Mutiny at the Taco Bell Drive Thru – Zucchini & Tomato Rice Gratin

I’ve made my own bed and now I must lie in it!  Well, isn’t that a timely phrase given that I just finished a grammar lesson with Big Little One on the difference between the transitive verb – lay and the intransitive verb – lie.  Such thrilling stuff that it just makes you want to sprint back to elementary school doesn’t it?  But I digress.  Back to this bed that I have made.

So it’s really great -on most days- that I have educated my offspring about food and what we eat and how we eat.  I love that my four year old will tell me she doesn’t think we’ve had enough protein, or that my eight year old will pipe up and announce that she’s bummed that figs are no longer in season, but can’t wait for pomegranates.  But remember, I said this stuff is awesome on “most” days.  Then there are the days that I really need them to play along like your average American kids.

This hit home one day last week when the mother was really in a pinch.  I had only a thirty minute window between one activity pick-up and our next engagement and yes, the 30 minute window fell right at lunch time.  I didn’t have enough time to drive the troops home and I hadn’t packed anything. (Not sure whether I have confessed this one before or not, but I despise packing lunches, picnics, etc.  Don’t know what it is, but I would rather clean the toilets than pack a lunch).  So there I was, needing to nourish 4 small bodies in under 30 minutes.  In my best sing-song cheery voice, I inquired, “Oooooooh, who wants a quesadilla from Taco Bell?”  CRICKETS from the back of the car.  Now on any other day, crickets would have been music to my ears.  It’s not often I get lavished with silence in the car.  But, not on this day.  I held my breath and just waited.  Then it started, like an avalanche just building up its own momentum. “That’s not even real cheese, Mom, it’s a processed cheese product.”  “Do you even know what chemicals they put in the sauce, Mom?” “Taco Bell is gross, Mama.”  You can match the comment to the kid without much effort I would guess.

Pretty simple.  It was a mutiny.  I was being bitten by my own well-intended food educating.  As I saw it, I had two choices: let the pompous little foodies go hungry or flex my parental muscle and say “suck it up – it’s quesadillas from Taco Bell or nada”.  Well, hunger would have led to crankiness, and crankiness would have led to fighting, and fighting would have led to mayhem, so . . .  under the piercing glare of the two older ones, I went with the “suck it up” line.

They moaned. They protested.  They complained.  But they ate their quesadillas. So yes, REAL food is wonderful, and it’s my ideal way to feed my family.  But from time to time I find myself in a REAL pinch, and a mama’s got to do what a mama’s got to do.  Not to worry though, I recovered quickly from my relapse and served up a yummy little dinner of Zucchini Rice Gratin . . .  greeted by small approving nods and angelic smiles.

To start with, I roasted some sliced zucchini and sliced tomatoes both brushed with a little olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper.  The zucchini took about 20 minutes and about 10 minutes for the tomatoes.

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While my veggies were roasting, I sauteed some onion and garlic until the onion was tender.  To that I added some cooked rice, a couple of lightly beaten eggs, some fresh  thyme, a little more olive oil,  a touch more salt and pepper, and some freshly grated parmesan.

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Then I spread half of my rice mixture into a glass baking dish and topped it with half of the zucchini.  I spread the remaining half of the rice over that and then topped with the remaining half of the zucchini and all of the tomatoes.  I drizzled the whole thing with a little more olive oil and sprinkled it all with more parmesan.

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I baked the whole deal in a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes, just until is was nice and golden brown.

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Along side a nice green salad, this was a simple and satisfying dinner.

Here’s the complete recipe for Zucchini & Tomato Rice Gratin, adapted from Epicurious.

Dreaming Simple – Moscato Cake with Grapes

When I was a younger woman, I dreamed of adventure.  Maybe riches.  Sometimes romance.  I have a very vague recollection of what it was like to let my mind wander and get lost in my own thoughts.  As a much older woman now, let’s just say my dreams have shifted slightly.  I have adjusted to my current season.  Some might delicately put it that way.  But the blunt truth of the matter is that I dream of very simple things these days.  Like finishing a sentence without being interrupted. Just to pop out the first one that comes to mind.  Yes, yes, yes . . .  I am trying to train my children in this arena, so let’s not even go there.  I mean really – there are four of them, and one of me.  I’m grossly outnumbered.

Some weeks, having fun with this blog is one of the only times I can reassure myself that I’m still capable of maintaining  a train of thought.  I’ve also realized that I have a new way of rating my friends in regards to this new dream.  A REALLY good friend is one who, after I have had to stop mid-sentence and run after my two year old, will say upon my return, “OK, so finish what you were telling me about xyz”.  That friend was actually listening and cares about what I have to say.  Then there are the friends who will say nada, zilch, zero upon my return.  I always wonder whether they weren’t even listening in the first place or are actually just happy the toddler split when she did because they were over what I was saying 10 minutes ago.  Then there are the friends who have their own 2 year olds  (or a various aged gaggle of other children) with intermittent fleeing, climbing, and falling bouts.  Pretty safe to admit, that we’re basically just smiling and nodding at each other and pretending to catch even  1/10th of what the other one is saying.

I know there will come a day in the future where I will wish I had a kid interrupting me.  I also know that day will come sooner than I can probably imagine.  I know I should make a mental recording of their angelic little voices that won’t always be calling my name (of course I would need some major sound engineering to lower out the whining, screaming, and/or sniveling).  So I’ll try to keep that all in mind as I maneuver through each day.  But I’ll also continue to dream my here-and-now-dream and let my reveries take me to the land of coherent, uninterrupted conversations while being surrounded by my offspring (other current dreams include reading a book on an airplane and peeing without an audience, in case you were wondering).

And with that, I think I was mentioning when we last spoke (before I was interrupted)  that I had this great little grape and cake combo to tell you about, didn’t I?  Well let’s get back to that .

Our CSA box has been bursting with grapes these last three weeks.  Really delicious grapes. Autumn Royal Grapes, they are called and they come from A H Organics.  After the second delivery, curiosity got the best of me and I started wondering what exactly I could do with grapes besides just rinse them and feed them to the troops as a snack or have a stomp fest in the back yard and teach a home school lesson on wine making.  Well lo and behold, I found a recipe for a Moscato Cake with Grapes.  I got really excited about this since I had never made a cake with moscato, nor had I ever confectioned with grapes.  So off I went.

I started by brushing  a spring form pan with olive oil, lining it with parchment, and then brushing the parchment with olive oil.

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After that, I mixed some flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and set the dry mixture aside.  Then I whisked together some sugar, butter, and olive oil.

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To that, I added a couple of eggs, some grated lemon peel, some grated orange peel, and vanilla.

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Here’s where it got fun . . .  and started to smell divine.  To this mixture I alternately added the dry ingredients and 1 cup of moscato, making sure to blend well after each addition.

I poured the batter into my spring form pan, and then scattered my grapes over the top.

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I baked it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until the top was set.  Then I dotted the top with butter and sprinkled with sugar and baked another 20 minutes.  When it was golden I pulled it out of the oven and let it cool for about 20 more minutes before releasing it from the pan.

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The result was surprisingly good.  Kiddos claimed it tasted like baked apples (hmmmmmm?)  Every last crumb was gone in one sitting.  Even the Hubs, who generally isn’t a fan of any baked fruit, liked it.

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So chalk that one up to a new adventure . . . grapes in a cake, and some moscato to boot.  Oh, and I feel so much better now that we had a chance to actually finish this conversation.

Here’s the complete recipe for Moscato Cake with Grapes, adapted from Epicurious.

A REAL Checkup – Spicy Lentil Tacos

So it’s time to check in again and see how “real” I’ve been keeping things.  I believe the last time we did this little self check-up was back in June.  Can you believe I have stuck with this blog thing for almost SIX months now?  I can’t.

So back in June I felt good overall about the meals we were eating, but didn’t give myself such a great grade on the snacks front or in the dessert arena.

Summer brought some interesting snack experimentation.  If you joined me for any of those posts, we tried Carrot Protein Breakfast Bars, Apple Peach Fruit Leathers, Cranberry Pistachio Energy Bites, Baked Oatmeal Bars, and a few others.  Some of these I’ve added to my reappearing snack repertoire.  My other big decision?  I just quit buying the stuff I would turn to when we needed to grab something on-the-go.  And you know what?  If you don’t have it, you can’t grab it.  Ha!  How profound is that?!  Seriously though, I found that if I don’t buy it, they’ll just grab something else that we DO have (meaning a fruit, a veggie, some nuts, cheese, or a yogurt).

I wish I could say we had improved on the dessert front, but NOPE!  Baking is just too fun.  And during the summer we turned that notch way up.  In fact, just tonight I dished up a number that I can’t wait to tell you about.  But I’ll have to save that for another post.  Just think . . . grapes and cake.  Ok – enough said.

So our snacking habits have taken a step forward and let’s just say our dessert dilemma remains status quo.  If you remember back in July, I was all about advocating the baby step approach.  I even (at the risk of sounding bossy . . .. pfffff, I’ve tried to deny that accusation my whole life) gave 5 suggested steps you could take toward eating a more “real” diet.

I figured since no one sent me any threatening e-mails after those suggestions, that as we enter into the fall, I would go out on a limb and give a few more suggestions.  So here goes.

1) Buy what you will eat for the next 5-7 days (specifically stuff that will go bad after that time window) and nothing more.  Don’t shop again until you are literally out of food.  Real food, because it is actually real, will go bad.  Stuff you can stock up on (with a few exceptions, of course) is generally not real food.  Try to adopt this cycle of shop, consume, shop again.  Try to ditch the cycle of shop, store up, consume a little, shop some more, consume, store up, etc.

2) Consider a CSA program.  I recently decided to get a weekly delivery from Abundant Harvest Organics.  I can’t tell you how much I LOVE it.  First of all, it totally accomplishes what I suggested in #1 above.  Our little box arrives and I know exactly what I have to make my meals out of for the next 5 – 7 days.  It can also expose you to new fruits and veggies you may not be friends with yet, and expand your recipe and meal options.

3) The post-it plan.  Research says it takes about 21 days to acquire a habit.  Take 21 post-it notes and number them 1 – 21.  Display them (in a line) in a prominent place in your kitchen.  Start with a specific meal.  I would recommend dinner.  For every evening that you eat a dinner of real food, pull a post-it from your line, starting with the number 1.  By the time you remove post-it number 21, you may be surprised at how much more real your meals have become.

So go ahead and give these a whirl.  I’ll check back in around winter time to see how things are moving along – baby  step by baby step.  In the meantime, let me introduce you to some Spicy Lentil Tacos.  Good for you, fast, and easy peasy lemon squeezey.

I started by sauteeing up some onion with some olive oil, garlic, and salt.  I rinsed my lentils (green ones in this case because I was out of brown) and drained them.  Then I added them to the onion sautee mixture along with a packet of taco seasoning.  I like the Trader Joe’s taco seasoning, although it tends on the spicy side.  If you have little mouths that are sensitive to spice  to feed, I would recommend only using half a packet.

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I let that mixture cook for about a minute just to blend the flavors and then I added in some veggie broth.

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I covered things and turned down my heat to simmer.  I simmered until the liquid was mostly absorbed – about 30 minutes.

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I set everything out “taco buffet” style (shells, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, cilantro, lime, salsa & rice), and let the troops have at it.  As usual, they loved assembling their own deal and hence, not a complaint around the table.

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Interested in knowing more about my friend, the lentil?  This site is bursting with helpful info.

Here’s the complete recipe for Spicy Lentil Tacos, adapted from Epicurious.

And finally, some other good lentil recipes for your perusing pleasure:

Yin / Yang: Hot / Cold – Broccoli, Yellow Pepper & Cheddar Chowder and Cantaloupe Limesicles

No, I didn’t fall off the face of the planet.  More like swallowed up by the busy-ness of end of summer and back-to school.  And, as if those two numbers weren’t enough to keep me on my toes, we decided to fit in a little jaunt back to Ohio to visit the grand parents.  It was kind of a last minute decision, actually.  I mentioned that we should probably try to schedule a trip sometime soon.  The Hubs suggested October.  Sounded good enough to me, but then I realized that the Wee One would turn 2 on September 3rd.  The cheap-o in me said, “Get that clan on the plane before 9/3 and then you won’t have to pay for another seat and you can take Wee One as a lap baby.”  The masochist in me, then added in, “Of course you want to fly to Cleveland via San Francisco ALONE with four girls!”  So with all of my split personalities speaking their piece, I dove in and booked the tickets.

The upside of the Ohio visit?  Seeing family and catching up.  The down side?  Two words: muggy and buggy.  And to think that I had just recently contemplated what it would be like to move my family back to the land of my childhood.  Ummmmm, no thanks.  Just that one visit let the girls get in their tractor driving, lightening bug catching, box trap building, and toad hunting.  Now we’ll just return to our OC suburban life, thank you.

Unfortunately, I think Mr. Muggy decided to stow away in our suitcase or something.  This OC heat is ridiculous and immediately upon returning I remembered a crucial point – I detest OC in September.  It’s as if I have a honing pigeon like instinct born out of my mid-western roots.  The minute it is September my brain starts to think chilly, crisp, fall.  I want to wear sweaters, sip warm tea, and decorate with red, orange and yellow foliage.  But no, it’s a sweltering over here in September and you just can’t escape the heat.

Also, in the midst of all this traveling, and back-to-school planning, and other time consuming stuff, I decided to subscribe to our local CSA program.  Basically this means I’m getting a box of wonderful local and organic produce delivered to my doorstep every week.  I chose Abundant Harvest Organics and so far, love the fruits and veggies.  However, this week’s box gifted us with an abundant harvest of broccoli and we are just not a broccoli eating family.  Call me strange, but my beef (ha! no pun intended) with broccoli is that it doesn’t retain its heat.  And the only thing I hate more than bland food is cold food.  So . . . all this to say that in this blazing weather, I, the genius that I am, decided to make Broccoli Soup.  Yes, you heard right, soup in 98 degree weather.  So here goes.  You, being a more intelligent person than I, can just tuck this little recipe aside and whip it out on a chilly fall day.

I started by chopping up an onion. a yellow bell pepper, and a russet potato.

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I separated the broccoli florets from the stem and then peeled and finely chopped the stem.

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I boiled some salt water and then added the florets and boiled for about 3 minutes.  I removed them and plopped them right into some ice water to stop them from cooking.  I saved about 4 cups of the cooking water for later.  I sat the florets aside and went to work on the other veggies.  I sauteed the onion, potato, pepper, broccoli stems, and some garlic for about 10 minutes.    Then I added in some cumin, salt, pepper, and some flour.

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I added the reserved cooking water to this sautee and let  it simmer (partially covered) until the potatoes were tender – about 10 minutes.   Then I added in some half and half and grated sharp cheddar.  I whisked it well until the cheese was all melted.  After that, I pureed about 2 cups of the soup and returned it to the pot.  I then added in the broccoli florets and heated until everything was piping hot.  I served with a little French baguette and we were good to go.  The kids gave it rave reviews, even while thinking their mother was insane for serving soup on one of the hottest days of the year.

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So just to redeem myself, I pulled out the coolest dessert ever.  Throughout the summer I have been experimenting with homemade popsicles.  We’ve done orange-raspberry creamsicles (a hit!), watermelon-basil-honey pops (so-so), and then, the the chef d’oeuvre of the summer – – – -cantaloupe limesicles.  So easy and delish!  I took about 3 slices of cataloupe, and, in the blender, combined it with 1/4 c. water, 2 Tbsp. sugar, and the juice of one lime.  Into my popsicle molds it went and hours later we had a wonderful treat to combat the heat!


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So call me crazy for my soup concoction, but in the blazing weekend ahead, whip up your own cantaloupe lime-sicles and enjoy!

Here’s the full Broccoli, Yellow Pepper & Cheddar Cheese Chowder recipe, adapted from Epicurious.

Want to browse other broccoli recipes?  Here are some to get you started.