Proud Mama

As promised, we have finally returned to an international cooking post. Many of you know we first founded this blog as a way to try new foods and “to open our children up to other cultures around the world.” Well, it appears as though our efforts are paying off. A few weeks into the new school year, Miss A came home very excited that they had another new student in their 1st grade class. eggs and butter

Now anytime a new student arrives there is much excitement, but this particular student had a very unique story. He didn’t just relocate from another area school or even another state. He came all the way from another country! Miss A was beside herself with excitement, “He had to move here on a plane! And he came from really, really far away and he doesn’t know English!” creaming butter

Miss A couldn’t remember where he came from, but she had an idea, “Maybe we could make a recipe from where he lives for the blog!” I was thrilled. Not only did we have our next country from which to cook, but we had a personal reason to learn about another country. Then her eyes got big and you could see the little wheels just spinning top speed and she said, “Maybe we could even make something for my whole class!” Genius. creaming butter two

With approval from her teacher we set about to find a recipe that would feed 24 while still leaving a few on-hand for us. The first task was to learn the new student’s home country. Miss A set about her duty and discovered he flew all the way to our little neck of the woods from Yemen. We then did a little research on the country and consulted the globe. Miss A and Mr. N were very impressed to learn that Yemen is more than 7,500 miles from our home. Talk about a major move! stand mixing

Miss A gathered a few facts to share with her class and wrote them in her journal. We then found the website, Queen of Sheba Yemeni Recipes. I emailed the author and she graciously pointed me to a recipe that would be both easy to make and easy to serve individually wrapped – the Yemeni Ka’ak. Ka’ak is an Arabic word for cake and the Yemeni version of ka’ak is like a cross between a biscuit and a cookie. Some versions feature different flours or the addition of dates, but we went for the basic recipe. yeast bread

Ka’ak is leavened by yeast – one of my worst fears, but fortunately Miss A is much more skilled with yeast than I. We opted to make the recipe using the stand mixer, best not to take chances, I figured. It’s a very basic dough recipe. Easy to follow and relatively quick to make. We made two batches to accommodate the quantity we needed for school. ka'ak dough

All four of us spent the afternoon in the kitchen making these, each having our own role to play in the process. It reminded me of another reason we started this blog, to spend time together in the kitchen learning about new foods, and about each other. We haven’t cooked like this in quite a while, so I’m grateful the day shaped up as it did. The kids are growing too fast! shaping ka'ak

As for the recipe, well, the dough didn’t rise like I expected, but it was not dense either. We were also not quite as skilled at shaping the ka’ak as the Queen, but should you want to try, her video tutorial is an excellent resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmxNw-WpnfI. Overall, I was pleased with how these baked up. rolling dough

They weren’t as pretty as I’d hoped, but I imagine with a little practice that’s a solvable problem. As for cooking with yeast, well, it seemed to do just fine for us this go-round. I completely credit Miss A of course. While I was nervous about the dough’s lack of rising, the ka’ak fluffed up quite nicely in the baking process and had a light, fluffy texture with fabulous looking crumb.egg wash and seeds

Best of all, the ka’ak tasted wonderful! My research suggested that the ka’ak are served on special occasions or with afternoon tea, so I decided to enjoy mine with a cup of lemon grass green tea. It was a lovely complement to the tea and truly special straight from the oven. The ka’ak are light to eat but very filling, and a combination of subtle sweet and savory flavors. sesame seeds

Mike and the kids loved their ka’ak as well; although they skipped the tea. But, do you know what this means? 4 spoons all around! Success! And with a yeast leavened recipe nonetheless. We haven’t had an all-around winner in a while, so this was quite exciting. No one wanted to stop with just one, but we restrained ourselves and packaged them up for Miss A’s classroom. ka'ak

We wrapped 23 ka’ak for the students and teacher, and we packaged five for Miss A’s new Yemeni friend. She thought we should send one for his whole family. I can’t tell you how proud she made me with her thoughtfulness and generosity. While I hate to see them grow so quickly, I do love to see how they are developing into caring, thoughtful people. Again, it’s that bittersweet feeling that comes with being a parent. Yemeni ka'ak

That evening, we printed off 24 copies of the recipe and attached them to each bag. Miss A loaded them into a bag and got her journal ready for sharing with the class. Had you been in her class that day, she would have told you that Yemen is next to Saudi Arabia and two seas. It has mountains and its flag is red, white and black. It is in the Middle East which is part of Asia. Asia is a continent. She was very proud of all that she learned. Arabic cake

The students weren’t allowed to try the treats until they got home and their parents could make that decision. The next day half the class said they tried them and everyone seemed to like them. At least according to Miss A. As for the new Yemeni student, well, Miss A delivered his with a special note attached (which she did on her own). yemen recipe

“I made ka’ak for you and your family. I am giving these to you since you had to leave your home behind and your friends. It would be scary to do that. We made these since the recipe is from Yemen. From your friend, Miss A.” yeast biscuits

I asked Miss A if her Yemeni friend liked the ka’ak. She said, “He doesn’t talk English yet, but he knew what they were. He didn’t say much, but he smiled the whole time.”

To print the recipe click here: Yemeni Ka’ak

Needless to say, I’m a proud Mama. Believe me, my kids aren’t angels and we have our fair share of emotions and challenges around here (daily when it comes to Miss A’s clothing), but that’s what makes these moments all the more precious. Parenthood is bittersweet. It’s exhausting, it’s challenging, it’s tedious, it’s joyous, it’s amazing and it’s enriching. It makes my heart sing and my heart ache. But I wouldn’t trade a single second of it for anything in the world. And while I expected parenthood, much like this blog, to be about teaching my children, I am continually amazed at how both teach me. afternoon tea

A Busy Kitchen

While we don’t post nearly as often as we used to, our kitchens by no means have slowed down. We’ve been making new and old recipes pretty regularly now. Sometimes the kids are on-hand to help, but most of the time they have other things keeping them busy. homework

While I’m usually at the sink, stove or counter, the kids are doing their homework, coloring, or just talking with me about their day. When Mike is home, he’ll be in the kitchen with me, helping me chop vegetables or putting dishes away. We have one cat, Chipper, that likes to sit at the stool on the other side of the counter or at the kitchen window so that he can supervise everyone, especially his little brother Hobbs. He much prefers to observe him from above. chipper

As for Hobbs, he’s either running through the kitchen chasing toys, nipping at my toes and whining to be picked up, or curled up in a little ball on the rug in the center of my work area. I’m fairly certain he’s going to cause me to have accident one of these days. However, more often than not, he’s climbing things he’s not supposed to and having to repeatedly be set back on the floor. He is awful cute though. Hobbs

We haven’t made too many international dishes lately; although we do have plans for a new recipe next weekend. I have, however, been teaching Mr. N some kitchen basics. He’s old enough now to learn how to operate the stove, oven and microwave. I’ve even had him make a few meals for he and Miss A all by himself. I just walk him through step-by-step. So far we’ve tackled pasta, shrimp, roasted chickpeas and homemade pizza. We, of course, have had to start with his favorite foods! LEGOS

It’s been fun to teach him and spend this time with him. It gives us a few minutes in his busy day that are just ours. I think he enjoys it too. At first he wasn’t too thrilled to have to learn these things, but once I explained to him that someday he might want to cook a special meal for a special girl, he was much more on board. He’s growing up so much! Fortunately for me, those days are still a ways off (whew!), and the only girl he’s cooking for right now is his little sister. And I have to say, she was very impressed that Mr. N made her dinner. She adores him and loves anything he does for her, unless of course he’s made her mad that day, in which case he’s best just steering clear of her six-year old wrath. sibling rivalry

So, the kitchen, it’s still the center of our ever-changing universe. And until Miss A and I get that next international recipe rolling, I thought I’d share with you a dish that Mike and I ate last week. It’s definitely a warm, comforting fall dish loaded with fresh and inviting flavors. It’s an Acorn Squash stuffed with Lemon & Ginger Risotto. Stuffed Acorn Squash

You can find the recipe here: Lemon Ginger Risotto with Acorn Squash

I roasted the acorn squash while I prepared the risotto. Once both dishes were done, I scooped the risotto into the squash for serving. squash and risotto

The sharp, fresh taste of the lemon and ginger were a great complement for the nutty flavor of the squash. Mike and I both gave the dish 3 spoons. lemon ginger risotto with acorn squash

We topped the risotto with toasted walnuts. We didn’t use any Parmesan or cream as we were trying to keep it healthy, but either would be a nice addition as well. Fortunately we made enough risotto to stuff two more squash later in the week. Lemon & Ginger Risotto

The leftover risotto heated well, but this time we tweaked the recipe a bit and added some sauteed spinach to the risotto as well as some mild Italian sausage. We enjoyed this version as much as the first. The spinach added a little lemony bitterness to the dish that to me just completed it perfectly. acorn squash

The kids, as many of you know, eat many things, and often many exotic or unusual things. Squash, however, is not one of them. Try as I might, they do not like the sweetness or the texture of the vegetable. In all fairness, I didn’t either until I was in my 20′s, so there’s still hope. Until then, there’s more for Mike and I to enjoy. Acorn Squash Stuffed with Lemon & Ginger Risotto

We’ll be back in a bit with Miss A’s international dish. It’s a yeast-based recipe, so goodness knows how we’ll fare. Fortunately, Miss A is better at cooking with yeast than I am, so our odds are better with her in the kitchen. Until then, enjoy your changing seasons and have a great Halloween! More soon. Cheers!

Harvesting the Last Days of Summer

This has been a beautiful week! For the first time in recent memory, our annual trip to an apple farm was done wearing shorts and t-shirts. And we’re not complaining! We’ll take this summer-like weather as long as we can get it. onions

So to keep up the guise of summer, we’ve been enjoying the end of summer’s harvest with our meals. Today’s recipe is reminiscent of our trip to Michigan in August. On the last afternoon of our vacation, we enjoyed a wonderful gourmet pizza at a local winery. We’ve since recreated it at home several times. While the prep time is a little lengthy, Mike and I think this Summer Harvest Pizza is worth the effort. balsamic caramelized onions

We start the meal prep early in the day by making a semolina pizza crust. We use my bread machine to simplify the process. The dough recipe makes enough for three large pizzas. We make one for Mike and I, one for the kids and then ten mini-pizzas for the kids to take in their school lunches. Later in the day, about an hour before dinner, we begin the remainder of the prep, starting with caramelized onions. semolina pizza dough

Next, we prepare the figs. We’ve used several different recipes off the web as guidelines. (Like this one or this one.) After cleaning and slicing the figs, we toss them into an oven-proof dish. We drizzle them with honey, balsamic and a bit of brown sugar. We then bake them for 20 minutes at 400F. oven roasted figs

Next up comes the candied bacon. This was not included on our pizza in Michigan, but after reading it over at Rufus’ blog, we knew it had a place on this dish. The recipe is so simple, we’ve made it several times (dangerously simple). candied bacon

Both the figs and the bacon cook up conveniently while the onions are doing their thing on the stove. Then there’s only one last thing to do before assembly. Slice the heirloom tomatoes. heirloom tomatoes

The onions usually take about 45-60 minutes. Once they are done, we roll out the dough and place it on a pizza tray lined with parchment or foil, and sprinkled with corn meal to prevent the pizza from sticking. Then we brush the pizza crust with olive oil and begin to pile on the ingredients. We like to start with the onions, followed by the tomatoes. harvest pizza

Next we add the figs, a few handfuls of arugula, the candied bacon bits and a sprinkle of goat cheese crumbles. You can also add a fresh squeeze of lemon juice at this point as well. We’ve done both with and without and either way was equally enjoyable. The pizza then bakes for 15-20 minutes at 400F. summer pizza

Once the crust is golden brown and the pizza is nice and hot, we remove it from the oven and sprinkle a bit more fresh arugula over the top. veggie pizza

Then we slice and serve. I like to add a bit of balsamic reduction over the top just prior to serving as well. Adds that extra bit of sweet tang to the dish. Mike and I both thoroughly enjoy this tribute to summer on a pizza. It’s packed with a variety of flavors and textures – a true delight to the taste buds. tomatoes and heirlooms

Mike and I both give it a solid 3 spoons. It’d be tough to get a homemade pizza to rank 4 spoons – we grew up on Chicago-style pizza after all. That said, it’s a good gourmet-style pizza that we’ll surely make again. The kids, however, weren’t into this one at all. Far too many visible vegetables for them. They opted for a more traditional sauce and cheese pizza one night and a pesto pizza another night. That’s fine by us – more slices for us! homemade pizza

I found a good batch of figs at the market recently, so this last time I roasted a triple batch. I’ve frozen them along with some slices of heirloom tomatoes in hopes that they’ll work over the winter. I would love to have this pizza in the middle of January. It may not be summer then, but a good bottle of wine, the fireplace and the taste of summer on a pizza…sounds like a nice winter evening to me.

Print this recipe: Summer Harvest Pizza

fig pizza

Now, I suppose we’ll start moving onto fall…somewhat reluctantly, although I admit I do love fall cuisine. I’m going to have Mr. N pick our next country to cook from this week. So we’ll be back in a week or two with his choice and a dish to go along with it. Have a great week everyone!

Birthday Baking

Well, I didn’t realize time was going to get away from me quite to this degree! Since we last posted, Mr. N wrapped up a successful run of his play; Mike traveled to and from Poland; school ended; Nana and Papa came for a visit from Florida; the kids’ camps started and Mike and I celebrated 14 years of marriage.

Most importantly though, we had a week-long birthday celebration for Mr. N who is now in the double digits – 10 years old! (We love our birthdays!) Now admittedly I have not been in the kitchen very often through this busy stretch – at least not to cook anything worth mentioning – but a birthday was not about to go by without some homemade baking. So rather than share more highlights from our last European destination, today we’ve actually got food!

Mr. N’s birthday celebration began with a surprise birthday party with the cast of the play and a karaoke night. He was completely surprised and filled with happiness. I even got an unprompted hug and thank you for one of the greatest nights of his life! karaoke night

Next up was his actually birthday. Unfortunately this also coincided with Mike’s trip to Poland, which Mr. N did not let him forget. Admittedly it was a tough week for Mr. N. Nana and Papa returned to Florida, his show ended, daddy was around the world and school let out for the summer. That’s a lot of goodbyes (and some of them rather difficult) for a little guy within a matter of days. So we needed something to bust through the melancholy. butters

I took a few days off of work and we spent Mr. N’s birthday doing exactly what he wanted to do – playing with the neighbors. We also planned a backyard pizza party and birthday celebration for the night complete with all of his neighborhood friends. Now as is customary, Mr. N requested my Grandma’s cobbler for dessert; however, I know that not all kids are crazy about berries, so we saved the cobbler for the next day. Instead we went with our old stand by – Peanut Butter Bars. dry ingredients

We’ve been making the peanut butter bars for about four years now. They have been a hit with kids and grown-ups alike, and best of all they are easy to whip up. I will warn you though, that if you’re not a fan of peanut butter, these are not for you. I should also warn, that if you’re looking for a lower calorie dessert, these are also not for you. peanut butter mixtuer

The recipe is simple – mix together the butter, peanut butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Next incorporate the flour, salt and baking powder. Then, of course, there is also the mandatory batter sampling. batter

Now, we’re still not done with peanut butter. An entire package of peanut butter chips is also stirred into the mix. peanut butter chip

Half of the batter is then spread over the bottom of a baking dish. This part is a little tricky. As you begin to spread it doesn’t feel like it’s going to go far enough, but it has every time. peanut butter spread

Next is the kids’ favorite part – the chocolate chips! We’ve used dark chocolate and milk chocolate for this recipe and both have gone over well. For Mr. N’s birthday we used milk chocolate since it is likely to go over better with kids. Now, the original recipe on Hershey’s site uses chocolate syrup. It’s another route to go, and it makes a pretty marbled appearance, but we prefer the chips. chocolate chips

Once the chips are sprinkled over (notice I leave a little row plain for me since I’m an odd non-chocolate eater), the rest of the peanut butter mix is spread over the top. peanut butter baking

The bars bake at 350F for about 35 minutes. We usually under cook ours just a bit so that they are nice and soft and chewy. PB brownies

After the bars cool slightly, they are sliced and ready to serve. While these can be served any time, they are especially delightful straight out of the oven. Or in our case, right after a loud and energetic rendition of “Happy Birthday!” birthday boy

The dessert was a hit with most of the kids. We did have one that didn’t really like peanut butter, but we had some gelato available too (no one goes without dessert here!). The adults, on the other hand, did their fair share of devouring the little bars. peanut butter bars

Most importantly Mr. N was happy. He gave the bars 3-1/2 spoons. They still don’t come close to the cobbler though. He could barely wait to the next day to dig into that beauty. peanut butter chocolate bars

Mike and I both give the peanut butter bars 3 spoons. They are chewy and a definite peanut butter indulgence. I also like that they come together so easily and serve lots. That said, I too would rather have the cobbler. cookie bars

Miss A gives them 5 spoons (because 4 is not enough) and likes to make sure she gets a middle piece (who can blame her – they are the most chewy). chewy bars

Miss A’s favorite part of the night though – helping with clean-up. She ran around collecting crepe paper and became the “crepe paper mummy.” (Notice the cobbler cooling on the stove in the background – rather risky of me to leave that lying about with Mr. N on the prowl!) crepe paper mummy

Print this recipe: Peanut Butter Bars

It was a great party and I have to admit it was rather fun to be back in the kitchen again. Hopefully that will start to happen more often. As for the rest of Mr. N’s birthday week…well, we took a little trip to the country where we enjoyed the cobbler, then we took Grammie and BoomBoom to Mr. N’s favorite Italian restaurant because his birthday is not complete without a piece of Rose’s homemade cheesecake.

It was definitely a fun-filled (and dessert-filled) birthday week. I’d like to say that we’ll post again soon, but we have a few summer trips, another summer birthday and more camps starting up. I do have another recipe already queued up, so hopefully I’ll get that to you sooner rather than later. I think we’re also hoping to cook another dish from Poland and a few more from Spain to test our hand at a few favorites we enjoyed on our trips, but until then, I hope you are all enjoying the summer (or winter) season as much as we are right now! Cheers!

Memories of Spain

This is just a brief post to let you know that we haven’t disappeared. Between work, the end of the school year and the play we are…well as a good friend put it, in an intense period at the moment. Wonderful, but intense (and really tiring!). So until things settle down, here are a few images from our next stop on our European adventures this past spring. Barcelona

After Paris, our travels took us by train to Barcelona where we spent three glorious full days sightseeing and eating. We did lots of eating. However, if I had to pick one word to describe our Barcelona experience it would be – Gaudi (Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona’s most famous architect). We first took in his famous church, Sagrada Familia and then the public park, Park Guell. His architecture was instantly a hit with both of the kids who honestly couldn’t get enough. Personally, I had never been a big fan of Gaudi’s work. I had found it rather unnerving and chaotic. That all changed after this trip. We spent hours touring his works, reading books and visiting museums. I have to say I now look at his designs much differently and have found a whole new appreciation for his utter genius. sagrada familia

That said, no one was more taken in by his work than our Miss A. She fell in love with Gaudi’s homes, particularly Casa Mila. During our tour of Casa Mila, or La Pedrera, Miss A was front and center right next to the tour guide listening intently. She didn’t even glance back to look for us – she was completely taken in. At one point during the tour, Miss A walked right up to the tour guide and said, “This is the best grown-up museum I have ever been in. I love it.” After these first few visits, each day of our Barcelona stay included another Gaudi tour. touring

And as I mentioned we ate, a lot. It’s too hard to pick a favorite restaurant. We had at least four amazing sit-down meals that featured everything from paella to snails and jamon Iberico to croquettes. We had tapas, we had sit down meals and we had two wonderful visits to the Boqueria along La Rambla. It was a food paradise! La Boqueria

We all thoroughly enjoyed every moment of our time in this beautiful city. I know we would all love to go back again – especially Miss A. While Mr. N’s favorite city of the trip was Paris, Miss A fell in love with Barcelona. She could have stayed forever I believe. Here’s a few peaks at why, first the Gaudi gallery:

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And then the food and fun:

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Mike and I still can’t really pick our favorite city of the trip. They were all so incredible in their own ways. However, if hard pressed, we would likely answer our next and final destination. It spoke to the two of us in so many ways. It just felt right. We’ll be back soon with highlights of that magical city and then hopefully we’ll finally have time to start cooking again (and something other than quick salads and sandwiches). Until next time, please pardon our absence and know that I will pop back into your blogs as soon as I am able as well. Cheers!

Precious Moments

First a brief update – Mr. N’s show is going very well. His performances blow me away – every time. For those of you that don’t know the story of Medea, Medea is betrayed by her husband Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame) and she is filled with rage that culminates in the murdering of her two sons. Mr. N is one of those sons. He plays his role spectacularly and makes me wince and tense each and every time he calls out “Mother!” just before he dies.

medea 2

 

I tell you, even though I know it’s not real, it is not an easy thing to watch. It’s an incredibly well-done show that is thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and powerful. He even had his first review printed in a local stage review. The reviewer said of Mr. N and his stage brother, “…deliver performances that are wise beyond their years as Medea’s children.” He is thrilled.

medea

And today we are off to Miss A’s gymnastics performance. She is all a flutter about it. She’s been dressed and ready to go for hours, and has literally been climbing the walls! I’m not kidding. She has learned how to scale a doorway – and not by feet on either side of the frame – but rather by gripping one side of the door frame like a koala and climbing her way up to to the ceiling. It’s a good thing she has a place to go and get this energy out!

Now back to our French adventure. If you guessed that the kids’ favorite French food was crepes you would be correct! We tried a variety of foods from mussels and macaroons, to cheese and of course chocolate (well, them, not me). As you can imagine, everything was delicious and it’s hard to truly pick a favorite, but the one thing the kids kept coming back to again and again, were crepes. They were fast, available everywhere and the toppings were unlimited. So today we bring you French crepes.

Crepe ingredients

We started by blending together flour, milk, water, eggs, sugar and salt. We let the batter sit at room temperature for about an hour before pouring it a bit at a time into our greased and hot skillet.

blended batter

The crepes cooked for about two-minutes on the first side – waiting until you see the edges brown is crucial so as not to flip too early and make a mess. crepes cooking

We sprinkled a little sugar on either sides as the crepes cooked – just as we watched them do in Paris. While we didn’t have all the fancy crepe equipment the creperies do, our skillets worked just fine. browned crepe

Although smaller than the crepes in Paris, we were still able to fill these with similar ingredients. I never realized how easy these are to make and am surprised we’ve never tried them before. I can guarantee we will be making these again. crepes

We filled our crepes with our favorite ingredients from our trip. For Miss A and Mike that would be Nutella and bananas. For Mr. N and I, it was lemon, honey and cinnamon. We threw on a bit of confectioner’s sugar for good measure as well. nutella and banana

The crepes, not surprisingly were a hit. The kids gave them 3-1/2 spoons. Mike and I came in at 3 spoons. They were good, but not quite as good as in the City of Lights. I mean honestly how could they be! But while our kitchen isn’t in Paris, we are sure to be making these again. Perhaps with savory ingredients for the next go-round. lemon and honey

And as promised here are some more images from our time in Paris. Despite only having three full days and cramming quite a bit of sightseeing into the day, we did manage to find time to lounge about in parks, linger over meals, play at parks, picnic and simply be together as a family with no outside interruptions. It was a precious time.

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We’ll be back soon with highlights and recipes from our next European destination. Have a great week!