Friday, September 28, 2007

On The Mend

Thanks everyone for the well-wishes. I can't believe I've lost a whole week! I've had a particularly awful sinus infection that really knocked me out- Tuesday in particular I can't remember much. But I've been going to bed very early every night, resting most of the day, and eating my fill of turkey soup. The kids have been awesome. Zander's been very patient with mommy, and very snuggly. Abigail has shown her concern several times, but really steps up to help her brother when he needs it too. Andy's also been helpful- trying to keep the laundry and dishes maintained and doing what he can while he's home to help. Just this morning he offered to get out of bed and take care of Abigail this morning, which I readily agreed to. But then after thinking about it, I imagined the lunch he might pack...and the snack he'd likely forget to pack...and then I thought about her hair and how that would turn out...and well, I got up anyways.

Yesterday during a brief moment of energy, I was thinking about Abigail's lunches this week and the fact that I was out of cookies and other treats for her lunch. The easy solution would have been to stop at the store and pick up a package of Oreo's. With Zander's help, I tackled a really easy cookie recipe that is one of our favorites. Mocha Truffle Cookies are one of the easiest cookies I've ever made. It's a simple drop cookie, but the secret is in the baking. Bake them just for ten minutes and they have a texture that's reminiscent of a truffle. Over bake them, and they're not quite as decadent. Either way though, they really are delicious, and everyone in the family loves them. This time around I made them with mini chocolate chips which I thought worked fantastic! I also use my small cookie scoop to give them the look of a truffle.

This also happens to be one of the very first recipes I posted on my blog. I thought it was high time to post them again.

Mocha Truffle Cookies
shared by missindi on CLBB

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour, all-purpose
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Melt butter and 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Add instant coffee and blend well. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Add sugars, eggs, and vanilla to coffee mixture. Add dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoon on greased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Do not overbake.

Yield: 3 dozen

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Be Back Soon...

Sorry, I've not been feeling well. So there hasn't been cooking, not much eating, and sitting in front of the computer makes the room spin and turn funny colors. Hopefully I'll be back posting soon.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Big Bird

You know, we don't make turkey very often, which really is a shame. Turkey is a fantastic food and a great way to stretch a budget. Because of their size, a turkey can feed a family of four for quite a while- even a smaller turkey. We make turkey about twice a year- once at Thanksgiving, and once another time. This past week I decided that I was in the mood for turkey, and I figured that Sunday Company Dinner was the perfect time to do so. We'd have help eating that big bird, and I think that most people enjoy eating roasted turkey, so I picked one up.

As it thawed in the fridge for a few days, I went back and forth on how I was going to roast it, and what I was going to season it with. There really are endless possibilities when it comes to a turkey. I finally decided to settle on Fennel Spice Rub from Michael Chiarello. Andy's absolute favorite baked chicken uses the rub, so I thought it was worthwhile to try it on turkey. I seasoned and rubbed, and drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil, and then seasoned a little more. I took one carrot and one celery, cut them into chunks and stuffed the cavity, and tossed the bird into the oven. At the same time, I had pulled some turkey stock out of the freezer from the last turkey making adventure and thawed that for basting with.

Using the turkey stock to baste with was the best decision I could have made. I had about 4 cups total, and used 2 cups to baste the bird from time to time. It was a 13 pound turkey and took just over 3 hours to full cook. Using a flavorful stock to baste added an extra layer of flavor, and also provided fantastic drippings as a base for gravy. After the turkey rested for 20 minutes, I carved it up and used the remaining 2 cups of stock to finish the gravy. It was rich and flavorful, and didn't need any seasoning other than a touch of black pepper if you can believe it. The whole process was perfect for company. I had the turkey carved and on a sheet pan, the carcass in a pot already for stock, and the gravy made before anyone walked in the door. When it came time, a quick re-heating in an oven perked the turkey back up, and we weren't all standing around wondering when it was going to be done.

The turkey stock has been simmering all night, and part of it will make some turkey noodle soup for dinner, the rest will be frozen for later use. Leftover turkey meat will be portioned and frozen, and we probably have about 3 more meals out of the meat- and what was with other people helping us eat the turkey last night! I can't recommend turkey enough,we love it, and should really remember to eat it more often.

Michael's Fennel Spice Rub

1 cup fennel seeds
3 Tablespoons coriander seeds
2 Tablespoons white peppercorns
3 Tablespoons sea salt (preferably grey) ** I tend to agree, grey salt is a great splurge.

In a saucepan over med-low heat, toast the fennel, coriander, and peppercorns. Toss them frequently, and toast until golden brown and fragrant. Pour onto a plate to cool completely.

Combine toasted seeds with sea salt in a blender and grind. If making a half recipe, you can use a spice grinder. When using the blender, make sure to pause and shake the jar a few times to evenly distribute the ingredients.

Fennel spice rub will keep for about 6 months tightly sealed in a spice jar. (But I bet it won't last that long)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Perfect Fall Day

Really, what could be better than this? The weather was perfect-bright and sunny, breezy, not hot, not cool. It really was perfect- and the perfect day to spend some time at a nearby park before heading to the apple orchard.

We brought home about 40 pounds of McIntosh apples. And while I suspect that a good majority of them will be eaten out of hand, it should be fun to find ways to use them up. Next weekend we'll be picking up the "seconds" of apples to turn into applesauce, so these will be put to eating use...and more eating use...maybe a pie...maybe a crisp. The mind reels with all the possibilities. With all the different seasons of produce, apple season is our favorite. Happy Fall everyone!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Can't Say I Didn't Try

With Andy's job future uncertain, I've been revisiting trimming my grocery budget. This is something I tackled heartily a year ago and I have to say I ended up doing very well. I managed to get my grocery shopping under control by being careful what I shopped for, shopping sales, and choosing carefully where to shop. The last few weeks I've really been feeling the urge to start the trimming again. We're unsure how much longer Andy's employer will have work for him, and while he is exploring his options, it's best to be prepared. Basically I've been trying to stock up a little here and there. If I find beef roasts on sale I pick up two, while I'm standing in the veggie aisle I'll add an extra can of tomatoes to the cart for the pantry. Nothing hard core, but preparative all the same.

Then while reading a few things online, and while searching for healthful recipes that are also budget stretchers, I stumbled on a conversation on a bulletin board about this very thing. One of the suggestions was to change grocery stores. In particular, many people seemed to recommend the chain Aldi as a place to really save a few bucks while shopping. I've never been to Aldi's, but have always avoided it because I heard it was literally a generic grocery store- off brands and black and white packaging. That kind of creeped me out. But I checked them out online, and they seemed genuine-they're trying to save people money at the grocery store, and I decided to suck it in and go for it. What did I have to lose?

I made my grocery list for the week. I knew I would still have to go to my regular haunt (Woodman's for you Wisconsinites) for a few things like Andy's Silk for his coffee, but I was actually getting excited. Just thinking about the prospect of doing my grocery shopping for far less $$ was thrilling to me, and I was looking forward to the adventure. I was looking forward to embracing that which I'd eschewed before.

Turns out I had good reasons to eschew before.

I'm sorry. I tried, I truly did. I walked in with an open mind, I plunked in my quarter for a shopping cart and made my way into the store. My first shock was the size of the building. It was small- I mean truly small, and you could see the whole thing with a glance around the room. I headed down the first aisle and was carefully looking at the items offered and the prices clearly posted above. My second shock- there was no shelving, everything was just in cardboard cases and stacked up tall. But the prices... where I expected bargains, they just weren't there. A five pound sack of flour was $1.09- I regularly buy a five pound sack of flour from an excellent flour mill in the Dakotas for .89 at Woodmans. I got to the dairy case and first off, they didn't even offer 1% milk- which is what we drink, but the 2% and whole milk were no cheaper than anyplace else.

Then around the bend I spied produce...if you can call it that. I shudder just thinking about it, celery, grapes, a few anemic apples, just sitting on a shelf (yes- there was a real shelving unit here) with no refrigeration in sight. They had yogurt in vibrant neon colors that you know had to be full of chemicals and sugar. Everything at Aldi is off-brand except for a few "bargains" but the off brand deals didn't even match up with what I can get up the road at Woodman's. I ended up buying a box of their generic Frosted Flakes, a box of Iodized salt, and a jar of applesauce. I saved 2 cents on the salt. The checkout was quick- I give them that. With no checks or credit allowed, everyone hands over their cash and it's very quick. The groceries go from your cart to the conveyor belt and then back into your cart. Then it's up to you to move to the "bagging area" and bag your own purchases in bags that you've brought from home- or you can buy theirs at a nickle apiece. Finally, you return your cart to the corral, where if you've hooked up your cart correctly, your quarter is returned to you.

Frankly, I just don't get it. At least here, in Green Bay where I shop regularly. I can see Aldi and places like it working where maybe there aren't so many other options. But literally, just a mile away from this Aldi is a grocery store with much better prices and an amazing selection. It struck me that the people who were shopping at Aldi today were people who needed to shop there. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean people who, like me, were trying to stretch their grocery dollars in the best way possible. I just wanted to shake these people and say "what are you doing! Woodman's has apples from a local orchard that were just picked this week! And they're half the price of these horrid looking red delicious apples!" I just don't know. Judging by my experience today, and by the glowing praise Aldi's gets from other people in other parts of the country, it just has to be better in other places. Or maybe I've just got it good where I do the bulk of my shopping.

The only thing that I can see working is that because the selection is so limited, and there aren't several brands to rummage through, that people wouldn't be swayed by the fancy new brand of ketchup, or the new promotion tied in with that cereal. If you are an impulse shopper, maybe this would be a place to shop for awhile to tame that impulse beast. Oh! And I liked the self bagging. I wish more places did that, as it would ensure that my bread did not get squished for the 8,000th time, and it would prevent those soft luscious peaches from ending up underneath the sack of onions.

Anyway, a lesson was learned today. And I'm proud of myself. In my effort to pinch every penny that goes through our household, I swallowed my pride and tried something new. I am sad with how it turned out. I really thought I was going to discover a whole new way to shop. And I did... it just doesn't make any sense to me. I would love to know if anyone reading this does their shopping at Aldi, and I also would love to know if it's different in your part of the country.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Chutney, Chutney, Chutney

I've never made homemade chutney before. And in fact, I've only eaten chutney a few times in my adult life- and that is always with Indian food. I've bought a few jars of mango chutney in the past, and while good with the curries...really, imo, nothing spectacular.

But yesterday, I received an e-mail from my mom that she had a tree loaded with seckel pears, and did I have any ideas? First of all, you need to understand that these are very small pears-about golf ball size. So committing to doing something with seckel pears is a commitment of time. So I flipped through my Ball Blue Book, looking for anything to do with pears. There's not much. We already have quarts upon quarts of canned pears, so I didn't want to do that. A pear preserve sounded promising-and with seckel pears, you preserve them whole, but then I saw Pear Chutney. I had all the ingredients on hand, and I was just plain intrigued. So I started to peel, core and finely chop pears.

And then I peeled, cored, and finely chopped pears. After a while I looked at my bowl of chopped pears and eyeballed the recipe, and determined that I needed to cut the recipe in half. Since it wouldn't do to make 7 pints of chutney if I didn't like it. (Hey whatever it takes to rationalize NOT cutting up all those tiny pears.) I added the onion, hot pepper, raisins, mustard seeds, brown sugar and vinegar and set the chutney to simmering. It took just over an hour for the chutney to simmer down to a lovely thick and chunky sauce. One taste, and the possibilities were running through my head as I lovingly ladled this stuff into jars. This would be amazing aside a simply roasted cut of pork. It would be phenomenal atop a bowl of butter chicken and rice. I wondered how it would be next to my Thanksgiving turkey. In short, I'm in love. This chutney is nothing like the stuff you buy in a jar. It's amazing- sweet, tart, slightly spicy from the hot pepper, it's a bite of flavor. I can't wait to use it.

And I'm thinking about all those seckle pears still on the tree. I wonder if I can convince my husband to climb up into that tree and pick me some more? Here's the recipe for Peach or Pear Chutney. Obviously I made it with pears, but I do wonder about the peaches, which also makes me think this chutney would be good with ham too...

Peach or Pear Chutney
from the Ball Blue Book

Yield: About 7 pints

4 quarts finely chopped, peeled, pitted peaches or pears (about 20 medium)
2 to 3 cups brown sugar
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
1/4 cup mustard seed
2 tablespoons ginger
2 teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 hot red pepper, finely chopped
5 cups vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepot. Simmer until thick. (This could take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours.) Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Recipe variation: For a milder chutney, remove seeds from hot pepper.
Note: When cutting or seeding hot peppers, wear rubber gloves to prevent hands from being burned.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Today's Garden Update

But first, check out my portrait! I made it at Portrait Illustration Maker. It's remarkably similar to how I actually look in real life. I couldn't find hair that was accurate, but this one is close on a humid day. I've been meaning to put a picture in my profile...I like the cartoon drawing. (Hey, it was that or my Simpson's character.)

The garden has been...a learning experience. I'm learning all kinds of things that I have done wrong and will have to either correct for next year, or just remember for future gardens. The biggie being the soil. I didn't work it enough. My root vegetables have not been able to grow down- beets and turnips poke out the top, which is great for knowing when they're ready, but they really need more root room. The carrots in Abigail's garden have grown very fat- but not very long. There's still a few out there and she'll pick one every once in a while for a snack. Last night we did enjoy broccoli with our dinner. My problem with the broccoli is timing. I should have waited just a little while before planting. The broccoli was ready to push heads just as the big heat wave of summer hit, so they suffered a little. Now I'm getting some broccoli, but it would have been better to wait another month before planting. Same with the brussels sprouts.

I'm not even touching the sprouts until it frosts several times and everything else is dead. That's when brussels sprouts are best- but it just doesn't look like they're getting very big. My late planted butternut squash is dead- my zucchini at the very end had the dreaded SVB, so I wonder if it spread before I pulled the zucchini. I did plant the butternuts pretty late though- next time I'll do it earlier. Right now what I still have growing is turnips and the second round of beets. The greens suffered with the heat, but the turnips and beets will be a welcome way to finish the garden this year.

Total I think we ate 5 baseball size cantaloupe. The rest of the melon patch did awful, and the cucumbers planted with the melons produced enough cukes for about 10 jars of pickles before dying. Not as well as I'd hoped. Turned out I had ground squirrels underneath that patch eating all the roots. When I finally ripped the plants out, there was nothing left and dozens of tiny burrows. We did manage to eliminate the ground squirrels, and if someone needs help getting rid of them, let me know and I'll send you an e-mail.

Peppers did very well in pots- that surprised me. I have five jars of pickled peppers in the pantry, but the peppers had been intended for salsa- which is made with tomatoes. The tomatoes did not do well in pots. At all. And they were even potted varieties of plants. I won't do that again. Maybe cherry tomatoes or the tiny yellow pears, but the tomatoes that did come off the potted plant vines are very small- like golf balls. My basil has done very well in a pot as well. The rosemary not so much, but I planted them together in one pot, and the basil just took off. So next year all my pots will be for peppers and herbs. I love having the fresh basil and rosemary right out my patio door.

Overall, it was a so-so year for the garden. I learned a lot about pests- from the cabbage leaf moth to ground squirrels. I was able to get rid of most of the cabbage leaf worms thanks to the birds in the area. It didn't take long for the birds to discover the feast I had in my garden, and every day a whole flock would descend on my broccoli and brussels sprouts and feast on worms. It was great. I had a plenty of zucchini. Ugh. Too much zucchini of course, but I have tons of it shredded up and in the freezer for zucchini bread throughout the year. Next years garden I plan on trying completely different vegetables. It's a learning process, and I'd like to learn what grows really well in this area, and what it's quirks are to growing it. As an example, this year I did bush beans, which the kids love, but it takes a lot of plants to get a substantial amount of beans. Next year I'm going to do pole beans- which are supposed to be very prolific. I also hear that tomatillos are very easy to grow, and that fennel bulb does surprisingly well. Swiss chard will go in, as well as succession planting of salad greens, so we can enjoy them longer.

Anyway, that's it for the 2007 garden. I'll be hitting the farm stand in the next week or two for my butternut squash, pie pumpkins, and potatoes and carrots.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

That List of Tried and Trues

So how often do you actually go back and repeat? So often I'll try a new recipe and we'll love it, and then I'll never make it again. There's just so many recipes out there to try! One of these days I should really just sit down and rack my brain and see how many dishes I consider standard fare. With a rather large cookbook and magazine collection, it's easy to forget one or two, but lucky for me, I have Andy. Sometimes he will manage to remember a recipe from way back and ask me why we haven't made that in a while. Good question, let's do it.

So this weekend he did just that and reminded me of a Dilled Pork Stroganoff from Cooking Light that is easily one of his favorite dishes. In fact, I do recall making it for his birthday a few times in the past, so obviously it's a favorite. The reason I don't make it very often is that it contains mushrooms and onions in vast quantity- two things my kids don't like. They'll eat onions in something like stew or soup where you can't see the onions, and mushroom flavored things, but if they spy the mushrooms and onions, it's game over.

I'm certain I've posted this recipe before, but since it's a favorite, it is well worth repeating. This time around I also took a large carrot, sliced it very thinly, and added it to the mixture. I loved the color it added to an otherwise bland looking dish. In fact, it has me thinking that next time I'll add the thinly sliced carrots, and perhaps some snapped green beans as well to add more color. Another note about this dish is that it is also a budget stretcher. It isn't very often that a single pound of pork will feed a family of four- plus. This is a great way to take that pound of pork, thinly slice it, and stretch it out. All four of us ate, and we had one portion leftover for lunch, so it could serve five with a nice salad to accompany. In this case, I bought two pounds of pork on sale for $3.00 (really, any cut of pork will work here too), one package of wide egg noodles for 59 cents, mushrooms were $1.50, and everything else was a pantry staple- so quick math shows me that this entire dinner (plus one lunch) cost me less than $5.00- even if I add the staples like onions and sour cream.

Dilled Pork Stroganoff
Serving Size : 4
3 cups egg noodles -- uncooked
1 pound pork tenderloin -- trimmed and cubed
1/2 teaspoon salt -- divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons butter -- divided
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 cups sweet onion -- chopped
8 ounces mushrooms -- sliced
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh dill -- chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

Cook noodles according to package directions.

Sprinkle pork with 1/4 tsp salt and pepper. Melt 1 1/2 tsp butter in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over med-high heat. Add pork, saute 4 minutes, or until no longer pink. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add broth to pan; cook 30 seconds. Add 1 teaspoon butter, 1/4 tsp. salt, onions, and mushrooms; cook 8 minutes or until vegetables are lightly browned. Remove from heat.

Combine sour cream, dill, mustard, and flour in a small bowl. Add pork and sour cream mixture to pan; stir well. Serve over noodles.

Source: Cooking Light March 2002

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cheesecake Anyone?

This week for Sunday Company Dinner it was lasagna night. I whipped up a standard lasagna, planned for a salad and garlic bread, but needed a dessert. What could be better with Italian flavored fare than cheesecake? It's been a very long while since I made a cheesecake, and I was reminded over the last two days that I should think about making it more often. It's really easy to put together.

This particular cheesecake is a recipe my mom shared with me- and I think she found it in Woman's Day magazine. The original called for fat-free cream cheese and was essentially a low fat cheesecake. As fat free cream cheese tends to taste pretty awful to me, I opt to use the less fat cream cheese, also known as Neufchatel cheese. I think the choice of cream cheese is purely personal preference. I happen to prefer Neufchatel because I like that it whips up nicely straight out of the fridge- no warming to room temperature required if you're time crunched. As an added bonus, it's less fat, so I don't have to feel so bad about eating that slice of cheesecake.

In addition to changing up the cheese, I also decided to add Oreo's. I wanted something a little fun and a little different, and Oreo's just sounded like the perfect addition. It worked very well. I changed the graham cracker crust to a chocolate graham crust, folded Oreo's into the batter, and then gave the cheesecake a decadent topping after it chilled. Topping cheesecake is a no-brainer, as it eliminates the need to worry about cracks in the cheesecake. Just give it a topping, and no one needs to know.

One last note about this cheesecake. It really needs to chill overnight in order to achieve maximum set. I chilled it and then topped it a few hours before serving. It really was very good, and I think everyone enjoyed it. It's slightly lighter in texture than what I normally think of when I think cheesecake, so if you're looking for a dense and rich cheesecake, this isn't the one for you. Still. Cheesecake, crushed Oreo's, fudgy topping, how could you go wrong? Oreo Cheesecake is a great thing!Oreo Cheesecake
1 package chocolate graham crackers, crushed
2/3 cup margarine, melted
1 tablespoon sugar

3 packages (8 ozs) Neufchatel cheese
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 cups crushed Oreos (about 1/2 a package)

Hot fudge sauce
1 cup crushed Oreos
1/2 cup marshmallow fluff stirred with 2 tablespoons milk to drizzling consistency

Preheat oven to 325ºF.
In a small bowl, combine crust ingredients. Press into the bottom of a springform pan. (I used a 10-inch springform pan.) Set aside.

Using a hand mixer, beat together Neufchatel cheese and sugar until well combined and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in sour cream and vanilla. Gently fold in the Oreo crumbs and pour the cheese mixture onto the crust. Smooth the top evenly.

Bake in a 325ºF oven for 45 minutes, or until the edges of the cheesecake puff slightly and the center still jiggles slightly when shaken. Turn the oven off, and leave the cheesecake in the oven for another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool completely.

Once cool, cover with foil and place in the refrigerator overnight- this is important, don't skip the overnight refrigeration.

A few hours before serving, run a sharp knife around the edges to release the cheesecake from the pan. Top the cheesecake with the hot fudge sauce, followed by the remaining Oreo cookie crumbs, followed by the marshmallow drizzle. The topping is all optional, but really makes for a stunning presentation.

Makes about 16 servings when made in a 10 inch pan.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

As Promised- Orange cake

I did go with the recipe posted below. Essentially, yes, it is a doctored cake mix. The only problem I had with making it is that there was no such thing as an orange cake mix at the store- so I had to go with a yellow mix. I really wondered if I should add some orange extract or orange oil or something, but I went ahead without after dumping in the Jello and seeing a lovely orange cake batter. The batter itself tasted like a Dreamsicle, so I had high hopes for this cake.

Right before it came out of the oven I decided I should make a simple syrup of orange juice and sugar and drizzle that over the hot cake, so I got that going and took the cake out of the oven. I used a skewer to poke holes all over and give the syrup a place to go. I started drizzling the cake while it was in the pan, and stopped when I became concerned about the integrity of the cake- after all, it was based from cake mix. So I let it cool a bit before turning it out onto a platter. After it cooled completely, I drizzled it with a simple glaze made from orange juice and powdered sugar. I couldn't wait to dive into this cake!

The results? Meh. The orange flavor really doesn't come out. It's there- but it's very light. I've determined that the mistake I made was to bake it in a bundt pan, I should have gone with the 9x13, and then the sugar syrup drizzle would have been much more effective. Despite that, I did still manage two slices, but I'm still looking. I'll be checking out the recipes recommended previously and seeing what I can come up with. I want a cake that smacks of orange- almost like orange sherbet. Hmm. I wonder if there's a cake that uses sherbet?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Winning The Battle

I promise- I will get to that orange cake today, and if I don't get around to posting it today- it will be posted tomorrow. But today a comment in my Lunch Lady post sparked a reminder that I wanted to post about my kids today. Lia from the amazing blog Swirling Notions reminded me that I am winning the food battle with my kids and I thought it important to post about it, to encourage other parents out there who may be ready to give up on the battle altogether.

Sometime over the summer there was a shift. I can't pinpoint exactly what it was and when it was, but one day over dinner, I noticed that Abigail was eating everything on her plate. Not necessarily all of the food- but a little bit of everything. Sampling it all and enjoying what she really liked, but still eating some of what she didn't care so much for. And just the other day, I reheated some Navy Bean Soup and she inhaled it. And then I looked over at Zander, who complained about the beans in the soup, but watched his sister. And while he may have picked a lot of the beans off his spoon, he still ate the broth, ham, and other vegetables with gusto. Just last night we had Chili and prior introductions to Zander have resulted in PB&J to him. Last night he picked out the beans and went to town. Abigail requested chili for her lunch today.

Why is this? Well, I can't say for sure, but I really think the key here is both persistence and flexibility. How is it that both go hand in hand? I've been persistent in my food offerings. When Abigail was four we instituted the two-bite rule- that everything on her plate needed at least two bites. Over time we were able to distinguish what she really despises from stuff that just isn't her favorite. She despises Brussels sprouts, and I'll no longer even serve them to her. She doesn't care so much for scalloped potatoes, but she'll eat them anyways. Just when I think it's time to give up and pull out the chicken nuggets, she will surprise me and eat fried fish and swordfish. By being persistent in offering nutritious food, I am winning the food battle.

The other key is flexibility. I have never, ever, made food an issue. Even when Abigail was a toddler, if she didn't want to eat it, she didn't have to. While I may have strongly encouraged her to try something new, ultimately it came down to her choice. Her decision whether or not to put something into her mouth. In order to expand your child's eating repertoire, it must be their decision to eat it. If she didn't eat dinner and was still hungry, I always offered a bowl of cereal or a PB&J. I truly believe that one of the single worst things a parent can do to a child is force them to eat something they don't want to. Honestly- that one bite of broccoli is not going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. If you're genuinely worried about their nutrition- that's what vitamins and your pediatrician are for. My children determine when they are full. With Zander we still double check, and occasionally he will go back for another bite or two, but when Abigail says she's full, regardless of what's on her plate, I believe her.

Abigail just turned seven years old, and I can honestly say that we've won the food battle with her. She's open to trying new things, and also understands nutrition and what is good for her. Yes, she still likes pizza and chicken nuggets and french fries, but come on here- who really doesn't like an occasional slice of pizza? Zander is three-and-a-half, and I can't tell you how beneficial it is to have an older sister to model after. Sometimes I think he is more open to trying new things than his sister is. When he was old enough to understand (probably a year ago) we instituted the one-bite rule for him, just to open him up to new ideas. Now that he's older we've upped the bites to two. He's still got a long list of things he doesn't care for- potatoes, dried/canned beans, sweet potatoes to name a few, but we're working on it. He recently discovered that he actually does like mashed potatoes if it has melted butter on it, but I need to remind him of that every time.

This post is getting long, but I do think it's important, and I see firsthand with my eyes how it actually does work. I remember when Abigail was a toddler getting so discouraged when she would eat so little, but I am here today to say that it truly is okay for your toddler to walk away from an unfinished plate. Children will not starve themselves. When your child comes up to you an hour later and tells you that they're hungry- that's an opportunity for you. An opportunity to explain how eating a good dinner is important, and then you offer them a bowl of cereal or an apple instead of the cookie they were eyeing up. And yes, you're going to have to have that conversation a hundred times- but it's so worth it! I also remember when Abigail was a baby reading that sometimes new foods needed to be introduced to a child at least ten times before they would even try them. It may have taken seven years, but now my daughter will eat a salad that has lettuce other than iceberg in it. Beet greens being one of her favorites!

One other issue that I think I need to address. I know I've been guilty of it myself from time to time, but one thing that I've tried really hard to stay away from is rewarding my child for eating well. You know what I speak of- the "if you eat four more bites of beans you can have dessert" routine. I confess that line does come out from time to time. But the reward for eating a good and healthy dinner should not be junk food. Yes, dessert from time to time, but even Zander understands that when he eats healthy food it helps him grow big and strong. He will ask for a glass of milk, drink a portion of it and then come to me to measure his muscles. Then he'll dash back to his cup, drink some more, and then measure his muscles again. By the time he's finished his milk, he's convinced that he's much stronger than he was before. In our house, dessert is a part of the meal. Even if they don't eat much at all for dinner, they are still offered a slice of pie or a piece of cake. I think it's building a solid foundation that food is not a reward system- that sweets can be a part of a healthy diet from time to time.

What else can I say. It works. It's paying off- as I watched my son polish off his meatloaf the other night, I knew I was doing something right. Or when we walk through the grocery store and the kids are begging for fruit and vegetables instead of candy. When my children choose Lo Mein noodles laden with vegetables over a chicken nugget happy meal I know I'm doing something right, and I can only look forward to the days ahead when we can truly do some food exploration together as a family.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Orange cake?

I will be back later today. I have it in my head that I want to bake an orange cake. Is there such a thing? I guess I'll find out...

Update: here's the recipe I found, I'm just not sure I'll have the time to get to it today, and I can't say I've ever seen orange cake mix either. Stay tuned.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Orange Cake

1 package orange Jell-O -- (3 ounce)
1 package orange cake mix -- (18 1/4 ounce)
2/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup water
4 large eggs
1/3 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups icing sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease a 9 x 13 cake pan; set aside.

Place all ingredients except juice and icing sugar in a large bowl.

Beat thoroughly with an electric mixer at medium speed.

Pour into pan.

Bake 35- 45 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched in center.

Leave cake in pan and pierce entire surface with fork.

In a small bowl, blend juice and icing sugar thoroughly.

Spoon evenly over cake.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lunch Lady Land

I think I am not going to win the lunch battle. :-) It may be too soon to say for sure, but when Abigail comes home on the fifth day of school saying "Mom, you made me miss pizza day," the signs are not good. Couple that with a bit of something different in her lunches than normal, and I fear I am not winning the battle. While she hasn't been a fan of either of the lunches I have to post today, she is a fan of fresh fruits and vegetables- something she doesn't get much with school lunch. So as long as I keep those up, she may continue with the from home lunches.

I had actually decided to not post these lunches, because Abigail didn't care for them. However, I thought they were just fine, and maybe if your child is open to a little variance, then these might be lunches for you.
Here to the left we have last Friday's lunch. In the front are fresh sliced strawberries (always a hit), some puffy-corn things, and behind those are some homemade mini sugar cookies- a requirement for the first week of school. But what I thought stood out here is the sandwich. Made on white bread, it's got peanut butter on one slice, lightly sweetened cream cheese on the other slice, and sliced Paula Red apples in between. I had a sandwich very similar to this at a PBLoco near us this summer, and I swear it was the best PB sandwich I ever had. This sandwich was also delicious, as I made one for myself too, but in Abigail's words: "you should not have packed that sandwich."

Here to the right is another lunch that I'm baffled about. One of Abigail's favorite sandwiches is ham and cheese. So I thought I'd make one on pita bread. We all like pita bread, but usually Abigail eats it plain along with some Greek food, or cut up and toasted into chips. Apparently she doesn't like it as a sandwich bread, because she took a few bites but told me "Mommy, you should not have packed pita bread." Accompanying the pita bread are a pair of mini chocolate cupcakes, some pretzels, and in the container on the top is some fresh green beans and red bell pepper strips with Ranch dressing for dipping. She loves green beans and was very excited to find them in her lunch- even asking for more for an after school snack.

The surprise hits this year so far have been the tomato soup and grilled cheese and the macaroni and cheese. Both were packed in her thermos- I was really surprised about grilled cheese. That's one of those things that are better still warm, but she ate the sandwich, dunking happily into the tomato soup with each bite. The macaroni and cheese was homemade, coupled with one of the first good-looking oranges we've seen in a while, she had a great lunch that day. Today's sandwich is a plain ham and cheese, a sliced kiwi, red bell pepper, carrots, and more mini cupcakes.

And finally today, I have to share a link that someone shared with me over on Kids Cuisine for Lunch In A Box: Building A Better Bento. This site is amazing! So many ideas for lunches for kids and adults alike, I am totally inspired by the site, and am now on a quest to keep my eyes peeled for more lunch kits. It seems that different shapes of bento kits would each have a different purpose, so I'll be keeping my eyes open while running around. It seems Biggie finds a lot of her kits in unusual places, like the Dollar Tree.

And if lunch isn't your thing today, I'm planning a week of breakfasts coming up. I spend so much time focusing on dinner meals, desserts, snacks, and the occasional lunch, that I never talk about breakfast, so coming up, (dates yet to be determined) there will be lots of breakfast going on around here. But in the meantime check out today's article on Kids Cuisine for a really easy baked oatmeal that everyone will love.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Eight Years Today!

Andy and I have been married for eight years as of today. That's a little bit of time! That also means that we've been together for just over nine years of our lives. And nothing says I love you on this special day like a full-blown cold. Yeah...well, it had to be something I suppose.

Since I haven't been feeling well the last few days I don't really have much to share food-wise, so I thought I'd tackle a meme that Mimi from French Kitchen In America tagged me for. It's an "about me" meme where I take each letter of my name and share something about myself that corresponds with that letter. I have to confess, I have a few tricky letters, but we'll see what I can come up with.

E- I think E would best be described as "eclectic". I like a little bit of everything- I don't have any hard-core hobbies(well, except cooking), but lots of them that I like to do some of. I don't have a specific favorite cuisine, I love them all in bits and pieces.

R- Resourceful is a good one here. I learned very well from my mother how to make a feast out of nothing. I know how to take a dollar and pinch it in many ways to make it ten. It doesn't mean I always do it, but I can if needed to.

I- I is for Idyllic. I tend to get ideas in my mind of how I want things to be- and Idyllic would be the best way to describe those ideas- not always attainable, but something to shoot for.

K- Well, the K hasn't always been here so that's something. I was born with a C in my name, and just before I went into sixth grade my mom asked if I wanted to change the spelling of my name- that she'd thought of the k but went with the c. I jumped at that, and when I got married the K became legal spelling.

A-Hmm...well, I suppose A could be for alto. When I sang in high school I liked singing alto, but my senior year my choir director needed a high soprano who could read music so I was moved. I still always liked alto the best, and my high C could never compare to my sister Liz's.

Okay, those letters were harder to fill than I thought they would be. I really had to dig for a few of them. If you read this and you have a blog- consider yourself tagged. :-) Let me know if you do it.

Tomorrow I'll have a few of Abigail's lunches to share, so come back for some lunchy inspiration.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Crispy Fish From the Oven

Last week Andy requested fish and chips for dinner one night. When he suggested it, of course it immediately sounded good, but that meant deep fat frying, and I just wasn't in the mood to pull out the fry-o-later. I decided I was in the mood for a simple baked fish, and while at the grocery store last week, they had a sale on Alaskan Pollock. It may not be the fanciest fish out there, but with a little seasoning, pollock makes a very nice fish dinner- and it's actually quite affordable as well.

Surprisingly enough, I found very few recipes online specifically for pollock. I knew I could use a recipe for baked cod or tilapia just fine, but I had hoped for something different. So I looked at a few recipes and came up with my own. I made a crumb coating out of panko, cornflakes, and Parmesan cheese (yes, use the green can for this one), and let me tell you, it was teasing us the whole time it was in the oven. It smelled fantastic. It took a little longer to bake then I'd anticipated, but I wanted a crispy crust, so it took a little extra time. It really turned out quite well. The crust was mostly crispy, but it may have been a little too thick in some places. The seasoning was spot on, and honestly, it almost had a deep fried flavor going on. It was the perfect compromise to fish and chips, and Andy told me that I could make fish like this anytime. Abigail ate most of her piece, Zander was afraid of it, ate his mandatory two bites, but no more. We've declared it a keeper and will keep Crispy Baked Pollock in mind for when the fish fancy strikes.

Crispy Baked Pollock

1 1/2 pounds pollock fillets
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup crushed cornflakes
1/2 cup panko
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
pinch of sea salt
Cooking Spray

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.

In a shallow dish, combine egg and milk, beat well. In separate shallow dish, combine cornflake crumbs, panko, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, lemon pepper, and sea salt.

Take the fillets, one at a time, and first dip them in the egg wash, shake the excess off, and then dredge in the crumb mixture. Coat both sides of the fish and place on your baking sheet. Repeat until you've used all the fillets.

Spray the fillets lightly with cooking spray and pop into the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Weekend Extra: Earth Friendly Products

Recently I questioned the fine folks on the Cooking Light Bulletin Boards about their dish soap. For the life of me, I have pots, pans, and spatulas that retain soap flavor, and it's been driving me nuts. There's nothing worse than a perfectly cooked crepe with an aftertaste reminiscent of Palmolive. So I asked for opinions on dish soaps and it led me to an unexpected find.

With all the things our family has been doing to try and be more environmentally conscious, you'd think it would have occurred to me to try some natural cleaning products. But it didn't. In fact, I've always been under the impression that these types of products don't clean very well. I was proven wrong.

Last week I scoured the twelve feet of dish soap shelving at my grocery store looking for any product that was natural. They only had one brand- and two variants of the brand from Earth Friendly Products. After looking at the bottle, choosing a scent (I chose pear and left the almond behind), and studying the price difference, I decided that an extra sixty cents would be worth a try. Can you actually believe that I was looking forward to going home to do dishes?

The soap had a plus straight out of the bag. It had a seal on the bottle. Thank goodness someone got smart and realized that shoppers really don't like it when the dish soap leaks all over their produce. I popped the seal and was greeted with the most natural pear scent I've ever had that wasn't from an actual pear. I read the bottle, which said that one teaspoon of soap was plenty for three gallons of water. Really? So I squirted a touch in my sink, filled it with hot water and started to wash. The scent was so pleasing- and not overwhelming in the least. The dishes washed just as easily as if I'd used Dawn, but the best part was rinsing them. They rinsed right off, and I swear the dishes had a shiny clean-ness to them that I hadn't seen in a very long time.

I've been using this dish soap for well over a week now, and since I brought it home I stopped using rubber gloves. You'd never notice. My hands are not dried out or beat up as they are with standard dish soaps. And I do wash dishes several times a day, every day. It's a true pleasure to do the dishes and I love that this soap is not harmful to the environment in any way. It's made from coconut oils, water, salt, and pear oil. That's it. And I haven't noticed a soapy flavor in anything in the last week either.

Another benefit is that one bottle will last a very long time. With just one teaspoon of soap per sink full of hot water, I will make up that extra sixty cents in no time. You can check out Earth Friendly Products at their website or hopefully on some store shelves near you. If not, no worries, they do ship their products. Up next I plan to try their laundry detergents and their bathroom cleansers. I will be certain and report back when I do.

Friday, September 7, 2007

An After School Snack

By the time Abigail gets home from school every day she's a starvin' marvin. Lucky for me, she's always been a fan of "healthy snacking." Her favorite snacks are a piece of fruit or a bowl of veggies with dip. This year she has ballet twice a week, so I'm trying to ramp up the nutritional profile of her snacks a bit on those days. For example, instead of veggies with ranch dip, I'm going to try veggies with a bean dip of sorts. Or instead of a cup of yogurt, a yogurt parfait with granola and berries. She needs energy to get through ballet and finish out her day without being exhausted.

Yesterday's snack was an Apple Dip to go with her apples. Sometimes she likes peanut butter with her apples, but she also really likes a caramel apple dip. I still remember discovering this dip as a child. After church on Sunday mornings we always had a fellowship time that included food and snackies. Different people would take turns offering to make something for the after church get-together time. There were some ladies in the church who, when it was their turn to prepare something, everyone managed to make their way back for a little bite of whatever delight made an appearance that day. On one such day we were greeted by a large bowl of brown goo and a mountain of apple slices. It looked like peanut butter, but it wasn't long before everyone realized there was treasure in that there bowl. For weeks after that, there was caramel apple dip and apple slices- and it still remains one of my favorites.

Incredibly easy to put together, it's the first thing I think of when the fresh apples start rolling in each fall. As the Paula Red's are hitting the shelves, it's time for Apple Dip (not to mention the pies, cobblers, cakes, sauces, and other delicious apple confections). I like to make my dip with Neufchatel cheese, and while you could use full fat cream cheese, it really doesn't need it. The added bonus is that the Neufchatel is soft straight out of the fridge and whips up beautifully. For extra flavor, use dark brown sugar, as it deepens the caramel flavor a bit. You could also add a dash of cinnamon if you feel inspired.

Apple Dip

1 8-oz block of Neufchatel Cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup brown sugar

Combine everything in a bowl and mix with a hand mixer on low speed until well-combined. Allow to sit for a few minutes for the sugar to incorporate into the cream cheese. Serve with apple slices or other fruit pieces for dipping.

Keeps covered in the fridge for several days.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Simple Braised Chicken

Today's recipe is almost on the line of the ridiculous as far as how easy it is. Literally, you drop ingredients into the pan. It could be considered difficult, if like me, you decide to dispatch a whole chicken, rather than use previously cut up chicken parts. However, I was quite successful. And other than missing the oyster on the first thigh, I think it also went rather quickly and efficiently.

This recipe comes from my New York Times Chicken Cookbook. I love this book. So far I've only had one dud recipe, and many other great repeaters. My favorite section happens to be the braising section. Well braised chicken can be moist and full of flavor, and all around wonderful if you're using a good recipe. I took my cut up chicken, seasoned it, and placed it in a cold skillet- large enough to hold the pieces side by side. Then I sprinkled on some sliced onion, sliced carrots, and a crushed clove of garlic. In a tiny bowl I combined turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon, and then sprinkled that on the top. A cup of water was added to the pan, and then I covered it and simmered it for 30 minutes. A handful each of almonds and raisins was added and then it simmered for another 30 minutes.

Let me tell you, I really had my doubts! First, I eliminated the saffron from this recipe. if you have some you want to use, by all means, but thus far I am not a fan and don't have any on hand. Secondly, it used water to braise with. Water! I was really very close to using chicken stock to braise, but in the end I decided to follow the recipe and I'm so glad I did. The spices combined with the water and aromatics completely filled each and every bite of chicken with flavor. A wonderful earthy and slightly sweet flavor. The chicken was incredibly moist- right down to the chicken breast. The kids literally inhaled their chicken, I was surprised how delicious it was! I served it simply with plain white rice and then the pan sauce drizzled over that and the chicken. Heaven. I love the bites with raisin in it the best, actually. Accompanied by a pumpkin puree it was a decidedly fall dish that made itself. Chicken Tagine with Almonds and Raisins is, without a doubt, one of the best braised chicken dishes I've ever made. I'm looking forward to trying it with a larger, tougher stewing hen.

Chicken Tagine with Almonds and Raisins
by Moira Hodgson
from The New York Times Chicken Cookbook

1 3-pound chicken, cut up
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large onion, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
Pinch saffron
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1/2 cup whole peeled almonds
1/2 cup raisins

Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels. Put them in a large heavy pan. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onion, carrots and garlic

Sprinkle on the saffron, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon. Pour in the water, cover and cook for 30 minutes over medium heat.

Add the almonds and raisins. Cover and cook for another 30 minutes, or until chicken is tender. Keep an eye on the chicken during this stage and add more water if necessary.

Yield: 4 Servings

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Best Carrot Cake So Far...

And it should be no surprise to anyone who has cooked from her book that this cake comes from the Queen of Deliciousness- Dorie Greenspan. When I realized that we were going to be spending time with my sister-in-law on her birthday, I immediately knew I had to make her a cake. The resulting conversation was almost funny- when I mentioned cake, she couldn't decide on just one, she was so excited about the prospect of cake. For a minute there I thought about an assortment of mini-cakes, but then decided to go with her first choice, carrot cake. I have struggled with my carrot cakes in the past- most have been good, but not the wow that I was looking for. I just knew that Dorie would have something for me in Baking From My Home To Yours.

The cake came together beautifully, but I do need to share one word of warning- when Dorie says to use parchment, use parchment. I had a few raisins that wanted to stick to the pan and almost caused a disaster with the cake. Fortunately I managed to pry them up. I baked the cakes on Thursday, wrapped them well, and then took them with us on the five hour car trip before piling on the cream cheese frosting. For Belle's birthday I also wanted to make her dinner, so we took them to a local butcher that they kept meaning to check out, but hadn't. Walking into the market I knew it was the real deal- they had an army of butchers behind the counter and the one who helped us out really knew his stuff. Their prices were very in line with what I thought they should be- and didn't seem any more expensive than the grocery store. We must have had the best steaks I've ever had- so not only did we treat my sister-in-law to a wonderful dinner, they also found a local butcher they can get their meats and sausages from.

So without further ado, Bill's Big Carrot Cake. It is fantastic. Maybe not quite the best I've ever had, but it's very, very close.

Bill's Big Carrot Cake
by Dorie Greenspan
from Baking From My Home To Yours

For the Cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. salt
3 cups grated carrots (About 9 carrots; I grate them in a food processor fitted with a shredding blade)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
1/2 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola or safflower oil
4 large eggs

For the Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (8 Tbs.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound (3 3/4 cups) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice or 1/2 tsp. pure lemon extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)

Getting Ready - Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325° F. Butter three 9×2 inch round cakes pans, flour the insides and tap out the excess. Put two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.

To Make the Cake - Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut and raisins.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one, and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix in the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean; the cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and un-mold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

To Make the Frosting - Working with the stand mixer, preferably fitted with paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice or extract.

If you would like coconut in the filling ,scoop out about half of the frosting and stir in the coconut into this portion.

To Assemble the Cake - Put one layer top side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. If you added the coconut to the frosting, use half of the coconut frosting to generously cover the first layer. Use an offset cake spatula or a spoon to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer. Top with second layer, this time placing the cake top side down, and frost with the remainder of the coconut frosting. Top with the last layer, right side up, and frost the top. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The First Day of School!

Well, she's there. Day one of second grade has begun. Long time readers will remember that last year Abigail was in a class with no one she knew from kindergarten- so she was a little worried this morning. What a wonderful thing to walk up to her new teacher's line and see a good friend from kindergarten. I think little Katie was just as excited to see Abigail as Abigail was to see her. So of course, finding the line and her friend, Zander and I were summarily dismissed and on our way back home. Upon our arrival Zander asked to watch Nick Jr. and since the walk to school was such hard work, could he please have a Popsicle? So far the first day of school couldn't be better.

I have a recipe for a decadent carrot cake to share tomorrow, but I thought that today I would take a minute to share some more links to other blogs that I've recently discovered. There are so many out there, but every once in a while, one catches my eye and is worth checking out from time to time.

The first blog I want to share is one where I received one of the nicest compliments about my blog. Steve over at sullicom is a new blogger, but he has a very pleasant voice to read. He is very passionate about his family and food- especially BBQ and hot sauce. I love the thought he puts into his posts and I'm looking forward to watching him develop over time.

Then there's Veronica's Test Kitchen. A member of The Daring Bakers, I love the thought and the photos in Veronica's blog. Talk about some mouth-watering photos and descriptions. Right now she's featuring a recipe for swami- if you don't know what that is you have the perfect excuse to go check her out.

I've also been enjoying Erielle's humor over at Fancy Toast. She's got a great sense of humor and her cooking looks delectable as well. Coconut Braised Short Ribs anyone? Yeah, that's what I thought.

And finally today is the blog Milk and Cookies. JenJen hails from Sydney, and is busy celebrating the return of spring over there. The photography and Milk and Cookies is really something special- and so are the recipes. Lavender Shortbread? Maple Creme Flan?

Well, I have a son who wants some attention, and I must come up with a little something for an after school snack today. Tomorrow I'll be back with that cake.

Monday, September 3, 2007

It's Picture Day!

This first picture is from the Quatrain. It's kind of a pre-cursor to jousting, with the knights challenging each other in accuracy. First they try to slice a cabbage with a sword while riding past on a horse, then they try to spear apples, and finally, they try to catch rings on their jousting poles. I thought it was great, the kids got a little bored with it. I do think I like the actual jousting better though- but either way it's fun to get behind one of the knights and boo the others.
This picture was from the hobbit walk. You enter through a tiny hobbit house and then through the enchanted forest. All throughout the forest are little cottages hidden amongst the foliage. They all look like the grandest dollhouses you've ever seen. This is one of my favorite things at the festival.
This is a picture of one of the rides for kids. Yes, it is a giant rocking horse. I think they've eliminated some of the rides, because I remember there being more the last time. This was the only one Abigail wanted to go on. And Zander made it about halfway up the ladder before freezing in terror, so he didn't go on any.

Then there was the food! Oh my gosh, so many options I tell you! I'll apologize right off the bat, because it didn't occur to me until AFTER I'd inhaled my "banger" that I should take a picture of it. Essentially it was a brat-like sausage wrapped in croissant dough and baked. I had mine with country gravy, and it was so good! Oh my gosh good! As I gazed at my empty container, it occurred to me that I should have taken a picture. So then I pulled out the camera and took a picture of the kids Royal Blue smoothie.

And here's the remains of the Macaroni and Cheese Bites. These were really good too. Sinfully good. Zander really liked them, although he was very generous and shared a couple of them.

Ah, the requisite turkey leg. These were well-smoked and quite tender for a turkey leg. Andy had a bit of a difficult time avoiding all the gristle and bone in a turkey leg, but he was able to manage, bolstered by a mug of ale.

They really had so many options for things to eat, that I wish we all had bigger appetites and bigger pocketbooks. It would be fun to just go from stand to stand trying one of most everything. They even had a place advertising roasted boar. Whether or not it was real boar...I don't know, but we'll be hitting that up the next time we're there.

Overall, the weekend was much too short, but we had a great time anyway. Now we get back to this century and the reality of the real world. Abigail returns to school tomorrow, and Andy will return to work while keeping an eye out for a new job elsewhere. He's already been told that the seasonal lay-off is eminent, and since it's only the beginning of September, he's going to have to find something...