Thursday, June 30, 2011

Homemade Pop Tarts

My kids have been begging me to buy S'mores Pop Tarts for months and while I consider myself a reasonably cool mom, I just can't do it. How could there be even a smidge of nutrition in with all those preservatives and all that sugar? This is my best compromise:

Nutella Pop Tarts
1 recipe pie crust

Roll out your pie crust and cut into rectangles. Put a good blob of Nutella on top and lay another rectangle over the top, sealing the edges with a little water. Smush the tines of a fork down around the edges. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until they're golden brown.

My kids' only objection to these was that there was no frosting on top. I did an exhaustive Google search, trying to find a hard frosting that won't melt in the toaster and found two things: 1. I am not even close to being the first person to think of Nutella Pop Tarts, and 2. They all just put the frosting on at the end.

I thought of trying royal icing but didn't want to risk the frosting all melting into the toaster, so in the end I just sprinkled some cinnamon sugar on the Pop Tarts before baking. My guess is it's the chemicals that make the hard frosting.

The shirtless wonder eats a Pop Tart.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Floating Bookshelf

I first saw this floating shelf idea on Etsy. What a great way to display cookbooks, but the price was a little too rich for my blood. Not too much later, I came across a tutorial for them over at MayDecember. I love the idea of using L brackets--so simple, so brilliant.

Place your brackets on the wall and mark the holes with a pencil.

Make sure you get at least one of the brackets mounted into a stud.

I loved everything about this idea except the fact that the book would show if you looked underneath the shelf. Since I'm placing my shelf fairly high up on the wall, I used a big hardback cookbook that I rarely (and now never) use, slid it into the bracket, and used clear packaging tape to tape the book shut.

If you don't look at the rest of my house, you'd think I was stylish!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Leftover Veggie Pasta

My parents, siblings, and our kids all get together for special occasions, or whenever our little brother is in town from Arizona. We all have standing contributions toward dinner, and my sister Carolyn's is pupus (Hawaiian for appetizers). She brings a big tray of veggies and dip and is always kind enough to leave the leftovers. We snack on them the next day and for dinner I usually incorporate them into an easy pasta dish.

Pupu Pasta
1 box orrechiete pasta, cooked (reserve 1/4 cup cooking water)
3 cups raw cut up veggies (I used grape tomatoes, baby carrots, cauliflower and broccoli)
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
4 chicken Italian sausages
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Begin by sauteeing the sausages in the olive oil and butter until they're browned; throw in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, then add the veggies and cook for about 3 minutes. Take out the sausages and cut them in slices, then add them back into the pan. Add the 1/4 cup cooking water and cover the pan, letting the veggies steam a little until they're tender but still with a decent bite to them. Break up the tomatoes so they help make the sauce.

Add the pasta and heat til everything's piping hot, then add parmesan, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.

Janet's Notes: This is a really loose recipe because it varies with whatever veggies and meat you have, so feel free to adapt it to suit your taste.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Parenting Tips (from a Highly Imperfect Mom)

I make parenting mistakes on a daily (if not hourly) basis, but today I'm sharing a few of the minor victories I've scored in the "us vs. them" department.

Give them things they love…so you can take them away. The most valuable thing we can have as parents is ammunition. I'm more excited than they are when they get a new Wii, cell phone, iPod, because when they smart off to me or don't clean their room (for the umpteenth time), I can threaten them with no Wii, cell phone, iPod, and they'll straighten up, toot-sweet.

Make their bad behavior work for you. Putting kids in a time out chair can be effective, but how is it benefiting you? In our house, there are always things on the floor, on the counter, in the playroom, in the yard, that need to be put away. For nearly every minor infraction, our rule is "pick up 10 things." That means find ten things and put them where they belong. If there are Legos on the floor, it's easy. If it means picking ten weeds, it's a little harder. This punishment has a side benefit--you don't get as infuriated at the same old frustrating behaviors when it means a shiny clean living room for you.

Envision the long-term. It may not be a huge deal that they call you a name now, but what happens down the road may not be so innocuous. When Sean called me a dumb stupidhead at age 4, my brain fast-forwarded 13 years, and I pictured him calling me something much worse, then grabbing the car keys and heading out the door. So instead of laughing at his insult (I mean really, can't he do any better than "dumb stupidhead?" That's something a 3-year-old would say), I made him pick up 10 things.

Take all advice with a grain of salt, aka trust your gut. My first son did not crawl. He was on target in every other way except this, but instead of being happy that he was developing normally, I listened to all the people who advised me that not crawling is directly tied to reading ability, and Sean would certainly flunk out of Happy Times Preschool. Nearly 15 years later, I am happy to say that he reads normally--which means at 10 p.m. the night before his essay is due.

And in the "saving the best for last" department: Don't ever say, "My child would never..." I promise it will come back to haunt you on your very next baby.

What are your best parenting tips?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cigar Box Recipes: Coconut Cake

Once a year when I was growing up, Momer would fly from Alabama to visit us in California. As soon as she unpacked, we'd run to the closet and smell her clothes--it sounds so weird now, but we loved her smell. Sweet and baby-powderish.

And at some point during the visit, she'd make us her famous coconut cake. She'd go into the garage with a coconut and a hammer, pour the juice out for us to drink, and grate the meat for her recipe. She always insisted we wait three days to eat the cake, but I must admit that I made this recipe in the morning and we inhaled it that night.

Coconut Cream Cake
1 pkg. butter-flavored cake mix
2 cups sugar
1 8-oz. carton sour cream
12 oz. grated coconut
1 1/2 cups whipped cream
Bake cake in 4 layers. Cool. Combine sugar, sour cream and coconut. Chill. Reserve 1 cup for frosting. Spread remainder between layers. Combine reserved sour cream mixture and whipped cream; blend until smooth. Spread on top and sides of cake. Seal cake in air-tight container, and refrigerate for 3 days before serving. It's worth waiting for.

Janet's Notes: I baked this in 3 layers because I didn't have a fourth cake pan. The filling was a little grainy (maybe because we didn't wait 3 days to eat it) and I doubt I'll be more patient next time, so I might use powdered sugar instead of granulated. I also used packaged coconut instead of fresh.

The shirtless wonder bakes a cake.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Beef Jerky

This recipe falls under the summer snacks (aka "Moooooom, what's to eat?" category). High in protein and reasonably low in fat, this is a good thing to have around the house. I got the recipe from Alton Brown, my favorite geeky chef. The only thing I changed was the cooking method. He dried it out with fans and auto filters and bungee cords--way too complicated and, frankly, weird. Six hours in a 200-degree oven is more my style.

Beef Jerky
1 1/2 to 2 pounds flank steak
2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Slice beef thinly with the grain (it helps if the meat is semi-frozen). Add all other ingredients in a gallon Zip-loc bag and marinate several hours or overnight. Bake on a cookie sheet at 200 degrees for about 6 hours, turning over every hour or so to dry it evenly.

Janet's notes: Make sure you don't overcook the beef, or it'll be crunchy instead of jerky.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Shameless Plug: Custom Sepia In the New York Times!

I was thrilled when Marianne Rohrlich of the New York Times contacted me a couple of weeks ago about a bridal registry article she was writing, featuring custom printed plates. My business Custom Sepia is in the Sunday--yeah that's right--Sunday 6/19/11 edition of the New York Times! Woo-hoo! Check out the article here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pet Peeves: Technology

Today's topic in our ongoing "Pet Peeves" series: Technology. I'll start.

I really hate it when a customer at the cash register answers the phone in the middle of a transaction. So the cashier is supposed to stand there and wait for you to finish your conversation, and then you can tell her what you want? And the delay of her work and all the people standing in line isn't even the worst part--it's the fact that you are interacting with a human being and you are letting them know that they can wait because you've got something better to do. It all boils down to consideration--actually considering the feelings of someone else.

Now I'm all riled are some others from my blog friends.

Remaking Memories said... I have a long list, but I'll keep it short. Ladies - please, get off your phone when you're using a public restroom. It's rude to the person on the phone and to the other ladies in the restroom. And it gives me stage fright.

Monkey Sews said...One of my pet peeves is people who sit with you at a table with earbuds in! Do you talk to them? Are they busy? It's rude people!

Lulu Grey said... A pet peeve of mine is (and this just happened, so it is top of mind) people who play with their smart phones during business meetings. You can put down fruit ninja for a second - you know.

And from my brother: People who post everywhere they are on FB. I had one friend post his entire trip up the coast, from San Diego up to Thousand Oaks. So and so is at the checkpoint. So and so is at the nuclear power station. So and so is passing San Clemente. And on and on and on. Filled my whole first page. Once in awhile, but come on.

What are yours? Also, now taking suggestions for new Pet Peeve topics, so please leave 'em in the comments and if I use yours, I'll link it to your blog or shop.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Long Winter Wheat Bread, Cheater's Version

I separated the wheat from the chaff!

I was reading my Little House cookbook today and remembered the Kern jar of wheat berries given to me by my friend Leslie. Leslie's aunt is a genuine cowgirl and grows wheat on her farm. I've been saving the wheat for something really special (for two years now) and the time has finally arrived.

I was going to take the wheat and grind it in my coffee grinder, and make the bread that Laura and her family ate during The Long Winter to keep from starving. Thank goodness for dreamy Almanzo and Cap Garland with his flashing blue eyes, who traveled a zillion miles through a blizzard to get more wheat from that weird guy who was hiding it in his walls. (I know. You just have to read the book.)

So I'm all excited, until I read the description: "You are not likely to find this coarse, heavy loaf as satisfying as Laura did--unless you eat nothing else during the day, help to grind the grain, and share it with five hungry people in a room where a bottle of ink might freeze." Hmmm. Good point. Why would I waste my precious wheat on a crummy recipe?

Change of plans: wheat berry bread. I used this recipe as a jumping-off point but as you can see, changed many things, including the addition of homemade granola (Don't tell them you got it at Honey's cafe--dang it. Did I just type that out loud?).

Bread Machine Wheat Berry and Granola Bread

1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup cooked wheat berries
1/2 cup granola
4 cups bread flour
1 Tbsp. yeast
1 tsp. salt
Mix all ingredients in bread machine and process on dough cycle. Bake in loaf pan (I used two because it seemed like a lot of dough) at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Janet's notes: Don't use two loaf pans. It's not really that much dough and I wish I had made one nice big loaf. If you use this bread as morning toast, leave the salt at 1 tsp. but if you want it for sandwiches, I'd add another teaspoonful. I was a little worried about not adding any butter or oil but it came out surprisingly tender. I'd also have used a cup or two of whole wheat flour in place of the white bread flour if I had it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Turkey Panini with Hot Mango Chutney

I love stuff, but I hate too much stuff. Nothing drives me more crazy than clutter, and above all, I hate kitchen gadgets. Opening my cabinet and having to move three things to get to one thing...ugh.

So it's not too difficult for me to take a pass on the George Foreman grill, the Magic Bullet, and the Ginsu knives--though I must admit I recently bought a (very small) cherry pitter that I love. Recently, I tasted a Panini sandwich for the first time and knew I wanted to try making one at home. I wanted to make a Panini without a Panini maker. After a few days of contemplating this conundrum, a bolt of lighting. The waffle iron!

Janet's Clutter-Free Panini
Use a sturdy bread like sourdough or french bread (I made my own but you may not be as crazy as me). Layer turkey, provolone cheese, and thinly sliced red onion. Squish down in your ungreased waffle iron until it's toasted. Open up the sandwich and spread with fig or mango chutney.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chewy Granola Bars

Summertime, and the livin's easy...but feeding the kids is not. There's nothing I love better than a blank day on the calendar, so we can sleep in, lounge around, do something if we feel like it, or just do nothing at all. The only bad part of days like this is that everyone's on their own schedule as far as eating. Max generally wakes up around 8, Sean about 10ish, and Elise usually wakes up and reads in bed until around noon.

This means that mealtimes are completely hosed. Luckily the big kids can make themselves a sandwich, or grab a yogurt or bowl of cereal, but the key is having stuff in the first place, and preferably stuff that will fulfill some sort of dietary requirement besides sodium.

Sean is a runner, and goes through a box or two of chewy granola bars a week. They are expensive and full of preservatives to boot, so this is where I begin my healthy pantry-stocking. As usual, this recipe is the result of several recipes combined, tweaked to suit our taste.

Chewy Granola Bars
1/2 c. packed brown sugar

1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/2 c. honey
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. canola oil
3 c. rolled oats
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup Rice Krispies cereal
1 c. chocolate chips
1 tsp. kosher salt
Grease 13 x 9 inch pan. In large bowl, combine all ingredients until mixed well. Press mixture into pan as hard as you can. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes; press down again. Bake 10 minutes more or until starting to brown. Take out of the oven and press down one more time. Cool completely and cut into bars.

Janet's notes: The key to preventing a crumbly bar is, as you may have noticed, pressing it down as hard as you can, as often as you can. These bars are infinitely variable; my first version had raw pumpkin seeds but the kids hated it, and surprisingly, even my argument that they were full of zinc didn't sway them.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Funny Book

I've done a lot of things wrong since I became a parent 15 years ago, but one thing I am great at is writing down the funny things my kids say as they grow up. I keep a journal for each child with their unintended witticisms. Every six months or so, somebody will ask to pull out the journals and we'll spend 30 minutes reading them out loud as a family, and laughing all over again. A few favorites:

Sean saw a man dressed up in a Leif Ericsson-type costume.
Me: "That's a viking hat."

Sean: "But why do we have to vike in it?"

Elise wanted Auntie to play pretend with her.
Auntie: "I don't want to right now."

Elise: "But pretend you want to."

Our cat Bobber peed in the laundry room.
Max: Why?

Me: Well, Bobber's an old man.

Max: Does Grandpa pee in the laundry room?

It was pouring rain and I had plans to walk with a friend. On the way to preschool, Max and I saw a woman jogging in the rain.
Max: I don't want you to do that.

Me: Well, I think we are going to go to a place where we can exercise inside.

Max: How about Trader Joe's?

Sometimes I throw in something funny they've drawn, or have them record milestones in their own writing.

These books are definitely on our list of "things to grab in case of fire." What are some of the cute things your kids say?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

DIY: Clay Portraits

With summer vacation upon us, here's an easy, fun project that the kids can do on a lazy day. Have the kids each roll out a piece of clay in a roundish or squarish shape, whatever they want. Use a toothpick to carve the design. If you're lucky enough to have use of a kiln, use terra cotta clay, or if not, use the oven bake stuff (Sculpey is great) or even air-dry clay. Once it's dry the kids can paint it or just seal it with a clear lacquer.

Now take a piece of scrap wood and paint it any color (I used black). Attach a hanger on the back or go the completely cheapskate route and just put two staples in the back and wrap a little wire between them to create your own hanger. Affix the dried clay art to the wood with a good dollop of Gorilla Glue or Liquid Nails.

These look great alone, or make a bunch and group them. My latest idea: colorful clay targets with bulls-eyes in a Kandinsky style, grouped on the living room wall. I'll blog that when it happens; I'm guessing about the tenth of never.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Reluctant Hostess

My friend Macie hates to cook. We meet once a week for lunch and I secretly suspect she is only doing it so that she can serve the leftovers to her family for dinner.

Well, imagine her surprise when she found herself in charge of lunch for 40 at her sister's baby shower recently. She turned to me and I turned to Jen, hostess extraordinaire. Jen's advice: "Don't cook; assemble."

What does it mean? This:


Cooking: Quiche
Assembling: Fresh mozzarella, basil leaves and cherry tomatoes on skewers, with oil and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top

Main Dish
Cooking: Enchiladas
Assembling: Chef salad

Cooking: Cake
Assembling: Costco Cake

OK, that last one might not followed the concept exactly, but you get the idea.

Above all, be flexible. Macie was thrown when many of the ingredients she needed were out of stock/out of season/too expensive. ($3.50 for a red bell pepper?!) So her tray of grapes and brie became a mixed berry salad, and the magic salad she'd planned on became chicken salad sandwiches made with chopped chicken and the basil dressing she'd made the day before. (She served it to rave reviews and ended up with a new recipe.)

Follow these tips and who knows? You might actually get to enjoy the day too.

Macie's Menu: Baby Shower Luncheon for 40
Mixed fruit salad
Spinach dip with pita chips and raw veggies
Chicken salad sandwiches
Green salad
Lemonade, sparkling water, juices

See how everyone is giving big toothy smiles except Macie?
That's because they weren't in charge of the food.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Jalapeno Bagels

My kids have gone cuckoo for the jalapeno bagels at Costco. We've been out of them for a while so I decided to try making them from scratch. (Now you know how much I hate going to Costco.)

I have had a recipe for these in my recipe binder labeled "to try" since my daughter read a story called Jalapeno Bagels in second grade. It included a recipe "from a real Mexican-Jewish-American bakery, Los Bagels Bakery & Cafe, in Arcata, California."

Jalapeno Bagels

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 tsp. dry yeast
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
5 cups flour
1/3 cup jalapenos, chopped
1/4 cup dried red peppers

Mix water, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add flour and jalapenos and mix into a ball. Knead for 10 to 12 minutes, adding more flour if necessary, until dough is stiff. Add red peppers and knead for 3 minutes. Let dough rest 10 minutes, then cut into 12 pieces with a knife.

Roll each piece of dough on a table to form long tube-like shapes. Then, for each of the 12 pieces, connect the two ends by overlapping them about 3/4 of an inch and rolling the ends together to make a ring shape. Make sure each joint is secure or it will come apart while boiling.

Cover with a damp towel and let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a warm spot. In a large pot, bring 1 to 2 gallons of water to a rolling boil. Place bagels in boiling water and boil until they float (15 to 30 seconds). Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

What happened to the hole?

Janet's notes: I left out the 1/4 cup dried red peppers, and instead of making the dough by hand, I threw all the ingredients in the bread machine and put it on the dough setting. I think I used too much yeast because they rose beautifully, then collapsed when I lifted them off the cookie sheet to boil them and never recovered.

Verdict: Flat but tasty!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Raising Silkworms

Bieber getting comfy on her queen-size bed.

Happy news! We have two new additions to our family. They are a pair of silkmoths and their names are Justin and Bieber. They were foisted upon us--I mean, we adopted them from my son's second-grade science class. By the time Max brought them home, the rest of our family had missed the real action--the cocoon spinning and subsequent hatching.

Justin and Bieber's love nest, covered with gauze.

The moment Max got them through the front door, he and Elise disappeared for about two hours. When they emerged, Elise had created an amazing studio apartment for them, complete with a sofa for lounging, a rug on the floor, and a queen-size bed with silk sheets. Hubba hubba! I guess it set the mood, because within a few hours, Bieber started laying eggs.

She pushes this thing out of her tail and the eggs drop out. These were the first two eggs.

A little later.

From what Max told me, silkmoths do not have mouths; they hatch, mate, the female lays eggs, then both male and female silkmoths die, their life cycle completed. Kind of sad, but we kept it matter of fact and when Justin kicked the bucket Max was OK.

RIP Justin

So what happens when Bieber's eggs hatch? (There can be up to 500, apparently.) No mainstream nursery in our area carried Mulberry trees, which is what the silkworms eat, so it was off to Exotica yesterday, where I found a 7-foot-tall Russian Mulberry tree and somehow jammed it into my Altima Hybrid for the trip home. Sean planted it and now we wait.

15-year-olds sure do come in handy.

To be continued...