Thursday, March 18, 2010

Debi: Cornbread and Butter Beans

This is our favorite song at home these days:

Cornbread and butter beans, and you across the table
Eating beans and making love as long as I am able
Hoeing corn and cotton too, and when the day is over
Ride a mule, then cut the fool and love again all over

It's a great song, old as dirt probably, and a perfect encapsulation of how we want to live. Of course, we aren't farmers -- far from it; we are city mice! -- but the idea that you can sum life up as a series of meals eaten together and sessions of love surrounding some honest work, well, that's just perfect.

Because we've been singing this obsessively since the new Carolina Chocolate Drops CD came out, I decided to try MAKING the very meal in the song. I am not all that good at cornbread, but using Stori's recipe, it came out pretty good! The butterbeans were a different story. David doesn't love beans like the kids and I do, so they had to be part of something bigger. We tried a butterbean stew, with carrots and leeks and mushrooms and peanut butter and soy sauce. It wasn't half-bad!

However, the cornbread was only a minor hit. Everyone had some, but there was a good half-pan left over. As a result, we had to find something to do with it before it dried out and became squirrel food in our alley garbage can. I did some google searching, and discovered this wonderful recipe for fried cornbread with blueberries. Wow. MAKE THIS NOW, PEOPLE.

So, THANK YOU, Stori, for getting that cornbread made over here. It was even better the next morning.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stori: Great minds....

It never ceases to amaze me how two women that live so far apart from each other and have never met in person can be connected by so many invisible hair thin threads.

Tonight we are having leftovers for supper. This happens about once a week, just to clean out the fridge, use up what foods we didn't finish at any particular supper, and it gives me a night off from cooking. Tonight we are having ham and pinto beans, spaghetti, and last night's moose stew. Along with ham n' beans and stew, I always serve cornbread. To not make cornbread would be the same as not frosting a chocolate cake. Sure it would still be good, but not as good as it should be. Since we already finished off the first round of cornbread, I have another batch in the oven baking right now.

After setting it to bake, I sit down at the computer to get my facebook fix only to find a post from Debi. She made my cornbread recipe for supper, along with some butter beans. She even baked it in a cast iron skillet. I'll need to remember to blog about my love affair with cast iron and maybe show a pic or 12 of my cast iron collection.

Not only does the fact that are we both feeding our families cornbread tonight connect us, but a secret ingredient in my moose stew does also. A couple years ago, Debi was sharing with me her recipe for "The Soup" (see previous blog entry) when she mentioned Garam Marsala. "Wait a minute," I stopped her. "What in the hell is Garam Marsala?" She goes to explain that it's a combination of spices based in Indian food that they use a lot in curries. Since I have never eaten a curry, I still had no idea what she was talking about. Along comes the holidays and in my very special Debi package I find it! This beautiful rust colored powder. It almost smells chili peppery, but also kinda cinnamon-y. In her explanation about the spice, she mentioned it's used a lot in soups. Ok, I can deal with that. The very next time I made moose stew, I took the plunge and added it in. The mixture of cubed moose, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, corn, and green beans blended so perfectly with the spice, it can never be left out again. Whenever I have the chance to share the stew with friends, they always comment on that one delicious thing they just can't figure out. I tell them it's Debi. She is there with me in my kitchen every single time from the start of the stew, to the serving. I can almost hear her laugh. Although I know she would never eat my stew (moose meat and vegans aren't very good friends) she's with me none the less.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Stori : out of my comfort zone

I am not proud to say that I'm one of the pickiest eaters on the planet. I always have been, probably always will be. My mom likes to joke (but in a serious way) about how growing up the only food I ever actually ate was cheese and sugar. As I've grown older, I've increased my food list quite a bit, but probably not as big as it should be.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from me is my husband, Marc. That man will eat anything! The only food I've found he won't eat and enjoy is Swiss chard. He adventurous food spirit makes him a blast to cook for. Any experimental recipe I can throw at him will receive completely honest feedback. Good or bad.

A couple weeks ago someone in our family mentioned Reuben sandwiches. Marc mentioned how much he loves them. Now I am one of those finicky people that just KNOWS that I won't like something, so I will not ever try it. My mom is the same way. Yogurt has never touched that woman's lips because she just can't stand the thought of it. Corned beef and sauerkraut fall into that category. A couple days after the Reuben conversation, we seen a show on Food Network about corned beef. All the pieces seemed to fall in place yesterday when I went to the grocery store and found a cooler of corned beef brisket. I love to surprise Marc with new food he loves so I figured why not?

That leaves me standing in my kitchen looking at 2 jars of German sauerkraut, a package of Swiss cheese, a loaf of dark rye bread, and a corned beef brisket. There is not a single ingredient that I find appealing. Now what the heck do I do with it? I have a hard time cooking foods that I don't enjoy eating, but I'm willing to try anything.

The corned beef I could figure out on my own. Slow cooking seems to be the key to tender meat. I rinse the excess salt off the roast, wrap it in a tin foil pocket, add some liquid and pickling seasoning. Slow cook at 300* for about 3 hours. Approx. 1 hour per pound.

I now face the sauerkraut challenge. My mom worked in a German cafe when I was a little girl. The lady she worked for always cut the tartness of her kraut with applesauce. That just sounded too vague for me. So I turn to my resident German, Sylvia. My friend Sylvia moved to the US about 20 years ago from a small farming community in Germany. She has her own version of sauerkraut that she claims is fantastic. If any form of pickled/salted cabbage could be fantastic. Per her instructions, I drain and rinse (with water) the kraut in a colander. Using my hands, I squeeze out most of the remaining moisture from the kraut. Transfer to a big pot and cover, till floating, with water. Add 2-3 bay leaves, a couple whole cloves, and a couple tsp beef base. Bring to a boil then turn down heat and simmer for about an hour. Making sure to remove the cloves and bay leaves before serving.

The rest of the Reuben is pretty self explanatory. Butter the outside of the rye bread slices (like a grill cheese), place butter down on a hot griddle, layer with the Swiss cheese, kraut, and finished and sliced corned beef. Top with the other piece of buttered rye and toast.

It was a success! Both my dad and Marc kill a couple of these sandwiches. I forced myself, my mom, and my kids to try all the different ingredients. My mom actually likes kraut, so that part was easy for her. I tried without too much discomfort the corned beef. Salty, and almost jerky like. The kraut, however, about did my daughter and I in. I'm sure as far as sauerkraut goes, it was wonderful. To me, it was REPULSIVE!! Although I was very proud of myself for trying several new foods in one night, I can safely mark on my "never to eat again" list, Sauerkraut.

Debi: Making Things Last

This is a shot of my backyard picnic table during the summer, after a harvest of my herb garden. This was just the limit of what I could comfortably dry at one time -- possibly less than a third of what was available at the moment. On that table is spearmint, oregano, basil, anise hyssop, and an unnamed mint we've not been able to identify (though it sure is nice in tea). All except the basil were here when we moved in, and much of the oregano and mint has taken over large parts of the garden -- even the cracks in the cement patio. If you look in the middle of the right side of this photo, you'll see a patch of green growing along the fence. That's more spearmint. Sammi, my youngest, loves to chew it, and will regularly run over there while playing, just to get another bright leaf to pop in her mouth.

I didn't always know about herbs. When I was a little girl, the only herb I ever saw growing -- and is it really an herb, or is it an allium? -- was chives. My mother grew them in a little patch next to our back door, and they were also wonderful to snag and nibble on as we ran past. They made their way into salads and scrambled eggs and stir-fry dinners. Though my mom grew lots of vegetables in her garden, and our yard was home to an apple and a pear tree, the only ever fresh herb I had seen was dill, which she didn't grow. She bought it in super-pricey little plastic containers whenever it was time to make matzo-ball soup.

I just thought herbs had to be utilized dry, shaken from tiny little containers you bought in the cooking aisle at the grocery store.

Of course, I grew out of that knowledge when we started receiving a box from Angelic Organics several years ago. Herbs start arriving early, big bunches of green fronds and leaves and spiky things, and, thank heavens, instructions on how to use them. The first time I put fresh basil in my food, I could not believe I'd used dried for this long, thinking that it was good. Fresh mint was outrageously good, and made the most fragrant, refreshing iced tea I'd ever had. I'd never really used thyme before, hadn't known what it was good for, but sauteed with mushrooms, it was like magic.

However, you can't use huge bunches of fresh herbs all at once, usually, not before they lose their punch and their beautiful appearance. I had to learn to preserve them, and I'm still learning. The easiest thing to do is to dry them, and so, in summer, my kitchen becomes a witch's laboratory, bunches of things hanging from thumbtacks under every cabinet. I now have a beautiful collection of organic dried herbs: thyme, summer savory, basil, sage, parsley, oregano, dill, mint, anise hyssop, mint. Maybe it's just the work I put into them, but I feel like they taste better than those little vials from the grocery store. I know they make me smile when I shake them into our dinner.

With dried herbs, my favorite thing to do is include them in sauces. I use this basic roux recipe to mix into vegetables in a savory pie. Here's how we did it last night, mixed with cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, and leeks:

Basic Herbed Roux
2 tbsp margarine
4 tbsp flour
2 cups unsweetened soy milk
2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp dried summer savory
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp mustard powder
salt to taste

Melt the margarine in a saucepan and slowly add the flour, stirring all the time. Let the mixture get dark and toasted-smelling, then slowly whisk in the milk. Add the herbs and stir while bringing to a boil. Boil 5-7 minutes, stirring/whisking regularly to keep from burning on the bottom. Turn off the heat when it is at the perfect consistency.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Debi: The Soup

You may think "The Soup" is a television show that wraps up the week's amusing entertainment news, but around here, it's an actual food. It's THE actual food, THE Soup, not just any soup, but THE soup, the soup to end all soups. It started as a recipe called "Chris' Aloo Chana Soup" in the cookbook called The Garden of Vegan, but at this point, I think I've tinkered with it enough to post my version without infringing on the intellectual property rights of the authors. (By the way: buy that cookbook. TONS of good stuff in it.)

Let me back up a little. I've always really loved soup, and when my youngest was just starting solid foods, several medical issues made swallowing difficult for her. Soup was a perfect food at that time: soft and liquidy, and it was easy to add extra nutrients and fat to her bowl without forcing the rest of us to eat heavy cream or, the granddaddy of all "supplements," virgin coconut oil (which, at room temperature, is the consistency of vaseline). In some other blog post, I'll write about the soup that got her from age 1 to 2 without her wasting away. But that's not The Soup.

I made The Soup for the first time about two years ago. It had looked daunting to me before then, since it has so many different herbs and spices in it. I thought surely it would be muddy-tasting, and if it didn't taste right, I wouldn't know what to add to make it better. One day, though, I had a hankering for Indian food but didn't want all the fire of curry. I decided to tackle this just once, promising that if it didn't turn out, we could always add it to some black beans or some rice to dilute the flavors.

Bite your tongue, naive Debi!!!

It was love at first sight. All those rich eastern colors pouring into the pot, resting on the sauteed vegetables before being swirled into the broth! The smells of someplace far away mixing with the familiar of onion and my own homemade stock! The luscious sharpness of the tomatoes adding the perfect amount of acid! This is truly the soup of the heavens.

You may have to shop for some of the ingredients. I have to send Garam Masala to Stori in Alaska every year, for example, but if you live near a major city, you should be able to find it reasonably cheaply. Here's my version of the original recipe from the cookbook. Take your time, and savor every moment.

Aloo Chana Soup
Original source: The Garden of Vegan (cookbook) with tinkering by Debi

1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock, ideally homemade to avoid the sodium
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large carrot, chopped
1 can chick peas
14 oz canned tomatoes, diced
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp dried mint
1 cup steamed broccoli

In a large soup pot, saute the onion, and celery in oil until the onions are translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute. Add the stock, potatoes, carrot, chickpeas, tomatoes, and stir in the turmeric, cumin, cardamom, garam masala, salt, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the mint and broccoli. Let stand covered for at least 5 minutes (or, in my case, all afternoon). Warm and serve. Mmm!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stori- my Grandma

Ever since reading Debi's post the other day on her grandmother's recipe, I have been thinking of my own Grandma.

My dad's mother is from back east, Massachusetts. She's a prim and proper woman, very cold emotionally. A fantastic cook and baker. While married to my grandfather, she was the camp cook for him many hunting clients. My grandpa was a hunting guide and outfitter in western Colorado. Running the camp with precision, she struck me as a woman who would allow little room for mistakes. After her marriage ended, Grandma went to work as a cake decorator. She created amazing works of art with cake and frosting. Her kitchen immaculate, her pantry well stocked, and always fresh cookies available.

This is not the grandma I have been thinking of.
If there was ever two opposites in Grandma land, those were mine.

My Mom's mother was the daughter of Scott immigrants. Her family moved often from one ranch to another in Colorado. Although I don't know much about her life before she became a mother and a wife, she's the grandmother I was closest to growing up. My grandparents had 15 kids together. 16 total counting a daughter my Grandpa had with his first wife who died in cow camp when their girl was only 2 years old. My mother was 12th out of the 15 kids. They grew up in a tiny green house in Meeker Colorado. Grandma was a cook by trade and necessity her entire life. Grandma's little house was always filled with people to the brim and where there was any extra room, you could find a house cat on some one's lap. Although cramped, cluttered, and crowded, there was always room for one more. Grandma's door was never locked and anybody was welcome. Immediately after coming in, Grandma would inevitably try to feed you. One of my favorite things to find when going to her house was Apple Pudding Cake. Heavy, sweet, filled with spices, apples, and raisins. The smell of this baking will immediately take me back to her tiny tilted kitchen, sitting on the stool between the basement stairs and the bathroom, watching Grandma. Whether puttering around the kitchen, sitting at the table playing solitaire, or stitching something on her sewing machine, she was mine. She wasn't perfect, she wasn't meticulous, she wasn't always filled with the right things to say, but she was mine. Her love of babies, the always present bobby pins in her hair, a constant pot of coffee on all times, and always a fluffy house cat to be snuggled with. I can go back any time in my mind with the first sniff of this dish.

Apple Pudding Cake
( i have no idea why this is called pudding cake, there is no pudding in it anywhere!)

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
5 medium apples - peeled, cored, and sliced
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
good sized handful of both raisins and chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, cream together sugar and shortening. Add egg and mix well. Add in apples. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Stir into apple mixture. Pour into slightly greased 9x13 cake pan, top with crumble. Bake at 350* for about an hour or till toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Crumble topping

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter or margarine
1 cup regular oatmeal
1/2 cup flour

Mix together all ingredients gently with fingers. Do not mix completely, you want this as a lumpy crumble topping.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stori - food challenge throwdown!

I went on a marvelous date today.

Monday is my nephew, Orin's, birthday. I needed to go to town to pick up a gift for him, my dad didn't want to go, my husband felt like staying at home. I left the 2 little kids with him and Paige and I went to town for a girl trip. Since it was just us two, I offered for us to go out to breakfast. Paige never turns down an opportunity to go out to eat.

There is a place in Fairbanks that is known for great breakfast called The Cookie Jar. I had only been there once before with Marc several years ago. I was not impressed either time. This place was recently featured on The Food Network show "Drivers, Drive-Ins, and Dives". The host went on and on about The Cookie Jar's famous cinnamon rolls. Shortly after being seated, the waitress even mentioned how wonderful they were and a what a perfect start to a Sunday morning. Paige didn't need any more encouragement than that.

I have changed my bread baking habits lately which in turn has produced several treats for my family. In the past, I always made my bread in 6 loaf batches. Leaving 1 or 2 thawed out and freezing the rest. It only takes us about 8 to 9 days to eat all 6 loaves, but the cold even permeates my outside freezer to the point where it will dry out the frozen bread pretty badly during the winter. To fix this, I have decided to cut down on my batch size and only make enough for 3 smaller loaves. I have been turning the batch into 2 loaves of bread and the remaining 1/3 gets put to good use as cinnamon rolls. These do not last long in this house.

After a horribly long wait, which included a full 40 minutes before even the 1st cup of coffee showed up, our breakfast arrived. I ordered biscuits and gravy, and Paige ordered a slice of french toast and a $4 cinnamon roll. Out came this monstrosity of a pastry, served on a big plate along with a steak knife. Paige knew there was no chance of her finishing off the entire thing, but was willing to give it her best shot. She cuts into this huge thing and takes a bite.......looks up at me....looks back down at her roll....back up at me....takes another bite...puts down her fork. I'm waiting to what my restaurant loving daughter's verdict would be. "This isn't very good Mom." she says. "Yours is way better!"

HA! Take that Guy Fieti!

Having to try the test myself, I try a bite. Paige was right. It wasn't very good. Was this what all the hoopla about? The bread was tough and chewy. The frosting more bland than sweet. A disappointing lack of cinnamon. What a let down. Paige took the remaining roll home to let her dad try. He only took one bite and stopped. He agreed. Mine is way better.

Now this is the point where I should dutifully jot down my recipe for home made cinnamon rolls. Nuh-uh, not gonna do it. The perfect cinnamon roll is so embarrassingly simple, I would be ashamed to put it down. Besides that, if I told how easy it was, I would lose my tricky baking reputation.

Instead, I'm including a different recipe. This is what I fixed tonight for supper. After our disappointing breakfast, we braved a trip to Walmart for a birthday gift. While there I seen they had a some half decent fresh asparagus and some nice little cremini mushrooms. These two ingredients sparked an idea for my potato chowder to be added to the menu. Although I claim the use of portebello mushrooms in this soup, creminins are nothing more than baby portebellos. Easier to prep and a lot cheaper than their grown up counter parts, they are one of my favorite shrooms to cook with.

Potato Chowder with asparagus and portebello mushrooms
(measurements are approximate since I don't measure anything)

6 good sized potatoes- peeled, washed, and cubed
1/2 onion- chopped
3 stalks celery- ribbed and chopped
3 cloves garlic- peeled and minced
1 bunch fresh asparagus- cut into 1 inch lengths
1 container cremini mushrooms- sliced
1/2 lb. bacon -cut into pieces and cooked crisp (optional! especially for Debi)
approx. 4 to 6 cups milk
1 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp basil
about 1/2 cup flour

In a large pot, barely cover cubed potatoes with salted water and put on to boil. Put in the already crisped bacon into the potato pot. In a skillet, saute in margarine (or butter) the onions and celery till transparent. Right before they are done, add the garlic and sautee only till you can smell it. Add into potato pot. Next sautee the asparagus and mushrooms in butter till asparagus is bright green and mushrooms are still a bit firm. Add to potato pot. Add the seasonings and stir. Keep potatoes on a slow slimmer for about 20 to 30 minutes. You will want the potatoes to stay firm. Pour in about half the milk, stirring constantly. Bring back to simmer. In separate bowl, whisk together the flour and remaining milk. Pour milk/flour mixture into potatoes very slowly stirring the entire time. Bring back to simmer. If soup is too thick, thin it down with a little more milk. If too thin, do another blend of flour and milk. Taste and season with more salt desired.
Serve with toasted garlic bread or croutons.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Debi: What do you take to a potluck?

Our synagogue is hosting a potluck dinner tonight for families of second graders. They requested vegetarian dishes with no nuts. As a vegetarian family, that's a slam-dunk for us -- most of our recipes would fit the bill -- but I asked our resident second-grader what she wanted to bring.

"Kugel!!!" she squealed. "The APRICOT kugel!"

Kugel is a traditional Eastern European casserole, and usually refers to the noodle-based variety, though at Passover time, people make potato or spinach kugels (yuck). I always thought all noodle kugels were sweet, but recently I was proven wrong. A few weeks ago, we went to another potluck for Ronni's elementary school (a regular old public school), and all parents were asked to bring a dish that represented their ethic heritage. I brought "the APRICOT kugel!," but it seemed all the Jewish families (5 or 6 of us) had the same idea, and it became The Night of the Many Kugels. I peeked at all of them, and one family had indeed made a savory kugel. I'd never heard of such a thing, but that was how their family always made them. Live and learn!

Our apricot kugel is a special thing, though. The recipe comes by way of my grandmother, my dad's mother, who died when my dad was only twelve. I never met her, obviously, and my grandfather remarried a year after she died, so by the time I came along, there wasn't anything of hers that my father could share with me aside from her name. I was named Deborah because she was named Dorothy -- sharing the first initial is a typical way of naming a child in honor of someone who has passed away.

So how, you might ask, do I have Grandma Dorothy's apricot kugel recipe?

Well, my dad's cousin was cleaning out some drawers one day, more than 50 years after my grandmother died, and found two index cards with recipes on them. Another cousin identified the handwriting as my grandmother's and immediately sent them to my father. My father scanned them and sent them to me. I made one adaptation to the apricot kugel recipe (used soy milk instead of whole milk), but otherwise have kept Grandma's recipe exactly as is. I haven't tried the other recipe yet, but I don't know if I even have to! This one is perfect. It is the comfort food to end all comfort foods. Just the smell of it in my house is enough to make all of us sigh happily, tuck our feet under our bottoms on the couch, and smile.

This spring, my mom declared me an accomplished enough cook to bequeath me one other beloved remnant of my grandmother's life as a housewife and mother: her tin measuring cup. I can't remember how my parents came to be in possession of it, but now it is mine. It seems wrong to use anything else for preparing this recipe.

Good sabbath, everyone.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stori: under the weather

This past week hasn't been all that fun as far as health was concerned. My oldest came down with a cold late last week. After having visited an indoor play yard, the two little ones ended up with a nasty stomach bug that included fevers of over 103 degrees. My mom had already experienced the fun stomach virus but Marc and I are now fighting both ailments. With my babies being sick, my priority is to help them feel better. The one way to do that, with my kids anyway, is to hold them. and hold them. and hold them some more. Complete meals have been pushed to the back burner.

Now that my family is getting closer to being back on their feed, it's time to do a full meal. Something to recharge the body batteries. Since my kids were sick over Valentine's Day, I didn't get the chance to make Marc's lemon meringue pie as I do every year. I have some making up to do. Lemon Meringue Pie being his absolute favorite food in the world, a close second is fried pork chops. Seasoned then coated in flour, browned in a hot cast iron skillet, then finished off in the oven, pork chops can get me forgiven for most any sin. With these I serve the standard (in this family) mashed potatoes and milk gravy, along with green beans cooked with onions and bacon. Since we have carrots from last fall's garden still left in cold storage, I figure I would add another favorite of Marc's, Honeyed Carrots. I stumbled on this dish a few years ago, and rarely prepare carrots or parsnips any other way.

Honeyed Carrots

6 medium carrots (julienne cut)
4 medium green onions (optional)
1/3 cup honey
1 Tbsp butter or margarine
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
In large skillet, heat 1 inch water to boiling- add carrots, heat back to boiling, reduce heat, cover & simmer for 5 minutes or till barely tender. Drain & remove from skillet, set aside. In same skillet cook remaining ingredients over low heat, stirring frequently till bubbly. Add carrots back in and stir to coat. Cook uncovered 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally till carrots are glazed.
(note: I don't measure the lemon, butter, or honey. Just use your judgement and preference)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Debi: Trudge

For all our east coast readers: yes, you got more snow than Chicago. Conceded. But we did just get a nice hearty snowfall here in the midwest, over a foot in 24 hours here by the lake, and for folks like our family who use footpower as our main mode of transportation, this adds several layers of work to our day -- pun intended!

Because it wasn't very cold here, this winter storm was easier to handle for us. While we had to be protected from getting wet, the temperatures in the twenties made it possible to stay outside for a while at a time -- quite necessary for shoveling. And shoveling. And shoveling again. Living in an urban area as we do, it's very easy to stand on a street and declare "good neighbor" and "bad neighbor" just by looking around. The good neighbors are the ones who shovel their sidewalks, maybe even adding a few handfuls of road salt to keep the remaining snow from becoming ice in our standard cycles of snow-light thaw-freeze. The bad neighbors don't shovel, leaving the good neighbors to pluck the elderly and infirm out of their knee-deep piles on the sidewalks.

Yesterday, we woke up to a pretty notable snowstorm happening outside our windows. That meant the winter gear we wore on the way to school had to keep us warm and dry on top and bottom -- not just snowboots and snowpants for the snow we'd trudge through, but something waterproof on top to keep our heads protected from the snow falling on us from above. Ronni, my oldest, remembered seeing a friend of ours in a ski mask and asked if we had one she could wear under her hood. Sammi, ever-stubborn, insisted her hat was plenty. I wore a ski hat and hood, and (dumbly) decided to just layer long-johns under my jeans instead of putting on snowpants. My reward for that was damp pant cuffs all day.

After I walked the kids from school, I had to run right home and get my car to meet a client in Chicago. That's a 30 minute drive in good weather, so I had no time to shovel before I left. I felt really guilty, but promised myself it would be the first thing I did when I got home. I parked my car outside our meeting place, and when I came out a few hours later, I had several inches of snow to brush off of it. When I arrived home, those inches covered our sidewalk and the path from our house to garage. Shoveling it took at least forty minutes.

I worked in the afternoon, made time for a quick run, and then raced to pick Ronni up from her after-school dance class and Sammi up from her extended-day at preschool. By the time I got home and realized that we had to be back at Ronni's school for parent-teacher conferences in an hour, AND that I'd offered to bring dinner for the teacher too, AND that I needed to shovel (again), it was clear that dinner had to be easy and fast. And portable! We brought Ronni's teacher the beans & corn in a little plastic container, with a separate container of salsa, a plastic bag with two tostados, and a package of tic-tacs once I realized how garlicky the beans had turned out.

Snowy-Day Hearty Fast Dinner!
1 can refried black beans
1 can whole black beans
2 cloves garlic
1 package hard tostados
shredded cheese
1 batch Sweet-n-Salty Corn, recipe below

Empty can of whole black beans into a pot and just cover with water. Cook until the beans are soft, then drain water and partially mash beans, leaving some whole pieces. Add can of refried black beans, and squeeze garlic cloves in your garlic press into the pot. Mix thoroughly and heat until hot.

Spread bean mixture on tostados, sprinkle cheese on top, and add a dollop of salsa. Serve with a side of Sweet & Salty Corn

Sweet & Salty Corn
1/2 bag of frozen corn
2 tbsp margarine
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt

Cook corn in microwave, melting margarine on top. Add cumin and salt and mix well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Debi: Shabbos

Friday nights are lovely, when I can get my act together to make them so!

Our family is Jewish, and while we're not very observant or religious, having a traditional sabbath meal on Friday nights is something that reminds the grownups of our own childhoods, our grandparents and parents, and the warm feeling of family at home for an evening together. We could eat anything for dinner, but it seems wrong somehow to make our Sabbath meal something exotic or experimental. What feels right is comfort food.

Last night, I decided to be a little ambitious, given the fact that the kids were underfoot and David wouldn't be home until dinner was ready. I made seitan cutlets (a faux-meat-like thing made from vital wheat gluten, broth, oil, tehini, and seasonings), which require several elaborate steps to develop the right consistency; homemade mushroom gravy (which, unlike Stori and her perfected pan-gravy methodology, I always struggle to keep lump-free); a nice big bowl of bright peas; homemade rice pudding; and challah.

Challah, a braided egg bread, is absolutely essential for a Shabbos table. After years of using my mother's recipe, several years ago I tried a recipe from my friend Hilary. Hers was far better, and so that is the one I use, with my own addition of eggs (how did she have a challah recipe with no eggs?!?). Here it is -- this recipe makes two loaves, so plan to give one to a friend:


2 cups warm (not hot) water
½-3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 envelop or 1 tbsp yeast
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
6 cups flour + 1-2 cups for flouring surface & hands during kneading.

Put water in a large bowl. Dump in sugar, but don’t mix. Add salt. Add yeast, then mix, using only a quick once or twice around with a large spoon.

Dump in oil and add the 6 cups of flour to the same bowl. Add the eggs. Mix with spoon.

Remove from bowl and place on floured surface. Knead 15 minutes, or to the right texture plus 10 minutes more.

Place in lightly oiled bowl (using the 1/3 cup vegetable oil). Roll it around so it’s coated. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel and let rise until doubled (about 75 minutes).

Punch down and knead 3 minutes.

Let rise again 45-60 minutes.

Divide into two lumps, and divide each lump into three strands. Braid the strands to make two braided loaves, and brush each loaf with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bake 40-45 minutes at 350.

The photo above is of a round challah that we made this fall for the Jewish high-holy days. Last night, our challah was still braided, but we left it long. It's easier to slice that way, anyway. Of all the delicious foods on our table last night, the kids (and secretly, the grownups) like the challah best. It's a soft, slightly sweet bread, chewy and moist and, since it takes so long to make, last night's challah was still warm when we gathered around our lit sabbath candles, put our arms around our children, and blessed it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stori ~ easy does it

My phone rang this morning at around 8 with my dad on the other end. Since I have the two little kids with me, my dad is nice enough to feed the horses their morning hay for me so I don't have to dress the kids in their winter gear and go outside. He's calling to tell me that my big draft mix mare has once again, found trouble. Heidi is 1,400 pounds of lap puppy. She has a sweet disposition, never ending calmness, a quick busy mind, and a pension for mischief. She's the type of horse who likes to be busy or entertained. When left to her own boredom, she often gets into messes that requires me to clean up.

We feed our horses in a big wooden rectangular shaped bin. About 3 feet high on the ends, a few inches shorter on one long side (to accommodate the tiny pony we used to have), and about 3 1/2 feet on the high long side. Marc attached two tires side by side on each long side to prevent Heidi from tipping the box. This feed bin is about 6 foot long, just big enough for two horses to feed along side each other without crowding.

My 1,400 lb baby was standing inside the box.

Like most bratty toddlers, she's very good at getting herself IN things, but pretty pathetic at getting herself OUT. My mom shows up to tag team the kids, and out the door I go. 45 minutes later in -25 below zero weather and we have one giant horse out of one small box, one frustrated infuriated me, and one dislocated right shoulder. Pretty average score in the game of "Heidi and Me". I had dislocated my shoulder for the first time last May bringing another horse home. I don't know if injuries like that every completely heal, but I know mine never did. Maybe it was the lack of immobilizing I didn't do, or the fact I never slowed down my activities, but now I have to coddle that joint like a newborn. When I felt the sickening slip ~ pop! this morning, I knew my day could only get better from there. Thankfully I was able to slip it back into socket pretty quickly and without too much icky pain. Since I am nursing a limp and traitorous right arm, my family's supper for tonight will be:

Frozen lasagna

store bought garlic bread

They should feel lucky to get that much. It could have been cold cereal and a lot of whining from Momma's chair.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Stori ~ comfort food arctic style

I have had an incredibly busy two weeks. My sister came up to visit from Colorado and it seemed as if everyday another activity would pop up. From birthday parties, to CMSA annual meetings, tattoo appointments, and road trips to Delta Junction to get grain. My little humdrum homebody lifestyle has been turned upside down! Although it's been very fun, I'm exhausted and ready to settle down and re-fluff my nest. Along with the activity comes eating poorly. Besides having some weight gain side effects from a medication my doctor prescribed, my diet has been lousy! These two things have combined to make me feel ....un-good, for lack of better terms. Not really poorly, just yucky.

Today has been set aside to put my life to order again. Cleaning house, finishing laundry, snuggling my babies, taking back my comfortable routine is a must. Part of my routine comes one of my families' favorite meals. Well most of my family anyway. Very balanced, zero preservatives, and all of the dishes coming from our hands and our land, once again we turn to moose steak. Prepared the way we make it, the meal is also surprisingly low in calories and very filling. Alaskan comfort food Thompson style. We start with the moose roast. Sliced into steaks, I put it through my tenderizer, then dredged in a seasoned flour and fried in a tiny bit of olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Several cast iron skillets actually. The second dish is mashed potatoes. Yukon Gold potatoes grown in our garden, dug by hand, cured in the dark at 50* for 7 days, then put in cold storage, our harvest lasts the entire year until the next year's potatoes are ready to dig. Peeled, cubed, washed, and then boiled in salted water. After draining water, adding milk then mashing, it's a happy belly dish. I usually always serve corn with this meal also. With the leftover dredging flour, and the remaining grease in my skillet, this will be the start to my pan gravy. I brown the flour in the grease, adding a little bit of salt and pepper, once flour is nice and toasted, I add the pitcher of milk (from our cow of course). Stirring constantly to break up the lumps, I bring the gravy to a boil and take it off the heat once it's thickened enough. Served with homemade bread and butter and a big glass of milk, it will be the final touch on the chore of returning my life to our version of normalcy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Debi: It's THAT Kind of Day

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a cold. I had gone to bed suspicious of the tickle in my nose and throat, and woke up with a confirmation of the drippy days to come. Since my string band, The Lopsiders, is playing a long-awaited gig on Thursday night, I wanted very much to nip this cold in the bud.

So, my solution was to hit my system with as much immunity-boosting power as possible. I downed my usual multivitamin, followed by an extra dose of zinc and a dose of astragalus, an herb known for its immune support. Since I'd dozed later than usual, it took all my attention to pack a lunch for my oldest, feed the two of them breakfast, stuff their backpacks, dress them and myself for the weather, and get out the door to school.

On the way from my younger daughter's preschool to my older daughter's elementary school, I started feeling woozy. The world looked a little wavy and too bright, and my stomach began rolling. By the time I got her to the door, I felt downright nauseous. Since she had been playing on Sunday at the house of a friend whose father had the stomach flu, I started to worry that I'd be singing on Thursday night through more than just the sniffles.

I had planned to walk from Ronni's school to the coffeeshop for a serious day of work, but decided to go home and get the car instead. It's a mile to the cafe, but if I really did have the flu, I wouldn't want to walk home. Once I got there, the nausea increased, and though I had just paid for and ordered my coffee, I decided quickly that I could not drink it. I left it there, shouting, "Free soy mocha for anyone who wants it!" as I ran out the door, sweating and breathing in big gulps of the cold air.

I went home and collapsed on the couch in sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I waited and waited for what I thought was the inevitable...but it never came. I nibbled the plain scone I'd bought, and felt a little better. Nibbled more, felt a little better. Suddenly it hit me: the vitamins. No breakfast. Oh boy.

I had an upset stomach from taking too many vitamins with no food.

I spent the rest of the day on the couch, working on my laptop and watching bad tv, until it was time to pick up the kids -- the younger one from her extended day at preschool; the older one from a creative movement class at the local park district. I had little appetite and no interest in cooking, so I called my husband and announced my abdication of the Kitchen Queen throne. His response, stereotypically, was "That's fine. Let's order in."

"Order in" means delivery food from a restaurant. Our default -- the one we chose last night -- is Siam Pasta, a thai restaurant that delivers reasonably priced noodle dishes. Thank heavens. By the time it arrived, my appetite had returned, and we enjoyed:
  • Pad Thai with tofu: Thin noodles stir-fried with scrambled egg, bean sprouts, onions & tofu topped with carrots, green onions & peanuts.
  • Pad See Eiw: Stir-fried wide noodles in a brown sauce with tofu, scrambled egg, Chinese broccoli & bean sprouts.
  • Pad Woon Sen: Stir-fried tiny glass noodles with tofu, scrambled egg, baby corn, mushrooms, carrots & green onions in a mild thin broth.
Thank heavens for Siam Pasta and the abundant leftovers in my fridge!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stori~ we don't need no stinking electricity!

My Dad called me this morning to tell me he had supper covered tonight. That only meant one thing, chicken fried moose steak cooked on his old wood burning cook stove. He picked up this old stove about 6 years back in Fairbanks. The stove was manufactured probably early 1900's, maybe even late 1800's. It's a beautiful mint green and ivory 6 burner. There are no actual "burners", it's just a flat top with one side being very hot, over the wood box, the other side gradually getting cooler the farther from the hot box it gets. This stove is a miracle worker when it comes to cooking things hot and fast. Grease splatter is never a problem, messy grease actually benefits the cast iron surface of the stove. He has the stove positioned in his arctic entry way, which is a good thing since it can put off enough heat to flat run you out of the house. My Momma always joked around about baking sugar cookies on an old wood burner, she would say "Just hold the cookie sheet in front of the oven door for about 30 seconds, you'll get perfect cookies." In the summer, he sometimes moves the stove out onto the porch itself, since it makes so much heat, it's unnecessary inside the house. The stove has warming ovens above the range, and a hot water tank in the back (which we never use).

These old stoves were a way of life for me growing up. My parents built a cabin outside of Meeker Colorado, off of Strawberry Creek Road when I was about 4 years old. We lived on that farm till I was in 8th grade. Meeker is known for being a boom/bust town. When the last oil shale mine shut down, my Daddy being the head of security, it left him jobless. My Momma waited tables to make ends meet. My Daddy raised milk cows, beef, pigs, chickens, sheep, and of course our horses. We sold the wiener pigs to the local 4-h kids, and whatever was left went to the livestock auctions in Silt. Out of our milk cows, my Momma ran a milk, cream, and egg route in town. Every day of the week, she would go to work early just to deliver the orders for milk, sold in gallon size glass jars. Cream out of glass quart jars, and eggs. We still store our fresh milk from our little cow the same way (and hell hath no fury like if you turn in a dirty jar!!) Our customers were diligent on taking the goods on a certain day of the week, and having the cleaned glass jars and weekly money waiting for Momma when she got there. We heated our entire cabin (until we built the add-on when I was about 9, then we had a secondary wood stove in the other part of the cabin) with an antique Majestic wood burning cook stove (much like the picture here, but this was not our exact stove). I remember as a little girl, being woken in my loft by the "whoofing" of the chimney as Momma got the morning fire going. She would wake up to a frozen cold floor about an hour earlier than us to get that stove going and have the house heated up before she woke us kids. The stove sat at the end of the supper table, our house had few walls, just like my own cabin now, a very open floor plan. The old Majestic sat on a bed of laid lava rock. Natural volcanic lava rock does not retain heat which is perfect for a very hot stove and a wooden house. We would keep our winter hats, scarves, and mittens behind the stove where they staid hot. Our little dog, Smudgie, could usually be found snoozing on top of our winter gear behind that stove. She loved a warm bed. My Momma would have a percolating coffee pot on the far back right corner of the stove, the simmer side, and our morning breakfast in the middle of the range. From pancakes to hot oatmeal, our breakfast was cooked on that 200 year old stove every morning of every winter of my childhood.

Having these stoves, we never have had to worry about heat or food with a power outage. No electricity needed. A good stock of split firewood and some cast iron cookware was all my family needed to stay safe, warm, and well fed. Always with a pot of hot coffee. Always with a warm place to sit by and warm your hands. It was the heartbeat of our home growing up.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Debi: Shhh! Don't tell anyone!

Stori is right; I have the much-appreciated blessing of plentiful sources for fresh produce. In fact, the only things I buy in the can are beans, and that's just because I am too lazy to soak dried beans. I buy frozen peas, I suppose, but I don't know many people with kids who DON'T buy frozen peas. What else do you serve with macaroni & cheese?!

My favorite place to shop for fresh produce is The MarketPlace on Oakton, only about 4 miles from my house. My husband and I jokingly refer to it as "The Mafia Market," because the produce there is so cheap and of such high quality that we can only assume that it is a front for some other type of more nefarious business. (Note to police and any other interested parties: I have absolutely no evidence of this!) We shop here for produce in the winter months, when nothing much can grow locally. It is a miracle of a store, catering to many ethnic restaurants and shoppers, and so the selection can be exotic and exciting. Gigantic, frozen durians hang in bags above enormous, overflowing displays of oranges and apples and peaches and melons and pineapples and cherries; avocados are often 75 cents and rest in mounds next to crates of mangoes, just across the aisle from hundreds of pounds of every variety of potato, onion, and squash you can imagine. I can fill three enormous grocery sacks for less than $25.

I love to take my daughters to this market, where we can imagine any number of delicious meals and try new things. The last time we were there, Ronni had been clamoring for sweet potatoes, so in they went, along with leeks, broccoli, green beans, apples, pears, peaches, canteloup, pineapple, mangoes, grapes, garlic, dates, russet potatoes, and portobello mushrooms. Since the store also sells dry goods from all over the world, we browsed further and came home with canned green olives from Israel, clover honey from Wisconsin, soup noodles from China, pastry dough from Greece, and a big block of tofu from lord-knows-where, since it wasn't labeled.

But. Back to the sweet potatoes.

We are a big soup family here, and I'll put just about anything into a soup to see how it tastes. Though I'd never had sweet potato soup, one night last week, I took a look at the sweet potatoes and figured it couldn't be that hard to make a soup with them. I baked the potatoes before leaving the house for our after-school activities, figuring it would get me a step ahead for the dinner that would have to be quickly prepared when we got home. I found a recipe on the internet that looked like I could adapt it to my non-dairy, vegetarian needs, and voila! Between that and a pan of cornbread, hastily mixed and tossed into the oven 30 minutes before dinner, we had a great start. Here's my version of the recipe:

Sweet Potato Soup
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons salted margarine
3 cup water, mixed with 3 tsp vegetable broth powder
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 cups cooked, smashed sweet potatoes
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups vanilla soymilk

Make a roux-like mixture in your soup pot with the flour, margarine, and broth. Add the brown sugar and heat to a boil. Add the potatoes and spices and cook for 5 more minutes, then turn off the heat. Using an immersion blender, puree the potato mixture, then add the soymilk and heat again. Serve with CORNBREAD!
What to eat with this? Soup and cornbread is a nice start, but we need more than just this. A frantic bout of trimming green beans, and then a rapid-fire steam in the microwave, followed by liberal dousing of them with salted margarine and a tiny sprinkle of dried dill, was just what we needed. An overflowing bowl of chopped mango rounded it out nicely.

All in all, the prep time was perfect for a busy evening where dinner had to come together in less than 40 minutes. I won't lie; there are nights like this where we all eat cereal or yogurt for dinner, but having a fridge full of beautiful, bright fresh produce does inspire me to dig just a bit deeper for the creativity it takes to make a meal more than just fuel. Thank you, Market Place on Oakton!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Stori~ poor planning is the true mother of invention

Since we raise, butcher, and process our own meat, I am required to take out and plan for supper several days in advance. I fully admit, I am not good at this. I rarely know what I'll be in the mood to fix or eat till the day of. Within a year's time, we have usually butchered at least one if not two full sized sow pig, one moose, and maybe a beef cow. That much meat takes up a ton of freezer space, so my mom and dad keep the moose over in their freezer, I have claim to the pork and beef. Because my dad is an expert planner, we are never without moose thawed out. I really wish I had inherited that gene. Now, I say all that, just to say this.

Yesterday I woke up with a plan in my hand and hankering for spaghetti for supper. I make my meat sauce out of pretty much any burger (beef, moose, pork, caribou). About 3 days ago I took out some pork to thaw for the week, thinking I was grabbing a roast and a package of burger. My spaghetti supper ingredients (so I thought) were taken care. So there I go to the fridge to grab my burger out around 3 in the afternoon only to find no burger package. Pork chops. What? Pork chops? But I didn't wanna make pork chops! I didn't have enough potatoes over at my house for mashed. They were still in cold storage over at Papa's. Besides the fact I really wanted pasta! There I was, time to get supper going, nothing thawed out, my pasta plans dashed. So I go to my pantry and do like any good cook does, I stare at the shelves and cuss at myself. To be honest, I felt a little iron cheffy at that point. The clock is ticking, 6 hungry people to feed, no meat thawed out, one craving for pasta....GO! I notice a can of artichoke hearts..hmmm, oooh then fire roasted diced tomatoes, ok, oh! penne pasta~ Colt's favorite! Things are starting to come together. What about the protein for my carnivorous family? Canned chicken breast! Yes! So, by guessing, and tinkering, tasting, and guessing, I accidentally came up with a dish that Marc has requested to be put in the supper rotation!

Unlike Debi, I do not have at my disposal several fresh and raw food markets to choose from. Alaska winters are not friendly to fresh produce, and a "quick" trip to the grocery store would take about 2 hours. If you could look into my pantry you would find row after row, shelf after shelf of canned goods. These may not be as tasty as fresh, but they work great for my family. Besides canning our own home grown, I always keep a fully stocked pantry filled with canned food. And, they don't go bad! So out of the basic staples I have on hand at all times, I was able to come up with a very heart warming, belly filling, taste pleasing meal.

Penne pasta bake with artichokes and red sauce
(feeds family of 7 with leftovers!)

3 large cans white chicken breast, drained and broken up
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
3 cans tomato sauce (not spaghetti sauce, just plain tomato sauce)
1 can v-8 juice
2 1lb. boxes penne pasta
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
kosher salt, pepper, sage, oregano, thyme

In a large heavy pan, saute onions and garlic in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add drained chicken and brown, stirring constantly. Add undrained tomatoes and chopped artichokes. Brown just a tiny bit more. Season with a couple pinches of kosher salt, some pepper, about a tsp. ground sage, and 1/2 tsp both oregano and thyme (pre-made italian seasoning would work too). Pour in tomato sauces and v-8 juice. Stir, turn to low, cover and let simmer. Can slowly simmer for several hours if you like. Cook pasta in salted boiling water, but only for about 7 minutes. You don't want it all the way done. Drain cooked pasta and mix with the sauce. Transfer mixture to a big casserole dish, I used a 9x13 stoneware and that wasn't quite big enough. Top with mozzarella cheese and bake at *350 for around 30 minutes.

Note to Debi ~ this sauce would be great meatless too!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Stori ~ death by bean

The temperature is a brisk -46 below zero today. Temps that low cause everything to slow down. The well in the barn froze up this morning causing my poor Dad to haul water from the house. I decided against our weekly Tuesday ice skating date for Colt and I, it's not worth the risk to travel this cold. Paige will have a "carry your coat" day at school. That simply means that the students are required to carry their cold weather gear everywhere they go in case of an evacuation emergency where they would have to go outside. At least they will have indoor recess, they usually mandate that at -20 below.

Weather this cold would usually call for a full blown, 5 dish, hot meal to warm and fill bellies. Unfortunately, I have a fridge full of leftovers. I have been accused this week of trying to kill my husband via beans. I lovingly refer to my family as carnivores. With the exceptions of my son who has a problem swallowing, and my general disgust and distaste, they are a meat eating group. While trying to both combat the constant required meat every meal and me battling my winter weight gain, I turn to beans as a protein source. Although I'm sure the entire family will pay dearly for it tonight, once again, we have beans to eat up. The menu tonight is leftovers. We have a huge supply of very tasty and very low calorie Taco Soup (loaded with 4!! kinds of beans ). There is pinto beans and rice on corn tortillas. I still have a bowl leftover of black bean chili. And finally, to the relief of my husband, chicken breast and sausage jambalaya (no beans in that one, but it is loaded with rice!). Hopefully after supper with 7 people, my fridge will once again have a little more space to add more leftovers! Tomorrow, pork roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted carrots and parsnips, and green beans. With everything having been provided by our land, it's one of my mother's favorite meals.

Debi: (Just Enough) Squash & Black Bean Empanadas, with Neighbors

Last week, I decided that we had been eating entirely too much purely beige food. After a cooking frenzy over the holidays, I had grown tired of standing in my kitchen chopping and sauteeing and frying and baking and plating, only to come back an hour later and spend almost as much time scrubbing and wiping and wrapping and sudsing. I stepped back for about a week and we ate a combination of leftovers, boxed macaroni & cheese, pancakes, and take-out. By last Thursday, I decided that enough was enough; we had to eat something good.

One of my favorite cookbooks is Veganomicon, a vegan cookbook with some recipes so complicated that I put it aside for months at a time, exhausted by the prospect of "patshken zikh mit," a Yiddish phrase that translates roughly to "messing around with tiny details forever until you go nuts." However, I had rested my cooking brain for long enough to decide to attempt a recipe like that, and so I settled on "Roasted Acorn Squash and Black Bean Empanadas."

Ever roasted a squash? That actually takes as much time as preparing some entire meals. You have to chop it open, which, even with a good knife, should be considered a dangerous athletic event. Then roasting it, in your oven, takes an hour. Then it has to cool long enough to scrape the seeds out, and then there's cutting it up into the right size pieces for your recipe. And for this recipe, that's just to get past the first line in the ingredients: "1 roasted squash."

Fortunately (and I use that term ironically), in my house, the day often begins just after 6am, when my youngest wakes up. I had that squash roasted before taking my older daughter, Ronni, to school at 8:45. Nope. I'm not kidding.

So, the next thing on the list was to make the empanada dough. I mixed up a batch while Sammi, the resident 4 year old, watched cartoons, then set it in the fridge to chill. After a morning of lounging, playing the occasional board game, coloring, and eating a beige lunch, Sammi and I commenced the rolling process. This may very well be Sammi's whole reason for being alive. She loves to roll dough. Last year, for Hannukah, we gave her a little child's size set of real baking implements, and I think she'd sleep with her rolling pin if we gave her the chance. On a chair dragged to the kitchen counter, she rolled and rolled, dribbled the surface with flour, rolled again. She sang a cheerful tune to herself.

It is such a peaceful experience to bake with her -- both of us industrious, the kitchen warm and good-smelling, our hands busy and purposeful. This may be why she and I did not find our groove together until she was old enough for a "project." It's like we need a common cause, outside ourselves, to take the focus away from our early struggles as mother & daughter. She was such a sick and unhappy baby, and unable to tell me why -- and then I was such a distraught, helpless mother, unable to fix the trouble. Now we can talk and work together to roll out that dough, smooth out those lumps, mix in the herbs and leavening to make our friendship rise, sweet and spicy, in just the right amount of time.

So. Dough rolled out, it now needed to rest in the fridge, chilling until closer to dinner. It occurred to me in mid-afternoon that my neighbor's birthday was the next day. A quick call to confirm with my husband that he approved, and she and her husband were invited to join us for dinner. I added a cake to my mental list of things to make after picking up Ronni from school at 3:35.

We bundled up and dragged ourselves out into the snowy day to get Ronni, then dragged ourselves back. Ronni and Sammi sat at a small table in the kitchen, snacking and working on homework and coloring, while I began the process of making the empanada filling. There was that squash again -- and then I added black beans, oil, seasoning, lemon, maple syrup...almost done...time to roll out the dough again.

Sammi, in all her glory, rolled thin the squares I cut from our dough, spooning the filling into the middle of each while Ronni grumbled over another set of math problems. Oh my. That sure didn't look like much food. What to add?

I keep my laptop on the kitchen counter, so I quickly looked through my fridge and freezer for a complementary vegetable to serve with the empanadas. Finding corn, I quickly located a good recipe on Spiced corn. It was easy to make, and easily doubled. Done.

What was I forgetting? I have an hour before dinner, the empanadas are ready to go into the oven. What else?



Not enough time to make and frost a birthday cake. Not enough time to make and frost a birthday cookie either. Dessert in our house can't have any chocolate -- Sammi has GERD, so the acidic foods stop appearing after mid-afternoon -- so I quickly located a recipe for white chocolate and dried cranberry dessert bars (with some substitutions -- I used margarine and vanilla almond bark), and goaded Ronni into finishing her homework quickly enough to help me mix the ingredients. Flash - into the oven just as the empanadas came out, and as our neighbors arrived, and just minutes after the phone call from my husband that he wouldn't be coming home from work in time for dinner, after all.

Ronni, Sammi, and I sat around the table with our neighbors -- a dear married couple who we've adopted as our extra brother- and sister-in-law, though they are no relation -- and enjoyed the fruits of a day's labor. As the oven beeped to tell us the dessert was ready, C (the husband half of the couple) came into the kitchen to help me McGyver our 5 and 6 birthday candles into a 2 and 9 for B's 29th birthday. My flour-spattered, pink-cheeked daughters sang enthusiastically, and their daddy arrived in time to eat the last 3 empanadas.

So, there's the ambitious dinner we tried last week. The verdict? Too much "patshken zikh mit," for a recipe with no leftovers. However, there was just enough love and fun for a winter's day in the city.

Back inside!

Dare we slink back onto our blog and try to pretend it hasn't been six months since we wrote?

We are both sorry. We want to try again. We got distracted by being outside, by our hobbies and our families and the things that brought us together as friends in the first place: the beauty we both find in the every-day, our attempts to make the mundane meaningful, and our occasional struggles to find inspiration in what looks quiet and unassuming. Does anyone want to read about what they already know and do every day?

The answer to that, we both realize, is yes. Otherwise and Erma Bombeck and Mothering Magazine and the Roseanne show would never have made it. So, here's our plan:

Twice a week, each of us will attempt to write a post about the most mundane of all motherly pursuits, the one that is the ubiquitous task of housewifery all over the world: dinner. We'll tell you what we're making, and why, and how it went, and what our home was like while we were making it. Sometimes it will be a recipe and a nice dinner. In my case, sometimes it will be what I call "subsistence food" on the way to or from some sort of activity. Either way, it will give you a taste (pun intended!) of life at home, here in the city or there in the country.

Wish us luck.