Sunday, April 15, 2012

Quick Chicken Curry

From an old (really old, maybe 7 years!) Rachel Ray magazine

Serves 6
Prep Time: 15 minutes (debatable)
Cook Time: 50 minutes

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
4 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 cup water
2 pounds boneless chicken, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut-milk
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
Steamed basmati rice, for serving

1. In a Dutch Oven or enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil, then add the onion and cook until nicely browned around the edges, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne and black pepper and stir for 1 minute. Add the salt, tomato and water and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the tomato is softened. Add the chicken and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.

2. Add the coconut milk and simmer, partially covered, for another 15 minutes, or until the gravy thickens and the chicken is cooked. Add the cinnamon and cloves and simmer another minute.

3. Remove the chicken from the heat and garnish with the cilantro. Serve with basmati rice.

NOTES: This has been a mainstay in our menus for years. Everyone eats it, thanks to the luxurious coconut milk.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Being Prepared: Baby Bag

Here is another report from my year-long quest to be prepared. One of my biggest frustrations in my lack of preparation was being ill-equipped to meet the needs of my kids. I just never seemed to have what I needed on hand. This is partly a character flaw in me, because I really dislike schlepping around stuff. My preferred m.o. is only having my keys in my pocket, without phone or wallet (or diapers or wipes) to weigh me down. However, I recognize from experience that kids really, really need a spare diaper sometimes. I got serious about creating my dream diaper bag, and, voila, here it is! I bought the fabric from Purl during their last fabulous online sale and used the diaper bag pattern from Amy Butler's Little Stitches for Little Ones.
I'm loving all 6 pockets! Just what I need! The bag is soft and durable, unlike the other cheapy vinyl diaper bags that I've accumulated over the years. Most importantly, I stuck a little key hook on a ribbon, to prevent me from loosing my mind while digging around for keys.

I'm envisioning a more suped-up version of my diaper bag, with a more matching ribbon for the keychain and a long shoulder strap, a changing pad and wet bag for the cloth diapers, as well as a camera insert to keep my new favorite camera from the sad fate of our last two [dead] cameras. All I can say is the kids NEVER touch the camera any more.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Being Prepared: Daily Meeting

While last years' New Year's Resolution to blog here more frequently has definitely not happened, I haven't forgotten my more important resolution to be prepared. I'm reporting back on the big and small changes that are in motion (most of the time) as I've tried to get better at this year-long goal.

Perhaps my most favorite action I've implemented this year has been my weekly and daily personal meetings. I remember watching Oprah once in high school, and she remarked as an aside, "A CEO expects to have a meeting with his or her staff about the daily happenings of the company; shouldn't we all be doing this?" Yes! I've never forgotten this. Admittedly, I haven't been perfect at this, but when I have made a plan for the day, life hums along. There is more cooperation, since the boys slide into the routine and know what to expect. My stress levels are much lower, which also feeds into the happy feeling around our home. What I like most of all is that I can think about what is most important to me as a mom and figure out ways to implement these important things into our daily lives. Taking a few minutes each evening to gather things together for the next day is a beautiful thing. When the check for preschool is in my coat pocket, the grocery list is uploaded on my phone, the chicken is defrosting in the fridge, it all makes for fewer grumpy interactions as I am scooting everyone out of the door each morning.

On the flip side, I'm working on my spontaneity. I have wonderful people in my life who operate in a much more freestyle mode, and sometimes I envy that. While my tendency is to plan, plan, plan, I do try to keep pretty loose with those plans and go with better plans if they surface. Anyway, I'm looking for balance that way and I think my lesson in improvisational mothering is coming as we are imminently expecting the arrival of our baby girl. Farewell predictability! We'll see you in a year or so! Hello mysterious sleep schedules, infrequent showers, and keeping things flexible.

Mothers of the world, tell me (if anyone is out there): how do you handle the first few months of having a newborn with your other kids? I've kept the structured things in our current lives intact (swim lessons, library storytimes, playdates), and I'm hoping that our new baby will be happy to come along for the ride. Is this realistic?

Being Prepared: Christmas

I'm reporting on another aspect of being prepared that really brought me happiness this year. The first week of November, I took some time to map out what a fun, happy Christmas season would look like for me! ME! Selfish me. Last year was fraught with stress and rushing around and unmet expectations. Although the kids seemed to enjoy Christmas, as did Shane, I was exhausted. This year, I was determined to turn things around. I'm happy to report success!

A few things that I knew that I did not want to do during Christmastime this year:
*Step anywhere near the stores on the day after Thanksgiving, with the exception of JCrew, since their sale is just too irresistable. (But we went to that sale at 4:00 pm. Reasonable.)
*Go to the mall. It just sucks the Christmas cheer right out of me. I did virtually all of our shopping online or at the little toy shop across the street. (I did go to the mall once to buy socks for Shane....but it was fast and ok.)
*Spend money on events that create more stress than joy (waiting hours to see Santa or lighting displays). Or generally spend more money than we've budgeted for this year.
*Sew anything after December 1

As for the things the things I did want to do, it was exciting to think of all of my favorite December activities. Knowing that we'd be far from family this Christmas, I tried to find the special local events that would help us feel grateful for being where we are this time of year.

I love the idea of an advent calendar and made a very simple red and green paper chain to count down to Christmas. (This could have been infinitely more aesthetic/creative, but, it was good enough!) Each link of the paper chain had a little special something for each day to celebrate Christmas, and the first 7 links even had coordinating scriptures to go with it, until I burned out doing that. Maybe next year I'll finish. My mom told me to write down our daily December activities, so here they are:

(Day after Thanksgiving: Put up tree. We couldn't wait.)

1: Christmas Music (D&C 25:12)
This was a great way to start December. I asked my mom to send some beginner piano books of Christmas music and was able to teach Peter to play a few Christmas carols on the piano. These songs were very motivating for him to master and he was determined to get them right so that he could accompany all of us as we sang along. I also made a mix of Christmas music for the car. Now Nathan can sing the "Glooooooooooria"s to Angels We Have Heard on High and it is very cute. My mom also stuck in a a few books of Christmas music for me to play, which was lovely. Even with the inevitable kid banging going on in the bass clef notes.

2: Deliver Christmas Cards (Luke 2:10)
This was such a great deadline for me. All through November, I imagined Peter reading this link out loud and saying, "Ok, Mom, today we go to the post office to deliver the Christmas Cards!" Which meant that the cards had to be ordered, addressed, and stamped with a friendly hand-written message, family photo, and newsletter inside. I know that it doesn't have to be this complex, but I really, really wanted to really do the Christmas cards right this year. It is my one really personal way to reconnect with dear friends, friends that I wish I could sit down and talk to for an hour or two, friends whom I love so much, I cannot believe that we don't get together still all the time. So, I was determined, and writing cards to friends and family turned out to be maybe my favorite part of the season. And what a bonus to open our mailbox and find lovely cards in return!

3: Stake Christmas Concert (Luke 2:13-14)

4: Put up Nativities (Luke 2: 7-16)
Especially nice to do this activity on a Sunday afternoon.

5: Put up lights (Matthew 2: 1, 2, 9-11)
This activity was intentionally done on a Monday, so that *voila* we could have a light-installing activity for Family Home Evening and I wasn't left doing it alone, muttering curses under my breath. One would think that putting up lights with kids would be frustrating, but it was motivating to work alongside our boys and feed off of their excitement. I hope I never forget how magical it was to all stand together in the front yard to look at the lights after we had finished.

6: Christmas Books (3 Nephi 16:4)
As a little surprise, I included a new Christmas book, as I try to do each year. This year, we added The Little Fir Tree.

7: Put up Christmas Village
Part of my childhood Christmases was gazing at these village collections in my grandparents' and parents' living rooms. I've inherited a few little village homes, stores, and a church of my own, so it was fun to share this tradition with my own kids.

8: Visit Stew Leonard's
We went with good friends, making it even better!

9: Look at Christmas Lights around the neighborhood

10: Visit Old Sturbridge Village for Candlelight Christmas

11: Deliver Neighbor Gifts
This was another great Sunday afternoon activity. Like the cards, I had to be prepared for this activity and thanked my November self, who had bought the packaging ahead of time and had made the cookie dough and stuck it in the freezer. Delivering gifts to neighbors and friends is amazingly fun when I haven't been slaving away for hours and hours!

12: Musical Family Home Evening with Friends
We loved hosting this party with a friend, whose spacious home accomodated all of us, including a large pack of kids. I loved being surrounded by beautiful singing and accompanying instruments! I'm happy to keep this tradition from my childhood alive while I am so far from home. The greatest preparation here was thinking though the food. I kept it extremely simple, with a few special homemade desserts and appetizers supplemented by generous offerings from friends and a few holiday treats from Trader Joe's.

13: Christmas Movies
Boys watched movies while I collapsed after last night's party!

14: Help Peter Make Gifts for His Teachers
This is tricky. Being a daughter of a seasoned piano teacher, I have seen many Christmas gifts from students, and they are always gratefully received. However, I do understand that some gifts that come are very useful and some are not. I liked the idea of Peter creating something himself, but I wanted his teachers to really enjoy our gift. I organized a group gift with the other parents and collected money to go towards Amazon gift cards. Peter drew a portrait of each teacher, which went in the gift bag with the Amazon cards and some candy. Gift cards are not very sweet or sentimental, but 100% more useful than banana bread or a big mug.

15: Buy a Garland to Hang on Banister

16: Decorate Gingerbread House

17: Ward Christmas Party

18: Make Brickle Brackle Bars
This is a Lloyd family recipe, so I let Shane take the lead on this one. We leave Brickle Brackle Bars for Santa, in efforts to be radical/edgy.

19: "Christ Is Born" Family Home Evening, with our own Nativity Play

20: Help Peter Make Gifts for Nathan and Shane
This is a fantasy that did not come to pass this year. I was hoping to have a few projects in mind to help get Peter's ideas flowing for gifts, but by this point, I was just kind of tired. Peter did make a little book for Shane, called "Dad's Favorite Things," which counts for something, even if it only had 3 pages. I am feeling pretty much the same as the writer of this blog post . Maybe next year!

21: Christmas Crafts with the Kids

22: Hang Up Stockings

23: Go to Friends' Christmas Party

24: Go to Boston Pop's Christmas Concert

The boys opened up their Christmas Eve jammers that I made from them (pre-December 1! I love it!). I used the (now discontinued) Oliver & S Kimono Pajama pattern, like I do every year. I have made them enough that I whip them out in a couple of nights.

I also made the boys two candy-cane striped bow ties. The sewing projects this Christmas were pretty simple and quick!

Post-Christmas was a lovely, quiet time. I chose to not even acknowledge that there was such thing as New Year's Day, after such a busy month of merry-making.

To me, an essential element of all the Christmas gift-giving is making thank-you cards. I love the idea of having Peter make these. Peter drew two pictures, which I scanned and printed on cardstock paper. As the biased mom, I have to say, they turned out pretty great.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Cleaning

I have been 'spring cleaning' through iphoto and wanted to post a few pictures before they fall into the abyss of my photo archives. I'm giving a home to these pictures, so I can remember that I did pull it together a few times during the last few months!

We made these little matchbox valentines for Peter's preschool class. I think they turned out so sweet and Peter helped all the way. Thanks to Brooke from Inchmark for yet another great idea!
My friend Carlee is, among many things, very talented and resourceful behind the sewing machine. It seems as though I'm always bugging her to tell me how she sewed something awesome that her boys are wearing! Carlee got me sewing these little pants that are formerly arms of sweaters. I knew I was saving those sweaters for something! And, ah, the cozy, soft knit is so nice for winter baby legs!
Lastly, I made this super hero cape for Peter's birthday.
I think his brother wants one too....

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Good Taste: Eggplant Parmagiana

From December 2010 (?) Martha Stewart Living

Active Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Serves 8

For Breading and Frying:
2 cups fine plain fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 large eggplants, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more if needed

For Assembling:
Marinara Sauce (recipe below)
3 cups coarsley grated mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

1. Bread and fry the eggplant: Combine breadcrumbs, Pecorino Romano, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Put flour, eggs, and breadcrumb mixture in 3 separate dishes. Dredge eggplant in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in egg, letting excess drip off. Dredge in breadcrumbs to coat. Let stand for 30 minutes.
2. Heat oil in large straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. (Oil is ready when a breadcrumb sizzles when dropped in.) Working in batches, fry eggplant until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. (If oil gets too dirty, discard, and heat additional 1/4 cup.)
3. Assemble the dish: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange a layer of eggplant on top, overlapping slightly. Top with 1 cup sauce. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano. Repeat twice to form layers with eggplant, sauce, then cheeses. Cover with foil. Bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Uncover, and bake until cheese melts, about 5 minutes more.

Marinara Sauce:
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cans (28-oz each) peeled whole tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, red-pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Simmer, covered, until thick, 25 minutes. Stir in herbs.

Thoughts: Quite a bit of prep involved, but all really doable to prep a day or two in advance. I'm never quite together enough to make the marinara and rely on my favorite Cento-brand jarred stuff. This dish could not be more comforting after a blizzardy day in New England.

Good Taste: Mango Rice Salad with Grilled Shrimp

From June 2005 Cooking Light

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
4 teaspoons curry powder
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 36 shrimp)
2 cups water
2/3 cup light coconut milk
1 1/4 cups uncooked long-grain rice
3/4 cup shredded carrot
2 cups diced peeled mango (about 2 mangoes)
1 1/2 cups diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
Cilantro Sprigs (optional)

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add shrimp, toss to coat. Cover and chill 1 hour.
2. Bring water and coconut milk to a boil in a medium saucepan; add rice. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Add carrot and next 7 ingredients (through salt); toss gently to combine.
3. Prepare grill or grill pan to medium-high heat.
4. Thread 3 shrimp onto each of 12 (6-inch) skewers. Place skewers on grill rack or grill pan coated with cooking spray; grill 3 minutes on each side or until shrimp are done. Serve skewers over salad. Garnish with cilantro springs, if desired. Yield: 6 servings.

Thoughts: The rice is crazy good--so light, fresh, full of flavor. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.