Friday, January 30, 2009

Never thought I'd get here

I love being a dad.

That might sound like something that doesn’t need to be said, but in my case, it’s a rather recent revelation. I was pretty sure I was missing the dad gene.

For one thing, I didn’t particularly like babies. That’s not the same thing as disliking them; all I mean is that there was an absence of like. Like Joel and Maggie said in Northern Exposure, they never have anything interesting to say and they’re always sticky.

Everyone has always said that I’m pretty good with their kids, but that’s the exception that proves the rule: putting up with a kid for thirty minutes is not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination as actually enjoying their company. And I have to admit that I never was really “good” with the kids as much as I simply learned a secret: babies like smiling faces, but they really like big, open mouths and wide open eyes. You elongate your face by opening your mouth as wide as possible and raising your eyebrows, and you have a smiling baby every time.

On top of that, I’ve never felt even the slightest urge to carry on the family name. If there wasn’t a new generation of me running around, I didn’t see that as any great loss to the planet, given that there are 6 billion other folks already taking up space here.

So there you have it: until very recently, I didn’t think I’d lose any sleep if I never changed a diaper or sat on the receiving end of a parent-teacher conference.

But this little kid has done a number on me. Chalk up one for the home team because I’m starting to think that all of you picket fence and mini-van folks might be on to something here.

For one thing, I’m amazed that someone with no sense of irony, parody, cynicism, or farce can laugh so hard at something as predictable as peekaboo. If I hide behind his playpen, Z. will run around the corner to find me, and then will roar with a laughter so deep that he sounds like he going to run out of oxygen. (There’s a federal grant I’d like to get my hands on: studying infant humor. We are all born with a sense of humor, and it seems to emerge before so many other emotions. But then most of us turn it off at some point, or allow it to go undeveloped. I wonder how much it would cost to get a room full of babies and watch them watching Monty Python skits.)

And no, babies rarely have anything interesting to say. But that doesn’t mean they’re not thinking deeply about whatever it is that’s in front of them. Watching Z. try to figure out to get to a ball that has rolled under a chair is right up there with watching Lynn Hill
tackle the Nose Route on El Capitan or Garry Kasparov staring down Big Blue.

As for the stickiness... well, turns out baby drool is about a thousand times less toxic and less pernicious than Great Dane slobber. Babies don’t shed, and they don’t tear up hard wood floors with their Freddy Kruger-esque toe nails. So maybe they’re not all that big of a pain, after all.

And maybe I’m finding a paradise within thee, happier farr.

(John Milton, "Paradise Lost".)

More on the french bread

Still thinking about my first attempt at french bread, and the whole poolish thing is stuck in my head.

Is a poolish a poor man’s sourdough starter? Or maybe lazy man is the better term. Because it sure seemed as though I got 90% of the final product with only half the work. It wasn’t San Francisco sourdough bread, but it had a nice tangy flavor to it, and didn’t cost me any extra labor.

I’m going to have to research this a bit (in my free time — yeah, right).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Poolish is as poolish does.

We’ve been parents for a little more than a month now, and mostly I’ve been loving every minute of it. Not so much the waking up in the middle of the night, not so much the diapers, not so much the extra hour it takes to the load up the car whenever we go somewhere, but the rest of it, sure.

Maybe the most significant downside has been that we don’t have a handle on getting meals ready yet. When I get home, I try to take the dogs for a walk while we still have some daylight, and then it’s off to pick up Zebb from day care. I get home about the same time M. does, right around six. Then we have some playing and reading and bonding time, followed by Z’s dinner, getting him bathed and ready for bed, and somewhere in there we have to make our own dinner and maybe feed the dogs, who never let us forget that they’re part of this team and have empty bellies.

Cooking for ourselves, then, is something we have to squeeze in, and the first month we ate a lot of fried egg sandwiches, which if fine for folks who consider Lipitor a condiment. But we really needed to get back into the swing of things and start eating real food again.

This week was a decent start. I found some borracho beans in the freezer, so there was one meal already 75% made. Then I made some chicken soup, which is always great this time of the year when everyone is sick and sniffly. It’s also a great reintroduction to the kitchen when you’ve been away for a while, because you can make it as easy or as hard as you want to make it. (At this point, it looks like I’m not making stock from scratch any time soon.) As a confidence builder, we made mango chutney chicken with rice and roasted tomatoes, which requires juggling a bunch of different pots and pans but has idiot-proof timing of the steps, so it’s nearly impossible to screw up.

But to really dust off the cobwebs, I had to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. And for me, that meant putting down the pans, leaving the knives in the block, and getting out the flour and doing some baking. And not fake baking but the honest to goodness kind where you knead and rise and have to watch the clock, where you had to bring ingredients to room temperature and activate things and do everything at some optimal convergence of ambient room temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, and planetary alignment.

Which is not my strong suit, by any stretch of the imagination. Baking is too rigid for me, too much attention to detail and careful measuring and following the directions. So to get back on the horse that threw me, I needed to make some french bread.

I had never made a poolish before, and I’m not sure why the idea intimidated me. But that part of the equation was so easy and the results so impressive that I think a bubbling measuring cup of flour and yeast might now be a standard presence in our fridge. So step one took about three minutes, if you don’t count waiting for the yeast and water to get to room temperature. And I’m not sure I did it correctly, but it worked. I poured ¾ cup of water and let it sit on the counter for an hour. Next to it I measured ¼ teaspoon of dry active yeast, which also needed to come to room temperature. And then I measured 1 ¼ cup of flour. I activated the yeast with a tablespoon of the room temperature water, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, and then poured it into the flour. Mixed the flour / yeast combo and then poured in the rest of the water.

Then covered it and let it sit for 3 hours.

Done. My first poolish. Now I’m looking at some fresh french bread in only... 24 more hours!

So the poolish went into the fridge until the next day.

Then you kind of start all over. I took the same three ingredients (1½ cups flour, 1½ teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon activated yeast, and ½ cup room temp water) and did the same thing. Mixed 1 ½ cups of flour with 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and ½ teaspoon activated yeast (activated with one tablespoon water from the half cup), only I poured the water into yesterday’s poolish (which needs, again, to come back to room temperature, which takes about an hour). The poolish becomes soupy when you add the extra water, which is what you want so you can pour it into today’s flour / yeast mix.

So now I had a bowl of flour that looked a bit too wet to me, but I’m trying to follow directions and not improvise, so I go with it. I poured the blob into the biggest cutting board we have, having first very lightly dusted it with flour and with a ½ cup flour on standby. The next step is to knead the bread, keeping my hands floured but not the work surface (not sure why — yet another step with no explanation, which is driving me nuts, but mine is not to reason why...)

Up to this point, I’m cool, but when it’s kneading time, I lose my self-confidence. Too much? Not enough? You’ll read not to overwork this batter, and to vigorously mix another, and I can’t tell which is which or why. These particular instructions say to keep kneading until you can create window panes when you pull at the dough. I’m kneading for the better part of a half hour, and still no window panes (thin, nearly translucent stretches of dough), so I eventually give up. If I wind up with a loaf of granite, we’ll know why.

And then things got a bit complicated. Simple, but lots of steps.

I let the dough rise for an hour in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap. Then I degassed it by folding it over itself three or four times. Back in the bowl it went, and another hour of rise time. The second time it has risen even more than the first, but it quickly deflates when I roll it out of the bowl onto the cutting board for shaping. I’m not sure if I was supposed to do that more gently, so if the bread’s a flop, there’s Reason #2.

With a bench knife I cut the dough into two halves, and each half is going to get shaped, then rested, then shaped, then rested, then allowed to rise yet again, and then baked. That makes five separate rise times, if you count the two rest stages. Five times? Really? That right there is what burns me about baking. If I have the stove too hot, I expect to see something burn immediately: cause and effect. If I add too much liquid, I want to see things get mushy. I want to see the effect of my actions, so I can process the information and do it better the next time. But I have trouble handling a bunch of steps that seem unnecessary, only to be told that if I skip one, it will ruin everything.

But why am I making a couple of loafs of french bread in the first place, when I can buy them from King Sooper for a buck and a half apiece? To install some self-discipline and force myself back into the routine of cooking again, so follow the instructions I do. I cut the dough in half with the bench knife, and then fold into two five-by-eight rectangles. I folded the back third over, then the front third up and over, rolled it over, and let it rest for fifteen minutes, covered with plastic wrap. Then did the same thing one more time: fold, roll, and rest. Then a third time: fold and roll into a 12-14 inch baguette. This is supposed to create a seal from the fold to the body of the loaf, so that it doesn’t deform during the final rise and baking. Again, not so sure I did it correctly, because after you make a seal, then you use a serrated bread knife to cut diagonal slices in the top of the loaf. So you sealed it... and then broke the seal by slicing it? Whatever... just following directions, not trying to reason this out. So there’s Reason #3 if it doesn’t turn out. Either it wasn’t sealed, or my scores were too deep, or not deep enough, or all of the above.

After folding and rolling the third time, it had to rest for thirty minutes, covered with plastic wrap, on parchment paper, on an inverted baking sheet. (That’s so you can slide the paper from the room temp baking sheet on to a pre-heated one, which we’ll get to in a second.) So that makes rise, rise, rest, rest, and now rise: five separate waiting periods, not including the overnight resting of the poolish. Geez, if this doesn’t teach me patience, nothing will, eh?

Preheated the oven to 475º, and placed the baking sheet in the oven to preheat... and then thirty minutes later, it’s almost ready for the oven. Almost. Because there’s one last step. Right as I was about to pop the loaves into the oven, I had to spritz water onto the tops of the bread and then mist down the sides of the oven (being very careful not to hit the oven light). This is supposed to slow down the formation of the crust, and I’m skeptical as to whether it’s necessary, but I’m following directions today, so I do as I’m told. So, I slid the parchment off the inverted sheet onto the preheated sheet, sprayed down the bread, quickly sprayed the sides of the oven, shoved the baking sheet into the oven... and we’re still not done!

After putting the sheet into the oven, I turned down the temp to 450º and set the timer for thirty minutes. Removed the bread after thirty minutes, transfered it to a cooling rack, and set the timer again for another thirty. Because the bread will continue to bake out of the oven, and you want the remaining moisture to evaporate through the crust and not through the cuts in the bread.

And we’re finally done. And the big question was: was it worth it?

Well, in terms of the quality of the bread, yes indeed. The bread had a halfway sourdough tangy kick to it, which I’m guessing if from using the poolish, which may be a lazy baker’s sourdough starter. I’ll need to research that a bit (during my free time...). So, yes, it was a darn good loaf of bread. Was it a lot of work? I dunnoh, depends... There really wasn’t that much hands-on time, but there sure was a lot of waiting. The poolish takes about three minutes of hands-on, followed by three hours of waiting. Then half a second of hands-on (moving the container from the counter to the fridge) followed by an overnight of waiting. Then you mix the dough, which is about thirty minutes (mix, knead, clean-up) followed by an hour of waiting. Five seconds of hands-on (degassing by folding over) followed by another hour of waiting. The shaping the loaves: a minute of hands-on, fifteen minutes of waiting, times three. So all in all, it’s a bunch of very simple steps... interjected with lots of waiting. Which is cool... sort of what I needed to get my head back in the game, to show myself I can learn a new trick and that even with the new demands on my time that there’s no excuse for not making something interesting for dinner.

And the bottom line answer to the question of whether it was worth it: Zebb absolutely loved the little slices I cut for him, so there you have it. One happy customer = one happy baker.


Cooking mit Kinder

Been thinking about our cooking, or our lack thereof, lately, and will write more on this in the next couple of days.

But in the meantime, here's a piece in the Time's Well about President Obama's new chef and his thoughts on school lunches.

The old public service commercial used to ask, "It's ten o'clock: do you know where your kids are right now?" Today the question should be, "It's twelve o'clock: do you know what your kids are eating right now?"

Pappy's homemade chicken soup, converted into Zebb's chicken soup purée.

Cooking mit Kinder II

Been thinking about cooking, or our lack thereof, lately, and will write more on this in the next couple of days.

But in the meantime, here's a piece in the Time's Well about President Obama's new chef and his thoughts on school lunches.

The old public service commercial used to ask, "It's ten o'clock: do you know where your kids are right now?" Today the question should be, "It's twelve o'clock: do you know what your kids are eating right now?"

Pappy's homemade chicken soup, converted into Z's chicken soup purée.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Well: Baking Cookies to Reconnect

The Well asks, what are your food memories?

I have two that stand out, and I suspect they are a lot like everyone else’s: simple items from childhood.

Why is that? Why would we all remember a slice of apple pie from thirty-five years ago, and not some elaborate meal that celebrated a significant milestone or some concoction that you whipped up that impressed everyone? A unique meal discovered along a journey to a far-away land will not stick with you like something your mom or grandma made on a regular basis.

I never really cooked until I was in my thirties, and I never paid much attention to anyone else’s cooking until then, either. As a child, I went out and played, then the next thing I knew, there was food on the table. If it came from a take-out box or off a cast iron skillet or out of a microwave or from a wood burning stove... I had no idea which.

When I left college and went out into the world, there were two ways of getting food: ordering it from someone behind a counter or opening the wrapper of a microwavable burrito.

But despite my lack of interest in the cooking process, I can recreate my great grandmother’s apple pie and visualize the entire assembly process, step by step. Apples are peeled and sliced on this side of the kitchen, the pie crust put together on the other side, with the finished pies over here on the table waiting for the oven. I’m sitting on the red stool, the kind with the steps that fold up and in, and every couple of minutes my great grandma would cut a bit of apple skin with just a little bit too much apple stuck to it, and she’d hand that piece to one of us. She was in her eighties, but her hands looked like she was a hundred and eighty, and if you ever needed a hand model for a close-up of a wicked witch, hers would do. But you only get hands like that one way: from peeling truckloads of apples and baking thousands of pies and feeding dozens of kids and scores of grandkids for nearly every one of your 98 years. And to this day, her apple pie is our gold standard. Didn’t matter whether the apples were too tart or mealy or if the oven couldn’t hold a constant temperature — the pie came out exactly the same each and every time.

My mom made a certain cookie every Christmas and only at Christmas. It was part sugar cookie and part shortbread, and the dough was pushed through a star-shaped attachment of a cookie gun into a little strip, so the resulting cookie looked like a millipede. Two cookies were then stacked with a bit of chocolate icing as the mortar. A simple but effective little thing, and I could eat them a dozen at a time. And I thought I was so clever. My adolescent brain couldn’t recognize a sheet’s worth of cookies once they had been set on the table to cool, and to my mind, there must have been thousand of them. Surely a couple here or there would not be missed, and if I took a handful from each sheet, my mom would never notice, would she? Somehow she always did, and somehow she deduced that it was the kid who was too casually wandering back and forth through the kitchen, pretending to be looking for a pen or a ruler or the phone book or a magic marker, who had helped himself.

One Month IPR

Two Week In-Progress Review: What have I learned so far?

  1. When you're changing a diaper and your first thought is, "well, that's not so bad," it only means he's not done yet.
  2. Toys and books are okay, but what are really interesting are electrical sockets, cat tails, the box that the toy came in, and anything that makes Dad say "No, don't touch that."
  3. There's a real shortage of good kids' books these days. Where's the next Maurice Sendak, Dr Suess, or A. A. Milne? Most of the books these days were phoned in.
  4. Any baby food that comes in a jar is disgusting, but there are some good oatmeals out there. I'd eat Familia's 100% Natural Swiss Müesli if it came in a bigger box.
  5. Socks with no-skid rubberized dots on the bottom: good concept, poor execution. They need to put the dots both on the inside and the outside, because Z. leaves his behind every time he does a peel-out or changes directions.
  6. Baby drool is a thousand times less toxic and pernicious than Great Dane drool. But they're a tie in the poop department.
  7. I don't adjust to sleep deprivation.
  8. Alpha status in our household is dictated by one simple test: are you afraid of the vacuum cleaner? Yes, move to the top of the list; no, you're stuck in the middle of the pack.
  9. A baby's diaper bag and an Army Ranger assault pack weight about the same.
  10. Every time I see Z. in the sea of babies when I pick him up from day care, I think the same thing: There's an Animal Farm Rule of Babies. All babies are equally cute, but some are more equal than others.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pappy's Mess Hall

Will comment on these tomorrow... just wanted to get some quick pix up of the boy chowing down on Pappy's gourmet grub.

Seems he loves my chicken soup, french bread, and borracho beans, among other things.

An avocado masher does a great job on beans and rice, and the little food processor turns noodle soups into restaurant quality baby food (if such a thing were to exist).

So, will explain these pix tomorrow. Until then...

Pizza dough goes no-knead.

First of all, every time I type this, I spell it "know-need."

Anyway, we've had mixed results with the no-knead bread dough, and pizza as much as bread needs those closely linked gluten fibers that kneading creates, so this ought to be interesting. On the other hand, you get the same thing from making a poolish, which you do not knead... so I guess I have no idea what I'm talking about when it comes to bread.

Not going to have time to try it myself any time soon, but will be interested to here from anyone who gives it a shot.

Recipe here.

And story here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Get off the couch!!

Easy advice to listen to or read... harder to follow:

Don’t Starve a Cold of Exercise

YOU have what seems to be a really bad cold. You are coughing and sneezing, and it is hard to breathe.

Should you work out?

And if you do, should you push yourself as hard as ever or take it easy? Will exercise have no effect, or make you feel better or worse?

It is a question, surprisingly enough, that stumps many exercise physiologists and infectious disease specialists.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Technology in the Kitchen?

Apparently you need an iPhone in the kitchen these days.

Top Kitchen Toy? The Cellphone

I'm not buying it. An iPhone as a permanent part of my gadget drawer would leave me with an interesting warranty claim. It would only be a matter of time before I dunked it in boiling water with the pasta, hacked a corner off whilst chopping onions, or otherwise voided the warranty by getting too close to something hot or greasy.

Occasionally I'll drag the laptop into the kitchen, but it's always safely atop the bar, far from wet or dusty hands, and even then I find myself going through a dozen bar towels trying to keep my hands clean before scrolling down a line or two to the next item.

Having said that... going to download BigOven and see if they can convince me otherwise...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sick call, fall out!

Z. has an ear infection, so he's on antibiotics that are giving him fits. I'm on Day Two of the flu. M's nursing a sore throat. So it's just one big party around here these days.

Being sick isn't fun. Being sick and needing to take care of someone else is the worst. I picked up Z. and ran him downstairs for a bottle and I nearly passed out. Then I threw my back out putting him down.

So there won't be much new here until everyone's feeling better.

Good thing we made muffins the day before, so at least we have breakfast for a few days. But wish I had seen this first, because it sounds a bit heartier.

Getting my swing back

We've cooked dinner maybe three times since getting our SBJ, and I haven't made anything for Sunday brunch once. Too many bottles to fill, diapers to change, noses to wipe, and butts to powder. Or at least, that was my excuse. So this Sunday I had to get back into it, but given my time off, I needed to start slowly.

I'm not sure why pumpkin is thought of as only a Thanksgiving and Christmas treat. Because it's easily canned, it's available year round, has a long shelf life, and is chocked full of beta carotene and vitamin C. And, it's nearly idiot-proof in the oven. Bread, muffins, pie... you can forget to set the timer, set the oven for the wrong temperature, forget how many scoops of sugar you added, and it's still going to turn out okay.

So the easiest way to get back up on the horse and find my culinary sea legs is to take one of the many cans of pumpkin from down in the pantry and slap together some muffins.

Now, this being the Training Table, I have to make a nod to nutrition, expedience, and flexibility. I like making muffins on Sunday because they take about 30 minutes to prepare and then 30 minutes to bake, so while the muffins are in the oven, you can finish the dishes, and sit down to enjoy a muffin and cup of coffee without worrying about the pile of bowls and measuring scoops in the sink. I also double the recipe and then freeze most of the muffins in little zip locks, two per bag, so I can grab one as I go out the door all next week.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 15 oz canned pumpkin
1/3 cup vegetable oil or 1/3 cup apple sauce
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Pumpkin spice mix: either one Tbsp of pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice, or one tsp each of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, or whatever floats your boat. I tend to go overboard on the ginger, and no one has ever complained.

For the topping:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350º. Prep the pans with liners or the grease of your choice. (I usually skip both with our Wilton pans, so your call there.)

Mix together everything but the flour, and then slowly sift in the flour until just combined. I use the beater from the electric mixer for this step, since it only has four tines and lets a lot of air into the mix without clumping.

Fill the muffin cups, then sprinkle the sugar/cinnamon mix on top.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Let them cool in the tray for five minutes, then pop them out and serve. Let them cool to room temperature before bagging or tupperwaring.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Help! (Cooking mit Kinder Part II)

I just did the math: we've had Zebb for one month, and I've cooked six times since then. That is not going to cut it.

Even before the kinder, finding time during the week to make something new has always been a challenge. If we don't get home until six, and if we take the dogs out or use treadmill or do yoga or whatnot, then we're not applying heat to the skillet until seven-ish. So the plan has always been to make something big on Sunday, have a couple of days of left-overs, skip working out on Wednesday to make another big pot, and try to make that last until the weekend, when we can start all over.

But now with the SBJ (Screaming Bundle of Joy), the amount of time left-over for cooking has gone from Slim to None (cue up Chuck Thompson for the the follow-up: and Slim has just left town).

And that's the very issue that the Training Table is supposed to help: middle-aged weekend warriors who are trying to maximize time while making good food that will help them to live to see 100.

So it's time to stop making excuses and get back to the people's work.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cooking mit Kinder

We've been so off of our game lately. The whole baby thing has been one big picnic except for its effect on two things: sleep and cooking.

There has been one bright spot on the cooking front: the boy loves Pappy's chicken noodle soup and basic pasta (both run through the chopper) a ton more than any of the jarred baby foods.

But since that, it seems the only thing I've made has been scrambled eggs and toast.

I tried blowing the carbon out of the carburetor by playing around with that Maple Bourbon Chicken noodle bowl the other day, but all that did was remind me that I'm off my game.

So that's my mission for this weekend: get back to quick 30 minute meals that will keep me from getting totally rusty, or resign myself to take-out Chinese and Chipotles for the next three years.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Ever make-up a dish that you think can't fail, and it comes out a total mess?

Well, this wasn't a disaster, but there was something missing.

I took a recipe for Maple Bourbon Beef and figured, Maple Bourbon Chicken sounds just as good, right? Since I didn't have any cow in the fridge but had plenty of poultry, I figured, why not?

A fairly simple recipe: marinate, saute, simmer, done.

But it came out too sweet and missing something. It was like it was supposed to be Asian-fusion-esque but was missing the actual Asian part.

So if you're going to make the Bourbon Beef Bowl, just follow the recipe. If you're going to make the Bourbon Chicken Soup, maybe add some snow peas, serve it over rice, or come up with a side dish that counters the maple/bourbon sweetness.

Serves 4-6
1/2 cup boubron
1/2 cup maple syrup

garlic: 2 Tsp minced or 4-5 cloves
1 tsp salt (kosher or sea)
1 tsp ground black pepper

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 sweet potato, 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup (total) of sliced red peppers, carrots, leeks, mushrooms (your call on the mix)

2 cups dry egg noodles
2-3 cups fresh spinach
scallions for garnish

For Beef:
1 lb boneless beef sirloin, thinly sliced
2 cups beef broth

For Chicken:
3-4 chicken breasts, cubed or thinly sliced
2 cups chicken stock

Mix the bourbon, maple syrup, garlic, salt and pepper, and pour into a bowl over the sliced beef or chicken. Marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to one day, covered in the fridge.

When you're ready to get started, transfer the beef/chicken into another bowl or plate using a slotted spoon. Save the marinade for later.

Heat 1-2 Tsp of olive oil in a large saucepan or stock pan. For beef, sauté for 3-4 minutes and then transfer to another plate. For chicken, go with 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the meat is browned on all sides. Again, transfer to another plate.

Check your oil level, and add another Tsp if needed, and then sauté the onion for a couple of minutes. Add the other veggies and sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Add the broth or stock and marinade, and then water so that the veggies are covered by about an inch. Add the sweet potato and bring to a boil.

If you're using chicken, then at this point add the chicken and noodles. When the soup returns to a boil, reduce the heat slightly to medium or medium high and cook for 10 minutes. Check one piece of sweet potato and one piece of chicken, and if both are done, reduce heat to low, add the spinach, and simmer for 3-4 minutes until the spinach has wilted.

If you're using the beef, add the beef the same time that you add the spinach.

Bowl it up and top with a sprinkle of scallions.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

First Day of Day-care

Getting out the door with Z. is a lot like rolling out to the Local Training Area on deployment readiness exercise. If anything, it was easier answering those three a.m. phone calls because you had the entire platoon, company, or battalion on the same sheet of music, following the same plan, and moving towards the same objective.

Everyone knew when to get their assigned weapon from the arms room, when to do commo checks, and where to line up before rolling out the gate. The trucks were already loaded according to their load-plans, everyone had 72 hours worth of chow, and someone would radio you along the way to tell you the specifics of the mission. You were on auto-pilot the whole way.
But rolling out the front gate with Z. is a whole other ball game. First of all, the mission does not go according to a set plan. Even if you’re just driving down to Target, you have to take a full day’s basic load of diapers, bottles, and snacks. You have to factor in nap-time and meal-time overlap to the mission. You have to dress him in enough layers so that he can survive both the sub-freezing walk from the parking lot to the store as well as the sauna-esque temps inside nearly every public building these days. You have to calculate the amount of walking, number of stairs you’ll encounter, and times in and out of the car, and then determine whether to take the big stroller, the car-seat compatible stroller, or if you’ll just haul him around on your arm all day.
Those types of things I can handle. You factor in X, Y, and Z, plug it into your equation, and come up with an answer. But in any operation, the bad guys get a vote, and this time I don’t have a G2 to help me figure out what’s going to happen next. For instance, as soon as you get the car loaded and Z. all dressed, that’s when you notice that there’s a diaper that needs changing. You address that matter and think you’re heading out the door, and then the dogs let you know in no uncertain terms that they need another pit stop before you leave them for the day. Again, you’re ready to go, and you hear a commotion that can only be a cat stuck behind the desk, tearing out all of your cords and plugs and cables. Like Rosanne Rosannadanna said, it’s always something, always something that keeps you from hitting your cues on time.

So today was Z’s first day of day-care. We loaded up the truck the night before, which included a week’s supply of just about everything. We woke up an hour early to make sure we had enough time to get the boy dressed and fed and changed and maybe changed again. Took the dogs out twice before the kid had stirred, and made sure the second time that they had taken care of business and wouldn’t need a third trip out before we left. We left nothing to chance... except the part about checking the weather. When I took the dogs out the first time, it was starting to snow. When I took them out the second time, an hour later, we had 3-4 inches on the ground. Not a big deal, but just something that made up double our drive time calculations, which were already cut to the thinnest of margins.

But the kid’s first day was a smashing success. All of the other kids were instantly his best buddies (not sure what that says about his attachment issues, but will worry about that later). His teachers have taken a real shine to him, maybe because he is the cutest kid in the room. And he came home totally worn out, shredded from eight hours of non-stop activities.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Ballad of Big Mike

If you watched the Ole Miss / Texas Tech match-up in the Cotton Bowl, you might have caught a quick interview with Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy. A few years ago, they took a kid off the streets named Mike Oher.

Mike had obvious but undeveloped physical gifts. He weighed over 300 pounds as a teenager, and yet was faster than many on the track team. But he had never played organized sports of any sort. That was mostly because he spent his first nine academic years attending eleven different public schools. And the routine was the same: he would fail every class the first semester, and then his teacher would pass him during the spring term so that they wouldn't have to deal with him again the next year.

When he enrolled into high school, he had a measured IQ of 80 and a GPA of 0.6. Note the word measured. While he had trouble with any sort of formal assessment, he obviously had street smarts, having survived on his own for 14 years.

But several key people took an interest in him. A step-father of sorts made it his mission to enroll him into a prestigious private high school. (His biological father had been shot and killed and dumped off a bridge when Mike was a little kid, and his bio-mother was addicted to crack cocaine.) The football coach and school president had decided to accept Mike, even if he never played a single down for the school team. And maybe most importantly, the Tuoys decided to take him into their home.

You can read the whole story here, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, or check out Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.

So where is Mike now?

He just finished his final season at Ole Miss, and he will surely be a first round draft pick. All because of folks like the Tuohys.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Appropriate for my birthday...

The BBC has a piece about how marinating your steak in beer or red wine helps reduce carinogens.

Marinating a steak in red wine or beer can cut down the number of cancer-causing agents produced when it is fried or grilled, research suggests.

Meat cooked in this way contains relatively high levels of cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HAs).

However, Portuguese researchers found HA levels in steak were lower if it was steeped in alcohol before cooking.

Details of the research are highlighted in New Scientist magazine.

Sounds good to me!

Hat tip: Bitten

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I think he's going to be a combat engineer.

I've already reserved a slot in the Sapper Leader Course for 2027.

Unfortunately, I cut the video a second too soon. Right after this, he looked me in the eye and said, "You're looking at 19 pounds of coiled steel and sex appeal. I eat barbed wire and poop nails."

Watch out, world. There's a new combat engineer on the loose. Here he is conducting breaching operations:

At first I thought he was going to be a light fighter, but it seems he's just as happy operating from a mechanized platform:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Front End Loader Margarita

Love means never having to say you’re sorry, and the best tequilas mean you never have to hide the taste with extra ingredients.

El Tesoro, Corazón or Herradura. . . With a dash of triple sec and fresh lime juice, you’re in business.

Bonus: the better tequilas come with a “no headache” guarantee. . . as long as you only have one.

2 ounces 100% blue agave tequila
1½ ounces Patrón Citrónge,
Cointreau, or triple sec
1½ ounces fresh-squeezed lime
juice (about 1 lime)
Lime wedge
Margarita salt

Combine the ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker or mason jar. Pour into a salt-rimmed ice-filled glass. If you want a strong agave flavor use a Blanco tequila. For a milder taste use
Reposado. Garnish with a slice of lime.

A computer lets you
make more mistakes
faster than any other
invention in human
history, with the
possible exception of
handguns and tequila.
—Mitch Radcliffe

Happy New Year's! And now introducing...

Introducing the newest member of the Husker Nation.

He already knows the only signal that matters: Touchdown, Huskers!

Z's too young for a Runza and an Elk Creek from Sandy's, so he had to do his tailgating with Cheerios and a sippy cup.

(Time to get out the credit card and order up some digi-cam outfits — Black and Gray and Gold are getting outnumbered by Red around here.)

Happy New Year's

Forget the resolutions... one more day off won't kill you.

In the Scottish tradition, it's good luck for the rest of the year if you wake up on New Year's Day and find shortbread on your doorstep. If that didn't happen to you today, it's not too late to make your own.

From Rampant Scotland dot com:

Traditional Scottish Shortbread

Here's to keeping it between the ditches in 2009!