We were finally starting to thaw around here but...... the "polar vortex" is now back. AND we're supposed to be getting more snow tonight and next week. (EDIT: because I am such a slow blogger, now it is four days later and tonight we are also getting another 2"-3" of snow). (EDIT: Strike that! Because I am such a REALLY slow blogger, it is now five days since I wrote the above sentences, and we woke up this morning with something that looks like a lot more than 2"-3" of snow to me! Wave as you drive by. I'm the one with the red shovel and black streaks of mascara running down her cheeks). At least though, at least all of this has come with a really cool new title! Time Magazine just dubbed Detroit the hardest hit city in the nation by this weather insanity. So, it's worth it! Right? I mean, as hard as all this snow and cold is, we've lived through a pretty memorable time. It's experience making! I've mentioned it before, but briefly living in San Francisco and missing out on the fall colors and a hot summer and sparkly, white snow, it made me appreciate the seasons so much when we came back to Michigan. For me, seasons are important. They mark the passage of time, they're a perfectly balanced and predictable cycle, each quarter with it's own special type of beauty.
I recently realized with a moment of shame, that I really don't leave the house very often anymore. I go out of my way to cram a week's worth of errands into one or two trips, and then outside of the school run, I stay home! But can one truly blame me? It's just so darn cold out. Single digits cold, NEGATIVE digits when you count the wind chills cold.
Jon says that the grass will be so green this coming spring and summer from all of the water that comes with the snow. I think he's right. Winter is hard, but spring will come and it'll be beautiful!
Last week was winter break. This is what we do for basically every break - first we say that we should go somewhere for the upcoming school vacation. Then we haw and hem and find reasons that it would be difficult. Then it gets close to vacation time and we still have no formal plans, and say: "forget it, let's just relax at home. It's easy." Easy is nice, relaxing is great. There comes a point though, when we really should get our act together and go somewhere. For a while we were on a roll. San Francisco one year, NYC the next, then Toronto, northern Michigan..... What happened!?
At any rate, I'm a homebody, and from all observations Noah is too. So these low-key weeks at home aren't so bad. In fact, not having to rush out the door by 8:00 am each day really recharges our batteries. So do pajama days and lots of popcorn.
While being relaxing, the week still held some exciting things! Like for example, Jon and my ten year anniversary! Also, my Mother and Father in law came from Ohio to take Noah to the Lego movie and we saw some friends. I attempted to get writing time in at my favorite coffee shop. I told Noah that he could play on his computer (my old hand-me-down) if he'd let me write for an hour. That was fun!
But what seemed to be the theme of winter break was food. Tasting food, buying food, cooking food. It just somehow happened that way, which isn't so surprising I guess. If you know us.....
It started with some coffee and macaroons on our anniversary. Which was proceeded by lunch at a new Italian deli (with amazing Potato & Pickle Soup! That I'll tell you about another time) and was followed by a nice dinner out with Noah at our usual haunt in town, Toast.
Dinner at Toast is so much fun. Things like this golden beet salad with blue cheese foam make it interesting.
I think Jon's fish was a hit.......
And absolutely, definitely, this chocolate and strawberry mousse with fresh whipped cream, coconut and raspberries was fun! It was more than fun, it was one of the most delicious things ever. The strawberry mouse tasted exactly like fresh, ripe strawberries. It was AMAZING. Noah and I shared and ate every last bite. All of it.
To counter-act such gluttony, I decided to make a fresh and simple egg salad for our lunches. A little protein to balance out all of that mousse. I used Martha Stewart's recipe for Classic Egg Salad. It was easy and quick to make. You should really try it!
Slap the egg salad on some bread, a little mustard, fresh green lettuce, some salt and pepper and you're done!
Another new recipe that I've recently tried is this one from All Recipes called "Shepard's Pie VI." Shepard's Pie is fantastic because basically it's a one-stop dish offering meat, potatoes and vegetables. It is delicious too! Think buttery mashed potatoes on top of a layer or peas and carrots, which is on top of a layer of meat, or meat alternative in a nice brown gravy. It's all baked warm in the oven with a sprinkle of golden cheese on top! Just perfect for those cold winter night. Or, better yet, I made this the second time around mid-day, covered my baking dish with tin foil, popped it in the fridge and then that evening, all I had to do was bake it in the oven for 20 minutes. It was easy!
Because I'm a vegetarian though, I didn't want to make it with ground beef. I could make it with the ground beef for my family and eat something separate myself, but since it takes a bit of time to make this dish from scratch, I wondered if a meat substitute would be ok and good enough to get the whole family to like it.
Here's the thing about "meat alternatives", especially the soy or textured vegetable proteins.... I have almost never eaten them. I've stayed away from most soy. Completely. Consuming too much soy worries me and now that GMOs are on our radars, it concerns me even more. I decided though, to give some "TVP" crumbles a try one more time, after my doctor said that she felt moderate soy consumption was ok. (If you can, it's worth seeking out the organic/non-GMO versions!)
After cooking with them though, no I think I'm done with TVP and other soy proteins. At least the processed kinds. The TVP that I used tasted just fine and the texture was good, but I'm still wary of a lot of soy for my family and myself. Also though, every time I eat this stuff, I get a terrible stomach ache! I think it must be that the ones that I am using contain high amounts of wheat. I think that's what is going on. Anyway, non-processed and fermented soy seems like a better option for me for the future. (Not in this dish, but in general!) It's a personal decision, do what is right for you!
I've got a great tip for you about this dish though, whether you make it with the ground beef or my new, second-time-around favorite vegetarian alternative - mushrooms!!!
I read about this suggestion from the first review/comment on this recipe that pops up when you go to the reviews section. Ok, beef or TVP or my new fave, lots of sliced baby portobellos.... you can make this dish so flavorful by making up a gravy for your "meat" layer. The comment called for 1/4c. Worcestershire sauce. Do it! It worked wonders. You add that in while your meat or mushrooms are cooking. I first sautéed my onions and mushrooms for a bit, then added the Worcestershire sauce. Also, I made a nice brown gravy. Now, you can use any stock that you'd like, including veggie broth. I recommend beef broth if you are able. I took about 3/4 c. broth, gently warmed it in the microwave and then slowly added and stirred in at least a couple of tablespoons worth of corn starch. This made a nice, thick gravy. Play around though, measurements are not exact. Add this to your meat or mushrooms. Stir! Stir! It will thicken more. You can add additional broth if need be.
Another little tip I have is a time-saver. I bought a bag of frozen pre-washed and chopped peas and carrots and then sprinkled that on top of my "meat" layer before the mashed potatoes went on. Some people were commenting about using instant mashed potatoes. I think that would be just fine too, but if you have the time, fresh mashed potatoes are pretty quick and easy and taste great! Hopefully you will enjoy this recipe as much as I do! It saves over night great. Perfect for lunch the next day as well.
And here are some flowers. Just because. In case you are wondering, I found this cute, little bud vase thing at Michael's Craft Store. It was 40%, and I snagged it up for about $7
Ok, back to food. Jon, Noah and I, and our friend Roger went for ramen at Matsuchan. It's so delicious. My favorite is corn butter ramen. It has corn! And butter! How could it not be good?
Switching gears..... guess who came back!? My raccoon! And another raccoon! I'm going to stop feeding the feral cats once the polar vortex recedes and the snow melts. Or maybe, IF I put food out for them it will definitely NOT be on our porch anymore and farther from the house. Then the raccoons will stop coming by. I don't want them permanently in our yard either. I understand this isn't an ideal thing and why!
A HUGE, seriously huge raccoon came to eat last night. I have some pictures that I'll post later.
(Edit: Now it IS later! So here are some pictures!)
This is the big raccoon. There is a large and a small one that visit every few nights. I can tell because the large one has a weird right eye. I hope he's ok. The large guy uses his hands to eat! He picks the cat food up and puts it into his mouth.
It's difficult to see the true scale, but this guy is BIG! I'd say he is at least two Hectors or Willows.
I don't mean this in a mean way, buy here he kind of looks like a hippo in the back, raccoon in the front! Cool!
Willow can't stand to look. Their dining manners are horrendous!
At one point, the big guy came right up to the window and let me take his picture. They're so curious, just like in that book "Rascal."
Back to food! (Did the raccoon thing make you lose your appetite? Sorry).
Sooooo......would you like a recipe for a very quick and easy egg casserole. Kind of a classic? One that you can whip up in no time and serve for brunch or bring with you to a potluck? Introducing: Cheddar Scallion Brunch Eggs! A little ricotta, a little cheddar, a bunch of scallions and some eggs. Our only problem was that I forgot to buy the scallions. So, instead I used a an onion, and it was still pretty good! I think this is going to be my new go-to egg casserole. Imagine all the ways that you can dress it up!
Over break we went to Ann Arbor for the day. Ann Arbor is one of my favorite places. I'd move there in a heartbeat if I could. It's home to the University of Michigan, full of people who feel like creative, liberal, kindred spirits.
On this day we went to a place called Kerrytown, which is both a very old residential/commercial district and unique collection of shops and markets, housed in a few buildings from the 19th century. We had lunch at Kosmo in the market area. Kosmo is basically a Korean lunch counter. It's kind of incredible actually, fast and fresh and affordable. Jon and I had Bi Bim Bop. Mine was veggie and you got to pick up to six fresh toppings . Jon had beef. Noah, went with a bacon burger which he said was the best he's ever had. I also saw some kind hot dog with Bulgogi I think. Interesting Koren/America combo creations. Fantastic place. Fantastic.
The finished dishes even come out of this scary robot oven from the kitchen..........
Later on that day....... we came back to the fish market......because Noah and Jon wanted to eat oysters on the half shell. I was beside myself when I learned that oysters are technically alive. I didn't want to make a big deal because I want Noah to choose for himself whether being a vegetarian is right for him or not, but I almost had to run away when they had their snack.
I didn't though. I had to be the Mom and take a video instead because this was his first oyster and you know, that's what parents do, get pictures and videos of "firsts".
Kerrytown has shops upstairs from the markets. It's such a fun, weird place. One of the shops is a nice toy store. Have you seen these Sea Squad stick puppets? They are absolutely hilarious. I love them. They're well done.
Jon and I eat picked one up. He the red octopus and me the purple clam. Then we pretended what it would be like to communicate in a marriage using only Sea Squad. We acted out a disagreement about taking out the garbage , while communicating through Sea Squad. IT WAS AWESOME. I mean this with 100% seriousness..... we are gong to eventually buy a couple Sea Squads because you can NEVER have an argument when you're talking through Sea Squads. It's just too funny, arguing with a purple, talking clam thing.
"Honey, I have to tell you something that has been upsetting me. When it is trash night, it makes me feel upset when you forget to also empty the kitchen trash can and the bathroom waste bins. EVEN THOUGH I HAVE BEEN GENTLY REMINDING YOU FOR TEN YEARS!"
SEE. How could you ever really have an argument because it's a talking purple clam. But at least you get your point across. AGAIN. ;)
Noah picked out these green "Shwings" before we left the shop. Do you know Shwings? Shoe-wings. I know that they've been around for a little while. I asked Noah is they make him run faster and he said: "No, they just look cool." ;) Funny.
After the shops at Kerrytown , we walked across to the street to another Kerrytown institution - ZINGERMAN'S!!!!! Zingerman's is the most wonderful, amazing DELICIOUS delicatessen around. You can stop in for mouth-watering sandwiches and salads and buy incredible fresh baked breads. You name it Zingerman's makes it or sells a superb selection of the finest. They also have a "bakehouse" for all of their cakes, cookies, sweets and breads. (My favorite is their Summer Fling Coffeecake with coconut and line! ) There is also their coffeehouse "Zingerman's Next Door", and the Roadhouse Restaurant and a creamery and baking school and even corporate classes to learn about Zingerman's business model! Oh, and not to forget, of course their online and catalogue ordering. Just flipping through the pages of the beautiful catalogue is enough to make one's mouth water. If you're unfamiliar, you should take a look!
Usually we eat lunch at Zingerman's. Last time I tried #608: Cyprus Salad with grilled Halloumi cheese, which was the best salty, soft cheese I have ever had in my life and it was GRILLED! All on top of mixed greens with kalamata olives, red onion, tomatoes and fresh lemon zest. So so so so so GOOD!
Since we had lunch in the Kerrytown markets though, today we just came to Zingerman's to snack and shop. Right before we left for home, we had some gelato made in-house. This is CHOCOLATE GELATO WITH BALSAMIC SOAKED STRAWBERRIES. Oh-em-gee. Amazing.
Jon's mom gave him a Zingerman's gift certificate for Father's Day that he finally got a chance to use, so we also came home with this fruity, delicious, 16-year-old balsamic vinegar that Noah chose after we all taste-tested a bunch and learned about balsamic and their complexities of flavor from aging. There was also a loaf of challah and some farm rolls for soup this week and a pretzel bread stick. And, we also grab some coffee or hot chocolate for the drive home, because.... theirs is of course the best!
Before I forget, we also purchased two lovely treats from the Spice Merchants in Kerrytown. The first is this Mexican dark chocolate disk. I wanted something to make a spiced hot chocolate with. You break the disk up into little triangles and simmer them with milk. It's quite good! I still though, have to figure out how they made the incredible, very spicy and warm Mexican hot chocolates at the Canvas Cafe in San Francisco. My old haunt for a good part of 2003. I will never forget that drink. It made you feel so warm inside, even when it was chilly and foggy outside.
And this salt came home with us. A family favorite to sprinkle on top of stove top popcorn - black truffle sea salt. Perfection!
And then there was this time that I spent two days and at least 8 -10 hours making little paper rainbows and pots of gold and shamrocks. I was making March themed window decorations for the house. I think they've come out quite cute. More pictures to come!
(Edit! Ok, got another, better picture).
We trekked a little. To the library and the coffee shop and then right home because POLAR VORTEX!
And once again we made Yotam Ottolenghi's Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce recipe. It is truly unique and wonderful. This recipe is from his cookbook "Plenty", but you can also find the full recipe online from Epicurious HERE.
Basically you put a crazy ton amount of olive oil on halved eggplants and roast them. You make a lovely sauce of buttermilk and Greek yogurt and garlic etc. Put that over eggplants, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, fresh thyme and Za'atar seasoning, which conveniently, we found this day in Ann Arbor at the Spice Merchants!
Oh gosh, and please try my new favorite asparagus topper..... roast asparagus with olive oil and sea salt as usual. In a small saucepan, reduce balsamic vinegar, ideally an older, sweeter kind. Simmer down until it is a thick reduction. Throw in a pat of butter...... stir stir stir..... the pour over asparagus. Voila!
We had ours with a ricotta and and lemon and pea pasta, that was SUPPOSED to have scallops on top, but we didn't bother because once we came to the scallop section at the market, they only looked "meh" and were $18 a pound. So, if you too would like scallop-less pasta with ricotta, lemon and peas, see the fine recipe HERE!
Also this. Noah's class is studying the industrial revolution. Today they had to dress like children who might be working in the coal mines or factories at this time. His teachers wanted to give the kids an authentic experience, so today, when they arrived to school, their classroom had been transformed into a turn of the century tenament! The kids then had to "work" - hanging clothes to dry, sweeping, and cleaning windows. They ate bread and water, and then all 18 of the children piled onto a single bed. Life was not easy for many children in the 19th and early 20th century. I think the kids are learning so much. This is living history! In addition to being taught about an important time in our country's history, I hope too, it's helping Noah to understand how lucky he is to have a comfortable home, food on his plate and an opportunity to a great education. Feeling grateful!
And now I must run because my family is waiting for me for family movie night!
I just want to thank one of you before I go though. Much to my complete and utter disbelief and then total JOY, one of my wonderful, sweet, loving readers nominated me for the MAD Blog Awards 2014! Sponsored by ParentDish, the MAD (Mum and Dad) Awards acknowledges and awards some of the UK's best and brightest blogs! I was so kindly nominated for the MAD Blog of the Year Category. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can't even tell you how touched I am and honored by your vote of confidence in me. That just made my day. My week! My YEAR! :)
If you are interested, please stop by and take a look.
And so I am off! Until next time my friends, have a lovely weekend!!!!