Saturday, September 21, 2013

Spice up your Cooking!

So as promised, here are a few tips to energize your cooking.  Now, these aren’t “cooking” tips.  You can find a gazillion other sites that can tell you how to organize your cooking, make meals in advance and freeze them, cook in batches, etc. 


This is about how to spice up you ATTITUDE about cooking:

Buy cookbooks when you travel – When I was little I used to collect those little touristy spoons or thimbles when I traveled, you know, the useless little things that end up in a junk drawer somewhere?  Now I buy cookbooks.  There is something really special about buying a cookbook with local flavors and recipes (often stemming from the original settlers of that region).  If you can snag a local Jr. League one, even better!  So now whenever I pull one of those out, I also relive that particular vacation with people I love.

Pinterest – this is only for the brave and strong of heart.  You MUST NOT let yourself be misguided here.  Pinterest can incite horrible mommy guilt over all the amazing things that you are not doing for your children.  You must resist this.  You are looking for legitimate, practical cooking inspiration.

Cook naked – the ultimate risk-filled participation sport.  Double points if you are cooking bacon.

Sing while cooking – I had a roommate once who knew when I was singing I must be cooking.  She also knew that when I was belting out opera, it must be Italian food.  Even now when I’m chopping up fresh basil from my garden while noodles are boiling away a sudden belting of “O sole mio” is a sure indicator.

Pretend you are a cooking show host – this is my FAVORITE game to play while cooking.  When I’m really dragging I suddenly imagine myself as a cooking show host, and talk about what I’m doing, why, little food “tidbits”.  Really, I should be winning an Emmy for my work here.  Double points if you can convince yourself that you not only cook like Giada, but you look like her too  ;-)

When in doubt, add bacon.

Don't do too much at once - Serve a fancy meat with simple sides.  Or put all your time and money into an incredible side but serve a simple main dish.  Ok.  So this IS a bit of a cooking tip.  But this is also a warning - overextending yourself leads to burnout very quickly.

Pray over your food – something really undercuts all the mess and frustration if you pray for those who will be eating your food while you are putting it together.  It serves as a reminder of why you are doing this.  If that isn’t your style, at least cook with love.  You can taste it, I promise.  My husband will suddenly say in the middle of a meal, “I can taste the love in this.”  Somehow, they know.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Are you just cooking... or preparing a Meal?

A friend of mine had posted a question on a forum today, about how to make some easy but healthy snacks for her food-driven toddler. After a variety of suggestions (which she appreciated) she made a very interesting comment, “A big part is that cooking and baking I love...however I'm not used to doing it more than twice a day.”

Girl, I feel your pain.

Three years ago – literally THREE YEARS AGO – I was single and cooking for myself. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. My mother once asked me why I never became a chef and I told her it was because it was my artistic outlet and I wanted it to remain that way, not be something I “had to do” to make a living. I had the luxury of choosing when to cook. And that was about once a week. Most of the time I lived on sandwiches, or quick easy things like some chicken and… well, chicken. Sides were a waste of time. Unless you count a glass of wine as a side. But then I would break out with a Stilton Walnut Soup or roasted quail.

Go forward a year and I was cooking for myself and a husband. A year later, myself, a husband, and a child. I wanted to provide nutritious meals on a budget of both time and money. Meals became an endless cycle of trying to figure out what to cook – chicken and side, roast and side, pasta with whoknowswhat, etc. And just to be clear, my idea of a side is a salad of premixed greens, MAYBE cut up a tomato and a cuke just to make it look like I worked at it. And to add further insult to injury, I knew deep down I had little to complain about – lunches were “every man for himself” and my husband often makes breakfast for all of us.

But suddenly, I wasn’t just cooking for dinner. I had this little person who was wanting to eat half a dozen little “meals” a day. Not only that, but I had to keep track of them (that whole food allergy analysis thing, bummer). The energy drain was incredible. Cooking became a drudgery. I felt like I was spending all day in the kitchen. I felt like my food was endlessly dull and lifeless.

It changed, gradually. Children train us in the early days, not the other way around. I figured out her eating patterns and God blessed me with a child who will eat almost anything. But for many months my dinners remained… just food.

Move forward another year and I now have a husband, toddler, and a new baby. Cooking just seemed to become the ultimate impossibility. One day… something happened. I remembered what this was supposed to be about.

Nourishment. Nurturing. Health. Happiness.

Making dinner isn’t about cooking food. It’s about preparing a meal.

Read that again.

Making dinner isn’t about cooking food. It’s about preparing a meal. 

There is a big difference.

Anyone can scramble an egg in five minutes. Not everyone will realize that a few extra seconds (and very few cents can turn something to eat into something tasty, and beautiful, and healthy. That a dash of sea salt and a dollop of pesto can turn that egg into something amazing. Add a slice of tomato and put on a piece of whole grain bread and voila!

My kitchen has exploded recently. I’m not just cooking again, I’m creating. I’m working on my art. I’m recognizing that healthy begins and ends with what we eat but it’s not just about science. A meal nourishes the heart. I want my children to understand this. So if I spend all day in the kitchen, and it’s always a mess, that’s ok. I'm happier. Healthier. Which makes me a better mother.

Another friend of mine posted recently that she was about ready to give up on her own health journey, it was too hard to cook for a variety of palates and tastes.

Don’t. Don’t give up. A healthy body AND soul begins and ends with diet. Just keep saying that to yourself.

Next post I’ll put out some tips I’ve picked up in recent months on how to make things a little easier. :-)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Panko Promises

Isn't this BEAUTIFUL?!?!

This has panko breadcrumbs in it, which I’ve never used before and Holy Cookbook!  They.are.amazing.  Panko, where have you been all my life?  Now I want to look for recipes that use it and eat them EVERY DAY!

So easy too!  I got the original recipe from the September 2011 issue of Real Simple but tweaked it a bit for ease and budget.

Step 1:  Take out 1 cup of frozen peas to start thawing.  If you spread them out on a plate they will defrost faster than a small cup or bowl.

Step 2:  Toss ½ cup of Panko breadcrumbs with a teaspoon of lemon zest and 1 Tbsp of EEVO, dash of salt & pepper.  Mix it well and then put it in the oven at 350 for 4 minutes, stir around a bit, and then another 4 minutes.

Step 2: Start cooking a box of linguine.  When you drain it, reserve about a cup of the liquid.  You won’t need this much but good to have just in case.

Step 3:  Sautee ½ to 1 lb of little scallops in EEVO.  Season as you go with a dash of salt & pepper.  These will cook REALLY fast.  The key to shellfish is not to overcook them, and these don’t turn like shrimp so you want to be careful not to overdo it.

Step 4.  Get a pot or a large saucepan (see pic below) and 3-4 TBsp of unsalted butter.  Melt and stir constantly until golden.  This is going to be your sauce.  Toss in the pasta, peas (if they aren’t done defrosting, you can stick them in the pasta water for a minute or two), scallops, a handful of chopped parsley,  a bit more salt to taste, about ¼ cup of the pasta water.  You might want to add more of the water depending on preference.  Remember the breadcrumbs?  Toss them in last, stir the pasta around a bit.  Feel free to drizzle in some more EEVO if you want.  Done!

It sounds like a lot reading this but really it’s not.  It was easy, fast and SO DELICIOUS.  It tasted like a restaurant meal.  I served it in the final post I cooked it in, family style.  Serve with a nice chilled Sauvignon Blanc (Australia makes some fantastic ones).

Friday, September 13, 2013

Self Pointing the Avocado

I just avocado’d myself…

If you are confused by that opening, I’m referring to a rather brilliant and hilarious piece written by HuffPuff blogger Glennon Melton.  While I highly recommend reading it for yourself here, the basic gist is a mother recognizing that when people do seemingly amazing things for their children, they actually aren’t doing it to spite you.  They really are doing it for their children (at least in most cases).  So just chill out, we all have our virtues and faults as parents.

Yesterday I had an avocado moment, but ironically, it was for doing something good for my own child.  Picture this – art class for 2-5 year olds.  Lots of red clay, lots of mess, lots of fun – genuinely good times.  In the middle of it all, there was a break that involved reading a story and … Snack Time.  I dread public Snack Times.  This is purely self-imposed because I’m rather strict about what my child eats.  Call me crazy, but I don’t need my Toddler Tornado to transition from a whirling dervish into a F5.  I also want her to maintain some semblance of lifelong health.  So I fight to keep sugar at a minimum and no processed phoods (phood = phony food), among other things.  But Snack Time seem to have been created specifically for the purpose of defying my food ideals.

And yes, there it was… fruit punch and…wait for it.. peanut butter crackers.

Ok I love peanut butter and I have no objections for it for my own child.  But my first thought was, “Are you people insane?!  Peanut butter is like playing Russian roulette with children these days.”  Then I sat fascinated, waiting for the first parent to freak out.

No one did.  Every child sat there eating quite gleefully.  Even the peanut butter.  The one parent that was silently freaking out?  ME…because I had brought my child’s own snack. 

When asked if my Tornado wanted a snack, I heard myself babbling incoherently, “Oh no thanks, I brought her own snack.  Because… because… ha ha ha, yeah I’m ‘that’ parent.  That one people dread.  Ha ha ha….”  * voice trails off *

Here I was, judging myself for bring a healthy snack for my own child. To be fair, a friend of mine brought a snack for her child too so I wasn’t totally alone here.  She just had the gumption not to apologize for it.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how often I’m apologizing for looking out for my child’s health.  Look, I’m not the perfect parent.  I’m failing gloriously in other areas, but when it comes to her health, I’m doing pretty well, and I should never apologize for it.  But with all the “mommy wars” pacifism going on (which has some excellent points to be made) I’m realizing that those of us who are working hard at being the very best parent we can be can be just as easily made the villain.  We feel constantly feel the need to justify ourselves for actually doing something GOOD for our children.  In fact, we probably judge ourselves harder than anyone else.

So yeah, I’m bringing my own snack for child events so she doesn’t eat phood and who knows what else…you gotta problem with that?  ;-) 

Pssst…it was a really yummy snack by the way… I liked it too.  You can find it here.  I made it with honey.  Without the chocolate <wink>.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Can we have a do-over?

I’m a hopeless blogger who goes through spurts of industry before life takes over. Oh well. Once more unto the breach dear friends!

There have been a LOT of changes since I last blogged. Baby #2 (another girl), we are now sans chickens OR pets of any kind. The only other time in my life where I’ve not had an animal of some sort was the year and a half I lived in the dorms at college. I confess it’s actually really nice. Children are basically like high-maintenance pets so they are enough for now. Someday I’ll have dogs and chickens (and who knows what else) again, but it’s just not the season for it in life, and I’m actually ok with that. My mother would be proud ;-) Maybe now I can actually start some herb gardens without chickens or dogs trying to destroy everything I attempt to grow!

Farmers Market Day! All this for $10, check it out!

 I’m especially thrilled over these pears. If I tried to eat all local I would rarely get to eat any fruit beyond melons, citrus, and tomatoes. So these are especially treasured. I forgot the name but they are a pretty hard, crisp pear without a lot of sweetness when raw, but once cooked the sweetness comes forth. They’ll be put into Monday’s oatmeal bake.  YUM!