Monday, May 25, 2015

Weekly Recipes

What I cooked this week...

With two kids home again I'm back to that grind of "what can I make that will please everyone..." It's never easy to please everyone, even when that means only 4 people.  I like it when those four/five people eat the food that I prepare with minimal fuss/pickiness.  Working full-time to come home and prepare dinner, I want that sit-down affair to be a happy time.

For a year and 1/2 teenage boy was living on his on in Colorado and it was just husband and I with Groovy Girl to attend to and I could cater my meals in her direction.  My husband literally will eat most everything set in front of him as long as it's not peanut butter or shellfish.

We are ecstatically happy that Teenage Boy returned home to go back to school even though he does throw a new twist into my meal plan.  If I went way back to early blog posts he is the one who "asked" us to think about eating meat. He played sports and as an active young male he begged, pleaded, and begged some more for me to add meat into our diet.

I don't mind meat as long as it comes from a healthy and local source, which also makes it expensive.  We can't do meat every night (which is what Teenage Boy would like).  He can through a meatless meal if pasta is involved.

The last couple of years I've tried to stay away from so much gluten. We've ruined wheat and it makes it hard to enjoy bread, pasta, sandwiches, and a nice cold beer.  It's okay; I've found many other delicious pleasures like hard cider, but it makes meal planning that much more interesting.

With all our different preferences it makes it difficult to plan the perfect meal.  It takes creativity and ingenuity.  And sometimes I just have to have a salad and be happy with that.  It's all good.

1. Calzones: I made these on Monday night when husband was not home and I needed a purely kid-friendly dinner.  I mixed two recipes together and Groovy Girl did the calzone part on her own for both.  I made a lovely salad for myself and let the kids enjoy the cheesy, steamy calzones. They loved them. I used this pizza dough and filled it with good sausage, marinara, black olives, and cheese. Will make again especially because GG did all the work.

2. Artichoke and spinach pasta: This we enjoyed all together. Love it when we are all at the table as one. We had a salad so I could have just had that but the pasta looked and smelled amazing so I had a small portion.  Yum! The family ate it up. Again I combined two recipes from Pinterest: food network and budget savvy diva; I used what I wanted from both recipes making it as natural as possible. I used real spinach, 1 can of artichokes, parmesan shredded, fettuccine noodles, and a little cream cheese to add creaminess.  The roux was easy to make and the people at my table had 3-4 helpings.  I filled my plate with salad and had a small amount of pasta to try it. (meatless)

3. Bean burritos: I created these one night using quinoa, a can of black beans with sautéed sweet peppers mixed in.  The kids ate these with flour tortillas and I had corn, tastier, to me, and a much smaller portion. (meatless)

4. Stir-fry: This cleaned out my vegetable drawer; the last few spears of asparagus, last stalk of broccoli and cauliflower, a few peppers, a jar of Trader Joe's simmer sauce, a pot of brown rice and we had dinner at the table in record time.  I mixed in a little coconut milk for a change of pace and to tame the simmer sauce a bit for Groovy Girl. They didn't even know they were eating "leftovers".  (meatless)

5. Black bean soup: this is for tomorrow.  I cooked down a pound of black beans earlier in the week.

So all-in-all it was a creative week of meals at our house. And the BB soup will be a wonderful way to begin the week because it can be used in a variety of ways. How was your food week?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Girl at war by Sara Novic`

School is winding down and my desk is full.  I'm grading, collecting books, and preparing for an-end-of-the-year book fair.  My head is spinning maybe because I spent part of my week laying on the sofa reading Girl at War instead of getting stuff done.  It was worth it though; this is a great book.

Ana Juric`, a ten-year-old living in Croatia's capital has had a happy childhood until civil war breaks out and her life is transformed by food rationing, soldiers,  and air raid drills.  Suddenly life is very different and she feels out of control. The daily peace she felt is replaced with fear and uncertainty except when she is nestled together with her family:

That first time we saw it, my mother and I together, she patted my shoulder because these men were protecting Croatia and the fighting didn't look too dangerous. She smiled and the soup steamed, and even Rahela wasn't crying for once, and I allowed myself to slide into the fantasy I recognized as such even while my mind was still spinning it- that there in the flat, with my family, I was safe. (29)

The war circles around the Juric` family but at home there is a greater concern.  Ana's younger sister, Rahela, is sick and needs medical attention.  After visiting a female doctor in Zagreb Ana's family makes the difficult decision to get Rahela transported out of Croatia to America where she will recieve the treatment she needs. As Ana and her parents mournfully drive back to Zagreb they are stopped by a roadblock of Serbian soldiers.  It is at this moment that Ana's life will be forever changed and as it is with tragedy it makes her into the womas we later meet in New York.

Her predictable life studying in NYC has her on edge and she can't accept all that has happened to her.  She is at war with herself, trying to resolve what she experienced.  She makes a rash decision to travel back to Croatia to see if friends are still alive and to make peace with how her life has been shaped.

This is a transformitive story.  I enjoyed Ana's voice, her family struggles in New Jersey, and the difficult time she has with feeling comfortable after living, surviving a war where so many died.  Girl at war shows how resilent we are while making us fully aware of the damage caused by tragedy and war. It is a story of survival.  And we all need to read more of that.

It also brought to light this conflict for me.  In my small town we had an influx of Bosnian residents during this conflict.  They've succeeded in our community in many ways, been accepted and embraced, but it also makes me wonder what lies underneath.  Thank you,  Ana,  for this reminder; realizing the harm we do while fighting wars abroad and on our own streets would be a worthy reason to keep the peace.

On sale: May 12th, 2015 (go buy it now)

Thank you to @DavidEbershoff at Random House for my copy. My time-wasting habit of scrolling around twitter totally worth it when I'm able to scoop up an excellent book. It also in no way altered my review of this book.  I loved it all on my own.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

(Missing one child from far away...)

I hope everyone that is a mother had a wonderful day!  Being a mother is truly the hardest job; it comes with a lot of heartache and judgement.  My kids are not always happy with me, my ideas, and my suggestions.  I want the best for them-always.  Even though it is a difficult job I love being a mother and the payback can be amazing.

It's funny how the day started out as such a humble celebration, it was a way to honor and connect mother's who sons had fallen in the Civil War and later as a way to promote peace.  It's unfortunate that the holiday became so overly commercialized.  I do appreciate the simple things my children do for me.  I 'm happy with a meal together and several hand made cards.  Today we went for a walk, out for lunch, and a visit with my own mother.  It was a good day.  A simple day.

I also made chocolate chip cookie bars for school and folded laundry so it wasn't like I chilled the whole day.  It might be nice to pampered all day.  Right now BB is the important event at my house as I write and plan for my day tomorrow.

How ever you spent the day I hope it was relaxing and the focus was more on a shared experience than "stuff".

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Starter curry from Jenny

I love my copy of Dinner; A love story for many reasons. It has fantastic recipes, amusing stories, and I agree with her on many topics. We love dinner at our house. Sitting down together eating and sharing conversation. When my son moved back after living on his own for a year and a half it was the dinners together that he raved about missing.  Every night he felt blessed to be back at the table eating good food with family surrounding him.

Even though I love this book I've only made a few of the recipes from this book. Chicken cutlets and dark and stormy are two top favs. I pulled the book out the other night and decided I was going to experiment with more of her recipes. 

Tonight I made Curried Chicken with apples. Everyone had 2nds and fought over scraps. Groovy Girl sadly didn't like some of the ingredients but she loved the chicken and the sauce. Apples confused her and those she refused to eat. She suggested a potato instead of the apple.

[yep, already had a bit or two but you can see the cilantro, yogurt, etc}

Here's the recipe so you can try it yourself.

Starter Curry;  Curried Chicken with apples (it is only one apple...really)

2 T canola oil, plus more as needed
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 large stalk celery, chopped
1 large apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into bite-size pieces
1 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
2 T madras curry powder
3 medium-sized boneless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs) {Organic or farm-raised by someone you know preferred)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup light coconut milk
Handful of frozen peas (optional) {I opted out-don't like frozen peas, or any pea from a pkg}
Few dollops of plain yogurt
Suggested garnishes: chopped cilantro or mint, sliced or chopped almonds

Heat the oil in a deep, large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the onion and saute until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes.
Add the garlic, celery, apple, and ginger.  Cook for 2-3 minutes and then add the curry powder, stirring to combine.
Push the ingredients to one side of the pan, add a little more oil, and brown the chicken on all sides. If your pan is too stuffed, you can do it in two batches.) Stir all the ingredients together then add the broth and coconut milk.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Add the peas (if using) then cover and cook 10 more minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve with basmati rice or flatbread and top with a dollop of yogurt and desired garnishes.

Enjoy this delicious recipe and many others in Jenny Rosenstrach's book and website.

Monday, May 4, 2015

What DID I read in April?

Not much is the answer.  It was a busy month and my lowest reading in history.  I read 2 (two) books in all those 30 days.  It was a month of starting books.   Hopefully more free time in May will help me clean up my record.

I started:

The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow:  This is the book club pick for May.  I've read the first 5 chapters and I don't know if I'm going to continue.  It was recommended by our oldest member, Jean, who diid this year.  We are reading it in memory of her so I would like to finish it but I'm not drawn to the story or the character of Gertie.

Girl at War by Sara Novic`:  I won a copy of this book by responding to a tweet from David Ebershoff from Random House. Girl at War is a story from Croatia, 1991, when the war is just beginning and Ana's childhood is a changed forever.  Ten years later Ana is in NYC for school and is haunted by memories of war.  I like this one and plan to read more this week now that I've made the choice to let The Dollmaker go for awhile.

Dreamsleeves by Coleen Murtagh Paratore: Groovy Girl and I started this one a few days ago.  I'm lucky she hasn't gone back to "I don't want to read with you" shenanigans (read all about that here) because it is the best way to end our day together.  Spunky  main character, Aislinn, has a lot going on with her 4 younger siblings and an alcoholic father.  They are saving money for a dream house in the country and her mother is pregnant again.  Groovy Girl and I feel this is not going to end well.

The life-changing magic of tidying up; the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo:  I read an article about this book and ordered it from the library (I already have enough books clutterin up my house)  I like her advice and am in the process of rethinking objects in my house.

The Organically Clean Home by Becky Rapinchuk (from Healthy recipes for cleaning.  Also ordered from the library.  Recommended by V and a topic of conversation while in Arkansas.

The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney: Recommended to me by a neighbor friend who happens to be a counselor.  One of my two kids at home right now is withdrawn and I'm trying to learn more.  This book is helpful and makes me realize why I'm socially awkward at times.

This is what I finished:

Nest by Ester Ehrlich:  Marvelous tale of Chirp who loves birds, nature, and playing outside.  Her mother is diagnosed with MS and Chirp, her sister, and father have to watch as she struggles to deal with this new reality.  Her family sets her apart in school as well, they are Jewish and her father is a psychologist.  Luckily they are surrounded by nature on Cape Cod and this serves as a healing force for Chirp.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart:  Crazy story of four orphans ready to save the world from mass brainwashing.  Mr. Benedict places an advertisement looking for gifted children and once they pass all of his tests they are rushed off to save the world.  Read for 6th grade book club and it was just exciting enough to take their minds off of Legend series for a just a bit.  Our last book for the year is Champion by Marie Lu.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Could it really be Spring?

I do hope so. I need warmer weather. I'm tired of the cold.
One tree cut away}

We had warm weather a few weeks ago then it got cold, cold again. I had to get my winter coat back out of the basement storage closet. Yes, that cold.

Today it was warmer and we worked outside on the yard. Last week we had three trees cut down. I had the tree man leave them free standing as I didn't want them just gone. We carried limbs from the front yard to the back and clipped them into smaller parts. They were river birches that had been planted years and years ago. They were tall and majestic and had bark that peeled back creating texture on the trunk.  

Now we have enough logs for family fires all through the summer and fall. Lots of s'mores.  The trees will continue to bring us joy but it's still hard to see them gone.

They were dead though and had to go. Recently we had a large branch fall on a windy day, taking out the garage gutter. Another day, another storm and one of them could easily land on the roof. That would be an unexpected surprise.

I also had a chance to plant a few flowers, herbs, and 3 tomato plants. I'm ready for healthy spring eating and spending more time outside 
{Groovy Girl enjoying new perch}
{My new reading spot}

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Weekly Update

It's been a week of quick meals, crazy schedules and yet I've managed to create a few recipes to share.

{Janssen's granola and photo}

I've been meaning to make Janssen's granola recipe for quite awhile now and when the last few clusters of my TJ's ginger mix landed in my morning yogurt the opportune moment was upon me.  It took me 3 days to gather ingredients and find a space of time to make and bake it.  It's delicous!  Just because it's my nature I will play with it next time. This time I did add in some mixed nuts (cashews + pecans) because they were sitting in our nut jar and some chopped dried mango.

Last night I hosted book club and I gave the granola away in little cloth giveaway bags (that I made from white cotton squares).  It was a combination Earth Day/May Day gift from me to all my book club friends.  Hopefully it brightened their morning yogurt.

I also whipped up a jug of ginger beer this weekend.  Jenny from Dinner; A love story introduced me to the Dark and Stormy and ginger beer is a major ingredient.  I don't like the jacked-up expensive price of ginger beer ($10 for 4 bottles) so I thought it would be worth it to make my own.  Now I know why it's not's hard to make.  I chopped up two large roots and then squeezed it through my mesh strainer to just barely produce 3 tablespoons.  I rinsed cold water through the pulp to eek out 1 more tablespoon.   I thought with the added yeast in this Epicurious recipe that it would be fizzy but it is not.  It does have ginger flavor though and I will use it. Maybe this weekend I will test run it with a Moscow Mule.  I will probably have to add club soda though to give it that extra POP and zing.

I planned to make Dark and Stormys (we've had rain + the last time I hosted we had a tornado warning) for book club but I changed plans when I wasn't happy with my fizz-less mixture.  Luckily we had plenty of wine.  And delicious food.  My favorite was Katinka's Greek salad.

What I'm reading:

Book club:  Orphan Train by Christine Baker Kline  ( I read this months ago so didn't have much to contribute)
School: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Groovy Girl: Nest by Esther Ehrlich

Next up: Swamplandia by Karen Russell

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Good Food, Good Friends

{I have no idea why this posts in all caps when it does not look that way in editing.  Strange but I don't have time to keep messing with it.  Enjoy. }

I made a meal yesterday for two musically talented friends who came to town to play a gig.  I offered to make them food as I'm all into this entertaining without cleaning utopia.  I did actually do a bit of cleaning but I just don't get stressed out about it.  I mostly tidied up a week's worth of daily clutter and swept our one hardwood floor that shows all the dust bunnies, dog prints, and crumbs.

I have several go-to meals I pull out of my hat that are easy to put together and still make a good impression.  Homemade pizzas are a big winner~especially if you ask the kids to help scoop the sauce and decorate the pies.  A Mexican burrito or tostado bar is another.  This is the one I did today as I came across this great recipe for a Mexican-inspired quinoa dish from Damn Delicious.  I woke up early yesterday morning and made the quinoa dish so it would be ready and I'd only have to reheat it.

(Sarah Prineas, Maribeth Boelts, and Jill Esbaum)

I spent my day at the public library for a book festival.  We had an amazing time.  There were book characters, yoga story time, music, drama, and three Iowa authors.  This was the first festival and I think a few things we could do differently but in general it was a good time for all.  Groovy Girl had the opportunity to "be" Olivia and she LOVED it.  She hugged lots of small people, posed for photos, danced and generally played it up.  It was hot and sweaty in the costume yet at the end of the day she didn't want to take off the huge costume.

After the book festival it was easy for me to wash some greens, saute a pound of grass-fed beef with homemade taco seasonings, reheat the quinoa dish, and fill little bowls with sour cream, cilantro, cheese, and avocado.  Right before they arrived I heated corn tortillas on our griddle just enough to make them crunchy.  And the best part was cracking open a container of feta cheese to sprinkle over the top.  Mmm.  It was good, not too heavy, and we were able to eat within about 45 minutes so my friends could travel the 8 minutes to set up their equipment.  The most important thing was the lovely conversation around the table between my two children, my two young guests, and myself.  There was storytelling and laughing.  Entertainment bliss.