Things have been crazy around here. All in the past two weeks, I got a new part-time consulting gig, hired a part-time nanny and launched myself back into the working world. Oh, and Amelia got two teeth. So that’s been fun!
The point is, we have all been feeling the changes. So, instead of sitting down for leftovers or something frozen for lunch yet again, I took my first “real” weekend seriously and slowed it down a bit. I made a delightfully simple summer farro salad using tomatoes and cucumbers from our garden.
We all enjoyed it — even Nora, once she settled down enough to sit down and actually try it. And she’s professing to like both tomatoes and cucumbers these days — music to my ears, and a darn good reason to have your own garden, if you ask me! She’s much more into food she gets to help harvest.
This salad is so easy to make, and it really showcases the flavor of the tomatoes and cucumbers — so use the freshest ones you can get! If you don’t grow your own, get thee to the farmer’s market.
1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
½ large cucumber, peeled and diced
¼ cup red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
crumbled feta or goat cheese to finish
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until fragrant, about a minute.
Add the farro and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the farro is softened but still retains a bite, about 10 minutes.
Drain out any leftover stock and transfer the farro to a large bowl to cool to room temperature. Add the tomatoes, cucumber and red wine vinegar and toss to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper (along with more vinegar if needed). Serve topped with crumbled feta or goat cheese.
Another Monday is over. So, naturally, it’s time to think about next weekend! I already know what my family will be doing on Saturday. Austinites — if you need something fabulous, fun and foodie- (and family-) friendly to do, I’ve got just the ticket.
Taste of North Austin is coming to the Domain this Saturday, June 21, from 11 am to 4 pm. There will be free entertainment, including live music and fun stuff for the kiddos, but if you want to taste the goods — you do, don’t you? — a wristband is required. It’s $20 for 10 tastes, and $10 more for VIP access.
Participating restaurants include local favorites Cru Wine Bar, How Do You Roll?, The League, Punch Bowl Social, Schlotzsky’s, Tiff’s Treats,* Tony C’s, Top Golf Austin, Urban – An American Grill, Zed’s Restaurant and many more.
* Man, does that ever remind me of college. Warm cookies delivered right to your dorm room — what could possibly be better?
With that plus live music, children’s entertainment including face painting, caricature drawings and balloon twisting, as well as prize giveaways, there’s a little something for everyone. VIP access includes entry into the VIP tent with shaded, soft seating, two drink tickets (for beer/wine) and a goody bag. Wristbands can be purchased at Guest Services at The Domain.
What: The Domain’s 7th Annual Taste of North Austin
When: Saturday, June 21, 2014
Time: 11 am to 4 pm
Where: The Domain, 11410 Century Oaks Terrace, Suite 210, Austin
Amelia is 6 months old today! How did that happen? We celebrated, naturally, with sweet potato.
And so we delve, once more, into the world of baby food. As I did with Nora, I plan to make all of Amelia’s baby food myself. It’s not that hard. Really. Can you scrub sweet potatoes and bake them until they’re soft? Peel off the skin with your hands? Do you have a food processor or a blender? Then you can make sweet potato puree yourself and not have to worry about what other ick might be in the food you’re feeding to your baby.
The best part, though, is that it’s super-easy to freeze baby food in cubes — using an ice cube tray or one of these trays specifically made for the purpose — and all you have to do is pop them in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute. Presto — instant homemade baby food.
If you’re interested in learning more about homemade baby food, check out the Gourmet Baby tab up there ^^ for lots of tips, tricks and recipes. I’ll also be blogging every now and then about the food I make for Amelia, to the extent I make anything new and interesting.
So, stay tuned! Of course, I’ll still be writing about grown-up food and drink, too. Just, you know, in case you were worried.
P.S. If you’re on Instagram, please follow me! I’m new there, but I love it already.
If you like cocktails, you probably know that this week (June 2-8) is Negroni Week. If you didn’t know, well, I’m telling you. Get thee to a local bar! Over 1,300 bars around the country are participating, including 19 bars here in Austin, and each will donate $1 for each Negroni sold to a charity of the bar’s choice. I’m not going to pretend they let me out of the house for this kind of thing night now,* so I’ll just link to Matt McGinnis’s excellent round-up of the Austin bars participating and what they have going on this week (along with some Negroni-inspired cocktail recipes) over at What Are You Drinking?
* New mommy = close to zero social life. I drink at home.
As for me, well, I have never been the world’s biggest Negroni fan. I find them to be very bitter. I will readily admit, however, that I don’t always take proper care of my sweet vermouth (meaning storing it in the fridge and using it quickly), so that may be a part of my issue. I promise I’ll try to do better.
But, bitter is big right now. So, if you’re like me, maybe you’d rather tame the bitter with a little sweet to see if you can acquire a taste for it. For a Negroni, I accomplish this by adding a splash of Grand Marnier.
I think it works nicely with the flavors in the classic drink, and it makes the drink more palatable to those of us without a super-human ability to withstand bitterness. Cheers!
I’m a sucker for a quick and easy weeknight meal. When I ran across a recipe for Spaghetti alla Siciliana, consisting of pasta tossed with olive oil, sundried tomatoes, parsley and parmesan, I knew I had to try it out. What’s not to love? Plus, pasta is one of the only foods for which my 3-year-old is pretty much universally enthusiastic. That is, as long as it doesn’t have too much “stuff” on it.
I mean, seriously. Can you believe this beautiful plate of pasta took a mere 20 minutes to get on the table? And it was twice as delicious as it looks. This will definitely be making it into our weeknight rotation.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, or until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Saute the garlic and crushed red pepper until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the sundried tomatoes and half the parsley and stir for an additional couple of minutes.
When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pan with the sundried tomato mixture. Toss, adding a little of the pasta water if necessary, to combine. Add salt to taste.
Serve topped with the remaining chopped parsley and parmesan to taste.
Scrolling through this page over the last few weeks, you’d be excused for thinking it was just a cocktail blog. I mean, I have my reasons (two little ones, actually), and the sleep deprivation inherent in parenting a small baby does make it much easier (and more enticing) to come up with a cocktail recipe on the fly, after the littles are in bed, than it is to come up with a recipe for a delicious and nutritious meal — something beyond, let’s say, ordering pizza or thawing something from Trader Joe’s.
So, mea culpa. I have been cooking on occasion, and we do not subsist on pizza and frozen food alone around here. Occasionally our meals are even well-balanced and somewhat original. Sure, cooking them tends to be a team effort (see: two kids), but that’s alright. It is what it is for right now, and I’m good with that. Parenting small children is all about ebb and flow, I’m learning. There will be another season soon, not too far off, in which more involved gourmet cooking is possible. Let’s all hang on for that season. For now, I’ve got a recipe for a tasty and healthy weeknight meal you can whip up on the fly with pantry staples.
How’s that for working with what you’ve got?
One of the things I love about Nora’s preschool is that they really pay attention to feeding a healthy, varied menu to the kids, and somehow they get them to try (and like!) all kinds of things they just won’t at home. Nora came home from school one day recently talking about the black bean tacos they’d had for lunch, and I was intrigued, so I pumped her for details.* She said they had black beans and avocado, and they were really, really good.
* As it turns out, she was actually talking about black bean nachos, but no matter. Tacos are just as good an idea.
Of course, the wheels in my head started turning, since I am ever on the lookout for a quick and easy meal that my picky princess will actually enjoy. I scraped together a few things we already had in the pantry and fridge, ordered a couple of avocados through Greenling (no one actually goes to the grocery store nowadays, do they?), and got cookin’ — well, barely. Honestly, this meal involves little more than grating up some cheese, rinsing and heating canned black beans and warming tortillas. And, let me tell you — it’s good. Even Nora, who has come to surprising me by declaring a new food she doesn’t like every day,** approved.
** Today it was cheese. What?! Who doesn’t like cheese? Especially this child, who until recently was mainly sustained on cheese, yogurt and Cheddar Bunnies (also cheese-related, no?).
So, if you want lazy, tasty, healthy food, this one’s for you. Enjoy!
1-2 avocados (depending on size), peeled and cubed
grated cheese, sour cream and salsa for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened and translucent. Stir in the garlic and cumin, and then add the black beans along with a splash of water or veggie broth. Stir until heated through.****
Heat the flour tortillas one by one on a hot, dry griddle, flipping each once to ensure even heating, and transfer to a tortilla warmer (or a plate with another inverted plate on top, as a "lid") to keep warm until you're ready to eat.
Fill each tortilla with a spoonful or two of the bean mixture, soft taco-style. Garnish with cubed avocado, cheese, sour cream and salsa, as desired. Chow down!
*** Get them freshly made, if you're lucky enough to live near someplace that offers that option. Otherwise if you're feeling ambitious, you can make your own using a recipe from my very own hubby. **** If you are really in a hurry, you can just rinse the black beans, cover them and microwave them until warm with a little sprinkle of cumin and garlic powder. No one has to know.
Ah, Mother’s Day. For children, it is a time to present the most important lady in your life with a hand-painted mug, handprint ornament, or some other handmade thing that Good Ol’ Dad helped you make (probably at the last minute), and tell her that, despite your attitude most days, you really do appreciate her. For grown-ups like me, with a couple of small children of their own, it’s a time to reflect on how much I really DID appreciate my mom back then, and still do now.
So. Being a mom. It’s not an easy gig. You get spit up on, you have to deal with someone else’s poop on a daily basis (at least for the first couple of years), you get woken up randomly during the night for different reasons throughout your beloved offsprings’ development, you spend a lot of time arguing over matters that completely defy logic with a small but determined opponent,* and you tend to collapse at the end of the day utterly exhausted, but also completely unable to account for anything you really got done.
* Being a corporate lawyer prepared me very well for this part of parenting.
Now that I’m a mom myself, and I have experienced all of those enumerated joys, plus plenty of others that just aren’t springing to mind right now, I really, really appreciate my mom. Really really. And the least I can do is make her a Mother’s Day cocktail.
So, Mom, I’m sorry for every time I threw a fit in public, especially when you had your hands full of groceries and possibly a baby sibling. I’m sorry for every time I told you something on my plate (which you’d probably slaved over and eagerly anticipated my delighted reaction to) was yucky or that I wasn’t hungry or that I just wanted yogurt instead. I’m sorry I took so long to sleep through the night, and once I did, I’m sorry for every time I woke you up in the middle of the night for reasons like “the fan is scaring me” or “I couldn’t find my water.”** I’m sorry for sometimes being a brat who took for granted the loving and comfortable home you provided for me. I wish I had realized at the time how good I had it! I’m sorry for wrecking my car when I was a teenager — even though it wasn’t my fault, I’m sure I could have avoided it if I had been a more experienced driver, and I’m damn lucky I didn’t give you a heart attack. I can only imagine how worried you were when you heard about it. Anyway, I sure do owe you a drink.
**I don’t know for sure that I did these things, but it seems likely, based on my own beloved daughters and their sleep habits.
When Red Envelope asked me to develop a cocktail recipe inspired by my mom for their Mother’s Day Brunch series, I thought it was a fabulous idea, and I had to put on my thinking cap. My mom is just not your everyday lady. She’s a Texan through and through, a little bit of a hippy, and not too much of a drinker, but she does enjoy a good mimosa. Since Mother’s Day brunch is a thing, I figured mimosas were a perfect starting point. When I saw a few of the last beautiful grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley gracing my grocery store’s produce aisle, I knew it was fate. One of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received was from my mom — a crate of Rio Red grapefruit at the height of the season (delivered after the New Year) when we lived in California, where those sweet, juicy red beauties were not all that easy to get your hands on. Add a cherry, and we’re in business.
So, here’s to you, Mom. Thanks for dealing with me for the past thirty-some-odd years. I really appreciate you now, even if I didn’t fully back then. Really.
Rio Red grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed if possible
maraschino cherry, for garnish****
Fill a champagne flute almost to the top with the champagne. Top off with a splash of grapefruit juice.
Drop in a maraschino cherry (because Mom deserves a cherry on top, damnit!) and serve with breakfast in bed.
*** I used prosecco, which is my favorite for mixing. Use a moderately priced sparkling -- don't go too cheap (you don't want to give Mom a wicked hangover now do you??) but don't go ruining a bottle of Dom Perignon with grapefruit juice, either. **** I prefer Tillen Farms maraschino cherries, which are made with pure cane sugar and no red dye. Get 'em on Amazon -- it's not too late for Prime shipping!
First, I had to give Partida Blanco the sip test. Although blanco tequila (as opposed to aged — añejo or reposado — tequila) tends to be the best for mixing in drinks, any tequila worth its salt (ha!) should taste good when sipped, not just when mixed.
Photo courtesy of Partida
It passed. It was smooth, clean and crisp, and tasted of agave — which, of course, a good tequila should. I read not long ago that the reason tequila has such a bad reputation for causing hangovers is that cheap tequila is often made with a lot of sugar as filler — so be sure to look for “100% de agave” on the label of your tequila. Of course, Partida is no cheap tequila, and it’s made from 100% agave — otherwise I wouldn’t have even bothered with the sip test.
Now, of course, the main event — the margarita! Simple is best, in my humble opinion, when it comes to a margarita. This one contains only Partida Blanco tequila, agave nectar and freshly squeezed lime juice. Perfection.
Here’s to Cinco de Mayo, and many thanks to the folks at Partida for allowing me to experiment with their fine product!
Here’s the deal with dinner lately: I don’t really cook it. It’s not that we don’t eat dinner at home… it’s just that the way our family life works right now sort of preludes me from being the primary chef at dinnertime.
Amelia has an early bedtime, so I have to start her bath at 5:45, do her bedtime routine (which includes nursing, so it’s my job) and then she’s down by 6:30 most nights. Nora, however, doesn’t go to bed until around 8 pm. We used to eat dinner at 6 and then play outside for a little while afterward, but since we like to eat together as a family,* we had to switch it up a bit. At first, we tried eating before I started Amelia’s bath, but it ended up being too early for everyone but her… and she was always on the verge of meltdown that close to bedtime, so it wasn’t working out. Our current solution is to eat at about 6:45, so I have time to put Amelia to bed and everyone can sit down together without throwing off Nora’s bath-and-bedtime routine.
*Well, minus the not-yet-eating-solids member of our crew.
Of course, if you do the math, that usually means someone other than me has to cook dinner, or at the very least do the final steps and get dinner ready to go on the table. And that means that the hubby has been primarily in charge of dinner lately. Sometimes I make the meal plan for the week, and other times we just wing it. Truth be told, I am still a little sleep deprived and unmotivated, so winging it wins out more often than it probably should. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s freezer meals!
Anyhow, blah, blah, blah, get to the good stuff. I made a delicious dinner the other night (on one of my more motivated days) — and I accomplished it by prepping everything ahead of time (while the babe was napping), and then having the hubby finish it off right before we sat down to eat. This recipe for parmesan and spinach orzo has been floating around Pinterest, and I decided it sounded like a perfect weeknight meal — with some slight modifications, of course. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t be me.
I had high hopes for this one, and it did not disappoint. My only regret is that I really thought Nora would love it — and she did, for a few minutes. She chowed down until she realized that there was green stuff in it, and then proceeded to tell me she didn’t like “the kale.” Everything green is kale nowadays, and despite the fact that I have photographic evidence of her former love of actual kale, nothing can convince her that it isn’t gross. Plus, there were onions. Although basically undetectable to the adult palate (except for the lovely flavor they add), there were in fact onions in this dish, and that was apparently unacceptable. Sigh.
Regardless, the hubby and I scarfed ours down, and finished off her leftovers, too. Her loss, our gain!
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and add the orzo. Cook until al dente, according to package directions (around 8 minutes).
Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in another saucepan.* Saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the flour to the onion and garlic mixture, and stir to coat. Gradually add the milk, whisking to eliminate any lumps. Heat, stirring, until bubbly and thickened, 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.**
Stir in the parmesan and spinach and heat until the cheese is incorporated into the sauce and the spinach is wilted.
Add the orzo to the sauce and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
* Or, if you're like me and prefer to minimize the mess, cook the pasta first, drain it in a colander, and then wipe out the same pan to use for the sauce.
** If you're making this ahead, you can stop at this step, and refrigerate the pasta and sauce separately (keeping the sauce in the saucepan for simplicity's sake). When you're ready for dinner, gently reheat the sauce on the stovetop, and then proceed with the recipe.
The other night, the hubby and I were in the mood for a cocktail, and he suggested a Sidecar. I, however — mindful of how much I’ve neglected Cocktail Thursdays lately — suggested we try a variation. A little Googling later, we agreed on the Alabazam.
Although it sounds a bit like a cheesy magical incantation, the Alabazam is actually just a subtle variation on the classic Sidecar, with the same ingredients — though bitters are an added touch — in different proportions. In fact, the Alabazam was developed before the Sidecar, at least according to The Straight Up (which has a great walk-through of several Sidecar variations).
The experiment was a success! Although the Alabazam shares most of the same ingredients with the Sidecar, it’s a very different drink. The bitters definitely change the taste (though I opted for a lighter hand with them than the original recipe), and there’s more cognac than citrus, which makes it a bit sweeter with a little more kick. I’ll drink to that!
I’m a recovering lawyer-turned-freelance writer, aspiring domestic goddess, and mom to a spunky and demanding preschooler and a tiny and demanding baby girl. I love all things food and drink, and I’ve rediscovered a love for cooking now that I’m not spending most of my days locked in the office, but I often have to improvise, since having ankle-biters around makes it more challenging!