Real Food. Real Family. Real Midwest.

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


Two more dinners.

Here are details on a couple more of the fairly easy dinners in heavy rotation in my kitchen — originally mentioned in the long and rambly Two dinners post. I am certain this update will be more to the point. Unless, of course, I get distracted again…. It happens.

First, Broiled Tilapia

Most of the tilapia I’ve encountered at restaurants and regular grocery stores is just kinda “meh”. But I get this delicious Regal Springs Tilapia at the Three Rivers Co-op Natural Grocery. It comes frozen (which generally doesn’t do a lot for fish, but this holds up great — and makes it handy to just keep a supply in the freezer). It actually has a nice pinkish color to it and a “meatier” texture than tilapia I’ve had other places. Regal Springs seems pretty cool. Check out their website for more on their sustainable approach to providing quality fish. It says “Regal Springs is proud to be the first aquafarm in the world to earn the International Standards for Responsible Tilapia Aquaculture (ISRTA), a rigorous standard that ranks fish farms on seven environmental and social impacts principles.” 

tilapia dinner

tilapia dinner


tilapia before broiling

tilapia before broiling

AND, it’s really easy to prepare (and the boys love it). Rub the tilapia fillets with olive oil, S&P and a bit of garlic powder. Press some grated parmesan on top (gives it a nice light crust) and sprinkle with some paprika (or any other herb you like — I just like the pretty orangey-red color). Broil.

Here I was dishing it up with organic brown rice and organic (frozen) peas.  Start the brown rice, do the fish, steam or microwave the peas just before the fish comes out.

Have I gone on yet about Gwyneth’s approach to cooking brown rice from her cookbook It’s All Good? (And, of course, she is right and now I do it her way all the time. Sheesh – she is so annoying). I don’t think I mentioned it in my earlier post that ended up being — as usual — all about her…. So here it is:

Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice (Gwyneth’s recipe)

Makes 3 cups

  • 1 cup short-grain brown rice
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • Coarse sea salt

Rinse the rice thoroughly in a fine-mesh strainer until the water runs clear.  Place it in a pot set over high heat with the water and a big pinch of salt.  Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pot, and cook until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked through, exactly 45 minutes.  Turn the heat off, place a dry paper towel between the pot and the lid, and let the rice sit for at least 5 minutes before giving it a fluff with a fork.

 Second, Whole Wheat Pasta & “Gravy”

As I’ve explained before, for some reason (note to self: “research etymology of ‘gravy’ for other blog), a lot of Italian immigrant families call tomato/spaghetti sauce “gravy”. I learned it from my inlaws 20+ year ago and I will forever call it that. As will my boys, I am sure. At least at home — anywhere else it does tend to confuse people (which is part of the charm/entertainment-value of using the word in the first place).

I make a big pot of gravy every month or so. Freeze 3/4s of it. Make more when I pull the last container out of the freezer.

So if you’ve got your gravy, this is a really easy one. Boil whole wheat pasta. (I’m a big fan of Meijer Organics whole wheat pastas. I’ve tried some more expensive ones, but the boys and I prefer this.) Warm up gravy. Grate some parmesan. Steam or microwave some organic veg and … dinner.

Oh - I made a little salad, too!

Oh – I made a little salad, too!



Two dinners.

This may be a little secret I should not share (or maybe every homecook does this?): as much as I love to cook and try new recipes, it dawned on me the other day that I have about 6 family meals that I cook over and over. (And over and OVER.) I also realized, happily, that they all meet our rules, even though I’ve been cooking them for many years, before we even had “rules”:

  • homemade tomato sauce, whole grain pasta, some kind of vegetable (usually a bag of Meijer Organics frozen broccoli or green beans; if I’m feeling really motivated, or need to clean out the crisper, I’ll make a salad or sautee up some seasonal fresh vegetable)
  • pan-sauteed chicken breasts, brown rice or roasted potatoes, some kind of veg (above)
  • broiled tilapia, brown rice or roasted potatoes, some kind of veg
  • broiled salmon, brown rice or roasted potatoes, some kind of veg
  • turkey meatloaf, brown rice or roasted potatoes, some kind of veg
  • some form of sauteed shrimp, whole grain pasta or brown rice, some kind of veg

Ta da! Aren’t those interesting and inspiring?! (Yeah, no big deal, right?)  Obviously, I’m a pretty conventional meal planner: protein, starch, veg. But, the reason I go to these over and over? They are easy, healthy, AND every single one of the boys will eat everything on the plate. The most labor intensive is the tomato sauce (recipe here) — but I make a big batch every month or so and then always have some in the freezer — which actually then makes it the easiest of all the go-to options.  For the others, I keep at least one meal’s worth of each protein in the freezer at all times. I always have rice, pasta, and potatoes in the pantry. I always have a couple of bags of the boys’ favorite frozen vegetables in the freezer.

You can probably figure out on your own how to do any of the above. But I’ll describe a couple of them that I cooked this past week and actually remembered to photograph. (I’ll get to the others in a future post).

Turkey Meatloaf with Mama Fries! (that’s what my kids call the roasted potatoes — makes them sounds much more exciting than they really are, doesn’t it? You have to say it with the exclamation point!)

This recipe always makes me think of Oprah. Which then makes me think about how old I am getting — the fact that I actually recall watching Oprah as a stay-at-home-mom is going to start dating me pretty soon here (as in, “she must be pretty old if she remembers that…?” Like when my mom talks about watching Phil Donahue as a young mother. Yeesh.).

The Oprah reminiscing then leads me to wonder: can someone tell me just exactly WHAT cultural lynchpin new moms have to make small talk and bond over these days? I would be a rich gal and could leave this highly-lucrative blog-writing career behind, if I had a dollar for every time (back in the day) that I would start a playground/Starbucks/pool club conversation with another mom-friend: “Did you see that Oprah the other day where…. blah blah Justin Timberlake blah blah?” OR butted into someone else’s conversation (I was by myself and needed grown-up talk — you cannot be shy when you are a lonely mom home with only a small child or two (or three)):  “Oh! Are you talking about that Oprah from last week?… blah blah George Clooney blah blah?”

And, if that lady who once snidely said, “We only watch PBS at our house” is reading this — well, all I can say is that I hope your life has gotten a lot less serious in the ensuing years. Go watch Sex in the City and catch up with the times, girlfriend!

I had a point. Oh, yeah, I owe this recipe to an Oprah show I watched while home with (I think) my second son. (Or maybe the first or the third — those early baby days are completely impossible for me to place in any recognizable part of the space-time continuum). Dr. Nicholas Perricone was on and he was promoting his new book (and associated expensive skin care products and line of supplements, which I’m sure are wonderful) and all these “older” (to me, at the time) women were on the show raving about how eating recipes from the book (plus all the other stuff) had taken YEARS off their faces and bodies. And, you know what? They looked really darn good! So, while I never got around to buying all of the other stuff, I did buy the book and… it changed my life! At least, the eating part of my life. I thought I ate pretty well before that, but based on that book I completely gave up sugar and began to eat only whole grains and LOTS more colorful fruits and vegetables (high in antioxidants) and sources of Omega-3 (like eggs and salmon).  This sounds like old news now — but it was kind of cutting edge back then (I am totally dating myself, now, right?) Anyway, I felt so much freaking better eating that way. And the recipes are easy and good. He credits a lot of them as “adapted from”  The Whole Foods Bible, by the way — which you’d think I would own by now, but I don’t (birthday gift idea? hint hint)

So — ah, the truth will out, won’t it? — while it may seem that I am on this “real foods” kick because of my love for the earth and my desire to keep my children as healthy as possible; wellllll…. now you know: it is actually because I am completely and ridiculously vain and obsessed with not looking old.

Of course, the other stuff is important, too, I guess….

protein, starch, veg #1

protein, starch, veg #1

Oh, yeah. The recipe?

mush by hand in a giant bowl:

  • 1.5 pounds organic ground turkey
  • 1/4 c each finely chopped celery and onion
  • 1 free range egg
  • 3/4 c oatmeal pulsed finely in a blender
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1/4 c finely minced flat leaf parsley
  • generously salted & peppered

Press into a loaf pan and bake at 400 degrees or so for one hour or so. Before you put meatloaf in, cube 4-5 Yukon gold potatoes, toss in a baking dish with olive oil, salt & pepper and roast in the same oven — they should both get done about the same time. As they come out, cook up a veggie the kids like.

pre-baked meatloaf

pre-baked meatloaf


pre-roasted potatoes

pre-roasted potatoes








Sauteed Shrimp with Pasta

Sadly, I don’t have a long, rambly story to lead us into this recipe. (I can sense that you are really upset. I’m sorry.) I like shrimp, the kids like shrimp. I have a few varieties of ingredients with which to sautee them — depends if we’re having them with rice (more Asian flavors) or pasta (more Mediterranean, like this):

protein, starch, veg #2

protein, starch, veg #2

  • peel 1-2 lbs shrimp (or buy already peeled)
  • sautee in a hearty pour of olive oil: a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, a chopped tomato (squeeze out the seeds first) or a couple of handfuls of chopped grape tomatoes, and a couple of anchovies
  • add a bit of white wine or water so it’s not too dry
  • add the shrimp and cook until they are done; throw in some butter or more olive oil at the end
  • serve over whole grain pasta with a side of some easy veg the kids like


I’ll post some pics of the other go-to meals as I cook them. Won’t be long! (Because I cook them all the darn time.)

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It’s March in beautiful Northeastern Indiana! Some years by this point, we are outside cooking on the grill. Not this year. It’s the winter of perpetual entrapment in an Arctic Vortex. We are still holed up like… bears? I prefer to think of us as some smaller, cuter, less-smelly hibernating animal — but nothing specific is coming to mind…. Anyway, it seemed like a good time to makes some big batches of soup to pass the time and keep warm.

Another motivator: for some reason, the 5 y.o. has become a huge soup lover. Every restaurant: “do they have any soup?” Any days he gets school cafeteria lunch: “soup, please!” What should we make, honey?: “soup!” So. Soup!

It’s been a long time since I made two of my super easy, old standbys: Big Batch Veggie Soup and Corn and White Bean Chili. But I also felt like trying something new — something using a winter-y vegetable: sweet potato? pumpkin? cabbage? I was looking through my cookbooks for some inspiration.  In the beautiful Super Natural Everyday cookbook — that I bought way back when and posted about AND have been feeling guilty about STILL not actually having put to use — I found a yummy looking cauliflower soup recipe.

Cauliflower Soup with Aged Cheddar and Mustard Croutons it is!

shallots and onion, sauteing in butter

shallots and onion, sauteing in butter

  • Saute 1 large onion, chopped and 2 shallots, chopped in 2 T unsalted butter; season generously with salt; saute until onions soften
  • stir in 1 large potato, peeled and cut into tiny cubes; cover and cook for 5 mins or so until pieces begin to soften
  • uncover, stir in 2 cloves of garlic, chopped and 3 1/2 C vegetable broth
  • bring to a boil; when potatoes are soft stir in 12 oz cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • cook, covered, until cauliflower is just tender
  • remove pan from the heat and blend with an immersion blender (if you have one; I don’t — gift suggestion, ahem — so I pureed it in two batches in the blender, then poured it back into the pan)
  • stir in 1/2 C of grated aged cheddar cheese and 2 t Dijon mustard; add more broth or water if it’s too thick; add salt if needed
  • serve topped with mustard croutons and a swirl of extra virgin olive oil (to make the croutons: tear a few slices of whole-grain bread into bite-size pieces; mix them with 1 T melted unsalted butter, 1 T olive oil, 2 t dijon mustard, some salt; spread on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally)
simmering the potatoes and cauliflower

simmering the potatoes and cauliflower

mustard croutons

mustard croutons

my version (with the inspiration in the background)

Cauliflower Soup: my version (with the inspiration in the background)

Next: Big Batch Vegetable Soup

chopped onions and celery (obviously)

chopped onions and celery (obviously)

  • Saute, stirring frequently, 2 C chopped onion and 1 C chopped celery in 2-3 T olive oil until onions are translucent
  • Season with salt, pepper, dried basil and oregano, a bit of garlic powder, to taste
  • Add 5 C vegetable broth,  1 T tomato paste (*a tip, below) and 1 28oz can diced tomatoes with their juice
  • Add 8 C of fresh or frozen vegetables (I tend to do: zucchini, corn, potato, green beans, peas, carrots — chopping whole veggies to a large dice)
  • Add 3 C of water or so, to cover; return to a simmer, adjust seasonings and cook for 20 mins or until veggies are tender
my little soup lover

my little soup lover

Little Mr. Soup Man likes to eat this soup with a few heaping spoonfuls of grated parmesan cheese. The rest of us just eat it as is. Though one member of the family (you can probably guess who, if you know the boys) said, “Mama. No offense. But I don’t like your vegetable soup. I mean… I’m sure it is good; but I, personally, do not care for it.” That’s OK, honey.

et voila

et voila

1T servings of tomato paste from the freezer

1T servings of tomato paste from the freezer

*Tomato paste tip: when I open a can and use the typical 1 T that’s called for in most recipes, I scoop out the rest into 1 T scoops. Then freeze these on something flat in the freezer, wrap each piece in wax paper, dump into a freezer bag and store for when I need just another 1 T of tomato paste.


Lastly: Corn and White Bean Chili

(I have been making this recipe since December of 2005! Ah, youth: I was 29 … or something like that — math is not my strong suit.)

veggies for chili

veggies for chili

  • heat 2 T of olive oil; saute 1 large onion, diced, 1 yellow or red or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced; 1 medium zucchini, diced; and 2 cloves of garlic, minced — until veggies are tender
  • add in 2 C frozen corn, a 15 oz can of stewed tomatoes, a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, and a 15 oz can of cannellini beans (bean note: ALWAYS rinse beans before cooking with them — it eliminates the problem for which they are notorious; also I often increase the amount of beans and mix 2 different kinds, just for variety — black and pinto are frequent choices)
  • add dried seasonings: 2 T dried parsley, 2 t dried oregano, 2 t dried cumin, 1 t chili powder, a dash of cayenne, salt and pepper to taste
  • bring to a simmer and cook for at least 20 minutes — longer is better
  • serve with shredded cheddar, chopped fresh cilantro, and sour cream or plain yogurt
white bean chili -- I like lots of cilantro!

white bean chili — I like lots of cilantro!

Now, you may have noticed that these are all vegetarian. Which is great. But if you like meat, it’s super easy to meatify any of them. I would add some browned, cubed beef to the Veggie Soup. The Cauliflower Soup would be great with some cooked, crumbled bacon on top. And I frequently brown ground turkey and add it to the White Bean Chili. According to my notes (see more on that topic, below), I even at one point browned “soy crumbles” and added those; tho’ I don’t actually recall doing that… and am not sure why I bothered. But it’s an option!

An aside on how I “treat” my recipes and cookbooks: I’m not sure if this reflects more the librarian in me, or the historian or the anal-retentive organizer…? I ALWAYS note on my recipes the date(s) I made them and, if relevant, who was also around to eat them with us.  It’s fun to look back and say something like: “Oh, I made this for that one Thanksgiving with the neighbors when the dog pulled the turkey off the table while we were in the other room drinking too much wine!” To illustrate my note-making, here’s my first-time treatment of the Cauliflower Soup recipe vs. the many years of the chili recipe finally getting cut out of a beat-up Cooking Light magazine and taped into my “recipe book”.

old workhorse recipe

old workhorse recipe

virgin recipe

virgin recipe

I also maintain a strict “one-shelf” rule for my cookbooks. If they start to overflow, I look through the old or little used ones to see if there are any recipes that I have ever used more than once; or that I still truly believe I am going to try soon. If I find one or two, I copy that page and put the recipe in this kind of gross, food-splattered blank page “recipe book” that’s been floating around my kitchen for about 15 years. Then I donate the nice clean cookbook to the library.

We each find our little ways to pretend we are controlling the chaos of life, don’t we?


Real Christmas Traditions.

As our lives have changed — growing children, moving households, adding and losing family members — so have our family traditions evolved. Life is nothing but change. And that’s good! Enjoy every freaking minute of it. Because as one of my favorite South Park Christmas carols says, “Dead, dead, dead. Someday we’ll all be dead.”

But, BUT, as Tim Minchin sings to his daughter in another of my very favorite holiday songs:

“you will learn someday
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people who’ll make you feel safe in this world”

One of the primary ways we make children – and ourselves, too, I guess – feel safe in this world is to share traditions with each other. It’s comforting and important to recognize the influence of those who came before you and carry their love forward and share it with everyone who comes into the circle of our love. So many different types of traditions are important, of course, but since this is technically a food blog (though you wouldn’t know if from the way I’m blathering on), this post is about the food traditions in our family.

You can see the annual cookie baking with my mom — especially the Krumkakes, one of the delicious traditions from the Norwegian side of our family —  on the Bites page or at

Here, I’ll focus on our family’s annual Italian-American Christmas Feast — influenced, of course, by my much loved and missed mother-in-law, Fran. Italian food is super easy to “Real Food” up. I simply bought organic and local as much as possible, looked for canned goods with no preservatives or added sugar, and used whole wheat flour, breadcrumbs and spaghetti.

So… cooking! (“Finally!” you say.) The great thing about Italian food is that you can make a lot of it in advance and either fridge or freeze it until the big Feast. Everything I describe below was made on a Saturday afternoon/evening a week and a half before Christmas. It takes awhile, I admit, but we stay entertained: Christmas music, joke-telling (amusing boy-anecdote below*), reminiscing, maybe even a little, tiny bit of wine drinking for the grownups.

We have our big Feast on Christmas Day. The “Christmas Eve Shrimp” and the Italian bread I made on that day, because they are best freshly made.  Everything else, I took out of the freezer the day before to defrost in the fridge. Then started heating it up at the same time we open the Prosecco Christmas morning — after the presents are opened. Three boys under the age of 13 meant that packages were torn thru by 7AM and I was into the Prosecco by 10AM this year. I would not necessarily recommend such an early schedule to others. I hope to see it get a bit later each year. Maybe by the time the 5yo is 12, I’ll be able to hold off drinking until 1PM? That seems reasonable. This year we had our Feast around 1:30. I’m not good with math, but you can probably make a good estimate of how much Prosecco I had consumed before we opened the bottles of Amarone and Chianti to have with the Feast. Boy, I really like Christmas.!

Back to the prep-cooking. The order I list below is the order in which I cooked it all — it works best for the assembly, as you’ll see.

First: Tomato Sauce (aka “Gravy”)



  • 2 T or so olive oil
  • 1/2 an med. onion, finely chopped
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced
  • a couple of glugs of red wine
  • 2 1# cans whole tomotoes
  • 1 1# can crushed tomatoes
  • (optional) chunk of a parmesan rind (I keep a bag of these in the freezer from every time we go through a hunk)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried basil, dried oregano to taste (I recommend LOTS of oregano)
  1. heat olive oil then sautee onions until translucent; add garlic, some salt and pepper, and a couple of glugs of red wine; cook until it thickens (almost “jammy”)
  2. while onions cook in the wine, open the cans of tomotoes — puree the 2 cans of whole tomatoes and their juice in a blender (I know, I know, why not just buy 3 cans of crushed? I’m telling you, the texture is just not right unless you do it this way) then add to pot along with the can of crushed tomatoes
  3. add seasonings to taste and the parmesan rind
  4. bring to a high simmer, cover, reduce heat and let rock for a couple of hours

Meanwhile, make: Braciole

Pouding out the flank steak

Pouding out the flank steak

braciole stuffing

braciole stuffing

sliced braciole with spaghetti and sauce

sliced braciole with spaghetti and sauce

  • flank steak
  • 3-4 T whole wheat breadcrumbs
  • 3-4 T grated parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 T minced onion and garlic
  • 1-2 T minced fresh Italian parsley
  • sprinkling of salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano
  1. place the flank steak between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound it out to 1/2 inch or thinner (this is a good time to get the kids involved)
  2. remove it from plastic wrap and layer the stuffing in the order listed above
  3. roll it up and tie it closed with twine, pin the ends closed with toothpicks (sorry, forgot to take a picture of it at this point)
  4. brown all sides in a large skillet then add it to the tomato sauce to cook for awhile

To eat: remove from sauce, remove toothpicks and twine and slice crosswise.

Then get cracking on the Eggplant Parmesan

batter for frying eggplant

batter for frying eggplant

fried eggplant

fried eggplant

assembled eggplant parmesan for freezing

assembled eggplant parmesan for freezing

  • 3 medium eggplants, sliced into 1/2 in slices
  • a neutral oil, like safflower
  • dry batter (in one bowl): 1 c whole wheat flour; a few dashes of salt, pepper, and garlic powder
  • wet batter (in another bowl): 1 egg, beaten; 1 c milk; 3 T parmesan cheese; 2 t oregano; 1 T chopped fresh Italian parsley

[The batter is the same we do to make Fran’s famous “Christmas Eve Shrimp”, below. It works well for frying up pretty much anything.]

  1. spread the eggplant slices out on papertowels, salt them, cover with another layer of papertowels and let sit for at least half an hour to draw out the moisture
  2. heat the oil; dip the eggplant slices in the flour mixture, then into the wet mixture, then put in the pan until lightly browned; turn and brown the other side
  3. lay out on papertowels to drain and cool
  4. layer in dish; alternating tomato sauce, eggplant, sauce, etc. Cover and freeze at this point (or bake now). Top with a layer of grated mozzerella; cover and bake for 30-45 mins at 375 degrees. Uncover and bake or broil until top is lightly browned.

Move blithely on to the Manicotti crepes (note hair up now and wine #3 or 4? in the background – I was getting serious!)

manicotti crepe batter

manicotti crepe batter

manicotti crepes

manicotti crepes

filling the crepes

filling the crepes

a pan of manicotti almost ready for freezing

a pan of manicotti almost ready for freezing

I must admit that I am pretty darn proud of these! They taste so, SO much better than the boxed manicotti pasta, but they are one of the more difficult things I make. However, this year I only had 4 failed crepes before I hit my stride — it usually takes me up to #9 or more. Also, this year was the first year I used whole wheat flour for the batter.  Everyone much prefered it to the all-purpose white versions of the past — a really great flavor.

  • 2 c white whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur brand)
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • 2 lg eggs
  • 3 c water
  • 1/2 t salt
  1. combine in a large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth
  2. heat a non-stick skillet and lightly coat with oil
  3. ladle a small scoopful of batter and whirl it out with the back of the ladle — it should spread easily because the batter is very thin
  4. when edges start to curl, flip it over; then cool on wax paper

When cool, spoon in 2-3 T of the cheese filling (see photo above, recipe below)

  • 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

Fold the crepes into thirds and place fold side down in a baking dish on top of a layer of sauce. Layer more sauce on top. Cover and freeze. Defrost and bake, covered, in a 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes

THEN, cover or pour into plastic containers everything that’s left and store in fridge or freezer. Empty dregs of wine glass. Start dishwasher. Go to bed.

On Christmas Day!

Italian Bread

homemade Italian bread

homemade Italian bread

I described this at Bread. Same deal for Christmas Day. Started in the bread machine once the presents were open and it was done well in time for dinner. Yummy.

Christmas Eve Shrimp

"Christmas Eve Shrimp" recipe (Fran's instructions, Jane's handwriting, my notes)

“Christmas Eve Shrimp” recipe ca. 2002 (Fran’s instructions, Jane’s handwriting, my added notes)

frying the shrimp

frying the shrimp

"Christmas Eve Shrimp" for Christmas Day

“Christmas Eve Shrimp” for Christmas Day

We call this “Christmas Eve Shrimp” because Fran always made it for the traditional Italian Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. We don’t do the Christmas Eve Fish Feast, but I do think of her fondly and always recall (and completely relate to) her frustration with cooking this dish: most of it will be eaten off the cooling rack as soon as it comes out of the pan. I suggest that you just give everyone a glass of Prosecco and stand around in the kitchen and eat up. Don’t try to make a big presentation of it. You will not succeed.

  • 2 pounds raw shrimp; peeled and deveined
  • a neutral oil, like safflower
  • dry batter (in one bowl): 1 c whole wheat flour; a few dashes of salt, pepper, and garlic powder
  • wet batter (in a 2nd bowl): 1 egg, beaten; 1 c milk; 3 T parmesan cheese; 2 t oregano; 1 T chopped fresh Italian parsley
  1. heat the oil; dip the shrimp in the dry batter, then in the wet batter; then place in the hot oil
  2. fry till lightly browned on one side; turn and brown; drain and cool on a rack
  3. attempt to stab hands away that sneak in to eat them as quickly as them come out of the pan

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! Cheers to a wonderful year to come!

*Oh, yeah, the anecdote:

As the Saturday cooking day wore on, the 9y.o. and 5y.o. were trying to one-up-each other with their joke-telling abilities.

  • 9y.o.: “Momma, Momma.”
  • me: “Yes?”
  • 9y.o.: “Why was 6 afraid of 7?”
  • me: “I don’t know. Why?”
  • 9y.o.: “Because 7 8 9!”


  • 9y.o. “And, Momma?! Momma!”
  • me: “Yes?”
  • 9y.o. “If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?”
  • me: “Junebugs?” (I thought that was kind of clever)
  • 9y.o. “No! Pilgrims.”

Ah! Haha.

  • 5y.o. “Mommy! Mommy!” [please realize that they are all this time sitting about two feet away from me — our kitchen is not that big — but they holler for me like I’m a half a block away]. “I gots a good one!”
  • me “Okay… let’s hear it!”
  • 5y.o. “Why did the chicken run down the hallway?”
  • me “I don’t know. Why?”
  • 5y.o. “Because his name was Chicken Running Down the Hallway!”

HA! I actually laughed so hard at that one that tears were running down my face. I love 5yo humor. At that point the 12-practically-13yo slouches in and says “What’s so funny?”  So we tell him the “hilarious” jokes all over again. He barely cracks a smile. Of course. Then says in this deep voice that he occasionaly uses (I’m pretty sure he is faking that, by the way): “Welllll… I have a good joke.”

  • me: “Oh — let’s hear it, honey!”
  • 12/13y.o.: “There once was a man from Nantucket, whose…”
  • me: “WOAH, woah, woah! OK. I’ll think we’ll save that one for another time!”
  • 12/13y.o., slouching out of the kitchen, smirking: “Whatever.”

Well, my goodness. There’s a time and place for a good Nantucket limerick — but I’m pretty sure that was not it! Nor am I quite mentally prepared to hear such a joke from my 13yo son. Yikes.

Ah, Christmas memories.

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Apologies for a long lag-time since the last post.  I’ve been playing around with the organization of the whole site for awhile now. Have I mentioned that in a previous life, I was a librarian?  “Once a librarian, always a librarian”?  Or more accurately: “you can take the girl out of the library but you can’t take the obsessive-inclination-to-organize-information-in-ever-more-accessible ways out of the girl!”

So…. I got a little off my trolley in my obsession to reorganize! But focusing on some simple changes has led to the revamped site that I hope you will continue to enjoy:

  • to better explain the blog’s raison d’etre: a new Home page
  • an index to Recipes
  • a list of Resources
  • short posts and photos page at Bites (in case you aren’t following the Facebook page already)

And a couple of new pictures of Beth Behrendt (who’s she?)

At home.

At home.



I am having the hardest time coming up with anything entertaining to say about bread.  But here’s my bread post anyway: high utility, low entertainment.

I have three criteria for bread: whole grains, no sugar, no preservatives.  Finding recipes to make bread that meets these is not difficult.  But you know what’s difficult?  Finding time to make the darn stuff.  Even with the breadmachine, it’s still a time commitment to something that I do not particularly love doing.  So, I have been scouring the local grocery stores, bakeries, and farmers’ markets for REAL bread that I can just buy.  Sure, HOUSTON, with it’s fancy-schmancy Central Market bakery had shelves and shelves of “real” bread for sale.  Here, I mainly feel thwarted.

But, now after — hard to believe —  5 months, I have a few go-to bread products I can BUY that make the boys happy (and me even happier).  Drumroll, please:

#1 BAGELS.  My boys used to eat a ton of those mini-white bagels.  You know the ones with little-to-no-nutrtional value?  Yeah, those.  They’ve been bugging me about bagels for breakfast since Day 1 of our new “lifestyle” (“It’s not a diet!” I say for the 700th time).  FINALLY.  The Co-op came through with these sprouted wheat bagels from Alvarado St. Bakery (these may have been there all along, it just took me awhile to discover them).     They toast up nicely, have a light taste that all the boys like, and are great with — one of our favorite breakfasts — cream cheese and smoked salmon.   (Yes, I will admit it’s not a New York bagel.  But those little white bagels are in no way, shape, or form, ones either.  You gotta go to New York to get a New York bagel.  The next time we’re there, heck yeah we’ll eat some bagels.)

Sprouted Wheat Bagels

Sprouted Wheat Bagels

sprouted grain whole wheat bagel with cream cheese

sprouted grain whole wheat bagel with cream cheese

#2  RAISIN BREAD.  The 5 y.o. and I love this for breakfast or an after-school snack.  From Food for Life, their Ezekial 4:9 sprouted grain bread.  (Go to their website to see from whence cometh the name — it’s kinda cool.)  Butter, and lots of it, is all this needs.   I got this at Meijer for awhile, but now only find it at the Co-op.

Ezekial 4:9 cinnamon raisin bread

Ezekial 4:9 cinnamon raisin bread

Ezekial 4:9 cinnamon raisin bread.  Toasted.  BUTTER.

Ezekial 4:9 cinnamon raisin bread. Toasted. BUTTER.

#3 PITAS.  Meijer brand whole wheat pitas.  It’s really hard to find a grocery store baked good that doesn’t have sugar in it.  I’m not sure how these slipped through the cracks.  I check the ingedients every time because I worry that one day someone at the Meijer bakery will say “Hey, Verna!  We’re been forgetting to put the sugar in these peter breads!”  For now, they make great pita pizzas for lunch and yummy egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfast.

personal-size pita pizza

personal-size pita pizza

As for the daily PB&J bread for my middle son — the one who flashed his “eyes-of-disappointment” at so many of my early baking attempts —  I’m still firing up the bread machine once or twice a week.  Here’s the recipe, streamlined even more than a few months ago.  (I can do this practically in my sleep — so I really shouldn’t complain about the time commitment.)

For a 2 pound bread machine; dump in ingredients in this order:

1 1/4 C warm water

2 T molasses

2 T honey

2 T butter (cut into small pieces)

1 1/2 t Rapid Rise or breadmachine yeast

3 1/3 C white whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur Brand)

1 1/2 t sea salt

2 T dry milk (I like Organic Valley)

Set bread machine to “wheat” setting — which is 3hrs and 40mins on my Zojirushi (that’s not nearly as kinky as it sounds — it’s a Japanese brand of bread machine)

Let cool on a wire wrack.  If you want a soft, grocery-store bread type crust, put it in a plastic bag to cool (and store it in the same bag) — weird, but it works great.

stuff dumped in the bread pan to make whole wheat bread -- look at the yeast going to town already

stuff dumped in the bread pan to make whole wheat bread — look at the yeast going to town already

whole wheat bread right out of the baking pan

whole wheat bread right out of the baking pan

wheat bread cooling inside the plastic bag

wheat bread cooling inside the plastic bag

I did slack off a bit on the whole grain bread rule recently, and don’t feel bad.  Homemade has got to be better than storebought anyday, right?  I can loosen the rules a bit.  Here’s a pic of my slightly Real Food-ed up Italian Bread.  I start it in the bread machine then bake in the oven for the more rustic look (but you can just leave it in the bread machine and get a standard looking loaf).  Isn’t it pretty?  Real Food bread?  Wellll….  Close!  A hard-core Real Fooder might say “Beth, ‘close’ only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”  And I would reply “Oh, lighten up and have another slice of bread!”

Italian Bread

Italian Bread

This is adapted from The Artisan Bread Machine for a 2 lb loaf.  Dump into bread pan in this order:

1 1/3 C warm water

1 lg egg, beaten

4 t olive oil

1 1/4 t bread machine yeast

3 C plus 3 T all purpose flour

1 C white whole wheat flour (this is the Real Food part I added!  replacing 1 C plus 1 T all purpose flour)

1 1/2 t sea salt

If you’re just leaving it in the bread machine, select the white cycle and go about your business.  If you want to take the dough out and reshape it and bake it in the oven (’cause you have a lot of frustrations to work out?  sure, go ahead!):

  • after the ingredients are in the pan, select the Dough cycle
  • line a large baking sheet with parchment paper
  • when the cycle is finished, transfer dough to a floured surface and punch down gently
  • preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a broiler pan on the bottom rack
  • form dough into a 12 in. oblong load, place on the prepared baking sheet, cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 mins
  • with a serrated knife, cut diagonal slices along the top of the risen loaf
  • add 2 C water to the broiling pan (to get some steam in the oven; it’s good for the crust)
  • place the baking sheet on the middle rack
  • bake until bread is risen, brown on top, and has an internal temp of 190 degrees (this takes 30-35 minutes)
  • remove from pan and cool on a wire rack before slicing


Summer. Traveling adventures.

Ah, it’s almost Fall in Indiana.  The cornstalks are drying in the fields.  The trees show hints of gold and red against the bright blue sky.  The morning air is crisp and Fall-y smelling.  I just love it!

Until I remember that I still haven’t finished my Summer posting for the blog.  [silent cursing and self-berating; internal contemplation of distractions that keep me from blogging; break from contemplations to open another bottle of wine; OK – ready to rock and roll.]

Ah, Summer in Indiana.  The lawns are a brilliant shade of green.  Giant shade trees and cool blue swimming pools provide a respite from the hot midday sun.  The evening air is warm and Summer-y smelling.  I just love it!

Love it so much that I take lots of opportunities to get the heck out of town.

Here’s a breakdown of some of our non-local adventures and how trying to eat “real food” enhanced (or challenged) them.  In chronological order:

Houston, Texas

Bill and I took a trip down to the Lone Star State, sans boys, to visit my favorite niece, Mary, (now I’ll find out if Katie, Lisa, Jane, or Lynn actually ever read my blog), her sweet husband, and two beautiful little girls.  I had not been to Texas since I was 2 years old and my dad was completing Air Force Officer Candidate School.  Can’t say that I remember it very well.  And, if it weren’t for Mary and family, it was not particularly high on my list of destinations.   But we were dying to see them and meet their new baby.  And it’s an easy trip from Fort Wayne.  AND the next thing we knew, we were having a fantastic time and eating some awesome food!  (Bonus: saw some great MCM residential architecture — another passion of mine — see end of post for a shot).

The first place Mary took us was Houston’s Central Market.  Check this place out!  I thought I’d died and gone to foodie heaven.  We grabbed some organic prepared salads and quesadillas at the cafe for a quick lunch.  Then while we explored this enormous place (I shed a few tears strolling through the produce section — Fort Wayne Fresh Market, I am looking at you with “eyes of disappointment”), Mary bought all the ingredients to make homemade guacamole, chili rellenos, and from-scratch margaritas for us that evening.  We contributed a case or so of wine to the evening’s festivities — we were so excited to have someone else cook for us!


Later that evening, after a couple or three “spicy nuns“, we sat down to this delicious feast!  chili rellenos

Mary’s husband patiently explained his recipe and gave me lots of helpful hints on how to make it myself.  Unfortunately,….. it’s a little vague in my head now (see above notes re: “spicy nuns” and margaritas).  The next time I want delicious chili rellenos, I’ll just fly down to Mary and Marcus’ house.

The following evening we went to a hip, walkable (a rarity in Houston, I believe) neighborhood called Montrose.  There we started off the evening with some creative cocktails at Anvil Bar & Refuge.

with mary

I had a Pimm’s Cup for the first time.  Hands down, I had the best drink at the table.  Yay me.  We experimented a bit when we got back to Fort Wayne, and here’s how to make a Real Food Pimm’s cup:

– muddle 4 peeled cucumber slices and add to cocktail shaker

– pour in 1.5 oz Pimms #1, .5 oz agave syrup, 1 oz fresh lemon juice, .5 oz gin

– shake vigorously

– pour thru a strainer into an ice-filled tall glass; top with soda water

After drinks at Anvil, we went to the simple, delicious, and funkily romantic Sparrow Restaurant.  The menu changes all the time based on seasonal ingredients.  I don’t recall exactly what we had (see Pimms Cup, above) but I know we had a beet salad and a side of brussel sprouts that were out of this world, plus some local lake fish and some type of game.  Seriously, if you ever find yourself in Houston, go here.  Seriously.

Indianapolis (well, it’s NOT Fort Wayne, is it?)

Shortly after Houston, I took a one day trip down to Indianapolis to pick up my BFF  (no, not Gwyneth, my other BFF) at the airport.  We cruised into downtown for lunch at Indy’s historic City Market.  Saturday is not the best day to experience this restaurant-filled spot (a lot of places were closed), but we were there for crepes — it’s kind of a tradition with us — and crepes are what we got!  At the super yummy 3 Days in Paris.crepe bacon egg, bacon, spinach crepe crepe two

Check out the yumminess: I had egg, cheese, roasted red pepper, local bacon, and spinach on a buckwheat crepe.

My BFF had a banana and nutella 1/2 crepe.  And 1/2 ham, egg, and spinach with pesto.

We were well-fed for an afternoon of talking and shopping, after that!

Potomac, Maryland (ROAD TRIP, via Ohio and Pennsylvania)

Three boys. One mom on a healthy eating mission. 22 hours total in the car.  Guess how that went?

Actually, better than I thought it would!  I was very clear before we set out: “We are not eating any junk food on the way there.  I’m packing lots of snacks you like.  We’ll have a fun dinner out when we stop at the hotel.  But no junk.”  The grousing commenced, of course, until I said (perhaps rather too loudly),  “Look, you stop whining about this right now and once we hit Auntie Charlotte’s house, you can eat whatever the hell you want the whole time and I won’t say a word.”  BIG smiles (“Mom said ‘hell’!).

For the car ride, I packed: cherries, apples, waters, Larabars (only 3 ingredients, no sugar), Kettle Brand baked potato chips, cashews, squeezable organic applesauces, and organic cheese sticks.  You got your sweet, you got your savory.  You’ll survive.

We stopped mid-way, near Pittsburgh, to have dinner and spend the night.  I’d scoped out some restaurant options to suggest before we got there — all chains, of course, just off the Turnpike there — and wasn’t sure what we’d end up doing.  But the first suggestion out of my mouth was the immediate boy-choice — much to my surprise.  Red Lobster!

OK, game on, RL!  But I was — yet again — pleasantly suprised.  First, this was a brand new Red Lobster — nice and super clean and bright.  The kids loved the cheesy biscuits that just arrive at the table– not hard core Real Food-y, I guess — but not exactly junk food, either (?).  They all wanted crab legs (steamed) — so that seemed pretty spot on.  And, since they were busy drawing and chatting my ear off about the maps on the wall and the lobsters in the tank (they were really excited about the Red Lobster!), I was able to instruct the waitress to bring us the fruit salad sides for each kid instead of the fries.  I had a salad (w/ oil and vinegar — bottled salad dressing is just so gross) and a GIANT glass of wine — well done on the generous pour, RL.  Cracking crab legs is a lot of work — so I was busy cracking those open while the boys plowed thru their fruit salads and made weapons out of the claws.  Then we ate lots of crab with lots of melted butter until we were happy as clams (oh, seafood pun! you knew that was coming).  It was actually one of the most fun dinner outings I’ve ever had with them.  And we didn’t go to bed full of fried food.  (Tho’ I was pretty full of white wine after my second glass.  Luckily the hotel was just across the street.)

The next AM we ate the leftover fruit etc. that I’d packed for the car ride.  Obligatory Starbucks run on the way out of town  for me (and they were allowed to get chocolate or vanilla milks — sugary sure, but at least organic).  And we hit the road to Maryland feeling pretty darn good.

Sunday night’s roast pork

Since I was doing the trip myself (Bill had to work), I took two days each way for the drive — so the stay was much shorter than I would have liked.  We crashed at our pals’ Chris & Charlotte’s house (complete with their own 3 boys, 2 dogs, 2 cats, a large wine cellar and one giant pool — the perfect recipe for entertaining a “single” mom and her 3 boys).  Of course Chris, as usual, wowed me with all the delicious food he managed to cook in 2.5 days.  And all locally sourced!  I promised him a mention in the blog.  Here you go, Chris — you rock:


roasting local corn, turnips and beets


local beef and MD corn


roast turnips and beets from their CSA

By the way, if you ever have to spend 22 hours in a car with your 12 y.o., go ahead and let him pick the music.  He downloaded Imagine Dragons’ Night Visions.  I was, perhaps, not particularly enthusiastic about this selection.  But after listen number #7 (mid-Ohio, day 1) and all the way through listen #42 (crossing back over the IN state line, day 7), I am a big fan.  And I will forever remember a really awesome road trip with my three boys when I hear any of these songs.
Imagine Dragons

DISNEYWORLD, Orlando, Florida


I could go on and on about Disney just because I had never been before (I know!  And I was born and raised in America!)  In all honesty, I wasn’t particularly jazzed about this trip.  I don’t like roller coasters.  I don’t like crowds.  I don’t like “faked” environments.  Heck, I don’t even like kids that much.

But — and this is a big but (rather like that on many of the visitors to the park) — I had a freakin’ awesome time!  I DO like funny song and dance shows and goofy little kid rides.  I DO love people watching.  I DO like air conditioned environments when it’s a sweltering Florida 98 degrees.  And, heck, I DO enjoy seeing my kids have a GREAT time.

As for food, just a few comments:

– Disney actually does (or at least, if you believe their menus) a pretty good job of using seasonal, local produce — especially at the nicer, sit-down type restaurants.  For example, they have a seafood place  — Coral Reef Restaurant — that prepares sustainably caught fish with locally sourced ingredients.

– It is not all junk food all the time.  There were loads of fresh fruit and veggie or lean protein options.  I thought the breakfast places in our hotel was particularly good about this.  I always felt that we started the day off well fed, but not loaded with heavily processed food. (We stayed at The Contemporary — remember my love of Modern achitecture?  I was pretty happy just wandering around in there!  See below.)

– The kids’ meals are actually kid-sized.  I was impressed with portion sizing.  Sure, it was mostly junk, like grilled cheese and fries.  But the kids’ meals always came with a good-sized portion of fruit and would have, literally, only 5 or 6 French fries instead of a big pile taking up half the plate.  My kids were starving after all the walking around and would always polish off the fruit (as well as the fried stuff and a dessert, of course).

Thumbs up, Disney.

Thumbs up

Thumbs up, Magic Kingdom.

And if there are any other MCM geeks out there, this is for you:

I want this garage door!

I want this garage door!

The Contemporary.  Note futuristic Monorail!  So cool

The Contemporary. Note futuristic Monorail! So cool