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, July 30, 2009

Goal Roundup: July

A good month on paper, but with depressingly little to show for it.
  • House: Offer accepted, inspection done... P&S averted by seller shenanigans. Back to the drawing board, but A for effort.
  • Decluttering: Many boxes taken to StVdP. A
  • Financial: N/A since we had to pay for the home inspection. But I got a raise, so I'm going to call that an A too.
  • Health: Still working out. Not losing any weight (probably due to birthday cake and such), but am slowly getting back into something resembling decent condition. B
  • Food: Blogging has picked up a bit from the doldrums. B
  • Writing: New goal! Got a submission in, which is what counts, right? A

Dinner for a Disappointing Day

Wednesday, well... kind of sucked. Only kind of--the kids went to their checkup and we received no alarming news, and it was a productive day of work. But there was that whole rejection letter thing, and then I went looking at house listings and stumbled over what was obviously meant to be my house, falling instantly in love with everything about it only to find out that it was already engaged to someone else.

So I was plenty bummed when I knocked off for the day and went over to the grocery store. On the walk back it started raining, then started pouring. Sans umbrella, I told myself it was the universe reminding me not to take myself so seriously.

Once home and dry, I cut up most of a butternut squash I'd bought on a whim over the weekend, and set it simmering in some chicken broth.

I put the zucchini from the farmer's market through the food processor, salted it and let it sit while I chopped up tomato and garlic, grated some Parmesan, and dug out the dried marjoram. Once all of that was set up and JJ had been corralled for the umpteenth time, I rinsed off the zucchini and broke six eggs into a bowl, then decided that wasn't enough and added one more. I shoved my stick blender into the squash, put some canola oil in a tiny frying pan with some of the garlic and a teaspoon or so of curry powder, then added that to the now-soup and returned to my eggs.

The recipe I was using had originally been published in Eating Well. I remembered it very well, but couldn't find it for the life of me, possibly because I was convinced it was in some other magazine. But the kindly souls at the Cooking Light bulletin board unearthed my own review of the recipe, from almost exactly four years ago. I'm pretty sure it's from Deborah Madison.
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, coarsely grated
1 1/8 tsp salt, divided
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
4 large eggs
4 large egg whites
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 c of Parmesan or Monterey Jack cheese
1 Tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
2/3 c part-skim ricotta cheese

2 1/2 c chopped tomato (we had grape tomatoes, I quartered them)
1 medium shallot, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh marjoram
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

My condensed instructions:

1. Toss zucchini with 1 tsp salt in a medium bowl; put in colander to drain for 20-30 minutes. Rinse briefly and squeeze dry.
2. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over in a large non-stick skillet over M-H heat. Add zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until water evaporates (5-6 min). Remove to bowl, wipe pan clean.
3. Preheat broiler.
4. Whisk eggs with salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in zucchini, cheese, marjoram. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in the non-stick pan over M-H heat. Add egg mixture and reduce heat to M-L. Dollop ricotta over the top. Cook until eggs are set on bottom, top still wet (5-7 min). Transfer to broiler and broil until done (3-5 min).

For tomato garnish: Toss all ingredients together. Cook in a skillet for a couple of minutes, until warm and releasing juices.

I sliced up some orange-cranberry bread from the farmer's market to go alongside, and the result was good enough to restore a teensy bit of gloss to the day.

8/7 - Edited to add photos.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Twirling, Twirling

Finally, a post I started writing two weeks ago....

I went up to NH for the traditional family July 4th weekend without a thought in my head as to what I was going to make for dinner when my turn came to cook on Sunday. This is not like me; when I am cooking for other people I tend to overplan, and when we go up to the cottage I tend to take half of my kitchen along with me, just in case I want something that isn't part of the antiquated batterie de cuisine. This time, however, I stuffed a couple of recent Fine Cooking issues in my backpack and figured I would wing it.

We arrived during a brief interlude between rainstorms. As previously noted, June in New Englad has been... damp this year. Sad to say, the trend continued during the first week of July, with storms rolling through every hour or two on Friday and Saturday. At least it kept the speed-boaters to a minimum. We enjoyed the sun while we could, spending time out of the dock, watching Raleigh swim after thrown sticks. L was induced to get into the water, and given a ride out to the raft by her "Uncle" Mike, where she handled an involuntary dunking with surprising aplomb.

Saturday morning we went to the parade and the library book sale in Moultonborough. I didn't even look at the books this year.

I did take L to the Old Country Store for some penny candy, and actually found something I've been looking for: a growth chart for her that we can take along when we move (we've been using the kitchen wall, which of course presents a problem...). Clouds kept rolling through, but the rain held off until we were on our way home afterward. After lunch, I found myself drafted into first moving a logpile that was in the way of some work being done on the smaller cottage, and then shoveling sand and gravel for various projects to do with the waterlogged state of the lot. It does not take much to bring out the hydrological engineer in my in-laws. Saturday night, only D's parents were brave enough to attend the fireworks, although as it turned out they took place during one of the clear interludes. It got very cold that night, and we made a fire (in July!).

It was still cold Sunday morning, with a fierce wind. Since it wasn't raining, we grimly bundled ourselves up and went over to the beach, but only stayed for a half hour before L was too cold and wanted to go back.


Various projects were attended to that afternoon; D's job for this trip was to cull the book collection, weeding out Readers Digest Condensed Books and fifty-year-old romance novels to make room for things that might actually get read once in a while. I went to the grocery store. Over the course of the day people who had to be at work on Monday drifted out, so it was a relatively small group for which I had to cook that night.

And I am happy to say that my uncharacteristically relaxed approach did not lead to disaster. While I did have to spend some money on spices I could have brought up had I known I would need them, and I am never going up there without a decent knife again, the meal we ended up with was perfectly adequate, indeed something I will more than likely make again. Here is a link, but I am not sure whether they keep recipes up all the time.

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup milk
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cayenne
28-oz. can diced tomatoes, with their juices
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. ground beef (preferably 85% lean)
2/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in a mixing bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp. of the cumin, the cinnamon, and 1/8 tsp. of the cayenne and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and their juices, 1 cup water, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a steady simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

While the sauce simmers, prepare the meatballs: Mash the breadcrumbs and milk with a fork to a smooth paste. Add the beef, the remaining 1 tsp. cumin, half of the cilantro, 1-1/2 tsp. salt, several grinds of pepper, and the remaining 1/8 tsp. cayenne to the breadcrumbs. Mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Wet your hands to keep the mixture from sticking to them and roll a couple of tablespoons into 1-1/2-inch balls; you should have about 30. Nestle the meatballs into the sauce, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes to thicken the sauce. Stir in the remaining cilantro and season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over herbed couscous or steamed rice.

On Monday morning the weather turned gorgeous. Our second beach outing was much more of a success!


Shopping, and Lemon Cheesecake Squares

The day after the party we decided to keep things low-key. While D and the kids went to church, mom and I went out to a garden center in Auburn (Teddy Bear Farms, they don't appear to have a web site), and spent most of an hour there, leisurely looking over their quite extensive selection. She made a couple of small purchases to take back to PA, and then we headed over to TJ Maxx, a store I regularly forget exists, even though several members of my cooking club work there. The problem is that I am not much of a shopper; I generally figure out that I need something, spend several months thinking about, and then go buy it online somewhere. Shopping as a sort of opportunistic, prospecting activity, where you go out without knowing what you'll find, is not something to which I am prepared to devote my scarce free time, and of course the whole point of TJ Maxx is not knowing what they'll have. I don't mind going with other people, though, and as it happened I did come across a few things I could justify buying. (They did have one lonely Le Crueset pot, but the enamel was chipped, so I passed it up.)

After lunch we went outside with the kids. L rode her bike a little bit more, and we blew bubbles, and did her favorite outdoor game: run across the yard towards me, so that I can scoop her up and twirl around until we're both dizzy. Have to enjoy these things while she's small enough for them! While JJ took his nap we played with her new LEGO set (after years of DUPLO those bricks seem tiny). And, because I can't let a day off go by without baking something apparently, and because my mom loves lemon and I hadn't made anything specially for her on this visit, I made Lemon Cheesecake Squares.

They are really easy, really lemony, and really good. I will be making them for my next party, assuming I ever get to have one (I was so looking forward to having a housewarming party... stupid sellers).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Apres Birthday Party

L turned five on Wednesday, and for the first time we decided that she ought to have a real party, not just family members, so we invited two of her particular friends from preschool over on Saturday. We scheduled it from 10-1, partly to avoid running into JJ's nap time. I spent the morning running around like a lunatic--last-minute grocery shopping, hanging decorations, making (another) cake, and shoving a bunch of clutter into our bedroom where it wouldn't be in the way. My saintly mother did a ton of dishes.



The party went off without a hitch. The girls decorated sugar cookies, played "pin the flower on Dora", and played together without any real problems, although L seemed a little overwhelmed at moments. I played lunch safe and served some sliced cucumbers, macaroni and cheese, and birthday cake. The sky had been threatening all morning, but around noon it cleared up, so after L opened her presents they all went outside for a bit (under D's supervision).

Afterwards, D got his "me time" at the library while JJ napped. I puttered in the kitchen. During my mom's visit I wanted to put together one quasi-serious meal--I seldom have a chance to do that. Previously in this visit I had made turnovers with greens and feta, a simple pasta with zucchini, and pizza (a tradition). But this afternoon I had time for something a bit more elaborate, though I still wanted it to be simple food.

  • Eggplant and Fig Caponata. I absolutely love this recipe. I was drinking some leftover organic sangiovese at the time, and the combination turned out to be heavenly.
  • Spanish tortilla. Onions, potatoes, olive oil, eggs. One of the simplest recipes going. And you just hate to stop eating it.
  • Salad. My now-standard mix, sweet and yummy.
And for dessert, of course, more birthday cake!


Friday, July 17, 2009

Housing Crash

So, we thought we had an agreement with the sellers about the wiring, but when it was time to write up the P&S, they tried to put something different in there. We won't back down, and at least for the moment, neither will they.

So... back to the !#$% drawing board. Again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

House Hunting Roller-Coaster

I started typing this post when we were still waiting to find out what would happen.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to look at a house in Maynard, our first viewing in a really long time, given the market doldrums. Not a bad little place, we agreed; it had a lot of things we're looking for. We went back and saw it again, decided that yes, we did in fact like it. Put in an offer well below the asking price, and were surprised when the sellers came back with a very reasonable counter-offer. So we arranged for the inspection with high hopes.

And there, just like the last time, we ran into big problems. That the place could use quite a bit of work, we were prepared to hear. That it needed to be entirely rewired, and that we probably wouldn't be able to get a loan for it in the current condition, meant that the whole thing could be a dead end.

So our realtor, who is an entirely awesome person and has been working for us for a year now without getting anything for his trouble, sent the inspection report and a letter to the sellers, saying basically that we really do like the house, but we don't have the cash up front to deal with all of this stuff. You fix the wiring, without which we cannot buy the house because the bank appraiser will laugh, and we will up our offer slightly to cover some of your costs, and deal with all the rest of it.

They went for it. We're supposed to sign the P&S later this week.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Turkey Has Flown

  • $1.69 - Envelope
  • $3.55 - Media rate postage
  • Free - Post Office guy telling me "think positive thoughts," feeling like I am going to throw up.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Goal Roundup: June

June did one of those blink-and-you-missed-it tricks this year, possibly due the fact that it has rained nearly every single day. This is not an exaggeration. We had one really nice day, and thank goodness we were smart enough to go up to Overlook in the morning, because by evening it was raining again. Here's the usual status report:
  • House: We made two visits to a place in Maynard, and actually put in an offer on it. As of now, we are still waiting to hear back from the sellers.
  • Decluttering: Not so much. But if we end up moving soon, this will have to kick into extremely high gear.
  • Financial: N/A since we had to put down earnest money with the offer.
  • Health: Been working out regularly, go me. Yesterday's run consisted of 2 1/2 miles, a best since mommyhood. I seem to have lost a whole pound.
  • Food: Up and down, but the blog post count is up, so I'm going to call it a win.
Not to mention, I got an entirely unexpected promotion at work. And I got a haircut. Which I have not done since just before I went back to work after JJ was born. And since I got up at 3:30 this morning, unable to sleep, I copyedited my freshly printed MS and fixed up the typos. Just need to stuff a fresh copy in an envelope and out it goes, tomorrow (what the hell, everything else in my life seems to be going well right now...).