Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sunny Day Salad

Spring has been teasing us in the Chicago land area lately. The birds are chirping, the tulips are awakening from their winter slumber and the sun is shining. Sometimes the sun even shines enough to counter balance the frigid outdoor air.

The warmish days of spring bring to mind fresh greens. We patiently watch the little spinach and mesclun seeds I sowed in our cold frame a few weeks ago. I just bought some arugula seeds and I think I'll sprinkle a row or two with hopes they'll take off just as we've polished off the spinach.

Every girls loves a crisp peppery arugula salad, particularly when paired with a bit of sweet fruit.

Especially perfect on a sunny spring day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

PB Pancakes

Peanut butter and jelly. What's better than the two?

Peanut butter pancakes with grape jelly. Duh!

Last night we planned breakfast for dinner and we invited peanut butter's friends, bananas, maple syrup, honey and bacon. Yum!

I love peanut butter and peanut butter pancakes are the best. I used to make them a lot when the kids were young. The recipe was lost long ago so I went in search of another recipe and found it at Crepes of Wrath. My hit or miss luck with pancakes has been well documented but I am working through it. I am getting better. These, I must say, were perfect!

The peanut butter is melted which really helps to incorporate it into the dry ingredients.

Eggs and your basic dry ingredients.

It already smells pea-nutty.

Key to well cooked pancakes? Griddle hot but not too hot and wait for the bubbles.

Gorgeous. Topped with any of endless possibilities. It doesn't get any better.

Perfect for kids.

And their mother.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pantry Basics

I want you to know how important it is to have a well stocked pantry. If your pantry is well stocked you can usually always throw something together for dinner. The key is keeping the right stuff on hand.

I have limited storage for shelf stable items but I find I don't need a ton of stuff. Let's start with the basic basics. Canned tomatoes, canned beans, olive oil, vinegars and basic condiments like ketchup, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Canned tomatoes, often a better choice in the off season, make a simple sauce for pasta, pizza or chicken. Hard to believe but ketchup is the start of a simple meal like a bean pot or sloppy joes.

A can of black beans are a nice addition to grilled nachos and hummus is a snap with a can of chickpeas on hand.

All meals, especially the simple ones require layers of flavor. Stock is a staple and the purchased is a must-have in the pantry. I'm ready for a pan sauce and can throw together a quick soup with leftover chicken and rice when I have a nice supply in the cabinet. I also try to keep some William-Sonoma demi glace paste around. It makes a stellar stock and dresses up purchased or homemade stock beautifully.

So, with a nice grocery list, a solidly stocked cabinet full of basics and a bit of practice, dinner is a snap.

I just wanted you to know.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sloppy Joes! Sloppy, Sloppy Joes!

I have a secret. I love sloppy joes. When I was pregnant with Jake we ate them - a lot. Doug got a bit sick of them. I don't buy Manwich anymore. Now I make them homemade.

There is really nothing to making them and to say homemade seem a bit grandiose. Simple things, ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, a bit of Worcestershire sauce, all basic pantry items, can make for an great sandwich.

Ground beef browned with chopped onion.

Add the sauce, stir and let them simmer. They're even better if you make them the day before so the flavors can meld overnight.

They are a great, fast meal and perfect when the family is going opposite directions. The best thing about making these myself is I know what's in them. I know the ketchup adds a bit of corn syrup (as does the Worcestershire!) but I do know for sure there is no xanthan gum in them. They are also without guar gum, tomato fiber (?) and carob bean gum.

We don't even miss it them!

Sloppy Joes

2# ground round beef
3 onions, chopped
1) 14oz. bottle of kechup
3 T. brown sugar
dash of salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
3 T. worcestershire sauce
6 T. cider vinegar

Brown ground round with onions and drain fat from the pan.

Mix all other ingredients together and stir well.

Pour sauce over meat and onion mixture.

Simmer at least 30-40 minutes.

Friday, March 25, 2011


It's Friday!

Ella loves Whoopie Pies and wanted to take them as treats to her classmates. There are 30 kids in the class. Yes, that's 60+ cakes.

I found this book at the library - of course. I think we may have to buy it since it's so much fun. I had a huge mental block about making sooo many pies, but it was really easy. I was proud to have gotten them all done and had extras for the family. Bonus~ALL of the fifth graders LOVED them. (truly amazing)

And I love Ella.

I would have made a million of them.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Miscellany and Martha

Usually with a fair amount of regularity I purge the house of unwanted miscellany. Clutter makes me crazy, probably unnaturally so. I spend a lot of time at the Goodwill drive thru and make regular trips to my local clothes closet to donate to those in need. More often than not the back of my truck is filled with stuff to take other places - donations to the library, clothes to take the kids' resale shop, etc. Unfortunately often times my truck is full when I need it and groceries go on the seats or I have to unload only to reload later. I digress...

About a week ago, I was going through things to recycle - catalogs, school mail and an Everyday Food from March of this year, that didn't have much of interest to me. I took one last run through before pitching it and I am so glad I did. Four words:

Pineapple-Ginger Infused Rum. That Martha.

I had a pineapple I bought the day before - one of those cheater ones that's nicely cored from the grocery store. It was on sale. I stuffed it into a jar.

In goes the dark rum and about 1" of peeled fresh ginger cut into slices and the whole thing gets put in the fridge.

And now we wait for 2 weeks but I think infused alcohol only gets better with time. The recipe suggested using the pineapple as a drink garnish. I am thinking pineapple upside down cake.

I know some day soon, it'll be a lovely, warm spring day and to pay homage to the summer to come Doug and I will enjoy a really wonderful pina colada.

Try this yourself. The waiting is the hardest part.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who Knew?

So where have I been?

The many healthy, whole food, smart living magazines I've bought, subscribe to or read in line at the grocery store have taught me many things about food. Apparently though, I skipped over, or disregarded, all of the information about the mushrooms. I hated them as a child. White buttom mushrooms still gross me out. I later learned to love portabellos and now I truly appreciate them all. I still won't eat them raw though.

Though I hate to use the expression super food - this is what these little fungi are. They are low in carbs and calories, high in protein and fiber. There is more potassium in one medium portabello than in a banana. Perhaps they should be added to the post run buffet at finish lines? Could they really stop my migraines?

I came home from my last trip to the Green City Market with, among (many) other things, a pound of assorted locally grown mushrooms. Portabellos, oyster and shiitake. They were for Doug since he really loves mushrooms.

I sliced them and sauteed them with olive oil, a bunch of garlic, salt and pepper. They were flavorful and meaty and delicious.

While thus far this super food hasn't enabled me run faster or jumper higher, I think I'll stick with them.

They were really, really good.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Perfect Rainy Day

I love days like this. Yes, it's gloomy and rainy and chilly in an un-spring-like way but I stayed home catch up on the laundry and clean the house (or at least the parts a guest would see!) No, that's not the part I love, though it's nice for it to be neat (until the kids get home). The part I really love is being in the kitchen.

I made dinner for tonight (Glee's on at 7) and tomorrow, too. There are also peanut butter bars for lunch boxes and blood orange bars just because. I also made more Oatmeal Buttermilk Raisin Muffins. I say more because I've made them three times now. That's how much I love them.

I discovered this wonderful recipe before I found these fabulous oats grown by Three Sisters Garden. I wrote about their black beans here before. Lately my favorite of their products is the rolled oats, the likes of which I've never seen before. I buy them at the Green City Market on my monthly trips. I love oats in anything and oatmeal is a favorite breakfast. A standard bowl of oats may have to move over for these muffins - for a while.

Check these out. The oats on the top are old-fashioned Quaker oats. The oats on the bottom are grown by Three Sisters. Less rolled than the kindly Quaker's but more so than Irish oats. They cook the same as any rolled oats but ohhhh, so much better.

The important step of soaking the oats in buttermilk is even more important when using these toothy oats. I throw the raisins in then too so they get nice and plump.

A little butter, eggs and brown sugar.

Fold in the dry stuff - flour, powder, soda, salt and cinnamon. If you like, the batter may be refrigerated overnight and baked off in the morning without any difference in texture. Could these get any better? The perfect way to serve warm, fresh muffins without being up at the crack of dawn.

Scoop the batter into some pretty muffin cups. I am pushover for the cute patterns, never mind that you can't see them after the cake is baked.

The original recipe says it makes 12. Maybe my muffin cups are smaller sized regular cups but filling 12 cups make 12 enormous overflowing muffins. I like to divide the batter between 16 to 18 cups for nice neat muffins. I have divided the recipe with great success and find it makes closer to 12 smallish, more flat, muffins.

They are perfect with a cup of tea on a rainy day.

Buttermilk Oat Muffins with Raisins

adapted from Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs by Gale Gand

2 cups rolled oats, not quick cooking
2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1t. cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup raisins

Combine the oats, buttermilk and raisins in a large bowl and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Heat the oven 375 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. Butter the top of the muffin tin to prevent the muffins from sticking - just in case they over flow a bit.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together.

Add the eggs to the oat -milk mixture and combine. Add the sugar and mix. Add the butter and mix. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix. The batter will be a bit lumpy.

*Bonus: The batter may be made up to this point and refrigerated overnight.

Use a large spoon or an ice cream scoop to fill the muffins cups 3/4 full. Bake until the muffins are risen and golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes our clean. ( a few crumbs are okay), 20-25 minutes

Makes about 16-18 muffins

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Getting Ready To Garden

Every year I say, "This is going to be the best garden yet!". While each year gets better, I don't think it's in the cards for me to be a fabulous gardener. Nonetheless, I forge ahead every year, researching, changing and modifying plans in search of....the best garden yet.

The most recent addition to my plan is the cold frame Doug built for me. He used found wood and an old paned storm window. (We have a habit of collecting them) Last Friday when it was beautiful t-shirt weather for a few hours, I set out to plant some spinach and greens. The anticipation of homegrown food is building.

Pretty nice cold frame, huh?

I've got a line on heirloom tomato plants, have extra space since the stump in the corner has been ground out and I am hoping that June's incessant fence line laps with her boyfriend haven't destroyed my rhubarb. (I'm not holding my breath.)

We have decided to finally invest in a proper fence to enclose our corner garden. We will line it with hardware cloth to keep the bunnies out but really it needs to be June proof. We were hoping her fence leaping would end when she no longer had access to the slightly dipping fence where the mulberry tree used to live. Then we found she could jump the full four feet. Do you think she's a floozy?

Lid down. Come on sun.

Now all there is to do is wait.

And plant peas on St. Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Was I Thinking?

I began running again shortly after the first of the year. I really enjoy running but as with many things sometimes it gets pushed to the bottom of the list. After I...(do the impossible)...I'll run. Then, of course, when life gets busy, it's the first thing to go. Coming off a 2 week break I climbed back on the treadmill yesterday.

Doug and I plan to do the Shamrock Shuffle again - so much fun. It's also good for my heart, cholesterol level, overall fitness blah,blah,blah.....

I kicked around doing a half marathon a few years ago. It would be the perfect accomplishment as I entered my 40's. As often happens (so nice to get to know myself as I grow older) I was afraid and talked myself out of it. Fear can really get the best of me but I put it in the guise of other things - time, bodily pain, toilets need to be cleaned. Convenient, eh?

Several weeks ago, Doug forwarded the email for a half marathon . I hit the link and signed up, without debating. This is the year I'll be out there. I've shared it with anyone kind enough to read. Now I am committed.

What was I thinking? I am scared to death.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

After School Treats

Remember when you were a kid and you'd walk in the door after school and find your absolute favorite thing sitting on the kitchen table? An especially nice ending to what may have been a trying day. What was your favorite? Chocolate chip cookies? Banana Snackin' Cake? My favorite was graham cracker cookies. Okay, and also pudding. And Banana Snackin' Cake, too. (does anyone remember those but me?)

What is a graham cracker cookie? Quite simply frosting sandwiched between two graham crackers. At our house it was usually chocolate or lemon. After making many, many cupcakes for school functions and birthday parties, I ended up with extra vanilla frosting. What to do with a bit of frosting - ah ha! Graham cracker cookies.

They take all of about 5 minutes to make and are better after they've sat for a bit since they get a bit soft.

And by the way, don't bother to make them with homemade frosting.

They just wouldn't be the same.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Want You To Know....

I feel like I've been offering really lame posts lately. Here's the thing. When I started this little project, I did so for my kids. To document our mundane lives in little moments. Finally admitting that I'll never scrapbook and seeing as how I am 15 years behind a span of 4 kids, this cyber-thing seemed to be the answer.

I posted pictures of the kids, birthday party details, pets, accomplishments and milestones. I throw in a couple of recipes and document full family involvement of our food projects. I never anticipated anyone beside us and perhaps family and close friends reading it. Well, along the way some very kind people decided a peek into the yellow house was worth a few minutes of their precious time. How flattering.

Yesterday while contemplating this I came to a cool realization, an epiphany of sorts. I love epiphanies. The bottom line with this blog is that it's full of things I want my children to know daily, as they grow, go off to start their own lives, and when they settle with the perfect mate and proceed to produce four grandchildren (each). Included in that is stuff that other people may be interested in, too.

To that end, I'm beginning, I Want You To Know...

What is it that I want them to know? How to stock a pantry, entertain drop in guests, where to keep the ketchup and stories about family that shouldn't be lost.

Maybe along to the way they'll be something you'd be glad to know, too. I hope so.

Now if I can just the song lyrics out of my head....



do I....

take so many pictures...

of my dog....

in the same position...


Same reason we took 500 pictures of our babies in the bassinet, sleeping soundly, not moving one - single - muscle.

And we're really, really, really glad we have them.

Also, cause she is so freakin' cute.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Going West

Today is a super exciting day.

Recently, I discovered a wonderful website connecting moms with great stuff in the western suburbs. Full of information for great field trips, educational play and general fun for families, it's the ideal site for young mothers. I wish there had been a resource like this when I was a young, ummm, young-er mother. Oh, the hours I spent researching things for us to do when they were all at home....watching Sesame Street. *Sigh* I miss those days.

Another great aspect of Go West is simply connecting moms. Any mom knows it's great to know other moms are experiencing exactly the same things. The Mompreneur Directory gives moms the opportunity to share their home-based businesses and many offer special deals, too. Moms with businesses. Cool.

I am so proud to be a part of this group, as a Mompreneury and a contributor. Having the opportunity to write about local food, sustainable living and other things near and dear to my heart is thrilling.

It would be so wonderful if you'd check out my first essay for Go West Young Mom.

It's great to be a mom.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Miracle Whip or Mayo?

One of the great debates that has spanned decades of American culture - Miracle Whip or Mayo? You may gasp or be shocked and appalled but I come from Miracle Whip. That's what was in the fridge when I was young and so that was the condiment of choice. I held pretty firm on that and once married we became a multi-egg based condiment household. With age I've realized there are things that fade or become less important and Miracle Whip is one of them.

My kids are mayo kids and though occasionally there is a jar of "sandwich spread" in the fridge it's not often. If pressed, I guess I 'd have to say Hellman's is the one to buy. What I really like is the homemade version.

We/Doug got a fancy new Vita-Mix for my/our/his kitchen at Christmas time. He/I needed it to make hot sauce/lots of fabulous stuff. He teases me often about "his" Vita-Mix. I'll let him have the Vita-Mix but the kitchen is still my domain. Anyway, homemade mayo in a Vita-Mix is a wonderful thing.

Of course this is where I insert information about the freshest and best quality food. Thanks to my girls my mayo rocks. Seriously. To be safe, I would always suggest you search out pastured eggs from a reputable area farmer. Since the eggs are uncooked this is the ultimate case for clean food and not the best choice for young children or those with deficient immunity. Let common sense prevail.

A few simple ingredients mixed together then a slow drizzle of oil is all you need for sandwich nirvana. No you don 't need to have a Vita-mix. A blender works perfectly. A food processor works well for a bit larger quantity. Of course, all you really need is a whisk and a strong arm.

No, this photo is not re-touched and no, I didn't add yellow food coloring. Amazing, beautiful mayonnaise that is light, lemony and full of easily pronounced ingredients some of which came from my own back yard.

Just in time, too. We're out of Mir-a-cle Whip!

Homemade Mayonnaise
How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
method slightly annotated

1 egg or egg yolk, a whole egg will result in a lighter mayo
dash cayenne
1/2 t. dry mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup extra virgin olive oil or canola oil (for aioli* I use olive oil otherwise canola)

Combine the egg, cayenne, mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice and, 1/4 cup of the oil in the container of a blender or food processor; run on the machine and, with the machine running, add the oil in a thin, steady stream.

After you've added about 1/2 of the oil, the mixture will thicken (emulsify); then you can begin adding the oil a bit faster. When all of the oil has been added, check the seasonings and refrigerate for up to a week.

*aoili or garlic mayonnaise is a traditional French accompaniment. Wonderful with fish or vegetables or as a sauce for any cooked food. Add 1 to 4 whole peeled cloves of garlic at the beginning.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Our Movie Star

Doesn't every girl want to be a movie star? A dressing room, make up artist and hair stylist of her own.

Jake says she looks fierce.

"Alright Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close up."

Shall we call her Norma or Sasha?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Force Is With Him

Henry is super into Star Wars so it should go without saying that when Hen's birthday plans began we we knew exactly which direction to go.

Doug suggested we hang his vintage X-Wing Fighter from the light fixture above the dining table. Henry was thrilled.

We did Star Wars Mad Libs, played Hot Death Star and practiced using the power of the force by balancing balloons on light sabers. The kids made sack puppets, too. Meet Admiral Sackbar.

Puppets are always fun!

Our plans started with this great cupcake kit from Williams-Sonoma. We especially liked them because they were" old school". Jake helped Henry frost them and sprinkle them with sugar.

The" galactic star" of the party?

Yoda sodas! 7-Up and Lime Sherbet. I added the lime slice ears. Cute, huh?

My little Luke Skywalker had a great day and a good time was had by all!

May the force be with you.