Archive for May, 2009

Date night tips

May 31st, 2009

Skip the movie “The Girlfriend Experience,” but take advantage of Restaurant.com. That’s today’s dating advice. Restaurant.com sells discounted restaurant gift certificates; a $25 one typically costs $10. Plus, in California, gift certificates don’t ever expire. The secret: sign up for the emails. The site replenishes on a monthly basis. As the month goes on, some restaurants sell out, but the price drops for the others—as long as you have a discount code from the emails.

Last night, we used a $25 Restaurant.com certificate, which I got for $2 (!), at the British Banker’s Club in Menlo Park, a surprisingly good restaurant considering it’s essentially a tavern. The only downside to my cream corn soup with lavender: the portion was so big, I couldn’t finish it. Jeff would describe my beet salad as positively Elizabethian: beets, goat cheese, toasted pine nuts over arugula with an olive oil vinaigrette. Jeff’s salmon looked beautiful. Only downside for him: carrots, again.

French toast 101

May 30th, 2009

My friend Amy Sherman, who writes Cooking with Amy, knows I’m not much of a cook (a far different thing than a baker). Long ago, she recommended Mark Bittmans’s How To Cook Everything and it’s become my go-to answer book in the kitchen. Today’s quest: French toast—which I never make, even though it couldn’t be more straightforward:

French Toast
1 cup milk
2 eggs
splash of vanilla (What doesn’t taste better with vanilla?)
bread
butter for griddle

Carter cracked the eggs flawlessly and stirred them with the milk. A little too gently, until I gave him the cue “just like with scrambled eggs.” then it was: “Hey, Mommy, it turned yellow!” He dipped; I cooked. Biggest challenge: stove heat and timing. (Any advice?) Daddy had three pieces, Mommy had two, and Carter had one—which was just right.

Carter’s tip: Skip the maple syrup, and make a jelly sandwich. Works great with pancakes, too.

Feed me, I’m yours

May 29th, 2009

I confess: my child eats a Trader Joe’s “A Strawberry Walked into a Bar” strawberry breakfast bar, well, just about every morning. Plus one or two FruitaBu organic smoshed fruit bars, which we subscribe to in bulk from Amazon. We put them out the night before along with his vitamins to help streamline the morning routine. I contemplated looking for a recipe and baking breakfast bars, but I couldn’t even buy the ingredients for what one box of six bars costs: $1.69.

I fed Carter this breakfast in the car this morning. Jeff was annoyed with us because Carter had time to eat at home, didn’t, and had already brushed his teeth. Truth is: I’ll even feed Carter whenever he says he’s hungry, even after he’s in bed—a ploy to stay up later in Jeff’s estimation. But my sense of being a good mother is intrinsically tied to feeding my child. Plus, on the practical side, I know how crabby I get when I get hungry (Jeff’s travel rule: my wake-up call is room service delivering breakfast.), and I don’t want to risk it with my son. What mother would?

Family dinner: Carter and I both like Jeff’s marinated, grilled turkey burgers. And the butter and honey I put on the fresh carrots made them “more palatable” to Jeff. I’m too full for the Marie Callendar’s Kahlua cream cheese pie the boys surprised me with.

Carter dug into the cherry one.

Growing boy

May 28th, 2009

Right now, Carter is growing and eating more. Lucy says she makes three times (!) the food for Carter as for the other kids at daycare. Yet, he knows exactly when he’s done, even if it means leaving two bites on his plate. I wish I could still do that.

Cheers

May 27th, 2009

Jeff is still mourning the demolition of the “old” Old Pro, a sports bar that was about a two-minute drive from our house on the corner of El Camino and Page Mill. For years, he spent many an hour there: drinking beer, reading the paper, and, too often, watching Cleveland teams lose games.

There’s a “new” Old Pro  in downtown Palo Alto, but it’s not the same. It’s too nice: just off University Avenue (i.e., a hip location) plus it’s spacious with no shortage of big flat-screen TVs. The odd thing is, unlike most sports bars: old or new, the Old Pro has good food.

We don’t go to the new one very often, but tonight Jeff and Carter took me there to celebrate my “winning the prize” as Carter says. (I won a full-tuition scholarship to the Stanford Professional Publishing Course—a big deal.) Carter led the “cheers” as he clanked his glass of lemonade with my pint of Guinness and Jeff’s tall Sam Adams.

Cheers! Mommy won the prize!

Jeff constantly teases me about ordering “just a salad,” but the “Sichuan Pepper Crusted ‘FedEx Fresh’ Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna Salad” was amazing: a healthy portion of sliced, seared, rare tuna atop local, organic greens tossed with mandarin oranges, water chestnuts, and just the right amount of Asian dressing. It’s easy to make a bad salad. This one was good.

Guinness, a great meal, and my boys. A perfect celebration.

Favorite brownies

May 25th, 2009

Carter and I made a double batch of brownies in honor of twins Paul and Sonia (4-year-old neighbors) coming over for a playdate. Now I have double the temptation! I can’t stop sneaking bites! The brownie recipe comes from my friend Amy Sherman, who posted it on Cooking with Amy blog after she and I debated the merits of different brownie recipes. We both agree: this is a no-fail recipe.

Perfect Brownies
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (one stick, room temperature)
2 eggs
6 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Add the cocoa, oil, and vanilla and blend well. In a separate bowl, mix the flour and salt, then add the flour mixture in two or three parts, mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into pan and spread evenly. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Note from Amy: “If you can smell the brownies baking—it’s time to take them out of the oven! That smell tells you the delicate cocoa flavor is evaporating into the air and out of the brownies.”

I carefully cream the sugar and butter before adding room-temperature eggs one at a time. Nandini, the Paul and Sonia’s mom, doesn’t have a mixer, so she melts the butter and throws all the ingredients in together. The brownies taste great either way; mine are just fluffier. I love that this recipe uses cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate. I just don’t have the patience for chopping up chocolate just so and melting it over-but-not-touching quivering-but-not-boiling water.

Get some before Mommy eats them all.

The kindness of strangers

May 24th, 2009

I found out at our third meeting tonight that two of my book-club members are fans of Cooks Illustrated, too! I used to me in a book club with friends, which didn’t work out. So when my friend Stacey sent me an email about a friend of hers who was forming a book club, I signed on.

So far, being in a book club with strangers (Stacey never came) has worked out well. And now they’re not so strange, and I’m happy to have made a new circle of friends, especially ones who understand the allure of Cook’s Illustrated. Laurel has an online subscription and printed out the banana bread recipe for me, since I’m still in search of just the right one. We were meeting at Bat-Ami’s house, so I paged through her library of Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks. I think I have some shopping to do.

Over the bridge

May 23rd, 2009

I finally, for the first time, ate breakfast at the Dublin Country Waffles with the boys.

My husband and his former roommate, Danilo, have been going to breakfast with each other most Saturdays since Jeff moved back to the Bay Area in 1990.

When I became Jeff’s Palo Alto roommate and Danilo moved up to San Ramon, they started alternating locations. One week, Danilo would drive just shy of an hour each way so they could eat at their old stomping grounds, El Paso in Mountain View. The next, Jeff would be the one to cross bridges in quest of breakfast. All so they can sit, eat, read the papers, and generally not say much.

Carter has been many times (and I think Danilo misses him when he’s not there), but this was my first sojourn to the Waffle House. While I didn’t have a waffle, I can recommend the omelets. The waitresses sprinkle in a lot of “Honeys and “Dears,” and your coffee cup is always full. Dumbarton or San Mateo bridge? Carter makes the call, and I’m there.

Carter: Breakfast is all about salty meat: serve bacon, sausage, or better both, and I’m there.

Berry boy

May 22nd, 2009

Yeesh. The grill ran out of propane in the middle of this year’s first attempt at grilling. Jeff looked so sad. Beautiful berry salad, though: pitted (!) cherries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. I had to dole it out so that the grown-ups would get some berries before Carter ate all of them. 

Carter’s self-proclaimed favorite food: strawberries.

(Lucy’s meatball soup at daycare, which Carter also loves, would also be a strong contender. Jeff and I would love to eat at daycare: two snacks, two meals, all homemade.)

Opening credits

May 21st, 2009

Editor’s note (July 23, 2009): A few months back, I got inspired to start a blog when I realized that nearly all of my Facebook posts were about me and my 4-year-old son, Carter, baking. My best friend, Dawn, encouraged me to start to writing immediately, so the blog wouldn’t feel “empty” when I officially launched it.

To make this dream a reality, many thanks to Dawn and Adam at Rare Brick for the design; to my niece Elyse for getting the right shot; and Lynn, who gave me my first Internet job, for the idea to include

“Carter’s take” (look for the cupcakes).

I’m deeply grateful to my mom for giving all six of her children the opportunity to experiment in the kitchen starting at a very young age, and of course to Carter for our special time in the kitchen together.

The hardest part of writing is starting, so you just have to start somewhere. Here goes:

May 21

I know Alton Brown is not a fan of mono-tasking kitchen gadgets, but a cherry pitter just makes life so much easier when you have a four-year-old who loves cherries.