I am Awful At Meal Planning

I have this wonderful idea that every weekend before I go grocery shopping I will meal plan for the entire week and we will eat wholesome, home cooked meals in the dining room as a family, chatting about our day. It’s a delightful plan isn’t it? Yeah, it rarely works. But I keep trying. So let me try and plan for the next week……..

Now tomorrow is a total wash – we are taking Poppy and her friend to the Animal Kingdom in Maine and then having dinner with Isabella and her family. This leaves me Sunday, just Sunday to grocery shop and meal prep – and here is the thing Sunday is supposed to be gorgeous and to be honest we have the offer a beach day in Ipswich!

But to next week – what might I make? So we do a meat share with Walden Farms, and I have a freezer full of meat to be used up. I found a recipe for ragu that involves using a joint of beef and Italian sausage which sounds delightful and the fun part is I get to use my new baby to cook it! Yes! My hubby (and taste tester) came through for me and bought my a gorgeous Le Creuset dutch oven for the Big 5-0. (I am now looking to add the balti dish and the tangine – just for starters). The ragu could easily do for two meals – a basic spaghetti dish and a lasagna.

That is only 2 days….I do have a lonely packet of chicken breasts and one of chicken legs so maybe that same pot will conjure up a nice coq-au-vin (without the mushrooms because yuck….we all hate mushrooms…). I could serve this with mixed beans from the Salem Farmers Market.

I also really want to make this, and I do have fresh beets and an amazing goat cheese…

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And I want to make this, although I would use the thinly sliced pork tenderloin that I have on hand, but getting Cayuga pinto beans might be a little tricky….

Pork lon with cayuga pinto beans, zucchini, squash and lima beans

Both of these recipes are from “Culinary History of the Finger Lakes by Laura Winter Falk.” This is an amazing book I snagged in the gift shop at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca and I am excited to try the handful of recipes in this fascinating history of one of the most beautiful parts of America.

These 2 dishes alone get back to my original point – I suck at meal planning because I aim to high! I forget that I don’t get home until 5.30pm, and that these could result in us eating around 10pm, which to be honest ius way past my bedtime!

Watch this space, maybe I will pull it off…..

 

7 Weeks Post Fifty

All of a sudden I am 45 weeks from 51 and really the past year didn’t quite work out as I had planned. It really became very chaotic and not a little traumatic. But as they say, onward and upwards. let’s try this again.

We just spent a long weekend in the Finger Lakes area of New York State. Just being out in the country helped rekindle my desire to focus on home cooking and family. We have just weathered a brutal year of health issues among other things, and for a while I wasn’t sure that we would survive as a family, but we are pulling together and working hard to make this work.

One of the things I really appreciated about our time at our friends’ farm was the simplicity. Now, I am not saying I want to run off and live on a farm (sorry Michelle), but I know we can transfer some of that simplicity to our everyday life in our small city.

What lies ahead? More time at the Farmer’s Market buying fresh fruit and vegetables, more meal planning and more baking. I dug out my copy of Make the Bread and Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese (check out her blog below)  as a motivation to try new things, and to rekindle my love of some old things.

http://www.tipsybaker.com/p/make-bread-buy-butter.html

Tomato sauce… I used to make homemade tomato sauce all the time and it was delicious, it also saved us a bunch of money. I used to make meatballs by hand, and homemade lasagna – and they were all also delicious and easy to freeze.

So what else could be on the menu? Peanut butter maybe, jam, pickles, maybe I will even get back to baking bread from time to time, according to Jennifer Reese even bagels are easy enough to make at home….Should I also try some cheese making? I do have a bacon making kit which could be an awful lot of fun!

I also want to get Poppy in the kitchen and more interested in what we are eating, in the hope that it might help with her pickiness. She is finally starting to show some interest in helping out. Poppy also has an idea about us making videos of our kitchen adventures, which I think is a spectacular idea, but given my inability to keep up with a written blog please don’t hold your breath for videos!

Oh – last thing….check out this lovely Finger Lakes vineyard! The Cheese Shop of Salem sells their dry reisling and it is delicious as is their chardonnay and rose pinot noir!

https://www.thirstyowl.com/

https://www.thecheeseshopofsalem.com/

 

Stress Baking

I am a stress baker. If I am worried or anxious I find myself in the kitchen making sweet things which we rarely eat at home but which my co-workers generally appreciate. Last night I made milk chocolate egg cookies – chocolate upon chocolate upon chocolate. They are sweet and crunchy and make the world a little brighter.

So what was in my kitchen at 8pm on a Wednesday night stress baking?

Guns.

I lost 3 colleagues to an angry guy with a gun. The educator for the pediatric unit where I worked, and 2 other professors of nursing who were instrumental in my orientation to being a nurse in the USA. He was angry because he was failing his classes. By all reports he was angry, would shout at his teachers, and had an all-around bad attitude, and a strong sense of entitlement. His entitlement and anger lead to him slaughtering 3 women who he felt had done him wrong. He was not mentally ill, he knew exactly what he was doing when he shot Robyn in her office and Barb and Cheryl in front of a class full of students. He made a very conscious decision to punish, to wound and to destroy. Since that day, I don’t do well with mass shootings (although this was not technically a mass shooting because he didn’t kill enough people). I get anxious, and tearful and angry and sad.

Now I appreciate that my reaction to these things is in part colored by my being English, and being from a country where we have strict gun control. It does not mean as a country that we have escaped since 1987 we have had 3 mass shootings, Hungerford, Dunblane and Cumbria. A total of 46 people died and 45 were injured in these 3 massacres. Since 1987 in the USA there have been 17 mass shootings (defined as more than 4 victims, excluding the perpetrator) and 338 people have been killed (excluding the perpetrators). If we look at specifically school shootings there has been 1 in the UK and that was Dunblane, where 18 were killed and 15 injured in a shooting at a primary school. In the USA since 1997 (the year of the Dunblane Massacre) there have been as many as 226 school shootings. I did not count the dead and wounded because by the time I had gotten through the first 62 shootings (94 deaths and 162 injuries) I just couldn’t keep counting. I was nauseous.

Yesterday there was another school shooting in America. This was the 18th this year, the deadliest since Sandy Hook. It happened in a town in Florida that had just been voted the safest town in Florida. It wasn’t gang related, it wasn’t a random person with a severe psychotic illness, it was carried out by a 19-year-old. A 19-year-old who had been legally able to purchase a semi-automatic weapon, and ridiculous amounts of ammunition. A 19-year-old who can’t legally buy a beer could buy a weapon that has no place outside of the military. He could not by a Corona but he could by a fucking AR-15. The Ar-15 in case you didn’t know was designed off the M16 used by the military during combat. The Ar-15 uses magazines that hold 20-30 rounds. That means this weapon can fire 20-30 rounds per magazine, and apparently an experienced (not professional – just experienced) shooter could on average manage to get off 90 rounds/minute – more if they are just spraying randomly and not worrying about accuracy. Just ponder that for a moment – in close quarters, with people with nowhere to go facing 90 bullets per minutes.

Our politicians are already telling us not to rush to judgment, to send our thoughts and prayers, that its once again too early to talk about gun control. They are telling us to look at the mental health of the perpetrator, and wonder how he slipped through the cracks. We are being asked to wring our hands, and wonder what all we could have done to save him from himself. Here’s the thing though even if he has a psychiatric illness, it is unlikely that it robbed him of the ability to know right from wrong, it is highly unlikely that he was suffering from a psychotic disorder with command hallucinations. When we insist on linking this to mental illness we are stripping the responsibility from the individual for their own savagery. We are denying that in this country we have a gun problem, that it is too easy to get a gun, and too easy to use a gun to solve your problems. We are also stripping the responsibility away from law makers who have been bought and paid for by the gun lobby and who refuse to implement any form of gun control. We put the whims and wishes of the NRA above the lives of children. We must admit that as a nation we have failed.

“I Don’t Want to Change The World, I’m Not Looking For A New England” but I am looking for real New England food

We spend lots of time with “restaurant people.” We know so many chefs, bartenders and servers. We have some understanding of the blood, sweat and tears that go into developing, opening and running a restaurant. We understand how they can also just go “poof” and vanish. We also live in a very small town, with a great many restaurants. I can think of 3 that opened and 3 that closed last year. It was an experience at one of the new restaurants that has set me off on a new “sub-project.”

Ledger opened to great fanfare last year, it is owned by a restaurateur who owns a wildly popular restaurant 2 towns over from us. It is certainly a beautiful space, a converted bank that has been in Salem since circa 1818. Ledger describes itself as “a progressive New England concept, where traditional 19th century dishes, cocktails and techniques will be elevated with 21st century resources.” I had looked at the menu several times before I went for the first time, and I was mostly struck by the cost. This is not an everyday restaurant, this is “special occasion” dining.

ledger menu

Our special occasion came about with the arrival of grandparents who whisked the small one away to their hotel for the night. SO off we went to Ledger, brimming with high expectations because we had only heard great things!.

First of all Ledger is gorgeous, it is just visually stunning, all high ceilings, exposed brick, and art-deco paintings. For all it is in a 19th century bank it felt very much like high end Roaring Twenties Speakeasy.  The space is dominated by a gorgeous square bar, right in the center of the dining room We were seated at the family style table, a long table that runs the length of the dining room. We didn’t get off to the best start because we upset the hostess by asking to sit side by side and not across from each other. We were on a date! We wanted to hold hands not shout at each other across a table! LEDGER_INTERIORS_0617-30

We started with the cheese board, three cheese, some berries, some honey and some nuts. Let me clear – I love cheese – I mean seriously love cheese, being a cheesemonger would be a dream job for me. I have been spoiled by the staff of The Cheese Shop of Salem, who have developed my palate considerably since they opened. The three cheeses on this board were a semi soft, a soft and a blue. Our server did tell us their names but it was so loud in the restaurant that the only thing I caught was that the soft cheese might be very “oaky” due to the way it is processed. The soft cheese was not oaky, the blue had no bite, and the semi-soft really was nothing more than a cheese you would expect in Market Basket labelled “American Cheese.” There was no flavor progression, they started bland and ended bland.

ledger cheese

After the cheeses our server took our entrée order. I went plain and simple with the burger about which I had heard rave reviews and Rob went with the fish special a local striped bass with sunchoke puree, cauliflower and a slaw. The fish was simple, light and delicate, the plating was pretty.

ledger fish

The burger sadly was just grey. It honestly tasted grey, under seasoned, soft, I couldn’t taste the flavors in the aioli. The potato wedges were dry and I think the salt that could have been in the burger ended up on them.

ledger burger

We didn’t stick around for desert.

We were both frustrated, because Ledger has so much potential to do something really amazing and exciting. Nineteenth century New England was so much more than chicken, fish, pork and steak. Where was the game? The rabbit? The venison? The squab? The pheasant? Where were the stews? The chowders? Rob summed it up as “Yankee palate” the domain of boiled dinners and Dunkin Donuts. I wanted to be wowed, especially given the price point, I certainly didn’t want to leave and say; “We should have gone to Bella Verona.”

This experience however led me to a new challenge and a really fun research project. Can a home cook find 19th century New England recipes and elevate them in a way an actual chef could not?

Learning to step away from judgment

Being a parent sucks sometimes. It sucks because of the judgements. And before anyone even considers saying “I don’t judge other parents” let me just stop you right there. Stop lying. You judge everyone. We all do, it’s human nature. The differences lie in how we do it, and how we respond to it.  I am working on accepting that my way of parenting will not suit a friend, or an acquaintance or even a family member. I have learned the hard way not to post snark about other moms no matter what I may be thinking, and I try to remember that we are our own harshest critics, we don’t judgment raining down on us from every other mother in the world.

I spend a huge chunk of my life judging myself, and finding myself lacking as a mother. Before the holidays I was clearing out our sideboard in the dining room and I came across a folder of papers from when Poppy was in the first grade. I had never seen them before. I couldn’t even recall looking at this folder before it got shoved on a shelf out of the way. I sat and cried. How had I become this forgetful mother, who misses things? How did I become this mother who lets the school stuff take care of itself instead of being involved at every step?

Sometimes just looking at my Facebook feed is exhausting. I see all the wonderful photos of families doing family things, of day trips, family dinners, school plays, family traditions, extracurricular activities and all kinds of other things we are told we should be doing with our children. I start judging myself and the more I judge myself the harsher the criticisms became.

I judged myself for

  • Not restarting swimming
  • Quitting Daisies
  • Not signing Poppy up for drama even though she asked
  • Not signing Poppy up for STEM – even though she didn’t ask
  • Flaking out on her Chinese lessons
  • Buying her Hatchimal for her birthday
  • Buying her a stuffy from Build-A-Bear
  • Having fun with the damn Elf
  • Not thrifting
  • For my house, not being completely immaculate all of the time
  • For not forcing Poppy to eat whatever is put in front of her
  • For struggling to pay the bills from time to time
  • For not ironing her school uniform this morning so she looked all rumpled
  • For letting her watch TV with commercials
  • For my car being beat up and scruffy
  • Not being able to remember our last family daytrip
  • For never taking Poppy to Storyland
  • For never going to Great Wolf Lodge

Then I realized that this doesn’t matter.

  • Swimming will be there when we decide to go back
  • She didn’t really like Daisies
  • She will go to drama after Christmas
  • She didn’t want to do STEM this year
  • I will message Yen about her Chinese lessons
  • So what she got a Hatchimal? – It brought her great joy during a horrific week
  • Build-A-Bear is part of life
  • The elf is fun – and more importantly Poppy likes it.
  • So I don’t thrift it’s not a big deal. I donate toys, books and clothes year round.
  • I work full time, I can’t keep my house like something out of a magazine, it is a home not a museum
  • I was picky. I survived. Poppy will survive.
  • We pay the bills. We have no debts beyond the mortgage.
  • She was rumpled this morning, it’s not the end of the world
  • Her brain is not going to rot due to commercials, I am not a bad mother because she sees them
  • So what if my car is scruffy? I own it free and clear.
  • We have years of family trips ahead of us
  • Poppy doesn’t know what Storyland is, nor does she know what Great Wolf Lodge is – she will survive.

So judge away. I am going to try not to care. My child wants for nothing, she is adored, she is cherished, she is loved and yes, she is spoiled. But, and this is key, she is smart, she is funny, she is compassionate, she is a faithful and loyal friend who is unfailingly kind to everyone and everything.

As a family we have been through 2 pretty brutal years, but we are alive, and we are together and I hope that we are stronger than ever. We have made mistakes, we are learning from them, and we are growing. There is a new year rapidly approaching and I hope that this year will be a turning point for us, a new start with renewed energy and health and happiness.

Damn, life keeps interrupting…

Life has this awful habit of getting in the way, so I have really been slacking off as far as this project goes, at least from the writing perspective. The Instagram page is chugging along quite nicely and I am finding that I prefer that platform over Facebook in many ways. There is no nastiness, no fighting, not bitching on my Instagram feeds, just a steady flow of photographs.

So what have I been up to? Have I actually been cooking? Well…kind of…pretty half-halfheartedly really. I have to work on meal planning, and as a glass half full kind of gal,  I hope that with winter rapidly approaching I can start focusing on more meals at home, after all who wants to walk around in the cold, dark and damp?

These beauties were courtesy of my wonderful Anova. Seriously – if you have not tried cooking something sous vide stop what you are doing hop on over to the Anova website or the Joule website – you seriously do not know what you are missing. Yes, it takes longer to cook everything – that salmon? It took 40 minutes, but believe me it is so worth it for the way it is just so perfectly cooked. The filet? Well that took even longer, but for melt in your mouth perfectly cooked steak it is worth the time and the planning that is required. My ever so patient and long -suffering husband bought me my Anova for Christmas last year and I am seriously in love, so much so that this year I have asked for a vacuum sealer (you don’t need this there are all kinds of tricks).

ANova

 

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful for my family and friends. When you live so far away from your actual family your “friends-as-family” become more important than ever, and this year in the midst of the chaos wrought by health issues and the nastiness of the local elections we found a new “friend-as family” with Gypsy and her daughters. Poppy and Lily formed an effortless friendship, and Gypsy’s support while Rob was sick was immense and I can truly never repay her for that.

Our Thanksgiving this year will be spent with Tim, Elizabeth and Vanessa, it’s going to be pretty low key, and quiet, which I think we will all appreciate.

I am thankful that as a family we have weathered the storms of the the past two years, and as I look ahead I am hopeful for a more steady, more calm and more importantly a happier future for us all. The past few weeks have reinforced why I started this project in the first place, as a way to recover what we had lost.

Thought I would Get This Off My Chest

It’s hard to be in the USA and escape politics even for a brief respite, just like bad reality TV it sucks you right back in. First of all, let me just get this out of the way first, I am still with her and no he is absolutely not my president. Every morning I wake up and wonder what new horrors await us, some days it is quiet and other days we have Nazis carrying torches marching in the streets and a known racist, unbelievably cruel sheriff being pardoned. Some days I know General Kelly has hidden his phone other days there is storm of hysterical tweets that I know he wrote himself.

The national political scene is exhausting, the racism which I knew always existed in the USA has been given permission to be more vocal than ever. The hatred of anyone considered to be “the other” is out there loud and proud. There is a vocal group in the USA who believe that women are better off barefoot and pregnant, that LGBTQ individuals are just sinners, that minorities should know their place, that all immigrants are wicked, criminal people. I can’t fix this, there is no cure for the hatred that is taught from generation to generation. I can however teach my own child that discrimination is never okay, and I hope we are doing that. We try to make our home welcome, we try not to judge others, and we try to acknowledge our inherent privilege granted by the color of our skin and (apparent) social class. It is not always easy. But we try, we try because we all have a role to play in teaching our children the importance of equality, humility and empathy. I do sincerely hope that we are raising a generation of children who will finally be the generation to move past these embedded hatreds.

Where does this fit into my run up to the BIG 5-0? I am trying to be well, and trying to remain balanced so I am cooking, I am surrounding myself with friends, and sometimes even friends who do not agree with me – because I certainly do not want to be in an echo chamber. I am listening, and I am watching what happens locally and nationally. I am of course also cooking, and getting ready for Poppy to start the 2nd grade!

What am I cooking? Last night was simple salmon, which I oven roasted even though my heart told me to use the sous vide. Honestly, cook salmon in a sous vide a few times and you will never want it cooked any other way! Tonight, will finally be the pork chops stuffed with manchego and serrano. The actual recipe in the Curaté calls for Black Forest ham but I love the salty toothiness of serrano so much! I am going to serve this with risotto and who knows maybe I will even try my hand at arancini with the left overs!  I am still struggling to find the balance to do everything I want to do with this project, but each week seems to bring a new idea and a new challenge!

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This past weekend I finally got Poppy to follow a recipe and we made brownies from scratch, they were delicious especially since I accidentally added almond essence instead of vanilla – chocolate and almonds? What’s not to love? Poppy tends to be a very “experimental” baker which has led to some very interesting bakes and has cost me a couple of muffin pans.

This weekend we are having a cook out and for this one I have pulled a favorite book off the shelf: Persiana – Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond by Sabrina Ghayour. I have had this book for a while and there are some amazingly tasty yet simple dishes that are just designed to be shared! Be on the lookout for pistachio dip, rosemary and saffron chicken and spiced beef kotlets! And maybe, just maybe I picked this menu, not to use up the many pounds of beef and chicken in my freezer, but to show that by excluding entire groups of people from our country we would miss out on so much. I can’t whisk my friends to Persia for a visit, but I can at least recreate some of the food and some of the tastes.

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