Friday, November 23, 2007

Reacquainted with an old friend

When I had my first baby 4 years ago, my attention and full devotion was understandably focused on him. His first year of life included moving twice, the start of a new job for me, and so many other significant milestones for our family. When we moved into our current home, many of my personal things were packed away and more or less forgotten. Years of accumulated stuff from fashion school, knitting and quilting classes and a lifelong interest in fabrics, sewing and art supplies were boxed up and stored in the dark corners of our basement. Another pregnancy arrived, and my stuff recessed even deeper into those dark corners.

Life with our little boys has been a gift. They are wonderful little creatures who have enriched our lives in so many ways. But it has also been a challenge finding balance and harmony between the lives we knew before they arrived and after. They are less than 2 years apart, and it was an adjustment to say the least. Establishing routines has finally started to produce some positive results, and the fact that our little one goes to sleep early and independently, has made a difference of immeasurable proportions. Now that our baby is approaching the age of two, we are finding ourselves with more time to breathe again. More time to think. More time to catch up on things.

Most of the catching up has been just getting organized around the house. It feels so nice to do that for a change and leaves us with some nights now to watch a movie together or read a book. Some nights we just catch up on conversation- adult conversation! During this period of new found freedom (limited doses of it, of course), I have rediscovered much.

Not only did I rediscover my trusty sewing machine, but also my love of creative and beautiful things which don’t directly involve me as a mom, wife or career person. I uncovered more than just my ‘stuff’ in the basement. I uncovered my old interests and I discovered me again.

Although I would never have the confidence to call myself an artist, I love being creative and always have. I love the endless possibilities that I feel when I stare at a blank piece of paper, or a small scrap of fabric. I love shapes & colours. I love fabrics and yarns. I can spend hours flipping through a magazine or art book reveling at what creative minds can achieve. Music and art are where my heart has always been. That outlet has been missing in my life for quite awhile now, but I’m happy to say rediscovered. I am not exactly sure where it will take me yet. But for right now, the possibilities are endless and lifting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Giving Thanks, again.

We are usually very lucky at holiday time to have a meal with my parents and a meal with my in laws. In fact, I've never hosted a dinner myself because of this. That means I am never left with any of the delicious leftovers one hopes for after Thanksgiving or Christmas. My Mom usually sends over a care package, but my mother in law is a little more conservative with the offering. She is a very generous woman, but she hesitates to offer food that is left over in fear of offending us. It's hardly offensive to be given leftovers in my opinion, but it's been hard to get that message across as I am quite a polite dinner guest and not one to ask for much.

This year, I overcame my usual politeness and expressed my appreciation for leftovers. Especially after tasting her phenomenal ham. As I puttered around the kitchen after dinner, trying to help tidy things up, I finally came right out and asked her what she was planning on doing with them all. I felt slightly rude, but I did it in the most delicate way (and all the while knowing she is not a fan of leftovers and they usually get tossed in the bin-gasp!)
Of course she was thrilled to pack up over 2 pounds of her thinly sliced ham and a small package of turkey meat.

Where Glen's family is not quite fond of leftovers or the reincarnation of foods, my family is. I remember my mother making scalloped potatoes with ham, turkey turnovers, hot turkey sandwiches and more. I actually liked those dishes more than the turkey dinners themselves. In our house, nothing was ever tossed away. It usually just morphed into something even better.

I meant to make some dinners with the leftovers the week following our Thanksgiving dinner, but it was a hectic time so I just froze my goodie bag. Until this weekend, that is.
I turned to Nigella Lawson's Feast with the vague memory of Pasta with ham and peas. I found it in the Kids' Feast chapter and got busy.

It was possibly the easiest pasta dish ever. It was creamy and delicious and the smoky ham was perfect in it. The recipe is here.

I made a huge bowl of salad to go with the pasta. It was kind of like an antipasto platter thrown in a bowl with red leaf lettuce. I picked up some Genoa Salami from the Italian deli and had it cut in one thick slice, about half an inch thick. I cut it into cubes and added it to the bowl with some cubed caciocavallo cheese, white kidney beans, chopped tomatoes and made a red wine vinaigrette. Yum.

I still have turkey in the freezer and this Thanksgiving may just keep giving and giving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Express Mornings

Through the last few years, my cookbook collection has grown at a fast paced rate. It all started with Nigella Bites just after I got married (7 years ago). Since then, many others have stood their ground on my kitchen counter, but Nigella has always remained a favorite.
When I got Nigella Express a month or so ago, it was like being re-aquainted with an old friend.
The chapter headings were cutely named, the recipes enticing and her writing made it hard to put down.
I was immediately drawn to the breakfast section and made a batch of the Homemade Instant Pancakes. It seemed like such a little thing, but premixing the dry ingredients really speeds things up for me and we've had homemade pancakes every weekend since. Although we usually have them with sliced bananas and maple syrup, this last batch was made along with Nigella's blueberries simmered in maple syrup. You can find the recipes here.Since we were going all out anyways, we added bacon and a refreshing drink I recently enjoyed at a brunch in Yorkville called a Morning Glory. We had a small bottle of Asti and combined it with some Orange Juice. It felt a little indulgent, but we thought we'd celebrate the fact that it was the weekend.As simpler and less decadent day I made the Green Eggs and Ham. It was a crepe batter mixed with pesto and then folded with some sliced ham. I made roll ups for the boys with them and they picked them up with their hands and gobbled them up.

Now, this one is probably best suited as a dessert later in the day, but we decided to have the Donut French Toast for brunch one weekend too. The recipe is here and I urge you to try this one at any time of the day.

As you can see, we've been starting our days off right on the weekends. Weekdays are a whole other story that involve a lot of running and eating on the go or at my desk at work.

I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so bad

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

Ever since Mara posted about her favorite things, this song has been swirling around in my head. I love the movie The Sound of Music, and Julie Andrew's sure knows how to see the bright side of life jumping from the nunnery to the Von Trap residence.

As I puttered around the kitchen early on Sunday morning, I started to look around and take notice of all of my favorite things too. Here are some of them:

My cookbook holder. This was a gift from my mother in law, and I love it mostly because of the page holders.

Not only do I love mugs, tea cups & saucers, and espresso cups (see below), but I love birds, feathers and eggs. I also love lidded mugs and these ones happen to have eggs on top.
Cookie Cutters! These are just a few of my favorite ones including the newest baby (top left corner) all the way from Finland, thanks to Annika.
This is my favorite dish towel and Cranberry colored gratin dish. It is the perfect size to make dips, which are always welcome in my house, as well as a croissant bread pudding for two.
Part of my everyday china are these tiny espresso cups. They are Denby stonewear, so I can also bake tiny little chocolate cakes in them. Alongside is my favorite stovetop espresso maker.
This is my favorite flower pot. It looks old and worn and I love the blue pattern. It usually sits on my window sill above my sink.

These colorful little dessert plates were a find at Home Sense. I love that they are all different, and meant to be slightly bumpy and irregular.

I didn't have to look too far or deep into cabinets to find my favorite things. It seems I keep them mostly where I can see them which makes perfect sense.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Good and Bad of Pureeing

In an attempt to get more vegetables into my kids, I have joined the brigade of pureeing parents. I was seduced by Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious even before she appeared on Oprah. On my lunch hour, I went to the bookstore for a mental break and saw a pile of the pretty pink retro style books and loved the drawings and ideas. I went back to my desk, checked out her website and noticed she was about to embark on a publicity tour to promote the new book. I caught her on Oprah and was convinced I needed this book.I was intrigued, inspired and determined to get more vegetables into my kids. James (not quite 2) still eats just about anything thrown on his plate, but Camden (almost 4) is another story. He used to eat any and everything. And if you ask him what his favorite food is, he will honestly tell you 'Porridge', which is great. He likes to eat healthy foods but has developed some kind of inexplicable aversion to vegetables. He can spot a green pea in the sauciest of stews or soups from a mile away. It is infuriating.

I dived into the book and read it cover to cover. I loved the format, even though the principles have been done probably since the beginning of time. All parents at one time or another try to hide vegetables during phases when their little ones boycot them. But the presentation was great. Pretty drawings, helpful strategies and tips, and great ideas I never thought of. I set out on a mission and started to puree.I began with sweet potatoes, butternut squash and cauliflower. It didn't really take that long and it made sense to do a few at one time while I had all the equipment out. I made the mozzarella sticks (with cauliflower), and they were devoured so quickly by everyone that I didn't get a photo. I then moved on to a banana bread (also with cauliflower) which wasn't as successful. In fact, as soon as I took it out of the oven, the cauliflower smell overpowered the usual sweet and pleasant banana smell. I anticipated a small problem.

Camden occasionally has breakfast with his older cousin Madeleine at my sister's house and on one particular day I sent some over for them. It all came back in a tupperware, barely touched. Hmmm. I then sent a huge piece over to my other sister's house for James and his little cousin, Mia. My sister called and said they both spit it out. Now, this was surprising considering these two adore their vegetables. I went home and attempted to try it myself. I opened up the container and the smell had actually become so overpowering at this point, I couldn't even manage one bite. I actually felt guilty for trying to make the kids injest this one.

On a more positive note, I also made the Frozen yogurt popsicles. I pureed some mixed berries with plain yogurt and some powdered sugar, popped them in the deep freeze for a few hours and unmolded them for an after dinner treat. These were much more warmly received than the banana bread. They were delicious and I will try them again with some different fruits.

There are a few more recipes I have tagged to try soon. I plan on using the butternut squash and sweet potato for the chicken nuggets and turkey burgers soon. I have concluded though that banana bread is good enough on its' own and the addition of cauliflower is just not right. I think the kids will be happy with that.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Cold Comforts

The weather has turned colder and the leaves have started to fall. Coming home at the end of a long work day and commute is a great feeling. Although there isn't much time for hearty soups, stews or braised meats most night's, I did manage to make chili after work.
Normally I wouldn't have time for that either- all the chopping of carrots, celery, peppers and onions, that is. But I turned to Nigella Express and tried her recipe for Quick Chili. I was not expecting much to be perfectly honest. With a bottle of tomato pasta sauce, some Heintz sweet chili sauce and some spices, what could I expect? I was pleasantly surprised. It wouldn't replace my regular chili recipe on a weekend, but it makes a great midweek supper if you're in a rush. Here it is over some rice and with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese.

The night before, I had some extra time and was inspired to finally try Laurie Colwin's recipe for Gingerbread from the book Home Cooking. Gingerbread is a sacred entity in our house, and I've been happy with my mother in laws version for years. Norma's gingerbread is a loaf, and quite a dense one too. But it is spicy and moist and layered with a thick blanket of icing and a single glace cherry. You can pick it up and eat it with your hands. It's pretty good. But Laurie Colwin is quite convincing and her version beckoned me to try it.

The recipe is from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking. Here is the recipe:
1 Stick of Butter
1/2 Cup of Light OR Dark Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Molasses
2 Eggs
1 1/2 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 generous TBSP Ground Ginger
1 tsp cinnamon1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp Lemon Brandy OR Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
1. Cream 1 stick of butter with brown sugar. Beat until fluffy and add molasses.
2. Beat in eggs.
3. Add Flour, baking soda and ginger. Add cinnamon, cloves and allspice.
4. Add lemon brandy or vanilla. Then add buttermilk and turn batter into a buttered 9" tin.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for between 20 and 30 minutes. Test with a toothpick and cool on a rack.
For the icing, she suggests Chocolate or Lemon.
Chocolate Icing
1. Cream 1/2 stick of butter. When fluffy add 4 TBSP of unsweetened cocoa.
2. If you have some, add 1 tsp of vanilla brandy or vanilla extract. Then add about a cup of powdered sugar, a little at a time, until you get the consistency you want.
If you prefer the lemon icing, substitute for the cocoa the zest of one big lemon, one tsp of lemon brandy 9 (or extract) and 1 TBSP of lemon juice, and proceed as in chocolate icing.

Above is a nice thick slice which is really different than Norma's version. It was more cakey and light, but still had all the spiciness we love. I topped it with her lemon icing and had a slice almost every night this week. It's so good that I might even be brave enough to serve it to my Scottish gingerbread loving in laws. Imagine that!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Yayia, OPA!

When I first started working full time, it was on the Danforth in the heart of Greektown. I think I stayed in that job as long as I did because of the food, mainly. I love Greek food. I don't know what's not to love about it. The dips and appetizers alone are enough to satisfy me.

Now that my sister Julie is watching our little guy, he is getting to taste some of the the real authentic stuff. Julie makes a few Greek dishes and Harry's Mom Effie is always bringing good stuff over for the kids. Spanakopita, bean dishes, stuffed peppers and tomatoes and so much more. Here is my very well fed James with his Greek goddess Mia.

When I got Tessa Kiros's book Falling Cloudberries, I was immediately struck by the chapters on Cyprus & Greece. Finally, I had some of the recipes for dishes I had only sampled on Effie's buffet table. Those melt in your mouth butter beans with tomatoes, I found the recipe in this book. Bougatsa, also in this book. Stuffed vegetables, spinach pies, keftedes, loukoumades, all in this book. I haven't made them all yet, but I've started.

This weekend I made a delicious one I know I will repeat over and over. Leg of Lamb with Oregano and Lemon.
So simple, but perfect. With it, we had a Greek Salad, Tzatziki and some roasted carrots.

Afterwards, we slurped on Yogurt Popsicles with pureed berries inspired by Deceptively Delicious.
It is kind of cold weather for popsicles, but after that mediteranean feast, it worked.
And luckily, I had some leftovers to send over for Mia and James the next day.