Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Healthier pizza for kids

Untitled My almost 18 month old daughter has become a picky eater. I know that this is not unusual behavior for a toddler but it still stresses me out. I make almost all of her food from scratch and when she rejects it it drives me crazy. She used to love all veggies but lately she eats mostly oatmeal and fruit and buttered tortellini. Not the most balanced diet. On a recent trip to visit family we ordered a veggie pizza and she really liked it. So, my new mission was to make a healthier pizza with more vegetables.

 Crust recipe
 • 1 large or two small sweet potatoes/ app. 1½-2 cups (I microwaved these whole, with the skin on, until tender. Allow to cool, the skin will come off easily, then mash thoroughly.) • 1½-2 cups flour,white or whole wheat(start with 1/2 cup and add more as needed) • 2 tsp baking powder • sprinkle of oregano • app 4 Tbsp cold water mixed with 2 Tbsp virgin olive oil • salt to taste- I have recently begun to add app. 1 tsp of salt to this crust. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, mix sweet potato, flour, oregano, water and oil. This will make a very soft dough. Mix thoroughly, then spread on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. I made 8 small pizza doughs. I oiled my hands and spread the dough, or you could wet your hands with water to make them not stick. Once all of the doughs were formed I baked them for 15 min. I wanted to be able to freeze them so I could make some quick meals for Em. Once they are cool enough, I stacked them with pieces of parchment or wax paper in between each one and put them in an freezer bag. To thaw, I'd wrap them in a paper towel and start off at 30 seconds to a minute. I haven't thawed any yet but once I do I will amend this recipe with the exact time. Untitled Untitled To make the pizza take one cooked,thawed crust and put it on a cooking sheet or tin foil. For pizza sauce I puréed cooked mixed vegetables like carrot, broccoli, corn and green beans in a blender with a small can of roasted tomatoes. I added a little tomato paste to thicken it. Spread enough of the sauce on the crust to cover and add toppings. I had some poached and shredded chicken and also some shredded Parmesan cheese. Run the pizza under the broiler or toaster oven for a minute or two until warmed and the cheese is melted.Even if your child doesn't like vegetables on the pizza, there are enough in the sauce and crust to just make a cheese pizza. Em loved it and ate an entire 5 inch pizza by herself. "Pizza" is a new favorite word now. I'm going to experiment with getting even more vegetables into the crust. For now I am just happy that she likes it so much because it is sometimes hard to get her to eat enough. I tried a piece of the pizza myself and I like it. It's slightly sweet from the potato and the sauce tastes like a mild tomato sauce. I added no sugar or salt to the recipe.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Trying to find a good egg

In recent years I have become somewhat obsessed with our diet and finding healthier sources for our groceries. It started with reading Michael Pollan and also Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I had been feeling guilty about my role as consumer of cheap and inhumanely produced meat and dairy products. Pair that with an overindulgence of meat at the holidays and I was ready to give vegetarianism a try. Thankfully, my husband was on board with this change because it probably wouldn't have worked any other way. It's been more than three years since we stopped eating meat. OK, we've cheated a couple of times when faced with a particularly delicious roast made by good friends at a holiday dinner but that doesn't count, right? And I should really call us Pescetarians since we do eat seafood. Good thing, because we moved to the Connecticut coast in April and the seafood here is pretty freaking good.

We do eat dairy products, too. We love cheese and go through a ridiculous quantity of milk each week. This is because we make our own kefir (almost 5yrs doing that!) and have smoothies every morning. Mike is much more consistent with the kefir smoothies than I am. Sometimes I just want a bowl of oatmeal on a Winter morning. Our toddler also drinks a lot of milk now. We buy organic milk but sometimes I think it'd be cheaper to just get our own cow!

Because we don't eat meat, eggs have become an important part of our diet. Once again, I buy the best eggs that I can at the grocery store but I always felt like I was being duped. Organic, free-range? What does it mean when it comes to eggs? Not much, apparently. A little research into the "free-range" eggs I'd been buying revealed that it was just another factory farm with some tricky marketing labels.

I searched the web for local eggs and found a woman who lived just a few minutes from me who was
raising chickens and selling eggs. We had a back and forth email exchange about how she uses no drugs or chemicals in raising her chickens. I drove over last week and picked up my first dozen of her farm eggs. She was really friendly and insisted that I meet "the girls". We walked over to a fenced pasture area with a vintage camper trailer in the middle of it. Pretty cool chicken coop, if you ask me. Maybe a dozen or so hens were milling about pecking at the ground like chickens are supposed to. They were white, black, speckled and buff colored and quite fluffy looking. One white rooster was strutting around; proud of his harem, no doubt. Occasionally, one chicken would appear at the open door of the camper-coop and jump down to the ground. That alone was worth the trip. This lady loves
her chickens. She picked them up and hugged them while we were talking.

Then there were the eggs. The egg lady explained to me that she doesn't wash them and they still had the bloom on them. I admit that I had no idea what that meant so I looked it up when I got home. Turns out its a natural protective coating on the egg that keeps it fresher longer. Store eggs have had the bloom washed off but then they are sometimes oiled to put a protective coating put back on them.
I still had some store eggs around so I did a side by side comparison. The store egg's white was runny, almost watery and spread over half of my frying pan. The farm egg's white was thicker and barely spread at all. It was also a double yolked egg. Probably an unfair comparison right there. The farm egg's yolk was almost orange to the store egg's more pale yolk. I planned to compare the flavor
of each egg but my husband came into the kitchen and was hungry so I gave him the store egg. My
double yolk farm egg was delicious!
Farm egg vs. Trader Joe egg

It's nice to know that the chickens that produced the eggs weren't debeaked (http://www.animalrightszone.com/birds/debeaking/)or hadn't eaten arsenic laden feed (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/truth-eggs/t/story?id=16871055). In fact, I'd say those chickens looked pretty happy (and sporty)in their vintage camper-coop.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

On tall trees and wind storms


When I look at the windows or our house I can almost imagine that we live in a more rural place than the suburban cul-de-sac that is reality. Mostly, because we are situated on top of a hill surrounded by tall trees.  We can barely see the houses on the street behind us. It is quiet, oh so quiet, here.  Except today because the wind is really strong.  I am listening to it roar through the tall trees.  There are several very tall trees on or bordering our property.  Most are pines but there is also a huge, old Sycamore and what we think is a very old cherry tree.  The trees are lovely.  They wave, shimmy and sway.  Today they are waving furiously, trying to get my attention.  Possibly because pieces of them are falling off.  I woke up at around 4AM to the loud roaring of the wind. It sounded like jet engines overhead.  Worried, I got up and peeked out the windows.  The trees were more mobile than usual.  I did hear debris falling on our roof but nothing that sounded too serious.  I went back to bed but found it hard to settle back into sleep.  I kept expecting to feel our house sway in the wind.  In Buffalo, in our old three story houses we always felt a slight rocking when the wind blew hard. Now we live in a one story house made of concrete block.  It does not move.

Upon waking for the day we discovered that several good-sized pine limbs had fallen in the night.  Thankfully, they fell away from our house.  Later, Mike called me after he'd left for work to tell me that one limb was dangling over our roof near the chimney.

Untitled When
we first took possession of the house one of the first things we had to do was to remove some small trees that were growing too close to the foundation.  When I say they were close I mean the trunks were rubbing against the roofline. Another surprise was that two of the trees were hollies.  I had no idea that holly could grow that large.  Then we noticed that the large tree at the front of the garage on the berm was a gigantic holly.  My father stayed with us for a week helping us do some projects before we actually moved in.  Removing the trees was on the list.  We had some mild weather to help out and he and Mike spent several days bonding over a chainsaw, taking down 20ft. holly. The trunks were cut up with the chainsaw and stacked for future use as fuel for our fireplace. Seen in this last photo is also the Sycamore tree with an ugly wound from a previous storm, possibly Hurricane Sandy which blew through the area just about a week before we closed on the house. Guess we'll need to buy a chainsaw.


First work at the new house

I am still catching up on what has happened since we bought our house. We've only been in it for about 6 weeks so it shouldn't take too long.

We closed on time in 45 days-a first for us! It was a long day. We had he final walk through in the morning and the closing in the afternoon. We had our baby daughter with us. That seemed like a good idea, until it wasn't. The closing meeting dragged and Em got restless. She ate all of her snacks and drank all of the milk we'd brought. I had to ask the lawyer if she had any whole milk in her mini fridge. Thankfully, she did. Finally, we got out of there and headed straight for the house. Em fell asleep on the way there and we let her sleep in her car seat inside.

Our first job was to pull up a lot of old, vinyl tile in the hall and master bedroom. It was that fake brick-looking stuff that one normally sees in a kitchen. Why was it in the bedroom? Who knows. It was very loose, too.  At least in the bedroom. We knew from our inspection that there was or had been some kind of leak from the master bathroom that was affecting a piece of baseboard trim and the floor tiles in the bedroom. As a result, we do not use the shower in the master bath at all. It is circa 1950 terrazzo and in bad shape. It's also super small. Thankfully, there is another full bathroom down the hall. Anyhow, that is what we suspect to be the reason for the loose tiles. We literally just picked them off the floor without any prying. We did the whole, quite large bedroom in about an hour and called it a day.

What we were left with was a painted concrete floor. Our house sits on a concrete slab, no basement. There are radiant heat pipes embedded in the concrete. The floor was painted green and red in what I would guess was lead paint. We considered polishing it down to the raw concrete but were nervous about releasing lead and other toxins into the air. We were moving in in a week and had little time. We ended up carpeting it and the other bedrooms.

The hallway posed another problem. First of all, it took a lot more sweat to get the tiles off because they were put down properly with mastic. The mastic was still gummy slightly probably because of the heated floors. (By the way, it is nice to have heated floors!). The previous owners had left us boxes of the "luxury vinyl" tiles that they used in the living and dining rooms. It was neutral and looked so much like ceramic that it fooled me on first viewing. I figured it was an easy job, I'd laid tile before. Dear lord, that was hard work! I had to work at night for two nights to get the majority of it tiled. I had started it and had worked for an hour when I noticed the seams meandering. I had to rip it up and start over. Have I mentioned how long this hallway is? 38 ft. For real. Two grueling nights of crawling around on the floor and the hallway was tiled. Well, I still have to finish some fussy edges but it looks done. The tile is good for high traffic and transfers the heat well. Not every floor material is suitable for radiant floor heat.

We have two skylights in the house. One in a half bath and the other in the hallway. They really let a lot of light in during the day. There is no need to turn on lights in these rooms during daylight hours. Most of the rooms in the house have ample windows to illuminate them without using electricity.  Hallways and small bathrooms, though, usually do not have windows.  I love that I can see the sky and trees through the skylights, and the stars at night.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Um, I've been kind of busy?

I did not mean to take so much time off from the blog but things have been busy. We had apartment guests, both family and friends. Our daughter turned one year old and I became obsessed with searching for cake and party ideas on Pinterest. We had a small, mostly family,party for her. Although, a friend and her babysitter did stop in to see Em open presents and smash her cake. The cake. Well, Em had her own little healthy cake to tear apart and I made a decadently sweet ombré effect layer cake for the adults.

Em had a fun day soaking up all of the attention from her grandparents. She had recently taken her first steps but then reverted back to crawling for a few weeks. On her birthday she decided she was done with that and really started walking. At the time of writing this she is climbing on everything, and I mean everything.

We had been looking at houses all Summer and Fall. We had pretty much exhausted all possibilities in any area within a reasonable distance from town. We needed enough space for three bedrooms and workspaces for Mike and me. So, a fairly good sized house was needed. What we have discovered in the New Haven area is that the houses are smaller than the Buffalo houses we have lived in. We'd found a cute, but not very special, Colonial in a neighborhood that was family friendly and close to town. We had looked at it several times and made an offer which was rejected. We kept looking and didn't see anything else. The seller was holding out for one last open house before the season closed down. She got no offers and came back to us. We knew we could have the house if we came up slightly from our original offer. We were so close to just making the offer but our realtor suggested that we go back one more time to be sure of how we felt about it. That day another house came on the market. Mike had been texting and calling me but I didn't notice. Finally, I picked up the phone and he told me to check out a listing online. It was a mid century ranch house with a South facing wall of windows and a great yard. From the photos it was perfect. Mike and I have been collecting mid century furniture for years. We could not see this house fast enough. Mike insisted that we see this house before we made an offer on the other one. I'm so glad that we did. We had an immediate attraction to the house.

We were first to view it and our offer was accepted within 48 hours. There seems to have been a lot of interest in it.To seal the deal our realtor asked Mike to write a letter to the sellers telling them how much we loved it and how we valued its uniqueness. She had no idea that Mike is a talented writer! I'm positive that it helped our offer.

Our house is on a quiet cul-de-sac of mostly mid century houses, just minutes from downtown. It has an unusual history of having been an experimental planned neighborhood. The houses were designed and built by a Yale architect for a group of professionals who were friends and wanted to live in the same neighborhood. It would appear that many of the friends stayed in the neighborhood. Some of the current neighbors that we have met bought their homes from the original owners. The communal aspect of the neighborhood still exists. In the middle of the cul-de-sac is a large, treed, grassy park-like area. Best of all, there is a footpath leading from the neighborhood to the elementary school. It's a good school district and parents are enthusiastic about the school.

We said goodbye to the apartment that had been our home for 7 months and landing pad in New Haven. It was a good landing pad and we were fairly comfortable there. But it is nice to own an architecturally unique house and we are enjoying it and the gorgeous property.

I suspect that this blog is going to have many more home improvement posts than cooking from now on. But, we still have to eat, right?