A Hike at the Old Farm

The Man spent large chunks of Holy Week and the Easter Octave on call in the hospital but we still squeezed in lots of outdoor time in the sunshine. This week we tried a couple forest preserves we’d never visited before along with low-key walks and playground visits. These pictures were all taken on a walk at a local farm that the local conservancy bought for public use. It felt like we should be filming a BBC Jane Austen production in this scenery.

By some miracle not a single child fell in the creek (though someone did throw themselves down in the mud during a tantrum). Jenny completed the entire hike on her own two legs, a first for her. Thanks to her start as a micro-preemie she’s tended to meet physical milestones a bit later than normal but we’re seeing huge progress as she approaches her third birthday. She graduated from feeding therapy last week, too! At one point she balked in the trail, terrified of a dead tree trunk up ahead. Before I could help her Jack (4) stepped in, took her hand, and walked her safely past reassuring her that it was just a tree as they went. It’s a sweet moment to remember in the midst of the raucous sibling battles that sometimes break out around here.

 

Fireside

It may be spring, but most days are still gray and drizzly with a blustery chill that seeps in around the windows. We’re making frequent fires in the fireplace to cozy up the house before the nights become too warm. Last night the Man suggested pushing back the couches and moving the table into the living room for a fireside dinner.

Our vent fan is out of order so dinner itself was all simple oven-friendly or raw foods – salad, roasted chicken thighs, and quick homemade biscuits. Bless whichever previous owner planted daffodils all through our yard and woods. I’m forcing forsythia blossoms on the mantel and keeping cheery daffodil bunches on the table for meals. As soon as the marauders  kids are released after dinner the flowers go back up to a safe high shelf. Decorating magazine dreams and small children are not easy friends.

Our current read-aloud is Charlotte’s Web. I usually try to keep a chapter book going with the kids. Last night we read a bit more after dinner. It’s largely over the little ones’ heads, but the twins are at the age where they can track with chapter books and enjoy stories with fewer pictures. Jack, especially, listens closely and leads his siblings through all kinds of imaginative play scenarios inspired by our reading. Little House on the Prairie led to lots of wagon rides and playing in the cabin. We’re also reading through a children’s Bible with the kids right now. The other week, Jack announced he was going hunting, disappeared into the mudroom, then emerged with an imaginary bowl of soup for me a la Jacob and Esau. I’m not sure what birthright he was trying to trick out of me; he’s already the eldest.

I’m eager for warm weather, hiking, and swimming but I’ll miss cozy evenings cuddling babies by the fire and reading with the Man after the kids are in bed.

Daybook for the First Week of Spring

Outside my window…


Sunshine is pouring down after a long stretch of cold gray days. [I wrote that two days ago. Now it’s gray and dreary, but at least it’s in the 50s]. We’ve had an odd winter with bitter cold and loads of snow in December followed by a snow-less January and February. Temperatures vacillated between frigid cold and balmy spring-like days. We even had a couple thunderstorms and a tornado watch in the mix. Flower buds popped out along the bare branches on our crap apples and daffodil shoots sprouted all over the yard. Now that it’s March we’ve had another four sticking snows and the kids finally got to use the sleds they received for Christmas. All the plants about to bloom have paused and hunkered back down looking a bit sheepish. If they had feelings I think they’d mirror the embarrassment one feels after standing up for a song in church, looking it up in the hymnal, then glancing around after finding the page to realize everyone else has remained seated. A purely hypothetical scenario not based on personal experience at all, of course. We moved into this house in June so I’m looking forward to seeing the yard in Spring for the first time.

I am thankful…


At the natural history museum. Only Josie seems to grasp the peril of their situation

…that the stomach flu continued on its way after afflicting only Jack. Poor Jack, but lucky us. [Update from two days later: apparently I jinxed myself. Reward: spending half last night up with a vomiting baby].

…for community. We’re glad to be closer to family  but have badly missed our old neighborhood, friends, church, and military community in North Carolina. We’re finally starting to build a few connections after many months of church hunting and it’s a nice feeling.

…for bigger kids. This is the last day of The Man’s latest stretch of ICU call. ICU is still exhaustingl and intense on the home front, but so much easier than it used to be. The Man came home late in the evening yesterday, glanced around the tidied-right-before-bed-with-the-kids house, and commented “You know, the house could never have looked this good in the middle of an ICU week a year ago.” It’s true. 4, 4, 2, and 1 is a very different state than 3, 3, 1, and an infant. When he’s gone for extended stretches it’s still (very) hard work but I don’t constantly feel like I’m scrambling to keep body and soul together. There’s just enough breathing space for little extras like a museum trip, park stop, or store run with all four in tow. I even made it to church solo with all four little kids this morning – a first! They can do things now like eat a picnic lunch in the car with (reasonable) tidiness, skip the occasional nap or snack, or delay a meal half an hour without imploding. Altogether, just a little more flexibility in our days.

I am thinking


about Spring plans outside and inside. Our home has basic landscaping but nothing more. We’d like to plant flower beds, a vegetable garden, some fruit trees, and a few berry bushes but will have to see what time allows. We’re also debating school plans for next year. Continue as we have with private school a couple mornings a week and low-key homeschooling on other days? Public special needs preschool? Full time homeschooling with more room for therapy? Another option?

Learning all the time…


with baking experiments. I love to cook and bake but can easily fall into a rut thanks to the basic necessity of feeding all these people all these meals on all the days. I really haven’t done much with yeast breads in the past. So, in place of the usual familiar dessert baking I’ve been experimenting this Lent with various yeast-based doughs: pizza dough, Smitten Kitchen’s Cheddar rolls (delicious, but I think better with tomato soup than for breakfast), and a couple batches of whole wheat/whole grain bread. Do you have a favorite recipe (or cookbook) for whole wheat bread, the perfect pizza dough, or something else? I’m all ears. We’ve had reasonable success but risen doughs are definitely a learned skill.

Celebrating the liturgical year…


with a low-key Lent. I can’t say we’ve done anything specifically Lenten as a family though we continue as usual with daily Bible reading, prayers, and hymns with the kids. As adults it’s been a quiet but beneficial Lent so far. Not dramatic, but steady. While it’s not specifically Lenten, I’ve also been enjoying richer and more consistent scripture study since Christmas. We’re pretty consistent about reading the Bible as a couple but I’ve struggled with sticking to my own devotions. I’m a fast reader and often find myself skimming through the Bible when I sit down to read it. On the other hand, when I use a formal study the intellectual perfectionist side of me rears its head and I find myself writing exhaustive answers to each question and lost for hours on a section that’s designed to take ten minutes. That’s not bad except that I then get impatient and frustrated and abandon the whole thing. At the end of December I jumped (late) on an Advent-focused scripture writing challenge. I started a new one in January and found I really benefited from the forced slow pace and intense focus of hand-writing a passage instead of just reading it. At the beginning of February I decided to start copying an entire book by hand. I settled on Romans because it’s middle-of-the-road in length, theologically rich, and one I haven’t studied in a while. Because I know myself and my tendency to do things just to check them off the list I didn’t even break it into sections to tackle and check off. Every morning I just read the next passage (usually 3-6 verses), hand copy it, re-read it, then rapidly skim the book back up to that point to place it in context and make sure I’m tracking. I’m happy to say, after years of on-again-of-again personal study that I’ve missed only a couple of days since January first. I’m half way through Romans and am pausing to outline the first eight chapters and review. 6 weeks sounds like a long time for eight chapters but I’m flying compared to my childhood pastor who preached through Romans for two straight years. There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

From the kitchen…


as mentioned above, yeast breads. Also, a fair number of meatless meals like potato pancakes, leek and potato soup, salads, black beans, and pasta. I also made crepes for the first time using the Joy of Cooking recipe. I substituted 1/3 whole wheat flour for all purpose. My Mom used to make crepes and I love them so I don’t know why it took me so long to get on the bandwagon. They make a nice Lenten special family breakfast. I skipped the sugar in the batter, spooned warm applesauce down the middle, rolled them up, and sprinkled cinnamon on top. A hit with everyone. Were it not Lent that’d be cinnamon sugar, the way my Mom used to make them for us on cold winter mornings. After Easter there’ll be blintzes and crepes with Nutella and strawberries in our treats lineup.

I am creating…


a scarf. Very. Very. Very. Sloooowly. At this rate it will be ready just in time for the stifling heat of August. Knitting is not a “just like riding a bike” skill for me. I’ve learned and then forgotten how to knit many times: as a small child, an older child, in college, and again while The Man was deployed. At some point after the twins became mobile one crawled to the knitting basket and tangled my work-in-progress. I never finished it. Two more babies followed and all skills were again forgotten. I’m just now getting to the point where there’s a smidgen of breathing room for handcrafts. Courtesy of YouTube I’m now back to knitting Continental Style. I’m making this pattern without the contrasting center stripe or letters.

I am working on…


bits of spring cleaning, as time allows.

I am going


to lots and lots of therapy appointments. Physical therapy for me, feeding therapy for Jenny (the end is in sight after almost three years!), Speech, OT, and Behavioral Therapy for Annie. In addition there are specialist visits for various children and routine pediatrician and dental checkups needed. I don’t really like being a family that has someplace to be every day of the week but right now it’s necessary. Whenever possible I treat appointments as special 0ne-on-one time with a child. We chat in the car, play music of the kid’s choice, and read books or play one-on-one together in the waiting room. Often the long drives are also a good time for me to catch up on my podcasts queue or listen to an audiobook if the child isn’t in a chatty mood.

I am hoping


to prepare well in advance for a weekend trip to New York. Practically, though, who am I kidding ;).

I am praying…


for our three older kids and their first families. Adoption is complicated and messy. A blessing, yes, but also a tremendous loss.

I am pondering

Jack’s face of concentration. Ha!


special needs parenting. I’m reading as much as I can get my hands on. There’s a wealth of (often contradictory) information out there. It’s hard to take that flood of information in, filter it, and decide what’s best for a child who doesn’t yet have much say. Unfortunately many Christian parenting books take a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting that may work with typically developing children but is poorly suited to kids with neurological differences.  It’s humbling as a parent who thought I knew everything before having kids (and frequently judged others’ parenting) to realize that much of our kids’ behavior and growth cannot, and sometimes should not, be controlled by us. It’s a constant fight to focus on what a child really needs and not the way others around us are judging the child or our parenting.

I am reading


Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck as an audiobook read by Gary Sinise. It’s wonderful, and Sinise has the perfect voice for it. Even if you’re not a Steinbeck fan I highly recommend this account of his casual journey through 40 states. He combines dry wit and poetic description with detached observation and a warm interest in the people he meets. I love a good armchair travel book but frequently cringe at travel writer’s scornful summary of the people they encounter. I can’t imagine how the people Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux describe must feel at the authors’ sardonic assessments of their lives. Steinbeck manages to describe foibles without mockery and approaches others on his travels with warm interest. I’m also reading Madeleine L’Engle’s first memoir A Circle of Quiet which is enjoyable and thought provoking. She’s incredibly well-read so each page brings up some other book I should also read. Dangerous fodder.

I am listening to


Podcasts, whenever I can. When I was growing up my parents frequently had the radio on. Classical music, talk radio, or the news in the car, often Old Time Radio or Car Talk on Saturday mornings. I almost never turn the radio on but I think Podcasts are my equivalent. It’s nice to have a grownup talking to me about something interesting as I do the dishes or fold laundry. We’re also listening to classical music quite a bit as the kids usually request “singing” in the car and one can tolerate only so much of Elizabeth Mitchell or the OkeeDokee Brothers. Right now it’s Haydn’s masses in the car and Beethoven in the CD player at home.

I am hearing


The washing machine gently swishing, laundry tumbling ’round the drying, and an anemic burbling from our increasingly useless coffee maker. The baby spent half the night vomiting through multiple rooms so I’m in wash-and-sterilize-everything mode.

I am struggling


with my hair. Which sounds a bit silly and vain but I’ve never been a hair or makeup person. All my life I’ve just washed every couple days, combed or brushed, and tossed it back in a bun, braid, or ponytail without blow drying, styling, or products. The very hard water in our new home is wreaking havoc on my hair though and it constantly looks unkempt. Dry strands, frizz, and unevenness abound. The hard water doesn’t really bother us in any other way so I’m wondering if there are better product choices vs. investing vast sums in a water softener.

Clicking around


Well, not much really. I’m doing my best to cut back on social media in particular and screen time in general. Which, bonus, allows time for things like writing and reading!

Around the house…

SuperDad comforts four fussing children at once.

we’re making plans for painting a few rooms. We haven’t made any changes to the house and have only hung one picture since we moved in Hopefully we can get a few small projects done before warmer temperatures pull our living outside. We’re adding in some more consistent chores for the big kids now that they’re four. We’ve always had them help, but are adding in a few more regular jobs at regular times for them like vacuuming the dining room after meals and a set whole house cleanup every evening. They’re still at the age where it’s more work to supervise them than to do it ourselves, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

One of my favorite things…


The quiet hour or two before the kids get up. I’ve been consistently getting up at 5:00 or 5:30 since New Years with only a couple of later days from illness or missed alarms. I consider the earliest hours my personal time. For this introvert it’s a key window to read, eat a quiet breakfast, do my Bible study, exercise, or knit. Sometimes I squeeze in a chore or two, but I don’t feel obligated to use that time for household purposes. I find when I start the day with something mentally fulfilling I’m a much better spouse and parent throughout the day.

A few plans for this week…

About typical for our “selfies for six” attempts. Seven if your count Annie’s beloved bear.

Therapies and specialist appointments. Dinner with the pastor’s family tonight. Sending off picture and email updates to the kids’ birth families.

A little peek at my day…


A sick baby overnight means a freshly-bathed baby with fabulous hair in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Fall Menu – Meals this Week

Family Dinner

People often ask how we manage our houshold with a lot of very little children. Do we have help? How do we organize the day? How do we manage meals? Everyone needs to eat and I like to cook the majority of our food from scratch. One big help is menu planning for at least a week at a time. I cannot simply run out for unplanned trips to the grocery store; four children need help with diapers and potty, shoes, jackets, buckling, and strollers. Along with menu planning, I always stock staples for a few quick and easy meals in the pantry and freezer in case life derails my cooking or grocery plans. Another trick is trying to cook what I can at convenient times rather than right at the hectic dinner hour. I tend to prepare a lot at once so one cooking session covers multiple nights and produces a freezer meal or two.

I love to experiment with new recipes, stir up French sauces, or throw together multiple complimentary dishes but this is just not the stage of life for extra hours at the stove. My first goal is to serve nourishing, filling, flavorful meals. If there’s a lot of time I might make something extra. If there’s not, I don’t feel guilty if it’s all in one dish and reheated from the night before. I know everyone has been fed with good homemade food. Time for complicated recipes and cooking extravaganzas will return soon enough; kids get more independent, and infants’ sleep routines become more predictable. This week’s menu is a good example of how these principles work for our family.

Breakfast for Dinner We were very short on ingredients because I prepared dinner while Carl was out picking up the week’s groceries. I pulled out the last couple strips of bacon from the fridge plus some sausage from the freezer and cooked it half an hour ahead, then set the meat aside to be reheated on the frying pan when were ready to eat. I stirred up my standard whole grain pancake batter while Carl and the kids were out and set it aside for half an hour so we could unpack and stow groceries before frying up the cakes. Apples, butter, and maple syrup rounded out the table. These pancakes actually turned out better than ever before – so perfectly light and fluffy. I think leaving the batter sit made the difference? This is a good example of a pantry meal I can almost always pull together from ingredients on hand. It’s also a good example of a meal prepped just a bit ahead during a quiet lull to reduce pressure right at the dinner hour.

Butternut squash soup with 30 minute dinner rolls The soup is from this staple fall recipe. I doubled it so we’d have a couple of nights’ dinner plus a couple freezer meals. I roasted the squash when I got up in the morning. In the evening I just had to assemble everything. I packed up the freezer half without the added milk as dairy products don’t always freeze well. This soup is always delicious and the kids loved it, even though I forgot to add dollops of sour cream. I served it with these 30 Minute Yeast Rolls, substituting honey for sugar. It was a disappointing bread recipe. The rolls felt flavorless with a borderline cake consistency. I won’t make them again, but it was nice to smell fresh bread baking for the first time since the new baby came home.

Pot Roast I followed my usual recipe, more or less, doubled so we’d have two or three nights’ dinners plus a couple frozen meals. This is another meal I had prepped and into a 300 degree oven by 7:30 in the morning. That allowed plenty of time for a three hour low and slow roast for perfect falling-apart meat. It guaranteed we’d have dinner in a busy work day no matter what happened or how hectic the afternoon became as I juggled small children.  This pot roast is a great food to make in large quantitites because the flavors deepen and marry as they sit on the fridge. A lot of roasts don’t freeze well, but this one can be pulled apart into more of a stew and freezes nicely. The kids loved the meat, though they were more hesitant with the veggies. I’d considered a side of salad, fresh bread, or potatoes, but in the end bowlfuls of rich broth and veggies with savory hunks of meat were more than satisfying.

Goat cheese and red pepper frittata I found this recipe in a Williams-Sonoma vegetarian cookbook I borrowed from th library. We haven’t tried it yet but it looks tasty. I expect this to only make enough for one meal (reheated eggs aren’t great…). We will eat it with salad or raw veggies for balance.

On Sundays we usually eat dinner at our small group leaders’ home so I only plan six dinners a week. Breakfasts and lunches are pretty simple and routine.

Simplifying Family Breakfast

My parents always gathered us for breakfast together before starting work or school. On weekends, Mom cooked a treat like pancakes, waffles, or french toast. The Man and I eat breakfast long before the kids are awake on workdays, but on Saturdays we also eat a special family breakfast all together. Sitting as a family in our sunny kitchen with nothing on the schedule is one of my favorite parts of the week. The only downside is that waffles or pancakes can only be made so many at a time. It’s hard to immerse in the quality time when you’re popping up and down like a Jack in the Box to pour the next waffle.

photo (3)

Well, there’s a simple solution and I feel silly for not thinking of this years ago. Odds are you’ve already thought of it yourself, but on the off-chance you’re running back and forth too: Move the waffle maker to the table. Last week I set our waffle maker on a cutting board to prevent heat damage and drips and enjoyed sitting through my meal with the kids and my husband. If you have an electric griddle the same could be done for pancakes.

Waffles

Makes 5 on our waffle maker, just right for two adults and two toddlers. This batter is for regular thin waffles, not Belgian waffles.

  • 1 cup flour (can substitute up to 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour for part of the white flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I almost always use 1 cup milk soured with a tablespoon or two of vinegar)
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil (or melted butter)

1. Preheat waffle iron

2. Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

3. Stir together beaten eggs, buttermilk, and vegetable oil with a fork or whisk. Pour wet ingredients into the flour mixture. Mix until moistened, but do not overmix.

4. Pour batter into waffle iron, using about 1/2 cup per waffle (this will vary based on your waffle maker). Enjoy hot with butter and maple syrup, honey, or fresh fruit.

Variation: If desired, chop and toast pecans and add them with the dry ingredients for pecan waffles.

 

Cooking Notes – June 2014

He approves of being fed

He approves of being fed

So far it appears to be the month of Jamie Oliver and Pasta…not a bad month to have, if you must pick a theme.

Marcella Hazan’s Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup Simple and delicious. A friend who’s an excellent cook shared the recipe – her recommendations never send us wrong. Served with a salad of sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic.

Fresh Tomato, Basil, and Brie Pasta An old favorite from The Silver Palate Cookbook. Made for our church small group’s wrap up dinner and served with salad, Jamie Oliver’s Yogurt Salad Dressing, and bread, plus this cheesecake from the Joy of Cooking (we always skip the sour cream topping, which we don’t like), and a sauce made of raspberries cooked down with sugar and a smidge of water and corn starch.

Pasta with Lemon Cream and Prosciutto Everyone from babies to adults loved this dish – a banner day since the Man usually doesn’t like dishes with citrus flavorings. I only followed the recipe loosely based on what we had in the house. 1 shallot (though more wouldn’t hurt), no orange peel, fresh baby spinach instead of peas, no mint, whole wheat pasta. Sauteed sliced chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a squeeze of lemon at the end and put a few pieces on each pasta serving. Only used 1 slice diced prosciutto (about right – more would make it too rich in my opinion). Nice balance of fresh, creamy, and spicy. Could substitute other lemon-friendly veggies for variety.

Mini Shell Pasta With A Creamy Smoked Bacon and Pea Sauce by Jamie Oliver. No, we didn’t eat all these pastas in a row. I threw this together for a quick dinner after returning from vacation. It was good, but the first Jamie Oliver recipe I haven’t fallen head over heels for. The kids didn’t particularly like it at first try, though I’m sure they would after repeat exposures.

Chicken Fajitas, another from Jamie Oliver. Tasty with lots of nice fresh veggies. I ended up using a pre-made guacamole from the grocery store deli, but much prefer homemade. This dish was primarily memorable for the epic cleanup required on the griddle – my husband is a saint. Both kids liked the meat, and Annie enjoyed chowing down on the peppers as well.

Asian Chicken Noodle Broth from, you guessed it, Jamie Oliver. This dish has become a staple in our home over the last half year. We have it about once a month, varying the technique and ingredients every time. It’s a great way to use up leftover bits of veggie or nice scraps of meat. I use vermicelli noodles made from brown rice for a bit of a healthy boost, and we both like to squirt a bit of hoisin sauce on when serving. Just the noodles on their own, cooked as they are with ginger, broth, and chile, are very nice. This dish is a touch spicy for the kids so far, but they’re working up to it with pieces of meat and veggie from our bowls.

Cooked Turnip Greens with Cornbread, both recipes from Joy of Cooking. I grabbed the greens at the farmers market, cooked them low and slow with some leftover ham from the freezer as well as bacon, and served with hunks of cornbread for dipping in the sauce. Delicious. I’ve never really liked most “mess o’ greens” dishes we’ve had in the South, but I think the problem has been cooking method (too short, resulting in chewy bitter greens). These were melt in your mouth and delicious.

Crock Pot Yogurt Not a dinner, but my first attempt at homemade yogurt. I’d never realized you could make it in a crock pot until Sarah at The Provincial Homemaker posted about it. Very easy, very delicious, and very inexpensive. I used 1/4 cup of Stoneyfield plain whole milk yogurt and 1/4 cup of Greek Gods Plain Greek Yogurt for starter. Even with organic milk, making this yogurt at home worked out to about $1.25 per 32 oz container compared to $3.79/$4.00 for the storebought stuff. I chilled the whole crock pot insert full of yogurt in the fridge for 6 hours at the end of the process for a little extra thickening. Next time I may try straining through cheesecloth for a greek yogurt texture.

Fried Rice using a recipe from the Man’s step mother. I used up leftover pork from a church pig roast (delicious!) plus egg and odds and ends of veggies like broccoli, scallions, onions, garlic, etc. Used a mix of low sodium soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sriracha sauce for seasoning. This was a treat for the Man for Father’s Day. Jack loved it, while Annie was initially hesitant but ate most of it in the end.

Cooked Beet Greens with Cornbread, both recipes from Joy of Cooking. I hadn’t intended to make greens twice in two weeks, but a friend gave us a bunch of lovely beet greens when cleaning out her fridge for a move. I cooked these a bit less long than the turnip greens since beets are more delicate.

Flatbread Pizzas using naan and this shortcut recipe from Jacques Pepin (look for “Lavash Pizza” halfway down the page). Great, and loved by everyone from adults to toddler. I sauteed diced portobello mushrooms, sprinkled them over the oiled naan, layered with very thinly sliced tomatoes and shredded basil from the garden, then topped with shredded parmesan and thinly sliced fresh mozzarella. The only problem is that it’s a bit soft in the middle due to all the layers. Next time I might cook the oiled naan for four or so minutes first to crisp it before adding the toppings. Also, fresh mozzarella has more moisture than the regular grocery store variety.

Roasted New Potatoes with Portobello Mushrooms and Rosemary, Baked Zucchini with Parmesan This was such a nice summery meal, all from local farmers except the mushrooms. I scrubbed the potatoes (halving or quartering any bigger than an inch or so, parboiled them about 10 minutes in salted water, then tossed them in a baking dish with cleaned portobello mushrooms. Sprinkled everything with sea salt, pepper, diced garlic, diced rosemary from the garden and a bit of olive oil, then tossed. Roasted at 425 for 25 minutes with a stir in the middle. At the same time I thinly sliced yellow and green zucchini, arranged them in a thin layer in a pan, sprinkled with salt and pepper, topped with shredded parmesan, and drizzled with olive oil. Popped them in alongside the potatoes for 20-25 minutes. After liking zucchini all winter the kids are on strike. Ah well, the adults loved it.

Chicken Nuggets An easy-peasy recipe from childhood. Cut chicken thighs or breasts into 3/4 inch chunks. Roll until well coated in a flour/salt/pepper/paprika mix. Fry until browned in olive oil. Served with barbecue sauce and a bowl of cumin mixed with mayo for dipping sauce (curry mixed with mayo is also nice), and a side of cucumbers from the Farmer’s Market.

Perfect Roast Chicken from Jamie Oliver’s recipe, served with the roasted veggies, bread, and sliced seasoned tomatoes.

Cobb(ish) Salad Leftover roast chicken, diced ham, spring greens, sliced tomatoes, sauteed sliced portobello mushrooms, blue cheese dressing.

Asian Chicken Noodle Broth (again), this time using up the last of the roast chicken.

Cooking with Jamie Oliver

If you must go somewhere when hungry, make it the library not the grocery store. Browsing the grocery store while hungry results in impulse buys. Browsing the library while hungry results in stacks of cookbooks, both currency and calorie free.

On the last library run I picked up Jamie’s Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver. It seemed a safe bet since we’ve enjoyed his Perfect Roast Chicken half a dozen times. Also, who else do you know in this century with quasi-muttonchop whiskers? The book is geared toward new cooks introducing simple (mostly) quick meals. It’s not a complete cooking course, but it seems like a great place to start an uncertain cook, primarily because these recipes are made from fresh, well-balanced, delicious ingredients. Many “Quick Meals” features in magazines or cookbooks rely on unhealthy and unappetizing base ingredients to speed up the process – cans of mushroom soup or frozen meatballs, for example. Alternatively, many recipes that advertize themselves as “simple” are also “simply bland.” After an introductory Twenty-Minute Meals chapter, Oliver moves on to basic, ground up recipes for pastas, stir fries, salads, roasts, and others, all from fresh ingredients or pantry basics (think rice vs. Hamburger Helper). While not comprehensive, the book does a nice job introducing a very basic recipe (e.g., a very simple tomato pasta) and then showing the reader how to vary the recipe, add other touches, or build a more complex dish. It would be a great gift for a student setting up in their first apartment, a friend with small kids who wants to learn to cook, or someone who enjoys good food but works long hours.

Though good for beginners, the recipes are perfectly delicious and well-suited for more experienced cooks, especially on busy evenings. With some modifications based on what we’ve had in the house I made (and loved!) his Chicken and Leek Stroganoff, Asian Chicken Noodle Broth (fantastic! we used leftover chicken/turkey from roasts and passed Hoisin Sauce for seasoning at the table), Aloo Gobhi, and Ground Beef Wellington. The Chicken and Leek Stroganoff is a nice example of his approach for simple but well-combined flavors. It only requires a handful of ingredients (mostly freezer/pantry basics) but uses a few key flavorful items (leeks, mushrooms, white wine, cream, lemon) that counterbalance one another for nuanced flavor. Each recipe was thoughtfully laid out, tasty, relatively quick, and worth making again.

My only beef (har, har) is that vegetables generally play second fiddle in this book, as most of the meals contain some veggies but revolve around meat. It centers around a basic British diet, but does have many well-done international recipes.