Monday, February 18, 2008

Finding Silver Linings

february is one of my favorite months for the simple fact that my older son, nicholas, was born in that month. he's adorable and loving, sweet and warm and starting to go through another round of testing for developmental purposes. he's such a squoosh that it breaks my heart in every possible way that this hurdle of autism or asperger's is part of his life. it's only a hurdle if i make it one, yeah, i know, but late at night, when i'm alone, i think about his life and how difficult it may be for him and i cry. yep. i do. sorry. but i do.

anywho, this month has been the most bittersweet i've had in a bit of awhile. we've had our bunny pass away -- late january, but leading us into february -- and a guinea pig i just bought for my beloved nicholas died in my arms on sunday. a lot of other stuff has come up as well that would bore you to tears, i'm sure, so i won't even go there, but suffice it to say (ooh, nice phrase) this month has been a challenge. and so, what to do? sunday, i was planning to have a friend come by to do a little cooking lesson with her. i was so excited, all i could to was think how cool it would be to be able to do this for people ALL THE TIME. cook for them, cook WITH them, and really indulge that culinary fiend inside of me. it was great prepping for all of it until i woke up, looked out of my window and saw it not just snowing, but SNOWING. my friend called me to let me know she was on the fence about coming by, which totally made sense, then later called to tell me, um, yeah, not gonna happen. we made plans for next weekend (or this coming weekend) and here i was with a bunch of food i would now make for my sons.

we used to do sunday cooking lesson every single weekend. we haven't done that in some time. so, i figured, hey, i'm prepped, why not?


if everyday was like this day of our cooking, i would give up everything i owned so i could be able to replicate it or pursue it or move into it. even if it sucked one day, i would still do it. nicholas and brandon hung in the kitchen with me for three hours, no joke. we made our marinade to marinate our beef, our dressing to dress our salad, baked our lemon cake, made our rice for fried rice, and cooked, and cooked, and talked, and chopped, and my sons made everything themselves. they were the executive chefs and i was their sous chef. and being their second in command (although i handed out the recipes and spoke direction, showing things here and there) was amazing.

i loved doing this with them. i loved watching them laugh and find joy in cooking with their hearts and souls. i loved spending my afternoon with them, completely in their presence, seeing them goof off and throw flour and eat too much batter and play swords with spatulas. i love seeing my delightful monet nuance his way through his food in nicholas and my passionate picasso chop and stir with abandon in brandon. and, most of all, when i stopped and sighed, saying, "i wish i could take us to europe so we could do a cooking tour through all the amazing countries we love -- france, italy, spain and on to asia", i loved it when they both said, "well, why can't we? that would be great." i love that they have adventure in their souls, not just for food, but for life. it's heartening.

i'm not the best mom. i know that. but my kids?
they're the best kids.
through all the bittersweet weirdness this february has brought us, through all the not listening and clothes left on the floor, the bottom line is, there's no one else i will ever love as much as these two people.
and that's al right with me.
that's completely fantabulous.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Homemade with Style

sorry i've been gone so long. we've been having one crazy time over here, but, as always, we've been cooking out of control. and we've gotten very homemade with everything. ah, what fun it is to create, from scratch, stuff you used to just buy in a jar. that's right. i have bought many things in jars, even though i eschew pre-packaged food NOW. let's get real. when i was a starving college dropout, i lived on Top Ramen and Chef Boyardee. i remember when i was little and those rare occasions i would be allowed to eat the Chef and Franco American Spaghettios (the ones with the baby hot dogs were my faves -- go figure). i would lament my sorry state of denial of the food I LOVED (along with pouring entire mouthfuls of sawdust like parmesan onto my tongue from shiney green Kraft cans) to my father and he would stare at me from under his rather formidable eyebrows (which i have inherited) and intone, in this voice that i think god (if i believed in god, to be honest) would probably use, "someday, you're gonna have to live off of that stuff. i wonder how much you're gonna love it then."

i hate that shit now, cuz of that.
i hate that he was right.
god damn parents.
but i digress...

okay, so we cooked some bolognese sauce and tomato basil sauce from scratch so i could lower our grocery budget -- along with, as you know, a ton of bread. i'm out of yeast after only 3 months -- my last jar of yeast lasted me two years -- and i am biting my nails waiting to be able to buy some more on friday, after payday. oh, yes. my once-a-month payday is just around the corner... woo... hoo...

in order to create some lovely spaghetti sauce, i opened up THE SILVER SPOON cookbook to find just the right recipes to make our sauces. we were in the market for a meat sauce (bolognese is my choice) and a simple tomato sauce, which, thanks to the classic wonder of THE SILVER SPOON, were and are right at the beginning of the book, where all good sauces live. i do believe i have mentioned how THE SILVER SPOON is a serious cookbook and one i open with trembling, happy hands no matter how crappy my day is going. this is a book with no author credited for its wonder. it is1199 pages of marvel and wonder of the likes of my two french tomes, Larousse Gastronomique and Larousse French Traditional Cooking. THE SILVER SPOON is the italian equivalent of those books and just the first line in the cookbook "eating is serious matter in italy" gives you an idea of how incredible and intensely fabulous this is. our first sauce was BOLOGNESE MEAT SAUCE (ragu alla bolognese) and the next was, TOMATO SAUCE (salsa di pomodoro). first, meat sauce:

3 tbs butter
2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
9 oz ground steak
1 tbs concentrated tomato paste
salt and pepper

what to do:
heat the butter and olive oil in a small pan and add the onion, celery, carrot and ground steak. season with salt and pepper to taste. mix and cook over low heat for a few minutes until the vegetables have softened and the meat starts to brown. mix the tomato paste with a little water to dilute it and add to the pan. cover and cook over a very low heat for 1 1/2 hours, adding a little hot water if the sauce seems to be drying out. this ragu (meat sauce) can be made with mixed meats and flavored with mushrooms.

tomato sauce
9 oz canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, peeled
pinch of sugar
2 garlic cloves
2 tbs olive oil
10 fresh basil leaves, torn

what to do:
put the tomatoes with their can juice, if using canned tomatoes, into a pan and add the sugar, garlic and a pinch of salt. cover and cook over very low heat for about 30 minutes without stirring. mash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and, if using canned tomatoes, cook for a further 15 minutes. remove the pan from the heat and let cool. stir in the olive oil and basil.

what we did:

first of all, we made double the amount of ragu so we could have extra. all the rest of it we did the same, even the carrots which, you know, i despise cooked. however, i have made ragu before and i am a big believer in going by the book with all the veggies. it really adds flavor and is terrific.

with the tomato sauce, we used fresh tomatoes which we blanched in boiling water for just 30 seconds to get the skin off -- how to do this is to cut an "x" in the bottom of your tomato, place it in boiling water, let it set for 30seconds, then take them out and shock them in iced water. the skin comes right off. i also seeded the tomatoes. it's winter here in kansas so the tomatoes aren't the best, so our sauce is a light orangey red instead of a deep red, but it tastes great.

we've used the ragu for lasagna, which we made for nicholas' 13th birthday, and the tomato sauce for a base of other sauces. really yummy and, as you can see, easy. truly great sauce recipes are simply delicious bases for other sauces. tomato sauce, without the basil, is called a "mother" sauce, a base sauce for other sauces, and is really terrific to have in your arsenal.

to me, it's fun to cook fresh ingredients and see things come together in ways that make me feel as if i'm truly accomplishing something. these are the moments that have made this rather strange and difficult month a lot easier.

or, well, somewhat :o)