14 April 2010

whale's up

So I'm sitting here now, after the kids have gone to bed, after hitting "submit" (or "e-file" or whatever, my mind's a gelatinous mass) on Turbotax, thinking about the day as the quiet settles in around me and begins to clear my head.

I took the kids to the beach today after picking Jules up from preschool. This was our second beach trip in two days and I feel SO LUCKY to live in a place where we can skip down to stick our toes in the soft sand whenever we feel like it. Yesterday it was Jules's idea. The sun popped out just as I popped in to his school to get him. "It's such a beautiful, sunny afternoon, Mama," he said. "The perfect time for a trip to the beach." So that's just what we did. We dug, we dumped, we tossed rocks in the water, we searched for buried treasure and hidden sea creatures. It was so much more fun than what I had planned--watching the kids play in the back yard while I cleaned the kitchen. We had such a good time, I promised them we'd be back again the next day if the weather held up, and it did.

Today was a different day. Today Kasper raced past two boys his age (around 18 months) who were standing a healthy distance from the water, tossing in rocks, and tossed HIMSELF in. He was so over yesterday's placid stone plopping that he decided instead to treat the entire Puget Sound like his own personal mud puddle. I thought I came prepared, having brought his rain boots this time, but no. He sat right down in the water, prompting me to drag him out by his jacket (like the scruff of his neck), then went back in for more, the second time doing a face plant. And back again. And again.

The parents of Kasper's little peers looked on
all aghast as our scene played out : me dragging Kasper time and again out of the water while his big brother Jules waded in knee deep (yes, waaaay over the very unnecessary rainboots he was also wearing) with a big mason jar trying to catch another sea animal. At one point Jules was sure he had an eel in his jar and, freaking out completely, tossed the jar five feet further into the water. Well, unlike the egg carton boat I waded knee deep into murky Greenlake water to rescue the week before, there was NO WAY I was going in after this little casualty. Yes, we littered, yes we did. But only because I had to make the choice between holding Kasper at bay (or out of the bay) and rescuing that jar. I chose my child. You would, too.

So then, while all of this madness is unfolding around me, someone starts calling out, "look at the whale, boys" in our general direction. I look back, not sure if they're talking to my boys, snatch Kasper out of the water again, scan the beach for Jules, finally look out at the water. By this time it's gone. Apparently, a whale had surfaced right in front of us while my back was turned to it (or my face turned to Kasper, or Jules, or to a stick I'd hoped to snag to fish out that damn mason jar). Everyone on the beach saw it. Right there in front of us. Everyone, except us.

I guess we have another reason now to get back to the beach (as if we needed one).

09 April 2010

okonomiyaki: dishing the chicken

sweet potato okonomiyaki with sesame peanut noodles

As a follow up to my last chicken post, I thought I'd share one of the photos of what became of our roasted bird. The top photo, of Sweet Potato Okonomiyaki with Sesame Peanut Noodles was part happy kitchen experiment, part tried and true recipe.

Okonomiyaki is described by some as a sort of Japanese Pizza, though it's closer to a pancake than a pizza in my opinion. I first had it when friends of mine came home from teaching English in Japan, and since then it's become one of my favorites, though making it at home requires some special ingredients that I don't often have on hand, so okonomiyaki only graces our dinner table maybe once a year. The beauty of okonomiyaki, though, is that once you have the batter (flour, potato, water, salt or dashi, shredded cabbage and egg), whatever else goes in/on it is up to you. Onion, ginger, shrimp, pork, chicken, kimchi, mochi, cheese, Sea Monkeys, stale marshmallow Peeps (OK, not really those last two), you name it. When Jo and I were in Hiroshima, we ate at a place that served theirs with soba noodles fried right in, a regional thing, apparently, called "Hiroshimayaki". So whatever you're hankering for, toss it on. Fry it up, squirt it all over with some thick, tangy okonomi sauce, some Kewpie mayo (or Kraft, if you, like I am, are always out), a few bonito flakes that will do a jiggly-wiggly-I-dare-you-to-eat-me dance for you and you're all set.

The 'official' version of okonomiyaki calls for grated "mountain potato" or yama-imo, which looks like mush, but provides a glutinous component to the batter that okonomiyaki purists (can they exist for a dish like this?) would argue is essential. I had none in my kitchen, but I did have a bunch of mashed up sweet potatoes that I'd used for another recipe, and the idea of sweet-potato-flavored okonomiyaki sounded plausible (and tasty, really) to me. I also had no okonomi sauce, and didn't feel like making a special trip to our Asian market, but I found this recipe for both the pancake and a homemade approximation of the sauce. Dinner was cooking.

While frying up our okonomiyaki, I tossed together a really simple "salad" of soba noodles, peanut sauce, some shredded chicken and veggies (cucumber, red pepper and green onion) (recipe, more or less, here). Jules picked and poked and prodded at it for the most part, asking for yoghurt about 20 minutes in, but Kasper, Kasper was amazing. He slurped and sucked up his noodles like the best of them, and even poked a finger in his pancake a few times before taking a few bites. I'd call dinner an overall success, especially because it's spurred me on to put (this, admittedly highly bastardized version of) okonomiyaki on my table more often.

I'm not going to share my own personal recipe with you for this, mostly because I wasn't paying attention myself when I tossed it together. But I do encourage you to try okonomiyaki for yourself. Let the improv begin!

07 April 2010

hippity hop

and away goes Easter...

little chickies

I don't know about you, but four days after Easter, we're still hunting for eggs at our house. Jules got so into Easter this year, he hasn't been able to let go. He started a few weeks before the big day drawing pictures of the Easter Bunny carrying baskets of eggs around, spent hours cutting out and decorating eggs we drew together on construction paper. As Easter drew nearer, I'd run out of craft ideas to feed his Easter urge. I am not a crafty person. I am jealous beyond belief at all of you crafty people out there. But I try. I really do.

Maybe it's the emotional scarring from my 7th grade art class that I've never completely recovered from. I remember Mrs. Zimmerman like it was yesterday, sucking all the fun and creativity out of every project she assigned, belittling the meek, sculpee-challenged among us. I think I cried making my color wheel. Needless to say, I was delighted when some not-yet-but-soon-to-become stoner kid nailed Mrs. Zimmerman in the nose with an eraser one day. Sweet, sweet justice, really.

With kids of my own, I'm now reliving some of my childhood anxieties around art, and hopefully working through them at the same time. Some of my little experiments have turned out great. Others, not so much. But I push on, mostly because I have amazing friends whose own projects I can't resist drooling over, coveting, and so then ultimately, I attempt them myself.

So in honor of Jules's bizarre fascination with Easter, I give you these (mangled) baskets and (sadly, hideous) fuzzy chicks.

We made them out of egg carton cups and tissue paper (the baskets) and cotton balls, yellow and black markers and construction paper (the chicks from Hades). If you'd like to see the gorgeous renditions of these (chick-less) baskets that inspired our little project, do not delay, and instead go visit my friend Sarah here. (And I won't tell you that Sarah's five year old did most of the work on these, while I was mostly responsible for mangling ours because the tissue paper kept getting stuck on my glue-y fingers). While you're at it, check out some of her other projects. You'll be just as jealous inspired as me soon.

If, for some reason you are still reading and have not fled over to Sarah's (like you should have), well then I have one more thing to share with you.

This would be the "home" Jules designed for his our new baby chicks after we'd hatched them. He dictated the signage, which reads, "FEED the tropical chickens that have really sharp beaks, as sharp as a blade. Do NOT give them water," followed by another sign that warns "Don't Put Fingers in Cage."

I guess creativity runs in a different direction in our family.

05 April 2010

chew (and chew and chew) on this chicken

So I realized after uploading this photo to my computer just how obscene it looks. I'm sure there is some tutorial on food photography that bars photos of stuffed birds from this angle, but hey I didn't know. And it seemed like a good idea at the time. All fowl lewdness aside, this was one of the most properly tasteful specimens ever to spring forth from my oven. So the picture stays.

I'll come clean, though, and tell you that I have only ever attempted to roast a bird a handful of times, mostly on Thanksgiving. I've always been too intimidated by it. The washing and patting dry, the fishing out of the giblets, the sickening paranoia of cross-contamination I always get when handling a whole animal in my sink.

And had a friend of mine not sent me the link to this set of recipes by Kristen over at Cheap, Healthy, Good, I probably would have been content to buy my chicken in pieces shorn neatly by someone other than me. But this little cooking challenge I could not resist.

It starts out with roasting a 7 (or so) pound chicken and ends with using the meat to create five different dinners, most with at least one meals' worth of leftovers. Kristen claims to have made 17 meals (well, 17 servings, 5 separate meals) for $26, total. Sure, it seemed a little gimmicky. But the recipes looked GOOD. These were no chicken noodle casserole with a can of cream of mushroom soup and some frozen broccoli thrown in kind of meals. They were varied in flavor, a little Italian, a little Southwestern, a little Asian, and a whole lot of good.

So I roasted a bird. Stuffed it with a lemon which made for an oozy juicy sauce-y meal with roasted purple potatoes and carrots that had to get used up in my fridge. Day two we made White Chicken Chili and Trader Joe's Corn Muffins. Day three it was Sesame Soba Noodles with chicken and a load of crunchy veggies. Day four had us eating Cook's Illustrated Chicken Curry in a hurry with an added bunch of spinach, served with curried potatoes and homemade Puri (my Dad's favorite Indian fried bread, recipe courtesy of Manjula's Kitchen).

I have no idea how much I spent. But I'd guess less than $50, which is not bad considering all the extras. And most of the meals were even a hit with the kids.

So I will leave you with no recipes, but there are enough links above to get you started. Go check out Cheap Healthy Good for yourself!

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