Mmmm – Don’t Mind If I Do!

It’s been a bit too long since I posted a recipe – most likely because it’s been a bit too long since I cooked anything that I got really excited about. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking. It’s just that exhaustion, pregnancy, the terrible twos, and extensive home projects have kept me pretty close to the basics in the kitchen lately – sticking to what’s quick, easy, and healthy. Sadly even this last criteria often gets sacrificed for the sake of the first two. But Saturday night, thanks to some ideas planted in my mind by my friend Maddy, inspiration found me again and developed into a night of family cooking, photography, fun, and feasting. The result – not so quick and easy, but delectable…

Salmon Cake Melts

1.) Bake the Salmon – I actually used the leftovers of a large filet of salmon that I had baked a couple of night prior, but if you are not so fortunate to have this step already completed, you will need to bake the Salmon in the oven first. I always buy my fish frozen (for cost efficiency) and follow the instructions on the package for temperature and time as this will vary depending on the thickness and size of the filet. If you buy it fresh, ask some advice from the market, or Google it and use your intuition. I baked the original filet with a cream sauce on the top that I believe enhanced the flavor of the salmon cakes later.  The mixture was of of equal parts mayo (I use canola mayo) and Parmesan cheese, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp garlic powder, and freshly ground black pepper. The amounts will vary depending on the size of the filet but the overall consistency should be thick enough to practically ice the fish, not pour over it.

2.) Prepare the Bread/Setting for the Salmon Cakes – Using a loaf of french bread, slice it diagonally into the largest possible slices. Butter both sides of the slices (I use heart-smart margarine) and broil on a cookie sheet until barely golden. Top each slice with a small amount of grated mozzarella cheese and a slice of fresh tomato. Set aside.

3.) Make the Salmon Cakes – As soon as the french bread is finished broiling, put about 5 slices of regular, inexpensive bread into the oven to broil with nothing on them. Broil them dark and crispy as they will be crumbled to use for bread crumbs. When they are done, crumble them as small as possible and set half aside. (You can also use ready-made bread crumbs to save some time. I just didn’t have any, so I went the made-from-scratch route.) Take the salmon you baked previously and flake into small pieces with a fork, carefully removing the skin first. In a bowl, combine half of the bread crumbs (about 1 to 1.5 cups), 2 beaten eggs (I use an egg substitute), 1.5 tsp of dill, 1.5 tsp of parsley, 2 tsp of dried onion, 1/4 tsp of ground black pepper, and 1 tsp of lemon juice. Add the salmon to the mixture and knead with your hands as you would a meat loaf. Be sure to remove your rings first or they may smell like fish for days ;). Once well-mixed, form into patties approximately the size of the french bread slices. Coat each patty with the remaining bread crumbs on all sides. Heat about a 1/4 inch of canola oil in a skillet over med-high heat. Fry the patties for about 2-3 minutes on each side till they are browned and crispy. Allow to dry on a paper towel.

4.) Put It All Together – Place each salmon cake on top of a slice of prepared french bread. Top each with a slice of Swiss cheese (I use fat-free Swiss, but I’m sure the real thing is even better.) Broil in the oven over low heat just long enough to melt and slightly brown the cheese. Serve with a fresh vegetable such as steamed broccoli or asparagus on the side.

5.) Sit down and enjoy!

As always, if you try this recipe, I’d love to hear how it went! Tell me what the family thought, what modifications you made, or any ideas you might have. And share it with your friends! Bon Appetite!

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Teardrop Prisms

The last several days have been quite the cocktail of difficulties, stresses, joys, sorrows, and everything in between. They contained such momentous things as discovering that we are having our second little boy, monotonous things as spending 17 hours in the car for a 4 day weekend, magical things as Christmas morning (a week early with family) through the eyes of our son, mournful things as the loss of my grandmother, maddening things as dealing with a toddler who ever-increasingly loves to throw fits, melancholy things as watching our little man have to fight off ear and bronchial infections at the same time, and mind-numbing things as self-doubt about parenting skills, family, success, and life in general. Oh, and did I mention I’m pregnant? I am so physically and emotionally drained as of late that I have been putting off writing in the hopes that circumstances would improve and I’d be more inclined to write something positive and fulfilling. But the truth of the matter is, it is not our circumstances that enable us to be positive people or obtain fulfillment. They are merely the scenery along the path we take to get there. Happiness is a choice we all must make daily, whether our circumstances aid us in the endeavor or not. I say this as much to myself as to anyone else who may be reading and need to hear it. I assure you, I have spent more time crying in the last few days than I have spent laughing and I have not even made much of an effort to the contrary. But it is this acknowledgement, this reminder, that puts my eyes back in focus, and helps me to remember that the tears are prism lenses which, when looked through, can make the world either distorted and ugly or vibrant and beautiful depending on our perspective.

Rather than feeling only the loss of my grandmother and the aching void my grandfather must feel after 60+ years together, I MUST remember the beauty of her life and the peace that is attained through her passing and the end of her pain. Rather than getting bogged down in every fit Aiden throws and sometimes behaving just as badly, I MUST remember that my son is TWO and this is normal and I am teaching him by my reactions how to handle frustration and anger. Rather than worrying incessantly about my little boy’s health, I MUST take advantage of a day at home with him that contains no prior agenda and just play away the pain. Rather than seeing the news about our new baby being a boy as a disappointment because, most likely, I will never have a daughter, I MUST remember all the glorious ways that I adore my son and how amazing it will be to experience that again. If I don’t opt for these brighter perspectives, I will wallow in self-pity and pain and fail to see the radiance of life. Tomorrow, I will wake up, I will adjust my focus through my teardrop prisms, see the wild array of colors all around me, and actively decide to be happy. Goodnight.

Convenience vs. Waste – The Journey To Cloth Diapers

At the risk of sounding like a mommy blog (which is not my goal or vision), one of the biggest issues on my mind lately has been whether or not to cloth diaper our second baby. I know that, after the initial investment, in the long run it is cheaper and better for baby’s skin, but the real clincher issue for me is waste. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the big issue on my mind lately has been the overwhelming waste in our society as a whole. It is not just the diaper issue, although I’ll get back to that in a minute, it is all the other ridiculous habits of convenience that produce an astonishing amount of garbage which most of us don’t give even a second thought to after it leaves our house twice a week. As though the garbage truck makes all of this non-biodegradable waste just magically disappear! Even things that are degradable, like yard waste, for instance, are placed inside PLASTIC bags that won’t break down and sent to landfills where they create piles of rotten vegetation entombed in plastic bricks. I say all of this with the indignation of someone who you’d think was proactive about reducing excess consumption and waste. But I suppose that is the problem I am facing. MYSELF. I am lazy. Like much of the rest of western society. I have a hard time relinquishing convenience. In the three years we have lived in our current house we have never put forth the effort to start recycling despite the fact that our neighborhood has curbside pickup. Why? Because I don’t have a good place for the bins or the time to sort my garbage. Please! I watch documentaries that get me all fired up, but then I rarely do anything about it. We did have our own garden one year, but it yielded so pitifully that I have not attempted again. We did compost for a while, but the smell (in our kitchen and yard) was just too much. We do buy many things second-hand, but I’m not sure it’s from a sense of resourcefulness so much as budget constraints. But, but . . . BUT.  It’s time for change! This year instead of bagging our leaves and shipping them off to the dump, we are following the suggestion of woman we heard interviewed on NPR and mulching our leaves with the mower and spreading them over the grass to be driven in by the rain and used as natural fertilizer. We have gotten the recycling bins and the schedule for pick up and will be starting a habit of recycling soon (darn it!). I am making my own Christmas gifts, from the heart, instead of spending an exorbitant amount of money on a bunch of stuff that no one really needs or most of the time even wants.

But now we come back to the issue of diapers. And I have to ask myself, how far does this conviction go? I love the convenience of disposable diapers. I mean LOVE. My conscience almost got the better of me with our son, but since I work and we’ve had to have child care for him during the day, that’s always been a convenient excuse. But we have since switched sitters to someone who cloth diapers her own children. Bye bye excuse! What about time spent washing diapers as a working mom? What about the initial expense of investing in a supply of cloth? What about the added extent to which I will have to HANDLE someone else’s poo! (Sorry all you non mommies out there.) Are these inconveniences enough to allow me to ignore the fact that one child produces over a TON of diaper waste in their short time using them? Or the fact that approximately 27.5 BILLION diapers are consumed in the US alone in one year and each of those takes between 300 and 500 years to break down in a landfill! That means if disposables had been available in the 1500’s we would still see remains of them today!  Diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills representing about 4% of all solid waste! And yet I am still having trouble making this decision. As I stated above, I am lazy. Will I overcome this laziness and take the leap into the world of cloth diapers? I still don’t really know. But after writing all of this, if I don’t, I give all of you, my readers, full permission to mock me mercilessly until I come to my senses.

(The facts about diaper waste in this post are found in numerous places online, but the most succinct collection of them came from http://www.realdiaperassociation.org/diaperfacts.php)

The End of My Cooking Hiatus!

After nearly a month and a half of barely stepping foot in my kitchen, at least not to do anything other than heat frozen meals or warm up leftover takeout, I am finally emerging from the fog of morning sickness and feeling inspired to cook again! I think my family is almost as relieved as I am. I braved the usually sickening interior of my local grocery store only to find myself excitedly picking up things I haven’t purchased in ages, like a bread mix for my bread machine, and walnuts to make several loaves of banana bread with my overly ripe bananas, and canned pumpkin for pancakes and muffins and bread, and most importantly, a roast! I have not cooked a roast in a very long time, certainly not since I found out about my cholesterol issues and quit buying red meat. But I found a small pork roast (for FOUR dollars!) and decided to give it a try. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. It was better than any of the beef roasts I’ve cooked in the past and SO easy. I spent 30 minutes prepping it in the morning before I left for work, and when I returned home a little after 5, voilà! A fully prepared, absolutely mouth-watering meal was waiting for me. It’s too bad we didn’t show the house today because the smell alone would have sold it for us.  So, after many weeks of no recipe updates, I give you my recipe for

Crock Pot Pork Roast:

Rub salt and pepper into the outside of the roast and brown it on all sides in a skillet on high heat with a little oil. Remove the roast and poor some water into the hot pan and scrape all the yummy pork leavings into the water and set aside.

Place browned roast in the bottom of the crock pot and surround it with large onion pieces and minced garlic. Cover all of it with sliced baby Portobello mushrooms and one can of cream of mushroom soup, evenly spread.

Fill the remainder of the space in the crock pot with chopped potatoes and carrots. Keep them chunky. If they’re too small, they’ll over cook. Sprinkle the whole pot with a packet of Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix and poor the skillet water over the top.  Add extra water until it comes to the level of the potatoes. Cover and cook on low for 8ish hours depending on the size of your roast.  Mine was pretty small and it cooked for a full 8 hours and was not overdone.

Once you remove the roast and all of the vegetables, use the broth in the pot to make gravy. Simply put it in a sauce pan on the stove over medium heat and add flour with a whisk till it reaches the desired consistency.

The roast was so tender it fell apart with a fork and the flavor was outstanding.  For so little effort, this is definitely a keeper.  Please let me know if you try it or make any modifications.  I’d love to hear how it worked for you or how to make it even better.

Wake Up Singing

I am continually amazed by the resilience of children. No matter what ails them, or what’s got them down, they are consistently a shining example of silver linings. My son and I have been sick with the same crud for over a week now and yet every morning, with what little voice he has after coughing much of the night, he wakes up singing. How can I not go to him smiling when I hear that? And this evening, after yet another movie that we watched together in bed (since that’s about all the play Mama can handle right now), he caressed my face and said, “I love you the whole, whole world, Mama,” wrapped his little arms around my neck and held me in that embrace for several minutes before he asked, “I helping you feel better, Mama?” Such a huge little heart! After melting mine with such soft sweetness, he got to have pancakes in my lap for supper followed by a long, hot bubble bath.

No matter how bad Aiden feels, although he may be somewhat more whinny than usual, he dredges up all of his happiness reserves and smiles and plays and brings light to any bad mood. Why are we, as adults, not more like this?  We get the slightest achy cold and we grump and whine and want to stay under the covers till we feel better. I find myself thinking, as I watch him, that maybe we would feel better if we made a bit more of an effort to feel better. If we saw every bad feeling as an opportunity for a silver lining.  If we stepped outside of ourselves, even when we’re down, and sought to encourage others, perhaps we would find ourselves encouraged.