Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Indian Spiced Grilled Shrimp with Two Dipping Sauces: Getting what you want

From the 5th grade, I desperately wanted my ears pierced.  I remembered going with my mom to get her ears pierced when I was in the 4th grade, and by the 5th grade it was all I thought about.  I even made little stickers to put on my ears and pretended they were earrings.  My mom hesitated with the ear piercing thing because her own experience had been so problematic that she was reluctant to subject me to such an experience.

I wanted and waited for a long time, and by the 7th grade, when I asked again, the answer was still a no.  "When you're 16, you can do it," was the repeated phrase and I inwardly thought I might as well be an old lady and get them pierced if I wasn't going to get them before.  But an unexpected chance came when I was in the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years.  I had taken an admissions test to a rigorous private school a couple of weeks prior, and was accepted.  My parents very much wanted me to attend for A SINGLE YEAR this private school to which I screamed and yelled and fought back hard saying that for a single year it just wasn't worth it.

Finally, my mom asked me WHY I didn't want to go.  I seized my chance and I took it.  "All the other girls have their ears pierced and I'll be the only one who DOESN'T!"

"You mean, if you get your ears pierced, you'll go?"

"Yes."

Two hours later, we were in the car on the way to the mall and I had submitted my acceptance of admission to school.  It ended up being a very difficult year for me, one fraught with a lot of emotional stress and unhappiness and the ear holes in my ears weren't enough to assuage the challenges of that year.  I'm probably better for it, although the time suffering in a school as a complete outsider isn't easily forgotten. Clearly the chance to get the ears pierced was too much of a temptation.

Therefore, when Daughter #1 was 8 years old, I offered her a birthday present: getting her ears pierced.  She mulled it over and asked how much it hurt and I told her, "Pinch your ear really hard and it hurts like that."  She pinched it super hard, brought tears to her own face and said, "No.  I don't want it.  I'm too scared."

This year, I mentioned it again the possibility of her ears pierced as a birthday present.  She mulled it over and said, "YES!"  I casually mentioned it to Husband, the ear piercing gift and he immediately got worked up. "No.  She's simply too young.  She can't get it done!"

"I already told her she could."

"Take it back.  Tell her she can't.  Tell her I said no."  I simply shook my head, but what choice did I have.

I explained to #1 that her father wasn't on board with the whole ear piercing thing, but perhaps she could write him a convincing letter explaining why.  She stormed off and sulked in her room a while and I went to Husband wildly gesticulating and mouthing to him that she was angry at ME for HIS decree.

"If she writes me something to convince me, then I'll make a decision.  I just need to understand the WHY of the ear piercing."  (Uh - how about because mom said yes?)

He let her know of his decision and she pouted and flounced about angry and I watched #2 quietly calculating in the corner.  Daughter #2 has forever been the wise one, and understands her role and the supporter to the trailblazer, her older sister.  "I'll help you do it," Daughter #2 said. "Just do it.  It won't be hard.  I'll help you. I'll sit next to you when you write it."  #1 staunchly refused it seemed as if another year would go by without the ear piercing.

However a few days ago, I casually mentioned that I knew of a jeweler that did the ear piercings.  Daughter #2's eyes widened and said, "Just write the letter.  It will be easy." 

"If you're going to write the letter, a good argument has at least three strong points or reasons," I said as a gentle reminder.  It would be the only thing I would say on the subject.

30 minutes later, both girls came down and I asked, "Finished?" and Daughter #1 nodded.  "Do you want to type it?"

"Tomorrow.  I'll type it tomorrow."  Once typed, Daughter #1 presented Husband with the letter, and he was properly swayed and convinced.  Two days later, we all crammed into a little local jewelers and Grandma bought Daughter #1 pretty gold earrings and the ear holes she's wanted.  Daughter #2 looked on, watched how her older sister didn't flinch and definitively said, "This is where I'm coming when it's my time to get my ear pierced."  Daughter #1 positively glowed from the experience (not from the piercing itself) and it was clear that she got what she wanted.

Getting what I want in the kitchen is a slightly trickier as most days I don't have all the time in the world to cook everything that I want.  My most common craving is Indian, but my fear of cashew nuts sends me to my corner without ever going out to consume any Indian food at all.  Much of the Indian food I make at home tends to lean to the other side of time consuming, but this grilled shrimp dish isn't that way at all.  Simply marinate some shrimp (meaning rub with some spices), make a couple of dipping sauces, grill shrimp, then dip away.  It's the fastest way I get the Indian flavors I want.  Shrimp has a kick, the cilantro dipping sauce has a freshness, and the yogurt sauce just brings it all together.

Indian Spiced Grilled Shrimp with Two Dipping Sauces
Serves 6 to 8 people

Shrimp
Ingredients
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons garam masala or curry powder if that’s all you have
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds large shrimp (16/20), shelled, deveined, tails left on and patted dry

Method
Whisk together the canola oil,  chili powder, garam masala, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl Add the shrimp and rub marinade all over each piece. Let marinate for 15 minutes.  (While shrimp is marinating, make dipping sauces.)

Set grill for high.  Lay shrimp directly on heat and cook for about 2 minutes per side, until each side is firm to the touch.  As the marinade covers the shrimp it’ll be difficult to tell by color alone if the shrimp is done, so touch will be important here.  Remove from grill.  Serve warm with dipping sauces.

Cilantro Dipping Sauce
Ingredients
1 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup tightly packed fresh mint leaves
4 scallions, chopped
½ of a jalapeno (or a whole if you like it spicy)
Zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon canola oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method
Combine the cilantro, mint, scallions, jalapeno, honey and canola oil, lime zest, and some salt and pepper in a food processor. Process to make a smooth paste. Taste; add one or two teaspoons more of oil, if desired, to make a thicker sauce.

Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
Ingredients
½ cup whole milk yogurt
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste

Method
Combine yogurt, cilantro, garlic and salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Set aside for 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

Printable recipe

Time for ME to get what I want!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kimchi Tofu Soup (김치순두부찌개): 7 Conditions

I don't know when I became a bad sleeper, but I'm notoriously horrible at the mandatory nighttime rest. Actually, let me rephrase that. I can actually be a GREAT sleeper, but I have seven conditions that must be ideal in order for my sleep to be really good.

1.  The kitchen has to be completely cleaned and ready for the next day.
2.  Kids have to be in bed.
3.  The room has to be completely dark.
4.  The room has to be completely silent.
5.  I have to read something (ANYTHING) for 10 minutes to set my mind at rest.
6.  I have to have showered no more than 3 hours before bedtime, and I have to put on fresh "inside bed" clothes and put in the laundry basket, my "outside world" clothes.
7.  The only thing touching me can be the sheets, the pillow, and the mattress.  No human contact.

Now, every once in a while, my seven conditions are met, but usually, one or two out of the seven aren't met.  I'm a mother to three kids, a wife to Husband who likes to work late in bed (laptop screen glare and noise in particular are really difficult for me to manage), and I technically need to be in a sensory deprivation tank for sleep to be good. I know, it's not going to happen.  But on those days, those rare days when all the conditions are met, the sleep is amazing.  Ahhh....

Now for all my difficulties with sleep, Husband has equally as many conditions for his kimchi chigae.

1.  There can't be too much pork or meat flavor.
2.  The broth needs to be lighter and less rich.
3.  The broth to kimchi ratio leans heavily towards the broth side.
4.  The broth can't be sweet.
5.  The broth can't be too salty.
6.  The tofu can't overtake the kimchi.
7.  The soup must be served piping hot with rice.

Just as I have continued to nag Husband about helping me reach my seven conditions of sleep, he has nagged me endlessly about the kimchi tofu soup of his personal preference.  After 12 years of arguing with him that he was simply WRONG about his soup (he is, but oh well) I decided to revisit my old method of kimchi soup and lighten it up in his favor.

It turns out his desire just makes a different soup - not a better one, but a different one.  And as an added benefit, it turns out that Son actually likes this version as well and the Father-Son combo enjoy this soup regularly.  It's slightly more complicated than a regular kimchi stew, but you'll get more bang for your kimchi (meaning more soup for the same amount of kimchi) so in the end it's a good investmentt.  My favorite finish on this soup is an egg (or two woo hoo!) cooked in the final stages of the soup so I get a runny yolk messing with the rest of the spicy broth.  In order to accomodate Son's egg allergy, I take a portion of the soup and add it to a small pot so that I can cook my egg.

Kimchi Tofu Soup (김치순두부찌개)
Serves 6 to 8 people

Ingredients
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
¼ lb Korean pork belly or other pork or beef cut of your choice
5 cups drained kimchi (place in a strainer over a bowl), roughly chopped - reserve 1 cup of kimchi liquid
2 tablespoons gochujang(고추장 - Korean hot pepper paste)
2 tablespoons soup soy sauce (국간장) or reduced-sodium soy sauce
8 cups water
6 or more eggs (depending on your egg love)
1 package tofu (medium firm) cut into 1 inch chunks
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
8 scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces

Method
In a large pot, over medium heat add oil and pork belly.  Cook until pork belly has rendered some of the fat and is getting golden brown.  Add drained kimchi and gochujang and soy sauce.  Cook until gochujang and soy sauce is all incorporated and the mix is started to darken, about 5 minutes.

Add to pot 1 cup of reserved kimchi liquid and 8 cups of water to pot.  Bring to boil and cover; reduce heat to maintain simmer for about 25 minutes or until kimchi is translucent.

Add tofu and cook for another 5 minutes.  If desired crack eggs soup or put some soup in a smaller pot to add eggs.  Cook an additional 2 minutes.  Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds

Serve hot with rice.

Printable recipe

Now, off to bed.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding (Gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sugar-free): A solo act


I have a couple of roles at my church.  Every single week I teach Sunday School to 3 through 5 year olds. Every week I play some instrumental music at the end of service. Every other week or so, I lead the praise. Every couple of months or so I have to do an opening prayer. Every 10 weeks or so, Husband and I are in charge of snack/light luncheon for our congregation.

These are roles that come with my desire to serve God but every once in a while, something very unexpected happens. I got a glimpse at the calendar last month, and I realized that I would be doing snack and praise on the same week so I switched it out so that I wouldn't have that pressure. Only then another series of events came into play. Last Sunday, I realized that I was leading praise, I was leading the opening prayer, and I would be doing the scripture reading before the message. On early Sunday morning, I got a text from my fellow praise musician who regretfully informed me that her daughters were both sick so she wouldn't be able to make it.

I would have to lead praise alone. Gulp. Gulp. Double Gulp. I straightened my spine, straightened my hair, gathered the kids and rushed to church in order to practice a few bars of music as I would have to play and sing on my own. Less than 5 minutes into warmup, my Pastor came up to me and gently asked, "Do you think you could do the announcements today as our two regular people are out?" I quickly thought about it and realized with a rapidly sinking feeling in my stomach that I would be up in front of the congregation ALONE for the first part of the service.

Praise alone. Announcements alone. Opening prayer alone. Responsive scripture reading alone, with the help of the congregation. I looked up at my Pastor and said, "You know that I'm already doing the prayer and stuff too." He smiled and simply raised his eyebrows as a way to ask for my response.

"Yes.  I will."  Inside I cringed as I am a person who doesn't enjoy being in front of an audience speaking.  In other words, I do not enjoy public speaking and any situation where I am alone and everyone is looking at me.  But I knew it was probably the right thing for me to do it and I straightened up preparing for the next 20 minutes of service.

Once the service started, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a Joanne Choi solo act, a personal area of extreme discomfort. I sang and played while closing my eyes so I wouldn't have to see any reactions, gave announcements while looking down the entire time, gave the opening prayer with my eyes closed, and finished off with the scripture reading. At the end, I felt like saying, "And now, the person you've really been waiting for..."

After that kind of stress packed 25 minutes, I needed something to calm my nerves. Something like chocolate. Creamy. Sweet and luscious. Unfortunately for me, I had to go and teach Sunday School with 25 sweet kids, but they weren't made out of chocolate, nor would it be appropriate for me to consume them with a lion-like ferocity. I simply destressed with them by joking around.

This pudding is the perfect chocolate stress reliever after a stress packed day. I don't even need to feel guilty eating it. It is free of nuts, dairy, gluten, sugar (yes!) BUT still tastes amazing.  In a series of test pudding runs, (as a I tested this concept out multiple times) I fed it to a group of students. As one of them consumed it, Daughters informed him that there was "no sugar, no milk, no egg, no anything" and he got super confused as to what it could be made of.  As I revealed the ingredients of chia, dates, coconut milk - he yelled, "THIS IS THE TROJAN HORSE OF PUDDINGS!  YOU THINK IT'S ALL THE YUMMY STUFF BUT IT'S HEALTHY!!!" For the record, he ate his entire serving. Snort. Trojan horse indeed.  

I even let Children eat it for breakfast if they like, dipping their berries into it. They LOVE.

You do need a Vitamix, or some other powerful blender and a little bit of time soaking and chilling, but the work involved is WAY simpler than a traditional chocolate pudding, as there is no stovetop cooking involved.   The results much are healthier and less guilt-ridden. 

Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
¼ cup chia seed
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (Coconut Dream coconut milk in the cartoon or Trader Joes also has a version.)
5 to 6 medjool dates, seeds removed
2 to 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (depends on the intensity of your particular cocoa powder - I use a Valrhona chocolate powder which is quite intense so 2 ½ tablespoons is enough)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon espresso powder (optional, but I think it brings out the chocolate flavor)
pinch of sea salt

Special equipment - Vitamix blender or another high-powered blender like Blendtec

Method
Put chia seed in bottom of blender and add ½ cup of coconut milk.  Allow chia seed to soak up coconut milk and become gelatinous, at least 45 minutes, but you could also leave soaking longer.

After chia seed has soaked in coconut milk, add to the blender the remaining ½ cup coconut milk, dates, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, espresso powder and sea salt.  Blend, gradually increasing speed until the mixture is smooth and the chia and dates have been processed, about 3 minutes of blending total.

Spoon mixture out into desired number of serving dishes and refrigerate until cool, about 45 minutes.

Serve with fresh strawberries or on its own and enjoy!


Guilt-free dessert.  Where is my spoon?

Coconut milk - not a great price, but so you can see the kind I'm talking about.


Organic Chia Seeds I use - available at Costco as well


Cocoa Powder Indulgence - makes this pudding that much better

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Coconut Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake (5C's cake): Spring Break is not a break for moms

This past Monday was the first day of spring break for all the kids.  It is the first spring break in 6 years where all three kids are breaking at the exact same time and that in itself should tell you the whole story.

Three kids.  Three weeks because we are a year round school. With me.

Actually, I expected a bunch of benefits from the kids not being in school.  No more lunches to rush around and pack, nowhere to dash off to early in the morning, no more homework to check off, sign off, correct, and no extra commitment of school and the juggling act that comes with it to manage.  The kids would eat lunch at home; they'd have time to read and they'd have time to play.

All was going actually quite well on day 2 of spring break, when I decided that a run to Costco was in order.  We were out of vegetables, eggs, fresh fruit and I wanted to replenish all that.  It also seemed like an easy way to get everyone out of the house and provide them with a change of scenery, albeit the inside of a warehouse.  When I suggested it, all three happily replied YES and we piled into the car and drove.

However, as it has been literally years since I've gone with all three kids to Costco, I quickly discovered that things were not the same as it had been the last time I had gone.  Although Son and I go to Costco, I've not had to deal with all three at Costco.  I used to be able to stick all three in the cart and push them around, and suddenly, at ages 6, 8, 10, that seemed inappropriate and probably physically impossible as I'd have to push around over 150 pounds.  This meant that all three had to walk next to me as I ran around picking up the few things I needed.

In my head, I had imagined three children, all lined up in chronological order, quietly and efficiently walking with me, with no conversation and only the shopping head in my list to keep straight.  Only no one walked next to me. What I got were three kids, skipping, hopping, jogging, weaving their way through the aisles, as I tried desperately to keep my cart from running into them and the kids out of the way of other carts.  I found myself begging them repeatedly to stop moving and to just stick close to me so that we could get things done.  They chose to point to things, ask questions, beg for different things they wanted to eat, and move from topic to topic so quickly that my shopping list flew out of my head and I began walking around trying to remember the seven items on my list that I had to have.

45 minutes later, as we stood in line to check out, the kids continued their natural antics to utterly destroy my brain and I found myself thinking that Costco with three kids was ill-advised.  I felt like a vampire had taken all of my blood and I was in desperate need of both a blood transfusion as well as a coffin to put my aching head and body in.

Upon arriving at home, the kids scrambled to move all of the stuff they wanted to eat into the kitchen and I found myself suddenly grateful that I had three little scrambly, quickly-moving kids helping me shlep all the stuff from Costco into the house.  I definitely still needed a vacation, still needed a break, and still needed a blood transfusion, but at least all of my purchases were in the house in under 4 minutes.

A happy motherhood is one where you realize what the true breaks are.

I came up with this coffee cake as my desire for another type of break, a luxurious coffee one, lingered in the back of my mind every single day this week. With the three kids that sort of thing is unlikely, but I still managed to throw this cake together easily enough.  It has the chocolate coconut mixture paired with the lovely coffee cake texture.  It's really yummy warm although it's more difficult to cut and delicious room temperature as well.  Sit back and relax and enjoy the 5C's.  Coconut Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake.

I am back to enjoying the 5C's of spring break. Children.  Careening.  Caring.  Coffee.  Crazy.


Coconut Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake
Serves 6 to 8 people

Ingredients
Cake
1 ½  cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup sour cream
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping
⅓  cup firmly packed light brown sugar
⅔ cup shredded sweetened coconut
⅔  cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Method
Preheat oven to 350.  Butter or oil a 9x13 baking pan.

In a bowl whisk together the flour, the baking powder, baking soda and a pinch of salt.

In a large bowl cream together the butter and 1 cup of the granulated sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in the vanilla. Add sour cream and mix well.  Add flour mixture on low speed, being careful to mix just until all the flour is incorporated.  Overbeating it will make for a tough coffee cake.  Pour batter into pan.

In a small bowl stir together the brown sugar, shredded coconut, chocolate chips, and the cinnamon and sprinkle on top of batter and swirl the sugar mixture into the batter. Bake the cake in the middle of a preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Transfer it to a rack, and let it cool.

Cut into large squares and enjoy!

Printable recipe



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Roasted Curried Green Beans: An unexpected respite

Due to some less than rigorous flossing and a lapse in regular dental appointments, I had to have what is scarily known as a "deep cleaning" today, when the dental hygienist numbs one side of my mouth so that she can attack everything that is the evil on the left hand side.  I didn't really think much about the appointment, but I did have a slight sinking feeling as all my friends, when I mentioned I was going to the dentist, made that "Oh, I am GLAD I am not you" face, all the while trying to pat my shoulder reassuringly.

Upon my arrival to my dentist, whom I really think is great, I was ushered into a quiet room, where the hygienist asked me to sit down.  She also told me to lean back and put my feet up.  I grabbed my phone/music and asked if it would be all right to listen to some music while she cleaned my teeth.  "Absolutely.  I'd love it if you'd do that," she said, smiling.

Hold on.  You want me to sit still, lie back, put my feet up, listen to some music so YOU CAN DO THE CLEANING?  It's like a vacation!  I opened my mouth, let her numb it and let the rest of my body completely relax and listened to a bunch of songs I have not been able to listen to because of the Frozen obsession at home.  Before I knew it, she was pulling my chair to an upright position, and I almost found myself saying, "But wait!  Don't you have to do any more?"

After a quick mouth rinse and quick check to make sure she was satisfied, she turned to me and said, "Wow.  You were an amazing patient."

"You probably say that to everyone," I remarked.

"No seriously.  You were so still and so relaxed you really made my job easier," she replied.

"I have three kids and believe me, no one in my house EVER tells me to sit back and relax.  You just gave me a mini vacation!"

The hygienist looked completely surprised and began laughing.  I finished with, "You should only take patients who have three kids.  They'll be the best."

Now these green beans aren't exactly as relaxing as dental visit, but they are pretty relaxing to get on the table.  The beans only require a few ingredients, but the end result is slightly exotic and different, almost like a mini vacation.  And all you have to do is mix some ingredients and roast.  Trust me, you'll love these almost as much as I love going to the dentist.

Roasted Curried Green Beans
Serves 4 to 6 people

Ingredients
1 lb french green beans trimmed (these are the thinner green beans)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon sea salt

Method
Preheat oven to 450.    On a large baking sheet (go bigger as more room means the beans roast better) place beans, drizzle olive oil and sprinkle curry powder and sea salt.  Using your hands, toss all the ingredients together to coat the beans.

Roast beans for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are shriveled and the tips and bits are brown and golden. Before removing beans from pan, shake the pan to coat the beans with the spices.

Printable recipe

Make these beans and put your feet up and relax.



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Simple Cucumbers with Lemon: Sensible, not whimsical

I'm not quite sure how to articulate the kind of strange heartbreak I had the other day when Daughter #2 referred to herself quite proudly as being "the sensible one." She was surprised I didn't recognize her self-portrait in the classroom, because while other kids had fancy clothes, funny, outlandish outfits and hairstyles, Daughter #2's outfit in the picture was basic, straightforward, sensible, if you will.  It was cute and well done, and represented her very well, but it wasn't anything spectacular, glittery, or out of this world.  It was a very accurate reflection of Daughter #2.

I'm not exactly sure what I would want her to say, or want her to identify herself as, but I also know that sensible kind of jarred me in a place I didn't expect it to.  I wondered if a just-turned-8-year-old girl should think of herself in that very plain term of sensible.  I think I might have preferred that she call herself "whimsical" or "fanciful" or maybe even "a dreamer" but sensible isn't quite the word I want for her.

I spent much of the rest of that day wondering if I had sucked whimsy, fancy, and dreams out of her 8 year old life, and been far too pragmatic and practical, as it is my habit.  I like order.  I like simplicity.  I like straightforward and direct movement.  I'm not one for having patience for twirling and whirling.  I've never called her princess or encouraged her to pretend she is one.  I've encouraged level-headed thought, clear-minded thinking, and tried to help her see situations practically, sensibly, without many flights of fancy, probably because I don't think and operate that way.

I wonder if a child who has a completely practical mother has any room to be whimsical or fanciful? I wonder how much of her sense has to do with genetics (there is a long line of sensible women on my side) and how much has to do with her upbringing?  If I had a much more whimsical life growing up, would I have in turn been more whimsical?  

My cooking isn't whimsical.  My favorite kind of food to eat isn't whimsical either.  I like my food to be straightforward for the most part, and I like food to be what it claims to be - food.  I'm presenting the simplest of salads (no recipe really) on this post as the least whimsical, most sensible dish that I've been enjoying in recent days.  Four ingredients, three of which are visible to the eye (the hidden ingredient is a sprinkling of sea salt) and it sensibly comes together so quickly, there almost isn't any excuse NOT to have a light green salad at any meal.  I favor Persian or the skinny cocktail cucumbers for this simple salad.

I can't even bother to put the slices down with anything but pure practicality.  But don't let the simple, pared down nature of this salad fool you.  It's refreshing, delicious, and a great foil to almost any meal you could have.

Cucumbers with Lemon

Ingredients
cucumbers
salt
chili pepper flakes
lemon juice

Method
Cut cucmbers, sprinkle salt and chili pepper flakes, and squeeze lemon juice.  VOILA!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lentil Sausage Soup: Why libraries are life changing

For JC who always makes me laugh and makes me celebrate being a nerd.

My work as a private teacher these days means that I do a lot of different types of things for an incredibly wide range of students.  The work is rarely the same from student to student and most of the time I try to remember that my main goal with many of them is to give them an opportunity to change their impression of themselves.  I have a good number of students who start with me because they dislike school, dislike reading, dislike books, or plain straight up don't like studying.  I get them and the work is hard but always interesting and filled with eye-opening moments.

I have one student who has been with me for nearly four years and I'd like to think we have a good relationship.  He relies on me to help him get through some of the tougher assignments from school and I spend a lot of time pushing him to do the best that he can on any given assignment.  Most recently our work  has put him in my car so we can go to our local public library together.  The first time I took him he said, "Man.  This is creepy.  I don't even know how to get around this place."  I had to find him a sports book that he could enjoy, he would read, and be entertained by and so we walked over to the shelves and I began searching for the right book.  He stood off to the side making comments such as, "Man.  You know how to USE a library.  Do you come here a lot?" and "Whoa. How do you know how to find stuff?"  to finally, "Did you go to the library a lot as a kid?"  I answered all the questions as I searched for his book and called out titles to him that he might enjoy.  We settled on sports book that featured crazy and unusual sport contests and we left.

This student knows I know how to use a library. Most recently he wanted to have a book on tape version of a book he needed to read and came to me.  I showed him how to access our online catalog, put the desired book on hold and later on in the week picked it up and gave it to him.  He was grateful and said, "Man.  You know how to use that library."

Just last week, he came with the book that he had to finish, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah and asked if I could read with him to help him finish as he was about 50 pages from the end.  As I had read only a portion of the book at the beginning and nothing in the middle, I figured I'd be reading it simply to help him through it, and not to necessarily being fully engaged in the book.  I knew the basics of the plot, heard the author on a variety of interviews and I figured it would be just some mellow time reading.  The two of us pored over the book, with my student asking various questions for clarification along the way.  Suddenly I was hooked.   I wanted to read the book.  About 10 pages before the end, our time together was over and he stood up and slammed the book.

"Wait.  I'll let you finish.  Come on.  Let's just finish," I said.

"Nope," he replied with finality.

"Come on!  I'll help you finish it!  Let's read!"

"Nope."

"Why won't you just finish here?  I want you to finish here."

"Don't worry.  I'm going to finish it at home.  I'm stopping the book now so YOU will want to read it.  Go get it at the library."

Huh?  What?  My reluctant reader student is convincing ME to read a book?  Yes.  Yes he is.  And in this moment, I know that he is changed.  He has changed his perception about himself as a reader - he can actually ENJOY a book.  He doesn't enjoy all of them, nor do I expect him to, but this book he enjoyed - enjoyed enough that he wants ME to read it.  And I'll be picking one up at my library at his request.

Now - I'll get a nerdy here and ask that you consider the amazing educational researcher Dr. Stephen Krashen's work on the power of the library.  It's a great short video on youtube, and you won't be sorry you watched.  You'll be grateful for your local librarian, thankful your child's school has one, and if not either of those cases, you'll be outraged that your town and your school doesn't have one.  I went to Children's school librarian and local children's public librarian last week and hugged gratefully each one of them.  Libraries are a gift and something we take for granted, but we shouldn't.  Go, check out 50 books (it raises circulation counts which is a good thing) and sit amidst a pile of books and be transported elsewhere.

In addition to books, this lentil soup transports me somewhere else as well.  Although I'm in overly-sunny California, I'd rather be curled up by a fire enjoying this soup and a good book.  I want to be locked in so that I don't have to go anywhere and can sit, instead, mulling over the written word and a bowl of this hearty thing.  I use the kale stems leftover from my kale salad  and I think it's a great and healthy addition to this bowl of yumminess.  It requires a little bit of patience to build up the flavors and the base of the soup, but the end result, so worth it.  Just like a great book.

Sausage Lentil Soup
4 quarts of soup

Ingredients
1 pound French green lentils (I like Trader Joe’s green lentils)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 large diced onions
3 cups chopped kale stems (if you have available - I always make this after I’ve made my kale salad, so there are stems)
8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 ½  teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves OR 2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups medium diced celery (8 stalks)
3 cups medium diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
½ cup red wine
3 quarts chicken stock
⅓  cup tomato paste
12 to 16 oz  turkey kielbasa, cut in 1/2 lengthwise and sliced 1/3-inch thick

Method
In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, kale stems, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are translucent and tender.

Add celery and carrots and saute for another 10 minutes. Add red wine and continue to cook for 5 minutes.
Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and drained lentils, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, or until the lentils are cooked through and tender. Check the seasonings. Add the kielbasa and simmer until the kielbasa is hot.

Printable recipe

There is power in books and power in this soup.


And if you're inspired to read a book that one of my most reluctant readers read and enjoyed, check this one out.

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