat, I chose to use a whole chicken for my nuggets.  I also chose to bake and not fry mine since I am feeding a baby this food.  And although my method took me far more time to put together than I had planned on, it should be mentioned that Liam is teething and cranky and that puts a wrench in even the best laid plans!  On the upside,  Liam has scarfed these nuggets down like I haven’t fed him in days.  Today he rejected my awesome beans in favor of only eating the chicken!

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

I know these look huge, but I took the photo on the only clean plate in the house which was rather small.  Ooops.
  • 1 3-4 pound chicken, washed and seasoned thoroughly
  • 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • flour

Begin by placing the whole chicken in your crock pot and cooking it on low for 8-10 hours.  I did this over night and the next morning was greeted with a perfectly tender and juicy bird.  Strip the meat from the bones and discard your waste.  Once the meat has cooled, chop it finely.  (You could always do this step in the food processor, but I wanted to have bits of meat, not goo.)  Combine the bread crumbs, salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder in a shallow dish.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.  Mix the 2 beaten eggs and milk together and place them in a bowl.  In a third bowl, put about 1/4 cup of flour for the intial dusting.  Take a small handful of the meat and press it into a small patty, if it won’t stick well, add some of the juice from the slow cooker.  Once you have the size and shape you desire, cover the nugget with flour to coat the meat.  Then dip it in the egg/milk mixture and finally roll it in the seasoned bread crumbs.  Place each nugget on the baking sheet; it isn’t necessary to leave room between them.  Bake them at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes.  I used whole wheat bread crumbs so they were nice and browned and served them with barbecue sauce.  I think somewhere on this Earth, Jamie was proud.

For your budding foodie:  This is something that shouldn’t be served until your baby is over 9 months.  Since I chose to dice the meat up, when I break the nugget apart for my little guy, the meat is still chewable and he gets to experience texture.  I didn’t put the barbecue sauce on his since I thought it would be too spicy, but he’s a fan of my ranch dressing, so I did that instead!

Lord of the Beans

 

Oh man!  Do I ever love baked beans!  In my early vegetarian days whenever I would attend a family picnic, the only thing to eat was generally the beans and the potato salad.  I would take a bun and generous helping of the beans and make a sandwich.  I’m drooling thinking of this.  Despite my love for the bean that is baked, I’ve never been able to quite get it right in my own kitchen.  Bush’s has made out quite well from me as I would purchase whatever was on sale and eat it straight out of the can.  Anyway, imagine my devastation when after the birth of Liam if I even thought of beans he would have horrible gas.  Horrible.  In these days of no longer breastfeeding and working toward introducing more and more solids to his diet, we’ve gotten reacquainted with the bean.  For the record, he hates hummus, but will tolerate a bean or two in it’s whole form.
As I type this out, a serious summer storm is bearing down on my home.  I’m planning dinner and it’s occurred to me that I still have beans in my fridge from Memorial Day.  The original recipe said that it would feed 18 people and she wasn’t kidding!  What makes this recipe so special is that they are slow-cooked for almost 3 hours, allowing for the sauce the thicken and the bacon to flavor.  You could easily leave out the bacon, but I can’t imagine why.  I chose to use different beans than the recipe called for to cook the bacon until crispy.  I’ve had this recipe both ways and both times I made a fool of myself going back for 14ths.  We’ll be feasting on the leftovers tonight with potatoes and my first attempt at homemade chicken nuggets.  Let it rain, I’ll have a picnic indoors!
Baked Beans (adapted from the Pioneer Woman Cooks) 
  • 8 slices of bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 4-5 cans (15 oz) white beans
  • 3/4 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce (I still haven’t found a recipe I like, so we used a honey barbecue from the store.)
  • 1/3 brown sugar
  • 2 heaping Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (she called for distilled or apple, but I could only find my champagne vinegar.  I couldn’t tell a difference.)
Fry up the bacon in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet.  When the bacon is about 3/4 cooked, add in the onion and the pepper and fry until they are tender.  Drain the grease from the pan (if you like).  In a separate bowl mix together the sauce, sugar, mustard and vinegar until well combined.  Add the beans into the skillet and mix with the onions, pepper and bacon.  Then, pour the sauce over and stir.  Heat the bean through and then transfer to a large baking dish.  (I used my lasagna pan so that I didn’t slop 325 degree beans all over myself on my way out to the deck.)  Bake the beans, uncovered, in a 325 degree oven for 2 and a half to 3 hours, or until the sauce is like molasses in consistency.    
 
For your budding foodie: I only give my son a few beans at a time.  He’s now almost 11 months, so he can mash them up just fine, but I don’t like the results in his diaper if left to his own devices with the serving spoon.  That’s just me, though.

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