29 September 2009

cocoa cookies: the antidote to a rough morning

It's Jules's Monday, not mine, but we're all feeling it. His first day of preschool each week falls on a Tuesday and every Tuesday Jules drags his feet getting ready, telling me he doesn't want to go, telling me he doesn't like it, telling me it's scary. Of course when he says these things, I take him seriously, and we talk about it. In the end, nothing terribly specific, or terribly scary (to me, at least) is identified. What he seems to be suffering from is a case of the Monday blues. This is my hunch because every time I go to pick him up on Tuesday afternoon he is chipper as can be (or, miraculously, napping). Some days it's hard to drag him away.

This morning as we were driving to school, along with the usual pleas to stay home so he could complete the important job of making his Playmobil Knights "fight" at the dining room table (with much participation from me),
Jules slipped in a request. "Will you bake cookies today, Mom?"

How could I say no to that? It seems to take every ounce of courage the kid can muster to show up for preschool on Tuesday mornings. So I was quick with the yes's. A little too quick, since I had no intention whatsoever of heading to the store today as my plan is to clear out the fridge and cupboards of anything that might pose as food before I spend another fortune on groceries. And this meant I had no eggs.

But lucky for
Jules, I had everything I needed for what turned out to be some of the tastiest cookies I've baked, probably, ever. I've adapted the recipe from Orangette(my go-to gal for guaranteed goodness these last few weeks), who adapted hers from Alice Medrich's recipe. My version has a bit more salt (which makes sweet things taste better, in my opinion) and I've added some instant espresso powder to boost the chocolate flavor.

The first thing
Jules asked me when I picked them up was, of course, "did you make cookies?" I did not dissapoint. He gobbled two in about two seconds while gulping a glass of milk, dubbed them "brownie cookies" and then asked for more. My answer of "after dinner" turned out to be NOT NEARLY SOON ENOUGH for Jules, which sparked some disgraceful tantrumming behavior, but I don't blame him. Chewy chocolate cookies can have that effect on me, too.

Cocoa chocolate chip "brownie" cookies
(based on this recipe from Orangette)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
7 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. instant espresso powder
1/3 cup plain yogurt, preferably not low- or nonfat (I used full-fat greek yogurt with a couple of tablespoons of 1% milk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Place the butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl, and microwave briefly, until just melted. Add the sugars, and sift in the cocoa and espresso powder. Stir to blend well. The mixture will be somewhat thick and pasty, like wet sand. Add the yogurt and vanilla and stir to mix thoroughly. Add the dry flour mixture, and stir to just combine. Add the chocolate chips and stir to incorporate.

Drop the dough by generous tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies have crackled slightly and look set. Transfer the sheet pan to a wire rack, and cool the cookies on the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer them to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

fall cleaning (out the fridge, that is)

We've been roadtripping for the past 10 days and I'm finding it hard to get back into the swing of things. Routines flew out the window, Jules OD'd on TV and candy and new toys and treats from Grandma, and we all returned with sniffles. Some of us even returned with new teeth and a newfound (albeit wobbly) ability to toddle.

Now we're home and I'm resisting the urge to run to the store and stock up on the million things I think we need. I tried to empty the fridge of most of its contents before we left. We'd just gotten a delivery from New Roots Organics, and all of it would sit, rotting in the fridge until we got back unless I got creative.

We had three different kinds of potatoes (purple, red and fingerling), green
beans, a big bounty of yellow grape tomatoes from our garden, red onion, corn on the cob...

So I settled on roasted potato salad. What I'll whip up this week is anyone's guess.

It started out pretty...
And mixed up a little bit homely...
But it tasted just right. And even better the day after.

Rainbow Roasted Potato and Green Bean Salad (adapted from this recipe in Gourmet)
3 pounds small potatoes (purple, red, fingerling, knock yourself out picking)
2/3 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried, plus rosemary sprigs for garnish
1 red onion, halved lengthwise and sliced thin lengthwise
2 pounds green (or yellow, or both) beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes (red, yellow, orange, etc.), halved

Halve the potatoes, unpeeled, and cut them into 1-inch wedges. In a large roasting pan heat 1/3 cup of the oil in the middle of a preheated 425°F. oven for 5 minutes, add the potatoes, tossing them to coat them with the oil, and roast them, stirring them every 10 minutes, for 20-30 minutes, or until they are tender. Let the potatoes cool in the pan. In a blender purée the garlic, the vinegar, the rosemary leaves, and salt to taste, with the motor running add the remaining 1/3 cup oil in a stream, and blend the dressing until it is emulsified. In a small bowl of ice and cold water let the onion soak for 5 minutes, drain it well, and pat it dry. In a kettle of boiling salted water boil the green beans for 5 minutes, or until they are crisp-tender, and drain them in a colander. Refresh the beans under cold water and pat them dry. In a very large bowl combine the potatoes, the onion, the green beans, and the cherry tomatoes, add the dressing, and toss the salad gently. Serve the salad at room temperature.

14 September 2009

fall flavors? roasted sausages with grapes

I'm not sure what's gotten into me, but I am full-on into fall. Maybe it's because I'm feeling nostalgic for where I was this time last year (8 months pregnant and looking forward to an October baby).

Yes, the leaves are changing color. The air is cooling. A couple of weeks ago it dumped down rain. For half a day. I felt an urgent need to roast something.
And with the fall nostalgia of baby in belly have come a return of the cravings. Mostly for sausage. So I found this recipe for roasted sausages and grapes. Couldn't be easier. Toss a bunch of (browned) sausages into a roasting pan, shower them with grapes that have been bathed in olive oil, and pop them into the oven. Finish the grapes in a saucepan until they, well, pop, add a little balsamic vinegar and you have a really lovely, elegant, simple meal. I served them with a side of sauteed spinach, roasted sweet potatoes, red onion, red pepper, black beans and corn and avocado. It was actually a salad I'd made from the night before, but after a quick stir in a hot pan, tasted yummy this way, too. A little random, the combination, but my former pregnant self would have understood.

Lucky for me, Jules is a fan of just about all pork products (sausage, bacon, ham), and of most sausages in general, provided they're not spicy. He won't brush a chicken nuggets to his lips, nibbles fries with utter disdain, has not a clue what fruit leather is, but if you squeeze a bunch of mystery meat into a jacket, he's all over it.

So the sausage went down with nary a protest. As did the corn muffin I served it with. The veggies? Not so much. Though I did see a sweet potato sneak its way in.

06 September 2009

"our bread" : living life in the details

A few years back (what now to me seems like a lifetime ago) while I was working on my Masters Thesis, I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to study Spanish, zapatismo, and international social revolution. I'd gone there because, ever since traveling through Mexico as a tourist a few years prior, I'd been fascinated by the region, and even more so with the cultural, political, and social revolution being waged by the indigenous people there. The Zapatista movement attracts people from all walks of life, from all around the globe, people who are committed to working together to improving the lives of Mexico's indigenous peoples, and to applying the knowledge they gain in that work to their own lives and work at home and elsewhere.

My ticket "in" to the Zapatista movement came through the language school they operated in Zapatista territory in the highlands of Chiapas. I'd write about it later in my thesis on language acquisition, transnational social activism, and tourism, a pile of pages that's likely collecting dust at my university library right now. But it was hugely important at the time.

While in Zapatista territory, I shared three very simple meals a day with my fellow language students. A little fruit for breakfast. Beans and tortillas for lunch, pasta and beans for dinner. The occasional sandwich with fresh cheese and tomatoes that I'm sure gave more of us food poisoning than not. There was a couple there, about my age, who I'd, to myself, labeled the "hippy couple." She was a yoga instructor and a new ACLU recruit, and he was an ex-businessman who'd packed it in, temporarily, to camp his way around Mexico searching for some of the best mushrooms on offer. I liked them, despite my initial labeling attempt because, like anyone, they both turned out to be infinitely more complex than I'd at first given them credit.

One of the very "hippy" things the "hippy couple" did was initiate a supper ritual that I played along with but never really took to. During our meal, they asked us all to go around the table and all share what, to us, was the favorite part of the day we'd just lived together. I'd get all shaky, wracking my brains for something profound, or just something, to say when it came my turn. Never was my contribution very profound, though I felt it should be since we were, after all, in the middle of the cold and misty Mexican mountains surrounded by indigenous rebels (some who even wore ski masks!) with whom we struggled under the common banner of bringing health care, education, participatory democracy, and a host of other basic rights to the forgotten classes in
both Mexico and around the globe.

But hard as I'd try, most of the "favorite parts" I'd share were, like they were back home, simple moments. Talking with children, walking past a shed in the twilight listening to Mexican pop music played live by a couple of musicians in residence, spending the afternoon painting murals in the pouring rain, hoping the artist I was "helping out" wouldn't catch on to the fact that I'd nearly flunked out of art class in Junior High and had practically sworn it off since then. None of these shared moments were earth-shattering. None, in and of themselves, would change my life, or anyone else's for that matter. But what I came to realize, well after the "hippy coup
le" and I parted ways was that, collectively, these moments did have a profound effect on me and on how I view the world and my place in it. I go back to and relive moments in Chiapas in my mind more than just about any other time or place I've been to in my life. And of course, what they taught me, what I scoffed at back then but fully appreciate now, was that reflecting on those moments, as close as you can to when you're in them, makes them last longer. It makes you more present with the people you share your life with. And sharing those reflections gives you insight not only into others' lives, but into your own.

I remembered this a few months back, and began using it as part of my nighttime ritual with Jules. After we've put on jammies, used the potty (this is new!), brushed teeth, read books and turned out the lights, we lie in his bed in the dark together and share with each other our favorite part of the day. More often than not, what he tells me surprises me. He'll pick out a moment that I'd breezed by when we were together, or that I was not a part of because it happened at preschool. Most of the moments he shares are cute, sweet, 3 year old bits of fun and happiness, but occasionally he uses them to share with me his fears or embarrassments of the day and work through them. A few days ago, when I asked him what his favorite part of the day was, he told me "making bread with you, mama." This really surprised me, since I felt I'd been too impatient with him, hadn't let him touch the dough enough, had been too preoccupied with the bread turning out (it's just flour and milk and salt and sugar and yeast, after all). I thought I'd ruined the fun for him. I'm pretty sure I yelled at him, at least once. It was a failure for me. One of many parenting failures I'd been ticking off in my head lately. But Jules enjoyed it. No, more than that. It was his favorite part of the day. This was huge to me.

That first loaf lasted us about three days, and every day, at just about every meal, Jules asked for a slice of "our bread." I just about cried every time I cut him off a piece.

I think I'm making my way toward some big a-ha moment, though I still can't quite put my finger on it, and certainly won't do so before my fingers stop typing this post. But it starts out something like this:

While my life now may seem infinitely more mundane than it did when I was a child-free, globetrotting, polilingual, academic revolutionary, it's not. It's these little moments, about things as seemingly ordinary as a loaf of bread, smushed around on the counter by me and my kid, that can reduce me to tears precisely because they are extraordinary to me at the place I'm at in my life. And more than that, they're affecting me, shaping me, in ways that I may only come to recognize long after these "little moments" have passed.

More eloquent than that, I can't be at the moment. But I'm working on it. Just come back to me later.

02 September 2009

whipping up a whole new supermom

It started out so well.

I planned to bake. And bake some more. I checked out Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours from the library, picked out some promising pastries and set to work. I bought shiny red fabric for that Mega Mindy costume I planned to make for Jules for Halloween, started in August so we'd have plenty of time. I harvested fresh tomatoes from our garden and paired them with corn from the organic fruit and veg bin to whip up what was guaranteed to be an amazing corn and tomato pie. My hopes were high, my ambitions were grand, I'd do it all.

I did do it all. Well, with the exception of the costume, which thankfully still lies unstitched in the plastic JoAnn Fabric bag it came in. Jules has changed his mind a dozen times about what he wants to be. Could be a doctor, a superhero, a strange bug with spray-painted ice cream cone horns. I think we'll wait until the morning of October 31 to decide on that.

But back to baking and Dorie Greenspan, who is, apparently, an authority on baking, according to many of the foodie blogs I've been reading (which shall remain nameless because, right now, I curse you all). She's a regular contributor to Bon Appetit, has written another book, Baking with Julia (yes the Julia), that was also well received. Her own baking book is supposed to make baking accessible. I beg to differ. It wasn't that any of the recipes I followed were particularly bad, they just weren't particularly memorable. To date, I've tried:
cardamom crumb cake

apple coconut family cake

cottage cheese pufflets (with chocolate and strawberry jam)
Pretty, no? I would love to tell you that these were all delectable creations, and share the recipes with you, and gloat about how my kids helped me make them all, sharing a sweet little anecdote about how Jules ate more chocolate than actually made it into the cookies. But I'd be lying (about everything but Jules and chocolate, at least). They were fine. Edible. And I won't be making any of them again any time soon.

Truth be told, I'm a little tired of all the gushing (about our food, about our kids, about our amazing parental achievements in the blogs I've been reading), and the last week has been a big reality check for me. Kasper's been teething, barely sleeping, Jules has been his usual garble of sweetness, effervescence and tyrannic fury. And I've been trying. Really hard. To be the best mom I know how to be. To not blow up at my kids (OK, I don't blow up yet at the baby, but I like to include him in my writing) at the tiniest little thing, to indulge them in their fantasies (shoot 'em up or otherwise), and to feed them, and myself, well.

This week I was mediocre, at best, at all of the above. Next week, I'm hoping for better.

sunday morning breakfast (in reverse)

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