Immediate Recipe Turn-Offs: Quick Easy Cheesy One-Pot Skinny Moist Chicken

I love food. I love to read about food. I love to make food, and I love to eat it.

But mostly, it seems, I love to read about it.

Lately I’m also trying out some meal-planning. It works great for some people but not so much for me. It has, however, really helped clinch what menu or recipe words immediately turn me off to the food, no matter how taste it might be.

moist: Come on, that’s a no-brainer.

easy: I’ll decide that. But usually “easy” involves a can of cream of mushroom soup. Blech.

skinny: I’m not eating anything skinny or anything that promises to make me skinny or keep me skinny or whatever. I like food that tastes good. I do not care about skinny.

quick (see also: one-pot): This usually involves chicken. I am so tired of seeing “quick easy cheesy one-pot chicken recipe” that, I am promised, I will love. I will not love it. I will feel sad that I’m not eating something more interesting.

cheesy: No. Just no. I like cheese. I don’t like something that has to call itself “cheesy.” And it’s probably way too heavy to enjoy.

congealed: Are you kidding me? I just saw this while I was browsing ideas for Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner—or any dinner, ever—should not include anything boasting about its own deliberately congealed condition, as in “cranberry congealed salad.” I don’t care if it tastes amazing. It needs a new name, stat.

one-pot: Could be easy (see above), could be cheesy (see above). Might end up not being one-pot, or involving an extra plate or bowl (or several) even though, yes, technically only one pot is used. Sometimes it is easier and better to use two or more pots. Go big or go takeout, I say.

What about you? What words in a recipe name turn you off?

Christmas Cards: I’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

I’m supposed to be wrapping gifts to mail. Or baking cookies to wrap and mail. Or baking cookies for us. Cleaning. Cards. Something.

At least I got school lunches made, before I fled the kitchen, with its sticky counters and floor that needs to be swept yet again. The lid that I need in order to pack away the mediocre raspberry palmiers (why, oh why, didn’t I stick to my tried-and-true baking traditions?) is missing. I can’t put them away. They’re so disappointing I wish they’d just vanish, somehow, along with the mint marshmallows.

I hate mint. I make very good vanilla marshmallows. But for some reason (all the chatter on Facebook, maybe) I decided to use peppermint extract this time.

The kids quickly lost interest in licking the whisk, the spatula, the bowl. “It doesn’t taste right,” they complained. “It’s not good.”

They are right. I wonder if the marshmallows can be redeemed by a good dip in dark chocolate or if that would be a waste of even more ingredients. Maybe I can wrap them in cute packaging and tuck them into my husband’s stocking. He likes mint.

I was thinking we should skip stockings this year, he and I. Stockings used to be my favorite part of Christmas morning, all the little surprises, useful and fun. For the past seven years or so, I’ve filled my own stocking at Christmas, with little things like lip balm and chocolates. I don’t mind. But I’m out of ideas for my husband this year, and out of ideas in general, so maybe we should just fill the kids’ stockings and quietly tuck ours away.

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The older boy has been ill since Friday. Coincidentally, I was also laid off on Friday (rather, my project ended—same thing?), and after a chaotic few months, I was deeply looking forward to 20 beautiful hours to myself this week, to bake, go to yoga, clean our home, go Christmas shopping, and take carloads of clutter and donations away. I would organize my desk, fold laundry, and….and….I don’t know. Have entire thoughts, uninterrupted by the relentless needs of others.

I don’t even remember what that is like.

Today is Wednesday. Max was well enough for me to take him out grocery shopping today, and to play with his friends after school when we went to pick up his brother, but he still tires easily. We both do. I now have a very short fuse by the end of the day, shorter than usual.

Bedtime went so smoothly tonight and then Ben came out, begging me to read him a book. This was after lights-out, when I’d nicely let him have a flashlight to look at books in bed. Another book? Now? You know it’s time to be in bed!—even now, my shoulders tighten as I wait for someone to yell, “Mom?” The endless yelling for me. The endless needing me. They yell past their father for me, most of the time.

I wanted to scream and throw things when he came to ask me. I was suddenly furious. I seized the book and the flashlight. After 14 hours on the job—the caretaker-and-cook-and-thankless-housemaid job–I should get a break. I deserve a break. I want a glass of wine and time to write out Christmas cards without anyone bumping me or fighting or climbing on me or trying to use the stamps as stickers. If I could figure out how to work our TV, I’d turn it on and watch something mindless, even though I get bored with it quickly.

I want two minutes, ten minutes, entire days, that are just mine.

Instead, I pick him up, carry him to his bed, and lie there with him, rubbing his back. We talk about flashlights. I tell him how proud I am of him. I tell him I love him so much and how he’s growing and being such a great person.

I kiss his nose, hand him the flashlight, and tell him he can keep looking at books, if he wants, and I’ll read him the other one tomorrow.

And maybe I’ll bake better cookies tomorrow. Or maybe not. Maybe I will do absolutely nothing tomorrow, with Christmas fast approaching, and that’s fine, too. Last year I felt so overwhelmed by general life that we didn’t send any holiday cards at all, not even the photo kind where you don’t even have to write on them. That seemed way too challenging.

This year, I’ve updated my address list, made contact with old friends, and bought the non-photo cards wherein you have to actually handwrite a personal message in each and every one.

I consider it a marvel that I’ve gotten to this place, this place where I can write out holiday cards once again. So what if our gingerbread house looks awful (we did it one night, just the three of us, when Max was too sick to even sit up but tried to do his share lying down on couch), and so what if our cookie arrangement isn’t what I want it to be? And I might have to pay extra shipping costs to get presents where they need to go on time?

I’m writing out Christmas cards this year. I’m pretty pleased about that.

Despite the relentlessness and despair and drowning of motherhood, I’m writing out Christmas cards. And maybe one day I’ll just, in general, write again.

Happy holidays.

Ask Your Father: Numbers, Not Riddles

Sometimes mornings are the usual routine of “Eat!” and “Get dressed!” and “Did you brush?” and “Why aren’t your shoes on yet?”

And sometimes mornings are the little one asking, “Daddy, what does 20 look like?” and my husband asking, “Twenty what?” and the little saying, “Twenty-five!” but it wasn’t a riddle.

Then I walked into the bedroom where my sick-and-staying-home older boy asked me, “Mom, why is ten famous?” and I said, of course, “Ask your father.”

Practicing Acts of Kindness

I’ve been working at cafes lately, since working at home doesn’t work out so well. It’s cold, and there’s so much non-paying-work stuff to do, and I get frustrated by our limited snack options.

Cafes help me focus. Plus, they can make for amusing status updates on Facebook, such as the day the cafe owner left to go buy toilet paper. As in, he left. He left me alone at the cafe for a good 15 minutes. (I should have used the time to brew a fresh pot of coffee, since the one he’d served me was tepid.)

Or yesterday, at Starbucks (I know, I know, but I get a lot of work done here). It was crawling with plainclothes detectives taking pictures related to a recent secret-camera-in-the-bathroom incident (sometimes a bathroom flowerpot is so much more than decor!).

Today, back at Starbucks, I noticed an older man picking his nose. With two fingers, even. He was a least using a napkin, but he was piling them up on his table. I posted about this to Facebook, of course.

And then he lifted a bloated, purplish foot and began picking at a bloody toenail, placing the scabs carefully on a napkin on the table.

Yes, I had probably the same reaction you might be having as you read that. Gross! Ewww! Shouldn’t he be kicked out per Board of Health regulations?

Then I noticed that his shoes were flip-flops. It is December in Massachusetts, and it is snowing lightly. An old backpack was on the floor, and a plastic bag overflowing with stuff was parked on the chair.

Again the urgent thought: What should I do?, but not in terms of reporting him to management. I wanted to buy him a cup of coffee, but I didn’t want to be intrusive. I thought about giving him a preloaded Starbucks gift card, so he could buy himself some food or coffee. An online friend suggested I buy him some socks at the nearby CVS, but that felt too obvious, like I was saying, “I saw your feet, and that was gross.”

I deleted my earlier Facebook post. Then I decided to do something I read about once, which can really spare a person’s dignity: As I walked past his chair, I pretended to pick something up off the floor.

“Here, sir, I think you dropped this,” I said, offering a folded bill. His eyes met mine as he reached for it. “It was under your chair. You must have dropped it.” I nodded to confirm this was true. He nodded back. I wished him a good day and returned to my laptop.

He didn’t budge. But about half an hour later, he got up and went to the counter, returning with a hot drink and a breakfast sandwich.

I felt so, so happy.

Even better? About an hour after that, a woman walked up to his table and handed him some money. “Here, please use this to get yourself something to eat today.”

The snow is falling more heavily outside, and he’s dozing in his chair. He may or may not be someone’s brother, father, uncle. He was definitely someone’s child once. He might or might not own warm boots and a nice house; I sure don’t know.

But rather than mock him on Facebook, I found I still have a shred of compassion, and for that I am grateful to him.

So thank you, sir. I hope you have a good day and stay warm.

Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” Review and Giveaway

It’s December, which means downtowns are getting decked out with wreaths, lights, and bows. Christmas music becomes unavoidable. Also, it’s the season for The Nutcracker.

[UPDATE: Thank you all so much for reading and entering. I loved your entries and wish I had tickets to give each and every one of you. I randomly selected a winner, Rica, and if she doesn’t respond by noon on Wednesday, I will pick another winner. Wishing you all the best holiday season and New Year!! —OH, and here’s another giveaway for Nutcracker tickets on my friend Gilda’s blog! http://evan-and-lauren-a.blogspot.com/2014/12/12714-boston-ballets-nutcracker-and.html ]

We brought the boys to see a performance of it last year, put on by their cousin’s dance school. They were enthralled.

This year, we were offered the chance to see the Boston Ballet perform The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House. In a word: Fantastic.

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

First, though, we went to one of the many Story Hours, hosted by Boston Ballet in and around Boston. Our story hour took place at the Boston Ballet School itself.

A young dancer told the children the story of The Nutcracker. She showed us a pancake tutu and explained how it sticks out and stays flat. She explained about pointe shoes (they’re so hard at first that dancers must beat them on the floor, pound them with a hammer, and pour hot water on them to make them malleable enough to wear!). We got to touch tiaras and pointe shoes, and then she got the children up to practice some ballet moves.

For more information about the story hours and where/when to find them, click here.

And then, after lunch, we were off to the Opera House! We opted to walk the mile from the studio to the Opera House, which got us there in the very nick of time. We didn’t get to see the orchestra warming up. Don’t be us. Get there early.

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

Here are some fun facts about The Nutcracker that intrigued me before we even got to the show:

Nutcracker Facts:

–        More than 300 dancers will perform in the new production.

–        Each performance has approximately 150 dancers involved.

–        There are 250 children in the performance, making up three or four casts (classical ballet students from the Boston, Newton and North Shore studios)

Sets and Costumes:

–        All of the sets and costumes are new, by award winning designer Robert Perdziola

–        The inspiration for the costumes in the production references the early 19th century Regency style also identified with the “Jane Austen period”.

–        Over 2,000 yards of net and tulle were used for the costumes

–        Over 200,000 jewels were used in the costumes, from 3mm diameter to 18mm long

  • Sugar Plums and Dew Drops have over 3,600 jewels on their tutus and bodices
  • Approximately 1/3 of the jewels are hand sewn

–        The Christmas tree is 42 feet 6 inches tall and there are 766 fiber optic points embedded in the big Christmas tree and there are 600 ornaments.-        The set changes include a series of reveals where scenes appear to iris out of one another.

–        To make three pieces of scenery move at once, the ballet’s technical staff built rigging and tracking systems on monstrous steel cages (in the show these systems are manipulated by one stagehand pulling a rope). [HOW COOL IS THAT??]

–        All of the sets were painted by hand and domestically made.

The sets were unbelievable—so ornate, so beautiful (and moved by one person, pulling a rope—I still can’t get over that part). So were the costumes. And of course, the dancers themselves were perfect, strong and skilled. The boys watched, totally mesmerized. Remember, they are four and six years old and not into ballet. We were all surprised when intermission came and we realized so much time had passed.

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

After intermission is less story, more pure dancing. Even if you, like me, are not a big fan of ballet itself, there’s the Arabian dance, Mother Ginger (with all her little polichinelles [which basically means “open secrets”]), and (our favorite) the Russian dance, performed by three very acrobatic men.

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

My boys’ favorites were (of course!) the battle scene between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker and his soldiers, though we somehow all missed the flinging of the slipper. I also was transfixed by the lovely snow scene. The boys also greatly liked the Nutcracker Prince’s soloing in the second act, as well as the acrobatic dancers in the Russian dance.

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

For a quick video of some of our favorite scenes, click here: Nutcracker Highlights.

This morning my little one wore his paper Nutcracker crown into school and proudly showed all his teachers and friends.

The Boston Opera House is gorgeous.

And Now, The Giveaway! 

I’m giving away four tickets to The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House. Tickets are valid for winner’s choice of the following performances:

  • Wed, Dec 10 @ 7:30pm
  • Tue, Dec 16 @ 7:30pm
  • Wed, Dec 17 @ 7:30pm
  • Thu, Dec 18 @ 1pm
  • Thu, Dec  18 @ 7:30pm

To enter, simply leave a comment telling me why you want to see The Nutcracker. Make sure I have your email address!! LIMITED TO ONE ENTRY PER PERSON.

Note: This is a quick-turnaround giveaway! Winner will be RANDOMLY selected at noon EST Tuesday, December 9, using random.org. Winner will be notified by email. If winner does not respond within 24 hours to claim prize, another winner will be selected. 

UPDATE: Thank you all so much for reading and entering. I loved your entries and wished I had tickets to give each and every one of you. I randomly selected a winner, Rica, and if she doesn’t respond by noon on Wednesday, I will pick another winner. Wishing you all the best holiday season and New Year!! 

More Information about Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker:

         About Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker: http://bit.ly/1v9TMQn

–        Runs November 28 –December 31, 2014

–        All performances are at the Boston Opera House

–        Tickets start at $29

–        Tickets can be purchased online at www.bostonballet.org or over the phone at 617.695.6955

–        There are 44 performances

–        Show times: Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 5:30pm, all matinees are at 1:00pm

[Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary tickets and lunch. All opinions are my own.]

Splattered Dreams

When we moved into this apartment last February, I had such high hopes. Unlike our former decrepit “We’re not putting any money into it because as soon as the woman downstairs goes into a nursing home, we’re putting it on the market” apartment, this one was freshly painted, fully functional, with a landlord who cared.

Plus, it had a lot less onsite storage, which meant we got rid of a ton of crap. I loved that part.

The walls here were bright and clean. The space was empty. The kitchen, pantry, and bathroom floors were a gleaming bright black-and-white tile, unlike the drab brown failing linoleum of our old place.

I had grand plans. I loved the bright clean floor so much, I bought a case of those wasteful Swiffer cloths. I was going to keep this floor bright and clean, washing it every night.

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Fast-forward to November. There’s a spare dresser in the basement. There’s water in the basement. The kitchen set-up doesn’t quite work. There’s a spare kitchen island in the basement.

If we use the toaster oven and coffee maker at the same time, if they’re on the same counter, we throw the circuit breaker. We’ve had to configure that problem into our constant moving-things-around-in-the-kitchen-because-the-space-isn’t-right situation.

We try to keep it clean, but when we got the keyboard for Max’s piano lessons, one bookshelf had to move into the entryway, meaning we took down the bench-and-cubby that I’d made last winter, so the kids have no idea where to put their stuff.

The lovely black-and-white tile? Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep that clean? We try. It’s hard. I’m making three meals a day plus feeding the cat. Plus school lunches. It’s never-ending.

Plus, Thanksgiving. Wednesday I spent the day preparing Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, roasted squash and roots, baby kale. I also cleaned up a bunch of the produce we got from the farm last weekend. Then we left for Thanksgiving.

We returned Saturday and fed the kids lunch; fed the cat; fed the kids dinner; and prepared more Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, roasted squash and roots, and a pumpkin pie for the next day’s Thanksgiving with my in-laws.

The cat was so excited to see us, she threw up next to her food bowl.

We cleaned the floor again, and again, and again. It’s nonstop.

We got home tonight, put the leftovers away, fed the kids, made lunches. Fed the cat. Cleaned everything up. Moved the toaster oven to a new spot in hopes that works better. Made plans to bring the cubby bench in from the back porch (but then where does the bookshelf go?). I’m ready to sell the Early American drop-leaf table in the front hall, which I found in Maine when I lived there. It’s precious and lovely and so original, with wide boards, and tonight I realized I am finally unattached to it, after all this time, and could sell it. For much less than I paid for it, even. I might even just give it away.

We have too many tables, and too much stuff, and the floors will never be clean. I think back to those early days, when most of our stuff wasn’t moved in yet and I was so happily uncluttered,

and I notice we’re down to 2 boxes of Swiffer cloths, which means not only did we fill a landfill with the things, but jesus we can never get ahead of the mess on the floors,

and I guess this is what life is like sometimes, when you’re 42 and not quite living your dreams and surrounded by the chaos and mess of a family.

I’m writing this with Ben asleep on my lap, and I still have to sweep and Swiffer the bathroom.

I’m pretty sure we need to get rid of half of our stuff. Will that help keep our floors clean?

Family Dinner-Based Giving #spon

There’s a lot out there about the importance of having dinner together as a family. I’m a fan. One strong memory from my childhood is that at 5:30 p.m every single day, my family sat down to a meal my mother had cooked for us.

She was a good cook and adventurous cook. In central Pennsylvania in the 1980s, she found the one Japanese grocery and always went there to buy rice, and sometimes seaweed, and sometimes (as a special treat for us) rice candy. She took on local Pennsylvania Dutch culture by learning to make stuffed hog maw (pig stomach stuffed with potatoes, sausage, cabbage, and carrots) —oh, and this wasn’t just a novelty. I remember eating hog maw often enough that it was almost a staple).

(Wow, you might think my need to stuff things—pumpkins, apples—is genetic. You might be right.)

I make dinner every day, too, and the boys and I eat together (sometimes my husband is home in time to join us, but often not; even if I don’t eat with the boys, I always sit with them and talk about their day).

Family dinner, as you can tell, is important to me. It’s a way for us to connect at the end of the day. I can hear about what happened at school. My husband (if he’s home in time) and I can talk about our days. Family dinner is not just important to me; there’s an organization called The Family Dinner Project that’s devoted to getting families to eat together–with food, conversation, and fun. They simply want to get families to sit down together for dinner….you know, the way many families used to.

Their site has tips on how to get everyone together, topics of conversation (if you need them), food ideas, and so much more. They’re kicking off the #familydinnerforward campaign for Giving Tuesday (Dec. 2) and the holiday season by inspiring “dinner-oriented acts of giving.” Go to their page to find tips on talking about Giving Tuesday as a family. They also have some great ideas for dinner-oriented acts of giving as well as a Twitter/Instagram contest. Read on!

To participate in #familydinnerforward, simply snap a dinner/giving-related photo and share it via Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #familydinnerforward. You can share as many photos as you like and all photos tagged on Twitter or Instagram with #familydinnerforward between December 2-16 will be entered to win prizes from Lenox! Two winners will be drawn at random and will receive four 4-piece plate settings of the Lenox Entertain 365 pattern of their choice (estimated value of $344-400 depending on pattern chosen)! US entrants only. Be creative! But here are some examples of dinner-oriented acts of giving you’re welcome to use:

  • Cook (or buy) a meal for a neighbor or someone in need.
    • Invite someone for family dinner: We did this recently! It’s always scary for me to invite people over for dinner–we have to clean! Our kitchen is small! Why are all the cloth napkins down in the laundry? Someone needs to buy beer and wine! If the people have never been to my house before (and likely they haven’t been, since I rarely invite people over), I usually warn them I live in a small cluttered place full of tornado-like children. The people show up anyway–and we have a really nice dinner and evening and I wonder why we don’t have friends over for dinner every week.

  • Collect and donate food items to a food pantry
  • Help deliver meals via a community organization
  • Cook a meal together at home, where everyone has a job (this is a gift to the person who primarily does the cooking!)
  • Give the gift of meaningful conversation (check out the conversation starters at http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/giving-tuesday/

(Here, I’ll just put them here for you.)

    • Talk about giving during family dinner and show us what you decide to give this season

So many great tips as we prepare for Thursday and the rest of the holiday season. Enjoy your holiday and your conversations!

[Disclosure: This is a sponsored post (AKA “compensated editorial partnership with The Family Dinner Project.” All opinions and memories of hog maw are my own.]

Vegetarian Baked Stuffed Pumpkin: Thanksgiving Recipe

Ever since I glimpsed a baked stuffed pumpkin on Twitter, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of making one.

The traditional recipe, it seems, is chock-full of bread, cheese, garlic, and cream. I’m down with heaps of garlic and some cheese, but a meal of bread, cheese, and cream is really not how we eat here. I immediately thought about making a healthy vegetarian baked stuffed pumpkin recipe: swapping out bread for whole grains, adding chopped greens, cutting back on the cheese and cream. The original sounds amazing but just too heavy for us.

Oh, and then I saw a version that contains all that plus bacon. Yeah. I’d love that, very very much, but in a small dose. I will make that one day for a dinner party, but not just for my family. It would go to waste.

The wheels were still turning in my head. Whole grains instead of bread. Greens. Maybe some sausage or bacon. Definitely cheese, but not super-cheesy. Moderate cream.

And then I went for it. I went to a nearby farm for leeks, carrots, kale, spinach, and fresh sage. I had the whole Saturday ahead of me. I could finally make this thing, because we were having dinner with friends that night and I was off to an afternoon brunch the following day. I could make two stuffed pumpkins.

Cooling the rice and leeks, cooking the kale. And the pumpkin was only there for the picture; I wasn’t going to let it sit on the hot oven the whole time.

I cooked wild rice, and while it cooked, I sauteed leeks and carrots and kale. I mixed this into the wild rice in a big bowl. Then I felt like we needed more greens, so I sauteed spinach (the big leaves, not that baby-spinach stuff; the big spinach leaves from the nearby farm are so damn tasty you practically fall out of your chair when you eat them, thinking, “Oh yeah, THAT’S what spinach tastes like!!”). I chopped up the spinach once it was sauteed (why? I don’t know, maybe because I’m lazy and the raw leaves make such a huge pile falling everywhere but the sauteed leaves are a small neat pile and don’t go drifting off onto the counter and floor as I chop).

Very easy to chop the spinach when it’s in THIS condition.

Then I grated a lot (a lot) of Gruyere. I don’t know, I guess I just did what I thought was “the right amount” and then thought, “Why have this poor small chunk just left alone in the fridge?” so I grated that, too. I tossed the shredded cheese into the bowl. Now it was time for chiffonading the sage. Basically, I just used my kitchen shears to cut it into ribbons over the bowl. I also added some fresh dill, and salt and freshly ground pepper. Oh, and chives! I forgot. Only add chives if you have some on hand and don’t want them to die in your fridge. Otherwise, you don’t need them.

Fresh sage…so good!

It’s still vegan at this point. You don’t have to add the cheese or cream.

Toss, toss. Taste. Sprinkle of salt. Toss. Taste. Crush in 3 more cloves of garlic (which made young Ben, who’d previously loved his samples, frown and say it was too spicy). Toss. Try to simply taste instead of eat it all.

So easy! This actually was the simple part. Now it was time to cut the tops off the pumpkins, clean them out, and stuff them.

Did you know that since sugar pumpkins are a lot smaller than regular pumpkins, they are a real pain in the butt to clean out? I’m used to hacking them in half and scooping out the guts. When you’re leaving it whole and just going in through the top, it takes more patience. Maybe I could have cut a bigger hole in the top. Maybe you should, when you make it. Trust me.

Starting to stuff the sugar pumpkins.

Looks full, but we can pack more in there!

If I were a food blogger, I’d rotate this picture, wouldn’t I?

Stuff the pumpkin. Pack it right in there. To the top. Fill it. When you think it can’t possibly hold any more of the stuffing, pour cream in, as much as you’re comfortable with.

Put the lid on, make sure your rack is on the lowest setting (so the pumpkin will fit in your oven, unless your pumpkin is smaller or your oven bigger than mine), and bake for at least 90 minutes. I say “at least” because my first-day pumpkin was in at least that long and was fantastic. The next day’s pumpkin didn’t get to bake quite as long and wasn’t as good. The pumpkin flesh in the longer-baked one was just melting into the stuffing, which I swear was bubbling with joy (and cream and melted cheesy goodness).

Oh, and take the lid off for the last 20 minutes or so of cooking. Just do it.

Yes, yes, yes. Oh, and is that a pan of triple-chocolate Ghirardelli brownies behind it? When the oven’s on, I use it. Also, this is why I should be invited to dinner more often, don’t you think?

OK, this is really unfair. It looks smaller than the beer can. It’s not. It’s a weird perspective. Also, it’s totally dense with cheese veggie rice goodness. Trust me, 4 adults and 4 children couldn’t finish half of this, even though I’m pretty sure we each had third helpings of it.

Hello, cheesy wholesome goodness. Also that gravy boat to the right contains really excellent turkey gravy that my friend had JUST made.

It gave, and it gave.

To serve, spoon the filling onto plates, making sure to scoop pumpkin flesh too.

Be happy.

Vegetarian Baked Stuffed Pumpkin for Thanksgiving

Serves 6-8
Prep time 30 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Dietary Vegan, Vegetarian
Meal type Main Dish, Side Dish
Misc Freezable, Gourmet, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Occasion Thanksgiving
Region American

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sugar pumpkin
  • 1-1.5 cup wild rice (cooked)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil and/or butter
  • 1 large leek (cleaned and trimmed, sliced)
  • 1 large carrot (cleaned and trimmed, cut lengthwise then sliced)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup kale (cleaned, chopped)
  • 1-2 cup spinach (cleaned, large stems removed; ok to use frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
  • 2-3 leaves fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon fresh dill (optional)
  • .25-.5lb Gruyere (or Cheddar or similar cheese, grated or shredded)
  • .5-1 cup cream (light cream or half-and-half is fine)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup pecans, walnuts, or other nuts ([OPTIONAL: vegan addition])
  • 2-3 medium slices bacon (chopped [OPTIONAL: meat-lover’s addition])
  • 1 cup sausage chunks (browned [OPTIONAL: meat-lover’s addition])

Directions

Step 1
Preheat oven to 350. Cook wild rice according to package directions in order to end up with 1-1.5 cups cooked rice.
Step 2
While rice is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and/or butter in skillet on medium-high. Add leeks and carrots. Stir and cook until leeks are translucent and carrot softens. Remove to a large bowl. When rice is cooked, add 1 cup of cooked rice to the bowl.
Step 3
Saute kale in half a tablespoon of olive oil and/or butter. When kale softens, add to bowl. If using fresh spinach, heat remaining oil/butter. Saute spinach. Use tongs to move wilted spinach to cutting board. Chop spinach coarsely, then add to bowl. (If using frozen chopped spinach, thaw and add to bowl.) Mix all ingredients well.
Step 4
Add shredded cheese to bowl. Crush or mince the garlic; add to bowl. Cut sage into ribbons; add to bowl. Add dill, salt, and pepper. Mix all ingredients well. Adjust salt and pepper as needed, or add more garlic if you want more zing (it will get milder in flavor as it cooks). (For vegans, leave out cheese and add 1 cup toasted chopped nuts. For meat-lovers, add one cup browned sausage chunks or 2-3 slices of cooked, chopped bacon.
Step 5
Cut top off sugar pumpkin as you would cut the top off a jack-o-lantern. Be sure you cut it large enough for your hand and a spoon to fit through to clean out the pumpkin. Scrape seeds and stringy parts out of pumpkin (save seeds to roast, if you desire).
Step 6
Line a baking tray with parchment (or lightly oil the baking tray) so the pumpkin doesn’t stick to it. Place pumpkin on baking tray. Pack filling into pumpkin. Pack it in well (you may end up with leftover filling, but it’s good on its own, too, or you can freeze it for another time). Pour cream over top, slowly. Depending on how tightly you packed the filling, the cream may take some time to filter through. Put lid on pumpkin. Place in oven.
Step 7
After about an hour and ten minutes, remove the lid of the pumpkin. Place it on baking tray next to pumpkin. Continue to cook. After 90 minutes, filling should be bubbling up and pumpkin should be tender to the touch (and will have darkened). Depending on size of pumpkin and how tightly you packed the filling, it might need more time.
Step 8
When pumpkin has darkened and (more importantly!) the filling is bubbling, take it out of the oven. Carefully move pumpkin to a serving plate. Place the lid back on for presentation, if you wish, or lean it next to pumpkin.
Step 9
To serve, be sure to scoop pumpkin flesh as you spoon out the filling.

Great American Bulb Swap: Trade In Your Old Light Bulbs for LED Bulbs #spon

What kind of light bulbs do you use? I know this is a personal question. We tried using the CFL bulbs, which seemed great until one breaks. Then it’s a total EPA-advised mercury vapor clean-up. Ugh. But we needed to change from incandescents.

Enter the LED bulb.

Cree LED Bulbs last up to 22 years (that’s potentially 5 presidents from now!). Just imagine all the money you’ll save on energy bills and fewer replacement bulbs. Cree LED Bulbs are also mercury-free and provide superior light quality.

Now’s your chance to swap out your old bulbs for the new LED bulbs! I know this is a busy weekend for many, what with pre-Thanksgiving prep and all the holiday events (what? Since when do Christmas-related performances start before Thanksgiving? but I digress). If you’re going to be in downtown Boston anyway for some of the fun at the Wang or something, why not stop by Downtown Crossing to trade in any old any CFL or incandescent bulb and trade it for a New Cree® LED Bulb for free?

This weekend, the Great American Bulb Swap hosted by Cree LED Bulbs will take place at Readers Park in Downtown Crossing.  Cree is unveiling the New Cree LED bulb, which costs only $7.97 at The Home Depot, is shatter-proof and lasts up to 22 years—AND, is giving away over 15,000 bulbs to event visitors. The New Cree LED Bulb is up to 85 percent more energy efficient compared to energy-hogging incandescent bulbs – and it pays for itself in a year or less!

Where: Readers Park in Downtown Crossing, Boston, MA (corner of Washington & School Streets, right in front of a large Walgreens)

When:  This weekend, Friday through Sunday

  • 11:00 AM- 2:00 PM, Friday, November 21st
  • 9:00 AM- 5:00 PM, Saturday-Sunday, November 22nd and 23rd

 

[Disclosure: This is a compensated post. All opinions are my own.]

Menotomy Grill and Tavern: Restaurant Review

I don’t go out to lunch. If I do, it’s because I’m working at a cafe with wifi and need to grab something to eat. But recently the Menotomy Grill and Tavern in East Arlington hosted a small group of bloggers for lunch (including me, hooray!). Menotomy Grill is a cozy restaurant with a Colonial tavern feel.

Menotomy Grill fills a niche for Arlington: a restaurant where you can get a good lunch or relaxing dinner or go for drinks and watch the game (what game? I don’t know these sports-games-things–but you know, the game) on the big screen at the bar. I’ve previously been there to meet friends for drinks. It’s a place in Arlington to meet friends for drinks! I’ve been there for dinner with my husband and, another time, with my mother–and another time, with a friend–for dinner. It’s fine for dinner.

This was my first time having lunch there.

OK, so maybe the ductwork undoes the cozy feel of this particular chandelier, but trust me, this place is cozy. #blamethephotographer

The place is called Menotomy Grill because it harkens back to when Arlington was called Menotomy [I can also tell you why the Jason Russell House is famous and what East Arlington used to be famous for (answer: lettuce); I know my Arlington history]. The American Revolution hit this town hard, and like the Warren Tavern in Charlestown (but with a more spacious feel), Menotomy Grill has some features that bring you back to colonial days: the stone fireplace, the wood tables and floors, and the iron/candle replica light fixtures. I’ll admit it: I am very partial to the light fixtures.

The place has a lot of nice historical touches. You could spend a lot of time near the bathroom, studying the old maps of the town.

It also has a decidedly modern feel and upscale vibe.

Menotomy Grill has a decent wine list and a very good beer list, plus ciders and cocktails. I failed to take note of their current list at this lunch, as I had seltzer, but I’ve had wine and beer there at dinner and have enjoyed my selections.

Let’s talk about food, right? That’s what we’re here for. I think among the six of us we ordered most of the appetizers. I would not have selected the Fried Dill Pickles ($7), since I don’t like fried food, and I’m a pickles purist, but they turned out to be mightily addictive, even if you didn’t bother dipping them into the spicy remoulade they were served with (also kind of addictive). They didn’t need it. They were like the seared tuna of fried pickles: hot and tender on the outside, cooler and with more substance in the middle. The perfect meld of temperature and texture. I want to go back there right now, just thinking of those pickles.

We also tried the Chipotle Citrus Wings (served with peppercorn ranch, $11), which sounded good and looked pretty.

The wings had a nice kick to them but failed to deliver in other ways: they were almost soggy, and the meat wasn’t falling off the bone the way I like it to be.

We also tried the flatbread as an appetizer. Menotomy Grill usually has two flatbreads on the menu (Margherita ($10) as well as Grilled Steak and Caramelized Onion ($12). The day’s special flatbread was smoked salmon on cream cheese on an everything dough. The special sounded like a creative combo, but we decided to try the Margherita, which was fairly crispy and very tasty. The sauce was perfect.

The House Smoked St. Louis Ribs (with guava BBQ sauce and Napa cabbage/pickled jalapeno slaw, $11) was tasty. If you’re hoping for saucy ribs, these are not them, but they were perfectly cooked and nicely porky. The Napa cabbage slaw underneath the ribs was fantastic, and I could easily envision this dish as a salad tipped with some meat cut off the ribs.

It’s hard to see the lovely salad under all the ribs.

Another blogger ordered the Wedge Salad ($9). It was everything you wanted in an wedge salad: crisp fresh iceberg lettuce, heirloom cherry tomatoes, a generous sprinkling of bacon cubes (I’d call them lardons), a confident splash of buttermilk bleu cheese dressing. Oh, and avocado. I don’t think it needs the avocado. It’s heaven on a plate, crunchy/creamy/crisp/fatty/fresh/salty/startling. I would go there just for that.

We tried a bunch of sides (each $6). The House Baked Beans are good, the Edna’s Potato Sausage Stuffing thick and meaty and delicious. The Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Mustard are tender and tasty, though a touch more watery than I prefer (I like them simple, just roasted with garlic). We also tried the various fries: Sweet Potato, Herbed Parmesan, and regular. They’re all crispy and good.

I’ve had the Grilled Vegetable Panini before, at dinner (lots of grilled vegetables and cheese). This day, we all tried the Menotomy Cheeseburger ($13), topped with cheddar, lettuce, red onion, and a smoked tomato jam (add a fried egg or bacon for an additional charge). It was a good burger: slightly but not overly fatty, off-set by the crisped grilled bun and the startling sweet touch of the tomato jam. I’d go back there for that (and the Wedge Salad!).

The Greek Salad ($9) has a nice dressing and is big. Others ordered the Herb Roasted Chicken, the Grilled Hanger Steak, the Grilled Chicken BLT, and the day’s special sandwich (a grilled ham and cheese club with house-made chips) and reported back very positively.

We didn’t try the desserts. We had no room.

But I’ll be back, to the cozy Colonial-tavern space.

[Disclosure: We were hosted for lunch. All opinions are my own.]