Halloween has yet to come and I am ready for something other than pumpkin in my culinary repertoire. And I haven’t had a single pumpkin spice latte or pumpkin anything this season yet. Just looking at all the pumpkins, everywhere and all the time has sated my appetite for pumpkins. And so I am officially moving past pumpkins onto other fall flavors such as cranberries. Tart and rich in flavor not to mention nutrients these little berries are often a one-appearance a year sort of a food at our Thanksgiving table. Furthermore, more often than not, the single appearance is out of a can and resembling something gooey and unappealing. I am on a mission to reinvigorate our love of all things cranberry with non other than cranberry pecan muffins. The pecans are rich and buttery and the cranberries offer a perfect counterpoint of tartness.
Pulse all but the last ingredients of the streusel topping in your food processor. Add the butter making sure to separate the pieces of butter around the bowl. Pulse a few more times until the topping resembles wet sand. Pour into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Preheat the oven to 425*F.
Without washing out the food processor, pulse the pecans and sugar for the batter. Whisk the butter, eggs and milk together and add the pecan/sugar mix. Whisk thoroughly, add salt and baking powder. Add flour and mix just enough to ensure that the flour is absorbed. Without washing out the food processor, pulse the powdered sugar and cranberries until the cranberries are roughly chopped (5-6 times). Add the mixture to the batter and mix carefully. Allow the batter to stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, grease a muffin baking dish. After ten minutes, scoop the batter into the individual tins ensuring that it is divided evenly. Spoon 1.5 tbsp. of the streusel topping on each muffin gently pressing. Bake for 17 minutes if using convection or 18-19 otherwise. Enjoy!
Philadelphia has changed so much so that I at times feel like a tourist in my own hometown. Sure the corner convenience store is still there as are the dry cleaners but our old gym (we used to go to the gym before we had kids) is now an art gallery displaying woodworking masterpieces that have me salivating every time I walk by. We ventured out into old city on a mini-date without our very own mini dates. Our first stop was at this new (at least to us) restaurant which features a pretty awesome beer garden. The beer garden overlooks the enclosed liberty bell and is entirely outdoors flanked by industrial pillars that are canopied by all manner of lush, country-style greenery. Patrons sit on wooden stumps and mismatched chairs at small tables playing Jenga with a beverage in hand while nestling their feet into pebbles. Small lights that dot the canopy and music complete the tranquil space. If you didn’t try to peer through the greenery or hear the occasional duck boat, you’d never think you were in the city or much less in a tourist-laden part of the city.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the sun, peace and quiet, I returned home and decided that something sunny and yet warming was in order. What better to make than a fall corn chowder.
Fall Corn Chowder
3 slices of thick-cut bacon
1 medium onion, minced
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup flour
3 1-lb bags of frozen corn
3.5 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups milk
12 oz yukon gold potatoes cut into 1 cm cubes
3 sprigs of thyme, taken off the stem and minced
1 cup heavy cream
Cut the bacon into small pieces and place into a large pot. Turn the heat to low-medium and cook until the bacon is completely rendered and crispy. Remove the bacon onto a paper-towel lined plate and set aside. Add the onion to the pot along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook until softened or about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute until fragrant and add flour. Mix well and continue cooking until the flour is no longer visible or 1-2 minutes. Add 2.5 cups of chicken broth, the milk, reserved bacon and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile take 1/3 of the frozen corn and pulse in blender with 1 cup of broth until the corn is chopped fine but not a paste. Dice the potatoes and add those, the pulsed corn and the remainder of the corn along with the thyme to the pot. Simmer until the potatoes are almost cooked through (10-15 minutes). Add the heavy cream and cook a 5 more minutes until the corn and potatoes are just cooked through. Add salt to taste and serve.
Cooking, feeding and introducing our little eaters to a variety of foods is a topic that is close to our hearts. Our culinary chronicles and the recipes that I post attest to our ardent desire to raise children who are enthusiastic eaters with a large palate and willingness to try just about anything. I was reminded about children’s finicky eating habits at the weekend celebration when a family member was very surprised to see Sophia eating a bagel with cream cheese and lox. Why wouldn’t Sophia be eating a bagel with lox? Lox is salted fish and I know for a fact that our families grew up eating smoked and pickled fish since early childhood.
Sophia is not a huge eater, her slim build attests to that, but she has a huge range of foods that she eats including smoked and salted fish. I shouldn’t sound smug and know-it-all about introducing kids to new foods since we have yet to see if Eliza will be as big of a culinary enthusiast. And so I can only share my philosophy on raising a savvy eater. Both Evan and I are adventurous eaters though at least in his case, that was not always true. He has over the last twelve years significantly expanded his palate and now even I strive to keep up with his adventurous nature (trying pickled pork ear is not always an easy feat for a very pregnant woman but I’ve done it and it was quite good).
We both believe that attitude plays a huge role in any undertaking and that includes cooking and eating. We love to cook and almost never look at it as a chore instead choosing to welcome ingredients and new recipes into our kitchen involving Sophia to partake in prep. work and cooking. We try, even though she is still very young, to have conversations during dinner asking each other about our days and what we are going to do the next day or over the weekend. I won’t lie and say that cartoons have made a permanent exit from our dinner table but they are not as significant of a presence at every meal as they used to be.
We started involving Sophia into our cooking about a year ago and before that, we involved her in menu planning and growing our ingredients in our little garden in Maryland. Nowadays, Sophia readily offers to help us cook and routinely tries the things we chop and dice while watching pasta boil or meat brown on the stove. I try to talk to her about what happens when we are cooking. Yesterday we talked about our eyes watering when we cut onions. Evan didn’t simplify the answer much chiming in with “a sulfuric compound escapes the onion when its cut into and makes our eyes watery”.
Our cooking approach extends to our eating approach whereby we don’t make a huge deal out of new foods and I will often offer her something new without announcing it and sometimes more or less incognito. We also do not subscribe to the “diner” philosophy and try to cook dishes we can all eat as a family instead of succumbing to making several dishes to please every family member. But after all is said and done, Sophia is still a child and she does have her own preferences. She doesn’t like melted cheese and would gladly eat dark chocolate at every meal as her main course. She likes pomegranates and all things sour and tangy. Sophia will usually choose a salty pretzel over ice cream. Her favorite condiment is furikake (shaved bonito fish flakes, seaweed, and sesame seeds). We like to ensure she eats a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables often resorting to the first this and then chocolate tactic which has so far worked.
Having moved back to Philadelphia will hopefully have a more positive impact on our cooking and eating bringing our friends and family to our dinner table more often. We are starting a new tradition of enjoying Sunday Dinners with anyone and everyone who wishes to participate. The only requirement is that anyone who joins in must host a sunday dinner of their own. Our first such dinner was fittingly, last Sunday after enjoying Old City Fest with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. I served homey chicken stew with root vegetables and peas.
We recently celebrated Sophia’s 3rd birthday and Eliza’s Brit Bat. This evening I sit back with a warm cup of tea looking at life I chose almost 4 years ago. A warmth spreads in my heart knowing that I couldn’t have been more fortunate in welcoming our not-so-little, little girl named Sophia. She’s our bashert. I am awestruck by how mother nature works to make a beautiful little person from two people and how every time I look into her eyes I see my husbands looks and my own mischievous nature gleaming back at me. And just when I couldn’t imagine making space in my life and heart for anyone else, along came Eliza. She’s so different from Sophia and yet she too, is our bashert.
Every time I try to think of what it is I wish for the girls besides rainbows, balloons and cake, I find myself at a loss for words. I wish for them to be surrounded by as many family and friends as we were on this joyous occasion, to be loved and to find love, to know that life’s riches are what you find within your heart.
And now the details about the party. We decided to celebrate Sophia’s 3rd birthday together with Eliza’s naming. Sophia didn’t and Eliza hadn’t expressed any negative thoughts about the matter, so why not? Our family has three kids’ birthdays in October so we have to share our weekends with our cousins’ celebrations. The party had a Curious George theme because Sophia absolutely loves that show and this is probably the last year I could have had such a theme before embarking on years of birthdays with princess themes. My in-laws hosted the event and Evan and I contributed the cake and cupcakes. The party was called for 10 am and we served traditional brunch affair (bagels, lox, whitefish, kugel, etc.,). My sister made a delicious kugel and my mom made her famous potato salad which I swore off at parties.
The cake and cupcakes were made by Sweet Elizabeth’s Elizabeth’s Cakes in Manayunk. The cake, a two tiered confection, had a chocolate cake on the bottom and a chocolate chip cake on the top. Curious George, The Man in the Yellow Hat, Hundley and Gnocchi are featured on the cake in fitting with the theme. The cupcakes were chocolate with peanut butter and Oreo buttercream, red velvet, and chocolate chip with salted caramel buttercream decorated with sprinkles and glitter.
The real starts of the party were not the desserts but the family and friends who came out to celebrate. The house was filled with children of all ages making new friends and playing. We couldn’t have asked for a better celebration.
Anyone who has visited this space regularly will know that we are fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing family (here, here, here, here and here) who go out of their way to help. I have however, until this very day, held back one amazing post. Not because it was not deserved but rather because I was afraid that if I had shared, she and the magic she wields would somehow disappear. But I cannot any longer and in good conscience be quiet about the amazing grace of my mother-in-law. In all our adventures as parents and even before then, my mother-in-law has lent a helping hand. She has been instrumental in this move, both in instigating and making it come to fruition, by helping to sort, pack, take care of the kids and generally offer support.
Judi came into the city to lend a helping hand with Sophia and Eliza yesterday since Evan was on a long day trip. Sophia was already asking if Grammie is coming back again this evening. That is the ultimate validation. Through the years (the many, many years) that we have known each other, I have time and again witnessed the amazing grace of my mother-in-law and it is time I shouted from my rooftop just how grateful I am for her.