Friday, January 30, 2009

Weeks 27 & 28 Bean Challenge: 1 dinner a week

One of my favorite dinner moments this week was seeing the kids eat lima beans...and like them. Shocking! I think they've concluded there is no way out of mommy's bean challenge dinners. But the more likely reason they liked the lima beans is this: there was pancetta in it.

We've avoided meat for our bean challenge the previous 26 weeks. This time we used meat like a seasoning. Week 27 was homemade refried beans; the last time I made them, they did not taste like I remembered from my childhood. I knew what the secret was, but I needed it to be confirmed by mi familia: bacon drippings or chorizo.

Bacon drippings made a big difference in taste. I now have several tablespoons of solidified bacon drippings in the fridge. If anybody out there knows how long the lard will keep, please let me know - I have no idea. If you're looking for a vegetarian substitute and want to replicate the taste, try frying up some vegetarian sausage or vegetarian bacon in lots of olive oil, then use both in your refried beans.

Now to the lima bean dish: A recipe from The Splendid Table email newsletter. This was a 3 bean extravaganza: Lima, black, and kidney beans. It was very simple - warm up the beans in garlic infused olive oil (do this by heating up several peeled/crushed flat cloves), fold in a small amount of fried pancetta, top with some fresh lemon juice and serve on arugala. Only add salt if you think it needs some - pancetta is salt cured, so it may need no additional salt.

Using meat these past 2 bean challenge dinners may be a slippery slope. Ideally, I'd like to keep these dinners vegetarian. I think the addition of the flavor made it easier for our daughter to tolerate. We'll see what the next few weeks bring.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Old School Entertainment - The Munsters

Here's an example of reusing and giving a once loved item a second life. This rag-tag album cover belongs to an old record of mine: "At Home with The Munsters - A Night with TV's Most Unusual Family".
I pulled this record out a few months ago for the kids and they like it so much that they listen to it a few times each week. It's a recording of the original cast (Herman, Lilly, Grandpa, Eddie, and Marilyn) proudly giving a tour of their spooky house, while talking to an audience of one - the child listening. Genius! This is what kids of my generation used to do before videos came along - listen to records of our favorite television casts of characters, for hours on end.

The Munsters have had quite an impact on our family. I found out from my husband that he used to have a crush on Lilly Munster when he was little. "Is that weird?", he asked? Um...yes. But at least I know who my competition is.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Foodie Gurus I Like

Today I'm inspired to write about some of my favorite foodie gurus. I was listening to a cooking show on the radio this morning, then this evening I got some great news: I won a cookbook from one of my favorite cooking blogs in a random drawing. So here goes: 3 Foodie Gurus I Like

Lynn Rosetto Casper
Lynn Rosetto Casper of "The Splendid Table": Lynn's 1 hour show is on NPR. You can subscribe to her podcast if you don't get her radio show in your area. She is a wealth of cooking and wine information without being high-falootin. I subscribe to her weekly recipe newsletter, and much to my surprise her most recent email included the following:

Ever hear that refrain, "the Age of Aquarius?" Well, welcome to the Age of the Bean. The bean is the new steak. No longer is the legume the standard bearer of counter culture; the bean is the new Vera Wang and Ferrari. People now eat ther filet mignon huddled in the dark behind shuttered windows while we bean lovers have finally found our place in the sun.

Awesome Lynn - I love the bean shout out! Our bean challenge got a little shot of inspiration and validation after I read this.

Lydia of "The Perfect Pantry"
I got some fun news today: I won a cookbook from one of my favorite cooking blogs "The Perfect Pantry". It's going to be a surprise - I have no idea which cook book I'll recieve; I can only assume it is one of the books pictured here.

Lydia has great recipes and her blog posts/photos will inspire your inner-chef.

The Food Guy
Tobie Nidetz is "The Food Guy". I was listening to his radio segment this morning. I really enjoy hearing his opinions and philosophies about local food/restaurants and I'm going to start following his blog. Tobie, if you are listening: I am a new fan and have not been following you for very long, so I'm not sure you've already covered this ground. Can you talk about beans some Saturday morning on the air, and let me know how you like to cook them? What are you favorite vegetarian bean dishes?

And, a random bean challenge update:

I'm playing catch-up with bean photos: Here's a picture of the Boston Baked Beans from a previous post.

Bean close up!
Who are your favorite foodie gurus?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Smelling Like a Peanut Butter Sandwich & the Payoff

Winter is in full swing in the Upper Midwest. My tactic for making it through these next few months is to shelter myself from the weather as much as possible. Despite my shelter-in-place tactics, my skin bears the wrath of this season.

I thought back to a year ago, the last time I had a facial. Yes, I have definitely lowered my beauty treatment standards throughout the years. I complained to the esthetician about the horrid condition of my skin. "No matter how many different treatments I use, I cannot get rid of this acne!" She peered at my skin under her lit uber-microscope and declared, "That's not acne, that's dry skin". Copious amounts of lotion did the trick last year. This year, it did not.

I bought a 4 oz. bottle of AuraCacia Organic unscented sesame oil at the co-op and have been using it for a month. For about $6.00, my dry skin issue is resolved! Not only that, but I've noticed a reduction in breakouts. I apply a small amount to my face 2 times a day - once in the morning and once at night. I predict this small bottle will last me about 6 - 8 weeks.

Another natural oil to try is straight-up extra-virgin olive oil. Putting natural oils on your skin might sound a little strange if you've never done this before. And you may be concerned about smelling like salad dressing or "a peanut butter sandwich" (according to my daughter's comments about the sesame oil). But the scent eventually dissipates and the payback offsets those moments when you smell like a culinary school.

Have you ever given natural oils a try for your skin conditions? What were the results?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Is it a Bribe? Or a Motivator?

Last weekend we worked on our 2009 goals of minimizing our "stuff". It's easy to work on new goals when they are fresh in our minds, but it may be a different story as this year wears on.

The goal was to clean out toys that were either broken or no longer played with. Another goal was to remove the toy clutter with a minimal amount of fits. Not an easy task with a 5 and 3 year old! Our approach was this:
  • We told our kids 1 week before we were going to have a family toy cleaning session and that we expected them to cooperate.
  • We also told them they would make other children who didn't have toys very happy.
  • ...and...we offered them a bribe (or a "motivator"). If they cooperated and had a good attitude, we would take them to buy 1 new toy for each of them.

This last point was the one I wasn't so sure about. Were we sending the wrong message by offering them "stuff" in exchange for getting rid of "stuff"? Was the bribe tempered by the fact that we expected them to get rid of a lot of stuff in exchange for 1 item? Or was it OK to offer a "motivator" because we needed their full cooperation to make this go smoothly? I once heard from radio psychologist Dr. Joy Browne that offering children a reward (or a "bribe") under certain circumstances is OK, because it can be a great way to gain cooperation. I hope I am not misunderstanding her advice.

The result:

  • 6 garbage bags of toys removed from the house: 3 bags of broken toys and 3 bags of donated toys.
  • 1 minor dissent "moment" from our 3 year old, full cooperation from our 5 year old.

What's your take on this approach? How do you deal with decluttering around small children?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Weeks 23 – 26 Bean Challenge: 1 dinner a week

We’ve had some successes and some blips with our 1 dinner a week bean challenge. I’ll start with the good news.

Week 26 was the winner this past month. Our bean challenge dinner was reinvigorated by our new Dutch Oven. I’ve wanted one for quite some time. If you don’t know what a Dutch Oven is, it’s basically a cooking pot with a lid that can be both used on top of the stove and in the oven. I made Boston Baked Beans – a Boston Globe recipe. I’m presuming they are the experts on baked beans. I followed the recipe closely, however:

- I cut the recipe in 1/2
- I didn’t check it often enough as the recipe recommends, so it got a little dry.

Save the bean “broth” as the recipe suggests because it adds flavor. I’ve read you can also use bean broth for soup bases. This recipe was time consuming, but wow, it was worth it. I liked canned baked beans, but this was above and beyond canned. My husband, who is not a baked bean fan, was truly impressed with how outstanding they were. So…if you like canned baked beans you are going to love this recipe!

We ate the baked beans with pizza. Sounds weird, I know. I focused so much on the baked beans that I completely forgot about what we should also eat, so pizza was the quickest. The kids ate the pizza (of course) but were not crazy about the baked beans (of course).

My computer is on the fritz, so no photo uploads today. But rest assured, I will upload a photo of these Boston Baked Beans when I can.

Here’s the bad news:
Weeks 22 -24 were a bust, no bean dinners. We were all sick for days on end.

Week 25 was an uninspired dinner – pasta topped with chickpeas, olive oil, and garlic. We’ve had this before, and I like it. But nobody else did…ho-hum.

If this bean challenge has taught me anything, it’s this: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

People must look at me and think "avocado"

People must look at me and think "avocado". And I'm OK with that. More than once I have been asked how to eat an avocado, or if I know of any avocado recipes. Why yes, I do know a few ways to eat avocado. I love them so much! They have numerous health benefits too. If you want more avocado in your life, beyond eating them plain or in guacamole, give these suggestions a whirl:
  • Use avocado instead of butter or mayonnaise. Spread on a tortilla or flat bread when making a wrap or sandwich.
  • Chop up an avocado and top a bean and rice dish. Or top a corn dish, like Rachel Ray's Summer Succotash.
  • Put wedges in a grilled cheese or grilled turkey sandwich.
  • Top a hamburger or veggie burger with some avocado slices.
  • Add avocado to a green salad. Supplement the salad with beans or chicken.
  • Or make an avocado salad dressing. I've made some with pureed avocado, olive oil, garlic, salt, and lime juice. Try googling "avocado salad dressing".
  • Make an avocado crustini appetizer. That would be good topped with some fresh tomatoes and fresh cilantro.
  • Avocados make great baby food too. Smash up some avocado with ripe banana. Our 2 loved this recipe when they were babies.
  • Check out more recipes at
A few more tips:
  • If you buy a hard avocado: Check it every day for ripeness. You can put it in a brown paper bag to speed up the ripening process. You can tell its ready to eat by giving it a gentle squeeze. When it starts to "give" a little, its ready to slice and eat. Experiment with your preferred ripeness level.
  • Don't buy squishy avocados. They are over-ripe and won't taste as good. Who knows how many times it's been dropped, or how long it's been sitting in that grocery store bin.
  • If you buy several avocados at once, AND they ripen at the same time, AND you can't possibly eat them all, AND your friends don't want can freeze them. Give this a try:
    • Peel the avocado, smash it up, then add a little lime juice to keep it from browning.
    • Put in a container as small as possible, to expose less surface to air.
    • Cover the top of the avocado with plastic wrap. Seal it in your container.
    • You can later thaw it and use it for dressings and sandwich spreads. But use it up fast, it won't keep forever in the fridge after thawing.
    • If it gets a little brown on top, just scrape of that layer. There shouldn't be too much brown if you put it in a small container.

If you're into avocados like I am (obviously), try an avocado peeler. They're also great for peeling kiwi and ripe peaches.

How do you like to eat avocados?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009 Goals

I'm now back after a little break - however, it was not the break I expected. Yesterday was one of the first days our family was able to get out of the house in a long time. We are thankful for being back on our feet after about 2 weeks of illness. Since Christmas, somebody in our family has either been sick or recovering. Not much fun, but we're on the mend now.

I thought I would share some of my 2009 Goals. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • Start Composting. I've been saving money for a compost bin since last summer, I think we're well on our way to giving it a try this year.
  • Join a CSA.
  • Join a Co-op. I've been checking out co-ops around town to see which one I like best. There are 2 near by that are relocating. After they relocate, I'll make a decision.
  • Minimize our stuff. Continue to clear out our house as we bring stuff in. For example, if I buy 1 shirt, donate 2 that I don't wear anymore.  I think we've got the "buy less" part down in our house, due to being a 1 income family.  Buying less was born out of necessity.
  • Get passports for the whole family. We don't plan on going out of the country this year, but I like to be prepared, just in case we win a trip to Paris (ha!) My husband and I let our passports expire around the time our first was born. I really miss traveling, so I think it's time to save up for this expense. Besides, traveling is a great way to open your mind and expose the children to new experiences.
  • Meet with a financial planner. My husband and I don't know much about financial planning. That's not to say we are bad with money, but we really don't know what to do with it beyond the 401k. Plus, we'll have 2 children attending college within 2 years of each other. That will put the squeeze on us down the road. This next winter we will (ahem) be officially getting on in age, so I think it's time to give this goal a go.
How about your goals this year?