Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer Wish List

I'm loving all the stripes, soft cottons, and flow-y fabrics for summer.
All I need now is a hibiscus margarita and I'll be good to go...
J Crew
J Crew

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Strategic Grilling

I haven't posted a new recipe in awhile.  Sorry about that.  May has been a really busy month at Casa SMJ: I'm back to working part-time while momming full-time, we've been on the road or hosting guests every weekend, and I'm also the de facto part-time wedding planner for my little sister's upcoming nuptials.  Whew! In all, the hubs and I are both pretty slammed at the moment.  During times like these, I tend to fall back on a reliable stable of go to family recipes: pizza night, Tofu Tikka Masala or Thai Curry-style, and turkey tacos are in heavy rotation at the moment.  Another favorite of ours is anything simply marinated and grilled and served alongside a salad or veggie of some sort.  We've been grilling about twice a week, as cooking with fire is one of the husband's favorite ways to relax after a long day. 

At this time of year, when produce is becoming so abundant, fresh and inexpensive,  I love to put the grill on double duty, and douse as many veggies as possible in olive oil, salt and pepper to be grilled alongside whatever is on the menu for the evening.  I've mentioned this strategy before, but it definitely bears repeating as we roll into grilling season again.  A fridge full of perfectly grilled veggies is the working woman's weeknight dinner secret weapon.  Tossed with regular or Israeli couscous or cooked pasta, you have a whole-meal salad, or you can use them on sandwiches, in green salads or as a side for a quickly cooked protein.  Some of my current favorites:
Photo from Summer Foods
Corn is just coming into season, and it is so sweet and so cheap right now (39 cents an ear at Trader Joe's or 50 cents an ear at Whole Foods).  Grilling corn does things to it that simple boiling never could... the sugars caramelize, the ears become sticky-sweet, and it is altogether obscene.  Sliced off the cob, the grilled kernels take any salad up a notch, or are delicious sauteed quickly with a little butter.  There's just nothing that says summer like corn.
Cherry tomatoes have also been especially sweet and inexpensive lately (got a gigundo box of them for $2.99 at WF this week).  I love to skewer those little suckers and grill them quickly to perfection.
Tomato photos from The Kitchn
Toss them with some angel hair and torn basil and/or chopped fresh mozzarella and you have a restaurant-quality dinner in minutes.  Or mix them into Israeli couscous with feta and chopped mint for a great Mediterranean side.  They're also phenomenal as a topping for any simply grilled flaky white fish.
Photo from Veggie Belly
Finally, my old workhorses zuchinni and summer squash are always dirt cheap and reliable on the grill.  They're fabulous on their own as a side, or with almost any carb for a complete meal.  Or dare to make them the centerpiece of your dinner with a zesty rub and special sauce like the Chipotle-Lime Grilled Squash with Creamy Tomatillo Sauce pictured above.

Busy times call for dinner shortcuts, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on flavor or nutrition.
What's your favorite way to use grilled veggies?

Friday, May 20, 2011


When I was in high school, my Grandpa Joe used to come and stay with us and give me absolute hell for only using a tea bag one time before throwing it away.  I'd roll my teenage eyes and think to myself that the Depression was long over, and with our robust tea stash, I could most certainly use as many bags as I wanted at will.  I wish he was still around so that I could tell him that he was so right about so many things (although I'm still not particularly interested in joining the merchant marine, which he thought was a great idea for me), and that I now pour at least three cups of boiling water over each of my bags of tea before I throw them away (there's still good tea in there!).

Now that I'm older, wiser, and know that the husband and I work our buns off for every dime of our grocery money, my attitude about wastefulness is completely reminiscent of my Depression-era Grandpa. I shudder every time a veggie goes bad in our crisper (which is rare, because I'm crazy like that, and plan our grocery lists and meals down to a tee most weeks).  We play excellent rounds of cupboards to make sure no freezer item is ever left behind.  If my mom cleans out her pantry and gives me a random half-bag of farro (true story), I'm going to search the interwebs to find a delicious recipe to use it ASAP.  I pride myself on being as thrifty and resourceful with food as possible, while still catering to our foodie passions and organic commitment.  It's a project, and it's why the following situation is driving me insane...

Have you ever been the primary chef for a toddler?  It's a thankless and daunting experience, my friends.  One day the guy likes grilled cheese, the next day he won't touch it with a ten foot pole.  Among the things that Normal Children like that my son won't touch: ravioli or pasta of any kind, including mac and cheese, most cheese and cheese products, and meat and animal products of any kind (with exception of the yolk part of a fried egg).  In short, he eats like a sorority girl preparing for spring break at the beach.  If he could live only on yogurt and fruit with the occasional whole grain thrown in for variety, he'd happily do so.  The pediatrician says to keep on offering things, so we do,  but the amount of stuff that he turns is nose up at or mutilates and then walks away from is astounding.  We end up with plates and plates of good food (Niman Ranch ham grilled with Cabot Sharp Cheddar on multi-grain bread or organic broccoli and cheddar ravioli, for example) that are completely untouched.  The Grandpa Joe in me is tearing my hair out over this on a nightly basis.

Here's the conundrum: if we eat his scraps and leftovers, we're going to fall prey to the new parent equivalent of the freshman fifteen that we're both trying to avoid.  It's classic to pack on pounds from noshing your kid's cast-offs, and I just don't want to do it.  I also don't want to feed him cheaper or less healthy food in anticipation of half of it going to waste.  What we put in his body is high on my priority list, and I want him to eventually develop a palate and appreciation for really good food.  Smaller portions are a possible answer, but hard to measure sometimes.  You never know when he's going to like something and be clamoring for more, and who boils just one ravioli?  I keep going around and around in my head for a solution and am not finding one.  All of the wasted food is making me feel guilty and agitated.  There has to be a better way!

Beloved mama, papa, auntie, uncle, nanny and granny readers of SMJ, do you have any magical ideas?  We already have the best fed dog in Boston... I'm looking for new and better ways to make my Grandpa proud and stop tossing so much to the trash or the canine.  Any and all advice is much appreciated.
 This was last night's dinner plate.  He ate all of the strawberries and one slice of toast (locally baked whole wheat with organic butter, thank you).  I ate the ham and roasted veggies and called it an appetizer.  ARGH!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Paralyzed by Indecision

The other day, I was in desperate need of a second coffee.  I was doing the grocery shopping at the time, and decided to grab a quick one to sip while I shopped.  I ordered and fetched my medium iced coffee, and took it over to the fixin' bar.  Here's what I encountered: soy milk, whole milk, skim milk, cream and light cream in chilled carafes, as well as simple syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup, raw sugar and good old white sugar, all for the taking.  Immediately, I had two thoughts:
1) I love Whole Foods and their pimped out coffee experience.
2) If someone somehow time-traveled here from the sixties, they'd have but one thought: WTF?

Not so long ago, if someone wanted a cup of coffee, they scooped it from a can they had mindlessly bought from the store, flipped a switch, and brewed it.  They probably added non-dairy creamer or a bit of milk, maybe a spoonful of sugar or a Sweet n' Low, and that was that.  They caffeinated and went on with their day.  Nowadays, it is stunning how many decisions we're confronted with in a simple effort to even so much as catch a morning java buzz.  Iced or hot, mocha or caramel, cold-brewed, drip-brewed, French pressed, fair-trade, shade-grown, organic, espresso, dark roast, light roast... and did you want some oatmeal with that?  Well, do you want Irish, Scottish, instant, old-fashioned, quick or steel-cut, made with soy, almond, rice or cow's milk, or maybe just some water (filtered or unfiltered?)? The world we live in today is both amazingly colorful and plentiful, and also a total Libran hell.  I sometimes find myself getting so caught up in the minutiae of these day-to-day details that it totally colors my ability to focus on the bigger picture of both the day at hand and my life in general.  Do you ever experience this?

I think this all hit me this week because within my little family we're still trying to answer a lot of our big life questions about where and how we want to live, exactly what we want this family to look like and what professional paths we're trying follow.  Trying to whittle these Big Things down into manageable action items can be so daunting that it is sometimes easier to seek comfort in the routine of the everyday and focus on the questions that are easier to answer (white or wheat?  scrambled or poached? decaf or regular?).  Knowing that this is a tendency, I think there is some sort of divine procrastination to be found in agonizing over these smaller decisions in life, as they provide a welcome distraction from the bigger issues at hand.
Are you still with me?  I am admittedly suffering from some sleep deprivation-induced delirium today and perhaps should keep these ramblings to myself, but I really don't think I'm alone in this experience.  So, here is my challenge to myself and to anyone else (Libra or otherwise) who wants to get on a path to more clear, less fraught decision making: let us work towards tackling life's small decisions quickly, incisively and without agita.  There's always going to be another morning to choose another coffee.  Let's free up the mental space to make the bigger decisions in life and keep moving forward.  Coffee in hand, I believe we'll be unstoppable.

In a world with sooooo many choices, how do you keep from becoming paralyzed by indecision?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

So Sleepy

What do five days of rain, a physically/mentally/emotionally draining weekend, too much sugar, and a son who enjoys waking up at 5am lead to?
This is me, circa 2000, passed out on the couch with my favorite cuddling partner prior to meeting the hubs.
They lead to an exhausted and somewhat speechless SMJ.

By last night, I was so sleepy that all I could do was warm some leftovers and share them wordlessly with the husband.  Too tapped to even offer simple table conversation in the vein of "how 'bout those Red Sox", we eventually retired to the couch, then to bed before 9.  I need to figure out how to:
1) Plan less psycho weekends (not likely to happen, but I can aspire in that direction).
2) Get the boy to sleep until at least 6am (any suggestions?  please share).
3) Not wake up at least three times a night (I'm getting better on falling asleep and re-falling asleep when I do wake up, but still, the constant waking is a killer -- I'll also take suggestions on this one).
4) Eat less sugar.
5) Steal that bear from my old roomies.  Damn if he wasn't the cuddliest ever.
More soon as I continue to bounce back... I have many more FFFs to share!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fabulous Foodie Finds: Part Three

In the world of health food blogs, oatmeal is the King of Breakfast.  And I'm not talking about those little sugary packets that you mix with boiling water, I'm talking about legit, old-fashioned, slow-cooked, rolled oats with that Quaker fellow on the front with his stern-looking mug.  You really wouldn't believe the plethora of food blogs out there that consist of photo after photo of this whole grain, cooked into submission, morning after morning. The upside?  When you're having oats for breakfast three hundred-odd mornings a year, you come up with some creative ways to serve the stuff.  And this is where my FFF Part Three comes in: ladies and gents, I give you Oats in a Jar.
Photo from Kath Eats, undoubtedly the queen of all healthy living bloggers and oatmeal photographers... check out her Tribute to Oatmeal!

You know when you come to the end of a jar of delicious nut butter, and you've scraped and scraped with your little knife, but there are still plenty of bits of nutty goodness that just won't come up outta there?  Inevitably, you recycle the thing, sadly wasting some small tablespoon of goodness still trapped inside.  This is where Oats in a Jar come in!  You simply whip up a batch of old-fashioned oats, but instead of pouring them into a bowl, you pour them into your almost-empty nut butter jar.  The heat from the oats melts the peanut/almond/cashew butter from the sides of the jar, helped along by your spoon, and every bite is full of salty-sweet, protein-rich deliciousness.  Better yet, this breakfast is uber portable, and saves you from washing a gummy oatmeal bowl... you simply rinse and recycle!  Your grandparents would be proud of this kind of depression-era resourcefulness and frugality, and the oatmeal really is especially healthy and delish.  This is one of those "duh" ideas that you just need someone else to point out to you sometimes. So, thank you, oatmeal-obsessed bloggers, this is one tip I will keep (you can keep your tempeh melts though. mama likes her bacon.).

Stay tuned for part four, wherein I reveal the sexiest show on television (and it doesn't have to do with any Housewives).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fabulous Foodie Finds: Part Two

The next dish in my FFF series comes from one of my new favorite food blogs, the Yummy Mummy Kitchen.  I love her aesthetic and her cooking style, as well as her sunny photography, and I just pinched a brilliant quickie weeknight dinner from her site: Gyros a la Trader Joe's. As she says in her post, this is less of a recipe and more of an idea/shopping list, but I love those, especially for weeknight cooking.  There is nothing better than a dinner that comes together more as a result of well-executed grocery shopping than of blood, sweat and tears over the stove.  These gyros totally fit the bill.
Her recipe:
1 package Trader Joe's flatbread
1 container Trader Joe's tzatziki sauce
shredded chicken or grilled fish
sliced onion
chopped tomato

Warm flat breads. Spoon tzatziki sauce inside and fill with your favorite fixings!

Let me divert for a minute to say that anyone who went to college in Burlington, Vermont (as the husband and I did), will remember a certain Ahli Baba's Kabob Shop with fondness.  Many a hangover was nursed and many a midnight, post-bar hankering was fulfilled there back in our day.  The husband often reminisces soulfully about their gyros, wishing we had some on hand in the here and now.  Well, thanks to the Yummy Mummy, I was able to fulfill that fantasy this week for all of about $10 spent at Trader Joe's.

While you could probably shop for this recipe at almost any market, there is something special about TJ's flatbread and tzatziki.  Besides being ridiculously affordable (like everything else at TJ's), they are also exceptionally healthy.  If you get the whole wheat flatbread, you get a fiber punch for the day, as well as delicious moist chewiness usually not found in whole grain anything.  And the tzatziki is low fat (I've seen some supermarket versions that really pack on the calories and fat) and full of sliced cucumbers and fresh herbs; quite delicious and it truly tastes like you made it yourself, slaving for hours over a mandoline to get those cukes just so.  Not bad for $3.

For our version, I also bought a small package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, and marinated them in a little olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper.   The husband grilled them to perfection, and I chopped them, as well as some fresh tomatoes to go alongside.  And as long as he had the grill fired up, I also tossed some zucchini, summer squash and a halved leek in olive oil, salt and pepper, and he grilled them for me as well.  I chopped all those veggies and tossed them with cooked Israeli couscous, quartered grape tomatoes, feta cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette.  This couscous salad is one of my favorite summer sides, and I tend to whip some up whenever the grill is being fired, as the leftovers make a perfect lunch served over a bed of greens.

But, again, I digress.  This post is really about the Yummy Mummy's brilliant gyro idea, so let me wrap it up (ha!) by saying this: do yourself a favor and put this into your weekly dinner rotation ASAP.  It hits the quick, easy, healthy and delicious marks with flying colors, and truly takes next to no effort.  If grilling is too much, buy some rotisserie chicken or grilled chicken from your deli counter and use that instead.  Veggie friends, a quickly sauteed portobella 'shroomie would be equally delicious.  Suffice to say, this was one of those meals that was eaten in total silence due to both of us being in a full food swoon.  I could tell we were mentally side by side back on Church Street, grubbing on a gyro after a great show at Toast (Which no longer exists.  Sigh.  We are old.), and that, my friends is truly priceless.

Stay tuned for part three!  Have an almost empty jar of peanut (or almond) butter on hand?  Don't throw it out!  I'll be back with my next foodie find, and you'll want those dregs, I promise!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fabulous Foodie Finds: Part One

Food is my passion, my hobby, my love.  In my free time, if I'm not in the kitchen, you're most likely to find me reading food blogs or a magazine like Food and Wine, watching the Food Network or Cooking Channel, or talking about food with my (almost) equally obsessed husband.  The upside to this is that I am always learning new things and expanding my gourmet horizons.  Recently I've discovered some especially amazing culinary game-changers, and I want to share the love with you!   And so I bring you a special theme this week: SMJ's Fabulous Foodie Finds.

Fear not!  None of these discoveries will require you to procure new kitchen appliances or obscure spices; every find is a simple concept or tweak that will make a world of difference in the way you eat or drink.  This is exciting stuff!  And instead of saving the best for last, I am giving it to you first, because no one should have to live for another second without this beverage in their life. Without further ado, I bring Part One:
Magical Coffee
and I do mean magical
 Photo from food52
I found this recipe over on the wonderful food52 blog (pet project of one of my culinary icons, Amanda Hesser).  Awhile back, there was a lot of hype in the foodie world about cold-brewed iced coffee.  I just let this conversation pass me by, thinking that putting the end of a brewed pot in the fridge or, better yet, hitting up one of my favorite coffee establishments for my iced coffee fix was doing me just fine.  Silly, silly, silly me!  Cold-brewed iced coffee is leaps and bounds better than its brewed-then-chilled counterpart, and the best part is, it is so easy to make at home, that it is actually easier to accomplish than stumbling over to City Feed at 7am and staring into the middle distance while a hipster kid gets me a cup of ice to fill at their giant coffee carafe.  All you do is mix 2/3 cup coarsely ground coffee into a quart-sized mason jar filled with water, stir, cover and allow to sit overnight.  In the morning you strain it, and voila!  Rich, flavorful home-brewed iced coffee without so much of a hint of the bitterness you often get from brewed coffee.  This stuff is just smooth, smooth, smooth.
 My little brewing set up.
So, that's the cold-brewing iced coffee method.  To really take it over the top and make it magical, follow the recipe I found on food52:
Coffee Base: 
2/3 cups coarsely ground coffee
3 cups water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar (I only used 2 and it was perfectly sweet for my palate, but do what you will!)

1) Put ingredients in a quart jar and stir.
2) Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The Finished Drink:
milk, half and half, or cream

1) Pour the coffee base through a sieve or strainer into a bowl, then strain back into jar for easy storage.
2) For each drink: Fill a tall glass halfway with ice. Pour in coffee until glass is about 3/4 full, and add milk/half and half/cream to taste.
3) Die of happiness.

From this recipe you get roughly a quart of iced coffee perfection, which, even for me, is enough to last two days.   I really can't adequately describe to you how uncommonly delicious this coffee concoction is: you get caramel undertones from the brown sugar, a hint of spice from the cinnamon, and absolutely zero acidity or grittiness.  For a fraction of the cost and the calories, you have a perfect chilled morning caffeine hit for your summer.   I mixed mine up while on the phone with my sister last night, strained it while chatting with my boys over cereal, and then my poor husband had to listen to me go on about how incredible it was for the rest of the morning (thanks, hon).  You must try this, stat.  It is about to change our whole summer...  LOVE!

Stay tuned tomorrow for part two: my newest fave semi-homemade dinner treat!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sporty Summer Uniform

As long as my days continue to revolve around intensive, outside-the-office multitasking, I'm looking for a daily uniform with an emphasis on comfort and mobility.  For summer, I love dresses.  I love throwing one item of clothing over my head and being "dressed", I love the breezy feeling of wearing something flowy and feminine, and I love how criminal it is that something as comfortable as a nightgown can be so flattering and sexy.  For the chestily-endowed and athletic among us, finding supportive dresses that can go from stroller-hauling speedwalk to playground to dinner isn't always easy.  But a booby birdy recently told me about Athleta, and after a visit to their website, I'm intrigued. 
I LOVE a maxi dress, and this Printed Rio Maxi looks buttery-soft and comes in petite sizes (crucial in ordering floor-length gear when you're a shorty, as I am).  It also comes in a more subtle black-and-white print, although I'm digging on the overt beachiness of this green number.
  The Savasana Dress looks absurdly comfy + I love the thick straps and flirty pockets.
  I adore halter dresses, but rarely sport them due to bra-related issues.  The Kokomo Dress promises "full support" and gets rave reviews.
I haven't ordered a thing yet, but my curiosity is piqued.  Curvy sisters, have you tried anything from this line?  I would love your feedback.  I'm looking for a sporty summer uniform that says cute and functional, and if dirt and peanut butter are disguised well, that's a bonus.
What will your grab-and-go uniform be this summer?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eat Your Greens

I am having one of those weeks that is going by both at a snail's pace and in a blur.  On the snail's pace side we have wasting one of the most beautiful mornings of the week inside waiting for an auto glass repairman to arrive (don't you just hate stuff like that?).  On the blur side we have the fact that it is already Wednesday afternoon.  I've picked up some part-time freelance work (yay!) and am once again doing the WAHM juggle, which has a unique way of making time fly by in a most whiplash-inducing fashion.  I'm also still the Chief Executive of All Things Homefront, which means that in preparing meal plans and shopping lists, in addition to having an eye on the budget and the health factor of our weekly food picks, I'm now especially keen on things that are exceptionally easy to prepare, as weeknights are again finding me juggling spreadsheets, an arsenic hour toddler, and a frying pan. Mama needs all the help she can get.  Which is why I am loving my newest Whole Foods find:
Okay, listen.  I'm all for fresh and I'm all for local and I'm all for the slow food movement.  But when you're having the kind of night where you're moments away from calling for pizza anyway, these Leafy Greens are a great alternative.  Put on a pot of rice, open a can of beans, simmer these greens for 10 minutes, and you have a fiber-riffic dinner prepped for pennies.  I adore collards, kale and mustard greens, but the prep of all of those is time consuming, and if you buy a bunch on Sunday and can't deal with it till Thursday, you're going to have some ugly wilty-ness on your hands.  I love that for $1.99 these suckers are cleaned, prepped and ready to provide you with two or three side dishes any old time (including 2 weeks from now if need be).  The flavor is fantastic, as is the texture.  You'd have to cook fresh kale near to death to give it the silkiness this mix provides in a ten minute simmer.  Win, win, win.

In an ideal world, I'd live in a Parisian fashion and walk to a farm stall 'round dinner every night to pluck fresh greens from an artisan purveyor.  In my real world, I appreciate good quality shortcuts when they come my way.  Whole Foods, I'm not ashamed to proclaim my love for you.