I did it. You guys, I bought a minivan. A beat-up old minivan, of course, because we’re just going to beat it up more and I don’t event want a minivan anyway, but there it is. And it’s unarguably a minivan. It has about a zillion cupholders and fits carseats galore and I am going to have to practice obsessively to be able to look cool casually spinning the wheel with one hand while I effortlessly parallel park the hulking monster.
Oh, who I am kidding, I will never look cool again. I’ll be driving a minivan. (To be clear, YOU look cool in YOUR minivan, of course. This is not about YOU.)
I don’t think of myself as the minivan type, obviously. But I hear that lots of people fall in love once they have one of these large, convenient, family-friendly vehicles. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I do think of myself as the granola type. This one is no crisp, salty maple-y Olive Oil Granola, or buttery, delicate Walnut and Currant Granola. This one is health food. It’s almost aggressively crunchy, barely sweetened with juice and honey, and has no oil whatsoever. It bakes into addictive crunchy clumps that you will probably find yourself eating by the handful each time you pass the jar. That’s ok, it’s super healthy.
Let’s start with this: I’m not at all above feeding my kids a box of mac and cheese, or declaring that it’s leftover night and wishing everyone good luck, or piling us all into the car to go out for ramen. But I do try to make dinner for my family with some frequency.
Do you know this nice blog called “Dinner: A Love Story“? I was just introduced to it recently. It’s all about feeding your family dinner every night and of course they have a new cookbook (who doesn’t these days?), apparently full of recipes and strategies for feeding a family of picky eaters without going crazy. I should probably get that cookbook.
But in the meantime I thought I’d share a tip of my own. One of the ways in which I manage to get dinner on the table on a regular basis is by using the term “dinner” fairly loosely. Some examples: breakfast for dinner? Sure. Sandwiches? If necessary. Tonight’s dinner? These pretzels. The girls gleefully chose their own dips (peanut butter, rhubarb jam, and applesauce), and the grown-ups had theirs with a sweet grainy mustard. I made a pot of that great turnip soup soup as well, but it was certainly the accompaniment to the pretzels and not the other way around.It’s a little time-consuming to make pretzels (you boil these in a baking-soda bath in addition to letting them rise twice), but it was a fun project to do with the girls and the resulting pretzels were very good. They have just the right combination of crispy bottom and chewy center, with a little tang that I assumed was from the rye flour, but Kim Boyce tells me is from the baking soda instead. This recipe is adapted from Boyce’s Good to the Grain cookbook, which I want to cook from front to back after having started with those Rhubarb-Strawberry Cornmeal Tarts recently.
There are plenty of good reasons to make friends with your neighbors. You can always borrow a cup of sugar, they’re conveniently close for impromptu cocktail parties or afternoon barbeques, and you can share a lawnmower. (What, not everyone shares a lawnmower with their neighbors? Well, maybe you all mow more than twice a year.)
We are lucky enough to have the kind of neighbors who, in addition to all of the benefits above, sometimes drop by with treats. Recently it was a dish of petal-pink tender baked rhubarb, barely sweet and redolent of orange zest and ginger. I know, right?
I admit to eating a few stalks straight from the dish with my fingers, and heaping spoonfuls made their way into bowls of yogurt for breakfast. But I have a new cookbook, Good to the Grain, and it has a picture on the cover of some mighty handsome little single-serving rhubarb tarts. I couldn’t resist cooking the remaining rhubarb down into a jam with fragrant strawberries and baking them into delicate and delicious free-form tarts. They’re like the biggest, best jam-filled cookie you’ve ever had. We shared them with the neighbors, of course.
There was a period in my life when I had three or four breadmakers. All used, of course, as a breadmaker is the sort of appliance that seems to wander around in search of a home. You probably know a couple people trying to give away bread machines they got for their wedding 15 years ago and never used, and they’re always on Craig’s List for $5, and they carom around on Freecycle like nobody’s business.
So anyway, a few years ago I somehow came into possession of a breadmaker. I hadn’t used one in years. I used it once or twice with, you know, breadmaker-type results, and then it broke. Suddenly I keenly felt its absence. I couldn’t find the same model so I got a different one, and then I did find the same model so I got that too, and maybe I even got a third before I came to my senses, discarded the broken one, and gave the surplus breadmakers away. Phew.
I will say this for my breadmaker: it makes a reliable whole wheat sandwich bread when we run out of the store-bought stuff. And what else do I want it for, really? I usually buy 100% whole grain sandwich bread because I have not found a 100% whole wheat recipe that works in my breadmaker. (Do you have one? Please, please share!) This recipe, straight from the Breadman manual, has been my go-to breadmaker loaf for years. It is moist with a sturdy crumb and a nice crust and it slices just right for sandwiches. You can get it going the night before and have a hot loaf waiting in the morning. It’s worth keeping a breadmaker around for (but just one).
What kind of dinner party do you like to throw? What is your ideal number of guests? Do you have a few go-to dinner party dishes?
I like a big, casual potluck, myself. (Or a casual dinner for a few close friends. Notice the theme here? Casual.) We don’t throw nearly enough big parties these days, but I’d like to change that. The beauty of a summer potluck is the ease: clear off the counters, park a big bucket of ice or a keg in the back yard, ask a few neighbors to contribute lawn chairs. I’m ready. All we need now are some warm, sunny evenings.
I’m happy to announce that I’m gearing up for my real-life party plans by attending a Virtual Vegan Potluck this Saturday. Tune in for my contribution (we’ll be rolling brown rice sushi, speaking of fun dinner party ideas), then hop around the table to see what else is cooking. I can promise that we will all come away with enough recipe inspiration to get us through a summer’s worth of potlucks.
As it happens, a cold soba noodle salad is one of the dishes I like to take to potlucks now and then. It’s easy to make, you can toss in whatever veggies you have handy, and the pasta easily stretches it to feed a crowd. Maybe you toss in some tofu, maybe not. I haven’t had a go-to dressing for my salad, though; sometimes I just did rice vinegar and sesame oil, other times a so-so peanut sauce. That all changed this week.I love An Unrefined Vegan’s spicy almond sauce, and I hereby declare it the dressing that shall adorn my soba salads all summer long. It was great to start with, but I doubled the almond butter and the spice because I am decadent like that, and the resulting dressing is even more creamy, spicy, and rich. You won’t be sorry if you invite me to your potluck this summer. Feel free to request this dish; I’ll be making it a lot, it keeps and travels well, and it’s as good cold as it is warm. Continue reading Buckwheat Soba Salad with Spicy Almond Sauce (click for recipe)
I like breads that are quick to make and bake. A homemade bread can be assembled and baked in the time that it takes to toss together a pot of soup or a nice salad, and that small amount of additional effort brings so much to the meal.
Some yeast-leavened breads can be made quickly; I mean, check out this oaty little number. And the speed of a beer bread is hard to beat–just stir, dump, bake–but then, of course, it tastes like a beer bread. Enter soda bread, the dowdy but delicious ready-in-an-hour bread of choice in our house. Or ready-even-sooner if you follow the method I used to make these whole wheat soda bread rolls.
This rye version comes from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day, and it has many redeeming qualities. It’s made with lots of whole grain rye flour, which gives the bread a dark, attractive color, in addition to providing flavor and health benefits. More importantly, though, it truly is a stellar vehicle for the herby mash of dilled butter and goat cheese with which Swanson pairs the recipe in her book. Or, you know, just butter. Or soup. Like split pea soup. Or (what? It’s not raining anymore where you are?) a brothy springtime soup with fresh peas and asparagus.Continue reading Rye Soda Bread (click for recipe)
I mean to bring something nice over when you invite me to your house. Hopefully I will at least show up with a bottle of wine or a six pack of drinkable beer. But sometimes getting out the door with shoes and coats and all three children is all I can handle and on those occasions, sorry, I owe you. I’m lucky to have understanding friends (and reciprocity agreements in place).
Last weekend, I got about halfway to my goal of bringing some kind of nice baked good to our weekend hosts. Which brings us back to the topic of traveling with oats. I didn’t manage to actually bake the batch of granola I meant to take to our friends in Portland, but I did get as far as packing two jars with the ingredients for this olive oil granola: one big jar of dry ingredients and another smaller jar of wet ingredients. It wasn’t quite like showing up with a perfect cellophane-wrapped treat with a ribbon on it (just kidding, I’ve never done that), but at least the house smelled good while it baked.
We have eaten a lot of that olive oil granola in recent months. (Here’s a variation with pistachios, dried apricots, and cardamom.) J claims he could eat it for every meal, but it’s so sweet that his teeth might fall out. Here’s another option, a bit less decadent and perhaps therefore better suited to eat as an everyday breakfast. Or for three meals a day, your call.
I am an orange zest junkie (have you made this bread yet?), so this recipe appealed to me immediately. Orange zest, currants, walnuts. I was intrigued by the fact that the recipe (mine is adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day) calls for butter in place of oil, but I really didn’t taste any difference and will probably just make it with oil next time. Maybe even olive oil.