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"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

House Hunting Can be Depressing

Given our budget and the still-somewhat-inflated prices around here, a lot of what we've been looking at are short sales, places on the brink of foreclosure. Some of them have been dumps, clearly inhabited by far too many people, poorly-cared-for, and all that. Today one came up that was really depressing, but for a different reason than usual:

Nothing like misplaced optimism to make you question your own life.

On the up side, my oven got fixed Tuesday night, and I made some bread yesterday. This weekend is going to be entirely mad--we have either a game or a visit with friends scheduled, depending on some job things; the kids need winter coats as the temps have dropped into ice-on-the-puddles territory quite abruptly; and I have supper club. Plus all of the usual errands and cleaning and so forth. But maybe a miracle will happen, and I'll get some cooking done....

Monday, October 27, 2008

Where Have I Been?

Three weeks ago, we had an unexpectedly enormous vet bill; in the interests of continuing to save for our hoped-for house, we put a tight rein on most grocery spending. I've been doing a lot of pantry meals and no new recipes at all.

Last Wednesday was my big deadline for the year, so I wouldn't have had much time to cook anyway. But that's all over and done with, all tasks marked "complete" in our tracking system, and everything is wonderful except....

That same day, my oven died. I am still waiting for my landlord to get it fixed.

So basically, the Chaos Creatures have been romping through my life lately and making it impossible to get any real cooking in. I did get to spend some time this past weekend going through my "holiday" file, picking out things I'd like to try this season. So here's hoping that things get a little bit better, very soon!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dark Chocolate Brownies with White Chocolate Chunks

Gah, a whole week since my last post? I'm not sure what it says that my long holiday weekend was so busy that I barely had time to check my mail a few times, but that seems to be how things are lately.

On Saturday, for instance, we took advantage of the flagrantly gorgeous weather and took a picnic lunch to Green Hill Park, on the other side of town. Aside from the congregation of bulldog owners (seriously), it was quite nearly deserted. We found a table, admired the foliage, and watched flocks of geese take off in frantic pursuit of or flight from whatever it was they thought was important, while L poked around on the shore and soaked her shoes. Afterward we walked up to the little farm/petting zoo, and then over to the playground. JJ played with sticks, I lay in the grass clippings and watched some fantastic high clouds, we all got a bit too much sun, and it was one of the most perfect days imaginable.

On Sunday, D had to go up to NH to help close up the cottage. I was still recovering from the hideous cough that had been plaguing me for nearly a week, and we didn't really want to get the kids up and ready for a 7 a.m. departure, so it had been agreed that the rest of us would stay home. I always feel a bit nervous about having them to myself for a long stretch, but as it turned out, the day went very well. I made bread and these brownies, which along with Ina Garten's "outrageous" ones are the best ones I've had:


Our friend B came up from Connecticut for a visit with his daughter. She and L ran around the driveway for a while, watched Toy Story, and we got a pizza for lunch. After our visitors had gone and JJ was napping, L got a bath. I didn't aim high for dinner--Chicken & Stars soup for her, leftovers for me--but I did get them both fed and in bed by the time D had battled his way through the fair-going traffic. And no one melted down all day, not even me!

Monday I had off, and since it was still unseasonably nice, we went over to Hadwen Park, near our apartment, for the morning. We walked up the hill and along the trails through dried leaves and pine needles, and talked glancingly about the fact that it might well be our last visit to the place, if we find a house and move this winter. In the afternoon, I bathed the other kid and spent some quality time with my stack of old November issues of Bon Appetit, thinking idle thoughts about holiday menus. I sliced up a pork tenderloin, found a recipe for an easy pan sauce of red wine, orange juice, and broth, added some roasted carrots, squash, and turnips from the farmer's market, and called it dinner.

General update notes: JJ is standing by himself more often, starting to get the hang of this balancing thing. He goes in today to see how his head is coming along. And L, having put up a fight about it that has long baffled her parents, has finally been using the potty. Work has been crazy, but we have our big deadline for this release a week from today, and after that things should get a bit quieter there. I have a ton of vacation time to use up before the end of the year, so I'm thinking about how to best use that (a few days spent baking cookies, perhaps?).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Return to Overlook Farm

The pancake breakfast there in March was one of my first posts on this blog, and in it I looked back at last year's harvest festival, which for one reason and another I didn't enjoy very much. This past weekend, we went back, and everyone had a good time.

The day was cool, bright and quintessentially autumnal New England. The leaves have yet to peak in these parts, but patches here and there are brilliant red and orange, and when we got up to Overlook we were all glad to have worn jackets, as the breeze was really quite chilly. We got there on the early side, took a quick wander around and saw the horse teams all ready to go out on a hayride, with one other family in place. L was quickly befriended by another girl, somewhat older and very outgoing, and we saw her family off and on throughout the day.

The driver thought that was enough, and we went jolting slowly down the road, past the vegetable stand and garden, a field where pigs were acting as living rototillers, and ended up the "pumpkin patch." This was a grassy field full of pumpkins, the actual growing field being thus preserved from being trampled on all day. L picked out an appropriately tiny pumpkin, and we walked back up to the buildings and started making a circuit of the exhibits and barns.
Once we were all pretty well worn out from that we sat down for lunch, most of it made from food produced on the farm. L didn't really eat anything, as per usual, but she did drink some milk and some fresh apple cider. We paid a visit to the farm stand for eggplant, leeks, and Swiss chard, and then headed for home, pleasantly tired.

October Supper Club - Starts with (Letter)

Supper clubs tend to evolve the way they do things over time. For this month, rather than have the whole group try to wrangle out a theme, we decided that whoever was hosting would pick. Looking over our list of ideas, K picked the "starts with (letter)" theme.

For some reason, this one I had a horrible time thinking of something to make. I was given my dish by a friend outside the group while I was communicating my despair over IM. "Too busy to think" seems to have been the tone of the whole weekend for more than one of us, and this was not our most successful dinner; the standard phrase "this is our best one yet" did not get used as it often does (and usually, it's deserved). They can't all be home runs. On the up side, member HK, who has missed a few lately, joined us for this Sunday, and we all had a good time catching up.
  • KS - Slow-cooker beef stew
  • PC - Cucumber casserole
  • HK - Kugel
  • RS (me) - Ratatouille
I used the recipe from Patrica Wells' Bistro Cooking (Ratatouilla Francoise Rigord), being a bit intimidated by Julia Child. The only problem I had with this one is her assumption that you have an infinite number of stainless steel skillets--with lids--and stove burners; otherwise, it's a snap.

6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
5 medium onions (about 1 pound), coarsely chopped
Bouquet garni: 12 parsley stems, 8 peppercorns, 1/2 tsp thyme, 1/4 tsp fennel seed, and 1 bay leaf tied in a double thickness of cheesecloth
3 large red bell peppers (about 1 pound), cored, seeded, and cubed
2-3 small eggplant (about 1 pound), cubed
2-3 medium zucchini (about 1 pound), cubed
5 medium tomatoes (about 1 pound), cored and cut into eighths
1 lemon
A handful of finely minced fresh parsley
  1. In a large, heavy, nonreactive skillet (LHNRS) heat 2 Tbsp of oil over ML heat.Add the onions and bouquet garni and stir to coat with the oil. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender and light golden, 20 minutes. Do not allow them to burn.
  2. Add the bell peppers, stirring gently to mix, and continue to cook until the mixture is very soft, about 30 more minutes.
  3. In another LHNRS, heat 2 Tbsp of oil over ML heat. Add the eggplant and stir to coat. Cook, covered, until soft, stirring from time to time to keep the eggplant from sticking to the pan, about 20 minutes.
  4. In another LHNRS, heat 2 Tbsp of oil over ML heat. Add the zucchini and stir to coat. Cook, covered, until soft, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, about 20 minutes.
  5. Add the eggplant to the onion and bell pepper mixture. Cook, covered, over low heat for another 15 minutes.
  6. Gently spoon all of the vegetables into a colander set over a nonreactive saucepan or skillet to collect the liquid. Spoon the vegetables into a large bowl. Place the pan of liquid over high heat and reduce until thick and syrupy, 5-10 minutes. Pour over vegetables and stir to blend. Season wiht salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours.
  7. To serve, remove the ratatouille from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving. Adjust the seasoning. Squeeze half the lemon over the top and sprinkle with parsley.

Yields 12-16 servings

Thursday, October 2, 2008

North Woods Bean Soup

AKA, "She ATE IT!!!"

This is an old standby at our place--I didn't even pull out the recipe last night, I've made it so many times--but it's been in retirement for a while, as it's not exactly a summery soup. It is hearty, warming, and relatively cheap as far as the ingredient list.

We have been working for a couple of weeks now on getting L to eat a normal dinner, instead of going through a separate rotation of the four things she likes to eat, and then giving her some yogurt. The invariable reaction has been to push her plate away, drink her milk, and announce, "I'm done." I did have some hopes for this soup, because she does like beans. She did pick a few of those out, then speared a piece of kielbasa and asked me if it was a hot dog. "Yes," I told her, figuring it was close enough. She ate it. A while later I saw her looking speculatively at a carrot, though she made a face when she ate it. She even ate a piece of kale (which I use instead of spinach when I have it).

Needless to say, this soup will be going into regular rotation.