Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 29 - For the Love of Banana Bread


Today the kids' piano teacher, MaryAnn Wetzler, came to our house, not to give the kids a lesson, but to play duets - with me!  Although my fingers were younger, hers seemed more nimble as we played through pages and pages of Gershwin and Bernstein, Copeland and Holst and Faure's hauntingly elegant and soulfully romantic, Pavane.  The kids wondered why we kept on playing.  Would we ever stop?  Perhaps they had yet to fully realize the reason for the repetition and the lessons and the scales.  Eventually they would play, not out of duty, but for the pure love of the music - the expression of the soul that comes when the mind and the heart and the body collaborate in perfect harmony.  This is why we practice - so that someday we may play, just for the love of it.


Following our duet session,  we took refreshment with some homemade banana bread.

After years of making this recipe, which I found in an old church cookbook, I think I have tweaked it into perfection.  By substituting in canola oil, white whole wheat flour and reducing the sugar, I think I can now serve this to the kids for breakfast - guilt free!  

I always seem to have LOTS of bananas in the freezer (just peel the overripe bananas and put them in a ziploc bag).   Defrost them a little bit in the microwave or the counter and then mush them right in the bag.  Next, put them in the mixer and beat them until they are lump free.  



Add the oil and sugar and beat again until smooth.
Add the eggs, milk and vanilla and mix until smooth, again!
Once all the wet ingredients are well mixed, add the dry ingredients until just blended.


Pour the batter into a greased bread pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
Here, the great thing about my KitchenAid mixer is that I can easily triple the batch!
Then I have one loaf for serving, one loaf for keeping and one loaf for sharing!





BANANA BREAD

Wet Ingredients:
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 Tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a non-stick 5x9x3 inch loaf pan.  In a large bowl, beat bananas until smooth.  Add oil and sugar.  Beat until smooth again.  Add eggs, milk and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Add dry ingredients to bowl and mix until just combined.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake about 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.  Makes 1 loaf.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 28 - "W" is for Waves!


I always feel a little rush of adrenaline when I find an opportunity to use another one of my cookie cutters!  Today, as we prepared for the Swim Team Banquet, I got out my alphabet cookie cutters, all in search of one letter - "W" for Waves.


Cut out cookies are perfect for little hands.


As usual, we used the frozen, prepared dough that I stock-pile when it comes out around Christmas.


Each girl demanded equal time with the "W" cutter - 


As well as equal face time on the blog!


We baked up almost 4 dozen W's from two packets of frozen dough.


I frosted them them in an aqua blue with my new favorite alternative to Royal Icing -
Wilton's Poured Cookie Icing.


I've posted the recipe before, but it bears repeating.
I used the same icing recipe to outline the cookies in white.


GO WAVES!




Wilton's Poured Cookie Icing

Ingredients:

1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

Instructions:

Place sugar and milk in bowl.  Stir until mixed thoroughly.  Add corn syrup and mix well.  For filling in areas, use thinned icing (add small amounts of light corn syrup until desired consistency is reached).


TODAY'S SPENDING: $0

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 27 - The Final Stretch

"Why is there always so much month left at the end of the money?"
--John Barrymore, Early American Actor 
(Grandfather of Drew Barrymore)

With only four days to go, I sat down to evaluate our remaining money and our remaining needs.  We had about $80 left.  I had planned the rest of the meals and had most of the ingredients, but needed a few filler items.  I was out of laundry detergent, and knew I couldn't go five days without doing laundry!  The swim banquet was coming up.  The kids (swimmers) were free, but the adults had to pay for sandwiches as well as bring a side (in our case, dessert).  Could we buy a case of Gatorade for Samuel's football camp?  Would I need more gas?

We decided to get the Gatorade, but bottle our own water.  Perry and I would pass on the $5.00 sub sandwiches at the swim banquet and eat at home.  (We'd still bring cookies!)  I'd switch to generic laundry detergent, but still buy vegetables, milk and fruit.  Hopefully, this would be my last trip of the month to the store!  With this plan, we would have enough left over just in case I needed gas!

TODAY'S SPENDING:
Groceries and Laundry Detergent:  $38.75

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 26 - Zucchini, Tomato and Cheese Pie




My alternate title for this post was: 
"Ways I Try To Get My Kids To Eat Vegetables."  

As the name implies, I am always trying to find sneaky ways to get my kids to eat vegetables that they would otherwise shun.  What better way, I thought, than to hide them in a pie?  The original name for this recipe was "Zucchini, Tomato and Cheese Tart".  But since I decided to vary the recipe (I swapped out the frozen puff pastry crust for a pre-made standard pie crust), I thought I, technically speaking, needed to change the name.  

A tart, according to Barron's Food Lover's Companion, is "a pastry crust with shallow sides, a filling and no top crust."  A pie, on the other hand, has a much broader definition and is "a sweet or savory dish made with a crust and filling."  A pie crust can be on the top, bottom, or both.  It can be shallow or deep and can be made from a variety of ingredients, including mashed potatoes (i.e. Shepherd's Pie).  I could have also called this recipe a Quiche, "a pastry shell filled with a savory custard made of eggs, cream, seasonings and various other  ingredients," but, since real men don't eat quiche, I would have lost my biggest customer.  Also, technically, my pans did not have fluted sides.


So with a couple of found pie crusts in the freezer (from last Thanksgiving), I embarked on my Zucchini pies.  The first step was quartering 4 zucchini, or, in my case, 2 zucchini and 2 yellow summer squash.


After quartering, slice them thinly.  
For perfect slices, I used one of my favorite tools, the mandoline.


Next, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and saute diced onion, garlic and zucchini.  Add one can of well drained diced tomatoes.  Cook until liquid evaporates.  Note:  I ended up pouring off some of the liquid so that I wouldn't end up completely cooking the zucchini into mush!


In a separate bowl, combine eggs, salt and grated smoked Gouda.  (I used what I had on hand - mozzarella and Pecorino Romano, but the smoked Gouda would have been even better!)


When the sauteed vegetables are cooled, combine them with the egg and cheese mixture and pour them into the pie crusts.  I doubled the recipe to make two pies, but ended up with so much filling, I had enough to make three!  Fortunately, I managed to scavenger one more and final pie crust from the freezer!


I thought the pies were delicious.  The zucchini had such a mild flavor that it was barely perceivable amongst the flaky crust and gooey cheese.  The family, however, took a took their time getting past the fact that they could still see the vegetables they were about to eat.  


FAMILY CRITIQUE:

Perry:  "It's better than I thought it would be."
Samuel:  (my new favorite child)  MMMM...this is really good!!!
Anna:  Finally agreed that the zucchini wasn't bad and she would eat it if she could pick out the tomatoes.
Ella:  Ate her required one bite and then went to the fridge and got an apple. (I don't fix kid food!)
Arielle:  Normally my most adventurous eater was in a foul mood and refused to touch it.  I put it in the fridge for later.  When later came and she asked for a snack, I pulled out her plate and said she needed to eat her dinner first. (Yes, I'm really that mean!)  This time, she ate it readily and even admitted to liking it!




Zucchini, Tomato, and Cheese Pie 
Adapted from The Food Network

Ingredients:
1 pre-made 9" Deep Dish pie crust
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 14-ounce can ready cut diced tomatoes, well drained (I like Muir Glen's Fire-Roasted Tomatoes)
3 large eggs
1 cup smoked Gouda (or whatever cheese you have on hand)
1/2 teaspoon salt,
Generous seasoning freshly ground black pepper (if you're into that)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove pie crust from the freezer.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion is slightly tender.  Stir in the zucchini and saute just until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes.  Mix in the drained tomatoes and raise the heat to medium-high.  Cook, stirring often, until the zucchini is tender but mushy and the juices have evaporated.  Let cool.  If the vegetables have cooked long enough but are still juicy, pour off excess liquid.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Stir in the cheese, salt, pepper and cooled vegetables.  Spoon the mixture into the pie pan.  Bake 25 - 30 minutes, or until the crust is brown and a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.  Let cool for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 4-6.


TODAY'S SPENDING:

County Swim Meet Parking:  $5.00
Tolls:  $1.00

TOTAL:  $6.00

























Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 25 - Cars, Clouds and Cookies


This afternoon, I decided to make use of our annual museum membership and took the kids downtown to The High Museum.  It was the last weekend of the temporary exhibit, "The Allure of the Automobile."  With many activities revolving around the three girls, I'm always thrilled when I can find artful adventures that will appeal to the boy, too!

As it turned out, we didn't have to enter the museum to find art - we only had to look UP!  



These cumulus clouds were a masterpiece in themselves!




Here, we combined car and cloud!

 
Inside the museum, we were treated to a display of 18 of the world's rarest and most brilliantly conceived cars from the 1930's to mid-1960's, including masterpieces by Bugatti, Duesenberg, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Ferrari and Tucker!  I made a mental note to myself to rent, "Tucker", a great family film about the auto maker!



Back in our car, I had actually planned ahead and brought a cooler with snacks.  This seems to be a downfall of spending, doesn't it?  The kids are always hungry!  I knew we would need sustenance for our rush-hour commute home.  With not a cracker nor chip in the house, and with only 15 minutes before I needed to pick the girls up from VBS this morning, I looked in the freezer and found some cut-out cookie scraps. (Yes, I really do save everything!)  I didn't even have time to thaw the dough and reshape it!  I found some jumbo sprinkles and decided that I would call them "Modern Art Cookies"!



The kids bought (and ate) it!



TODAY'S SPENDING:

Gas:  $27.37
Toll:  $0.50 (We took the back roads home)
Parking:  $3.50

TOTAL:  $31.37



Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 24 - A Chinese Proverb

"If you have but two loaves of bread,
sell one and buy flowers."
--Chinese Proverb


Then set the table,



light a candle,



turn on some music,


and enjoy what you have!


TODAY'S SPENDING:  0


Day 23 - The Gift of Goody Bags

It just so happened that the girls' Vacation Bible School missions project precisely coincided with my decision to clean out the pantry.  For the last week I had been wondering why the pantry still seemed so full after our now 23 day financial fast.  What I found surprised, no, astounded, me.  As I carefully dug through every nook and cranny, I pulled out seven various sized shopping bags full of candy and small toys.  

I realize that most moms manage to simply toss all the stuff that comes home with their kids after school parties, birthday parties and every candy involving holiday.  Apparently, not me.  I did, at least get it stashed on the top shelf and far reaching corners of the pantry, where I, (and hopefully the kids) would forget about it!  So here I stood, with my kitchen counters cluttered with candy, realizing that this would be the perfect moment for a goody bag project.


Now, the idea of the re-crafted goody bag is not new.  Anna first came up with this idea a couple of years ago when she created over 100 cellophane goody bags from her and her siblings Halloween candy.  Halloween, then, became a hunt with a purpose.  Since they weren't allowed to eat the entire giant plastic pumpkin full of candy, anyway, they, in effect, went Trick-or-Treating for charity.  After all the trading and sorting that goes on after the Halloween collection is complete, the girls divided the candy into cellophane bags.  I purchased individually wrapped cheese sandwich crackers to throw in for at least a minimal amount of nutrition.  The girls tied the bags with colorful curly ribbon.  I then drove the girls down to North Fulton Community Charities where they presented the sparkly, cellophane goody bags.  They were a hit!  I know this, not only from the encouraging comments from the director, but also from witnessing the workers pocket a few for themselves!

And who do you think the recipient of the VBS mission project was?  You guessed it, North Fulton Community Charities.

From the excess in our pantry, the girls managed to fill 42 cellophane bags with candy, toys and cheese crackers.  What amazed me was this.  What I expected to hear from the girls were possessive cries of their long lost treasures.  Instead, I saw Anna holding up a small Hello Kitty purse, saying, "Some girl is really going to LOVE this!"  Then I watched Arielle putting together themed bags - a pirate bag, a boy bag, a teenager bag - carefully selecting each item and thinking of the potential receiver.  

It made me think.  Do you think creating Goody Bags could be a gift?  I don't mean a gift, as in a present, I mean a real spiritual gift?  So often we think of spiritual gifts as things that leaders in the church have.  They sound righteous and important and holy. But, really, is there anything less holy in a child whose heart is reaching out to others?  Could a spiritual gift come in something as small as a cellophane bag?  I think the answer is YES! 
"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord."  (I Corinthians 12:4-5)
Ours just happens to be the Gift of Goody Bags. 



TODAY'S SPENDING:

Bread, Milk, Cheerios, Bananas and Cheese Crackers:  $21.28

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 22 - Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon (ala CrockPot!)



Well, we have come to what I am calling, "The Final Stretch".  With nine days left, I can see the end, but it's just too soon to coast.  My spending is pacing ahead of schedule, so these last days are crucial.  I am already running out of daily needs like laundry detergent (despite my reduction to a mere tablespoon per load!), garbage bags (you have to put the garbage somewhere!) and toilet paper (I am just not willing to improvise on this one!).

The one gem I do still have in my freezer is a Costco-sized package of beef stew meat!  Wanting to make something memorable from this last bit of red meat in the house, I decided to try Julia Child's recipe for Beef Bourguignon.  After my trip to the farmer's market yesterday, I had all the necessary ingredients-- except bacon.  I am NOT a big bacon fan.  (Did I mention that I got all the bad genes?)  In fact, turkey bacon aside, it is quite possible that I have never cooked a strip of real bacon in my life.  But in honor if Julia, and since it was the very first ingredient in her recipe, I decided to break with tradition, splurge, and buy one package of pig fat.

The recipe called for 6 oz., so I removed a few strips and put the rest in the freezer for my future White Bean and Kale Soup recipe.  I sliced the bacon into thin, quarter-inch strips and then--

--simmered it? in water for ten minutes.

If any one knows Julia's reason for this, please tell me!
I'm sure it has something to do with even browning.

The next step is to fry the bacon in a tablespoon of olive oil until crispy.

Remove the bacon,
and add the patted dry stew meat to the bacon fat in single layer batches.
Remember, Julia says, "If the meat isn't DRY, it won't BROWN!"
After all the meat has been browned and removed from the pan,
add chopped onions and carrots to the drippings and saute.
Next, add tomato paste, garlic, beef stock and 3 cups of red wine. 
(My other Two Buck Chuck!)
For those of you who are wondering, 3 cups of wine is
approximately an entire bottle less a couple of swigs for Julia.
Here's where I just had to veer from the instructions.  Bring the liquid and vegetables to a boil and put the meat, bacon and liquid into a Slow Cooker!  (It's 97 degrees out!  I am NOT turning on the oven!)  I omitted the next few steps where, after cooking, she coats the meat with flour and puts it in the oven for a while.

Cook on High for 4 hours and add your "bouquet garni"
(That's herbs wrapped with twine so you can retrieve them later.)
Saute one pound of baby bella mushrooms in olive oil and butter.
Add one jar of white onions (Julia uses fresh).
Add the mushrooms and onions to the pot and cook for about an hour more.
But don't wash that pan just yet!

Before serving, scoop out the liquid and reduce it by half.
Pour back over the Beef and serve with noodles, rice or potatoes.

This recipe had a difficulty rating of difficult.  It's not that it was actually difficult, more LENGTHY!
(This is Mastering the ART of French Cooking, after all!)

BON APPETIT!



For more exact directions to Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon, click here.

TODAY'S SPENDING:

Bacon:  $3.66