Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wait, it's February already?

Male cardinal, eating seed from our feeder
I can't believe it has been over a month since I last sat down to write here. I know I thought about it, but kept thinking it hadn't been that long since my last post, surely. Well, here are some of the things that have been keeping me busy since the beginning of this year. 

Open kibbeh, from Jerusalem by Yotem Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
 Cooking, of course. I have so many good cookbooks now that I am really making an effort to try new recipes. Weekends tend to be the best time for that around here - more people to help with complicated prep work, or just keep Malcolm out of my hair while I do it.  For the savory side of things, my current crush is Jerusalem by Yotem Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. There are some recipes I know I will never make, but all the ones I have made have been amazing. This open kibbeh was so very good - lamb, bulgher, and some tahini, essentially - there was hardly any left for the next day.

Sticky Toffee Pudding from Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food

Last summer, while watching The Colbert Report,  we saw Jamie Oliver bring out this sticky toffee pudding and my mother-in-law was drooling over it. I told her if she bought me the book, I would make it for her; she remembered and gave it to me for Christmas. So, I made sticky toffee pudding for a New Year's treat. Oh. My. Goodness. Rich and flavorful and oh so good. I probably won't make it again any time soon, just because we really don't need that much cake in the house, but I might break it out for the next potluck we go to.

Chocolate sables from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan
 Another reason I probably won't get around to making another sticky toffee pudding soon is that I also got Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan for Christmas, and I am attempting to bake my way through it. It will take a long time, since there are so many recipes and alternate variations, and I can't quite justify baking dessert every single weekend, but I don't really mind. Everything I have make so far is delicious.

Who can resist that face?
And of course, in addition to cooking, Malcolm is keeping me on my toes. At two and a half, he is far too smart for his own good, too good at getting into things he shouldn't, and just adorable enough to stay (mostly) out of trouble.

We are out riding bikes without coats, in February!
 He got a balance bike for Christmas, and has almost completely mastered it. He rides down our street without touching, rides circles in our cul-de-sac, and is generally getting set for a life on two wheels. It isn't so bad when the weather is warm, like it has been this week, but he was insisting we go out when it was 35 and windy, and that was a bit much for this mama. (Not that I should complain, since I made him go out in the stroller for runs with me when it was equally cold and windy. The difference is that he was swaddled in blankets and sleeps through most of the runs, whereas I have to stand around and watch for cars while he is bike riding - no blankets or naps for me). It is exciting to see how fast he learns and figures things out.

Sharp-shinned hawk (I think), staking out our feeder
 Malcolm and I have been participating in this year's Feeder Watch program, conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Basically, we watch our bird feeders two consecutive days a week and try to identify and count the various birds we see, then we report that data and it helps the scientists get a picture of bird migration and numbers. Last week, this beauty showed up and scared all the little birds away. I didn't mind, because it stayed around long enough for me to get out my camera and take a few pictures.

So, there is my year so far, mostly. I am also training for a 10K in March, partially in order to be able to eat all the delicious things I bake, and tennis season is just about to pick up steam. I'll try not to let things go for another month this time!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Black Friday Hiking Report

Longtime readers of my blog (hi Mom and Dad) know that Benjamin and I go on a hike on the day after Thanksgiving; it is our way of refraining from over-consumption, avoiding getting trampled, and recovering from any Thanksgiving excess. Since Malcolm arrived, we haven't taken any long or strenuous hikes, but we have made an effort to at least go somewhere we don't normally go for a walk. This year, we headed up to Russellville (about an hour's drive) to try out the Bona Dea Trails.

It is a trail system that combines a fitness trail, jogging trail and some hiking (sort of), in the city limits of Russellville. The entire loop (about 3.5 miles) is paved and in good condition, so it is wheelchair and bicycle accessible. That means isn't a particularly difficult hike, but it was a good fit for us at this time, with our toddler, stroller, grandmother and two dogs.

It was chilly, but sunny - good weather for a long walk. Malcolm walked at least a mile and a half of the trail by himself. As long as he is in the mood, he is a very good walker/hiker. We all had fun on the fitness parts of the trail, trying out the various exercise stations.

The scenery wasn't spectacular, but it was peaceful, and it is supposed to have good wildlife viewing opportunities if you visit near sunrise and sunset.

Although I doubt we will make the trip up to Russellville just to use the trails again soon, it is definitely somewhere I would go to run or ride my bike if I lived in the area. It might be worth a return visit when Malcolm is a bit older and can ride his bike around the entire trail.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuna casserole that isn't terrible

Tuna casserole is one of those dinners I tend to put on our menu when I have completely run out of inspiration or I am trying to be frugal, or both. I suspect the recipe I have came from the back of a can of mushroom soup. It is just so very bland and boring and what I think of when I think of 1950s recipes (the ones you see in old magazines, with lots of Jello "salads"). Since it <i>is</i> handy to have an inexpensive, mostly healthy casserole recipe in one's back pocket, I have started to tinker with my tuna casserole, and the last two times I done so, everyone has gone back for seconds. Tonight, I got raves (from everyone except Malcolm, but he really just wanted a candy cane anyway). After I mentioned this fact on Facebook, several people said they'd like a recipe, so here it is, annotated. I hope it works as well for you as it does for me.

Hope's Tuna Casserole
Preparation: 20  minutes
Cooking time: 20-30 minutes

1 pound pasta - bowties or some other shapes work well. They are sturdier and hold the sauce better than the traditional egg noodles.
1-2 Tbsp oil, divided
1/2-3/4 cup diced onion
2 sticks celery, diced
1 cup or so chopped mushrooms - I prefer baby bellas, but whatever sort you like/can find at the store would be fine.
2 cans tuna - I keep it simple and use chunk light tuna in water
1 can cream of chicken or cream of celery soup (this is the biggest change - cream of mushroom is just so...gray)
1/2 cup milk - I used whole milk this time, but whatever you normally use would be fine. 
1 1/2 cups frozen green peas or frozen peas and carrots
salt and pepper
1 cup grated cheese - I used sharp cheddar this time, but I have also used pepper jack with success

1) Preheat oven to 375. 
2) Cook pasta according to the instructions on the bag/box. Drain and put back into pot or in a large mixing bowl.
3) Sauté the onion and celery in half of the oil until soft, but not brown. When finished, add to the noodles.
4) Heat the second half of the oil and sauté the mushrooms until they are soft and have released some of their juices. Add to the noodles and onion/celery mix.
5) Drain the tuna and add to the pot. Also add the soup, the milk, and the peas. Stir everything together and season with the salt and pepper to taste. 
6) Pour the noodle mixture into a two quart casserole dish. Top with the grated cheese.
7) Bake for 20-30 minutes until bubbling and the cheese is melted. If you like the cheese a little browner, turn on the broiler for the last couple of minutes.