Despite all of our planning, sometimes dinner looks like this. And that’s okay. (See those carrots on the plate…that’s good, right? I promise you…he did eat the carrots!). My son had not one, but two events to attend tonight…back to back…so I resorted to feeding him dinner at 4:00, right after he got off of the school bus! We know that nights like this are going to happen once in awhile. And in my opinion, that’s exactly what packaged, processed food is for. Our favorite boxed Mac & Cheese is a brand that doesn’t have any artificial flavors or dyes and the hot dogs are uncured, so there are no added nitrites or nitrates. Then make sure to throw some fruits or vegetables onto the plate and off they go to karate and cub scouts. So yes, it’s from a box…and no, it’s not perfect. But, you know what? When you’re eight and it’s summer and you’re eating hot dogs and Mac & cheese (and carrots!)…that is kind of perfect.
This recipe and I go way back. Way back to another lifetime, before I had kids, before I was married. Before I had anyone to cook for other than myself. I don’t remember why I even tried to make something like this back then, but somehow this meal made it into the rotation, along with cereal out of a box, pasta tossed with Parmesan and lemon juice, and Lean Quisine frozen meals. Once I discovered how simple it was and how easily it fooled other people into thinking that I actually had some culinary skill…I think I served it every single time I had company. My parents, my in laws, my friends, my siblings, my co-workers…anyone who has ever been invited to dinner at my house has probably seen this Shrimp and Pasta dish on the table. The original recipe was from the grocery store (Wegmans) but I’ve made it so many times, I don’t actually use a recipe anymore. Feel free to make it with chicken, switch the greens to Swiss chard, or use fresh tomatoes.
Shrimp and Sundried Tomato Pasta
~1 lb. of cooked shrimp (put raw shrimp in boiling water for 3 minutes to cook)
~1/4 cup olive oil (or oil from your jar of Sundried tomatoes)
~2 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
~10 oz. fresh spinach or Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
~16 oz whole wheat pasta (I usually use penne or rotini)
~1 jar (10 oz.) of chopped Sundried tomatoes, reserve 1/4 cup of the oil
~1 cup chicken broth
~feta cheese, crumbled, about one cup
~lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
2. Heat oil over medium high heat in a Dutch oven or large skillet, add garlic and cook about one minute until it begins to sizzle.
3. Add spinach and cook until it is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Add chicken broth and Sundried tomatoes, bring to a boil.
5. Reduce heat and add shrimp, cook for another minute.
6. Drain the pasta and add the shrimp mixture and feta cheese, mix to combine.
7. Season as needed with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Most grocery stores seem to offer a wide variety of organic produce options these days. Does it make sense to spend the extra money on these items? In my opinion, the answer to that is…sometimes. If you look at the research, you will find conflicting information about whether or not conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are safe. But in 2012, for the first time, the American Academy of Pediatrics adopted an official position, warning doctors and parents that pesticide exposures from food are potentially dangerous to children’s health. The following excerpt is from their website :
“Children encounter pesticides daily in air, food, dust, and soil and on surfaces through home and public lawn or garden application, household insecticide use, application to pets, and agricultural product residues. For many children, diet may be the most influential source, as illustrated by an intervention study that placed children on an organic diet (produced without pesticide) and observed drastic and immediate decrease in urinary excretion of pesticide metabolites.”
The research on whether or not the pesticide exposure from produce actually causes health problems is still being done…but my kids will probably be adults by the time the results are clear…and I don’t think I am going to “wait and see”. In the meantime, I am trying to choose wisely, since there is a significant cost increase when purchasing organic vs. conventional produce. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using the Environmental Working Group’s annual list of the most and least contaminated fruits and vegetables to help make these choices. EWG ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of more than 28,000 samples tested by the US Department of Agriculture and the Federal Food and Drug Administration. The samples are washed and peeled before they are tested to reflect how consumers will eat them. Here are the top five in each category from the 2013 list…to see the entire list, go to the EWG site.
Most contaminated: Apples, Celery, Cherry Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Grapes
Least Contaminated: Asparagus, Avocados, Cabbage, Cantelope, Corn
The list does change from year to year, so make sure to check back each spring. Then, if you are trying to lower your grocery bill, go ahead and buy conventionally grown items on the least contaminated list and reserve your organic purchases for the more highly contaminated produce. Sadly, apples always seem to be at the top of the “Dirty Dozen” list…and being from upstate New York, we eat a lot of apples around here! I am planning to do a post in the fall about organic apples…stay tuned!
We never have leftover corn on the cob…everyone loves it. This White Cheddar Corn Chowder was on my plan for the week, scheduled carefully for the day after we had corn on the cob. So, of course, every last cob was eaten and there were no leftovers. I guess the last time it was summer around here was so long ago…I forgot…we love corn on the cob…there won’t be leftovers. So I had to pull the bag of frozen corn out of the freezer. But the next time, I’m going to husk 18 cobs (I mean, the kids are going to husk 18 cobs…I’m putting them to work this summer!) because as great as this soup was, I’ll bet it’s even better with fresh corn. The recipe is from Whole Living Magazine . I skipped the celery and used 1% milk. Enjoy!
When you journey down the rabbit hole into the “real food” world you inevitably come across blogs and books that are also proponents of the “get rid of all the chemicals in your home” craze. I actually started off just trying to be a better recycler and one thing led to another and before I knew it I was buying milk in glass jars, shunning Kraft Foods, and buying very expensive mineral based sunscreen. Sometimes being “green” can be overwhelming and expensive and we all have to choose our priorities and make the best decisions we can for our families and our communities. But once in awhile I learn about an idea that it easy and cheap and those are the ideas that help balance out the extra time spent preparing food and the extra dollars spent in the grocery store. I make this cleaner with 3 ingredients (one of which is water) and by my math (which isn’t always reliable, according to my husband!) it costs me about 57 cents to make. The same amount of a store bought kitchen cleaner would cost $2.49 (I used a 22 oz container of Lysol Complete Clean Kitchen Cleaner for comparison). Now I realize that $2.49 is not a large amount of cash, but it makes me happy to know that my child or my dog could drink the whole container of my vinegar and water cleaner and suffer no ill effects. And I never worry about using it around food. I actually use this cleaner all around my home for almost everything. Keep in mind that when you are cleaning up after handling raw meat, it’s best to clean the surfaces with hot water and soap, but for general wiping down of counters and tables, this water and vinegar cleaner will be all that you need. You can customize it with whatever essential oils that you like. My favorites are a combination of lemon and lime or cinnamon and clove.
~1 cup distilled white vinegar
~1 cup water
~about 20 drops of essential oil of your choice
Combine the vinegar, water and essential oil in a large 2 cup measuring cup. Pour into a spray bottle using a funnel if needed.
Don’t you just love it when you see a recipe in a magazine that looks way out of your league and you try it anyways…and your finished product actually resembles the picture in the magazine? And it tastes wonderful. And one out of two of your kids likes it! This recipe for Spiced Salmon Kebabs was in this month’s issue of Bon Appetit and it was easy and delicious. The next time I make it, I will use less salt. Katie usually does not like salmon but she is my salt lovin’ girl and when she overheard me telling my husband that I thought it was too salty, she decided she would try it…and guess what? Put enough salt on something and she’s a fan! The Bon Appetit version calls for grilling, but our grill died last summer, so I broiled these and they came out great (broiler on high, 5 minutes on each side). As I mentioned, next time I will cut the amount of salt in half from 1 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon…but don’t tell Katie!
My Mom probably probably thinks that she didn’t have time to teach me too much while I was growing up. I am the oldest of eight children and her days were a never ending whirlwind of changing diapers, preparing meals, doing laundry and struggling to figure out how to make ends meet. But teach me she did, whether she knew it or not…and now that I am a mother, I am grateful for the lessons she passed on.
1. Sitting down together as a family to eat dinner is not always easy, but it is one of the things that your children will always remember. We all sat down to dinner at 5:30 almost every single day of my childhood. It wasn’t usually fancy and something almost always spilled, but we were all there and we talked and laughed and teased and those are some of the best memories of my life.
2. It’s important to invest just as much in your marriage as you do in your kids. I don’t know how they managed to make this happen, but my parents almost always got a sitter for us on Saturday nights and they went out together, just the two of them.
3. Let your kids make their own, age appropriate decisions. I’m absolutely sure that I made many decisions that my Mom did not agree with as I was entering into my late teens and early adulthood, but she never pressured me or tried to use guilt to influence my choices. I gained a tremendous amount of self confidence by making more and more of my own decisions as I approached adulthood.
4. Your kids will remember the time you spent with them much more than the money you spent on them. There was never enough money, but there was always enough time…to go to the track meets and the concerts, to take us to story time at the library, to take us to church, to help us with our homework, to visit our grandparents, to set up the sprinkler, to show us how to make Queen Ann’s Lace turn pink and blue, to take care of a pet rabbit, to visit Mr. And Mrs. Briggs down the street. I know there were things that I wanted…that I thought I needed…that we couldn’t afford…but it’s hard to remember now, what those things were.
5. Things don’t always go smoothly…and that’s okay. I know that my Mom’s days sometimes didn’t go that well, and that there were a lot of struggles along the way…but in the end…things always worked out…and she trusted God’s plan for her and her family.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!
A few weeks ago, I committed to making Breakfast Pizzas for the kids in the 3rd grade religion class that I teach. Tomorrow morning is our last class of the year and the other teacher and I want to do something special for this great group of kids. As this week has gone by and Friday has been creeping closer and closer, I have been slightly panicked about how I was going to actually pull this off. “Oh…I’ll just make them…they’re easy to put together!” has somehow morphed into, “What was I thinking!! I don’t have time for this!” So I took the “just a little each day” approach and thankfully, I now have two beautiful breakfast pizzas sitting in my fridge, waiting patiently for tomorrow morning. Wednesday evening I hard boiled some eggs and saved some of the bacon I made for dinner that night (the kids and I had breakfast for dinner while Dad was out of town). Last night I made the pizza dough and put it in the fridge. And tonight, I rolled out the dough, put the toppings on and baked them. Tomorrow morning, we’ll reheat them in our church’s kitchen and hopefully we’ll have some really happy 3rd graders munching on pizza for breakfast! You can experiment with whatever toppings you think will work. I just improvised after looking at a few different recipes online and this is what I came up with.
~ pizza dough (this link will take you to my dough recipe)
~mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
~cooked bacon (2 to 3 slices) diced
~hard boiled eggs, 1 or 2, sliced
~tomatoe, 1 to 2, sliced
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees
2. Lightly oil your pizza pan and roll out the dough onto the pan, stretching it to fit to the edges.
3. Sprinkle with about half of the mozzarella cheese, then the bacon, hard boiled eggs and tomatoes.
4. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
Have a wonderful, restful weekend and a happy Mother’s Day!
I’m taking a big risk this weekend…I’m going to wash all of the snow pants and put them into storage. We have had the most beautiful, 70+ degree days here in central New York and I am told that it is going to continue well into next week. The Dandelions are back and all is well in the world!
This is the week to trek over to your favorite farmer’s market and pick up some asparagus. Then make some Pasta Primavera or an Asparagus/Feta Pizza (of course making half of it cheese and pepperoni so the kids will eat it!). We made the pasta this week (see recipe below) and are going to try the pizza this weekend. So stop for a moment (in between all of the wardrobe switching, deck furniture pulling out, baseball/soccer practices and lawn mowing) to sit down with a glass of iced tea (or a cold beer!) and enjoy the sights and sounds of spring!
~Broccoli, Asparagus, Carrots (or whatever vegetables you have on hand)
~1 cup of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
~1/2 cup green onions, chopped
~pasta of your choice (12 to 16 oz.)
~2 Tbsp butter
~1 garlic clove, minced
~2 Tbsp white wine or broth
~1/2 cup heavy cream
~1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
~salt/pepper to taste
~2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp dried
1. Chop the broccoli, asparagus and carrots into similar bite sized pieces and cook in a large saucepan with a steamer basket, 5 to 10 minutes once the water begins to boil.
2. Cook the pasta according to directions.
3. While the pasta water is coming to a boil, prepare the sauce by melting butter in a skillet over medium heat, then adding the green onions and sautéing them for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Add the wine or broth and cook another 5 minutes. Then add the tomatoes, cream and Parmesan and turn the heat down. Simmer for 2 to 3 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the basil.
4. Combine the cooked/drained pasta, sauce and vegetables and serve with additional Parmesan cheese.
This should all come together in under 30 minutes. I adapted this recipe from the Simple Bites site.
PEACE, LOVE AND CUPCAKES
By Sheryl and Carrie Berk
One of my favorite series is called “Peace, Love and Cupcakes”. It’s by Sheryl and Carrie Berk, a mom and a daughter. This series is about four girls, Lexi, Kylie, Sadie and Jenna. They all have a problem and they tough it out together by creating a cupcake club. Well, that becomes a bit hit! Such a big hit that the owner of a famous restaurant orders a weekly 240 cupcakes. Read these awesome books and get some awesome recipes at the end of your book! This series is interesting for all ages. I hope you enjoy them!