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"

Friday, August 29, 2008

Black Bean Tomato Soup and Quesadillas

I stayed home from yoga on Wednesday due to somehow messing up my hand--didn't think a downward-facing dog would do it any good. It's feeling better now, and I have a nice new recipe to boot.

I have off and on attempted to introduce a "___ day" theme into my menus. I know there are people out there who always have pasta on Tuesday, for instance. I think I'd find that overly restrictive, but I have been inspired to try having a "soup and sandwich" night once in a while, since I have very few sandwiches in my repetoire.

This duo was featured on the latest issue of Cooking Light's menu suggestions page at the back of the magazine. You make the soup, which really couldn't be easier and was also very good--I suspect the bacon played a role there!--and while it simmers you can throw together a couple of quesadillas with chicken and whatever cheese you like best. The result is something that doesn't take any additional time, but that feels more like dinner to me than having just soup often does, like I'm cheating or leaving something undone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chicken Breasts with Avocado, Tomato, and Cucumber Salsa

One of these days I really will start taking pictures of recipes; it would make the place look a little less boring. But probably not this one, because it was, well... kind of boring, too. Not that there was anything wrong with it, it was easy and quick to put together and tasted fine, it was just kind of dull. Maybe grilling the chicken would have made all the difference, but my grill pan needs to be cleaned and reseasoned, and it's one of those things I just don't get around to. And I think I have to come to terms with the fact that I don't like avocado much. Perhaps I have simply never been exposed to a good one, since the one we had for this salsa tasted somewhat watery to me.

But anyway. If you're looking for something quick and simple and have the stuff on hand, there's no reason not to make this, but if you have some time and ambition, might want to keep looking.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dunkin Donuts Helps My Budget

They've changed their cream cheese recently. I don't know what sort of crap they're trying to pass off now, but it surely is not Philadelphia brand; it's thinner, and faintly gritty, and I find it on the edge of disgusting. So there goes that habit, unless I want to switch to donuts.

They're still working on the Finagle A Bagel on First Street. Looks like they've started hiring, so perhaps we have not much longer to wait. I hope they'll have decent cream cheese.

Getting Back to Cooking

It's been a while. The height of summer is not really recipe-friendly. But yesterday I managed to sit down and put together an actual list of menus for the week, things that involve more than "saute veggies, boil pasta, put veggies on pasta."

Although not necessarily a lot more. Last night, in order to use up some farmer's market eggplant, I made Eggplant Marinara Pasta Casserole. It took a bit of time to put together, and the baby was teething and fussy, and L was tired and cranky, and I poured myself a glass of wine with a lot more feeling than I usually do. But the recipe is a good one. Salting and prebaking the eggplant gives them a bit more of a concentrated texture, without the mushiness that can be a turnoff for those who, like me, have not quite made up their minds whether or not they like the stuff. I found myself thinking that some sausage would go very well, but the dish is hearty and can stand on its own quite easily.

Note that the recipe is written for 8 servings--I halved it, and it worked perfectly well that way.

So get yourself an eggplant and get to it!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lake Week 2008 Part 3: Maine

Saturday: Last day here. We spend much of the day packing, cleaning and getting the cottage closed up. Lydia scrapes her foot on a rock, and from the screeching you'd have thought that she broke a leg. At 2 we get on the road (Rt 25, to be specific) for Yarmouth, ME. leading through quaint towns where the only industry still extant appears to be antique stores, but it's a pretty drive. Soon after we arrive, the rain clouds that have dogged us drop their burden. Yarmouth appears intent on making itself walkable/bikeable, and the result is a very agreeable little town. My sister-in-law and her husband are there as well, making for a tight fit in a two-bedroom condo, but we manage to sort out the sleeping arrangements. L and I go along for the dog's evening walk, and get bitten up by mosquitoes. After dinner we have dessert from Kickass Cupcakes, where J has just gotten a job. Not a very restful night; JJ is up a lot, including one spell of about an hour when he just would not get properly to sleep.

Sunday: At Christmas my father-in-law presented everyone with tickets for a harbor ride he'd won in a church raffle, and today is finally the day. In contrast to the previous evening, it's sunny, warm, and about as gorgeous a day as one could wish. I go out for a half hour's walk around the neighborhood, which is quite nice. Around 11 we drive over to a little park with a beach, which is very nice, apply sunscreen, and at 11:30 meet Brenda, our “captain” for the day, a pleasantly outgoing sort with a converted lobster boat in which she tools around. Everything goes fine (once we get Lydia in a lifejacket, which she wasn't keen on). Both of the kids behave well and seem to enjoy the trip.

Boxed lunches from the European Bakery are eaten while we idle past Whaleboat Island. We see a lot of lovely boats, many attractive little islands with rich people living on them, and more lobster buoys than I would have imagined possible.

We leave around 3, run into much worse traffic than we expected, with the result that by 6 we are in the vicinity of Haverill and running low on energy. We have some pretty bad Chinese at Oriental Garden just off the exit. L has a granola bar. JJ sleeps for most of the trip, but after being put back in the car after dinner decides that he's bored and cries most of the rest of the way. We finally get home around 8, stagger upstairs, count the cats, and go to bed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lake Week 2008 Part 2: Sun

Wednesday: D's birthday! It's sunny! And very cold at night. L is up very, very early, possibly as a result. I make a fire in the morning, then take the kids to GPC so he can do more inventory. In the afternoon we visit Fun Spot, where L seems to have a much better time than last year; she goes on the bumper cars but seems disconcerted by the actual bumping, plays a round of mini-golf with her dad (I have JJ in the Baby Bjorn, not conducive to golfing), and attempts a couple of games.

Afterwards, we head to Kellerhaus for ice cream sundaes, a venerable family tradition. Both kids fall asleep, JJ in the restaurant, L a few minutes into the car trip back. L sleeps until suppertime. JJ does not; he gets a bath in the sink.

Thursday: Beautifully misty, not so cold. L falls in the water (again) as she gets adventurous enough to try for a new standing rock. The forecast is for showers and more thunderstorms, so in the morning we seize on the still-clear weather and head over to the beach on Long Island. For most of the morning, we share the place with only one other family and a handful of bored and off-duty teenage lifeguards. Relaxing. At noon we head home for lunch. By 1 L is scratching her legs nearly constantly. I wash her off and douse her in calamine lotion, with her howling bloody murder the entire time and JJ complaining in counterpoint about being left in the playpen. I cuddle them both by turns and sing songs. At 2:30 he goes to sleep. At 3 she decides she's feeling better. The rain has not materialized; the afternoon is perfectly gorgeous. D retrieves the sock she threw into the water. There's a bush down there with a few red leaves already; that one is always among the first to turn. Cicadas sing in the daytime, crickets at night. We try again to go to GPC for ice cream, but they seem to be changing their hours randomly, and have to get some at JoJo's. On our way over we see a deer and a very bold fox; D tries to take a picture of the latter.

Friday: Another beautiful morning. Chilly. The kids sleep until 9. I make pancakes for breakfast. We make a trip to the dump, visit the Old Country Store, look at all the stuff, and get L some penny candy. Then a stop at the farm stand to get things for dinner; corn, some carrots, locally made cheese, and some cheesy bread twists. After a lunch of leftovers, D heads out to do more laundry. I let L watch Robin Hood again while I try to get JJ to go to sleep. Dinner is the veggies and some braised chicken thighs with Penzey's Lemon Pepper.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lake Week 2008 Part 1: Rain

Saturday: Travel is surprisingly easy, since it's not a holiday weekend. With a stop at the Moulton Farm, we're at the lake around 1. Lunch and supper with my in-laws, with plenty of relaxing in between. L goes in the water and gets an unexpected dunking when her grip on the dock's edge slips, but no harm done. JJ has chosen an inopportune time to develop stranger anxiety.

Sunday: The loon pair in the cove have a chick this year. D takes L to GPC in the morning for two hours so I can write, still working on reordering a few scenes in the middle of the book. JJ sleeps for four hours, making up for a rough first night. Rain 12-2. Trip to Center Harbor for groceries. Rain 5-sometime in the early morning. D gets started on his project for the vacation, taking inventory of the accumulated junk in the crawlspaces and closets upstairs. Shortly after we get JJ to bed, an oak tree comes down, narrowly missing big cottage porch (or so we thought, later realizing that a branch had glanced off the roof--you can see it in the background of the second picture).

Monday: Rain. I make pancakes. D drives down to Boston to see his cousin and about the legal arrangements for the cottage's future. I play with L, cut pictures out of the newspaper for her to glue, make a fire and spend the rest of the day keeping JJ away from it. He's teething or something, nursing every time I turn around. L watches the animated Robin Hood DVD on my laptop, runs out of steam around 5 pm and gets very clingy, but it's a surprisingly good day for having been stuck inside the whole time. For dinner I make a huge pot of pasta and sauteed globe zucchini and the little star-shaped ones we call flying saucer squash (we eat it for lunch for the rest of the week).

Tuesday: Another threatening morning, so we drive in to Meredith. It clears up. We walk along the waterfront and marvel at the millrace by the Mill Falls, which can barely contain the amount of water coming through.

Lydia walks on the rocks at the water's edge. We visit the Innisfree Bookshop, where I manage to only buy a couple of things, then walk up to a new gourmet food store a friend told me about. On the way back we stop at a new bakery for an enormous round of foccaccia. Businesses are always coming and going in Meredith. Lunch on the porch is bread, cheese, and sliced cucumber. D tackles more inventory. I take L down to the dock to play, and think about how last year we wouldn't let her on the old concrete stairs without someone to hold her hand. Now she scrambles surely around the shore rocks, finding sticks and pebbles to throw into the lake (and one of her brother's socks, which earns her a time-out), and puts her feet in the water. We drive over to GPC, but the ice cream parlor is closed and it's begun raining again, so we turn around, occasioning tears from a disappointed little girl. She is mollified by some more scissors-and-glue action, and her mother congratulates herself for having thought to bring the stuff along. Intermittent showers throughout the afternoon. Dinner is pork fajitas, rice and beans, and salad.

We're Back!

More, much more, to follow, with pics from our vacation, but for now I am still wading through email and trying to remember what my job is, anyway....

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake

I've been meaning to post this for weeks now--it's the recipe I used to make L's birthday cake, and it was not only the best chocolate layer cake I've ever made, but quite possibly the best I've ever eaten. Thank you, Rose Levy Berenbaum, whose book truly deserves the title The Cake Bible.

1/2 c + 3 Tbsp unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa (I use Droste, and for things like this, it is worth the expense!)
1 c boiling water
3 large eggs, room temp
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 c + 2 Tbsp sifted cake flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 c unsalted butter, softened.

  1. Preheat oven to 35oF. Prepare 2 9-inch cake pans: greased, bottoms lined with parchment or wax paper, then greased again and floured.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Cool to room temp.
  3. In another bowl, lightly combine the eggs, 1/4 of the cooled cocoa mixture, and vanilla.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend.
  5. Add the butter and the remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened.
  6. Increase to medium speed (high if hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scape down the sides.
  7. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides.
  8. Scrape batter into prepared pans and smooth. Bake 25-35 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when touched lightly in the center. Should start to shrink from the sides only after removing from the oven.
  9. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides and invert onto greased metal racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert and cool completely.
I used Martha Stewart's chocolate frosting, and the result was fabulous.

UPDATE: Added the sugar!

Monday, August 4, 2008

We Looked at Houses!

On Saturday we went to Sudbury and met our "facilitators", and then drove around with them to look at three houses. The first one had a lot of issues, the second and third had more promise. Not that we expect to actually buy any of these--we're looking around to see what we like, and whether it's going to be possible to find anything we'd consider living in for the price we want. Right now, it looks like the answer may be "yes." Finally.

Other than that, I watched a lot of old B5 on Sunday, made some brownies (will post recipe if they're good), and did a fair amount of cleaning. Not too exciting really. Cooking has mostly been off the cuff and ancient stand-bys since we've been so busy lately.