Sunday, February 17, 2013

Smorgasbord of Recommendations

You might assume I've not been in the kitchen much these last few weeks, and you'd be forgiven that assumption, but I've actually spent a considerable amount of time cooking and baking. Some of the results haven't been all that inspired, some I've thought, 'I should make this again soon and blog about it!,' and some I've started to do just that, only to take a photo and sadly admit that though the food was delicious, I wouldn't want to eat it (much less make it) based on the sad, sorry evidence I just produced. Alas.

So instead, I'll share some of the great things I've been making from other bloggers. Maybe they're old news to you, but maybe you're searching for something new and delicious, in which case, I offer you the following:

  • Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbook's Winter Kale Pasta. I almost always use more kale, slightly more chèvre, I never bother with the thyme, and I nearly always allow my husband one measly bowl of it. Holy Moses, this is great stuff. It's fast (Heidi says it's ten minutes of prep, but I must mosey my way through because it takes me longer to trim and wash the kale alone-- but it's worth it), it's healthy, and the leftovers are fantastic (just add a bit of water when you reheat). I'm making it again tonight. I cannot get enough.
  • Nealey Dozier of Dixie Caviar's ... Dixie Caviar. Where I come from, we make a very similar "caviar" with black beans and call it Texas Caviar. No matter, though, because I love me some black eyed peas and don't think we use them near enough. This dip is tasty, is easy to throw together, is a crowd pleaser, and it keeps well. Loved making it for our Super Bowl party!
  • Katie of The Muffin Myth's No Sugar Banana Branners. Seriously, y'all, as much as a muffin can be life changing, this one is. I don't want to get hyperbolic and breathless, but ... they may not alter the course of the universe, but they have altered the course of my mornings. I make a batch most weekends, eat one because I can't resist them right out of the oven, freeze the rest, and eat them for breakfast throughout week. They're packed with good stuff, and I LOVE being able to quickly grab one and reheat when the baby goes down for his morning nap, so I can move onto other things. Like a shower. Ahh, yes, the glamour... choosing between eating breakfast or showering is a key decision. Now I get to do both! Lucky me!
  • food52's Quinoa Coconut Porridge. I'm trying to get rid of our quinoa so I can use the canister for dark brown sugar because I'm weaning us off of the grain, and this was a super way to chip away at what we've got left. It's quick to throw together for a weekend breakfast, not so indulgent that you feel heavy or guilty for eating it first thing, and an easy way to get those with a picky palate to try something slightly exotic (Quinoa? Coconut milk? Ack!). I like the flavor combination and may try something similar with Scottish oats or barley someday.
  • Bridget from The Way the Cookie Crumbles' Rice Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing. I have stopped following the recipe and now generally make the sauce for whatever I'd like. We've eaten it as written, as well as with rice, with a myriad of different veggies, without the tofu, and I can't wait to try it with tempeh. It's basically the perfect peanut sauce and it's a great dish to prep during naptime and use hours later.

I've been cooking more from my cookbooks lately, and for that I cannot recommend Eat Your Books enough. If it were not for this service, I am certain I would fall into a pattern of making just a few dishes from an even fewer number of cookbooks. EYB is an indexing service and has helped me branch out and try loads of new recipes, many of which have been absolute winners.

I've also made two cakes, which is a real rarity here; one, from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, was for book club and was well-received, and the other was from the Joy the Baker Cookbook for The Physicists birthday and was very well-received. I'm not big on cakes, but I've also baked hundreds of cookies lately and maybe will recommend some later.

Now I leave you with a picture of my baby bear enjoying beets for the first time. He looks like he's howling because we were listening to some classic rock, and Led Zeppelin can do that to you.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Kale Salad with Maple Glazed Tempeh

I've been vegetarian for the better part of the last fifteen years. One major exception was during my pregnancy, as the only thing I ever really craved was a Whopper, in all its fake-meat, junk-food, disgusting glory. My son was sensitive to both cows milk and soy products until relatively recently, so I remained omnivorous after he was born, partly because becoming sated on vegan fare (minus soy) got so boring, but also because those two particular exclusions all but necessitate home cooking, which can be a challenge with a newborn. In addition, I found it nearly impossible to meet the caloric requirements of a nursing mother on such a diet without being constantly ravenous. Meat helped with all that.

Though, I admit it-- after breaking with my vegetarianism, I re-learned how tasty meat is. I cringe to say it, but I sort of loved my "necessary" foray into being a meat-eater. I tried lamb for the first time, in a Middle Eastern dish, and wanted to kiss my butcher on his ruddy face for stocking it. I cooked buffalo into our green chile stew and enjoyed the stew the way God and man intended it to be. I had Vietnamese pork salad, country ham and biscuits, and maple bacon and was shocked that the taste of pig was actually better than I remembered it-- and I remembered it fondly.

But eating meat was always meant to be a temporary thing for me, and I know that much of my enjoyment was the result of a take-no-prisoners approach to enthusiastically trying anything-- I was curious, adventurous, and so damn hungry. It was awesome.

Now that my baby bear's tummy has toughened (knock on wood), and especially now that he's starting to eat food on his own, I feel the time has come to cut out meat again. I've started reading The China Study, and the book goes a long way in giving me the final push I've needed to get excited about vegetarianism again. I know if I embrace a meat-free diet the way I embraced a diet inclusive of meat-- with curiosity, adventurousness, and hunger-- I'll be rewarded with tasty foods, just the same. This dinner is the perfect example of that.

Tempeh is available in all the grocery stores here, but there seems to be a dearth of recipes for the tempeh newbie out there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Vanilla Bean Pearsauce with Ginger

There comes a time in everyone's life when they must learn to eat food. Theoretically, anyway, and the eating habits of all the adults I know support that claim. But when it comes to my little man, this has been pie-in-the-sky idealism. Until now.

Let me backtrack: I assumed my baby would nurse until he was about five or six months old, and then he'd follow in the footsteps of every American baby, ever, and begin accepting the addition of puréed vegetables and fruits to his milky repertoire. I imagined that my husband and I would spend, oh, a few days, introducing the concept of eating and swallowing from a spoon-- Funny, isn't it, that we must learn to swallow ... twice? Apparently swallowing from a spoon is confusing to the wee among us-- after which he'd really take off because ... it's eating. And eating is fun! Also, eating can be messy and everyone knows that if there's one thing kids love, it's making a good mess.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Smoked & Spicy Sweet Potatoes

I'm going to go big and say that we Americans are doing sweet potatoes wrong. In my experience-- which I don't think is all that unique-- exposure to the tuber is typically a once-a-year affair, when they are presented, puréed and topped with marshmallows for Thanksgiving dinner. And no matter how many times I've tried them that way (which was every year until recently-- I'm nothing if not a willing subject), they always grossed me out. It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties-- my mid-twenties!-- that I ate sweet potatoes that had been prepared differently, with candied pecans-- though, no, that wasn't a remarkable difference, it did open the door to new possibilities and lead me to believe that substances other than marshmallow goo might make sweet potatoes not just mediocre or passable, but in fact, quite good.

(Ahh, lighting.)
Sweet potatoes have a natural sweetness, I reckoned; why not add some smokiness, or spice, or both? Their texture too easily becomes gluey, so instead of intensifying that by mashing them, why not roast them, leaving them a little chunkier and perhaps even crispy? The result isn't so much a sweet potato french fry-- I think in order to get that kind of crispness you'd have to fry them twice-- but it's close, minus the guilt ... and we cannot get enough. They've made a sweet potato lover out of this skeptic.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Out with the Old, in with the New

Loking back over last year, my commitment to blogging was clearly lacking-- 17 posts in all of 2012, and not all with recipes? Goodness! Let's hope for a more ambitious 2013 on these pages. Lest I be judged too harshly, I will note that the best darn thing I've ever cooked up is doing quite well:

(I have become a huge fan of Dr. Seuss, by the way, and can recite whole chunks of his work from memory now.)

The last year was a mighty whirlwind for me and my little family: we sold a house, had a baby, my husband started a new job, we moved, I left a job I loved. We are so excited to be where we are now, and for the year ahead ... though I think it's safe to say we both hope this year is a little quieter. I love being home with the baby, more than I thought I would in fact, and every day I try to think of how I can work my love of baking into something a little more substantial ... something more meaningful than having eleven different kinds of cookie dough in the freezer alongside five different types of zucchini bread. I love having this blog and I love even more that it gives me a ticket into a really terrific community of food bloggers. I hope to be here more often in the next year.

On that note, I have a confession. I was ready, several weeks ago, to post an entry and keep with my newfound commitment to the blog. I mean, I was literally setting words up in my editor when I took a lunch break and learned about the Newtown shootings. I was totally distraught and couldn't write anymore; to say the very least, the day was not about sweet potatoes. If I'm honest I'd admit that I struggled just to keep myself together that day, and I wasn't very successful. Every time I looked at or thought of my son, I was completely overcome with sadness and overwhelmed with rage for those who'd lost someone so violently that day, particularly the families of those 20 children. The thought of a lone, crazed, and powerfully armed gunman with hundreds of rounds to spare and a weapon that could kill dozens in a minute, popping out somewhere seemingly safe, haunted me everywhere we went. I wanted to post a couple days later, and then a few days after that, but it was hard because I didn't feel comfortable not saying anything at all about Newtown, but what do you say? I didn't want to mention that horrific event and then delve into a recipe in the same post ... that would be utterly disrespectful. I was stuck because I didn't know where to draw the line between me and the "me" online. And then time passed and it felt even harder to broach the subject.

I guess I should have been honest. This blog doesn't exist in a vacuum, I have other things going on, so maybe I should have just told you how affected I was, and how deeply I was saddened, and how I feel compelled to do something about it. Maybe you would have agreed, maybe you were shocked or feeling sad, too, or maybe you would never have clicked back to these pages. I suppose what I'm saying is that I'm here not as a top-notch photographer or a recipe developer, I don't have a particular expertise in food, I'm just a lady who loves to bake and cook and share that. Also, I have a cute baby I am obsessed with, a husband I'm wild about, I'm opinionated, and sometimes will say things not about food. Is that okay to share with you, too?

(Cute baby interlude ... Mama's little helper)

I'm excited for the next year and hope I spend a bigger part of it here with you than I did last year. So many food bloggers are doing so many tasty, inventive, delightful things, and it's a community I'm proud to try to be a part of. I have something up on deck for you, hopefully tomorrow, that was such a success we've been eating it once a week, at least, for over a month.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cranberry Crumb Bars with Mulling Spices

When last we met, I was bouncing on a yoga ball, weeping over the inevitable. In the intervening months, my family and I have moved from the D.C. area to Charlottesville-- home to Mr. Jefferson and his university-- and I have left my job at the U.S. Senate and am now at home with the baby, who, admittedly not having much choice, has become my adorable and miniature sous chef.

I wanted my foray back into blogging to be something semi-healthy-- or at least savory-- to help offset the onslaught of holiday sweets and baking thrust upon us as of late. (I say that as though I'm not enjoying it. Oh, but I am.) But then I tried this recipe, out of Deb Perelman's (of smitten kitchen) new cookbook, and I was stopped in my tracks. No, that's the wrong way to say it; I haven't stopped yet-- eating, that is. Someone take these away.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Why I Have Not Been Blogging


Every now and then I think, 'I wish I could have blogged today.'  It's a strange urge, because there's generally nothing in my day I would rather have not done so I could have made, photographed, written, edited, and posted instead-- I just wish I had, say 26 hours that day, while the world paused at 24 hours.  I would have spent my two hours of solitude here.

Alas, I don't have a time turner, so along with everyone else I have 24 hours.  And right now there is nothing I would rather do than spend those hours with my baby and my husband.

Wait, wait!  Before you think I've gone totally domestic, or all Stepford wife, hear me out.

When my son was about four or five weeks old, he generally spent much of the afternoon taking brief naps.  We usually napped together, but once an afternoon I would set him in his cradle so he could sleep alone and I could have some time for myself.

One day he didn't want to go down for this nap.  The Physicist and I use a yoga ball to bounce him to sleep-- this is a GODSEND, do not enter parenthood without it-- and I bounced and bounced and bounced with my baby bear for what felt like an eternity and he refused to fall asleep.  He wanted to wiggle and fuss a little bit.  He wanted to hang out with his mama.

I started to get frustrated.  Like, really frustrated.  I wasn't getting much sleep at the time, we had just learned that he was having difficulty with dairy and soy in my diet so I couldn't eat much of the food I'd frozen in advance, breastfeeding hadn't yet become second nature-- I really needed that me time.  And he was having none of it.

I was desperate and getting mad and just when I was just about to lose my mind, I had this vision.  I don't know what triggered it, but I saw me and The Physicist, twenty-five or thirty years down the road, with Henry.  And I realized … one day my baby will be a man.  One day he will love other people in addition to me, and he will need other people more than he needs me.  Someday he will sit down with me and tell me interesting things I didn't know, he will do things that remind me of how good and kind and thoughtful he is.  He will make me laugh and wonder where he got his sense of humor, or do something generous that will make me see his father's influence.  And I saw it, I swear to you, I saw how he would smile at me.  And at that moment, at the height of my frustration, I thought, when he is a man and he smiles at me, I will think … You are my baby.  You used to sleep in my arms.  And I know, I am sure of it, that I will wish I could hold him again as a little baby, just for a little longer, even if he did refuse to fall asleep.

It was an epiphany, one that completely washed away my frustration.  In fact, the whole episode ended on a funny note because Henry fell asleep as I was having my realization and instead of putting him in his cradle, I wept and sobbed and was completely overcome.  Tears and snot streamed down my face and I swore I would never, ever, put him down, ever.  The Physicist came home from work not much later to find his son sleeping peacefully as his nut job of a wife bounced on, nearly hysterical.  Yeah … postpartum hormones are no joke.

They're right, even when they're obnoxious about reminding you-- it all does go by so fast.  He's only nearly four months old and already I find myself saying, 'When he was a baby …'  He has grown and changed and he is amazing.  But he is no longer that tiny little baby boy.

So I am relishing every single minute of his babyhood.  That's not to say it's easy, because it isn't always.  There are days when he wants to hang out with me more than nap, so I have a hard time doing anything and he becomes Major General Grump by 2pm.  There are challenging things we must face patiently and lovingly even though they are really trying, like sleeping and teething, and there is no shortage of those kinds of things we'll have to face in the future.  Not to mention that sometimes I wish I had a friend in this new town, someone who could give me not just some company but some perspective on motherhood.  (And a hug.)  Sometimes I miss saying fuck and shit out loud all the damn time and listening to Jay-Z and Outkast in the car with the volume REALLY HIGH.  I miss getting pleasantly drunk on red wine over a long evening with my husband and going on long walks with him on a whim.

But those things are nothing, nothing, to what I'm getting in exchange.  The joys far outweigh the challenges in every way, and the things I miss are important but they will be back.  Henry will need me less and less as time goes by, and that is a good thing because it means I will have done my job, even though it will break my heart at the very same time it makes my heart full.  So while I miss this space, and I miss being in the kitchen with the intent of blogging, and I miss being a part of the food blogger conversation, I am not going to sacrifice time with my son right now.  But I'll be back, probably sooner than I realize or hope (They grow up so fast!), and I hope he will join me in the kitchen then.