Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday night fun cooking! part 2: pita, hummus, and fattoush

This week's installment of Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! is pita, hummus and fattoush salad (recipes at the bottom of this post*), as requested by Anya. This delights me, in no small part because it appears my children have grown out of the worst of their picky eating phase.

This whole cooking with the kids experiment is turning out to be a good learning experience for me, too. Pita and hummus I can practically make in my sleep, but when it comes to instructing someone else how to do it, especially humans under the age of 10, I had to stop and think about every single measurement, every step. It's a lot like teaching piano to a beginner, come to think of it. What follows is a list of what I've learned so far about teaching my kids to cook:

  1. Sequencing is everything; you can't leave anything out or the student/kid will be totally lost and get discouraged and want to give up. If you just say, "Here, open this can of chickpeas," you'll end up doing it yourself, whereas if you hand the kid the can and the can opener, show him how to use it, and give him a strainer to dump the chickpeas in (with a reminder about holding the strainer over the sink before he dumps them in...ahem...) he'll do it himself. Sure, it takes three times as long, but it's worth it. Which brings me to #2...
  2. When we do Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! we start making dinner at 4:30 if there is a prayer of eating before bedtime.
  3. Kids love gadgets. Even if it feels gimmicky, using fun gadgets can be the hook that gets kids willingly into the kitchen. Tonight's featured gadgets were: the food processor, the lemon squeezer, the can opener, and even knives. This evening we used the lemon squeezer and food processor several times so they got plenty of turns and didn't have to fight over them, either.
  4. Kids are more likely to enjoy what they're eating if they made it themselves. It's an opportunity for them to take pride in their work. Also, they will surprise you with what they are capable of.
Now for a few photos! If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen these already:

Squeezing lemons is hard work.

Making dressing in the food processor is a group effort.

Who says 7 years old is too young to use a knife?

Pita fresh out of the oven. The pita, alas, I did myself without the kids' help because of time considerations. Next time they will learn.

Fattoush! Which of course the kids call "fat tush"!!

*I didn't use specific recipes, but below is an approximation of what I did:


  • Mix together 2.5 cups all-purpose flour, 1.5 tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp yeast, 2T olive oil, 1 cup warm water into a dough, adding a little more flour if necessary.
  • Cover the dough in a bowl and let it sit for an hour until it become puffy. It won't necessarily double in size.
  • Divide into 6-8 pieces (depending on how big you like your pitas! I made six) and roll into rounds about 1/4" thick and 6" in diameter.
  • Let the rounds rest for 15 while your oven heats up to 500.
  • Bake on the bottom rack for 5 minutes. The pitas should have puffed up by this time. Then move up to the upper third of the oven for another 2 minutes or until the pitas are just browned.
Fattoush Salad (this is best in late summer when you can get all the vegetables locally or from your own garden! but it's still pretty good in late January)
  • Cut up about 2 cups of pita or other bread into large bite-size pieces and toast in a generous amount of olive oil on the stovetop (I use a cast iron skillet), then sprinkle with salt and garlic powder. Or you can throw a clove of fresh garlic in the olive oil before you add the bread to infuse the oil with that flavor
  • Mix together a bunch of fresh vegetables that have been washed and chopped; we used romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper
  • I'm really approximating here for the dressing, but I used roughly 3T lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, a clove of chopped garlic, 1/2 cup fresh herbs (mint and parsley), 1 tsp ground sumac, 2 tsp honey, 1/2 tsp salt - all mixed in the food processor.
  • Just before you eat, mix the bread with the chopped vegetables and toss with the dressing. We also added some chopped goat cheese. Whether that's authentic or not, I don't care! It was good.
  • In a food processor combine: 1 can of chickpeas drained and rinsed, 1 large clove garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 2T lemon juice, 2T tahini (sesame paste), 2-4T plain yogurt. 
  • As the processor is running, drizzle 1/4 cup olive oil. Mix until the hummus is a pleasant creamy texture and taste for salt. 
  • If I were making it for me and not my spice-sensitive kids I'd sprinkle it with cayenne or chili powder before serving!

Friday, January 23, 2015

on setting goals, motivation, and my daily routine

I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. In fact, I just very recently discovered podcasts (I know I'm pretty late to this party). A couple of weeks ago my husband recommended a good app (Overcast) and I've subscribed to several knitting and fiber-related podcasts, a few things from NPR, and Jeff Garlin's show By The Way just because he is so flipping hilarious. I love that while I'm making dinner or folding laundry or driving to a gig or walking up to school to pick up the kids, I can plug in my earbuds and listen to Kai Risdal or Ashley Yousling or Hannah Fetig, depending on my mood. I like Marketplace while I'm cooking, Jeff Garlin while I'm driving, and fiber and craft-related things while I'm getting ready to go to sleep.

One podcast in particular that I just started listening to a few days ago, Elise Gets Crafty, focuses heavily on topics of motivation and goal-setting and finding ways to organize your creative life. In some ways, this approach gets under my skin. Futzing with calendars and setting target dates for accomplishing tasks X, Y and Z is too rigid for me, especially in my creative life. While making stuff (knitting, mostly, but I dabble in sewing and other crafts occasionally) is essential for my personal happiness and emotional stability, I have no aspirations to make a living doing it. I suppose that's why daily projects like posting your breakfast cereal on Instagram every day for a year (she does not suggest this, by the way) or setting monthly creative goals seems like another thing to fail at.

And yet, I find myself listening to all her old episodes anyway and I find there is something compelling about the idea of setting a goal and then just jumping right into action. Who knows? Maybe I have enough creative talent hidden away that if I applied myself I could actually succeed at...something.

Mostly, I've been mulling over the idea of setting some sort of goal for myself in my professional field. The last six months have been good for me in a lot of ways. I started a part time teaching job in September, for one thing. It's not a huge career step, but it's regular work and I truly enjoy it, being the pedagogy geek that I am. I've also had more freelance work come my way, enough that I've actually had to turn people down lately, which is good in a weird sort of way. Again, these gigs aren't raising my profile a lot in the professional community (it's a lot of grad auditions and contest pieces for high school students) but it's helping the cash flow and keeping me in the game. It feels good to be in demand.

But is this what I want to be doing ten years from now? Fighting downtown traffic to play for a few singers at the music school, and spending every Saturday from January through March hacking through audition and contest repertoire? Maybe so. My kids are still young, and it might be best for my family if the teaching and performing gigs I have aren't higher stakes for the next decade or so.

What I'm still trying to work out is where, exactly, my motivation is. Some days I wish I had more fulfilling gigs coming up. (I'm playing about six Telemann flute sonatas next month, and it's NOT the most stimulating rep, let me tell you.) Other days, I'm glad that the tall stack of music I am responsible for performing is all stuff I can learn quickly, if not outright sight read because less practice time per piece means more gigs I can cram into a month as well as more time for knitting and reading and cooking and all those other homebody things I like to do.  Not only that, but my family responsibilities make any potential (hypothetical) high(er) stakes gig doubly stressful; you can't ignore a sick kid, dinner has to be made, no one wants to wear the same underwear three days n a row because the laundry isn't done, etc.

I am awash with ambivalence.

When it comes to routine, though, I'm pretty disciplined. I have to be, or I'd never get hired. Believe it or not, musicians spend a lot of time practicing music they don't really like (see comment above re: Telemann flute sonatas...) I don't wake up every morning excited about the prospect of working through a pile of audition music or whatever it is I have to work on that day. The days I teach, that's pretty much all I do. But on non-teaching days, after I get home from walking the kids to school, I make a cup of tea and I get to work. I run scales, I read through the easier stuff, I pick one or two difficult pieces to work through and write in fingerings and work with the metronome (I'd be lost without my metronome!). After an hour or two, I take a break and find something to eat and head out for a run or to wherever I need to be for rehearsal. If there's time in the afternoon before school is out,  I'll spend another half hour practicing and deal with boring household stuff like laundry before going to pick up the kids.

There are a couple things I'd like to add to my daily routine. One is to spend time every day working through pieces from J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. All the years I studied solo piano, I was always working on music of Bach: the inventions, preludes, fugues, French and English suites...it's wonderful stuff and so good for your brain and your technique. Bach's music is like kale for keyboard players! I miss studying it.

Another thing I'd like to do is take more photos. I signed up for Instagram (I'm Madtown_Mama there) a few weeks ago when the kids were sick and I was going a little stir-crazy at home. I do like the idea of a visual journal, whether it's a lovely snowy landscape from the park or a knitting project or dinner-in-progress. It may seem mundane to everyone else, but these are the things I notice. Maybe looking back through my IG feed someday will inspire a future creative endeavor, who knows.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

tuesday night fun cooking!

Not for the first time, I've decided my kids need to take a more active role in dinner preparation. I've tried variations of this in the past, and for various reasons. One summer I had them choose the menu a couple nights a week in the hopes that they would complain less about what they were being served, but after a month of spaghetti and meatballs I had to revise my strategy. More recently, my reasoning is that they are old enough to help, and they both ought to be contributing more to household tasks. (That they don't have more responsibility around here is mostly my fault, and that definitely needs to change.) Also, they have to learn how to cook sometime.

We eat dinner as a family every night with only a few exceptions. It takes a lot of time to fix a meal and clean up during prep and after we eat, so that seems like a good place to start, no?

I brought this up with Daniel and Anya over the long weekend. "I've decided you guys are going to help me make dinner at least one night a week," I said, "and for logistical reasons it's going to be Tuesday nights." I explained that we would pick menus together and that the only real rules are that we can't make the same thing every week and that they have to help.  Daniel merely shrugged and said, "Okay," rather agreeably before going back to reading his Minecraft book. Anya, who generally shows more enthusiasm for things, found a pencil and piece of scrap paper and immediately made a list of all the foods she wants to make. We also looked through a cookbook with nice photos and wrote down some more things to try.

What should we call this? I asked, figuring if we have a name for this goal of mine to put the kids to work, they'll get into it a little more. Kids Night? Cooking with Kids? "I dunno," said Daniel. "How about Tuesday Night Fun Cooking!" said Anya, so that's what we're calling it.

Tonight for Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! we made pizza. I had Anya make the dough and grate the cheese...

...as well as shape the crusts and put on the toppings and cut up some side vegetables but I ran out of steam and didn't take pictures of those things.

The pizza was delicious. I'd call the first week of fun cooking a success.

Daniel, unfortunately, has been home with a fever, so he got a pass on helping this time. He (and the rest of the household minus me) just got over the flu last week and I totally wiped out on my bike this morning on an icy road. Really, my goal is to make it to the end of the month more or less in one piece; I'm resetting the bar pretty low here. Anyway, I told him he could make up for it this weekend. He wants to make lasagna. We will see how that goes. I'm also thinking of making this a regular weekly blog feature. I have been trying to think of good topics to write about.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

audition days

It's audition season for music schools around the country, UW included. I've gotten some calls to accompany graduate auditions this month, and I've accepted most of them. You can make decent money playing for auditions, but it's stressful. You get a pile of music, usually only a week or two ahead of time, that you have to prepare in a hurry. Then there's one rushed rehearsal with the prospective student (who probably just got into town the night before). Just a little while later you go into a room with a handful of music faculty members who have had to listen to people sing or play for hours, and they have to do their best to look fresh and friendly for everyone new. Then after all that preparation you might play only one third of what you bring in, maybe half if you're lucky.

All that said, auditions are far more stressful for the people trying to get into the SOM (school of music). My job is to be the body at the piano who can play as many right notes as possible and keep a steady beat. And while I know they may notice if you're doing a good job, they generally don't pay a whole lot of attention unless you really screw up. Sometimes that's a good thing, depending on how much time you were given to prepare. But there are times when you work really hard and actually play well and you hope they notice.

For today I had to prepare two substantial instrumental pieces, as well as 15 minutes of vocal music; the latter was one of those last-minute-desperate-for-a-pianist requests. I spent a fair amount of time practicing everything and didn't even play half of it.

It's been a long couple of weeks. My kids and husband got the flu last week, I got two stitches in my thumb (I had them taken out yesterday but it's still kind of bruised and sore), I was told just a few days ago that my hours at my job have been reduced (fewer hours = pay cut, though I can probably make up for it with more freelancing), and then after spending most of the day playing auditions my bike got a flat tire on the way home. It felt a little like the universe telling me I've had it too easy today for some reason.

None of this is terrible, just a lot of little crappy things that are adding up to me feeling a little tired and discouraged. I think it's time for a glass of wine and some comfort food before I curl up with some knitting in front of the TV.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

for Jessi

Jessi just lost her granddaddy. Jessi and I were friends in high school, and I spent a lot of time at her grandparents' place after school. This was like 20 years ago (!!!) so my memory of him is a vague image of him sitting in his chair (no one else sat in his chair) with remarkable patience at our shrill teenage antics. I wish I had more to say. Go show her some love will you?

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

there's a first time for everything

Last night I did a stupid thing. I was making dinner, it was getting late, and I was in a hurry and tried cutting a big tough radish with a little paring knife. The knife slipped and sliced into my left thumb. Stuart had just walked in the door and didn't realize what I'd done. "Should I grab you a beer?" he asked as I ran to the bathroom to clean up and find a bandaid and I said no, I think I'll go to urgent care instead for some stitches.


I wasn't sure if the cut was bad enough to warrant stitches, but it was in a bad spot right there at the base of my thumb. I talked to a nurse on call who asked some specific, rather graphic questions. Describe the cut to me. How big is it? Um, about 1/2" long. Can you see the bone? Geez, no. Can you move your index finger? Wow, yes, it's not that bad.  If you spread the skin apart, does it keep bleeding? Yes. If you spread your fingers apart does the cut reopen? Yup. I think you'd better come in. Can you get here by 7? Yes.

Off I went to the urgent care center, clutching a bloody rag, to get stitches for the first time in my life (not counting childbirth...but I'll spare you those details).  After all the cleaning and rinsing, I was afraid I'd get all woozy when they gave me the shot, but I didn't. I'm not sure if the worst part was driving there in subzero temperatures with no mittens on (because of the bleeding) or the fact that the numbing shot was misplaced; I could feel nothing at the tip of my thumb but the first stitch hurt like the dickens. It was like having someone embroider into my skin. The second stitch was better. When it was all over, the nurse wrapped my thumb in a bandage and covered it with some elastic mesh to put pressure on it overnight. It felt big and awkward and I still had to drive home mitten-less.


I have a doctoral audition to accompany this weekend, and I was afraid I'd have to take a day off practicing, but after running a few scales this morning, I decided it would be fine to play the piano. My left thumb is a little stiff, and I can't reach more than an octave (normally I span a tenth), but I found I wasn't compensating too much.  Certainly, this could have been worse.

I'll be careful next time I try and cut up a radish, though. That's for darn sure.