Monday, September 29, 2008

Squash Blossom Quesadillas



I am not sure if this is a recipe, or just a set of instructions. It's pretty easy, with few ingredients since the squash blossom has such a delicate flavor. I saw these at the farmers market and couldn't resist.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Tastes Like Chicken

Friday, September 26, 2008

Photo Fridays: Juvenile Snapper and Black Mangrove


Juvenile Snapper and Black Mangrove
Originally uploaded by expatkitchen

Mangroves are the nursery grounds for hundreds of marine species, an integral part of the ocean's ecosystem. These same mangroves are being destroyed by a development in Bimini. Despite developer's commitment to a "sustainable" development, the island's ecosystem is being systematically destroyed. The people of Bimini will lose their local fisheries and tourism as a result of this unwise approach to what should have been a beneficial project for the local economy and people. You can stop this.

Learn more about how cool mangroves are at Planet Save.

Learn about the Save Bimini Island Campaign — Mangrove Action Project
Visit www.savebimini.org

Photo Fridays are brought to you by Delicious Baby.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Few Thoughts on School Lunch

I've been packing the Kiddo's lunch every day for about a year now, coincidentally, since the biggest meat recall in history. So, you can imagine my surprise when the Kiddo herself told me all about the corn dog and beef burritos she ate at school.

I decided it was time to have a chat with school. Again. As I explained my prior request that my child not be given beef or hotdogs, the administrator simply acted polite while looking at me as if I had two heads.

You know, having two heads is a rare, but naturally occurring mutation. Nothing like, say, goats that excrete spider silk material with their milk, pigs that contain worm genes or glow in the dark, or salmon that grow twice as fast as normal because they have eel DNA. Some of which, could end up in our food supply WITH NO LABEL on it according to the proposed FDA ruling.

Of course, if I tried to explain this to the school, no doubt they would be calling Child Protective Services on me for being nuts. Because it does sound crazy. Like something out of a bad science fiction movie. Only scarier because it's real.

No worries, though, the FDA is going to examine each new engineered animal and oversee the whole thing completely. This is the same FDA who is understaffed, underfunded, ineffective and can only examine less than ONE PERCENT of food and drug imports to the U.S.

Of the ONE PERCENT of imported food and drugs, here's just some of what was found:
  • Melamine-tainted pet food
  • Prunes tinted with chemical dyes not approved for human consumption
  • Frozen shrimp preserved an antibacterial that can cause cancer
  • Poisonous swordfish
  • Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical
Now, if you were at the FDA, wouldn't you think, "Hey, if one percent of all this is dangerous, we better check out the other 99 percent!" So, where's the staffing for that, much less every single genetically-engineered animal which can get loose and breed with non-GE animals? You have until November 18 to let the FDA know what you think.

The school sent home this handy dandy form for me to complete, where I explain what foods my child is not allowed to be given and WHY. I am a bit stuck on the why.

We're a ways off from "worm chops" showing up as an entree, but I have a few more current reservations over good old beef, even if it is not cloned (which the FDA has ruled as safe and won't be labeled either).

The form gives me just two lines in which to explain my thoughts on the subject. Here goes:
Because of the largest recall of beef ever using downer cattle with unknown ailments that was fed to school children prior to the recall. Because of an ever-increasing contamination rate of the deadly E. coli 0157 that will only get worse with the rising grain costs spurring the practice of feeding cattle ethanol distiller grains which makes them bang their heads against the fence repeatedly, and may result in these magnesium-deprived animals being hard to tell apart from true madcow-infected animals. Because it's not likely an infected cow would get tested anyway since only .11 percent (that is POINT-11, not 11 percent, or only 110 cattle out of 100,000) of cattle are actually tested for mad cow due to cost cutbacks, and a recent ruling banned a farmer from testing all of his cows for the disease as it would cause an "unfair market advantage" to actually be selling beef known to be safe.
Hmm. That isn't going to fit on the handy form's two lines. How about:
Because I said so, damnit. And I am not crazy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Photo Fridays


Santa Barbara, California
Originally uploaded by expatkitchen

I took this just after sunrise before a pretty exciting dive trip in the Catalina Islands. It was nice to start a trip with an image like this in the camera.

Part of Photo Fridays travel photos from Delicious Baby.

More Confessions of a Busy Mom

It's been a while since I wrote a parenting humor bit. My sense of humor took a hiatus for some strange reason, likely the insanity at work. Here goes.
  1. I never have time to do my hair or wear makeup, yet, ironically, I organize my child's bookshelf by author and subject.
  2. A quiet, stolen moment means I can put laundry away. Some nights, I even get to shower alone, too.
  3. I gaze longingly at Pottery Barn catalogs. Not because I like the furniture, but because they make me remember what uncluttered rooms look like.
  4. I don't clean as often as I would like to. I lie to myself that this is "green." If using chemicals is bad, and using green chemicals is better, using no chemicals is surely best, right?
  5. I have arrived at work, spent a couple hours there in front of coworkers, and discovered my shirt was on inside out later.
  6. After a bout of insomnia, I nodded off again, in a meeting, with clients, sitting next to our CEO.
  7. The extent of my erotic fantasies is still limited to a good foot rub and eight hours of sleep. The closest thing I've gotten to a kinky position lately is this odd pose in yoga called "the dead bug."
  8. I fall asleep at 8:30, before our three-year-old nods off next to me.
  9. At the grocery store, my child looks after a woman and asks me, "Where's her little girl?" I replied, "Not every woman is lucky enough to have a little girl. I am a very lucky Mommy." She looked at me, beaming. "Mommy, smell my bottom! I pooted!" Oh well. At least I won't have to worry about her dating.
  10. As I type, my spouse is in the kitchen baking a cake. I can hear our child asking him nonstop questions. He cracked. "I have two recipes to make! I can't think with all this!" I was bad. I giggled for a moment before I went to help.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Getting Kids to Eat Healthy

One of this week's NYTimes top five links is an article titled "Six Food Mistakes Parents Make." Of course, I read the article to see if any of my habits were listed, or if there is any new information. It's a good article, not too preachy, but not anything new. After reading 700 pages of information on kids' nutrition and eating habits, I shouldn't be surprised by this. You can find a nine-post summary of that research in my Childhood Nutrition Series.

The "don'ts" from the article included:

Keeping Kids Out of the Kitchen
Kids that help cook will try the dish. It's that control thing. In fact, most food arguments have NOTHING to do with a particular food, it's all about control. Still, in the heat of the moment, after working hard to prepare a meal (after working all day), it's hard to separate the food from the real issue. One of the best mom efforts I have ever witnessed to get past this "control game" is Charlotte Hume's Great Big Veg Challenge in which she took her kids through every vegetable A-Z letting them taste various recipes and decide what they liked. The end result is now a book (with one of my recipes in it!).

For some great kid-friendly cookbooks, I would recommend Mollie Katzen's Salad People and other very visual cookbooks for the youngest chefs.

"You Have to Try a Bite"
Guilty. But only to a point. It's the behavior of being open to new things I want to encourage, and I do say "Thanks for trying that." The article just says to "encourage" and stay neutral. I will confess this is less of a hurdle for me than for many parents. My child has always, and still does, put everything (that is not food) into her mouth.

Last night, while taking a walk, the kiddo crouched down on the sidewalk and ran her fingers across the dirt in the cracks between the squares.

"What's this?" she asked.

"Dirt," I replied, just in time to see the finger going into her mouth. We're definitely on track to hit that five pounds of dirt consumed by age five standard.

The Forbidden Junk Rule
The article makes a valid point here that if the junk foods are not in the house, there isn't really a problem. At least while you are at home. We keep fruit, dried fruit, nuts and cheese around as snacks. We don't have to deal much with the forbidden food thing — until our kid goes to school.

After more battles than I care to count, I thought the whole "candy as a reward" thing was finally gone. Then one day the kiddo announces proudly, "I got three stars!" waving a lollipop. Great.

So, my spouse went to battle. The next day, the kiddo is riding home with me, holding stickers.

"Teacher said I can't have candy, that Daddy said I can't have it. Why can't I have it?" So, now we have moved beyond the reward sin to the "every kid BUT you gets it." Not a move in the right direction. Under my breath I am using words my child should not hear to describe a school that charges a grand a month and relies on bribes to get my kid to behave.

We took a special shopping trip to go choose a "better" reward than candy, all-natural fruit leather, that would be ONLY for her as her "special" reward. So far, it's worked. The point is, we parents are up against a whole lot of adversity when we try to do the things; friends, family, school, community, TV commercials, stores all seem to be working against us.

Your Own Dysfunctional Diet
Whether its Atkins or another fad diet, or soda for you and milk for them, kids watch what you eat — and don't. Thus, perceptive little sponges that they are, kids will not eat the vegetables you are pushing if you don't eat them, too. Despite the outside influences above, parents' own food habits have about 80 percent of the say in kids' food preferences. Choose wisely, you are being watched.

A Recipe for Failure
This was my favorite "don't" from the article, "Serving Boring Vegetables." If all I ever knew was the canned asparagus my mom gave me at age five, I'd never have eaten the real thing. In fact, a lot of foods I have had to rediscover as an adult like greens. Things I thought I hated, I now love.

This is the easiest issue to solve. In fact, most of the recipes on this site are vegetable sides, salads or main courses with vegetables. Even desserts have vegetables. Give some new approaches a try. Maybe you'll find out you like vegetables, too.

The Fifteen Rule
The article refers to "giving up too soon" but few parents realize just how many tries it can take. Fifteen tries is the standard, but I've personally been through upwards of thirty attempts and beyond. Much of this was documented in the first year of the Battle of Orange foods, a siege that tested my very limits of culinary creativity and squash storage space.

If you want more in depth information on how parents influence kids' food preferences, then you should read this post, part of the Childhood Nutrition series.

This post was included in the Carnival of Family Life.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Curried Eggplant and Long Beans


I finally decided the Thai eggplant wasn't too pretty to eat. Thing is, I don't love eggplant as much as I do other veggies. Thus, preparing it requires a lot of other flavors. I found a curry recipe for eggplant, peas and a red curry, and adapted this to the ingredients I had around, adding peanut butter and chili to the mix.

Curried Eggplant and Long Beans
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Weekend Herb Blogging: Amaranth Salad


Every now and then I stumble across ingredients that I am just not sure how to cook. A lot of these finds have come from the Thai family who sells produce at my farmers market. With the seasons changing, today I saw a new ingredient I tried in early summer and just never got posted — amaranth.

The color attracted me, this brilliant purple and green. I had to know what it was and how to cook it. The best idea I could get from the woman selling it was to make a tea. I bought a bunch, brought it home. I poured through all my cookbooks and online trying to find recipes. The closest I could get was a few sentences in Alice Water's Chez Panisse Vegetables that said to saute the greens with garlic or use in a salad. That's it. Other than references to its use as a grain. So, I will now best the goddess of local food herself and offer up an actual amaranth recipe. Heh.

Both the grain and leaves come from amaranth. There are about sixty species of the plants, otherwise known as pigweed. Some edible and many are not. The varieties that are commonly known as pigweed are one of the most common weeds impacting soy and cotton crops. At least one species of amaranth has evolved to be "roundup resistant."

I opted to use some of the amaranth with salad greens. Amaranth has a nice earthy flavor that I wanted to pair with a vinaigrette and something for balance. Blueberries fit for summer, but the dish would work well with the figs that are in season now.

Amaranth Salad
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

This post is participating in Weekend Herb Blogging, which was started by Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Love This Site Award

Here's a surprise. In my email, I got this notice my site was nominated for a "Love This Site" award. Voting ends November 30, if you care to click. Thanks.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Just Looking




I have to admit, that sometimes I buy food at the farmers market just because it looks pretty.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Important Questions in Life


Never fails, each year at about the same time, I ask myself, "What have I done with my life in all these years?" This annual taking stock, of course, happens around birthday time. But, I had little time for self-analysis that we Virgos are prone to. We had dinner for 14 to prepare.

Which brought me to the even more pressing question in my life:

What the hell are we going to do with all these cucumbers?

Usually, it's zucchini that multiply like kudzu vines this time of season. But the CSA bag yielded like a dozen cucurbits and a huge melon. My spouse suggested "lovely parting gifts" for our dinner guests. My plan was a cucumber salad. We also served up a fresh corn and green chile dish that went over well.

Cucumber and Red Onion Salad
4-5 medium cucumbers, sliced very thin, using a mandoline or v-slice
2 medium red onions, peeled and also sliced very thin
1 bunch dill, chopped
3/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
3 tbs. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

The key is the very thin slices, made possible by a kitchen tool called the mandoline. If you don’t have one, just slice as thin as you can with a good knife. Mandolines are handy, but dangerous. After losing a side of my thumb, I keep a steel mesh glove handy anytime I use it. Seriously.

Mix the onion and cucumbers in a large bowl. In a small bowl add the dill and the sugar and vinegar. Mix to dissolve the sugar. Add the oil, salt and pepper and whisk to emulsify. Toss with the cucumbers and onions. Allow the flavor to marry for an hour or two in the fridge before serving.

Fresh Corn, Queso and Green Chile
12 ears corn, shucked
1 4 oz. can roasted green chiles (or one fresh green chile roasted, peeled and chopped)
8 oz. Queso Fresco or Cotija cheese, crumbled
6 tbs. butter, melted
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350.

Blanch the corn in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. You may have to do this in batches. Cut the corn from the cob, discarding cobs. Place corn, green chiles, melted butter, salt and pepper in 9x13 baking dish. Bake, covered, for 20 minutes until heated through. Mix in the cilantro and queso fresco. Serve warm.

Other dishes on the menu:
Guinness, Cheddar and Caramelized Onion Burgers
Arugula and Tomato Salad
Carrot Cake (a favorite) courtesy of my spouse. Homemade!

Our friends also brought food, lots of it. Everything from an Asian slaw, a spinach dip, to a fantastic potato salad with artichoke hearts and "Minnesota Mac and Cheese." I was told in no uncertain terms by my child that she wanted "Jerry's Mac and Cheese" not mine in her lunch box. Ouch, but I can concede defeat on that one. I've seen how much butter goes in his. It's so wrong and so damn good all at once.

All in all a great dinner, great company makes it. But still, with 10 more cukes in the fridge, I have yet to answer all my questions. Deep contemplation on life is just going to have to wait. I can just ignore that whole upcoming getting older thing. The kitchen is busy.