Monday, June 28, 2010

Practically perfect pasta salad

Planning my daughter's tea party, I quickly realized that all the food was geared towards kids. Not that that's a bad thing.

But I wanted something for those in the double-digits as well. So I stumbled across a pasta salad recipe that remarkably (1) didn't have mayonnaise in it and (2) I had almost everything on hand. A few tweaks later, and I had a pasta salad that most moms were asking for the recipe for!

Pasta Salad

1 pound bow-tie pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch slices, then quartered
1 jar diced sun-dried tomatoes, drained
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon stone ground mustard
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh cracked pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Cook pasta according to directions, tossing in the zucchini when you have two minutes left. Drain well. Toss with olive oil.

For the dressing, add vinegar to blender, turn on, and add everything but the olive oil. Blend until mixed. Leaving the blender running, add the olive oil in a slow thin stream.

Toss together the pasta, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, parsley and dressing. Serve room temperature. Parmesan optional.

This is my contribution for Meatless Monday. Check out other entries at the Green Phone Booth.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fancy Nancy party prep: Gearing up for the big day

Fancy Nancy tea party. It's all we have talked about in our home for weeks. What to make. What to do. How to decorate. And today, the big day arrives.

And we're ready, or close to it. Our dining room will be fabulously decorated by my soon-to-be 5 year old, who was given free rein at Goodwill to do her best. So she shopped. And shopped. And shopped last Saturday.

She bought tea cups. And china plates. And pink cloth napkins. And a flowery tablecloth. And a tea pot. And cobalt-blue votive candle holders. And cordial glasses for her parfaits. And a stem of silk yellow flowers, shooting me a look of "This is non-negotiable."

I chuckle at her decisions and wonder to myself how in the world is this going to look. But I realize in the end, it's her party. And she has a definite idea of where it's going!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Paying for parties: Now I get it

Shelling out two, three hundred dollars or more to celebrate your child's birthday was something I didn't get.

Until I had kids.

Somehow, the existence of the plural - that second child - and the realities of how quickly they could rip up your home made that party place concept all make sense. We don't want people in our homes, because we're terrified for people to see them. And, frankly, parties take work. The planning, the shopping, the cooking...and frankly, as a society, we're a want-it-now people, and we want to skip to the good stuff.

But here's the deal. The process can be just as fun as the main event. Take Christmas. I for one, love the preparations, the waiting, the expectations. And frankly, the unwrapping of gifts is only a few minutes of the entire season. I feel the same this year for my daughter.

For weeks we've talked about the Fancy Nancy tea party extraordinairre. And while page after page of Web sites share over-the-top ways to swag up your daughters, from swag bags overflowing with gifts and makeovers to fanciful, flowing tulle everywhere, we're taking a lower-key tone to the affair. But to her, it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, she's having a tea party with her friends. And the company is what counts.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fancy Nancy tea party: Coming soon!

Another fabulous contribution from the Green Eyed Monster, who is counting down the days until 5...

I want a Fancy Nancy tea party birthday. Mommy and I are going shopping today. I will have friends over and lots of people. We will cook parfaits. We will dance. I think that's all in my story.

Parental clarification:

The cool thing about a "Fancy Nancy" themed tea party is that the books are about a precoscious little girl who plays dress-up and uses big words and her imagination. So it's a fun opportunity to hit the resale shops for old tea cups, linens and decorative items and dress-ups! We'll write more about how we did it after next weekend's soiree.

Me in another world

Summertime is one of those times when I admit being a bit green. With envy.

Stories of summer vacations and activities from my friends and co-workers seem to highlight the fact that we're that 10%-plus statistic of the less than gainfully employed. And while it's never intentional on their part, I admit it's made me wonder on more than one occasion: What if?

But maybe the grass isn't greener on the other side. In today's Green Phone Booth, I wonder what would have happened if that day my husband lost his job didn't occur. Not sure if we would have liked the result...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Driving me nuts: My daily routine

Here is my confession: For someone who purports to live a green life, my days are ruled by my car.

It's a reality of mine since a lifetime ago when I was a green reporter. I live in a car.

And while it's grown up (and out) from my old Honda Accord to an efficient Toyota Echo (so small you couldn't fit an infant carseat in backwards!) to a mom-like Sienna minivan, one thing has stayed the same: my car rules my life.

It's my storage, I'm ashamed to admit. My scrap pile for receipts. My recycle bin of old Diet Coke cans. And a place I spend too many hours in my day.

Four years ago, we made a family decision to change that. We sold our home and moved 30 miles away to a place closer to both of our jobs. Now, instead of 75 minute commutes each day, I sigh about managing the kids all the way to the other side of town for the occasional errand.

But I'm still ruled by the car.

My commute has shortened, but the daily drive isn't the only trek I make. The realities of my job, being off-site from the other main locations, means that my productivity is eaten by drives to meetings, sometimes as many as four or five a day. Now while I don't mind the quiet, the lack of calls, the interruptions, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness of discussions on NPR, the driving gets a bit old.

And then, I've just made matters worse in recent weeks. Two decisions meant I'm logging more miles than ever.

First, we opted to send our daughter to private school for all-day kindergarten this fall. It means daily driving and picking her up from school. Not that I mind - we had preferred to send her there if we could find the means, and the scholarship she received means the cost will be lunch and transportation over what we were paying for her daycare.

Second, we made the tough decision to leave a daycare we'd used since my daughter was 2. A number of factors went into the call, but we've been testing a provider this summer that my son took to right away. So while we're adding on yet again a few more minutes to our drive, he feels loved. And is happy. And that's what matters.

This is part of the Green Moms Carnival on daily routines. Read what other Green Phone Boother's days are like later today.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Papa's present

A kid-friendly Father's Day idea!

A few weeks ago, I went to an open house for work, and as usual giveaways are thrust in your hands as you churn through the building. I suppose I could have said no, but being tired (and usually on the hunt for something similar for other activities), I picked up the items proffered.

And at the day, I looked at my loot. In there was a glass candy jar. Not exactly practical in my desperately-needing-a-diet world.

But Father's Day was coming up rather quickly. And the kids wanted to do something for their Papa, who was visiting last weekend.

Sneak into the scrapbook supplies (mom assisting this time, of course), and we had our solution. My daughter happily stamped blue flowers on a small band of paper. We took a scrap of yellow paper and mounted it on a random piece of chipboard that I've yet to use for years. Stamped the phrase "Papa's Treats" on it. My daughter wanted to add the dot stamps - which happily covered over the fact the cheap stamps had borders that were appearing randomly on the paper. Adhered on with glue dots, filled with peppermints and 10 minutes later, done! A fast project, proud gift-giver and, most of all, appreciative grandpa.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Garlic scapes: Great for dinner!

Garlic scape - the long curly strands that grow from the center of a garlic plant - are a simple addition to your dinners and so easy to use. Simply slice thinly (they tend the be hard) and use as a substitute for garlic.

Right now, farmers are practically giving garlic scape away, too, since removing the scapes helps the plant refocus its energy on growing the bulbs for fall. And, since they can last months in your fridge (believe me, I've done it), they're an economical option for flavoring.

A few weeks ago, a favorite vendor gave me some of his scape, on the condition I tell him the difference between the "regular" and the elephant garlic varieties. Both have good, verys similar flavor, however, the bulblets at the top of the garlic scape have little florets inside (looks very similar in texture to broccoli...I'll post a photo later).

I've used the scape as flavoring in stir-fries and low-mein, and last night made a wonderful mushroom sautee' using them. In fact, my toddler willingly ate mushrooms for the first time - and asked for seconds!
Here's how:
Sauteed scapes and mushrooms

8 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 T. olive oil
2 garlic scapes, thinly sliced

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Sautee garlic scapes until the flavor comes out into the oil, then add mushrooms. Cook until brown.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cucumbers are not guns...and other realities of 2-year-old boys

Boys are different. I never really truly appreciated how much so until I had one.

My daughter, oh, she was easy when she was little. No tantrums, mild temperment, generally behaved in public. My son, he's an independent spirit. Fiercely so. He drenches himself in the baptimsal font each Sunday, and he's dripping wet despite my best attempts by the time the readings are done. He has one speed: Fast. And he knows what he wants. So much so that people recognize me by my son's wail.

So I should only have guessed that those same everyday activities I do with my daughter would take on its own bent with my son. Farmers market? It's only been in the last week that he hasn't melted down the minute we stepped outside. Nevermind that I'm constantly putting things back like the "balls" - melons or gourds - he finds or alleviated bruised egos on the days there aren't apples for sale.

And yes, this week, I uttered words I never imagined:

"Honey, cucumbers are not guns."

And he agreed, instead munching on it like an ear of corn.

Or when we garden, which should really mean creating mud puddles and soaking mommy with the hose while he cackles hysterically. Take last Thursday, when we grabbed some peas from the garden. He eagerly ripped the first few off the vines, then went to play with his toys. A few minutes later, I noticed he was grabbing the peas out of my bowl...and throwing them on his teeter totter. Repeatedly. Good thing those things can wash!

What are some of the quirkier things you've had to endure with your kids?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Our Garden

A guest post from our Green Eyed Monster, "almost 5," who's begging me to write something on the computer...

Our garden is wonderful. It's special forever because I like it.

I grow tomatoes. I like cherry tomatoes because they're good. I don't like big tomatoes. They make me angry because they're yucky. I like to grow the little tomatoes.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Radishes Redoux

I'm the first to admit that I'm always on the hunt for fresh ways to use up what's in my garden. So when I saw this summer challenge on, I was all for it.

This week's discussion is what to do with radishes. I admit radishes were at first a challenge with my kids - and me, as well. I all too well remember the sharp taste in my mouth when eating them in a summertime salad. I avoided them for years.

Then one summer I was talked into trying radishes again by a vendor at our local farm stand. His suggestion? Slice and saute' them in a frying pan, in a small amount of butter, then salt and pepper. Amazingly simple. And for a few bucks, I figured I'd try it.

We never looked back.

This year, we actually took the plunge and started growing our own radishes, and they're as easy to grow as they are to prepare. Toss a few seeds on to the dirt, and a little water and some patience, protect them from overeager toddlers' fingers, and you're set.

This is my contribution for Grow. Eat. Save's feature on radishes at Hungry for more? You can find future topics here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Yikes! I have a garden!

My garden's overflowing - and surprisingly, not with weeds!

I have garlic that's as tall as my toddler. Snow peas sprawling over my repurposed tomato cage. Onions popping up all over. Spinach that I forgot that I planted. Lettuce that's threatening to bolt already.

In other words, I need to get cooking.

If you have any fabulous ideas - particularly simple ones - for me to use up my bounty this week, I'd love to see them!