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 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.
I love the holiday season – I really do. I keep a nested to do list on my phone to keep track of Christmas presents. I drive out of my way to find houses with the best light displays. And I bake a lot of cookies. But there’s a point in the season (and this year, it’s right about … now) when the merrymaking starts to feel a little forced. I consult my calendar, and it reads something like “Holiday Performance (school): 10 am. Holiday Performance (after school program): 2 pm. Coworker’s Party: 4 pm. Family Movie Night: 7 pm. ” It should be followed by “Mom falls asleep on the couch: 7:30 pm. Kids get into Christmas candy dish and smear chocolate on said couch: 7:34 pm.” I’m a little burnt out, and when every single event on that calendar asks that you bring “a homemade dessert to share!” I start to consider putting my head under a pillow until January.
Fortunately, there are Christmas cookies that come to the rescue. These are not the decorated, iced, hand painted, seven layered sugar swirled confections that usually constitute Christmas cookies. These are a little more … austere, when austerity provides a welcome counterpoint to the mad festivity. (And don’t suggest just forgoing cookies altogether, BLASPHEMER. It is Christmas and there will be cookies.) These are easy to make – the dough comes together seamlessly, the ingredients aren’t too difficult to track down, and the log sits happily in your refrigerator (or freezer), ready to be sliced and baked whenever the calendar demands it. Continue reading Slice and Bake Buckwheat Chocolate Shortbread
Summer time is pie time. After years of resistance, I have come to love a good fruit pie, with juices running every which way. But as seasonal as it is, fruit pie is not often convenient for summer activities. It doesn’t go on road trips, or to the beach. It doesn’t slip into sack lunches for camp, or feed the crowd at the Friday night neighborhood barbecue.
Enter slab pie. It may sound unprepossessing, but slab pie is a pinch hitter for summer fun. Sure, a higher crust to fruit ratio makes it neater to take along with you, but it’s also just a little sassier – big enough to feed a crowd, with a slick of icing and generous proportions, it’s the Fat Amy to regular fruit pie’s Becca. (Bonus points if you get my reference.)
My baby boy has just turned one, and I have no clue how that happened. Just last week he was a tiny little warm bundle, whose floppy body fit – just exactly – into mine. His head smelled like powder and was covered with just the whisper of soft peach fuzz. He slept (and woke!) every two hours, and I was his sun.
I blinked and suddenly he’s walking around the house like a bear on his hind legs. Often with something dangerous – a fork, a length of jump rope, a permanent marker – clutched tight in one grubby little paw. He has the most delightful sly little smile, which is slower to come than it used to be, unless there is something TRULY exciting, which must also be shouted at and banged upon – like a drum, or a dog. He likes to tell jokes, and he wants to know what everything in the world is called, pointed and gesturing, and always saying, “que?” “que?” The peach fuzz is still strawberry blond, but has lengthened into curls – CURLS, which hurt my heart to look at, because WHAT is more darling than a little boy toddling around with blond curls? When he wakes up in the morning, he goes hunting for his sister, who is the MOST fun person in his world. He’s not a baby any more.
As if to squelch any doubt remaining in my mind about the end of his babyhood, the cruel calendar came round to May, and his babyhood year (why only one year?) was officially over. Toddlerhood is officially here, with all the joys that entails (stairs! And talking!)
So we made cake. And because I’m busy chasing the little blond monster all over creation, I didn’t fool around with layers and creaming, and baking and frosting. I made icebox cake.
Advent season is here! For those of you unfamiliar with the Christian tradition, advent is the start of the liturgical calendar, the time of preparation for Christmas, the beginning of it ALL. There is a trend I see towards a minimalist Christmas. Cut the hassle, forget the tree, count calories, draw names in a gift exchange. I understand the pull for simplicity – aren’t our lives full enough? Do we need more complication, more stuff? But when I think about advent, and the Christmas season, and the kind of memories I have from childhood, and the kind of memories I want my children to have – I am not drawn towards austerity. The word I want for Christmas is abundance.
We are lucky to have the blessings and the resources we have – the blessings of family, of income, of time together – and in the Christmas season I want to celebrate those blessings. Trimming the tree, visiting Santa, decorating the house, sending cards to friends far and wide, entertaining the neighbors, choosing gifts for our loved ones and those less fortunate than we are, spending time by the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate, baking cookies, opening presents, feasting, laughing, giving — I want ALL of these to feature strongly in my children’s memories of the season.
Christmas is, after all, a season of celebration. The “reason for the season” is not malls and office parties and eight million renditions of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, the second most awful Christmas song of all time (the first being, of course, “Christmas Shoes.”) But it is giving, and it is celebrating, and it is singing. Whatever your tradition, we are all celebrating this time of year. The miracle of light, the return of the sun, a baby being born into the world. All are the return of hope in in a time of adversity. What’s not to celebrate about that? Continue reading Eggnog Rum Balls
Halloween is over, and we’ve all recovered from our sugar highs (theoretically). Now is the home stretch for home cooks – less than three weeks until Thanksgiving, and then the sprint through the December holidays into New Year, when we all collapse in a faint of exhaustion. I know you’re already planning your Thanksgiving menu, so to make it easy, I collected the The Domestic Front Thanksgiving recipes into one easy place. The best, most foolproof, most delicious, juicy, crisp-skinned roast turkey? We’ve got that. Instructions on making your own pie crust (with a bonus recipe for silky smooth, perfectly spiced pumpkin pie)? You’ll find that here. In the next few weeks I’ve got a few exciting new recipes coming up — another savory sweet potato dish, a refreshing fall salad, and new twists on old favorites like stuffing and cranberry sauce, but in the meantime, here’s the roundup of Thanksgiving recipes for your inspiration:
There are things I love, but I’m too lazy to make them often. Chicken and dumplings – a relatively simple dish — just seems exhausting to me. Cooking all that chicken! Making that soup! (Fortunately, my mom makes it relatively often, and usually invites me to share.) Then there are dishes that could be fairly straightforward to make, but that just don’t appeal to me. In this corner is chicken pot pie. I always want to like it — what’s not to like? Chicken, vegetables, gravy … but I always imagine it sitting like a lead weight in my stomach. (I think it’s the combination of pie crust and gravy. There’s a reason fruit pies are classic). During our recent spate of cold(ish) weather, I was mooning about what comfort food I’d like to make, and it hit me. A cross between Chicken and Dumplings and Chicken Pot Pie — chicken, vegetables, gravy, all topped with a savory parmesan biscuit cobbler topping. And this is the real genius part — it’s made with rotisserie chicken, so it’s EASY. I had to pat myself on the back. Continue reading Chicken Cobbler Pot Pie
Have you ever heard the word “Hangry”? It’s “so hungry you’re angry.” Any mother of small kids is familiar with this concept, but for me it’s not limited to my kids. When my blood sugar gets low, I get irritable and cranky, short tempered and snappish. In short, I get hangry. Which is why I never understand those people who don’t eat breakfast. Aside from all that chipper nutritionist talk of breakfast being the most important meal of the day, if I haven’t eaten something in 12 hours I am seriously hangry. Breakfast is essential, and I try to actually make it healthful as well.
Unfortunately, my mornings these days aren’t really lending themselves to my fantasy breakfast (which involves sunshine and balconies and piles of fresh fruit and bowls of coffee and warm milk). I get up at an ungodly hour of the morning, drink coffee, gather supplies for the day, dress, wake, change and feed the baby, and hit the road while it is still an ungodly hour of the morning. So breakfast has to be on the go.
This summer I discovered Bircher Muesli (a/k/a Oats in a Jar, or Overnight Oats). I love oatmeal, but it’s too hot in the summer (and fall) here to really enjoy it, plus I don’t have time to make a bowl of hot oatmeal every morning. Bircher muesli is not oatmeal, and it’s not Mueslix — that breakfast cereal from the 80’s which was not that dissimilar from eating sawdust. I’d describe it more as a cold oatmeal. Only more delicious and easier to make. Oats are soaked overnight in liquid until they become soft and chewable. There’s dried fruit involved, and usually yogurt, because it is European. (A glance at the yogurt aisle in any French supermarche will give you an idea of how much Europeans love their yogurt.) It gives you a ton of fiber, protein from the oats, milk, nuts, seeds and yogurt, and whole grains to satisfy. But the best part is how easy it is to make. I mix up a big jar Sunday night, then each weekday morning I’ll grab a smaller jar, add some yogurt, and take a piece of fruit to slice over the top. When I’ve completed the morning routine and commute and dropoffs, I sit down at my desk with my muesli and a cappuccino from the kitchen, briefly fantasize about sundrenched balconies, and get to work, no longer hangry.
The end of August is not the easiest of times. The novelty of summer has worn off, lost its gloss and charm. Summer camps are over, the last suitcases from vacation are half unpacked and staring dolefully at you. The kids are climbing the walls with boredom. The weather is unrelenting, the temperature climbing into the triple digits and staying high into the night. It’s too hot to cook, too hot to go to the park, or play in the yard.
This summer has not been the easiest time for me. I am usually breezy, with a joke every minute. But I felt unable to cope. And yet I found myself in my OB’s office at 8:30 one morning, sobbing.
Post partum depression was not something I expected. I didn’t have it when Nuni was born, but here I was, with a baby who cried a lot, a husband who worked a lot, a mother out of the country, a nearly- five year old who does nothing I tell her to, and a bucketful of hormones making me -literally – crazy. I wanted to enjoy my baby’s babyhood, rather than resenting it, but I felt like I couldn’t.
It took a good friend to send me a note saying, “I think you might have PPD”, a husband who talked the doctor into seeing me tomorrow, instead of two weeks from now, and some medication, but the fog has started to lift.
The meds have helped, but some days are still a struggle. I have to remind myself, every day, to focus on the blessings. The grins and coos of my little boy When he sees my face, the conversations with my big girl, a husband who is an active parent rather than a bystander. When I focus on these, I can slowly find the joy that surrounds me.
August has its blessings, too. The sun may feel oppressive, but it brings us ruby tomatoes and juicy peaches. This gazpacho takes advantage of those, with the added bonus that it requires no cooking. I keep a jar in my refrigerator, and no lunch is more refreshing on a hot day. When I embrace the season, I can find the joys of late summer.
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!