$50 for a Wooden Egg, or Masher Goes to the White House, Part II

6 04 2010

A friend gifted us tix to the White House Easter Egg Roll again this year, and we were happy to check it out.  The weather was warm and sunny, Masher was a whole year older and could probably actually be interested in some of the activities at this point, and I definitely was excited to see how the food options this year compared to those at the 2009 egg roll.  And I’d say it was a pretty mixed experience this year …  Here’s my review in short:

The Good

  • The weather was awesome.  Not really the Obamas’ doing, but nice anyway.
  • We waited only 1.5 hours in line as opposed to 2.5 hours last year!
  • Once we passed into the second waiting area, there were free beverages — excellent on a hot day.
  • There were more activities than in 2009, and most seemed way COOLER:  real Redskins in the football area, fun “science” activities like dissecting beans, and a bunch of craft tables for making/decorating necklaces, frisbees, and other random kid-junk.
  • We got another commemorative wooden egg.

The Bad

  • There were a LOT of people.  One volunteer told us a group of 5,000 entered every hour, but it definitely seemed as though more than 5,000 people were on the lawn when we were there.  Every activity (even taking a photo with people dressed as PBS kid TV characters or in front of cardboard “White House Easter Egg Roll” placards) had an extremely long line.  (Of course, Masher wasn’t getting within 50 feet of one of those man-sized bunnies or Clifford the Red Dog, so the photo lines weren’t too big a deal!)

    Masher fearfully telling Clifford the Big Red Dog to "Go home!"

  • It was naptime.  But that’s our fault.

The Ugly

White House security confiscated our empty Sigg water bottles and my entire emergency snack pack, which included — ironically enough — an unopened bag of National Zoo animal crackers.  (I was going to entitle this post “The Government Giveth, the Government Taketh Away,” but then Josh reminded me that the Smithsonian is a QUASI-governmental agency, so the title would not have been accurate.)  Anyway, I was pretty mad, and more so when I saw several other moms and kids brandishing bananas just steps past security.  But I snapped a photo of the offending items, and that was funny because then the security personnel (Secret Service?) started bobbing and ducking, thinking I was going to try to take their photos next.  Nothing personal, guys, just not sure you had the guidelines straight!

These are our dangerous snacks. I'll admit the dried bananas do look a little weird.

So, I just sent this missive to the White House:

Thanks for having my family and me to the Easter Egg Roll today. We had a nice time once we were in, but I was very disappointed in the security personnel on the way in to the grounds.

There was no indication on our tickets that there would be any restrictions on food from outside, so I figured that the rules might be similar to airline rules. I knew I needed to bring food because the food options last year were pretty unhealthy (hot dogs, chips, or cookies), and we also needed water as we waited in the line in the hot sun. As we approached the security checkpoint, I saw the sign that said “No open food or any beverage,” and I figured we were still fine: we had one box of raisins, one bag of dried bananas, two organic apples, and one unopened package of animal crackers received at the National Zoo a couple of weeks ago. To my surprise, the security person at our gate took everything. Then, as I was pouring the water out of our two Sigg water bottles, just as I would at the airport in order to take the empty container along with me, he told me he needed to take those too, and he did. He did not want to explain his reasoning, and he did not have any interest in asking someone else whether that was the right decision, saying we could get snacks later.

Unfortunately, although we very much appreciated the beverages (vitamin-enhanced water and juice) offered at the next stage of the line, we really would have liked just water; the lines were far too long in all of the free food tents on the lawn; and I never saw any other options for buying snacks. I did, however, see and speak with some other women with children who were permitted to bring in several bananas, water, and other snacks, so obviously the person handling my line was abiding by his own rules. And as a result, at the end of the day, I lost approximately $50 due to the confiscation of our food and the two water bottles (which sell for $21 apiece).

Comments? Apologies? My money back? Thanks in advance for your response.

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‘Ish!

4 04 2010

Yes, it’s true, “‘ish,” more commonly known as “fish,” is one of Masher’s favorite foods, just as it was mine when I was little.  My favorite version, of course, was the crappie or bluegill Dad and I would catch in the lake out back, or the catfish from the pond on Grandpa’s farm out in western Virginia, battered and crisped in the deep fryer with some kind of oil that we had been reusing for about a century.  Luckily I have not inherited the deep fryer (as yet), and I don’t reuse cooking oil (although I can still taste a batch of french fries my mom made with that fish cooking oil when I was about 10 years old — YUM, if you like fish!), but I still have a passion for fried fish.

Fish at our house is a quick and easy meal, so I generally don’t bother with using an egg bath before I roll the fish in flour or cornmeal and pan fry it — the bath is just too messy and adds unnecessary minutes.  Unfortunately, as a result, my fish generally isn’t as crispy as it could be.  To the rescue, garbanzo bean flour!

I had bought the garbanzo bean flour on a whim and didn’t have any other plans for it …  Why not try it out as a fish crust?  After salting and peppering the fish (catfish in this case), I dipped it in the garbanzo bean flour, which immediately began to stick thickly on the fillets in a way that regular flour just doesn’t do.  In the pan, both sides, for just a few minutes, and what do you know?  Delicious, and super-crispy, pan-fried fish.

I served the fish with some kale and mustard greens quickly sauteed with a bit of bacon and some broiled asparagus.  Josh actually called this his favorite meal of all time.  I thought the veggies turned out a bit on the greasy side, but I won’t deny it was delicious all the same.  Try it out!





Pass-more-over

3 04 2010

I might as well apologize up front for the lack of photos of our Passover meal.  Let me assure you that our makeshift Passover plate was filled with the requisite items — egg, bitter herb, celery and salt water, etc. — and the table was otherwise groaning with various foodstuffs.  Unfortunately, Masher was also throwing an immense fit on the floor, having decided earlier in the day that he didn’t feel like taking a nap, and photos really weren’t the number one priority …  How do other other mom food bloggers handle such situations?

Anyway, several of the Sephardic Jewish dishes we tried out in our kitchen were worth a mention, credit going to the creators of these recipes, of course.  I thought it was interesting that Ashkenazi Jews would probably not have lamb for Passover whereas it’s a usual custom for Sephardic Jews to eat lamb.  I love lamb, so when I saw this recipe for lamb with artichokes and zucchini, I figured we should definitely go the Sephardic route!  I don’t know much about this type of cuisine, but the aroma of the lamb with turmeric and cilantro was so deliciously familiar to me, I felt like I had definitely had a similar sauce, maybe in an Indian restaurant.  This recipe was a keeper.  I can’t wait to make it again.  Masher, on the other hand, refused even to try a piece of lamb from the pot, although the plain rice I served the dish over was acceptable … but he’s going through his own special two-year-old thing this week, so I can’t really take him too seriously.

We enjoyed some fresh peas and broiled asparagus alongside the stew, as well as this spinach matzah pie made with whole-wheat matzah.  Josh called the pie a more portable form of matzah-brei, his mother’s typical use of leftover matzah that involves more scrambled egg.

Finally, for dessert I made a nut cake with “soaking syrup” that was beyond delicious.  The recipe is from Jewish IMAGE magazine:

Honey Nut Cake in Soaking Syrup
Cake:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon finely minced orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or 1/2 teaspoon for a more pronounced cinnamon flavor)
1/2 cup matzah cake meal
1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts or almonds
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Soaking Syrup:
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 7-inch round layer cake pan.

For the cake: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, using a wire whisk, beat the granulated and brown sugars with the oil and eggs until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Stir in the remaining batter ingredients. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is light brown and set. Cool for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the soaking syrup.
For the soaking syrup: In a medium saucepan, combine the ingredients. Heat to dissolve the sugar and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes syrupy. Cool well.
Pour the cooled syrup over the cooled cake, poking holes in the cake with a fork, to permit the syrup to penetrate. Allow it to stand for 2 to 4 hours to absorb the syrup. Chilling the cake offsets its sweetness and makes it easier to cut.





Raw

18 03 2010

So I told Josh we’d be going raw this summer.  Fact is we usually do eat a lot of raw (or barely cooked) food in the summer, but it feels a bit different heading into the season of plenty with a two-year-old who’s still not very good at crunching carrot sticks, honestly doesn’t know what to do with a bowl of lettuce, and couldn’t care less about some crispy cucumber slices with a drizzle of white wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sea salt (a snack I personally think is divine).  But we’ve got to start somewhere and somehow, and I figure the time is right.

Tonight we had stir-fry — or my improvised version of stir-fry anyway.  It was really good and really easy (recipe follows), but best of all, Masher ate everything except one or two larger dark-green pieces of bok choy.  It was at least the fourth time we’ve put mushrooms in front of him; he turned up his nose the first three times, but gobbled them down tonight.  He’s still 50-50 on crunchy vegetables.  Tonight he ate the snow peas, which were barely cooked, and asked for more, but then — when he was chewing probably his ninth or so — he spit it out and didn’t try any more.  Previously he’s eaten a slice or two of cucumber and a thin celery or carrot stick, and one day he ate about 10 celery sticks in a row (must have been REALLY hungry), but I think it’s going to take a summer’s worth of repeated exposure to these things to make them regular and acceptable guests on his plate.  Ideas?  I tried carrot shavings once since we often make them for salad …  That was a big-time no, but I should probably try them again!

St. Patty’s Day Stir-Fry (Eat Your Greens!)

  • neutral high-heat oil (I used grapeseed)
  • 1 onion (white or yellow), chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound snow peas (or some other crunchy green vegetable), trimmed as necessary
  • 2 heads bok choy (or 1 head of some other green cabbage), chopped
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • ginger (minced fresh or just from your spice drawer)
  • almond butter (or peanut, soynut, sunflower, etc.)
  • good soy sauce

(As with most of my recipes, it doesn’t really matter exactly which vegetables you use here or how much of each, and you should season the stir-fry to your taste.  You don’t need a wok to make stir-fry, and in fact — depending on what kind of stove you have — a big, high-side, flat-bottomed skillet may work better for you.  Because I make a lot of food when I cook, I usually have to stir-fry in batches by vegetable, which helps to keep things from getting overcooked.)  Before you start to cook, mix a heaping big spoonful of nut butter with about 3 Tbsps soy sauce in a cup, and set it aside.  Heat about 4 Tbsps oil in pan on high heat, add onion, and cook for a few minutes until onion begins to go a bit soft.  Add the chopped garlic and ginger (if you’re using fresh).  Add the snow peas and cook for just a couple of minutes.  Remove the snow peas and onions to a separate plate, keeping as much oil as possible in the pan.  Add the bok choy and cook until the stems have softened just a little bit (usually about 3-4 mins.), then remove to separate plate.  Add the mushrooms to the pan, which is probably almost dry by now, and cook until they start to let go of liquid (approx. 4 mins.).  Then pour the rest of the veggies back into the pan, add the nut butter-soy sauce mixture, sprinkle on some dried ginger unless you used fresh ginger earlier, stir to combine and reheat, and serve your St. Patty’s Day stir-fry over rice to your favorite family members.

Sorry no photos — it looked to good to delay digging in!





Two Cool Compare-Contrast School Lunch Blogs

18 03 2010

What a fun idea!  A teacher in a school in Somewhere, USA, decided to get the school lunch every day, take photos of it, and blog about it.  Needless to say she’s finding the food overly processed and “monumentally bad” in many cases.  Anyway, her blog, Fed Up With School Lunch, would be cool as it is, but it’s been made even cooler recently by an American preschool teacher in Japan, who — inspired by the first teacher — started documenting his daily lunches on his blog, Mr. Ferguson’s Classroom.   To be fair, a preschool of 40-60 kids is definitely a different clientele to cook for than an average elementary school of 500 or so, but still, the lunches don’t even look like they come from the same planet.





Off-Duty

15 02 2010

Among my favorite meals are those my husband Josh makes.  Not only are they generally quite delicious, but when he cooks, I don’t have to put any thought as to what to put on the table, I get to work or play with Masher or take a bubble bath while he is cooking, and — at the end of our tasty meal — I get to put my dish in the dishwasher and walk away from the table.  You see, we have a sort of unspoken rule in our house about dishwashing duties:  “You cook, you clean.”  But furthermore, Josh is one of that rare breed that CLEANS AS HE GOES.  Yeah, I don’t really get it either.  In fact, I almost feel as though I haven’t done my job in the kitchen properly unless there are at least four well-encrusted pots or bowls on the stove and counter by the time I’m through cooking, and I actually look forward to the quiet time alone once the meal is through, just doing all of the dishes and wiping down the whole kitchen.  But Josh has it all done by the time we’re sitting down to eat, and as a result I don’t even have to feel bad about clean-up when I’m through.  Off-duty really means off-duty.

As I’m writing this post, I can still taste tonight’s dinner, linguine aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) with roasted cauliflower and golden beets and toasted walnut pieces.  Masher and I were shoveling it in like little piggies.  But unfortunately we ate too fast to take pictures, so instead I’m writing about Day 4 of Snowtopia (my name for the week-long snow break we’ve just had — I thought it was great!).  On Day 4, Josh made one of his specialties, a tomato-based chicken stew.  It’s another one of Masher’s favorites, it’s got such great veggies and protein, and it’s easy to make anytime because you can make it with mostly pantry ingredients and things you probably always have in the house and add whatever you like to it.  Here’s the basic recipe:

Josh’s Chick-Bean Stew

  • 2 Tbsps olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large cans of whole or chopped tomatoes with juice
  • 3-4 cups of chicken stock, broth, or water (add water or 3rd can of tomatoes to achieve desired consistency)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 chicken breast with ribs (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
  • 4+ cups of dried beans, cooked to desired consistency (Josh used chickpeas (garbanzo beans), but you can substitute cannellini, kidney, navy, or just about any other kind of bean)

Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the celery, carrot, garlic, and onion.  Saute the vegetables until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in the tomatoes, broth, basil, tomato paste, bay leaf, and thyme. Add the chicken breasts; press to submerge.  Bring the cooking liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently uncovered until the chicken is almost cooked through, turning the chicken breasts over and stirring the mixture occasionally, about 25 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the chicken breasts to a work surface and cool for 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans to the pot and simmer until the liquid has reduced into a stew consistency, about 10-20 minutes.

Discard the skin and bones from the chicken breasts. Shred or cut the chicken into bite- size pieces. Return the chicken meat to the stew. Bring the stew just to a simmer. Season again with salt and pepper if needed.

We really enjoy the stew over farro or brown short-grain rice with a crunchy baguette.  It tastes great!  Just ask Masher.





Stale Bread Ain’t Just for Ducks

13 02 2010

The Friday of the Snowpocalypse was a very busy day in the oven.  In addition to making the pizzas I previously blogged about, I baked a loaf of bread from my favorite recipe, another via my kitchen crush, Mark Bittman:  Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread.

It’s a bit surprising that I haven’t blogged about bread before actually …  I just started making yeast breads within the last year, inspired first by the Jim Lahey recipe above and then egged onward into the adventure by my spinach pancake friend, who was also just beginning to explore this world of tiny animals who have the power to magically metamorphose flour and water into a golden boule with crackly crust and spongy crumb.  Yes, I do find bread poetic.

But back to the bread at hand.  This particular loaf, or boule, was definitely my best one yet.  As the recipe explains, this bread may be no work, but it does involve a lot of time; in fact, the “dough” (Is that what you’d call it?) has to rise for more than 20 hours altogether.  Thus, the problem I think I had been having is that, in the winter, my kitchen is not exactly the warmest place all day long (or more usually, all night long).  What to do?  This time, I put my bowl in the cold oven before I went to bed, and when I woke up, I found that my sticky stuff had risen almost twice as much as it had any time since it got cold around these parts.  I think being in the oven protected it from drafts, and there may have been some slight residual heat from whatever I cooked earlier in the day.  Anyway, that’s something to consider if you try the recipe.

So, after baking, I started to do what I usually do with the bread I make, which is to cut the whole thing into slices, save a few for eating that day (or that minute!), and put the rest in a freezer bag for breakfasts or sandwiches down the line.  But then I realized that it might be nice to have a really special breakfast on a snowy Sunday morning, so I wrapped about half the loaf in a plastic bag and let it sit on the counter for the next 48 hours.

Yep, I let it go stale.

Seems like a waste?  Sure, maybe, because bread is pretty fantastic when it’s fresh.  But people have been baking bread for millennia, and for most of those years, they didn’t have a freezer to keep it fresh, and they sure weren’t going to throw away just because it got a little stale.  Stale bread is great, too, and Bittman agrees.  That’s part of the reason why we have so many great recipes that involve stale bread, like panzanella, bread pudding, any kind of soup that might need a little thickening, and — my favorite — French toast!  Which takes me to the next stage of this snowy foodietale …

Sunday morning, toddler sleeps in ’til 8:30 a.m., dogs aren’t even putting up that much of a fuss about going out, just me and my honey watching deer tiptoe across a snowy hillside while we drink our coffee.  Toddler awakens, and it’s time to start moving …  The thing about French toast is that it’s basically just bread.  If the bread wasn’t good, the French toast ain’t gonna be good, and that’s why you’ll rarely find me ordering French toast at our local diner — it’s just soggy sandwich bread, no offense.  But French toast made with delicious bread is, as Masher says, ‘wishus (which means “delicious” for those of you who aren’t fluent in two-year-old-ese).  And what made this French toast particularly ‘wishus was a heavy sprinkling of homemade granola (like the bars I’ve blogged about before, only with less honey and no smushing everything together).  

French toast is easy-peasy:  For 8 thick slices of bread, I used 3 beaten eggs, 1.5 cups of milk (combo of skim and whole), a dash of salt, and two teaspoons vanilla extract.  After the bread has soaked up most of the liquid and sat for about 20 minutes, you just fry it up in a pan with a little butter or cooking oil.  So good you might forget to cry over your bread gone stale.