Archives for May 2010

{Foodie Friday: Strawberries}

Mmmm.  Last night I made the most delicious strawberry cake.  Actually, I made a very, very delicious dinner overall, but that’s another story.  I was moseying around the grocery, when a strawberry display caught my attention.  I heard on the radio a few weeks back, that there was going to be a strawberry shortage this year due to the frosts in the South, and also that prices were going to be through the roof.  Nope.  These were $1.88.  Not too shabby. And they were very, very good.  Not too ripe, not overripe.  Not too sweet, not too tart.  Really, just perfect. 

First, I washed them.  I use a fruit wash—grapefruit and lemon extracts.  Then I topped and sliced about half of them, and put them in a shallow bowl.  Using a fork (no major tools required here), I pressed and stirred and prodded until they had pureed.  I did this while watching the opening of The Vampire Diaries…it really is that quick and simple.

Then I topped and cut the other half of the strawberries in quarters.

I arranged the sliced Angel foodcake on a plate. Yes, I walked around the store 3 times to choose the best pre-packaged cake that was low in sugar and calories.  NOTE: Those little packaged round cakes that they always meticulously display with strawberries are evil, evil things.  They are like Twinkies.  Had I not planned this at the last minute, I would have baked my own, which I highly recommend.  Otherwise, look for Angel foodcake, and READ THE LABELS.

I drizzled the pureed strawberries over the cake, topped it with a few more spoonfuls of quartered strawberries, and topped it with a quick squirt of “whipped cream.”  NOTE: I use almond whipped topping, or soy whipped topping, both of which can be found at Whole Foods.  I try to limit dairy, and these are both excellent options.  I love the taste, which is about the same as traditional Ready-Whip, but it doesn’t leave a super-sweet aftertaste.  I stuck one of the tops in the side of the whipped cream, and I must admit, it looked pretty professional. Even the hubby made a comment about how “cute” it was.  Yep, he called my cooking cute.

So, can something be so “cute”, tasty, and healthy? Yep!

Etymology:

Hmmm…no one seems to know.  It is claimed that the name came from having to put straw over the plant for it to survive, but that is not true.  Some believe it has to do with the yellow seeds sprouting out the sides, or because the plant’s tendrils can shoot out like straws. . .

Random Facts:

There are more than 600 varieties of strawberries that differ in flavor, size and texture.

Strawberries have been around since the dawn of time (not that anyone would REALLY know that…), but didn’t really gain favor until the Roman era. Yet, after the fall of Rome, they seemed to have lost their favor until they reemerged in Europe in the Middle Ages. During this time, they began to be prized again, more so for their medicinal qualities than for their culinary value.

If you really have an intent interest in strawberries, check out this blog that I stumbled upon.  Everything Strawberries, indeed.

Where is it Grown?

Currently, the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are among the largest commercial producers of strawberries.

In the U.S., strawberries are grown year-round in California and other temperate climates.

Can I Grow Them at Home?

Yep.  Although, I haven’t.  I’m thinking I’ll try it out this year.  There are three different types of plants-June, ever-bearing, and day-neutral.  June grows, well, only in June.  Ever-bearing grows throughout the Summer and early Autumn, and day-neutral grows as long as the temperature is around 75 degrees.  Obviously, June is easier to grow at home, or for beginners, like yours truly.

Strawberries Hanging Over the Sides by Strata Chalup.

Plants can be potted in containers, or in ground soil.  However, they need excellent drainage as they are prone to rot. They should have full sun, with a slightly acidic soil.  Space plants about 12-24” apart.

Each plant requires about 1-1 ½” of water/week.  I’m not sure what this means, but other recommendations are to water lightly each day.  Water early in the day, so that the plant has time to dry out in the heat of the day.

Each plant will produce about a pint of strawberries, so a few plants may be necessary to have strawberries all summer.

Plants should be planted in early Spring for June berries.  I’m thinking now shouldn’t be a problem, right?  Nope, I googled it.  April 15-May 15 for Ohioans looking to plant.

When is it in Season?

While available year-round thanks to imports, peak season for home-grown goodies is April-July.

Storage and Shelf-Life

When purchasing strawberries:

Only buy them 1-2 days before you are planning on using them

Choose berries that are firm, plump, and have a shiny, deep red color. Avoid the dull in color ones or ones that have green or yellow patches since they are likely to be sour. They don’t ripen after being picked, so once green and sour, always green and sour.

The ones above are probably a bit tart…

Look for medium-sized strawberries, which usually more flavorful than the big ole’ ones—even though it is so tempting, I know.

 If you’re buying strawberries prepackaged, make sure that they are not packed too tightly and that the container has no stains or moisture, which is indication of possible spoilage.

Once home, immediately wash them, so that you can remove any less-than-fresh ones, and so that they don’t contaminate the other ones.  Pat them dry and put them back in the original container, or lay them on a plate with paper towels and cover with plastic wrap.  The latter helps with bruising.  NOTE: Definitely wash them well.  Strawberries are listed as one of the top 12 foods with pesticide residue.

Strawberries can be frozen for up to 1 year.  Wash and pat them completely dry, and place them on a flat cookie sheet in the freezer until just frozen.  Remove them, and place them in a tightly sealed plastic bag with a few squirts of lemon juice.  They can be frozen whole, topped, crushed, or sliced, but whole strawberries will retain more health benefits.

Umm…Why Should I Care?

Strawberries are a heart-protective fruit, an anti-cancer fruit, and an anti-inflammatory fruit, all rolled into one.

They have antioxidants that help protect cell structures in the body and to prevent oxygen damage in all of the body’s organ systems.

The anti-inflammatory properties of strawberry include the ability to lessen activity of the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase, or COX. Anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen block pain by blocking this enzyme, whose overactivity has been shown to contribute to unwanted inflammation, such as that which is involved in rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, and cancer. Unlike drugs that are COX-inhibitors, however, strawberries do not cause intestinal bleeding.  So…next time you feel the need to reach for an aspirin…reach for strawberries instead!

Of course, they are very high in Vitamin C, plus a good source of dietary fiber, B vitamins, and omega 3 fatty acids.

Also, eating three servings of fruit/day (at least), has shown to lower the risk of macular degeneration.

Recipes:

Of course, eating them whole and raw is the best choice, and quite a tasty choice at that!  For a bit more variety, cut, mash, or puree them to pour on top of other desserts, oatmeals, pancakes, or waffles.  I’m not usually one for mixing fruits and veggies together, but I do like strawberry slices with spinach salad.  Both flavors are understated enough that together, they taste divine.  The possibilities really are endless.  For even more inspiration, check out these recipes:

Strawberry Cake, fo real, yo.

And, in honor of Summer…a nice strawberry margarita. For all you alcoholics out there…

There’s always the crowd-pleasing Chocolate Covered Strawberries.  Not only are they easy, but they make wonderful gifts as well.  I was really inspired by these pics–proof that anything can be adapted for a theme or occassion!

{April Showers Bring May Flowers}

 

And what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims! Hehe.  Sorry, I’m easily amused.  And I digress…

So, did April bring me some May flowers?  Yes!…and, no.  Back in Autumn, I planted 50 tulip bulbs. This Spring, I got two tulips, 5 hostas, and a dandelion. ::Sigh::

I ripped them up this past weekend, and I realized that the bulbs had molded.  I’m guessing that they never really dried out after the snow.  Or something, obviously.  I also was now down a few pots of soil because I didn’t want to replant in a moldy environment.  Yes, Wally World’s stock went up a few points due to my shopping excursions this weekend.  I spent the weekend in a gardening frenzy, so now it is quite pretty and pleasant.  More on that to come.

Back to the goals for April.

Take vitamin every day, B-
Take herbal supplement 3x/day, D
Eat dinner in 4x/week, F- (I don’t think we ate in 4 times total!)
Be in bed (and asleep) by 11:00 on weekdays, C (I’m getting better, I think.)
Go for a 20 minute walk outside 2x/week, F (I think I walked twice; does that count?)
Mail 3 cards to friends via snail-mail, A+ (I even did it at the beginning of the month.)
Spring Clean the Laundry room, Bathroom, and Bedroom, F (Wait.  If we’re grading on effort, C+.  I tried.  It was one of those things that I kept making a bigger mess…)
Clean up the patio, B (Again, I did.  Then made a mess. Then did.  Then made another mess.)
Plant bulbs for late Summer blooms, A (I did.  Though I’m skeptical that they’ll grow.)
Find vases/holders for our super-fun new Pottery Barn candles (they have even bigger flameless ones now!), B (Wow.  I did a lot of messiness.  I found them a home, but it displaced other items who are now cluttering up our dining room.)
Renew Passport!!!!!, A (Which is good cause we’re going to Aruba!)
Order new glasses, POSTPONED (It’s a want, not a need.)

If I had this report card in school, I would have been suicidal.  I’m aiming for the “Most Improved Award” for May.  Although I used to think that was the biggest slap-in-the-face award ever–you used to suck and be a screw-up, now you’re not so bad…

But I’m not going to be too upset.  Mostly because I know that we stayed busy.  Way busy. 

So what else did we do in April?

Well, I read a few books: The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff (pretty good, but only because there is a sequel that calms my qualms (hehe) about the ending), and Love the One You’re With by Emily Giffin (umm, not really a strong climax.  A bit contrived.  Unsatisfying end.

I quit watching American Idol (got annoying), Dancing With the Stars (boring), and that Jamie Oliver show ended (so sad).  So this left plenty of time to Netflix a TV series.  I caught a rerun of Buffy the Vampire Slayer a few months ago, and decided this would be perfect time to rewatch that.  Then I remembered the Angel spin-off, so now I’m going back and forth.  (On a tangent…SERIOUS NERD ALERT: For those critics  who claim that Bella should be more like Buffy, and that Buffy is a role model for young girls…wth?  Really? Cause all I see is a needy, clingy, spoiled, “oh woe is me” girl who treats her friends and her parents like crapt, and just happens to know how to shoot a crossbow.  I think Buffy did more to set back the feminist movement than Bella did (not that I’m a fan of feminists), and would much rather my future possible daughter delve into the world of Twilight than that of Sunnydale.  ::End Tangent::)

We also watched Angels and Demons (cool explosion at the end, a bit boring throughout), and Eric watched The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (pretty sure he liked it).

As for projects, we refinished our dining room table and chairs, painted a bunch of flower pots, and helped put together an Easter dinner for 20 people.  This was on top of spending a weekend in Cincinnati for a bridal shower.

And “just for fun events”?  Lacking…We did get a lovely invite to a Mudhens game.  Yep. Mudhens.  Don’t worry, I had to google it, too.  Minor League baseball! Yay.  It was super-fun, but it made me want to play baseball.  Sporting events always do that do me…I don’t want to watch; I want to play.

So, May goals.

Take vitamin every day
Take herbal supplement 3x/day
Eat dinner in 4x/week
Be in bed (and asleep) by 11:00 on weekdays
Walk to and/or from work 2x/week
Walk 15 minutes on treadmill 1x/week
Go for at least a 20min. walk outside 1x/week
Mail a card to a friend via snail-mail
Spring clean the Laundry Room, Bathroom, & Bedroom
Make 3 sets of cards for Fall craft fair (gotta start early…)
  Hmmm, maybe “Most Improved” wasn’t the award to go for this month.  Maybe I should go for “Still Alive.”  Looking at the calendar, May doesn’t really look any slower.

{To Infinity and Beyond…}

This must be what parents feel their life is like every day.  You see, the main reason we went to New York was to be parents for a week.  I’m not sure that you could really classify it as parenting—more like glorified, overextended babysitting.  But, we got a taste of parenthood none the less.  And for those of you out there waiting for the “the big news” or the first peek of a baby bump on my belly…check back in with me next year, or the year after that… 

I won’t lie, we had every intention of going down that road this year, but we, ummm, booked a cruise when we got back from New York instead. Whoo whoo.  Had we only watched one child, we probably would be picking out nursery colors; however, watching three children gave us a glimpse into our life 10 years from now…and that left us realizing we needed to go to Aruba.  It’s not that we didn’t do a fantastic job, cause we did!  And it’s not that we don’t think we’d be wonderful parents, cause we would be!  It’s just, dear God, why does anyone choose to live in that state of chaos?

My brother and his lovely wife, along with their three adorable children, moved to New York last year to train to become ministers in their church.  One of their duties was to go on an outreach trip, and they couldn’t take their kiddos.  Enter the best aunt and uncle ever.  We embarked on a trip to stay with the kids for a whole week.  I was perfectly confident.  Eric had a few reservations (mostly about taking the kids into the city), and I think my brother and sister-in-law were terrified.  My biggest concern was getting enough sleep with a baby in the house.  Wrong concern…

You see, the 1 year old slept perfectly fine for us.  One clean diaper.  One warm bottle.  A half hour of cuddles.  Voila! One sleeping baby.  The first night was a bit tough, and thank God for Eric’s patience.  He discovered that the white-noise of the dishwasher was enough to put the baby to sleep, so he stood against the counter for an hour rocking.  He totally earned good husband points. 

 The 5 year old…not so much.  Why didn’t anyone inform us that he has nightmares?  Why didn’t anyone tell us that he was taught that M&M’s before bed will alleviate nightmares? (NOTE: We did NOT succumb to this.  Eric wittily told him carrots do the job even better!) Why didn’t anyone inform us that when he crawls into bed with you at 1am that he will secretly be awake and poke and kick you all night?  Why didn’t anyone tell us that he will get up every 5 minutes—slamming doors, screaming, and waking up the baby we just worked an hour to get to sleep? Why didn’t anyone tell us that one night he has to leave his light on, and one night he has to leave it off, and one night he has to watch TV for two hours, and one night he has to leave the TV on all night…

The first morning, Eric went to wake him up, and he was kneeling on the edge of his bed, wide-eyed, bouncing: 

Michael: “Uncle Eric, I can’t get back to sleep.”
Eric: “Umm, it’s time to get up buddy.”
Michael: “Aww, man.  I didn’t get to sleep at all.”

Thankfully, the facility where they live had daycare available, and oldest child was in school all day.  This gave Eric time to work, and me time to sleep, and clean, and scrub baby drool out of my hair.  When we picked the kids up the first day, we provided them with the first clue of a scavenger hunt.  The hunt took them through all of the “normal” things they would do anyway-snack, dinner, ready for bed-but they didn’t even realize it cause it was so fun.  One stop on the hunt was the “Mat Room”—a big room filled with mats that the children can play in during a rainy day, which was good, cause we had a few of those. 

(like brother, like brother…Jake just started walking, so he was still in the “zombie” walk stage)

(I’m pretty positive that I wasn’t yelling, or discipling here.  Drama queens!)

After running and playing, Michael told us that his legs hurt, to which Eric replied, “It’s probably just growing pains.  You’re getting bigger.”  Umm…apparently we have a little Peter Pan on our hands.  A temper tantrum ensued with screams of “I don’t want to get bigger.”

Later that evening, we put together a weekly plan of activities that the kids wanted to do, and also give them some sort of structure in an unstructured situation.  We wrote down the activities that we supported on index cards, and then let the kids choose a few of their own to write down. 

Some of our ideas:                                                      Some of the kids’ ideas:

Dave and Buster’s                                                      Bike ride
Krazy City                                                                  Play on the playground
Shopping                                                                     Movie Night
Ice Skating at Rockefeller Plaza                                 Cheeseburgers for dinner

Okay…kids are seriously deprived of the simple things in life nowadays.  When they define a “special event” as going on a bike ride, something is wrong with the world.

(Even Jake had an idea.)

So what did we end up doing?  Well, we played on the playground a lot.  Until Michael fell down and screamed so loud someone almost called an ambulance.  No, he wasn’t bleeding.  No, he did not bruise.  Yes, the playground is padded. 

 

 

We also went ice-skating.  Not at Rockefeller, but at the local mall.  There was no way in Hades we were taking Peter Pan on the subway, and my brother forgot to leave the baby snuggy carrier thingy out.  That baby was heavy.  We also ate at Johnny Rockets, and Eric, Bailey, and Michael finished dinner with a HUGE ice cream sundae.  Jacob and I shared an organic baby cookie.  Yum.

 

 

The next night we stayed in and had breakfast for dinner.  We put blankets and pillows on the floor, and changed into our “favorite pajamas” right after school.  We’re sooo sneaky.  Everyone was ready for bed by 6:30, and they didn’t even realize it.  We were attempting to play board games, but Bailey (the 8 year old), and Eric (the 24 going on 6 year old) wanted to play Monopoly.  Michael wanted to play Candy Land.  Jacob wanted to play Whack-a-Mole.  I wanted to sleep.  So, Jacob and I read a book and played Whack-a-Mole, and Eric, Michael, and Bailey played Mario Kart on Wii.  Which led to mucho-mucho tantrums, and I stepped in and turned it off.  Eric refused to let Michael win. Which I agree with to an extent, but he wasn’t used to it.  “My daddy always lets me win!  He’s the loser.”  Oh, that’s pleasant.  Seriously—take note now family and friends—do not buy my possible future children video games.

(Look, even the baby isn’t too fazed by the tantrums anymore. But there’s always some brother & sister love going around.)

(No Game Night is complete without Eric kicking someone’s butt in Monopoly.)

Thursday night, all hell broke loose.  All of the girls realized they had caregivers, who probably didn’t know the rules.  Some convoluted story got developed to where they were all staying all night at someone’s house.  Umm, nope.  School night.  Cue teenage angst from 8 year old.  Many whispers and phone calls later, I discovered they were all planning to get together to watch Twilight, because someone’s grandma was too out of the loop to realize it is not an 8 year old’s movie.  Bailey demanded that I call her mother, so that she could ask permission, who surprisingly gave in.  Cue temper tantrum from 5 year old because he didn’t get to go.  Cue screams from 1 year old because he got woken up.  Cue anger from caregivers at parents.

The rest of the week, instead of letting Bailey go to her friends’ houses, we invited the girls over.  So now, we had 7 children in our care.  Glutton. For. Punishment.  Out of this whole arrangement, Eric got volunteered to drive one of the girl’s non-English speaking grandmother grocery shopping.  Eric doesn’t speak Spanish.  This also happened to be my birthday, so he wanted to pick up a few items to surprise me with.  He checked out with a pooping baby card, a pot of azaleas, and menstrual pads.  Gotta love a guy who manly enough to pick those up-without even being asked to do so.  Needless to say, I think he creeped out the grandma.

The girls had a good time, though.  We did crafts. We had fun. Might I add that in my book, this is a perfectly fun 8 year old activity?  In fact, Bailey and Michael gave up a trip to Krazy City to go to Michael’s and buy more craft supplies. We went through 1,000 popsicle sticks in 24 hours.

Eric built a Viking ship.  Then painted the bottom red to channel his inner Louboutin.

Eric’s boat led to the kids wanting to make boats and have a boat race, which we did in the bathtub.

We did have one traumatic experience.  Buzz Lightyear died.  Yep.  Michael is obsessed with Toy Story, and that’s putting it lightly.  He took Buzz to school with him because it just so happened to be Buzz’s birthday.  (Eric and I spent the morning going to Dunkin’ Donuts to buy a ceremonious birthday donut for him.)  Before lunch, Michael’s class went to the playground, and then we went straight to the cafeteria.  So, Buzz got locked in the classroom, and died of starvation right there in Michael’s cubby.  Michael was so distraught that he put his head down and cried all through lunch, and refused to eat anything (although he did want ice cream at the last minute-yeah right, buddy!).  While sad, Eric and I did delight in the fact that we spent the afternoon eating the birthday donut…But wait!  It was an Easter miracle.  When we picked Michael up from school, Buzz was alive!  And Michael had no recollection that Buzz ever died.  Crapt… we had to go buy another birthday donut.

Overall, we had a wonderful time, and I don’t think the kids had as much fun as they thought they were going to.  That’s what makes us know we did a good job!  Eric learned the time-out rule-age +1, after putting Michael in time-out for like half an hour.  At least he got his first taste of discipline.  I learned that I have no patience for screaming children, but can take teenage angst with a grain of salt.

{Catholic Wafers and Sex}

Sunday morning was the last amount of time to spend in NYC.  I was super excited to go to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. St. Patrick’s is the largest gothic style cathedral in the U.S.  Building began in 1858, and the church opened in 1879, stopping only during the Civil War when funding ran out.  Most agree that it’s the epicenter of Catholic life in America.

The church was beautiful.  It was just…odd.  Men in black suits and earpieces patrolled the perimeter, looking quite out of place in a house of worship.  In fact, they were really the only security/police I really saw  the entire trip, and  guess I just didn’t expect to need security when singin’ to Jesus.  It was also odd because during the half hour between Masses, the church was filled with people snapping pictures, posing with statues, and generally perusing around.  Most people just came in to take pictures and then leave.  Kinda makes those cafeteria Catholics look like saints.

Communion was also very, very odd.  In a church filled with hundreds, they had two Eucharistic ministers.  Two.  And there was no order.  It was a free-for-all to get there first.  There were people from the back rows inching up during prayer.  I’m surprised people in the front didn’t get trampled.  I’m sure there were enough Catholic wafers for everyone, but then again, budget cuts are taking place everywhere…

Lastly, it was just very odd to walk out of such an old, traditional environment, into Armani and H&M.  This was the view from the main aisle of the church. 

Really made me want to go forth and multiply after fighting for my Catholic wafer.

We spent some time snapping a few pictures.  I had planned on doing some shopping, but decided to be good and not give into the cliché of needing to shop while in NYC.  Yes, I’m regretting that now…

(I ate an apple and my hand was sticky…yes, I know it’s gross and that I probably washed my hand in NY pee…)

Overall, we had a great time, but we were antsy to get to our next destination.  Because remember, we were in New York for a reason…