Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Review: Food Rules

This book review seems a bit hypocritical, as I recently wrote a post declaring my love of FRIED JELLY DONUTS. However, am a big fan of Michael Pollan’s writing, and am thoroughly enjoying his latest book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.

This lightweight little tome is a lightning fast read, filled with simple, practical advice on how to eat for your health and longevity. Pollan makes points that we sometimes need to be reminded of, like the importance of avoiding processed foods and the art of grocery shopping.

As a working mom who never feels like I have enough time to devote to my kids, one thing I feel very strongly about is feeding them balanced, healthy foods. Good food makes for happy, healthy, energetic kids and has made an amazing difference in our household.

Food Rules is brilliant in its simplicity, and reaffirms the benefits of good eating habits, while still advocating the importance of special treats on occasion.  Mr. Pollan, I didn't see a rule involving jelly donuts.  Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Living Room Inspiration Board

The latest CB2 catalog came out today, and thoughts of a new couch inspired me to plan my ideal living room (that is, once my children grow out of their milk-spilling, coloring on furniture phase).  I'm loving the muted colors of the moment -- soft, milky grays, blues and yellows are perfectly understated and gorgeous.   I'm thinking slate colored walls complete with shiny white trim.  Perfect.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Road Not Taken

Last night at bedtime, my two year old son pulled out a poetry book.  He was in the mood to listen, having slowed down considerably from his frenetic pace of the day.  He sat quietly and intently as I read poems by the dozen, lingering on my favorites. I feel lucky that I can share my love of words with this little boy, and that he seems to appreciate these moments as much as I do.

Before I tucked him in for the night, I shared with him my favorite poem.

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nueske's Bacon Fried Rice

At the risk of sounding passé, I adore bacon.  Specifically Nueske's bacon. Yes, I know bacon was sooooo last year's food trend, but it's still my absolute favorite pork product.  Whenever I cook Nueske's, it immediately conjures up memories of the Sunday morning breakfasts of my childhood.  My dad would cook us each an egg over easy, two slices of crispy, liberally buttered toast, and a slice or two of smoky, delicious Nueske's bacon.

As an adult, I found myself searching for clever ways to incorporate bacon into some of my typical recipes, which is where I came up with bacon fried rice. 

This recipe seems to change each time I make it, as I substitute various veggies that I have in my crisper.  The one constant is the bacon, and I highly recommend using the Nueske's brand for the perfect smoky flavor.

I like to start every recipe by preparing all of my ingredients, particularly if they involve a substantial amount of chopping and cutting as this recipe does.

-1/2 peeled and coarsely chopped carrots
-1 small yellow or white onion chopped
-3 green onions chopped
-5 slices bacon - cut into lardons
-3/4 cup frozen peas
-2 eggs - beaten
-4 cups pre-cooked, chilled short grain rice
-2 tbsp soy sauce
-2 tbsp oyster sauce

Once you've prepped your ingredients, scramble the two eggs first.  This way won't discolor from the soy sauce you'll be adding later.  Once the eggs are scrambled in small pieces, set aside.

Next, you'll fry your bacon.  Pop it into the heated wok and let the lardons fry until they are crispy. The bacon grease will also serve as your oil when frying the vegetables and rice. 

When the bacon is crispy, add your carrots and yellow onion and fry for a few minutes until both are softened.  It's very important to let the bacon cook completely before adding the veggies, as the moisture in the vegetables will prevent undercooked bacon from properly crisping.  Add the peas a couple of minutes later -- they basically have to steam.

Once the veggies are cooked, you'll add approximately four cups of cold, precooked, short grain rice.  I like to cook my rice in a rice cooker the day before and let it sit in the refrigerator and harden a bit, making it much easier to cook and less likely to get mushy when fried.

You'll need to break up the clumps and stir the rice until it mixes with the vegetables and bacon and begins to brown.   Once everything is combined, leave it alone and let it cook for a couple of minutes before turning it.  Be very careful not to overstir your rice. 

Next, add two tablespoons of oyster sauce and two tablespoons of soy sauce.   I like to start with those amounts, gradually adding more soy sauce until the rice reaches the light brown color I am looking for.  Keep in mind, it is easy to add more sauce, but adding too much will result in a super salty and not very tasty dish.

Now that the sauce has been added, stir it in completely and let the rice continue to fry for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off the heat and mix in the eggs that you scrambled earlier.  Garnish with green onion.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Birthday Gift for Miss Remy

Dear Miss Remy,

It's almost your first birthday, and I'm so excited.  I just got you this.  (Squeal!)

Now, I know what you're thinking.  Mom, I can't even walk yet, so how can I stroll?   And yes, it did cost a lot, but you're worth it.  And it's Juicy.  And Maclaren.  And so very cute.  I can just see you strolling down the sidewalk (you'll be strolling very soon) with your silly ponytail on the top of your head, pushing one of your dollies (or maybe your little dog Jackson).

You're getting so big.  I can't believe you're almost one.

I hope you like your stroller.  I think it's perfect, just like you.



Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Under the Weather

I've been feeling a bit under the weather today. 

Tonight, I'll be trying one of these:

Warming up with some of this:

And catching up on plenty of these:

Enjoy your night!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kitchen Inspiration

This is not my kitchen.  But I have decided to pretend that it is.
image via House Beautiful

For three years, I've been giving my kitchen light fixtures the evil eye, while simultaneously doing absolutely nothing to correct the fact that they are hideous.  And now, all of the sudden, I can no longer look at them unless I am in the company of a licensed electrian armed with tools and ready to fix the ugly that hangs from the kitchen ceiling.

The previous owners of our home (who thankfully, do not read this blog) made some, well, hasty decorating decisions when trying to sell the house in a buyer's market.  They decided to "redo" the kitchen, which roughly translates to hanging as many mismatched light fixtures in one medium sized room as the ceiling would support.

Which brings me to my elusive search for the perfect fixtures.  After trolling the internet, digging through years and years of design magazines, and visiting every home improvement warehouse and lighting showroom in a 50 mile radius, it seems that the key to kitchen lighting is to look like you have none at all. 

And while we're at it, is it an unwritten rule that when you start one home improvement project, you unearth a dozen more?  Sigh.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Fat Tuesday

It's Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Paczki Day!

{image via Google}

Until I moved to Chicago, I had never heard of these delicious little doughy balls of sweetness.  Pronounced poonch-key, these Polish treats are a Fat Tuesday staple.  They're made of fried dough filled with a variety of sweet fillings such as raspberry, chocolate and my personal favorite, cream cheese. 

Oh, I know what you're thinking.  It's a jelly donut.  I get it.  I too felt that way, until I tried one.  Perhaps it's the fact that you can only buy them one day out of the entire year, but they are seriously the most delightful fried dough filled with jelly and other goodness that you will ever eat on a Tuesday.  Trust me.

Last year, while pregnant with my daughter, I inhaled two three of these, filled by an afternoon of heartburn-induced remorse. This year, I'm going to try to exercise some restraint.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Heart Bento Boxes

I have a new obsession with bento boxes. These partitioned lunch containers are not only adorable, but fantastically functional. As a working mom, I take great pride in preparing meals for both my children. A healthy, balanced meal is something special that I can give them even when I'm not there. Their tote bags used to overflow with mini plastic containers filled with pastas, fruits and veggies. Though the food was good for them, the containers were not particularly space efficient or environmentally friendly.

The solution?  Bento boxes.  Originating in Japan, a bento box is traditionally a meal served in a box with separate compartments, usually consisting of rice, meat and vegetables.  The modern bento is a portioned lunch container for one.  We ordered ours through Laptop Lunches, though I have seen lots of different styles and brands popping up lately.  
My daughter got the pink floral version, while my son opted for the alien design.  The set comes with several mini containers, silverware, a water bottle and even a user's guide.  Brilliant.

Mom confession:  I sneak these off to work whenever the kids aren't using them.  They help me keep portions in check and keep the food fresh and compartmentalized.

Image via Amazon

Friday, February 12, 2010

Last Minute Valentine's Day Ideas

Valentine's Day is almost here. For those of you who need some last-minute ideas, here are a few I've put together. Enjoy!

Last year my husband surprised me by inscribing our initials (J heart D) in the snow-covered backyard. How cute was this? 

With the ridiculous amount of snow covering this country this week, some version of this should be totally doable, though actually finding the grass may prove difficult.

If you're into baking, or even if you're not, I have a super easy recipe that's perfect for Valentine's Day.  You could whip up some of the latest sweet trend, Whoopie Pies.

I made these using a box of red velvet cake mix, three eggs and ½ cup each of water and vegetable oil. Dropped them in rounded spoonfuls and baked at 375 for about 12 minutes.

For the filling, I mixed 1.5 cups confectioner’s sugar, 4 oz cream cheese, 1 stick of softened butter and 1 cup of marshmallow fluff. Once the pie tops and bottoms cooled, I spread the filling between them. Simple and tasty!

Do you need last minute valentines for your kids or their friends? Check out these sweet printable finger puppets by Etsy seller Scenerie.

Think pink with these fabulous new hot pink Ugg boots.  I love that Ugg has introduced bright, bold colors including pink, blue and green.  Warm, soft and cozy, these would make a perfect Valentine's Day gift (for me).

Have a sweet and happy weekend with those you love!



Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chinese New Year

I'm super excited.  Sunday is Valentine’s Day. Chinese New Year also happens to fall on February 14th this year, which means only one thing. My Valentine and I will be headed to Chinatown for a feast of Dim Sum.


Dim Sum, which roughly translates to “heart warmers”, consists of small appetizer-size dishes featuring dumplings, meat-filled buns and fried delights, usually served with hot tea. I adore the Dim Sum experience and all that goes with it, from choosing the restaurant to the frustration of waiting for the rolling carts to arrive at your table filled with glorious steaming bamboo baskets, to the delicious sampling of every bite, followed by the soy sauce-induced swelling of my fingers the next day. I am like a kid on Christmas morning when I wake up on Dim Sum day, with visions of steamed shrimp dumplings and sticky rice dancing in my head.

Dim Sum at Three Happiness in Chicago

I always go into Dim Sum with a game plan. Here are my top five dishes:

1. Salt and Pepper Squid – crispy, buttery fried squid in a salt and pepper coating served with jalapenos. This isn’t always available on the Dim Sum carts so you’ll often have to special order it. This dish is my absolute fave.

2. Sticky Rice and Lotus Leaves – warm sticky rice filled with Chinese sausage and veggies, steamed in a lotus leaf.

3. Shrimp Dumpling - a delicious classic.  Succulent, juicy shrimp wrapped in a translucent flour dumpling skin.

4. Siu Mai - pork and mushroom dumpling garnished with roe.

5. Surprise Me – each time we visit we try to sample something new to add to our rotation. 

My wonderful husband isn’t quite as enamored with Dim Sum as I am, so we typically stop at Gold Coast for a Chicago dog for him on the way home. Sounds like a perfect way to spend Valentine’s Day and usher in the Year of the Tiger, all in the same day.

How will you spend your February 14th?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Sewing Bowl: A 7th Grade Home Ec Flashback

Most Americans may have spent their Sunday enjoying the Saints and Colts battle it out in the Superbowl, but I spent the evening facing a nemesis of a very different kind.

I battled the Brother CE4000, otherwise known as my new worst enemy.  It's actually a lovely little sewing machine that my in-laws bought me for Christmas.  It's me that's the problem.  You see, I have sewn once in my life, during 7th Grade Home Economics.  I can't remember the teacher's name, but I can very clearly recall the look of disgust on her face as she examined the pitiful pillow that I attempted to sew as part of the final exam.  Yes, I'll admit that my pillow did resemble a pair of three legged pants, but I thought teachers were supposed to be supportive of varying skill levels (read: completely talentless).

Upon conclusion of 7th Grade, I tossed my pillow in the trash and retired from sewing.  Until now.  You see, I've spent most of my spare time in the last two decades trying to perfect my Martha Stewart-ness, filling evenings with cooking, baking, crafting, writing, making, etc.  Turns out you can't get your diploma from the Marthacademy without having a basic knowledge of sewing.  Okay, I made that last part up, but you get where I'm coming from.  At the top of my 2010 goal list it reads: Learn how to sew, Miss Crafty Pants.

I decided that after more than a month of staring down the perfectly-sealed sewing machine box, I would open it and take a look.  For a fleeting moment, I envisioned myself sewing matching outfits for the entire family.  Why buy that $200 hipster skirt at Anthro?  I'll just whip one up to wear tomorrow!  Ummmm, reality check.   My lovely Mother-in-Law gave me a basic lesson in how to turn on the machine and thread it.  An hour later, I was exhausted and a bit beleaguered, remembering why I just go to the store and buy my clothes instead of sewing them.  IT'S HARD. 

I've decided that sewing is just one of those talents that you either have or you don't, like being a professional athlete or a snake charmer.  My Mother-In-Law told me that I need to read the manual cover to cover and practice, practice, practice, and then I'll be ready to make something special, like a potholder.  This did not sound enticing, so I put the sewing machine back in the box.  Until I'm really ready, the divide between the Martha I am and the Martha I could be remains cavernous.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dear Gucci

Dear Gucci,

Why must you make your bags so lovely? I am trying to channel my inner minimalist and eliminate the need for handbags that rival the cost of a mortgage payment, but you keep drawing me in with your glossy buckles, decadent fabrics and sheer gorgeousness.

I would like one of these. It would be perfect for toting my laptop to and from work. I can just envision this beauty slung over my shoulder as my heels click on the ground:

Wrap it up.  I'm sold.



Friday, February 5, 2010

What I'm Wearing: Friday Edition

Happy Friday!  Today is a perfect day, due in no small part to the fact that I am sublimely happy with my outfit choice.  Don't you just feel better when you're happy with what you're wearing?  I know I do.  Here's a look at what I pulled out of the closet this morning:

Black blouson top from Old Navy available here.

Red A-line skirt from J.Crew, one of my favorites from last season.

Black Juicy Couture floral tights found here.

Black slouchy boots.  Mine are from Charlotte Russe, but these lovelies are made by Michael Kors.

And my favorite part, the clear lucite bubble bead necklace found here.  Isn't it fun? 

What fabulous look are you wearing today?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fabulous Children's Books

The nightly ritual at our house is for the kids to brush their teeth and then cuddle with mom or dad for a book (or three) before bedtime.  My children have amassed quite a collection of books, but both are partial to the Pigeon series by Mo Willems.   

We started with The Pigeon Wants a Puppy.  It quickly became a household fave.  The kids love the illustrations and the funny voices their dad and I use for the Pigeon.  I love that there is humor on a number of levels and I don't have to make up fake words to entertain in lieu of a plot.

When we successfully wore the pages out, we graduated to Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  I find this one particularly hilarious, though the toddlers have not yet grasped the ridiculousness of a bird as bus driver, so the guffaws usually come from me.  This one also happens to be a Caledecott Medal winner.  I know, you're impressed.

Our most recent purchase is The Pigeon Finds a Hot DogMy husband loves this one because (spoiler alert!) the pigeon and his companion appreciate the delicate flavor that mustard brings to the hot dog.  Seriously, my husband likes to debate anyone who will listen on the merits of a Chicago hot dog.  Always mustard, never the evil ketchup.  So this book appeals to his hot dog sensibilities.  But I digress.

I was very pleased to discover that there are a few more books in this series, and that Mo Willems has a number of other fantastic books to add to the kids' wish lists.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Amy Atlas is my Hero

The super-talented Amy Atlas has done it again!  Check out fabulous photos of her latest creation, a Valentine's Day dessert table here.  Seriously, the colors!  The clean lines and perfectly arranged plates!  I can't get enough.  She is such an inspiration.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Twenty years ago, I read a book called The Catcher in the Rye  It changed my life in ways that I wouldn't realize until later.  In addition to justifying my considerable teen angst, this amazing story gave me my first lesson in the healing power of books.  More importantly, it made me want to be a writer.   Thanks Mr. Salinger.