July 22, 2008
photo by lilxerica on Flickr
Summers seemed to last so much longer when I was a child. There were books to read, bikes to ride, creeks to explore, and pools to swim in. I didn’t watch television (yes silly, television was invented when I was a child); in fact, I rarely was ever home during the day in the summertime (I am sure the lack of central air conditioning was a contributing factor). I was on my bike playing bike tag on carless streets, at the playground sliding down scorching hot metal slides or at the pool.
The pool was a unusually large community pool, or it just seems large in my memory. Nothing can take me back to age ten faster than a whiff of coconut suntan oil and the vision of leathery septuagenarians (or at least appeared to be septuagenarians) smoking cigarettes on woven plastic chaises sunning themselves well before the term sunscreen was even part of the lexicon. It was always a happy day when my mother would give my sister and I each a quarter to buy an ice cream or, oh the joy!, a dollar bill to buy french fries and a fountain drink.
Since I spent so much time there as a child, there are certain foods and candies I will always associate with the pool. Airheads, Fun Dip (formerly known as Lik-M-Aid), Swedish Fish – they might as well be time machines. And eating fries in that red checked paper bucket drizzled with ketchup from the red plastic squeeze bottle? Pull up a pair of striped athletic socks and play Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” on a crackly transistor radio – it’s 1979 all over again.
What is it about sitting in a wet swim suit that makes the fries tastier and the hot dogs juicier? Is it the chlorine that sharpens your palette? Or is it simply the increased physical activity that whets the appetite to appreciate any sustenance? Or perhaps it’s the freedom of going to the snack bar with money clutched in your hand and ordering food like a grown up? Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things, but I do know that the smell of cooking oil and chlorine makes my stomach growl no matter what age I am.
We decided to celebrate my son’s fifth birthday at our swim club and naturally, the menu selection was of great importance to me. If you have not been a member of the 5 year old birthday party circuit, it consists of three things- pizza, pizza and more pizza (and a little cake thrown in). Now we love pizza every now and again, but frankly, the pool and pizza … it just doesn’t go together like a burger and fries do. At any rate, we settled on burgers, dogs and fries as the main fare catered by the pool snack bar. And yes, the little red and white gingham paper baskets are included.
May 11, 2008
We’ve been watching a robin family in one of our bushes for the past few weeks gathering twigs for a nest in preparation for their soon-to-be hatchlings. The children love getting a peak at the nest and the lovely blue eggs.
Mama robin keeps her eggs warm. She looks like she’s smiling, no?
The newest addition to the flora and fauna of our yard, hatched just yesterday.
Is that mama I hear?
Happy mother’s day to all mothers, great and small.
May 10, 2008
Drool-worthy: not my kitchen.
I recently picked my daughter up at a birthday party and I was taken aback to see she was crying. My attempts to get to the bottom of it was met with complete resistance. Her entire vocabulary seemed to have been whittled down to “I don’t know” and “I can’t explain.” But as it often happens, bedtime hugs and snuggles were the pick to the lock of the secrets of the day.
“I was … *sniff* … jealous, “ she wailed. Not of the fact that it was someone else’s birthday (she’s a veteran of at least 50 birthday parties with nary a glisten in her eye), but of its fabulousness. The party was held at her home, you know, one of those typical suburban McMansions (the irony that people who use the term McMansion are those who cannot afford to live in a McMansion is not lost on the writer), with 34 of her closest friends. I couldn’t physically have 35 seven year olds in my house (well, I suppose I could, but only with the aid of a Xanax). And the party favors - well, let’s just say the hostess spent more of the favor than I did on the gift.
It was such a raw, open statement, breath-taking in its simplicity and honesty. It was the kind of statement that most people spend the rest of their lives diligently avoiding saying unless lying on a couch and paying someone to listen to them. I kissed her for her bravery and told her it’s natural to feel jealous, but you can’t burst into tears every time someone has something better than you (otherwise I’d have mascara running down my face every time I walked past Williams-Sonoma or Neiman Marcus). We talked about how blessed we are and how there will always be people who have better, faster, more expensive things than us. And of the many, many more who have much less than us.
In that funny way the stars can align, I read this article after I put my daughter to bed (still slightly weepy – she is nothing if not dramatic). But we all need to acknowledge the seven-year-old in all of us whenever the green-eyed monster bubbles up. For me, it’s when I walk into the take-out queens’ gourmet kitchens the size of the entire first floor of my house. I just say hello to it and then beat it down with my Le Creuset Dutch oven. That sucker’s heavy.
May 1, 2008
Chicken and cavatappi with pesto
When my son was very young, still small enough to be sitting in a high chair, we went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was a “real” restaurant with no kids’ menu, so we ordered buttered penne with parmesan for him. Once our meals came and he saw what we were eating, he would have nothing to do with his plain pasta. My husband had ordered a pesto dish that was quite heavy on the garlic, a dish of which he had very little as my son took quite a liking to it.
So two years later, pasta with pesto is still my son’s favorite meal, and the more garlic, the better. It’s one of my favorites to make as it is an almost no-cook meal, like my daughter’s favorite meal, California rolls. This is a great go-to meal on nights we have soccer practice or ballet.
(enough to coat one pound of pasta)
3-4 C. basil leaves
2-3 cloves of garlic (keep the breath mints handy)
1/4 C. toasted pine nuts
1/4 C. grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil
Place first four ingredients in a food processor and pulse while slowly pouring in the olive oil. (Purists feel free to break out the mortal and pestle and bruise away). Season and mix into cooked pasta. I reserve a few tablespoons to top the grilled chicken breasts.
While this meal may be the kid’s choice, the wine is all mommy’s (Misterio Malbec 2006 - a great pairing).
April 29, 2008
DIY California Rolls
I’ve decided to feature my children’s favorite meals this week, starting with my daughter’s. She has always had a fairly sophisticated palate, choosing an aged Asiago over American, a hard crusty Italian bread over Wonderbread, chorizo before a hot dog, and freshly steamed hard shell crabs over fish sticks. So what does this little foodie say is her favorite meal? California rolls. Ok, I know California rolls are to sushi lovers what beefaroni is to pasta gourmets, but she’s seven. And I serve it family style, meaning everyone makes their own, which she adores. I offered to make the real deal for her birthday, rolling and cutting into the traditional individual pieces. Nope – not interested. She wanted to make her own, as she always has done.
Serendipitously, this also happens to be a no-cook dinner (other than the rice, which I don’t even count as cooking since I have a rice cooker). You do have to season the cooked rice, and the only other “cooking” is the miso soup, which I usually serve with California rolls. You can buy the dry soup packets and just add boiling water. I make my miso soup with miso paste, water, tofu and a garnish of scallions – it takes all of 3 minutes. Once you cut up the cucumbers, imitation crab meat, avocados and nori, dinner is ready!
Make your own California rolls
2-3 ripe avocados
8 oz. imitation crab meat sticks (about 10)
1 English (seedless) cucumber
8 sheets of nori
2 C. seasoned sushi rice
soy sauce for dipping
prepared wasabi for soy sauce
Cut avocados and cucumbers into strips about 3 inches long, 1/4 inch wide. Shred or cut crab meat into about 3 pieces per stick, also about 1/4 inch wide. Using scissors, cut nori sheets into quarters. Place each ingredient (avocado, cucumber, crab meat, nori, and rice) onto its own plate. Everyone takes their own nori, puts a bit of rice, one piece of cucumber, crab and avocado on it. Roll it up and dip in wasabi soy sauce.
Seasoned Sushi Rice
2 – 2 1/2 C. cooked Japanese or Korean rice
3 Tbs. rice vinegar
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
Once the rice is cooked, let cool slightly. Mix in rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Mix well and serve in California rolls immediately.
April 24, 2008
Will Smith wows his future employer with his ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube.
My son received a Rubik’s Cube for Easter and I spent the better part of the day fiddling with it. Back in the 7th grade, I could solve one side and that was pretty much the upper limit of my spatial manipulation skills. I was chagrined to discover I hadn’t progressed much past that point. I suppose my renewed interest in the perverse puzzle stems from my recent viewing of The Pursuit of Happyness in which Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith) solves the cube in a suspenseful taxi ride to his prospective employer’s house. The employer is so impressed he gives Gardner his proverbial foot in the door (Gardner eventually made millions at Bear Stearns – good thing he got out while the going was good).
Nowadays, the Rubik’s Cube comes with the solution in the package. The problem, however, is that it’s written in Cyrillic (or something very similar to it) and I simply could not decipher the cryptic abbreviations. So for all my diligent manipulations, the Cube sat forlornly for weeks with only a few sides solved.
The other day, I decided to google how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. I just needed someone to show me what Ri – F – Ti – R – B looked like, and as expected, there were plenty of videos on the web of young men sitting in front of their computers flipping and turning their Cubes at dizzying speeds. As fascinating as it was watching the twenty-ninth Youtube video of compugeek solving it in under 30 seconds, I just wanted to learn how to solve it myself. I like this video series since it’s pretty straightforward, he doesn’t move too quickly, and you only have to memorize five patterns (or algorithms).
And so I did finally learn to solve the Rubik’s Cube. In breakneck speeds of just under four minutes. Maybe if I put some WD-40 on it, I might be able to shave off a few seconds…
On a sidenote, I had taken the solved Cube and made this pattern to show the kids:
I later decided I needed some more practice and I tossed it to my son and told him to go mess it up. I came back, and it looked like this:
He’s four. Does this count as the essay portion of the early admission application to MIT?
April 18, 2008
Pan fried mandoo with Korean dipping sauce
Some of my fondest memories of childhood involve a kitchenful of women, all sitting around the table making mandoo, gossiping and laughing. My mother, grandmother, aunts and female cousins would gather together in the kitchen, making short work of a big bowl of dumpling filling. Mandoo, Korean dumplings (also called pot stickers and gyoza) is rather labor-intensive and is best when made with a lot of hands (and a lot of love). Today at age seven, my daughter is now eager to help in the kitchen and join the tradition.
I’ve modified this recipe to a manageable amount – I usually make about 150 at a time and either freeze or give away the extras. (The photos do show a larger amount than the recipe calls for.) This is a very basic, traditional recipe, although I have modified it many ways over the years. Take out the meat, double the tofu and bean sprouts and add some shredded carrots to make it vegetarian. Or, use ground turkey instead of beef and pork for a more heart-healthy version. My favorite variation is adding chopped kim-chi – yum!
Mandoo – Korean dumplings
8 oz. bean sprouts, coarsely chopped
6 oz. ground beef
6 oz. ground pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 tsp. minced ginger
1 block of tofu
4 scallions, chopped
1 Tbs. sesame seed oil
1 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
50 gyoza or Chinese dumpling skins (available in the frozen section of Asian grocery stores and some über-hip suburban grocery stores)
1 beaten egg for wash
Boil chopped bean sprouts for about 3 minutes – do not over cook. Place cooked bean sprouts, meat, minced garlic, ginger and onions, tofu and scallions in a cheesecloth.
Squeeze the dickens out of it. (For those with weak upper body strength – you can place a heavy pot filled with water on top of the cheesecloth-wrap and let the moisture ooze out for a half hour or so).
Add sesame seed oil, egg, salt, and pepper. Combine well, making sure to break down the tofu into little bits.
This size package contains approximately 50 skins. Make sure to defrost fully.
Lightly beat one egg in small bowl, adding a tiny bit of water. Dip you finger in the egg wash and moisten the entire outer edge of the dumpling skin. Then take a heaping teaspoon of the filling and place it in the center of the dumpling.
Make sure to NOT over-stuff!
Fold dumpling in half.
And pinch close tightly.
Repeat 50 times. My daughter made the bottom right ones – ignore the filling coming out the edges.
Ok, from here you have several options. You can 1.) steam them right now and eat them (healthiest option), 2.) steam them right now, then pan fry them (the tastiest option), 3.) put them in beef broth and make mandoo soup, 4.) steam them now, then freeze them to fry at a later time, 5.) simultaneously fry/steam them, or 6.) drop these babies in the deep fryer (easiest but least healthy option).
If you opt for the time-saver #5 option, you need to coat a heavy frying pan with oil and place on medium high. Add raw dumplings and fry for a few minutes, then turn and fry for a couple minutes more. Turn up heat to high and carefully add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan about 1/4″. Cover tightly and steam for about 4-5 minutes, lowering to medium-low once the water boils, making sure not to burn.
I like to steam them separately then pan fry them, mainly because I have the mother of all steamers. Check out my double-decker steamer (the bottom layer is covered):
Always place a wet paper towel on a metal steamer (not necessary on bamboo). Otherwise, the dumplings will stick and rip when you try to take them out. You do not want to over steam – the edges will get very dried out. It should only take about 4-5 minutes to cook. Look for the dumplings to puff up and after you take off the lid, it will sink back down and cling to the bumpy meat mixture.
Pan fry the dumplings in oil and serve with Korean-style dipping sauce. You can place the fried dumplings in an over-safe dish, cover in foil and warm in oven until ready to serve. If you bring this to a party, expect them to disappear within five minutes (maybe less).
1/3 C. soy sauce
1 minced garlic clove
2 scallions, finely chopped
1-2 tsp. sesame seed oil
dash of Korean red pepper powder (kochu garu) or cayenne pepper
dash of crushed toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Mix all ingredients well and serve with mandoo, scallion pancakes, or anything that tastes good dipped in soy sauce!
April 5, 2008
Ok, so if you’re like me, you have a repertoire of certain tried and true chicken recipes you have in your bag of tricks. But I’d like you to try a new one I know you’ve never had before. Intrigued? This recipe is basically a marinated baked chicken, but it’s truly a unique marinade I’ve never tasted outside of my friend’s home. Doron, my Israeli artist friend and eponymous creator of said chicken recipe, graciously gave me his recipe years ago. He was thrilled to hear that my children love Doron chicken and give a loud cheer whenever I make it. This recipe requires some planning – it’s best marinated overnight, and even better frozen in the marinade and baked at a later time. It’s also a very inexpensive dish – this usually costs me under $5.
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2-3 Tbs. soy sauce
1/4 C. half and half (you can substitute milk, but it just doesn’t taste as good)
1 Tbs. real maple syrup (or brown sugar)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
2 cloves minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
4 chicken leg quarters (or breasts, or a mix of both), skin on (or off for those who don’t like their chicken swimming in fat)
Combine first 8 ingredients in a bowl, whisking well. Place in a zip-lock gallon baggie along with the chicken. Place in refrigerator over night, turning the bag over periodically.
Cover and bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for one hour. Uncover and continue to bake for 20 minutes more. Serve with cous cous or rice (Make sure to pour the yummy sauce on the cous cous!) This is especially delicious as leftovers served over a big salad the next day.
March 29, 2008
Call me a Johnny-come-lately, or least a woman who just recently discovered Verizon FIOS’s movie package, but I watched the entire first season of Showtime’s The Tudors this past week. Now normally I watch television with tepid enthusiasm while folding laundry or to see what the talking heads are saying about the most recent political misstep (which seems to be quite often this election cycle). I was sucked into this often factually erroneous series due in part to eye candy like Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Henry Cavill, but due in even greater part to the sumptuous fabrics, gorgeous lighting and rich jewel tones.
I suppose I have more than a middling knowledge of Tudor history as I had already read Antonia Frasier’s entertaining biography The Wives of Henry VIII and Philippa Gregory’s mildly entertaining historical novel The Other Boleyn Girl (the movie adaptation featuring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johanssen and Eric Bana in theaters now). I managed to pay little mind to the historical inaccuracies in the spirit of a good old-fashioned story, Hollywood-style. My suspension of disbelief was more than willing.
Season 2 of The Tudors begins tomorrow at 9 pm, in direct competition to the other period drama, HBO’s John Adams. Hmmm … Jonathan Rhys Meyers in tights or Paul Giamatti in a wig. Tough call. (Actually, it truly is a difficult decision – John Adams is by far better-written and better-acted. Thank goodness for On Demand.)
If costume dramas make you weak in the knees, this Tudor and Elizabethan costume album is a must see, complete with commentaries on the often anachronistic costumes in The Tudors. Needless to say, clothing and textiles of any era has always been a passion of mine. In a send up to overachieving stay-at-home moms everywhere, I researched and sewed these Halloween costumes several years ago (who knew I was such a trendsetter!) Hopefully, my son will manage to reach adulthood with his psyche unscathed by a mother who forced him to wear tights one Halloween.
Hans Holbein’s portrait of a young Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour.