Tuesday, December 29, 2009

a husband by any other name

Who would have thought that one's husband actually reads one's blog? Well, mine did and is requesting an online name. You know, something cute, yet profound, mysterious, yet summative. Similar to the Pioneer Woman's husband Marlboro Man. Except for my husband is a tenor and hasn't been near a cigarette in many years. What he has been near is a guitar or two, a piano or two, a sound board, GarageBand, a flute, some drums, and hundreds of singers. So he will now, here, be known as Music Man.

Music Man himself, singing outside Milan's cathedral, Il Duomo, Spring 2002.

Monday, December 14, 2009

a different take on the food guide pyramid

I go to a really great church. Once, a visitor asked me why I liked the church so much, to which I responded, "It's very real here, very relevant." Authentic, meaningful, not fluffy, or stodgy.

Here's an example: about a week ago, the pastor had a sermon called something like "A Thankful Heart Prepares the Way." He made the connection between the old food guide pyramid to the way our thankful heart can focus its thanks.

Now picture the pyramid with 'things' at the top, 'well-being' next, 'relationships' next, and "nature/creation" in the big section at the bottom. I thought it really put into perspective how narrow our thanks can be sometimes (not only "God, thanks for my house" but also, "God, thanks for the rain, my family, my livelihood.")

I think this illustration struck me because I enjoy contemplating nutrition and this connection is easy for me to remember. And how fun would it be to say a complete prayer of thanks over a warm and fragrant meal!

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

not your ordinary squash soup

Squash soup sounds pretty humble and boring. Not this squash soup. I would serve this to guests. I would bring this to parties. I would use this to woo my husband.

So, yes, first you take a few winter squash, halve them, scoop the seeds (I'm actually attempting to save the seeds for spring planting!), bake the halves face down in water. Bake in a 350* oven for however long it takes for them to get soft enough to pierce with a fork (my little squash took only 20 minutes). I used some hubbard squash (the pumpkin-looking ones), a couple of acorn squash (the dark green ridged ones), and a strange unidentified small one.

Don't freak about the amount of squash I used - they were really small, and they were given to me by my darling mother, who loves me despite knowing me and saved them after she used them for her outdoor fall decorations. She's cool like that. If getting mine at the grocery store next time, I would probably get any 2 large squash or the equivalent.

While the squash are out of your hair and into the oven, dice 3 or 4 cloves of garlic and saute briefly in a bit of oil, along with one tablespoon of curry, one tablespoon of ginger, one teaspoon of cumin. Try to ignore your 3 year-old who, despite happily pouring in the spices, cries, "What is that horrible, HORRIBLE smell?"

Seriously, ignore her because the smell is heavenly. In an ethnic-heaven sort of way. Which really is the way I hope heaven is - ethnic and fragrant. But I digress.

Ok, so after the squash are all hot and soft, scoop the insides into a blender. Blend with 1 - 2 cups of broth and the fragrant garlic/herb mixture. You should be getting something that resembles a thick, smooth soup. Pour it back into the pot and repeat until all the squash is blended. Add some unsweetened, light coconut milk to the pot and stir, starting with 1/2 cup and adding up to the whole can, if you like that strong of a coconut taste. I ended up using about 1 cup or about 1/2 the can. Add salt and pepper to taste. (One reason I like this recipe is that there is a lot of tasting involved.) Heat slowly and serve warm. The original recipe calls for the juice of a lime and fresh cilantro for garnish. I didn't have these on hand (they're not exactly local to Michigan in December), but I'd like to try them for next time. Another thought is to toss in a handful of those little orange lentils and heat until tender, maybe blending them as well.

This soup has such an amazingly full scent and flavor that my carpool friend who dropped my daughter off from school noticed the aroma all the way from the front door. Husband loved the soup. I loved the soup. The children need to mature a little to appreciate such complex things. They will love it, they will love it. In the future. Or they won't get their driver's licenses.

A big 'thank you for sharing' bow to Kelly!

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's a Trader Joes Christmas.

Christmas is wonderful, if you like that sort of thing.

Last year, I didn't.

I more than didn't. A bunch of things piled up to make it a really tough holiday. Living room clutter. Sleep disturbances. News of a friend's divorce. Kitchen clutter. Five holiday gatherings. The movie Waitress (don't ever watch this if your husband is relaxing. So what if he really deserves a break after working so hard and doing so great and growing his choir program and waking up at 5 in the morning and working so hard. The movie will turn you against him.) Pine needles underfoot. More clutter. Dishes to pass (wait, that part was okay).

Yes, I realize that the True Meaning of Christmas is the birthday of our Lord, but I find it way easier to concentrate on that when I'm not hyperventilating, sobbing, or picking fights with my lounging husband.

So I vowed to get a head start on Christmas this year. But here it is December, the holidays are upon us, and I haven't done a thing. I haven't frozen dozens of homemade meatballs made from Grandpa Bud's secret recipe (you only get the laminated copy of the recipe if you are a male grandchild of his who apprentices him). I haven't used all of our extra candy to make tubs of delicious treats to pass to relatives. I haven't started making the woolen slippers I promised my younger daughter. I haven't even started wishing for things for myself. Honestly I was hoping to go to bed and wake up, oh, around January 5th, when Christmas can legally all be put away, vacuumed up, and held in our little memories till next year.

Then I remembered Trader Joes. And gift cards. Trader Joes and gift cards may save my sanity this year. Not many of the people on my gift list live near a Trader Joes. And this compact, intriguing grocery store has so many fun bottled and/or boxed treats like salsas, chutneys, olive oils, funky spreads, chunky breads. Not to mention the frozen food section. I think I'll just stop in there on the way to every gathering to pick up my dish to pass.

So, if you are on my gift list this year, expect something yummy from Trader Joes. Or a gift card. If you are high on my list, you may actually get a gift card to Trader Joes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

so much candy, so little _____

So much candy, so little . . .


Really, who wants to eat all that candy? Darel came home with two large boxes of leftover fundraiser candy bars. Sounds fun, but we really, really do not need to eat all of that candy.

So I did what any other rational, healthful mother would do. I made other people eat it.

I was assigned DESSERT to bring for the family Thanksgiving dinner. So I thumbed through my Frango cookbook.

I found these.

Because I have never had Frango chocolates in the house, and because I had an, ahem, excess of Caramellos, I decided to use the fundraising candy.

They were not too difficult and not too sweet. I loved the nuts but not the crumbliness.

And, for the pure buttery, cinnamony, heck of it, I also brought Monkey Bread.

And it was a happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

define perseverance

per·se·ver·ance (pûrs-vîrns)
n. Actually finishing the painting project that you start.

Oh, boy. What a job.
4 walls
2 strips of crown molding
2 doorways
1 actual door
3 gigantic windows
1 baby grand piano
7 happy goldfish
1 fireplace
2 ceiling overhangs
2 bookcase/shelf/cupboard things
1 built-in mirror
1 recessed lighting cabinet

Here are some 'before' and 'after' shots, except that I'm never disciplined enough to take the 'before' pictures. So here are some 'during' and 'after' shots.


Did I ever mention that my high school classmates voted me Most Likely To Use Scaffolding?


Note Darel's impressive biceps are partially visible here. Let it be known that while he is strong-muscled, he is equally strong-willed and did not move the piano during this paint project.






Have you heard that love covers a multitude of sins? I'm grateful for this. But in my living room, it was my beloved tub of spackle that covered a multitude of imperfections.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

what IS that thing?

It was very solemnly given to me by one of my husband's ancestors. The ancient's eyes locked with mine. "I know you'll use it," he uttered.

All I could do was nod.

But what the flip IS this thing, I thought.

Come to find out, if used improperly, that is, with other people in the house who could possibly come within 20 feet of you, it's a knuckle slicer.

This device is to be used ALONE. Under the influence of no substance stronger than a multi-vitamin. With no distracting ambient noise.

But used properly, this other blast from the past slices the thinnest onions for caramelizing, the fastest carrots for simmering, the neatest potatoes for windowpaning.

In my house you must be 12 months old to stir batter, 4 years old to crack an egg, and 3 decades old to try your hand at this thing.

Oh, yeah, the thing has a name. It's some type of mandoline.

Thank you, Grandpa Bud.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mom Interrupted

Mom interrupted, painting interrupted, cold/flu interrupted, kitchen interrupted.

We had quite a weekend around here. Both girls were slightly sickly, but hanging in there. My living room painting project was sailing along nicely (2 walls down, 2 to go!). We even baked some scrumptious cinnamon rolls

and took a stroll around the neighborhood.

Then, after the girls' bath on Saturday night, I walked into my kitchen. You know, my favorite room of the house, my vice. And it was raining in there. Yes, water falling from the cupboards, ceiling, and light fixture. You can imagine the hollering that followed.

It took us 2 hours to clean up the soggy mess (picture a salt shaker filled with water, a waterlogged roll of paper towel, my various to-do lists illegible, and a recipe or two gone forever).

I don't have pictures of the fiasco because I was too busy hollering (see above) to grab the camera.

I can only write rationally about it now because the plumber fairy came today and made it all better.

And life continues as usual.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Lasagna Garden: It's not what you plant, it's how you plant it.

When I first heard of the Lasagna Garden, I pictured rows of ricotta, tubs of tomatoes, bins of basil. But the idea of the lasagna garden is not what you plant, but how you plant it. The idea is layers. The goal is rich, weed-free soil. That, I need.

Our yard already had a defined garden space when we moved in, but it had been left unattended for some time and was a bit of a weed jungle. Seriously, the weeds were as tall as me. We cleared it out, tilled it, and planted vegetables. Oh, the abundance! Was not there. I think we had 3 main problems. Lingering weeds, lots of them. Soil that wasn't very rich (note to self: compost really is black gold). And The Great Muncher.

I swear this groundhog is of either Mexican or Thai decent because she chewed the cilantro to the ground DAILY. Now, I'm willing to share what I've grown (have you read the strange and sweet children's book Rabbit Hill?), but not all of it. My children get hungry too.

So this fall we're starting the lasagna garden. We (I'm using the 'royal we' here) laid down a layer of cardboard, then the raised beds, then compost*, then leaves. We hope to layer more compost still this fall or early next spring.

*a few weeks ago, I harvested 16 5-gallon bucketsful of compost from our compost bin in the backyard. Our kitchen scraps and leaves had been cooking in there for up to a year, and I was utterly shocked that it had indeed turned into usable dirt. I only found a few banana stickers in there, and one ballpoint pen. Most everything else was unidentifiable, having become rich, black soil. The one exception was the mound of cornhusks from my recent corn escapade.

Anyway, here's what the garden is looking like these days.

Plan for the spring: another box of cedar to make the beds taller, and MORE COMPOST. I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I *heart* birthdays.

Actually, I don't. But helping a kid celebrate is way more fun that attempting to celebrate your own. And it's not like I'm afraid of getting older (some days I long for an empty nest), it's just that it's kinda annoying to be the center of attention for more than 4 seconds.

This was our first year to have a birthday party with actual children. Usually we opt for a family-only birthday dinner, but now that my children have been to, oh, 800 birthday parties in their (combined) 9 years on earth, they got a clue that they could have one too.

So Abi chose a heart theme and 6 friends to invite (I like that one-friend-for-every-year-you-are rule). Josi cut out most of the hearts, and Darel and I hung them from everywhere during the night. Our invitations included a suggestion for each guest to bring one present, from which Abi would choose one to open, and each guest would choose one to take home. The idea was to eliminate loads of presents, the need for goody bags, and the idea that lots of stuff equals happiness. And surprisingly enough, both the kids and the parents seemed to like the idea. I know I did. (Thanks to Merrie S. W. for passing me this idea!) Other activities included playing with stethoscopes (thanks to Mieke for loaning them to us), taking our heartrates before and after dancing all crazy to Heart and Soul, and playing Hide and Seek.

With mac 'n' cheese, apples, and cupcakes for lunch, we sent everyone home happy, and promptly headed upstairs for a nap.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Passive Aggression: using it for good, not evil

Imaginary voodoo dolls of teachers that gave homework on the weekends, or of boyfriends who forgot my birthday. Tossing toys into the giveaway pile that haven't been put away. Leaving my empty grocery cart near my car instead of in the corral. Classic passive aggressive behavior. I know, I'm working on it.

But not in my kitchen.

Have you seen the cookbook Deceptively Delicious? It's written by Jerry Seinfeld's wife. I didn't know TV stars ate. Maybe they don't, because the recipes in that book are not that great. But the idea behind them is.

You sneak pureed vegetables, fruit, beans, other healthy stuff in foods you already enjoy!

At first I thought, "why would I go through all the trouble of cooking, pureeing, and sneaking foods like broccoli or beans, when my family would just as happily eat a side dish of broccoli or beans?" Except for that I really hate making side dishes. I guess I have main dishes on such a pedestal that they need to serve as the protein AND the vegetable.

Then I came across a recipe for pumpkin pancakes. Same sneaky idea: blend in a bit of pureed pumpkin.

Then my kids wouldn't eat the slices of zucchini in the lasagna. Never to be deterred, I thought, "no problem, next time it's getting pureed," and gave them a sly smile.

(Yes, that's a fire extinguisher in the background. Number One: I have a disorder disorder, and Number Two: you never know what kind of craziness can happen in a kitchen.)

So although I don't use the actual recipes from Deceptively Delicious (who in their right mind would really eat a chocolate chip cookie with garbanzos in it and not realize something was a little off?), I use the idea whenever I can. The only real backfire I had was incorporating pureed spinach into a blueberry crisp. I realized when it was in the oven that I had also thrown some garlic into that spinach! Garlic always goes well with spinach, right? But not with blueberries. I had to eat that crisp myself.

Here are some treats that are neither deceptive, nor, in my opinion, delicious. But look how cute they are!