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.

Moscato Cake with Grapes - 7

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.

Moscato Cake with Grapes - 1

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

Moscato Cake with Grapes - 2

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.

Moscato Cake with Grapes - 3

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.

Moscato Cake with Grapes - 4

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.

Moscato Cake with Grapes - 6

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.

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.

Mom’s Night Out – Crock Pot Carrot Ginger Soup

Around here, the Mama needs to get out on a regular basis. You know the saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”, and usually what makes Mama happy is great conversation and great food. My outings typically amount to dinner or cocktails out with friends every couple of weeks. There are my “super foodie” friends who point me to new and delicious restaurants, then there are the “quasi-foodie” friends who usually ask me where we should go, and then there are the “wouldn’t know good food if it fell on your head” friends, and with them it’s just best to opt for cocktails.

There are two total Mom’s Night Out joy killers. The first is coming home to kids who are still awake. Seriously, Hubs? Going through the “I need another kiss, and I have to tell you one more thing, and did you forget to change my band-aid, and I need another drink of water, and I can’t fall asleep without my glow in the dark, sparkly Littlest Petshop unicorn that has been MIA for 7 days now” routine just sucks the pleasure out of any evening out. When I come home, I want to be greeted by silence. Let me spell that out even more clearly. I want the house to be absent of all noise, especially small voices uttering the words “Mom” and “I want”. The second major joy killer is trying to get any kind of complicated meal on the table before rushing out the door.

Over the years, I have had to adapt my definition of “complicated”. Basically, anything involving more than two steps is complicated for the Hubs to pull off. So as my craving for Me Nights Out has increased, so too has my love of the crock pot. 1) Scoop out 2) Plop on plate These are 2 steps that my family can cope with. I don’t get hung up in the doorway giving little last minute reminders and being asked about what to do with such and such. I can just point to the pot and remind them to scoop and plop. Easy.

Last week, I enjoyed a great dinner out at Tender Greens with a friend. That restaurant is really growing on me. As I headed out the door, I pointed my brood to the crock pot. On this occasion, it was filled with Carrot Ginger Soup. I can always gauge whether the dinner left behind was a hit or not by how much of it is left when I get back home (to a completely SILENT house, on a good night). Well, let me just say there wasn’t a lick of anything left for me to even taste.

So here are the down and dirty simple steps to Crock Pot Carrot Ginger Soup.

Toss about a pound of chopped carrots, a large chopped sweet potato, one diced onion, a couple cloves of minced garlic, a bit of fresh grated ginger, a dash of garlic salt, and a bit of black pepper into your crock pot.

carrot soup

Pour some veggie broth over it all and cook on low for about 8 hours. Then pour all of the crock pot contents into the blender and blend until soup is smooth.


Whisk in some light coconut milk and serve.

This is where you would have seen a picture of this beautiful soup in a nice white bowl garnished with fresh basil and accompanied by homemade garlic bread sticks and fresh cherry tomatoes with a balsamic glaze. BUT . . . I don’t know what, if anything they ate it with, and the last thing I shouted as I hurried out the door was, “Take a pretty picture of the soup for my blog” which obviously didn’t happen. The good news is, I had a wonderful evening out with a friend and discussed everything we needed to catch up on. AND I returned home to a house with all small people fast asleep.

For the full Carrot Ginger Soup Recipe, click here.

A Summer Splash of Green – Honeydew & Green Tomato Salad

Didn’t get this up in time for Memorial Day festivities (I was busy schlepping 4 kids up the California coast – all in the name of FUN), but it’s a great one for any summer picnic or potluck.

Personally, I don’t do green tomatoes that often.  Just the name, conjures up images of Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy.  You can try to deny it, but you know exactly what I’m talking about.  The honeydew is a little bit of a stretch for me too.  I’m a definite cantaloupe gal.  Cantaloupe is my go-to summer dinner starter.  I love serving it straight up, with a little prosciutto wrapped around it for a punch of class, and with pearl mozzarella and fresh mint for a little salad combo.  Those are just a few of the players in my routine cantaloupe line-up.  But honeydew rarely catches my attention.  So the green tomato honeydew combo was a duo of underdogs in my book.

Finding good green tomatoes may be the hardest part of this recipe.  The rest of it comes together in a snap.  But the flavors are such a unique blend that it comes off tasting a lot more complicated than it really is.

I started by dicing a little jalapeno.  Yes, it will have a kick, but just the right amount , because the heat is backed down by the sweetness of the melon.


Then I toasted up some cumin just until it started to smell.  I sat that aside and,  in the same pan, toasted some raw pumpkin seeds until they started to pop.  I moved the pumpkin seeds to a small bowl and tossed them with a bit of olive oil.


To make the dressing for this little number, I whisked together the toasted cumin, some white vinegar, the diced jalapeno, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

I cut up my green tomatoes (I added in a few red guys as well since I had trouble finding good green ones) and the honeydew melon.


I tossed the tomatoes and honeydew with some cilantro leaves and the dressing, and then sprinkled with the toasted pumpkin seeds.  There was some major nose turning upping going on around the table when I served this.  Especially from the Big One, of all people.    But in the end everyone enjoyed it.


I actually like the color contrast that the red tomatoes give it.  I think I will stick with that variation for future preparations.  So move over cantaloupe.   Honeydew is encroaching on your status as summer melon of choice.

Full recipe: Honeydew & Green Tomato Salad

So what’s your favorite summer salad melon?  Vote below and let me know.

I Surrender – Too Many “Gnos” to the Gnocchi

I am really blessed by the fact that all the birdies in my nest are very good eaters.  From Big One right down to the Wee One (yes, that’s from 19 years old to 21 months old – a whole lotta girliness in one house), there’s not much complaining that goes on – as far as food is concerned anyway.

For anyone who is interested, I have a few opinions about what makes a kid a “good eater”.

1) Introduce lots of food early on – one of my kiddos was eating olive tapenade at the ripe old age of 8 months.

2) Assume the best – I cringe every time I hear a parent say “Oh, s/he won’t eat that” whenever the kid is offered something new or different.  Let the kid decide.  Don’t limit their tasting experience.

3) Don’t give options – In our house one meal, and one meal alone, is served.  There’s not a “kids menu” and an “adult menu”.  You would be surprised what gets eaten when there’s not a “pizza, mac & chesse, bagel, chicken nugget, etc.” option offered in place of the main meal.

4) Let kids experience food with all their senses early on. OK, tasting is obvious, but I’m also encouraging smelling, and yes, the one most loathed by parents, touching.  I really believe that this full sensory experience of food is very connected to kids loving food.  So let your toddler eat with is/her hands and enjoy the full eating process.

5) Don’t fill them up on snacks. I know it’s “in” in some circles to consider your kid a “grazer”.  But come on, who would want to eat a Chard and Onion Torta, when they’re jammed full of gold fish, Craisins, and string cheese.  In order to enjoy eating, you have to be hungry, right?

6) Eat with your kiddo.  Seriously.  Do you like eating alone?  Well neither does your child.  So don’t fill up his/her plate and then think you have time to send that e-mail, finish that chapter in your book, or unload the dishwasher.  Sit down with your child (even if you’re not eating) and interact during the mealtime.  There are some fascinating studies out there about this, including video footage of the difference in kids’ eating quantities when parents / caregivers sit and eat with them vs. loading up their plate, serving it, and walking away.

I really could go on a lot more about this topic.  I’m passionate about it, and have definite opinions about the matter.  But I digress way too far.  What I am really here to tell you about is Gnocchi.  And in spite of all my musings about my children and their glorious eating habits, they ALL dislike gnocchi.  ALL 5 of them.  Gnocchi – a simple, bland as it gets, potato pasta.  How can can someone slurp down Curried Lentil Wraps and yet shun something like gnocchi?  I just don’t get it.  But alas, I have tried too many times and the objections remain unified and strongly stated.  So as of this posting, I will be retiring gnocchi from my menu rotation.  However, I love this sauce too much to let it go by  the wayside, so I’ll just be serving it over bowties or penne.  I hope you will enjoy it too, whether over gnocchi or some other pasta of your choosing.

Lemon Gnocchi with Peas and Spinach

Start by grating a little lemon zest which will give this sauce just the right zip.

grated lemon

Then simmer some frozen baby peas, with half and half (cream if you are feeling sassy), red pepper flakes, some garlic and salt.  You will want to cover it and let simmer until the peas are tender – usually around 5 minutes.


Then add in some baby spinach and continue cooking until the spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest.


While all of this is going on, cook your gnocchi (or other pasta of choice). Drain and add it, along with some freshly grated parmesan, to your sauce and serve immediately.

final gnocchi

Hey, and if your kids will eat it, let me know.  I’ll have a moment of quiet jealousy!

Want the complete recipe?  Click here.