Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kitchen Reader: Soul of a Chef and the Hundred Page Rule

I have been dreading writing this post for weeks.  This should be my first book review for The Kitchen Reader.  The assigned read for this month was The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman, and I regret to report that I had to invoke the Hundred Page Rule on this book.

What is the Hundred Page Rule?  It is a personal rule I have for books - if I am not enjoying a book 100 pages in, I allow myself to put it aside.  No apologies, no guilt.

The theory behind the Rule is simple: life is too short and there are too many books on my "to read" list.  I have previously invoked the rule for books that strayed into a subject matter I found uncomfortable (e.g., Philippa Gregory's Greenacre); books that were distractingly poorly edited (e.g., Michael Dobbs's Never Surrender - this should tell you volumes about my dedication to the Rule: I greatly admire Winston Churchill); books that didn't click with me because of where I was at a particular moment in my life (e.g., Karen Joy Fowler's Jane Austen Book Club and Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason - I later enjoyed returning to the Bridget Jones sequel when I wasn't in the ooey-gooey early days of a relationship and could laugh at male foibles).

So why the Hundred Page Rule for The Soul of a Chef?  First of all, Michael Ruhlman is an excellent writer.  He writes with description more precise than the ingredient measurements for the most delicate recipe.  His own passion for the subject gives his words less the feel of a documentary and more the mood of an epic.  He tells the stories of the chefs he follows with the urgency of an episode of "ER".

And therein lies the problem (for me).

I'm in a season of life where my time between the pages of a book are some of the only moments I get to myself.  They are moments at the end of a usually packed day - and sometimes the only quiet ones I get.

I got so wrapped up in the palpable stress of Ruhlman's chefs that I found myself ramping up rather than winding down while reading.  Then I started dreaming about taking the Bar Exam again (a memory nearly eight years in my past and still the single most draining and demoralizing two days of my life).  That was when I called it. 

Invoking the Rule on this occasion taught me something about myself: for as much as I enjoy creating in the kitchen (and talk with admiration about a "recovering lawyer" who opened one of my favorite Atlanta restaurants) I'm a cottage cook kinda girl, not a city chef.  Cooking, for me, is a relaxation, a diversion (like reading) - not a passion or a calling.

For that bit of self-discovery, like the Rule, I make no apologies.  Although it does make me look even more forward to next month's assignment, A Homemade Life.

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Crustless Chicken Asparagus Quiche

Last summer, I fell in love with the Green Market Baking Book!  Each chapter represents a different season and features produce one is likely to find in abundance at the farmer's market or in the CSA basket.

One of the first recipes that caught my attention was a crustless (Daddy Moose and I try to eat a low carb/whole grain carb diet) vegetarian yellow squash quiche.  It was intended as a side dish, but we're a quiche kind of family, so I immediately set to work adapting it to include meat so we could enjoy it is a main dish.

Over the months I have tried several combinations (based on what we were in the mood to eat and what vegetables were readily available) and am finally prepared to share it with the world (or at least my half-dozen or so followers).

Without further ado, I give you a Crustless Chicken Asparagus Quiche (adapted from the Green Market Baking Book):

  •   Olive oil spray
  •   Onion
  •   1.5C shredded cheddar cheese (I used 2%)
  •   3Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  •   1tsp poultry seasoning
  •   1C fresh asparagus tips
  •   1.5C cooked chicken chunks
  •   1C half and half
  •   4 large eggs
  •   0.25tsp salt
  •   Fresh parsley (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400F and spray an 8 in. metal pie plate with olive oil spray.

 2. Thinly slice onion.

3. Line the bottom of the pie plate with the onion, cutting circular pieces where necessary to cover as much of the surface area as possible.

4. Sprinkle cheddar, Parmesan cheese, and poultry seasoning evenly over the onions.

5. Sprinkle asparagus tips evenly over the cheese.  (Note: you could easily substitute canned asparagus tips - thoroughly drained - or leftover steamed asparagus cut into one-inch pieces)

6. Cut cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces.  (I used frozen grilled chicken strips - thawed; you could also use leftover baked chicken)

7. Sprinkle chicken evenly over the asparagus.

8. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together half and half, eggs, and salt.  Pour over remaining ingredients in the pie tin.  If you'd like, you can add a little fresh parsley on top.  (I meant to do this, but I left the quiche for Daddy Moose to pop in the oven at the appointed time while Moose and I were at Ikea, and forgot to mention the parsley to him.)  You can also sprinkle the top with cheese, if you so choose.

(Note: this recipe is easy to assemble ahead of time and cook when you're nearing mealtime; I assembled at naptime for dinner yesterday.  Depending on how long it has been in the refrigerator, you may need to add a few minutes to the cooking time.)

9. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let rest for five minutes before cutting and serving.

Makes 4 servings as a main course (or 6-8 as a side dish).

This recipe happily works with nearly any meat, cheese, and veggie combination.  Stay tuned for my bacon cheeseburger version, Italian, and Mexican variations.  Happy quiching!  

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

Linking up with Mouthwatering Monday at A Southern Fairytale.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tot School: Z is for Zipper (and Zebra)

~ Moose is currently 26 months old ~

Tot School
Letter of the Week: Zz
Object/Theme: Zipper/Clothing
Color: Black
Shape: Square

Moose's daycare is keeping me on my toes hopping around the alphabet!  We went from Ii last week to Zz this week, and I didn't feel like I was able to maximize our theme, since I only found out on Monday.  I need to go ahead and plan some activities (and do all the printing/laminating) for all 26 letters so I can be better prepared in the future!

I was able to pull together the Tot School printables for the letter Zz, and Moose actually spent some time with them this week.

He even tried the line drawing (although the really accurate line you see is mine, not his).

We also used the Winter Clothing coloring sheets from 2 Teaching Mommies.  When our coloring is a color identification activity (as opposed to just free coloring) I try to encourage him to pick the "right" color by starting him off - it is still too soon to tell if he just doesn't want to be told what color to use, or if he can't tell the difference.

For the most part, the Moose was not particularly interested in the items I featured on his shelves.

He did play with the car lacing beads a little (I put it out figuring that lacing was a skill related to clothing), but ignored the sock coin purse.  He also mostly ignored the Melissa and Doug dressing board I put out for him, even though he played A LOT with the buckles on his kitchen booster seat (and insisted on helping with the buckles on his car seat).

Moose has been expressing a desire for independence in dressing himself for quite awhile, so getting him to participate in selecting his clothes and getting dressed was not at all difficult (although I have no photos to show for it).  The harder part was managing the frustration that went with it! He is so persistent in his efforts, even when he's reached a point of diminishing returns!

The only dressing-related book I had on hand was Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?.  So, since his daycare class used Zz for zebra, I also pulled out some zoo-themed books to supplement: 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo and One Night in the Zoo .

As with last week, the biggest success was our Montessori tray.  I picked up a little cream pitcher at TJ Maxx for $3.99 and set up the tray with a small amount of water in the pitcher, and a drinking cup.  Moose did remarkably well pouring from the pitcher to the cup.

He did less well pouring back to the pitcher to do it all over again.  We're planning to head out to Ikea this afternoon, and, among other things, I'll be on the lookout for two pitchers to go back and forth.  I may also take a step back and try letting him pour with beans (provided that we can find a pitcher with a slightly wider spout to accommodate the beans).

Wishing all my Tot School friends (visit Carisa at 1+1+1=1 to join in) a wonderful and inspired week!

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Soul-Searching and Self-Doubt

I read this article recently about Queen Elizabeth's Coronation Maids of Honour, and I found myself hung up on this quote from Lady Rosemary Muir (who was, at the time of the coronation, Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill):

Soul-searching and self-doubt is such a modern thing . . .

These words came back to my mind today, as I drove to the office, agonizing over yet another screaming-crying goodbye with the Moose when I left him at daycare.  

What am I doing wrong that he cries like that when I leave?  And why now - this has been our routine since he was a baby?

If Lady Rosemary's words are, indeed, a correct sociological observation, I might have be spared such thoughts, such guilt, were I born to a different time.

Then again, perhaps soul-searching and self-doubt are indicative of the evolution of human understanding and human connection, and I am better off with sadness (and a few tears of my own) if it leads to a better response to my son's emotional needs.

Or is he just going through a phase?

Or maybe I just need some more coffee?

What do you think? Is soul-searching (and, yes, self-doubt) better for us in the long run?  Or is ignorance bliss?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yarn Along: Consolation Cowl

I'm always happy to wake up and realize it is Wednesday and time, once again, to join Ginny and her wonderful Yarn Along!

~ 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! ~

I finally finished up the Moose's dishtowel, and began a new cowl for myself as consolation for the one I seriously undersized recently. 

I am still working my way through Organized Simplicity (and have made some great headway in organizing my junk drawer, kitchen counters, and dining room).  I am delighted at the practical inspiration the book delivers, without making me feel guilty for all my past organizational failings.  I also pulled out Montessori Play And Learn and How To Raise An Amazing Child the Montessori Way this week to get some activity ideas for the Moose after we had a great Montessori Moment playing with ice last week.

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tot School: I is for Igloo - sort of . . . (26 mo)

~ Moose is currently 26 months old ~

Tot School
Letter of the Week: Ii
Object/Theme: Igloo/Winter Fun
Color: Purple
Shape: Circle

I expected last week to be a slightly off week.  As I mentioned in my last Tot School post, Moose was scheduled to move up to the next classroom and I suspected that our alphabet run would be interrupted (and I was right: they did Cc last week and will do Dd this week).  For that reason, and given the season, I planned to focus more on some fun winter activities and be a little less structured.

It was a good thing I did.

Moose has transitioned seamlessly to the next class each and every time until now.  In fact, he is always eager to move onwards and upwards to new toys and new things to learn.  I expected he would be especially keen this time since all but one of his little friends had already moved up in December (and he'd been asking about them ever since).

I was instructed to drop him off in the new class on Tuesday morning.  That part went off without a hitch!  He ditched me at the door and ran to play with his friends.  Apparently it went downhill from there.  He started crying inconsolably during the 9 o'clock hour and by 10 they had taken him back to his old classroom.  When one of his two teachers in his old room went to take her lunchbreak during naptime, he saw her leaving and had a meltdown.  Moose can be a whiner, but he's not a big crier.  This was new to everyone!

In the end he spent Tuesday afternoon in his new classroom (he woke up from his nap and asked for some of his friends).  On Thursday morning, I dropped him off in his old classroom and, within 45 minutes, he asked for his "new class" and spent the rest of the day there.  

I tried to be sensitively to to his unease with this transition, while still maintaining a positive outlook for him (new as it was to me!).  We had a lot of cuddle time on our days home (Wednesday and Friday).  We talked about his new class and the things he would get to do there.  We talked about the fact that he could still see his old teachers even though he wouldn't be with them every day.  

I also threw out completely my little-less-structured ideas for the week, and we focused on fun.

Wednesday morning started very rough (not surprising after Tuesday's disaster).  Then I read this post over at Totally Tots and got inspired to have a Montessori Moment of my own.  I grabbed an activity tray (from Lakeshore Learning), a large bowl, small bowl, and a spoon.  Total prep time was about 60 seconds.

And the results were PHENOMINAL!

First he felt the ice and transferred it to the small bowl with his hands and we talked about how it felt.

Then he tried transferring ice with the spoon, which he did great with.

We had several rounds of moving ice from the large bowl to the smaller one.  When the small one was full, he poured it back into the big one.  A few times, we counted the ice cubes as he transferred them.

By this time the ice was beginning to melt, so we talked about how ice is made.  After I explained that ice is water that gets very cold, he asked for a glass of water.  He drank some and then began experimenting with adding ice to the water.  He mixed up the ice and water in his cup and told me he was "cooking".

More pouring ensued and things got a little messy.  At some point I pulled out a dish towel, and Moose asked if he could help "dry".

In all, he played at this activity for a full 28 minutes! For the Moose, this is an unheard of amount of time!  And we only stopped because we were late for a playdate!  He asked for "ice" again over the weekend (unfortunately at very inopportune times - like in the middle of meal prep, and while walking out the door to my father-in-law's 60th birthday dinner) and the lesson learned for me is that I definitely need to go back through some of the Montessori blogs I've stumbled upon and start assembling more activities like this!

Moose also played with his new Do-A-Dot Markers last week (I'd had them sitting in reserve for when we needed something fresh to liven things up, and they were just the thing for his mood last week).  He didn't quite grasp the concept of making the dot mark in the printed dot, but he had fun.  (The adorable printables are from 2 Teaching Mommies.)

Our physical play was mostly hide and seek (at Moose's request).  We did a little yoga over the weekend, too.

Somehow, out of the wreckage that was last week came some delightful firsts: first counting to ten on his own (spontaneously in the middle of the kitchen floor on Thursday night while I was making dinner: "Mommy, listen," and he counted perfectly 1 to 10); and first poo-poo in the potty.

I peeked in on him (via video) this afternoon and he is still in his new classroom and seems to be doing just fine.  These are the days I wish I could stay home be with him all the time . . .

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Yarn Along: Mystery Birthday Project

I am one again delighted to be joining Ginny for her wonderful Wednesday Yarn Along (and here I am straggling in on Thursday . . .)

~ 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! ~

I haven't had a chance to start any additional projects, so I am posting a photo of the early stages of the mystery birthday project that I mentioned in last week's Yarn Along post.  In truth, I haven't been able to steal too many moments for knitting or reading this past week.

I've had Organized Simplicity on my mental wish list since this time last year, and when it became available as a free Kindle download this week, I couldn't resist!  I was too inspired by reading the introduction yesterday and decided to clean out the junk drawer in the kitchen and left more of a mess than I started with.

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review: The Uncommon Reader

This month it was my turn to make the selection for my neighborhood book club.  This is the second year in a row that I volunteered for January and with as busy as everyone gets around the holidays, I wanted to make sure it wasn't a cumbersome read, either in length or relative heaviness.

I have a somewhat secret resource for interesting, short reads: What is Stephen Harper Reading?  I all started in 2007 when author Yann Martel decided that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper could benefit from a broadening of his literary horizons and began sending him a short selection every other week.  I actually kept up with the list for awhile, appreciating both the quick nature of the reads as well as the opportunity to read someone else's selections and get outside of my comfort zone.  I abandoned the venture when I had trouble procuring some of the selections, but remembered the site as a resource for thoughtful but brief reading selections.

Enter The Uncommon Reader. The basic premise is that one day the Queen (yes, of England) chases an unruly corgi onto the mobile library bus outside Buckingham Palace and, once aboard, feels duty bound to feign an interest and borrow a title - even though she has never taken the time for reading before.  One of her kitchen boys is also in the bus and makes a recommendation, which she in turn reads solely out of a sense of duty.  Much to her surprise, she enjoys the exercise and so begins a love affair with the written word.

The story is a delightful little read.  The Queen gets so absorbed in her reading that she - fastidious as she is is known to be - slacks off a little with her duties and even her appearance.  Who among us hasn't hidden a book under a desk or in a bathroom to sneak a few minutes when the plot thickens?  Her Majesty becomes just as we are - even hiding a book under a blanket in her lap while in the royal carriage on her way to the opening of Parliament.  There is a hilarious irony throughout, as the Prime Minister and the Queen's staff think she has begun to lose her faculties, and plot ways to interrupt her literary adventures.

With the exception of the ending (which I find unrealistic on a deep level having to do with my own reading about the Queen over the years; but which I don't think I can discuss here without a major spoiler), I thought that Bennett captured the Queen's persona (at least the public perception of it) perfectly.

Between the pithy commentary on books, the interpretation of books, writers and writing there is also some food for thought about the nature of language - the receiving and the sharing of it.  The Queen begins to make notes about what she reads - highlights, responses - and I was acutely reminded of my own tendency to interact with what I am reading (which led, coincidentally to the title of this blog).

The author also posits that one can only read (and make sidebar comments) for so long before feeling the urge to enter one's own voice into the fray.  How long were you a blog reader before you started blogging yourself?

How apropos that this little English book should be as a good English beer: light and frothy on the surface with some real substance beneath. 


Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dutch Oven Magic

It's been a year since I purchased my Dutch oven, and while it has seen plenty of use, I had yet to use it as truly intended.  That is to say, I've done plenty of stovetop cooking but no baking.

With our current transition to a family dinner with the Moose (rather than Moose eating at 6 and us eating at 8 or later after the Moose was in bed), and the attendant challenge of getting food prep done with the Moose underfoot, I finally cracked open the Glorious One-Pot Meals book I purchased along with the Dutch oven.  The basic premise is that, by layering raw ingredients in a particular order within the Dutch oven, with a very precise liquid to dry goods ratio, a completely cooked dinner of starch, protein and vegetables can be achieved in around an hour.

Can you tell I was skeptical?

I started by finally ordering the metal Le Creuset replacement knob necessary for high-heat oven cooking (the One-Pot Meals all cook at 450F; the plastic knobs that come standard with all Dutch ovens - Lodge as well as Le Creuset - cannot withstand that heat).  I'm happy to report that it was a perfect fit on my Lodge oven.

I chose to start with a chicken recipe involving a bottom layer of pasta (I used whole wheat), topped with chicken breasts, fresh herbs, mushrooms, pearl onions, olives, chard and canned tomatoes.

One hour later, I cut into a chicken breast to test and was stunned to find that it was cooked perfectly!

I have gone from seriously skeptical to wildly excited!  If I can speed up my knife skills and cut my prep time down (it was seriously dismal this time!), I expect I will have a Friday mainstay (which yields enough for leftovers AND a freezer meal)!  I also hope I will be brave enough to try some of my own adaptations next time around and, therefore, have a recipe to share.

Do you have a favorite Dutch oven recipe?  I'd love to hear it!

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tot School: H is for Hammer (25.5 mo)

~ Moose is currently 25.5 months old ~

Tot School
Letter of the Week: Hh
Object/Theme: Hammer/Tools
Color: Pink
Shape: Star

We started off the new week with a new pocket chart on the fridge featuring the letter, color, and shape of the week.  The sets I chose (all from Lakeshore Learning, but apparently not available online) feature photos of objects, which seems to particularly attract the Moose.  I intended it to be primarily a visual, but Moose ended up interacting with it quite a lot - especially taking out and holding up the different stars (a starfish, starfruit, and gold craft star). 

I used the printables from 1+1+1=1 again, although I can honestly say that, except one swipe of a dry erase marker at the binder housing the sheets, Moose had absolutely no interest in doing coloring/tracing this week.

Because I did not have any smaller tool toys to feature on his shelves, I concentrated on some shape toys.  Moose really likes his Melissa & Doug Chunky Shapes Puzzle (he has taken to chunky puzzles in a way and with a skill he never showed with the "age-appropriate" large peg puzzles he spent all last year with).  The laminated shape cards from the printables got a lot of play again and he very soundly knows diamond, star, and oval on his own.  He really took to his Lauri Toys Shape and Color Sorter!

Although shapes and colors were not actually sorted.

Moose's book basket featured The Toolbox , Helping Daddy , and Skippyjon Jones Shape Up.  The Toolbox (like all Anne Rockwell books) is absolutely beautiful, and if you have a young tool enthusiast in your family, I can't recommend it enough!

Moose was most excited that his tool toys were featured this week.  He loves his V Tech Tool Box and Fisher-Price Drill Set!  I had put up the drill bits when we originally purchased the toy (lest they get lost) and brought them out for the first time this week and he spent A LOT of time driving the screws in and out.

Daddy Moose also invited him out to his workshop while he finished up some pens he had turned on the lathe, which Moose loved!

Moose specifically asked for yoga as his indoor physical activity this week and followed along very well with his two favorite segments on YouTube (run through the TV): the warm-up from Yoga Motion and some bug-inspired poses.  Interestingly, he brought toys to his yoga mat to play after yoga was finished, and I'm thinking he might do well (and contain his mess!) with a Montessori-style mat, so I'm going to look on Etsy this week for something of that nature.

The surprise learning moment of the week came thanks to an early morning (pre-sunrise) on Wednesday and an elephant-shaped booklight that Moose noticed high on his shelf.  We turned off the overhead light and turned the booklight off and on, shone it at the walls and ceiling, and talked about light and dark.  Of course I have no photos to show for it, but he was absolutely delighted by the experience!

This coming week we will move on to Ii and I can't wait to try out some of the cold weather fun ideas that have been coming to my inbox from some of my favorite blogs!  Moose is expected to move up to the next classroom at daycare sometime soon, so our alphabet run may get shifted, but for now I'm happy that the letter Ii falls during some actual wintry weather!

For some really excellent Tot School inspiration, visit Carisa at 1+1+1=1!

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.