new york state test breakfast and dinner menu

People have their own personal signs of when spring has arrived. Baseball. Flowers.

Our daffodils are brightening the day along with tiny purple crocuses.

Inside, the hibiscus tree is beginning to bloom. The day we spotted the first bud meant the tree that sat in a sunny corner in the den, was getting ready to start the blooming cycle again.

These bright pink flowers will continue to appear all summer long as the tree spends a vacation on the patio.

It was so nice to crack open long-shut windows and let some fresh air in the rooms of the house. The warm sunshine was welcomed by us and dog decided to stretch out in it and relax.

All of it means spring — but it also means state test time. The first time my older guy took the tests were in the third grade. Parents shared stories about stressed children who were nervous about the tests. For whatever reason, my guy didn’t seem to be bothered. He was ready to sharpen his pencil and tackle whatever they were sending his way.

To put a positive spin on this exam, that would be administered over a THREE-day period, he got a distraction because he was put in charge of the menu for breakfast and dinner. Instead of dreading the doom of a three-day exam, he couldn’t wait for the time to come.

He chose eggs, scrambled one day, sunny-side up on another. Steak and potatoes for dinner. Canadian bacon. Toast with butter. Cheeseburgers. Baked pasta. Whatever he wanted. He was in charge of the menu!

We followed the tradition right into middle-school this year. Again, it kept him focused on something positive that fueled his brain power. This year it was his favorite lasagna up first.

The order for lasagna also meant we bought our basil plants for the season. We got four plants for the basil pot that sits next to the grill.

The next night was fried chicken and mashed potatoes. The “bread crumbs” are ground-up corn flakes and it gives the chicken, that has been soaked in buttermilk, a crunchy outer layer.

He likes a well in the middle of his potatoes and the gravy pooled inside. A sprinkle of chives on top.

The next night he chose hamburgers and French fries with what the guys refer to as their favorite “French fry sauce.” It’s the aioli they love made with mayonnaise and ketchup and a blend of chives.

Since the tests were officially over, a movie for dinner was requested.

All of the warm weather and sunshine inspired us to spread out beach towels on the floor and have burgers and fries with a movie. We could hear a soccer practice going on in the park across the street, the sounds of tennis rackets hitting tennis balls, and the fresh air was drifting in through the windows. What movie was playing during our inside picnic and a movie?

We let this guy choose since, as the song in the movie says,……………. because we’re happy!

Be sure to check out my latest post over at Parade about kids’ snacks. http://parade.condenast.com/276137/aliceknisleymatthias-2/4-kids-snacks-that-may-not-be-as-healthy-as-you-think/

For more reading this weekend: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/

 

 

spring ahead

The month of March roared in like a lion and then took a rest.

What’s the best reason to lose an hour of sleep on the weekend after a busy week? Moving the clocks ahead for Daylight Savings Time for longer stretches of sunshine in the days ahead.

There’s the first green bud on one of the hydrangea bushes. This weekend brought some warmer air and we took a walk around the garden to see signs of life starting to push through the earth.

The mountains of snow are starting to disappear finally. After a winter of shovel-breaking snow clearing, everyone will greet the spring with some weary happiness and relief.

The weather person stood in front of a chart for the week that showed 60-degree weather and a 20-degree day all in one week. We’ll take what we can get for now.

There’s the Christmas tree we shoved out the window in January for our annual post-holiday close of the season. It still looks pretty good.

We cut up the tree every year for mulch. This winter so much snow arrived, so quickly, it stayed outside buried under snow. This is the first time we’re seeing it again after the tree-shoving ceremony.

As we walked, we were greeted by new growth, pushing through the soil as ice and snow began to disappear.

The sedum, is one of the last flowers to fade in the fall, and the first perennial to signal a new growing season is on the way. Snowdrops, with their white buds on arched stems, were swaying as we passed.

One of the best parts of growing perennials is the resilience to return, year after year, no matter what winter delivered. There is an added element of awe when the plants return after a harsh winter season like we had this year.

We got a spring-flowering lilac bush last year, and through a series of events, never got it in the ground last season. In the fall, it looked like it was dead.

Many plants can look that way and come back to life in the spring. So, we left it, in a pot by the garage door for the winter.  It still looked dead this weekend.

Some plants have leaves, but look withered  at this time of year, like the sage. Some flowering bushes can look like they will never bloom again. Scrape the surface of one of the branches. If the inside is green, it simply means the bush is still in a dormant phase.

We tested our lilac and there was green inside. This neglected lilac bush is going to be producing perfume-scented lilac flowers in a few weeks.

Maybe this warm weather won’t consistently be around to stay yet–but it’s a sign–that spring is on the way. In the meantime, just knowing the hydrangea, in the first picture of plants, will look like this again is a reassuring thought.

Be sure and check out my latest post at Parade and start to think what herbs and vegetables to grow this season.

http://parade.condenast.com/268293/aliceknisleymatthias-2/giving-a-food-another-chance-at-any-age/

yes, we like green eggs and ham

The view outside our window hasn’t changed much this winter.

It’s headed our way again - more snow! You know you’ve had a long winter of storms when two kids overhear the news on the radio and groan.

The indoor growing season, in the house, is what we focus on until we can garden outside again. We tend to African violets, orchids, herbs, and other succulents.

The hibiscus tree comes inside from the patio, and thrives in the winter sunshine, that streams through the windows in the den.  The windows are a warm and sunny spot for the orchids which put on their show at this time of year.

The shovels are ready for another round of snow, but there is a sure sign of spring. that arrives in the mailbox almost every other day.

Garden catalogues for the 2014 growing season. The coffee table in the living room holds the thoughts and ideas for the upcoming outdoor season.

It looks like March is going to arrive like a lion this year. The orchids remind us that the growing season, that happens inside, brings wonder during the cold months.

Tomorrow is Dr. Seuss’ birthday, and in honor of the author’s day, it’s Read Across America Day. Want to make some green eggs and ham to celebrate?

Use some chives, or a combination of herbs, to make an herb-infused oil. Place about 1/2 cup of extra-virgin-olive-oil, with a handful of chopped herbs,  in a sauce pan and gently heat.

Add a dash of Kosher salt and pour into a blender and mix. Melt some butter in a pan. When the butter is melted, crack an egg in the pan. As the egg cooks, tilt the pan, and spoon the melted butter over the yolk for a picture-perfect egg.

For the ham portion, of our green eggs and ham, we use round slices of Canadian bacon. You can warm them in the oven as you make the eggs.

Place the ham on the plate first. and top with the egg and the herb oil. to make them “green.” We’ve tried putting the herb oil in eggs and scrambling them, but the guys said it “just looked too weird to eat.” Fair enough.

The plants we grow in the house all winter long help get us through to the next outdoor growing season. The guys are  learning the satisfaction of watching something grow.

And always give, what looks to be a plant on the way out, one more chance. It may surprise you. Who doesn’t like a surprise?

it’s an absolutely beautiful day!

“It’s absolutely a beautiful day out there right now.” That’s what the New York City school chancellor said to parents and school staff about the weather conditions late yesterday morning at a press conference.

The storm was at the peak of the heaviest snowfall when the early morning commute should be in full swing. Yet schools were open. Maybe it had stopped snowing by the time the chancellor spoke.

But, it certainly wasn’t a beautiful day. The students who braved the elements, and the teachers and staff who were forced to make the icy trip, had already been in virtually empty schools for hours when the chancellor declared it a “beautiful day.”

She made that statement on television just as the dog barked to be let out the back door.

It was frozen shut, with a huge snow drift, that had blown up the front of the door. The freezing rain started to pelt the windows.

The guys weren’t happy about their perfect attendance records being shattered. We stayed home and made chocolate truffles for Valentine’s Day.

In the past week, we’ve had light, fluffy snow and wet, heavy snow. Frozen walls of snow. The snow and ice have been an ongoing theme. That groundhog said we were getting six more weeks of winter – and he meant it.

We had the ingredients to make our chocolate truffles. Chocolate truffles are the kind of dessert that sounds intimidating if you’ve never tried to make them.

They’re super-simple to make and you can vary the ingredients so many ways. Roll them in cocoa, or powdered sugar, or chopped hazelnuts. Follow this basic recipe found below.

http://parade.condenast.com/244144/aliceknisleymatthias-2/no-bake-holiday-treats-chocolate-truffles/

We used some of our homemade hot chocolate mix. You can substitute the cocoa powder for a pre-packaged cocoa mix.

Last night, we made our Valentine’s Day cards for the second grade class. As we went down the list of the 32 students in the second grade my little guy told me, “You make the best cards.”  Nice to know when you’re appreciated.

If you really want to shake things up for your valentine, check out my post in the Food section at Parade this week. Isn’t there always a couple that makes you wonder how they ever got together? This is the dessert form of that question.

http://parade.condenast.com/262028/aliceknisleymatthias-2/my-funny-valentine-chocolate-and-bacon/

Happy Valentine’s Day!

nacho, nacho man!

“Do you know how to make nachos Mom?” my younger guy asked. “Because, I think we would like them. They have cheese!” Someone has seen a Super Bowl commercial or two. Nachos it is.

The guys are good about embracing the dinner menu. The younger one though, does not like “mixed-up food.”

This means that a hearty winter stew, of cubes of meat, thick slices of carrots, simmered in a broth with fresh herbs, is not going to be pooled on a mound of mashed potatoes for him. He wants some stew on one side of the plate and the potatoes on the other side. Fair enough.

This recipe for nachos has beans and ground turkey as the base. The white beans simmer in a pot, and get broken down with a potato masher, to create a puree of the beans.

The bean puree is a great way to stretch the amount of meat being used when it gets cooked with the turkey.

Ground turkey needs a real boost of flavor. After sweating a shallot, chopped and cooked in some olive oil, the ground turkey gets added to the pot.

To help caramelize the ground turkey, a generous sprinkling of onion powder and garlic powder, as well as a mild paprika, help brown the meat.

At the end of cooking time, an equal amount of Worcestershire and soy sauce add a deeper flavor to the cooked turkey. The white bean puree is stirred in and the mixture is layered in a dish.

Now for the cheese. We use a blend of shredded Monterey Jack, Colby, and a mix of both a mild, and sharp, Cheddar.

The cheese is spread in an even layer, along with a handful of chopped scallions. The dish goes into the oven for 20-25 minutes at 375F to melt the cheese to a bubbling state of readiness.

We discovered these chips at our local market which are made of stone ground white corn, a non-hydrogenated oil, lime, and sea salt. They’re thin, and crispy, and make the perfect chip for the nachos.

We serve some of the turkey, beans, and cheese, on a plate and scoop up the “toppings” with the corn chips.

People have been talking all week about their Super Bowl menus.. It’s become a big food day. If you’re making chili, as many are, try making your own hot sauce. Read about it in my post over at the Food section of Parade.

http://parade.condenast.com/258103/aliceknisleymatthias-2/the-heat-is-on-or-not-make-your-own-game-day-hot-sauce/

Enjoy the commercials for game day!

snow drifts and soup bowls

This winter is certainly reminding us what we have forgotten about the months between December and whenever spring shows up.

The snow that was predicted for an afternoon debut showed up by early morning. The day was dark, and the snow started to fill corners around the house, as it blew around.

The quiet yielded only the sounds of the birds who were looking for food before the blanket of snow covered everything.

As always, the Cardinals are bright, red stand-out sights against the white snow on the ground, and perched on snowy branches, in the bushes.

It was a bit of shoveling and sliding to get the guys from school. There is something about driving home carefully in a snowstorm, that makes it even nicer to come home, drop our bags, and end the day.

It can continue to snow as we’re settled inside.

What did the guys want for dinner? Tomato soup.

Their idea of warm-me-up-from-the-inside food on a cold day is a bowl of tomato soup, with a mound of tangy sour cream right in the middle of the bowl, like its own snow drift.

Place a bulb of shallot and 2 gloves of garlic in a cold pan with some extra-virgin-olive-oil and slowly warm. When they just start to brown in 2-3 minutes, remove and empty a can of tomato puree into the pan and the infused oil.

Stir, and add some salt, onion powder, and garlic powder. Simmer for about 5 minutes on low. remove from heat, and add some light cream. Pour once around the pan and stir.

To serve, spoon sour cream into bowls. Ladle tomato soup around the sour cream. Time for fresh chives. Chop and sprinkle on top.

When dinner was over we baked some chocolate chip cookies and had mugs of hot cocoa by the fire. There will be many mugs in our future as this cold is going to hang around for some time.

A bright spot for this time of year? It’s citrus season! To celebrate, head over to Parade for my winter citrus salad. Stay warm!

http://www.parade.com/255002/aliceknisleymatthias-2/perk-up-winter-with-a-bright-citrus-salad/

jumping into january after a polar vortex

We just finished watching The Polar Express movie from the holidays, when we learned the term “polar vortex,” and how it tightened a frozen grip on the entire country.

We went from 6 degrees outside, desperately bundled against the icy air, to almost 60 degrees, in a matter of days. Now it is a pleasant temperature, but it’s gray and rainy. The fog rolled in, and the ships that pass in the harbor at the end of the street, are sounding the boom of their horns.

Today’s photos from around last season’s garden are a reminder of what’s to come. The seed catalogues will start to arrive in the mailbox, and that means time for a cup of tea, and future garden plans.

The decorations have been put away in the attic, and we shoved the tree out the window, as our annual tradition. This year’s Douglas fir slid nicely out the living room window.

The guys yell “Good-bye tree!” as the tree disappears out the window. Window closed. Very cathartic. We’ll cut the branches and use them for mulch in the garden.

The guys always think our tree-out-the-window tradition is fun, and then, they are nowhere to be seen as the rest of the clean-up needs to be done. Once again it will be pointed out that they can’t wait to tear open the carefully packed decorations — but putting them away is a completely different story.

There is something about going back to school in January that hits all of us hard. One morning it was so dark the guys asked why they were getting up in the middle of the night.  Back to the routine of school, homework, meetings and schedules.

Do you find yourself with a lot of leftover candy canes from your holiday season? Head over to Parade Food for ideas on how to use them up. Fun for the kids, and cocktails for the adults, with the recipe for candy cane vodka.

http://www.parade.com/248001/aliceknisleymatthias-2/5-uses-for-leftover-candy-canes-and-candy-cane-vodka/

Cheers!

 

christmas in new york made of twigs and pomegranate seeds

Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus. Do you know the story of the eight-year-old girl whose belief in Santa Claus begins to waver one Christmas in New York City?

She writes to the editor of a New York newspaper. The little girl’s father is a faithful reader and believes any story in the paper to be true. The editor of The New York Sun answers her letter in the newspaper and gives a renewed sense of holiday hope to children and adults.

Today, Macy’s pairs with the Make A Wish folks to donate money, from the letters children write to Santa, collected from the mailboxes at Macy’s.

http://wish.org/content/macys-believe-campaign

Take a closer look at Macy’s at Herald Square and the buildings above. They are replicas of the iconic store, and a row of New York City brownstones, made from twigs, seeds and other natural elements.

These buildings are part of the Holiday Train Show, at The New York Botanical Garden, and it is a bit of magical fun for people of all ages. New York landmarks are mixed with private residences and represented in the glass atrium at The Botanical Garden site.

Trains weave in between the buildings and hum along tracks, on the ground and overhead, on the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges made of bark.

We went the other day for a holiday outing. The sun streams through the glass of the atrium filled with towering palm trees, violets, cyclamen, citrus fruits, and ferns, as well as the buildings, made with leaves and tiny twigs.

There is everything from the old Yankee stadium, with tiny white lights poking through acorn tops for the stadiums lights, to the New York Public Library, and The Conference House on Staten Island, made of carefully constructed rows of twigs to create paned glass windows.

The details on the buildings and bridges use deep ruby-colored pomegranate seeds as berries in holiday decorations and as elements of stained glass windows. Twigs are twisted and braided to make different architectural features. Acorn caps are used as terraces and decorative awnings.

So simple and so elaborate all at once. A holiday train show and visit to some winter gardens. Back home we made some hot chocolate from our homemade mix we keep on hand for the winter months. It’s recommended to swirl your leftover candy canes in a steaming mug of hot cocoa.

Check out this mix for hot chocolate that you can make in your kitchen. The holidays may be coming to an end – but winter will stick around for some time.

Make some hot chocolate and continue reading here and over at http://www.parade.com/food/ in the new year.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2014!

Hot Chocolate Mix

 Yield: Makes 10 big mugs of hot chocolate
 Ingredients

2 1/2 cups nonfat dry milk powder

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

10 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup mini milk chocolate chips

Directions

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl and strain mixture in a bowl.

Gently start to warm milk and add vanilla extract.

Add dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Continue stirring. Add chocolate chips and melt.

Serve with mini marshmallows or whipped cream.

cue the reindeer and christmas morning breakfast

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” That’s a little bit of pressure. We’ve had unusually warm record-setting temperatures the past few days. It made some holiday shopping a bit more pleasant. But, a blast of cold, artic air seems to be the right touch to roll in for Christmas Eve and Day.

The guys talk about traditions a lot. They sometimes throw a detour into a plan when they pick something simple to point out. Like the fact that apparently we’ve always put seven cookies on a plate for Santa. We do?

You expect it has made an impression that we leave cookies on the coffee table for Santa. Yet, they gave me a specific amount of cookies to put on the plate last Christmas Eve, as we assembled Santa’s treat, that would be waiting for him in our home.  They’ve counted and made note of a cookie amount. Really? Who knew.

The traditions are what make them feel grounded and secure as they grow up. These traditions have changed over time, and will continue to do so, as they grow and new experiences come along. The fact that they’ve noticed the small details tells how they feel the passing of time and what is important to them.

The guys have  requested green beans with toasted almonds for Christmas dinner because that’s what they’ve enjoyed the last several years. They better not have an exact number of beans to prepare and serve. Santa’s cookies are one thing – beans are not being counted.

Want some last-minute holiday ideas? Maybe you can start some new traditions of your own. Make some homemade chocolate truffles.

http://www.parade.com/244144/aliceknisleymatthias-2/no-bake-holiday-treats-chocolate-truffles/

This recipe of mine over at Parade is super-easy and it might be the perfect little dessert  for the holiday dinner table this year. Try it.

Be sure and also check out my ideas for a make-ahead breakfast strata, or bread casserole, so everyone can stay in their pajamas and enjoy Christmas morning.

http://www.parade.com/245143/aliceknisleymatthias-2/make-ahead-christmas-morning-breakfast-strata

Merry Christmas to all!

oh lemon tree, oh lemon tree

Never underestimate your children or your plants. Just when you think you have one all figured out — you’re delivered a surprise. The Meyer lemon tree spent the summer outside in the backyard.

The blossoms have a bold, lemony scent that are one of summer’s pleasures to enjoy when sitting on the patio. A sunny yellow lemon, twisted off a branch, sliced, and tucked in a cold glass of anything, is so cooling on a hot afternoon.

Toward the end of the season, the offering of lemons from the tree started to slow down. The tree went back and forth, from the dining room to the patio, in the preparation of going back indoors for the fall and winter season.

Once it was established, the lemon tree had a permanent spot in a sunny window. Sometimes plants can go into shock when moved to a different growing environment. This lemon tree was not happy.

The leaves started to curl and wither. One by one, every leaf on the tree crumpled and turned brown. A Charlie Brown lemon tree just in time for Christmas.

And then it happened. A tiny bit of green appeared among all the dried leaves. It slowly emerged as a glossy green leaf and was followed by others. The little lemon tree, that was fighting back, soon produced some tiny white buds.

In the next few days, they grew and opened into blossoms. There’s nothing more rewarding than watching a plant, that looked like it was on its way out, come back to life.

Gardens and children change from year to year and they constantly keep us guessing. We nurture them as they grow, and we’re rewarded for all our hard work, with unexpected surprises along the way.

We’ll head to the Christmas tree farm this weekend, with a saw, and the fresh tree will  arrive home after a ride on the roof of the car.

The boxes of decorations will be opened, and the trip down memory lane will begin, as we look at the decorations we’ve accumulated through the years. The handmade ornaments made by little hands in school and the star that will sit at the top of the tree.

The Meyer lemon tree might be giving us lemons by the end of February. So it had a temper tantrum when it was forced to go inside the house. Sound familiar?

Here come the holidays. Head over to Parade Food for ideas for holiday entertaining.

http://www.parade.com/240785/aliceknisleymatthias-2/make-ahead-stuffed-mushrooms-with-homemade-bread-crumbs/
http://www.parade.com/237410/aliceknisleymatthias-2/tips-for-hosting-a-wine-cheese-party-make-your-own-flavored-goat-cheese/