Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Well Fed Network 2007 Food Blogger Awards

It's always interesting to see what gets nominated in the various categories...check out the announcement regarding nomination and voting deadlines on The Well Fed Network.

Monday, November 26, 2007

One Pan Cinnamon Rolls

Since we’re moving into a new house in two weeks and five days (not that anyone’s counting), I’m not doing a ton of elaborate cooking these days. But yesterday morning I decided I’d make my kids a sort of cinnamon roll cake thing that I saw in an add for Fleischmann’s RapidRise Yeast. It was a one-pan recipe, using a 9 and a half inch pie plate. I just happened to stumble on a 9 ½ “ pie plate at the grocery store last week, or I wouldn’t have been able to make it. I have 9” pie plates, and 10” pie plates, but not 9 ½ “. It was a Pyrex one, and it was $4. I decided it was fate, and I was meant to make the cinnamon roll recipe.

I found this recipe in an ad in the November issue of Everyday Food, and have been eyeing it for a couple of weeks. It sounds so easy, and looks so good. In reality, it is both easy and good. You mix up some dry ingredients—including two packages of RapidRise Yeast—with some water and a little melted butter. The dough then gets sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and topped with a Karo syrup-based sticky sauce.

It’s a good recipe to do with kids, because there’s little measuring, and is made in just a couple of steps. I would suggest you put the pie plate on a sheet of wax paper, parchment paper, or a cutting board if you’re letting a little person stir the wet and dry ingredients together. Pie plates don’t have very high sides, and the likelihood that a child will slop some of the dry ingredients out of the pan is pretty good. Mine did. With a piece of paper of some kind underneath it, you can just scrape whatever gets pushed out back in.

Once the dough is mixed, it doesn’t cover the entire pan, but it will expand during cooking to fill it up. I think I might reduce the sugar in the cinnamon sugar mixture down a bit. It was a pretty generous covering. And be sure the sticky sauce part covers all the cinnamon sugar mixture. If it doesn’t, the sugar just stays granular and falls off when you serve the cake. I left the nuts out of it because my children don’t like nuts, but I’d like to make it again with the nuts, just to see.

I think the nicest thing about this recipe is that you put it in a cold oven. The gentle heat of the oven warming up lets the yeast activate, whereas putting it into a hot oven would just kill the yeast before it could work. But it means you can make this recipe on a moment’s notice, without worrying about remembering to preheat the oven.

I prefer to make things like cinnamon rolls, quick breads, scones, etc, because then I can control what goes in them. There are only two tablespoons of sugar in the batter itself (which is more than compensated for by the sugar in both the cinnamon sugar topping, and the sticky topping, which is nothing but corn syrup and brown sugar; still, I like that I can control the sugar content if I like). I might even try swapping out some of the white flour for whole wheat flour. It probably wouldn’t impact the texture or flavor much, and it could make them a tad more healthy.

When I was a kid I never got homemade cinnamon rolls. It was yet another thing in the long list of stuff my mom never made me. I did get the kind that came in the can you unroll and then it pops and scares the hell out of you. They taste a lot like the cardboard the tube is made of. I hate those popping can things. When I was in college, my roommate and I used to eat a very elaborate dinner every night, consisting of a pan fried boneless pork chop, some kind of green vegetable, and a can of those popping biscuits. We’d alternate who had to open the can because we were both always afraid of the pop part. This recipe takes only slightly longer than opening the cardboard tube, and it’s far less startling.

I’ve made cinnamon rolls from scratch myself dozens of times, but my usual complaint is that they take forever. I did find a recipe in one of the Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks for some that took only about 45 minutes, but they were still a big production to make, with rolling out the dough and sprinkling the filling in and so on. The benefit to these is that preparation is minimal, which I like. They’re not Cinnabon by any means, but they’re fine for a quick weekend breakfast.

This photo is not mine; the real thing in my kitchen was a dismembered mess before I could get a picture of them. I cooked them for the stated time, but I think they could even have gone five or ten more minutes without determent to the finished product. They were just done. They were nice and moist, but just this side of done, which means they would be a little more cakelike if they stayed in the oven a few more minutes. I’d make these again for a quick brunch for friends, or for my family when they were craving cinnamon rolls. I also want to try some more of the one-dish recipes that are on the Fleischmann’s web site. There’s a fudge cake thing that looks good and easy. If it’s as easy as the cinnamon rolls, it could be a great weeknight or casual dinner party dessert.

Here’s the recipe:

For the batter:
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 envelopes Fleischmann's RapidRise Yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup very warm water (120° to 130°F)
2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the Cinnamon Sugar Topping:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the Caramel Pecan Topping:

1/3 cup Karo Light or Dark Corn Syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Mix batter ingredients in a pre-sprayed 9-1/2 inch deep dish pie plate. Combine Cinnamon Sugar Topping Ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Stir together corn syrup, brown sugar and butter in a small bowl. Add pecans and mix well. Top batter evenly with cinnamon sugar topping. Spoon the caramel pecan topping evenly over the batter. Bake by placing in a COLD oven; set temperature to 350°F. Bake 25 minutes, until lightly browned and firm in center. Cool slightly; serve warm.

Serves 8 (or two adults, and three small children who REALLY like cinnamon rolls)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Salad Daze

Thanksgiving is close at hand, and my aunt is having all sixteen of us at her house this year. About two weeks ago she gave out the assignments for contributions. My other aunt is bringing pecan pie, my grandmother is bringing a crudités platter, my cousin is bringing a vegetable, and I was assigned a salad. When she asked me if I would bring it, my aunt said, “Not really a green salad—we’ll have vegetables—but, well, I don’t know. Do whatever you think is best.”

That uncertainty struck me. Just what is a salad these days? I’ve been pondering this. The first order of business was to check out what the various accepted definitions of the word are. According to The Random House Unabridged Dictionary (I haven’t yet taken the plunge and subscribed to the OED online), there are several variations:

1. a usually cold dish consisting of vegetables, as lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, covered with a dressing and sometimes containing seafood, meat, or eggs.

2. any of various dishes consisting of foods, as meat, seafood, eggs, pasta, or fruit, prepared singly or combined, usually cut up, mixed with a dressing, and served cold: chicken salad; potato salad.

3. any herb or green vegetable, as lettuce, used for salads or eaten raw.

4. South Midland and Southern U.S. greens.

Any of various dishes consisting of foods…prepared singly or combined, usually cut up, mixed with a dressing, and served cold? It seems that we’ve expanded the definition of salad to include just about anything mixed with dressing, so long as it's served cold.

The Oxford Companion to Food starts with the derivation of the word, from the vernacular Latin sal, meaning salt. The first salads were raw vegetables dipped in salt. From there it moves to several early definitions of a salad as being a mixture of herbs, other greens, and a dressing. Herbs and being served cold seem to be the common thread in the Oxford Guide. Even when speaking of chicken salad, it’s described as chicken cut up small with, among other things, herbs, and served cold (or at room temperature; in any case, not hot).

I combed through my (greatly reduced) cookbook selection and found that salad pretty much runs the gamut. Chilled salads, warm salads, room temperature salads, salads that did contain lettuce, herbs or greens of some kind, salads that contained no lettuce, herbs or greens. Truly, as the Random House Unabridged Dictionary says, it’s just about any food cut up and mixed with dressing.

So where does that leave an overanalytical food freak? Well, I was considering a Brussels sprout salad with a warm bacon dressing and maybe some pine nuts. But I hesitate because I’ve been to lots of Thanksgiving dinners over the years (38 in fact) and at not one of them did we ever eat at the time the hostess was planning we would eat. It’s always at least a half an hour to 45 minutes later. Not that I’m criticizing my hostesses, because I’ve been the hostess who served Thanksgiving dinner half an hour to 45 minutes later than originally planned. I’m worried that the salad would be fine when we arrived, but that the bacon fat would congeal and become downright unappealing during the wait for dinner. So I think that’s out. Plus I wouldn’t want to seem like I was competing with the green vegetable category (not that my cousin would see it that way, but I’m very sensitive about stuff like that when it comes to food).

I also thought about something like a spinach salad with goat cheese, and perhaps some crumbled bacon in a vinaigrette dressing (bacon again—it’s kind of an obsession of mine). My concern is that with the cheese and the bacon, the salad might be too heavy. We want something on the light side because it is, after all, Thanksgiving dinner.

I can always go with the basic green salad—mixed greens, maybe some baby greens or arugula—with my standard blue cheese dressing. I think everyone in my family likes blue cheese (the adults, anyway), but I can’t be sure. I have one uncle who will literally eat anything (and has), and I know both my aunts and one of my cousins love blue cheese, but I’m not completely certain on the rest of the family. And I know the kids don’t like it (not that I really expect the kids to eat salad in the first place—most five year olds aren’t huge consumers of salad). Of course, to be safe, I could always just use a vinaigrette dressing. But that’s so boring. And besides, my aunt kind of said she was thinking of something other than a green salad.

I toyed briefly with a shredded carrot salad with some Middle Eastern flavors, but that’s just not Thanksgiving-y. And things like cole slaw and similar are right out—too summery. Potato salad would compete with the mashed potatoes, and again, too summery.

A Google search for “salad recipes” turned up approximately 2 million hits. The first are obvious enough—Allrecipes.com, something called salad-recipe.net, cooksrecipes.com. Then we move into the magazine hits—Real Simple, Eating Well. The choices quickly get very specific—cajun recipes, potato salad recipes, fruit salad recipes.

Let me digress right here and say that I don’t really care for fruit salad and I don’t think it belongs at Thanksgiving dinner. The husband of one of my closest friends completely disagrees, and always requests it be served, but I think that’s just wrong. Fruit salad is more of a summer dish, more of a breakfast, or possibly lunch dish, and really has no companions on a plate with turkey, stuffing, gravy and the like. It’s out of place. It just doesn’t go.

But none of this solved my problem of what kind of salad to take to Thanksgiving. I want a salad that’s suitable to the season—uses fall vegetables and doesn’t have too many out of season flavors. I also want one that’s not too heavy so that we won’t all be loaded down when dinner is over. And then too, I want one that doesn’t seem to be competing with any of the other components of the meal. I finally found what I think will be perfect in the Bon Appetit Cookbook.

Fennel, Watercress, Radicchio, and Parmesan Salad

¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 large fresh fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 large bunch watercress, thick stems trimmed
1 small head of radicchio, thinly sliced

1 4-ounce piece Parmesan cheese

Whisk oil, vinegar, 2 tablespoons grated cheese, and fennel seeds in a small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Toss sliced fennel, watercress, and radicchio in a large bowl. (Can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Cover dressing and salad mixture separately. Refrigerate salad mixture.)

Using vegetable peeler, shave cheese pieces into strips. Rewhisk dressing to blen. Toss fennel, watercress, and radicchio with enough dressing to coat lightly. Add cheese strips and toss to blend. Serve, passing remaining dressing separately.

Serves 4.

So I think this will be perfect—cool, crisp fennel, slightly peppery watercress, slightly bitter radicchio, all of which will balance the rich butter and gravy dishes that are the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. Then the Parmesan is there to make things a little interesting. It’s not just a plate of greens with vinaigrette dressing. Yet there’s not so much extra stuff that we’ll get filled up on salad and not be able to eat dinner, or that the salad will feel heavy and too entrée-like. Nor will it compete with the green vegetable dishes. The fact that it can be prepped 8 hours ahead is a bonus too. No need to worry about vegetables discoloring or wilting. Problem solved!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Modern Apron/My Mother's Recipe File at Sweetnicks

The blog Sweetnicks has a weekly feature in which Cate O'Malley posts links to recipes that are high in antioxidants, and/or have lots of fruits and vegetables (to help as all eat 5 or more servings of vegetables a day). This week my Penne wtih Chicken and Brussels Sprouts recipe is one of the featured recipes. Head over to Sweetnicks and take a look!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My First Cookbook

I’ve reading other peoples’ websites and blogs and seeing recommendations for “beginner” cookbooks. Specifically I saw advice to a young woman who was going to be renting her first apartment for the summer on her college break (it was an old post, clearly). Many people recommend Joy, about which I have moaned before. There were some other recommendations that had me wondering what they were thinking as well. Here (for those who care) is my running mental commentary on what I saw. I’m just using this particular list as a sort of representative of what people recommend as first-time cookbooks for someone starting out. There were lots of responses to this particular blog entry, so it seems like a pretty good sampling.

Silver Palate New Basics
This is actually one of my favorite cookbooks, but I don’t think I’d recommend it for someone just starting out. It’s got too much party food, and too many things too intimidate the novice. Lukins and Rosso assume a certain familiarity with cooking basics. Also, it tends to call for quite a few specialized ingredients that someone new to cooking may not understand, have, or want to invest in (some of them can be pricey).

Martha Stewart’s Basics
This isn’t the actual name of the cookbook, and I can only assume that this person is suggesting The Martha Stewart Cookbook. I own this one too, and unless the beginner is interested in knowing how to make hors d’oeuvers, and fruit tarts, this is not the book I’d recommend. I use it for a reference for lots of things, but mostly for party food. I can’t think of a single think I’ve ever made out of it for a regular weeknight dinner. If you want a book full of things to cook on a daily basis, this is not it. It’s a good cookbook, but not for everyday food. There are two new ones that are The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook, and both are also pretty good, although the recipes may be somewhat time-consuming, but if you don’t have kids or other responsibilities, they’re reliable recipes.

The Apartment Vegetarian
This is a cookbook I’ve never heard of by a woman named Lindsay Miller. The person who recommended this book was offering it as an example of what they themselves had bought, but the person asking about setting up a first kitchen didn’t say they were a vegetarian specifically. I’m not much for vegetarian cookbooks (I own one), so I can’t say if it’s any good or not. I would say that unless someone specifically asks about vegetarian cooking, I’d not recommend a vegetarian cookbook as their first purchase. There are so many bad ones out there that a novice could easily be turned off of cooking altogether, which would be sad. IMO, of course.

The Good Housekeeping Cookbook
I own the 1957 edition of this, and it’s very June Cleaver, with recommendations for which cuts of meat make the best pot roast and that sort of thing. I know they’ve updated it, and it’s probably a fine choice because I’m sure it includes lots of good information about technique and basics. It’s probably not very exciting (unless they’ve seriously spiced it up since 1957), but it wouldn’t be a bad choice. Not the most interesting, perhaps, but a decent place to start. My only concern would be that it probably offers most recipes to serve four or more, and the single person cooking alone doubtless doesn’t want to eat the same food for three days in a row.

The Gourmet Cookbook
This is the one that was published a couple of years ago by Gourmet magazine. I’d shy away from it, because Gourmet’s focus is and has always been more dinner party food than what to eat for dinner every night. They have had columns over the years that offer simple dinner suggestions, but even then their ingredient choices are expensive or somewhat exotic or both. Again, this one might be intimidating to someone just starting out.

Rachael Ray Express Lane
Sure, if you want 20 recipes for hamburgers, and another 10 for pasta, have at it. Also, you need to be able to tolerate an eye watering degree of cutesiness.

How to Cook Everything
This is probably the most interesting and sensible suggestion made. Someone cooking for themselves may still find the portions overwhelming, but if they learn to divide by 2, they’ll have a pretty solid cookbook. In addition to having good basics, Bittman also has enough fun stuff that can actually be eaten for meals, not just served with drinks. This book is a good middle ground between the how-to-roast-a-chicken instruction manual, and the chapters and chapters of hors d’oeuvres and dessert recipes.

Barefoot Contessa
Again, too much party food, too expensive for a good basic.

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
While this is a great source for things like instructions on how to make yogurt, or an English muffin recipe, I find very little in this book that really work as What to Have for Dinner. It’s a reference book to me.

Sally Schneider
Schneider actually has two books out these days, A New Way to Cook, and The Improvisational Cook. Both great books, but not beginner books by any means. They assume too much technical knowledge to be good starter books. Also, beginners in my experience want to be able to turn out things that everyone recognizes and is comfortable with. Schneider’s whole premise is that you too can be a creative cook and come up with different things on your own.

The New Best Recipe
This is the one put out by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I love to read about food, but I find Cook’s Illustrated to be even beyond my obsessive/compulsive needs. They just seem to go on for pages and pages with substitutions for this and why this worked and that didn’t. The other things is, I can’t say what’s in this specific book, but I have a couple of their books that are kind of all over the board with their content. They have a few things that are fine for everyday eating, but a lot of what they perfect seems to me to be baked goods.

My own first cookbooks (or to be completely accurate, the first cookbooks I read, because I had a ton that belonged to my mother; I just didn’t use them all from day one) were Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer, which was fine for fancy French sauces and instructions on how to make mayonnaise, and a basic James Beard (the name of which actually escapes me now). I wouldn’t recommend the Kitchen Primer to anyone starting out, unless their goal was to be able to make mayonnaise from scratch right away. The James Beard had a good discussion of things like braising, baking, broiling and what the differences were. I highly recommend James Beard (really any James Beard that isn’t one of his “single topic” books—bread, fish, etc.) as a first cookbook for anyone. He’s knowledgeable without being preachy, instructive without being condescending, and his recipes are ones you might actually use. Even after all these years, he’s still accessible and relevant.

What I’d really recommend for anyone who was just coming to cooking would be cooking magazines. Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Fine Cooking—any of these has a nice variety of easy and more complicated recipes. When I was a beginner, what I wanted was things I could eat for dinner, not things to make for a dinner party. Then, once I had gained some confidence, I wanted things I could make for friends that weren’t too complicated. Cooking magazines have all of these things, and the ingredients are usually in line with the seasons. Another problem with being a novice is that you’re not always sure what’s in season. Cookbooks don’t always help with that. Cookbooks say “run out and buy some strawberries and make this tart!” but they tell you that all year long, and the novice may be reading the book in January and thinking “Hm, that does look tasty…” and find that the berries they can get (assuming they can get any) are tasteless and mushy. They may then blame themselves for doing something wrong, when in fact it was that their ingredients were poor.

Learning about cooking isn’t like learning about other things. You don’t have to start with the culinary equivalent of the cave paintings at Lascaux or with the Greek’s contributions to architecture. You can pick up a magazine and find a recipe for Spice-Crusted Roast Pork Tenderloin and make it, without having to understand the historical recipes from which it might take its cues. All you need to know is what’s in the recipe—what to combine to make the rub, how to rub it on the pork, how to roast the coated pork, and how to tell when it’s done. Cooking can be done in a vacuum, essentially. Sure, it’s nice to understand the nuances of recipes and the fact that this or that combination of ingredients will give something an Asian or Indian or Italian flavor, but it’s not critical to know it. Once a novice has some confidence that cooking really isn’t that hard, then they can learn all about the foundation recipes and the influence of the West on Eastern cooking and vice versa.

Beginners always go for the complex, the elaborate. I know I did. I think one of the first meals I ever cooked was chicken in a cream sauce with grapes (that was before I realized I didn’t like grapes in things). Cream sauce is notoriously hard to make, and I remember undercooking the chicken in my terror over how the cream sauce would turn out. This was during a period when I had expressed to my mother my desire to learn to cook properly, and she let me make dinners for a week or so (all of them similar to the chicken in cream sauce recipe—that is, containing huge quantities of cream, butter, and like ingredients). Finally she pointed out that we couldn’t continue to eat like that on a regular basis, that we’d wind up with heart disease. She started steering me to more reasonable recipes, and I learned to do things like roast a chicken, and broil a steak. She tried to show me that simpler things were actually better than the more complicated ones, which every cook learns sooner or later.

And just for laughs, here's the recipe for the Spice-Crusted Roast Pork Tenderloin I mentioned. It's from the December issue of Fine Cooking.

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed for the baking sheet
1/4 cup plain low-fat or whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh coarsly ground black pepper
Two 1 1/2-lb. pork tenderloins, trimmed
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs (from a baugette or other white artisan-style bread)
1 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

Position a rack in the ceter of the oven and heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly oil a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet.

In a small bolw, stir together 2 tsp of the olive oil and the yogurt, mustard, garlic, salt, and several grinds of pepper. Spread this mixture over the entire surface of the tenderloins with your hands or a rubber spatula. (The pork can be slathered with the yogurt mixture and refrigerated up to 4 hours ahead.)

In a shallow baking dish, combine the breadcrumbs and the mustard, coriander, cumin, and sesame seeds. Roll the tenderloin in the breadcrumb mixture, patting so that the crumbs and spices adhere to the meat. Put the tenderloins on the baking sheet, gather up any remaining crumbs and spices, and pat them onto the top of the pork. Drizzle the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil over the top.

Roast the tenderloins for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of each tenderloin reads 140 degrees F, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Transfer pork to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes before carving it into 1/2 inch thick slices. Be sure to serve all the crumb coating that falls off during carving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Healthy Habits

I realize a terrible mistake I’ve somehow managed to make. The other day, in some exchange, my oldest son Chris said “I don’t like healthy food—I only like junk food!”

A little bell went off in my head: I’m doing to my son what my mother did to me (don’t they say we all turn into our mothers sooner or later?) with regards to food.

The thing is, what my son says isn’t even true. Of fruits and vegetables alone he loves apple slices, cucumber, peppers (red, yellow or orange), orange slices, raw green beans (odd, but there you are), baby carrots, and bananas. A limited list in relation to what’s out there, I admit, but when you’re five, that’s pretty good according to pediatricians.

I’ve just started working through this, but somehow my mother through her comments managed to make me think I wasn’t a “good” eater. I convinced myself (or she convinced me to convince myself) that I didn’t like healthy foods. It’s true that I craved a great many typically junky foods as a child, but I wasn’t really encouraged to eat healthy foods in a positive way (in a positive way, that’s key). We seldom had fresh fruits and vegetables in the house. I got canned green beans, canned corn, canned beets, but very little in the way of fresh vegetables (other than lettuce and cherry tomatoes, and I didn’t like cherry tomatoes; nor, for that matter, did I like canned vegetables), and almost never any fresh fruit. It would never have occurred to me then (and it doesn’t always occur to me now) to eat an apple as a snack.

However, Oreos and Chips Ahoy! were around a lot. As were things like Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese, and frozen pizza. The reason fresh fruits and vegetables never made the cut is because those are things people generally like to pick out on their own, and I guess my mother didn’t trust the market that delivered our groceries to pick good ones. My mom worked and didn’t have time for “traditional” grocery shopping. To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember that the market she used even had a produce section. If it did, it wasn’t much of one. We went there occasionally on the weekends to pick up one or two things, and I don’t really recall seeing fresh produce.

As a result of all of this, I had (and to some extent still have) a perception of myself as a person who doesn’t like healthy foods, and who doesn’t eat well. It is, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The truth is, when I stop to think about it, I really love things that we categorize as “healthy”—butternut squash, as an example, or broccoli, or cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts. I love all those things. And yet, I still can’t get over the image of myself as an “unhealthy” eater. It’s weird, really.

My fear is that my son is headed down the same path. Up to now if he asked for candy, like as not I’d say, “No” and then go on to deride candy as junky and bad for you. I can easily see how a small child, who wants candy, could turn that into “I must be a junky eater, because I want that.” I think that’s what happened to me with my mom.

As a child, my mother loved sweets. She also has a bit of a weight problem, so her mother tried to keep her from eating candy and cookies. My mother admitted that for years her self-worth was tied to her weight. To circumvent my grandmother’s efforts, my mother used to go to a little store where my grandparents had a charge account, and buy whatever she wanted on their tab. I presume that at some point my grandparents figured this out, and nipped that in the bud as well, but I don’t know the full story. What I do know is that my mother’s relationship with food, and her food-related self-image were skewed at best.

As a parent, I know my mother wanted to avoid inflicting those food issues on me, but somehow she didn’t succeed. I think the problem was twofold—first was the subtle message she sent me that candy and cookies were junk and bad. And I drew that common childish conclusion: “If it’s bad and I want it, I must be bad.” Second was her own ping ponging food strategy. One day she was fanatically careful about what she ate, adhering closely to the tenants of whatever diet was currently in vogue. The next day she would say “the hell with it” and eat whatever she wanted, including a bag of sour cream & onion potato chips.

So with my mother’s history, and the subtle reinforcement in my own childhood that I was a less-than-stellar eater, it’s no wonder that’s how I ended up visualizing myself. The reality is that, like my son, I enjoy the occasional crummy hot dog, or bag of M&Ms, or McDonald’s cheeseburger, but lots of times what I want is something that is not only good, but good for me. I think for the last week, my son has scorned whatever protein was offered at dinner, and requested a bowl of apple and cucumber slices. He has then eaten every one of them. Kids have fads in eating, and cravings, just as we do. If we praise them for their “good” choices, and don’t make a federal case out of their requests for candy or other “junk” foods, they’ll come to see themselves as “good” eaters with an occasional craving for something “bad,” instead of the other way around. That’s certainly the strategy I’m going to employ, because I’d like to break this trend in this generation of my family.

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Mother's Recipe File Post

I finally was able to sit down and put together the first post for My Mother's Recipe File. Swing on over and check it out!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bite Me

Somehow, there are certain bites of things that always taste best. The first bite, the last bite. This morning I realized that there’s another bite that always tastes best: the bite you don’t get. The series of events that brought this to my attention I refer to as the Toast Episode.

At 4:30 this morning, all of my children got up (how do they know when I stayed up too late and could use an extra hour of sleep?) They wanted breakfast. Patrick wanted muffins, Matthew wanted toast. There were no thawed muffins, so I lied and told Patrick we were out of them (I know, I know, I’m going to Hell for lying to my children). He agreed to toast instead.

I took the bread out of the package, and put one slice in the toaster, then the other. Patrick wailed in protest. You’d have thought I was smearing the bread with sulfuric acid and insisting he eat it.

“No, no, no, no, no! No in toaster!”

“You just want it like this?” I asked, holding up the slice of bread.


So I put it on a plate and handed it to him. “There you go,” I said.

“’Ahnt pieces,” he insisted. (Translation: I want it cut up into pieces.) So I cut the piece of bread into squares, put it on the plate, and put it on the table in front of him. He looked at it like a scientist who had stumbled on a very common and not very interesting specimen.

“’Ahnt butter.”

Butter. Okaaayyyy.

“I don’t suppose you could have told me that before I cut it into all those small pieces, could you?” I asked rhetorically. I spread each little square with soft butter and returned it to His Majesty.

“Butter,” I said.

Pause. Pause.

“’Ahnt jam.”

Jam. Fine. So put a tiny dot of jam on each little piece and set the plate back down in front of him. About this time, Matthew’s slice of toast was toasted, spread with butter and jam, cut into pieces, and set down in front of him. Patrick looked at his “toast” and then at Matthew’s. Clearly Patrick’s didn’t measure up, even though I gave him exactly what he asked for.

He reached over to Matthew’s plate while Matthew wasn’t looking, and took a piece of toasted, butter-and-jam spread bread off of it and ate it. Matthew looked back just as the square disappeared into Patrick’s mouth.

“Ahhhhhh, give it!” Matthew whined.

I intervened and explained that the piece was gone.

“All gone!” Patrick repeated proudly.

Matthew sulked. Clearly that was the very best, most delectable square of toast on the plate, perhaps the most delectable in the entire history of toast. And it was gone. All gone. And Patrick got it. I’m going to have to comb the phone book this morning and see if perhaps there’s a support group I can take Matthew to.

The fallout from this is that as soon as I post this, I’ll be thawing some blueberry muffins. I’m not sure Matthew could endure that kind of crushing blow two days in a row.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pictures from a New Kitchen

Now here are some saintly appliances if ever I've seen them. Not like some of those other transgressors I own.
The refrigerator. The cardboard comes off when the kitchen is complete, to avoid dings.

The refrigerator open. It's already cooling. How soon can I start putting stuff in the freezer?!? The funny thing is, my first thought was "Gee, it looks kinda small..." Then I looked at my crap Amana fridge in my rental house. Now this looks pretty spacious.

Where the stove will go. The installers keep referring to it as "the range." It won't actually be installed for a week or so, because they have to move the opening for the exhaust fan--it's too far forward, and in order to do that work, they need to be able to put the ladder right where the stove--excuse me, the range--would go. They actually need to rip out drywall and rebuild the soffit, so it's not a small effort, and it's easier for them if they can put the ladder right under where they're working.

For the curious, that thing way in the back next to where the stove will go is a pot filler sink. It has a really cool semi-commercial sprayer thing that's the faucet. It's just not installed yet.

AND THIS IS THE...RANGE! You can just barely see the foot of the installer over to the left (he was lying behind it working on it). Right now it's going to live in the family room until they get that fan vent moved. When I took this picture, the guy said "I sure hope you cook." And I said "Gosh, I don't...do you think I should learn how?" A comedian, that's me.

I don't have pictures of the washer, dryer, dishwasher, or exhaust hood. Because they're not exicting, really. Also, the hood was still in the box, the dryer and the diswasher were still on the truck, the washer was on its way upstairs. So no really good photo ops unless you wanted to see a shot of the inside of the Schmidt's Appliances truck.