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Hurricane Stew

29 Oct

With Sandy bearing down upon the east coast, I’ve been keeping my mind off of the weather reports by keeping busy in the kitchen.

For Irene, it was a white-bean, turkey, kale stew. For Sandy, I made a red lentil-kale-root vegetable (turnips, carrots, onion, potatoes, garlic) celery stew in the slow cooker.

Despite the whistling wind batting the trees in the yard, the hearty, fragrant, rich smell permeates throughout the house as we anxiously watch the impending approach of the storm.


Strawberries here, strawberries there!

5 Jun


My girls were excited to see that the strawberry plant in our garden had a ruby colored fruit. My older one excitedly showed me the ripe berry.

We carefully brought it into the house, rinsed it, and she and her sister took tiny bites together, savoring the sunny sweetness.

The best part?

The next day was an excursion to Golden Earthworm Organic Farm in Jamesport, NY – a farm locally known for their organic CSA offerings in the metro New York area. What were we doing?

Organic Strawberry Picking of course!





Papa zipped through the patch, while Baba carefully filled her basket with perfectly colored, shaped, and sized berries. The little one quickly became distracted, and picked wands of dandelion fluff – and I inwardly laughed – my three year old, spreading dandelion seeds as she blew the balls of fluff into the air. My older one carefully examined each berry, picking those that were beautifully red, but small in size.

It was a beautiful day in the strawberry patch, despite the clouds that had covered the sky, earlier in the day.

We stopped at our favorite restaurant on our forays to the north shore of Long Island – The Lobster Roll


Papa and the girls enjoyed the clam bake, Baba the fried oyster roll, and I had my once-a-year decadent fried soft shell crab roll.

The strawberries were shared with Nanna, Auntie K, Uncle K and Lala at daycare. We enjoyed them fresh, with a little milk and sugar (Baba’s request) and I took the remaining berries and made a jam, by cooking the berries down with sugar and lemon juice.

What fun we had…

The return of the swallows

9 May

A non-bento related entry welcoming back the swallows who managed to nest on top of our garage’s flood lights last year.
This year, Papa is a bit more intolerant of the “droppings disaster” left behind by their babies, and he is poised to thwart their attempts to create their mud nests.
So far, Papa has managed to wash away their first attempt at creating a nest.
Let’s see who wins the battle of the wills…

January 2012, welcome, Year of the Dragon! Happy New Year!

9 Jan

2011, the year of the rabbit, skipped by very quickly – its little bunny tail quickly disappearing into the abyss of another 12 year cycle. 

Up rose the majestic Dragon, and hopefully, our health and luck continue the upward trend!

This week was a short week starting on Tuesday.  I included a little Japanese New Year items in my daughter’s lunch box.

Kimpira gobo, or julienned burdock and carrot slices (cut into matchstick width) that were sautéed and subsequently simmered in a dashi, soy sauce, mirin broth until the liquid is boiled away.  I’m guilty of cooking by “eyeballing” my recipes, but here’s a general recipe for this traditional dish:

One burdock (gobo) root – usually, they come in two in a package.  I take the non-bladed side of my knife, and shave the skin off.  It’s very thin, but very muddy – you can also choose to simply scrub the burdock with a vegetable brush.  It’ll be very fragrant – an earthy, herby fragrance that will be released, and the burdock root itself is a gorgeous creamy color.  Cut into 1 1/2 – 2 inch matchstick pieces, and allow to soak in some cold water.  The water will prevent the browning of the pieces.  Drain well, right before adding to the pan.

I like a healthy helping of vegetables, so I take three medium-sized carrots, peeled, and cut into similar matchstick pieces.

Into a large frying pan, I add 1 tbs of canola oil, and 1 tbs or sesame oil, heat until shimmering over medium heat, and add the drained burdock pieces and carrot pieces, and saute, coating the pieces well with the oil. 

I then add 3 tbs soy sauce, 1 tbs mirin, 2 tbs white sesame seeds and 1/2 cup water, and continue sautéing the pieces.  I also add 1 tsp of the ground shiitake powder to the pan, and continue sautéing the pieces.  Adjust the seasoning accordingly.  Alternately, you could add 1/2 cup of dashi – I substitute actual dashi with the water + ground shiitake powder mix.

Once the liquid has cooked away, I remove from the heat, and it’s ready to go.

Also in her bento were cucumber slices, some oden, left over from New Year’s Day, as well as sekihan, or literally, red rice (Sweet rice steamed with adzuki beans, served with a little salt and , which is served on auspicious occasions.  The oden included were (my favorite) boiled egg, bamboo sprout slices, and konnyaku (devil’s tongue yam) pieces which have been simmered in a rich, dashi stock for many hours.  The egg is stained a lovely, caramel color, and the pieces are seasoned with the savory, slightly sweet oden soup.  My winter favorite!

Wednesday, I sent in a thermos container full of oden, as my daughter told me she loved to eat it.

For Thursday, I included:

Broccoli omelette

Roasted chioggi beet stars

Cucumber slices


Friday was pizza day – and I fell right back into the usual routine.

Stuffed pepper and savory omelette bento

22 Sep

We were spared from any power outages during Hurricane Irene – and the only damage we suffered were my pole beans being toppled over.  I leaned them against the trellis since the poles were too heavy for me to try to make them upright again.

The tomatoes (planned and rogue), shiso, kale, and peppers managed to survive unscathed, and we are enjoying them as the summer winds down.

Today’s lunch is:

Stuffed pepper – essentially, I took the ground turkey-carrot-celery-onion-ginger-garlic-oatmeal mixture from the meatballs, and stuffed them in pepper halves from our garden.  I baked them in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes – I added a topping of 1:1 ketchup and HP Sauce (with a drizzle of Worcestershire) in the last 5 minutes.  Shelled edamame made the face, and I called it a “teddy bear.”  My older daughter was convinced.

Savory omelette – Two beaten eggs, seasoned with 1 tbs mirin, 1 tsp soy sauce.  I poured the mixture into a preheated, lightly greased cast iron pan, and stirred occasionally while the egg set.  I used two chopsticks, pulling the cooked edges of egg into the center, allowing more surface area to cook for the raw egg, and adding air into the egg making it fluffier.  When the edges cooked, I added cooked watercress (liquid squeezed out, cut into 1/2 inch pieces) and 1 heaping tbs of the turkey soboro.  I folded half of the omelette over the filling, and continued cooking until all the egg was cooked.  I continually flipped the omelette – I find this to help create a more rectangular shape so it’s easier to manage and to cut.  Normally, if we are eating an omelette at home, I will allow the omelette to be a bit more moist; however, I didn’t want any excess liquid in the bento box, so I cooked this omelette well.  Once done, I removed it from heat, and cut them into bite sized pieces.  I packed two slices for my daughter’s bento – and the rest the girls ate for breakfast.  (one slice was cut into at an angle)

Onigiri with mentaiko filling – this might be a strike-out, since mentaiko, or marinated pollack row is salty, and also may be a bit spicy.  We’ll see if this is the case – but I had wanted to provide some variety with the fillings this week….

Red Grapes

Tomorrow is pizza lunch day!

Rogue Matt’s Wild Cherry, beets, quail eggs for lunch

12 Sep

As you may recall, last year, I made the newbie mistake of planting 10 cherry and grape tomato plants.

Needless to say, after being overwhelmed by red, yellow and orange marble-sized tomatoes that proliferated until the first frost, I swore up and down, I would only plant two cherry tomato plants. 

On the other hand, I’d plant countless pole beans this year, as these would probably be a bit more manageable.

A blog of how to avoid the “Jack and the Beanstalk” syndrome will soon follow.

This year, I was poking around the garden with my head-lamp lighting a little conical way through the dusky garden, I discovered I had pockets of tomato breeds I had not planted in the garden THIS year. 

One of them was a random Matt’s Wild Cherry plant that had deliciously red fruit clusters, perfect for picking.  Most likely this plant had regenerated itself from a rogue tomato dropped in a random patch between the herb pots LAST  year.

The issue I had with these adorable tomatoes were their inability to keep fresh for longer than a day.  The sweet and intense fruit have very delicate skin that split once they are picked off of the stem – so they were very difficult to store until I stopped at Makinajian Farm to see they simply clipped the tomatoes, including the stems, and packed them into containers.

For Saturday school, I packed a cluster of these rogue tomatoes (including the stem), and expanded from there:

Boiled quail eggs (conventional)

Roasted beets

Onigiri (1:1 mix of white and multi-grain rice) with okaka filling, the rice pre-seasoned with sesame seeds, and some unseasoned flakes of katsuobushi, wrapped in nori

Sliced Armenian cucumbers

Age-kama with burdock from Miyagi Prefecture – my little attempts to try to support the regional economies devastated by the tsunami caused by the 3/11 Tohoku region earthquakeAge-kama is surimi or fish that has been pounded and processed into a paste, and then cooked – whether extruded, or molded into shapes and steamed – and then deep-fried.  Many times, MSG is used as an ingredient – fortunately, the age-kama I bought did not include it in their ingredient list.  Is it a healthy item?  I think in small quantities, it’s a nice treat to have as a side in bento on occasion.  These were cut into cat shapes.

Irene soup August 27, 2011

6 Sep

Bean, sausage, kale, carrot, shimeji soup

Between being frightened by the news, and worrying about my vegetable garden being destroyed by Hurricane Irene – the eve of the arrival of the storm was spent with a lot of hand-wringing, pacing and worrying.

My older daughter helped me empty the contents of our covered patio deck into a lovely M.C. Escher -inspired assembly of stubborn patio chairs, precariously balanced over bicycles, a Radio Flyer, and a hodge podge of gardening items methodically stacked inside my ex-car garage-currently-Papa’s-woodworking-man-cave. 

We then ran outside to the vegetable garden, and tried to pick as many string beans/yard-long beans and tomatoes before nightfall.  My little one spun dizzy circles in the yard, her arms out-stretched and her sundress puffing into little parasol shapes as she sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Stauw (Star, with Brooklyn accent, thanks to Lala at daycare).”  My older daughter grabbed handfuls of beans and cherry tomatoes next to me.

I then hustled everyone back into the house once the rain started falling.

To calm myself, I decided I’ll cook.  Let’s call it, “Irene Soup.”

Here are the ingredients:

1 container, Trader Joe’s Hearty vegetable stock

1 lbs dried Cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed

2 large handfuls of string beans pulled from the garden, de-stringed and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 large onions, cut into bite-sized pieces

4 carrots, peeled, and cut into 1/8 inch pieces

4 celery stalks, rinsed, and cut into 1/8 inch pieces

Handful of kale from our garden – probably about 8 medium leaves – julienned across the “rib”

Handful cherry tomatoes from our garden

1 packet Hokuto Bunashimeji mushrooms – rinsed, and the bottom “stalk” part trimmed.  The mushrooms were pulled into small clusters.

2 sweet Italian sausages, grilled, and cut into bite-sized pieces.  These were left-over from an earlier dinner.

1 Tbs chopped pancetta

1 Tsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Handful of thyme and oregano leaves, pulled off stems

In the bottom of the pressure cooker, set over medium heat, I drizzled the olive oil, and added the pancetta to brown.  I then added the onion, carrots and celery until fragrant.  I then added the remaining vegetables (kale, beans, tomato and mushrooms) until they softened a little, (kale and beans will get brighter green in color) and then poured in the stock. 

I then added the dried beans, and brought everything to a strong simmer, stirring occasionally.

I then added the lid, adjusting the heat (medium) until there was a steady, but not hysterical hissing of steam, and set the stove timer for 45 minutes.

Once the timer rang, I let the pot cool until the pressure lock released the lid, and checked for done-ness.  I wasn’t convinced after my original check that the bean soup was done, so I started the pressure cooker again for another 30 minutes.  I added the sliced sausage pieces at this point to the soup.

Once the second round of cooking was done, I stirred and garnished the soup with the herbs from my garden.

The resulting soup was velvety, soft, creamy soup, punctuated by the occasional carrot, bean or mushroom.  The tomato, kale, celery and potato were “melted” into smaller pieces (or shreds) and I knew this would be a hit with the girls.

Thankfully, we did not lose power, and we did not suffer any property damage during the storm.