Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Toddler Entertainment

We were killing some time before a meeting today, a few of us moms, and one of us was remarking on how busy her 10-month old is, how hard it is when they can't entertain themselves. Actually, what she meant (and we knew she meant), is that you can't LET them entertain themselves. Trust me, they find plenty of things to do on their own. Fun things.

However, the toddler concept of fun is far different than ours. When it gets quiet suddenly, I know my kiddo is up to one of her favorite hobbies:
  1. Drawing. Mainly on her face and body. When this gets boring, it's always fun to eat the marker and go show Mommy to get a good reaction. This also works with chalk and crayons.
  2. Pushing a chair across the kitchen to climb on in order to reach everything. Everything.
  3. Taking her wet toothbrush and making circles on the bathroom mirror.
  4. Eating dirt from the herb garden pots. Sometimes she eats the lettuce. Sometimes.
  5. Taking the guests' wine glasses off the table after dinner to try and get the last few drops of wine. Nothing like a nightcap.
  6. Brushing the cat with Mommy's toothbrush.
  7. Removing a tampon from my purse in the grocery store and waving it asking "What's that?" in front of the hot case cook.
  8. Putting her finger in her nose, only when I am watching, because it gets a reaction. Reactions are funny.
  9. Idly licking any nearby filthy item even if we are at Target. See above. Reactions are funny.
  10. Putting on Mommy's bra and running through the house, even when my husband's friends are showing up for morning coffee.
  11. Removing everything from every drawer anywhere and everywhere.
  12. A strange fascination with dental floss. Yards and yards of dental floss.
  13. Pulling her shorts and pull-ups down repeatedly in the middle of the neighbor's yard. In daylight. In front of their living room window.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Chicken (Finger) Pandemic

Good read in the Times today by David Kamp on why kids' menus may not be a good thing.
For all the fretfulness I’m obligated to express over the health implications of this pandemic — chicken fingers are often fried, and are often accompanied by fries — I’m much more rankled by its palate-deadening potential. Far from being an advance, I’ve concluded, the standard children’s menu is regressive, encouraging children (and their misguided parents) to believe that there is a rigidly delineated “kids’ cuisine” that exists entirely apart from grown-up cuisine.
When I was pregnant, my mom tried to convince me that my cooking style would need to change. That kids' palates were blander and somehow required being served things like Mac and Cheese as a standard.

"Oh really?" I asked. "Then what do kids in India eat?"

As I watch my child powering down things like Asparagus Ham and Goat Cheese tart, Lemon Chive Pasta with Asparagus and Chard, Carrot Souffle, and Vegetable Parmigiano, I know I am doing the right thing for her nutrition and her palate.

Kid Cuisine is a myth created by marketers of food high in fat, salt and sugar. Food that is designed to appeal to the worst in child appetite preferences. These preferences are not set in stone, and can be expanded to include healthy options as noted in this post from my child nutrition series.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

A Large Basket and an Open Mind

I think if there were two things I would advise someone to take to the farmers market it would be a large market basket and an open mind. With no menu set, it leaves you ready to discover new ingredients, the wonderful produce that can’t be found in a store, and that, often, you had no idea existed.

Such was our trip to the market last weekend. There was an abundance of greens and wonderful items. It was easily one of our best trips ever. As we strolled down the aisle, we found things that just looked so good, we had to buy them and then figure out the recipe later. Thus, we found a beautiful bunch of flowering bok choy grown by a Thai family who are new to the market. We also bought purple bok choy from a farmer we know well, and two different kinds of turnips, just because the greens attached were so incredible.

It was also the week of broccoli and cauliflower. Yes, we only get about a week of these items here. And fresh sugar-snap peas. Easily ten different kinds of lettuces, greens, and one of the last weekends for asparagus. We’re eating a lot of vegetables this week. And, I am good with that!

Once we had the greens and veggies, we stopped by the “pasta girls’” tent to find the right flavor of pasta for some of our finds. The rest of the items needed were just basic pantry staples, and some local honey, all of which we had at home. Spring cooking is easy. You just don’t need to do that much to foods that are this fresh and have this much flavor.

Lemon Chive Pasta with Chard and Asparagus in Herb Parmesan Sauce

Honey-Glazed Turnips with Shallots

Honey-Lemon Spring Vegetable Saute, version 2

Looking for these recipes? They will be part of an upcoming book co-authored with Ali of Cleaner Plate Club.

Water, Water, Everywhere

We were at a local petting zoo just a couple short weekends ago. Standing outside the goat pen was a girl probably not even two years old. She was holding a plastic fountain drink cup easily half her height, and taking huge gulps from the straw.

“Oh, you and soda!” exclaimed her parent. “She just loves it so much, I can’t get her to drink anything else.”

Hmmm. Given that the child is about two, it’s not likely she hopped in the car, drove to Quik Trip and filled up her Big Gulp all on her own. She can’t really reach the gas pedal yet. Or the soda fountain. So, how’d she get the soda? And, who’s really in charge here?

It’s times like these that I wonder if things will ever change. If the only people who respond to comments like these are the ones who probably have healthier kids than mine.

To make matters worse, I just got some marketing propaganda about a new water filter that you can install in your home where you can add flavor to your water at a touch of a button. Since the site does not reveal the ingredients (even in the link that says ingredients) or make any reference to all-natural, I can only guess you are pumping some chemicals back into the water you just filtered in order to remove the chemicals. Makes all kinds of sense to me!

“Make your summer picnics even more fun for the kids by having plenty of [product name removed, why should I promote them?] filtered water on hand. It's just one of the ways the delicious strawberry, peach and raspberry flavors can help get your kids to drink more water.”

Wow. I’m all for using filtered water instead of buying filtered water in disposable, landfill-filling bottles. Water is a life-giving substance second only to air in our basic human requirements. Have we, as a culture, departed so drastically from such simple nutritional elements that we have to add artificial flavor to something as basic as water so our kids will drink it?

Don’t answer. I’d want a shred of my illusions left.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Happy Memorial Day

Memorial Day, in particular, is a holiday of so many mixed feelings. Because we are immersed in a war right now, the true meaning of the holiday is magnified. I spent a somber moment looking at the faces in our newspaper of local soldiers lost. It looked like a high school yearbook with all the young, hopeful faces. A lost piece of our nation's future, our own hopes and dreams. I pray our troops will come home soon. I wish they never had been deployed there.

I also contemplate the powers that be who somehow justified this war, this loss of someone's son or daughter, father, mother, spouse. I believe each life is equal, a foot soldier just as important as a Commander in Chief. An average person, crossing a street at the wrong time in a crowded market. A child. Each life. Valued. Just as meaningful as another. It weighs on me, this war.

Memorial Day is also a time of joy. The unofficial start of summer. Barbecues. Pool openings. A long weekend.

And, for me, it marks the weekend my child was conceived just a few short years back. She was with me today in the jogging stroller as I ran a local race.

It's a fantastic event with a course that winds through the best neighborhood in the whole city. There were people out front of their homes, cheering, sleepy-eyed kids still in pajamas, bag pipes, music, celebration. It's set in a park with fountains and a rose garden in full bloom. The event always reminds me of why I love this community, this city that is my home. It means so much more to share it with my child along.

The race benefits the Brain Injury Association. A few head injury survivors show up to run and to support the event. When I see them, I see my father, a brain injury survivor for ten years. A million memories flood my heart, good and the not so good. On all days, but especially this one, I feel him with me still. I so much wish he could have held my child, that she could have known him. He loved kids.

I hope you all had a safe and wonderful Memorial Day weekend. My thoughts and prayers to our troops and their families.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Carnival of Recipes: Farmers Market Edition

Spring and Summer Bounty from the Farmers Market
I am pleased to host this week’s carnival of recipes. The theme this week was to share a recipe for seasonal produce bought at your local farmers market. Many thanks to all who shared recipes! Let's see what's cooking in these fine kitchens:

Spring Greens
I just bought a ton of greens and lettuces this morning. Had I read the carnival recipes, I would have known to just walk out in my front yard!

Rebecca from The Herbwife’s Kitchen is cooking up some Italian Style Greens for spring — dandelions. She gets hers from a very local source, her own front lawn! While, I’d probably avoid the chemical-laden lawns of suburbia, this recipe makes me want to get out the “lawn shears” for sure.

Summer Fruit
First, I gotta say I am very jealous of these folks. We had a nasty freeze that really ruined our fruit crops this season. I will have to enjoy my favorites vicariously through their recipes!

Riannan from In the Headlights posted a fantastic-sounding Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp with Cinnamon Walnut Topping. Rhubarb is one of those things I never knew I liked so much until I tried it.

Shawn Lea from Everything and Nothing is serving Strawberry Crepes over at her place. They must have had a good berry season in Louisiana.

Adam at Men in Aprons shared a great photo of his family picking blackberries, and his recipe for the Blackberry Cobbler they made shortly afterwards. Adam, you are so correct, there really is no food quite so perfect as berries ripe and fresh off the vine.

Still drooling over homemade cobbler? Keep it going with Dexie from Forks and her recipe for Peach Cobbler using peaches fresh from her local farmer’s market. You have to love summer!

Summer from Mom is Teaching is making her own yogurt to serve with fresh blueberries.

Summer Veggies
Zucchini will be taking over the farmers markets soon, along with all of the other summer squashes. Be prepared for this summer classic with Wee Wifey’s Zucchini Mix, posted over at Leader Ladies and Pipsqueak’s No-Tomato Spaghetti, posted at The Common Room.

Another farmers market delicacy is the home grown tomato. One taste, and you will never buy tomatoes during winter again! Karen from Thrifty Mommy is dishing up Tomato Casserole in her kitchen.

I am going to file this next one under “fall” and look it up when apples come into season, Apple Oatmeal Pancakes sound great! Recipe even includes how to make your own sugarless applesauce. Be sure to look up Bill at Pancake Recipes as soon as you get those fresh apples.
From Local to Global
Here are a few exotic recipe submissions in case your farmers market is in Rome, Delhi or Morocco.

Zenofeller is serving some Italian dishes; Gnocchi in Lemon Sauce, Spaghetti (Pomodori e Pollo), and an Italian twist on Deviled Eggs. Bit of a warning for those easily offended, the language on the recipes is salted well.

Soniya of Masala Mix offers up one of the most interesting banana recipes I have ever read, Banana Halwa. The recipe calls for cardamom, which is a wonderfully rich and earthy spice. She also offers an interesting rice recipe, Tamarind Rice. I have seen tamarind pods at Whole Foods and also just today at a Spanish market. Your best bet, however, for most of the ingredients would be an Indian food market.

Tastes Like Chicken
Here’s a great segue way from the exotic to the domestic, domestic poultry, that is. This week’s carnival includes several good ideas on what to do with the Original White Meat.

Triticale the Wheat/Rye Guy gets extra special bonus points since he hit all three recipe themes (without knowing two of the themes that showed up) in this week’s carnival — farmers market ingredients, chicken AND ethnic. Check out his recipe for Chicken With Cucumber And Bitter Melon. Okay, Bill, did you read the emails before I did? How'd you know?

Asparagus is a seasonal favorite, found in farmers markets usually from end of April through first of June. Cehwiedel of Kneadle Work posts a recipe for Wheatless Chicken and Asparagus Chowder. This recipes uses oat flour instead of wheat flour for those who have wheat allergies.

Gerry from Disease Proof is serving up Moroccan Chicken plus a bonus salmon recipe under the heading of Non-Vegetarian Nutrient-Dense Dishes.

Arimou from What’s Cooking has a surprising take on baked chicken, Baked Granola Chicken.

I love a good use of leftovers to make a new, creative meal the following day. Suzanne from Adventures in Daily Living offers up a double-header recipe with Lemon Garlic Chicken on day one, followed up with Chickie Baskets on day two.

Sticking with the Lemon Garlic Chicken theme, Bill from Slow Cooker Recipes (and also Pancake Recipes and Chicken Recipes) has a hands-free slow cooker variation of this classic. Bill's Chicken Recipes blog features Chicken in a Packet.

Thanks to all who submitted recipes, and my best regards to those who submitted links, but not recipe-related posts. Good luck finding the right carnival for you! Next week’s Carnival of Recipes will be hosted at Arvind Devalia’s Thoughts and Words. Be sure to submit your posts by 12 p.m. CST Saturday. You can also submit your posts at Blog Carnival.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Michael Pollan on the Farm Bill

Here is a video of a discussion panel moderated by Michael Pollan, with attendees Dan Imhoff, the author of Food Fight: A Citizen's Guide to the Farm Bill; George Naylor, Iowa corn farmer and president of the National Family Farms Coalition; Ann Cooper, Director of Nutrition Services for the Berkeley school system, and other leaders in the effort to reform federal agricultural policies.

Food Quotes

We think fast food is equivalent to pornography, nutritionally speaking. ~Steve Elbert

High-tech tomatoes. Mysterious milk. Supersquash. Are we supposed to eat this stuff? Or is it going to eat us? ~Annita Manning

Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people. ~Elizabeth Berry

As a child my family's menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it. ~Buddy Hackett

Anybody who believes that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach flunked geography. ~Robert Byrne

If organic farming is the natural way, shouldn't organic produce just be called "produce" and make the pesticide-laden stuff take the burden of an adjective? ~Ymber Delecto

It's bizarre that the produce manager is more important to my children's health than the pediatrician. ~Meryl Streep

We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons. ~Alfred E. Newman

Did you ever stop to taste a carrot? Not just eat it, but taste it? You can't taste the beauty and energy of the earth in a Twinkie. ~Astrid Alauda

Find more of these at the Quote Garden

Friday Links

It's a holiday weekend ahead. No doubt you are killing time at your desk waiting for the long weekend. Why not do your patriotic bit while you are waiting, and take just a few moments to speak up for our food safety and quality?

Well, the battle on cloned animal products being sold as food is still pending with the FDA’s announcement in April that they will likely approve this practice. The FDA received over 145,000 consumer requests not to allow cloned animal products for human consumption.

In an effort to at least help consumers be aware of whether or not they are purchasing a cloned animal product (meat, milk, dairy), US Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has introduced Senate Bill S.414, the Cloned Food Labeling Act, and U.S. House Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced an identical bill, H.R. 992, in the House just a few weeks later.

Here is a link to ask your representatives to approve the labeling requirement so you will know where your meat and dairy is coming from if the FDA approves cloned meat for human consumption.

Monsanto, the company that makes rBGH under the trade name Posilac, has asked the Food and Drug Administration to restrict the use of labels identifying “rBGH-free” or “rBST-free” dairy products. Monsanto claims such labels are "misleading" to consumers, and infer that dairy products without such a label are inferior.

Use this link to tell the FDA you want your dairy products labeled clearly with regard to growth hormones.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Ode to the Sandwich

It's lunch time, so no surprise that I am contemplating The Sandwich. Sure, in reality I am eating a huge salad, but that does not stop me from thinking about more food. Here are my top thirteen favorites, plus a humorous look at this remarkable food item and BONUS! a recipe.

  1. Classic: Natural Peanut Butter, Cinnamon Creamed Honey on Multi-grain
  2. Veggie: Grilled Portobella Mushroom, Roasted Red Peppers, Olive Tapenade, Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese on Baguette
  3. Italian Veggie: Fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, fresh tomatoes, Balsamic Viniagrette, Ciabatta
  4. My Soul Food (Fat Deacon): Barbecued Burnt Ends, Coleslaw, Hot Barbecue Sauce, Kaiser roll
  5. Skinny: Smoked Turkey, Leafy Greens, Garlic-Dill Cheese, Pesto on Whole Wheat Tortilla
  6. Burger: All-natural Buffalo Burger served medium-rare on Wholegrain Bun
  7. Indulgence: Meatball grinder with provolone
  8. Grilled Cheese Redux: Grilled Gouda, Stoneground Mustard with Artichoke Hearts on Whole Grain Bread
  9. Comfort Food: Grilled Cheddar with Apples and Caramelized Onions on Wholegrain
  10. Breakfast: The Monte Cristo
  11. Red Meat: Roast Beef, Caramelized Onions, Wasabi Mayo on French bread
  12. Ethnic: The Gyro
  13. FAVORITE RECIPE BELOW: The Number One Spicy
A Humorous Look at the History of the Sandwich, Plus a Recipe

The first documented sandwich, according to Linda Stradley, author of “I’ll Have What They’re Having,” was in the first century B.C. The rabbi Hillel placed a mixture of nuts, spices, apples and wine between two matzohs and served it with bitter herbs as part of a Passover custom. The filling was a reminder of the suffering of the Jews in Egypt.

During the middle, ages, meat and other foods where piled on top of thick slices of bread called “trenchers.” After the meal, the gravy-soaked bread was tossed to an animal or less fortunate individual. Judging from the lack of readily available spices and fresh meat in the middle ages, the gravy and filling were likely a reminder of suffering as well.

But when did the sandwich, become The Sandwich? Not surprisingly, the sandwich was named during a poker game in the 1700s by John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. During the game, Montague refused to get up from the table and demanded his valet to get him some meat tucked between two pieces of bread. The others at the table requested, “I’ll have the same as Sandwich.”

Of course, the French claim they had invented the sandwich much earlier than Sandwich. But, according to the French, they pretty much invented food in general. Come on, England’s cuisine history includes items like blood pudding, and something called spotted dick. Let’s give the Brits one for a change.

The anatomy of the sandwich can be described in three parts:

Bread. We Americans have a strange fixation with The Great White Wonder and other tasteless mass-produced breads. My only “wonder” is “I wonder how they can call this bread.” Real bread has flavor and texture. It tastes so good, you curse the Atkins diet and rebel in a wild, orgiastic carb-frenzy.

Spreads. Spreads can include mayonnaise or peanut butter. But why not wasabi mayonnaise, or fire-roasted red pepper puree? What about Chardonnay Wine Mustard, Amber Ale Mustard, or Garlic Rosemary Mustard? Be creative.

Filling. Filling includes meats, vegetables, eggs, cheese, and bound salads like tuna salad, egg salad, chicken or LOBSTER ROLL!

These are best found at a roadside stand on a coastal highway in Maine. For less money than a bad meal somewhere else, you can dine on a big, sweet, messy lobster salad, with just enough dressing to keep the lobster on the roll.

Maine is an interesting place. You can get a lobster roll at McDonald’s in Maine. You can also get live lobster for five bucks a pound at Walmart. And, oddly enough, you can get a 50-gallon drum of day-old chocolate donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts for bear hunting. I am told, the bear prefer chocolate. No sprinkles.

If I were going to get shot over a food item, it sure wouldn’t be a day-old donut. And how sporting is that, anyway, sitting watch over a 50-gallon drum of donuts with a high-power rifle? For a real challenge, these hunters should strap a dozen glazed to their backsides and go into the woods armed with just a Louisville Slugger. I’m sure there’s a reality show in the making there.

Smarter bear avoid the junk food. They prefer salmon, dry-smoked, and served on light rye with Garlic and Rosemary Mustard. Or, they could just go to the roadside stand, get a lobster roll, and wait for slow-moving tourists.

Recipe: Number One, Spicy.
The local Italian deli has a real name for this one, but no one knows what it is, just walk up to the counter and say, “Number One, Spicy.” If you do not include “Spicy” your manhood will be mocked. Trust the man behind the counter, he is your friend. Number one, SPICY.

1 Ciabattini (small, roll-sized loaf of Ciabatta)

3 Imported Italian meats, sliced thin, piled high to your discretion, about 6-8 oz: Copocolla, Salami, Prosciutto. Get the real stuff. No substitutions.

Imported Provolone, 1-2 slices

3 thin slices of fresh tomato. Hey, you need some vegetables.

Lettuce, iceberg (roughage, helps with all that meat) and crunch. We like crunch. About 1/4 cup of it.

About 1/4 cup Giardiniera, spicy if you dare. This is a marinated vegetable condiment available in jars. Carrots, peppers, cauliflower and other veggies ... Fantastic.

Balsamic Vinagrette (1:2 vinegar to oil mix). Use Modena Balsamic. Real stuff.

Stacking order:

Bottom slice Ciabattini, tomato, meat, cheese, more meat, lettuce, giardiniera, balsamic, top slice of Ciabattini.

Should serve two, but who are we kidding?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

More Contaminated Product from China

From the New York Times:

"Authorities in the Dominican Republic said they seized 36,000 tubes of toothpaste suspected of containing diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent and prime ingredient in some antifreeze. Included were tubes of toothpaste marketed for children with bubble gum and strawberry flavors sold under the name of “Mr. Cool Junior.”

Toothpaste containing the toxic solvent was also found in Panama and Australia in the last week."

The contaminant is the same counterfeit glycerin that was in the recent cough syrup incidents that killed hundreds of children. You can read the full article here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Green with Joy

I was out walking with my child this evening. Suddenly, she stops, points to the ground and says, “What’s that?”

“Dog poop.” I said.

“Oh. No touch dog poop,” she said.

It was a memorable moment. The day my words finally stuck. But not just the words, but the transference of concept. The original context she heard it, was just as she stuck her finger into bird waste. You can also imagine my joy, when we were at the petting zoo, and she looked at me and unprompted said, “Don’t eat the goat food.”

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

Then, she polished off a whole serving of orange vegetables.

If that were not joy enough, as she followed me around tonight while I was watering herbs and lettuce, she asked before she touched each plant, “Can I eat this?”

I was darn near tears of joy. When she pulled lettuce leaves off and ate them happily, well, it was a magic moment. I had no idea she would eat lettuce raw, I had not given her any until I knew where it came from.

Finally, under the heading of things I do want her to eat and like, is this recipe. It will look challenging to any kid who has seen cooked greens. But it is lighter and sweeter with lots of texture. It is also a complete accident.

We had a rough spring with that loathed cold snap. It hurt all the farmers. Our CSA is starting nearly a month late. We see the grower at the market selling a few things he does have, that are not enough yet to fill the CSA bags for a week.

I bought some chard and kale from him. But as we walked away, he ran after us.

“Hey, you forgot your onions and radishes, oh, and some of these.” he said, running off before I could protest.

The bag contained a large bunch of green onions, radishes, three small heads of bok choy, and a pound of fresh baby arugula, and a small greenhouse grown cucumber. He would not take any money for them.

Sunday night, I contemplated the market bounty. I needed to use it, but did not have time to make many different things. Then, I thought, what about a stir fry kind of thing? Can you mix all these and have it work? The end result has lots of flavor and texture with the mix of spring vegetables. It turned out way better than I thought it would.

Honey-Lemon Spring Vegetable Saute
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book co-authored with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Advice to Parents-to-Be

For some reason, coworkers and others sometimes ask me for advice on parenting. Maybe it’s because I am old and this gives me the illusion of having a clue, which I don’t, or maybe it’s because my child has at least survived these early years. While I hate to give out unsolicited advice (okay, except for cooking) I figured if I just wrote down a few (13) of these fantastic parental insights, it might be helpful to others.

13 Great Tips to Prepare for Parenthood:

  1. Repeat after me: When you have just fed your infant, do not hold her way above your head and look up, wide-eyed and open-mouth smiling. Don’t think about this one too much. Just trust me.
  2. You know all those dry clean only clothes you own? Just put those in the back of the closet for a while. You’ll need the money you save on cleaning for other things, anyway.
  3. Consider upgrading your kitchen to feature a cement floor with a center drain and handy hose on the wall. It makes a unique statement about your new lifestyle.
  4. If you are compulsively neat or prompt, congratulations, your deprogramming is about to begin. Soon, you will be normal without all that therapy expense.
  5. Take a box of Cheerios and dump it all over the back seats and floor of your car. Try and adjust to this. For an extra helper, have your spouse hide a partially full sippy cup of milk somewhere in the vehicle. You’ll figure out where it is in a week or so.
  6. Borrow toys, blocks and crayons from a friend with kids. Scatter these items all over your floor before bed. Set your alarm for 3 a.m. Get up and attempt to navigate the minefield in the dark. Hint: shuffle your feet.
  7. Instead of having intelligent conversation with your spouse at dinner, practice repeating over and over throughout the entire meal: “Sit down, please. No. Sit down, please. No. Sit down, please. No.”
  8. Chase the cat, naked, laughing, and brandishing salad tongs. He needs to prepare for the new arrival as well.
  9. Have dinner with your friends who do not have kids one last time. Just kidding, a few will stick it out with you.
  10. Practice sounding polite when you say the phrase, “Gee, thanks for the advice, I am glad that worked for you.”
  11. Pull every item of clothing out of your drawers and dump it in front of the washer. Attempt to do this much laundry daily.
  12. Stay parked at a green light in a busy intersection. Try to find your Special Happy Place of Mental Calm while dealing with yelling, honking and screaming nonstop.
  13. Oh, c’mon. Do you really think you can prepare for parenthood? It’s harder than you think, and better than you can ever imagine. Buckle in and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

Life before Kid. I know, not my usual artistic travel shot.

But, as gas creeps up and up in price, more of my friends are out commuting on their bikes. Please, look twice, save a life. And all of you new riders, take note of the full face helmet. Wear it, and protective gear. It's crazy out there.

We don't ride these days, with the Kiddo around. Despite this, I'd say, life is even more of an adventure now!

Monday, May 14, 2007

I Know She'll Like it — Someday

So, how was your Mother’s Day? Good? Good.

Oh, mine? Well, let’s see. My kiddo must have decided the best way for me to celebrate my day was to prove I am really a mom. We started off the morning with her licking the bubble solution she spilled off the deck. Following that, was a trip to the petting zoo/farm where she fed the goats and herself the same feed (including the goat slobber), tried the duck feed, and actually ate a few pieces of fish feed. For an aperitif, she licked the spigot in the public restroom, and ate some dirt from my herb garden for dessert. Oh yeah, and a marker. I always forget about the markers, at least until that next diaper change in Technicolor.

“What the … ?! Oh, it was the hot pink one …”

Fortunately, she also ate dinner. Or, not so fortunately, since we capped off the celebration at 5 am Monday with her getting sick in bed. Not her bed — mine. I remember when celebrations ended like this, at about this early in the morning. That was college. Not the same at all. I think I need a day off to recover from the festivities. Mostly, I hope she gets better soon.

It’s times like these that I sit back in stark wonder at the things my child will eat, and then the things she won’t — like the recipe that follows. It’s really good. Someday, she will try it — it’s only had one review — probably when we are past the dirt-eating, spigot-licking, goat-food-munching phase. Probably.

In the meantime, I will hope that just seeing my vegetable creations on her little segmented doggy plate will cement in her mind that vegetables have a section of her plate, and that’s the way a meal should be.

I can hope, anyway. The same way I can hope she forgets how fun it is to dip her hands in yogurt and then clap them together hard.

The recipe is a reinvention of a classic Spinach Artichoke Dip. There are hundreds of versions of this dish out there. I was going to post the best one I’ve ever made, but when I read my recipe, I realized, “Hey, this is really bad for you!”

And it is. It has mayonnaise, cream cheese, sour cream, lots of cheese, all baked, then served on fried tortillas. Hmmm. Not really a vegetable dish at all. So, I took the flavors I loved from the dish and made it new. You can actually taste the vegetables now that your taste buds aren’t doing the backstroke in butterfat.

The other thing I changed is that all the recipes I found used frozen spinach, which often has just about as much flavor as the box it’s frozen in.

Fresh, local spinach survived the odd spring weather we had, so the recipe calls for two large bunches of it. Fresh makes a big difference. Local does as well. You notice that I did not make my own tart dough this time. Hey, it was my holiday! I need a break, too.

Spinach Artichoke Tart in Puff Pastry
1 box (2 sheets) puff pastry, thawed
2 large bunches spinach (to make about 1 lb. Cooked or so)
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/3 cup shallot, minced
2 tbs. Olive oil
1/4 cup half and half
1-1/2 cups Grana Padano cheese, grated (or Parmesan)
1/2 tsp. Cumin
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
2 oz. Goat cheese
2 tbs. Pine nuts
black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.°

Wash the spinach, and remove stems. Do not spin dry, but just shake off the extra water. Place in large pot, 5qt. size. You will have to stuff it into a pot, but it cooks down fast. Place the lid on the pan and turn on low heat. This is called “panning” the spinach, which is like steaming it, just using very little water. You will need to turn the spinach a bit in the pot to get it all cooked. When it is just cooked down, turn off heat and allow to cool in a strainer.

While the spinach cools, chop the shallot, and the artichoke hearts. Do your other mise en place (ingredient prep and measuring). When the spinach is cool enough to handle, gather it into a ball and squeeze hard to get all the excess cooking liquid out. Place the spinach on a cutting board and chop.

In the large pot (why get another one dirty?) heat the oil and sauté the shallot until golden. Add the spinach and artichoke hearts and just toss with the olive oil and shallot. Turn off heat. Add the half and half and the grated Grana Padano. Mix in the salt, cumin and a couple turns of black pepper.

Coat a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Place the sheets of puff pastry into dish. The dough should come up about an inch on the sides, and you will need to just fold over the ends a bit. Spread the spinach filling evenly onto the dough. Dot the top with the soft goat cheese. Sprinkle on the pine nuts.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes until the pastry is golden on the edges.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Happy Mothers' Day

Until I became a mom, I had no idea what it took for the job, to do it right, at least. Now, I know. So, for all of you moms, you are remarkable, beautiful women. Have a wonderful day.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Culinary Misadventures

I am not Tony Bourdain. There is no camera crew following me around the world filming my lunch special. I don’t have to suck it up for the viewing audience and eat raw baby seal. It’s a good thing, as Martha would say. It’s a really good thing.

Even so, I’ve managed to be adventurous enough in palate to consume an odd item or two along the way. I've shared pounded kava root with the chief of a Fijian village. Had sushi right off the boat, parasites and all. Tried everything from mountain oysters and sea urchin gonads to quite possibly road kill. I didn’t ask, the cook didn’t tell. Some of it was even tasty. Some.

An occasional culinary mishap is the price of admission for those willing to bite deeply into the Sandwich of Life. The trick is to know when to eat. And when to run. It’s good to be a fast learner.

I grew up in a rural area, as my spouse puts it, “So, this is where the UFOs land!” Folks out there are not opposed to doing a bit of hunting and gathering. Well, a lot, actually. Kids brought guns to my high school all of the time. They were in racks in the pickup windows. We had a whole taxidermy room in the biology class. I kept my lunch in the fridge with the "projects." Nothing says "Lunch!" quite like having to reach in past Sparky the Wonder Squirrel forever frozen in mid-flight over your PB&J.

No big surprise that the annual fundraiser for the Future Farmers of America Club was an event called the “Wildlife Supper.” The wildlife supper was cooked by all of the moms. There were always tons of pies and sheet cakes, potato salads, canned green beans, and, uh, wildlife. This pretty much included anything that could be shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, or run over with a pickup. Sometimes all four.

The last year they hosted the fundraiser, I decided to get my Jed Clampett on and try some barbecued raccoon, and a side helping of possum. These were not good choices. This was my first lesson. While ‘coon is tolerable, if a bit gamy and stringy, possum tastes exactly like it smells. If you’ve never smelled a possum, then you should know that they smell just like they look. Even if you have seen a possum, this photo just says it all.

Like I said, it’s good to be a quick learner. However, even the most schooled of we culinary adventurers can be caught unprepared. A fellow foodie from work and I often head out for lunch to find new and different places to eat. This particular occasion, he had Cubans on his mind. Not the cigars, the sandwiches.

He’d spotted a new place near the Hispanic neighborhood downtown. It’s an area I love to go eat in, but one where I hate to park. The main lot is under a bridge, and usually inhabited by a huge flock of pigeons. The piles of pigeon dung are immense, and any time in the lot guarantees the need for a car wash and/or a shower. I dashed out of the car, hand over head, and ran for daylight. Funny thing, the pigeons were no where to be found, even though there was plenty of pigeon “evidence.”

It was a lovely summer day, high noon, outdoor seating and not a single other person in the tiny restaurant. Run. But J. was out for a Cuban, and the massive sign on the door advertised as such. Cuban it was. After scanning the menu repeatedly, I decided to ask what the special was.

“Guatamalen Tacos,” I was told. “It’s a specialty of my co-owner. His mother’s recipe.”

The sign is now flashing RUN, RUN, RUN AWAY. I ordered the tacos. Out they came, stale tostada chips with cabbage, carrots, onions, and what was supposed to be chicken. The meat was gray. I could not recall a single cooking method that produced gray chicken. Black chicken, pink chicken, raw chicken, but not gray chicken. It did not taste like chicken. I tried to place the flavor, this mildly pungent taste. Gamy like, like … a wildlife supper. Oh. My. I glanced over at the deserted roost under the bridge. Then I wondered, was I was eating The Other Gray Meat? No, couldn't be. Maybe it was just old chicken, that's why it was gray. Sure.

I just now did a Google search on the term Guatemala Taco. I can't type what I found. It's vile, worse than a Southpark marathon on late night cable. I wish I hadn’t looked. Oh, I wish I hadn’t. Run, run, run. Run, Lassie, get help, no, not the pigeons, Lassie! Lassieeee!!

So, now I know. More than I ever wanted to. I did find a reference to someone actually eating a real taco in Guatemala, and I am feeling a bit better. What would we do without this Internet thing? Not know the truth about Guatemalan tacos, for one.

I recovered from the incident. Well, as far as I know, we’ll see after the lab tests. The next adventure came along sooner than I had planned — the next day. I was ready this time. Queasy, perhaps, but ready.

It was Friday, a half day Friday. So, my husband and I went to an Asian furniture store that was having a closing sale. There was a lot of really interesting stuff in the store. Possibly the most interesting item was the store owner, who insisted on following us all around the place telling stories non-stop about life in Korea and visits to other parts of Asia. Every part of the store. Non-stop.

At one point, we were on the loading dock. The owner was going to show us something on a truck. As he tried to open the rusted lock, he groaned and complained that his back hurt. He then described his long-standing injury, in great detail.

The his voice got quiet, and his eyes got a bit wild. He looked around and came in close to us. Run, oh dear, sweet child, run.

“Ever hear of a Two-step Charlie?” he whispered. There was no one else on the dock. I do not know why he was whispering. “It’s a snake from Vietnam, if it bites you, you might live two more steps.” His eyes glowed, kind of like Kaa, the boa constricter’s in the cartoon Jungle Book. (Trusssst in meeee …) He ran off to the small, dingy bathroom where there was a cabinet. From this cabinet he pulled a gallon jar filled with cloudy liquid and a couple of filthy shot glasses from the back of the toilet tank. Run while you still can.

When the light hit the bottle, I saw floating in it a huge and very dead black snake. It had been dead for a long time, reminiscent of a 20-year-old dusty jar off the shelf in my old biology classroom.

“It’s snake wine!” the owner went on. “I drink it for my back pain. Just one little shot and I don’t feel a thing, the venom, you know. It’s diluted by the alcohol. You should try some!”

I eyed the shot glasses in his hand. Frankly, I am not sure which scared me more, the shot glasses or the wine. I felt my leg muscles twitch violently. I had the car keys. I could make it. One-step back Charlie, two-steps back Charlie. I was leaving my spouse in closest reach of the owner. "Sorry, honey, it’s been a bad week with the tacos and all …”

Just then the owner dived back into the bathroom, jar in hand, thankfully. “Oh, if you think this one is potent …”

Oh, please, no. Please, please, no.

“The Albino Two-step Charlie is even more venomous!” Another cloudy jar of doom proffered. Another step toward the door. Quiet, quiet, so he doesn’t see … "trusssssst in meeee, jusssst in meeee ..." Oh, sweet Julia Child in heaven, no ... three-steps back Charlie.

“But, then, I could get into trouble for giving someone something so strong!” he gloated. Some kind of testimony to his bravery for drinking a decaying reptile carcass in grain alcohol. Hey, it’s not a worm, but, you go for it. I did. I ran. We ran. Politely, quickly, but we ran.

Back in the safety of the parking lot, my husband looks at me and says, “Hey, how about Mexican for lunch?”

Oh, help me. Please, please, help me.

There were no tacos that day. It was all I could do to order the tamales wrapped in banana leaves. I was not packed for another culinary adventure. I was ready to sit home and eat a peanut butter sandwich. Although, peanut butter has been an adventure trip in and of itself lately.

In fact, should you want to go new places and try unpronounceable, exotic ingredients, and risky meat substances, you need look no farther than the nearest drive-thru. Tires hum on the hot pavement. Windows down, Pink Floyd on the radio. Your adventure beckons like neon arches on a dark, deserted highway. You'd better runnnn, run, run, run ...

A must read

I've noted here and there my concern about what's up with bees. Well, here is a must read article on the topic. The author, Mark Morford, had me on the first paragraph and the rest got better. Smart, funny, and dead-on accurate. Enjoy the read.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Confessions of a Busy Mom

  1. I'm eating ice cream straight from the carton right now.
  2. I let my toddler help empty the dishwasher because it saves me from bending over. Sometimes, I catch her licking the plates. If she doesn't have a cold, I still put them away. (We use the other dishes for company.)
  3. If I ever got stranded in my car, there's enough miscellaneous food on the floorboards for me to survive a week and gain weight.
  4. I used to have the energy for erotic fantasies. Now when the hot stranger arrives in my dreams, all I want him to do is rub my feet. While I eat ice cream straight from the carton.
  5. I keep a brush in my desk at work. Not for those quick touchups, but because most days I didn't even have time to brush my hair before getting to work. I do brush my teeth, though.
  6. I quit wearing socks as soon as it gets above 50 degrees. Not just because I hate socks and shoes, but because I can rarely find a match. In the winter, I wear a lot of boots. No one can see my socks.
  7. I used to think women who put on makeup while they were driving were terrible drivers. Now I just understand the desperation to try and look decent, and not having the time.
  8. I have fallen asleep in a meeting. Sitting next to our CEO.
  9. After months of going nuts trying to keep my child from eating off the floor, I gave up. Now, if it's part of a cookie lying there, I just try to eat it first. If we got a dog, I might weigh less.
  10. I remember characters on Sesame Street having some depth. Even Kermit had a few lonely moments singing, "It's not easy being green." I don't know what to think of Elmo. It's like everyone on the whole friggin' street got a lobotomy.
  11. I take vacation days so we can clean out the garage and basement. I look forward to this vacation.
  12. I keep tons of lists so that I can remember all the things I need to get done. I can't remember where I put the lists.
  13. I've bought lottery tickets for weeks now, thinking, if I won, I'd quit work and have time to get my part of the work done around the house! It just now occurred to me, if I won, I could also afford a cleaning lady. I always forget to check the numbers anyway.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

Even worms are beautiful underwater. (tubeworms).

Am glad for WW posts. Things have been way too serious in food world lately and it's nice to lighten up! Thanks for coming by!

And, now, for some serious pandering ... could you give me a vote for the Blogger's Choice? I've love it. Someday, I'd like this little blog to grow!

Monday, May 07, 2007

You Get What You Give (Up)

This is the time of year when cooking is a joy. My herbs are ready to harvest as needed — well, if they don’t drown in all the rain — and the farmers market, a few weeks behind, is starting to fill up with fresh, local produce. The recipes in this post are all ones that I made over the weekend, and all use the produce that I found at the market and my fresh herbs along with some pantry staples.

I wouldn’t say the first year or so of “cooking local” was as easy. I had been living without seasons as far as food goes. I cooked what I wanted, when I wanted because it was all there at the store. Why it tasted okay sometimes and sometimes not, I blamed on my own cooking.

“Cooking local” meant giving up having what I wanted when I wanted. It meant finding what is fresh and cooking with what is there, even when it is rhubarb and you've never cooked it before. It was a learning process, this letting go of control, but at the end of that first year, I found a passion and appreciation for food at its finest, ripest, best and in season. I found new varieties that could not be found in a store, grown by people even more passionate about the food they grow than I am about eating it. I learned to give up control to the seasons, to nature, to my geography, and in doing so, I gained the finest of foods on my table. Fresher than four-star restaurant finest, literally.

Unfortunately, I can’t say how my kiddo liked, or didn’t, many of these dishes I prepared over the weekend. This was one of those weekends where she seemed to survive on wholegrain bread, a few grapes, one serving of edamame, and mostly, air.

It’s distressing for me as a parent even though I have been told over and over that it is normal. At one point I found myself desperately trying to just get her to try one of the things I made. I had to take a deep breath. To say to myself, “Wait. Stop. You are not doing any good here. Just making it a struggle.”

“Yeah, you’re all done. Okay.” I said aloud.

I have to admit, as you work hard to create recipes for the little ones to like, the odd hunger strikes are hard on your domestic goddess ego. You think, “Oh, if she would just TRY it, she would love it!”

Once again, I learned, food and control do not mix.

I’ve given up a lot of things as a parent. Things like my sense of style and time spent to look decent (did I ever have this?), my sense of what is gross to handle (or have spewed on me), my workouts, free time, the state of certain body parts post pregnancy, control of my schedule, my life, my sanity. I just had to let all that go. There is a lot of letting go. So much, I wonder which of us is growing more on a daily basis, my child or me.

Tonight, Monday, she and I “raced” each other to eat our broccoli, laughing and playing, hugging one another, having an easy, fun dinner with no worries, no hassles. It was a joy, a real joy for all of us. I realized just how much you gain when you let go of what doesn't matter. And I am not just talking about food.

Although, I admit to a bit of pride at the joyful shouts of “More broccoli! More broccoli!”

The fresh herbs on hand, pantry items, and produce from the farmers market inspired the following dishes. Also served the roasted asparagus, broccolini with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts, and whole grain rolls from the local bakery.

Chicken with Pan Sauce, Roasted Tomatoes, Pesto and Goat Cheese
Basil Pesto
Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
Tarragon, Red Grape and Ricotta Salata Salad
Rhubarb Crumble with Rosemary and Thyme
Looking for these recipes? They will be included in my upcoming book co-authored with Ali of Cleaner Plate Club!

More than Melamine

I had a whole bunch of recipes to post, all on fresh herbs and spring menus. I'll get that out, but I saw an article in the paper that needs some attention first.
“The public thinks the food supply is much more protected than it is,” said William Hubbard, a former associate commissioner who left in 2005 after 27 years at the agency. “If people really knew how weak the F.D.A. program is, they would be shocked.”

“For the life of me I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do,” said Mr. Thompson, who is a member of the Coalition for a Stronger F.D.A., a lobby group in Washington, and is running for president. He said he worried “every single night” about threats to the food supply.
These are quotes from the New York Times' article "Food Imports Often Escape Scrutiny." The Times also did an investigation into another type of import from China causing not pet deaths, but human deaths, specifically children. The import is a counterfeit ingredient used in many medications, often cough syrups for both adults and children. The pure ingredient is safe glycerin, but the counterfeit sold in its place is sourced from diethylene glycol, a primary ingredient in antifreeze, and highly toxic. Ingestion of the substance causes kidney failure, then affects the central nervous system causing paralysis and leaving the victim unable to breathe. Most die.

This toxic syrup has figured in at least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past twenty years. It is estimated that thousands have died. Due to underreporting in third world countries, this number may actually be much higher. Three of the last four cases the counterfeit was made in China, a major source of counterfeit drugs. The most recent incident was in Panama where an estimated 395 people have died, most of them children. The shipment in this case was linked directly to China.

In 1995, a shipment made its way to Haiti, and even to the U.S. After 88 children in Haiti died, the U.S. buyer of the tainted shipment was lucky enough to catch the counterfeit before it was used. The FDA had no awareness of the shipment.

According to the World Health Organization, in December 2006, 440 Chinese drug counterfeiting operations were closed down last year and two of the top Chinese drug reglators were arrested for taking bribes.

The costs savings for a counterfeiter? $975 per TON. Pennies per tainted bottle of medicine sold that could kill a child. This is not just counterfeiting, this is murder for pennies a person. And it needs to stop. China is the third largest exporter or food to the U.S at 199,000 shipments per year, of which only two percent is tested.

Tell your representative that you want a stronger FDA, that you want sanctions against imports from China until this is resolved. All food and drug imports. First melamine, now this. This has to stop.

If you do not know who your representatives are, you can find them and email them at and Feel free to use the text of this post to express yourself.

You can read more at these links:
From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine
Food Imports Often Escape Scrutiny

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Food Labels

While the FDA may not always enforce such things, it has established standards for the language that can be used on food labels. If the manufacturer (gosh, should that word even be used in association to food?) does not follow the guidelines, you can double check the product label to know this as well. Here are thirteen label descriptions and what they should mean:
  1. Free: food contains none or "physiologically inconsequential" amounts of a given item such as fat, hydrogenated oils (trans fat), saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugars or calories.
  2. Low fat: food must have 3 grams or less total fat per serving, be sure to check serving size on label, while it may be packaged to look like a serving, the label may use more servings per package to make the product sound healthier.
  3. Low saturated fat: 1 gram or less saturated fat per serving (same caveat on servings per container) and no more than 15 percent of a serving's calories from saturated fat.
  4. Low sodium: Food must have 140 mg or less sodium per serving.
  5. Very low sodium: 35 mg. or less sodium per serving.
  6. Low cholesterol: 20 mg or less cholesterol per serving.
  7. Reduced: as in reduced fat or reduced sugar, product must contain at least 25 percent fewer calories than the standard product from which it was derived.
  8. Light: as a reference to nutrition not color, must contain between one-third to one-half the amount of fat than the original product.
  9. High: Product must contain at least 20 percent or more of the daily value for a given nutrient per serving.
  10. More: Product must contain at least 10 percent more of the described nutrient than the original product.
  11. Good source: most often misused with regard to wholegrains, must contain 10-to-19 percent of the daily value for the indicated nutrient.
  12. Lean: Meat item must contain less than 10 grams of fat, less than 4 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per serving.
  13. Extra lean: Meat must contain less than 5 grams of fat, less than two grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per serving.
Of course the key is to always read the label and the serving size that is indicated in order to "make the numbers" for the claim. If the FDA is too understaffed to police the guidelines on labels, it's up to us.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

Turks and Caicos Islands

Three Recipes, Two Kinds of Asparagus

Ugh. It’s been a long day. This may not be all it should be, but here goes. We had a great weekend, the first weekend a few local vegetables made it to the farmers market after a crazy bit of weather stunned us all, plants included. As it happens early and late in the season, the variety is not so much there, but what there is, is really good.

Saturday’s bounty included my lettuce plants, but also some large, sweet scallions, and fresh asparagus, green and purple. If you have never seen purple asparagus before, don’t worry. It’s not that common. It is uncommonly good, however. We bought four large bunches of purple and one of green, a bunch of scallions and a few more herbs and plants for me to try not to kill. By the way, the plants are looking good. I know, it’s only been a couple weeks, but I don’t have a good track record with horticulture.

It was warm, and beautiful outside all weekend. Sunday, we met some friends for a picnic snack and trip to the “farm,” a petting zoo and play area. I lured them into dinner by describing the menu: roasted purple asparagus; ham, asparagus, onion and goat cheese tart; very fresh lettuces for salad; roasted green beans; and a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé. To make the meal perfect, I got a "Mommy, I like it!" from the toddler section. And she ate it all.

No cheating, the recipes follow. I’ll make the long story short. No leftovers for the week. So, here I am on a Tuesday night after a long day, and nothing cooked. Clinging toddler, who also had a long day. She just held onto me when I picked her up. Would not let go, did not want in the car. Things were not looking good for trying out the new recipe I drafted over lunch at my desk.

I remember why most people don’t cook for their kids every night. There was clinging, and demanding, and pulling of my shirt. Little hands shooting up onto the counter to grab some ham as I chopped it, oh-so-close to the knife, oh-so-close to the stove. Ever have those moments that seem to stretch out like ten times their normal length? Now, why can’t those be the good moments?

Hard to believe it was just 15 minutes of time. Yup, still the same amount as a trip through the drive-thru. Well, there is the kitchen to clean. But I hear clattering down there. Hey, it might be done — thank you, husband! Rachel Ray never promises the clean up in her time frame, and she gets 30 minutes without a wild banshee diving through her legs and screaming the whole time.

So, tonight I cooked a variation on the theme, using many of the same ingredients. I promised more of these recipes! And, when all you have is a lot of one vegetable, that’s how you cook. Tonight’s feast was Asparagus, Ham, Peas and Tortellini with Parmesan Herb Sauce.

A heavy cream sauce would have drowned all the flavor of fresh spring veggies and herbs. I wanted to go light. There’s only a couple ways to lighten a cream sauce; use half-and-half, and a lot less sauce. The result is healthier, and tastes better without that “Thanksgiving dinner” feeling from saturated fat overload.

Ham, Asparagus, Onion and Goat Cheese Tart

Roasted Asparagus

Asparagus, Ham, Peas and Tortellini with Parmesan Herb Sauce

Looking for these recipes? They will be part of an upcoming book with Ali of Cleaner Plate Club.