29 August 2012

A toddler's breakfast

I write about food here often.  I also write about Wyatt a lot.  But I haven't posted much here about the foods I make for Wyatt.  Perhaps it's because he generally eats the same foods we eat, and I don't usually cook something special for him.  Even so, I've learned that tweaking the preparation a bit makes his food go "down the hatch" (something we like to say around here) with a little less hassle.

Breakfast is a sit-down-together meal in our home.  Byron and I have eaten breakfast together for years, and now that Wy is with us, he's at the table too.  During the week we eat a lot of oatmeal.  Anyone who knows about my 25 pound bags/garbage can full of oatmeal is aware of how serious we are about this grain.  It's breakfast food year round -- hot topped with honey and almonds; raw in muesli with nuts, fruit, and yogurt; or toasted in granola.

Wyatt likes hot "ohmee" as he calls it, but he has a bad habit of picking out the dried fruit piece by piece e.g. black raisins or dried blueberries, and eating all the fruit before he eats the rest.  This is problematic in that a) he fills up on fruit and/or gets tired of eating before he gets to the oatmeal. and b) his oatmeal doesn't have anything in it when he goes to eat it, which usually means he's not so keen on it. 

Thanks to a visit from my friend Jill a couple weeks ago, I now know how to make oatmeal in the microwave.  Why I had never figured this out before now, I don't know.  This method is great for Wyatt's oatmeal, especially since I can add dried fruit to cook along with the oats so it gets a little softer.  It also makes it easier to cook one toddler serving at a time.  With a little experimentation, I've also discovered what seems to be Wyatt's most reliable eat-it-all combination of add-ins -- things that he cannot visually isolate from the oatmeal.  Oh, the tricks we learn!

Another food that I offer to Wyatt regularly is soy milk.  Although he is still nursing in the morning and evening and occasionally during the days, his pediatrician tells me that he needs to get familiar with the taste of other milk.  Plus, it's another good source of vitamin D, calcium, and protein for him.  But sometimes he doesn't want to touch the milk.  Rather than add chocolate or a powdered flavor or sweet syrup, I came up with a simple and relatively healthy way to get Wyatt to down 8 ounces of soy milk without protest -- real strawberry milk.

I'm certain I'll have to come up with a few more tricks to keep Wyatt eating healthy food in the months and years ahead.  But for now this is what works.

Wy's Favorite Oatmeal 
makes one toddler-size serving
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup rolled regular oats
dash of cinnamon
small handful golden raisins
generous pinch of flaked coconut
agave nectar or brown sugar, to taste
milk or soy milk
a few pieces of seasonal fruit

Combine water, oats, cinnamon, raisins, and coconut in a microwave bowl.  Microwave on high for about a minute and a half -- until the mixture is bubbly and beginning to thicken.  Remove and transfer some of all of it to a cool serving bowl. While the oatmeal cools to eating temperature, add the agave nectar or brown sugar and stir it in.   When the oatmeal has cooled a bit, add a few tablespoons of cold milk or soy milk and stir that in.  This should make the mixture warm, but not too hot to eat. Garnish with a few pieces of fresh fruit, whatever is in season.

Real Strawberry Milk
makes one serving

8 ounces cold milk or soy milk
a handful of fresh strawberries, stems removed
agave nectar, optional

Blend the fruit into the milk using a hand blender.  It will be more popular if it's a bit frothy and has some bubbles in it, so aim for that.  Add a drop or two of agave nectar, if using, and stir.  Pour into a toddler cup, add a straw, and watch it disappear.

26 August 2012

Beginning to panic

It suddenly feels as though summer is on the down slope.  Cooler mornings mean my coffee is hot, not iced, once again.  Our windows aren't always open at night anymore.  Swimming lessons are over.  Wyatt and I will be starting a co-op preschool in a couple weeks.

All of this signals the ending of summer. It also means I won't have too many more weeks to enjoy all the wonderful fruits and vegetables that are currently so abundant.

In the past week I've started panicking that I will go to the farmers market and there won't be any more sweet corn.  This happened a few weeks ago with apricots and I almost cried. 

I bought my last two pounds of this year's sweet cherries at Wednesday's market.  I managed to hide enough of them from Wyatt to make a cherry clafouti, something I've been trying to make all summer.  The Sweetheart variety that I used, pits-in, tasted almost spicy.  It was lovely.  Plus, it turns out my toddler will actually eat eggs if they are baked into a clafouti.  This is excellent news.

Truth is, if I don't eat enough summer produce such that I begin to tire of it, I feel like summer has passed me by.  Therefore, it has been decided.  We are cramming as many meals filled with summer foods into the next few days and weeks as we can.  It's now or never for broiled tomatoes; summer squash casserole; salads of tomato, fennel, and fresh green beans; tomato-basil bruschetta on good bread rubbed with garlic; grilled tomato and Romano bean salad with feta, fresh poblanos rajas on homemade tortillas; panzanella . . .

This is also the time when so many good varieties of fruit are peaking.  As you might expect, we are determined to gorge ourselves.  This greatly pleases our 20-month old fruit bat of a toddler.  (Case in point: On Friday, I found him sitting at the table with three Santa Rosa plums in front of him -- each one missing a bite -- and he was reaching for another.)  That said, I've not managed to get even one box of peaches from Eastern Washington yet.  Usually we eat our way through two or more -- and it's nearly Labor Day. My heart is beginning to race just writing this.

I did pick up two flats of mixed berries at the farmers market last week  We've been eating them on yogurt and cereal, then on waffles, and yesterday I made a blackberry and peach coffee cake.

Tonight I baked two raspberry-plum cobblers from a recipe in one of those delightful Canal House volumes.  And then a blackberry galette. Even so, I haven't yet made my three crust blackberry cobblerDeep breath.

It's actually my green tomatoes growing on the vine that have the most calming effect on me.  Oddly, they remind me that summer isn't done, just slowing down.  That odds are I'll get to eat more sweet corn before Yakima runs out of it and quits shipping it to Seattle, that I might even find a box of peaches at the local market this week, and that peppers and tomatoes (at least local ones) are yet to come. Exhale.

22 August 2012


Indian food isn't really something we cook at home.  I hope to change this in the coming year once my friend Lipika starts teaching me how she cooks some of her favorite Bengali dishes.  But in the meantime, we go out to get our Indian food fix.

When Wyatt and I occasionally meet Byron for lunch we like to go to The Clay Pit.  It's a bustling place, no doubt because their lunch buffet is quite good, fresh, and offers mostly vegetable dishes, which is what I'm the craziest about.  My only complaint is that my favorite Indian dessert, kheer -- the chilled, thin Indian rice pudding made with cardamom -- is not on the buffet.  In its place, they offer a mediocre mango pudding. 

In any case, last weekend I tried making it myself, kheer that is, with great results. I came up with a recipe by blending several that I found online and using the ingredients I had on hand.  I must say that eaten cold with a pinch of toasted almonds and pistachios, it is rather divine. 

Kheer with brown rice
makes about 12-15 servings

6 c nonfat milk
4 c whole milk
2 c cream
1 c brown basmati rice, washed and dried
8-10 Tb granulated sugar
6 Tb raisins
1/2 c sliced almonds, lightly toasted (plus more for garnish)
1/4 c chopped unsalted pistachios (plus more for garnish)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom, or to taste (many recipes called for pods and ground seeds, which would be ideal if you have them)
pinch of saffron, softened in 1 Tb. of hot milk

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat.  When it is simmering, add the rice and then bring it to a boil, stirring quite frequently.  Once it hits a rolling boil, immediately reduce the heat and keep the rice and milk mixture at a low boil/simmer.  Add the cardamom and saffron.  Cook it like this for about an hour, maybe a tad longer.

Once the milk is reduce by about half and the rice is cooked, add the sugar, raisins, almonds, and pistachios.  Simmer, stirring often, for another five minutes to dissolve the sugar and soften the raisins.  Remove from the heat.  Cool and serve at room temperature or chilled.  Top with more chopped nuts and raisins if you like.  Traditional toppings include cashews, almonds, pistachios, raisins, and even rose petals.

Note: The next time I make it, I will make it a little less rich by replacing the cream with more nonfat milk; I will increase the cardamom or try to make it using pods and ground seeds; and I will use yellow raisins instead of brown ones, just for looks.

10 August 2012

My august garden

It's this time of year I've come to like the most in my garden.  Unlike the beginning of all the blossoms or the first harvest, it's the time of year when the garden has a rhythm.  Everything is growing like crazy and requires regular watering.  A handful of fertilizer can work wonders within a few days.

The dahlias have begun, sunflowers are opening, and the lavender gives off that gentle herb-floral-antiseptic waft when my leg brushes it along the path.  Hydrangeas are blooming full tilt. Roses are on their second round.  The bird bath needs to be filled every day.  Sedum is getting ready for a fall performance. And although the days are too hot for lettuce or spinach, the green beans are thriving and padron peppers and heirloom tomatoes are setting their fruits.  It's now that I begin thinking about what to plant in the bare garden spaces vacated by the lettuce and peas, wondering if I can harvest anything I start now before the frost.  The tristar strawberries are turning red.

This is the time of year when I know I've accomplished something in the garden, when I really feel like a gardener.  And, not coincidentally, it's the time of year I long for most in February.

Cuke deluge

It's really my own fault as I was the one who bought the 20 pounds of pickling cucumbers in the first place.  Turns out 20 pounds is quite a few cucumbers.  And unless you are up for pickling them whole in a very large container, it's a lot of work to slice and dice that many cukes.

Lucky for me, my friend Sarah who is currently enjoying a life of leisure stepped in to rescue me and has taken eight pounds off my hands after also helping me turn six pounds into my favorite bread and butter pickles.  I'm well on my way.

Still to do . . . dill pickle relish (anyone have a good recipe for this?) and Indonesian quick pickles and kosher dills from my new favorite preserving book, Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff who writes great stuff here as well.  Then it's on to dilly beans.  Did I mention I'm doing green beans too?  Those will be fast and easy.  Well, not sure how fast any of this will be given the 19-month-old running about the house.  At least he likes to help.

07 August 2012

Happily ever after

Last Wednesday, August 1, my sister and her fiance married in a beautiful ocean-front ceremony on the island of Kauai.  It was a small, meaningful celebration.  Byron, Wyatt and I were so glad we could be there to witness it.  Becky and Darren made a stunning couple.  And now, just a few photos from their big day.

05 August 2012

Kauai haiku

Just for fun, when we travel I often post haiku about the trip on Facebook.  Last week we traveled to Kauai to celebrate my sister's wedding.  Here are my haiku from our week on Kauai.

Goodbye clouds and fog
Now island breeze, sky, ocean
A flight, arrival

Slowing finally
Island time makes that happen
Plate lunch and poke

Rain, sun, mist, chickens
Ancient canyon red and green
hike foiled by rain

Palms waving to me
Undulating like the sea
Friendly paradise

Mornings that I like
Wake up call from crashing surf
Sand castles by nine


Vows by the ocean
Today my sister married
Full moon and full hearts

Home to our own beds
Heat and sun here too, hooray!
Still, I miss the waves

Summer vacation for nine

We started this summer something that we hope will become a tradition -- vacationing with two special families.  The women in the group all went to law school together and the guys, well, they survived the three of us going to law school together, which actually might have been the harder part.

More recently, within 11 months of each other, we all had baby boys.  The group included Bonnie and Joe and their son, Oliver, who live in Washington D.C; and Darcy, Ryan and Arlo, who live in Seattle near us.

Darcy, Arlo, and Ryan
Oliver, Joe, and Bonnie
We have been thinking about the joint-vacation idea for a while, but we planned our first trip together this summer to get the tradition rolling now that we all have kids.  We chose the Olympic Peninsula as our first destination -- partly because it required only one family to fly, and also because it fit with our goal to visit U.S. National Parks together.

Our plan was to rent a house in the Sequim area and spend time doing outdoor things like hiking in the Olympics and wandering the beach along the Straight of Juan de Fuca.  Had it not been for the epic and unprecedented thunder and lightening storm that hovered over Sequim for the first two days, we probably would have achieved our goals.

Early morning view of the coastline at low tide from the house
 As it turned out, we enjoyed sunshine the day we arrived (Thursday) and made a stop at a lavender farm for some lavender mint ice cream, photo ops with the lavender, and a spin through the farm.

That night thunder clouds rolled in and we found ourselves housebound until midday Saturday.   Although we poured libations, the weather did not abate. Luckily the house had plenty of space allowing us to comfortably hang out together, talk, drink, cook up a pot of chili, sleep, read, and unfortunately, also pass around a 48-hour bug.  Sneezing and stuffy noses aside, it was awesome.  Really.When the clouds cleared a bit, our main excursion took us to Dungeness Spit where we wandered and beach combed and wrangled three little boys.

On one of the days a few of us were feeling optimistic and had the energy to hike (i.e. those not currently under the spell of the cold) so we ventured out, stopping to see the newly removed lower Elwha dam site.  The river restoration was rather impressive.  We also made the drive up to Hurricane Ridge only to find ourselves completely socked in with fog and rain.  Needless to say, we didn't hike.

Elwha river restored at location of former lower dam
Although our activities didn't go as planned, we had a lovely time together. As for the little people: Oliver was the littlest fellow at 11 months old; Wyatt was in the middle at a year and a half; and Arlo was the oldest at 22 months old.  The boys got along great -- sharing toys and booster seats and books.  The adults thoroughly enjoyed the time together too with nightly after-kids-were-asleep talks that basically solved most of the world's problems.

We headed back to Seattle on Monday, enjoying great weather for an afternoon in Pt. Townsend to shop and eat lunch, and then a gorgeous ferry ride home.  After lunch, the highlight for us in Pt. Townsend was discovering a terrific writer's book shop, The Writer's Workshoppe, followed by terrific local raspberry ice cream and affogato. Home in Seattle, we enjoyed an evening together on Monday night before Bonnie, Joe and Oliver headed for the airport.

Our vacation gave all of us a much-needed break from everyday life and work, a chance to reconnect and catch up, and definitely inspired us to start planning for next year. Plus, I got to celebrate my birthday with dear friends, which made it all the more special.  (Thanks, Byron, for schlepping the lefse grill all the way to Sequim just to make me birthday crepes. They were delicious.)