Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup

Tuesday night was pancake night in the Confer house (oh yeah, this is a real thing for me), and I wanted to make it special.  Not because pancakes are special, but as a kind of “see, pancake dinners can be totally grown-up and fun and GOURMET, dammit” gesture for Amos.  So, the girls and I walked up to the grocery store (Hen House…how weird is that name?!) in hopes of seeing something fun to go with dinner.  I saw rhubarb right smack in the front, so of course I bought a huge bunch right away.  I love strawberry rhubarb pie, but I don’t love what pie does to my postpartum diet, so how amazing would it be if I could somehow make it a non-stress-inducing part of my life?  Well, not to brag, but I freaking DID.  Success!!!!!!

Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup

1 lb. each strawberries and rhubarb

1/3 cup each balsamic vinegar and sugar

1 tbsp ground black pepper

splash of water

  1. Prep the berries and rhubarb, trimming off ends and slicing.
  2. Combine in a bowl with the vinegar and sugar, stirring to make sure the fruit is covered.
  3. Cover bowl with a dishtowel and leave for at least 3 hours.  This could go overnight, even.
  4. Transfer to a sauce pan, add just a bit of water (a couple of tablespoons, maybe) and bring to a boil.
  5. Drop the heat to a simmer, stirring frequently, and add the pepper.
  6. Cook for a while until the syrup is as thick as you’d like.  I think I cooked it for about 15-20 minutes, mostly because I was making the pancakes.  Just keep the heat low so the syrup won’t burn.




B is for Breakfast

"B" is for Banana split Breakfast

And butterfly, and broccoli, and baby.  Since I have Hazel home with me now, at least until I start school again after Christmas, I’ve decided to really try working with her as if she’s in preschool.  We are by no means rigorous in approach; our schedule is loose, allowing for a daily walk in the morning and many story times at the Barnes and Noble a block away.  What I have been trying to do is incorporate lessons about the chosen letter into our everyday life, in the same kind of way we teach her about food in the grocery store and animals out at the park.  Looking up preschool/homeschool ideas led to a scary number of print out coloring sheets (that can’t be all that people do with their kids, right?  seriously?), so I came up with a few ideas based on things we already like to do at home:

  1. Breakfast:  I made a banana split breakfast with Greek yogurt, cranberries, almonds, and agave syrup on top of a banana.  It’s been intensely popular, and she’s had one for the past three mornings.
  2. Baa Baa Black Sheep:  Hazel likes this rhyme, so we made a picture of sheep with the rhyme, and she wrote in all the letters “B.”  Then we used glue sticks (BIG DEAL for ol’ Hazel) to glue cotton balls onto the sheep.
  3. During our daily walks, we identified all the things that started with the letter “B” and drew them when we got home.
  4. We completed the two worksheets on “B” that are in her Getting Ready for Kindergarten workbook, because yes, we totally skipped the Getting Ready for Preschool one.  🙂
  5. We made “B”roccoli stew for dinner one night (and probably tomorrow, too) at Hazel’s request.
  6. We made a nature “b”ox out of recycled cereal boxes and clear plastic from a Cabbage Patch doll box.  Hazel likes to pick up little treasures when we go outside, and now she has a place to put them that isn’t between the couch cushions!

I think this was a fun learning experience for the both of us.  When people first become parents, everything seems so difficult.  All the sleep loss, the diaper changing, keeping box cutters and Windex out of the baby’s mouth…all of seems so damn hard.  It’s only when they get older and you have another do you realize that all that stuff is a freaking cake walk, and teaching your child logic and critical thinking and why some people will actually try to hurt you is way, way harder.  Teaching her like this is such a challenge; Hazel is picking up on these things so quickly that it takes my breath away, so I’m off to prep some things to do for the letter “C.”  If anyone has any ideas, please let me know!  I’ll post our “C” fun too 🙂

The Big Grocery Shop

Do you guys plan a weekly menu?  Once I was at a friend’s house, and when I commented on how full her pantry was, she replied, “Yeah, I just go to the

Menu for Amos's birthday 2004!

store every week and buy the things I like there!”  I was struck by her method of shopping.  Is everyone that carefree?  Since moving in with Amos, we have always had a weekly menu & accompanying shopping list.  At first, this was born of necessity; we were poor Auburn students who had to plan out every purchase to the penny.  At that time, too, I gladly ate junkier food in order to afford cigarettes (sometimes I can’t believe I ever smoked, and other times I can’t believe I ever quit!).  Now, though, it’s become a way to budget and to keep track of all the recipes we love and those we want to try.  I use blank white index cards to write the menu on, with the list on the backside; I’ve got all the ones we used from the last couple of years, and even the menu & list from the first meal I ever cooked for Amos!  But that’s another story.

Since that experience with my friend, I’ve come to realize that I’m in the minority.  I don’t think most households are so paperworky when it comes to their food.  It’s a system that works for me, and a rather fun one.  I enjoy looking through recipes I’ve bookmarked, online and in our cookbooks, and making a market list helps me keep track of all the things we need for the new recipes.  We even have a list of weekday meals that are our tried & true, easy to make on the fly, recipes.

This week we’re having:  onion anchovy pasta (recipe coming for that this week, probably), veggie pot pie, Filipino chicken (an Amos classic)

Stack of old menus

with broccoli crunch slaw, aigo boulido with grilled cheeses, some kind of fish (whatever’s looking good) and my favorite mushy peas, veg and potato frittata with a tomato balsamic salad, and a rice stir-fry with whatever veg we have left (Hazel’s request).  I’m so excited to try aigo boulido; I was just reading Julia Child’s My Life in France, and in it she recalls an episode involving this garlic soup.  After reading, I just had to try it.  Our Mastering the Art of French Cooking is all packed up and in storage, though, so I’ll have to make do with this recipe.  On that note…

Bon appetit!  

What We’re Eating: Tomato Cobbler

Moving to a tiny apartment requires some compromise, even for people who own as few things as we do, and for us that really meant in the kitchen.  I can deal with having all our paintings, picture frames, books (well, almost all), and DVDs in storage, but I figured we would feel the culinary loss.  Still, determined not to let it bother me too badly, I planned a weekly menu that would be normal for us:

  1. Broccoli Stew (Hazel’s request for the week, and it was delicious if I do say so)
  2. Mushroom Polenta
  3. Tuna Steak with sauteed asparagus
  4. Cauliflower and Broccoli with a cheesy bechamel sauce
  5. Tomato Cobbler
  6. Tuna Noodle Casserole (no cans! and another Hazel request)
  7. Onion Anchovy Pasta
It’s an ambitious menu for a woman whose kitchen currently looks like this.  I mean, seriously – each section of countertop is too small to fit my favorite cutting board.  INCHES, people.  I need space for my boards.  BUT I have devised a system in which I put the board across the burners and prep everything beforehand, trying not to slam the butcher’s knife down too hard because it makes a rattly noise like a robot dying and wakes up Julia, and I cannot deal with Julia while I’m mise en placing all over the place.
But we love food, people, so I can’t just toss all our fun out of the window!  Ever ambitious, I saw this gorgeous recipe for Tomato Cobbler from the talented pair at Lottie & Doof and just had to try it.  I was a bit nervous about the biscuit topping; I mean, you should read those instructions.  They’re so nonchalant, and nonchalant is NOT what I feel when I think of making biscuits.  I think of sloppy hands, tough chewy flour-tasting balls of nasty.  I’ve been so unsuccessful in the past that ducks refused my biscuits.  Those park ducks will follow you around and eat anything, but they hated my biscuits.  The biscuits here, though, turned out beautifully.  I was so delighted that I had successfully replicated their recipe!  I made a couple of very small changes:  I used Wisconsin cheddar instead of Gruyere, buttermilk instead of cream, and next time I make it I’m going to add white wine to the onions while they caramelize.  White wine + onions + tomatoes > onions + tomatoes.  It’s simple math, people.

Happy Father’s Day

There are some holidays that I don’t get too worked up about; stuff like Labor Day just doesn’t really get me going.  Amos, though, takes holiday apathy to a-WHOLE-nother level.  That guy, if he had his way, would not celebrate anything from President’s Day to Christmas.  It particularly bothers him, he says, when presents are expected.  He’d rather give and receive gifts on the fly, not dictated by the day on the calendar.  I get it, I truly do, but now that we have kids, and especially one old enough to realize what all this stuff means, we’ve made sure to celebrate every birthday and holiday in some way.  With the small, notable exception of Mother’s Day.  He didn’t acknowledge that at all beyond saying, “Happy Mother’s Day” in the morning.  I get that’s his thing, but I was totally let down.  Plus, it turned out to be one of those awful parenting days where everyone is crying, running away in public, not napping, and just being irritable.

Neither girl could sit still!

Because Father’s Day comes after Mother’s Day, I thought briefly (ok, maybe for longer than I’d like to admit) about wreaking some kind of karmic vengeance for the screamy holiday I had.  But really, I thought I would use this as an opportunity to show Amos how we can exploit these kinds of holidays to do the fun stuff that we really like but don’t do that often.  Soooooo, I planned a fancy antipasto dinner for Amos (really for all of us).  As a gift, I bought him a natural foods cookbook (used, $5 with shipping, and totally rocking) and helped Hazel make him a shirt that reads, “Hazel Loves Daddy.”  She also made a tank top for herself and a onesie for Julia.

We had SUCH a lovely time!  This antipasto was one of the funnest meals we have ever had.  Because it was for our dinner rather than an appetizer, I made sure to have a couple choices for each of the basic antipasto elements.  Here’s a rundown of the menu –

Fruit:  heirloom tomatoes, cantaloupe, and cherries (all served at room temp, thankyouverymuch)

Meat:  speck, an aged soppressata, and anchovy fillets

Veg:  roasted cauliflower, asparagus, a roasted pepper salad, and artichoke hearts tossed with sundried tomatoes and fresh thyme

Cheese:  Shropshire blue, a young manchego, and a 2-year-old aged gouda

It was just lovely.  Nothing was really difficult to put together, either.  In fact, most of the food just needed to be basic prepped, like slicing the melon.  The veg I just roasted in the broiler with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and the roasted pepper salad that actually required a recipe was just mincing a bunch of delicious stuff up together.  We toasted with prosecco, which I thought was an excellent palate cleanser for this type of meal.  Hazel went nuts (check out this hilarious video of her, plus my first attempt at subtitles for her!), probably because she got to stay up a whole hour and a half past her normal bedtime.  It was one of the best nights we’ve had together as a family, and I just love that I got to be a part of it with those lovely people that make up my family.

Recipe: Pesto Orecchiette with Clams

Monday nights are like the battlegrounds of motherhood for me; I have Julia all day, then I have both girls from 4 PM or so until 10:30 PM when Amos comes home from teaching his late class.  I don’t know if it’s my anticipatory stress level or Murphy’s Law, but it always seems like my normally sweet, easy-going daughters have some major issues on Monday night.  Tonight was no different; Hazel, having not napped at all today, was also sporting a big bruise from being (accidentally) stepped on by one of the younger kids, while Julia was in full-on screamo mode, needing to nurse while I needed to make Hazel dinner and then needing to be held while I needed to clean Hazel up, eat my dinner, and play/or something with Hazel.  Julia almost NEVER needs that kind of attention, and when she does it usually doesn’t last very long before she falls asleep.  Except on Mondays, where she needs to be held for a back-breaking 2 hours.

But this post is supposed to be about a recipe, right?  Well it is!  It’s about this easy, elegant meal you can make while you’re nursing a baby & holding her in midair with one arm and continually reassuring a toddler that yes, you are making dinner and no, you will not eat hers.  So here’s the rub:

Pesto Orecchiette

1 lb. bag of orecchiette (aka hats)

1 lb. asparagus, ends broken off & chopped into about 1″ sections, nothing precise

1 jar of pesto

1 can of diced tomatoes (we like the fire-roasted variety)

1 can of chopped clams, although I think I’ll double up next time

a bit of chevre, if you’re feeling decadent

s&p to taste

1.  Start your pasta water boiling (don’t forget to salt the water!).  Whenever it boils add in your pasta and cook al dente; that is happening on the side while you proceed with the rest of the recipe.

2.  Saute your asparagus in some butter, with a little salt and pepper.

3.  Once they look nice and shiny, but are still a bit undercooked, add in the clams, (drained) tomatoes, and just a bit of the clam liquid.  You could also add in a splash or two of some nice chardonnay, if you have it lying around (which I did, yay for us).

4.  Let that asparagus simmer in the lovely liquid the clam juice, tomatoes, & butter have made.  Just cook it until you like the texture.

5.  Drain your pasta when it’s finished, add in the asparagus mixture, and stir in at least half the jar of pesto.  You could go more or less, just depending on how you feel.

6.  Pour yourself a glass of that chardonnay, dish up a bowl of pasta, and top it with a few crumbles of chevre.  Enjoy!

Lovely Weekend

We just had the most amazing meal.  Seriously – it was fantastic.  Amos and I invited our friend Katrina and her fun kids over for dinner, and we all had such a great time tonight!  Even before the meal actually happened, though, Amos and I had the best weekend getting ready for it.  What can I say – we go to grocery stores for fun.  On the menu tonight was an antipasto platter as a first course, which had salted almonds, water crackers, roasted red peppers, anchovies, chevre, a tomato and lupini bean salad, a drunken (merlot) goat cheese, and a porter cheddar.  As a main course we had Amos’s signature bacon anchovy sauce over spaghetti rigatti with shaved pecorino romano and a caponata with Amos’s homemade bread.  Served with all this loveliness was my favorite sauvignon blanc and a new chianti, which was awesome and velvety and just wonderful with this dish.  It was massive amounts of fun, and I can’t wait until we get to do this again.

I’ll leave you with one more picture of Julia.  Our baby girl is growing so quickly and beautifully that I can hardly believe it.  But that’s the way with babies, isn’t it?

Fish & Chips

Delicious, eh?

Do I need to say anything, or does the picture alone make your mouth water?  This was SUCH a great meal, made even better by how it came about.  Amos and I have been watching Oliver’s Twist recently, which is a show Jamie Oliver did in the early part of the century, in which he cooks things at his flat for his friends.  In the first episode he made fish and chips, a quintessential English dish, for some American friends who had recently moved to London.  Hazel just happened to be watching this with us (she really likes this cooking show) and said, “We could have that at our house!”  So take THAT, Jamie Oliver!  We let her have a say in the weekly menu as often as she’s interested in giving her opinion, so of course we wrote it down for this week.  Those mushy peas are killer, dudes.  That is going to be a staple in this household.

What We’re Eating

A couple of weeks ago, some new friends invited us over for dinner and served this awesome lamb, cooked long and slow on the grill.  Amos talked to the wife, who’s Australian, about the food from that area (I guess lamb is a bit more common there, and not the dried out variety served with mint jelly), and he was inspired to make lamb himself.  Today he spent hours in the kitchen making this lovely dinner:  braised lamb shank, stewed carrots and tomatoes, and an Israeli couscous and black rice salad with pumpkin seeds.  That sweetheart even made a dessert on the fly; using canned pears and peaches from my grandma, he made a kind of cobbler with a cinnamon and oat bran crust.  The dinner was amazing, and his doing all the washing up was just beyond awesome.

Hazel was pretty excited about our dinner, too!  That is her normal face for pictures now, apparently.  In real life she’s saying, “cheeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssse” until you take the picture.  Seriously, she will not break character until you turn the camera around and show her the picture.  One day, when she asks why we only kept the weird pictures of her during this time period, we will delight in telling her that this is all on her!

Postpartum Food

Toddler Version

I talk about food kind of a lot on this blog.  It’s right up there before school and after the girls (mostly…ok, sometimes it’s tied for first).  I’ve blogged a couple of times about how I dislike the food restrictions of pregnancy more than morning sickness or stretch marks.  In true Confer style, then, it should come as no surprise that my first meal home from the hospital, two days after giving birth, was a huge, rare steak and a FULL glass of wine.

Adult Version

Doesn’t this look amazing?  Amos is such a thoughtful husband.  He bought the steaks earlier that day, then let them rest out on the counter for a while so we could get a truly delicious rare steak that could also handle a nice sear on the outside.  Because he did that Hazel could also have some of the meat without having to cook it further.  To top the steak, he melted a homemade compound butter (butter, parsley, and sour cream) down with the pan juices to make an incredibly rich sauce that perfectly complimented the meat.  On the side we had roasted asparagus and snap beans, and to round out the meal (mostly for Hazel) we had a small amount of basmati rice.  The malbec we shared is the same one I was raving about earlier.  It’s called Alamos, and it is diVINE.  Do your mouth a favor and try some – I’m telling you, it is by far my favorite wine right now.

This is one of many lovely postpartum meals I’ll be talking about as I climb back to my normal palate after all the restrictions, aversions, and cravings that pregnancy brings.  I don’t know what’s next on the list, but I’m sure another rare steak isn’t too far away.

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