Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Wee Bit of Math

I did some adding up this morning and determined that I am personally responsible for maintaining just under 1,000 pages of product documentation. That doesn't include two rebranded documents where I don't own the content, or a programming guide to which I make occasional contributions, but does include eight active product documents. No wonder I sometimes feel dizzy....

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Blueberry Coffee Cake

A rare and wonderful day spent with friends. They recently bought a house in a neighboring state, so getting together will involve more planning the future, but yesterday it was a simple drive and a great afternoon of catching up and playing with the kids (they hadn't seen JJ since his birth).

I put together a lunch menu that I thought would be okay with the expected heat: tortilla di patatas (from All Around the World, a fabulous book to read as well as to cook from, by one of the Silver Palate girls); spinach and strawberry salad; some toasted Italian bread with purchased bruschetta topping, and Lisa Yockelson's blueberry coffee cake once we had recovered from all of that. I have acquired something of a crush on Ms. Yockelson, based purely on the pictures of her kitchen in Baking by Flavor. Maybe a little bit on the fact that her recipes are bliss on a fork and entirely dependable.

Cinnamon and Sugar Topping
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 c firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Cake Batter
1 c sour cream
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 c plus 2 Tbsp unsifted all-purpose flour
1/4 c unsifted cake flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 c fresh blueberries
1/4 lb (8 Tbsp, one stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 c superfine sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F. Film the inside of a 9x9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the topping ingredients; set aside.

Combine the sour cream and baking soda. The mixture will swell and puff a bit as it stands.

Sift the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together. In a small bowl, thoroughly toss the blueberries with 1 1/2 tsp of the sifted mixture.

Cream the butter on moderate speed in a stand mixer for 2 minutes. Add the superfine sugar and beat for 1-2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract.

On low speed, add half the dry ingredients, the sour cream blend, and the remaining dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently to keep the batter even-textured. The batter will be moderately thick. Fold in the bliueberries.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan. Smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the surface.

Bake the cake for 35 minutes or until set and a wooden pick inserted into the center withdraws clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for at least 20 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature. Keeps 2-3 days.

Friday, June 27, 2008

This Week's Recipe Roundup

It's been one heck of a week--between JJ's teething and the cold he came down with last night (possibly the same low-grade virus that's been dogging my heels all week), no one is getting much sleep. So this blog has been neglected a bit, and rather than post individually for everything I've been cooking, I'm going to slap them all into this one.

Orange-Glazed Tofu Triangles with Sesame Rice--Although I had to make a few shortcuts, this one pretty much rocked, and would probably be better if made correctly, with a grill and everything instead of being tossed under the broiler for a few minutes. It's also an attractive dish to plate, if that counts for you, particularly if you keep the elements distinct.

Orecchiette with Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil--This is probably the "foodiest" dish I will make this whole month. Small-batch imported pasta, organic tomatoes, mozzarella made that very morning and purchased at a farmer's market, as was the basil. A perfect meal for summer.

Turkey Burgers with Special Sauce--I'm sure a better name could be found for the sauce, but that's a hazard of reader-supplied recipes, I suppose. I admit I was highly skeptical about this one, especially the orange juice, but it works!

Also this week, from Moosewood Daily Specials, we had the Artichoke Heart Soup (okay, but a little odd) and the Greek Salad (lacking something, probably because I don't like olives and left those out--maybe it just needed more feta, or melding time).

We've eaten a lot of grape tomatoes this week. Since the farmers markets appear to be in full swing now, it's time to loosen up my menu planning and take more advantage of what can be found there.

Aside from the virus and the teething, the kids are doing great. JJ is rolling all over the place. L watched Fantasia the other day and during the "Pastorale" sequence said, "Look, pony-birds!" and just melted her mommy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Six-Month Update

JJ cut his first tooth earlier this week, and according to yesterday's pediatric visit has at least three more following close behind. This explains the night waking, or so we hope. We gave him Motrin last night, but it seems to have been only partly effective (the shots yesterday probably didn't help either). Still, we can at least look forward to a day not too far off (we hope) when he (and we) will get a bit of a break.

He's up to 17 lb, 12 oz. It's probably a good thing that his growth has slowed down a bit, if only so we might get more than six weeks' wear out of his clothes.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thai Chicken Saute

I am fortunate enough to live with a man who is frequently and (I think) genuinely complimentary to my cooking. It is fairly rare, however, that he says something is "outstanding," so when it happens I try to take note. Unlike a lot of Thai-inspired dishes, this one has a short ingredient list. It also cooks in about ten minutes, which (together with the spice factor) is handy when the temperatures have spiked.

The day as a whole was a bit of a mix. We think JJ's night waking may be due to reflux, so I am drinking decaf tea this morning. We went to Marlboro and there seem to be houses there we'd consider, which was cheering, but it's still pretty far from my job. We'll look at the coasts next, and see what the economy does....

Friday, June 20, 2008

Penne, Crispy Tofu, and Green Bean Salad

An unlikely-sounding combination, perhaps, but in my recent trawl for hot-weather main dishes this one seemed like a good bet. Since I was making it after work, we had it warm (the weather has gotten far more decent since last week, so this was not a problem) and agreed that it was a pretty good effort. I find myself entirely unable to brown tofu without it sticking to everything in sight, however.

JJ is still not sleeping well, but I think his tooth is breaking through; perhaps after that finally happens he (and we) will get a bit of relief. We're thinking about heading up to Marlboro to scope out neighborhoods this weekend, and I might finally break down and get a new toaster, since ours has just ruined another bagel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Foodie Dreams

I know how annoying it is when random people tell you their dreams, but this one is food-related! I dreamt that I was visiting a farm stand, which appeared to be simply bursting with glowingly fresh, healthy produce. However, whenever I examined an area of the store more closely, it turned out that everything had been deep-fried, with some sort of tempura-like coating, and that the actual fresh food there was was minimal.

In the end, I resorted to buying some eggs, although they were strangely shaped and I wasn't sure if they were the right size.

On Beyond Bisquick

On Saturday night I blithely promised L pancakes for breakfast. On Sunday morning, I was surprised to find not only that she remembered that I had said this, but that I had no Bisquick.

Yes, I use Bisquick. It's what my mother used when she made us pancakes (every single day for a while there in childhood, which astonishes me now), and it's easy and reliable. It's also been a sort of talisman against accusations of foodie-ness... but one which I have now lost, because I've found out how ridiculously easy it is to make really good pancakes from scratch.

King Arthur Flour's Simple, Perfect Pancakes

2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
2 t pure vanilla
3 T butter, melted or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups (6.25 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 t salt
2 t baking powder
2 T sugar or 1/4 cup malted milk-powder

Beat the eggs, milk, and vanilla until light and foamy, about 3 minute at high speed of a stand or hand mixer. Stir in the butter.

Whisk the dry ingredients together to evenly distribute the salt, baking powder and sweetener. Gently and quickly mix into the egg and milk mixture. Let the batter relax while griddle is heating (or overnight in refrigerator). The batter will thicken slightly while resting.

Grease and preheat the griddle. The griddle is ready if a drop of water will skitter across the surface, evaporating immediately; if you have an electric griddle, set the temperature between 325 and 350 F. Drop ¼ cupfuls of batter onto the lightly greased griddle. Cook on one side until bubbles begin to form and break, then turn the pancakes and cook the other side until brown. Turn over only once. Serve immediately.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dinner for a Frazzled Weekend

The frazzling began late Saturday night, when out of nowhere JJ started throwing up. Now, this child spits up right and left, but had never out and out vomited before, so we checked all of our books, and when he did it a few more times called his doctor. After which, of course, he settled down and didn't do it again, sparing us a trip to the emergency room at midnight. But the damage to his hapless parents was done. D got next to no sleep all night, leaving him borderline ill himself the next day, when we were expecting his sister and her husband to be staying the night with us on Sunday.

We managed to get the place cleaned up, and I finished up the grocery shopping. On the way home, the ginger ale's cardboard case gave way, scattering cans hither and yon through the the parking lot. I gathered up those that hadn't sprung a leak and soldiered on. When we got home, I found that the bottle of spray cleaner hadn't been tightly closed, so most of one bag smelled rather strongly of citrus and half of its contents had to be thrown out.

In the afternoon, wonder of wonders, both kids took a nap, so I took myself to my freshly cleaned kitchen and started to mess it up again, making sandwich bread and a cake to go along with the taco dinner I had planned. The latter I have made before, and we love the recipe in the summer, though the tacos tend to be a little bit unwieldy, with bits of veggies and pork juices falling everywhere. The previously untried lemon cake was okay, but I've definitely had better. I may give up on Cooking Light for dessert recipes; they have some standouts, but the whole impulse to be low-fat about things has led to some less than outstanding results. Though it may not seem like it to read this blog, I don't make desserts all that often, and if I'm going to the effort I want something that tastes really, really good. Like Lisa Yockelson's blueberry tea cake, reported on here by a fellow blogger (and commented on by Ms. Yockelson herself!).

By the time we finished dinner, I could feel the scratchiness starting in my throat. JJ got us up no less than three times in the night, and every time he did, my throat felt worse. So here it is, Monday morning, I am coming down with a cold, I have a ton of work to do this week, and I left my headphones at home.

The week should get better from here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Human Factors Observation

People want to be precise, even if the situation does not call for it (even, in fact, if being precise works against the goal); give people a range that includes three options, and they will try to add more. I've seen this happen most with hiring, where people apparently cannot stick to yes/no/neutral assessment of a candidate, but must add "yes, but..." and "no, sorta..." options.

I've also now seen it with scoping. When we make our first pass at how long a project will take, we assign small/medium/large effort estimates to each task--or at least we did. I see that we have now added "extra-large" to the list of estimate options.

I'm not at all sure what this says about people, but I find it fascinating.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Strawberries, and a Cucumber

Those were my first farmer's market purchases of the year--the Kendall Square Market is open now, and I made it over there on my way back from the bank today. The other woman in line with me bought some tomatoes after being assured that they were locally grown. I looked long and hard at basil plants but held off. If they're still there next week I'll probably end up with one or two for the windowsill.

There were only a handful of vendors--Lunni Orchard, an organic place selling the potted herbs, a woman selling fresh mozzarella, a bread place, one or two others--and there wasn't much by way of actual food yet, but it was delight to see and smell.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Random Blog Reading

On a rare occasion I scroll along through the blogosphere just to see what else is out there. This morning I stumbled over Engineers Without Borders.

Sometimes you start to think that our species can be kinda cool.

Warm-Weather Pastas

The heat wave broke last night around 11:30, with thunder, lightning, and rain that sounded like surf was hitting the house, which trembled slightly with each gust of wind. For the past couple of nights I've been making things that didn't take a lot of cooking. Not coincidentally, they're also packed with veggies.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Feta Vinaigrette is an old standby, something I've been making every summer for years now. You can be as fancy or restrained as you want with add-ins; we had some good asparagus, so I sauteed that and added it into the mix.

Warm Bow-Tie Pasta Salad was a new one, and I think I'd make it again. The mushrooms give it some oomph.

I threw together some Couscous Salad with Chickpeas and Tomatoes to have for lunches this week--another standby, and one I've posted about here before.

Summer is here!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

With temperatures in the 90s, look for warm-weather recipes here! A morning trip to the grocery store was my one venture outside yesterday. I had this recipe in mind as something I might want to make again while we're at the lake this summer. It cooks quickly and can be made ahead if that's a consideration.

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

Northerner that I am, I have no idea how well this compares to other recipes for pulled meats, but I like it. Sweet sauce, rich meat, soft white rolls... it's easy to eat too much of. When corn is in season, obviously go for that, but when it's not I tend to serve this alongside a cucumber salad with rice wine vinegar for a cool contrast.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Finally Caught the Smile!

A tiring and discouraging day yesterday, driving around Framingham to see what our budget will get us by way of a house there. I am less than thrilled with the idea of having to look farther outside of Boston than that, but our explorations have only begun.

In better news, I finally got JJ to smile for the camera. He's taken well to cereal but still not sleeping as solidly as we would like. Could be teething, of course.

This morning he rolled from his back to his tummy for the first time! Now he's got both directions.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Pasta Primavera

There are as many recipes for pasta primavera as there are cooks. It is one of the handful of dishes I often make without a recipe any more, since it is ultimately flexible, but if you'd like one, here's a good starting point. I had to use broccoli, since the asparagus at the store was appalling.

L did not eat anything in this dish, but she did fork up a piece of pasta and look critically at it, and she picked up a pea. We're all about the tiny steps with her and food.

Also, D sent me a couple of links about the locavore movement: An Experiment in Brooklyn-Style Subsistence Farming, in which a clueless n00b tries to feed himself for a month on what he can grow in his own backyard and learns many things the hard way, and There Will Be Chicken Blood, which is about, well, slaughtering chickens.

Vegetarian pizza sounds good right about now.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Stir-Fried Beef with Ginger-Carrot Sauce

You can't go too far wrong with a simple stir-fry, and other than the bizarre call for white pepper (as if), this one is pretty darn simple. I am deeply attached to recipes that go from start to the table in under a half hour, in case you hadn't noticed.

It was a good day overall. L went to orientation for preschool (apparently they're going to have homework? for pity's sake...). JJ is definitely into his cereal; he seemed to like it even better with a thicker texture, so I guess we're ready to rock and roll with this solids business. I got some much-needed work done and then went to yoga class. Today is looking pretty gray. Must fix bugs now....

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Broiled Salmon Fillet with Curried Chutney

Chutney is a strange word to say aloud, isn't it? Chut. Ney.

I had a thoroughly delightful birthday, with cake from my co-workers, gifts from my family, and a dinner that managed to be slightly special and good-tasting with making me crazy on a weeknight. We got wild Alaskan salmon, put it under the broiler for a few minutes while the sauce cooked down, and there it was. I actually closed my eyes to concentrate on the sparkling collision of sweet and spicy over the depth of the salmon itself. After supper we had the usual Youtube viewing (she's still stuck on penguins, but we've moved to Surf's Up instead of Happy Feet), played with LEGO for a while, and I had a nice chat with my mom.

Plus, I gave JJ extra cereal last night and he's still asleep!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

35 years old today. This event has occasioned a certain amount of existential angst, of the "what's it all about, when you get right down to it, I mean really?" variety. Not being well suited to philosophy, I hope to get over this quickly.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Chicken in Peanut Sauce

An oldie I pulled out, thinking that the warm weather forecast for this week would make it welcome. And it was! It's probably been years since I made this -- a distinct problem with trying new recipes a lot of the time. This is everything one could want in a hot-weather dish: fast, easy, and full of spicy flavor. I can't be bothered with poaching chicken and usually saute it in some peanut oil. Adding more vegetables never hurts this dish, either.

If you watch sodium, check your soba noodles before buying, some brands have an insane amount of salt, while others have none at all.

Monday, June 2, 2008

June Supper Club: Cookout

"All men are a pain in the ass." So declared my friend K halfway through the evening, to much giggling. It was a small group of us last night, and we ended up talking about the things we always talk about -- work (stressing), kids (worrying), the men in our lives (exasperating). We ate burgers and grilled sausages, three kinds of salad, and drank glass after glass of zin or lemonade as our tastes dictated while D's daughters and husband buzzed around.

A fun and relaxing end to a busy weekend. I had gone out Saturday morning to give blood for the first time in a while, and in the afternoon we braved threatening skies and made our way out to what we call The Citadel to seek out summer wardrobes for the kids. While we were at Target I heard rain drumming on the roof, a brief downpour that had ended by the time we left. I threw together a supper of Chicken, Mushroom, and Cheese Quesadillas,* and JJ got his first cereal! He seemed to like it okay, though the spoon gave him some trouble.

Bright and early Sunday morning I caved in and joined Facebook, since it seems like everyone I know has already done so. Despite working in high tech, I have generally regarded such things with suspicion. Part of this is because it would now be possible for me to spend all day every day reading/blogging/commenting elsewhere online about my job rather than actually doing my job, and the potential threat to my precious downtime is even greater. We stopped watching TV because it was interfering with real life, after all.

Later that morning our friend B. arrived, child in tow, from CT to give me a birthday present: 35 pieces of chocolate. (I got a teeny bit of ragging on Sunday night about the "about me" box on this blog, but I really am a ludicrously lucky woman--my family and my friends are some of the best people out there.) In the afternoon, I thumbed my nose at the energy crisis, turned on the A/C and did some baking--Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies, some of which need to be given as gifts to neighbors who saved my butt after locking my keys in the car last week. You have to love a recipe that starts with a pound of butter and two pounds of chocolate.

I also made the lemon cake I brought to our cookout. (It gave me an excuse to finally go out and buy eight-inch cake pans.) Zesting and juicing five lemons was the only difficult bit of the business, and the end result was, I thought, pretty darn good--distinctly lemon-flavored without biting your head off, the partial icing added sweetness without overwhelming. I think I'm going to make this one again when my mother visits next, since she loves lemon.

On the way home from Marlboro I found myself thinking about the funk I've been in lately, how overwhelmed I've been feeling by day to day life, and decided that it probably wouldn't hurt to try thinking a little more positively (it would be easier, my cynical side grumbled back, if I were getting a little more sleep).

"Cheer up," the 107.9 morning DJ told us all this morning. "We'll find an alternate fuel. Your house will sell. The kids won't get arrested."

And on that thought, time to get the week underway!

* Do they need to include "cheese" in the name? I always thought quesadilla must be related to queso.