Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! cherry pie edition

This week is spring break for students at UW and in the Madison schools. Not me, alas. My teaching schedule continues as usual this week and I still have music to practice and a meeting and rehearsal tomorrow. What I really need is a whole week free of these kinds of obligations so I can catch up on all the things I've fallen behind on and recharge my creative batteries. 

I need that desperately, but I'm not going to get it. For this week, though, I've got the next best thing: live-in help! My parents, known to the kids as Oma and Opa, offered to come for the week to hang out with us and help out with Daniel and Anya. It's a life-saver, I tell you. Instead of hiring a sitter and farming the kids to various friends for play dates, they're having fun playing games and embarking on various crafty projects. Today it was even warm enough to go to the park for a while. 

Today is also Tuesday! We missed Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! last week because a school event in the evening meant we had only enough time to heat up some leftover pizza before dashing off, much less cooking something from scratch. I told the kids that even though Oma and Opa are here, they were not off the hook. This is a special edition, however, because the kids made a special dessert instead of the whole meal.

Today we made a cherry pie. Cherry pie happens to be my dad's very favorite and his birthday is just a few weeks away, so it seemed appropriate. Anya in particular was excited about this, since she is always acutely aware of upcoming holidays and birthdays (lord knows what she's got planned for April Fools Day tomorrow...)

Pie is a tricky thing. Whoever came up with that expression, "easy as pie" evidently never actually tried making one before, because there are 101 ways to screw it up, and I believe I have tried all of them. I have made a few good pies, though, in between lots and lots of mediocre ones. Last summer when my friend R gave me her pie crust recipe, I finally went from making decent pies to pretty good pies. We won't go so far as to say excellent, not yet, but I've at least got enough confidence to tell the kids how to do it.

What follows are a bunch of crappy phone pictures from my dirty kitchen of the kids making pie. It's not beautiful, but it's real.

Here's a reality of cooking with kids (#cookingwithkids). It takes forever. It took a full five minutes - and I am not exaggerating - for them to figure out how to measure 2.5 cups of flour, this after staring blankly at the list of ingredients for a good long time. This is how they will learn, by doing it themselves, but man it was frustrating.

Good grief there is a lot of crap on the counter.

We used Crisco AND butter in our pie crust!

Adding the liquid.
At least mixing everything in the food processor made everything go a bit faster. At least until we needed to mix by hand. Each kid had a turn. They didn't really get the hang of it, but after many dire warnings NOT TO OVERMIX lest the crust get tough, they were probably afraid to handle it at all.

The filling was blessedly easy. I bought Door Co. cherries at Brennan's, and they were already pitted and sweetened. We strained out the liquid and warmed it with thickener, but that was it as far as preparing the filling.


Rolling out the pie dough.
 Did I mention that Oma was supervising the process as well? She is usually not shy about giving helpful suggestions while I'm cooking (or doing anything, really), but she was remarkably restrained during the whole pie-making process. Until it was time to roll out the dough. Anya went first and she was hit with a barrage of instructions from both me and my mom: "Put flour on the rolling pin! Roll from the middle! Be gentle! Now put some muscle into it! You need more flour! It's too thin on the edge!" and so on.

Daniel fared similarly, but he, like his sister, took all these instructions in stride way way better than I ever would (or did, at his age).

Here is our pie ready to be baked. There is a little foil around the edge to keep it from getting too brown.

Alas, I do not have a picture of the finished pie to show you! Right after dinner we immediately ate about half of it, and I just hope the other half makes it to tomorrow. It really was good.

Old-Fashioned Pie Crust (makes enough for a double crust 9" pie)
Whisk together in a bowl, or combine for a few seconds in a food processor:

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt

Cut in or process:

  • 8 T. (1 stick) cold butter, cut into little pieces
  • 1/2 cup shortening or lard

Whisk together in a bowl, then add to flour mixture a little at a time:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup ice cold water

Knead mixture by hand just long enough to make dough, but don't overdo it. Divide into two equal parts, wrap in plastic or wax paper. Chill several hours in fridge or put in the freezer for about 10 minutes before rolling out to put in the pie pan.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

recommendations this week: kid stuff

Lately, two of my favorite podcasts are While She Naps and Slate's DoubleX Gabfest. They are completely different in terms of subject matter - While She Naps is all about creative business and textile arts, while the DoubleX Gabfest is women discussing current events and feminism - but I find them both so interesting and engaging. In fact, whenever I'm listening to either podcast, I often find myself wishing I could be part of the conversation instead of just listening in.

Another thing both these podcasts have in common is that they both wrap up with recommendations. (I realize this feature is likely not unique to While She Naps and the DoubleX Gabfest.) It's just fun to hear what random things these people have to recommend to everyone else. And I do mean random - they recommend everything from smartphone apps and books to exercise routines and pencil shops. The other day I wondered to myself, if, at the conclusion of a fascinating (ha) and enlightening (double ha!) interview with me, I was asked to recommend anything I like, what would I choose? So I've thought it over, and here they are, in no particular order:

  1. The Septimus Heap series by author Angie Sage. I might be the last one to the party on this, I don't know. In any case, Daniel's teacher sends books home every couple of weeks to encourage more independent reading. Back in January, he read Magyk, the first book (of seven) in this series, and was hooked. I think he burned through all seven books in about three weeks. I'm catching up slowly (about to start the third book, called Physik) and I'm really enjoying them, despite not having enough time to read as fast as Daniel did. The story moves fast, the characters are interesting and funny and full of surprises, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
  2. Hand crafting for kids. I am a believer in kids keeping their hands and minds busy with things like sudoku puzzles and knitting and needlework. Such activities are good for learning patience and developing creativity and not pestering me that they are bored and have nothing to do. The last few weeks we have been messing around with sewing and needlework, and it's been really fun coming up with projects and learning new skills. I will say that the way the arts and crafts industry markets almost exclusively to women and girls really really bugs me. Because boys are creative, too, and they have just as much right to be interested in hand-making things out of thread and fiber. Let's teach some NFL players to knit, shall we? OK, off my soap box now.
  3. I've been trying to add some variety to the kids' lunches lately. I think they're tired of eating sandwiches and carrot sticks nearly every day of the week, and I don't blame them. About a month ago, another mom who has twins in high school said she sends hot lunches with her kids  in insulated containers and I was like, "OMG THAT IS GENIUS, HOW IS IT I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT?!" So later that day I looked online and found the Thermos Funtainer and ordered two of them, and I have to say, it has totally changed lunches for my kids. Now they can bring all kinds of stuff to school for lunch: soup! leftover noodles! mac and cheese! It's a bit of a production getting their lunches ready because I have to fill the containers with boiling water and heat the food to scalding in order for it to stay hot until lunchtime, but the effort is worth it. They're eating better and they're happy with their food.
Recommendations are fun! I may make it a regular thing, maybe once a week or every other week or something. I did just notice that everything on my list is kid-related, which I didn't really mean to do, but that's just how it happened this time. 

In other news, everyone but me is on spring break this week, so my parents are here to visit and help out with babysitting so I can go to work. I haven't gotten squat done all weekend, so I'll have to put my nose to the grindstone big time tomorrow. Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! shall resume this week, however, and it will be a special edition with grandparents! We have yet to decide on the menu, but whatever we choose will be fun and exciting, I'm sure. 

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 (Madison.com and channel3000.com 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...