Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Quick and Easy Sides: Baked Butternut Squash

Gabe hates squash. I know, crazy. But he ate this and it was wicked easy and crazy wonderful. I got the recipe off the sticker on the squash. Reading, the gift that keeps on giving...

(prep time - 5 minutes; oven time - 50 minutes)

whole butternut squash
brown sugar
butter - real, unsalted, organic*

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Make sure your knife is really sharp and you use some muscle. (I peeled the squash, but it is totally unnecessary for this recipe and actually made it harder to eat. Leave the exterior alone.)

Scrape the seeds out of the center with a teaspoon. Cut each half into thirds. Place them in a glass pan flesh side down and cook for roughly 45 minutes or until fork-tender.

Pull the pan out, flip the squash over, and lightly salt. Next sprinkle with brown sugar. The brown sugar will immediately start to melt and get all frisky with the salt. You want to encourage this melding of sweet and savory, so sing a little love song and dim the lights.

That's right, little granules. Let's get it on...

Return the pan to the oven until the tops are nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and top each piece of squash with a nice pat of butter. Who's your daddy now?

*A moment of silence for the glory of Straus butter. If you haven't tried it, I'm sad for you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quick and Easy: Salmon filets

I may not have been writing over the past week, but I have been doing. So today we get a flurry of blog activity. If I were some not-so-clever copywriter I'd call it blogtivity, but then I'd hate myself. Don't get me started on why I refuse to eat at Subway and support an establishment that utilizes words like "Febru-any."

But I digress.

I'm starting a new blog category (ugh, blog-egory) dedicated to the working parent called "Quick and Easy." These are delicious "get it on the table fast" foods that you can prepare in less time than it takes to organize your family's order and hit the drive-thru.

We'll kick it off with fool-proof salmon filets courtesy of Ina Garten. I love me some Barefoot Contessa. Thanks to Ina, I will no longer serve overcooked, under-seasoned salmon. I will give my family fish once a week in order to make us all smarter. And since this dish is so wonderful, I will now buy enough for 3 meals since Gabe, Jude and I polished off both the original dinner and the planned leftovers in one swoop. (Win!)

Toddler tip: Jude loves sharks. Sharks eat fish. So we encourage Jude to eat his "shark food" when we serve fish for dinner. Great introduction and now he actually asks for this meal.

(on the plate in 15 minutes)

Olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a dry oven-safe skillet on high heat for 4 minutes. (This would be great in a cast iron skillet.)

Pull your pre-cut salmon filets from the fridge. Remove the skin as it's gross and there is no place for it in this recipe. Rub the filets with EVOO and generously salt and pepper the tops.

Place filets, seasoning side down, into the hot pan and LEAVE THEM ALONE FOR 2 MINUTES! I mean it, don't peak or pull at them.

They are ready to turn over when they release from the pan without sticking and are a deep brown.

Place the pan into the pre-heated oven for 7 minutes. This would be a great time to make a salad or shoot a glass of wine before the family comes to dinner and spoils your buzz. If you want to include your significant other in the alcohol-based love, let me recommend a nice Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio with this meal.

Once you've got your drinks sorted out, remove the pan from the oven and the salmon will be rare to medium rare in the center. This is a tad too raw for my family, so I let the salmon rest in the hot pan for 3 or 4 minutes while I plate the sides. This gives us a perfect medium every time.

Melt in your mouth delicious. Enjoy your dinner.

My Big Fat Basement Reveal!

Unlike the actual renovation, let's make this quick and to the point. We came, we saw, we painted. It's glorious.

If you recall, we started here:
And after some intense cleaning, purging, scraping, priming and painting, now we're here:

I'd pan out, but the rest of the room is filthy. Much like my paint speckled hair, which looks like dandruff and old age had a baby. 

But the built-in is beautiful! 

Thank you Martha Stewart "Plumage" in eggshell. Thank you off-the-shelf toxic oil-based paint in bright white. (My children may have damage to their nervous systems but at least my doors don't stick.) And thank you Gabe - I know you hate to paint but this makes me so happy. Hewey too - he looks right at home.

What should we do next?!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bucket o' Fuss

The English language is very important to me, and I am a self-admitted judgmental snob if you abuse it. In college I once stopped seeing a guy who used to "excellerate" too quickly in the car...probably from all of the "expresso" he drank. Irregardless (ugh) of that fact, it was probably better that I nipped that relationship in the butt. (Butt. Really? It's "bud," folks. So while you are busy goosing each other, I am going to go ahead and clip this metaphoric rosebud before it is allowed to bloom.)

Imagine my nerd-like distress then when I heard my mother-in-law lovingly refer to my crying baby as a "fussbudget." Um, what? That sounded more correct than what I would have termed a "fussbucket." Even now, spell check is calling me out as wrong. Nooooooo!

Time to investigate and quickly, because someone is fussy again.

Turns out, fussbudget is the original term. Damn. According to the Jewish World Review, editors of the tenth edition of Merriam-Webter's Collegiate Dictionary, babies have been budgeting their fuss since around 1900. Before "budgets" became ridiculously small amounts of cash left over after paying the bills, they were pouches (15th-century England) or "a stock or supply" (16th-century linguistic update). So in all likelihood, fussbudgets are either pouches of fuss (please refer to picture above) or a nice fat supply of fuss (Id.).

But wait! At the very end of the article they note that the addition of "budget" may have been just because it sounded cute, leading to other terms such as the occasional synonyms fuss-button, fuss-bug and...(insert drumroll here)...FUSS-BUCKET!

Saved by a technicality (!) and further backed up by that omniscient tome of etymological theory, the ever-popular Urban Dictionary:
NOUN - a bucket of fuss; someone who is so fussy they could fill a bucket with said fussiness. See also fussbucketry: the state of being a fussbucket. Example: "Dude, calm down. Stop being such a whiny fussbucket."


Looks like I don't have to break up with myself today. But I should probably feed Aidan instead of taking fuss photos for the blog. Even though I love him so much, it appears as if I couldn't care less. (Yes, "couldn't." Not "could." That doesn't even make sense.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Oh yeah, we got this. Totally. For sure.

Crap. Hewey is here and slumming it in his current digs.

I was super motivated at the beginning and started to clear junk and pick paint colors (we're going with the far right sample for the back of the bookcase).

But it's easy to lose motivation when the bookcase is still so junky and the spare room starts to look like this:

But I went at it again this morning. So the bookcase now looks like this:

But sadly the spare room now looks like this:

 ...and this:

I am having horrible flashbacks of when we tried to re-landscape in sporadic 2-hour chunks while Baby Jude napped. We ended up dropping almost $13K to have that catastrophe professionally remedied. Now that Jude is wildly three and we have Baby Aidan, I am sure we'll be much more successful with this project...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Me want cookie.

Hi, my name is Danielle, and I am a cookie addict. Not the crunchy kind, but the chewy ones. Sometimes I get on Pinterest just to peruse the pictures of homemade Samoas, toffee-inspired snickerdoodle one-offs, and the multiple varieties of double-fudge delights. Yum. This is my porn; all hail the cookie whore.

In keeping with this sticky metaphor, I'm always casting for new cookie recipes. I usually have to adjust them to account for high altitude baking or I end up with anorexic, crispy, cookie-like thins. Not today friends. Today's star is dense and chewy, and by using my one vegan trick of replacing the egg with a flaxseed and water mixture, the benefits are threefold: 
     1. The flax shores up the dough so it doesn't spread.
     2. Flaxseed is high in omega-3s and fiber. (Can you say health cookies?!) 
     3. There are no salmonella worries if you want to eat all of the dough. And the dough is AMAZING. 

Also important to note is that these cookies are better at room temp and are at their peak of wonderfulness the day after you make them. Show some respect and save a few for the morning.
Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
(original recipe here

Yield: 20 cookies and a fistful of dough for snacking

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar (I use Sugar in the Raw)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed mixed with 3.5 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup high altitude all-purpose flour (my flour tin actually has a mixture of high altitude all purpose and whole wheat flours that I use for everything)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk chocolate chips (or 1/2 C each of milk and semi-sweet...but don't use just semi-sweet as they aren't sweet enough for this)

1.    Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
2.    In a large bowl, cream together the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the flax and water mixture, then stir in the corn syrup and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the peanut butter mixture until just incorporated. DO NOT OVER MIX OR YOU WILL BE SAD AND FEEL THAT THIS RECIPE HAS FAILED YOU. Fold in chocolate chips. Drop by fat teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. (They don't spread, so you can really cram them together.) Eat the remaining dough.
3.    Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are golden.  Better underdone than overdone if you are unsure. Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Serve with a glass of milk.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tonight, we eat like kings.

The best thing that has happened to our house since I stopped working full-time, besides the fact that I am no longer a raging psycho of stress, is that we eat well. Like really, really well. There is something to be said for having the Food Network on in the background 24/7 - you can't help but absorb some of the information.

An increase in my overall time to devote to cooking is also a huge factor. Don't get me wrong, I wanted to cook better food when I worked full-time. I often rushed through a dinner prep and turned out something sufficient, but I didn't have time to experiment. To perfect. To play. Now that I do, I can share the particularly successful recipes with other time-crunched parents. I cook for the greater good! (And, it's delicious.)

Finally, quality ingredients really help. A large portion of our weekly budget goes towards food, but we don't do anything anymore (yeah kids!) so we still come out ahead. Not to say that I am not shocked when 2 bags of groceries at Whole Foods tops $125, but the beauty of homemade is that leftovers become lunch. And sometimes dinner again. So, we splurge on pricey organic eats. You get what you pay for. And since I make 90% of our food I don't EVER worry about low fat. That's right. We are a full fat family when it comes to dairy and meat. And I am going to guarantee that we are still healthier than most Americans. The key is getting rid of the processed foods. I bake all the time, and Jude is very familiar with the scent of bacon, but we are in better shape than we've ever been. A valuable lesson from my Grandma's kitchen.

So, without further ado, here is last night's dinner - on the table 30 minutes after I started making it. The leftovers today were even better.

(adapted from Mark Bittman's "Kitchen Express")

4 slices bacon (I prefer applewood smoked uncured)
chopped garlic (a jar of Christopher Ranch organic chopped garlic is always in my fridge)
1 can petite diced tomatoes with their juice
2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups organic chicken stock
salt and pepper

Slice the bacon into 1-inch pieces and brown in a large skillet. Remove bacon and lower heat. Carefully add a heaping teaspoon of chopped garlic (approx. 4 large cloves) to the bacon grease and saute for 30 seconds.

Pour in the tomatoes with juice. Be careful! If your bacon grease is too hot, it will splatter like something crazy. (This is where a sexy apron comes in handy. Save your clothes from the grease stains while channeling your inner 1940s homemaker!)

Add 2 cups chicken stock. More if you like extra juice, less if you want a thicker stew. Add rinsed and drained cannellini beans. Salt and pepper to taste.

Once liquid is simmering add a few handfuls of chopped kale and stir until wilted.

Add bacon back to pot, saving some for garnish.

Toddler tip: If you, like me, have a child who only likes macaroni and cheese you can still make this dish! Puree a ladle of the tomato/chicken stock mixture before you add the beans. Heat this in its own skillet. Add some of the cannellini beans and season to your child's liking. For Jude we skip the kale - he only likes that roasted. (And then only because I tell him they're green potato chips...)

I serve this over baguette slices. Cut them 1-2 inches thick, drizzle with EVOO, and rub with a cut garlic clove. Place under the broiler or in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes until toasted.

The final product, I must say, is amazing, hearty family-fare. And the fat from the bacon allows your body to absorb more of the cancer-fighting lycopenes from the tomatoes - yeah bacon!

Voila! Enjoy your dinner.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Basement Dweller DIY

I miss the sunshine.

One of the main reasons we bought our darling little house was the basement, and since it is the most comfortable place for the kids (carpet, baby swing, TV, giant "spill whatever you want on it because it's temporary" Craigslist couch), it is where I spend most of my time. It's a lifesaver, but the windows are small and I always have the TV on for additional wattage and companionship. That sounds sadder than it is, but is in no way ideal.

Before Aidan was born we started to update it, but then life got all out of hand. Even if Gabe hadn't been laid up by his surgery, DIY projects with a toddler in the house are a joke.

So now I sit in the little dungeon every day and dream of renovation projects. And watch other people fulfill renovation projects on HGTV. And read about one couple's fabulous ongoing renovation project at the popular YoungHouseLove blog. And pin renovation ideas to my Virtual Decorator board. And pine for a more visually inspiring underground life.

But yesterday we ordered a new computer. Our 6-year-old desktop served us well, but he's ready to retire. The new computer is beautiful. I shall call him Hewey in honor of his creators, and Hewey deserves a beautiful place to live. He arrives in a week.


Gabe despises anything that requires a paintbrush, but due to the gourmet dinners I have been creating on a regular basis it is easier to talk him into things. (Thank you, food.) Bring on the To Do list!

Here is where we stand:
1. The basement walls are a mushroom color that I like. It looks spectacular next to a bright white trim...but we haven't finished the trim. We also haven't yet edged around the door frames or windows. And maybe I want to switch from mushroom to my favorite wall color ever, True Value's "Boulder," but don't tell my husband (who hates to paint) or my dad (who so wonderfully painted the basement its current color while Gabe and I were in LA on vacation).

2. We really need baseboards. Or maybe beadboard. I don't want to call attention to our low ceilings with crown moulding, but we need something. More art would also help.

3. Once the kids are older, this space begs for a darker carpet (note the stains). And a couch that doesn't produce the super blah brown-on-brown effect that makes professional decorators want to kill themselves. But that's at least a year out.

4. I really want to refinish the Green Monster. It's a great old sideboard that we found, but it desperately needs to be brought into the current decade. I think this will be a great place to try out Annie Sloan's chalk paint. Unfamiliar with chalk paint? You can check out a spectacular chair project here and a mirror update here. Love.

5. De-clutter. Organize. Create a before-and-after worthy of a magazine article.

We'll begin with the built-in desk/bookcase/office section of the dungeon that is currently a super-cluttered playroom. I am going to reclaim it. Well, not fully. We still need a place to put boardgames and toys and piles of miscellaneous grown-up paperwork that need to be filed. But this will be Hewey's home and I want it to be worthy.

That's enough to get us started again, right? I feel pumped. And prematurely exhausted.

Aidan and I are going to pop over for paint samples this afternoon while Jude's at preschool (we need an accent color), and then I need to make Gabe his favorite old-school Sloppy Joes for dinner. He's going to have an aneurism when he reads this post...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cooking Science Class

I have to confess that sometimes it's hard to find ways to fill the days with the boys. Well, Aidan still just eats, sleeps and poops, so really it's Jude. We love us some Pixar, but you have to mix it up. I can't have daycare doing a better job of raising him than I do! At least not every day.

Introducing: Cooking Science Class. This is a fun way to fill the morning...and a fabulous excuse for me to bake. Since nursing burns the same calories as a nice fat run, I'm not going to sweat it. For now.

Class #1 was cupcakes. My cookies are great, my cupcakes suck. They never rise correctly and they spread out across the pan in a mess. Frosting helps, but mostly it just pisses me off. Yesterday I stumbled onto the best blog about high altitude cupcake baking. My life is permanently altered.

Perfect vanilla cupcakes!

Perfectly rounded, perfectly dense and crumbly (I don't like spongy cupcakes), perfectly delicious in our bellies. I ate four, if we are going for total disclosure. But to be fair, this was my first satisfying cupcake fix since we left Los Angeles and the magical world of Sprinkles.

Please note the professional frosting. Thank you Ziploc baggie with the corner cut off. You do just fine in a pinch. I feel like I won my own personal Cupcake War. (I watch way too many cooking shows.)

Quick cupcake consumption tip, courtesy of my pal Monica: rip and flip that little sucker. Easy to eat, and you get frosting in every bite.

Ah. It was a successful morning, I have to say. I felt a little Supermom-ish. And I left the clean-up for my husband. Win win.