Cooking dinner is a good thing to do

I know that cooking dinner for my family is a good thing to do, and in the past I’ve enjoyed it, but recently I’ve suffered through a cooking slump (May I blame it on the 4 pm swimming lessons or is it just the human condition?)

When I think about cooking dinner, my negative thoughts include: it will take too long, the kids won’t like it, and I will have to clean up the mess. Eating has been the same way. Nothing appeals. Unfortunately, because I actually am hungry, I eat candy saved (stolen?) from my children and fast food. Yikes. Aside from the candy, my children aren’t eating much better.

I can do better. Tonight I did. At the last minute, it occurred to me that I wanted to offer my kids real food for dinner. I leafed through my favorite recipe binder and got nowhere. But then I searched the fridge and found that we had 1) lots of eggs 2) home-grown zucchini and 3) some bacon I’d already cooked. Lightbulb! I made a frittata for dinner. It was delicious. Everyone liked it. It wasn’t hard. It didn’t take long. It was real food for my family. So I’m writing this post to help me capture the “what was I dreading, I love to cook!” feeling. I hope to climb out of that slump one day at a time.

Poppy Mallow: Flowers Gone Crazy

Poppy Mallow Spreading Aggressively

Poppy Mallow Close Up. Pretty, eh?

Some drought tolerant plants, like Firecracker Penstemon (penstemon eatonii), aren’t just drought tolerant, they are drought loving.  They do worse if watered too much.  Water is not their friend.  It can rot and kill them.

In the other category, drought tolerant plants like Poppy Mallow (callirhoe involucrata) are able to survive conditions of very little water.  However, given plenty of water, they are off to the races.  My experience suggests that when they are well-hydrated, they figure it is a good time to bloom and reproduce.  High Country Gardens describes Poppy Mallow as a “gentle spreader.”  After our unusual weather (lots and lots of rain) of the past few weeks, my gentle spreader seems to have become an aggressive spreader!  It is so beautiful right now that I guess I don’t mind.  However, I worry that it will soon begin to look yellow and crispyish (as it did mid summer last summer).  If the summer brings an end to the blossoms and a beginning  to yellow foliage spread everywhere, I won’t be feeling quite as pleased.  I’ll keep you posted.

Poppy Mallow spreading under the Russian Sage along my back fence

Poppy Mallow spreading under the Russian Sage along my back fence

World Optimism, World Pessimism

As I have followed coverage of Iran’s swinging political pendulum over the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking about the other moments during which I have felt tremendous optimism and terrible pessimism regarding world events. Ever an observer, I can’t predict or change outcomes.  But this doesn’t keep me from hope and fear, doubt and anticipation.

I was a child in a world where many thought the Iron Curtain was impenetrable.  Yes, it was simplistic, but for many there was East Germany and the USSR and shoe pounding dictators on one side, and freedom and the USA and people who wanted good things for the world on the other.

Then, during the fall of 1989, the wall came down and the world changed.  I had the opportunity to live in Leipzig (former East Germany not too far from Berlin) during the summer of 1994.  It was exciting to hear how the movement that preceded the fall of the wall had grown, meeting at the very church where we enjoyed such wonderful organ concerts.  However, most of the former DDR residents I met hadn’t necessarily been campaigners for freedom (perhaps most of the campaigners lived in the West by then?).  In fact, I grew to realize that they were part of the “them” that I had always opposed to my “us.”  But the people I knew were ordinary.  Not evil, not seeking world nuclear annihilation, just trying to figure out how to live a happy life under the constraints that they had–as we all do.

Of course, 1989 was also the year of the Tiananmen Square protests in China.  Wikipedia says one million people were on the square.   I grew up in a small town.  A football stadium’s worth of people still impresses me.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to stand with a million others calling for freedom.  In any case, in China, a million was not enough.  The protesters were dispersed–there were injuries and deaths.  The desired change didn’t come.

During the past week, there have been times when hundreds of thousands of protesters were on the streets of Iran. I admit that I do not have a nuanced enough view of this area of the world to understand completely what is going on.  I do know that as with the world before the wall fell, it is too easy to simplify, to point fingers at good guys and bad guys, good parts of the world and bad.  On the other hand, it is true that some guys are good and some are bad.  It was a good thing when the wall came down.  It was a good thing when East Germany’s secret state police were disbanded and their secrets weren’t secret any more.  It was a bad thing when the East German people didn’t have the freedom to travel.

From what I understand, Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition candidate who allegedly lost the election, isn’t the pro-American pacifist we dream of, the one who would completely end our nuclear Iran fears.  Until recently, he wasn’t part of the opposition, he was part of the establishment.

On the other hand, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  Unfortunately, Ahmadinejad has worked hard to put himself in the enemy category.  And when I see the people, especially the women, chanting for Moussavi, I want to join them.  I want to wear green and stand in the street and chant, Mou-sa-vee, Mou-sa-vee, Mou-sa-vee.  I want to be brave and stand up to the Basij, the robocops, and the tear gas.   I want to dare them to spill my blood and see whether it makes their grip on power stronger or weaker. Perhaps it is easier to feel these desires in full force from the comfort of my computer chair.  I admire those who feel it when they see the riot police out in force.

Moussavi announced this past week that he was ready to become a martyr.  I am not sure whether he is worth dying or being beaten and teargassed for,  but the freedom that so many of these Iranians desire probably is.

Recently, we saw Valkyrie.  I liked it.   Is it possible to watch that movie and not desire to be a von Stauffenberg (the German officer plotting to assassinate Hitler) in one’s own life?  To have that courage, that integrity, and to be willing to sacrifice everything for what one believes?  To have that sort of clarity and confidence that what one believes is worth the sacrifice?

Anyway, back to Tehran.  Or more accurately, to my computer, surfing to see the latest in Tehran.  Again, an observer.  Pessimism and fear.  Hope and anticipation.  Waiting, watching, hoping.

Stuff Worth Buying: Garlic Press

Stuff Worth Buying

Nothing beats fresh garlic.  If you are using powdered, jarred, or pre-peeled garlic, you are settling for less. Try fresh garlic again and see whether it isn’t a sensory experience you need in your life.

Kuhn-Rikon Easy Squeeze Garlic Press

Given my penchant for fresh garlic, I see the garlic press as a must have item. If you are a garlic press newbie, you need to know that garlic presses are not created equal. Not even close. Many are flimsy, most are inefficient, a lot of them are hard to clean, and some require too much hand strength. None of these negatives is true of the Kuhn Rikon Easy Squeeze.  If you have ever tried a garlic press made by another company, when you try this one, you will quickly recognize it as an engineering marvel.  It really works well and it is much easier to clean.  I don’t think the Easy Squeeze is the best looking press.  Kuhn Rikon’s similar stainless steel model is absolutely beautiful.  I own it too and it is a work of kitchen design that is truly art. But for those of us with weak hand strength, the less sophisticated easy squeeze model (available in black, red or blue) is both easier and cheaper.  I first read about this model at Cook’s Illustrated where it was rated number one out of a field of thirteen presses.

Do you know of any Stuff Worth Buying?  I would love to have you guest post.  Write me at ChocolateandGarlic [at]

*I have received no financial or other benefits from the companies affiliated with this product.  See my review policy at the bottom of my About Me page.

Zucchini Joy

Pmom with first Zucchini of season

Zucchini Joy or I never promised you a rose garden

This was supposed to be a rose garden.  It did have roses when we moved in, but they were sick and old and had to go.  I had planned to put more roses in, and I planted “Royal Velvet” English lavender in preparation for this, envisioning a lovely vista from the picture window that looks out on this bed from our kitchen.


Our yard has lots of beds and lots of ornamental plants.  What of edibles?  In the past couple of years, Pdad felt reluctant to put food rather than flowers on display.  But last year’s ornamental kale and jack-be-little pumpkins helped him come around.  Food can be beautiful and fun and — delicious.   Much as I loved the little pumpkins, this year I wanted a true food crop.  So I planted my first ever zucchini.  And today I discovered my first zucchini! I don’t know which I’m looking forward to more–Pdad’s grilled zucchini or my zucchini nut bread.  Either way, I’m excited.

Given our zucchini plant’s fun foliar issues (is that powdery mildew?), it may not rank as our most beautiful specimen (the blossoms are gorgeous–although they have violated my anti-yellow proscriptions), but today at least, it’s near the top for “most satisfying.”

What I Hope for My Children

I started writing this in reply to Julie’s comment [the 500th comment on this blog and by a new reader to boot! Hooray!] on the Shinguards Go Inside the Sock post and realized I wanted to put it up here as a separate post.

Julie, I think you make a really good point about how important it is to help your child celebrate who he is and what he is good at.  All children need that.  Actually, we all need that.  In pushing one’s children to “fit in” so that they can find greater happiness, it is possible to accidentally send the message that not fitting in is truly terrible.  This is a shame.  I don’t need or want cookie cutter kids (and I’m not likely to have any).  While I want them to feel comfortable socially if possible, I also want to teach them that they don’t have to be like everyone else to be wonderful.  This is important for them to know because a) they aren’t like everybody else and b) they are wonderful.  It doesn’t mean that those other kids aren’t wonderful as well, but clichéd or not, we are all wonderful in our own way.

I hope my children can learn to appreciate other’s talents and gifts without feeling that they are worth less because they didn’t get those particular talents and gifts.  I also hope they will grow to feel mightily thankful for the gifts they have received, while keeping the perspective that being better at x doesn’t make you better, it just makes you better at x.  I  hope each of my children can find areas in which they are able to work hard and excel, because the discipline of applying oneself and learning the rules of any practice–whether it be soccer or swimming, storytelling or spelling bees, crocheting or kayaking–and then seeing improvement and ultimately success, is powerful rest-of-your-life preparation.  We all like to feel that there is something we’re good at.  We all want to know that if we work hard we can accomplish great things.  This knowledge gives us courage and strength.  It also gives us a secure position from which we are better able to appreciate other’s accomplishments and abilities.

Stuff Worth Buying: Kitchen Scale

Stuff Worth Buying

Consumers of the world unite! We need to ask cookbook publishers to include weights in all their cookbooks. It is crucial for baking and it makes sense for other types of cooking as well.

I, for one, prefer measuring three ounces of onion to making myself crazy with internal debates as to whether a given onion qualifies as medium size or not.  For ingredients like Parmesan,  where how you grated it makes such a big difference to the volume, weighing just makes a ton of sense.

What doesn’t make sense is to bake without referring to weight, because weighing is so much more accurate. If you are stir frying—a little more of this, a little more of that—accuracy isn’t a big deal (unless you have OC issues : ). But if you are making a cake, accuracy is key.

2) Weighing is also much faster. Instead of dipping and sweeping multiple cups, you just pour your flour slowly into the bowl until you hit the magic number on the scale.


Which scale?  I am sure many scales would work fine, but I love my MyWeigh 7000 (click the picture to visit their website). It is a little bulky, but so much sturdier than my previous scale. This thing has stood up to considerable abuse by my children, and it still works great.  Also, it has a higher weight capacity than most scales (almost 15 1/2 lbs), so I don’t have to worry that if I put that fully-loaded heavy bowl on it it might break. Also, with the multiple modes and high weight capacity, the MyWeigh can be used for calculating postage or all sorts of crafts and hobbies.

Read my review policy on the About Me page.