Monday, September 1, 2008

I heart cooking

Yesterday, our niece had a birthday party. L took the kids and left me with a quiet house for a couple hours. I lazed around a bit, read on the hammock and then picked up Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook.

The pictures in this book are heavenly - I actually gasped at the Summer Borscht photo with the vibrant fuchsia color. So pretty. I turned the page and found a recipe for Mexican Chicken Soup and got out of the hammock to make this.

I really enjoy cooking. I love the process. I love creating something tasty for my family and friends. Good times.

So over the vacation, I wanted to get some cooking done. For fun, and to also use up some of the CSA bounty and to get some food ready for back to school. It's my nesting instinct kicking up.

Over the vacation, I made a pilgrimage to Penzey's Spices. After reading Jilly's rhapsodizing about the awesomeness of Penzey's and realizing that I live fairly close to a retail store, and, in need of cumin, we took the kids to Penzey's to check it out.

Oh. My. God. I never have experienced anything like this. Unbelievable smells. (In a good way) The staff was super friendly and shopping was a pure pleasure. The prices are very, very reasonable and the quality is superb.

Here's what I got:
Bay Leaves
Parisien Bonnes Herbs
Ground Chipotle Pepper
Italian Sausage Seasoning
Hungarian Sweet Paprika
Vietnamese Cinnamon
Spanish Smoked Paprika
Ground Cumin
Bouquet Garni
Herbes de Provence

(Okay, I got a lot of similar French blends, but I was loading up my basket and I got a little grabby.) When we got in the car, I sat and dug through the bag and just started (nearly) huffing the spices. I opened up the bay leaf packet and was blown away by the aroma.

When I got home, I cleaned out the spice rack. We've been married for 14 years and there are some spices (foengreek, anyone?) that predates our marriage in our spice rack. So I dumped, consolidated and cleaned out the little bottles. I sniffed a few spices as well - I so want to do something with the smoked paprika. Heavenly!

So, what did I make this week?

Potato and Leek Soup
- from the Julia Child MTAOFC - Leeks and garlic from the CSA
Blueberry Zucchini Bread - two regular loaves. I omitted vanilla and cinnamon and added lemon zest and lemon extract, which pairs beautifully with the blueberries. (Zucchini from the CSA and 1.5 pints of fresh blueberries I had to use)
Tomato Jam - recipe from Bittman's Minimalist column in the NYT. I had two pints of cherry tomatoes that needed to go somewhere. I've never made anything like this.
I thought the tomatoes looked pretty in the blue pot

It was like a very sweet, thick ketchup. I took some liberties with the recipe and added Worcestershire sauce and some garlic to this.
Corn Dog Muffins - this sounded intriguing. Perhaps it would be good to pack for the kids' lunches. I halved the recipe, cut the dogs in small bits (with Stella's help) and was able to get 12 muffins out of this recipe. It's okay cold and Sammy gave it a thumbs up for a lunchbox item.
Mexican Chicken Soup - This was the Ina Garten recipe I tried out. I got to use the cumin for the first time and was so giddy at the scent when I opened it up. I had some leftover chicken from a work party that needed to be used, onion, carrots, and garlic from the CSA, a couple jalapenos from my garden, and chicken stock I had frozen from this past spring. Very homemade. This turned out tasty and I liked the idea of cutting soft corn tortillas into strips; it makes a egg noodle effect.

Today, I think we need to make cookies.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Vacation week

My vacations are not very relaxing affairs. Typically, they involve shuttling children to appointments, and Getting Things Done. Sleeping in is not done, particularly when you have a 4 year old who wakes at the crack of dawn and insists on everyone else getting up. Sammy is largely immune, having moved downstairs out of Stella's sphere of influence.

Don't get me wrong, though. I dig vacations. Here's the highlights for the week:


We needed to register Sammy for the Wayzata Middle School swim team. Sammy enjoys swimming and is quite good at it. She had been taking swim lessons until they told her in 5th grade that she passed all the levels they had and should consider "junior lifeguard, " which Sammy thoughtfully considered as "a possible job option." I was at the Middle School website in the middle of August, where I discovered that the swim team practices started on August 11. I emailed the coach, who said that it wasn't too late to join, but I had to get her registered through the high school athletics office. This involved many forms, plus a Sports Physical. Sammy isn't scheduled for her annual physical until next month, but the clinic said that they can use the same info from last year. So I faxed in the forms for them to complete and didn't get them returned to me until Friday the 22nd. So, Sammy missed the first two weeks of swim practice.

So, Monday, we registered her with no problems at all. Then we went to Ridgedale to return some gifts from her birthday that didn't fit. Why does Abercrombie + Fitch smell so much? Phew! I guess I'm not hip enough to enjoy cologne in such volume that it becomes a solid and inane house music so loud that I go, "WHAT???" to the clerks. Yep, I'm L7, baby. That afternoon, I dropped Sammy off at school for practice. When she walked into the locker room, she got a lot of "Sammy! Hi!"s which was cool.

Little about Swim Team this week (I know I'm not being very chronological, but suck it, it's my blog): She had practice M-W. On Thursday, she had her first meet. And she did pretty darn well for someone who had 2 days of practice after a lull of 1.5 years in regular swimming. I am very proud of her and she did a great job. L was off Thursday and Friday and was able to come with me to the first meet. Sammy's events were 4 person relay and solo backstroke. The first race was odd, because their team was missing the third person on the relay, so they paused a bit and then Sammy jumped in. She did well on the backstroke and kept a pretty good pace with the other girls. Swim goes until the middle of October, which isn't that long. Sammy's already interested in Synchronized Swimming for the winter. I think we'll be a bit more prepared for the registration process.

Sammy wanted to try out her present - a Land's End body board - it's basically a 4 foot long kickboard. Mom and I took Sammy and Stella to Medicine Lake to try it out. We just chilled and kept an eye on Stella as she went up and down the beach, occasionally she called out for Sammy to pull her on the board. We then went home, Sammy got ready for swim and Mom, Stella and I went grocery shopping to stock up on food things for Back to School.


Sammy's birthday and another busy day. We awoke to a thunderstorm and in the morning, we sat in the breezeway while it was just pouring. For Sammy's birthday, we decided to go to the MN Landscape Arboretum's Apple House for some local apples. (I just can't see getting Fujis from Chile or South Africa) The Apple House is a rustic shop across from the Arboretum that sells apples from the U of M's orchards. We have a little tradition with this place and Sammy's birthday. The day before I gave birth, Mom and I went to the Apple House and got apples, then drove around in the SW part of Hennepin/Carver county, which made me very uncomfortable, likely inducing labor. Sadly, this week, there were no apples. There was, however, sweet corn - 6 ears for $3.25. I picked em up and steamed them for about 5 minutes. Heavenly.

On our way home, we went to the General Store, for a look around.

We had other business to attend to as well: After dropping off Sammy at practice, we went to the Open House at Bright Start Home Base, Stella's new daycare. When we heard that Sammy's elementary school was expanding it's program to include 4 year olds, we were so excited. Not only is this more economical than her other daycare, but we thought it would be a better fit and a good idea to give her a head start at the school that she'd be attending next year. I was a little apprehensive in taking her out of her old daycare, but going back to Home Base, where quite a few of the teachers remembered Stella from her accompanying us on Sammy's drop offs - well, it felt like a homecoming and I cried several times. Stella was very excited to see her new daycare and has been talking about it ever since Wednesday.

THEN, Sammy and I, later that evening, went to her middle school to pick up her schedule and to meet her teachers. Of course, after we got home, the phone was ringing with "Who did you get?" from her other friends.


Lawrence was off and spent much of the day at the Mazda dealership working on getting his new car. We also had Sammy's Swim Meet to go to. We decided correctly to ask my parents to watch Stella as the bleachers were packed and it got really hot in there.

I got baking crazy and made a bunch of stuff - I'll post another entry about the many things I made this week. Stella was helping me a lot, clad in her new frilly apron from The General Store. L got his car - a 2009 Madza 6. We're still trying to figure out the bells and whistles on this - there are many.

Of course, this week we spent each evening watching the DNC and enjoying the show. We got Sammy interested in the speeches; she particularly liked Michelle Obama. In town, we have the RNC, which we'll follow, but not as closely. There is a surreal, otherworldly quality about political conventions.

Well, I'm going to post this - I'll add some links and pictures later.