Thursday, January 31, 2008

Weeknight Italian Menu

Spicy Sauteed Broccoli

extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
red pepper flakes to taste
1 lb fresh broccoli, stalks trimmed, peeled, and sliced thin, crowns broken into florets

Heat 2T of evoo in a braising pan or dutch oven. When the oil is just hot enough to sizzle, add the garlic and the pepper flakes, and saute, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broccoli, saute for another 2 minutes, then add 3/4 cup water, bring to lively simmer, then cover the pan and cook another 2 minutes or until cooked to desired doneness. Drain, season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice if desired.

Easy Marinara Sauce

extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
3 t dried thyme
1T dried oregano
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine (or substitute drained tomato juice)
2-4T chopped fresh or frozen basil
1T sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 4T evoo over medium heat until hot enough to sizzle. Add onion , sprinkle with a little salt, and saute, stirring now and again, for 8-10 minutes until onions are soft and golden. Add the garlic, oregano and thyme and saute, stirring continuously for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add drained diced tomatoes, increase heat a bit and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and the wine or tomato juice, bring to simmer, then lower heat and cook another 10-15 minutes. Stir in the basil and sugar off-heat, adjust salt and pepper to taste, and serve over pasta with romano or parmesan cheese.

I serve this meal in two courses, beginning with the broccoli, to maximize veggie consumption. I freeze basil from the farmers' market every summer: I wash it well and then process it with some olive oil and a touch of salt. Lots of herbs can be preserved in this way, and basil especially is a treat in the wintertime. On good-toddler days, we frequently have desert with this, but today was a bad toddler day, and they were all lucky to get anything at all!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I've been setting aside one afternoon each week for sewing and I've been pleasantly surprised at how quickly I'm learning. When Wren was a baby, I made a couple of reversible smocks from a now oop McCall's pattern. They turned out well, but none of my subsequent projects were satisfactory, and some were true disasters, so I concluded that the smocks were a fluke and I was not a sewist*. But then I discovered knitting blogs, some of which link to crafting blogs, some of which are super-fabulous** and I decided to give the sewing thing another go. I credit Amy Karol of Angry Chicken, and her "Bend-The-Rules-Sewing" for my newfound pleasure and success in sewing. Thank-you Amy! I've also set aside Saturday afternoons for knitting, and I've managed to squeeze in some time for other crafts, including origami, on other days. When the children join me I spend more time helping them than I do making anything myself, but their creative energy is a joy to me. Oddly enough (maybe it isn't so odd?) I've been able to keep up better with the housework now that I'm keeping myself busier. I'm also not struggling as much with depression, though I can't say whether the crafting keeps the depression at bay or whether the absence of depression allows me to craft. Any road, I'm enjoying a time of quiet wonder and I'm grateful.

In bird news, we've had the snowbirds (juncos) pretty reliably for the past few weeks, and they're an endearing sight hopping about among the fat and placid doves, pecking at the cracked corn. We've had a few white-throated sparrows and (finally!!!) a regular crew of goldfinches at the thistle. On three separate occassions we've had a red-bellied woodpecker, which thrilled the children. Of course we've had our usual downies, cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, house finches, and house sparrows as well.

*I saw the word 'sewist' on another blog and liked it: it lacks the gender assignment of 'seamstress' and the unfortunate mispronounciation of s-e-w-e-r.

** I stumbled across my first few, but if you go to whipup, a collaborative craft blog, you won't be disappointed, AND, it has links to contributors' blogs, which, in turn, often have links to other craft blogs, so you could get blissfully lost in craftblog land for a long, long time!

dinner tonight: sauteed pork rib chops, roasted brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar, rosemary roasted red potatoes

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This is the daffodil pouch from Omiyage by Kumiko Sudo. It's my first project* from the book, and I'm pretty pleased. I put the blue ribbon on just to see how the thing would look, intending to make some bias strips from the orange fabric for the final product, but Robin saw, admired, and laid claim to the pouch as it was and I was glad to give it to him. He is using it to keep his watch and charm bracelet when he's not wearing them, and it's just the right size. My children are gratifying gift-recipients because they're genuinely and inordinately pleased with even the smallest handmade gifties. I do wish they'd take better care of their things, but I'm ashamed to say they don't have as good an example of care-taking as they ought to from their parents. Ahem. They'll improve along with Justin and me, I hope!

*I've also made the fortune-catcher and am currently stumped by the 'pretty princess paperweight'.

Dinner tonight: Spaghetti and Meatballs -- yummy!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In Which We Catch and Release a Most Endearing Specimen of Mus musculus

Once upon a time, a wee mousie took shelter from the cold in the home of two once-ferocious, now aged cats. The cats were named Maisie and Roonces, and the mouse wasn't named at all, because she was a wild mousie who lived by her wits. Her wild wits served her well when the aged (but still not-very-nice-to-mice) cats pounced her. She very cleverly made herself look small and dead and boring. So the aged cats left her alone and took a nap on the radiator. Wee wild mousie continued to look small and dead and boring, because the cats were still within pouncing distance, but she was very frightened and very annoyed.

At long last, a human came along and the cats trotted after her for their mid-morning meal. But just as wee wild mousie was about to make her escape, the human discovered her. Wee wild mousie trembled as the human thought what to do. Finally the human put w.w. mousie in a cage and fed her on bread crumbs and lettuce. It was quite nice, but w.w.mousie preferred freedom to safety and bent all her wits on devising an escape plan. Unfortunately, her habit of stretching up on her hind legs and sniffing made her so adorable, that the silly human had thoughts of naming w.w.mousie and keeping her as a pet.

Fortunately, better sense prevailed, and the human and her young embarked on a grand expedition to release w.w.mousie into the Wild. On the way, they stopped at a children's book store where w.w.mousie was so admired that she almost (but not quite) thought she'd like to be a pet after all. As soon as w.w.mousie saw her new home near a hollow log, she scarpered quickly under some leaves where the humans couldn't see her at all.

Monday, January 14, 2008

(return of) Menu Monday

Monday: Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce, mixed greens with orange/lime vinaigrette, sauteed mushrooms with shallots and thyme

Tuesday: Moroccan-style chicken in the pot over whole-wheat couscous

Wednesday: Super-stuffed* baked potatoes, mixed greens with buttermilk dressing

Thursday: Basmati rice pilaf and curried potatoes and cauliflower

Friday: Pan-seared butterflied salmon fillets with dill butter, rice, and peas

Saturday: Black-eyed peas and greens with bacon/cheddar/scallion corn muffins

Sunday: Roast chicken with potatoes and rosemary and sauteed beet greens

*This is just plain-Jane baked potatoes heaped with sour cream, cheddar, chives, and bacon -- enormously satisfying!!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Golden Afternoon

When I was little enough to believe I could fly, my father had a brief but glorious enthusiasm for bread baking. After school, my sister and I ate warm bread with butter and honey, washed down with mugs of chocolate milk. These were lovely times. My father kneaded the dough by hand, a process I've never had the patience for, but I have a KitchenAid, so bread-baking is a relatively simple endeavor, and the rewards are far greater than I have a right to expect from so little effort. I measure out some flour and salt, dump them in the mixing bowl and let them whir together while I heat milk , water, and butter. The butter melts in a little golden pool atop the milk and I stir a little honey and some yeast into the pool and inhale deeply. The scent of butter, honey, and yeast is magical. So is the transformation of a small lump of dough into a pale puffy pillow that I gently press down before shaping into a loaf.

The second rise takes just over half as long as the first one, and I spend the time in our workroom sewing gathers into fabric circles for a gift I'm making. His Nibs wakes up from his nap just in time to see me pop the bread in the oven, and he puts his hands up as if in supplication and whispers 'hot, hot' in his best dramatic voice. The children and I play at building towers for the him to knock down while we wait for the bread. When we take it out, Wren puts Sir LoafsALot on his valiant steed to guard our bread against predatory toddlers.

You can't slice bread straight from the oven, but you don't want it to cool too long, or your 7 yr. old son will burst with longing. Also, the butter won't melt properly. Twenty minutes was as long as we could stand it, and, happily, that was just long enough to cool it to the perfect temperature. Fresh baked bread must be sliced thick and slathered with butter before being drizzled with honey. The butter will melt deliciously into the honey and drip delightfully down your chin.