Tuesday, December 30, 2008

what's cookin', part deux

Ok, so I've fallen off the wagon already. My pot roast was less tender than previous attempts -- I'm blaming it on the onions that formed a sort of platform for the roast in the pot. I think it is more tender when it sits in its own grease (er, juices) all day instead of lofted above them on an onion. I couldn't face leftover roast or meatloaf last night. I literally took the meatloaf out of the fridge, put it on a plate to warm it, almost hurled, and put it right back into the fridge for safe keeping. So, I did a takeout double feature -- chinese for me, kabobs for Andy. Fortunately for our pocketbook, I was back on the wagon tonight with Dinner Doctor Popcorn Soup, sans the popped corn, and Jiffy cornbread. Tasty! I really try to avoid vegetables that come in cans, but this is hard to beat. Next time I might add some potatoes or cheese. We just might make it to the end of the week without another takeout meal. Dinner with friends on New Year's Eve doesn't count against us, does it?

Dinner Doctor Popcorn Soup

2 cans creamed style corn
1 can corn kernels
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups half-and-half
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 Tbl butter
1 tsp sugar

Heat corn, stock, half-and-half, and bouillon on medium heat, stirring frequently until hot but not boiling, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and sugar.

I used low sodium corn and free range broth. The recipe suggests topping with plain popcorn and a dash of pepper sauce. I served it with Jiffy cornbread in a cast-iron skillet.

Serves 4.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

what's cookin'?

I'm not sure why, but every year around this time I go back through cookbooks old and new-- and the pile of magazine clippings I've circled and put in plastic pages in a binder--and reinvent my weekly routine. I think it's a combination of a jumpstart from all the holiday baking I've done, excitment about new cookbooks, and a determination to eat out less often. Don't worry, it doesn't last long. Soon enough we'll be back to the same-old-same-old. But, for the next few weeks anyway, I'm trying some new recipes and rediscovering some old ones. So far, we've had meatloaf and chunky mashed potatoes from Joy of Cooking (an oldie but goodie) and chicken scallopine with linguine from an old Southern Living (not so tasty). I like to make my meatloaf in three small loaf pans instead of one big one so that we cook two and freeze one.

Tonight, it's pot roast sort of from the Dinner Doctor but I'm mostly making it up as I go along. I found it strange that the Dinner Doctor doesn't include instructions for making the pot roast in a crock pot, and I'm too chicken to put a pot in the oven all afternoon, so I'm using the crock pot anyway. I threw in some potatoes and carrots near the end just for fun, though Emily is already telling me (over and over again) that she does not like carrots (must have eaten way too many as an infant.)

Later this week we'll have Dinner Doctor's corn soup and Bon Appetit's penne with tomato cream sauce. We'll see how they turn out.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

All I want for Christmas . . .

Presents opened, check.
Meal eatened, check
Family entertained, check.
Conference call with distant relatives, check.
Dishes washed, check.
Nap taken, check.

Looks like Christmas was a success.

In some ways that really sums up our day. It is so easy for Christmas to seem like just the end of a very long holiday marathon. We rush through the day with the same fervor we rush through stores on Black Friday. I think, though, that since we did only breakfast instead of a late meal this year our rushing was done (and company had left) by noon, leaving us the whole rest of the day to . . . rest, and play, and enJOY each other. (We also got a few things done around the house.)

I made two recipes I got from my sister for Christmas breakfast this year. Both are very easy and very yummy. I served them with a simple fruit salad and orange juice with a dash of bubbly.

Eva's Breakfast Casserole

8 oz crescent rolls
1 lb bulk sausage
2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
4 eggs
3/4 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Cook sausage and drain
Spray 9x13 pan
Line pan with crescent rolls
Beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper
Layer sausage and cheese in the pan
Pour the egg mixture on top
Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes until egg is set. Serves 6.

Cinnamon Pull-Apart (aka Monkey) Bread
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbl cinnamon
3 cans (7.5 oz each) refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
1/2 cup butter, melted
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 Tbl milk
Bread: Mix granulated sugar and cinnamon in bowl or plastic baggie; set aside. Cut each biscuit in quarters. Roll in cinnamon-sugar. Place half of the biscuits in a greased fluted tube (bundt) pan. Drizzle half the butter over the biscuits. Place the remaining biscuits in the pan and drizzle with remaining butter and cinnamon-sugar. Bake 40-45 minutes until golden brown. Cool in pan for 5 minutes and invert onto serving plate.
Frosting: beat cream cheese and powdered sugar in small
bowl on medium speed until well blended. Add 1 Tbl milk; beat until well-blended. Beat in enough of the remaining milk until the glaze is the desired consistency. Drizzle over warm bread. Serve warm. Serves 6-8.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Coffee, Santa?

I'm trying to keep Christmas simple this year. We spent this afternoon reading Christmas stories, watching movies, and enjoying treats from friends. Before bedtime, I let Emily choose some cookies to leave out for Santa. I shouldn't have left them at doggy eye-level. When I asked her what Santa might like to drink with his cookies, she replied, "Santa want coffee?" Of course, reluctant to actually brew a pot of coffee for Santa, I suggested that chocolate milk might be a good choice as well. She agreed. I guess she figures men drink coffee or maybe he's got a long night ahead.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Eyes of a child

The Christmas season has been so much more fun this year as Emily is just beginning to get the idea that something special is going on. It's interesting to watch the little wheels in her head as she tries to figure out why I'm bringing a tree into the house, baking lots of cookies, passing out little boxes to friends and neighbors, and asking her if she wants to sit on some old guy's lap at the mall so a strange lady can take her picture. It didn't take her long to figure out that the wrapped things under the tree have good things for her in them -- of course, she still doesn't understand that we don't get to open them every day. She seems very puzzled by the idea of Santa, though. (Who wouldn't be, I realize.) She liked the idea of saying "hello" to him at the mall but was terrified to sit in his lap. When I mentioned that he was coming to our HOUSE to bring presents, I could just see her trying to weigh Santa's coming to her house (bad) against presents (good). Adding the fact that she'd be asleep during said present-drop didn't seem to help matters. Somehow, I think come next Thursday she'll have figured it out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bustin' Loose

Phew, we're finally out of the hospital and back on our way home. Emily is like a completely different child when she doesn't feel well. I'm glad to have my baby back to more-or-less normal. My heart goes out to parents with chronically ill children. We are truly blessed to have a healthy child.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What a trip

We headed home for an early Christmas last Wednesday amid a lot of uncertainty about my dear grandfather's health. Ever since his 90th birthday party last August his health has been failing fast; he was ready to go. To make a long story short, we arrived on Wednesday at 6 and he passed at 10. I was really struggling with whether to go to see him in the nursing home: mom said he wouldn't know I was there, my sister said I'd rather remember him happily partying at 90. I think I made the right decision. Anyway, the next three days brought life lessons about funeral-planning. As it turned out, I missed the visitation and funeral altogether when Emily landed in the hospital with breathing problems on Sunday. She ended up in the same hospital, on the same hall, as where my grandfather had spent some 12 days a month or so ago with pneumonia.

Emily came down with her usual crud on Thursday and we made a trip to the pharmacy to get a refill on her inhalor, which of course we had left at home. She still sounded junky on Sunday morning, so we headed to quick care expecting to do a breathing treatment, get some liquid steroids, and head home. But, nooooo. Now it's Tuesday and we're still in the hospital waiting for the magic button that measures pulse oxygen to pop up the right number. (Well, actually, right now, she's making laps in the hallway with Dad.) She's been a real trooper for the most part, entertaining the nurses with her squeaky voice demanding that she's "all done." She told the emergency room nurse that she was "all better" as we transferred up to the hospital and put her on oxygen. She's had fun pushing any buttons she can get her hands on. Last night when Andy asked her if she was pushing buttons again, she exclaimed, "I'm pushing Daddy's buttons!" That was the truth for sure. I think they are making up, which probably means she feels better, but for most of our stay he's been greated with a loving "get out" or "get away."

We've come to appreciate our least favorite (her favorite) DVD, which she's watched at least a dozen times now. Having myself been hospitalized exactly once (when I delivered Em,) I had great fantasies of cartoon band-aids, jazzy scrubs, ice cream, and toys. Perhaps somewhere else. So, in the meantime, we're making the best of it--even if that means sending Dad for hometown take-out favorites.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Twinkle Twinkle What Are

I'm now not sure why, but at some point I started singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to Emily when I was putting her to bed. It started as a game where I'd ask her to close her eyes and I would begin to sing. If she opened her eyes, I'd stop. In the beginning, she'd scrunch her eyes closed and I'd start and stop singing (well, more like reciting in a sing-song whisper) 5 or 6 times before making it through the song. She'd then ask for it again and again. I figured if I could just get her to lie still and close her eyes, she'd eventually fall asleep. Anyway, here recently she has begun to learn the words herself. She will sing it during the day all mixed up with the Itsy Bitsy Spider and sometimes the ABCs. "Itsy bitsy spider, up water spout, twinkle twinkle little star, how wonder what are . . ." At night, though, I sing (whisper) it one time through and now instead of asking for it again, she recites it herself. This week she is getting most of the words right! I wonder what she thinks it means.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Opposites confuse

One of the most cruel challenges of parenthood (ok, so "cruel" isn't really the right word) is knowing that it would be rude to laugh at a child. Sure, there's enough joy in parenthood to laugh with children, but the really funny moments seem to come when you want to laugh at them and that, I think, would be rude. Tonight, Emily was rearranging last night's tree decorating--inevitable, I know--when she was inspired to try on an ornament stocking for size. Stocking: an inch wide, about 2 inches long, not stretchy. Foot: toddler 6.5. "Too small," I said. "Ohh," she says with a grin, "me-may foot too small . . . mommy's foot?" As if. I couldn't help but turn around and giggle to myself.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Deck the halls

Well, it took several days longer than usual but I'm almost done putting up Christmas decorations. No, I didn't go all National Lampoon this year I just worked an hour at a time. I did wreaths, garland, and a few household Santas on Monday, Andy and I assembled the tree and put on lights Tuesday, and Emily and I put the ornaments on the tree tonight. I still need to tackle wrapping presents (that won't take long if I don't also do more shopping) and I'd like to string a few lights in the yard. It has been fun to watch Emily's reaction to each stage of the decorating since most of it has been done while she's been away.

I've never been one for theme trees. I remember one year my mom tried an all plastic- apple tree. It didn't go over well, but I suppose it was a very 80s thing to do. So, we go for the hodgepodge of ornaments collected over some 30 years of class projects, gifts from friends, purchases on vacations and at museum gift shops. Every year I seem to forget how many ornaments in my collection symbolize someone or someplace special in my life. There's an aloha Santa, a See Rock City barn, two cats, a dog, and several angels including a gift from a college friend who died the next year.

Emily was really cute putting the decorations on the tree this year. She was very careful to place each one on the tree even though I didn't tell her where to put them. When she was done, she pointed to each one, telling me which ornaments she put on the tree and which ones I had hung. I had originally planned to rearrange them when she went to bed to correct some of the assymetry, but I think I'll just enjoy it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

local food in a modern world

I just finished a wonderful book by Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, that tells the story of her family's spending a year in southern Virginia eating only local foods. (Well, as it turns out it wasn't all local since they had a few splurges here and there like Florida cranberries at Thanksgiving.) Generally, though everything they ate came from their garden or that of a neighbor. I'll admit, I made baby food and buy organic milk but readers of my "Fries with that?" post will quickly note that I have my vices in the food department. Kingsolver manages to argue that buying locally not only supports local farmers, but is also healthier and cheaper than buying "conventional" foods. (She also argues that eating meat is just fine.) She weaves a story of her family on the farm with practical gardening information, recipes, resources on environmental issues. The book seems a bit gimicky at first since the family moves across the country from Arizona to Virginia to spend a year growing their own food, but after the sweat equity involved, I have to believe that Kingsolver is sincere.

Of course, this is the wrong time of year to be inspired to launch a homegrown program of my own, but I can choose local brands over imports and put an organic vegetable on my table every now and then. I'll probably even toss those halloween pumpkins, homegrown I might add, into some mulch to see if they'll come back next year.

Would you like fries with that?

Andy and I had a date lunch on Saturday to Jackson's Mighty Fine Food, which reminded me that I wanted to put in a plug for their kids' menu. Harkening back to dreams of being a real foodie, I have to say that Great American Restaurants, a DC-area group, does kids' food right and adult food even better. Each restaurant is a little different, but Emily is always excited about the sweet potato fries that accompany the extra-tasty grilled cheese or extra-flavorful chicken fingers at Coastal Flats or Sweetwater Tavern. They've also got grouper fingers and a cheeseburger available and carrot sticks and applesauce for folks who don't want fries. At Silverado, she enjoys a big bowl of charro beans. In some 6 years of eating at all but one restaurant in this group, we've loved everything we've ordered. That is, except for one dish. The macaroni and cheese at Jackson's is made with gruyere or something similarly stinky instead of a smooth cheddar. I was glad to see that someone still knows how to make mac and cheese without a box, but found the flavor a bit sophisticated for a toddler.