The rain has settled in for the day and I am perfectly content with it as I was looking for a reason to put on my cozy pants and have a quiet afternoon in. Kyle spent some time in the emergency room last week after an accident at work, and was in California all weekend, and we’ve been fighting a bad cough, so a quiet afternoon… make that a quiet week, is just what we need around here.
For the past couple of weeks our kitchen has been a non-stop, stocking-up station. I’ve been pickling the last of our green tomatoes, made a half gallon and a quart of pickled jalepeños, and we have enough chicken and vegetable stock, Sweet Potato Soup, and Leek and Potato Soup to last us all fall. Besides an excursion into making Korean Tacos (which included making Korean BBQ Sauce, which included making Orange Marmalade, and Cucumber Kimchi, Korean Slaw, and Korean Salsa) I’ve been sticking almost entirely to creamy vegetable soups and hearty chicken soups. In fact, I may have gone a little overboard.
Something about the dumping rain and dramatic cloud cover just drive me to cook, and cook, and cook, and cook. It also drives me to buy way too much fresh bread from the local bakery. But we need all the bread to go with all of the soup! I’ve promised myself that this week I would take a break from stocking up (except for the chicken stock currently simmering on the stove), and that I’d make very simple dinners in an effort to carve out some time to think through all of the different aspects of my busy little life.
Somehow I’ve always managed to run a photography business, this blog, and my local food website simultaneously while parenting. Lately, this ability to work and parent at the same time has ground to a halt. For the last six months this has been pretty much impossible to get anything done and it feels like something is always taking a hit. I’m trying to figure out a way to make it all work on my own since we need my income and hiring any childcare isn’t in our budget. It’s one thing for me to be cooking, taking photos, and journaling ideas, but working on the computer while they are up and running is proving to be a losing endeavor all the way around. I’ve always been a “doer” and a relatively good planner so I’m sure I’ll figure something out.
In the meantime, I’ve got a pretty impressive stash of soup in the freezer to nourish us while I attempt to break things down, and problem solve my own personal balance of work, motherhood, and personal health and sanity. The kids are napping now, the rain is still falling, and I have reheated some leftovers to eat for lunch while I attempt to divide the current pile of multitasking madness that is my life into something organized and doable! I should be able to figure it out before they wake up from this nap, right?
Normally during nap is when I prep my dinner stuff, so that means tonight we will be having…. soup! From the freezer! My favorite thing I’ve made in these past couple weeks has been a very simple Leek and Potato Soup. I planted dozens of leeks in the “bed” along the back of our house so making this soup also involved my favorite activity: harvesting. There’s something wonderfully satisfying about pulling heavy-with-soil leeks from the ground!
I’ve halved the recipe below because I’m assuming most of you didn’t plant too many leeks this summer, and I ended up with about 10 servings after freezing half! My version of Leek and Potato Soup is simple, rich, silky, and it feels completely appropriate to enjoy on a rainy evening. We will have big bowls of soup tonight, topped with a dollop of mascarpone cheese, a little flaky salt, and minced parsley or chives.
LEEK AND POTATO SOUP
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 pound thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only (ends discarded)
1 quart low-sodium vegetable stock
1 cup water
1 pound peeled and cubed russet potatoes
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper
mascarpone cheese (optional)
very finely minced Italian parley or chives
Maldon or flaky salt
To clean the leeks, place the sliced leeks in a large bowl and cover them in cold water. Agitate to loosen any dirt that is hiding in the layers. Lift the leeks from the water bath into a strainer and drain.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with a 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil. Add in the leeks, a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few turns of pepper. Sauté the leeks for about five minutes on medium high heat until they have softened a bit. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook the leeks for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft and tender.
Add the broth, water, and potatoes to the pot. Bring it to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are completely cooked and soft. Move the pot off of the heat before stirring in the cream, half and half, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.
Using an immersion blender purée the soup until smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer the soup in batches to blender and purée until smooth. Leave the plug off, covering the whole on the small hole with a thickly folded towel. This allows some of the steam to escape so you’re not created any pressure. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer the soup to bowls, top with a little mascarpone cheese, a pinch of flaky salt and fresh herbs.
Serves 10 adults.
LEEK AND POTATO SOUP
This summer, Earth’s Best sent us a special delivery: a care package loaded some of their fantastic Earth’s Best Organic Formula, and lots of their new products. The popular products are probably things that, if you have small children, you are really familiar with…
The Earth’s Best formula has been a staple around our house both when Gigi was starting solid food, and now as Lulu continues her transition to whole foods. Having two very slight babes, I relied on Earth’s Best to boost their puréed foods and cereals with extra calories. Neither of them ever drank it the traditional “supplement” sense, but we used it in a capacity to make sure they were getting extra calories anywhere we could manage. Adding a scoop or two of the formula gives me a huge sense of relief, knowing that Lulu is getting those extra calories.
Amongst the new items they sent our way, the following were our favorites:
01. We didn’t use the Cold Relief Vapor Ointment much this summer but we have been using it a lot already this fall! I feel so much better about using this ointment than the Vick’s children’s brand! It smells the same and works the same as the Vick’s stuff but knowing it’s natural and mostly organic makes me feel better about rubbing it on Gigi’s chest. She’s had an irritated cough now for a month and this really helps her sleep.
02. The Calming Bubble Bath was a hit! We used this as a special treat, a little at a time, as a reward for fabulous behavior, and the girls loved it!
03. The Sleepytime Shampoo and Body Wash and the Sleepytime Lotion are so great. They smell amazing and feel luxurious!
(04.) Not pictured is their new sunscreen which I LOVED. There’s no photo because we used it all up! It was so silky and easy to apply. It came out of the bottle rather thick but then disappeared into a thin sheen when I rubbed my palms together. I’m crazy about sunscreen and my fair little gals need plenty of it!
And as you know we are HUGE fans of their baby food. Particularly their “squeezy foods”, as they’re referred to around here. I love that they do so many hearty, vegetable heavy combinations. These have saved me on-the-go so many times!
I love Earth’s Best because, as a parent, I’ve really relied on their baby foods and formula when I couldn’t make my own food, and couldn’t make enough milk! I love that they sponsor Sesame Street; one of our favorite morning PBS shows around here. I’ve found Earth’s Best to be an affordable, consistent brand. But even more important than that, their brand has brought me a lot of comfort and peace of mind over the last 4 years. This is why I was so excited when they wanted to work with me. They’ve asked me to help spread the word about a brand a “Special Delivery”! It’s a few new products that are coming soon… Earth’s Best is teaming up with Target to release something new and exciting; I can’t wait to tell you more about it next week! In the meantime you can check out what Earth’s Best is up to on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram using #EBSpecialDelivery!
*This post is sponsored by Earth’s Best. A trusted brand of our household. Thank you for helping to support the sponsors that help to support my family.
SWEET, SALTY, AND SMOKY…
We got home late Monday night from a whirlwind run up to visit our families in Seattle. The main purpose of our trip was so that I could spend time with, and photograph, my newborn twin nephews. Kyle and the girls camped out at his parents house so I could spend all day Saturday with my sister and her family. It was so wonderful to get to hold not one, not two, but all three of my handsome nephews.
We returned home to a very messy house, a very empty refrigerator, and a very happy garden (it was in the 80’s all weekend). I spent yesterday morning drinking too much coffee and jittering through my cookbooks creating a monthly menu while the girls had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast… and for lunch.
Monthly menu planning is something I aim to do each month but it doesn’t always happen because it takes a big chunk of time up front, but once I commit to it and plan everything out, my whole month is so much easier. Kyle and I haven’t been eating as healthy as we usually do these past few weeks. Between his birthday and all the craziness that just seems to creep up on us, we have been eating more processed food and sugar than we normally do, and eating out a lot more. So this month’s menus focus on healthy eating, using what’s available in the garden and at the farmers’ market, and working on some new recipes. It felt wonderful to sit down and write out, and shop for the majority of, a whole month’s worth of healthy meals.
I have to admit that after a few hours of planning and shopping I wasn’t really in the mood to cook last night! But we had a wonderfully healthy salad with fresh corn, black beans, feta, and a bright dressing which went perfectly alongside these grilled sweet peppers. I’m not exactly sure what the name of these heirloom peppers are; one or both of the girls, most likely Lulu, went through the garden shortly after all of our starts were planted and pulled out my markers so I didn’t have any clue what I’d planted! But any sweet pepper will do for this recipe, and if you can’t find a fun, heirloom variety of sweet pepper, even a orange bell pepper could work! These particular peppers are about 5-6 inches long and turned from a dark, earthy green, to a bright, waxy orange. Ask your produce person, or favorite farmer at the market, for a fleshy, sweet pepper that has no heat at all, and you’ll have something that will work perfectly.
The preparation of this side dish is so incredibly easy that I almost hesitated to share it. But, this simple side is just the kind of thing that helps elevate a otherwise dull dinner, or save me when I don’t feel like cooking at all. These peppers are simply seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, charred on the grill, and then topped with a nice, heavy drizzle of honey and lots of crumbled feta. They are sweet, salty, and smoky. We’ve been eating them prepared this way by the bowlful. They make a great side, or a wonderful addition to a tapas-style dinner. We had them as a small plate last week along with a few hard boiled eggs, serrano and cheese, and some sautéed spinach. You really can’t go wrong.
GRILLED SWEET PEPPERS WITH FETA AND HONEY
6 orange sweet peppers (an heirloom variety is ideal, substitute with 3 orange bell peppers)
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1/2-1 tablespoon of honey
a few tablespoons crumbled feta
Heat your grill to medium high.
If you’re using bell peppers, cut the meat away from the core, and discard the core. If you’re using sweet heirloom peppers, leave them whole.
Put the peppers, or pepper slices if you’re using bell peppers, in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and season with a bit of salt and pepper.
Place the peppers on the grill and cook for about 3-4 minutes on both sides, until they have a nice char and grill marks but are still tender and colorful.
Transfer to a serving dish and let them rest for a couple minutes. Drizzle with honey, sprinkle with lots of gets, and serve.
GRILLED SWEET PEPPERS WITH FETA AND HONEY
We have a lot to do in the garden. There’s plants to be pulled and composted, weeds to pull, the lawn needs to be mowed and trimmed, and the final summer plants need to be harvested. This long, extended summer has gifted us more ripe tomatoes than we would have otherwise had, and even though I harvested all of our basil over Labor Day weekend and made pesto to freeze, the basil plants have burst back to life and we have a lot basil to use. Despite the few more red tomatoes, there are still a lot of green ones that never came around. I’m planning to pickle all those firm, green cherry tomatoes this evening or, more likely, tomorrow since we have been going to bed around 8:30 every night this past week!
We have been so busy that by 8:15 we can barely keep our eyes open. One night we managed to stay up until 9:00 by watching this video of Emma Stone in a lip syncing competition with Jimmy Fallon a few times in a row, but usually we get in bed to read, and after re-reading the same paragraph from the night before we call it quits and turn off the lights. Maybe it’s the change in season and my hibernation instinct is kicking in, or maybe it’s catching up on sleep deprivation from the crazy summer. Either way sleeping from 8:30pm until 6:30am, mostly uninterrupted, is feeling pretty great and well earned.
Sunday was Kyle’s birthday, and his parents were here to visit. Somehow we ended up eating out nearly every day starting Thursday and ending yesterday (although some takeout sounds pretty good for tonight…). At home we are volleying back and forth between fall and summer dishes. One day we’re grilling, the next Kyle is talking about baking bread, the following we are making dishes with fresh herbs from the garden, only to end up making a roast the next night. We kind of let our appetites follow the weather which, as fellow Pacific Northwesters are aware, flips from dark, brooding thunderstorms to clear, sunny skies in no time at all during the fall. It’s usually around two in the afternoon, when the girls are napping, that I make our dinner commitment. Tonight, we’re having Lemon Spaghetti.
Lemon Spaghetti was a dish I started making when we lived in Los Angeles. I was in my early twenties and between auditions I nannied. Every Monday morning the mom of the family I nannied for for a year would load up all of the groceries from the refrigerator into paper grocery bags and take them out to their garbage bin, set them in, and then leave for the grocery store where she would purchase all of the groceries for the following week. She threw out everything from the previous week that hadn’t been used – even if it was perfectly perfect.
She would head off to Whole Foods, and as soon as her car was out of sight I would open the garbage bin and pull out the grocery bags full of groceries and rescue what could be used: lemons, bread, fresh herbs in little plastic packages, portobello mushrooms, bell peppers, untouched lettuce and micro greens. I’d transfer all that could be saved to a paper bag and put it in the trunk of my car. I still have no idea why she threw out all that food every Monday, but we were barely making ends meet so we used what we could. I bet the neighbors who spied on me out their windows in Sherman Oaks felt really, really sorry for me. But, we ate a lot of wonderful meals from all of that food.
This family also had nine huge flat screen televisions. The television were peppered throughout their relatively large house: one in the entry way, one in the living room, one in each bedroom upstairs, one in the master bath, one outside on the patio, one down by the pool, one in the office. These television were always on. Always. I learned that if I turned the television off, someone would walk by and turn it back on to The Price is Right, Seinfeld, or some other syndicated sitcom, so I stopped turning them off and started changing the channel to the Food Network. This was back in the days when all that was on the Food Network were cooking shows; no reality shows, no cooking competition, no cupcake battles. It was all of Tyler, Giada, and Ina.
As much as I was baffled by the family’s grocery shopping habits, and as nuts as having all those televisions on made me, I don’t know if I would have been drawn to cooking if I hadn’t spent a whole year working for them. I learned so much about the basics of cooking, chopping, and ingredients from watching the Food Network at their house; and we certainly benefited from all of those tossed groceries. I didn’t have much, if any, control over my acting opportunities so cooking became, and still is, my favorite creative outlet.
I didn’t even cook very much at first, I just found that it was the only channel that didn’t drive me insane 4-6 hours straight, 5 days a week. I wasn’t allowed to take their tot to the park, or leave the house, so during the few hours that I spent watching their baby, I’d listen and watch the Food Network and dream up dishes to make with my fancy, expensive, organic garbage-finds. One of my favorite shows to watch, and to grab recipes from, was Giada de Laurentiis’s Everyday Italian. She usually cooked simple, fresh dishes, that I was able to remember the gist of even if I couldn’t grab a crayon fast enough to write it all down. One Monday evening after returning home from my day job, I pulled lemons and fresh basil from my rescued bag of produce, and made something close to the Everyday Italian version of Lemon Spaghetti.
Lemon Spaghetti became, and remains, a staple in our spring-early fall menus. It is wonderfully flavorful, and incredibly simple to make. It’s something that our whole family loves. Luckily, I don’t have to forage for any of the ingredients in the trash (not that I’d be above it if the circumstances were right). All you need is some spaghetti, lemon, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes! We often serve this alongside a small, bright salad or garlicky roasted chicken. It also makes a great leftover lunch too!
1 lb spaghetti or thin spaghetti
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
zest of 1 lemon
shaved Parmesan cheese
large handful of basil, thinly sliced or torn
Heat 1/4 olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and allow the garlic to cook for only 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and wait an additional 30 seconds before transferring the garlic and oil to a glass dish. Add the other 1/4 cup of olive oil to the garlicky oil, and set aside to cool.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook your spaghetti until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water until the pasta is cooled. Transfer to a large bowl.
Add 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the dish with the olive oil and season to taste with kosher salt. Toss the dressing in with the pasta and toss to combine. Allow it to sit for about ten or fifteen minutes, tossing a few times, so the pasta absorbs some of the dressing.
Transfer the pasta to a serving dish. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, lemon zest, plenty of Parmesan, and basil.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE…
We are, dare I say, fully recovered from our round of illness(es). What a difference a week makes! Last week I genuinely thought I might not make it through… our neighbor said he thought he might have to come “Old Yeller” me. But, with help from my wonderful husband, some tentative fresh air with friends, and a quiet art project filled week, I slowly started to feel more and more like myself. I’m back in the kitchen cooking up an end-of-summer storm, raiding the garden for the last of the summer harvest, stocking up on chocolate chips for cookies, and planning all kinds of menus for the soon-to-be drizzly, dark evenings.
Lulu is all energy and smiles again too, thank goodness. That poor girl had that terrible cold, a stomach virus, and was cutting five teeth all at once. Most of the teeth are most of the way through so she’s a lot more relaxed, much happier, and she’s got her appetite back. Since she’s a little pip, only weighing in at eighteen pounds, these stomach viruses (we’ve had three in the last six months!) are stressful. She’s also sleeping through the night again after we got off track a couple of months back. Needless to say, she and I are both much more chipper with uninterrupted sleep and full bellies.
Since I spent the weekend before this past one laid up in bed, we spent this entire weekend out doing fun things. On Saturday morning we went for a fantastic little hike with the girls. We slathered on sunscreen and hopped in the car with snacks and water and coffee, and we spent the majority of the day counting caterpillars, throwing rocks into streams, and singing songs from Les Misérables (Gigi is obsessed with the story and music… she’s been introducing me as Jean Valjean to everyone for the past month).
On Sunday I spent the day with my best friend and some of her wonderful friends in Portland. They ran the Race for the Cure 5k, and we went to brunch and ran errands. Normally, going to Target and Ikea on a Sunday would sound pretty intimidating but without kids in tow it was actually pretty easy! While I was gone, Kyle took the girls out hiking again and out for a Daddy/Daughter lunch. It was nice for me to have a little break but I sure would have loved to witness the morning he had with them.
With our busyness this weekend we stuck to simple foods: barbecued chicken, grilled peppers, sautéed spinach, grilled steaks, and soup. During this week and the last I’ve entered back into my tartine habit for lunches. They’re just so easy and filling and versatile! I’m trying to utilizing what vegetables are still growing in the garden. Mostly what we have going strong at the moment are cucumbers, and tomatoes. I can feel the weather is about to make a serious commitment to rain and lower temperatures so I’m making the most out of this last gasp of summer in the garden.
This tartine is a spin on an amazing salad we had once at Cinq Mars in Paris, and that we spent the remainder or our trip trying to duplicate with cucumber, cilantro, and goat cheese we bought at the markets on Rue Cler. This tartine is decidedly summery with it’s crisp cucumber, bold cilantro, and bright lemon vinaigrette, but it would be fantastic any time of year. I’m positive I’ll be making this all autumn long.
CUCUMBER, GOAT CHEESE, AND CILANTRO TARTINE WITH LEMON VINAIGRETTE
4 slices of French bread, toasted
4oz goat cheese or chèvre
1 cucumber, shaved into thin ribbons
1 handful fresh cilantro, washed and very finely minced
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
Maldon, or flaky, salt
In a small bowl whisk together the juice from one lemon with an equal amount of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
In a separate bowl, mix together the goat cheese and cilantro. Smear each toast with lots of the cheese, top with ribbons of cucumber, drizzle with plenty of dressing, and finish with a bit of salt and pepper, and lemon zest.
CUCUMBER, GOAT CHEESE, AND CILANTRO TARTINE WITH LEMON VINAIGRETTE