Friday, January 30, 2009

The Gruffalo

"The Gruffalo, why didn't you know? "

If you're not familiar with the book called "The Gruffalo" by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler and have kids, it is a good time to check it out. The story is about a small mouse who encounters several hungry animals in the woods and makes up a story about why they shouldn't eat him, only to meet the real Gruffalo he has created in his mind. The brave little mouse then spends the rest of the story meeting up with the hungry animals again and convincing the Gruffalo himself that he shouldn't eat the mouse. The rhymes are fun and catchy and the illustrations are awe-inspiring. Great details on all the funny little characters.

We saw the show at the Children's Theatre Company this weekend. We have been excited about the show since Carl was asked by a friend of ours to be in the promotions for the play for some pro-bono work her company does. Of course, we said yes. The photo shoot itself was a blast... a chance for Carl to get dolled up by the wardrobe people, buffed and puffed by makeup and hair stylists and to ham it up for the camera. The biggest thrill, however, was seeing our little Carl all over the lobby at the Children's Theatre for the show about one of our favorite books. We were in the balcony and I took this without a flash. Sorry for the Gruffalo blur.

Carl and Gus as a two-headed Gruffalo.

Carl in front of his ad in the lobby.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hot Dish vs. Casserole

That's a healthy dose of hotdish sauce on her face. I decided it was time for my kids to be indoctrinated into Minnesota's Hotdish Club, or Casserole Club as they'd probably call it in most other places. I'm not a hotdish kind of cook for the most part. I like to cook on top of the stove and not in the oven. I enjoy a good saute here and there, a piping hot pan of risotto steaming atop the cooktop, and a simmering pot of soup. That's my cooking style.

Lately though, I've been peering through my Grandma's church cook book and beginning to wonder if those church basement cooks really had a good thing going. They may not be fancy or use trendy ingredients, but boy, are they easy, fast, and make the house smell good in a hurry. As I wrote out my grocery list last week, I chose three recipes that I thought would be a good introduction for my kids to the joys of hotdish. They love goulash when Ron's mom serves it, can dig a tater-tot hotdish here and there, and Gus even ate a mushroom in lasagna the other night. They're learning to eat mixed foods (most little kids like their food separated from the other food on the plate.)

I chose Spaghetti Bake, A Chicken/Rice/Creamy/Waterchestnut one, and a Taco Casserole. I bought the ingredients for all and figured that I would save myself some pre-dinner labor if I could prepare these earlier, then get one in the oven an hour before dinner. Today I made the first two, serving one for lunch and placing the other in the freezer for later.

Louise's face above tells you how they liked it. Love at first warm noodly bite. Give those church basement mamas a high FIVE! (Don't worry, Stef, I still prefer the sautes, but for the cold months when Ron is working so much, this just may help me make it through the day!)

That's pineapple, not hotdish. A lazy Sunday... still in jammies at noon. All of us.

"You're right Mom, this is good." That's one happy customer.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More Bread, again.

You ask... what is that a picture of? Oh my, is that the tin ceiling in your kitchen? Oh yes! I was working on breaking the code of "caramel color" for a loaf of pumpernickel the other day and found the camera focusing on odd shapes. As I snapped the camera into manual, I realized that the other shapes were coming from the ceiling. Although I may never get that pot clean after burning sugar into tar, the results in the photo and the subsequent bread were stunning.
Here's what it really looks like. The recipe in Artisan Bread... 5 Minutes a Day calls for "caramel coloring" that can be purchased at a baking store or online. It was probably -10 degrees the other day and I had one napping, so there was no way I was going out in search of the brown goo. Instead I found a recipe on line to make it myself. Here it is:
Pumpernickel Color
3 T sugar
1T water
Pinch cream of tartar
1/4 cup boiling water

"In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the sugar in the tablespoon of water. Increast the heat to medium-high, cover the pan, bring to a boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Add the cream of tartar and continue to boil, uncovered, until the sugar is almost black in color. Remove the pan from the heat. The sugar will continue cook and darken. Allow it to begin to cool. Using extreme care, add the boiling water (the sugar will boil up and may splatter). Stir to disolve, then let cool to room temperature.
Whenever you use pumpernickel color, wet the measuring spoon or cup with cold wter for easier cleanup. Soaking the saucepan and the utensils in hot water will dissolve the caramelized sugar remaining on them."

Did you know that pumpernickel and rye are related because they both have caraway and rye flour in them, but otherwise, they aren't very similar? The dark color of pumpernickel comes from the caramel color, but also from the addition of coffee, cocoa powder and molasses.

The front loaf is definitely much more beautiful, so I'm hiding the second one in the distance. Still tasted great, but not so cute. I tried to help the bread rise faster by placing them in a warmed oven that was turned off, but had difficulty transferring them onto the pizza peel so I could then pre-heat the oven and pizza stone for later baking. It got smushed. Is that even a word?

I also did rye this week, but forgot to photograph the baked final product. A much simpler bread, in terms of not having to make the caramel color, and quite tasty.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A New Doll House

Here's a little corner of our house... a favorite one. This is Louise's room and her new doll house that my parents made her for Christmas. They re-purposed a funky CD tower into this lovely little thing. I couldn't believe it! Even the boys like to get in on the doll house action.
Little details everywhere. The construction was mostly my Dad, including the furniture made from scraps of wood from his woodshop. The painting and decorating was by my Mom, who also did the painting on my childhood doll house that is now a favorite play piece at their house.
The kitchen. Notice on the little people how they are sitting down in this photo.
Here's the living room with a couch and two arm chairs. Here the person is standing. Their body twists at the waist with a diagonal cut on their waist. So interesting! They were purchased at a new local wooden toy store called The Green Goober. Look at the family photo on the wall. They thought of everything, I guess.Bedroom #1. Look at the adorable tiny copper nails for drawer pulls.
Bedroom #2, the kids' room.

And of course, coming from my Mom, a little bag to keep all the pieces together. Louise loves her house!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Day to Remember

We spent much of the day today watching, listening, reading and talking about all-things-inauguration. What an amazing day to be alive! The pomp and circumstance of a grand Washington event brings back my inner-event planner. The kids and I enjoyed watching the crowds knowing my brother and sister-in-law were there... shivering in the cold, listening live (well, amplified) to the sounds of Yo-Yo Ma and the quartet, Aretha Franklin in her amazing hat, and of course, shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world absorbing President Obama's speech.
If we keep the memories fresh of this fine day, will they remember today? Will they remember it as we remember important days of history we have lived through? September 11th, being old enough to vote and voting for Clinton, the space shuttle crashing when I was in Jr. High. Important days indeed.
No matter what your political leaning, today marks a big day for the United States. A day to remember. A day for change.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Old School Cooking

It has been cold here lately, as I have mentioned in previous posts, and trying to keep ourselves occupied inside tends to take place in the kitchen. Rather than standing back and watching or completely immersing myself in their activities, the kids do their stuff at the kitchen counter and I cook next to them.

This past weekend I decided to do some old school cooking. Yep, a pot roast and some stew. Beef stew. As a former vegetarian, I tend to do a lot of meatless cooking.... lots of beans, veggies, fruit and other carbs in every meal. But, there is a part of me that craves the classics like pot roast, stew, corned beef and more. As I was grocery shopping I noticed some sale packages of beef and decided to indulge my inner carnivore as well as to share the love. I bought enough beef to make stew to fill five casserole containers in my oven. A few friends are near the end of their pregnancies and tired of cooking, another is having her kitchen remodeled and is sick of eating sandwiches, my grandparents love my stew and it freezes well!

My recipe is one that has been passed down to me from my mom, but I believe that it was a classic '60s recipe. Pretty easy to do, not exact at all. Here it is:

Chop up some celery. Peel and chop some onions in big chunks. Chop up potatoes (no need to even peel them, just wash well.) Peel and chop carrots.

Buy the cheapest meat you can find... could be beef, chicken, pork, turkey even... and cut into chunks. Add a package or two of Lipton onion soup mix and stir with the meat, depending on the quantity.
Add the cut up vegetables until it looks like you have a nice ratio of veggies to meat. Stir together. Sprinkle with dried or fresh parsley. Add salt and pepper. Spread a can of cream soup on the top... celery, chicken, mushroom, it doesn't matter. Drizzle some wine (I save wine when we don't finish a bottle and keep it for cooking) along the edges, either red or white, about 1/2 cup. Or, use water. Cover and bake at 300 for 3 hours, or at 275 for 3 1/2 hours, or lower for longer. Or, put it in the crock pot on low for 8 hours. High for 5. That's the beauty of the recipe... it is extremely flexible and freezes well. I actually prefer to eat it on day two. The flavors meld quite nicely and the sauce thickens.

I dropped off the stew at my friends' houses with a fresh baked loaf of artisan 5 minute a day bread. So easy, so delicious. And you? What's your favorite easy meal to make for a friend who needs a meal?

A Whole Lotta Inside

It has been a cold winter here in Minnesota. Maybe not colder than usual, but for some reason, we've been inside a lot more than I remember in years past. Maybe the weather? Or the idea
of getting three little ones dressed for outside play? Instead, we've been doing a whole lotta art stuff here in the heart of our home: the kitchen island.The boys both got new paints for Christmas and have been asking almost every day to use them. Louise finally got into the action for the first time this week. She was so enthralled with the chunky paint brushes and the green paint that even with three sheets taped down in front of her at a time, I could barely keep up with removing and replacing the papers! Painting with kids becomes a lot more fun when you realize that they are going to get dirty and they will get paint on the counter. Plan on it, involve them in the clean up, and have FUN!

I have been loving putting them in aprons when they paint. The firetruck one that Louise is wearing was a Valentine's day gift to Carl from my mom two years ago. The blue and yellow plaid ones were handmade wedding gifts for us from my Dad's cousin Gail.

Do you have a favorite apron? What is its history?

Check out the aprons over here. I love this one... same fabric as the dress I made for Louise's birthday.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Red Velvet Wonder

I have been wanting to bake a red velvet cake ever since I saw Steel Magnolias when it first came out. What an amazing looking cake! Why on earth anyone ever decided to use an entire 1 oz. bottle in a cake is beyond me, but the results are stunning. I found a recipe in Cook's Country magazine and tore it out a few years ago, adding it to my now-organized recipe binder. Thankfully when I decided to make this cake for New Year's Eve, I knew exactly where I could find the recipe, instead of shuffling through a cardboard box in my basement where the recipe used to live.
So moist and tender... must be the buttermilk doing its chemistry project with the vinegar and all that butter.
And the frosting... don't even get me started. So thick, so rich, to die for. (Yes, I believe I put in 2 sticks of butter and two packages of cream cheese.) Mmmm.

The kids were heading off to bed on New Year's after having watched the ball drop in NYC, thinking it was really midnight. Ahhh, the joys of different time zones. 11:00 p.m. cake? Fine by Carl.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy Birthday, dear Ronny

Today my husband turns 39.

He's not the mushy-in-public type at all, so I won't go on and on like I'd like to. (But I might...)

He was 28 when I met him on a cool night in Uptown Minneapolis. For those of you readers who know our story, skip forward to the photos. For those of you who don't, read on for a sweet tale.

I was supposed to be shopping at my local co-op just blocks away from my house, but it was late and it was closed. Instead I drove to Uptown Lunds, an upscale and hip kind of grocery store, where I picked up my bananas and headed to the yogurt section. There I encountered a tall guy, freckled faced and just my type, walking down the dairy aisle past me. We stole glances briefly, then I followed him up to the register with my yogurt and bananas in hand. He was buying milk, just a quart. Of whole milk. Hmmm. Who buys just a quart of whole milk?

In line behind him I quizzed him on whether or not he liked late night milk and cookies (thinking, why else would anyone be buying that milk at this hour?). He informed me that he didn't really like cookies, but that he bought his milk there a few times a week. Then he left.

I checked out and dragged myself to the parking lot only to find him there, slowly getting into his car. Figuring that there was nothing else to do, I hopped into my car and drove home.

Weeks later I was looking at the City Pages, a local Arts and Entertainment newspaper, and discovered the "I Saw You" section. There it was:

Lunds Uptown 3/24
You: yogurt and fruit. Me: milk.
Had to run, would like to talk.

I was at work and I think I screamed so loud that a few co-workers ran to check on me. I called and left a message on the paper's voice mail system that night. A few days later, he called me. The rest is history! Almost 11 years later, a house, a dog, a farm and three kids later, I'm sitting here writing his birthday message. I love you, tall Ronny.