GOLD STANDARD OATMEAL

I’ve got a cat in my lap, very insistently settled, as she has been on each of the nights since school started that I’ve been up late, working (there have been quite a few).  She’s “helping” me.

I’ve got this Instagram picture of some oatmeal, which isn’t really up to regular blogging standards, but it’s been over a month since I’ve posted a recipe, and this one is a winner, humble though it may be to look at.

gold-standard oatmeal | Blue Jean Gourmet

I’ve got a kid who, as of last week, sleeps in a big boy bed, speaks in three-word sentences, and remembers EVERYTHING in this way that is both freaky and totally endearing.

I’ve got a pack of new students—most of whom are not in fact “new,” but instead, kids I’ve taught before, some of them twice, and now I get to see what they look like as starter adults, and it’s a pretty amazing vantage point, I tell you what.

Living and working on a school calendar means that September always seems to be a “taking stock” month for me—I can’t help but plan out my personal bits and pieces while I’m planning out curriculum, too.  I ask my students to write mission statements for themselves; I write one, too.  Blank squares on calendar months become etched with pencil, then crossed off in pen.

These almost-fall days (at least that’s what we have down here; my friends in Canada posted the first snow pictures today!, which felt incomprehensible in my mosquito-ridden reality) are prone to over-filling.  We do too much, we schedule too much, we take on too much, and everything becomes a blur and before you know it, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s.

So I did this radical-for-me thing a few weeks ago.   I decided not to throw a Diwali party.

One of the most difficult things for me to accept about living a balanced, grown-up life is that it’s not the saying no to things you don’t really want to do that’s hard; once you disabuse yourself of the notion of needing to please others or trying to be someone that you’re not, saying no to that stuff gets easy. What’s much tougher for me to swallow is that I’m going to have to say “no” to things that I actually really want to do.

Those of you who’ve been around this blog and/or my life for the last several years know that Diwali is a big deal for me; it’s my thing, my family’s tradition.  I started throwing the parties after my dad died in 2006, and I’ve relished the planning, the cooking, the fellowship between friends from disparate groups in our lives, and the sacrament of sharing my culture with others.  I love it.

But I’m not going to do it this year.  We have a full fall calendar of close friends’ weddings, and though I could fit in an event, I know it would max out my financial, emotional, and temporal resources—all areas where I’m really trying to stay focused.  So I’m breaking with tradition and ignoring the “supposed to” voice in my head, and instead choosing what I know is healthiest for me.  A CRAZY NOTION, I TELL YOU.

I felt relief immediately after I shared my decision with mom and Jill (who had both been pulling for the side of sanity all along).  I keep waiting for the regret, but so far, all quiet on that front.  Actually, I feel proud of myself—really proud and not a little bit surprised that I’ve actually managed to stick by my values and priorities, a task made easier by the incredible friends who support me in these kinds of conversations every day (I’m looking at you especially, my Courtneys) and remind me that my identity is bigger than the parties I throw or the things I write or the food I cook.

Sometimes, saying “no” is the most powerful affirmation there is.

GOLD STANDARD OATMEAL

slightly adapted from Megan Gordon by way of The Faux Martha

This recipe is crazy simple but totally a game-changer in terms of method; the oats retain their shape instead of devolving into mush.  The texture is IDEAL for someone like me who still has issues with pudding, and toasting the oats before adding the liquid, and adding salt (don’t skip this!) means that your oatmeal actually tastes like something, not just what you dump on top of it.

Shiv and I both love ours with toasted nuts (sliced almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, you name it) & a dash of maple syrup, and I splash in some extra milk in his to cool the whole thing down.  This oatmeal is also a great place to sprinkle hemp, flax, and/or chia seeds; you can use cinnamon or other spices, but I don’t find that the oatmeal needs it.  Butter is the best flavor of all, y’all!

ingredients:

1 ½ T butter

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

generous pinch of sea salt

1 cup liquid (3 parts water to 1 part milk, i.e. ¾ cup water & ¼ cup milk)

In a wide, shallow skillet (make sure it’s one that has a lid!), melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the oats, the pinch of salt, and toss to coat in the melted butter.  Stir regularly for at least 5 minutes while the oats toast, until you see a slight color change and smell a distinctly nutty aroma.

All at once, pour in the liquid; the mixture should immediately begin to boil.  Remove the skillet from heat, cover with the lid, and leave it alone for 8-10 minutes.

When you’re ready, serve with the toppings of your choice.

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BLACKBERRY FARM GRIDDLE CAKES

Meet the Carroll/Mehra family Saturday morning pancakes.


Blackberry Farm Griddle Cakes | Blue Jean Gourmet   #gf  #glutenfree

Since this recipe was published in Bon Appetit last May, these babies have become such a solid part of our rotation that I can make them without consulting the recipe.  Shiv “helps” me mix the batter and spread and flip the first few pancakes; once they’re cool enough to eat, he leaves the fry cook duties to me & tucks into a plateful.  Even Jill, who is usually not interested in sweet things at breakfast (she’s an alien, I know) will grab a few to go alongside her scrambled eggs.  The recipe makes a bunch—I’d say about 20-25 small-to-medium pancakes—so the ones we don’t eat I let cool and then pack them up, two at a time, for the freezer: foil first, then a Ziploc.  On weekdays, it’s super easy to grab and reheat a pair of pancakes for breakfast.

This recipe isn’t a showstopper.  There’s nothing glamorous or fancy about these griddle cakes, which is maybe why I haven’t blogged about them before?  I think sometimes I fall into the trap of wanting to dazzle (not just on this blog but in life in general), when often what ends up being the most satisfying are the simple, sustainable rituals and pleasures: how my mom makes a cup of tea better than anyone I know, sitting out by the lake after dinner with our neighbor Mike and his big, sweet Doberman, snuggling with Shiv in the dusk time after we’re done reading books but before I put him in his crib, these pancakes that we don’t seem to get sick of.

BLACKBERRY FARM GRIDDLE CAKES

The cakes are barely, barely sweet (which you can, of course, offset based on how much syrup you choose to pour on top of them) but the combination of flours yields a really lovely, distinctive texture and taste.  They eat like a treat, but not like a decadent one.

Since we make these so often, I use this tip provided when the recipe was originally published—make your own pancake mix by tripling the dry ingredients, whisking them together well, & storing them in a jar.  Then, when you’re ready to make pancakes, simply measure out 2 ¼ cups of the dry mixture and proceed with the recipe as listed; the amounts for the wet ingredients stay the same.

A few notes: the recipe doesn’t call for vanilla, but I like to add 1 tsp. to the batter, as it really seems to amplify the flavor of the maple syrup.  Also, as you can see from the pictures, we added fresh blueberries to our most recent batch of pancakes, and we highly recommend you do the same; simply drop a few berries onto each pancake before you flip it over!

 

Blackberry Farm Griddle Cakes | Blue Jean Gourmet   #gf  #glutenfree

ingredients:

1 cup oat flour (make your own in 2 minutes by blitzing some rolled oats in your food processor)

2/3 cup yellow cornmeal

1/3 cup brown rice flour

¼ cup buckwheat flour

1 T baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 cups buttermilk

1 large egg

¼ cup maple syrup (use the good stuff!)

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted (I usually add a tablespoon or two more for the skillet, but you could also use coconut oil, vegetable oil, etc. for cooking the griddle cakes)

Get your pan ready–heat a large nonstick griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  In a smaller, separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg, & maple syrup together.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.  Finally, whisk in the butter until you’ve worked through all of the lumps in the batter.

Brush your hot skillet with butter or oil.  Pour the batter out in small amounts—about a quarter to a third cup for each pancake, spreading the batter a little with the side of the measuring cup as you go.  Cook until the bottoms are browned and you see bubbles on top, about 3 minutes.  Flip and cook on the other side for an additional 1-2 minutes.  Serve hot, with butter & syrup!

*If you are cooking for someone with gluten intolerance, be certain to buy certified gluten-free oats & flours.

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FRITTATA

If you know how to make a frittata, you’ll never go hungry.

DSC_0859

They are incredibly simple and quick to make, and you can serve one for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Best of all, the only ingredient necessary for a frittata is half-a-dozen eggs; the rest can be whatever you happen to have hanging around in your fridge or pantry.

With a frittata you can serve a crowd, or you can just serve your family of three and save the leftovers for a easily re-heatable morning protein hit.  This is why we tend to make one about once a week in my house, usually on weekends as part of a leisurely brunch, along with some toasted English muffins, jam, & good butter.

Frittatas are so easy to make that I almost feel silly posting a “recipe” for one—think of this more as a set of guidelines or a procedure.  In addition to the combination pictured here, our family also recommends the following ingredient mixes, though honestly, you really should just feel free to throw in whatever you want.

•    mushroom, sausage, bell pepper, feta
•    greens, onion, sliced potato, gruyere
•    bacon, asparagus, cheddar
•    zucchini, tomato, basil & flat-leaf parsley

Unlike a quiche, where you want egg and crust to shine and therefore use a light hand when making a filling, I like to think of a frittata as lots of vegetables bound together with some egg: cheap, filling, and healthy.

KALE, CHEVRE, & TOMATO FRITTATA

kale, tomato, & chevre frittata | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

1 small-to-medium bunch lacinato kale, stems removed & roughly chopped
(~3-4 cups, depending on how much kale you want in your frittata)

3 green onions, sliced into rounds

1-2 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced

generous handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

generous handful chevre
(Shiv is obsessed with the local good stuff from Blue Heron Farm, which we pick up at the market weekly; I used the garlic-peppercorn here)

6-8 farm eggs, whisked with ~1/4 cup milk
(farm eggs tend to vary in size, so 6 large will do, but sometimes I need an extra one or two to fill the pan)

salt & pepper

fresh herbs, if you like

olive oil

Heat a generous swirl of olive oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet, over medium-low heat.  Add the green onions & garlic and sauté until fragrant.  Turn the heat up to medium and add the kale in batches, covering with a lid to encourage the kale to wilt.  Continue to stir and cook until all of the kale has been cooked through.

Add the tomatoes and stir, allowing them to heat through for a few minutes.  Add salt and pepper and stir again.  Drizzle in a bit more olive oil, or toss in a pat of butter if you like.

Pour in the egg mixture, scraping the bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula to lift up the vegetables and allow the egg to coat the bottom.  Cook over medium-low heat until the bottom and sides have set, and the top is beginning to, about 4-5 minutes.

Sprinkle cheese on top of the frittata and transfer the skillet to the oven, set to “broil.”  Cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until the top of the frittata is lightly browned.  Remove from the oven, cool, and cut into wedges.

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BACK-TO-SCHOOL BREAKFASTS

Hi friends!  It’s that time of year…the time when families wade through store aisles, armed with school supply lists, parents somewhat dazed, kids miffed at their parents lack of understanding about how you can’t just buy ANY folders or pens or locker decorations, because if you don’t get the right ones, your year might be over before it even begins.  For serious.

Marion Cunningham's Boston Brown Bread Muffins | Blue Jean Gourmet

I still love school supplies because I am a big giant nerd, and that’s why it’s convenient that I became a teacher.  I still get excited about organizing my desk and planner, still pick out a new outfit for the first day of school (and invariably have trouble falling asleep the night before).  I still love thinking about what I do and how I can do it better, still get excited about visiting with former students (they grow so much over the summer!) and meeting the new ones who show up in my classroom, nervous and excited and not totally sure how to be eighth graders yet.

This will be my seventh (!) year of full-time teaching, which means that the very first crop of students, whom I had when they were in sixth grade (and whom I taught again when they were in eighth), are now seniors.  It’s hard to describe how proud of and attached to them I feel, and how excited I am to watch and be with them as they start their last year of high school.

I have had a wonderful summer full of time with my little guy; I’m going to miss him big time, but I know how lucky I am to be someone who gets to go to a job I love and come home to this sweet face every day.

Shiv Carroll Mehra-August 2013

A few notes before the recipes:

1)    The photos you see here were taken by the fabulous Sonya Cuellar, friend, artist, and former lead photographer for this blog.  She agreed to do a “guest shoot” last weekend, so you can look forward to a few more upcoming posts with her gorgeous photography!  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out her beautiful abstract paintings.

2)    I’ve been nominated for a 2013 Houston Culinary Award for Best Food Blog!  Fancy, I know.  Should you be up to a little voting, you can do so here.

3)    If you’re in the Houston area, I’m doing a book reading/signing this coming Monday, August 19 at the fabulous midtown bar Mongoose Versus Cobra at 7 p.m.—please come have a drink & say hi!

These recipes are two I’ve discovered over the summer that I’m planning to use to help me get a tasty, healthy breakfast in on busy mornings.  If you have other killer make-ahead breakfast recipes, please share—always on the lookout!

BOSTON BROWN BREAD MUFFINS
slightly adapted from the amazing Marion Cunningham

I know they don’t sound or look like they’re going to be that good, but trust me—they are worth making.  You get the faintest hint of sweetness and added texture from the pecans, plus that distinctive flavor of the rye flour—but not an overpowering amount!, and the crunch from the cornmeal…it winds up being fairly magical.

These keep really well on room temperature in an airtight container, though I suggest you warm them up before serving, maybe with some butter, butter + jam, peanut/almond butter, or cream cheese.

N.B.: the original recipe calls for raisins, not pecans, but raisins are one of the few things in this life that I unequivocally hate.  I did make a few batches with fresh/frozen berries, and those were excellent, if you’re looking to add fruit here, but are also a raisin-hater like me.

rye flour, barley flour, & cornmeal | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

½ cup rye flour
½ cup cornmeal (I particularly love using coarse-ground here)
½ cup barley flour (I’ve also used whole-wheat spelt here with success)
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/3  cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup packed brown sugar (I’ve cut this down to ¼ before as well)
¾ cup chopped pecans

oven: 400°

Butter or line a standard-sized muffin pan.  Whisk the dry ingredients (flours, cornmeal, soda, & salt) together in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk the wet ingredients (egg, buttermilk, oil, molasses, & sugar) until well-combined.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until fully incorporated.  Fold in pecans.

Fill the muffin tins three-quarters of the way full and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the muffins are a deep brown and a toothpick (or actual cake tester, if you are one of those people who manages to hold onto one) comes out clean.  Serve hot or warm.  Try not to eat them all.

ENERGY BARS
recipe adapted from The Kitchn

You’re skeptical, I know; I was, too.  But as virtuous as these little bars are, they don’t taste overly virtuous—even the baby likes them!  They have a nice, chewy texture (not rock-hard or gummy, like so many store-bought energy bars) and they actually have flavor!  Plus, I know exactly what’s in them, because I made them, and there’s nothing chemically weird/unpronounceable here.

Also, these bars earn serious bonus points for convenience: easy to make, have kept well in the fridge, and are great on those mornings when time gets away from me and I really need to eat something on the drive to work or I’m going to be grumpy later.  Right?  If I have time to eat at home, I add a bowl of yogurt and a cup of tea and that will get me through the first part of the morning; I’ve also been wrapping one up and tossing it into my bag for much-needed afternoon sustenance.

Last points of the sales pitch: I bought a lot of the ingredients in bulk, so the whole batch worked out to be cheaper than the same number of store-bought versions of would have been!  These are also vegan and can be easily made gluten-free, so they work for almost everyone.  Feel free to adapt the ingredients to suit your preferences.

homemade energy bars | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

3 cups rolled oats (use certified gluten-free if you’d like)
1 cup dried fruit of your choice (I used cranberries & wild blueberries)
¾ cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)
¼ cup dried, unsweetened coconut (I used flakes, but shredded would work)
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup ground chia seeds
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
1 ¼ cup applesauce
¼ cup coconut oil
3 T smooth peanut butter
3 T agave nectar, honey, or brown rice syrup
1 tsp. vanilla

oven: 325°
pan: 8” square pan lined with parchment (don’t skip the parchment!)

In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (oats, fruit, nuts, coconut, seeds, & spices).

Over low heat, combine the coconut oil, peanut butter, & whichever sweetener you’re using—stir until melted.  Remove from heat, then add the applesauce & vanilla, whisking to combine.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until well-combined.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and press down firmly with your hands to even out the surface—you can also use the back of a smooth measuring cup or water glass.

Bake until golden brown around the edge, ~45 minutes.  Cool the bars completely in the pan (they’ll fall apart if you don’t).  Lift the bars out, using the parchment, and cut into squares with a serrated knife.

Store the energy bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator (mine have kept for over a week).  To take one with you, wrap well in wax paper or plastic wrap.

homemade energy bar - vegan, gluten free | Blue Jean Gourmet

A SUMMER BOOK CLUB BRUNCH

Let’s talk about some of my favorite things: food, drink, and books.

strawberry basil ginger punch | Blue Jean Gourmet

I wanted to share a few of the recipes that were a big hit at the book club meeting I hosted last weekend.  Unfortunately, Jill was out of town, so the photographs are mine and thus not really up to par; you’ll have to take my word for it all tasted much better than it looks!

The hits of the day were a carrot-avocado salad, pickled shrimp, & strawberry-ginger punch.  I also served my trusty deviled eggs and tried this yogurt panna cotta (it tasted great, but I think I badly measured my gelatin, as the texture was off.)  Since a few of our book club members are gluten-free, so I ordered a dozen GF cupcakes from a local baker and put together a cheese plate with GF crackers & olives; had I not ordered the cupcakes, I would have made these almond orange tea cakes—my friend and blog reader Christie shared with me that they easily adapt to be GF.

Now onto books—there are few things I love more than an overly ambitious summer reading list!  I just put together mine for this year, and I can’t wait to get started.  Side note: almost all of these were recommended by friends or students.  I’ve divided them into categories and linked to their Amazon listings.  For more book ideas, I recently updated my Reading Lists for adults & young adults!

Classics I Ought To Have Read By Now:

A Separate Peace (John Knowles)
A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth)
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (James Agee)

Historical Fiction:

The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry)

Just for Fun:

One Writer’s Beginnings (Eudora Welty)
The Dud Avocado (Elaine Dundy)
The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe)
The Woman Upstairs (Claire Messud)

Non-Fiction:

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo)
Mornings on Horseback (David McCullough)
Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil (John Berendt)
Mountains Beyond Mountains (Tracy Kidder)

Poetry/Plays:

Red Doc> (Anne Carson)
Time Stands Still (Donald Marguilles)

Professional Development (as teacher & mom):

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (Paul Tough)
The Art of Description: Word Into World (Mark Doty)

Young Adult Novels:

Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl)
The Future of Us (Jay Asher & Caroline Mackler)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente)
Winger (Andrew Smith)
Zoe’s Tale (John Scalzi)

What’s on your reading list this summer?  Please share in the comments!

roasted carrots & citrus salad | Blue Jean Gourmet

CARROT-AVOCADO SALAD
via Food52

I’d had my eye on this recipe for a while, because the ingredients are mostly ones we keep on hand, but with a very different method than I usually use.  Also, we have recently become converted to cooking carrots on the grill, so I figured that roasting them would also be delicious—and it was.

In an attempt to keep this fairly simple (as opposed to running out for lots of extra ingredients), I made a few adjustment to the original recipe: swapping the citrus, using grapefruit & lime instead of orange & lemon, and leaving out the crème fraîche.  The resulting salad got raves anyway, but I can see how including the crème fraîche would add a restaurant-level lushness to the dish.

oven: 450°

ingredients:

2 lb carrots (if small, just peel, but if large, peel, quarter, & cut into 3-inch pieces)
1 grapefruit
1 lime
2 cloves garlic
1 T fresh thyme
1 T sugar
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup sprouts
¼ cup cilantro, torn
1 avocado, cut into wedges
2 T toasted sunflower seeds
2 tsp. sesame seeds

While the oven is preheating, place the carrots in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.  Salt the water, turn the stove to high heat, and bring to a simmer.  Reduce to medium and continue to simmer until carrots are tender, 5-8 minutes.

As the carrots cook, cut the grapefruit & lime in half, juicing one half of each and reserving the other halves.  Reserve half of the fresh juice for later, and combine the other half with the garlic, cumin, thyme, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, and 2 T olive oil; process in the blender until smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once the carrots have cooked, drain them and toss them in the marinade.  Spread the carrots and unjuiced citrus halves on a baking sheet and roast until the carrots are reduced in size and with a few brown spots, approximately 20 minutes.  Allow the carrots to cool to room temperature.

While the carrots are cool, make the salad dressing.  Squeeze the juice from the roasted citrus halves and combine that juice with the reserved fresh juice.  Whisk together with sugar, remaining olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Combine the carrots and avocado slices on a platter.  Top with the sprouts, and sprinkle with the seeds.  Drizzle the dressing over the whole thing and serve immediately.

 

PICKLED SHRIMP
slightly adapted from Saveur

If you’ve never had pickled shrimp before, you are in for a treat!  These were so easy and so good that I’m planning to make them again this weekend as a pre-dinner appetizer (re-using some of the original brining liquid).  I’ll admit, 12 bay leaves seemed a little excessive to me, but they did not at all dominate the flavor, so don’t be frightened by the quantity!

pickled shrimp | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

~1 lb. medium shrimp (26-30 count), peeled & deveined
2 T Old Bay
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (more if needed)
12 dried bay leaves
half of a yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T kosher salt
½ tsp. crushed red chile flakes
½ tsp. celery seeds
¼ tsp. ground allspice

First, prepare a bowl of ice water and place a colander in the sink.  Bring eight cups of water to a boil along with the Old Bay.  Add the shrimp, turn heat to low, and cook until the shrimp are pink, just about two minutes.  Drain the shrimp and cool in the ice water, then drain again.

In a 1-quart glass jar, layer the shrimp, onions, and bay leaves.  Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl with a pour spout or Pyrex measuring cup, and pour into the jar, adding more oil if necessary to submerge the shrimp.  Cover with the lid, and chill at least overnight before serving.  Will keep for up to a week as long as the shrimp are completely covered with oil.

 

STRAWBERRY-GINGER PUNCH
slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

The original recipe called for brandy, which I did not have on hand, so I subbed in vodka; I also think this recipe would work nicely with gin and/or St. Germain in a kind of a play on a Pimm’s Cup.

I recommend making the simple syrup ahead of time (up to a week) for easy assembly on the day you are planning to serve the punch.

strawberry ginger punch | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the simple syrup:

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
½ cup hulled & quartered strawberries
¼ cup peeled & sliced fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Reduce heat and simmer until the berries have softened.  Remove from heat and let cool before straining into a jar.

for the punch:

24-oz. club soda (keep cold)
2 ½ cups strawberries, hulled & quartered, divided
1 ½ cups vodka or other spirit of your choice
½ cup basil leaves, divided
¼ cup peeled & sliced fresh ginger
¼ cup fresh lime juice

At least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours before you plan to serve the punch, muddle 2 cups strawberries, ¼ cup basil, and ginger in a large jar or pitcher. Add vodka, lime juice, & simple syrup, and stir.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Strain the muddled mixture into a punch bowl or glass jar, pressing down on the fruit & herbs to release all the flavor.  Add the club soda and reserved strawberries and basil—I also threw in a few wheels of fresh lime so it would look even prettier.

Pour and enjoy!

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LEMON BLUEBERRY SCONES

What do you do when a complete stranger offers to donate wonderful, healthy breast milk for your son?  Apparently, what I do is bake scones.

I know this topic is going to freak some people out, but part of my commitment to this blog is to always tell the truth about whatever’s going on with me and in my life, and right now, breast milk is one of those things.  If you’re just here for scones, feel free to skip straight to the recipe.

You see—and most people don’t even know this is possible—I’m producing breast milk of my own.  It’s something we adoptive moms can sometimes do, with a little luck and a lot of work (Google “inducing lactation” if you’re curious about details), and I’ve been thrilled to have some success with it.  To be able to feed my son from my own body is an incredible feeling.

Still, like many moms, adoptive or not, I’m not making enough milk just yet, so we are supplementing with a little fancy organic formula and a LOT of donated breast milk.  Truly, it has been a dazzling wonder the way that women have offered up such a precious resource for our family.  In case you thought that such unconditional generosity didn’t exist anymore, I’m here to tell you that it does.

And since there’s no real repaying kindnesses like these, I just make scones instead, sneaking a few for myself because nursing makes a girl h-u-n-g-r-y!  Our little man will be a month old tomorrow, and it’s hard to imagine life before he came…not that I would want to.

LEMON BLUEBERRY SCONE RECIPE

(adapted from La Petite Brioche)

Blueberries are fat and delicious right now around these parts, and I hope you can get your hands on some luscious ones, too, and make this recipe, or just eat them out of hand.

Grating and the freezing the butter may seem weird, but it’s key—don’t skip that step.  If you don’t have a box grater, you can dice the butter instead.

ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour*
½ cup sugar
2 T lemon zest
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
½ cup unsalted butter, grated with a cheese grater and frozen for 10-15 minutes
¾ cup cold heavy cream or whole milk, plus a little extra for brushing the tops
turbinado/raw sugar for sprinkling the tops of the scones

oven: 400° F
pan: parchment-lined baking sheets

*I made my last batch with half white whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, and really liked the “tooth” the white whole-wheat flour added.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, & salt into a large mixing bowl.  Stir in the zest and the frozen butter, breaking up any butter clumps.  Pour in the milk/heavy cream and fold until just incorporated, then add the blueberries and mix gently.  The scone mixture should be sticky, so add more liquid if needed.

Turn the mixture out onto a well-floured surface and sprinkle a bit more flour on top of the mound of scone dough.  Using your hands, gently press until the dough is a somewhat uniform thickness of 1”.  Fold the scone mixture in on itself in thirds, like a letter, pressing back out again to a thickness of 1”.

Using a knife or bench scraper, cut the scones into rough triangle shapes and lay them out, several inches apart, on the baking sheets.  Brush their tops with milk or cream and then sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake the scones for approximately 20 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch.  Cool on racks before serving warm, with plenty of butter.

INTRODUCING SHIV

I’ve been away longer than I like to be, but I have a really, really good reason.

Please allow me to introduce Shiv Carroll Mehra, born Tuesday, July 17th at 7:06 p.m., weighing in at 7 lb 6 oz (so symmetrical!), and measuring 19 inches in length.  Full head of curly, dark hair, home with us since Thursday, and the absolute love of our lives.

We are having so much fun learning our little man and figuring out this new, awesome version of our family.  We have been blessed by so much in the last few days: the generosity and courage of his birth mother, the love and support of so many friends and loved ones, and the fact that Shiv is healthy and is ours.

This day marks the sixth anniversary of my father’s death.  Though I wish with all of my heart that he were here to be a grandfather to Shiv, I am grateful for the symmetry of these milestone events.  As Jill so rightly quoted, “The old has passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

SCRAMBLED EGGS WITH CURRY LEAVES & MUSTARD SEEDS

This is my new go-to breakfast: flavorful, protein packed, great with a tortilla or other bread vehicle of choice.  You can spice these up by adding some minced jalapeno or Serrano (or hotter pepper), or switch green onion in for the yellow, etc. etc.  Potential substitutions abound, just make sure you get the pan nice and hot to start, or the mustard seeds won’t “pop” and will taste bitter.  For this reason, use canola or peanut oil, clarified butter (ghee), or other fat with a high smoke point to start off, then slip in some regular butter later for flavor if you like!

Many of you will recognize the flavors here as being similar to the potato “stuffing” that comes inside a masala dosa.  Now that I think of it, when I’m feeling a bit more ambitious, these would go great with some Indian-spiced home fries…

ingredients:

2 eggs

2 T whole milk

¼ cup diced yellow onion

4-6 curry leaves, sliced into a chiffonade

3-4 cherry tomatoes, quartered

½ tsp. mustard seeds

canola oil

butter

salt

In a non-stick skillet, heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high until it begins to shimmer.  Toss in the mustard seeds and immediately turn the heat down to medium-low.  The seeds will splutter and pop—this is a good sign!  Give them just a few seconds and then add the onion and curry leaves.  Shake the skillet to avoid browning.

Beat the eggs and milk together.  Add salt to taste.  Once the onion is translucent, turn the heat down to low and add the egg-milk mixture.  Using a spatula, begin to gently stir the eggs in a figure eight pattern, gently turning and folding until fully cooked.  Toward the end of the cooking time, add the tomatoes so they soften a bit.

Enjoy!

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UPMA

I’ve been trying to rethink breakfast.


A few months ago, Jill and I had a conversation with our friend Ruthie, who was at the time working on changing her eating habits after being diagnosed with gestational diabetes.  In checking her blood sugar several times a day, Ruthie had noticed something really suprising—a bowl of cereal, even the “good” kind (full of whole grain, flax, wheat germ, nuts, no corn syrup, etc.) made her blood sugar spike like crazy.  And just a couple of hours later, her blood sugar would crash.

This confirmed what I had noticed about my own breakfast routine.  I, of course, crave sweet and carbohydrate-laden things: biscuits, pancakes, waffles, toast, muffins, cereal, oatmeal, etc.  And while I was managing not to eat things that were blatantly unhealthy at breakfast, I would still get hungry just a couple of hours after I had eaten.  That’s no good when you’ve still got two classes to teach before lunch!

So I started working on doing breakfast differently—more protein, less sugar.  Eggs are obviously a great fit, adding a dose of protein to that piece of toast I so crave, often with avocado and/or hot sauce on top.  Even a quick egg scramble isn’t always feasible on some rushed mornings, so I took to making big frittatas on Saturday or Sunday, packed with greens (chard or kale), some crumbled sausage, and any herbs or other vegetables we had on hand.  Cooled and cut into wedges, these reheat quite easily in the morning, and are portable enough to eat safely on your way out the door; you can also portion out and bake the same ingredients into muffin tins, if you like.

If I’m just plain craving one of the starchy things I love so much, I try to improve on the basic idea by adding protein where I can: plain yogurt to go alongside fruit or in a smoothie, a Morningstar Farms veggie patty alongside a muffin or piece of toast, chopped nuts in my steel-cut oats, peanut or almond butter on a homemade whole-wheat waffle or bran muffin.

To expand my “alternate breakfast” repertoire beyond eggs, I turned to other cultures for inspiration.  Most food cultures besides our own have a broader range of what’s considered “breakfast food,” beyond sweet carbohydrates.  In Turkey, for example, where Jill learned to love breakfast, a typical breakfast consists of cheese, spicy sausage, hard-boiled eggs, olives, jam/honey, clotted cream, and some kind of bread.  I also love Vietnamese noodle pho for breakfast (though I haven’t tried making my own yet), and the Mexican/Tex-Mex classic chilaquiles (breakfast tacos with black beans & vegetables are also delicious.)

I turned to my own culture for ideas as well.  Poha, the flattened rice dish I blogged about previously, is in regular rotation at my house.  By accident, I discovered that I like it better when I substitute shredded Brussels sprouts for the peas—nutrition bonus!  And today I’m blogging about another Indian breakfast dish, upma, essentially a savory cream of wheat.  I love it because it serves a great base for yogurt and/or any roasted vegetables or nuts you may have on hand.

This may seem like a weird thing to eat for breakfast, and maybe it will be, for you, at first.  But I’ve found that the best, most filling and lasting breakfasts are the “weird” ones.  A bowl of lentils.  Reheated pizza or stir fry. Polenta with a fried egg on top.  Southwestern-style quinoa patties with salsa.  Once you start thinking beyond the usual, it’s freeing, and good for you, too.  Thanks to our friend Ruthie, whose adorable three-and-a-half-week-old son Benjy is pictured below, Jill & I haven’t bought a box of cereal in weeks!

UPMA RECIPE

This recipe is very basic and yields quite a plain finished product, as it’s meant to be topped with various things (see below) to add texture and additional flavor.  If you like, you can easily incorporate other vegetables (potatoes, green beans, peas, etc.) along with the onion, ginger, etc.

If you have the chance, please let me know if the comments about your favorite alterna-breakfasts.  I would love to try your suggestions.

ingredients:

1 cup cream of wheat (will be labeled “sooji” at the Indian grocery store)
half an onion, medium dice
¼ cup ginger, minced
2 T curry leaves, roughly chopped
1 tsp. mustard seeds
pinch or two of asafetida
salt
water
vegetable oil

optional: heat in the form of a fresh Serrano or jalapeno pepper, minced (seed the pepper if you’re wary of heat or just use half a pepper) OR one dried red chili pepper of your choice

traditional toppings: fried cashews (though you can dry-toast them to keep this a little healthier), cilantro, dollop of plain yogurt

other possible toppings: fried or poached egg, roasted or sautéed vegetables (radishes, cauliflower, eggplant, mushrooms), wilted greens

In a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil on medium high.  Allow to heat up for a few minutes before tossing in a few mustard seeds as a “test.”  The seeds should immediately hiss, crack, and turn ashen; if they do not, wait a few more minutes before adding all of the seeds.  This is also the time to add the asafetida, if you plan to use it.

Turn the heat down to medium and then carefully add the onion, ginger, curry leaves, and fresh or dried pepper.  Cook the mixture until the vegetables just begin to soften—you do not want them to brown.

Add the sooji to the pan and spread it around the surface of the pan to roast, stirring regularly, for 5-7 minutes or until the sooji starts to smell nutty and turn light brown.  When it’s ready, add the water and a teaspoon of salt, stirring until the sooji has absorbed the liquid and your desired texture has been achieved; some people like their sooji more porridge consistency, others (like me) prefer it to be more firm.

Remove from heat, taste for salt, and serve.

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SAFFRON-CARDAMOM YOGURT WITH FRUIT & SEEDS

Today’s recipe is short, simple, and perfect for a weekend brunch/breakfast.  It’s inspired by shrikhand, a Gujrati dessert that holds a special place in the memory file of my childhood.  My version is not really a dessert, as it’s barely sweetened, but more like a variation on a fruit salad.  We’ve served it a few times to friends, and they’ve raved; the best part is that you can prepare the components ahead of time, then let everyone assemble their own bowl when it’s time to eat.

I make my own yogurt to use here, but you don’t have to.  If you are interested in learning how to make your own yogurt, I highly encourage you to give it a whirl.  You do NOT need a “yogurt maker,” just milk, a yogurt “starter,” and basic kitchen equipment.  After a few hit-or-miss tries, you will easily get the hang of the timing/temperature business and be thrilled to discover that your homemade yogurt is more delicious and a whole heck of a lot cheaper than the store-bought variety.

There are tons of recipes and methods out there, some way more complicated than they need to be if you ask me—then again, I learned using the “finger test” (as opposed to a thermometer) and the descendant of a yogurt culture my mom smuggled from India some twenty years ago.  This post from The Kitchn breaks down the yogurt-making process quite simply, and pretty well parallels what I do, just with more precision.  No matter what method you try, be sure to use at least 2% milk to achieve a thick texture.

I’ve been making homemade yogurt consistently the last few years—I got Jill hooked (she loves hers in a big bowl with two smushed up bananas), and eat some myself almost every day.  I also love using yogurt in baked goods and smoothies, and we use thick, strained yogurt in place of sour cream and don’t even miss the latter.

But that’s enough yogurt proselytizing for one night. I hope everyone is doing well as we come upon mid-March (when the heck did that happen?).  Sunday I leave for Washington, D.C. with 60 eighth graders and five fellow chaperones; please pray for us.  I’ve got a special guest post lined up while I’m away!

SAFFRON-CARDAMOM YOGURT

Note: “hanging” or draining the whey from the yogurt will considerably reduce its volume, so take into consideration when planning how much to serve.  I find that planning on ½ cup of yogurt (pre-drained) per person is about right.

ingredients:

2 cups whole-milk or 2% yogurt
2 T honey—feel free to bump up if you’d like your yogurt sweeter
½ to 1 tsp. ground cardamom—I like I lot, but then again, I’m brown
pinch saffron threads

assorted fruit, seeds, and/or nuts of your choice: apple, strawberry, blueberry, orange segments, banana, mango, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sliced almonds,  etc.

The day before you plan to serve the yogurt, line a colander with a cheesecloth and measure the yogurt into it.  Gently gather the cheesecloth around the yogurt to form a ball, tying or rubber-banding the excess cloth at the top.  If you can, hang the cheesecloth bundle from your kitchen sink faucet, letting the whey from the yogurt drain out and through the colander—you can also just let the bundle sit in the colander, lifting and applying pressure occasionally.

(I like to place a bowl underneath the colander, saving the whey for all kinds of uses!)

Allow the yogurt to drain for at least one hour, longer if you want a thicker product, as I do when making a sour cream substitute.  Turn the thickened yogurt into a plastic storage container.

In a microwave-safe bowl or small saucepan, heat the honey until it is quite runny and warm.  Sprinkle the saffron threads onto the honey, stirring well.  Let the honey mixture cool, then fold into the yogurt.  Mix in the cardamom as well, then refrigerate the yogurt overnight.

The next day, you’ll see the saffron threads “bleeding” their color and flavor into the container of yogurt.  Stir thoroughly before serving with the fruit, seeds, and/or nuts of your choice.

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POHA

One of the coolest things about teaching is the way that the lessons I teach are often just as applicable to me as they are to my students. And in listening to and discussing with my kids, I’m made to think about and consider things more deeply, to decide what I think, and to figure out how to substantiate my claims—all of the very things I’m trying to teach them to do. Related side note: you know how dogs can smell fear? Teenagers can smell hypocrisy.

The unit we are wrapping up has grown out of a study of the graphic novel American Born Chinese, a visually beautiful but ambiguously messaged story about three intersecting characters who each examine issues of belonging, stereotypes, assimilation, and acceptance. Many of my students quickly caught on to some of the mixed messages in the book, and so I took it as an opportunity for us to examine the thoughts of other writers on the topic of identity: Amy Tan, Eric Liu, Claude Steele, Z.Z. Packer, and Jhumpa Lahiri.

I’ve spent lots of time thinking and writing about what it was like to grow up as the first-generation daughter of Indian immigrants in Memphis, Tennessee, but it is another thing entirely to think about one’s identity in the context of a classroom full of students, many of whom were considering the topic for the first time.

How much “Indian” am I, and by virtue of what? I feel fully American, and am legally American, but what does that mean? Does our notion of what it means to BE American still need updating? What comes with having a hyphenated identity?

This quote from Jhumpa Lahiri, short-story writing goddess and fellow Indian-American, resonated with me: “As a child I sought perfection and so denied myself the claim to any identity. As an adult I accept that a bicultural upbringing is a rich but imperfect thing.”

In as much as our identities are created, fluid, and malleable, I am still figuring out what it means to be me, what I want it to mean, what that meaning looks like. In my further-hyphenated family (Jill is Caucasian American, mostly Irish if you go far back enough), food plays a big part in anchoring the “Indian” part of my identity into our life.

POHA

You’ll need to visit the Indian grocery store for this one: fresh curry leaves (which really give this dish its distinctive flavor) and poha (flattened, de-husked, and dried rice) are hard to find elsewhere. Luckily, both will keep very well in your fridge—the leaves, wrapped in a paper towel and sealed in a Ziploc bag, and the poha in an airtight container or well-sealed in its original packaging.

This dish is typically served for breakfast, but it works just as well for lunch or dinner. Jill has become a big fan (thanks to my mom, who got us hooked on visits to our house before I started making it myself!), and I really love that.

ingredients:

3 cups thick poha
2 cups peeled, chopped, raw, firm-fleshed potatoes (red or Yukon Gold work well)
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. turmeric
1 T sugar
1 T chopped, fresh curry leaves
½ cup finely-chopped yellow onion
¼ cup finely chopped ginger (less if you prefer)
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, more if you are feeling brave
half a bag of frozen peas
canola oil

optional: some minced Serrano or other hot green pepper

Make the vagar (base): heat a generous few tablespoons of canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Once the heat is shimmery, add the cumin and mustard seeds; they should pop and crackle. Sprinkle the turmeric on top of them.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion and ginger, plus fresh chili if you’re using it, sautéing until they just soften. Add the sugar, ground spices, and salt, then toss in the potatoes and curry leaves.

Cover the pot with a lid and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes have begun to soften and brown. Toss in the frozen peas and cover again.

In the meantime, gently rinse the poha in a colander—don’t soak, or the poha will dissolve. Once the potatoes and peas have cooked to your liking, toss in the wet poha and stir thoroughly. Turn off the heat, but re-cover the pot and leave on the stove for an additional 5-10 minutes before checking for salt and serving.

Possible serving accompaniments: squeeze of lemon, Sriracha or other hot sauce, tamarind or cilantro chutney, or ketchup, a childhood favorite which I’m not ashamed to say I still use from time to time.

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