Monday, July 27, 2015

Our trip so far in photos

Let's see how it goes blogging on my phone. I hate typing on the tiny keyboard so you'll have to make do with a few pictures for the time being. 

Short version: lots of driving, camping, hiking, hot dogs, time with my brother, hanging out in Boston and surrounding 'burbs. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! (on Wednesday): bagels and stuff

If you love locally grown food, July is the best time to be in southern Wisconsin. Everything is so abundant and delicious (except in my own garden, but my personal gardening issues are a topic for another post). I'm happy to feast on cucumbers and kale and beet salad any and every night.

I'll be honest, it's been a bit of a struggle to maintain the weekly cooking gig with my kids this summer. Our routine was disrupted with that big trip last month, and I'm embarking on a road trip with them to New England next week. Whether I'm very brave and adventurous or very foolish remains to be seen. In any case, the last few weeks have been rather blissfully unstructured, but all the free time makes it difficult to enforce the few responsibilities they do have, like piano practice and helping out with dinner prep.

In fact, I was afraid today would be a fight to get Daniel and Anya to help. We were all kind of tired and unmotivated, but I decided to start early and take it slow and only have them participate in one thing: bagels!

We mixed up the bagel dough early in the afternoon:

Always start by reading the recipe.

Measure and dump.
We started the dough in the mixer, but it honestly works better by hand, so I removed the bowl so we could finish kneading by hand. I've taught Daniel and Anya how to make bread dough before, but it had been a while and they both needed a brief reminder.

Their personalities really show through in this step. Anya is so tentative she barely worked the flour in...

...while Daniel sat on the floor and kneaded with exuberance!

After an hour or so of letting the dough rise, then came the fun part. After dividing the dough into balls and letting it rest for a few minutes, you press holes in the middle.

This is how you get holes in the bagels. It's very scientific.

Then you get some water boiling and boil the bagels two at a time for about a minute before baking them.

I had them take turns dropping the dough into the water and timing each for a minute. 

There was a lot more to dinner than just the bagels, actually. I should have had them help with everything else, but I didn't want to push it. Sure, I spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen, but I was kind of in the zone and didn't mind. Plus, we have lots of bagels left for tomorrow!

Pan-roasted salmon fillet, raw kale salad, gazpacho, BAGEL with cream cheese and fresh pesto. Every single vegetable and herb is locally grown. Did I mention I love southern Wisconsin this time of year?
Fresh bagels:
This recipe is from my cousin Liz. I've altered it just slightly because well, I always do that.

  • 3.5-4 cups flour (I use one cup whole wheat or a whole grain mix)
  • 2 T. yeast
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 T. salt
  • 1.5 cups hot water
  1. Mix 3 cups of the flour and the rest of the dry ingredients. 
  2. Add the hot water and stir into a dough, adding the remaining flour as necessary to make a nice smooth dough ball.
  3. Let the dough rise until about double (about an hour).
  4. Divide dough into 10-12 equal pieces and roll into balls.
  5. Let the balls rest about 15 minutes before pressing each one gently with the palm of your hand to flatten and poke holes in the middle with your thumb.
  6. Fill a saucepan about 2/3 full of water and add a bit of sugar (1 T. or so), then bring to a boil.
  7. Boil the bagels in groups of 2-3 for one minute, flipping once. Drain each one lightly on a towel.
  8. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes or until golden on top, flipping over once in the oven.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking (on Wednesday): easy risotto

After a rather long and not entirely intentional hiatus, Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! has returned!! At least for the time being. I'm taking the kids on a road trip the last couple weeks of July and then in early August - fingers crossed the contractor is ready - a badly needed, years overdue renovation (addition, kitchen overhaul, some other stuff) will begin and our whole house will be in upheaval for a few months. TNFC may happen in the bathroom on a hot plate because I am not interested in three months of takeout.

But that's in the future. I'm not really going to believe that project will start until it does. We've had several delays already and we still just have a vague idea of the date they start digging.

Back to TNFC, however...for now, I've decided to have the kids help me cook on Wednesdays instead of Tuesdays, for purely logistical reasons. We pick up our CSA share every Wednesday afternoon, which means that by Tuesday night I'm throwing together dinner from whatever pitiful scraps of broccoli and wilted cucumber are left in the fridge, whereas on Wednesday we have a beautiful array of crisp, fresh produce to work with. We have the benefit of getting an email from the farm on Tuesday afternoon with weekly reminders, a newsletter, and a list of everything that will be in our box. This week I decided to make easy risotto with parsley pesto and fresh vegetables.

We were a little short on the arborio rice required for risotto, so I found some short grain brown rice to augment the recipe. The kids learned how to measure and dump into the rice cooker.

This is the edge of our 60+ year old porcelain kitchen sink. I can't wait to see it go.
After the brown rice got cooking, we made pesto out of the large bunch of parsley that came in our CSA share. First they rinsed the parsley and then spun it in the salad spinner. 

Kids love using the salad spinner.
The next task was to strip the parsley leaves off the stems and put them in the food processor. Daniel kept dropping his on the floor and had to re-rinse them. He found this annoying and had fun creating some drama about it.


Anya, who is fully recovered from her knife injury of last month, carefully cut up some garlic scapes for the pesto.

Daniel measured broth for cooking the rest of the rice.

And that's the last of the progress pictures from last night's TFNC (on Wednesday) adventure because when it came time to chop onions and sauté them, the onion fumes were so strong Daniel had to flee the kitchen and I took over for a while. I think we need to get him some onion goggles.

My dinner plate! Risotto with vegetables, salad with pesto dressing, hunk of goat cheese for good measure.
Parsley Pesto
Note: This made enough pesto to use in the risotto, plus some extra. I used the leftover to make salad dressing by adding more olive oil, some cider vinegar, and chopped green onion.
  • 1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley (about 2 cups of leaves)
  • 2-3 garlic scapes (or one clove garlic)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3-4 T. toasted sunflower seeds (I used unsalted)
  • 3-4 T. extra virgin olive oil
  1. Wash the parsley and strip leaves from the stems. Roughly chop the garlic clove or scapes. 
  2. Place parsley leaves, garlic, salt, and sunflower seeds in food processor.
  3. With blades running, drizzle in the olive oil and process until you have a nice smooth paste. Taste for salt.
Easy Risotto
This is easier than regular risotto because you bake it. Normally, risotto calls for more than a half hour of stirring while you add the broth a little bit at a time. That's the superior way to make it, I know, but when you're cooking with kids and have to make salad and clean up before dinner, I'll live with a slightly inferior end result in exchange for time to get that other stuff done. 
Also, I rarely make risotto the same way twice. It's a great way to use a variety of vegetables or use up small amounts of things in one dish. You can put pesto in or not. You can use meat or not (I didn't this time).
  • 3 T. butter or olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 zucchini or yellow squash, chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • about 4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable), warmed
  • 1/2 cup parsley pesto (see above recipe)
  • 2 cups fresh peas
  • grated parmesan or crumbled goat cheese for garnish
  1. Warm the broth in a saucepan or in the microwave and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350.
  3. In a cast iron or oven proof dutch oven (this is important!!) heat the butter or oil and sauté onions for several minutes or until soft.
  4. Add the garlic and chopped zucchini and cook another 3-4 minutes or until the squash is soft.
  5. Stir in the arborio rice.
  6. Add the broth all at once and bring to a boil.
  7. Put the lid on the dutch oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the rice is cooked.
  8. Remove the dutch oven and stir in the peas and pesto. Put the lid back on and let everything steam for a couple of minutes while you grate cheese, set the table, make salad, or whatever else you need to do at the last minute.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! shall return!

I'm finally getting back on track with cooking with the kids on a weekly basis. We made a delicious meal tonight, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to read about it or see pictures because I decided to spend the evening working on a sewing project and watching season 3 of Homeland with Stuart instead of writing up a post.

Coming soon, though, I promise!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

the last of my Scotland pics

Happy Independence Day to my American readers! We're having a rather unremarkable July 4 relaxing, gardening and debating whether any of us wants to brave the mosquitoes and stay up late enough for fireworks tonight. We'll see.

Meanwhile, here is a final batch of photos from our Scotland trip. We spent a night and a day in the seaside village of Oban, seafood capital of the country, port of many ferries to the outer Hebridean islands, and of course home to a whisky distillery.

Stuart took a tour while the rest of us went out for ice cream.

After Oban, our last two nights were booked in Glasgow and near Edinburgh, respectively. By that point, however, we had lost interest in city sight-seeing and were all so smitten by the hiking trails and wild spaces that after the night in a Glasgow hotel, we took off for the nearest mountain within an hour's drive and climbed it.

Ben Ledi in the Loch Lommon-Trussachs National Park did not disappoint. In some ways, this was the most strenuous hike we did: 4 miles up a steep gravel path. It took two hours to go up and only 45 minutes to come back down. It was pretty foggy most of the way, and Anya and I were not keeping pace with the guys, so I only got a couple pictures to share.

Our trip to Scotland was truly amazing. I want to go back. Stuart wants to live there! Reality, of course, dictates otherwise. In any case, we now know that our children have more stamina and independence than we thought. We are newly committed to seeing as many natural and wild spaces as we can with our kids.

Meanwhile, more big things are on the horizon for us, namely a major house renovation that is years overdue and will finally start (fingers crossed) in August. Also, I need to decide if I'm happy where I am professionally, or if I should make more of an effort to raise my profile and put myself out there more. It's always a question of work-family balance and nine times out of ten, family wins out.

Cheers, everyone!

Thursday, July 02, 2015

more Scotland pics: Isle of Skye

We returned home from Scotland a week ago, and I still miss it. That was one amazing, fantastic trip we took and I wish we could go back. We did so much hiking, and that was definitely everyone's favorite part (well, I was also pretty excited about all the sheep. Sheep!!)  Daniel and Anya surprised us with their stamina and enthusiasm for all the trail walking and mountain hiking we undertook. 

The last batch of photos I uploaded from the good camera are from the Isle of Skye, and we had three days in Scotland after that, so I'll have at least one more picture heavy post. Bear with me. Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! shall return!! Maybe next week when I've got my ducks in a row.

This was our hotel in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye. The hotel proprietor and his wife were so kind and generous and wonderfully helpful.

They lent us a map, falling to pieces and marked with all of their favorite hiking trails, like the Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr on the Trotternish peninsula, and a beach where the sand is black from ancient volcanic ash and you can see fossilized dinosaur footprints when the tide is out (we couldn't find them).

Fog at Quiraing
Black sand.
Squishy seaweed and a pink sea snail.

Somewhere here there are dinosaur footprints.
We visited Dunvegan castle, which is still the official residence of the Chief of the clan MacLeod. As castles go, it was less exciting than some, but it does house the Fairy Flag, a 1600 year old scrap of silk rumored to have magical properties, and there was a really creepy, horrible dungeon you could peer down into. Fun fact: a small vent between the dungeon and the kitchens was built so forgotten prisoners starving to death could be further tortured by the smell of food being prepared for the castle's inhabitants. 

This is perhaps the best picture we got of both kids, taken in the Dunvegan castle gardens.
Scenic green door in the Dunvegan castle gardens.
Daniel swats at midges. They don't have mosquitoes in Scotland, but they have midges, which are almost as bad.
 Sheep were EVERYWHERE. I did not get tired of seeing sheep - dotting the hillsides, squeezing through fences, wandering into the road, grazing the field right next to our hotel...


When we had to leave Skye, we took our time. None of us really wanted to go, not yet. We eased our way off the island, and took a long stop in Sligachan for a final hike before heading to our next destination. 

There was a brewery.

I took this picture about a half hour before she fell in the mud.

Bleak. Beautiful.

I'm homesick for Skye already.

One more Scotland post and then this blog will be back to my normal life...for whatever that's worth!