Monday, March 23, 2015


This morning I woke up to 5" of fresh snow on the ground and stayed home with a sick kid, which kind of makes it feel like we're dialing right back to winter instead of heading into spring, no matter what the calendar says. One thing is for sure, the semester is gearing up like it always does. I am collaborating with several UW students, including accompanying a couple of graduate recitals and working with a handful of singers in addition to my [part time] teaching job and family responsibilities. I'm being stretched to the limit here, maybe beyond it a little.

My front yard this morning when I got up. I nearly wept.
My whole adult life I've worked as a musician, and thus my whole adult life I've had an unconventional work schedule. If you put me in an office and told me to stay there until 5:00 and then go home I wouldn't know what to do. Actually, I do know: I'd probably revel in the freedom of leaving work at work and then after about three days I'd cry from boredom. The truth is, I love what I do and I'm good at it. In some ways I'm still finding my niche, though lately I've been working mostly with singers and wind players (I'm starting to be concerned about hearing loss, actually, though I haven't noticed it yet.)

One of the hardest parts about working as a musician is the hours. In some ways it's nice to be able to work around the kids' school schedule and have summers off with them. But other times it's mayhem. Sometimes I have rehearsals on weekends or weekday evenings because that's the only time I can fit in with someone else's schedule.

The other hard part about being a performing musician is that you can not miss things because no one else can step in for you. And if I have to cancel a rehearsal because one of my kids is sick, I don't get paid. Occasionally extraordinary circumstances call for creative solutions. For instance, a couple weekends ago at the regional solo/ensemble contest (for middle and high school students) I got a desperate call from a horn teacher whose student had just found out her pianist was hospitalized and she needed me to fill in. I did so willingly, but it wasn't exactly a stunning performance on my part since I was sight reading the accompaniment. We got through it okay.

The last few weeks have just about broken me. As hard as I've tried to keep my schedule and playing responsibilities manageable, I've missed several days of practice time because of illness - mostly the kids, but I caught something two weeks ago that had me in bed for a whole day and not worth much the day after. I haven't missed rehearsals or teaching days, but I'm feeling stressed about the music I have to prepare and anxious because I do not have time to practice any of it.

Here's just a sample of my work this semester.

It's frustrating. It's also frustrating when I can see that my spouse thinks I'm working too much because I can't fit the work I have to do into the hours between 8am and 6pm. Funny how things like parenting and meal preparation take so much of that time.

Well. I'll pull through. I always do. And given how difficult the last few weeks have been, I'm glad I haven't taken on any more this semester. (Much as I would have liked to learn the Rachmaninoff cello sonata, the E-flat Hindemith horn sonata, and the Britten oboe variations - all amazing pieces, all devilishly difficult - I knew I couldn't, so I said no.) I will take things one day at a time, and tackle these projects one at a time, and I will do my best to get enough sleep and stay healthy. It's the smartest approach for me right now.

And also? There will likely be no Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! this week. There is an event at my kids' school tomorrow evening and they are both participating, so we'll probably just throw together sandwiches or even - gasp! - order a pizza in order to eat dinner and get there on time. We'll make up for it, though, I promise!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! green stuff edition

Happy St. Patrick's Day! None of us has a drop of Irish blood in us, but that didn't stop the kids from wearing green head to toe this morning, including stripes of green hairspray. (Don't ask me why we own green hairspray. I'm not sure myself.)

We had all kinds of fun green things planned for dinner, a menu that Daniel and Anya came up with themselves: green eggs and ham, green salad with cucumber, green grapes, and dessert with green frosting.

As it turned out, dinner was a rushed affair because Daniel spent the afternoon at a friend's house working on a science project, and didn't get home until almost 6:00. Said friend's younger brother was at our house for a play date with Anya (we like doing the "kid swap" with this particular set of siblings after school sometimes), so by the time everybody was back where they needed to be, we didn't have a whole lot of time to cook.

Fortunately, the dinner we planned didn't take long to fix, though it involved dirtying a lot of dishes and was a mad rush from start to finish. I hate feeling so rushed and impatient but if we'd gone at kid pace for this one, we would still be waiting for Anya to scramble the eggs.

First, I set Daniel to work making pesto. Here he is cleaning basil:

Anya was in charge of brownies. The recipe is a handwritten one from my friend Rachel, and Anya couldn't read my writing. She understand "chocolate" and "butter" well enough, though.

Stirring up the eggs and sugar!
 Here we are back at the pesto master. I made the unfortunate mistake of telling him to add some olive oil and then not telling him how much and not paying attention when he poured it in...

Once Daniel was done making pesto soup, I set him to work washing lettuce for salad. Here he is wielding some Romaine leaves in front of our atrocious sink. (Side note: I can't wait until we can grow this stuff for ourselves instead of buying tasteless bunches from the west coast. Also, I hate this disgusting sink and can't wait until we get a new one.) 

The last and easiest part of dinner was making scrambled eggs. Daniel is very good at cracking eggs.

By this point I was so frazzled cleaning off the table and getting everything else on, I failed to get pictures of Anya, who did the actual scrambling (she did a good job, too), and I'm afraid the photo of our meal is rather uninspired. Still, you get the idea.

Scrambled eggs, ham, rolls, pesto, salad, green grapes, kiwi berries
In the end we had scrambled eggs (with pesto sauce to make them "green"), ham, rolls, green salad, green grapes, and a new-to-me fruit called "kiwi berries" that I picked up at Brennan's the other day. I think they're just immature kiwi fruits, but I wanted to try something new so I bought them. Daniel and Anya didn't like them (too sour, they said) but I did!

After clean-up and screen time, we frosted the brownies with green mint frosting. This might be the most pathetic-looking pan of brownies I've ever made but they tasted fine and nobody complained!

Here's the low-down on this week's Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! I hardly need to tell you how to make ham (slice it) and scrambled eggs (mix up some eggs and cook them in a skillet), do I? Still, I'll share the recipes from the rolls and the brownies. The rolls were leftover from yesterday and the kids didn't help make them, but it would be a good one to try with them one of these days. I'll fine tune the pesto recipe and share it at a later time.

Mary Ann's 90-minute rolls 
Mary Ann is my mom, and this is actually a recipe from her mother, so it's well-established in the family. This is a good one to try if you're not an experienced bread baker because it's relatively quick as yeasted breads go, and rather forgiving.

  • 1 c. milk, scalded
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2T. butter
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 T. yeast
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 3 c. flour (I used 1 c. whole wheat and 2 c. white)

  1. Combine milk, sugar, butter and salt.
  2. Dissolve yeast in water, then add to milk mixture.
  3. Sitr in flour but don't knead.
  4. Cover and let rise for 50 minutes.
  5. Form into rolls (15-18 total, depending on how big you make them).
  6. Let rise 20 minutes or so until puffy.
  7. Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

I got this recipe years ago from my friend Rachel. I have to tell you, I am very particular about brownies. Most people like them all gooey and fudgy, but I don't. In fact, I can't stand sticky brownies. These are nice and cake-like and quite simple to make. 

  • 1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
  • 3 oz. bitter/unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • generous dash of cinnamon (if you like cinnamon with chocolate, which I do very much)

  1. Melt butter and chocolate together over low heat.
  2. Mix eggs, sugar and vanilla.
  3. Add butter-chocolate mixture.
  4. Mix in flour and cinnamon.
  5. Pour into a small square pan (8x8) and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Pros: This meal went together quickly, which we needed, since we had a late start. With so many components, there was something for everyone. The pesto was soupy (too much oil, I'm guessing) but it turned out to be an excellent salad dressing and sauce for the scrambled eggs. Anya's not crazy about pesto, so she left it off her salad and used bottled dressing instead. Also, it was fun coming up with green things to eat for St. Patrick's Day.

Cons: Cooking was a little chaotic. With nothing to bake for 30 minutes, there was no break between cooking with the kids and sitting down to eat. This wouldn't have mattered if we hadn't felt rushed in the first place. Also, scrambled eggs and little bowls of side dishes means we don't have leftovers for tomorrow, but all in all, these are very small complaints.

Next time: Well, there are probably 101 Ways To Cook Eggs, if not more, so we'll be trying out different methods in the future.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! enchiladas

A rule I've been letting slide the last couple sessions of Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! is the one where the kids get to choose what we make. Last week this was because I had to pick something we had the right ingredients on hand for, and this week it was just because I was in the mood for enchiladas and no one was going to stop me. Also, the avocados at the coop were on sale and looked delicious.

Fortunately, we all love enchiladas so eating them for dinner wasn't exactly a hardship.

Now, enchiladas are fun and delicious but they are a lot of work. We even did the kind where you throw everything into a casserole dish and bake it so at least they're all ready at the same time, but it was still a lot of work. One of these days we'll make New Mexican style flat enchiladas, which is in my opinion the best way, but that's a ton of work and a mad rush at the end, so it's best when there is more than one adult on hand to help out with dipping and stacking, not to mention the photos.

You may notice the photos are slightly better quality today. They were still taken on my phone in a rush in between wiping grease off my fingers, but thanks to Daylight Saving, there was much more natural light coming in the kitchen while we were cooking! (Recipe and modifications/pros/cons/next-time at the end of the post, as usual)

I started off by throwing a boneless pork shoulder in the slow cooker for 8 hours. I just put the whole thing in there with some salt and garlic powder (yes, garlic powder. I'm not above that.) before leaving for work this morning:

Here it is two hours from final cooking time.
I think the meat was about 3lbs. to start with, and I knew that would be way more than we needed for tonight, and I was right. Half went in the enchiladas and the other half went in the freezer.

Once we got going this afternoon, step 1 was to shred and season the meat before toasting it in the oven. Daniel is squeamish about handling meat, even cooked meat with a pair of forks, but Anya dives right in. It didn't need salt but we added some cumin and dried ancho powder.

I warned the kids that this was going to be a messy meal so they went and got aprons...we've decided they need new ones. That will be a sewing project coming up for me soon, I expect.

While the meat was toasting in the oven, we got the beans going. The kids crushed some garlic into a saucepan. I hate cleaning the garlic press so I never use it, but this seemed a safer option than handing them tiny garlic cloves and a giant knife. Plus, like I mentioned before, gadgets are fun!

After sautéeing the garlic for about a minute, we dumped in some cooked pinto beans (fortunately I had some in the freezer) and added salt, cumin and ancho chili before turning off the heat and letting them sit while we prepared the tortillas.

I had a stack of corn tortillas I fried in oil. You do 10 seconds per side and stack them on a plate with paper towels in between to soak up the extra grease. The oil is quite hot and spatters easily, so I really wasn't comfortable having the kids do this step, not yet. Also, you have to use a cast iron skillet. Nothing else works nearly as well. They're not that expensive, either. You can get a Lodge brand one for twenty-five bucks at the hardware store and it's TOTALLY worth it. One of these days I'll do some flatbread tutorials here and you'll see just how useful cast iron is. But I digress.

Though Daniel and Anya were not doing the actual frying, they did have Very Important other jobs. Daniel was my time-keeper and faithfully kept track of 10 seconds on every single side of each of the 15 tortillas we used. When it's just up to me, I usually let one or two burn. Anya kept me ready with fresh paper towels and more tortillas so I didn't have to run back and forth.

Next we mashed the beans. This is how I do refried beans, by the way. Just cook garlic (and sometimes chopped onion or shallot) in oil, add beans and some liquid with seasoning (salt, cumin, coriander, chili) and set aside until everything else is ready. Then mash the heck out of 'em and warm up before serving. Mashing is fun; the kids liked that.

Then it was time to assemble. I didn't get any shots of this part because we were all helping and it was greasy work. Daniel poured half the enchilada sauce in the bottom of the casserole dish, and then we all took turns filling and rolling the tortillas with some beans and some pork before squeezing them in the pan. We topped it off with the rest of the sauce and some shredded cheese and threw it in the oven to bake for about a half hour, during which the kids got a little break and I cleaned up and made some guacamole. 

Before picture!

After! Pork enchiladas, fresh veggies, guacamole, and my knees.

Enchilada Casserole

  • 1 pork shoulder, 3 lbs (you won't use all of it)
  • 2 cups cooked pinto beans
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2T. oil for refried beans (I used avocado but plain vegetable oil is fine)
  • seasoning: salt, cumin, chili powder (I used ancho because it's mild and the kids are sensitive to heat) and I would have also used coriander but we're out
  • 15 corn tortillas plus oil (corn or vegetable) for frying
  • 1 16-20oz jar or can of enchilada sauce
  • 2 cups shredded jack cheese
  • Equipment: cast iron skillet, tongs, cheese shredder, saucepan, masher, knife, garlic press (optional), paper towels, 9x13 casserole dish, baking sheet or pan, slow cooker or dutch oven...this is a pretty equipment-heavy recipe, isn't it? I probably forgot something, too.
1. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, go buy one.

2. Cook the pork ahead of time, either in a slow cooker all day or in the oven for several hours at low heat until the meat is tender and falling apart. I used a slow cooker and it took about 8 hours. Season with salt. You could add other stuff (like garlic or garlic powder) but you don't really need to.

3. Put about half the meat on a baking tray or pan and shred with two forks. Add salt if needed, plus your seasoning of choice (we used cumin and ancho, but you can use whatever you like). Bake at 350 until the meat is crisp, 20-30 minutes.

4. Chop the garlic and toast in 2T. oil for about a minute, or until the garlic is fragrant but not brown. Turn off the heat and add the beans plus 1tsp salt and your seasoning of choice (cumin, coriander, chili powder, hot pepper). You may need to add some water if the beans look dry. Set aside.

5. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a cast iron skillet on medium-high. When it's sizzling hot, fry the tortillas one at a time, 10 seconds per side, layering them on paper towels to drain. You'll need to replenish the oil in the pan after every few tortillas.

6. Mash the beans, adding water if necessary. You want a nice consistency that isn't too dry. Since they'll be baked in the enchiladas don't worry about reheating them at this point.

7. Now the fun begins! It's time to assemble. Grease the casserole dish and pour about half the enchilada sauce over the bottom, making sure it's evenly covered. Place a generous spoonful of beans and some meat (maybe 2-3T worth? we didn't measure) in each tortilla, roll up, and line up in the casserole dish. You can really pack them in. Pour the rest of the sauce over the tortillas, top with the cheese, and bake at 350 for about a half hour, or until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.

8. Serve hot with guacamole, sour cream and fresh vegetables.

Modification ideas: 
  • You could easily add chicken or beef instead of pork.
  • This is really easy to make vegetarian. Just up the quantity of beans and leave out the meat. In fact, tonight was the first time I've made enchiladas with meat! We always stuffed the tortillas with beans and more cheese before. 
  • Grilled squash would be delicious in a summer version of this recipe.
  • Delicious.
  • Fun.
  • The kids' apparent need for aprons gives me an excuse for a fun new sewing project in the near future.
  • Like several recent features on Tuesday Night Fun Cooking!, this is a dish that bakes for about a half hour, giving me a chance to clean up and get the table ready while the kids got a screen time break.
  • Pork can be kind of messy to clean up, but man is it easy to throw a hunk of it in the slow cooker with some salt and just let it go all day. I didn't brown it or add water or anything. 
  • This is a lot of work. Choosing one filling instead of two (just meat or just beans) would simplify things, but even so, there is a lot of preparation and equipment involved. I don't mind, but you have to be ready for it, and ready for a lot of clean up afterwards.
  • There are a lot of dishes to wash. I can't face them just yet, so I'm procrastinating by writing this blog post!
  • Some things the kids just can't do because of safety, like frying tortillas. 
  • The menu was my choice, not theirs, which has nothing to do with the actual recipe, but I need to be more mindful of their choices.
Next time:
  • I really want to make molé from scratch one of these days. In fact, it was my intention to do that this time, but I would have had to make it ahead of time and there was no way that was going to happen last weekend. We all took turns getting sick, plus I had a long day of work Saturday. Sunday I couldn't get out of bed; it was awful.
  • You need fresh, cold, crunch side dishes with enchiladas to help balance it out. Fresh carrots and cucumbers aren't a bad side dish with enchiladas but it's really best with fresh lettuce. We just didn't have any on hand.
  • Wouldn't this be even better with chopped cilantro as a garnish?
  • I didn't have a lime for the guacamole. Notice I didn't even include a recipe for the guacamole. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't that exciting. Next time I'll make awesome guac and share it.
NEXT WEEK St. Patrick's Day falls on Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! and the kids and I have already discussed some really fun menus for GREEN FOOD. I'm really looking forward to it and I hope you are, too.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

black lives matter

This past weekend, as you might have noticed, my home city of Madison made national news once more, and for tragic reasons. On Friday night, a young unarmed black man was shot to death by a white police officer on the east side of town, Williamson Street. As far as I can tell from the news coverage ( and are good sources for local news), the public response has been peaceful and grief-stricken. So far the chief of police has been fairly restrained in his comments and promised a thorough and transparent investigation.

What a terrible thing to happen. I'm sure some people felt shock at the news and wonder how something like this could happen in our city, but I think it was probably just a matter of time. I know that Wisconsin is one of the worst (if not the worst) states to reside in if you're a black male in terms of poverty and graduation and incarceration rates. We also have the widest achievement gap in the nation between whites and minorities, and that gap is even wider in Dane County. There has been hand-wringing and numerous calls to action, but not a whole lot has been accomplished. We have a long way to go. Is it any surprise, then, that what happened in Ferguson, MO also happened here?

What I hope is different about Madison is the response of the police chief and the public. I don't mean to be naive but I do believe a lot of people (not all of them) here care about making our city a safe community for everyone.  We want to acknowledge the diversity of our city without being fearful of minorities. We also want to trust the police.

As a citizen, I'm not entirely sure what I can do to make a difference. I will talk to my kids about what happened. I may take my kids to one of the peaceful demonstrations this coming week (assuming everyone is well - it's been a rough few days of illness here). And I will pay close attention to the response and aftermath of this terrible tragedy. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to make things better.


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! Après sled baked pasta

I've had some offline feedback about the Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! series. I already know I have a long way to go in improving my photography skills. It's hard to take good pictures of what we're doing when there is no natural light and I'm in the middle of food prep with only a few seconds here and there to grab my iPhone for the in-progres shots. We'll do more family cooking nights on weekends and I should be able to get better pictures then. For this week, I've added "pros," "cons" and "next time" after the recipe, as much for my own use as anything. I would love to know what you think of all this, so leave a comment. Be honest, let me know!

It is finally March! Soon we will change our clocks and the slow thaw will begin, the maple sap will flow, we will plan our gardens and start our seedlings and retire our snow pants for the season. Soon, but not quite yet. It may be the month of the spring equinox, but we are in Wisconsin and winter is clinging desperately by the fingernails. We got a few more inches of snow today and there are a couple more subzero mornings ahead of us this week.  And so, we've been cramming in as much sledding as we possibly can, on the weekend afternoons, and after school.

Daniel's feet right before an epic wipeout.

Today, after a vigorous hour of sledding after school, the kids came home and guzzled some hot cocoa before starting in on this week's Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! baked pasta with lots of cheese. It was perfect for those après sledding appetites.

(Full recipe, as always, at the bottom of the post. There is a lot of cheese and butter and milk in it, and not a whole lot that is nutritionally redemptive. My apologies to the lactose-intolerant and carb-conscious among you.)

First task was to choose the pasta: elbows or tubetti? A quick round of Rock Paper Scissors solved that dilemma (Daniel, and the tubetti, won).

Next there was some measuring of ingredients and preparing the baking dish.

I can think of better ways to hold that milk jug.

Working together to grease the pan
Next we got a big pot of water heating up for the pasta and made a roux, a white sauce that served as a base for the cheesy part of the dish.

Making a roux requires several minutes of stirring and whisking butter, flour and milk in a saucepan.

They started off enthusiastically enough...

...but eventually, Daniel got The Ennui and I agreed to take over.

While I whisked the roux, the kids sliced a couple of hot dogs. Yes, we made a fancy French white sauce with three kinds of cheese for our pasta and then added sliced hot dogs to the top of it. We are classy that way.

Adding the cheese was fun.

Snitching leftover cheese was even more fun!

Cheesy baked pasta with fresh salad!
Baked pasta with cheese (loosely based on a recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Vegetarian cookbook)

  • 1 lb small pasta noodles like elbow macaroni or tubetti or penne
  • 6 T butter (yup, you read that right)
  • 6 T flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 cups shredded cheese, at least three varieties including 1 cup Parmesan; we also used cheddar and marble, but something like gorgonzola or fontina would be good for the sophisticated palate
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sliced hot dogs, if that's how you roll, but these are optional. Obviously, since this recipe was originally from a vegetarian cookbook, the hot dogs were our idea. 
Grease a large baking dish or 9x13 pan and heat oven to 375.
Cook the noodles al dente according to the instructions on the package.
Around the time you dump your noodles into the boiling water, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. 
Add the flour and whisk for 2 minutes or until it is slightly browned but not burnt. 
Slowly pour in the milk and continue to whisk for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble.
Add some salt (maybe 1 tsp?) and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Stir in the shredded cheese and remove from heat.
Combine the noodles and cheese sauce in the baking dish and top with hot dogs if you wish. Another good option is bread crumbs.
Bake about 30 minutes or until the top gets a little brown and bubbly. 

Pros: Delicious, easy, and not all that time-consuming. The half hour in the oven was perfect for cleaning up and preparing a side salad. 
Cons: Not the most nutritionally sound main dish, since it was basically all empty carbs and dairy. And hot dogs. Oh well. The salad made up for that...right?
Next time: It would be so much fun to bake this in individual ceramic bowls or ramekins, don't you think? (Too bad we don't have any.) That way you could customize the topping: sliced hot dog, bread crumbs, hot pepper flakes, fresh herbs...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

the least i can do

Four years ago around this time we were thick into protests. Our then newly-elected governor, Scott Walker, had introduced a bill known as Act 10 that effectively made unions for public sector employees powerless. The protests (in which I was a frequent participant with my children, then age 5 and 3) made national news and continued for weeks, even in snow storms and bitter cold. There were lawsuits, there was a failed recall election, and daily singalongs in the Capitol rotunda...

...and now here we are four years later with Gov. Walker still in office and the Wisconsin state legislature more conservative and Republican than ever. Boy is he ever taking advantage of it, too. Scott Walker has refused federal expansion of Medicaid, slashed K-12 education more than SAM BROWNBACK (governor of Kansas; this should tell you something), pushed vouchers for private schools, cut $300 million from the public universities while suggesting that all professors should teach extra classes every semester to pick up the slack, cut funding to the office of Secretary of State by more than half, cut funding for people with disabilities, suggested that the DNR receive no tax money, and put off paying the state debt, all in the name of fiscal responsibility and at the expense of nearly every citizen of the state of Wisconsin, in particular the most vulnerable.

(Rather than link up everything individually I'm just going to send you to the Scott Walker watch page from the can find just about everything you need to know there about his budget.)

Then last night, the state senate voted in a "right-to-work" law after abruptly closing comments, claiming that the long line of citizens awaiting their turn for public comment were posing a threat (for SHAME). It was a nasty little move, but not a surprising one, given recent history. (I've always hated that phrase "right to work"; it implies that passing such a law somehow increases workers' rights rather than restricting them and giving permission to corporate management to treat workers however they want with few or no legal consequences.)

In short, our current governor and the majority Republican legislature have managed to eviscerate just about every public program that makes (made?) our state a good place to live. Everything from public schools to higher education to our state parks and natural resources to workers' rights are on the chopping block and thus ripe for privatization and exploitation. In a relatively short amount of time - four years, just one election cycle - we have gone from a relatively progressive state to a giant boner for the Tea Party. Even if Walker leaves here next year to run for president (heaven help us), the damage has largely been done.

My dear friend Laura often says she is "having some feelings" when she gets emotional about things. Readers, I am having a LOT of feelings about the political climate in my state right now. I am angry, discouraged, disgusted, disappointed, and not particularly hopeful, I have to admit. But I'm not going to lob insults or go on a rant of righteous indignation. I am past that now. I am truly fearful for the future because my children are only about a decade or so away from becoming young adults who have to live in the world the current leadership is forming for them.

So those are my feelings about the state of my state at the moment. As discouraged as I am, though, I'm going to keep on keepin' on. I will still bake bread, knit hats, make music, grow a garden, donate my time to the school's outdoor program, and encourage my children to think and create for themselves. And I will VOTE. It's the least I can do.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tuesday night fun cooking! on Sunday with Stuart

Tuesday night fun cooking! is not happening this Tuesday because I have a long block of rehearsals right around dinner prep time so the kids will be eating leftovers or hot dogs or something while I'm running contest pieces with high school students. Not my ideal schedule, but some weeks are just like that.

In any case, we thought it would be fun to move Tuesday night fun cooking! to Sunday! and include Stuart. We've all been hankering for Banh Mi lately, and since it was just Vietnamese New Year, it seemed an appropriate dish to make together.

(Aside: we are not Vietnamese, nor do we have any particular ties to Vietnam. However, one of Daniel's good friends at school was born in Vietnam, and their family celebrates Tết so we've been learning about the traditions associated with it.)

In case you are new to Banh Mi, not to worry. I'd never heard of it before a few months ago when my brother Joe texted me. We text about food a lot, which is normal, right? He texted me that they were making banh mi and I texted back that I'd never heard of it so he texted a link to a recipe, which I made a week later and we all loved it. Of course that link has long since been buried in a backlog of other texts about food and other things, but in the meantime I've made it enough times that I can pretty much do it by feel. In short, banh mi is Vietnamese-style sandwiches: pork meatballs served in French baguettes with pickled vegetables and hot sauce. There are probably a thousand variations, but the recipe I'm sharing below is the way I've been doing it.

Having the whole family cook together is an experience. The kids do pretty well when they're given instructions but they need to be told every little step. Stuart and I kept going back and forth on who was in charge of what (I was telling everyone what to do but didn't want to get my hands dirty because I was putting the whole thing on IG, like you do). And we were all stepping on each other because our kitchen is so damn small. Still, we had fun, the final result was delicious, and mostly importantly, there are leftovers (I have a lot of rehearsals this week).

So, here is your parade of pictures! These are all on IG, too #tuesdaynightfuncooking #cookingwithkids

Recipe follows the photos. Enjoy.


Daniel is silly

I don't think it occurred to Anya that she could move that chair out of the way before chopping herbs.

Adding salt

Daniel is still silly. Also, our sink is so gross. 

*whimper* "My hands are frozen!"

Stuart gets in the action.

Redheads making meatballs

Browning the meatballs

It seems like my food photos never look as good as everything tasted. I need to work on that. I bet the quality will improve once we have natural light in the evening.

In any case, here's how I make Banh Mi:

Finely slice a variety of vegetables (we used the slicer attachment on the food processor) and gently mix together. We used:

  • cucumber
  • carrot
  • scarlet turnip
  • red bell pepper

Other vegetables that work nicely are: radishes, green onion, cabbage, kohlrabi, or basically anything crunchy and colorful
In a small saucepan, combine the following, bring to a boil, then pour over the sliced vegetables:

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp brown mustard
OK, I'll be totally honest here and admit that I'm totally guessing at the amounts I just listed. And you can leave out the mustard if you want; I just like the pickle to have some kick. Anyway, let the vegetables sit in the brine while you make the meatballs and get everything else ready. It will keep several days in the fridge, too.

Pork meatballs:
Mix together in a bowl

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 T soy sauce (we added salt in the picture above before I remembered the soy sauce! oops)
  • 2 T chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 T chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped (I actually left this out accidentally and we didn't even miss it)

Form into meatballs and brown on the stovetop for a few minutes, then bake at 350 until done, about 20 minutes. (Tip: these freeze really well after they're cooked. Sometimes we make a double batch and freeze the leftovers for another time.)

You'll also need  good baguettes (we always just buy them, but one of these days I'll make baguettes from scratch just for this dish), and a mixture of mayo and sriracha, and some finely chopped lettuce. For the spice-sensitive amongst you, plain mayo works fine without the hot pepper paste. To assemble the sandwiches, cut the baguettes long ways like a hot dog bun and line up the meatballs inside. Top with pickle, the spicy mayo mixture and serve the lettuce either on the sandwich or on the side. 

Trust me, it was delicious.