Friday, January 30, 2015

Intentional living

I ask that you suspend disbelief on my blog’s title, look, and feel matching my current life. Jeremy and I have long ago turned in our city folk cards. These days, it’s white picket fences, soccer games on Saturday mornings, and block parties. And I love it.

Rather than suburban, I’d like to call us small-town.  Like I wave hello to Vicky and Larry through their bakery’s window as I make my way to the train station in the morning kind-of-lifestyle.

So for now, I’m using the space to cook, muse, write, and repeat. Talking with a graphic designer, figuring out how to get a new URL, migrating my recipes, and all of that business will come with time. And with that introduction, here we go.

Thinking big thoughts for 2015. I’m trying to make more conscious decisions about my time.  I might do Activity A or Activity B, but I’m not going to make myself completely nuts by doing all of the above.

Two good books are giving me some keys to helping me live more intentionally, valuing my time and sanity. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time is about the time pressures of modern living – work, home, and play, and how working parents might find some balance in their lives and – gasp – even some leisure time.  I Like Giving: The Transforming Power of a Generous Life is my bedtime read – a faith-based book on giving and the inward and outward benefits of living a generous life. I like and would recommend both.

I've made incremental changes to reflect this resolution in the new year. I've said “not now” to considering a big volunteer role at Jack’s school; I tried to choose something for myself – like heading to the gym – rather than feeling the need to put our Christmas decorations away in the perfect order on a Saturday afternoon.

No one’s perfect and I’m the first in line. Last night was a circus. I choose to make a dinner that required my attention longer than a weeknight dinner should. Jeremy choose to work from home but had to fervently pitch a story to a major media outlet and was on the phone and checking email simultaneously. At the same time, Jossie was rightfully underfoot, and I had one eye on the clock so we weren't late to pick up Jack from soccer. A little too much; we all survived.

And so now here I’m finally landing on the real point of this post: Cookies.

I chose baking cookies over a fair number of other tasks last week, and I also gave myself a break on trying to get everything else done on my to-do list. Two batches, even. And when one little classmate oogled Jack’s mint-chocolate cookies at lunch time the other day, he asked Jack if his mom had a website for recipes. And yes, little unnamed school boy, Mrs. M sure does.

Andes mint cookies
Adapted from a friend of a friend; these are the best kinds of recipes!

¾ cup unsalted butter
1 ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 eggs
2 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoons salt
1 lb Andes mint wafers

Cook butter, sugar, and water until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.  Add chocolate until partially melted.  Remove from heat and stir until chocolate is completely melted.  Pour into bowl and let stand 10 min to cool slightly.

With mixer, beat in eggs, one at a time.  Add dry ingredients, mix until blended.  Chill dough 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 deg.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Roll teaspoons of dough into balls.  Place 2” apart on sheets.  Bake 12-13 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately place Andes mint on each cookie.  Allow to soften and then swirl mint over cookies.  Remove from cookie sheets and cool completely.

Big soft ginger cookies
From A Taste of Home

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Additional sugar

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt; gradually add to the creamed mixture and mix well.2. Roll into 1-1/2-in. balls, then roll in sugar. Place 2 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yield: 2-1/2 dozen.

Happy weekend, friends!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday supper

A week ago this Sunday night, Jack and I were touching down in Chicago after a family visit to Cleveland. Already travel-weary, we arrived home to what Jeremy and Jossie had been dealing with for 24 hours - a gas leak in our yard. The heat was off in our house and there were gas levels registering in our basement. I ran through our cold house (42 degrees) to grab a few things for all of us for the next morning, and then we retreated to a kind friend's house. The local gas company's trucks were idling outside, their orange lights constantly flashing in the icy-cold winter's night.

Everything is fine now, but we had a brief vision of what it's like to feel unsafe in your home. Not awesome. Three-year-old Jossie keeps telling us she's so glad we're all home and I agree.

I've spent this weekend pulling the house back together and found a home-hearty meal for Sunday night that is not time-intensive but provides some great aromas from the kitchen. And you roast the chicken atop the vegetables, which makes the vegetables so tender and delicious. It also calls for only 1/3 cup of dry white wine, so there's plenty left over for dinner (a big plus in my kitchen). Serve with a nice green salad and some hearty bread:

Roasted chicken breasts with sweet potatoes
From the super-awesome cookbook: Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen

4 sweet potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds total), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
4 chicken breast halves (about 3 pounds total), patted dry
1/4 cup dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a rack in the middle position. Put sweet potatoes in a large roasting pan, sprinkle on the the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss until well combined. Spread the potatoes out in a single layer and set aside. (Note: Instead of 4 sweet potatoes, I used an assortment of 1 garnet yam, 2 russet potatoes and 3 carrots - the yummiest parts were the yam and carrots.)

In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, rosemary, lemon zest and juice, and season with salt. Gently loosen the skin from the chicken breasts and rub the mixture between the skin and meat. Season the chicken with a little more salt and pepper, then put skin-side up in the pan on top of potatoes and roast for 20 minutes.

Gently toss the potatoes, sliding the ones under the chicken out and vice versa. Pour the wine over the chicken and continue to roast until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes more.

Transfer the chicken to a plate, tent with foil to keep warm, and let rest for 5 to 10 more minutes. If the potatoes aren't tender yet, return to the oven. When they are soft, toss them again, scraping up caramelized bits o nthe bottom of the pan. Serve the chicken with the potatoes.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Can we start again?

If you are reading this, then you must be my mom or sister. Hi Mom, Dayna, and Laura.

I've taken a considerable break from blogging. I'm concerned with putting myself out there while protecting the privacy of my children. I don't want future prom dates or college admissions offices to find my blog, where they will read tales about how long it took someone to graduate from diapers to underpants.

But I do want to chronicle these days for my kids and Jeremy and for myself. I do want to write things about being a mom who works in the nonprofit sector. Who lives on Chicago's North Shore. Who has an interfaith marriage. Who comes from and married into very loud, very loving families. Who easily harps on the bad stuff, even when the good stuff is overflowing. Who likes to cook. And entertain. Who sees recipes as both honoring the past and welcoming the future.

Yesterday was one of my favorite days - Valentine's Day. Simple interactions at school - a hello, a knowing smile over our kindergartners' heads shared with a fellow parent - mean so much to me. Quiet time at home by the fireplace next to Jeremy, reading a book instead of doing laundry, work email or the dishes. Treats in the mail sent thoughtfully by a friend and the kids' grandparents. Decorating sugar cookies with Jack, and a Valentine's Day playdate with Jossie and her new little girlfriends. This is the stuff that I cherish.

I've posted this recipe before, but among my friends, it's been officially branded as Mrs. Caruso's sugar cookies.

Mrs. Caruso's sugar cookies
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

Mix together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar in a bowl and set aside. Mix powdered sugar, butter, egg, vanilla and almond extract in a stand mixer. Mix in flour mixture; do not overmix. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out cookie dough and cut into desired shapes. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake 7-8 minutes until edges are slightly brown.

Makes 5 dozen 2-inch cookies.

Creamy decorator's icing
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons of half and half
2 or 3 drops of food coloring (optional)

Mix all ingredients together until smooth and of spreading consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired.

So we'll see where this goes. Maybe there will be more stock art and less photos of the kids. Thanks for sticking with me.