Real Food. Real Family. Real Midwest.

5 Rules. 5 People. 5 Weeks… and counting.

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Last Minute Thanksgiving Ideas.

Need an idea TODAY for something to contribute to the Thanksgiving Feast TOMORROW? Here are some! [Caveat: I wrote the following for a client’s website. While I have not (yet) actually made these, I did a lot of research to find these recipes — ones that I thought met my very (sorta) strict criteria: tasty-sounding, no highly-processed ingredients, and not too difficult to pull off! I plan to try all of them this Winter. I will let you know how they go. If you decide to give them a shot for the Holidays, let us know what you think!]

Appetizer: Pecan Cheese Wafers

pecan cheese waferscrisp, slightly spicy crackers rich with the flavors of cheddar and pecans

from Saveur




Salad: Roasted Beets and Carrot Salad

roasted beet carrot saladlighten roasted veggies with endive leaves and a tarragon vinaigrette

from Martha Stewart




Side Dish: Cranberry Fruit ConserveCranberry Fruit Conserve

The Barefoot Contessa’s classed up version of cranberry sauce

from The Food Network


Bread: Potato Dough Rolls

simple make-ahead rolls, crispy on top and light and fluffy insidepotato rolls



Dessert: Pumpkin Cake Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

pumpkin barsdeliciously moist and pumpkin-y!




And what am I making for Thanksgiving? Well, lucky me, my mom actually does the bulk of the cooking for this holiday. I’m always responsible for the gravy (I’ll update on that, with photos). My Grandma Howe started teaching me how to make it when I was barely tall enough to see into the pot. It’s been more than ten Thanksgivings now that I’ve had to make it on my own. I miss her company — but I like to think I still make her proud with her recipe for delicious homemade Turkey gravy!

I usually contribute a green vegetable, as well. This year I’m trying a new salad. I took this photo of a page from a year-old copy of Better Homes & Gardens I was reading the other day in my doctor’s office! They all look delicious, but I’m going with the Avocado and Roasted Carrot Salad. Will let you know how it goes over!






Taco Night!

Everybody does Taco Night at their house, right? No big deal. Super popular with the kids. Relatively easy. Just for “fun” I’ll give you the rundown on our most recent taco night and describe how I make it as “real” food as possible. It’s easy (and cheap and healthy) to do it without resorting to any highly-processed or sugar-laden spice packets, seasoning mixes or pre-shredded ingredients. Here are the standard “fixings” at our house (I do mix it up or add different stuff — like spinach, cilantro, chopped green onions, etc. — depending on what’s in the fridge):

Meat. Sometimes ground turkey, sometimes ground beef (grassfed, etc.).

seasoned ground beef

seasoned ground beef

Browned, then seasoned with our own version of the McCormick “Taco Seasoning” packet.

seasoning mixture

seasoning mixture

  •  3 1/2 t chili powder
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 1/2 t oregano
  • 2 t paprika
  • sprinkle of garlic powder
  • 2 T of salsa (organic, no sugar added)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a little water to moisten

Also (organic, local when possible):  shredded cheddar, chopped tomatoes, black olives, corn (frozen, defrosted), avocado, chopped romaine lettuce, black beans (from a can), salsa, Greek yogurt (I started using this years ago, instead of sour cream, and much prefer it). And Tabasco — I doubt that it’s organic and I KNOW it isn’t local, but I just love it and have never found anything that tastes the same.

shredding the cheese (a good task for kids!)

shredding the cheese (a good task for kids!)






"olive fingers!" -- the youngest son's favorite part of taco night

“olive fingers!” — the youngest son’s favorite part of taco night


oldest's creation

oldest’s creation

my salad

my salad


I try very hard to toss a humorous nugget or two into all of my blog posts (into everything I write, actually). (“You do?? Since when??”. Haha. Very funny.)

So … taco night was rolling along and I was plotting in my little brain the post’s organization, how much to describe, which photos I wanted, blah blah blah…. Yet a constant nagging thought in the back of my head was: “There is not a single damn funny thing to say about Taco Night! Darnit!”

Then this happened. Ole!

(OF COURSE, it’s the middle son –who else would it be?!)


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A few days in the life…

… of us.

I am really trying to be better about making real dinners for the boys. It’s super important to me that we have regular time together that does NOT involve homework, technology, driving around in the car, or sitting in bleachers. It’s true that our “new” life  is settling into a routine…. But just like every other parent out there, managing the lives of three boys (plus me) is hectic more days than it’s not. And, as everyone knows, family dinner time is often the first casualty of a hectic day.

You gotta just keep on keepin’ on, right?

Here’s a little summation of a recent week where I managed to cook a meal that we all sat down together to enjoy — for three nights in a row! And, yes, thank you very much, I DO count heating up leftovers (of homemade food) and microwaving a bag of frozen vegetable (organic) as “cooking”.

The exciting choices I made? (I know you are dying to know — recipes at bottom of post):

Night 1: homemade mac & cheese

mac & cheese

mac & cheese

with organic broccoli and organic unsweetened applesauce (w/ cinnamon)

with organic broccoli and organic unsweetened applesauce (w/ cinnamon)


Night 2: Grandma Fran’s lasagna and Italian bread

lasagna (bread pan size)

lasagna (bread pan size)


Italian Bread (made in the bread machine)

Italian Bread (made in the bread machine)


with organic frozen green beans (and lots of butter and parm)

with organic frozen green beans (and lots of butter and parm)







Night 3: leftovers!



Or — as middle son responded when I said “It’s a Smorgabord!” — “You mean, ‘mustgo’?” (That’s what the school cafeteria calls the lunch selections right before a long school break.) So, ummm, yeah “Mustgo”. I argued that “smorgasbord”, being European, automatically makes leftovers sound more appetizing than “mustgo”.  No one was convinced.

Anyway. Yay, me! I cooked. We all sat down together to eat. Happy, healthy family time. La la la!

Not so fast…. Lest I falsely lead you to believe that it’s all a big bowl of locally grown, organic cherries over at the Real Food for 5 abode, here’s a peek behind the curtain.

Night 1: All chatted relatively pleasantly; middle son not a big fan of mac and cheese, so he had to make it through the night on a stomach full of applesauce and broccoli.

Night 2: Lasagna was a huge hit with oldest and youngest boys; middle guy, not so much. Which compelled oldest to berate middle son with charming conversational nuggets such as “what the heck is wrong with you?”, “who doesn’t like lasagna?  and “are you an idiot or something?” Which led me to give a lecture on no-name-calling and then have to tolerate a lot of eye-rolling and some “humphing” back at me. But we all calmed down, managed some civilized conversation until we’d finished eating, and (to the best of my knowledge) only a very little bit of brotherly under-the-table punching occurred.

Night 3: Oldest in foul mood (teenager). Youngest “not hungry”. Middle only wants to eat bread. Each boy on each other’s case with a barrage of  “Chew with your mouth closed!”, “You are so gross!”, “Stop telling dumb jokes – you are NOT funny!”, “Stop looking at me!”,  “Ow! Mom, he just kicked me!”, “No I didn’t, you big tattle tale!”

Until… “Stop it! All of you! Stop talking! Just go away! I don’t want to hear another word from any of you!” (that would be me… not my finest parenting moment…)

They fled the table — gladly, I am sure. And were happily laughing and playing Legos together in about 2 minutes (ugh, they are so annoying). And I sat there by myself, tastelessly shoveling in my dinner, fighting back tears and wallowing in self-pity. “Why, WHY, is everything so hard?” Heavy sigh.

Here’s how low I was — the only comforting thought I could muster was, “Well… boy, will they’ll miss me when I’m gone. They are going to feel so bad about how hard I worked to try to make nice dinner times — and they ruined them every single time!”

Good lord. I’d hit the rock-bottom sentiment of “they’ll regret this when I’m gone”? I mean, seriously, how more pathetic can you get?

Then out of the blue, a long-forgotten little episode from my young(ish)-motherhood days in DC popped into my head.

I had gathered up all three boys for a pre-playground trek to the Starbucks on Pennsylvania Avenue — steamy DC summer day, pushing the two youngest in the double-stroller with the oldest “riding” his scooter along (which meant mostly I was dragging it along next to me as I pushed the stroller because his legs were “tired”). This was a pretty frequent outing for us and I was quite adept at navigating a double-stroller into a crowded urban Starbucks. It was a big help that the homeless guy out front would watch the scooter for a buck. As the boys and I stood in line to order, the well-dressed lobbyist (I knew he was a lobbyist because Congressmen and government workers can’t afford a bespoke suit like this guy was sporting) eyed me up and down (I’m sure I was quite a frazzled sight) laughed and said, “I was one of three boys. We gave my poor mother hell for years. I mean, HELL. Let me buy your coffee. You are a saint.” I don’t recall if I accepted. I hope I did. And I hope I managed a half-sentient polite reply of appreciation…

So — where-ever you are, nice lobbyist guy — 7 years later, sitting at the table in my far-from-DC suburban kitchen, you made me laugh. I wiped the tears from my face and blew my nose and thought, “Well, at least someday maybe they’ll make some poor mother’s day and buy her a coffee.”



Oh, yes. Recipes:

Whole Wheat Italian Bread read about here.

Whole Wheat Lasagna (with Fran’s “gravy” and cheese filling recipes) here.

Whole wheat mac & cheese here. Here’s my current fave raw milk cheddar (from Meijer) raw milk cheddar



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Real Christmas. Redux.

Cin cin!

Cin cin!

I started in on this year’s Christmas post by rereading last year’s Real Christmas Traditions. For the first time since January 2014.

Woah. A lot of changes since then. Yet, happily, so many things the same. Specifically: my three awesome boys, our fun times together and our family traditions.

Understandably, holiday traditions may take a bit of a hit when a family goes through divorce. It was very important to Bill and me — this being our first holiday season in our “new normal”, as they say — that the boys’ Christmas be as consistent with the past as possible. It helps a lot that we live near family and the kids have enjoyed the same holiday traditions with them for years — things like decorating sugar cookies with the cousins at Grammy and Papa’s house.

Norwegian Krumkakes

Norwegian Krumkakes


cookie decorating stuff


the kids’ masterpieces

So the importance of holiday traditions, particularly the food ones, was on my mind all season. Things like the cookie making, yes, but also the Prosecco, fruit cake  and hors-d’oeuvres on Christmas Eve after church; the Christmas Day Italian feast using family recipes that have been around for generations; and the day after Christmas brunch at Grammy and Papa’s with my sister’s family.

I felt a deep obligation to the boys — as well as to remember the rest of the family we love, but wouldn’t be seeing this year –to keep up my usual contribution to the holiday traditions: the Christmas Day Italian Feast.

As an aside: my role in the two other annual eating “events”?

  • The Christmas Eve post-church party isn’t cooking, per se. I just have to remember to order our favorite fruit cake from Mary of Puddin’ Hill; buy a couple of bottles of Prosecco; then pop into Fresh Market on Christmas Eve and load up on great cheeses, proscuitto, nuts, and fruit to have after Christmas Eve church with Grammy & Papa. While we all eat and drink, the boys write a letter to Santa and make a plate of cookies for him (and peel carrots for the reindeer, and put out some cheese for Santa Mouse — it’s quite a production).
  • My cooking contribution to the day-after-Christmas-brunch at my parents’: drink a couple of glasses of champagne then crack some eggs into one of the brunch casseroles. Every year, I perform these grueling tasks in stellar form.

The Italian Feast, though. That’s on me. And it takes some Planning with a capital P and some serious hours in the kitchen (I roped the boys in to help some this year — increasing their help each year is definitely the long-term plan).  I love every minute of it, though, because I know how thrilled the boys will be to see all their favorites at the table on Christmas Day.

Here was the menu plan for Christmas Day:

1) biscotti to have with our tea while the boys open their presents in the wee hours of the morning (this year: 5:45 AM!! —  that’s about as “wee” as it gets)

2) Fran’s Christmas Eve shrimp at brunch-ish time, after all the presents are opened and the various technological gifts have been figured out

3) Italian Feast late lunch/dinner

  • homemade Italian bread
  • spaghetti with “gravy” and meatballs
  • eggplant parmesan
  • lasagna
  • salad
  • lots of freshly grated Parmigianno Regionno (Parenting tip: make random teenagers stand in the kitchen and grate the parmesan — it takes a good 15-20 minutes with the box grater. It’s an excellent way to pull him into a conversation with  grown-ups without the pressure of “Now. It is time for you to talk to the grownups. Go!”)
  • Pinot Grigios and Chiantis supplied by Papa; dessert cookies from Grammy



Unfortunately, we’ve never had a copy of Fran’s biscotti recipe, but years ago I made these (slightly modified from Giada De Laurentiis Everyday Italian) and Bill said they were the closest to his mom’s that he’d ever had — so we stuck with them. I make either almond ones or dark chocolate chip ones. Or, as for this year, both!

  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 C fine yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 2 t almond extract  and 3/4 C chopped unsalted almonds
  • OR 2 t vanilla extract and 3/4 C dark chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli brand)
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F
  • Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper
  • Stir flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl
  • With an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in another large bowl until pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes
  • Add the almond or vanilla extract
  • Add the flour mixture to the eggs and sugar and stir just until blended (the dough will be soft and sticky)
  • Stir in chopped almonds or chocolate chips and let stand for 5 minutes
  • Using a rubber spatula transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet forming two mounds spaced evenly apart
  • Moisten your hands with water and shape the dough into two 11 by 4-inch logs
  • Bake until lightly brown, about 35 minutes
  • Cool the logs for 5 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick diagonal slices
  • Arrange the biscotti cut side down on the same baking sheet and bake until the pale and golden, about 25 minutes
  • Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes; then use a metal spatula to transfer to a rack to cool completely

dark chocolate chip biscotti loaves before slicing and 2nd baking

almond biscotti

almond biscotti; pre-2nd baking

Christmas biscotti!

Christmas biscotti!







Christmas Eve Shrimp

The recipe is the same as I used last year. Still “real food-ing” it up, using whole wheat flour. And, look, teenager helping!

shrimp dredged in flour mixture about to go in the egg wash

shrimp dredged in flour mixture about to go in the egg wash


Helpful boy! Frying the shrimp! (yes, some of us were still in pajamas)

Helpful boy! Frying the shrimp! (yes, some of us were still in pajamas)








Italian Feast

Advance Prep

The Friday evening before Christmas I did the following (you could do this weeks ahead because these dishes all keep really well in the freezer):

  • put on favorite apron
  • put on holiday music and open beer (see below)
  • make two pots of gravy
  • make meatballs
  • make eggplant parmesan
  • make lasagna
  • wrap everything up to go to freezer (to defrost the day before the big dinner)
my lucky apron - bought in Florence, Italy 15 years ago

my lucky apron – bought in Florence, Italy 15 years ago

"gravy" in progress; 10 year old helping!

“gravy” in progress; 10 year old helping!

fried eggplant waiting for assembly into eggplant parmesan

fried eggplant waiting for assembly into eggplant parmesan

meatballs right from the oven

meatballs right from the oven







For how I make “gravy” and eggplant parmesan look at last year. Here’s how I do meatballs and lasagna:

Meatballs (using the recipe my father-in-law wrote down for me YEARS ago)

  • 2 slices bread, thoroughly soaked in milk (I use my homemade wheat bread)
  • 1 # ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T finely chopped onion
  • 1 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 T grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. Mush by hand all ingredients above (make sure to pour in the extra milk from the bread soaking) it should have a pate-like texture. Round by hand to about golf ball size and space evenly on baking sheet. Cook for 25 minutes. Either freeze then (on the tray, then place in a freezer bag); or put them right into a pot of tomato sauce to eat when ready.

meatball mixture

meatball mixture


meatball recipe








For the cheese filling, I use Fran’s same recipe as in last year‘s manicotti.

  • 1 lb whole milk ricotta
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 c finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 2-3 T parmesan cheese
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano to taste
the lasagna layering in progress

the lasagna layering in progress

I used whole wheat lasagna noodles. Cooked them, then layered gravy, noodles, cheese filling, gravy, noodles, cheese filling until the pan was almost full. Then wrapped it in foil and froze. Mozzarella topping was put on at the end of baking it on Christmas Day.




Christmas Day Prep

  • put on “fancy” apron (see top photo)
  • 4 hours before eating: started Italian Bread in the bread machine; finished in oven a couple of hours later  (recipe here)
  • an hour before eating: warm up pre-made dishes (that were defrosted the day before) in a 350 degree; while they heat up:
  • put pot of gravy on the stove to simmer
  • make salad (this year: romaine and arugula, chopped hard boiled egg, toasted pine nuts, carrots, fresh parsley, lots of grated parmesan; seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a little dried basil; dressed with olive oil & white wine vinegar)
  • remove foil from baked dishes; top with mozzarella and parmesan; return to oven to brown on top while pasta cooks
  • boil water and cook a pound of pasta
6 year old's 2nd serving of spaghetti and meatballs

6 year old’s 2nd serving of spaghetti and meatballs

Ask parents and children to set the table, slice the bread, put out the parmesan, pour the wine, etc. Transfer all food to the table. Mangia!

The “Fail”

Of course there had to be something. Whether to blame it on being a divorced mom of three boys with all the new logistical challenges that entails — OR just to write it off to “I have three boys! It’s Christmas time! Give me a break!” — is debatable. But, as I put the last dish on the food-laden table — surrounded by my parents and the three boys, giant dog underfoot as usual — my middle son looked up at me and said “But, Mama? Where is the squid? Where?” (In a spot on Cindy Lou Who voice — you know? when she wakes up and finds the Grinch about to shove their Christmas tree up the chimney? — “Santy Clause? Why are you taking our Christmas tree? Why?”)

The squid!  I forgot the damn squid. Well, maybe not “forgot”, so much as chose not to remember it … it’s so good, but pretty labor intensive. A synopsis of the process: you buy some squid bodies and tentacles (finding those can be a challenge in itself), make a delicious stuffing using Fran’s famous “galamad” recipe, get the stuffing into the little squid bodies (another challenge as you can imagine, if you’ve ever held a raw squid body in your hand — and who hasn’t?!) Then you delicately cook the stuffed squid bodies and the tentacles in a light tomato sauce and serve it over angel hair pasta. It is DELICIOUS. And it is one of the 10 year olds most favorite things to eat in the whole world. And I let him down. On Christmas Day! Oh, the guilt.

Fortunately, he is the middle child. They are all about rolling with the punches. “That’s okay, Mama! You can make it next year.” Which, of course, only made me feel worse.

So, in a very NOT Real Food approach to assuage my guilt, as the end of Christmas Break neared, I said “Boys, tonight we are going to have a Squid Fest to make up for Mom forgetting to make the squid this year.” We hopped in the car and headed over to Biaggi’s and ordered 3 plates of fried calamari. And root beers. And two glasses of wine (another little trick I’ve found for quick guilt assuagement). They were pretty happy :

The 10 year old. With squid.

10 year old with calamari

IMG_4270 - Version 2

The 6 year old. With calamari (that’s Italian for squid, in case you didn’t know.)

Merry Christmas! Or “Merry Squidmas!” as the 10 year old put it. 🙂

A Final “Cultural” Note

I see that I was prattling on last year about the South Park Christmas special and Tim Minchin’s Christmas hymn, “White Wine in the Sun”. So I’ll fill you in on this year’s aural and visual background to the Christmas Feast prep-cooking-marathon:

The boys were watching  Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!  One of their favorite Christmas TV specials. Chock-a-block full of hilarious (and beautiful and touching) songs. Here’s one: a lovely duet he sings with Elvis Costello.

Sufjan Steven’s Songs for Christmas. (Thank you Chris & Tania — Christmas gift from you YEARS ago!)

Not “holiday”, but the Glass Animals on Pandora was highly motivational as I leaned in to hour number three in the kitchen. Oh, and here’s the beer that kept me motivated as well.

225px-Colbert_christmassongs for christmas 




Real Life. For 5.

I hate to bring up the Gwyneth thing again (really, I do), but — bear with me, this is going to loop back to food eventually — remember her big news? Anyone with a passing interest in pop-culture (or anyone who fairly regularly just ends up stuck in grocery store lines staring at magazine covers) probably recalls all the cover time Gwyneth got in March 2014 with her announcement that she and her rockstar husband, Chris Martin of Coldplay fame, were going through a “conscious uncoupling”.

Yes… that’s really what she called it. And we can debate whether or not this is a ridiculous phrase and/or why any of us should care. But I’ll tell you why I cared (beyond the fact that I have this ongoing obsessive love/hate relationship with her and her cookery and lifestyle endeavors).

I cared because I couldn’t avoid it. Within 24 hours of the People Magazine cover about 15 friends of mine texted me photos of the cover with comments something along the lines of “OMG! yr BFF gwyneth copying you again!” or “r u 2 cosmically linked or what?” and a lot of “you? gwyneth? WTF?!”

Because in February (ahem, a month ahead of you, GP!) Bill and I made the same decision after going through a long, long process of a similar version of what I can only imagine she and Chris went through. Granted, ours was a much less beautiful-people-celebrity/rockstar-super-rich-lifestyle version — more of a middle-aged-okay-in-the-looks-department-mortgage-three-kids-old-Volvo-lifestyle version.

Regardless, no matter your lifestyle or the specifics of your situation, I know that it is not an easy decision for anyone to make or an easy process for any family to go through. While I agree with many of  the Gwyneth detractors that the “uncoupling” part of her phrase is kind of goofy, I must admit that the “conscious” part really struck me . I honestly don’t think there has been another single decision in my life into which I have put so much mental energy. And I expect to continue to do so every day for as long as I can imagine — even though the decision was made many months ago and the specifics and logistics have been settled for almost as long.

Divorce is such a short word for something that is so NOT short. It is complex, labor-intensive, guilt-ridden, sleep-depriving, logistically-challenging and, whether they want it to or not, has some kind of effect on practically everyone you know. It’s kind of like having a baby, but without the occasional cuteness that helps keep you plowing ahead through all the horrible parts (see above list – kind of similar, right?)

But what you are left with at the end of the day is … you are still a family. No matter the direction you think you may be heading, you still have your own history, your family customs, your shared experiences — the stories and values you want to pass on to your kids. For us, food, cooking and sharing meals with friends and family was, and will continue to be, a big part of the memories we share with the kids and the future memories we want to make with them.

Unfortunately, the fun, healthiness, and enjoyment of making food and eating together got pushed to the wayside. Like in any stressful time of life, many days we just struggled to get through the day. Bad habits come back easily. And anything requiring some effort has to take a backseat to the things that MUST get your energy. Some days I was just beyond thrilled that I managed to get homework done, give the 6 year old a bath (finally), AND had clean clothes for them to wear to school the next day. AND had gone 24 hours without breaking down in tears  in front of some random stranger. (Sorry about that, Mr. Pharmacist.)

We are slowly getting back on track. We almost always sit down and eat both breakfast and dinner together (either Bill with the boys, or me with the boys); there’s always fresh fruit and vegetables of some kind in the house; I only forgot to feed them lunch one time this month…. It gets a bit better all the time. But we have a ways to go: Bill thinks I’m buying too many unhealthy snacks; I think he’s taking the boys out to eat too much. (We are both right).

So, we discussed this post before I wrote it and agreed that we want to use this to goad us into getting our food time with the boys back on track. Back to the more conscious (see how I impressively brought that full-circle?) way of eating that we used to value and enjoy. Back to making food and family time not just a priority, but a fun and rewarding part of every day.

Next post I’ll talk about some Real Life revisions to our rules. And we’ll tackle:

  • snacking
  • dining out
  • and, feeding growing boys (i.e., “Wow. Did you see how much he just ate?”) while still having money left to pay the internet bill

Stick with us. We need all the support we can get.

(A People Magazine link if you simply must know more ….  or if you’ve never heard of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin.)


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The last two.

“Two what?,” you ask?

The last two dinners from my list of 6 easy, boy-pleasing “real” dinners, silly! You know, the things I cook over and over again. Remember? From that kinda rambly blog post back in April? “Oh, yeahhh…,” you say (here I like to imagine you nodding excitedly).

“Well, it’s about time…!” you then add (which makes me feel a little bit annoyed with you.) I’ve been kind of busy: three boys, summer vacation, actually getting paid to write every once in awhile (e.g. this article about swimming pools for the News-Sentinel). But I digress.

So. The previous posts were for #1 turkey meatloaf and #2 sauteed shrimp; then #3 broiled tilapia and #4 pasta and “gravy”; and NOW:

#5 Broiled Salmon

Of course, you should be looking for wild caught — better for you, better for the oceans (check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium app for helpful guidelines on buying fish). It’s wonderful if you can get it fresh, but that isn’t always an option. I think frozen cooks up almost as well (and it’s handy to just have some in the freezer when you need to make an easy dinner).

I give it basically the same treatment that I give to the tilapia.

  • defrost (if frozen)
  • smear with olive oil, salt & pepper
  • place skin side down in a broiler pan
  • press some parmesan and/or whole wheat bread crumbs on top; drizzle with more olive oil
  • broil for, uh… 5 mins? depends how thick the pieces are and how done you like your fish — I dislike overly dry salmon, so I take it out when it’s still very moist in the center

Serve with brown rice that you get going before starting the fish — here’s Gwyneth’s (yes, her again — eyeroll) recipe.  Add a cooked frozen or fresh veg that’s easy for you.  Or I sometimes do roasted potatoes — Mama Fries — instead of rice. Not often, because it makes the timing for one oven trickier OR I have to use both of my ovens and the kitchen gets super hot. But I guess we had a chilly summer because I have photos showing that I apparently cooked up potatoes some time recently:

salmon with roasted potatoes and green beans

salmon with roasted potatoes and green beans

wild-caught salmon with organic brown rice and organic frozen peas

wild-caught salmon with organic brown rice and organic frozen peas








#6 Sauteed Chicken Breasts

Local, free-range, all natural. Natch. Now this approach to cooking chicken breasts I learned from watching Jacques Pepin’s cooking show on PBS: Fast Food My Way. I actually don’t watch cooking shows much.

“OBVIOUSLY,” some of you may say. (You guys are being kinda jerk-y today. Hmmph.)

So I don’t watch cooking shows much, but I love, love, love Jacques Pepin. He’s so quintessentially French, yet so unpretentious.  So classically trained, yet so laissez-fair in his approach to cooking. And he’s adorable (yes, I realize he’s about 80 years old but I would definitely go on a date with him if he asked).  And, by the way, his autobiography, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, is a super fun read — especially the part about overseeing food service for the Howard Johnson restaurant/hotel chain back in the 1960s (you can imagine the types of dishes he was forced to cook up for the American palate back then).

Anyway, back to the food! Until just a few years ago, I did not at all like to cook (or eat, for that matter) skinless, boneless chicken breasts. They always came out so bland and DRY with that weird chewing gum texture, you know? But I caught an episode of Jacques’ show where he explained how to cook chicken breasts so that they come out moist and flavorful every time. And he’s right!

It really does make a huge difference: do NOT use the highly processed chicken breasts from massive industrial chicken processors. Even the best cooking method can’t save these sorry excuses for food, I’m afraid.  I find that freezing the good stuff doesn’t adversely affect how it comes out — so I keep a few packages in the freezer at all times. Here are the steps:

  • defrost (if frozen)
  • get some olive oil (or safflower) heating on med-high in a skillet
  • rinse and pat dry; generously sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper
  • once oil is hot, place chicken in the pan — don’t crowd it and don’t move it around
  • get a nice brown sear on that side (if it’s sticking to the pan when you try to turn it, you haven’t seared it enough); then turn to other side and do the same — depending on size, this takes roughly 4-5 mins per side
  • when both sides are seared, immediately cover the pan with a lid and remove it from the heat; let sit 5+ mins, depending on size
  • slice to verify doneness and serve

Here are some pics — don’t they look nice?

Nicely done!

searing chicken

searing chicken







sauteeing mushrooms in butter

sauteeing mushrooms in butter

Then, do the usual from previous posts, serve up with rice or potatoes and an easy cooked or fresh veg. Though in these photos I got a little fancy for a weeknight: sauteed some organic mushroom, cooked some organic frozen corn, made mashed potatoes from organic potatoes, AND made gravy from the pan drippings (I use whole wheat flour as the thickener). I don’t typically put quite so many elements into dinner for the boys — not sure what came over me… probably I just had a craving for mashed potatoes and gravy.

And as Jacques would say in that heart-melting French accent, while toasting the camera with a big glass of wine: “Now THAT is fast food MY way!”



making gravy

making gravy


Cookout? Apps and a side.

We have only recently come through the longest winter in the history of human occupation of the Midwest. (I am not kidding. My birthday is mid-May and I wore a leather coat and boots to go out to celebrate —  and I was still cold. There was frost on the ground the three days later. Utterly depressing.)

Then BAM, summer hit us out of the blue. Gorgeous weather. Green everywhere. Clear skies and SUN! (And freckles — eye roll.)

The grills come out and – finally – the season of outdoor entertaining fires up!

I make guacamole and hummus for just about every outdoor-type party — at my house or elsewhere. I know, not particularly cutting-edge nouveau food ideas here. But they are crowd-pleasers — AND all-natural and veggie-rific. And if we’re grilling anything pork (ribs, chops, tenderloin) or making pulled pork, you gotta have coleslaw. Here’s a delicious coleslaw recipe  — you will never eat gloppy pre-made coleslaw again.


The key thing, I think, is to use the smaller organic avacados. Those giant, commercial ones taste too bland. Nice ripe ones, of course. Push your thumb in near the top and if it gives some — good to go. (Don’t even bother to make it if the avacados aren’t ripe; or it they are too ripe with black spots in the flesh — you will just be frustrated — believe me, I have tried to fake it and it just doesn’t work.)

  • 4 ripe avacados
  • a teeny bit of finely minced onion
  • half of a small clove of garlic, minced (or I often just use some garlic powder — I don’t like it very garlic-y)
  • Tabasco
  • salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
  • a few squeezes of lime juice
  • chopped tomato and fresh cilantro for garnish


I use a serrated tomato knife to cut the avacado in half and pop out the seed. Then scoop out the flesh in spoonfuls. Mash the avacado and the onion and garlic with the back of a fork. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder (if you didn’t use fresh garlic), 4-6 dashes of Tabasco, and lime juice. Stir to blend. Taste and season more if needed. Then top with tomato and fresh cilantro. Serve with veggies and chips.


I really like this recipe from 100 Days of Real Food. But if I can find plain hummus without weird preservatives — not an easy task, but it’s out there — I will just buy it and then dress it up as follows.

dressed up hummus and veggies

dressed up hummus and veggies

Top the hummus with a couple of Tbsp of chopped feta, a sprinkle of crushed dried oregano, a few grinds of black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, a couple squeezes of lemon juice, and a sprinkling of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley. Serve with veggies, crackers, etc.





IMG_3637 Here’s a shot of the much-used, very food-splatterd “Summer Grilling” issue of Cook’s Illustrated. To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with this establishment. I love it because I always, always find some really great recipe or piece of cooking advice or equipment recommendation. But I hate it because there is just TOO much information in each issue and I can never remember where I read what. And their website annoyingly only allows you full access if you have a paid subscription. (Which I GET — I was/am a librarian for godsake — their information is really good and extensively tested by cooking professionals. Really good information generally isn’t free, and good professionals don’t work for free. BUT, I am also a spoiled American consumer who expects to get most information — especially things like recipes that I can find on about 75,000 other sites — right away and for free. So I admire them and want to be supportive, but mostly when I visit their website or read one of their issues, I feel vaguely … well … annoyed.)

That said, this magazine has some great recipes! Check it out!

IMG_3635Here’s the much-used coleslaw recipe. If you can’t read the tiny print, I will summarize. To keep the coleslaw from getting all runny, you shred the veggies and salt them and let some of the moisture drain out. I use the shredder attachment on the Cuisinart (™). Shred one head of green cabbage, cored; a couple of peeled carrots; a quarter of a small onion. Place the shredded veggies in a colander lined with paper towels (this isn’t part of the recipe, but I started doing it because it’s a pain to scoop little shredded bits of veg out the colander) and generously salt them; set the colander over a large bowl and let it drain for maybe an hour — I usually get about 2 T of liquid in the bowl.

Dump the shredded veggies into a big bowl. (The CI recipe says to rinse them again; but I don’t bother — I just don’t add any extra salt.)

I Real-Fooded up the CI recipe a bit, this way:

  • 1/2 C mayonnaise (I use very little bottled stuff, but this Spectrum Organics Mayo is made with organic ingredients and no preservatives, and it tastes great — someday I’ll get around to learning how to make my own mayonnaise, just not anytime soon)
  • 4T Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 3t white vinegar
  • 2t honey
  • lots of fresh ground black pepper

Fold all together; adjust seasoning — I seem to usually end up adding a bit more vinegar and mayo. Let sit covered in fridge for at least an hour. Even better if you make it a day ahead and give it a good stir before serving.

homemade coleslaw

homemade coleslaw

Yay outdoor party time!