Thursday, August 27, 2009

I think it's time to take action

Finding out where to start is the key. Here's my situation:

Yesterday Bella was not acting herself. When asked to do something, she would either ignore the request or state she didn't want to do it. I'm talking about turning off the TV (once I noticed homework in her bag) and taking her bath. She also was bouncing off the walls being very loud and sometimes too rough in play with Kristjan.

When it was time to read, she was fidgety and giggled nervously when I first read the book to her. When it was time for her to read the book back to me, she couldn't finish her sentences and read out completely different words than what was written in the book. She was completely unfocused. I had to stop her several times to tell her to just slow down, relax and just look at the words. I then realized after looking at her closer, that she must have had red dye that day. She did.

She told me for breakfast at school, she had some cereal with the "White bunny on it.". That cereal was Trix. She named some other cereals they had: Cocoa Puffs, Fruity Pebbles, Rice Krispies and Fruit Loops. All sugar and full of imitation colorings. Why would the school be providing such sugary cereals? Are they getting subsidies for carrying this crap? Granted, they may have Cheerios or other healthier options, but what do you think most children will choose?

I felt bad for her, I didn't scold her. I again tried to explain the importance of selecting foods that didn't have "fake colors" in them. Even Rice Krispies is a better choice in that regard. She was caught up in picking something up with the "bunny" on it. It's hard for little children when the school provides unhealthy foods that have advertising geared exclusively for children. Those foods should not be there in my book period. Just as vending machines filled with sodas and junk foods in high school should be removed. Get them outta there!

I'm stuck in a quandary because I'll either have to wake the poor child up even earlier to feed her breakfast (she already gets up at 5:45am) or pack her breakfast along with her lunch. Remembering of course, that she can't have anything with even a trace of peanuts for either meal because of a child with a severe peanut allergy in school. Too bad they can't provide the same courtesy for Bella and her dye allergy.

It concerns me because IT DOES affect her concentration. She's unable to focus and learn properly when this stuff is in her system. Not to mention how it changes her attitude. It scares me and I don't want her education or well being to suffer.

I've located the Nutrition Specialist and Food Director for our county's schools. They will be getting an email from me to start with. Secondly, at open house Chris and I will be discussing our concerns with her teacher, principle and whoever else will listen. Meanwhile, Bella will have to enjoy her breakfasts provided by us for a while until she can learn to select items without food dye if she wants to eat school food. Surely they also provide fruits, toast and other options. It's ultimately a battle between real and healthy food provided by nature and some effort by a human verses the colorfully advertized candy some people call cereal.

I am really iching to take action further on this. Not only my concerns about red dye in foods provided at school on Bella's behalf, but also for all the other children too. How many kids are being prescribed ADD or ADHD medications wrongfully when the real cuprit is the damn food dye? The same food dye that's in these sugary cereals that these children are gulping down in the morning before class starts. Hello?! I'm not a Cambridge Scholar, but I'm smart enough to know that sugar + children = hyperactivity to start with and then a bad crash to end with. How do you relieve the crash? With more sugar of course.

While I'm at it, how much food is just reheated processed foods instead of prepared there at the school? There are schools out there that have the resources and ability to prepare wholesome foods and provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the children. Instead of the staff just reheating food, they make the food. They have also found that these schools spend less on food costs and have children doing better in school. One school in particular (New York city) had supposedly troubled students attending (you know, with ADHD!) and by changing the diet, their students excelled beyond the status of their neighboring "normal" schools.

It can be done. The hard part is making it a reality. Who will listen? Who will help me? Am I out of line here?

I'm not perfect, I still let my children eat cereals that do contain some sugar (as a small snack) but I can't feed them anything anymore with coloring. I'm not wanting to bash any one's style of eating or what they allow their children to eat at home - that's none of my business. I'm just wanting healthier options and the removal of obviously unhealthy foods in school. If a kid wants a twinkie, they have the ability to get it elsewhere - not in school.

The Finding Nemo DVD case. It's almost always by Kris's side. Bella is showing him the different characters on the cover.
Always a comedian. I think I also need to remind Bella on how to sit with a dress on. :o)

I caught him in mid scurry.

I'll end this long and fiery post by saying I'll be back to update in a few days. I'm flying up to New York for the weekend to spend time with my friend Kristin and her family. Hopefully the kids will be good for daddy while I'm gone and not challenge him too much. I'm sure it will be a good time for him though, just spending good time together.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I can see the likeness

Bella helped me a little while I was making pasta the other day. She decided to make herself some pasta. I boiled them up for her and tossed them in some butter. I'll have to get an apron for her I think. One with her name on it. Santa may have a little idea brewing here.

Kristjan may look more like his daddy, but he has my eyes. Almost as black as the night.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Overwhelmed with gratitude

Friday evening my neighbor came by and dropped off a huge bag of clothes. She has brought us clothes before and the kids are still wearing some of them. She has a boy that is 4 and a daughter that is 6. The clothes that I gather that no longer fit my kids get donated as well. It's a great cycle. This donation was so immense, I was taken aback. I am so very thankful, it's incredible. This is what she brought us:

For Bella - 5 skirts, 7 pants, 4 PJ's, 3 jackets, 7 dresses and 23 tops.
For Kris - 1 jacket, 3 vests, 10 pants, 3 bathing suits, 3 PJ's, 5 undies, 13 shorts and 36 tops.

I had to go out and buy more hangers to accommodate. This has saved us so much money in clothes, I can't stand it! Most of the clothes for Kris are 3T, but he'll grow into them. The items for Bella fit her now. Now, I will purge their clothes for the outgrown and proceed to donate them so that I can help some one else out in the cycle. Awesome!

Beautiful Bella in one of her new donated dresses. She's very excited to be going back to school and is looking forward to making new friends. Good for her! I was terrified every year - afraid to make new friends. I am so happy she likes school. Her backpack from last year cleaned up just like new and she doesn't care that it's from last year. I'll be keeping in touch with her teacher and plan to sign up to volunteer in the classroom whenever I can.

Here comes trouble! No, he's a good boy. He's the sweetest little thing. He is our true animal lover. That's all he really wants to play with or talk about. Especially the "fishies". I am picturing him as an environmentalist, marine biologist or veterinarian. Bella will be going into politics, law or teaching. Just a hunch I have.

Ever since the binkies went away, he no longer sleeps with Donald. He used to suck the binkie while playing with Donald's tag. I guess it's too much of an association with the binkie. Kind of like the link between cigarettes and coffee or beer perhaps? I know it's a pink dolphin, but we couldn't find his stuffed Nemo so we had to find a fish replacement for him. He didn't seem to care anyway.
Ahh, Malta. This is where mom is now. I hope you are having a good time mom! Think if me when you are enjoying pastizzi, Vivian's cooking and watching the festa.

Planning ahead

I finally got to make that Pasta Caprese from cooking class a couple of weeks ago.

  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large tomatoes seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • salt / pepper
  • 1 cup buffalo mozzarella chopped (get the best you can find, that has flavor to it)
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil chopped
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 box penne pasta cooked al dente

Cook pasta, rinse a little, drain then set aside. In a large bowl, mix tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, cayenne, salt and pepper. Add pasta, basil and cheese and toss well. Serve with fresh baked bread.

Lasagna noodles drying a bit and awaiting assembly.

I usually make the red sauce like a bolognese with sausage. This time I used very lean ground beef. After tasting, I noticed that I prefer the sausage. I find that simmering a red sauce with ground beef for hours causes the beef to taste kind of chalky to me. Still good, but better with hot, mild or sweet Italian sausage.

I first put a small layer of sauce on the bottom before laying down a layer of pasta. On the first layer of pasta I added frozen chopped spinach and some shredded sharp cheddar cheese. I use sharp cheddar because I can taste it! Regular mozzarella; to me, has no flavor at all. At least the stuff we have at our store. Using buffalo mozzarella for two lasagnas would be very pricey, so I just change the cheeses around. I've used feta, smoked gouda and fontina in the past. It's all good.
I added another layer of pasta and then topped with ricotta cheese. I sprinkled a little parmesan, more sharp cheddar and a little sauce. Another layer of pasta went on top of that and then a full layer of sauce.
This is the extra lasagna for the freezer. It's not cooked, just layered. Over the sauce layer I put one last layer of pasta. I drizzled a little sauce (to coat the pasta), and a good helping of parmesan and cheddar cheese. This way, the top will get nice and crunchy.

Ready to eat! Now we have 3/4 of a large lasagna to eat for lunches or leftovers and a full one in the freezer for Chris to just pop in the oven. I also put the unused sauce in a container for him in the frig so that he could just boil up some pasta and add the sauce for dinner. If I am feeling generous, I may boil the pasta and put it in the frig for him too. Let's see how generous I am feeling come Thursday. :o)

Barley Water Brewing Co.

That's what we call Chris's brew. Still far from any kind of mass production.
Here is the IPA double batch made Saturday. The one on the left had a yeast starter added and the one on the right he used dry yeast. Just as a little experiment. They will ferment in the frig for a couple of weeks before bottling.

The Rye beer in the secondary fermenter. Beers that go through this extra step have a clearer coloring to them.
The brew kettle. A double batch is all this puppy can handle at a time. Any larger than that, calls for a whole new spectrum of cook ware. Very expensive cookware.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Week ending August 28th

Sat - Mussels in broth, Pasta Caprese & fresh bread
Sun - Lasagna
Mon - Tossed greens with grilled chicken, grilled corn & pepper jack cheese
Tues - Tomato & sausage risotto
Wed - Greek chicken cutlets with polenta
Thur - Black bean & goat cheese quesadillas
Fri - Chris is in the kitchen!

The Pasta Caprese was a very simple, yet scrumptious recipe that was made in our last Williams-Sonoma class. I had to make sure to fit that in this week. Sunday I'll make the lasagna noodles as I layer. I'm going to make two of them. One for that evening and the other for the freezer. I am hoping that between the lasagna and the risotto there will be enough leftovers for Chris for the following weekend. I may also toss up a rice salad for him as well. I will be gone to New York for a few days so I want to make sure there are easy to eat foods available. All else fails, there is plenty of peanut butter and jelly in the pantry!

I have a very busy weekend and week ahead of me. Most of it is planning ahead stuff. I made sure Saturday's dinner was a snap so I could run and get Bella's shoes and me a carry on luggage then also spend a little time with Nanna before she leaves for Malta that afternoon. I'm so jealous! She will be gone to the Mediterranean paradise for three weeks to visit family.

Glass Carboy

Chris will be brewing his first 10 gallon batch of beer Saturday. A much larger production. He also has to move his Rye beer from the primary fermenter to the secondary fermenter. He will have three carboys full when he's done. Good luck dude. I'll try my best to help him. It's just not a safe environment with a toddler running around.

I also need to plan for Bella's birthday which is the weekend after I get back from my trip. Her birthday falls on a Friday, so we will probably just do cake in the evening with family and then Saturday she wants to go to the beach and eat at Joe's Crab Shack afterward. Grandma and Grandpa will be in town to join in on the festivities. She is very excited about it. All I really need to do is get her the right gift and make the right cake. Luckily the beach has it's own wonderful natural decorations.

I promised to update my blog often and with pictures of the kids for mom while she is gone. She said she would check it every day. Have a safe trip and give love for me to the family. I promise to be there next summer, somehow - someway. And if we can do it, all four of us will come together. :o)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What a sport

Kristjan is on day three of being without the binkie and he is doing really well. At first; when he asked for one, we would change the subject and get him interested in something else. Now, we simply tell him that the binkie went "bye bye" or "no more binkie". He hasn't had a melt down. It's almost like he knows it's not coming back and is fine with it. To be honest, he's sleeping better and is in a better mood without it. What I like about it most is that I can understand what he's saying now.

Like I mentioned before, he only used the binkie at home and usually when I was around. Never at school and never at Nanna's house. The doctor recommended he not use the binkie because the constant suction may be irritating the eustachian tube and ears, perhaps aiding to the ear infections. She also wants him off the bottle as well.

I'm going to deal with the bottle issue when he's completely comfortable without the binkie. One thing at a time. I feel for the dude. Kind of reminds me of when I quit smoking. You want it, but you don't need it. It's just a comfort or oral thing to get over. I'm proud of the little dude and think he's got it beat already.

Captivated by Finding Nemo. I couldn't help but notice how upright and nice he was sitting. Funny how babies know the proper way to sit, with their backs straight. Then something happens along the way and we end up slouching. Good posture has gone the way of the dodo bird I think. I hate to admit that I'm included in that criticism. Mom used to yell at me unceasingly to not slouch. "Boobs out!" she would say or "Don't slouch!". She has perfect posture and keeps it as such. Her back is in better shape than mine because if it. I have to correct myself almost constantly when I'm at my desk at work and while standing.

If you happen to have a Williams-Sonoma store near you, they offer free technique classes on some Sundays at 12:30pm. The classes run about an hour. I have attended a couple of classes already and am really enjoying them. Here is the new list for the upcoming classes they are offering:

Crepes & Croques: Sunday, August 30 - Learn the technique for preparing delectable crepes, which can be filled with sweet and savory ingredients. We will also show you how to make the classic grilled sandwiches known as croque monsieur and croque madame.

Classic French Techniques: Braising & Sauteing: Sunday, September 13 - Learn the classic techniques of braising and sauteing. In France, home cooking revolves around the seasons; as these two techniques utilize different ingredients, they will provide you with a wealth of ideas to be enjoyed throughout the year.

Bistro Suppers: Sunday, September 20 - Learn about the essential French spices and how to use them in classic recipes that are easy to prepare at home.

Espresso, Cappuccino or Coffee, Anyone? Sunday, September 27 - We'll show you the differences between various coffee machines and how to brew your favorite coffee drinks. Learn how to control the strength of coffee and how temperature can affect the flavor.

Fresh Pasta: Sunday, October 4 - Discover how easy it is to make fresh past at home. We'll show you the techniques for preparing delicate fresh pasta, plus tips for cooking and serving it.

Knife Skills: Sunday, October 11 - This class will cover everything from the essential knives and cuts to specific knife functions, such as making garlic paste, slicing ginger, and creating simple garnishes. Learn which style of knife matches your cutting style, along with the basics of knife care and maintenance.

Fall Baking: Sunday, October 18 - This class will showcase classic fall desserts that both children and adults will love. You'll learn how to make a great apple pie, delicious pocket pies, and delectable cupcakes. We'll also demonstrate how to decorate our favorite haunted house. Savor the season's best with these recipes for autumn.

I won't make it to all of them, but I'd really like to attend the pasta class, the braising and sauteing class and perhaps the baking class. I probably NEED to attend the knife class. Not so much on my technique, but on using the right knife for the right job, care and maintenance. My knives are never sharp enough!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Less is more

I am learning one recipe at a time, that simple is better for us. It's better for my weekly menu planning for sure and isn't compromising taste. Like with Italian cuisine, less is more. They are the masters of making kick ass dishes with just a few ingredients. The most important thing is that the ingredients be fresh and of good quality. There's no need to "cover up" anything if you are using simple and quality ingredients. I know there are plenty of excellent recipes out there that have ingredient lists that are extensive. I still like to piddle with those too. I save those productions for the weekend when I have more time to play in the kitchen.

Last night I made a simple Chicken Piccata. This recipe worked for me because it was clean, with a few ingredients and I could taste all of the vibrant flavors. The side dish included in the recipe was just a pasta and spinach dish where I boiled the pasta, added the fresh spinach to the pasta water for about a minute, drained, returned to them the pot and added some butter, salt and pepper. Tossed it about and it was done.

The piccata was very fluent as well. I sliced the chicken breasts in half lengthwise and then dipped them in flour. I then browned the chicken on both sides and set aside. In the same pan I added a cup of dry white wine and the juice of one lemon. I made sure to loosen up the brown bits in the pan from the chicken and let it reduce almost to half. I then added 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons drained and rinsed capers. After the butter had melted I added any needed salt and pepper and then poured over chicken.
Little man was feeling a little better yesterday. He was busted several times in the house climbing on top of his cart to reach light switches, pushing over the gates, playing with the blinds, and knocking things off table tops. He's a little trouble maker, but I'd rather have that than him not feeling well.He's not just a little trouble maker, he's also a picky eater. I have yet to understand it. I thought that since Chris and I will practically eat anything, that our children would be the same way. That theory has been shut down. Bella was a bit picky when she was little, but she did eat very well and had a more expansive scope of foods that she would eat. She's more on the salty side of things. It's just been in this past year that she finally began broadening her horizons in the food department. Slowly adding more foods to her repertoire.

Kris is even more particular than Bella was and prefers sweet foods to savory. The picture above is some noodles in red sauce that I made for the kids. I even added some sugar to make it a bit sweet. Last week's chicken with noodles was not a hit with Kristjan. The teachers at school said he never touches any chicken or vegetables with noodles that I bring (thanks for not letting me know until I asked). I left them a note in his lunchbox this morning to please let me know if he eats the noodles with red sauce.

If he has his way, his diet would only include: diced peaches, diced pears, bananas, carrots, buttered bread, cereal bars, cheerios, goldfish, Gerber Graduates ravioli and mac n' cheese. That's pretty much it. Not the quintessential diet in my eyes.

Here I go again, getting all tense about perhaps nothing. Bella is healthy and survived through her 10 item diet. I'll just keep introducing as much of a variety that I can and hope that he too will enrich his diet with more foods. As long as he is thriving and happy, there's not much else I can do. I have led a horse to water, and it's a fact - you can't make them drink.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's one or the other

Kristjan has a follow up appointment at the pediatrician for his recent bout with an ear infection tomorrow. Good thing, because I think the infection is back. This weekend his eyes were watery and clogged, he kept rubbing his ears, had a mild temperature and was generally fussy. Poor dude. Is it teething or the ears again? I don't know, we will find out tomorrow.

Chris will be taking him and I have a few questions prepared for the doctor regarding the ears. We need a run down on the frequency of the ear infections. I think they are too frequent and I feel badly that my little man may be putting up with constant pain from his ears. His quality of life and his gusto is compromised when he's not feeling well due to the ear infections. Whether they are mild and bearable to highly infected and miserable, it's a horrible thing. Having him on so many antibiotics is not good for his immune system either. I hate it.

Bella had her tubes and adenoids removed when she was 2 years old and hasn't had an ear infection since (knocking on wood as I type this). She had chronic infections, much more frequent than Kris and she didn't handle the pain very well. Her hearing and well being was compromised and the procedure had to take place. I'm not in complete promotion to the "surgery fix all theory", but if it is needed for him, I'm all for it. First though, I think he needs to be seen by the ear, nose and throat specialist. The fella that performed the surgery and took care of Bella is a wonderful doctor and I trust his expertise. He needs to look at him and see what needs to happen. He usually also performs extensive hearing tests.

Secondly, the pacifier will have to go soon. The constant suction from that thing can't be helping the matter. It's going to be just as hard on us as it will be on him. Believe me. If we could at least phase it out to just bed time falling asleep usage. He only uses them at home and usually requests one when I walk through the door. I don't know what that says about me...

He also still takes the bottle twice a day. I'm still reluctant to take that from him. He really loves his bottle time still. I've tried milk in all sorts of containers and temperatures and he still wants the bottle to drink it. One thing at a time I guess. He won't be drinking from a baba when he's in college.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Soup time

Last night was the soba noodle soup with Shiitake mushroom and ginger broth night. I first cooked the ginger, mushrooms, shallots and tofu (my little addition) in a little oil.

Then I added my broth (that dark cornish hen broth from the other week) and let it simmer a while.

Added some fresh spinach and chopped scallions. Let simmer some more.

Added the soba noodles that I had precooked, drained and then tossed in a little sesame oil.

It was a very nice and hearty soup. I really enjoyed the all of the textures and deep flavors. It was my first time using soba noodles and I liked their hearty taste. We can only find them at Whole Foods which is far from home but close to Chris's work.

Next time I send him in there for some beef, I'll have to have him pick up some more. I took advantage of him being there yesterday and had him pick up some red quinoa which is very hard to find and always seems to sell out quickly. Probably because it tastes so good!

I've got some anxiety going today. You know, that feeling that you are forgetting something? That's me. Maybe it's all the things on my plate for this weekend. I've got all the things I listed yesterday, which will have to go on the bottom on the list. First I have to go to the produce stand, get groceries, then find time for school shopping, and clean the house. The house has to be cleaned because I really didn't get to it last week and now it's in dire need. In there, I also need to fit in pool time with the kids (because they will be up my rump to swim), playtime with the kids and feeding the kids. Chris is around, but he's usually outside doing lawn stuff while I'm inside doing house stuff.

The kids would rather hang out with me due to the 100 degree weather outside. I can't blame them there. In the winter though, out you go! Mama's gotta clean and you need to play.

I figure the older the kids get, the cleaner the house will be. At least that's my theory anyway. Those with older kids will probably be giving me the bad news shortly...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Week ending August 21st

Sat - Balsamic flank steak with polenta and roasted tomatoes
Sun - Battered shrimp with vanilla-maple carrots and tossed salad
Mon - Chicken Piccata with sauteed spinach
Tues - Emeril's macaroni salad
Wed - Greek-style quinoa burgers with roasted vegetables
Thur - Pasta with arugula, white beans and walnuts
Fri - leftovers / pantry and freezer hunt

Yes, another Martha Stewart recipe week. Can't help it! They all turn out so good! I'll start tinkering on my own again. I'm just in learning new things mode right now.

Chris went by Whole Foods to pick up the flank steak. It actually was only a couple of dollars more than the regular store beef. I'm using that instead of the skirt steak the recipe calls for because it's a leaner cut and honestly, I am more familiar with that cut of meat. So mom and dad, you both are invited to come over Sat for dinner if you want! I'm making the spinach side instead of the linguine for the Piccata dish to tone down the pasta intake this week.

I'm making the shrimp on Sunday instead of pizza per Bella's request. I bought them last week on sale and she's been bugging me for us to make them. She likes to help me dip them in the batters and cook them just as much as she likes to eat them. While we are at it, I think we'll batter up a new batch of chicken fingers to freeze too.

Cooking ahead projects for the weekend include:
  • Making chicken fingers to freeze
  • Veggie stock
  • make sure to make extra pancakes on Sunday to freeze
  • make chicken with rice for Kris for school (freeze extra)
  • make noodles with red sauce for Kris for school (freeze extra)
  • If we get a case of muscadines or scuppernongs, they need to be washed & put in freezer I hope I have room for all this crap in the freezer. Those grapes will give me a challenge I know. I do have a frig with a freezer in the garage, but it's useless to me because Chris keeps it at 67 some degrees for his beer fermentation. At such a high temp, the freezer will not kick on. That waste of freezer space kills me. I think I have some researching and "window shopping" to do.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mini rant time

This coupon was given to me right before I heated my lunch and I just can't understand the reasoning other than profits of course. Just what our country of rising obesity rates needs is another larger version of a burger sold at McDonald's. I'm guessing they are competing with Burger King's different Angus burger varieties. By the way, I'm sure it's the same factory farmed 1000 or more cows per patty beef as well. I mean, really.

With all the data out there on the rates of type 2 diabetes rising among young adults and children as well as the rate of obesity in low income people also suffering from malnutrition, I find it internally sad that the food just keeps getting larger and more fatty by the day.

When questioned about their fatty food, they always answer that they now carry apple slices, apple juice and premium salads on the menu. Those salads; by the way, end up having more calories than a Big Mac after adding the croutons and salad dressings. So why can't they also offer a grilled fish sandwich or mini grilled chicken sandwiches for the kids menu? How about getting rid of all the white bread and use whole wheat? It will still be a highly processed bread, but will at least contain a smidgen of fiber.

Perhaps I should just calm it down and realize that it's simply a burger joint trying to sell more burgers and leave it at that. It is all personal choice, they aren't forcing anyone to eat there. However, it's adds like this coupon and billions in direct marketing that get the millions to eat there. Let's not forget the marketing geared towards children. Just yesterday, when Bella and I went to get lunch she requested McDonald's. Not because of the food; mind you, because she wanted a toy.

I've since given the coupon to someone else.

Mommy's little helper

Yesterday I had a cute little assistant at work. She enjoys coming to work with me and I enjoy her company. Makes for a much better environment. I make sure to bring the laptop with some movies, plenty of art supplies and her DS. Mostly she has the movies playing in the background while coloring. She didn't play with her DS once, but colored her little heart out and helped me do little things. I now have an office full of pretty pictures. That also makes for a much better environment. I miss having here with me. My goal though, is that she does as well as she can in school and becomes the living proof of her dreams. Something I am still working on.

Last night I made the black bean and goat cheese quesadillas. Let me tell you how easy these babies were to make! I usually follow the recipe to the T on the first go just to make sure it tastes like it intended. Then when I make it again, I then add things here or there that I think may give it more of a punch or intense flavor. That's the fun in cooking, just experimenting.

Above I mixed in a bowl: 1 can of drained and mashed black beans, goat cheese, 1 chopped tomato, 3 chopped scallions, 1 ear of corn worth (not cooked), salt, pepper and fresh chopped oregano. Then I spooned some on half of a whole wheat tortilla.

Cooked them up on the grill pan.

Then voila! They're done. I served them over some rocket along with some salsa and Greek yogurt. They were very tasty and took me no time at all. I like those kind of recipes for during the week. Next time I may add some chopped chilies or chopped steamed spinach to them. The combination of possibilities are endless.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Keeping it light

Last night I made linguine with summer succotash. It was very light and tasty. You get 4 ears of corn and remove corn from husks. Split the corn in half. When boiling the pasta, save 1 cup of the pasta water. Put a 1/2 a cup of pasta water with half of the corn in a food processor and blend until creamy. Drain pasta, rinse and set aside. In the same pot with a little olive oil simmer the other half of the corn and the sugar snap peas. After cooked a little add the halved cherry tomatoes, corn sauce that was blended, other half of the water, basil and pasta and toss a few minutes. At the end, add a little cheese. Very easy with just a handful of ingredients. I did have to add more water in the end just to give it more of a creamy texture.

To accompany it I decided to make that traditional balsamic dressing like I learned at cooking class. I just tossed it with some rocket and a little shaved red onion. It was dreamy! I've now realized that I don't need to spend any more money buying dressings at the store. They can all be made at home for a fraction of the price, minus the chemical additives and preservatives.

I made the balsamic dressing just as I learned by emulsifying it instead of just blending with a fork or whisk. I used my stick hand mixer in a bowl and blended until it was completely smooth and emulsified. This way, the oil and vinegar will no longer separate. Genius!

No it's not cattle feed, it's Chris's barley malt and rye after he has put them threw his mill. He buys them whole and mills them himself for a fresher product. He places the grain in a cooler and pours in boiling hot water (has to be a certain temperature) and lets it steep for a scheduled period of time. The water that comes out will be his wort and will have extracted the sugars in the grain. That wart will then be boiled with the addition of hops for about an hour, then cooled and yeast added for fermentation. Beer making is a very cool process.

Enjoying a nice cold pint glass of it is even more cool.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sun kissed and eyes opened

Little miss sunshine. Not only am I finding her more and more beautiful, but she also has an impressive tan going on. I think I'm in trouble when she's older. The boys are going to drive Chris insane.

Somehow the Mediterranean olive skin gene from my mom skipped me and blessed Bella. Yes, I have been keeping her covered with sunscreen, but daily exposure to the outdoors and being a fish in the water, she's built up a nice tan. When I say fish, I mean it. In just a few weeks they were able to teach her to swim. She passed the swimming test as well. She now lives under the water, just like a little fish. I remember being just like that.
My taste buds have been opened up to a whole new world of complex flavors. Thanks to my first class in a series of complimentary cooking sessions at Williams-Sonoma, I am now a fan of true balsamic vinegar. We learned that the store bought balsamic vinegar is a completely different product that the true aged balsamic from Italy.

I've always purchased the Vigo or whatever discount balsamic for home use. Not that I was unaware of the good stuff, just never found it feasible to spend the extra and sometimes very expensive price for the balsamic straight from Italy aged beyond 12 years. Also, I was never given the pleasure of being able to taste the well aged verses the average which is aged only months is some cases. We were given two little paper cups with about a teaspoon of balsamic in each. One had a regular store brand and the other had a balsamic aged 25 years.

The difference in flavor and smell was potently apparent. The store brand (the kind I have always used) was bitter, tart and pungent. The 25 year old vinegar was sweet, almost like a very complex port wine. We were all stunned. Needless to say, I purchased a bottle of 25 year old balsamic after also tasting some awesome dressings that were easily whipped up. The price was not that bad considering that it should last me a long time. I've since tossed out my insult to balsamic that I had in the cupboard. For sure my next serving of mozzarella with tomato and basil will taste like a dream when I drizzle some of that nectar of Modena.

Dad came with me and was impressed so much he purchased the same bottle I did plus a bottle of balsamic aged 25 years that has been through more reduction and aged in older barrels. That stuff is gold in a bottle. It should last him a very long time. Next weekend is about olive oils and techniques. I can't wait to find out what I have been missing in that product.

Ratatouille while cooking. I cooked down the vegetables for a while longer after this point and then added a large can of chopped tomato. I let it simmer for about 30 more minutes letting the sauce reduce. I served it over brown rice. It was delicious. Another recipe that I'll have to remember to make that is healthy, low in cost, fast and comforting. I have the recipe on this week's recipe of the week if you want to check it out.
Finding Nemo must be on again. I think Bella is also starting to figure out that she can play dress up with her brother. It starts with a hat and then before you know it he will be in full drag.

Looks like Bella is enjoying herself but what is poor Kristjan doing?

I see, she's got him working back there. Shouldn't he be on his toy being pushed around instead? He doesn't seem to mind for now, so whatever. As long as they both are having fun. I really treasure these times.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Tuesday Bella had the pleasure of attending a special birthday party with her Ninnie (grandmother). It was the birthday of her great-great grandmother Mama Ruby who just turned 102 this Tuesday. She's still full of life and as spunky as ever. She has been through a lot and has much to teach all of us about human health and happiness. Click here if you would like to read the article.

Here's a picture of Chris's latest brew. It's an ultra tasty IPA that was bottled about a month ago and is technically ready for drinking. It's so very delicious. It's nice and hoppy with a smooth finish. If we wait another couple of months, the flavors will become even crisper and the color more clear. Unfortunately, most of his creations get consumed before they reach their peak age. He would have to brew almost weekly in order for us to accumulate a large enough supply to feed our needs plus allow them to reach complete maturity. We like our good brew, what can I tell ya?

He does have a fan base on his brew. Two of them are pals of mine that I swap brews for fresh farm eggs from their chickens. They absolutely love his beer. I'd love learn from Chris and someday open up a brewery. I know I am in dreamland again, but the only thing missing from my dreams (or crazy ideas) is capital. Gotta get and save some capital.

I'll be delivering some brew for those precious eggs this weekend and I can't wait! Those eggs rock! I know I've said it before, but man I wish I could have some egg laying chickens where I live! I may just ask the homeowner's association just for shits-n-giggles and see what they say. You never know, they may say it's ok and then I'll just have lobby the husband. :o)