Summer loving

We all know I love a linky, and this one from Fionnuala at Three Sons Later is just perfect for a lazy summertime blogger. What are you loving, what are you not so much loving, this summer? Hop on over to her link and read all the others.

Wait? Where are you going? I mean, after you read this one. Sheesh. Settle down.


I have a little bit of work-life balance in my summer, for the first time ever. Mabel’s in camp for the month of July, Dash is at home doing a spot of schoolwork and playing with a friend, and I have relative peace and quiet to do some work. And I have some work to do – fixing up draft 3 of book 3 of my trilogy, in between actual paying editing work for other people, which is both enjoyable and interesting. I also could be doing housework and grocery shopping and other more boring things, but it’s nice to have a reason to avoid them.

What’s more, at the end of the month I’m heading off on a five-day jaunt to Italy, to attend my best friend’s wedding. She was my one and only bridesmaid, we’ve been friends since we were seven, I always swore I’d be there, so I’ll just have to, you know, force myself. It’ll be tough, but I’ll grit my teeth and bear it.

I was stuck for dinner a while ago and aired my woes on Facebook, as you do, which yielded a lovely selection of new summer meal ideas from my friends. Since then we’ve enjoyed such delights as this salad (great dressing; I used feta and toasted my almonds a little), this other salad (very tasty, used the rest of the same dressing), and this – yes, more cauliflower – which was very quick and hugely tasty even without any olives or capers.

Less than loving

The weather, of course. They don’t call it the swamp just because of the objectionable politicians, you know. It’s swampy here in the environs of DC. Hot, humid, moist, damp, airless. Even if it’s raining, it’s hot and sweaty. (Though honestly, I prefer it raining. The sun is too shiny and it burns.)

Also, children who are older and don’t go to bed. I mean, I still love the child, but I’m not loving his bedtime. It turns out Dash only goes to bed in a timely manner during the school year because he knows he has to get up in the morning. Now that he’s not doing anything, his bedtime has disappeared, and we spend all evening exhorting him, nay, pleading with him, to just go away. I don’t care if he goes to sleep, but I would like him to at least be in his room so that we have some time to watch crap adult TV on our own before we go to bed. So far, results are mixed. Some nights he’s the last one upstairs. This is going to take some recalibration of expectations, because I suppose it’s not going away.

Definitely not loving

Ticks, mosquitoes, poison ivy, jellyfish… nature, basically, in all its less delightful forms. So far our tick count is minimal (one, on me), the mosquito bites are mounting (mostly on Dash, who scorns bug spray but I wish he wouldn’t), we’ve had two tiny patches of poison ivy, and we managed to dodge the jellies at the beach last week even though the water was too murky to spot them until it would be too late. (The waters of the Chesapeake shore are not the most crystal clear.) Oh, and I got stung on the toe by something I didn’t see when I went outside in bare feet last week. It can only get worse, probably.

Beach view with two rainbow shade umbrellas.
Gratuitous beach photo. This is where we avoided the jellyfish.

The food is not the point

I started reading the picky-eater book with a very defensive attitude. It had been recommended, and I felt ready to maybe tackle this thing again, but I didn’t want to. At every page turn I saw obstacles and roadblocks, reasons why I couldn’t do this, why it would never work for us. My inner monologue went something like this:

– But we can’t do that. He won’t even sit at the table.

– I don’t want to feed everyone together. I can’t get all that food ready at the same time.

– Think of the washing-up! All those serving plates! And we can’t fit all the food on the table in dishes as well as each person’s plate. We’d have to eat in the other room, where the table is covered in homework and filing, and where you have to walk a mile around the counter to bring everything there.

– How can I get us to sit down together? B comes home at 6 and the kids are yelling for dinner from about 4:30 on.

– This will never work. I don’t even see why I would want it to. What’s so great about sitting at the table? Sure, there are studies that say families that eat together every night have kids who are better behaved, more academically successful, more wonderful in every way… but my kids are pretty good already. Kinda. Why would I give myself all these headaches just to be “good”?

/Heaves giant sigh of put-upon-ness./

On the other hand, I have been starting to feel lately that, well, sometimes living here is like sharing a flat with short ungrateful people who never do their share of the cleaning up. What’s the point, really? When do we get to be a family, if we’re just the people who live in the same house as them and bring them to the places they need to be?

And I’m really sick of people announcing that they’re hungry, again, right when it’s bedtime or time to start their homework, or just when I’ve put away everything from dinner. All the separate dinners.

So maybe – just maybe – something wasn’t working so well after all. Maybe it was worth trying to make a change.

As I said yesterday, I really liked the fact that the authors said you can start a bit at a time. Going all-out with a totally new way of doing things is great sometimes, but I feel like that would be doomed to failure, for us. But small steps, when it’s easy-ish; I can maybe do that.

And the more I read the more I understood that what I’ve to aim for isn’t for Dash to be an adventurous eater. It’s not even, necessarily, for him to branch out much. It’s for us to all sit around the table and have a pleasant time. At the moment, that’s a big enough end-game to hope for, and also makes it seem a little more possible that this isn’t all a wild flight of fancy. Eating at the table is a social skill that both my kids lack right now, much as I pretend they don’t – and maybe it’s within my power to change that.

So I started out very small. I’d noticed that when Mabel goes to her friend’s house after school they have a snack at the table. I asked her how she’d feel about doing that at home. I figured if she was on board that would be a start, and maybe Dash would join in if there was no cooked food in the room with us at the time. She said it would be okay, she supposed. She sounded a little bit, secretly, happy about the prospect, even.

We had a snack at the table, served family style, sort of, as much as you can with apple slices and pretzels. Just me and her, and her brother for half a second before he flitted off. Since then we’ve had dinner at the table twice, the girl and her two parents and no brother, and snack at the table a couple more times. Dash says he can’t eat a sandwich at the table. It feels too weird. He runs away from french toast. He’s like a skittish kitten around humans for the first time. Maybe we’ll try pancakes over the weekend, because he likes those. (Not waffles. Won’t touch a waffle even though he knows the batter is practically identical.)

But the thing is, I think I get it. Mabel really likes it. I like it. It’s nice sitting at the dinner table having a conversation. It’s nice having Mabel there. It would be fun to have Dash there too, because he’s entertaining company. The food is not the point. I’m starting to understand.


Far-from-beige cauliflower and a discovery

I made Cauliflower with Romesco Sauce for dinner and it was so delicious that I’m going to give you the whole recipe, since I didn’t do it exactly the way the recipe I used told me to. I got this from Jill at Proper Fud, but I don’t think she ever blogged it, so here I am filling that gap.

First, put on some fancy wild rice mix to cook. Don’t boil it till it’s crunchy like I did. Or just use regular rice, whatever.
Then turn on the oven to 400 F and make the sauce while that heats up.

The sauce is exactly as given in the recipe:

  • ½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 roasted red pepper (from a jar)
  • 40g fresh breadcrumbs
  • ½ garlic clove
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 1tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 50ml water

Sorry, Americans, for the metric. You’ll have to weigh stuff. (I love my digital scales. So handy.)

Whizz all that up in your food processor. I use the mini-blender attachment of my Braun Multimix that they don’t make any more so you can’t buy one – it’s just the right size and so much easier on the washing up than the big processor. First I ground the almonds in it, then added the bread to make the breadcrumbs, and then put in everything else and gave it a good blend. I end up with quite a dollop-y sauce, but if you wanted it more pour-y you could just add a bit more water, I’m sure.

Your oven is probably hot enough by now. Get a cauliflower and break it into florets. Spread them on an oiled baking sheet and sprinkle a teaspoon more of the smoked paprika over them, and a drizzle of oil. Into the oven with it.

After 20-25 mins the cauliflower will be roasted and a little charred around the edges. Try not to burn the rice like I did. Serve the cauliflower on the rice with dollops of sauce on top. The sauce really brings this whole thing to the next level and makes it a totally delicious dinner. A glass of wine  brings out even more facets of flavours, if you like that sort of thing.

Oh, and a discovery. Dash’s testing results came back with some helpful recommendations for all sorts of things, including his eating situation. The doctor mentioned a book called Helping Your Child With Extreme Picky Eating. I was sceptical because I’ve done all that, read the books – they just make me depressed and guilty – but I looked it up on Amazon anyway and checked out the reviews. One mentioned a website, so I took a look:

About 30 seconds later, all sorts of lightbulbs were going off in my brain. The website talks about Selective Eating Disorder, which is now called ARFID, and is an official thing people have. Here are some excerpts from the site.

Selective eating disorder was officially added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in May 2013, and renamed Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is food refusal due to highly selective intake, lack of interest in eating, or fear of the unpleasant effects of eating without concerns of body image or weight.

“A selective eater will NOT “eat when they get hungry.” If you implement a technique designed to “wait them out” or “exert your parental control,” if you alter one of their 10-20 foods, you risk having that food drop out of their food list forever.

Children and adults with ARFID experience strong disgust reactions to the sight, smell and even the mere thought of eating unfamiliar food, which can create significant distress for eating in social settings.

Patients with ARFID are […] more likely to have a co-morbid anxiety disorder, learning disorder, or cognitive impairment […].

Therapy that focuses exclusively on the eating fails to consider the eating disturbance in its wider context as a relationship between the individual eating the food and the person who provides it.

DING DING DING!!! All the boxes, checked. All the Dash’s-eating things, making sense. I have joined the FB group and ordered the book. I read this entry and all the things I do, that are mostly for a quiet life and just because I hate causing, or suffering, angst, were suddenly validated and turn out to be okay.

So that’s a thing, and maybe it will lead to some developments. No cauliflower for him. Not yet.

Turning vegetese I think I’m

Hmm. As a catchy title it’s not exactly working, because “vegetarian” has too many syllables, but there you go. If I wanted to be a vegan it would be better, but I don’t think I can give up dairy just for the sake of a better-scanning blog post title. Point is, and as I said to Jill of Proper Fud earlier this week because she’s an expert, I sort of wanna be a vegetarian.

I have nothing against meat; it’s delicious. But the wall-to-wall meat shelves of my supermarket depress me, and my children don’t want to eat animals. (They don’t want to each much else either, except pita chips and breakfast cereal, but that’s another issue.) I usually stick to either free-range organic chicken tenders (because Mabel will usually eat one if I bread it and fry it) or the grass-fed ground bison, because that sounds like they had a decent life. With forays into sausages (I know, I know, but they’re tasty) and pork chops and lamb sometimes because I’m a horrible person.

And then there’s the fish, which I like and is good for me, but it’s so confusing trying to buy sustainable fish when all the salmon is Atlantic (bad) and the tilapia is farmed but that’s okay except it’s boring, and I don’t even know if rainbow trout is good or bad but that’s all the fish I know. So I skip the fish counter, mostly.

Which leaves us with veg. I like vegetables. For a former greens-hater I’ve come a long way. I like lentils and chickpeas and black beans, and I enjoy cooking Indian but it takes a while, and I’m totally down with nuts and seeds but I’ve no idea how to use them in dinner, and salads are too chilly for this weather, and mac and cheese is not everyday grownup food. In general, I find that vegetarian dinners take a bit longer and need a bit more forward planning, which is something I want to do in theory but rarely get around to in practice. Still, I’ve found some really great veggie recipes lately that are making it into our rotation, so I’m going to share them with you here.

Sweet potato avocado tacos

These were totally scrummy. You have to make the avocado/lime/yogurt sauce to go with them, so don’t start without being sure you have those ingredients as well as the sweet potato and black beans and soft tacos (or tortillas or whatever). I used feta for the cheese.

Shakshuka with feta and chickpeas

Shakshuka is basically eggs in spicy tomato sauce, and I’d made it before as a brunch dish. But adding chickpeas and feta really bulks it up and elevates it to perfectly excellent (note the pun I resisted there) dinner fare. Very delicious.

Baked tofu

I’ve bought tofu in the past and put it in stir fries, but never managed to get that nice chewy texture I’ve enjoyed when eating out. Yesterday I discovered how to bake tofu and it was a revelation. Don’t skip the pressing, and don’t forget the cornflour step in this because I think that’s what makes it crispy. Also, mine marinated for 24 hours rather than “up to 8” and they were none the worse for it. (I don’t have sriracha but I used about half a teaspoon of chili-garlic sauce instead to give it a little heat.)

Baked tofu with noodles and vegetables
Possibly more than a single serving of tofu

We had this with noodles and stir-fried veg, but I would happily have scoffed it all straight from the baking sheet without sitting down. (I did that with a few pieces too.) Many possibilities once it’s done.


I also made this a while ago, which was delicious, but it really needs the fried onions, and those make it all just a bit too fiddly for a regular dinner. It’s basically lentils and rice with nice spices.

I only have that one photo because the light is too bad at dinnertime now that it’s winter, and I’m not saving my dinner till morning just to take a  picture of it. Sorry. Follow the links to see what they look like, which will be much more appetizing than my pictures would be.

Some other veggie dinners I’m still making in the winter are ones I mentioned in this post last summer – the kale and quinoa salad, sesame noodles, and bibimbap. And my go-to Indian dinner would be Smitten Kitchen’s dal alongside her chana masala.

Your turn. Hit me with your favourite vegetarian recipes.

30-inches chili

We are right at the start of a snowstorm that’s meant to last till Sunday morning and potentially dump 30 inches of snow all over us. So of course, that meant chili for dinner.

Apparently, unless my search function is useless (always possible), I’ve never posted my chili recipe, and since it’s mostly mine and nobody else’s, I have no compunction about giving it to you. The secret is to use more than one sort of chili – a fresh one, dried chili powder, and the sort that comes in a can of chili beans. Then I usually add one or two others, just for kicks.

1 large onion
1 red pepper
1 serrano or jalapeño pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 lb ground beef (that’s mince, if you’re Irish)
chili powder, to taste, maybe 1 teaspoon
cumin, a little less than however much chili powder you used
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce (or a good shake, you know)
1 tablespoon tomato paste (puree)
1 tin of beans in chili sauce (I like the medium)
1 tin of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 tin crushed or fire roasted tomatoes, or one tin of each. If you have a tin of tomatoes with zesty jalapeños already in there, use that.
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper
1/2 a bottle of beer, whatever you have to hand (or just 6oz water if you don’t have any beer)

I also added eggplant (aubergine), because it was in the fridge, and a little chipotle chili in adobo because I had it in the freezer (see my reply to the first comment if you’re wondering what that is). You don’t need these, though the chipotle is a nice addition. Sometimes I use a spoonful of salsa instead.

Chop the onion and the red pepper. Chop the jalapeño or serrano pepper and remove the insides if you’re a wuss about spiciness like I am. Otherwise leave them in. Mince the garlic.
Heat some oil (olive, sunflower, whatever) in a huge pan and cook all the vegetables until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Take all this nice soft vegetable mix out of the pan and put it to one side in a bowl for a few minutes while you do the meat.

Put a little more oil in the pan and add the meat, breaking it up with a fork so it cooks evenly. Sprinkle over the chili powder, cumin, splash of worcestershire sauce, and squeeze of tomato paste. Stir the meat every now and then until it’s mostly cooked.

Tip your vegetables back in, open the cans of beans and tomatoes, and add everything to the mix, stirring well. (This is my favourite part.) You can use whatever beans you like, and one or two tins depending on how beany you like your chili.

Add the sugar and the beer or water, stir well, and let simmer over a low heat for as long as you can (an hour is good). When the liquid has reduced a bit, put the lid on so it doesn’t dry out. Taste for seasoning, adding salt or sugar if you think it needs it; but give it some time for the flavours to meld first – there’s no point tasting it straight away.

Serve with rice, tortilla chips, grated cheese, sour cream, or whatever you like. Leftovers are even better the next day and it freezes perfectly.

This would work fine as a meatless chili too; just up the bean quotient.

Two children on a sled in very shallow snow.
The beginning. (That sled is not moving at all.)


New obsessions, December

Every now and then I post about whatever I’m loving at the moment. I haven’t done one for a while, so I should have plenty of new obsessions to update you on. Surely. Well, maybe a couple.

  1. Scarves indoors
    I feel like a grown-up now, because I wear scarves indoors. I was given a really big, but fine, scarf for my birthday in the summer, by my friend who has excellent taste, and now that it’s finally not the summer any more I’m wearing it constantly and loving it. I can wear it like this, or like this, or even like this, because scarves are so wonderfully versatile.
  2. Chili.
    It’s chili weather! Yay! I made chili on Tuesday and we had it three days in a row and didn’t get tired of it because it was yummy. The trick is to layer the heat from different sources: I had a fresh jalapeño (no seeds, because I’m a wimp), some chili powder, a can of chili beans, a can of tomatoes with zesty jalapeños and also a little slice of chipotle pepper (originally from a can) that I keep in the freezer. Sometimes I put in a few spoonsful of salsa too. B looked at me askance when I tried to explain that this is not in fact redundancy but good cooking; but he liked the results, so ya boo.
  3. Minecraft.
    Experiencing a resurgence in the household since a playdate where the kids’ friends were playing. I like when it’s a collaborative effort, actually, because then they’re not just staring at a screen but also cooperating while deciding what to do with the screen. That’s practically good parenting, that is. I even made a minecraft world of my own, which scored me many coolness points with the 7yo. Then I had to ask her to fix my roof because it was leaking.
  4. Flossing.
    Mabel needs two fillings. And an orthodontist consult. When your child has a small mouth so her teeth are very close together, you really should pay more attention to flossing than we’ve been doing. (In other news, Dash’s braces come off next week. He’s been saving his Halloween candy to celebrate.)
  5. My Divacup.
    I’ve finally crossed over to the hippie side. Extended breastfeeding, tandem nursing, co-sleeping… they’ve got nothing on reusable menstrual products, right? That’s where you really draw that line in the granola. I’m still getting the hang of it, but the smugness factor when I use barely any paper products at that time of the month is totally worth it.

What are you and yours into lately?

Turkey fatigue

Remind me not to cook a turkey next year. Or ever again unless we have fifteen people for dinner. So much leftover turkey. So unattractive to me.

I tried, I really did. The first night I turned the leftover roast potatoes into hash browns and reheated some turkey in the gravy. (The gravy was delicious. I made Nigella’s allspice gravy from Feast and it was really good and very little extra work. And I say that as an affirmed gravy-non-maker.) The second night, I made a curry with coconut milk and lemongrass and ginger and the turkey and some snow peas and rice, and it was okay too.

The third night I rebelled and made sausage and tomato risotto, but I diligently had a turkey sandwich for lunch, and another today. I had an idea about turkey tacos, but I couldn’t find queso fresco, and obviously if you’re putting cooked turkey into a taco the rest of it has to be unimpeachably legit, so I can’t make those right now.

But I fear the end of the turkey-eating is approaching, and it is not contemporaneous with the end of the turkey. I know there are other good things I could do with the turkey, and I know I could freeze some, but the chances of ever using what I freeze are slim; it’s just putting off the inevitable. I should make the stock and be done with it. If it’s not too late already to do that.

In other news, it turns out Mabel needs two fillings, and I’m feeling bad about that lollipop I bought her yesterday. B ran his twentieth marathon on Saturday and we’re all so used to that sort of thing that we basically ignored it. (Sorry. Huge achievement, did I mention? Yay, you, honey!)  And tomorrow is December, so I really can’t avoid Christmas any longer.

No turkey, though. I promise.

Turkey, cooked, carved