Friday, May 29, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! Bananananana bread with Oma edition

Wow, you guys, it's amazing what a couple good nights' sleep will do for a person. I have also been on a couple of nice long (for me) runs and just feel better all around. I still need motivation to find direction in my professional life, but that's just par for the course when summer starts.

Let's start this episode of TNFC with a poem, shall we? This one is by Jack Prelutsky:

We're forty performing bananas,
in bright yellow slippery skins,
our features are rather appealing,
though we've neither shoulders nor chins,
we cha-cha, fandango, and tango,
we kick and we skip and we hop,
while half of us belt out a ballad,
the rest of us spin like a top.

We're forty performing bananas,
we mambo, we samba, we waltz,
we dangle and swing from the ceiling,
then turn very slick somersaults,
people drive here in bunches to see us,
our splits earn us worldly renown,
we're forty performing bananas,
come see us when you are in town.

Anya reads through the recipe. Daniel struggles to listen.

My parents (aka Oma and Opa) were in town over the holiday weekend, so we decided to move Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! to Monday and make banana bread. It was nice having another adult running the show so I could get pictures. I only got a few photos snapped with my phone, but there are also a couple short videos on IG of the kids practicing measuring stuff with a teaspoon. It's a real skill, I tell ya.

Daniel likes chopping. It must feel important and grown-up to wield a real knife. The one he's using below my dad gave us, and it's a real bona fide small-size chef's knife. It's very sharp and actually cuts things without a whole lot of effort, which makes it safer to use, I think, than dull or serrated knives.

Both kids really like mashing bananas. Or anything, really. There was no question that these particular bananas were more than sufficiently mashed.

While the banana bread baked, I was getting our actual dinner made, and then I didn't get any pictures of the final product. That's OK because the end result was...subpar. I insisted on including some leftover 10-grain cereal in the bread, we didn't have yogurt so we made buttermilk with regular milk and vinegar and then it baked a little too long, so the bread turned out a bit wet and dense in the middle and tough on the outside. I've had great success with this recipe before, though, so I think if you just follow the recipe and don't mess with it or let it bake 20 minutes too long, you'll end up with something better than I did!

Banana Bread (from the King Arthur Flour Baking Book)

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup mashed banana (2-3 large, very ripe bananas)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 and 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix eggs, sugar and oil. 
  3. Blend in the mashed bananas and vanilla.
  4. Whisk together dry ingredients, then sift them so they are very, very well-mixed.
  5. Add dry ingredients all at once to banana mixture and stir just until combined. You don't want to overdo this part.
  6. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9x5 bread pan (we used two slightly smaller ones, actually, because this is a large recipe)
  7. Bake for about one hour, or until a tester comes out clean.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May funk

My get up and go, as they say, got up and went.

I've been so tired lately. I don't think there is anything wrong with me, medically speaking, but I have a lot of demands on my time and emotional energy and it's draining me. We have some big events coming up this summer - a 10-day trip abroad when school is out in less than three weeks, and a major renovation project beginning around the same time.  The semester is over at UW and my teaching job wrapped up around the same time, so I'm relieved of those responsibilities for the time being, but the last couple weeks I've also been coordinating some outdoor/garden projects at the kids' school, which is extremely time-consuming. Also, my parents came to visit over the long weekend, and it was lovely, but having guests takes extra cleaning and food prep and all that.

None of these things is bad, mind you. It's just that I don't have a lot of fuel left in the metaphorical tank. I could use a week or even just a few days to rest up and recharge. I want to hole up by myself and read a whole book and knit a pair of socks and go trail running and not wash any dishes or do any laundry. Instead I'm arranging garden planting with 450 elementary kids, planning summer break with my own kids so we don't get bored and cranky and sick of each other, and wondering at what point will I have to remove e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. from my old rusty kitchen cabinets before they are demolished.

Believe it or not, we had Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! this week. It was on Monday and it was with my mom, who made a batch of banana bread with the kids. They were delightful and I got a few pictures to post on IG, but the photo app is still screwy about accessing pictures from my phone and the thought of dealing with that right now just to write up a blog post only five people will read is far too exhausting to contemplate right now.

Maybe tomorrow.

I may not get a chance to recharge, but I can at least try and get a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! deviled eggs edition

May is going by in a blur. It seems like we were waiting and waiting for spring to start and somehow, we're nearly to the Memorial Day weekend, like someone hit a fast forward button on the calendar. It's a mad rush to the end of the school year with field trips galore and me and the other outdoor/garden volunteers scrambling to get all the school kids outside for planting before we run out of time. I need to stock up on Claritin and sunscreen.

Last night was another event at the school, but I am determined to continue TNFC, even if the kids just help with one thing. We needed something quick and easy: deviled eggs!


We boiled more eggs than we needed for dinner because Daniel and Anya both like having hard-boiled eggs packed in their lunches, and it's a nice way to vary up the protein from PBJ and cheese sticks. 

One fun thing about cooking this time of year is harvesting ingredients from the front yard. My vegetable garden is getting a really slow start, but I have a lot of herbs growing out front: thyme, oregano, lemon balm, mint, sage, onion chives, garlic chives, curly parsley and flat Italian parsley (pictured above). When it warms up a bit, perhaps next week, I'll plant as much basil as I can stuff into the space that's left. We cut some parsley and chives for the deviled eggs last night.

Peeling the eggs was no picnic, but the kids did really well with cutting them in half and scooping out the innards.

Daniel squirted mustard into the yolk mixture. He told me later he tasted some mustard and didn't like it on its own.

About to nom some deviled eggs. Mha-ha-ha-ha-Ha-ha-ha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Plate of Deviled eggs, goose-goose and grapes. YUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Daniel wrote the captions for the last two pictures. The round stuff with peas you see there is actually couscous! It goes well with deviled eggs and cooks up pretty fast.

Deviled Eggs
  • half dozen eggs
  • 1 T. mayonnaise or plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp. yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 T. chopped fresh herbs such as parsley and chives
  • smoked paprika for garnish
  1. Heat water in a saucepan and boil the eggs for exactly 11 minutes, then plunge them into ice water to cool.
  2. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, carefully peel them, slice in half longways and scoop the yolks into a bowl.
  3. Mash the yolks with a fork and add mayo/yogurt, mustard, vinegar, salt and herbs.
  4. Scoop the yolk mixture back into the "bowl" part of the whites and garnish with smoked paprika.
Pros: easy, fast, tasty, and used herbs from our yard, so points for homegrown ingredients!

Cons: I can't think of any! If your eggs are too fresh, they can be hard to peel and come apart rather easily, but nobody here seemed to mind if their deviled eggs weren't perfect-looking.

Next time: I should have the kids help me with the couscous, which we had along with the deviled eggs. It's very easy to prepare and can be done while the boiled eggs are cooling down. Last night we had an event at the school, so time was short and I did the couscous myself.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! tortillas edition

I know, I know it's Wednesday. Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! is a day late (and a dollar short?) because, despite supposedly having a lighter schedule this week, I still had a meeting to go to last night at the kids' school and by the time I got back, I didn't have it in me to write a blog post. 

Also, I'm emotionally kind of drained. I found out yesterday that a friend of my parents lost her husband to leukemia on Monday evening, only hours after receiving a diagnosis and being admitted to the cancer treatment center. Yes, you read that right; he was diagnosed and died on the same day. While I didn't know him particularly well, I grew up knowing the woman he widowed and I can't imagine what she is going through this week. She has many of friends and plenty of support, but still...

And in addition to that, yesterday was District Attorney Ismael Ozanne's decision on whether to bring charges against the police officer who shot 19yo Tony Robinson to death in March. I watched the news conference on live feed and it was excruciating. No charges were brought, as you may know if you follow the news, and the reaction has been nonviolent (so far) but tense. The whole situation is just awful and no one in my city can feel good about any of this. 

Somehow, I just couldn't write a blog post about making tortillas with my kids yesterday.

But tortillas, we did make, and they were delicious! I only have a few phone pictures of the cooking process, but I have included a recipe at the bottom of the post, as always, with pros and cons and next-time. 

Tortillas aren't as difficult to make as you'd think, and it's really fun to make them with kids. You do have to let go of the notion that tortillas should always be perfectly round, but once you get past that, it's all good.

Because I was feeling so drained and emotional yesterday, I mixed up the dough myself, whereas I normally would have had the kids help with that part. Stuart and I took care of the fillings; his Tuesday night work obligation is over for the time being, so he'll be participating in many of the family cooking projects now.

But the kids did a superb job with rolling out and cooking the tortillas. It turns out they each really like certain aspects of tortilla making. Anya, for example, loves separating the dough into little balls...

...and then rolling them out. She did a really good job with this! Rolling out tortillas can be a little tricky, especially if the dough wants to stick to the table or the rolling pin. But she had this part down. Some of her tortillas were shaped a little like Texas, but we didn't mind.

Daniel, on the other hand, didn't want to roll out the tortillas, but he really likes being in charge of flipping them at the stove. He has been doing this since the age of 4, if you can believe it, so he didn't need much help here, other than a reminder with the first one about how long to let it cook on each side. Don't let his facial expressions in the pictures below fool you. He was actually enjoying himself.

Stuart pitched right in as soon as he got home, shredding cheese and refrying the beans for filling. This was enormously helpful and meant we were all ready to sit down and eat before 6:30, which is quite an accomplishment for a meal with so many components.

I'm afraid the camera on my phone seized up and I didn't want to futz with it, so there are no pictures of my plate full of food this time. Next time, I promise!

Our schedule is shifting a bit with Stuart available on Tuesday evenings now, but since it's the one day of the week we don't have after school or evening activities (like soccer, sigh), I plan to keep going with Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! We may tack on some additional family cooking nights on weekends when Stuart can be more directly involved, but I'm not promising that every week. We did it that one time we made banh mi and I think it's safe to say we've got a little ways to go before we figure out a really good rhythm there (i.e. Suze needs to let go of control, i.e. Stuart needs to learn how much patience is required when you set kids with kitchen tasks). It's all part of the process. 

Homemade Tortillas 
This recipe is a hybrid of corn tortillas (which tend to be stiff when homemade) and flour tortillas (which tend to be a little too rich), and is my adaptation of the cornmeal wraps from the King Arthur Flour Baking Book.
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup masa harina 
  • 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 3 T. shortening or butter
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup milk
  1. Mix the all-purpose flour, wheat flour, masa, yeast, salt and baking powder in a bowl.
  2. Cut in the shortening until the mixture is grainy.
  3. Mix the milk and water in a cup or heat-proof measuring container and warm up a bit.
  4. Add the liquid to the flour mixture and mix up, kneading just a few times. The dough should hold together without being sticky.
  5. Cover the dough and let it rest for about an hour.
  6. When you're ready to cook the tortillas, divide the dough into balls about the size of golf balls (or a little larger or smaller, depending on how big you want the finished flatbreads to be). 
  7. Heat a cast iron pan or griddle over medium-high heat.
  8. Using extra flour if necessary to prevent sticking, roll the balls out one at a time to a thickness of about 1/8". They need to be thin, but not so thin they'll rip apart.
  9. Carefully peel the tortilla off the surface where you rolled it out. Cook on the cast iron for 10 seconds on one side, then flip and cook on the second side for 20-30 seconds, then flip back to the first side for 10-20 seconds to finish up. Your tortilla should be slightly browned on both sides but still soft and pliable. Cooking time may vary by 10 seconds per side depending on how thick you end up rolling it out to begin with.
  10. Repeat with each tortilla until they're all made. Enjoy with fillings of your choice! We had pulled pork, refried beans, salsa, shredded cabbage and queso fresco. Other good things to try are scrambled eggs, fajita filling, stir-fried vegetables, guacamole, freshly made salsa, fish taco filling...the possibilities are basically endless.
Pros: Tortillas are fun to make. The kids really got into their roles here, and I didn't have to referee as much as usual. They're also delicious and we eat them about once a week here.

Cons: It can be a mad rush at the end to get everything ready, especially if you have lots of different fillings. Of course you can make the fillings as simple or as complicated as you like, but once you get started cooking the tortillas, there really is no down time for clean up or extra prep, especially when you're supervising someone at the stove.

Next time:  I need to have Daniel and Anya help mix up the dough. Whenever they measure things into bowls, it tries my patience, but they need to learn how to do it. Also, I need to get a little more adventurous with fillings instead of just beans all the time. Maybe we can do fish tacos or something.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

happy mothers day

Happy Mothers' Day to all of you who celebrate it!

Stuart asked me yesterday what I want to do for Mothers' Day, and I responded, "I don't know. Whatever I want."

My intentions were to keep my expectations low and do what I want for the day. I called my mom, got some knitting done, listened to a couple of podcasts, started a quilt project, vacuumed the rug, and didn't do a speck of laundry. Did the kids let me sleep past 6am? Nope. Did they give me a pile of sweet cards and some chocolates (with prompting from their father)? Yup. Did I help make breakfast? Yes, but only because I chose to. Did I make lunch? No, because I chose not to. Did I make dinner? Yes, but not without help, and since I had a craving for bibimbap, it was wise to take the lead on that one. (Was it worth it? Yes. I think cooking is fun and I don't mind doing it on Mothers' Day; I also don't mind that my husband voluntarily cleaned up afterwards...there was a lot of kimchi juice spilled on the table...)  Boring to you, maybe, but a good day in my book.

I've been thinking today about the ways becoming a parent has changed my life so profoundly. I have learned valuable lessons about patience and tolerance and adaptation I never would have learned otherwise. I have become close to some amazing, incredible people (parents, grandparents, children, teachers) I never would have encountered would it not for the preschool and elementary school communities my children have been a part of. I am much, much more aware of societal and cultural issues now than the time before my children were in public school. For all of this I am grateful.

I am also aware that most of the friendships I had a decade ago have lapsed, that my career path took a sharp fork into a narrow, rocky trail rather than an open road once I got pregnant with Daniel, that  everyone I encounter judges me and my place in my profession as a mother. Whether they mean to do it or not, or whether they mean well by it or not, it still happens. Also, while I feel like I work an awful lot, my earning power is meagre because I am the one who bears most of the responsibility for housework and childcare around here, and that this is not projected to change for the next several years while my children are living at home and need someone to take care of them. I know that I'm lucky to have a supportive spouse with a stable job. Not every mother has this, goodness knows. For this, I am also grateful.

But I want to take this day to acknowledge the unfair workload assigned to mothers here and throughout the world. We bear the brunt of child rearing and housework. We sacrifice wages to care for our families. We often give up sleep and financial security in exchange for time raising our children. We do it out of love, yes, but also necessity. We don't always do this because we are inherently good or more nurturing or better at it than men. We do it because usually we don't have a choice, because it's the only way we can get through this year, and next year and maybe the next.

I am happy with my life. I am grateful for my children. I am also aware of the things I have potentially given up because I had children when I did. I wouldn't change anything right now, but at the same time, I dare you to think about your mother and her potential and how that changed when she had you and your siblings (if you have any). Take a moment and thank her, even if you can't do it in person, for your life and your possibilities.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! pizza with pesto

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! was a bit abbreviated this week. Anya has been down and out since Sunday with a nasty upper respiratory bug, and I have been coordinating some outdoor activities at the school while dealing with end-of-semester craziness, so Stuart and I have been tag teaming the childcare. I'm barely keeping it together here...thank goodness for Day One of the 30-day yoga challenge; I haven't had the courage to go on to Day Two yet! But I will. Soon.

While I didn't have the mojo for an entirely kid-assisted meal, I didn't want to let Daniel off the hook completely. When I asked what he wanted to make tonight, he predictably said, "Lasagna!" Of course I don't have the ingredients on hand and couldn't go to the store, so I said "How about pizza?" and he didn't object. 

One of my rules for TNFC is that we don't repeat any recipes, at least for a little while, to encourage trying new things. Yes, pizza was on the menu a few months ago at the beginning of this experiment, but as Anya pointed out in between coughing fits, Daniel was sick last time we made pizza (on the very first Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! as a matter of fact), so this technically isn't a repeat since he hasn't made it yet.

Anyway, this time was different because we started with pesto. I love pesto. LOVE. IT.  I could just eat it by the spoonful, and often do. There is no such thing as too much basil, if you ask me, and every year I grow what feels like bushels of it, though in reality it's usually about a dozen plants. Along with traditional basil pesto, I like making it out of other ingredients. I went a little nuts buying greens (they all looked so delicious!) at the farmers'  market last weekend, and by today already some of them were looking a little droopy in the fridge, so today's batch featured a mix of locally grown arugula and spinach. 

Remember how I said gadgets make cooking with kids more fun? Well. Daniel likes to use the salad spinner. Really likes it. 

In fact, after his first bunch of greens were spun, he unthinkingly dumped the lot in the food processor along with all the water he'd just spun out, so he had to redo it and didn't mind a bit.

Next he chopped some garlic using that nice new knife from Opa.

I added salt, toasted sunflower seeds and melted butter. Typically, pesto calls for olive oil and pine nuts, but we're out of olive oil and I don't much like pine nuts and usually go with walnuts or sunflower seeds. Occasionally almonds are good, depending on the greens you use. I think sunflower seeds go particularly well with arugula.

The pesto passed the taste test!

You know, I should have made Daniel help make and spread the dough and shred the cheese and put on the toppings and the whole bit, but I didn't. It's just one of those weeks. So I sent him away to binge on screen time with little sis while I finished up. The finished pizzas had a mishmash of toppings: pesto, goat cheese, pepperoni, tomato sauce, a blend of cheeses I could find in the fridge without going to the corner store. Not every pizza had everything, but every little pizza was pretty tasty.

Anya must be feeling better because she ate quite a bit.

Pesto with fresh farmers market greens (my own recipe):
I have made this with all arugula before; this is the first time I tried mixing in spinach, and the result is a little milder than when you use all arugula. I happen to love the sharp flavor of arugula, but if you don't or are concerned the people you're feeding won't like it, you can use part spinach.
  • 4-6 cups blend of fresh arugula and spinach, washed and spun dry; I used about half and half but you can proportion how you like, or according to what is in your garden or left in your fridge. You could use all arugula or all spinach if you like, though all spinach would have an exceptionally mild flavor, I would think.
  • 1 tsp. fresh garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds, unsalted
  • 3/4 tsp. salt (less if your sunflower seeds are salted)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter or olive oil
Blend all ingredients except the butter (or oil) in the food processor. While the processor is running, drizzle the fat in through the top and process until you have a smooth paste. Taste for salt. That's it! Easy peasy.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Friday recommendations: feel good edition

This week I've had a few ups and downs having to do with the usual end-of-semester stuff. I'm not even a student anymore, but since most of my freelance work is for college and graduate students, I'm still very much in tune with the academic year and how that affects performance cycles. You'd think that 7 (!) years out of finishing my doctorate I'd have separated myself from the insecurities and self-esteem issues that come with being a student, but there are some things I think I'll never shake. I'm a grown up, I'm a parent, I even have a real job with an actual employer (though it's only part time and pays a pittance, literally) and I like to think I have a healthy perspective and balance in my life... and yet there are days the littlest, most trivial things make me lose confidence. Today was one of those days. At least by this point I know this has more to do with my state of mind than my actual abilities, but I felt off my game and it was discouraging. 

Now I need to feel better! I don't yet, but I'm working on it. Here are a few things that help me when I'm feeling down or discouraged or tense. Or sniffly (as in the case of #1).
  1. While I don't ordinarily have much of a problem with seasonal allergies, the last couple years I've had a problem with what I suspect is oak pollen. For about a week in the spring I'll sneeze uncontrollably and I think my face might turn inside out from all the itching in my mouth and eyes and cheeks. It hasn't hit hard yet this year, but for the past two weeks I've been waking up with a raspy throat and dry eyes. Hydrating with mere H2O is fine, but honey-lemon water is even better! And it's exactly what it sounds like; I heat a cup of water in the microwave, then stir in some lemon juice and honey. It soothes my throat and is a nice way to wake up in the morning before everyone else is up and at 'em.

2. Thirty Day of Yoga on youtube. OK, I'll have to admit I've only done Day One, but I'm going to go ahead and recommend it anyway. I've been wanting to take a yoga class for years, but carving out a couple hours every week on a regular basis with family needs and my volatile freelancing schedule just hasn't been possible. A singer friend of mine has the same problem, and then she found this series on youtube and invited me to do the first one with her last evening after rehearsal. Man, it was great. The stretching, the focus, the Intentionality, if you will, is just what I need. 

3. A full night's sleep. All kinds of studies show that sufficient sleep has a hugely positive impact on your immune system and mental health. Of course, this is easier said than done, given the crazy sleep cycles of my 7yo daughter, who as often as not wakes up in the middle of the night needing comfort and cuddles. Also, I don't usually sleep much past sunrise, which is before 6am these days. Still, I find that if I properly wind down with no screens at least a half hour before I go to bed and get a decent night's rest, it makes such a huge difference the next day. If I'm reasonably well-rested, I stand a much better chance of facing whatever daily challenges lie ahead than if I'm cranky and tired and relying on extra cups of coffee to keep me going. This is especially true now that I'm past the age of 35, I might add!

What about you? What do you need to feel better?