Pancakes From Scratch! Because It’s Just Too Easy

Pancakes From Scratch! Because It’s Just Too Easy

“Maybe we should have pancakes.” My daughter says, when I ask what we should have for breakfast that sunny Saturday morning.

“Hm. Yea, we could. But I don’t have any mix.” I respond, bottom lip between my teeth.

I am a huge fan, HUGE, of making food from scratch. Unless it is just way to much work, I will do it myself from all raw ingredients. I make my own chicken stock; I make macaroni and cheese from scratch; I make cheeseburger macaroni from scratch. Cheeseburger freaking macaroni, as in the Hamburger Helper dish we all ate when we were kids.

Too Much Work

For some reason, though, I have always been convinced that pancakes were going to be super complicated.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a lover of pancakes. Every time we go out to breakfast at a diner I get a side pancake. One pancake on the side. It’s my dessert after breakfast. I’ll order corned beef hash, potatoes, toast, eggs. And a pancake on the side. I only end up eating like a quarter of my breakfast because I want that damn pancake, smothered in butter and syrup.

At home, however, it is an entirely different story.Continue reading…    

Love the City of Hayward: Yogurt Hill

Love the City of Hayward: Yogurt Hill

Never Leaving the City of Hayward

I live just above the downtown area of the city of Hayward on the top floor of an apartment building overlooking the city and looking out to the hills. My husband and brother have been trying to convince me to move for years. “We could get a house,” they say. “The kids could have a yard,” they say.

“Find me something similar to what I have now, for a similar price, and I will move.” I always respond in the same way.

Especially now that I have children, location is incredibly important to me.

My daughter and I have been walking to our city library (We have a new library going up now, and we cannot wait to get in there!) since she could walk. It is less than a mile away. The hubby and I walk to the movie theater, which is seldom overcrowded, for date nights.  The theater is even closer than the library. I live in a secure building. My apartment has windows on three sides (I get to gaze at the horizon from my desk while I write), a balcony on the backside and a patio on the front, and we enjoy two thousand square feet of space.

No, I’m not leaving until I buy my dream house. (I have been getting more anxious for that recently. More on that later.)

But, I didn’t always live in this big place; we needed the space when my brother moved in after my daughter was born, and we lucked out when the only three bedroom apartment in my building became available. When I was 19, I moved into this building, into a one bedroom apartment on the fourth floor. Years later I moved into a two bedroom. Now we are here.

The Good with the Bad

The building is nothing to brag about. People throw trash in the elevator, vomit in the stairwells, and pee in the hallway. It can be pretty gross sometimes. Plus, our fabulous pool just happens to be located next to the dumpster. So, yea, that’s luxury living at its finest right there. But I understand also that I live just down the hill from my alma mater, California State University of East Bay (Hayward, really), and that college kids and their friends can be idiots. Also, some people never learned the “don’t poop where you eat” rule. Go figure.

But we have a great group of people here who wave to each other as we head out for the day. We make conversation in the elevator (over the vomit), and we ask after each other’s family. We also commiserate over the pee and the trash.

I am not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say, and I’ll tell you why.Continue reading…    

French Toast For When You’re Feeling Fancy

French Toast For When You’re Feeling Fancy

“What’s for breakfast tomorrow?” My brother asks this question every Friday and Saturday. During the week it’s “what’s for dinner?”

For a grown man who is more into fitness and health than anyone I have ever personally known, he sure is food obsessed.

“French toast.” I respond, offhand, because I can always throw together some french toast.

The problem is that I only had the honey wheat bread that I buy from Costco in the kitchen. And I just do not like French toast made with regular bread. It works. You can do it. But why? If you’re going to make French toast, make French toast.Continue reading…    

Sunday Brunch The Mexican Way: Huevos Con Chorizo

Sunday Brunch The Mexican Way: Huevos Con Chorizo

“You cannot put the watermelon in the picture.” My husband says to me.

“What? Why? You don’t eat watermelon in Mexico?” I ask, even though I know it’s not true.

“Yea we do, but not for breakfast.”

“Oh please. We’re in the US, and my readers know I’m a white chick with a Mexican husband.” (or you do now!) “They’ll forgive me for serving Mexican brunch with watermelon.”

This is a typical Sunday morning in our house. We laze around, pulling things out of the fridge, checking cupboards, what do we have for Sunday brunch?

Last weekend, my husband made huevos con chorizo (eggs and chorizo), but he left out a key ingredient, and it just wasn’t the same. Chorizo is a spicy Mexican crumbly sausage that comes in a casing. Mix it with eggs and the flavor is perfectly balanced, but kinda dry. You must serve this dish with beans, and we did not have any beans.

So, Friday night, knowing I wanted to make this dish again, the right way, I asked my darling prince of a husband, “please don’t forget to make a pot of black beans.”Continue reading…    

Beef Stew for When The Baby’s Fussy

Beef Stew for When The Baby’s Fussy

I don’t let my babies cry.

Now, before you get all “oh, what a good mom,” or “whatever bitch, like you’re so much better than those of us who let our babies cry,” it’s not what you think. Of course I sympathize with their needs, and I want to be a good mom, and I agree with a lot of the attachment parenting philosophy, but mostly I don’t let my babies cry because its annoying as hell. It is much easier for me to just hold Matilda, or lie on the floor with her, or nurse her (again) than to listen to her fuss and cry because I left her in the jumper or on the floor to play while I do whatever task next to her.

To that end, cooking can be a challenge sometimes. I have learned to plan meals around happy times, when she’s excited to play in her jumper, and I have learned to orchestrate the preparation of my meals so that if (let’s be real, when) my daughter starts fussing, I can finish whatever parts of the recipe need to be completed while holding her.

Today was one such day. I woke up with no idea what I was going to cook. I knew I had to work that evening, and we had our homeschool meetup that morning/early afternoon, which meant I also had to pack lunches for me and Celaya. I don’t like to do a lot of cooking or cleaning while my kids nap because I like to use that time to rest myself, write, read, make an actual phone call, do all the things that I genuinely cannot do when my baby is awake, and that are still pretty challenging when my five year old is up and around. To that end, I cook and clean around my kids awake times, which usually involves me holding my baby and chatting with, or listening to the chattering of, my five year old. Then, when Matilda goes down for her nap, I set Celaya up on her iPad for some screen time. Ahhhhh! One to two hours of almost complete blissful silence.

Bliss.

So, I took some beef out of the freezer while I was waiting for my teapot to come to a boil so I could begin the steeping process in my french press (I still need to write my coffee snob piece.), thinking idly that I would do something with it once it mostly thawed before I went to work. Well, as per usual at homeschool day I got to chatting, gossiping, laughing, meeting new members, and yelling across the park to kids, and despite my best efforts to meet my “be home by this time” deadline, I escaped the park later than I had hoped to, sat in traffic I should have expected, but didn’t, and got in my house with just under an hour to prep a meal for the household dinner, pack my own dinner and snacks for work, pack my running clothes for a late night run outside my office, pack my breast pump equipment, make my coffee, AND do my afternoon reading with the girls before I left for work.

“I can do this.” I told myself.

In all honesty, there are days when I simply can’t. I don’t have the staples I want; I really don’t have the time; I don’t have the patience; the kids aren’t in the right mood for the exact right flow to work; whatever, sometimes, I just can’t, and the fam copes with leftovers, or one of the men (gasp!) cooks.

But today, I knew I could do it because I had just the right ingredients for my mom’s beef stew.  Beef stew, in my family, is really just beef soup with a thin gravy instead of broth. And, also in my family, I can whip up a beef stew in 20 minutes. 20 freaking minutes. You just cannot beat that when you’re in a time crunch. I can also do most of the prep while holding my baby. Bonus! Plus, it’s filling, it has veggies and protein, and it always makes enough for leftovers.

And, as expected, Matilda put up with her jumper for just long enough to allow me to cut the beef, onions, and garlic,

at which point she started fussing,

and then I held her on one hip for the rest.

Next time you’re in a pinch, make this beef stew and tell me I don’t deserved to be worshipped, and tell me you weren’t worshipped for making it. (Remember, we’re queens; we deserve to be worshipped.) (Unless you’re a guy! I’m sure you’re awesome too! Fingers crossed.)

Ingredients:

2 1/2 pounds of beef (I like to buy those packages of “stew meat.” You know the ones that have the giant chunks of beef already prepped for you? Thanks Costco and Trader Joe’s. You rock.)

2 to 3 pounds of baby potatoes (Again, I buy the bag of baby potatoes from Costco. It’s a great staple to have around and it almost never goes bad, plus they’re easy to deal with.)

1 small bag of baby carrots

1/2 yellow onion (they’re sweeter than the white ones.)

2 cloves of garlic (I’m a big fan of garlic, flavor- and health- wise.)

Tomato or beef stock (This one is dealer’s choice. I prefer beef stock, but I always have tomato stock on hand, so if I’m out of beef, I use tomato)

flour

olive oil

bay leaves

salt and pepper to taste

optional:

32 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (I almost always add this, but I didn’t have a can today because I made both a red sauce pasta dish and homemade pizzas already this week, no more tomatoes until my next weekly trip to the store. I don’t do “quick runs” to the store unless I absolutely have to, you know, for like, wine or something else urgent.)

red wine (this is my own personal addition to this dish)

green beans (My mom never added green beans, I usually do, unless I don’t have them.)

Preparation:

Cut the beef into smaller chunks, usually in half or in quarters depending on how big the butcher cut them. You want big bite size pieces.

Set a big soup pot on the stove to medium to high heat and add olive oil, once around the pan.

Chop onion and garlic into teeny tiny pieces. (Remember, my brother hates onion, so I have to hide it.)

Add onion and garlic once the pan is hot, sautée until the onion and garlic are a little crispy on the edges, then add your beef. It should sizzle loudly. You want a good sear on your beef.

Cook the beef until brown but the juices are still in the pan.

While the beef is cooking cut all of your baby potatoes and baby carrots in half. Now all of your pieces, beef and veggies, are about the same size. (This is also where you would cut green beans into a similar size; I didn’t have any today, so no green beans for us.) Set veggies aside for now.

PS, this:

is why I cut the potatoes in half. Blech.

Now you’re going to make a roux.

Add two tablespoons of flour to the juices in the pan and stir. Your going to start forming a thick paste with the beef and onion and garlic and flour.

Once the paste is starting to crust and stick to the bottom of the pan, add about a half a cup of red wine; it adds great flavor and it will help you scrape the good crispy stuff off the bottom of the pan. Stir. The wine will bubble up and start to thicken in the flour as all the alcohol in the wine cooks off. (You can totally skip this step and go straight to adding the stock)

Add 4 cups of stock. I usually use bullion because it takes up so little space in my cabinet, it keeps forever, and it’s easy (in case you haven’t noticed, I’m all about easy), so I add four teaspoons of bullion to four cups of water and heat in the microwave while my beef is cooking, then add the stock to my wine and flour mixture. You want to add the stock gradually, stirring as you add a half cup at a time. This prevents your gravy from getting lumpy. By the time you’ve added all the stock, you should have a soup with a thick consistency. Now you can add your veggies, add a couple of bay leaves, and sprinkle some crushed red pepper in, et voila: stew!

I shit you not this took me 20 minutes tops, and the only thing I really can’t do with Matilda in my arms is cut the beef because, um, ew. But I can stir, I can cut the veggies in half, I can add, mix, and spin in the kitchen all while holding the baby.

I made this at 2:30 PM, put the pan on low, covered it with the lid allowing a little steam to escape, and left it for the fam to eat at dinner time. I got all of the rest of my stuff packed, nursed the baby one last time, read to the girls, and got ready to go: I dotted a little perfume behind my ears, slipped some big fat earrings in (that’s how I get ready for work), grabbed my stuff, and jammed out the door with time to spare.

Then this one came running out the door before I got to the elevator, yelling “mama! mama! wait! one more kiss.” Of course I waited. And while I waited for her to run to me, and then waited and watched while she ran all the way back home, I had time to snap some pics of little miss mendez.

Dinner was done, kids were kissed, and I was off to change the world in a different kind of way.

Try the stew!  And if (when!) you do, please let me know what you think; did you add anything? Take anything away? Love it or hate it, I hope to hear from you!

P.S. If you like the jumper Matilda is sitting in in the picture above, you can click this link and get it, where I got it, from Amazon. If you do buy it, or anything else from Amazon through this link, I will get a commission from Amazon, so you will be supporting my writing and this site! I love the jumper; as I said, it keeps Matilda happy for long enough for me to get at least half of something done, and it will grow with her. I will not ever provide a link to something I would not personally recommend myself because I have used it and believe in it.

Chicken Mozzarella Penne Fast and Easy so You Can Do All the Other Things

Chicken Mozzarella Penne Fast and Easy so You Can Do All the Other Things

I love food. There, I said it. I love food with a passion unseen before in the halls of time. I take longer to eat than anyone I’ve ever met, usually because I am savoring my food.  ( I also talk a lot during meals.) I make a freaking loaded salad to take to the park with my kids every weekday because sandwiches get soggy if you load them up the way I like them, and everything else just feels like snacks, which are for other times of the day. I snack so much I can’t possibly also have snacks for meals. Also: meals rock.

But I don’t have a ton of time to prepare food. Salads are easy because I can throw in some greens, some shredded carrots, and quickly chop up whatever veg I have sitting on the counter, bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, etc. Then I typically throw in some cold cuts, turkey or salami are my go to’s. Top it off with some sunflower seeds and small jar of olive oil, whatever vinegar (pick your poison), salt and pepper to add once I’m ready to eat at the park, et voila.  Lunch.

Dinner is another story. I like a nice warm meal for dinner, pasta, rice, potato, a green veggie, a meat, and usually a sauce. We’re big, really big, on protein in my household, so pretty much every meal includes a meat, but most of the dishes I make you can replace with tofu or you can make without a meat at all. I know because I was on a “let’s incorporate more vegetarian dishes into our household” kick until I got gestational diabetes during my last pregnancy. You need to eat really meat heavy meals and snacks when you have gestational diabetes, so I turned away from vegetarian, and so far I haven’t ventured back.

The problem with all my food love is I work four nights a week as a tutor, and during the day I am chasing after one child and carrying another in a front pack. I do not have time to make big elaborate meals, but I know that if I don’t prepare dinner before I leave for work, my family, which includes my husband, my two kids, and my brother will end up eating bread and cheese, literally. Well, maybe tortillas and cheese, depending on which carb is closest at hand.

So three of the weekdays that I work I prepare a meal ahead of time, either in the morning before heading to the park, or in the afternoon right before I leave for work, depending on how the day goes and on what the meal is. One of the four weeknights there is enough food for leftovers.

In addition to being an active, hands on, homeschooling mom (which means my kids are always with me if I’m not at work) and being a tutor, I am also (hi there) spending a lot of time trying to get my writing online and read by as many people as possible (that’s you!), which is time consuming, plus I try to get regular exercise for physical and mental health, and I have ten million other I am woman hear me roar tasks to accomplish, grocery shopping, bill paying, corresponding with family and friends, making plans for family or friend get togethers, working toward ending white supremacy, smashing the patriarchy, you know, the little things.

If you can relate, and I’m sure you can, because you’re still here, I will share with you one of the many recipes that is a quick, easy, and delicious meal to prepare the morning before you head off to work or play dates, the afternoon before you head off to coffee with a girlfriend, or the evening before you head off to a Black Lives Matter march. Or, this could just be a meal you can prepare quickly when you get home from anyone of the above events and you need to get dinner on the table, so you can rest easy afterward while you knit a pink hat.

This particular dish is a favorite because it works anytime of year and I usually have all of the ingredients on hand. It also doesn’t really have any of those “ew I don’t like that” foods that my daughter, husband, and brother all have on a list somewhere they’ve hidden from me.

Without further ado, here it is:

Chicken Mozzarella Penne

Ingredients

1/2 onion

2 cloves garlic

dried Basil

crushed red pepper

1 32 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 bag of whole wheat penne pasta

4 chicken breasts

12 oz brick of Mozzarella cheese, or half a brick of that giant one from Costco

salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

First, Put a giant pot of water on the stove to boil; it takes forever, so start there. Don’t forget to salt your water; it is the only way to season your pasta.

Put a skillet on the stove on medium heat and drizzle some olive oil in the pan. Put a saucepan on the stove on the same heat level and drizzle some olive oil in. I like Rachel Ray’s technique of “once around the pan.”

You now have three pans on the stove.

Cube your four chicken breasts, wait for the oil to be hot enough that you can clearly feel the heat rising from the pan.

In the meantime, cut your 1/2 onion and and chop your garlic. You can make these in big chunks because you are going to throw them in the blender later.

By now, both your pans should be hot, so add the chicken to the skillet and season with salt and pepper, then add onions and garlic to saucepan. Keep a close eye on the saucepan, stir regularly because you do not want to burn your garlic. It’s gross when it’s burnt.

Once the garlic and onion are translucent, about a minute, add the can of crushed tomatoes, salt, about a teaspoon of crushed red pepper, and about a tablespoon on dried basil, let simmer.

Check your chicken! It will get really juicy and start to turn white, keep stirring it up and mixing the pan until the chicken is cooked all the way through, but the juice is still in the pan and hasn’t cooked off yet.

After your sauce has simmered for a few minutes, throw it in the blender and blend the heck out of it so it runs thick but smooth, no big onion chunks are left. My brother hates onions, so I have to hide them. Return the sauce to saucepan and simmer on super low or the sauce will bubble and get everywhere. That’s a nightmare to clean up.

By now your chicken should be just about ready and your water better be boiling.

Add about 2/3 bag of pasta to the water and stir immediately so the pasta doesn’t stick together. I don’t make the whole bag because I like a saucy pasta dish. Let your pasta cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, super al dente, because you want to add it to the sauce and let the sauce cook it the rest of the way through, so the sauce flavors the pasta.

Now, you can add your sauce to your chicken in the pan, drain your pasta, and mix all of that together in a medium to large sized baking dish.

Now comes the fun part, and by fun I mean my favorite part:

Cube the brick of mozzarella and dump all the cubes on top of the dish. Take your serving spoon and mix it all together.

When you are close to ready to eat it, throw it in the oven for 30 minutes on 350 if its still warm, or 45 minutes if it’s been in the fridge.

The end result will be a bubbly, gooey, pizza-y delight that will fill your family’s bellys and make them worship the ground you walk on, after all you are the queen (unless you’re a guy, then you’re totally awesome too! I hope.), you deserve to be worshipped.

You should also have plenty for leftovers, unless you have a large family, in which case double this recipe so you have leftovers because red sauce pasta dishes make THE BEST leftovers.

Enjoy!  And please leave comments and feedback if you tried the dish and loved it, or hated it. Either way, I’m off to do all the other things now!