Friday, November 18, 2011

The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving

All the Whos down in Whoville loved Thanksgiving a lot...

Thanksgiving doesn't come in a box!

I know that's not the way the story starts, but that line popped into my head the other day while I was perusing the pre-Thanksgiving grocery store ads to see what was going to be on sale and what I would plan on buying. Each ad featured stuffing mix in a box, canned cranberry sauce, and the vile combination of ingredients needed to create that horrible holiday staple known as green bean casserole.

It just made me reflect on how our perception has changed on what constitutes homemade and what we consider good enough to serve on special occasions.

Homemade doesn't mean you prepared it at home. I would hardly consider the frozen ravioli I buy for a quick dinner to be a homemade meal. Home-cooked, okay, I'll grant you that, but there is a difference and if there is a time to make the effort to prepare something extra-special and homemade, it's Thanksgiving. How does a meal from a package show your family that you love and care about them? How does semi-homemade celebrate the harvest and the bounty that our local farmers have bestowed upon us? How does stuffing from a box taste like anything remotely resembling food?

I've heard the arguments from friends who don't like to cook that their families don't care and they *like* the yams from a can and the crunchy onions on top of the green beans. I don't buy it. Their families love them and wouldn't want to complain about their cooking. Plus, they may not know any better, having never been exposed to a real homemade Thanksgiving meal.

So, if I were the Grinch, I'd creep in and steal all the food from a box. But, I'd leave behind some fresh vegetables and a loaf of stale bread with which to make stuffing!

So, let me just throw this out there: this Thanksgiving, replace just one dish with a better, homemade version and see how it goes. Just one. Tomorrow, I'll even give you a timetable for preparing a whole homemade feast. You can take whatever parts of it you like. In the meantime, here's my post from a couple of years ago about how to cook a turkey.

Friday, November 11, 2011

My amazing daughter

In a non-cooking related post, last night I attended my daughter's high school play performance. It was called "What I want to say, but never will" a play written by a high school English teacher. He posed three questions to teenagers:

1. What do you want to say, but never will
2. Who do you want to say it to?
3. Why won't you say it?

The monologues presented by the students were funny, sad, disturbing. It was really more than just a play about teenage angst and the typical topics of sex, abuse, suicide, and peer relations, although it touched on all of those subjects. I think the deeper context was about how we, as the adults in teenagers lives, need to really listen to them. I was struck by how many of the monologues were directed at parents who seemingly wouldn't listen or wouldn't understand; I think that perhaps that is only the writers' perceptions, but we as parents need to do a better job of making sure that our kids know they really can talk to us about anything. Of course, I think the way to do that is to really listen to them to begin with, and not just tell them, "You can tell me anything". That actually rings kind of hollow and false.

It was a great play. I'll be back again tonight to see it again. The  play was interspersed with musical numbers, the kids really are very talented. Here is my Hannah's musical performance. It was amazing.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What's Not for Dinner

I've been pretty ill this past week. I'd rather not go into the grim details, but I'm hopefully on the mend now. My family will be so glad to have me back. You see, there was no dinner for three nights straight last week. Unless you count leftovers, and apparently, my husband does not.

After listening to his grumbling about not having a decent meal all week, I promised him I would cook him a nice meal last night. The kids were both going out to parties, so I took the opportunity to make something they both hate: Butternut squash risotto. In my opinion, there is nothing more fabulous than any kind of creamy risotto. It is a meal in itself. It doesn't need anything else to go with it. So imagine my consternation when Dear Hubby started complaining about there being no meat. No Meat? Who needs meat when you you have sweet winter squash and sage and cheese and rice? I mean, really. I placated the man by throwing some chicken sausage with asiago and red pepper on the grill. I ended up having pizza at the party where my son was going, but after several days of not eating, it tasted really good. And I did have a bite of risotto. It was fabulous.

Notes on the recipe: I used a kabocha squash instead of a butternut. You can use a delicata or acorn, or whatever winter squash you happen to have around. I baked the squash in the oven for about an hour and it was so soft I was able to just stir it into the risotto instead of dirtying up the Cuisinart to puree it first.

Today, I'm going to roast a chicken for him. That should make him happy.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Apple Picking with Teenagers

It is a sad and wonderful thing to see your kids grow up. 
When they are little it seems like they will be with you forever. But somewhere around the age of twelve or thirteen, you start to realize that this person you created, this child you carried and nurtured and hugged and fed and laughed with is soon going to leave you. It is exciting to think about all the possibilities that await them, but you realize that it also means they must move forward. And they can't or won't always take you with them. So you start to try to hold on just a little bit more, and you try to find more reasons to get them to spend time with you.

I know whereof I speak. I've already done this. Twice. Two of my four kids are on their own. My oldest is expecting my first grandchild. (More on that in a different post!) My second oldest is still in college, but doesn't come home very much. He is a Marine reservist and that keeps him busy. I see him maybe once a month. I miss him.

So while I still have two kids left at home, I try to hold onto those times when we do things together, when we can laugh and talk and just enjoy being together. And of course with teenagers, that's not always easy to do. They have lives you know. Or they don't want to go with you. It can be hard to carve out that time at home when there is always so much to be done, so I try to make them go places with me. The problem is, they don't always want to go.

Take yesterday, for example. Hannah and I wanted to go apple picking. Dad had a music rehearsal and couldn't go, but I told Alex to be ready to go at 3pm. "What?", he asked, looking stricken. "Why do I have to go? I hate apple picking."

His sister looked at him incredulously. "How can you hate apple picking?", she said. "What is there to hate?'

"It's stupid", he said, repeatedly pushing the video game controller button.

"Well," I said, "You're going. So get up, get your shoes and get in the car."

One of the things I have learned from all these years of parenting is that a sullen teenager can ruin your day without even doing anything. So when Alex put on his teenagerish attitude, I knew I had to strike preemptively.

"Alex, you know you're my baby and I've had three other teenagers to practice on, so I'm going remind you that I didn't put up with this stuff from them, and I'm certainly not going to put up with it from you. You can change you attitude and decide to have a good time or I'll torture you when we get home."

He looked at me and smiled. "Torture me?? Wow, Mom, you're so loving and kind." 

Now the thing is, he knew that what I meant by torture was that I wouldn't leave him in peace to play video games. No, instead he knew I would find plenty of chores for him to do and vegetables for him to have for dinner. Well, he was getting the vegetables either way. 

So off we went to the apple orchard. And yes, we had a great time. The funniest moment of the day? When Hannah picked an apple, held it up and said, "Look, it's like a tiny planet you can hold in your hand. A planet that's on fire."

Here's some photos of our day.

Hannah and Alex frolicking

Wagon ride up to the orchard
 Hannah walking into picture frame just as I was shooting

 Alex being a goof


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

OH, what now?

I might be having trouble deciding what is blog worthy, now that I have decided to not limit myself to blogging about food.

So here are random thoughts.

Having a cleaning lady come once a month makes life worth living.

I'm not terribly crafty, but I have a bit of an obsession with scrapbooking. I think that makes me officially a middle-aged cliche. I don't care. I have fun.

I actually had a recent comment on a really old post. It is actually one of my favorites, because I still run into people all the time who love this company's products. And I just. don't. get. it. You can read the post here

I love the Pioneer Woman. She rocks.

I will never be a successful food blogger. Why? Because I take crappy photos if I take them at all. The food blogs I read have absolutely gorgeous photos. And I have a crappy camera.

I would like to go to one of those Blog Her conventions, though. I read there's lots of free swag. I love free swag.

I am going to be a grandmother! Even though I am only 35. I can't wait! I'll probably have to start making my own organic baby food for my granddaughter. It'll be so worth it.

And, because almost every blog I read has photos, here's a random one:

This is my two boys at family day for my older boy's reserve unit right before they went to Africa for the summer. They let the kids ride in their LAVs, and Alex was the first one. Yes, I scrapbooked this photo, Because I am a cliche.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What now?

So now that I've decided to blog again.....all of a sudden I can't decide what to write about.

What's going on in my kitchen?

Not too much these days. The whole working thing has limited my time so much I find myself not planning anything for dinner and then having to come up with something on the fly. It actually got so bad the week before last that I spent a good deal of last weekend cooking ahead so that we wouldn't have to eat yucky food for dinner this past week. It actually worked pretty well.

This time of year I am inundated by squash and cabbage. I decided to make Deb's Butternut squash soup, which is really easy, really tasty, and the kids really like it. Plus, it freezes well. I posted the recipe on here before, but I'm too lazy to search for it and link to it. Do it yourself, if you're interested.

I also made a curried rice with cabbage and bacon from Bon Appetit. It was really simple and quite tasty. It made great lunches for Steve, and Hannah liked it too. I think Alex might have wept if I'd tried to make him eat it, although I do love torturing the boy with vegetables. Why is it that young boys don't like vegetables? Actually, that's not really true, there are quite a few he likes, but just not the variety that the rest of us like. And he is better than his brother; I don't think anything green passed that boy's lips from the time he was six until he was sixteen. And now he'll eat anything. Anything. And he does. A lot. But he's a Marine, so he's allowed.

Another great do-ahead I made was wontons. Wonton soup is one of my favorites and wontons are really pretty simple to make and they freeze wonderfully. Of course I also had some chicken parts in the freezer so I made chicken stock, too, so now I am all set for an easy, really satisfying dinner.

Here's all you do to make wontons:

Mix 1 lb ground pork with 1/4 C chopped scallions, 1 tsp sesame oil, and 1 T minced or grated fresh ginger. (No! You may not use ground ginger! Unless you live in Brazil and have no access to fresh ginger. In which case, you probably can't get wonton wrappers, either, so you're screwed.) Put 1 tsp ground pork mixture in each wonton wrapper, moisten the edges and fold over into a triangle. Cook for about 5 minutes in boiling water, then remove to a soup bowl. Cover with hot soup stock and drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil. You can also boil some sliced cabbage with the soup stock, if you like.

Wontons can also be deep-fried and served with a plum sauce. Freeze wontons in a single layer on a cookie sheet and then store in a Ziploc bag after they are frozen. Defrost before cooking.

Wontons are one of the most popular appetizers I have ever served. People swoon over them. I'll save the story of the "hamtons" for next time!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Try

It has been exactly a year since I've written a post for this blog.

Why did I stop? (again)

Several reasons.

I just don't seem to have time.

It is really hard to come up with new things to talk about every day.

My shtick was getting old.

So, what's changed, why post after all this time?

Well, nothings really changed.

I have even less time, because I have two jobs and a family. And one of my jobs takes a whole bunch of my time, but is so much fun. I have really thrown myself into my work to an extent I haven't ever done before. It is fabulous.

It will probably still be hard to find things to write about every day. Or two or three times a week. But I'm going to do it, at least for a little while!

I may not write just about cooking anymore. And I am not going to look for things to make fun of in other people's cooking. I will still be right about all things culinary, but I may not pronounce it with such gusto.

So, why decide to go back to blogging?

Welllll, for a couple of reasons.

I have found it getting more difficult to write for my job. Writing for my job was actually easier when I was blogging on a regular basis. Exercising those muscles and all of that.

I miss the interaction with people who leave comments, both good and bad. But of course I hate those filthy spammer comments. So pardon me for still moderating comments. I promise I will approve everything except spam, so please leave some comments!

Thanks for reading and for your encouragement. I promise not to suck as much tomorrow.