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Archive for August, 2010

It was unbelievably hot this week.

The Child and I were flying solo on dinner and I did not have it in me to cook.  Having been home less than a week, the cupboard was still really bare.  Unless somehow I was going to work magic with evaporated milk, a can of crushed pineapple, and a little lonely leftover baked chicken thigh from the night before… we were out of dinner options.

But our produce delivery from spud! had arrived the day before.  I had one nectarine which seemed ripe enough to eat, one heirloom tomato left, and a single scallion.  Found some flour tortillas and some lettuce in the fridge, and I set to work chopping, muttering lines from The Princess Bride, “Why didn’t you list those among our assets in the first place??”

A quick salad was born of nectarine, tomato, scallion, and a minuscule amount of leftover chicken. It was lovely.

Nectarines and tomatoes are prolific at farmers markets this time of year, and I highly recommend giving this combo a try.  Child loved it, and she beat me to the single second helping.

Nectarine, Tomato & Scallion Salad

1 Nectarine, chopped
1 Medium to Large Heirloom Tomato, chopped
1 Scallion, chopped
1 Cold Chicken Thigh, chopped (any small amount of leftover protein will do – pork chop, steak, crumbled bacon, etc. – even canned black beans – or leave the protein out altogether)

Chop.  Salt.  Mix.

Serve as is, or wrapped in warmed, buttered tortillas with some chopped romaine hearts.

Makes about 3 wraps.  Feeds one mom and one ravenous kid.

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First Day of School

The Dog and The Child

The first day of second grade was this past week.  We are a little excited around here as the roller coaster of the school year begins.

Reflecting back a few years, I remember the first “so how was it” conversation with my little four-year old after her first day of pre-K.

“We sang the breakfast song.”

From what I remember, the breakfast song was a little sing-songy verse about what each of them had for breakfast that morning.  It bounced from person to person in circle time to help the kids learn names.

“Do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning?”

“We had oatmeal and banana and maple syrup!”  At which point she joyfully burst into song, singing  her verse about eating oatmeal.

Apparently all of the other kids had cereal, and *solemn pause* some kids didn’t have breakfast at all.

Wow.

This is when I carefully reminded myself that the stories shared were through the filter of a four-year old mind.  Given what we were paying in tuition, there probably were not any kids that had really shown up at their first day of pre-K without breakfast.  Right??!!??

I Must Admit…

Over the summer, I totally forgot to give my kid breakfast.  Often.  But it was a lazy summer, right?  There is no schedule.  We had no place we had to be.  And since we always eat breakfast of some sort eventually, I had a hungry kid to remind me.  It rarely got past 8:30 am before her growling tummy won out over my distractions.

But for school, we know we have to be out the door at a certain time.  So we always sit and have breakfast together before school each morning.  This year it was fried eggs with a slice of melted cheese, salami, and a side of sliced tomato.

Embellished Eggs Over-Easy

Make these one at a time in a small, non-stick omelet or crepe pan.  Melt some butter before cracking an egg into the pan.

Right after putting the egg in the pan I slice through the albumen of the whites to help them cook faster.  Runny yolks = Yum.  Runny whites = Yuck.

Sprinkle with chives or scallions if you have them. Then quickly top it with a slice of cheese before anything has time to set up too much.  Add a layer of salami or favorite lunchmeat.

Then…  to the best of your ability…  flip the whole darn thing.  This basically gives you an over easy egg with melty cheese and fried salami on the bottom.  If I am on my game I manage to flip it back over again and slide it off onto a piece of toast or half an english muffin…  crispy edges of salami on top and hidden runny yolk on the inside.

I was not however on my game this week, seeing as how I had zero bread products of any kind in the house (oops!), plus I managed to have mine fall completely apart on my first flip.  Conveniently a jumbled mess of breakfast still tastes just as good.

And no, I did not get a photo.  Just because I managed to make breakfast does not mean it wasn’t a chaotic zoo getting out the door for school!  We’re lucky I snapped a photo of her first day at all, much less her breakfast.

I like to pour a cup of coffee with my portion of breakfast, whatever it may be, and join The Child for at least part of her meal.  She seems more inclined to talk about what’s happening in school at breakfast than at dinner.  Plus, I know that if I don’t have breakfast myself I’m…  um… difficult.

And by the way, for all of you adults out there who think you are just not a breakfast person…  trust me when I say you are difficult too.  Eat something, dammit!

Which leads us to the genius of the teacher’s welcome-to-school song.  Beyond learning names, it probably gave her a good indication as to which kids would be melting into hungry puddles before morning snack time…

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Freezing Babyfood

Nothing like fumbling with ice cube trays at the cabin to remind me of how beautifully the trays at home work.  You know, back home where I have an ice maker…

When we introduced solids to our daughter we froze homemade baby food in ice cube trays.  Often this was no more effort than zipping up our own leftovers in the blender.  Once frozen, the cubes popped out smoothly and were stored in zip top bags in the freezer.  This left the trays available for the next food to freeze, and we found we never needed more than two trays.

This made meal time easier.  Just snag a frozen chunk out of a few different bags and warm up in the microwave a bit.  Easy peasy!  Dish up a little plain whole milk yogurt alongside the veg, or sprinkle a little baby cereal into the fruit of choice and we were good to go.

The ice trays we bought at the time were a different shape than the traditional cube, and as I attempted to procure a few cubes this week for my cocktail I was missing my trays at home.  Those little frozen crescents just slide right out, and never leave the fractured remnants of the cube in the tray instead of in my glass.

The only drawback to the Oxo Good Grip ice cube trays are the lids.  They are utterly useless.  Just throw them out and pretend you didn’t pay for that plastic!  Trying to get the lids on when the trays are full results in massive spillage.  Maybe that doesn’t matter with water, but with baby food that’s a real pain.  So instead of trying to stack them on top of each other, we rearranged the shelves a bit to make space for trays to sit level, uncovered and side by side until completely solid.

Our freezer is still set up this way since the trays have part-time work, freezing stock and wine-reductions now that the baby food days are a distant memory.

This cocktail however is not a distant memory.  Cheers!  Time to put new trays on the cabin shopping list for next year.

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My husband is the daring adventurer in the kitchen.  He will watch something on a television show and say, “Well that looks easy!” subsequently diving in over his elbows into whatever new technique, skill or challenge the kitchen presents.  Usually he has the child ringside to engage and participate.  Yup, The Spouse is an awesome father.  I married well.  *grin*

I am the researcher.  He has always teased that I can put together a binder on just about anything.  Geeking on family traditions and recipes makes me smile.  I enjoy digging up history of ingredients and the provenance of traditions.

This summer I set about on my own learning how to make Boiled Beef Tongue from my dad, just like my grandmother used to make.  I don’t recall ever trying this as a kid, but I remember my father wistfully recounting tales of tasty beef tongue sandwiches.  With mustard.  On rye bread.

I had never even seen one in a market before this summer’s experiment.  But  grandma’s recipe came with the cabin, and the fabulous guy from Futility Farms regularly has them for sale at the Land O’ Lakes weekly farmers market.  Family history and learning a new technique for offal?  I’m in!  Eating nose to tail is an important facet of sustainably consuming animals.

I bought a frozen beef tongue at the farmers market, found locally baked rye bread from the Eagle Baking Company, some proper German-styled mustard, and waited for my dad to visit.

Confession Time

When it came time to thaw and prepare it, it creeped me out… juuuuust a little.  For the first time in a very long while I stood before something bizarre to cook and for a brief moment thought, “Ew…”  It lay there on the cutting board looking like a beef tongue.  It has taste buds, and it looks really strange.  Maybe it felt strange because it looked so familiar?

The photos at Wasabi Bratwurst are vastly better than any of the ones I took! Photo Credit: http://www.wasabibratwurst.com/pickled-tongue/

But we eat anything around here, so I just took a deep breath and dove in.

This recipe could not be simpler and serves as a reminder of what food tasted like when money was tight and ingredients few.

She Likes It!!

I made this recipe twice this summer, and in both cases everyone who tried it has subsequently sought it out on their own.  Including the seven year old!

The first time, my father and I started too late in the day for it to fully cool as directed. So we plunked the entire thing in the fridge in the vinegar solution overnight.  This resulted in the tongue being substantially more sour and grey than the second undertaking, but no less tasty.

The Child favors the pumpernickel over caraway rye, with Hot German Dusseldorf mustard, fresh tomato, and her suggested substitution of cream cheese in lieu of the traditional mayo.

I like the caraway myself, but I must admit, I think she’s onto something with the cream cheese!

I am looking forward to further experimentation!  Simply Recipes has a Lengua Tacos recipe that looks delish.  And Japanese gyutan grilled tongue is intriguing…  Here’s to fabulous, sustainable eating on the cheap!  Huzzah!

Grandma J’s Beef Tongue

Boil covered in salt water for 3 hours.  Remove skin.  (This is much easier than one might think.) Cover with 1 part vinegar to 1 part water solution and simmer about one hour.  Allow to cool in liquid.

Remove from liquid.  Wrap in foil and slice thinly for cold sandwiches as needed.

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Swimming Bald Eagle

I had no idea bald eagles could swim.  I have seen them somewhat submerged, wings flapping, struggling to take off with a fish.  But swim?  No idea.

Best Rorschach test ever...

The lake is calm this morning, and I saw the soaring shadow from the kitchen window before it hit the fish off our dock with the predictable splash.  Then there was a strangely rhythmic splashing, and I caught a glimpse of him through the trees.  Arching those great wings up and over, propelling itself forward.  It looked bizarre, but my brain only attached one label to the action:  swimming.  I raced to wake The Child and we got down to a good view from the shore just to see it give up and take off.

Maybe it was just drying his wings so he could fly?  Or it was simply struggling with the fish and my silly brain tricked me.

The Child was packed back off to bed, and I was contemplating coffee on top of the excitement, when I heard it again.  More rhythmic splashing.  The eagle had come back for attempt number two, and it was definitely swimming.  This time I snagged the camera and skipped The Child.  No sense getting her up if it wasn’t going to stick around.  But stick around it did.  It was swimming for certain this time.  No doubt about it.  It dragged the fish to shore and all the way up the bank under the trees for cover.

I grabbed the little Canon PowerShot.  It’s on zoom, and I was shaking a bit from the sprint down the hill.  The video quality is crap.  The audio is worse.  But I don’t care, this is the best of the little bits I got.  (btw :: That’s an otter swimming away from shore in first few seconds of the video.  The loon was there as well, but just out of frame, and the mink had scampered off the dock when I came down the path.)  The Child of course was up in a flash on her own and on the pier at my side in time to see it all.

Smiles despite not being able to see the eagle enjoy breakfast

It is my 39th birthday today.  Certainly memorable.  Life is good.

Moments like this when you see how someone could believe in auspicious signs, but not me.  Just an amazing and lucky happenstance.  Unless of course, I could somehow spin this as a cosmic sign to buy a new and better camera!

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Loving Lemons

A friend recently shared this video of her 11-month old son enjoying a lemon, and it just makes me smile.

I love his giggle when the sourness gets intense.

There was substantial protesting when mom finally took the lemon away.

In our family, when it was time to bring on the babyfood, we introduced  strong flavors early on, despite the tut-tutting of concerned but well-meaning friends.  At the time we were simply being selfish.  We wanted The Child eating flavors we eat as soon as humanly possible.  In hindsight, it helped expand her palate and encourage exploration. Lemons, limes, plain yogurt, goat cheese, blue cheese, smoked fish, pickled everything, and spices… Mmmm.

The diversity of her palate did not make mealtimes less of a struggle when she hit the thunderous threes, but it gave us confidence she was capable of enjoying a wide range of flavors.

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Shopping at the local Northwoods grocery store is a bit challenging.  We get local items when we can, but when it comes to most things that is not an option.  Our area is historically trapping, logging, and mining country, not farming country.  The growing season is too short, and the soil quality is poor.  Most quality-raised food has to travel much farther than we are used to in California.  Sometimes shopping here is about choosing the least of several processed evils.  This is after all, a part of the world where it is socially acceptable to buy and serve Velveeta.

For the summer we cook like we’re camping.  We try to make careful choices while remembering that, sometimes, food is just fuel.  And without a dishwasher, one-pot meals with off the shelf ingredients have distinct advantages.
Since this cabin is typically occupied by someone in the family throughout the year, the cupboard and freezer are often filled with groceries other people have purchased.  The kind of food men buy on a fishing trip.

But no amount of Michael Pollan-esque food guilt can allow me to waste food.  I may not make the same purchasing decisions, but when the might-as-well-be-generic brand of canned peas (yes, canned peas…  shudder) are taking up space in the pantry, they ought really be eaten up.

The nice thing was that I had both bacon and a ham steak from the meat purveyor at the local farmer’s market.  I had bought a chicken from him as well and roasted it earlier in the week, so I had homemade chicken stock in my arsenal too.

Futility Farms sends a nice guy with a truck full of freezers each Thursday to sell their grass-fed beef.  Thanks to their neighbors raising animals with similar philosophical bent, there are also conscientiously-raised chicken, pork, and lamb.  The meat comes all the way from Gilman, Wisconsin.

I remembered my father mentioning my grandmother’s recipe for my favorite pea soup is made with canned peas.  And although that soup is beef based with drop dumplings, I decided to freestyle with some pork products, chicken stock, and my forsaken canned peas.

Finished in less than 30 minutes, it was fabulously cozy on a stormy, grey evening.  The Child had seconds, and requested leftovers the next day.  Like all pea soups, this one gets better each day in the fridge.

She wondered why we’d never made this before.  Good question, honey.  Turns out we will be putting canned peas on our pantry staples shopping list from now on.  Cheers to not wasting food and taking a chance.

Canned Pea Soup

1 ham steak, diced
1-2 rashers bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cans, canned peas, drained and rinsed
Homemade chicken stock
Pepper to taste

Saute the onion, bacon, and ham.  No extra oil or salt is necessary to saute as the pork bits provide sufficient fat and flavor.  When the onions are cooked through and beginning to brown on the bottom of the sauce pan, add the drained and rinsed peas.  Stir to combine and add chicken stock to cover.


Stir occasionally while the soup heats through. Some of the peas will break up on their own, and I suppose some folks might like to take a potato masher to it at this point, but we liked leaving our peas intact.

Served dinner for two, leftovers for a day or two, plus half the batch in the freezer for a rainy day.

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