Archives For Food and Drink

First off, I am super sad about Robin Williams. Nick and I watched The Crazy Ones last season so it feels like I just saw him. I know that’s not the same as actually knowing somebody, but he touched a lot of people. I worked at a crisis hotline for several years and have my own struggles with depression, so it always hits me kind of hard when I hear of someone dying by suicide. If you’re having thoughts of suicide please reach out for help before making any decisions. You can call 1-800-273-TALK to reach a trained counselor anytime of night or day.

Now onto comfort food. I feel like one of the best strategies in getting more comfortable in the kitchen is to develop a few basic techniques that can be tweaked to accommodate whatever time and ingredients you have available. I’m not sure why cooking isn’t just taught this way in the first place. If you know how to cook some basic ingredient without requiring a specific recipe then it becomes easy to build a meal around what you have. Example: my technique for Perfect Chicken.

Start by seasoning one large or two small chicken breasts on each side. I use salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. Heat some olive oil over medium heat in an ovenproof pan and brown the chicken for four minutes on each side.

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While the second side is browning you may add other ingredients if you like. I’m a fan of onions, frozen spinach, mushrooms, garlic, butter, and a splash of vinegar (a variation of this recipe).

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Bake for 25 minutes. I boil a pot of water during this time and cook some pasta. The chicken comes out smelling and looking awesome.

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For this particular meal, I prefer the chicken shredded. I pop it in my stand mixer on low for about five minutes and voila, shredded chicken. Then I add it back into the pan with the pasta and some shredded cheese and bam, dinner is ready.

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The great thing about this technique is that you can adjust it to your needs and preferences. I’ll skip all the extra ingredients and just cook up the breasts for some chicken salad, or season the chicken breasts with some Mexican seasoning before cooking and use them for burrito bowls. This particular meal is a big hit in our house so I usually make it every week. You can also leave the chicken out altogether if you’d like.

I knew that having drink dispensers that closed for travel would be the easiest way to transport beverages to Jack’s splashpad birthday party, but dang those things are expensive! I searched high and low, unwilling to pay upwards of $20 each for something I might use once a year, and was thrilled when I finally found these for only $10 each at Target. I could have used them on their own just fine, but they would have had to sit at the edge of the table so that folks could fill their cups and that just felt awkward to me.

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I wanted to find a way to raise them up a few inches if possible. I couldn’t find any drinks stands that had the look I wanted and were worth the money so I started looking for everyday objects that might be repurposed. I really only needed something about 3″ high to accommodate the small cups we were using but whatever it was had to be pretty sturdy. Enter this wood box from the craft store! I think it was about $11 with a coupon. I totally laughed when I saw the text on it, though. I feel like Pinterest has taken our collective penchant for decor that states the obvious a little too far.

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To cover up the text, I painted the center slat kelly green. I was originally planning to stain the rest of it but that one colorful slat looked a little off so I painted the others navy and white. These are the same colors used in Jack’s room and in varying degrees throughout our home so I knew I could repurpose it to store toys or books after the party without having to repaint. I stained the remaining sides and bottom. I was going to stain the inside as well, but after some green paint dripped I painted it green. The green interior is my only regret.

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For the party, we just flipped it over to use as a platform! It was a little breezy that day so we tucked the napkins between the slats to help them stay put. I was a little worried about how the thin wood would hold up to all that weight and moisture from condensation but it did fine.

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The box is currently corralling cleaning rags in my laundry room, but the colors are so great that I think I will eventually just add some felt pads to the bottom and put it in Jack’s room. I might get another one just like it to paint yellow for the laundry room, though!

In celebration of Jack’s second birthday we had a small party at the splash pad near our house on Saturday. We kept the guest list much shorter this year and made things easy on ourselves by ordering pizza.

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We considered having it at our house, but Jack loves visiting the splash pad so much that it was an obvious choice. Getting everything to the splash pad and back home again posed a logistical challenge but it forced us to keep things low key and was still less stressful than hosting it at home.

033 Fuse (570x380) I filled some inexpensive beverage containers from Target with homemade lemonade and ice water–more on the beverage stand tomorrow. The iced tea was a last minute decision and the pitcher was only half full because I needed a spill-proof way to transport it and that amount filled the largest lidded jar that I had. I should have filled the pitcher with ice, the jar with water, and used the second beverage dispenser for tea. Live and learn. The tablecloth is just a twin sized flat sheet draped over a folding table. 005 (570x381) Although pizza was the main event, I also brought some fresh fruit and spinach dip. I didn’t have a shatterproof bowl large enough for the watermelon so I hollowed out the watermelon itself. I just took a small slice off the bottom to help it sit flat, then cut off the top third and cubed up the insides. Once I had most of the fruit removed I scraped out the rest to make a nice bowl. The tablecloth is a large canvas dropcloth that I already had. It’s been washed so many times that it’s amazingly soft. Everything on the table got squished over to the right once the pizza arrived. It’s also worth noting that we set up a folding canopy over the two tables–the cake was melting towards the end even in the shade! 007 (570x381) My sister is an amazing baker and did a great job with the cake. She knows I don’t like themed parties but couldn’t resist the temptation to incorporate one of Jack’s favorite things–Sesame Street. He LOVED seeing Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird on his cake. The characters around the perimeter are actually plastic rings. For older kids they could double as party favors but we set them aside after we saw Jack put one entirely into his mouth. 019 (570x375) We’d practiced blowing out candles a few times recently so Jack knew what to do! He thinks it’s fun. 059 (382x570) The cake was strawberry with Swiss meringue buttercream icing–yum! Folks brought towels and folding chairs and sat down to eat wherever they felt comfortable. It was very relaxed. 079 (570x380) I didn’t manage to get a picture of it until after the party, but I spent about $20 on enough buckets, balls, etc. for all the kids to enjoy, plus any others that happened to be playing at the splash pad that day. Normally it really bugs me when people bring toys to the playground or splash pad because my kid wants to play with them and it gets awkward, so I made sure to tell other parents that their kids were free to play with them and even bring them home. I intentionally bought a bunch because I figured they could double as favors and we still brought more home than we know what to do with. 011 (570x380) All together we spent right around $200, including $25 on a gift–Jack’s really into trucks right now so we got him this with some small things we knew he’d love, like bubbles and an Elmo cup, in the back. To save money I designed the invites myself and then emailed/texted them out instead of having them printed and mailed, bought napkins and cups at the dollar store, used things I already had whenever possible, and kept the guest list short–just kids we play with regularly and immediate family. I also found lots of things inexpensively in the Target dollar spot and summer sections and most of them are things I can use again for future parties. We probably could have saved quite a bit by serving homemade sandwiches instead of pizza, so that’s something to consider for next time. 114 (2) (380x570) You can read about Jack’s first birthday party here. I’ve got to say that after this experience I’m pretty much sold on hosting parties away from home. An hour before the party we were just chilling on the couch, everything packed up and ready to go as soon as it was time. The only thing I didn’t plan well enough was the cleanup. I’d brought two small trash bins but they weren’t nearly big enough–next time I’ll bring a couple of large garbage bags to get everything home, including stuff like towels and tablecloths that aren’t getting thrown away but aren’t worth folding neatly for transport, either. I also forgot ice, even though I’d meant to buy a bag of it on our way over, but my sister’s teenage stepson saved the day by begging some from the golf pro shop adjacent to the splash pad. We are really lucky to have a place like this so close to home, but even if you don’t maybe you can repurpose some of the ideas used here–like sticking to simple colors instead of a theme so that you can be more flexible and reuse items in the future, or resisting the urge to invite everyone you know. It was so much more relaxed having a smaller crowd. We had such a good time that I wish we could do it again sooner than next year!

My rosemary plant is growing beautifully (unlike my basil, which is bolting, and cilantro, which I’ve killed twice now) and I’ve been trying to come up with ways to use it. A while back I tried baking some lemon rosemary cookies, and while they were delicious they tasted mostly like butter and rosemary and not so much like lemon. Intrigued by the lemon/rosemary juxtaposition, though, I tried combining them in a lemonade recipe this weekend. I tweaked several different recipes I found online so as to also incorporate the agave that’s been sitting in my pantry since last summer.

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I started by bringing six cups of water to a boil, then I removed it from the heat, added two sprigs of rosemary, and left it to steep, covered, until it cooled to room temperature.

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I was surprised by how intensely the rosemary infused the water! It looked almost like tea when I removed the sprigs and poured it into a pitcher.

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Meanwhile, I measured out a half cup of agave nectar. Agave is kind of like honey except it comes from a plant. If you don’t have any you can use honey or simple syrup instead.

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The bag of seven small lemons I’d purchased yielded only around 3/4 cup of juice, so I made up the difference with some bottled lemon juice from the fridge and stirred in the agave.

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Then I combined the lemon-agave mixture with the rosemary-infused water, plus two additional cups of cold water.

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Of course I drank mine in a mason jar garnished with rosemary. So fancy.

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When the pitcher was about half empty I made some iced tea to mix in with it–the result was delicious! In fact, I think next time I’ll add a tea bag in with the rosemary to steep right from the get go.

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This was an interesting take on lemonade–it’s much less sweet than what I’m used to and the rosemary added such an interesting flavor. It was a little disconcerting, to be honest, but combined with the iced tea it was a delight. It would probably be really good as a cocktail, too, but I was fresh out of tequila. Verdict: I probably wouldn’t serve it as straight up lemonade because it doesn’t actually taste like lemonade, but it would be a great base for an Arnold Palmer or an original cocktail.