Monthly Archives: June 2015

let’s eat: on the menu, popcorn tacos

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If I had to list the most frequent question I get asked, it would be “Do your kids really eat the food that you make?” It’s sort of a complicated answer. The short answer is yes, because they do eat dinner with us every night, and I don’t make a separate meal for them. But they are kids with their own opinions about food, and each of them has a couple of particular dislikes that I respect. But even though E despises fresh tomatoes and F refuses to eat the yolk of a hard boiled egg, we still eat both of those foods with great frequency. I’m also aware that they don’t love their dishes as spicy as we do, and so I spice and sauce accordingly. And they also enjoy eating meat, so occasionally we have some on the table.

I’m really enjoying Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Eat. While I don’t limit myself to vegetarian cookbooks, I find that when I’m looking to purchase a book and find a spot on the shelf for that book, I get more bang for my buck with these. I always read cookbooks from cover to cover, and I love the way this book talks about the layering of components within a dish or meal. There’s a lot of freedom within its pages, but the templates for the dishes are really extraordinary.

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Plus, I knew if these guys were recommending it, then I was all in.

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One thing that I love to make and serve is tacos because it gives just enough freedom of taste at the table. These popcorn tacos were perfect for a Saturday afternoon. There’s no shortage of heat in this recipe, but again, the girls can taste and layer accordingly. And they never say ‘no’ to crunch and sweetness in a dish.

There are three components to this dish. First the popcorn: Add a splash of olive oil to a large pan and heat over low heat (I eventually raised mine to medium low.) Add 3 tablespoons of kernels and put on the lid. Once a minute you’ll want to really shake the pan to prevent burning. Once the corn starts to pop, pay close attention; when the popping has stopped, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool.

Mix the popcorn spices together: 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and 1 Tablespoon of honey or agave syrup. Warm them up in a small pan on the stove until combined; toss with the popcorn until it’s coated.

Caramelized Corn: Cut the kernels off four corn cobs. (I always do this on a rimmed baking sheet to try and curb the mess!) Heat some olive oil in a pan and fry the kernels until charred and caramelized, about 5-10 minutes. Add the following to the charred kernels: the zest and juice from one lime, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (go less, for less heat), 1 red or green chile, finely chopped, and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and stir in a tablespoon of plain yogurt or crème fraîche. (You’ll want an additional 1/4 – 1/2 cup of yogurt or crème fraîche for serving with the tacos.)

Peel two avocados and small dice the flesh. Squeeze a little lime juice over the top of the pieces.

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Taco time! Warm 8 small or 4 large corn or wheat tortillas. Divide the corn kernels between the tortillas and top with the following: a spoonful of yogurt or crème fraîche, some avocado, some crumbled feta (I used cotija because I had some on hand), and a pinch of chopped cilantro. Scatter the spiced popcorn over the top, and enjoy! The flavors here are really incredible, and the spicy, sweet popcorn adds the perfect ending note. And no one ever complains about watermelon on the side. Summer Saturday lunch at its best.

anti-manifesto summer

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It feels like June has flown by. With July lurking just around the bend, I thought I’d look back at this first month of summer to see how we’re doing at making summer feel like summer. I wrote a little about that here, but I thought I’d expand a little bit more on how we’re trying to do this in small ways for these three months.

Putting big things on the calendar. We’re really great at thinking about all the things we’d like to do around town, but if we don’t actually make a list or purchase tickets or save the date on our calendar then it doesn’t always happen. There are so many great summer activities around town that help us mark the season – and in doing that, they also help us mark time with the girls. During intermission at Circus Flora we talk about acts from previous years and compare them to the current show. On the way to Busch Stadium, F wears the same Cardinals baseball cap (with ladybugs on it) that we bought for E at one of her earliest baseball games. When the girls are older and off doing their own things, I hope the sounds of a baseball stadium or the sight of a big red circus tent will bring back strong memories of their summers spent here.

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Picking a weekly (or bi-weekly) tradition, and sticking to it. Sometimes I have to fight off the feeling that because M and I work full time, year round, the kids don’t really get a “true” summertime experience – sleeping-in kind of mornings, lazy days at home, long afternoons in the backyard or at the pool. Even though classes are over, they still have to get up and out the door in the morning, and family time happens in the evenings when we still have to make dinner, get lunches together for the next day, and do all the chores that don’t get done over the course of the day. One thing we’re trying is to break up that morning routine a couple of times a week at the garden. Yes, it’s early, and yes, they’d probably also enjoy the extra sleep, but despite the extra effort it takes to make those morning walks happen, while they are happening we’re in a different mode completely. It feels like summer, and they are watching the season unfold right in front of them.

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Getting wet as much as possible. Every year we toss around the idea of purchasing a pool pass until we realize that it doesn’t really make sense – we’d never get enough use out of it. But that doesn’t stop us from getting wet, and we try to beat the heat as much as possible at some of the great public fountains and splash gardens around the city. It’s also a great place to meet up with friends and get soaked together. The fountains at Tower Grove Park are our favorite, just steps away from the farmers’ market and live Saturday morning music from KDHX.

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Learning doesn’t stop during the summer. There are so many ways to learn and grow around this city, and most of them are free. Weeknights and weekends can easily fill up with errands and chores, but we’re trying to take the long way home as much as possible – past libraries and laboratories.

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Reframe the idea of work. It’s VERY easy to let work be the scapegoat, especially in the summer. I try to watch my words, and not complain about long hours in the office that keep me from lounging poolside with a juicy novel and tall glass of lemonade. Because right behind the complaining lurks guilt, and I’m fighting that word off with all my power. Work is important too, and in the summer there are more opportunities to share that with the girls, so we try our best to do just that.

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Party on a weeknight. And the biggest (little) thing we do is our Thursday Night Blues get togethers in our front yard. M came up with the idea a few years ago, and they’ve steadily grown in size. Blues City Deli is located on the opposite corner from our house. It’s a really, really popular lunch spot six days a week, but it’s only open for dinner on Thursday nights when they serve up sandwiches and live blues from 6pm-8pm. The place has a very devoted following, and the crowds spill out of the tiny restaurant onto the sidewalks and street. The front door stays open and the music filters out into the neighborhood. It seemed like an easy and natural way to invite friends and neighbors over to our place – the energy on our block is really nice on those nights.

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To be honest, I’m not really a natural host. I love the idea of having people over to hang out, but I’m really more of an introvert who likes the quiet and escape of home. I also get really caught up in the idea that our house doesn’t feel like a house made for entertaining. Which is what made this idea such a good one. The house doesn’t have to be super clean, the vibe stays very casual, and with an open invitation out there, we’re never sure if there will be eight of us in the yard or thirty-eight of us (like last night). We put out a bucket of ice and pull out an assortment of drinks from the fridge, open up a few bags of chips, slice up a watermelon, spray on some bug spray, and relax for a few minutes after a long week at work. The girls start in on the sidewalk chalk designs and F tries to convince us that frisbee is a great sport for our miniature lawn.

And then people show up – a steady stream of them – with lawn chairs on their shoulders and a bag of something to share. We don’t really have to do much hosting – everyone comes ready to meet someone new so the whole evening is filled with introductions and conversations on any number of topics. The kids spill out onto the main sidewalk and outline the rules of some game or another. The bucket of ice stays filled with drinks no matter how many people show up – last night one family walked up with the pitcher from their blender filled with freshly made gazpacho that everyone slurped down from plastic cups because we don’t even think of putting out spoons.

The only early prep I do is make ice cream, a rotating selection of flavors each week. Luckily I made four batches this week because we were cleaned out. Few things give me greater joy than watching kids eating beet ice cream!

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Last night the skies opened up midway through our gathering, so we moved everything inside. Perhaps you’ve seen my favorite white couch in my living room? The room where all food is banned? And my lovely marble table and those newly recovered chairs? Within five minutes every surface was draped with children – eating BBQ! and Doritos! and beet ice cream! and watermelon! And you know what? It was all good. Even E commented on how chill I was! (Although I did nix the idea of housewide hide-and-seek.)

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After everyone leaves, the four of us put everything away. It’s dark and the rains have stopped for a moment and the sink is full of push pop containers and I’m grateful for this little corner of our neighborhood, and for such funny, intelligent friends, and so glad that it’s finally summer.

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(story)time: In My Heart, A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek (and Inside Out, the movie)

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I’ve had this post started for awhile, and thought I might talk about the book while also talking about the various emotions on display during any typical day with my girls, particularly the youngest one. But I kept pushing it off for one reason or another, and I’m so glad that I did because now I also want to talk about the new movie Inside Out in tandem with this book.

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I saw In My Heart, A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek a few months ago at the bookstore when I was looking for a gift, and I picked it up to give to F. I feel like we are always talking about (or reacting to) her strong emotions. In those early years – the toddler and preschool years – it felt like we were constantly reminding her to “use her words” in an effort to get her to express herself clearly to us instead of simply flying off the handle.

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She has zero difficulties expressing herself through her words anymore. She can very quickly and effectively articulate whatever she is feeling, particularly when she perceives some type of injustice. Since she’s five (and the younger sister, and the baby in the house), that perception of injustice is usually about her. In fact, most things really are about her. But we’re also slowly starting to see the development of awareness of how others might be feeling. That doesn’t always mean that she’s willing to put the feelings or needs of others before her own pressing needs and fragile feelings, but recognition of them is a great first step. And on more than one occasion – and more frequently as time goes by – we can clearly see that she is able to observe something happening to someone else and then empathize with them and show us that she’s thinking about the way they must be feeling. This is something extraordinary to witness, particularly in a child that is still so centrally focused.

I really like In My Heart – I enjoy reading it with F, and expanding on the conversation with each page. She can very easily relate to each emotion described within the book, and her face and her voice change as she reads along with me. I think this book is such a great starting place for the discussion of emotions with children.


But I’m also going to recommend a movie in this reading post!

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Last Friday, on opening night, the four of us went to see the movie Inside Out. M sent me a text in the middle of the day about the movie, suggesting that we see it that very night. I knew a little bit about it from various pieces on NPR, and I was excited about the entire cast of the film. But outside of the general premise of the movie – that the main characters are emotional components of the brain – I knew very little else.

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie so much. Not just the movie itself, but watching my kids watch the movie. Or watching my husband watch the movie. Or how we all just kept laughing and looking at one another as we watched it. Or how F was standing up in front of her seat at the end with tears filling her eyes and spilling down her cheeks. At the end of the show we asked her if she was crying, and she completely owned it. “I am, and now I want to sit right here and watch it all over again.”

On so many levels, this movie really is a true gem. We (M and I) naturally related to it as parents of girls – especially since one is eleven going on twelve. But the way this movie looks at emotions is so very smart and clever and hilarious and spot on that it is truly a movie for everyone. I’ve been part of several discussions over the past few months on the subject of emotions – some on the idea of happiness (or joy), and if those states are achievable (or desirable) goals, or if they can reside alongside with what we often think as the opposite emotion, sadness. And what if sadness is really depression, and it’s not something that you can snap out of or wish (or will) away? And what does intense grief do to these emotions – what happens when the core memories we’ve formed with loved ones, memories that used to be joyful, feel so full of sadness that they threaten to permanently change who we are, to ourselves and to others? How does a family continue when those memories are halted abruptly? Can there ever be enough of those golden orbs? Are we spinning enough of them now with our own girls?

Both the book and the movie assign colors to emotions. This is not a radical concept – it’s been done for ages. In the book, those colors are neatly assigned to one full page spread; in the movie they stand alone too… for awhile. But that’s where I’ll stop with this discussion and let you immediately look up the movie times at your favorite cineplex and buy your tickets. And after you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear what you thought.

Find this title at your favorite local independent bookstore. Happy reading!

***And enjoy your movie at your favorite theatre – we LOVE this one!