Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just missing some good Maltese bread

I was standing there staring into the refrigerator knowing I had only a few more moments to decide what to pull outta there before the green police noticed and yelled my way. Chris is my "green police". If he catches lights on with no one in the room, he turns them off or reminds you to do so. If he notices the water running too long without efficient activity at the sink, he turns it off or fusses. Same with the frig door, outside door being open with AC/Heater on, TV on with no one watching, radio on etc.

He's completely right, no doubt about it. Though, I do tend to be multi-tasking in the kitchen and have the sink running as I rinse or clean, then turn around to stir an item on the stove then turn back to continue at the sink...when he's already shut it off.

Were was I going with this? Oh, yes. The soup. Anyway, I noticed I had some ground turkey and a large bag of fresh spinach I got from the farmer's market and thought it would be perfect to make Martha's Light Italian Wedding Soup that I featured on my blog for this week. The recipe did call for escarole; which I did not have, but I figured it would be just as dandy with spinach and I precooked my meatballs in the oven a bit before adding into the soup (my way of prepping them, that I know they are moist, yet cooked all the way). It was easy to make and brilliant. Only thing I was desperately missing was a nice chunk of Maltese bread to dip. Man I miss that bread.

Here is Martha's recipe from her site (see also link above):

1 pound ground dark-meat turkey (93 percent lean)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) diced tomatoes in juice
2 heads escarole (2 pounds total), cored, trimmed, and coarsely chopped

In a bowl, combine turkey, garlic, egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Using 1 tablespoon for each, roll mixture into balls.

In a large pot, heat oil over medium. Cook onion, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add broth and tomatoes (with juice); bring to a simmer. Add meatballs; cook, without stirring, until meatballs float to surface, about 5 minutes.

Add as much escarole to pot as will fit. Cook, gradually adding remaining escarole, until wilted and meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Thin soup with water if desired; season with salt and pepper. Serve soup sprinkled with more Parmesan.

Getting warmer!

The weather has been gorgeous lately. It can just stay like this all year. The 50's to 60's at night and in the 70's during the day. Can we get that every day please? Thanks. Really though, I don't mind our version of winter at all and love the spring and fall weather. The crazy heat of the summer I can do without.

I have been opening up the windows in the house to air out all of that stagnant air. It's been nice to smell the flowers blooming and feeling the crisp air. The oak pollen will soon put a temporary stop to that as the pollen count is rising dramatically causing all of us upper respiratory issues. It's all part of the yearly flow of things.
Little Miss Bella enjoying some sunshine.
Never fear, "The Man" is near! Kris likes to put on Bella's water mask when playing outside. He then pretends to be "The Man" running around the back yard saving creatures from any possible peril.
I am slowly warming up to being on the other side of the camera. I really need more shots with the kids.
See what happens to your arugula when you forget to clip and eat them? Now they have flowered on me and the flowers are so cute I can't bear to cut them. What a pickle. Maybe they will seed on their own and I'll have more arugula! Either way, once they peter out, I'll plant some more.

Words to remember and live by

Here are some little phrases that I liked and printed out and put on my frig at home and even framed one for my office at work. It's just me being quirky. I don't take the credit on any of these as they are all from Whole Living. A select few that hit a cord in me and I thought I would share them.

Just as a seed contains all it needs to sprout, so are you already equipped to thrive.

You can’t grow without pushing your limits.

See your mistakes not as personal flaws, but as the source of your most valuable life lessons.

Every moment of suffering brings an opportunity to build resistance.

With each challenge comes new growth. Engage in rewarding efforts.

Missteps are part of every process. Stay focused on where you’re headed.

Find your direction in life by looking where you want to go, not where you don’t.

Multitask stuff, not people. Look someone in the eye when you talk to them.

Happiness comes from experiences, not from objects.

Each transition is an opportunity to look at who you are – and where you are headed.

Know your worth – and accept nothing less.

Make this the day you stop dreaming and start doing.

Don’t believe what you hear. Life is good.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Meaty little guys

I made my feature recipe of for dinner last night. I prepared this before a few months ago and forgot how much I really enjoyed it. The French lentils have such a meaty flavor and texture that you feel quite satisfied. The accompaniments of tomatoes, scallions, dill, and basil along with the dressing of just olive oil and red wine vinegar make it refreshing and clean. This one's a keeper.
I was recently introduced to the angelic voice of Ray LaMontagne. I've since put all of his albums on my phone for my anywhere, anytime listening pleasure. He's been around for some time, but I'm slow at catching up on "new music" as I don't listen to top 40 or the regular FM radio and have to stumble across these things. Most of it comes from Chris, my Indie music buff. Thanks to Pandora, I have been finding tons of great new music to add to my life. Now that I'm enthralled by Ray's music, I found out he was just recently in town and performed at a small venue. Isn't that just typical.

Where is this? This is where I try and place myself when my environment turns dark. In this place I have most of my favorite things for finding some peace. It's a quiet place, fresh sea air, a table with fresh food, the smell and view of the sea and a hammock for my afternoon nap. Only thing missing from the picture are my kids playing happily and Chris by my side relaxing. I would be more than happy to travel to where ever this is in Italy to make this photo more specific to my visual aide needs.

I seem to have a problem shielding how others' moods affect mine. If I am surrounded by people angry and depressed, always complaining and being cold and difficult, it then affects my mood. My once happy self, morphs into a sad soul wanting to be anywhere but where I am and with people that with happier vibes. I am not speaking of my home life by the way.

So my choices are to surround myself with happier people or become complacent and not worry about it. It's going to have to be the latter of the two for now. Mr. LaMontagne has been helping me along the way.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Satisfying a craving

I have been craving cornbread topped with honey for weeks now. I had plenty of corn meal straight from water run mills in Tennessee and for some reason, I don't make corn bread often. Could be the need for vegetable shortening in the recipe, which I don't typically use but very rarely. Regardless, I was past due on corn bread.

It was oh, so good man. This version was very simple and was found on the bag of my Old Mill corn meal. I preheated the oven to 400 degrees, greased my cast iron skillet with some vegetable shortening and put it in the oven to get nice and hot. Meanwhile, in a bowl combined 2 cups Old Mill self rising cornmeal, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 cups buttermilk and 1/4 cup melted vegetable shortening. Once the oven was ready I poured the mixture in the pan (listened to it sizzle as it began to create that nice bottom crust) and baked for 30 minutes. Poured some honey on top of my slice and ventured into my own little heaven.

I have to keep a little of that shortening on hand, just so on that rare occasion I want to splurge and make something really naughty.

Thank goodness I had previously prepped my carrots for the next couple of days worth of juicing. That should help clean out the old system.

This is has become part of my every-other-day schedule. I juice on average about 7-9 carrots and two apples every morning. You can't eat that much in one sitting to get all those nutrients, but you sure can juice it! I buy a 50 pound bag of organic carrots and 8 pound bag of organic apples every week to support my addiction.

We went by Whole Foods again this Saturday to pick up a couple of staples and also picked up some Washington State apples. Those were the best I have ever had. Just imagine a juicy, sweet apple. Those are not for juicing, they are so delicious that they must be enjoyed as is. I can't wait to get some more of those. I can't believe I am getting all excited over an apple.

This is completely unrelated, but this kind of behavior from me shouldn't surprise you. I had to include it. Kind of like a little comic relief for a Monday. This is us as a family, Bella style. I am looking very motherly and proper while Chris is channeling a little Justin Beiber with his bling bling and "The Man" t-shirt. I really like the detail in the pants and I love how she draws the nose.

Happy Valentine's

I heard on my way to work a fellow speak of what the day should be. He said that on Valentine's day you should not be expecting anything or anticipating what you will receive. It's a day to think about the love that surrounds you. The love you feel and receive from your partner, your children, your family and your friends. Giving of gifts a gesture of that love.

Hope everyone has a love filled Valentine's Day.
The gift of an orchid from Bella to her daddy has almost become an institution. A couple of weeks ago, her daycare was holding a basket fundraiser. People donated baskets in various themes (the basket we donated was filled with art supplies). Tickets for the baskets are a dollar each with a raffle to pick the winners.

There was a local orchid farm that donated some plants for the raffle. Bella used her own money (plus a little of ours) and purchased one ticket for a basket with a purse she liked and then the rest she used in hopes of winning an orchid for her dad. She must have put at least $10 dollars in towards those orchids. She didn't win a plant, but she did win the purse basket with that one little ticket. The morning they told her she won a basket, she was so disappointed she didn't win a flower for her daddy. She wasn't really excited about the purse anymore, she really want to give him a flower.

I promised we would stay with tradition and we would buy him another orchid for Valentines. She found this cute little miniature plant with a new color he doesn't have yet. He really loved it and she was so happy to give it to him.
This picture was intended to have been colored by Kristjan to daddy. On Kristjan's behalf, Bella was happy to color and sign it for him. Really though, she didn't want to hand dad a picture with any coloring outside of the lines. She wouldn't allow it. Next time, I'll have to sneak away from the coloring police! ;o)

Friday, February 11, 2011

A lovely surprise

I received a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Chris today at work. It was a very pleasant surprise. Cried like a little child. Thank you honey.

Valentine surprise

The kids each received beautiful Valentine's baskets from grandma and grandpa. Grandma makes the coolest baskets!! Thank you so much for those. The kids are enjoying the coloring books, snacks and chocolate. Bella wore her new top to school today.
Kristjan loves lolly pops and when he saw these lips in his basket he went nuts to have it. Here he is showing you his big lips. Ready for a kiss?

Maybe not. ;o)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

California Common

That is the latest brew from my brew man Chris. He has been wanting me to learn and watch for some time and I finally had the opportunity to help him with this batch. I didn't document all of the steps but here are a few goodies from the brew.

Chris makes his beer from whole grains, not from liquid kits. He uses recipes out of a book, just like you do with cooking food. Someday he plans to create his own recipes. Here is the barley malt to be used for this brew before it has been ground down. I like to nibble on it. It reminds me of the grains I fed my horse when I was a kid. Yes, I used to nibble on that too.
The grains in his little mill.
After grinding.
While we were grinding the grains, we had to heat about 8 gallons of water. The water had to be a specific temperature in order to steep the grains properly. Above is pic of the grains steeping. We let them steep for about one hour. This process converts the starches into sugars.

While they were steeping, we had another kettle of water heating up to rinse the grains of the remaining sugars.

The liquid from the grains. What he is doing above is called vorlaufing. The liquid that comes out first is cloudy, he pours it back on top of the grains, the next liquid that comes out gets clearer and clearer. This is done before draining the wort into the kettle to boil. We use all of the liquid that the grains steeped in then add more liquid (the sparge water) that will drain through the grains providing more wort. We needed a total of about 13 gallons of wort to boil.

The boiling of wort or brew takes about an hour with hops being added certain times during the cooking process.

Five gallons are added in each carboy after cooling. We aerated the wort with oxygen, then added the liquid yeast that Chris grew a few days before (a whole other process to document). Put these two babies in our fermentation frig and let sit for a couple of weeks while the yeasts have their party then one carboy will go to bottle and the other on tap.

Fast Food

Not the drive thru kind of fast food. My kind of fast food. I am trying my heart out to get dinner done before 8:30pm on a week night. Doesn't always happen, but I try. Time flies when you don't have a lot of it to start with. I sometimes make the kids their favorite meals so that they can eat early. That way they are not eating two minutes before bedtime. Favorite meals being breakfast or Bella and a plate of assorted fruit and yogurt for Kris.

So I sacrifice here to live a little better there. I'm not going to beat myself up about it anymore. I'm not the only mom trying to juggle home life and work life while saying no to convenience foods. I do what I can, sometimes I slip, whatever. At least I am aware and I try.

Here's an easy dish that I absolutely loved to death. In a large roasting pan I threw in three tubs of cherry tomatoes and a whole bulb full of garlic (next time I will use two!). I tossed them with some olive oil, salt, pepper and dried herbs and roasted until the tomatoes where a bit browned on top. In a large pan I sauteed some mushrooms and set aside (I cooked the mushrooms because I needed to use them up!). While the tomatoes where roasting away I boiled up my pasta. Once the tomatoes where roasted I tossed them with all of their lovely juices into the pan with the mushrooms. I added a tablespoon of agave nectar and about 1/2 cup of white wine and let simmer a few minutes. I then tossed in the drained pasta and served with some freshly shaved Parmesan cheese. Perfecto!If you have leftovers or any veg to use up and some eggs, then a frittata is for you. It always works for me. I had some leftover baked potato and some fresh asparagus to use. Preheated the oven 425 while I tossed it together.

I cooked up some onion, orange bell pepper, ham and asparagus until just wilted. Then I added the precooked potato, crushed red pepper, salt, black pepper and tossed some more. I settled everything down, added my egg and almond milk mixture and topped with a little feta cheese. Baked for about 20 minutes. I served the slices with a spoonful of salsa and Greek yogurt.