Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kitchen Reader: Kielbasa and Sauerkraut

I'm happy to announce I've joined the wonderful bloggers at Kitchen Reader, an online book club for bloggers who enjoy reading and writing about (and eating!) food. For December, instead of reading a new book, we were tasked with sharing a holiday recipe. 

Coming from a Polish family, Christmas Eve dinner has always been a bigger deal than Christmas dinner.  Growing up, it was the one time each year when the traditional Polish favorites were guaranteed to be on the menu: kielbasa and sauerkraut (and sometimes pierogi, potato pancakes, nalesniki, if we were lucky).

When I moved to the South and married Daddy Moose, I was in for some culture shock!  Not only were kielbasa and kraut not part of the vocabulary, the Moose Family (Motto: "If it doesn't come baked in a 9x13 dish, it is probably not worth eating.") was, sadly, not particularly open to any new dishes at the Christmas table (although they swear this is not true).

Finally, after many years (and admittedly a few tears), I won Daddy Moose over on the merits of kielbasa and kraut and this year I resumed the tradition of serving it for Christmas Eve dinner. 

My way of making kielbasa and sauerkraut was my maternal grandmother's, and then my mom's.  My recipe card reads:
"Kraut, bacon, apple, brown sugar"
Although my mom, when I call with a question while cooking (which still happens weekly, I think), will say unhelpful things like "cook it until it is done" or "how much? well, add enough," I endeavored to make detailed notes to be able to pass along here.

Christmas Eve Kielbasa and Sauerkraut

Serves 4

1 pound bacon slices (yes, really, a whole pound)
1 baking apple (I used Rome), peeled and diced
2 pounds packaged sauerkraut
1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar
4 links FRESH kielbasa

1. Cook bacon in batches in a frying pan, skillet, or Dutch oven over medium heat until crispy (about 6 minutes total per batch, turning frequently).  Reserve bacon grease as you go.  Remove each batch and drain on paper towels.

 2. Fry diced apple in ~ 3-4 Tablespoons of the reserved bacon grease over medium heat for 5 minutes.  You can use butter if you're really opposed to the bacon grease, but I think the flavor using the bacon grease is incomparable.

3. While your apple is frying, drain and rinse sauerkraut in a wire mesh strainer to your desired sour-ness and wring out as much moisture as you can.  This will vary by your family's tastes.  My dad likes his completely rinsed.  Given the choice, my mom and I would have it completely unrinsed.  This time around, I drained (but did not rise) half and rinsed the other half.

4. Add the sauerkraut and brown sugar to the apple and continue to cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.  The amount of brown sugar you need depends on personal preference as well as how much you rinsed your kraut.  This time, I used 1/2 cup of brown sugar since half of my kraut was unrinsed.  When I make it for my dad and rinse all the kraut, I only use 1/4 cup brown sugar.  Taste as you go until you get a flavor that makes your tastebuds smile!

5. After 10 minutes, reduce heat to low, crumble the bacon back into the kraut mixture and cover until you plan to serve.  This is one of those recipes that gets better as the flavors blend.  I let mine sit for 2 hours this time around.  I've been known to cook it in the morning and put it in the crock pot on the "serve" setting for the whole day. 

6. While your kraut is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and gently add your FRESH* kielbasa.  Reduce heat until the water is barely boiling and cook 15-20 minutes per side.  They will float at the top throughout, which is why it is necessary to turn them over in the water.  You can either cook your kielbasa at mealtime or make a few hours in advance.  If you do the latter, once the sausages are cooked, drain and put them in with the kraut (be sure to cover them up with some kraut, too).

*(Yes, fresh is much harder to find than smoked, but SO much better.  When you do find it, don't be afraid to hoard and freeze some for later!)

When you are ready to eat, serve as is, or with a starchy Polish side - mashed potatoes, potato pancakes, or pierogi.

Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia and Szczesliwego Nowego Roku!
(Merry Christmas and  Happy New Year!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Yarn Along: After Christmas Exhale

Linking up with Ginny's Yarn Along today:
~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading, and the evidence of this often shows up in my photographs.  I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading? Take a photo and share it either on your blog or on Flickr. Leave a link below to share your photo with the rest of us! ~
As predicted, with the flurry of wrapping, cooking, driving, and visiting for Christmas, I didn't get much of a chance to breathe let alone pick up my needles again until yesterday.  I'm very happy with how my cowl is coming along!  It has taken me nearly three years of knitting to finally get it through my head that wild yarn really needs a milder pattern so that the detail and colors aren't constantly at odds.  The main body of this one is a simple stockinette with a slip stitch - enough dimension to keep it from being boring, but simple enough to let the yarn shine.

I received Lisa Hendey's Book of Saints for Catholic Moms from my mom for Christmas. It was not at all a surprise gift, as I begged and begged for it before it was even published in October.  The format is very busy-mom friendly: 52 Saints, each with a short bio, take-away life lessons, a short passage and prayer for each day of the week, and both personal and family activities ideas for the week.  Lisa Hendey's writing is very accessible to someone like me, who frequently struggles to keep up with prayer and I hope I will be able to keep up with the Saints over the next 52 weeks.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bubble Therapy

The Moose asks to play with bubbles. A lot. When we are inside. When we are outside. In the bathtub. Whenever he sees anything remotely shaped like a bubble. You get my drift.

Lucky for him, I "get" it. I loved bubbles as a child, too. My mom indulged my sister and me with all kinds of large or fantastical bubble wands over the years. And I already started stocking up on some interesting bubble blowers as I ran across them over the summer.

Playing with bubbles with the Moose has been a delightful return to childhood for me. But more than being a fun throwback, I have discovered that blowing bubbles is incredibly therapeutic.  In order to make quality bubbles, one has to start with a deep breath and continue with a slow, controlled exhale.  Without intending to, one enters into a pattern of yogic or meditative-like breathing.  The heartrate slows.  The temper (not that I ever have one, of course!) calms. 

I'm sure there is a physiological and neurochemical explanation for this process.  All I know is that, as the end of the day, when the Moose (like most other two-year-olds) is not at his Mr. Congeniality best, I look forward to bubbles at bathtime.  The water play calms him and the bubbles never fail to bring out his giggles, and I get to (have to!) take a deep breath even if it's been one of those days that I can't step away for even a minute.  And it's probably way better for me than a traditional happy hour!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Yarn Along: Late to the Party

Yesterday was a whirlwind of last minute shopping, wrapping, food buying, all compounded by a coughing, clingy toddler.

My only knit and reading time came very late in the day.

I am currently reading The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. It is a delightful, witty, insightful novella that imagines that the Queen of England takes up reading for the first time in her life.

And I just cast on a cowl with some very exciting Lorna's Laces yarn that I've had wallowing in my stash for over a year and a half.

I suspect that the "me" minutes will be few and far between in the coming days. I was so grateful for Ginny's weekly yarn along to inspire me to take a moment for myself.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Makin' It Monday

My goal (hope, desire) was to blog about a cooking adventure each Monday.  I stay home with the Moose on Friday and usually somewhere in my three consecutive days at home I find the time to get creative in the kitchen.

However, the theme of the day is just getting by.  This icky cold that Moose and Daddy Moose started two weeks ago just won't leave us.  How is it that the Moose can be up for more than an hour during the night, sleep in just a little, and wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed?

So in lieu of a recipe, in the spirit of some vastly more widely-read bloggers I admire, I am sharing a list of links I've enjoyed this past week:

Wishing you a happy, healthy final week 'till Christmas!

Image: Ambro /

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tot Tin

Ta da! This is the tot tin (at least that's what I've decided to call it) that I finished this morning just in time to ship to my college roommate's two-year-old son.  Her son, like the Moose, just turned two.

It all began a few weeks ago when I discovered the Tot School blog and Totally Tots (and others linked up).  I loved the idea of dot pages and realized that if I laminated them, the boys could play with puff ball magnets with them and color with them.  While pondering a cute way to present all the pieces, it dawned on me that if I put everything together in a tin, it would also provide a built-in surface for play and make it a grab-and-go learning toy!

I started with these alphabet dot pages from Homeschool Creations and laminated at Lakeshore Learning:

I scored the puff balls at the dollar store and the magnets at Michaels.  I used good ole' Elmer's Glue, although it appears that most moms use a glue gun.  I decided to work on a cookie sheet to keep the magnets from sliding around when I was pressing on them to stick the puff ball; I lined my cookie sheet with parchment paper to catch any splatter.

I made 11 of each color and they barely fit in this little round tin I found at Jo-Ann:

Thanks to a crafty friend, I decided to Mod Podge for the first time ever to personalize the the lid of the tin with some scrapbooking stickers without running the risk of toddler fingers peeling the stickers up (rectangular tin also from Jo-Ann):

After all the pieces were dry this morning, I wanted to give them a test run on the inside of the lid.  The Moose helped (which is why the green puff balls are piled up in this picture):

(Mommy Moose straightened them out for a more picture-perfect finish):

I'm making one for the Moose, too.  I plan to restock the tin weekly with the letter of the week, and other items for the theme/color/shape of the week as appropriate.  Stay tuned!

Friday, December 16, 2011


On Fridays, Lisa-Jo, the Gypsy Mama, challenges her readers to write for just five minutes on one word.  Today's word is CONNECTED.


I am fighting to feel connected to any one thing at the moment.  I'm feeling frazzled trying to wrap up some business items by the end of the year, so I rush through things with the Moose.  I've been up during the night with a coughing Moose and have less patience and tenderness for my husband.  I'm falling behind in housekeeping because I'm trying to carve out time for myself to write, knit, and read . . .

[As if to punctuate this point perfectly, my cell phone rang while I was writing this with a matter I had to deal with for a client - even though it's my usual "at home" day.]

I feel like some sort of flying creature - not a bird, I don't feel that graceful at the moment - that never actually touches down somewhere.  And my wings are so weary from the constant flight.

I could blame it on the season - that doesn't help - but that would be disingenuous of me.  I feel like this all the time to some degree.

In the moments that I remember to look heavenward to be grounded, I only have the energy to give thanks for the momentum to keep going and beg for it to continue.


Won't you accept the challenge and join us for just five minutes at the Gypsy Mama today?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Yarn Along: Hopeful Baby Hat

This week I am in a settling-in-for-winter frame of mind.  Too bad it is 66F and sunny out!  I pulled out the Complete Sherlock Holmes my husband bought me while I was in college and am pretending to be somewhere foggy and wintery.

I am also working on a hat for a hopefully future baby.  Daddy Moose and I are starting to talk about beginning the adoption process again.  Although no decisions have been made, it can't hurt to have a soft little hat knitted in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino waiting in the wings for when we are blessed with another baby.

For more inspirational knitting and reading, come join the yarn-along at Ginny's beautiful blog, small things.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cooking Up a Good Mood

Good morning

This unconscionably good mood* is brought to you by:
(*The whole Moose family is nursing a cold - between Moose's stirring, Daddy Moose's snoring, and my own congestion, it would have been a better use of my time to get up at, say 2 a.m., since I was not getting anything productive - like sleep - accomplished! I will freely admit that I was not in such a good mood this morning when I first awoke!)

I was hoping to post photos of something wholesome and home-cooked today.  However, due to our house full of germies, its a miracle I made it to the grocery store at all yesterday!

I ended up pulling out a jar of Coq au Vin braising sauce I bought during a sale at Williams Sonoma months ago and filling in the blanks with finds from Trader Joe's.

I used 4 pounds of chicken breasts instead of the whole chicken called for.  The sauce made a delightfully large batch and will give us leftovers later this week plus at least two freezer meals besides.

I served over whole wheat penne (which I forgot to photograph because I was hungry).

Not to be left out, Moose got a pan and spatula from his kitchen so he could help. 

I broke up a cereal bar so he'd have something to flip in the pan while he watched me turn the chicken to brown it. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

O Christmas Tree!

Every year when it comes time to put up our Christmas tree, I start lamenting that our tree is always such a disorganized hodge podge: the white lights that were in my husband's dorm room, random colored lights that we picked up from heaven-knows-where, hand-me-down ornaments that hung on my childhood Christmas trees, and the cheap blue star we bought when we were engaged - over 10 years ago.

And I wax lyrical about how someday we will have two trees, and the second tree with be decorated with color-coordinated, Martha Stewart perfection (WARNING: do not look at these trees unless you are totally secure with your own tree).

This year, these feelings lingered longer than usual.  I had to improvise with the lights, since one of our colored strands decided to retire.  So I was pretty sulky by the time I got to the ornaments.  They went up one by one (I have a whole philosophy of which ornaments go with which kind of hook, but if I shared that here, I'd sound really OCD, so I will refrain).

About one-third of the way in, a realization hit me: this tree is my biography!

The handmade snowflake by my grandmother (who passed away before I was born):

The "filler ornaments" that my parents bought early in their marriage (early 1970's):

 The Precious Moments ballerina my parents gave me the first year I took ballet lessons (I was seven):

The cross-stitch stocking I made my husband for our second Christmas:

Just as I felt a warm happiness rise as I walked through this three dimensional photo album, I realized with a sudden jolt of sadness, that every ornament on our tree was from my childhood, my friends, my family.  Our tree wasn't the the dual biography of a couple that I felt it should be.

Even the more recent additions were a continuation of the same theme.

There was the goldfinch that my mom gave my husband when he took up bird watching:

The handmade "pine cone" ornament my sister made for us the year she was between jobs and money was tight:

And the olive wood nativity my parents gave to the Moose for his second Christmas:

I can't tell you how much this bothers me (and, yes, it also tugs at my  heart that it took me so long to notice - this is our 10th Christmas as a married couple).  I managed to corner my mother-in-law yesterday at the church holiday festival we were at (in between peeling the Moose off a poor, unsuspecting donkey in the live Nativity and going down the inflatable slide with the Moose for the half-dozenth time).  She seemed really nonplussed by my revelation.  At first she said that they must have some somewhere.  Then she said she wasn't sure what they did have - they just didn't get that into ornaments in their family.

But I'm not ready to let it go yet.  I'll give her a few days to marinate and then ask again - there has got to be some ornaments somewhere.  A hideous clay figure he made in elementary school.  A First Christmas ornament.  Right?

To be continued . . .

Friday, December 9, 2011

Color Exploration


"Mommy, color?" is a request my ears frequently hear these days.  Except that I don't have much in the way of adorable toddler scribbles to show for all of the trips to the kitchen table to sit with the crayons (the Moose was banned from markers after he colored his scalp green at daycare).

Instead, he dumps the crayons out.  Sometimes he looks at each one individually.  Other times he sees how many fat, triangular crayons he can hold in his little fist at once.  Then he places each one back into the cup before declaring he is "all done".

My Type-A-ness is constantly frustrated by this.  Why won't he just use them like they're meant to be used?  I try to console myself that at least he is getting some great fine motor skill practice.

But today I realized that something more was going on.  He was looking at these colors like it was his first time.  And it dawned on me that my eyes had been dulled by the 64+ crayon profusion laid at my feet by Crayola since a very young age.  Moose has been exposed to the main colors since birth, I suppose, but I realized that the crayons he was focusing on were the ones that were variations on a main color.  A teal blue.  A red-orange.  The white crayon.  He really was looking at them for the first time.  Exploring them.  Taking them in.

And it reminds me to be patient with him, because there is so much I take for granted that is still new to him.  Like helium balloons.  Clouds in the sky.  Lights on the Christmas tree. 

When I can catch my tongue and slow down, I get the deep satisfaction of exploring all over again these things I've taken for granted.


To join in the fun, hop on over to Gypsy Mama!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yarn Along: Baby Boy Hat

A friend of mine gave birth to her second son last Friday, and I was behind in the knitting department, so this week's knit is a quick hat project to send to him.  I'm using my very favorite Blue Sky Alpacas organic cotton yarn - so perfectly soft for babies!

Not one to be left out, Moose asked if he could help this morning.  I gave him the remnants of a ball of Sugar 'n' Cream cotton to play with.  Above is how it turned out - which is exactly why I wasn't really all that keen for his help.

When I was at my local Catholic bookstore earlier this week to pick up a Christmas gift for my mom, I ended up treating myself to Happy Catholic.  The short passages are perfect to couple with knitting, since I frequently have to look up from my reading to make sure I haven't dropped a stitch, etc.  I have always found knitting to be relaxing and meditative, and in that way, this book also pairs wonderfully.  I particularly loved a line I read this morning : "Miracles are love letters [from God]."

For more knitting and reading inspiration, come see Ginny's beautiful blog, small things.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sweet Potato Muffins

If you've browsed around Mommy Marginalia at all, you've probably caught on that I've got a thing for muffins.  I've also got a thing for any muffin recipe I can make using only a whisk (i.e. can be made at naptime or after Moose has gone to bed without interrupting any precious sleep).  So when I was trolling the Green Market Baking Book for some seasonal ideas for this week's menu and saw the recipe for Sweet Potato Bread, I thought I'd take a whack at adapting the recipe to make muffins (and with a few other tweaks to reflect my baking preferences - which sounds sort of haughty now that I've written it, but really boils down to a) I had mandarins, not oranges already in the house; b) I had pumpkin pie spice already in the house; and c) I don't like using vegetable oil but do not like the taste that olive oil imparts on sweeter baked goods).

The original recipe makes one 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf, so I expected to yield only 12 muffins (a few of the mixes I've tried from Trader Joe's lately make one 9 x 5 loaf or 12 muffins).  I was thrilled to discover that, instead, this recipe makes 24 muffins!  So not only do I have a muffin for the week, I also got to indulge my new freezer cooking obsession.

Sweet Potato Muffins
Adapted from the Green Market Baking Book

  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons diced mandarin orange peel
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted (1 stick)
  • 2 cups sweet potato puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups maple syrup
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Prepare muffin tins with liners or spray with non-stick spray (I like Pam baking spray).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients, including mandarin peel.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the wet ingredients.
  4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients.  Stir until just blended.
  5. Fill 24 muffin tin wells with the batter.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in a center muffin comes out clean.
  7. Cool muffins in the tins for 5 minutes, then turn them out onto wire baking racks and continue cooling.
If you want to freeze some (or all), I recommend wrapping each individually in plastic wrap and sealing in a freezer bag.

I think they turned out delightfully well! Although, if I'm honest, they're a bit more sweet bread-y than truly muffin-y.  (Not that that's a bad thing!) I think next time to up the nutrition and cut down the guilt factor, I'll try replacing some of the butter with applesauce and cutting the maple syrup.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Little Moose

Ever since my son's first visit to Zoo Atlanta in August, he's been obsessed with pandas!  So when it came time to pick a birthday party theme for the Little Moose's (so nicknamed by his pediatrician for his hearty growth his first year), it was a no-brainer!

Moose's 2nd Birthday fell during Thanksgiving week, so we delayed his party until yesterday so all of his friends would be in town.  I ordered these balloons from Oriental Trading Company to decorate. 

And we noshed on these panda cupcakes.  (Well, to be fair, I ended up ordering iced vanilla cupcakes and decorated them myself; last week was shaping up to be one of "those weeks" and I didn't think a cranky Mommy Moose would contribute to the party atmosphere.) 

I also served this Man Dip recipe with corn chips, pigs in blankets, and pizza biscuits.  The pizza biscuits are a favorite in our house and I figured I would freeze the leftovers - except that there were only three left over!

Judging by the amount of food consumed, the length of time the mostly-adult guests stayed (despite any real "activities" - c'mon, it's a two-year-old's party), and the extra hour of sleep the Moose took this morning, I'd say the party was a success!

He even got a gorgeous new panda from one of his aunts!  Happy Birthday, my (not so) little Moose!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tired Is a State of Heart


My son has been coughing at night.  Nothing to be worried about.  One of those air-getting-drier coughs that sets in after you've been sleeping for awhile and your throat catches a tickle.  Still, I refuse to turn the monitor off, just in case it suddenly worsens.  So his coughing has meant some nights of very interrupted sleep this week.

I was really dragging on Monday.

I started Tuesday with three cups of coffee instead of my usual one.

And then I remembered that two years ago this week I had a one-week-old baby.  And I jumped when he cried.  And I watched him sleep.  And I barely slept - both out of amazement at his little life and out of first-time-mom terror.  And I wasn't tired.

Tired has a lot to do with sleep.  And a lot to do with stress.  But it also has a lot to do with where your heart is at.  When it's held fast in the right place, I can be pretty run-down and pretty weary but still not tired.


Join the fun at Gypsy Mama!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Yarn Along: Sunshiny Disposition Scarf

This is a bit of a cheat - I finished knitting up this scarf for my son, but have yet to weave in the ends, so I'm still, technically, working on it.  I've cast on two baby hats for friends' babies-to-be, but am not far along enough to have a photo to share.  But I've been reading Ginny's Yarn Along posts for weeks, wanting to join in, and I didn't want to let another week slip by.

Knitting Knotes:
  • Pattern: Child's Rainbow Scarf
  • Yarn: One skein each of Noro Kureyon in 270 and 226 (it is very difficult to find a colorway that does not, at some point include pink!)
I am currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and trying to get a jump start on some meaningful New Year's Resolutions.

For more knitting and reading inspiration, head over to Ginny's beautiful blog, small things.