A quick (and long-overdue) update–and soup!

Wow, I am really bad at this “updating my blog consistently” thing. But things have been so crazy, between getting things up and running for the new school year, and visiting family, and having emergency surgery while on vacation, and then catching up at work from the unexpected week’s extension of said vacation due to the aforementioned surgery……there just hasn’t been much time for blogging.

HOWEVER…..I did want to share this recipe. Fall is definitely in the air, and for me, that means that I switch from eating a lot of salads to eating a lot of soup. I don’t know, as much as I love salad, when it’s cold out eating a salad is about as appetizing as chewing on a block of ice. So I make a lot of hearty winter soups, filled with veggies, beans and whole grains, to try to keep getting at least a semblance of a balanced diet when so few fresh fruits and veggies are in season.

I made this mushroom, barley and French lentil soup this morning after looking in our pantry and seeing two bags of pearled barley and two bags of French lentils that were nearing their “sell-by” dates. Since I made it up as I went along, there are no precise measurements, which I think is fine when you’re making soup. It’s not like baking, where if any of the proportions are off the whole thing will turn out badly. I’ve found that creativity and trusting your intuition go a long way in cooking, especially when it comes to making soups and stews. So this turned out a soup that I really liked, but if any of the amounts seem off, or you want more or less of any flavor (for example, I like my soup REALLY garlicky, but you may not), then by all means, feel free to change it.

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MUSHROOM, BARLEY AND LENTIL SOUP WITH SPINACH

(Makes a large pot, probably 8-12 servings)

4 carrots, peeled and diced

1 large red onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced (use more or less depending on your taste–as I said, I like my soup pretty garlicky so I use a lot)

1 cup dry French lentils

1 cup dry pearled barley

10 oz. baby bella or crimini mushrooms, chopped, sliced or diced (however you prefer; I like them diced)

6 cups chicken, veggie or beef broth

A splash of white wine

Several cups of fresh spinach, washed and roughly chopped

Salt, black pepper and dried parsley to taste

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. butter

Heat a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and saute the onions, garlic and carrots in the butter and olive oil until softened. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and continue to saute until the mushrooms are softened and beginning to brown. Add the broth and bring everything to a rolling boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and add the barley. Cook for about 25 minutes, then add the lentils and cook for another 25 minutes or so, until the barley and lentils are soft. Add more liquid if desired (at this point, I added two cups of water to replace the liquid that had been absorbed without adding the saltiness from more broth). Add a splash of white wine if desired, season to taste, and continue to cook until barley and lentils are fully cooked and the flavors are starting to combine. At the end of the cooking period, turn off the heat and add the spinach. It will wilt on its own in the hot soup.

Zucchini bread plus cookies…….zookies? Zu-brookies? Who cares, they’re delicious.

I was browsing Pinterest the other day, and I came across this recipe for zucchini bread cookies. I finally made them today, not really knowing what to expect–I am always a fan of adding veggies to any dish, but putting vegetables in a cookie seemed a little bit out there, even for me. These were fantastic, though–not too sweet, but sweet enough to satisfy a craving for dessert. The recipe is below as well, but here’s what they ended up looking like:

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Let me first say what these cookies are not. They are not a super-decadent dessert. If you’re really looking to indulge, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. However, they are a great option for every day, and with oats, whole-wheat flour, and a shot of veggies and fruit from the zucchini, cranberries and raisins and protein from the walnuts, I feel good about giving these to Hannah on a regular basis. In fact, I think you could even make a reasonable argument for eating these for breakfast or a pre-workout snack. By the way, Hannah was my (not totally unwilling) taste-tester and they officially met with her approval:

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Joel approves too. And considering that these are a “healthy” vegan cookie and Joel is, well, Joel, that’s saying something.

Zucchini Bread Cookies
Adapted from Vanilla and Spice, which was adapted from Running to the Kitchen   🙂

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup melted coconut oil

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp pure maple syrup (I used Truvia, and closer to 1/4 cup total)

1 cup grated zucchini (you can leave the skin on)

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup raisins (I added an additional 1/4 cup of dried cranberries as well)

2 tbsp chocolate chips (I omitted these, but they’d probably be delicious with)

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Prepare a large baking sheet by spraying with cooking spray or lining with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (oats to salt).  In a separate bowl, mix the coconut oil, applesauce and maple syrup.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the dry ingredients are incorporated.  Gently stir in the zucchini.  Fold in the walnuts, raisins, and cacao nibs.
Take spoonfuls of the batter and roll into golf ball sized cookies. Place each cookie on the prepared baking sheet and press down to flatten slightly.
Bake in the preheated oven for 10-13 minutes, until cookies feel firm on top and are lightly browned on the bottom (mine took 13 minutes).
Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes to firm up a bit more, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 22 cookies (says the recipe; I made some of mine bigger, so I came out with more like 16-18.)
What else have we been doing? Well, we recently got over a ridiculous heat wave here in Boston, so last Friday I took Hannah to the toddler pool at a nearby state park. I knew that you had to get there early, but I didn’t realize quite how fast this place fills up. We got there literally ten minutes after they opened, and we were the very last car that they let in before they closed the gate. It was worth it though–this place was awesome! The girlie was a bit trepidatious at first:
Image Hangin’ by the towel…thinking about dipping her toesImageAaaaand a little closer…….Image  And she’s in!
Once she was in the water, she was totally sold. We had a great time and as luck would have it, left just as the ice cream truck was pulling up. Fortunately for me, Hannah doesn’t know what an ice cream truck is yet and she was completely oblivious. At some point she’ll figure it out, but in the meantime I’m enjoying her cluelessness.   🙂
We’ve also been spending a lot of time in various public libraries, shopping malls, etc. Basically, any place that’s air conditioned and not our apartment. Which led to this the other day:
20130723_174511 Yup, that’s a sparkly purple motorcycle. What have I done?
Other than that, nothing too exciting going on. We’re getting ready for our trip to Chicago and Arizona next month, which we’re really looking forward to. I’m also part of a book club that has its second meeting in about a week. I missed the first meeting, so I’m doubly excited about this one. Except I haven’t finished reading the book that we’re to be discussing, but I’m sure that as in all things, I’ll get in just under the wire.    🙂

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written, but things have been so busy here and when I find that I have time to write (in the evenings, after Hannah is in bed), I usually didn’t have the energy. But lots of exciting things have been going on!

During the school year, Hannah is in day care while I go to work and Joel goes to class and teaches. She goes to this fantastic center about two minutes from where we live, and we were sad to pull her out for the summer because she loves it there so much. But having the whole summer with her has been great! She still gets plenty of opportunities to hang out with other kids, between play dates, story hours at the library, trips to the pool, farmer’s market, park and museum, etc. HOWEVER…….holy crap, if keeping a 22-month-old entertained all day isn’t exhausting, I don’t know what is. It’s been especially challenging the last few days because of this heat wave we’ve been having, which means we have to find things to do that are a) age-appropriate, b) in an indoor, air-conditioned space, and c) don’t cost an arm and a leg. Fortunately, there are lots of things to do in the Boston area that fit that description, so we’re good. Even so, this heat wave is supposed to finally break tomorrow, and not a moment too soon. Here are a few photos of the activities that we’ve particularly enjoyed:

I guess we’ll start at the beginning and go in chronological order: I’ve been cooking a lot. Last week, I made a new-ish recipe that has quickly become a favorite: the baked ratatouille from Smitten Kitchen. The thing I love so much about this is that it’s so versatile. We usually have it either on sandwiches, layered with some fresh mozzarella and a little pesto, or on a pizza, but I’ve also chopped it up and mixed it in with whole-wheat pasta and eaten it on its own.

Now, if you click on the link to the recipe you’ll see a lovely photo of all the veggies laid out: Image

Doesn’t that look nice? Yeah, that’s not how mine turned out. At all. I’ll spare you the picture of what it actually looked like, but the important thing is that all the veggies did get layered into the dish and it came out tasting great.

Also, in case you were wondering what THE BEST KITCHEN TOOL EVER is: It’s this. I sliced a ginormous pile of veggies in about five minutes with this guy. Apparently you can also do the same thing with a food processor’s slicer blade, but I don’t have one of those and I found my mandoline for about $8 at TJMaxx. Once you get one of those, this ratatouille takes about 15 minutes to assemble, then it’s just a matter of throwing it in the oven and baking it. I made a big batch of it, and the first two nights I used it as a pizza topping,  with a crust made from the Master Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five. (Seriously, this recipe never fails.) I added some browned turkey sausage as well. We had a bunch left over, so the next night I chopped the ratatouille up into little pieces, combined it with the rest of the turkey sausage and mixed it with some cooked whole-wheat pasta, then baked it as a casserole. It was delicious both ways, but the pizza is my favorite preparation. It’s especially good for breakfast the next morning…….just saying. Don’t judge.

 

Out on the town

Joel was out of town last weekend for a choral gig in NYC, so it was just me and Hannah from Friday night until this morning. We managed, somehow, to fill the time in this awesome city filled with fun and (almost) free things to do.   🙂

On Saturday, we took the T into Boston and had a picnic of Mediterranean food that I picked up from a cafe right off of the Boston Common. It was crowded, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

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(The quizzical look is probably because she’s trying a bite of shawarma in this pic.)

After we ate, we headed across the street to the public gardens. First, I was thinking maybe we’d go by the playground on the common. Then I saw that it looked like this:

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So then I thought we would go and see if the Frog Pond was open yet. And I saw that it looked like this:

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Because it doesn’t actually open until next week. So we just headed over to the Public Gardens, and Hannah had a great time watching the swans and ducks, and people watching, and playing her newest game, which consists of saying, “Uh-oh, Hannah!” and flopping over in the grass. She did this probably seven times in a row and thought it was equally hilarious each time.

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And also, someone had fun with the George Washington statue in the gardens:

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By the time the flop-fest was over, she was starting to look pretty tuckered out so we made our way home for a nap.

Sunday morning, Hannah came to work with me, and in the afternoon we didn’t do anything super-special. We did, however, go check out the Trader Joe’s that I didn’t realize we had relatively close to us. I think that was the highlight of the day.

Then, today we packed up in the car and drove to Natick for a play date with Hannah’s boyfriend. They had a great time playing in the sprinkler (NOTE TO SELF: GET ONE OF THESE!)

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And playing with the water table:

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And enjoying a snack together:

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And sitting together, holding hands and generally looking adorable.

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And after this, both Hannah and her guy were pretty exhausted–in fact, she sacked out in the car on the way home. In general, it was a successful weekend!

I didn’t do much cooking, so no interesting recipes to post. Actually, there is one. I made the carrot bread from this family of cookbooks, since I had a bunch of carrots in the fridge that were getting close to the end of their prime and I didn’t want to waste them. As I often do, I tried to cut back the sugar from 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup in the recipe, in the interest of making an already-healthy recipe even healthier. As it turns out, this was a dire mistake. The bread came out with a good texture, but not at all sweet, and this is a bread that needs a little sweetness. In fact, it was actually bitter and really unpleasant-tasting. Not the recipe’s fault–my own fault for messing with it. I’ll definitely make it again, but with the recommended amount of brown sugar. In fact, I’ve read a couple of other blogs by people who made this recipe, and apparently a lot of people actually add MORE sugar. So that was pretty disappointing, but a good learning experience. Less sugar does not always make a better recipe, and a “healthy” food will cease being healthy if it tastes terrible so no one wants to eat it.

So, homemade bread is awesome.

So, lately Hannah has been going through a phase of refusing bread. It didn’t matter how I gave it to her–toasted, non-toasted, plain or with jelly or peanut butter or hummus on it–she would refuse it or take at most one or two bites. It’s been a bit frustrating because sandwiches were one quick, easy meal that I could always rely on.

I’ve been baking bread at home the last few days, and yesterday I made a couple loaves of the Soft American-Style White Bread from this cookbook. I replaced a little less than half the white flour with white whole-wheat flour and it came out really nicely. We’ve been eating it all day–I had some for breakfast this morning with a little natural peanut butter on top, and the high fiber and protein content kept me full for a long time. And best of all, I gave some to Hannah, topped with a little jam, and she absolutely devoured it. I guess her tastes are more discerning than mine…. It has a pretty yeasty flavor that almost gives it a bit of sourdough bite. Some people might find it unpleasant, but personally, I really like it. Okay, this is making me want to go and eat more bread. I should probably have some actual dinner instead.

I’d forgotten how much better homemade bread is than store-bought. It’s really amazing, and well worth the effort. Especially if you have a recipe, like this one, that doesn’t take long at all and yields enough dough for multiple loaves that can be stored in the fridge and baked later.

In other news, I bought Hannah a bathing suit for our trip to Chicago and Arizona in August…..

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(She is ready to go. Because nothing says “I’m ready to party” like a pair of jean shorts slung over your arm, amirite?)

And one more recipe–last night for dinner, I made this tuna-noodle casserole. Now, I’m pretty sure that I never ate tuna-noodle casserole growing up. My mom is a) not a big cook and b) NOT a big casserole person. I started making casseroles after I met and married my Kansas-bred husband and his love of all things comfort food, and learned to embrace them right around the time that we started paying off a mountain of student loans on a teacher’s and a grad student’s salary. And now, even though I’ve developed a healthy love of casseroles, I can’t say that tuna-noodle is my favorite. BUT–it is filling, and easy, and inexpensive to make. And the recipe I made (and linked above) is also quite healthy. I left out the mushrooms because I didn’t have any, and the bag of peas I thought we had in the freezer turned out to be a figment of my imagination so I used frozen chopped kale instead, with some trepidation. But it turned out fantastic! I also added a dollop of fat-free plain Greek yogurt, and (I know this will seem weird) I had some yogurt-based dill sauce left over from when I made salmon cakes a few nights ago, and I couldn’t bear to waste it so I dumped it in there too. And it actually really helped. It gave the whole casserole just a tiny bit of dill flavor, which was really nice.

All right, that’s all I’ve got. Have a great night!

And the first “real” entry…… :)

Yesterday, I posted my first entry, but it wasn’t a real one. It was more of a test to make sure the blog was working properly.

I started this blog for a few reasons, none of them particularly inspiring or profound. One is that I just like blogging. I kept a vegan-food blog a few years ago, when I was vegan (I’m not anymore, but more on that later since I suspect this blog will spend a lot of time focusing on food and cooking), and I really enjoyed it. It fell by the wayside when we moved from Arizona to Massachusetts, but periodically since then I’ve thought, “I should start blogging again!” and then I would get distracted by something shiny or a squirrel and never follow up.

I also hope that this will be a way for my family–which is all spread out across the country, with almost none of my relatives living anywhere near where we are in the Boston area–to keep up with what’s going on in our lives. Also, baby pictures. Because as I learned when I had our first child, Hannah, twenty months ago (that’s her in the picture!), once you have a kid no one really cares about anything but the baby pictures. And when the grandparents of said baby live clear across the country–literally, we are almost spread as far apart as we could possibly be without occupying different countries–pictures take on a whole new significance. As do Skype and FaceTime.

Image                                     HannahRacecar

So what about us? Well, as I mentioned above, I’m a mother. I’m also a wife to the love of my life, Joel (here he is!)

Image (Seriously, this guy is amazing. Anyone who knows him in real life knows what I mean. He’s just……awesome.)

Aside from my roles as a mother and a wife, I’m a professional with a bit of an identity crisis. But more on that later, I’m sure. HOWEVER, in the meantime I have a great job that I love. I’m the Director of Religious Education for a Unitarian Universalist congregation up here in northern Massachusetts. It’s very different from what I went to school for, which is music education and choral conducting (in my previous life, I was a K-12 music teacher–looooooots of stories there!), but that’s okay. I’m very happy with what I do and very grateful to work for such a great community. It’s also a REALLY great gig for a working mom, so I’m very grateful for that.

Image (This is where I work. Seriously.)

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(This is a photo I took on my walk to work last November. Because I live close enough to work to walk there. Did I mention I love my job?)

When I’m not mother-ing, wife-ing or working, I spend a lot of time doing stuff related to food. Cooking it, eating it, reading about it, planning how to cook it…..specifically, I’m on a personal mission to feed my family the healthiest, most delicious meals I can, at as low a cost as possible, and waste as little as possible. More on that later. In fact, I suspect that that will be one of the major foci of this blog.

And because I spend so much time cooking *and eating*, I also spend a lot of my free time exercising. Okay, that’s not really true. I have fantasies of myself as a fitness fanatic, waking up early every morning to run and doing yoga on a picturesque hill at sunset, but so far there is an enormous chasm that separates fantasy from reality. But I do try to make time to work out a few times a week, and since having a kid I’ve found that the only way to do that really is to wake up before everyone else and do it really early in the morning. Which is part of where the title of this blog comes from. I also like to walk, which is an inclination that I’m pretty sure I got from my mother and hopefully I’ll pass on to my daughter. My mom (and my dad) and I have had a lot of great conversations on long walks, and they’re some of my fondest memories. I hope that Hannah will be able to say the same thing when she’s an adult.

That’s all for now. Come back again sometime!