Paralysis by Nutritional Analysis – Potato Veggie Latkes

What a rat hole eating well can be if you don’t use common sense!  Seriously, I just spent thirty minutes reading about butter.  Yes, I said butter!  One ingredient.

I was just curious about whether or not butter was considered a “clean” food.  Don’t get me wrong, I have never proclaimed to eat clean.  I try to prepare healthy meals for my family and use real food while doing it.  Real butter, by the way, containing only cream, counts as real in my book.

Lately I have just been browsing around the world  of food theory and terms and it’s no wonder some people can get backed into a corner of absolute inertia when it comes to trying to change or improve eating habits.  There’s so much information out there and so much of it absolutely contradictory.  There’s a whole segment of the nutrition and dietary world that seems so police-like and legalistic to me.  Personally, I think such absolute approaches to food do more to hinder positive change rather than help it.  Loads of people have been duped into thinking that they need to be able to follow a very narrow set of prescribed rules in order to eat well.  Just the worry of how you “would” or “could” navigate certain obstacles that “might” come up (for example, a lunch out with a friend) can keep a person sitting on the sidelines of eating well, or at least better, than they are currently eating. I say, jump into the game!  If you get a foul, you get a foul.  Don’t we usually learn from our mistakes, blunders, slip ups, and flat out failures?

Back to my friend, the butter . . . If you eat a dish containing all vegetables, herbs, and a little butter instead of a casserole of meat, condensed soup, an artificial cheese product and prepackaged crescent rolls, aren’t you really improving your game?  I think the answer is an unquestionable “YES”.

We don’t do anything else in our lives perfectly, so why should we think we can eat perfectly?  Sure, you can spend another week or two trying to decide whether or not coconut oil is really better for you than olive oil, all the while eating your Kraft mac-n-cheese and Marie Callender’s chicken pot pies, and then you’ll just be another casualty to paralysis by analysis ( I have always loved that little gem of a saying). Not to mention that once you figure out the coconut oil dilemma, there will be another new and trendy food item on the shelves for you to figure out. In my book, what really counts is to start now and take baby steps.  Don’t worry too much about the technicalities of the game; those are kinks you can always iron out as you go.  For now just get the basics down in your playbook and build from there.

There are a million blogs out there that will give you their version of the basics.  My basics are really basic – fruits, veggies, whole grains.  I just have a fun little suggestion that could help you in your game.  Go hit your local farmer’s market or produce store.  Grab a veggie you have never had . . .  or just haven’t spent quality time with lately.  Buy enough of it to feed your family.  Once you are home, type the name of what you bought into the Food Blog Search. Epicurious can work just as well – it’s my personal fav.  In seconds I guarantee you’ll find some fabulous recipes to encourage you in your cooking and eating well journey.  And in my book an ounce of encouragement and confidence easily outweighs a pound of rules!

I recently did this, not with unfamiliar ingredients, but just with what I had on hand, and ended up making these great Potato Veggie Latkes.

I started by grating up some peeled carrots, peeled potatoes, and zucchini.


To that, I added some lightly beaten eggs, salt and pepper, and panko.


I heated some olive oil in a skillet and then dropped scoops of my mixture in and fried for about 3 minutes per side.


I pulled them out when they were just golden on both sides and holding together well.


I served them up with some homemade (yes, crockpot) applesauce and a bit of sour cream, and then finished the meal off with a green salad.  Simple yumminess!


Here’s the complete recipe for Potato Veggie Latkes, adapted the Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen.

Want to explore more latke options?  Have a gander . . .

Zesty Sweet Potato-Zucchini Latkes with Cilantro Lime Dip (
Vegetable Latkes (
Meatless Monday: Baked Sweet Potato Latkes (

By the way, this year Thanksgiving and Hanukkah converge on Thursday, November 28th. This is an event that won’t take place for another 79,000 years. You may want to pass a few latkes alongside your turkey to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime event!

Catching Up on the Backlog 3: Broiled Salmon with Citrus Yogurt Sauce

It’s actually chilly!  I repeat . . . it’s actually chilly.  This statement might not mean much to many, but to this SoCal girl transplanted from Ohio, this is cause for much rejoicing.  A fall day that feels like fall.

I won’t go on about the weather any longer because we are technically in the “recipe, and only the recipe” series.  Let me just add that if it actually rains, as per the weather forecast, I may become giddy.

This new salmon recipe recently made me giddy because it was just SO easy.  To start with, I tossed together the citrus yogurt sauce.  A little Greek yogurt, some olive oil, some grated lime zest, fresh squeezed lime juice, some orange zest, a little fresh squeezed orange juice, a bit of salt, and some honey – that’s all this great sauce requires.

Citrus salmon - 1

I just whisked that all together, along with a little water, and put it aside while I broiled my salmon.

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For the salmon, I just rinsed it and patted it dry, placed it on a foil lined broiling pan, and sprinkled with salt and pepper.


I broiled the fish for about 7 minutes, then covered with some foil, and broiled another 7 minutes until it was cooked through.  I served with the citrus sauce, some roasted broccolini, brown rice, and roasted tomato slices,  and called it a day .


Here’s the complete Broiled Salmon with Citrus Yogurt Sauce recipe from Gourmet.

Catching Up on the Backlog 2: Scalloped Tomatoes

So I have to ask, do you feel as unfulfilled as I do?  OK, don’t answer that.

It’s just that this “recipe and nothing but the recipe”  thing isn’t quite working like I thought it would.  I’m not really able to put things up that quickly, AND I miss what we used to have together.  Again, if you’re OK with the new gig we have going on, just don’t hurt my feelings and keep it to yourself.

Seriously though, I think we’ll just power through one more post after this one and chalk it up to a lesson learned.  We will then return to our regular programming and I’ll get new things up as I can.  After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

But for today’s quickie, let’s just say I am overrun with tomatoes!  They come abundantly in my weekly produce box and they have been coming abundantly from our own little backyard garden.  I’ve done soups, BLTs galore, tartes, quiches, salads, and I’m just about tomato-ed out.  But this recipe for Scalloped Tomatoes added another dimension to our tomato life just when I thought I had covered every possible angle to this red headed beauty (yes, we’re partial to the red around here).  It’s really like a hot panzanella and very tasty.

I started with an assortment of red and yellow tomatoes (mostly yellow, really) and a big bunch of basil (also from our backyard mini garden).


Then I cubed up a little over half of a French baguette (yep, partial to the French stuff too!).


I heated some olive oil in a large skillet and tossed in the baguette.  I cooked over medium heat for about 5 minutes until the bread cubes were evenly browned.

After that I added in some garlic, the tomatoes, and a bit of sugar.   I cooked that mixture for about 5 minutes longer, removed from the heat, seasoned with salt and pepper, and tossed in the basil.


I poured the whole thing into a 9×13 baking dish and covered generously with Parmesan cheese.  I then drizzled a little olive oil the top.  I had an extra special olive oil keeper just for this very special drizzling step in the recipe!


I baked the whole deal at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes until the top was nice and bubbly and golden.


I served it up with some lemon garlic peas followed by a simple green salad. Quick, Easy, & Yummly.


Here’s the complete recipe for Scalloped Tomatoes, adapted from Food52.

Cathing Up on the Backlog: 1 – Butternut Squash, Rosemary & Garlic Lasagna

This just feels weird.  It’s almost as though we’ve decided to “take a break” from each other.  You know that awkward stage of a relationship, right?  I have so much I want to tell you, but we’re taking a break so I’m just going to keep it all inside.  So here it is . . . the recipe and just the recipe.  The first in my series I’m affectionately calling “Catching Up on the Backlog” – catchy, I know.

Even though my SoCal weather won’t cooperate, I am determined to remain delusional and cook as though it really is fall.  This lovely Butternut Squash, Rosemary & Garlic Lasagna was a little time consuming, but so worth the effort.  To start with I peeled, seeded, and chopped one medium butternut squash.  I then tossed it with a little olive oil and roasted it for about 25 minutes in a 450 degree oven.

Butternut squash lasagna - 3

While my squash was roasting, I brought some milk and dried rosemary to a simmer in a saucepan. I let it simmer for about 10 minutes and then strained the rosemary out.

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Then, in a skillet I sauteed a bit of garlic in some butter.  I added in some flour, and cooked the roux for about 3 minutes.

Butternut squash lasagna - 4

After that, I poured in the heated milk and simmered for about 10 minutes, whisking the whole time,  until the sauce thickened.  Then I stirred in the roasted squash and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Then the assembling fun began.  I poured a little of the sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 pan.  I covered that with 3 lasagna noodles.  I spread more sauce over that and sprinkled with parmesan.  I repeated this layering one more time, beginning and ending with pasta.

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With my electric mixer, I beat some heavy cream with some salt just until it formed soft peaks.  I spread that cream over the last pasta layer and then sprinkled the last of the parmesan over.

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I had turned down my oven temp after roasting the squash.  I put the lasagna, covered loosely with foil,  in the 375 degree oven, and baked for about 30 minutes.  I removed the foil and baked another 10 minutes.  Then I let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

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An absolute perfect taste of fall!

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Here’s the complete recipe for Butternut Squash , Rosemary & Garlic Lasagna.

Want to explore more squash recipes? Have fun browsing through these:

Roasted Butternut Squash and Sage Mac & Cheese (
Roasted Butternut Squash and Ricotta Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Balsamic Glaze (
Ah-Mazing Forbidden Rice n Butternut Squash (
Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat’s Cheese Risotto (
Roasted Stuffed Butternut Squash (

The Art of Delegating . . . some things, anyway – Curried Butternut Squash & Green Beans over Quinoa

I feel like that little cartoon saying that you see pinned up in middle management offices sometimes – “The faster I go, the behinder I get”.  The reality of my everyday real life makes it so that I just can’t write as fast as I can cook.

I literally have recipes, creations, and pictures backing up like baby clothes in a laundry hamper.  And I know you mama readers can relate to that little analogy.  For those of you who have gracefully left the baby stage of parenthood, just take a moment and reflect on those days when you easily tallied in FOUR dirty outfits for one tiny creature.  You remember now, don’t you?  An endless parade of bibs, burp cloths, and buntings (what is a bunting really anyway?).  And everything so tiny that folding was like origami practice.  So much so that sometimes it was easier to just leave the mass of tininess in a big pile rather than even trying to fold and put away.

Well that’s how I’m feeling with my cooking these days.  I’m pumping out the meals and chronicling each creation in photos as I go,  but there they all sit in digital nowhereland on my laptop.

I manage to keep up with other stuff around the house by delegating to my troops.  Everyone pitches in and that’s what makes it all work.  I recently found a little gem called My Job Chart which I use to help keep everyone on track.  They LOVE it and clamor to the computer to log their helpfulness in exchange for points which they can spend, save or share.  It’s really an amazing motivator – I mean after all, it’s got technology AND money involved.  But there are some things, like this blog, that just can’t be delegated.  Teeth brushing would be another one of those “un-delegatable” items.  Is it really just me, or can anyone else relate to those days when you fall into bed at night after a trying day and just wish someone could take your head off, go brush your teeth for you, and then return your head?  OK, definitely just me, but now it’s out there and now you know the true level of my weirdness . . .  not to mention the extent of my fatigue on “certain” days.

So before I get any more “behinder”, I have decided to take a few days and give you the recipes, just the recipes (to be spoken in your best Joe Friday imitation), without any of my superfluous spiel.   Here’s the first one to get us started, and it’s an ORIGINAL creation (read – no recipe) that I just can’t wait to share.

To get started with making Curried Butternut Squash and Green Beans over Quinoa, I first peeled and cubed one medium butternut squash.


I tossed the squash with a little olive oil and then roasted for about 30 minutes at 425 degrees.  While that was roasting, I sliced up some green pepper and a little lemon grass.


I melted a little butter in a skillet and then added the green pepper and finely chopped lemongrass along with some red pepper flakes and curry powder.


I sauteed everything until the pepper was just tender.  Then I added in a little coconut milk and some Thai fish sauce.  At the same time, I had brought a pot of salt water to a boil and cooked up some green beans until they were just tender.  I added the green beans to the curry mixture and also tossed in the roasted squash.


I let things simmer just until everything was heated through.  I served it around a bed of quinoa and garnished with chopped cashews and some chopped fresh cilantro.


Quite a satisfying little dinner.  It also got approval all around the table – which isn’t always the case when I go free-wheeling and recipe-less.


Here’s the complete recipe for Curried Butternut Squash and Green Beans over Quinoa.

Looking for more curry recipes?  Give these a gander.

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.

Truth or Dare – Leek & Salmon Pot Pie

Heaven help us . . . we have entered into the phase of Truth or Dare. In general, we’re not much for sleepovers round here. But hey, it’s summer, and as one last treat for Big Little One and Medium Little One we decided to whoop it up with a slumber party. Two friends plus my two and we have a squealing, giggling, chattering overnight adventure.

First we hit the pool. Then dinner. Then movie watching in the treehouse. These were all somewhat parent directed, or at least suggested, activities. Then after the movie, out it came in all of its glory – dun, dun, dun – Truth or Dare. Absolutely no parental guidance heeded here.

Now though I would like to raise a wise eyebrow on this one and suggest the dangers of carrying out dares that could later lead to embarrassment, I just can’t. I so fondly remember my Truth or Dare days. Specifically I recall wearing a Richard Simmons wig and doing leg lifts in the middle of the street while my friends held the boom box (yes, I just said boom box) that was blasting music from Flash Dance. We reeled with laughter and doubled over because our sides hurt from it. It still makes me smile to think of that moment in time. It was pure silliness. Pure abandon. Pure naivety. So I table my eyebrow raising, and let the dares just run wild.  I pretend not to hear them downstairs as one pees in the baby’s training potty (that one gets points for creativity!) I call them back on the number they used to prank call me and ask for 12 pairs of the polka dot underwear they are selling. They roar from the bedroom down the hall and I hope that they are soaking up this time of side-holding hilarity. I hope they will have a moment like my Richard Simmons one that will stick with them forever and will remind them of good friends and what a good belly laugh really feels like.

Sure, I continue to enjoy a good laugh here and there with close friends.  I haven’t completely lost my sense of humor here in middle age. But it’s just not the same kind of rollicking, double-you-over, can not catch your breath laughter.  It’s usually a giggle here and there while sipping a glass of wine or a good cocktail and enjoying a flavorful dinner of some kind like this Salmon and Leek Pot Pie I made the other night.

The leeks caught me eye at the Farmer’s Market and I bought them and then just took it from there.


I cleaned and sliced the leeks, and then sauteed in some olive oil until they were tender.


I cut the salmon into bite-sized chunks and then tossed the salmon and leeks with some grated lime zest, dill, salt, and pepper.


I took a Trader Joe’s frozen pie crust which I had let defrost and unfolded it into a glass pie plate.  As an aside, this crust ranks quite well on the real food ingredient scale – enriched flour, butter, palm oil, water and salt. (Palm oil is very high in saturated fat, but it has zero trans fats.) I spread the salmon and leek mixture into the crust.


I covered it with the second crust and crimped the pie edges together and trimmed it close to the pie plate. Then I mixed up a little egg and water wash, and brushed it over the top crust. I baked it in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes until the crust was golden brown.


I love my leeks and now I am excited to have found a good use for the salmon that I always have left over from my Costco filet purchase – never enough to make a full second meal of salmon alone, but too much to not use in something.


And now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s just way too much laughter in the other room. That friend-memory making-truth or dare spiel is all well and good, but these girls have to get to sleep at some point . . .

Here’s the complete recipe for Leek & Salmon Pot Pie, adapted from Gourmet.

Racing Mind; Random Thoughts – Thai Basil Eggplant

I generally have at least one main idea in my little brain when I sit down to write.  Not the case today.  My mind is racing.  Can’t seem to distill it down for the life of me.  So I guess I’ll just go with it and declare this “Random Thought Thursday”.  It is Thursday, isn’t it?  I may have to double check that.

First up, my area of concentration in my book club this week.  This was such an eye opener.  The category was waste.  There were a lot of suggestions in the book on how to address this topic.  The actual 7 habits were 1) gardening 2) composting 3) conserving energy & water 4) recycling 5) driving only 1 car 6) shopping thrift & 2nd hand 7) buying only local.  Jen Hatmaker adopted ALL of these habits for a whole month. Since reading the book 7 the first time through I had already started gardening and composting (a tad),  I also try to be pretty on the ball with recycling.  The one car idea is just laughable in this circus called my life.  Maybe in another season, another space, and another time.  So I decided to really hone in on just waste in general.  Thinking about avoiding the waste beforehand.  My target?  Paper towels, sanitizing wipes, napkins, & plastic!

Three pretty unassuming characters to some, but absolute monsters to me.  I use paper towels like they are going out of style.  I rip and wipe without a second thought for the tree who sacrificed for me.  Wipes (baby or sanitizing) are like my weapon of choice.  I confess, the napkins was me stacking the deck.  I knew I could do a good job at this one. And plastic?  Well, that one just crept in there and I thought it would be a good idea to educate the kiddos more on how MUCH of it we use and how we can be more mindful in that arena.

So last Friday morning I took the paper towel holder off the counter.  Hid it completely so as to not succumb to temptation.  I took an old towel, cut it into 8ths, and voila . . . . my paper towel replacement plan.  Sanitizing wipes – out of sight as well.  Baby wipes – well, I limped along on that one.  After all, I DO still have a baby to vouch for me.  I am not kidding when I tell you that I had paper towel withdrawals.  It literally took me 3 days to stop the paper towel grabbing reflex.  By Day 4 I had finally gotten over the gross factor and felt somewhat confident that I could keep my little realm just as clean using rags and washing them as I could with my arsenal of paper towels.

Napkins were easy.  I simply decided to use cloth napkins instead of paper.  I told you, I was sandbagging on that one.

For the plastic deal, I kicked things off by watching a little TedTalk with the kids about where a lot of our plastic ends up – The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Then we set up bins for each member of the family. (True confession, I actually reached for a paper towel and a wipe to clean up my bin.  How sick and twisted is that?)  Hubs and I shared a bin, Big Little One and Medium Little One each had their own.  The point was this – if you use plastic at any point in the week, no matter where you are or what you are doing, you have to hold onto that plastic and bring it home to your bin.  That way, we could all get a visual reality check on how much plastic we are actually using.  I’m happy to report that my girls were really on this, AND, not huge plastic abusers in the grand scheme of things.  I, on the other hand, have a glaring issue with plastic vessels intended for the transport of caffeinated beverages.

So tonight wraps up the week on waste.  The paper towel, wipe and napkin experiment was habit changing.  I’m so glad I did it.  Next week I will return things to their proper counter top space and see how well I can cope with the temptation. The deal with plastics is a biggie.  But I’m honestly not sure where to go with it from here.  I’m contemplating buying in bulk for a week to see what that looks like and what kind of a difference it would make.  The truth is, there is just SO MUCH packaging for most non-produce purchases.  I guess I’ll just continue to chew on that one and see what changes I can make baby step by baby step.

I had so many other thoughts on my mind that I wanted to share.  Like how my girls placed 5th in water polo junior Olympics.  Like how we’re back at it again for the next 4 days with Big Little One’s Co-Ed polo team.  Like how much fun a good old fashioned scavenger hunt can be.  Like how frustrating is when people don’t practice full disclosure. Like how I just need to finish seasons 7 & 8 of 24 so that I can reclaim my life and maybe read a book again.  But all of that would take way too long, so I’ guess I’ll just cut straight to the recipe for Thai Basil Eggplant.  Oh, and if you hear a dinging noise in the background, that’s the Hubs texting me the score at the end of each quarter of the water polo game happening right now.

OK, so Eggplant.  I love it, but I usually tend more in the direction of Italian when preparing it.  Honestly, I have a fear of Asian cooking.  I think I avoid it because I don’t think I will pull it off well.  But when I saw this recipe, I was hopeful and thought I had a decent chance at success.

I started by slicing the eggplant into slabs and then into slices about 3/4″ wide.


I heated some vegetable oil in a large pan and added the eggplant slices.  I added a little bit of water and then covered the eggplant and turned the heat down to medium to let things cook.  I checked about every 5 minutes to make sure things weren’t sticking or burning.  Total time, it took about 20 – 25 minutes for the eggplant to cook all the way through.

I thinly sliced green, red and yellow bell peppers and one white onion.


I heated more oil in a large skillet and sautéed the onions and peppers for about 5 minutes and then added in some minced garlic.


For the sauce, I whisked together some hoisin sauce, soy sauce, water, chili sauce & cornstarch.  I added the onion and pepper mixture to the eggplant.  I poured the sauce over and cooked over medium heat until the sauce coated all of the veggies.  I transferred everything to a platter of brown rice and garnished with fresh sliced basil.


I think I could get used to this cooking Asian thing if it works out this well each time.


Make YOUR Commercial A Good One – Roasted Salmon with Corn & Red Pepper Relish

I have always jokingly said that I needed to get just one shy kid.  Just one who isn’t loud.  Just one who at least hesitates before interrupting a conversation. Just one who wants to be a behind the scenes kind of person. So far,  that’s not the hand we’ve been dealt.  Exactly NONE of my offspring are lacking in confidence!  I think that’s the other politically correct way of saying I have “strong willed” children.  Now I’m hoping that will serve them all very well someday.  I often say (about one child in particular), that she’s either going to do something amazing with her life, or . . .  we’ll be visiting her in prison in the future.  Let’s just keep praying that we end up with the first option.

I started thinking recently, about where that abundance of confidence comes from.  As with the old nature vs. nurture debate, I guess a lot of it is just in their DNA.  And then there are the things we do, say, or model for them that goes into the mix as well.

Just yesterday I took Little Little One to participate in a toy study.  If you’re not familiar with that term it’s really just a focus group.  I schlepped my 4 year old 20 minutes out the 5 freeway to a marketing agency where she sat at a computer and pointed out which toys she liked best.  In exchange for her opinions she received 15 bucks and a Polly Pocket Tropical Party Yacht. Not a bad gig when you’re four.  And I think it sends the message “Your opinion counts and people want to hear what you have to say” pretty clearly.

Actually though, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that.  The way the study was structured went like this: 1) show 4 year old little girls a computer screen with 4 images on it 2) have each girl select which thing / toy she would take home IF she could choose just one 3) repeat this with about 8 other sets of 4 options 4) show a series of commercials for select products within each group 5) repeat same series of commercials 6) repeat selection process.  I’m pretty certain the point was to see which, if any, girls would change their selections after watching certain commercials.  Fascinating if you ask me.

So here’s what it makes me want to do – run out and make commercials for zucchini, ads for artichokes, and public service announcements for family dinners together!  Seriously.  How could the eating in our country change if our kids were bombarded with ads for carrots and squash and salmon?  What if all the ads for foodlike substances were just replaced with commercials for real fruits and vegetables.  There you have it, my 30 seconds of Eutopian dreaming.  But the farmers growing our produce organically and locally don’t have a Kool Aid, M&Ms or Doritos marketing budget.  Bummer.

In the meantime, all any of us can do is be our own commercials.  We can show our kiddos what real food is; let them see it, feel it, smell it and taste it.  Educate them like a public service announcement would about the “bad ingredients” and chemicals in processed foods.  Though we don’t feel like it on most days, we are our kids’ biggest heroes. Their eyes are always looking to us to decide what to say, how to act, how to treat others, and yes . . . what to eat.  So make your commercial a good one and you could give your kid an amazing gift – the joy of eating real food and enjoying the resulting health benefits.

And now, a word from our sponsor.  Salmon – it’s better than a chicken nugget any day!

This particular salmon was accompanied by a corn and roasted red pepper relish. To start with I charred a few red bell peppers under the broiler, then popped them in a paper bag, let them rest for 10 minutes, and then chopped.

salmon peppers

salmon bl peppers

I then took about 4 fresh ears of corn and cut the kernels from the cob.

salmon corn cob

I sauteed the corn with some scallions, and then threw in some scallions and minced garlic.  I then added a little white wine.

salmon corn

To the corn mixture I added the chopped roasted peppers, a little honey, some lemon juice, a bit of olive oil, fresh thyme,  and a touch of coriander.  The relish was done (except for adding some Italian parsley which I did just prior to serving).

salmon relish final

For the salmon filets, I combined olive oil, lemon juice, honey, paprika, salt and coriander.   I brushed the filets with this sauce and then placed on a baking sheet covered with foil.

salmon glaze

I roasted at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes – just until the fish was opaque in the center.  I served the salmon with the tomato and corn relish spooned over the top and accompanied by some roasted potatoes.

salmon final

I really enjoyed the relish which went with the fish.  Surprisingly, the kiddos raved about the glaze.  They liked the relish well enough, but just loved the simple glaze.  If I’m ever in a pinch for time, I think I would pull this one out again and just roast with the honey, lemon, olive oil, paprika & coriander glaze.

Here is the complete recipe for Roasted Salmon with Corn & Red Pepper Relish. (adapted from Epicurious)

Interested in other salmon recipes?  Have fun browsing through these.

Homegrown Right in Our Own Backyard – Spicy Black Bean Cakes

It’s no secret that I am totally intrigued by Michael Pollan and his musings on food. Many of his complex thoughts are boiled down in the 12 Commandments for Serious Eaters.  One of the things he mentions in commandment 10 is that everyone should grow at least some of their own food at some point.

When I was a kid, my parents put in a sizable garden EVERY year.  Tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, corn, carrots, peas, cukes and probably a lot more stuff that I just don’t remember.  I do remember exactly what my mom did throughout the summer and especially as days started getting shorter and summer drew to a close.  She “put up” all the veggies.  She froze the corn, beans & peas.  She made her own tomato sauce, tomato paste, & ketchup.  She let cucumbers sit in crocks and made the most tasty pickles.  As a kid this all just slipped by me as a part of summer.  Now as a grown up (on most good days, anyway), and with the current state of food and eating in our country and culture, I find this all absolutely amazing.  I wish I had paid more attention to the spices that went into the crock for pickles, how the jars were sterilized, what she added to the tomatoes to make that ketchup (the ketchup that I whined incessantly about asking why we couldn’t just eat Heinz like everyone else!).

This past spring the family got bit by the gardening bug. Big Little One and Medium Little One attended a gardening workshop for kids where they learned about planting a “Three Sisters Garden” – corn, beans & squash.  They came home with little seed packets (one kernel of corn, one squash seed, and one bean seed).  I decided we should take a leap of faith and go for it.

Determined to not pay $100 at Home Depot for a box garden (can you say highway robbery?), I got creative.  I ended up “borrowing” a little wooden crate deal from behind the local supermarket.  I’m pretty sure they were done using it, so I may just borrow it indefinitely.  It was the perfect size and so into the fresh new soil went the corn, beans and squash accompanied by some tomatoes, carrots, radishes, pumpkins, basil, and lettuce.


Just like that, our already cramped, postage stamp-sized SoCal backyard had a garden! The troops were amazed.  I think the Hubs was too.  There weren’t many gardens being tended in Paris when he was a kid growing up.

Even more amazing?  The stuff actually grew!  (with the exception of the lettuce whose refusal to flourish we chose to attribute to “bad seeds”)


Now I’m sure you hearty midwestern stock are just shaking your heads and chuckling about now.  But for my little born and bred SoCal girls, this has been the highpoint of their summer!  Especially the Medium Little One who has been out in the yard in her PJs every morning without fail, watering “her” (yes, we have territory issues) garden.  She just about squealed when we ate “her” corn, tomatoes, squash and green beans all in the same meal!

So thank you, Michael Pollan, for reminding me to grow some of our own food and for stirring up memories of the gardens of my childhood.

We have now cleared two more flower beds and added to our veggie patches.  Don’t worry, I’m on the straight and narrow with the borrowing thing and paid for 2 more box gardens fair and square from Tuesday Morning.  In the current anticipated crop lineup: green bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, eggplant, 2 more tomato plants, & zucchini.

We enjoyed our very own own tomatoes the other night as an accompaniment to these great Spicy Black Bean Cakes.

I kicked things off by grating a sweet potato in the food processor.

bean burger sw pot

In a skillet, I heated some oil and then sauteed a few scallions.  I added in some cumin, some garlic and a finely diced jalapeno.  I moved that little mixture to a bowl and then rinsed and drained 2 cans of black beans.  I added the beans to the scallion mixture  and then mashed them coarsely with a potato masher – leaving some of the beans in tact for a nice texture.  I seasoned with some salt and pepper at this point.

bean burger mash

Next, I added in the grated sweet potato, an egg, and some fresh bread crumbs.

bean burger mixture

I formed about 8 equal sized balls from my mixture and then flattened them into patties.  I placed the patties on a baking sheet brushed with oil.

bean burger raw

I broiled the patties  in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Then I gave them a flip and broiled another couple of minutes on the other side.

I mixed up some lime jalapeno sour cream to go with the bean cakes. Just a  little bit of lime juice and some diced jalapeno mixed with the sour cream gave things the perfect amount of kick.

bean burger sour cream

I roasted our home grown tomatoes with some olive oil and balsamic and served the tomatoes and bean cakes with a little green salad. Quick.  Easy.  Healthy.  Done.

bean burger final

Here’s the complete recipe for Spicy Black Bean Cakes , adapted from Martha’s Great Food Fast cookbook.