January 1, ladders and roe

lunchComing back to our 700sq feet home as a family of five after an expansive sunny vacation is like parachuting into a gray November day from a bright one in June. You’re happy to have your feet back on the ground, it feels familiar and cozy and yet…crowded. Certainly there is too much stuff, and look: we’ve brought more back with us! Why are the book shelves already full? one wonders with a stack of new books in-hand.

It’s a puzzle to find a spot for everything, and the trick is to take pleasure in the solving of it. 

Over Christmas, my sister-in-law Hannah got me into this book Super Nutrition for Babies. I’m really grateful because reading it has been a wake up call for habits in our house. I find that you begin parenting saying to yourself my children will never order off a kid’s menu, or I’ll never buy kraft mac & cheese by the dozen and then things just happen. It starts to feel normal to have bags of animal crackers, pretzels, bread, and frozen waffles filling half your cart, or you get demoralized when they don’t fall in love with your roasted root veggies with horseradish on first kiss.

In particular, I was often offering Alma the same easy finger food as Joan: tossing pasta and fruit on her tray while I prepared a vegetable, only to find her full once I offered it.

So, after highlighting half the book on my kindle, I plowed into this week in full pursuit of a protein diet for the whole family, slipping lots of hard boiled eggs in (“here, eat this egg while I make you a sandwich”), keeping a steady supply of baked sweet potatoes in the fridge, and offering cheese or cold chicken for snacks. I made my first very tiny batch of bone broth. I poked around our seafood section for salmon roe for Alma, and I realized they sell white anchovies, a very mild and tasty fish, preserved in oil and vinegar, that all three girls love. I had never noticed it! I pestered our butcher counter and learned they tuck (incredibly cheap) frozen lamb liver and heart in nearly hidden spot in the freezer aisle.

I’m very glad to be shifting habits around in the pantry and refrigerator. These types of things are always followed by a briefly higher grocery bill, packing the wrong snacks, and lots more mental work. I’m trying to take it slowly and not be disappointed when change doesn’t come about with brilliant success. For instance, several times this week Lux ate nothing out of her lunch but the raw veggies I sent–all of the proteins (chopped chicken, container of yogurt) didn’t appeal to her by the lunch hour. 

Upon reflection, nourishing this family is probably THE hardest job I do. I’m often amazed at how much time it takes to plan, prep, feed, and clean up. Other times I realize how important it is, and try to take up my pantrykeeper mantle boldly. 

joan_swing

A rope ladder for Christmas, technically for Joan, but enjoyed by all three girls. Most of Joan’s play is imagination-based, she could pack a covered wagon full of salvaged post-it notes and beaded necklaces before you could say “cholera”, so it’s nice to have simple (mess-free) toys that facilitate her adventures as well.

Squash gratin

kale_gratin

My friend Jenny dropped off this dish after Alma was born and I’ve made it a few times since then. It looks very innocent in the pan but then is dynamite once you begin to experience it. Much like a baby, really.

I could be posting about pink rhubarb or pale green asparagus or blanch white parsnips or some other spritely spring vegetable; but I’m still in hardy-winter-veggie mode. Kale and squash! You could accidentally drop these troopers down a flight of stairs before cooking and they’d be fine, if not improved by the bruising.

Jenny got the recipe from the blog Alexandra’s Kitchen but she adds roasted butternut squash to it. This is an extra step that totally pays off in flavor. I’m becoming one of those grown ups whose eyes widen in pleasure at the sight of caramelized squash (the ticket to a faint caramelizing is not to toss them when they are roasting).

It reheats beautifully in the microwave and I love the idea to line the pan with parchment. I’d never done that with a casserole–it makes it easy to move the leftovers to a new dish.

kale_gratin

squash gratin

3/4 lb pasta penne or whatever (I use 1lb–the whole bag)

4 Tbsp butter

1/4 cup Flour

2 cups Milk

2 cups water

3 cups butternut squash cubes (I peel and chop up a whole squash)

1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

black pepper

8oz kale stems removed and chopped

1.5 cups grated parmesan

1 cup fontina or mozzarella diced into cubes

Preheat oven to 425. Roast squash cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper for 15-20 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a tbsp of salt. Boil pasta for two minutes less than the box’s suggested al dente time. Drain, do not rinse, set aside.

Melt 4Tbsp butter over medium high heat in a medium saucepan. Add flour, whisking constantly for one minute. Add milk and water, whisking to remove any of the flour-butter mixture from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer. Add 1 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until mixture thickens for 20 minutes or less. Remove from heat.

Chop kale into small pieces. Toss pasta with the bechamel sauce and grated parmesan. Fold in kale and squash.

Line pan with parchment paper and spread pasta on top. Distribute cubed mozzarella on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden.

 

 

cookie cakes with the girls

“just a fun thing” is my new mantra for kitchen adventures. Just a fun thing to attempt dried grapefruit slices for ornaments (so far, so failed). Just a fun thing to want to make popcorn garlands but realize that involves needles, and end up just eating the popcorn instead.

But Molly Yeh is one of my internet heroes–her posts, her very approach to baking gives me so much JOY to follow. I was delighted when I realized I had the ingredients and circle cutters on hand for her sugar cookie mini cakes. And MAN is that a good sugar cookie recipe she’s got there.

Because I wanted to bring one cake to a neighbor gal turning two-years-old, and another cake to a friend-floral-party, I let the girls cut out all their own circles and decorate them with their own approach. I did not show them photos of what we were going for, woah no. Then I did mine. I typically give them all our supplies and booty and let them take over entirely, but it worked to split up the kitchen by party lines this time (minimalism v. Never Enough Sugar Pearls).

“You’re just doing white frosting mom?” Lux asked with genuine concern for my outcome. But then when I was done, she loved them and complimented me by running for her camera and taking twenty photos of the cake from the exact same angle. I returned the courtesy to her pink extravaganza.

And Joe made us all matchstick flags, hooray.

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a few supplies: round cutter set, Wilton sugar pearls in gold, Wilton pearlized sugar in gold.

 

October snaps

ginger_snaps

I have not had one daytime sitter for several weeks, thus no posts lately. (Tempted to delete that, because who cares, but it’s important to keep it real for those of you who never get breaks and wonder how you feel so brain dead!) Half of me thinks find a new sitter immediately! And half of me just doesn’t mind. I mind in context of “other things I want to get done” but I don’t mind when I look back on my day with them.

September finished up summer for us–a few more beach days, last ice cream adventures and outdoor picnics–and now October: “the golden hour of the clock of the year,” as I heard it beautifully described in this poem the other day.

We have begun a few school-like activities. I still hesitate to use “homeschool” as she’s only 4, but sometimes it is just easier to label things, isn’t it?

We have a math-games class, her same ballet class (with *all* 4-year-olds now–apparently a game changer for the attention span of the group), and a wood shop class, which I look forward to finding out if it works at all. She may reject it. It’s a big deal to me that Lux likes the classes and looks forward to them. I’m pretty wimpy about pushing things she doesn’t like and I would drop out if she wasn’t enthusiastic. Fortunately she loves everything so far.

These classes are funny because they are drop off, so you only get the review you get. It’s like ordering take-out and instead of eating it, reading a yelp review of it. Last year, the only review Lux solemnly gave me after her first ballet class was, “We didn’t do any twirling at all.”

Something we do labeled distinctly with homeschool is the Friday program at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The kids troop around to see few pieces of art and then make a wonderful craft loosely based on what they discussed. The architecture of that building makes my mood soar, and I get to stare at the paintings for as long as they do, which is lovely.

I took a drive to the cheap area grocery store to stock up on pantry supplies and came upon a tub of non-hydrogenated shortening. It was complete news to me that this product exists! Aside from allowing some of us to dive back into recipes of our grandmother’s that have shortening in them, after reading Amazon reviews, I’ve learned it allows people with dairy allergies to bake well again. Pie crusts which I make with butter, for example, can be very successfully made with shortening.

So anyway I bought it and made several batches of chewy fragrant ginger snaps over the last week. I only had blackstrap molasses in the house (bought in a brave nutritional attempt to fix my constant iron anemia. Found in my pantry unopened, of course.) Using the unsulphered blackstrap instead of “baking” molasses definitely makes it taste more molassas-y, but all batches have been eaten with gusto by Joe and the girls nonetheless.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but in the final step before the oven, kids love to be the ones to roll the balls of dough in the granulated sugar.

Grandma Agnes’ Ginger Snaps

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

2 t baking soda

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients in order given and chill. I mixed with a spoon, and then my hands, with great results. I wrapped mine up in saran wrap and chilled for about 40 minutes. Shape into 1 inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar and place on a greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

 

Orzo pasta salad

chopping turmericorzo pastasalad

Here’s a pasta salad I just love. I make it for moms with new babies (to go with a bag of marinated steak, and cake), and I always make two batches so we can have some at home. Something about using turmeric to dye the orzo makes it taste more exotic, and the triple salty punch of feta, olives, and capers is divine. You can eat bowls of this, by yourself, for several days.

It doesn’t exactly double well, better to have two separate bowls going as you chop things up.

Orzo and Feta with Lemon-Caper Dressing and Kalamata Olives from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 pound orzo

 

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup finely minced fresh parsley (this part takes forever but it’s worth it)

1/8 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon capers, drained

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 cup pitted, roughly chopped Kalamata olives

1 cup crumble feta cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the turmeric, and then add the orzo. Cook according to directions for al dente. Drain the orzo, rinse it in cold water. Set aside.

In a bowl large enough to hold the orzo, make a dressing by blending the olive oil, pepper, salt, parsley, lemon juice, capers, and sugar. Add the cooked orzo to the dressing, and combine. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and olives. Carefully toss in the feta cheese, mixing lightly, so the feta stays in nice pieces.

 

 

 

Miso kale dressing

zingy kale salad

Even though I’m proud of the boring (and scary?) fact that we have survived 10+ days on one grocery trip, I have been so excited to get more kale in the fridge so I could eat this salad again. So zingy and sweet with miso humming along underneath—it has my favorite flavors! I discovered this recipe from Tim at Lottie + Doof, who wrote about for kale chips.

When I was in the process of making the kale chips, I fell in love with the dressing on the fresh kale. So I skipped the chips part the next few times. Sold. Winner. Dinner.

Even though this looks a little bit like a “massaged kale ” recipe, the type where you rub the dressing into the salad and it tastes better every day from then on, I actually think this tastes best in the first 4-12 hours. I didn’t love it as much 24 hours later.

Sesame Miso Kale Dressing ( from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones.)

  • one bunch kale
  • 1 teaspoon miso paste*
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Chop up your kale as finely as you have time to; bite size pieces is best. Pour all the dressing ingredients in a bottle, screw on the lid, and shake them up. Pour and toss with your hands.

* If you are in Massachusetts, or have a Whole Foods, you might be able to buy the delicious local South River Miso miso.

yum lately

red_beans

Red beans & rice with chorizo and a bit of ham. Wish I’d doubled this number. We got to eat it for a couple days, but I could have eaten it for a week!

biscuits

You know your baking powder is old when…your cream biscuits turn out all slumpy like this. They are so irresistible anyway though. Joan eats the dough, Lux helps me cut them out.

almond_date_milk cold_brew

Almond macadamia date milk. I’ll just quote Noelle because she said it so well I thought of her words the whole time: so creamy, with a hint of brown butter from the macadamia nuts, and a caramelized sugar note from the dates.

strawberry dream cream

strawberries_1browsingstrawberries_6strawberries_5strawberries_4strawberris_3strawberries_2

Strawberries were in season when we were in California, and this coast is now enjoying that fact by way of sumptuous bright red discounted California strawberries in our grocery stores. I let Lux pick a recipe out of the Simply in Season Children’s Cookbook for us to make together. That book’s a good one–a big spiral bound thing with bright photos. Within it, all the recipes are organized by what’s in season. She picked strawberry dream cream, a delicious spring frenzy that ends up tasting like ice cream but does not involve an ice cream maker.

strawberry dream cream, 

  • 3 cups of mashed strawberries
  • 2 cups whipping cream beaten until soft peaks formed
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 pinch of salt

Add everything, including the mashed strawberries, to the whipped cream and beat with an electric beater. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13″ pan. Freeze for three hours. Remove from freezer, scoop back into the bowl and beat again until smooth, but not melted. Distribute into popsicle molds, or bowls and freeze for another three hours.

* I didn’t see a lot of consistency change between the two freezings & mixing, so I think you could experimentally skip the last step. We kept ours uncovered in the freezer, in small ramekins, for up to a week and tasted delicious throughout the time.

kid-friendly crinkle knifesimply in season children’s cookbook

 

notes on weaning, eating young

weaning

What to say about feeding your young before they can masticate for themselves with chomp and gusto? What’s on the line for you, after all? The grace with which you approach meal times. The economy you manage in your pantry. The pleasure you might once have taken in a tidy kitchen. The belief you like to hold that your children are growing well, taking part, and developing a food fervor that will someday match your own.

Joan is not buying the whole milk theory. I always forget this is what hovers behind weaning–first wean, then find out they want you to serve what feels like gallons of whole milk to supplement the calories. Sniff sniff what’s this? says the baby. Cow’s milk? No thank you.

Lux is digging the baby oatmeal even more than Joan. So I find myself offering vitamin-enriched-gruel at all hours of the day, some kind of grey-hued comfort food. She’s even started asking that I not “mix it up.” So she can see “all the parts.” Thus I give her a bowl of the parts, parts being: powder, gruel, watery gruel. It’s like–would you like oatmeal with bananas, heavy cream and a dash of maple syrup, or watery gruel? Watery gruel please! Thank you.

In moments of desperation with a grouchy baby I pull out thick plastic bags of frozen blueberries or peas. I put these frozen pebbles in front of her and she grasps at them eagerly, munching through them and smearing bright blue on the table, the chair, her pants, my hair, and under our nails.

We go out for texmex. Joan sucks salt off the chips and then drops them to the floor, observing their fall from on high, like a benevolent god watching the progress of Spring across the earth. I dip into the bowl of guacamole and scoop spoonful after spoonful into her mouth. Joe taps his finger on a straw and traps droplets of Lux’s lemonade, then releases them in her mouth to buy us leisure time. This second child gets whatever she wants really.

I review my standbys almost daily, mulling in front of the refrigerator: lumps of sticky rice, spoonfuls of greek yogurt, shreds of steak, nubby piles of scrambled eggs, whole avocados, brocolli roasted till soft, thick peach slices, pink flecked strawberry puffs, mushy sweet potato bits, ground up meaty spaghetti sauce. I think I’ve got the options nailed this time around, but it’s the elemental stuff that’s much harder for me now: sit down with them. wait for them to open their mouths. if they don’t like something, don’t offer it again for awhile. respect your fellow diner. look at them as you feed them.

Joe invented a handy trick that always makes me think of a mama bird: take an apple, bite off a big chunk. Pluck the piece from your mouth and hand to any interested child in the vicinity, which is always both of them. Repeat at three minute intervals.

We break a raspberry popsicle into a bowl and let Joan pluck out the pieces. Lux and I made them, but I don’t remember how much sugar we put in. I briefly pretend to divide the tablespoon per ounce amount, like the back of a cereal box. Joan eats the whole thing with a shocked look on her face. Not from the sugar, I’m certain, but from the sensation of plinking tart, hot pink ice onto her tongue.

Brave are we warriors who strive forward into the smears, splats, whacks, and oacks (that last one is for all you Make Way for Ducklings readers).

Just for reference, I wrote the rather carefree Pintos with Lux when Lux was fourteen months old. She didn’t seem interested in food for a long time, so I didn’t bother with it until she was twelve months, much to the consternation of her pediatrician. Turned out fine and was much easier than early-introduction, in hindsight. 

The Orangette Reading

lilacs

photo from this morning. The lilacs in the city are in bloom!

It’s easy to add up the ways Molly has influenced my life because all of them are tangible and concrete. I make the oatcake recipe she borrowed from 3191 Miles Apart for many play dates, always to accolades. Her writing introduced me to The Breakfast Book, the now-most bespattered cookbook on my shelf, the foundation of many cozy mornings. Her blog introduced me to my now-internet friend Andrea of Book-Scout, the blonde bookworm of Portland.

I was so happy to be in a basement in Wellesley last night, listening to Molly talk about her life. Happy to have a new book in my hands, full of stories of food and experimenting and taking risks for dreams. Happy to leave with my friends and walk next door to share crusty bread and pink cocktails and split a butterscotch budino at the end.

At the reading I spotted Jess Fechtor of Sweet Amandine, a food blog she writes from Cambridge. I’ve liked Jess’s writing for a long time, and it was treat to meet her in person. She was towing along her littlest newborn daughter and accompanied by her friend Andrew Janjigian (on twitter here), associate editor of Cook’s Illustrated and pizza-dough-expert. It just so happened that I’ve had several concerns the last few times I made pizza, namely: 1/ does parchment paper placed on top of my pizza stone negate the crisping power of the stone? 2/ Is the new baking steel now more legit than the long-favored baking stone? These questions jumped to the front of my mind when Andrew mentioned he occasionally teaches pizza-making classes out of his apartment! I was delighted he allowed me to corner him for a few minutes with pedestrian-sometimes-baker concerns. Please forgive me for finishing up this long tangent, but for those of you who also love homemade pizza: Andrew recommended getting a super peel to solve the depended-on-parchment problem, and verified that the baking steel was the real deal, not just a trend.

Anyway, there we were, waiting for Molly to sign our books, surrounded by more books, lined up next to people who were just as curious about the next food-book event in Wellesley: a book signing with Jeni from Jeni’s Ice Cream, talking about dough, and good writing. It was my ComicCon moment: the happy glory of these are my people and we are happy here.