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New Year Bean and Bacon Soup

The afternoon following my last post, I picked the boys up from school, acutely grateful for their safety while we were apart. On the way home, we stopped by the craft store to pick up two spools of a delicate, iridescent ribbon. After completing homework, snack, and our other normal after-school routines, we moved into the living room, where we used the ribbon to tie small bows to the boughs of our Christmas tree; one for each of the victims at Sandy Hook.

I spoke the name of each child and teacher aloud as we wrapped and tied each delicate bow, allowing a moment for their lives to be remembered. As I worked, the boys mostly bounced around the living room in their typical manner, half attending to the names I spoke and half lost in their own important business of being kids. They’d alternate between chat about their Christmas wish lists and comments about how about how they know Dylans and Chases and Jacks and Noahs; friends in their pre-k and kindergarten classes, children not much younger than the Dylan and Chase and Jack and Noah lost at Sandy Hook.

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It was a small thing to tie those little bows, but it felt cathartic to be doing something, anything, to honor those tragically lost lives. The bows remained on our tree as we hosted all varieties of holiday celebrations; a quiet way to keep the suffering Newtown families in our prayers, even as we went about joyously celebrating the holidays.

I retied those bows a hundred times during the few weeks that the tree sat in our living room, each time trying not to become frustrated by the boys’ constant undoing of my work. Instead, I consciously replaced my frustration with appreciation of the fact that I had all my little boys with me to make their special brand of mischief in our home. Those little ribbons shimmered on the lit tree all throughout the holidays. My Liam commented that they reminded him of angels.

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Our holidays were beautiful. We had a revolving houseful of family and friends straight up until New Year’s Day. We enjoyed Dinosaur BBQ takeout on Christmas Eve, our now-traditional beef bourguignon for Christmas dinner, and a plentiful selection of finger foods on New Year’s Eve. I’m talking about mini crab cakes with chipotle remoulade, tiny quiche lorraines in puff pastry, stuffed mushrooms, cheese, and chicken wing dip. For three weeks, our recycling bins overflowed with gift packaging and emptied bottles of wine and champagne; evidence of our prosperity in family, love, and life.

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I was inspired by a friend’s recent comments about bean soup and its symbolism for prosperity in the new year. I must admit that the connection between beans and prosperity was not something I’d been aware of, but the description of her soup had me sold. This incredibly simple soup utilizes canned beans, which makes it super easy to throw together. It’s a hearty, comforting, and delicious way to celebrate the new year. Serve it with a nice, crusty chunk of French bread.

Wishing you all a prosperous 2013!

Focus on Technique – Canned Beans vs. Dried Beans

Both canned and dried beans offer the same high-protein, high-fiber, antioxidant-rich nutrition, which makes them a great addition to any diet. Dried beans offer the advantages of being lower in sodium, free of preservatives, and requiring less space for storage. Additionally, dried beans can be cooked to your personal preference, whereas pre-cooked canned beans come as they are, at the risk of being mushy. The downside of using dried beans is the length of time required for soaking and cooking, which requires advance planning and preparation. If ease and convenience is the name of your game, canned beans are the way to go. (Admittedly, I almost always use canned beans.)

Bean and Bacon Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 pound bacon, chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chicken broth
  • 1 bag (approximately 4 cups) baby spinach
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

In a large saucepan, over medium/medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce the heat slightly and add the onion and garlic to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5-7 minutes, until tender and golden. Carefully drain any leftover bacon grease. Add the beans and chicken broth to the pan, then add the spinach. Cook for a few minutes until the mixture begins to simmer and the spinach has wilted. Return the bacon to the soup. Taste, then season with salt* and pepper, as desired.

*The bacon and beans will both contribute a good amount of salty flavor to the soup. Depending on how salted or unsalted your chicken broth is, you may not need any additional salt. Give the soup a taste before seasoning. I added a little pinch of salt and a good dose of pepper.

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Pan-Seared Cod over Bean and Basil Puree

I find that with each successive child, we make more and more compromises in how we handle parenting decisions. It’s a survival mechanism, born out of necessity as we’ve become outnumbered by small humans with fast hands and urgent needs. Or perhaps our experience with each child has simply helped us to prioritize what really matters and to let the rest go. Experience has taught us flexibility. (And appreciation for quiet and sleep.)

Our first son slept the whole night in his crib fairly early on. We read some expert books, applied a few strategies with consistency, and it happened. He was on a nap schedule that ran like clockwork. He ate organic purees and had a bath every night, right before leisurely rocking in his glider chair as we read The Giving Tree for the 100th time. This baby is lucky if he gets dunked in the bath with his brothers for a few minutes, a couple times a week. He naps exclusively in my arms and thinks our king-sized bed belongs to him. And yesterday he tried to eat a page out of the Harry Potter book my oldest son left on the floor.

Last night, I admitted to my husband that I’ve been giving the baby one Oreo a day. Pretty sure that Oreos are not on the food list the doctor gave us at his most recent check-up. But, you see, my little love doesn’t like to get put down. My normally happy baby screams when he is put down. And I mean SCREAMS! The screaming hurts my sleep-deprived ears. And some chores are just too difficult to do with a 20-pound baby in one arm. So, on the day when I handed him one of his brothers’ Oreos for a little taste, and discovered the focused, independent manner in which he tackled that cookie, a lightening bolt went off in my head. It takes him about an hour to eat half a cookie…slowly working it with his two teeth and a whole lot of baby drool, until it dissolves into mushy chocolate bits, spread all over his happy face. I’d discovered a brilliant strategy for freeing my hands in order to cook dinner and take care of my family’s ever-accumulating mountain of dishes.

Were Oreos part of my ideal parenting plan? No, not quite. Is it a parenting strategy I would advocate? Nope, can’t say it is. Is it a compromise I’m willing to make in order to get through the day with any semblance of sanity remaining? Mhmm…yes it is. So, there you have it folks…my baby is growing and thriving on breastmilk, organic purees, and one half an Oreo cookie a day.

Do I believe that he’ll be worse off from his half cookie a day? Nah…he gets enough of the good stuff to balance the daily treat. And what we all gain in Mommy’s ability to keep our home running with minimal chaos is worth the small compromise. It’s the things which really matter…like snuggles, a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on, which we won’t ever compromise. Priorities.

While the baby is finishing his cookie, the rest of the family is eating this. (Someday the baby will too…if I can convince him that other foods are as delicious as Oreos.) Buttery, flakey, pan-seared cod, served over a flavorful bean puree and drizzled with a touch of basil oil garnish. You won’t need to convince anyone to eat their lima beans when they’re prepared like this! Skip the canned and use frozen lima beans for the freshest, most vibrant result. This bean puree would also make a fantastic dip for veggies or pita, so save any leftovers for a tasty and nutritious snack! A neutral-tasting white fish, like Pacific cod, works well for this dish, but you can easily substitute other fish, shellfish, or even chicken!

Bean and Basil Puree

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen lima beans, defrosted
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can butter beans
  • 6 cloves roasted garlic*
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 25 large basil leaves (approximately)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste

*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to roast garlic

Directions

To make the puree, drain the can of butter beans, reserving the liquid. Combine the lima beans, butter beans, roasted garlic, olive oil, basil leaves, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Gradually add some of the bean liquid until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. (About 1/2 cup should do the trick.) Refrigerate until using. Serve slightly warmed.

Pan-Seared Pacific Cod

Ingredients

  • 2 (6-ounce) Pacific cod fillets
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Olive oil, for searing

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degress. Pat the filets with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in an oven-safe pan over medium/medium-high heat. Season the filets with salt and pepper. Place the filets in the hot oil. Cook for 3-4 minutes on the first side, without disturbing. (Trying to move the fish too soon may result in crumbled fish. The fish will release much easier once it has sufficiently seared.) Then, using a thin, flexible spatula, carefully flip the fillets. Cook for about a minute on the second side, then place the pan in the oven. Cook in the oven until the fish reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees, about 5 minutes. Cook time will vary depending on the thickness of your filets.

For the basil oil garnish: Blend about 1/8 cup olive oil with about 1/4 cup of fresh basil leaves. Gently simmer the blended mixture for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Cookie Puss

Spicy Beef and Bean Stew

You know those little dolls…the ones where you press their belly and they repeat a series of silly little things, like Mama, Feed me, and Goo goo gah gah?

Well, my three-year-old is just like that, only his sound bytes are more like I love you so much, I don’t like you, and I’m freezing cold.

For the record:

My four-year-old’s soundtrack is something like, I’m thirsty, I have an idea…, and How about we…

Daddy’s goes something like, What’s for dinner?, I’m getting a beer, d’ya need anything?, and things like It’s a fact of life. Dogs don’t like to be disturbed while they’re eating and neither does Daddy.

And Mommy’s is a bit like, Why in the world would you do that?, This room looks like a tornado blew through it, and Serenity now!

It’s the I’m freezing cold one that I can’t wrap my head around. The kid stubs his toe…I’m freezing cold. I tell him that he can’t have another cookie…I’m freezing cold. It’s time to get dressed for school…But, I’m freezing cold.

I tell him, You keep saying that. I do not think it means what you think it means.

A typical conversation with my little man goes something like this:

Hey buddy, it’s time to clean up your toys.

I can’t.

Why can’t you clean up your toys?

It’s just that…I don’t like you.

Ok, that’s fine, but you still need to clean up your toys.

But, I’m freezing cold.

Well, put on a hoodie and then clean up your toys.

**Insert Cry. Scream.Wail.** (Him, not me. Ok, sometimes me too.)

Mommy?

Yes, buddy?

I just love you so much.

I love you too. Now…Clean. Up. Your. Toys. This room looks like a tornado blew through it.

It IS winter time though, so if you’re freezing cold, it’s probably with good reason. And I’ve got just the thing to warm you up! Winter is the time for foods which fill our bellies and leave us feeling all toasty and satisfied. January also happens to be National Soup Month. So, it’s the perfect time for this Spicy Beef and Bean Stew, made with tender, slow-cooked beef and fresh jalapeño peppers. The broth gets its thickness from a puree of white beans, rather than the typical butter/flour roux. This is a rich and satisfying stew, which also happens to be extra-rich in protein and lower in high glycemix index carbs than traditional flour-thickened meat and potato stews!!

Spicy Beef and Bean Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
  • 1.5 – 2 pounds stew beef
  • 1/2 cup marsala wine (optional, but recommended)
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (15.5 ounce) cans cannellini beans
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large ovensafe saucepan or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3-5 minutes, until tender. Add the garlic and jalapeño peppers. Cook for 2-3 minutes more, stirring frequently. Raise the heat to medium high and add the beef. Brown the beef on all sides. Add the marsala wine and allow it to simmer for a minute. Then, add the beef stock, tomato paste, and salt. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then cover with a  tight fitting lid and place the pan on the middle oven rack. Cook for 2 hours. While the beef is cooking, puree one can of the cannellini beans and their liquid in a blender or food processor. Set aside. Drain the other two cans of beans. After two hours, remove the cover. Stir in the pureed beans and the whole beans. Cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes more. Remove from the oven. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper, as desired.

Serves 4-6

Diet Day: 12   Weight loss: 7    Motivation: Strong and steady

Barley and Bean Salad

Posted on

The children are running laps around me, while shrieking a sound which lies somewhere near the edge of the audible frequency spectrum. The baby’s hunger is insatiable. And my dog just stepped in glossy, black oil-paint and decorated my wood and tile floors with a winding trail of paw prints. It’s very postmodern. Perhaps I’ll just leave it.

No time to write.

Just eat this. It’s yummy. And good for you too!

Barley and Bean Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 cup barley
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1 can great northern beans or navy beans, drained
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Prepare the barley according to package directions using the vegetable stock or water. (I used fast-cooking barley, which simmered in a covered pot for about 11 minutes, until the stock was absorbed. Other types of barley will require a longer cook time.) Allow to cool, then gently fluff. Combine the cooked barley with the drained beans, sun-dried tomatoes, peppers, shallot, and garlic. Prepare the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the barley and bean mixture. Toss to combine. Refrigerate and serve cool.

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