Monday, July 16, 2012

An Inspiring Book and Easy Dessert (before I leave the country)

I've been packing my bag, marking things off my lists, leaving instructions for my family, and preparing to leave for India today. I'm headed with 2 friends from my church to spend a week with our friends who live in Northern India. We will be seeing their world and learning how we can support and be involved in the work that they are doing there.

I can't believe it!  The day is finally here.  I am excited, expectant and yet feeling utterly unprepared for what lies ahead on this journey I am about to take.  Before I go, I thought I'd leave you with a couple of things I've been wanting to pass along to you.

So, I'll make it quick:

This inspiring book.

If you are a mom, you should think about reading this book.  If you know a mom, you should think about recommending this book to her. Last week I started reading 52 Things Kids Need From A Mom,  by Angela Thomas.  I like her a lot.  I saw this book at a store a couple of months ago and picked it up.  
CONFESSION: I have a book buying issue.  I know, it's true.  This weekend, when I was running to Target with my pal, Amy, to pick up my last things for the trip, we were in the book section and I was really trying to only buy one new book.  I confessed to her that "I have a book buying problem", which I knew was safe to share, since she too has this "issue".  She said, "it could be worse... that's the way I see it!  We could be spending our money on far worse things than books."  She's right.  Although, you know, from my summer reading stack, that I didn't need one more new book this summer.  (And Amy gave me a copy of a book she is also reading , The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon.  Have you read it?  I'll be taking it on my trip and will let you know more!)

So, this Mom-book is great.  I knew it would be solid, but had no idea how fresh and practical and fun to read and INSPIRING it would be.  Each chapter is just a couple of pages and highlights one of the 52 things she proposes that kids need from their moms.  She is gracious and bold and fun and intentional all at the same time. She is the mother of 4 children.  She knows what she's talking about. 

Now, I'm sure it would be great to read one chapter each week for the year...stretching it out for 52 weeks, but I can't.  I will say, I am trying to shut the book after each chapter and think about it, maybe tell someone near enough to listen.  Then I proceed to the next chapter. Like putting your fork down between bites of food.  
I love her examples and her humility with which she boldly challenges us to be intentional moms.  I have been trying to implement some of her suggestions already.  
I started to send an email to several friends telling them about the book, and then I decided to just write about it here to share with even more people.  

When I find something that I love, it's hard for me to keep from sharing it with others!

A yummy easy dessert:

The other tidbit I want to share with you is a recipe that I've been meaning to share for a while.  It's a simple, tasty dessert from Everyday Food magazine from several years back, that we like at our house.  It was originally called "Cookie Break Up".  We call it 
Cookie Brickle though .  While the name Break Up is accurate, as it's a cookie that you "break up", I think it's a downer name for such a great cookie!  Who wants to eat a break up?  I try to avoid break ups in my life.  I renamed it Cookie Brickle a few years ago.  It looks like a chocolate chip cookie, but broken into pieces.  However, it's texture is crunchy and is very buttery tasting – reminescent of toffee.  Brickle reminds me of Butter Brickle Ice cream, which is toffee flavored and the definition of Brickle is "easy to break".  So...Cookie Brickle it is .  It's super yummy and because the pieces are broken you feel justified in eating a little piece, and another little piece, and another...

It is the best recipe to make when you have just a few minutes and can't get to the store.  You surely have all of the ingredients in your house.  It's a great thing to take to picnics or places, as it's easy to transport and can't mess up along the way.  (They are conveniently already broken!)  We have taken them to a pool party and a picnic at the creek this summer, and they were well received and easy to pack and take. 

Cookie Brickle 
¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 heaping cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Line a 10 X 15 inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in salt and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low; mix in flour (dough will be crumbly).
Stir in chocolate chips.

Press mixture evenly onto prepared sheet.
Bake until golden, about 20 minutes.
Cool in pan 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To serve, break into pieces with your hands.

 My kids help me make it.  Asher made it by himself the other day with just minor supervision (mostly about not pouring flour all over the floor). 

In these last days of July, if you are needing some inspiration, here is my two cents worth. 

I'll hopefully have great photos to share with you of my journey to India and stories of the people I encounter.  Who knows, I might even get to bring back some Indian recipes or culinary skills!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Road Tripping: Healthy Snacks and PackingTips!

Summer means road tripping.
GORP (or trail mix, you might call it)  is a favorite treat of mine to take on the road, to the pool, on a hike, or vacation. What exactly is GORP? I did a little research about the etymology of GORP and here's what wikipedia tells me.  Good Ole Raisins & Peanuts is one suggestion of the meaning of this oddly named snack.
[DISCLAIMER to Belmont students of mine: don't see this reference to wikipedia as a model of solid research which you can emulate in your research paper writing.  This is good for food blogging about silly inquiries like, "what does GORP mean?"]  

It's the simplest, easiest snack to make.  I will say, it can be pricy.  But it goes far and really packs in nutrients.  My ONLY complaint about GORP is when people select their handful, and pick out certain things.  Our GORP has nuts, dried fruit and M&Ms.  Guess which items disappears the fastest? You guessed it...the M&Ms.  I tell my people that they aren't allowed to pick out the M&Ms.  I tell them they need a balanced handful.

my Lucy says, "I just love that scoop! And I don't not like anything in GORP, Momma"
I tell them that the beauty of GORP is the salty/sweet/chewy/crunchy/chocolatey combo.  I tell them it's  a fun surprise to dig in the scoop and see what comes in their hand and then gobble it up and enjoy the combo.  They look at me like, "You don't understand."  Then they sneak.  Wikipedia references the word GORP in the dictionary being a verb meaning "to eat greedily".  So, I might need to use that technical term.  "STOP  GORPING the GORP!"

Another road trip favorite is Granola Bars.
I wrote about my love for Joy the Baker's Granola Bars a few months ago HERE.
My lovely friend, Lane, just wrote about another version of granola bars on her delightful blog, Apron Days.  I made these for our trip this week.  They are YUMMY with all that nutty, oaty goodness AND peanut butter, coconut,
 and mini chocolate chips.  You should try these.  I have eaten them for breakfast, afternoon snack, and as a cookie with homemade peach ice cream after dinner.  They are multi-purpose! 

I also made my standard granola to have with us on vacation for breakfast parfaits every morning- vanilla yogurt, peaches and cherries and a scoop of granola on top! Mmmm. (It's not great for eating in the car, as it's crumbly, but it's great to have for breakfast!)

If you are as overwhelmed by packing as I usually am, I have a tip for you.  A couple of days before our recent preparations for a beach trip, we saw our friend, John, at the pool.  I was telling him about our upcoming trip, and how much I appreciated that my son's spend the night camp provided a packing list, which made things so simple and how I wish someone would give me a vacation packing list.   He suggested I check out the trip packing list on Simple Mom blog.  (If you don't know this blog, you should check it out.  She is such a great resource – so practical and smart and creative).  
The list is a little overwhelming when you see that it's 4 pages, but it's comprehensive and it's really a helpful tool.   I loved having a checklist to ensure that we didn't forget things.  (She also has these daily docket "to do list" print-ables, which I like.)

Speaking of packing, one of my favorite ways to pack is with laundry baskets.  Depending on the room in your car, and your destination, packing at least some of your stuff in laundry baskets is super easy.  They hold tons of stuff, and are especially useful when you are carrying oddly shaped items (like sand toys and shoes) and bulky items (like beach towels), and great for when you arrive at your destination. You can USE the basket as your laundry basket on your trip – and then bring your dirty clothes home in it, ready to hit the wash when you return.

And one more fun tip.  Why not create a soundtrack for your trip?  I remember being on a trip with a friend in high school and her dad had a mix tape for the beach trip with all of his favorite vacation songs.  It was so fun to have a soundtrack to the vacation. We are working on our music Playlist for our vacation. It's a span of tunes including: You're the Inspiration, Careless Whisper, The Mexican Hat Dance, The Greatest Love of All, All The Good Things, and Cruel Summer.  Random, for sure.

So, here's to road trips: making memories, having fun – with yummy snacks, easy packing and a soundtrack!  Any favorite road trip snacks or tips you have up your sleeve?  Do share.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Collaboration Meals

a season when our meals center around produce – what we find at the farmer's market.

Oftentimes melon, corn on the cob and tomatoes are at center stage.

Getting together with friends is also a favorite aspect of summer supper.  We like it especially when it's casual and easy. One of my favorite ways to share meals with friends is by having what we call A Collaboration Meal.

What's a collaboration meal, you ask?  A Collaboration Meal, which we sometimes call a hodge podge,  or Yours Mine Ours,  is when we get together with friends, bring whatever we have on hand from each of our kitchens, and put it together to make a feast.  One might confuse this with People's Choice, which I wrote about a while back, and it has some similar qualities, but the collaborative aspect of this usually yields a far more exciting menu.  There is something more delicious about eating food that someone else bought or prepared.
our Tapas night- turkey meatballs, garlic pastries from trader Joe's, bruschetta, and a fruity green salad

We have a couple of friends with whom we have done quite a lot of collaborating and have had some great meals as a result.
The planning of these Collaboration Meals goes something like this:
The friend and I are talking on the phone.

Me: Let's have dinner on Thursday night.
Friend: What should we have?
Me: Well, what do you have on hand that we can use as a starting point?
Friend:Let's see...(peering into the fridge) I have 3 turkey burgers,
Me: I have 4 hotdogs,
Friend: I have 3 buns,
Me: oh, I have 5 sandwich rounds, which can work.
fries in the making
Friend: I have some potatoes and can make some fries,
Me: I have some fruit to make a salad,
Friend: Oh, I have some apples, I think.  And I saw a recipe in everyday food magazine for this great dessert I want to try but not sure if my kids would like it.
Me: Oh, make that and I'll bring the cookie dough I have in my fridge to make some choc. chip cookies for the kids.
Friend: Sounds great! We'll come at 4:30!

Done and done! The plan is in place.  And you never can predict what the final product will be, but it almost all of the time exceeds our expectations!  And the sum is always better than the parts.

Sometimes it is more thematic- like "Pasta Your Way" (a couple of different pastas with different sauces, veggies, etc.)

or Tapas night (appetizers as a meal)

and sometimes it's Open Grill (sticking whatever we have that might be grill-able on the grill and serve a smorgasbord).

barley salad
One night we created a Southwestern Salad with tilapia.  We put together our collective greens and lettuces, a ripe avocado and beautiful tomato and my left over texas caviar and brown rice and tortilla chips.  We whipped up some southwestern ranch dressing (out of sour cream, ranch dressing and some salsa) and grilled the tilapia that we spiced up a bit with lime, garlic, cumin, and salt.  My friend brought ingredients over to make a very yummy cornmeal raspberry crumble and it was a delightful feast!

I remember another night we made Kale Chips (because I had been wanting to make them and wished for a partner to venture with me), a few turkey burgers, a few chicken sausages, barley salad that I had made the day before, leftover orzo salad from a couple of days before, a ripe avocado, "s'mores bark"–  (all out of things we each had in our kitchens).

sauteed veggies pitched in between us - for pasta night
Pasta Your Way

Pasta MyWay
We had pasta night last week, where we boiled a couple of types of pasta, made a marinara sauce, sauteed some veggies and prepped some raw veggies and fruit for the kids and dinner was served! 

So, call a friend and look into your freezer, fridge, pantry, fruit bowl...dig deep, as I say, and have a friend do the same. Talk it out and dream up a meal.  It doesn't have to be perfect or even logical.  Sometimes the quirky meals are when we discover new tasty combinations! And it feels so rewarding to use what you have to make a feast.  How resourceful and responsible!

Do you have fun ideas to share with us about how you collaborate to create easy, yummy meals with people?  Please share your ideas with us!