Cooking for Other People’s Kids

Kids (most) are funny and obtusely illogical about their food. I’m sure there are real reasons, and I know that in utterly powerless childhood what you actually eat is often the only power you have over yourself, but cooking for other people’s children is impossible. I have actually served ice cream for dinner because I am not a fucking magician and I am often very tired. Out of the four kiddos I’m usually surrounded by, two are infuriatingly picky. My greatest accomplishment this year has been finding meals (or anything close to resembling) that the three pickies (1 adult, 1 teenager, one tween) and the adventurers (1 adult, one teen, one tween) can all enjoy on some level. As entertaining as it has been to watch one of them fake wretch every time I serve something not quite fitting, nothing can destroy already fragile self esteem like a 10-year-old. So I aim to please.


I recently spent an extended period of time with the BKs and cycled between anxiety, frustration, anger, and excitement while preparing for this visit. Don’t judge; it’s complicated. My solution to head off as much anxiety and hunger as possible was to make a meal plan and list of activities. My main line of defense started with a big batch Jenny Rosenstrach’s Macaroni and Cheese (we have modified this and renamed it Cheez It Mac and Cheese). This is magic medicine, and by far the easiest to make with the least amount of mess. If you have kids who are culinary minded or like to help, the white sauce is a good opportunity to use them either pouring or stirring. I’ve added more milk or cream that Rosenstrach calls for, and reduced the mustard powder. She suggests bread crumbs and while I’ve had good luck with panko for the topping, we prefer Cheez It’s.

Cheez It Macaroni and Cheese

Cook 1 lb of pasta (elbows, shells, anything that will hold sauce) in a Dutch oven or big, ovenproof pot. While cooking pour 2-2 1/2 cups milk and set aside. Likewise, measure 3 tbsp flour, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp mustard powder, and salt and pepper as desired together. Stir and set aside. Slightly under cook the pasta, toss it into a colander and leave it there. Preheat the oven to 350*. Throw 3 tbsp real butter into the already dirty pot/Dutch oven and put on medium heat. Once the butter melts whisk in dry ingredients. Let sizzle for a few seconds, and when it has some color SLOWLY drizzle in the milk. Whisk as you pour, and once it has the consistency of thick hot chocolate you can dump the rest of the milk in. Raise the heat, simmer and stir. Once the sauce has thickened, dump the cheese in. Rosenstrach calls for 2 cups of grated hard cheese but I’ve always used whatever I had available. This is usually the last of a bunch of bags of shredded cheese. Sometimes it’s less than two cups, often it is more. No one notices either way. Stir until melted, then add the pasta. Sometimes the pasta needs a quick spray of very hot water to separate it before your pour the pasta in. If you do this be sure to give the pasta a few extra shakes in the colander to get excess water out. Stir all, lick the spoon, and top with about 1/2 cup of crushed Cheez It’s mixed w a tablespoon of butter or olive oil. 

Now, this is not just for the kiddos. I’ve dressed this recipe up for date night (pumpkin and Gorgonzola)and down for PMS and pajamas (Kraft slices and cheddar ends). It pairs well with a dry red and Scandal or juice boxes and Unfortunate Events.

I’m signing off with apologies for the disorganized post. My laptop is dead and I ran over my Lofree Bluetooth keyboard and I’m trying to type on my iPad and my house is destroyed because I was not prepared for multiple days on my own with medium sized children. But also! Check out Dinner: A Love Story blog and books. I loved Jenny Rosenstrach BEFORE I entertained picky eaters, and her writing and her recipes are right on. Some of the recipes are still a little much for me and my tiny kitchen, but the writing is gorgeous and the tenets of feeding pickies lay the groundwork for everything else.

Enjoy!



Advertisements

Gratuitous Pictures of Dogs and Miscellaneous Early Mid-Life Musings

I can’t stop watching my dogs play. You heard me correctly – dogs – plural. A soccer mom friend asked me “What were you thinking?!” as I was tangled up in two on the sidelines. “I wasn’t,” I replied, “Everything’s easier that way.” All joking aside, the universe lined up. Our new boy is an untrained, skidding everywhere, pees-when-he’s-excited heart salve and every single person in this household loves him. He makes the little dog better, and I think he makes all of us better. There is no magic medicine for melancholy, but puppy love is pretty damn close.

IMG_5917

I am still gutted. I am loading the dishwasher or teaching a lesson or on the phone and a wave a grief pulls me under and I just. can’t. breathe. I am underwater. I make actual lists of the great good fortune in my life, but then I button pants and I did not expect to be wearing real pants right now. I am walking and talking and meditating and medicating and doing everything in my power to just feel better. And I am, sometimes, better. But I do wonder if I’m holding on to this what if, this almost, because I’m afraid this is as close as I’m going to get. I am sad and I just can’t imagine what my life is going to look like when I am no longer actively parenting. I’ll complain all damn day about how hard my kid is but that does not negate my desire to parent until the day I die.

Cooper and Sweet Pea are smoothing out the edges.

IMG_5843

IMG_5786

These boys are doing their adolescent jobs and preparing me to be ready to let them leave. This is code for they-are-driving-me-fucking-crazy and I-thought-I’d-be-better-at-this. The highs are high and I wonder what I will ever do without them; the lows have me searching for boarding schools with financial aid that start tomorrow. Like I will pack this car and drive you there right now heart of my heart and fruit of my loins. While I’m busy worrying about their social skills and general academic competency they are out there doing exactly what they need to do (and probably some shit that they shouldn’t but anyway).

We spent an evening at the sweatiest college fair of all time. I felt a flutter of hope as I heard the boys asking questions that I NEVER expected to hear from them, “What is the expected SAT score?” and “Tell me about life at _______.” My heart is expanding and contracting at such a furious rate I have zero faith I will survive until graduation. All those 20-something college reps? The best entertainment of the night was watching them pack up to get them SUM DRINKS. You should have seen the eyes being made across that field house. I almost pissed myself. Oh, to be 20-something. I just wanted a shower and yoga pants.

IMG_5967

Hockey season! The crown jewel of my year. I love peace and friendship and all that shit but GIVE ME SOME HOCKEY so I can regress like a proper human.

We had nearly full-family participation in spirit week. If you are not a high school student or a teacher you have blocked this memory out. It is when zero learning takes place over the course of one week because football.

IMG_5942

Mama/Ms. W as Madonna for Decade’s Day – The English Department is full of characters and friends and we NAILED it with 80’s icons ALLLLLL day. Also my getup scared the dogs so much I couldn’t get them inside. No sparkls mma plz wi scurd.

Kid did not go with either of these outfits but solidly represented Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Class color day and Bangor day were fully observed throughout.

IMG_5947

This picture does not do justice to the perfection that is Mark Bittman’s popover recipe with Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel seasoning. I would eat these every day.

What else? OH! I fixed MY OWN DAMN CAR!

This is a much longer story, but here’s the Spark Notes version: BF borrowed my car, car came home broken, I lost my shit, but then I googled shit, and texted my ex-husband, then I got my code scanned, bought parts and fixed this damn thing. Thank you, YouTube.

It turns out this old dog still has some capacity for new tricks.

I hope the rest of this month finds you well.

Heather

What do we even DO?

My friends.

What are you doing today? Are you, too, at work all in black and hiding your “Wild Feminist” shirt under a big scarf so you won’t get in trouble but also are telling the truth even if it’s only to your own heart?

I don’t know how to mark this occasion. The last inaugurations? We had parties and ate food and celebrated with friends. Today feels less like a party and more like a wake.

I’m not sure what to do, but I know that we ALL should cook at home tonight. If food=love then we are going to have a LOVE PARTY.

Go to your local grocery store or scrounge around in your pantry. If you’re like me you’ve been DOWN since November and have just started grocery shopping and doing laundry and actual work again.

I have spent three months watching goat videos on YouTube. Remember how Margaret Atwood described the fallow state in her Oryx and Crake trilogy? I feel like I’ve been in a goat-video-watching fallow state. And now, it’s time to get UP.

So tonight:

Open a bottle (box) of wine or some good, local beers, or a box of Capri Sun. Whatever. Put on some music. Tell the people in your house that they will be helping and/or leaving you utterly alone. Think about what FEEDS you. Remember that in airplane disasters you are required to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. This? Tonight? This is your oxygen mask. This may be your oxygen mask for the next four years.

I’m thinking about dinner and my family and my *two teenaged boys who will come of age under the most misogynistic administration I have ever known. I’m thinking of my boyfriend who wonders why I, now, am angrier and more frustrated than I have ever been, and I’m thinking of ways to be less angry and more effective.

But bitches get shit done. So I’m still working on that.

Here are a few options I’m thinking about as I plan my meal for tonight:

Meals

  • Italian Wedding Soup from Dinner A Love Story blog
  • Jenny Rosenstrach’s Chicken Soup with Orzo from Dinner: A Love Story
  • Phyllis Grant’s Hearts of Romaine Salad with bacon, eggs, and pesto dressingSoy sauce eggs
  • Every online community seems to suggest a roast chicken for mourning. If you do this, use Mark Bittman’s recipe with a large cast iron dutch oven.
  • If you still can’t get off the couch – Pizza Toast (Catherine Newman)
  • If you want to eat your feelings and slip off into a warm and comfortable food coma, I would suggest Mississippi roast with mashed potatoes or sausage and lentil stew with cheesy biscuits or bread
  • Tacos, just because.

Sweets

  • World Peace Cookies
  • Chocolate Cake for Any Occasion
  •  . . . Mexican Icebox Cookies

 

Today, I want ALL of my people under one roof and to be drinking and cooking and dancing my way through the kitchen to prove that I AM STILL HERE. WE are all still here. We are going to be kind and brave, we will take care of ourselves, our families, and each other; we will bear witness to this moment and our commitment to this big, brutiful world.

What are you making tonight, loves?

xoxo

Heather

 

*There have been some developments in my life. More on that later.

Lentil Soup and Winter Storms

This meal brought to you by . . . a cheap bag of lentils and general lethargy.

Vacation began, for me anyway, around 2:45 last Friday afternoon. Because of (what I think will be a regular occurrence this winter) canceled after-school activities, I found myself driving Colby to his father’s house. What should have been a 35 minute trip each way turned into about an hour on slushy back roads there, and an hour and a half on frozen, dark, and unmarked roads on the way home. I can’t remember the last time I was so grateful to see the I95 sign (if only I had known people would be driving either 20 or 70 mph – we’re not much on moderation in these parts I guess).

I knew we needed groceries, but I was too tired to even THINK about entering the grocery store. I arrived home to nearly empty pantry and refrigerator, ready to resort to PBJ.  Lucky for me, I found this:

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful and inexpensive!
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful and inexpensive!

This little bag is ALMOST enough to pry me from my crispy pan-fried chickpeas. Lentils are sacrilegiously easy (and healthy and delicious and cheap). After rustling up a couple of old, frozen, cracked carrots from the cold storage bin, a couple of potatoes and some onions and celery – I was in business. When Matt came home the kitchen was fragrant and steamy and smelled like I had been slaving over the stove for hours. The grand total time commitment for this gem is: 30 minutes with cook and prep time.

Soup for the Storm

Feeds 4-6 (or three with leftovers)

You’ll need: 1 cup french green lentils; carrots, celery, onions, garlic, potatoes; stock or bouillon; rosemary and bay leaf; olive oil; salt and pepper; grated parmesan; a large pot.

Do this: Rinse one cup of lentils and set to the side. Prep vegetables in largish chunks. They look nice at the end when you can actually SEE the vegetables instead of just KNOWING that they are there, mushed up in the soup somewhere. Saute one largish (a cup or over) onion and the carrots (I used three good sized ones). Once they get their sizzle on add the celery (I used three stalks) and garlic (three LARGE cloves, smashed and chopped). Once everything is tender-ish, add five cups of stock or broth (I used water and Better Than Bouillon), the lentils, chopped potatoes (I used three small ones, cubed), a large bay leaf and a healthy dose of rosemary (I probably used close to a tablespoon). Cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the temp to simmer very, very slowly. Simmer about 20-25 minutes.

*I think this is a dish you can pretty much do whatever you want with. Vary the liquid, veg, seasonings, etc. The rosemary and bay leaf, though, are indispensable.

If you over-cook this things will get a little mushy, but it will still be warm and delicious. This soup is best with the lentils JUST tender, but not so much so that they dissolve. Oh, and REMEMBER TO REMOVE THE BAY LEAF BEFORE SERVING. NO ONE WANTS TO EAT THAT.

Serve with: Bread – whatever you have in the house is fine, but buttered crusty bread is best – and grated parmesan. Your kids will want to hate it, but they probably won’t.

I don’t have pictures because 1. We ate it all and 2. Lentils, even when they look like a pretty bowl of fish eggs studded with vegetables, are still not that pretty to the rest of the world.

Enjoy, friends. xoxo.

Begin With Intention, End With Thanks

During my favorite yoga classes, the instructor asks us to set an intention for our practice. At the end we pause to be thankful for things like the time, money, and ability to be there.

It seems to me that this is the best way to begin and end anything. It could be as small as a dreary Monday, or as all-encompassing as parenthood.

 

I have yoga teacher training one full weekend of every month. This was my weekend. I’m sore from my intercostals to my gluteus minimus.

 

Preparing to do my "homework" - yoga on the patio with a classmate
Preparing to do my “homework” – yoga on the patio with a classmate

My house is dirtier than usual, and my parents took Colby to a soccer tournament (one which I really wanted to see). My intention, though, for this training is to learn and grow; breathe and think. I shrugged off the guilt of neglected domestic duty. I enjoyed my time, I explored the range of my ability, I learned a lot, and I spent time with good, like-minded people.

I also met this little lady:

I think her name is Sunny. All I know is that she made my morning 897% better. And she's soft.
I think her name is Sunny. All I know is that she made my morning 897% better. And she’s soft.

And a few of her doggy friends.

I came home to see one of my own puppies walking around with a beet she fished out of the vegetable crate:

 

Someone likes her veggies.
Someone likes her veggies.

I let her keep it just because she was having so much fun and, well, because she’s cute. Eventually it looked like a mass homicide occurred and I had to take it away. Parts of her muzzle and paws are still pink.

I had a rowdy pizza date with my husband, friends, and their kids.

I came home tonight famished and exhausted, but I had been thinking about supper for approximately two hours prior to arriving. I wanted chard gratin, sweet potatoes, and deviled eggs. It took about an hour to get together, but it was worth the wait.
Here’s the tweaked swiss chard gratin recipe. It’s simpler and much, much better!

A pic of the old recipe, but you get the idea.
A pic of the old recipe, but you get the idea.

If you have a large dutch oven or oven-proof pot you can do this in one pan. Otherwise get out a large pot  and grease a 9×12 pan. All instructions here are for an oven-proof dutch oven.

Ingredients

One to two pounds of swiss chard, cleaned and stalks removed. You can chop it or not. I just throw it all in the pan.

Grated Parmesan

Milk or cream

Salt & Pepper

one tablespoon butter

Flour

whole grain mustard

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a bit of olive oil in the pan or dutch oven. Saute chard until wilted and fragrant. While chard is cooking whisk mustard into milk. Take off heat and swirl a pat or two of butter through the greens. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of flour over the greens and add milk or cream. I use about one cup of milk to two pounds of chard. It depends on how saucy you want your gratin. Salt, pepper, and stir. Add a bunch of grated parmesan (1/2-1 cup) and stir.

If using an oven-proof dutch oven or pot, place the entire thing in the oven. If not, pour mixture into a greased baking dish. Place in oven for 30-40 minutes. It’s done when it’s bubbly, brown and crisp on the top. At best, this gratin has a crunchy top, deeply roasted flavor, and tender texture. It’s comfort food for grown ups.

 

So I’m ending my practice for today with thanks. Thanks for the opportunity and support to take part in the training, thanks for a still-rockin’ garden to create supper with, and thanks for a day off tomorrow.

 

xoxo

 

 

Green Smoothie Brown

20130715-124025.jpg

Thanks to my friend Catie (of theapproximateyogi.com) who suggested using smoothies as a means to rid one’s refrigerator of excess greens.

I feel like such a brat. Like complaining about my over abundance of nourishing food is comparable to complaining about a new car for super-sweet 16, but I digress.

I had a giant bag of beet greens in the fridge, so here’s what I did:

4 ice cubes, a handful of blueberries, a tbsp of chia seeds, on chopped and very ripe peach, a splash of water, and as many beet greens as I could put in the blender. Blend for a really long time.

It was very beety ( not surprising), but pretty good for something the color of dirt. Next time I may adjust to add sweetness and manage the color, but overall this was a cool and nourishing meal. I drank the whole thing, and I do not believe in eating gross things.

Swiss Chard Boredom = Genius Pizza

Our garden is seriously producing.

IMG_2960

 

 

IMG_2963

I’m incredibly grateful.

Also, I’m a little bit afraid I’m going to be so sick of swiss chard (by the end of the season) that I may never eat a leafy green again.

I’d had enough chard sauteed with garlic and balsamic (Matt could eat it 2x a day, every day). Also, I need to carbo-load so I can dance at PHISH tomorrow, so I thought up a pizza for dinner tonight. BTW, genius pizza stems from the ‘genius’ series of recipes on food 52. I want to go to there.

We were all skeptical, but it was so.effing.good! The chard and onions are a crispy contrast to the melted cheese, and even though I had to pat water from the top (use a paper towel – this usually happens with spinach and peppers, too) everything stayed crispy. A total keeper!

lotsa green
lotsa green

Pizza with Swiss Chard and Caramelized Onions

  • a good bunch of chard (or kale, I suppose), washed, trimmed, chopped and (kinda) dried
  • one ball of pizza dough (I’m usually a make-my-own kinda gal, but this dough from Portland Pie Co. is seriously the next best thing)
  • corn meal
  • olive oil
  • tomato sauce (plain, from a can, NOT PASTA SAUCE)
  • mozzarella
  • good parmesan
  • a couple of onions
  • pat of butter

 

Place fry or saute pan on the stove on medium heat. Throw in a pat of butter and a couple of glugs of olive oil. Slice onions and throw in the (now warm) pan. Let hang out until they are dark brown and miniscule. Cook at least 20-30 minutes. You can do the next steps while these are cooking down.

Take dough out of refrigerator (if you got lazy like me and bought the damn dough). Preheat the oven to 500. Make sure there is nothing in the oven (dirty dishes, pans you don’t have room for, cookies you forgot about last week). Sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza stone or baking sheet and plop the dough on top. Slop a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on the blob of dough, and begin to spread it out with your hands. This is gonna sound strange, but it works – place both hands on the dough. Press it into a flattish disk. Then take your hands, fingers closed, and place them on the dough. Begin to slowly spread your fingers out. Move to another place and do it again. Soon enough your dough will be stretched nice and evenly. Believe me.

Disclaimer: If I could go back two hours, I would have pre-baked the shell for 5 or so minutes just because the chard is so watery. I didn’t do that, and didn’t have any major issues, but I think the crust would have been crunchier if I had pre-baked it.

Spread a small can of tomato sauce (or 1/2 a larger one) on the shell. Sprinkle mozzarella (don’t go fresh mozz here – the chard is too watery to deal with any more excess water) liberally. Place big heaps of chopped chard on the pizza and spread out. It should look like veritable mountains of chard. It will shrink so so much. Grate fresh parm over the whole thing. Now do that again. Lots of parm, baby. Place caramelized onions on top of the pizza so that every bite will have crispy onions in it.

IMG_2968

good stuff
good stuff

Cook, oh, 20-30 minutes or so. This is a loose time guideline. My oven is notoriously iffy. Sit in the kitchen and drink wine, do the dishes, read a book. Whatever you do, just be sure to turn the oven on every 5-10 minutes to check on the pizza. The pizza is done when the cheese is bubbly and the chard and onions are very dark and crispy.

IMG_2974

... and I eat the last piece.
… and I eat the last piece.

Let cool while you set the table. Eat heartily, my friends.