A Time for Everything

June 22nd, 2014 by Jenny

When I was a kid, I was so obsessed with ketchup.  It went on/in everything.  From mac’n'cheese to the more conventional french fry, I was obsessed.  And then, with no real warning, our sordid love affair was over.  Ketchup was disgusting, and I didn’t want it on my hamburger, let alone my mac’n'cheese.  Everything was barbecue, those days.  And really, barbecue is an ideal dipping sauce: spicy, sweet, with a little tanginess thrown in for good measure.

And then Joel and I went to the Old Salt Restaurant in Beaufort, NC.  First, let me begin by saying that they have a fantastic gluten free menu and a staff that’s actually educated on it.  Second, they have these sea salt brined fries…

I recognize the fact that in creating a food blog, I’m signing on to be able to write about food.  But sometimes… the texture and the flavor are just absolutely so amazing, that you don’t even have words for them.  And to be honest, I’ve been chasing that sea salt brined high ever since.

Five Guys fries are not a bad stand in when I’m back in Durham.  They’ve got the flavor just right, but the texture isn’t quite there.

But the thing is, the fries weren’t even it.  They serve them with their own homemade ketchup that is unbelievable.  I just… words…. not there…

And ever since, I’m back on the ketchup wagon.  I knew I was going to have the house to myself on Friday night with a new season of Pretty Little Liars on Netflix (I recognize that I should be watching Orange is the New Black, but that’s a together show while Joel doesn’t really care for PLL).  I was out running errands, and I thought some fries with some sort of fancy ketchup would exactly do the trick.

Balsamic Ketchup

Oh man, did they ever!  Heinz has this ketchup with balsamic vinegar.  The fries were everything that prepackaged frozen fries are, but this ketchup is a game changer.

When I told Joel about it after, he wanted in on that mess.  So we manufactured an excuse to use it again: corndog muffins with tater tots (a preference of his I’ll never understand).

Corndog Muffin

Corndog muffins were a pinterest find from forever ago.  They’re the easiest way to satisfy a corndog craving, which, if you’re anything like me, come fairly regularly.  The recipe is from Iowa Girl Eats, and while I like the concept, her method simply doesn’t work for me.  A) I don’t have a mini muffin tin.  B) I have found the best gluten free cornbread mix in the whole wide world, and I really don’t see any reason to mess with that.  C) I also think we can do a smidgen better than regular ol’ hot dogs.

So let’s simplify this a bit.

Corndog Muffins

  • Prepared cornbread batter*
  • Kielbasa sausage, cut into 12 equal pieces

Pour batter into muffin tins as the recipe directs (do not overfill).  Insert a sausage piece into the middle of each filled muffin tin.  If there is batter leftover, I like to pour it into a small pan and bake plain to have with butter and honey for dessert.

* My personal favorite of the gluten free varieties is Pamela’s.  My homemade cornbread isn’t that good.  I figure if I’m having corndogs for dinner, I might as well go whole hog and treat myself with my favorite cornbread (see what I did there?).

P.S.  The combo with the ketchup.  Absolutely divine.

A Foodie’s Guide to Eating

June 19th, 2014 by Jenny

An alternate title for this post could be “how to simplify meal time” or maybe even “chill out about your food”.  I always start my meal planning with the very best of intentions.  I want to eat wholesome meals full of ethically sourced ingredients that will make my mouth happy.  But then I get home from a long day of work, and $2 tacos end up happening.  Suffice it to say, I have no idea how the beef in $2 tacos is treated.  And then, those really great, really expensive, ethically sourced ingredients sit in my fridge and go bad.

 

So I decided to take a chill pill this spring.  School was really getting me down.  Things were difficult and required long hours, so I decided I needed to be practical about this.  The 30 minute meal concept just didn’t work for me.  Because 30 minute meals always take 40+ minutes the first time you make them, and that’s just way too long to spend on my feet in the kitchen when I’ve already spent all day on my feet in the classroom.  So I started looking for meals that I could make in 10 minutes or less.  This might mean 10 minutes of prep, and then an hour of sitting on my butt watching trashy TV.  I get home from work early enough in the day that that works for me.  So please note the new category to your right.  You’ll be seeing a lot more of these around here.  Even though I’m off for the summer, I’m finding that once you start making 10 minute meals and you realize how yummy and healthy they can be, it’s awfully hard to go back.

Simplify Meal Time

So here are 5 easy steps to simplify your meal time and make 10 minute meals a reality.

1.  Get the right appliances.

A blender might be nice on weekends when you’re making smoothies (I’m lying; I hate blenders), but a rice cooker will serve you well every weeknight.  You can cook a lot more than rice in it, but the main thing to know about rice cookers, is that they turn themselves off when they’re ready.  That means you don’t have to hover over the rice making sure that it doesn’t burn.  Mine is a very simple hand-me-down from my mom when my parents went all low carb.  While there are varying levels of quality, the idea that you can buy one on Amazon for less than $20 has me sold.  I know it takes up space, but really, for enabling you daily to sit on your butt and watch Pretty Little Liars while your dinner cooks, I think we can all agree that it’s worth it.

Another appliance that isn’t strictly necessary but sure is handy is the toaster oven.  My mom’s oven broke, and she used the toaster oven for so much of her cooking, that she waited months before getting it replaced.  Really, had it not been for turkey on Thanksgiving, I’m not sure she would have.  Likewise, the toaster oven can quickly heat up, shortening the overall cooking time.

2.  Get the right condiments.

I’m talking more than ketchup, mustard, and relish here.  A store-bought sauce can pack a big punch and tremendously shorten your time chopping onions and garlic and measuring soy sauce and sesame oil into a bowl.  Don’t get me wrong, homemade sauces are great.  But on a busy weeknight, a store-bought equivalent can be your best friend.  Know what your family likes.  We love the whole San-J gluten free line-up, but a good gluten free barbecue is great too.  Having the right sauce can transform meatballs, make pre-cooked chicken something magical, and help you put together meals in under 10 minutes.  That’s the goal, after all, isn’t it?

3.  When healthy, affordable, and tasty, buy pre-____________.

I’m talking prewashed and/or precut veg, precooked chicken, or any number of convenience foods with minimal additives and preservatives.  If precut veg means I’m eating more veg, it’s hard to see how this isn’t an advantage.  And while precooked chicken will probably not be as good for me as the ethically sourced farmer’s market equivalent, it’s probably a lot better for me than whatever they’re putting in those $2 tacos I love so much.

4.  When best isn’t happening, start figuring out how to do better.

I know that good is the enemy of best.  But for a perfectionist, best can get in the way of better.  My desire to be 100% ethical and organic and healthy in my food choices along with my reality of a busy schedule and demanding career, means that the choices I actually make don’t reflect that desire at all.  Instead, I need to start thinking practically here.  While I’m not suggesting anyone compromise their values, we need to be realistic.  When the ideal or the best choice simply isn’t happening, it must be unrealistic.  Maybe that means we need to cut back on our busy schedules (for me, not really an option, as most of my busy-ness comes from a career that I’m just not willing to leave), or maybe that means we need to start thinking of practical alternatives that are still better than chicken nuggets and fries.

5.  Make it simple.

My old boss used to recite a household mantra before every meal he ate with me, “something white, something dead, something green, something bread.”  Basically, a starch, a protein, a green veg, and a bread.  I tend to remove the bread for health and gluten reasons, but it’s not a bad idea.  You do not need 5 different roasted vegetables with pan-seared pork loin and a homemade balsamic reduction.  You just don’t.  A starch (rice, potatoes, pasta) with a protein (fish, chicken, beef, etc.) and a vegetable will do most nights.  And there are a thousand ways I change this up.  But making things simpler is always a good start.

I start baking potatoes, start the rice cooker, or start my pasta water boiling.  Then, I put a protein in a sauce and into the toaster oven.  And at the last minute, I might sautee a frozen vegetable or chop up a salad.

Thai Lettuce Wraps

For you to see this philosophy in action, check out this super simple recipe for Thai Lettuce Wraps.  Sure, I could have added some bean sprouts, cilantro, and carrots.  And I’m sure that would be tasty.  But, when in doubt, make it simple.  And excluding those tasty options made this a much more practical meal for me.

Thai Lettuce Wraps

  • Rice, cooked
  • Pre-cooked chicken, chopped into bite size pieces
  • Thai peanut sauce (I like San-J)
  • Lettuce (iceburg is ideal for its structure, but I had red leaf in the fridge)
  • Fixin’s (slivered cucumbers and/or carrots, cilantro, chopped peanuts, bean sprouts, etc.)

Prepare the rice in your rice cooker or on the stove.  When it’s basically done (or all the way done, as slightly cooled rice is just fine for this meal), put your pre-cooked chicken with the peanut sauce into the (toaster) oven to heat up.  Wash lettuce leaves and prepare fixin’s of your choice.  When chicken is hot, serve.

The easiest gluten free anything ever made

June 17th, 2014 by Jenny

This is my first week of summer, except only kind of and not really.  The organization that I used to work for has invited me back to teach a workshop this week, which is way cool, and only sort of a bummer that I’m still having to work when I should be in summer mode.  That said, my mornings are still fully mine, and I’m really enjoying them.  I’m still waking up early, partly because my body clock has adjusted yet, and partly because I think it makes it easier for my husband who is very much not a morning person to get up.

I’m also really enjoying making breakfast (something beyond a bowl of chex).  But also, my mom just moved, and because she’s a rockstar and because I’ve consistently had a lot of trouble eating food from her kitchen, even when it’s theoretically gluten free, my mom is trying to maintain a mostly gluten free kitchen, or at least a gluten conscious kitchen.  So she asked me for a super easy, impossible to mess up recipe for some kind of gluten free baked good.  And I have a recipe that I’ve been meaning to tell you guys about for… well… over a year.  It’s my go to muffin to take into work when I’m a little grumpy.  I figure either it’ll get me out of my funk or sharing muffins with coworkers will at least make me tolerable when I am grumpy.  It’s one or the other, for sure.  It’s the sort of recipe that you can totally make on a weekday morning.  And it looks like this.

Chocolate Muffin

But my absolute favorite part about these muffins is that they don’t require that much in the way of “gluten free” ingredients.  They have a mere three-fourths cup of gluten free all-purpose flour.  My favorite for this is King Arthur, but Bob’s Red Mill will certainly do.  Whole grain variations have worked, but not nearly as well.  It’s important that you not use a “cup4cup” style flour blend, as the batter will be too runny then.

I also love how willingly these muffins take mix-ins.  Often, I’ll mix in nuts or chocolate chips (of the white, milk, or dark variety… all are amazing).  Get creative.  They are a blank canvas of chocolate-y goodness.

Chocolate Muffin from above

So mix up a dozen of these babies, dress them up in Bill Cosby cupcake papers, and share with your friends.  You won’t regret it.

Gluten Free Chocolate Muffins

  • 1 c. unsweetened applesauce (if all you have is sweetened, that’s fine, just reduce the sugar to 1/4 c.)
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. oil (I usually use coconut, melted, but any vegetable oil will work)
  • 3/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 3/4 c. gluten free all purpose flour (like King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt

Mix first four ingredients until well blended.  Add remaining ingredients and stir until combined.  Spoon into prepared muffin tins.  Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

Keep Calm and…

June 14th, 2014 by Jenny

To follow up on my last post, hydration helped.  Hydration always helps.  I’m sorry for taking so long to get back to you on that, but the end of the school year absolutely sped by.  I’m still a little in shock that it’s over.

Keys

The classroom is empty, things are labeled, and my key ring feels empty every time I hold it.  I’m not quite sure if I should be sad that it’s over or excited for the summer.  There’s probably a mixture in there somewhere.  I’m really, really happy… until I think about how much I really did love my class.  They were a really great group of kids this year.

Dear Ms Jones

I’m exhausted and thoroughly looking forward to some rest this summer.  Last summer was full.  Full of good stuff, but definitely full.  I traveled to New Mexico and New York.  I planned a wedding.  I moved.  Definitely full.

This summer, I intend for the schedule to be pretty empty.  There are a lot of things changing in my life.  Primarily, I won’t be returning to this classroom in the fall.  I’m not sure where I’m going yet, but I need a change in workplace scenery.  I’m a little anxious while I wait for everything to get figured out, but I’m confident that however it works itself out, it will be good.

There have also been tons of changes for my family.  I won’t go into details because they’re not my details to share.  For one, though, my mommy moved.  My sister went down to Fayetteville to help her yesterday.  That’s a lie.  We went to finally get all of our childhood belongings out of her house.  Downsizing means no longer storing middle school trophies for your children, I guess.  We worked hard.  And then we took a collective nap on the floor.

Nap time

It was grand.

I told you about my summer to do list.  I’m going to be working on that.  Some things have already happened.  I’ll have to update you.  But also, I should tell you that I’m on a minimalism journey.  That I’m trying to be a more ethical person in how I spend my daily life.  The journey is tough, and I’m hoping we can share a bit of it together.  Things around here will probably change.  This might become a little less of a food blog and a little more of a lifestyle blog because for me, those two things are intrinsically linked.

There are some surprises I’ll get to share with you, but I’m waiting for the timing to be right.  We’ll get there.  We’ll get there.

So hold onto your hat because this summer is going to be fun!  It will be full of ways to use all the fresh produce that’s started coming out of my garden.  P.S.  Check out my first cucumber!

Cucumber

It will be full of infused water and ways to make your kitchen more efficient.  It will be full of flax and quinoa because I’m on a serious super food kick.  It will be full of muffins because I have the cutest summer cupcake papers.  We might throw some traveling in.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Preparing for EOGs

June 3rd, 2014 by Jenny

This week is EOG week at our school.  For those of you unfamiliar with EOGs or old enough to no longer think about them every single May/June, EOGs are End of Grade assessments.  They have a big impact in a student’s ability to continue on to the next grade, and an even bigger impact on my ability to continue teaching.  Thank you, Standard 6.  I have a lot of very passionate political views on the subject, but I won’t force you to hear about them.  Let’s just take all this as a given, and know that, in short, EOGs are stressful.

But there are also some ground rules for EOGs that a lot of people may not be familiar with.  The test is estimated to take 180 minutes in 5th grade, but with instructions and two 3 minute breaks, it ends up being almost 3 and a half hours from start to finish.  Then students who need extended time are given it in a separate setting (i.e., not my classroom).  Test administrators (that’s me) are never allowed to leave testing materials unsupervised.  Let me explain what that means.  Test administrators are not allowed to go to the bathroom during those 3 and a half hours, except in the case of an emergency and where a substitute test administrator is called into the room.  That process is highly distracting for the students, and I’d like to avoid it, if at all possible.

Test administrators are expected to walk around the room to monitor students’ work, with minimal breaks to sit down and never sitting at the same time as the proctor (that’s the other adult in the room).  And then, to top it off, there is no eating or drinking during the test.

I had forgotten just how physically demanding all of that is.  Until yesterday.  The test began around 9:30 a.m.  I had avoided drinking that morning because I didn’t want to use the bathroom during the test.  The test lasted until about 1:00 p.m.  3 and a half hours of almost non-stop walking with no food or drink and while I was already a bit dehydrated.  Then, once the test was completed, there are all sorts of other duties a testing administrator has.  And then, obviously, the kids are starving, so we went to get lunch around 1:15.  Because a lot of our TAs were busy testing, I didn’t get a lunch break, totally understandable, but still a major bummer.  It was easily 1:30 before I had a chance to think about how hungry I was.  And by that time, a lot of the damage had been done.  A seemingly irreversible headache had already set in, I hadn’t brought nearly enough food to school with me, and after I drank my Naked smoothie, I started to munch on starburst candy, which hardly helped the situation.

I was tremendously unprepared, and I paid the price.  When I got home, I fell to sleep almost immediately, woke up briefly when Joel got home from work, and went back to sleep until almost 9 p.m., the headache only starting to subside by that time.

Today, we’ve got another monster long test.  I’m going to be a bit more prepared this time, though.  A) Drinking lots of water this morning, bathroom breaks be darned.  If I’ve got to put an emergency card in my window, then that’s what I’ll have to do.  B) Eating RIGHT before the test.  I’m taking a peanut butter sandwich I’m planning on eating at 9 this morning.  C) As much as I hate it, I think I might drink a bit of caffeine this morning, just to help give me the energy I need.  D) Drinking an entire water bottle immediately after the test is over.  We won’t get any bathroom breaks even after the test is over, but I’m sure I can get a colleague to watch the kids for a few minutes while I relieve myself.  Not drinking is not an option.  I’ll report back on how it went.  Since I have to stay late after school today, I’m hoping the results will be substantially better than yesterday.