quick cooking

kale, almond & shiitake mushroom fried rice

Note to my readers: Compensation for this recipe was provided by ConAgra PAM via Mode Media. Any opinions expressed are not indicative of the opinions or positions of the sponsor. As always, the words and stories shared are my own.

Some nights I wonder why I put the energy and effort I do into dinner. The moments when all of us agree, and are actually satisfied with what I cook, are rare. I’m always a happy customer, being the head chef and decision maker on what’s for dinner. My girls, however, are predisposed to being polar opposites. One loves fried chicken, the other recently declared she doesn’t like chicken any more. One would eat pizza every day of the week, the other rolls her eyes come Pizza Friday. And so, dinner becomes a bit of a balancing act. I place the dishes on the table, knowing that someone is not going to be 100% thrilled with it all. To my girls’ credit, they respect my one meal policy, and generally keep their complaints at bay.

Every now and then, I raise my white flag of surrender with the one dish they both agree on, and which is my least favorite—mac n’ cheese. A few of you are probably familiar with the recipe, and may even love it yourselves. Way back the girls used to get their fill once a night when M and I had date night on Thursdays, hence the name of the recipe: date night mac n’ cheese. Even after he passed away, I kept Thursday night for myself. Mommy got much needed alone time, and the girls got their cheesy fix. Since moving upstate, date nights have been non-existent (yes, my sanity is often being held together with a thin thread!). Continue reading »

tagliatelle limone

I ate chocolate cake for breakfast two days in a row. I suppose I could call it research and development for work. I mean, it is important to know how many days homemade devil’s food cake lasts exactly, right? Of course, it’s that kind of fuzzy logic that has me wondering why my jeans feel more snug than I’d like.

It’s easy to blame the weather. The temperatures drop, and the needle on my scale rises. Okay, that last bit is a lie. The only scale I own is my OXO one for baking (big surprise!). Years ago, my real scale broke, the needle stuck at 25 pounds, and the kids couldn’t understand why I kept it for so long.

But back to this cake problem, um, I mean work dilemma. Rather than forsake sweets, I tend towards moderation in other ways to balance out my lack of running since the snow started falling mid-January. Salads always find their place at our dinner table, and lately I find myself going back for seconds on them before the main course. My guy isn’t generally a salad person, so I was quite flattered that he’s enjoyed everyone I’ve made so far. There are a couple of basic things that define good cooks, the art of salad making ranking high for me. It’s about texture and flavor, and getting both of these into every bite. Continue reading »

sauteed artichokes with garlic, shallots & sweet vermouth

I’ve learned so much about myself during these last 18 months. Yes, it’s been that long—it surprised me a lot today too. My new reality has been like driving a stick, except my previous experience was on an automatic. Now, changing gears is a big part of life, in a way so different from before. The last few years of my life with Mikey were a bit like cruise control, that often happens when you’re juggling family, work and a personal life. It’s easy to fall into habits, especially the ones you love. For me, one of those habits happened to my addiction to farmers’ markets. Not a bad vice to have, if you must have one at all.

I’d wake every Saturday morning to the hum of my alarm, and pop out of bed ready to grab the best of whatever was in season before the throngs of sleepyheads descended for the second wave of market madness. I’d rouse Mikey for a sleepy kiss goodbye before leaving, and tiptoe out the front door, making sure not to wake the kids so he could sleep in a bit more while I went off to play with produce. By 9:00am I’d be back, bounty in tow, and we’d plot the day ahead, as I unpacked the groceries.

Weekends are more of a challenge now being a single parent. The girls are not always on-board with my Saturday shopping agenda. In the beginning, I used to bribe them, offering things my former self would’ve deemed very unacceptable as breakfast food—in my defense, the lollipops were organic and dye-free. Some were even pomegranate flavored, so they were technically a dose of antioxidants, right? Whatever…

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homemade corn broth

This is my seventeenth summer going to Cape Cod. Michael first took me just a few months after we started dating in August of 1995. I was a kid back then, just 21 years old, but still remember that summer so vividly. The 300 mile drive in his little red Toyota Celica, and the box of cassette tapes he used to pack for road trips. It was the first time I’d heard Cracker, and found myself singing Movie Star again all these years later as I made the drive out here last week. I still keep the Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 2 cassette in the glove compartment.

As we make the drive out here, I still murmur silly things like Bic Pen Drive, as we pass the Bic Drive exit on the I95. And crude things like “Exeter, I wasn’t even in her”—Mikey made that one up as we drove through Rhode Island once. Then there’s Mash-the-peas, as we pass Mashpee, one of the towns on the Cape. The motel we stayed at, Terrace Dunes, is just down the road from the house we rent now. I glance at the efficiency unit we called home for those two weeks every time I drive by it on my way down Shore Road.

And there I go with the “we” again. Technically, I’m still part of “we” because it’s me and the girls, but often the “we” I refer to in conversations is me and Mikey. It’s hard to remember that “we” is now just “me”, at least in the immediate, physical sense of the being.

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this little light of mine

When Isabella was in pre-K she sang This Little Light of Mine at her winter recital. She would practice the song over and over again at home, and every time it would end with me in tears.  Mikey used to laugh, in a very loving, teasing way, for how freely my tears flowed at school performances because I’m generally a tough Brooklyn gal.

Tonight that song popped into my head while I was cleaning the dinner dishes. The line “no one’s gonna blow it out” hit a particular chord every time Isabella used to sing it. I saw my job as a mommy to keep that light going—make sure no one ever tried to extinguish her dreams. Now I’m faced with keeping that flame lit all by myself, and heaven knows her inner light was challenged in the most painful way.

Over the last 373 days, I’ve felt depleted and numb in ways I never want to feel again. One year ago, I had a house full of people. Michael’s death was still so fresh and raw for them, so my home—our home, overflowed with people flocking to support me. I know the sentiments are still there, but one year later, it’s just me and the girls mostly. People have moved forward in their own ways, the way families do—the way they should. There’s still that moment during dinner when a silence falls upon the house because he usually came home while we were eating.

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fairytales for grown ups

My head feels like Dorothy’s house as it’s swirling into the eye of the tornado. This is what New York City does to me. It divides my heart from my mind. This is something I was beginning to realize even before Michael died. In six days it has slowly undone the careful stitches Paris wove into place. For a few weeks my fractured life felt whole again. Going to a new city, embracing a new culture and way of life, gave special meaning to learning a new kind of normal.

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just her imagination {roasted rhubarb jam}

Someone mentioned seeing rhubarb at the farmers’ market this weekend. Well, actually they heard from someone else that there was a rhubarb sighting at the Grand Army Plaza market. I went to the Union Square one with the girls, and while I’m tempted to jump the gun and say there was none to be had, the truth is I wasn’t looking for it, so I don’t know.

Rhubarb wasn’t on my radar, and my visit to the market was with laser sharp precision, hitting only the stands I needed since I was short on time. Now I know to keep an eye out for this weekend. This simple tangent led me to another thought. How much are we missing out on, in the intensity of this 24/7 world? Just because we can do something every second of the day, doens’t mean we should. There’s so much to be said for unplugging, and savoring life’s smaller moments.

I thought I had mastered this long before Mikey died. I always prided myself on being the mommy who didn’t overschedule her family. I only accepted one birthday party invite per weekend, and that was only on Saturdays. Sundays were strictly mommy, baby, bella and daddy day. We often set sail in the car on Saturdays, with no goal in mind, except to have fun together.

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italian fried rice

Isabella has been completely immersed in the world of Harry Potter lately. Her curiosity began just before Mikey passed away. We watched the Sorcer’s Stone as one of our pizza and movie night treats. It whet her appetite, and all she wanted from that point on was to read the books.

Michael had promised to buy her the Sorcerer’s Stone as a reward if she finished her math summer study packet before we left for Cape Cod. They had been working on it together during the weekends when he was off from work. The night Michael died, I walked home to tell Isabella the news. She knew it in her heart, but had held out hope that I would return home to say he was okay. I knew that feeling. I held onto a shred of it as I sat in the ER, wishing desperately that it was all a dream.

After we talked in the hallway, and went back in the house crowded with friends and family, Isabella asked me what would happen with her homework packet. I unapologetically said “screw the homework packet”. It wasn’t the proper thing to say, nor appropriate language for an 8 year old to hear, but that’s exactly how I felt. She worried what her teachers would say, and I assured her they would understand.

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toasted vanilla bean muesli {day 149}

I'm sitting here, pounding away at the keyboard when I should be sleeping. It's not too late, just shy of 11:00pm, but I had two back-to-back baking flops, and don't take defeat lightly.

I've also had muesli on my mind, and figured I could go out on a high note with a no-cook recipe before showering and tucking in.

But then I decided to toast the muesli, so there went the no-cook idea. Truth is I tried to like muesli a year ago, last January in fact. I decided to start 2011 on a healthy note. It was more about listening to my body—it was in need of a makeover. I decided to get more daring with whole grains thanks to inspiration from galleys of Heidi's Super Natural Everyday (that cookbook, by the way, is a must own). I began with an oat soda bread, wet my feet more using whole wheat pastry flour in these brown butter pear and meyer lemon muffins, oat ricotta pancakes, and cheddar rye muffins. I even started an affair with kale which is going strong to this day (this soup is still one of my favorites, and the girls love it too).

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spiced scented cranberry sauce {day 106}

Thanksgiving preparation has officially started, and I wasn't sure what to expect as I set out to make the cranberry sauce. I'd bought the cranberries last week, and there they sat in the fruit drawer of my fridge. I'd stare at them each time I opened the door, and think "maybe tomorrow the mood will strike to make it".

Well, Thanksgiving is only three days away, and this year I'm blinking in disbelief at how fast this fall has gone by. I go to bed each night thinking of how I found him when I heard he had collapsed. I replay this scene over in my mind before I go to sleep to remind myself that this is really my life, my reality.

I've written about being thankful, and I encourage the girls every day to remember how fortunate we are in spite of this sad truth. For now, my goal is a short term one—get through Thanksgiving. A reader who has also suffered this kind of loss, commented that the anticipation leading up to the "day", be it an anniversary, birthday, or holiday is sometimes harder than the day itself. I've hit two big "days" so far, and I believe that to be true too.

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