The cruelest month of the year is not April – it’s September. As soon as Labor Day passes, most of the U.S. puts away the flip flops and pulls out the boots, tweeting things like “It’s sweater weather!” and posting taunting pictures of hearty bowls of soup on their instagrams. Meanwhile, we have been suffering through triple digit temps and, to pile insult upon injury, humidity.
Maybe Eliot didn’t live in L.A.
Intellectually, I KNOW that September is the hottest month of the year here – that fall doesn’t even officially start until September 22, and doesn’t really start in Southern California until November. But that doesn’t stop me from being surprised, every year, by the sheer horror that is September in Los Angeles. 105 at my house, folks. 99 degrees at 9 pm. 95 at my office, and the air conditioning broke. I know that when I see my power bill this month I am going to cry. There was really nothing to do but hide in the house, shades drawn, A/C on full blast (which only cooled it to 80, sob), and do absolutely nothing that required any sort of exertion, whatsoever, except eating and drinking very cold things and reading the J. Peterman Catalog. (It goes without saying that I am being just a tad hyperbolic, and September in L.A. compares favorably to being in say, Mosul right now).
So this is it, rest of the world: you are used to Angelenos crowing about the weather, sitting smugly in 75 degrees when the rest of the country freezes their tootsies off in a polar vortex. But not now. This is the week when you can gloat.
We have a zucchini plant in our garden this year. Just one, as we have learned from years past that zucchini quickly becomes overwhelming. Fried zucchini blossoms are one of our favorite summer treats, and one of the most cost-effective ways to get our hands on them is to plant our own zucchini plant.
Apparently, though, there is something mysterious in our soil because that one zucchini plant has grown to monstrous proportions. It’s the tomacco of zucchini plants – each leaf is the size of a cocktail table.
We are diligent about seeking out the zucchini and picking them when they’re either still flowers or at a reasonable size, and we’ve been eating a lot of zucchini fritters and zucchini bread this summer. However, occasionally one will escape our notice, hiding under a massive leaf, until one day we discover this Godzilla-zucchini, and have to figure out what to do with it. They’re more watery and less flavorful than the little ones, and the seeds are enormous, too.
Staring at these enormous zucchini this weekend, I was struck with inspiration. What do you do with any excess vegetables? Make soup. But since it is July, and it is going to be 101 degrees at my house tomorrow, chilled soup is the game.
When it comes to mothers, mine is (almost) always right.
When I was a little girl, I, being a child of the 80’s, wanted nothing more than crap for breakfast. I watched the beguiling commercials – Super Golden Crisp! Pop Tarts! Leggo my Eggo! – and I asked, nay, begged my mother to give me this super-sugary stuff of my dreams for breakfast. My mother, having come of age in the crunchy late 60’s and 70’s in California, wisely turned me down. I had to eat healthy breakfasts, which always included protein. Cream cheese, peanut butter, whole grain breads – on test days I always had eggs. Protein in the morning was her mantra. I, sulking, vowed that when I had children, I would buy Cocoa Krispies for breakfast!
Of course, my mother was right. One day she gave in to my pleading and let me have pancakes for breakfast (though it’s possible my father had a hand in this disaster). 2 hours later the school nurse called her – I felt awful – headache, stomachache, you name it. My mother crisply told the nurse to feed me some cheese and lo and behold! I felt better! Low blood sugar. (I wish I could say that from this day forward, I happily ate my eggs and turned my nose up at Lucky Charms, but, sadly, it took many years of collegiate hangovers and maturity before I submitted to her wisdom.)
Now I am a mother, and Karma is an ahole, because I have the same battles with my kids. Every morning (or every weekend mornings, because weekdays I have learned enough not to ask), the girl says “Please! Can we have pancakes? You never make pancakes!” and the boy, who worships his sister, pipes in with his little voice, shouting “Pancake! I wan’ Pancake!” and then adds, hopefully, “Frosting?” (Because cakes have frosting. I am clearly more relaxed about sugar than my mother was. Pancakes do not, however. I’m not THAT relaxed.) And I repeat back to them my mother’s mantra, and try to wangle some sausages into them and the whole thing, is frankly, exhausting.
It’s the summer solstice! The longest day of the year! The official first day of summer, which, by some magic, is also Midsummer. No matter how you slice it, today is the day when even your most pedantic friends can’t deny that summertime is here, and with it, summer cooking. We’ve already been going crazy with the stone fruit in our house (my children are fruit bats, and I keep finding half-gnawed nectarines in the oddest places) and last week I broke out the first official BLT.
Here’s a list of great The Domestic Front recipes to get you in the mood for cooking this summer!
I live 2 minutes away from where I grew up. This was a combination of happy chance and deliberate decision making – we knew we wanted the kind of beauty and community my hometown provided, and when we decided to buy a house, the first one we looked at happened to be here, in this neighborhood, 2 minutes away from my childhood home. What that means is that to some extent, my children are living my childhood – playing in the same park, reading in the same library, walking the same streets.
My childhood comes back the most vividly for, me, however, when I’m in the kitchen, with my daughter (who is truly my mini-me), making dinner from my mother’s recipes. Cooking together is a thread that links the generations of my family. One of our family’s favorites is meatloaf – the recipe is forgiving enough for little hands to help, and we can work together – chopping, mixing, shaping. I let her choose the McCormick spices we add (within reason), and she has pride of ownership when the meal comes out of the oven, “Daddy, I MADE UP this recipe.” The meatloaf becomes hers, as it has been mine, and my mother’s before me. When we gather outside to eat (because we are Californians, and we eat outside three quarters of the year), I hope that my children feel the strong sense of home that I felt, that brought me back here, to my home town, to my neighborhood, and to the family table. That is American Homemade to us.
Yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Classic. If you ask most people what their favorite cake is, they will answer, “Yellow cake with chocolate frosting.” It’s the cake of our fondest nostalgic imaginings, bringing to mind the best birthdays of childhood.
Not my birthdays, though. I was a child of the 70’s with more imagination than sense, which means my earliest birthday cakes were carrot cakes (of course!) and then, when I was old enough to ask, I’d beg my mother to make a somewhat horrifying concoction of angels food, devils food, chocolate mousse and 7 minute frosting). Now that I am an actual grown up (I can no longer deny this fact due to thenature of 1) my tax return, 2) my grocery list, and 3) my color-coded online family calendar) I have a greater appreciation for classics. Things that never go out of style.ellow cake. Chocolate Frosting.
Last week, my baby turned two. Which means he is hardly my baby anymore. He no longer stays where I put him – instead he is constantly climbing and getting into everything. A few days ago, he went into the kitchen and poured himself a bowl of cereal. With milk. Which was pretty impressive if I ignored the milk all over the table. On the other hand, he is an extraordinarily charming two year old – head of blond curls, little voice that repeats everything, and lots of silliness. I wanted to celebrate his birthday with style, with class – and how better than with the classic – yellow cake with chocolate frosting?
It’s springtime! Which means rhubarb! Which means #YARROSF (Yet another rhubarb recipe on The Domestic Front). Do you think I can get that trending? If you’ve been reading my blog for the past five years, you know I am a rhubarb apologist. It’s not too tart, it’s not too weird, and no, I don’t want to mix it with strawberries. I love the flavor of rhubarb and every spring around this time I want to get into the kitchen with those rosy stalks.
This spring I’ve been trying to cut a lot of carbs out of my diet (more on that later, if you’re interested), and so after thinking about some new ways to use rhubarb, I hit on rhubarb cheesecake. Pairing rhubarb with creamy custard is classic, and the almond crust plays a nice crunchy counterpoint to the creamy filling. What I especially love about this recipe is that it’s so versatile for this time of year – the rhubarb cheesecake would be a beautiful addition to your Easter table, or, given that it’s gluten- and grain-free, a great Passover treat. I’ve provided both the low-sugar version (I used a sugar substitute) and the full-sugar versions below.
The cake is great on its own, but serving it with the remaining rhubarb compote really punches up the springtime flavor. Both of my kids were fans, and repeated words that were music to this rhubarb-loving mama’s ears: “More rhubarb, please!”
When you are a working parent, each weekday can feel like a battle, and each working day, a war. Mornings are especially chaotic – the opening shots are fired at 5:45 am, when the alarm goes off (better – at least I can drink a cup of coffee in peace) or the toddler goes off (No chance of snoozing with that one.) From then on, it’s a full charge ahead – getting two children and two adults awake, dressed in some semblance of reasonable clothing, fed some semblance of breakfast, out the door with all the appropriate gear (lunches, snacks, permission slips, changes of clothes, diapers, two matching shoes, laptop computers and wallets) requires, skill, strategy, manpower, and a great deal of cunning. By the time I actually (drive to daycare, drop off toddler, get to work, park and then) settle into my desk, I feel like my quiet cup of tea is a truce before the workday really begins (and then the whole process must be rendered in reverse).
Weekends, therefore, must be dedicated, not to rest, relaxation, or socializing, but to TACTICAL PLANNING. Meal planning and grocery shopping are crucial, but so is the Sunday cook up, whereby I stock the kitchen for the week ahead. I roast a tray of veggies and another of chicken legs (great kid foods), boil a dozen eggs, chop up and wash salad. If something happens on Sunday to derail the preparation, I know that the weekday war can quickly spin out of control.
Breakfast is a keystone to my strategy. I know my kids and I all do better if we eat a good, solid breakfast – something with protein, that will last us reasonably well until lunch. There’s no time for pancake flipping and omelet making on weekday mornings, but I will stash pancakes and french toast from the weekend in the freezer, for a quick run in the toaster oven. My favorite weekday breakfasts are portable – there’s no guarantee that I will get a chance to actually eat something before that cup of tea at the desk, and the kids can eat SO SLOWLY that taking breakfast in the car is essential to avoiding the tardy bell.
It’s Pi Day! That happy day when bakers and nerds collide! Fun facts about Pi:
1) Pi is a number with an infinite, nonrepeating number of decimal places. The first few are 3.1415926535 (which is why, incidentally, March 14, or 3.14 is known as “Pi Day” amongst a small, geeky subset of the population. And food bloggers.)
2) The circumference of a circle is calculated by multiplying the radius (halfway across the circle) by 2 and pi (2*pi*r). Coincidentally, pies are circles, and 2 pie are better than one!
3) The area of a circle is calculated by multiplying the radius by itself and pie, (pi*r squared). However, we know that in reality, pie are round. (Except for slab pies).
OK, enough with the corny pie pi jokes. Pi is cool, and Pie is cool. Below are a roundup of pies we’ve made at The Domestic Front. Go bake a pie! It’s Pi Day!
When it comes to dinner, I’m an obsessive planner. With a full time job and an hour commute and two kids, my dinnertime meals are regimented. But lunch is more spur of the moment. Not exactly an afterthought, but definitely more of a “What do I feel like eating today?” meal. And sometimes what I feel like eating is soup.
And when I feel like eating soup, I don’t mean soup-three-hours-from-now-after-simmering-0n-the-stovetop, but soup within the next thirty minutes or so, like this Chicken Tortilla Soup. It comes together quickly without sacrificing flavor. Without the long simmering, I’m looking for ways to add flavor fast. Some of my favorite ways to add quick flavor to soups are:
Use good broth. You CAN make soup from water, but if you’re looking for a fast soup, a good broth is essential. Making your own is great, but I also like the flavors of Trader Joe’s Organic Free-Range Chicken Broth (Not reduced sodium), and Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock (Reduced Sodium OK in this case).
Use add-ins that add a lot of up front flavor. A carrot will yield its secret over time, but if you’re looking for fast, you want to add ingredients that carry a lot of flavor from the start. This Mexican-inspired soup uses salsa and chilies to add a big punch of flavor.
Toppings! Plain soup is just that – plain. Toppings take the soup to a whole new level, like in this cauliflower soup recipe. This Chicken Tortilla Soup gets tortillas, cheese, avocados, cilantro – the possibilities are endless.
Based in Los Angeles, the Domestic Front is the home of Kate, a working mom who is low on time but high on life. I hope this site helps you find ways to make your life richer, easier, more beautiful and more delicious. You can read more about me and the site here and feel free to email me with any questions or feedback!