Monday
Jun182007

No Whole Foods for Miles

I actually let my child eat canned ham the other day. On purpose.

I don't rememeber if I've ever had it, but H was really excited about it when he saw it in Marks and Spencer, so I picked up a can. For some reason, I thought he was excited becase it was good food. Apparently not. I forgot that he loves ChefBoyArDee and bacon sandwhiches. I like salad. I opened the can to make James a sandwich,a nd nearly threw up at the gelatinous glob reveled before me. I scraped off most of the goo and made a sandwich anyway, becasue hey, it's protein, and we've got to balance the Cheerios somehow.

I cannot wait to get back to Baltimore and go to Whole Foods. It's not so much that there's no decent food here, as far as meat, but the cuts are so different that it's a crapshoot whenever you buy it. Even my mother-in-law, who is a great cook, said she made some lamb the other night and it wasthe worst thing she had ever made, due to the unrecognizable cut, or some other x factor. So it's not just me.

The other problems with food here are the substandard refrigeration and the scattered nature of the groceries. They're real big on saving energy here, which is good, but the grocery store smells like nearly rotted meat whenever you step to the back. They don't have the refrigeration cranked nearly as high as American supermarkets. The hotel refrigerator is pretty lousy too. The milk often goes bad before it's even opened. I gave a friend a homemade popsicle, and it molded IN THE FREEZER. What's that all about?

We have to walk everywhere, or take a taxi, and the food H likes is scattered across the city. The tea he likes in in one place, the store with a good bread selection in another, the good dairy in yet another. Having to go to the store every day with a toddler makes it a challenge, but certainly having a babysitter has relieved some of that burden. I still have to buy milk every single day. Luckily, I can usually squeeze that in after a trip to the playground.

OK, J is screaming for juice. I have to go help him rememeber how to say, "please", which he of course says to everyone but me.
Thanks for reading,
Anne

Thursday
Jun142007

British Ambasador Mint

J and I went to the British AMbassador's house for a playdate with his son, who is about 2 months older, and the usual 4 inches shorter. They had a huge house, their own policeman, and a gigantic herb garden which was overgrown with mint. As I am a helpful person, and also needed mint for my father-in-law's mint julep maker, I offered to take some off her hands.

Why do they call these things playdates? At this age, it's still both mothers trying to manage the children half the time, and playing with them the other half. There were perhaps 5 minutes in 90 where the children played together, or just weren't begging us to play with them or fighting.

It's no big secret that we mothers do this so we can hang out with each other, not the kids, and I suppose as they get older, and break through the "parrallel play" stage, it will take me less than four days to have one conversation.

The hardest thing for me about J's social interactions is that because he is so verbal and focused, when a child DOES want to play with him, he yells at them to go away, or asks me to "grab him out of here away from me." I am inclined to let him fight his own battles, and don't really mind if the kids push each other and scream a bit, but it's so hard to gauge how another mother will take it.

Luckily, J defers to me, although he has begun pushing the other children and taking things from them. I actually think this is sort of a good thing. He is developing the independence to stand up for himself, and not just immediately turn to me. When he pushes or grabs, I "reset" the situation, remind him to talk to the other child, and work through it that way. I try to give him the words that will help him, stuff like,"You really want to play with that toy, but E is using it right now. What else could you play with?", but this of course doesn't always go smoothly. Sometimes he tries to ask the other child for the toy, but unfortunately, the other kids don't have the verbal skills he does, and he tends to get blank stares.

I do not force my boy to share if at all possible. I tell him if he wants to bring toys, he has to share the,m, but he if he thinks he can't share, he needs to leave them at home. Often, he'll say, "I'd better bring two cars for sharing, " but usually opts to go to the playground empty-handed. I just don't think it's a reasonable expectation for an almost 3 year-old, but he tends to share with children he's known for a while, just not new kids. This makes perfect sense to me. And he shares fine with adults.

But back to the food. I took the giant mint home and gave half of it to my inlaws. Then I made a marinade for pork chops which turned out delicious, so I am back on the horse after the steak disaster. To make a mint marinade for pork chops, take half a cup of fresh mint, 8 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, one peeled garlic clove, a teaspoon of sugar, and a half teaspoon salt, and process. Then marinade the chops in the fridge for up to four hours.

Cook the chops on medium high for about 5 or 6 minutes each side, depending on the thickness. I served this with a quick salad of lettuce, tomatos, onions and cucumbers. Good food for a hot night, and H was very happy with it.

I feel like I'm beginning to figure out the tricks to the cooking environment here. For example, I bought the chops bone-in, but cut off the fat and the bone so they would fit in the cooking area of the pan.

I miss my stove.

Tonight J and I had Marks and Spencer Minestrone, and H and I had prociutto and cheesesticks. I didn't eat any cheesesticks, but had WAY too much prociutto, so now I feel ill and dehydrated. If I drink anything, though, I'll be up all night peeing, and I'm already pooped. J was up for three hours in the middle of the night, after waking to pee and not being able to get back to sleep. When will THAT end..

That's it for now. Thanks for reading.
-Anne

Tuesday
Jun122007

I Heart Soup

My goodness it's hard to write while having a conversation with the two-year-old in the next room about the diving fireman in the sink. You try it.

Last night we made a soup, which is one of my favorite things to eat. I like cream soups in the winter, and broth-based soups in the summer. I am a big fan of bullion as an quick flavor enhancer, but I don't think it's always necessary. My personal secret to soup is to add some olive oil, and then parmesan cheese once it's served. I see my mother-in-law do this, and everything she cooks is amazing, so why not copy her. If I know I'm making enough soup that some will get frozen, I keep the olive oil out of it until it's served. I actually don't know if this makes a difference, but I figure since I add it when it's reheated, I don't need extra.

To start nearly any soup, vegetable, chicken, beef, bean, I sautee some chopped onions and celery and carrotts in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Not very much, like half of each vegetable, finely diced. Last night we made a bean and vegetable soup. We soaked the beans all day, some red kidney beans and navy beans, and cut up the vegetables while the beans were cooking. I used chicken bullion for flavoring, and actually didn't do the onion sautee thing, as I felt like a bland soup last night.

J cut the zuchinni and some broccoli, and we added potatos and carrotts too. The whole thing cooked for about an hour, maybe a little more. We added the carrotts first, then the potatos, then broccoli, and zuchinni about three minutes before serving. Apprently, I made some kind of horrible timing mistake, where the beans were undercooked and the vegetables were overcooked. Luckily, J likes his food mushy, and he actually ate some broccoli. He spit out the one red bean he tasted, though, but I understood. It was a bit yucky.

I turned the burned back on to try and save it, so now the beans are cooked, and the veggies have completely disintigrated. I'm going to let J take the potato masher and mash it up, then I'm going to try to find a way to bread and fry the resulting sludge, but I'm not sure it will work. At least he'll have fun mashing. I tried to get him to use the masher on our homemade playdoh, but it's too stiff. The soup disaster will be just right. After all, it's halfway there.

That's about it for today. Here's the fish bouquet I promised, of smoked fish in the Maxima. Thanks for reading.
-Anne

Saturday
Jun092007

Squash and Squishing

There's been no real cooking after the steak disaster, but we have been sort of drained by the heat, I think. Plus I haven't been to the store recently to get more than cucumbers and milk. I like my cucumbers with lemon, dill and nothing else. I think I just really like lemon. In college, I would sit in front of the tv with a cut up head of iceberg lettuce and a lemon and eat it like chips so I could have a snack. I like lemon on my fish, in my water, and in most things I cook. Yay for citrus in general around here.

But tonight, I shall tell you about squash. I mentioned before there was no good squash here, beyond yellow and green summere squash, but one appeared at the store last time I went.

My favorite is butternut squash in all it's many forms, but especially in soup. I haven't made the soup myself yet, but I'm never dissapointed when I get it in a restaurant. Here, they do not have butternut, but they do have this beauty, which I made for J and I recently.

I think it's a small pumpkin, but whatever it is, the taste runs more to sweet than squashy, adn I add honey and margarine for J when he eats it and it's wonderful.

To roast a medium squash for mashing or soups, you simply wash the outside, stab it good five or six times in the side facing up, and then put in in a 375 oven for about and hour. After it cools, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and spoon the flesh into a bowl for mashing. If you find an hour isn't enough, you can out the halves back in the oven flesh side up until it suits your needs. I have to do this about half the time. It's really easy, absolutely packed with nutrients and vitamins and stuff, and easy to freeze half the mash for later use.

I've tried to roast the seeds, but I found it tedius. It's definitely one of those things best left to the David's people. I've always liked the taste of Pumpkin seeds, and will continue to roast them on Halloween, but any other time, or maybe just any other squash, it's just not worth it. Also, in my old age I've developed TMJ, so crunching seeds is no longer an every day activity for me.

J's still struggling with the potty sensations, but at least it's going in the potty, which I STILL need to break. He's now waking in the night to pee, and it just sings and sings "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" until you wash and dry it. And the Baby Bjorn people, makers of an OK carrier, but the world's best potty (The Big Potty), have come out with a green model, which I will be purchasing for J as soon as we arrive in the states. He loves green.

I hope you're all having a fun weekend. We certainly are. We're going to the HyperMaxima tomorrow, and I promise to take a picture of the smoked Fish Bouquets. Stay tuned.
Thanks for reading,
Anne

Friday
Jun082007

Vinegar Beef

So I didn't set out to make Vinegar Beef, but it sure did end up that way. I found arecognizable cut of meat, a T-Bone, at the MAxima, which is Lithuanian Wal-Mart, including the smell, and brought two of them home yesterday morning. I was looking for a quick marinade that involved cabernet, as I have a bottle of it just for cooking. I found a recipe that was a marinade for grilled steaks, but I figured, hey, a marinade is a marinade, how different could it be?

My first clue that this might not have been such a good idea was it called for a cup of cabernet. In the states, I use burgundy as my red cooking wine and pinot grigio as my standard white. Here, my choice was the Bulgarian or Californian wine sold at the Rimi, a 7-eleven type near the apartments. I figured I'd go with what I knew. Everything I've cooked with this wine has been substandard, but I honestly don't know if it's the other ingredients, the manner of cooking, or what. I'm pretty confident now that it's the wine. It stinks like old vinegar, and after 2 hours in this marinade, there was no going back on the pickling if the t-bones.

I had to cut the bones out before marinading them, because even though I have a large enough pan for two t-bones, the heating element on the stove is so small that you have to cycle the meat or whatever through the center of the pan to get it to heat. This makes for the worst possible reduced sauces, as the center will be boiling, and the ousides will be lukewarm, but I like a challenge. Plus I think someone told me once that a strip steak, my favorite part, is just a t-bone without the T. I should look that up.

So into the marinade, from Food Network recipe for grilled steak and mushrooms. Cup of cabernet, 1/4 cup each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, some basil and oregano, and smashed garlic and finely chopped onions. Sounds like a winner, right? SImeple, easy, and stuff you probably already have in the house. But turned out very nasty.

It also didn't help that the steak was overcooked. I have a fear of the meat here, as my father-in-law got ill from an "already cooked" chicken the first week or so he was here, so while I usually take the steaks off after about 7 min each side on medium heat, or a 6 out of 9, these were in a smidge longer. plus the weird having to scoot them around constantly probably changed things, too, as I had to turn down the heat to make sure I didn't burn the stuff not directly over the burner.

I do have a good pan here, a Bratpfanne enamelled cast iron, but I think nothing can help this stove.

Anyway, H ate it, and I just stuck to the mushrooms. I saved the leftovers, just to torture myself, and am pondering throwing them in with some beans to make a stew. I think I'll just stick to oven dishes for the meats from now on. Except Pork Chops, which seem to work out OK.

And J is feeling better, although he says he doesn't want to do #2 because it feels weird. I agree.
Thanks for reading,
Anne