Sunday, April 24, 2011

Is that Ice Cream I Smell?

I think I've mentioned before that my son Elijah, who is now 4, has an attention span that rivals that of a gnat.  It's true, he can make a hummingbird look like a master concentrator.  Unless he's watching TV, then nothing and no one can compete with his ability to focus.  Since I'm not video taping myself trying to teach him to cook, I have to deal with the Tazmanian Devil version of him instead of the zoned-out version.  Because of the attention span issue, I've been on the hunt for something that is quick and easy, but also good enough to engage his interest.  He's still a little scarred from the purple cauliflower incident, so I'm trying to make it up to him.  It hit me the other night as I was watching him lick his ice cream bowl clean in utter ecstacy.  Ice cream!  Why didn't I think of it before?!?!

It's the perfect thing for him; it's quick, easy, uses a machine and is loaded with his favorite ingredient, sugar!  On the surface, choosing what kind of ice cream to make seems simple.  Just go with his favorite flavor, right?  I just have one small dilemma.  My grocery budget is used up, so going to the store is not an option.  I don't have eggs, cream or half-n-half -- the main ingredients in most ice creams.  Now what?  I spent about an hour scouring with no real luck.  The only recipe that matched my needs used 6 cups of milk.  I do have that much milk in my fridge, but I need it for my kids for the next week.  Finally, I turned to my trusty ice cream book. (Yes, I have an entire cookbook just for ice cream.  Don't judge me.)  In about 2 minutes I found the perfect recipe for Strawberry Ice Cream.  It used 1 cup of milk and a can of sweetened condensed milk.  Perfect!  Don't worry, Eli doesn't have a favorite flavor of ice cream.  He loves all desserts equally.

We had some strawberries that needed to be eaten in the next 24 hours, so I had Eli help me prep them by pulling off the leaves and washing them.  I cut out the core and threw them in the Cuisinart.  I would have let him try to cut out the core with his little kiddie knife, but was pretty sure that would just result in a few totally mangled strawberries and red juice splattered all over the kitchen.  Besides, I was trying to keep up with a dwindling interest.  Both Eli and Abby got to learn a valuable lesson about handling the very sharp blade that goes in the food processor.  Thankfully they got to learn the lesson through me.  Few things are worse than cutting your thumb right by the fingernail just before you need to squeeze a lemon.  At least I didn't have to deal with the shock and horror (theirs, not mine) of one of them cutting themselves.  After a thorough inspection of my new wound and promises to never touch the Cuisinart, we got back to the business of pulverizing the strawberries.  Their fascination with the food processor never gets old.  Every time I bring it out, I'm reminded of that presentation I attended on getting your kids in the kitchen.  That amazing woman had a salad shooter.  Remember those things?  I can't decide if it's good or bad that we don't have one of our own.  Probably good.  If we did, we would have salad coming out of our ears, and most likely all over the kitchen floor.

We all agreed that ice cream without seeds was best so I got saddled with the task of removing the seeds from the strawberry pulp.  Not a difficult process, but definately time-comsuming.  I sent them both outside to run around the yard a few times while I pushed the pulp through a sieve.  They both returned panting just as I finished up.  The rest was easy.  Eli dumped in the sweetened condensed milk and the cup of milk, (pre-measured, of course) Abby measured out a 1/4 cup of sugar and I squeezed in a tablespoon of lemon juice.  We let Elijah stir it all up and then I poured it into the ice cream maker.  Both of them were riveted for about 45 seconds, and then the questioning began, "Is it ready yet?  Is it ready yet?  Is it ready yet?"   I finally kicked them out to go play for awhile.  They each came back to check on it about 600 times, and after about 20 minutes I reached my limit.  The mixture looked to be as frozen as it was going to get, which put it at the consistency of a loose milk shake.  If I could have waited another 10 minutes it may have been a bit thicker, but I was tired of them coming in and out of the house and never closing the door.  I gave them each a small cup of the strawberry shake and poured the rest into a plastic container and put it in the freezer.

In truth, the process was so quick I felt like we really didn't do anything at all.  I think I've become accustomed to more lengthy projects that involve some sort of cooking.  This was fun and a nice change of pace.  It was perfect for a four year old who is physically incapable of sitting still.  Although it was a little trying for me at the time, I can see now that even the act of running back and forth to check on it's progress was perfect for him.  Unlike having to peer through the oven door and wait for something to cook, he was able to turn waiting into an activity.  Ice cream is practically a staple at our house; we eat it all year long.  I don't know why I feel like we have to wait for summer to make our own.  Now that I know you can make a pretty yummy ice cream without having to cook a custard base first, I'm sure we'll be making it more often.  And for the record, I prefer Tazmanian Devil Eli.  I'm used to seeing him as a constant blur of motion.  Zoned-out Eli kind of freaks me out.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

As promised - Chicken Enchiladas

To begin, a little while ago I found a blog that has fabulous recipes, amazing photography, and a cute cat.  If you like to cook and are looking for some new gourmet type recipes, you should check out   I have to give them credit for the following meal.  They have a fun recipe for Chicken Enchiladas Verdes.  I've only changed it a little, just to suit our tastes.

Abigail is our international foodie.  She loves all kinds of Asian food, (especially dumplings) Italian food, (of course) and Mexican food.  I made these enchiladas a few weeks ago and she gobbled them up.  The process of making them is very kid friendly, and since she loved them so much, it seemed only appropriate to teach her to make them.  Not only that, but as the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, I am beginning to see that getting my kids in to cook dinner with me is not going to be as easy as it has been over the past few months.  This could very well be one of the last dinners we do for awhile.

I feel I should start with a disclaimer -- I don't really like chicken.  It kind of skeeves me out.  I have learned ways to tolerate it, but it's not my favorite.  I have two forces in my life that have been working against chicken consumption in our house.  The first is those horrifying rumors about mutated and blind chickens crammed into boxes and continuously fed until they are ultra fat, only to be inhumanely slaughtered.  Yikes!  The other force is my friend, Tonya.  She is constantly making comments about finding beaks in her chicken.  Seriously, nothing can compete with that image.  That is, nothing except for the "buy one, get one" sale on chicken breasts that my grocery store has been running for the past month.  For the time being, my frugality has won over my squeemishness.

Frugality may have won, but the squeemishness is still there.  Instead of trying to hold my lunch down while teaching my daughter how to handle raw poultry, I just blasted through the process myself while she was playing.  Since chicken has almost no flavor of its own, I poached it with some garlic, onion, salt and crushed red pepper.  Once it had cooled, I quickly shredded it with a fork, dumped it in a bowl and set it aside.  Yeah, even cooked chicken gives me the heebie jeebies.  Now that the chicken part was done, I could relax and get Abby to make the sauce.

The sauce is made almost entirely in the food processor.  Super easy.  First, I showed her how to open up a green pepper with her little kiddie knife, and discard the seeds.  From there all she needed to do was break it into a few chunks and toss it into the Cuisinart.  I've mentioned before that the kiddie knives don't work so well on onions.  That's not entirely true, they just don't work well for things like slivering and fine dicing.  I had thought to have her quarter the onion, but just peeling the garlic made her eyes burn, so I showed a little mercy and did it for her.  I also de-seeded the jalepeno.   Can you imagine the poor girl rubbing her eyes with jalepeno oil on her fingers?  I may have my moments, but I'm not cruel.  When it was all said and done we had 1 1/2 green peppers, 1 jalepeno, 3 cloves of garlic, and one onion ready to be zapped to a pulp.  For good measure we added a big handful of cilantro.  The sound of a blender being assembled or the lid being fastened on a food processor turns my kids into Pavlov's dogs.  They all come running with a slightly crazed look in their eyes and maniacal grins.  There's no such thing as a couple of short pulses in our house.  All three kids took a good long turn at buzzing our sauce.

Once your sauce is well blended or, like ours, liquified, season it with salt and pepper, pour it into a pan with a cup of chicken stock and a cup of salsa and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  We felt it was missing something, so we threw in some cumin.  Abby still thinks stirring stuff on the stovetop is too hot, so I took over at this point.  After the sauce has simmered for 10 minutes or so, turn off the heat and stir in a healthy spoonful of sour cream.  Then, add a cup of the sauce to the shredded chicken as well as a half cup of shredded cheese.  Mix it all up and start filling your tortillas.  I had Abby fill one tortilla, and watched in pain as the whole thing fell apart before she could transfer it to the baking dish.  In the interest of saving a lot of time and sparing myself some frazzled nerves, I rolled up the rest of the tortillas.  I let her finish up by spooning the remaining sauce over the filled tortillas and sprinkling a little more cheese over the whole thing.  Just slip those in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the filling is heated through.  For the final touch, mix a little lime juice with sour cream and drizzle over the top.  Incidentally, the first time I made these I used red bell peppers, and the color of the sauce is a lot more appealing.

If I were to be completely truthful, I would have to say I am really looking forward to summer.  I'm ready to let the grueling school and homework schedule go for a few months.  I'm ready to let my kids play out in the yard all day instead of destroying my house.  But mostly, I'm ready to reclaim my kitchen at dinner time.  This used to be a time of relative solace for me to re-group and prepare myself for bedtime chaos.  I know that may have raised a few eyebrows.  The process of getting three wiggly, giggly kids P.J.'ed, teeth brushed, faces washed, and stories read may be a routine for them, but it's chaos for me!  During the summer we'll most likely concentrate on cooking breakfast and lunch rather than dinner.  I'm sure we'll do a few desserts too.  And yes, by August I'll be ready to reclaim my mornings.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cocoon or Chrysalis?

Last fall my kids drug me out to their little playhouse.  They were nearly peeing their pants in excitement.  They had found some sort of cocoon or chrysalis hanging from the roof.  It was skillfully tucked away where there was little chance of it being found or damaged by the average predator.  Of course, my kids are better than the average predator.  Is that something to say with genuine pride or as a joke?  I'm not sure yet.  What kind of predators do those things have anyway?  Well, like any good mother, I gingerly detached the poor thing, put it in a jar with some twigs and a few leaves and put it on our kitchen counter.  I also punched a bunch of holes in the lid, just in case those things need to breathe.

One week went by and then two and nothing happened.  As chance would have it, we took a little field trip to Butterfly Pavilion with some friends.  The place is just what it sounds like, a huge enclosed butterfly garden.  There are butterflies from all over the world flitting around and even a board with at least a hundred chrysalis waiting for butterflies to, not so gracefully, emerge.  I decided to ask an expert about our little science experiment.  Mind you, this expert was the stereotypical bug guy; wire thin, slightly hunched over, coke-bottle glasses, and even a wandering eye for good measure.  I'm not making fun, but the mere appearance of this man was a problem for me.  I wear every thought that goes through my head on my face, so I needed to do a serious pep talk with myself before approaching him.  I'm glad that I did approach him as he seemed grateful for a chance to share information about a subject that was obviously dear to his heart.  I explained what we had found and how we were "storing" it, and asked if he knew what it might be and how to care for it.  His face momentarily projected horror, (so I'm not the only one) he then seemed to collect himself and went on to answer my question with great enthusiasm.  While the answer I got was vague and filled with unrelated entomological details, I left feeling like I knew what I was doing.  Thinking back, I'm not quite sure how I got any information out of that verbal transaction, but what I was able to gleen from a 15 minute lecture was that some insects, especially moths, spend the whole winter metamorphosing and then "hatch" in the spring.  I was also told that I should superglue it's butt to the lid of the jar.  Something about needing to let it's wings dry out before they touched anything.  Dutifully, and with rubber gloves, I did indeed superglue it to the lid of the jar. 

We spent the whole winter watching and anticipating, eagerly awaiting whatever was inside.  About three weeks ago it opened up and, within the course of about three days, spit out six larvae which then in turn hardened into little bean-like cocoons.  I will admit to being a little grossed out, but my kids were absolutely beside themselves with excitement.  Rather than dumping the whole lot out, I agreed to keep it awhile longer.  Well, a few days ago, our patience and perseverence was rewarded.  We are now the proud parents of six house flies.  Really, there are no words.

I had thought to celebrate the hatching of our flies with some sort of "en papillote" kind of meal, but once I got down to planning it, I just couldn't come up with anything that didn't make my stomach do flip flops.  I think the meals themselves were fine, it's just that I actually got to watch one of the flies squirm out of it's little cocoon, and that's what I pictured every time I envisioned opening up any kind food package.  Ew.  Instead, we made use of our leftover mashed potatoes and some brocolli that didn't have many days left before becoming fodder for the compost heap.  Brocolli and Cheese Soup and Potato Pancakes for dinner! 

I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to reinforce Abby's cheese grating lesson from a few weeks ago.  I opened our cheese drawer to find that we only had a small chunk of cheddar.  I ended up pulling out every little scrap of cheese we had left.  So there she was with grater in hand, and a pile of assorted cheeses which included three Babybells.  She gave me a look that was oozing the sarcasm she's not yet able to put into words.  I had no real defense since I would have given myself the same look.  I just turned to get Eli started on the potatoes.  We already had about two cups of leftover mashed potatoes, so all we really needed to do was add an egg, about 1/4 cup flour and some seasoning.  I had a small panic attack when I watched him dump what seemed like an enormous amount of garlic powder into the mix.  That stuff comes out of the jar really fast!  He then mixed it all together by simultaneously moving the bowl and the fork in opposing circles.  Extremely scary and impressive to watch.  I had to just tell myself that if the whole thing ended up on the floor, then it was a sign that he had put in too much garlic powder and it would have been inedible anyway.

When I turned back to Abby and the cheese I had to secretly laugh a little.  The grater, cutting board, table and floor were littered with little crumbles of cheese.  My poor girl looked at me and asked, "Can I stop now?"  I would have said something about a job well done, but was too close to laughing out loud, so I just moved her over to the stove to sweat the onions.  After a few minutes of stirring the onions she started to complain about being too hot.  I was beginning to see that this lesson was not going to be as successful as I had hoped.  I didn't have it in me to fight the good fight, so I let her go play while I finished up. 

I've never made a cheese soup before, and the recipe I used wasn't very good.  It had me cook the brocolli with the onions and some chicken stock.  Once the brocolli was tender I hit it with my immersion blender and then added the cheese to the hot liquid.  The cheese melted but didn't really blend in, so I dumped in a little cream.  It still wasn't quite right.  I learned awhile ago that if you're in a pinch and need a roux quickly, you can microwave the flour and butter together.  It actually works pretty well, so I added some of this nuked roux to my soup.  It wasn't great, but it was as good as it was going to get.  In truth, the soup was edible but pretty much a failure.  The potato pancakes are a piece of cake.  You just drop a dollop of the potato mixture into some hot oil, flatten it out a bit and after it has browned, flip it over.  When it's browned on both sides it's done.  I eat them with sour cream, and my kids eat them with -- you guessed it, ketchup.

We released the last of our flies this morning.  I've noticed that it takes quite awhile for them to be able to use their wings, but for these last ones I just couldn't wait.  I'm pretty sure my kids felt the same about those flies as they would have a beautiful butterfly.  I'll admit to being intrigued, but I'm amongst the masses who find flies disgusting.  Like my soup, that cocoon didn't turn out the way I wanted, and I was ready to be done and move on to capturing caterpillars.  We all said a heart-felt goodbye and turned to go inside.  I looked back to make sure Jonah was coming just in time to see him slam his foot down on top of that last fly.  He looked at me with a mischievious sparkle in his eye and a huge grin and said, "I 'quish 'im!"  If I wasn't so afraid of how the other two would react to the murder of their beloved fly, I would have high-fived him right then and there!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spring Break

Uh, we didn't cook this week!  I sat down to write this post and realized that a whole week passed and I only cooked a few meals, and my kids didn't cook at all.  It was Spring Break this week and while I had plenty of things planned for our time off from school, we mostly just took a break.  Aside from morning and bedtime routines, we completely parted from our normal daily activites.  Most time off from school is planned into a family vacation of sorts, but this time circumstances kept us home, and it has been a wonderful stay-cation.

Winter is fun, but it's a lot of work getting ready to go out and play.  Spring provides a mixture of summer and winter weather, and we got the summer end of the spectrum all week long.  What a relief for me and for my kids to be able to open the door and run free, in the backyard.  They did a lot of this and it was a real treat for me to get a little solitude without having to pay a babysitter.  For the first time in months all three of them played for hours without even a single call for mom.  One time they were so quiet I thought for sure someone opened the gate and they had all left, instead they were completely occupied collecting ants.  Their ant collecting continued for more than an hour.  In fact, their little home-made ant farms are still sitting on the table outside getting snowed on.  That's right, yesterday it was warm enough for shorts, and today it is snowing.  That's the great thing about spring here, and since they spent the whole week running around outside, they are now happy to re-explore the labrynth of our house. 

We also spent some time at nearby playgrounds getting reacquainted with old friends and getting to know new friends better.  Abby has finally learned how to swing by herself!  Yay!  Until about three weeks ago, I was quite certain she would make it to adulthood without ever having mastered this skill.  I am thrilled to be proved wrong.  Elijah has acquired some playground manners, which keeps me from having to apologize to every stranger and their kid within a fifty yard radius.  (Another thing I am thrilled about.)  In the days following 9-11 I was acutely aware of the lack of airplanes in the sky, and now Jonah has made me acutely aware of how many actually fly over our heads in an hour.  It's really pretty amazing.  I'm a bit overwhelmed by how much my children have grown up over the winter.  The last time we were at the playground I was pushing Abby on the swing while yelling at Eli to stop throwing rocks, and Jonah couldn't even talk!

Much of what I write is centered on appreciating my kids and noticing their greatness.  I'm aware that some of this may make me sound like a perfect Mary Poppins type mother.  This image couldn't be farther from the truth.  I lose my temper with them, a lot.  I miss some of the most amazing stuff they do and say because I'm scanning Facebook.  I've shushed them and turned my back on them because I'm on the phone and don't want to take the time to find out what they want or need.  I've been so frustrated with them I've actually locked myself in the bathroom.  So, I'm not perfect.  Raising kids is filled with tedium.  It's hard to push a 6 year old on a swing wondering if she will ever be able to do it on her own.  It's very difficult to be consistant with a three year old who pushes you to your patience limits daily and shows no signs of improvement.  It's not easy to be just as exhuberant about the 35th plane as you were about the first.  But the hardest thing of all is to see that your kids have grown and matured tremendously in a short period of time, only to wonder when and how it all happened.  It's impossible for me to be present for every miniscule second of my children's lives.  There are things I'm going to miss, no matter what.  I may have missed Abby learning how to swing, but it was because her dad taught her.  I'm pretty sure that Eli got his playground manners from preschool, and honestly, I'm just happy he learned them!  I was there when Jonah started to talk, and I remember it well.  I've watched his love of airplanes develop for nearly a year, so I'm prepared to get excited about every one that he points out.   Being present is hard, but finding out that you've been absent is harder.