Friday, January 23, 2009

California Sunshine!

As soon as I saw the return label on the package that said, "Ray's Organic Grove," I opened the box as quickly as I could. Inside, under a protective layer of foam was 13 lbs of beautiful, sweet smelling Meyer lemons. Uncle Ray and Aunt Pat live in Modesto, California. They live in a modest, unassuming house on a quiet street just off the main road that cuts through the city of Modesto. From the front, the house looks similar to the others on the block. But in the backyard is a small but productive orchard that Uncle Ray has tended for years. Uncle Ray grows the lemons (and he grows them well) and I'm sure that it was Aunt Pat who carefully placed them in the box and sent them to us via FedEx. I love Meyer lemons. They have wonderful flavorful that I can only describe as intensely lemon-y. I rarely see them in grocery stores out here and when I do, they are too expensive for our budget. It's not the first time Uncle Ray and Aunt Pat have sent us this box of California sunshine. But I never take this special treat for granted and use as much of each lemon as I can. So, what am I going to do with 13 lbs of lemons? I will make cakes (of course) and other lemon-y baked goods. That will use up a couple of pounds. The rest? I'll freeze the rind and juice separately in small containers so that I will have them on hand the next time a recipe calls for a tablespoon of lemon juice or a teaspoon of lemon rind.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Lesson on Family Meals

Since moving to Ann Arbor last October, family meals have become weekend affairs. Geoff commutes to Michigan State University for his job (a one-hour plus drive) so by the time he gets home at 7:00 pm or so, Caroline is in her pajamas and ready for bed. I eat dinner with Caroline on most nights but wait to eat with Geoff a couple of times a week. Tonight was an eat-dinner-with-Geoff night. I gave Caroline her dinner (zucchini and whole wheat penne pasta with pesto from our summer-time freezing stash) and sat with her while she ate. She took a few bites but then started goofing off. And the more I encouraged her to eat her dinner, the more she goofed off. Her fork kept "accidentally" falling on the floor. Oops, she bumped her head and needed an ice pack. "More milk please!" Finally, I became frustrated and said (rather firmly), "Caroline. Let's focus on your dinner." Her response? With an earnest look and wide eyes, she said, "Mama, why don't you eat with me?" Is that all? I served myself a small bowl of pasta and sat down with her. Not surprisingly, that is all it took. As soon as I started eating, Caroline stopped fussing and happily ate all of her meal.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Peanut Butter Dip and Apples

The only locally grown fruit that I can find these days is apples. Every week I buy half a peck of Alex Nemeth's (pictured here with his lovely wife) super sweet Fuji apples at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market in Kerrytown. Even though they were picked months ago, they are still very crunchy. Caroline likes apples but she doesn't love them like I do...except with peanut butter dip. When we moved to Ann Arbor last October, I discovered the most amazing peanut butter. It is called Cream-Nut and it is made by Koeze Company in Grand Rapids. I first tried Cream-Nut at Zingerman's when it was being sampled. At $6.99 a jar (17 ounces), it was a bit too pricey for our budget. But a few weeks ago, I found it at Whole Foods Market where it was only $4.69. I bought it right then and there and I've been in peanut butter heaven ever since. This morning, Caroline and I used it to make peanut butter dip. Here's the recipe. Add a little bit (about a teaspoon) of boiling water to a tablespoon of peanut butter. Stir like mad until creamy. Add more water if needed. Use as a dip for apples and celery or eat straight out of the bowl.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cooking with Caroline

Some of my favorite childhood memories are those that took place in the kitchen working side-by-side with my mom turning whatever was in-season, into a meal. These days, Caroline joins me more often than not when I am in the kitchen. I love watching her as she grows increasingly confident in her cooking skills and adventurous in tasting and smelling food. After making blueberry pancakes for breakfast this morning (our weekly tradition), Caroline and I made a batch of hummus. I put the ingredients and our cooking tools on the table and we went to work. When we cook together, we share tasks. I measured the tahini (6 tablespoons), water (1/4 cup), salt (1/2 teaspoon), and olive oil (2 tablespoons). Caroline poured and stirred. We took turns squeezing lemons for juice (3 tablespoons), pressing one clove of garlic through a press, and grinding the cumin (1/4 teaspoon). After all of the ingredients were prepped, we moved on to the Cuisinart, which hands-down, is Caroline's favorite small kitchen appliance. We start by processing the chickpeas (1 cup), garlic, salt, and cumin together for about 15 seconds. Then we add the liquids. Caroline loves to press the big, grey buttons (start and stop) while I push the mix of olive oil, lemon juice, water, and tahini through the top. We process the hummus until it is smooth and creamy and then turn it out into a bowl. Served with whole wheat pita bread and carrot sticks, it makes a great snack.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Eating Seasonally in Tuscany

When we booked our winter vacation to Tuscany, we knew we wouldn't be eating fresh vine-ripened tomatoes. What we didn't expect is that our hosts Laura and Luciano at Il Canto del Sole would eat seasonally to the point of consuming almost no fresh produce in the wintertime. With the exception of Clementine oranges and persimmons from Sicily, and storage vegetables like carrots, onions, garlic, and pumpkin, our diets for our 11-day vacation (Christmas day through January 4) consisted primarily of homemade pasta, eggs, meat, bacon, cheese, pizza, bread, and of course, gelato (which, according to my definition, is always in season). Not that I'm complaining. The food was fabulous and we all loved the simple Italian meals that Laura and Luciano prepared daily for us. The pumpkin lasagna we had one night was especially wonderful. It was made with homemade noodles and melted in my mouth. Meals eaten out also were made with seasonal ingredients so ordering insalta mista (which was always on the menu but never available) was simply out of the question. Instead, we ate thin-crust pizza, like the one pictured here, throughout our travels in Tuscany.
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