28 April 2012

Wyatt's Room

Some time ago, before he arrived, I posted about how I was decorating Wyatt's room.  His room is one of the busiest places in the house these days.  Since the initial set up, we've moved a few things around and recently, we even took the side rail off his crib, turning it into a toddler bed.  He crawls up and down by himself, and occasionally rolls out!

The fuzzy rug has been replaced, at least temporarily, by a play mat, which brings red into the orange, blue and white color scheme.  We moved the smaller glider into another room for a while, since the large red one is more comfortable for reading and nursing now that Wyatt is bigger.  Toys and puzzles are tucked in easy-to-reach places, and his closet has very few onesies in it any more.  It's less the room of a baby and more for a growing little boy.

Here's a look:

Our growing wall of "Wyatt's village" -- because, as we know, it takes a village to raise a child.

Books and toys fill up the little set of shelves now.

Puzzles and things with wheels are pretty much Wyatt's favorites these days.

Wyatt's bed, complete with favorite owl.
Bright morning light is one of my favorite things about Wyatt's room.
Monsters abound.

Wyatt's growth chart -- the wall by his closet.

26 April 2012

Homemade Mac & Cheese with Aleppo

My frequent need for comfort notwithstanding, I do not eat this dish more than a few times a year.  Aside from the mouth feel of the creamy, slightly spicy cheese sauce over the tender noodles and the toasted topping of crunchy bread crumbs, this dish has nothing going for it. Really.

Of course we all have those times when calories either don't count or don't matter, and we indulge.  Holidays.  Birthdays.  Oh, and the lesser-known but equally indulgent period of time after you have a baby when you are breastfeeding around the clock.  Maybe I made this one up. But whatever.

This week, I made this mac and cheese for some friends who had a baby girl at the beginning of the month.  (Welcome, Fiona!)  When I think back to that first month of my own experience as a mother, I cannot put into words how lovely it was to have delicious, ready-to-eat food arrive on our doorstep from our friends.  And the richer the better!  Within hours, I think Wyatt sucked all those extra calories right out of my body.  Those meals made the extreme tiredness caused by a new baby's mixed up days and nights so much more bearable.

But enough about me.  This week I was making a meal for Fiona's parents, and so I decided to do it up right with a pan of homemade mac.  One benefit of making this dish is that it also cleans out the cheese drawer in my fridge.  All those still-edible bits and scraps of cheese get used up.  Which, as we all know, means you can buy more cheese.  This is a plus, too.

I always put some type of chili powder in my cheese sauce, usually cayenne.  This time I used ground Aleppo pepper that I procured on my last visit to Big John's PFI.  I'm a total convert.  It gave the sauce a speckled, pink-ish hue and it tasted great. If you're not familiar with it, it's a red chili pepper named for a city in Syria, and it (the pepper that is) has a bit of sweetness, great chili flavor, and some mild chili heat.  Cayenne and chipotle are hotter.  Give it a try if you can find it.

Of course there are lots of ways to make a great mac and cheese.  This one happens to be fairly fast and easy, it tastes really good, and well, it's how I do it.

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese with Aleppo
significantly adapted from The Great American Macaroni and Cheese in Pasta & Co. By Request

16 ounce box good-quality dried elbow macaroni (penne works great too)
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper powder (substitute 1/3 tsp. cayenne or ground chipotle peppers if you can't find it)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
4 cups cold or room-temp milk (I use a combination of whole and non fat because that's what I keep on hand)
About one pound grated cheese (see note below)
4-5 fresh white or sour dough artisan bread, crusts removed
olive oil
1/4 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese

Boil the macaroni in well-salted water until al dente (about 4 minutes).  Drain and set aside, but don't rinse.

To make the sauce, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When it's melted, add the flour, and stir until combined thoroughly.  Let the roux cook for about a minute.  Add the pepper powder, salt and pepper.

The roux with Aleppo and ground pepper.
Turn the heat up to medium and add the milk, whisking it into the roux a bit at a time to be sure you get rid of any lumps.
The sauce should be smooth after adding the milk.
Once the milk is all added, stir until smooth.  Bring the mixture to a low simmer so it thickens.  Turn the heat down then stir in the cheeses. (Sometimes I add only the blue and Parmesan to the sauce and layer the other grated cheese with the pasta/sauce mixture in the pan.)   Remove from the heat once the cheese is melted.  Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Add the pasta to the cheese sauce, breaking up any clumps of pasta once it's in the sauce.  Pour the pasta and sauce mixture into a buttered 9x13 casserole dish (I used two smaller dishes this time -- one to give away and one to eat).  As I mentioned, I often assemble it this way too: spread half the pasta/sauce mixture in the pan, then sprinkle 1/2 the grated cheese, then the rest of the pasta, then the rest of the grated cheese.

To make the bread crumbs, tear up the bread slices and chop into fairly small bread crumbs using a food processor.  Add the Parmesan cheese and a good glog of olive oil.  Stir it all together and sprinkle liberally on the top of the mac and cheese.  More crumbs means more toasty crunch in every bite.
Ready for the oven.
Bake uncovered at 350 degrees (or 400 if you are impatient) for about 30-50 minutes, until bubbly around the edges and the top has browned nicely.  (If you make it ahead, drizzle about 3/4 cup of milk over the dish before you bake it.) Consume.

Note about cheeses:  I use a sharp, aged cheddar for at least half of my cheese.  This time, I used about 17 ounces of grated cheese, three quarters of it was a combination of Tillamook sharp cheddar and Beecher's Flagship cheddar.  The rest was whole milk mozzarella, Grana Padano (Parmigiano Reggiano is equally nice), and about 2-3 ounces of Gorgonzola.  I always include a bit of blue cheese because it adds complexity to the flavor, and in my experience, blue cheese haters 1) like the result and 2) can't tell its there.  Other cheese I usually include (but didn't have this time) are Fontina (makes it especially creamy) and Jack/Pepper Jack.

19 April 2012

Arboretum urban hike

Saturday we spent the day hiking around Washington Park Arboretum. It's hard to find a prettier place in the city this time of year.  A few months back, I really enjoyed visiting the winter garden, but this weekend was truly spring.  We enjoyed the tail end of the cherry blossoms, early rhododendrons, and most lovely of all, the magnolias.

After waiting for Wyatt to finish his morning nap in the car, we strapped him into the back pack and hiked from one end of the arboretum to the other, then up to the Madison Valley Essential Baking Company for lunch, then a stint at the park to "run" Wyatt, and finally a walk back to through the arboretum. 

Wyatt loved being outside all day (as did we) and barking at nearly every dog we passed. We had such a nice time, I think we'll go back in a few weeks to see all the azaleas and rhodies in full bloom.

10 April 2012

Spring Brunch

Brunch complete with pink tulips on a vintage linen dishtowel from my late mother-in-law's collection.
While millions of people celebrated Easter and Passover last weekend, our emphasis was pretty much 100 percent on the eating.  Our celebration was more about the sunshine and the fact that the garden is actually growing.  Plus it's opening day here in Seattle on Friday.  I must admit I also did a little happy dance (inside that is) when my sister gave me a candy basket complete with Reese's peanut butter eggs.  Low brow, yes.  But traditions are traditions.

For brunch on Sunday, Becky and Darren brought a bowl of strawberries and a cheese blintz dish with blueberry compote.  This is the kind of dish that tastes amazing, but you really don't want to know what goes in it or you'll feel bad about your second helping.  Regardless, I think I need to learn to make it, so I'm working on acquiring the recipe to post here.  Trust me, you too will want this recipe.

Darcy and Ryan brought a garlic-potato-egg-herb dish that was awesome despite Darcy's disclaimer that it had left over mashed potatoes in it. 

Byron made homemade hot cross buns from this recipe and provided the beverages.  Nobody starved.

Thanks to Darcy's craftiness with dye, Wyatt and Arlo had their first egg hunt on our deck.  Turns out, before age two it's as much fun to smash the eggs as it is to find them.  Maybe more fun.  Oh well.  We managed to rescue a few of them and made egg salad sandwiches with new chives from the garden for dinner.  Good food start to finish.

06 April 2012

Kyle's Passover Macaroons

You have heard me sing the praises of these macaroons before.  They come together in about three minutes.  They cook for 20.  And you can eat them all within an hour (although you will likely have a stomach ache).

Tonight I made them, having just gotten the recipe from Kyle yesterday.  I might make them again tomorrow.  Eaten warm, they could be the best cookie ever.  Ever.

Kyle's Macaroons
perhaps originally from the Silver Palate Cookbook

1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
a pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 350 before making the batter. Toss the dry ingredients together, making sure there are no lumps in the coconut and that the flour coats everything. Add the vanilla and milk and stir it all together.  The mixture will be quite thick, but be sure everything is well combined.  Drop large spoonfuls of the batter onto a well-buttered baking sheet, dividing the batch into 12 macaroons.

Bake 20 minutes.  Let cool two minutes, then remove to a cooling rack, or just eat them.

03 April 2012

A little catch up + a salad

I've been posting to this blog nearly every day -- in my head, that is.  I blame it on winter getting in my way.  However, now that my peas are eight inches tall, I'm quite optimistic about showing up here more often. I'm beginning to feel like I have things to tell you about again. 

But lest you lose sleep wondering what I've been doing all this time, here's a bit of an update on what the mostly rainy days of late have been filled with for me.

18 years -- Byron and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary mid March.  The day came complete with a husband who took a half-day off, gorgeous flowers, enough just-me time to get a much needed massage, and a tasty dinner at home and a bottle of bubbly.  As an added bonus, I had Wyatt's help preparing steelhead for dinner.

Pears and new discoveries -- Wyatt is figuring out lots of new things these days.  He's becoming an expert at feeding himself with utensils (and of course the fingers still get used plenty).  And eating whole pieces of fruit.  This week, so far (bear in mind it's only Tuesday night) he's eaten four whole pears.  Some days, he eats stem and all.

I spend a lot of time laughing and taking pictures of Wyatt doing funny things.  As you can see, he's a big help when it comes to putting away groceries -- here, he's gone in after two grapefruit!

The microwave is still a bit of an enigma to Wyatt, having mastered the fridge, printer, tv remote, iphone, dishwasher, electric toothbrush, and vacuum cleaner already.  About all he can do is operate the cancel button, which, unfortunately, happens a lot while the microwave is in use.

Found a co-op -- Last week, I visited a co-op preschool, which happens to be right down the street, in the hope that it might be a good spot for Wyatt and me to attend starting in September.  I really liked it.  What the indoor space lacks in natural light it seems to make up for in a cheery sense of community and an experienced, professional, and well-loved teacher.  While I checked out the co-op, Wyatt got some quality time with his buddy Arlo.  (Thanks, Darcy!)  I liked what I saw, and so I enrolled Wyatt in his first "school" -- it's a two-hour/one-day-a-week co-op for about 18 toddlers (and their parents) ages 14-23 months.  This will be fun.

As for eating  -- For my friends who despise mayonnaise or who don't like their fruit and nuts together in a salad, you know who you are, stop reading right here. I've been making Waldorf salad. 

This is a lovely salad (photo above notwithstanding). Trust me, my picture really doesn't do it justice.  In my view, it's a salad that does not get eaten enough.  It's super crunchy and has a bit of tang and savory to temper all the sweetness. I never see it on a menu.  I forget about it.  I forget that it exists at all, how easy it is to make, and, honestly, how much like a dessert it is, too.  Yes, I've had a few nasty versions at potlucks in my day.  This one is light and well seasoned.  The addition of yogurt, honey, and lemon zest makes all the difference.  I say make it for Easter.

Waldorf Salad
adapted from a food network recipe

3/4 cup walnuts halves
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 lemon, zest finely grated
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large crisp apples, one Granny Smith and one Gala or Pink Lady
1/2 cup fresh grapes, halved
2 ribs celery (with leaves), sliced into 1/2-inch-thick square pieces (leaves chopped)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 head Boston lettuce, trimmed, washed, and dried

Toast the nuts on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Cool and break into pieces. Set aside until ready to serve the salad.

For the dressing, whisk the yogurt, mayonnaise, parsley, honey, and lemon zest in a large bowl and season generously with pepper.

Halve, core, and cut the apples into 3/4-inch pieces, leaving the skin on. Add the apples, celery and raisins and grapes to the bowl, sprinkle with the lemon juice. 

If you aren't serving the salad immediately.  Refrigerate the fruit and dressing separately.  Otherwise, add the fruit to the dressing and toss to coat everything well. Add walnuts and toss lightly.

Traditionally, the salad is served on a salad plate, atop a lettuce leaf.