Vegetable Virginity

November 19, 2010 at 7:05 am (Cooking)

Growing up, a select few vegetables entered our house. Every night my Grandma Betty peeled and served raw carrots to my dad as an appetizer, while he watched the news and read the paper. (“Don’t mess up the paper before your dad comes home”, she told me once. “A man likes to read the paper when he’s done with work.” But that’s a whole ‘nother subject.) Sometimes the carrots were accompanied by celery and radishes.

Another regular vegetable was canned green beans. Ugh. The smell still gets to me. Then there was corn on the cob in the summer, occasionally potatoes, and sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving and Christmas. In my teenage years there was green salad, with aforementioned same raw veggies on it. And that was… it.

It wasn’t my mom’s fault. We wouldn’t have eaten anything else. I’m feeling her pain more and more other my motherly years. One night of cooking and having it rejected is an annoyance. Thousands of such nights… who wouldn’t give up?

As an adult, I’ve learned to enjoy, and cook, quite a few more vegetables. Broccoli is a staple for us, as are fresh green beans, and we pull in frozen peas or corn in a pinch. We do asparagus in season, experiment with squashes, cook with all kinds of dried beans, and I remain a devout fan of the raw carrot.

I was thinking we did okay. Vegetables were served, even if most of the time much cajoling was used to get a child to take a bite.

Then I started getting a CSA box. Even getting a “regular size” box every two weeks, as opposed to a “family size” box once a week, I had trouble using them up.

And then. Then I forgot one week to pre-substitute out some of the unfamiliar vegetables for vegetables we’re used to eating. And we got (besides some usual ones):

  • Brussel sprouts. Still on the stem, no less. I’d never even taken a BITE of one before. Cooking them… uh, hmmm.

 800px-BrusselsSprouts-OnVine

  • Turnips. I recall my Norwegian-Canadian Grandpa Alf eating them raw with salt in front of the TV watching hockey. I think anyway. But the likelihood my own children would follow suit is slim to none. Never tried to my knowledge.
  • Collard greens. Otherwise known as giant green fans. Mark, the boys, and I took turns fanning each other with them. Willa thought it was great fun. For a while I thought this was the only use we were going to get out of them. Again, never tried.

 greens_collard

  • Romanesco. The only reason I knew what this was when I took it out of the box was process of elimination. So, yes, I was a Romanesco virgin.

Brassica_romanesco

  • Bok choy. My favorite pho place uses it in the vegetable pho. I always eat it first to get it over with. It’s not horrible, just a little slimy. And at least in the soup, hard to eat when it’s not cut up.

Not one to waste food, especially special organic local food I’ve paid a premium for, I set out to figure out what in the world to do with these strange foodstuffs.

The results? Positive on the whole. I learned at least one way to cook each. Except the bok choy. That’s still in the fridge. And most importantly, they were actually good. Really. Who knew? Brussel sprouts have made it onto the Thanksgiving menu even.

Beginner’s advice for the easiest most palatable ways to cook these:

  • Saute the Brussels sprouts in olive oil with salt and pepper. Parker asked if he could try one. Do you think I said “No honey, these are just for adults”? Hell no!
  • Scalloped turnips. I would never have known they weren’t potatoes. For reals and for trues.  Cheese and cream never hurt a food.
  • Collard greens. Chop up just the leafy parts, stir fry, then add chicken stock and cook until it boils off.  Tasty!  And I felt so vegetably-pious, eating my greens.
  • Romanesco.  Cook like broccoli.  By which I mean, pleeease don’t overcook.  Less is more.  It was fine, but we’ll probably stick to broccoli.
  • Bok choy.  If you have any ideas, let me know.

If you are interested in trying some of these “exotic” veggies, NPR happened to have a great show on cooking some of them this morning.

These accidental veggies were just what I needed to get out of a food rut. I may not incorporate them all into our repertoire, but I’m excited to try more new veggies. And someday, maybe, in one month or one year or ten, Greta will surprise us and try some. Until then, I’ll keep putting an infinitesimal bite on her plate for her to scoff at.

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Today, by the numbers

November 8, 2010 at 5:19 am (Cooking)

My Sunday was whiled away in the kitchen.  By which, I mean, I did nothing else today out of the kitchen except shower and nurse a baby. Preparing brunch and lunch and a simple (/elaborate) pizza dinner takes considerable more time than one might imagine.

6 cups of coffee consumed
1 four-layer coffee-cake baked
3 peanut butter sandwiches spread (as usual)
3 apples quartered (as usual)
unnumerable cups of milk/juice/water poured
4 pizzas made for my sister’s birthday dinner,
11 cheeses/sauces/toppings grated/chopped/cooked/blended (fresh mozzarella, regular mozzarella, pesto, red sauce, carmelized red onions, argula, pineapple, pepparoni, chicken sausage, sun-dried tomatos, red pepper)
1 salad made,
5 toppings chopped/cooked (pumpkin seeds, red onions, corn, black beans, feta)
2 dishwasher loads, filled and emptied
countless surfaces wiped

Does this seem like it should take 6 hours? (I was really trying hard not to hurry and enjoy having the time alone, even if it was work. It was cooking work, which I enjoy. I find myself constantly trying to do everything as quick as possible, sending myself into a tizzy and stressing myself out. It sucks, going through every day that way. But if I slow down, I feel guilty for taking 6 hours to make 3 meals.)

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It’s official

March 26, 2010 at 4:25 am (Cooking, Family) (, )

It’s not like three kids and two parents is a small family these days. But today I came to grips with the fact that, as a family with almost-four children, we have a large family.

You’d think this would’ve hit home the day I found out about surprise baby 4.  Or perhaps the day back when I was pregnant with Greta that we bought a mini-van.  Or the first time I sign our New Year’s cards “Best wishes, Mark, Heather, Auden, Parker, Greta, and Apple*”.

But no, it was today.  The day we expanded our pancake-making capabililties to eight with the “family griddle”.

Eight

Growing up, my father made breakfast every day except Christmas.  This was his one break with “traditional roles”.  Some days he just set the table with cereal, but the majority of the time he made pancakes.  There were everyday pancakes, always made from a homemade mix including wheat germ, whole wheat flour, and I don’t know what else.  What he’s famous for, though, amongst our extended family and friends, are his “Saturday Morning Pancakes”.  Fluffy white-floured circles of goodness.  He makes these at home, camping, and visiting relatives or friends, every Saturday.  Always four at a time on a square electric griddle.  Or camping, one at a time in cast iron.

My parents had three children.  Mark’s parents had three children.  We will have four.  I picked up this new griddle as an impulse buy, on terrific sale.  But its purchase has hit it home for me- we’re going to have a bigger family than our parents.  Big enough to utilize an eight pancake griddle.  Whoa.

*Apple is Greta’s name for the new baby.  If she does show up a girl, I will lobby for incorporating it somewhere in her real name.  It’s just so stinkin’ cute.
apple yum

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Banana bread

October 29, 2009 at 2:16 pm (Cooking) (, )

Last week I posted about my mishaps getting usable sunflower seeds from the flowers we grew.  I ended up with about a cup of extra extra toasted, semi-crushed sunflowers seeds.  I considered baking bread, but I had a couple loaves of store-bought, and I wasn’t 100% sure what they would do in a yeast bread.  Could I just add them in, or would they replace just a bit of the flour?

Instead, I went with what I know- a quick bread.  The choice was also steered by remembering I had some banana puree in the freezer. 

It’s hard to go wrong with quick breads and muffins.  One can get away with lots of substitutions in a quick bread, so they are perfect recipes to play with.  Playing with a quick bread recipe means adding nutrition and using up good food that doesn’t have another obvious purpose.  I’ve added in the past: browned apples, leftover thawed blueberries, and the twelve raisins and two almonds sitting in a bowl that were originally served as oatmeal toppings.  You can even add leftover oatmeal itself.

In my double batch of banana bread, I added all the toasted sunflower seeds I had, and substituted most of the white flour in the Betty Crocker recipe with wheat flour, gluten, wheat germ, and wheat bran.  One of my boys asked, “Are these chocolate chips in here?”  That was how toasted the sunflowers were!  Brown, but not burnt.  Was it a disservice to his nutritional education that I let him believe they were chocolate?  Either way, yum.

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Flowers of the Sun

October 22, 2009 at 7:41 am (Cooking) ()

Please note, this is not in any way a how to manual for anything to do with sunflowers.  What transpired here is a bastardization of actually advisable instructions readily available via your favorite search engine.

  1. Grow sunflowers.  (I had nothing to do with this, but the other 80% of our family did.  I’m told it’s quite easy.)our sunflower
  2. Let them get really tall.                                                                                    way taller than the boys
  3. Send a couple to school for the boys’ teacher.  Worry that she won’t like them and that they will be in trouble for bringing them on the bus.
  4. Chop down the flowers.  Let them dry a few days outside.
  5. Make a total mess of the deck removing all the seeds from the flowers.  They are remarkably fleshy.
  6. Pay boys $1 to clean up the deck.
  7. Soak half the seeds, still in the hulls, in salt water overnight.
  8. Roast at 200 degrees F, for about two hours.  Store in an airtight container, as they will not be eaten anytime soon.
  9. Soak the second batch overnight.
  10. Roast at 350 degrees F for twenty minutes, because two hours was just too long to justify the oven being on merely for sunflower purposes.
  11. Decide second batch isn’t done; is still damp.  Leave on the counter.
  12. Rotate the two 9×13 pans around the counters wherever space is available for a few days.  Maybe a week.  Throw randomly in the oven a few times it’s warm.  Forget they’re in the oven as it’s preheating to 425 degrees for something else.  At least once, maybe twice.
  13. Decide something must be done.  Use them or ditch them.
  14. Take all the seeds/hulls in batches, place in a Ziploc sandwich baggie, and crush with rolling pin.  It would be advisable to use a bigger Ziploc, but I had run out.  One child will help, briefly, before deciding “it’s too hard”.
  15. Put crushedness into a juice pitcher with water, and skim hulls off the top.  Into another pitcher.
  16. Determine pitcher isn’t big enough, and fetch the big mixing bowl from the garage.  Continue skimming hulls.  Fill both pitchers with hulls.
  17. Decide rolling pin crushing didn’t get out all the seeds.  Get out food processor, and run the hulls through in batches.
  18. Repeat skimming procedure with the twice-crushed hulls/seeds.  In another bowl, so as not to contaminate the only once-crushed hulls/seeds.  In case the twice-crushed don’t work.  Like any part of this is working.
  19. Obtain about one cup of crushed sunflower seeds.  Stick in the fridge.
  20. Clean the two pitchers, two mixing bowls, and the food processor.  Think about how all the water used in rinsing and skimming, repeat repeat, and then washing kitchen equipment, probably totally negates the benefits of extracting these seeds.
  21. Clog the disposal with the hulls stuck to everything, even though 90% go into the compost container.
  22. Unclog the disposal, hoping to complete task before husband comes home.  Know he will not be happy I thought I could send even a cup of sunflower seed hulls down it.
  23. Wonder what I’m going to do with my “bounty”.  Bread, muffins?  I’ll let you know.

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Homemade

July 22, 2009 at 9:05 pm (Cooking) (, )

Besides more time with the kids, I’m excited to stay at home to MAKE- food, clothes, a more organized and happier home, a little love once in a while.  All the homemaking activities I thought about sometimes while working, but mostly left to MJ to handle.

The two biggest tangible drivers for making homemade foods and crafts are creating healthier foods and saving money. But greater than that, I think, is that it’s so rewarding to see what you’ve created, whether it’s something pretty on the wall, something you’re wearing, or something your kids eat.

One of my greatest frustrations the last few years on the job was not physically creating anything to be proud of at the end of the day.  Saying you answered 40 emails and gave advice to 3 people about the manufacturing process and edited an SOP, well, it wasn’t floating my boat.  It took me a while, but eventually I realized I need something pretty concrete to feel satisifed about my work.

At home for the second week, so far, so good on the creation front, but there’s a lot more on my list.

Successes:

  • I finally finished sewing a spider bathrobe for Auden.  I’m new to sewing; I bought my first sewing machine for $99 last month.  I’m proud of this project on all kinds of levels.  It cost less than $20 in materials.  You can buy a boy’s bathrobe for this commercially I’m sure, but would it have insects and spiders on it?  Or your own boy’s most favoritest thing?  I bought the exact amount of fabric (1 yd) I needed, by guessing.  Truth be told, I went back and got a different solid fleece for the pockets because I was out of the spider fleece.  And, I managed to “design” it by looking at my own bathrobe without buying a pattern.  Last, and best of all, he LOVES it and wears it every day. You can see my issue here
  • We went blueberry picking last week, and then made blueberry jam.  SO easy to make freezer jam, by the way.
  • We’ve been making yogurt popsicles, and the kids seem to PREFER them over Otter Pops.  Yesterday we were out of the yogurt they usually eat (flavored yogurt in quarts, the kind of lots of sugar, but at least no HFCS).  We did have the plain yogurt.  I added our homemade jam to it, AJ stirred, and yuuum.  They ate it up, and we made more healti(er) popsicles without having to go to the store. I will add; I’ve tried to get them to eat plain yogurt with jam in it before, and they would have nothing to do with it. Either the homemade jam improved it, or I finally let them put in enough jam that it tasted like a commercial yogurt, or they just got used to the idea. But something to remember- just because a kid refused something once, doesn’t mean he always will, as is easy to think.
  • Yesterday I made hummus from dried beans. Not spectacular, but certainly good.
  • Revitalizing a sourdough starter that was dying a slow death in the fridge. GOJ and I used it to make pancakes, and it’s about to become bread. Making sourdough pancakes

Next on the list:

  • Attempting to culture our own yogurt
  • Mixing up our own liquid laundry detergent
  • Baking sourdough bread, which I’m about to do now!

(I really do have another kid, PJ just hasn’t happened to be doing any of the activities I’ve blogged about yet!)

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Skillz

July 15, 2009 at 6:04 am (Cooking, Daily Criteria, Transportation) (, )

Generally, when somebody’s not good at something, they try to steer clear of it. 

  • Not good at math?  You won’t end up an accountant.  
  • Suck at cooking?  Take-out and Stouffers for you. 
  • Not crafty?  The need to knit and sew to clothes one’s family went by the wayside, what [thinking through my foggy memory of American history here…], at least a hundred years ago.   Or maybe closer to eighty for the non-well-to-do?  I should ask my grandma.  I’m pretty sure I should know.
  • Hate kids?  Don’t have a kid.  Um, well, some people might make some mistakes there.  Most of the time it works out.

BUT, if you lead an average suburban family life (reality check- yes, that’s where I’ve ended up), you will be forced. to. DRIVE AN AUTOMOBILE.  I suck at it.  I hate the expense.  I hate the environmental impact.  But mostly, I just suck at it.  And I can tell you, I’m not alone. 

I’ve tried to explain why I’m a bad driver before, and it never goes well.  Unlike some, I do know the rules I need to play by.  I use my blinker, give the guy on the RIGHT the RIGHT of way.  The best I can say is I get distracted.  I space out and suddenly I’m on the lane bumps.  Or realize (almost) too late that everybody in front of me is stopping.

Short of moving to NYC, I don’t know what to do about it. 

Of course there are many greener options, but how does one make them work with three kids 5 years old and under, 3/4 of a mile from the closest bus stop?  To get to work, I’ve biked, walked, and ran many times.  With kids, walking or busing is the only option.  Back in my days living in Seattle Proper, I loved the bus.  I HATED bus snobs.  If I still lived there, I’d certainly take my kids on it.  But I cannot see how the current bus system in my town would be much use for an outing of, say, dropping off some library books, going on a playdate, and then picking up some groceries on the way home.  As I’m typing this, I’m considering that it could be useful on some outings, though, so I should look into that further.

So, we are left with: a) some use of the bus, b) walking, or c) not going anywhere.  I shouldn’t have to explain why c is not an option.  We can (and have) walked to the grocery store, and a drug store.  That’s about as far as we can manage, and only for “we just need milk and two other things” trips.

There’s gotta be a better way.  What am I missing here?

p.s.  Using the criteria created yesterday:

  • uncheck (did zero housework except loading the dishwasher),
  • semi-check (picking blueberries counts as fresh air and sunshine, but not aerobic exercise.  Except for the parts where I had to chase GOJ down), Some of our bounty
  • check (here’s dessert), Yum
  • check (picking blueberries), A happy outing

I was disillusioned into thinking

  • check (as far as I know, a day wholly without bandaids)

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New Job, Weekday Number 1

July 14, 2009 at 4:18 am (Cooking, Daily Criteria, Family) ()

I was quite happy with my “first day on the job” today.  No major calamities, and I thoroughly enjoyed cleaning my fridge.  No, really.  I did. 

While swimming, I came up with some criteria for a successful weekday.  Theoretically, we meet these and the family stays happy, healthy, and unbankrupt.  One must have a gauge to measure one’s achievements, right?  And yet not be unrealistic.  I have lofty goals for being a homemaker that involve creative crafts, making own our soap and bread, organizing every square inch of our plentiful junk.  But this list, it’s the core stuff.  The stuff that matters the most and illustrates why I’m excited about staying at home.

Never mind that I just came from a job where I constantly whined about compiling metrics.  I actually like (no, love) keeping stats on anything and everything*, just not being compared with others on unrealistic and nonsensical goals.

Here’s the list:

  • At least one part of the house is cleaner or more organized than it was.  Check.  Fridge shelves washed and re-arranged.  Four loads of laundry folded and put away.
  • Everybody has some physical activity.  Check.  Everybody except GOJ went to the YMCA: big people swam laps, AJ had a swimming lesson, PJ ran around the Kids’ Corner.  My own laps were brief and half-hearted, but I’m counting it.
  • Not resorting to eating out.  Check.  Um, okay, maybe not.  I forgot; MJ went out for lunch.  So almost check.  I’m all for fine dining, but another trip to McDonald’s we do not need, belt-wise or moneybelt-wise.
  • At least one “quality time” activity with the kids.  Check.  Played “Sequence for Kids” and made this yummy garbanzo bean snack.  Full disclosure, the kids weren’t too into eating it, but we had fun making it, and I liked it.  A lot like roasted soy nuts.
  • No major injuries.  Check.  Our worst injury today was GOJ breaking the skin biting MJ’s toe.  She often does that to me when she’s really tired and wanting to nurse, but I don’t know what this bite was about.  She needs some more words; I think life is fairly frustrating to her right now.  The boys did this too- hit the “terrible twos” at the end of one.  The twos themselves were actually quite nice.  Hmm, maybe she’s getting sick.  I hope not.

All in all, a satifsying day.

*I get the counting gene from my Grandpa John.  He comes up with interesting stats like how many nights he’s slept in his RV, or estimates of how many quarts of milk his mother would have made in breastfeeding her ten children.  They knew I had it too when I kept track of my chicken poxes with my most treasured Christmas present at 6 years old- a calculator.

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