Thursday, April 30, 2009


I am definitely NOT good with technology, but I decided to join Twitter, just in the off chance that I could figure it out and keep you guys updated about all things Greece. So I'm crossing my fingers that this TechnoPhobe can learn enough to keep you informed about everything I see, taste, touch.

Anybody wanna go to Greece?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We Interrupt this Blog for...

A life. I know, you thought I didn't have one, did you? And most days, weeks, months of the year, I would completely agree with you.

But this May? My life is completely jacked up.

The Good:

Hubby and I leave for Houston tomorrow night, where we'll drop the kiddos off with some very energetic, very nice grandparents. And then we head to New York and then Athens. I am praying that we do not contract the swine flu on our brief layover in New York. That would be a total Buzzkill, wouldn't you say?

The Bad:

After our Greece trip, hubby and I split up in New York. He flies home to work for the next week. I fly to Houston to help with the preparations for my sister-in-law's wedding. The helping I don't mind. The wedding I don't mind because SIL is really happy. The bad is the timing of the thing and the fact that it's an Indian wedding (well, half of it is) and, if you don't know this about Indian weddings, those things last for DAYS. And Indian weddings are also HUGE. And I don't know any other people at this wedding other than my sister-in-law and my in-laws. And unfortunately for me, I hate people.

I do. It's a most unattractive trait and it's humiliating to admit but people and I? We just don't do well together. And I have to wear a sari, which is fine except that I feel ridiculous in one. We pale blonde folk look stupid in saris. Indians look great, but not us. And I'll be wearing a bindi on my forehead. And no, I will not be posting any pictures of how ridiculous I look.

The Ugly:

After the wedding, we are home for 4.5 days and then the entire family is DisneyWorld. Amusement.Parks.Suck.Ass. Enough said.

And My Point, And I Do Have One, is:

I started this damn blog and now I'm going to have to abandon it, in essence, for several weeks. And I've gotten kind of attached to my new bloggy friends and my favorite bloggy sites and I'll miss you. I will try to check in and update but it's going to be pretty lame and pretty thin for a bit. Please, please hang in there with me. I'll be back.

Hopefully with some kick-ass stories about Athens/Santorini/Crete and The Big Fat Indian Wedding and......Hades.

And if your May is half as crazy as mine and you feel like you never can catch a break--or your breath--click on one of these links and escape to Greece with me. I'd love some company.




Gourmet's Chicken Divan

For my wonderful, kind friend Ink, who was chagrined to learn that she brought White Trash Food to Christmas dinner last year.

This recipe comes from Gourmet's 2oo4 Cookbook, which is a compilation of their favorite recipes from the past 60 years. Ink, bring this version to dinner and nobody will laugh--they'll be too busy scarfing it down.

Gourmet's Chicken Divan

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wrong-Ass Food

When I was in the third grade, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and given a 2% chance of survival. As you can imagine, she was in the hospital for some time. My dad travelled extensively for business and so my sister and I were basically at the mercy of hordes of visiting relatives. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, second cousins--you name it--everybody got a turn.

It was a pretty rotten time, and I hardly remember anything about that year, actually. But I do remember the week when my Wild Uncle Johnny was in charge of us. Uncle Johnny (my mom's older brother) was a glamorous dude. He was a world traveller, linguist, art collector, genius and unabashed gourmand.

The week he took care of us, Uncle Johnny had just come off a trip to Europe, and he declared it "International Food Week" at our house. Every day my sister and I hustled home from school, anxious to see God-Knows-What Uncle Johnny was whipping up in the kitchen. We did our homework at the kitchen table, watching him saute, braise and fricassee and in turn, he regaled us with stories of the exotic lands he'd seen. It was way better than the Travel Channel, believe me. He also introduced us to some pretty interesting food.

Under his tutelage, we tried vichyssoise (cold potato leek soup...delicious, by the way), steak tartare (my sister barfed for hours after that meal), real Texas tamales, oysters Rockefeller and spaghetti carbonara, to name a few. That blue-eyed rascal mesmerized us, that's all I can figure, because getting a third grader to happily sample cold soup and raw beef and shellfish with spinach on it is no easy task.

On the third day of his visit, I opened the refrigerator and almost peed myself. There, on the top shelf of the refrigerator, loomed a gigantic glass jar of--what the Hell was that floating in the jar, anyways?

"Pickled pig's feet," he replied nonchalantly, reaching into the refrigerator for a beer. "Absolutely delicious, mark my words. You'll love it."

The rest of the afternoon, I kept sneaking back into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator door and gawking at that enormous jar. I was so small I had to crane my neck back to even see it properly and even then, I couldn't believe what I was looking at. Pig feet. Cut off. Floating in brine. It was then I realized: there is some wrong-ass food in the world.

I can't remember if I tried the pickled pig's feet. My guess is probably not. I can't ask Wild Uncle Johnny about it because he died last year. And now that I'm older and have seen more of the world (and the supermarket), I realize that just about every country has some item of wrong-ass food in it.

Haggis. Admit it, that is wrong-ass food, you Scottish freaks. Lutefisk. Hello? Norwegians? Don't you know that lye kills people? And you're soaking your fish in it? Head cheese. You Brits are crazy motherf*#kers, you know that, right?

And don't get me started on Asia. Asia is an entire Continent of wrong-ass food. Asians put stuff in their mouths that I wouldn't look at in a zoo. Balut (duck fetus, boiled, served in the shell). Sea slugs. Bull Penis. Fried spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, you name it.

Even places famous for their good food have wrong-ass food. France? Sweetbreads and calf brains. Italy? Cibreo (cock's know, that spongy wattle-y stuff on a rooster? Yeah, that.) Spain? Bull testicles.

Wrong-ass food is on my mind today because hubby and I leave for Greece in a few days. I am beyond excited to see, smell, touch and taste a place I thought I'd only ever see in my dreams. I am also compulsive as Hell because I've read three guidebooks and I still don't think I know enough. But I do know enough to have written on the inside cover of each guidebook: Dana, whatever you do, do NOT eat patsa or podi.

Patsa, that clever dog of a dish, sounds a hella lotta like pas-ta but it ain't, I tell ya. What menudo is to Mexico, Patsa is to Greece. And I don't care how quickly it's supposed to cure a hangover--I am not eating lamb innard soup.

I'm almost tempted to order Podi just for shits and grins. In Greek, the word podi means "foot." And what you get, if the guidebooks can be trusted, is a glutinous bowl of soup with a cow's foot floating in it. Now that is a tempting photo opportunity. Still, I think I will pass. Podi's got wrong-ass written all over it.

And if you think I've forgotten the good old U.S.A., you are wrong. I am an Equal Opportunity Crap-Slinger. Yes, my darling America, you too have plenty of wrong-ass food. Shall we start with, oh, I don't know......meat loaf?

***A Note to Uncle Johnny: Okay, you know I'm an agnostic and so you probably, if I think about it, can NOT hear this or see this right now, but here goes. You know that week you were here? That was one of the most memorable weeks of my life. All that cooking and CRAZY food and those nutty stories that probably had an ounce of truth in them? They swept me away. And now that I'm an adult, I understand exactly what you were doing. Thank.You.

Monday, April 27, 2009

White Trash Food: A Confession

My sister-in-law is getting married this month, which is a good thing. Now my mother-in-law can find something else to keep her up at night. The other day, I got a bridal shower invitation from a friend of my SIL's reading: Please bring your favorite kitchen gadget and 3 recipes for the bride's new recipe box.

Recipe Box? Do people even still have those things?

I loved riffling through my mother's recipe box as a kid. Most of the recipes were splattered with some kind of detritus or crumpled slightly or water-marked. But mom's recipe box was a bone-fide historical document.

The recipe for our annual Christmas butter cookie? Given to my mother by one of her students in 1964 after my mother confessed she couldn't bake (this whole baking disorder is genetic, obviously). The recipe for vichyssoise? A gift from my uncle during one of his brief flirtations with French cuisine. Chocolate cake? Aunt Lou. Fancy spaghetti? That lady in North Dakota whose kid was a biter. Pasta primavera? A relic from my college days when I flirted with vegetarianism.

All of my mother's recipes were lovingly handwritten and passed along by someone kind enough to share. My mother could go through that box and name every person behind each smeared card, and every card had a story to tell.

I keep my recipes in very organized 3 ring binders and a lot of them have sleek pictures from magazines accompanying them, but the charm just isn't there. As I was flipping through my binders, trying to figure out which 3 recipes would make the cut, I stumbled upon a musty old recipe card from my childhood. I must have gotten it from my mother at some time, or stolen it outright--I have no idea.

This particular recipe was for a dish I loved, loved, loved growing up. And it looked like a lot of the other recipes in my mother's collection; in short, it was White Trash Food. Now c'mon there, you know what I'm talking about and don't pretend you didn't eat and love a few White Trash delights of your own growing up.

White Trash food, at least for me, is some kind of casserole containing soup. And maybe some Velveeta cheese. And some bread crumbs or fried onions on top. And as much as I cringe today at recipes that read: Add a can of cream of mushroom soup, some of those casseroles were kinda tasty.

I didn't include my White Trash recipe when I filled out my 3 recipe cards. Stuff like that just doesn't cut it today. Paula Deen can get away with cooking crap like this but she has that whole Irresistible Southern Charm thing going on. And I certainly don't think I'll be serving this to my husband because say the word Casserole and he turns green around the gills. I guess Indian people (dots, not feathers) don't do casseroles. And that's fine by me.

But I think even the most hardened Food Snob has a soft spot for some kind of White Trash food. It's a little slice of the past, served up with reverie, that takes you back to Mom and the warm kitchen of your childhood.

My favorite part of this recipe is the last line, written by my grandmother: Delicious as an accompaniment to meat loaf with a tossed salad. You think I'm shitting you, but I'm not.

Broccoli and Rice Casserole (serves 8)

Cook 2 cups of rice according to directions.
Cook 1 package of frozen chopped broccoli and drain.
Heat up 1 can cream of mushroom soup and add 1 jar of Cheez Whiz.
Chop 1 can of water chestnuts.

Mix everything together and put in a buttered casserole dish. Cover and bake at 350 for about a half hour.

Note: Like most White Trash recipes, there aren't really any detailed directions eg: size of the jar of Cheez Whiz/package of broccoli and I haven't eaten it since about 5th grade, so I can't help you out there.

And no, I'm not going to make this and report back to you. Some things are better left to the fuzzy lens of memory. But if you'd like to share your childhood favorite with me, I'd love to hear it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cooking Together: Bull's Eyes

When I was little, my mother would cook big weekend breakfasts--to order. Yeah, I was that spoiled. My sister usually wanted eggs or french toast. My father, bacon and toast or sometimes sausage. Me? I always ordered the same thing: a big bowl of Uncle Ben's converted rice with loads of butter and salt. Once and always a Carb Queen.

My mother never missed a beat; she fixed me my rice and I was happy, until my sister would look across the table at me and mouth the word Freakshow. I never told on her though, because deep down, I knew my breakfast of champions was, indeed, odd.

Three decades later, I'm still eating weird crap for breakfast. I don't do cereal, yogurt, waffles, pancakes or any sweet food, for that matter. My ideal breakfast usually looks like this.

Yeah, that is leftover hot and sour soup from 2 nights ago. But it's great at 6:30 in the morning, although my husband walks by and gags when he sees what I'm eating.

Most people who claim to hate breakfast food just hate breakfast period. They don't wake up hungry and the idea of eating first thing in the morning leaves them cold. But that's not me. I wake up ravenous. Always have. But I don't want any of that sugary dreck that passes for breakfast food.

And don't get me started on eggs. I used to eat them once in a while (usually in some cheesy Perkins or IHOP at 2am, in a stupor) but now I can't. I had morning sickness when pregnant with Miss D. and just the smell of a cooked egg sent me running to the toilet. To my credit, I still made eggs for my husband then (and I do still now) but not without a running commentary about my sacrifice and devotion and "damn, I'm a good wife" martyrdom. The smell of eggs, for some reason, is still unbearable.

Perhaps to spite me, both Miss D. and Miss M. adore scrambled eggs. Miss D. likes hers so runny that I know she's at risk for salmonella poisoning, but that's the way she eats 'em, so that's the way I make 'em. Miss M. puts enough salt on hers to kill a garden of slugs. They love eggs...but just scrambled. I've tried frittatas, quiches, soft-boiled, poached, coddled--you name it. Nope. Scrambled it is, and scrambled it has been about 3 or 4 days out of the week since the girls started solid food. I grin and make them and valiantly try not to inhale.

This weekend, Miss D. and I were looking through a cookbook for kids penned by Paula Deen and we stumbled upon the recipe for Bull's-Eyes. "Lets make this tomorrow morning, okay?" Minx said, and since she gets to pick sometimes (and boy was I glad to dodge the yeast bullet) I said okay.

Then I had the incredible savvy and brilliance to drink at least an entire bottle of wine by myself the night before the egg project. Granted, it was over a time period lasting from 4pm until midnight, but that's still a buttload of wine and I woke up feeling severe imbiber's remorse.

I lurched into the kitchen and Miss Perky was bright eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for the egg project! I needed a Bloody Mary like nobody's business and there wasn't a drop of Snap E Tom in the house. Shit.

So I feigned enthusiasm and we made Bull's Eyes for breakfast. I sort of knew what they were; I recall a scene in the movie Moonstruck where Olympia Dukakis does something similar , with the addition of sauteed roasted red bell peppers. We didn't do the peppers routine, but the method is pretty straightforward:

Melt a pat of butter in a small nonstick skillet over low heat. Using a knife or a cookie cutter, make a hole in the center of a piece of bread. Note: We added an element of challenge by using, Gasp! Wheat Bread. Which my kids will not touch, not ever, no way. Hello Mommy! It's brown! You expect us to ingest brown food? Well, I ask it of their father, so why not them?

Place the cut-out slice of bread in the skillet and crack an egg into the hole in the middle. Since this was a Miss D. and Mama cooking together enterprise, it took a little longer than planned, and the bread got pretty toasty, but that's okay. Cook until the white of the egg is beginning to set, about 2 minutes. Using a spatula, flip the whole shebang over and cook 2 more minutes.

I don't know if it was my cast-iron skillet or my flipping technique or what, but our Bull's-Eyes drooled a little.

Luckily, the girls thought that was Supercool! and did not make me cook more eggs, which is a good thing, because I wanted to throw up in my mouth. Hangover+cooked egg smell? Mommy is NOT feelin' it this morning, let me tell you.

I gilded the lily and added a big shake of salt. Those little minxes ate it right up. Even the wheat bread, even the drooling yolk. They got to use their own plastic forks to cut it up and they felt all Rambo and grown up. Or as grown up as you can be when running around without underwear because potty training is not going well.

My Awesome Stepkid R likes to eat his like this.

Which sent me out the door, to the grocery store, in search of tomato juice.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Next Day Fried Rice

serves 4

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil, divided
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (or if you are lazy like me, about a teaspoon of the bottled minced kind)
1-2 teaspoons minced bottled ginger (lazy)
1 shallot, minced
6 oz. of your favorite protein (I usually go for shrimp or chicken, but your call)
3 cups COLD cooked leftover rice, I like basmati or brown, personally
1 cup assorted chopped veggies--I usually do 1/2 cup shredded carrot or diced red pepper and 1/2 cup snow peas or thawed frozen peas
1 cup bean sprouts
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons sliced scallions (optional)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger and shallot and saute 1 minute. Add your favorite protein, sliced thinly (if it's chicken, beef or pork) and stir fry until just cooked. Remove from pan and set aside.

Heat remaining oil in skillet, add veggies (not bean sprouts) to the pan until just beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add sprouts and cold leftover rice. Cook for 2 minutes or until rice is coated and sprouts are just beginning to wilt. Make a well in the center of the rice mixture and pour in the eggs. Using a spoon, move the eggs around until just scrambled. Add the protein back to the skillet and drizzle with soy sauce, sesame oil and red pepper. Toss to combine, heat through 1 minute and serve, topped with scallions if you so desire.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Recipes and Re-cap: Family Dinner #1

Against my better judgement, I did eventually emancipate the inmates. They set the table (still sniffling) and hustled back outside.

"Harryboy" Chicken Lollipops
serves 4

1 pound jumbo chicken tenders
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons Mirin (japanese white wine)
1 teaspoon bottled fresh chopped ginger
1 teaspoon honey

Combine all ingredients in a large plastic zip-top bag and shake to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours or on the countertop for 30 minutes. Thread each chicken tender onto a skewer, satay-style. Grill for 3 minutes per side or until cooked through. Our grill currently has a wasp's nest in it, so I just popped ours under the broiler. Which worked fine, but I missed those cool grill marks on the chicken.

Peanut Dipping Sauce on the Side

1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2-3 tablespoons honey (depending on how sweet your peanut butter is)
1 tablespoon Sriracha chile sauce (for the adult version only--I left it out of the kiddo's)

Whisk all ingredients together and put into small bowls for dipping.

The verdict: Miss D. really liked Harryboy Chicken. She declared the dipping sauce nasty and her sister, of course, followed suit. In fact, she trumped her--I believe Miss M. said nastynastynasty. Still, I was pleased, because both girls ate their chicken and it wasn't fried!

We adults liked our sauce just fine, by the way.

Sesame Stir-Fried Snap Peas
serves 4

1 8 oz. bag sugar snap peas (de-stringed in my house but it's up to you)
1/2 cup shredded carrots (I also get these in the bag...lazy!)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons peanut oil plus 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the combined oils. Add snap peas and carrots and stir fry until just crisp tender, about 3-5 minutes. Toss with sesame seeds, salt and pepper.

The verdict: Both girls picked at the snap pea mixture until Miss D. discovered that if you open up the snap pea, Viola! There are little tiny baby peas inside! Supercool! So they ate them, although they picked out the carrots and weren't that jazzed about the sesame seeds. Again, I am happy--my kids+green vegetable? Awesome!

The basmati rice was an experiment. I usually make mine on the stovetop, and it always comes out great. A fellow (much more competent) food blogger called The Wednesday Chef had posted this recipe for basmati rice, which begins cooking on the stovetop but finishes in the oven. I was intrigued, so I tried it. I used butter instead of oil, because let's face it, butter is delicious. I also used chicken broth instead of water, because I think it adds flavor. This recipe makes a lot of rice, so be warned. However, I love using leftover rice for fried rice the next day, so I was psyched.

The verdict: Miss M. scarfed this rice and asked for more. I wasn't surprised, because she is Carbo Queen...alas, so is her mother. Miss D. took a few bites and decided that rice is NOT her favorite prom date. Which is what she always does with rice. I cannot believe that girl is half Indian.

The rice turned out well; however, if you use the method above at high altitude, I might add a couple of minutes on to the cooking time. The grains were rather firm.

Breakdown of the Whole Family Dinner Experience:

I think we got a C. It was too gorgeous outside and the girls were decidedly un-psyched to be called inside to sit and do such a mundane thing as eat. But we toasted before the meal and felt (at least me) grateful to be together.

Miss D. decided to be Cruise Director and asked everyone, "So, how was your day?" Which is how I learned that gross-a-rama, somebody barfed in the middle of math class today.

Approximately 12 minutes into the meal, Miss D. squealed, "Omigod, guys, there's two bunnies outside!!!!" And Family Meal #1 was pretty much over. But there were flowers to smell and bunnies to chase, and nothing can compete with that.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Prelude to Family Dinner #1

Okay, it wasn't that bad. Things look better the morning after...sort of like an awkward first date.

I don't know about the rest of you, but in my world, the hours between 4 and 7pm are like the eighth ring of Hell. They really are that amazingly hideous. Minx has barely managed to contain her ADHD jitters and jabbers during the very long school day, so the minute she hits home plate, she is rocket-powered. That girl is ready to par-taaaaaay, and don't y'all be tryin' to do things like sitting her down for homework or attempting to entice her into the bath. Uh-uh.

Minxette is 3--which is probably enough information right there--but she is also intent on giving up her nap, so by 4pm she is in a mood. And she really thinks her sister's screaming, running and inisistence upon chasing her with sharp objects is annoying as shit.

You want those two critters as your dinner guests? I didn't think so. I don't want them either.

Originally, I had planned to have Miss D. help me make dinner, which would have killed two birds with one stone. Family Dinner Night, check;Cooking one thing a week with Miss D.,check. Which, technically, is cheating. I'm supposed to do those things separately, aren't I? Who is this lame-ass Loser who just started a blog and is already planning to cheat? C'est moi. But you knew that I was lame and incompetent and lazy, so you're not too surprised, are you? Me neither.

The Karma Gods had their priorities straight, though, and my mission was doomed from the get-go. Miss D. had zero interest in helping me prepare dinner and Mother Nature had produced an incredibly gorgeous Spring day. Thus, Minx and Minxette were free, so they happily rattled out the back door and I got down to business.

Just planning what to fix for Family Meal One was a nightmare. It had to be something challenging, but not too scary as to scar the children for life. It had to be something they normally wouldn't eat, but nothing so repellent as to trigger a gag reflex. See the dilemma?

After several days of thought, I came up with a menu. And I admit that I sort of cheated. Gee, what a surprise there. I was watching the Food Network (aka: crack for the Stay-at-Home-Mom) and up popped Rachael Ray--that perky, chimpmunk-cheeked hag--and of course I had to watch. I can't ignore Rachael Ray any more than I can help gawking at a car crash, I'm sick that way.

And Rachael perkily insisted that children love eating food on a stick. It's just so much fun!! So I believed her and decided to make Chicken Lollipops! Okay, that's what I called them and looking back on it, it's so cutesy and devious that it makes me want to barf, but I'm guilty, so I'll admit it. Chicken Lollipops were, in essence Chicken Satay with Sauce on the Side. Sauce on the Side is critical in my house. If Sauce Isn't on the Side, it's a freak show, I tell you.

Partners in crime to the Chicken Lollipops were Sesame Stir-Fried Snap Peas and Basmati Rice. Nothing too out-there, I thought. As I was threading the marinated chicken onto the skewers, Miss D. whizzed into the kitchen for a drink. She saw me skewering the raw chicken, stopped dead in her tracks and eyed me suspiciously. "That's for Harryboy, right?" Harryboy is the cat. Sigh.

I explained that No, this was not for Harryboy and that Yes, chicken looks rather suspect when it's raw, but that trust me, chicken is delicious when it is cooked. EVEN if we don't bread it and fry it. She shot me a distrustful look and then whizzed back outside.

I started the rice, took the little strings off the back of the snap peas (a fussy and ridiculous practice, but my kids do not do strings. Just ask last summer's rejected corn on the cob) and started making the Sauce on the Side. Things were humming along.

Ring! Telephone, hubby's been delayed a bit. Deep breath, no problem, nothing's really been started yet, no honey it's okay rea.... "YAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHLLLLL!!!" There is a hideously loud, feral howl coming from the backyard. Minx is attempting to decapitate Minxette in a frenzy of rage.

"ShehidmyunicornintherocksinthebackyardandnowIcan'tfinditit'sgoneforeverandIhateherIreallydoshe ruinseverythingthatunicornwasNEWandI'llneverhaveanotheronelikeitandIhateher!"

"I realize that you are angry but it is not okay to attempt to rip your sister's head off."

"BBBBAAAAAAWWWWWWAAAAAGGGGGHHHH! She said she hate me! Hating not okay! You said nobody get to say hate you in this family mommy!" Great. Minxette is now hysterical also.

In a moment of motherhood brilliance, I stomp my foot and yell, "I've HAD it! Both of you, go to your rooms NOW!" The wailing gets subsequently louder and doors are slammed and I am going to have to resort to this
to get me through the night. And dinner hasn't even started yet.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Family Dinner Night #1

Family dinner night was...really craptacular. More later. Must.Go.Drink.Shiraz.And.Suck Thumb in a Corner.

Recipe for the Un-Brown, Un-Crap Mediterreanean Chicken Orzo Salad

So, if I hadn't been such a lazy waste of skin the other day, this is what the real orzo salad recipe would have looked like. It's good. Especially on a hot summer night when you want something cool and fresh for dinner.

Mediterreanean Chicken Salad

serves 2-3 very good eaters, can easily be doubled

1/2 pound orzo

1/3 of a red onion, chopped
1 cup of any of the following: english cucumber, chopped; frozen peas, thawed
or artichoke hearts, chopped...but I've also made it with leftover grilled zucchini and eggplant--works too.
1/2 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper, jarred
1/2 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/2-2/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or basil, whichever you prefer
1 cup chopped cooked chicken, either rotisserie leftovers, poached or grilled, your choice
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional, but I like the crunch they give)

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1/3 cup good quality olive oil
1 teardrop of honey
dash salt/pepper

Cook the orzo as per package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water, set aside.

While the orzo cooks, chop the salad ingredients. If you don't want to make your own viniagrette, use your favorite bottled brand, but it's so easy to make your own, why not? Plus, bottled varieties usually use shitty olive oil.

Toss orzo with salad ingredients (except for pine nuts) and add half of the viniagrette. If it seems dry, add more. If not, save it for later because the salad will soak up the dressing as it sits. Add more whenever it seems to get dry.

Chill salad for at least an hour to let flavors combine. When it's chilled, taste and add salt/pepper as needed. Feta and olives are salty, so you may not need more salt, but I always add more pepper. Toss in pine nuts.

Best served with a cold beer or glass of wine with someone you love, and maybe some warm bread.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Apology to my Husband

Dear Husband, forgive me, but my ass is too lazy to make it to the grocery store.

We could order Chinese, but we did that 2 days ago. Don't even think about pizza. Pizza is what got me here in the first place. I NEED to go to the grocery store but Minxette is trying desperately to give up her nap so she is foul and I am lazy.

Thus, I'm going through the refrigerator trying to figure out how to make something out of nothing. It don't even gotta be that good, lemme tell you, but I need to come up with something.

A quick scan of the refrigerator gives me dismal news: the only fresh vegetables I have in the crisper are part of a red onion and a ridiculously lame sprig of flat-leaf parsley. Huh, there's also a wizened lime in there. Who knew?

Time for plan B. Open the freezer. Oh dear. One lonely chicken breast and 1/3 of a bag of frozen peas that came from SuperTarget, for chrissakes, not even the grocery store.

Plan C. Open the pantry. Now here is where it behooves you to grow up in North Dakota, people. North Dakotans are always fearing the next snowstorm, so they stock their pantries like the Mormons. I grew up this way and it rubbed off; I am bean and rice Diva! Except...looks like I've been out of North Dakota too long because all we have is about 1/3 of a bag of orzo. What's with this 1/3 of a package crap going on here?

Aha! I spy out of the corner of my little eye...jarred roasted red peppers and kalamata olives! Yes!

I reach behind me and pull out from my (you know where): Mediterrenean Chicken Orzo Salad. Sounds kinda fancy even. Aw man, do I have goat cheese? Rip open refrigerator door; confirmed. My weakness for cheese pays off sometimes, it does.

I boil the orzo, chop the little onion and parsley that I have, chop the peppers and olives. The cat vomits on the carpet--I know--TMI for a recipe blog, but I have to deal with it immediately, because Minxette is showing interest in said cat vomit. Pause.

So it took a little longer than expected to clean that bit of sunshine up and the orzo is just a teeny bit south of al dente but, Understanding Husband, I know you will not say a thing. Now, for the viniagrette.

Where's my vinegar? The everyday salad vinegar that I always have? Okay, not happening, so what else do I have. Viola! Balsamic from Zingermans. A very dark colored balsamic vinegar that is going to turn the pretty white orzo and the red peppers and the green peas and the creamy feta...brown. Is there any other acidic thing in the house I can use in this viniagrette? I have a brief conversation with the lime and that's a negatory. So, I guess it's BROWN dinner tonight, my love.

What? Is that mustard you spy on the countertop, my Loving Husband? No, no, no, honey, you know that I know that mustard is one of your most hated things. I would never, not ever, put mustard in the viniagrette. Except that from day one of our courtship I, the woman who loves you, has been sneaking mustard into every viniagrette you've ever eaten. And you, dear husband, have never known and eaten it happily, so IN it goes, along with some glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Shred the chicken, which I've poached in chicken stock, bay and peppercorn--okay, I probably should have grilled it but I didn't want to dirty a grill pan...gosh, can we just key in the word lazy and this post pops up?

Mix everything together and add the black as night balsamic viniagrette and we have...dinner that's really not very attractive. Because, of course, it's brown.

I ought to toss the whole thing. But I taste it. Hey. Not bloody bad, if I must say so myself. Eh, what the heck, looks aren't everything Sweet Husband, you knew that when you married me, so this is the dinner you're getting. And luckily for me, you just phoned to remind me that you're on call tonight, so you'll be too hungry and too pooped to care when you get this ugly mess for dinner tonight.

Hugs and kisses,
Your Loving Wife
ps: Since you are on call tonight, your kids get this for dinner.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Family cooking project 1 (sorta): Easter Cupcakes

So, okay, I know I'm supposed to be *mainly* focusing our Family Meal Rehab Project on healthy food and all, but hey, Easter was looking me in the face, so what's a girl to do?

A girl makes cupcakes, that's what she does! With lots of little helpers. I let Miss D. pick our Easter project out of a great cookbook she got for Christmas, called Hello Cupcake! by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson. Miss D. picked the Easter egg cupcakes seen on the bottom of the page here.

Compared to most of the cupcakes in the book, these seemed manageable. I was greatly relieved, because as you know, I do not bake, and I am also painfully devoid of any kind of "crafty gene." Crafts and I don't mix. I mangle crafts, if I do not manage to kill them outright. I don't know how Martha Stewart manages things--that witch--and I never will.

I also cheated like hell.

I used a Sprinkles cupcake mix from Willliams-Sonoma. And jarred icing. I know, I know, this is a pathetic start to a food blog of any worth, but our weekend was packed with activity and I hate to bake and, well, I suck, okay? You knew all about my suckage from the first post in this blog, so don't expect a girl to change overnight.

Miss M. and Miss D were so excited about the cupcakes (and made so much racket and havoc) that I was actually able to entice my Supercool Stepkid R into the kitchen. When cupcakes win out over Grand Theft Auto 4, you know you've got a good project going on.

The Sprinkles cupcake mix--dark chocolate--came together easily as per package directions and the girls found the batter irresistible.

They baked up dark and rich and promising, much better than I actually expected from a mix. Wahoo! This is easy peasy stuff!

Not so fast, caterpillar. The next step involved trimming graham crackers into attractive egg shapes using a template and a serrated knife. Ummmm, have you ever tried to trim a graham cracker? You know, those graham crackers that are scored so that they are easy to break into sqares, not ovals?

Thank God for Supercool Stepkid R, because he patiently trimmed an ENTIRE box of graham crackers down to TEN successful egg shapes. It was a mess! We did discover, about halfway into the process, that it was a little easier to cut them if we slightly dampened the tops with water. Desperation breeds invention.

The rest of the process was much easier. We frosted the graham eggs, rolled them in superfine colored sugar, attached the eggs to the top of the cupcakes with a little dollop of frosting, and embellished accordingly.

I thought our finished product was a reasonable facsimile of the cookbook photo. And yeah, we cheated like bandits, but we had a lovely time and got good and silly and messy. R did make a cupcake that looked eerily like Frank the Bunny from Donnie Darko, but we got over it.

So perhaps I shouldn't really count this Easter cupcake episode as an official start to Family Meal Rehab, but it wasn't a bad way to spend a few hours on a gloomy afternoon. And I got my 16 year old away from the Grand Theft Auto 4!! Am I proud or what?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Meat Loaf Has Something to Hide and Other Food Phobias

Yes, I have phobias about food. Several of them, in fact. I blame my mother. Allow me to explain.

When I first made what I now simply refer to as The List, I called my best friend Kristen. "15 foods!" I howled into the phone. She agreed that 15 was a pretty pathetic number. We brainstormed ideas, trying to find a way to get Miss D. to consume new/more nutritious food. Our ideas were, frankly, pretty lame and consisted of basically either bribery or force.

Then she said something interesting. "Well, you could always pull a Jessica Seinfeld."

For those of you who have been living in a cave for the last several years, Jessica Seinfeld (wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld) penned a little book
called Deceptively Delicious. In this book, Mrs. Seinfeld advocates making nutritious purees of fruit and vegetables, mixing said purees into kid-friendly food such as pizza and lasagna and--basically--fooling your child into eating things s/he would never allow down their gullet otherwise.

I have a problem with this. To me, it just seems kind of underhanded and deceptive.

Now I know you could argue that sneaking veggies into Junior's marinara is a helluva lot better than letting your kid exist on pizza and chicken nuggets, and you just might have a point there. But tricking my kid, even for what might be a good reason, leaves me cold. I don't want to do it. More importantly, I don't think I should do it.

And here's why. First of all, "tricking" toes a pretty fine line with "lying" and I've told Miss D. that lying is WRONG.

Which brings me to my first food phobia--Meat Loaf. Growing up, I liked to play in the kitchen while my mother cooked dinner. Cooking seemed kind of like magic to me: take a bunch of ordinary stuff and put it together and "Poof!" something delicious comes out. My mom thought I was just pushing a bunch of Matchbox cars around, but I was paying attention. Which is how I discovered that my mother hid LOADS of crap I didn't like in meatloaf. Leftover spinach? Went in. Mushy carrots from two nights ago? In. Zucchini? Shredded and in. I was traumatized.

My mother, the one who threatened to beat me within an inch of my life if I told an untruth, was dishonest with the meatloaf! All the while I'd been eating dinner, completely unaware that she had been hiding hideous shit in my food! I don't think I ever really trusted her again after the Great Meatloaf Debacle of 1974. If I could spare Miss D. the agony of that particular moment in my childhood, I was certainly going to.

I've never even been able to look at meatloaf since that episode. It became clear--meatloaf is hiding something. I don't like deceptive food.

My second argument with "pulling a Jessica Seinfeld" is that, frankly, in the Real World, people eat Real Food. I can't follow Miss D. around for the rest of her life, happily pureeing beets and slipping them into her pancakes. Sooner or later, Daphne's going to have to grapple with beets. Might as well be sooner than later. Chances are, she's going to (like her mother) gag on them and cringe in disgust, but at least she'll see the beet and know where it came from and learn how to cook it and then reject it. And it also means that Mommy has to give beets another try, which in itself is a good lesson. Second chances are generous and lovely things.

When I approached Miss D. with the plan for Family Meal Rehab, she was surprisingly agreeable. I was amazed and pleased and proud. And then she came back at me with wiles I didn't know she had.

"Sure Mama," she said, "but sometimes I get to pick what we cook, right?" This seemed like a reasonable request, so I agreed.

She smiled, in her devilish Minx-y way and said, in a little sing-song voice, "You're gonna have to baaaaaaaaaaaake."

That little turd.

She knows I don't bake. I have a deep fear of yeast. I admit it. Yeast frightens the crap out of me. It has ever since the Mishap of the Exploding Sourdough Starter of 1986. Yeast is alive! It is alive and temperamental and high-maintenance. Yeast is like that nightmare of a college roommate you had your freshman year.

Shudder. But I had to admit, the Minx had me there--if she wants me to have another toe-to-toe gunfight with yeast, so be it.

I just pray to God she doesn't decide to conquer meatloaf. .

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reason I'm a Crap Mum #458

Alas, this is a true story:

Last year, for Mother's Day, Miss D.'s Kindergarten class did a project where they answered the question: I Love My Mommy Because...and accompanied that thought with a picture. Then, at the Mother's Day party the class held for us, the projects were hung up on a wall in the classroom for all of the mommies to see.

It was so touching to read what some of the children said. "I love my mommy because she gives the best hugs/I love my mommy because she will never leave me/I love my mommy because she has the softest skin/I love my mommy because she smells like the rain..." I was getting goopy eyed just reading them.

Then I spied Miss D's entry, which was, of course, the most flamboyantly decorated of all of the projects (the girl loves her bling). The picture was of a yellow haired stick figure pushing a grocery cart. The grocery cart was covered in glitter and sequins. Above it was the following caption: I Love My Mommy Because She Buys Me Sugary Snacks.

I wanted the floor to crack open and swallow me right then and there. The other moms would stroll by, glance at Miss D's project, do a double take and start to titter. Yeah, Miss Smells Like the Rain Mommy, go ahead and laugh, you crack whore. YOU aren't Sugary Snack Mom, so you just go ahead and giggle your size 2 ass off.

I am ashamed to say that I didn't keep the project. Yeah, I threw the evidence away. Which makes it even worse. Now I'm Sugary Snack Mommy who is Mean Enough to Throw Her Daughter's Homemade Gifts Away.

But it gets worse.

This year Miss D.'s class is doing an entire page-long questionnaire about their mommy. I can't wait to hear what she says this year. Because suddenly this year, I am not as beloved as Sugary Snack Mommy. Sugary Snack Mommy had things good and she didn't even know it. This year I am "Mommy Isn't Funny, Daddy Is Funny" Mom. I am Enforcer of Homework Mommy, Quick to Lose Her Temper Mommy, Chore Assigner Mommy and, perhaps most crushing of all, Boring Mommy.

Yeah, my kid told me I was boring. And I, an adult who should be above it all, am hurt.

Miss D. and I aren't getting along very well right now. She's always been my difficult Minx, but lately it's hard for me to be good natured when she does her usual Minx-y things. I am tired and my husband's been working more/longer and I have suddenly become the Bad Cop. She doesn't think I'm funny. Or fun.

And I'm afraid that she's kind of right. So part of this Family Food Rehab project is selfish. Cooking is the ONE thing I do well, so maybe I can glean a sliver of respect from Miss D. during this project. And cooking is time spent together, which we desperately need. And cooking, best of all, is fun.

I need all the help I can get.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Reason I'm a Crap Mum #457

I Swear I was Raised Better Than This.

So you probably think that my family got into this dysfunctional dinner pattern because I was raised by, well, wolves or something. Nope. My mother raised me the Southern Way, which translated means "Totalitarian control." Dinner was on the table at 6p.m. sharp. The entire family sat down together. We ate what was served and Heaven Help Us if we whined. We made polite conversation. We used proper manners, which were drilled into our brains at an early age (I can still hear the disapproving voice saying,"Dana, Dana/strong and able/get your elbows/off the table.") We asked to be excused. We thanked my mother for the lovely dinner. AND we helped with the dishes.

The ugly truth: my family eats together maybe once every 10 days. I have no excuse...and yet I have excuses. The kids are starving at 4p.m. and eat dinner then; my husband is a busy physician and works late often; I cook adventurous meals that NO child would eat, let alone mine; it is really the only pleasant time of day my husband and I share together and honestly, I don't want it marred by whining and crying and poking at food.

The benefits of the "family dinner" have gotten lots of press lately, and for good reason. I've seen the statistics--I bet most of you have. And still, I cannot manage to get a healthy meal on the table that all of us will eat (or at least try to eat without drama) at one consistent time on one consistent day. Why am I so lame?

My mother pulled off family dinners every night of the week, did all of the shopping, laundry, ironing and housekeeping herself, never went out without full makeup and a matching belt and never, not even once made me eat the hot lunch at school. I cannot compare and I'm not even going to try to.

But I can do better than my current standard. Certainly. Now (as has already been proven, handily) I am a woman of low standards, so my proposal, Gentle Reader, is modest.

A Modest Proposal--and No, I'm Not Talking About Eating My Young.

This is the plan. The project. The Family Dinner Rehab. Call it what you will. For a year, Miss D. and I will cook something together once a week. She will try it, and I will report back to you. AND my family will eat together as a family (the same meal) once a week.

Now some of you, perhaps people who are superhuman like my mother, are scoffing. Big Deal, you say, once a week is hardly anything. But it is for my family. And honestly, I'm not so sure I can even pull off this proposal, no matter how modest.

I think I can get Miss D. and I in the kitchen together once a week. Whenever I get in the kitchen and clang my pots and pans around, her ears perk up. She's interested in the going's on in there. I think I have a shot at keeping her interest once a week, unless, of course, someone is playing outside or she's working on an art project or there's a really awesome episode of SpongeBob on. The Minx is a hard bird to catch, certainly, but I'm up for it. And honestly, we need the time together.

The family dinner I'm not so confident that I can pull off. Miss M. (the Minxette) is only 3 and Miss D. has ADHD and neither can sit still for more than 5 minutes. And the kids will whine about the food. And I will have to control myself and not get upset about said whining and fidgeting. And my husband will have to get home at a resonable hour once a week. But my intentions are pure and my heart is committed.

So Family Dinner Rehab Project has begun. Game on.

Friday, April 10, 2009

She's running and I'm scared

Entry from Miss D.'s baby book: 8/20/07: First day of Kindergarten

Today you started Kindergarten. Huge day! For some reason they made all of the parents and kids wait outside until the teacher came out to get them. It was a mess out there--kids crying, screaming, hiding behind pant legs, biting lips in an attempt to be brave. You just checked out the playground equipment.

When your teacher, Mrs. Dykes, came out, she had all of you children line up and face the crowd of parents. She said, "before we go in to start our exciting day, blow a kiss to your parents because they might be feeling a little sad about leaving you. On the count of three..."

So while all of the other kids obediently blew kisses, most through a haze of tears, you grinned devilishly, turned around and shook your booty at me!

Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sing.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet The Minx.

She's always been a different breed. She doesn't just move. She whizzes. Inside voice does not apply to her. She operates on two speeds: full throttle and collapse. When she was young, other mothers at the playground stared at her as she whizzed and screamed and basically trashed the place, and they'd look at each other with wide eyes. I knew what they were thinking: Whoa. And I thought my kid was a handful.

She also didn't like much to be cuddled. I had to ask, and she would oblige, but I could feel her little body pulsating in my arms, anxious to be set free. I'd watch other toddlers snuggle in laps, burying their noses in their mother's necks, twirling their mother's hair in their little fingers, and I'd feel a pang of loss. That path was not mine.

When other children hurt themselves on the playground, they'd cry out, look around wildly, arms already open to recieve comfort from the one person they needed, the one person who could take the hurt away. But not Miss D. When D. hurt herself she curled inward, tore herself out of any comforting arms, ran to a corner and isolated herself until she felt like she could face the world again. She made it clear, early on, that she was beyond any comfort I could offer her.

She scared me then and she scares me now. Ferocious little warrior child with a will and a speed and a voice that I desperately struggle to understand. And she's moving, moving farther and farther from me as the years pass. I can feel her slipping from my grasp, body still pulsating, frantic to get free.

God give me the strength not to clutch, not to fight her. Because Miss D. has always belonged to someone--something--else. She needs only the wind and the earth and her two strong legs to carry her.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The List that Launched a Blog

She didn't mean to hurt my feelings, honest. In fact, I think she was trying to be positive. She wandered over to my refrigerator, yanked it open, scanned the contents and said, "Man, I love babysitting at your house. You guys always have leftover pizza."

I stopped right in my date-night-heeled tracks. You little twit, I thought, we do not always have...Wait a minute. We do.

I worried that little nugget of information as I scanned the menu at said date night restaurant, trying to choose between the marsala or the penne. I scanned through a three page menu and it suddenly struck me--there's nothing on this menu that my kid would eat. Nada, zip, zero. And it wasn't like we were at Chez Panisse, either. There were families eating in this restaurant--a nice locally owned Italian eatery--but I wouldn't ever have thought to bring my kid there.

You see, gentle reader, I have a confession to make. My kid is a picky eater. Now I can see you nodding your heads. I can feel you smiling at me in recognition, because I bet your kid is a picky eater too, and it's an annoyance and a struggle. In fact, I imagine many of you have had a less than desirable restaurant experience because said picky eater is sullen and pokes his unenthusiastic fork at the macaroni and cheese that is undesirable because it's not the right kind, the neon orange kind from home. Maybe, right this minute, you are making your own mental list of the things your child will eat: spaghetti, tacos, sloppy joes, the right mac and cheese, chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese. And it's a boring list, and you wish you didn't have the same 12 dishes in your dinner rotation, but it's really not the end of the world now, is it? And right now maybe a few of you are thinking, "Jeez, get this lady a Valium, wouldja? Lighten up, lady, it's just food."

It is just food. 15 foods, to be exact. The day after that date night, I sat down with pen and paper and wrote down all of the things that my first-born, who is now 7 feisty years old, will eat with any regularity at all. My only requirement of the foods on the list was that they had to have some kind of nutritional value. Fritos do not make the list. Gummi worms do not make the list. You get the idea.

Now some of you with picky eaters of your own will be thinking that 15 isn't too bad. Some of you might be thinking that I'm some kind of kook, some woman who doesn't know that it's normal for a kid to eat peanut butter and jelly in his packed school lunch for years on end. But I do know. I do. But thing is, my kid won't eat peanut butter. Or jelly. Or actually any kind of sandwich. Gentle readers, welcome to the dark side.

Do you know one of the items on my list? Ketchup. Indeed, one of the items on my list isn't even food--it's a condiment, for chrissakes--but hey, if the school cafeteria gets to count ketchup as a vegetable, dammit, so do I. My kid is the Joseph Stalin of foodstuffs. Other things children eat with glee and abandon, things like hot dogs and hamburgers and mashed potatoes and cheese, these things get the firing squad at my house. No, people, I am not joking--my kid will not eat cheese. Not even the orange, plastic-y looking american cheese singles. Not even the innocuous, spongy string cheese. The only cheese she eats is melted on a pizza, and it has to be the right pizza, let me tell you.

So without further ado, I present you with the list. The 15 things-with-some-sort-of-nutritional value that my kid will eat with any regularity. And remember that ketchup made the list, so you know what kind of standards this lady has.

The List:

1. Pizza (thin crust, not too sauce-y, some pepperoni maybe, moretimes not)

2. Blueberries

3. Corn on the cob (buttered, extra salt)

4. Chicken nuggets

5. Apples

6. Bananas (light green or yellow only, NO brown specks)

7. Scrambled egg (but only if made in the microwave and so runny it's probably unsafe for human consumption.)

8. Raspberries

9. Cucumbers (dipped in ketchup)

10. Ketchup (cringe)

11. Hummus (only Sabra brand but still, boy, am I proud of that one)

12. Yogurt

13. Frozen peas (only when icy cold from the freezer, dumped in a bowl, NO cooking)

14. Popcorn (does that even count because corn is already on this list??!)

15. Nutri-Grain Bars (only blueberry, thank you very much)

A couple of items almost made the list but were jettisoned because seriously, what kind of nutritional value do they have, really? Such items: cinnamon toast (Wonder Bread), Eggo waffles, ANY sugary breakfast cereal and french fries. Oh, and pickles, but that would have made two condiments on such a very short list, and the idea of that was WAY too depressing.

After reading the above list, please do not call Social Services, I beg of you. Dear reader, I am ashamed. I am ashamed on several levels, actually. Shame #1: I let this happen. I did. It's my fault. We have a rule that if either of the children doesn't like the dinner I've cooked, she can eat cereal for dinner. Okay, I've admitted it. Flog accordingly. Shame #2: I am noticing that "pickyness hideousus" is contagious and now not only the older but the younger of my children is becoming infected. My three year old is now rejecting things she used to eat happily and has copied her sister's stockphrase: "I'm not eating that." Shame #3: I am a personal chef. No foolin.' People pay me good money to cook them healthy, nutritious, delicious food. And yet I'm a failure when it comes to feeding my own family.

So what am I going to do about all of this, you ask? Well, unless they develop a reality television show called Family Food Rehab, I am going to have to fix this mess on my own. And I don't know how I'm going to do it. Not yet. But if admission of a problem is the first step in recovery, I think the shamefest above qualifies.