Friday, May 27, 2011

Asparagus and Bread Salad

This season on Top Chef Masters, I have two chefs that I am totally pulling for to see in the finals. One is Hugh, whose wit is infectious (though I'm sure some are annoyed by him, but definitely not as annoyed as the husband is by Curtis - he has an irrational hatred for that man). The other is Naomi because she's constantly underestimated despite being pretty much the best in show thus far. Granted, I have a couple of unviewed DVR episodes, so I hope that both are still around as I post this.

Anyway, Naomi's asparagus and bread salad inspired me to create my own. I had some asparagus stalks and a day-old baguette in the fridge, so I was easily able to improvise the rest. I'd heard of a tomato and bread salad, or panzanella, but I'd never thought to substitute asparagus. Wow, thanks Naomi for the inspiration! This fresh and simple salad will be gracing our dinner table quite a few times this summer.

Asparagus and Bread Salad

serves 4

1 1/2 lb. fresh asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed and chopped into 1 1/2 inch stalks
4 oz. pancetta, cubed
3-4 inch baguette (or Italian loaf), cubed
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

In nonstick skillet, crisp pancetta in 1 tsbp. oil. Remove from skillet, drain on paper towel, and place in stainless steel mixing bowl.

Add juice of one half of a lemon to the crisped pancetta.

In skillet, heat an additional tablespoon of oil, and add asparagus. Saute until softened, and add garlic. Once garlic browns, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, remove from skillet, and add to the pancetta already in the bowl.

Toss cubed bread in skillet and toast to a golden brown, adding more oil if necessary. Remove from heat, and add to mixture in bowl.

Toss with salad tongs. Plate, and serve warm.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mommy Dating

In starting to get my head above water and embrace the H/Mommy time that my part-time schedule now allows, we also are leaving our comfort zone behind to find us some other mommy/son pairings for playdates. H starts conversations pretty easily. He sees something or someone he finds interesting, and he has no shame about approaching. And, well, his cuteness is rather contagious, so the conversation flows naturally.
Hayes Park on Lincoln Street - great stalking grounds!

When it comes to logistics though (i.e., mommy getting the other mommy's digits for a playdate), that's on me. So, I find myself sort of scanning the parks to find H a similarly-aged play date partner who we could potentially have a social schedule. It's sort of like dating again - trying to find another mommy, woo her, but not get stalker-ish!

For a while now, H and dad have been going to the kiddie gym on Saturday mornings. Sometimes I tag along too. I'm not sure if C feels the same way, but I prefer the kiddie gym because H gets plenty of available playmates (though he's still a bit young for full-on socialization) and I don't have to make any effort at mingling. I'm happy it does not feel like one of those horrible young professional mixers. But, if I'm being honest with myself, I admit that it's not only my exhaustion combined with only one cup of coffee for fuel that prevents me from properly forming new "parent friendships". It's also apathy. And really, it's also partly out of my fear of rejection.

I've been through awkward stages of life. I have friends. I have responsibilities. I don't want to go back the role of suitor to a mommy who I may have nothing in common with but our boys in the same age bracket. However, as a mommy, I think it's time to swallow my pride, and accept this new duty.  In that spirit, I searched for a playgroup to join. Wow, was it difficult to find a group to meet our needs. First, there were the natural geographic constraints. Then the navigation of the specialized groups (vegan moms, moms to kids with severe allergies, etc.). Then, I tried to find a group that might work within our schedule. Looking at some of the local groups, it became clear that we need not apply to certain groups ("this group is intended to moms committed staying home full time to raising their children the right way" - okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it became apparent that the groups in my neighborhood were not interested in moms who all...and it was more about validating their own choices than providing an experience for their kids - I mentioned that I will be blogging on the notion of competitive parenting; don't worry, that's coming soon).

Eventually, however, I did find a perfect group for part-time working moms. It's based in southern Fairfax County, but it looks like they have activities in Arlington too. So, that's great. In fact, there's a stroller wine-tasting happy hour scheduled for my work-from-home day in a couple of weeks.

But, then, out of the blue, a mom contacted me directly for a meetup. She says she lives in our neighborhood and she and her little guy like to play outside too, and there's a very cute photo and a pretty lady and her little boy on the profile. Great! Except, the panic. Actually, I've gotten over the whole "I have to woo" thing. Heck, she's wooing me. What I have to figure out now is how to screen this women to make sure that she's not a sociopath come to steal my boy. Yup, my mama bear instinct is kicking in now. Am I being paranoid?

Well, maybe, but I think that's also an obligation of motherhood. So, I've come up with at least a partial plan. I facebooked her, and it appears that she indeed is a real person - who properly locks up her account like any good mama should. I tried to Google her, but the unfortunate combination of non-proper nouns that forms her proper name don't make that search altogether realistic. My next thought is that I'll ask if she would mind our first meetup to be one of the group activities, and we can go from there. But, I also feel like the other paranoid mamas out there might have some advice for me. What would you do? How do you protect your respective younguns online? Do you have a series of screening questions? Help a mama bear out!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Welcome Home, via TMZ et al

Okay, for those who did not know, we are safely back in the States. Rested, relaxed, and a little burned, bitten, bruised, and stung. More on that last part later.

Lots of things to attend to - for those who are awaiting responses, my inbox is next on the to-do list. Just got my work account cleaned out today. I still need to sort out the unpacked clothes. Though I have been to Trader Joe's for essentials, and at least everything is out of the suitcases. But, honestly, there are more important matters to attend to - media matters. No, not Harold's less-than-accurate prediction - though I must admit, when you hear the third- or fourth-party island version of such a thing, it's a little more concerning than had you read it on, say, No, I'm talking about attending to much more important matters. There is honest to goodness celebrity gossip awaiting our return. Granted, much of it is quite sad (wanted to believe in such fairy tales that just weren't quite true), but at least it does not involve someone named The Situation, or if Lindsay Lohan is going to jail...again.

The point is that while at times disappointing, and at times trivial, celebrity drama helps us escape reality. Because Stars, they are not just like Us.

Lance, you sort of broke our hearts, so I beg of you, please take the plea deal offered. Or at least follow Mike Wise's sage advice.

I so wanted to believe in Maria and Ahhhnald, but I guess Camelot really is a fairy tale. Who knows what version of the story to believe. It's sad though.

More baby daddy drama via January Jones. I don't much care for her, though having never seen Mad Men (gasp!), I cannot say precisely why. Perhaps it has to do with things pregnant women can wear, but maybe shouldn't.

Someone who does not annoy me? Ginnifer Goodwin. She's so cute, and she says things like, "I have a real Southern woman's ass". Too bad about her engagement though.

Another cute lady that I love? Julie Bowen. Plus, she and Ginnifer have the whole Ed thing in common. I heart that show, and Modern Family too.

According to some folks, other people also love The Good Wife. It is absolutely the best legal drama on television.

Speaking of empowering women, can you believe it's time to say goodbye to Oprah this week? People tend to talk about her influence in terms of dollars, trends, or style. But, Oprah has been on since before I can remember and I see her as someone who has influenced an entire generation of women to be strong and secure, to effect change, and to be something real and be something good. I, too, will miss Oprah, but maybe not as much as some ladies I've been reading about.

But, alas, I've scanned my pages (as opposed to my stories, which my Grandma Great called the National Enquirers she kept around), and I'm out of juiciness. Back to real life. Back to realizing that we mere mortals are not as blessed as Gisele. Okay, maybe her bat-shit-crazy rear isn't the example I should use (I asked C for a less profane version of that phrase, but he had no ideas as really this says it best).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

All our bags are packed, we’re ready to go…already I’m so lonesome, I could die….

It’s time for mommy and daddy’s first adult vacation since H was born. We are jetting off to St. Lucia for a few days of bliss, and bliss only involves three walls in our hillside treehouse hotel room, so these will be both an adventurous and relaxing few days. It's going to be fabulous!

Tonight, it’s time to drop off H at Amma and Agong’s.  I wrote out care instructions (that was an exercise in courage – I’m desperately trying to rid my brain of the images of destruction that have been seared in by writing such instructions), emergency contact information, even a medical proxy at Agong’s insistence.  H’s bags are packed, and his food measured out.  Penny was just dropped off at her doggie camp.  The laundry is done. I asked the neighbors to water the plants.

Now all that’s left to do is leave my little guy for five days. It should be easy, right? For five days, no commute to work and dash home to pick up the little man from day care, no crack of dawn wake-ups (well, I can dream of sleeping in; we'll see if the body cooperates), no tantrums, no flying vegetables, and I have uninterrupted access to my husband. Woo-hoo – this is what we’ve been waiting for! So, why this melancholy? Why is so difficult to imagine H under his grandparents’ care for a few days? Why can I not let go?

Is this my need to control, or is this my emotional attachment to this little being that has become my everything? It’s probably a little of both. Part of me is hysterical with worry that although my in-laws raised two healthy happy children into adulthood, they will fail miserably over the course of a long weekend. Part of me tears up when I imagine that I cannot check on my little man tonight, or the night after. I can’t listen to his soft snoring, or pick him up for a couple of night cuddles when he nuzzles up and grabs my hand for reassurance (this is about the only time that H will allow cuddling – mama takes it when she can get it), or look over him adoringly as he looks up at me with those big brown eyes full of fascination. I’m afraid that he’ll be two inches taller, and forming full sentences when we arrive back in town. 

Or, maybe, I’m just like every other mommy who is leaving her baby for the first time (I’ve had one, two, and three night jaunts away from him before, but always within driving distance, and always with work or other responsibilities to distract me adequately). Maybe, I'm like so many other women who struggle with feelings of inadequacy and guilt when it comes to being mothers. Maybe I need to find a way to stop the lists scrolling in my head, the feeling of dread and panic that I forgot something (usually something is along the lines of wet clothes still being in the washer), and to relax a little.

Is it meditation? Is it prayer? Mommies, how do we find rest? How do we leave our babies behind, and focus on nothing for a few days? How do we stow the heartbreak to experience and enjoy life? To take vacations from ourselves?

One thing is for sure, even though I'm going to do everything in my power to find rest, I'm going to miss the heck out of my little boy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Better Than Baked Beans

With summer picnics and BBQs on the horizon, a go-to side dish is a must. These baked beans are my go-to this year - and trust me, they aren't your run-of-the-mill beans. I found inspiration in a couple of places to come up with this version; one that is flavorful, filling, and lower in calories than traditional recipes. Traditional baked beans are listed as 8 Weight Watchers Points Plus for a half cup...with that kind of value, my summer plan is to enjoy one serving while I share the rest potluck style (by my calculations, my version falls more along the lines of 5 Points Plus for a half cup, so maybe we can negotiate a 3/4 cup serving size).

Better Than Baked Beans

serves 8-10

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can butter beans*, drained and rinsed
1 can prepared baked beans
2-3 sweet peppers (mix of red, yellow, and orange)**, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 links maple chicken sausage, casings removed
8 strips bacon
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp barbeque sauce
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp orange marmalade***
1 tsp hot sauce

* Butter beans work best, but can be hard to find. White kidney beans can be substituted.
** Either bell or mini sweet peppers will work.
*** If not available, substitute zest of one lemon and 1 tbsp honey.

In medium bowl, combine red wine, brown sugar, vinegar, ketchup, barbeque, mustard, syrup, marmalade, and hot sauce. Stir until smooth, and set aside.

Cut bacon into 1-2 inch slices, reserving about one third. Line bottom of dutch oven with strips and bring to low-medium heat. Render the fat off the bacon, but do not crisp (it should resemble ham). Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towel.

Adjust heat to medium-high and brown the breakfast meat bonanza (that would be the remaining bacon and sausage). Remove from heat and drain on paper towel. Absorb any remaining grease from the pan, but do not clean.

Lower heat to medium. With the pan "seasoned", saute diced peppers and onions in 1 tsp. butter until softened, about two minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Return breakfast meat bonanza to the pan; add beans and prepared sauce. Bring mixture to a slow simmer, and let cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Layer the fat-rendered bacon on top of the beans. Place uncovered pan in the oven for 15-20 minutes, long enough for the bacon to crisp up.

Enjoy with hot dogs, cold beer, and good friends.

So, tell me, what will you be cooking up this summer? What's your favorite food to enjoy outside in the bright sunshine?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Everybody Loves a Contest

The blogging time I had set aside for today got eaten up by a Blogger malfunctioning timeout, so booo. What to do to engage readers and have a little fun this dreary (not that I can complain - I've been loving this perfect Spring) Friday the 13th? A contest, of course. In celebration of the new Buzz Bakery in Ballston*, a contest to see how fast Hungry with Children can get to 500 Twitter followers. I'm hoping that sometime over the course of the weekend, a lucky winner will be enjoying some Buzz goodness courtesy of the gift certificate that goes to the winner. So, follow Hungry with Children and enjoy!

Confession - I meant to take a pic of the delicious rhubarb-cream cheese pop-tart H and I enjoyed this week, but I indulged far too quickly, and it was gone before I remembered. Their logo will have to serve as a substitute.

* You get serious love from me for a) opening a small business in my hood, and b) making available delectable pastry. Though the new Buzz, on Wilson, between Quincy and Stuart, is within steps of my Pilates studio, I will try to be a good girl and not convince myself I've earned a treat after every session... only some.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Find Me at Hungry with Children

It's time to come join me at....

Hungry with Children

At some point, I will be formally migrating over, but I encourage you to make the migration yourself, before it's too late ;P

What I'm Reading

How inspired a dad can be to cook for his kids (They really do love to cook for their little ones - C makes H scrambled eggs every Saturday morning. That's pretty good considering he's made me dinner about once a year for the life of our relationship.) - NYTimes

The Sauca food truck is crossing the bridge, and ditching the wheels (at least on this side of the river). - ArlNow

If you've ever tried to grab a pre-game bite before a Caps game, this piece makes a good point. Wow, sure, we fans are sad about another short playoff season, but Chinatown restaurants are really sad. - City Paper

How to take making risotto in stride. - iFlipForFood

Hot Pot in Arlington. We stopped in already, and it's fabulous. We're kinda hot pot connoisseurs, as it's our usual holiday celebration, and Mala Tang gets high marks. A helpful hint - order the NY Strip - locally-raised sustainable beef that is incredibly flavorful. - WaPo

I have said it before, and I'm going to have to repeat it here. I don't want to like Spike Mendelsohn. I want to put the self-absorbed twit label on him and be done with it. Three problems - One, the man can cook. Two, he works his butt off (on Top Chef, and otherwise). And three, he listens to what people want. The final point becomes even more clear with the launch of the Sixth and Rye Kosher Deli Truck. Bravo, Spike! Good choice, and thanks for listening. - City Paper

Ummm? My new blog?! RSS feeders, it's time to make your migration - there's a super easy link available on the page. - Hungry With Children

Updated Dining in Northern Virginia

After a few great neighborhood experiences, including breakfasting at Buzz with my little guy, a trip to Mala Tang (a trip for which I did not attend prepared to blog, but needs to be noted - all around superlative food, service, ambiance at this new spot), forming an addiction to the local toy store, another taste of the best arancini in town at the family-run Pupatella, and actually getting to know our neighbors, I got to thinking. Wow, the Ballston hood has really come along lately. Actually, look around NoVa, particularly the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor, we're thriving with small business development (particularly restaurants) in this tough economy. Thus, it's time for an update to the NoVa Restaurant Geography Map, so here's the 2011 version.

View NOVA Restaurant Geography in a larger map

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I'm Not, I'm Not, I'm Not Supermom...

…and I can't do everything.

This is a book review without having read a single word of the book. In fact, I don't think will read it; it was enough that I read the synopsis of it, in which it is posited, "It’s an unpopular view, but no, young ladies, you really can’t do it all." 

Unpopular as it is, I have to agree. I don't have to read 47 essays about having to make choices, because already, not even eighteen months in, I can write my own essay on this subject matter. When it comes down to it, we, mommies, are going to have to choose whether we are going to be our child's primary caregiver, or whether we are going to be executive vice president in charge.

Let me clarify what I am not saying. I am not saying that mothers cannot go back to work; that mothers should not have responsibilities or challenges outside of the home that foster intellectual curiosity; that making a second salary is even an option in most metro households. And I'm not saying (let me repeat, I AM NOT SAYING) that hiring a more-than-full-time nanny, and shooting for the top in your career is the wrong choice. What I am saying is that it is a choice - we do not get get to select both boxes on the application form.

What I'm saying is that we have to accept reality. My reality is at the end of the day, I want to be my son's primary parent. That means that while I have a career, it also means that I am no longer on the fast track. I am absolutely certain of my decisions to let my career take a back seat. But, I am also aware that my part-time schedule, insisting upon working from home one day a week, and giving up trial practice means that I will see desirable projects go to attorneys who can put in the hours needed (yes, even in government legal practice), and that even if I wanted a promotion, I would have to adjust my schedule to do so, and right now, that's non-negotiable. Am I a teensy bit jealous that I won't get those high-level assignments? You bet your ass I am. Do I regret that I get a little bit of extra playtime with the kiddo every single week (and that hour of Pilates just for me on Fridays)? Not a chance.

I first brought up this notion - that we as mommies cannot choose to devote all our resources to both career and baby - to a working moms group that I was attending, and frankly, some of the moms were offended by the idea. That's okay; each of us views and conquers life's battles in different ways. I again discovered that when the issue came up with my sister-in-law. She's completing her insanely competitive residency program, in which there are about twelve very highly educated doctors. Two of them have gone on maternity leave during their residencies, and while they still get to complete the program on time, the other doctors have to cover their rounds, their holidays, their charts; basically, the others have to pick up their slack. As if residency was easy in the first place. The fact that the residents who were able to put their biological clocks first are able to complete their programs because the others covered for them isn't exactly fair, and it understandably has caused resentment amongst the small group. That's the simple fact; the choice between parenthood and career is just never simple.

As I said, everyone is entitled to her own opinion. This is my essay; my two cents. But, I would love to hear your take(s) as well. After all, don't the first lines of the LA Times piece say a lot...."Are you sick of books on the stress and inadequacy most women feel around the work/mothering issue? If the answer is yes, you are probably not a mom." (Boy, do I know how articles and books about parenting suck a mommy in - links like "The Quick Test to Tell if Your Child has Autism Risks"..."Tips for Getting Your Child to Eat His Veggies"....and the ever-addictive, "10,000 Children's [insert product here] Recalled" - they are like crack to me these days). We cannot say enough about this issue. So, please, comment early, comment often, and build our very own supportive "choir of voices". Mommyhood isn't easy ladies. Working mommyhood - that's even harder. Let us newbies know how we can support one another in getting through each day.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Opening Today: PAUL

I told you I wasn't about to give up the food I love, and I wasn't kidding. I had to post this as soon as possible because I've been craving a good bakery downtown for a while now, and PAUL delivers (and I'm not just saying that because I got to eat for free - the pastries are seriously good stuff - and the sandwiches and loaves looked pretty tasty too).

I don't want another artisanal pizza. I don't want any more fro-yo. I don't care to have anything to do with yet another gourmet burger. And for the love of all things holy, I don't want to see another - pardon the mommy curse - effing cupcake (and I love cupcakes).

No, I want a buttery croissant. I want a delectable macaron. I want a luscious brioche. I may still be desperately in want of a good bagel, but that will have to wait for another day.

PAUL (in its first North American incarnation) opens today in Navy Memorial Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue. Courtesy of the bakery empire's local PR team, I got a peek inside (and out) during last week's Ribbon Cutting. I figured that I might not be the only one craving baked goods, so I thought I would share...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Moments in History: As a Parent

While we all count our blessings this evening, it seems a poignant moment to make the observation of how being a parent changes the way you go about your life. B.C., I would think that C and I would have been inclined to grab our shoes and find our way to the White House tonight and "take in the moment."

We are parents now, so instead, while the announcement was still pending and tweets had not yet leaked, we sat in fear wondering whether we needed to pack our kid in the car and get out of dodge. Instead, the news was much more positive in nature, and we take comfort in knowing that our little boy is just a little safer tonight, and maybe, just maybe, he'll grow up in a world more full of hope and less full of fear.

At this moment, it seems especially important to take time and recognize the following, that for our son to be so blessed, other parents have lost their children, or pray for them as they are in danger serving our country, and protecting others' children. For that, thank you. To those brave parents, as well as to their brave children.