Monday, March 30, 2009

Bumpy Slides, Cherry Blossoms, Rockets and Margaritas

I am, achem, recovering from my older son’s 2-week spring vacation. Actually, it was wonderful. We stayed in town for the first week and a half and I took the kids on a daily park adventure. Fine, so there was that one day early in the vacation when I called my husband at work to say “the kids are having a ball…they’re running all over like they’ve never been to a park before…Me? I am FREEZING, and I am fairly certain I am the only mom here,” I complained as I took inventory of the young au pairs and groups of nannies catching up while their charges ate sand. But after I changed my attitude, and was thankful that I have two healthy, really really excited little boys who think there’s nothing better than going to the local parks, things started to look up.

Then, at the tail end of the break, we packed the kids up in the car and went on a D.C. adventure. I had my doubts that going to D.C. with kids so young was going to be fun for any of us, but I was wrong. It was the perfect getaway. We stayed outside of the city, so the Metro alone was an adventure for them. (We made sure we picked a hotel that welcomed children, and that had a Starbucks close by.) We discovered (with the Michelin Guide’s help) a fabulous gourmet pizza place that served unique microbrews. We romped around the National Zoo the first afternoon, meandered through the Air & Space Museum in awe on (rainy) day two, and popped the kids in jogging strollers for a long circuitous walk to all of the Monuments and the Capitol on the morning of day three. Oh, and did I mention that all attractions were clean, very well kept, free…and that the Cherry Blossoms were starting to bloom?

Then, we capped off this exhausting but fun leg of the quick getaway with two nights in Richmond, VA, to visit our dear friends who moved south a little while back. The four little boys ran amuck and giggled for 48 hours straight, and the parents booked some well-deserved babysitting time to catch-up and enjoy each other’s company. On Saturday evening, we ate in with some of their local friends so I whipped up one of my go-to dinner party meals: chicken enchiladas. I have shared the “recipe” below so that you can give it a whirl if you are entertaining a crowd. It is easy to prepare, difficult to botch with cook times, and can be assembled in advance then just popped into the oven. Now that makes for a relaxing evening with friends!

Corn tortillas
Enchilada Sauce
(I like Hatch brand, which you can get at Whole Foods)
Shredded Cheese(s)
The filling can really be anything. As I show my cooking lesson clients, once you understand the consistency (it helps to have a visual but the idea is: moist enough that the enchiladas will be solid and creamy, but not so moist that they'll be runny...), you can modify the ingredients depending upon whether you’ve got vegetarian eaters, meat lovers, mild and cheesy guests, those that like beans, those that don't….you get the picture. That night, I made ours with:
2 rotisserie chickens, white meat removed/shredded (I was all about ease that day)
2 envelopes Taco seasoning (Garden of Eatin’ brand is a favorite)
2 bricks low-fat cream cheese
2 cans black beans, drained

1 can pinto beans, drained
4 bell peppers, diced
3 onions, diced
1 can diced mild green chiles (optional)
½ jar of pickled jalapenos, diced (optional)

I assembled the enchiladas (not worrying if they cracked in the process b/c they're going to be covered in copious amts of sauce), poured the enchilada sauce over the two big baking dishes, sprinkled them with cheese and voila, done. Pop them into a 350 degree oven until heated through and cheese is lightly browned, about 45 minutes or so...though I was having such a good time that I forgot and left them in for about an hour and a half, no damage done. We served them with a yellow rice (which we added some frozen peas to for color/texture), black beans spiked with lime and jalapenos and lots and lots of homemade margaritas. Yes, the neighbor's “Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville Machine" made an appearance. Mmm hmm, I just might have to get one of those for our summer entertaining…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Making a Meal Multi-Task

I love it when I read an article in a magazine, or find a book, that gives me a pat on the back for what I am doing right and offers up ideas that are realistic. One of my more recent finds on this front is Lisa Barnes’ new cookbook, “Petit Appetit – Easy Organic Snacks, Beverages, and Party Foods for Kids of All Ages”. There are lots and lots of cookbooks out there, but I like hers because she does a good job of explaining what types of foods you should have on hand to easily create child-friendly homemade meals (similar to what I offer clients on my grocery shopping trips), she talks about how to instill good habits from the start and how to integrate your children in the cooking process. While I consider myself an excellent cook who is savvy in these areas, it’s always nice to have a refresher!

I recently made the boys Mango Chicken Quesadillas from the cookbook…but since I was hosting my book club that night (and my husband, achem, happened to be off on the ski slopes with college buddies which meant chaos between 5-7pm as I fed, bathed, and read to them and then quickly tidied up the house, opened the wine, lit a fire and put out a couple of apps in preparation for my friends’ arrival…) I needed a recipe that could multi-task. So after making two basic whole wheat tortilla brushed with olive oil/chicken/cheese/black bean/mango/cilantro quesadillas for them I doctored up the ones for my girlfriends.

For the mom ones, I added some mango chutney, more fresh cilantro, some finely chopped pickled jalapenos and a dusting of cumin, cinnamon and smoked paprika. I baked all of the quesadillas at 350 until they were crisp, and then sliced them into quarters for the kids, more manageable eighths for the moms (who don't want to put their wine glass down for too long). They were delish. I served them room temp with a dipping sauce I quickly whipped up (since whole wheat tortillas are fabulous, but a little dense) of Greek Yogurt + Mango Chutney + Chili Powder. The child dinner/hearty adult app was so good that I made it again the following week for my kids and my husband…then the next day brought the extra quesadillas over to a friend’s house so the mommies could enjoy a delicious lunch while the kids played.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A neighborhood like they "used to be"

This morning I found myself in a pickle. Part of what keeps me feeling fulfilled and balanced is the volunteer work I do for The Tiny Miracles Foundation (TTMF). If I had the ability to tack on a couple extra hours a day to complete the PR work I do for them I’d be golden. But, since my magic wand is on the fritz, I am dealing with the regular 24 and sometimes pulling very late nights juggling normal motherhood with the needs of this non-profit. Sometimes it’s such a juggling act that I wonder if I can do it all, and do it well? But I do not give up this volunteer role because the women I volunteer with inspire me. The strategic thinking and passion that my fellow board members exhibit is a reminder that in addition to taking good care of my family and myself, it is also very healthy to look outside of my immediate circle and help others. The added bonus is that this volunteer work keeps me sharp. Whether you completely dig all the facets of motherhood, or you have days when you long to go back to work full-time we can all relate to the need for occasional adult interaction…and a brief respite from diapers, dinner and coloring.

Anyway, back to my pickle: I want to be able to do my volunteer work, but I also have two young children to consider. Since I cut out all week day babysitting (as a cost saver) and didn’t trust that they’d stay put across the street at Cosi for 2 hours (that’s a joke folks…), it was time to get creative. Solution for those of us without family living locally, or a live in au pair? I asked a friend to watch my children along with her child (translation: playdate) and to thank her, I offered to make dinner (win-win all around, right?). Sure, making dinner may end up costing as much as you’d pay a sitter, but the swapping of dinner for a brief reprieve so you can go and do something for yourself is just such a nice idea. One mom gets a little time off during the day, and the other gets time off at dinner time. Instead of the “mommy guilt” I used to feel at shelling out $30-$60 for a couple of hours of “me” time, I now look forward to swapping childcare with my friends and neighbors.

While I’d like for this blog entry to break out into a loud “halleluiah” song at this point, it bears mentioning that unfortunately the original friend who generously offered to watch my kids woke up to a sick toddler. This is absolutely going to be a fact of life when relying upon our fellow mom friends. Our lives are wonderful, but not necessarily our own! I’m not going to lie….my first instinct was to let Tiny Miracles know I couldn't make it after all. But after shooting off a couple of emails, a third generous neighbor (affectionately called “Auntie Shell” by my children) was more than willing to help out. Knowing she would appreciate something pretty versus edible for her help, we stopped to pick up beautiful quince branches en route to say thank you.

In these times where we’re all watching our wallet a little more closely I am really thankful that I can still get my “me” time…it just takes a little more creativity, and generosity on the part of my fellow moms. I am grateful to have friends who operate like a neighborhood "used to be", moms who look out for and support one another.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mall walking-- minus the white Reeboks

I love to cook. I also love to eat. I’m not the skinniest mom I know, but I feel good about my body. Post-baby? Not feelin’ too hot. But now it is strong, a little svelter and always able to keep up with my two little boys. A “mom-a-licious” mom has got to feel good about the way she looks if she’s going to be upbeat for her husband, her kids, and (most importantly) herself. For those of us who are trying to be more financially prudent, gone are the days of hiring a sitter so we could get to the gym. My answer to the no sitter/booger-fest gym daycare dilemma has been Stroller Strides classes. While I sometimes cringe at the fact that I spent my winter working out in the mall, you cannot beat a rigorous hour long workout alongside other health-minded moms, with our babies or kids in tow. I didn't let a little snow, sleet, rain or blowing wind get in my way. Besides, Spring is just around the corner, and once the sun comes out for good these fabulous classes will be held outside in Greenwich, Stamford, Rowayton, and (drum roll) New Canaan too!

Yours truly is spending her Spring Break getting trained as a Stroller Strides Instructor. In May, I’ll be bringing these mommy & me exercise classes to Waveny, to encourage local moms to get (or stay) in shape...without breaking the bank. Tune up those jogging strollers!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cook Once, Receive a Homemade Supper 3Xs

I love to cook. For me it’s relaxing and creative…and the added bonus is the delicious meal at the end. But, I also like a night off. Today I had a “mini-dinner” of the previously written about beef & bulgur meatballs with the kids and a sweet playdate late in the afternoon. Then, after the kids were tucked in, I enjoyed a delectable dinner of Cilantro-Chipotle Tilapia, Mexican Chopped Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing, and Creamed Broccoli. Delish. Did I mention that I feed my kids between, oh 4:30 and 5:00, and tuck them in around 6:30 to preserve my sanity? Anyway, I digress….

Tonight’s meal was the product of this brilliant (if I might say so myself) Supper Swap I am doing with three local moms (prime examples of mom-a-licious folk). It’s a phenomenal—and much healthier-- alternative to take-out. I highly recommend arranging one of these with like-minded friends, if for no other reason than you cook once and then get to enjoy three nights off! The meals need not be fancy, though ours always seem pretty special. Then again, what meal isn’t special when it’s homemade by a friend?

For those who might be interested in starting their own, here’s how our Wednesday Supper Swap works:
  • 4 of us are participating and we all live in close proximity to one another
  • Though we didn’t know this when we chose to form this Supper Swap, none of us have any dietary issues/allergies to work around, so we’re totally open to making anything we’d like. If you do have an allergy/strong dislikes then I would recommend finding 3 other moms with the same culinary parameters just to keep things easy on all of you.
  • A night or two before one of us is slated to make dinner we email the menu out to the other three moms and request appropriate serving dishes be dropped off on our stoop (so our dishes don’t end up all over the place).
  • The first week I cooked 8 servings of my meal, packaged it up (2 servings per mom) for my 3 friends and then they swung by my house on Wednesday during a pre-determined window of time and picked up their dinner (packaged up, in their serving dishes).
  • The next three Wednesdays I was the recipient of dinners. So you cook one Wednesday and then pick up the next three Wednesdays in a rotating fashion.
While your cook day takes some planning and effort, the next three Wednesday nights when you get to enjoy a meal made by a friend make it totally worthwhile. Since we could all use a night off from kitchen duty here and there, this has become a weekly treat.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Creating Supper: Beef & Bulgur Meatballs

Meatballs are difficult to mess up. As I continue to share recipes with my friends (and their friends…and their friends…) you’ll see that there’s a pattern to the way I like to cook. As I mentioned before, I like recipe as a source of ideas. But when it comes to actually cooking, I do not like to worry about exactly how much of a spice I am supposed to add…or that I don’t have a particular ingredient a recipe calls for. If you’re an experienced cook you know that substitutions are easy, once you have a comfort level with flavors that compliment one another. If your learning curve is straight up when it comes to the kitchen, then practice will make perfect!

Tonight I plan to whip up Beef & Bulgur Meatballs for a new friend who just had a baby. A homemade meal is the perfect gift because it nourishes and comforts. In addition to being a client favorite when I had my personal chef business, this is one of those meals that when I make it for a friend she always asks for the recipe, so she can then share it with her friend. It is simple to prepare, yet complex in flavor. And so, now I share it with you.

1 cup organic beef broth1 cup bulgur wheat* (dry, comes in a box or bag usually near rice/grains in the supermarket)1 organic orange, zested and juiced
1 small can organic tomato paste
1 or 2 large cans (the 35 oz. variety) organic diced tomatoes (amt of diced tomatoes depends upon how much sauce you like, I always err on more sauce than less)
Brown sugar (about 4 Tablespoons, you’ll taste the sauce and add until desired level of sweetness)Cider vinegar (again, about 4 Tablespoons, you’ll taste the sauce and add until desired level of zing…keep in mind that as the sauce cooks the taste will mellow)
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 lbs organic (or all natural) ground beef
1 bunch of scallions, white parts and a little green, sliced thin
2 or 3 eggsallspice (eyeball about ½ teaspoon, more if you like the taste of allspice...this is going into the raw meatballs so you cannot taste as you go)ginger, ground (again part of the raw meatballs so start by eyeballing about ¼ teaspoon, and feel free to add a bit more if you particularly like the taste of ginger…)dash of salt & pepper
  1. Combine boiling broth + bulgur. Cover tightly and let stand for 30 minutes or more. (This is how you are re-hydrating the bulgur for the meatballs.)
  2. Preheat oven to 375.
  3. For the sauce: zest and juice the orange into a saucepan and cook over med heat until the juice is reduced by half. Then combine tomato paste, tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, basil, salt & pepper in the saucepan with the OJ and zest. Bring to a boil and simmer about 15 minutes or until blended nicely. You may want to add more vinegar or brown sugar depending upon your taste….
  4. For the meatballs (*This is when it would be easiest if I was in your kitchen showing you an example of ideal consistency, but since most of you reading this blog are probably going to try the recipe on your own here's something to keep in mind: think about the bulgur wheat as breadcrumbs if you were making meatballs. Add as much of the re-hydrated bulgur wheat as you'd like. I always add it all, and find it makes the meatballs moist and fiber rich, but you could add half as much and end up with "meatier" meatballs too if that's your preference): combine bulgur, ground beef, eggs, scallions, parsley, allspice, ginger, dash or salt & pepper. Mix well and form into meatballs.
  5. Place meatballs in baking dish and cover with sauce. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes (or longer if you’ve made big ‘ol meatballs).
Another benefit of this dish is that it freezes beautifully. So, if you don’t have a friend to share this dinner with, pop the other half into your freezer and enjoy it within the next 2 months!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Making your cake, then getting to relax and eat it too

I’m watching the “60 Minutes” episode on Alice Waters and the SlowFood movement, taking a load off after hosting a birthday party at home for 15 little munchkins. Like Alice, I love to feed people and see their joy. Her “Edible Schoolyard” is phenomenal. And there’s no doubt that the eggs she cooked in olive oil on a spoon in an open fire were probably amazing but…are any of us really cooking over an open fire? If you are, fine, please keep it to your (probably smug) self. I give myself a pat on the back when I prepare a frittata and “protein pancakes” on Sunday so I can re-heat them (yes, in my microwave) for the kids throughout the week. For me, preparing something special ahead of time, and then enjoying the time I have with my family (or our young party guests) is the key to feeling good about the healthy things I'm doing. It’s important that after your hard work you also get to enjoy the party, or that time on a week day morning before you kiss your little ones and send them off to school.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Creating Supper: Polenta and (Soy) Chorizo Lasagna

Before having children, I provided numerous Fairfield County families with healthy, organic meals through my personal chef service, Dinners by Eila. While I loved the “a ha” moments my clients had when they’d enjoy my cooking and learn that they could have an indulgent tasting meal that was also very healthy, having me do all the cooking limited the number of families who could experience this joy. Plus, the cost of having someone come into your home and cook for you is a luxury most of us cannot rationalize in these economic times. Nowadays, more families are eating at home instead of going out…but what if a mom feels like she isn’t a very good cook? Or she only feels comfortable cooking exactly what a recipe calls for? Cookbooks are great for inspiration, but a “Momalicious” mom can whip up a scrumptious meal with whatever is on hand! My goal now is to help local moms feel confident and excited to be in the kitchen, and to look forward to entertaining at home.

Last week I had really random things left in my fridge/pantry, but with two sick kids, going to the supermarket was just not going to happen. So, I improvised and concocted a pretty darn good supper. So good that: a) my sweet husband did not realize it was meatless and b) I recreated it tonight for supper: Polenta and (Soy) Chorizo “Lasagna.” It’s time for me to get the kids to bed so I can sit down to this nice dinner with my in-laws, but for anyone who might like to give this dish a whirl here are the layers:
  • Organic tomato sauce (spoon a thin layer in bottom of casserole dish)
  • Polenta (1/2 log thinly sliced, forming a layer)
  • TJ's 2% Greek Style Yogurt (1 tub, spread over the polenta)
  • Feta cheese (1 tub, crumbled on top of the yogurt layer)
  • Polenta (1/2 log thinly sliced, again forming a layer)
  • 1 or 2 pkgs TJ's soy chorizo (out of casing, sautéed in a bit of olive oil, then spread evenly as layer...1 pkg is sufficient but 2 pkgs makes it more "meaty")
  • Polenta (1/2 log thinly sliced, another layer)
  • Organic diced tomatoes (1 large can, partially drained, spread evenly as a layer)
  • TJ’s Shredded Quattro Fromaggio (1/2 bag sprinkled on top...voila, you're done in a matter of minutes!)

Ingredients need not be precise. Add or delete items you have on hand or do not enjoy. I baked the dish at 350 for somewhere between 40 minutes and an hour. The beauty of most of the week night meals I make is that precision is not key! As long as this dinner is heated through and the cheese is lightly browned on top, you can do very little damage leaving it in too long. A beautiful thing in case the children’s baths go longer than you anticipated, or you’re catching up with your neighbor in the yard and forget to come in…

Guaranteed to make your kitchen smell amazing, and to make you feel pretty "mom-a-licious" for whipping up something interesting, and yet so easy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What makes a mom “mom-a-licious”?

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe a mom is “mom-a-licious” when she feels good about herself, and good about her skills as a wife and mother. Like you, I am trying to do it all: raise happy, kind, confident children…be an interesting and interested wife…get back into shape…see my friends…volunteer in my community and children’s schools…stay abreast of what’s going on in the world…have a homemade dinner on the table…and stay grounded. Believe me, I know it’s not easy to do it all, and do it well!

While I have a passion for staying on top of healthy cooking trends and ideas for simple, nourishing family meals, I have shied away from blogging, wondering who would really care to read my weekly musings! But, enough of my friends have asked for help that I thought this blog would be a good venue to share my tricks of the trade and neat things I come across that will hopefully make you feel “mom-a-licious”, as you excel at the most important job you’ll ever have.