Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fool-proof Soup / Potato, Kale, and Roasted Cauliflower Soup / "Stone Soup"

Did you ever read the story "Stone Soup" as a child? We had a picture book telling the story, about a hungry traveler who claims he can make delicious soup out of just a stone. By asking each of the passersby to contribute one small ingredient, sure enough, he cooks up a big pot of soup that is enjoyed by all.

I enjoyed this story as a child because of the traveler's cleverness and the villagers' lesson in cooperation. But as an adult, I was amazed to find that the cooking part of this story is incredibly accurate—when making soup, you really can throw in whatever you have and it will turn out great. The one meal I can always rely upon to be AMAZING, no matter what ingredients I have on hand, is soup.

The thing about soup is, once you know the "secrets" to making it, it's practically impossible to mess up. I really think it's the easiest meal you can make from scratch, as long as you have an hour or two to let it simmer. And you don't need to run to the store for ingredients but can simply use whatever you have on hand.

There are three basic principles I follow to get perfect, delicious soup every time:

1. Start by sauteing onion and garlic in butter/oil at the bottom of your stock pot.

2. Use Sazon Goya.

3. Add the individual ingredients according to how long they take to cook (so things that take the longest to cook first).

As long as you do those three things, your soup will be delicious. Guaranteed.

To illustrate the process, I took pictures while I was making Potato, Kale, and Roasted Cauliflower Soup recently. I didn't use a recipe—which, Frank will tell you, is extremely rare for me, since normally I'm not brave enough to veer one word away from the instructions! But that's the thing with soup—it's so easy that if you've made it once or twice, you know how to make it forever.

I started with butter at the bottom of my stock pot (you could also use coconut oil):

Next I added one finely chopped onion.

In a pinch, you could also use minced dried onions. I've done it before.

Right after the onions, I add garlic. Ideally you would add fresh garlic cloves (probably 2 or 3) but I almost always use garlic powder.

Once the onions have cooked long enough to turn translucent, I add 6 cups of chicken stock.

I sometimes make my own chicken stock when we eat a whole chicken (I roughly follow this recipe except I almost never add vegetables and I never have parsley on hand ... so it's basically just water, bones, and a bit of vinegar), and sometimes I use bouillon or a carton of chicken stock. You could also use vegetable stock or plain water, but I always use chicken stock as I like the flavor. (Am I allowed to say "I like the depth of flavor it provides and the way it enhances the other ingredients"? Does that sound pretentious?)

(I hope you guys are enjoying my heart-shaped "made with love" wooden spoon. I love that thing.)

And now for the secret ingredient! Sazon Goya!

That stuff is magical. Seriously, it says right on the packet: "A little bit of magic in foil packets." It's true!!! I use it in every kind of soup, from minestrone to chicken noodle. It makes every dish better.

I especially love using it because I can always hear my Cuban grandmother's voice in my head when she used it (she's the one who introduced me to the magic of Sazon Goya). She always tells me to the buy the kind without Annatto, so I do, though I'm not sure why. But the last time Frank did groceries he got the regular kind with annatto, so we'll be cooking with that kind now. I don't think it makes a difference.

Here's the soup after the Sazon Goya (at this point it's just onion and garlic sauted in butter, chicken stock, and Sazon Goya):

Lovely color there, thank you Sazon Goya.

So now it's time to start adding the ingredients. Potatoes take the longest to cook, so they go in there first. I try to chop them into pieces small enough to easily eat with a spoon.

Why did I use red potatoes? Because they were what we had. I'm making this soup again tomorrow and I'll be using brown potatoes because we need to use up a bag of them. I'm telling you, with soup, just throw in whatever you need to use up. It will end up tasting delicious.

I never peel potatoes, for any recipe, since the skins are packed with fiber and vitamins. Also, who has the time?

After that I put the lid on and walked away to let the potatoes cook. I waited to add the other ingredients until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile I turn my attention to the cauliflower.

Why did I put cauliflower in this soup? Because we'd had a party the day before and I had a leftover vegetable tray nobody had touched. So I turned the leftover cauliflower into soup.

First I chopped the cauliflower (which was pretty quick since they were already cut up. I just chopped them small enough to easily eat with a spoon):

Not pictured: I then tossed the cauliflower in a big bowl with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted it according to this recipe. Yes, it took 30 minutes to roast, but the potatoes needed that time to cook anyway.

So then I added the roasted cauliflower:

Wow, that looks ... appetizing... Don't worry, we're not done.

The final step is adding the ingredient that needs the least time to cook—KALE!:

Here is where Frank would make some smart-alecky remark about "stop with the kale propaganda." He listens to way too much Jim Gaffigan, if you ask me. But even he had to admit it tasted delicious!

So that's it. Just remember: 1) Start with sauteing onions and garlic. 2) Use Sazon Goya. 3) Add ingredients according to cooking time. Your soup will always turn out great.

You can elaborate on this basic process to make any kind of soup you want. Use a tomato base, vegetables, pasta, and no meat—it's minestrone. Cook ground beef with the onion and garlic, use tomato paste and a ton of beans—it's chili. Use broccoli instead of kale and cauliflower, blend or puree the soup, and then add milk or heavy cream—it's cream of broccoli. The possibilities are truly endless, once you get the basic idea.

Here is the official recipe if you need it:

Potato, Kale, and Roasted Cauliflower Soup

1 tbsp butter or coconut oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder)
4-6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock), depending on how many people are eating
4 large or 6 medium potatoes, chopped
1 head cauliflower florets (about 2 cups), chopped
1/2 bag of kale (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 packet Sazon Goya seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) Grated Parmesan or mozzarella cheese to top

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Melt butter at the bottom of a 6-quart stock pot.
3. Add onion and garlic. Saute until onion is translucent.
4. Add chicken stock and Sazon Goya.
5. Add potatoes.
6. While potatoes are cooking in broth, separately toss cauliflower in large bowl with olive oil and about 1/4 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Spread out cauliflower pieces on a baking sheet and roast for 20-30 minutes.
7. When potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork, add roasted cauliflower.
8. Stir in kale until just wilted.
9. Serve and enjoy! We sprinkled a little grated Parmesan on top. Dee-lish.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Easy Halloween Costume: Mary Poppins & Bert

I have been talking about Halloween for months now. Seriously, since before Frankie was born. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays (you get to dress up in costume AND you get free candy??? There is no down side—every part of this holiday is awesome), but Frank didn't grow up celebrating Halloween and was kind of wary of the whole concept. So I figured I could get him on board by talking NON-STOP about how excited I was to dress up for Halloween. (I know, lucky Frank.) I'm pretty sure every one of our friends has heard me mull over possible costumes at some point in the last 6 months.

We finally agreed to a compromise about the whole dressing-up-in-costume thing. I could understand him not wanting to dress up for trick-or-treating, since we are kind of definitely too old for that, but what if we were invited to a costume party? "Ok, fine," Frank said, "I'll agree to dress up if we get invited to a costume party."

So once we got that settled, I began crossing my fingers that we'd get invited to a costume party. Oh yeah, I'm pretty sure we had this conversation back in August. Nothing wrong with being prepared, right?

Luckily, our friends pulled through, and we were invited to TWO parties requiring Halloween costumes. The first was last Friday. I was more than a little gleeful when I reminded Frank of our deal, and he was more than a little eye-rolly at my excitement over coming up with costumes. Pretty much every costume I suggested, he vetoed (or I vetoed his suggestions). He didn't want to be Star Wars characters or animals or fairy-tale characters, and I didn't want to be historical figures. I mean, Irish pirate queens sound cool and all, but who even is Grace O'Malley? The party involved a costume contest, and call me crazy but I didn't think Grace O'Malley would be a guaranteed winner.

Finally, it was the day before the party and I was frantically googling couples' costumes, most of which were too cheesy or involved props we didn't have. On a whim, I texted Frank, "What about Mary Poppins and Bert? We already have almost all of the stuff for it" and I sent him this picture:


Luckily Frank's favorite Disney movie growing up was Mary Poppins, and I always liked channeling my inner Mary Poppins during my babysitting days, so we had a winner! The great thing about this costume is that we already had most of it in our own closets. Here is what you'll need if you want to recreate it too:

dark-colored long-sleeved shirt
dark pants
dark vest
duffer cap
black dress shoes
red bandana around the neck
black eyeshadow smudged on the face
(optional) some sort of broom

Mary Poppins:
black A-line skirt
opaque black tights
black heels
white button-down shirt, buttoned all the way to the top
red belt
red bow tie (or a red bow safety-pinned to the collar)
small black hat with some white flowers
a large bag
an umbrella with a printed parrot head taped to the handle
(optional) white gloves

We went to Goodwill Thursday night, where I found a plain black felt hat and a little wreath of white flowers. I cut up the flowers and glued them all around the hat brim, with one sticking straight up in the back. The whole family was getting in on the costume-planning fun—my mom found a red bandana for Frank and lent me the hot-glue gun, while my little sister dug up a black umbrella—but it was my dad who had the genius idea to make our own parrot head umbrella at home. He found and printed this image for me to tape to the umbrella handle:


With that, we were set. We dressed Frankie as a mini-chimney sweep in dark-colored clothes and his duffer cap. The next night, we were so excited when we won the couples' category of the costume contest! One of our friends said, "It was the parrot umbrella that did it!" and I couldn't wait to tell my dad. Such a fun night, and such a fun costume.

Now the only question that remains ... will we come up with different costumes for the next Halloween party, or stick with this tried-and-true winner? (Or really, how many different costumes will Frank tolerate?). What's your favorite easy, throw-together-stuff-from-the-closet Halloween costume?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Frankie wears many hats

... literally.

Frank and I love playing dress-up with his mini-me, and we went a little overboard in purchasing hats for the fall and winter. It helps that Old Navy has the greatest selection of baby hats imaginable, and that Frank's younger brother works there and lets us know about all their great deals.

First we have what Frank calls the "little Gilbert" duffer cap (our family is a bit Anne of Green Gables-obsessed):

Frankie wears this hat to church (but not IN church) and for sunny walks around the neighborhood.

My favorite memory with this hat (so far) is the time Frankie and I were walking with some friends through Bridgeport and we spotted an elderly gentleman sitting on his front stoop... wearing the exact same duffer cap as my baby. It was awesome. When he saw Frankie, the grin on that old man's face was a mile wide.

Next we have Frankie's "trapper hat" aka "bear cub hat." I like to call it his Davy Crockett hat, but Frank insists that doesn't work since it's not a coonskin cap. Whatever, he totally looks like a snuggly little mountain man to me. When he wears this hat, I like to sing the Davy Crockett song with Frankie's name subbed in: "Frankie, Frankie Barber! King of the wild frontier!" (you know the one?)

My favorite memory with this hat (so far) is the time Frankie wore it when we went on a tour of Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee. All of these tipsy frat boys were coming up to us yelling, "Dude! Awesome hat!!" It cracked me up. I also loved when the tour guide asked, "Is this baby's first brewery tour??" and Frank and I responded, "No... it's his second." We were a little proud of ourselves, not gonna lie.

And last but not least, we have Frankie's pumpkin hat. 

This one is his newest—Frank just bought it for him when we were in NJ over the weekend—but it already has sentimental value for a couple of reasons.

When Frankie was a tiny infant, about six weeks old, the very first time Frank made him laugh was by calling him "pumpkin." It was the cutest thing—Frank would give him this big grin and say, "Heyyy pumpkin!" and tiny Frankie would giggle and giggle. To this day, "pumpkin" is Frank's special nickname for him that always makes him laugh, so of course when Frank saw this pumpkin hat he had to buy it.

Also, back when Frank and I were engaged and living in Virginia, every Sunday at church we used to do "baby spotting" of the little ones sitting near us. We would always point out the cutest babies to each other and daydream about having a baby of our own someday. In particular, we always noticed this one baby boy who we dubbed "the pumpkin." His mother always wore him in a sling so that just his little head was visible, and since he had very chubby cheeks and bright orange hair, he did in fact look just like a little pumpkin. It's fun to remember those days now that we have a chubby-cheeked "pumpkin" of our own.

p.s. Happy feast of St. Teresa of Avila—my patron saint—today!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hitting pause for just a minute

This child. You are the light of my life and the joy of my heart, I whisper to him at least once a day. His father and I both dote on him absurdly. There are no words to describe the love and the happiness he brings us.

He turned five months old last Friday, and his latest nicknames are "Energizer Frankie" (bestowed by one of my mom friends after she witnessed him bouncing and kicking in great good humor until nearly 11 p.m. at an ND game watch) and "Tigger" (we sing him the Tigger song a lot, subbing in "The wonderful thing about Frankies..."). He is a high-energy baby, that's for sure. Everyone who sees him comments on it—that, and how big he is. Random elderly gentlemen at church or Sox games will ask his age and then say, "He's going to play linebacker for the Bears some day!" Yes, he's a big little guy, we know. Even though I clearly had nothing to do with his size, I can't help but beam with pride when people comment on it. One of my mom friends who also struggled to get started with breastfeeding said the other day, "I can't help but feel so proud when people comment on how big and strong my baby is—I almost feel like Almanzo Wilder exhibiting his prize pumpkin that he worked so hard to grow!" That cracked me up, since I must admit I sometimes feel the same way!

Here are some of my favorite things about my boy at five months:

He is very grabby these days, and curious about everything, so we have to make sure that our plates and glasses are far out of his reach when we're holding him at the table—but when I give him his own little glass, or hold up my water glass to his lips, all he wants to do is gnaw on the rim.

We've got a nice little bedtime routine going for him—Frank reads him some bedtime stories, and then I come in when he's good and tired to nurse him to sleep. While nursing in bed, he is constantly moving the arm he's not lying on—waving it in the air, grabbing onto my shirt, stroking my arm. It makes me laugh to see him, almost completely asleep, waving that little arm in the air. When he grabs my arm or face, as he likes to do, I melt.

He gets very bored during diaper changes and spends the whole time trying to roll over or twist backwards to examine whatever is near his head. We try to distract him with toys (like his pacifier, which he doesn't suck on but regards as a fascinating artifact, carefully examining it and then gnawing on the handle), but that lasts about 5 seconds before he is back to trying to roll over again.

I try to memorize his darling, perfect little body—his unbelievably soft and warm little fingers, his comically long toes and comically large thumbs, the fine fair hair on his little head. Every inch of him is unutterably precious.

His very favorite thing to do is, with our help, to stand up—on our laps, on the bed, on the table, on the floor—and he will support himself on his legs for an incredibly long time, occasionally bouncing up and down (hence "Tigger") or doing "squats". He loves standing so much that, when he's disgruntled, I ask him, "Do you need to stand it out?" and then I let him stand for a while and he gets happy again.

He is so close to sitting up. We can see it. He loves when he's lying on his back and we let him grab onto our thumbs so he can pull himself up to a sitting and then a standing position. He has great head control and lately has been trying so hard to sit up on his own, lifting his head and neck in a mini-crunch, but he's not quite there yet. His fine motor skills are getting better and it's interesting to watch him carefully manipulate his toys with his fingers, when just a few weeks ago he could only bat at them.

Yesterday I heard him waking up from his nap, so I went in to get him and found him enthusiastically trying to latch onto a pillow. I started laughing at the sight of him, whereupon he turned to look at me and, on seeing me laugh, started laughing loudly too. We stood there laughing at each other for a good 30 seconds. He always likes to be "in on the joke" and anytime the people around him laugh, he will laugh loudly as well, grinning up at our faces as though he knows exactly what's so funny. This child makes me laugh countless times a day.

He has "discovered his feet", as the baby books say. Starting about two weeks ago, he would stare at his feet constantly and try to grab them. He progressed to holding them all the time in a perfect "happy baby pose" (from yoga), and now he likes to stick them in his mouth. We laugh to see him munching happily on his feet every chance he gets. Yesterday he figured out how to pull off one of his socks for the first time—yikes.

He doesn't care much to be held by men, who are often loud and scary to him, but is generally completely content with women—the obvious exception being his father, who is absolutely his favorite person in the entire world, no question. Even the ladies at church will come up to us and comment, "That baby lights up around his father like he does around no one else!" It's true. Frankie becomes giddy with glee when Frank gets home and holds him, and if they are outside too (Frankie's favorite place)? Game over—that baby will smile without stopping, clutching his father's shoulder as he looks all around him and occasionally lets out little shrieks of glee. I love to see them together—"Big Frank" and "Little Frank", as the nurses at the hospital called them—the baby such a perfect carbon copy of his father. They crack each other up, playing, and sometimes I feel so happy when I look at them that it hurts and I have to look away.

Not that everything is perfect, of course. The little man was a truly dismal sleeper for his entire fourth month of life—as bad as the newborn stage, if not worse. After being miserable about it for a few weeks, I finally just accepted that this was the new normal. I need to work on being more quickly adaptable! But the night before he turned five months, he slept a five-and-a-half hour stretch again! That was so exciting, and since then his sleep has been getting better and better. I'm optimistic that we've turned a corner there. Oh, and also... he doesn't have teeth yet, but last week he decided it would be a really fun idea to start biting when he's supposed to be nursing. NOT okay. I'm not quite sure how to handle this, except to stop nursing when he does it, so any suggestions would be appreciated! Also, he has figured out how to pull off his cloth diapers with velcro tabs. Big problem. Why didn't I ever think of that when I was buying diapers?

Overall, though five months is so great. He is so much fun and makes friends everywhere he goes with his enormous smile. I wouldn't mind pausing time right now, at this very fun and adorable stage.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Thoughts on being spared


There's some kind of intense stuff about c-sections in this post so you may want to skip it if you're not up for that.