Category Archives: Food

Second Helpings

Before this tumultuous year, Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas were already emotionally-charged holidays for me and The Husband.  A lifetime ago, we got engaged during Thanksgiving week. After years of infertility, our twins were born on Thanksgiving Day in a scenario straight out of a Hallmark movie:  twins, Thanksgiving Day, the most incredible gift you could ever imagine.

And then, exactly one year ago today on Thanksgiving Day 2015, The Husband collapsed in the middle of dinner. We hadn’t even brought out the pie. I found him barely conscious in the bathroom and performed CPR right there on the floor. Dessert was replaced by a rush of paramedics, police, tears and two hospitals before 10 p.m.

Thankfully, he survived this unexpected (and somewhat still unexplained) event; it goes without saying that this year — not to mention the rest of our lives — would have been extremely different if he hadn’t.  Grateful is an understatement. In the face of some significant losses and challenges, we still have each other. That counts for something (a lot, actually).

Nonetheless, there was a push-pull effect to this particular Thanksgiving.  Stay home or spend the holiday with family in Philly?  Part of me felt like sheltering in place after the past 17 days since the election. The appeal and comfort of home far outweighed the prospect of politically-charged dinnertime conversations awaiting us on the opposite side of the state.

At the same time, I didn’t want to be home with the ghosts of last Thanksgiving sitting at the table.

We decided to do a quick trip to Philly — less than 48 hours in duration, with 12 of those spent driving. Some close relatives have had medical scares in the past month, and this would be an opportunity to spend some time with them. As if we needed any reminding, life doesn’t come with guarantees. Take nothing and no one for granted.

At a rest stop in the middle of Tr*mpland, we instructed the children that there were only two acceptable topics of conversation for this visit (and probably every other visit thereafter):  The Weather and How Is School Going?.

“What if [insert name of relative who likely voted differently than us] asks us about the election?” The Girl asked, a bit worriedly.

“You say, ‘on the advice of counsel, I decline to answer the question,'” The Husband replied, prompting a discussion of the Fifth Amendment, because that’s how we roll.

As it turned out, everyone behaved themselves as best as possible. No politics were discussed. Instead, we celebrated the kids’ birthdays (and a nephew’s) with both sets of grandparents. My sister-in-law made a delicious dinner. The cousins had a chance to hang out and laugh and reconnect with each other, reminiscent of the kind of holidays The Husband and I remember as children with our own cousins. It was the first Thanksgiving our extended family spent together in six years.

And best of all?

Everyone had more than enough pie.

thanksgiving-dessert-table-2016

 

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Weekend Cooking: Season’s End

farmers-market-10-29-2016It’s the last day of the farmers market season and because she isn’t able to pick up her weekly CSA share, my generous coworker has gifted me with her box of produce. She’s done this before and I’m always grateful. I have a pretty strict limit on our family’s food budget these days and this will help stretch that.

I step out of the office and into the kind of bright blue, crisp autumn Friday where the weather almost seems out of sync with the end of the farmers market season. Not quite yet, the day seems to say. Still, the chill is a harbinger of the cold that awaits us; in the gray of a Pittsburgh winter to come, this same mid-50 degree afternoon will be balmy enough to seduce a few hardy students to shed their Pitt and Carnegie Mellon sweats in favor of beach attire to sunbathe on Schenley Plaza.

I exchange a spaghetti squash for two onions, as I decide if our as-yet-to-be-determined weekly menu requires more than the butternut squash, apples, carrots, kale, lettuce, sweet peppers, garlic, and Italian parsley I’m carrying. (It doesn’t.)

I thank the woman behind the stall for a great season.

“Enjoy your winter,” she says, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

I wish her the same and I leave, savoring the crunch of the leaves as I go.

Winter, you can wait. I’m not ready.

Not quite yet.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

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Weekend Cooking: Slow-Cooker Vegetable Broth

vegetable-broth-crockpot-2

Autumn arrived this week, welcoming in another season of delicious soup. Starting on Labor Day weekend and continuing into the fall, winter, and early spring, I usually make a pot of soup every Sunday.  To me, nothing says fall like having football on TV (which we do, all day on Sundays from 9 a.m. until the end of the night game) with soup simmering in the kitchen — preferably in my Crock-Pot.

Soups can be hit-or-miss with the kids (The Girl is definitely not a fan), but served with some kind of sandwich/burger and perhaps a salad, it’s an easy meal with something everyone in this family likes.

(If not, they can make a bowl of cereal.)

I decided to kick off this year’s soup season by making slow-cooked vegetable broth, which I tried for the first time last winter. (Like most of us, I kept telling myself I really needed to do this.).  I keep a gallon-sized bag of vegetable scraps in the freezer. Whenever I’m chopping vegetables, I place the bag in the sink next to me and toss in the tops of bell peppers, slivers of onion, tips of garlic cloves, stems of mushrooms, stalks of broccoli, even gnawed cobs from summer corn. Same with wilted vegetables or ones nearing (or just past) their prime.  It all goes right into the bag and makes for easier clean up.

When the bag gets full, I simply dump everything into the Crock-Pot, cover with water, season with salt, pepper, a bay leaf or two, and some basil, oregano, parsley, etc.  (This is a good way to use up a bit of dried herbs lingering in the jar.)

It usually looks something like this (there’s more spinach than usual since I happened to have a decent amount in the fridge that we hadn’t used during the week):

vegetable-broth-crockpot

In addition to the spinach, this contained zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, green beans, riced cauliflower, a broccoli stalk, onions, garlic and corn on the cob.

I set the Crock-Pot on low for about 9 hours and left it alone.  Then, I lined a colander with paper towels, set it over a medium-sized bowl, and strained the broth into the bowl, discarding the vegetables. (I suppose those of you who garden could use the vegetable scraps for compost.)

The result? About 6 cups of broth, more than you get in the ready-to-use boxes found in the grocery store. Although they’re not that expensive, making your own is a simple way to save a few dollars and with less sodium, etc.

vegetable-broth-crockpot-2

I kept several cups in the fridge for a minestrone that I made the next day and the rest was frozen in ice cube trays. I’ll use a cube or two in place of oil when sauteeing vegetables or in recipes that require a small amount of broth.

Do you make — or have you tried making — your own vegetable broth?  (Also, if you’re curious about the difference between broth and stock, as I was when titling this post, the latter is usually made with bones. I guess it’s possible, then, to have vegetable stock but not vegetarian stock.) 

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

 

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sunday salon/currently… 9/18/2016

Sunday Salon bannerHaving a lazy Sunday today.  I had all good intentions of going the park for a walk/run this morning before the humidity became too oppressive but I woke up feeling blah. Nothing major, just a slight headache and minor stomach woes. It the sort of day where the weather can’t make up its mind: in the course of my writing this paragraph, it has been cloudy, then raining, and now it is brilliant sunshine.  (And 20 miles away at the Steelers game, it was a monsoon.)

Reading/Listening … 
My commute has been rather maddening recently, thanks to a ridiculous amount of construction going on in this town and the hell that is the (now indefinite) closure of the Liberty Bridge. Being that this is the City of Bridges with more than 400 of ’em, you would think one being shut down wouldn’t be a big deal, right? Not quite. This is a major bridge, traveled by 55,000 people each day. I’m not one of them, but if you need to go anywhere in the vicinity of the Liberty Bridge, you’re feeling the pain of some miserable drives. Such times are when and podcasts and audiobooks become your best friend.

being-mortal

This week I started and finished listening to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I thought this was an excellent narrative about the many ways our society approaches the end of life. As a physician, Gawande knows firsthand how medicine offers unprecedented possibilities for extending one’s life, no matter what the cost. But that cost can be physically, mentally, and financially significant, and our society still doesn’t have a strong enough support system and options that allow people to age in place.  As a result, the burden on people is tremendous. Gawande illustrates this by sharing the experiences of his patients and family members, and the result is a thoughtful reflection of how we treat the sick and the dying.

Cooking
The Girl and I were out all day yesterday, so I made Salsa Chicken (from Make It Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea) in the crockpot for dinner. (Because nobody in this house can eat the same thing, The Husband had leftover burritos and rice, and I had a quinoa bowl with tomatoes, corn, black beans and feta.)

While that was cooking, I had a second crockpot going. I keep a bag in the freezer of vegetable odds and ends — tops of bell peppers and onions, gnawed corn cobs, broccoli stalks, ends of string beans, and veggies nearing the end of their prime. When the bag gets full, I dump everything into the crockpot, cover with water, toss in some garlic and spices (basil, oregano, salt, pepper) and simmer for the entire day.  It makes a vegetable broth with much less sodium than commercial brands. I typically freeze this into ice cubes and use the broth for sauteing. Tonight I made minestrone soup and was glad I had the required four cups of broth ready to go.

Writing
I applied for a writing fellowship this week. Might be a bit of a long shot, but one never knows. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Running
On Thursday I started Week 2 of Couch to 5K. So far, so good!  I keep promising a longer post about this, I know. Maybe later this week.

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Weekend Cooking: Home Cooking (97/99)

Weekend Cooking - New

A few weeks ago, our Weekend Cooking host extraordinaire Beth Fish Reads posted about food items that we make at home versus those bought in the store.  I’m on a two-fold quest to pare down our grocery bill as much as possible while trying to eat (and serve the family) less processed foods.

As I write this, I have a vegetarian taco meat mixture in the crockpot (lentils and quinoa) that I’m hoping will be an occasional replacement for Beyond Meat, which our family loves but (like most meat substitutes) is pricey. The recipe also called for taco seasoning, something I don’t typically use, but this recipe seemed like one that might benefit from it. Fortunately, the cookbook I’m using had one with all the spices I had on hand.

When thinking about what I currently make from scratch, I realized the list isn’t very extensive:

Guacamole – Mine isn’t real guac (like Beth Fish’s recipe) but instead just smashed avocado and tomato sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt. Since I’m the only person in the house who eats it, this works fine.

Vegetable Broth/Stock – I started doing this last winter, saving up scraps of vegetables and freezing them in a big bag. It’s especially easy in the crockpot — just dump in your bag of frozen veggies, add enough water to cover them, toss in a bay leaf or two and maybe some parsley, and cook it on low for the whole day. I think I let mine simmer for at least eight hours. Making broth is on my agenda this weekend so I can get a head start on all the soups awaiting us this fall.  (I tend to make a big pot on Sundays in autumn. One of my favorite things about this season is football on TV and a crockpot simmering away in the kitchen.)

Chicken Tenders – For the same price (or less) than a box of chicken tenders, you can make your own. They’re also much less processed. I coat mine with egg and breadcrumbs (with some parmesan cheese sprinkled in) and try to make enough to have leftovers during the week. That never happens because the kids always devour them.

Marinara Sauce – I haven’t made marinara sauce for awhile, but I need to do so more often. This recipe for making marinara sauce in the crockpot was one that we really liked.

Muffins – I’m not much of a baker, but I do like homemade muffins. More importantly, the kids do, too. Banana Chocolate Chip seem to be popular and there was a pumpkin muffin several years ago that was well-received. Our oven hasn’t been preheating properly and I’ve been putting off getting it looked at, especially since we don’t use it much during the summer months.  I’ve seen some recipes where you can bake quick breads and such in the crockpot using a small loaf pan, but that makes me nervous.  If you’ve tried that with good results, let me know.

Other items I’d like to start making include hummus, pancakes and egg muffins. There are probably many others but those are all I can think of right now. What about you?  What do you make from scratch versus buying at the store?

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #97 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

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Weekend Cooking: The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood

The Edible Woman

Margaret Atwood, one of literature’s most beloved and prolific authors, is best known for her books such as The Handmaid’s Tale (one of my all-time favorite novels) as well as her nonfiction and poetry and so many other works in various genres.

Not many people seem to know about her first novel, The Edible Woman, published in 1969 but written several years earlier. I certainly didn’t until I spotted this at the library and was immediately intrigued.

Set in the 1960s, Marian is a 20-year-old professional woman living in Toronto.  She’s gainfully employed at Seymour Surveys, a market research/advertising firm. Early in the novel, she becomes eligible for being vested with a pension. Her ruminations upon completing the paperwork gives readers who are familiar with Atwood’s work a glimpse into the themes she is brilliantly developing in The Edible Woman.

“Somewhere in front of me a self was waiting, pre-formed, a self who had worked during innumerable years for Seymour Surveys and was now receiving her reward. A pension. I foresaw a bleak room with a plug-in electric heater. Perhaps I would have a hearing aid, like one of my great-aunts who had never married. I would talk to myself; children would throw snow balls at me. I told myself not to be silly, the world would probably blow up between now and then; I reminded myself I could walk out of there the next day and get a different job if I wanted to, but that didn’t help. I thought of my signature going into a file and the file going into a cabinet and the cabinet being shut away in a vault somewhere and locked.” (pg. 15)

There’s so much in just this one paragraph:  a self was waiting, pre-formed … perhaps I would have a hearing aid, like one of my great-aunts who had never married … the world would probably blow up between now and then … being shut away in a vault somewhere and locked. 

The Edible Woman continues along this path. Atwood’s writing is sharp and purposeful –especially when she cleverly uses food metaphors.

“–my mind was at first as empty as though someone had scooped out the inside of my skull like a cantaloupe and left me only the rind to think with.” (pg. 86)

Food becomes even more dominant when Marian becomes engaged to Peter. What should be a happy time becomes worrisome when, soon after the engagement, Marian gradually begins losing the ability to eat. No one can figure out why.  (Clearly, this was in a time before everyone graduated from the Medical School of Google.)

But it doesn’t take a physician or a prescription to know that the real issue eating away at Marian is the fear of being devoured by another person and being consumed, losing her sense of self in the process.

Suffice it to say if The Handmaid’s Tale resonated with you, chances are you will appreciate The Edible Woman for its similar messages of feminism, relationship issues, women in the workforce, male hierarchy — and, yes, for its innovative and timeless way of using food to bring these issues into our consciousness.

The Edible Woman
by Margaret Atwood 
Anchor 
1998 (first published in 1969) 
310 pages 

 

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

 

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #90 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

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thursday randomness (88/99)

Sky - 8-25-2016

evening sky tonight, 8/25/2016

– Driving to work this morning, there were two cars ahead of me — one in the left lane and the other directly in front of me.  Left Lane Car’s license plate said INSANE2.  The other car had a Trump bumper sticker.  I found this rather amusing.

– We tend to listen to music (via The Husband’s Spotify playlist) while having breakfast, preparing last minute lunches, etc.  Yesterday was the first day of school and surprisingly, both kids didn’t give me too much of a hard time about taking their picture.  They refuse to pose together, of course, so we do individual shots.  As I’m doing this, Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” comes on, which was sort of ironic. And cool.

– I don’t want to jinx anything but so far, so good with the beginning of high school. Thank you God. I really couldn’t have handled a repeat of last year.

– I tried Iranian food today from Conflict Kitchen in Oakland and discovered that I like salad-e shirazi.

– A new school year means it’s time for me to sign up for new MOOCs that I likely won’t finish.  (I’m not alone; did you know only 9% of people who sign up for a free online course actually complete the whole thing?)  Anyway, I’ll be giving Modern and Contemporary Poetry a try again this fall along with Greek and Roman Mythology. Both offered online, free, through the University of Pennsylvania. (I certainly hope my deceased Mom-Mom has taken notice of this so she can tell all of her friends in heaven that her granddaughter is a student at Penn). I’m also doing a Latin course via a language program because The Girl is taking Latin this year and I always wanted to but probably wasn’t considered smart enough for, back in my high school.

– Out of nowhere, The Boy just initiated a discussion with me about feminism (“are you a feminist, Mom?” to which I answered with my oft-used sarcastic line that has gotten much use this week, “I’m sorry, are you new here?”). What followed was one of the longest, all-encompassing conversations we have ever had — about history, women’s rights, racism, literacy rates among men and women, how one’s feminist beliefs are formed and more. (I don’t know what the hell they’re teaching at that high school, but if this is any indication, my tax dollars are being well-spent.)

– Ten more of these 99 Days of Summer Blogging posts to go. I’m feeling like I’m just coasting at this point and it probably shows, but whatever. Just sayin’, don’t be surprised to see more of these types of posts.

 

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