Last week, we to back from our first mid-winter beach vacation. It was also a first-ever for me and Otto. I joked that I had to wait 35 years to have one, and here’s Otto getting one at 18 months!I don’t have much time to go into details–Mexico in a house with a bunch of friends/family and their kids and lots of time to do nothing at all is all that’s important for now–but let’s just say it was complete bliss. The feeling of aaaaah across all of our faces all week long, to say nothing of being off of snowsuit duty, was worth it.
And last Saturday, at about 9:31 PM when a cold wind whipped against us as we walked out of Newark Airport to a car, it was back to reality. Adam and I let out a collective ‘ugh’ and Otto was more vocal with his ‘aaaaaaaagh’ (not to be confused with the aforementioned ‘aaaah’).
Sometime the next day I got to thinking how it should be part of my vacation planning to make sure I have ingredients for something good waiting for us at home. In the case of coming home from Mexico, that should be tortillas, the best fish sticks we can find, a head of red cabbage, limes, some sour cream, and sriracha sauce. That’s all it takes to make some pretty acceptable fish tacos, which we could have eaten every single day we were on vacation. I wasn’t so organized, of course, so I had to run out and buy everything but the cabbage (did you ever notice that red cabbages keep for weeks if not months, even as you cut away little slivers? Love that about them..).
Along with my fish tacos, I made a big pot of black bean soup. I like to think of this as the soup that bridged the gap between our warm-weather lunch and dinner favorite and the wind/rain/snow/finally-hint-of-spring that we got this week. It’s also something that can be made with a bunch of pantry staples for all of about $5. Which is good because we’ll have to pinch pennies to make this happen again next year–beach vacays don’t come cheap!
This recipe is based on a few that I had. One was from my cousin Juli’s Junior League of Houston cookbook; it was for smooth black bean soup and that’s where I got the idea to go with minimal vegetables, tomato paste, and scallions. Other recipes call for carrots, peppers, and much diced tomatoes, but I really wanted something that could be pureed and not be too fibrous in the end. This recipe didn’t call for too many seasonings, and I’m guessing that’s the case because it did call for bouillon cubes and beef stock. So then I went to look at other recipes and found this one, which is how I determined what spices and herbs to use. I also followed the directions to cook the beans in the slow cooker first, then add the rest a few hours later. I stuck with water to keep the soup vegan, but you could use stock, if you’d like. And one last thing I did with this recipe is based on something I saw some chefs do in Mexico (we were so lucky to have ‘house chefs’ we could hire to come and treat us to home-cooked dinners!): the black beans they made were so simple but flavorful…they just simmered them in a whole onion that was quartered. Again, all the flavor but none of the added bulk of the onions to get in the way of the smooth beans. Continue reading
Today Otto’s six months shy of turning two–and in many ways it feels like he just had his first birthday. It’s really no lie when people tell you it goes by so fast. One of the things I’m so glad I’ve kept up is my monthly letter to Otto. I’ve written these since the first month. Sometimes it’s a pain to sit down and do it. And who knows if he’ll ever really care to read them. He’ll probably be, like, “oh, maaaaa” and shake his head. Really, though, I think they’re more for me. Not only does time fly, but you forget a lot of the little things that make these days what they are–fun, special, frustrating, exhausting. Last year I was at a baby shower where we all had to write a bit of advice about mothering. The monthly letter was my suggestion. A year later, I’d still say the same thing. The stories get funnier and more detailed, they become less about how exhausted you are and more about the silly things that make up your days together, and no matter what phase you’re in, they remind you to stop and take in the present, which changes as fast as your kid changes.
A few times I’ve thought of posting the letters here, but decided I share enough about Otto and our little family here. But today’s a special one, so I’ll give you just a few notes of what’s making the letter this month: Continue reading
Happy Family Day to all my Canadian peeps. Especially the ones with new little babies (I’m talking to you Larissa!) and babies on the way (you know who you are!).
Family Day is a relatively new holiday for Canadians…and a much-needed excuse to have a mid-winter long weekend (we’re much luckier in that regard in the US). Last year I noticed a few of my friends posted their family photos on facebook and wished everyone a happy holiday. So as a little holiday treat, I’ll post a few outtakes from our big photo session last November when our friend Jonathan came to snap us going about our business for a very informal Christmas card.
One session in and I now know that getting everyone to look at the camera will be near impossible. But that’s OK. Now that I think about it, an imperfect family photo is pretty charming in its own way. When my friend Iva’s card arrived, I laughed because she couldn’t even get her two grown sons to look at the camera. It’s one of my favorites. Tears and pouting can also add dimension to the imperfect photo. Hopefully it’s neither is on the face of anyone over 12, though. That would just be, well, sad.
So here we are, in all our ‘come on, Otto, SMILE, just a few more’ glory. My favorites are #4 and #5 where Adam’s playing a game where we go all wobbly and blubb our cheeks and say “abluhgluhbluhgluhbluhgluhbuhbuh” over and over again. Dr. Harvey Karp prefers to call this sort of activity (along with pretending to fall or any sort of clumsiness), “playing the boob.” I still don’t know what he means by that, but suffice to say, we do a lot of it around here. It usually makes Otto howl with laughter, but this time it just annoyed him. And we looked like fools. And all he really wanted was my sunglasses.
Then he was good and we got this shot and a few more, too.
Otto’s in a bit of a dipping phase these days. It started with some ketchup a few weeks ago. In most cases, he was just dipping his finger and licking it clean, as seen here at the Shake Shack…how could he not want those perfect fries?! And that burger went untouched. It was all about the ketchup. Or “red dip,” as Otto’s little cousin calls it.
In an effort to broaden his dipping horizons, I tried something new. Last night in an effort to get him to eat his sweet potato fries–which he was throwing onto the floor for Dolly to eat–I took out some babaganoush to see if that would make them more appetizing. Worked like a charm! I’m not sure if it’s the act of dipping (which he does with such gusto) or the extra layer of flavor that he likes (ps…babaganoush and sweet potato fries is a lovely combination). Either way, I’m looking for more recipes. So far, these are on my list:
Edamame Skordalia. Have you ever had skordalia? It’s this Greek garlic and potato dip that’s beyond delicious. And what a beautiful word to roll off your tongue, right? Otto’s a bit meh about edamame, but I bet I can convert him with this concoction.
Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Dip…oh, so many beet recipes, so little time!!! I also clipped this Beet and Horseradish Dip from Oprah magazine a while back, although I’m afraid the horseradish will be a bit of a turn-off. I guess it doesn’t hurt to try.
Cauliflower and White Bean Dip would go well with bits of crusty bread and a bowl of soup.
And last but not least, my favorite way to eat peas. We had a mint pea dip similar to this one at our wedding. It’s made with frozen peas, but biting into this you’re instantly transported to a spring day, no matter how cold it is outside.
Yesterday I gave you a beet stew. Today, it’s a beef stew!
I should start out by saying that as a child, this was not my favorite meal. It was, and remains, humble. But now, as a very busy mother, I can completely understand why this dish was in my mother’s arsenal. It’s cheap (relative to other fall-apart beef dishes like short ribs, at least), beyond easy, no fussy ingredients (bay leaves is the most exotic), and now with the help of a slow cooker (something my mother only discovered after we all left home), it’s a ‘fix it and forget it.’
A couple of months ago, I had a big piece of meat that was less than tender. The only thing I could think of doing without having to research tenderizing options was to throw it in the slow cooker, the appliance that could probably make leather into something smooth and delicious. Then I though I might as well replicate the old goulash. If anything, I knew Adam would enjoy it because it certainly falls into the hearty man food category. For Otto, I chopped it up into bits and he was all over it. And to my surprise, I found it to be quite comforting. And now it’s something we make every few weeks.
My mother’s goulash always had just peeled and diced potatoes, and thick carrot slices. I decided to fancy it up just a teensy bit. I also include quartered mushrooms, and parsnips. And because I’m picky about the texture of potatoes, I go for small Yukon Gold potatoes, which I find to be smoother and a bit more flavorful. It’s a bit odd that you don’t need anything other than salt, pepper, and a few bay leaves to season this, but what I realized was that if you make sure you have the best, freshest ingredients, that’s really all you need for this. But by all means, experiment with spices/wine/stock/etc. and make it your own. I, however, will be sticking with this one. It works for us–and I’m sure it will for the next 18 years or so. Continue reading
Last year, I made this Beef Stroganoff and realized my favorite part was the sour cream/dill/egg noodle combination. And while it was good, as far as one-pot dinners go, it was little on the richer/low-veg side. This dish is a compromise. With the exception of the noodles, it’s all done in the slow cooker, there’s the meaty mushrooms, and the sour cream/dill goodness. But the beets are lighter and, obviously, a meatless choice. I tried it for the first time today and it’s a keeper. And cheaper. Because, you know, beets beat beef prices. And this baba’s holding onto her pennies for all sorts of things.
If you don’t have a slow cooker, I’m sure you could do it on the stove as well. Just sauté the onions first and then add everything else and simmer for a few hours. Continue reading
Posted in meatless monday, ukrainian food
Tagged beet, cheap, dill, egg noodles, favorite, meatless monday, mushroom, sour cream, ukrainianish, vegetarian
Guess who’s finally made all 101 salads on this list???! It was almost done last Thursday, but I had to travel home for Ukrainian Christmas and decided to hold off on two last salads, which I figured would make a light dinner when we returned. Here I am last night with #55 and #64…all proud to finally finish.
And here is my cousin Olivia with her boyfriend Mark, who got to taste #5 and #14 with us. I had them feign excitement and they did it well (they’re models/actors in LA, after all!). These salads were both just mediocre, in my 101 salad making opinion. Thankfully I made them Chicken Curry with Apples, which made up for the salads. Side note: Olivia made her acting debut here and she’s only getting started!
Now, finally, my last list with comments. Very soon I’ll post a few things I learned while doing this challenge…things like the absolute importance of having sherry vinegar in your pantry. More on that shortly. Continue reading
With the grand push to complete all 101 Salads by the end of 2012, things got a little nutty here last week. One night, we had five for a dinner (pictured above: #97, #33, #73, #45, and #54). But other nights, things were so busy with work that I strayed from my schedule and didn’t make any. The night before we left for Dallas, my to-do list still included wrapping up a work project, sending several important emails, packing, and making four little salads that I could pack in a plastic container for lunch on the plane on Monday. That last item didn’t get done and I’ll tell you why. Because it was well past 1AM when I was still crossing off items, and I knew that if Adam walked into the kitchen and saw me mixing bulgur and chickpeas or some such thing, he would have staged an intervention right then and there. And I didn’t need to be reminded of how crazy I had become with all of this. Seriously, who makes five separate salads for a single meal???!
We’re back now and I’ve resumed the challenge. After days of delicious meats and cheese and all sorts of holiday goodness, I was happy to eat a whole load of vegetables today. And assuming that I stay on track this time around, we’ll be done with all 101 by lunchtime of January 1, 2013. One day past due, but my only opponent is my own self, and it’s all good.
Here’s the report….14 more! Continue reading
Of all the courses we prepare for the Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner, the baked fish may be the easiest, even though it’s not really a make-ahead, like everything else. This is a recipe inspired by the fish my wonderful aunt Olenka would bring to us. (She’s mama to Marichka, poster child for Toronto’s Ukrainian Hipster Movement…including a photo here because she’s much prettier than the photos I took while cooking this!) It’s so simple that I make it throughout the year, and it goes with everything–even some mayonnaise on a sandwich the next day for lunch.
If you are making this for your Christmas Eve dinner (a potentially tedious task, with one dish after the next), here’s what to do if you want to time the fish right. Earlier in the day, prep the fish. Tilapia usually comes with two distinct sides, so split those in half and refrigerate (or better still, get the fish monger to do it). You could also mix the breadcrumb mixture ahead of time, but that really only takes a minute, so don’t worry if you can’t. Ten minutes before dinner, preheat the oven and bread the fish. As soon as you start the dinner, put it in the oven and come back 15 minutes later (while everyone’s eating the herring course–my fave!) to take it out and put it on a platter.
One other thought: this recipe calls for breadcrumbs, but if you have wheat/gluten sensitive guests, you could easily swap in some finely ground nuts. I’ve had pecan-crusted fish before, and I’m sure that would work here. Walnuts might be too strong a flavor, and with ground almonds you risk thing tasting like marzipan, which is lovely, but not on fish. Pecans are buttery and neutral, right?
That’s all I have to share for now. If you would like more recipes for Christmas Eve, take a look at my recipes for vegan holubtsi (this dinner is meatless, so they fit the bill), varenyky, and borscht. I’m going to try really hard to make some vushka this weekend (the mushroom dumplings for the borscht), but even if I don’t, I’ll still share the recipe I have, so come back before the 24th (or the 6th of January, if you’re like me and celebrating Christmas then, as well). Continue reading