Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A bluebonnet after a blizzard

The big after-holidays blizzard of 2010 has come and gone. We stayed home for the holidays so were spared the traffic gridlock and cancelled flights. Aside from the marathon session of snow shoveling and clearing that followed, the blizzard left us relatively unscathed. We lit our first fire in the fireplace. Just for ambiance.

And I played with my camera.

The light quality late Sunday afternoon, as the snows began to blow in earnest, was fantastical. Ethereal. Straight out of a fairy tale.

The aftermath? required muscles and a willingness to get really, really cold. I cleared some paths by hand while Will cleared the driveway. My neighbors refuse to believe me, but I really like shoveling snow. But then again, I kind of like to vacuum too so maybe I'm just odd.

The dogs were uncertain.

And everything...everything was blanketed in white.

One good thing about being stuck home in a blizzard? Work on the kitchen has finally begun again. I hope to have some new photos to show you soon.

Stay warm!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry, merry

To my friends and readers who spend time with me here, I hope that your holidays, no matter what you celebrate, have been filled with joy. I meant to write this post earlier, but got sidetracked by a game of Settlers of Catan. It has been that kind of day. A stay-in-your-pajamas day. Silly and relaxed, full of play and laughter. And cookies!

Here are a few holiday images I wanted to share with you. Enjoy your time with your loved ones. Merry, merry!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Eggnog french toast with cranberry-apple compote

With all of my Christmas presents bought and delivered, I finally booted my slacker self (I am from Austin) into the kitchen for some last-minute holiday cooking. This dish combines some wonderful holiday flavors: eggnog, cranberries, and apples. What could be more appropriate? Festive. Ridiculously delicious. This would be the perfect Christmas breakfast. (I know. I know. It's the day before Christmas. I promise I'll repost this recipe with a couple of weeks to spare next year.)

Eggnog french toast with cranberry-apple compote
(Adapted from recipes originally published in Bon Appétit, December 2001)

Eggnog french toast:
4 cups purchased eggnog
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 14.5-ounce country white bread loaf, halved horizontally, each half cut crosswise into 8 slices (do not use ends)

Unsalted butter
Powdered sugar

Whisk first 4 ingredients in large bowl. Place bread slices in single layer in two 13x9x2-inch glass baking dishes. Pour custard over bread, dividing equally. Cover dishes and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Using spatula or tongs, transfer bread slices to prepared baking sheets. You may brush melted butter on the tops (I didn't do this). Bake 10 minutes. Turn over bread slices and bake until golden brown and crisp on the outside but soft on the inside, about 6 minutes longer. Place 2 french toast slices on each of 8 plates. Dust generously with powdered sugar; serve with cranberry-apple compote

Cranberry-apple compote:
2 cups apple cider
6 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup sugar

Whisk apple cider, maple syrup, and brown sugar in heavy large saucepan. Boil over high heat until reduced to 1 cup, about 15 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons butter; whisk until melted. Remove from heat.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add apple pieces; sauté 2 minutes. Add cranberries and 1/2 cup sugar. Stir until cranberries begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Stir in reduced cider mixture. Boil until reduced to syrup consistency, about 6 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Stir over medium heat until heated through.) Transfer compote to bowl and serve warm.

Apples, cranberries, and sugar beginning to cook

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday traditions (something old)

Every year during the holidays, we work on a new jigsaw puzzle. It's usually holiday-themed. Sometimes, like this year, it's just wintery. When we first started this tradition (our son was around four), the puzzle was 100 pieces. This year was our most ambitious yet: 1,000 pieces of neutral-colored, maddening puzzle. We had a separate, easier one for the girls to do.

I love this tradition. We spread out the puzzle on the dining room table and spend a lot of evenings poring over it. It's a nice way to slow down over the holidays. Take a breath. Focus on something that isn't rush, rush, rush.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm such a southerner

This afternoon saw an unexpected snowfall. The meteorologists had predicted just light flurries, but this was actual snow. The kind that sticks and creates slush and traffic havoc.

And I realized as I walked gingerly to school, I am still such a southerner.

I love snow. I do. I love the way it traces branches and leaves. The way it hushes sound, stilling the air. The pointillistic patterns it makes as it swirls in the air.

But I walked as if last winter had never happened. It was reflexive. I saw snow-covered sidewalk, and my body froze. I walked as if I was stepping on ice. Very slowly. Flat footed. Moving as creakily as an elderly woman who doesn't quite trust her knees. Ahead, my yankee child skipped across the snow. She ran and hopped joyously, pointing out the scattered pattern of footprints she left on the pristine white surface.

I'm such a southerner.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A very merry cocktail: peppermint bark martini

Tomorrow, we're having some friends over for drinks, dinner, and some much-needed puzzle help (more on the puzzle later). This chocolate peppermint martini is a perfect holiday cocktail. The sliver of peppermint bark adds a festive flourish.

Peppermint bark martini
2 1/2 fluid ounces vodka
1/2 fluid ounce peppermint schnapps
1/2 fluid ounce white Creme de Cacao
sliver of peppermint bark

Mix liquor together in shaker with crushed ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass. Drop a sliver of peppermint bark into bottom of glass.

À votre santé!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spinach croquettes

A couple of weeks ago, we bought an enormous bag of spinach, freshly harvested from Wilson Farm in Lexington. What to do with so much spinach?

These spinach croquettes may not be the most photogenic side dish. However what they lack in the appearance department, they more than make up for in taste. Rich and savory. A perfect side note to a simple main course...say...a roast chicken. Or you could eat them as a vegetarian main dish with some baguette. The croquettes require some prep work. One must cut away the thick stems. However, the recipe makes enough that you could easily eat the croquettes as a side dish one evening. A day or two later, use the leftover croquettes with some sharp cheddar cheese as an amazing omelet filling. I love dishes that stretch over more than one meal.

Spinach croquettes
From Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

(Quick and crunchy, these lightly thickened spinach patties are cooked in a pan until crisp on the outside, but still soft on the inside.)

2 pounds spinach, trimmed of thick stems and well washed
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Gruyere
1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably fresh
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (or use more oil) *we just used olive oil without butter

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add the spinach and onion and cook for just about a minute until the spinach wilts. Drain thoroughly and cool a bit. Chop the spinach and put it and the onion in a bowl, along with the eggs, cheese, and bread crumbs. Mix well, then add salt and pepper to taste. If the mixture is too loose to form into cakes, add some more bread crumbs; if it's too dry, add a little milk or another egg.

Put half the oil and butter into a large skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Form the spinach mixture into small cakes (this amount will make 8 to 12) and cook, without crowding--you will have to cook in batches--until nicely browned, adjusting the heat so the cakes brown evenly without burning, about 5 minutes. Turn once, then brown the other side, again about 5 minutes. (My note: Add oil and butter for the next batch.) Continue until all the spinach mixture is used up. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A patch of sky

I misremembered this lyric. It's actually "corner of the sky" from the musical, Pippin.

I took these photos a little while back. They came to mind today as I was seeking that clear patch in our crazy holiday schedules.

This happens every year. No, not misremembering musical lyrics. Every year, I promise myself that next year, we'll have a laid-back holiday season. We'll savor family ties, celebrate old traditions, forge new traditions, help the needy, and revel in the joys, lights, carols, love of the season. Think an unholy alliance of Norman Rockwell and Martha Stewart.

Every year, I fail.

I thought this year would be different. (I think this every year.) This year, the siblings in my and Will's families decided to donate to charities in lieu of gifts. The children, of course, will receive gifts, but not the adults. It seemed a nice way to both scale back the stress of finding just the right gift while simultaneously helping others. And it is. Of course.

But this year, we've added a plethora of teachers as well as the sitter, the mailman (who's wonderful), the newspaper delivery guy, the trash collectors, and the various and sundry folks whose work and services we want to acknowledge. Of course, they'd appreciate cash or a gift card, but I end up wracking my brains for something special. Something that says, "I took time and energy and thought to come up with this for you." This year, I've got nada.

I could bake. I love to bake. I'm good at baking. But ironically, the more pressure there is to bake, the less I want to do it. So I'm not baking. In my beautiful new kitchen. With my beautiful two ovens in which I could churn out cookies as fast as Rumpelstiltskin spins gold. What a conundrum.

Happy holidays, whatever you may celebrate. I hope that you're finding your corner of the sky. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deal flash: Gamewright and Ceaco puzzle and game warehouse sale

For my Boston-area readers, Gamewright and Ceaco are having their puzzle and game holiday warehouse sale today and tomorrow (December 8 and 9), from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. This cash-only sale is located at their offices on 70 Bridge Street, second floor in Newton, MA.

My kids and I are huge Gamewright fans. If you check out their games' ratings on Amazon, you'll find that we're definitely not alone. Gamewright games are great fun, clever, educational, and compact. Their games have won over 150 awards from organizations like Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, Parents' Choice, Dr. Toy and MENSA. I love that many of their games are card-based, perfect for toting to after-school activities. Along with paper/crayons and books, Gamewright games are my go-to for entertaining siblings while waiting for fencing or karate or dance or piano lessons to finish.

The sale also offered a variety of beautiful Ceaco puzzles for all ages. If you're in the area, the prices make it worth the drive. So swing by for some wonderful holiday gifts or stocking stuffers, gifts for the final days of Hanukkah, or to stock up the birthday party closet.

Monday, December 6, 2010

First flurries

I first noticed them early this morning. Little bits of something glittery swirling through the air. At first, I thought idly that there was an awful lot of pollen floating about. (Okay, yes ... I am from the south.) Later, walking through a parking lot, I realized that it was snow. Our first flurry this season.

It was enough to make me stop. In the middle of the parking lot. And simply watch the tiny sparkles flutter and swirl.

Apparently one New England winter didn't freeze away this sense of childlike wonder at snow. Wherever I've New Orleans and in Austin...snow was a wondrous, fleeting, magical thing. Normal life skidded to a stop as soon as the snow started to drift down. Never mind if it was only a few snowflakes that vanished as soon as they hit the ground. Adults and children alike would bundle up and head outside to see the snow. We'd gaze at the skies and hold out gloved hands, hoping to catch a snowflake.

Tonight, the flurries started again, and my children rushed outside to see. They were singing, "It's snowing! It's snowing!" and making plans for snow angels and snow forts and skiing. I could just see the visions of hot cocoa and snowmen and sledding dancing in their heads.

Welcome to the season.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Go-to leftover turkey recipes: Will's turkey tetrazzini

Suffering from leftover fatigue?

I was too. Then Will came up with this fabulous turkey tetrazzini recipe. We gobbled it up. Even the kids who usually grumble when served up leftovers. Cooking the turkey in this variant of the classic bechamel sauce hides a variety of sins, including the turkey's drying out in the fridge or freezer.

Will's turkey tetrazzini
Inspired by a Giada de Laurentiis recipe for chicken tetrazzini

3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 oz prosciutto, chopped fine
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large onion, diced fine
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken or turkey broth
frozen peas (1-2 handfuls)
1 lb shredded turkey
6-7 ounces parmigiano reggiano, grated
16 ounces spaghetti

Cook spaghetti in boiling, salted water in a large pot. When cooked, drain and reserve.

In the olive oil, sauté prosciutto until well browned. Remove prosciutto with a slotted spatula and set aside. In the same skillet, sauté onions and garlic until tender. Set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and keep whisking for a few minutes. Slowly whisk in milk and broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and whisk in 3-4 ounces grated parmigiano and salt and pepper to taste.

In the large pot, mix everything together and pour into a 13"x9" dish. Top with more grated parmigiano and bake at 350ºF until the sauce is bubbling and the top is lightly browned (20-30 minutes).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Field trip: choose and cut your own Christmas tree at Durkee Tree Farm

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. A fragrant, lush seven-foot fir stands ready in the corner of the family room, waiting for lights and ornaments. The littles have already decked its lower branches with assorted Silly Bandz. Just squelching any stray Martha Stewart-esque aspirations I may have had.

Yesterday, we continued our New England tradition (two years and counting) of heading to Durkee Tree Farm In Littleton, Massachusetts, and cutting our own Christmas tree. What a beautiful scene to start your holiday season.

A sunny, crisp winter day. Perfect for wandering amongst the trees and discussing the coniferous candidates. Too tall? Too skinny? A Fraser fir or a Concolor?

No matter the tree, they're all $50, plus $1 for baling. Durkee had plenty of saws to use if yours has gone astray in the shed. Their workers were swift and cheerful, willing to carry your tree from one parking lot to another with a smile.

Picking just the right tree will involve a bit of walking so wear comfortable shoes.

This tree cutting is serious business. The Bluebonnet 2010 Christmas tree. A fine, fluffy tree, chosen after some spirited debate between the ayes (the girls) and the nay (the boy). Lest you think the boy always loses out, he chose last year's tree.

Suggestion: trim the lower branches before taking the tree home. It's less mess, and makes putting the tree in the stand much easier.

And off the tree goes. I hope that your winter holidays have gotten off to a great start.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Go-to leftover turkey recipes: Knife and fork turkey sandwich

This is another family favorite for our Thanksgiving leftover turkey and sides. It's not really a recipe. More a way of combining and reheating leftovers. It really tastes better when heated in the oven, but sometimes we just pile everything on a plate and zap it in the microwave. 

Knife and fork turkey sandwich
Recipe published in The New Basics Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
The ingredients is for one sandwich. 

2 large slices (1/4 inch thick) cooked turkey
1/4 cup leftover turkey stuffing
1 heaping tablespoon cranberry sauve
1 slice cheddar cheese
1/3 cup leftover turkey gravy

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Assemble the "sandwich," using the turkey slices in place of bread. Place one slice of the turkey on a piece of aluminum foil. Spread the stuffing over the turkey. Spread the cranberry sauce over the stuffing, lay the slice of cheese over the cranberry sauce, and cover with the remaining turkey.

Wrap the foil loosely around the sandwich, place it on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes.

While the sandwich is baking, heat the gravy in a small saucepan.

Unwrap the sandwich, transfer it to a plate, and pour the gravy over it. Serve immediately.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Go-to leftover turkey recipes: Emeril's turkey gumbo

We did a gigantic bird yesterday, and consequently, have lots and lots of leftover turkey meat. Some we froze. And some we'll use in our tried-and-true leftover Thanksgiving turkey recipes. Here's one of our favorites. Dark and flavorful and redolent of N'Awlins. What are you planning with your leftovers?

Emeril's turkey gumbo
From the kitchens of Emeril Lagasse. Recipe published at Good Morning, America
Serves 8

Note: prepare the turkey broth before cooking gumbo. We made our broth yesterday. If you've already disposed of the carcass, chicken broth would probably suffice.

3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups yellow onions, chopped
1/2 cup green bell peppers, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 pound smoked sausage (such as andouille or kielbasa), chopped
2 quarts Turkey Broth (Recipe below)
Reserved turkey meat from broth
Reserved onions and celery from broth
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons green onions, chopped

Steamed white rice, accompaniment (can be boxed instant, make as much as you like)
1 loaf French bread, accompaniment
Filé powder, (optional accompaniment - powdered leaves of the sassafras tree, available in the spice section of some supermarkets)

Combine the oil and flour in a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring slowly and constantly with a heavy wooden spoon for 20 minutes to 25 minutes, to make a dark brown roux the color of chocolate.

(My note: Above, the roux nears completion, getting close to the final color of Hershey's chocolate syrup. You must keep stirring. Stir, stir, stir or your roux will burn. Think of this as your post-Thanksgiving workout.)

In a bowl, season the onions, bell peppers, and celery with the salt and cayenne. Add to the roux and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the cooled broth and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Add the reserved turkey meat and the reserved onions and celery and cook for 15 minutes. Add the parsley and green onions.

Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning to taste. Spoon rice into the bottom of large soup bowls and ladle the gumbo on top. Serve with hot French bread if desired. Sprinkle filé powder into the gumbo at tableside according to personal taste.

Turkey Broth
1 turkey carcass
3 ribs celery, cut into 4-inch pieces
2 medium onions, quartered
4 quarts water, or enough to cover the carcass
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 bay leaves

Place the carcass in a large stockpot. Add the celery, onions, water, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer uncovered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally and skimming any foam that forms on the surface.

Remove from the heat and let cool. Skim any fat that has risen to the surface. Strain through a large fine-mesh strainer. Reserve any meat that has fallen off the bones and pick off any meat that may still remain on the carcass. Reserve the onions and celery for the gumbo.

Use right away or store the broth in quart containers in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, and in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Recipe excerpted from Louisiana Real and Rustic, Emeril Lagasse with Marcelle Bienvenu, William Morrow and Company, New York, © 1996

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The small things

The details that may go unnoticed. The unimportant things that just may be important.

Today, I'm thankful for so many things. My ridiculous, exuberant, curious children. My husband. His job. Our house. Our friends. Our families. Our neighbors. So many blessings that it feels awkwardly self-indulgent to name them all.

But I'm also profoundly grateful for the small things. The little details that delight an otherwise routine day.

Lately, I've begun taking our dog for walks. They began as short jaunts around the block, but as she grew stronger, the walks grew longer. And longer. And became jogs. I don't have as much time as I'd like for these outings, but I love them. The other day, I noticed these berries on the edge of our yard as we headed out. The patient sheltie that she is, she tolerated my dashing back inside the house for the camera.

Look at these little gems. Like beaded jewelry from a little bohemian boutique.

They're tiny. Maybe a third the size of my pinky fingernail.

And I love their ridiculous little hats. Sometimes, if you get very close, they look like little aliens or monsters.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. May you delight in all your blessings, both large and small.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Deal flash: 13-piece tri-ply Tramontina cookware at Costco

Just in case you need a few pots and pans to create your Thanksgiving feast. Or maybe as a new treat for your new kitchen. Or to launch your child into culinary independence. Or just because...

The 13-piece tri-ply 18/10 stainless steel Tramontina cookware set is currently selling at Costco for $99.97. I don't think this is full body tri-ply. The tri-ply appears to be the bottom of the pots/pans. It  goes up the sides for a little bit which should reduce the hot spots at the seam. So no, it's not All-Clad, but you can't pass that price up. At least, I couldn't. Warning: only one Costco of the two in my area were selling this set. Before heading out, it may be worth a call.

Included in this set are:
8 inch sauté pan
10 inch sauté pan
2 quart covered sauce pan
3 quart covered sauce pan
4 quart covered sauce pan
steamer insert
5 quart covered deep sauté pan
8 quart covered stock pot

Happy cooking!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fresh cranberry scones with crystallized ginger

When you're at the grocery store grabbing fresh cranberries for your cranberry sauce, get a little extra. I thought this was the perfect treat for out-of-town guests, especially during Thanksgiving. Think of your sleep-tousled uncle/aunt/mom/niece shuffling down to breakfast to be greeted with this treat. Served with lots of butter and freshly brewed coffee, of course. How seasonal! How bed and breakfast! Of course, this scenario depends on how well you get along with your relatives. If you'd prefer that they cut their visit short, probably best to avoid warm, home-baked breakfast treats.

I'd wanted to do something with fresh cranberries for over a year. It seemed so New England. Evocative of Cape Cod cranberry bogs. A year passed, and I did nothing. Not even cranberry sauce for the Thanksgiving turkey.

This year, I found this recipe on It sounded delicious and easy. Perfect! I fiddled with it a little by adding some crystallized ginger. I wish I had some haute culinary reason for this change. Really it's because I like crystallized ginger, and I have a huge package of it in my pantry. So there.

It was dangerously yummy. The cranberries lend a little tang, balanced by the glittery sugary topping and the slightly crumbly, sweet scone. As warned in the recipe, the dough is very, very sticky. Keep plenty of flour at hand for flouring your work surface.

Fresh cranberry scones with crystallized ginger
Adapted from a recipe originally published on

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 heaping tablespoon of fresh orange zest
1 tablespoon of finely minced crystallized ginger
2 1/4 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
Extra flour
White sugar, for topping

Heat the oven to 350ºF and prepare two baking sheets by lining with parchment or lightly spraying with spray oil.

In a food processor, process the cranberries until lightly chopped. Scrape into a bowl, and toss with brown sugar, orange zest, and crystallized ginger. In the food processor, process the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut the chilled butter into small pieces, add to the food processor, and work with the flour until fine and crumbly. Transfer the flour/butter mixture into a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugary cranberries. Stir in beaten egg and milk. Mix thoroughly.

Sprinkle the counter or a board liberally with flour. Turn the dough out on it. It will be very wet and sticky. With your hands, flatten the dough to about an inch high (approximately I'd mentioned...the dough is very sticky). Cut out rounds using a biscuit cutter, and put on baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with sugar.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until just getting golden. Serve warm with plenty of butter.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Times are Lean Rice & Bean Cuisine

Today, I dusted off an old recipe given to us years and years (decades?) ago by my sister-in-law. As it is with all well-loved and oft-used recipes, the paper is now crumpled, smeared, and grease-stained.

Times are thankfully not as lean as they were when we were students. However, with the holiday spending season here, it's always good to cut back. This is a delicious way to do just that. Yummy layered with a sprinkling of shredded cheese, some diced avocado, and a splash of salsa. Refrigerate leftovers for great quesadillas or tacos for a future lunch or dinner.

Cuban Beans
Adapted from a recipe, courtesy of E.O.

1 lb. dry black beans
10 cups water
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
1 large green bell pepper (I used red bell)
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dry white wine (optional)

In the morning (if you're preparing this for dinner), pick through the beans to remove stray gravel. Wash beans and put them in a pot with 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit until dinnertime.

When ready to cook, bring beans to a boil again, and then simmer while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Make a sofrito by chopping the onion, garlic, and bell pepper roughly. Puree in a blender or food processor.  Fry the puree in the olive oil for 8-10 minutes until it is cooked and fragrant. Add the sofrito to the boiling beans, along with the remainder of the seasonings. Cook for an additional hour or until the beans are soft, and the sauce is creamy.

Will's Mexican Rice
Adapted from a recipe, courtesy of Luz

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white rice
1/4 cup salsa (not chunky)
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
handful of frozen corn
1 carrot, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat until it starts to get hot. Add rice and saute for a few minutes, until it starts to get a little golden. Add salsa and stir until the liquid starts to get absorbed into the rice. Add chicken broth. Stir in other ingredients.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and leave covered for at least 5 more minutes before serving.

Ingredient amounts above are approximate except for rice and broth.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010



The girls and I enjoyed a lazy evening tonight, watching Up. That movie never fails to bring me to tears. I'm such a sap.

These slow, unscheduled moments have been precious and few at our house. And from listening to friends and reading blogs, rare at others' households as well.

Like this industrious little critter I caught on camera this morning, we've been scurrying about with our fall activities. Raking fallen leaves and pine needles. Many, many bags of leaves. Last weekend, Will planted 130 tulip bulbs. As he dug into the earth, he discovered a little cache of buried acorns. Poor squirrel. A few meals lost.

We're hoping that we won't be providing a lavish bulb banquet for our neighborhood critters. So we're trying a tip I'd heard. Plant the tulip bulbs as usual. Add a layer of dirt. Then place chicken wire over the planted bulbs. Add a little more dirt and mulch. The chicken wire should hinder the squirrels from digging up the bulbs. Last spring, we had a pitiful tulip showing. A few scattered flowers here and there, the remnants of larger plantings. If the chicken wire works, I hope to have some lovely swathes of flowers. We'll see.

Monday, November 15, 2010

1st Light in Brookline

Can the holidays be upon us already? Our first holiday party invitation just arrived in the mail. I've started squirreling away toys in (hopefully) secret places. And by the way, which Hasbro decision-maker designed a barking toy dog that can't be turned off while still in package? I drove home listening to two Fur Real GoGo My Walkin' Pups yap nonstop for twenty minutes. Their sensors saw right through the enveloping plastic bags. A yapping, panting wrapped box isn't exactly going to surprise anyone, is it?

Tonight, I received an email about Brookline's 1st Light celebration to be held this Thursday, November 18, from 5 - 8 p.m. We're planning to head to Coolidge Corner where we can stop by Eureka! for a free gift. (If you've never been to Eureka!, visit sometime. It's a most wonderful puzzle and game store. I could spend hours there.) Those who find all the hidden items in a scavenger hunt will receive a special prize. Musicians, street performers, free food, and family activities will be found throughout Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, and other Brookline commercial districts.

Last year, 1st Light was my family's first holiday activity as New Englanders. We had so much fun, and are looking forward to continuing our new tradition.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pumpkin pancakes

Are you burned out on pumpkin yet?

We might all be on the brink of pumpkin overload, but this recipe was so yummy that I had to share. It's a great weekend breakfast, paired with some turkey sausage and eggs. Best of all, it makes lots of pancakes. Plenty left over to freeze for quick weekday breakfasts. My little girls can't get enough of these.

Pumpkin pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar in the spirit of the fall season)

In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Stir into the pumpkin mixture just enough to combine.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Crockpot mulled apple cider

I learned something Sunday at the big 6th birthday blowout. There are two great ingredients to add to your next New England cold-weather party: a propane deck heater (about $130-$150 at your local big box hardware store) and hot mulled apple cider. Both give a lovely sense of warmth and comfort, perfect for extending the outdoor entertaining season.

The hot apple cider, especially prepared in a crockpot, is very easy and proved to be very popular. Place a bottle of Calvados or other brandy by the cider when serving so folks can add a splash if they wish.

Crockpot mulled apple cider
1 gallon of apple cider
4 cinnamon sticks
12 whole cloves
12 allspice berries
3 pieces of crystallized ginger
2 tablespoons maple syrup
peel from 1 orange, cut into strips
peel from 1/4 lemon, cut into strips

Pour apple cider into crockpot. Add cinnamon sticks, maple syrup, orange peel, and lemon peel. Put cloves, allspice, and ginger into a teaball or cheesecloth bag, and place teaball or bag into the cider. Cook covered on high for 2 hours. After 20 minutes, skim out the lemon peel. After 1 hour, skim out the orange peel. After 2 hours, remove spices. Set temperature to low. Prior to serving, set temperature to keep warm.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lucky, lucky

Yesterday was my daughter's 6th birthday party.

Following her "treasure hunter" theme, twenty-plus children charged by joy, sugar, and excitement decorated treasure chests, cracked open geodes, and dug for tumbled gemstones. They frolicked through the house, the basement, upstairs, outside. The rains held off so the children could bounce, bounce, bounce in the moonwalk.

I am so lucky.

Lucky that I have these three children who did not come easily (but that is a story for another day). Lucky that we have the means and opportunities to juggle extracurriculars. Lucky that my worries revolve around what to cook for dinner, not if there is enough for dinner.

Funny. It's really in one's perspective, isn't it? This gray and blustery morning, I'm looking forward to some quiet days. Maybe we'll clear some time to decorate more treasure chests.