Weekly Pin: Penne with Asparagus & Balsamic Butter

Penne with Asparagus and Balsamic Butter

Penne with Asparagus and Balsamic Butter

Excited by the availability of fresh asparagus that’s flooding the markets now, this recipe from Food&Wine was bumped to the top of my Pinterest priorities, and it’s quickly become a favorite for the whole family. As with all asparagus dishes, I find the secret to success is to not over-cook the asparagus. Oscar apparently agrees—roasted just until bright, cooked but still crisp, he devours it; but if it’s cooked too long and gets mushy, he chews it a bit, then spits it out and (often) throws it on the floor. Further proof that he’s his mama’s boy.

The recipe is simple, and the balsamic glaze is the perfect balance of sour, sweet, and spicy. Along with the salt-and-pepper seasoned roasted asparagus, toothsome pasta, and plenty of parmesan, the resulting flavors are quite a fine medley both rich and bright—altogether, satisfying. Hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

What are your favorite asparagus dishes? Favorite pins and projects this week?

How the Tables Have Turned

It seems only two weeks ago I was writing about the great energy boost I get each spring. Actually, it was only two weeks ago that I wrote that. Huh.

Shortly after penning that piece, there was a seismic shift. Around six weeks, similar to last time, my energy dipped. Hormones: gotta love ‘em. Now my mind is still racing and I’m still super inspired, but my body… just… can’t… quite… muster up the energy to do much more than sit on the couch and cheer Oscar on as he races to and fro.

You catch that? Yes, that’s right. We’re pregnant.

This is going to be epic. 🙂

As a funny little aside, this is our 100th post. Nice little bit of happenstance. Huzzah!

Baby on a ring

Damon and I call this “baby on a ring”

Homemade Broth on the Cheap

Mushroom Risotto

Risotto – made with broth

Broth is a welcome ingredient in so many dishes, providing a canvas for all your soup creations, as well as adding wonderful depth, flavor, and nutrition to cooked grains, veggies, and meats. When you’re feeling depleted, broth on its own is a great pick-me-up and restorative, good for even the queasiest tummies. And although store-bought broths are certainly convenient, they often lack the flavor and the nutritional content of a homemade broth.

But have you read some of the recipes for homemade broth that are out there? Often calling for using whole vegetables—carrots, onions, leeks, garlic, celery, etc., not to mention meat if you’re going for a meat broth—all of which is then strained out, leaving your final broth, ready for use or freezing or canning. Wait, you strain out all those good veggies? But before that, wasn’t it just… um… soup? Sounds like a lot of work (and a lot of money) for some homemade broth.

My husband sometimes teases me about my dislike for wasting anything. I know that you could certainly use the veggies from the strained broth in something else. But I think it’s kind of like downcycling—they just aren’t being used to their full potential. Sure, I like veggies that have been cooked for hours until they’re uber-soft—in soup!—and pretty much not in anything else. I generally like a bit more crispness in my veggies. We compost our kitchen scraps, so nothing is ever really “thrown away,” but it still seems wasteful to me.

Vegan Pho

Vegan Pho – with broth

So here’s my alternative. So you want to make your own homemade broth—vegetarian or meat, whatever. We usually store our broth in pints or quarts in the freezer, so when I’m down to one container of broth, I know I’ve got to make broth soon. Try saving your veggie scraps for a few days leading up to “broth-making day,” storing them in the fridge. These scraps should be clean and free of manky/slimy bits, but it’s perfectly fine if they’re imperfect or wilted. Some good broth scraps include carrot, potato, or beet peels; the stems from kale, chard, and other greens; trimmed ends of onions, carrots, garlic, radishes; stems from fresh herbs; any greens that have been deemed too wilted (but not slimy) for fresh use, such as romaine, spinach, mustard greens. You get the idea – the possibilities are endless. Come broth day, throw all this stuff in a pot with some water, some extra herbs if you want, salt if desired, simmer or slow cook to make your broth, strain, and store. All of these ingredients would have been composted or thrown out anyway, so there’s no waste and plenty of flavor.

If you want a meat broth, make friends with your local butcher or farmers and see if they’ll save you a bone or two for soup—a lot of times you can get them for free or super cheap, if you ask nicely. Alternatively, plan to have a roast chicken or something else with bones the night before. When you’re ready to make your broth, toss the bones in with the other veggie scraps and they’ll cook into the broth just the same.

The end result is still flavorful and nutritious, but instead of using lots of whole, fresh veggies, you’re just using scraps. No waste, no extra cost, no problem.

What do you do at home to reduce waste or save money? Favorite kitchen tips?

Weekly Pin: Labneh

labneh

Labneh, spread on GF toast and sprinkled with za’atar seasoning

Labneh is essentially Greek yogurt, and it couldn’t be easier to make at home. If you don’t make your own yogurt, it’s simple to make labneh from regular store-bought yogurt. All you have to do is strain the whey. I made it pretty frequently a couple years ago but fell out of habit until I came across this pin from 101 Cookbooks on Pinterest, reminding me of how wonderful and versatile this thick, rich yogurt is!

We make ours with whole milk plain yogurt, though you can use whatever you prefer. We were out of cheesecloth and don’t own a strainer, so to strain the whey, we lined a large funnel with a large coffee filter. We set the funnel into a large cup for it to drain, then carefully poured yogurt into the coffee filter, careful to keep the edges up. Fancy folk that we are, we used a shower cap (they make great reusable covers for food) to cover the yogurt/funnel/cup assembly and put the whole shebang in the refrigerator for 18 – 24 hours.

The end result is a thick, super creamy yogurt (sort of like cream cheese in consistency) that you can eat as is, use as a topping, roll into balls, or spread on bread. It’s good with both sweet and savory flavors—I ate this batch on GF toast spread with jam or honey, or sprinkled with za’atar seasoning. Couldn’t be easier.

What are your favorite pins and projects this week?

Tragedy & Transformation

I’ve had to rewrite this post several times from scratch this week, so murky and tangled are my thoughts and feelings, in hopes the writing will untangle some of the snarl.

tree_b&w

Photo by Anna L. Tulou Orr

This has been a hard week for many. With the incidents in Boston, in West, Texas, and the ongoing strife in many areas of the world, I think many of us are just exhausted. I’ve always been a person who cried readily over movies or books or news stories. Since becoming a mom, I even cry over commercials and storybooks—my paradigm has shifted. Now I see every single human being through a new lens; I see that every single one of them is someone’s child, whether events have cast them as victim or villain or hero. We are all someone’s baby, regardless of what good we’ve done, nor what harm.

So much good can rise out of terrible grief. Extreme circumstances often show us the best of humanity, and I honestly believe (because I must) that this is by far the stronger force. Grief can be cathartic. The Leong family unexpectedly lost their five-year-old son just last weekend—and through their terrible grief, they sought and continue seeking to find light, to find meaning, wanting to arrange to donate their son’s organs to help some other person, calling for random acts of kindness to be shared on their Facebook page (wonderful and heart-lifting to read so many posts), and asking for charitable giving in their son’s memory. I hold them in awe and am so grateful for the example they set, the things they’ve been teaching me and so many others this past week.

To those in Boston who ran to donate blood or ran toward the explosions to help the wounded despite the obvious danger, you are heroes. In the midst of unthinkable violence, you remind all of us of what we hold to be undeniably good. No one can argue it.

When I was in school, a student was shot and killed after a concert for his shoes, a senseless act. His parents came to the school and spoke to us, and I remember, young as I was, being frankly dumbfounded. Their son had been brutally, needlessly killed, and they stood in front us talking about compassion, about forgiveness. I have carried that message with me throughout my adult life, and I thank them for teaching me something very important about the nature of grace, the nature of peace.

My heart breaks for the victims, my heart breaks for the families that are left behind to grieve because all too easily, I can imagine the horror of losing a child, a husband, a parent. The very thought of it makes it hard to breathe.

My heart breaks for the aggressors and their families. It is hard to imagine what happened in their lives to bring them to this place, this harrowing hunt. It is hard to imagine what their families might be going through right now.

My heart breaks when I hear that a Muslim woman out walking with her child in Boston has been assaulted and accused of being a terrorist simply because she was wearing a hijab (revealing her religious affiliation) on a public street.

And my heart breaks when I hear friends, people I believe to be good, compassionate people, talking about what they want to see done to the suspects. Talking about an “eye for an eye,” saying that torture would be a good idea, saying they should hand them over to the bar crowd in Boston for mob justice.

Really?

Much of the talk I hear, I know, may be simply blowing off steam, yet it all adds up to a weirdly accepted public dialogue, a potentially frightening social consciousness and conscience. Consider this: even if you’re blowing off steam and you “don’t really mean it,” perhaps your child hears you. Perhaps your friends don’t realize you don’t mean it, and maybe, just maybe, it makes them feel a little more okay with their own impulses to lash out, to retaliate, to seek revenge, to denounce an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.

Small and seemingly innocuous statements add up to become big, ugly social issues. This is where racism comes from. This is why innocent people are attacked. And our children—because everyone is someone’s child—soak it up. It’s not the kind of pay-it-forward that I support.

Let’s be clear: there is a difference between revenge and justice. Due process must not be sacrificed to vigilantism and hatred, not even in jest.

Grief can be cathartic. Great tragedies can allow a great light to shine into the world, standing in stark relief against dark events. Or, grief can turn to anger, intolerance, and further violence.

Grief must and should be struggled with in order to forge a better, stronger community. This is what we have learned from our greatest teachers: Gandhi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, to name a few. All witnessed horrendous violence and intolerance and met it, unflinching, with peace and compassion. All changed the world, against all odds. Pacifism is not for the faint of heart.

So here is my plea. Wrestle with your grief and temper your anger—do not let your rage poison you. Be mindful of the voice you are sharing with the world. Let your voice be a light in the darkness. Hold your loved ones close. Seek out opportunities for grace.

We are all of us someone’s child, and children learn.