new recipes in the rotation

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For many people 2013 was the year of quinoa and kale. I wish I could say that was true for me!  My year of cooking’s keywords would be ones like cream, braised meat, and pancetta on everything. This year I want to do more cooking but make fewer dirty dishes. Because you know what sucks at the end of a delicious meal? Doing the dishes.

Here are two meals that I made a lot last year. Try them and let me know how it goes. Or better yet, make them and invite me over. I’ll bring some wine and a crazy toddler.

chicken thighs

Crispy-skinned chicken thighs – Inspired by this recipe from Dinner: A Love Story, I have been making this (at least) once a week for the past month or two. I follow the recipe pretty closely but I omit the mushrooms and I add a veggie to cook in the pan after the chicken is done.

It doesn’t matter if the chicken thighs are boneless or not, but they definitely should NOT be skinless. I’ve been using grapeseed oil instead of olive oil for recipes like this because it has a high smoking point and is pretty flavorless (in a good way).

To add the veggies, after the chicken comes out of the oven, remove it from the pan and let it rest on another plate. In the mean time, add a veggie to the pan with the onions and thyme and saute for a few minutes. Spinach works perfectly because it wilts quickly. If you’re using something firmer like carrots, string beans, or French beans, you may want to blanch them ahead of time so they won’t be completely raw when you throw them in the pan. Brussels sprouts would be great too.

Pasta with arugula in a lemon cream sauce – Ina Garten really can do no wrong. This recipe is published in her cookbook Barefoot Contessa at Home and is a bit different from the web version because there is no broccoli mentioned in the book.

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I like to add cooked pancetta or prosciutto (bake it on a sheet pan at 375 for 8 minutes or so until crisp and then blot with paper towels to absorb any oil). I use gemelli pasta instead of fusilli because I illogically hate fusilli (almost as much as I hate rigatoni). The recipe calls for two cups of heavy cream and I’ve experimented with using half and half, or whole milk and heavy cream, and while it tastes pretty much the same, I find that using something other than cream gives a curdled quality to the sauce. It really tastes fine but the lemon juice reacts strangely and makes it a little lumpy. Also, don’t get freaked out if your garlic turns blue. It has to do with the acid in the lemon juice. It has only happened to me a few times but it was unsettling and made me think of Bridget Jones’s blue soup.

I want that immediately right now

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I’ve been thinking about this sense of immediate availability that has pervaded our culture. I think we’ve all heard a lot about the instant gratification that we have become accustomed to. Cue old person hissing, Booooo, kids today…

I notice it with students more and more each year. It appears in the general lack of attention  in class:

“Please double-check to make sure your names are printed in the books before you return them. I can’t give you credit for returning the book without your name in it. Are all your names in the books?”

Five minutes later…

“Ok, so I got back six books with no names. Who didn’t write your name in the book?”

It also comes up in their inability to stick with something. When asked to research a topic on a database with thousands of articles:

“Ugh, I can’t find anything. There’s nothing here for my topic.”

“How many articles did you read?”

“The first half of this one.”

The ugly truth is that I notice it in myself as well. When browsing through Facebook on my phone, if I tap to open a photo or video and it doesn’t open in, I don’t know, two and a half seconds, I close it. “Baaah, nevermind.”

But now the worst part is I see it in Nolan, and he’s only two and a half. Nolan doesn’t watch a lot of television and when he does, he watches the same two or three things. We keep a bunch of Sesame Street and some similar shows on the DVR so that when we feel like giving him some time in front of the tv (that’s parent speak for, sweet lord I need twenty minutes to myself), we can put on a specific episode of a show. In his mind, all the shows he likes are available all the time.

I didn’t think about that having any sort of negative effect until we were upstairs recently and I offered to put on the tv in my bedroom while I got ready. Nolan said, “I want to watch Sid.” I explained that I would have to see if Sid the Science Kid was on at that moment, and he looked at me like I was talking about astrophysics. I could see his little brain working, IF it’s on? Of course it’s on. Push buttons on the remote and pass me a binky. Needless to say it wasn’t on. After I put on something else he just kept asking for the specific shows he wanted, “I want Rosita’s grandma Sesame Street. I want Elmo’s grandparents Sesame Street.” I explained that we have those saved downstairs, but I’m fairly certain he thought I was lying to him.

Now this has spilled over onto music. He has finally taken pity on us and started asking for music other than Music Together, but the concept of the radio is totally lost on him. If he asks for “I Don’t Care,” I can play it from my phone. If he asks for “Pompeii” or “Gone Gone Gone,” I say it’s not on the radio right now. Again, totally puzzling to him.

Do I pretend iTunes doesn’t exist because I’m going to create an impatient monster, or do I embrace the availability of everything? Dr. Spock didn’t cover this in his books.

Aside

Sandy Hook

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When December arrived I was excited for the upcoming holidays, but I also noticed an uneasy tension in my chest. I knew the one year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook was approaching. I think about that day a lot, especially when I get buzzed in to drop off Nolan at daycare in the morning, and I consider that Sandy Hook Elementary’s front doors were locked too.

So it’s been a year and money has been collected, petitions have been signed, foundations have been established, and yet nothing significant has been accomplished.  I don’t mean to trivialize or ignore the considerable energy and time that so many people contributed in the aftermath. But the reality is that when these victims’ families look at our country a year after their children were murdered, has anything changed?

I spent a day talking about the Gettysburg Address with my students last month and among the terms I needed to explain was, “these dead shall not have died in vain.” When President Lincoln said it 150 years ago, I doubt it sounded as cliché as it does today, but as I clarified what “in vain” means, I found myself again thinking about the kids of Sandy Hook. Or maybe more accurately, I thought about their parents and families and how we’ve failed them over politics and over money.

A few days after the shooting, Rebecca Woolf published a really powerful post on her blog and I reread it last night. She said, “We are mad and we are sad and everywhere we look we see arms and we are so sorry. We are sorry for the children and the parents and the people who cling to their weapons as families cling to families and it doesn’t make sense.”

That’s exactly how I feel today.

S’mores Bars – Because s’mores weren’t fattening enough

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This is the second s’mores-style dessert I’ve written about, which is strange because I’m honestly not that impressed by s’mores. The first one I wrote about here and they’re delicious and cute for parties. These s’mores bars are more rustic (to use a term Barefoot Contessa loves) and very easy to make.

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I found the recipe for these via Pinterest at The Apron Gal’s blog.  I had a little mishap in doubling the recipe last time and wound up with not nearly enough dough to make the top layer, so I did the fluff layer before the Hershey bar layer, and I flattened little pancakes of dough and scattered them over the top. As you can see from the picture, there are big pieces of exposed chocolate and marshmallow, but I actually think I like that better than a smooth layer of dough. Hooray for happy accidents!

A few tips:

  • To save a little time, you can buy graham cracker crumbs already made in the baking aisle by cake mixes.
  • The dough for this is very sticky – wet your hands with cold water before trying to spread it in the pan. Then the dough won’t stick to your hands as much.
  • Really grease the pan and try to leave a border of dough without marshmallow fluff. When the marshmallow gets on the side of the pan, it hardens and is tough to get out.
  • If you can’t flatten the dough in a Ziploc bag like the recipe suggests, it’s no biggie. (I never bother)
  • Definitely stick with Hershey bars and don’t try to jazz these up with fancy chocolate. The distinct taste that a Hershey bar has is what makes these taste like s’mores.

Happy fall baking!

I’ve Stopped Buying Books and I Don’t Care Who Knows It

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No, this is not a post about e-books and why they’re better than hard copies (because they’re not, duh).  This is more about me trying to have less stuff. I have too much stuff. Matt has a ton of stuff (like notebooks and textbooks from college!), and Nolan accumulates more stuff by the minute.

Books were always something that I thought were worth buying. I figured that even if I never planned to read it again, I could lend it to a friend or let it live on a bookshelf at home. I cut out pictures from magazines and pinned images of huge libraries on Pinterest. Like these:

Who wouldn’t want that in your house?

Well apparently me because I just did a major book purge. We donated 50+ books to the library a few weeks ago, and we probably have a bunch more that could have gone.

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Matt pulls our books (and Nolan) to the library

With the exception of a book I need for work, I now get everything from the library. It’s free, people!  Well, actually you’re paying for it in your taxes, but that’s even more of a reason to use it. If you live in Nassau County you can get materials from any library in the county by showing up at another branch or just clickity clack on the internet and the library will send the stuff to your local one.  I feel kind of guilty when I request books from other libraries because it’s so lazy-person friendly. Yes, there are due dates, but having a deadline makes me read more, and when I am late and have to pay a fine, I feel like I’m donating to charity so really it’s win-win.

Is it totally sacrilegious for an English teacher to quit buying books, or am I being eco-friendly (and thrifty!)? And while I’m at it, what else can I start getting rid of…

Has it really been a year?

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Yes, in fact it has been a year and a week since I last posted on here. I’d like to say that I’ve just been SO BUSY that I couldn’t blog (although honestly I hate when people use that as an excuse). The truth is I haven’t written because I hadn’t written. First it felt silly because, “Geez, it’s been a month!” Then it got to be two, three, six, etc. And now here I am. A year later.

So what’s new, readers? Not too much is new over here, which I guess isn’t bad, but I am starting to feel a bit stagnant.

One thing that isn’t stagnant is this kid of ours. Last time I posted he was 1+ and a little pot-bellied munchkin.

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Now he’s a walking, talking, funny kid.

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We’ve been living in our house for over four years and I’ve been saying I’m ready to move for two. I want to move somewhere with a little more personality and charm. Sea Cliff? Huntington Village?  The thought of getting our house ready to sell and then showing it, and selling it, and packing it, ugh. It’s overwhelming. For those of you who have done it, send me some courage! Have any of you sold a house without a realtor? I’d really like to avoid parting with all that money.

My students head back to school on Tuesday and even though I’m sad to say goodbye to summer, I’m looking forward to seeing coworkers, enjoying cooler weather, and celebrating fall holidays. Here are a few funny links for those of us going back to school:

New Classroom Rules @ Little Miss Perfect

Funny teacher memes here and here. This one is my favorite:

Hey, I Like Your Cocktail!

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I was introduced to a very special friend, Vodka Gimlet, back in 2009. I went to dinner at Sweetwater Restaurant with my friend Katy and her husband  (Hi, my name is Jenny and I’m a third wheel) and I had a variation of a gimlet that was so delicious I’ve been drinking them ever since.

A traditional gimlet is made with gin, and although I can’t say I’ve ever had gin, I’m convinced I don’t like it.  There are tons of ways to jazz it up, but all you really need is ice, vodka and FRESH lime juice. If you try to make this with bottled lime juice (I’m looking at you, Rose’s Lime Juice), consider yourself a failure at making cocktails and go open up a wine cooler like it’s New Year’s Eve 1997.

Some prefer simple syrup to sweeten it up a bit, others like it shaken with some mint or basil (yum!). I recommend it on the rocks because I like a strong drink to be frosty cold. Depending on how strong of a drink you like, you can use anywhere from 1.5 to 3 parts vodka for every ounce of lime juice.

On a recent trip to the Berkshires, Matt and I stopped for a cocktail at Allium in Great Barrington and I loved how the bartender served my gimlet with a sliver of lime, not a slice or a wedge, but the thinnest little shaving. It looked so elegant and delicate. I’ll definitely be copying that next time I make them!

Hey, I Like Your Dessert!

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Matt and I headed back to Red Hook for some foodie goods and this time I made sure to stop by Baked on Van Brunt Street. I was not disappointed. Miraculously, I managed to make it home before I cracked open the box (maybe that’s because I had just eaten a lobster roll and mini-key lime pie).

We bought a Nutella cookie, a sweet and salty brownie, and the big winner… the salted caramel bar. Upon taking my first bite of the salted caramel bar, I said, “Oh. Oh wow. That is very, very special.” A shortbread bottom, caramel middle, and chocolate top, sprinkled with flaked sea salt. Heaven.

Baked has a few cookbooks out so many of their recipes have made their way onto the internet. This one in particular looks promising.

image: annies eats

Heads up, it has five sticks of butter. FIVE.

Hey, I Like Your App!

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I downloaded Red Stamp last week after seeing it mentioned on A Cup of Jo. The app is free and available on iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. (According to the website, there is no Android version yet because of technical issues.)

Using Red Stamp, you can create cool thank you cards, invitations, birth announcements, holiday messages, etc.

Many designs can be personalized with photos and can be sent via text, email or with a physical postcard (!).

Using the app to send digital cards is free.  Paper postcards cost $2 and decrease in price if you’re ordering in bulk.

Since it’s free, you don’t even need a holiday to send a card. (Here’s Nolan with a surprise he woke up with)

On A Cup of Jo, Joanna Goddard suggested it as a modern twist on sending thank you notes from new moms. If you are a new or new-ish mom, you’ll probably remember the whirlwind that is the first few weeks and months of motherhood. While friends’ and family’s generosity is beautiful and kind, sending out those thank you notes can zap every free moment you have. Everyone suggested, “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” but I couldn’t. I had laundry and thank you notes to write.

What do you think? Are digital cards (particularly thank you cards) as “acceptable” as paper ones?

Hey, I Like Your ____________!

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Probably a dozen times a day, I find myself thinking, Oooooh, I like that house/haircut/dessert/blog/app/podcast/etc. It’s usually followed up by, I should put that on my blog!  Then I sit down at my computer and realize, Ummm…I don’t have a lot to say about that. So that’s why I’m starting, Hey, I Like Your ____________! Quick little posts with things I come across and want to share.

#1 Hey, I Like Your HOUSE!

I spotted this house in Floral Park’s West End, just down the street from the elementary school. Isn’t it charming? The picture definitely doesn’t do it justice.  I was trying to inconspicuously take a picture while strolling past with Nolan and my mom. It was obvious that people were home and my mom was hissing, “Be careful!!!”

I want to live in this house.

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