on a blanket in the park

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…we lunched on cold meatloaf sandwiches, pimiento cheese and green goddess dressing with crackers and crunchy vegetables.

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Julian ate two giant, juicy peaches, then ran around with his “brand new full-size soccer ball!” until his cheeks were red and his little legs all wobbly.

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Mira rolled around on our blanket, watching the leaves above us rustling in the breeze and investigating blades of grass and fallen acorns, smiling and giggling, just taking it all in. This was the first of many picnics she has to look forward to.

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Mike mixed us up a sipper of Campari (shhhh) and raspberry shrub, topped off with a little fizzy water – refreshing and low-octane.

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A good time was had by all.

green thoughts

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Finally.

We’ve finally made it through what felt like the longest winter ever. I spent the better part of it housebound with a newborn and a very cooped-up 2-year old, cursing the weeks upon weeks of blustery weather, most days too dangerously cold to venture out with the little ones.

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Despite being stuck at home so many hours and days in a row, I found little time or energy to cook anything of note, or to write much at all.

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This past winter was a particularly hard one. I feel blessed to have had my mom here with us for a few big chunks of time, and she and some dear neighbors took great care of us, feeding us well in the weeks and months after Mira’s birth, but even with that help I have struggled. I bounced back so quickly after Julian was born, and expected the same this time around, but things could not have been more different between my first pregnancy and my last. I’m battling nerve pain and other physical issues, still, at 6 months postpartum. And the depression that I was so afraid of, and that I managed to avoid the first time around, has reared its ugly head again. I’m trying hard to drive it off, to keep the worst at bay, but it’s not been easy. I wake up, and I am working at it, every single day.

Writing helps, and planning meals, and cooking, and I’m trying to do all of those things more often.

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It was a long winter, but we made it through. And each day is a little longer, a little lighter, a little better.

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Green is all around now, from trees in bloom in our Brooklyn neighborhood, to the first spring vegetables at our farmers markets. It feels like a celebration, and I have never been so grateful, so eager to partake. I’m ready to send our trusty friend the potato on a long hiatus, to get back in the kitchen and cook something a little fresher, a little lighter, a little better.

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Winter is finally behind us. Here’s to a new season, and to embracing the green.

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Green Rice

I’ve been working on a “green” rice for a few years, as a simple and kid-friendly vehicle for lots of tender spring vegetables. You can add whatever young green vegetables and herbs you like, but the below includes our favorites.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion, spring onion, or scallions (green and white parts)
kosher or sea salt
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 1/4 cups water (you can substitute chicken or vegetable stock)
1 lb. fresh fava beans, shelled and peeled
1/2 lb. blanched, shelled peas (or an equal amount frozen/thawed)
1/2 bunch asparagus, tips and stalks separated, stalks sliced into very thin rounds
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 cup very finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, or a combination)
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano

Heat the oil in a wide sauté pan until shimmering, then add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook just until soft. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil. Add the water and cover, reducing the heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and gently fold in the favas, peas, asparagus, and artichoke hearts. Add another pinch of salt and re-cover, continuing to cook until the rice is cooked and the vegetables are tender, another 10-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the herbs and grated cheese. Use a fork to gently fluff the rice and stir the herbs and cheese through.

a good place to start

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This week has been a doozy. We were able to take our very cooped-up kids out for a bit over the weekend, but the cold and snow came back with a vengeance Sunday night, and we’ve been fighting the bad weather blues ever since. My commutes have been long and frustrating, with truncated workdays and late returns home throwing us all off schedule, but the one thing we’ve been really grateful for is the promise of a good, hearty meal at the end of the day.

We were the lucky recipients of another delicious “meal train” dinner Monday night, and yesterday I put a new spin on an old favorite: Lemon Artichoke Chicken by our friend Liz. Liz’ original recipe is one of those wonderful dishes that is simple enough for a weeknight, but elegant enough for company. We usually love it served simply with salad and bread, but last night, craving something a little more rib-sticking, I decided to make a few modifications.

The first of them was unintentional, but a happy accident: instead of the skinless, boneless chicken breasts the recipe calls for, Mike had pulled some boned-out thighs from the freezer. They were thin enough that they didn’t need pounding, and in the end they lent a more robust flavor to the finished dish.

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After browning the chicken well on both sides, I removed it from the pan and added some sliced crimini mushrooms I needed to use up, as well as a good amount of thyme. I deglazed the pan with the juice of a lemon, and a hefty splash of vermouth in place of the sherry since it was what we had on hand, then I added a can of drained white beans along with the artichoke hearts. I put the browned chicken right back into the pan with the beans, artichokes, mushrooms and sauce, added the panko-parmesan topping, drizzled on some olive oil and then put the whole thing into a hot oven. I ended up baking this for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees, until it was bubbly and browned on top.

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While my variation of this dish isn’t going to win any beauty contests, it hit all the right notes, with its creamy beans, tender chicken and artichokes, the crunch of the panko and the brightness of lemon. The fact that it all came together in one pan was a bonus. Thank you, Liz, for your recipe and for the inspiration – it was a very good place to start.

a bowl of goodness

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A little rice left over from a previous night’s dinner, black beans spiked with cumin and Mexican oregano, a shower of sharp cheddar, a mix of peppers – sweet and hot – roasted on the weekend and packed in olive oil to deploy during the week, crisp lime-pickled radishes and red onion, some creamy avocado, a fresh chunky salsa, and a dollop of pureed chipotle in adobo made for a warming, hearty lunch to fortify us on a chilly day.

I’m really going to miss these Thursdays at home.

outside the box

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One of the best decisions I’ve made recently is to use some unexpected vacation time to ease our transition from my maternity leave into our new routine. I was able to arrange for my first four weeks back on the job to be short weeks, scheduling a month of Thursdays off to spend at home with the kids. It has helped to break up the week for me as I get back in the swing of things at the office, and it allows Mike a bit more freedom to get the things done for his book and other writing projects that he needs to, as well.

Last week, Julian –out of the blue – asked me for mac and cheese, and since it was Thursday, and I was home, I figured why not? But with naptime approaching, I didn’t want to keep him waiting an hour or more for my regular skillet mac and cheese. Instead, I used that tried-and-true recipe as a jumping-off point, stripping down and changing up the proportions of my cheese sauce, and using a smaller (and quicker-cooking) pasta shape to produce a simple, super-creamy stove-top version for him.

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Three servings later, I was pretty sure I had a winner on my hands, and when Julian asked for it again yesterday, I figured I’d better write my recipe down for posterity. I hope Julian and his baby sister always push me to think outside the box, in the kitchen and elsewhere.

Simple Stove-top Mac & Cheese

1/2 lb. small pasta (we like Garofalo’s Lumachine, but any little tube or shell is fine)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoon flour
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. grated extra-sharp cheddar
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan or pecorino romano
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1-2 dashes Tabasco or other hot sauce (optional)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook it until tender. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat and whisk in the flour until combined. Whisk in the milk and cream until smooth. Add the cheeses a little at a time, stirring until they are well incorporated, and let cook over medium heat until the sauce is thickened and a bit reduced. Whisk in the Dijon, Worcestershire, and Tabasco (if using), then season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the cheese mixture and stir gently until the pasta is thoroughly enveloped, and the cheese sauce gets into all of its little nooks and crannies. Serve immediately.

the swing

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I returned to work this week, just one day after Mira turned 10 weeks old. Mike is home with both kids now, trying to balance his writing projects with wrangling a newborn and an energetic toddler. Monday was rough all around, but each day has gotten a little bit better, and I’m pretty sure that we’ll soon be right back in the swing of things.

We have been helped immensely by parent-friends in our neighborhood, who have dropped off a series of delicious dinners, and also by a bit of planning ahead. I made sure that our fridge and freezer would be stocked with heat-and-eat options to help ease us through this first week post-maternity leave – a chicken and black bean chili I put together a couple of weeks ago, a couple of par-baked frozen pizzas, and the ingredients for this ingenious and really tasty sheet pan supper, which I spotted on Pinterest some recent sleepless night. Right now, easy is essential.

Our kielbasa came from Flying Pigs Farm, and instead of using bell peppers (as in Foodie With Family’s original dish), I added some well-drained sauerkraut to the mix. I also ended up baking it for closer to an hour, cranking the heat up to 500 for the last half of the cooking time to get everything nice and browned and crisp (our crappy apartment oven is likely to blame for that). Since I had started early, timing wasn’t a problem, and I’m never going to complain about the smell of garlicky sausage and onions wafting through the air as they cook. We all loved this dish, and it could not have been easier to assemble, or more fun to eat. This one is definitely going into the rotation.

The Best Thing We Ever Made – Second Course

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Things have been even quieter than usual around here, and with good reason. One month ago, we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Mirabelle Marlow Dietsch, into the world. Mira weighed in at 7 lbs. 5 oz. and was 19.5 inches long, and we’ve been slowly adjusting to life as a family of four.

Warm thanks to all of you who heard the news elsewhere and passed along your good wishes – they are so appreciated.

a little big news

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If you were around last Friday, you may have heard my husband‘s big announcement; and if you haven’t, well, I feel it is my duty to share some wonderful news with you.

While I’ve been spending the last few months not-so-much-cooking, and not-so-much-eating, and mostly putting all my energy into incubating Sprog 2.0, Mike has been pouring his heart and soul and considerable talents into a pretty major project of his own: a book. SHRUBS: AN OLD-FASHIONED DRINK FOR MODERN TIMES, is set for release in July of 2014. If you don’t yet know what a shrub is, well, my Dietsch is the guy to explain it to you.

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My own involvement with this project goes a little beyond taste tester and head cheerleader, as well: I shot the cover (!), and will be providing additional photos for the book (!!), which is exciting and surreal and more than a little nerve-wracking, since our deadline falls right around the time the new baby is due, but hey, an opportunity like this is a once in a lifetime thing. It’s a thrill to have some tiny part in helping Mike’s lifelong dream become a reality.

Big, big congrats, sweetie – I am so proud of you, and hopefully this is just the beginning.

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